Dick Cheney established the core of US policy regarding terrorism. If there is even a one percent possibility of an event happening, we must presume that it is a certainty and act accordingly. Thus has our foreign policy become driven purely by fear and suspicion, a marked separation from a history of basing our actions on knowledge and fact.
The president is interested in action only, almost never on analysis. Thus, instead of pushing his agencies to get the best understanding of the hows and whys of events, he looks solely at actions to be done, regardless of whether they are ultimately useful or not.
Suskind speaks much about people he refers to as the “Invisibles.” The people who are out of the public eye, the men and women who perform intelligence and operations services for our country, folks who try to find the reality of what is going on out there and bring that to our rulers. And he shows how these committed professionals are being driven from national service by an administration that sees all government agencies as tools for their personal political gain.
Regarding recent revelations in the NY Times, LA times and Wall Street journal about the secret acquisition of financial intelligence by the government, it is very clear that revelation of this program is of absolutely no impact on current intelligence gathering capabilities. The information gathered through that program has completely dried up as the very adaptable al Qaeda operatives have long since shifted to means that are not trackable.
Suskind has gained access to much of the inner workings of not only the White House, but of the CIA and other agencies. It is clear that he has spoken at length with Tenet and McLaughlin (Tenet’s successor). And we know from his last work that he has corroboration from Paul O’Neill. There is much detail here, sometimes dizzyingly so.
Among items of interest:
Abu Zubaydah was an early capture. But he was not a significant one. In fact, he was characterized by insiders as the equivalent of a Wal-Mart greeter. He was also mentally unstable. (p 111) the United States would torture a mentally disturbed man and then leap, screaming, at every word he uttered.”
(p 214) The “different way” of Cheney’s doctrine was an audacious challenge to international legalities. Where once a discernible act of aggression against America or its national interest was the threshold for a U.S. military response, now even proof of threat is too constraining a standard.
Bush was kept out of the information loop as a matter or strategy:
(p 174) The thinking of several former Nixon administration officials, including Cheney, was not that the break-in and similar actions were the problem. The problem was that the President should have been “protected from” knowledge of such activities.
A president, in this model, can even say, in a general way, that he’d be happy if something were to occur—and have his subordinates execute such wishes—and still retain what, during the Reagan administration, was termed “plausible deniability.” That was what Ronald Reagan essentially did by telling advisers that he wouldn’t mind if they found a way to get around congressional bans on aid to the anti-communist rebels in Nicaragua, but then, when later questioned in a videotaped deposition, saying that he hadn’t “any inkling” of what they actually did.
For some presidents, like the first President Bush, this didn’t work. He demanded to know everything pertinent in making decisions, so he wouldn’t make mistakes. Presidents generally don’t like being surprised, or ending up on a “need to know” basis. The idea of being in-explicitly briefed to water down accountability, or of using oft-reviled inefficiencies of government “Process” to counteract the heightened transparency of the media age, is repugnant to them.
With this new George W. Bush presidency, however, Cheney was able to shape his protective strategy in a particularly proactive way. Keeping certain knowledge from Bush—much of it shrouded, as well, by classification—meant that the President, whose each word circles the globe, could advance serious strategies by saying whatever was needed.
Whether Cheney’s innovations were tailored to match Bush’s inclinations, or vice versa, is almost immaterial. It was a firm fit. Under this strategic model, reading the entire NIE [National Intelligence Estimate, which contained much that cautioned against concluding that WMD were extant in Iraq] would be problematic for Bush: it could hem in the President’s rhetoric, a key weapon in the march to war. He would know too much
A revealing tale of Bush as a young man regarding his view that the way to make people do what you want is to go after them relentlessly:
(p 215) At Harvard Business School, Bush, according to interviews with a dozen classmates, was short on academic skill, but long on bravado and cornball charisma. He distinguished himself in intramural sports and became de facto captain of his class’s winning basketball team, which played against a winning team from the class below, the class of 1976. The game was tight. The other team’s captain, Gary Engle—a mirror image of Bush, athletic, same size, headlong, crafty, mild attention deficit disorder—went up for a shot. Bush slugged him—an elbow to the mouth, knocking him to the parquet. “What the hell are you doing?” Engle remembers saying. “What, do you want to get into a fistfight and both of us end up in the fucking emergency room?” Bush just smiled.
