- Summer: Senator Bob Graham of the Senate Intelligence Committee requests and receives an analysis of the Iraqi threat from the CIA. He is given a 25-page classified response reflecting the balanced view that had prevailed earlier among the intelligence agencies -- noting, for example, that evidence of an Iraqi nuclear program or a link to al-Qaeda was inconclusive. In September, the committee also receives the DIA's classified analysis, which reflected the same cautious assessments. Later that month, committee members are concerned when they receive a new CIA analysis of the threat that highlights the administration's claims and consigned skepticism to footnotes. One example: the document highlights "extensive Iraqi chem-bio programs and nuclear programs and links to terrorism" but then includes a footnote that reads, "This information comes from a source known to fabricate in the past." A committee staffer concludes, "they didn't do analysis. What they did was they just amassed everything they could that said anything bad about Iraq and put it into a document." Senator Richard Durbin, another member of the committee, will later say, "The most frustrating thing I find is when you have credible evidence on the intelligence committee that is directly contradictory to statements made by the administration." (The New Republic)
- Summer: An unclassified excerpt of a 2002 Defense Intelligence Agency study on Iraq's chemical warfare program states that there is "no reliable information on whether Iraq is producing and stockpiling chemical weapons, or where Iraq has -- or will -- establish its chemical warfare agent production facilities." The report also says, "A substantial amount of Iraq's chemical warfare agents, precursors, munitions, and production equipment were destroyed between 1991 and 1998 as a result of Operation Desert Storm and UNSCOM (United Nations Special Commission) actions." (Carnegie Endowment for Peace/DIA/Center for American Progress)
- Summer: French intelligence begins passing along warnings to the CIA and the Bush administration that there is no credible evidence that Iraq ever attempted to try to buy uranium from Niger. Alain Chouet, the former head of French counterintelligence and a CIA asset, says in December 2005 his agency repeatedly warned the Americans about the bogus allegations, but was rebuffed. "In France, we've always been very careful about both problems of uranium production in Niger and Iraqi attempts to get uranium from Africa," Chouet says in the 2005 interview. "After the first Gulf War, we were very cautious with that problem, as the French government didn't care to be accused of maintaining relations with Saddam in that field." Chouet says his agency, the Direction Generale de la Securite Exterieure, was contacted in the summer of 2001, before the 9/11 attacks, to find out about rumors that Iraq had attempted to purchase uranium in Africa. The French agency was contacted numerous times in 2002 by the Americans, with rising urgency, and Chouet's agency dispatched teams to Niger and other African countries to investigate the claims. "We told the Americans, 'Bullsh*t. It doesn't make any sense,'" says Chouet. When Bush gives his State of the Union address in January 2003, citing a report from the British that Iraq had attempted to purchase uranium in Africa, other French officials are flabbergasted. One government official says that French experts viewed the statement attributed to the British as "totally crazy because, in our view, there was no backup for this." Nonetheless, the French will once again launch an investigation, turning things "upside-down trying to find out what was going on." Once again, no evidence is found except for the forged documents from a suspicious Italian source that are apparently the entire basis for the claims. In June 2003, the CIA will issue the following statement: "since learning that the Iraq-Niger uranium deal was based on false documents earlier this spring, we no longer believe that there is sufficient other reporting to conclude that Iraq pursued uranium from abroad." The Bush administration has never given a clear explanation for the basis of its claims. (Los Angeles Times/After Downing Street, Mother Jones)
- Summer: The Bush administration is forced to admit that its entire range of sunny economic predictions from a few months back are completely wrong. (Every other expert in the country, including the Republican-controlled Congressional Budget Office, already knows this.) Bush's repeated pledges not to fund his tax cuts from Social Security funds are found to be lies; his administration has repeatedly raided Social Security funds without informing the US citizenry. His campaign promises to pay down the federal debt are proven to be lies, with his tax cuts and spending policies jacking the federal debt into the hundreds of millions of dollars for at least the next five years. It is worth noting that the Clinton economic team predicted in 2000 that, if things went as hoped, the US could have been enjoying a $5 trillion surplus by this time. Bush's economic team blames the war on Afghanistan for the spiking deficits, a claim even they know is not true. The bulk of the deficits, along with future deficit forecasts, comes squarely from the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. (Joe Conason)
- Summer: Using the season's unusually large number of wildfires as an excuse, the Bush administration rolls out its "Healthy Forests Initiative," a deceptively named policy that one environmental group calls "a license to steal." The "science" behind the proposals is the "common sense" (Bush's phrasing) idea that, in return for logging companies voluntarily thinning out trees and underbrush near housing developments, they would be allowed to clear-cut large swaths of old-growth trees in previously protected forests. Old-growth trees are exceptionally fire-resistant, and often form the center of a forest's resistance to wildfires. The HFI will also restrict any public input on plans to cut old-growth forests. The initiative is unpopular and fails to pass Congress, but the administration continues to hold HFI for what it deems the proper time for reintroduction; meanwhile, Bush has enacted parts of HFI by executive fiat. One reason why the administration may be so hot on HFI is that the Department of Agriculture's point man on forests, Undersecretary Mark Rey, is a former top official for the American Forest and Paper Association, a logging industry interest group. Rey and other administration officials will speak at a February 2003 meeting in Portland, Oregon, where timber industry leaders will discuss ponying up $275,000 each for a public relations campaign for HFI. In return for their help, the administration is willing to waive the required environmental impact statements, public hearings, and fish and wildlife protections usually required before foresty projects can be enacted. Typically, when this comes to light, the administration will blame bureaucratic inaction and "obstructionist environmentalists" for the public's negative reactions. Bush also brings up the usual bugaboo of "endless litigation" for some of HFI's provisions. In reality, of 762 fire-prevention projects proposed in 2001 and 2002, only 25 were litigated, and 95% of those were adjudicated within 90 days. (Eric Alterman and Mark Green)
- Summer: Bush administration defense advisor Richard Perle, who has repeatedly taken large payments from Saudi Arabians for consulting services, rebukes other former government officials for doing the same: he tells the National Review: "I think it's a disgrace. They're the people who appear on television, they write op-ed pieces. The Saudis are a major source of the problem we face with terrorism. That would be far more obvious to people if it weren't for this community of former diplomats effectively working for this foreign government." Perle has routinely met with potential Saudi investors to solicit funds for his consulting business Trireme; two of those investors say that they understand that Trireme is involved in securing the help of influential Saudis to win lucrative homeland-security contracts with the Saudi royal family for the businesses it financed. One of those investors is the notorious Adnan Khashoggi, who freely admits, "I was the intermediary" between Trireme and the Saudi royals. Khashoggi's colleague and business parter, Saudi industrialist Harb Zuhair, wanted to ensure that he had the ear of officials in the Bush administration for the furtherance of his own political agenda as well as for monetary reasons; Zuhair, a native Iraqi, wanted to use his influence to help bring avoid a US invasion. Perle offered to give Zuhair the political access he wanted in return for a hefty investment in Perle's company. (Seymour Hersh)
- June: National security advisor Condoleezza Rice, in a discussion with a deputy over his doubts about the upcoming Iraqi war, cuts the deputy off by saying, "save your breath. The president has already made up his mind" to invade. The quote is documented in New Yorker reporter George Packer's September 2005 book, The Assassins' Gate. (Mother Jones)
Administration hides its knowledge of burgeoning North Korean nuclear program
- June: The Bush administration is secretly made aware of North Korea's successful attempts to purchase weapons-grade uranium for nuclear weapons in violation of international law and its treaty with South Korea and the US. The CIA, who provides this intelligence in a top-secret National Intelligence Estimate, also shows that one of North Korea's prime sources for this uranium is the US's supposed ally, Pakistan, who has been supplying that country with weapons-grade uranium since 1997. North Korea is in violation of international law, including the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and in violation of treaties with the US and South Korea. (Dr. A.Q. Khan, the premier Pakistani nuclear expert, visited North Korea 13 times in the last decade. He has also paid at least one visit to Iran.) In 1994, the Clinton administration had succeeded in stopping North Korea from reprocessing spent fuel rods into plutonium by providing the regime with economic aid and help in building two light-water nuclear reactors for electricity. By 1997, the North Koreans were using Pakistani technology to reprocess regular uranium into weapons-grade uranium. "Before, they were sneaking," says an American intelligence official, but now "it's off the wall. We know they can do a lot more and a lot more quickly. [The report] points a clear finger at the Pakistanis. The technical stuff is crystal clear -- not hedged and not ambivalent." Pakistan is one of the few countries to deal with the isolationist, globally shunned North Korean regime; Pakistan is a regular and heavy buyer of arms, particularly missiles, from North Korea, in return for nuclear technology, including the 2001 provision of technology and data allowing the North Koreans to begin producing full-blown nuclear weapons, and information on "how to fly under the radar" -- how to hide their research from US satellites and US and South Korean intelligence agents. Because of the Pakistanis, the North Koreans have been able to shave many years off of their timetable for nuclear development. The Bush administration chooses to believe the Pakistanis' protests of innocence: Secretary of State Colin Powell says of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, "I have made clear to him that any...contact between Pakistan and North Korea we believe would be improper, inappropriate, and would have consequences. President Musharraf understands the seriousness of the issue."
