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Monday, October 17, 2005

Blood Feud

With the Washington Post reporting that Fitzgerald's investigation is focusing on Dick Cheney's long running feud with the CIA, I thought I would reprise this post of mine from a few months back:

I've been thinking a lot about how the Plame affair has brought up an interesting political contradiction: the right is now openly contemptuous of the CIA while the left is a vocal supporter. I think it's probably a good idea to clarify that bit so we don't get confused. The fact is that both sides have always been simultaneously vocal supporters and openly contemptuous of the CIA, but for entirely different reasons.

I usually don't speak for "the left" but for the purpose of this discussion I will use my views as a proxy for the lefty argument. I'm not generally a big fan of secretive government departments with no accountability. I always worry that they are up to things not sanctioned by the people and it has often turned out that they are. I have long been skeptical of the CIA because of the CIA's history of bad acts around the world that were not sanctioned or even known by more than a few people and were often, in hindsight, wrong --- like rendition, for instance. I don't believe that we should have a secret foreign policy operation that doesn't answer to the people. They tend to do bad shit that leaves the people holding the bag.

But I didn't just fall out of the back of Arnold's hummer, so I understand that a nation needs intelligence to protect itself and understand the world. I also understand that the way we obtain that information must be kept secret in order to protect the lives of those who are involved in getting it. I have never objected to the idea that we have spies around the world gathering information about what our enemies are up to. I also think that intelligence should, as much as possible, be objective and apolitical. Otherwise, we cannot accurately assess real threats. If the CIA (and the other intelligence agencies) only make objective analyses, the buck will stop at the president, where it always properly should.

Therefore, I see this Plame affair -- and the larger matter of the pre-war WMD threat assessment -- as a matter of compromised intelligence and an extension of the 30 year war the right has waged against what it thinks is the CIA's tepid threat analysis. Never mind that the right's hysterical analyses have always turned out to have been completely wrong.

But then accuracy was never the point because the right takes the opposite approach to the CIA's proper role. They have always been entirely in favor of the CIA working on behalf of any president who wanted to topple a left wing dictator or stage a coup without congressional knowledge. This is, in their view, the proper role of the CIA --- to covertly advance foreign policy on behalf of an executive (of whom they approve) and basically do illegal and immoral dirty work. But they have never valued the intelligence and analysis the CIA produced since it often challenged their preconcieved beliefs and as a result didn't validate their knee jerk impulse to invade, bomb, obliterate, topple somebody for reasons of ideology or geopolitical power. The CIA's intelligence often backed up the success of the containment policy that kept us from a major bloody hot war with the commies --- and for that they will never be trusted.(See Team B, and the Committee on the Present Danger parts I and II.)

Therefore, the right sees the Plame affair as another example of an inappropriately "independent" CIA refusing to accede to its boss's wishes. They believe that the CIA exists to provide the president with the documentation he needs to advance his foreign policy goals --- and if that includes lying to precipitate a war he feels is needed, then their job is to acquiesce. When you cut away the verbiage, what the right really believes is that the US is justified in invading and occupying any country it likes --- it's just some sissified, cowardly rule 'o law that prevents us from doing it. The CIA's job is to smooth the way for the president to do what he wants by keeping the citizen rubes and the allies in line with phony proof that we are following international and domestic laws. (This would be the Straussian method of governance --- too bad the wise ones who are running the world while keeping the rest of us entertained with religion and bread and circuses are so fucking lame.)

Back in the day, they used to just admit that they were engaging in Realpolitik, and as disgusting as that is, at least it was more honest than the current crop of neocons who insist that they are righteous and good by advancing democracy and vanquishing evil using undemocratic, illegal means. It makes me miss Kissinger. At least he didn't sing kumbaya while he was fucking over the wogs.

I have no idea where people who don't pay much attention to the political scene would come down on this. It may be that they think the government should have a branch that does illegal dirty work. But I suspect they would also think that the president should not be allowed to run a secret foreign policy or stage wars for inscrutable reasons. Indeed, I think most people would find it repugnant if they knew that there are people in government who think the president of the United States has a right to lie to them in order to commit their blood and treasure to a cause or plan that has nothing to do with the one that is stated.

Of course, that's exactly what happened with Iraq. The right's greatest challenge now is to get the public to believe that they were lied to for their own good.

This idea that it was a blood feud between the neocons and the CIA ha been out there from the beginning. And it lent credence to the charge that Plame's status was leaked on purpose. It makes perfect sense that Fitz would follow that trail.

The thing to remember is that the neocons have always been wrong about everything.

...from the Soviet threat to China to rogue states to Iraq, the neocons and hardliners were wrong each and every time. And they weren't just wrong on some details, they massively, abundently wrong about everything. Korb discusses one particular fact in his piece that I think illuminates their rather insane view about terrorism:

In 1981, after the publication of Clare Sterling's book, "The Terror Network," which argued that global terrorists were actually pawns of the Soviets, leading hard-liners asked the CIA to look into the relationship between Soviets and terrorist organizations. The agency concluded that although there was evidence that the Soviets had assisted groups such as the Palestine Liberation Organization with weapons and training, there was no evidence that the Soviets encouraged or approved these groups' terrorist acts. However, hard-liners like Secretary of State Alexander Haig, CIA Chief William Casey and Policy Planning Director Wolfowitz rejected the draft as a naive, exculpatory brief and had the draft retooled to assert that the Soviets were heavily involved in supporting "revolutionary violence worldwide."

Since they never adjust to changing circumstances or admit any new evidence that doesn't fit their preconcieved notions, this was still the framework they were working from when bin Laden came on the scene. It's why the neocon nutcase Laurie Mylroie was able to convince people in the highest reaches of the Republican intelligensia that Saddam had something to do with bin Laden, even though there was never a scintilla of evidence to back it up. They simply could not,and cannot to this day, come to grips with the fact that their view of how terrorism works --- through "rogue states" and totalitarian sponsorship --- is simply wrong.

When Clare Sterling's book came out CIA director William Casey was said to have told his people, "read Claire Sterling's book and forget this mush. I paid $13.95 for this and it told me more than you bastards who I pay $50,000 a year." Wolfowitz and Feith are said to have told their staff in the Pentagon to read Laurie Mylroie's book about Saddam and al Qaeda. Richard Clarke, in "Against All Enemies" quotes Wolfowitz as saying: "You give Bin Laden too much credit. He could not do all these things like the 1993 attack on New York, not without a state sponsor. Just because FBI and CIA have failed to find the linkages does not mean they don't exist."

This, then, is simply how they think. It's as Rob Cordry says, "the facts are biased." (That's the state of mind that led neocon Judith Miller to make her bizarre incomprehensible comment "I was proved fucking right!") They truly believe that even though they have been completely wrong about everything for the past thirty years that it just can't be so.

And no matter what, in their minds the the CIA is always trying to screw them.

So the political environment in which Valerie Plame was outed was virtually hallucinogenic. There may have really been some part of certain members of the Bush administration's dysfunctional lizard brains that really thought in July of 2003 that the CIA had been trying to set them up and used Joe Wilson to do it.

But it's not July of 2003 now, is it? It's two years later and we know for a fact that the analysts, including Wilson, who said the Niger deal was bullshit were right and we know that the analysts who doubted the evidence about Saddam's WMD were right too.

Not that this will stop the Team B neocons from insisting that "they were proved fucking right." They really are delusional and they always have been.

This blood feud between the Team B neocons and the CIA has been getting this country into trouble for 30 years, culminating in the epic strategic blunder of Iraq. It's time it is stopped.

Embed Wrangler

Atrios is wondering who got Judy her security clearance. Josh Marshall reports that Jim Micklaszewski says nobody at DOD, DIA or CIA knows anything about it.

Have they called Jim Wilkinson? He is, after all, the guy who was in charge of managing the embeds. From a very handy little rundown on Wilkinson from marureen Farrell, we see this:

"It was a very well-designed, well-executed effort to control the information," New York magazine’s Michael Wolff explained. "Wilkinson was, I think, instrumental. He certainly represented himself as the brains of the operation."

He was also a central player in the Iraq war propaganda operation serving as a member of the Office of Global Communication and the White House Iraq Group. If there was anyone who would have been charged with getting a special "off the books" special security clearance it would have been him. He had his own special pipeline to the White House and the DOD:

"In the early hours of April 2, correspondents in Doha were summoned from their beds to Centcom, the military and media nerve center for the war," The Guardian explained. "Jim Wilkinson, the White House's top figure there, had stayed up all night. ‘We had a situation where there was a lot of hot news,’ he [recalled] "The president had been briefed, as had the secretary of defense."

