!! History Commons Alert, Exciting News
Profile: Vanity Fair
Vanity Fair was a participant or observer in the following events:
Katherine Harris. [Source: AP/Pete Cosgrove]Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, one of eight co-chairs of the Florida Bush election campaign and the state official ultimately in charge of election procedures, is introduced to the politics of the Florida presidential recount by a ringing telephone. She is awakened at 3:30 a.m. by a call from the Bush campaign chairman Donald Evans, who puts Governor Jeb Bush, George W. Bush’s brother, on the line. Governor Bush asks coldly, “Who is Ed Kast, and why is he giving an interview on national television?” Harris is unsure who Kast is for a moment. Kast is the assistant director of elections, whose division reports to her office. He is on television talking about the fine points of Florida election law (see 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000), when and how manual recounts can be requested, and, most importantly, the driving concept of “voter intent”—if a ballot shows the intent of the voter to cast a vote for a candidate, then that vote will be counted. The governor does not want the media narrative to focus on recounts and voter intent, and has already tasked his general counsel with the job of getting Kast off the air as quickly as possible. (CNN “loses” Kast’s transmission in mid-sentence minutes later.) Democrats have questioned the propriety of having the Florida official with ultimate authority over elections being a state chairman for a presidential campaign before now, and in the coming days, the question will devolve into outright accusations of partisanship and impropriety. Harris has called herself “thrilled and honored” to be part of the Bush campaign, and served as a Bush delegate during the Republican National Convention. During the campaign, she often traveled around Florida representing the ticket. Representative Robert Wexler (D-FL) says of Harris: “She is clearly a partisan Republican—and there’s nothing illegal about that. And I give everyone the benefit of the doubt, expecting them to perform their public functions appropriately. But her actions will speak volumes about whether she is qualified. If she does this fairly, fine. But if she acts as an emissary for Bush to steal this election in Florida, she will delegitimize Florida’s vote count.” Harris gives some initial media interviews on November 8, and according to a 2004 Vanity Fair article, “appear[s] overwhelmed and uninformed.” She does not know what county elections supervisors have been doing, and seems unaware of the chaos surrounding the Palm Beach County “butterfly ballot” (see November 9, 2000) and other ballot disputes. The Bush campaign senses trouble and assigns Harris a “minder,” Florida Republican lobbyist Mac Stipanovich, a former campaign advisor for Jeb Bush and a close Bush ally. Stipanovich, the Vanity Fair article will observe, “appealed to Harris’s grandiosity. (Her emails replying to Bush supporters later revealed that she had begun identifying with Queen Esther, who, in the Old Testament, saved the Jews from genocide. ‘My sister and I prayed for full armour this morning,’ she wrote. ‘Queen Esther has been a wonderful role model.’) He told her that nothing less than the course of history rested on her shoulders. ‘You have to bring this election in for a landing,’ he repeated again and again.” Under Stipanovich’s tutelage, Harris quickly learns to stay on message and repeat the given talking points. Stipanovich, who remains out of sight of the media, will later describe his daily routine with Harris to documentary filmmaker Fred Silverman, saying: “I would arrive in the morning through the garage and come up on the elevators, and come in through the cabinet-office door, which is downstairs, and then in the evening when I left, you know, sometimes it’d be late, depending on what was going on, I would go the same way. I would go down the elevators and out through the garage and be driven—driven to my car from the garage, just because there were a lot of people out front on the main floor, and, at least in this small pond, knowledge of my presence would have been provocative, because I have a political background.” [Salon, 11/13/2000; Vanity Fair, 10/2004] Most importantly to the Bush campaign, Harris is a part of the campaign’s message propagation plan to insist that Bush has indisputably won the Florida election (see After 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000).
Entity Tags: George W. Bush presidential campaign 2000, Donald L. Evans, CNN, Ed Kast, George W. Bush, Katherine Harris, Vanity Fair, John Ellis (“Jeb”) Bush, Fred Silverman, Mac Stipanovich, Robert Wexler
Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections
James Baker and Warren Christopher. [Source: Slate / Metrolic]The Gore campaign sends a quick-response team led by Al Gore’s former chief of staff, lawyer Ron Klain, to Florida to deal with the uncertainty of the Florida presidential race (see Early Morning, November 8, 2000). Almost immediately, Klain and his group are inundated with rumors of voting irregularities—understaffed polling places in Democratic strongholds, Democratic voters sent on “wild goose chases” to find their proper polling places, African-Americans illegally prevented from voting (see November 7, 2000), police roadblocks set up to keep voters from reaching their polls (see 11:30 a.m. November 7, 2000). Klain and his group are unable to ascertain the truth or fiction behind some of the rumors, though they learn about one that is verifiable—the problems surrounding Palm Beach County’s “butterfly ballot” that seem to have cost Gore some 2,600 votes (see November 9, 2000). Klain and the Gore campaign’s Florida head, Nick Baldick, learn that 10,000 votes for both candidates in Palm Beach have been set aside, uncounted, because of their classification as “undervotes”—votes that record no choice for president. Some 4 percent of Palm Beach voters cast their votes for senator but not for president, according to the machine scoring, a conclusion Klain and Baldick find hard to believe. They soon learn that many more “undervotes” were set aside in Miami-Dade County, like Palm Beach a Democratic stronghold. Broward County, which includes the heavily Democratic Fort Lauderdale region, is the source of a number of rumors concerning missing ballot boxes and unbelievable precinct totals. And Volusia County, another expected mine of Gore voters, initially reported a total of negative 16,000 votes for Gore. The automatic recount triggered by Florida law would not address any of these issues; manual recounts and human examination of ballots would be required to sort through the inconsistencies. Klain asks a number of Florida lawyers for legal advice and finds little help: the lawyers he contacts tell him that they are reluctant to give too much aid to the Gore campaign. “All the establishment firms knew they couldn’t cross Governor [Jeb] Bush [brother of presidential candidate George W. Bush] and do business in Florida,” Klain will later recall. Klain instead pulls together an ad hoc team to be led by former Secretary of State Warren Christopher, now a lawyer in Los Angeles. Gore chooses Christopher because he believes Christopher will lend the team an image of decorous, law-abiding respectability. But, according to a 2004 Vanity Fair report, “Christopher set a different tone, one that would characterize the Democrats’ efforts over the next 35 days: hesitancy and trepidation.” One of Christopher’s first statements on the situation is given to Gore’s running mate Joseph Lieberman, with Christopher saying: “I think we should be aggressive in asserting our position. But we’ve got to temper what we do with the realization that the nation is focused on us and is expecting to act responsibly.” The Bush campaign’s approach is very different from that taken by the sometimes-timorous Christopher. Their quick-response campaign team is headed by Texas lawyer James Baker, a close Bush family friend and another former secretary of state. As Vanity Fair will write, the Bush team “dug in like a pit bull,” issuing frequent press statements that hew to the same line: Bush won the vote on the morning of November 8 (see 2:15 a.m. November 8, 2000 and After 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000) and therefore is the legitimate president. Any attempts to alter that “fact” amount to “mischief.” Privately, Baker worries that the narrative is untenable, telling his team: “We’re getting killed on ‘count all the votes.’ Who the hell could be against that?” The Gore campaign will ask for manual recounts in four counties, Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade, and Volusia (see November 9, 2000), and the choice of selective recounts, as opposed to asking for statewide recounts, gives Baker the opening he is looking for. [National Journal, 11/9/2000; Tapper, 3/2001; Vanity Fair, 10/2004]
Entity Tags: County of Palm Beach (Florida), Warren Christopher, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., Al Gore presidential campaign 2000, County of Miami-Dade (Florida), Ron Klain, Vanity Fair, Joseph Lieberman, George W. Bush presidential campaign 2000, George W. Bush, County of Volusia (Florida), Nick Baldick, John Ellis (“Jeb”) Bush, James A. Baker, County of Broward (Florida)
Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections
An example of a ballot with so-called ‘hanging chads,’ ‘chads’ punched partially through the ballot but still ‘hanging’ on to the back of the ballot. Punch-card voting machines often do not read these as votes. [Source: Authentic History]The presidential campaign team of Vice President Al Gore asks for a hand count of presidential ballots in four Florida counties, as allowed under Florida Election Code 102.166. Gore’s recount request covers four Florida Democratic strongholds: Palm Beach, Miami-Dade, Broward, and Volusia. Between them, the four counties recorded about 1.8 million votes cast. All four counties seem to have serious issues surrounding their vote totals (see November 7, 2000 and Mid-Morning, November 8, 2000).
Florida Has No Legal Provision for Statewide Recounts This Early - The Gore decision to ask for the specific recounts in four counties is necessary, as Florida state law has no provision for a statewide recount request at this stage: a candidate has 72 hours after an election to request manual recounts on a county-by-county basis, and such requests must be based on perceived errors. Otherwise the candidate must wait until the election is formally certified and then make a request for a statewide recount—a request the Gore team felt certain would be refused by Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, who is also the co-chair for the Florida Bush campaign (see After 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000 and After).
