As Bush and Putin meet in St. Petersburg for the G-8 summit, there's a lot of talk in the US media about Russia's backsliding on democracy. Of course, Russia isn't on a path to democracy. Putin has reasserted state control over Russian television, jailed a leading oligarch and may well try to alter the Russian constitution so he can remain President for a third term beginning in 2008. But as scholars and writers with a sense of history have argued -- including (my husband) Stephen Cohen in a recent cover story in The Nation and Anatol Lieven in a Los Angeles Times op-ed -- de-democratization began not under Putin but under Boris Yeltsin. As Lieven explains, "The 'democracy' that Putin has allegedly overthrown was, in fact, not a real democracy at all, but a pseudo-democracy ruled over by corrupt and brutal oligarchical clans." Furthermore, he notes, " During the 1990s, the administration of Boris Yeltsin, under the sway of oligarchs and the liberal elites, rigged elections, repressed the opposition and launched a bloody and unnecessary war in Chechnya--all with the support of Washington."
But don't ask that champion of democracy, civil liberties and human rights Dick Cheney to get his history right. Instead, in May, Cheney used his shotgun approach and traveled through the former Soviet Union hectoring Russia's government for its anti-democratic ways. As William Fisher noted at the time, in a sharp commentary on Truthout.com, it was "truly grotesque" that Cheney would be "lecturing anyone about democracy and human rights." As Fisher, who worked for the US State Department and USAID for thirty years, put it, " [Cheney} has dishonored these core American values in his own country...Could there be anyone less credible on subjects like democratic reform and open government?"
Instead of counter-productive lectures, perhaps we should listen more carefully to former Russian dissidents like Boris Kagarlitsky. I've known Kagarlitsky for more than twenty five years. He is a man of integrity, a man of the democratic left, who was imprisoned in the Brezhnev years for samizdat literature and speaking his mind. In May, I asked him what he made of U.S. criticism of Russia's political landscape. Here is Boris's brief and sharp reply.
"Russia doesn't look like a model democracy, but United States under current administration doesn't look so either. Every time American government spoke about exporting democracy somewhere this ended up in disaster, whether it was in Vietnam or in Latin America. We will solve our problems ourselves without George Bush or Dick Cheney. And people who organise elections in Siberia don't need lectures from those who organized elections in Florida... All these technologies are internationally known."Boris Kagarlitsky
If I do well in school can I jump over jail?
If I pray every night can I jump over this hell?
Will the preacher say a special prayer?
Will the social workers really care?
It doesn't seem that as a child it should be my fault
All these hurdles to jump over before I could even walk.
--from Against All Odds, by 17 year old Cardarius Becton, Life Pieces to Masterpieces
Program, three months before he was shot in the back and killed after being robbed.
The nation's capital has declared a Crime Emergency in response to a recent surge in homicides and armed robberies. But, as Courtland Milloy writes in the Washington Post, "Violent robberies are certainly nothing new in the Washington area…To a certain extent, however, these black-on-black crimes seem to be of interest only to the victims, their families and closest friends."
What has changed is gentrification, a new proximity between rich and poor, and the recent crimes being black on white. "The sense of security among the affluent and influential has been shaken," according to Milloy.
Adding to the sadness and outrage is the lack of political will, vision, and commitment to promote real change – to truly fight back against the poverty and hopelessness. To be sure, no one – including Milloy – is minimizing these crimes or the suffering of innocent victims. Yet it must be recognized: "Here's part of the problem: Juveniles, many of whom have been robbed themselves – ripped off by parents and schools and communities that couldn't care less about them – have become hardened and increasingly violent."
And while DC Police Chief Charles Ramsey has responded with increased rewards for information leading to arrests, and greater deployment of police officers, that is not what will change the tide of crime in DC or any other city. Again, Milloy: "But it's unlikely that money and police alone will solve the problem. The city is being terrorized – and, as residents of many low-income neighborhoods will tell you, it's been that way for years. When discussing terrorism abroad, we talk about giving would-be terrorists a better choice – of giving them hope of a better life and providing them with the tools to help them realize the fruits of freedom and democracy. Now that the homegrown terrorists have our attention, maybe it would be a good time to show how that's done – in the nation's capital."
