Belaboring the Obvious

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Lessons Learned....

One of the very odd little tidbits in Seymour Hersh's last piece in The New Yorker ("The Redirection") is that Elliott Abrams convened a little pow-wow a couple of years ago of all the Iran-Contra alumni in the Bush administration to assess the mistakes they made. Oh, no, this was not a pity party to commiserate with each other over their foolishness in funding terror to disrupt an elected government with illegal arms sales to a second, embargoed country. This was, apparently, a review of how they got caught and a skull session on how not to get caught in the future:

Iran-Contra was the subject of an informal “lessons learned” discussion two years ago among veterans of the scandal. Abrams led the discussion. One conclusion was that even though the program was eventually exposed, it had been possible to execute it without telling Congress. As to what the experience taught them, in terms of future covert operations, the participants found: “One, you can’t trust our friends. Two, the C.I.A. has got to be totally out of it. Three, you can’t trust the uniformed military, and four, it’s got to be run out of the Vice-President’s office”—a reference to Cheney’s role, the former senior intelligence official said.

It was only one paragraph (which mostly served as a lead-in for a longer explanation of why Negroponte ended up back in the State Dept.) in a long, long article, so, I suppose, it would escape the notice of most of the media (Tom Engelhardt did notice, prompting this blog entry). But, just musing about the possibilities implicit in such a meeting, would it be too far out of orbit to suggest that, maybe, just maybe, the remaining core of Iran-Contra felons were planning on doing it again?

Hersh suggests that, yes, they might be, further suggesting that the very secretive and ideological Office of the Vice President has been funding Sunni jihadis in Lebanon with "black" money. Hersh makes the point that now, as then, the Saudis have been quietly offering both cash and logistical support. That this situation seems to be a repeat of the aftermath of the U.S.'s proxy war with the Soviet Union is duly noted, with the proviso by the Saudis that:

This time, the U.S. government consultant told me, Bandar and other Saudis have assured the White House that “they will keep a very close eye on the religious fundamentalists. Their message to us was ‘We’ve created this movement, and we can control it.’ It’s not that we don’t want the Salafis to throw bombs; it’s who they throw them at—Hezbollah, Moqtada al-Sadr, Iran, and at the Syrians, if they continue to work with Hezbollah and Iran.”

There is a lot of money floating around without any accounting, thanks to the Iraq invasion. Quite apart from the unaccounted-for billions in Iraqi oil-for-food fund monies which the U.S. seized for reconstruction and interim government operation, and which was sent to the country as cash from the U.S. Reserve Bank in N.Y., almost always as pallets of $100 bills (regarding this, there's still been little written about the three Blackhawk helicopters full of money--perhaps as much as $1.5 billion in cash--delivered to a person unknown by the embassy official in charge of the money and of whom no identification was required). Quite apart from those irregularities, there's the money which Saddam and his sons had squirreled away all over the country. Early in the invasion and occupation, reportedly, $600 million was found in one cache alone. There were likely others which did not receive any public attention, and that money hasn't been subject to any public accounting, either.

Conceivably, there could be several billion dollars from many different sources available for any new "off-the-shelf, standalone enterprise," as Ollie North had referred to illegal White House wars of choice. In a time of stratospheric defense budgets and huge amounts spent on the occupation of Iraq, this may not seem like much, but, for reference, the U.S. and Saudi Arabia funded that guerrilla war in Afghanistan against the Soviets, for almost nine years, for five or six billion.

Engelhardt makes a natural and certainly partially correct assumption--that this money is being used broadly in the Middle East to diminish the strength of Iran and to prop up Saudi Arabia's interests in Iraq, and he properly notes the ironies implicit in funding the same sort of Saudi radicals who, only five years ago, attacked us on our own soil.

But, what if there's so much "black" money around that the Middle East is only one consideration in President Cheney's grand scheme of things? What if the daydreams of those old hands at Iran-Contra still drift southward? What if, at this moment, there are action plans for the "problem" areas in Latin America--Nicaragua, Ecuador, Colombia, Bolivia, Venezuela and--dare one say it again--Chile? After all, there's already been an attempted coup in Venezuela. Ecuador and Bolivia are looking less and less stable after upheavals in their political systems after decades of pro-U.S. and pro-U.S. multinational governments. Chile's new president is a victim of Pinochet's U.S.-supported dictatorship, with intimate knowledge of its workings, and is no fond friend of the United States--note that Bush's recently-completed "tour" of Latin America avoided most of the above countries.

