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It used to be a matter of flashing a badge and appealing to patriotism,
but these days federal agents are finding it a little harder to get
librarians to spy. Under an obscure provision of the USA Patriot Act,
federal agents can obtain a warrant to acquire information about library
users. According to a recent survey, agents have been showing up at libraries--a lot--asking librarians for reading
records. Nearly everything about the procedure--from the granting of the
warrants to the search itself--is secret (as an excellent story in the
San Francisco Chronicle pointed out recently). But, unlike in the
cold war years, when the FBI last tried to conduct such library
surveillance, this time around, top librarians are on the warpath to
protect reader privacy. And Congress wants Attorney General John
Ashcroft to account for his agents' library conduct.

It wasn't like this back in George W.'s daddy's day.

Between 1973 and the late 1980s, the FBI operated a secret
counterintelligence operation called the Library Awareness Program. Back
then the Feds were particularly concerned about what Soviet bloc
citizens were reading in the nation's premier science libraries. In the
words of Herbert Foerstel, a science librarian in those years, "Agents
would approach clerical staff at public and university libraries, flash
a badge and appeal to their patriotism in preventing the spread of
'sensitive but unclassified' information."

Today, with Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act in hand, law enforcement
agents are at it again. This time, the stated purpose is to gather
information on people the government suspects of having ties to
terrorists or plotting an attack. The act makes it hard to track just
what's going on. Anyone who receives an FBI request is prohibited, under
threat of prosecution, from revealing the FBI visit to anyone, even to
the patron whose records are subject to search.

On April 3 I interviewed Deborah Caldwell-Stone, deputy director of the
American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom, on
Working Assets Radio, and the interview illustrated the problem. To
paraphrase: Flanders: "How many libraries have received information
requests from the FBI?" Stone: "They are not allowed to tell us, and we
are not allowed to say."

But in February one enterprising library sciences professor sent a
survey to 1,503 libraries around the country. Dr. Leigh Estabrook asked
librarians for answers to a set of questions, to which they did not have
to append their name. According to Estabrook's raw data, presented this
spring at a Public Library Association conference, eighty-five of the
libraries surveyed report that authorities (for example, FBI or police)
requested information about their patrons pursuant to the events of
September 11. More worrisome, about one-fifth of the libraries said
staff had changed their attitude toward or treatment of users in some
way. More than 10 percent (118) reported that they had become more
restrictive of Internet use. Seventy-seven said they had monitored what
patrons were doing.

Librarians on the alert aren't necessarily a bad thing. In Florida, an
attentive Delray Beach librarian reported the use of her library by a
group of Middle Eastern men, and they turned out to have connections to
the attacks of 9/11.

But some of this monitoring may be illegal. Since the abuses of the cold
war, almost every state has passed confidentiality laws to protect the
privacy of personal records. Since passage of the USA Patriot Act, the
American Library Association has been busy reminding librarians of their
abilities to question things like federal search warrants and advising
them of the best practices to undertake to protect confidentiality of
patrons and themselves. In January, the ALA released a set of guidelines
to inform librarians of what search warrants were, what subpoenas were
and how they could react if in fact they were presented with such
documents. Then in June, the ALA's governing council passed a resolution
publicly affirming the privacy rights of patrons and implicitly
instructing library staff to do all they can to protect their clients'
privacy.

"Privacy is essential to the exercise of free speech, free thought and
free association," says the ALA council statement, in part. It wouldn't
be a bad idea for librarians to post the statement in the stacks.
Concerned library readers should also know that one sure-fire way to
keep your reading records private is to take back your borrowed books on
time. The ALA's Stone told Working Assets Radio that the circulation
software most libraries use today automatically erases a reader's
borrowing record once a book is returned and all fines are paid.

Congress is getting interested as well. On June 13 a bipartisan
committee sent a twelve-page letter to John Ashcroft demanding details
on the implementation of the USA Patriot Act. Representative James
Sensenbrenner, Republican of Wisconsin, the staunch conservative chair
of the House Judiciary Committee, and Michigan Democrat John Conyers,
the progressive, ranking Democrat, want to know, among other things,
just how many subpoenas the Justice Department has issued to libraries,
bookstores and newspapers under Section 215 and what safeguards are in
place to prevent abuse. The letter asked for written answers by July 9,
which at presstime had yet to be received; then Sensenbrenner and
Conyers plan to hold hearings on the response. Are G-men harassing your
librarian? The hearings should make for good, hot summer viewing on
C-Span. Meanwhile, library staff are under a lot of pressure--why not
drop by or write to your librarian and send a message of support?