There are no shortage of mentoring, tutoring or apprenticeship programs – with proven results – taking kids from the most difficult situations and helping them turn their lives around. In fact, one DC mayoral candidate, former VerizonDC President, Marie Johns, has highlighted such programs on her Fighting Poverty Tour. The Tour is designed to examine the economic divide in the nation's capital – the city with the largest wealth disparity in the nation – and offer leadership and ideas where current elected officials have failed.
"I want to do the work that has been ignored in our city for generations now," Johns said. "That's why I am running for office."
This past week Johns visited the Life Pieces to Masterpieces (LPTM) program that works with kids from the worst neighborhoods in DC. LPTM offers tutoring and enrichment programs, and teaches youths to express their challenges and accomplishments through artistic means. Many of the youths have been with the program for 8 to 10 years, and now serve as mentors for the younger kids.
"The younger kids who come in see the older kids – from their same neighborhoods – modeling positive behavior. It takes the stigma away," said Executive Director Mary Brown. "We are literally saving lives. But we've never had a candidate come to our program in eleven years of existence."
14 year old Malik – an eight year veteran of the program – was a little more pointed in his thoughts. During a session he told Johns, "You coming shows you really want to make a difference to help us out. Most politicians only care about money."
Johns highlighted LPTM because of its track record and its need for new space.
"There are great programs out there that turn lives around," Johns said. "But they usually only have resources sufficient to reach a small number of kids; they have to spend way too much of their time chasing money; and they often struggle to find space and a permanent home. The financial commitment it would take to stabilize and expand these preventative programs is a drop in the bucket compared to the human costs, public health costs, and the criminal justice costs of the way we are doing business in the nation's capital today."
On the national level, John Edwards stands out for making poverty a moral and political issue. He recently delivered an inspiring speech to the National Press Club where he called poverty "the great moral issue of our time" and issued a challenge to cut it by one-third in a decade, and end it within 30 years. Edwards called for raising the minimum wage, overhauling housing policy, strengthening education, cutting taxes for low-income workers and families, and helping Americans save for the future.
It's time we stop treating people as disposable. The "new" crime emergency for some has, in fact, been the status quo for many. There is a desperate need for vision, political will and action to produce real change right now. It is the only way the suffering of innocent people in our American cities will subside.
The other night Dan Rather was back in center ring. In an hour long interview with CNN's Larry King. Rather spoke with quiet fury about the suits at CBS who treated him, a 44-year employee, so disgracefully. It turns out that at the end, it was the lawyers--not actor-turned corporate honcho Leslie Moonves--who told Rather "we just don't have a place for you." But, as Rather understood--as has anyone watching the networks these last years--CBS News is a cog in an entertainment company.
"There came a time," he told King (who also works for an entertainment company with a news division) " when I realized...that we were working for not CBS and not CBS News. We were working for Viacom News...a larger entertainment company....but I want to do news that matters. And so much of the news these days...it's so driven by ratings, so driven by demographics, so driven by, we used to be told stockholder value. It's driven by things other than the public interest. I want to do news that's fair and accurate, do it with integrity and I want to do it in the public interest."
In one of the more interesting exchanges, Rather talked about 60 Minutes's controversial broadcast about Bush's National Guard record.
King: "You're saying that was a fair report, I mean that was--you believe that report to this day?" Rather: Do I believe the truth of the story? Absolutely.
Rather added, "...We had a lot, a lot of corroboration..it wasn't just the documents. But it's a very old technique used when those who don't like what you're reporting, believe it can be hurtful, then they look for the weakest spot and attack it, which is fair enough." But, he added, " It's a diversionary technique."
Rather is right.
In the days after "60 Minutes" aired its September 2004 report raising tough questions about President Bush's pampered "service" in the Texas National Guard, the heart of the story was obscured by a rightwing blog-fueled controversy over the authenticity of the so-called Killian memos. Instead of asking the White House tough questions about the well-documented information contained in the broadcast, too much of the media focused almost exclusively on the claims and counter-claims made about the disputed documents.
To be sure, Rather and his producers played into the hands of a Bush spin machine that, to this day,remains expert at peddling the lie that a liberal media is out to distort the president's record. As The Nation's John Nichols wrote at the time, "By relying on a few documents that were not adequately verified, CBS handed White House political czar Karl Rove exactly what he needed to steer attention away from the real story." But it always remained true, as Rather said at the time, that " Those who have criticized aspects of our story have never criticized the heart of it...that George Bush received preferential treatment to get into the National Guard and, once there, failed to satisfy the requirements of his service." The basic story was, in fact, well-reported by Texas columnist Molly Ivins and investigative reporter Lou Dubose almost five years before CBS's report. And in the days before and after 60 Minutes broadcast, the AP, the Boston Globe and US News & World Report all raised new questions about Bush's military record. Though each of these stories, as a good report by FAIR pointed out at the time (Sept 14, 2004), were "accompanied by significant official documentation, developments in the investigations by AP, US News and the Globe [were] largely sidetracked by the fixation on questions about the authenticity of documents aired on CBS on September 8." As FAIR's report concluded, It was like "the equivalent of covering the sideshow and ignoring the center ring."
