"Ain't Gonna Study War No More"

My Photo
Location: Brooklyn, New York, United States

Right-To-Life Party, Christian, Anti-War, Pro-Life, Bible Fundamentalist, Egalitarian, Libertarian Left

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Israel Goes Extremist

This time, they've gone too far

Over the years, as the actions of the Israeli government have become more extreme – and less concerned with international public opinion – very little of what Israel's leaders say or do seems all that surprising. Invading the West Bank and Gaza, demolishing peoples' homes, defying the U.S. on the settlements issue as they angle for more "foreign aid" from the clueless Americans – even running over people with tanks! – it all makes a twisted kind of sense, given the fanatical nationalism that motivates Israel's partisans both here and in Palestine. (A fanaticism, I might add, that flourishes on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.) Yet, even amid all this emotional and political hysteria, the Israelis have often exhibited an admirable pragmatism: they were willing to make concessions (or not) depending on Israel's national security needs at the time. Sharon's "strategic disengagement" plan – in spite of being compromised by all sorts of hemming, hawing, and hedging – is a good example of this commonsense approach.

How, then, do we explain the Israeli government's recent decision to honor nine of its agents arrested and jailed in the infamous Lavon affair?

To understand how inexplicably sinister this is, a little history lesson is in order. The year was 1952, and a young colonel had just come to power in Egypt proclaiming a doctrine of pan-Arab nationalism. The United States, eager to make inroads – and new friends – in the Middle East, was supportive: the corrupt King Farouk was a dubious character, at best, and the spirit of a new populism that was non-threatening to U.S. interests and secular seemed to be breaking out all over. Yet Israel did indeed feel threatened, and acted at once to sever growing links between the Americans and the government of Gamal Abdel Nasser.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower was pressuring the British to leave Egypt, and David Ben Gurion – founding prime minister of the Jewish state, then temporarily out of office – was determined to change the American outlook on the Middle East by any means necessary, including terrorism. When diplomatic approaches failed, by the summer of 1954 Ben Gurion was ready to move: a network of underground cells was set up in Egypt's major cities that would carry out attacks on American and British targets. The idea was to make it look like the Egyptians did it, and the West would turn against Nasser. It was, in short, a "false flag" operation. Dubbed "Operation Susannah" as a tribute to the wife of one of the spies, the terrorist campaign was to be triggered when the agents heard "Oh, Susannah" played on Israeli radio.

On July 2, 1954, the Alexandria post office was firebombed. On July 14, the U.S. Information Agency offices in Alexandria and Cairo were set afire by phosphorus incendiary devices; a British-owned theater was also hit. According to Alfred M. Lilienthal's 1980 book, The Zionist Connection:

"Small bombs shaped like books and secreted in book covers were brought into the USIA libraries in both Alexandria and Cairo. Fish skin bags filled with acid were placed on top of nitroglycerin bombs; it took several hours for the acid to eat through the bag and ignite the bomb. The book bombs were placed in the shelves of the library just before closing hours. Several hours later a blast would occur, shattering glass and shelves and setting fire to books and furniture. Similar bombs were placed in the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Theater and in other American owned business buildings."

All seemed to be going according to plan, but there was just one problem: the Israeli spy ring had itself been infiltrated by the Egyptian intelligence service. The terrorists' own Israeli handler, Avraham Seidenberg (alias Paul Frank), had betrayed them to the Egyptians. That's how the Egyptians knew what Philip Nathanson was up to as he made his way to a designated target in Alexandria with a bomb in his pocket: a fire engine was already waiting in front of the theater! Never was a more ill-starred conspiracy conceived: as Nathanson approached his target, the bomb in his pocket went off, injuring but not killing its bearer.

Nathanson was taken into custody and confessed the whole plot, which led to more arrests. The public trial of the Israeli spies – in which every detail of their terrorist training in Israel was revealed – set off a series of crises in the Israeli government that reverberated for years. Ben Gurion and Israel's military intelligence chieftain, Benjamin Givli, tried to pass off the blame on then Defense Minister Pinhas Lavon, offering forged documents as proof. Ben Gurion won the first round of the blame game, but later on the truth came out, and in 1960, a committee of seven Cabinet members cleared Lavon of responsibility. Ben Gurion, however, rejected this, and effectively resigned as prime minister.