- While this is apparently enough for the American press, who let the story fade from the headlines, it does nothing to curb Pakistan's nuclear dealings with North Korea. Instead, the Bush administration has chosen to lift the sanctions previously imposed on Pakistan in return for that country's help in the "war against terror." It has also chosen to turn a blind eye to the Pakistani Atomic Energy Commission's overt sympathies and support for al-Qaeda and other Islamic terrorist groups. "There is an awful lot of al-Qaeda sympathy within Pakistan's nuclear program," says one American intelligence official. A US nonproliferation expert says, "Right now, the most dangerous country in the world is Pakistan. If we're incinerated next week, it'll be because of HEU [highly enriched uranium] that was given to al-Qaeda by Pakistan." Another American intelligence official calls Pakistan's behavior the "worst nightmare" of the international arms-control community: a Third World country becoming an instrument of proliferation. "The West's primary control of nuclear proliferation was based on technology denial and diplomacy. ...Our fear was, first, that a Third World country would develop nuclear weapons indigenously; and, second, that it would then provide the technology to other countries. This is profound. It changes the world. ...The transfer of enrichment technology by Pakistan is a direct outgrowth of the failure of the United States to deal with the Pakistani program when we could have done so [after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, when the US was working closely with Pakistan]. We've lost control."
- Instead of dealing with Pakistan, the Bush administration buries the report; even many senior arms-control officials within the administration know nothing of the report's contents, or that it even exists. "It was held very tightly," says an administration official, who says the information is buried strictly "for political reasons." (As it turns out, the administration has been aware of the program since at least January 2002, when then-undersecretary of state John Bolton warned officials that the North Koreans had a covert nuclear-weapons program and were in violation of the treaty. Though Bolton accused the North Koreans of failing to cooperate with the IAEA's nuclear monitoring program in May, on July 5 Condoleezza Rice, who as national security advisor had undoubtedly received the CIA's report, lies to three congressmen who are urging withholding of funds for two promised North Korean nuclear reactors that the Bush administration will provide the funds to North Korea regardless of their concerns.) Instead of moving to control North Korea's well-documented and increasingly threatening nuclear program, the Bush administration insists on moving towards war with Iraq, who has no documentable nuclear, chemical, nor biological weapons programs. An American intelligence official says, "The Bush doctrine says MAD [mutual assured destruction] will not work for these rogue nations, and therefore we have to pre-empt if negotiations don't work. And the Bush people knew that the North Koreans had already reinvigorated their programs and were more dangerous than Iraq. But they didn't tell anyone. They have bankrupted their own policy -- thus far -- by not doing what their doctrine calls for." North Korea is a fearsome military power in its own right: with more than forty per cent of its population under arms and an especially powerful artillery, with more than 10,000 guns and 2,500 rocket launchers capable of launching 500,000 shells an hour, all positioned within range of Seoul, the capital of South Korea. The Pentagon has estimated that all-out war would result in more than a million military and civilian casualties, including as many as a hundred thousand Americans killed. (The New Yorker, Seymour Hersh)
- June: The Defense Department classifies as secret all test data from the controversial Missile Defense System. Department spokesman Lieutenant General Ronald Kadish says that no more information will be provided to taxpayers, and the American people will just have to trust the DoD to properly oversee the multi-billion-dollar project. "People should have confidence in that," Kadish says. At the same time, Secretary Donald Rumsfeld proposes exempting missile defense spending from Pentagon auditing and accounting rules. (Stephen Pizzo/Daily Misleader)
- Early June: The White House dumps its principal military anti-terrorism official, Deputy National Security Adviser Wayne Downing, over his opposition to a long and destructive air-and-ground campaign in Iraq. Veteran political observers see this as a clear sign that the debate as to whether to invade Iraq or not is over. Those observers also doubt that the Iraq invasion will be hastily advanced to coincide with the November 2002 elections, but rather be timed to have the most positive impact on Bush's re-election chances in 2004. (In These Times)
"Bush Doctrine II"
- June 2: In a speech at West Point, Bush announces the US's new doctrine of "preemptive war." He terms it "unilaterally determined pre-emptive self-defense...against such emerging threats before they are fully formed;" Peter Singer calls it "Bush Doctrine II." "If we wait for threats to fully materialize," Bush says, "we will have waited too long." Bush's speech, which radically redefines US military doctrine, is based on precepts outlined in the National Security Strategy findings of September 2002, which commit the US to spending billions to forcibly dissuade other countries from any military buildup which might place them on a rough par with the United States' own military capabilities, and commits the US to "ridding the world of evil." "We are in a conflict between good and evil, and America will call evil by its name," Bush tells the cadets. Bush ignores the fact that his new policy is in direct and blatant violation of international law (codified as far back as 1837 by Daniel Webster) and the UN Charter.
- The consequences of such a set of policies can only be imagined, but one concrete consequence is the abrupt shift away from focusing on al-Qaeda and Islamic terrorism, and towards Iraq -- the "suddenly Saddam" strategy. Pat Buchanan writes of the speech, "This was breathtaking. Bush was saying to Beijing, Moscow, New Delhi: You may compete with us in trade, but we will not allow you to increase your strength to where it challenges America's power. This Bush declaration -- that we will brook no rival, ever again, that the future is one of permanent American hegemony -- is a gauntlet thrown down to every rival and would-be world power and a chellenge to lesser powers to unite against us. ...If President Bush believes ours is the 'single surviving model of human progress,' and our ideas of freedom 'apply fully to the entire Islamic world,' we are headed for endless wars with an Islamic world where the faith grows militant and peoples are repelled by the social, cultural, and moral decadence they see in America and the West." One Democrat responds, "All of a sudden we're the cowboy who walked into a saloon with a gun, saying 'Get behind me if you're with me or we're gonna shoot you.'" Another Democratic consultant says, "I think this entire discussion was perfectly orchestrated by Karl Rove. He even framed the debate. At the end of the summer they had guys like [James] Baker and [Henry] Kissinger come out and urge a specific approach to dealing with Iraq. Then Bush looks conciliatory by going to the UN and by seeking congressional approval. If he is going to look conciliatory, Karl would much rather it is to Republican voices than Democratic. Suddenly, the debate goes from being about whether we should attack Iraq to one of whether we are going to go it alone. They advanced the issue by skipping over all the important parts."
