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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 ]
The deadline arrives for 9/11 victims’ relatives to apply for government compensation. [Toronto Star, 12/23/2003] By receiving an award from the fund, families give up their right to sue the airlines, airports, security companies, or other US organizations that may be faulted for negligence and inadequate security measures. [CBS News, 3/7/2002; USA Today, 7/13/2003; Washington Post, 9/10/2003] Relatives may still sue “knowing participants in the hijacking conspiracy” without losing compensation. [USA Today, 7/13/2003] Ninety-seven per cent of the 2,973 eligible families apply to the fund; compensation averages about $2.1 million per family. However, 70 families decide to forego the fund, and instead sue various government agencies and private companies for alleged negligence. [New York Times, 6/16/2004; Guardian, 6/16/2004] Widow Beverly Eckert explains her decision: “I am suing because unlike other investigative avenues… my lawsuit requires all testimony be given under oath and fully uses powers to compel evidence. The victims’ fund was not created in a spirit of compassion.… Lawmakers capped the liability of the airlines at the behest of lobbyists who descended on Washington while the September 11 fires still smoldered.” [USA Today, 12/19/2003]
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]
Patrick Fitzgerald. [Source: US Department of Justice]Citing potential conflicts of interest, Attorney General John Ashcroft formally recuses himself from any further involvement in the investigation of the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak (see September 26, 2003 and September 30, 2003). The Justice Department names Patrick Fitzgerald, the US attorney for the Chicago region, to handle the investigation. In a letter to Fitzgerald authorizing the position, Deputy Attorney General James Comey writes: “I hereby delegate to you all the authority of the attorney general with respect to the department’s investigation into the alleged unauthorized disclosure of a CIA employee’s identity, and I direct you to exercise that authority as special counsel independent of the supervision or control of any officer of the department.” Many believe that Ashcroft’s continued involvement has become politically untenable, and that the investigation has reached a point where his potential conflicts of interest can no longer be ignored. The White House steadfastly denies that any of its officials leaked Plame Wilson’s name to conservative columnist Robert Novak, who first outed Plame Wilson in his column (see July 14, 2003), or any other member of the press. The FBI has already spoken to White House political adviser Karl Rove, suspected of being one of Novak’s sources; Rove has close political ties to Ashcroft. Upon Ashcroft’s recusal, the investigation was given over to Comey, who immediately named Fitzgerald to head the investigation. Fitzgerald and Comey, himself a former Manhattan prosecutor, are close friends and colleagues. [Office of the Deputy Attorney General, 12/30/2003 ; Associated Press, 12/30/2003; New York Times, 12/31/2003]
Appearance of Conflict of Interest - Comey tells the press: “The attorney general, in an abundance of caution, believed that his recusal was appropriate based on the totality of the circumstances and the facts and evidence developed at this stage of the investigation. I agree with that judgment. And I also agree that he made it at the appropriate time, the appropriate point in this investigation.” Comey says that while Ashcroft denies an actual conflict of interest exists, “The issue that he was concerned about was one of appearance.” White House officials say that President Bush had no role in the decision; some White House and law enforcement officials were surprised upon learning of Comey’s decision.
Investigation Reaching into White House? - Some Democrats believe that Ashcroft’s recusal is an indication that the investigation is moving into the White House itself. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) says of Comey’s decision, “This isn’t everything that I asked for, but it’s close.” In regards to Fitzgerald, Schumer says, “I would have preferred to have someone outside the government altogether, but given Fitzgerald’s reputation for integrity and ability—similar to Comey’s—the glass is three-quarters full.” Governor Howard Dean (D-VT), a leading Democratic contender for the presidency, says Ashcroft’s decision “is too little, too late.” For the last three months, the investigation has been run by John Dion, the Justice Department’s chief of counterespionage. Whether Fitzgerald will ask Dion or other Justice Department investigators to remain on the case remains to be seen. “I wouldn’t be surprised if he thought maybe he ought to keep some or all of the career folks involved,” says Comey. Fitzgerald has the authority to issue subpoenas and grant immunity on his own authority, Comey confirms. “I told him that my mandate to him was very simple. Follow the facts wherever they lead, and do the right thing at all times. And that’s something, if you know this guy, is not something I even needed to tell him.” [New York Times, 12/31/2003]
Fitzgerald's 'Impressive Reputation' - Fitzgerald has earned an “impressive reputation,” in Plame Wilson’s words, as a government prosecutor. In 1993, he won a guilty plea from Mafia capo John Gambino, and a conviction against Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman for his role in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing (see July 3, 1993). He put together the first criminal indictment against Osama bin Laden. In 2003 he indicted former Illinois Republican governor George Ryan on fraud and conspiracy charges; in 2005, he indicted several aides of Chicago Democratic mayor Richard Daley on mail fraud. He brought charges of criminal fraud against Canadian media tycoon Conrad Black. As Plame Wilson will write, “Fitzgerald was not easily intimidated by wealth, status, or threats.”
'Belated Christmas Present' - In 2007, Plame Wilson will write: “It was a belated but welcome Christmas present. Ashcroft had clearly given some thought to his extensive financial and personal ties to Karl Rove, who even then was believed to have had a significant role in the leak, and made the right decision.” She will also add that several years after the recusal, she hears secondhand from a friend of Ashcroft’s that Ashcroft was “troubled” and “lost sleep” over the administration’s action. [Wilson, 2007, pp. 174-175]
Entity Tags: Valerie Plame Wilson, Karl C. Rove, US Department of Justice, John Dion, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, James B. Comey Jr., Bush administration (43), Charles Schumer, Howard Dean, George W. Bush, John Ashcroft
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
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
Richard Holbrooke (left), Florin Krasniqi (middle), and Wesley Clark (right). [Source: Channel 3]Richard Holbrooke, now Kerry’s senior foreign policy advisor, and Wesley Clark are filmed laughing and conversing with KLA gun runner and fundraiser Florin Krasniqi at a fundraising event for the Kerry presidential campaign. Krasniqi is a registered campaign donor to the Kerry campaign. [Scotland on Sunday, 10/24/2004] Krasniqi is an Albanian who illegally emigrated to the US in 1989. He now runs a construction business in Brooklyn and raises money and supplies weapons to the KLA. [Washington Post, 5/26/1998; CBS News, 3/21/2005]
Judith Regan (left) and Roger Ailes. [Source: Business Insider]Roger Ailes, a powerful Republican campaign consultant (see 1968, January 25, 1988, and September 21 - October 4, 1988) and the founder and chairman of Fox News (see October 7, 1996), becomes embroiled in a legal conflict involving former New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik and his mistress, Judith Regan, a book editor for another arm of Fox News’s parent company News Corporation (NewsCorp). Ailes learns that Kerik has commandeered an apartment overlooking the site of the devastated World Trade Center, intended for the use of rescue and recovery workers, as a “love nest” for his trysts with Regan. Ailes is a close friend and political ally of former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who recommended Kerik to head the Department of Homeland Security. Kerik is already being pilloried in the press for a number of other ethical and perhaps even criminal activities, and is being vetted for the DHS slot. Ailes and Giuliani do not want the Kerik-Regan affair, and the commandeered apartment, to come to the public’s notice. Court documents later say that Ailes “told Regan that he believed she had information about Kerik that, if disclosed, would harm Giuliani’s presidential campaign.” Ailes “advised Regan to lie to, and to withhold information from, [federal] investigators concerning Kerik.” The attempted cover-up will later be brought to light when NewsCorp fires Regan in 2006, and she brings a wrongful-termination suit that secures a $10.75 million settlement. Regan will not identify Ailes by name, only as a “senior executive” for NewsCorp, but other documents accidentally made public will reveal Ailes’s identity. Reportedly, Regan has her telephone conversations with Ailes on tape. NewsCorp will later claim that Regan has sent it a letter stating that “Mr. Ailes did not intend to influence her with respect to a government investigation.” Regan’s lawyer will say that NewsCorp’s claim does not reflect the entirety of Regan’s letter. Kerik himself will withdraw his name from consideration, and will later be sentenced to four years in prison for tax fraud. [New Republic, 2/24/2011; New York Daily News, 2/24/2011; New York Times, 2/25/2011; New York Magazine, 5/22/2011]
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]
Members of the 9/11 Commission’s team focusing on counterterrorism issues are appalled at a rewrite of a report by executive director Philip Zelikow. Zelikow rewrote the report, about the history of US efforts to contain al-Qaeda during the Clinton years, to imply that direct links exist between Iraq and al-Qaeda (see January 2004). Staffer Scott Allan, who wrote the original report, thinks that if the report is allowed to stand, it will become an important propaganda tool for the White House and its neoconservative backers in justifying the Iraq war, with headlines trumpeting the commission’s “discovery” of evidence linking al-Qaeda and Iraq. Many of Allan’s colleagues are equally disturbed, especially senior staffer Les Hawley. Hawley, a retired colonel, is a veteran of the military and civilian bureaucracies in Washington, and was a senior official in the State Department under Bill Clinton. Hawley, Allan, and the rest of the team directly challenge Zelikow’s rewrite. In author Philip Shenon’s words: “It would be remembered as an all-important showdown for the staff, the moment where they would make it clear that Zelikow could take his partisanship only so far. The staff would not allow him to trade on their credibility to promote the goals of the Bush White House—not in these interim reports, nor in the commission’s final report later that year.” The staff soon confronts Zelikow on the issue (see January 2004). [Shenon, 2008, pp. 317-324]
Entity Tags: Philip Shenon, 9/11 Commission, Al-Qaeda, Bush administration (43), Clinton administration, Les Hawley, US Department of State, Scott Allan, Philip Zelikow
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, 9/11 Timeline
After 9/11 Commission executive director Philip Zelikow rewrites a staff report to allege links between Iraq and al-Qaeda (see January 2004), the staff confront Zelikow over the rewrite (see January 2004). The meeting between Zelikow and the staffers becomes somewhat heated, but Zelikow capitulates in the end, replacing the allegations of a link between Iraq and al-Qaeda with far more neutral language, and agreeing to let the entire issue lay until a later staff report. Author Philip Shenon will later write: “The staff suspected that Zelikow realized at the meeting that he had been caught in a clear-cut act of helping his friends in the Bush White House—that he had tried to twist the wording of the report to serve the needs of the Bush administration and its stumbling military campaign. Zelikow said later it was nothing of the sort.” Zelikow will deny allegations that he is a “White House mole,” and insist that all he wanted to do was help the commission keep “an open mind” on the subject. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 317-324]
9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow rewrites a commission staff statement to imply there are ties between al-Qaeda and Iraq. Zelikow often rewrites many of the staff statements, but usually mainly to improve the style (see January 2004), and the addition of the Iraq-related material is unusual. The statement dealing with Iraq was originally compiled by international law expert Scott Allan, a member of the 9/11 Commission’s counterterrorism investigation, which is a strong focus of Zelikow’s attention. Allan writes the statement on the history of US diplomatic efforts to monitor and counteract al-Qaeda during the Clinton years, and the difficulties encountered by the government in working with “friendly” Arab nations such as Saudi Arabia to keep al-Qaeda at bay. Allan and other members of Team 3 are horrified at Zelikow’s rewrite of this report. Zelikow inserts sentences that allege direct ties between Iraq and al-Qaeda (see July 9, 2003), suggest that al-Qaeda officials were in systematic contact with Iraqi government officials in the years before 9/11, and even allege that Osama bin Laden had seriously considered moving to Iraq after the Clinton administration pressured the Taliban to oust him from Afghanistan (see April 4, 2000 and December 29, 2000). Zelikow’s additions are subtle and never directly state that Iraq and al-Qaeda had any sort of working relationship, but the import is clear. The effect of Zelikow’s rewrite would be to put the commission on record as strongly suggesting that such a connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda—long a White House argument to justify the war in Iraq—existed before 9/11, and therefore Iraq bore some of the responsibility for the attacks. Allan never made any such allegations in his original draft. Moreover, he knows from his colleagues who have pored over the archives at the CIA that no evidence of such a connection exists. Allan and the other Team 3 staffers confront Zelikow on the rewrite (see January 2004), and Zelikow eventually backs down (see January 2004). [Shenon, 2008, pp. 317-324]
The 9/11 Commission’s teams of investigators are asked to present interim staff reports to be read in the public hearings. Each report summarizes the staff’s findings regarding the subject of the day’s testimony. The reports help frame the questions for the day’s witnesses, and provide the basis for some of the chapters of the final report, so they are quite important and closely reported in the media. The commission’s executive director, Philip Zelikow, almost always rewrites the reports. Zelikow is smarting from the rounds of public criticism he has suffered for his apparent close ties to the Bush administration (see November 1997-August 1998, January 3, 2001, September 20, 2002, and March 21, 2004), and decides that he alone should read each staff report in the hearings—in essence, presenting himself as the public face of the commission and hopefully garnering some positive press coverage. That idea falls flat when angry staffers complain to the commissioners. But Zelikow continues to rewrite the reports, often improving on the language and wording, and sometimes rewriting reports to insert information that staffers find unsupportable (see January 2004). [Shenon, 2008, pp. 317-324]
