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April 23, 2006 - Shutting Things Down













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Of the stories that break Friday afternoon, after the news cycles have run their course and no more will be published in "the majors" until Monday, removing these stories from much discussion as the weekend is for things other that "current events," this one was curious - "In a rare occurrence, the CIA fired an officer who acknowledged giving classified information to a reporter, NBC News learned Friday."

They got one of the leakers. How did NBC News break the story? Someone at the CIA leaked the news to NBC's Andrea Mitchell.

The irony is obvious - "CIA spokeswoman Jennifer Millerwise confirmed the dismissal. Millerwise said she was unsure whether there had ever been a firing before at the agency for leaking to the media."

Does the CIA now go after the person who leaked the dismissal of the person who leaked to the press in the first place, for leaking news of the firing before the CIA was able to officially announce it?

Probably not. Some leaks are worth pursuing, and some are not. It seems this, the first one, was.

The basics –

 

The officer flunked a polygraph exam before being fired on Thursday and is now under investigation by the Justice Department, NBC has learned.

Intelligence sources tell NBC News the accused officer, Mary McCarthy, worked in the CIA's inspector general's office and had worked for the National Security Council under the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations.

The leak pertained to stories on the CIA's rumored secret prisons in Eastern Europe, sources told NBC. The information was allegedly provided to Dana Priest of the Washington Post, who wrote about CIA prisons in November and was awarded a Pulitzer Prize on Monday for her reporting.

Sources said the CIA believes McCarthy had more than a dozen unauthorized contacts with Priest. Information about subjects other than the prisons may have been leaked as well.

The sources spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the firing.

 

So there you have it. Dana Priest wins a Pulitzer for investigative reporting, digging in and letting the American public know what is secretly being done in our name with our tax dollars, disappearing people forever in a chain of secret foreign prisons - no charges or chance to dispute the reason for removing them from life for life, with "enhanced interrogation" or whatever you choose to call waterboarding, beatings and carefully planned humiliation - and often people we find out did nothing and know nothing and were grabbed by mistake or misplaced enthusiasm, like the useless German fellow we later dumped in the woods in the Balkans who wants to sue us. It seems some think it was good reporting to uncover this, as it violates any number of treaties we recognize and thus have the force of law, and contradicts what the administrations has said publicly. Some think it was not good reporting, but rather something like treason.

But the Justice Department is now investigating New York Times stories about the National Security Agency's domestic warrantless eavesdropping - that NSA spying business. Those Times reporters, James Risen and Eric Lichtblau, won a Pulitzer on Monday the 17th for their reporting that. The NSA and a bunch of agencies asked Justice to find out who spilled the beans.

Of course this Mary McCarthy, late of the CIA, doesn't have a leg to stand on. No "whistleblower" law will probably protect her, as at the very least she did sign an employment agreement to never divulge classified information to anyone who was not authorized to receive it. So they have her on breach of contract or something, if not some sort of violation of the Espionage Act (and everything you might want to know about that is here).

And of course the idea floating around is that maybe the Post should be charged under the Espionage Act for publishing classified information (and the Times too one supposes). The idea is that damage has been done, as in this

 

The CIA has had several leaks during the war on terror, including a particularly damaging one that revealed CIA detention centers in Europe for interrogating captured terrorists. Not only did this cause political damage among our European allies regarding their support of our war efforts, it also apparently caused the program's termination, at least delaying the acquisition of intel from detainees that could have impacted American and Western security. Worst of all, other intel agencies had to rethink their cooperation with American agencies in light of the fact that people within them couldn't keep their mouths shut.

 

Isn't the Post as guilty as this Mary McCarthy woman?

Late Friday afternoon you could have seen the panel on CNN's Situation Room, their in-house Republican experts, Victoria Clark, J.C. Watts and Bill Bennett, being interviewed by the host, Wolf Biltzer, on this woman being fired from the CIA, and too on "secrets" being exposed in the other item.

Bennett did his thing, saying pretty much what he said on his radio show a few days earlier (and he's going to ride this one for all it's worth) –

 

These reporters took classified information, secret information, published it in their newspapers, against the wishes of the president, against the request of the president and others, that they not release it. They not only released it, they publicized it - they put it on the front page, and it damaged us, it hurt us.

