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Pentagon planning strikes in Lebanon
- January 22: According to respected insider journal Jane's Intelligence Digest, the Pentagon is planning multiple military strikes against suspected terrorist bases in both Lebanon and Somalia. While Somalia is essentially in anarchy and a strike within its borders probably won't agitate other governments, strikes within Lebanon will certainly agitate Syria, who controls the Bekaa Valley, the likely target of such US military strikes. It's also possible, even likely, that US forces may find themselves in direct confrontations with Syrian troops. The US is pressuring Syria to stop supporting Hizbullah and other Palestinian guerrilla groups, and these planned strikes may be part of that pressure. According to Jane's, "[t]he US administration has long considered Damascus as a prime candidate for 'regime-change' (along with Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and possibly even Saudi Arabia). Syria, once a powerhouse of Arab radicalism that could not be ignored, has been seriously weakened, both militarily and politically. Washington may feel that the time is coming to oust Bashir Al-Assad and the ruling generals. Targeting Syria via Lebanon, the only concrete political influence Damascus has to show following decades of radical diplomacy, could prove to be a means to that end.... Moreover, since the 11 September 2001 attacks, Washington has been keen to prove that Hizbullah has a global reach, and is thus a legitimate target for its war on terrorism. Thus far, US intelligence services have been unable to produce compelling evidence supporting this claim. So instead of launching military strikes, the Bush administration has sought to weaken Hizbullah by putting pressure on Iran, the movement's ideological mentor, and on Syria, which has used the Shia militants as what amounts to a proxy force against Israel over the last 20 years.... Washington's own focus on Hizbullah has intensified amid claims that the movement has links with al-Qaeda (even though Hizbullah is staunchly Shia, while Al-Qaeda's religious ideology stems from the puritanical Wahhabite sect of Sunni Islam). Whether there is any actual operational alliance between Hizbullah and Al-Qaeda remains highly questionable." (Jane's Intelligence Digest/Defense Tech)
CIA predicts civil war in Iraq
- January 22: Current and former CIA officials warn that Iraq is on a straight, short path to civil war, flatly contradicting the rosy picture of Iraq presented during the president's State of the Union address two days before. The two largest groups in Iraq, the Shi'ite Muslims and the Kurds, both seek greater independence. "Both the Shiites and the Kurds think that now's their time," one intelligence officer said. "They think that if they don't get what they want now, they'll probably never get it. Both of them feel they've been betrayed by the United States before." The situation has been discussed by Bush, Bush's top national security aides and Iraq's administrator, Paul Bremer. Another senior official says the concerns over a possible civil war are "broadly held within the government," including by regional experts at the State Department and National Security Council. Top officials are scrambling to save the US exit strategy after concluding Iraq's most powerful Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani, is unlikely to drop his demand for elections for an interim assembly that would choose an interim government by July 1. Bremer then would hand over power to the interim government. Bush, in his State of the Union address, insisted an insurgency against the US occupation, conducted primarily by minority Sunni Muslims who enjoyed power under Saddam Hussein, "will fail, and the Iraqi people will live in freedom. ...Month by month, Iraqis are assuming more responsibility for their own security and their own future," Bush said.
- A top cleric in the Shi'ite holy city of Najaf appears to confirm the fears of potential civil war. "Everything has its own time, but we are saying that we don't accept the occupiers getting involved with the Iraqis' affairs," says Sheikh Ali Najafi, whose father, Grand Ayatollah Bashir al Najafi, is, along with al-Sistani, one of the four most senior Shi'ite clerics in Iraq. "I don't trust the Americans, not even for one blink." If the United States went ahead with the caucus plan and ended the military occupation, the interim government wouldn't last, he says. "The Iraqi people would know how to deal with those people. They would kick them out." US and British officials hint that they may give in somewhat to the demands for free and open elections. "We've always favored elections," claims Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. "The only question is -- the tension was, if your goal is to get sovereignty passed to the Iraqis so that they feel they have a stake in their future, can you do it faster with caucuses or can you do it faster with elections?" Rumsfeld's comments come on the heels of similar comments made by British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw: "The discussion, which has been stimulated by Ayatollah Sistani, is whether there could be an element of elections injected into the earlier part of the process," Straw said at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, yesterday. "We have to work with great respect for him and similar leaders. We want elections as soon as it is feasible to hold them."
- State Department officials say no changes to the Bremer plan are being considered formally. They say much depends on the findings of a UN assessment team that the Bush administration has asked UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to send to examine the feasibility of elections. One option being discussed informally is to delay the transfer of power until later in 2004, which might give the United Nations time to organize some sort of elections, one official says. But that is almost certain to be opposed by White House political aides who want the occupation over and many US troops gone by summer to bolster Bush's re-election chances, the official says. "It's all politics right now," he says. Other options are to go ahead with the June 30 turnover as planned, whatever the fallout, or to accelerate it by handing over power to the Iraqi Governing Council in March or April, he notes. (Seattle Times)
- January 22: North Korea could be producing nuclear weapons at the rate of eight to 13 a year in the next year or two, according to the International Institute of Strategic Studies. The US is currently engaged in secretive negotiations with the North Koreans to limit or eradicate that country's nuclear capability, but the negotiations have so far borne little fruit. The IISS says the window for US diplomacy may be shorter than the US believes, and that if North Korea establishes a sizeable arsenal, it may be less willing to negotiate. Due to the intense shroud of secrecy surrounding just about everything North Korea does, it is difficult to assess the actual state of its nuclear program. (Guardian)
- January 22: Vice President Cheney gives an interview to NPR's Juan Williams in which he continues to assert that Iraq has "massive" weapons of mass destruction, many of which have already been discovered (!). In the interview, Cheney continues to spread long-discredited lies about Iraq's WMDs, including the story about mobile bioweapons labs: "We know, for example, that prior to our going in that he had spent time and effort acquiring mobile biological weapons labs, and we're quite confident he did, in fact, have such a program. We've found a couple of semi trailers at this point which we believe were, in fact, part of that program. Now it's not clear at this stage whether or not he used any of that to produce or whether he was simply getting ready for the next war. That, in my mind, is a serious danger in the hands of a man like Saddam Hussein, and I would deem that conclusive evidence, if you will, that he did, in fact, have programs for weapons of mass destruction." Williams fails to note that the trailers Cheney describes have long been proven to have been constructed for producing hydrogen for artillery balloons, a claim made in June 2003 and verified in recent days by the weapons inspection teams led by Dr. David Kay. Apparently, as the organization Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting notes, "By failing to challenge Cheney's dubious claims, Williams may have been practicing the kind of journalism that he thought NPR expected. After NPR host Terry Gross interviewed Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly on the Fresh Air program...she was reprimanded in NPR ombudsman Jeffrey Dvorkin's online column...: 'I agree with the listeners who complained about the tone of the interview: Her questions were pointed from the beginning.' Perhaps Williams took from that the lesson that asking 'pointed' questions is something NPR's journalists should avoid."