Mohamed ElBaradei, the president of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), meets with Secretary of State Colin Powell to ask a second time for the US’s participation in European-led negotiations with Iran over that nation’s nuclear program (see Fall 2003). Powell refuses. The IAEA and the Europeans—France, Germany, and Britain—believe that the US’s participation in the negotiations is essential to convince Iran to make real concessions. Iran wants assurances that the US will not attack it. Moreover, Iran knows that the Europeans will wait for US approval for any incentives they offer, such as membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO). During the negotiations, an Iranian diplomat tells British negotiator John Sawers not to keep pressing the Iranian delegation to give up its nuclear weapons development program: “Look, John, that’s what we are saving up for the Americans. We can’t spend all our possible concessions in negotiating with you. We’ll have nothing left.” As the Europeans continue to jockey with the balky Iranians, the US continues to stand apart—“leaving the driving to the EU,” as State Department neoconservative John Bolton will later comment. Only in 2005 will the Bush administration begin giving its grudging support to the negotiations, but it will continue to refuse to actually participate in them. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 249-250]
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) publishes a proposed new rule, part of the Bush administration’s Clear Skies Initiative, that will ostensibly tighten regulations on allowable limits of mercury in the air. Studies show that even small amounts of mercury exposure to unborn children cause severe cognitive and developmental problems. Coal-fired plants are by far the largest emitters of mercury. But when the new regulations are actually established, they allow the coal industry to keep pumping huge amounts of mercury into the atmosphere for decades to come. It is later learned that Bush administration political appointees had pasted language into the regulations that was written by industry lobbyists. Five EPA scientists later say that the EPA had ignored the recommendations of professional staffers and an advisory panel in writing the rule. The rule, critics say, will delay reductions in mercury levels for decades, while saving the power and coal industry billions of dollars. The Bush administration chose a process that, according to Republican environmental regulator John Paul, “would support the conclusion they wanted to reach.” The panel’s 21 months of work on the issue was entirely ignored. Bruce Buckheit, the former director of the EPA’s air enforcement division, says: “There is a politicization of the work of the agency that I have not seen before. A political agenda is driving the agency’s output, rather than analysis and science.” Russell Train, who headed the EPA during the Nixon and Ford administrations, calls the action “outrageous.” [Los Angeles Times, 3/16/2004; Savage, 2007, pp. 302-303]
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]
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
The US Army announces that it is once again issuing what it calls “stop-loss” orders that will prevent thousands of soldiers from leaving the service once their tours of duty are up in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other active-duty deployments (see November 2002 and November 13, 2003). They will now be forced to remain until the end of their overseas deployments, and will remain available for further deployment for up to 90 days after they return home. The Army estimates that the new orders will affect about 7,000 soldiers. Colonel Elton Manske, chief of the Army’s Enlisted Division, explains, “This decision is really being driven by the readiness of units and the absolute intent to keep the units themselves intact down to as low as the squad and crew level, so we are assured of putting the best fighting force on the battlefield.” The commander of the Army’s Accessions Command, Lieutenant General Dennis Cavin, tells a CNN reporter that the stop-loss program is designed “to provide continuity and consistency” for deployed units and to enhance their ability “to execute their mission to the highest degree of their effectiveness.” The Army is also offering re-enlistment bonuses of up to $10,000 for soldiers deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Kuwait. Military analyst Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute says, “The use of stop-loss is often an indication of a shortfall of available personnel.” [American Forces Press Service, 1/2/2004; USA Today, 1/5/2004]
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]
Federal investigators working with special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald in the Plame Wilson identity leak investigation (see December 30, 2003) will ask White House officials to sign waivers freeing journalists from any pledges of confidentiality they may have granted during discussions about CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson. A senior administration official says that a number of top aides to President Bush will be asked to sign a one-page form giving permission for journalists to describe any such conversations to investigators, even if the journalists promised not to reveal the source. Bush’s promises of full cooperation will put “tremendous pressure” on the aides to comply, the official says. However, some investigators believe that many journalists will not respect such “blanket waivers,” and will refuse to reveal sources regardless of whether the White House aides sign them or not. The form reads that it is the wish of the White House official that “no member of the media assert any privilege or refuse to answer any questions” about the leak, according to a copy of the form obtained by the press. One aide sent a copy of the form is White House political strategist Karl Rove. [Washington Post, 1/2/2004] By January 5, Bush has not publicly stated that White House officials should, or should not, sign the waivers, according to press secretary Scott McClellan, who directs journalists to steer questions about the forms to the Justice Department. One unnamed government official is more forthcoming, however, calling the forms a “quintessential cover-your-rear-end” move by investigators. “It provides political cover, because you can say you tried everything, and this is a very politically charged environment,” the official says. “There’s no other value to it.” [Washington Post, 1/6/2004]
German intelligence sources claim that the CIA misinformed them about an alleged terror plot due to take place at a Hamburg hospital on December 30, 2003, and allegedly fear that the information was planted. According to information provided to TV 2 Nettavisen, a German TV station, German intelligence has yet to find any evidence for the plot, which is alleged to be the work of the radical Kurdish group Ansar al-Islam. A German intelligence officer known only as Vahldiecker says, “We have not found any proof that the terror alarm was genuine, but we haven’t found any evidence that states it was not. It is of course possible that it was fake, but we do not know that for certain yet.… It is possible that [the CIA] gave us the wrong information, but it is not likely that they did it on purpose.” However, German intelligence has indicated that it believes the information was planted on purpose and is surprised at the handling of the case and the leaks to the media; the story appeared on Der Spiegel Online within hours of the CIA tip. [Information Clearing House, 1/7/2004]
CIA official Craig Schmall, who serves as Vice President Dick Cheney’s agency briefer and has served as the briefer for Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis Libby (see 7:00 a.m. June 14, 2003 and July 14, 2003), is interviewed by the FBI in the Plame Wilson identity leak investigation. Schmall says nothing about either Valerie Plame Wilson or her husband, Joseph Wilson, though he discussed both of them with Libby and Cheney. It is not known if the FBI is aware of the earlier conversations between Schmall, Libby, and Cheney. [Central Intelligence Agency, 1/9/2004 ; Marcy Wheeler, 1/24/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 1/25/2007]
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]
Special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald informs conservative columnist Robert Novak, the author of the column that exposed the CIA identity of Valerie Plame Wilson (see July 14, 2003), that he intends to bring waivers of journalistic confidentiality (see January 2-5, 2004) from Novak’s sources for the column, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage (see July 8 or 9, 2003) and White House political strategist Karl Rove (see July 8, 2003), to a meeting with Novak. Novak will later write, “In other words, the special prosecutor knew the names of my sources.” [Human Events, 7/12/2006] Novak will speak three times to Fitzgerald’s investigators (see January 14, 2004, February 5, 2004, and September 14, 2004).
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
Kathleen Babineaux Blanco (D-LA) is sworn into office as Louisiana’s first woman governor, replacing Governor Mike Foster (R-LA). [Louisiana, 9/28/2005]
A sample page from Mark Klein’s AT&T documentation. [Source: Mark Klein / Seattle Times]Senior AT&T technician Mark Klein (see July 7, 2009), gravely concerned by the National Security Agency (NSA) spying operation going on in AT&T’s San Francisco facility (see October 2003) and now in possession of documents which prove the nature and scope of the telecommunications surveillance activities (see Fall 2003 and Late 2003), writes a memo summarizing his findings and conclusions. He appends eight pages of the unclassified documents he has in his possession, along with two photographs and some material from the Internet which documents the sophisticated surveillance equipment being used to gather data from AT&T’s electronic transmissions. The NSA and AT&T were, he later says, “basically sweeping up, vacuum-cleaning the Internet through all the data, sweeping it all into this secret room.… It’s the sort of thing that very intrusive, repressive governments would do, finding out about everybody’s personal data without a warrant. I knew right away that this was illegal and unconstitutional, and yet they were doing it.… I think I’m looking at something Orwellian. It’s a government, many-tentacled operation to gather daily information on what everybody in the country is doing. Your daily transactions on the Internet can be monitored with this kind of system, not just your Web surfing. All kinds of business that people do on the Internet these days—your bank transactions, your email, everything—it sort of opens a window into your entire private life, and that’s why I thought of the term ‘Orwellian.’ As you know, in [George] Orwell’s story , they have cameras in your house, watching you. Well, this is the next best thing.… So I was not only angry about it; I was also scared, because I knew this authorization came from very high up—not only high up in AT&T, but high up in the government. So I was in a bit of a quandary as to what to do about it, but I thought this should be halted.”
Gathering 'the Entire Data Stream' - In his memo, Klein concludes that the NSA is using “splitter” equipment to copy “the entire data stream [emphasis in the original] and sent it to the [NSA’s] secret room for further analysis.” Klein writes that the splitters actually “split off a percentage of the light signal [from the fiber optic circuits] so it can be examined. This is the purpose of the special cabinet… circuits are connected into it, the light signal is split into two signals, one of which is diverted to the ‘secret room.’ The cabinet is totally unnecessary for the circuit to perform—in fact, it introduces problems since the signal level is reduced by the splitter—its only purpose is to enable a third party [the NSA] to examine the data flowing between sender and recipient on the Internet.” (Emphasis in the original.) In his book, Klein will explain that “each separate signal,” after being split, “contains all the information, nothing is lost, so in effect the entire data stream has been copied.” He will continue: “What screams out at you when examining this physical arrangement is that the NSA was vacuuming up everything flowing in the Internet stream: email, Web browsing, voice-over-Internet phone calls, pictures, streaming video, you name it. The splitter has no intelligence at all, it just makes a blind copy.” Klein later explains to a reporter: “The signals that go across fiber optics are laser light signals. It’s light basically that runs through a fiber optic, which is a clear glass fiber, and it has to be at a certain level for the routers to see the light and interpret the data correctly. If the light gets too low, just as if you get a weak flashlight with bad batteries, at a certain point it doesn’t work. If the light level drops too low, the router starts dropping bits and getting errors, and eventually you get loss of signal, and it just doesn’t work at all.… The effect of the splitter is to reduce the strength of the signal, and that may or may not cause a problem, depending on how much the signal is reduced.” A telecommunications company would not, as a rule, use such a splitter on its backbone Internet traffic because of the risk of degraded signal quality. “You want to have as few connections on your main data lines as possible,” Klein will say, “because each connection reduces the signal strength, and a splitter is a connection, and if you can avoid that, all the better.”
Inherently Illegal - Klein will explain that there is no way these activities are legal: “There could not possibly be a legal warrant for this, since according to the Fourth Amendment, warrants have to be specific, ‘particularly describing the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized.’ It was also a blatant violation of the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act [FISA—see 1978], which calls for specific warrants as required by the Fourth Amendment. This was a massive blind copying of the communications of millions of people, foreign and domestic, randomly mixed together. From a legal standpoint, it does not matter what they claim to throw away later in their secret rooms, the violation has already occurred at the splitter.” [AT&T, 12/10/2002; AT&T, 1/13/2003; AT&T, 1/24/2003; Wired News, 5/22/2006; PBS Frontline, 5/15/2007; Klein, 2009, pp. 37, 119-133]
The Narus STA 6400 - Klein discusses one key piece of equipment in the NSA’s secret room, the Narus STA 6400 (see Late 2003). Narus is a firm that routinely sells its equipment not only to telecom firms such as AT&T, “but also to police, military, and intelligence officials” (see November 13-14, 2003). Quoting an April 2000 article in Telecommunications magazine, Klein writes that the STA 6400 is a group of signal “traffic analyzers that collect network and customer usage information in real time directly from the message.… These analyzers sit on the message pipe into the ISP [Internet Service Provider] cloud rather than tap into each router or ISP device.” Klein quotes a 1999 Narus press release that says its Semantic Traffic Analysis (STA) technology “captures comprehensive customer usage data… and transforms it into actionable information… [it] is the only technology that provides complete visibility for all Internet applications.” The Narus hardware allows the NSA “to look at the content of every data packet going by, not just the addressing information,” Klein will later write.