The $4.4 million damages award in June against FBI agents and Oakland
police for violating the constitutional rights of environmental
activists Darryl Cherney and Judi Bari, wrongly accused of terrorism in
1990, represents more than the culmination of a twelve-year struggle for
vindication. The case also highlights the risks of today's antiterrorism
measures and offers lessons both daunting and encouraging about the
years ahead.

In May 1990, an explosion tore through the car carrying Earth First!
organizers Bari and Cherney. Bari suffered a fractured pelvis; Cherney,
less serious injuries. They assumed the bombing was the work of
antienvironmentalists, meant to disrupt planning for the Redwood Summer
of civil disobedience against the logging of old-growth forest.

The FBI Joint Terrorist Task Force jumped to quite a different
conclusion. As soon as Bari and Cherney were identified, the FBI
informed the local police and leaked to the press that the pair were
terrorists. The authorities claimed that Bari must have made the bomb
herself and that it had accidentally exploded while the two were
carrying it to an unknown target. Bari was placed under arrest in her
hospital bed. Police and FBI agents searched houses in Oakland where
Bari and Cherney had stayed and questioned their fellow activists. Over
the next two months, until the government announced it would not charge
the two environmentalists, the local police and the FBI continued to
call them terrorists.

Only after years of litigation did the truth emerge: The FBI, before the
bombing, had been investigating Bari and Cherney because of their
political activism. When the bomb went off, the FBI shaded the facts to
fit an ideological presumption of guilt. It was also revealed that the
FBI, even after Bari and Cherney had been cleared, collected data
nationwide on hundreds of individuals and groups merely on the basis of
their association with the two Earth First! activists.

The case demonstrates how the truth will come out when the judiciary
fulfills its constitutional role. With patience, skill and funding,
committed activists and lawyers can bring accountability to the FBI.
Just as Bari and Cherney won, just as the secret evidence cases brought
after the 1996 antiterrorism law melted in the face of judicial
challenges, so the material witness detentions and other rights
violations of today will ultimately be held unconstitutional. But the
FBI and the Justice Department will resist oversight and use secrecy and
delaying tactics to evade accountability, prolonging personal and
political damage. Justice was too late for Judi Bari. She died of cancer
in 1997.

The most sobering lesson of the Bari-Cherney case may be this: The FBI's
focus on politics over hard evidence meant that the real bomber was
never captured. In the same way, the Attorney General's recent
announcement that the FBI can monitor meetings and groups with no prior
suspicion of criminal conduct is likely to take the FBI down the path of
investigations based on politics, ethnicity or religion, while real
terrorists escape detection.

The timing of George W. Bush's proposal for a Cabinet-level Department
of Homeland Security--hastily unveiled when revelations about FBI lapses
were hitting the front pages--smacks of high-level damage control. And
it was followed by the announcement of the arrest in May of a
Brooklyn-born Al Qaeda plotter who allegedly intended to set off a
"dirty" bomb. This convenient coup was touted as an example of
cooperation between the FBI and the CIA and used to bolster support for
the Bush plan. Nevertheless, consolidating agencies that deal with the
issues of domestic security and reducing bureaucratic rivalry and lack
of direction make sense, if done right.

To be sure, reorganizing twenty-two agencies with 169,000 employees by
Bush's deadline of January 1, 2003, seems a staggering task.
Eighty-eight Congressional committees and subcommittees oversee the
components of the new department, and the turf wars will be fierce. And
Bush's legislative timetable nicely serves his political one: He'd love
to see the subject monopolize the Congressional agenda in the run-up to
the fall election, eclipsing the Democrats' potent issues.

Politics aside, many questions occur at the outset of the debate on the
new department. How, for example, will it solve the shortcomings of
intelligence gathering and dissemination and the endemic rivalry between
the FBI and the CIA? Will it be charged with coordinating intelligence
collection by other agencies or will it be merely a "consumer" of their
work?