Accusations of 'Cherry-Picking' - However, the Bush team uses the Gore request of “selective recounts” to launch a press narrative that Gore wants to “cherry-pick” counties for recounts that he thinks will give him an advantage, regardless of Gore’s claims that he wants “all votes counted.” As Vanity Fair will observe in 2004: “Proper as this was by Florida election law, the Democrats’ strategy gave [Bush lawyer James] Baker the sound bite he’d been seeking: Gore was just cherry-picking Democratic strongholds. It was a charge the Bush team wielded to devastating effect in the media, stunning the Gore team, which thought its strategy would be viewed as modest and fair.” The Gore campaign, shocked by what it perceives as the patent unfairness of the Bush response and by the media’s apparent acceptance of it, responds poorly, giving the Bush campaign the opportunity to set the narrative. [Vanity Fair, 10/2004; Leip, 2008]
Bush Threatens More Recounts - The Bush campaign threatens to demand recounts in Wisconsin, Iowa, and New Mexico if Gore does not withdraw his challenges in Florida. [Authentic History, 7/31/2011]
Swapping Accusations - Former Republican Party chairman Haley Barbour accuses the Democrats of “trying to to take the election of the president out of the election process, which is controlled by voters, and put it in the court process, which is controlled by lawyers.” Former Representative Bill Paxon (R-FL) accuses the Gore campaign of using “legal action to undermine this vote. They know that their chances to win are slim to none.” Bush campaign chairman Donald Evans says, “Vice President Gore’s campaign didn’t like the outcome of Election Day, and it seems they’re worried that they won’t like the official recount result either.” Gore’s campaign chairman William Daley says of the Bush campaign, “I believe that their actions to try to presumptively crown themselves the victors, to try to put in place a transition (see November 9, 2000), run the risk of dividing the American people and creating a sense of confusion.” Gore spokesman Chris Kehane tells a CNN audience: “This is a nation of laws, we ought to respect our laws. But we think that our victory is going to be sweet. We think we have won the popular vote. That’s pretty clear. And we believe we are going to win the popular vote within the state of Florida and thereby win the electoral vote as well.” Gore himself “pledge[s]” to honor the results of the election should the recounts show that Bush is the legitimate winner, saying that the recount “must be resolved in a way that satisfied the public and honors the office of the presidency.” [National Journal, 11/9/2000; New York Times, 11/9/2000]
Entity Tags: County of Miami-Dade (Florida), County of Broward (Florida), Bill Paxon, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., Al Gore presidential campaign 2000, William Michael (“Bill”) Daley, Vanity Fair, Katherine Harris, James A. Baker, George W. Bush, Donald L. Evans, George W. Bush presidential campaign 2000, Haley Barbour, County of Volusia (Florida), Chris Kehane, County of Palm Beach (Florida)
Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections
The “quick response” legal team of the Bush presidential campaign, led by former Secretary of State James Baker (see After 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000 and Mid-Morning, November 8, 2000), asks for a federal injunction to stop hand recounts of ballots in several Florida counties because of what it alleges are equal protection and other constitutional violations (see November 9, 2000). Two days later, US District Judge Donald Middlebrooks rejects the request. Throughout the upcoming weeks, Baker and his team will continue to demand that recounts be blocked, while accusing the Gore campaign of asking for “recount after recount” and saying that the voting machine totals are more accurate than manual (hand) vote tallies. [US District Court, Southern District of Florida, 11/13/2000 ; US News and World Report, 12/13/2000; CNN, 12/13/2000; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 12/17/2000; Leip, 2008] The Bush campaign decided after the manual recounts that it must stop all subsequent recounts, but at the same time must pin the blame for “taking the election to court” on the Gore campaign. So even though Baker and his team are the first to file motions in court, and though it is Baker’s team that will contest all recounts from this point onward, Baker and his team will persist in accusing the Gore campaign of trying to have the election decided in court and not by the votes. A 2004 article in Vanity Fair will characterize this attempt as very successful in the mainstream media. [Vanity Fair, 10/2004]
The deadline of midnight November 17 for Florida to count and tally all overseas absentee ballots, under Florida Administrative Code, Chapter 1S-2.013, arrives. [Leip, 2008] A US News and World Report article indicates that the deadline is noon November 18, not midnight of November 17, though this indication is erroneous. Absentee ballots continue to trickle in and be counted throughout the day and into the evening. [US News and World Report, 12/13/2000; Authentic History, 7/31/2011] Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, the co-chair of Florida’s Bush campaign team (see After 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000 and After), issues an opinion—in conflict with Florida state law—saying that absentee ballots can be counted even if received by mail up to 10 days after November 17 as long as they were sent from outside the country and postmarked by Election Day. Rumors of large numbers of military absentee ballots, presumably favoring George W. Bush in number, and a large number of ballots from American Jews in Israel, presumably favoring Al Gore, have swirled for days among the media and in both campaigns. A 2004 article by Vanity Fair will speculate that Mac Stipanovich, Harris’s “handler” from the Bush campaign, made the decision to have Harris issue her opinion after deciding that the likelihood of Bush gaining votes from the military absentee ballots was higher than the speculative Gore bounce from the perhaps-mythical flurry of votes from Israel. [Vanity Fair, 10/2004] Bush gains 123 votes from the absentee ballots (see November 15-17, 2000).
The clerks for the four liberal justices at the Supreme Court—John Paul Stevens, Stephen Breyer, David Souter, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg—continue their speculation as to whether the Court will actually attempt to decide the presidential election ((see November 20-21, 2000 and November 22-24, 2000), especially in light of Florida’s recent attempt to certify George W. Bush as the winner (see 7:30 p.m. November 26, 2000). At a November 29 dinner attended by clerks from several justices, a clerk for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor tells the group that O’Connor is determined to overturn the Florida Supreme Court’s decision to go ahead with manual recounts of election ballots (see 3:00 p.m., November 16, 2000). One clerk recalls the O’Connor clerk saying, “she thought the Florida court was trying to steal the election and that they had to stop it.” O’Connor has the reputation of deciding an issue on her “gut,” then finding legal justifications for supporting her decision. Unbeknownst to anyone outside the Court, O’Connor has already made up her mind. Gore lawyers in particular will spend endless hours trying to craft arguments to sway her vote, when the actual case will come down to Justice Anthony Kennedy, who originally wanted to accept the case. Many clerks of both liberal and conservative justices have little respect or regard for Kennedy. They consider him, according to a 2004 Vanity Fair article, “pompous and grandiloquent.” They believe he fills his office with elaborate, expensive decorations and trappings, including an elaborate chandelier, to give the idea of his power and importance. “The clerks saw his public persona—the very public way in which he boasted of often agonizing over decisions—as a kind of shtick, a very conspicuous attempt to exude fairness and appear moderate, even when he’d already made up his mind,” according to the Vanity Fair article. Conservative clerks suspect Kennedy of untoward liberal leanings, and have taken steps to ensure that the clerks he receives are ideologically sound. One liberal clerk later explains the conservative justices’ reasoning, saying, “The premise is that he can’t think by himself, and that he can be manipulated by someone in his second year of law school.” By now, Kennedy is surrounded by clerks from the hard-right Federalist Society. “He had four very conservative, Federalist Society white guys, and if you look at the portraits of law clerks on his wall, that’s true nine times out of 10,” another liberal law clerk will recall. “They were by far the least diverse group of clerks.” The conservative and liberal clerks do not socialize with one another as a rule, so it is unusual when, a day after the clerk dinner, Kevin Martin, a clerk for conservative justice Antonin Scalia, visits Stevens’s chambers. Martin went to Columbia Law School with Stevens’s clerk Anne Voigts, and he wants to see if he can explain to her the conservatives’ judicial point of view. However, two other Stevens clerks, Eduardo Penalver and Andrew Siegel, believe Martin is on some sort of reconnaissance mission, attempting to find out what grounds Stevens will cite to argue against overturning the Florida decision. Penalver and Siegel believe Martin is trying to manipulate Voigts, and Martin, after telling them to “F_ck off!” storms out of Stevens’s chambers. Clerks from O’Connor’s staff pay similar visits to other liberal justices, though these conversations do not end so contentiously. [Vanity Fair, 10/2004] O’Connor said to partygoers when the news networks announced the election for Al Gore, “This is terrible” (see After 7:50 p.m. November 7, 2000).
