Judd Legum, Faiz Shakir, Nico Pitney, Mipe Okunseinde and Christy Harvey / www.progressreport.org – 2005-07-23 09:38:23
(July 18, 2005) — On July 18, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee began three days of hearings on Iraq — the committee’s 27th set of hearings on the war. As high as that number is, it is an important and positive step that Congress begin to take the lead on shaping Iraq policy.
The Bush administration steadfastly refuses to be straightforward and honest about the nature of its policies in Iraq, and the progress it is achieving. Just this week, three more fundamental White House claims regarding the US mission in Iraq were rocked by news reports.
THE TERRORISM MYTH — IRAQ WAR HAS ENHANCED US NATIONAL SECURITY:
There is yet more evidence that the war on Iraq — the cornerstone of the Bush administration’s counterterrorism strategy — has actually had the very opposite effect, not only inciting more terrorist acts but creating new terrorists. A series of studies by the Saudi Arabian government and an Israeli think tank show that “the vast majority of … foreign fighters [in Iraq] are not former terrorists and became radicalized by the war itself.”
The Boston Globe added that the studies, “which together constitute the most detailed picture available of foreign fighters, cast serious doubt on President Bush’s claim that those responsible for some of the worst violence are terrorists who seized on the opportunity to make Iraq the ‘central front’ in a battle against the United States.” Writing for the New York Times Magazine, former counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke pointed to another new study by the Canadian Intelligence Security Service which “reportedly says that terrorists trained in Iraq are likely to be involved in attacks in other countries.”
In other words, we now know that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was wrong on both counts when she said one week ago, “I don’t think that anything is being fueled [by the war in Iraq] except the fact that the terrorists are finally being confronted.” The Iraq war is indeed fueling terrorism, and the terrorists are not “finally” being confronted because many of them weren’t involved in terrorism until the Iraq war was launched.
THE DEMOCRACY MYTH — IRAQI ELECTIONS WERE FREE AND FAIR:
In last month’s major Iraq address, President Bush recalled that “In January 2005, more than eight million Iraqi men and women voted in elections that were free and fair.” Iraq’s elections may have been free, but according to the New Yorker‘s Seymour Hersh, they were not at all fair, thanks directly to President Bush.
Hersh reports that in the months leading up to Iraq’s January elections, President Bush approved a plan for covert US agents to support Iraqi candidates and political parties. The plan was purportedly rescinded, the New York Times reports, after congressional opposition led by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. But “the Bush Administration decided to override Pelosi’s objections and covertly intervene in the Iraqi election,” Hersh reports. “A former national-security official told me that he had learned of the effort from ‘people who worked the beat’ — those involved in the operation.”
This version of the story is reinforced by the National Security Council’s vague statement released this past weekend, which denied that the administration covertly helped “individual candidates for office.” As the Times noted, the statement leaves open “the question of whether any covert help was provided to parties favored by Washington, an issue about which the White House declined to elaborate.”
THE PROGRESS MYTH — HIGH-INTENSITY VIOLENCE ON THE DECLINE:
On July 8, Maj. Gen. William Webster, who oversees coalition forces in Baghdad, announced that the ability of insurgents “to conduct sustained, high-intensity operations, as they did last year, we’ve mostly eliminated that.” Tragically, though not unexpectedly, Maj. Gen. Webster’s remarks were disproven in gruesome fashion. During the next ten days, insurgents struck Baghdad with acts “so profoundly violent that the country seem[ed] to pause, trying to fathom what happened.”
In one such attack, a suicide bomber “drove a stolen truck full of liquefied gas onto the central square, opened its valves, and blew himself up, setting off a firestorm that torched 20 cars and set shops and buildings ablaze.” At least 71 people were killed, another 156 wounded.
Another brutal suicide attack killed some two dozen school children. This past weekend, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, “the most revered Shiite cleric in Iraq, asked the [Iraqi] government ‘to defend this country against the mass annihilation,'” the New York Times reports. Another prominent Shiite religious leader warned yesterday that the country was “slipping into all-out civil war.”
PLAMEGATE: What We Learned This Past Weekend
On Sunday, John Podesta, CEO and president of the Center for American Progress and former Clinton chief of staff, appeared on NBC’s Meet the Press to debate Ken Mehlman, former White House deputy to Karl Rove. Podesta asserted that the White House’s credibility “is in shreds” due to recent disclosures that prove false White House assurances in 2003 that Rove was not involved in the Valerie Plame leak. For his part, Mehlman reserved the right to smear the special prosecutor conducting the leak investigation.