And what of the non-national security functions of some of the agencies
slated to be aggrandized into the new DHS, like FEMA, first responder to
natural disasters? Will those worthy activities be relegated to
secondary importance? As Representative John Conyers Jr. asks, if
immigration is brought under the new department, what happens to the
right of political asylum when applicants are reviewed under the
criteria of national security?

These are a few of the hard questions related to mission and chain of
command that must be dealt with by Congress. Pace Bush campaign
rhetoric, government can work effectively for the public good,
but if this project is to succeed, Congress members should not let
themselves be rushed by a re-election-conscious Administration or
bullied into swallowing criticisms by charges that they're impeding the
war effort. Issues of privacy and civil rights should be vigorously
raised. The Ashcroft Justice Department's heavy-handed immigration
crackdown, for example, should be dropped in the trashcan. Such measures
are both an affront to civil liberties and will alienate the Arab
community--the best source of intelligence on Al Qaeda ops among us.

Homeland security does not mean building a better Fortress America. It
means building a better world. US pressure on Israel and Palestine to
achieve a just Middle East settlement would remove one of the main
irritants breeding hatred of America. Verifiable nuclear disarmament and
deterrence will more surely promote international stability than Bush's
pre-emptive war doctrine. Improving the lives of the world's poor--122
million people will die by 2015 of hunger-related causes--will weaken
terrorist support systems more effectively in the long run than sending
in US Special Forces. Homeland security is a global matter.

The FBI has come under harsh criticism in recent weeks for its failure
to act on information that might have enabled it to thwart the September
11 attacks. Rather than deny the criticism, FBI Director Robert Mueller
has embraced it (easy for him to do, since he didn't start on the job
until September 4) and then exploited it to argue that the bureau needs
more power, more resources and fewer restrictions.

Both the criticism and the remedy are misguided. The dots that everyone
now says should have been connected consist of a few leads spread over a
three-year period: a 1998 memo from an FBI agent in Oklahoma suspicious
about some Middle Eastern men taking flying lessons; a July 2001 memo
from a Phoenix agent speculating that Osama bin Laden could be sending
terrorists to flight schools here; and the August 2001 arrest of
Zacarias Moussaoui for acting suspiciously in flight school. Viewed in
hindsight, each points inexorably to September 11. But there is a world
of difference, as any gambler, stock trader or palm reader will tell
you, between perceiving the connections after and before the fact. On
September 10 these three bits of information competed for the FBI's
attention with thousands of other memos, leads and suspicious events
pointing in thousands of other directions. We are engaged in a
nationwide session of Monday-morning quarterbacking.

The remedy is worse. Shifting resources to fighting terrorist threats
makes sense, but freeing the FBI from the minimal restrictions it has
operated under in the past does not. The guidelines governing the FBI's
domestic criminal investigations, which do not even apply to
international terrorism investigations, had nothing to do with the FBI
missing the September 11 plot. And it is likely that the changes in the
guidelines announced by Attorney General John Ashcroft will actually
reduce the FBI's effectiveness in fighting terrorism.

The old guidelines were sparked by revelations that in the 1960s and
'70s, the FBI's COINTELPRO initiative targeted perfectly lawful antiwar,
environmental, feminist and civil rights groups for widespread
monitoring, infiltration and disinformation. The guidelines sought to
remedy the FBI's proclivity for indulging in guilt by association and
conducting intrusive and sweeping investigations of political groups
without any criminal basis. They sought to focus the FBI on its mission,
which, contrary to popular perception, has always been to prevent as
well as to investigate crime.

But even under the guidelines abuses continued. One of the most
prominent involved an investigation of the Committee in Solidarity With
the People of El Salvador (CISPES) from 1983 to 1985. Under the rubric
of counterterrorism, the FBI monitored student rallies, infiltrated
meetings and identified attendees at CISPES events. In the end, the
bureau had collected information on 1,330 groups--including Oxfam
America, the US Catholic Conference and a Cincinnati order of nuns--but
no evidence of crime.

Such investigations are likely to be commonplace in the post-
September 11 era. Ashcroft's guidelines expressly permit the FBI to
conduct some investigations without even a shred of information about
potential criminal conduct. And Congress has so expanded the definition
of federal crimes that requiring a criminal basis is not enough to
forestall political spying. Federal antiterrorism laws of 1996 and 2001
now make it a crime to provide any associational support to foreign
groups we designate as terrorist, even if the support has no connection
whatever to terrorist activity. Under those laws, the CISPES
investigation would have been legal, on suspicion that CISPES was
supporting the Salvadoran rebel movement.