Entity Tags: Eduardo Penalver, Anthony Kennedy, Anne Voigts, Andrew Siegel, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., David Souter, US Supreme Court, Vanity Fair, Sandra Day O’Connor, George W. Bush, Florida Supreme Court, Federalist Society, Antonin Scalia, Kevin Martin, John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer
Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections, Civil Liberties
The US Supreme Court hears oral arguments on the Bush presidential campaign’s challenge on constitutional grounds of Florida Supreme Court’s ruling on selective manual recounts (see November 20-21, 2000). The case is Bush v. Palm Beach Canvassing Board. Throngs of protesters surround the Supreme Court building. Inside, the justices’ questions indicate that they are divided on the legality of the Florida high court’s intervention, and some justices seem to think that Florida courts should resolve the issue. Justice Anthony Kennedy says, “We’re looking for a federal issue.” Justice Stephen Breyer asks, “What’s the consequence of our going one way or the other now in this case?” Observers will later describe Laurence Tribe, an experienced Supreme Court litigator representing the Gore campaign, as listless and flat, while Theodore Olson, arguing the Bush campaign’s case, is “more impressive.” Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Justice Antonin Scalia give the impression that they believe the Florida Supreme Court encroached on the Florida legislature’s bailiwick. Justices Kennedy and Sandra Day O’Connor (see After 7:50 p.m. November 7, 2000 and (November 29, 2000)) express their irritation with the Gore arguments. When the arguments are over, the justices meet in chambers for the usual conference. At one end of the argument is Scalia, who wants to overturn the Florida decision and in essence award George W. Bush the election, and at the other, Justice John Paul Stevens, who wants the Court to stay out of the case altogether. Neither justice can command a majority among the other seven. Rehnquist begins drafting a ruling asking the Florida high court to clarify its ruling, to cite the state constitution in its decision (which the Bush team had argued would have been improper), or under state law (which the Bush team had found arguably permissible). All nine justices eventually sign onto Rehnquist’s opinion. A 2004 Vanity Fair article will observe: “The unanimity was, in fact, a charade; four of the justices had no beef at all with the Florida Supreme Court, while at least four others were determined to overturn it. But this way each side could claim victory: the liberal-to-moderate justices had spared the Court a divisive and embarrassing vote on the merits, one they’d probably have lost anyway. As for the conservatives, by eating up Gore’s clock—Gore’s lawyers had conceded that everything had to be resolved by December 12—they had all but killed his chances to prevail, and without looking needlessly partisan in the process. With the chastened Florida court unlikely to intervene again, the election could now stagger to a close, with the Court’s reputation intact, and with Bush all but certain to win.” On December 4, in a setback for the Gore campaign, the Court unanimously sets aside the Florida Supreme Court ruling and remands for clarification the Florida Supreme Court’s decision. [Supreme Court of the United States, 12/4/2000; US News and World Report, 12/13/2000; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 12/17/2000; Vanity Fair, 10/2004; Leip, 2008]
Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., Al Gore presidential campaign 2000, Florida Supreme Court, William Rehnquist, Sandra Day O’Connor, US Supreme Court, County of Palm Beach (Florida), Laurence Tribe, John Paul Stevens, Theodore (“Ted”) Olson, George W. Bush presidential campaign 2000, Vanity Fair, Stephen Breyer
Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections
Part of the opening page of Gore Vidal’s article about Timothy McVeigh in Vanity Fair. [Source: Vanity Fair]Vanity Fair publishes a profile of convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 7:14 a.m. June 11, 2001) by author and pundit Gore Vidal, who attended McVeigh’s execution (see May 6, 2001) and who exchanged letters with McVeigh for three years while he awaited execution. McVeigh invited Vidal to attend his execution as a result of their letter exchange.
Simplistic Portrayal of McVeigh as Lone 'Mad Bomber' - Vidal is convinced that the government orchestrated McVeigh’s conviction (see June 2, 1997) and the media’s portrayal of McVeigh as a lone mad bomber who “wanted to destroy innocent lives for no reason other than a spontaneous joy in evildoing.” Vidal also asserts that, in the government’s story, McVeigh “had no serious accomplices” (see December 23, 1997 and June 4, 1998). Orchestrating the media response was not particularly difficult, he writes, as few in the mainstream press were particularly interested in why McVeigh carried out the bombing aside from the simple explanation that he was “evil incarnate.” Any explanation of more complexity, Vidal writes, was dismissed as wild conspiracy theories. It was predictable, Vidal writes, that evidence pertinent to McVeigh’s case was not provided until well after his conviction and sentencing (see May 10-11, 2001), and that it would be largely ignored (see June 1-7, 2001). Vidal recounts numerous instances where, when he began to attempt an explanation of McVeigh’s obsession with the 1993 Branch Davidian conflagration (see April 19, 1993) and his belief that he was at war with the US government on a variety of news broadcasts, he was cut short by the hosts.
'Counter-Attack' against US Government - According to Vidal, McVeigh was clear in his letters that the bombing was more than just, McVeigh wrote, “a simple act of ‘revenge’ for Waco,” but “a strike against the US government,” or more precisely, “a ‘counter-attack’ rather than a self-declared war.” In one letter, he quoted pundit H.L. Mencken as writing, “Every normal man must be temped at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats.” Vidal recalls that he warned McVeigh that “Mencken often resorted to Swiftian hyperbole and was not to be taken too literally.” He then speculates on the “interesting possibility,” perhaps “the grandest conspiracy of all… that he neither made nor set off the bomb outside the Murrah Building: it was only later, when facing either death or life imprisonment, that he saw to it that would be given sole credit for hoisting the black flag and slitting throats, to the rising fury of various ‘militias’ across the land who are currently outraged that he is getting sole credit for a revolutionary act organized, some say, by many others. At the end, if this scenario is correct, he and the detested Feds were of a single mind.” Regardless of who carried out the bombing, Vidal writes, it is clear that “McVeigh himself was eager to commit what he called ‘federally assisted suicide.’” Vidal quotes an interview with Dr. John Smith, a psychiatrist who interviewed McVeigh in prison and was then released from his oath of confidentiality by McVeigh to discuss his findings with reporters, who concluded that McVeigh was quite sane, and carried out the bombing both in revenge for the Waco assault and because “he also wanted to make a political statement about the role of the federal government and protest the use of force against the citizens.” Smith found that McVeigh was disappointed that the media had refused to discuss what he considered “the misuse of power by the federal government” that impelled him to carry out the bombing.
Limited Contact with Militias - According to Smith, McVeigh told him, “I did not expect a revolution.” He had had numerous discussions with some of the militia groups around Kingman, Arizona, Smith said, about how easy it would be to “cut Interstate 40 in two” and thereby disrupt the transportation between the eastern and western portions of the country, but those discussions, McVeigh told Smith, were “rather grandiose” and never acted upon. Vidal acknowledges that for three years before the bombing, McVeigh lived in the semi-underground world of the American militia movement. During that time, he came to believe, as many militia members did at the time, that the federal government planned on following up its assault weapons ban (see September 13, 1994) with a massive, nationwide raid on gun owners and militia members in the spring of 1995. Vidal writes, “This was all the trigger that McVeigh needed for what he would do—shuffled the deck, as it were.” Vidal claims that McVeigh, unlike many militia members, had “no hang-ups about blacks, Jews, and all the other enemies of the various ‘Aryan’ white nations to be found in the Patriots’ ranks.” He was fascinated with the violently racist novel The Turner Diaries (see 1978) and 1987-1988), he acknowledges, but only for its themes of individual Americans using guns and explosives to overthrow “the System.” Smith bolstered Vidal’s contention by reporting that McVeigh had insisted to him that he was not a racist nor a homophobe—“he made that very clear.”
Rationale for Bombing, and for Killing Civilians, Children - Vidal quotes a 1998 essay McVeigh wrote for the right-wing publication Media Bypass, “Essay on Hypocrisy,” that addressed his choice to blow up the Murrah Building, which contained a daycare center. The US, he wrote, set the precedent for bombing and killing civilians. When US military forces attack Iraqi government buildings with daycare centers or schools in them, McVeigh wrote, the media reported the children were being used as “shields” by the Iraqis. Vidal claims that no evidence exists that proves McVeigh knew about the presence of children in the Murrah Building, and repeats McVeigh’s claims that he had no such foreknowledge. However, Vidal notes, the FBI knew about the children in the Branch Davidian compound, “and managed to kill 27 of them.” In a final set of longhand notes McVeigh sent to Vidal in the weeks before his execution, McVeigh wrote: “I explain herein why I bombed the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. I explain this not for publicity, nor seeking to win an argument of right or wrong, I explain so that the record is clear as to my thinking and motivations in bombing a government installation. I chose to bomb a Federal Building because such an action served more purposes than other options. Foremost, the bombing was a retaliatory strike: a counter-attack, for the cumulative raids (and subsequent violence and damage) that federal agents had participated in over the preceding years (including, but not limited to, Waco). From the formation of such units as the FBI’s ‘Hostage Rescue’ and other assault teams amongst federal agencies during the 80s, culminating in the Waco incident, federal actions grew increasingly militaristic and violent, to the point where at Waco, our government—like the Chinese—was deploying tanks against its own citizens.” The federal government has militarized the police, he wrote, and his bombing was designed as a “pre-emptive (or pro-active) strike against those forces and their command and control centers within the federal building. When an aggressor force continually launches attacks from a particular base of operations, it is sound military strategy to take the flight to the enemy. Additionally, borrowing a page from US foreign policy, I decided to send a message to a government that was becoming increasingly hostile, by bombing a government building and the government employees within that building who represent that government. Bombing the Murrah Federal Building was morally and strategically equivalent to the US hitting a government building in Serbia, Iraq, or other nations. Based on observations of the policies of my own government, I viewed this action as an acceptable option. From this perspective what occurred in Oklahoma City was no different than what Americans rain on the heads of others all the time, and, subsequently, my mindset was and is one of clinical detachment. (The bombing of the Murrah Building was not personal no more than when Air Force, Army, Navy, or Marine personnel bomb or launch cruise missiles against (foreign) government installations and their personnel.)”
