Saturday, October 28, 2006

Karl Rove's 11th hour plan: LAT front-page story for tomorrow morning by my friends Tom Hamburger and Peter Walesten.

A brand new story that appears to have been missed-- by even bloggers?!-- about Curt Weldon, by Laura Rozen. (I know it seems like I am promoting the work of my friends tonight, but I am proud of their work, and moreover these are important stories.)

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Justin Rood this morning with perhaps the most detailed account anywhere regarding Joe Lieberman's website crashing.

Josh has a dissection of the White House/GOP talking points, and a dissection of Mike Allen's recitation of them over at Time. And Jacob Weisberg spouts the converntional wisdom-- it's only two two days after the election and yet somehow Weisberg's column seems sooo old.

The Washington Post reports this morning: "Democratic leaders are willing to prod, but not quite yet push, or worse, shove, Lieberman out of the race as`Democratic officials gently signaled their desire that Lieberman abandon his independent candidacy but appeared reluctant to press him publicly. A senior Democratic official in Washington said leaders had met and decided to put off confronting Lieberman at least for a few days, to allow the senator time to absorb the implications of his loss and his new isolation from longtime colleagues and supporters. `There's a feeling that the dust needs to settle,' the official said."

The persuasion and prodding will go on for sometime, and then the pushing and shoving will commence. And, waiting in the wings, is a certain former President who will will make a phone call if necessary, as I have written about here before. (A couple of posts ago: I am not one of those bloggers to link to their own blog!)

I have my day job to go to now, so I recommend that everyone tune into Dan Froomkin for better stuff (content and analysis) than I have to offer.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Tomorrow morning's WSJ has this story by political reporter Jeanne Cummings asserting that the defeat of three incumbents in recent primaries-- Sen. Joe Lieberman (Dem.? Ind.? Rep.?) and Reps. Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.) and Joe Schwartz (R-Mich.) are "the latest evidence of a broader anti-incumbent sentiment."

She also writes:

The dissatisfaction affects both parties, but voter unrest is more dangerous to Republicans since they are the party in power and have more seats at risk. According to Wall Street Journal polls, the anti-incumbent mood in the 2006 cycle mirrors that of the 1994 midterm election in which Democrats lost control of both chambers of Congress. In the latest Journal/NBC News survey, 38% of voters said their representative "deserves re-election," while 48% said it is "time to give a new person a chance." Such numbers have in the past been a good indicator of a coming congressional shake-up.
The public is in "a very, very sour mood," says Democratic pollster Peter Hart, who conducts the Wall Street Journal/NBC News survey with his Republican counterpart Bill McInturff. "Only a quarter of the people say the country is headed in the right direction. The public is going to view any incumbent with a jaundiced eye," said Mr. Hart.

My own thoughts: McKinney and Lieberman , the two Democrats went down to defeat, were not typical instances of anti-incubentism. Lieberman's problems with Conn. voters were longstanding, and were also, as well known, in part because of the perception that he was too close with Republicans and supported the war with Iraq. McKinney had assaulted a Capitol police officer, and had been an ineffective legislator and embarasment for her constituents for some time.

The critical question will be whether voters are going to the polls in anti-incumbent mood or anti Bush mood, or in part both.

On the other hand, the 2006 congressional midterms may turn out very different from the 1994 insurgent Republican upheaval. More on that later....

Geroge Stephanopoulos has quite a scoop, one that I haven't seen elsehwere: On his ABC News blog, he reports:

"Karl Rove, has reached out to the Lieberman camp with a message straight from the Oval Office: `The boss wants to help. Whatever we can do, we will do it."

"But in a year where even some Republican candidates are running away from the President on the campaign trail, does this offer have any value to Lieberman? Still smarting from all the coverage of "the kiss" at last year's State of the Union, the Lieberman camp isn't looking for an explicit endorsement. That could create more problems than it solves.

"The White House might help Lieberman by putting the kibosh on any move to replace the weak Republican candidates, Alan Schlesinger, with a stronger candidate."

The post was later updated to say that "Dan Gerstein called from the Lieberman campaign to say the above account from another Lieberman adviser is not accurate. While confirming that Rove called Lieberman, he added: `Rove made a personal call, no help was offered, and we are not interested regardless.'"

I for one trust Stephanoupolous' reporting. Even though I have had concerns about the increasing numbers going through the political operative/journalist revolving door, Stephanoupolous has become one of our better political reporters-- and I find him to be meticulous and careful in his reporting.

Regardless of what was said between Lieberman and Rove, one would thing that the phone call itself would be bigger news.

Update: The Stephanoupolous report is the top headline at Huffingtonpost, along with this analysis. I am not so prescient after all! Meanwhile, the story has still not been given any attention by any major newspaper.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

It is not even the morning after, but Hillary Clinton's PAC is giving $5,000 to Ned Lamont.

Hotline names four prominent Democratic Senators, who "although they supported Lieberman in the primary, they will back the Dem nominee": Hillary Clinton, Tom Harkin, Barrak Obama, and Frank Lautenberg.

Evan Bayh, also to support Lamont, according to Chris Cilliza: "Sen. Evan Bayh-- who, like Lieberman, has close ties to moderates within the party but is considering a 2008 Connecticut presidential bid-- quickly announced he would support Lamont." Bayh spokesman Dan Pfeiffer: "The Democratic voters of Connecticut have spoken, and Senator Bayh respects their choice and will support their nominee."

NYT editorial: "Revenge of the Irate Moderates"

What to expect sometime very soon: A phone call from a certain former President to Lieberman. You don't need me to tell you what he is going to say. Not that soon, but not so far in the future either. The $5,000 check being written by the same said former President's wife not even before all the votes had been counted, was a harbinger of what is to come.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Why did it take two and one half years for Robert Novak to disclose details of his co-operation with special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald?

In contast to Novak, virtually all of the other journalists who have testified before the federal grand jury in the CIA leak case wrote or talked publicly about their cooperation usually within days of their testimony.

Novak himself writes in his column for tomorrow morning: "Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has informed my attorneys that after two and one half years, his investigation of the CIA leak case concerning matters directly relating to me has concluded. That [finally] frees me to reveal my role in the federal inquiry...."

Unlike the other journalists that had testified simply as witnesses, federal investigators working the case had concerns that Novak may have worked with Rove to devise a cover story to protect Rove, as I first reported in May. If Rove had been charged by the grand jury, Novak would have been a crucial witness against Rove. And Novak himself was reportedly under suspicion by the prosecutor. But when the special prosecutor informed Rove that he would not bring charges against him, it was unlikely that Novak would ever be a witness in the CIA leak case. Thus, Fitzgerald informed the columnist that he not have to remain silent any longer.

Here is part of what I wrote about all of this way back in May:

On September 29, 2003, three days after it became known that the CIA had asked the Justice Department to investigate who leaked the name of covert CIA officer Valerie Plame, columnist Robert Novak telephoned White House senior adviser Karl Rove to assure Rove that he would protect him from being harmed by the investigation, according to people with firsthand knowledge of the federal grand jury testimony of both men.

Suspicious that Rove and Novak might have devised a cover story during that conversation to protect Rove, federal investigators briefed then-Attorney General John Ashcroft on the matter in the early stages of the investigation in fall 2003, according to officials with direct knowledge of those briefings...

Sources said that Ashcroft received a special briefing on the highly sensitive issue of the September 29 conversation between Novak and Rove because of the concerns of federal investigators that a well-known journalist might have been involved in an effort to not only protect a source but also work in tandem with the president's chief political adviser to stymie the FBI.

Rove testified to the grand jury that during his telephone call with Novak, the columnist said words to the effect: "You are not going to get burned" and "I don't give up my sources," according to people familiar with his testimony. Rove had been one of the "two senior administration" officials who had been sources for the July 14, 2003, column in which Novak outed Plame as an "agency operative." Rove and Novak had talked about Plame on July 9, five days before Novak's column was published.

Rove also told the grand jury, according to sources, that in the September 29 conversation, Novak referred to a 1992 incident in which Rove had been fired from the Texas arm of President George H.W. Bush's re-election effort; Rove lost his job because the Bush campaign believed that he had been the source for a Novak column that criticized the campaign's internal workings.

Rove told the grand jury that during the September 29 call, Novak said he would make sure that nothing similar would happen to Rove in the CIA-Plame leak probe. Rove has testified that he recalled Novak saying something like, "I'm not going to let that happen to you again," according to those familiar with the testimony. Rove told the grand jury that the inference he took away from the conversation was that Novak would say that Rove was not a source of information for the column about Plame. Rove further testified that he believed he might not have been the source because when Novak mentioned to Rove that Plame worked for the CIA, Rove simply responded that he had heard the same information.

