[In response to my last dispatch on Sharon’s Wall, several readers wrote in about historic walls and also about the Great Wall of China as seen from space. Thanks to Nick Turse, I can now state definitively that the Great Wall is neither the only, nor the most prominent human-made structure visible from space. Much that we’ve built, it turns out, can be seen from space with a pair of binoculars, and some of what’s left of the Great Wall can be picked out as well if you know just where to look. No imperial equivalent of an urban legend here.
At the same time, a striking piece on Sharon’s Wall and The Hague hearings just appeared in the Israeli paper Ha’aretz. Outside the Hague courthouse — Sharon’s government had refused to take part in the proceedings within — Yoel Marcus wrote, “It’s been a long time since I’ve felt so small, uncomfortable and red-faced as during the show of whining and whimpering organized by Israel at The Hague,” and then went on to say (Down and out in The Hague):
“If Israel is not in the courtroom, it should not be standing outside playing the poor victim — first of all, because this won’t affect what goes on in the courtroom anyway, and second of all, because out on the street, the Palestinian argument is more convincing. Instead of moaning, they talk about occupation, about human rights, about the theft of their land. They don’t have to wave around pictures of their dead. The fence has dropped into their laps like a PR gift from heaven just as the anti-Semitic stigma of the Jewish thief is making a comeback in Europe
“From Sharon’s anti-fence days until today, when he enthusiastically supports its completion, the government has never been handed a neatly-typed, bound copy of anything remotely resembling a master plan for the fence. Constructing it has been like playing with Lego blocks, adding sections as needed
“Sooner or later, the fence will fall, just like the Berlin Wall (In the meantime) exploiting bereavement and wallowing in self-pity is fitting for soap operas — not for the strongest country in the Middle East.”]
When the wrong people say the right things
Hosni Mubarak of Egypt is hardly a paragon of virtue, though, to the tune of multibillions in aid, his corrupt and oppressive government has long been supported by the United States as a regional bulwark. The other day, as Steven R. Weisman and Neil MacFarquhar of the New York Times reported, the Bush administration in its usual manner managed to put forward a plan for the Middle East without bothering to consult either our European “allies” or our Middle Eastern ones. (Whoops, Colin Powell swears we meant to. Honestly, we just hadn’t quite gotten around to it.) Here’s Mubarak’s initial response, admittedly a self-interested one, but no less on target for that (U.S. Plan for Mideast Reform Draws Ire of Arab Leaders):
“‘Whoever imagines that it is possible to impose solutions or reform from abroad on any society or region is delusional,’ Mr. Mubarak said on Wednesday. ‘All peoples by their nature reject whoever tries to impose ideas on them. ‘ Egypt’s three semiofficial dailies — Al Ahram, Al Akhbar and Al Gumhuriya — all reported Mr. Mubarak’s remarks, including another pointed statement that the Bush administration was behaving ‘as if the region and its states do not exist, as if they have no people or societies, as if they have no sovereignty over their land, no ownership’
“‘It’s not the message, it’s the messenger,’ [an unnamed Arab diplomat] said. ‘But I don’t think the administration will be affected by the criticism. I don’t think they regard such opinions very highly. They’re going to forge ahead.'”
The messenger indeed. Our radical nationalist extremists — oh sorry, I mean our leaders in Washington — really have not deviated from the conviction at the heart of the Bush Doctrine that we are indeed Alone in the World and deserve no less. Not primus inter pares (“first among equals”) but Primus. Even in the wake of our ongoing Iraq disaster, “allies” are to them groups you can perhaps turn to if you need to be bailed out — but without any sense of mutuality, without in fact offering much of anything in return.
When discussing the handing over of Iraqi “sovereignty” at the end of June, they speak openly of putting an Iraqi “face” on the country– that is, of placing a mask of Iraqi-ness over American power.
Hand them this, while our newspapers write in all seriousness about turning over sovereignty to Iraqis, they couldn’t be blunter about what they actually have in mind. They are, after all, imperial fundamentalists of the first order and, even now, the mask is all they know.
The (big) cheese stands alone
Take, for instance, a small but devastating recent administration decision — on land mines. According to Bradley Graham of the Washington Post, “President Bush will bar the U.S. military from using certain types of land mines after 2010 but will allow forces to continue to employ more sophisticated mines that the administration argues pose little threat to civilians, officials said yesterday.”
