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When Dick Cheney becomes defense secretary (see March 20, 1989 and After), he brings into the Pentagon a core group of young, ideological staffers with largely academic (not military) backgrounds. Many of these staffers are neoconservatives who once congregated around Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson (see Early 1970s). Cheney places them in the Pentagon’s policy directorate, under the supervision of Undersecretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, himself one of Jackson’s cadre. While most administrations leave the policy directorate to perform mundane tasks, Wolfowitz and his team have no interest in such. “They focused on geostrategic issues,” one of his Pentagon aides will recall. “They considered themselves conceptual.” Wolfowitz and his team are more than willing to reevaluate the most fundamental precepts of US foreign policy in their own terms, and in Cheney they have what reporters Franklin Foer and Spencer Ackerman call “a like-minded patron.” In 1991, Wolfowitz will describe his relationship to Cheney: “Intellectually, we’re very much on similar wavelengths.”
A Different View of the Soviet Union - Cheney pairs with Wolfowitz and his neoconservatives to battle one issue in particular: the US’s dealings with the Soviet Union. Premier Mikhail Gorbachev has been in office for four years, and has built a strong reputation for himself in the West as a charismatic reformer. But Cheney, Wolfowitz, and the others see something far darker. Cheney opposes any dealings with the Soviets except on the most adversarial level (see 1983), and publicly discusses his skepticism of perestroika, Gorbachev’s restructing of the Soviet economy away from a communist paradigm. In April, Cheney tells a CNN news anchor that Gorbachev will “ultimately fail” and a leader “far more hostile” to the West will follow in his footsteps. Some of President Bush’s more “realistic” aides, including James Baker, Brent Scowcroft, and Condoleezza Rice, as well as Bush himself, have cast their lot with Gorbachev and reform; they have no use for Cheney’s public advocacy of using the USSR’s period of transitional turmoil to dismember the nation once and for all.
Cheney's Alternative Policy - Cheney turns to the neoconservatives under Wolfowitz for an alternative strategy. They meet on Saturday mornings in the Pentagon’s E ring, where they have one maverick Sovietologist after another propound his or her views. Almost all of these Sovietologists echo Cheney and Wolfowitz’s view—the USSR is on the brink of collapse, and the US should do what it can to hasten the process and destroy its enemy for good. They assert that what the Soviet Union needs is not a reformer guiding the country back into a papered-over totalitarianism, to emerge (with the US’s help) stronger and more dangerous than before. Instead, Cheney and his cadre advocate enforced regime change in the Soviet Union. Supporting the rebellious Ukraine will undermine the legitimacy of the central Soviet government, and supporting Boris Yeltsin, the president of the Russian Republic, will strike at the heart of the Gorbachev regime. Bush and his core advisers worry about instability, but Cheney says that the destruction of the Soviet Union is worth a little short-term disruption.
Failure - Bush will not adopt the position of his defense secretary, and will continue supporting Gorbachev through the Soviet Union’s painful transition and eventual dissolution. After Cheney goes public one time too many about his feelings about Gorbachev, Baker tells Scowcroft to “[d]ump on Dick” with all deliberate speed. During the final days of the Soviet Union, Cheney will find himself alone against Bush’s senior advisers and Cabinet members in their policy discussions. (Foer and Ackerman 11/20/2003)
When Saddam Hussein begins massing his troops on the Kuwaiti border (see July 25, 1990), the US intelligence community believes in consensus that Hussein is mostly bluffing. He wants to gain leverage in the ongoing OPEC talks, the community believes, and at most will seize a Kuwaiti oil field just across the border. The intelligence consensus ignores the fact that Hussein is moving his elite Republican Guard units, the core of his forces and what reporters Franklin Foer and Spencer Ackerman will call “the very guarantors of his rule,” from Baghdad to the southern desert. Even after invading Kuwait (see August 2, 1990), a National Intelligence Estimate released towards the end of the year concludes that Hussein will withdraw from Kuwait rather than risk a conflict with the US (see Late December 1990). Defense Secretary Dick Cheney becomes increasingly angry and frustrated at the US intelligence community. An intelligence analyst will recall being “whisked into a room, there’s Dick Cheney, he’s right in front of you, he starts firing questions at you, half an hour later and thirty questions later, I’m whisked out of the room, and I’m like, ‘What the hell just happened?’” DIA analyst Patrick Lang, that agency’s foremost Middle East expert and one of the few to predict the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, will recall: “He would ask you factual questions like, ‘OK, about this thing you said. Do I understand you correctly that such-and-such is true? And are you sure about this, and how do you know that?’ And I regard that as a legitimate question.… He wasn’t hostile or nasty about it; he just wanted to know how you knew. And I didn’t mind that in the least.” (Foer and Ackerman 11/20/2003)