'Exaggerated Sense of Justice' - Vidal has previously written that McVeigh suffered from what he called “an exaggerated sense of justice,” outraging many who read his words. He defends that characterization, and writes, “I knew that few Americans seriously believe that anyone is capable of doing anything except out of personal self-interest, while anyone who deliberately risks—and gives—his life to alert his fellow citizens to an onerous government is truly crazy.” McVeigh’s act may not have sparked a rebellion, Vidal writes, but it did presage an explosion of sorts in the number of citizens identifying themselves with the militia movement, many of whom joined local militia groups because they believed the government had orchestrated the bombing and then unjustly blamed McVeigh for it. Others believe that government agents planted bombs inside the Murrah Building set to go off when McVeigh’s truck bomb detonated. Many believe that McVeigh was used by the government to perpetuate “state police power,” similar to instances during the Vietnam War when “bogus Viet Cong units that were sent out to rape and murder Vietnamese to discredit the National Liberation Front,” or when US forces pretended to “find” Communist arms dumps in El Salvador. Vidal repeats the tale that all 17 members of the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) working in their Murrah Building office suspiciously failed to report to work on the day of the bombing, suggesting that they knew of the bombing in advance (see December 30, 1998).
Militia Involvement? - Vidal then engages in a long and detailed attack on the evidence that shows McVeigh and his co-conspirator Terry Nichols built the bomb themselves. He believes that McVeigh and Nichols were involved in a complex and shadowy “plot involving militia types and government infiltrators—who knows?—as prime movers to create panic in order to get” President Clinton to enact the Anti-Terrorism Act, and cites research by journalist and author Joel Dyer, who in his own writings detailed his belief that the government downplayed McVeigh’s militia affiliations to make a case that he was a quintessential and possibly deranged “lone bomber.” Dyer and Vidal both cite the poor defense put on by McVeigh’s trial lawyer, Stephen Jones, who, Dyer contended, “often left the jury more confused and bored than convinced of his client’s innocence. Even when he succeeded in his attempts to demonstrate that a large conspiracy was behind the bombing, he did little to show that McVeigh was not at the center of the conspiracy. Jones’s case led some reporters to speculate that McVeigh himself was limiting his own defense in order to prevent evidence that might implicate others in the bombing from entering the record.” McVeigh did indeed confess to the bombing to his defense lawyers and, later, to Vidal, but, Vidal writes, “I believe that by confessing McVeigh was, once again, playing the soldier, attempting to protect his co-conspirators.” Vidal writes that his own research has unearthed a number of militia members who may have played a part in the April 19 bombing, and a systematic effort by the FBI and the McVeigh prosecution team to quash any evidence of that sort during McVeigh’s trial. He also challenges the government’s assertion that the reports of a third co-conspirator, “John Doe No. 2,” was a US Army private with no connection to McVeigh or the bombing (see January 29, 1997). Instead, he writes, that person was likely a well-known militia member in Shawnee County, Kansas, and possibly a member of the separatist Republic of Texas organization. He cites a book on the bombing by former journalist David Hoffman, who was convicted of trying to tamper with the McVeigh jury (see December 30, 1998), as being “the most thorough of a dozen or two accounts of what did and did not happen on that day in April.” Like Vidal, Hoffman does not believe that McVeigh’s truck bomb could have caused the damage inflicted on the Murrah Building, and cites a number of military and government experts who make the same contentions, even citing one report that claims the “five separate bombs” used in the explosion “have a Middle Eastern ‘signature,’ pointing to either Iraqi or Syrian involvement” (see 10:00 a.m. April 19, 1995 and After). Vidal notes that the search for bodies in the destroyed building was halted after 16 days (see May 4, 1995), against the wishes of those who wanted to continue attempting to search for more evidence in the bomb site. Six days later the building was demolished (see 7:01 a.m. May 23, 1995), leading one critic, retired Air Force Brigadier General Benton K. Partin, to declare that the building was demolished as “a classic cover-up” executed by Communist agents. Vidal writes of Partin’s belief that Communists orchestrated the cover-up, “Well, nobody’s perfect.” (Vidal errs in his “six day” claim; the building was demolished 19 days later.) Vidal writes: “In the end, McVeigh, already condemned to death, decided to take full credit for the bombing. Was he being a good professional soldier, covering up for others? Or did he, perhaps, now see himself in a historic role with his own private Harper’s Ferry, and though his ashes molder in the grave, his spirit is marching on? We may know—one day.” [Vanity Fair, 9/2001]
Entity Tags: Joel Dyer, David Hoffman, Benton K. Partin, Federal Bureau of Investigation, H.L. Mencken, Timothy James McVeigh, Gore Vidal, Stephen Jones, Terry Lynn Nichols, Vanity Fair, John Smith, Murrah Federal Building
Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism
Abu Zeinab al-Qurairy, posing as Jamal al-Ghurairy for Frontline. [Source: PBS]An Iraqi defector identifying himself as Jamal al-Ghurairy, a former lieutenant general in Saddam Hussein’s intelligence corps, the Mukhabarat, tells two US reporters that he has witnessed foreign Islamic militants training to hijack airplanes at an alleged Iraqi terrorist training camp at Salman Pak, near Baghdad. Al-Ghurairy also claims to know of a secret compound at Salman Pak where Iraqi scientists, led by a German, are producing biological weapons. Al-Ghurairy is lying both about his experiences and even his identity, though the reporters, New York Times war correspondent Chris Hedges and PBS’s Christopher Buchanan, do not know this. The meeting between al-Ghurairy and the reporters, which takes place on November 6, 2001, in a luxury suite in a Beirut hotel, was arranged by Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress (INC). Buchanan later recalls knowing little about al-Ghurairy, except that “[h]is life might be in danger. I didn’t know much else.” Hedges recalls the former general’s “fierce” appearance and “military bearing.… He looked the part.” Al-Ghurairy is accompanied by several other people, including the INC’s political liaison, Nabeel Musawi. “They were slick and well organized,” Buchanan recalls. Hedges confirms al-Ghurairy’s credibility with the US embassy in Turkey, where he is told that CIA and FBI agents had recently debriefed him. The interview is excerpted for an upcoming PBS Frontline episode, along with another interview with an INC-provided defector, former Iraqi sergeant Sabah Khodada, who echoes al-Ghurairy’s tale. While the excerpt of al-Ghurairy’s interview is relatively short, the interview itself takes over an hour. Al-Ghurairy does not allow his face to be shown on camera.
Times Reports Defectors' Tale - Two days later, on November 8, Hedges publishes a story about al-Ghurairy in the New York Times Times. The Frontline episode airs that same evening. [New York Times, 11/8/2001; Mother Jones, 4/2006] Hedges does not identify al-Ghurairy by name, but reports that he, Khodada, and a third unnamed Iraqi sergeant claim to have “worked for several years at a secret Iraqi government camp that had trained Islamic terrorists in rotations of five or six months since 1995. They said the training at the camp, south of Baghdad, was aimed at carrying out attacks against neighboring countries and possibly Europe and the United States.” Whether the militants being trained are linked to al-Qaeda or Osama bin Laden, the defectors cannot be sure, nor do they know of any specific attacks carried out by the militants. Hedges writes that the interviews were “set up by an Iraqi group that seeks the overthrow of… Hussein.” He quotes al-Ghurairy as saying, “There is a lot we do not know. We were forbidden to speak about our activities among each other, even off duty. But over the years, you see and hear things. These Islamic radicals were a scruffy lot. They needed a lot of training, especially physical training. But from speaking with them, it was clear they came from a variety of countries, including Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Algeria, Egypt, and Morocco. We were training these people to attack installations important to the United States. The Gulf War never ended for Saddam Hussein. He is at war with the United States. We were repeatedly told this.” He uses Khodada’s statements as support for al-Ghurairy’s, identifies Khodada by name, and says that Khodada “immigrated to Texas” in May 2001 “after working as an instructor for eight years at Salman Pak…” He quotes the sergeant as saying, “We could see them train around the fuselage. We could see them practice taking over the plane.” Al-Ghurairy adds that the militants were trained to take over a plane without using weapons. Hedges reports that Richard Sperzel, the former chief of the UN biological weapons inspection teams in Iraq, says that the Iraqis always claimed Salman Pak was an anti-terror training camp for Iraqi special forces. However, Sperzel says, “[M]any of us had our own private suspicions. We had nothing specific as evidence.” The US officials who debriefed al-Ghurairy, Hedges reports, do not believe that the Salman Pak training has any links to the 9/11 hijackings. Hedges asks about one of the militants, a clean-shaven Egyptian. “No, he was not Mohamed Atta.” Atta led the 9/11 hijackers. Hedges notes that stories such as this one will likely prompt “an intense debate in Washington over whether to extend the war against Osama bin Laden and the Taliban government of Afghanistan to include Iraq.” [New York Times, 11/8/2001; Columbia Journalism Review, 7/1/2004]
Heavy Press Coverage - The US media immediately reacts, with op-eds running in major newspapers throughout the country and cable-news pundits bringing the story to their audiences. National security adviser Condoleezza Rice says of the story, “I think it surprises no one that Saddam Hussein is engaged in all kinds of activities that are destabilizing.” The White House will use al-Ghurairy’s claims in its background paper, “Decade of Deception and Defiance,” prepared for President’s Bush September 12, 2002 speech to the UN General Assembly (see September 12, 2002). Though the tale lacks specifics, it helps bolster the White House’s attempts to link Saddam Hussein to the 9/11 hijackers, and helps promote Iraq as a legitimate target in the administration’s war on terror. (Five years later, the reporters involved in the story admit they were duped—see April 2006.)
