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Profile: Rush Holt
Rush Holt was a participant or observer in the following events:
The FBI claims the anthrax letters were sent from the middle mailbox of these three mailboxes on Nassau Street, Princeton. [Source: Richard Smith]In mid-October 2001, investigators mistakenly believe that the anthrax letters were mailed from somewhere in West Trenton, New Jersey and are said to have narrowed down the location of the mailbox to a one square mile radius. [New York Times, 10/19/2001] But around December 2001, contamination at a New Jersey postal processing center indicates that the letters in the anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001) had been mailed on one of a limited number of routes near Princeton, New Jersey. However, seven months pass before FBI investigators test hundreds of mailboxes and identify the mailbox where the letters were mailed from. Congressman Rush Holt (D-NJ), whose congressional district includes the area where the letters were mailed from, will later say that he was surprised by how slow and shoddy the investigation was. He will point out, “Within two days they could have dispatched 50 people to wipe all those mailboxes.” He will also say that he was surprised when anthrax was found in his Congressional office in October 2001, but investigators never returned to conduct systematic testing to trace the path of the anthrax spores. [New York Times, 8/4/2008] The FBI tests about 600 mailboxes for several weeks and finds and removes the right one in early August. It is located in Princeton, New Jersey, on the corner of Nassau and Bank Streets and opposite the Princeton University campus. [New York Times, 8/14/2002] However, there are doubts that the right mailbox was identified (see August 14, 2002).
A group of House Democrats led by Rush Holt (D-NJ) introduces a “resolution of inquiry” that asks the president, secretary of state, secretary of defense, and attorney general to give the House of Representatives all documents in their possession relating to the Plame Wilson identity leak. Holt and his fellow Democrats are asking for telephone and electronic mail records, logs and calendars, personnel records, and records of internal discussions from the period between May 6, 2003 and July 31, 2003. Holt, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, says in a statement: “Six months after a syndicated columnist disclosed the name of an undercover CIA operative, the White House
and the Department of Justice have yet to find and hold accountable the person or persons who revealed her identity. The Department of Justice investigation has the full support of Congress and should be vigorously pursued, but it is not enough.” [Reuters, 1/22/2004]
A group of 10 ex-CIA officials are working with members of Congress to push for a Congressional inquiry into the leak of CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson’s covert agency status. The former officials want to know if Plame Wilson’s exposure compromised US national security. Former CIA analyst Larry Johnson and nine other former CIA analysts and case officers send a letter to House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) and other senior Democrats and Republicans in the House of Representatives. The officers call on Congress to act “for the good of the country,” and say it is time to “send an unambiguous message that the intelligence officers tasked with collecting or analyzing intelligence must never be turned into political punching bags.” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) says she agrees with the thrust of the letter, and supports efforts by Representative Rush Holt (D-NJ) to force the House to open such a probe. Holt and other Democrats have introduced a resolution that, if approved, would request that the Bush administration forward all documents related to the Plame Wilson investigation to Congress. It is unlikely that House Republicans will allow the resolution to be brought to a vote. “The Department of Justice investigation has the full support of Congress and should be vigorously pursued, but it is not enough,” Holt says. [United Press International, 1/22/2004; Associated Press, 1/23/2004; Chicago Sun-Times, 1/23/2004]
Representative Rush Holt (D-NJ) introduces a resolution that would request the Bush administration to divulge the name, or names, of the White House officials responsible for leaking the CIA status of Valerie Plame Wilson to the press (see June 13, 2003, June 23, 2003, July 7, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, July 8, 2003, 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, 8:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003, 1:26 p.m. July 12, 2003, and July 12, 2003). The resolutions are referred to four House committees: Judiciary, International Relations, Armed Services, and Intelligence. The Republican leadership votes the resolution down in each committee, arguing in each case that to make such a request would interfere with the Justice Department’s ongoing criminal investigation. In December 2005, the Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee will write, “This argument would seem to be disingenuous given that there are numerous precedents for Congressional committees investigating concurrently with the Justice Department and with other matters under criminal review by the executive branch, most notably many concurrent investigations by the Republican Congress involving the Clinton administration.” [Waxman, 12/2005]
Peter Hoekstra. [Source: Public domain]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.” [Washington Post, 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. [Inter Press Service, 8/25/2006; Washington Post, 9/14/2006; Vanity Fair, 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.) [Inter Press Service, 8/25/2006; Washington Post, 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.’” [Antiwar.com, 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.” [Inter Press Service, 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.” [Tom Paine (.com), 8/25/2006]