This Graham calls, in the exceedingly polite language of our press, a “departure from the previous U.S. goal of banning all land mines designed to kill troops.” The Clinton administration had not made it on board the landmine treaty either but was at least theoretically aiming in that direction. In the meantime, 150 countries have already signed on to the treaty which prohibits the production, use, stockpiling or transfer of antipersonnel mines. But one country naturally outweighs the other 150.
Graham continues: “Bush, however, has decided to impose no limits on the use of ‘smart’ land mines, which have timing devices to automatically defuse the explosives within hours or days, officials said. His ban will apply only to ‘dumb’ mines — those without self-destruct features.” In real numbers, here’s what this evidently turns out to mean: “The Pentagon maintains a stockpile of about 18 million land mines, including 15 million of the newer, self-destructing kinds.”
And actually it’s not exactly accurate to say that we’ve gotten rid of the ‘dumb’ mines either: “Under Bush’s new policy, dumb mines will continue to be used only for the defense of South Korea until their elimination after 2010. Use of dumb anti-vehicle mines will require special presidential approval.” That, I’m sure, will be tough to get.
Imagine the message this sends to other nations: Yes, you get rid of all your mines and we’ll just keep producing smarter and smarter ones for ourselves and, until we’ve made it there, reserve the right to use the dumb ones for the next 6 years upon a presidential order to do so. Of course, this administration has declared itself intent upon being militarily a giant among pygmies in every field of weaponry, in every kind of militarized technology until the end of time. (That may sound histrionic, but believe me it’s just reportorial — check out our policies on the development of new generations of nuclear weapons if you don’t believe me.) As with so much else, the message to the world is actually remarkably repetitive: stuff it.
Talking in company
The actress Greta Garbo’s famously said, “I vant to be alone.” But if you’re not the U.S. government globally, then really, you shouldn’t imagine yourself alone or capable of having a private conversation about anything. Ever.
As of this week, we seem to know that, during the run-up to war in Iraq, either we or the Brits were listening in on UN head Kofi Annan, head of UN weapons inspection teams Hans Blix, various waffling delegations at the UN, former head inspector Richard Butler, former UN diplomat Hans Von Sponek, and heavens knows who else. (By the way, in this particular case, the distinction between American and British intelligence is nil. Each uses the other to get around domestic laws that put limits on intelligence operations against its citizens. So the Brits listen in on people we want overheard and then pass the info on to us and vice-versa, all nice and “legal.”)
This story was broken by Clare Short, a minister in Tony Blair’s wartime cabinet, who once again shook the ever shakier Blair government by saying on a BBC radio show: “I have seen transcripts of Kofi Annan’s conversations. In fact I have had conversations with Kofi in the run-up to war, thinking: ‘Oh dear. There will be a transcript of this and people will see what he and I are saying.'”
While Blair excoriated Short as “deeply irresponsible” and claimed that she had threatened Britain’s national security, he did not deny (or admit) that British intelligence had indeed listened in on Annan at the moment when he was trying to prevent an invasion of Iraq. The Australian Broadcasting Service then reported the news on Blix (“The British or US intelligence services monitored former United Nations chief weapons inspector Hans Blix’s mobile phone whenever he was in Iraq and the transcripts were then made available to the United States, Australia, Canada, the UK and also New Zealand”) and the Australian Richard Butler (“Mr Butler says he welcomes Ms Short’s comments because it is time the world knew how international diplomacy really works.”) Then Von Sponek was tossed into the mix.
UN officials certainly assumed that bugging was a possibility and regularly had their offices swept for eavesdropping devices, but evidently had little faith in the results. Butler commented:
“If I really truly wanted to have a sensitive conversation with somebody where I was asking them to be honest with me … I was reduced to having to go either to a noisy cafeteria in the basement of the UN where there was so much noise around, and then whisper in the hope that we wouldn’t be overheard.
“Or I’d literally take a walk in Central Park. I’d take a walk with a person in a park and speak in a low voice and keep moving so that we could avoid directional microphones and maybe, maybe just have a private conversation.”
Actually, this story began to break before the war. Early last March, the British Observer published a story based on a leaked document about how the U.S. National Security Agency was eavesdropping on key UN delegations. It should have been a news scandal in the U.S. (The invaluable Antiwar.com has just reposted the initial Observer report at their site.) The report began:
“The United States is conducting a secret ‘dirty tricks’ campaign against UN Security Council delegations in New York as part of its battle to win votes in favour of war against Iraq. Details of the aggressive surveillance operation, which involves interception of the home and office telephones and the emails of UN delegates in New York, are revealed in a document leaked to The Observer.”
