Browsing the blog archivesfor the day Tuesday, September 26th, 2006.

We’re Number Six!

Bush Administration

Before it slips by, I just want to call this BBC story to your attention.

The US has lost its status as the world’s most competitive economy, according to the World Economic Forum.

The US now ranks only sixth in the body’s league table of global competitiveness, behind Switzerland, Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Singapore.

Risks attached to the large US trade and fiscal deficits prompted its fall.

Now on to regular Shrub snarking — it seems the sections of the NIE that the Boy King declassified say that the Iraq War is fueling global terrorism.

Makes you wonder what the stuff he’s still sitting on says.

Speaking of sitting on reports, Nicole Belle at Crooks & Liars says that Bush has blocked release of a report that says global warming can cause really nasty Katrina-level storms.

Raw Story has more about the comprehensive strategy to attack al Qaeda that Condi says never existed.

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Our Baby Boy

Bush Administration, Iraq War, War on Terror

The Adolescent-in-Chief is whining that the recent leak of the April NIE was “political.” But he’s going to release “key judgments” of the report so Americans can decide for themselves what it says.

Translation: We’ll let you see it after we’ve scrubbed out the parts that make us look bad.

He’s played fast and loose with NIEs before, remember. He had Scooter Libby release a highly, um, edited version of an NIE as part of their Joe Wilson smear campaign. As explained in Media Matters, the leaked version presented the famous African yellowcake story as a “key judgment.” In fact, the story was not a key judgment, and the unedited NIE revealed the yellowcake story was strongly disputed.

Josh Marshall has found there is another NIE exclusively about Iraq, and he’s leading a charge to have them both released.

We talked to various Hill sources who confirmed its existence. And then Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA), ranking member of the House intel committee discussed the report and called for its release at an event at the National Press Club.

Only there was another wrinkle to the sources. Hill sources tell TPMmuckraker that the administration has been sitting on the report, trying to prevent its dissemination before the election, presumably. And it turns out, from what we’ve heard, that this NIE actually hasn’t been given the official “NIE” label because doing that would have required sharing it with various members of Congress.

The President has already said he’s releasing “parts” of the April NIE — which likely means it’ll cleansed of all the important details. But both should be released. The April NIE and this NIE that dare not speak its name too.

Call your Senators and your Representative.

Dan Froomkin provides more juicy bits:

Indeed, the 9/11 Commission Report very diplomatically concluded that both Bush and Clinton could have done more to prevent the terrorist threat.

But up until now, it’s remained a mystery what exactly Bush said to the commissioners when he grudgingly consented to an interview with them in the Oval Office, back in April of 2004.

Pretty much all we knew about that interview was that Bush insisted that it be held in private, unrecorded — and with Vice President Cheney at his side. (See, for instance, my April 8, 2004, column , and this Tom Toles cartoon .)

But yesterday afternoon, Democratic former commission member Richard Ben-Veniste dramatically broke his silence about that meeting in an interview with CNN’s Blitzer. Here’s the transcript . Forgive me for quoting so extensively, but it’s fascinating stuff.

    “BLITZER: All right. You, in your questioning in your investigation, when you were a member of this commission, specifically asked President Bush about efforts after he was inaugurated on January 20, 2001, until 9/11, eight months later, what he and his administration were doing to kill bin Laden, because by then it was certified, it was authorized. It was, in fact, confirmed that al Qaeda was responsible for the attack on the USS Cole in December of 2000.

    “BEN-VENISTE: It’s true, Wolf, we had the opportunity to interview President Bush, along with the vice president, and we spent a few hours doing that in the Oval Office. And one of the questions we had and I specifically had was why President Bush did not respond to the Cole attack. And what he told me was that he did not want to launch a cruise missile attack against bin Laden for fear of missing him and bombing the rubble.

    “And then I asked him, ‘Well, what about the Taliban?’ The United States had warned the Taliban, indeed threatened the Taliban on at least three occasions, all of which is set out in our 9/11 Commission final report, that if bin Laden, who had refuge in Afghanistan, were to strike against U.S. interests then we would respond against the Taliban.

    “”BLITZER: Now, that was warnings during the Clinton administration. . . .

    “BEN-VENISTE: That’s correct.

    “BLITZER: . . . the final years of the Clinton administration.

    “BEN-VENISTE: That’s correct.

