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In an autobiography entitled Why Not The Best? published during his successful run for the White House, Democrat Jimmy Carter says that “the unnecessary proliferation of atomic weapons” is the greatest danger facing the world. During the presidential campaign, Carter will condemn the failure of the incumbent, Republican Gerald Ford, to denounce a recent nuclear bomb test by India, and his slow response to a deal by the French to sell Pakistan a reprocessing plant that could be used as a part of a nuclear weapons program. However, following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in late 1979, the Carter administration will turn a blind eye to Pakistan’s nuclear program (see December 26, 1979). (Armstrong and Trento 2007, pp. 62)
Staffers from the Church Committee (see April, 1976), slated with investigating illegal surveillance operations conducted by the US intelligence community, approach the NSA for information about Operation Shamrock (see 1945-1975). The NSA ostensibly closes Shamrock down the very same day the committee staffers ask about the program. Though the Church Committee focuses on a relatively narrow review of international cables, the Pike Committee in the House (see January 29, 1976) is much more far-ranging. The Pike Committee tries and fails to subpoena AT&T, which along with Western Union collaborated with the government in allowing the NSA to monitor international communications to and from the US. The government protects AT&T by declaring it “an agent of the United States acting under contract with the Executive Branch.” A corollary House subcommittee investigation led by Bella Abzug (D-NY)—who believes that Operation Shamrock continues under a different name—leads to further pressure on Congress to pass a legislative remedy. The Ford administration’s counterattack is given considerable assistance by a young lawyer at the Justice Department named Antonin Scalia. The head of the Office of Legal Counsel, Scalia’s arguments in favor of continued warrantless surveillance and the unrestricted rights and powers of the executive branch—opposed by, among others, Scalia’s boss, Attorney General Edward Levi—do not win out this time; Ford’s successor, Jimmy Carter, ultimately signs into law the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (see 1978). But Scalia’s incisive arguments win the attention of powerful Ford officials, particularly Chief of Staff Donald Rumsfeld and Rumsfeld’s assistant, Dick Cheney. (Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 36-37) Scalia will become a Supreme Court Justice in 1986 (see September 26, 1986).
Gerald Ford loses the presidency to Democratic challenger Jimmy Carter, an obscure Georgia governor who contrasts himself to the Nixon and Ford administrations by promising “never to tell a lie to the American people.” The Republican Party’s widening rift between its moderate and conservative wings dooms Ford’s chances at being elected to the office he has held by appointment for over two years (see August 9, 1974). (Werth 2006, pp. 342) Ford’s de facto campaign chairman, Chief of Staff Dick Cheney, contributes heavily to Ford’s loss. Unready for the stresses and demands of a presidential campaign, Cheney nevertheless wrested control from Ford’s ostensible chairman, Bo Calloway, and promptly alienated campaign workers and staffers. Press secretary Ron Nessen will later write, “Some reporters privately started calling him the Grand Teuton, a complex pun referring to his mountainous home state of Wyoming and the Germanic style of his predecessor in the Nixon administration, H. R. Haldeman.” Cheney tried throughout the campaign to move Ford farther to the right than the president was willing to go; even with his attempts, Ford’s primary challenge from Governor Ronald Reagan (R-CA) did much to peel away the right-wing Republican base, while Cheney did little to reassure the liberal and moderate Republicans whom many feel are Ford’s natural base. Cheney succeeded in persuading Ford to adopt a convention platform much farther to the right than Ford, and his supporters, wanted; in particular, the Reaganesque “Morality in Foreign Policy Plank,” which stated, “we shall go forward as a united people to forge a lasting peace in the world based upon our deep belief in the rights of man, the rule of law, and guidance by the hand of God,” alienated many more secular Republicans, who were not comfortable with the aggressive Christianity and implied imperialism contained in the statement. (Ultimately, it took the intervention of James Baker, a veteran Republican “fixer” and close friend of the Bush family, to head off disaster at the nominating convention.) Ford aide James Cannon will say that Cheney “was in over his head.” Had Cheney’s former boss Donald Rumsfeld stayed as chief of staff instead of moving to the Pentagon (see November 4, 1975 and After), Cannon believes Ford would have won a second term. (Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 40)
After CIA Director George H. W. Bush meets with the New York Times’s David Binder, the Times publishes a front-page story about the “Team B” analysis experiment (see November 1976). Up till now, Bush has been foursquare against leaking information to the press, especially classified information such as the Team B affair. Dr. Anne Cahn, who will serve in President Carter’s Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, later writes that Bush’s sudden about-face may be sparked in part by President-elect Carter’s refusal to assure Bush that he would continue as CIA director in the new administration. Bush soon appears on NBC’s Meet the Press, and because of Bush’s media leaks and other Team B press revelations (see Late November, 1976), three separate Congressional committees announce their intention to hold hearings on the entire exercise. (Cahn 4/1993)
A few days before his inauguration, President-elect Jimmy Carter says to the assembled Joint Chiefs of Staff that he can envision the US and the Soviet Union having much smaller nuclear arsenals—perhaps as low as 200 submarine-based nuclear missiles each, in essence a purely deterrent force. When the comment is leaked to conservative columnists Rowland Evans and Robert Novak, the two write in their column that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General George Brown, was “[s]tunned speechless” by the remark. In his inaugural address, Carter continues the theme of nuclear disarmament between the two superpowers, saying he intends to try to “limit the world’s armaments to those necessary for each nation’s domestic safety.” As for the world’s nuclear arsenals, he says, “[W]e will move this year a step towards the ultimate goal—the elimination of all nuclear weapons from this Earth.” (Scoblic 2008, pp. 105)
President Carter’s nomination of Paul Warnke to head the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) galvanizes opposition from conservatives throughout Washington.
Long Record of Opposing Arms Buildup - Warnke, a trial lawyer who began his political career as general counsel to the secretary of defense under President Johnson and established himself as an outspoken critic of the Vietnam War, has a long record of favoring negotiations with the Soviet Union over confrontation. His 1975 article in Foreign Affairs magazine, “Apes on a Treadmill,” ridiculed the conservative idea that the only way to counter the Soviet nuclear threat is to build ever more nuclear weapons, and earned the lasting enmity of those same conservatives. “We can be first off the treadmill,” he wrote. “That’s the only victory the arms race has to offer.” Carter also wants Warnke to head the administration’s negotiating team in the SALT II (Strategic Arms Limitation Talks) with the Soviets. (Kaufman 11/1/2001; Scoblic 2008, pp. 101)
Conservative, Neoconservative Counterattack Creates Grassroots Element - The Committee on the Present Danger (CPD—see 1976) leads the opposition to Warnke’s nomination. Even before Warnke is officially nominated, neoconservatives Penn Kemble and Joshua Muravchik write and circulate an anonymous memo around Washington accusing Warnke of favoring “unilateral abandonment by the US of every weapons system which is subject to negotiation at SALT.” The memo also cites the conclusions of the Team B analysts (see November 1976) to deride Warnke’s arguments against nuclear superiority. Shortly after the memo, one of the CPD’s associate groups, the Coalition for a Democratic Majority (CDM) creates a “grassroots” organization, the Emergency Coalition Against Unilateral Disarmament (ECAUD), that actually functions out of the CDM offices in Washington. ECAUD, though an offshoot of the CDM, has a leadership made up of conservatives, including the American Conservative Union’s James Roberts, the Republican National Committee’s Charles Black, and the Conservative Caucus’s Howard Phillips. The directors of Young Americans for Freedom, the Young Republican National Federation, and the American Security Council (see 1978) are on the steering committee. And the executive director is Morton Blackwell, a hard-right conservative who works with direct-mail guru Richard Viguerie. In 2008, author J. Peter Scoblic will write, “Thus were the views of neoconservatives, hawks, and traditional conservatives given a populist base.” (Scoblic 2008, pp. 101-102)
