CIA arrangements with banks and telecom firms to spy on Americans and others become an issue in White House
- August: Frances Fragos Townsend, the newly appointed advisor for homeland security to Bush, finds herself mediating a delicate set of informal but crucially important arrangements between the CIA and various telecommunications and financial institutions to illegally provide the CIA with certain telephone, Internet, and financial records the CIA wants as part of its "black" intelligence operations. For years, former CIA director George Tenet has orchestrated these arrangements, usually between himself and the highest-ranking officials of the various firms and institutions, playing on his personal relationships with the officials and appealing to their patriotism. But in recent months, the number of secret subpoenas and requests for information have spiked, causing consternation among the firms' officials. The FBI's formal, and legal, subpoenas tend to have more impact on the companies' officials than the less formal requests. Eventually the conflict between the FBI and CIA becomes so intense that Townsend calls a meeting with CIA deputy John McLaughlin, the acting director, and FBI director Robert Mueller to mediate the differences, and coordinates the two agencies' request so that companies are not bombarded with multiple requests for the same information. The fact that the CIA is legally prohibited from collecting information within the US is skirted. Most of the requests come from the secret FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) court, which can issue subpoenas, warrants, and the like without oversight from either the judiciary or Congress. Other, less legal requests are authorized under Bush's controversial executive order authorizing the secret Terrorist Surveillance Program (TSP), which allows the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on international communications to and from American phones and Internet providers. The fact that constitutional civil liberties are being abrogated is not a major concern. (Bob Woodward)
- August: Tensions in Iraq spike as hardline Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr decides to challenge the US occupation. The religious leader for most Iraqi Shi'ites, Grand Ayatollah Sistani, is in London for medical treatment, and al-Sadr, a younger firebrand with a growing following among discontented Shi'ites, has heavily inserted his followers in the holy city of Najaf, eventually into the holiest of Shi'ite shrines, the Imam Ali Mosque. The US ponders whether to challenge al-Sadr's forces head-on, possibly angering even the moderates among the Shi'ite population; meanwhile, Arab and Muslim leaders throughout Iraq and the Middle East beg the US not to do anything to damage the mosque. (Bob Woodward)
- August: NSC official Frank Miller learns from his latest trip to Iraq that every US division commander is in dire need of Arabic translators. The brigade commanders and battalion commanders want the same thing. Platoons are sent out to break down doors, seal off areas, and search homes without the benefit of translators. Without translators, Miller thinks, the opportunities for calamitous miscommunications skyrocket. Nothing solidifies the image of Americans as imperial occupiers more than teams of heavily armed soldiers bursting into homes without being able to talk to the residents. Miller takes up the need for translators with General Walter Sharp, the director of Strategic Plans and Policies with the Joint Chiefs, but Sharp dismisses Miller's concerns. We don't need translators, he says, "we need interrogators." Sharp is more interested in fluent Arabic speakers who can elicit intelligence from captives. "Fine, you need interrogators," Miller retorts, but you need basic translators, also. Sharp says he'll look into it. He returns to Miller and says, "We're fine." "G*ddamn it, you're not fine," Miller answers. After a brigadier general reports on the situation, Sharp comes back to Miller. "I owe you an apology," he tells Miller. "We need translators." Miller wonders why an old civilian bureaucrat like himself needs to alert the military to the fundamental need for translators. He finally raises the issue with his boss, Condoleezza Rice, who tells him, "Fix it." Miller can't just "fix it." Later, he reflects, "I think we f*cked it up." At the end of 2005, with the need for translators still unanswered, he places the blame on himself. "I failed and did not get it done," he says.
- In the early fall, Newt Gingrich comes to the White House to talk about Iraq with the NSC staff. In his presentation, he hammers on the need for translators. Afterwards, he asks Miller, "Were you not interested, or did you know everything I said to you? Because usually when I say these things, people are surprised and react." Miller says tiredly, "No, I've been there twice. I've been doing this for eighteen months. You're not telling me anything I don't know." (Bob Woodward)
- August: Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage has an interesting, private conversation with his boss, Colin Powell, that illuminates the thinking of George W. Bush and his most senior advisors, most prominently Dick Cheney. Both want Bush to succeed in Iraq, and believe the war has to be won to ensure stability in the Middle East. A precipitous US withdrawal would be followed by chaos, they both believe. But shouldn't consideration be given to adjusting the policy? they wonder. "Don't they have moments of self-doubt?" Armitage wonders. Doesn't Bush ever wonder, deep down, if he's doing the right thing? Powell wonders the same thing. Both Powell and Armitage constantly question their motives and decisions, examining themselves, their assumptions, and their actions, trying to ascertain if they're doing the right thing both for their administration and their country. If you don't, Powell says, if you don't get up in the morning wondering if you're doing a good enough job or if you can still hit the long ball, you're not worth much. "Not worth a sh*t," Armitage agrees. In public, Bush and his officials never display an ounce of doubt or self-questioning. Worse, the same certainty manifests in their private meetings and conversations. Powell says neither Bush nor Cheney can afford to express the slightest reservations. "They cannot have any doubt about the correctness of the policy because it opens too many questions in their minds," Armitage observes. But Bush is at the center. Has he thought this through? Armitage wonders. "What the president says in effect is we've got to press on in honor of the memory of those who've fallen. Another way to say that is we've got to have more men fall to honor the memories of those who have already fallen."