Asked during his grand jury appearance his reaction to the telephone call, Rove characterized it as a "curious conversation" and didn't know what to make of it, according to people familiar with his testimony...

To read the rest of that story, click here.
Robert Novak finally speaks. Even though his column has not yet been published or posted, John Amato has obtained it in its entirety.

I will have more soon...
Bush administration reversal this morning on Guantanamo. Some early details from a Washington Post account:

The Bush administration, in an apparent policy reversal sparked by a recent Supreme Court ruling, said today it will extend the guarantees of humane treatment specified by the Geneva Conventions to detainees in the war-on-terror.

In a memo released by the Pentagon this morning, Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England, citing the Supreme Court's decision, ordered all Pentagon personnel to "adhere to these standards" and to "promptly review" all policies and practices "to ensure that they comply with the standards" of the Geneva Convention's Common Article 3.

Since 2001, the administration has argued that the Geneva Conventions would be respected as a matter of policy but that they did not apply by law. The Supreme Court, in a 5-3 decision, rejected that view.

White House spokesman Tony Snow confirmed the new approach, according to wire service reports, saying that while detainees have been treated humanely, "we want to get it right. . . . It's not really a reversal of policy." Snow called the Supreme Court decision "complex."

But in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee today, Steven Bradbury, acting assistant attorney general, stated that the court has indeed "imposed another baseline standard . . . that we must now interpret and mplement."

Neither the White House nor the Pentagon provided any immediate details as to what would be done differently or how the decision would effect the controversial policies on interrogation, which have provoked an international outcry as well as considerable domestic controversy.

Click here to read the full article. And click here to read a more authoritative and detailed article in the New York Times.

Monday, July 10, 2006

One billion and counting and still going strong!... Of course those are not McDonald's numbers, but then of course McDonald's ordinarily just makes one feel lethargic and sick for part of your day. The consequences aren't usually as permanent.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Rep. Peter Hoekstra , the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, on Fox Sunday:

"Some people within the intelligence community brought to my attention some programs they believed we had not been briefed on. They were right. We asked by codename about some of those programs. We have now been briefed on those programs.

"But I wanted to reinforce to the President and to the executive branch and the intelligence community how important and by law that they keep the legislative branch informed about what they are doing."

John A'mato has the video. (More importantly John also has some Thelonious Monk up on his blog tonight. Before he was a famous blogger, John played sax for Duran Duran.)

In the meantime, the public has no idea what were the programs that were hidden from them and Congress. At least the congressional intelligence committees now know.

Update, 5:18 A.M., Monday morning (up too early): Tom MaGuire had some interesting ideas about all of this. A conservative blogger who is always intelligent and civil even when he sharply disagrees with you. Here is his take.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Why is this blog so much about Guantanamo and little else today?

The Bush administration is for the first time debating the very real possibility that Guantanamo be shut down entirely. It is the first prolonged and serious debate and review of the issue, according to people who are in the know. That debate and the road to whatever final decision is made by the President (and the decision will be his) is probably not only going to be an important news story, but almost certaintly also decision making process that will be examined again and again by future historians of the Bush presidency.

More... as I know more, if I am able to find out much.

Republican Chairman of House Intelligence Committee: "The U.S. Congress simply should not have to play Twenty Questions..."

The NYT, just moments ago, posted this story on their website disclosing that the Republican chairman of the House intelligence committee, has questioned the legality of certain Bush administration covert intelligence programs. One reason that this is such an extraoridinary developmnet is that Hoekstra has been considered an administration ally and point man in the past in defending the President's intelligence programs and policies. It's also significant that his comments are much sharper than anything said in the past by the committee's Democratic vice chairwoman, Jane Harmon of California.

To read the full article, click here.

Below are some excerpts fom the article.

WASHINGTON, July 8 — In a sharply worded letter to President Bush in May, an important Congressional ally charged that the administration might have violated the law by failing to inform Congress of some secret intelligence programs and risked losing Republican support on national security matters.

Rep. Hoekstra's Letter to President Bush (pdf)

The letter from Representative Peter Hoekstra of Michigan, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, did not specify the intelligence activities that he believed had been hidden from Congress.

But Mr. Hoekstra, who was briefed on and supported the National Security Agency's domestic surveillance program and the Treasury Department's tracking of international banking transactions, clearly was referring to programs that have not been publicly revealed.

Recently, after the harsh criticism from Mr. Hoekstra, intelligence officials have appeared at two closed committee briefings to answer questions from the chairman and other members. The briefings appear to have eased but not erased the concerns of Mr. Hoekstra and other lawmakers about whether the administration is sharing information on all of its intelligence operations.

A copy of the four-page letter dated May 18, which has not been previously disclosed, was obtained by The New York Times.

"I have learned of some alleged intelligence community activities about which our committee has not been briefed," Mr. Hoesktra wrote. "If these allegations are true, they may represent a breach of responsibility by the administration, a violation of the law, and, just as importantly, a direct affront to me and the members of this committee who have so ardently supported efforts to collect information on our enemies."

He added: "The U.S. Congress simply should not have to play Twenty Questions to get the information that it deserves under our Constitution."

Frederick Jones, a White House spokesman, declined to comment on the concerns raised by Mr. Hoekstra but said that "we will continue to work closely with the chairman and otherCongressional leaders on important national security issues."

More Guantanamo news: Via Jeralyn, the President said at his press conference on Friday that the Supreme Court was actually backing him in handing down their Guantanamo decision.

And just to reassure six to eight loyal readers to my blog who might think that I am doing less blogging and reporting about the CIA leak case, it is perhaps noteworthy that Bush also said at his Friday press conference that special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has done "a very professional job" in his handling of the investigation.

Last Monday, for those who did not see it, I wrote an account for the National Journal disclosing what the President told Fitzgerald during the President's own June 24, 2004 interview with the special prosecutor. Further analysis by Dan Froomkin.

What to look for in the future? Will the President's comments make it more difficult for the President to pardon I. (Scooter) Libby if the former chief of staff to Vice President is found guilty after his trial on obstruction of justice and perjury charges in January?

A recent news story in Newsday by Tom Brune raised the possibility that the White House may be cconsidering such a pardon.

An excerpt from Tom's article:

One attorney familiar with the Plame case said Bush might find that it is in his interest to pardon Libby sooner rather than later.

A pardon before the trial could could cut off [embarrassing] disclosures and spare Vice President Dick Cheney from testifying as Fitzgerald's witness about Libby, his former chief of staff.

But the timing of a pardon, the attorney suggested, likely would depend on the outcome of the midterm elections.If Republicans retain control of Congress, Bush could act swiftly. But if Democrats win control of the House or Senate, Bush might wait, and use Libby's trial as an excuse not to cooperate with anycongressional investigations into the leak.

The counterargument to a pardon this year or next, however, is that it would be a political bombshell and distract from Bush's agenda. DiGenova predicted that Bush, like other presidents, would issue controversial pardons on his last day in office.

Tom also points out in his story that when Democrats wrote Bush asking that he pledge not to pardon Libby, the President did not respond-- news originally broken in this very blog!
Meanwhile, David Ignatius also weighs in on Guantanamo. Ignatius is one of those rare columnists who does original, ground breaking reporting. And on this issue, he is not only far ahead of the beat reporters at his own newspaper, the Washington Post, but also just about everyone else covering this story for that matter. Below are some excerpts from his column:

The post- Hamdan debate involves some long-standing divisions within the administration over anti-terrorism policy. On one side are Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her advisers, who believe that Guantanamo has become a dangerous rallying point for anti-Americanism. On the other are conservative administration lawyers, led by Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, David Addington, who worry that any attempt to involve Congress or international lawyers in writing new rules would produce an unworkable legal mess that would endanger U.S. security. In the middle, seeking to resolve the issue over the next several weeks, are Stephen Hadley, the national security adviser, and Joshua Bolten, the new White House chief of staff.
Bush's comments about closing Guantanamo suggest that he wants to turn a page. But as sometimes happens with this administration, the debate isn't over until it's over -- and even then it isn't over. That was the case with the McCain amendment banning harsh interrogation. The president signed the law and then appended a signing statement saying that his executive power wasn't bound by such limits, then made a public statement indicating that despite the signing statement, he would follow the law. Confused? So is the CIA, which is said to have stopped interrogating terrorist suspects altogether until the rules are clarified.

The Sept. 11 commission's recommendation noted that stateless terrorists were outside the normal rules of law and suggested, "New principles might draw upon Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions on the law of armed conflict." Champions of this approach include Rice's counselor, Philip Zelikow, who was previously staff director of the Sept. 11 commission, and State Department legal adviser John B. Bellinger III...

