Cheney's speech to the American Enterprise Institute (any wonder the two outlets to get advanced copies of Cheney's durge were Fox News and the Weekly Standard...?) contained nothing unexpected, unless you count Cheney's sudden love for the CIA as unexpected.
As for President Obama's speech, you definitely get the feeling that it's starting to bug him that so many of us out here in Americanland want him to "re-litigate" the torture policies of the past. But Obama's main points were well taken: he is not a continuation of George W. Bush, and sorry Dick, but the previous administration did clearly subvert American values. But Obama's strongest point may have been this: that the previous administration's response to the 9/11 attacks was haphazard at best.
By the way, Cheney's obsession with the CIA-torture nexus isn't new. You probably won't recall this, because the media has had no interest in it, but according to investigative reporter Jane Mayer and others, as recounted by Jason Leopold:
Former Vice President Dick Cheney intervened in CIA Inspector General John Helgerson investigation into the agency’s use of torture against alleged “high-value” detainees, but the watchdog was still able to prepare a report that concluded the interrogation program violated some provisions of the International Convention Against Torture.
The report, which the Obama administration may soon declassify, was completed in May 2004 and implicated CIA interrogators in at least three detainee deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq and referred eight criminal cases of alleged homicide, abuse and misconduct to the Justice Department for further investigation, reporter Jane Mayer reported in her book, The Dark Side, and an investigative report published in The New Yorker in November 2005.
In The Dark Side, Mayer described the report as being “as thick as two Manhattan phone books” and contained information, according to an unnamed source, “that was simply sickening.”
“The behavior it described, another knowledgeable source said, raised concerns not just about the detainees but also about the Americans who had inflicted the abuse, one of whom seemed to have become frighteningly dehumanized,” Mayer wrote. “The source said, ‘You couldn't read the documents without wondering, 'Why didn't someone say, "Stop!'""
Mayer added that Cheney routinely “summoned” Inspector General Helgerson to meet with him privately about his investigation, launched in 2003, and soon thereafter the probe “was stopped in its tracks.” Mayer characterized Cheney’s interaction with Helgerson as highly unusual.
Cheney’s “reaction to this first, carefully documented in-house study concluding that the CIA’s secret program was most likely criminal was to summon the Inspector General to his office for a private chat,” Mayer wrote. “The Inspector General is supposed to function as an independent overseer, free from political pressure, but Cheney summoned the CIA Inspector General more than once to his office.
“Cheney loomed over everything,” the former CIA officer told Mayer. “The whole IG’s office was completely politicized. They were working hand in glove with the White House.”
But Mayer said Cheney's intervention in Helgerson's probe proved that as early as 2004 “the Vice President's office was fully aware that there were allegations of serious wrongdoing in the [torture] Program." Helgerson has denied that he was pressured by Cheney.
Did you catch Liz Cheney's act on Stephanopoulos on Sunday? Sorry to be slow on the uptake, but my Tivo failed and I just caught it last night. Watch if for yourself here and here. Spoiler alert: the Cheney apple didn't fall from the gnarled, twisted tree... If you don't feel like clicking, here's a small portion of the roundtable, in which Liz continues the family tradition of shoving the CIA out front as a human shield:
As Bush stays silent, the evidence against Dick Cheney mounts
I've often wondered, is George W. Bush really as dumb as he seems, or could he, behind the scenes, have figured out -- eventually -- that his vice president had hijacked his presidency. Assuming for the moment that he did figure out, maybe around mid-to-late 2003, by which time the case for the Iraq war had completely fallen apart, and during the summer of which, Robert Novak had completed the leak of a CIA officer's name, something that originated inside the vice president's office, too. There is some evidence to suggest that not only did Dubya figure out what was up, but he also took steps to correct it:
Bush fought fiercely for a second term, deploying Karl Rove (who by the way has now admitted that the Bush administration conducted torture...) to do anything to win.
After he won (or stole Ohio, whichever historic read you prefer) he ejected the entire neocon fraternity from his administration -- including, eventually, Don Rumsfeld.
The one person he couldn't get rid of, or didn't try to, was Dick Cheney, who had gone to war with the CIA over Iraq (an agency Bush's father once held,) and authorized the Plame leak, something that went against Bush Sr.'s strongest admonitions when it came to undercover personnel. So could Bush, in his second term, have been seeking to repair the presidency he had allowed his vice president to destroy? Maybe. And then there's this: Bush and Cheney are no longer on speaking terms, according to news reports, and Bush does indeed blame Cheney for what went wrong with his reign (he should blame himself more -- Katrina wasn't Cheney's fault, and the economi catastrophe was a shared responsibility...) Bush also refused to pardon Scooter "the CIA agent outer" Libby, despite Cheney's strenuous insistance. And now, Cheney is out there on his own, defending the Bush administration's torture program as if it was ... well, the Cheney administration torture program. Which brings me to a post in today's Daily Beast:
Robert Windrem, who covered terrorism for NBC, reports exclusively in The Daily Beast that:
*Two U.S. intelligence officers confirm that Vice President Cheney’s office suggested waterboarding an Iraqi prisoner, a former intelligence official for Saddam Hussein, who was suspected to have knowledge of a Saddam-al Qaeda connection.
*The former chief of the Iraq Survey Group, Charles Duelfer, in charge of interrogations, tells The Daily Beast that he considered the request reprehensible.
*Much of the information in the report of the 9/11 Commission was provided through more than 30 sessions of torture of detainees.
At the end of April 2003, not long after the fall of Baghdad, U.S. forces captured an Iraqi who Bush White House officials suspected might provide information of a relationship between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein’s regime. Muhammed Khudayr al-Dulaymi was the head of the M-14 section of Mukhabarat, one of Saddam’s secret police organizations. His responsibilities included chemical weapons and contacts with terrorist groups.
Two senior U.S. intelligence officials at the time tell The Daily Beast that the suggestion to waterboard an Iraqi prisoner came from the Office of Vice President Cheney.
“To those who wanted or suspected a relationship, he would have been a guy who would know, so [White House officials] had particular interest,” Charles Duelfer, head of the Iraqi Survey Group and the man in charge of interrogations of Iraqi officials, told me. So much so that the officials, according to Duelfer, inquired how the interrogation was proceeding.
Could GWB be keeping so very quiet, because he knows that if prosecutions for torture do occur, Cheney will be on the hook more than he? Perhaps that's why this past weekend, Cheney tried to tie Bush to the torture program, claiming Bush "signed off on it..."
Meanwhile, the CIA today turned down Cheney's request to selectively declassify documents he insists will clear him ... or, he never asked. Either way he's not getting any memos. (BTW, which guy do you think would get more CIA cover if bad things went down in the A.G.'s office, former son of a CIA director Bush, or Dick "Deferrments" Cheney?" Just asking. BTW, the American Conservative's Philip Geraldi makes a very good point about those still classified memos, about which he was briefed by someone who has seen them; he writes this:
... The memos were drafted for the White House to demonstrate the success of the enhanced interrogation program and were not intended to look at the downside of the procedure, which means they provide only a very selective and uncritical overview. They were written by the CIA staff tasked with carrying out the interrogations which inevitably had a vested interest in making the program appear to be both effective and legal. Other Agency components, including its Inspector General’s office, opposed the program for various reasons, including its failure to produce any genuine intelligence, so there was hardly any consensus even inside the CIA on the procedure and effectiveness.