How do we know it damaged us? Well, it revealed the existence of the surveillance program, so people are going to stop making calls. Since they are now aware of this, they're going to adjust their behavior.

... on the secret sites, the CIA sites, we embarrassed our allies. So it hurt us there.

As a result, are they punished, are they in shame, are they embarrassed, are they arrested? No, they win Pulitzer prizes - they win Pulitzer prizes. I don't think what they did was worthy of an award - I think what they did is worthy of jail, and I think this investigation needs to go forward.

 

Torri Clark, a pleasant woman who used to be the press person for the Pentagon, looked really worried. She said she didn't want to disagree with Bennett as he was really smart and all, but she seemed reluctant to get involved with anything that seemed like punishing the press for what the print. Bennett would have none of it. Watts looked uncomfortable.

But one suspects this is an opening the pro-Bush right cannot pass up, a call for the government to shut down the Washington Post and New York Times for aiding and abetting the enemy. No more Maureen Dowd! It's not for nothing Fox News' Tony Snow will likely become the next White House spokesman. There's the news that supports the administration, and news that undermines it, and the argument is, implicitly, to disagree with the administration, or to suggest they might have perhaps overstepped or made a mistake, is to disagree with America itself.

It's rather classic. It's important to have a free press, but the press cannot report what the government doesn't want them to report, or what the should know the government might not want them to report. They call that "responsibility." If the bad guys see that some part of the population here disagrees with something the government has done, even on tax policy one suppose, then the bad guys will be emboldened, thinking we're a country divided and real pushovers and all that. Disagreement endangers us? Something like that.

And this fits a general pattern.

There have been arguments that things changed after September 11, 2001, and that in this new world we need to end "transparency" in the government, as it's too dangerous, and shift to making people's personal lives transparent to the government, so that their personal decisions don't do public harm - thus the push to ban gay marriage, end abortion as the decision of the woman involved, and to make sure no husband carries out his wife's wishes and pulls the plug keeping her body alive after her brain has shriveled to the size of a walnut and she's been effectively dead for more than ten years. Heck, the president himself flew back in the middle of the night from his vacation on his ranch in Texas to sign into law the act to keep Terri Schiavo's remaining lower-level functions going. (There's a back and forth on the transparency shift here.)

So stop the leaks, and shut down the irresponsible press, and, well, could you go after those who receive information they are told is classified.

Who would that be? That would be the readers of the Priest story of the CIA's network of "secret prisons" in Europe, here, and the Risen and Eric Lichtblau story of the NSA's secret domestic wiretapping program, here (and made into that book you might have read,
State of War).

Did you read any of that? You were receiving classified information, without the authority to receive that information. And the writers told you it was classified. You're in trouble.

Or you're in trouble if you follow the logic of Bennett and that crowd.

As for leaks, the other late Friday news was this

 

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice leaked national defense information to a pro-Israel lobbyist in the same manner that landed a lower-level Pentagon official a 12-year prison sentence, the lobbyist's lawyer said Friday.

Prosecutors disputed the claim.

The allegations against Rice came as a federal judge granted a defense request to issue subpoenas sought by the defense for Rice and three other government officials in the trial of Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman. The two are former lobbyists with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee who are charged with receiving and disclosing national defense information.

 

Oh my. Will Condoleezza Rice have to testify under oath about when a leak is good (like the president telling Scooter Libby to show a cooperative reporter selected passages from a classified document so the reporter can go after one of his enemies), and when a leak is bad?

This is getting ridiculous. And of course this is the case that has more than a few first amendment scholars worried. Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman are not being charged with leaking classified information. They are being charged with being told information they knew was classified - someone else's crime - then talking about it, in this case with folks in the Israeli government. That was their crime, or so the charges stand.

Think about it. That's just what the Post and Times did, but they didn't slip the inside dope to agents of a foreign power. They did something even worse, publishing it for anyone at all to read.

So this case is one where some worry that, if successfully prosecuted, this could be used to shut down the press, except for Fox News. But the administration would never do that, of course. But they could.

It's an old conflict. See What Some Call Treason, Others Call Truth from Friday, April 21, where he reviews all the 2006 Pulitzer Prize winners and wonders what Bennett would say about each winning story.