Here's a modest editorial idea for Rather. Now that you're back with a weekly news program on Mark Cuban's HDNet TV-- and with the editorial freedom and mandate to do tough investigative reports, how about documenting the full story about the White House coverup of George W. Bush's military service?
"There is always a charge that socialism does not fit human nature. We've encountered that for a long time. Maybe that's true. But can't people be educated? Can't people learn to cooperate with each other? Surely that must be our goal, because the alternative is redolent with war and poverty and all the ills of the world."
-- Frank Zeidler
One of my favorite political artifacts is a "Frank Zeidler for President" campaign pin.
Zeidler, an old-school American socialist who served three terms as the mayor of Milwaukee from 1948 to 1960, and who died last Friday at age 93, never got very far as a presidential candidate. In fact, like so many of the great civic gestures he engaged in over nearly eight decades of activism, Zeidler's 1976 campaign for the nation's top job was more about "keeping the red flag flying" than actually winning.
In 1976, when the Socialist Party of Eugene Victor Debs and Norman Thomas was struggling to get its bearings after a series of internal struggles, splits and resignations, Zeidler presented himself as its standard-bearer. Campaigning on a platform that promised a shift of national priorities from bloated defense spending to fighting poverty, rebuilding cities and creating a national health care program, Zeidler won only a portion of the respect that was due this kind and decent man and the values to which he has devoted a lifetime.
The Socialist ticket won only 6,038 votes in 1976 4,298 of them from Wisconsin, where Zeidler retained a substantial personal following. Despite the paucity of support, Zeidler's candidacy renewed interest in a great old political party, which once was a key player in the politics of his native state of Wisconsin and, to a lesser extent, of the nation.
Had Zeidler been born in another land -- perhaps Germany, where the roots of his family tree were firmly planted -- his national campaign at the head of the ticket of the Socialist Party would have been a much bigger deal. Indeed, he might well have been elected.
After all, in most of the world, the social-democratic values that Zeidler has advanced throughout his long life hold great sway. Latin America has been experiencing a revival of socialist fervor in recent years. And virtually every European country has elected a socialist government in the past decade. Indeed, the current leaders of Spain, Italy and Britain head political parties that are associated with the Socialist International, of which Zeidler's Socialist Party is a U.S. affiliate.
Yet, outside of Milwaukee, New York City, Reading, Pennsylvania, and a few other outposts, America never took to socialism with the same energy that Europe and much of the rest of the world did. And by the time of his death, even Zeidler, the last Socialist Party activist to lead a major city in the U.S., was deemed worthy of only a wire-service "brief" in the obituary section of the New York Times.
So my "Zeidler for President" pin, presented to me by the candidate himself, is more a rare artifact than a record of consequential electioneering.
Like the man whose name it heralds, the pin is a reminder of a politics of principle that has mostly existed on the periphery of postwar America's stilted economic and political discourse.
Beyond the borders of the United States, Zeidler's contribution -- a humane, duty-driven, economically responsible version of socialism that is reflective of the man as much as the philosophy -- has always been better recognized by foreigners than by Americans.
Zeidler was the repository of a Milwaukee Socialist tradition with German radical roots and a record of accomplishment -- grand parks along that city's lakefront, nationally recognized public health programs, pioneering open housing initiatives, and an unrivaled reputation for clean government -- that to his death filled the circumspect former mayor with an uncharacteristic measure of pride.
With its emphasis on providing quality services, the politics that Zeidler practiced was sometimes referred to as "sewer socialism." But, to the mayor, it was much more than that. The Milwaukee Socialists, who governed the city for much of the 20th century, led a remarkably successful experiment in human nature rooted in their faith that cooperation could deliver more than competition.
"Socialism as we attempted to practice it here believes that people working together for a common good can produce a greater benefit both for society and for the individual than can a society in which everyone is shrewdly seeking their own self-interest," Zeidler told me in an interview several years ago. "And I think our record remains one of many more successes than failures."
