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Dr. Stephen Bryen, a neoconservative staff member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is accused of espionage against the US. An affidavit written by Deputy Assistant Attorney General Robert Keuch recommends a grand jury convene to hear evidence that Bryen had offered classified information to an Israeli Embassy official, Zvi Rafiah, the Mossad station chief in Washington (see March 1978). Bryen made the offer in the presence of the director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Bryen refused to take an FBI lie detector test, but the AIPAC director agreed, and passed the test. One of Bryen’s Senate committee colleagues also tells FBI investigators that she later saw Bryen offering a pile of documents to Rafiah from an open safe in Bryen’s Senate office. Bryen’s fingerprints were found on classified documents which he denied ever handling—the same documents he allegedly offered to Rafiah. The investigation is derailed when the Senate Foreign Relations Committee refuses to grant the FBI access to files key to the probe. Bryen will resign his position with the committee at the insistence of Philip Heymann, the assistant attorney general in charge of the Justice Department’s criminal division, and under strong pressure from senators Clifford Case (R-NJ), who is Bryen’s boss, and Henry “Scoop” Jackson (D-WA). Heymann happens to be a close personal friend and associate of Bryen’s attorney. Soon after his resignation, Bryen will take a post as the executive director of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA). In 1981, neoconservative Richard Perle, an assistant secretary of defense and then-aide to Jackson, will secure Bryen top-secret security clearance. Bryen will become Perle’s deputy, and will continue to provide Israel with classified information and materials (see May 1988 and After). (Holland and Bird 6/29/1985; Saba 7/4/1986; Green 2/28/2004)
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee votes 10-7 to approve a six-year waiver requested by the Reagan administration allowing it to provide aid to Pakistan. The waiver is required because foreign aid for Pakistan was cut off in 1979 in response to revelations that it had acquired unsafeguarded uranium enrichment technology. The Reagan administration wants to provide aid to Pakistan to get it to assist anti-Soviet fighters in Afghanistan. An increased aid package will be approved in December (see December 1981). (Armstrong and Trento 2007, pp. 118-119; Levy and Scott-Clark 2007, pp. 85)
Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams (see Late 1985 and After and September 4, 1985) testifies three times to Congress that the Contra resupply operation, exposed by the downing of a CIA transport plane (see October 5, 1986 and October 9, 1986), is not a US government operation. There is no coordination whatsoever from any government official (see Summer 1985, Mid-September 1985, October 1985, Late 1985 and After, February 7-8, 1986, May 16, 1986, July 1986 and After, September 19-20, 1986, September 25, 1986, and January 9, 1986), and no one in the government knows who organized or paid for the transport flight that was shot down.
'Not Our Supply System' - Abrams tells the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that while he and other government officials are aware of the Contra resupply operation, “[i]t is not our supply system. It is one that grew up after we were forbidden from supplying the resistance, and we have been kind of careful not to get closely involved with it and to stay away from it.… We do not encourage people to do this. We don’t round up people, we don’t write letters, we don’t have conversations, we don’t tell them to do this, we don’t ask them to do it. But I think it is quite clear, from the attitude of the administration, the attitude of the administration is that these people are doing a very good thing, and if they think they are doing something that we like, then, in a general sense, they are right.” In testimony to the House Intelligence Committee, Abrams is asked by Chairman Lee Hamilton (D-IN), “Can anybody assure us that the United States government was not involved, indirectly or directly, in any way in supply of the contras?” Abrams responds: “I believe we have already done that, that is, I think, the president has done it, the secretary has done it [Secretary of State George Shultz], and I have done it.… Now again, this normal intelligence monitoring is there, but the answer to your question is yes.” Abrams and CIA officials Clair George and Alan Fiers tell the same falsehoods to a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee. “We don’t know,” Abrams asserts, “because we don’t track this kind of activity.”