He adds this –

 

Bennett isn't alone. Other conservatives, such as the Powerline blog (who called the Risen and Lichtblau piece "treasonous" and columnist Mark Steyn, who says that even though he's ineligible to win a Pulitzer, he "wouldn't want the thing in the house" anyway), rail against the awards because they feel the reporters have hurt national security. Unsurprisingly, none of these conservative attackers felt compelled to explain why these leaks should be punishable by prison while, say, leaks lovingly dealt out to administration-friendly reporters like the Post's Bob Woodward or the Times' Judith Miller that dealt with no less secretive or sensitive matters should be celebrated.

 

And he quotes Marc Fisher at the Post - "The stories that won [the Pulitzer] prizes were reported and written for the best of reasons, the reason that drew most of us into this craft: To use the power of light to force the bad guys out of the shadows."

The counterargument is that they aren't the bad guys, one supposes, and that's just a fact, and not opinion. Some disagree.

The award-winning coverage of Hurricane Katrina?

 

God help up us if the conservatives who seek to intimidate the media into reporting only happy news about our government had succeeded in the case of Katrina. Americans would be even less prepared for its next disaster - or attack - as the reporters who tried to warn us might likely be in jail. Here's to their courage, and let's hope it is matched in the future by a commitment on the part of the stewards of our media institutions to fight this administration's attempts to weaken the very qualities that make this country great - like the freedom to tell the truth, "without fear or favor."

 

The counterargument is of course that's a luxury we can no longer afford. Everything changed on September 11, 2001.


But stuff keeps bubbling up. On CBS there will be more. Sunday, April 23, Tyler Drumheller, the CIA's former head in Europe, tells Sixty Minutes that the White House ignored intelligence in the run-up to the Iraq war. Drumheller says George Tenet told the president and the vice president that Iraq's foreign minister, with whom we had struck a deal, was saying that Saddam Hussein had no active WMD programs. None. And they blew it off - "The [White House] group that was dealing with preparation for the Iraq war came back and said they were no longer interested and we said, 'Well, what about the intel?' And they said, 'Well, this isn't about intel anymore. This is about regime change.'" (See the teaser here.)

Should he say such things? Doesn't that shake the confidence we need to do the job. Doesn't it aid the enemy to make the inside crew at the White House look like, well, people who just lied to the American pubic because they had aims the public would see as dubious?

It's like the late Vietnam War years all over again, but this time without something big, like the Pentagon Papers the government tried to suppress, going after both the Times and Daniel Ellsberg. This time, however, it's no one big document. It's one small detail after another.

So how did we get back there again?

Well, some of the Nixon/Ford crew is back - folks who lived through it at the White House the last time, Cheney and Rumsfeld, trying to get it right this time.

And who should be all over the airwaves? Why it's John Dean on MSNBC's Countdown, Friday, April 21, explaining things. John Dean? Yes, he was White House Counsel to President Nixon from July 1970 to April 1973. And on June 25, 1973, he began his testimony to the Senate Watergate Committee - he implicated administration officials, including himself, Nixon fundraiser and former Attorney General John Mitchell, and Nixon too.

Ah, those were the days.

And what's he saying now? This: If Past Is Prologue, George Bush Is Becoming An Increasingly Dangerous President

Oh great.

And he's been reading, again, James David Barber's The Presidential Character: Predicting Performance in the White House, an analysis of the psychology of presidents, kind of a classic from 1972, recently revised. Yes, "Barber first wrote - long before Richard Nixon's troubles had fully unfolded but based on his scrutiny of Nixon's personality and character traits - that Nixon would self-destruct in his second term. Since then, Barber has tested and retested his analytical tools, applying them to all the modern presidents up to and including George Herbert Walker Bush."

Dean just extends it. It's time again.

Here's the premise –

 

Barber, after analyzing all the presidents through Bush's father, George H. W. Bush, found repeating patterns of common elements relating to character, worldview, style, approach to dealing with power, and expectations. Based on these findings, Barber concluded that presidents fell into clusters of characteristics.

He also found in this data Presidential work patterns which he described as "active" or "passive." For example, John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson were highly active; Calvin Coolidge and Ronald Reagan were highly passive.