Bloomberg reported that Wilkinson was subpoenaed by the Grand Jury, which I hadn't heard before. It would be odd if he hadn't. He was intimately involved with the Iraq war lies --- and he is a known political hit man:

"Formerly a political operative, Mr. Wilkinson was put in the position of feeding, informing and calming the most motivated media army in the world in Qatar. There, inside the massive telecommunications studio assembled by the U.S. Army and the Bush administration, he earned both the enmity and admiration of various parts of the worldwide press during war in a technologically superb and informationally sparse desert press center. ... 'It was an unprofessional operation,' said Peter Boyer of The New Yorker, who said he landed an interview with General Franks only by going around Mr. Wilkinson to the Pentagon."

"Jim Wilkinson has gone from politics to war and back since he worked for George W. Bush in Florida during the 2000 election, and his journey is a mark of the administration's utilitarian approach to marketing war, politics and the Presidency. 'He's a man who prefers to work behind the scenes,' said the spokesman for the Republican National Committee, Jim Dyke. He's also got as pure a Republican pedigree as you can wish, and an edge honed in the bitter partisan wars between Bill Clinton and the Republican House leadership.

"Mr. Wilkinson grew up in East Texas and attended high school in Tenaha, population 1,046, then gave up plans to become an undertaker to go to work for Republican Congressman Dick Armey in 1992. Mr. Armey soon became House majority leader; his communications director, Mr. Wilkinson's mentor, was Ed Gillespie, now chairman of the R.N.C."

"Wilkinson first left his mark on the 2000 Presidential race in March 1999, when he helped package and promote the notion that Al Gore claimed to have 'invented the Internet.' Then the Texan popped up in Miami to defend Republican protesters shutting down a recount: 'We find it interesting that when Jesse Jackson has thousands of protesters in the streets, it's O.K., but when a small number of Republicans exercise their First Amendment rights, the Democrats don't seem to like it,' he told the Associated Press.

In the White House he was instrumental in pushing the WMD propaganda and has the kind of history that suggests he would have been involved in trashing Joseph Wilson (with relish.) He is also one guy who would likely have been involved in getting Judith Miller some sort of double secret super security clearance that nobody else knew about.

Of course, Judy could be lying.

I have been writing about Wilkinson since June of 2003 when I read Michael Wolff's seminal article about the Iraq war press operation. Wilkinson is the quintessential Rove machine operative.

Tightening the Scrunchie

I don't want to hear any more belly aching from liberal pansies about how we aren't getting the terrorists. We are not only smokin 'em out of their caves we are ruthlessly depriving them of their perms and sun-kissed highlighting.

U.S. forces in Iraq said on Saturday that they were holding a man suspected of acting as a barber to senior al Qaeda militants and helping them change their appearance to evade capture.

The man, named as Walid Muhammad Farhan Juwar al-Zubaydi -- "aka 'The Barber,"' the U.S. military statement said -- was arrested in Baghdad on September 24, the day before U.S. troops caught up with and killed a militant they described as the most senior al Qaeda leader in the capital, Abu Azzam.

"'The Barber's' duties included altering senior al Qaeda in Iraq members' appearances by dying hair color, altering hairstyles and changing facial hair in their efforts to evade capture," the military said in the statement.

The vicious bastard. I hope they "render" him straight to Fantastic Sam's and play Toby Keith over and over until he gives up bin Laden's hair color formula.


Sunday, October 16, 2005

Miller's Message

Kevin Drum questions the theory that Bennett didn't come clean with Fitz about Libby being Judy's only "meaningful" source, (or didn't know that Libby wasn't Judy's only meaningful source) when they made the deal that she would only testify about her conversations with Libby. This rests on the fact that Miller now has a phantom source who told her about "Valerie Flame" but she can't remember who it might have been. Kevin says:

This doesn't sound right to me. First of all, surely something like this can't happen in real life, can it? Bennett's representations to Fitzgerald would be considered binding, wouldn't they? If it turned out he misrepresented the evidence, Fitzgerald would no longer be bound by the original agreement. (Someone with experience in federal prosecutions should feel free to step in and tell me I'm wrong, but this sure doesn't sound like something a judge would spend more than a few seconds ruling on.)

I think Kevin is right. But I'm not sure that the deal was ever as clear cut as Miller made it out to be. Bennett emphatically said that the deal was limited to the "Valerie Plame Matter" not that it was limited to Libby. Robert Bennett is a very savvy lawyer and he was very precise in his language.

BLITZER: Was the conversations you had with Mr. Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor -- was her testimony limited only to Scooter Libby's involvement in the Valerie Plame case, assuming that's her source as we all do? Or was it -- could he ask questions before the grand jury on other individuals?

R. BENNETT: I'm not going to go into her testimony before a secret grand jury, but I will say that the subject matter that we agreed to dealt with the Valerie Plame matter.

BLITZER: So in other words, it focused on that, but talk about other individuals as well?

R. BENNETT: It focused on the Valerie Plame matter.

BLITZER: That's all you want to say about that?

R. BENNETT: That's all I can say to you.

This does not mean that it wasn't limited to Libby, of course. There are other reasons why Bennett might not have wanted to name Libby in that interview. But it was common knowledge that Libby was the source in question and Judy, after all, had said the day before that the agreement was to "focus on that source." Bennett could have characterized the deal that way as well.

FRANKEN: Scooter's lawyer has said that, had you asked, you wouldn't have had to spend any time in jail. He would have been more than willing to give you the explicit waiver you say you now accepted.

MILLER: I was not a party to those discussions. I'm going to let you refer those questions to my lawyer. I can only tell you that as soon as I received a personal assurance from the source that I was able to talk to him and talk to the source about my testimony, it was only then and as a result of the special prosecutors' agreement to narrow the focus of the inquiry, to focus on that source, that I was able to testify.

I still think that the real problem for Judy was that the original subpoena (pdf) said:

... on August 12 and August 14, grand jury subpoenas were issued to Judith Miller, seeking documents and testimony related to conversations between her and a specified government official “occurring from on or about July 6, 2003, to on or about July 13, 2003, . . . concerning Valerie Plame Wilson (whether referred to by name or by description as the wife of Ambassador Wilson) or concerning Iraqi efforts to obtain uranium.”

I continue to believe that Judy's primary concern was about limiting her testimony to Plame. It was other non-Plame related conversations (with Libby or others) that pertained to the Iraq uranium claims, and perhaps even her involvement, that she did not want to be asked about. (This could be the matter of the sexed-up dossier, David Kelly's death and the back-up claim that the questionable claim that the British had unrelated secret information about African yellowcake.)

And after looking at it again, I suspect that this passage in Judy's mea no culpa may be a little message of her own to the powers that be --- to let them know that she was a good little aspen and understood that all the roots are connected:

As I told Mr. Fitzgerald and the grand jury, Mr. Libby alluded to the existence of two intelligence reports about Iraq's uranium procurement efforts. One report dated from February 2002. The other indicated that Iraq was seeking a broad trade relationship with Niger in 1999, a relationship that he said Niger officials had interpreted as an effort by Iraq to obtain uranium.

My notes indicate that Mr. Libby told me the report on the 1999 delegation had been attributed to Joe Wilson.

Mr. Libby also told me that on the basis of these two reports and other intelligence, his office had asked the C.I.A. for more analysis and investigation of Iraq's dealings with Niger. According to my interview notes, Mr. Libby told me that the resulting cable - based on Mr. Wilson's fact-finding mission, as it turned out - barely made it out of the bowels of the C.I.A. He asserted that George J. Tenet, then the director of central intelligence, had never even heard of Mr. Wilson.

As I told Mr. Fitzgerald, Mr. Libby also cited a National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, produced by American intelligence agencies in October 2002, which he said had firmly concluded that Iraq was seeking uranium.


Although I was interested primarily in my area of expertise - chemical and biological weapons - my notes show that Mr. Libby consistently steered our conversation back to the administration's nuclear claims. His main theme echoed that of other senior officials: that contrary to Mr. Wilson's criticism, the administration had had ample reason to be concerned about Iraq's nuclear capabilities based on the regime's history of weapons development, its use of unconventional weapons and fresh intelligence reports.

That's the standard company line, no deviations. She devotes a great deal of space in her article to relating all of that in loving detail despite the fact that she was questioned by Fitzgerald for many hours and was before the Grand Jury twice. Some important people are undoubtedly feeling a bit relieved knowing now that Judy stayed within the lines even as Fitz came dangerously close to asking about the Big WHIG Problem.

If Scooter and Turdblossom have to go down that's one thing --- revealing the true scope of the Iraq lies is another. Doing time for the GOP has become a badge of courage and it never stops anyone from finding their way back to the halls of power and making big money if they want to. As long as everybody keeps their mouths shut about the war, the family will take care of them.

I predict that there will be no trials if Fitzgerald indicts. A public spectacle in which the possibility of someone spilling the beans about the Big WHIG Problem is much too risky. I think this will be plea bargained. I'll bet that Rove and Scooter are looking at poncho patterns as we speak.

Update: On the other hand, if Jane's right about Ari being the Third Man, then maybe there's a possibility for some real fireworks. He's not a real member of the club. He was hired from the failed Liddy Dole presidential campaign. He may not be willing to fall on his sword for this bunch.