The combined effect of the expanded statute, loosened guidelines and
increased counterterrorism personnel at the FBI will be to bring in
exponentially more information about the populace than the FBI has ever
had. Some of the additional information obtained may, like the isolated
leads developed before September 11, be related to terrorist plots. But
those leads are almost certain to be drowned out by the barrage of
information about innocent political activity.

An intelligence expert on a recent panel with me claimed that what we
need now is "all-source intelligence fusion," meaning a group of
analysts sitting in a room analyzing mounds of data for trends and
patterns. Despite its techno-trendy title, all-source intelligence
fusion is no substitute for good relations with the affected
communities. If the FBI has information that the threat is likely to
stem from Arab sources, it should be building bridges to the millions of
law-abiding Arabs--instead of profiling Arab students without cause,
holding Middle Easterners without charges and selectively registering
all immigrants from Arab countries. You don't build bridges by
infiltrating and monitoring legitimate political and religious activity.

OK, so maybe John Ashcroft and Robert Mueller are not the sharpest tools in the shed. How else to explain that, after September.

The question is not the 1970s cliché, What did the President know
and when did he know it? The appropriate query is, What did US
intelligence know--and what did the President know and do about that?
The flap over the August 6, 2001, intelligence briefing of George W.
Bush--in which he was told that Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network was
interested in hijackings and looking to strike the United States
directly--should not have focused on whether the President ignored that
information and missed the chance to prevent the September 11 strikes.
Still, a political dust-up ensued, as the White House, overreacting to
the overreaction of the Democrats, went into full spin mode. The crucial
issue was broached when National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice
stated, "I don't think anybody could have predicted that these people
would take an airplane and slam it into the World Trade Center."

Actually, it was predicted, and the recent hullabaloo called
attention to the sad fact that the Clinton and the Bush II national
security establishments did not heed hints going back to 1995. In that
year a terrorist arrested in the Philippines said bin Laden operatives
were considering a plot to bomb airliners and fly a plane into CIA
headquarters--information shared with the United States. Two weeks
before that arrest, Algerian terrorists linked to Al Qaeda hijacked a
plane, hoping to crash it into the Eiffel Tower (French commandos killed
the hijackers at a refueling stop).

From 1995 on, US intelligence and the military should have taken steps
to detect and prevent a 9/11-like scheme. There was enough information
in the system to cause the US air command to draw up plans for dealing
with an airliner-turned-missile and to prompt the CIA and the FBI (and
other intelligence outfits) to seek intelligence related to plots of
this type. Apparently nothing of the sort happened. Not even when
terrorism experts continued to raise airliner attacks as a possibility.
In 1998 terrorism analysts briefed Federal Aviation Administration
security officials on scenarios in which terrorists flew planes into US
nuclear plants or commandeered Federal Express cargo planes and crashed
them into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, the White House, the
Capitol and other targets. In 1999 a report prepared for the National
Intelligence Council noted that Al Qaeda suicide bombers could fly an
aircraft filled with explosives into the Pentagon, CIA headquarters or
the White House.

In 2001 the FBI--not looking for signs of a suicide-bombing plot--failed
to recognize the significance of information its agents received while
investigating foreign students at a Phoenix flight school and Zacarias
Moussaoui, a French national enrolled in a Minnesota aviation school,
later charged with participating in the 9/11 conspiracy. In July Italian
authorities warned the United States that bin Laden agents might try to
attack Bush and other Western leaders at the Genoa summit using an
airliner.

True, these leads were small pieces of data among the massive amounts of
material swept up by the sprawling intelligence system. But what's the
point of spending more than $30 billion annually on spies and high-tech
eavesdropping if the system can't sort out the valuable nuggets?
Hindsight is indeed easy. The Bush and Clinton administrations, based on
what's now known, don't deserve to be faulted for not discovering the
9/11 plot. But both failed to oversee the intelligence and
law-enforcement communities and make sure they were pointed in the right
direction.