How many other places could part of a few billion dollars buy some political destabilization and terror operations, far beyond the view of the recently reopened eyes of Congress? Georgia, the Ukraine, Chechnya, Russia? Indonesia? Nigeria, Cote d'Ivoire, Senegal, Somalia, the Congo? The Philippines? The United States?

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Unlucky, Picked-On Scooter...

... being persecuted by the bad old prosecutor. That was the dominant theme among the chattering, ass-blasted right before the trial, and it continues after the verdict. It was a vendetta (although a vendetta presumes a desire for payback, and there's no indication at all that Fitzgerald had been earlier wronged by Libby), or, it was the action of an out-of-control prosecutor grasping at straws (and how odd that one is, after the highly partisan Ken Starr's antics for almost a decade, especially comparing Fitzgerald's taciturn approach to evidence pre-trial and Starr's predilections for leaking every scrap of dreck to a hungry press and who had wrung the limp neck of Whitewater for years in the hope of extracting even one technicality against either of the Clintons, and, failing in that, began a series of fishing expeditions into shallower and shallower waters).

After the verdict, of course, this wailing and gnashing of teeth is meant to do a number of things. First, it's a signal for the Libby donors to write a new round of checks to pay for Libby's appeal (how comforting it must be to have so many wealthy friends of comparable ideology...). Second, it's meant to amplify the ongoing message that conservatives are forever victimized by the left and the "liberal media" (always a hilarious assertion, but, then, the right wing is nothing if not consistently and predictably absurd in its self-referential protestations). Third, it's supposed to generate a sympathy for Libby which, on the face of it, he hardly deserves, but, the talk show emphasis on interviewing jurors in the past week who felt that Libby had been forced into the position of falling on his sword is designed to elicit public sympathy leading to a popular movement for a preemptive pardon or a commutation of sentence. Last, of course, all this public breastbeating over cruel fate--comically casting Libby as a modern-day Jean Valjean--is also meant to divert attention from the roles of Bush and Cheney in Scooter's predicament.

Buried well beneath all the superficial reasons for this campaign, however, is an undeniable truth: facts surrounding the Plame outing are not the only guilty knowledge Libby has in his pointy little head. As Cheney's chief of staff, Bush's national security assistant and as a long-time neo-conservative shill whose fingerprints can be found on extremist policy proposals and decisions going back over fifteen years and more, Libby is a walking (but not yet talking) time bomb.

Almost forgotten today is the assertion that Cheney's office may well have interfered with the Army Corps of Engineers' contracting processes in Halliburton's favor, finally resulting in the demotion and harassment of Bunnatine Greenhouse, whose job it was to review the Corps' contracting. The story came and went, but its full truth has yet to be exposed. What that truth is, Scooter Libby likely knows.

One day, someone may connect a dot or two and ponder Cheney's repeated--and unprecedented--visits to CIA headquarters to worry and chew over the evidence for war, and, as some have hinted, to browbeat rank-and-file analysts into modifying or recanting their views on the evidence. Some enterprising investigator may recall, or properly assume, that Cheney was accompanied on those visits by his chief of staff.

Under the duress created by the prospect of time in prison, Libby may come to see his own self-interest in opposition to his loyalty to the people whose government-destroying aims he worked so diligently to further. He might provide incidental details of the operation of Cheney's office--including the identities of the eighty or so staffers whom Cheney and his underlings have thus far refused to reveal--which then might open other avenues of inquiry.

He might be inclined to delineate the channels of communication between the OVP and Rumsfeld's Office of Special Plans which were used to bypass the usual intelligence-vetting protocols. He might be willing, albeit without enthusiasm, to explain the time and circumstances that Bush and Cheney actually began the war on Iraq, in the summer of 2002, without any authorization from Congress and without any report to Congress as required by the War Powers Act.

There are many, many things which Libby knows, and which the public should know, of the hidden reasons for a war now gone sour, and of the self-corruption that is occupation, of spying on Americans and the reading of their mail without warrant, of Guantanamo and secret prisons, of the perversion of the FBI--by itself and by very politically-minded Attorneys General--and about crimes against both law and decency that we have yet to imagine.

The lingering question, then, is if Libby will go on being a stalwart and silent courtier to the power he helped enable, will be another G. Gordon Liddy, defiantly unrepentent and fiercely and adamantly reticent. Libby has always been insanely ideological throughout his career, but, he's been a comfortable ideologue. When he was forced to resign from his position upon indictment, he was immediately retained by one of the many institutes in the wingnut welfare system. His oppressively heavy legal fees in his recent trial have been covered by his friends and friends of the current administration. His lawyering fees outside of government, particularly as Marc Rich's legal representative, have made him more comfortable still. While his future in government is now over, he will always be cared for by the same system which created and nurtured him. There is also a slim possibility that his conviction will be overturned on appeal--perhaps his ideological connections to judges such as Laurence Silberman and David Sentelle will be enough--thus mooting further discussion of his fate.