The question is – why did the Israeli government decide to honor a gang of terrorists, which it has studiously avoided acknowledging for some 50 years? Why now – and why so in-your-face?

Tel Aviv, and its amen corner in the U.S., kept telling us after 9/11 that Israel is America's staunchest ally in the fight against terrorism – and yet now they are hailing as "heroes" a coven of terrorists trained by themselves. What gives?

This is part and parcel of the growing pattern of extremism that seems to be imprinting itself on every aspect of Israeli life, one that has not gone entirely unnoticed in the Western media. PBS ran a fascinating documentary the other day, positing that Israel's next war may be against its own ultra-Zionist fanatics, who are intent on sabotaging the peace process and instituting an authoritarian-militarist state. The powerful and motivated extreme-right wing of the ruling Likud party refuses to give up the original Zionist dream of a "Greater Israel." I have covered the alarming uptick in extremist activity, both in Israel and the U.S., in this space, but the "honoring" of a terrorist gang by the Israeli government frightens the bejesus out of me – especially in view of the Israeli government's recent announcement that they will be carrying out assassinations wherever and whenever they choose, including on American soil.

On presenting the three survivors and the families of the deceased with official citations, Israeli Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. Moshe Ya'alon averred, "This is historic justice for those who were sent on a mission on behalf of the state and became the victims of a complex political affair." Justice? What about justice for the victims of those bombs, which exploded in a post office, a couple of movie theaters, and the American library in Cairo? I guess they don't count.

Robert Dassa, one of the surviving terrorists, was grateful for the recognition and cited the passionately expressed wish of his deceased comrades that the Israeli government would finally acknowledge their existence, but according to the Jerusalem Post, he still wasn't entirely happy: "He still had one wish, he said – for the true story, untainted by politics, to be taught in Israeli schools."

Taught in Israeli schools – as what? As an example of a completely immoral and inexcusable exercise in fanaticism and outright savagery – or a heroic act that deserves to be honored by Israeli government officials and held up as an act of supreme patriotism, to be emulated by Israeli youth?

An Israel unrepentant about its brutal history of repression against the Palestinians may be reprehensible, but is at least understandable to some extent: but this ceremonial tribute to terrorists whose targets were American and British civilians is downright weird. What are the Israelis thinking? It's as if the government of, say, Lebanon, were to announce that they were honoring the suicide bomber who killed 241 Americans in the 1983 terrorist attack in Beirut on the Marine barracks.

It's funny how many conservatives – and especially the neoconservatives – have their antennae quivering at the least hint of "anti-Americanism" or anti-Western sentiment, and yet so far I've heard not one peep out of anyone on the American Right about this outrageously and viciously anti-American display. Surely this is an oversight that will shortly be corrected – or is it? With their unconditional support for even the most outrageous Israeli demands, their knee-jerk denunciations of even the most mild criticism of Israel as "anti-Semitism," and their open resentment of the Bush administration's pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to stop building settlements, perhaps this is one form of anti-Americanism they can get behind.

Justin Raimondo

Trouble for Troubled Youth

INFERNAL CONDITIONS and hair-raising abuses at Maryland's juvenile detention facilities are nothing new. As a candidate for governor in 2002, then-Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich (R) Jr. cited them as he hammered away at his opponent, then-Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend (D), whose portfolio included oversight of the state's centers and reform schools for wayward youth. So it is hardly possible for Mr. Ehrlich, as governor, to take the position that he has been blindsided by the latest reports about a sadistic guard who preyed on teenage boys for several months this winter at the Alfred D. Noyes Children's Center in Montgomery County. But it is fair to ask why, after years of scrutiny by the Justice Department and an independent state monitoring office, coupled with the governor's own electoral promises of reform, violence and ill-treatment persist for some of the state's most troubled teenagers.