- Peter Singer asks the provocative question: if Bush asserts that such preemptive military actions are within the rights of the US without restraint from the UN or international law, then do other countries have this same right? Would the US complain if North Korea, reacting to the powerfully belligerent rhetoric of the Bush administration, attacked the United States first, judging that country to be an imminent threat to its security? More objectively, what if, say, Egypt attacked Israel, declaring Israel to be a threat to its statehood? Bush's thoughts on such matters can only be imagined, but he has defended his assertions of the US's right to act unilaterally and preemptively by assuring French prime minister Jacques Chirac that the US would only do so for the best of reasons: "America is a good nation, genuinely good," he says. So, only "good" nations have this right? Or only America? Or is this just another "might makes right" argument? One thing is clear: the upshot of the entire "Bush Doctrine II" is to present the US as the world's one and only global policeman. This is in stark contrast to the "humble" foreign policy he advocated during his 2000 presidential campaign, where he roundly chastized the Clinton administration for its involvement in Kosovo and Haiti, and declared that the US would not indulge in what he called "nation building." So, as is the case so often with Bush: did he lie then, or is he lying now? The question may find something of an answer in the rise of the Cheney-led neoconservatives of the Project for the New American Century within his administration. In May 2001, Bush was praising the moderate and deliberate diplomacy of Colin Powell; by the end of 2002, with war with Iraq coming to the fore, Powell has become virtually a non-entity and the warlike neocons reign supreme. (In These Times, Frank Rich [PDF file], Molly Ivins and Lou Dubose, Pat Buchanan, Moore and Slater, Peter Singer)
- June 4: Bush dismisses a report put out by the Environmental Protection Agency, a report that, surprisingly, endorses the now-proven fact that human-produced greenhouse gases are contributing in a significant way to global warming. The report does not suggest any measures be taken to curb greenhouse emissions besides voluntary action by industry, the same measures suggested by Bush when he unilaterally yanked the US out of the Kyoto Accords in 2001.
- Bush makes his contempt for the EPA's conclusions clear when he answers a question that asks if he has read the report. "I read the report put out by the bureaucracy," he sniffs. He goes on to say that he still opposes the Kyoto treaty.
- The report is the first from an administration source to admit that human activity is mostly responsible for global warming. "The changes observed over the last several decades are likely mostly due to human activities, but we cannot rule out that some significant part of these changes is also a reflection of natural variability," the report says. The report also says that despite some lingering scientific uncertainties, "[t]here is general agreement that the observed warming is real and has been particularly strong within the past 20 years."
- Kalee Kreider, global warming campaign director for the National Environmental Trust, says environmentalists want from the administration a climate change plan that joins with other nations in requiring carbon dioxide emission reductions and increased fuel efficiency requirements for vehicles. "It's good they've done a 180-degree turn on the science. Given the audience, they pretty much had to," she says. "But we're still waiting for a plan that mandates pollution cuts." The White House had previously said there was not enough scientific evidence to blame industrial emissions for global warming. Unbeknownst to Kreider and other environmentalists, Bush and his officials will continue to advocate this position for years to come, even though, as Kreider's colleague Philip Clapp says, the report "undercuts everything the president has said about global warming since he took office." (CBS News)
FBI's Rowley testifies about ignored 9/11 memo
- June 6: FBI agent Colleen Rowley gives damning testimony to Congress about a memo she had written to her superiors about an imminent attack on America by Islamic terrorists, a memo that was roundly ignored. Bush political manager Karl Rove knows that nothing Rowley will say is anything the administration wants heard by the American people, so the day of Rowley's testimony, the White House makes a splashy announcement that it will create a new Department of Homeland Security. The hastily drawn plans for the new department, an idea until very recently opposed by Bush, dominates news coverage and Rowley's testimony goes all but ignored by the mainstream media. (James Moore and Wayne Slater)
Department of Homeland Security created
- June 6: As noted in the previous entry, Bush announces the creation of a new, Cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security with great fanfare. The department will be headed by the chief of the Office of Homeland Security, former GOP governor Tom Ridge. The proposal, created by a small number of senior Bush advisors, essentially co-opts the Hart-Rudman recommendations from 1999 and resisted by Bush until now, as well as co-opts Democratic proposals from before the 9/11 attacks that, until now, faced similar resistance and mocking criticism from government officials and Republican pundits alike. The new Department will consolidate nearly 170,000 federal workers from 22 agencies, including the Coast Guard, the Secret Service, federal security guards in airports, and the Customs Service. The FBI and CIA are purposefully excluded from the new department, in part to draw attention away from the failures of both agencies in predicting the 9/11 attacks as well as give credence to Bush's claims to be working to protect the nation. DHS, as it will become known, will not be up and running until June 2003, and will be chronically underfunded, lacking in basic equipment, and will have only three bioterrorism experts on staff. Throughout the administration, DHS will be considered an ineffective "governmental backwater," and no one with any ambition wants to be a part of it. Worse, workers for DHS do not have the same civil service benefits and job guarantees than workers in other departments, and are prevented from organizing in any labor union or employee representative organizations. During the 2002 elections, Bush will respond to Democratic criticisms of these working conditions by challenging the critics' patriotism, accusing the Democratically-controlled Senate of being "more interested in special interests in Washington and not interested in the security of the American people." On the other hand, DHS is, in the words of the ACLU, "100% secret and 0% accountable." It is protected from FOIA requests, and anyone leaking information from within its purview risks prosecution under a special criminal statute. "We cannot look inside DHS," writes Mark Crispin Miller. "On the other hand, those inside the agency can look into our business anytime they want, and use the state's entire intelligence bureaucracy to do so. ...Thus, DHS itself poses a grave threat of national insecurity." (Eric Alterman and Mark Green, Mark Crispin Miller)
- June 7: Bush's enormous tax cut package, strongly slanted towards rebates and credits for wealthy corporations and individuals, is signed into law. The package grants $1.35 trillion in cuts; Dick Cheney says with satisfaction that the bill is "close to what the president wanted." Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan privately calls the tax cut "irresponsible fiscal policy." (Ron Suskind)
Arrest and incarceration of Jose Padilla
- June 10: The Justice Department announces the arrest of American citizen and former Chicago gang member Jose Padilla, also named Abdullah al-Mujahir, claiming that he was part of an al-Qaeda plot to detonate a radioactive "dirty bomb" in a US city. Supposedly Padilla was scouting bomb targets when arrested (the evidence of Padilla's intent is composed of some Internet searches Padilla made, and the so-called "plot" is derived from jailhouse conversations with fellow US prisoner Abu Zubaydah after his arrest). Padilla is held as an "enemy combatant," allowing him to be held indefinitely. Almost immediately, doubts grow about this story. The London Times says that it is "beyond dispute" that the timing of the announcement of his arrest was "politically inspired." Padilla was actually arrested a month earlier, on May 8, on a "material arrest" warrant that claimed he was a witness to the crimes committed by al-Qaeda terrorists on 9/11, but the arrest was withheld from the public while Defense Secretary Rumsfeld made media hay by raising the specter of supposed al-Qaeda attacks while not revealing that the suspect in these attacks is already in custody. It is widely believed that Ashcroft made the arrest announcement "only to divert attention from Intelligence Committee inquiries into the FBI and CIA handling of 9/11." Being a material witness, Padilla was assigned a lawyer, who challenged his client's detention; the court hearing for that detention was set for June 11. On June 9, Bush issued a presidential order designating Padilla as an "enemy combatant." Padilla's lawyer is removed from the case and Padilla is incarcerated. Meanwhile, Ashcroft tells the public that Padilla is a proven al-Qaeda agent and part of a conspiracy to build a bomb that would disperse radioactive material. Ashcroft claims that Padilla's arrest disrupted an "ongoing terrorist plot." Bush, who publicly explains Padilla's detention by saying "This guy Padilla is a bad guy," soon privately chastises Ashcroft for overstating claims about Padilla. The government attorneys apparently could not get an indictment out of a New York grand jury and, rather than let him go, made Padilla an enemy combatant.