Contentious Confirmation Hearings - Scoblic describes the opposition to Warnke at his Senate confirmation hearings as “vicious.” Eminent Cold War foreign policy expert Paul Nitze (see January 1976) lambasts Warnke, calling his ideas “demonstrably unsound… absolutely asinine… screwball, arbitrary, and fictitious.” Neoconservative Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY) gives over his first Senate speech to blasting Warnke; Moynihan’s Senate colleague, neoconservative leader Henry “Scoop” Jackson (D-WA—see Early 1970s) joins Moynihan in criticizing Warnke’s nomination, as does Barry Goldwater (R-AZ). Another conservative congressman accuses Warnke, falsely, of working with both Communists and terrorists: according to the congressman, Warnke is in collusion with “the World Peace Council, a Moscow-directed movement which advocates the disarmament of the West as well as support for terrorist groups.” Heritage Foundation chief Paul Weyrich uses Viguerie’s mass-mailing machine to send 600,000 letters to voters urging them to tell their senators to vote “no” on Warnke. (Kaufman 11/1/2001; Scoblic 2008, pp. 103-104)
Warnke Confirmed, but Resistance Established - Warnke is confirmed by a 70-29 vote for the ACDA, and by a much slimmer 58-40 vote to head the US SALT II negotiating team. The New York Times’s Anthony Lewis later writes of “a peculiar, almost venomous intensity in some of the opposition to Paul Warnke; it is as if the opponents have made him a symbol of something they dislike so much that they want to destroy him.… [I]t signals a policy disagreement so fundamental that any imaginable arms limitation agreement with the Soviet Union will face powerful resistance. And it signals the rise of a new militant coalition on national security issues.” (Scoblic 2008, pp. 104)
Effective Negotiator - Warnke will resign his position in October 1978. Though he will constantly be under fire from Congressional conservatives, and will frequently battle with administration hawks such as National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, he will earn the respect of both American and Soviet negotiators. In 1979, disarmament scholar Duncan Clarke will write that the Soviets come to regard Warnke as one of the toughest of American negotiators, with one Soviet official saying: “We always wondered why Americans would pay so much for good trial attorneys. Now we know.” Warnke will have a strong influence on the eventual shape of the final SALT II agreement (see June 18, 1979-Winter 1979). (Kaufman 11/1/2001; Scoblic 2008, pp. 104) Upon his death in 2001, fellow negotiator Ralph Earle will say, “Arms control will be forever on the agenda due in large part to Paul and his articulation of the importance of the issues.” (Arms Control Today 1/1/2002)
President Carter attempts, and fails, to forge an agreement with the Soviet Union to drastically reduce the number of nuclear weapons the two countries possess (see Mid-January, 1977). Carter’s predecessor, Gerald Ford, left him with the framework of a potentially expansive SALT II (Strategic Arms Limitation Talks) agreement signed in Vladivostok (see November 23, 1974), but that agreement still allowed for an astonishing number of nuclear weapons—2,400 apiece. (The US does not even have 2,400 delivery vehicles.) Carter proposes that both sides significantly reduce their nuclear stockpiles. But Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev, lacking the political capital among his more hawkish colleagues and rivals in the Kremlin, not only refuses, but decries the suggestion as nothing but American propaganda. The two nations will eventually sign the SALT II accords two years later (see June 18, 1979-Winter 1979), after a fitful negotiation process, but the agreement will differ little from the Vladivostok agreement of 1974. (Scoblic 2008, pp. 105)
In a message to the US Congress, President Jimmy Carter again outlines his position on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons (see 1975-1976). Carter threatens to cut off US supplies of nuclear fuel and technology to countries that do not accept international safeguards on their use. However, following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in late 1979, the Carter administration will turn a blind eye to Pakistan’s nuclear program (see December 26, 1979). (Armstrong and Trento 2007, pp. 62, 239)
President Jimmy Carter again indicates that he intends to break with the hard line, confrontational policies of the past, particularly regarding the Soviet Union (see Mid-January, 1977). Speaking to the graduating class at Notre Dame University, Carter decries the “intellectual and moral poverty” of the Vietnam War and the militaristic mindset that drove that war, saying that for years the US has “fought fire with fire, never thinking that fire is best quenched with water.” Now that the US is “free of that inordinate fear of Communism,” the country can pursue a much different course, featuring multi-lateral, interdependent relations with a variety of countries, and abandon the isolationism and endless military buildups of the past (see June 1977). Carter will achieve very little of these goals, and by the time his single term ends, he will have begun rebuilding the US’s military and nuclear arsenal again. (Scoblic 2008, pp. 104-105)
President Jimmy Carter cancels the B-1 bomber program, calling it unnecessary and staggeringly expensive. He says that newly developed cruise missiles, in tandem with the aging B-52 bomber fleet, can adequately deliver nuclear weapons if ever the need arises. Critics call Carter a “unilateral disarmer,” willing to give up key weapons programs without asking for a quid pro quo from the Soviet Union. Vladimir Semenov, the head of the USSR’s SALT II (Strategic Arms Limitation Talks) negotiating team, complains that Carter should have announced the cancellation during US-Soviet negotiations “[s]o that we could both have gotten credit.” (Scoblic 2008, pp. 105)
President Jimmy Carter issues Executive Order 12036, in effect banning domestic surveillance by the CIA and other US intelligence agencies. Carter writes, “No agency within the Intelligence Community shall engage in any electronic surveillance directed against a United States person abroad or designed to intercept a communication sent from, or intended for receipt within, the United States except as permitted by the procedures established pursuant to section 2-201.” That exception allows for the surveillance of US citizens in the case of acquiring “[i]nformation about the capabilities, intentions and activities of foreign powers, organizations, or persons and their agents…. The measures employed to acquire such information should be responsive to legitimate governmental needs and must be conducted in a manner that preserves and respects established concepts of privacy and civil liberties.” The order also flatly prohibits any assassinations by government officials, saying, “No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination.… No agency of the Intelligence Community shall request or otherwise encourage, directly or indirectly, any person, organization, or government agency to undertake activities forbidden by this order or by applicable law.” (White House 1/24/1978)
In December 1978, President Carter’s National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski says, “An arc of crisis stretches along the shores of the Indian Ocean, with fragile social and political structures in a region of vital importance to us threatened with fragmentation. The resulting political chaos could well be filled by elements hostile to our values and sympathetic to our adversaries.” (Time 1/8/1979) There is widespread discontent and rioting in Iran at the time. State Department official Henry Precht will later recall that Brzezinski had the idea “that Islamic forces could be used against the Soviet Union. The theory was, there was an arc of crisis, and so an arc of Islam could be mobilized to contain the Soviets.” (Scott 2007, pp. 67) In November 1978, President Carter appointed George Ball head of a special White House Iran task force under Brzezinski. Ball recommends the US should drop support for the Shah of Iran and support the radical Islamist opposition of Ayatollah Khomeini. This idea is based on ideas from British Islamic expert Dr. Bernard Lewis, who advocates the balkanization of the entire Muslim Near East along tribal and religious lines. The chaos would spread in what he also calls an “arc of crisis” and ultimately destabilize the Muslim regions of the Soviet Union. The Shah will later comment in exile, “I did not know it then, perhaps I did not want to know? But it is clear to me now that the Americans wanted me out. Clearly this is what the human rights advocates in the State Department wanted. What was I to make of the Administration’s sudden decision to call former Under Secretary of State George Ball to the White House as an adviser on Iran? Ball was among those Americans who wanted to abandon me and ultimately my country.” (Engdahl 1992) While there is later debate about US policy towards Iran actually is at this time, it will be noted that the Carter administration had “no clear policy” due to internal divisions and confusion. (Keddie 2003) The Shah abdicates on January 16, 1979, and Ayatollah Khomeini returns from exile to Iran on February 1, 1979, taking over the government. Brzezinski will attempt to create a de facto alliance with Khomeini’s new fundamentalist government, but his efforts will come to a half with the Iranian hostage crisis in November 1979 (see February-November 4, 1979).
