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White House counsel Alberto Gonzales spurns advice from Democratic senators on how to ensure White House cooperation in the Plame Wilson leak investigation. In a letter, Gonzales writes, “We believe it is inconsistent with the constitution’s separation-of-powers principles for members of Congress to direct the president’s management of White House employees, as it would be for the president to suggest specific ways in which senators should handle their own staffs.” The senators had suggested, among other possible actions, firing any White House staffer who refused to cooperate with the Justice Department probe or tampered with records. [Reuters, 10/15/2003]
Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) speaking to the US Senate. [Source: Life magazine]Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), a longtime critic of the Bush administration’s push for war with Iraq, delivers a blistering rebuke from the floor of the US Senate to President Bush and the White House over what he calls “lie after lie after lie” it has given to the American people to justify the Iraq invasion. Kennedy calls the war “unnecessary… based on unreliable and inaccurate intelligence,” and notes that the US occupation of Iraq “has not brought an end to danger. Instead, it has brought new dangers, imposed new costs, and taken more and more American lives each week.” Iraq “was not a breeding ground for terrorism,” Kennedy asserts. “Our invasion has made it one.”
'Trumped-Up' 'Double Talk' - He accuses the administration of taking the nation to war on the basis of “trumped-up reasons” and “double-talk,” saying: “The American people were told Saddam Hussein was building nuclear weapons. He was not. We were told he had stockpiles of other weapons of mass destruction. He did not. We were told he was involved in 9/11. He was not. We were told Iraq was attracting terrorists from al-Qaeda. It was not. We were told our soldiers would be viewed as liberators. They are not. We were told Iraq could pay for its own reconstruction. It cannot. We were told the war would make America safer. It has not. Before the war, week after week after week after week, we were told lie after lie after lie after lie.”
Getting out of Iraq - But, Kennedy notes, now that the US is in Iraq, it cannot just withdraw and leave the country “to chaos or civil war [and risk it] becoming a danger to us far greater than it did before. The misguided policy of the past is no excuse for a misguided policy for the future. We need a realistic and specific plan to bring stability to Iraq, to bring genuine self-government to Iraq, to bring our soldiers home with dignity and honor.” Kennedy says he will vote against the administration’s $87 billion “emergency funding” bill for the occupation, and will continue to vote against future bills until the administration outlines a plan for withdrawing from Iraq. “A no vote is not a vote against supporting our troops,” he says. “It is a vote to send the administration back to the drawing board. It is a vote for a new policy—a policy worthy of the sacrifice our soldiers are making, a policy that restores America as a respected member of the family of nations, a policy that will make it easier, not far more difficult, to win the war against terrorism.”
'Huge' Spending Outlay - Kennedy gives examples of what the $87 billion is not being spent on:
“It is 87 times what the federal government spends annually on after-school programs.”
“It is seven times what President Bush proposed to spend on education for low-income schools in 2004.”
“It is nine times what the federal government spends on special education each year.”
The World's Next 'Failed Empire?' - Kennedy warns that for the US to continue to be “an occupier of other lands,” to “have to re-learn the lesson that every colonial power in history has learned,” risks making the US “the next failed empire in the world.” The Bush administration ignores the lessons of history, Kennedy says: “The most basic of those lessons is that we cannot rely primarily on military means as a solution to politically-inspired violence. In those circumstances, the tide of history rises squarely against military occupation. The British learned that lesson in Northern Ireland. The French learned it in Algeria. The Russians learned it in Afghanistan and are re-learning it every day in Chechnya. America learned it in Vietnam, and we must not re-learn it in Iraq.”
Protecting the US Military - The Bush administration is sacrificing the lives, the health, and the safety of the US soldiers in Iraq and elsewhere to its dreams of empire, Kennedy says. “Even with the best forces in the history of the world, our military cannot succeed if the mission is not achievable, if they are viewed as occupiers, and if we do not have a clearly defined and realistic strategy.… I am profoundly moved by the price they pay to serve our country, and profoundly impressed by their professionalism and commitment.… They tell me that far too many in Iraq believe we are there to take their oil, and that we will stay forever. They have no clear sense about their post-war mission. Some see it as winning the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people. Some believe it is security. Some feel it is to obtain intelligence about opposition forces and weapons caches. Others think it is to prevent sabotage of the oil pipelines and other vital infrastructure. Still others say it is to build sidewalks and soccer fields and schools and hospitals, and other local facilities. Not one of the soldiers told me their mission was to achieve Iraq’s transition to democracy.”
Supporting the Contractors at the Expense of Supporting the Iraqi People - The administration is far more interested in supporting large private contractors such as Halliburton and KBR, Kennedy says, than it is in actively helping the Iraqi people. “The administration’s policy of rushing to put large multibillion-dollar contracts in the hands of American firms ignores not only the lesson of history but also the lesson of human nature—the Iraqi people need to be the real partners in the reconstruction effort.” While private firms make enormous profits from government contracts, the most basic functions in Iraq remain unrestored. “Why not scale back the lavish resources being provided to US contractors and consultants and provide larger sums directly to the Iraqi people?” he asks.
Ignoring Iraq's History of Conflict and Dissension - The administration has flatly ignored a century of history in Iraq, Kennedy says, a century of division and dissension between warring religious, cultural, and ethnic groups. Since the British carved Iraq from the remnants of the collapsing Ottoman Empire after World War I, Kennedy says, the nation has been embroiled in conflict. “Iraq had no history of unity. In the words of one tribal chieftain, ‘History did not die; the tribes and notables who emerged in 1920 and created our modern state in 1921 are here to stay with all the others who came into being thereafter.’ Instead of learning from this painful history, we condemned ourselves to repeat it. Instead of anticipating the obviously similar and predictable divisions and demands when Saddam’s regime fell, the Bush administration believed that a few favored Iraqi exile leaders, many of them in exile for years, could return to Iraq, rally the population, and lead the new government. That was another failure. The Iraqi people rejected them from the start and resisted their domination.”
Working with the United Nations - The Bush administration seems unwilling to work with the United Nations to help bring peace and stability to Iraq, Kennedy says—in his view, a critical error. In January 2000, before becoming Bush’s national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice wrote of the importance of the UN in the US’s foreign relations. Kennedy says: “Condi Rice’s words indict the administration’s own policy now. It is essential to involve the international community as an active and equal partner in the political transition of Iraq. We need to give the UN a central role.… No one doubts that the United States should remain in charge of the military operation. But internationalizing the reconstruction is not a luxury; it is an imperative.”
Conclusion - Kennedy concludes by quoting from a book by former President George Herbert Walker Bush and his national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft, reflecting on their experiences with Iraq and the 1991 Gulf War (see September 1998). Overthrow and occupation was the wrong goal in 1991, Bush and Scowcroft wrote, and, Kennedy says, was the wrong goal in 2003. “It is time for this administration to admit that it was wrong, and turn in a new direction.… We need to actively engage the Iraqi people in governing and rebuilding their country. Our soldiers now risking their lives in Iraq deserve no less. Here at home, all Americans are being asked to bear the burden too—and they deserve more than a phony summons to support our troops by pursuing policies that will only condemn them to greater and greater danger. Yes, we must stay the course—but not the wrong course.” [CommonDreams, 10/16/2003]
State Department official Marc Grossman, who authored a classified memo that included Valerie Plame Wilson’s CIA status (see May 29, 2003, June 10, 2003, and 12:00 p.m. June 11, 2003), gives a statement to the FBI as part of the Plame Wilson investigation. Grossman testifies that he had “two or three” telephone conversations with White House official Lewis Libby, but did not meet personally with him. [Marcy Wheeler, 1/24/2007] It is believed that, during this interview, Grossman tells the FBI that he told Libby about Plame Wilson’s FBI status, a claim that Libby will deny, but that Grossman and several other witnesses will continue to assert. [Truthout (.org), 4/14/2006]
Secretary of State Colin Powell is asked by CBS anchor Bob Schieffer whether Senator Edward Kennedy’s assessment that “the American people were told lie after lie after lie in the buildup before the war and in those days after” is accurate (see October 16, 2003). Powell responds: “I have to disagree strongly with Senator Kennedy. The American people were not told lie after lie after lie. The American people were told that we have a dangerous situation in Iraq, that Saddam Hussein was ignoring 12 years of UN resolutions, that he had and was developing weapons of mass destruction.” Powell insists that Iraq may well have had “programs for the development of weapons of mass destruction” even if the actual weapons did not exist, “but let there be no doubt about what Saddam Hussein’s intentions always were. He had weapons of mass destruction, he has used weapons of mass destruction, and the president determined that it was not a risk the world should have to face any longer.” The question is essentially moot now, Powell adds, because Hussein has been overthrown. [US Department of State, 10/19/2003]
Several months into its investigation, the 9/11 Commission is already dissatisfied with the Department of Defense (see July 7, 2003).
Recorded Conversations Not Provided to Commission - When its staff take a tour of a Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) facility in Rome, New York, which helped coordinate the air defense on the day of 9/11, the staff enter the operations room, which has “more than 20 banks of operators: some weapons controllers and some flight controllers.” The staff find that the operators’ conversations are always tape-recorded, but the tapes for 9/11 have not yet been sent to the Commission. In addition, according to Commission Chairman Tom Kean and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton, “there were also discrepancies between things NORAD was telling [the Commission] about their performance on the morning of September 11—things that the agency had stated publicly after 9/11—and the story told by the limited tapes and documents the Commission had received.”
'Egregious' Failure - Upon learning of the existence of the tapes, team leader John Farmer immediately suspends the tour and the interviews and flies to meet Kean in New Jersey. [Kean and Hamilton, 2006, pp. 85-88] Farmer will say that the failure to produce the tapes was “egregious,” as, “Those tapes told the story of the air defense better than anything else that anyone could have given us.”
Subpoena Demanded - Farmer demands that a subpoena be issued to the Pentagon for the tapes. He tells Kean: “Listen, we have to subpoena this stuff. We may not get it, but if we don’t try to get it, how can you explain to the public that we have done our job?” Farmer is aware that it will be difficult to get a subpoena on the Pentagon—“When you’re talking about subpoenaing the DOD, the room goes quiet”—but he decides privately: “I would have quit if we didn’t. I felt we were becoming a laughingstock.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 204]
Lost Time - Despite opposition from its Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton (see (Late October-Early November 2003)) and, allegedly, its Executive Director Philip Zelikow (see November 5, 2003), the Commission will subpoena NORAD for the tapes (see November 6, 2003). However, according to Kean and Hamilton, this means that “the staff had lost so much time that our hearing on the 9/11 story in the skies was postponed for months. Indeed, the delays from NORAD and the FAA made it highly unlikely that the team could complete its work as scheduled.” [Kean and Hamilton, 2006, pp. 85-88] Chapter 1 of the Commission’s final report will draw heavily on the tapes. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 1-46]
Contrast with Other Aspects of Investigation - However, the Commission does not make the same effort with all day of 9/11 recordings. For example, it does not even find out which person(s) from the Department of Defense participated in a White House video conference chaired by counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke during the attacks (see (9:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 36]
Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald testifies before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary about post-9/11 legislative changes, and says that the removal of the “wall” was a significant step forward for US counterintelligence. The wall was a set of procedures which regulated the passage of intelligence information within the FBI and from the FBI to prosecutors (see July 19, 1995). Fitzgerald says the removal of the wall represented “the single greatest change that could be made to protect our country.” He cites four cases that he says are examples of how the wall and other such obstacles have hampered counterterrorism efforts:
The arrest of Ali Mohamed. Fitzgerald claims it would have been “far less difficult” to arrest al-Qaeda operative Ali Mohamed for his involvement in the attacks on US embassies in East Africa (see September 10, 1998) had it not been for the wall. [US Congress, 10/21/2003] However, author Peter Lance will point out, “But Fitzgerald neglected to tell the senators that… prosecutors and FBI agents had been monitoring the bombing cell members for two years or that they’d had multiple face-to-face meetings with Mohamed himself.” Mohamed, who was called a “key figure” in the Day of Terror plot in the US press in early 1995 (see February 3, 1995), had actually met Fitzgerald a year before the arrest and told him that he had trained bin Laden’s bodyguards, lived in bin Laden’s house, loved and believed in bin Laden, and that he didn’t need a fatwa to attack the US, as it was obvious the US was the enemy (see After October 1997). [Lance, 2006, pp. 274-6, 299-300]
The Day of Terror conspiracy. After the partial success of the World Trade Center bombing (see February 26, 1993), the conspirators planned to attack other targets in New York, but were arrested by the FBI, which had penetrated their cell. All of the arrested plotters were successfully convicted. However, Fitzgerald tells the committee, “Prosecutors were in the dark about the details of the plot until very late in the day.” [US Congress, 10/21/2003; Lance, 2006, pp. 118-9]
The Millennium Alert. Fitzgerald says that in 1999, investigations into suspected millennium plots were hampered because “criminal prosecutors received information only in part and with lag time so as not to breach the wall.” All attacks planned for the millennium failed, including one plot to bomb the Los Angeles airport (see December 31, 1999-January 1, 2000).
Sharing Wadih El-Hage’s grand jury interview. In 1997, Al-Qaeda operative El-Hage provided information about bin Laden and his associates to a grand jury. Fitzgerald wanted to pass some of this information along to intelligence investigators (see September 24, 1997) but was unable to because grand jury information cannot be shared with intelligence investigators. To get around this restriction, an FBI agent had to get El-Hage to repeat the information outside the grand jury room. (Note: this example is not directly related to the “wall” under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, but rather to a similar obstacle governing the passage of information in the opposite direction—from criminal agents to intelligence agents). [US Congress, 10/21/2003]
Cathie Martin, the communications director for Vice President Dick Cheney, is interviewed by the FBI concerning the Plame Wilson identity leak. Little information about her interview is made public, but during the Lewis Libby perjury trial, Martin will be asked about a telephone call between Libby and Time reporter Matthew Cooper (see 2:24 p.m. July 12, 2003). Martin says she was on a call with someone else but was able, to an extent, to follow Libby’s side of the conversation. She does not remember Libby saying that some “reporters are saying,” the words Libby used to characterize his knowledge of Valerie Plame Wilson’s CIA identity. [Marcy Wheeler, 1/29/2007] She does tell the agents that she believes she spoke to Cheney and Libby about Plame Wilson sometime around July 9. Martin has been aware of Plame Wilson’s CIA status since at least early June (see 5:25 p.m. June 10, 2003). [Marcy Wheeler, 1/25/2007]
Jim Marcinkowski (left) and Larry Johnson. [Source: CNN]Former CIA case officer Jim Marcinkowski, a former classmate of outed CIA case officer Valerie Plame Wilson (see Fall 1985), is outraged by the revelation of Plame Wilson’s CIA status and the allegations that the leak of her identity is not a crime (see July 14, 2003 and September 29, 2003). Another former classmate of Plame Wilson’s, former CIA agent Larry Johnson, says: “[W]hat I keep seeing in the newspaper is the spin and leak that this is no big deal. And that’s got to stop.… The problem with this is a lot of the damage that has occurred is not going to be seen. It can’t be photographed. We can’t bring the bodies out because in some cases it’s going to involve protecting sources and methods. And it’s important to keep this before the American people. This was a betrayal of national security.” Marcinkowski concurs: “This is an unprecedented act. This has never been done by the United States government before. The exposure of an undercover intelligence officer by the US government is unprecedented. It’s not the usual leak from Washington. The leak a week scenario is not at play here. This is a very, very serious event.” Plame Wilson was an NOC, or nonofficial cover officer (see Fall 1992 - 1996). “It was the most dangerous assignment you could take. It takes a special sort of person,” says Marcinkowski, who is now a prosecutor in Michigan. Former CIA official Kenneth Pollack agrees, describing an NOC’s identity as the “holiest of holies.” Many believe that the outrage among the rank and file of CIA agents and officials at Plame Wilson’s outing was so strong that CIA Director George Tenet had little choice but to recommend that the Justice Department investigate the leak (see September 16, 2003). Marcinkowski says: “In this particular case, it was so far over the line, I think myself and a lot of us were truly outraged that the government would do this.… I mean, we kept our mouths closed since 1985, when we joined.” Johnson, noting that both he and Marcinkowski are registered Republicans, says: “As a Republican, I think we need to be consistent on this. It doesn’t matter who did it, it didn’t matter which party was involved. This isn’t about partisan politics. This is about protecting national security and national security assets and in this case there has been a betrayal, not only of the CIA officers there, but really a betrayal of those of us who have kept the secrets over the years on this point.” [Guardian, 10/22/2003; CNN, 10/24/2003]
Three former CIA agents, Brent Cavan, Jim Marcinkowski, and Larry Johnson, and one current CIA official who declines to be identified, prepare a joint statement for the Senate Intelligence Committee. Because of problems with travel arrangements, Marcinkowski appears alone.
'You Are a Traitor and You Are Our Enemy' - In a closed session, Marcinkowski delivers their statement, which reads in part: “We acknowledge our obligation to protect each other and the intelligence community and the information we used to do our jobs. We are speaking out because someone in the Bush administration seemingly does not understand this, although they signed the same oaths of allegiance and confidentiality that we did. Many of us have moved on into the private sector, where this agency aspect of our lives means little, but we have not forgotten our initial oaths to support the Constitution, our government, and to protect the secrets we learned and to protect each other. We still have friends who serve. We protect them literally by keeping our mouths shut unless we are speaking amongst ourselves. We understand what this bond or the lack of it means. Clearly some in the Bush administration do not understand the requirement to protect and shield national security assets. Based on published information we can only conclude that partisan politics by people in the Bush administration overrode the moral and legal obligations to protect clandestine officers and security assets. Beyond supporting Mrs. Wilson with our moral support and prayers we want to send a clear message to the political operatives responsible for this. You are a traitor and you are our enemy. You should lose your job and probably should go to jail for blowing the cover of a clandestine intelligence officer. You have set a sickening precedent. You have warned all US intelligence officers that you may be compromised if you are providing information the White House does not like.… Politicians must not politicize the intelligence community. President Bush has been a decisive leader in the war on terrorism, at least initially. What about decisiveness now? Where is the accountability he promised us in the wake of Clinton administration scandals? We find it hard to believe the president lacks the wherewithal to get to bottom of this travesty. It is up to the president to restore the bonds of trust with the intelligence community that have been shattered by this tawdry incident.”