- It later comes out that the FBI found no evidence that he was preparing a dirty bomb attack and little evidence to suggest that he had any support from al-Qaeda, or any ties to al-Qaeda cells in the US. Yet the Justice Department maintains that its view of Padilla "remains unchanged," and that he is a "serious and continuing threat." Because Padilla is a US citizen, he cannot be tried in a military court, so apparently he will simply be held indefinitely. It is pointed out that any American could be declared an enemy combatant and never tried or have that status questioned. The Washington Post says, "If that's the case, nobody's constitutional rights are safe." Despite the evidence that Padilla's case is grossly overstated, the government continues to refuse to allow him access to a lawyer. The ACLU will challenge Padilla's detention without charge or representation, arguing that it violates his Fifth Amendment rights to due process, and that the executive branch has no authority to detain citizens -- in fact, Congress has specifically prohibited such detention. (CCR, Paul Waldman, Eric Alterman and Mark Green, Peter Singer)
- June 10: The right-wing Heritage Foundation sounds the alert over the threat to civil liberties posed by proposed legislation under the rubric Model State Emergency Health Powers Act, an act released in October 2001. Although the Heritage writer, Sue Blevins, attempts to pin some of the blame for the MSEHPA on the Clinton administration by noting that a lawyer who worked on the legislation had worked previously on the Clinton Health Care Task Force, and positing that the legislation is an outgrowth of a "long-term agenda" that predates 9/11, it is indisputable that the legislation was written and promoted by the Bush administration's Department of Health and Human Services. The goal of the act is to provide federal funds to states to encourage the enactment of legislation to prevent and detect bioterrorist attacks. Laudable and innocent on its face, but the MSEHPA has far-reaching implications for civil liberties that are not immediately apparent. The act calls for giving state public health officials broad, new police powers, all in the name of controlling epidemics of infectious diseases during public health emergencies. The legislation also defines "infectious disease" as "a disease caused by a living organism." As drafted, the October 23, 2001, proposal stresses that "an infectious disease may or may not be transmissible from person to person, animal to person or insect to person." Thus, any disease caused by a living organism could be classified as an infectious disease creating or invoking a public health emergency. This gives the government a tremendous amount of latitude in declaring a "public health emergency" and deciding what measures should be taken. Under this legislative proposal, once a public health emergency is declared, governors and state public health authorities would be granted greatly expanded police powers. These include the power to:
Citizens across the political divide have set up a wave of protests about the model legislation; anti-gun control activists and AIDS activists (who fear that AIDS patients could be incarcerated under the legislation) were among the loudest in voicing their objections. The Association of American Physicians and Surgeons warned that the legislation "could turn governors into dictators." Conservative activist and former John Birch Society member Phyllis Schlafly calls it "an unprecedented assault on the Constitutional rights of the American people." Laurence Gostin, the lawyer who primarily developed the legislation, and his colleagues do not see it that way, writing that "individuals should be required to yield some of their autonomy, liberty, or property to protect the health and security of the community." George Annas, a lawyer at the Boston University School of Public Health and the MSEHPA's leading critic, is brutal in his assessment: "The Model Act seems to have been drafted for a different age; it is more appropriate for the United States of the 19th century than for the United States of the 21st century." Annas notes that the law is blatantly unconstitutional. The bill was revised on December 21, 2001, changing some of the more authoritarian language in the October draft, including revising the phrase "controlling" citizens to "protecting" citizens during a public health emergency. It also says that the state would "manage" private property rather than "control" private property during a public health emergency. And it removes any direct mention of rationing firearms or alcoholic beverages but still retains the right to ration "other commodities," which clearly could be interpreted to include guns and alcoholic beverages, or just about anything else. Insidiously, the revision actually broadens the police powers granted to include local governments as well as state officials, and includes powers over medical licensing laws, designed to force medical professionals to abide by additional licensure requirements during a public health emergency to maintain or guarantee their right to practice medicine or run a health care business. Doctors would be required to administer medical practices that they might object to. Patients would be denied the right to refuse treatment.
- Force individuals suspected of harboring an "infectious disease" to undergo medical examinations
- Track and share an individual's personal health information, including genetic information
- Force persons to be vaccinated, treated, or quarantined for infectious diseases; those who refuse can be imprisoned
- Mandate that all health care providers report all cases of persons who harbor any illness or health condition that may be caused by an epidemic or an infectious agent and might pose a "substantial risk" to a "significant number of people or cause a long-term disability." (Neither "substantial risk" nor "significant number" are defined in the draft.)
- Order doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and all other medical personnel to treat people, their own judgement notwithstanding
- Force pharmacists to report any unusual or any increased prescription rates that may be caused by epidemic diseases
- Preempt existing state laws, rules and regulations, including those relating to privacy, medical licensure, and property rights
- Control public and private property during a public health emergency, including pharmaceutical manufacturing plants, nursing homes, other health care facilities, and communications devices
- Mobilize all or any part of the "organized militia into service to the state to help enforce the state's orders"
- Ration firearms, explosives, food, fuel and alcoholic beverages, among other commodities
- Incarcerate citizens who refuse the orders of public health officials
- To restrict and forbid travel
- Commandeer private property, without compensation, including food, medicine, mortuaries, and anything else the governor sees fit
- Take control of broadcasting and communications facilities
- Immunize any person following his orders from any liability for their actions, even if they were acting outside the scope of the law, or negligently
- Impose fines and penalties to enforce their orders
- Several states have proposed their own versions of the legislation. Three -- New Mexico, South Dakota, and Utah -- have passed versions of the act. Four other states -- Idaho, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming -- have defeated or inactivated their versions of the act. Blevins writes, "I believe -- and believe it should be evident to you -- that this model plan, if enacted throughout the states, would indeed do just that: eliminate our freedom to choose our medical care and health treatment and potentially eliminate a broader range of our basic civil liberties." Though the legislation has not been widely accepted, it is still under consideration in 2006. (Heritage Foundation, Wikipedia, Joe Conason and Gene Lyons)
- June 11: The Bush administration asks Congress to raise the ceiling on the national debt. House Republicans, loathe to admit that their tax cuts have wrought havoc on the American economy, initially resist the request; meanwhile in the Senate, Republican Phil Gramm proposes the permanent elimination of the federal estate tax, a measure that, if enacted, will save America's wealthiest families at least $100 billion over 10 years, monies that will have to be made up by the lower rungs of the American taxpayers. Along with the proposal to raise the debt ceiling, and a backhanded acknowledgement that the first round of Bush tax cuts did not, after all, stimulate the economy, the Bush adminstration promises that yet another round of tax cuts skewed towards the wealthy will do the trick this time. The second round of tax cuts feature the elimination of dividend taxation, which will do little except give huge tax windfalls to wealthy stock market speculators and blow huge holes in the already-reeling US economy, along with raising the interest rates on bonds issued by states and cities, who are already suffering from the worst economic conditions in decades. (Joe Conason)
- June 11: A coal mine collapses in Kiskiminetas Township north of Pittsburgh, killing one miner and trapping nine others. Intensive rescue efforts eventually free the trapped miners. On August 5, Bush visits the site to have his picture taken with the freed miners, and touts the rescue as a shining example of the American spirit, saying that their rescue "show[s] our fellow citizens that by serving something greater than yourself is an important part of being American." What Bush fails to note is that because of a dearth of federal funding, the miners lacked proper maps, and their employer routinely failed to observe federal safety regulations without being caught by overworked safety inspectors. Had the safety procedures been followed, the mine would have never collapsed in the first place. Shortly before the collapse, Bush cut the budget for the Mine Safety and Health Administration. He also fails to note that the successful rescue was a direct result of federal and state government employees doing the jobs they are (under)paid to do. Paul Waldman writes, "When you're trapped in a mine shaft, you don't wait for the invisible hand of the market to come down and fish you out -- you call the government. They don't ask whether you have insurance before they come get you; they just do it because government is there to serve its citizens. Every one of the police officers and firefighters hailed as the heroes of September 11 was a government employee doing his or her job." Bush has already named a coal industry executive to oversee mining safety and health, an official who boasts of slashing Clinton-era safety regulations. The mine accident that nearly killed those miners standing beside Bush during his speech would likely not have happened if more stringent safety regulations were in place; instead, Bush's administration is determined to cut those regulations even more. (ABC, Joe Conason, Paul Waldman)