Complete Fiction - The story, as it turns out, is, in the later words of Mother Jones reporter Jack Fairweather, “an elaborate scam.” Not only did US agents in Turkey dismiss the purported lieutenant general’s claims out of hand—a fact they did not pass on to Hedges—but the man who speaks with Hedges and Buchanan is not even Jamal al-Ghurairy. The man they interviewed is actually a former Iraqi sergeant living in Turkey under the pseudonym Abu Zainab. (His real name is later ascertained to be Abu Zeinab al-Qurairy, and is a former Iraqi general and senior officer in the Mukhabarat.) The real al-Ghurairy has never left Iraq. In 2006, he will be interviewed by Fairweather, and will confirm that he was not the man interviewed in 2001 (see October 2005). [Columbia Journalism Review, 7/1/2004; Mother Jones, 4/2006] Hedges and Buchanan were not the first reporters to be approached for the story. The INC’s Francis Brooke tried to interest Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff in interviewing Khodada to discuss Salman Pak. Isikoff will recall in 2004 that “he didn’t know what to make of the whole thing or have any way to evaluate the story so I didn’t write about it.” [Columbia Journalism Review, 7/1/2004]
"The Perfect Hoax" - The interview was set up by Chalabi, the leader of the INC, and former CBS producer Lowell Bergman. Bergman had interviewed Khodada previously, but was unable to journey to Beirut, so he and Chalabi briefed Hedges in London before sending him to meet with the defector. Chalabi and Bergman have a long relationship; Chalabi has been a source for Bergman since 1991. The CIA withdrew funding from the group in 1996 (see January 1996) due to its poor intelligence and attempts at deception. For years, the INC combed the large Iraqi exile communities in Damascus and Amman for those who would trade information—real or fabricated—in return for the INC’s assistance in obtaining asylum to the West. Helping run that network was Mohammed al-Zubaidi, who after 9/11 began actively coaching defectors, according to an ex-INC official involved in the INC’s media operations (see December 17, 2001 and July 9, 2004). The ex-INC official, Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri, did everything from help defectors brush up and polish their stories, to concocting scripts that defectors with little or no knowledge could recite: “They learned the words, and then we handed them over to the American agencies and journalists.” After 9/11, the INC wanted to come up with a big story that would fix the public perception of Saddam Hussein’s involvement in the 9/11 attacks. Al-Zubaidi was given the task. He came up with al-Ghurairy. He chose Zainab for his knowledge of the Iraqi military, brought him to Beirut, paid him, and began prepping him. In the process, al-Zainab made himself known to American and Turkish intelligence officials as al-Ghurairy. “It was the perfect hoax,” al-Haideri will recall in 2006. “The man was a born liar and knew enough about the military to get by, whilst Saddam’s regime could hardly produce the real Ghurairy without revealing at least some of the truth of the story.” Al-Haideri will say that the reality of the Salman Pak story was much as the Iraqis claimed—Iraqi special forces were trained in hostage and hijack scenarios. Al-Zubaidi, who in 2004 will admit to his propaganda activities, calls Al-Zainab “an opportunist, cheap and manipulative. He has poetic interests and has a vivid imagination in making up stories.” [Mother Jones, 4/2006]
Stories Strain Credulity - Knight Ridder reporter Jonathan Landay later says of al-Qurairy, “As you track their stories, they become ever more fantastic, and they’re the same people who are telling these stories, until you get to the most fantastic tales of all, which appeared in Vanity Fair magazine.” Perhaps al-Qurairy’s most fabulous story is that of a training exercise to blow up a full-size mockup of a US destroyer in a lake in central Iraq. Landay adds, “Or, jumping into pits of fouled water and having to kill a dog with your bare teeth. I mean, and this was coming from people, who are appearing in all of these stories, and sometimes their rank would change.… And, you’re saying, ‘Wait a minute. There’s something wrong here, because in this story he was a major, but in this story the guy’s a colonel. And, in this story this was his function, but now he says in this story he was doing something else.’” Landay’s bureau chief, John Walcott, says of al-Qurairy, “What he did was reasonably clever but fairly obvious, which is he gave the same stuff to some reporters that, for one reason or another, he felt would simply report it. And then he gave the same stuff to people in the Vice President’s office [Dick Cheney] and in the Secretary of Defense’s office [Donald Rumsfeld]. And so, if the reporter called the Department of Defense or the Vice President’s office to check, they would’ve said, ‘Oh, I think that’s… you can go with that. We have that, too.’ So, you create the appearance, or Chalabi created the appearance, that there were two sources, and that the information had been independently confirmed, when, in fact, there was only one source. And it hadn’t been confirmed by anybody.” Landay adds, “[L]et’s not forget how close these people were to this administration, which raises the question, was there coordination? I can’t tell you that there was, but it sure looked like it.” [PBS, 4/25/2007]
No Evidence Found - On April 6, 2003, US forces will overrun the Salman Pak facility. They will find nothing to indicate that the base was ever used to train terrorists (see April 6, 2003).
Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Richard Sperzel, Newsweek, Saddam Hussein, Taliban, New York Times, Sabah Khodada, Washington Post, United Nations, Vanity Fair, Nabeel Musawi, Public Broadcasting System, Mother Jones, Ahmed Chalabi, Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri, Abu Zeinab al-Qurairy, Chris Hedges, Al-Qaeda, CBS News, Bush administration (43), Central Intelligence Agency, Mukhabarat, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, Francis Brooke, Lowell Bergman, Michael Isikoff, Mohammed al-Zubaidi, Jonathan Landay, John Walcott, Jamal al-Ghurairy, Jack Fairweather, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Christopher Buchanan, Iraqi National Congress
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda
FBI senior interrogator and al-Qaeda expert Ali Soufan, in conjunction with FBI agent Steve Gaudin, interrogate suspected al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002) using traditional non-coercive interrogation methods, while Zubaida is under guard in a secret CIA prison in Thailand. A CIA interrogation team is expected but has not yet arrived, so Soufan and Gaudin who have been nursing his wounds are initially leading his questioning using its typical rapport-building techniques. “We kept him alive,” Soufan will later recall. “It wasn’t easy, he couldn’t drink, he had a fever. I was holding ice to his lips.” At the beginning, Zubaida denies even his identity, calling himself “Daoud;” Soufan, who has pored over the FBI’s files on Zubaida, stuns him by calling him “Hani,” the nickname his mother called him. Soufan and Gaudin, with CIA officials present, elicit what he will later call “important actionable intelligence” from Zubaida. To help get him to talk, the agents bring in a box of audiotapes and claim they contain recordings of his phone conversations. He begins to confess.