The memos cite several leads developed from the interrogations which may or may not have led to the thwarting of terrorist plots, but they make no attempt to critique the interrogation process itself to determine if the information might have been obtained more conventionally. None of the interrogations of “high value suspects” related to a “smoking gun scenario” where a detainee knew details of an imminent terrorist attack, meaning that the waterboarding was carried out even when there was no pressing need to use that technique. The memos also did not address the issue of the numerous false leads and bogus information derived from confessions under torture that made the entire process questionable. [emphasis added]
And the credulous Washington press corps continues to buy into the GOP's Operation Get Nancy distraction technique, to a degree that is shameful, even for this Republican-coddling crowd.
TIME Magazine also wondered why the once-reclusive Dick is so chatty these days, and concluded as follows:
Cheney is "trying to rewrite history," says a Republican consultant who has experience in intelligence matters. "He knows that as time goes by, he will look worse. And so he's trying to put his stroke on it."
And you know what? I'll bet George W. Bush knows that, too.
Is it just me who is disturbed by "intelligence officials" who may or may not be partisan Republicans, or persons otherwise interested in forestalling a full investigation of torture during the Bush administration, leaking memos that are intended to implicate Nancy Pelosi (who has some say in the matter of investigations, but who was disallowed by law from even discussing the classified briefings, let alone objecting to their content...) in foreknowledge of torture?
In a letter accompanying the new documents, CIA Director Leon Panetta explains that it is possible that the CIA’s description of the briefing is inaccurate. Panetta explains that its report is based on the “best recollections” of those in attendance and states that the Senate Intelligence Committee, to whom they sent the report, “will have to determine whether this information is an accurate summary of what actually happened”
That would seem to be the last remaining justification for the use of torture by our CIA. A New York Times story this morning reveals that the torture tactics were adopted without even a cursory examination of the history of the methods, or their usefulness.
The program began with Central Intelligence Agency leaders in the grip of an alluring idea: They could get tough in terrorist interrogations without risking legal trouble by adopting a set of methods used on Americans during military training. How could that be torture?
In a series of high-level meetings in 2002, without a single dissent from cabinet members or lawmakers, the United States for the first time officially embraced the brutal methods of interrogation it had always condemned.
This extraordinary consensus was possible, an examination by The New York Times shows, largely because no one involved — not the top two C.I.A. officials who were pushing the program, not the senior aides to President George W. Bush, not the leaders of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees — investigated the gruesome origins of the techniques they were approving with little debate.
According to several former top officials involved in the discussions seven years ago, they did not know that the military training program, called SERE, for Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape, had been created decades earlier to give American pilots and soldiers a sample of the torture methods used by Communists in the Korean War, methods that had wrung false confessions from Americans.
Even George J. Tenet, the C.I.A. director who insisted that the agency had thoroughly researched its proposal and pressed it on other officials, did not examine the history of the most shocking method, the near-drowning technique known as waterboarding.
The top officials he briefed did not learn that waterboarding had been prosecuted by the United States in war-crimes trials after World War II and was a well-documented favorite of despotic governments since the Spanish Inquisition; one waterboard used under Pol Pot was even on display at the genocide museum in Cambodia.
They did not know that some veteran trainers from the SERE program itself had warned in internal memorandums that, morality aside, the methods were ineffective. Nor were most of the officials aware that the former military psychologist who played a central role in persuading C.I.A. officials to use the harsh methods had never conducted a real interrogation, or that the Justice Department lawyer most responsible for declaring the methods legal had idiosyncratic ideas that even the Bush Justice Department would later renounce.
The process was “a perfect storm of ignorance and enthusiasm,” a former C.I.A. official said.
Read the Senate Arms Services committee report here.
The reiterations of the Obama policy on the Sunday shows this morning do not convince. On this one, the administration is dead wrong. Well, let me back up a bit. I suppose I can understand the practical reasons for granting immunity to those in the CIA who carried out torture policies "under the color of law" due to the advice issued by the then- Justice Department. The Obama administration doesn't want to incite a wholesale rebellion at Langley, or make the CIA the scapegoat for what were clearly Bush administration -- not intelligence community -- policies. However, three points from the Sundays that slap down the argument that immunity should be anything more than immunity to testify against those higher officials who ARE being prosecuted:
1. As Katty Kay pointed out on the "CMS," the Nuremberg trials, conducted by American prosecutors, didn't distinguish between those who committed war crimes out of pure depravity, and those who did it under color of law. They said they were following the laws of Germany (or Japan); we prosecuted them anyway.
... in an interview with the Austrian newspaper Der Standard, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Professor Manfred Nowak, explained that Obama’s grant of immunity is likely a violation of international law. As a party to the UN Convention Against Torture, the U.S. is obligated to investigate and prosecute U.S. citizens that are believed to have engaged in torture:
STANDARD: CIA torturers are according to U.S. President Obama not to be prosecuted. Is that decision supportable?
NOWAK: Absolutely not. The United States has, like all other Contracting Parties to the UN Convention Against Torture, committed itself to investigate instances of torture and to prosecute all cases in which credible evidence of torture is found.
3. Indeed, there is no legal argument that the administration can point to that would get them out of their obligation to pursue these torture allegations. Dick Cheney has admitted to authorizing torture, and many of the details of what was done during the Bush administration are already publicly known, as Rahm Emanuel pointed out on "This Week." The memos have people's names and signatures on them, including the name of Jay Bybee, who now occupies the dual role of probable war criminal and sitting federal judge (though hopefully, he's soon to be an impeached one, as the NYT called for in an editorial yesterday.) At a minimum, the lawyers who concocted the torture memos should be disbarred, and in the case of Bybee, "disbenched." And the people who put the policies in place, at the Pentagon, Justice Department and yes, the Bush White House, should, as Andrew Sullivan eloquently pointed out, be held to account.
As the Times points out in its editorial, the intent behind thememos makes what should be done clear enough:
These memos are not an honest attempt to set the legal limits on interrogations, which was the authors’ statutory obligation. They were written to provide legal immunity for acts that are clearly illegal, immoral and a violation of this country’s most basic values.
And as the Times further points out:
It sounds like the plot of a mob film, except the lawyers asking how much their clients can get away with are from the C.I.A. and the lawyers coaching them on how to commit the abuses are from the Justice Department. And it all played out with the blessing of the defense secretary, the attorney general, the intelligence director and, most likely, President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.
Except that mobsters don't generally brag on television about the horse's heads they've laid to rest on victims' pillows.
The Bush administration went to great lengths to impose Soviet-style eavesdropping, gulags and torture on the American experiment. Shouldn't America repay them by imposing a little constitutional law on them?
What you can do:
To get more info and to get involved in the push to impeach Jay Bybee, click here.
For more on the push to have John Yoo removed from his professorship over his role in the torture memos, click here.
To sign the ACLU petition to call on the Justice Department to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate torture during the Bush administration, click here.