Bush and Russia both abandon START II nuclear reduction treaty after Bush withdraws from ABM treaty and refuses to push for START extension ratification
- June 13: The Bush administration officially withdraws from the 30-year old Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with Russia. Bush also withdraws from the START II missile reduction agreement, in force for nearly a decade; a stunned and angry Russia follows suit. (Arms Control Association, Molly Ivins and Lou Dubose)
- June 13: Several Congressmen submit a list of 50 questions to Attorney General Ashcroft, asking him how the Patriot Act is being implemented. For instance, they ask, "How many times has the department requested records from libraries, bookstores and newspapers? How many roving wiretaps has the department requested?" Ashcroft refuses to answer many of the questions, even though he is legally required to do so. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy fails to receive any response to dozens of letters he writes to Ashcroft, and other senators complain of a complete stonewall. In March 2003, senators continue to complain that Ashcroft still has not provided the oversight information about the Patriot Act that he is required to give by law. (CCR)
Proof of GOP's intention to use 9/11 as an election strategy found
- June 13: The administration admits that a floppy disk found in Lafayette Park, Washington DC, contains a real PowerPoint presentation by Bush advisor Karl Rove detailing strategies for winning the 2002 Congressional elections. Rove endures heavy criticism for suggesting that war and terrorism are issues that will play well with the Republican electorate and should be used as such. Even staunch Bush supporters are taken aback with the naked audacity of the recommendations that the war on terrorism be used for such blatant political purposes. Interestingly enough, it is shortly after the discovery of the "Lafayette Park Manifesto" that Rove shifts tactics and recommends that the Bush administration refocus its "war on terrorism" away from Osama bin Laden and on Saddam Hussein and Iraq, in light of the failure to catch bin Laden and the neoconservative agenda towards Iraq espoused by, among others, Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz. A veteran political operative says later, "What if we haven't avenged the Twin Towers? How do the president and Rove not suffer from that? And it was starting to look like we couldn't win the war on terrorism. Rather than lose that war, we redefine that war. Suddenly it wasn't the people who were terrorists who killed us. It was evil itself. They can apply that to anyone they want, Tom Daschle or Hussein." Democratic consultant Jason Stanford says that the Democrats were caught off guard by the new approach: "It was just brilliant. They figured out real soon that Osama was going to be a hard guy to go and get. He can hide in a cave, right? So, what do they do? They just picked a war they could win. Hey, we can't take over a country that doesn't exist, so fine, we'll go take over some country. We can't invade al-Qaeda. We can't occupy it. We can't even find it. Okay. Fine. But we do know where Baghdad is. We've got a map. We can find it on a map. And they've got oil and an evil guy. So let's go there. They never stop and say that. But they know it's what they are doing. It has to be the most evil political calculation in American history." (New York Times, Moore and Slater)
- June 13: In a speech to a conference of business leaders, Dick Cheney and Karl Rove declare that the war on terror justifies the repeal of the estate tax, the tax that prevents fabulously wealthy families from hoarding the entirety of their wealth from generation to generation. Rove says, "This is war, and we need to make an ongoing commitment to winning the effort to repeal the death tax." Like others in the administration, Rove insists on misnaming the estate tax the "death tax." Rove and others also insist on hawking fraudulent data that shows small family farms will be the main beneficiaries of a repeal on the estate tax; not one family farm can be found that will gain from the repeal, but dozens of the wealthiest American families have pushed for the repeal for years. (USA Today, Molly Ivins and Lou Dubose)
"I just want you to know that, when we talk about war, we're really talking about peace." -- George W. Bush, June 18, 2002
- June 19: In its effort to defend its decision to allow the Army Corps of Engineers to dump two hundred pounds of toxic sludge into the Potomac River in violation of the Clear Water Act, Bush's EPA argues that toxic waste in the river is actually good for fish: the agency argues that the toxic waste will force fish to swim upstream, allowing them to escape from fishermen. The inanity of the argument is only outshone by the fact that the agency charged with protecting America's environment is actually arguing in favor of dumping toxic sludge. (Paul Waldman)
- June 20: The long-awaited loya jirga, or grand council, is concluded in Afghanistan. This council was supposed to be a traditional method for the Afghan people to select their leaders, but the council is clearly rigged (as an important think tank later concludes); journalist Seymour Hersh calls it "carefully orchestrated." Half of the delegates walk out in protest. One delegate states, "This is worse than our worst expectations. The warlords have been promoted and the professionals kicked out. Who calls this democracy?" Delegates complain, "This is interference by foreign countries," obviously meaning the US. The New York Times observes that the "very forces responsible for countless brutalities" in past governments are back in power. These are the same warlords that have controlled the drug trade for years. Many participants believe that the US orchestrated the selection of Hamid Karzai at a US-conducted conference in Bonn, Germany, before the council ever began. (CCR, Seymour Hersh)
- June 21: A classified CIA assessment entitled "Iraq and al-Qaeda: Interpreting a Murky Relationship," says that there are "many critical gaps" in US knowledge of whatever links between the two that may or may not exist, and blames "limited reporting" and "the questionable reliability of our sources" on the information deficit. It states that it cannot verify with any accuracy whether or not 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta ever met with an Iraqi intelligence agent, as has been claimed by many Bush officials, and says that there is no clear evidence that Iraq has, or is trying to obtain, any kind of weapons of mass destruction. (Frank Rich [PDF file])
US withdraws from Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations
- June 24: Bush withdraws the US from peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine. He will later reveal an amazingly inept and unworkable "road map to peace" to bring peace to the region, a set of policies and initiatives that are contradictory, unrealistic, and never taken seriously by any participants in the negotiations. (Molly Ivins and Lou Dubose)
- June 25: Communications giant WorldCom announces that it had incorrectly accounted for $3.8 billion in supposed profits, a number that will spiral to over $11 billion. In July, the company will declare bankruptcy; the declaration, combined with the scandals swirling around Enron, Tyco, Global Crossing, and others, will send the stock market into a full-blown collapse. WorldCom, like Enron and Harken Oil, employs accounting firm Arthur Andersen to handle its books; Andersen accountants are later convicted of massive accounting fraud. (WSWS)
- June 25: Ann Coulter's latest polemic, Slander: Liberal Lies About the American Right, is published with great fanfare by Crown. The book, whose factual content has been roundly debunked from cover to cover by a cottage industry of fact-checkers and critics, was originally slated to be published in 2001 by HarperCollins, the publishing giant owned by conservative media maven Rupert Murdoch. The book's publication is cancelled after Coulter's editor unexpectedly dies, and a committee of editors can't bring themselves to stand behind such a farrago of badly sourced lies and distortions. A few months later, Crown Publishers buy the book. Crown is considered a "liberal" publishing outlet by some, but most tellingly, is owned by German media consortium Bertelsmann. Coulter has already been dropped from the pages of the conservative National Review for her column after 9/11 advocating the slaughter and forced "Christianization" of the world's Muslims; Coulter responded by labeling the editorial staff as "girly boys." After her book is pushed to the top of the best-seller lists largely by bulk purchases from right-wing organizations, Coulter takes to the talk-show circuit to bemoan, in Joe Conason's words, "the squelching of innocent conservatives by scheming liberals." Most mainstream book reviewers treat Coulter's book quite gently; the New York Times' Janet Maslin mildly criticizes its "insult slinging" and "sarcastic overkill," but fails, like most reviewers, to catch the most egregrious errors that litter Coulter's pages. One of the most obvious, especially to the Times, is Coulter's angry insistence that the newspaper failed to mention the death of NASCAR racing legend Dale Earnhardt for two days after the accident that killed him. In reality, the Times ran a Page One story on Earnhardt's tragic death the day after the accident. (Coulter insists for months that she had made no mistake, but after being cornered by a legion of critics, she will correct it in subsequent editions, and continue denying the error.) The Los Angeles Times runs a favorable review of the book by Andrew Malcolm, who fails to inform readers that he is the former deputy communications chief for the Bush-Cheney 2000 campaign. As with Coulter's other books, a cottage industry will spring up pointing out the appalling number of inaccuracies, sloppy reporting, and outright lies Coulter promulgates in the pages of Slander.