No Knowledge of 'Gomez' - He also claims under questioning not to know the identity of “Max Gomez,” who he well knows is former CIA agent Felix Rodriguez (see Mid-September 1985). Senator John Kerry (D-MA) asks, “You don’t know whether or not [Gomez] reports to the vice president of the United States?” (see October 10, 1986). Both George and Abrams deny any such knowledge, though Abrams is highly aware of Rodriguez’s activities in El Salvador (he does not inform the committee of those activities). During the Congressional sessions, media reports identify Gomez as Rodriguez. (Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986 8/4/1993)
Former Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams testifies to the House Intelligence Committee about his knowledge of the Iran-Contra affair (see Mid-October, 1986). Like CIA official Alan Fiers (see November 25, 1986), Abrams testifies that neither he nor his superiors at the State Department knew anything of the illegal diversion of funds to the Nicaraguan Contras (see December 6, 1985 and April 4, 1986); like Fiers, Abrams is lying (see Late 1985 and After). Several days later, Abrams testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Senator Thomas Eagleton (D-MO) accuses Abrams of lying during the first session, and Abrams replies, “You’ve heard my testimony.” Eagleton retorts, “I’ve heard it, and I want to puke.” (Lacayo, Beaty, and van Voorst 7/22/1991; Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986 8/4/1993) Abrams will later admit to lying to both the House and Senate (see October 7, 1991).
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee reports that the US faces a dire choice if Iran is victorious in its war with Iraq. The choice, the committee reports, is “between permitting Iran to dominate the West’s oil supply in the Persian Gulf, and direct US military intervention… .” The report warns that the US, having agreed to protect Kuwaiti shipping in the Persian Gulf from Iranian attacks, “seriously risks being drawn into war” against Iran, and notes that Gulf nations believe the US is siding with Iraq in the war, “and the expanded US naval presence is likely to invite more Iranian attacks of increasing severity.… American naval forces in the Gulf are now, in effect, hostage to Iraqi war policy.” The Senate is debating whether to invoke the 1973 War Powers Resolution, which requires Congress to either declare war in the region or withdraw funding for the US military presence in the Gulf. The Reagan administration opposes the move, and it is doubtful a majority in Congress will vote to invoke the resolution. The report calls the US policy of escorting Kuwaiti tankers “dangerously nebulous.” The Reagan administration agreed to protect the tankers after Kuwait threatened to turn to the Soviets for help if the United States refused. Most Gulf nations believe Kuwait’s threat to ask for Soviet help is nothing more than a “feint” to involve the US in the war; few believe Kuwait is serious about turning to the Soviets for assistance. The report says that although “the flow of oil is not in serious jeopardy,” “shipping in the gulf now appears less safe than before the US naval buildup began.” Iran has recently sown Gulf waters with mines, posing a threat to Kuwaiti and other shipping in the area. Interestingly, though the report is critical of Reagan administration policy in the Gulf, it does not recommend reversing course. The US cannot retreat from its promise to protect Kuwaiti shipping without risking “great cost to US credibility in the region.” Claiborne Pell (D-RI) says, “This report shows that the danger of a possible Iraqi collapse is greater than commonly understood, and that the perils for us in the Gulf are certain to increase.” The report notes that because of the White House’s secret arming of Iran (see 1981), Iraq faces the real possibility of defeat in the war, with potentially catastrophic results for the US. “US policy in the Persian Gulf has been shaped as much by a short-term desire to restore credibility lost in the Iran-Contra affair as by any careful assessment of US interests and objectives.” (Kaplan 10/19/1987; Waas and Unger 11/2/1992)
A US delegation travels to Turkey at the request of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee and confirms that Iraq is “using chemical weapons on its Kurdish population.” (US Congress 10/1988)