- During the same interview, Cheney again asserts as absolute fact the so-called connections between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda: "I continue to believe. I think there's overwhelming evidence that there was a connection between al-Qaeda and the Iraqi government. We've discovered since documents indicating that a guy named Abdul Rahman Yasin, who was a part of the team that attacked the World Trade Center in '93, when he arrived back in Iraq was put on the payroll and provided a house, safe harbor and sanctuary. That's public information now. So Saddam Hussein had an established track record of providing safe harbor and sanctuary for terrorists.... I mean, this is a guy who was an advocate and a supporter of terrorism whenever it suited his purpose, and I'm very confident that there was an established relationship there." At this point, most US intelligence analysts are dubious at best about any such relationship between Hussein and al-Qaeda. In the days and years to follow, as the contention of such a relationship is more and more disproven, Cheney, like Bush and other administration officials, will deny having ever made such claims. (FAIR, Bush on Iraq, Frank Rich [PDF file])
GOP intrusion into Democratic strategy documents far more extensive than originally thought
- January 22: The Republican intrusion into private Democratic computer files, once derided as fantastical by GOP senator Orrin Hatch, was far more expansive than originally thought. Republican staff members of the US Senate Judiciary Commitee infiltrated Democratic computer files for a year, monitoring secret strategy memos and periodically passing on copies to the media. The illegal intrusions took place from the spring of 2002 until at least April of 2003; the infiltration began when GOP staffers discovered a "glitch" in the computer network's security system that allowed them to access Democratic files and documents. Instead of reporting the security flaw, they began reading private Democratic e-mails and files, including notes, talking points, and accounts of private meetings discussing which judicial nominees Democrats would fight and with what tactics. Some of this material ended up being printed wholesale in the pages of various conservative media outlets as well as being posted on the Internet. With the help of forensic computer experts from General Dynamics and the US Secret Service, Senate Sergeant-at-Arms William Pickle's office has interviewed about 120 people to date and seized more than half a dozen computers, including four Judiciary servers, one server from the office of Senate majority leader Bill Frist of Tennessee, and several desktop hard drives. Democrats are sure that their memos formed the basis for a February 2003 column by conservative pundit Robert Novak that revealed plans pushed by Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy to filibuster certain judicial nominees.
- Novak is also at the center of an investigation into who leaked the identity of a CIA agent whose husband contradicted a Bush administration claim about Iraqi nuclear programs. Citing "internal Senate sources," Novak's column described closed-door Democratic meetings about how to handle nominees. Its details and direct quotes from Democrats -- characterizing former nominee Miguel Estrada as a "stealth right-wing zealot" and describing the GOP agenda as an "assembly line" for right-wing nominees -- are contained in talking points and meeting accounts from the Democratic files now known to have been compromised. As news of the extent of the theft spreads, Republicans have come up with a new excuse, typically shifting the blame onto the Democrats themselves: they now claim that in the summer of 2002, their own computer technician told his Democratic counterpart of the security breach, but the Democrats did not bother to fix the problem. Other GOP staffers contradict this claim, saying that Democrats were told nothing about the problem until November 2003. Democrats intend to continue pushing an investigation, which may result in ethics complaints to the Senate and the Washington bar, or even criminal charges. "They had an obligation to tell each of the people whose files they were intruding upon -- assuming it was an accident -- that that was going on so those people could protect themselves," says one Senate staffer. "To keep on getting these files is just beyond the pale."
- Tracy Schmaler, spokeswoman for the committee's Democrats, says the Democrats share Hatch's outrage over the computer security violations: "This is unethical and immoral behavior that cannot and should not be tolerated." Republicans, however, dismiss the crimes and focus on the contents of the memos and documents, which they say proves the extent of the influence of liberal interest groups on Democrats' response to judicial nominees proposed by the Bush administration. Hatch confirms that "at least one current member of the Judiciary Committee staff had improperly accessed at least some of the documents referenced in media reports." He did not name the staffer, who he said was being placed on leave and who sources said has since resigned, although he had apparently already announced plans to return to school later this year. Officials familiar with the investigation identified that person as a legislative staff assistant whose name was removed from a list of Judiciary Committee staff in the most recent update of a Capitol Hill directory. Hatch also said that a "former member of the Judiciary staff may have been involved." News reports have subsequently identified that person as Manuel Miranda, who formerly worked in the Judiciary Committee office and now is the chief judicial nominee adviser in the Senate majority leader's office. His computer hard drive name was stamped on an e-mail from the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League that was posted along with the Democratic Senate staff communications. Reached at home, Miranda said he is on paternity leave; Frist's office said he is on leave "pending the results of the investigation" -- he denied that any of the handwritten comments on the memos were by his hand and said he did not distribute the memos to the media. He also argued that the only wrongdoing was on the part of the Democrats -- both for the content of their memos, and for their negligence in placing them where they could be seen. "There appears to have been no hacking, no stealing, and no violation of any Senate rule," Miranda argues. "stealing assumes a property right and there is no property right to a government document.... These documents are not covered under the Senate disclosure rule because they are not official business and, to the extent they were disclosed, they were disclosed inadvertently by negligent [Democratic] staff."
- Schmaler says that Republicans could not justify improper access to restricted Democratic correspondence that was mistakenly unprotected by passwords. Doing so, she said, would be like "blaming the victim whose car was broken into by a burglar for leaving the trunk unlocked." Whether the memos are ultimately deemed to be official business will be a central issue in any criminal case that could result. Unauthorized access of such material could be punishable by up to a year in prison -- or, at the least, sanction under a Senate non-disclosure rule. (Boston Globe, Knoxville News-Sentinel)
- January 22: As Nigeria's government weathers accusation after accusation of corruption, evidence linking Nigerian corruption to the Bush administration is coming to light. A French judge is considering charges against Vice President Cheney over allegations that his former company, Halliburton, paid $180 million in bribes to build a Nigerian gas plant. Halliburton denies the accusations. Cheney was head of Halliburton for five of the seven years during which the secret payments were allegedly made. Nigerian prosecutors also have been investigating a disclosure by Halliburton that an official of its subsidiary Kellogg Brown & Root allegedly paid $2.4 million to a Nigerian official in 2001 in return for lower taxes.
- January 22: The Guardian's Timothy Garton Ash says of US interventionism in the Middle East, "I have never thought that the greatest danger from American policy under George Bush was that it would go storming around the world, deposing dictator after dictator, occupying country after country, in pursuit of a neo-conservative program of revolution from above. The greater danger was always that the United States would start intervening, and then retreat into its own vast carelessness, preoccupied with domestic issues, leaving the job abroad half-done." (Guardian)
- January 22: Daniel Levitas, author of a book on homegrown terrorism in the US, The Terrorist Next Door, warns that America's focus on Islamic terrorism risks allowing domestic terrorist to operate largely unchecked. Levitas warns that the case of recently arrested Texan William Krar, a right-wing extremist who was building powerful chemical bombs, is only one of many incidents all but ignored by the Justice Department and the US media. James Kopp, who was found guilty in 2003 for the 1998 shooting of abortion provider Dr. Barnett Slepian in Buffalo, New York, was affiliated with the shadowy underground anti-abortion network the Army of God. Matthew Hale, leader of the white supremacist group the World Church of the Creator, is due to stand trial in Chicago this year on charges of soliciting the murder of a federal judge. And Rafael Davila, a former Army National Guard intelligence officer from Washington, is awaiting trial in Spokane on espionage-related charges for allegedly stealing, and then planning to distribute, highly classified military documents to white supremacists in North Carolina, Texas and Georgia. "Americans should question whether the Justice Department is making America's far-right fanatics a serious priority. And with the FBI still struggling to get up to speed on the threat posed by Islamic extremists abroad, it is questionable whether the agency has the manpower to keep tabs on our distinctly American terror cells," says Levitas. He goes on to say, "The events of 9/11 have really overshadowed everything on the subject of terrorism and so if the story is not about fanatically violent Islamicists or the discovery of weapons of mass destruction in the desert of Iraq, it is harder to focus the attention of both the media and law enforcement. Of course, there have been high-profile stories about the radical right here at home –- the arrest of alleged abortion clinic bomber Eric Rudolph is a good example –- but, by and large, there is just less interest in our American versions of al-Qaeda. Rest assured, if the arsenals attributed to right-wing extremists were found in the hands of people linked to Islamic terrorists here in the United States, we'd be hearing very often and loudly about it from the US Attorney General, John Ashcroft." (Alternet)
- January 22: In another example of Republican tact and decorum, Senator Trent Lott calls fellow Senator Hillary Clinton "butt-ugly" and characterizes former Carter administration official and journalist Hodding Carter III as "Hodding the Turd." Carter laughs off Lott's statements. "That's my boy," he says, laughing and recalling that their mutual "animus" dated to the days when Carter owned a newspaper in Greenville, Mississippi. "I ran editorials saying then what he is now: a racist piece of dreck." Clinton declines to respond to Lott's characterization. Lott spokeswoman Susan Irby said, "These are inaccurate ramblings of a disgruntled writer who didn't get his book contract." (The stories come from the Washingtonian's National Editor Kim Eisler, who was rejected by Lott to co-author his biography.) (Washington Post)
- January 23: David Kay, stepping down as leader of the US hunt for weapons of mass destruction, says he does not believe there were ever any large stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons in Iraq. "I don't think they existed," Kay says. "What everyone was talking about is stockpiles produced after the end of the last Gulf War and I don't think there was a large-scale production program in the '90s." Kay believes most of what is going to be found in the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq has been found and that the hunt will become more difficult once America turns over governing the country to the Iraqis.