    “BLITZER: So you the asked the president in the Oval Office — and the vice president — why didn’t you go after the Taliban in those eight months before 9/11 after he was president. What did he say?

    “BEN-VENISTE: Well, now that it was established that al Qaeda was responsible for the Cole bombing and the president was briefed in January of 2001, soon after he took office, by George Tenet, head of the CIA, telling him of the finding that al Qaeda was responsible, and I said, ‘Well, why wouldn’t you go after the Taliban in order to get them to kick bin Laden out of Afghanistan?’

    “Maybe, just maybe, who knows — we don’t know the answer to that question — but maybe that could have affected the 9/11 plot.

    “BLITZER: What did he say?

    “BEN-VENISTE: He said that no one had told him that we had made that threat. And I found that very discouraging and surprising.

    “BLITZER: Now, I read this report, the 9/11 Commission report. This is a big, thick book. I don’t see anything and I don’t remember seeing anything about this exchange that you had with the president in this report.

    “BEN-VENISTE: Well, I had hoped that we had — we would have made both the Clinton interview and the Bush interview a part of our report, but that was not to be. I was outvoted on that question. . . .

    “BLITZER: Now, you haven’t spoken publicly about this, your interview in the Oval Office, together with the other commissioners, the president and the vice president. Why are you doing that right now?

    “BEN-VENISTE: Well, I think it’s an important subject. The issue of the Cole is an important subject, and there has been a lot of politicization over this issue, why didn’t President Clinton respond?

    “Well, we set forth in the report the reasons, and that is because the CIA had not given the president the conclusion that al Qaeda was responsible. That did not occur until some point in December. It was reiterated in a briefing to the — to the new president in January….

    “BLITZER: Well, let me stop you for a second. If former President Clinton knew in December. . . .

    “BEN-VENISTE: Right.

    “BLITZER: . . . that the CIA and the FBI had, in his words, certified that al Qaeda was responsible, he was still president until January 20, 2001. He had a month, let’s say, or at least a few weeks to respond.

    “Why didn’t he?

    “BEN-VENISTE: Well, I think that was a question of whether a president who would be soon leaving office would initiate an attack against a foreign country, Afghanistan. And I think that was left up to the new administration. But strangely, in the transition there did not seem to be any great interest by the Bush administration, at least none that we found, in pursuing the question of plans which were being drawn up to attack in Afghanistan as a response to the Cole.

    “BLITZER: Now, as best of my recollection, when you went to the Oval Office with your other commissioners, the president and the vice president did that together. That was a joint interview.

    “BEN-VENISTE: At the request of the president.

    “BLITZER: Did the vice president say anything to you? Did he know that this warning had been given to the Taliban, who were then ruling Afghanistan, if there’s another attack on the United States, we’re going to go after you because you harbor al Qaeda? And there was this attack on the USS Cole.

    “BEN-VENISTE: The vice president did not at that point volunteer any information about the Cole.

    “BLITZER: So what’s your — did the president say to you — did the president say, you know, ‘I made a mistake, I wish we would have done something’? What did he say when you continually — when you pressed him? And I know you’re a former prosecutor, you know how to drill, try to press a point.

    “BEN-VENISTE: Well, the president made a humorous remark about the fact that — asking me whether I had ever lost an argument, and I reminded him that — or I informed him that I, too, had two daughters. And so we passed that.”

If it weren’t for the fact that he looks older, I’d swear George W. Bush was some random 17-year-old somebody hauled to Washington and installed in the Oval Office as President.

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Condiliar Strikes Back

Bush Administration, September 11, Terrorism

Following up the last post, which describes how the Bush Administration failed to take action to prevent the 9/11 attack — Condi Rice gave the New York Post an exclusive interview rebutting Bill Clinton

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice yesterday accused Bill Clinton of making “flatly false” claims that the Bush administration didn’t lift a finger to stop terrorism before the 9/11 attacks.

Rice hammered Clinton, who leveled his charges in a contentious weekend interview with Chris Wallace of Fox News Channel, for his claims that the Bush administration “did not try” to kill Osama bin Laden in the eight months they controlled the White House before the Sept. 11 attacks.

“The notion somehow for eight months the Bush administration sat there and didn’t do that is just flatly false – and I think the 9/11 commission understood that,” Rice said during a wide-ranging meeting with Post editors and reporters.

“What we did in the eight months was at least as aggressive as what the Clinton administration did in the preceding years,” Rice added.