A 'Dream Machine for a Police State' - Klein later writes of the Narus STA 6400: “It is the dream machine of a police state, one that even George Orwell could not imagine. Not only does it enable the government to see what millions of people are saying and doing every day, but it can build up a database which reveals the connections among social groups—who’s calling and emailing whom. Such a device can easily be turned against all dissident protest groups, and even the Democratic and Republican parties, with devastating effect. And it’s in the hands of the executive power, in total secrecy.” [AT&T, 12/10/2002; AT&T, 1/13/2003; AT&T, 1/24/2003; Wired News, 5/22/2006; Klein, 2009, pp. 37-40] In support of the memo and an ensuing lawsuit against AT&T (see January 31, 2006), Klein will later write: “Despite what we are hearing, and considering the public track record of this administration, I simply do not believe their claims that the NSA’s spying program is really limited to foreign communications or is otherwise consistent with the NSA’s charter or with FISA. And unlike the controversy over targeted wiretaps of individuals’ phone calls, this potential spying appears to be applied wholesale to all sorts of Internet communications of countless citizens.” [Wired News, 4/7/2006]
Vice President Dick Cheney seems to embrace the characterization of him as an enigmatic backroom operator. “Am I the evil genius in the corner that nobody ever sees come out of his hole?” he asks a reporter rhetorically. “It’s a nice way to operate, actually.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 314]
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]
David Kay quits his job as head of the Iraq Survey Group. [Los Angeles Times, 11/20/2005] He is being replaced by former senior UN weapons inspector Charles Duelfer, who recently said that the chances of Iraq being found to possess chemical or biological weapons is “close to nil.” Kay gives no reason for his resignation, but sources in Washington say he is resigning for both personal reasons and because of his disillusionment with the weapons search. Kay says he does not believe Iraq possesses any major stockpiles of chemical or biological weapons, and he does not believe it has had any such weapons since the 1991 Gulf War. “I don’t think they existed,” he says. “What everyone was talking about is stockpiles produced after the end of the last Gulf War and I don’t think there was a large-scale production program in the 90s. I think we have found probably 85 percent of what we’re going to find.” [BBC, 1/24/2004] He adds: “I think they gradually reduced stockpiles throughout the 1990s. Somewhere in the mid-1990s, the large chemical overhang of existing stockpiles was eliminated.” [New York Times, 1/25/2009] In 2005, Kay will say: “My view was that the best evidence that I had seen was Iraq indeed had weapons of mass destruction. It turns out we were all wrong, and that is most disturbing. If the intelligence community had said there were no weapons there, would the policymakers have decided for other reasons, regime change, human rights, whatever, to go to war? All you can say is we’ll never know, because in fact the system said, apparently, it’s a slam dunk, there are weapons there.” [CNN, 8/18/2005]
Misled by Internal Duplicity of Iraqi Scientists, Failure of Fundamental Intelligence Gathering and Analysis - Kay says that the CIA and other US intelligence agencies were misled by duplicitous Iraqi scientists, who, in the words of New York Times reporter James Risen, “had presented ambitious but fanciful weapons programs to [Saddam] Hussein and had then used the money for other purposes,” and by the agencies’ failure to realize that Iraq had essentially abandoned its WMD programs after the 1991 war; what remained of the Gulf War-era WMD stockpiles was destroyed by US and British air strikes in 1998 (see December 16-19, 1998). According to Kay, Iraqi scientists realized they could go directly to Hussein and present fantastic plans for weapons programs, and receive approval and large amounts of money. Whatever was left of an effective weapons capability was quickly turned into corrupt money-raising schemes by scientists skilled in the arts of lying and surviving in Hussein’s autocratic police state. “The whole thing shifted from directed programs to a corrupted process,” Kay says. “The regime was no longer in control; it was like a death spiral. Saddam was self-directing projects that were not vetted by anyone else. The scientists were able to fake programs.” Kay adds that in his view the errors committed by the intelligence agencies were so grave that he recommends those agencies revamp their intelligence collection and analysis efforts. Analysts have come to him, he says, “almost in tears, saying they felt so badly that we weren’t finding what they had thought we were going to find—I have had analysts apologizing for reaching the conclusions that they did.” The biggest problem US agencies had, Kay says, was their near-total lack of human intelligence sources in Iraq since the UN weapons inspectors were withdrawn in 1998. [New York Times, 1/25/2009]
'Rudimentary' Nuclear Weapons Program - Iraq did try to restart its moribund nuclear weapons program in 2000 and 2001, Kay says, but that plan never got beyond the earliest stages. He calls it “rudimentary at best,” and says it would have taken years to get underway. “There was a restart of the nuclear program,” he notes. “But the surprising thing is that if you compare it to what we now know about Iran and Libya, the Iraqi program was never as advanced.”
No Evidence of Attempt to Purchase Nigerien Uranium - Kay says that his team found no evidence that Iraq ever tried to obtain enriched uranium from Niger, as has frequently been alleged (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001, Late September 2001-Early October 2001, October 15, 2001, December 2001, February 5, 2002, February 12, 2002, October 9, 2002, October 15, 2002, January 2003, February 17, 2003, March 7, 2003, March 8, 2003, and 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003). “We found nothing on Niger,” he says. [New York Times, 1/25/2009]
Democrats: Proof that Administration 'Exaggerated ... Threat' - Senator John Rockefeller (D-WV), the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, says of Kay’s resignation: “It increasingly appears that our intelligence was wrong about Iraq’s weapons, and the administration compounded that mistake by exaggerating the nuclear threat and Iraq’s ties to al-Qaeda. As a result, the United States is paying a very heavy price.” Rockefeller’s counterpart in the House of Representatives, Jane Harman (D-CA), says Kay’s comments indicate a massive intelligence failure and cannot be ignored. [BBC, 1/24/2004]
Asked to Delay Resignation until after State of Union Address - In 2005, Kay will reveal that he was asked by CIA Director George Tenet to hold off on his resignation. According to Kay, Tenet told him: “If you resign now, it will appear that we don’t know what we’re doing. That the wheels are coming off.” Kay will say, “I was asked to not go public with my resignation until after the president’s State of the Union address which—this is Washington and in general—I’ve been around long enough so I know in January you don’t try to get bad news out before the president gives his State of the Union address.” Kay does not say exactly when Tenet asked him to delay his resignation. [CNN, 8/18/2005]
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]
Former CIA Director George Tenet privately testifies before the 9/11 Commission. He provides a detailed account of an urgent al-Qaeda warning he gave to the White House on July 10, 2001 (see July 10, 2001). According to three former senior intelligence officials, Tenet displays the slides from the PowerPoint presentation he gave the White House and even offers to testify about it in public. According to the three former officials, the hearing is attended by commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste, the commission’s executive director Philip Zelikow, and some staff members. When Tenet testifies before the 9/11 Commission in public later in the year, he will not mention this meeting. The 9/11 Commission will neglect to include Tenet’s warning to the White House in its July 2004 final report. [McClatchy Newspapers, 10/2/2006] Portions of a transcript of Tenet’s private testimony will be leaked to reporters in 2006. According to the transcript, Tenet’s testimony included a detailed summary of the briefing he had with CIA counterterrorism chief Cofer Black on July 10 (see July 10, 2001). The transcript also reveals that he told the commission that Black’s briefing had prompted him to request an urgent meeting with Rice about it. This closely matches the account in Woodward’s 2006 book that first widely publicized the July meeting (see September 29, 2006). [Washington Post, 10/3/2006] Shortly after Woodward’s book is published, the 9/11 Commission staff will deny knowing that the July meeting took place. Zelikow and Ben-Veniste, who attended Tenet’s testimony, will say they are unable to find any reference to it in their files. But after the transcript is leaked, Ben-Veniste will suddenly remember details of the testimony (see September 30-October 3, 2006) and will say that Tenet did not indicate that he left his meeting with Rice with the impression he had been ignored, as Tenet has alleged. [New York Times, 10/2/2006] Woodward’s book will describe why Black, who also privately testified before the 9/11 Commission, felt the commission did not mention the July meeting in their final report: “Though the investigators had access to all the paperwork about the meeting, Black felt there were things the commissions wanted to know about and things they didn’t want to know about. It was what happened in investigations. There were questions they wanted to ask, and questions they didn’t want to ask.” [Woodward, 2006, pp. 78]
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).
According to journalist Seymour Hersh, “Within three days” of when army investigators are given photographs depicting Abu Ghraib prison abuse on January 13, 2004, “a report made its way to Donald Rumsfeld, who informed President Bush” (see January 13-16, 2004). [New Yorker, 5/24/2004] But Rumsfeld is vague in later public testimony about just when he first informs Bush. He suggests it could have been late January or early February. He explains that he routinely met with Bush “once or twice a week… and I don’t keep notes about what I do.” But he remembers that in mid-March, he and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Richard Myers “meeting with the President and discussed the reports that we had obviously heard” about Abu Ghraib. But Hersh later comments that regardless of when Bush was first informed, “Bush made no known effort to forcefully address the treatment of prisoners before the scandal became public, or to reevaluate the training of military police and interrogators, or the practices of the task forces that he had authorized. Instead, Bush acquiesced in the prosecution of a few lower-level soldiers. The President’s failure to act decisively resonated through the military chain of command: aggressive prosecution of crimes against detainees was not conducive to a successful career.” [New Yorker, 6/17/2007]
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]
White House political adviser Karl Rove testifies before the grand jury investigating the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak (see December 30, 2003). Rove acknowledges discussing Plame Wilson with columnist Robert Novak, who publicly identified her as a CIA agent (see July 14, 2003), but does not tell the jury that he also disclosed her CIA status to Time reporter Matthew Cooper (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003). [New York Times, 2006] He tells the grand jury that he indeed confirmed Plame Wilson’s CIA identity for Novak, but he knew very little about her at the time. Rove says that Novak knew more about her than he did, and that he believes he learned more about Plame Wilson and her husband, Joseph Wilson, from Novak than Novak learned from him. Rove tells jurors that he may have learned Plame Wilson’s identity from a journalist or someone else outside the White House, but cannot recall that person’s name or anything about their conversation. [National Journal, 11/12/2005]
After weapons inspector David Kay’s resignation (see January 23, 2004), the call to investigate the failure of intelligence surrounding the Iraq invasion reaches a fever pitch. White House press secretary Scott McClellan will later write: “[President] Bush and his advisers feared outside investigators. However, as momentum built for yet another independent probe, we saw the benefit of acting quickly and on our terms. Bush soon announced the creation of a bipartisan, independent commission to look into our intelligence on WMD, including Iraq (see March 8, 2005). Its members were appointed by the president, and its scope set by his team. It would not include looking at how the intelligence had been used to make the case for war. That was something Bush and his top advisers sought to avoid, concerned at a minimum—particularly in an election year—that it would prove politically fatal. They were willing to allow things to become more politicized, some considering it a battle that could be fought to a draw or even used to motivate the base, and believed that the short-term political cost could be minimized. In Bush’s mind, how the case for had been made scarcely mattered. What mattered now was the policy and showing success. The public tends to be more forgiving when the results are promising. If the policy was right and the selling of the policy could be justified at the time, then any difference between the two mattered little. In this view, governing successfully in Washington is about winning public opinion and getting positive results. To this day, the president seems unbothered by the disconnect between the chief rationale for war and the driving motivation behind it, and unconcerned about how the case was packaged.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 202]
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]
Police photo of Tom DeLay, after his 2005 indictment on election fraud charges. [Source: Mug Shot Alley]The co-founder and editor of the American Prospect, Robert Kuttner, subjects the 2002 House of Representatives to scrutiny, and concludes that under the rule of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX), it is well on its way to becoming what he calls a “dictatorship.” Kuttner writes that such authoritarian rule in “the people’s chamber” of Congress puts the US “at risk of becoming an autocracy.” He explains: “First, Republican parliamentary gimmickry has emasculated legislative opposition in the House of Representatives (the Senate has other problems). [DeLay] has both intimidated moderate Republicans and reduced the minority party to window dressing.… Second, electoral rules have been rigged to make it increasingly difficult for the incumbent party to be ejected by the voters, absent a Depression-scale disaster, Watergate-class scandal, or Teddy Roosevelt-style ruling party split.… Third, the federal courts, which have slowed some executive branch efforts to destroy liberties, will be a complete rubber stamp if the right wins one more presidential election. Taken together, these several forces could well enable the Republicans to become the permanent party of autocratic government for at least a generation.” Kuttner elaborates on his rather sweeping warnings.
Legislative Dictatorship - The House, and to a lesser extent the Senate, used to have what was called a “de facto four-party system”: liberal Democrats; Southern “Dixiecrats” who, while maintaining their membership as Democrats largely due to lingering resentment of Republicans dating back to the Civil War, often vote with Republicans; conservative Republicans; and moderate-to-liberal “gypsy moth” Republicans, who might vote with either party. Rarely did one of the four elements gain long-term control of the House. Because of what Kuttner calls “shifting coalitions and weak party discipline,” the majority party was relatively respectful of the minority, with the minority free to call witnesses in hearings and offer amendments to legislation. In the House, that is no longer true. While the House leadership began centralizing under House Speaker Jim Wright (D-TX) between 1987 and 1989, the real coalescence of power began under Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) between 1995 and 1999. The process, Kuttner asserts, has radically accelerated under DeLay and Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL).