- Kay's report sparks renewed calls for an investigation into the intelligence failures that led to the claims of Iraqi WMDs and terrorist connections from Congressional Democrats. In return, Pat Roberts, the Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, accuses Democrats of trying to "politicize" the entire affair and trying to use his committee for partisan ends.
- Kay had told his intention of resigning in December, after he lost the battle with Rumsfeld to keep his search teams focused specifically on finding WMDs, but had agreed to wait and announce his resignation until after the State of the Union speech. After Kay's remarks to the Reuters reporter, as noted above, he gets an angry phone call from CIA spokesman Bill Harlow, who is furious with Kay's statements to the press. Kay had been given a position as a consultant, which in theory would keep him "on the farm" and away from making statements to the press which flatly contradict the line touted by Bush and his officials.
- In his final meeting with Tenet before resigning, Tenet tells Kay flatly, "I don't care what you say. You will never convince me they didn't have chemical weapons." (Reuters, Raw Story, Bob Woodward, James Risen)
- January 23: Reports from Germany's Die Welt newspaper say that al-Qaeda mastermind suspect Osama bin Laden has been captured. The story is later proven to be a hoax, a spoof newscast originating from Lebanon's LBC news station as part of the weekly satirical show Bass Mat Watan. The broadcast was labeled a "lie" during the airing, and the claim was labeled a joke at the end of the show, but apparently many viewers missed the joke. (Die Welt/UPI/Interest Alert, BBC)
- January 23: After a year of snubbing and deriding the United Nations, the Bush administration is now asking for its help with the stalemate over Iraqi elections. The plea for help may be a sign "of genuine concern on the part of the United States that things aren't going well," says Christopher Preble, a foreign affairs analyst at the Cato Institute in Washington. "Before...I think that U.N. involvement was seen by...the Bush administration as being more trouble than it was worth." Others are more blunt. "It's a comeuppance," says Joseph Montville, a US diplomat to Baghdad in the 1960s who now heads a diplomacy program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani, top leader of Iraq's Shi'ite majority, has demanded direct elections that US officials say would be impossible to organize in time. Al-Sistani has said he won't budge on the demand unless the United Nations comes and lends legitimacy to the US claim. While the US has allowed the UN to perform a humanitarian role in Iraq, in October, the US said it would allow the UN to help organize elections once power had been transferred to Iraqis. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has been pressing for months for clarification of exactly what the role would be, and set a January 19 meeting on the subject. But then the al-Sistani problem came to a head and the meeting turned into something else. The top U.S. official in Iraq, Paul Bremer, attended to ask Annan to help as soon as possible with the impasse threatening the transition in Iraq. Annan is expected to announce soon that he will agree to send a delegation to Iraq to look into the question of whether it is possible to hold direct elections. Some American conservatives don't want the UN involved. Vice President Dick Cheney says he expects the UN to restrict its involvement to elections, transition and establishing constitutional processes. The American Enterprise Institute's Joshua Muravchik, a conservative foreign policy scholar, says, "I view it [UN involvement] with some concern because the UN's role in this issue has been not at all constructive up until now." (Guardian)
Federal judge strikes down part of Patriot Act
- January 23: A federal judge strikes down a section of the USA Patriot Act that makes it a crime to give "expert advice or assistance" to foreign terrorist organizations, the first ruling to declare any portion of the Patriot Act unconstitutional. US District Judge Audrey Collins of Los Angeles says the ban was so vague that Americans would be uncertain about whether they could give even the most benign advice to a foreign organization -- for example, on how to follow the law -- without risking prosecution. The expert advice or assistance forbidden under the act "could be construed to include unequivocally pure speech and advocacy protected by the First Amendment," Collins rules. The ruling is not binding on other courts, but it would have a broader impact if upheld on appeal. The suit was originally filed in 1998 by people and groups who wanted to provide political and financial support to the nonviolent arms of two dissident organizations designated as terrorists by the United States: the Kurdish Workers Party in Turkey and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in Sri Lanka. It was later amended to include the Patriot Act. Other provisions of the 342-page law are also facing judicial review. The ACLU has filed a lawsuit against Section 215, which allows FBI agents to obtain warrants from a secret court for any document or other object related to an investigation of terrorism or foreign spying, including library and bookstore records. A federal judge in Detroit is considering that case. But the provisions addressed in Collins' ruling and in last month's appeals court ruling in San Francisco are important, says David Cole, a lawyer with the Center for Constitutional Rights who argued the case before Collins. Cole noted that many post-Sept. 11 defendants, including members of alleged terror cells or support groups in Lackawanna, New York, and Portland, Oregon, have been charged with providing "material support" to terrorists under the same law at issue in this case. "It's so broadly written that it doesn't require the government to prove that an individual actually engaged in or supported terrorist activity, just that the individual supported a group that has been labeled terrorist," Cole says. (San Francisco Chronicle)
- January 23: A congressionally mandated study by the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council concludes that the Pentagon's efforts at creating new vaccines and drugs to combat biological weapons are poorly organized, underfunded, and unlikely to produce successful results in the near term, if ever. According to the report, the United States has not developed any vaccines and "only a few drugs as medical biodefense countermeasures" since the 1991 Persian Gulf War, when the specter of biological warfare against US troops was first brought to the public consciousness. The study recommends that Congress establish a new Medical Biodefense Agency to direct Defense Department research and development of medicines for dealing with biological warfare attacks as well as regular infectious diseases. "The biodefense efforts of the Department of Defense are poorly organized to develop and license vaccines, therapeutic drugs, and antitoxins to protect members of the armed forces against biological warfare agents," reads the report's executive summary. "These efforts are characterized by fragmentation of responsibility and authority, changing strategies that have resulted in lost time and expertise, and a lack of financial commitment commensurate with the requirements of program goals." While the Bush administration has repeatedly identified the threat of biological warfare as one of the gravest to be faced by the US, it had refused to fund the studies of vaccines and drugs to combat such warfare. (Boston Globe)
- January 23: Ron Suskind's book The Price of Loyalty alleges that former EPA director Christie Todd Whitman was cut out of the decision-making process when President Bush bluntly rejected her efforts as US Environmental Protection Agency director to reach a compromise that would allow the United States to be part of the Global Warming Treaty. The book describes Whitman as a Republican moderate who fought a losing battle on global warming because the president relied on Vice President Dick Cheney and political adviser Karl Rove for advice. According to Suskind, Whitman had difficulty finding out what the president was thinking on global warming policies before he announced he would not sign the international pact known as the Kyoto treaty. When Whitman, according to Suskind, finally got a meeting with the president that she hoped would result in a compromise, Bush listened to her briefly and then cut her off, declaring, "Christie, I've made my decision." The meeting with the president was scheduled after the former New Jersey governor sent a memo to Bush telling him he had a "credibility" problem. "Mr. President," the memo began, "this [global warming] issue is a credibility problem for the United States in the international community. It is also an issue that is resonating here at home. We need to be engaged." Former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill is quoted in the book as being baffled in the early days of the Bush administration when the president asked him, not Whitman, to come up with a global warming policy. The former treasurer, who was fired by Bush, said he didn't know whether he was supposed to consult Whitman. O'Neill said Whitman appeared surprised when he distributed information about global warming at one of Bush's first Cabinet meetings. During her stay in Washington, there was considerable media speculation that Whitman was being overruled by conservatives both within the Bush administration and the EPA. At one point, Suskind writes, Whitman relied on Condoleezza Rice, Bush's national security adviser and Whitman's personal friend, to try to find out what the president was thinking about the global warming issue. Meanwhile, she was attending national and international meetings on global warming and insisting the president wanted to be part of the Kyoto treaty. She pointed out then that the president, in his election campaign, had advocated regulation that would combat global warming by limiting the release of carbon dioxide pollutants into the atmosphere. But the president rejected any compromise, saying the United States could not sign on to a treaty that did not include China and India. Bush argued that the danger of global warming could be eased by increasing the use of natural gas. (New Jersey Times)