The Hamdan decision has opened a path toward the kind of global consensus about anti-terrorism policies that the Sept. 11 commission envisioned. This is a rare moment to begin fixing something that has gone dangerously wrong. After Hamdan , Bush has a chance to take a decisive step back toward an international rule of law -- and to solve America's biggest image problem at the same time.
Colin Powell apparently is not the only one who wants to close down Guantanamo. Barry McCaffrey apparently thinks much the very same thing, according to Steve Aftergood, of the Federation of American Scientists. Below are some excerpts from McCaffrey's report on Aftergood's blog, Secrecy News:

"Arrogance, secrecy, and bad judgment have mired us in a mess in Guantanamo from which we are having great difficulty in extricating ourselves," wrote U.S. Army Gen. (Ret.) Barry R. McCaffrey in a report (pdf) on his recent trip to the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay.

"The JTF Guantanamo Detention Center is the most professional, firm, humane and carefully supervised confinement operation that I have ever personally observed....

"Much of the international community views the Guantanamo Detention Center as a place of shame and routine violation of human rights. This view is not correct. However, there will be no possibility of correcting that view."

"There is now no possible political support for Guantanamo going forward," Gen. McCaffrey wrote.

A PDF version of McCaffrey's entire report can be found here.
Colin Powell says: "Guantanamo ought to be closed immediately." That, according to this blogging post by new Atlantic Monthly editor James Bennet.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Nicholas Kristoff has a great op-ed, fittingly publsihed on July 4, in the New York Times. For those of you, who like me, cannot afford Times Select, in yet another act of civil disobedience, I violate the copyright law with impunity and publish the column in its entirety below.

("What are you in for?", I ask a fifteen year old girl in copyright jail with me. She replies: "Ah, downloading some Pearl Jam and like some Radiohead. What are you in for?" "A Nicholas Kristof column.")

The column also references a National Journal story that I wrote about Pat Roberts, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Speaking of NJ, by the way, I had a brand new story out Monday posted on the magazine's website, which can be found here. (What is a blog for, after all, if not for self-promotion?)

Finally, the column is well worth reading for a single line (which I bolded) in this paragraph: "When I was covering the war in Iraq, we reporters would sometimes tune to Fox News and watch, mystified, as it purported to describe how Iraqis loved Americans. Such coverage (backed by delusional editorials baffling anyone who was actually in Iraq) misled conservatives about Iraq from the beginning. In retrospect, the real victims of Fox News weren't the liberals it attacked but the conservatives who believed it."

In any case, here is the column in its entirety:

With President Bush leading a charge against this ''disgraceful'' newspaper, and a conservative talk show host, Melanie Morgan, suggesting that maybe The Times's executive editor should be executed for treason, we face a fundamental dispute about the role of the news media in America.

At stake is the administration's campaign to recast the relationship between government and press.

One mechanism is the threat to prosecute editors or reporters, for the first time, under the 1917 Espionage Act. Perhaps more likely may be an effort to subpoena James Risen and Eric Lichtblau, two reporters for this newspaper, to compel them to disclose confidential sources -- and then to imprison them when they refuse. Granted, many Americans, believing that the press is arrogant and out of control, wouldn't be bothered by that.

Two disclosures by this newspaper have sparked particular outrage: a report about National Security Agency wiretapping without warrants and one about a program to track terror financing by examining bank transfers.

The first scoop strikes me as the best of journalism, for it revealed possibly illegal behavior without any apparent risk to national security. The wiretapping was already well known, and the only new information was that it was conducted without warrants. That's useful information to citizens, but not to terrorists.

The more recent disclosure about bank transfers seems to me a harder call. The program seems both legal and sensible, and it would be a setback in the unlikely event that bankers backed off in the glare of publicity.

So, I might have made that decision differently. But so far there is no evidence that the banking story harmed national security, and I'm sure that editors of this newspaper, The Los Angeles Times and The Wall Street Journal weighed their responsibilities seriously, for they have repeatedly held back information when necessary. In contrast, the press-bashers have much less credibility.

Take Pat Roberts, the Kansas Republican who is head of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Senator Roberts has criticized The Times, but he himself is responsible for an egregious disclosure of classified intelligence. As National Journal reported in April, it was Senator Roberts who stated as the Iraq war began that the U.S. had ''human intelligence that indicated the location of Saddam Hussein.''

That statement horrified some in our intelligence community by revealing that we had an agent close to Saddam.

No responsible newspaper would risk an agent's life so blithely. And The Times would never have been as cavalier about Valerie Plame Wilson's identity as the White House was. The fact is, journalists regularly hold back information for national security reasons; I recently withheld information at the request of the intelligence community about secret terrorist communications.

More broadly, the one thing worse than a press that is ''out of control'' is one that is under control. Anybody who has lived in a Communist country knows that. Just consider what would happen if the news media as a whole were as docile to the administration as Fox News or The Wall Street Journal editorial page.

When I was covering the war in Iraq, we reporters would sometimes tune to Fox News and watch, mystified, as it purported to describe how Iraqis loved Americans. Such coverage (backed by delusional Journal editorials baffling to anyone who was actually in Iraq) misled conservatives about Iraq from the beginning. In retrospect, the real victims of Fox News weren't the liberals it attacked but the conservatives who believed it.

Historically, we in the press have done more damage to our nation by withholding secret information than by publishing it. One example was this newspaper's withholding details of the plans for the Bay of Pigs invasion. President Kennedy himself suggested that the U.S. would have been better served if The Times had published the full story and derailed the invasion.

Then there were the C.I.A. abuses that journalists kept mum about until they spilled over and prompted the Church Committee investigation in the 1970's. And there are secrets we should have found, but didn't: in the run-up to the Iraq war, the press -- particularly this newspaper -- was too credulous about claims that Iraq possessed large amounts of W.M.D.

In each of these cases, we were too compliant. We failed in our watchdog role, and we failed our country.So be very wary of Mr. Bush's effort to tame the press. Watchdogs can be mean, dumb and obnoxious, but it would be even more dangerous to trade them in for lap dogs.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Wow. After my post/column appeared on theHuffington Post about the death of Randy Campbell and Carl Wenzel, a marine who served with them left this long message on the site. What surprised me was that after the column appeared I heard a lot more from from veterans of the Vietnam and both Iraqi wars than from cancer survivors.

Here is the message/post left by Wayne Bradley:

"Murray, My name is Wayne E. Bradley. I served with Randy Campbell in Vietnam in 1965. On the day he was killed I was the one to find his body the next morning.

"It was true that his hands, his feet, chunks of legs, chest, and face [were gone.] He was laying on his bag when i found him covered in maggots.

"To this day I believe that he jumped on the grenade and not tripped it by mistake but John Chambers who was with him at the time he died thought for 20 years that he had shot his partner to death with an M14. 20 years later I told him there were no bullet holes in his body which relieved his mind.

"The story I was told by John Chambers was that they were done setting the grenades and Campbell had told Chambers to go get the guns. At that time Chambers heard some noise and looked back. There were 2 Viet Congs, at that time they threw 2 grenades 1 at each person. I believe that Chamebrs rolled away from his grenade and got fragments in his back. At the same time I believe Randy either had the grenade land by his and set off both, or he either jumped on the grenades at the same time.

"I don't know if there will be a way to prove what happened that day.

"However, I believe that it was an heroic act that they tried to do to set up an early warning system and again, its good to hear Steve Carlson's name because he was in my fire team in Vietnam. He was a good marine. We are going to have a reunion in San Diego on September 20th of 2006, this year. I have been looking for Campbell for a long time. And I think of him many days. He was quite a person. And a good friend.

"Yours Truly, Wayne Bradley."

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Libby's attorneys ask for a delay for his trial on obstruction of justice and perjuy charges.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Friday, April 28, 2006

Rush Limbaugh turns himself in to the authorities. The former head of the Food and Drug Administraton is under criminal investigation. Meanwhile, the FBI had begun investigating contracting fraud under the administration of Missouri Governor Matt Blunt. As many as a half dozen members of Congress may have become embroiled in a prostitution scandal. It feels like a minor crime way is underway. Looks like, John Amato is probably not going to be getting much sleep tonight.
Censorship at the CIA: Steve Afergood. Shaun Waterman at UPI. Shane Harris at National Journal. And David Kaplan of U.S. News posted this too-little noticed story online all the way back in October. (Was that short enough a post, Atrios?)

And finally, Eric Alterman sees it all as part of a larger picture.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Exclusive Fitzgerald Interview.... (post updated twice)

Exclusive Fitzgerald Interview!... er, unfortunately not with me. And, morevoer, well, not with the New York Times or Washington Post either.

