Sunday, April 18, 2004

PDB = Phony Documents from Bush?

As noted in the post below, the October 2002 Die Zeit story by Oliver Schroem indicates that the key August 6, 2001 Presidential Daily Briefing document was originally ten pages longer than the version released with much fanfare to the public. Was Schroem correctly informed? Consider: He published the date, subject matter, and title of a highly classified piece of paper intended for the President's eyes only. As far as I have been able to determine, Schroem published these details before anyone else got wind of the story.

You don't pull off a trick like that unless you have a really good source.

Obviously, if ten pages were redacted, then those pages must contain important material. As Condi noted, the one-and-a-half pages made available to the public dealt largely with past events. But the CIA could have presented lots of up-to-date data: This Newsweek piece (co-authored by Michael Isikoff -- and if you've read The Hunting of the President, you know what to think of him) lists the wealth of detail available to the intelligence community.

The title of that piece is "What the PDB didn't say." But what if the PDB, in its unexpurgated form, did say such things? I doubt that this administration could ever recover from the revelation of an attempt to hoodwink the 9/11 committee.

One usenet commentator has offered the interesting suggestion that Schroem's source made a typo when he relayed information about the PDB to the German journalist: 1 and 1/2 pages accidentally came out as 11 1/2 pages. I would not discount the notion out of hand, but the weight of the available evidence is against this theory.

Look again at Schroem's wording:

In the PDB, as it's called in CIA jargon, a senior CIA official presents the President with a summary of the security situation. On this morning the CIA Director personally briefs the President. Instead of the usual two or three pages, today's briefing paper consists of eleven and a half printed page and carries the title "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.". The CIA chief argued that Al Qaeda was now also attempting to carry out attacks inside the US, and there were probably already members of the terror organization located in the US for some time. It's not clear whether or not the CIA Director told the President about statements made by Al Qaeda members who were already in custody. According to their statements, the terror organization had long thought about hijacking airplanes in order to use them as missiles.

The context clearly indicates that DCI George Tenet made the proverbial "big stink" about this briefing, which was substantially longer than usual. (At this point, many will not resist the urge to crack a joke about W's short attention span. I shall refrain.) This fact argues against the "typo" theory.

So does this AP story of November 15, 2003 (available, god help us, on the execrable Newsmax site). In the piece, one 9/11 committee member -- former Representative Tim Roemer, of Indiana -- makes this possibly confirmatory claim:

"We should be requesting the entire PDB, not an article from the PDB," said former Rep. Tim Roemer, D-Ind. "How can you get the context of how al-Qaida or Afghanistan is being prioritized in 10 or 12 pages when you only are seeing two paragraphs?"

The story does not specify that Roemer's statement refers to the August 6, 2001 PDB, but that would seem to be the safest bet. At the time of this article, only a brief snippet of the PDB in question had passed before the eyes of panel members.

The piece goes on to quote Philip Zelikow (Condoleeza Rice's former writing partner, appointed by Bush as executive director of the Commission) as saying that "None of those articles are being edited. We're seeing everything we asked to see." But to take this statement at face value would be to presume as a given the very point we hope to establish. Obviously, if Roemer saw only two paragraphs of a document which we now know contains at least a page and a half, then some editing must have taken place; the question is how much. Until the public or the commission sees those missing ten pages (presuming those pages exist) we should not presume that they discuss subjects other than Al Qaeda.

Now let's look once again at Schroem's paragraph. We have just begun to squeeze the juice out of it. Everything comes down to one question: Who was the writer's source?

I've written to Schroem care of Die Zeit but have yet to receive an answer. For now, let us note something extraordinary about this passage: It offers details about a highly sensitive meeting between George W. Bush and the Director of Central Intelligence. The passage implies but does not state that the two men were alone. Perhaps other administration staff members were present; even so, we can presume that the famously secretive Bush folks did not leak this material.

So how did it end up in the pages of a German periodical? Deduction: Tenet must have talked to someone.

But did he speak to Schroem directly? One cannot easily visualize a sitting DCI speaking to a journalist about a briefing of the President on a classified matter; such things are not done.

Turning once again to the passage in question, let us mull over this sentence: "It's not clear whether or not the CIA Director told the President about statements made by Al Qaeda members who were already in custody." If Tenet spoke to Schroem directly, that point would have been clear. Deduction: Tenet spoke to the President, and afterward described the meeting to someone else at CIA -- perhaps a high-ranking official close to Tenet with a keen interest in terrorism.

Can we insert a name here?

Not with confidence. But a possible clue may be found in this Guardian piece of March 25, 2004. The relevant quotes:

However, the impact of the CIA director's testimony was partially undermined by a report delivered yesterday morning by the commission's staff. The report found that when the CIA picked up increasing numbers of signals that a major attack was imminent, some agency officials, including Mr Tenet's deputy, were impatient with the administration's response.

"Some CIA officials expressed frustration about the pace of policymaking during the stressful summer of 2001," the report found. "Although Tenet said he thought the policy machinery was working in what he called a rather orderly fashion, [the deputy CIA director, John] McLaughlin told us he felt a great tension, especially in June and July 2001, between the new administration's need to understand these issues and his sense that this was a matter of great urgency."

The report continued: "Two veteran counter-terrorism officials who were deeply involved in Bin Laden issues were so worried about an impending disaster that one of them told us that they considered resigning and going public with their concerns."

Did Deputy DCI McLaughlin leak (either directly or indirectly) to Oliver Schroem? Or did the info come from those unnamed "veteran counter-terrorism officials"? (The Guardian piece does not specify them as CIA. The date of the article argues against the suggestion that we are talking about Richard Clarke. Perhaps Flynt Leverett?)

We are well within the bounds of plausibility if we suggest that Tenet described the meeting and the PDB to McLaughlin (or to someone in a similar position and beset by a similar sense of frustration) who then leaked the details.

All of this tortuous parsing of one paragraph leads us to a topic of paramount importance: The palpable tension between the CIA and the Bush administration.

Tenet, for whatever reason, has submitted himself to W's agenda. Tenet even fell on his sword during the "Yellowcake from Niger" scandal -- and historically, DCIs have not made a practice of falling on swords. Tenet has tolerated the Plame outing, he has tolerated the construction of an "alternative CIA" at the Pentagon, and he has tolerated endless CIA-bashing and turf-encroachment from the neocons. Throughout it all, he has muttered "Thank you sir; may I please have another?" None of his predecessors would have endured such treatment without fighting back. The Murdoch press is now screaming for Tenet's removal. I wouldn't be surprised if he skulks away in a fog of obsequiousness and spends the rest of his days telling Mistress Kitty that he's been a very bad boy.

Others at CIA will not submit so readily. Maybe that's why Bush has kept Tenet on as Director: Who else would prove so pliable or pitiable?

Janissaries often try to control the throne. Few presidents can survive an angry CIA. Just ask the shades of JFK and Richard Nixon.

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