There is evidence that the Bush team didn't move quickly on the
counterterrorism front. Newsweek reported that Attorney General
John Ashcroft prodded the FBI to concentrate on violent crime, drugs and
child porn more than on counterterrorism (a story the Justice Department
denied). And Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld threatened to veto a move
that shifted $600 million from the anti-ballistic missile program to
antiterrorism. Was there a counterterrorism policy delay? Other
questions linger. In July 2001 Richard Clarke, then the National
Security Council official in charge of counterterrorism, put out an
urgent alert, placing the government at its highest state of readiness
for a possible terrorist attack. The alert faded six weeks later. What
triggered it? What caused the stand-down? Should there have been a
follow-up?

The multiple failures of policy, imagination and coordination over two
administrations should be investigated. To assign blame? Accountability
does have its place in a democracy. The public has a right to know who
messed up and to be assured that those who did aren't in a position to
commit further mistakes. The point, of course, is to learn from those
mistakes and to be able to tell the public the failures have been
addressed. Does the intelligence system deserve more billions, as Bush
has requested, without demonstrating that it can use the money wisely?

After 9/11 the Bush Administration didn't rush to examine what went
wrong. We're too busy fighting the war, it said, while urging Congress
not to pursue the matter. Belatedly, Congress authorized a joint
investigation by the House and Senate intelligence committees, two
panels that traditionally have been cozy with the intelligence crowd.
That probe has gotten off to a terrible start--the investigators
fighting among themselves over whether to examine government failures or
to concentrate on how best to reorganize the intelligence system and
accusing the CIA and the Justice Department of not cooperating. One
positive consequence of the maelstrom over the August 6 briefing is that
it has prompted more calls for an independent commission, which Senators
John McCain and Joseph Lieberman have been advocating. Yet so far no
inquiry is committed to mounting a no-holds-barred examination and to
conducting as much of it as possible in public.

"I don't have any problem with a legitimate debate over the performance
of our intelligence agencies," said Vice President Cheney. But he has
opposed sharing the August 6 briefing with Congress. How can there be
worthwhile debate without information? After all, the recent tussle
began when the press sensed that the White House had withheld a
significant--or intriguing--fact. And how can there be information
without investigation? The issue is not what Bush knew--but why he
didn't know, and whether his Administration took sufficient steps before
and after that awful day to deal with the failings of the agencies that
are supposed to thwart and protect.

George W. Bush, it is true, did not create the FBI's smug, insular,
muscle-bound bureaucracy or the CIA's well-known penchant for loopy spy
tips and wrongheaded geopolitical analysis. But the President is now in
the political cross-hairs for the failures of these agencies in
identifying and understanding terrorist threats. And what's wrong with
that? Bush is President, after all, and it is mildly amusing to hear the
conservative claque plead excusable ignorance or the complexities of
governing as his alibi. The trouble is, this failure is too serious to
amuse. The ineptitude preceding September 11 arguably heightens the
gravest, most immediate threat to national security because, while the
dangers may lurk in the twilight zone, they can, as we learned, turn
real. Yet this nation is relying on two intelligence agencies that don't
even wish to talk to each other--and that not only failed to anticipate
September 11 but that have also failed to locate Osama bin Laden, the
man George W. Bush said he wanted "dead or alive," or to identify the
anthrax killer.

Instead of expressing a little executive impatience, even anger at
possible misfeasance, this President responds, once again, by calling
for more secrecy in government, more silence from his critics. And we're
not the only ones to suspect a connection between the cascade of
Administration warnings about new threats and its wish to turn the
public's gaze away from its shortcomings.

The imperative now is to get a down-to-business accounting of the
negligence or inertia that preceded September 11--a systematic inquiry
that is not a headhunting exercise but could begin the long-overdue
reformation of FBI and CIA operating practices. Whether this is the
Congressional investigation already under way or a new independent
commission such as Senator Daschle wants, the results will be persuasive
only if the public learns a lot more, not less, about how to cope with
this new era of shadowy threats. Also needed are elected officials
willing to ask the Administration tough questions--fearlessly, in public
forums, with no thought as to whether Dick Cheney will brand them as
"irresponsible."

If Bush were a leader of more substance, he would understand that a
thorough ventilation is in his self-interest, both politically and
otherwise. His green-yellow-red warning code is already a joke. Should
terrorists indeed attack again, a rattled populace may begin to wonder,
What did the President know? Where was the Vice President hiding? If
Americans are going to have to live with uncertainty for a long time,
then the government owes them a grown-up conversation on the
complexities, what is known and knowable, what is not. People can handle
straight talk, but that's not what they are getting.

