Friday, February 10, 2006

Would You Trust A Face Like That?

Let me see if I understand the way the various components of the narrative are coalescing at this point. First, we are now learning that the Bush administration - through Karl Rove's and Scooter Libby's superiors (read: Cheney) - was "authorizing" the leaking of classified information such as self-serving elements of the NIE. As excerpted by my blog-mate Stygius (emphasis his):

Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby, testified to a federal grand jury that he had been "authorized" by Cheney and other White House "superiors" in the summer of 2003 to disclose classified information to journalists to defend the Bush administration's use of prewar intelligence in making the case to go to war with Iraq, according to attorneys familiar with the matter, and to court records.

Libby specifically claimed that in one instance he had been authorized to divulge portions of a then-still highly classified National Intelligence Estimate regarding Saddam Hussein's purported efforts to develop nuclear weapons, according to correspondence recently filed in federal court by special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald. [...]

Beyond what was stated in the court paper, say people with firsthand knowledge of the matter, Libby also indicated what he will offer as a broad defense during his upcoming criminal trial: that Vice President Cheney and other senior Bush administration officials had earlier encouraged and authorized him to share classified information with journalists to build public support for going to war. Later, after the war began in 2003, Cheney authorized Libby to release additional classified information, including details of the NIE, to defend the administration's use of prewar intelligence in making the case for war.

Second, recent revelations are confirming the extent to which the "intelligence" in that leaked NIE was itself manipulated through the undue influence of policymakers pursuing an ulterior policy agenda (much of which is already known, but useful support nonetheless). From a must-read Foreign Affairs article penned by Paul Pillar (also via Styg). A teaser:

The proper relationship between intelligence gathering and policymaking sharply separates the two functions. The intelligence community collects information, evaluates its credibility, and combines it with other information to help make sense of situations abroad that could affect U.S. interests.[...]

Accordingly, it is critical that the intelligence community not advocate policy, especially not openly. If it does, it loses the most important basis for its credibility and its claims to objectivity. When intelligence analysts critique one another's work, they use the phrase "policy prescriptive" as a pejorative, and rightly so.[...]

The Bush administration's use of intelligence on Iraq did not just blur this distinction; it turned the entire model upside down. The administration used intelligence not to inform decision-making, but to justify a decision already made. It went to war without requesting -- and evidently without being influenced by -- any strategic-level intelligence assessments on any aspect of Iraq.[...]

The Bush administration deviated from the professional standard not only in using policy to drive intelligence, but also in aggressively using intelligence to win public support for its decision to go to war. This meant selectively adducing data -- "cherry-picking" -- rather than using the intelligence community's own analytic judgments.[...]

As the national intelligence officer for the Middle East, I was in charge of coordinating all of the intelligence community's assessments regarding Iraq; the first request I received from any administration policymaker for any such assessment was not until a year into the war.

Part of the policy of leaking classified information involved the outing of Valerie Plame - who was at the time a CIA NOC - in the process ruining her career, destroying the value of her front company and endangering the lives of other related human assets. We also now know that the same Bush administration officials involved in the Plame affair were well aware that the claims made by Plame's husband, Joe Wilson, regarding Iraq's pursuit of uranium from Niger were accurate and that the Iraq-Niger story was completely bogus. Rather than trying to correct the record, Cheney et al were trying to attack a speaker of politically inconvenient truths.

Oh and by the way, despite all those attempts to kick up dust regarding Plame's "undercover" status, we also now know that she was, in fact, covert. Shouldn't be a surprise, or a revelation, but in the post-modernist swirl of fact and misinformation, it's always best to take precautions to establish the record.

Newly released court papers could put holes in the defense of Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby, in the Valerie Plame leak case. Lawyers for Libby, and White House allies, have repeatedly questioned whether Plame, the wife of White House critic Joe Wilson, really had covert status when she was outed to the media in July 2003. But special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald found that Plame had indeed done "covert work overseas" on counterproliferation matters in the past five years, and the CIA "was making specific efforts to conceal" her identity, according to newly released portions of a judge's opinion. (A CIA spokesman at the time is quoted as saying Plame was "unlikely" to take further trips overseas, though.)

Now here's the clincher, the jaw dropping moment of sheer disbelief: With the above-mentioned historical record of abuse of classified information in mind (itself not a complete laundry list), and against that still-incomplete backdrop of overreach, manipulation and political vendetta, the Bush administration is asserting that they have (or should have) the power to disregard FISA and conduct surveillance on American citizens without any judicial oversight whatsoever.

As Laura pointed out, they are asking the American people to trust their judgment, to have faith that they will not institute an overly broad or intrusive program, that they will not target political opponents and that they will not, in any way, use the information gathered for any purpose outside of the narrow scope of the program. They will, somehow, be immune to the temptations to abuse this extra-judicial power, even though they have in the past succumbed to many smaller and larger temptations. In addition, they argue that all future administrations, in perpetuity, will show similar restraint.

Furthermore, through legal argumentation in connection with FISA, Padilla, and other related matters, the Bush administration is claiming the authority to disregard the entire Bill of Rights, separation of powers and checks and balances as a result of seemingly limitless war time powers that, allegedly, accrue to the Executive branch during a time of war. Even a war such as the "war on terror" that will likely last many centuries if not millenia. This amounts to a de facto line item veto over the Constitution - to be applied unilaterally by the Executive branch for as long as there are terrorists in the world that might be inclined to do America harm. The basis of this bargain: trusting the Bush administration and all future incarnations of the Executive branch.

Whether the administration is run by Republicans or Democrats, neo-conservatives or liberals, enlightened leaders or cynical stewards, the elimination of judicial oversight and Constitutional protections, and the eradication of foundational concepts such as separation of powers and checks and balances, are radically dangerous ideas. Potentially catastrophic really, and I don't think I'm being hyperbolic when I write that. But with an administration with a proven track record for malfeasance in connection with all of these crucial aspects, it is quite simply beyond the pale of what any serious citizen should even consider when there is any value placed on maintaining a functioning liberal democracy. Unless the last part of that admonition is no longer of any concern to the parties involved. The response will be up to our politicians, and up to us as citizens. I for one, prefer the "quaint" version of the Constitution. The post-post 9/11 rendition. Who do you trust?

[UPDATE: Just to be clear here, the point isn't really about deciding to trust one president or another, but about preserving institutional safeguards that remove questions of trust from the equation. That way, people don't have to worry about who and who not to trust. Further, appeals by some to "trust" those in power are inherently flawed arguments, regardless of the nature of those holding the power. I was in part trying to make the point that these are particularly weak arguments vis a vis the Bush administration given their past conduct, but Russ Feingold highlights the heart of the matter (via Les Editors):

Justice Louis Brandeis once wrote: "Experience should teach us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the Government's purposes are beneficent. Men born to freedom are naturally alert to repel invasion of their liberty by evil-minded rulers. The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding."

It just astounds me that we are even having these discussions on a national level at this point in time. This is Democracy 101 folks. No, scratch that: These are the basic concepts about the nature of power that you learn, and more or less appreciate, in the 4th grade. Power corrupts.]

(cross posted at American Footprints)

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