- In a December 2001 interview with Bob Woodward, Bush addressed the issue of self-doubt. In essence, he has none that he will admit to. "I know it is hard for you to believe," he told Woodward, "but I have not doubted what we are doing. ...There is no doubt in my mind we're doing the right thing." Condoleezza Rice and others have discussed the necessity of doubt in any decision-making process. Woodward asked Bush the same questions in an August 2002 interview. Though the topic was the war in Afghanistan, Bush was, of course, heavily involved in the secret planning of the war in Iraq. "First of all," he said, "a president has got to be the calcium in the backbone. If I weaken, the whole team weakens. If I'm doubtful, I can assure you there will be a lot of doubt. If my confidence level in our ability declines, it will send ripples throughout the whole organization. I mean, it's essential that we be confident and determined and united. I don't need people around me who are not steady.... And if there's kind of a hand-wringing attitude going on when times are tough, I don't like it." (Bob Woodward)
- August: The media watchdog organization FAIR finds a plethora of examples that show much of the mainstream media is following the Republicans' "script" in covering John Kerry. Much of the coverage is misleading, some is completely false, and a good bit of it is simply and unnecessarily disparaging. The compilation begins with a June 13 story by the New York Times's Jodi Wilgoren, who writes, "Like a caged hamster, Senator John Kerry is restless on the road" as the leadoff of her article promising "authentic insights" into Kerry's character, but instead recycles Gore-era disparagements and follows RNC lines on how to negatively characterize Kerry. Wilgoren's piece, in FAIR's words, "mirrors the Republican caricature of Kerry, portraying him as an elitist with 'a prep-school cultivated competitive sensibility,' whose speeches 'are filled with multisyllabic upper-crust phrasing,' and as a 'contradictory" character who "is anything but simple and straightforward.' Even his playing a musical instrument is portrayed as suspect: "And where former President Bill Clinton plays cards and President Bush turns to the treadmill, Senator Kerry strums his Spanish classical guitar in a kind of musical meditation." Wilgoren's smear journalism is just one of many examples of the mainstream media following the RNC playbook.
- While some pieces, like Wilgoren's, are mostly banal, some are quite misrepresentative on more serious matters. The RNC has made a point of attacking Kerry for supposedly voting against hundreds of supposedly necessary weapons systems for the US military, and as a result, trying to weaken America's defense against terrorism. Since the February 2004 RNC press release covering a list of weapons systems Kerry supposedly voted against, the theme has cropped up again and again. From a more rightist perspective, Fox's Sean Hannity has pounded the drum relentlessly, as on March 1, when he told his audience, "He's voting against every major weapons system we now use in our military." But Hannity is joined by more mainstream figures, such as CNN's Judy Woodruff, who on February 25 tried to tell Democratic representative Norm Dicks that "The Republicans list something like 13 different weapons systems that they say the record shows Senator Kerry voted against. The Patriot missile, the B-1 bomber, the Trident missile and on and on and on." Dicks had to explain to Woodruff that almost all of the systems in the RNC's laundry list were part of a single appropriations bill from 1991, which Kerry voted against because of the huge amount of waste and pork larded into the bill. "Are you saying that all these weapons systems were part of one defense appropriations bill in 1991?" Woodruff countered.
- When Bush/Cheney campaign strategist Ralph Reed explained to CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer on February 3 that Kerry's record was one of "voting to dismantle 27 weapons systems," Blitzer responded to Reed's deceptive spin by turning to guest Ann Lewis of the Democratic National Committee and saying, "I think it's fair to say, Ann, that there's been some opposition research done." In the mainstream, one of the few media outlets to do more than merely recite the RNC misstatements was Slate, whose Fred Kaplan, on February 25, illuminated his readers by noting that 16 senators, including five Republicans, voted against the 1991 bill, and concluded that the claim against Kerry "reeks of rank dishonesty." Kaplan also pointed out that at the time of the 1991 vote, deeper cuts in military spending were being advocated by some prominent Republicans -- including then-President George H.W. Bush and Dick Cheney, who was secretary of defense at the time. As Kaplan noted, Cheney appealed for more cuts from Congress: "You've squabbled and sometimes bickered and horse-traded and ended up forcing me to spend money on weapons that don't fill a vital need in these times of tight budgets and new requirements." Cheney went on to name the M-1 tank and the F-14 and F-16 fighters -- all of which would later appear on the RNC's list -- as systems that "we have enough of." Naturally, Cheney's own objections to the systems did not appear on the RNC list, and thusly, did not appear in media coverage. Even after Kaplan corrected the spin, the mainstream media continued its charge. Fox's Carl Cameron was typical, saying on February 27, "With the GOP attacking John Kerry's votes to cut defense over the years, the Democratic frontrunner, once again, counter-attacked what he calls the president's 'mishandling' of the war on terror." On the same day, AP reporter Nedra Pickler likewise noted that "the Bush campaign has criticized Kerry in recent days for voting against some increases in defense spending and military weapons programs during his 19-year congressional career." NBC's Tom Brokaw, on March 2, told his audience that "the vice president just today was talking about [Kerry's] votes against the CIA budget, for example, intelligence budgets and also weapons systems. Isn't [Kerry] going to be very vulnerable come the fall when national security is such a big issue in this country?"
- In early March, the RNC began spinning the story that Kerry had tried to cut $1.5 billion from the intelligence budget, a move called "gutting" by Bush. The coverage dutifully paints Kerry as weak on intelligence, but as the Washington Post belatedly noticed, Kerry's proposed cut was far smaller than the $3.8 billion cut herded through Congress by the Republican leadership; Kerry's concerns were to slash funding for mismanaged intelligence programs that had accumulated excess funds. When Juan Williams tried to correct the Republican spin on a Fox talk show by noting that Republicans had proposed the same cuts, panelist Morton Kondracke barked, "That's Kerry propaganda."