Update II: Can someone tell me where in Miller's article she says anything that could be construed as this:

A new account of the CIA leak scandal rocking the White House suggests top presidential aides were seriously concerned about what could be seen as a dissident faction inside the US spy agency that appeared to work even behind the back of the CIA director to debunk the notion Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

I don't see anything that leads to a "dissident faction," in her piece, but it does conveniently play into some on the right's suggestion that Plame and some of her liberal spook comrades "in the bowels of the CIA" were running a rogue operation to hide all the evidence of Saddam's WMD arsenal. (This excuse fails to acknowledge the the verified fact that there were no actual WMD found, but no matter.) I've assumed that it was confined to the fringe of wingnuttia, but it appears to have made it to the AP.

Scandal Central

Referring to the NY Times coverage of the Judy Miller saga, Brit Hume said something today to the effect of, "I don't think the American people care about this and as I was reading it today it occurred to me that I don't care much either."

Well, he wouldn't. Brit's career as the dean of FoxNews was made by covering the important stories, after all:

Quick off the mark on January 21, the day the story broke, FNC had the first photo of Lewinsky on the air at 9 a.m., and, that same day, the first interview with Gennifer Flowers. It began devoting all of its daytime schedule to the crisis, except for brief segments on other news, along with weekend specials attracting hundreds of viewer phone calls. The network even inaugurated a whole new early-evening series, Special Report with Brit Hume, to keep daily tabs on the evolving story "for the duration of the developments."

And he did, scolding other news organizations all along the way for not being properly obsessed with what was going on in Clinton's pants:

"The President was forced to confront a new twist in an old legal battle. A federal judge ruling today that Mr. Clinton violated the Privacy Act by releasing letters from Kathleen Willey, who accused him of making an unwanted sexual advance in the White House." Clinton: "Obviously we don’t agree with the ruling."


The low priority given the development by the White House press corps surprised FNC’s Brit Hume, who immediately after the press conference scolded his colleagues. At 3:15pm ET he told anchor Shepard Smith:

"I think this most extraordinary thing about this news conference, Shep, and it was one of the more extraordinary ones I’ve ever seen, were the questions. We were ten questions into this news conference when he was finally asked about the federal judge’s finding today in Washington that the President had committed a criminal violation of the Privacy Act. It is not every day that a judge makes such a finding, and it, we talked, we heard all about the President’s views on Elian Gonzalez, certainly that’s in the news. We had questions on the Middle East. We had the President’s opinion solicited in the second question in the news conference about police shootings in New York. And then it was ten questions in before we got around to this extraordinary thing that happened today with the federal judge making this finding. Now the President said he didn’t agree with it, which is what one would expect him to say, and obviously there’s more on this chapter to play out. But quite a remarkable performance by those asking the questions it seemed to me."

Why, oh why, can't the press concentrate on important things? This is what real news people spend their time on:

A Clinton family friend tells Fox News that the First Couple barely speak in private," FNC’s Rita Cosby reported Wednesday night. FNC’s Fox Report and Special Report with Brit Hume led Wednesday night with Cosby’s exclusive about how the Clintons left their ski weekend early a week and a half ago because they had a fight. Cosby quoted a source who knows the Clintons as relaying how Hillary Clinton refused to accompany her husband on his current Central American trip because "I don’t want to be in the same room with him, let alone the same bed."

Paula Zahn opened the 7pm ET Fox Report: "Remember when the Clintons came home early from their ski trip last week? The White House said it was because Mrs. Clinton got hurt, but insiders are telling a very different story."

Cosby disclosed: "Sources tell Fox News the reason it abruptly ended was because the First Couple had a shouting match which left Hillary Clinton storming out of the room, saying she wanted her bags."

After letting Democratic hack Peter Fenn suggest strains are expected in a marriage after what they have been through, Cosby continued: "A Clinton family friend tells Fox News that the First Couple barely speak in private, that quote: ‘They have nothing to talk about anymore. The only thing they have in common is Chelsea.’"

Now that's journalism. Today we have all these ridiculous stories about manipulated intelligence and unconventional weapons and revealing the names of undercover CIA agents. Don't they realize that important people don't have time for these petty distractions? Don't they understand that unless the mushroom cloud is a smoking cigar that there is no need for this obsessive coverage of so-called "crimes" in the government? Where will it end? Before you know it, they'll be saying that even lying about the reasons for war is illegal and then where will we be?

Sarcasm aside, it occurs to me that CNN made itself into a powerhouse with the first Gulf War. FoxNews grew to its current status riding on Clinton's penis. Rovegate and the Machine Scandals belong to MSNBC right now and could translate into some real ratings if they play their cards right. So far, they are the go-to network on these stories.

In order to gain political advanatage there has to be a central television clearing house for all things scandal related. I think MSNBC is ripe to lead this story. And they are, coincidentally, the most blog-friendly network, with the web-site being one of the earliest entries into the blogosphere and TV personalities Olbermann, Shuster and Matthews actually producing real blog material. Perhaps they will be open to some of the research and analysis the blogs provide to help inform their coverage.

I know we all hate the dreaded MSM and all, but the unpleasant reality is that the TV news media are essential to advancing a story like this, sticking with it, plucking the best performers from the Barbizon school of blond former prosecutors to provide commentary. I think it's MSNBC's story. We should keep up the pressure on them to do it right --- which includes acknowledging it when they do.

George Packer

Shorter George Packer :
Stop telling me you told me so, you fucking anti-war assholes!
No, Tristero, how dare you! Packer's too brilliant and thoughtful an intellectual to be that crude, isn't he? I mean, like he writes for The New Yorker and everything.

Ok, ok, I'm sorry, really, I am. But... well, just for the heck of it, let's "engage" our eloquent, weighty Mr. P., since he deems such engagement the sign of a first-rate mind and yeah, I really, really care what his opinion of my mental ability is. Packer types:
Before the invasion, there was the possibility of a world without Saddam Hussein and of an Iraq that no longer threatened endless violence in its volatile region — which was attractive. There was also the certainty of death and destruction in a new war, and the many reasons to doubt that this administration was up to the job — which was frightening. [Italics added]
In fact, Packer is right, but he doesn't know it. There was indeed the possibility he mentions, by following the revised sanctions regime that Lopez and Cortright discussed in an all-but-totally-ignored article in Foreign Affairs in July/August, 2004.(The link is to a "liberated" copy.):
The failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq has prompted much handwringing over the problems with prewar intelligence. Too little attention has been paid, however, to the flip slide of the picture: that the much-maligned UN-enforced sanctions regime actually worked. Contrary to what critics have said, we now know that containment helped destroy Saddam Hussein's war machine and his capacity to produce weapons.


The United Nations sanctions that began in August 1990 were the longest running, most comprehensive, and most controversial in the history of the world body. Most analysts argued prior to the Iraq war -- and, in many cases, continue to argue -- that sanctions were a failure. In reality, however, the system of containment that sanctions cemented did much to erode Iraqi military capabilities. Sanctions compelled Iraq to accept inspections and monitoring and won concessions from Baghdad on political issues such as the border dispute with Kuwait. They also drastically reduced the revenue available to Saddam, prevented the rebuilding of Iraqi defenses after the Persian Gulf War, and blocked the import of vital materials and technologies for producing WMD.

The unique synergy of sanctions and inspections thus eroded Iraq's weapons programs and constrained its military capabilities. The renewed UN resolve demonstrated by the Security Council's approval of a "smart" sanctions package in May 2002 showed that the system could continue to contain and deter Saddam.
That's right, boys and girls, just around the time the fixing of the intelligence was ramping up - spring of 2002 - the UN had refined the sanctions regime.
Dismissed by hawks as weak and ineffective and reviled by the left for its humanitarian costs, the sanctions regime has had few defenders. The evidence now shows, however, that sanctions forced Baghdad to comply with the inspections and disarmament process and prevented Iraqi rearmament by blocking critical imports. And although many critics of sanctions have asserted that the system was beginning to break down, the "smart" sanctions reform of 2001 and 2002 in fact laid the foundation for a technically feasible and politically sustainable long-term embargo that furthered U.S. strategic and political goals.

The story of the nearly thirteen years of UN sanctions on Iraq is long and tortuous.

[I've snipped a long and torturous history of those sanctions. Actually, it's interesting, but here's the conclusion:]

Of course, no sanctions regime can be 100 percent effective; smuggling and black marketeering inevitably develop. Baghdad labored mightily to evade sanctions, mounting elaborate oil-smuggling and kickback schemes to siphon hard currency out of the oil-for-food program. Investigations by the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) and The Wall Street Journal put Iraq's illicit earnings at $1.5 billion to $2.5 billion a year. An updated GAO report estimated that illegal Iraqi revenues from 1997 through 2002 amounted to $10.1 billion, about 15 percent of total oil-for-food revenues during that period.

Still, the sanctions worked remarkably well in Iraq -- far better than any past sanctions effort -- and only a fraction of total oil revenue ever reached the Iraqi government.