Centralized Legislation - Under current practices, even most Republicans do not, as a rule, write legislation—that comes from DeLay and Hastert. Drastic revisions to bills are often rammed through late in the evening, with little or no debate. The Republican leadership has classified legislation as “emergency” measures 57 percent of the time, allowing them to be voted on with as little as 30 minutes of debate. Kuttner writes, “On several measures, members literally did not know what they were voting for.” Legislation written and proposed by Democrats rarely gets to the floor for debate. Amendments to legislation is also constrained, almost always coming from Hastert and DeLay. “[V]irtually all major bills now come to the floor with rules prohibiting amendments.” DeLay enforces rigid party loyalty, threatening Republican members who resist voting for the leadership’s bills with loss of committee assignments and critical campaign funds, and in some circumstances with DeLay’s sponsoring primary opponents to unseat the uncooperative member in the next election.
Democrats Shut out of Conferences - In the House, so-called “conference committees,” where members work to reconcile House and Senate versions of legislation, have become in essence one-party affairs. Only Democrats who might support the Republican version of the bill are allowed to attend. The conference committee then sends a non-amendable bill to the floor for a final vote.
No Hearings - The general assumption is that House members debate bills, sometimes to exhaustion, on the chamber floor. No more. Before DeLay, bills were almost never written in conference committees. Now, major legislation is often written in conference committee; House members often never see the legislation until it has been written in final, non-amendable form by DeLay and his chosen colleagues.
Abuse of Appropriations - Appropriations, or funding of events authorized by legislation, are ripe for use and misuse by the one-party leadership. Many appropriations bills must pass in order for Congress or other entities of the government to continue functioning. While “earmarks”—“pork-barrel” appropriations for individual members’ pet projects and such—are nothing new, under Gingrich and later Hastert/DeLay, the use of earmarks has skyrocketed. Huge earmarks are now routinely attached to mandatory appropriations bills. DeLay has perfected a technique known as “catch and release.” On close pending votes, the House Republican Whip Organization, made up of dozens of regional whips, will target the small but critical number of Republicans who might oppose the legislation. Head counts are taken; as members register (and change) their votes, some are forced to vote against their consciences (or their constituents) and others are allowed to vote no. Kuttner writes, “Basically, Republican moderates are allowed to take turns voting against bills they either oppose on principle or know to be unpopular in their districts.” This allows the member to save at least some face with their constituents. Under Wright, Republican members such as then-Representative Dick Cheney (R-WY) were outraged when Wright held a vote open for 15 minutes after voting was to end; Cheney called it “the most arrogant, heavy-handed abuse of power I’ve ever seen in the 10 years that I’ve been here.” It is not unusual for DeLay to hold votes open for up to three hours to get recalcitrant members in line. [American Prospect, 2/1/2004] In 2006, author John Dean will note that when the Republicans took control of the House in 1999, there were 1,439 earmarks in that year’s legislation. By the end of 2005, “there were a staggering 13,998 earmarked expenses, costing $27.3 billion.” Dean will write, “Needless to say, there is nothing conservative in those fiscal actions but there is much that is authoritarian about the wanton spending by those Republicans.” [Dean, 2006]
Lack of Opposition - Kuttner notes that Congressional Democrats have not mounted a systematic, organized denunciation of the DeLay operation. Kuttner believes that many Democrats believe voters are uninterested in what they call “process issues,” and that voters will dismiss complaints as “inside baseball,” of little relevance to their lives. Worse, such complaints “make… us look weak,” as one senior House staffer says. Kuttner writes that many Democrats believe such complaints sound “like losers whining.”
Permanent Republican Majority - If DeLay and his confreres in the White House have their way, there will be, in essence, a permanent Republican majority in the House and hopefully in the Senate as well. Bill Clinton routinely practiced what he called bipartisan “triangulation,” building ad hoc coalitions of Democrats and Republicans to pass his legislative initiatives, and in the process weakening the Democratic leadership. Kuttner writes, “Bush’s presidency, by contrast, has produced a near parliamentary government, based on intense party discipline both within Congress and between Congress and the White House.” Republicans have been busy reworking the district maps of various key states to ensure that Republicans keep their majorities, concentrating perceived Democratic voters to have overwhelming majorities in a few districts, and leaving the Republicans holding smaller majorities in the rest. Both parties have been guilty of such “gerrymandering” in the past, but with DeLay’s recent “super-gerrymandering” of his home state of Texas, the Republican makeup of the Texas House delegation is all but assured. DeLay and other House Republicans are working to redistrict other states in similar fashions. As of the 2004 midterm elections, of the 435 House seats, only around 25 are considered effectively contestable—over 90 percent of the House seats are “safe.” Democrats would have to win a disproportionate, and unlikely, number of those “swing” seats to take back control of the House. Kuttner writes: “The country may be narrowly divided, but precious few citizens can make their votes for Congress count. A slender majority, defying gravity (and democracy), is producing not moderation but a shift to the extremes.”
Control of Voting - Kuttner cites the advent of electronic voting machines and the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) as two reasons why Republicans will continue to have advantages at the voting booth. The three biggest manufacturers of electronic voting machines have deep financial ties to the Republican Party, and have joined with Republicans in opposing a so-called “verifiable paper trail” that could prove miscounts and possible fraudulent results. HAVA, written in response to the 2000 Florida debacle, requires that voters show government-issued IDs to be allowed to vote, a provision that Kuttner says is ripe for use in Republican voter-intimidation schemes. Republicans “have a long and sordid history of ‘ballot security’ programs intended to intimidate minority voters by threatening them with criminal prosecution if their papers are not technically in order,” he writes. “Many civil rights groups see the new federal ID provision of HAVA as an invitation to more such harassment.” The only recourse that voters have to such harassment is to file complaints with the Department of Justice, which, under the aegis of Attorney General John Ashcroft, has discouraged investigation of such claims.
Compliant Court System - Increasingly, federal courts with Republican-appointed judges on the bench have worked closely with Republicans in Congress and the White House to issue rulings favorable to the ruling party. Kuttner notes that if President Bush is re-elected: “a Republican president will have controlled judicial appointments for 20 of the 28 years from 1981 to 2008. And Bush, in contrast to both his father and Clinton, is appointing increasingly extremist judges. By the end of a second term, he would likely have appointed at least three more Supreme Court justices in the mold of Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, and locked in militantly conservative majorities in every federal appellate circuit.” The Supreme Court is already close to becoming “a partisan rubber stamp for contested elections,” Kuttner writes; several more justices in the mold of Justices Antonin Scalia (see September 26, 1986) and Clarence Thomas (see October 13, 1991) would, Kuttner writes, “narrow rights and liberties, including the rights of criminal suspects, the right to vote, disability rights, and sexual privacy and reproductive choice. It would countenance an unprecedented expansion of police powers, and a reversal of the protection of the rights of women, gays, and racial, religious, and ethnic minorities. [It would] overturn countless protections of the environment, workers and consumers, as well as weaken guarantees of the separation of church and state, privacy, and the right of states or Congress to regulate in the public interest.” [American Prospect, 2/1/2004]
Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Democratic Party, Dennis Hastert, Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia, Tom DeLay, Robert Kuttner, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Republican Party, John Ashcroft, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, House Republican Whip Organization, James C. (‘Jim’) Wright, Jr., John Dean, Newt Gingrich, Help America Vote Act
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
An email sent to the press secretaries of all Republican congressional representatives offers advice on how to deal with questions about the environment. It recommends telling constituents that “global warming is not a fact”, air quality is “getting better,” the planet’s forests are “spreading, not deadening,” reported “links between air quality and asthma in children remain cloudy,” the “world’s water is cleaner and reaching more people,” and that the Environmental Protection Agency was exaggerating when it warned that at least 40 percent of streams, rivers, and lakes are unsafe for drinking, fishing, or swimming. The memo insists that “the environment is actually seeing a new and better day.” Sources cited in the memo include a report from the Pacific Research Institute, which since 1998 has received $130,000 from Exxon Mobil; the book The Skeptical Environmentalist by Bjorn Lomborg; and scientist Richard Lindzen, whose work has been partially funded by the fossil fuel industry. [Guardian, 4/4/2003]
A. Q. Khan confesses on television. [Source: CBC]After A. Q. Khan’s nuclear proliferation network was caught selling nuclear technology to Libya, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf is put in a difficult spot over how to deal with Khan. Khan is so popular in Pakistan that Musharraf would face considerable political fallout if Khan is declared a traitor or seriously punished. Khan is placed under house arrest in Pakistan. Then, on February 4, 2004, he apologizes in a carefully staged speech broadcast on Pakistani television. He says that he accepts full responsibility for all nuclear proliferation activities. He insists that neither the Pakistani government nor the Pakistani military was aware or involved in his nuclear network in any way. He asks for forgiveness. “It pains me to realize this, that my entire lifetime of providing foolproof national security to my nation could have been placed in serious jeopardy on account of my activities, which were based in good faith, but on errors of judgment related to unauthorized proliferation activities.” Pakistani journalist and regional expert Ahmed Rashid will later comment, “Most experts accepted that Khan could not have carried out his business without the military’s support.” But US government officials immediately accept Khan’s apology and say that they believe Pakistan’s military had not supported his business. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 289]
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]
Mzoudi in an airport in Hanover, Germany, on June 21, 2005 as he returns to Morocco. [Source: Associated Press]Abdelghani Mzoudi is acquitted of involvement in the 9/11 attacks. Mzoudi is known to have been a friend and housemate of some of the 9/11 hijackers. A German judge tells Mzoudi, “You were acquitted not because the court is convinced of your innocence but because the evidence was not enough to convict you.” Mzoudi’s acquittal became likely after Germany received secret testimony from the US government that asserted Mzoudi was not part of the plot (see December 11, 2003). But the information apparently came from the interrogation of US prisoner Ramzi bin al-Shibh, and since the US would not allow Mzoudi’s defense to cross-examine bin al-Shibh, Mzoudi was released. [Daily Telegraph, 2/6/2004] Later in the year, Mzoudi acquittal is appealed to a higher court. Kay Nehm, Germany’s top federal prosecutor, again appeals to the US State Department to release interrogation records of bin al-Shibh to the court. However, the US still refuses to release the evidence, and a list of questions the court gives to the US for bin al-Shibh to answer are never answered. [Deutsche Presse-Agentur (Hamburg), 7/30/2004] On June 8, 2005, Mzoudi’s acquittal is upheld. Nehm calls the US’s government’s behavior “incomprehensible.” [Reuters, 6/9/2005] After the verdict, German authorities maintain that he is still a threat and give him two weeks to leave the country. He quickly moves back to his home country of Morocco, where he now lives. [Deutsche Welle (Bonn), 6/26/2005]
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]
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]
The 9/11 Commission gets greater access to classified intelligence briefings under a new agreement with the White House. The 10-member panel had been barred from reviewing notes concerning the presidential daily briefings taken by three of its own commissioners and the commission’s director in December 2003. The new agreement allows all commission members the opportunity to read White House-edited versions of the summaries. The White House had faced criticisms for allowing only some commissioners to see the notes. Still, only three commissioners are allowed to see the original, unclassified documents. [Associated Press, 2/10/2004]
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]
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]
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, Ronald Timms, Mark Hertsgaard, Tom Devine, Vanity Fair, US Department of Energy, Los Alamos National Laboratory
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
In the wake of Pakistani nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan’s public apology for his role in nuclear proliferation on February 4, 2004 (see February 4, 2004), and the US government’s quick acceptance of that apology, it is clear the US expects more cooperation from Pakistan on counterterrorism in return. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz says in an interview on February 19: “In a funny way, the A. Q. Khan [apology]… we feel it gives us more leverage, and it may give [Pakistani President Pervez] Musharraf a stronger hand, that Pakistan has an act to clean up. The international community is prepared to accept Musharraf’s pardoning of Khan for all that he has done, but clearly it is a kind of IOU, and in return for that there has to be a really thorough accounting. Beyond that understanding, we expect an even higher level of cooperation on the al-Qaeda front than we have had to date.” But there is no increased cooperation in the next months. Pakistani journalist and regional expert Ahmed Rashid will later comment: “Musharraf had become a master at playing off Americans’ fears while protecting the army and Pakistan’s national interest.… [He] refused to budge and continued to provide only minimal satisfaction to the United States and the world. He declined to give the CIA access to Khan, and there was no stepped-up hunt for bin Laden.” [Rashid, 2008, pp. 289-290]
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 senior UN official reports that conditions in Afghanistan have deteriorated significantly in nearly every respect. According to Lakhdar Brahima, UN special envoy to Afghanistan, the situation “is reminiscent to what was witnessed after the establishment of the mujaheddin government in 1992.” Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, a member of the Wahhabi sect of Islam who opposed the presence of US troops in Saudi Arabia, along with several other warlords accused of atrocities in the mid-1990s, have returned to power and are effectively ruling the country, Brahima says. Several hold key positions within the government. They “continue to maintain their own private armies and… are reaping vast amounts of money from Afghanistan’s illegal opium trade…” The US, while claming to support Afghan President Karzai, is relying on these warlords to “help” hunt down Taliban and al-Qaeda factions, although the success rate is abysmal, and much of the intelligence provided by the warlords is faulty. The Taliban has begun to regroup, and now essentially controls much of the southern and eastern regions of the country. [Foreign Affairs, 5/2004]
The General Accounting Office (GAO) reports on an array of problems with the military’s missile defense system (see March 23, 1983 and January 29, 1991). Its report includes an unclassified list of 50 recommendations for improving the system that originated in a public report produced by the Pentagon in 2000. Instead of acting on the recommendations, the Pentagon declares the list of recommendations “retroactively classified,” thereby forbidding Congressional members from discussing the recommendations in public. House members Henry Waxman (D-CA) and John Tierney (D-MA), who requested the GAO report, send an angry letter to Defense Secretary Rumsfeld calling the decision to classify the recommendations “highly dubious” and “an attempt to stymie public debate through the use of the classification system.” Rumsfeld ignores the protest. [Savage, 2007, pp. 103-104]
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]
Retired Admiral Bobby Ray Inman, formerly the deputy director of the CIA, head of the National Security Agency, and the former director of naval intelligence, says: “There was no tie between Iraq and 9/11, even though some people tried to postulate one.… Iraq did support terror in Israel, but I know of no instance in which Iraq funded direct, deliberate terrorist attacks on the United States.” [Texas Monthly, 3/2004; Middle East Policy Council, 6/2004]
Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Shaffer, an Army intelligence officer who worked closely with a military intelligence unit called Able Danger, has his security clearance suspended for what his lawyer later describes as “petty and frivolous” reasons, including a dispute over mileage reimbursement and charges for personal calls on a work cell phone. [Fox News, 8/19/2005] According to Shaffer, allegations are made against him over $67 in phone charges, which he accumulated over 18 months. He says, “Even though when they told me about this issue, I offered to pay it back, they chose instead to spend in our estimation $400,000 to investigate all these issues simply to drum up this information.” No formal action is ever taken against Shaffer, and later in the year the Army promotes him to lieutenant colonel. [Fox News, 8/17/2005; Government Security News, 9/2005] A few months previous, Shaffer had met with staff from the 9/11 Commission, and allegedly informed them that Able Danger had, more than a year before the attacks, identified two of the three cells which conducted 9/11, including Mohamed Atta (see October 21, 2003). According to Shaffer’s lawyer, it is because of him having his security clearance suspended that he does not later have any documentation relating to Able Danger. [Fox News, 8/19/2005] Rep. Curt Weldon (R-PA) will later comment: “In January of 2004 when [Shaffer] was twice rebuffed by the 9/11 Commission for a personal follow-up meeting, he was assigned back to Afghanistan to lead a special classified program. When he returned in March, he was called in and verbally his security clearance was temporarily lifted. By lifting his security clearance, he could not go back into DIA quarters where all the materials he had about Able Danger were, in fact, stored. He could not get access to memos that, in fact, he will tell you discussed the briefings he provided both to the previous administration and this administration.” [Fox News, 8/19/2005] These documents Shaffer are trying to reach are destroyed by the DIA roughly around this time (see Spring 2004). In September 2005, Shaffer has his security clearance revoked, just two days before he is scheduled to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee about Able Danger’s activities (see September 19, 2005).