- A favorite of the RNC, and thusly of the mainstream media, is that Kerry has voted "for higher taxes" more than 350 times. In reality, most of those votes were to keep tax rates the same instead of voting to cut them (usually voting against tax cuts for the wealthy), or, in many instances, voting for shallower tax cuts than his Republican counterparts. But even counting these as "votes for higher taxes," which they are not, Republicans have vastly inflated the number of votes Kerry cast. Nonetheless, some journalists allowed the charge to be repeated without correction. CBS reporter Byron Pitts, on March 5, announced a Republican claim that the Bush tax cuts would be in jeopardy under a Kerry administration, then turned to Commerce Secretary Don Evans, who stated, "senator Kerry has voted for tax increases over 350 times." Pitts did not contradict or correct Evans. When NBC Nightly News invited Brooks Jackson of Factcheck.org to debunk misleading campaign ads on April 6, Jackson called the taxes allegation "so bogus," and dismissed another anti-Kerry ad about his alleged support for a gas tax increase. But anchor Brian Williams neutralized this attempt to set the record straight: "It is hard to tell fact from fiction," he concluded.
- Somehow, the RNC has decided it would be effective to attack John Kerry for being French. "He caught flak early in the campaign for his French connections," explained CNN anchor Judy Woodruff on May 25. The "flak" consisted of Republican attacks that either mocked Kerry for "looking French" or for speaking the French language fluently. CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer got the ball rolling by announcing that "the French, of course, among other things helped to strain the alliance between the United States and its European allies over the war in Iraq." CNN then explained that Kerry has French family, and has summered in that country. Blitzer bolstered the French attacks by selectively presenting random citizens on the street calling the French uppity, arrogant, and even "international," a word Woodruff characterized as "A tricky word to be saddled with if you're running to lead a war-time White House and your relatives across the pond have not embraced the war." FAIR observes, "Various Republicans and right-wing pundits have done their best to turn a bigoted view of French people into a campaign issue. CNN took that bigotry and, rather than denouncing or criticizing it, decided to expand on it, connecting Kerry to various negative stereotypes about French people. Ironically, near the end of the piece Woodruff remarks that connecting Kerry to these negative feelings about the French might be dirty politics: 'Some accused the GOP of speaking in code.' The same charge could be made against CNN."
- Another favorite line of attack is to emphasize and mock Kerry for making alleged gaffes or misstatements, ranging from convoluted explanations of his Senate voting record to whether or not he owns a sports utility vehicle (the fact that his family owns and drives a gas-guzzling SUV, but he himself rarely uses it, was hammered on relentlessly as "proof" of his mendacity). Time magazine's May 10 story, "What Kerry Means to Say," is a typical example of recent Kerry coverage. After noting Kerry's opportunities to score points against a White House besieged by questions about Iraq, the 9/11 commission and the Supreme Court, reporter Karen Tumulty asked, "But what did the challenger find himself talking about for three days? The answer is whether or not Kerry threw away his medals or his ribbons in the early 1970s." Tumulty attributed this story line to a personal flaw in Kerry: the campaign has often been about the "traps that the Bush campaign is adept at setting for Kerry, and the personality trait that makes Kerry walk right into them." Of course, Kerry "found himself" talking about the distinctions between ribbons and medals because these were the topics that journalists like Tumulty were asking him about. And on occasions like the nonsensical "medals" flap (did he throw his ribbons over the fence, or his medals?), the press corps seemed to smell blood, latching on to stories of dubious importance that seem to portray Kerry as faltering or changing course.
- Before the medals "controversy," media interest centered on claims about Kerry's medical records from Vietnam. After Kerry pledged on NBC to release medical records from his service in Vietnam, ABC reported on April 21 that Kerry's service "has become the subject of controversy" because some of his critics were raising doubts about his first Purple Heart. ABC failed to mention that the doubts about the first Purple Heart were raised by the egregrious Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. When the medical records did little to bolster their case, the press corps switched to another GOP spin point: Kerry didn't get the records out fast enough. ABC's report included a soundbite from RNC chair Ed Gillespie: "When President Bush committed to release all his military records on the same program, he kept his word. John Kerry should do the same." The fact that Bush took five days after his Meet the Press appearance to get his records out while Kerry took three did not deter media outlets from doing stories on this nonexistent issue. Bush has yet to release his pay records or his final personnel evaluation, claiming that they are no longer available; surely an issue of greater weight than how many days a document release took. And the press doesn't seem to mind that Bush did not release his complete medical records.)
- Of course, there are the usual reports of Democratic anarchy, dissension, and chaos within the ranks of the campaign. "Bad Timing as Kerry Slips Out of Picture," one New York Times headline of April 1 blares. "Kerry Struggling to Find a Theme, Democrats Fear," read another on May 2. FAIR writes, "The microscopic scrutiny the press corps pays to Kerry's statements is jarring, considering the obviously lenient attitude journalists takes when it comes to Bush's much more important 'flip-flops.' A Time magazine piece (4/12/04) wondered why Kerry's alleged inconsistencies were more important than Bush's. The magazine offered one explanation: 'How tight the label sticks depends a lot on the impression voters have already formed, which means that a less well-known candidate can be vulnerable in ways a familiar one may not be.' Not mentioned was the rather significant role played by the press corps in determining whether such a label 'sticks.'"
