Tuesday, June 20, 2006


Behind The Curtain

Washington Post intel staff writer Barton Gellmann reviews Ron Suskind's new book, The One Percent Doctrine. Suskind has, interestingly, become as integral a real-time recorder of administration of George W. Bush as two guys named Woodward and Bernstein were to that of Richard Nixon:

This is an important book, filled with the surest sign of great reporting: the unexpected. It enriches our understanding of even familiar episodes from the Bush administration's war on terror and tells some jaw-dropping stories we haven't heard before.

One example out of many comes in Ron Suskind's gripping narrative of what the White House has celebrated as one of the war's major victories: the capture of Abu Zubaydah in Pakistan in March 2002. Described as al-Qaeda's chief of operations even after U.S. and Pakistani forces kicked down his door in Faisalabad, the Saudi-born jihadist was the first al-Qaeda detainee to be shipped to a secret prison abroad. Suskind shatters the official story line here.

Abu Zubaydah, his captors discovered, turned out to be mentally ill and nothing like the pivotal figure they supposed him to be. CIA and FBI analysts, poring over a diary he kept for more than a decade, found entries "in the voice of three people: Hani 1, Hani 2, and Hani 3" -- a boy, a young man and a middle-aged alter ego. All three recorded in numbing detail "what people ate, or wore, or trifling things they said." Dan Coleman, then the FBI's top al-Qaeda analyst, told a senior bureau official, 'This guy is insane, certifiable, split personality."

Abu Zubaydah also appeared to know nothing about terrorist operations; rather, he was al-Qaeda's go-to guy for minor logistics -- travel for wives and children and the like. That judgment was 'echoed at the top of CIA and was, of course, briefed to the President and Vice President,' Suskind writes. And yet somehow, in a speech delivered two weeks later, President Bush portrayed Abu Zubaydah as "one of the top operatives plotting and planning death and destruction on the United States." And over the months to come, under White House and Justice Department direction, the CIA would make him its first test subject for harsh interrogation techniques.

How could this have happened? Why are we learning about it only now? Those questions form the spine of Suskind's impressively reported book.

In interviews with intelligence officers, Suskind often finds them baffled by White House statements. "Why the hell did the President have to put us in a box like this?" one top CIA official asked about the overblown public portrait of Abu Zubaydah. But Suskind sees a deliberate management choice: Bush ensnared his director of central intelligence at the time, George J. Tenet, and many others in a new kind of war in which action and evidence were consciously divorced.
Obviously, Suskind does not have the same impact as W&B -- which different people with different ideologies will see in different ways. However, he first broke the story in Esquire back in 2002 on Karen Hughes' departure from the White House and the seeming rising tension between Karl Rove and Andy Card. He floowed that with the January 2003 piece quoting John DiIullio on the administration's "Mayberry Machiavellis."

Next came the Paul O'Neill cri de coeur The Price of Loyalty (the subject of which being such an eccentric ultimately may have drawn away from some of the
legitimately keen criticisms of the White House). Finally, Suskind hit full stride with the New York Times Magazine article with the now-infamous "reality-based community" line.

And now he has come up with the book that, at one time, Woodward would have written. But now Woodward himself is, ultimately, so much a part of the establishment, that he has gotten to the point where he finds himself
compromised in controversies such as the Plame-Wilson saga.

I've barely begun reading the book. However, what strikes me is how Suskind got career intelligence people to speak on the record. It suggests he has as far a reach as Woodward and Michael Gordon, author of Cobra II, which is also filled with on-the record careerists (military officers in the case of Gordon; intelligence officers, in the case of Suskind). Regardless of where one is on the Iraq War, one is struck by how this administration has managed to create such ill will from career professionals. At a certain point, this becomes more than just sour grapes from this CIA person or that general or that NSA guy or that colonel. At what point is the probem at the top of the chain of command -- as opposed to the middle?

Which, of course, forces us to say that it seems to come down to Dick Cheney's world -- his vision. There's technically no problem with having a powerful vice president. But what is too powerful? And what is the true nature of the power-sharing between Bush and Cheney? And I'm posing this as serious question. Suskind says that some intel and counterrrorism professionals refer to Cheney as "Edgar" -- as in Edgar Bergen the ventriloquist. The implication, of course, is that Bush is the dummy (as in the toy). It's all nice and fun to make those kind of jabs. But what are the real-world implications of this, in terms of actual accountability in this administration? I think those are the more intriguiging questions to pursue.

Technorati Tags: , , ,

Bookmark and Share

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Web raggedthots.blogspot.com
Weblog Commenting and Trackback by HaloScan.com AddThis Social Bookmark Button
Technorati search
Search Now:
Amazon Logo
  •  RSS
  • Add to My AOL
  • Powered by FeedBurner
  • Add to Google Reader or Homepage
  • Subscribe in Bloglines
  • Share on Facebook