Friday, October 22, 2004

Porter Goss = Partisan Hack

It is shocking: The Bush administration is suppressing a CIA report on 9/11 until after the election, and this one names names. Although the report by the inspector general's office of the CIA was completed in June, it has not been made available to the congressional intelligence committees that mandated the study almost two years ago.

"It is infuriating that a report which shows that high-level people were not doing their jobs in a satisfactory manner before 9/11 is being suppressed," an intelligence official who has read the report told me, adding that "the report is potentially very embarrassing for the administration, because it makes it look like they weren't interested in terrorism before 9/11, or in holding people in the government responsible afterward."
So begins an article written by Robert Scheer appearing in the L.A. Times on Tuesday. While this story has been circulating throughout the blogosphere (hat tips to Mick Arran and Tim Dunlop), I wanted to make sure that it receives maximum exposure, attention, and a measured dose of outrage - or for the more jaded amongst us, stern condemnation. In addition, there are some aspects of this controversy that I wanted to address, which have gone unmentioned thus far.

First, let's establish the parameters of what is going on with this report. The CIA conducted "an exhaustive 17-month investigation by an 11-member team within the agency" in order to determine what went wrong within the various branches of the government in the run-up to the tragic attacks of 9/11. The report was finished in June of this year, or roughly five months ago, yet that information is being withheld from Congress and the American people despite efforts from both Republicans and Democrats:

Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., ranking Democratic member of the House Intelligence Committee, said she and committee chairman Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich., sent a letter 14 days ago asking for it to be delivered.
The release of the report was first quashed by acting CIA director John McLaughlin and now President Bush's appointee, Porter J. Goss, has continued to withhold the documents. There is no reason beyond pure partisan politics to deny the American people access to the findings of their own government.

By law, the only legitimate reason the CIA director has for holding back such a report is national security. Yet neither Goss nor McLaughlin has invoked national security as an explanation for not delivering the report to Congress.
The reticence regarding the rationale for withholding the information on the part of Goss and McLaughlin is not an accident. According to the sources Scheer cites, "[the report] surely does not involve issues of national security." This is more than likely the case, especially since they plan on releasing the report after the election. Are we to assume that the national security concerns magically vanish on November 3rd? Scheer's source provides further evidence that the Bush administration is trying to manipulate the release of information to the American people:

"No previous director of CIA has ever tried to stop the inspector general from releasing a report to the Congress, in this case a report requested by Congress."
I do not think I am overstating the case when I say that this is an outrageous circumvention of our very democracy. The administration is taking the position that the less the American people know about the incumbent, the better. In truth, democracy depends on a well informed population. But this case is even more egregious because of the rhetoric emanating from Bush's camp.

Remember, it was Vice President Cheney who warned that al-Qaeda would attack America again if the people decide to elect John Kerry. Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert insisted that al-Qaeda would rather Kerry get elected, citing no evidence of his own, and despite
actual evidence to the contrary. The Republican Convention, and indeed the entire breadth of Bush's campaign, has been predicated on the notion that Bush's team is the one to trust in the "war on terror," and that John Kerry will expose us to danger. Given all of that, it is that much more crucial that the American people are provided with as accurate a picture as possible of Bush's actual performance in that war on terror? Apparently the Bush administration doesn't think so.

From a tactical point of view, they are probably wise to sit on this report:

It most certainly will detail how the Attorney General himself chastised his staff to stop bothering him with all those pesky reports on terrorist activities. Or maybe it would mention the fact that before 9/11, John Ashcroft proposed slashing counterterrorism funding by 23 percent. It might also point out that, despite her protestations to the contrary, the National Security Advisor, Condoleeza Rice, is actually supposed to coordinate intelligence from various agencies. One can only speculate that the CIA's findings might take the view that the daily briefings provided the president pre-9/11 were sufficiently specific to raise the level of alarm in relevant areas of the government - especially if George Tenet's hair really was on fire. It's safe to say that the report might also go harder on the administration than even Richard Benveniste did during the hearings - for which he was accused of partisan grandstanding.

But from the point of view of responsible leadership in a democracy, this is inexcusable. I anticipate some on the right will respond with one of the most bizarre memes that has begun making the rounds in the conservative punditry: that the CIA is dominated by leftists. That's right, that was not a typo, I have seen it now on more than one occasion - we are supposed to believe that the CIA is now a left-wing organization. Apparently the right wing in this country has drifted so far to the extreme of the poles that they consider the CIA of all places to be overrun by Democrats with a partisan axe to grind. I can think of no other time in history that a Republican administration has had so openly hostile and contentious a relationship with the CIA - not to mention their own State Department. Trust me when I say this, it is not the notoriously slow to change CIA that has undergone a radical re-alignment of political affiliations, it is that this administration has embraced a radical ideology that defies traditional conservative and right wing values.

Speaking of which, didn't Porter Goss assure the skeptics that he would be a non-partisan CIA director - an honest broker and straight shooter. Wasn't the whole point of the reforms suggested by the 9/11 Commission to remove the influence that partisan politics would have over intelligence gathering and dissemination in light of the Iraq debacle and 9/11 breakdowns? So in his first significant act as director of the Agency, Goss decides to go out of his way to suppress a document in the furtherance of base partisan politics - to the detriment of the American policy and our increasingly fragile democracy.

I don't know about you, but I'm impressed.

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