- At least one mainstream outlet, on one day, took a different tack. A Washington Post report of May 31 about Bush and Kerry ads used rather blunt language in concluding that many of the claims made about Kerry by the Bush campaign, on issues like the Patriot Act, No Child Left Behind and gasoline taxes, are simply false. According to the Post, the ads "distort Kerry's record and words to undermine the candidate or reinforce negative perceptions of him," with some ads amounting to a "torrent of misstatements." (FAIR)
- August: John Perry Barlow, the co-founder of the Internet civil liberties organization the Electronic Frontier Foundation and a famed "bohemian libertarian" who once helped Dick Cheney get elected to Congress, says the current Republican Party is no longer acceptable to his strain of libertarianism, and is supporting Kerry for president: "I have grave misgivings about John Kerry, but I certainly don't have misgivings about Kerry that equal the terror I have about another four years of Bush. What he's done to aspects of the Constitution that are there to assure individual rights is breathtakingly bad. So I'm becoming an active Democrat. I wasn't one until just a few months ago, because I felt there was more room for libertarian thought inside the Republican Party. I never found the Libertarian Party was a credible political institution. It holds a pure line, and I'm glad there's somebody out there defining that point of view, but in terms of actually having power, making a difference.... There are libertarian wings in both the Democratic and Republican parties, and in the past I found it most effective to be inside the Republican Party acting as a libertarian. But I've switched. ...The Constitution doesn't say anything about national security. The Fourth Amendment is the Fourth Amendment, and they're gonna have to show me that it isn't. Right now they are refusing to answer subpoenas."
- He is not particularly happy with Kerry, recalling a conversation he recently had with Kerry where Kerry displayed a worrisome ignorance of the Patriot Act: "I asked how he felt about civil liberties. He said, 'I'm for 'em!' That's great, but how do you feel about Section 215 of the Patriot Act? He said, 'What's that?' I said, it basically says any privately generated database is available for public scrutiny with an administrative subpoena. He says, 'It says that?' I say, 'You voted for it!' He says, 'Well, it was a long bill....' Then he went off on this riff about how we had to take some serious measures to stop this terrorist threat, etc. I said, 'I fail to see how terrorists present anything like as big a threat to liberty in America as you guys do by passing this kind of legislation. The founding principles of this republic are not being defended where they need to be defended.' He seemed somewhat receptive, but he's a very political guy. Even among his kind. I think he's been in the US Senate long enough to have his backbone dissolved. ...But I think Kerry will be somewhat better than Bush, if for no other reason than he is not on the same side in the culture war. ...Kerry isn't perfect, but the alternative is just completely.... I hate to keep carping on this, but within the libertarian movement we're gonna have to actually sit down and talk about where we stand on the two variants, because one of them is actually part of the problem at this point. I used to think of myself as both kinds of libertarian, but I have pretty well parted company with [D.C.-based leader of libertarian-leaning conservatives] Grover Norquist at this point. I don't see anything particularly free about a plutocracy. ...Most of the people in the think tanks behind the Bush administration's current policies are libertarians, or certainly free marketeers. We've got two distinct strains of libertarianism, and the hippie-mystic strain is not engaging in politics, and the Ayn Rand strain is basically dismantling government in a way that is giving complete open field running to multinational corporatism."
- Barlow, whose earlier writings displayed a "hippie" exuberance and confidence that people would ensure that civil liberties would triumph over corporate governance, is less optimistic and more cynical: "We all get older and smarter," he says. Of the Internet and its influence on politics and information dissemination, he says, "You now have two distinct ways of gathering information beyond what you yourself can experience. One of them is less a medium than an environment -- the Internet -- with a huge multiplicity of points of view, lots of different ways to find out what's going on in the world. Lots of people are tuned to that, and a million points of view have bloomed. It creates a cacophony of viewpoints that doesn't have any political coherence at all, a beautiful melee, but it doesn't have the capacity to create large blocs of belief. The other medium, TV, has a much smaller share of viewers than at any time in the past, but those viewers get all their information there. They get turned into a very uniform belief block. TV in America created the most coherent reality distortion field that I've ever seen. Therein is the problem: People who vote watch TV, and they are hallucinating like a sonofab*tch. Basically, what we have in this country is government by hallucinating mob. It's a perfect set of circumstances to give us the time Yeats foretold, with the best having lost all conviction and the worst full of passionate intensity. ...I'm an optimist. In order to be libertarian, you have to be an optimist. You have to have a benign view of human nature, to believe that human beings left to their own devices are basically good. But I'm not so sure about human institutions, and I think the real point of argument here is whether or not large corporations are human institutions or some other entity we need to be thinking about curtailing. Most libertarians are worried about government but not worried about business. I think we need to be worrying about business in exactly the same way we are worrying about government." (Reason)
Bush administration outs al-Qaeda double agent
- August 2: Double agent Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan, an al-Qaeda member who has passed vital information to Western intelligence agencies, is outed by Bush officials who reveal his identity to the New York Times. Khan was recently arrested in Pakistan and the information he gave to US and Pakistani intelligence agents led to terror alerts timed to coincide with the Democratic convention. The Times was given Khan's name, apparently by officials from the Department of Homeland Security, who do not inform reporters Douglas Jehl and David Rohde that Khan is a double agent. (National security advisor Condoleezza Rice confirms that US officials named Khan to the reporters, but refuses to disclose who those officials are.) In fact, Pakistan's intelligence service, ISI, apprehended Khan, a computer programmer, on July 13 and had persuaded him to help the US and ISI delve into al-Qaeda's computer networks. ISI called him a tremendous asset and predicted that he would provide a vast amount of useful information to use against al-Qaeda. Instead, the Bush administration outed him. As a bonus, because of the outing, several al-Qaeda members escape arrest. "Let me say that this intelligence leak jeopardized our plan and some al-Qaeda suspects ran away," says a Pakistani official.