From the New York Review of books comes a chilling account of U.S. torture of terror suspects, gleaned from interviews with the arbiter of whether or not war crimes have taken place in a given conflict: the International Committee of the Red Cross. A clip from their interviews with "high value detainee" Abu Zubaydah:
Two black wooden boxes were brought into the room outside my cell. One was tall, slightly higher than me and narrow. Measuring perhaps in area [3 1/2 by 2 1/2 feet by 6 1/2 feet high]. The other was shorter, perhaps only [3 1/2 feet] in height. I was taken out of my cell and one of the interrogators wrapped a towel around my neck, they then used it to swing me around and smash me repeatedly against the hard walls of the room. I was also repeatedly slapped in the face....
I was then put into the tall black box for what I think was about one and a half to two hours. The box was totally black on the inside as well as the outside.... They put a cloth or cover over the outside of the box to cut out the light and restrict my air supply. It was difficult to breathe. When I was let out of the box I saw that one of the walls of the room had been covered with plywood sheeting. From now on it was against this wall that I was then smashed with the towel around my neck. I think that the plywood was put there to provide some absorption of the impact of my body. The interrogators realized that smashing me against the hard wall would probably quickly result in physical injury.
Read the whole thing here. The major scoop of this leaked report was done not by a journalist, but by a journalism professor at Berkley:
Mark Danner has scooped the NY Times, the Washington Post and other papers by publishing in the current New York Review of Books an essay quoting long excerpts of a leaked International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) report on "high-value" prisoners held in CIA black site prisons. The interviews took prior to their release in late 2006, and the report itself is dated February 2007, and likely was sent originally to then CIA Acting General Counsel, John Rizzo.
The prisoners interviewed by ICRC personnel included Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah, Walid Bin Attash, and eleven others, all of whom, the ICRC concluded, were submitted to torture.
As the poster at Axis of Logic points out, this is no bedtime reading.
Related: a British author says Zubaydah might not be the terror mastermind the Bush administration made him out to be. Meanwhile, it turns out that Zubaydah's rendition (initially to Thailand) was timed tantalizingly close to the Justice Department torture memos written by Jay Bybee and John Yoo.
The CIA's station chief at its sensitive post in Algeria is under investigation by the U.S. Justice Department for allegedly raping at least two Muslim women who claim he laced their drinks with a knock-out drug, U.S. law enforcement sources tell ABC News.
Officials say the 41-year old CIA officer, a convert to Islam, was ordered home by the U.S. Ambassador, David Pearce, in October after the women came forward with their rape allegations in September.
The discovery of more than a dozen videotapes showing the CIA officer engaged in sex acts with other women has led the Justice Department to broaden its investigation to include at least one other Arab country, Egypt, where the CIA officer had been posted earlier in his career, according to law enforcement officials.
Great. Another Bush-era mess for Obama to clean up while trying to restore normal relations with the Muslim world.
Not that everything that happens everywhere is George W. Bush's fault, but the permissive atmosphere created by the Bush administration for both military and intelligence personnel, whether in interrogations that morphed into torture sessions, or the indiscriminate shelling and shooting of Iraqi civilians by CACI and other contractors, clearly the previous commander in chief failed to set the necessary conditions for conduct becoming of the United States. During the high points of the war, American troops were routinely accused of raping Iraqi women on various Arab and Muslim websites (often using faked photos,) and the very real, sexualized abuse and torture of Iraqi men, possibly by both military intelligence and CIA operatives, at Abu Ghraib (not to mention the alleged rape of child prisoners at the facility,) is now infamous in the annals of American history. This sorry situation can only add to the damage.
"I have been contacted by both President-elect Obama and Vice President-elect Biden, and they have explained to me the reasons why they believe Leon Panetta is the best candidate for CIA Director," she said.
If indeed Barack Obama plans to nominate former Bill Clinton chief of staff Leon Panetta to be CIA director, over the apparent objections of people like Diane Feinstein, it will be an ... um ... interesting go. I'm not one who cares much what Ms. Feinstein thinks, she being one of the Senate's leading hawks, and thus an apologist for a rheem of Bush policies, including the Iraq war, domestic spying, and "enhanced interrogation." The fact that people like her, and fellow "gang of eight" member Jay Rockefellar have a problem with the pick is actually good news for me. Panetta is clearly not tainted by their Bush-like views.
On the other hand, looking through his resume, Panetta doesn't seem uniquely qualified for the post, and risks being undermined in the post if he is seen by career spooks and analysts as a political hack who doesn't understand the "culture."And he is yet another in the increasingly tiresome parade of Clinton vets packing the Obama administration. Then again, his long history as a manager (the CIA has like a multi- billion dollar budget) and organization leader might make him just the guy for the job, and his political experience would be most helpful in what is, in the end, a political job.
I kind of expected Obama to pick someone from someplace like the Center for American Progress, which has become the think tank of record for political progressives (without the icky neoconish views of places like Brookings.) He would have had a lot of good choices there, including former Reagan undersecretary of defense for manpower Larry Korb, who I know and very much respect. Korb is a Republican, which would have made the pick all the more useful. And CAP has other scholars on the ready, like P.J. Crowley and Brian Katulis. Who knows, maybe Obama feared they would be perceived as too ideological. I disagree with the idea that he could have picked Jane Harman, who may well be Feinstein's favorite, because Harman, too, is associated with the big, giant rubber stamp that's been slapped all over Bush security policy over the last six-plus years.
To be fair to Panetta, politicians have held the post before, including Florida Rep. Porter Goss (though he was a former CIA employee) and of course, George Bush Sr., who received the post as kind of a political gift. And Panetta did sit on the Iraq Study Group. (Not that that's necessarily a good thing; so was James "the fixer" Baker...)
There have been 20 CIA Directors (there is no more "Director of Central Intelligence" and now the position reports to the National Intelligence Director) since Harry Truman created the position in 1946. Most have been military men, with a heavy tilt toward the Navy, including the first four: Rear Admirals Sidney William Souers and Roscoe H. Hillenkoette, Hoyt Sandberg Vandenberg who served between the two, and Walter Bedel Smith (1950-53), plus Navy men William Raborn (1965-66, whom the office building in D.C. is named for,) Carter's CIA Director Stansfield Turner and Reagan's, William Casey, plus the current Michael Hayden (George H.W. Bush was himself a Navy pilot.) A handful, like Clinton top spook (and he is spooky) James Woolsey, had backgrounds in the Army. Others were former OSS spooks like Allen Dulles (who served Eisenhower and Kennedy, up to the Bay of Pigs debacle,) Richard Helms (1966-72, the guy at CIA who refused to put a stop to the Watergate probe,) and William Colby (1973-76). And there have been occasional political or managerial types like John McCone (1961-65), who like Panetta had no intelligence background, but succeeded Dulles and is considered one of the best directors the agency has had. So it's a gamble. (McCone is the guy who warned LBJ not to expand the war in Vietnam. You might call LBJ's response a gamble, too.) When Bush I was named in 1976 by Gerald Ford, he had been chairman of the Republican National Committee and pretty much everyone knew he wanted to be president. In fact, in order to be confirmed, Bush promised not to run in the up-coming election. So it's not exactly a post reserved for actual spies.
So let's take a moment to get comfortable with Leon Panetta. As the folks at McClatchy report, it is if nothing else, a single that change is coming.