Barber further analyzed the emotional relationship of presidents toward their work - dividing them into presidents who found their work an emotionally satisfying experience, and thus "positive," and those who found the job emotionally taxing, and thus "negative." Franklin Roosevelt and Reagan, for example, were presidents who enjoyed their work; Thomas Jefferson and Richard Nixon had "negative" feeling toward it.

From these measurements, Barber developed four repeating categories into which he was able to place all presidents: those like FDR who actively pursued their work and had positive feelings about their efforts (active/positives); those like Nixon who actively pursued the job but had negative feelings about it (active/negatives); those like Reagan who were passive about the job but enjoyed it (passive/positives); and, finally, those who followed the pattern of Thomas Jefferson - who both was passive and did not enjoy the work (passive/negatives).

 

And we have another "active/negative" on our hands, and character matters.

The core –

 

Active/negative presidents are risk-takers. (Consider the colossal risk Bush took with the Iraq invasion). And once they have taken a position, they lock on to failed courses of action and insist on rigidly holding steady, even when new facts indicate that flexibility is required.

The source of their rigidity is that they've become emotionally attached to their own positions; to change them, in their minds, would be to change their personal identity, their very essence. That, they are not willing to do at any cost.

Wilson rode his unpopular League of Nations proposal to his ruin; Hoover refused to let the federal government intervene to prevent or lessen a fiscal depression; Johnson escalated U.S. involvement in Vietnam while misleading Americans (thereby making himself unelectable); and Nixon went down with his bogus defense of Watergate.

George Bush has misled America into a preemptive war in Iraq; he is using terrorism to claim that as Commander-in-Chief, he is above the law; and he refuses to acknowledge that American law prohibits torturing our enemies and warrantlessly wiretapping Americans.

Americans, increasingly, are not buying his justifications for any of these positions. Yet Bush has made no effort to persuade them that his actions are sound, prudent or productive; rather, he takes offense when anyone questions his unilateral powers. He responds as if personally insulted.

And this may be his only option: With Bush's limited rhetorical skills, it would be all but impossible for him to persuade any others than his most loyal supporters of his positions. His single salient virtue - as a campaigner - was the ability to stay on-message. He effectively (though inaccurately) portrayed both Al Gore and John Kerry as wafflers, whereas he found consistency in (over)simplifying the issues. But now, he cannot absorb the fact that his message is not one Americans want to hear - that he is being questioned, severely, and that staying on-message will be his downfall.

Other Presidents - other leaders, generally - have been able to listen to critics relatively impassively, believing that there is nothing personal about a debate about how best to achieve shared goals. Some have even turned detractors into supporters - something it's virtually impossible to imagine Bush doing. But not active/negative presidents. And not likely Bush.

 

So that's it.

Driven, persistent, and emphatic - their pervasive feeling is "I must." Wilson, Hoover, Johnson and Nixon, and now the fellow we have now.

Barber says of the type - "He sees himself as having begun with a high purpose, but as being continually forced to compromise in order to achieve the end state he vaguely envisions. Battered from all sides he begins to feel his integrity slipping away from him [and] after enduring all this for longer than any mortal should, he rebels and stands his ground. Masking his decision in whatever rhetoric is necessary, he rides the tiger to the end."

Dean extends that to our man –

 

He took the risk that he could capture Osama bin Laden with a small group of CIA operatives and U.S. Army Special forces - and he failed. He took the risk that he could invade Iraq and control the country with fewer troops and less planning than the generals and State Department told him would be possible - and he failed. He took the risk that he could ignore the criminal laws prohibiting torture and the warrantless wiretapping of Americans without being caught - he failed. And he's taken the risk that he can cut the taxes for the rich and run up huge financial deficits without hurting the economy. This, too, will fail, though the consequences will likely fall on future presidents and generations who must repay Bush's debts.

 

Great, And here's the prediction –

 

As the 2006 midterm elections approach, this active/negative president can be expected to take further risks. If anyone doubts that Bush, Cheney, Rove and their confidants are planning an "October Surprise" to prevent the Republicans from losing control of Congress, then he or she has not been observing this presidency very closely.

What will that surprise be? It's the most closely held secret of the Administration.

How risky will it be? Bush is a whatever-it-takes risk-taker, the consequences be damned.