Questions from Senators - One committee member, Chuck Hagel (R-NE), asks Marcinkowski if he believes the White House can investigate itself, a reference to the White House’s promise to conduct a thorough internal investigation (see March 16, 2007). Marcinkowski replies that if the attorney general is trying to intimidate federal judges, it is unlikely that he can be trusted to conduct such an investigation. Another senator, Christopher “Kit” Bond (R-MO), challenges Marcinkowski, demanding that he cease attacking “my friend” Attorney General John Ashcroft. According to Marcinkowski’s later recollection, “A total food fight ensued,” with committee member Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) accusing Bond of trying to intimidate a witness.
Immediate Classification - A few minutes after the hearing concludes, Marcinkowski learns that the entire hearing has been declared secret by committee chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS). Marcinkowski, who is scheduled to testify again before a Democrats-only hearing the next day, is incensed. He believes that Roberts deliberately scheduled the full committee hearing to come before the Democratic hearing, so he can classify Marcinkowski’s testimony and prevent him from testifying publicly in support of Plame Wilson. Marcinkowski decides to appear before the Democratic hearing anyway. He calls a Democratic staffer and says, “You call Roberts’s office and you tell him I said that he can go straight to hell.” Marcinkowski anticipates being arrested as soon as his testimony before the Democratic committee members, not knowing that Roberts has no authority to classify anything.
Democratic Hearing - Marcinkowski, joined by Johnson and former CIA counterterrorism chief Vincent Cannistraro, testifies before the committee’s Democrats. The last question is from Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD), who has this question whispered to him by ranking member John D. Rockefeller (D-WV). Rockefeller says: “I would like to ask Mr. Marcinkowski, who is an attorney, one more question. Do you think the White House can investigate itself?” After the hearing, Rockefeller grabs Marcinkowski’s hand and asks, “What did you think of the food fight yesterday?” [No Quarter, 7/18/2005; Wilson, 2007, pp. 382-386]
Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Chuck Hagel, Christopher (“Kit”) Bond, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), Brent Cavan, Dianne Feinstein, Vincent Cannistraro, Senate Intelligence Committee, Clinton administration, Larry C. Johnson, John D. Rockefeller, John Ashcroft, Tom Daschle, Jim Marcinkowski, Pat Roberts, Valerie Plame Wilson
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Former ambassador Joseph Wilson sits down with Jeff Gannon of Talon News to discuss the outing of his wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, as a CIA agent (see July 14, 2003), his trip to Niger that helped debunk the claim that Iraq tried to buy uranium from that country (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002 and July 6, 2003), and his concerns over the Iraq war. Wilson is unaware that Gannon is in reality James Guckert, a gay prostitute who moonlights as a fake journalist for the right-wing Talon News (see January 26, 2005 and January 28, 2005). Little of what Gannon/Guckert elicits is new information.
Access to Classified Information? - However, early in the interview, Gannon/Guckert refers to a classified memo when he says, “An internal government memo prepared by US intelligence personnel details a meeting in early 2002 where your wife, a member of the agency for clandestine service working on Iraqi weapons issues, suggested that you could be sent to investigate the reports.” The FBI will investigate Gannon/Guckert’s knowledge of the memo, but he will deny ever having seen it. It is not clear from whom he learned of the memo [Talon News, 10/28/2003; Wilson, 2007, pp. 216] , though he will insist that he received the information from “confidential sources.” [Antiwar (.com), 2/18/2005]
America Did Not Debate Redrawing the Middle East as a Rationale for War - Wilson notes that he considered “the invasion, conquest, and occupation of Iraq for the purpose of disarming Saddam [Hussein] struck me as the highest risk, lowest reward option.… [W]e ought to understand that sending our men and women to kill and to die for our country is the most solemn decision a government has to make and we damn well ought to have that debate before we get them into harm’s way instead of after.” He explains why the idea that his wife selected him for the Niger mission is incorrect. When Gannon/Guckert attempts to pin him down by citing the initial meeting in which Plame Wilson suggested Wilson for the mission (see February 13, 2002), Wilson notes, “[T]hat fact that my wife knows that I know a lot about the uranium business and that I know a lot about Niger and that she happens to be involved in weapons of mass destruction, it should come as no surprise to anyone that we know of each others activities.” Wilson says that the aims of the administration’s neoconservatives—to redraw “the political map of the Middle East,” is something that has not been debated by the nation. The US did not debate the war with Iraq “on the grounds of redrawing the map of the Middle East,” he notes.
Wilson Did Not Violate CIA Secrecy in Revealing Niger Mission - Gannon/Guckert asks if Wilson violated CIA secrecy in going public with the results of his Niger mission, as some on the right have asserted. Wilson reminds Gannon that his was not a clandestine trip, “not a CIA mission,” but an aboveboard fact-finding journey. Those circumstances were well understood by the CIA before he left for Niger.
Implications of French Complicity in Niger Allegations Debunked - Gannon/Guckert tries to insinuate that the French may have had something to do with keeping the alleged uranium sales secret, and Wilson quickly shoots that line of inquiry down, saying, “The fact that you don’t like the French or that the French seem to have favored a different approach on this is far different from the French violating UN Security Council resolutions of which they are signatories, and clandestinely transferring 500 tons of uranium to a rogue country like Iraq is a real reach.” He then describes just how impossible it would have been for the French to have facilitated such a secret uranium transfer even had it wished.
Refuses to Accuse Rove Directly - Wilson refuses to flatly name White House political strategist Karl Rove as the person behind the leaks of his wife’s clandestine identity, though he notes that Rove indeed labeled his wife “fair game” to the press (see July 21, 2003) and that Rove was in a perfect position to have orchestrated the leak. When Gannon/Guckert tells Wilson that conservative columnist Robert Novak, who first published Plame Wilson’s name and occupation, denies that the White House gave him the information on her identity, Wilson retorts, “Novak has changed his story so much that it’s hard for me to understand what he is talking about” (see September 29, 2003).
When a Leak Is Not a Leak - Gannon/Guckert brings up the allegation from New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof that Plame Wilson was revealed as an undercover agent by Russian spy Aldrich Ames in 1994. Because Ames may have revealed Plame Wilson’s identity to the Russians, Gannon/Guckert asks, isn’t it possible that she was no longer an undercover agent? Wilson refuses to validate the Ames speculation, and finally says that the CIA would not be treating this so seriously if it were as frivolous an issue as Gannon/Guckert suggests. “[R]emember this is not a crime that has been committed against my wife or against me,” he says. “If there was a crime, it was committed against our country. The CIA has referred the matter to the Justice Department for further investigation, I don’t believe that’s a frivolous referral.” [Talon News, 10/28/2003]
During a Rose Garden press conference, President Bush is asked why he has not required White House staffers to sign affidavits denying their involvement in the Plame Wilson leak. The reporter asks: “You have said that you are eager to find out whether somebody in the White House leaked the identity of an undercover CIA agent. Many experts in such investigations say you can find if there was a leaker in the White House within hours if you asked all staff members to sign affidavits denying involvement. Why not take that step?” Bush responds: “[T]he best group of people to do that so that you believe the answer is the professionals at the Justice Department. And they’re moving forward with the investigation. It’s a criminal investigation. It is an important investigation. I’d like to know if somebody in my White House did leak sensitive information. As you know, I’ve been outspoken on leaks. And whether they happened in the White House, or happened in the administration, or happened on Capitol Hill, it is a—they can be very damaging. And so this investigation is ongoing and—by professionals who do this for a living, and I hope they—I’d like to know.” [White House, 10/28/2003]
Representative John Conyers (D-CA), the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, writes a letter to committee chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), asking that the committee open an investigation into the Plame Wilson identity leak. Sensenbrenner will not respond to Conyers’ letter. [Waxman, 12/2005]
Lawyers for accused terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui, battling to force the US government to allow them to depose other accused terrorists as part of their defense (see May 14, 2003), contact Jeff Almeida, the lawyer for the plaintiffs who sought to reopen the 1953 state secrets case US v Reynolds. They ask how his petition for coram nobis—a request for the court to “right a wrong”—went. Almeida tells them that the Court turned the petition down without comment (see June 23, 2003). Moussaoui’s lawyers tell Almeida that the government prosecutors were so reliant on Reynolds that “they had been waving it around the courtroom any chance they got.” Plaintiff Susan Brauner later says that she is glad Moussaoui’s lawyers contacted Almeida, and says she finds their interest “most encouraging.” She will add, “If we eventually walk away with nothing more than one concrete example where the case was of possible use to someone else… then I will believe we have done some good in impacting or at least raising the issue.” [Siegel, 2008, pp. 272-273]
On NBC’s “Meet the Press”, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld denies that Americans were misinformed about Iraqi nuclear arms. Rumsfeld says that no one in the administration ever claimed Iraq had tried to obtain nuclear weapons. Moderator Tim Russert asks: “But, Mr. Secretary, you acknowledge that there was an argument made by the administration that Saddam Hussein possessed chemical and biological weapons, and could have been well on his way to reconstituting his nuclear program. There doesn’t appear to be significant amounts of evidence to document that presentation that was made by the administration.” Rumsfeld says that this administration as well as preceding administrations “all agreed” that Iraq had chemical and biological weapons, “and that they had programs relating to nuclear weapons that they were reconstituting—not that they had nuclear weapons—no one said that.” The administration made numerous claims of Iraq possessing “reconstituted” nuclear weapons, including claims made by the CIA (see January 30, 2002), Vice President Dick Cheney (see September 8, 2002), and the entire intelligence community (see October 1, 2002). Russert follows up by asking if it was possible “that the inspections in fact did work, that the enforcement of the no-fly zone did work, and that Saddam in fact no longer had a weapons of mass destruction capability?” Rumsfeld replies that it is possible Saddam Hussein “took his weapons, destroyed them, or moved them to some other country.” [US Department of Defense, 11/2/2003]
An Afghani civilian later identified as Abdul Wahid dies from what his autopsy report calls “multiple blunt force injuries to head, torso, and extremities.” Wahid is being held by US forces at a forward operating base in Helmand province. [American Civil Liberties Union, 10/24/2005]
Two alleged Yemeni terror financiers, cleric Mohammed Ali Hassan al-Moayad and his assistant Mohammed Mohsen Yahya Zayed, are extradited from Germany to the US to face trial. The FBI claims that the two men supported both Hamas and al-Qaeda, with al-Moayad having provided Osama bin Laden with up to $20 million. They were arrested in Germany in January in a sting operation run by the bureau (see January 2003). The extradition follows a ruling by Germany’s highest court that the men will face a fair trial in the US, not a military court or other special tribunal. [BBC, 11/16/2003]
General Tommy Franks, the commander of US forces in Iraq, says he would favor replacing America’s democracy with a military-run government in the event of another 9/11-level terrorist attack. “It would begin to unravel the fabric of our Constitution,” he says, “and under those circumstances I would be open to the idea that the Constitution could be scrapped in favor of a military form of government.” [Hunt, 9/1/2009, pp. 13]
In his proposed 2005 budget, President Bush proposes reducing the budget of the Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program (AFGP) from $750 million to $500 million. The budget allocates, in total, $27 billion for the nation’s first responders over the next four years. A Council on Foreign Relations study, based on surveys of emergency responder groups, shows that the minimum necessary to secure the US from a second major terrorist attack is around $94 billion—almost four times the amount approved by Bush. [Carter, 2004, pp. 20-21; White House, 4/3/2004; Federal Election Commission, 1/16/2008] Congress will manage to increase the funding for the program to $542 million. It had hoped to increase funding to around $900 million. [Center for American Progress, 8/25/2004; Charles Schumer, 9/22/2006]
Tim Russert, NBC’s bureau chief and host of Meet the Press, is interviewed by FBI agent John Eckenrode as part of the Plame Wilson leak investigation. One of the targets of the investigation, White House official Lewis Libby, has indicated that he learned about Valerie Plame Wilson’s CIA identity from Russert (see July 10 or 11, 2003). According to the report later compiled by Eckenrode, Russert recalls “one, and possibly two telephone conversations” between himself and Libby between July 6 and July 12, 2003. Eckenrode will write: “Russert does not recall stating to Libby, in this conversation, anything about the wife of former ambassador Joe Wilson. Although he could not completely rule out the possibility that he had such an exchange, Russert was at a loss to remember it, and moreover, he believes that this would be the type of conversation that he would or should remember. Russert acknowledged that he speaks to many people on a daily basis and it is difficult to reconstruct some specific conversations, particularly one which occurred several months ago.” [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 2/14/2006 ]
The administration’s plan to overthrow Saddam Hussein, give off governance of Iraq to Ahmed Chalabi and other exiles, and withdraw gracefully from the country without further expenditures, has come to a crashing end, writes reporter and author George Packer. According to a senior administration official interviewed by Packer: “There was a desire by some in the vice president’s office and the Pentagon to cut and run from Iraq and leave it up to Chalabi to run it. The idea was to put our guy in there and he was going to be so compliant that he’d recognize Israel and all the problems in the Middle East would be solved. He would be our man in Baghdad. Everything would be hunky-dory.… It isn’t pragmatism, it isn’t Realpolitik, it isn’t conservatism, it isn’t liberalism. It’s theology.” [New Yorker, 11/24/2003]
Quiet opposition builds within the Justice Department against the White House’s attacks on civil liberties and governmental process in the name of national security. The opposition is led by James Comey, the deputy attorney general under John Ashcroft, and includes the chief of the Office of Legal Counsel, Jack Goldsmith, and other like-minded Justice Department lawyers and officials. Comey, Goldsmith, and many of their colleagues will resign from their posts, some perhaps pressured by the White House to get out without making a fuss (see June 17, 2004). Comey and Goldsmith are the point men of this opposition group, though they will speak little in public about their experiences until they testify before the Senate in 2007 (see May 15, 2007 and October 2, 2007).
Standing 'Up to the Hard-Liners' - Newsweek, one of the only mainstream media outlets to report on this “insurrection” at any length, will call it “one of the most significant and intriguing untold stories of the war on terror.” The magazine will report in 2006: “These Justice Department lawyers, backed by their intrepid boss Comey, had stood up to the hard-liners, centered in the office of the vice president, who wanted to give the president virtually unlimited powers in the war on terror. Demanding that the White House stop using what they saw as far-fetched rationales for riding rough-shod over the law and the Constitution, Goldsmith and the others fought to bring government spying and interrogation methods within the law.… These government attorneys did not always succeed, but their efforts went a long way toward vindicating the principle of a nation of laws and not men.” Comey, Goldsmith, and their colleagues do not oppose the war on terror in principle, and share the administration’s concerns about the restraints imposed on the government in compiling intelligence on suspected terrorists. Their opposition centers on the process used by the White House, which routinely ignores and runs over Congress, the judiciary, and the law in implementing its agenda.