The details of abuses at the Noyes facility, in Rockville, described in a report by the Office of the Independent Juvenile Justice Monitor, are sickening. For at least three months before he was exposed in February, a guard there organized his teenage charges into a violent fraternity known as "the family" whose trademark initiation rite involved stripping boys and punching them in the groin. The guard deployed members of "the family," called "soldiers," to beat up other detainees and generally do his bidding; their rewards for obedience included cell phone privileges, pizza and movies. Two other guards at the center also encouraged youths there to fight with each other and to brutalize weaker detainees. In a separate incident at the Baltimore Juvenile Justice Center, three youths were kept in seclusion for five consecutive days, in violation of state law.

In the aftermath of reports last fall of violence and abuse at another facility, the state's new juvenile jail in Baltimore, Mr. Ehrlich belatedly turned his attention to the problem. With the addition there of new high-ranking officials, there are signs that his administration is devoting the energy the governor initially promised to serious reform.

But systemic problems remain, including, first and foremost, staffing. Guards at the facilities tend to be poorly paid, inadequately trained and hired on contracts, meaning that they have little incentive for good performance or long-term improvement. Moreover, a number of facilities have been severely short-staffed. At the Noyes facility, just 20 employees are charged with handling about 57 live-in teenagers; that's less than half the number needed, according to the state's independent monitor. That shortage contributed to the recent abuses; the guard who oversaw "the family" was the only one on duty in charge of nearly 20 teenagers, and he often worked a double-shift of 16 hours. Best practices for that number of detainees call for having two guards on duty per shift.

Improving the staffing picture will be difficult, especially at Noyes. Few people in high-priced Montgomery County are willing to work in such rough conditions at the wages paid to inexperienced guards: less than $25,000. Even when applicants are selected, it takes months to screen them for drug use and perform other background checks, and to train them for a demanding job. Unless he devotes more time and energy to reforms, Mr. Ehrlich, having used the juvenile justice facilities' failings as an electoral issue in 2002, may find them coming back to haunt him when he runs again in 2006.

Saturday, April 9, 2005; Page A22
Washington Post Editorial

Big Lies, Blind Spies, and Vanity Fair

Quick Lessons From the WMD Report

Last week the Silberman-Robb commission released its scathing report on recent failures of the U.S. intelligence community. Of particular interest was the chapter on the reason the U.S. ostensibly went to war with Iraq: Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction—which turned out not to exist.

A few insights the Voice gleaned from the first chapter:

Lesson 1: It's not a good idea to go to war based on information provided by someone who hates you so much he won't even meet with you.

Even before the commission released its report, it was well-known that one of the principal U.S. sources on Iraq's alleged WMD program was an Iraqi defector code-named Curveball. Hidden from both American policy makers and the American public in the rush to war, however, was that no one from the American intelligence community had any actual contact with Curveball. Though many believed Curveball to be an asset to the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), the informant—who was desperately seeking asylum in Germany—was in the custody of Germany's intelligence service, the BND, which, according to the report, "would not . . . provide the United States with direct access to Curveball." Footnote 274 elaborates, explaining that "when [DIA] pressed for access to Curveball, [BND] said that Curveball disliked Americans and that he would refuse to speak to them."

Lesson 2: Never, never, never trust Ahmed Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress.

Though there's been much speculation that Curveball was a cousin of aide to Ahmed Chalabi and was doing the biased bidding of Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress (INC), the commission—in a surprising take-it-on-faith move, given that it impugns just about every other intelligence community endeavor in recent years—lets stand CIA and other "post-war investigations [that] concluded that Curveball's reporting was not influenced by, controlled by, or connected to, the INC."

The INC nonetheless fares poorly in the report, particularly with regard to bogus information provided by INC-produced "defectors" that went into the all-important 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE). "The October 2002 NIE relied on reporting from two INC sources, both of whom were later deemed to be fabricators," the report concludes. One, repeatedly referred to as "the INC source," claimed that "Iraq had decided in 1996 to establish mobile laboratories" to evade inspectors. Another source, whose fake report "on the possible construction of a new nuclear facility in Iraq" also found its way into the NIE, was later discovered by the CIA as being " 'directed' by the INC to provide information to the U.S. Intelligence Community." Disturbingly, endnote 406 reports that despite being debunked, DIA "has not recalled [this source's] reporting as of March 3, 2005."