Zubaida Reveals KSM Is 9/11 Mastermind - Zubaida tells Soufan that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, and confirms that Mohammed’s alias is “Mukhtar,” a vital fact US intelligence discovered shortly before 9/11 (see August 28, 2001). Soufan shows Zubaida a sheaf of pictures of terror suspects; Zubaida points at Mohammed’s photo and says, “That’s Mukhtar… the one behind 9/11” (see April 2002). Zubaida also tells Soufan about American al-Qaeda operative Jose Padilla (see March 2002 and Mid-April 2002). In 2009, Soufan will write of his interrogations of Zubaida (see April 22, 2009): “This experience fit what I had found throughout my counterterrorism career: traditional interrogation techniques are successful in identifying operatives, uncovering plots and saving lives.” When the CIA begins subjecting Zubaida to “enhanced interrogation tactics” (see Mid-April 2002), Soufan will note that they learn nothing from using those tactics “that wasn’t, or couldn’t have been, gained from regular tactics. In addition, I saw that using these alternative methods on other terrorists backfired on more than a few occasions… The short sightedness behind the use of these techniques ignored the unreliability of the methods, the nature of the threat, the mentality and modus operandi of the terrorists, and due process.” [Vanity Fair, 7/17/2007; Mayer, 2008, pp. 155; New York Times, 4/22/2009; Newsweek, 4/25/2009]
Standing Up to the CIA - The CIA interrogation team members, which includes several private contractors, want to begin using “harsh interrogation tactics” on Zubaida almost as soon as they arrive. The techniques they have in mind include nakedness, exposure to freezing temperatures, and loud music. Soufan objects. He yells at one contractor (whom other sources will later identify as psychologist James Mitchell—see Late 2001-Mid-March 2002, January 2002 and After and Between Mid-April and Mid-May 2002), telling him that what he is doing is wrong, ineffective, and an offense to American values. “I asked [the contractor] if he’d ever interrogated anyone, and he said no,” Soufan will later say. But, Mitchell retorts that his inexperience does not matter. “Science is science,” he says. “This is a behavioral issue.” Instead, Mitchell says, Soufan is the inexperienced one. As Soufan will later recall, “He told me he’s a psychologist and he knows how the human mind works.” During the interrogation process, Soufan finds a dark wooden “confinement box” that the contractor has built for Zubaida. Soufan will later recall that it looked “like a coffin.” (Other sources later say that Mitchell had the box constructed for a “mock burial.”) An enraged Soufan calls Pasquale D’Amuro, the FBI assistant director for counterterrorism. “I swear to God,” he shouts, “I’m going to arrest these guys!” Soufan challenges one CIA official over the agency’s legal authority to torture Zubaida, saying, “We’re the United States of America, and we don’t do that kind of thing.” But the official counters with the assertion that the agency has received approval from the “highest levels” in Washington to use such techniques. The official even shows Soufan a document that the official claims was approved by White House counsel Alberto Gonzales. It is unclear what document the official is referring to.
Ordered Home - In Washington, D’Amuro is disturbed by Soufan’s reports, and tells FBI director Robert Mueller, “Someday, people are going to be sitting in front of green felt tables having to testify about all of this.” Mueller orders Soufan and then Gaudin to return to the US, and later forbids the FBI from taking part in CIA interrogations (see May 13, 2004). [New York Times, 9/10/2006; Newsweek, 4/25/2009]
Disputed Claims of Effectiveness - The New York Times will later note that officials aligned with the FBI tend to think the FBI’s techniques were effective while officials aligned with the CIA tend to think the CIA’s techniques were more effective. [New York Times, 9/10/2006] In 2007, former CIA officer John Kiriakou will make the opposite claim, that FBI techniques were slow and ineffective and CIA techniques were immediately effective. However, Kiriakou led the team that captured Zubaida in Pakistan and does not appear to have traveled with him to Thailand (see December 10, 2007). [ABC News, 12/10/2007; ABC News, 12/10/2007 ]
Press Investigation Finds that FBI Interrogations Effective - In 2007, Vanity Fair will conclude a 10 month investigation comprising 70 interviews, and conclude that the FBI techniques were effective. The writers will later note, “America learned the truth of how 9/11 was organized because a detainee had come to trust his captors after they treated him humanely.” CIA Director George Tenet reportedly is infuriated that the FBI and not the CIA obtained the information and he demands that the CIA team get there immediately. But once the CIA team arrives, they immediately put a stop to the rapport building techniques and instead begin implementing a controversial “psychic demolition” using legally questionable interrogation techniques. Zubaida immediately stops cooperating (see Mid-April 2002). [Vanity Fair, 7/17/2007]
Entity Tags: Steve Gaudin, Vanity Fair, Robert S. Mueller III, James Elmer Mitchell, Jose Padilla, Abu Zubaida, Ali Soufan, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Central Intelligence Agency, George J. Tenet, John Kiriakou, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Pasquale D’Amuro
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline
In the upcoming issue of Vanity Fair, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz admits that the Bush administration chose the issue of Iraqi WMD as its primary justification for war, not because it was necessarily a legitimate concern, but because it was, in the words of reporter David Usbourne, “politically convenient.” Wolfowitz also acknowledges that another justification played a strong part in the decision to invade: the prospect of the US being able to withdraw all of its forces from Saudi Arabia (see August 7, 1990) once Saddam Hussein’s regime was overthrown. “Just lifting that burden from the Saudis is itself going to the door” towards making progress elsewhere in achieving Middle East peace, says Wolfowitz. The presence of US forces in Saudi Arabia has been one of the main grievances of al-Qaeda and other Islamist groups. The most controversial statement by Wolfowitz is his acknowledgement that, “For bureaucratic reasons we settled on one issue, weapons of mass destruction, because it was the one reason everyone could agree on.” Usbourne writes, “The comments suggest that, even for the US administration, the logic that was presented for going to war may have been an empty shell.” He notes that finding a rationale for attacking Iraq that was “acceptable to everyone” may refer to Secretary of State Colin Powell, the most prominent Cabinet member to vocally, if privately, oppose the invasion. Powell relied on the WMD issue in his February presentation to the UN Security Council (see February 5, 2003), which many consider to be a key element in the administration’s effort to convince the American citizenry that the invasion was necessary and justified. [Independent, 5/30/2003]
Democrats: WMD Scare 'Hyped' by Administration - Many Congressional Democrats echo the sentiments of Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE), who says of the administration’s push for war: “I do think that we hyped nuclear, we hyped al-Qaeda, we hyped the ability to disperse and use these weapons. I think that tends to be done by all presidents when they are trying to accomplish a goal that they want to get broad national support for.… I think a lot of the hype here is a serious, serious, serious mistake and it hurts our credibility.” [Washington Times, 5/30/2003]
British Official: Clear That Rationale for War Was False - Former British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, who quit as leader of the House of Commons to protest the war, says he never believed Iraq had the WMD claimed by US and British government officials. “The war was sold on the basis of what was described as a pre-emptive strike, ‘Hit Saddam before he hits us,’” he says. “It is now quite clear that Saddam did not have anything with which to hit us in the first place.” Former Danish Foreign Minister Niels Helveg Petersen says he is shocked by Wolfowitz’s claim. “It leaves the world with one question: What should we believe?” he says. [Associated Press, 5/30/2003]
Wolfowitz Claims Misquoting - After the initial reports of the interview and the resulting storm of controversy and recriminations, Wolfowitz and his defenders will claim that Vanity Fair reporter Sam Tanenhaus misquoted his words and took his statements out of context (see June 1-9, 2003).
Press Official: Selection of WMD as Primary Focus a 'Marketing Choice' - In 2008, current deputy press secretary Scott McClellan will write, “So the decision to downplay the democratic vision as a motive for war was basically a marketing choice.” Reflecting on this choice, he will add: “Every president wants to achieve greatness but few do. As I have heard [President] Bush say, only a wartime president is likely to achieve greatness, in part because the epochal upheavals of war provide the opportunity for transformative change of the kind Bush hoped to achieve. In Iraq, Bush saw his opportunity to create a legacy of greatness. Intoxicated by the influence and power of America, Bush believed that a successful transformation of Iraq could be the linchpin for realizing his dream of a free Middle East. But there was a problem here, which has become obvious to me only in retrospect—a disconnect between the president’s most heartfelt objective in going to war and the publicly stated rationale for that war. Bush and his advisers knew that the American people would almost certainly not support a war launched primarily for the ambitious purpose of transforming the Middle East.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 131-133]
Valerie Plame Wilson and Joseph Wilson, photographed in December 2003 for a Vanity Fair profile. [Source: Jonas Karlsson / Vanity Fair]Vanity Fair publishes an interview with Joseph Wilson (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002) and his wife, recently outed CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson (see July 14, 2003). It is the first interview with Plame Wilson after her exposure. The article features a photo of the Wilsons, which constitutes the first public photo of Plame Wilson after her exposure. She conceals her features behind large sunglasses and a scarf. [Vanity Fair, 1/2004] Many Bush administration supporters and others will criticize the Wilsons for allowing themselves to be interviewed and photographed. Wilson later calls his wife’s decision to allow herself to be photographed “spur of the moment,” and will note: “She had already been described as the beautiful blonde that she is, and her cover had long since been blown, so the only concern remaining was whether strangers would be able to use a photo to recognize her in public. With proper precautions taken, I saw no reason to deprive ourselves of the pleasure of being photographed together as the happily married couple that we are.” Later assertions that Plame Wilson had “blown her own cover” by allowing herself to be photographed are “laughable,” Wilson will write. [Wilson, 2004, pp. 409-410]
Aerial view of Los Alamos test site. [Source: DefenseTech.org]Rich Levernier, a specialist with the Department of Energy (DOE) for 22 years, spent over six years before the 9/11 attacks running nuclear war games for the US government. In a Vanity Fair article, Levernier reveals what he shows to be critical weaknesses in security for US nuclear plants. Levernier’s special focus was the Los Alamos Nuclear Laboratory and nine other major nuclear facilities. The Los Alamos facility is the US’s main storage plant for processing plutonium and obsolete (but still effective) nuclear weapons. Levernier’s main concern was terrorist attacks. Levernier’s procedure was to, once a year, stage a mock terrorist attack using US military commandos to assault Los Alamos and the other nuclear weapons facilities, with both sides using harmless laser weapons to simulate live fire. Levernier’s squads were ordered to penetrate a given weapons facility, capture its plutonium or highly enriched uranium, and escape. The facilities’ security forces were tasked to repel the mock attacks.
