Thursday, June 22, 2006

No Need To Be Informed When You're Born With The Answers

“In "The One Percent Doctrine," Mr. Suskind discloses that First Data Corporation — one of the world's largest processors of credit card transactions and the parent company of Western Union — began cooperating with the F.B.I. in the wake of 9/11, providing information on financial transactions and wire transfers from around the world. The huge data-gathering operation in some respects complemented the National Security Agency's domestic surveillance program (secretly authorized by Mr. Bush months after the Sept. 11 attacks), which monitored specific conversations as well as combed through large volumes of phone and Internet traffic in search of patterns that might lead to terrorism suspects.

Despite initial misgivings on the part of Western Union executives, Mr. Suskind reports, the company also worked with the C.I.A. and provided real-time information on financial transactions as they occurred.

Mr. Suskind's book also reveals that Qaeda operatives had designed a delivery system (which they called a "mubtakkar") for a lethal gas, and that the United States government had a Qaeda source who said that plans for a hydrogen cyanide attack on New York City's subway system were well under way in early 2003, but the attack was called off — for reasons that remain unclear — by Osama bin Laden's deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri. The book also reports that Al Qaeda had produced "extremely virulent" anthrax in Afghanistan before 9/11, which "could be easily reproduced to create a quantity that could be readily weaponized."

Just as disturbing as Al Qaeda's plans and capabilities are the descriptions of the Bush administration's handling of the war on terror and its willful determination to go to war against Iraq. That war, according to the author's sources who attended National Security Council briefings in 2002, was primarily waged "to make an example" of Saddam Hussein, to "create a demonstration model to guide the behavior of anyone with the temerity to acquire destructive weapons or, in any way, flout the authority of the United States."

"The One Percent Doctrine" amplifies an emerging portrait of the administration (depicted in a flurry of recent books by authors as disparate as the Reagan administration economist Bruce Bartlett and the former Coalition Provisional Authority adviser Larry Diamond) as one eager to circumvent traditional processes of policy development and policy review, and determined to use experts (whether in the C.I.A., the Treasury Department or the military) not to help formulate policy, but simply to sell predetermined initiatives to the American public.

Mr. Suskind writes that the war on terror gave the president and vice president "vast, creative prerogatives": "to do what they want, when they want to, for whatever reason they decide" and to "create whatever reality was convenient." The potent wartime authority granted the White House in the wake of 9/11, he says, dovetailed with the administration's pre-9/11 desire to amp up executive power (diminished, Mr. Cheney and others believed, by Watergate) and to impose "message discipline" on government staffers.

"The public, and Congress, acquiesced," Mr. Suskind notes, "with little real resistance, to a 'need to know' status — told only what they needed to know, with that determination made exclusively, and narrowly, by the White House." ”

Most of us didn't want to know.

So all of us got what most of us wanted.

That's a real problem when most of us amounts to the 50.01 percent of the minority of our electorate that atually bothers to vote. When the executive declares that bare minority majority to be a mandate, a constitutional crisis is all but unavoidable.

In "The One Percent Doctrine," he writes that Mr. Cheney's nickname inside the C.I.A. was Edgar (as in Edgar Bergen), casting Mr. Bush in the puppet role of Charlie McCarthy, and cites one instance after another in which the president was not fully briefed (or had failed to read the basic paperwork) about a
crucial situation.

During a November 2001 session with the president, Mr. Suskind recounts, a C.I.A. briefer realized that the Pentagon had not told Mr. Bush of the C.I.A.'s urgent concern that Osama bin Laden might escape from the Tora Bora area of Afghanistan (as he indeed later did) if United States reinforcements were not promptly sent in. And several months later, he says, attendees at a meeting between Mr. Bush and the Saudis discovered after the fact that an important packet laying out the Saudis' views about the Israeli-Palestinian situation had been diverted to the vice president's office and never reached the president.

Keeping information away from the president, Mr. Suskind argues, was a calculated White House strategy that gave Mr. Bush "plausible deniability" from Mr. Cheney's point of view, and that perfectly meshed with the commander in chief's own impatience with policy details. Suggesting that Mr. Bush
deliberately did not read the full National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, which was delivered to the White House in the fall of 2002, Mr. Suskind writes: "Keeping certain knowledge from Bush — much of it shrouded, as well, by classification — meant that the president, whose each word circles the globe,
could advance various strategies by saying whatever was needed. He could essentially be 'deniable' about his own statements."

Deniability metastisized

Need to use water torture on a suspect, but don't want to be a torturer?

Just redefine torture to exclude the coercive measures you've decided to apply.

How can anyone accuse you of breaking the law?

Don't they know the law is whatever the (p)resident says is law?

The recently retired war correspondent Joe Galloway describes the consequences of arrogance this way in his column last week on Haditha.

While he argued that any troops who committed crimes there must pay the price, much of the blame rests instead with officers who allowed it to happen and "political leaders" who have never "experienced the stress and insanity of combat, who took this nation to war in Iraq on a whim and a grudge."

Those who started the war, he added, have "managed it with the greatest accumulation of arrogance and ignorance and incompetence seen in wartime since World War I, or perhaps the Charge of the Light Brigade."

Then, this week, he observed that amid the current focus on Iraq, "no one appears to be noticing that heading south at an alarming pace."

He noted that "Mullah Omar's Taliban are on the comeback trail with a vengeance, operating in well-armed and disciplined battalion-size units in the south. Drawing on the experience of the Iraqi insurgents, the Taliban forces are employing more sophisticated improvised explosive devices as well as mines and ambushes against Afghan government forces and foreign military and aid officials.

"This is happening just a month before U.S. forces are scheduled to begin turning over responsibility for that volatile region to some of our NATO allies."

He then chronicled the errors in efforts to secure the situation after overthrowing the Taliban, caused by a White House "hell-bent on jumping off into a much higher-profile war in Iraq ....Before 2001 even ended, the administration began siphoning off some of the resources needed to finish Job One in Afghanistan to prepare for the invasion of Iraq.... Afghanistan would languish as a backwater, an afterthought, a 'victory' in the global war on terror to be trotted out occasionally to take people's minds off Iraq.

"If there was one place where we should have maintained full focus, it was Afghanistan. If there is one place where you never take your eye off the ball, it is Afghanistan. That's a lesson learned the hard way by invading armies from Alexander to the British Empire to the Soviet Union."

From Editor and Publisher
con·cept: No Need To Be Informed When You're Born With The Answers