Lesson 3: Vanity Fair may not be the best source on which to base a National Intelligence Estimate—especially when its reporting is based on sources provided by Ahmed Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress.

Page 85 of the report notes that even though DIA issued a notice in May 2002 that an INC source was a fabricator and his reporting was "unreliable," the source's information "began to be used again in finished intelligence in July 2002, including the October 2002 NIE." The report explains that this might have happened in part because DIA didn't take a step beyond issuing an unreliability notice or move to physically recall the reporting. Yet endnote 254 reveals that the intelligence officials who prepared the NIE didn't base their conclusions on the defense reports exclusively, if at all. The NIE, according to the note, "actually sourced its information to a Vanity Fair article, which quoted the INC source as an unnamed 'defector.' David Rose, 'Iraq's Arsenal of Terror,' Vanity Fair (May 2002) (cited in source documents to annotated NIE)."

Lesson 4: No matter how fucked-up the U.S. intelligence community is institutionally, even if it weren't, the Bush administration probably would have gone to war anyway.

As the report notes in several places, the commission's mandate did not allow it "to investigate how policy makers used the intelligence they received from the Intelligence Community on Iraq's weapons programs," and the commission treated the issue of politicos misusing or subverting intelligence like a third rail. There is, however, at least one place in the report where the commission strays ever so slightly from its mandate. On page 155, the report states that "over the course of 12 years the Intelligence Community did not produce a single analytical product that examined the possibility that Saddam Hussein's desire to escape sanctions, fear of being 'caught' decisively, or anything else would cause him to destroy his WMD."

According to that line's endnote, at least one intelligence official put forth that very hypothesis to top Bush officials—who, unlike the intelligence community, actively considered it but shot it down: "The former assistant secretary of state for intelligence and research noted that he had discussed this possibility with other senior administration officials before Operation Iraqi Freedom began, but that ultimately they had rejected the possibility. They rejected it because they thought Saddam would have no reason not to come clean with the inspectors if he had truly disarmed. Although they considered the possibility that Saddam's behavior could be explained by his pride, as well as by his desire to intimidate and deter his adversaries by allowing them to think he had WMD, they ultimately rejected that theory."

Jason Vest
April 7th, 2005 11:50 AM
The Village Voice

Who Forged the Niger Documents?

A former counterterrorism chief claims that the now discredited documents that showed Iraq trying to purchase uranium were fabricated right here in the United States.

Editor’s Note: This is an edited transcript of an interview conducted by Ian Masters with Vincent Cannistaro, the former CIA head of counterterrorism operations and intelligence director at the National Security Council under Ronald Reagan, which aired on the Los Angeles public radio KPFK on April 3, 2005.

Ian Masters: You’ve been following President Bush’s commission’s report that came out this week, featuring fairly much, in terms of the press coverage, questions about “Curveball,” apparently a very appropriately named agent that the German intelligence was working. And, apparently his intelligence was heavily relied upon as a justification for going into war, particularly a lot of his claims ending up in the speech that Colin Powell made before the U.N.. And apparently, though, from the very beginning, the Germans were letting our side know that the guy was a fabricator and was, in fact, crazy. First of all, I didn’t think the CIA relied that heavily upon foreign intelligence. I thought there was a kind of professional sense that our taxpayers give us $30 billion dollars a year, we should be able to do this on our own and not rely on others. First of all, address that, sort of, cultural question if you will.

Well, I think in the case of Iraq, there were special circumstances, because the CIA does not have a good network of Iraqi sources in place, even though Iraq had become the forefront of U.S. policy all the way back to the Gulf War in 1991. So there was a dearth of information coming from CIA’s own sources. Secondly, there was an awful lot of so-called information coming from Iraqi exiles, primarily Ahmed Chalabi’s INC—the Iraqi National Congress. And that seemed to have a very receptive audience in some areas of the government, particularly at the Defense Department and at the vice president’s office. These were reports that tended to support the preconception of the administration that Saddam Hussein needed to be gotten rid of, and the primary reason for doing that was that he was in imminent possession of weapons of mass destruction, which could be turned against the United States of America or its allies.