When asked by host Tim Russert whether he would pledge not to attack the special prosecutor if he indicts any White House officials, Mehlman, despite asserting his “tremendous confidence” in the prosecutor, said he could not “speculate” on what his reaction would be. Here’s what else we learned this weekend :
ROVE MAY HAVE KNOWN INFO WAS DECLASSIFIED:
In an article written in this week’s Time magazine entitled “What I Told the Grand Jury,” Matt Cooper reviews his notes from a telephone conversation in July 2003 before Robert Novak outed Valerie Plame. Cooper writes, “The notes, and my subsequent e-mails, go on to indicate that Rove told me material was going to be declassified in the coming days that would cast doubt on Wilson’s mission and his findings.” Cooper then goes on to say, “When he said things would be declassified soon, was that itself impermissible? I don’t know.”
The mere admission by Rove that he knew information was classified directly contradicts his lawyer’s assertion that Rove “never knowingly disclosed classified information.” We already knew, from a previous Matt Cooper e-mail, that Rove “knowingly disclosed” the identity of Plame, and it appears we now know the Rove knew it was “classified.” At the end of the telephone conversation, Cooper reported that Rove cryptically ended the conversation by saying: “I’ve already said too much.”
CHENEY’S CHIEF OF STAFF WAS A LEAKER:
I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, current chief of staff to Vice President Cheney, was identified as a leaker by Matt Cooper. On Meet the Press, Cooper acknowledged that he called Libby for confirmation of the Plame story, and Libby said, “‘Yeah, I’ve heard that too’ or words to that effect.” Scott McClellan said on October 10, 2003, that he had spoken with Libby and was assured by Libby that he was not involved. Either Libby lied to McClellan or McClellan isn’t being truthful with the public.
PURPOSE OF CALL BETWEEN COOPER AND ROVE WAS NOT TO TALK ABOUT WELFARE REFORM:
After speaking with Rove’s attorney Robert Luskin, National Review Online reported, “According to Luskin, the fact that Rove did not call Cooper; that the original purpose of the call, as Cooper told Rove, was welfare reform … [was an indication] ‘that this was not a calculated effort by the White House to get this story out.'”
Cooper upends this argument. He writes in Time that earlier that week, he “may have left a message with [Rove’s] office asking if I could talk to him about welfare reform. But I can’t find any record of talking about it with him on July 11, and I don’t recall doing so.”
Another National Security Leak That Deserves Investigation
Last August, just as the Democratic National Convention was wrapping up, Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge announced that he was raising the terror alert status to orange due to an “unusually specific” threat against specific buildings, including the New York Stock Exchange in Manhattan and the International Monetary Fund building in Washington, DC.
When pressed to explain why the threat level was raised, US officials revealed that the intelligence had been garnered from an al Qaeda agent named Mohammed Naeem Noor Khan. “US officials told reporters that someone held secretly by Pakistan was the source of the bulk of the information justifying the alert. The New York Times obtained Khan’s name independently, and US officials confirmed it when it appeared in the paper the next morning.” These leaks revealed that an al Qaeda agent, who had been apprehended one month earlier, had been cooperating with British intelligence officials to help authorities track down al Qaeda militants in Britain.
The disclosure of the mole’s identity caused British officials to move in and arrest suspects before they were ready; other militants are believed to have gotten away and still others who may have been subsequently detected went underground.
The leak of Khan’s identity has drawn renewed attention in the wake of the London terror bombings as concerns have been raised that the leak may have foiled attempts to disrupt those attacks. Shortly after the disclosure, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) asked the White House to explain why the name of Khan was revealed. The London bombings should cause a renewed investigation into the Khan leak.
LONDON BOMBERS MAY HAVE TIES TO LEAK:
After Ridge’s announcement in August, the media reported that the source of the information which caused the raised terror alert was information obtained from al Qaeda agent and computer expert Mohammed Naeem Noor Khan. “After his capture he admitted being an al Qaeda member and agreed to send e-mails to his contacts,” a Pakistani intelligence source told Reuters. “He sent encoded e-mails and received encoded replies. He’s a great hacker and even the US agents said he was a computer whiz.”
Pakistani intelligence officials were using Khan to track down al Qaeda operatives worldwide. US intelligence officials are believed to have revealed the name of Khan, and Condi Rice, appearing on CNN, confirmed that his name was disclosed “on background” by US officials to the media.
Khan led authorities to another militant named Ahmed Khalfan Ghailini. Officials reported at the time of the Khan’s and Ghailini’s arrests that their computers contained photographs of potential targets including “underpasses beneath London buildings.”
At the time, British officials thought they had foiled a London subway plot by arresting more than a dozen Britons of Pakistani descent. ABC News terrorism consultant Alexis Debat reported that the London bombers may be tied directly to the leaking of Khan’s name. “It is very likely this group was activated last year after the other group was arrested,” Debat said.