The most recent revelations about this ongoing spying campaign have finally made it to the front pages of major American papers. At the moment when it might have mattered, however — being aimed as it was at clearing the path to war or at least on gathering information about anyone who might be standing in that path — it went largely unreported here outside of blogs like this one and other Internet sites. When it was taken up at all in the mainstream press, the pieces, tucked away on inside pages, simply registered official denials or assured readers that this was an everyday matter of no significance. Norman Solomon, who writes FAIR’s “Media Beat” column weekly, reviews this sorry matter in a piece which he’s kindly allowed me to reproduce in full below.
Though the British essentially admitted to the matter by charging a translator, Katherine Gun, who worked at GCHQ (the British equivalent of our NSA), with leaking the document, this has, until recently, been a non-story here. The Blair government’s unexplained decision so many months later suddenly to drop its charges against Gun this very week certainly helped spark these revelations.
Middle Eastern historian Juan Cole at his weblog offered the following commentary on all of this:
“The Blix wiretaps raise an interesting question. Did the US and UK know even more about the lack of evidence for weapons of mass destruction than we thought, from what Blix was saying privately in spring of 2003 before the war?
“While the GCHQ [British intelligence] listening in on phone calls in the US is apparently just a regular occurrence, tapping Kofi Annan’s line would be illegal because the UN headquarters is not considered US soil. Whatever deal Roosevelt and Churchill made about each spying on the other’s citizens doesn’t apply at the UN.
“The framers of the US constitution wanted individuals to have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their own homes, and wanted the police to leave them alone unless there was good evidence they had committed a crime. The rise of the National Security State during WW II and in the Cold War has effectively gutted the constitution in this regard for all practical purposes. The Patriot Act more or less repeals the Bill of Rights, which has bedeviled successive US regimes, especially that of Richard Nixon, who now finally has his revenge.
“I suppose the real question is whether, when Bin Laden boasted, ‘I will take away their freedom,’ it was an empty boast or an accurate prediction.”
On related intelligence matters, Jim Lobe of Inter Press Service continued his fine reporting on how we were led into war with a piece that should be read in full but that begins (Chalabi, Garner Provide New Clues to War):
“For those still puzzling over the whys and wherefores of Washington’s invasion of Iraq 11 months ago, major new, but curiously unnoticed, clues were offered this week by two central players in the events leading up to the war.
“Both clues tend to confirm growing suspicions that the Bush administration’s drive to war in Iraq had very little, if anything, to do with the dangers posed by Saddam Hussein’s alleged weapons of mass destruction (WMD) or his alleged ties to terrorist groups like al-Qaeda — the two main reasons the U.S. Congress and public were given for the invasion.
“Separate statements by Ahmed Chalabi, the head of the Iraqi National Congress (INC), and U.S. retired Gen Jay Garner, who was in charge of planning and administering post-war reconstruction from January through May 2002, suggest that other, less public motives were behind the war, none of which concerned self-defence, pre-emptive or otherwise.”
While former CIA analyst Ray McGovern points out in an op-ed first posted at Tompaine.com (and which he has been kind enough to allow me to reproduce in full below) that not every intelligence agency was wrong about Iraq. The State Department’s intelligence people were reasonably on the mark on a variety of issues, which is, of course, why they were sidelined during the run-up to war and why administration watchdog Senator Pat Roberts, the Republican head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, didn’t bother to invite them to a recent committee “worldwide threat assessment briefing.”
Chalmers Johnson, author of the recently published book The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic, has a simpler solution to at least some of our intelligence problems. He suggests in a piece that appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle and is included below that we simply abolish the agency, “reducing our annual deficit by about $30 billion.”
Oddly enough, despite the intelligence mess of the last year, there has been little or no discussion of the real usefulness of our various intelligence services. Right now, they simply continue to fail upwards. The worse their work is shown to be, the larger they grow, the more layers of them there are, and the more money we pour into them. As far as I can see, all we’ve proved so far is that we’re remarkably good at bugging our friends.
See the pheasant flutter. See Dick Shoot. See the pheasant run. See Antonin shoot. I seem to remember this book from somewhere or other.
