Friday, July 18, 2003

Half a Secret

Judicial Watch is an interesting organization. It was one of the "yap dogs" financed by Richard Mellon Scaife specifically to harass the Clinton administration. Scaife is probably the most influential political actor of the late 20th century. Never heard of him? He likes it that way ... Now, one of the hazards of putting together an idealistic- looking organization to do your dirty work is that some of your phony idealists may actually turn out to be real idealists. It looks like Larry Klayman of Judicial Watch is one of those "stealth" idealists. With the Clinton administration gone, he is applying the same standards of conduct to the Bush administration. Oops.

Now, one of the early kerfluffles in the Bush administration concerned the White House Energy Policy, put together by VP Cheney. Basically, a lot of folks were concerned at the involvement of Ken Lay, President of Enron and a good friend of Georgie Bush. In the runup to the 2000 election through the early Bush administration, Lay was a close advisor to Bush, acting essentially like a cabinet secretary or corporate VP. For example, he interviewed all of the candidates for Bush's cabinet. When Enron collapsed, there were a lot of (legitimate, IMHO) concerns that the Energy Policy was simply a rubber stamp for Enron's interests. However, Cheney and company clammed up and refused to deliver their working papers, even under court order. Judicial Watch, among others has been trying to get their hands on these papers.

Well, they got some. (link via Tom Tomorrow) In particular, they got maps of "Iraqi oilfields, pipelines, refineries and terminals". There are similar maps for Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Note that at the time the report was written (March 2001) Iraq was still under embargo and would be for the foreseeable future.

Now, the question is what this "really means". We won't know, of course, until we get a hold of the full document. Cheney and company are still fighting this tooth and toenail; it'll be a while. A big problem is that this is isolated information -- there's no indication why this information was in the papers. It's easy to yell "See! It really was all about the oil!", but that's not necessarily the case. It does look really bad, however.

Now, I can see concerns both ways, here. In general, I think that it's a Bad Idea to release preliminary working papers. People need a chance to thrash out ideas (especially bad ideas) in private before throwing them out to the public. On the other hand, Enron's business model for its energy trading business was based on the lack of transparency in the energy market -- essentially trading on inside information. Involvement in the White House Energy Policy would give Enron the ultimate in insider information, as well as giving them a chance to write national policy to maximize their own advantage. Note the similarity to the Teapot Dome scandal of the Harding administration.

Now, what we have here is half a secret. We know that the Energy Task Force discussed Iraqi oil, but we don't know why. If we'd never found out, we'd never know anything. If we knew the whole story, it might be completely harmless. Or it might be another Teapot Dome. There's no way to tell without the rest of the secret.

Unfortunately, one of the main characteristics of the Bush administration has been its secrecy fetish. The Energy Task Force is far from the only thing that's being kept secret for no discernible reason if there's nothing to hide. Where there's a secret, people naturally assume the worst. When, as now, we have half a secret, people really assume the worst.

The only thing that would quiet this down is for the Administration to release the working papers, as the courts ordered them to do. Not likely; they'll just spin it until it goes away. Will it? The docile US press is showing signs of waking up ...

Wednesday, July 16, 2003

I Feel So Much Better Now!

The Department of Homeland Security has gotten a lot of flak for not doing anything visible except for their color coded "Threat Advisories" that seem to rise and fall between Lemon and Mango with no particular reason. Well, that's all over. They're on the job.

They have a new seal. Now, as we all know, nobody can do any kind of a job without proper graphics. Most of the US productivity increase in the 1990s, for example, is due to the use of Microsoft Powerpoint and similar tools to create bullet-point slides. The Enron debacle can be traced directly to poor choice of logos for some of their shell companies.

It's a start. DHS is also falling behind in the Catchy Acronym department. Need some work there, guys.

Hey, at this rate, we'll get the important stuff out of the way in just a few more years. Then it'll be just minor cleanup, like visa reform, first-responder support and co-ordination, port security, and suchlike trivia.

I understand that DHS head Tom Ridge has a memo of intent with Osama bin Laden that al Qaeda will hold off on any further attacks until we have all of our graphics and acronyms in place.

(Link via South Knox Bubba.)

Monday, July 14, 2003

Don't Be Silly

Of course Georgie knew. Or, more accurately, the White House knew. Georgie believes what they tell him. It's interesting to see the squirming as the <echo_chamber>Weapons of Mass Destruction</echo_chamber> move farther and farther from Iraq, but anybody who has been paying attention knows what's going on.

How do we know? Watch what the'they've been doing, and think about what their behavior implies. Without going into the tinfoil-hat zone, there are three basic possibilities for the WMD:

  1. There never were any WMD, and everybody knew it.
  2. There never were any WMD, and the CIA blew it bigtime.
  3. There were WMD, but they're gone now.

Now, how would we expect Georgie and company to respond?If Case 2 or 3 were true, when we moved into Iraq, we'd have had many WMD teams loaded with sensors and trained to deal with whatever nasties they found. They'd be combat troops, prepared to fight their way into storage facilities, secure the contents, and hold off counterattacks. The whole point is to keep them from being used.

If Case 2 were true, I would expect to see blood running in the halls at the CIA. Now, Bush & Co. don't like CIA Director George Tenet one little bit. He is, after all, a Clinton appointee, which automatically puts him on the side of the Powers of Darkness. They wouldn't mind getting rid of him one little bit. His current mea culpa is far milder than I would expect; I would expect not only his resignation but a purge of any high level officer (and probably some low level ones) that came anywhere near Iraq. Bush & Co are not tolerant of people who do things that make them look bad. In this case, we would have pissed off the whole world and gotten ourselves into a long term, no-win committment (can't say the Q word ...) on the CIA's bad information.

If Case 3 were true, I'd expect to see the WMD top people running around like so many headless chickens. This is the Nightmare Scenario; the exact thing that the entire war was supposed to prevent. Where did they go? Iran and Syria have their own chemical weapons; they don't need more and they certainly don't want to give the US an excuse to come hunting. The sub-possibilities here are:

  1. they're very well hidden in Iraq, or
  2. somebody has taken them away.
If case a, we'd see the WMD teams digging up all sorts of unlikely places. If b, we'd see a massive hunt for terrorists, to make the post-9/11 investigations look perfunctory. Osama bin Laden would presumably have the capability to do some real damage now ...

What about Case 1? Well, since we know that there are no WMD to be found and our troops are not at risk, we don't have to put too much effort into it. Let's have a few WMD teams to look like we're really looking. No need to use combat troops; they can wait to do their "investigations" until the regular troops have the area secured. We'll let them poke around in some ammo dumps and pesticide factories for a bit and send them home.

Well, what did we do? The Case 1 scenario above pretty much describes it. There never were any WMD, and everybody knew it.

Now, note that this is a considerably nastier conclusion than the way the press is currently playing it. The way it's being reported, Bush & Co basically "cherry picked" the intellegence reports to paint a picture supporting their beliefs. If that were indeed the case, we'd have a variation of Case 2, without the purge at the CIA. We'd still have seen a massive effort to find WMD in the early part of the invasion.

Nope. They knew full well that there were no WMD of any kind to find.

LATER: Here's an article on the tension between Tenet and the White House. (Link via Body and Soul)

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