This President used last fall's tragedy to pump himself up as the
resolute warrior who tossed complexity into the trash can. Bush's
I'm-gonna-get-you rhetoric described an open-ended series of
battlefields ahead and did wonders for his ratings. But the complicated
counterrealities have already blurred that picture, just as the recent
revelations greatly diminish his luster as the straight-talking cowboy.
Now he wants Americans to appreciate the gray areas and accept that some
facts are unknowable. And please, don't ask any more questions of your
leader, because it's unpatriotic.

Just one question, Mr. President: What else didn't you tell us after
September 11?

During the long months of post-September 11 presidential invincibility,
no member of Congress climbed further out on the what-did-Bush-know-when
limb than Representative Cynthia McKinney. "We know there were numerous
warnings of the events to come on September 11," the Georgia Democrat
said in March. "What did this Administration know and when did it know
it, about the events of September 11? Who else knew, and why did they
not warn the innocent people of New York who were needlessly murdered?"

The disclosure that President Bush was warned in August that Al Qaeda
was seeking to hijack domestic aircraft did not confirm all McKinney's
intimations--which extended to talk about how the Bush family might have
profited from the attacks. Yet she was freed to stake a claim of
vindication. "It now becomes clear why the Bush Administration has been
vigorously opposing Congressional hearings. The Bush Administration has
been engaged in a conspiracy of silence. If committed and patriotic
people had not been pushing for disclosure, today's revelations would
have been hidden by the White House."

McKinney's initial calls for an investigation of what Bush knew prompted
a storm of criticism. "McKinney has made herself too easy a target for
mockery," Atlanta Journal-Constitution editorial page editor
Cynthia Tucker announced in April. "She no longer deserves serious
analysis." After Bush aides condemned McKinney's "ludicrous, baseless
views," National Review Online editor Jonah Goldberg diagnosed
her as suffering from "paranoid, America-hating, crypto-Marxist
conspiratorial delusions." Barely a month after the McKinney-bashing
peaked, however, the Journal-Constitution headline read: "Bush
warned by US intelligence before 9/11 of possible bin Laden plot to
hijack planes," while Senate Intelligence Committee vice chairman
Richard Shelby, an Alabama Republican, said, "I believe, and others
believe, if [information on threats] had been acted on properly, we may
have had a different situation on September 11."

There were no apologies to McKinney. Brushing aside complaints from
Atlanta civil rights activists, Georgia Senator Zell Miller continued to
characterize his fellow Democrat as "loony." McKinney's critics kept
exploiting the opening she gave them with her unfounded rumination on
the prospect that something other than ineptness might explain the
Administration's failure to warn Americans about terrorist threats. But
her willingness to go after the Administration when few Democrats dared
earned her folk-hero status among dissenters from the
Bush-can-do-no-wrong mantra: The popular democrats.com website now
greets visitors with a We Believe Cynthia icon.

In Georgia, where McKinney faces a July primary challenge from a former
judge who labels her "off-the-wall and unproductive," a recent
Journal-Constitution headline read, "Revelations Give Boost to
McKinney." Letters to the editor, even from former critics, hail her
prescience. And Georgia Democratic Representative John Lewis, who once
steered clear of McKinney's call for an investigation, says, "I hate to
put it in this vein, but she may have the last laugh."

Quick, pinch me--am I still living in the same country? Reading and
watching the same media? This "Bob Woodward" fellow who co-wrote a tough
piece in the May 18 Washington Post demonstrating that the
now-famous August 6 presidential daily briefing, contrary to
Administration officials' claims about its contents, actually carried
the heading "Bin Laden determined to strike in U.S."--is this the same
Bob Woodward who co-wrote the Post's infamous "Ten Days in
September" series earlier this year, the ur-document of George W. Bush's
Churchillization? And this "Michael Isikoff," sharing a byline on the
eye-opening May 27 Newsweek cover story that shreds the
Administration's "we did everything we could" line of defense--is this
the Isikoff who four years ago defined national security in terms of
dress stains and cigar probes? One begins to suspect that unbeknownst to
all of us, the terrorists have indeed struck--the Washington, DC, water
supply.