On a Friday afternoon in the spring of 1999, the contribution that Zeidler made to Milwaukee and to the world was honored by people who well understood the significance of what this American socialist did and what he continued to do as someone whose activism slowed only slightly as he passed through his 80s and into his 90s.
At a gathering at the main branch of the Milwaukee Public Library, a favorite haunt of the man who as mayor battled to expand it, the Friedrich Ebert Foundation recognized Zeidler for his many years of public service and his unique contributions to the socialist cause.
Based in Bonn, Germany, the foundation was established in 1925 as a political legacy of Friedrich Ebert, Germany's first democratically elected president. A socialist, Ebert became president of a devastated Germany in the years after World War I, and he struggled to rebuild it as a free and responsible nation.
Banned by the Nazis in 1933, the Friedrich Ebert Foundation began its work anew in 1947 and today operates educational programs and other activities in more than 100 countries. It awards thousands of scholarships in Germany and around the world and maintains an internationally recognized library on the history of labor.
Dieter Dettke, executive director of the foundation's Washington office, came to Milwaukee to present Frank Zeidler with a bound volume of German constitutions -- a text that the former mayor, whose facility with languages was one of his many political assets, could read without the assistance of a translator.
American politics being what they are, Zeidler was never accorded the full measure of honor due him in his own land. But the rest of the world will continue to take inspiration from the recollection of the white-haired Milwaukee socialist whose faith in the possibility of a better world withstood the batterings of depression, war, McCarthyism, the Cold War, and the Nixon, Reagan and Bush eras,
"The concept that motivates us is a community good as opposed to the concept of an individual pursuing their own self-interest and that somehow the public good comes out of that," Zeidler told me not long before his death, still raising the red flag he carried across the 20th century and into the 21st. "Our concept is that a pursuit of the good of the whole produces the best condition for the good of the individual."
The Bush Administration claims they always treated prisoners in the war on terror "humanely."
Detainees at Abu Ghraib in Iraq, Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, may beg to differ.
President Bush slammed John Kerry during 2004 for sending "mixed messages" to terrorists. But as the New York Times reported today, "Mixed messages over exactly which rules applied where, and which Geneva protections were to be honored and which ignored, were at the root of prisoner abuse scandals from Guantanamo to Iraq to Afghanistan."
That's why the military applauded the Supreme Court's decision in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, and the Pentagon's memo announcing that all enemy combatants, including those held at CIA black sites, be treated in accordance with Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions.
"I think commanders in the field will see it positively," Col. David Wallace, a West Point law professor, told the Washington Post. "They see the value of complying with the law of war."
After the Supreme Court's ruling, some Republicans simply wanted to put a Congressional stamp on the Administration's indefinite detentions at Gitmo. But the decision's aftermath gave added backing to GOP dissidents like Senator Lindsay Graham, a former Air Force lawyer who wants the Administration to follow the existing code of military justice. "If you fight that approach, it's going to be a long hot summer," Graham told a DoD lawyer yesterday.
The larger question, of course, is why we need Gitmo at all?
Only 10 of the 450 prisoners have been charged with crimes, and none convicted. Innocent people are stuck in a legal no man's land, with no access to lawyers and no way to defend themselves. America's reputation has been irrevocably sullied. So instead of arguing about the particulars of international law, maybe we should listen to Colin Powell, who said last week: "Guantanamo ought to be closed immediately."
Robert Novak finally speaks--in a way.
In a column published in newspapers today, the conservative columnist finally discloses that he cooperated with the investigation of the CIA leak. Novak, of course, outed Valerie Wilson (aka Valerie Plame) as a CIA officer in a July 14, 2003 column on her husband's now-infamous CIA-assigned trip to Niger. In disclosing Valerie Wilson's employment status at the CIA--which was classified information--Novak cited two senior administration sources. After I read the original Novak column, I wondered if these leaks meant that Bush administration officials had violated the Intelligence Identities Protection Act and wrote the first article that suggested the leaks might be evidence of a White House crime. (That article was posted on The Nation's website two days after the Novak column appeared.)
Novak's latest column answers only a few of the lingering questions. It has long been obvious that he cooperated with special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald--otherwise, he would have been subpoenaed by Fitzgerald, as had Judy Miller, Matt Cooper, Tim Russert and Washington Post reporters. The only question was the manner of Novak's cooperation. In public, he had proclaimed he would not give up his source. So what did he disclose to the investigators?