The exclusive was scored by one Joseph Santo, a senior at Regis High School, a Jesuit college-prep high school on the Upper East Side in Manhattan. Via Dan Froomkin, Santo scored the exclusive interview in part because Fitzgerald is an alumni of the school. High school kid beats the national press! Timely story, too, with Rove before the grand jury today and all.

Alas, Santo, however, wasn't able to get Fitzgerald to spill the beans on the Plame probe. Not the kid's fault: Fitzgerald is inscrutable even for more experienced journalists such as--er, myself. (What is a blog for except to talk about yourself?)

And Fitzgerald shows once again he is adept--even when he speaks--at not saying much of anything at all. He told Santo: "Every day is new and every day is interesting. I love being a prosecutor; it's a great job, and it's very engaging."

Update, 4:21 P.M. Even though I myself have never scored an interview with Patrick J. Fitzgerald, I will be getting an interview with the kid (my competition) who broke the big story. Haven't talked to him yet. But the principal and president of his school said that J.R. has to do it, and having once been in high school myself (a public school, albeit not a jesuit school, but still knowing the fear of being called to the principal's office...), I know what that is like.

Some background on the school: Father Philip Judge, the President of Regis, told me (or is telling me... I am blogging as I interview him, what a medium blogging is!) that Regis is an all scholarship Catholic boys school, founded in 1914.

Father Judge actually knew Patrick Fitzgerald slightly; who was two years ahead of him in school. Fitzgerald was-- no surprise here-- on the debate team. Father Judge was on the speech team. Among other things, the school, Judge pointed out, won its 17th State Speech championish this year: "Our kids are kinda geeks," he said, "Not very good at sports, but good at things like speech and debate."

Second Update, 8:48 P.M: As it turns out, this school has graduated some very distinguished journalists, among them Pete Hamill and Mark Mazzetti, who just left the Los Angeles Times to cover intelligence for the New York Times. In addition, a recent graduate of Regis, a Harvard student, was one of the reporters for the Harvard Crimson who has broken the story of the alleged plagiarism of Harvard student novelist Kaavya Viswanathan.

All right, enough about this. Back to my own reporting. Plus if he we give this kid too much attention and positive re-inforcement for his story, he might choose journalism for a career instead of something... more admirable like say medicine or law... or for that matter just about any other profession undertaking.

Hey, Josh Gerstein [he works for the New York Sun, and has broken some very good stories on the CIA leak probe, including scooping me a couple of times] you got beat on this story dude!
Rove to testify later today before the federal grand jury. It will mark his fifth appearance before two federal grand juries that have probed the leak of Valerie Plame's identity as a CIA officer.

Update, 3:51 P.M. The Times has a more detailed account of Rove's grand jury appearance, by Anne E. Kornblut.

Second Update, 10:45 P.M. Video here.
Fitzgerald before the federal grand jury this morning for the second known time since last year's indictment of Scooter Libby.

Last night, I also posted a new story for my day job at the National Journal, raising questions about whether there is a double standard for investigations of leaks and other disclsoures of sensitive intelligence informaton.

Is the CIA's case against Mary O. McCarthy not as strong as they and the media first seemed to indicate? A story buried way inside the NYT on Page 17 appears to say as much:

The Central Intelligence Agency on Tuesday defended the firing of Mary O. McCarthy, the veteran officer who was dismissed last week, and challenged her lawyer's own statements that Ms. McCarthy never provided information to the news media.

But intelligence officials would not say whether they believed that Ms. McCarthy had been a source for a Pulitzer Prize-winning series of articles in the Washington Post about secret C.I.A. detention centers abroad. Media accounts have linked Ms. McCarthy's firing to the articles, but the C.I.A. has never explicitly drawn such a connection.

In response to questions Tuesday, the intelligence officials declined to say whether discussion of the prisons has been part of what they described as a a pattern of unauthorized contacts between Ms. McCarthy and reporters.

One intelligence officials, who was granted anonymity to speak more candidly about the sensitive issue, said it was unclear how much access Ms. McCarthy, who was assigned to the agency's inspector general's office, had to specific details about the secret prison.
Read the rest of the Times story here.

Two quick points: If accurate, the Times account and others that have appeared since the inital stories about McCarthy suggest that there is little if any evidence that she leaked classified information to the Washington Post and other news organizations because she simply did not have access to the information. And second, despite some press accounts, that the CIA was not even making that claim in the first place. (Howie Kurtz also did an online column a couple of days ago asking whether the press rushed to judgement.)

The Times account also noted that some "media accounts have linked Ms. McCarthy's firing" to the Post's story on the covert prisons. I wish the Times named them, but in the absence of that being the case, I hope that some media critic or blogger would do so. (As an incentive to anyone contemplating writing such a post or column, this blog will link to you-- and perhaps more than one of my five to seven readers, er, unique visitors will read your site

Another point... (what is a blog for except to go on and on, after all?) my National Journal story discloses that Mary McCarthy was often authorized and designated to speak to the media. That does not mean that she also had unauthorized contacts or perhaps leaked classified information, but there might have been a context to her inadvertently gong too far in conversations with press contacts encouraged by her bosses.

Finally, of course, there is the hypocrisy factor.

And this! This blog gets some attention!

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Did the Bush administration “authorize” the leak of classified information to Bob Woodward? And did those leaks damage national security?

The vice-chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) made exactly that charge tonight in a letter to John Negroponte, the Director of National Intelligence. What prompted Rockefeller to write Negroponte was a recent op-ed in the New York Times by CIA director Porter Goss complaining that leaks of classified information were the fault of “misguided whistleblowers.”

Rockefeller charged in his letter that the most “damaging revelations of intelligence sources and methods are generated primarily by Executive Branch officials pushing a particular policy, and not by the rank-and-file employees of intelligence agencies.”

Later in the same letter, Rockefeller said: “Given the Administration’s continuing abuse of intelligence information for political purposes, its criticism of leaks is extraordinarily hypocritical. Preventing damage to intelligence sources and methods from media leaks will not be possible until the highest level of the Administration cease to disclose classified information on a selective basis for political purposes.”

Exhibit A for Rockefeller: Woodward’s book “Bush at War".

Here is what Rockefeller had to say:

In his 2002 book Bush at War, Bob Woodward described almost unfettered access to classified material of the most sensitive nature. According to his account, he was provided information related to sources and methods, extremely sensitive covert actions, and foreign intelligence liaison relationships. If it no wonder, as Director Goss wrote, “because of the number of recent news reports discussing our relationships with other intelligence services, some of these partners have even informed the C.I.A. that they are reconsidering their participation of some of our most important antiterrorism ventures.”

I wrote both former Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) George Tenet and Acting DCI John McLaughlin seeking to determine what steps were being taken to address the appalling disclosures contained in Bush at War. The only response I received was to indicate that the leaks had been authorized by the Administration. The CIA has still not responded to a follow-up letter I sent a year and half ago on September 1, 2004, trying to pin down which officials were authorized to meet with Mr. Woodward and by whom, and what intelligence information was conveyed during these authorized exchanges.

Were leaks of classified information “authorized” to Woodward? Rockefeller's letter says exactly that. And among other things, it is well known and has been reported long ago that one of Woodward’s sources for both of his books about the Bush presidency was then-VicePresidential chief of staff, I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby, who is portrayed in quite a flattering manner in both.

Rockefeller also said alleged in his letter that the President’s directing of administration officials to co-operate with the administration-friendly Woodward was only one example of such “authorized leaks”.

Rockefeller said elsewhere in his letter:

On February 9th, the National Journal reported that I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby told a grand jury that he was `authorized’ by Vice President Cheney and other White House superiors to disclose classified information from a National Intelligence Estimate to the press to defend the Administration’s use of pre-war intelligence in making the case to go to war with Iraq...
This blatant abuse of intelligence information for political purposes is inexcusable, but all to common. Throughout this period leading up to the Iraq war the Administration selectively declassified or leaked information related to Iraq’s acquisition of aluminum tubes, the alleged purchase of uranium, the non-existent operational connection between Iraq and Al Qaeda, and numerous other issues.”

The White House is declining tonight to comment on Rockefeller's letter, as is Woodward. (If either of them does at some point have something to say, either to me, or elsewhere, I will update this post accordingly.)

Did the leaks to Woodward damage national security? Michael Scheuer, the CIA’s former head of the CIA’s Bin Laden Unit, wrote in his book Imperial Hubris: Why the West Is Losing the War on Terror:

“After reading Mr. Woodward’s Bush at War, it seems to me that the U.S. officials who either approved or participated in passing the information—in documents and via interviews—that is the heart of Mr. Woodward’s book gave an untold measure of aid and comfort to the enemy.”