Rice lies.

I combed through the article looking for all the ways the Bushies were at least as aggressive as what Clinton did. Here’s one:

“I would just suggest that you go back and read the 9/11 commission report on the efforts of the Bush administration in the eight months – things like working to get an armed Predator [drone] that actually turned out to be extraordinarily important,” Rice added.

In the last post I quoted a Newsweek article from 2002 (not free content) which said,

Rumsfeld vetoed a request to divert $800 million from missile defense into counterterrorism. The Pentagon chief also seemed uninterested in a tactic for observing bin Laden left over from the Clinton administration: the CIA’s Predator surveillance plane. Upon leaving office, the Clintonites left open the possibility of sending the Predator back up armed with Hellfire missiles, which were tested in February 2001. But through the spring and summer of 2001, when valuable intelligence could have been gathered, the Bush administration never launched even an unarmed Predator. Hill sources say DOD didn’t want the CIA treading on its turf.

Ah, but that’s old information. What did the 9/11 report actually say? I found comments on the drone beginning on page 210:

The main debate during the summer of 2001 concentrated on the one new mechanism for a lethal attack on Bin Ladin–an armed version of the Predator drone.

In the first months of the new administration, questions concerning the Predator became more and more a central focus of dispute. Clarke favored resuming Predator flights over Afghanistan as soon as weather permitted, hoping that they still might provide the elusive “actionable intelligence” to target Bin Ladin with cruise missiles. Learning that the Air Force was thinking of equipping Predators with warheads, Clarke became even more enthusiastic about redeployment.

The CTC chief, Cofer Black, argued against deploying the Predator for reconnaissance purposes. He recalled that the Taliban had spotted a Predator in the fall of 2000 and scrambled their MiG fighters. Black wanted to wait until the armed version was ready.” I do not believe the possible recon value outweighs the risk of possible program termination when the stakes are raised by the Taliban parading a charred Predator in front of CNN,” he wrote. Military officers in the Joint Staff shared this concern. There is some dispute as to whether or not the Deputies Committee endorsed resuming reconnaissance flights at its April 30, 2001, meeting. In any event, Rice and Hadley ultimately went along with the CIA and the Pentagon, holding off on reconnaissance flights until the armed Predator was ready.

The CIA’s senior management saw problems with the armed Predator as well, problems that Clarke and even Black and Allen were inclined to minimize. One (which also applied to reconnaissance flights) was money. A Predator cost about $3 million. If the CIA flew Predators for its own reconnaissance or covert action purposes, it might be able to borrow them from the Air Force, but it was not clear that the Air Force would bear the cost if a vehicle went down. Deputy Secretary of Defense Wolfowitz took the position that the CIA should have to pay for it; the CIA disagreed.

Second, Tenet in particular questioned whether he, as Director of Central Intelligence, should operate an armed Predator.” This was new ground,”he told us. Tenet ticked off key questions:What is the chain of command? Who takes the shot? Are America’s leaders comfortable with the CIA doing this, going outside of normal military command and control? Charlie Allen told us that when these questions were discussed at the CIA, he and the Agency’s executive director, A. B.”Buzzy” Krongard, had said that either one of them would be happy to pull the trigger, but Tenet was appalled, telling them that they had no authority to do it, nor did he.

Third, the Hellfire warhead carried by the Predator needed work. It had been built to hit tanks, not people. It needed to be designed to explode in a different way, and even then had to be targeted with extreme precision. In the configuration planned by the Air Force through mid-2001,the Predator’s missile would not be able to hit a moving vehicle.

White House officials had seen the Predator video of the “man in white.” On July 11, Hadley tried to hurry along preparation of the armed system. He directed McLaughlin, Wolfowitz, and Joint Chiefs Vice Chairman Richard Myers to deploy Predators capable of being armed no later than September 1. He also directed that they have cost-sharing arrangements in place by August 1. Rice told us that this attempt by Hadley to dictate a solution had failed and that she eventually had to intervene herself.

On August 1, the Deputies Committee met again to discuss the armed Predator. They concluded that it was legal for the CIA to kill Bin Ladin or one of his deputies with the Predator. Such strikes would be acts of self-defense that would not violate the ban on assassinations in Executive Order 12333. The big issues–who would pay for what, who would authorize strikes, and who would pull the trigger–were left for the principals to settle. The Defense Department representatives did not take positions on these issues.