Entity Tags: John Prados, John R. Bolton, Mohamed ElBaradei, National Security Council, Ray McGovern, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Jane Harman, Saddam Hussein, Rush Holt, Peter Hoekstra, James Earl “Jimmy” Carter, Jr., Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Institute for Science and International Security, Condoleezza Rice, David Albright, Colin Powell, Central Intelligence Agency, Al-Qaeda, Christian Westermann, International Atomic Energy Agency, Frederick Fleitz, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, House Intelligence Committee, Gary G. Sick, Donald Rumsfeld, Hezbollah
Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran
Mitch McConnell. [Source: US Senate]President Bush signs the controversial Protect America Act (PAA) into law. The bill, which drastically modifies the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) of 1978 (see 1978), was sponsored by two Senate Republicans, Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Christopher Bond (R-MO), but written by the Bush administration’s intelligence advisers. [US Senate, 8/5/2007; Washington Post, 8/5/2007] It passed both houses of Congress with little debate and no hearings (see August 1-4, 2007). “This more or less legalizes the NSA [domestic surveillance] program,” says Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies. [New York Times, 8/6/2007] Slate’s Patrick Radden Keefe adds ominously, “The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act is now dead, and it’s never coming back.” [Slate, 8/6/2007] The PAA expires in six months, the only real concession Congressional Democrats were able to secure. Though the Bush administration and its allies in Congress insist that the law gives the government “the essential tools it needs” to conduct necessary surveillance of foreign-based terrorists while protecting Americans’ civil liberties, many Democrats and civil liberties organizations say the bill allows the government to wiretap US residents in communication with overseas parties without judiciary or Congressional oversight. Bush calls the bill “a temporary, narrowly focused statute to deal with the most immediate shortcomings in the law” that needs to be expanded and made permanent by subsequent legislation. The administration says that the lack of judiciary oversight in the new law will be adequately covered by “internal bureaucratic controls” at the National Security Agency. [Associated Press, 8/5/2007; Washington Post, 8/5/2007]
Reining in FISA - The PAA allows FISA to return “to its original focus on protecting the rights of Americans, while not acting as an obstacle to conducting foreign intelligence surveillance on foreign targets located overseas.” Before the PAA, the White House says, FISA created unnecessary obstacles in allowing US intelligence to “gain real-time information about the intent of our enemies overseas,” and “diverted scarce resources that would be better spent safeguarding the civil liberties of people in the United States, not foreign terrorists who wish to do us harm.” The PAA no longer requires the government to obtain FISA warrants to monitor “foreign intelligence targets located in foreign countries” who are contacting, or being contacted by, US citizens inside US borders. FISA will continue to review the procedures used by US intelligence officials in monitoring US citizens and foreign contacts by having the attorney general inform the FISA Court of the procedures used by the intelligence community to determine surveillance targets are outside the United States.”
Allows Third Parties to Assist in Surveillance, Grants Immunity - The PAA also allows the director of national intelligence and the attorney general to secure the cooperation of “third parties,” particularly telecommunications firms and phone carriers, to “provide the information, facilities, and assistance necessary to conduct surveillance of foreign intelligence targets located overseas.” It provides these firms with immunity from any civil lawsuits engendered by such cooperation.
Short Term Legislation - The White House says that Congress must pass further legislation to give telecommunications firms permanent and retroactive immunity against civil lawsuits arising from their cooperation with the government’s domestic surveillance program. [White House, 8/6/2006]
Temporary Suspension of the Constitution? - Representative Rush Holt (D-NJ), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, says: “I’m not comfortable suspending the Constitution even temporarily. The countries we detest around the world are the ones that spy on their own people. Usually they say they do it for the sake of public safety and security.” [Washington Post, 8/5/2007]
Entity Tags: Christopher (“Kit”) Bond, National Security Agency, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, George W. Bush, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Mitch McConnell, Al-Qaeda, Terrorist Surveillance Program, Kate Martin, Patrick Radden Keefe, Rush Holt, Protect America Act
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
In House testimony, FBI Director Robert Mueller and Lieutenant General Michael Maples of the Defense Intelligence Agency say that they stand by their agencies’ decisions not to waterboard detainees. Two days before, CIA Director Michael Hayden and Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell testified that the CIA had used waterboarding and might do so again (see February 5, 2008). The Pentagon has banned its employees from using the tactic, and the FBI has stated, “its investigators do not use coercive tactics when interviewing terror suspects.” Rush Holt (D-NJ) asks Mueller and Maples why their agencies do not use coercive interrogation: “Do you never interrogate people who have critical information?” Mueller responds: “Our protocol is not to use coercive techniques. That is our protocol. We have lived by it. And it is sufficient and appropriate for our mission here in the United States.… We believe in the appropriateness of our techniques to our mission here in the United States.” Maples adds: “The Army Field Manual guides our efforts and the efforts of the armed forces.… We believe that the approaches that are in the Army Field Manual give us the tools that are necessary for the purpose under which we are conducting interrogations.” The field manual bans the use of coercion against detainees. [Think Progress, 2/7/2008] The same day, Attorney General Michael Mukasey announces his decision not to investigate the US’s use of waterboarding (see February 7, 2008).