So in that kind of environment — where there’s a tremendous policy need for information and you don’t have a great deal of source information that’s proprietary — then that’s how information that seems to be comprehensive, coming in from a foreign source, is overemphasized.

Well, in this case, the Germans had told the CIA’s head of the European desk on the operations side, Tyler Drumheller, who I spoke to, but he wasn’t comfortable going on the radio. He was told by Curveball’s handlers in Germany that the guy was crazy and a fabricator and the real question, I guess, is he passed this information on to the top people inside the agency, the Deputy Director McLaughlin and the Director George Tenet, both of whom are now — well, I don’t know about McLaughlin. He works for CNN. But, I believe George Tenet says he doesn’t remember the conversation.

Well, I think there’s no question that there’s a sequence of events that still remains a bit clouded, mainly because the report itself indicts the whole incident as an egregious example of a failure of intelligence.

To put it in some perspective, Curveball was an Iraqi chemical engineer, who allegedly defected and showed up at a refugee camp in Germany. He was then being exploited by German intelligence for information. Allied countries to the United States had all been alerted to the U.S. need for information on Iraq and on weapons of mass destruction programs in Iraq. And so the Germans exploited this information.

But the first cut of the information was passed to the DIA, not to the CIA. That’s the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Pentagon’s intelligence collection unit. And that information then was disseminated by DIA to the CIA. So the CIA never had any direct access to Curveball, a codename provided by the Germans to this defector source. The interesting thing to me is that the only DIA analyst who ever met with Curveball — who went to Germany and was given access to him — came back with an assessment which was very, very negative.

The problem was: what happened to his assessment? It didn’t get reported up through the senior levels of DIA — and therefore it didn’t get disseminated to CIA — until the Germans were directly queried by CIA on Curveball. That’s when they said, “Look this guy may be a fabricator, don’t trust any of his information.” His information had already gotten into the system, because it had been disseminated by the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency. And it had been distributed through our government, where of course in some sectors — particularly the Defense Department policymakers civilian policy makers and at the vice president’s office — it found an extremely receptive audience.

It was believed because it fit the preconceptions of those policy makers. Now, why did the CIA — which ultimately was responsible for putting the National Intelligence Estimate together in 2002, which was the most critical assessment of any intelligence report that the U.S. government has to offer — put the information in there and play a part in its key judgment of alleged WMD programs by Saddam Hussein? And that’s the question which is still not answered. We do know that some of the analysts at CIA were very suspicious of the Curveball information, as well as information provided by other so-called Iraqi defectors in exile. But that information, that assessment, was reported up through the chain of command at CIA, but apparently nothing was done about it.

So nothing was done to dampen down the expectations of some of the senior policymakers that this was genuine information. And it got into, as we know, Secretary of State Colin Powell’s address to the United Nations Security Council — with disastrous results, because the information was totally false. At the time, some analysts that I spoke to were very critical of the information, but they were not able to impress senior leadership, meaning George Tenet and John McLaughlin, his deputy, with their doubts. Their doubts were never reflected, either in Colin Powell’s speech, or in the National Intelligence Estimate itself.

The importance of the NIE, the National Intelligence Estimate, is that that was the document upon which the senators made that vote — and of course, the most fateful vote of all was John Kerry’s vote — to support the war, or to authorize the use of force.

Absolutely. The NIE is considered [the] most important intelligence analysis that the U.S. government produces. It’s supposed to reflect the collective wisdom of the intelligence community on a particular issue. And that’s why, while it is supervised by a member of the National Intelligence Council, which is at the CIA, all the intelligence community members play a role in contributing to it. And in this case, the minority opinions of some agencies, such as the Department of Energy, Department of State, were relegated to minor footnotes, which really didn’t capture the attention of the reader of the NIE itself. So, yes, the NIE — which as we know now was corrupted by false intelligence and in some cases fabricated, deliberately fabricated, information — it played a critical role in getting the U.S. Senate to vote in favor of war with Iraq.

At the time, you were quoted in some articles as saying that you had heard of dissent within the agency and people that were being, sort of, steamrollered by the administration. Give us some sense of what was happening at the time. Having spoken, again, with the key guy in the agency, Tyler Drumheller, he said, he understood that on the analysis side, there were people that actually either were fired or who quit. Not so much on the operations side that he was a part of, but on the analysis side there was some real frustration apparently.