- In his book Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them, Al Franken cites one of his personal favorites from the Coulter compendium of factually inaccurate slurs in her book. Coulter writes that Newsweek investigative journalist and Washington bureau chief Evan Thomas "is the son of Norman Thomas, a four-time Socialist candidate for president." Not only was Norman Thomas the Socialist candidate for president six times, not four, but Evan Thomas is not Norman Thomas's son (he is his grandson). (When Franken called Evan Thomas to confirm Thomas's parentage, Thomas asked, "[I]s this about that Ann Coulter thing? ...I heard about that. Is something wrong with her?" Franken also cites a Coulter smear on the New York Times where she says the Times accused the Nazis of drawing on Christian traditions; in reality, the line comes from a quote from a book that the Times reviewed. In the same paragraph, Coulter accuses the Times of stating that the Catholic Church is "co-responsible" for the Holocaust; again, the quote -- actually a quote of a quote -- comes from a critic of the Church, not the Times itself. The Times article also quotes a Jewish writer as crediting Pope Pius for saving the lives of 750,000 Jews. (Joe Conason, Al Franken)
"Even Islamic terrorists don't hate America like liberals do." -- Ann Coulter, Slander
"Democrats actually hate working-class people." -- Ann Coulter, Slander
"Instead of actual debate about ideas and issues with real consequences, the country is trapped in a political discourse that resembles professional wrestling." -- Ann Coulter, Slander
Chalabi's INC admits planting over 100 stories in the media
- June 26: Entifadh Qanbar, a spokesman for Ahmad Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress, submits a classified memo to Congress listing at least 108 stories planted in the US and British media as part of an INC operation called the "Information Collection Program." The ICP was an effort to shape media opinion, and by extension American and British foreign policy, towards INC goals by, in large part, planting bogus and false information in the press. The 108 stories ran between October 2001 and the end of May 2002, a period when the INC was laboring mightily to make sure that America's burgeoning "war on terror" extended to an overthrow of Saddam Hussein. About a quarter of the articles have little to do with the INC's agenda of promoting the ouster of Saddam Hussein; some even raise questions about evidence supplied by the INC. The balance of the stories, however, advanced almost every claim that would eventually become the backbone of the Bush administration's case for war, including Saddam Hussein's contacts with al-Qaeda, his attempts to develop nuclear weapons, and his extensive chemical and bioweapons facilities -- all of which are now in grave doubt. Similar stories appeared earlier and later, but this nine-month period following the terrorist attacks of 9/11 was crucial in creating the perception that the Iraqi dictator was a grave threat to the US. "The INC's agenda was to get us into a war," says Helen Kennedy, a reporter for the New York Daily News, whose name appears on the list. "The really damaging stories all came from those guys, not the CIA. They did a really sophisticated job of getting it out there."
- The most prominent reporter on the list is the New York Times' Judith Miller, who printed dozens of stories based on ICP information. But Miller and the Times are hardly the only press outlets to run ICP-based stories; the list also includes the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Time, Newsweek, the Atlantic Monthly, 60 Minutes, USA Today, the New York Daily News, UPI, and Fox News. It also contains numerous stories from the British press. "I think something that hasn't gotten a lot of attention is how [the INC] used the British press to plant a lot of this stuff, some of it pretty outlandish," says Robert Drogin of the Los Angeles Times, who reported extensively on Iraq before the war. "The American media has big questions to ask itself," says Jamie Dettmer, a former foreign correspondent for the London Times and a columnist for the Washington Times. "I've been utterly appalled by the lack of skepticism about this entire Iraq project and the war on terrorism" in the press, he says. When informed that his name is on the list, Dettmer shouts, "Complete bollocks!" Christopher Hitchens, the conservative iconoclast columnist, also appears on the list. Though Hitchens was and remains an avid supporter of the INC and Chalabi in his writings for Vanity Fair, Slate, and other publications, he insists he shouldn't be on the list. "As soon as I found out," he says, "I wrote a friend at the INC to say 'What the f*ck is this?'" Hitchens says he rarely used INC-supplied defectors as sources, and never for WMD stories. Mark Bowden, national correspondent for the Atlantic, and author of the best-selling book Black Hawk Down, had a similar reaction. Bowden acknowledges using the INC to locate defectors for his May 2002 Atlantic piece "Tales of the Tyrant," but notes that his story had nothing to do with WMD or secret terror camps. In fact, Bowden says he actively rebuffed attempts by INC people to steer his story in that direction. "It was very obvious they were selling something," Bowden says, "and I wasn't particularly interested in what they were selling." Bowden says he has no reason to question the lurid stories told to him by INC-supplied defectors about Saddam Hussein's cruelty, but he adds that "to the extent it makes it appear I was duped in some way by the INC, I don't like being on that list and I don't think that's true."
- The Columbia Journalism Review has analyzed the stories and reports that the ICP succeeded in heavily influencing coverage in the Western press in the run-up to the war. A report issued by the Defense Intelligence Agency last fall concluded that almost all the information given to the government through the ICP and its roster of defectors before the war was useless, but nonetheless the information received prominent play in US newspapers, magazines, and television newscasts. When Qanbar is asked about the program's influence on the media before the war, he replies, "We did not provide information. We provided defectors. We take no position on them. It's up to you reporters to decide if they are credible or not."
- The roots of the Information Collection Program lie in the 1998 Iraq Liberation Act, in which the US authorized $97 million for various programs designed to promote "democratic reforms" in the country. Chalabi and his conservative allies in Congress played a central role in the passage of the act. By that time, Chalabi's INC, which was formed with American sponsorship after the first Gulf War, had already established something of a spotty record with the CIA and the State Department. Nonetheless, over the next two years $35 million went to seven opposition groups, with about $17.3 million of that going to the INC; in all, the INC would receive about $33 million from the government between March 2000 and May 2003. According to a State Department audit, the initial grants were intended to help the INC establish radio and television broadcasts into Iraq, and to "implement a public information campaign to communicate with Iraqis inside and outside Iraq and also to promulgate its message to the international community at large." According to a March letter from Senators Carl Levin and John Kerry asking the General Accounting Office to investigate the INC, the terms of the group's agreement with the State Department strictly barred the INC from "attempting to influence the policies of the United States government or Congress, or propagandizing the American people." The letter asks the GAO to determine if any taxpayer funds were used to obtain media exposure for defectors or to transport them to meetings with American journalists. Laura Kopelson, a GAO spokeswoman, said the agency would examine the charges as part of a larger investigation into government spending on Iraq, which would get under way this summer.
- One of the first uses for the Iraq Liberation Act funds was to hire the giant public relations firm Burson-Marsteller. Ken Rietz, Burson-Marsteller's chief operating officer, said the firm represented the INC for about three years, with the contract discontinued in July 2003. Rietz described the work as setting up meetings with journalists and talking with members of the media on behalf of the INC. It is obvious that the prime objective of the INC was to influence media coverage of Iraq and the war on terror.
