Belaboring the Obvious

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Qwest and The Bushies....

There are certainly obfuscations and inconsistencies in the story of Joe Nacchio and Qwest and the NSA, made all the more confounding by the Bushies' general unwillingness to explain anything about anything.

And yet, several news stories have placed NSA's requests to Nacchio to do some undescribed illegal activities (now believed to be data mining of customer records covered by privacy rules in the Telecommunication Act) as early as Feb. 27, 2001, only weeks after Bush's installation as President. Now, I'm not sure this helps Nacchio with his appeal of fraud and insider trading charges, since he's described his role as anticipating big no-bid secret contracts with the NSA for a program which has been identified as "Groundbreaker," so it doesn't make a lot of sense that he would engage in insider trading to dump stock if he truly did anticipate those contracts in the future--hundreds of millions of dollars in secret government business could have only helped Qwest's bottom line and its share price, things which would have helped Nacchio's wallet had he waited to sell the stock.

The salient point in all this is that almost from the moment the Bushies took control, they were seeking to ignore and evade law, and, not tangentially, this does not coincide with some heightened concern on their part about terrorism. Indeed, Bush's various minions had, almost studiously, ignored warnings from the outgoing Clinton administration right from the start, and that indifference was exhibited in ways we now all know well--descriptions of it coming from Sandy Berger and, later, from Richard Clarke, from former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, right through the summer of 2001, with terrorism being noticeably absent from John Ashcroft's budget priorities and with Bush's now-infamous "you've covered your ass" remark to a CIA briefer.

Now, what might have prompted these discussions with the telecoms, including Qwest, about likely illegal activity? If they weren't due to some overweening anxiety over terrorism, what then?

We know from Paul O'Neill (in the Ron Suskind book, The Price of Loyalty) that the Bushies were immediately plotting the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. And yet, the NSA probably would not have gained much by tapping into land lines passing through the US to gain intelligence toward that end, at least as compared to the potential legal liability of doing so for the purposes of data mining. The CIA had already used the UNSCOM inspection teams as cover for installing secret repeaters on the Iraqi communication system, and the NSA could legally pick up everything in Iraq radiated in open air via spy satellites--radio, microwave and likely some transmissions across the Iraqi government computer network (if the US had the capability of surreptitiously reprogramming Iraq's air defense computers before the 1991 Gulf War, it would most certainly have been able, a decade later, to tap into Iraq's computers). To demand some extraordinary and extra-legal operation to that end just wouldn't have been worth it.

It's possible that the NSA might have had legal opinions of its own which differed from those of Qwest's lawyers, and the anticipated programs were simply an extension of long-planned expansion of NSA capabilities to acquire more and more data. What makes those meetings between the NSA and Qwest suspect are the Bushies themselves--by now, their reputation precedes them. Their willingness to engage in an obsessive kind of secrecy and to ignore standing law is well-known, and it's not exactly speculation to suggest that much of this secrecy may be employed to prevent the exposure of wrongdoing and the political corruption of intelligence services.

There are reasons to believe this is so, given that even some Republican stalwarts in Congress have been able to obtain intelligence on political figures they wished to destroy (see, for example, the aside made in George Tenet's autobiography on Sen. Richard Shelby's ability to obtain raw, unsubstantiated intelligence on Anthony Lake). Political notables are spied upon, so, for a moment, try to imagine the delight a Karl Rove or a Dick Cheney might feel in having the entirety of the United States' intelligence apparatus at one's disposal. One wonders why, in his early years in the White House, Karl Rove was entitled to a top-secret clearance, even though his role was as a political operative (since his role was much later defined as deputy chief of staff, a case could be made that he was entitled to such a clearance then, but not before that change). For Rove, that realization of such a gargantuan available at his disposal must have been near-orgasmic.

Nor is there much question that one of principal aims of Bush, Cheney and Rove was to use the power of government to improve Republicans' political odds and to assist friendly corporate interests. This tendency is shown in a variety of ways--the political pep talks given by White House political operatives to various government agencies' management and staff, in violation of the Hatch Act, the politicization of the Dept. of Justice, as evidenced by not only the US attorneys debacle, but also by the implicitly political prosecutions of Democrats associated with the 2004 and later election campaigns, including those of Don Siegelman of Alabama, Georgia Thompson of Wisconsin and Paul Minor of Mississippi, along with the co-opting of the Civil Rights Division of the DoJ for the purposes of vote suppression.

The transgressions of the Bushies extend to far more than the above. Let's not forget the as-yet incompletely resolved roles played by the White House and Rove in the Abramoff/K Street/DeLay business, nor the goings-on in the Department of the Interior, nor the indifferent regulatory stances that led to Enron's excesses and the indifference of the SEC toward enforcement, nor the unhappy idiocy that became known as the Valerie Plame affair.

If the overall aim was to integrate government with the Republican Party and to use the power and purse of government to benefit the campaign benefactors of the Republican Party, as the body of evidence shows, then it seems very odd indeed to make any claim that the intelligence operations of government were left untouched and pristine by this political maneuvering--especially when the entire political apparatus of the Bush administration, virtually from his 2001 inauguration onward, was focused on the goal of his reelection in 2004. Does it seem within comprehension, given the context, that intelligence information was never used for political purposes (after all, that is the root of the Valerie Plame/Joe Wilson business)?

Richard Nixon's unforgivable sin was using the FBI and the CIA to spy on his political opponents, for campaign purposes and for the purposes of destroying them politically. He even spied upon his political friends. FISA was the direct outgrowth of his gross indiscretions in that regard. Given the number of Nixonites in important positions in the Bush administration, why should it be beyond the pale to speculate that one of the first tasks of the Bushies would be to undermine FISA (and the FISC) and do an end-run around the laws that eventually brought down Nixon, for exactly the same reasons Nixon employed the products and talent from the intelligence services for his own political purposes--and with an ability to collect intelligence data and sift it for political advantage unimaginable to the Nixonites of the `60s and `70s?

Is it then unreasonable to suggest that the inordinate secrecy of the Bushies is not just a reflection of aberrant, paranoid personalities in high places, but, rather, is a direct consequence of behavior identical in kind and greater in degree than Nixon's transgressions? Does corruption of intelligence data for political gain have anything to do with the five million missing emails? After all, it's one thing to say that a government contractor lost `em, but quite another to have, in the process of explanation, created a fictitious contractor on which to place the blame. Such smacks of desperation.

But, the Democrats have taken impeachment "off the table," and the moment Bush leaves office, his papers will be locked up for twelve years, at minimum (and that presumes that the Oval Office occupant in 2009 will immediately rescind Bush's EO 13233 in full), long past the point in time when public outrage might force the government to prosecute Bush and his cohort.