There should be little expectation of Scooter Libby having an attack of either scruples or conscience, but, once he is sentenced, he will, no doubt, weigh his comfortable existence against the prospect of being denied those comforts for a significant length of time. Fitzgerald has stated, plainly, that his investigation is over, and that there is no more to be done, suggesting that there is little that Scooter can do to redeem himself in the eyes of the prosecutor with regard to his own case, unless, of course, he has testimony sufficiently dramatic to reopen the Plame case, or to open new investigations of administration wrongdoing. Only then will he begin the process of calculating how little he can offer against how much he is likely to gain.

If Scooter's really lucky, Alberto Gonzales and Karl Rove will have purged the Justice Department of all prosecutors determined enough to bring new investigations before Scooter has to make that decision. After all, that's the way things are done in Scooter's world.

© ap)

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Let's Review, Shall We?

George Bush promises in his inaugural address that the United States will be a "humble nation." Now, even Kalihari Bushmen hate us for our arrogance (more specifically, Bush's arrogance).

George Bush promises to abide by the Kyoto Protocol, then waffles after the Supreme Court awards him the top job, and greenhouse emissions are higher than ever.

George Bush visits Walter Reed for the purpose of creating photo-ops promoting his compassion, but half-blind, brain-damaged soldiers are wandering around the complex lost because there's no one to help them get to their appointments--and Mr. Compassionate Conservatism never seems to notice. (Of course, we find recently that Bush's passion for privatizing everything in government for the profit and pleasure of his cronies also just might have something to do with the atrocious conditions at Walter Reed.)

A city drowns and a year and a half later, Bush is still using it for photo-ops and the Ninth Ward is still a mess. Detecting a pattern here?

On 9/11, the most expensive and most sophisticated early warning and intelligence systems in the world fail, utterly, and Bush can barely bring himself to speak to the public--and when he does, it sounds like the script from a bad 1930s B-movie. Then he spends years fighting off a full and open investigation of the day's events and what led us to them, finally getting an "independent" panel with more conflicts of interest than a pedophile priest supervising a pre-school.

Within a few months of taking office, it becomes a standing joke that if he praises a government program, cuts in funding to it will be announced the next week.

By the 2006 election, with his "legacy" gone into the shitter, the boy wonder from Crawford is reduced to saying, out of sheer desperation, that if the Democrats win, the terrorists win.

It's almost four years since "Mission Accomplished" and Iraq has been a busted jalopy with no brakes hurtling downhill toward the trash heap every year after that. The "surge" turns out to be a stealth escalation.

In a stinker of a re-run of the Reagan administration, Bush uses tax cuts for the wealthy and ever-increasing defense spending to send the national debt into orbit (thus giving Grover Norquist a woody that he couldn't get otherwise). And, right on the Reaganite schedule, his administration is buried in scandal and corruption--K Street lobbying scandal, bribery, mismanagement or destruction or corruption of almost everything in sight that has "U.S. Government" stamped on it, lies about the wars, and almost-certain lies about the wars to come, cronyism that would leave Boss Tweed slack-jawed in admiration of the audacity of the Bushies, a Vice-President's office so wrapped in secrecy that you'd think they'd learned how to make a Klingon cloaking device.

Outing a spy for political payback. Habeas corpus a distant memory. Spying on Quaker grannies because they dare think the war might not be a good idea. Spying on the rest of us, just for drill and to fill the databanks. Wholesale firings of U.S. Attorneys for political purposes. Turning the EPA into a smoking hulk, dripping toxic waste. The Interior Department trying to sell off federal lands with as little notice as possible. Six years wasted in trying to bring North Korea back into the NPT inspection regime. About two hundred al-Qaeda #3s captured, but Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri are still sending videotapes, and the message of each is, approximately, "fuck you." Torture and kidnapping and secret prisons have become national policy.

The number of desperately poor is way up, the number of people with good health care access is way down, but, Bush's base--the "haves and have-mores"--is doing right well. Private jet manufacturers are doing a brisk business.

All three major domestic automakers are shedding workers and watching their stock prices circle the drain.

NCLB turns out to be an underfunded scam designed to make robots of the nation's kids and to defund public education--and to keep Bush's otherwise unemployable brother, Neil, in the chips selling software to teach the tests. The "faith-based initiative" is exposed as little more than a ruse to reward right-wing religious wackos delivering votes to Republicans. The FDA is turned into a tool of the pharmaceutical firms and a dumping ground for the ethically-impaired, while religious right-wing ideologues whose medical education seems to have extended no further than the application of leeches are snuck into HHS. NASA scientists' work is censored by a 24-year-old whose credentials for the job were religious fundamentalist orthodoxy and some half-assed work on the Bush campaign. And Bush still hasn't given up trying to privatize Social Security.

