Wednesday, August 25, 2004

It seems that the lawyer who was doing double duty working for the Bush campaign as well as the Swift Boat Veterans groups has decidede to quit the Bush campaign. There were of course parting shots about a double standard, but the repeated Republican denials of connections between the Bush campaign and various GOP 527 groups (mainly the SBVT group, which has launched a now completely discredited smear campaign against John Kerry) prompted a bit of investigation.

The great amount of coverage of this issue stems, perhaps, most from the nature of the attacks on Kerry. While the mainstream media was slow to start looking it quickly became painfully obvious that the individuals quoted in the SBVT ads were at best twisting the truth, but most likely lying.

One of the other factors in this issue is that this is a type of attack that has been seen before from the Bush campaign. In 2000, a shadowy group with ties to Bush and his campaign (bankrolled by prominent Republican billionaire from Texas, Sam Wyly) went after Sen. John McCain, accusing him of turning his back on veterans. McCain naturally took great offense, and were this the days of Hamilton and Burr, he most likely would have challenged him to a showdown, mano-y-mano. When McCain challenged Bush on the issue in a public debate saying, "You should be ashamed," Bush's expression was one of someone who just got caught stealing from the poor box at church.

The types of tactics demonstrated by the Swifties are reprehensible and as more and more of the connections come to light, show the true character of Bush.
This past Monday Amy Sullivan, guest blogging on Kevin Drum's Political Animal blog, commented on the lack of enthusiasm which Republicans have gone after Edwards' career as a trial lawyer. It seems that the Republicans realized that many of the cases Edwards tried fell into the "good trial lawyer" area, and it would look bad for them to be attacking the man who fought for injured children.

It seems however, it seems that the friends of Bush have decided to take up the fight instead. The President of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, John W. Bachmann, spoke in St. Louis Tuesday to talk about one of the pet issues of the Republican party, tort reform. At the talk he said the Chamber would help pay for ads that would attack Vice Presidential nominee Edwards.

The role of third-parties in this election is of course undergoing a great deal of scruitiny, mostly due to Republican attacks on (effective) democratic 527 organizations such as, as well as the President's questionable statement denouncing third party groups involement in advertising. The question is, of course, will the President denounce the Chamber's efforts on his part, or will he continue to make broad weightless statements that have little to do with reality?

Friday, August 20, 2004

It looks like the New York Times is finally getting on the ball when it comes to looking into the administration's behind-the-scenes work. In last Saturday's edition, there was a front page story about the administration restricting public release of data regarding unsafe automobiles. The article cited the administration's argument that it is attempting to maintain manufacturers competitive edge. How this is supposed to assist customers in making purchases is unknown.

The best part of the article, however, comes a little further down when the writer addresses the fact that this is far from an isolated case.
"Allies and critics of the Bush administration agree that the Sept. 11 attacks, the war in Afghanistan and the war in Iraq have preoccupied the public, overshadowing an important element of the president's agenda: new regulatory initiatives. Health rules, environmental regulations, energy initiatives, worker-safety standards and product-safety disclosure policies have been modified in ways that often please business and industry leaders while dismaying interest groups representing consumers, workers, drivers, medical patients, the elderly and many others.

And most of it was done through regulation, not law - lowering the profile of the actions. The administration can write or revise regulations largely on its own, while Congress must pass laws. For that reason, most modern-day presidents have pursued much of their agendas through regulation. But administration officials acknowledge that Mr. Bush has been particularly aggressive in using this strategy."

While much of the anger and disappointment directed towards this administration revolves around the Iraq war, here at home the administration has been reworking the government, retooling it in ways that will warm the cockles of a modern conservatives heart: less regulation, stronger executive, less oversight, and restricting the role of the Supreme Court are just a few.

While the war in Iraq is extremely important and must be addressed, there are changes being made stateside that will have longer-lasting and more critical effects. There are constitutional issues being dealt with but there is little debate. Certainly most of these discussions get burdened down with detail, but they are of pre-eminent importance. International relations can be rebuilt, and troops can be recalled, but chaining the hands of the Supreme Court, or allowing the Executive to redefine just about every aspect of the government action as falling under its control and thus out of bounds for examination (the President can't have his hands tied in this modern time of war, although how health care is affected by the war on terror is unknown to me).