- "The whole thing smacks of either incompetence or worse," says Tim Ripley, a security expert who writes for Jane's Defense publications. "You have to ask: what are they doing compromising a deep mole within al-Qaeda, when it's so difficult to get these guys in there in the first place? It goes against all the rules of counter-espionage, counter-terrorism, running agents and so forth. It's not exactly cloak and dagger undercover work if it's on the front pages every time there's a development, is it?" British Home Secretary David Blunkett is openly contemptuous of the White House's management of the information, writing in an op-ed for London's Observer, "In the United States there is often high-profile commentary followed, as in the current case, by detailed scrutiny, with the potential risk of ridicule. Is it really the job of a senior cabinet minister in charge of counter-terrorism to feed the media? To increase concern? Of course not. This is arrant nonsense." And former Justice Department prosecutor John Loftus says, "By exposing the only deep mole we've ever had within al-Qaeda, it ruined the chance to capture dozens if not hundreds more" Reports show Blair's senior officials are "dismayed by the nakedly political use made of recent intelligence breakthroughs both in the US and in Pakistan."
- Juan Cole, a Middle East expert at the University of Michigan, is blunt in his assessment: "The announcement of Khan's name forced the British to arrest 12 members of an al-Qaeda cell prematurely, before they had finished gathering the necessary evidence against them via Khan. Apparently they feared that the cell members would scatter as soon as they saw that Khan had been compromised. (They would have known he was a double agent, since they got emails from him Sunday and Monday!) One of the 12 has already had to be released for lack of evidence, a further fallout of the Bush SNAFU. It would be interesting to know if other cell members managed to flee. Why in the world would Bush administration officials out a double agent working for Pakistan and the US against Al-Qaeda? In a way, the motivation does not matter. If the Reuters story is true, this slip is a major screw-up that casts the gravest doubts on the competency of the administration to fight a war on terror. Either the motive was political calculation, or it was sheer stupidity. They don't deserve to be in power either way." Cole believes that the thinking behind Khan's outing may have been this: "Bush gets the reports that [al-Qaeda agent] Eisa al-Hindi had been casing the financial institutions [in New York, Newark, and Washington], and there was an update as recently as January 2004 in the al-Qaeda file. So this could be a live operation. If Bush doesn't announce it, and al-Qaeda did strike the institutions, then the fact that he knew of the plot beforehand would sink him if it came out (and it would) before the election. So he has to announce the plot. But if he announces it, people are going to suspect that he is wagging the dog and trying to shore up his popularity by playing the terrorism card. So he has to be able to give a credible account of how he got the information. So when the press is skeptical and critical, he decides to give up Khan so as to strengthen his case. In this scenario, he or someone in his immediate circle decides that a mere double agent inside al-Qaeda can be sacrificed if it helps Bush get re-elected in the short term. On the other hand, sheer stupidity cannot be underestimated as an explanatory device in Washington politics."
- Worse, intelligence reports indicate that the exposure of Khan has driven al-Qaeda members to be more cautious in their electronic communications, making them harder to track, and many cells have abruptly moved their hideouts, resulting in the US losing track of them. (Daily Times, USA Today, Wired News/Daily Kos, IPS/CommonDreams, AP/Daily Kos, New York Observer/Truthout)
- In news that breaks in mid-August, it is revealed that Pakistan, not the US government, originally leaked the information to the media that outed Khan as a double agent. The reasoning is that either Pakistani officials were eager to demonstrate their success in penetrating al-Qaeda, or, more likely, that Pakistan wanted to curb the inroads being made into al-Qaeda in order to keep the terrorist group safe and functional. A second leak, from Pakistani intelligence officials like the first, fingered US officials for the leak. The US government accepted the responsibility for outing Khan because administration officials were complicit in the leak, and because the Bush administration is involved in a twisted, mutually duplicitous relationship with the Musharraf regime of Pakistan: "ostensibly driven by the mutual desire for security, there is clearly a political element to the relationship related to the survival of both the Bush and the Musharraf governments," writes political reporter Husain Haqqani. Last week, former president Bill Clinton accused the Bush administration of contracting out US security and the hunt for Osama bin Laden to Pakistan in its zeal to wage war in Iraq. In an interview with Canadian television, Clinton asked, "Why did we put our No. 1 security threat in the hands of the Pakistanis, with us playing the supporting role, and put all our military resources into Iraq -- which was I think at best our No. 5 security threat?" Clinton also observed, "We will never know if we could have gotten him [bin Laden] because we didn't make it a priority." One consequence of the decision to subcontract the hunt for members of al-Qaeda to Pakistan is that the terrorists appear to be regrouping. The Washington Post, quoting senior US and Pakistani officials, reports on August 14 that "new evidence" suggests "that al-Qaeda is battered but not beaten, and that a motley collection of old hands and recent recruits has formed a nucleus in Pakistan that is pushing forward with plans for attacks in the United States." It is hard to know just why, even though Pakistan played a key role in propping up the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, and though the Musharraf government continues in its strong, if undercover, support for al-Qaeda, that the US is relying on Pakistan to continue the hunt for bin Laden and the senior al-Qaeda leadership.