- January 23: Two Halliburton officials have been found to have accepted up to $6 million in kickbacks from a Kuwaiti company that was awarded contracts to supply US troops in Iraq. Halliburton disclosed the alleged impropriety to the Pentagon inspector general's office this week. The two employees, who have been fired, worked for Halliburton subsidiary KBR in Kuwait, the same division of the company involved in a highly scrutinized gasoline contract. The new allegations apparently do not involve the gasoline controversy, in which the company charged the Army more than double the price for fuel brought in from Kuwait than for gas from Turkey. Halliburton says that the company had quickly told the Pentagon about the impropriety, which it said was "detected through the company's internal control procedures." "The key issue here is self-disclosure and self-reporting," says a Halliburton spokeswoman. "Halliburton internal auditors found the irregularity, which is a violation of our company's philosophy, policy and our code of ethics," she says. "We found it quickly, and we immediately reported it to the inspector general. We do not tolerate this kind of behavior by anyone at any level in any Halliburton company." Democrats have demanded further investigations into contracts awarded to Halliburton, which was formerly run by Vice President Dick Cheney and has donated to the Bush campaign. Critics have cited the Halliburton's contracts as evidence of the Bush administration's favoritism to corporate friends. White House and Pentagon officials say the Defense Department's contract decisions are not affected by political concerns. (AP/Boston Globe)
- January 23: General Peter Schoomaker, head of the US Army, says the recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have been very good for the US military, and wants to increase the number of troops in combat. He says the wars have allowed the Army to instill its soldiers with a "warrior ethos." "War is a tremendous focus," he says. "Now we have this focusing opportunity, and we have the fact that [terrorists] have actually attacked our homeland, which gives it some oomph." (BBC)
- January 23: Rush Limbaugh may be charged with 10 or more felonies related to his illegal prescription drug habit, and his "doctor-swapping" methods of getting his drugs. Prosecutors have turned down a request by Limbaugh's lawyers to drop all charges in return for Limbaugh's voluntary entrance into a drug rehabilitation program; they point out that such a penalty is reserved for minor, misdemeanor offenses. In return, Limbaugh has refused a deal that would have him plead guilty to a single count of doctor-shopping and accept three years' probation, community service, mandatory drug rehabilitation, and random drug-testing; Limbaugh's lawyers call the offer "preposterous." By accepting the plea bargain and completing its terms, Limbaugh would not be marked as a convicted criminal. Limbaugh's chief defense attorney, Roy Black, also claims his client's privacy has been violated: he says the investigation, which he has said is politically motivated, has been marred by leaks to the media. "What is even more troubling is this office's continued violations of Florida law and Bar ethics," he says. The disclosure of these highly confidential communications violate the Florida statutes, the rules of procedure and evidence, and the Florida Bar rules. Once again, because the state has no case against Mr. Limbaugh, they continually seek to discredit him in the media." As for his recommendations as to Limbaugh's handling, Black rejects ten years of Limbaugh's own widely disseminated claims as to how to treat convicted drug addicts: "I believe this proposal would be in keeping with the public interest. The public is better served by treating addicts as patients rather than criminals." (South Florida Sun-Sentinel)
- January 23: White supremacist David Duke, who is close to completing a prison sentence for mail and tax fraud, is considering running for Congress once he is released from jail. He intends to challenge for the seat of Louisiana Republican Ron Vitter, who is contemplating running for Senate. In his federal trial, Duke was accused of bilking supporters by representing himself as being in dire financial straits while actually living extravagantly. Duke denied the accusations. (CNN)
Powell admits Iraq may never have had WMDs
- January 24: Secretary of State Colin Powell admits that Iraq may never have had weapons of mass destruction, contradicting years of steadfast Bush administration insistence that not only did Iraq possess such weapons, but the administration knew what they were and where they were located. Powell's admission comes on the heels of weapons inspector David Kay's assertion that Iraq never had WMDs. (Radio Telefí's Éireann )
- January 24: Charles Duelfer, named as the replacement for retiring weapons inspector David Kay, says his job is to seek answers to questions about Iraq's WMDs. "My goal is to find out what happened on the ground. What was the status of the Iraqi weapons program? What was their game plan? What were the goals of the regime? To find out what is the ground truth." Duelfer, the No. 2 UN weapons inspector in Iraq for much of the 1990s, will lead roughly 1,400 scientists and other experts of the Iraq Survey Group combing through documents, searching facilities and interviewing Iraqis to determine the capabilities of the fallen government. Kay spent nearly eight months searching for, but not finding, Saddam Hussein's purported weapons of mass destruction. Kay came home to the United States for the holidays and did not return to Iraq. Like many in the Bush administration, Duelfer, who was a hardline advocate for invasion before the war, insists that Iraqi WMDs still remain to be found. (AP/Lexington Herald-Leader)
Robert McNamara says Iraq occupation is wrong and fatally flawed
- January 24: Robert McNamara, the secretary of defense under John F. Kennedy and the architect of the Vietnam War, says that, like Vietnam, the invasion and occupation of Iraq is a "terrible mistake." He says that the lessons of Vietnam have been lost on the Bush administration, which is largely made up of politicians who managed to duck Vietnam service. "We're misusing our influence," he says. "It's just wrong what we're doing. It's morally wrong, it's politically wrong, it's economically wrong." McNamara refuses to discuss specific military decisions, he says that the US is fighting a war that he believes is totally unnecessary and has managed to destroy important relationships with potential allies. "There have been times in the last year when I was just utterly disgusted by our position, the United States' position vis-à-vis the other nations of the world," he says. Chief among the discoveries that led him to see Vietnam as a mistake, he says, is his realization that the United States could not, by itself, properly analyze the actions and ground-level conditions necessary to achieve the complex and ambiguous goals of a war -- reversing the influence of communism in Asia, in Vietnam's case, or bringing democracy to the Arab world, in Iraq's. "And the reason I feel that is that we're not omniscient," he says. "And we've demonstrated that in Iraq, I think." He points to Washington's failure to appreciate the complexities of Iraqi culture, and therefore to anticipate the extended guerrilla war it is now engaged in -- a chief mistake of Vietnam. Without the full involvement of other major nations, he said, such mistakes will always be made. "And if we can't persuade other nations with comparable values and comparable interests of the merit of our course, we should reconsider the course, and very likely change it. And if we'd followed that rule, we wouldn't have been in Vietnam, because there wasn't one single major ally, not France or Britain or Germany or Japan, that agreed with our course or stood beside us there. And we wouldn't be in Iraq."
- McNamara has written that while sometimes military force should be used to oust dictators such as Hussein, it can only be done successfully if it is done with broad international support under the aegis of a body such as the United Nations or NATO. "The United States is today the strongest power in the world, politically, economically and militarily, and I think it will continue to be so for decades ahead, if not for the whole century," he says. "But I do not believe, with one qualification, that it should ever, ever use that power unilaterally -- the one qualification being the unlikely event we had to use it to defend the continental US, Alaska or Hawaii." McNamara says it is particularly upsetting to see that the White House administration has ignored or failed to heed key recommendations coming from military officers on the ground in Iraq -- a crucial and oft-repeated mistake in Vietnam. American military officials in Iraq complained early that their forces were ill-equipped for the complex work of nation-building and policing, but the White House has until very recently refused to discuss using UN peacekeeping forces for such work. Last week, the United States indicated that it is seeking the UN's assistance in the nation-building effort, a move that McNamara sees as vital if the war is ever to be brought to an end, and civil life restored in Iraq. "Many people, myself among them, thought the United Nations should have played a much greater role in connection with Iraq than it has, and I'm personally very pleased to see that the administration is thinking today of increasing the role of the UN. ...I hope the UN will accept."