Days after the end of the Iran-Iraq War (see August 20, 1988), Saddam Hussein begins the first of a series of poison-gas attacks on Kurdish villages inside Iraq. A September 1988 report by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee states: “Those who were very close to the bombs died instantly. Those who did not die instantly found it difficult to breathe and began to vomit. The gas stung the eyes, skin, and lungs of the villagers exposed to it. Many suffered temporary blindness… . Those who could not run from the growing smell, mostly the very old and the very young, died.” While the gas attacks are continuing, Deputy Secretary of State John Whitehead circulates a highly classified memo among senior State Department officials recommending that the US cultivate even closer ties with Iraq, whom it supported over Iran in the last few years of the war (see Early October-November, 1986). Whitehead offers a Cold War rationale: “[Soviet] clout and influence is on a steady rise as the Gulf Arabs gain self-confidence and Soviet diplomacy gains in sophistication. The Soviets have strong cards to play: their border with Iran and their arms-supply relationship with Iraq. They will continue to be major players and we should engage them as fully as possible.” Whitehead adds, “It should be remembered… that we have weathered Irangate” (see January 17, 1986). More must be done to develop closer ties with “the ruthless but pragmatic Saddam Hussein.” (Also see September 8, 1988.) (Waas and Unger 11/2/1992)
The US Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirms reports that between 1984 and 1988 “Iraq repeatedly and effectively used poison gas on Iran.” (US Congress 10/1988)
Deputy Secretary of State Designate Lawrence Eagleburger is called to testify in a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the Yugoslav situation. He tells the senators that Serbian communist leader Slobodan Milosevic’s actions are “very harmful,” creating “the worst [conditions] with regard to the national question since the end of the war,” and says that ethnic Albanians are the victims and the US should speak out. He also says Yugoslavia is “used to reacting adversely to any outside intereference.” (Kola 2003, pp. 184)
Kosovo’s Assembly, in a highly irregular vote on March 23, approves the new Serbian constitution, already approved by the Assembly of the Republic of Serbia on February 3. The Kosovo vote does not meet the three-fourths majority necessary for amendments and is not held with a quorum, people from Belgrade and security personnel vote, and the votes are not actually counted. Assembly members are threatened if they vote no. The vote occurs under “a state of exception,” with disorder in the province and mobilization of the military.
Kosovo's Position under the New Serbian Constitution - Under the new Serbian constitution, the province is again called Kosovo and Metohija, and the autonomous provinces are defined as “a form of territorial autonomy,” regulated by the Serbian constitution. The 1968, 1971, and 1974 constitutional changes opposed by Serbs are nullified and Kosovo is in about the same position as it was under the 1945 and 1963 Yugoslav constitutions. The province loses its Executive Council and Assembly, and autonomy in police, courts, finance, and planning. Kosovo can pass statutes with the approval of Serbia’s Assembly.
Kosovar Demonstrations - Following the vote, hundreds of thousands protest, saying, “Long live the 1974 Constitution!” and “Tito-Party!” resulting in the declaration of martial law. Twenty-four civilians and two police are killed, but Paulin Kola will later put the number at over 100 killed and hundreds injured, while Miranda Vickers will say 28 are killed. Kola will refer to The Times’s March 31 issue, saying 12 police are critically injured and 112 less seriously injured on March 23; Radio Ljubljana says 140 Albanians are killed and 370 wounded through April; Albanian academic Rexhep Qosja will say in 1995 that 37 are killed, hundreds injured, and 245 intellectuals and 13 leaders arrested; The Times of June 2 says 900 are arrested, and on April 22 the Union of Kossovars writes to UN Secretary General Javier Peres de Cuellar, saying over 1,000 were killed and thousands hurt. More than 1,000 are tried in Ferizaj, according to a 1998 book by Noel Malcolm. Kosovo is again placed under a state of emergency. Workers who do not work are fired or arrested.
Slovenian Reaction - About 450,000 Slovenians sign a petition supporting their government’s views and opposing the crackdown in Kosovo.
Serbian Reaction - Hearing of the Slovenian petition, over 100,000 demonstrate the following day around Serbia, Vojvodina, Skopje, and Titograd.