There will be no prosecution, at least for now, of the former CIA agent, Mr. Kiriakou, for his revelations about the torture (his words) of terror suspect Abu Zubayda whilst Mr. Zubayda was in the custody of the agency. Kiriakou has told ABC and NBC News that not only did he participate in the torture of Mr. Zubayda via waterboarding, but that the torture was cleared, specifically, up the chain of command from CIA headquarters to the Justice Department to the White House. The former agent said that each time agents wanted to use "harsh interrogation techniques" on a suspect, they didn't just do it willy nilly -- they had to get specific permission to do so, technique by technique.
So why is he talking?
On Dan Abrams' show last night it was clear that John Kiriakou wants to protect the reputation of the CIA, and to clear the agency of having acted somehow in a rogue fashion, waterboarding people willy nilly simply because agents wanted to do so. It seems pretty clear what his motivations are: to inoculate the CIA while redirecting the responsibility for what was done to the White House. Along with that, Kiriakou is telling the media in no uncertain terms that he felt that what was done was torture, but that he personally deemed it necessary, even "forced" -- at the time, "to save American lives."
Maybe on "24" (I've never heard one convincing piece of evidence that Abu Zubayda knew anything of importance regarding supposed future terror attacks on the United States. If torture worked, why didn't one of the torturees tip off the CIA to the Bali bombings, or the tube bombings in London...?) In fact, many on my end of the blogosphere are quite skeptical of the right's "torture works! ...but only for us..." claims.
Lesson number one from Kiriakou's tale is that you can't beat the CIA. Even the Bush administration, which operates with almost Darth Vader's Empire-like radicalism when it comes to lawbreaking, can beat the spooks. They always hit back. And no president that I can think of has ever out-foxed them. Bush has blamed the CIA for the "bad" intelligence on Iraq, when actually, his vice president and Pentagon cooked the vague intel coming out of Langley for the purpose of pushing the Congress, and the country, into a war with Iraq. Bushies imply that it was the CIA, and the FBI, who dropped the ball before 9/11, though somebody must have briefed Bush's then National Security Advisor Condi Rice, because she knew full well that "Bin Laden was determined to attack the United States" on at least August 6th, a full month before the attacks.
Back to Mr. Kiriakou... ABC reports on his "get out of prosecution" card (which is mirrored, apparently, by the White House's even as it becomes crystal clear that there's obstruction of justice afoot. From ABC:
The former CIA intelligence official who went public on ABC News about the agency's use of waterboarding in interrogations, John Kiriakou, apparently will not be the subject of a Justice Department investigation, even though some CIA officials believe he revealed classified information about the use of waterboarding.
"They were furious at the CIA this morning, but cooler heads have apparently prevailed for the time being," a senior Justice Department official told the Blotter on ABCNews.com.
Gen. Michael Hayden, the CIA director, did sent out a classified memo this morning warning all employees "of the importance of protecting classified information," a CIA spokesperson told ABCNews.com.
... and then, that new classified memo got out. Hm.
I don't know about you, but I think the spooks doth protest too much. They like having this guy out there. He's not hurting them -- he's hurting the people the CIA lifers apparently distrust -- George W. Bush and his band of nut-o-cons.
Here's Kiriakou on Abrams last night:
And here's part two, where poor GOP hack Jack Burkman tries to roll out the talking points, to hilarious effect:
So who gets pardoned and commuted by George W. Bush? Well we already know about Scooter, but who else has felt the warm glow of Dubya's compassion? The list includes just a handful of commutations, and 113 pardons to convicts who have already served their sentences. Among the lucky, five bootleggers or moonshiners, several tax cheats, mortgage and other fraudsters and white collar criminals, a couple of high caste-sounding folk convicted of cocaine or marijuana possession (like Harper James Finucan, convicted of weed possession in 1980 and James Edward Reed, convicted of the same thing in 1975) and two men: William Grover Frye and Devin Timothy Kruse, both convicted of going AWOL during the Vietnam War ... now that's one crime Dubya can really relate to.
As for commutations, in addition to Scooter, Bush has commuted the following sentences:
Geraldine Gordon (1989 distribution of phencyclidine) (sentenced to 20 years plus 10 years supervised release; sentence commuted after 15 years, term of supervised release left intact)
Bobby Mac Berry (1997 conspiracy to manufacture and possess with intent to distribute marijuana, money laundering) (sentenced to 9 years imprisonment plus 5 years supervised release; sentence reduced to 6 and a half years, terms of supervised release left intact)
Phillip Anthony Emmert (1992 conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine) (sentenced to 21 years and 10 months plus 5 years supervised release; sentence reduced Feb. 21, 1996; sentence commuted to 15 years and 1 month plus 5 years supervised release)
Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald issued the following statement about the commutation of Scooter Libby's prison sentence:
“We fully recognize that the Constitution provides that commutation decisions are a matter of presidential prerogative and we do not comment on the exercise of that prerogative.
We comment only on the statement in which the President termed the sentence imposed by the judge as “excessive.” The sentence in this case was imposed pursuant to the laws governing sentencings which occur every day throughout this country. In this case, an experienced federal judge considered extensive argument from the parties and then imposed a sentence consistent with the applicable laws. It is fundamental to the rule of law that all citizens stand before the bar of justice as equals. That principle guided the judge during both the trial and the sentencing.
Although the President’s decision eliminates Mr. Libby’s sentence of imprisonment, Mr. Libby remains convicted by a jury of serious felonies, and we will continue to seek to preserve those convictions through the appeals process.”
In early August 1999, then Presidential candidate Governor George W. Bush mocked Karla Tucker's plea for clemency during an interview with Talk Magazine. Bush mentioned that he had watched Larry King's interview with Karla Tucker from Texas Death Row.
"I didn't meet with Larry King either when he came down for it," Bush told the magazine. "I watched his interview with (Tucker), though. He asked her real difficult questions, like, `What would you say to Governor Bush?' "
The Talk reporter asked how she answered. " `Please,' Bush whimpers, his lips pursed in mock desperation, `don't kill me,' " according to the magazine.
George W. Bush has a mixed record when it comes to commuting prison sentences, and so far, it seems that the advantage goes to middle aged men who reveal classified information to reporters. Here's the scorecard so far, from both his term as governor and his one and a half terms as president of the United States:
Mentally ill 62-year-old great-grandmothers accused of killing their abusive husbands: zero
Born again Christian female death row inmates whose pleas for clemency are supported by the Pope: zero (mocking snarkery included free of charge!)
Men who disclose the identity of covert CIA agents at the behest of the vice president and who then come down with a curious case of amnesia that conveniently protects that vice president from prosecution: one!!! ... or is that ... two...?
