blood starts to flow

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    The Blood Starts To Flow
    Oct 04, 2003
    By Jim Lobe

    To say that there's blood in the water and the sharks are circling around the Bush administration's Iraq policy would be understatement at this point.

    It is more like a blood bank has been dropped into the water, sharks have just taken the first bites, and Amazonian piranhas are clamouring for visas on an expedited basis.

    The Bush administration -- including virtually all of its top officials, from Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld to National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice -- is on the defensive. Not only have the president's approval ratings plunged to the lowest level in his term, but his administration has opened a potentially lethal credibility gap on so many different fronts that reporters hardly know which one to write about.

    The Justice Department's announcement Tuesday that it has launched a formal investigation at the behest of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of the identification by as-yet unidentified ''senior White House officials'' of a covert CIA agent is just the latest of a series of brewing scandals that are likely to dominate the media agenda in the coming weeks and months.

    With the exception of practicing extra-marital sex in the Oval Office, Bush and his Iraq policy are now being charged with violating just about every imaginable tenet -- from deceit and corruption, to incompetence and betrayal -- of what has come to be called ''good governance''.

    That many of these charges have moved in just the past few weeks from the alternative to the mainstream media and from grassroots activist groups to Capitol Hill indicates the seriousness of the situation facing Bush.

    The administration's claims regarding Iraq's weapons-of-mass-destruction (WMD) programmes, particularly Vice President Dick Cheney's assertion about an active nuclear weapons programme, have been totally discredited. It now appears that Iraq never reconstituted its WMD efforts after the first Gulf War in 1991.

    The failure of chief WMD hunter David Kay and his team of 1,400 troops and experts to find any evidence of WMD after four months of scouring Iraq has now created a major credibility problem for the administration.

    It has retreated from its earlier promise to release Kay's report when it was filed, and most experts do not expect early disclosure. No matter, the damning details -- no evidence of WMD -- are being leaked to Congress and the media.

    Worse, the Republican chairman of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, Porter Goss (himself a former CIA official) and the committee's ranking Democrat, Jane Harmon, have now publicly charged that when the administration made its case that Iraq posed a major WMD threat, the underlying intelligence did not support such a conclusion.

    ''It appears, and I hate to say this, that the Iraqis were mostly telling the truth,'' said Joseph Cirincione, a weapons specialist at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. The corollary -- that the United States was not -- is being increasingly embraced by Democrats running for president.

    Lawmakers are also increasingly unnerved by the extent to which Bush's and Cheney's political and business cronies appear to be profiting from the Iraq war and its reconstruction.

    Congressional complaints have already resulted in the decision to rescind a huge no-bid contract that went to Halliburton, the giant construction company that Cheney headed (and retains an interest in) before becoming vice president.

    But evidence that Bush's major campaign contributors and associates are looking to make big money in the reconstruction effort is growing almost daily; indeed, the administration's opposition to inviting the United Nations or other countries to take a bigger role in the effort is increasingly being attributed to the White House's desire to pass along the goodies to its supporters back home.

    ''By treating contracts as prizes to be handed to their friends, administration officials are delaying Iraq's recovery, with potentially catastrophic consequences,'' warned Harvard economist Paul Krugman Tuesday in a 'New York Times' column that charged the administration's beneficiaries with ''war profiteering''.

    The Times disclosed Tuesday that a group of businessmen closely linked to Bush, his family, and other top officials -- including his 2000 campaign manager -- have set up a consulting firm to advise companies that want to do business in Iraq.

    The news followed a report earlier this month that a former Israeli law partner of Douglas Feith, the senior Pentagon official in charge of post-war planning in Iraq, was also advising companies on business opportunities in Iraq in association with the nephew of the Pentagon-backed leader of the Iraqi National Congress (INC), Ahmad Chalabi.

    Evidence of sheer incompetence, both in the post-war planning and in its implementation, has now become the dominant view in Washington, particularly since Bush himself implicitly admitted that things were not going according to plan by asking Congress to approve 87 billion dollars for expenses in Iraq and Afghanistan over the coming year.

    Not only did post-war planners fail to anticipate the armed resistance that has killed U.S. soldiers at the rate of one every 36 hours, but they also completely underestimated the frailty of Iraq's infrastructure.

    And, while the administration still insists that it doesn't need any more than the 130,000 U.S. troops currently deployed in Iraq, top commanders say they cannot begin to control Iraq's borders through which it is believed hundreds of Islamist and other fighters are being infiltrated.

    And now there is this week's big scandal: the apparent involvement of ''two senior White House officials'' in leaking the name of a CIA agent in retaliation for her husband-diplomat's role in discrediting Bush's contention in last year's State of the Union Address that Iraq tried to buy uranium yellowcake from Niger.

    The case revolves around retired Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who travelled to Niger in 2002 at the CIA's behest, to check out the story (which turned out to be based on forged documents).

    His conclusion -- the story was a fraud -- was reported back to the CIA many months before Bush gave his address. After the Iraq invasion, Wilson published an article in the Times that recounted both his trip and his conclusions, noting also that he had been told by the CIA that Cheney had explicitly requested that the story be investigated.

    Short after the appearance of Wilson's article, at least six reporters, including right-wing columnist Robert Novak, were informed by ''two senior White House officials'' that Wilson's spouse, who they identified by name, was a covert CIA agent working on non-proliferation issues who had urged that her husband be assigned to go to Niger.

    The apparent intent was to discredit Wilson, although Wilson has said it was designed to demonstrate to other former and serving officials that they would pay a price for crossing the administration.

    Wilson, who has very good contacts within both the State Department and the CIA, has also claimed that Bush's top political adviser, Karl Rove, ''at a minimum condoned'' the effort to expose his wife and might even have been one of those two ''senior White House officials''. Rove and Novak, who ironically opposed the Iraq war, have long been close.

    Under a 1982 law, identifying a covert CIA agent is a felony punishable by 10 years in prison. The CIA filed a complaint invoking the law with the Justice Department shortly after Novak's column appeared, and three weeks ago turned in the paperwork required for the investigation to proceed. The Justice Department announced Tuesday that a probe had been launched.

    Democrats are already demanding that given Ashcroft's status as an administration appointee, the case should be handed over to an independent prosecutor, demands that so far have been rebuffed.

    But, based on what is already known by the press -- including the reporters who were contacted by those two, still-unnamed, ''senior White House officials'' -- there appears little doubt that a very serious felony has been committed and that a major scandal is in the offing.
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