It turns out that when FBI agents on October 7, 2003, first called on Novak, they already knew who his sources were. They did not need Novak to ID the senior administration officials. And Novak cooperated to an extent. As he writes, "I did disclose how Valerie Wilson's role was reported to me, but the FBI did not press me to disclose my sources."
Three months later, he was questioned by Fitzgerald at his lawyer's office. Fitzgerald arrived wielding waivers signed by Novak's two sources. Most journalists did not accept such waivers--which were blanket statements signed by Bush administration officials under the threat of dismissal. Novak, too, did not believe these waivers, as he writes, relieved him of his "journalistic responsibility to protect a source." But since Fitzgerald already knew the identity of his sources (how Fitzgerald knew this Novak does not say), Novak discussed them by name--and avoided being subpoenaed and threatened with jail. He later testified about his sources before the grand jury.
Other reporters later took less accommodating stances. Even after Time magazine turned over emails indicating that Karl Rove had leaked information about Valerie Wilson to correspondent Matt Cooper, Cooper refused to cooperate with Fitzgerald. He only did so after his lawyer had extracted a personal waiver from Rove. Judy Miller went to jail rather than reveal that Scooter Libby had been a source, though Fitzgerald clearly knew Libby had spoken to her.
Novak took a different approach--which kept him out of jail and allowed him to duck a confrontation with Fitzgerald. He did not ask his sources for personal waivers. He confirmed for the prosecutor--even if begrudgingly--who his sources were without obtaining their permission to do so.
The leak case raised plenty of questions about reporter-source confidentiality and what journalists should do to protect sources--and how laws and ethics affect such decisions. Purists argued that reporters should never cooperate and not recognize either blanket or personal waivers. Others--such as reporters who faced jail sentences--advocated a sliding standard of sorts: they would go to prison to defend a confidentiality agreement with a source but would accept a personal waiver to avoid such trouble or to get out of jail. Novak found an even murkier middle ground: he would talk about a source whom the prosecutor had identified without first consenting with that source.
As a journalist who would not fancy doing hard time to protect an administration official, I am reluctant to judge another journalist's decision on such a matter. But, clearly, Novak's actions are not likely to win him many First Amendment awards.
Novak's new column also offers further proof that Karl Rove leaked classified information. This is no news flash. The Libby indictment pointed the finger at Rove. Rove's own lawyer has confirmed that his client confirmed the Valerie Wilson leak for Novak. And in the summer of 2005, Newsweek disclosed a Matt Cooper email that detailed how Rove had told Cooper that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA. (There is no question that Valerie Wilson's employment status at the CIA was classified. Fitzgerald stated so at a press conference last October.)
Still, despite all this evidence, the Bush White House has not honored the vow made early on in the leak investigation: anyone involved in the leak would be dismissed. Rove still is gainfully employed as George W. Bush's top strategist at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. There are no signs that he has even been disciplined or denied access to classified information. During the investigation, the president refused to say anything publicly about Rove and the probe. And after the investigation, the president has refused to say anything publicly about Rove's participation in the leak.
Novak's column is an explanation of how the columnist wiggled out of a legal jam. More important, it is a reminder of how the stonewall strategy mounted by the White House and Rove succeeded.
What you learn in American government 101 still rings true: we live in a system of three co-equal branches. The Bush Administration, for perhaps the first time in six years, got the message today.
Justice John Paul Stevens 5-3 decision in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld was blunt and stinging: the Bush Administration must get approval from Congress to hold prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and treat those detainees in accordance with Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions.
Republicans such as Majority Leader John Boehner denounced the ruling as "special privileges for terrorists." But the Pentagon took notice, releasing a memo today announcing that it would follow Article 3--specifying that prisoners be treated humanely and afforded basic judicial protections. An Administration that gleefully snickered at international law finally decided to comply with it.
What else might the Administration U-turn on? Secret prisons, extraordinary renditions, warrantless wiretapping, permanent bases in Iraq?
The latest issue of Time magazine proclaims "The End of Cowboy Diplomacy." North Korea, Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan put an end to the unilateralist Bush doctrine. Too bad France didn't win the World Cup.
"I will tell you that there won't be any corporate considerations. No earnings per share issues, No worries about advertisers and what they might think." Okay, you probably think these are lines from a recent Nation editorial or Bill Moyers' latest speech.