President Jimmy Carter issues Executive Order 12129, “Exercise of Certain Authority Respecting Electronic Surveillance,” which implements the executive branch details of the recently enacted Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (FISA) (see 1978). (Jimmy Carter 5/23/1979) The order is issued in response to the Iranian hostage crisis (see November 4, 1979-January 20, 1981). (Walden 12/28/2005) While many conservatives will later misconstrue the order as allowing warrantless wiretapping of US citizens in light of the December 2005 revelation of George W. Bush’s secret wiretapping authorization (see Early 2002), (Think Progress 12/20/2005) the order does not do this. Section 1-101 of the order reads, “Pursuant to Section 102(a)(1) of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (50 U.S.C. 1802(a)), the Attorney General is authorized to approve electronic surveillance to acquire foreign intelligence information without a court order, but only if the Attorney General makes the certifications required by that Section.” The Attorney General must certify under the law that any such warrantless surveillance must not contain “the contents of any communication to which a United States person is a party.” The order does not authorize any warrantless wiretapping of a US citizen without a court warrant. (Jimmy Carter 5/23/1979; 50 U.S.C. 1802(a); Think Progress 12/20/2005) The order authorizes the Attorney General to approve warrantless electronic surveillance to obtain foreign intelligence, if the Attorney General certifies that, according to FISA, the communications are exclusively between or among foreign powers, or the objective is to collect technical intelligence from property or premises under what is called the “open and exclusive” control of a foreign power. There must not be a “substantial likelihood” that such surveillance will obtain the contents of any communications involving a US citizen or business entity. (Federal Register 2/4/2006)
President Carter reluctantly gives public support to the MX nuclear missile program. The MX, first proposed in 1971, is a mobile missile platform that can, in theory, escape detection by Soviet spy satellites simply because it is mobile; by the time static satellite photos are developed and analyzed, and targeting data fed into Soviet nuclear missiles, the MX could have long since been moved. The MX has ten nuclear warheads, each capable of striking separate targets. To keep it out of Soviet sights, it can be moved around on railway cars, in vans driven on superhighways, even submerged in lakes. The MX program quickly earned heated opposition from ranchers and landowners in Western states, where the missiles would be deployed. And the Soviets do not like the program because the MX, being mobile, could be used to “spoof” the counts each side make of the other’s weapons, as mandated by treaties. Carter struggles with the program throughout his term, and finally orders 200 of the missiles and 4,600 “soft shelters” constructed in Utah and Nevada. Carter’s Republican challenger in the 1980 presidential race, Governor Ronald Reagan (R-CA), effectively lambasts Carter for his support of the program throughout the race, then after taking office in 1981, reverses course and enthusiastically supports and even expands the program (see 1981), in the process dubbing the MX the “Peacekeeper.” (Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 50-51)
US President Jimmy Carter and Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev sign the SALT II (Strategic Arms Limitation Talks) agreement in Vienna, after years of fitful negotiations. The basic outline of the accords is not much different from the agreement reached between Brezhnev and President Ford five years earlier (see November 23, 1974).
Conservative Opposition - The Senate must ratify the treaty before it becomes binding; Republicans and conservative Democrats alike oppose the treaty. Neoconservative Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson (D-WA—see Early 1970s) compares Carter to former British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain (who allowed the Nazis to occupy part of Czechoslovakia in 1938) in accusing Carter of “appeasement in its purest form” towards the Soviet Union. Members of the Committee on the Present Danger (CPD—see 1976) appear before the Senate 17 times to argue against ratification. Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld testifies against it, calling instead for a $44 billion increase in defense spending and once again evoking the specter of Nazi Germany: “Our nation’s situation is much more dangerous today than it has been at any time since Neville Chamberlain left Munich, setting the stage for World War II.” The American Security Council launches “Peace Through Strength Week” (see November 12, 1979). And Governor Ronald Reagan (R-CA), embarking on his presidential campaign, warns the nation that the Soviets could just “take us with a phone call,” forcing us to obey an ultimatum: “Look at the difference in our relative strengths. Now, here’s what we want.… Surrender or die.”
Familiar Arguments - In 2008, author J. Peter Scoblic will write that the arguments advanced against the SALT II treaty are the same as advanced so many times before (see August 15, 1974), including during the infamous “Team B” exercise (see November 1976). The Soviet Union believes it can win a nuclear war, opponents insist, and a treaty such as the one signed by Carter and Brezhnev merely plays into the Soviets’ hands. Once the US loses its significant advantage in nuclear payloads, the likelihood increases that the USSR incinerates American missile silos and dares the US to respond—the US might get off a volley of its remaining missiles, but the Soviets will then launch a second strike that will destroy America’s cities. And that US strike will have limited impact because of what critics call the Soviets’ extensive, sophisticated civil defense program. The US will have no other choice than to, in Scoblic’s words, “meekly submit to Soviet will.” SALT II plays into what the CPD calls the Soviet goal of not waging a nuclear war, but winning “political predominance without having to fight.” Scoblic will note, “An argument that had started on the fringes of the far Right was now being made with total seriousness by a strong cross-section of foreign policy experts, backed by significant public support.” Scoblic then calls the arguments “fatuous… grounded in zero-sum thinking.” The facts do not support the arguments. It is inconceivable, he will observe, that the US would absorb a devastating first strike without immediately launching its own overwhelming counterstrike. And for the critics to accept the tales of “extensive” Soviet civil defense programs, Scoblic argues, is for them to be “remarkably credulous of Soviet propaganda.” No matter what the Soviets did first, the US could kill upwards of 75 million Soviet citizens with its single strike, a circumstance the USSR was unlikely to risk. And, Scoblic will note, subsequent studies later prove the conservatives’ arguments completely groundless (see 1994).
Senate Fails to Ratify - By late 1979, the arguments advanced by Congressional conservatives, combined with other events (such as the “discovery” of a clutch of Soviet troops in Cuba) derails the chance of SALT II being ratified in the Senate. When the Soviet Union invades Afghanistan (see December 8, 1979), Carter withdraws the treaty from further consideration. Scoblic will note that by this point in his presidency, Carter has abandoned any pretense of attempting to reduce nuclear armaments (see Mid-January, 1977); in fact, “[h]is nuclear policies increasingly resembled those of Team B, the Committee on the Present Danger, and groups like the Emergency Coalition Against Unilateral Disarmament” (see Early 1977 and Late 1979-1980). Carter notes that such a treaty as the SALT II accord is the single most important goal of US foreign policy: “Especially now, in a time of great tension, observing the mutual constraints imposed by the terms of these treaties, [SALT I and II] will be in the best interest of both countries and will help to preserve world peace.… That effort to control nuclear weapons will not be abandoned.” (Scoblic 2008, pp. 105-109, 117)
President Carter authorizes covert aid for opponents of the Communist government in Afghanistan. Zbigniew Brzezinski, Carter’s National Security Adviser, will state in 1998, “According to the official version of history, CIA aid to the mujaheddin began… after the Soviet army invaded Afghanistan… But the reality, secretly guarded until now, is completely otherwise: Indeed, it was July 3, 1979 that President Carter signed the first directive for secret aid to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul. And that very day, I wrote a note to the president in which I explained to him that in my opinion this aid was going to induce a Soviet military intervention.… We didn’t push the Russians to intervene, but we knowingly increased the probability that they would.” (Brzezinski 1/15/1998) After Brzezinski’s confession, other US officials who denied US involvement prior to the Soviet invasion will change their story as well. For instance, Charles Cogan, who is head of the CIA covert aid program to Afghanistan at this time, will call Carter’s approval on this day a “very modest beginning to US involvement.” (Cooley 2002, pp. 10) In fact, even this is not correct because the CIA had been aiding the rebels since at least the year before (see 1978 and 1973-1979). The Soviets invade Afghanistan by the end of 1979 (see December 8, 1979).