In the run-up to war [in 2003], some in Washington acknowledged the impact of inspections and sanctions but believed that sanctions would soon collapse. Kenneth Pollack reiterated this argument in a January 2004 article in The Atlantic Monthly, insisting that war was necessary because "containment would not have lasted much longer" and Saddam "would eventually have reconstituted his WMD programs." Support for sanctions did indeed begin to unravel in the late 1990s. But beginning in 2001, the Bush administration launched a major diplomatic initiative that succeeded in reforming sanctions and restoring international resolve behind a more focused embargo on weapons and weapons-related imports.

One major reason for this renewed consensus was the creation of a new "smart" sanctions regime. The goal of "smart" sanctions was to focus the system more narrowly, blocking weapons and military supplies without preventing civilian trade. This would enable the rehabilitation of Iraq's economy without allowing rearmament or a military build-up by Saddam. Secretary of State Colin Powell launched a concerted diplomatic effort to build support for reformulating sanctions, and, in the negotiations over the proposed plan, agreed to release holds that the United States had placed on oil-for-food contracts, enabling civilian trade contracts to flow to Russia, China, and France. Restrictions on civilian imports were lifted while a strict arms embargo remained in place, and a new system was created for monitoring potential dual-use items. As the purpose of sanctions narrowed to preventing weapons imports without blocking civilian trade, international support for them increased considerably: "smart" sanctions removed the controversial humanitarian issue from the debate, focusing coercive pressure in a way that everyone could agree on. The divisions within the Security Council that had surfaced in the late 1990s gave way to a new consensus in 2002. The pieces were in place for a long-term military containment system. The new sanctions resolution restored political consensus in the Security Council and created an arms-denial system that could have been sustained indefinitely.

In the months prior to the invasion, as Bush administration officials threatened military action and dismissed sanctions as useless, additional suggestions were offered to strengthen the sanctions system. Morton Halperin, former director of policy planning at the State Department, recommended a "containment plus" policy during July 2002 testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The goal of such a system, Halperin said, "would be to tighten the economic embargo of material that would assist Iraq in its weapons of mass destruction and other military programs as well as reducing Iraq's receipt of hard currency outside the un sanctions regime."

Additional measures could have further refined and strengthened the sanctions regime. These could have included provisions to establish sanctions assistance missions and install detection devices on Iraq's borders to monitor the flow of goods across major commercial crossings; to eliminate kickbacks by preventing unscrupulous firms from marketing Iraqi oil and mandating public audits of all Iraqi oil purchases; and to control or shut down the reopened Syria-Iraq pipeline. This last option, especially, was an obvious, feasible step that would have immediately reduced the flow of hard currency to Baghdad. The other measures would have taken more time and diplomatic capital, but the United States had enormous leverage, precisely because it threatened military attack, and it could have used its clout to tighten the noose. Syria and other neighboring states, for example, could have been persuaded to cooperate in containing Iraq in exchange for improved diplomatic relations with Washington. This would have solidified long-term containment and laid the foundation for improved political relations in the region. As with other nonmilitary options for achieving U.S. aims, however, such proposals to enhance containment were cast aside and ignored.

The adoption of "smart" sanctions in Iraq was a diplomatic triumph for the Bush administration. It was followed a few months later by Iraq's acceptance of renewed inspections and Security Council approval of a tougher monitoring regime in Resolution 1441. Indeed, the Bush administration spent its first two years methodically and effectively rebuilding an international consensus behind containment. By the fall of 2002, it had constructed the core elements of an effective long-term containment system -- only to discard this achievement in favor of war. [Emphasis added]
In short, if Lopez and Cortright are correct, there was a very good chance everything Packer hoped to achieve could have been achieved without war. I have yet to see a detailed refutation of Lopez and Cortright's assertions or facts.* Packer doesn't even bother to mention the sanctions in his op-ed.

That's right, despite all his hoohah about keeping an open mind (see below), Packer doesn't even consider the sanctions worthy of mention. Packer writes:
In the winter of 2003, what you thought about the war mattered less to me than how you thought about it. The ability to function meant honest engagement with the full range of opposing ideas; it meant facing rather than avoiding the other position's best arguments. In those tense months, the mark of second-rate minds was absolute certainty one way or the other.
Among those who were absolutely certain the war was doomed to failure were Ted Sorenson, Arthur Schlesinger, Richard Clarke, John Le Carre, Harold Pinter, the CEIP, Sy Hersh, and many, many others. Second-rate losers, the lot of 'em.

"The war is not an argument to be won or lost; it's a tragedy," Packer types as the final zinger to his op-ed. It sure sounds beautiful and thoughtful, it makes me want to weep. Oh, the humanity! But as far as I can tell, it doesn't really mean a goddamm thing. Well, actually it does. In fact, the meaning's crystal clear:
Stop telling me you told me so, you fucking anti-war assholes!

*[UPDATE: Reader JS sent a link that strongly criticized the "smart sanctions" discussed above, as a cynical hoax. It was written by Joy Gordon, who has written extensively on the sanctions (a book is to be published), and the Oil for Food program. JS also referenced another Gordon article about the numerous problems with sanctions. Both were published before the Lopez and Cortright article. JS concludes her letter:

"In short, Lopez and Cortright are not right about smart sanctions.

'What we should be saying is that the Inspection regime worked. The UN administration (monitoring on the ground in Iraq) worked. But the behavior of the US and the UK at the New York end was inexcusable and unnecessary. And deadly."]
Engine Seizure

What a morning.

Instead of discussing the biggest story in town (in which he happens to be intimately involved) Russert spent almost the entire hour helping Louis Freeh smear Bill Clinton. This was after letting Condi Rice get away with saying, "we could decide that the proximate cause was al Qaeda and the people who flew those planes into buildings and, therefore, we would go after al Qaeda…or we could take a bolder approach." Too bad about the terrorism.

On ABC Joe Klein, George Will and Fahreed Zakaria might as well have been wearing powdered wigs and sniffing snuff with their pinkies raised as they rolled their eyes and knowingly pooh-poohed the leaking of classified information, deploring the wanton criminalization of politics that has taken place under King George's reign.

Stephanopoulos, to his credit for once, actually reported the story everyone in Washington actually cares about and even got Joe DeGenova to admit that Fitzgerald not only should pursue charges if anybody in the white house lied to him --- he had a duty to do so. Apparently, he and his ball and chain, Victoria Toensing, aren't yet on the same page about Fitz --- she said the other day that he had "lost it!" He'd "gone over the edge.!"

Steph also surprisingly called on the perfumed courtiers on their casual dismissal of powerful government officials outing undercover CIA operatives to cover-up their lies about the reasons for an illegal war of aggression. Perhaps he was stung by the fact that in order to join the Kewl Kidz he was forced to turn on his political mentor with all the breathless sanctimony of a born again drug addict while the kewl kidz now thinks its terribly droll that the powers that be play political games with national security. IOKIYAR, Stephie. Remember that.

I didn't hear anybody mention this, and it's big:

Even before testifying last week for the fourth time before a grand jury probing the leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity, Bush senior adviser Rove and others at the White House had concluded that if indicted he would immediately resign or possibly go on unpaid leave, several legal and Administration sources familiar with the thinking told TIME.

Resignation is the much more likely scenario, they say. The same would apply to I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby, the Vice President's chief of staff, who also faces a possible indictment. A former White House official says Rove's break with Bush would have to be clean—no "giving advice from the sidelines"—for the sake of the Administration.

From, the way his lawyers are talking, they seem pretty convinced that Rove is likely to be indicted:

Rove's defense team asserts that President Bush's deputy chief of staff has not committed a crime but nevertheless anticipates that special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald could find a way to bring charges in the next two weeks, the source said.

Of course Rove will be giving his advice from the sidelines, but without him being on the spot, his power and influence will be a shadow of what it was. And frankly, I'm not sure if I'm more nervous at the idea of Karl Rove staying in the White House or leaving it. George W. Bush has had Karl Rove at his side for his entire political career. Every minute. It's impossible to imagine him functioning without him.

George W. Bush is a creature of Karl Rove's imagination. He invented him. I would bet money that Dick Cheney is no longer a trusted second in command. It looks like he and his little dog Scooter may have taken Turdblossom down with them. If Rove goes, for better or worse (and I don't actually think it could be worse) the United States will effectively no longer have a president.

I wonder if James Baker is on call. He's the loyal Texan the Bushes usually call to clean up their shit. If he's not up for it this time it looks like Andrew Card or Ed Gillespie will be running the most powerful nation on earth for the next three years. Jesus.

Keep in mind that the political machine is also on the defensive from all directions --- DeLay, Abramoff, Reed, Norquist, Frist even Lou Sheldon and James Dobson are now in the sights of federal prosecutors. And then there's Ronnie Earle. The Harriet Miers crack-up may just be a preview. The top-down, centralized Republican machine is seizing up and it's about to explode.