Albania's Reaction - Albania’s relations with Yugoslavia had been deepening in the late 1980s, but Albania reacts more strongly to the March events. Foto Cami condemns Yugoslavia’s “erroneous policies” on the ethnic Albanians and says it will damage regional cooperation. Protests follow throughout Albania. Yugoslavia blames Albania for the violence in Kosovo. Ramiz Alia, now general secretary of the PLA, will say at a Political Bureau session in August 1990 that Western governments told Kosovar Albanians that to solve the problems in Kosovo, Albania had to change its government.
Soviet Reaction - Soviet media support the Serbs and refer to violence by Albanian nationalists, while saying that the majority in Kosovo and Vojvodina support the new Serbian constitution.
Western European Reactions - The UK says nothing. Although Yugoslavia’s Foreign Minister, Budimir Loncar, meets with British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in April, the contents of their talks are unknown to the public. Three years in the future a high-ranking official in Germany will regret this inaction.
American Reaction to the Turmoil in Kosovo - On March 9, three US senators proposed Senate Concurrent Resolution 20—Relating to the Conditions of Ethnic Albanians in Yugoslavia, which was passed prior to March 23. US policy supports Kosova’s position under the 1974 Constitution and the resolution asked President George H. W. Bush to reiterate this to the Yugoslav leadership. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee conducted a hearing on March 15. (Vickers 1998, pp. 234-238; Kola 2003, pp. 180-184, 190)
Former Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams, facing multiple counts of lying under oath to Congress about, among other things, his knowledge of the US government’s involvement in the resupply operation to the Nicaraguan Contras (see October 10-15, 1986), his knowledge of the role played by former CIA agent Felix Rodriguez in the resupply (see December 17, 1986), and his knowledge of third-party funding of the Nicaraguan Contras (see November 25, 1986), agrees to plead guilty to two misdemeanor charges of withholding evidence from Congress. Abrams agrees to the plea after being confronted with reams of evidence about his duplicity by investigators for special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh as well as from testimony elicited during the House-Senate investigation of 1987 (see July 7-10, 1987) and the guilty plea and subsequent testimony of former CIA agent Alan Fiers (see July 17, 1991). Abrams pleads guilty to two counts of withholding information from Congress, to unlawfully withholding information from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Intelligence Committee, and admits lying when he claimed that he knew nothing of former National Security Council official Oliver North’s illegal diversion of government funds to the Contras (see December 6, 1985, April 4, 1986, and November 25-28, 1986). Abrams says that he lied because he believed “that disclosure of Lt. Col. [Oliver] North’s activities in the resupply of the Contras would jeopardize final enactment” of a $100 million appropriation pending in Congress at the time of his testimony, a request that was narrowly defeated (see March 1986). Abrams also admits to soliciting $10 million in aid for the Contras from the Sultan of Brunei (see June 11, 1986). (Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986 8/4/1993)
Gordon Oehler, a former US national intelligence officer for weapons of mass destruction, testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the Clinton administration’s non-proliferation efforts. Oehler resigned in disgust the previous year as the administration was ignoring his warnings of Chinese proliferation to Pakistan and other countries (see October 1997). He tells the committee that “analysts were very discouraged to see their work was regularly dismissed.” (Levy and Scott-Clark 2007, pp. 260, 512)
Defense Policy Board chairman and prominent neoconservative Richard Perle tells the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, “Does Saddam [Hussein] now have weapons of mass destruction? Sure he does. We know he has chemical weapons. We know he has biological weapons.…How far he’s gone on the nuclear-weapons side I don’t think we really know. My guess is it’s further than we think. It’s always further than we think, because we limit ourselves, as we think about this, to what we’re able to prove and demonstrate…. And, unless you believe that we’ve uncovered everything, you have to assume there is more than we’re able to report.” Perle fails to offer any evidence of his claims to the senators, and fails to provide evidence from UN inspectors that shows virtually all of Iraq’s WMD stockpiles and programs have long since been destroyed. (Hersh 2004, pp. 209-210)