The CIA’s McLaughlin had also been reticent. When Hadley circulated a memorandum attempting to prod the deputies to reach agreement, McLaughlin sent it back with a handwritten comment on the cost-sharing:”we question whether it is advisable to make such an investment before the decision is taken on flying an armed Predator.” For Clarke, this came close to being a final straw. He angrily asked Rice to call Tenet.” Either al Qida is a threat worth acting against or it is not,” Clarke wrote.” CIA leadership has to decide which it is and cease these bi-polar mood swings.”

These debates, though, had little impact in advancing or delaying efforts to make the Predator ready for combat. Those were in the hands of military officers and engineers. General John Jumper had commanded U.S. air forces in Europe and seen Predators used for reconnaissance in the Balkans. He started the program to develop an armed version and, after returning in 2000 to head the Air Combat Command, took direct charge of it.

There were numerous technical problems, especially with the Hellfire missiles. The Air Force tests conducted during the spring were inadequate, so missile testing needed to continue and modifications needed to be made during the summer. Even then, Jumper told us, problems with the equipment persisted. Nevertheless, the Air Force was moving at an extraordinary pace.” In the modern era, since the 1980s,”Jumper said to us,”I would be shocked if you found anything that went faster than this.”

September 2001

The Principals Committee had its first meeting on al Qaeda on September 4. On the day of the meeting, Clarke sent Rice an impassioned personal note. He criticized U.S. counterterrorism efforts past and present. The “real question” before the principals, he wrote, was “are we serious about dealing with the al Qida threat? . . . Is al Qida a big deal? . . . Decision makers should imagine themselves on a future day when the CSG has not succeeded in stopping al Qida attacks and hundreds of Americans lay dead in several countries, including the US,” Clarke wrote. “What would those decision makers wish that they had done earlier? That future day could happen at any time.”

So, in a nutshell, through the spring and summer of 2001, when valuable intelligence could have been gathered, while Condi and crew were spinning their wheels over an armed Predator, the Bushies never launched even an unarmed Predator. The DOD didn’t want the CIA treading on its turf.

This is Condi’s version of being “at least as aggressive” as the Clinton Administration? At least the Clinton White House made use of unarmed drones to spy on bin Laden. Condi is blowin’ smoke. The Drone exemplifies exactly the opposite of what Condi claims.

There’s more on the dithering over the drones revealed in CBS and Fox News reports from 2003.

Now, let’s go back to the New York Post story for Condi’s other criticism of the Clinton interview.

She also said Clinton’s claims that Richard Clarke – the White House anti-terror guru hyped by Clinton as the country’s “best guy” – had been demoted by Bush were bogus.

“Richard Clarke was the counterterrorism czar when 9/11 happened. And he left when he did not become deputy director of homeland security, some several months later,” she said.

How can you tell when Condi Rice is lying? It’s when her lips are moving. As Fred Kaplan explained,

Clarke wasn’t a Cabinet secretary, but as Clinton’s NCC, he ran the “Principals Committee” meetings on counterterrorism, which were attended by Cabinet secretaries. Two NSC senior directors reported to Clarke directly, and he had reviewing power over relevant sections of the federal budget.

Clarke writes (and nobody has disputed) that when Condi Rice took over the NSC, she kept him onboard and preserved his title but demoted the position. He would no longer participate in, much less run, Principals’ meetings. He would report to deputy secretaries. He would have no staff and would attend no more meetings with budget officials.

Clarke probably resented the slight, took it personally. But he also saw it as a downgrading of the issue, a sign that al-Qaida was no longer taken as the urgent threat that the Clinton White House had come to interpret it. (One less-noted aspect of Clarke’s book is its detailed description of the major steps that Clinton took to combat terrorism.)

The Post staff, in their official function as propagandists and mouthpieces for the VRWC, did not fact check Condi’s remarks. That this exclusive was given to the Post suggests to me that Condi didn’t want the piece fact checked; indeed, she didn’t want the general public looking at it real hard at all. By talking to the New York Post she catapulted the propaganda directly at the Right.