- McNamara also notes that he is dismayed that members of the Bush administration have likened their position after Sept. 11, 2001, to that of Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis, which had been Mr. McNamara's moment of truth. Bush, he says, wouldn't have been up to it. And Kennedy would have handled Iraq differently. Just over a year ago, McNamara travelled to Cuba and learned just how perilous that moment had been: Cuba, Fidel Castro admitted, had been home to a nuclear arsenal, and he had been willing to sacrifice his own island nation in order to launch a nuclear attack on the United States. The world really did come within moments of ending. More than anything else, this revelation has led McNamara to argue that the Kennedy approach to the world ought to be emulated. McNamara was the first to argue, based on his own diary, that had he lived, JFK would have ended the Vietnam war in 1965. "I don't believe that Kennedy would be reacting the way Bush is. For one thing, Kennedy reached out. A critic in those early days of the administration was John Kenneth Galbraith [the Canadian economist, who believed Vietnam was a bad idea]. And Kennedy reached out, and appointed him to a high-level position, and he talked to him about Vietnam. You don't see that today." (Toronto Globe and Mail)
- January 24-25: Democratic representative Peter DeFazio spends a weekend in Baghdad, learning first-hand just how "stable" that city truly is. He was shaken when his plane "corkscrewed" into Baghdad Airport, a standard maneuver to avoid possible missile fire from the ground. He was angered when he met with a number of his constituents from Oregon, who were serving in Baghdad without having the necessary body armor or properly armored Humvees. All things considered, the morale of the soldiers was good considering their dangerous environment, he says: "They've been given a job they've never done before. They're trying to build a nation. I was impressed with the men and women I met, but I'm concerned we're not meeting their needs. ...I just can't understand why this long into this engagement...that they don't have more armored Humvees. That's just not acceptable, and suffering the casualties because of that." Among DeFazio's other observations, he saw that the Iraqi defense force, which is expected to eventually take over military command of the country, lacks "adequate equipment." The only vehicles and weapons the force had were ones that were confiscated. Workers from India have been brought to Iraq to work at a military mess hall; he first thought the men were Iraqis, and feels that Iraq-US relations would be better served if Iraqis were hired for such jobs. He says that the US occupation of Iraq might have been easier had the Bush government waited for the help of Germany and France before beginning the war. Those countries should have shared the cost of the mission, he says. "The Bush people, I believe, need to be doing a better job of bringing in our allies." And he was astonished at the "extravagance" of Hussein's regime, noting Hussein's vast castles that went on for miles. He could only imagine how much money was spent there. "You just really get an idea of how nuts this guy is or was," he says. "The wealth of the country was squandered. How he looted the country was just extraordinary." (Corvallis Gazette-Times)
- January 24: Prime Minister Tony Blair's wife Cherie continues to believe that US President Bush "stole the [US] election," according to a new biography of her husband. "Cherie Blair still believed that Bush had stolen the White House from Gore," author Philip Stephens writes in his book Tony Blair: The Making of a World Leader. Although Tony Blair was pragmatic about Bush's victory, Cherie Blair was far less sanguine about the Supreme Court decision that gave him the keys to the White House. She believed Al Gore had been "robbed" of the presidency and was hostile to the idea of her husband "cozying" up to the new president. Even as they flew to Washington for their first meeting with the presidential couple, Cherie Blair was in no mood to curry favor, the book states. (Times of India)
- January 24: Bechtel, the giant corporation with intimate ties to the Bush administration, has landed a $5 billion contract to build a new airport in Qatar's capital city of Doha. The airport will be one of the biggest in the world once completed. (BBC)
- January 25: Weapons inspector David Kay reveals that the CIA failed to realize the tremendous "state of disarray" Iraq's weapons programs were in under the rule of Saddam Hussein. Kay, who led US efforts to find evidence of Iraq's illicit weapons programs until he resigned on Friday, says the CIA and other intelligence agencies did not realize that Iraqi scientists had presented ambitious but fanciful weapons programs to Hussein and had then used the money for other purposes. "I don't think they exist," Kay says. "The fact that we found so far the weapons do not exist -— we've got to deal with that difference and understand why." Kay also reports that Iraq attempted to revive its efforts to develop nuclear weapons in 2000 and 2001, but never got as far toward making a bomb as Iran and Libya did. He says Baghdad was actively working to produce a biological weapon using the poison ricin until the American invasion last March. But in general, the CIA and other agencies failed to recognize that Iraq had all but abandoned its efforts to produce large quantities of chemical or biological weapons after the first Persian Gulf war, in 1991.
- From interviews with Iraqi scientists and other sources, he says, his team learned that sometime around 1997 and 1998, Iraq plunged into what he calls a "vortex of corruption," when government activities began to spin out of control because an increasingly isolated and fantasy-riven Saddam Hussein had insisted on personally authorizing major projects without input from others. After the onset of this "dark ages," Iraqi scientists realized they could go directly to Hussein and present fanciful plans for weapons programs, and receive approval and large amounts of money. Whatever was left of an effective weapons capability, he said, was largely subsumed into corrupt money-raising schemes by scientists skilled in the arts of lying and surviving in a fevered police state. "The whole thing shifted from directed programs to a corrupted process," Kay says. "The regime was no longer in control; it was like a death spiral. Saddam was self-directing projects that were not vetted by anyone else. The scientists were able to fake programs." In interviews after he was captured, Tariq Aziz, the former deputy prime minister, told Kay that Hussein had become increasingly divorced from reality during the last two years of his rule. Hussein would send Aziz manuscripts of novels he was writing, even as the American-led coalition was gearing up for war, Kay says. Kay said the fundamental errors in prewar intelligence assessments were so grave that he would recommend that the CIA and other organizations overhaul their intelligence collection and analytical efforts. Kay says analysts had come to him, "almost in tears, saying they felt so badly that we weren't finding what they had thought we were going to find -— I have had analysts apologizing for reaching the conclusions that they did."
- "I'm personally convinced that there were not large stockpiles of newly produced weapons of mass destruction," he continues. "We don't find the people, the documents or the physical plants that you would expect to find if the production was going on. I think they gradually reduced stockpiles throughout the 1990's. Somewhere in the mid-1990's, the large chemical overhang of existing stockpiles was eliminated." While it is possible Iraq kept developing "test amounts" of chemical weapons and was working on improved methods of production, he says, the evidence is strong that "they did not produce large amounts of chemical weapons throughout the 1990s." Regarding biological weapons, he said there was evidence that the Iraqis continued research and development "right up until the end" to improve their ability to produce ricin, though US bombing raids in 1998 all but destroyed Iraq's ability to produce chemical weapons. "They were mostly researching better methods for weaponization. They were maintaining an infrastructure, but they didn't have large-scale production under way." He adds that Iraq did make an effort to restart its nuclear weapons program in 2000 and 2001, but that the evidence suggested that the program was rudimentary at best and would have taken years to rebuild, after being largely abandoned in the 1990s. "There was a restart of the nuclear program," he says. "But the surprising thing is that if you compare it to what we now know about Iran and Libya, the Iraqi program was never as advanced." Kay said Iraq had also maintained an active ballistic missile program that was receiving significant foreign assistance until the start of the American invasion. He said it appeared that money was put back into the nuclear weapons program to restart the effort in part because the Iraqis realized they needed some kind of payload for their new rockets. While he urged that the hunt should continue in Iraq, he said he believed "85 percent of the significant things" have already been uncovered, and cautioned that severe looting in Iraq after Hussein was toppled in April had led to the loss of many crucial documents and other materials. That means it will be virtually impossible to ever get a complete picture of what Iraq was up to before the war. "There is going to be an irreducible level of ambiguity because of all the looting," he says.