Former president Bill Clinton reacts angrily to edited transcripts of private conversations with former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak, in which Barak requested that Clinton pardon fugitive American financier Marc Rich (see August 21, 2001 and Early September, 2001). The transcripts were edited and released to the public by House Government Reform Committee chairman Dan Burton (R-IN) as part of his investigation into whether Clinton acted improperly in pardoning Rich. After reading the transcripts, Clinton thinks that Burton has selectively edited them, and giving a false impression of the nature and content of the conversations between himself and Barak. Clinton asks the White House, which had provided Burton with copies of the tapes of the conversations, to release all of the relevant portions of the transcripts, which he says will portray the conversations in a different light. But the White House refuses, saying the remaining portions of the transcripts are now classified. (Dean 2004, pp. 85-86)
'Hating Bill Clinton' - The classification of the documents is quite sudden. Earlier in the month, a White House spokesperson said that the release of the Clinton-Barak transcripts was nothing more than part of their efforts to make more information available to Congress. “The excerpts were not classified,” the spokesperson said. “The decision to make the documents available was entirely consistent with past practice. You don’t just slap Top Secret on a whole document.” However, some observers dispute this. “Given the secrecy that the Bush-Cheney administration has pursued, it’s inconceivable that they would turn this information over if it affected President Bush,” says Phil Schiliro, the Democratic staff director for the House Government Reform Committee, which is trying in vain to secure information from the White House about the Cheney Energy Task Force. Lynne Weil, the press secretary for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, calls the sudden decision to classify the previously unclassified transcripts “highly unusual.” She adds, “People who have worked for the Foreign Relations Committee for years can’t recall the last time such a thing happened.” The National Security Archives’s Tom Blanton welcomed the original disclosure of the conversations, but says it came not from a sudden desire for transparency from the Bush administration, but from a desire to smear Clinton. The Bush administration passionately believes in secrecy, a belief rooted in its collective ideology, says Blanton. When asked why that same ideological concern didn’t extend to the Clinton-Barak transcripts, Blanton replies that the question ignores “a rather more focused version of that ideology that’s about hating Bill Clinton.”
Violation of Procedure - Typically, the Bush administration turns down requests such as Burton’s for private presidential conversations. However, White House counsel Alberto Gonzales decided to turn them over. At that point, Clinton could have attempted to block the release of the transcripts by invoking executive privilege, a move that may have cast him in a poor light politically. But the events as carried out by Burton and the White House—breaking with precedent to release potentially embarrassing transcripts, edit those transcripts to make their contents appear more damning than they actually are, then retroactively classify the remainder of the transcripts—is highly unusual. (Marshall 2/7/2002; Dean 2004, pp. 85-86)
Senate Democrats criticize the Bush administration’s decision to unilaterally withdraw from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty with Russia (see May 26, 1972 and December 13, 2001). Joseph Biden (D-DE), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, says the withdrawal will cause an arms buildup not only in Russia but in Pakistan and India, thereby increasing tensions in southern Asia. President Bush’s priorities are “out of whack,” Biden says, and adds that the US should be more worried about terrorists with weapons of mass destruction than countries with long-range ballistic missiles. “September 11 indicated our country is vulnerable,” Biden says. “The thing we remain the least vulnerable to is an ICBM attack from another nation.” Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle warns that the withdrawal could “rupture relations with key countries around the world,” and raises questions about future arms races involving other countries. Bush officials counter that if terrorists get their hands on long-range missiles, they will use them, and the US must be prepared to defend against such an attack. (CNN 12/14/2001)
Richard Butler, a former UN inspector from Australia, tells the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, “I have seen no evidence of Iraq providing weapons of mass destruction to non-Iraqi terrorist groups.” (Guggenheim 8/1/2002)
Joseph P. Hoar, a retired Marine Corps general who commanded American forces in the Persian Gulf after the 1991 war, warns the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the proposed invasion is both “risky” and possibly unnecessary. (Dao 8/1/2002)