It's actually Mark Cuban blogging about his negotiations with Dan Rather to launch a program on HDNet, his high-definition cable channel that reaches about 3 million homes. (Later this week, Rather will announce that he's joining Cuban's channel--launching "Dan Rather Presents" this October. ) Cuban also owns HDfilms production company.
At a time when CBS News is run by "by bean counters and profiteers with no interest in serious news," as Moyers recently put it, the billionaire entrepreneur and owner of the Dallas Mavericks basketball franchise seems ready to revive public interest journalism.
At a time when newspapers and traditional media seem clueless about their future, Cuban sees opportunity. In a recent post on his popular blog, Cuban lamented what he calls the loss of spine and guts in mainstream journalism. "Young people aren't turning away from mainstream media because they don't care about current events," he writes, "but because the media don't know how to connect with them."
(Cuban also likes to boast that HDNet News is working to hire "the young and the restless to go out and produce stories that matter. Stories that have payoff." )
Echoing any number of Nation editors/writers, Cuban adds, "Even for a 21-year old, it's not just about Paris Hilton, Bradgelina and the latest rap feud. Kids want to learn. They want to know. Journalism matters....We will produce news reports that matter to people of all ages."
I think he's one of the the most interesting media moguls around. What's appealing is that Cuban isn't just talking the talk. As Dan Rather might say, this guy "walks the walk"--puttinghis money into projects like "Sharesleuth," a new investigative website launched last month that will, as Cuban puts it, "do nothing but try to uncover corporate fraud." He's hired longtime business reporter, Christopher Carey, away from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, to run the site--which will go live next month.
Last Spring, Alex Jones, Director of the Kennedy School's Shorenstein Center on the Press wrote that "Traditional media of all kinds are retreating from the job of covering news on politics, policy and other topics because some consider them boring--the kiss of death. What might be alternative ways to keep accountability widely available?"
Mark Cuban may just be the alternative needed to shake up the traditional media world.
No, the above title is not a reference to how many vacation days I've taken this year. Twenty-three days is how long the Senate plans to be in legislative session this year.
According to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, the Senate will try and complete its "must-pass" bills by September 27, giving Senators the rest of the time to campaign and raise money before the November elections.
As Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid noted:
This new adjournment date means the Senate has only 8 more weeks in which it will be session.
Eight weeks is 40 business days.
Subtract Labor Day, and there are only 39 days.
Subtract Mondays and Fridays--which aren't real work days in this Republican Congress--and there are just 23 legislative days left in the 109th Congress.
Not exactly much time to tend to the people's business. I forgot to mention they're gone the entire month of August.
Right now, we'll be lucky if they name a few post offices.
It's hard to know who to root for in the continuing scuffles between the Republican Congress, the White House and the CIA over the intelligence agency. The latest round--actually, it's a postdated tussle--was triggered by a May 18, 2006 letter that Representative Peter Hoekstra, the Republican chairman of the House intelligence committee, sent to George W. Bush raising protests on three fronts: recent appointments at the CIA, the new Director of National Intelligence office, and the White House's failure to brief Congress about certain covert programs, which Hoekstra didn't name in his letter. (The letter was first disclosed by The New York Times on July 9.)
It was easy for some to see Hoekstra as a heroic reformer challenging secret government. Truthdig.org named Hoekstra the "Truthdigger of the Week." But the spy wars of Washington are not linear affairs and the battle lines murky. Is the CIA a rotting institution that failed prior to 9/11 and then provided Bush flawed intelligence to justify an invasion of Iraq? Or is it a bastion of risk-averse conventionalists who have undermined Bush's ambitious, forward-looking national security agenda (which includes the Iraq war)? The CIA has been getting it from the left and the right in recent years. And it's unclear whether the top tier of the agency ought to be backed or booted.
When Porter Goss, a Republican who preceded Hoekstra as chairman of the House intelligence committee, was CIA director, he placed his political aides in charge of the agency, and the career officers rebelled. Several of the most experienced CIA veterans--including Stephen Kappes, the director of operations, resigned rather than deal with the Goss crew. The CIA people viewed the Goss gang as hacks motivated by political concerns; Goss and his allies saw the CIA career leadership as bureaucrats resistant to change. (Goss resigned as CIA chief in May; he was replaced by General Michael Hayden, who, as the National Security Agency chief, was a longtime intelligence professional.)