Sam Francis, a white supremacist and syndicated columnist (see September 1995), excoriates President Bush’s “pretense” of support for a constitutional amendment outlawing gay marriage. Bush, Francis writes, “fooled most conservatives once in 2000. What he is doing now is trying to fool them again.” Republicans will never force any such amendment through, Francis writes, nor do they truly wish to. “Why do conservatives propose them or endorse them?” he asks. “Republicans peddle this constant stream of amendments because they know very well they will never go anywhere, that they will never be called on to vote on them or work for them, and that in the meantime the grassroots constituents who demand them will be placated by the simple rhetoric that ‘endorses’ or supports them. Amending the Constitution to correct flaws conservative politicians are unwilling to confront in serious ways is a cheap and easy way to make everybody happy and make sure nothing is done.” Francis is staunchly in favor of such an amendment, writing: “In the case of homosexual ‘marriages,’ I have no problem in refusing to recognize them as real or legal. Persons of the same sex can no more marry each other than dogs and cats can become congressmen, but since the whole purpose of the movement for ‘gay marriage’ is to subvert cultural institutions and normalize the abnormal, there’s not much point in arguing about it. Either you get it and oppose ‘gay marriage’ or you don’t and support it.” Instead of trying and failing to amend the Constitution, Francis writes that Congress should use the Constitution to limit the powers of the federal courts and thereby “forbid the [Supreme] Court even to hear, much less rule on, let us say, cases involving the marriage of persons of the same sex. Or cases involving capital punishment. Or cases involving flag burning. Or cases involving whatever the Congress decides to forbid the Nameless Nine from spending their vast intellectual resources and spiritual energies upon. With a stroke of the Congressional pen, ‘judicial activism’ could be ended, and it could have been ended decades ago, had conservatives been at all serious about what they claim to be serious about. If Congress ever did use its powers to curtail judicial misrule, the judges would get the message, and those who didn’t would find themselves in trouble.” Francis’s columns are provided to a national audience by Creators Syndicate. [VDare (.com), 3/1/2004]
John Kerry speaks at a February 2004 town hall event. [Source: Jim Bourg / Reuters]At a town hall event in Florida, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry reportedly says, “I’ve met foreign leaders who can’t go out and say it all publicly, but boy, they look at you and say, you gotta win this, you gotta beat this guy [President Bush], we need a new policy, things like that.” White House officials and conservative pundits immediately attack Kerry for his remarks, with Secretary of State Colin Powell telling a Fox News audience: “I don’t know what foreign leaders Senator Kerry is talking about. It’s an easy charge, an easy assertion to make, but if he feels that’s [an] important assertion to make, he ought to list names. If he can’t list names, then perhaps he ought to find something else to talk about.” The White House issues a statement saying: “If Senator Kerry is going to say he has support from foreign leaders, he needs to be straightforward with the American people and state who they are.… Or the only conclusion one can draw is he’s making it up to attack the president.” Bush himself says, “If you’re going to make an accusation in the course of a presidential campaign, you ought to back it up with facts.” Over a week after Kerry’s remarks are published, the pool reporter who reported the original remark, Patrick Healey of the Boston Globe, reports that Kerry did not say “foreign leaders,” but “more leaders” (see March 15, 2004). The correction does little to blunt the criticism of Kerry, who does not directly challenge the assertion, but calls his choice of words “inartful.” In 2008, authors Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Joseph N. Cappella will note: “Had this journalistic blunder created a firestorm of controversy around a Republican Party nominee, the conservative opinion leaders would have minimized the damage to their candidate by crying ‘media bias.’ The Democrats didn’t have a comparable argument in their arsenal.” [Boston Globe, 3/15/2004; Associated Press, 3/15/2004; Fox News, 3/16/2004; Jamieson and Cappella, 2008, pp. 4-5]
The head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), Jack Goldsmith, sends a classified memo to White House counsel Alberto Gonzales. The contents of the memo will remain secret, but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will learn that it clarifies the OLC’s advice on classified foreign intelligence activities. Goldsmith sends another classified memo on the same topic to Deputy Attorney General James Comey the next day, a followup memo to Comey three days later, and a followup to Gonzales the day after that. [American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 ]
Four Madrid trains were bombed on the morning of March 11, 2004 (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004), and in the evening on the same day, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar calls the editors of Spain’s major newspapers and tells them that ETA, a Basque separatist group, is behind the attacks. In fact, so far there is no evidence suggesting ETA involvement in the bombings. However, investigators have found bomb detonators in a van near the sight of one of the bombings, and the van also has a cassette tape of the Koran in it, suggesting Islamist militants were behind the bombings (see 10:50 a.m.-Afternoon, March 11, 2004). At the same time, Spanish intelligence is wiretapping most of the top ETA leaders, and during the day they intercept calls between leaders expressing shock about the bombings. The bombings also do not fit with ETA’s modus operandi, which is to bomb government targets and avoid civilian casualties. Aznar is aware of all this, and even tells Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, leader of the opposition party, about the van evidence in a phone call that same evening. But Aznar nonetheless insists that “there is no doubt who did the attacks,” and that ETA is to blame. There are nationwide elections scheduled in just three days, and polls show that Aznar’s successor, Mariano Rajoy of the conservative Popular Party, is leading Zapatero of the Socialist party by about five points. ETA has a long history of bombings in Spain, and Aznar himself survived an ETA car bomb in 1995. He has made the elimination of ETA his top priority. In fact, Aznar has planned a series of raids against ETA on March 12 in hopes that will help boost his party’s chances in the elections. If ETA is responsible, it will vindicate Aznar’s campaign against them and presumably boost his party’s chances in the election. [New Yorker, 7/26/2004]
In a statement, British former Guantanamo prisoner Tarek Dergoul “condemns the US and [British] governments for allowing these gross breaches of human rights and demands the release of all the other detainees.” His treatment included “botched medical treatment, interrogation at gunpoint, beatings and inhumane conditions.” The statement adds: “Tarek finds it very difficult to talk about these things and his family believe his mental health has been severely affected by the trauma he has suffered.” When confronted with the allegations of Dergoul and Jamal Udeen, a Pentagon spokeswoman describes these as “simply lies.” The same day, Secretary of State Colin Powell says in a television interview that he believes the US treats the detainees at Guantanamo “in a very, very humanitarian way.” And he adds, “Because we are Americans, we don’t abuse people in our care.” [Guardian, 3/13/2004]
Massive demonstrations in Madrid on March 12, 2004. [Source: Associated Press]In the early morning of March 12, 2004, a police officer searching through the wreckage of the Madrid trains bombed the day before (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004) discovers a bag containing 22 pounds of explosives surrounded by nails and screws. Two wires run from a cell phone to a detonator. Police use the memory chip inside the phone to find who the owner of the phone has called recently. They quickly discover a network of Islamist militants, many of them already under surveillance. They hone in on Jamal Zougam, who owns a cell phone shop that is connected to the phone, and who had been under investigation for militant links since 2000 (see 2000-Early March 2004). He will be arrested a day later. But the ruling party has already blamed the bombings on ETA, a Basque separate group (see Evening, March 11, 2004). Interior Minister Angel Acebes had blamed ETA within hours of the attacks (see 10:50 a.m.-Afternoon, March 11, 2004), and again he publicly claims that ETA is the prime suspect, even though police are now sure that Islamist militants were behind the bombings instead. He even calls those who suggest otherwise “pathetic” and says their alternative theories are “poisonous”. But news that ETA is not to blame is already leaking to the media. That evening about 11 million Spaniards protest around the country—about one fourth of Spain’s population. They are protesting the violence of the bombings, but also, increasingly, growing evidence of a cover-up that attempts to falsely blame ETA. The New Yorker will later comment, “It was clear that the [national election on March 14] would swing on the question of whether Islamists or ETA terrorists were responsible for the bombings.” [Guardian, 3/15/2004; New Yorker, 7/26/2004]
ETA, a Basque separatist group, denies responsibility for the Madrid train bombings the day before (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004). ETA has a long history of bombings in Spain. A person claiming to belong to ETA tells a newspaper in the Basque region of Spain that ETA “has no responsibility whatsoever for the Madrid attacks.” A second person makes a similar statement to a Basque television station around the same time. However, the Spanish government continues to blame ETA. Interior Minister Angel Acebes says ETA “is still the main line of investigation. There is no reason for it not to be.” [Guardian, 3/13/2004]
Angel Acebes. [Source: Luis Magan / El Pais]At 4:00 p.m. on March 13, 2004, the day before national elections in Spain, Interior Minister Angel Acebes announces on television that Jamal Zougam and two other Moroccans have been arrested for suspected roles in the Madrid train bombings two days before (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004). A day earlier, evidence found at one of the bomb sites was linked to Zougam (see March 12, 2004), and he had long been monitored for his Islamist militant links (see 2000-Early March 2004). Nonetheless, Acebes continues to suggest that ETA, a Basque separatist group, was behind the bombing instead. The ruling party has staked its reputation on its assertion that ETA is to blame. [New Yorker, 7/26/2004] That evening, the national public television station even changes its regular television programming to show a movie about Basque terrorism. [Australian, 11/2/2007] But by now the opposition Socialist Party is publicly accusing the government of lying about the investigation in order to stay in power. [New Yorker, 7/26/2004] Zougam will later be sentenced to life in prison for his role in the Madrid bombings. [Daily Mail, 11/1/2007]
Youssef Belhadj. [Source: Public domain]At 7:30 p.m., on March 13, 2004, the night before national elections in Spain, an anonymous phone caller tells a Madrid television station that there is a videotape related to the Madrid train bombings two days earlier (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004) in a nearby trash can. The video is quickly found. It is not broadcast, but the government releases portions of its text to the media that evening. [Associated Press, 3/13/2004] A man on the tape identifies himself as Abu Dujan al-Afghani, and says he is the military spokesman for the “military wing of Ansar al-Qaeda” (ansar means partisan). [New York Times, 4/12/2004] Dressed in white burial robes and holding a submachine gun, he says: “We declare our responsibility for what happened in Madrid exactly two-and-a-half years after the attacks on New York and Washington. It is a response to your collaboration with the criminals Bush and his allies. This is a response to the crimes that you have caused in the world, and specifically in Iraq and Afghanistan, and there will be more, if God wills it.” [BBC, 3/14/2004; Irujo, 2005, pp. 327-342] Spanish Interior Minister Angel Acebes has been repeatedly blaming ETA, a Basque separatist group, for the bombings (see 10:50 a.m.-Afternoon, March 11, 2004 and March 12, 2004). He holds a press conference shortly after the videotape text is made public and encourages the public to be skeptical about the tape’s authenticity. [Observer, 3/14/2004] But more and more Spaniards doubt the official story. El Mundo, the largest newspaper in Madrid, criticizes “the more than dubious attitude of the government in relation to the lines of investigation.” The BBC publishes a story hours before the election is to begin and notes: “If ETA is to blame it would justify the [ruling Populist Party’s] hard line against the group and separatism in Spain. But if al-Qaeda is to blame, however, it would bring into question Spain’s decision to join the United States and Britain in the war on Iraq, something 90 percent of Spaniards opposed.” [BBC, 3/14/2004] The video actually was made by the bombers. A banner shown in the video is found in a safe house used by the bombers about a month later (see 9:05 p.m., April 3, 2004), suggesting the video was shot there. [New York Times, 4/12/2004] The spokesman will later be revealed to be Youssef Belhadj. Belhadj will be arrested in Belgium in 2005, extradited to Spain, and sentenced to prison for a role in the Madrid bombings. [Irujo, 2005, pp. 327-342; MSNBC, 10/31/2007]
On March 14, 2004, just three days after the Madrid train bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004), Spain holds national elections. The opposition Socialist party wins. The Socialists go from 125 seats to 164 in the 350-seat legislature. The ruling Popular Party falls from 183 seats to 148. As a result, Socialist Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero replaces Jose Maria Aznar as Spain’s prime minister. Zapatero had pledged to withdraw Spain’s troops from the war in Iraq. In declaring victory, Zapatero again condemns the war in Iraq and reiterates his pledge to withdraw. He keeps his pledge and withdraws all of Spain’s troops over the next couple of months. [Associated Press, 3/15/2004; New Yorker, 7/26/2004]
Victory for Al-Qaeda? - Some will see this as a strategic victory for al-Qaeda. A treatise written by al-Qaeda leader Yusef al-Ayeri in late 2003 suggested the political utility of bombing Spain in order to force them to withdraw their troops from Iraq (see December 2003). For instance, an editor at the conservative Spanish newspaper ABC will later say, “I doubt whether anyone can seriously suggest that Spain has not acted in a way that suggests appeasement.”