Moments later, at the opposite end of the court, Engle went up high for a rebound and felt someone chop his legs out from under him. Bush again. Engle jumped up and threw the ball in Bush’s face. The two went at it until two teams of future business leaders leapt on their captains, pulling them apart. Engle, angry and vexed by what had happened, began wondering why the hell Bush would have done what he did. He lost his composure, and his team lost its leader.
A few years later, Engle, who was fast making a fortune in Florida real estate, bumped into Jeb Bush. It was 1980 and the young Bush was working with Armando Cordina, a Miami businessman who was the chairman of George H. W. Bush’s Florida campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. Engle, a Republican contributor, had thought from time to time about his game against George. Nothing like that had happened to him before or since. This was his chance to get a little insight about it. He told the story. Jeb kind of laughed, Engle recalled. “In Texas, they call guys like George ‘a hard case.’ It wasn’t easy being his brother either. He truly enjoys getting people to knuckle under.”
An interesting source of information might be publications by one of the Al-Qaeda
operatives, Yusef al-Ayeri. He was (p235) behind a web site, al-Nida, that U.S. investigators had long felt carried some of the most specialized analysis and coded directives about al Qaeda’s motives and plans. He was also the anonymous author of two extraordinary pieces of writing—short books, really, that had recently moved through cyberspace, about Al Qaeda’s underlying strategies. The Future if Iraq and the Arabian Peninsula After the Fall of Baghdad, written as the United States prepared its attack, said that an American invasion of Iraq would be the best possible outcome for al Qaeda, stoking extremism throughout the Persian gulf and south Asia, and achieving precisely the radicalizing quagmire that bin Laden hoped would occur in Afghanistan. A second book, Crusaders’ War, outlined a tactical model for fighting the American forces in Iraq, including “assassination and poisoning the enemy’s food and drink,” remotely triggered explosives, suicide bombings, and lightning strike ambushes. It was the playbook.
(P 302) Inside the analytical shops at CIA and NSC, the Madrid bombings and swift
follow-up investigation flowed neatly into another growing consensus—a conclusion that was the last thing anyone in the White House wanted publicized: al Qaeda might not, at this point, actually want to attack America.
Following text points out that it was al Qaeda strategy to isolate the US from its allies (see the Madrid Bombing) and thereby increase its burden by forcing the withdrawal of those allies. (p 304) “What we understood inside CIA is that al Qaeda just doesn’t act out of bloodlust, or pathological rage. Though their tactics are horrific, they’re not homicidal maniacs. They do what they do to carry forward specific strategic goals,” said a senior CIA official involved in highest-level debates over bin Laden and Zawahiri…”Clearly, they had the capability to attack us in about a hundred different ways. They didn’t. The question was, why?”
(p 334) …at CIA headquarters, [after the installation of Porter Goss] the five o’clock meetings [daily updates on anti-terror actions and intelligence] were becoming
Goss’s people, called “the Gosslings,” were running loyalty tests. Goss made it clear to top brass what he would alter right in an all-agency memo: that the CIA is there to support the policies of the administration. Period.
(P 337) [In late October, 2004, bin Laden had released one of his occasional statements] At the five o’clock meeting, once various reports on latest threats were delivered, John McLaughlin opened the issue with the consensus view: “Bin Laden certainly did a nice favor today for the President.” [It was clear to these people that it served bin Laden well to have George W. Bush in the White House for another four years.]
(p 339) Each moment that passes in which they survive to speak the dream of jihad, and we live with fearful regard and cramped liberties, is a moment of victory on their ledger. Those moments will add up.