- Kay believes that Iraq was a danger to the world, but not the same threat that the Bush administration publicly detailed: "We know that terrorists were passing through Iraq. And now we know that there was little control over Iraq's weapons capabilities. I think it shows that Iraq was a very dangerous place. The country had the technology, the ability to produce, and there were terrorist groups passing through the country —- and no central control." Kay says his team uncovered no evidence that Niger had tried to sell uranium to Iraq for its nuclear weapons program. In his 2003 State of the Union address, President Bush reported that British intelligence had determined that Iraq was trying to import uranium from an African nation, and Niger's name was later put forward. "We found nothing on Niger," says Kay. He adds that there was now a consensus within the United States intelligence community that mobile trailers found in Iraq and initially thought to be laboratories for biological weapons were actually designed to produce hydrogen for weather balloons, or perhaps to produce rocket fuel. While using the trailers for such purposes seems bizarre, he says, "Iraq was doing a lot of nonsensical things" under Hussein. The intelligence reports that Iraq was poised to use chemical weapons against invading troops were false, apparently based on faulty reports and Iraqi disinformation. When American troops found that Iraqi troops had stored defensive chemical-weapons suits and antidotes, the US assumed the Iraqi military was poised to use chemicals against American forces. But interviews with Iraqi military officers and others have shown that the Iraqis kept the gear because they feared Israel would join an American-led invasion and use chemical weapons against them. Interviews with senior officers of the Special Republican Guards, Hussein's most elite units, had suggested that prewar intelligence reports were wrong in warning that these units had chemical weapons and would use them against American forces as they closed in on Baghdad. The former Iraqi officers reported that no Special Republican Guard units had chemical or biological weapons, he said. But all of the officers believed that some other Special Republican Guard unit had chemical weapons. "They all said they didn't have it, but they thought other units had it," Kay says. He said it appeared they were the victims of a disinformation campaign orchestrated by Hussein.
- Kay says there was also no conclusive evidence that Iraq had moved any unconventional weapons to Syria, as some Bush administration officials have suggested. Kay said the basic problem with the way the CIA tried to gauge Iraq's weapons programs is now painfully clear: for five years, the agency lacked its own spies in Iraq who could provide credible information. During the 1990s, the agency became spoiled by on-the-ground intelligence that it obtained from United Nations weapons inspectors. But the quality of the information plunged after the teams were withdrawn in 1998. "Unscom [the UN weapons inspections program] was like crack cocaine for the CIA," says Kay. "They could see something from a satellite or other technical intelligence, and then direct the inspectors to go look at it." The agency became far too dependent on spy satellites, intercepted communications and intelligence developed by foreign spies and by defectors and exiles, Kay believes. While he said the agency analysts who were monitoring Iraq's weapons programs did the best they could with what they had, he argued that the agency failed to make it clear to American policy makers that their assessments were increasingly based on very limited information. "I think that the system should have a way for an analyst to say, 'I don't have enough information to make a judgment,'" Kay says. "There is really not a way to do that under the current system." He added that while the analysts included caveats on their reports, those passages "tended to drop off as the reports would go up the food chain" inside the government. "Alarm bells should have gone off when everyone believes the same thing," Kay maintains. "No one stood up and said, 'Let's examine the footings for these conclusions.' I think you ought to have a place for contrarian views in the system."
- Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry uses Kay's assertions to once again blast the Bush administration's deceptions leading to war: "It confirms what I have said for a long period of time: that we were misled -- misled not only in the intelligence, but misled in the way that the president took us to war," he says. "I think there's been an enormous amount of exaggeration, stretching, deception. ...The president cut off that process [United Nations inspections]. He chose the date to start this war. He said the time for diplomacy is over." Kerry also says he will focus on Vice President Dick Cheney's role in describing the threat from Saddam during the run-up to the war. He says Cheney, who took the public lead in describing the threat from Iraq beginning in August 2002, "exaggerated clearly" on several issues. Bush was at fault "without adequate evidence," Kerry says, and adds, "I know the vice president either misspoke or misled the American people. The question is still unanswered as to what Dick Cheney was doing over at the CIA personally in those weeks leading up to the war," referring to several visits the vice president made to directly question the intelligence analysts who wrote reports on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs. Cheney has said he was trying to get the facts directly and not trying to pressure analysts to change their views. Fellow candidates Wesley Clark, John Edwards, and Joseph Lieberman add to the criticism. Clark says, "I think what this administration has done is play politics with intelligence and really lean on the intelligence community to come up with the answers they've sought. ...This administration has hyped the intelligence to get us into Iraq." The result, Clark says, is "we've damaged our national credibility on this issue of weapons of mass destruction." Edwards and Lieberman call for an independent commission to investigate the weapons issue, but Lieberman, the most conservative of the candidates, says he stands behind the Iraqi war efforts: "For me, Saddam Hussein was the weapon of mass destruction." Meanwhile, Hans Blix, the former chief U.N. inspector whose work was heavily criticized by Kay and ended when the United States invaded, says the United States should have known the intelligence was flawed last year when leads followed up by UN inspectors didn't produce any results. "I was beginning to wonder what was going on," he says. "Weren't they wondering, too? If you find yourself on a train that's going in the wrong direction, it's best to get off at the next stop." (New York Times/Financial Times, Seattle Times, CNN)
- January 25: The revelations by David Kay have pressured Prime Minister Tony Blair to admit that Iraq never had the WMDs he has long asserted the Hussein regime indeed possessed. Former Cabinet Minister Robin Cook leads demands from MPs for the PM, who was still insisting as recently as last month that there is "massive evidence" of secret Iraqi laboratories and plans for missiles, to concede his reasons for going to war were wrong. Cook, who quit his post as Leader of the Commons over the Iraq conflict, accused Blair of being driven by "missionary zeal" and "evangelical certainty." Pointing out that it is now 268 days since the official end of the Iraq war without any WMDs being found, Cook says, "It is becoming rather undignified for the Prime Minister to continue to insist that he was right all along when everybody can now see he was wrong. I think it is very important that Tony Blair does concede that there were mistakes made, maybe in all good faith. If we do not face up to the fact that we got it wrong, then we are not going to learn the lessons. We have got to drop this very dangerous doctrine under which we went to war on the basis of a pre-emptive strike. If there was no threat from Iraq we obviously had no right to carry out a pre-emptive strike to remove that threat." Cook urges Blair to use the publication of the Hutton report to set the record straight. So far Blair is holding firm; his office says the search for weapons would go on. "It is important people are patient and let the Iraq Survey Group do its work," a Downing Street spokesman says. "There is still more work to be done, and we await that. Our position is unchanged." (Sunday Mirror)
- January 25: The Bush administration is considering some drastic changes in the plan for implementing self-rule in Iraq. In two rounds of talks at the United Nations and Washington last week, the United States told UN representatives that everything is on the table except the June 30 deadline for handing over power to a new Iraqi government. "The United States told us that as long as the timetable is respected, they are ready to listen to any suggestion," says a senior UN official. In private conversations with the United Nations and its coalition partners, the administration has begun to discuss the viability of abandoning the complex caucuses outlined in the agreement and even holding partial elections or simply handing over power to an expanded Iraqi Governing Council, an old proposal now back on the table. (Washington Post)
- January 25: Vice President Dick Cheney "waged a guerrilla war" against attempts by British PM Tony Blair to secure United Nations backing for the invasion of Iraq, according to a new biography of Blair written by the Financial Times's Philip Stephens. According to Stephens, Cheney remained implacably opposed to the strategy even after President Bush addressed the UN on the importance of a multilateralist approach. Cheney, along with the neo-conservatives in the Bush administration, has consistently argued that the US could be constrained by the UN's inability to reach agreement over the need to invade Iraq. He told the World Economic Forum in Davos at the weekend: "There comes a time when deceit and defiance must be seen for what they are. At that point, a gathering danger must be directly confronted. At that point, we must show that beyond our resolutions is actual resolve." In the run-up to the war, Blair worked closely with Bush to try to secure prior UN backing, but Cheney's opposition to UN involvement left Blair uncertain whether Bush would go down the UN route until he uttered the relevant words in his speech to the UN general assembly in September 2002. One Blair aide remarked: "[Cheney] waged a guerrilla war against the process.... He's a visceral unilateralist." Another agreed: "Cheney fought it all the way -- at every twist and turn, even after Bush's speech to the UN." Democrats have also accused Cheney of putting pressure on intelligence agencies to produce evidence Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. On January 23, David Kay, the top US weapons inspector in Iraq, resigned, saying he did not believe Iraq had large stocks of biological and chemical weapons. Stephens' book reveals a string of acid interventions by Cheney during critical talks between the president and prime minister at Camp David in September 2002. Stephens also reveals that Blair was concerned about relations with other European leaders, particularly Jacques Chirac, French president. Blair confided in close aides before the Iraq war that he believed Chirac was personally "out to get him" because he feared the UK prime minister was usurping his own position as the natural leader of Europe. According to Stephens, the prime minister came to the view that Chirac wanted to see him fall from power after receiving intelligence reports about the French president's private conversations. (Financial Times)