Judy's War, And Matt's

Five more American soldiers died in Iraq. They died not only because Saddam surely had Weapons of Mass Destruction. They also perished for America's noble mission to spread democracy where once trod the heavy boot of tyranny.

Christ, this war make me sick.
The Trifecta

Abramoff quietly arranged for eLottery to pay conservative, anti-gambling activists to help in the firm's $2 million pro-gambling campaign, including Ralph Reed, former head of the Christian Coalition, and the Rev. Louis P. Sheldon of the Traditional Values Coalition. Both kept in close contact with Abramoff about the arrangement, e-mails show. Abramoff also turned to prominent anti-tax conservative Grover Norquist, arranging to route some of eLottery's money for Reed through Norquist's group, Americans for Tax Reform.

It's late. Am I dreaming?


For any of you professional journalists out there: how common do you suppose it is for the pentagon to give a reporter "clearance to see secret information?"

I think we need another conference on blogger ethics because I'm getting all confused again.


Saturday, October 15, 2005

Libby's Defense

It occurs to me in reading Judy's description of her testimony that the very nature of the investigation has required Fitz to at least peripherally examine the bogus WMD claims. If somebody goes to trial, this is going to be an issue. Judy went into some detail about what the administration was selling during the summer of 2003:

As I told the grand jury, I recalled Mr. Libby's frustration and anger about what he called "selective leaking" by the C.I.A. and other agencies to distance themselves from what he recalled as their unequivocal prewar intelligence assessments. The selective leaks trying to shift blame to the White House, he told me, were part of a "perverted war" over the war in Iraq.


As I told Mr. Fitzgerald and the grand jury, Mr. Libby alluded to the existence of two intelligence reports about Iraq's uranium procurement efforts. One report dated from February 2002. The other indicated that Iraq was seeking a broad trade relationship with Niger in 1999, a relationship that he said Niger officials had interpreted as an effort by Iraq to obtain uranium.

My notes indicate that Mr. Libby told me the report on the 1999 delegation had been attributed to Joe Wilson.

Mr. Libby also told me that on the basis of these two reports and other intelligence, his office had asked the C.I.A. for more analysis and investigation of Iraq's dealings with Niger. According to my interview notes, Mr. Libby told me that the resulting cable - based on Mr. Wilson's fact-finding mission, as it turned out - barely made it out of the bowels of the C.I.A. He asserted that George J. Tenet, then the director of central intelligence, had never even heard of Mr. Wilson.

As I told Mr. Fitzgerald, Mr. Libby also cited a National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, produced by American intelligence agencies in October 2002, which he said had firmly concluded that Iraq was seeking uranium.


Although I was interested primarily in my area of expertise - chemical and biological weapons - my notes show that Mr. Libby consistently steered our conversation back to the administration's nuclear claims. His main theme echoed that of other senior officials: that contrary to Mr. Wilson's criticism, the administration had had ample reason to be concerned about Iraq's nuclear capabilities based on the regime's history of weapons development, its use of unconventional weapons and fresh intelligence reports.

Needless to say, further events proved Mr Libby and the rest of the adminstration to be asses. That, however, is only partly relevant to the fact that this testimony seems to lead inexorably to an examination of the WMD claims that Libby referenced. There's a lot of detail there that will have to be dealt with if there's a trial. Perhaps we now know something of what is in those 8 pages of redacted evidence that convinced Judge Tatel that this case was important enough to send Miller to jail for.

And if Libby wants to defend his version of events to Judy Miller, keep this in mind, from that little noticed column from last month referring to a classified Inspector General report that places the blame for 9/11 and the WMD failures on George Tenent:

Mr. Tenet's decision to defend himself against the charges in the report poses a potential crisis for the White House. According to a former clandestine services officer, the former CIA director turned down a publisher's $4.5 million book offer because he didn't want to embarrass the White House by rehashing the failure to prevent September 11 and the flawed intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. Mr. Tenet, according to a knowledgeable source, had a "wink and a nod" understanding with the White House that he wouldn't be scapegoated for intelligence failings. The deal, one source says, was sealed with the award of the Presidential Freedom Medal.

Now that deal may be off...In deciding not to become the fall guy, Mr. Tenet has made a fateful decision. The latest salvo in the ongoing wars between the CIA and the White House may be about to burst. Until now, Mr. Tenet has kept silent about what Mr. Bush knew and when he knew it. Mr. Tenet's decision to defend his own role in September 11 puts the White House back in the spotlight. The only way he can push off responsibility is to push it higher up the ladder.

There is a lot of pressure building on the Iraq lies coming from a lot of different directions.

For a thorough rundown of the feud between the white house and the CIA, read this post by ReddHedd at firedoglake.

For a historical view of the neocons and the CIA (and the difference between the left and right's view of the spooks) read this moldy old post of mine.

Victor/ Victoria

There is much to chew over in Judy's magnum opus and I'm going to have to give it some quality time tomorrow. But the first thing that jumps out at me is this weird "Victoria" thing.

Somebody was calling Valerie Plame, Victoria --- Judy isn't the only one to make that mistake. Kevin Drum caught this in October:

NEEDED: ONLINE EDITOR....Howard Fineman in Newsweek yesterday:

I'll stipulate that it is a felony to disclose the name of an undercover CIA operative who has been posted overseas in recent years. That's what the statute says. But the now infamous outing of Victoria Plame isn't primarily an issue of law. It's about a lot of other things....

Um, anyone notice the problem here? And it's repeated three more times. Maybe Newsweek needs to hire Dan Weintraub's editor.

In the comments one of his commenter noticed others:

A quick Google search shows several incidents of the name Victoria Plame such as in the St. Louis Post Dispatch and the International Herald Tribune.

It's certainly possible that a whole bunch of people made the same mistake about her first name. It's odd, though. One might think that it is more likely that it was one person who consistently referred to her by the wrong name --- who was speaking to a bunch of reporters.

Our Tax Dollars At Work

The New York Review of Books links to this recent heartbreaking, enraging account of systematic torture of Iraqis by American troops, CIA types, and others by Human Rights Watch. It demands a detailed accounting from this government but of course it won't get one, partly because not even American moderates take seriously anything a group like Human Rights Watch says concerning US human rights abuses. These are our tax dollars at work, present tense intended. The recent resolution from Congress condemning torture surely will be ignored.

And that, my friends, is the direct result of the wildly successful efforts of the Bush right to marginalize all organizations and individuals that fail to hew to a right to far right attitude regarding American foreign policy.

Human Rights Watch is neither left or right (this would go without saying if our political discourse wasn't so grossly distorted, but it bears repeating in the present climate). It simply details human rights abuses everywhere regardless of the polarity of the government. It is incredible, truly incredible, that even today Americans, even Americans unalterably opposed to torture, believe that reports like HRW's need to be "balanced" with the official propaganda line of the Bush government in order to arrive at the real truth about Iraqi torture, which "surely lies somewhere in between." It doesn't. Plain and simple, HRW's account is horribly accurate and Bush's assurances are lies that should receive only minimal coverage by responsible reporters.

It is long overdue for groups like HRW to get accorded the "moderate US mainstream" respect they deserve, and get acknowledged for the incredible courage it takes to report these kinds of abuses. While it is a secondary issue to the sheer immorality of torture, if ever there was a program designed to make overseas travel and work by Americans more dangerous, it is a policy of systematic torture of prisoners.

Once again, the Bush administration demonstrates that they are prepared to dangerously undermine American interests while branding all critics as leftwing scoundrels and traitors. And once again, they are full of shit.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Don't Look At Me

Read this very interesting Hardball transcript of a discussion between Chris Matthews and Andrea Mitchell as they dissect the body of public evidence we have about Fitzgerald's investigation. They speculate grandly about what Fitzgerald's up to --- and you can see that there is some serious trepidation about Fitz coming in and trashing the place by expecting Republicans to uphold the law.

But there is one tiny bit of information that they both fail to mention in their wide ranging discussion of all things Fitzgerald: the fact that both of them were subpoenaed in the case! And neither of these fine reporters have actually, you know, reported what that was about.

I especially love questions like this: "Yes, I think we are looking at something. What do you think, Jim? What do you know, actually?"

What do you know Chris? You're allegedly a reporter. You're the guy who talks incessantly about manly men and how they behave. Tell us your impressions of Patrick Fitzgerald. Presumably you've met him. What was he like? What did he ask you? What did you tell him? Can you not say anything because your lawyer had advised you not to? If so, why?

This story is the weirdest kabuki dance I've ever seen. I thought it was absurd when the news anchors held the exit poll results but winked and nodded all day about the outcome. (That's become so bizarre after the last two elections, however, that their winks and nods will be meaningless in any close election.) But this is ridiculous. We have big time reporters in the Washington press corps who know a lot more about what is going on than they are saying. A number of them have been interviewed by the Justice department or testified. They are part of the story. And yet they pretend that they are "objective" reporters who have no personal knowledge of events and don't even feel the need to issue a disclaimer saying that they had been interviewed or they testified and can't talk about it.