And so the slaughter mounts — quail, pheasants, ducks, and now more pheasants. It seems as if neither our vice president, nor our leading candidate for Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in a second Bush term, can leave Washington without wiping out a flock or two of birds. Now it turns out that Justice Antonin Scalia, like the vice president, was “socializin ‘n shootin” way back when. In the late 1990s, Cheney was hunting quail while scarfing up companies for Halliburton; while in 2001, according to Richard Serrano and David G. Savage of the Los Angeles Times (Another Scalia trip coincided with court cases), the good justice was wiping out pheasants in the heartland while a guest of Kansas law school “on a trip arranged by the school’s dean, all within weeks of hearing two cases in which the dean was a lead attorney. The cases involved issues of public policy important to Kansas officials. Accompanying Scalia on the November 2001 hunting trip were the Kansas governor and recently retired state Senate president, who flew with Scalia to the hunting camp aboard a state plane.
“Two weeks before the trip, University of Kansas School of Law Dean Stephen R. McAllister, along with the state’s attorney general, had appeared before the Supreme Court to defend a Kansas law to confine sex offenders after they complete their prison terms. Two weeks after the trip, the dean led the state’s defense before the Supreme Court of a Kansas prison program for treating sex offenders.”
This time the justice issued a response to the LA Times piece and here was the odd thing: In his previous response to suggestions that he recuse himself for hunting ducks with Dick when a case involving the vice president’s energy task force was about to come up before the court, he ended with a derisive “quack, quack.” This time he offered no bird calls whatsoever. Perhaps he simply doesn’t know the call of a pheasant.
Only two weeks after every other paper in the country, my hometown paper whipped up a belated lead editorial Saturday denouncing the duck hunting episode and suggesting Scalia recuse himself over the energy case (Justice Scalia and Mr. Cheney, the New York Times):
“Recusal rules protect not only litigants, but also the court itself. Justice Scalia’s actions have again made the court fodder for late-night comedy, as it was after the 2000 election. If Justice Scalia stays on the case and votes in Mr. Cheney’s favor, the court will no doubt face more criticism. Justice Scalia should recuse himself, either of his own volition or with the encouragement of his colleagues.”
But the narrowness of such editorials — and they’ve been a dime a dozen — is striking. Recusal is demanded, but only for that one case. Does no one imagine that the vice president might have an “interest,” for instance, in the various cases on prisoners held as terrorists in Guantanamo, in military brigs, or in American jails that are to come before the court this spring and so might prove an embarrassment to the administration this summer? Might it not have been in his interest to drop a word to Antonin, while Antonin was dropping a duck or two, suggesting that the next Chief Justice consider lending a hand through a tough election season by putting a little elbow behind such cases?
Oh, and then there’s the vice president, who may soon find himself in bubbling, if not boiling, in oil over a growing Halliburton bribery scandal which took place in Nigeria on his watch. Dan Kennedy lays out this intricate and developing case in a piece entitled Dick Cheney’s Nigerian nightmare in the Boston Phoenix:
“The story defies easy summary. In essence, an international consortium of four companies, including Halliburton’s Kellogg Brown & Root subsidiary, is suspected of having paid a $180 million bribe to the former government of Nigeria in order to build a liquefied-natural-gas plant in that country valued at $4 billion to $6 billion. The other companies are from France, Italy, and Japan. The alleged bribe has been under investigation since last year by Renaud van Ruymbeke, a French judge with a reputation for probity and independence. Van Ruymbeke has gone so far as to suggest that he may summon Cheney to France to be questioned about what, if anything, he knew about the payments — and possibly even to face legal charges. Recently, the Nigerian government, the US Justice Department, and the Securities and Exchange Commission opened their own inquiries into the Nigerian matter. And Halliburton has retained a lawyer with close ties to the Bush administration to conduct an internal investigation.”
I’d certainly like to see what would happen if Dick were “summoned” to France to answer questions. And I’m curious as well about another thing: What birds do they hunt in Nigeria?
It turns out the Japanese are doing our mad-cow work for us. By refusing to accept American beef exports without the sort of testing safeguards now in place in Europe, they are driving American beef producers toward sanity. But not, of course, our stand-alone government. According to Sandra Blakeslee in a piece of corporate high comedy tucked away in the Friday New York Times, a major beef producer in Kansas city, Creekstone Farms, losing $80,000 a day thanks to evaporating international markets (all that premium black Angus that used to head Japan-wards), has just broken from the herd of beef companies and suggested its willingness to test all its cattle for Mad Cow disease (B.S.E.).