Steven Hatfill in 2008. [Source: Mark Wilson / Getty Images]Steven Hatfill, who was called a “person of interest” in the FBI’s investigation into the 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001), agrees to a $5.82 million payment from the government to settle his legal claim that the Justice Department and the FBI ruined his career and invaded his privacy. Hatfill was the main focus of the anthrax investigation for several years, but was never arrested or charged. A federal judge presiding over his lawsuit recently said there “is not a scintilla of evidence” linking him to the attacks. The government does not formally admit any wrongdoing as part of the settlement, but the payout is widely viewed as an exoneration for Hatfill. For instance, the Los Angeles Times calls Hatfill “all but exonerated.” No witnesses or physical evidence were ever produced to link Hatfill to the attacks. Representative Rush Holt (D-NJ) says the government’s payout to Hatfill confirms that the anthrax investigation “was botched from the very beginning.… The FBI did a poor job of collecting evidence, and then inappropriately focused on one individual as a suspect for too long, developing an erroneous ‘theory of the case’ that has led to this very expensive dead end.” [Los Angeles Times, 6/28/2008; Los Angeles Times, 6/29/2008]
Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) sends a letter to Attorney General Michael Mukasey and FBI Director Robert Mueller with a list of 18 questions about the FBI’s anthrax attacks investigation. He gives them two weeks to respond. The Los Angeles Times says the questions raise “concerns about virtually every aspect of the probe.” Grassley’s questions include how the government focused on suspect Bruce Ivins (who apparently committed suicide about a week earlier July 29, 2008), what was known about his deteriorating mental condition, whether he had taken a lie-detector test, and why investigators are sure that no one else helped him. “The FBI has a lot of explaining to do,” Grassley says. Representative Rush Holt (D-NJ) also says in an interview that he is in discussions with other Congresspeople to arrange a Congressional inquiry that would combine the efforts of several Congressional oversight committees. Referring to President John F. Kennedy’s 1963 assassination, Holt says, “We don’t want this to be another Lee Harvey Oswald case where the public says it is never solved to their satisfaction. Somebody needs to finish the job that would have been finished in a court of law.” Other than Congress, “I’m not sure where else to do it.” [Los Angeles Times, 8/8/2008]
The Justice Department gives a private briefing to some Congresspeople and government officials outlining the FBI’s case against deceased anthrax attacks suspect Bruce Ivins. Senator Tom Daschle (D-SD), a target of one of the 2001 anthrax letters, attends the briefing and is impressed with the FBI’s arguments. He says that prior to the briefing, he was “very dubious,” but now he finds the government’s case “complete and persuasive.” [USA Today, 8/13/2008] However, Daschle’s reaction seems to be unusual. The New York Times reports that “a number of listeners said the briefing left them less convinced that the FBI had the right man, and they said some of the government’s public statements appeared incomplete or misleading.” Representative Rush Holt (D-NJ) says, “The case is built from a number of pieces of circumstantial evidence, and for a case this important, it’s troubling to have so many loose ends. The briefing pointed out even more loose ends than I thought there were before.” Naba Barkakati, the chief technologist for the Government Accountability Office (GAO), says: “It’s very hard to get the sense of whether this was scientifically good or bad. We didn’t really get the question settled, other than taking their word for it.” As a result of these continuing doubts, the FBI decides to make public more details of their scientific evidence against Ivins in a press conference to be held a week later. [New York Times, 8/15/2008]
The New York Times reports that “in interviews last week, two dozen bioterrorism experts, veteran investigators, and members of Congress expressed doubts about the FBI’s conclusions” about deceased anthrax attacks suspect Bruce Ivins, and many “do not think the [FBI] has proved its case” against him. For instance:
Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) says, “My conclusion at this point is that it’s very much an open matter.… There are some very serious questions that have yet to be answered and need to be made public.”
Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) says, “If the case is solved, why isn’t it solved? It’s all very suspicious, and you wonder whether or not the FBI doesn’t have something to cover up and that they don’t want to come clean.”
Representative Rush Holt (D-NJ) says, “[The FBI] took their shot… They hoped and maybe believed that the case they laid out would persuade everyone. I think they’re probably surprised by the level of skepticism.”
Bioterrorism expert Dr. Thomas Inglesby says, “For a lot of the scientific community, the word would be agnostic.… They still don’t feel they have enough information to judge whether the case has been solved.”
Dr. Ralph Frerichs, an epidemiologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, says, “There’s no clarity on the simplest aspect: is [making the anthrax used in the attacks] hard to do or easy to do?”
Dr. Gerry Andrews, who once served as Ivins’s boss at USAMRIID, says, “Despite the FBI’s scientific and circumstantial evidence, I and many of Dr. Ivins’s former colleagues don’t believe he did it and don’t believe the spore preparations were made at [USAMRIID]” (see August 1-10, 2008).
Officials have acknowledged “that they did not have a single, definitive piece of evidence indisputably proving that Dr. Ivins mailed the letters—no confession, no trace of his DNA on the letters, no security camera recording the mailings in Princeton, [New Jersey.]” But the Times also notes, “Even the strongest skeptics acknowledged that the bureau had raised troubling questions about Dr. Ivins’s mental health and had made a strong scientific case linking the mailed anthrax to a supply in his laboratory. But they said the bureau’s piecemeal release of information, in search warrant affidavits and in briefings for reporters and Congress, had left significant gaps in the trail that led to Dr. Ivins and had failed to explain how investigators ruled out at least 100 other people who the bureau acknowledged had access to the same flasks of anthrax.” [New York Times, 9/6/2008]
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