Enter Hoekstra and his letter. What received the most attention was his charge that his committee had not been briefed about "some alleged Intelligence Community activities." He added, "If these allegations are true, they may represent a breach of responsibility by the Administration, a violation of law, and, just as importantly, a direct affront to me and the Members o this committee." Hoekstra did not say what secrets the White House had been keeping from him. Open-government fans cheered Hoekstra's pointed reminder to Bush: the law says you cannot run covert programs on your own without telling Congress. And on Fox News Sunday, the day his letter was disclosed, Hoekstra said his letter had done the trick and that subsequently he was briefed about this intelligence activity--which he still would not identify. (Hoekstra is not much of a maverick; he has not rushed to hold public hearings on such matters as the controversial and arguably illegal NSA domestic wiretapping program.)
Another point Hoekstra made in his letter was important. He expressed his concern that the new DNI office has become a "large, bureaucratic, and hierarchical structure." If there was a need for a DNI--which supposedly is supposed to coordinate the various intelligence agencies of the US government, including the CIA--there was no reason to create another intelligence bureaucracy. The intelligence community would benefit more from streamlining than from an expanding management. So score Hoekstra another point here.
But the first topic Hoekstra raised in his letter shows he can be loopy. Hoekstra voiced his displeasure over the selection of Hayden, an Air Force general, to be the CIA director, noting that he wanted a civilian to head a civilian agency. But what really ticked him off was the selection of Kappes to be the new number-two at the agency. Bringing back Kappes, Hoekstra wrote, would lead to "political problems" at the agency. What did Hoekstra mean by this? He explained: "I have been long concerned that a strong and well-positioned group within the Agency intentionally undermined the Administration and its policies. This argument is supported by the Ambassador Wilson/Valerie Plame events, as well as by the string of unauthorized disclosures from an organization that prides itself with being able to keep secrets." Kappes, he added, is part of this group.
Hoekstra didn't spell it out in his note. But what he was saying was that he believed a CIA cabal has tried to undercut Bush regarding the war in Iraq--that CIA officials opposed to the war plotted against the president and sought to undercut his case for war by leaking stories indicating that the intelligence cited by Bush and his aides on Iraq's WMDs and purported connections to al Qaeda was not that strong. (Joe Wilson's trip to Niger and subsequent op-ed piece declaring there had been nothing to the charge Iraq was seeking uranium there, the rightwing theory goes, was part of a deliberate CIA conspiracy against the White House.) Hoekstra also is probably thinking of the leaks about CIA secret prisons and the agency's clandestine renditions of detainees to nations where abusive interrogation occurs.
So Hoekstra appears to be of the belief that the problem was not that Bush used flawed WMD intelligence to take the nation to war but that CIA leakers disclosed the flaws of the intelligence. This is a tad alarming, for every post-invasion review of the intelligence--including one conducted by Hoekstra's own committee--found that the intelligence community was dead wrong on WMDs. A Senate intelligence committee review also concluded the CIA had been right to conclude there was no strong evidence that al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein were in cahoots. Hoekstra should realize that the important issue is not the leaks (which were true) but the misuse of the intelligence.
But Hoekstra still believes in Iraq's WMDs. Last month, he joined with Republican Senator Rick Santorum to hype a 2003 Defense Department report that noted that about 500 weapons containing degrade mustard gas or sarin nerve agent had been found in Iraq. These weapons, though, were manufactured before the first Gulf War and were not evidence that Saddam Hussen had maintained a WMD program in the years before the invasion. A senior Pentagon official, quoted by Fox News, said that these weapons were not useable. "This does not reflect a capacity that was built up after 1991," he said, noting the munitions "are not the WMDs this country and the rest of the world believed Iraq had, and not the WMDs for which this country went to war." Yet Hoekstra and Santorum made it seem this discovery was significant. Hoekstra promised further investigation. "We are going to put additional pressure on the Department of Defense and the folks in Iraq to more fully pursue a complete investigation of what existed in Iraq before the war," he said.
Let's recap: Hoekstra was mad at Bush for keeping him out of the loop, and he warned the president about expanding the bloated intelligence capability. But he thinks the CIA is laced with politically-minded plotters who hold unfounded beliefs (such as there were no operational links between Saddam and Osama bin Laden) and who are working to thwart the national security policies of the nation. In Washington's version of Spy Verus Spy, it can be difficult to know which--if any--side to cheer.