The foreign policy snafu that this administration has involved us in is naturally dominant in this election period, but the long-lasting impact of an imperial executive is one that has to be addressed if we wish to see this republic remain stable in the coming years.

Sunday, August 08, 2004

An update on the Bush intelligence leak.
From Juan Cole again:
Blitzer then revealed that he had discussed the Khan case with US National Security Adviser Condaleeza Rice on background. He reported that she had admitted that the Bush administration had in fact revealed Khan's name to the press. She said she did not know if Khan was a double agent working for the Pakistani government. (!!!)

So the National Security Director has confirmed that the Bush administration leaked the name of the agent responsible for proiding essential intelligence, thus comprimisting any future usefullness he may have provided. It could be speculated that the agent's cover was already blown, but Rice's comment that she did not know he was a double agent either illustrates an unbelievable failure of intelligence, or they are just covering. The Pakistani reaction certainly would suggest he still had some further use before this incident.
I was just reading over one of my earlier posts about the shifting sands of power in Iraq and the questionable role folks like Chalabi have player. Right after that I jumped over to Josh Marshall's Talking Points Memo and discovered this:
According to the Associated Press the government of Iraq today issued arrest warrants for Ahmed Chalabi (on charges of counterfeiting) and his nephew Salem Chalabi (on charges of murder).

Salem, of course, remains head of the war crimes tribunal charged with trying Saddam Hussein and other leaders of the former regime. But the tribunal covers crimes committed under the former regime, but the present one. So perhaps there's no conflict.

In a few years we will look back at this situation and wonder how we could have possible let it happen.

Here's a couple jewels we'll want to keep in mind when the administration does a quick dance away from any and all involvement with Chalabi.
Despite American economic sanctions against Iran, the villa, which is decorated with expensive Persian carpets and brocade-covered sofas and armchairs and staffed by about a dozen Iraqi aides and security people, is paid for by the State Department, Mr. Chalabi said in an interview. A special Treasury Department exemption under the Office of Foreign Assets Control was required to allow American funds to finance his operation, he added.
-New York Times January 28, 2003

While the heads of the opposition groups were meeting, Ahmad Chalabi, the leader of the Iraqi National Congress, formerly the opposition coalition, who has garnered the strongest support from Washington, went on the offensive. In an interview today, he said his supporters had seized as much as 60 tons of documents from the Baath Party and Iraqi secret police and intelligence services. The files document Mr. Hussein's relationship with Arab leaders and foreign governments, he said.

Armed with this incendiary material in a region where under-the-table payoffs to buy protection, loyalty or silence are the seamy side of political life, Mr. Chalabi and his aides have been sending out pointed warnings -- that he can give as good as he has been getting -- to Arab leaders who have dismissed him as a lackey financed by the Central Intelligence Agency, or as an accused embezzler from the bank he ran in Jordan during the 1980's.

When Abu Dhabi television asked Mr. Chalabi last week to respond to reports that he was under arrest by the United States Central Command for embezzlement, Mr. Chalabi went on the air to respond. He brought files he said were taken from the Iraqi secret police. He asserted that they showed that a number of reporters for Al Jazeera television, the satellite channel that broadcast the accusation that he was under arrest, were working for Iraqi intelligence.
-New York Times May 6, 2003

While the story is one mired in detail and so may not get a whole lot of traction with the general public, the concern over the administration's handling of intelligence is mounting. In order to emphasize the severity of the recent warning, the name of the source of the information that led to Secretary Ridge's press conference was released by U.S. officials. The individual involved was apparently a former al Qaeda member who had turned informant and was being run by the Pakistan intelligence agency.