Ensconced in his family compound in Kennebunkport, Maine, President Bush today played the sneak thief -- commuting Scooter Libby's prison sentence, after a federal appeals court (which included a judge who had a hand in appointing Kenneth Starr back in the bad old days of the anti-Clinton coup attempt by the Republican Congress,) denied Scooter's request to stay out of jail pending his appeal. Many analysts had thought Bush would wait until the end of his term, or even until after the November 2008 elections to do what most of us believed he would do -- pardon Libby outright. Instead, Bush surprised everyone by splitting the difference -- upholding Libby's conviction on perjury and obstruction of justice charges but keeping his, or rather Dick's, boy out of the slammer (he won't do the 2 1/2 years, but he will still have to pay the $250,000 fine, which should quickly be taken care of by his neocon friends -- and Fred Thompson... and his felony conviction remains in tact, meaning he'll probably lose his law license.) The White House issued the following statement -- which amounts to "on the one hand, on the other hand" -- on Bush's behalf:
The United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit today rejected Lewis Libby's request to remain free on bail while pursuing his appeals for the serious convictions of perjury and obstruction of justice. As a result, Mr. Libby will be required to turn himself over to the Bureau of Prisons to begin serving his prison sentence.
I have said throughout this process that it would not be appropriate to comment or intervene in this case until Mr. Libby's appeals have been exhausted. But with the denial of bail being upheld and incarceration imminent, I believe it is now important to react to that decision.
From the very beginning of the investigation into the leaking of Valerie Plame's name, I made it clear to the White House staff and anyone serving in my administration that I expected full cooperation with the Justice Department. Dozens of White House staff and administration officials dutifully cooperated.
After the investigation was under way, the Justice Department appointed United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois Patrick Fitzgerald as a Special Counsel in charge of the case. Mr. Fitzgerald is a highly qualified, professional prosecutor who carried out his responsibilities as charged.
This case has generated significant commentary and debate. Critics of the investigation have argued that a special counsel should not have been appointed, nor should the investigation have been pursued after the Justice Department learned who leaked Ms. Plame's name to columnist Robert Novak.
Furthermore, the critics point out that neither Mr. Libby nor anyone else has been charged with violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act or the Espionage Act, which were the original subjects of the investigation. Finally, critics say the punishment does not fit the crime:
Mr. Libby was a first-time offender with years of exceptional public service and was handed a harsh sentence based in part on allegations never presented to the jury.
Others point out that a jury of citizens weighed all the evidence and listened to all the testimony and found Mr. Libby guilty of perjury and obstructing justice. They argue, correctly, that our entire system of justice relies on people telling the truth. And if a person does not tell the truth, particularly if he serves in government and holds the public
trust, he must be held accountable. They say that had Mr. Libby only told
the truth, he would have never been indicted in the first place.
Both critics and defenders of this investigation have made important
points. I have made my own evaluation. In preparing for the decision I
am announcing today, I have carefully weighed these arguments and the circumstances surrounding this case.
Mr. Libby was sentenced to thirty months of prison, two years of probation, and a $250,000 fine. In making the sentencing decision, the district court rejected the advice of the probation office, which recommended a lesser sentence and the consideration of factors that could have led to a sentence of home confinement or probation.
I respect the jury's verdict. But I have concluded that the prison sentence given to Mr. Libby is excessive. Therefore, I am commuting the portion of Mr. Libby's sentence that required him to spend thirty months in prison.
My decision to commute his prison sentence leaves in place a harsh punishment for Mr. Libby. The reputation he gained through his years of public service and professional work in the legal community is forever damaged. His wife and young children have also suffered immensely. He will remain on probation. The significant fines imposed by the judge will remain in effect. The consequences of his felony conviction on his former life as a lawyer, public servant, and private citizen will be long-lasting.
The Constitution gives the President the power of clemency to be used when he deems it to be warranted. It is my judgment that a commutation of the prison term in Mr. Libby's case is an appropriate exercise of this power.
Jeff Toobin just called this "a complete departure from what is usually done. Scooter Libby is getting something that millions of prisoners would die for."
Toobin also added that Libby was sentence precisely within the federal sentencing guidelines for obstruction of justice convictions, so Bush is free to have the opinion that the sentence was excessive, but he is not accurate. At the same time, Bush's decision is irrevocable in that he has the power to do it, and there are no appeals. Case closed, game over.
Democrats are sure to be furious about this, but I wonder whether right wingers will be satisfied either, given that their wunderkind remains a felon in the eyes of the law. Bush did not wipe his slate clean.
Update: Republican reactions are starting to roll in...
Mark Levin, at the start of his show, expressed his regret that the president didn't all-out pardon Libby, but stressed on his listeners that the president will get attacked by the Left for the commutation and he deserves support for doing as much as he did.
RedStater Mark I had been whingeing for a pardon for federal inmate number: 28301-016 since the federal appeals court denied his request to stay out of the slammer, and now, for Mark, vindication ... sort of, since it's kind of hard to tell if the Staters are happy with the less-than-pardon.
On another note, Paris Hilton should be pissed. When her sentence was commuted, it was as if the world was going to end, and now this.
Update 2: Ambassador Joe Wilson just told CNN that the president's commutation of Scooter Libby's sentence was shameful, and said, pointedly, "Scooter Libby is a traitor." Now Joe DiGenova is attempting to clean it up for Scooter.
"This decision to commute the sentence of a man who compromised our national security cements the legacy of an Administration characterized by a politics of cynicism and division, one that has consistently placed itself and its ideology above the law. This is exactly the kind of politics we must change so we can begin restoring the American people's faith in a government that puts the country's progress ahead of the bitter partisanship of recent years."
Back to CNN: Jeff Toobin is now debating Joe DiGenova, making the point that Bush's commutation of the sentence was highly unusual, it having not gone through the normal procedure, and having completely bypassed the Department of Justice. Then again, why pass by there, their chief is Bush's butler...
Update 3: Hillary Clinton's reaction to the Scooter commutation:
"Today's decision is yet another example that this Administration simply considers itself above the law. This case arose from the Administration's politicization of national security intelligence and its efforts to punish those who spoke out against its policies. Four years into the Iraq war, Americans are still living with the consequences of this White House's efforts to quell dissent. This commutation sends the clear signal that in this Administration, cronyism and ideology trump competence and justice."
Rudy Giuliani, former federal prosecutor and apparently, newly minted believer in obstruction fo justice, perjury and lying to the FBI, had this to say:
"After evaluating the facts, the President came to a reasonable decision and I believe the decision was correct."
"While for a long time I have urged a pardon for Scooter, I respect the president's decision. This will allow a good American, who has done a lot for his country, to resume his life." — Former Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn.
Did I mention that Thompson is a contributor to Scooter's defense fund? Means he'll be one of the sops paying Scootie-Scoot's fine.
Meanwhile, the New York Times explains the difference between a commutation and a full pardon here.
The CIA's "Family Jewels" provide a fascinating look into the sometime misadventures of America's spy agency. Included in the release (no, there's nothing in there that says the CIA hired the mob to kill JFK...) are:
On Page 5: word that the CIA illegally wiretapped two Washington reporters in 1963 because they were suspected of disclosing classified info.
On Page 6: the CIA used local police to repel rioters, though they weren't sure it was "entirely illegal..."
On Page 12: the Agency began the mob plot to kill Fidel Castro.
The CIA's "family jewels" were made public today, including tantalizing information about high level plots to assassinate Fidel Castro, the Congo's Patrice Lumumba, and Dominican Republic dictator Rafael Trujillo. On Castro:
According to a five-page memo in Tuesday’s release, the plotting began in the final months of the Eisenhower administration, under the leadership of Richard Bissell, the agency’s director for plans. The operation used a go-between, Robert Maheu, a former FBI agent who did work as a private investigator for the CIA.