White House Denial - The White House will continue to deny that this opposition group ever existed, with a spokeswoman for Vice President Dick Cheney saying in 2006: “The proposition of internal division in our fight against terrorism isn’t based in fact. This administration is united in its commitment to protect Americans, defeat terrorism and grow democracy.” [Newsweek, 2/6/2006]
The US Army investigates the report of a colonel who documented potential abuses of Iraqi detainees by a joint Special Operations and CIA task force looking for weapons of mass destruction. The report will be made public by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) almost four years later (see August 15, 2007). The ACLU believes the colonel, whose name is redacted from the report, is Colonel Stuart Herrington (see December 12, 2003). The colonel reports that in late November someone called him with details of prisoner abuse that had occurred in June or July 2003 in the vicinity of Baghdad International Airport. The colonel’s source had previously reported the abuse to Major General Keith Dayton, commander of the Iraq Survey Group in charge of the hunt for weapons of mass destruction, and to officials in the Defense Intelligence Agency. The colonel meets with Major General Barbara Fast, the top intelligence officer in Baghdad, to brief her on his investigation into the matter, and gives her a copy of the report. The colonel is subsequently informed that the Judge Advocate General’s office attached to the US command in Iraq found “no evidence to support the allegations that detainees were mistreated.” The colonel believes this conclusion is a “cover-up,” and, in later testimony, will refer to his “blunt dismay” at the finding. He will testify that he cannot understand how his own report could have been taken so lightly given that he had provided names of the witnesses and “already had two people who admitted it.” Fast will later say to the colonel that she never saw his report until mid-2004, a statement that the colonel has trouble believing. Fast will be cleared of all allegations of misconduct by the Army inspector general, who will conclude that she took prompt action to alert the proper authorities once she was informed of the alleged abuse. [American Civil Liberties Union, 8/15/2007]
Jack Goldsmith, the new head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (see October 6, 2003), finds himself embroiled in a huge, if secretive, controversy over Justice Department lawyer John Yoo’s torture memos (see January 9, 2002 and January 25, 2002). Yoo, who wrote the original memos over former OLC chief Jay Bybee’s signature, had placed the OLC in the position of asserting that torture can indeed be used against terror suspects. Goldsmith disagrees, feeling that Yoo’s definitions of torture are far too narrow and give far too much latitude to US interrogators. He also believes that Yoo’s assertions of near-unchecked presidential power to authorize torture—at the direct expense of Congressional and judicial oversight—has no legal basis. And, Goldsmith worries, the opinions could be interpreted as a clumsy, “tendentious” attempt to protect Bush officials from criminal charges. The conflict between Goldsmith and Yoo will cost the two men their friendship. “I was basically taking steps to fix the mistakes of a close friend, who I knew would be mad about it,” Goldsmith will recall in 2007. “We don’t talk anymore, and that’s one of the many sad things about my time in government.” Goldsmith decides to withdraw the follow-up March 2003 torture memo, and tells White House officials they cannot rely on it any longer. Actually doing so proves a tricky business. [New York Times Magazine, 9/9/2007]
'Serious, Serious Problems' - Goldsmith will say in September 2007: “As soon as I absorbed the opinions I realized… that my reaction to them was a big problem. The Office of Legal Counsel rarely overturns its prior opinions, and even more rarely does so within an administration, and even more rarely than that, in the same administration about something this important. I didn’t find any precedent for it. And I did not want to do anything to affect either the programs or the underlying opinions. But they were serious, serious problems, and I knew if and when I was asked to stand by them that I would have a very hard time doing so.” [Newsweek, 9/8/2007]
Pressure from Abu Ghraib Scandal - The legal and bureaucratic niceties of withdrawing the memos become moot when, in April 2004, the Abu Ghraib scandal breaks (see Mid-April 2004), and when in June 2004, the first memo is leaked to the media. “After the leak, there was a lot of pressure on me within the administration to stand by the opinion,” he later says, “and the problem was that I had decided six months earlier that I couldn’t stand by the opinion.” [New York Times Magazine, 9/9/2007] “I had determined that the analysis was flawed,” he will recall. “But I hadn’t determined the underlying techniques were illegal. After Abu Ghraib, there was enormous pressure for me to stand by the decisions… and I couldn’t do so. I had already made up my mind many months earlier and I wasn’t about to change it. But I struggled for several days with what the consequences might be of withdrawing the opinion, because I wasn’t in the position to make an independent ruling on the other techniques. I certainly didn’t think they were unlawful, but I couldn’t get an opinion that they were lawful either. So I struggled to repudiate the flawed opinion while not causing massive disruption and fright throughout the counterterrorism world related to interrogation. And I ultimately decided that I had to withdraw those and under suspicions, stand by it, because it was so thoroughly flawed.” [Newsweek, 9/8/2007]
White House Resists Change - Though Goldsmith has the support of his boss, Attorney General John Ashcroft, Ashcroft’s deputy, James Comey, and his own deputy, Patrick Philbin, he knows the White House will fight the withdrawal. Goldsmith will decide to issue the withdrawal and then resign his position (see June 17, 2004), effectively forcing the administration to either quietly accept the withdrawal, or fight it and make his resignation a media circus. “If the story had come out that the US government decided to stick by the controversial opinions that led the head of the Office of Legal Counsel to resign, that would have looked bad,” he later recalls. “The timing was designed to ensure that the decision stuck.” Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief aide, David Addington, among other White House officials, is furious over the withdrawal of the torture opinion (interestingly, White House counsel and future attorney general Alberto Gonzales will modify his own opposition to the withdrawals later, telling Goldsmith in 2007, “I guess those opinions really were as bad as you said”). [New York Times Magazine, 9/9/2007]
Expansion of Presidential Power - Addington asks Goldsmith incredulously, “Why are you trying to give away the president’s power?” Like Cheney, Addington believes, in Goldsmith’s words, “that the very act of asking for Congress’s help would imply, contrary to the White House line, that the president needed legislative approval and could not act on his own. The president’s power would diminish, Addington thought, if Congress declined its support once asked, especially if it tried to restrict presidential power in some way. Congress had balked, during the month after 9/11, at giving the president everything he had asked for in the Congressional authorization to use force and the Patriot Act. Things would only be worse in 2004 and beyond, Addington believed.” Addington’s two questions are always, Goldsmith writes, “‘Do we have the legal power to do it ourselves?’ (meaning on the president’s sole authority), and ‘Might Congress limit our options in ways that jeopardize American lives?’” While Goldsmith and his colleagues agree that the president has the power, and that seeking Congressional approval might tie the White House’s hands more so than the administration is willing to accept, Goldsmith worries that an unfavorable Supreme Court decision would undercut Bush’s authority much more so than any restrictions passed by a compliant, Republican-led Congress. Addington sees things in very simple terms: ”“We’re going to push and push and push until some larger force makes us stop,” Addington says on several occasions. Addington tells Goldsmith, “Now that you’ve withdrawn legal opinions that the president of the United States has been relying on, I need you to go through all of [the OLC terror memos] and let me know which ones you still stand by.” Goldsmith will do just that, further angering Addington. [Savage, 2007, pp. 184; Slate, 9/11/2007]
Absolute Power Required to Defend Nation - Goldsmith later writes: “He and, I presumed, his boss viewed power as the absence of constraint. These men believed that the president would be best equipped to identify and defeat the uncertain, shifting, and lethal new enemy by eliminating all hurdles to the exercise of his power. They had no sense of trading constraint for power. It seemed never to occur to them that it might be possible to increase the president’s strength and effectiveness by accepting small limits on his prerogatives in order to secure more significant support from Congress, the courts, or allies. They believed cooperation and compromise signaled weakness and emboldened the enemies of America and the executive branch. When it came to terrorism, they viewed every encounter outside the innermost core of most trusted advisers as a zero-sum game that if they didn’t win they would necessarily lose.” [Slate, 9/11/2007]
Entity Tags: John Ashcroft, John C. Yoo, Jay S. Bybee, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), James B. Comey Jr., David S. Addington, Patrick F. Philbin, Alberto R. Gonzales, Bush administration (43), Daniel Levin, Jack Goldsmith, US Department of Justice
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
9/11 Commission member Jamie Gorelick is given access to the previously sacrosanct Presidential Daily Briefings (PDBs) from the Clinton and Bush administrations (see Early December 2003). Like commission chair Thomas Kean, Gorelick is struck by the general lack of information in the documents (see Early December 2003), but the thing that strikes her most about the PDBs is just how many warnings were given in the months preceding the 9/11 attacks. Details of the predicted terrorist attack were lacking—the US intelligence community did not know where or when the attacks would take place—but the message from the spring, summer, and fall of 2001 was clear: the US must be prepared for a massive assault either on one of its foreign allies or on itself. Gorelick later recalls the warnings say the anticipated attacks are “the worst thing [the US has] ever seen—an unprecedented threat.” The August 6, 2001 PDB (see August 6, 2001) contained warnings about specific threats to American targets, particularly “federal buildings in New York.” Gorelick, like everyone else in the Commission, has never seen the actual August 6 PDB, and she is shocked by the detail and the specificity of the warnings. The characterization of the warnings as “historical” (see May 16, 2002) is inexplicable, she thinks. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 221-222]
Thomas Kean, the chairman of the 9/11 commission, finally gains access to Bill Clinton’s and George W. Bush’s Presidential Daily Briefings (PDBs). Co-chairman Lee Hamilton calls the PDBs the “holy of holies.” They are documents that the Bush administration has worked relentlessly to keep out of the commission’s hands. Kean assumes that the documents are chock full of critical information. “I thought this would be the definitive secrets about al-Qaeda, about terrorist networks, and all the other things that the president should act on,” Kean will later recall. “I was going to find out the most important things that a president had learned.” Kean believes the PDBs should contain “incredibly secretive, precise, and accurate information about anything under the sun.” When he begins reading through the PDBs, he finds that the documents are not what he expected. He finds that they contain almost nothing of use. The realization terrifies him—these digests of the most important, sensitive secrets garnered by the US intelligence community, at a cost of tens of billions of dollars per year, used by the president to base his actions and decisions upon, are, in Kean’s words, “garbage.” He continues, “There really was nothing there—nothing, nothing.” Had his students at Drew University turned in terms papers this poorly researched, he says, “I would have given them an F.” There are a few snippets of solid information among the dross, tidbits about al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups. Occasionally, something intriguing catches Kean’s attention, for instance a report of a sighting of Osama bin Laden or a tip from a foreign intelligence service about possible future actions by a terrorist group. But most of the PDB contents could have been gleaned from reading the newspaper. Author Philip Shenon will write: “Perhaps the reason why the White House had fought so hard to block the commission’s access to the PDBs was that they revealed how ignorant the government was of the threats it faced before 9/11. Kean could understand their fear. Imagine the consequences if al-Qaeda and its terrorist allies knew how little the United States really knew about them.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 220-221] 9/11 Commissioner Jamie Gorelick also sees the same PDBs around the same time, and while she also is surprised by the lack of detail, she is more surprised at how alarming the warnings about an al-Qaeda attack are (see Early December 2003).
Howard Dean [Source: UC Berkeley]In a December 1, 2003, interview, Howard Dean discusses the possibility that President Bush is hiding information that he was warned in advance about the 9/11 attacks. Presidential candidate Dean states that “The most interesting theory that I have heard so far… is that he was warned ahead of time by the Saudis.” Six days later, Dean clarifies, “I don’t believe that… But we don’t know, and it’d be a nice thing to know.” He concludes, “Because the president won’t give information to the Kean Commission, we really don’t know what the explanation is.” [The Beat, 12/23/2003] When asked about these comments, President Bush says “Look, there’s time for politics. And, you know… there’s a time for politics. And… it’s an absurd insinuation.” Dean spokesman Jay Carson responds, “Gov. Dean has been very clear he doesn’t subscribe to or believe this theory. But the White House needs to be more forthcoming with the 9-11 commission and put all these types of theories to rest.” [Dallas Morning News, 12/15/2003]
White House counsel Alberto Gonzales contacts John Carlin, archivist of the United States, and asks him to step down, but does not provide reasons for the request. “The administration would like to appoint a new archivist,” Gonzales reportedly says. No reason is given, even after Carlin asks why he should leave. Some critics will suggest that Carlin’s removal is connected to President Bush’s Executive Order 13233 limiting access to presidential records. The records of former President George H. W. Bush, the father of the current president, were due to be released in January 2005. Incoming archivist Allen Weinstein will later note that he met with the director of presidential personnel, Dina Powell, on September 23, 2003, and was asked to submit investigative forms to the White House and the FBI in November and December. Weinstein will also note that although he professed distaste for President Bush’s executive order, he “would feel obliged to defend the order against a lawsuit by the American Historical Association seeking to overturn it.” [Washington Post, 6/26/2004]
The single source for the controversial claim that Iraq could launch a strike with its weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes (see September 28, 2002 and March 12, 2007) is identified as “Lieutenant Colonel al-Dabbagh,” an Iraqi who has allegedly spied on Saddam Hussein’s government for British and US intelligence for over seven years. Al-Dabbagh, who does not allow his first name to be used or his photograph taken, is interviewed in Baghdad by journalist and author Con Coughlin. Al-Dabbagh, identified as an adviser to the Iraqi Governing Council, is later revealed to be an Iraqi defector who was brought to US and British attention by Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress. Coughlin is apparently unaware of this. He portrays al-Dabbagh as a heroic risk-taker, “not a man who is easily frightened,” he writes. “[D]eath threats from Saddam’s loyalists” do not deter him from “revealing details of the former Iraqi dictator’s deployment of weapons of mass destruction”; his determination “remain[s] undiminished.”
WMD Remain Hidden - These selfsame loyalists are the reason why US forces cannot find the weapons of mass destruction, al-Dabbagh tells Coughlin. “Saddam’s people are doing this all the time,” he says. “That is why it is so difficult to find the weapons of mass destruction. I am sure the weapons are hidden in Iraq just like I see you now. I am concerned that the chemical and biological weapons are there.” Al-Dabbagh says he is proud to risk his life in divulging Hussein’s secrets: “If Saddam’s people kill me for saying this, I do not mind. I have done my duty to my country and we have got rid of Saddam. And if the British government wants me to come to London to tell the truth about Saddam’s secret weapons program, I am ready to help in any way I can.”
Claim '200 Percent Accurate' - The 45-minute claim is “200 percent accurate!” al-Dabbagh exclaims. “And forget 45 minutes. We could have fired them within half an hour.” Is he the original source of the intelligence? Coughlin asks. Al-Dabbagh replies, “I am the one responsible for providing this information.” A member of the Iraqi Governing Council, General A. J. M. Muhie, al-Dabbagh’s supposed brother-in-law, confirms that al-Dabbagh is the sole source of the claim: “We only had one source for this information and that was Dabbagh,” says the general. Fellow council member Iyad Allawi says he was the one who funnelled al-Dabbagh’s reports to Western intelligence agencies. Muhie is the one who set up the meeting between Coughlin and al-Dabbagh.
Plans to Use WMD against US Invading Forces - Al-Dabbagh tells a detailed story of how the weapons were to be deployed against the American invaders, saying that he and other officers were ordered to use specially designated four-wheel drive Isuzus and only to deploy them if Iraqi forces were in danger of being overrun. Al-Dabbagh and others were then to drive the Isuzus towards American troop emplacements and fire the weapons, presumably chemical and biological weapons tipping hand-held rockets. But the weapons were never deployed, al-Dabbagh claims, because the majority of Iraqi soldiers refused to fight against the Americans. “The West should thank God that the Iraqi army decided not to fight,” he says. “If the army had fought for Saddam, and used these weapons, there would have been terrible consequences.” Whatever became of those fearsome weapons, al-Dabbagh does not know. He believes they were hidden away by Hussein’s Fedayeen loyalists. The weapons will be found, al-Dabbagh predicts, when Hussein is caught or killed: “Only when Saddam is captured will these people talk openly about these weapons. Then they will reveal where they are.” [Sunday Telegraph, 12/7/2003]
Claims Proven False - Weeks after Coughlin’s interview, al-Dabbagh’s claims will be proven entirely false, and both al-Dabbagh and Allawi will deny any responsibility for their claims (see January 27, 2004).
Senior CIA official Robert Grenier, who, as the agency’s mission manager, inquired about the Joseph Wilson mission to Niger on behalf of the vice president’s office (see 4:30 p.m. June 10, 2003), and told Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis Libby, that Valerie Plame Wilson was a CIA official (see 2:00 p.m. June 11, 2003), is interviewed by the FBI as part of the Plame Wilson investigation. Grenier tells FBI investigators of his June 11, 2003 conversation with Libby, regarding Wilson’s Niger trip and the CIA status of Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson (see 2:00 p.m. June 11, 2003). Grenier says that he is not sure whether Plame Wilson’s name came up during the conversation, a story he will tell again to the grand jury investigating the Plame Wilson leak in January 2004, but will change when he testifies for the prosecution in the Libby perjury trial (see January 24, 2007). [Marcy Wheeler, 1/24/2007; Mother Jones, 1/25/2007; New York Times, 3/2007]
Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA), the ranking member of the House Oversight Committee, writes a letter to committee chairman Tom Davis (D-VA), asking that the committee open an investigation into the Plame Wilson identity leak. Waxman’s letter will not receive a response. Davis has already ignored two similar letters from Waxman (see September 29, 2003 and October 8, 2003). [Waxman, 12/2005]
As part of the difficult negotiations between the US, North Korea, and four regional partners to try to bring the North Korean nuclear program under restraint (see August 2003), the Chinese delegation offered a joint statement that would show some progress, however limited, has been made. The US refuses to sign, balking at language that recognizes US-North Korean relations are founded on “the intention to coexist.” Vice President Dick Cheney explains the US rejection: “I have been charged by the president with making sure that none of the tyrannies of the world are negotiated with” (see December 19, 2003). [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 241]
One US lawmaker, Congressman Jim McDermott (D-WA), believes that the story surrounding the capture of Saddam Hussein (see December 14, 2003 and December 17, 2003) is false. Instead, McDermott alleges, the capture was stage-managed for President Bush’s political benefit. “There’s too much by happenstance for it [Hussein’s capture] to be just a coincidental thing,” he tells a Seattle radio interviewer. When asked if he believed the timing was planned to help Bush, McDermott replies: “Yeah. Oh, yeah.” McDermott notes that the US had “been in contact with people all along who knew basically where he was.” He adds that the timing of a recent move by the Iraqi Governing Council to hastily enact legislation for a war crimes court to try former regime members is suspicious. Bush supporters will accuse McDermott of spreading “paranoid conspiracy theories” and “crazy talk.” [Asia Times, 4/17/2004] Subsequent evidence will bear out some of McDermott’s skepticism (see January 2004).
Conflicting stories surround the capture of former Iraqi despot Saddam Hussein (see December 14, 2003). Several different military sources say that Hussein was captured through the auspices of an informant, later identified as Mohammed Ibrahim Omar al-Muslit, but stories differ as to how the information was garnered from that informant. “This guy was in interrogation. He wasn’t willingly giving stuff up,” says an officer involved in the capture, leading to speculation that the informant may have been put through harsh interrogation methods to give up Hussein’s location. Religion professor and columnist Ira Chernus writes, “It is hard to avoid thinking about the the dirty word that everyone is too polite to mention, the ‘T-word’: torture.” But the commander of the capture operation, Colonel James Hickey, tells a different version of events, saying: “Once in our custody the informant was cooperative, and he did provide the crucial information. But will he receive the $25 million [bounty for Hussein’s capture offered by the US]? I seriously doubt it.” According to CNN, “It is unclear whether anyone will receive the $25 million bounty because the information leading to his capture came under duress.” Another “senior administration official” says the informant “didn’t provide any information willingly.” Hickey says the informant first gave false information, and “there was three or four hours of questioning before he blurted Saddam’s location.” US officials insist that the informant was not tortured, but merely “interrogated.” News reports also note that weeks before Hussein’s capture, “US forces decided to identify anyone who might have current knowledge of where Hussein was, including former bodyguards, and then to go after them with a vengeance, rounding up their families and friends—women, children, grandparents, everyone. Many of the key clues came in involuntary interrogations of informants.” A US official tells a reporter: “Some people were impossible to find, but we’d find their relatives. One interrogation led to another raid, which led to another interrogation.” And another official says: “You’d squeeze them: ‘Where is Saddam?’ They’d say, ‘I don’t know, but my cousin knows somebody who knows somebody else who might know.’” [CommonDreams, 12/17/2003; Asia Times, 4/17/2004]
For the first time, 9/11 Commissioner Thomas Kean says that the 9/11 attacks could and should have been prevented. Kean, a Bush appointee and former Republican governor of New Jersey, states that “This was not something that had to happen… There are people that, if I was doing the job, would certainly not be in the position they were in at that time because they failed. They simply failed.” In 2002, FBI Director Robert Mueller stated, “[T]here was nothing the agency could have done to anticipate and prevent the [9/11] attacks” (see May 8, 2002) and other Bush administration officials have also said the attacks were all but unstoppable. Kean promises major revelations from the FBI, CIA, Defense Department, NSA, and possibly former President Clinton and President Bush. [CBS News, 12/17/2003] But within days, Kean amends his comments. He says that he wants to make it “clear” that he meant that officials at the operational level two years ago deserved to be singled out for blame and that no judgments had been reached about senior officials. This coincides with continued attempts from the White House to paint the intelligence prior to the attacks as non-specific “chatter,” and the attacks themselves as “literally bolts from the blue.” [Boston Globe, 12/21/2003]
Two reports of alleged terrorist activity trigger fear in the US. White powder is discovered on Pennsylvania Avenue, just outside the White House. A section of central Washington DC is subsequently cordoned off by police and an all-points terror alert is issued. After this large-scale reaction, the powder is found to be harmless and a Homeland Security spokesman declares the powder to be “benign.” Later, ABC News cites an anonymous intelligence source who warned of an “imminent credible threat” in Manhattan from a “woman suicide bomber.” This news causes the stock exchange to dip, despite a rapid denial by police. [London Times, 12/18/2003]
A three-judge panel of the Second US Circuit Court of Appeals in New York votes two to one that the military must either charge alleged al-Qaeda terrorist Jose Padilla with a crime, or release him within 30 days. “The government,” the court says, “can transfer Padilla to appropriate civilian authorities who can bring criminal charges against him.” Until now, no court in the US has ruled against the government’s contention that even American citizens arrested on US soil can be held indefinitely based on wartime government prerogatives. Neither the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force (see September 14-18, 2001) nor the president’s “inherent power” as commander in chief is enough to hold Padilla without a trial, the court finds: “The president, acting alone, possesses no inherent constitutional authority to detain American citizens seized within the United States, away from a zone of combat, as enemy combatants.” The two judges in the majority are a 1998 Clinton appointee and a 2001 Bush appointee; the dissenter, who advocates granting the president new and sweeping powers, is a 2003 Bush appointee. “So far,” Office of Legal Counsel lawyer John Yoo comments, “the Second Circuit is the only court that has rejected the idea that the war on terrorism is, in fact, a war.” Because this ruling conflicts with the Fourth Circuit’s ruling in favor of the Bush administration, the Supreme Court will be forced to resolve the issue (see June 28, 2004); in light of the appeal, the court later agrees to suspend its 30-day ruling. [Knight Ridder, 12/29/2003; Savage, 2007, pp. 153]
Vice President Cheney, discussing the administration’s refusal to negotiate with North Korea, sums up its policy quite bluntly. “I have been charged by the president with making sure that none of the tyrannies in the world are negotiated with,” he says. “We don’t negotiate with evil; we defeat it.” Cheney is primarily responsible for rejecting a joint statement acknowledging North Korea’s right to exist as an independent nation, a precondition for North Korea to resume negotiations (see December 12, 2003). However, a Bush administration spokesman blames North Korea, not the US, for refusing to engage, and says the administration is willing to negotiate “without any preconditions.” Cheney insisted that North Korea agree to dismantle its nuclear program before any negotiations could begin. According to a senior Bush official, a North Korean negotiator has complained that the US demands are the equivalent of “you… telling me to take off all my clothes and walk out in a snowstorm and you promise you will come running with a coat. I don’t think so. You want me to go naked into the night.” [Knight Ridder, 12/19/2003; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 234]
Libya announces that it is giving up its unconventional weapons and ballistic missile programs in response to recent negotiations with the US and Britain. Thousands of nuclear reactor components are taken from a site in Tripoli and shipped to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. Later examination shows that the Libyans had made little progress towards developing any sort of nuclear program. Nevertheless, it is a significant breakthrough in the Bush administration’s relations with Muslim nations considered to be inimical to Western interests.