In the aftermath of the US invasion of Iraq, UN inspectors uncover evidence of an Iraqi nuclear weapons program far more advanced than the US intelligence community had predicted. Disgusted by this and other intelligence failures (see Mid-1990 and Late December 1990), Defense Secretary Dick Cheney and his cadre of neoconservatives and hardliners in the Pentagon (see Late March 1989 and After) come to consider the intelligence community, and particularly the CIA, as, in the words of reporters Franklin Foer and Spencer Ackerman, “not only inept but lazy, unimaginative, and arrogant—‘a high priesthood’ in their derisive terminology.” (Foer and Ackerman 11/20/2003)
Elizabeth “Betsy” McCaughey (R-NY), a lawyer and future lieutenant governor of New York, writes a scathing analysis of the Clinton administration’s health care reform plan. The article, “No Exit,” is published in the New Republic, and sparks not only a detailed rebuttal from the Clinton administration, but numerous editorials and responses praising the article and joining in the attack. Echoing McCaughey’s arguments, Newsweek writes, “The plan would reduce the quantity and quality of health care and medical technologies by vastly expanding government’s coercive role.” McCaughey and Newsweek question the proposed creation of a seven-member “National Health Board” which will, she claims, “guess the nation’s health care needs and decree how much the nation may spend meeting them.” According to Newsweek: “Everyone would be locked into one system of low-budget health plans picked by the government. Fifteen presidential appointees, the National Quality Management Council, not you and your doctor, would define the ‘medically necessary’ and ‘appropriate’ care a doctor could give you. Escaping government control to choose your doctor or buy other care would be virtually impossible. Doctors could be paid only by the government-approved plans, at rates set by the government. It would be illegal for doctors to accept money directly from patients, and there would be 15-year jail terms for people driven to bribery for care they feel they need but the government does not deem ‘necessary.’ Government would define a minimum level of care and herd people in particular regions into dependence on the lowest-cost organization able to deliver that level. Doctors would be driven into organizations in which they would be punished financially for giving more treatment than the organizations’ budget targets permit. The primary care physician assigned to you would be, McCaughey notes, a gatekeeper with an incentive to limit your access to specialists and high-tech medicine. The premise of the Clintons’ plan is not just that government knows best, but that government knows everything relevant, including how many specialists there should be no more than 45 percent of all doctors [sic]. McCaughey says many medical students will be told that the specialties they prefer are closed, or closed to them because they are not the right race or ethnicity. Yes, the plan subordinates medical values to ‘diversity.’” Prescription drug prices would be controlled through the Department of Health and Human Services, and, McCaughey and Newsweek claim, would “certainly suppress research” that might benefit patients of incurable diseases and disorders. (Newsweek 2/7/1994)
Refuting McCaughey - The Clinton administration details the “numerous factual inaccuracies and misleading statements” contained in McCaughey’s article. The administration’s response says that doctors and patients, not “government bureaucrats” or a board of governors, will decide what treatments are “necessary and appropriate.” The government will not decide what treatments are, and are not, provided: “If anything, the ‘necessary and appropriate’ care provision in the bill delegates authority to the medical profession—rather than imposing further government bureaucracy between the patient and the doctor.” The plan will not block Americans from opting into private health care plans just as they do now, nor will it block doctors and hospitals from accepting payments from “non-approved” health care plans. Nor does the plan require doctors and hospitals “to report your visit to a national data bank containing the medical histories of all Americans,” as McCaughey writes. And the so-called “National Health Board” will not “decide how much the nation can spend on health care beginning in 1996,” as McCaughey claims. The plan will not seek to reduce quality of care in the interest of saving money, and it does not contain price controls. (White House 1/31/1994) A year later, author and columnist James Fallows will call the article “a triumph of misinformation,” and refutes McCaughey’s (and others’) claims point by point. (Fallows 1/1995)
Instrumental in Derailing Reform - The article will later be cited by House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) as “the first decisive breaking point” in the plan’s initial support; the plan will never be implemented. The article itself will spark tremendous controversy, winning the National Magazine Award while being attacked for being fundamentally inaccurate. (In 2006, the new editor of the New Republic, Franklin Foer, will apologize for his magazine having run the article.) In 2009 McCaughey will be a fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute and will soon join the equally conservative Hudson Institute. Both are heavily funded by health care corporations. (Sarlin 5/15/2009)
