Saturday, January 07, 2006

The Real Patriots

There has been a steady stream of revelations over the last five years that what the politicians who run the Bush Administration say often does not match what the professionals say. By professionals, I mean people like Paul O'Neil, Richard Clark, Coleen Rowley, General Shinseki, Joe Wilson, Larry Wilkerson and a fair number of others.

For me, the most revealing moment concerned the famous aluminum tubes. The experts on bomb-making, in other words, the professionals, the people most likely to understand the issues and the technology involved, said that the aluminum tubes were unsuitable for enriching uranium and that they were probably intended for artillery rockets. The nonexperts in the Bush Administration, however, were the ones who wrote the decisive reports and hence provided one of the key arguments for war in Iraq. Not surprisingly, the nonexperts were wrong.

In Salon, Sidney Blumenthal writes on Bush's War on Professionals (thanks to Truthout for the full article). I'll just quote a few paragraphs in the middle:

Bush has responded to the latest exposures of the existence of his new national security apparatus as assaults on the government. It is these revelations, he said, that are "shameful." The passion he currently exhibits was something he was unable to muster for the exposure by members of his administration of the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame. But there is a consistency between his absence of fervor in discovering who was behind the outing of Plame and his furor over the reporting of warrantless NSA domestic spying. In the Plame case, the administration officials who spun her name to conservative columnist Robert Novak and others intended to punish and intimidate former ambassador Joseph Wilson for having revealed that a central element of the administration case for the Iraq war was bogus. In the NSA case, Bush is also attempting to crush whistle-blowers.

Bush's war on professionals has been fought in nearly every department and agency of the government, from intelligence to Interior, from the Justice Department to the Drug Enforcement Administration, in order to suppress contrary analysis on issues from weapons of mass destruction to global warming, from voting rights to the morning-after pill. Without whistle-blowers on the inside, there are no press reports on the outside. The story of Watergate, after all, is not of journalists operating in a vacuum, but is utterly dependent on sources internal to the Nixon administration. "Deep Throat," Mark Felt, the deputy FBI director, whatever his motives, was a quintessential whistle-blower.

Now Bush's Justice Department has launched a "leak" probe, complete with prosecutors and grand jury, to investigate the disclosure of the NSA story. It is similarly investigating the Washington Post's reportage of the administration's secret prison system for terrorist suspects. The intent is to send a signal to the reporters on this beat that they may be called before grand juries and forced to reveal their sources. (The disastrous failed legal strategy of the New York Times in defending Judy Miller as a Joan of Arc in the Plame case has crucially helped reinforce the precedent.) Within the bowels of government, potential whistle-blowers are being put on notice that they put their careers at risk for speaking to reporters in order to inform the public of what they consider wrongdoing.

"State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration," by James Risen, the New York Times reporter who broke the NSA story, offers further evidence of Bush's war on professionals in the intelligence community than has already been reported in newspapers.

Risen writes that the administration created a secret parallel chain of command to authorize the NSA surveillance program. While the professionals within the Justice Department were cut out, a "small, select group of like-minded conservative lawyers," such as John Yoo, were brought in to invent legal justifications. To the "small handful on national security law within the government" knowledgeable about the NSA program, the administration's debating points on the Patriot Act, which stipulates approval of eavesdropping by the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Court, was a charade, a "mockery." Risen presents more witnesses and adds some episodes to familiar material - the twisting of intelligence and intimidation of professionals both before and after the Iraq war; a national security team commanded by Vice President Cheney in league with Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld; and neoconservatives contriving "stovepipe" intelligence operations to funnel disinformation from Ahmad Chalabi and other Iraqi exiles who were their political favorites.

Risen quotes a former top CIA official on Condoleezza Rice: a "very, very weak national security advisor - I think Rice didn't really manage anything, and will go down as probably the worst national security advisor in history. I think the real national security advisor was Cheney, and so Cheney and Rumsfeld could do what they wanted."

For the last five years, Bush has been restructuring the federal government and the results are not pretty. Hurricane Katrina perfectly illustrated the difference: the cronies, ideologues, loyalists and political hacks that Bush brought to Washington did not perform well. Only the professionals, like those in the Coast Guard, kept Hurricane Katrina from being worse than it was.


Blogger S.W. Anderson said...

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11:13 AM  
Blogger S.W. Anderson said...

You couldn't be more right. I said three or so years ago that the next president will be faced with the daunting challenge of trying to undo the institutional and career damage Bush, his executive branch cronies and toadies, and the Republican-controlled Congress have done.

As after the post-invasion looting debacle in Iraq and after Katrina, people — including many who take pride in their contempt for the federal government — are discovering we really do need an intelligently run, capable and effective government.

Since you mentioned a favorite example, I'll offer mine. It was the actuary who was threatened with having his career wrecked if he reported to Congress in '03 his findings of the real cost of the pharmaceutical industry's prescription drug bill — many billions more than what Bush & Co. was telling Congress and the public.

Three months after that horrible bill passed, the administration blandly admitted the cost would be many billions more.

If ever we've had a bunch of people controlling the levers of power who believe down to their toenails that the ends justify the means — any means — it is the right-wing Republicans who now control the federal government.

It's almost funny, given their self-promoted devotion to traditional family values. When I was growing up, my parents and the parents of most of my friends went out of their way to instill a key family value: It's wrong to believe the ends justify the means.

11:20 AM  

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