Creekstone’s president, John Stewart commented:
“The problem we’re having now is that the U.S.D.A. is not wanting to do this. They don’t want to test. They don’t want to recognize B.S.E. is a problem. They are not going to allow anyone to test until they decide how or when. We believe that may be never.”
To this our government officials offered the following response:
“According to a statement from J. B. Penn, the under secretary for farm and foreign agricultural services, the Agriculture Department will respond to Creekstone when it has completed its evaluation. A press spokesman, Jim Rogers, said that the reply will ‘take some time’ and that anyone interested should ‘check back in future.'”
Say in the next century. To add to the hilarity, the agency seems then to have threatened Creekstone with prosecution, should they try to test their own animals.
“Lisa Ferguson, a senior staff veterinarian at the
Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service [suggested] that Creekstone would be violating a 1913 law that states that only the inspection service can license the use of animal diagnostic test kits. But yesterday, Mr. Rogers said that the agency did not mean to imply that Creekstone Farms would face criminal penalties if it adopted mad cow testing. On the other hand, any company that sold such testing equipment to a meat processor could be breaking the law, he said.”
Hmm. My best guess? Mr. Rogers was in the wrong neighborhood at some point and chowed down on a slightly wacky cow.
Justice of One
We seem to be pioneering a unique system of justice at our prison camp in Guantanamo, where hundreds of prisoners have now been held beyond the reach of any law for over two years. This week it was finally announced that two of the detainees would be brought up on charges before military tribunals. The BBC reports further developments:
“Pentagon officials have confirmed that Guantanamo detainees may still be kept in detention, even if they are found not guilty by a military tribunal. They say detainees could be kept prisoner if they are considered a security risk. If found guilty, they could also be held beyond any sentence laid down by the tribunal.”
Let me see, if I get this right: First, the Bush administration creates stacked military tribunals to try these prisoners and then, if even they can’t get convictions, the Pentagon reserves the right to keep the detainees under lock and key anyway because its officials know better than the courts they’ve set up how guilty the prisoners actually are. And should a tribunal give out a sentence that this administration considers too short — for a “war” meant to go on into eternity — they also reserve the right to re-sentence them to any prison term they desire. What a perfect platform from which the global Primus can lecture the pares and the other lesser nations of the world about the true nature of justice on a planet of one.
Sometimes the mainstream can tell you a lot. David Broder, old-time, old-line columnist for the Washington Post, sometimes referred to as the “dean” of the Washington press corps, is hardly a bold man. But recently he traveled to Ohio, where Senators Kerry and Edwards were campaigning and wrote a column declaring that the state, previously locked down by the Republicans who control the state house, its two Senate seats, and 12 out of its 18 seats in the House, a state without which no Republican in memory has won the White House, was up for grabs in the upcoming election. Here are a few of his comments (Ohio a Test for Democrats Now, And for GOP’s Dominance Later):
“The Ohio Poll, sponsored by the University of Cincinnati, reported last week that for the first time in his presidency, Bush’s job approval rating in the state fell below 50 percent. The 49 percent overall rating was reinforced by even lower scores on major issues JoAnn Davidson, regional manager of the Bush campaign in Ohio pointed out that in 2000, Bush won only 50 percent of the vote, even though Al Gore had pulled out his staff and canceled ads six weeks before Election Day in the mistaken belief he had no chance.”
By the way, a similar piece in the Los Angeles Times mentions that the Bush approval rating is down from 87% in November 2001 and adds, “Ohio has lost 272,000 jobs in the last three years — more than half of them in manufacturing.”
Broder points out that the state government web site has posted “an ominous roll call of job losses still to come” and comments:
“Rep. Ted Strickland (D), who represents that area, said: ‘There is a dissatisfaction and anger with this administration I haven’t witnessed since I don’t know when. Unemployment and health care are huge concerns. The veterans are angry with their treatment. . . .’
“The late James A. Rhodes, the most successful politician in modern Ohio history and a four-term GOP governor, liked to say, ‘There are only three issues in Ohio — jobs, jobs and jobs.’ If he was right, this state will be a battleground — and a real test for the president — this fall.”