Secretary of State Colin Powell tells the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, “The world had to recognize that the potential connection between terrorists and weapons of mass destruction moved terrorism to a new level of threat. In fact, that nexus became the overriding security concern of our nation. It still is and it will continue to be our overriding concern for some years to come.” (US Department of State 9/26/2002) But Paul Anderson, spokesman for Sen. Bob Graham (D-FL), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, tells reporters that Graham, who has access to highly classified reports, has seen no evidence that Iraq has ties to al-Qaeda. (Slavin and Diamond 9/26/2002)
The CIA delivers the classified version of its 90-page National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq (see October 1, 2002) to Congress at 8 p.m. It is available for viewing by congresspersons under tight security—including armed guards—in the offices of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees. Only House and Senate intelligence committee members can read the material, if they come without staff members. (Pincus 6/22/2003; Burrough et al. 5/2004, pp. 281; Unger 2007, pp. 265) Despite an upcoming vote on whether or not to authorize a military attack on Iraq (see October 11, 2002), no more than a half-dozen or so members actually come to review the NIE. Peter Zimmerman, the scientific adviser to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and one of the first to look at the document, is stunned to see how severely the dissenting opinions of the Energy Department and the State Department undercut the conclusions that were so boldly stated in the NIE’s “Key Judgments” section. He later recalls: “Boy, there’s nothing in there. If anybody takes the time to actually read this, they can’t believe there actually are major WMD programs.” One of the lawmakers who does read the document is Senator Bob Graham (D-FL) (see October 4, 2002). Like Zimmerman, he is disturbed by the document’s “many nuances and outright dissents.” But he is unable to say anything about them in public because the NIE is classified. Senator John D. Rockefeller (D-WV) says in a 2005 interview: “In fact, there were only six people in the Senate who did [read the NIE], and I was one of them. I’m sure Pat [Roberts (R-KS)] was another.” Roberts is the Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee and Rockefeller is the vice chairman. (Fox News 11/14/2005; Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 133-134, 137) Rockefeller will later explain that such a visit is difficult for busy congresspersons. Besides, he will say, “it’s extremely dense reading.” (Unger 2007, pp. 264)
Senator Norm Coleman, chairman of the Foreign Relations Western Hemisphere subcommittee, holds a hearing in which he says that a “tough response” against Mexico would be “warranted” for “unilateral renegotiation of NAFTA.” Present at the hearing are Bush administration officials and leaders of agribusiness interest groups. Jim Quackenbush, board member of the National Pork Producers Council, complains of a Mexican anti-dumping case against US hog exports and claims his goods are often halted at the border for “alleged sanitary concerns.” He calls for the US to “use all available means” to keep Mexico’s market open to US agricultural goods. Allen Johnson, chief agriculture negotiator in the office of the US Trade Representative, says that the US will work to defend its interests and is ready to retaliate if Mexico does not accede to its demands. (US Congress 5/20/2003 ; Ford 5/21/2003)
A private delegation of US negotiators and arms experts flies to Pyongyang for a demonstration of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program (see October 4, 2002 and January 10, 2003 and After). They tour the Yongbyon nuclear reactor, and see actual plutonium. Siegfried Hecker, a former director of the Los Alamos nuclear lab and one of the delegates, comes back to Washington convinced that North Korea has indeed processed all of its fuel rods. In testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he tells the senators that while he saw no sign of actual weapons, that does not mean they do not have weapons, just that he was shown no evidence of such weapons. (Kaplan 5/2004; BBC 12/2007)
Incoming Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, during her confirmation hearings before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, calls North Korea one of the world’s six “outposts of tyranny.” (The others are Cuba, Myanmar—which Rice identifies by its old name of Burma—Iran, Belarus, and Zimbabwe.) In 2008, author J. Peter Scoblic will cite Rice’s characterization as another example of overheated Bush administration rhetoric that makes it all the more difficult to negotiate with the obstinate North Koreans over their nuclear program (see August 2003). (US Senate Foreign Relations Committee 1/18/2005 ; BBC 12/2007; Scoblic 2008, pp. 243)