The release of the name of the informant and the detailed description of the threat has angered both Biritsh and Pakistani intelligence. In one particular case, the British had to move up the apprehension of 12 suspects in England. They were not ready to apprehend the individuals, but they were afraid the case would be blown thanks to the U.S. statements. British Homse Secretary David Blunkett recently lashed out at the Bush administration because their actions could (and did) compromist ongoing investigations. MI5 is now concerned it may not be able to build a strong enough case against inididuals who were to be extradited to the U.S. Pakistan's Interior Minister Faisal Saleh Hayat also criticised the release becuase it compromises their ability to infiltrate some of the groups in Pakistan that operate with or have contacts with al Qaeda. Juan Cole has a detailed rundown of the situation.

The question remains, of course, was the name of the individual and a detailed description of the threat necessary to ensure public safety? There was criticism of Secretary Ridge's announcement, that he was playing politics. The evidence for many of these criticisms came from the inclusion of a few lines which credited Bush's leadership for the development of information like this.
"But we must understand that the kind of information available to us today is the result of the president's leadership in the war against terror, the reports that have led to this alert are the result of offensive intelligence and military operations overseas, as well as strong partnerships with our allies around the world, such as Pakistan."
It seems however, this information was pretty much due to the hard work of the Pakistani intelligence agencies in turning this individual. While it may be fair to include some credit to the Administration that you work for, Ridge's comments go beyond the normal bureaucratic thanks and seem tailor-made to end up in either a political ad or as a sound-bite for the Republican media arms.

While their are still some elements that need to be clarified, the statements from both Paksitan and England pretty well back the idea that the release of the agent's name truly hurt the global anti-terrorism effort. They don't come out and say it, but the statements are a pretty clear indictment of the administrations use of the information. It would be easier to believe that this was an honest mistake and not an attempt to score political points if the leaking of information wasn't such a well-used tactic for this administration (see: Plame investigation, Sandy Berger).

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge announced new warnings of possible immenent attacks. The announcement was laden with key phrases intended to impress the public with the looming nature of the threat by focusing on the detailed nature of the intelligence. The intelligence indicated an al-Qaeda focus on a few specific areas, all of them East-coast financial centers.

In the following days, roads have been closed around the World Trade Organization and Internation Monetary Fund in D.C. and police armed with automatic weapons have been seen patrolling the financial centers in New York and New Jersey. The visible response is, of course, intended to reassure the public that the administration is responding to the threat of attack quickly and with any and all resources.

Yet despite the prominence given the warnings from Ridge, it turns out the information is at least 3 years old, perhaps older. The Washington Post was one of the first to address the fact quoting one senior official as saying,
"There is nothing right now that we're hearing that is new," one senior law enforcement official told The Post. "Why did we go to this level? ... I still don't know that."

The The New York Times and other papers have also pointed out the age of the information. It has been said before by adminstration critics that the Homeland Security post and the warnings it issues have more to do with politics than with actually addressing possible threats to targets in the U.S. While many Republicans have dismissed the critics as playing politics themselves, Secretary Ridge's comments tend to lend some credibility to the critics claims.

In his statement announcing the new threats, Sec. Ridge added, "But we must understand that the kind of information available to us today is the result of the president's leadership in the war against terror, the reports that have led to this alert are the result of offensive intelligence and military operations overseas, as well as strong partnerships with our allies around the world, such as Pakistan." While it may be appropriate to credit the agencies involved in developing the information, stressing the role of the president's leadership in developing this information adds an undeniable level of politics to what should be a vanilla statement. In addition to make such a statement given the volatile political environment (one in which the President is running almost entirely on his fight against terrorists) of an election year is to bring politics right to the top.

The adminstrations emphatic denials of attempting to politicize issues of national security have begun to ring a bit hollow. The problem is not with the Homeland Security Department alone, John Ashcroft and the Justice Department have also issued similar warnings. Earlier this year, in fact, the Ashcroft held a press conference asking the public to be on the lookout for several possible terrorists and displayed pictures and information about them, a'la America's Most Wanted. The administration then backed away from its announcement because several members might have already been in custody and that the information was not accurate.

The issue of national security is one that must be taken seriously. The White House does nothing but hurt the efforts of law enforcement and intelligence agents when it is more interested in playing politics with the agencies involved.