The truly unfathomable in all of this is that Bush is still at 29% approval in the polls, and that the rather more shameless members of the press are still making excuses for him. Of course, he's always led a charmed life, being a Bush and all. (Anyone who believes God is truly just needs to think real hard about this--if he/she/it were, Dubya would at this moment be tyrannized by high school students as the evening manager of a Taco Bell in Midland, TX, instead of making fart jokes in the Oval Office and threatening to bomb any country that doesn't stoop way down and kiss his low-to-the-ground bony ass.)

All that doesn't even get to the bloodier details of wholesale changes politicizing the regulatory procedure of every agency in government, or the influence-peddling conviction of a member of Bush's OMB, or that one of his White House lawyers gets caught doing five-and-dime scams on a Target store in his neighborhood. Or that a certain hooker-cum-Republican shill signs in and out of the White at all hours and gets a daily pass into the White House press pool for almost two years, even though his journalism experience is, well, about as close to zero as one can get, and his "news agency" is just an RNC talking points regurgitator funded by some wacko Texas Republicans. Or that his DOE is in the midst of plans to revitalize the nuclear industry at taxpayer expense in what may be one of the biggest under-the-radar boondoggles to appear in his time in office.

The other truly unfathomable thing is that the Democrats haven't already nailed this faux Christian to the cross of his own making and thrown him and his tubby surrogate father out of office and into jail, if only to convince the current Republicans--the crooks, the cranks, the crackpots, the religious wackos and the assorted and sundry morally defective hangers-on of this country--that all of the above is not acceptable behavior, no time, no how. If the Dems don't do it, the next Republican in the Presidency will be that much worse, difficult as that is to imagine now.

Give `em an inch, and they'll take everything we've got, and then whine that it's not enough.

Okay, yeah, there aren't enough votes to convict on impeachment because there are too few honorable Republicans and too many gutless Democrats in the Senate. (Honorable Republican? What the hell have I been smokin'?) But, just add up all of the above, every cynical diminution of rights, every calculated usurpation of power, every theft from the national treasury, every disregard for the Constitutional function of government, every goddamned lie leading us into a bloody war of attrition for no good reason. By comparison, it makes Nixon look like the baby Jesus, and we forced his ass out, and for damned good reasons. If George Bush and his Texas mafia skate on all of this, lord, help us. We're in a heap of trouble in the future if we let this sort of dictatorial authoritarianism pass without challenge.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Before United States v. Libby....

George Bush said that he was "sad" about the Libby verdict. (Mike Malloy said of that Tuesday, "what are you supposed to think when the President is rooting for the felons?")

There's still the slim possibility of a judiciary panel declaring a mistrial, or Libby's lawyers having the verdict overturned on appeal. The convolutions of the law may yet work in Libby's favor. Even so, he may stay out of jail long enough to enable Bush to pardon him as Bush is packing up for Crawford for the last time.

There's probably some satisfaction in the verdict for Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame, and it might help their civil case.

But, rather than dwell on these conjectures, I'd like to drift backwards in time to some of the underlying reasons for this trial, and the reasons why they are both confused and confusing.

A great irony, of course, is that George Bush's father, as the Vice-President and former Director of Central Intelligence, was the progenitor of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982. It was the potential violation of the IIPA that prompted the CIA to request an investigation of Plame's outing in the first place, and which eventually led to the indictment and conviction of Scooter Libby on perjury and obstruction of justice charges.

The greater irony is that the senior Bush requested that law of Congress with some very mixed motives, and the history of those motives is worth recalling now, since government secrecy and misbehavior are front and center again these days. Ostensibly, the primary reason for the law was the 1975 assassination of Richard Welch, the CIA's station chief in Athens, Greece, by members of the revolutionary group, 17 November. His identity had been published in the periodical, CounterSpy (even so, the magazine had published his identity a full year before the assassination--and listed his location as Peru, not Greece). Surveillance by 17 November probably was the root source of the information leading to Welch's assassination, but, certainly, publication of his name could have made that murder easier.