The New York Times criticizes President Bush for nominating a political crony with no expertise to a critical State Department position. Bush has nominated Ellen Sauerbrey, a Maryland Republican legislator who chaired his 2000 presidential campaign in that state, to the post of assistant secretary of state for population, refugees, and migration, a nomination the Times calls “patronage.” The Times describes the post as “coordinat[ing] the delivery of life-sustaining emergency aid to refugees of foreign wars, persecution, and natural disasters.” Sauerbrey would oversee a bureau responsible for allocating $700 million a year to private relief groups and United Nations agencies, mostly to set up refugee camps and arrange for food deliveries, protection, and other vital aid in third world countries. “Ms. Sauerbrey has no experience responding to major crises calling for international relief,” the Times notes. “This is a post for an established expert in the field.” Sauerbrey was chosen for another “patronage job” in 2002, the Times continues, as the US representative to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. “There she has relentlessly pressed an anti-abortion and anti-family-planning agenda at international conferences meant to focus on urgent problems like sexual trafficking and the spread of AIDS,” the Times writes. Salon will later note that during her tenure at the UN, Sauerbrey worked to scuttle international agreements that guaranteed women’s rights to reproductive health care. The Times recommends that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee block her nomination; editorial boards for a number of other newspapers also oppose her nomination. (Goldberg 1/6/2005; New York Times 10/11/2005) Sauerbrey will be granted the position as a recess appointment (see January 5, 2006).
President Bush appoints Ellen Sauerbrey (see October 11, 2005) to the position of assistant secretary of state for population, refugees, and migration. Bush grants Sauerbrey a “recess appointment,” enabling her to avoid the usual Senate confirmation process, after the Senate Foreign Relations Committee showed reluctance to confirm her for the post. During the confirmation hearings, Barack Obama (D-IL) told her, “It doesn’t appear that you have very specific experience,” and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) convinced the committee to postpone a vote on her nomination. Salon calls her appointment “disastrous” for the State Department. “Her job description is to help coordinate humanitarian assistance across the globe, but it’s clear that her first concern will always be to appease America’s extreme right,” Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) says. “There’s a reason the president had to sneak this appointment past the Senate.” Phyllis Oakley, who held the position from 1993 through 1997, says that Sauerbrey entirely lacks the experience necessary to perform her duties. Sauerbrey is, however, very popular among the right wing of the Republican Party, winning her popularity by hosting a religious/conservative television talk show before chairing Bush’s 2000 presidential campaign in Maryland. She is a staunch opponent of legal abortion, sex education, and birth control. Jodi Jacobson of the Center for Health and Gender Equity says that Sauerbrey’s positions could have a powerfully negative effect on US refugee policies: “In refugee settings, 80 percent of refugees are women and children. There are extremely high rates of sexual violence and coercion in refugee settings. You have a really, really high need for effective reproductive and sexual health programs that would include access to emergency contraception and HIV prophylactics and that kind of thing.” In Sauerbrey, she says: “You have a person in there who A) doesn’t have any experience dealing with refugee movements, refugee resettlement, refugee crises, and B) has an ideological agenda against the single most important health intervention for refugee women.” (Goldberg 1/6/2005)
Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE), a presidential candidate and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, says that President Bush deliberately misled the American people over the danger posed by Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and that if Bush initiates an attack on Iran without the approval of Congress, he will call for Bush’s impeachment. Biden tells reporters, “After all we’ve been through, for this president to knowingly disregard or once again misrepresent intelligence about an issue of war and peace, I find outrageous.” Biden is referring to the faulty and deceptive intelligence presented by the Bush administration to justify invading Iraq. The US intelligence community recently released a National Intelligence Estimate (see December 3, 2007) that concluded Iran shut down its nuclear program in 2003, and Bush has asserted that he himself only learned about the shutdown in late November (see December 3-4, 2007). Biden doesn’t believe Bush’s tale of ignorance: “Are you telling me a president who’s briefed every single morning, who’s fixated on Iran, is not told back in August that the tentative conclusion of 16 intelligence agencies of the United States government said [Iran] had abandoned their effort for nuclear weapons in 2003?” Biden says if Bush’s assertion of ignorance is true, then he and his staff are thoroughly incompetent. “You cannot trust this president,” Biden states. (Wheeler 12/4/2007) Biden is joined by other Democratic presidential candidates, although they use less “heated rhetoric” than Biden. Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) says, “I think we do know that pressure on Iran does have an effect. I think that is an important lesson. But we’re not going to reach the kind of resolution that we should seek unless we put that into the context of a diplomatic process.” And Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) notes that Bush “continues to not let facts get in the way of his ideology.… They should have stopped the saber rattling; should have never started it. And they need, now, to aggressively move on the diplomatic front.” (CNN 12/5/2007)