This — presidential panic, not the normal feeding of red meat to one’s base of supporters — explains George’s constitution-pretzeling support this week for a “marriage amendment,” as Todd Gitlin indicates in his latest column at the openDemocracy website (Bush gets fundamental):
“When even the United States constitution becomes a weapon in George Bush’s re-election campaign, you know the Republicans are running scared — and running back home to their core voters.
“With the President’s popularity dragging along in the doldrums, Team Bush has decided to start playing its down-and-dirty cards. It no longer counts on a frictionless sweep to victory, as personified by pictures of the man in the flight suit distributing tax-cut bounty to grateful masses. Suffering from conservative doubts over stupendous deficits and what the hard-core Right sees as an overly illegal-Hispanic-friendly immigration program, they’ve had to revert to Plan B: early mobilization of a bristling front in the culture war.”
Whether Plan B will work in the upcoming election is another matter. This year may prove far more fundamental than even the president and his advisors imagine. It may be the year of back-to-basics in which, no matter the No President Left Behind program concocted, the news will not be good. Certainly, Karl Rove and friends have to be worrying about a former president home alone in January.
Bob Fertik, who runs the Democrats.com website and is often ahead of the game, recently wrote me a two-line response to a dispatch of mine on the Bush administration’s troubles. In this context, he’s well worth quoting, especially since I’ve always believed that when these guys went down they would go down shooting: “The scary question is: how ugly will rove get? And what will he do when ugly isn’t working?”
No Skunks Allowed
By Ray McGovern
February 26, 2004
It was a quite a show at the Senate Intelligence Committee’s worldwide threat assessment briefing on Tuesday, Feb. 24. Committee Chairman Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., outdid himself as damage control officer for fallout from failed intelligence.
Sen. Roberts captured the spirit when he told reporters that, although “everybody would have some second thoughts” about the reasons for the war, he believes that Saddam Hussein posed a threat “in some ways more dangerous [than weapons of mass destruction],” because his leadership had deteriorated (sic). Small wonder that Roberts took pains to ensure there would be none who might snicker at the formal briefing.
The casting was a dead giveaway. For the first time since annual threat assessment briefings by the heads of key intelligence agencies began a decade ago, the director of the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) was disinvited.
Roberts and his Republican colleagues decided to preclude the possibility that some recalcitrant senator might ask why INR was able to get it right on Iraq when everyone else was wrong. Recall that the CIA and other intelligence agencies signed on to the worst National Intelligence Estimate in 40 years–the one issued in October 2002 with the loaded title “Iraq’s Continuing Programs for Weapons of Mass Destruction.” (The only near rival in infamy is the NIE of September 1962, which said that the Soviet Union would not risk trying to put missiles in Cuba. The missiles were already en route.)
Punished For Honesty
INR has been forced to sit with its face to the wall ever since it resisted White House pressure to cook intelligence to the recipe of high policy. CIA Director George Tenet and other malleable intelligence managers acquiesced in that pressure and became accomplices in the Bush administration’s successful effort in the fall of 2002 to deceive Congress into forfeiting to the president its constitutional prerogative to declare war.
INR was the skunk at that picnic. It dissented loudly from some of the most important key judgments of the NIE of October 2002. For example, the canard about Iraq seeking uranium from Niger–impossible on its face and based on a forgery–found its way into the estimate, but INR’s footnote dismissed the story as “highly dubious.”
This was no small matter. As Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., noted in an irate letter to the president on March 17, 2002, the Iraq/Niger canard had been “a central part of the U.S. case against Iraq” –a key piece of “evidence” used to sway Congress to give its approval for war.
INR analysts also debunked the fable about aluminum tubes for uranium enrichment for Iraq. Although the tubes had been advertised by National Security Adviser Condolleeza Rice as useful only in a nuclear application, State Department intelligence analysts joined counterparts in the Department of Energy and U.N. specialists in pointing out, correctly, that the tubes were for conventional artillery.
Most obstreperous of all, on the highly neuralgic nuclear issue, INR was unwilling to predict when Iraq’s “nuclear weapons program” was likely to yield a nuclear device. Why? It saw no compelling evidence that Vice President Dick Cheney was correct in claiming that the previous nuclear weapons program had been “reconstituted.”
And if that were not enough, State Department intelligence committed several sins not directly connected with the NIE. INR’s most experienced Middle East specialists prepared a study exposing as a chimera the notion that democracy could be brought to the area at the point of a gun. INR also provided invaluable support to the interagency team that worked so hard to prepare sensibly for post-war Iraq. Its analysis and recommendations were trashed by Pentagon neophytes who knew the invasion would be a “cakewalk”–and by Vice President Dick Cheney, who knew that our troops would be seen as liberators.
