David Corn is Mother Jones' Washington bureau chief. Until 2007, he was Washington editor of The Nation.
He has written for the Washington Post, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, Boston Globe, Newsday, Harper's, The New Republic, Mother Jones, Washington Monthly, LA Weekly, the Village Voice, Slate, Salon, TomPaine.com, Alternet, and many other publications.
He is the co-author (with Michael Isikoff) of Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War (Crown, 2006).
His book, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (Crown, 2003) was a New York Times bestseller. The Los Angeles Times said, "David Corn's The Lies of George W. Bush is as hard-hitting an attack as has been leveled against the current president. The Washington Post called it "a fierce polemic...a serious case....[that] ought to be in voters' minds when they cast their ballots. A painstaking indictment."
His first novel, Deep Background, a political thriller, was published by St. Martin's Press in 1999. The Washington Post said it is "brimming with gusto....As clean and steely as an icy Pinot Grigio....[An] exceptional thriller." The Los Angeles Times called it "a slaughterhouse scorcher of a book you don't want to put down" and named it one of the best novels of the year. The New York Times said, "You can either read now or wait to see the movie....Crowded with fictional twists and revelations." The Chicago Tribune noted, "This dark, impressive political thriller...is a top-notch piece of fiction, thoughtful and compelling." PBS anchor Jim Lehrer observed that Deep Background is "a Washington novel with everything. It's a page-turning thriller from first word to last...that brings some of the worst parts of Washington vividly alive."
Corn was a contributor to Unusual Suspects, an anthology of mystery and crime fiction (Vintage/Black Lizard, 1996). His short story "My Murder" was nominated for a 1997 Edgar Allan Poe Award by the Mystery Writers of America. The story was republished in The Year's 25 Finest Crime and Mystery Stories (Carroll & Graf, 1997).
He is the author of the biography Blond Ghost: Ted Shackley and the CIA's Crusades (Simon & Schuster, 1994). The Washington Monthly called Blond Ghost "an amazing compendium of CIA fact and lore." The Washington Post noted that this biography "deserves a space on that small shelf of worthwhile books about the agency." The New York Times termed it "a scorchingly critical account of an enigmatic figure who for two decades ran some of the agency's most important, and most controversial, covert operations."
Corn has long been a commentator on television and radio. He is a regular panelist on the weekly television show, Eye On Washington. He has appeared on The O'Reilly Factor, Hannity and Colmes, On the Record with Greta Van Susteren, Crossfire, The Capital Gang, Fox News Sunday, Washington Week in Review, The McLaughlin Group, Hardball, C-SPAN's Washington Journal, and many other shows. He is a regular on NPR's The Diane Rehm Show and To The Point and has contributed commentary to NPR, BBC Radio, and CBC Radio. He has been a guest on scores of call-in radio programs.
Corn is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Brown University.
If I had been so bold as to have wagered that Al Gore would succeed in the latest Supreme Court round, I would have quickly called my bookie this morning after breakfasting in the Court's cafeteri
Cowed Democrats fail to confront Ashcroft's civil liberties violations.
In Gore Vidal's novel of post-World War I Washington, Hollywood, the
toughest ticket in town is a pass to the Senate debate on the League of
The contested presidential election is hard to sort out, but news outlets still try to proclaim unfounded 'facts.'
The Pentagon's exclusive contract with a satellite imagery company will limit what the public can see.
Will the Homeland Security chief be an effective overseer or another spinner?
The White House is likely to keep a don't-rock-the-boat Congress in the dark.
Another Pearl Harbor! That was the reaction of many after hijackers
managed to turn airliners into low-tech cruise missiles and kill 6,000 people.
In May 2000, Louis Mizell Jr., a terrorism and security expert in Washington, received a call from Jake White, an acquaintance who was a bouncer at a strip club in Omaha. White told Mizell a disturbing story he had heard from a dancer at the club and another bouncer. Several nights earlier, they claimed, the dancer had been asked by two customers who, she believed, were Middle Eastern or Indian to perform privately for them at their home. She agreed and took the other bouncer along for protection. There was almost no furniture in the men's duplex, and on the wall was a picture of a man the dancer and bouncer took to be a religious figure from the Middle East. While in a bedroom with one of the customers, the dancer noticed a shoebox full of cash and items she took to be explosives. The bouncer meanwhile spotted automatic weapons and explosives in the kitchen and watched the other man look at cut-away diagrams of commercial airliners on a computer.