'Scared Straight'? - Bush administration officials declare that the Libyan government “caved” under American pressure and because of the US-led invasion of Iraq; because Libyan leader Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi had approached the US shortly before the invasion of Iraq, it is plain that al-Qadhafi had been “scared straight” by the belligerent US approach to Middle Eastern affairs. In 2008, author J. Peter Scoblic will call that characterization “useful, if wishful.” The threat of a Libyan WMD program was sketchy at best, regardless of Bush officials’ insistence that the US had forced the disarmament of a dangerous foe. But, Scoblic will write, the Libyan agreement serves as “a retroactive justification of an invasion whose original rationale had become increasingly dubious.” The Libyan agreement also “seemed to prove that conservatives could solve rogue state problems in a morally pure but nonmilitary way—that they did not have to settle for containment or the distasteful quid pro quo that had characterized deals like Clinton’s 1994 Agreed Framework with North Korea (see October 21, 1994). They could simply demand disarmament.”
Negotiating Disarmament Since 1999 - The reality of the Libyan agreement is far different from the Bush interpretation. Al-Qadhafi’s government has for years wanted to get out from under UN sanctions imposed after Libyan hijackers bombed a Pan Am flight over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988. Since 1999, the US and Britain have been negotiating with Libya, with the ultimate aim of lifting sanctions and normalizing relations. President Clinton’s chief negotiator, Martin Indyk, said that “Libya’s representatives were ready to put everything on the table” during that time. Bush officials, after an initial reluctance to resume negotiations, were reassured by Libya’s offer of support and assistance after the 9/11 attacks, and resumed discussions in October 2001. Al-Qadhafi himself offered to discuss disarmamement with the British in August 2002. Negotiations opened in October 2002. With the Iraq invasion looming, the Libyans held up further negotiations until March 2003; meanwhile, Vice President Cheney warned against striking any deals with the Libyans, saying that the US did not “want to reward bad behavior.” The negotiations resumed in March, with efforts made to deliberately keep State Department and Pentagon neoconservatives such as John Bolton and Paul Wolfowitz in the dark “so that,” Scoblic will write, “administration conservatives could not sabotage a potential deal.” The negotiations were led by the CIA and MI6. (Bolton attempted to intervene in the negotiations, insisting that “regime change” in Libya was the US’s only negotiating plank, but high-level British officials had Bolton removed from the process and gave al-Qadhafi reassurances that Bolton’s stance was not reflective of either the US or Britain’s negotiating position.)
Pretending that Libya 'Surrendered' - After the deal is struck, administration conservatives attempt to put a brave face on the deal, with Cheney saying: “President Bush does not deal in empty threats and half measures, and his determination has sent a clear message. Just five days after Saddam [Hussein] was captured (see December 14, 2003), the government of Libya agreed to abandon its nuclear weapons program and turn the materials over to the United States.” Administration officials insist that there had been no negotiations whatsoever, and Libya had merely capitulated before the American display of military puissance. “It’s ‘engagement’ like we engaged the Japanese on the deck of the Missouri in Tokyo Bay in 1945,” one administration official boasts. “The only engagement with Libya was the terms of its surrender.” And Bush officials claim that the Libyans gave up their weapons with no terms whatsoever being granted them except for a promise “only that Libya’s good faith, if shown, would be reciprocated.” That is not true. Bush officials indeed made significant offers—that the US would not foment regime change in Libya, and that other “quid pro quo” terms would be observed.
Thwarting Conservative Ideology - Scoblic will conclude: “Left unchecked, the administration’s ideological impulses would have scuttled the negotiations. In other words, for its Libya policy to bear fruit, the administration had to give up its notion that dealing with an evil regime was anathema; it had to accept coexistence even though al-Qadhafi continued to violate human rights. Libya is thus the exception that proves the rule.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 251-255]
Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, John R. Bolton, J. Peter Scoblic, Clinton administration, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), Martin Indyk, US Department of State, Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, UK Secret Intelligence Service (MI6)
Timeline Tags: US International Relations
Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge raises the nationwide terror alert level to orange. He states that “These strategic indicators, including al-Qaeda’s continued desire to carry out attacks against our homeland, are perhaps greater now than at any point since Sept. 11.” In his announcement, Ridge cites further reports that al-Qaeda is planning further operations, and that “extremists abroad” are anticipating attacks on the scale of those on September 11, 2001. He states that “credible sources suggest the possibility of attacks against the homeland around the holiday season and beyond.” Officials repeatedly warn about threats to the aviation sector. [CBC News, 12/21/2003] The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) says it has reliable and corroborated information from several sources indicating that a plot, similar to 9/11, is in an advanced stage. US officials focus their investigation on the “informed belief” that six men on Air France Flight 68, which arrives in Los Angeles daily at 4:05 p.m., are planning to hijack the jet and crash it near Los Angeles or Las Vegas. Officials say some names on the passenger manifest match those of known Taliban and al-Qaeda terrorists, with one of them being a trained pilot with a commercial license. Six Air France flights between Paris and Los Angeles are canceled by French Prime Minister Jean Pierre Raffarin. [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 12/24/2003] The terror alert turns out to be baseless. The names identified as terrorists turn out to be a five-year-old boy, whose name had been mistaken for an alleged Tunisian terrorist, an elderly Chinese lady who used to run a restaurant in Paris, a Welsh insurance salesman, and three French nationals. [Rolling Stone, 9/21/2006 ] Further investigation of the Tunisian man reveals that he has no plans to leave the country, no criminal record, and no links to extremism. [Red Orbit, 12/25/2003] Despite criticism of the investigation, French authorities praise the level of cooperation between intelligence agencies. A spokesman for the prime minister says “What is important is that the evaluation of threats continues, and they are undertaken between the Americans and the French in a framework of intense cooperation. Franco-American cooperation in this domain is exemplary.” [Red Orbit, 12/25/2003] This alert comes in the wake of the comments of the chair of the 9/11 Commission, Tom Kean, suggesting that the 9/11 attacks could have been prevented. President Bush is criticized in the press for the continuing failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. [Rolling Stone, 9/21/2006 ]
Justice Department spokesman Mark Corallo says: “This country has become a battlefield, and [terrorists] will kill us anywhere they can. All you have to do is go to lower Manhattan and see the hole in the ground.” [Knight Ridder, 12/29/2003]
A truckload of about four thousand copies of the book “The FSB Blows Up Moscow” is seized by the FSB in order to protect “state secrets”. The book, by authors Alexander Litvinenko and Yuri Felshtinsky, claims the FSB orchestrated the 1999 apartment bombings (see September 22-24, 1999, September 9, 1999 and September 13, 1999). The bookseller calls it a “shock attack on freedom of the press in Russia” and suggests that “the fact that they opened the case under this part of the Criminal Code [on state secrets] is an indirect admission that they participated in the explosions.” [Agence France-Presse, 12/30/2003; Moscow Times, 1/30/2004]
Saddam Hussein in US custody. [Source: US Department of Defense]The FBI sends veteran interrogator George Piro to question captured Iraqi despot Saddam Hussein. Over a period of months, Piro uses a combination of friendliness, warmth, and verbal provocations to tease a wealth of information from Hussein. At no time does Piro or other FBI interrogators use “aggressive” or “harsh” interrogation methods against Hussein. Piro works closely with a team of FBI and CIA analysts to pore over Hussein’s responses. He will later recall his sessions with Hussein for CBS News interviewer Scott Pelley.
'Mr. Saddam' - Piro begins calling the dictator “Mr. Saddam,” as a sign of respect; by the end of their time, they are on a first-name basis with one another. Hussein never finds out that Piro is “just” an FBI agent; he believes that Piro is far more influential than he actually is, and is directly briefing President Bush on their conversations. “He didn’t know I worked for the FBI, he didn’t know I was a field agent,” Piro will recall. Had he found out, “I think initially he would have been angry. He would feel that I was way beneath him, and would not respond well to the interrogation. Or even to me.… I think he thought, and actually on a couple of occasions talked around the issue that I was directly answering to the president.” Piro will recall setting several strategies of deception into motion, including his barking orders at the guards to send them into a panic to obey his instructions. “[I]t was all part of our strategy,” Piro will explain.
Controlling the Dictator - Piro will say that he gained physical control of the setting—a small, windowless room with chairs and a table—merely by placing himself between Hussein and the door. “I purposely put his back against the wall,” Piro will recall. “And then mine against the door, psychologically to tell him that his back was against the wall in the interview room. And that I stood between him and the door, psychologically. Between him whether it’s to go back to his cell, freedom, whatever he was projecting to be outside of that door. I was kind of that psychological barrier between him and the door.” Piro will add, “I basically said that I was gonna be responsible for every aspect of his life, and that if he needed anything I was gonna be the person that he needed to talk to.” Piro controls Hussein’s food and cleaning materials—Piro will describe Hussein as a “clean freak” who uses large numbers of baby wipes to disinfect his cell and his food. Piro allows Hussein pen and paper to write what Piro will describe as inordinate amounts of “terrible” poetry. “We had the guards remove their watches,” Piro will recall. “And the only person that was wearing a watch was me. And it was very evident to him, ‘cause I was wearing the largest wristwatch you could imagine. And it was just the act of him asking for the time—was critical in our plan.” Pelley says, “So you controlled time itself,” and Piro answers, “Yes.”
No Coercive Interrogation Methods - Piro will say that no coercive interrogations, such as sleep deprivation, excessive heat or cold, bombardment with loud music, or waterboarding are ever used. “It’s against FBI policy, first,” Piro will explain. “And wouldn’t have really benefited us with someone like Saddam.… I think Saddam clearly had demonstrated over his legacy that he would not respond to threats, to any type of fear-based approach.” The best methods for use with Hussein are, according to Piro, time and patience.
Using Emotions to Create Vulnerability - Piro uses their time to build a relationship with Hussein based on dependency, trust, and emotion. He alternates between treating Hussein with courtesy and kindness, and provoking him with pictures and video images designed to anger and embarrass the former dictator. He uses pictures of the toppling of Hussein’s statues and news videos documenting his overthrow. “I wanted him to get angry. I wanted him to see those videos and to get angry,” Piro will say. “You want to take him through those various emotions. Happy, angry, sad. When you have someone going through those emotions they’re not able to really control themselves. And they’re more vulnerable during the interview.”
Insult Drove Kuwait Invasion - Piro learns that one of the driving forces behind Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990 (see August 2, 1990) was personal insult. “What really triggered it for him, according to Saddam, was he had sent his foreign minister to Kuwait to meet with the Emir Al Sabah, the former leader of Kuwait, to try to resolve some of the… issues” between Kuwait and Iraq, Piro will recall. “And the Emir told the foreign minister of Iraq that he would not stop doing what he was doing until he turned every Iraqi woman into a $10 prostitute. And that really sealed it for him, to invade Kuwait. He wanted to punish, he told me, Emir Al Sabah, for saying that.” The 1991 US invasion of Iraq (see January 16, 1991 and After) soured Hussein on then-President George H. W. Bush, a feeling that Hussein transferred to the son. “He didn’t like President [George W.] Bush,” Piro will say. “He would have liked meeting President Reagan. He thought he was a great leader. Honorable man. He liked President Clinton. But he did not like President Bush, the first or the current.”
Small Things, Big Impact - Piro will recall the outsized impact relatively small incidents have on Hussein. One night the FBI flies Hussein to a hospital. He is manacled and blindfolded. Piro will remember: “And once I saw how beautiful Baghdad was in the middle of the night, so I took advantage of it. I allowed him to look out and the lights were on. There was traffic. And it looked like any other major metropolitan city around the world. And for him to see that. And as I mentioned, you know, big Baghdad is moving forward without you. I mean, little things like that didn’t require a lot of suggestion on our part. It made its point.” Piro even uses Hussein’s birthday, a former national holiday, to drive home his point. “In 2004, no one celebrated his birthday on April 28th. So the only one that really knew and cared was us. I’d brought him some cookies, and we, the FBI, celebrated his birthday for him.” Piro gives Hussein packets of flower seeds and allows him to plant his own small garden, which he must tend with his hands because the FBI will not allow him to use tools. Piro will recall that their strolls in Hussein’s tiny garden are often the site of large revelations.
Avoiding Capture - Hussein tells Piro that US forces simply missed him during the first days of the invasion, the “shock and awe” assault. “He said that he was at one of the locations. He said it in a kind of a bragging fashion, that he was there, but that we missed him,” Piro later says. “He told me he changed the way he traveled. He got rid of his normal vehicles. He got rid of the protective detail he traveled with. Really just to change his signature so he would be much harder to identify.” And Hussein denies ever using body doubles or decoys, as US intelligence had long asserted.
WMD - Five months into the sessions, Hussein finally opens up to Piro regarding the subject of Iraq’s WMD programs. Using indirection, Piro begins to tease information out of Hussein. “He told me that most of the WMD had been destroyed by the UN inspectors in the ‘90s. And those that hadn’t been destroyed by the inspectors were unilaterally destroyed by Iraq,” Piro will recall. So why, Pelley will ask, did Hussein “put your nation at risk, why put your own life at risk to maintain this charade?” Piro will respond: “It was very important for him to project that because that was what kept him, in his mind, in power. That capability kept the Iranians away. It kept them from reinvading Iraq.” It is apparent, Piro says, that Hussein did not believe he could survive without the perception that he had WMD. But Piro confirms that Hussein always intended to restart his WMD program someday. “The folks that he needed to reconstitute his program are still there,” Piro will observe. “He wanted to pursue all of WMD. So he wanted to reconstitute his entire WMD program.”
Did Not Believe US Would Invade - From there, Hussein begins to explain why he let the US continue to believe he had such weapons even as troops began massing on his borders. He didn’t believe the US would actually invade, he says. As Piro will recall: “[H]e told me he initially miscalculated President Bush. And President Bush’s intentions. He thought the United States would retaliate with the same type of attack as we did in 1998 under Operation Desert Fox (see December 16-19, 1998). Which was a four-day aerial attack. So you expected that initially.” Hussein says that Iraq would have survived a relatively limited aerial bombardment. “He survived that once,” Piro will recall. “And then he was willing to accept that type of attack. That type of damage.” But he never believed the US would invade until almost the moment of the initial assault.
'The Secret War' - Hussein knew his military could not win in any confrontation with the US. Instead, as Piro will recall: “What he had asked of his military leaders and senior government officials was to give him two weeks. And at that point it would go into what he called the secret war.… Going from a conventional to an unconventional war.” Pelley will remark, “So the insurgency was part of his plan from the very beginning,” to which Piro will say, “Well, he would like to take credit for the insurgency.”
Iraq and al-Qaeda - Hussein confirms that his regime had no dealings with al-Qaeda, as many Bush officials have long believed. Hussein considered Osama bin Laden “a fanatic,” according to Piro. “You can’t really trust fanatics,” Hussein tells the interrogator. And he had no interest in any alliance with al-Qaeda. “He didn’t wanna be seen with bin Laden,” Piro will recall. “And didn’t want to associate with bin Laden.” Hussein viewed bin Laden as a threat to him and his regime.
Independent Confirmation and Praise for Piro's Efforts - Hussein’s claims are later verified by independent interrogations with other high-ranking Hussein regime officials. Piro’s boss, FBI Assistant Director Joe Persichini, will say that Piro’s interrogation is a high mark of the bureau’s recent efforts. “The FBI will be celebrating its 100th anniversary this year and I would have to say that the interview with Saddam Hussein is one of the top accomplishments of our agency in the last 100 years,” Persichini will say, and gives credit to Piro’s language skills. Only about 50 of the 10,000 FBI agents speak Arabic, he will note. Piro will credit his FBI and CIA colleagues for their work in analyzing Hussein’s statements, and their extensive knowledge of Hussein and his regime. “The more you know about your subject, the better of an interview… that you’re gonna conduct,” he will say. “You’ll be able to recognize inconsistencies, deception, things like that. Plus it really establishes your credibility within the interview.”