I have been hard on Judith Miller for not writing anything, but I'm beginning to really believe that she is in legal jeopardy. (That doen't excuse the NY Times, of course, for their failures.) For the life of me, I can't understand any journalistic ethics that would hold that it is ok for Chris matthews and Andrea Mitchell to discuss the ins and outs of a highly detailed story, speculate about the prosecutor and who he's talking to, without having to say that they are personally involved in the case. But then I'm just an amoral, psuedonymous blogger from nowhere who can't be trusted.

I won't even mention the BMOC (big man on channel) Tim Russert, who is clearly not only involved in the case, he is at the very center of it. (The Anonymous Liberal nicely connects those dots, here.) I can find no evidence that Russert has ever admitted or been asked on the air that he had anything to do with the case at all. Apparently this strange DC journalistic omerta precludes people from mentioning that fact even while they are being grilled by Russert on their own knowledge of the case.

After reading this laughable pile of offal by Richard Cohen today (who, as usual, writes precisely the wrong thing at precisely the wrong time)I'm more convinced than ever that something very sick has happened to our politics. Andrea Mitchell said on Hardball last night: "Chris, we should point out that there is a difference between playing political hardball, which people in Washington play and people in this White House play, and anything that approaches a crime." This idea that character assassination has become so normalized that even the outing of a CIA agent for political purposes is considered business as usual is outrageous and it explains a lot about what has gone wrong with our government.

The subjects of this investigation are the most powerful people on this planet. The case involves not just politics as usual but a concerted effort to conceal information about the rationale leading up to this misbegotten war. When the administration was confronted by critics, they could have laid out the reasons why Wilson was incorrect. Instead, they chose to forcefully discredit him with a ridiculous nepotism charge and in the course of that, whether purposefully of out of carelessness, they revealed a CIA agent's cover.

This was not just politics, it was a cover up using strong arm tactics. We may not have known definitively in the summer of 2003 that after all the administration's so-called proof that there were no WMD in Iraq, but we sure as hell do now. Whether they technically committed a crime under the Victoria Toensing statute, or whether they perjured themselves or obstructed justice before the grand jury to cover their political crimes, it should be prosecuted. Richard Cohen and Andrea Mitchell may think this is trivial, but I doubt that most people in this country will find it so. They understand the difference between consensual blowjobs, character assassination and national security even if the beltway doesn't.

This is at its essence about a toxic political culture. The press has abdicated its reponsibility to hold the powerful accountable. A highly centralized Republican political machine observes no limits. The opposition party is purposefully rendered impotent and irrelevant. The checks and balances are no longer in place.

The only institution that has the ability to cut through the spin, the lies, the strong-arm tactics is the justice system. Politics have become criminalized to be sure --- by the political criminals and their friendly helpmates in the press. The law is all we've got left. God help us.

Fredo, You Broke My Heart

Via Americablog, Murray Waas is quoted as saying:

...Apparently Lewis Libby and Karl Rove, during the course of the special prosecutor's investigation, they almost certainly never thought that either Judith Miller or Matthew Cooper or the journals would cooperate. It's been very rare that a prosecutor – a federal prosecutor has been [inaudible] to pressure journalists into testifying against their will. It's very rare that journalists have testified, and it's almost a historical thing now for Judith Miller to spend 85 days in jail. So, I think it was -- Libby was apparently in the hope that Miller wouldn’t testify, as Karl Rove was, that Matthew Cooper wouldn’t.

If that's so, they were no more assured than their big boss who was certain that reporters would never cooperate, back in October of 2003:

"I have no idea whether we'll find out who the leaker is, partially because, in all due respect to your profession, you do a very good job of protecting the leakers," he said. "You tell me: How many sources have you had that's leaked information that you've exposed or had been exposed? Probably none. I mean, this town is a town full of people who like to leak information."

....and if you want any more leaks you'll keep your traps shut.

Major Discoveries

First of all, More Hobbits found. This would seem to indicate that Homo floresiensis is a real new species discovery, but there are still a lot of scientists who think the skeletons represent modern humans with microcephaly. Also, in a different story about the new hobbit skeleton, there's some speculation that hobbits may have descended not from Homo Erectus, as the main discoverers believe, but from australopithecines, hominids like the famous Lucy.

And then there are the first photos of a living giant squid. Before these pics, the most info we had about this critter (25 feet long and counting) came from dead or dying animals that had washed ashore.

Moving right along, a manuscript of Beethoven's Grosse Fuge was discovered on a shelf in a seminary's library in Philadelphia. This is a piano four-hands arrangement of one of the greatest pieces of music I know. The link gives the NY Times article but if you go to the Times itself, you can see pictures of the manuscript and play a slideshow. This is easily one of the most important musicological finds of the past 50 years or more.

Equally important is the discovery and publication of John Work's legendary study of the music and people of Coahoma County, Mississippi in the early 40's. In a nutshell, back in '42, a team of musicologists and folklorists from the Smithsonian and Fisk University traveled to Coahoama to document the music and life there. Alan Lomax, the Smithsonian man, was searching for the young blues master Robert Johnson, who unfortunately had died about five years before. Residents suggested he might want to hear another bluesman on the big plantation down there, a fellow by the name of McKinley Morganfield, better known as Muddy Waters. Lomax made the first recordings of Muddy and they are incredible. By the way, if you don't know the music of Muddy Waters, you don't know America. Those who love Muddy know I'm not exaggerating.

Here's the thing. There was another man at those plantation recording sessions, Professor John Work from Fisk University. As it happens, it was Fisk and Work who originally proposed the research trip, contacted the Smithsonian, and Lomax took charge from them. Lomax, of course, is one of the most important men in the history of American folk music, but for all the great things he did, he could be a bit of an opportunist. Lomax arranged for the release of some of Muddy's recordings from that day (and many more treasures of African American folk musc) while Dr. Work patiently transcribed not only the Muddy Water's recordings but at least a hundred others, which provide a superb overview of Coahoama's musical life. This is the area known as the Mississippi Delta, the main stamping grounds not only of Robert Johnson, but Son House, Charlie Patton, Willie Brown, Howlin' Wolf, and a host of other musicians whose contribution to American and world culture is so great, it defies calculation. He sent this precious manuscript into Lomax for publication and, well, Lomax "lost" it.

Well, Muddy's biographer, and some others, found Work's manuscript and also found some other papers from the same study. They are a treasure trove. I've been reading this book since this summer, playing through the music, learning about the famous Natchez fire and the levee floods and African-American life in the South during a period of profound transitions. These are essential documents, beautifully edited and published.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Two Tense Weeks

After reading my post about the WHIG group from last night, conservative journalist Robert George wrote in to give me a heads up about a post he wrote earlier (and cross posted on the Huffington Post) about "those two tense weeks in July" on both sides of the atlantic. This was the same period, you'll remember, in which the "sexed up" British dossier came to a head and resulted in the suicide of one of the major players in that saga.

Judy Miller, the Zelig of Iraq lies, was right in the middle of that too.

George wrote:

"... if we go back to our timeline tracking the furious developments that were going on in both the U.S. and the U.K., we note that July 12, 2003, was the one of the two days not really accounted for in previous news stories. In between the first and second times Miller and Libby spoke, the following things occurred:

* On July 9, in the UK, Blair’s government has orchestrated the outing of scientist David Kelly as the source of BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan’s explosive report that the Blair government “sexed-up” its Iraq intelligence dossier. In the U.S., Robert Novak talks with Karl Rove (Wilson’s op-ed had appeared three days before).

* On July 11, George Tenet releases a statement asserting that the “16 words” about yellowcake uranium shouldn’t have been in the president’s State of the Union address. The same day, Karl Rove talks to Matt Cooper about, among other things, Joseph Wilson and his wife.


Why was Miller behind bars for three months concerning sources to a story which that she never wrote about?

The answer is obvious: Judith Miller emerged as a central figure because she MADE herself a central figure and, arguably, BECAUSE she didn't "writ[e] a story about the case." This is the Judith Miller who, four days later, wrote words of encouragement to British scientist David Kelly: “David, I heard from another member of your fan club that things went well for you today. Hope it's true, J.”

These don't seem like the words of a disinterested journalist. These are the words of someone who has some sort of interest in how a witness performs in a parliamentary hearing.

How is it that – two years later and after Judith Miller has spent 90 days in jail for refusing to cooperate with a criminal investigation – not one media organization has deemed it important to wonder: Who is the other “member of [Kelly’s] fan club”? Is it Scooter Libby? Is it John Bolton (who visited Miller in jail and we know was questioned by the State Department Inspector General the same day Kelly’s body was found)? Is it someone else? If it is indeed an American, exactly what is that person's interest in a British Parliamentary inquiry?

Judith Miller is the missing link between two different investigations. She’s not a mere reporter. How do we know? Because, she has “reported” none of this.

Read the whole post because he's going to be doing a follow-up shortly.