What was not known by Scheuer at the time was that officials on the “seventh floor” of the CIA were literally ordered by then-CIA director George Tenet to co-operate with Woodward’s project because President Bush personally asked that it be done. More than one CIA official co-operated with Woodward against their best judgment, and only because they thought it was something the President had wanted done or ordered.

One former senior administration official explained to me: “This was something that the White House wanted done because they considered it good public relations. If there was real damage to national security—if there were leaks that possibly exposed sources and methods, it was not done in this instance for the public good or to expose Watergate type wrongdoing. This was done for presidential image-making and a commercial enterprise—Woodward’s book.”

Woodward himself perhaps lends credence to that possibility.

On page 243 of his book “Plan of Attack”, Woodward wrote:

[O]n December 18, my wife, Elsa Walsh, and I attended a huge White House Christmas party for the media hosted by the president and his wife. The Bushes stood for hours in a receiving line as a photographer snapped pictures with the first couple.

When we reached the front of the line, the president remarked that my book Bush at War was selling well. “Top of the charts,” he said, and asked, “Are you planning to do another book?” He then stretched out his arms and indicated with his body language that there might be a story there, that it should be done.

Without any irony, Woodward didn’t seem to understand how far he had come from meeting Mark Felt in the dead of night in a parking garage. (For a blogger who does not link much, or like to, in that great blogger tradition, I highly recommend that last link.)

Did Woodward disappoint Bush with his next book? This blog likes to speak no opinions. Our saying is: We blog, you decide.

One can skip a read of the book, and go simply to the index, in making their own judgments:

Here are some entries:

Bush, George W.: absence of doubt in, 139-40, 420

Bipartisan solidarity of, 189, 200.

Importance of showing resolve and, 81, 116, 152, 320-21, 406, 418-19, 437

legacy of, 90, 165

morality of, 86-132, 272, 313-14

on freedom, 88-89, 93, 152, 258, 276, 405, 424, 428

optimism of, 91, 93, 313-14

patience of, 162-63, 165, 271

as a strong leader, 91, 430

Friday, February 03, 2006

The special prosecutor in the CIA leak case, Patrick Fitzgerald, has indicated in correspondence unsealed in federal court in recent days that President Bush might have been briefed regarding former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s February 2002 CIA-sponsored mission to Niger during regular morning intelligence briefing.

The information provided to Bush occurred in the form of one of the “President’s Daily Briefs,” a typically 30-to 45-minute early-morning national security briefing. They are a compiliation of that day's most closely held and highly classified intelligence-- and written specifically for the "First Customer", meaning the President of the United States. Information for PDBs has routinely been derived from electronic intercepts, human agents, and reports from foreign intelligence services.

The information about Bush having been briefed about Wilson’s mission to Niger is contained in court papers filed in federal court. Attorneys for I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby, President Bush’s former chief of staff and national security advisors, were seeking information about presidential PDBs from the special prosecutor, as part of a discovery effort to defend their client.

Libby was forced to resign his White House positions last Oct. 28, after he was indicted by a federal grand jury on five counts of making false statements, perjury, and obstruction of justice, for outing Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, as an undercover CIA officer. The indictment alleged that Libby provided information to a reporter about Plame’s CIA employment because in an effort to retaliate against her husband for criticizing the Bush administration’s use of intelligence during the run up to war in Iraq.

Libby appeared this morning in federal court, during which the trial judge, Federal District Judge Reggie B. Walton, set a trial date for Jan.8, 2007. Walton wanted to try the case this next September—which could have had political consequences had Libby been tried so close to the 2006 mid-term congressional elections. But one of Libby’s attorneys, Theodore Wells, says that he was going to be tied up with another case.

In court papers made public late last week, Fitzgerald revealed that there was information regarding Wilson’s mission to Niger contained in at least one PDB, or possibly more, although the special prosecutor provided no specifics of the specific intelligence information that was contained in the ordinarily highly classified briefing materials.

In a letter that Fitzgerald sent Libby’s attorneys on January 9, 2006, and filed in federal court late last week, Fitzgerald wrote: “As you are well aware, the documents referred to as Presidential Daily Briefs (“PDBs”) are extraordinarily sensitive documents which are usually highly classified. We have never requested copies of any PDBs. However, we did ask for relevant documents relating to Ambassador Joseph Wilson and his wife; Valerie Plame Wilson... and the trip undertaken by former Ambassador Joseph Wilson to Niger in 2002... from the Executive Branch of the President and the Office of the Vice President.

“We also sought from the Central Intelligence Agency documents relating to the same item.... relating to the same items, with the exception that the CIA was not requested to produce documents in the files regarding Valerie Plame and Wilson that were not related directly or indirectly to Ambassador Wilson’s travel to Niger in February 2002.

“In response to our requests, we have received a very discrete amount of material relating to PDBs. We have provided to Mr. Libby and his counsel (or are in the process of providing such documents consistent with the process of a declassification review) copies of any pages in our possession reflecting discussions with Joseph Wilson, Valerie Wilson and/or Wilson’s trip to Niger contained in (or written on) copies of the President’s Daily Brief (PDB) in the redacted form in which we received them.”

An attorney representing Libby did not return a phone call from reporters seeking comment regarding their discovery request. A White House spokesperson said they would have no comment because Fitzgerald’s criminal investigation is still an ongoing matter.

Although Fitzgerald did not provide any information as to what President Bush might have been told during his morning intelligence briefing about Wilson’s Niger mission, what is told the President is often similar or parallel to what is provided to Vice President Cheney during his own intelligence briefings. Information contained in PDBs also areoften times similar to that in a highly classified intelligence report known as a Senior Executive Intelligence Brief, or SEIB. Those reports are provided to the Vice President, National Security Council, cabinet Secretaries, and other senior national advisers to the President.

On October 18, 2001, only five weeks after the Sept. 11 terror attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the CIA circulated a particularly alarming intelligence SEIB raising the specter that Iraq was attempting to covertly uranium from the African nation of Niger to build an atomic weapon.

“According to a foreign government service,” said the report, “Niger as of early this year planned to send several tones of uranium to Iraq under an agreement concluded late this year. Iraq and Niger have been negotiating the shipment since at least 1999, but the state court of Niger only this year approved of it, according to the service."

The report also included this particularly chilling prospect: “The quality of yellowcake to be transferred could support the enrichment of enough uranium for at least one nuclear weapon.”
It is doubtful that this was the information that was told to the President during his morning briefing, however, because Wilson had not yet ventured to Niger on behalf of the CIA.

A much more likely possibility is that Bush, like Vice President Cheney, was told in late June, 2003, that the CIA no longer considered “credible” allegations that Saddam Hussein had attempted to have ever procured uranium from Niger or any other African nation in an attempt to build a nuclear weapon.

As my National Journal story first disclosed yesterday, then-CIA director George Tenet received a highly classified memo on June 17, 2003, on the Niger matter from his analysts warning that allegations that Saddam Hussein had attempted to procure uranium from the African nation were to no longer to be believed.

In the memo, the CIA analysts wrote: "Since learning that the Iraqi-Niger uranium deal was based on false documents earlier this spring, we no longer believe that there is sufficient other reporting to conclude that Iraq purchased uranium from abroad."

The memo also related that there had been other, earlier claims that Saddam's regime had attempted to purchase uranium from private interests in Somalia and Benin; these claims predated the Niger allegations. It was that past intelligence that had led CIA analysts, in part, to consider the Niger claims as plausible. But the memo said that after a thorough review of those earlier reports, the CIA had concluded that they were no longer credible. Indeed, the previous intelligence reports citing those claims had long since been "recalled" -- meaning that the CIA had formally repudiated them.

Within days after Tenet received the memo, the CIA provided the information contained in it to both Cheney and Libby in briefings on the matter. The congressional Senate and House Intelligence Committees received similar briefings on June 18 and June 19, 2003, according to government records.

Two senior government officials suggested that it was likely that Bush would have also been similarly briefed, because Cheney, Libby, Tenet, and the Senate and House Senate committees had been at the time, and also because the issue of Wilson’s trip to Niger was being discussed in the media and Capitol Hill. Said one official: “It would have just made sense, that this was have recycled to the President too... There is a lot of similarity as to what the President and Vice President are briefed about.”

Despite having been briefed on the CIA’s findings, Cheney continued to defend the Niger allegations as possibly still credible. Appearing on Meet the Press on Sept. 14, 2003, at least two and half months after having been told of the CIA’s new conclusions, Cheney said: “[O]n the whole thing, the question of whether or not the Iraqis were trying to acquire uranium in Africa—In the British report, this week, the Committee of the British Parliament, which just spent 90 days investigating all of this, revalidated their claim that Saddam was, in fact, trying to acquire uranium in Africa. What was in the State of the Union speech and what was in the original British White papers. So there may be difference of opinion there. I don’t know what the truth is on the ground with respect to that.”