One possibility is that Dick Cheney will resign as Vice President for "health reasons," and become a senior counselor to the president. And Bush will name a new vice president - a choice geared to increase his popularity, as well as someone electable in 2008. It would give his sinking administration a new face, and new life.

The immensely popular Rudy Giuliani seems the most likely pick, if Giuliani is willing. (A better option for Giuliani might be to hold off, and tacitly position himself as the Republican anti-Bush in 2008.) But Condoleezza Rice, John McCain, Bill Frist, and more are possibilities.

Bush's second and more likely, surprise could be in the area of national security: If he could achieve a Great Powers coalition (of Russia, China, the United Kingdom, France, and so on) presenting a united-front "no nukes" stance to Iran, it would be his first diplomatic coup and a political triumph.

But more likely, Bush may mount a unilateral attack on Iran's nuclear facilities - hoping to rev up his popularity. (It's a risky strategy: A unilateral hit on Iran may both trigger devastating Iran-sponsored terrorist attacks in Iraq, with high death tolls, and increase international dislike of Bush for his bypass of the U.N. But as an active/negative President, Bush hardly shies away from risk.) Another rabbit-out-of-the-hat possibility: the capture of Osama bin Laden.

If there is no "October Surprise," I would be shocked. And if it is not a high-risk undertaking, it would be a first. Without such a gambit, and the public always falls for them, Bush is going to lose control of Congress. Should that happen, his presidency will have effectively ended, and he will spend the last two years of it defending all the mistakes he has made during the first six, and covering up the errors of his ways.

There is, however, the possibility of another terrorist attack, and if one occurred, Americans would again rally around the president - wrongly so, since this is a presidency that lives on fear-mongering about terror, but does little to truly address it. The possibility that we might both suffer an attack, and see a boost to Bush come from it, is truly a terrifying thought.

 

Oh well. What happens will happen. But you can see why they hate leaks and would like to intimidate the press into just not nosing around. Being able to listen to critics relatively impassively, believing that there is nothing personal about a debate about how best to achieve shared goals?

Not possible.

And they like changing things, as Digby at Hullabaloo notes here

 

First, they declare that the taboo against wars of aggression, formed in the blood of more than 70 million dead people in the 20th century's two world wars, is out. Not even a second glance at that taboo. They simply repackage it as "pre-emptive" war, changing the previous definition of (troops gathering on the border) to somebody some day might want to attack us so we must attack them first.

Then there's torture. This society used to teach its children that there is no excuse for torture. Indeed, until recently, people who torture were considered to be either evil or sick. We didn't make exceptions for "except when you suspect the person is a really bad person." We said torture is wrong. Now we have sent a message far and wide that torture is necessary and even good if the person who is committing it is doing it for the right reasons. Those right reasons are usually that we "know" that the victim has information but is refusing to tell us what it is. How we "know" this is never spelled out. All we know is that the person is on our side they are "good" and the ones who are refusing to tell are "evil" and that should be good enough for anybody.

Finally, we seem to have crossed the Rubicon with respect to nukes. We are openly discussing using them on television, much as otherwise decent people tossed around the idea of torture after 9/11. People like Joe Klein think it's not only ok for George W. Bush to say nukes are on the table - but it's desirable because then people will think we are crazy and run like hell when we say boo. However, just as with torture, once you start talking about how it might be ok in certain circumstances, then you have begun to break down the taboo against it.

Much of our safety in the post-Hiroshima world has relied on the fact that nuclear war is too horrible to contemplate. It's not just the horror of the explosions themselves, it's the visions of radiation sickness and cancer and deformities and half lives of thousands of years. It's apocalyptic (which may be why the Left Behind faction thinks this is such a great idea.) For the sane among us, letting the nuclear genie out of the bottle is simply unthinkable. It's not and never can be "on the table" because once you start talking about it as if it's just another form of warfare somebody is going to do it.

I'm trying hard to think if there are any taboos left after endorsing launching pre-emptive nuclear war and I don't think there are. The only thing left is actually exploding a "tactical" nuke and considering this administration's determination to break as many civilized norms as possible we would be fools not to take them seriously.

 

Well, the norm of a free press is long gone.

It's a new world.































 
 
 
 
Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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