NYC comptroller accuses Halliburton, others of profiteering from terrorism
- January 25: So many American companies are doing business with so-called "rogue states" that virtually every American with a 401(k) plan could technically be accused of supporting terrorism, a CBS news report cites. "The revenue that is generated from the work that these companies are doing, we believe, helps to underwrite and support terrorism," says William Thompson, the New York City comptroller who oversees the $80 billion in pension funds for all city workers. He says he wants everyone with a retirement or investment portfolio to know what these companies are up to: "We're going to increase the public visibility on this issue until these companies change their practices." Thompson, who accuses these companies of taking "blood money," identifies some of the specific companies that have invested in these rogue countries, including Halliburton, Conoco-Phillips and General Electric. He points out that New York's pension funds own nearly a billion dollars worth of stock in these three Fortune 500 companies, which have operations in Iran and Syria. When he found out about this, his reaction was: "[a]nger that there were companies that could be contributing to attacks on our nation," he says. "You'd think to yourself, well, why would they do that? ...I didn't think they could. And more than anything it was, you thought, that the law prevented them from doing this." A gaping loophole in US law allows companies like Halliburton, Conoco-Phillips, and GE to do business with countries like Iran and Syria as long as any foreign or offshore subsidiary of the company doing such business is run by non-Americans. "These three companies, as far as we were concerned, appear to have violated the spirit of the law," says Thompson. "In the case of Halliburton, as an example, they have an offshore subsidiary in the Cayman Islands. That subsidiary is doing business with Iran." That subsidiary, Halliburton Products and Services, Ltd., is wholly owned by the US-based Halliburton and is registered in a building in the capital of the Cayman Islands, a building owned by the local Calidonian Bank. Halliburton and other companies set up in this Caribbean Island, because of tax and secrecy laws that are corporate friendly. As CBS discovered, while Halliburton Products and Services was registered at this address, it was in name only. There is no actual office here or anywhere else in the Caymans. And there are no employees on site. Even mail that comes here is re-routed to the Halliburton headquarters in Houston. "If you understood what most of these companies do, you would, they're not doing any business in Cayman per se. They're doing business, international business," says David Walker, manager of the local Calidonian Bank. "Would it make sense to have somebody in Cayman pushing paper around? I don't know. And some people do it. And some people don't. And it's mostly driven by whatever the issues are with the head office."
- Halliburton tells Thompson that its Cayman operation is actually run out of Dubai; the Dubai office shares office space, phone and fax lines with a division of its US-based parent company, which raises more legal questions about its independence from Houston. Thompson says, "If the intent was to try and prevent United States-based companies from doing business in these 'rogue' nations, then it appears as if they've gotten around what the law had intended." Thompson has filed a shareholder's resolution calling on the company to review and justify its operations in Iran. "Halliburton attempted to block the shareholder resolution. They went to the SEC and asked for permission not to put this before shareholders. ...The SEC ruled against Halliburton and said that it had to be put in front of the shareholders," says Thompson, who plans to file the resolution at the next shareholders meeting in April. He's also taking issue with GE and its electrical work in Iran, as well as Conoco-Phillips' gas production business in Syria: "If there are nations that wind up increasing their resources because these companies are doing business there, and we're attacked because of it, it in fact undermines our entire country." Thompson says he decided to open the investigation in the first place at the request of New York City's police and firemen, who were outraged when they learned where their retirement money was going. "The members of the Fire Department and the Police Department, after September 11th, given the fact that hundreds of them died in the World Trade Center as a result of a terrorist attack, had greater sensitivity than almost anybody," says Thompson. "And they were the ones who kind of took the lead on this. ...The way we've approached it isn't as on a moral basis, it is as investors," he continues. "And what is in the best long-term interests of our pension funds because we hold stock in these companies." What these companies are doing, he says, isn't just a question of ethics -- it's financially unsound, and bad for business. Researcher Roger Robinson has identified nearly 400 companies that are in most pension portfolios that are doing business in terrorist-sponsoring states. Well over 200, he says, are actually doing business in Iran; of that, more than 60 are doing business in Libya. He says the companies are funneling tens of billions of dollars worth of capital, technology and know-how to the state-owned oil and gas sectors of these two countries. General Electric and Conoco-Phillips say they are breaking no laws, and like Halliburton, make no apologies for their business dealings with states that sponsor terrorism. (CBS News, New York Daily News)
- January 25: Democratic presidential candidate General Wesley Clark accuses Vice President Dick Cheney of "playing politics with national security" for his recent comments on a leaked, classified intelligence report. Clark has called for a White House investigation into statements Cheney made to Denver's Rocky Mountain News in which he called a magazine article based on leaked intelligence reports the "best source of information" on an alleged link between the former Iraqi regime and al-Qaeda. Last year the Pentagon questioned conclusions in the Weekly Standard article and said that leaks of classified intelligence reports were "deplorable and may be illegal." The Standard article has been fully discredited. Clark, former supreme allied commander of NATO, says that by endorsing the Weekly Standard article, Cheney was essentially confirming the contents of leaked classified documents. "Now, the standard rule on anything like this is, never to confirm it because if you confirm something like this, you're giving away maybe sources and methods," Clark says. "The vice president said that that was the best explanation for the connection between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. So he's essentially using a leaked memo to confirm his predisposition to believe that Saddam had something to do with 9/11. That's playing politics with national security. It risks our intelligence community, our sources and methods; it's wrong." Clark's senior foreign policy adviser, James Rubin, a former assistant secretary of state in the Clinton administration, says Clark was calling for an investigation by the White House legal counsel into Cheney's statements to the Rocky Mountain News. "The president should call the vice president on the carpet and ask him why he was confirming a highly classified document in public and ask his legal department to see if any damage was done and what the appropriate response for government should be," Rubin says. To date, no such investigation has been announced. David Sirota of the policy group Center for American Progress called it "obscene" that Cheney would cite "a discredited and condemned" report as the best source of information. (Knoxville News-Sentinel)
- January 25: The Guantanamo spy cases against chaplain Yousef Yee and airman Ahmad Halabi have collapsed. Both are now to be tried on lesser charges; Yee on mishandling classified materials and adultery, and Halabi on mishandling classified material and attempted espionage. "I find it difficult to believe professional prosecutors are proceeding with these two cases in this manner," says Gary Solis, a former Marine Corps prosecutor who teaches the law of war at Georgetown University. "The ineptitude at each step of the proceeding is amazing.... It seems there's been investigative overreaction in both cases." Even now, prosecutors have not made final determinations that some of the documents Halabi was charged with possessing were, in fact, classified, and, if they were, what level of security applied to them. As a result, his lead civilian attorney, Donald Rehkopf, says he has only a hazy picture of why his client was arrested last July. "We are imploring the senior leadership of the Air Force to get this case under control," Rehkopf wrote in a recent letter to Air Force officials. In the Yee and Halabi cases, prosecutors have handed over batches of papers to defense lawyers, only to demand their return. In each case, prosecutors said the documents had mistakenly been designated as unclassified. Officials also provided other papers to the defense, saying they were classified but releasable, then later retracted that description, saying the documents were unclassified, defense attorneys say. "If ranking military officers don't know what's classified, how is a 25-year-old supply clerk totally inexperienced in classification supposed to know?" Rehkopf says. (Washington Post)
- January 25: A Washington Post editorial criticizes the Bush administration for cozying up to Azerbaijani strongman Ilham Aliyev, who rules his oil-rich country with an iron fist reminiscent of the worst of the excesses of the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq. Aliyev won his post in November 2003 after an election which was widely believed to be fraudulent. Opposition leaders were brutally beaten by police; the elections were followed by mass arrests of over 1,000 opposition figures, journalists, and observers; over 100 remain in jail. A new report by Human Rights Watch documents numerous cases of torture, including severe beatings, electric shock, and threats of rape against the opposition leaders. Aliyev, who succeeded his strongman father, meanwhile has been consolidating dictatorial powers: most recently he was named director of Azerbaijani radio and television. Instead of condemning Aliyev's brutality, the Bush administration is embracing the autocrat, excusing his fraud and ignoring his human rights violations and his personal corruption. The administration has waived congressional restrictions to grant Azerbaijan $3 million in military aid and is winding up to give still more. The Pentagon is talking with Azeri officials about the possible use of bases for US operations. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld visited the capital city of Baku last month to confer with Aliyev. When asked about the electoral fraud, Rumsfeld replied: "The United States has a relationship with this country. We value it." Aliyev says, "The United States is a strategic partner." The Post writes, "Pentagon officials argue that Azerbaijan is vital to the war on terrorism. Among other things, they contend Azerbaijani help is needed to stop terrorists from traveling across the Caspian Sea.