- The US State Department never placed much trust in the INC, and was extremely skeptical of the ICP. "We agreed to it with a great deal of reluctance and put in as many safeguards as we could," says State's Alan Kieswetter. The INC claimed the program was to develop information for their broadcasting and publishing ventures, but Kieswetter said he viewed that as a fig leaf. "I think everyone always assumed that [the ICP] was far broader than that." Given the covert nature of the program, he recommended that it be transferred out of the State Department. "We aren't really in the intelligence business," says Kieswetter. The State Department also had difficulty tracking how ICP money was being used. In May 2002, State dropped funding for the program. By this time, Democrats on the Senate Appropriations Committee were involved. The committee's Patrick Leahy, then the chairman, put the INC's money on hold and asked the subcommittee on foreign operations to thoroughly review the INC. The committee's staff held a series of meetings with Chalabi, Qanbar, and other INC operatives, asking about the specific purpose of the information program and how the money was being used. According to people involved in those meetings, the answers were vague. The program was supposed to beam news into Iraq through its "Liberty TV" network, for example, but it was unclear if the signal could be picked up inside the country. The program also put out an opposition newspaper, Al Mutamar, but it wasn't available inside Iraq except on the Internet.
- The most controversial part of the Information Collection Program was its intelligence-gathering operation. Senate investigators were told by people in the State Department that the INC was handing out cash in the field and saying it couldn't account for the money because there were "no receipts" in intelligence work. "This was clearly an ill-conceived, poorly managed program that received money largely because of its political connections," says Tim Rieser, the minority clerk for the Foreign Operations subcommittee. "The Congress is responsible for the money and our question was 'What are we getting for that money?'" In response, on June 26, Qanbar submits his lengthy confidential memorandum to the Foreign Operations subcommittee describing the purpose and practices of the Information Collection Program. The program, the memo states, was "designed to collect, analyze, and disseminate" information from Iraq. "Defectors, reports, and raw intelligence are cultivated and analyzed and the results are reported through the INC newspaper, the Arabic and Western media, and to appropriate governmental, nongovernmental, and international agencies." Specifically, the memo continued, ICP information was given to William Luti, deputy assistant secretary of defense, and John Hannah, special assistant for national security for Vice President Dick Cheney. The memo contains their direct phone numbers. It also includes "a summary of ICP product cited in major English-language news outlets." This was the list of 108 stories.
- After the memo's existence is first reported by Newsweek in December, both Luti and Hannah will deny receiving defector intelligence from the ICP. Allen Kieswetter recalls things differently: he notes that during his tenure at Near Eastern Affairs both Luti and Hannah sat in on meetings between State and the INC. Qanbar says he merely signed off on the list, but it was prepared by Aras Karim Habib, an INC agent who is currently missing after dodging a warrant for his arrest. Habib is charged with spying for Iran. Many reporters are upset that they may have been fed false information by an Iranian spy, information that helped lead the US to war. "I'd be shocked and completely horrified if Aras was working for Iranian intelligence," says David Rose, who wrote several pieces for Vanity Fair about Iraq's weapons program in which he used INC defectors as sources. "I knew INC had connections to Iran but if they were on the Iranian payroll I'll be completely smackered."
- Michael Isikoff from Newsweek remembers going to a dinner that fall hosted by Francis Brooke, a longtime Chalabi aide, at Kincaids, a Washington restaurant. The purpose, apparently, was to introduce Isikoff to Sabah Khalifa Khodada, an Iraqi army defector who claimed to know about a secret training camp near Salman Pak, twenty miles south of Baghdad, where Hussein was training Islamic extremists. [The function of the camp has never been confirmed to have anything to do with terrorist training.] "It was me, Brooke, and about nine Iraqis," Isikoff recalls. "The defector didn't speak English and I really didn't know what to make of the whole thing or have any way to evaluate the story so I didn't write about it." But reporters at the Washington Post did, publishing an October 12, 2001 story about the camp written by associate editor and chief foreign correspondent Jim Hoagland. Titled "What About Iraq?," it is the first article on the ICP list. In it Hoagland described "accumulating evidence of Iraq's role in sponsoring the development on its soil of weapons and techniques for international terrorism." The piece featured the interview with Khodada and also used information sourced to a second INC defector, an ex-Iraqi intelligence officer holed up in Ankara, Turkey, who claimed Islamists were trained for hijackings on a Boeing 707 parked at the Salman Pak camp. Hoagland concluded by criticizing the CIA for not pursuing a possible Iraq connection to the 9/11 attack. Hoagland now backs off on supporting the story, claiming it is merely an opinion piece and saying that the piece clearly notes that no definitive proof tying Hussein to 9/11 is presented. "It basically raised the question of whether the intelligence agencies should listen to these people," Hoagland argues.
- The consensus view now is that the camp was what Iraq told UN weapons inspectors it was -- a counterterrorism training camp for army commandos. Drogin of the Los Angeles Times says that the CIA never believed that terrorists were trained at the camp, and that there is no evidence they were. He notes that a 2002 White House white paper attributed all information about foreign terrorists training at Salman Pak to secondary sources. "If they attribute it to someone else," Drogin says, "it means they really don't think it's true. No one will put their credibility on the line for it." Knight Ridder's Landay, who has also looked into Salman Pak, says his sources don't find it credible that Hussein was engaged in terrorism training. "Why would Saddam run a training camp for Islamic terrorists involving hijacking planes and trains in full view of American satellites and spy planes?" Landay says. "And why would terrorists go there when they had the same kind of camps in Afghanistan?" Nevertheless, the Salman Pak story became a media bombshell.
- Shortly after Hoagland's piece, the New York Times publishes a front-page article citing INC-supplied defectors including Khodada; the Ankara-based defector (later identified in other stories as Abu Zeinab al-Qurairy, a former Iraqi general and senior officer in the Mukhabarat, the Iraqi intelligence service). The two intelligence officers in the story spoke of groups of forty to fifty Islamic militants being trained in the camp at a time, performing drills on how to hijack a plane without using weapons. The two defectors also told of a guarded compound within Salman Pak where a German scientist was producing biological weapons. The article included several caveats about the information, but noted that such stories would probably fuel "an intense debate in Washington over whether to extend the war against Osama bin Laden and the Taliban government of Afghanistan to include Iraq." The article played directly into the hands of the INC's and the Bush administration's push for war with Iraq. The Times' Chris Hedges, the author of the story, uses his defector-provided information to assist in a joint Times/PBS project for Frontline, which produced a documentary called "Gunning for Saddam." The documentary retells the Salman Pak allegations, and is based on information provided by INC defectors during meetings in London and Beirut. "They were very present, shepherding and arranging things," Hedges recalls. He is "pretty certain" that the person in charge of the meetings was the now-wanted Aras Habib. "We tried to vet the defectors and we didn't get anything out of Washington that said 'these guys are full of sh*t.'" Fellow Times reporter Lowell Bergman says the stories came about as part of a post-9/11 effort by Frontline to update all the documentaries about Saddam Hussein, al-Qaeda, and Saudi Arabia. "The people involved appeared credible and we had no way of getting into Iraq ourselves," he says. He, too, notes that both the Times pieces and the Frontline documentary stated clearly that the INC had supplied the defectors. "We did the best we could do at the time, but a lot of questions remain unanswered and are worth more reporting."
- Two or three times a year during his stint in Paris, Hedges says he got calls from the Times asking him to check out INC defector stories. "Chalabi would say something to New York and the next thing I know I'm on a train heading for London," Hedges says. He had known Chalabi for more than a decade, Hedges adds, but never trusted him. "I thought he was unreliable and corrupt, but just because someone is a sleazebag doesn't mean he might not know something or that everything he says is wrong." One story that set off warning bells for him, Hedges says, was Chalabi's attempt to push a story about the 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta's meeting with Iraqi intelligence agents in Prague, a story used extensively by Dick Cheney to "prove" the Hussein/al-Qaeda link. The meeting, which received wide play in the media, was later dismissed by the CIA as fiction. "Chalabi pushed really hard but I just didn't buy it," Hedges says. Chalabi seemed to have an "endless stable" of defectors to talk with reporters, he adds. "He had defectors for any story you wanted. He tried to introduce me to this guy who said he knew about Iraqi spies on the UN inspection teams: the guy was a thug. I didn't trust either of them."