Multiple Failures - Levernier is going public with the results of his staged attacks, and the results are, in the words of Vanity Fair reporter Mark Hertsgaard, “alarming.” Some facilities failed every single test. Los Alamos fell victim to the mock attacks over 50 percent of the time, with Levernier’s commandos getting in and out with the goods without firing a shot—they never encountered a guard. And this came when security forces were told months in advance exactly what day the assaults would take place. Levernier calls the nuclear facilities’ security nothing more than “smoke and mirrors.… On paper, it looks good, but in reality, it’s not. There are lots of shiny gates and guards and razor wire out front. But go around back and there are gaping holes in the fence, the sensors don’t work, and it just ain’t as impressive as it appears.” The Los Alamos facility houses 2.7 metric tons of plutonium and 3.2 metric tons of highly enriched uranium; experts say that a crude nuclear device could be created using just 11 pounds of plutonium or 45 pounds of highly enriched uranium. Arjun Makhijani, the head of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, says the most dangerous problem exposed by Levernier is the possibility of terrorists stealing plutonium from Los Alamos. It would be a relatively simple matter to construct a so-called “dirty bomb” that could devastate an American city. Even a terrorist attack that set off a “plutonium fire” could result in hundreds of cancer deaths and leave hundreds of square miles uninhabitable.
Involuntary Whistleblower - Levernier is not comfortable about being a whistleblower, and until now has never spoken to the press or Congress about his experiences. He finds himself coming forward now because, after spending six years trying unsuccessfully to persuade his bosses at the DOE to address the problems, they refused to even acknowledge that a problem existed. Shortly before he spoke to Hertsgaard, he was fired for a minor infraction and stripped of his security clearance, two years before he was due to retire with a full pension. He has filed a lawsuit against the DOE, charging that he was illegally gagged and improperly fired. He is speaking out, he says, in the hopes of helping prevent a catastrophic terrorist attack against the US that is entirely preventable. Levonier asserts that the Bush administration is doing little more than talking tough about nuclear security (see February 15, 2004). [Carter, 2004, pp. 17-18; Vanity Fair, 2/15/2004]
Rich Levernier, a specialist with the Department of Energy (DOE) for 22 years who spent over six years before the 9/11 attacks running nuclear war games for the US government, says that the Bush administration has done little more than talk about securing the nation’s nuclear facilities from terrorist attacks. If Levernier and his team of experts (see February 15, 2004) are correct in their assessments, the administration is actually doing virtually nothing to protect the US’s nuclear weapons facilities, which certainly top any terrorist’s wish list of targets. Instead of addressing the enormous security problems at these facilities, it is persecuting whistleblowers like Levernier. Indeed, the administration denies a danger even exists. “Any implication that there is a 50 percent failure rate on security tests at our nuclear weapons sites is not true,” says Anson Franklin, a spokesman for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), a DOE agency that oversees the US’s nuclear weapons complex. “Our facilities are not vulnerable.”
Too Strict Grading? - James Ford, who is retired, was Levernier’s direct DOE supervisor in the late 1990s. He says that while Levernier was a talented and committed employee, the results he claims from his mock terror attacks are skewed because of what Ford calls Levernier’s too-strict approach to grading the performance of the nuclear facilities’ security personnel. Ford says that Levernier liked to focus on one particular area, the Technical Area-18 facility, at the Los Alamos nuclear facility in New Mexico, though the site is essentially indefensible, located at the bottom of a canyon and surrounded on three sides by steep, wooded ridges that afforded potential attackers excellent cover and the advantage of high ground.
Complaints of 'Strict Grading' Baseless, Squad Commander Says - “My guys were licking their chops when they saw that terrain,” says Ronald Timms, who commanded mock terrorist squads under Levernier’s supervision. Timms, now the head of RETA Security, which participated in many DOE war games and designed the National Park Service’s security plans for Mount Rushmore, says Ford’s complaint is groundless: “To say it’s unfair to go after the weak link is so perverse, it’s ridiculous. Of course the bad guys are going to go after the weakest link. That’s why [DOE] isn’t supposed to have weak links at those facilities.” In one such attack Timms recalls, Levernier’s forces added insult to injury by hauling away the stolen weapons-grade nuclear material in a Home Depot garden cart. The then-Secretary of Energy, Bill Richardson, ordered the weapons-grade material at TA-18 to be removed to the Nevada Test Site by 2003. That has not happened yet, and is not expected to happen until 2006 at the earliest.
Rules of Engagement - The failure rates are even harder to understand considering the fact that the rules of engagement are heavily slanted in favor of the defense. A real terrorist attack would certainly be a surprise, but the dates of the war games were announced months in advance, within an eight-hour window. Attackers were not allowed to use grenades, body armor, or helicopters. They were not allowed to use publicly available radio jamming devices. “DOE wouldn’t let me use that stuff, because it doesn’t have a defense against it,” Levernier says. His teams were required, for safety reasons, to obey 25 MPH speed limits. Perhaps the biggest flaw in the DOE’s war games, Levernier says, is that they don’t allow for suicide bombers. The games required Levernier’s teams to steal weapons-grade nuclear material and escape. It is likely, though, that attackers would enter the facility, secure the materials, and detonate their own explosives. DOE did not order nuclear facilities to prepare for such attacks until May 2003, and the policy change does not take effect until 2009. Levernier notes that three of the nation’s nuclear weapons facilities did relatively well against mock attacks: the Argonne National Laboratory-West in Idaho, the Pantex plant in Texas, and the Savannah River Site in South Carolina.
Bureaucratic, Political Resistance - So why, asks Vanity Fair journalist Mark Hertsgaard, doesn’t the Bush administration insist on similar vigilance throughout the entire nuclear complex? They “just don’t think [a catastrophic attack] will happen,” Levernier replies. “And nobody wants to say we can’t protect these nuclear weapons, because the political fallout would be so great that there would be no chance to keep the system running.” The DOE bureaucracy is more interested in the appearance of proper oversight than the reality, says Tom Devine, the lawyer who represents both Levernier and other whistleblowers. “Partly that’s about saving face. To admit that a whistleblower’s charges are right would reflect poorly on the bureaucracy’s competence. And fixing the problems that whistleblowers identify would often mean diverting funds that bureaucrats would rather use for other purposes, like empire building. But the main reason bureaucrats have no tolerance for dissent is that taking whistleblowers’ charges seriously would require them to stand up to the regulated industry, and that’s not in most bureaucrats’ nature, whether the industry is the nuclear weapons complex or the airlines.”
Stiff Resistance from Bush Administration - Devine acknowledges that both of his clients’ troubles began under the Clinton administration and continued under Bush, but, Devine says, the Bush administration is particularly unsympathetic to whistleblowers because it is ideologically disposed against government regulation in general. “I don’t think President Bush or other senior officials in this administration want another September 11th,” says Devine, “but their anti-government ideology gets in the way of fixing the problems Levenier and [others] are talking about. The security failures in the nuclear weapons complex and the civil aviation system are failures of government regulation. The Bush people don’t believe in government regulation in the first place, so they’re not inclined to expend the time and energy needed to take these problems seriously. And then they go around boasting that they’re winning the war on terrorism. The hypocrisy is pretty outrageous.” [Carter, 2004, pp. 17-18; Vanity Fair, 2/15/2004]
Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), George W. Bush, Rich Levernier, RETA Security, National Nuclear Security Administration, James Ford, Bill Richardson, Anson Franklin, National Park Service, Ronald Timms, Mark Hertsgaard, Tom Devine, Vanity Fair, US Department of Energy, Los Alamos National Laboratory
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
W. Mark Felt. [Source: Life Distilled.com]The identity of “Deep Throat,” the Watergate source made famous in Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward’s book All the President’s Men, is revealed to have been W. Mark Felt, who at the time was the deputy director of the FBI. As “Deep Throat,” Felt provided critical information and guidance for Bernstein and Woodward’s investigations of the Watergate conspiracy for the Washington Post. Felt’s identity has been a closely guarded secret for over 30 years; Woodward, who knew Felt, had repeatedly said that neither he, Bernstein, nor then-editor Ben Bradlee would release any information about his source’s identity until after his death or until Felt authorized its revelation. Felt’s family confirms Felt’s identity as “Deep Throat” in an article published in Vanity Fair. Felt, 91 years old, suffers from advanced senile dementia. Felt’s character as the romantic government source whispering explosive secrets from the recesses of a Washington, DC, parking garage was burned into the American psyche both by the book and by actor Hal Holbrook’s portrayal in the 1976 film of the same name. Woodward says that Holbrook’s portrayal captured Felt’s character both physically and psychologically. [Washington Post, 6/1/2005] Bernstein and Woodward release a joint statement after the Vanity Fair article is published. It reads, “W. Mark Felt was Deep Throat and helped us immeasurably in our Watergate coverage. However, as the record shows, many other sources and officials assisted us and other reporters for the hundreds of stories written in the Washington Post.” [Woodward, 2005, pp. 232]
Surveillance Methods to Protect Both Felt and Woodward - Felt used his experience as an anti-Nazi spy hunter for the FBI to set up secret meetings between himself and the young reporter (see August 1972). “He knew he was taking a monumental risk,” says Woodward. Woodward acknowledges that his continued refusal to reveal Felt’s identity has played a key role in the advancement of his career as a journalist and author, as many sources trust Woodward to keep their identities secret as he did Felt’s.