The iceman cometh In September 1960, Maheu traveled to New York to meet Johnny Roselli, a high-ranking Mafia official who controlled ice-making machines in Las Vegas. Maheu told Roselli a cover story: that he represented several large international business firms that were suffering catastrophic financial losses in Cuba. And they were willing to pay $150,000 to arrange for Castro’s “removal.”
Roselli didn’t want to get involved, but he introduced Maheu to Sam Giancana, boss of the Chicago mob, and Santos Trafficant, the head of the mob’s Cuban operations, both of them members of the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted list.
Concerned about the messiness and unreliability of firearms, Giancana suggested poisoning Castro with a pill in his food. The CIA accordingly provided six pills that it described as “of high lethal content.” They were given to Juan Orta, “a Cuban official who had been receiving kick-back payments from the gambling interests, who still had access to Castro, and was in a financial bind.”
According to the memo, Orta made several unsuccessful attempts and developed cold feet. A second, unnamed would-be assassin also wasn’t able to do the job. So a second plot was hatched, through a Cuban exile leader. But it was abandoned after the failed Bay of Pigs operation in 1961.
The documents also reveal that at the height of negotiations over his involvement in the Castro plot, Giancana asked Maheu for help in finding out whether his girlfriend, Phyllis McGuire, a member of the singing McGuire Sisters, was having an affair with Dan Rowan, half of the Rowan & Martin comedy team.
The CIA sent a technician to bug Rowan’s Las Vegas hotel room, the CIA memo says. But the technician was arrested by Clark County sheriff’s deputies. He placed a telephone call to Maheu in the presence of sheriff’s officials, potentially endangering the entire Castro plot.
The Justice Department announced its intention to prosecute Maheu and the technician, leading the CIA’s director of security to intervene with Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy.
The prosecution was dropped. ...
Fascinating stuff, and proof that however sinister the CIA's plans may have been, they weren't exactly carried out with panache.
Read the Family Jewels for yourself here. And check out the spooks' snazzy new web-site here.
This is what we've come to, America. Our government is disappearing people, like some cheap, 20th century third world dictatorship. Rights groups have named the disappeared, and are demanding that the U.S. produce information about their whereabouts.
Meanwhile, the Senate Judiciary Committee has taken the first step toward restoring the writ of habeas corpus to the American people, who would no doubt be grateful had more than a handful had any idea that this sacred right had disappeared under the Bush administration. The trouble is, you only really know when you need it, and by then, it's too late.
Indefinite detention, spying on Americans, kangaroo courts and tribunals, disappearing detainees. It almost makes you wonder what country you're living in. America has never been so isolated, nor can I recall us straying so far from our core beliefs. The Bush administration will go down in history as the one which most twisted the meaning of our founding, taking Nixon's attempts at dark statecraft to a whole new low.
They can't be out of office soon enough, and I pray the American people know better than to make things worse by electing an even purer authoritarian (Giuliani) based solely on the abject fear he's peddling. Thankfully, I think that most of us have woken up. It's those who haven't that really creep me out. I guess fear is a powerful motivator for those who require authoritarian leadership.
WASHINGTON - Former White House aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby has been sentenced to 30 months in prison for perjury and obstruction of justice in the CIA leak case.
He also gets a $250,000 fine, this stemming from his obstruction of justice in the CIA leak case that led to the outing of covert agent Valerie Plame and her high level operation to uncover WMD programs in the Middle East -- you know, that unimportant case the righties don't think matters...
Related: The die-hards mount an "heroic" campaign to hide from the inconvenient facts... CBS, please to reiterate the obvious: Plame ... covert ... Libby ... guilty.
Let the frog marching begin...
Update: Apparently, the letters vouching for his integrity sought by the Libby faction before his sentencing didn't work. Libby got one from Henry Kissinger, but pointedly, not from the man he's going to prison to save from justice: Dick Cheney. Instead, Cheney's office issued the following warm(ish) statement:
"Scooter has dedicated much of his life to public service at the State Department, the Department of Defense and the White House. In each of these assignments he has served the nation tirelessly and with great distinction. I relied on him heavily in my capacity as Secretary of Defense and as Vice President. I have always considered him to be a man of the highest intellect, judgment and personal integrity -- a man fully committed to protecting the vital security interests of the United States and its citizens. Scooter is also a friend, and on a personal level Lynne and I remain deeply saddened by this tragedy and its effect on his wife, Harriet, and their young children. The defense has indicated it plans to appeal the conviction in the case. Speaking as friends, we hope that our system will return a final result consistent with what we know of this fine man."
Facing 2 and a half years, if I were Scooter, I would immediately begin cooperating with the special counsel and tell every goddamned thing I know about Cheney. The way of the Bushes is to let others swing, while they walk away (unless those "others" are Bush pals from Texas...) Dick Cheney was the target of the probe that Libby helped to thwart. He is culpable for feeding Libby the information he used to help destroy Valerie Plame's cover and then urging him to go ahead and blow it (hell, Dick even set up the meetings with reporters.) He pushed, or at best, allowed, Libby to lie to the FBI in order to save his own skin.
If Libby continues to protect the vice president, he is not just a felon, he's a damned fool.
George Tenet on MTP this morning demonstrated the fine art of utterly evading responsibility for one's own failures. Even moreso than his belligerent '60 Minutes' interview, Tenet used his full hour with Tim Russert to put forward the stunning case that he did everything humanly possible to make clear to the administration that the facts didn't support a case for Iraq being involved in 911, and that he was not an enabler of the Cheney wing's push to war. Tenet has this interesting quirk of using "we" when answering questions about failures by the CIA to "get the intelligence right" on Iraq, forgetting that the "we" in question -- career CIA analysts and professionals -- weren't responsible for conveying key judgments on intelligence to the White House, and for correcting the White House when it publicly misused intelligence: he was. He was the top political appointee at the CIA, and therefore, if intelligence judgments were twisted by the administration, "we" weren't responsible -- George Tenet was. Tenet only used "I" during his chat with Russert when trying to convince the listener that much was done right in the run-up to both the war and 9/11.
Tenet is so utterly unbelievable, that he is actually losing the swearing match with dark pre-war provocateur Richard Perle over what Perle actually said to him on September 12 or 15, depending on whether Perle was at his French chalet or stalking the halls of the West Wing whipsering Saddam Hussein's name into everyone's ears. My tendency is to call them both liars -- Tenet is wrong on the date, which comports with his apparent history of politically feuled, sycophantic incompetence. But Perle is lying when he claims he never tried to pin 9/11 on Saddam. Perle had been badgering politicians to overthrow Saddam since the Clinton administration, after all. And then there's the matter of that letter... written to President Bush on September 20, 2001, and signed by Perle and other neocons, which stated:
[E]ven if evidence does not link Iraq directly to the attack, any strategy aiming at the eradication of terrorism and its sponsors must include a determined effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq.
So Perle, too, is a rat attempting to jump ship on the Iraq invasion, as he did this past week with his friend Wolf Blitzer on CNN.