Shortly after the seizure of the US embassy in Tehran (see November 4, 1979-January 20, 1981), President Jimmy Carter issues Executive Order 12170 freezing Iranian government assets held in the United States under the authority of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA). (US President 11/14/1979) Iran has an estimated $12 billion in bank deposits, gold, and other properties, including $5.6 billion in deposits and securities held by overseas branches of US banks. (US Department of the Treasury. Office of Foreign Assets Control 11/1979)
The Supreme Court refuses to hear a case brought against President Jimmy Carter by Senator Barry Goldwater (R-AZ) and several other conservative lawmakers. In Goldwater v. Carter, the senators argue that Carter exceeded his authority in unilaterally withdrawing the United States from a mutual defense treaty with Taiwan. Carter took the unusual step in order to recognize the Communist government in mainland China as the US-recognized representative government of China. Goldwater and his fellows argued that Congress, not the president, has the power to withdraw the US from a treaty with another nation. The Court, in an 8-1 decision with liberal Justice William Brennan dissenting, rules that the case is not appropriate for the judiciary, but should be resolved via negotiation and legislation between the legislative and executive branches. Conservative Justice William Rehnquist writes the majority opinion. Congress, controlled by Carter’s Democratic Party, does not address the question of how to properly withdraw the nation from a treaty, and Carter’s action stands. (Savage 2007, pp. 141-142; Oyez (.org) 6/2007)
National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski writes a memo to President Jimmy Carter about the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which has just begun (see December 8, 1979). Brzezinski focuses on fears that success in Afghanistan could give the Soviets access to the Indian Ocean, even though Afghanistan is a landlocked country. He suggests the US should continue aid to the Afghan mujaheddin, which actually began before the war and spurred the Soviets to invade (see 1978 and July 3, 1979). He says, “This means more money as well as arms shipments to the rebels and some technical advice.” He does not give any warning that such aid will strengthen Islamic fundamentalism. He also concludes, “[W]e must both reassure Pakistan and encourage it to help the rebels. This will require a review of our policy toward Pakistan, more guarantees to it, more arms aid, and alas, a decision that our security problem toward Pakistan cannot be dictated by our nonproliferation policy.” Carter apparently accepts Brzezinski’s advice. Author Joe Trento will later comment, “With that, the United States agreed to let a country admittedly in turmoil proceed to develop nuclear weapons.” (Trento 2005, pp. 167-168) Trento and fellow author David Armstrong will add: “Once [Pakistan] became a partner in the anti-Soviet Afghan campaign and the Carter administration adopted a more lenient view of Pakistan’s nuclear activities, the [procurement] network [run by A. Q. Khan] expanded its operations dramatically. It would soon evolve into a truly global enterprise, obtaining the vast array of sophisticated equipment with which Pakistan would eventually build a bomb.” (Armstrong and Trento 2007, pp. 99)
Worn down by incessant opposition from conservatives, neoconservatives, and hawks in both Republican and Democratic parties, President Carter has by now abandoned his goal of drastically reducing the amount of nuclear weapons in the US and Soviet arsenals (see Mid-January, 1977). Not only has he withdrawn the already-signed SALT II treaty from consideration for Senate ratification (see June 18, 1979-Winter 1979), he has deployed nuclear missiles in Europe, approved development of the MX missile (see June 1979), and taken other steps to increase the US military buildup, including sharply increasing defense spending from his first year in office. (Scoblic 2008, pp. 109)
Israel secretly changes its policy towards Iran, and now seeks a level of rapprochement with that nation. Israeli defense minister Ariel Sharon proposes that President Jimmy Carter, who is struggling to find a diplomatic means to get the 52 American hostages released, begin secretly selling US arms to Iran. Carter angrily refuses. But unbeknownst to Carter, Israel will begin selling its own arms to Iran shortly thereafter. Interestingly, some officials in the US State Department and the CIA know of the Israeli arms sales to Iran. (Waas and Unger 11/2/1992)
In the wake of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan (see December 8, 1979), President Carter declares in his annual State of the Union address, “An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.” This will become known as the Carter Doctrine. (Scott 2007, pp. 69, 303) The US immediately follows up with a massive build up of military forces in the region. New military arrangements are made with Kenya, Oman, Somalia, Egypt, and Pakistan. In March 1980, a Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force is created, which will be renamed US Central Command (or Centcom) several years later. (Scott 2007, pp. 78-79, 308-309)
President Jimmy Carter signs the Depository Institutions Deregulation and Monetary Control Bill into law. Carter says the bill will “help control inflation, strengthen our financial institutions and help small savers.” Among the bill’s main provisions are raising of ceilings on the interest paid to small savers and a substantial enhancement to the monetary control powers of the nation’s central bank, the Federal Reserve System. The main provisions of the law:
Permanently overrides state-imposed ceilings on mortgage rates unless states act within three years to reenact them.
Wipes out for three years interest rate limits on agricultural and business loans of more than $25,000.
Increases to 15 percent from 12 percent the maximum interest rate on credit union loans, with even higher rates possible for periods up to 18 months.
Continues use of credit union share drafts, bank’s automatic transfer accounts and remote service units.
Simplifies truth-in-lending laws.
Requires lenders to repay consumers for overcharges.
Authorizes federal savings and loan associations to expand their consumer loan and credit card operations and allows them to offer trust services.
Gives the Federal Reserve a more effective reach by establishing a universal and uniform system of banking reserves. Over an eight year period all depository institutions, including savings and loan associations and mutual savings banks, will be encouraged to post reserves with their chapter Federal Reserve banks which will be 12 percent of all transactions as opposed to the tiered structure at 16 1/4 percent, leaving those that left the Federal Reserve System prior to the enactment of this law at a competitive disadvantage until they themsleves register their funds with the Federal Reserve. (Farnsworth 4/1/1980, pp. 1)
An Italian-American disinformation campaign has a profound effect on the US presidential election of 1980. With the assistance of Italian intelligence (SISMI) and the shadowy right-wing organization called “Propaganda Due,” or P-2 (see 1981), American neoconservative Michael Ledeen organizes a smear campaign against Billy Carter, the brother of US President Jimmy Carter. (Billy Carter is a self-proclaimed alcoholic whose escapades have provoked much hilarity among the US press and an equal amount of embarrassment in the White House.) In the weeks before the election, Ledeen publishes articles in the British and American press accusing Billy Carter of having untoward and perhaps illegal financial dealings with Libyan dictator Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi. Billy Carter is forced to admit that he did accept a $200,000 loan from al-Qadhafi’s regime. The ensuing scandal becomes known as “Billygate.” It is not known for sure what impact the scandal will eventually have on the race between President Carter and his Republican challenger, Ronald Reagan; what is known is that “Billygate” erupted in 1979, was investigated, and had died down. Then, less than a month before the November 1980 election, Ledeen and Arnaud de Borchgrave write an article for the US’s New Republic and Britain’s Now magazine that falsely alleges Billy Carter took an additional $50,000 from al-Qadhafi, and worse, met secretly with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. The articles reignite the scandal in time to affect the election. In 1985, a Wall Street Journal investigation will find that “Billygate” is an orchestrated attempt by Ledeen and SISMI to throw the election to Reagan. Ledeen, who used SISMI sources to unearth financial information on Billy Carter, was himself paid $120,000 by SISMI for “Billygate” and other projects. Ledeen has a code name, Z-3, and is paid through a Bermuda bank account. Ledeen will later admit that his consulting firm, ISI, may have accepted SISMI money, and will claim he can’t remember if he has a coded identity. P-2 operative Francesco Pazienza will be convicted in absentia on multiple charges stemming from the “Billygate” disinformation campaign, including extortion and fraud. Ledeen will not be charged in the Italian court that convicts Pazienza, but prosecutors will cite his participation in their arguments against Pazienza. Ledeen will deny any involvement with either Pazienza or P-2, and deny any connection to any disinformation schemes. In fact, Ledeen will say he doesn’t even believe P-2 exists. After Reagan takes office, Ledeen will be made a special assistant to chief of staff Alexander Haig, and later will become a staff member of Reagan’s National Security Council, where he will play a key role in setting up the arms-for-hostages deal with Iran. (Unger 2007, pp. 233-234, 388)