Obscuring the Greater Meaning - Bernstein cautions that focusing on Felt’s role as a “deep background” source—the source of the nickname, which references a popular 1970s pornographic movie—obscures the greater meaning of the Watergate investigation. “Felt’s role in all this can be overstated,” Bernstein says. “When we wrote the book, we didn’t think his role would achieve such mythical dimensions. You see there that Felt/Deep Throat largely confirmed information we had already gotten from other sources.” [Washington Post, 6/1/2005] Felt was convicted in 1980 of conspiring to violate the civil rights of domestic dissidents belonging to the Weather Underground movement in the early 1970s; Felt was pardoned by then-President Ronald Reagan. [Woodward, 2005, pp. 146-147] At that time, Felt’s identity as “Deep Throat” could have been revealed, but was not.
Felt, Daughter Decide to Go Public - The Vanity Fair article is by Felt family lawyer John D. O’Connor, who helped Felt’s daughter Joan coax Felt into admitting his role as “Deep Throat.” O’Connor’s article quotes Felt as saying, “I’m the guy they used to call Deep Throat.” O’Connor says he wrote the article with the permission of both Felt and his daughter. Woodward has been reluctant to reveal Felt’s identity, though he has already written an as-yet unpublished book about Felt and their relationship, because of his concerns about Felt’s failing health and increasingly poor memory. The Washington Post’s editors concluded that with the publication of the Vanity Fair article, they were not breaking any confidences by confirming Felt’s identity as Woodward’s Watergate source. [Washington Post, 6/1/2005]
Endless Speculation - The identity of “Deep Throat” has been one of the enduring political mysteries of the last 30 years. Many observers, from Richard Nixon to the most obscure Internet sleuth, have speculated on his identity. Watergate-era figures, including then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Nixon speechwriter Pat Buchanan, Nixon deputy counsel Fred Fielding, Nixon chief of staff Alexander Haig, National Security Council staffers Laurence Lynn and Winston Lord, then-CBS reporter Diane Sawyer, and many others, have been advanced as possibilities for the source. Former White House counsels John Dean and Leonard Garment, two key Watergate figures, have written extensively on the subject, but both have been wrong in their speculations. In 1992, Atlantic Monthly journalist James Mann wrote that “Deep Throat” “could well have been Mark Felt.” At the time, Felt cautiously denied the charge, as he did in his 1979 memoir, The FBI Pyramid. [Woodward, 2005, pp. 153-156; Washington Post, 6/1/2005] In 1999, the Hartford Courant published a story saying that 19-year old Chase Coleman-Beckman identified Felt as “Deep Throat.” Coleman-Beckman had attended a day camp with Bernstein’s son Josh a decade earlier, and Josh Bernstein then told her that Felt was Woodward’s source. Felt then denied the charge, telling a reporter: “No, it’s not me. I would have done better. I would have been more effective. Deep Throat didn’t exactly bring the White House crashing down, did he?” Woodward calls Felt’s response a classic Felt evasion. [Woodward, 2005, pp. 158-159]
Motivated by Anger, Concern over Politicization of the FBI - Woodward believes that Felt decided to become a background source for several reasons both personal and ideological. Felt, who idealized former FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, was angered that he was passed over for the job upon Hoover’s death; instead, the position went to L. Patrick Gray, whom Felt considered both incompetent and far too politically aligned with the Nixon White House. The FBI could not become an arm of the White House, Felt believed, and could not be allowed to help Nixon cover up his participation in the conspiracy. He decided to help Woodward and Bernstein in their often-lonely investigation of the burgeoning Watergate scandal. Woodward and Bernstein never identified Felt as anyone other than “a source in the executive branch who had access” to high-level information. Felt refused to be directly quoted, even as an anonymous source, and would not give information, but would merely confirm or deny it as well as “add[ing] some perspective.” Some of Woodward and Felt’s conversations were strictly business, but sometimes they would wax more philosophical, discussing, in the words of the book, “how politics had infiltrated every corner of government—a strong-arm takeover of the agencies by the Nixon White House…. [Felt] had once called it the ‘switchblade mentality’—and had referred to the willingness of the president’s men to fight dirty and for keeps…. The Nixon White House worried him. ‘They are underhanded and unknowable,’ he had said numerous times. He also distrusted the press. ‘I don’t like newspapers,’ he had said flatly.” [Woodward, 2005, pp. 167-215; Washington Post, 6/1/2005]
Entity Tags: Diane Sawyer, W. Mark Felt, Vanity Fair, Ronald Reagan, Carl Bernstein, Weather Underground, Winston Lord, Chase Coleman-Beckman, Alexander M. Haig, Jr., Ben Bradlee, Bob Woodward, Patrick Buchanan, Nixon administration, Washington Post, Laurence Lynn, Fred F. Fielding, Hartford Courant, Henry A. Kissinger, Federal Bureau of Investigation, James Mann, J. Edgar Hoover, John D. O’Connor, Joan Felt, Josh Bernstein, L. Patrick Gray, Leonard Garment, John Dean
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
Former Washington Post executive editor Ben Bradlee tells Vanity Fair that he thinks it is likely that former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage is the person who revealed CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity to Post reporter Bob Woodward (see November 14, 2005). The magazine quotes Bradlee, now the Post’s vice president at large, as saying, “That Armitage is the likely source is a fair assumption.” Bradlee denies making the statement in a Post article, saying: “I don’t think I said it.… I know who his source is, and I don’t want to get into it.… I have not told a soul who it is.” Bradlee says he did not learn the name of the source from Woodward, and Woodward says he never informed Bradlee of his source’s identity: “He is not in the management loop on this. Maybe he was alerted from somebody else, if he in fact did learn” the source’s name. Vanity Fair says the reporter who wrote the article featuring the Bradlee quote, Marie Brenner, is traveling in India and is unavailable for comment. [Washington Post, 3/14/2006; Washington Post, 7/3/2007] Bradlee tells a New York Times reporter that Armitage’s identification as Woodward’s source is “an inference that could be drawn.” He tells the Times reporter, “Woodward is not my source for any knowledge I have about the case.” [New York Times, 3/14/2006]
Vanity Fair magazine publishes for the first time transcripts of audiotapes from the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), which captured the activities at its Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) during the course of the 9/11 attacks. NEADS had four multi-channel tape recorders in a corner of its operations floor, recording every radio channel along with time stamps. Nearly 30 hours of audio, covering six-and-a-half hours of real time, have been released by the Pentagon to journalist Michael Bronner, who’d been a producer on the recent movie United 93. Previously, the tapes had been provided under subpoena to the 9/11 Commission, but only a few short clips were played during its public hearings. Bronner, who describes the recordings in detail in his Vanity Fair article, calls them “the authentic military history of 9/11.” They reveal “in stark detail” that parts of the testimony given by NORAD officials to the 9/11 Commission “were misleading, and others simply false.” For example, they show that at 9:16 a.m. on 9/11, when NORAD originally claimed it had begun tracking Flight 93, “the plane had not yet been hijacked. In fact, NEADS wouldn’t get word about United 93 for another 51 minutes.” The New York Times says, “The tapes demonstrate that for most of the morning of Sept. 11, the airspace over New York and Washington was essentially undefended, and that jet fighters scrambled to intercept the hijacked planes were involved in a fruitless chase for planes that had already crashed.” [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006; New York Times, 8/3/2006]
Receive weekly email updates summarizing what contributors have added to the History Commons database
Developing and maintaining this site is very labor intensive. If you find it useful, please give us a hand and donate what you can.
If you would like to help us with this effort, please contact us. We need help with programming (Java, JDO, mysql, and xml), design, networking, and publicity. If you want to contribute information to this site, click the register link at the top of the page, and start contributing.