The National Journal has two bombshell articles offering new details of just what Dick Cheney had to do with the outing of Valerie Plame, and perhaps more importantly, what role he may have played in suborning the perjury of his then-lieutenant, Scooter Libby. First, the bottom line, from the great Murray Waas:
In the fall of 2003, as a federal criminal probe was just getting underway to determine who leaked the identity of CIA officer Valerie Plame to the media, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the-then chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, sought out Cheney to explain to his boss his side of the story.
The explanation that Libby offered Cheney that day was virtually identical to one that Libby later told the FBI and testified to before a federal grand jury: Libby said he had only passed along to reporters unsubstantiated gossip about Plame that he had heard from NBC bureau chief Tim Russert.
The grand jury concluded that the account was a cover story to conceal the role of Libby and other White House officials in leaking information about Plame to the press, and indicted him on five felony counts of making false statements, perjury, and obstruction of justice.
At the time that Libby offered his explanation to Cheney, the vice president already had reason to know that Libby's account to him was untrue, according to sources familiar with still-secret grand jury testimony and evidence in the CIA leak probe, as well as testimony made public during Libby's trial over the past three weeks in federal court.
Yet, according to Libby's own grand jury testimony, which was made public during his trial in federal court, Cheney did nothing to discourage Libby from telling that story to the FBI and the federal grand jury. Moreover, Cheney encouraged then-White House press secretary Scott McClellan to publicly defend Libby, according to other testimony and evidence made public during Libby's trial.
If Libby is found guilty, investigators are likely to probe further to determine if Libby devised what they consider a cover story in an effort to shield Cheney. They want to know whether Cheney might have known about the leaks ahead of time or had even encouraged Libby to provide information to reporters about Plame's CIA status, the same sources said.
Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald and defense attorneys for Libby are expected to begin their closing arguments in the case as early as Tuesday morning. Defense attorneys for Libby had said for months that they were going to call Cheney as a defense witness, but informed Federal District Court Judge Reggie Walton, who has presided over the Libby trial, at the last minute that they were not going to call him after all.
Had Cheney testified, he would have been questioned about whether he encouraged, or had knowledge of, the leaking of Plame's CIA status. Sources close to the case say that Cheney would have also been sharply questioned as to why, when presented by Libby with what prosecutors regarded as a cover story to explain away Libby's role in the leak, Cheney did nothing to discourage him. ...
Now we know the stakes, which apparently are quite high for Cheney, who must be banking on a presidential pardon to save him from a possible Libby cave. So now, in a separate article, here are some key bites from Waas' in-depth tale of two leaks (take the time to read the entire article. It's worth it.):
Early on the morning of June 20, 2002, then-Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Bob Graham, D-Fla., received a telephone call at home from a highly agitated Dick Cheney. Graham, who was in the middle of shaving, held a razor in one hand as he took the phone in the other.
The vice president got right to the point: A story in his morning newspaper reported that telephone calls intercepted by the National Security Agency on September 10, 2001, apparently warned that Al Qaeda was about to launch a major attack against the United States, possibly the next day. But the intercepts were not translated until September 12, 2001, the story said, the day after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Because someone had leaked the highly classified information from the NSA intercepts, Cheney warned Graham, the Bush administration was considering ending all cooperation with the joint inquiry by the Senate and House Intelligence committees on the government's failure to predict and prevent the September 11 attacks. Classified records would no longer be turned over to the Hill, the vice president threatened, and administration witnesses would not be available for interviews or testimony.
Moreover, Graham recalled in an interview for this story, Cheney warned that unless the leaders of the Intelligence committees took action to discover who leaked the information about the intercepts -- and more importantly, to make sure that such leaks never happened again -- President Bush would directly make the case to the American people that Congress could not be trusted with vital national security secrets.
"Take control of the situation," Graham recalls Cheney instructing him. ...
...On that morning in June 2002, Cheney could not have known that his complaints to Graham about the leaking of classified information would help set events in motion that eventually would lead to the prosecution of his own chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, as the result of a separate leak investigation.
So that was the boomerang. Now, here's how it came back to hit Scooter Libby squarely between the eyes...
Senate Democrats were also pressing for a special prosecutor. Because Cheney had personally pushed for a criminal investigation of senators and their staff over the NSA intercepts, the Democrats insisted that the White House endure similar scrutiny over the leak of Plame's identity, according to several senior congressional staffers involved in the process.
With Fitzgerald's appointment as special prosecutor, Eckenrode found a sympathetic ear for his complaint that leak probes often went nowhere because suspects knew that reporters would never be forced to testify. Although the men agreed that reporters should be compelled to testify only as a last resort, Fitzgerald assured Eckenrode that he would demand such testimony if necessary.
And so, you had a game of leaks in which administration officials felt confident that the reporters they leaked to would never testify against them, no matter what. And so, Scooter Libby became one of the administration's "rogue agents," seeking to discredit an administration critic, they thought, with impunity. More of Murray:
The irony that Libby, once the vice president's top aide, was accused of concealing his role in leaking information to the press has not been lost on some. Graham said in an interview: "It's hard to believe that the chief of staff to the vice president was acting as a rogue agent. What we have learned from the trial validates the suspicion that Libby was not just operating as a lone ranger. He was carrying out what the vice president wanted him to do, which was to besmirch Joe Wilson. I think Libby has been a conspirator in one of the most reprehensible and damaging breaches of American security in modern history."
The piece then takes a slight detour, to reveal some nuggets about the new, old Dick Cheney, and his perennial purpose of subordinating the United States Congress to the president:
At the time of Cheney's phone call in June 2002, Graham and other lawmakers on the Intelligence committees suspected that the vice president viewed the leaking of the NSA intercepts as an opportunity to try to curtail what he believed were nettlesome congressional inquiries.
If that was, indeed, the vice president's main purpose for his angry call to Graham, it was not the first time that Cheney had sought to use a press leak as a pretext for constraining a congressional probe.
A recently declassified memo handwritten by Cheney more than 30 years ago when he was an aide to President Ford shows him considering whether to press the Justice Department to pursue criminal charges against The New York Times and reporter Seymour Hersh after the newspaper published an article revealing a highly classified espionage program against the Soviet Union. The memo was uncovered for a soon-to-be-aired documentary by the PBS program Frontline.
When the Justice Department balked at prosecuting anyone, Cheney adroitly tried to exploit the news report for other ends. He wrote under the heading "Broader ramifications": "Can we take advantage of it to bolster our position on the Church committee investigation? To point out the need for limits on the scope of the investigation?"
At the time, a select committee headed by then-Sen. Frank Church, D-Idaho, was investigating the CIA -- an unprecedented and historic inquiry that revealed everything from CIA-sponsored coups against foreign governments to attempted assassinations of foreign leaders, to illegal domestic spying.
Okay, back to the future. Remember how the right went bananas over Democrats and the New York Times supposedly aiding the terrorists by disclosing information about secret NSA intercepts? Well turns out, the big leakers in town during the Bush administration have been true blue, or should I say true red, Republicans:
In the NSA leak probe, the FBI focused primarily on news reports from June 2002 that on the night before September 11, 2001, the National Security Agency had intercepted two Arabic-language messages suggesting that terrorist attacks against the United States were imminent. The messages that were overheard said, "The match is about to begin" and "Tomorrow is zero hour." But they were not translated until September 12.