An overstatement, to be sure. But it does seem to be the case that
wherever this potentially incendiary story leads, from fog of
unprovables to hot smoking gun, one change has already taken place
because of it that is well worth marking. For the first time since
September 11--or, arguably, since ever--the press corps appears ready to
expend more effort poking holes in the vaunted Bush Administration spin
operation than admiringly limning it. More to the point, Is a new
skepticism stirring around such heretofore Teflonized officials as
National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice? Before her May 16
damage-control press conference, Rice was probably the Administration's
leading untouchable. After it ("I don't think anybody could have
predicted these people would...use an airplane as a missile," a
statement left bleeding on the floor after a pile of evidence came
forward showing plenty of people were predicting precisely that), her
status has taken a major hit. So, as Professor Harold Hill might put it,
certain wooorrrrdds are creeping into the media vocabulary--words
like "serious credibility gap," in the Newsweek piece.

It's been a long time coming. If anything "un-American" happened after
September 11, it was the triumph of the notion--propounded by the
Bushies, reinforced by the major media and far too readily accepted by
cowardly Democrats--that "patriotism" somehow equals "support the Bush
Administration." CBS's Dan Rather said it recently in an interview with
the BBC: "Patriotism became so strong in the United States after 11
September that it prevented US journalists from asking the toughest of
the tough questions about the war against terrorism," adding, "I do not
except myself from this criticism." The genuflection sometimes reached
levels that we might call comic, except that there's nothing comic about
a "free" press choosing to ape state-owned media, throwing rose petals
at the feet of officials from the most unilateral and secretive
Administration in modern American history ("sixty-nine years old, and
you're America's stud," Meet the Press's Tim Russert once said to
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld).

One is not quite ready to say, on the evidence of several days' worth of
stories, that this sorry era is over just yet. The New York Times
and the Washington Post both ran editorials on May 17 that were
something short of being full-throated calls for investigation; from the
right-wing papers, the predictable yelping about how it's really
Clinton's fault.

All this will probably continue, but at least now it appears that it
will be offset by some post-post-9/11 aggression. It will be interesting
to watch what leads the media now follow and how far they follow them.
For example, some reports--originating with the BBC but picked up in a
few minor US outlets--indicate that US intelligence agents were told to
back off the bin Laden family and the Saudi royals soon after Bush
became President. Reporters might also look into the way the
Administration declined to continue a process of tightening overseas and
offshore banking regulations begun by the Clinton Administration in an
effort to track down narcotics traffickers and terrorists. The Bush
people acted partly at the behest of Texas Senator Phil Gramm, which
means partly at the behest of Enron--and which may have ended up helping
terrorists.

"Connecting the dots" has become the operative cliché about
whether intelligence officials should have been able to put together the
various pre-9/11 clues they received. Now, maybe the media will start
connecting some dots of their own.

For Senator Clinton to flourish a copy of the New York Post--the paper that has called her pretty much everything from Satanic to Sapphist--merely because it had the pungent headline "Bush Knew" is not yet her height of opportunism. (The height so far was reached last fall, when she said she could understand the rage and hatred behind the attacks on the World Trade Center because, after all, she had been attacked herself in her time.) But the failure of her husband's regime to take Al Qaeda seriously is the clue to the same failure on the part of the Bush gang.

Blogs

A win for the Edward Snowden documentary is a win for democracy.

February 23, 2015

The United States in the twenty-first century has not even attained the relatively enlightened moral standards of the war in the Philippines.

February 23, 2015

60 Minutes’s Leslie Stahl carefully avoided DARPA’s total dependence on contractors and obscured its close ties with the surveillance state.

February 13, 2015

The Supreme Court justice might need to brush up on his Eighth Amendment.

January 5, 2015

What the CIA found out about its torture program is much different than what officials have said publicly.

December 10, 2014

Virtually every Bush-era claim about torture doesn’t withstand scrutiny after the investigation.

December 9, 2014

The Senate Intelligence Committee is absolutely right to respect transparency and accountability with release of report on Bush-Cheney era abuses.

December 9, 2014

Democratic Senator Mark Udall of Colorado could enter the history books as the second lawmaker to read classified controversial government documents into public record.

December 5, 2014

Transparency and civil liberties advocates are calling on outgoing Senator Mark Udall to use his privileges as a senator to release the contents of the CIA “torture report” into the Congressional Record.

November 20, 2014

And the only government official who went to jail for it was the whistleblower who exposed it.

August 12, 2014