Advisers to presidential candidate Ronald Reagan obtain stolen confidential briefing books that were meant to prepare opponent Jimmy Carter for an upcoming debate. The documents are allegedly passed from campaign manager and future CIA Director William Casey to top Reagan campaign aide James Baker. Reagan and his advisers presumably use the materials to gain an advantage over Carter in the nationally televised debate on October 28, 1980. Some of those behind the theft will reportedly form a secret parallel government after Reagan is elected president (see January 1980-July 1987). The theft will become publicly disclosed in 1983, causing internal strife and finger-pointing within the administration. (Margolis and Rowley 6/10/1983; Chardy 7/5/1987)
During a campaign debate between President Jimmy Carter (D-GA) and his Republican challenger, Governor Ronald Reagan (R-CA), Carter lambasts Reagan for his decades-long opposition to Medicare (see 1962). “Governor Reagan, as a matter of fact, began his political career campaigning around this nation against Medicare,” Carter says. Reagan counters with what author Larry DeWitt calls “a deft quip and a blatant denial.” He says, “There you go again.” When the laughter subsides, Reagan continues: “When I opposed Medicare, there was another piece of legislation meeting the same problem before the Congress. I happened to favor the other piece of legislation and thought it would be better for the senior citizens and provide better care than the one that was finally passed. I was not opposing the principle of providing care for them. I was opposing one piece of legislation versus another.” Reagan is referring to a Republican alternative called “Bettercare” that was little more than a voluntary insurance program funded by Social Security. Carter also states that Reagan had, in his career, advocated making Social Security a voluntary program, which as Carter notes, “would, in effect, very quickly bankrupt it.” Reagan had frequently advocated such a position while supporting Senator Barry Goldwater’s 1964 presidential campaign, and as recently as 1975 during his unsuccessful primary campaign for the presidency, but Reagan now denies taking such a stance: “Now, again this statement that somehow I wanted to destroy it, and I just changed my tune, that I am for voluntary social security, which would mean the ruin of it, Mr. President, the voluntary thing that I suggested many years ago was that a young man, orphaned and raised by an aunt who died, his aunt was ineligible for Social Security insurance, because she was not his mother. And I suggested that if this was an insurance program, certainly the person who’s paying in should be able to name his own beneficiaries. And that’s the closest I’ve ever come to anything voluntary with Social Security.” Though Reagan’s claims are at odds with his previous positions, his denials go virtually unchallenged in the media. (Blevin 2001; Larry DeWitt 9/2004; American Presidency Project 2009)
After winning a sweeping election victory against President Jimmy Carter in November 1980, Ronald Reagan is sworn in as US president. The same day that Reagan is sworn in, Iran releases the remaining 52 hostages it has held captive at the US Embassy in Tehran for 444 days (see November 4, 1979-January 20, 1981). (PBS 2000)
President Reagan embarks on what will become the largest peacetime military buildup in US history. “I look forward with great enthusiasm and eagerness as we begin to rearm America,” says Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, one of the hard-liners in Reagan’s Cabinet (see January 1981 and After). (President Carter had never disarmed America; he had backed the MX missile (see June 1979) and steadily increased spending on conventional arms, raising the Pentagon’s budget significantly during his last year in office.) Reagan wants to more than double the US defense budget, from $171 billion to $368 billion, by 1986. He wants more weapons, more weapons programs, and more nuclear arms. He reauthorizes the B-1 bomber program canceled by Carter (see June 1977) and the so-called “neutron bomb,” a nuclear weapon designed to release more radioactivity—thereby killing more people—with a lessened explosive power—thereby damaging less property. He authorizes the deployment of 3,000 cruise missiles aboard aircraft, and accelerates the development of the Trident II submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM), nuclear-capable ocean-based cruise missiles, and the B-2 “stealth” bomber. (Scoblic 2008, pp. 117)
President Clinton gives serious consideration to launching massive military strikes against North Korea’s nuclear facility at Yongbyon. The North Koreans are preparing to remove nuclear fuel rods from the internationally monitored storage site at the facility, expel the international weapons inspectors, and withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which they had signed in 1985 (see July 1, 1968 and December 12, 1985). Clinton asks the UN to consider economic sanctions; in response, North Korea says sanctions will trigger a war. The Pentagon presents Clinton with a plan to send 50,000 US troops to South Korea, bolstering the 37,000 already in place, as well as an array of combat jets, naval vessels, combat helicopters, ground assault vehicles, and various missile and rocket systems. Clinton orders an emplacement of 250 soldiers to a logistical headquarters to manage the influx of weaponry. (In 2005, former Clinton administration officials will confirm that Clinton was quite willing to go to war with North Korea if need be.) But Clinton also extends diplomatic offerings to North Korea. He sets up a diplomatic back-channel to that nation in the form of former President Jimmy Carter, who has an informal conference with North Korean leader Kim Il-Sung. (The press portrays the Carter visit as a private venture without Clinton’s approval; later, former Clinton officials will verify that Clinton recruited Carter to go.) Some Clinton cabinet officials, particularly those who had served in the Carter administration, warn Clinton that Carter is a “loose cannon” and may well go beyond the parameters laid down by Clinton in negotiating with Kim. Vice President Gore and other senior officials urge Clinton to send Carter, believing that there is no other way to resolve the crisis. Clinton agrees with Gore. He believes that Kim has, in the words of reporter Fred Kaplan, “painted himself into a corner and needed an escape hatch—a clear path to back away from the brink without losing face, without appearing to buckle under pressure from the US government. Carter might offer that hatch.” Both sides, Kaplan will write, are correct. Carter succeeds in getting Kim to back down, and goes much farther than his instructions allow, negotiating the outline of a treaty and announcing the terms live on CNN, notifying Clinton only minutes before the news broadcast. That outline will become the Agreed Framework between the two nations (see October 21, 1994). (Kaplan 5/2004; Kaplan 10/11/2006)
Former US president Jimmy Carter brokers a truce between Bosnian Serbs and Muslims. The truce is set to last four months and does, but then fighting resumes and intensifies. (US Department of State 12/6/1995; Time 12/31/1995)
President Clinton issues Executive Order 12949, which marginally extends the powers of the Justice Department to conduct warrantless surveillance of designated targets, specifically suspected foreign terrorists. Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the order comes in the first section, which reads, “Pursuant to section 302(a)(1) of the [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance] Act [FISA], the Attorney General is authorized to approve physical searches, without a court order, to acquire foreign intelligence information for periods of up to one year, if the Attorney General makes the certifications required by that section.” (US President 2/9/1995) As with then-president Jimmy Carter’s own May 1979 order extending the Justice Department’s surveillance capabilities (see May 23, 1979), after George W. Bush’s warrantless domestic wiretapping program will be revealed in December 2005 (see December 15, 2005), many of that program’s defenders will point to Clinton’s order as “proof” that Clinton, too, exercised unconstitutionally broad powers in authorizing wiretaps and other surveillance of Americans. These defenders will point to the “physical search” clause in Clinton’s order to support their contention that, if anything, Clinton’s order was even more egregrious than anything Bush will order. This contention is false. (50 U.S.C. 1802(a); Think Progress 12/20/2005) Under FISA, the Attorney General must certify that any such physical search does not involve the premises, information, material, or property of a United States person.” That means US citizens or anyone inside the United States. Clinton’s order does not authorize warrantless surveillance or physical searches of US citizens. (US President 2/9/1995; Think Progress 12/20/2005)
Former US Senator Bob Dole (R-KS) writes an op-ed for the Washington Post urging Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore to abandon his attempts to win the presidential election and concede the election to Republican George W. Bush. “It was a close election, but it’s over,” Dole writes. Dole begins by recalling his own experience from 1976, where Republican President Gerald Ford, with Dole as his running mate, chose not to challenge a narrow election loss to Democrat Jimmy Carter. “It took a while, but I was proud of Gerald Ford when he did the right thing by not contesting the election,” Dole writes. Dole asserts that two separate recounts have taken place [in reality, only one, a machine recount, has occurred—see November 10, 2000] and both verify Bush as the winner of the Florida vote. Instead of gracefully conceding, Dole writes, the Gore campaign is “making every effort to keep the nation divided for weeks with recounts, lawsuits, and endless politicization of the election.” Dole urges Gore “to put his country’s agenda ahead of his agenda; to put the people’s interests before his personal interests.” The American people need closure after a long presidential campaign, Dole argues, and to drag out the process “is bad for the people.” Gore “risks alienating even more Americans” by continuing to press for manual recounts. “Participation in our democracy continues to decline. More and more people are turned off by politics and are tuning out of elections. It is precisely this type of politicization that continues to disenchant people. They want leadership, not lawsuits. They need someone committed to what is good for the country, not what is good for a post election campaign.” Asking for recounts “is bad for the country.” Bush needs time to plan and execute a smooth transition into the presidency, Dole writes, time that Gore is not giving him. Bush “must begin planning his administration. He must prepare a budget and begin selecting a cabinet. He must begin meeting with world leaders and a Congress already bitterly divided. A smooth transition will help to ensure a successful presidency and a more secure and prosperous nation for the next four years.” And finally, history will look askance at Gore for being “the first presidential candidate to challenge his election defeat in the courts. The presidency should be won through inspiration, not litigation.” (Dole 11/11/2000)
Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, the co-chair of Florida’s Bush campaign team (see After 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000 and After), certifies George W. Bush (R-TX) the winner of Florida’s presidential election, though according to a Florida Supreme Court ruling she can choose to accept recount tallies through November 27 (see November 20-21, 2000). She chooses not to do so. Harris says Bush has a 537-vote lead. Her totals are: Bush, 2,912,790; Vice President Al Gore (D-TN), 2,912,253. The totals include none of the recounted ballots from either Palm Beach or Miami-Date Counties, both of which did not complete their recounts by Harris’s deadline (see 9:00 a.m. and after, November 22, 2000 and 2:45 p.m. November 26, 2000). Ongoing legal actions by both parties keep the election in doubt. Regardless, Governor Jeb Bush, George W. Bush’s brother, signs the Certificate of Ascertainment designating 25 Florida electors pledged to George W. Bush and transmits the document to the National Archives as required by Title 3, US Code, Section 6. Three days later, a Florida legislative committee will recommend a special session to name the state’s 25 representatives to the Electoral College, where they will presumably cast their votes for Bush. (Whitman et al. 12/13/2000; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 12/17/2000; Leip 2008) If Bush is indeed the winner of the Florida presidential election, he has enough electoral votes to assume the presidency (see November 9, 2000). The Gore campaign refuses to accept Harris’s certification, and says it will ask Florida courts to order recounts of thousands of disputed votes. Gore’s running mate Joe Lieberman says, “This evening, the secretary of state of Florida has decided to certify what—by any reasonable standard—is an incomplete and inaccurate count of the votes cast in the state of Florida.” The Gore campaign is working out details of what will be a formal “contest” of the results, and will ask a state judge to order court-appointed “special masters” to complete interrupted recounts of about 2,000 uncounted votes in Palm Beach County and 10,700 uncounted votes in Miami-Dade County. They also want an inquiry into the Nassau County returns, where Gore officials believe Bush was wrongly credited with some 51 votes, and are considering challenging the legality of Palm Beach’s controversial “butterfly ballots.” Gore’s chief lawyer David Boies says: “We’re preparing contest papers that will be filed Monday, as early in the day as we can get them done. Until these votes are counted, this election cannot be over.” Republicans intend to use Harris’s ruling to publicly pressure Gore into conceding the election, pressure the Gore campaign says it is prepared to combat. Miami-Dade County, expected to yield enough votes in a recount to swing the election in favor of Gore, called off its recount under pressure from Republican protesters and due to time constraints (see 9:00 a.m. and after, November 22, 2000). (Salon 11/25/2000; Kettle and Campbell 11/27/2000; Kettle 11/28/2000) Investigative reporter Robert Parry will later write that Harris deliberately allowed Nassau County to throw out its recounted figures that gave Gore the 51 votes. (Parry 8/5/2002) A brief furor ensues when some media outlets mistakenly report that 500 absentee ballots “not previously counted” were discovered in Broward County. The story is not true. (Salon 11/25/2000) According to state law, it is only now that Gore can ask for a statewide recount. (Margolick, Peretz, and Shnayerson 10/2004) Former President Jimmy Carter tells a reporter: “More than two weeks will remain before Florida’s 25 electors will have to be named, and then two more months before a new president will be sworn into office. We must not sacrifice speed for accuracy in deciding who has been chosen by the voters to take that oath.” (Salon 11/25/2000)
Former President Jimmy Carter says in an interview, “President Bush has exploited the September 11, 2001, attacks for political gain.” He adds: “I think the basic reason is that our country suffered, in 9/11, a terrible and shocking attack… and George Bush has been adroit at exploiting that attack and he has elevated himself, in the consciousness of many Americans, to a heroic commander in chief, fighting a global threat against America. He’s repeatedly played that card, and to some degree quite successfully.” (Reuters 10/25/2004)
Federal district court judge Anna Diggs Taylor rules that the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program (see Early 2002) is unconstitutional and orders it ended. She amends her ruling to allow the program to continue while the Justice Department appeals her decision. The decision is a result of a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other civil liberties groups. Taylor rules that the NSA program violates US citizens’ rights to privacy and free speech, the Constitutional separation of powers among the three branches of government, and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (see 1978). Taylor writes: “It was never the intent of the framers to give the president such unfettered control, particularly where his actions blatantly disregard the parameters clearly enumerated in the Bill of Rights. There are no hereditary Kings in America and no powers not created by the Constitution. So all ‘inherent powers’ must derive from that Constitution.” (Verdict in ACLU et al v. NSA et al 8/17/2006 ; Eggen and Linzer 8/18/2006) The program “violates the separation of powers doctrine, the Administrative Procedures Act, the First and Fourth amendments to the United States Constitution, the FISA and Title III,” Taylor writes, and adds, “[T]he president of the United States… has undisputedly violated the Fourth in failing to procure judicial orders.” (CNN 8/17/2006)
Judge Lets One Portion Stand - Taylor rejects one part of the lawsuit that seeks information about the NSA’s data mining program (see October 2001), accepting the government’s argument that to allow that portion of the case to proceed would reveal state secrets (see March 9, 1953). Other lawsuits challenging the program are still pending. Some legal scholars regard Taylor’s decision as poorly reasoned: national security law specialist Bobby Chesney says: “Regardless of what your position is on the merits of the issue, there’s no question that it’s a poorly reasoned decision. The opinion kind of reads like an outline of possible grounds to strike down the program, without analysis to fill it in.” The White House and its Republican supporters quickly attack Taylor, who was appointed to the bench by then-President Jimmy Carter, as a “liberal judge” who is trying to advance the agenda of Congressional Democrats and “weaken national security.” For instance, Senator Mike DeWine (R-OH) says that halting the program “would hamper our ability to foil terrorist plots.” (Eggen and Linzer 8/18/2006)
Democrats, Civil Libertarians Celebrate Ruling - But Democrats defend the ruling. For instance, Senator John Kerry (D-MA) says the ruling provides a much-needed check on the unfettered power of the Bush White House. “[N]o one is above the law,” says Kerry. (Eggen and Linzer 8/18/2006) Lawyers for some of the other cases against the NSA and the Bush administration laud the decision as giving them vital legal backing for their own court proceedings. “We now have a ruling on the books that upholds what we’ve been saying all along: that this wiretapping program violates the Constitution,” says Kevin Bankston, who represents the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) in its class-action case against AT&T for its role in the NSA’s surveillance program (see January 31, 2006). (Eggen and Linzer 8/18/2006) Legal expert and liberal commentator Glenn Greenwald writes that Taylor’s ruling “does not, of course, prohibit eavesdropping on terrorists; it merely prohibits illegal eavesdropping in violation of FISA. Thus, even under the court’s order, the Bush administration is free to continue to do all the eavesdropping on terrorists it wants to do. It just has to cease doing so using its own secretive parameters, and instead do so with the oversight of the FISA court—just as all administrations have done since 1978, just as the law requires, and just as it did very recently when using surveillance with regard to the [British] terror plot. Eavesdropping on terrorists can continue in full force. But it must comply with the law.” Greenwald writes: “[T]he political significance of this decision cannot be denied. The first federal court ever to rule on the administration’s NSA program has ruled that it violates the constitutional rights of Americans in several respects, and that it violates criminal law. And in so holding, the court eloquently and powerfully rejected the Bush administration’s claims of unchecked executive power in the area of national security.” (Greenwald 8/17/2006)
White House Refuses to Comply - The Bush administration refuses to comply with Taylor’s ruling, asserting that the program is indeed legal and a “vital tool” in the “war on terrorism.” It will quickly file an appeal, and law professors on both sides of the issue predict that Taylor’s ruling will be overturned. (Savage 2007, pp. 206)
Lawsuit Ends with White House 'Compromise' - The lawsuit will end when the White House announces a “compromise” between the wiretapping program and FISC (see January 17, 2007).