However, there were other reasons for the law. High among those were the books and publications of former CIA agents Philip Agee and John Stockwell, and to a lesser extent, the book by Victor Marchetti and John Marks, The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence, which indirectly led to the formation of the Church select committee on government operations. Agee had resigned from the CIA in 1968 after spending years in Ecuador, Uruguay and Mexico, and eventually published, in Great Britain, Inside the Company: CIA Diary, which named hundreds of CIA agents operating in Latin America, and described CIA indifference to or assistance with torture, political murders and the violent suppression of pro-democracy movements by dictatorial governments favored by the CIA and the foreign policy elite of the United States. It was Agee whom the elder Bush most often derided as the reason for the IIPA, rather than the assassination of Welch.

Agee maintained at the time that it was the only way he could think of to disrupt what he considered to be illegal activities of the CIA in support of right-wing dictatorships throughout the region--the CIA would have to withdraw those agents named and plans for political interference in Latin America would stall. After the publication of CIA Diary, he was eventually expelled from the UK, and, likely at U.S. insistence, from the Netherlands, France, West Germany and Italy.

By 1980, he was living in Grenada, and when the coup against Maurice Bishop's government began, he was given a Nicaraguan passport and eventually settled in Cuba. In the preceding years, he had published two extensive volumes about CIA operations in Europe and Africa, which described the activities of roughly 2000 CIA operatives, agents and informers. Over time, it was apparent that Agee had "gone native," and had profound ideological differences with what he referred to as the CIA's support of American capitalism, which, he said, "simply cannot survive without force--without a secret police force."

The Church committee in the Senate, and its analogue in the House, the Pike committee, were thorny issues for President Gerald Ford and his advisors, among them, Richard Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. The hearings would expose years of attempted assassinations of foreign leaders, the co-opting of both domestic and foreign journalists, secret mind-control programs, the subversion of democratically-elected governments and illegal domestic intelligence programs such as CHAOS. Over the course of many months, the CIA would be shown as less an intelligence-gathering operation and more as a covert paramilitary organization doing the President's bidding almost at whim, and without oversight by Congress.

As the committee hearings progressed, Ford became convinced, likely by Rumsfeld, that the then-current DCI, William Colby, was being entirely too cooperative with Congressional committees, and the decision was made to replace Colby with someone from outside the agency. Cheney began a lobbying campaign within the White House to nominate George H.W. Bush, most likely because he saw Bush as a potential threat to Ford's reelection (this fear of Cheney's was probably correct--Bush was nearly not confirmed when he, at first, refused to rule out running for political office were he to be confirmed as DCI--this was seen as very bad form by some in the Senate, particularly Sen. Church, who opposed Bush's nomination from the outset and warned Ford that Bush's nomination would politicize an already damaged institution). Ford had offered the nomination to someone else, but it was declined, and the senior Bush was nominated by default.

The elder Bush would go on to be DCI for slightly less than a year, and clamped down on exposure of the Agency's less savory activities, would invite in the neo-conservatives to examine the CIA's analytical methods and conclusions (which they considered to be insufficiently alarmist about the threat posed by an already-crumbling Soviet Union), used agency resources to begin a push-back against Congressional committees investigating the agency and did his very best to ingratiate himself with the Yalie branch of the CIA's leadership. He would also admit nothing about the CIA's knowledge of Operation Condor, Augusto Pinochet's network of Latin American dictators' intelligence operatives, or of Pinochet's likely involvement in the September, 1976, murders of Orlando Letelier and Ronni Moffitt, murders which occurred virtually on the CIA's doorstep.

So, the IIPA came into existence, in large part, because a CIA ex-employee exposed the CIA's illegal activities and agents in an ideological quest to neuter the CIA's ability to prop up right-wing dictators in Latin America; that law, in turn, was proposed by a man, George H.W. Bush, who was nominated as DCI in order to not only shield the CIA's worst excesses from all outside scrutiny, but to also protect dictators such as Pinochet, even as they murdered an American citizen in downtown Washington, DC, and who used his brief experience as DCI to lend weight and gravity to the need for the IIPA.

And in one of life's weirder ironies, Scooter Libby, the zealous factotum of Dick Cheney (who lobbied for the elder Bush's DCI nomination as a bit of political sleight-of-hand) and who was also a national security assistant to George H.W. Bush's son, George W., would be prosecuted for lying to investigators about the exposure, for partisan political purposes, of an undercover CIA spy who might well have been doing the sort of honorable work--preventing the spread of nuclear weapons--of which both the CIA and the nation could be proud. If, as it seems more than likely now, Libby was lying to protect Dick Cheney, who himself was hiding his involvement in promoting phony intelligence to justify the illegal invasion of Iraq, it is irony compounded.

In that shadowy nether region at the intersection of intelligence and politics and the exercise of raw power, people motivated by greed and the desire for yet more power will always view morality, unfortunately, as a moveable feast.