Neither the dancer nor the bouncer wanted to go to the authorities, White says, so he phoned Mizell, a former special agent and intelligence officer for the State Department. Mizell says he "quickly called the FBI and was passed from one agent to another. I then called the FBI in Omaha. They said to call headquarters." Mizell ended up giving the details to the FBI in Omaha, which, according to White, did not contact him, the dancer or the bouncer.
White's version of the tale told by the dancer and bouncer cannot be
independently confirmed. A few days after the attack, the dancer appeared to
have left town and was unreachable, and the bouncer was demanding to be paid
for recounting his story. After September 11, the FBI twice interviewed
White. Larry Holmquist, a spokesman for the FBI in Omaha, says the Bureau
found no connection between the episode related by the dancer and the bouncer
and the World Trade Center and Pentagon assaults. But this is the crucial and
troubling point: The FBI apparently did not initially act on the lead
provided by Mizell, a credible source of information.
Was the FBI action--or lack thereof--in this matter unusual or representative? This is an important question, for in the aftermath of September 11, many politicians, pundits and national security experts have called for expanding the powers and prerogatives of intelligence and law-enforcement agencies, including the FBI. Attorney General John Ashcroft asked for quick passage of legislation that would expand the ability of federal investigators to conduct secret searches (including wiretaps and the interception of computer communications), to seize assets in nonterrorism cases and to allow for the indefinite detention of noncitizens without judicial review. Members of Congress have urged a boost in the intelligence budget and demanded increased efforts to penetrate terrorist groups.
There is certainly a need to review and strengthen programs and agencies that aim to detect and defuse terrorism. But in order to do so effectively--and without unduly weakening civil liberties--Congress and the federal government ought to examine thoroughly what went wrong in the days, weeks and years preceding September 11. The public record of what may have been missed opportunities (or missed indications) keeps growing. In 1995 US investigators learned that Osama bin Laden's operatives had hatched a plan to bomb eleven US airliners simultaneously and crash another airplane into CIA headquarters. The FBI did nothing after learning that an Islamic extremist suspected of ties to terrorist camps in Afghanistan had been trying to learn how to fly passenger jets. For years law-enforcement officials have known that several people linked to bin Laden attended flight schools in the United States. Assorted warnings and threats against the United States issued this spring and summer were not quickly reviewed by US intelligence, due partly to the lack of analysts and translators. After August 23 the FBI sought two suspected bin Laden associates but failed to find them before they boarded the airliner that was piloted into the Pentagon. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that the week before September 11, India's intelligence apparatus intercepted a bin Laden communication referring to the coming assault. According to the Washington Post, the FBI has tracked four or five Al Qaeda cells in the United States--none of which have yet been connected to the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks--but has failed to discern their goals.
Was there a "massive intelligence failure," as Senator Richard Shelby, the ranking Republican on the intelligence committee, declared? (Since the attack, the most prominent critics of the intelligence community have been Republicans.) If Shelby is right, should Congress and the President rush to hand more money and more power to the bureaucracies that messed up? Even if some changes must be implemented quickly in order to locate and punish the mass murderers of September 11 and to discover and thwart immediate threats of terrorism, the mistakes of the past should be carefully raked through before determining how best to improve and reform those agencies charged with protecting Americans. Can it be that a mere phone call to a stripper might have led to the undoing of the September 11 plotters? Probably not. But how sad that it is even a possibility.