Angry Voters - But Spanish voters may not have voted out of fear of being attacked again because of its Iraq commitment so much as anger at the ruling party for attempting to hide evidence linking the bombing to al-Qaeda and falsely blaming Basque separatists instead (see Evening, March 11, 2004, March 12, 2004, 4:00 p.m., March 13, 2004). [New Yorker, 7/26/2004] For instance, the Guardian will report, “The spectacular gains made by [the Socialist party] were in large part a result of the government’s clumsy attempts at media manipulation following the Madrid bombs on Thursday.… The party had just three days to avoid the charge that it had attracted the bombers by supporting a war that was opposed by 90% of Spaniards.… There would have been a double bonus for the [Popular Party] if they could have successfully deflected the blame onto the Basque terrorist group, ETA. A central plank of the government’s election platform had been that [the Socialists] are ‘soft’ on Basque terrorism.” [Guardian, 3/15/2004]
The Popular Party led by Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar is voted out of power on March 14, 2004 (see March 14, 2004). In December 2004, the incoming prime minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero of the Socialist party, will claim that shortly after the election Aznar wiped out all computer records at the prime minister’s office from the period between the Madrid train bombings on March 11 (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004) and the elections three days later. Zapatero will tell a parliamentary commission: “There was nothing, absolutely nothing… everything had been wiped. There is nothing from March 11 to March 14 in the prime minister’s office.” Only some paper documents remain. During those days, the ruling party strongly asserted that ETA, a Basque separatist group, was behind the bombings, even as investigators quickly uncovered overwhelming evidence that Islamist militants were the real culprits (see Evening, March 11, 2004, March 12, 2004, 4:00 p.m., March 13, 2004). Zapatero will accuse Aznar’s government of having tried to frame ETA for the bombings. “It was massive deceit,” he says. [Guardian, 12/14/2004]
Boston Globe reporter Patrick Healey corrects his earlier report that Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry claimed “foreign leaders” were privately backing his candidacy (see March 8, 2004 and After). Healey, after reviewing the audiotape of Kerry’s remarks, now reports that Kerry did not say “foreign leaders” but said “more leaders,” likely referring to members of Congress. Healey’s correction does little to quell the heavy criticism from the White House and conservative media pundits, who are excoriating Kerry for claiming the support of foreign heads of state without naming them. [Jamieson and Cappella, 2008, pp. 5]
During a campaign stop, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry is questioned by Pennsylvania voter Cedric Brown, who demands that Kerry identify the “foreign leaders” he reportedly claimed support his candidacy (see March 8, 2004 and After). Kerry responds: “I’ve met with lots of foreign leaders, but let me just say something to you, sir. Just a minute. Just a minute,” gesturing to the audience to allow Brown to continue speaking. “I’m not going to betray a private conversation with anybody and get some leader—they have to deal with this administration” (see March 15, 2004). Brown then accuses Kerry of colluding with those unnamed foreign leaders to “overthrow” the Bush presidency. The exchange becomes somewhat heated, with Brown calling Kerry a “liar” and asks if he secretly met with the dictator of North Korea, Kim Jong Il, an assertion advanced by conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh (see March 17, 2004). The exchange lasts for about eight minutes. In 2008, authors Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Joseph N. Cappella will perform an in-depth analysis of the media coverage of the Kerry-Brown exchange, and determine that while the mainstream media (ABC, CBS, CNN, NBC, the New York Times, and the Washington Post, among others) generally cover the exchange by reporting both sides fairly evenly (ABC’s coverage tilts towards favoring Kerry’s point of view while CBS’s gives Bush the advantage—see March 15, 2004), the conservative media they analyze (Limbaugh, Fox News, Fox’s Hannity & Colmes, and the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page) report the story from Brown’s viewpoint, and work to both denigrate Kerry and marginalize mainstream reporting. [Boston Globe, 3/15/2004; New York Times, 3/15/2004; Jamieson and Cappella, 2008, pp. 5-6]
A Wall Street Journal editorial, responding to reports that Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry has accepted private endorsements from unnamed foreign leaders (see March 8, 2004 and After), accuses Kerry of making private, secret deals with those leaders. “Who are these foreign leaders, and what is Mr. Kerry privately saying that makes them so enthusiastic about his candidacy?” it asks. “What ‘new policy’ is he sharing with them that he isn’t sharing with Americans?” [Jamieson and Cappella, 2008, pp. 17]
ABC News and Fox News are the only major news networks to broadcast a “hard news” report on the day’s exchange between Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry and voter Cedric Brown (see March 15, 2004 and After).
CBS: Advantage Bush - CBS gives a brief synopsis of the exchange; neither NBC nor CNN devote much air time to the story. CBS anchor Dan Rather sums up the exchange by providing a brief overview of the controversy surrounding Kerry’s supposed claim of unnamed “foreign leaders” supporting his bid for the presidency (see March 8, 2004 and After and March 15, 2004) and the Bush campaign’s implication that Kerry is lying; the Kerry campaign’s response; and White House spokesman Scott McClellan’s insistence that Kerry either “name names” or admit to “making it up.” In 2008, authors Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Joseph N. Cappella will write, “By sandwiching the Kerry perspective between an opening and closing statement focused on the Bush perspective, the CBS piece creates a net advantage for the Republicans.”
ABC: Advantage Kerry - The ABC report, by reporter Linda Douglass, goes further in asking about the Bush campaign’s motives in attacking Kerry, and asks if the Bush campaign is not trying to deflect attention from reports about Bush administration misrepresentations about the true costs of its Medicare plan (see June 2003). ABC anchor Elizabeth Varga opens by noting the Bush campaign’s “extraordinary” attack on Kerry’s “credibility,” leading into Douglass’s report, which summarizes the “foreign leaders” controversy, reports the Kerry-Brown exchange, observes that the Kerry campaign is “sidestep[ping]” the accusations that he is lying about the foreign leaders claim, and notes that Kerry accuses the Bush campaign of trying to divert attention from the Medicare controversy. Douglass concludes, “Seven months before the election, the campaign seems to be all about credibility.”
Fox News: Heavy Attack against Kerry - Fox News anchor Brit Hume begins his report by saying, “John Kerry still won’t say who those foreign leaders were, whom he claims are back—who he claims are backing him for president.” The Fox report, by Carl Cameron, begins by claiming Kerry is being “[b]attered for refusing to name foreign leaders that he claims want President Bush defeated,” says Kerry is trying to “get back on offense” by attacking the Bush administration’s failure to fully fund firefighters (an attack “few Americans believe,” Cameron asserts), and notes that Bush defenders accuse Kerry of “voting against the troops” by opposing the $87 billion to stabilize and complete the post-Saddam Iraq occupation. Cameron then quotes unnamed Republicans as calling Kerry an “international man of mystery,” a disparaging comparison to the Austin Powers movie satire, “for his various un-backed-up charges” about the foreign leaders’ support. Cameron ends the report by playing a snippet from the Kerry-Brown exchange where Kerry demanded Brown identify himself as a “registered Republican” (he does not air Brown’s response where he admits to being a Bush supporter) and with the White House’s assertion that “Kerry is making it up to attack the president.” Fox twice has Brown appear as a guest on its news broadcasts. In one, Brown says Kerry “didn’t appear to be honest” during their conversation, says, “I think Senator Kerry betrayed our country,” and calls for a congressional investigation into Kerry’s supposed claim of having “secret” deals for foreign leaders’ backing.
Television Coverage Analysis - Authors Jamieson and Cappella will write: “The strategic frames of Fox and ABC differ. On Fox, Kerry is cast as ‘battered’ and on the strategic defensive (‘Kerry tried to get back on offense and tried to turn the tables on his inquisitors,’) [emphasis added by authors]. By contrasts, ABC situates Kerry as a contender who is ‘determined not to give ground on the war over who is more truthful.’ On Fox, Kerry’s attack is portrayed as an attempt to ‘get back on offense,’ whereas the Bush response is portrayed as motivated by outrage.” Fox “focuses on Kerry’s credibility, while ABC centers on charges and countercharges about the relative truthfulness of Bush and Kerry.” Douglass attributes claims of truth or falsity to the respective campaigns, but Cameron makes blanket assertions—unattributed value judgments—about Kerry’s supposed dishonesty.
Print Media - The print media shows much of the same dichotomy in covering the Kerry-Brown exchange as do ABC and Fox. The Washington Post gives Brown a chance to again accuse Kerry of lying, but calls him “a heckler… who interrupted Kerry’s comments on health care, education and the economy to raise questions about the assertion of foreign endorsements.” The Los Angeles Times describes Brown as “abruptly” shouting over Kerry, and, when the audience tries to shout Brown down, shows Kerry asking the audience to allow Brown to speak. In these and other accounts, Jamieson and Cappella will note, “Kerry’s questioning of the questioner is set in the context of Brown’s interruption, inflammatory charges… and verbal attacks on Kerry.” On the other hand, the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page joins Fox News in ignoring Brown’s initial interruption and verbal assault on Kerry (see March 15, 2004), and instead focuses on what the Journal’s James Taranto calls “Kerry’s thuggish interrogation of the voter.” Taranto also directs his readers to coverage by Fox News and Limbaugh, who himself accuses Kerry of “browbeating” Brown.