Meanwhile, Dan Froomkin this afternoon has more on everything Plame and Libby.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Exclusive: Did Bush Receive a PDB regarding Joe Wilson?

Did President Bush personally receive information during his morning intelligence briefings about Joe Wilson's mission to Niger? Court filings in the CIA leak case appear to indicate that that may well might have been the case.

Information to be reviewed during the President's morning briefings are written up in what is known as Presidential Daily Briefs, or PDBs. Attorneys for I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Cheney, are demanding copies of any PDBs that CIA leak special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald might have obtained during the course of his investigation.

In a January 9, 2006 response to the discovery demand, Fitzgerald wrote back:

“As you no doubt well aware, the documents referred to as Presidential Daily Briefs (“PDBs”) are extraordinarily sensitive documents which are usually highly classified. We have never requested copies of any PDBs. However, we did ask for relevant documents relating to Ambassador Joseph Wilson and his wife; Valerie Plame Wilson... and the trip undertaken by former Ambassador Joseph Wilson to Niger in 2002 (even if the items/documents themselves did not refer to Wilson by name) from the Executive Branch of the President and the Office of the Vice President.

“We also sought from the Central Intelligence Agency documents relating to the same items, with the exception that the CIA was no requested to produce documents relating to the same items, with the exception that the CIA was not requested to produce documents in its files regarding Valerie Plame Wilson that were not related directly or indirectly to Ambassador Wilson’s travel to Niger in February 2002.

“In response to our requests, we have received a very discrete amount of material relating to PDBs. We have provided to Mr. Libby and his counsel (or are in the process of providing such documents consistent with the process of a declassification review) copies of any pages in our possession reflecting discussions of Joseph Wilson, Valerie Wilson and/or Wilson’s trip to Niger contained in (or written on) copies of the President’s Daily Brief (PDB) in the redacted form in which we received them.”

One can click here to read a full set of the correspondence, which has been posted online, courstesy of the Federation of American Scientists Project on Government Secrecy.

Expect the issue of the PDBs to be a point of contention this morning during Libby's appearance in federal court today regarding discovery issues between the prosecuction and defense.
I have a new story in the National Journal tomorrow morning, which was also posted online late this afternoon.

Here is my lede:

Vice President Cheney and his then-Chief of Staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby were personally informed in June 2003 that the CIA no longer considered credible the allegations that Saddam Hussein had attempted to procure uranium from the African nation of Niger, according to government records and interviews with current and former officials.The new CIA assessment came just as Libby and other senior administration officials were embarking on an effort to discredit an administration critic who had also been saying that the allegations were untrue.

CIA analysts wrote then-CIA Director George Tenet in a highly classified memo on June 17, 2003, “We no longer believe there is sufficient” credible information to “conclude that Iraq pursued uranium from abroad.“...

Despite the CIA’s findings, Libby attempted to discredit former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who had been sent on a CIA-sponsored mission to Niger the previous year to investigate the claims, which he concluded were baseless...

To read the entire article, click here.

What is the significance of the previously unreported CIA assessment? First, virtually the entirety of the effort to discredit Wilson—which resulted in the outing of his wife, Valerie Plame, as a covert CIA officer, occurred after Cheney and Libby were briefed that Wilson was essentially correct, and that there was nothing to the Niger allegations.

Second, the new disclousre is also likely to have an impact on Libby’s faulty memory defense during his trial. As this excerpt from my story explains:

Stephen Gillers, a law professor at New York University, said, "The prosecutor's implicit inference before the jury may well likely be that Libby lied to protect the vice president. Even in a plain vanilla case, a prosecutor always wants to be able to demonstrate a motive."

That Cheney was one of the first people to tell Libby about Plame, and that Libby had written in his notes that Cheney had heard the information from the CIA director, Gillers said, might make it more difficult for Libby to mount a credible defense of a faulty memory. "From a prosecutor's point of view, and perhaps a jury's as well, the conversation [during which Libby learned about Plame] is the more dramatic and the more memorable because the conversation was with the vice president" and because the CIA director's name also came up, Gillers said.

The disclosure that Cheney and Libby were told of a CIA assessment that the agency considered the Niger allegations to be untrue, and that Tenet requested the assessment as a result of the personal interest of Cheney and Libby, would "demonstrate even further that Niger was a central issue for Libby," said Gillers, and would "make it even harder, although not impossible, to claim a faulty memory."

And thirdly, the new information is perhaps most important in comparing statements by Cheney and other administration officials said publicly about Niger and other Bush administration officials regarding prewar intelligence with what they were being told in private by the CIA.

Judd Legum at Think Progress had this post last night, referencing Cheney's statements regarding Niger on Meet the Press on Sept. 14, 2003-- almost three months after he was apprised of the CIA's findings. At this blog, our motto is you click, you decide!

Here is an even longer excerpt of what Cheney said on Meet the Press:

“[O]n the whole thing, the question of whether or not the Iraqis were trying to acquire uranium in Africa—In the British report, this week, the Committee of the British Parliament, which just spent 90 days investigating all of this, revalidated their claim that Saddam was, in fact, trying to acquire uranium in Africa. What was in the State of the Union speech and what was in the original British White papers. So there may be difference of opinion there. I don’t know what the truth is on the ground with respect to that” [emphasis added.]"

Finally, regarding those lost email records, I recommend this post by Steve Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists Project on Government Secrecy.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Because I know that maybe more than one of the five to seven regular readers of this blog cannot afford TimesSelect, or haven't read this morning's New York Times, I reprint below in its entirety Ted Koppel's first New York Times column, as yet another act of civil disobedience, to bring crucial information to the masses. I don't know if one does hard time for violating the copyright act (one can ask such plagiarists as Ruth Shalit, Joe Conason, or Doris Kearns Goodwin about that) but I want everyone to know that I could do the 85 days in jail that Judy Miller did standing on my head!

Probably the worst that would happen to me is that I would be ordered to take some remedial courses at night with a bunch of fiteeen year old girls who were caught illegally downloading Napster. And then, a la James Frey, I can tell all my friends that I did 85 days of hard time, and was visited by John Bolton everyday-- and then sell the book rights to Nan "The Essential Truth" Talese.

(No emails: I know that the Napster cultural reference is woefully out of date, that Napster is now a legitimate business, in partnership with the record industry... and that some other renegade service has replaced Napster or what-not... but I never claimed that this blog was written by some type of hipster or anything. This blog is very uncool.)

I am going to blog some comments about this column later.... In the meantime, I recommend you read what Timothy Karr has to say.

Ted Koppel: And Now, a Word for Our Demographic
Special to the New York Times and (also) Whatever Already!

NOT all reporters have an unfinished novel gathering dust but many, including this one, do. If that isn't enough of a cliche, this novel's hero is a television anchor (always plant your pen in familiar turf) who, in the course of a minor traffic accident, bites the tip off his tongue. The ensuing speech impediment is sufficient to end his on-air career and he finds himself, recently divorced, now unemployed, at home and watching altogether too much television.

After several weeks of isolation he discovers on his voice mail a message from an old friend, the opinion-page editor of his hometown newspaper. She is urging him to write a piece about television news, which, after some hesitation, he does -- with a vengeance:

The earls and dukes and barons of television news have grown sleek and fat eating road kill. The victims, dispatched by political or special interest hit-and-run squads, are then hung up, displayed and consumed with unwholesome relish on television.

They wander the battlefields of other people's wars, these knights of the airwaves, disposing of the wounded from both armies, gorging themselves like the electronic vultures they are.

The popular illusion that television journalists are liberals does them too much honor. Like all mercenaries they fight for money, not ideology; but unlike true mercenaries, their loyalty is not for sale. It cannot be engaged because it does not exist. Their total lack of commitment to any cause has come to be defined as objectivity. Their daily preoccupation with the trivial and the banal has accumulated large audiences, which, in turn, has encouraged a descent into the search for items of even greater banality.

A wounded and bitter fellow, this fictional hero of mine, but his bilious arguments hardly seem all that dated. Now here I sit, having recently left ABC News after 42 years, and who should call but an editor friend of mine who, in a quirky convolution of real life's imitating unpublished fiction, has asked me to write this column examining the state of television news today.

Where to begin? Confession of the obvious seems like a reasonable starting point: I have become well known and well-off traveling the world on ABC's dime, charged only with ensuring that our viewers be well informed about important issues. For the better part of those 42 years, this arrangement worked to our mutual benefit and satisfaction. At the same time, I cannot help but see that the industry in which I have spent my entire adult life is in decline and in distress.