- Part of the reason seems to be mutual political concerns. The surface cooperation in hunting down al-Qaeda members helps Musharraf retain power in Pakistan. In return, Pakistani officials, known for their reticence, have been unusually cooperative in issuing well-timed reports designed to help Bush's re-election efforts, including the Pakistani interior minister, Faisal Hayat, announcing the arrest of Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, the man wanted for the 1998 terrorist bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, just hours before John Kerry accepted the Democratic nomination for president. Haqqani writes, "...Pakistan's ability to produce al-Qaeda figures at politically opportune moments has been widely noted in the US media, so it is natural for skeptics to wonder whether there is a political angle to the more recent admission of local al-Qaeda links and the spate of arrests of suspected terrorists in Pakistan," especially in light of Pakistan's well-documented support of Islamic terrorists. Haqqani notes, "In an article titled 'July Surprise?' in the New Republic, published several weeks before the Democratic Convention, John B. Judis, Spencer Ackerman and Massoud Ansari wrote of pressure on Pakistan by the Bush administration to produce a 'high-value target' around the time of the convention to steal Kerry's thunder. The suggestion was rejected by some as a conspiracy theory at the time, but when Pakistan announced the arrest of Ghailani, a Tanzanian, in Gujarat, Pakistan, hours before Kerry's acceptance speech, eyebrows were raised even among those Americans who normally dismiss such conspiracy theories."
- He continues, "For the Bush administration to have risked playing politics with the timing of arrest of terror suspects is a disturbing enough possibility. More disturbing is the prospect that the initiative to gain political advantage from these arrests came not from the Bush administration but from the Musharraf regime. By subcontracting the hunt for bin Laden to an authoritarian ally who has a special interest in the flow of economic and military benefits resulting from this contract, the administration may be giving that ally a powerful say in America's political agenda whose effect is to undermine the war against al-Qaeda. ...As long as the US-Pakistan relationship remains a single-issue alliance based on the quid pro quo of changes in Pakistani policy for US money, the regime in Islamabad will continue to be tempted to take its time in finding all the terrorists at large in Pakistan. After all, most subcontractors who are paid by the hour take longer to get the job done. And while this may seem like a risky scheme for Musharraf, it conforms to the past pattern of Pakistani military regimes collecting rent from the United States for providing strategic services." (Salon)
"I think it is fair to conclude that the United States of America remains bin Laden's only indispensable ally." -- CIA analyst Michael Scheuer, quoted by Antiwar.com
CIA expert says war on terror has played into bin Laden's hands
- August 2: A senior CIA analyst, an expert on Islamic terrorism and Osama bin Laden in particular, shares insights from his anonymously published book, Imperial Hubris, on how the way the Bush administration has conducted its war on terror has played right into bin Laden's hands. The author is later identified as Michael Scheuer. (The book is excerpted in its entirety in the pages of this site.) Scheuer says that the Iraq invasion was "the best Christmas present bin Laden could have possibly received," in the words of his interviewers, because, as he says, "Iraq is the second holiest place in Islam. He's now got the Americans in the two holiest places in Islam, the Arabian Peninsula and Iraq, and he has the Israelis in Jerusalem. All three sanctities are now occupied by infidels, a great reality for him. He also saw the Islamic clerical community, from liberal to the most Wahhabist, issue fatwas that were more vitriolic and more demanding than the fatwas that were issued against the Soviets when they came into Afghanistan. They basically validated all of the theological arguments bin Laden has been making since 1996, that it is incumbent on all Muslims to fight the Americans because they were invading Islamic territory. Until we did that in Iraq, he really had a difficult time making that argument stick, but now there is no question. It's also perceived widely in the Muslim world that we attacked Iraq to move along what, at least in Muslims' minds, is the Israelis' goal of a greater Israel from the Nile to the Euphrates. While we're beating the hell out of the Iraqis, Sharon and the Israelis are beating the hell out of the Palestinians every day. So we have an overwhelming media flow into the Muslim world of infidels killing Muslims. It's a one-sided view, but it's their perception. And unless you deal with what they think, you're never going to understand what we're up against."
- He adds, "In terms of popularity, it would be difficult to underestimate the growth in popular support across the Muslim world. Bin Laden has identified six specific US policies that appeal to the anger of Muslims: our unqualified support for Israel; our ability to keep oil prices within a tolerable range for consumers; our support for people who oppress Muslims, i.e., Russia in Chechnya, India in Kashmir, China in Western China; our presence on the Arabian Peninsula; our military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan; and finally our support for Muslim tyrannies from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean. Bin Laden is a formidable enemy because he has recognized what are deemed by many Muslims, even those who don't support his martial activities, as threats to Islam."
- Scheuer also says that the Bush administration has grieviously erred by considering al-Qaeda a terrorist group and not an insurgency. "I worked on the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan and watched the organizational structure and the ability of the Afghan insurgent groups to absorb tremendous punishment and survive, and then I worked for the next period of my career on terrorism, where the groups were much smaller," he says. "Their leadership is more concentrated, and if you hurt them to a significant degree, they cease to be as much of a threat. They are lethal nuisances, not national-security risks. Al-Qaeda is not a terrorist group but an insurgency with an extraordinary ability to replicate at the leadership level." Worse is the administration's concerted tendency to underestimate al-Qaeda, a mistake that group rarely makes with either the US or its Islamic enemies. Bin Laden never dealt with Iraq with any seriousness, "not because he didn't like them, not because he hated Saddam -- both of those are true -- but because the Iraqis were a third-rate service. They are ham-handed, clumsy. Most of their terrorist operations result in killing their own people. We have never seen al-Qaeda associate with someone who posed a risk to the security of their organization, operatives, or plan of attack. Al-Qaeda is a first-rate insurgent organization with a first-rate intelligence and counterintelligence service. Bin Laden has shown throughout his career that he deals with equals."