No Regrets - One thing Hussein never shows during his long interviews, Piro later recalls, is remorse. “No remorse,” Piro will say. “No regret.” [CBS News, 1/27/2008]
Entity Tags: George Herbert Walker Bush, Ronald Reagan, George Piro, George W. Bush, Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency, Joe Persichini, CBS News, Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, Scott Pelley, Al-Qaeda, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Iraq under US Occupation
Instead of reporting the names or even the numbers of staffers in the Office of the Vice President (OVP), the office provides the following information for the federal government’s official staff directory, nicknamed the “Plum Book:” “The Vice Presidency is a unique office that is neither a part of the executive branch nor a part of the legislative branch, but is attached by the Constitution to the latter. The Vice Presidency performs functions in both the legislative branch (see article I, section 3 of the Constitution) and in the executive branch (see article II, and amendments XII and XXV, of the Constitution, and section 106 of title 3 of the United States Code). The… legislative branch… and the annual transportation-treasury appropriations act… provide funds for the Vice President to hire employees to assist him in carrying out his legislative and executive functions. Executive branch employees also may be assigned or detailed to the Vice President… . The Office of the Vice President (OVP) consists of the aggregation of Vice Presidential employees whose salary is disbursed by the Secretary of the Senate from the Vice President’s legislative appropriation, Vice Presidential employees employed with the Vice President’s executive appropriation, employees assigned or detailed to the Vice President, and consultants engaged by the Vice President. The numbers, titles and salaries of OVP personnel change with some frequency.” [Government Printing Office, 2004 ]
FISC Presiding Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly. [Source: Washington Post]James Baker, counsel for intelligence policy in the Justice Department’s Office of Intelligence Policy and Review (no relation to the former Secretary of State James A. Baker), informs the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) that the government has, at least twice, improperly used excluded evidence from NSA domestic wiretaps to obtain warrants from FISC. Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, the senior FISC judge, is angered by this as both she and her predecessor, Royce Lambeth, have insisted that no evidence obtained from warrantless wiretaps can be used to obtain warrants for further surveillance from FISC. The Justice Department assured them that the administration would never attempt to secure warrants in such a manner. By using the excluded information, the Justice Department rendered useless the federal screening system put in place to keep such evidence from reaching FISC, which did not want to receive it due to the questionable legality of the domestic surveillance program (see December 15, 2005). Kollar-Kotelly’s complaint about the use of tainted evidence results in a brief suspension of the NSA wiretapping program. But the practice will continue (see 2005). [Washington Post, 2/9/2006]
Al-Tajdeed Radio, a station run by London-based Saudi Islamist Mohammed al-Massari, broadcasts in Iraq and Saudi Arabia calls for attacks on British troops. The station carries songs calling for jihad against the coalition forces and addresses by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, head of an Iraqi group of militants reported to be affiliated with al-Qaeda. In addition, al-Massari also posts videos of attacks on British troops on his website. For example, in August 2006 the Council of Holy Warriors posts a declaration praising a bombing in Iraq that results in 55 people killed and wounded. MP Patrick Mercer calls the broadcasts “desperately demoralizing” for British troops in Iraq. Al-Massari says that the broadcasts were not in Britain, but abroad, so they are legal. No action is taken against al-Massari over the radio station and website, even after Britain passes a new Terrorism Act in 2006 making glorifying or encouraging political violence a crime (see March 30, 2006). [BBC, 8/18/2005; New York Times, 8/21/2006]
The Bush administration directs the Department of Homeland Security to seize any vessel, sailing anywhere in US waters, that DHS believes might be headed to Cuba. The justification for the directive is “the Cuban government’s support of terrorism,” according to the DHS, even though there is little evidence to back up that claim. According to Business Week’s Paul Magnusson, the directive may well violate the Bill of Rights, and requires the US Coast Guard to “draw up regulations and enlist cash-strapped local police departments and harbor patrols in the effort.” The editor of a boating magazine observes: “That’s right, Popeye. If you’re unlucky enough to be reading this magazine in the cockpit of your most cherished possession—be it in San Diego, Seattle, Saginaw, or South Florida—and you wonder aloud how you’d always wanted to chase Hemingway’s wake, by the letter of this new edict you have now forfeited the right to keep your boat.” [Carter, 2004, pp. 17]
The US Conference of Mayors releases findings showing that of 215 cities surveyed, 76 percent say they have not received any money whatsoever from the federal government for their emergency crews and first responders—the nation’s front line of defense against terrorist attacks. [Carter, 2004, pp. 21]
Rep. Curt Weldon.
[Source: House of Representatives]Rep. Curt Weldon (R-PA) is not yet familiar with Able Danger, though he will help bring information about the program to light in 2005. However, he is familiar with the closely related Land Information Warfare Activity (LIWA) program, having had dealings with it before 9/11. He says he is frustrated at the apparent lack of understanding about programs like LIWA based on the lines of questioning at public 9/11 Commission hearings in early 2004, so, “On at least four occasions, I personally tried to brief the 9/11 Commissioners on: NOAH [Weldon’s pre-9/11 suggestion to have a National Operations and Analysis Hub]; integrative data collaboration capabilities; my frustration with intelligence stovepipes; and al-Qaeda analysis. However, I was never able to achieve more than a five-minute telephone conversation with Commissioner Thomas Kean. On March 24, 2004, I also had my Chief of Staff personally hand deliver a document about LIWA, along [with] questions for George Tenet to the Commission, but neither was ever used.” [US Congress. Senate. Committee on Judiciary, 9/21/2005] He says: “The next week, they sent a staffer over to pick up some additional materials about the NIWA, about the concept, and about information I had briefed them on. They never followed up and invited me to come in and meet with them. So they can’t say that I didn’t try.” [Office of Congressman Curt Weldon, 9/17/2005]
Valerie Plame Wilson and Joseph Wilson, photographed in December 2003 for a Vanity Fair profile. [Source: Jonas Karlsson / Vanity Fair]Vanity Fair publishes an interview with Joseph Wilson (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002) and his wife, recently outed CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson (see July 14, 2003). It is the first interview with Plame Wilson after her exposure. The article features a photo of the Wilsons, which constitutes the first public photo of Plame Wilson after her exposure. She conceals her features behind large sunglasses and a scarf. [Vanity Fair, 1/2004] Many Bush administration supporters and others will criticize the Wilsons for allowing themselves to be interviewed and photographed. Wilson later calls his wife’s decision to allow herself to be photographed “spur of the moment,” and will note: “She had already been described as the beautiful blonde that she is, and her cover had long since been blown, so the only concern remaining was whether strangers would be able to use a photo to recognize her in public. With proper precautions taken, I saw no reason to deprive ourselves of the pleasure of being photographed together as the happily married couple that we are.” Later assertions that Plame Wilson had “blown her own cover” by allowing herself to be photographed are “laughable,” Wilson will write. [Wilson, 2004, pp. 409-410]
New information shows that Saddam Hussein was not captured (see December 14, 2003) by US forces through the auspices of an informant, as previously reported (see December 17, 2003), but was apparently captured by Kurdish paramilitary forces and turned over to the US. The day of Hussein’s capture, Kurdish media reported that a “special intelligence unit led by Mr. Kosrat Rassul” had captured Hussein. The source of the reports was Jalal Talabani, the leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). Iranian news services picked up and expanded on the reports. The next day, a member of Iraq’s Governing Council, Dr. Mahmoud Othman, confirmed the Kurdish claims, as did other independent observers. Subsequent Arab news reports indicated that Mohammed Ibrahim Omar al-Muslit, the so-called informant, actually drugged Hussein and told US forces where to find him. But this story, too, is quickly disputed, with experts believing that Kurdish forces intervened, first acting as negotiators for the US, then bypassing the al-Muslit family and seizing Hussein on their own. Once the Kurds had Hussein, they negotiated with the US to stage his “capture.” It is likely that Hussein was drugged, but by the Kurds and not by al-Muslit. One photo of US troops in front of Hussein’s “spider hole” features ripe dates and drying sausage in the background, which usually exist only in late summer, not December as was the announced date of Hussein’s capture.
'Dragnet' - In July, the US Army captured Adnan Abdullah Abid al-Muslit, identified as “one of Saddam Hussein’s closest bodyguards and collaborators.” The al-Muslit family was apparently helping to hide and protect Hussein; later, one of the family members, Mohammed al-Muslit, was identified as the informant who gave up Hussein’s location to US interrogators. In August, another al-Muslit family member, later identified as Adnan al-Muslit’s brother, was arrested by Iraqi police and given over to US forces. The brother was picked up as part of a larger “dragnet” for anyone with possible knowledge of Hussein’s whereabouts.
Allegations, Speculations of Torture - Many were taken into US custody and interrogated. Amnesty International raised questions as to whether some of the detainees might have been tortured; the human rights organization alleged circumstances that “would amount to torture as defined by UN standards.” [Asia Times, 4/17/2004]
Jack Goldsmith, the embattled head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) (see October 6, 2003), finds himself again mired in a conflict with Vice President Dick Cheney’s hardline chief aide, David Addington. Goldsmith has already fought with Addington over Goldsmith’s decision to withdraw the OLC’s support for the administration’s memos justifying torture (see December 2003-June 2004). Now Goldsmith and Addington are at odds over the policies governing the detention and trial of suspected terrorists. The spark for this conflict is the January 2004 Supreme Court decision to review the detention of US citizen and suspected “enemy combatant” Yaser Esam Hamdi (see January 9, 2004). Goldsmith suggests going to Congress to have that body pass legislation declaring such detention legal, reasoning that the Supreme Court would be less likely to rule against the administration if Congress had authorized such detention policies. Addington, who like his boss does not accept the idea that Congress has any business interfering in such policy decisions, refuses to countenance the idea, and Goldsmith’s proposal goes nowhere. In June 2004, the Supreme Court approves the detention policies but put modest legal restrictions on the administration’s ability to detain citizens without trial. Goldsmith, this time with deputy solicitor general Paul Clement, again suggests going to Congress; once again, Addington refuses. The White House, Goldsmith later says, continues to operate as if it could avoid any adverse decisions from the Supreme Court. When the Court issues its decision in the Hamdan case (see November 8, 2004), rejecting the administration’s policy of trying terror suspects in military tribunals without Congressional approval, and upholding the preeminence of the Third Geneva Convention in protecting the rights of accused terror detainees—including al-Qaeda suspects—the decision has a shattering effect on the Bush administration’s legal arguments towards detaining and trying those suspects. Goldsmith believes the Court’s decision is “legally erroneous” but has huge political consequences. Now detainees at Guantanamo Bay have more legal rights than ever before, and for the first time, the specter of war-crimes charges against Bush officials becomes a real possibility. Goldsmith later says that it is in these arguments, more than in the battles over domestic wiretapping or interrogation techniques, that Addington’s attempts to expand presidential power actually backfires. Goldsmith is later vindicated when, in September 2006, one of the last acts of the Republican-led Congress will give the administration every power the administration had asked for, authorizing the military commissions that the Court had rejected. The Bush administration could have avoided a damaging Court decision by working with Congress beforehand. “I’m not a civil libertarian, and what I did wasn’t driven by concerns about civil liberties per se,” he says in a 2007 interview. “It was a disagreement about means, not ends, driven by a desire to make sure that the administration’s counterterrorism policies had a firm legal foundation.” [New York Times Magazine, 9/9/2007]
Peter Lewis of Progressive Insurance. [Source: Forbes]Billionaire George Soros, a frequent contributor to Democratic and liberal causes, gives $23.7 million to a number of “527s,” politically active groups that operate independently of particular campaigns or candidates (see 2000 - 2005, March 2000 and After, and June 30, 2000). Peter Lewis, the CEO of Progressive Insurance, gives almost that much, with donations totaling $23.247 million. Their donations include:
$16 million (Lewis) and $12,050,000 (Soros) to the Joint Victory Campaign 2004, an “umbrella” fundraising entity that distributes funds to two other major groups, America Coming Together (ACT) and The Media Fund.
$7,500,000 (Soros) and $2,995,000 (Lewis) to America Coming Together.
$2,500,000 (Soros) and $2,500,000 (Lewis) to MoveOn.org.
$650,000 (Lewis) and $325,000 (Soros) to the Young Democrats of America.
$485,000 (Lewis) to the Marijuana Policy Project.
$325,000 (Soros) to Democrats 2000.
$300,000 (Soros) to the Real Economy Group.
$300,000 (Soros) to the Campaign for America’s Future.
$250,000 (Soros) and $250,000 (Lewis) to Democracy for America.
$250,000 (Soros) to Safer Together 04.
$117,220 (Lewis) to Stonewall Democrats United.
$100,000 (Lewis) to the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund.
$100,000 (Lewis) to the Sierra Club.
$50,000 (Lewis) to PunkVoter.Inc. [Center for Responsive Politics, 2012; Discover the Secrets, 2012; Center for Responsive Politics, 6/11/2012; Center for Responsive Politics, 6/11/2012]
Entity Tags: George Soros, America Coming Together, Young Democrats of America, Democrats 2000, Democracy for America, Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, Campaign for America’s Future, Stonewall Democrats United, The Media Fund, MoveOn (.org), Marijuana Policy Project, Sierra Club, Peter Lewis, Safer Together 04, PunkVoter.Inc., Joint Victory Campaign, Real Economy Group
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2004 Elections
After 15 months of brutal torture in Morocco (see July 21, 2002 -- January 2004), British terror suspect Binyam Mohamed (see May-September, 2001) is flown to Afghanistan by the CIA.
Shock at Brutal Treatment - Even the hardened CIA agents in Afghanistan are shocked by the treatment meted out by the Moroccans, who, among other treatments, had repeatedly slashed and lacerated Mohamed’s genitals with scalpels and knives. Mohamed will later recall: “When I got to Kabul a female agent started taking close-up pictures of my genitals. She was shocked. When they removed my diaper she could see blood was still oozing from the cuts on my penis. For the first two weeks they had me on antibiotics and they took pictures of my genitals every day. They told me, ‘This is not for us. It’s for Washington.’ They wanted to be sure it was healing.”
'The Dark Prison' - But the initial shock gives way to a new session of brutality at the hands of his American captors. Mohamed will later call his Afghani detention facility “the dark prison,” and recall it as one of the lowest points of his life. In Morocco, Mohamed confessed to anything he was asked—being part of a plot to build a radioactive “dirty bomb,” being a confidant of 9/11 planner Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, having met Osama bin Laden dozens of times—in order to, he says, avoid further torture. Now the Americans want him to be a prosecution witness against high-ranking al-Qaeda already in US custody. But Mohammed knows nothing of these people or their crimes, he will later say. The tortures with scalpels are not repeated, but Mohamed will recall seemingly endless ordeals of being shackled by the wrists to his door frame, often in complete darkness, and in one memorable instance, being subjected to a rap CD being played in his cell at ear-shatteringly loud volumes for an entire month without stop. “It’s a miracle my brain is still intact,” he will later say. In September, he is transferred to Guantanamo (see September 2004 and After). [Daily Mail, 3/8/2009]
Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, investigating the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak (see December 30, 2003), empanels a grand jury. Among the White House officials testifying before the jury will be President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, chief of staff Andrew Card, deputy chief of staff Karl Rove, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, Bush’s communications assistants Dan Bartlett and Karen Hughes, former Cheney chief of staff Lewis “Scooter” Libby, former press secretary Ari Fleischer, and current press secretary Scott McClellan (see January 2004). [MSNBC, 2/21/2007; Washington Post, 7/3/2007]
The Washington Post, in a laudatory profile of newly named special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald (see December 30, 2003), notes that some administration critics worry about Fitzgerald’s objectivity. Fitzgerald is close friends with the man who named him to the post, Deputy Attorney General James Comey, and is the godfather of one of Comey’s children. Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) calls on Comey to “relinquish his authority to limit or interfere with the investigation.” Lieberman says Fitzgerald’s appointment means “there is still no real independence and autonomy.” [Washington Post, 1/1/2004]
After Deputy Attorney General James Comey announces the naming of special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald to head the Plame Wilson CIA identity leak investigation (see December 30, 2003), White House press secretary Scott McClellan is contacted by Ron Roos, the FBI’s deputy counterespionage director, to arrange a time where McClellan can testify before Fitzgerald’s grand jury. This time, Roos says, he would like McClellan to come alone, without a White House lawyer (see October 10, 2003). McClellan’s sister-in-law, a former assistant district attorney, advises him to retain a lawyer, as many of his co-workers have done, but McClellan decides not to do so. Perhaps, he will later write, he was lulled by the almost-perfunctory interview sessions he has already participated in (see Mid-October 2003 and Late October or Early November, 2003). McClellan meets with Roos and other prosecutors for a pre-jury interview. This time, McClellan will recall, the interview is far more adversarial than the first two. Roos asks McClellan why he publicly exonerated Karl Rove (see September 29, 2003) and Lewis Libby (see October 4, 2003), and then asks why McClellan failed to mention in previous interviews that Rove had spoken with columnist Robert Novak. McClellan, later writing that he was “taken aback” by the question, reminds Roos that he had indeed informed them of Rove’s contact with Novak in an earlier interview. Afterwards, McClellan will write, he worries about the FBI’s “initial hard-edged approach.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 224-225]
A male Iraqi dies while being interrogated by American officials, probably from the CIA. According to a report by the American Civil Liberties Union (see October 24, 2005), the male, detained in the city of Al Asad, is “standing, shackled to the top of a door frame with a gag in his mouth at the time he died.” The cause of death is asphyxia and blunt force injuries—in essence, being beaten to death while choking on a gag. The ACLU believes the Iraqi’s name was Abdul Jaleel. [American Civil Liberties Union, 10/24/2005]
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. [Washington Monthly, 5/2004; BBC, 12/2007]
A report published by the Army War College accuses the Bush administration of putting the US in an “unnecessary” war in Iraq—which it calls a “strategic error”—and pursuing an “unrealistic” war against terrorism that may lead to the US fighting wars with nations that pose no real threat. The report, titled “Bounding the Global War on Terrorism,” is compiled by visiting professor Jeffrey Record, a defense specialist and author of six books on military strategy and related issues, a former aide to the former chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sam Nunn (D-GA), and a visiting professor at the War College’s Strategic Studies Institute. As a result of the Bush administration’s actions, the report finds, the US Army is “near the breaking point.” The report recommends that the “global war on terrorism” be scaled back to focus on the far narrower threat posed by the al-Qaeda terror network. “[T]he global war on terrorism as currently defined and waged is dangerously indiscriminate and ambitious, and accordingly… its parameters should be readjusted,” Record writes. Iraq “was a war-of-choice distraction from the war of necessity against al-Qaeda.” The anti-terrorism campaign “is strategically unfocused, promises more than it can deliver, and threatens to dissipate US military resources in an endless and hopeless search for absolute security.” The study adds that the administration’s plans to spread democracy throughout the Middle East are baseless: “The potential policy payoff of a democratic and prosperous Middle East, if there is one, almost certainly lies in the very distant future. The basis on which this democratic domino theory rests has never been explicated.” It concludes, “The United States may be able to defeat, even destroy, al-Qaeda, but it cannot rid the world of terrorism, much less evil.” While the study carries the standard disclaimer that its views are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the Army, the Pentagon, or the US government, both SSI director Colonel Douglas Lovelace and the War College commandant, Major General David Huntoon, stand behind it. Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita says he has not read the study, and adds, “If the conclusion is that we need to be scaling back in the global war on terrorism, it’s not likely to be on my reading list anytime soon.” Daniel Benjamin, a member of the National Security Council staff in the late 1990s, says of the report, “The criticism does not seem out of line with many of the conversations I have had with officers in every branch of the military.” [Record, 12/2003 ; Washington Post, 1/12/2004; Los Angeles Times, 1/12/2004; BBC, 1/13/2004] The report was compiled in December 2003 but just now released. [Record, 12/2003 ]
Entity Tags: Lawrence Di Rita, Daniel Benjamin, Bush administration (43), Al-Qaeda, David Huntoon, Jeffrey Record, US Department of Defense, US Department of the Army, Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College, Douglas Lovelace
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion
Columnist Robert Novak, who outed Valerie Plame Wilson’s covert CIA status in a column in July 2003 (see July 14, 2003), is questioned by Patrick Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor investigating the Plame Wilson leak (see December 30, 2003). Novak has already discussed some of his knowledge of Plame Wilson’s covert CIA status with FBI investigators (see October 7, 2003). As with the FBI session, the Fitzgerald interview takes place at the law offices of Swidler Berlin, the firm representing Novak. Fitzgerald comes to the interview with waivers (see January 2-5, 2004) from Novak’s sources (see January 12, 2004) for his column outing Plame Wilson—White House political strategist Karl Rove and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage (see July 8, 2003), as well as a waiver from CIA official Bill Harlow, who asked Novak not to divulge Plame Wilson’s identity when Novak called him with the information from his other sources that Plame Wilson was a CIA official (see Before July 14, 2003). Novak is uncomfortable in accepting that Fitzgerald’s waivers make it ethically acceptable for him to disclose the three men as his sources, but his lawyer, James Hamilton, says he will almost certainly lose a court challenge as to their propriety. Novak will later write, “I answered questions using the names of Rove, Harlow, and my primary source,” which at the time of his writing had not yet been revealed as Armitage. [Human Events, 7/12/2006] Novak will be questioned again several weeks later (see February 5, 2004).