The messages were discussed at length by Lt. Gen. Michael Hayden, who was NSA's director, during a joint closed-door session of the House and Senate Intelligence committees on June 19, 2002. Not long after the hearing concluded, CNN aired a report disclosing the two messages. The next morning, The Washington Post and USA Today published more-detailed reports. It was then that Cheney called Graham, and that Graham then met with Goss, Shelby, and Pelosi.
Senior intelligence officials have insisted that even if the messages had been translated immediately, authorities most likely could not have prevented the 9/11 attacks. But they said that the leak revealed possible sources and methods of intelligence-gathering, and therefore was a major security breach.
The FBI swarmed over Capitol Hill, interviewing virtually every senator and House member who served on the Intelligence committees, as well as the staffs of both panels. Before long, investigators began to focus on Shelby. And as they did, Shelby, who had initially supported the investigation, took to denouncing it.
In August 2002, when the FBI inquired about having members of Congress and their staffs take polygraph examinations, Shelby began to pointedly voice opposition to the investigation, telling the press: "I don't know who among us would take a lie detector test. First of all, they're not even admissible in court, and second of all, the leadership [of both parties] has told us not to do that." More broadly, he complained: "Here we are investigating the FBI for huge failures, and now we're asking them to investigate us."
Among those who provided information to the FBI incriminating Shelby was Fox News correspondent Carl Cameron. He told investigators that Shelby shared information about the intercepts shortly after the June 19 hearing, according to sources close to the investigation.
Immediately after Shelby spoke with him, Cameron told the FBI, he watched as Shelby walked down a Senate office building hallway and conversed with Dana Bash, then a producer, and now a correspondent, for CNN. Cameron was not privy to the Shelby-Bash conversation, but CNN later ran a story about the intercepts based on information that was almost identical to what Shelby had told Cameron. Cameron, who indicated that he was irked that Shelby shared the information with a competitor, also told investigators that he delayed a broadcast of his story because he wanted to make sure that he was not compromising intelligence sources and methods, according to these sources.
A congressional staff member, the sources said, recounted to the FBI that Shelby told the staffer about the NSA intercepts -- that Al Qaeda was about to attack the United States, but that the intercepts were not translated until after September 11. Shelby indicated to the staffer that the issue should be brought to the press's attention, although the staffer said that Shelby did not provide specific details of the information that the senator wanted divulged, the sources said.
The investigation stalled when investigators were unable to compel Cameron, Bash, and other reporters to provide evidence or to testify before a federal grand jury on the sources for their stories.
Graham says that even if Shelby had leaked information about the intercepts to the press, Graham believes with some degree of certainty that certain executive branch officials did so as well. Although CNN broke the story, the next-day stories in The Post and USA Today contained details that Hayden had not disclosed to the Intelligence committees, Graham said. "That would lead a reasonable person to infer the administration leaked as well, or what they were doing was trying to set us up... to make this an issue which they could come after us with."
Unfortunately, though, their zeal to capture Congressional leakers was about to bite the Bushies in the arse. So here it is: the twice told tale of how the Plame leak came to be:
The main justification for invading Iraq had been that Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction. But with inspectors unable to find any evidence of an Iraqi WMD program, the White House blamed the CIA for faulty intelligence. Senior CIA officials, in turn, said that the White House had often misrepresented accurate intelligence information.
It was during that volatile time, on July 6, 2003, that Wilson wrote his New York Times op-ed alleging that the administration had distorted intelligence information about Iraq's purported attempt to procure uranium. When Cheney and Libby learned that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA, and might even have played a role in selecting him for the Niger mission, they perceived his allegations as one more effort by the CIA to shift blame away from the agency.
Four days later, on July 10, 2003, Mary Matalin, a senior aide to Cheney at the time, warned Libby that Wilson was a "snake" and that his "story has legs," Deputy Special Prosecutor Peter Zeidenberg said in court at Libby's trial.
Matalin then suggested a course of action, according to Zeidenberg: "We need to address the Wilson motivation. We need to be able to get the cable out. Declassified. The president should wave his wand."
Two days later, on July 12, 2003, Cheney and Libby flew together to the Norfolk naval base in Virginia, where they attended ceremonies to christen the USS Ronald Reagan.
On the way home on Air Force Two, the two men sat alone in a front compartment as Cheney counseled Libby on what to say to the press. One bit of advice: Provide reporters with details of the CIA debriefing of Wilson's Niger mission.
The vice president told Libby that the president had waved his wand.
Upon landing at Andrews Air Force Base, Libby and Cathie Martin, a press aide to Cheney, searched for a private room so that Libby could call Time magazine's Matthew Cooper and other reporters. Later from home, he also spoke to Judith Miller.
It was toward the end of conversations with both reporters that Libby told them that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA, Miller and Cooper testified.
Before the trial, Cheney denied that he ever authorized anyone to provide information about Plame to the media -- or that he even suggested such a thing. But FBI agent Deborah Bond testified that on the return trip from Norfolk, the vice president might indeed have talked with Libby about revealing Plame's CIA connection to the press. "Mr. Libby told us he believed they may have talked about it but he wasn't sure," Bond told the court.
As if that's not enough meat and potatoes for you, Newsweek's Michael Isikoff has also learned that Karl Rove got an advanced peek at Bob Novak's notorious July 2003 newspaper column outing Valerie Plame three days before its publication, meaning that he knew that Plame -- a valuable CIA asset -- was going to be exposed, along with her covert operation to discover what Iran and Iraq had in the way of WMDs. Rove knew, and did nothing, meaning either that he considered the article to be confirmation of a job well done, or a convenient plot to tag along with that would have the desired effect of damaging an administration critic (Amb. Joe Wilson). Either way, it certainly explains why Rove took those five trips to the grand jury, and probably only very narrowly escaped indictment. Novak, true to form, first leaked his scoop to a Washington lobbyist, who reportedly then shared it with Rove. From Novak's testimony in the Libby trial:
Asked by one of Libby's lawyers if he had talked about Plame with anybody else before outing her in his column, Novak said he'd discussed her with a lobbyist named Richard Hohlt. Who, the lawyer pressed, is Hohlt? "He's a very good source of mine" whom I talk to "every day," Novak replied. Indeed, Hohlt is such a good source that after Novak finished his column naming Plame, he testified, he did something most journalists rarely do: he gave the lobbyist an advance copy of his column. What Novak didn't tell the jury is what the lobbyist then did with it: Hohlt confirmed to NEWSWEEK that he faxed the forthcoming column to their mutual friend Karl Rove (one of Novak's sources for the Plame leak), thereby giving the White House a heads up on the bombshell to come. ...
The more you learn about Plamegate, the more it becomes clear that the White House -- both wings -- cared less about the national security of the United States than they did about scapegoating the CIA over their hole-ridden case to go to war with Iraq. But the big question is, will Dick Cheney pull off the same escape act that Karl Rove did, and will the president pardon Scooter Libby before Patrick Fitzgerald can zero in on Tricky Dick and indict the fat bastard.
Kyle "Dusty" Foggo used to be the number three man at the CIA. Now, he's inmate #54321 ... okay, I made up the number. But he has been indicted, along with one of his contractor friends. Fasten your seatbelts: it's the return of Hookergate.