So long, politics? As George W. Bush mounted Operation Noble Eagle, Republicans and Democrats found little over which to disagree. In the days after the September 11 terror attack, the entire House and Senate--with the exception of one Congresswoman--approved a resolution of war that granted Bush wide latitude. (Congress declared war, but Bush will designate the enemy.) The Senate OK'd by voice vote the controversial nomination of John Negroponte to be UN ambassador. Congress passed $40 billion in emergency funds and ceded Bush great control over their disbursement. The Senate, with little deliberation, endorsed quickly prepared legislation to expand the government's ability to wiretap suspected terrorists and to order the CIA to scuttle rules on the recruitment of informants with violent pasts. A $15 billion bailout of the airline industry nearly sailed through the House. Republican and Democratic Congressional leaders hailed the sublimation of partisan differences. House majority whip Tom DeLay even jettisoned his opposition to paying back dues to the United Nations.
Who can say how long comity will last? The Democrats' agenda has vanished as the party tries to work out the dilemmas of being in opposition during a time of declared (if not actual) war. "We're confused, as you might imagine," says a liberal House Democrat. "My fear is that most members will give Bush everything he wants and try to adjourn as quickly as possible, not have any tough votes, no debates that might get them into trouble. Every Democratic issue is down the drain." For instance, Representative Marty Meehan, a Massachusetts Democrat, suspended his almost-successful attempt at forcing Republican House leaders to bring his campaign finance reform bill up for a vote. "All efforts are on helping New York City and the Pentagon rebuild," a Meehan aide explains. House and Senate Democrats shelved provisions that imposed limits on national missile defense funding. "No one wants to look partisan now," says a Democratic Senate aide. "You can argue SDI money is better spent elsewhere, but no Democrat wants to give Bush and the Republicans the opportunity of pointing a finger and saying, 'There they go.'"
It was Bush, not a Democrat, who publicly noted that Washington must remember that a domestic agenda remains. "Sure," says a Democratic Congressional aide, "education and a patients' bill of rights, on his terms now." As members of Congress returned to Washington, Democrats were hoping the Republicans would not move fast with a proposal for a capital gains tax cut. "If they push this forward under the cover of crisis, it will be very difficult to stop," the aide remarks.
On the Democratic side, Representative Barney Frank has tried to initiate one crafty strategic thrust. The liberal Democrat drafted legislation to rescind the reduction in the top income tax rate that passed as part of Bush's tax cut. That particular cut mainly benefits the top 1 percent, and Frank would devote the billions rescued to Social Security and Medicare. "This would let us spend $100 billion on reconstruction, airport security, military action, the economy, without tapping the Social Security surplus," Frank says. "The Republicans promised not to touch Social Security; this would allow them to keep their promise."
Frank's colleagues applauded when he described the bill at a Democratic caucus meeting. But the GOPers will certainly seek to smother Frank's legislation, and they have the means to do it. Credit Frank with attempting to provide the Democrats an active position of their own. The question is, Do enough of his colleagues want one? "Great idea," says a House Democrat. "I just don't know if we're strong enough to do this."
Another unknown is whether Democrats and Republicans will skirmish over the attack-related matters that will dominate Washington. A dramatic boost in Pentagon spending appears a certainty. Will there be disagreement over how much? (Some GOPers yearn for a 25 percent increase.) The Administration will be pressing assorted law enforcement and security initiatives. Senator Pat Leahy, who chairs the Judiciary Committee, has signaled that he's not eager to rubber-stamp new measures with civil liberties consequences. And Senator Russ Feingold, who chairs a judiciary subcommittee, has declared he feels "a special duty to defend our Constitution against proposals, born of an understandable desire for vengeance and justice, that would undermine the constitutional liberties that make this country what it is." Yet how much of a fight might arise? "The mood is basically to cave," says Julian Epstein, the former minority staff director of the House Judiciary Committee. But Epstein believes a partisan clash could materialize if the Republicans get greedy and push for too much.
"This all will be very frustrating," says a senior House Democratic aide. "Who knows how long a war on terrorism takes?" Noting disappointment with his leader, a Democratic Congressman remarks, "Dick Gephardt said there should be no light and no air between us and the President. But there have to be things worthy of debate. It's not political bickering to deal with the economy and civil liberties. There are debates to be had--even if most people want to run out of town."