The House Intelligence Committee, led by Peter Hoekstra (R-MI), releases a 29-page report entitled “Recognizing Iran as a Strategic Threat: An Intelligence Challenge for the United States” that blasts the CIA and other US intelligence agencies for lacking “the ability to acquire essential information necessary to make judgments” on Iran’s nuclear program, its intentions, or its ties to terrorism. (House Intelligence Committee 8/23/2006)
Democrats Excluded From Report - The report is generated strictly by the Republicans on the committee; input from Democratic members was quite limited. The author of the report is ex-CIA officer Frederick Fleitz, a former special assistant to Undersecretary of Defense John Bolton and a hardliner on Iran. Not surprisingly, Fleitz’s report fully supports the Bush administration’s position that Iran is moving aggressively to acquire nuclear weapons, and thusly poses an significant threat to the US. It also claims that the US intelligence community has not tried to collect or collate evidence to prove Fleitz’s assertion that Iran, a majority-Shi’ite nation, has close and sinister ties to al-Qaeda, a Sunni organization, as well as some responsibility for the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. Fleitz and his researchers used nothing more than publicly available documents for his report, and did not interview any intelligence officials. Hoesktra, who publicly releases the report before it is approved by the full committee, says his purpose is to avoid the intelligence “mistakes” that led the US to conclude that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. It is widely believed that Hoekstra’s decision to release the report is part of a larger effort by the Bush administration to pressure Iran to suspend its nuclear program, a push supported by few US allies. Democrats on the committee have little confidence that the report is complete and accurate; ranking subcommittee member Rush Holt (D-NJ) says the report is not “prepared and reviewed in a way that we can rely on.” (Linzer 8/24/2006)
Cherrypicking - The report will never be voted on or discussed by the entire committee, in essence short-circuiting Democrats from the review and approval process. Ranking member Jane Harman (D-CA) says the report “took a number of analytical shortcuts that present the Iran threat as more dire—and the Intelligence Community’s assessments as more certain—than they are.” It is not long before the report is thoroughly debunked. Further analysis shows the report to be riddled with errors; additionally, it fails to include key information, mostly from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that disproves the report’s claims about Iran’s nuclear program. When the report is officially presented in September 2006, IAEA officials and others will term the report “outrageous and dishonest,” and provide evidence refuting its major claims (see September 14, 2006). Gary Sick, an Iran expert and a former National Security Council under Jimmy Carter, notes that the report’s claim that Iran has “the largest inventory of ballistic missiles in the Middle East” entirely ignores the far larger arsenals possessed by Israel and Saudi Arabia. “If you are going to take on the entire US intelligence community, it is a very good idea to at least get your basic facts straight,” Sick says. “It is a sloppy attempt to lay the ground for another ‘slam-dunk’ judgement and a potential rush to war. It deserves to be recognized for what it is.” David Albright agrees: “This is like prewar Iraq all over again.” Albright, a former UN weapons inspector and president of the Institute for Science and International Security, says, “You have an Iranian nuclear threat that is spun up, using bad information that’s cherry-picked and a report that trashes the [IAEA] inspectors.” Weeks after the November 2006 elections, the CIA will report that it can find no evidence supporting Fleitz’s contention that Iran has a secret nuclear weapons program. (Lobe 8/25/2006; Linzer 9/14/2006; Unger 3/2007)
An Attempt to Undermine Rice and Diplomatic Outreach? - Many committee Democrats believe that the report is an attempt by hardline Republicans to undermine Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who has agreed to talk with the Iranians under certain conditions. Bolton, Fleitz, and others oppose any diplomacy or discussion with Iran. Bolton is now the US ambassador to the UN; he and Fleitz worked diligently during President Bush’s first term to undermine the efforts of Rice’s predecessor, Colin Powell, to engage Iran, North Korea, and Syria in diplomatic talks. Many Washington neoconservatives have denounced the Bush administration’s tentative move towards diplomatic talks with Iran as nothing more than “appeasement.” (Perhaps in the same vein, Fleitz is now working on a similar report on North Korea’s weapons program; a draft leaked to the Washington Post contains allegations about the North Korean program that also cannot be substantiated.) (Lobe 8/25/2006; Linzer 9/14/2006)
'Unusually Slick' Hoax - Former CIA official Ray McGovern calls the report an “unusually slick” hoax that is nothing more than an attempt to frighten Congress and the American people into supporting the Bush administration’s more aggressive posture towards Iran. McGovern notes that in recent weeks Hoekstra told a Fox News audience that weapons of mass destruction were indeed found in Iraq—“We were right all the time!”—and observes that the entire report is a calculated public relations effort based on overzealous falsehoods and not on verifiable fact. The cover of the report depicts Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad giving a suspiciously Nazi-like salute, and the first page repeats Ahmadinejad’s assertion that Israel “must be wiped off the face of the map.” He also notes that Fleitz, whom he describes as Bolton’s “chief enforcer” when Bolton was at the State Department, once told State Department intelligence analysts Christian Westermann that it was “a political judgment as to how to interpret” data on Cuba’s biological weapons program (a program that only existed in Bolton’s imagination) and that the intelligence community “should do as we asked” in making its reports. McGovern concludes, “Hoekstra’s release of this paper is another sign pointing in the direction of a US attack on Iran. Tehran is now being blamed not only for inciting Hezbollah but also for sending improvised explosive devices [IEDs] into Iraq to kill or maim US forces. There is yet another, if more subtle, disquieting note about the paper. It bears the earmarks of a rushed job, with very little editorial scrubbing.… It seems to me possible that the Cheney-Rumsfeld cabal told Hoekstra to get the paper out sooner rather than later, as an aid to Americans in ‘recognizing Iran as a strategic threat.’” (McGovern 8/26/2007)
Replay of Flawed Iraqi Intelligence - Many observers agree with McGovern that the report is a replay of the dangerously flawed intelligence estimates that pushed Congress to approve military action against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Gary Sick goes even further back to draw a comparison between Hoekstra’s report and the mid-1970s effort by Ford aides Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld’s so-called “Team B” to provide an “alternative” intelligence assessment on the threat posed by the then-Soviet Union. The report “is really intended as a sort of Team B report of what at least one [Congressional] staffer believes the intelligence community should be reporting on Iran.” (Lobe 8/25/2006) Author and national security expert John Prados takes an even grimmer view: “The fact that this act has been perpetrated by a congressional committee whose job it is to oversee US intelligence is further evidence that intelligence oversight has become part of the problem, not the solution.” (Prados 8/25/2006)
Kurdish government officials in Iraq say that the US raids in Irbil that captured five Iranian diplomats and government officials (see January 11, 2007) were actually an attempt to capture two leaders of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, Mohammed Jafari, the deputy head of the Iranian National Security Council, and General Minojahar Frouzanda, the chief of intelligence of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. Both were visiting Kurdish officials at the time. British journalist Patrick Cockburn writes, “The attempt by the US to seize the two high-ranking Iranian security officers openly meeting with Iraqi leaders is somewhat as if Iran had tried to kidnap the heads of the CIA and MI6 while they were on an official visit to a country neighboring Iran, such as Pakistan or Afghanistan.” (Cockburn 4/3/2007)
Iranians Welcomed, Says Kurdish Leader - Massoud Barzani, the president of the Kurdish autonomous region in northern Iraq, says that the Iranian commanders visited Iraqi president Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, in the Kurdish city of Sulaimaniyah, and then visited Barzani, most likely in Irbil. The five Iranians are still in US custody. “It [the house raided by US forces] was not a secret Iranian office,” Barzani says. “It is impossible for us to accept that an Iranian office in Irbil was doing things against coalition forces or against us. That office was doing its work in a normal way and had they been doing anything hostile, we would have known that.” Barzani continues, “They [the US troops] did not come to detain the people in that office. There was an Iranian delegation, including Revolutionary Guards commanders, and they came as guests of the president. He was in Sulaimaniyah. They came to Sulaimaniyah and then I received a call from the president’s office telling me that they wanted to meet me as well.” (Associated Press 4/6/2007)
Iranians 'Disappeared' - The location of the captured Iranians is unknown; they are said to have “disappeared” into the controversial and allegedly illegal US “coalition detention” system. International law expert Scott Horton says that under the UN resolutions, the US detention of the Iranians is illegal, and they should be detained under Iraqi law. “The Iranians who are being held as ‘security detainees’ are not being charged with anything, and so are being held unlawfully,” he says. Iraqi law mandates that detainees identified as insurgents “actively engaged in hostilities” are supposed to be charged in civilian courts. They may be held up to 14 days before being brought before a magistrate and either charged with a crime or released. To hold detainees longer without charging them, detention authorities must provide justification for doing so, Horton says. “It’s an exercise of raw power by the US that’s not backed by any legal justification.” (Akhavi 3/31/2007) Observers say the US rationale for the capture and continued detention of the Iranians is hard to fathom, as no US soldiers have ever been killed in Irbil and there are no Sunni nor Shi’ite militias operating in that region. (Cockburn 4/3/2007)
President Bush has abused his prerogative to issue “signing statements” that state the White House’s interpretion of Congressionally passed laws (see Early 2005), according to former White House counsel John Dean and constitutional law professor Laurence Tribe.