Media Strategies to Denigrate Kerry - Jamieson and Cappella will write, “Specifically taken together, [Rush] Limbaugh, [Sean] Hannity, and the Wall Street Journal’s opinion pages marshaled four strategies to marginalize Kerry and undercut his perceived acceptability as a candidate for president: extreme hypotheticals [i.e. Kerry’s supposed ‘secret meeting’ with North Korea’s Kim Jong-il—see March 17, 2004 ], ridicule, challenges to character, and association with strong negative emotion.” Fox News and the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, for example, characterize Kerry’s response to Brown as “yelling” and “thuggish,” while other media outlets report Kerry’s response as generally restrained and civil, and Brown as the one shouting and angry. [Boston Globe, 3/15/2004; Los Angeles Times, 3/15/2004; Jamieson and Cappella, 2008, pp. 5-17]
Entity Tags: Elizabeth Varga, Cedric Brown, CBS News, Brit Hume, ABC News, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Carl Cameron, Joseph N. Cappella, John Kerry, Kathleen Hall Jamieson, Linda Douglass, James Taranto, Scott McClellan, Fox News
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, 2004 Elections
Clips of Thompson, Bush included in VNRs provided to local TV stations. [Source: New York Times]New York Times reporter Robert Pear discovers that the Bush administration has employed two fake “reporters,” Karen Ryan and Alberto Garcia, who have appeared in administration-produced television “news” segments—“video news releases,” or VNRs—designed to promote the administration’s new Medicare prescription-drug policies. (Garcia primarily appeared in Spanish-language Medicare VNRs.) HHS had budgeted $124 million for the fake news segments, more than most real news organizations can provide. The segments are under investigation by the General Accounting Office (GAO) for possible violation of government statutes prohibiting the use of federal money to produce propaganda or partisan presentations. The Secretary for Health and Human Services (HHS), Tommy Thompson, appears in one of the segments, saying, “This is going to be the same Medicare system only with new benefits, more choices, more opportunities for enhanced benefits.” Several others show a crowd giving President Bush a standing ovation as he signs the new Medicare bill into law. Another segment shows a pharmacist talking to an elderly customer. The pharmacist says the new law “helps you better afford your medications,” and the customer says, “It sounds like a good idea.” The pharmacist agrees, “A very good idea.” The segments, professionally produced and ending with tag lines such as “In Washington, I’m Karen Ryan reporting,” were regularly aired by at least 50 local television news broadcasts in 40 cities around the country. The government also provides scripts that can be used by local news anchors to introduce, or “walk up,” the VNRs. One script suggested that anchors read the following: “In December, President Bush signed into law the first-ever prescription drug benefit for people with Medicare. Since then, there have been a lot of questions about how the law will help older Americans and people with disabilities. Reporter Karen Ryan helps sort through the details.” A VNR is then broadcast explaining how the new law benefits Medicare recipients.
'Infoganda' - Ryan is a freelance journalist, the administration claims, and using her for such fake news segments is perfectly acceptable. But cursory investigation reveals that she was once a freelance reporter, but has for years worked as a public relations consultant. Her most recent assignments include appearing in marketing videos and “infomercials” promoting a variety of pharmaceutical products, including the popular drugs FloMist and Excedrin. Perhaps the most telling reaction is from Comedy Central’s comedy-news program The Daily Show, where host Jon Stewart can’t seem to decide whether to be outraged or flattered by what Rich calls “government propaganda imitating his satiric art.” (Daily Show member Rob Corddry calls the HHS videos “infoganda.”) Administration officials also insist that the VNRs are real, objective news releases, but the company that produced the segments, Home Front Communications, confirms that it had hired Ryan to read a script prepared by government officials. The VNRs give a toll-free phone number for beneficiaries to call. To obtain recorded information about prescription drug benefits, the caller must speak the words, “Medicare improvement.” The Columbia Journalism Review writes, “The ‘reports’ were nothing more than a free advertisement for the legislation, posing as news.”
Legal? - GAO lawyers say that their initial investigations found that other fliers and advertisements disseminated by HHS to promote the new Medicare policies are legal, though they display “notable omissions and other weaknesses.” Administration officials claim the VNRs are also a legal, effective way to educate Medicare beneficiaries. The GAO is still investigating the VNRs. GAO investigators believe that they might violate the law in at least one aspect: misleading viewers by concealing their government origins. Federal law expressly forbids the use of federal money for “publicity or propaganda purposes” not authorized by Congress. Earlier investigations have found government-disseminated editorials and newspaper articles illegal if they did not identify themselves as coming from government officials. The GAO will find that the VNRs break two federal laws forbidding the use of federal money to produce propaganda (see May 19, 2004).
'Common Practice' - HHS spokesman Kevin Keane says the VNRs are well within legal guidelines; their only purpose, he says, is to inform citizens about changes in Medicare. “The use of video news releases is a common, routine practice in government and the private sector,” he says. “Anyone who has questions about this practice needs to do some research on modern public information tools.” Congressional Democrats disagree with Keane. “These materials are even more disturbing than the Medicare flier and advertisements,” says Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ). “The distribution of these videos is a covert attempt to manipulate the press.” Lautenberg, fellow Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), and seven other members of Congress requested the GAO investigation. Keane is correct in one aspect: businesses have distributed VNRs to news stations as well as internally for years, and the pharmaceutical industry has been particularly successful in getting marketing videos that appear as “medical news” or “medical features” aired on local and even national news broadcasts. And government agencies have for years released informational films and videos on subjects such as teenage smoking and the dangers of using steroids. Bill Kovach, chairman of the Committee of Concerned Journalists, says HHS’s VNRs have gone far beyond what the government has previously provided. “Those to me are just the next thing to fraud,” he says. “It’s running a paid advertisement in the heart of a news program.” [New York Times, 3/15/2004; Columbia Journalism Review, 3/15/2004; Rich, 2006, pp. 164]
Media Responsibility - The Columbia Journalism Review’s Bill McDermott writes: “[F]or our money, the villains here aren’t the clever flacks at HHS—they’re supposed to be masters of deception. Nope, the dunce hats go to the local TV station editors willing to slap onto the air any video that drops in over the transom.” [Columbia Journalism Review, 3/15/2004] Ryan is relatively insouciant about the controversy. “Stations are lazy,” she says. “If these things didn’t work, then the companies would stop putting them out.” [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 3/20/2004]
Entity Tags: Edward M. (“Ted”) Kennedy, US Department of Health and Human Services, Committee of Concerned Journalists, Bush administration (43), Bill McDermott, Bill Kovach, Alberto Garcia, Tommy G. Thompson, Columbia Journalism Review, Robert Pear, New York Times, Jon Stewart, Home Front Communications, George W. Bush, Karen Ryan, General Accounting Office, Kevin Keane, Frank R. Lautenberg, Rob Corddry
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
Vice President Dick Cheney weighs in on on the controversy surrounding Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry’s supposed acceptance of private endorsements from unnamed foreign leaders (see March 8, 2004 and After). At an Arizona fundraiser, Cheney says: “[I]t is our business when a candidate for president claims the political endorsement of foreign leaders. At the very least, we have a right to know what he is saying to them that makes them so supportive of his candidacy.” [Fox News, 3/16/2004; Jamieson and Cappella, 2008, pp. 18-19]
Conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh joins the Wall Street Journal in demanding that Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry name the foreign leaders who have supposedly secretly endorsed his candidacy (see March 8, 2004 and After, March 15, 2004, and March 15, 2004). Limbaugh goes further than the Journal by stating that he believes Kerry’s foreign endorsers are enemy heads of state. “[L]et’s name some names,” he says. “Bashar Assad in Syria, Kim Jong Il in North Korea.” In 2008, authors Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Joseph N. Cappella will write: “The assertion was ridiculous on its face, and Limbaugh undoubtedly knew it was. Underlying Limbaugh’s trope is the assumption that any leader who would criticize US policy must be an enemy of the country.” Jamieson and Cappella will extend their argument by writing: “Importantly, introduction of the names of villainous foreign leaders exemplifies a rhetorical function that Limbaugh and the conservative opinion hosts serve for the Republican Party: expanding the range of attack by marking out extreme positions that by comparisons make the official position of the Republican candidate or party leaders seem moderate. At the same time, if some in Limbaugh’s audience take the allegation of actual talks with heads of outlaw states serious, as [conservative voter Cedric] Brown appeared to (see March 15, 2004 and After), then the association reinforces, if it does not actively shape, that person’s view that Kerry’s assumptions are extreme and disqualify him from serious consideration as a presidential contender.” [Jamieson and Cappella, 2008, pp. 19]
Jack Goldsmith, the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, advises White House counsel Alberto Gonzales in a classified memo that several “classes” of people are not given “protected” status if captured as hostiles in Iraq. Those people include: US citizens, citizens of a state not bound by the Geneva Conventions, citizens of a “belligerent State,” and members of al-Qaeda who are not Iraqi citizens or permanent Iraqi residents. The memo will be made public on January 9, 2009. [US Department of Justice, 3/18/2004 ; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 ]
Jack Goldsmith, the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), sends a classified memo to a number of general counsels: the State Department’s William Howard Taft IV, the Defense Department’s William Haynes, the White House’s chief counsel for national security John Bellinger, the CIA’s Scott Muller, and the White House’s Alberto Gonzales. The memo is a draft opinion that concludes the US government can withdraw “protected persons” (a classification of the Geneva Conventions) who are illegal aliens from Iraq to other countries to facilitate interrogation—in other words, the US can subject them to rendition. Goldsmith says the US can also rendition so-called “protective persons” who have not been accused of a crime and who are not illegal aliens in Iraq, as long as the custody is for a brief period. [US Department of Justice, 3/19/2004 ; Cross, 2005; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 ] The memo correlates with another Justice Department memo rejecting “protected person” status for some who are detained by US forces in Iraq (see March 18, 2004).
Philip Zelikow. [Source: Miller Center]The 9/11 Family Steering Committee and 9/11 Citizens Watch demand the resignation of Philip Zelikow, executive director of the 9/11 Commission. The demand comes shortly after former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke told the New York Times that Zelikow was present when he gave briefings on the threat posed by al-Qaeda to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice from December 2000 to January 2001. The Family Steering Committee, a group of 9/11 victims’ relatives, writes: “It is clear that [Zelikow] should never have been permitted to be a member of the Commission, since it is the mandate of the Commission to identify the source of failures. It is now apparent why there has been so little effort to assign individual culpability. We now can see that trail would lead directly to the staff director himself.” Zelikow has been interviewed by his own Commission because of his role during the transition period. But a spokesman for the Commission claims that having Zelikow recluse himself from certain topics is enough to avoid any conflicts of interest. [New York Times, 3/20/2004; United Press International, 3/23/2004] 9/11 Commission Chairman Thomas Kean defends Zelikow on NBC’s Meet the Press, calling him “one of the best experts on terrorism in the whole area of intelligence in the entire country” and “the best possible person we could have found for the job.” [NBC, 4/4/2004] Commission Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton adds, “I found no evidence of a conflict of interest of any kind.” Author Philip Shenon will comment: “If there had been any lingering doubt that Zelikow would survive as executive director until the end of the investigation, Kean and Hamilton had put it to rest with their statements of support… on national television. Zelikow would remain in charge.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 263] However, Salon points out that the “long list” of Zelikow’s writings “includes only one article focused on terrorism,” and he appears to have written nothing about al-Qaeda. [Salon, 4/6/2004]
Entity Tags: Philip Zelikow, Thomas Kean, Philip Shenon, Richard A. Clarke, Lee Hamilton, Al-Qaeda, 9/11 Commission, 9/11 Citizens Watch, Condoleezza Rice, 9/11 Family Steering Committee
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
The State Department issues a terror alert, warning “that al-Qaeda continues to prepare to strike US interests abroad” and such attacks “could possibly involve non-conventional weapons such as chemical or biological agents as well as conventional weapons of terror.” More specific information is not provided. [Command Post, 3/21/2004] The same day, former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke gives an interview that is harshly critical of the Bush administration’s counterterrorism efforts (see March 24, 2004). [CBS News, 3/21/2004]
Richard Clarke, counterterrorism “tsar” from 1998 until October 2001, ignites a public debate by accusing President Bush of doing a poor job fighting al-Qaeda before 9/11. In a prominent 60 Minutes interview, he says: “I find it outrageous that the president is running for re-election on the grounds that he’s done such great things about terrorism. He ignored it. He ignored terrorism for months, when maybe we could have done something to stop 9/11.… I think he’s done a terrible job on the war against terrorism.” He adds: “We had a terrorist organization that was going after us! Al-Qaeda. That should have been the first item on the agenda. And it was pushed back and back and back for months.” He complains that he was Bush’s chief adviser on terrorism, yet he never got to brief Bush on the subject until after 9/11. [CBS News, 3/21/2004; CBS News, 3/21/2004; Guardian, 3/23/2004; Salon, 3/24/2004] Author Philip Shenon will call the interview “gripping” and comment that Clarke is “made for television.” This is because of his “urgent speaking style” and his “shock of white hair and ghostly pallor,” which makes it look like he has “emerged from years of hiding in sunless back rooms of the West Wing to share the terrible secrets he ha[s] learned.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 277] The next day, his book Against All Enemies is released and becomes a bestseller. [Washington Post, 3/22/2004] He testifies before the 9/11 Commission a few days later (see March 24, 2004).
Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, who remained in that position up until days before the October 2001 invasion of Afghanistan began, states in an interview that the Bush administration’s real focus at the start of the Afghanistan war was Iraq. “The reason they had to do Afghanistan first was it was obvious that al-Qaeda had attacked us. And it was obvious that al-Qaeda was in Afghanistan. The American people wouldn’t have stood by if we had done nothing on Afghanistan. But what they did was slow and small. They put only 11,000 troops into Afghanistan.… To this day, Afghanistan is not stable. To this day, we’re hunting down Osama bin Laden. We should have put US special forces in immediately, not many weeks later. US special forces didn’t get into the area where bin Laden was for two months.… I think we could have had a good chance to get bin Laden, to get the leadership, and wipe the whole organization out if we had gone in immediately and gone after him.” [Good Morning America, 3/22/2004]
A media firestorm follows the previous day’s appearance by former counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke on CBS’s 60 Minutes (see March 21, 2004). In that interview and in his upcoming book, Against All Enemies, Clarke is frank about the administration’s stubborn insistence on tying Iraq to the 9/11 attacks and using those attacks to justify a war it had already begun planning (see Between March 2001 and May 2001). Clarke also gives incendiary information about the repeated warnings Bush and other officials had received about the imminent attacks, warnings which were roundly ignored (see Between August 6 and September 11, 2001 and September 4, 2001). White House communications director Dan Bartlett calls Clarke’s charges “baseless,” and “politically motivated,” without giving any evidence of any such political loyalties or motivations Clarke may have. Clarke refuses to retreat, and reiterates his claims on today’s morning talk shows (see March 22, 2004); the White House sends National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice onto the same shows to refute Clarke. [Rich, 2006, pp. 114-119]
David Hackworth. [Source: Public domain via Flickr]Staff Sgt. Ivan Frederick’s uncle William Lawson sends an e-mail about the abuses and their documentation to the website of retired Col. David Hackworth, stating: “We have contacted the Red Cross, Congress both parties [sic], Bill O’Reilly [a Fox News Channel host] and many others. Nobody wants to touch this.” Within minutes, an associate of Hackworth calls him over the phone. Hackworth, who is described by the New York Times as “a muckraker who was always willing to take on the military establishment,” then puts Lawson in touch with the producers of the CBS news program “60 Minutes II,” who will eventually air the story on Abu Ghraib. Lawson’s efforts to publicize the abuses are motivated by his fear, and that of his brother-in-law, Frederick’s father, that Frederick will take the fall for what they believe involves higher ranking officers and officials. Seventeen members of Congress, however, ignored Lawson’s plea before he contacted Hackworth. “The Army had the opportunity for this not to come out…, but the Army decided to prosecute those six GI’s because they thought me and my family were a bunch of poor, dirt people who could not do anything about it. But unfortunately, that was not the case.” [New York Times, 5/8/2004]
NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw interviews National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. Brokaw criticizes Rice’s refusal to appear publicly before the 9/11 Commission because of “national security concerns” while at the same time appearing on a plethora of news broadcasts to defend the administration’s actions surrounding the 9/11 attacks (see March 30, 2004). Brokaw says: “You’ve been meeting with the Commission in private, but you will not go before this very public meeting, citing separation of powers, executive privilege. But your predecessors have gone before Congress in the past. Even President Ford testified about his pardon of Richard Nixon (see Mid-October 1974). Executive privilege is really a flexible concept. Why not go to the president on this issue that is so profoundly important to America, and say, I should be testifying?” Rice defends her decision not to testify under oath and before the cameras, saying: “I would like nothing better than to be able to testify before the Commission. I have spent more than four hours with the Commission. I’m prepared to go and talk to them again, anywhere, any time, anyplace, privately. But I have to be responsible and to uphold the separation of powers between the executive and the legislature. It is a matter of whether the president can count on good confidential advice from his staff.” Brokaw replies: “Dr. Rice, with all due respect, I think a lot of people are watching this tonight saying, well, if she can appear on television, write commentaries, but she won’t appear before the Commission under oath. It just doesn’t seem to make sense.” Rice reiterates that she is defending “a constitutional principle,” and insists, “We’re not hiding anything.” Author and media critic Frank Rich will later write, “The White House, so often masterly in its TV management, particularly when it came to guarding its 9/11 franchise in an election year, was wildly off its game” during this period. Eventually Rice, unable to defend her refusal to testify in light of her frequent public pronouncements, will agree to testify before the Commission (see April 8, 2004). [Rich, 2006, pp. 114-119]
National Security Council spokesman Jim Wilkinson engages in rather unusual tactics against former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, in response to Clarke’s recent criticisms of the Bush administration’s lack of preparation for the 9/11 attacks (see March 22, 2004 and March 24, 2004). Wilkinson is abetted by CNN news anchor Wolf Blitzer.
'X-Files Stuff' - In the CNN studio, Wilkinson twists a passage from Clarke’s book Against All Enemies, saying: “He’s talking about how he sits back and visualizes chanting by bin Laden and how bin Laden has some sort of mind control over US officials. This is sort of ‘X-Files’ stuff.” [CNN, 3/30/2004] (The precise quote, as reported by the New York Times’s Paul Krugman, is: “Bush handed that enemy precisely what it wanted and needed.… It was as if Osama bin Laden, hidden in some high mountain redoubt, were engaging in long-range mind control of George Bush.” Krugman writes: “That’s not ‘X-Files stuff’: it’s a literary device, meant to emphasize just how ill conceived our policy is. Mr. Blitzer should be telling Mr. Wilkinson to apologize, not rerunning those comments in his own defense.”) [New York Times, 4/2/2004]
'Weird Aspects in His Life' - For his part, Blitzer later says in a question to CNN’s John King: “What administration officials have been saying since the weekend, basically that Richard Clarke from their vantage point was a disgruntled former government official, angry because he didn’t get a certain promotion. He’s got a hot new book out now that he wants to promote. He wants to make a few bucks, and that his own personal life, they’re also suggesting that there are some weird aspects in his life as well, that they don’t know what made this guy come forward and make these accusations against the president.”
CNN Clarification - Blitzer’s use of innuendo (“weird aspects in his life”) from unnamed administration sources causes enough of a backlash that Blitzer issues a “clarification” of his remarks: “I was not referring to anything charged by so-called unnamed White House officials.… I was simply seeking to flesh out what Bush National Security Council spokesman Jim Wilkinson had said on this program two days earlier.… Other than that… White House officials were not talking about Clarke’s personal life in any way.” As author and media critic Frank Rich will point out, Blitzer’s clarification is disingenuous in his implicit denial that his administration sources were anonymous, when in fact they were not. [CNN, 3/30/2004; Rich, 2006, pp. 114-119] (Krugman, who blasted Blitzer in his column, responds to Blitzer’s clarification by writing, “Silly me: I ‘alleged’ that Mr. Blitzer said something because he actually said it, and described ‘so-called unnamed’ officials as unnamed because he didn’t name them.”) [New York Times, 4/2/2004] Blitzer eventually admits that his source was not multiple administration officials, but a single official (whom he refuses to name), and that the “weird aspects” of Clarke’s life were nothing more than his tendency to obsess over terrorist attack scenarios. [CNN, 3/30/2004; Rich, 2006, pp. 114-119]
It is reported that the FBI has closed down their investigation into Saudis Omar al-Bayoumi and Osama Basnan. The Associated Press reports, “The FBI concluded at most the two Saudi men occasionally provided information to their kingdom or helped Saudi visitors settle into the United States, but did so in compliance with Muslim custom of being kind to strangers rather than out of some relationship with Saudi intelligence.” [Associated Press, 3/24/2004] Sen. Bob Graham (D-FL) had cochaired the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry that found considerable evidence tying these two men to two 9/11 hijackers and also to the Saudi government. When he sees this news report, he contacts the FBI and is told the report is not correct and that the investigation into the two men is still ongoing. A month later, FBI Director Robert Mueller tells Graham that the report was correct, and the case has been closed. Graham asks Mueller to speak to the two FBI agents who reached this conclusion and find out why they reached it. He asks that he should be allowed the same access to them that the Associated Press had been given. Both Mueller and Attorney General John Ashcroft refuse to give clearance for the agents to speak to Graham. Graham then writes a letter with Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA), again asking for clarification and the right to meet with the agents. Their request is denied. Graham concludes that this is something it “seems that neither the FBI nor the Bush administration wants the American people to find out about.” [Graham and Nussbaum, 2004, pp. 224-227]
The White House discloses to Fox News that former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke was the anonymous official who gave a background briefing to reporters in August 2002 praising the Bush administration’s record on terrorism (see August 22, 2002). This move, which violates a longstanding confidentiality policy, is made hours before Clarke is to testify to the 9/11 Commission (see March 24, 2004). Clarke recently went public with criticism of the administration (see March 21, 2004) and is being attacked by it (see March 22, 2004 and Shortly After). Author Philip Shenon will comment, “In agreeing to allow Fox News to reveal that Clarke had given the 2002 briefing, the White House was attempting to paint him as a liar—a one-time Bush defender who had become a Bush critic in order to sell a book.” National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice says to the media: “There are two very different stories here. These stories can’t be reconciled.” [Fox News, 3/24/2004; Washington Post, 3/25/2004; Washington Post, 3/26/2004; Shenon, 2008, pp. 280-281]
Opposing Spin? - Shenon will add that in the briefing Clarke was “spin[ning] the facts” in order to try to knock down an article unfavorable to the administration published by Time magazine, although “the spin took him perilously close to dishonesty, albeit the sort of dishonesty practiced every day in official Washington.” Philip Zelikow, the 9/11 Commission’s executive director and a long-term opponent of Clarke (see January 3, 2001 and January 27, 2003), is delighted by the story and tells a Commission staffer that it might be enough to end the Clarke “circus,” adding, “Does it get any better than this?” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 280-281] Later trying a similar line of attack, Republican Senate leader Bill Frist will ask “[i]f [Clarke] lied under oath to the United States Congress” in closed testimony in 2002, and also ask if Clarke is attempting to promote his book. According to media critic Frank Rich, Frist’s credibility is undermined by his use of his Senate status to promote his own book, a virtually worthless primer entitled When Every Moment Counts: What You Need to Know About Bioterrorism from the Senate’s Only Doctor. Frist’s accusation that Clarke revealed classified information in his book falls flat when Clarke notes that the White House vetted his book for possible security transgressions before publication. [Washington Post, 3/27/2004; Rich, 2006, pp. 114-119]
No Evidence of Contradiction - A review of declassified citations from Clarke’s 2002 testimony provides no evidence of contradiction, and White House officials familiar with the testimony agree that any differences are matters of emphasis, not fact. [Washington Post, 4/4/2004]
Former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, lambasted by Bush administration supporters (see March 24, 2004) for his criticism of the administration’s foreign policies (see March 21, 2004 and March 24, 2004), counters some of that criticism by noting that when he resigned from the administration a year earlier, he was highly praised by President Bush (see January 31, 2003).
Differing Characterizations from Administration - On Meet the Press, Clarke reads aloud the handwritten note from Bush that lauds his service, telling host Tim Russert: “This is his writing. This is the president of the United States’ writing. And when they’re engaged in character assassination of me, let’s just remember that on January 31, 2003: ‘Dear Dick, you will be missed. You served our nation with distinction and honor. You have left a positive mark on our government.’ This is not the normal typewritten letter that everybody gets. This is the president’s handwriting. He thinks I served with distinction and honor. The rest of his staff is out there trying to destroy my professional life, trying to destroy my reputation, because I had the temerity to suggest that a policy issue should be discussed. What is the role of the war on terror vis-a-vis the war in Iraq? Did the war in Iraq really hurt the war on terror? Because I suggest we should have a debate on that, I am now being the victim of a taxpayer-paid—because all these people work for the government—character assassination campaign.”
Never Briefed Bush on Terrorism - Clarke also notes that the letter proves he never briefed Bush on terrorism because he was not allowed to provide such a briefing (see Early January 2001). He tells Russert: “You know, they’re saying now that when I was afforded the opportunity to talk to him about cybersecurity, it was my choice. I could have talked about terrorism or cybersecurity. That’s not true. I asked in January to brief him, the president, on terrorism, to give him the same briefing I had given Vice President Cheney, Colin Powell, and [Condoleezza] Rice. And I was told, ‘You can’t do that briefing, Dick, until after the policy development process.’” [MSNBC, 3/28/2004; Salon, 3/29/2004]
Administration Should Declassifiy August 2002 Briefing - Clarke also calls on the administration to declassify “all six hours” of the briefing he gave to top officials in August 2002 about the impending threat of a terrorist attack (see August 22, 2002). The administration has selectively declassified material from that briefing to impugn Clarke’s honesty and integrity. “I would welcome it being declassified,” Clarke says. “But not just a little line here and there—let’s declassify all six hours of my testimony.” He also asks that the administration declassify the strategy reports from 2001 that he authored, and all of his e-mails between January 2001 and September 2001, to prove that the charges laid against him by the administration are false. He calls on the White House to end what he calls the “vicious personal attacks” and “character assassination,” and focus on issues. “The issue is not about me,” he tells a CNN reporter. “The issue is about the president’s performance in the war on terrorism.” [MSNBC, 3/28/2004; CNN, 3/28/2004]
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