Judith Miller wrote that e-mail and Kelly responded the next afternoon with:

"I will wait til the end of the week before judging -- many dark actors playing games. Thanks for your support. I appreciate your friendship at this time."

He killed himself that same day.

The thing to keep in mind is that all these things were connected. For instance, the White House propaganda operation had been closely involved with Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair's communication guru.From a September, 2002 article that discusses another White House propaganda operation called the Office of Global Communications:

Now Campbell is also a member of the Band [an early version of the Office of Global Communications] and is working in tandem with the White House. When Prime Minister Tony Blair meets with Parliament next week, for example, he will release a "white paper"—the detailed argument—that backs up George W. Bush.

That white-paper turned out to be the "sexed-up" dossier, the veracity of which was being questioned all over the papers in Britain during the same period that Joe Wilson was making waves about the Niger yellowcake claims here in the states. The wheels seemed to be coming off the cart.

The two countries had been working closely together since the very beginning to con their respective citizens into supporting the war:

The techniques that proved so successful in Operation Iraqi Freedom were first tried out during the campaign to build public support for the US attack on Afghanistan.

Rumsfeld hired Rendon Associates, a private PR firm that had been deeply involved in the first Gulf War. Founder John Rendon (who calls himself an "information warrior") proudly boasts that he was the one responsible for providing thousands of US flags for the Kuwaiti people to wave at TV cameras after their "liberation" from Iraqi troops in 1991. The White House Coalition Information Center was set up by Karen Hughes in November 2001. (In January 2003, the CIC was renamed the Office for Global Communications.) The CIC hit on a cynical plan to curry favor for its attack on Afghanistan by highlighting "the plight of women in Afghanistan." CIC's Jim Wilkinson later called the Afghan women campaign "the best thing we've done."

Gardiner is quick with a correction. The campaign "was not about something they did. It was about a story they created... It was not a program with specific steps or funding to improve the conditions of women."

The coordination between the propaganda engines of Washington and London even involved the respective First Wives. On November 17, 2001, Laura Bush issued a shocking statement: "Only the terrorists and the Taliban threaten to pull out women's fingernails for wearing nail polish." Three days later, a horrified Cherie Blaire told the London media, "In Afghanistan, if you wear nail polish, you could have your nails torn out."

Misleading via Innuendo Time and again, US reporters accepted the CIC news leaks without question. Among the many examples that Gardiner documented was the use of the "anthrax scare" to promote the administration's pre-existing plan to attack Iraq.

In both the US and the UK, "intelligence sources" provided a steady diet of unsourced allegations to the media to suggest that Iraq and Al Qaeda terrorists were behind the deadly mailing of anthrax-laden letters.

It wasn't until December 18, that the White House confessed that it was "increasingly looking like" the anthrax came from a US military installation. The news was released as a White House "paper" instead of as a more prominent White House "announcement." As a result, the idea that Iraq or Al Qaeda were behind the anthrax plot continued to persist. Gardiner believes this was an intentional part of the propaganda campaign. "If a story supports policy, even if incorrect, let it stay around."

In a successful propaganda campaign, Gardiner wrote, "We would have expected to see the creation [of] stories to sell the policy; we would have expected to see the same stories used on both sides of the Atlantic. We saw both. The number of engineered or false stories from US and UK stories is long."

The US and Britain: The Axis of Disinformation Before the coalition invasion began on March 20, 2003, Washington and London agreed to call their illegal pre-emptive military aggression an "armed conflict" and to always reference the Iraqi government as the "regime." Strategic communications managers in both capitols issued lists of "guidance" terms to be used in all official statements. London's 15 Psychological Operations Group paralleled Washington's Office of Global Communications.


The Coalition Information Center with offices in the London, Islamabad and the White House started work in mid-2002 (six months before it was officially authorized by an Executive Order). In 2003, the CIC morphed into the Office of Global Communications, staffed by Tucker Eskew, Dan Bartllett, Jeff Jones, Peter Reid.

The OGC works closely with the White House Iraq Group, which consists of Karl Rove, Condi Rice, Jim Wilkinson, Stephen Hadley, Scooter Libby, Karen Hughes, Mary Matalin, and Nicholas Callo.

There was an elaborate propaganda machine ginned up in both the US and the UK to sell the Iraq war. During those "two tense weeks in July" a lot of information about that was seeping out in the press in both countries. It threatened to overwhelm the administration.

They were able to calm the waters, slow the story down, stonewall any Justice Dept investigation for months:

The Financial Times writes, “While allowing the official investigation into the leak to progress, the White House has done an extraordinarily effective job of suffocating the story,” refusing to provide the press with the type of updates that the Clinton administration regularly made available during the Whitewater investigation. “We have let the earth-movers roll in over this one,” one senior White House official told the Times on the condition of anonymity.

The problem was that somehow (another story yet untold) Ashcroft stepped on his manhood and had to appoint a special prosecutor. (And perhaps after their experiences in the 90's the GOP made the mistake of thinking that all prosecutors could be trusted to be Republican partisans.) Patrick Fitzgerald does not seem to be a political climber.

I don't know that this grand jury investigation could go to the heart of the WHIG and the rest of the US/UK British propaganda effort at this point. Fitzgerald subpoenaed Miller for her notes about anything pertaining to Iraq and uranium, so it's possible. If people are indicted the whole thing could explode. As Judy has shown, jail time tends to make one's priorities very clear.

Regardless of the criminal aspects of this, I would hope that the press, burned and still smoking over the WMD lies and the manipulation by their own compatriot the Blessed Virgin of the First Amendment, would at least start to look into this story and expose it. This stuff has been hiding in plain sight.

This sounds like tin-foil hat conspiracy crapola, but it isn't. There was a concerted, organized propaganda campaign out of Downing Street and the White House to sell the Iraq war. It wasn't bad intelligence. It wasn't even "sexed-up" intelligence. It was lies and propaganda, pure and simple. When Dr Kelly and Joseph Wilson pulled back the curtain in the spring of 2003, the powers that be on both sides of the atlantic played the hardest of hardball.

Update: I notice that Victoria Toensing is rolling out the inevitable slime and defend. On Hardball, she breathlessly characterized Patrick Fitzgerald with, "He's lost it! He's gone over the edge!" Wilson, of course, came in for a "Why would they (CIA) pick this idiot?"

Her coup de grace was that the press hates Bush so they focused on the silly CIA stuff instead of the real issue, which is ... nepotism.

Man, do these Republicans have brass, or what?

Update II: To clarify, we do know why Fitzgerald was appointed. However, the circumstances, like so many other things in this case, have not been fully reported in the mainstream media. See this post at Needlenose for the full enchilada.
The Question All America Is Asking

What's your favorite popcorn? Looks like it's gonna a super jumbo size show this fall!
A newly released report published by the CIA rebukes the Bush administration for not paying enough attention to prewar intelligence that predicted the factional rivalries now threatening to split Iraq.

Policymakers worried more about making the case for the war, particularly the claim that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, than planning for the aftermath, the report says. The report was written by a team of four former CIA analysts led by former deputy CIA director Richard Kerr.

"In an ironic twist, the policy community was receptive to technical intelligence (the weapons program), where the analysis was wrong, but apparently paid little attention to intelligence on cultural and political issues (post-Saddam Iraq), where the analysis was right," they write.


The report determined that beyond the errors in assessing Iraqi weaponry, "intelligence produced prior to the war on a wide range of other issues accurately addressed such topics as how the war would develop and how Iraqi forces would or would not fight."

The intelligence "also provided perceptive analysis on Iraq's links to al-Qaeda; calculated the impact of the war on oil markets; and accurately forecast the reactions of ethnic and tribal factions in Iraq."


Intelligence analysts, the report says, failed to question their assumptions that Iraq had maintained chemical and biological weapons and had reactivated nuclear weapons development. Doubts about the intelligence received little attention, "hastening the conversion of heavily qualified judgments into accepted fact."
Hat tip to BlondeSense
A Distinction With A Very Real Difference

I want to follow up on my previous post which elicited a considerable amount of intelligent criticism, some of which I responded to in the comments. But among the most important critiques was this one from commenter "aw, come on" and it deserves a bit more extended response (apologies for the length of this post):
[Yglesias is] saying the chances of success were so remote that the risks weren't even close to being worth undertaking the effort.

You're saying the chances of success were zero, so that the risks weren't worth undertaking the effort.

(Putting the analogy criticism aside - which also strikes me as petty) your criticism is that he's not willing to say that the Iraq war was doomed to failure to an absolute certainty? That's what some people call a distinction without a difference between Matthew's outlook and my own.

As for whose judgment I'd trust more in the long run -- I'll always take the guy who's willing to recognize that there [are] no certainties in life.
The point is well taken because it goes to the heart of contemporary political/intellectual discourse. I'll try to explain why I drew such a seemingly fine distinction and why I think there is a major difference. I'll also address why I think "aw, come on" may wish to reconsider his opinion of whose judgment to trust.