- But a more obvious source of President Bush's policy is oil. Over the last decade Mr. Aliyev and his father granted billions in contracts to such companies as BP-Amoco, ChevronTexaco and ExxonMobil. He also has supported a $3 billion pipeline that is to carry oil from the Caspian to a port in Turkey. According to Mr. Aliyev, Mr. Bush once pronounced him an honorary citizen of Texas in appreciation of his support for American oil companies. When he was installed by his dying father as prime minister last August, the president quickly sent him a congratulatory letter. American diplomats and oil executives portray Mr. Aliyev as an urbane pro-Westerner and a secret moderate who plans to liberalize the police state he inherited from his dad. This account strikes Azerbaijanis as ludicrous. Only 42 years old, Mr. Aliyev is renowned in Baku as a playboy with a bad gambling habit. During his tenure at the state oil company, Azerbaijan was rated the sixth most corrupt nation in the world by Transparency International. An indictment unsealed in the Southern District of New York charges that millions of dollars in bribes were channeled to top Azeri officials in 1997 as part of a scheme to privatize the oil company, of which Mr. Aliyev was then vice president. Since his 'election,' Mr. Aliyev has reappointed his father's key ministers and promised to pursue the same policies -- including, apparently, ruthless suppression of the peaceful and pro-democracy opposition. It's clearly expedient for Mr. Bush to back Mr. Aliyev, just as for decades U.S. governments found their interest in propping up dictators in the Persian Gulf. But Mr. Bush himself has said -- in one of his several major speeches about democracy -- that such policies were mistaken. 'Sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe,' the president said two months ago. In the long run stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty.' It may take the United States decades to overcome the legacy of embracing corrupt dictators in the Arab world. The least Mr. Bush can do is avoid repeating the mistake in the new oil states of the Caucuses and Central Asia -- beginning in Azerbaijan." (Washington Post)
- January 25: A Sunday Herald editorial notes that between the revelations of former weapons inspector David Kay and the long-anticipated Hutton report on the justifications for war against Iraq, the Blair administration is under pressure like never before. The British intelligence community is expected to reap a fair share of blame from the politicians who are cited by the Hutton report, and senior intelligence officials are now noting that they aren't going to let themselves be Blair's "whipping boys." Herald writer Neil Mackay says there are four major thrusts to the intelligence community's defense of their actions. "Firstly, there was a problem with Iraq, particularly over the interpretation of the WMD issue. Many said they had been openly skeptical about the presence of WMD in Iraq for years. There was a systematic failure, they believe, in the way intelligence was interpreted. This was because they were under pressure to provide the government with what it wanted, namely that Iraq possessed WMD and that it posed a clear and present danger. Secondly, they say intelligence was 'cherry-picked' about Iraq: that damning intelligence against Iraq was selectively chosen, whilst intelligence assessments, which might have worked against the build-up to war, were sidelined. The government was looking for anything that would cast Iraq in a negative light. Thirdly, they claim that a political agenda had crept into the work of the intelligence community and they found themselves in the position of taking orders from politicians. When asked if direct lies were told to the British public, the answer was that the intelligence they supplied was one-sided and produced on demand to politicians. Fourthly, the intelligence community got into the habit of making worst-case scenarios and these were used to make factual claims by politicians. The intelligence community accepts that intelligence was used for political ends. But they also understand that intelligence is not supposed to help politicians justify their actions as that distorts the nature of what intelligence work is about." (Sunday Herald)
- January 25: An Atlanta Journal-Constitution editorial points up the disproportionate number of poor and working-class Americans who are serving their country in the military, while their richer counterparts are not: "A part of the nation is at war --- a slice of America where patriotism runs deeper than pockets, where parents don't belong to country clubs and children don't attend exclusive private schools," columnist Cynthia Stone writes. "The duty of defending the nation has largely fallen to the less affluent; the all-volunteer military is disproportionately drawn from blue-collar homes. If the war on terror were as important as the president claims --- and the threat of Islamist fanatics a danger that will confront us for at least a generation --- you'd think that military service would have taken on more urgency among Americans of all income brackets. But it hasn't. There has been no marked upturn in military recruitment since the terrorist atrocities of Sept. 11, 2001. Without a draft, affluent Americans have felt free to turn their attention to other matters --- the stock market, the tax-deductible Range Rover, the children's chances for admission to an exclusive college. The deaths of more than 500 American soldiers in Iraq have stirred little comment among the chattering classes, whose children are not at risk. 'People are forgetting,' said Charles Moskos, a military sociologist at Northwestern University. 'We're not losing the sons and daughters of America's leaders, but basically minorities and working-class whites.' ...You rarely see graduates of Harvard, Yale or Emory signing up for the Marines. They're headed for Wall Street or law school. Nor is it typical for children of the affluent to dream of attending a military academy. ...Americans have abandoned the 'ancient republican tradition that citizenship entailed a duty to contribute to the nation's defense,' writes Boston University professor Andrew J. Bacevich, a graduate of the US Military Academy, in his analysis of US power, American Empire. 'Increasingly, the high regard that middle-class Americans accorded to those volunteering for military service was akin to that which American Catholics felt for fellow believers who embraced the celibacy of religious life: a choice worthy of the highest respect, it was also peculiar to the point of being unfathomable. For most people, that choice was one that they preferred to see someone else's son or daughter make,' Bacevich writes. Perhaps because other people's sons and daughters were going off to war, Congress voted overwhelmingly to authorize President Bush to invade Iraq. Perhaps for the same reason, Congress now seems unconcerned about the increasingly clear evidence that the president made false claims in promoting this war. Retired Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni, a critic of the Iraq war strategy, has noted the lack of combat experience in the White House and among the Defense Department's top hands. 'They were my contemporaries. They should have been there [Vietnam], and they found a way not to serve,' Zinni has said. 'And where are their kids? Are their kids serving? My son is in the Marines.' So far, patriotism among the affluent classes has amounted to sticking an American flag decal on the tax-deductible Hummer. But a continuing war on terror --- if, indeed, the threat is as grave as the president says --- will require greater sacrifices from all Americans. There simply are not enough blue-collar soldiers to do all the fighting and dying for the rest of us." (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)