Cathie Martin, the communications director for Vice President Dick Cheney, gives a statement for the Plame Wilson leak investigation. The contents of Martin’s statement are not made public. Martin testified to the FBI (see October 22, 2003), and did not verify that Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis Libby, had spoken to reporters about Valerie Plame Wilson in her hearing (see 2:24 p.m. July 12, 2003). She has known about Plame Wilson’s CIA status since June 2003 (see 5:25 p.m. June 10, 2003). [Marcy Wheeler, 1/25/2007]
A group of former CIA officials sends a letter to House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) asking that Congress investigate the Plame Wilson identity leak. The officials, whose names are not released to the press, call the leak a “shameful event in American history” that has damaged national security. They write, “Congress must send an unambiguous message that the intelligence officers tasked with collecting or analyzing intelligence must never be turned into political punching bags.” Such leaks endanger the work and the safety of intelligence professionals and their sources, the letter notes. A Congressional investigation would not only determine who leaked Plame Wilson’s CIA identity, it continues, but would signal that such behavior would not be tolerated. [Reuters, 1/22/2004]
George W. Bush gives the third state of the union address of his presidency. He states that the Iraq Survey Group found “weapons of mass destruction-related program activities” in Iraq and claims that had his administration “failed to act, the dictator’s weapons of mass destruction program would continue to this day.” [Los Angeles Times, 11/20/2005] Throughout his address, Bush plays down the WMD issue, which had driven his rhetoric before the invasion (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). Now he focuses on the “liberation” of Iraq. He also challenges those who, like Democratic presidential frontrunner John Kerry (D-MA), advocate using law enforcement methodologies over military methods to combat terrorism. “I know that some people question if America is really in a war at all,” he says. “After the chaos and carnage of September the 11th, it is not enough to serve our enemies with legal papers.” Author and media critic Frank Rich will later write that this speech is the opening salvo in the Republicans’ strategy of “characterizing political opponents as less manly than the Top Gun president.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 114]
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]
The federal grand jury investigating the leak of Valerie Plame Wilson’s covert CIA identity subpoenas a large amount of White House records, including Air Force One telephone logs from the week before Plame Wilson’s public outing (see July 14, 2003); records created in July 2003 by the White House Iraq Group (WHIG—see August 2002), a White House public relations group tasked with crafting a public relations strategy to market the Iraq war to the public; a transcript of press secretary Ari Fleischer’s press briefing in Nigeria currently missing from the White House’s Web site (see 3:20 a.m. July 12, 2003); a list of guests at former President Gerald Ford’s July 16, 2003 birthday reception; and records of Bush administration officials’ contacts with approximately 25 journalists and news media outlets. The journalists include Robert Novak, the columnist who outed Plame Wilson, Newsday reporters Knut Royce and Timothy Phelps (see July 21, 2003), five Washington Post reporters including Mike Allen and Dana Priest (see September 28, 2003 and October 12, 2003), Time magazine’s Michael Duffy (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), NBC’s Andrea Mitchell (see July 8, 2003 and October 3, 2003), MSNBC’s Chris Matthews (see July 21, 2003), and reporters from the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and the Associated Press. The subpoenas will be accompanied by a January 26 memo from White House counsel Alberto Gonzales that will set a January 29 deadline for production of the subpoenaed documents and records. Gonzales will write that White House staffers will turn over records of any “contacts, attempted contacts, or discussion of contacts, with any members of the media concerning [former ambassador Joseph] Wilson, his trip, or his wife, including but not limited to the following media and media personnel.” White House spokeswoman Erin Healy later says, “The president has always said we would fully comply with the investigation, and the White House counsel’s office has directed the staff to fully comply.” White House press secretary Scott McClellan will say: “It’s just a matter of getting it all together.… At this point, we’re still in the process of complying fully with those requests. We have provided the Department of Justice investigators with much of the information and we’re continuing to provide them with additional information and comply fully with the request for information.” [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 1/22/2004; US District Court for the District of Columbia, 1/22/2004; Newsday, 3/5/2004; Washington Post, 3/6/2004]
Entity Tags: Chris Matthews, US Department of Justice, Bush administration (43), Valerie Plame Wilson, Wall Street Journal, White House Iraq Group, Ari Fleischer, Time magazine, Alberto R. Gonzales, Andrea Mitchell, Scott McClellan, Timothy Phelps, Newsday, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, Erin Healy, Dana Priest, Knut Royce, Robert Novak, NBC News, Michael Duffy, Associated Press, New York Times, MSNBC, Mike Allen
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
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]
Federal judge Audrey Collins rules that parts of the USA Patriot Act are unconstitutional, specifically portions barring individuals or entities from giving expert advice or assistance to groups designated as international terrorist organizations. Collins rules that the ban on on providing “expert advice or assistance” is impermissibly vague, and violates the First and Fifth Amendments. The advice or assistance forbidden under the act “could be construed to include unequivocally pure speech and advocacy protected by the First Amendment,” Collins writes. The suit, brought before a Los Angeles court by the Humanitarian Law Project (HLP), was originally filed in 1998 by five groups and two US citizens who wanted to provide political and financial support to the nonviolent arms of two dissident organizations designated as terrorists by the United States: the Kurdish Workers Party in Turkey and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in Sri Lanka. The suit was later amended to include the Patriot Act. The HLP argued that the plaintiffs were threatened with 15 years in prison if they provided advice to the groups. The Patriot Act, Collins rules, does not differentiate between impermissible advice on violence and encouraging the use of peaceful, nonviolent means to achieve goals. “The USA Patriot Act places no limitation on the type of expert advice and assistance which is prohibited and instead bans the provision of all expert advice and assistance regardless of its nature,” she writes. HLP attorney David Cole calls the ruling “a victory for everyone who believes the war on terrorism ought to be fought consistent with constitutional principles.” The ruling is the first judicial setback for the Patriot Act. [Associated Press, 1/26/2004; San Francisco Chronicle, 1/27/2004] The judge’s verdict will be upheld on appeal (see December 10, 2007).
Mary Matalin, the former press secretary to Vice President Dick Cheney (see July 10, 2003), testifies before the federal grand jury investigating the Plame Wilson identity leak. Sources involved in the investigation will say that Matalin, who is not suspected of leaking Plame Wilson’s identity to the press, is asked about White House public relations strategies. [Washington Post, 2/10/2004] Other sources later state that Matalin testified on January 21. [Think Progress, 10/17/2005]
The FBI’s on-scene commander in Baghdad sends an e-mail to senior FBI officials at FBI headquarters in Washington, discussing the allegations of abuse at Abu Ghraib prison. The e-mail advises the senior officials not to investigate the allegations. “We need to maintain good will and relations with those operating the prison,” it reads. “Our involvement in the investigation of the alleged abuse might harm our liaison.” [American Civil Liberties Union, 2/23/2006]
The lurid tale of Iraq’s readiness to deploy WMD within 45 minutes, a claim used to great effect by both British and American officials to justify the war with Iraq (see September 28, 2002 and December 7, 2003), is shown to be false (see October 13, 2004)). Both the source, supposed Iraqi military official Lieutenant Colonel al-Dabbagh, and Iraqi government official Iyad Allawi, who turned over al-Dabbagh’s raw intelligence to US and British agents, now say they bear no responsibility for the claims. Nick Theros, Allawi’s Washington representative, says the information was raw intelligence from a single source: “We were passing it on in good faith. It was for the intelligence services to verify it.” Middle East expert Juan Cole says that Allawi and al-Dabbagh “passed to British intelligence and to Con Coughlin at the Telegraph a series of patently false reports that bolstered the case for war against Iraq but which were wholly unfounded. (Coughlin is either gullible or disingenuous.)” [Newsweek, 1/12/2004; Juan Cole, 1/27/2004; Guardian, 1/27/2004] Theros now says al-Dabbagh’s information was a “crock of sh_t,” and adds, “Clearly we have not found WMD.” [Newsweek, 1/12/2004; Guardian, 1/27/2004]
David Kay tells the Senate Armed Services Committee that the Iraq Survey Group has failed to find any evidence that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. “Let me begin by saying, we were almost all wrong,” he says in his opening remarks, before revealing that the inspection teams found no weapons of mass destruction. “I believe that the effort that has been directed to this point has been sufficiently intense that it is highly unlikely that there were large stockpiles of deployed militarized chemical and biological weapons there,” he says. [CNN, 1/28/2003; Guardian, 1/29/2003; US Congress, 1/28/2004 ]
Hussein Deceived Own Generals - Kay says that apparently even Iraq’s own military commanders believed, falsely, that their military possessed chemical or biological weapons that were ready to be deployed. Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) asks Kay: “I believe at one point you noted that even [Saddam Hussein’s] own military officers believed that they had [WMD]. In other words, they would think—” Kay interjects, ”—that someone else had them.” Sessions asks for an explanation, and Kay says: “Well, in interviewing the Republican Guard generals and Special Republican Guard generals and asking about their capabilities and having them, the assurance was they didn’t personally have them and hadn’t seen them, but the units on their right or left had them. And as you worked the way around the circle of those defending Baghdad, which is the immediate area of concern, you have got this very strange phenomena of, ‘No, I didn’t have them, I haven’t seen them, but look to my right and left.’ That was an intentional ambiguity.” [CNN, 1/28/2003; Guardian, 1/29/2003; US Congress, 1/28/2004 ; Wilson, 2007, pp. 154-155]
Trying to Have It Both Ways - In 2007, current CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson (see April 2001 and After) will write, “In retrospect, it appears that Saddam Hussein wanted it both ways: to convince certain audiences that Iraq had WMD, while simultaneously working to convince others that it had abandoned all its illegal programs.” In May 2006, Foreign Affairs magazine will note that Iraq’s former Defense Minister, Ali Hassan Majeed (also known as “Chemical Ali”), knew Iraq possessed no WMDs before the US invasion, but also knew that many of his colleagues “never stopped believing that the weapons still existed. Even at the highest echelon of the regime, when it came to WMD there was always some element of doubt about the truth.” The Foreign Affairs article notes that during a meeting of the Revolutionary Command Council some time before the invasion, Hussein was asked if Iraq indeed possessed such weapons. He said Iraq did not, but refused to countenance any attempt to persuade others outside of the council of the truth. The reason for this deception, Hussein said, was that if Israel believed Iraq had such weapons, it would be less likely to attack Iraq. [Wilson, 2007, pp. 154-155] Kay has just resigned as the head of the Iraq Survey Group (see January 23, 2004).