But now I want to go back to the 9/11 Commission Report quote from above. This bit is on page 212:

The Principals Committee had its first meeting on al Qaeda on September 4. On the day of the meeting, Clarke sent Rice an impassioned personal note. He criticized U.S. counterterrorism efforts past and present. The “real question” before the principals, he wrote, was “are we serious about dealing with the al Qida threat? . . . Is al Qida a big deal? . . . Decision makers should imagine themselves on a future day when the CSG has not succeeded in stopping al Qida attacks and hundreds of Americans lay dead in several countries, including the US,” Clarke wrote. “What would those decision makers wish that they had done earlier? That future day could happen at any time.”

The Principals Committee had its first meeting on al Qaeda on September 4.
Yeah, real aggressive, Condi. Took you more than seven months to hold a bleeping meeting.

The Principals Committee of the National Security Council was established by Poppy Bush, a.k.a. “41.” Apparently this is a Big Deal committee. Richard Clarke sent a memo to Condi Rice on January 25, 2001, which said “We urgently need . . . a Principals level review on the al Qida network.”

The “urgent” meeting was held, finally, on September 4. In Condi World, urgent and aggressive mean “dither for more than seven months.”

Finally, let’s go back to the New York Post story one more time:

The secretary of state also sharply disputed Clinton’s claim that he “left a comprehensive anti-terror strategy” for the incoming Bush team during the presidential transition in 2001.

“We were not left a comprehensive strategy to fight al Qaeda,” Rice responded during the hourlong session.

Would it surprise you if I told you Condi is lying? Let’s go back to this page.

Washington, D.C., February 10, 2005 – The National Security Archive today posted the widely-debated, but previously unavailable, January 25, 2001, memo from counterterrorism coordinator Richard Clarke to national security advisor Condoleezza Rice – the first terrorism strategy paper of the Bush administration. The document was central to debates in the 9/11 hearings over the Bush administration’s policies and actions on terrorism before September 11, 2001. Clarke’s memo requests an immediate meeting of the National Security Council’s Principals Committee to discuss broad strategies for combating al-Qaeda by giving counterterrorism aid to the Northern Alliance and Uzbekistan, expanding the counterterrorism budget and responding to the U.S.S. Cole attack. Despite Clarke’s request, there was no Principals Committee meeting on al-Qaeda until September 4, 2001.

The January 25, 2001, memo, recently released to the National Security Archive by the National Security Council, bears a declassification stamp of April 7, 2004, one day prior to Rice’s testimony before the 9/11 Commission on April 8, 2004. Responding to claims that she ignored the al-Qaeda threat before September 11, Rice stated in a March 22, 2004 Washington Post op-ed, “No al Qaeda plan was turned over to the new administration.”

Two days after Rice’s March 22 op-ed, Clarke told the 9/11 Commission, “there’s a lot of debate about whether it’s a plan or a strategy or a series of options — but all of the things we recommended back in January were those things on the table in September. They were done. They were done after September 11th. They were all done. I didn’t really understand why they couldn’t have been done in February.”

Also attached to the original Clarke memo are two Clinton-era documents relating to al-Qaeda. The first, “Tab A December 2000 Paper: Strategy for Eliminating the Threat from the Jihadist Networks of al-Qida: Status and Prospects,” was released to the National Security Archive along with the Clarke memo. “Tab B, September 1998 Paper: Pol-Mil Plan for al-Qida,” also known as the Delenda Plan, was attached to the original memo, but was not released to the Archive and remains under request with the National Security Council.

It appears The NSC is still sitting on Tab B, “Pol-Mil Plan for al-Qida.” Or else sometime on September 12, 2001, Condi ran it through a shredder.

Update: More about the “comprehensive strategy to fight al Qaeda” that Condi doesn’t remember at ThinkProgress. Apparently the 9/11 Commission says she got it.

As the Clinton administration drew to a close, Clarke and his staff developed a policy paper of their own [which] incorporated the CIA’s new ideas from the Blue Sky memo, and posed several near-term policy options. Clarke and his staff proposed a goal to “roll back” al Qaeda over a period of three to five years …[including] covert aid to the Northern Alliance, covert aid to Uzbekistan, and renewed Predator flights in March 2001. A sentence called for military action to destroy al Qaeda command-and control targets and infrastructure and Taliban military and command assets. The paper also expressed concern about the presence of al Qaeda operatives in the United States.” [p. 197]

Update update:
From the Department o’ Stupid Sheep — Several rightie bloggers, including the Anchoress, complain that “the MSM’ didn’t fact check Clinton. Everything Condi says is, of course, automatically true. None of the sheep bothered to check what she told the New York Post against the 9/11 commission report.

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