LEAK ANGERED BRITISH BECAUSE IT FORCED MILITANTS UNDERGROUND:
Because Khan’s name was leaked prematurely, British officials were forced to move to apprehend militants before they would have preferred. Ridge said the leaking of intelligence in the US about alleged terrorist suspects here was a “regrettable disclosure.” Senator George Allen (R-VA) said: “In this situation, in my view, they should have kept their mouth shut and just said, ‘We have information, trust us.'”
One intel official speaking anonymously said, “Let me say that this intelligence leak jeopardized our plan and some al-Qaida suspects ran away.” At least five al Qaeda militants are believed to have escaped capture. Another terrorism researcher said, “other serious sources could have been detected or guys could have been captured in the future” if Khan’s identity had been protected.
The LA Times reported in August 2004, “British security officials are angry over recent US revelations of terrorist threats and arrests, said Paul Beaver, an international defense analyst based in London. He said the attitude among some British intelligence officials was that the ‘Americans have a very strange way of thanking their friends, by revealing names of agents, details of plots and operations.'” The London bombings demonstrate the British were right to be angry.
UNDER THE RADAR
HOMELAND SECURITY — REAL ID TO BE REALLY EXPENSIVE:
In a move that has been called “short-sighted” and “ill-conceived,” conservatives in Congress enacted the already controversial REAL ID act into law by tagging it onto an $82 billion spending bill.
The legislation has left many of the nation’s governors fuming as “motorists are going to see costs skyrocket for driver’s licenses and motor vehicle offices forced to operate like local branches of the FBI.” For example, state motor vehicle offices will be required to verify that license applicants are American citizens or legal residents, far beyond their current duties.
“It’s outrageous to pass this off on the states,” said Republican Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, incoming chairman of the National Governors Association. “You’re essentially asking the front-line clerks at the DMV to become an INS agent and a law enforcement agent.” (For more information on the real problems with REAL ID, read the transcript of the Center for American Progress’s recent event debating the issue.)
IMMIGRATION — THE MINUTEMAN PROJECT, REVISITED:
Inspired by the original success of the Minuteman Project, which drew hundreds of vigilantes together to patrol the Mexican border, at least 40 similar anti-immigration groups have now popped up nationally. And while the original idea had more than its fair share of problems, the movement seems to have sunk to a new low.
One group leading patrols in California raised eyebrows when it suggested its members brings baseball bats, mace, pepper spray, machetes and even guns to guard the border. Response has been tepid, to say the least-even from the Department of Homeland Security.
“Homeland security is a shared responsibility, and the department believes the American public plays a critical role in helping to defend the homeland,” agency spokesman Jarrod Agen said from Washington. “But as far [as] doing an investigation or anything beyond giving us a heads-up, that should be handled by trained law enforcement.”
CONTRACT CORRUPTION —
CONTRACTOR AND INTELLIGENCE CENTER A LITTLE TOO CLOSE:
The recent investigation into the financial misdealings of Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-CA) has uncovered even more evidence of corruption at the defense contracting firm MZM Inc. The Washington Post reports, “Two months after MZM Inc. was given its first order in October 2002 to perform services for the Army’s National Ground Intelligence Center (NGIC), the company hired the son of the center’s senior civilian official, Executive Director William S. Rich Jr.”
Following suit, the senior Rich joined MZM after resigning from NGIC in September 2003. The Ethics in Government board subsequently barred Rich from having any dealings with NGIC for one year after his employment. NGIC is already facing serious inquiries from the director of national intelligence for its prewar mistakes in analyzing Iraq’s weapons program.
Three weeks ago, the Pentagon cut off MZM’s main contract, under which the NGIC work was performed.
CIVIL LIBERTIES — FBI GOES THE WAY OF BIG BROTHER:
In what civil rights and antiwar groups say is an attempt to stifle political opposition to the Bush administration, the FBI’s counterterrorism unit has collected at least 3,500 internal documents from the ACLU, Greenpeace, and similar organizations.
Documents recently released under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that “agents monitored web sites calling for protests against the 2004 political conventions.”
Though FBI officials declined to comment, the affected groups’ leaders are furious over what they see as activity that blurs the line between terrorism and legitimate protest.
“Why would the FBI collect almost 1,200 pages on a civil rights organization engaged in lawful activity?” asked ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero, of the FBI’s files on his own organization. “What justification could there be, other than political surveillance of lawful First Amendment activities?”
Over the weekend, Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-CO) proposed the bombing of Mecca and other Islamic holy sites if Muslim fundamentalist terrorists were to attack the United States with nuclear weapons.
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