Jack Goldsmith, the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (see October 6, 2003), is astonished at the open contempt displayed by White House officials over dealing with Congress and the restraints imposed by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Though Goldsmith agrees with the aims of the administration in battling terrorism, and agrees with the administration that FISA may present undue restraint on conducting terror investigations, he is shocked at the cavalier manner in which the administration ignores the law and the constitutional mandates for Congressional oversight. “We’re one bomb away from getting rid of that obnoxious [FISA] court,” White House aide David Addington tells Goldsmith. Addington, the chief aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, and other Bush officials treat FISA the same way they treated other laws they disdained, Goldsmith later recalls: “They blew through them in secret based on flimsy legal opinions that they guarded closely so no one could question the legal basis for the operations,” he will write in his 2007 book “The Terror Presidency” (see September 9, 2007). [New York Times Magazine, 9/9/2007]
An Army dog handler at Abu Ghraib tells military investigators that, as per the directive from Defense Secretary Rumsfeld (see December 2, 2002), “[S]omeone from [military intelligence] gave me a list of cells, for me to go see, and pretty much have my dog bark at them.… Having the dogs bark at detainees was psychologically breaking them down for interrogation purposes.” Using attack dogs to threaten or harm prisoners is a violation of the Geneva Conventions. [Huffington Post, 4/21/2009]
Two government officials testify that they asked conservative columnist Robert Novak not to publish the name of covert CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson in his column (see Before July 14, 2003 and July 14, 2003). The officials’ names are not made public. Testifying before the grand jury investigating the Plame Wilson leak (see January 2004), the officials say that before Novak printed his column, they warned him that by publishing her name and CIA affiliation, he risked jeopardizing her ability to engage in covert work, damaging ongoing intelligence operations, and hurting sensitive overseas intelligence assets. Novak has claimed that CIA officials told him that Plame Wilson was nothing more than an analyst, and, as reporter Murray Waas writes, “the only potential consequences of her exposure as a CIA officer would be that she might be inconvenienced in her foreign travels.” The statements of the two government officials contradict Novak’s version of events, and the two officials call his characterizations false and misleading. According to the officials, Novak was told that Plame Wilson’s work for the CIA “went much further than her being an analyst,” and that publishing her name would be “hurtful,” could stymie ongoing intelligence operations, and jeopardize her overseas sources. “When [Novak] says that he was not told that he was ‘endangering’ someone, that statement might be technically true,” says one of the officials. “Nobody directly told him that she was going to be physically hurt. But that was implicit in that he was told what she did for a living.” The other official says: “At best, he is parsing words. At worst, he is lying to his readers and the public. Journalists should not lie, I would think.” Notes from one of the officials from his conversation with Novak bolster the officials’ testimony. The officials also contradict Novak’s claim that CIA officials told him Plame Wilson was part of the agency decision to send her husband to Niger to investigate the Iraq-Niger uranium allegations (see July 6, 2003). One of them says that the CIA at first refused to comment, and later told Novak that Plame Wilson played no part in the selection of her husband (see February 13, 2002). “He was told it just wasn’t true—period,” the official testifies. “But he just went with the story anyway. He just didn’t seemed to care very much whether the information was true or not.” [American Prospect, 2/12/2004]
Newsday reporters Knut Royce and Timothy Phelps, who co-authored a July 2003 article that confirmed the CIA status of Valerie Plame Wilson (see July 21, 2003), are both contacted by special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald. Their article quoted “intelligence officials” who confirmed that Plame Wilson was at the time an undercover official working on WMD issues. And Robert Novak, the columnist who outed Plame Wilson (see July 14, 2003), told Royce and Phelps that he was “given” the information about Plame Wilson by White House officials, who “thought it was significant.” Because the White House included Royce and Phelps as persons whose contacts with White House staffers should be disclosed (see September 30, 2003), Newsday removed both reporters from further coverage of the Plame Wilson story. Now Fitzgerald says he doesn’t want them to name the sources of their story, but he does want some information about their discussions with their sources. (Phelps later writes that in his estimation, he and Royce are the first reporters contacted by Fitzgerald, with the exception of Novak—see January 14, 2004). Lawyers for the reporters and Newsday wrangle the question, and Newsday publisher Raymond Jansen asks the reporters to cooperate as best they can without violating journalistic principles. Phelps later describes Fitzgerald’s request: “What Fitzgerald wanted us to do, among other things, was to differentiate between Source A, B, or C. Without giving up any names, would we simply outline which source had said what in our story?” Both reporters flatly refuse to cooperate. Fitzgerald threatens the reporters with a subpoena, but never actually serves them with a legal summons. [Columbia Journalism Review, 1/1/2006]
White House political strategist Karl Rove testifies before the grand jury investigating the Plame Wilson identity leak. Rove does not tell the jury that he discussed Valerie Plame Wilson’s CIA status with reporters other than columnist Robert Novak (see July 8, 2003 and July 8 or 9, 2003). At a minimum, Rove is failing to disclose conversations he has had about Plame Wilson with Time’s Matthew Cooper (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003). [New York Times, 11/4/2005; New York Times, 2006; New York Times, 4/27/2006] There is some mystery about the date and content of Rove’s second testimony to the grand jury; in 2006, reporter Michael Isikoff will say that Rove testifies twice during February 2004. In neither appearance does he admit to leaking Plame Wilson’s CIA identity to reporters. [Newsweek, 5/8/2006]
The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, which ended in late 2002, made 19 urgent recommendations to make the nation safer against future terrorist attacks. However, more than one year later, the White House has only implemented two of the recommendations. Furthermore, investigative leads have not been pursued. Senator Bob Graham (D-FL) complains, “It is incomprehensible why this administration has refused to aggressively pursue the leads that our inquiry developed.” He is also upset that the White House classified large portions of the final report. [New York Observer, 2/15/2004]
Democratic members of the House Select Committee on Homeland Security release a report entitled “America at Risk.” The report finds that, since the anthrax scare of 2001-2002, not a single drug or vaccine for pathogens rated as most dangerous by the Centers for Disease Control has been developed. A concurrent Pentagon report finds that “almost every aspect of US biopreparedness and response” is unsatisfactory, and says, “The fall 2001 anthrax attacks may turn out to be the easiest of bioterrorist strikes to confront.” The Pentagon will attempt to suppress the report when it becomes apparent how unflattering it is for the current administration, but part of it is leaked to the media. The report is later released in full. [Carter, 2004, pp. 20; House Select Committee on Homeland Security, Democratic Office, 2/1/2004]
Columnist Robert Novak, who outed Valerie Plame Wilson’s covert CIA status in a column in July 2003 (see July 14, 2003), is questioned for a second time (see January 14, 2004) by Patrick Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor investigating the Plame Wilson leak (see December 30, 2003). As with the earlier interview, Fitzgerald interviews Novak at the law offices of Swidler Berlin, the firm representing him. In writing about this interview, Novak will not go into the specifics of his interrogation, but will state: “I declined to answer when the questioning touched on matters beyond the CIA leak case. Neither the FBI nor the special prosecutor pressed me.” [Human Events, 7/12/2006]
Former Vice President Al Gore gives a keynote address to a conference at the New School of New York City on the topic, “The Politics of Fear.” [Social Research: An International Quarterly of the Social Sciences, 2/2004] In his address, Gore notes the success that the Bush administration has had in preying on the fears of the American public. “Fear was activated on September 11 in all of us to a greater or lesser degree,” he says. “And because it was difficult to modulate or to change in particular specifics, it was exploitable for a variety of purposes unrelated to the initial cause of the fear. When the president of the United States stood before the people of this nation—in the same speech in which he used the forged document (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003)—he asked the nation to ‘imagine’ how fearful it would feel if Saddam Hussein gave a nuclear weapon to terrorists who then exploded it in our country. Because the nation had been subjected to the fearful, tragic, cruel attack of 9/11, when our president asked us to imagine with him a new fear, it was easy enough to bypass the reasoning process, and short-circuit the normal discourse that takes place in a healthy democracy with a give-and-take among people who could say, ‘Wait a minute, Mr. President. Where’s your evidence? There is no connection between Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein.’ At one point, President Bush actually said, ‘You can’t distinguish between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden’ (see September 25, 2002). He actually said that.” Gore says that for a time even he had trusted Bush to do the right thing, but Bush had abused the trust he and the American people had in him. In 2006, author and former White House counsel John Dean will write in conjunction with Gore’s address: “In short, fear takes reasoning out of the decision-making process, which our history has shown us often enough can have dangerous and long-lasting consequences. If Americans cannot engage in analytical thinking as a result of Republicans’ using fear for their own political purposes, we are all in serious trouble.” [Social Research: An International Quarterly of the Social Sciences, 2/2004; Dean, 2006, pp. 178-179]
White House press secretary Scott McClellan testifies before the grand jury investigating the Plame Wilson leak. He is quizzed before some 35 or 40 jurors by prosecutor Peter Zeidenberg. Most of the questions are reiterations of those asked in earlier interviews (see Mid-October 2003, Late October or Early November, 2003, and January 2004), but Zeidenberg asks some that have not yet been asked. One question is whether McClellan had told National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice to say that White House political adviser Karl Rove was not involved in the leak before her September 28 appearance on Meet the Press. Though Rice had not specifically discussed the leak on that broadcast, McClellan recalls briefing her on a number of issues. He cannot recall, he testifies, whether he discussed the subject of the leak with Rice or not, and tells Zeidenberg that he probably told her what he said publicly (see September 29, 2003), and to refer back to that if pressed. McClellan is startled when Zeidenberg asks him bluntly whether President Bush had told him in the Oval Office that Rove had denied to him any involvement in the leak. McClellan knows that Bush has not yet testified, but chief of staff Andrew Card has, and Card most likely revealed Bush’s comments. McClellan will later write: “Knowing the president’s preference that his private conversations remain private, I hesitated momentarily [in answering the question]. But this was different. A frog in my throat, I managed to confirm that the president had indeed made such a statement.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 225-227] Days after McClellan’s testimony, someone the Washington Post identifies as “a source close to the investigation” will say that McClellan and other White House witnesses are asked about cell phone calls, and shown handwritten, diary-style notes from colleagues and e-mails from reporters to administration officials. The source will say the questioning of McClellan and others is often quite aggressive, with agents focusing on specific conversations with journalists. “Even witnesses that they describe as being potentially helpful are being treated as adversaries,” the source will say. [Washington Post, 2/10/2004]
Former White House press official Adam Levine testifies before the federal grand jury investigating the Plame Wilson identity leak. Levine, who is not suspected of leaking Valerie Plame Wilson’s name to the press, is asked about White House public relations strategies. [Washington Post, 2/10/2004] Sources later say that Levine may have been asked to testify because between July 7 and July 12, 2003, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer and White House communications director Dan Bartlett were in Africa with President Bush, and deputy press secretary Scott McClellan was on vacation, leaving Levine in charge of press relations during that period [Fox News, 2/11/2004] , and thus one of the few press officials to field telephone calls from reporters during that time. His testimony is described as “brief” and non-confrontational. Levine has spoken with FBI agents on several occasions as a part of the investigation. [CNN, 2/10/2004]
Acting Attorney General James Comey, who appointed US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald as the special counsel in charge of investigating the Plame Wilson identity leak (see December 30, 2003), writes a letter to Fitzgerald confirming that he has “plenary power” in the investigation, and the authority to investigate crimes including “perjury, obstruction of justice, destruction of evidence, and intimidation of witnesses.” In essence, Comey is confirming that Fitzgerald has near-unlimited powers of investigation and prosecution, and is not limited to merely filing charges of violation of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act if he determines who leaked Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity to the press. [US Department of Justice, 2/6/2004 ]
Claire Buchan, a White House deputy press secretary, testifies before the federal grand jury investigating the Plame Wilson identity leak. Buchan is not suspected of leaking Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity to the press. “I was pleased to cooperate,” she will say. [Fox News, 2/11/2004; National Journal, 10/18/2005]
President Bush gives a rare interview to a television show, NBC’s Meet the Press. Bush holds the interview, conducted by Tim Russert, in the Oval Office. [CNN, 2/9/2004]
Admits Iraq Had No WMD - Bush concedes that Iraq did not possess weapons of mass destruction, but defends his decision to invade it, saying, “Saddam Hussein was dangerous, and I’m not just going to leave him in power and trust a madman.” He admits, “I expected to find the weapons.” He continues, “I’m sitting behind this desk, making a very difficult decision of war and peace, and I based my decision on the best intelligence possible, intelligence that had been gathered over the years, intelligence that not only our analysts thought was valid but analysts from other countries thought were valid.” And Iraq “had the ability to make weapons at the very minimum.” But even without proof of Iraqi WMD, Bush says the stakes were so high that “it is essential that when we see a threat, we deal with those threats before they become imminent.” Inaction in Iraq “would have emboldened Saddam Hussein. He could have developed a nuclear weapon over time.” Bush seems surprised when Russert asks if American soldiers had in fact been welcomed as “liberators” in Iraq, as some in his administration had predicted. “I think we are welcomed in Iraq,” he says. “I’m not exactly sure, given the tone of your questions, we’re not.” Resistance there is not surprising, Bush says, because “there are people who desperately want to stop the advance of freedom and democracy.” [NBC News, 2/8/2004; McClellan, 2008, pp. 202-203]
'War of Choice or War of Necessity?' - Russert continues to ask about the choice to invade Iraq, and at one point asks Bush whether it was a “war of choice or a war of necessity?” Bush responds: “That’s an interesting question. Please elaborate on that a little bit. A war of choice or a war of necessity? It’s a war of necessity. In my judgment, we had no choice, when we look at the intelligence I looked at, that says the man was a threat.” In 2008, current White House press secretary Scott McClellan will write that Bush asks him about the question after the interview, and that Bush was “puzzled” by the question. “This, too, puzzled me,” McClellan will write. “Surely this distinction between a necessary, unavoidable war and a war that the United States could have avoided but chose to wage, was an obvious one that Bush must have thought about a lot in the months before the invasion. Evidently it wasn’t obvious to the president, nor did his national security team make sure it was. He set the policy early on and then his team focused his attention on how to sell it. It strikes me today as an indication of his lack of inquisitiveness and his detrimental resistance to reflection, something his advisers needed to compensate for better than they did. Most objective observers today would say that in 2003 there was no urgent need to address the threat posed by Saddam with a large-scale invasion, and therefore the war was not necessary. But this is a question President Bush seems not to want to grapple with.” [NBC News, 2/8/2004; McClellan, 2008, pp. 202-203]
Bush Says Congress Saw Same Intelligence He Did - Asked whether Congress would have authorized the invasion (see October 10, 2002) if he had explained that, while Iraq may not have possessed WMD, Hussein should be removed because he was a threat to his people, Bush replies, “I went to Congress with the same intelligence Congress saw—the same intelligence I had, and they looked at exactly what I looked at, and they made an informed judgment based upon the information that I had.” Two of Bush’s presidential rivals dispute Bush’s assertion. Senator John Edwards (D-NC) says Bush’s statement that Congress saw the same intelligence information as he did is a “big leap.” Edwards adds: “I’m not certain that’s true. I know the president of the United States receives a different set of information than we receive on the Senate Intelligence Committee, and he receives more information, which he should.” And front-runner Senator John Kerry (D-MA) accuses Bush of backpedaling on the messages he gave Americans to justify going to war. “George Bush needs to take responsibility for his actions and set the record straight,” he says. “That’s the very least that Americans should be able to expect. Either he believed Saddam Hussein had chemical weapons, or he didn’t. Americans need to be able to trust their president, and they deserve the truth.” [New York Times, 2/8/2004; NBC News, 2/8/2004; CNN, 2/9/2004]
Confident of Winning Re-Election - Bush tells Russert that he is confident he will win re-election: “I don’t intend to lose.… I know exactly where I want to lead the country. I have shown the American people I can lead.… I want to lead this world to more peace and freedom.” [New York Times, 2/8/2004; NBC News, 2/8/2004; CNN, 2/9/2004]
Defends Economic Policies - Bush defends his economic policies, and says that even though under his watch the US has run up a $521 billion deficit and lost 2.2 million jobs, his administration’s policies are more restrained and fiscally sound than those of his predecessor. “I have been the president during a time of tremendous stress on our economy and made the decisions necessary to lead that would enhance recovery,” he says. “The stock market started to decline in March of 2000. That was the first sign that things were troubled. The recession started upon my arrival.” Conservative critics of his administration’s spending, including the Heritage Foundation and radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh, are “wrong,” he says. “If you look at the appropriations bills that were passed under my watch, in the last year of President Clinton, discretionary spending was up 15 percent, and ours have steadily declined. The other thing that I think it’s important for people who watch the expenditures side of the equation is to understand we are at war… and any time you commit your troops into harm’s way, they must have the best equipment, the best training, and the best possible pay.” [NBC News, 2/8/2004; CNN, 2/9/2004]
Joseph DiGenova. [Source: Life magazine]Former US Attorney Joseph DiGenova says that it will be almost impossible to prove that the person or persons who leaked Valerie Plame Wilson’s CIA status to reporters violated the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. The leaker or leakers would have had to have received the information in their official capacity, got the information from someone with official clearance, and done so in defiance of agency efforts to keep the employee’s name a secret, DiGenova says. For someone to overhear the name of a covert agent and relate it to someone else is not a violation, he adds. Moreover, he claims that Plame Wilson’s CIA status was well known. “A lot of people knew that [Plame Wilson] worked for the CIA,” he tells a Fox News reporter. “People outside of the government knew that she worked at the agency. They did not know probably, that she worked in WMD—weapons of mass destruction—and was doing undercover work. But in order for it to be a crime, you must know that is what she did.” [Fox News, 2/11/2004] Plame Wilson’s covert CIA status (see Fall 1992 - 1996) has been described as highly classified and known to only a few (see September 30, 2003, October 22-24, 2003, and January 2004), and her exposure as a serious breach of national security (see Before July 14, 2003, July 14, 2003, October 3, 2003 and October 11, 2003).
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says he cannot remember anyone making the claim that Iraq could launch weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes. British Prime Minister Tony Blair made the claim over six months before the US-British invasion of Iraq (see September 24, 2002). The claim was later revealed to have come from a single, anonymous, unverified source (see August 16, 2003 and December 7, 2003). Some British newspapers ran banner headlines saying that the claim meant British troops in Cyprus could be attacked with Iraqi WMD within 45 minutes. Rumsfeld tells reporters at a Pentagon briefing, “I don’t remember the statement being made, to be perfectly honest.” [Department of Defense, 2/10/2004; BBC, 2/11/2004] General Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who accompanies Rumsfeld in the press conference, adds, “I don’t remember the statement, either.” [Department of Defense, 2/10/2004]
Sibel Edmonds testifies before the 9/11 Commission in a specially constructed “bug-proof” secure room for three and a half hours, describing in detail problems she witnessed while working as an FBI linguist (see, e.g., September 20, 2001 and After,
(After September 14, 2001-October 2001),
Early October 2001,
(Late October 2001),
(November 2001), and
December 2, 2001). A month later, she tells the Independent: “I gave [the commission] details of specific investigation files, the specific dates, specific target information, specific managers in charge of the investigation. I gave them everything so that they could go back and follow up. This is not hearsay. These are things that are documented. These things can be established very easily.… There was general information about the time-frame, about methods to be used but not specifically about how they would be used and about people being in place and who was ordering these sorts of terror attacks. There were other cities that were mentioned. Major cities with skyscrapers (see April 2001).” [Independent, 4/2/2004] In its final report (see July 22, 2004), the 9/11 Commission will make no mention of the problems Edmonds witnessed with the FBI’s translation unit, save for a single footnote. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 222; Edmonds, 8/1/2004] One month earlier, a reporter had asked one of the Democratic commissioners about the Edmonds case, and he replied, “It sounds like it’s too deep in the weeds for us to consider, we’re looking at broader issues.” [New York Observer, 1/22/2004]
David Addington, the chief counsel for Vice President Dick Cheney, gives a statement to FBI Section Chief Timothy Fuhrman as part of the Plame Wilson leak investigation. Fuhrman is accompanied by lawyers from the Justice Department’s Office of Special Counsel. Addington discusses the meeting he had with Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis Libby, shortly after Libby’s conversation with New York Times reporter Judith Miller concerning Valerie Plame Wilson (see July 8, 2003). Addington says he is not sure of the date of the conversation, but fixes it somewhere between July 6 and July 12, 2003. He recalls it as taking place in an anteroom near Cheney’s office in the White House that Libby used as an office. According to Addington, Libby made “a general inquiry about the CIA’s relationship with people who are not employees but perform assignments for them.” Fuhrman’s report on his conversation with Addington “does not reflect that Mr. Libby made any reference to a spouse or wife [Plame Wilson], either when Mr. Libby asked this question or at any other point during the conversation in the anteroom with Mr. Addington.” [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 2/14/2006 ]
An Army memorandum records an interview of a US interrogator stationed at the Orgun-E Military Intelligence Detention Facility in Afghanistan. According to the interrogator, “standard operating procedure” with detainees includes extended sleep deprivation, stress positions, and withholding food. The interrogator also refers to standard practices of “OGA” officials (OGA means “other goverment agency” and is a reference to the CIA), who drug prisoners and subject them to lengthy sensory deprivation. Another memo records the use of what interrogators call “fear up harsh” techniques, which include “disrespect for the Koran,” insults, subjecting prisoners to blinding lights, and exposing them to extremely loud music for prolonged periods. The memoranda will be released to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in 2006 (see January 12, 2006). [American Civil Liberties Union, 1/12/2006]
Special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald grants former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer immunity from prosecution in return for his testimony in the Plame Wilson leak investigation. Fleischer is granted immunity from any criminal charge related to his involvement in the Plame Wilson identity leak (see July 7, 2003, 8:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, and 1:26 p.m. July 12, 2003) except “against charges of perjury, giving false statement, or otherwise failing to comply with the Order of the Court.” Fleischer will testify to the FBI several days later. [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 2/13/2004] In 2007, during the Lewis Libby trial, Fitzgerald will tell presiding Judge Reggie Walton (see January 25-27, 2007) that he opposed granting immunity to Fleischer because Fleischer’s lawyers refused to give a detailed “proffer” of what Fleischer would reveal. “They refused to give us a proffer,” Fitzgerald will say. “It wasn’t as if someone said ‘here’s what we’ll give you.’ It wasn’t something that we had laid out before us.… We were told he had relevant information. Frankly, I didn’t want to give him immunity, I was buying a pig in a poke. I did not know what we were going to get other than I knew it was going to be relevant to the case.” [Marcy Wheeler, 1/25/2007]
Aerial view of Los Alamos test site. [Source: DefenseTech.org]Rich Levernier, a specialist with the Department of Energy (DOE) for 22 years, spent over six years before the 9/11 attacks running nuclear war games for the US government. In a Vanity Fair article, Levernier reveals what he shows to be critical weaknesses in security for US nuclear plants. Levernier’s special focus was the Los Alamos Nuclear Laboratory and nine other major nuclear facilities. The Los Alamos facility is the US’s main storage plant for processing plutonium and obsolete (but still effective) nuclear weapons. Levernier’s main concern was terrorist attacks. Levernier’s procedure was to, once a year, stage a mock terrorist attack using US military commandos to assault Los Alamos and the other nuclear weapons facilities, with both sides using harmless laser weapons to simulate live fire. Levernier’s squads were ordered to penetrate a given weapons facility, capture its plutonium or highly enriched uranium, and escape. The facilities’ security forces were tasked to repel the mock attacks.