- Scheuer is blunt about who al-Qaeda would prefer to win the elections in November: " I said that al-Qaeda itself has said that it could not wish for a better government than the one that is now governing the US, because, on the policies of issue to Muslims, al-Qaeda believes this government is wrong on every one and thus allows their insurgency to grow larger to incite other groups to attack Americans."
- "I don't know if we have to say we are at war with Islam, but I think it defies reality to say that a growing part of Islam is not at war against us," he says. "I am at a loss to understand how this far along into the bin Laden problem we can still be saying that this war has nothing to do with religion. It has everything to do with religion in terms of the motivation bin Laden, his followers, sympathizers, and Muslims generally feel to fight us. Bin Laden's genius has been to focus the Muslim world on specific US policies. He's not, as the Ayatollah did, ranting about women who wear knee-length dresses. He's not against Budweiser or democracy. The shibboleth that he opposes our freedoms is completely false, and it leads us into a situation where we will never perceive the threat."
- Scheuer is not sanguine about the prospects of any quick defeat of "the terrorists," saying that until we make a real attempt to understand their nature and makeup, we will never make any real headway. "I don't think we can win this war until we have a debate over what has caused it and recognize that it is in our power to win this war over a period of time or to fight this war forever. This is not a choice between war and peace. It is a choice between war and endless war. ...Certainly, I am not smart enough to formulate foreign policy for the whole country, but we must have this kind of a debate. We pursued policies for 30 years which have led us to 9/11 and which will lead us to further 9/11s, and unless we decide that we are willing to wage this war aggressively with the military, but also complement it with genuine political movement, we are in a position where we are going to be defeated time and again."
- The importance of destroying bin Laden personally is relative, and decreasing as time goes on, Scheuer says: "[B]in Laden has a genius: he has the only organization of its kind in the Muslim world. He has Muslims from multiple ethnic groups and they work together with a lot of friction, but they work together effectively. We've watched the Palestinians for 45 years. They are all Palestinians, and they can't go across the street together. Without bin Laden, al-Qaeda initially will lose some of its cohesiveness because of his very genuine credentials as a leader, but al-Qaeda is now a very mature organization. It is into its second generation of leadership, and the second generation seems to be more professional and businesslike. They're quieter." (American Conservative/Truthout)
"It is a ridiculous notion to assert that since America is on the offense, more people want to hurt us." -- George W. Bush, denying that anyone is targeting Americans because of the Iraqi and Afghanistan war efforts
- August 2: International non-governmental organizations (NGOs) denounce the results of trade talks between the US and the European Union as selling out of poor countries and the environment. "After days of closed-door negotiations, rich countries have delivered a deeply unbalanced text as a take-it-or-leave-it option," says Celine Charveriat, head of Oxfam International's Geneva office. "This puts developing countries in the unfair position of having to accept a bad deal or reject and get blamed by the US and the EU for failure." The negotiations between the two entities appear to put back on track the Doha Round of international trade negotiations, begun by 147 nations in Abu Dhabi at the end of 2001. The talks broke down in Cancun last September when a group of poor countries led by Brazil and India demanded that Washington and Brussels commit themselves to sharp reductions in agricultural subsidies that they argued were making it impossible for farmers in poor countries to compete. The World Bank has estimated that an estimated $300 billion in annual subsidies and other support given to farmers by western governments are costing developing countries some $60 billion a year, more than the total amount of official economic aid that these same governments and international agencies, like the World Bank, provide them annually in grants and loans. The new framework was agreed on without the participation of smaller countries. Greenpeace calls the final result "highly imbalanced in favor of rich countries, which make vague promises in return for key concessions by developing countries," particularly in opening their markets wider to manufactured goods, services, and agricultural exports from wealthy nations themselves. It adds that the accords will "open the door for further liberalization in sensitive sectors such as fisheries and the trade in forest products."
- Greenpeace's Daniel Mittler says, "The deal is not a victory for multilateralism, but a dangerous fudge. The secretive process practiced in Geneva this week once again showed that the WTO is an undemocratic organization mainly responsive to rich-country interests. The WTO does not seem capable or willing to deliver equitable and sustainable development for all; it only seems to be interested in ensuring its own survival." Alexandra Wandel of Friends of the Earth says, "Corporate lobby groups will be the big winners, the environment and the poor the big losers," pointing specifically to the agreement on Non-Agricultural Market Access (NAMA), a part of the framework accord which calls for the liberalization of all natural resources, particularly in fisheries, gems, and mining. NAMA would make it much more difficult for developing countries to protect these resources from foreign investors or collect revenue from their export. Oxfam's Charveriat says, "The draft is unacceptable because it fails to meet the needs of developing countries. Presented as a breakthrough, the text on agriculture does little to address the problem of export dumping, instead introducing dangerous loopholes for yet more subsidies from the US....This is a serious betrayal of developing countries and will have massive implications for the 10 million West African farmers whose livelihoods are currently undermined by U.S. export dumping. There are no cast-iron commitments here and no clear timeline for reform." (OneWorld/CommonDreams)
- August 2: Former FBI agent Mike German, an expert on domestic terrorism and their ties to overseas terrorist groups, says that in 2002 he proposed to his superiors that he infiltrate a group of Americans working with an Islamic terrorist group. Instead, says German, FBI officials refused to process his request, botched the investigation into the group, falsified documents to discredit their own sources, then froze him out and made him, in his words, a "pariah." He left the bureau in mid-June after 16 years and is now going public for the first time, becoming the latest in a string of FBI whistleblowers who claim they were retaliated against after voicing concerns about how management problems had impeded terrorism investigations since the 9/11 attacks. "What's so frustrating for me," he says, "is that what I hear the FBI. saying every day on TV when I get home, about how it's remaking itself to fight terrorism, is not the reality of what I saw every day in the field." German refuses to divulge details of the 2002 terrorism case, saying the information is classified, but other sources knowledgeable of the investigation say that it centered around a Tampa, Florida militia group who was considering working with an unidentified Islamic terrorist group. Tape recordings of meetings by the militia group verify German's claims, says one intelligence official. On April 29, German wrote to Congress that "the investigations involved in my complaint concern very active terrorist groups that currently pose significant threats to national security. ...Opportunities to initiate proactive investigations that might prevent terrorist acts before they occur, which is purported to be the FBI's number one priority, continue to be lost, yet no one is held accountable." The Justice Department's inspector general is investigating German's claims.