A memo written by an intelligence analyst working under Pentagon policy chief Douglas Feith asserts that while “some analysts have argued” that Osama bin Laden will not cooperate with secular Arab groups like Iraq, “reporting indicates otherwise.” A subsequent investigation by the Pentagon’s Office of Inspector General (see February 9, 2007) will criticize the memo, titled “Iraq and al-Qaeda: Making the Case,” saying that it constituted an “alternative intelligence assessment” and therefore should have been developed in accordance with intelligence agency guidelines for publishing alternative views. (US Department of Defense 2/9/2007 ; Cloud and Mazzetti 2/9/2007) Nevertheless, Bush administration officials such as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, CIA Director George Tenet, DIA Director Thomas Wilson, Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, and the chief of staff for Vice President Cheney, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, embrace the memo. Cheney’s office is particularly enamoured of the report; journalists Franklin Foer and Spencer Ackerman later report a White House official as saying of Cheney and his staffers, “They so believed that the CIA were wrong, they were like, ‘We want to show these f_ckers that they are wrong.” The memo is based on an earlier briefing by Feith entitled “Assessing the Relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda,” which accused the CIA of using overly rigorous standards to analyze information that might show links between Iraq and the terrorist organization. Feith’s briefing uses almost no evidence to claim a “mature, symbiotic” relationship between the two, alleging “more than a decade of numerous contacts” between al-Qaeda and the Hussein government, and asserting “possible Iraqi coordination with al-Qaeda specifically related to 9/11.” (Scoblic 2008, pp. 220-222) An updated version of the “Making the Case” briefing will be presented to the White House in September 2002 (see September 16, 2002).
New York Times reporter Judith Miller is embedded with Mobile Exploitation Team Alpha (MET Alpha), a US Army unit charged with trying to find weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq. Miller had written a number of front-page Times stories before the war, strongly suggesting Iraq was pursuing WMD programs; all those stories will later be proven incorrect (see November 6-8, 2001, September 8, 2002, April 20, 2003, September 18, 2002, and July 25, 2003). Miller plays what the press will later call a “highly unusual role” with the unit. One US official will later claim that she turns the unit into a “rogue operation.” (Kurtz 6/25/2003)
Accepting Military Restrictions - Miller accepted an unusual set of restrictions from the military in order to embed with MET Alpha. Most embedded journalists agreed not to report on forthcoming military tactics and to conceal sensitive information about troop movements and positions. Miller, on the other hand, agreed to allow the military to censor her work, and agreed not to publish items until they were approved by military officials. MET Alpha public affairs officer Eugene Pomeroy, who works closely with her, will later recall the agreement, saying that Miller helped negotiate the terms, and will recall the agreement being so sensitive that Defense Secretary Donal Rumsfeld signed off on it. According to the agreement, Pomeroy will recall: “Any articles going out had to be, well, censored. The mission contained some highly classified elements and people, what we dubbed the ‘Secret Squirrels,’ and their ‘sources and methods’ had to be protected and a war was about to start.” Miller’s copy is censored by a colonel, presumably MET Alpha commander Colonel Richard McPhee, who, according to Pomeroy, often reads her work in his sleeping bag, clutching a small flashlight between his teeth. Sometimes, while traveling with the unit, Miller wears a military uniform. (Foer 5/21/2005)
Threats and Connections - Miller, who has the reputation of being a “diva,” is friends with powerful neoconservatives such as Rumsfeld, his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith, Pentagon adviser Richard Perle, and other figures in the Pentagon and the Bush administration. One military officer will later claim Miller sometimes “intimidated” Army soldiers by mentioning her relationship to Rumsfeld or Feith, saying, “Essentially, she threatened them,” to get the unit to do her bidding. Another officer says Miller “was always issuing threats of either going to the New York Times or to the secretary of defense. There was nothing veiled about that threat.” This officer adds that MET Alpha “was allowed to bend the rules.” (Kurtz 6/25/2003; Foer 5/21/2005) In 2005, reporter Franklin Foer will write: “While Miller might not have intended to march in lockstep with these hawks, she was caught up in an almost irresistible cycle. Because she kept printing the neocon party line, the neocons kept coming to her with huge stories and great quotes, constantly expanding her access.” (Foer 5/21/2005)