Multiple Failures - Levernier is going public with the results of his staged attacks, and the results are, in the words of Vanity Fair reporter Mark Hertsgaard, “alarming.” Some facilities failed every single test. Los Alamos fell victim to the mock attacks over 50 percent of the time, with Levernier’s commandos getting in and out with the goods without firing a shot—they never encountered a guard. And this came when security forces were told months in advance exactly what day the assaults would take place. Levernier calls the nuclear facilities’ security nothing more than “smoke and mirrors.… On paper, it looks good, but in reality, it’s not. There are lots of shiny gates and guards and razor wire out front. But go around back and there are gaping holes in the fence, the sensors don’t work, and it just ain’t as impressive as it appears.” The Los Alamos facility houses 2.7 metric tons of plutonium and 3.2 metric tons of highly enriched uranium; experts say that a crude nuclear device could be created using just 11 pounds of plutonium or 45 pounds of highly enriched uranium. Arjun Makhijani, the head of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, says the most dangerous problem exposed by Levernier is the possibility of terrorists stealing plutonium from Los Alamos. It would be a relatively simple matter to construct a so-called “dirty bomb” that could devastate an American city. Even a terrorist attack that set off a “plutonium fire” could result in hundreds of cancer deaths and leave hundreds of square miles uninhabitable.
Involuntary Whistleblower - Levernier is not comfortable about being a whistleblower, and until now has never spoken to the press or Congress about his experiences. He finds himself coming forward now because, after spending six years trying unsuccessfully to persuade his bosses at the DOE to address the problems, they refused to even acknowledge that a problem existed. Shortly before he spoke to Hertsgaard, he was fired for a minor infraction and stripped of his security clearance, two years before he was due to retire with a full pension. He has filed a lawsuit against the DOE, charging that he was illegally gagged and improperly fired. He is speaking out, he says, in the hopes of helping prevent a catastrophic terrorist attack against the US that is entirely preventable. Levonier asserts that the Bush administration is doing little more than talking tough about nuclear security (see February 15, 2004). [Carter, 2004, pp. 17-18; Vanity Fair, 2/15/2004]
Rich Levernier, a specialist with the Department of Energy (DOE) for 22 years who spent over six years before the 9/11 attacks running nuclear war games for the US government, says that the Bush administration has done little more than talk about securing the nation’s nuclear facilities from terrorist attacks. If Levernier and his team of experts (see February 15, 2004) are correct in their assessments, the administration is actually doing virtually nothing to protect the US’s nuclear weapons facilities, which certainly top any terrorist’s wish list of targets. Instead of addressing the enormous security problems at these facilities, it is persecuting whistleblowers like Levernier. Indeed, the administration denies a danger even exists. “Any implication that there is a 50 percent failure rate on security tests at our nuclear weapons sites is not true,” says Anson Franklin, a spokesman for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), a DOE agency that oversees the US’s nuclear weapons complex. “Our facilities are not vulnerable.”
Too Strict Grading? - James Ford, who is retired, was Levernier’s direct DOE supervisor in the late 1990s. He says that while Levernier was a talented and committed employee, the results he claims from his mock terror attacks are skewed because of what Ford calls Levernier’s too-strict approach to grading the performance of the nuclear facilities’ security personnel. Ford says that Levernier liked to focus on one particular area, the Technical Area-18 facility, at the Los Alamos nuclear facility in New Mexico, though the site is essentially indefensible, located at the bottom of a canyon and surrounded on three sides by steep, wooded ridges that afforded potential attackers excellent cover and the advantage of high ground.
Complaints of 'Strict Grading' Baseless, Squad Commander Says - “My guys were licking their chops when they saw that terrain,” says Ronald Timms, who commanded mock terrorist squads under Levernier’s supervision. Timms, now the head of RETA Security, which participated in many DOE war games and designed the National Park Service’s security plans for Mount Rushmore, says Ford’s complaint is groundless: “To say it’s unfair to go after the weak link is so perverse, it’s ridiculous. Of course the bad guys are going to go after the weakest link. That’s why [DOE] isn’t supposed to have weak links at those facilities.” In one such attack Timms recalls, Levernier’s forces added insult to injury by hauling away the stolen weapons-grade nuclear material in a Home Depot garden cart. The then-Secretary of Energy, Bill Richardson, ordered the weapons-grade material at TA-18 to be removed to the Nevada Test Site by 2003. That has not happened yet, and is not expected to happen until 2006 at the earliest.
Rules of Engagement - The failure rates are even harder to understand considering the fact that the rules of engagement are heavily slanted in favor of the defense. A real terrorist attack would certainly be a surprise, but the dates of the war games were announced months in advance, within an eight-hour window. Attackers were not allowed to use grenades, body armor, or helicopters. They were not allowed to use publicly available radio jamming devices. “DOE wouldn’t let me use that stuff, because it doesn’t have a defense against it,” Levernier says. His teams were required, for safety reasons, to obey 25 MPH speed limits. Perhaps the biggest flaw in the DOE’s war games, Levernier says, is that they don’t allow for suicide bombers. The games required Levernier’s teams to steal weapons-grade nuclear material and escape. It is likely, though, that attackers would enter the facility, secure the materials, and detonate their own explosives. DOE did not order nuclear facilities to prepare for such attacks until May 2003, and the policy change does not take effect until 2009. Levernier notes that three of the nation’s nuclear weapons facilities did relatively well against mock attacks: the Argonne National Laboratory-West in Idaho, the Pantex plant in Texas, and the Savannah River Site in South Carolina.
Bureaucratic, Political Resistance - So why, asks Vanity Fair journalist Mark Hertsgaard, doesn’t the Bush administration insist on similar vigilance throughout the entire nuclear complex? They “just don’t think [a catastrophic attack] will happen,” Levernier replies. “And nobody wants to say we can’t protect these nuclear weapons, because the political fallout would be so great that there would be no chance to keep the system running.” The DOE bureaucracy is more interested in the appearance of proper oversight than the reality, says Tom Devine, the lawyer who represents both Levernier and other whistleblowers. “Partly that’s about saving face. To admit that a whistleblower’s charges are right would reflect poorly on the bureaucracy’s competence. And fixing the problems that whistleblowers identify would often mean diverting funds that bureaucrats would rather use for other purposes, like empire building. But the main reason bureaucrats have no tolerance for dissent is that taking whistleblowers’ charges seriously would require them to stand up to the regulated industry, and that’s not in most bureaucrats’ nature, whether the industry is the nuclear weapons complex or the airlines.”
Stiff Resistance from Bush Administration - Devine acknowledges that both of his clients’ troubles began under the Clinton administration and continued under Bush, but, Devine says, the Bush administration is particularly unsympathetic to whistleblowers because it is ideologically disposed against government regulation in general. “I don’t think President Bush or other senior officials in this administration want another September 11th,” says Devine, “but their anti-government ideology gets in the way of fixing the problems Levenier and [others] are talking about. The security failures in the nuclear weapons complex and the civil aviation system are failures of government regulation. The Bush people don’t believe in government regulation in the first place, so they’re not inclined to expend the time and energy needed to take these problems seriously. And then they go around boasting that they’re winning the war on terrorism. The hypocrisy is pretty outrageous.” [Carter, 2004, pp. 17-18; Vanity Fair, 2/15/2004]
Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), George W. Bush, Rich Levernier, RETA Security, National Nuclear Security Administration, James Ford, Bill Richardson, Anson Franklin, National Park Service (NPS), Ronald Timms, Mark Hertsgaard, Tom Devine, Vanity Fair, US Department of Energy, Los Alamos National Laboratory
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
State Department official Marc Grossman (see May 29, 2003, June 10, 2003, and 12:00 p.m. June 11, 2003) gives a statement to the FBI as part of the Plame Wilson leak investigation. Grossman has already spoken once to the FBI (see October 17, 2003). As in his previous statement, he testifies that he had “two or three” telephone conversations with White House official Lewis Libby, but did not meet personally with him. [Marcy Wheeler, 1/24/2007]
Columnist Robert Novak, who outed Valerie Plame Wilson’s covert CIA status in a column in July 2003 (see July 14, 2003), testifies before the grand jury investigating the Plame Wilson leak. Novak has already spoken to FBI investigators (see December 30, 2003) and to special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald (see January 14, 2004 and February 5, 2004), and disclosed the names of his three sources in the leak (see July 8, 2003 and Before July 14, 2003). Of his four appearances, Novak will later write: “I declined to answer when the questioning touched on matters beyond the CIA leak case. Neither the FBI nor the special prosecutor pressed me.” [Human Events, 7/12/2006]
White House chief of staff Lewis Libby speaks with NBC bureau chief and Meet the Press host Tim Russert. Russert has willingly testified to the FBI concerning his knowledge of the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak (see November 24, 2003), but will resist testifying to the grand jury investigating the leak (see May 13-20, 2004 and June 2004). According to his own subsequent testimony before the grand jury (see March 24, 2004), Libby asks if Russert is willing to discuss the matter with his lawyer, but he will testify that he does not discuss anything else of substance with Russert. It is unclear whether their conversation has anything to do with Russert’s unwillingness to testify before the grand jury. [United States District Court for the District of Columbia, 3/24/2004 ; Marcy Wheeler, 2/12/2007]
Following tests of the standard of security at US airports (see October 9, 2003), the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), and a private company provide a series of classified briefings to the House Aviation Subcommittee, saying the security is currently lax, bureaucratic, and no better than it was 17 years ago. After the briefings, committee chairman John Mica (R-FL) says, “We have a system that doesn’t work.” Congressman Peter DeFazio (D-OR), who supported the federal takeover of airport security, says, “The inadequacies and loopholes in the system are phenomenal.” A 2006 book by investigative reporters Joe and Susan Trento will say that the new federal screeners are “much worse” than the old private ones. A Transportation Security Administration (TSA) official will say that the “private sector was held to a standard of somewhere between 80 to 90 percent” for weapons detection, but now at one airport “they ran eight [tests] and we missed four of them.” He will add, “But what is really alarming to me is that they said we’re above the national average so they recognize you for a job well done.” Another official will complain about the lack of testing in the federal system, saying that the new screeners even have difficultly recognizing explosives when they appear on a screen, “And when you run an actual [improvised explosive device], they don’t know what it is.” The Trentos will attribute some of the blame to the way the security staff are trained, noting, “the TSA certifies and tests itself and classifies the results as secret.” [Trento and Trento, 2006, pp. 172-4]
FBI Director Robert Mueller launches a charm offensive to win over the 9/11 Commission and ensure that its recommendations are favorable to the bureau.
Commission Initially Favored Break-Up - The attempt is greatly needed, as the Commission initially has an unfavorable view of the FBI due to its very public failings before 9/11: the Phoenix memo (see July 10, 2001), the fact that two of the hijackers lived with an FBI counterterrorism informer (see May 10-Mid-December 2000), and the failure to search Zacarias Moussaoui’s belongings (see August 16, 2001). Commissioner John Lehman will say that at the start of the investigation he thought “it was a no-brainer that we should go to an MI5,” the British domestic intelligence service, which would entail taking counterterrorism away from the bureau.
Lobbying Campaign - Author Philip Shenon will say that the campaign against the commissioners “could not have been more aggressive,” because Mueller was “in their faces, literally.” Mueller says he will open his schedule to them at a moment’s notice and returns their calls within minutes. He pays so much attention to the commissioners that some of them begin to regard it as harassment and chairman Tom Kean tells his secretaries to turn away Mueller’s repeated invitations for a meal. Mueller even opens the FBI’s investigatory files to the Commission, giving its investigators unrestricted access to a special FBI building housing the files. He also gets Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller, head of MI5, to meet the commissioners and intercede for the bureau.
Contrast with CIA - The campaign succeeds and the Commission is convinced to leave the FBI intact. This is partially due to the perceived difference between Mueller and CIA Director George Tenet, who the Commission suspects of telling it a string of lies (see July 2, 2004). Commissioner Slade Gorton will say, “Mueller was a guy who came in new and was trying to do something different, as opposed to Tenet.” Commission Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton will also say that the Commission recommended changing the CIA by establishing the position of director of national intelligence. It is therefore better to leave the FBI alone because “the system can only stand so much change.”
Change Partially Motivated by Fear - This change of mind is also partially motivated by the commissioners’ fear of the bureau. Shenon will comment: “Mueller… was also aware of how much fear the FBI continued to inspire among Washington’s powerful and how, even after 9/11, that fear dampened public criticism. Members of congress… shrank at the thought of attacking the FBI.… For many on Capitol Hill, there was always the assumption that there was an embarrassing FBI file somewhere with your name on it, ready to be leaked at just the right moment. More than one member of the 9/11 Commission admitted privately that they had joked—and worried—among themselves about the danger of being a little too publicly critical of the bureau.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 364-368]
Thomas Tamm. [Source: Newsweek]Thomas Tamm, a veteran Justice Department prosecutor with a high-level security clearance, is finishing up a yearlong post with the Office of Intelligence Policy and Review (OIPR), a Justice Department unit handling wiretaps of suspected terrorists and spies. As his stint is coming to a close, Tamm learns of the existence of a highly classified National Security Agency (NSA) program that is electronically eavesdropping on American citizens—domestic wiretapping. He later learns that “the program,” as it is referred to by those few who know of it at all, is called “Stellar Wind.”
Concealment from FISA Judges - Tamm learns that the NSA program is being hidden from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court, a panel of federal judges who by law must approve and supervise such surveillance for intelligence purposes. OIPR lawyers ask the FISA Court for permission to implement national-security wiretaps. But, Tamm learns, some wiretaps—signed only by Attorney General John Ashcroft—are going to the chief FISA Court judge and not the other ten judges on the FISA panel. The “AG-only” requests are extraordinarily secretive, and involve information gleaned from what is only referred to as “the program”—Stellar Wind. Only a very few White House and US intelligence officials know the name and the nature of “the program.” Stellar Wind involves domestic wiretaps on telephones and computer e-mail accounts derived from, but not necessarily linked to, information secured from captured al-Qaeda computers and cell phones overseas. With the voluntary cooperation of American telecommunications companies (see 1997-August 2007 and After, February 2001, February 2001, and February 2001 and Beyond), the NSA program also collects vast amounts of personal data about US citizens’ phone and e-mail communications. The program also collects an enormous amount of financial information from the Treasury Department (see February 28, 2006), all collected as part of the NSA’s “data mining” efforts (see Late 1999 and After September 11, 2001).
Program Is 'Probably Illegal,' Says DOJ Official - Tamm, suspicious about the unusual requests, asks his supervisors about the program, and is told to drop the subject. “[N]o one wanted to talk about it,” he will recall. Tamm asks one of his supervisors, Lisa Farabee, “Do you know what the program is?” Farabee replies: “Don’t even go there.… I assume what they are doing is illegal.” Tamm is horrified. His first thought, he will later recall, is, “I’m a law enforcement officer and I’m participating in something that is illegal?” Tamm soon finds out from deputy OIPR counsel Mark Bradley that the chief FISA judge, Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, is raising unwanted questions about the warrant requests (see 2004 and 2005), and “the AG-only cases are being shut down.” Bradley adds, “This may be [a time] the attorney general gets indicted.”
Request for Guidance Turned Down - For weeks, Tamm agonizes over what to do. He seeks guidance from a former colleague, Sandra Wilkinson, who now works on the Senate Judiciary Committee. The two have coffee in the Senate cafeteria, and Tamm asks Wilkinson to ask if anyone on the committee knows anything about “the program.” Weeks go by without a response, and Tamm sends Wilkinson an e-mail from his OIPR computer—an e-mail that will later alert the FBI to Tamm’s interest in Stellar Wind. During a second conversation, Wilkinson refuses to give Tamm any information. “Well, you know, then,” he replies, “I think my only option is to go to the press.”
Contacting the New York Times - Tamm finally decides to contact the New York Times’s Eric Lichtblau, who has written several stories on the Justice Department that impressed Tamm. By this point he has transferred out of OIPR and back into a Justice Department office that would allow him to return to the courtroom. Tamm calls Lichtblau from a pay phone near the US District Courthouse in Washington. “My whole body was shaking,” he will recall. He identifies himself only as “Mark” (his middle name), and arranges to meet Lichtblau at a bookstore near the Justice Department. (In his 2008 book Bush’s Law: The Remaking of American Justice, Lichtblau describes Tamm as “a walk-in” source who was “agitated about something going on in the intelligence community.” Lichtblau will describe Tamm as wary and “maddeningly vague,” but as they continue to meet—usually in bookstores and coffee shops in the Capitol District—Tamm’s “credibility and his bona fides became clear and his angst appears sincere. Eighteen months later, after finally overriding a request and warning from President Bush not to print the story (see December 6, 2005), the Times reports on the existence of the NSA program (see December 15, 2005). [Ars Technica, 12/16/2008; Newsweek, 12/22/2008]
Entity Tags: Mark Bradley, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Eric Lichtblau, Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, Bush administration (43), ’Stellar Wind’, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Lisa Farabee, Senate Judiciary Committee, Thomas Tamm, Sandra Wilkinson, Office of Intelligence Policy and Review, New York Times, US Department of the Treasury, National Security Agency, US Department of Justice, John Ashcroft
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
A new interrogation policy is approved for US personnel regarding prisoners detained in Iraqi facilities such as Abu Ghraib. The policy will remain classified as late as mid-2009, but the Senate Armed Services Committee (see April 21, 2009) will release excerpts from it. The policy warns that interrogators “should consider the fact that some interrogation techniques are viewed as inhumane or otherwise inconsistent with international law before applying each technique. These techniques are labeled with a [CAUTION].” Among the techniques labeled as such are a technique involving power tools, stress positions, and the presence of military working dogs, all potential violations of the Geneva Conventions. [Huffington Post, 4/21/2009]
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