Who Needs Context?
A bad lot, those State Department intelligence types! Always trying to “put things in context;” unable to see the overriding need to “get with the program.”
Last year, INR’s director, Carl Ford, harped on the need for putting the country’s best analysts to work providing policymakers with the context in which threats arise. Ford has retired, but the current acting director, Thomas Fingar, is cut of the same cloth–the kind of straight shooter likely to say things that would embarrass the CIA, the administration and maybe even the committee itself.
Who needs context? Better to let them talk about how many terrorists they can kill than the conditions that breed terrorism. Let them continue to use the paradigm of combating malaria: Surely it’s easier to try to shoot down the mosquitoes as they leave the swamp than to drain the swamp.
And tell Tenet, too, to lay off this context business. The administration is still smarting from that memorandum he sent up two years ago warning that “the underlying causes that drive terrorists will persist.” That CIA report cited a Gallup poll of almost 10,000 Muslims in nine countries in which respondents described the United States as “ruthless, aggressive, conceited, arrogant, easily provoked and biased.”
Rubbish! They just hate our democracy.
When senators ask–as they undoubtedly will–if the United States is safer now than after the 9/11 attacks, we want to have folks who know the correct answer. Tenet, FBI Director Robert Mueller and Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lowell Jacoby know it has to be “yes.” As for the State Department, although Secretary Colin Powell has now been brought into line, you can never be sure his intelligence specialists will see the light and “get with the program.”
Better to keep them away.
Ray McGovern chaired National Intelligence Estimates during his 27-year career and had high respect for the expertise and dedication of INR analysts. Ray is co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, which includes alumni from CIA, INR, and other intelligence agencies. He is now co-director of the Servant Leadership School, an inner-city outreach ministry in Washington, DC.
U.N. Spying and Evasions of American Journalism
By Norman Solomon
Media Beat, FAIR
February 26, 2004
Tony Blair and George W. Bush want the issue of spying at the United Nations to go away. That’s one of the reasons the Blair government ended its prosecution of whistleblower Katharine Gun on Wednesday (Feb. 25). But within 24 hours, the scandal of U.N. spying exploded further when one of Blair’s former cabinet ministers said that British spies closely monitored conversations of U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan during the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq last year.
The new allegations, which have the ring of truth, are now coming from ex-secretary of international development Clare Short. “I have seen transcripts of Kofi Annan’s conversations,” she said in an interview with BBC Radio. “In fact I have had conversations with Kofi in the run-up to war thinking ‘Oh dear, there will be a transcript of this and people will see what he and I are saying.'” Short added that British intelligence had been explicitly directed to spy on Annan and other top U.N. officials.
Few can doubt that some major British news outlets will thoroughly dig below the surface of Short’s charges. But on the other side of the Atlantic, the journalistic evasion on the subject of U.N. spying has been so extreme that we can have no confidence in the mainstream media’s inclination to adequately cover this new bombshell.
For 51 weeks — from the day that the Observer newspaper in London broke the news about spying at the United Nations until the moment that British prosecutors dropped charges against Gun on Wednesday — major news outlets in the United States almost completely ignored the story.
The Observer’s expose, under the headline “Revealed: U.S. Dirty Tricks to Win Vote on Iraq War,” came 18 days before the invasion of Iraq began. By unveiling a top secret U.S. National Security Agency memo, the newspaper provided key information when it counted most: before the war started.
That NSA memo outlined surveillance of a half-dozen delegations with swing votes on the U.N. Security Council, noting a focus on “the whole gamut of information that could give U.S. policy-makers an edge in obtaining results favorable to U.S. goals” — support for war on Iraq. The memo said that the agency had started a “surge” of spying on U.N. diplomats, including wiretaps of home and office telephones along with reading of e-mails.
Three days after the story came out, I asked for an assessment from the man who gave the Pentagon Papers to journalists in 1971.
Daniel Ellsberg responded: “This leak is more timely and potentially more important than the Pentagon Papers. … Truth-telling like this can stop a war.”
But even though — or perhaps especially because — the memo was from the U.S. government and showed that Washington was spying on U.N. diplomats, the big American media showed scant interest. The coverage was either shoddy or non-existent.