The White House confirms that President Bush was told in August 2007 that Iran’s nuclear weapons program “may be suspended,” the conclusion of the recently released National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) (see December 3, 2007). The White House’s admission is a direct contradiction of Bush’s assertion that he only learned of the NIE in late November (see December 3-4, 2007 and November 26-28, 2007). Press secretary Dana Perino says Bush was not told in August of the specifics behind the information about Iran’s nuclear program. Perino says that Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Mike McConnell told Bush in August that the new information might cause the intelligence community to revise its assessment of the Iranian program, but analysts still needed to complete their review before making a final judgment. However, Perino says there is no conflict between her statement and Bush’s insistence that he knew nothing about the substance of the intelligence assessment until late November, because Bush “wasn’t given the specific details” of the revised estimate. Perino’s account raises questions about why, if Bush knew the intelligence community believed Iran’s nuclear weapons program was in abeyance, two months later, he was still giving dire warnings about Iran being a threat to cause “World War III” if not halted (see October 20, 2007). Perino offers an explanation of those warnings, saying, “The president didn’t say we’re going to cause World War III. He was saying he wanted to avoid World War III.” Perino says it is unfair to question Bush’s veracity: “If anyone wants to call the president a liar, they are misreading the situation for their own political purposes. The liar is [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad [the president of Iran], and he has a lot of explaining to do.”
Reaction - Joseph Biden, a Democratic presidential candidate and the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, calls Bush’s explanation unbelievable. “I refuse to believe that,” Biden says. “If that’s true, he has the most incompetent staff in modern American history, and he’s one of the most incompetent presidents in modern American history.” (CNN 12/5/2007) Four former CIA officials call Bush’s claim of ignorance about the Iran intelligence “preposterous.” Melvin Goodman, a 24-year CIA veteran, calls Bush’s claim “unbelievable.” He is joined by Ray McGovern, another CIA veteran who routinely briefed George H. W. Bush during his two terms as vice president; Larry Johnson, the former deputy of the State Department’s Office of Counter Terrorism; and Bruce Riedel, a former National Intelligence Officer for the Near East and South Asian offices. McGovern is almost contemptuous of Bush’s claim: “The notion that the head of National Intelligence whispered in Bush’s ear, ‘I’ve got a surprise for you and it’s really important, but I’m not going to tell you about it until we check it out’—the whole thing is preposterous.” Riedel says that Bush “either chose to ignore what he heard or his director of national intelligence is not doing his job.” He doubts McConnell failed to do his part. “To me it is almost mind boggling that the president is told by the DNI that we have new important information on Iran and he doesn’t ask ‘what is that information?’” Riedel adds. It is not McConnell’s responsibility to tell Bush to “stop hyperventilating about the Iranian threat,” he says, but instead the job of National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and Bush’s other policy advisers to keep “their eye on the intelligence and to take into account new information as it comes along.” Johnson says that the information used in the NIE would have been available months before it was released to the public, and would have automatically been included in the Presidential Daily Briefing (PDB). Bush would have been told of the intelligence findings, as would Vice President Cheney, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Goodman and McGovern agree with Johnson’s statement. (Edsall and Follmer 12/5/2007) A deconstruction of Bush’s own statements over the last several months indicates that Bush changed his wording in early August, most likely because he was informed about the intelligence findings over Iran (see December 5, 2007).
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