Once, 30 or 40 years ago, the target audience for network news was made up of everyone with a television, and the most common criticism lodged against us was that we were tempted to operate on a lowest-common-denominator basis.

This, however, was in the days before deregulation, when the Federal Communications Commission was still perceived to have teeth, and its mandate that broadcasters operate in ''the public interest, convenience and necessity'' was enough to give each licensee pause.

Network owners nurtured their news divisions, encouraged them to tackle serious issues, cultivated them as shields to be brandished before Congressional committees whenever questions were raised about the quality of entertainment programs and the vast sums earned by those programs. News divisions occasionally came under political pressures but rarely commercial ones. The expectation was that they would search out issues of importance, sift out the trivial and then tell the public what it needed to know.

With the advent of cable, satellite and broadband technology, today's marketplace has become so overcrowded that network news divisions are increasingly vulnerable to the dictatorship of the demographic. Now, every division of every network is expected to make a profit. And so we have entered the age of boutique journalism. The goal for the traditional broadcast networks now is to identify those segments of the audience considered most desirable by the advertising community and then to cater to them.

Most television news programs are therefore designed to satisfy the perceived appetites of our audiences. That may be not only acceptable but unavoidable in entertainment; in news, however, it is the journalists who should be telling their viewers what is important, not the other way around.

Indeed, in television news these days, the programs are being shaped to attract, most particularly, 18-to-34-year-old viewers. They, in turn, are presumed to be partly brain-dead -- though not so insensible as to be unmoved by the blandishments of sponsors.

Exceptions, it should be noted, remain. Thus it is that the evening news broadcasts of ABC, CBS and NBC are liberally studded with advertisements that clearly cater to older Americans. But this is a holdover from another era: the last gathering of more than 30 million tribal elders, as they clench their dentures while struggling to control esophageal eruptions of stomach acid to watch ''The News.'' That number still commands respect, but even the evening news programs, you will find (after the first block of headline material), are struggling to find a new format that will somehow appeal to younger viewers.

Washington news, for example, is covered with less and less enthusiasm and aggressiveness. The networks' foreign bureaus have, for some years now, been seen as too expensive to merit survival. Judged on the frequency with which their reports get airtime, they can no longer be deemed cost-effective. Most have either been closed or reduced in size to the point of irrelevance.

Simply stated, no audience is perceived to be clamoring for foreign news, the exceptions being wars in their early months that involve American troops, acts of terrorism and, for a couple of weeks or so, natural disasters of truly epic proportions.
You will still see foreign stories on the evening news broadcasts, but examine them carefully.

They are either reported by one of a half-dozen or so remaining foreign correspondents who now cover the world for each network, or the anchor simply narrates a piece of videotape shot by some other news agency. For big events, an anchor might parachute in for a couple of days of high drama coverage. But the age of the foreign correspondent, who knew a country or region intimately, is long over.

No television news executive is likely to acknowledge indifference to major events overseas or in our nation's capital, but he may, on occasion, concede that the viewers don't care, and therein lies the essential malignancy.

The accusation that television news has a political agenda misses the point. Right now, the main agenda is to give people what they want. It is not partisanship but profitability that shapes what you see.

Most particularly on cable news, a calculated subjectivity has, indeed, displaced the old-fashioned goal of conveying the news dispassionately. But that, too, has less to do with partisan politics than simple capitalism. Thus, one cable network experiments with the subjectivity of tender engagement: ''I care and therefore you should care.'' Another opts for chest-thumping certitude: ''I know and therefore you should care.''

Even Fox News's product has less to do with ideology and more to do with changing business models. Fox has succeeded financially because it tapped into a deep, rich vein of unfulfilled yearning among conservative American television viewers, but it created programming to satisfy the market, not the other way around. CNN, meanwhile, finds itself largely outmaneuvered, unwilling to accept the label of liberal alternative, experimenting instead with a form of journalism that stresses empathy over detachment.

Now, television news should not become a sort of intellectual broccoli to be jammed down our viewers' unwilling throats. We are obliged to make our offerings as palatable as possible. But there are too many important things happening in the world today to allow the diet to be determined to such a degree by the popular tastes of a relatively narrow and apparently uninterested demographic.

What is, ultimately, most confusing about the behavior of the big three networks is why they ever allowed themselves to be drawn onto a battlefield that so favors their cable competitors. At almost any time, the audience of a single network news program on just one broadcast network is greater than the combined audiences of CNN, Fox and MSNBC.

Reaching across the entire spectrum of American television viewers is precisely the broadcast networks' greatest strength. By focusing only on key demographics, by choosing to ignore their total viewership, they have surrendered their greatest advantage.

Oddly enough, there is a looming demographic reality that could help steer television news back toward its original purpose. There are tens of millions of baby boomers in their 40's and 50's and entering their 60's who have far more spending power than their 18-to-34-year-old counterparts. Television news may be debasing itself before the wrong demographic.

If the network news divisions cannot be convinced that their future depends on attracting all demographic groups, then perhaps, at least, they can be persuaded to aim for the largest single demographic with the most disposable income -- one that may actually have an appetite for serious news. That would seem like a no-brainer. It's regrettable, perhaps, that only money and the inclination to spend it will ultimately determine the face of television news, but, as a distinguished colleague of mine used to say: ''That's the way it is.''

Sunday, January 15, 2006

If the election were held today, the winner would be... not Tom Delay! A Houston Chronicle poll out this morning finds that at least half of those who voted for Delay the last time around are considering voting for someone else this time.

If the election were held today, the Chronicle poll found, only 22 percent of Delay's constituents would vote for him. In contrast, former Democratic Congressman Nick Lampson, who will oppose him in the general election, would garner 30 percent of the votes. And former Republican congressman Steven Stockman, who is likely to run as an independent in the race, would pick up 11 percent of voters. Stockman would also provide an outlet for die-hard Texas conservative Republicans, who don't want to vote for either Delay or a Democrat to have a third option on election day. A well-financed campaign by Stockman might make it very difficult for Delay to win back his congressional seat, should he run. And this recent NYT story says it has become increasingly more likely in recent days that Stockman will indeed run.

Delay's constituency aside, perhaps the more important vote regarding the soon-to-be former House majority leader will be that of a jury of his peers. They, of course, will be polled, not by the Houston Chronicle, but rather by a Travis county jury foreperson.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Josh Meyer has published a very important story on the front page of tomorrow's Los Angeles Times:

WASHINGTON — Although Saudi Arabia has cracked down on militants within its borders, the kingdom has not met its promises to help prevent the spread of terrorism or curb the flow of money from Saudis to terrorist cells around the world, U.S. intelligence, diplomatic and other officials say. As a result, these critics say, countless young terrorism suspects are believed to have escaped the kingdom's tightening noose by fleeing across what critics call a porous border into Iraq.

U.S. military officials confirm an aggressive role by Saudi fighters in the insurgency in Iraq, where over the last year they reportedly accounted for more than half of all Arab militants killed.

And millions of dollars continue to flow from wealthy Saudis through Saudi-based Islamic charitable and relief organizations to Al Qaeda and other suspected terrorist groups abroad, aided by what the U.S. officials call Riyadh's failure to set up a government commission to police such groups as promised, senior U.S. officials from several counter-terrorism agencies said in interviews.Those officials said Saudi Arabia had taken some positive steps within its borders.

But they criticized the Saudis for not taking a more active role in the global fight. Daniel L. Glaser, the deputy assistant Treasury secretary for terrorist financing and financial crimes, recalled attending a counter-terrorism conference in Riyadh last February at which the Saudis declared they would be an international leader in fighting Al Qaeda and in eradicating terrorism worldwide.

Nearly a year later, Glaser and other U.S. officials said, those promises are unfulfilled."They promised to do it, and they need to live up to their promises," Glaser said. "They need to crack down operationally on donors in Saudi Arabia. And they need to exert their influence over their international charities abroad…. They have to care not just what Al Qaeda is doing just within their own borders but wherever it is operating."

Read more here.

This is a very important story, and one that you have not read recently either in the Washington Post or New York Times. Josh Meyer has engaged in some extraordinary enterprise reporting to get this, but the fact that he was able to get a deputy assistant secretary of treasury to go on the record regarding the Saudis may indicate that the Bush administration may be getting tougher with the Saudis-- and to the minds of many of the beuracrats in the national security agencies I regularly speak to for my day job, not a moment too soon.