- The INC was instrumental in planting the idea that Hussein was on the verge of developing nuclear weapons. Judith Miller's front-page story for the New York Times for December 20, 2001 headlined "Iraqi Tells of Renovations at Sites for Chemical and Nuclear Arms" was based on a meeting between INC defector Adnan Ihsan Saeed Al-Haideri, an Iraqi civil engineer who claimed to have visited at least 20 secret weapons sites. Miller met with Al-Haideri in Baghdad; like many other INC defectors, Miller and other members of the press were granted access to the defectors even before US intelligence could speak with them, effectively ensuring that their stories would hit the press without benefit of review or confirmation by intelligence analysis. Miller and others who worked on the story say now that the information provided was viewed with a great deal of skepticism, and that the piece was loaded with caveats. "I guess the question you get to is whether you should run such pieces at all," says former Times editor Stephen Engelberg. "We decided to qualify it and let the readers decide." None of the weapons sites -- which Al-Haideri claimed were located beneath hospitals and behind palaces -- have ever been located. Miller's Al-Haideri story ricocheted through America and the world. In the days following her report, news outlets around the world picked up the story, broadcasting Al-Haideri's tale, largely without the qualifiers that appeared in Miller's piece. The Defense Intelligence Agency later termed his information worthless.
- CBS's 60 Minutes broadcast an interview in March 2002 by reporter Lesley Stahl with defector Mohammed Harith, who claimed to be a former Mukhabarat officer with personal knowledge of Saddam Hussein's mobile biological weapons labs. In the piece, which profiled the INC and its efforts to overthrow Hussein, Harith said he personally bought seven refrigerated trucks that would serve as mobile bioweapons labs. He painted the same picture on a much broader canvas in the May 2002 issue of Vanity Fair. In an article by David Rose, Harith claimed that, in addition to the mobile labs, Hussein was close to building a new long-range missile. He also told of a trip to Africa to buy radioactive materials for a dirty bomb from renegade Russians. He spoke of a chemical weapons factory in Samarra and a bioweapons lab in the suburbs of Baghdad. In the piece, Rose praised the INC's defector operation, going so far as to say it resembled "nothing so much as the Underground Railroad, the clandestine network which rescued slaves from the American South before the Civil War." Harith's tales have been found to be complete fiction. (In May, Vanity Fair issued a weak retraction of the story.)
- Rose now claims he was the victim of a sophisticated misinformation campaign. "I feel profound regret over that piece," he says. "Harith wasn't telling the truth but I took every step reasonable to establish that these were credible assertions." Rose says he's not ready to dismiss all that INC defectors told him: "Clearly some of the information was rubbish, but some of it was accurate." He still believes much of what he was told by defectors about Hussein's human rights violations. 60 Minutes also issued a partial retraction of its Harith story, confronting Chalabi on air about the false claims; Chalabi deflected responsibility to the CIA for failing to vet the information. Richard Bonin, the producer of the segment, says he thinks, when taken in context, Harith's claims on the show didn't do much damage. "We weren't presenting the story as a scoop," Bonin says. "We were presenting it as a part of the INC's lobbying campaign to establish its credibility." The CIA immediately questioned the validity of Harith's story, but it had enough legs to influence Colin Powell's Colin Powell's February 2003 briefing to the United Nations. And Cheney is still talking up the mobile bioweapons labs as of the present. In recent months, Powell has repeatedly said he feels duped by the INC on this issue.
- Another INC defector to make a huge impact on the perception of Iraq is a man code-named "Curveball," the prime source for Powell's mobile-labs statement to the UN. Curveball is most likely the brother of an INC official, though the organization denies it; like so many of his fellow INC defectors, his information has proven to be a farrago of lies and deceptions. In a front-page story for the Los Angeles Times last month, Drogin reported that intelligence sources he spoke with now suspect that the INC fed defectors to at least eight foreign intelligence agencies to create an echo effect among Western governments. Reporters bolstered their INC-fed stories by promoting their work on television and radio, including two appearances by Rose on the Today show. Not every news organization bought the INC line, most notably Drogin, Isikoff and Mark Hosenball at Newsweek, and Knight-Ridder's Jonathan Landay. It was Hosenball, along with his reporting partner Isikoff, who first documented the existence of the ICP memo to Congress in December 2003. Landay's articles first brought to light the program's list of media stories and exposed many of the defectors' tales as suspect. Though the INC now tries to minimize the influence the Information Collection Program had on the press, Landay says he believes it was critical in shaping coverage of the prelude to the Iraq war. Just how much remains in contention. The INC claims it supplied just three defectors to the media through the ICP, but the number is actually far higher. The CJR's Douglas McCollam writes, "The question that lingers is, Why did the press so ravenously gobble up the tales supplied by the Information Collection Program? Was it simple hunger for scoops? Both supporters and critics of the INC note that after the UN inspection teams left Iraq in 1998, US intelligence about what was happening inside the country was next to nil. That vacuum, many reporters noted, left the perfect opportunity for the information program to flourish. While veteran reporters knew the CIA and State Department were skeptical of INC-produced information, they knew they had nothing better." (Columbia Journalism Review)
- June 27: Today show host Katie Couric takes issue with guest Ann Coulter for Coulter's comparison of Couric to Hitler's mistress Eva Braun. Coulter, a specialist in dishing right-wing slander, called Couric the liberal media's version of Eva Braun in her new book, Slander (discussed above). "You used me as an example of liberal bias against Reagan," Couric says to Coulter. "I'm just curious why you took it so out of context." Coulter counters, "I don't think I did -— you're taking it out of context." Coulter explains that while discussing Edmund Morris' Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan, Today show anchors misrepresented the book's message, saying the author called the former president "an airhead" instead of "an apparent airhead," which was Morris' actual phrase. "You make it sound as if I was saying that rather than Edmund Morris," Couric retorts. "I really conducted an extremely challenging interview with him because he did eviscerate Ronald Reagan in his book." She notes that after the interview was over, Morris was unhappy but former first lady Nancy Reagan called to thank her for her line of questioning. "I'm just wondering how that jibes with your contention that somehow I'm a Ronald Reagan basher," Couric said. Coulter denies having characterized her that way. While Coulter refuses to answer Couric's questions or explain her comparison of Couric to Braun on the Today broadcast, later on, Coulter finds a friendlier forum -- Fox News Live -- to further defend her position, promote her book, and attack Couric and other "liberal" journalists. "One of their little tricks is massive control of the media," she says on the Fox broadcast. "Throughout all mainstream media, it's always the same agenda. When you hear it morning, noon and night, propaganda works." She reams journalists like Couric and Dan Rather, saying they aren't actually objective even though they claim to be. "she uses her beauty and charm to systematically promote a left-wing agenda," Coulter says of Couric, though she refused to make the charge to Couric's face. "she denied it, but it's quoted in my book." When asked whether she thought the left-leaning agenda is pushed on purpose, Coulter responds, "I don't think it makes a difference if it's intentional or accidental.... It just always happens to be the same bias." (Fox News)
- June 29: Vice President Dick Cheney becomes acting president while George W. Bush undergoes a colonoscopy. Cheney is president for three and a half hours. He is only the second man in history to become an acting president; Reagan's vice president, George H.W. Bush, was acting president for 8 hours on July 13, 1985, while Reagan underwent surgery to remove cancerous polyps from his colon. (Nationmaster)