Miller Influences Where the Unit Will Go - On April 21, MET Alpha is ordered to withdraw to the southern Iraqi town of Talil, but Miller objects in a handwritten note to two public affairs officers. Her note says: “I see no reason for me to waste time (or MET Alpha, for that matter) in Talil.… Request permission to stay on here with colleagues at the Palestine Hotel till MET Alpha returns or order to return is rescinded. I intend to write about this decision in the [New York] Times to send a successful team back home just as progress on WMD is being made.” Miller challenges the plan to go to Talil, and takes her concerns to Major General David Petraeus, commander of the 101st Airborne. Petraeus does not have direct authority over McPhee, the commander of the 75th Exploitation Task Force, which contains the MET Alpha unit. But McPhee rescinds the withdrawal order after Petraeus advises him to do so. (Kurtz 6/25/2003; Foer 5/21/2005)
Redirecting the Unit's Mission - Miller is also friends with Iraqi National Congress (INC) leader Ahmed Chalabi, who gave her leads for many later-debunked stories. More than half a dozen military officers will later claim that Miller acts as a go-between between Chalabi and the unit. On one occasion in April she takes some unit leaders to Chalabi’s headquarters, where the unit takes custody of Jamal Mustafa Sultan Tikriti, Saddam Hussein’s son-in-law, number 40 on the US’s most wanted list. She also sits in on his debriefing. None of the members of the unit have any experience in interrogation. Several US military officials will say they are upset that completely untrained officers led the debriefing of Tikriti. One Chalabi aide will explain why they turned Tikriti over to the MET Alpha unit instead of using the ANC’s usual contacts with the US miliary, saying, “We told Judy because we thought it was a good story.” When Miller later writes a story about Tikriti’s capture, she will claim that the handover was pure coincidence, as leaders of the unit “happened to be meeting” with Chalabi to “discuss nonproliferation issues.” One official will later complain that the unit became the “Judith Miller team” when she effectively redirected it from finding WMDs to holding and interrogating high-ranking prisoners. A military officer will later say: “This was totally out of their lane, getting involved with human intelligence.… [Miller] came in with a plan. She was leading them.… She ended up almost hijacking the mission.” A senior staff officer of the 75th Exploitation Task Force will similarly complain, “It’s impossible to exaggerate the impact she had on the mission of this unit, and not for the better.” (Kurtz 6/25/2003)
Guarding Her Access - Pomeroy and another witness will recall Miller jealously guarding her access from other reporters. In one instance, when Washington Post reporter Barton Gellman travels with the unit for a day, Miller orders the unit’s troops not to speak to him. According to Pomeroy, “She told people that she had clearance to be there and Bart didn’t.” (Foer 5/21/2005)
Miller Has Unit Investigate Dubious Tips from Chalabi - In other cases, the unit apparently follows leads given to Miller by Chalabi or his aides. For instance, it discovers Iraqi intelligence documents and maps related to Israel, and Miller writes a story about this. Chalabi aide Zaab Sethna will later say: “We thought this was a great story for the New York Times.… That came from us.” While embedded with the unit, Miller writes stories for the Times strongly suggesting the unit has discovered WMDs. For instance, one of her headlines is “US Analysts Link Iraq Labs to Germ Arms,” and another is “US Experts Find Radioactive Material in Iraq.” But like her pre-war stories about WMDs in Iraq, these stories also will be completely discredited. It is unclear how long Miller hijacks the MET Alpha unit for, but the Washington Post will publish an expose about these connections in late June 2003. (Kurtz 6/25/2003) In late 2003, Miller will say that her reliance on Chalabi’s information is “exaggerated.” (Massing 2/26/2004) In 2005, Foer will call Miller one of “Chalabi’s credulous allies” along with a number of Bush administration officials. The Times will not acknowledge the breadth of Chalabi’s influence on the reports it published by Miller until May 2005, but will refuse to connect Chalabi and Miller. Foer will note that although Miller had more access to MET Alpha than any other reporter, “she was the only major reporter on the WMD beat to miss the story so completely.” (Foer 5/21/2005)
A Mouthpiece for the Administration? - In 2004, Miller tells columnist and media expert Michael Massing that as an investigative reporter in the intelligence area, “my job isn’t to assess the government’s information and be an independent intelligence analyst myself. My job is to tell readers of the New York Times what the government thought about Iraq’s arsenal.” Massing will write, “Many journalists would disagree with this; instead, they would consider offering an independent evaluation of official claims one of their chief responsibilities.” (Massing 2/26/2004)
Admission of Error - In late 2005, Miller will admit that her reporting on Iraqi WMD issues was almost “entirely wrong” (see October 16, 2005).
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