And the Saudis have some gripes of their own. A senior Saudi official, as paraphrased by Meyer, complains that "U.S. forces in Iraq have done little to patrol that country's borders with Saudi Arabia, and foreign fighters are entering Iraq through Syria and Iran." While foreign fighters only account for a small percentage of the insurgency, they are among the most deadliest and best-trained of the insurgents, most intelligence officials have believed for some time-- which only makes the issue of control of the borders even the more urgent.
The Washington Post this morning gives major play this morning to an attack of Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) on the website of the (until now) obscure Cybercast News Service. It accuses
Murtha-- who had won eight military awards, including a Bronze star, and a Distinguished Service Medal of the United States Marine Corps, for his 37 years of military service-- of purportedly saying that he had not deserved to win two Purple Hearts also awarded him for his service during the Vietnam war.

The Post story, by reporters Howard Kurtz and Shallagh Murray, quotes extensively David Thibault, the editor in chief of the (who ever heard of them before the Washington Post decided to give them such prominence?) Cybercast News Service, as saying that Murtha's medals from 1967 are relevant now "because the congressman has really put himself in the forefront of the antiwar movement."

But the article tells us very little about Thibault himself. Had the reporters done a simple Internet search, they would have discovered this biography of Thibault posted online which describes him as a "senior producer for a televised news magazine" broadcast and sponsored by the Republican National Committee. I dunno, but I for one, would have wanted to know that.

Thibault's background and those engaging in the Swiftboating of Murtha would be relevant to any news story on this issue, I would think.

And so would some independent examination by the Post as to whether there is even any veracity to the charges.

The New York Times takes a day or two, or longer, before doing stories like this, as do other papers. They tend to examine the motives and backgrounds of those making such charges, and whether or not they have any basis in fact. That's how the Times handled the allegations that swirled around John Kerry's war service.

The Post's news ethic tends more towards that simply because an allegation is made it should be reported. To do otherwise, some editors of the newspaper argue, would mean putting aside one's objectivity. But simply giving prominent play to allegations that might or might not turn out to be true at some later day seems to me to be subjectivity by some other name.

Update: 5:20 P.M., Saturday night: The Post article in amplifying the allegations of the Cybercast News Service, also, in turn quotes an article from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

The article included a 1996 quote from Harry Fox, who worked for former representative John Saylor (R-Pa.), telling a local newspaper that Murtha was "pretending to be a big war hero" Fox, who lost a 1974 election to Murtha, said the 38-year old Marine veteran had asked Saylor for assistance in obtaining the Purple Hearts because the office believed he lacked adequate evidence of his

What the Post leaves out of its story is that Saylor is deceased, and well, has been for some time now. (Saylor died way back in 1973, something that the Cybercast "News" Service, noted in their news story-- not to impugn their reporting practices.) In short, the Washington Post is relying on something said by a person with an axe to grind (Fox), who is quoting someone who is deceased (but who the newspaper forgot to tell you is deceased.) But it is even somewhat worse than that: the Post is quoting the ever-so-reliable and unbiased Cybercast News Service, which is quoting a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article, which includes an allegation by Fox... who is citing someone now deceased.

Makes you want to drop a dime to Howie Kurtz! But alas, Kurtz wrote the story. Oh well.

Second update, 10:50 P.M., Saturday Night: In my original post, I mistakenly reported that Rep. Murtha won a Silver Star and two Bronze stars. Instead, he won a Bronze Star; a Distinguished Service Medal of the United States Marine Corps, and six other military awards for his 37 years of service with the Marine Corp. Apologies to my readers. A complete list of Murtha's military awards can be found here.

Third update, 12:43 P.M.: It gets worse. At a blogger, I am only an amateur at best. Jane Hamsher who knows how to do it right, and better than anyone else, has some new information. A natural born blogger! Jane very importantly points out that Cybercast never even actually interviewed Harry Fox.

Jane quotes the website as saying: "Cybercast News Service attempted to contact Fox for this article, but learned that the health of the 81-year-old was too poor to allow him to communicate."

So if I understand this correctly, regarding the purported allegations by the late Rep. Saylor that Rep. Murtha did not deserve his Purple Hearts, the Washington Post is relying on the reporting of the Cyercast News Service, which is in turn is relying on comments made years ago by Harry Fox, who is in turn is quoting the late Congressman Saylor-- who died all the way back in 1973. The Post should have done a much better job of making this clear in their story-- in my humble opinion-- if they should have even published a story at all.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

David Ignatius on David Addington, special to Whatever Already!

A columnist who reports?! Is there such a species anymore?

David Ignatius devotes his entire column in a certain major newspaper to David Addington, the chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney. In the process, David breaks more new ground on Cheney's office in a single column than the entire national reporting staff of the Washington Post had over the course of the last several months. And, although I am loathe to admit, has a lot of new, interesting stuff that even this blogger has missed in reporting this story during his day job.

The column is reproduced in its entirety below, copyright be damned!

Cheney's Cheney, By David Ignatius
Special to Whatever Already!

Who is David Addington? The simple answer is that he's Vice President Cheney's former legal counsel and, since the indictment and resignation of Scooter Libby in October, Cheney's chief of staff. But behind the scenes, the polite but implacable Addington has been a chief advocate for the interrogation and surveillance policies that have created a legal crisis for the Bush administration.

Addington, 48, is in many ways Cheney's Cheney. Like his boss, he has exercised immense power without leaving many fingerprints. He operates with a decorous, low-key manner, but colleagues say he can intimidate and sometimes bully opponents. Though working out of the relative obscurity of the vice president's office, he has been able to impose his will on Cabinet secretaries and other senior administration officials. His influence rests on two pillars: his unyielding conviction that the powers of the president cannot be abridged in wartime, and the total support he receives from Cheney.

Addington's relationship with Cheney developed during the 1980s, when the two learned the same hardball lessons about national security. Addington worked as an assistant general counsel at Bill Casey's no-holds-barred CIA from 1981 to '84, where a friend says he loved the culture of "go-go guys with a license to hunt." He got to know Cheney when he moved to Capitol Hill as a staffer for the House intelligence committee and later the Iran-contra committee. "David has seared in his mind the restrictive amendments tying the president's hand in funding the contras," remembers Bruce Fein, a Republican attorney who worked on the Iran-contra committee. Addington moved with Cheney to the Pentagon as his special assistant and later became Defense Department general counsel.

What drives Addington is a belief that the president's wartime powers are, essentially, unfettered, argues Rep. Jane Harman, the ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee who has attended highly classified briefings with him on detention and surveillance issues. "He believes that in time of war, there is total authority for the president to waive any rules to carry out his objectives. Those views have extremely dangerous implications." Harman's efforts to negotiate compromises with Addington on interrogation issues were rebuffed, she says, by his insistence that "it's dangerous to tie the president's hands in any way."

Friends and former colleagues describe Addington as a man who thrives on his invisibility. He lives in a modest house in Northern Virginia, takes the subway to work, and shuns the parties and perks of office. He usually has the same simple meal every day -- a bowl of gazpacho soup. Though born in Washington, he styles himself as a "rugged Montana man" in the image of his boss, and he has a photo in his office of Cheney shooting a gun.

Addington's role has been the hard man -- the ideological enforcer. Most mornings during the first term, he would join the staff meeting in the White House counsel's office -- and take potshots at anyone he regarded as insufficiently committed to the president's agenda. "It was very surprising if anyone took a position more conservative than David, and this was a very conservative office," recalls one former colleague. "He was the hardest of the hard-core."

A special target of Addington's needling during the first term was John B. Bellinger III, at the time the chief legal adviser to national security adviser Condoleezza Rice. Addington would attack any sign of caution or wariness from Bellinger about proposed policies, breaking in to say, "That's too liberal," or "You're giving away executive power," remembers a colleague. Bellinger is now Rice's legal adviser at the State Department.

Addington's most bruising fights have been with colleagues at the Justice Department and the Pentagon who challenged his views on interrogation of enemy combatants. He pushed Justice's Office of Legal Counsel to prepare a 2002 memo authorizing harsh interrogation methods. When that memo was later withdrawn, Addington was furious. Last year, he successfully blocked the appointment of one critic, Patrick Philbin, as deputy solicitor general, even though Attorney General Alberto Gonzales wanted him in that role. Also last year, Addington was so adamant in resisting the efforts of a Pentagon official named Matthew Waxman to limit interrogation that Waxman eventually quit and is now moving to the State Department.

"David is a fight-to-the-end kind of a guy," says one former colleague. "If you made it clear that you opposed him, he'd go to war with you. David was not an adversary you would want."

Even people who describe themselves as friends of Addington believe that he has damaged President Bush politically by pressing anti-terrorism policies to the legal breaking point. And for many Republicans who bear scars from Addington, his story raises the ultimate question about the Bush White House: Who's in charge here?

To read more about Addington, click here. I highly recommend this story as well. What is a blog for, after all, if not to promote one own's work?