A year ago, at the brink of war, the New York Times did not cover the U.N. spying revelation. Nearly 96 hours after the Observer had reported it, I called Times deputy foreign editor Alison Smale and asked why not. “We would normally expect to do our own intelligence reporting,” Smale replied. She added that “we could get no confirmation or comment.” In other words, U.S. intelligence officials refused to confirm or discuss the memo — so the Times did not see fit to report on it.
The Washington Post didn’t do much better. It printed a 514-word article on a back page with the headline “Spying Report No Shock to U.N.” Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times published a longer piece emphasizing from the outset that U.S. spy activities at the United Nations are “long-standing.” For good measure, the piece reported “some experts suspected that it could be a forgery” — and “several former top intelligence officials said they were skeptical of the memo’s authenticity.”
Within days, any doubt about the memo’s “authenticity” was gone. The British media reported that the U.K. government had arrested an unnamed female employee at a British intelligence agency in connection with the leak.
By then, however, the spotty coverage in the mainstream U.S. press had disappeared. In fact — except for a high-quality detailed news story by a pair of Baltimore Sun reporters that appeared in that newspaper on March 4 — there isn’t an example of mainstream U.S. news reporting on the story last year that’s worthy of any pride.
In mid-November, for the first time, Katharine Gun’s name became public when the British press reported that she’d been formally charged with violating the draconian Official Secrets Act. Appearing briefly at court proceedings, she was a beacon of moral clarity. Disclosure of the NSA memo, Gun said, was “necessary to prevent an illegal war in which thousands of Iraqi civilians and British soldiers would be killed or maimed.” And: “I have only ever followed my conscience.”
A search of the comprehensive LexisNexis database finds that for nearly three months after Katharine Gun’s name first appeared in the British media, U.S. news stories mentioning her scarcely existed. When Gun’s name did appear in U.S. dailies it was almost always on an opinion page. News sections were oblivious: Again with the notable exception of the Baltimore Sun (which ran an in-depth news article about Gun and Ellsberg on Feb. 1), mainstream U.S. news departments proceeded as though Katharine Gun were a non-person. She only became “newsworthy” after charges were dropped.
“Mr. Blair’s spokesmen were conspicuously silent on Wednesday, apparently hopeful that the case would disappear from the public agenda,” the New York Times reported in Thursday’s paper. But the case had never been on the public agenda as far as the Times news department was concerned.
(Background about the Gun case has been posted at www.accuracy.org/gun, a web page of the Institute for Public Accuracy, where my colleagues and I have worked to make information available about the U.N. spying story.)
Overall, the matter of Washington’s spying at the United Nations has been off the American media map until February. Whether the major U.S. news outlets will do a better job on the subject this spring remains to be seen. But it would be a mistake to assume that they will.
Although the prosecution of Gun has ended, the issue of U.N. spying has not. At stake is the integrity of a world body that should not tolerate intrusive abuses by the government of its host country.
We can assume that Adolfo Aguilar Zinser, a former Mexican ambassador to the United Nations, did not speak lightly when he made a strong statement that appeared in an Associated Press dispatch from Mexico City on Feb. 12: “They are violating the U.N. headquarters covenant.” He was referring to officials of the U.S. government.
That statement now resonates more loudly than ever. With British and American intelligence agencies working closely together, both have been locked in a shamefully duplicitous embrace. In the interests of war, their nefarious activities served as direct counterpoints to the deceptions coming from 10 Downing Street and the White House. In the interests of journalism, reporters should now pursue truth wherever it might lead.
Norman Solomon writes a syndicated column on media and politics. He is co-author (with Reese Erlich) of “Target Iraq: What the News Media Didn’t Tell You,” published in 2003 by Context Books.
Improve the CIA? Better to abolish it
By Chalmers Johnson
The San Francisco Chronicle
February 22, 2004
Adm. Stansfield Turner, former director of central intelligence from 1977 to 1981, recommended in a New York Times op-ed earlier this month that U. S. intelligence operations could be improved by adding another layer of bureaucracy to what he admits is a flawed system of overlapping spy agencies, interagency rivalries and vested interests.
I have a better idea: Why don’t we abolish the CIA and make public, as the Constitution requires, the billions spent by the intelligence agencies under the control of the Department of Defense so that Congress might have a fighting chance in doing oversight?
Chalmers Johnson is the author of “The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy and the End of the Republic” (Metropolitan, 2004) and “Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire” (Metropolitan, 2000).