Most folks are poorly equipped to assess risk and probability. Even highly experienced statistics professors often get confused about seemingly straightforward odds like those in coin tosses and the like. Nevertheless, all of us have share a very rough consensus about what terms like "risky," "very risky," and "extremely risky" mean.

Let's say, for example, that an operation to avert a life-threatening condition with about a 30% chance of failure leading to death is one we would call risky. An operation with approximately a 50% chance of failure most of us would call very risky and one with around an 80% chance of failure extremely risky. Sure, we can argue about the percentage of grades of riskiness forever, move them around by a factor of ten, and cleverly point to all sorts of contingencies that modulate our sense of difference between high risk and extremely high risk and when extremely high risks are justified.

But there are very few among us who would seriously argue that an operation with a 99.999999999999999999999999% chance of failure leading to death is, in any real-world sense, an extremely risky operation! We would call such an operation " impossible."

Any physician who called an operation with those kinds of odds merely "extremely risky" and left it at that is clearly guilty of grossly misstating the facts. I doubt any judge in a wrongful death suit would accept the defense that the patient and family were adequately informed of the risks prior to an operation so clearly doomed to fail in such circumstances (if I'm wrong, I'd love to see a link to the case.) I think calling such odds "extremely risky" is not exactly what Frankfurt means by bullshit but it sure smells very similar.

Unscrupulous people work this con all the time. Among the most cynical, of course, are the state lotteries which are nothing more than an unfair tax on the innumerate. Hey, y'never know! Well...actually, we do know. You can't win the state lottery. Sure, someone will win, but except in the most abstruse, arcane mathematical sense, you have no chance in hell of winning. If you truly understand the odds -and lottery designers are extremely clever at hiding the actual risks- then you know that betting "only" a dollar is a complete waste of your hard-earned cash. You might as well use that buck as toilet paper - at least it would be of some practical direct use to you.

And it was only in this highly technical, mathematical way that a "successful" invasion of Iraq was "extremely risky." In reality, it was impossible. But that's not how the liberal hawks understood it.

I suspect this is part of how they were snookered. Their first mistake was the fallacy of the appeal to authority. "Brilliant, thoughtful, geniuses" like Wolfowitz, who had enormous political power were telling us the Bush/Iraq War was extremely risky but "winnable." Could such brilliant, influential men be completely wrong? Let's take what these experts say seriously, despite our misgivings. Hey, y'never know!

The second mistake was assuming "extremely risky" meant "some slight chance it could possibly work." But it obviously couldn't, not in the real world. The third mistake was the slippery slope fallacy - an "extremely risky" venture is one that is often characterized, as Bush/Iraq was, as audacious and bold, or in Nicholas Lemann's fatuous description of PNAC's proposal from whence Bush/Iraq sprung, a "breathaking vision."

Well once you have a "breathtaking vision" coupled with "extreme risk," hoary American myths start to kick in. Americans, after all, are risk takers, we are a people of breathtaking vision. And here's a splendid chance to...do some real good for a change! Hey, y'never know! It could work.

Well many of us absolutely knew it couldn't. It wasn't wrong because the chances of success were slim, but because it was, by any rational standard, absolutely impossible. If in the real world an invasion of Iraq ever was "successful" (in terms of democratization and increasing regional stability), then everything we knew to be true about that real world would simply have to be wrong. It would mean not only that Bush and Rumsfeld were competent, but that imposing democracy by invasion works almost all the time (Carnegie Endowment calculated before the war at best a 25% success rate and those successes were in situations not comparable to Iraq), that atrocities like Abu Ghraib would be minimal, that an analysis of the possible reception of a US invasion that stemmed from an agency that can barely read Arabic was in fact precisely accurate, that the rest of the world would line up to cheer us on, if not publicly, at least privately; and -the least likely of all- the relatives of the victims of American war actions would welcome us with kisses and flowers.

By characterizing the chances as exceedingly slim, but real, an utterly stupid idea is given a weight it simply doesn't deserve. You can discuss how slim the possibilities are, after all, and hey! y'never know, do you? No, folks: You call ideas as bad as the invasion of Iraq exactly what they are: completely nuts. That, to use an overused word, accurately frames the discussion.

Had the mass public discourse been so framed, there would have been no Bush/Iraq War with all the attendant horrors. In fact, that is exactly how Josh Marshall and other ex-liberal hawks framed the debate over Social Security: Bush's plan is not risky, but impossible. Well, who knows? They're extremely risky but they could work, right? Actually, no they couldn't, except in some alternative universe.

That is why this is a distinction with a genuine difference. Matthew makes an elaborate philosophical argument about the morality of high risk taking, complete with intellectually daunting verbiage, the ex ante and the complex sentence structure. But whatever its merits, it's utterly irrelevant to Bush/Iraq. This is not a case where the morality of risk taking would ever apply because the Bush/Iraq War wasn't risky at all. It was impossible. The liberal hawks' failure to understand this (and, of course, the administration's, the media's and public's') is extremely distressing because the mistakes in reasoning are so fundamental, and so terribly naive.

As for trusting those who say there are no certainties in life, well it sure sounds like a reasonable idea, but only if you're dealing with reasonable people. Would you trust someone's judgment who said there's a slight but very real probability that there was a UFO behind the Hale-Bopp comet? Most of us wouldn't, but hey, y' never know, and a lot of people in the Heaven's Gate suicided so they could travel to that comet. Hey, y'never know, they may be right.

And that, my dear friend "aw, come on" is the problem. In listening to Wolfowitz and Perle, many of us knew immediately we were listening to the foreign policy equivalent of Do and Ti, the intellectual leaders of Heaven's Gate. True, uncertainties abound in life. But there are limits and the failure of Very Authoritative Experts to understand that the Bush/Iraq War was crazy from the get-go and immediately label it as mad and impossible is a failure of such immense stupidity, it will boggle the minds of historians for centuries.

After all, even Bush the Father was street enough to label the Perle gang as The Crazies.

(PS If you need links, lemme know. I assume everyone knows the references by now, but if you don't, just ask.

PPS I'm aware that "Aw, come on," like Matthew and the other war supporters, also finesses the real reasons the Bush/Iraq War was wrong, namely that it was immoral and illegal, flying in the face of thousands of years of common law. That it couldn't work in a very real sense is not the main issue. But that's another discussion (grin).)

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

WHIGging Out

Those of you who are not steeped in the arcana of the Plame story may be wondering why all the speculation about the White House Iraq Group being implicated in a widening Fitzgerald investigation has bloggers salivating.

Read this (pdf) report called "Truth from These Podia: Summary of a Study of Strategic Influence, Perception Management, Strategic Information Warfare and Strategic Psychological Operations in Gulf II," written by Colonel Sam Gardiner who identified 50 false news stories created and leaked by a secretive White House propaganda apparatus. Here's a news story about it:

According to Gardiner, "It was not bad intelligence" that lead to the quagmire in Iraq, "It was an orchestrated effort [that] began before the war" that was designed to mislead the public and the world. Gardiner's research lead him to conclude that the US and Britain had conspired at the highest levels to plant "stories of strategic influence" that were known to be false.

The Times of London described the $200-million-plus US operation as a "meticulously planned strategy to persuade the public, the Congress, and the allies of the need to confront the threat from Saddam Hussein."

The multimillion-dollar propaganda campaign run out of the White House and Defense Department was, in Gardiner's final assessment "irresponsible in parts" and "might have been illegal."

"Washington and London did not trust the peoples of their democracies to come to the right decisions," Gardiner explains. Consequently, "Truth became a casualty. When truth is a casualty, democracy receives collateral damage." For the first time in US history, "we allowed strategic psychological operations to become part of public affairs... [W]hat has happened is that information warfare, strategic influence, [and] strategic psychological operations pushed their way into the important process of informing the peoples of our two democracies."

It was this story that the White House didn't want exposed and when Joe Wilson started making noises about Dick Cheney and yellowcake, they got very nervous. After all, the WMD's weren't turning up in Iraq.

On August 10, 2003, just a month after Wilson's op-ed, Barton Gellman and Walter Pincus, wrote an article in the WaPo:

IRAQ'S NUCLEAR FILE : Inside the Prewar Debate, Depiction of Threat Outgrew Supporting Evidence

This article is based on interviews with analysts and policymakers inside and outside the U.S. government, and access to internal documents and technical evidence not previously made public.

The new information indicates a pattern in which President Bush, Vice President Cheney and their subordinates -- in public and behind the scenes -- made allegations depicting Iraq's nuclear weapons program as more active, more certain and more imminent in its threat than the data they had would support. On occasion administration advocates withheld evidence that did not conform to their views. The White House seldom corrected misstatements or acknowledged loss of confidence in information upon which it had previously relied

This story has never been fully aired to the public for reasons the mainstream press has to answer for. If the Iraq Group (WHIG), which implicates all the big players in this, possibly even the president, becomes a part of a federal criminal case, it will likely also become the subject of intense media scrutiny.


More here.