History - Signing statements have no weight in law, but presidents have traditionally used them to state their belief that a particular legislative provision is unconstitutional, and on rare occasion (before the current president) to state their refusal to enforce that provision. Since Jimmy Carter’s administration, various Justice Department officials have said presidents can refuse to enforce a particular provision of signed, legally binding legislation. (Dean 2007, pp. 112-116) A group of young conservative lawyers in the Reagan administration decided that signing statements were a powerful, and stealthy, way to expand presidential power.
Dean: Bush's Use of Signing Statements 'Extraordinary' - However, Dean says that Bush has used signing statements far more extensively than any president before him. Dean notes that, while presidential signing statements themselves are not illegal or inherently wrong, “[i]t is Bush’s abuse of them that is extraordinary.” Dean writes there has been no concerted effort to find out if Bush is just saying he will not comply with the inordinate number of legislative provisions he has objected to, or if he is refusing to comply with them in practice. If the latter is the case, Dean writes, “he should be impeached immediately… because it would be an extraordinary breach of his oath” of office.
Tribe: Bush's Signing Statements 'Bizarre,' 'Reckless' - Dean cites Tribe, who said in 2006, “[W]hat is new and distressing [about Bush’s use of signing statements] is the bizarre, frighteningly self-serving, and constitutionally reckless character of those views—and the suspicion that the president either intends actually to act on them with some regularity, often in a manner that won’t be publicly visible at the time, or intends them as declarations of hegemony and contempt for the coordinate branches—declarations that he hopes will gradually come to be accepted in the constitutional culture as descriptions of the legal and political landscape properly conceived and as precedents for later action either by his own or by future administrations.” (Dean 2007, pp. 112-116; Green 2007) Political science professor Christopher Kelley agrees. Kelley, who studied the Bush administration’s use of signing statements, says: “What we haven’t seen until this administration is the sheer number of objections that are being raised on every bill passed through the White House. That is what is staggering. The numbers are well out of the norm from any previous administration.”
Signing Statements Supplanting Vetoes - In another disturbing trend, according to author and reporter Charlie Savage, Bush is using signing statements to supplant the traditional presidential veto. By mid-2007, Bush had vetoed just two bills. In contrast, Bush’s predecessor, Bill Clinton, vetoed 37 bills. George H. W. Bush vetoed 44, and Ronald Reagan vetoed 78. Legal experts studying Bush’s signing statements conclude that Bush and his legal team are using signing statements to function almost as line-item vetoes, a power the president does not have. The Supreme Court ruled in 1998 that the Founding Fathers wanted the president to either accept a Congressional bill or reject it entirely, and if Congress overrode the veto, then the president had no other recourse than to follow the new law. But now, Savage writes, “the Bush-Cheney administration had figured out that if a president signed a bill and then instructed the government to consider selected provisions null (see December 30, 2005), he could accomplish much the same thing. Moreover, it was an absolute power because, unlike when there is a regular veto, Congress had no opportunity to override his legal judgments.” (Savage 2007, pp. 230-231)
Former President Carter says the US government tortures prisoners in violation of international treaties that the US has agreed to comply with. He tells CNN: “I don’t think it. I know it.” He adds: “Our country for the first time in my life time has abandoned the basic principle of human rights. We’ve said that the Geneva Conventions do not apply to those people in Abu Ghraib prison and Guantanamo, and we’ve said we can torture prisoners and deprive them of an accusation of a crime to which they are accused.” Responding to claims that the US government does not torture, he says, “[Y]ou can make your own definition of human rights and say we don’t violate them, and you can make your own definition of torture and say we don’t violate them.” (CNN 10/10/2007)
Former US President Jimmy Carter says that any peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians must include Hamas, the Islamist Palestinian movement that controls the Gaza Strip. “Hamas has got to be involved before peace can be concluded,” Carter says. Israel, which like the US and many Western nations considers Hamas a terrorist organization, is in the midst of a military operation against Hamas. Carter says that previous presidents have been either unable or unwilling to oppose Israel’s supporters in the US, but he has high hopes for George Mitchell, the Obama administration’s new envoy to the Middle East (see January 22, 2009). “The fact is that very few of the presidents have been willing to confront Israel’s forces in the United States, politically speaking,” Carter says. “If you look at US Middle East envoys in the past, almost all of them have been closely associated with Israel, sometimes even working professionally for Israel. George Mitchell is a balanced and honest broker compared to the others.” He continues by noting that any possible reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah, the organization led by Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, has been “objected to and obstructed by the US and Israel.” He hopes the Obama administration will work to bring Hamas and Fatah together. Abbas and Fatah control the West Bank, while Hamas controls the Gaza Strip. President Obama has indicated he intends to institute new peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine, but has reiterated previous international demands that the Palestinians recognize Israel, renounce violence, and recognize previous peace agreements before they can join in any future negotiations. (Al Jazeera 1/29/2009; Khan 1/29/2009)
Former President Jimmy Carter says that he believes much of the opposition to President Barack Obama is fueled by racism. “When a radical fringe element of demonstrators and others begin to attack the president of the United States as an animal or as a reincarnation of Adolf Hitler or when they wave signs in the air that said we should have buried Obama with Kennedy, those kinds of things are beyond the bounds,” he tells a group of students at Emory University in Atlanta. Carter, a native Georgian, has taught at Emory since 1982. “I think people who are guilty of that kind of personal attack against Obama have been influenced to a major degree by a belief that he should not be president because he happens to be African-American. It’s a racist attitude, and my hope is and my expectation is that in the future both Democratic leaders and Republican leaders will take the initiative in condemning that kind of unprecedented attack on the president of the United States.” Carter adds: “I live in the south, and I’ve seen the south come a long way, and I’ve seen the rest of the country that shared the south’s attitude toward minority groups at that time, particularly African-Americans. And that racism inclination still exists. And I think it’s bubbled up to the surface because of the belief among many white people, not just in the south but around the country, that African-Americans are not qualified to lead this great country. It’s an abominable circumstance, and it grieves me and concerns me very deeply.” Carter said the day before that he believes the “You lie!” shout at Obama by Representative Joe Wilson (R-SC) during Obama’s address to Congress (see September 9, 2009) may have been racially motivated. Michael Steele, the chairman of the Republican National Committee and the first African-American to hold that position, disagrees. “President Carter is flat-out wrong,” he says. “This isn’t about race. It is about policy.” Instead, Steele says Democrats are just trying to divert attention from what he calls Obama’s “wildly unpopular government-run health care plan.… Playing the race card shows that Democrats are willing to deal from the bottom of the deck.” Congressman Henry Johnson (D-GA), an African-American and a fellow Georgian, predicts that racial tensions will rise throughout the nation, saying, “I guess we’ll probably have folks putting on white hoods and white uniforms again and riding through the countryside.” Comedian Bill Cosby also agrees with Carter, calling Wilson’s shout and other displays of aggression towards Obama “public display[s] of disrespect.” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs refuses to comment on Carter’s statements (CNN 9/15/2009; MacAskill 9/16/2009) other than noting, “I don’t believe the president agrees with [Carter].” He adds: “I don’t think the president believes that people are upset because of the color of his skin. I think people are upset because on Monday we celebrate the anniversary of the Lehman Brothers collapse that caused a financial catastrophe unlike anything we’ve ever seen.” (Orr 9/16/2009) Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which tracks American hate groups, says Carter is correct in his assessment: “I think what President Carter said is precisely what is going on. I am not saying that everyone involved in opposing healthcare reform is a Klansman in disguise, but it is the elephant in the room.” Potok says the SPLC is tracking a sharp rise in the number of right-wing hate groups, violent plots, and racist incidents since Obama accepted the Democratic nomination for president in 2008. (MacAskill 9/16/2009)
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