- "Retaliating against FBI agents and employees who point out problems or raise concerns seems to be becoming the rule, not the exception," says Republican senator Charles Grassley. Grassley notes that FBI director Robert Mueller "has said many times that whistleblower retaliation is unacceptable, yet it looks like some FBI bureaucrats haven't gotten the message." Democratic senator Patrick Leahy says that "when an FBI agent with a distinguished record questions whether terrorism leads are being followed, the FBI needs to listen." He adds that German's complaints "reflect the kind of insularity the 9/11 commission identified as a major management failing in the FBI's antiterrorism work."
- Officials say that German complained that FBI officials had mishandled evidence concerning a suspected domestic terrorist group and failed to act for months on his request in early 2002 to conduct an undercover operation. That failure, the officials say, allowed the investigation to "die on the vine." German says his career stalled after he complained to his FBI supervisors, to Mueller, to the Justice Department's inspector general, and to members of the 9/11 commission. Soon after raising his complaints about the 2002 terrorism investigation, he was removed from the case. And, he says, FBI officials wrongly accused him of conducting unauthorized travel, stopped using him to train agents in "proactive techniques," and shut him out of important domestic terrorism assignments. "The phone just stopped ringing, and I became a persona non grata," he says. "Because I wouldn't let this go away, I became the problem. My entire career has been ruined, all because I thought I was doing the right thing here." (New York Times/Truthout)
- August 2: US Representative Katherine Harris, the former Florida Secretary of State who tampered with the 2000 election returns that gave Bush the presidency, issues a terror alert of her own when she says during a campaign rally for Bush, the US had stopped a plot to blow up the power grid in Carmel, Indiana. She says she learned of the alleged plot while visiting the Midwest, where a mayor told her of the plot and how a man of Middle Eastern descent had been arrested. Unfortunately, the story is false. According to the Carmel chief of police, "We're not aware of any plans to blow up Carmel's power grid." Harris says she stands by her claim, along with a related claim that the US has halted over 100 terrorist attacks in the last three years. "It's classified...obviously not classified to me...but things I can't go into details about." Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard's office replies, "The mayor never talked to Katherine Harris. They never had that conversation." No US officials have come forward to verify her claim about the 100 thwarted terror attacks, but her aides say that Harris's claims about the terror attacks came from public statements made by attorney general John Ashcroft. The Tampa Tribune is unimpressed. Its editorial staff writes, "Fighting terrorism is a deadly serious business. But frightening voters with unsubstantiated reports smacks of political opportunism." Three days later, Harris apologizes for issuing false tales about the Carmel plot, which she acknowledges is erroneous, but insists that she has inside information that shows the US has indeed thwarted over 100 terrorist plots, a story that US officials refuse to verify. CBS notes, "Disclosure of classified information is forbidden by law and by the rules of Congress, which require members to take an oath. However, prosecutions or sanctions of members for revealing secret information are rare." (Tampa Tribune, CBS)
- August 2: At a stump speech at the Neshoba, Mississippi County Fair, Republican senator Trent Lott calls John Kerry "a French-speaking socialist from Boston, Massaschusetts, who is more liberal than Ted Kennedy." Lott says he has been working on the line for some time. The slam is part of the Republican strategy to tar Kerry for his so-called "French connection," as well as painting him as a hothouse liberal with no real American values. (Jackson Clarion-Ledger/Blog for America [excerpt of story])
- August 2: The Department of Justice decides to rescind its order to destroy all copies of five DOJ publications that have been in the public domain for four years. The topics addressed in the named documents include information on how citizens can retrieve items that may have been confiscated by the government during an investigation. The documents that were to be removed and destroyed include: Civil and Criminal Forfeiture Procedure; Select Criminal Forfeiture Forms; Select Federal Asset Forfeiture Statutes; Asset forfeiture and money laundering resource directory; and Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act of 2000 (CAFRA). The American Library Association opposed the move and challenged the DOJ's characterization of the documents as training manuals and other materials "[in]appropriate for external use." "ALA trusts that there will be no repetition of such unjustified instructions to destroy government information," the organization writes. Michael Gorman, head of the ALA, observes, "We had concerns about the Department of Justice request to destroy documents that have been in the public domain for four years. To obtain an official rationale from the Department of Justice about the nature of these public documents, the American Library Association submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the withdrawn materials, which will now be moot." And Carol Brey-Casiano, president of the ALA, adds, "Our only interest in this issue is that we want to ensure that public documents remain available to the public." (American Library Association)