Well, there was a tremendous amount of pressure on the analysts and even though the Silberman-Robb report dismisses political pressure on the process—they were not given that as an assignment by the president—they weren’t allowed ...

Well, that wouldn’t ... you couldn’t ... we shouldn’t be surprised by that.

No, we’re not surprised by it. But, the point is that it’s being taken as conventional wisdom that there really wasn’t any pressure by policy makers on the analytical process itself. And that’s just simply not true. It’s simply not true because analysts, generally, are like anyone else. They are concerned about their careers, their futures. Many of them are ambitious. If they understand that a dissenting opinion against the conventional policy wisdom is heard, that it’s going to affect their careers. There was a chilled environment in which to express any kind of opposite opinion.

Not only that, there wasn’t very much of a receptiveness at the senior levels of the CIA — at George Tenet’s level, for example, because he was a very political director. And he was very concerned about getting along with the administration. He was formerly a Democrat, appointed by a Democratic President and he had to stay on in a Republican administration. And he had to compete with a secretary of defense, Rumsfeld, who really didn’t want the CIA playing a large role in the intelligence community, and wanted to supplant that role. So, George had a more political bent. He wanted to get along, and therefore he had to play along. And “playing along” really meant to sustain the conceptions of the policy makers — particularly at the Pentagon and the vice president’s office — that Saddam Hussein was a real and imminent danger.

To do that, you had to accept some of these alarming reports that kept coming in, being fed by Ahmed Chalabi and his INC group. In many cases, the information was fabricated. Information, for example, about an alleged attempt by Saddam Hussein to acquire nuclear material, uranium, from Niger. This, we know now, was all based on fabricated documents. But it’s not clear yet — either from this report, or from any other report — who fabricated the documents.

The documents were fabricated by supporters of the policy in the United States. The policy being that you had to invade Iraq in order to get rid of Saddam Hussein, and you had to do it soon to avoid the catastrophe that would be produced by Saddam Hussein’s use of alleged weapons of mass destruction.

Well, Ambassador Wilson publicly refuted the claims — particularly the 16 words in the President’s State of the Union address that the Iraqis were trying to buy significant quantities of uranium from Niger. That document, I understand, was fabricated ... it originally came out of Italian intelligence, I think SISME, or SISDE—I’m not sure which one.

It was SISME, yeah. ...

[D]uring the two-thousands when we’re talking about acquiring information on Iraq. It isn’t that anyone had a good source on Iraq—there weren’t any good sources. The Italian intelligence service, the military intelligence service, was acquiring information that was really being hand-fed to them by very dubious sources. The Niger documents, for example, which apparently were produced in the United States, yet were funneled through the Italians.

Do we know who produced those documents? Because there’s some suspicion ...

I think I do, but I’d rather not speak about it right now, because I don’t think it’s a proven case ...

If I said “Michael Ledeen” ?

You’d be very close . . .

Well, again, Vincent Cannistraro, the feeling you get is that, from going back to, let’s agree that 9/11 is the greatest intelligence catastrophe since Pearl Harbor, and then the WMD catastrophe that followed it. These are two huge embarrassments and it seems to be that the way the White House has handled it’s as though you have a car accident. And instead of blaming the driver, you are blaming the car here. So, do you believe that, you know, that this process — whether it was the intention or not — it’s certainly worked out in such a way to exonerate the White House and to lay the blame with the wrong . . .

I think that’s certainly the objective. To lay it off to the intelligence community. But, it’s very disingenuous. It’s like saying, OK, the intelligence community that we whipped into a frenzy in order to provide information to sustain our policy conclusions that Saddam had a WMD program and that he was an imminent danger — that intelligence community provided information that now turns out not to be correct. And that’s why we were misled into saying what we did say, and doing what we did do. That’s very disingenuous, because that’s not the case at all.

The case was that this was not a fact-based policy that the U.S. government adopted. It was a policy-based decision that drove the intelligence, and not the other way around. And that’s, of course, the reverse of the process. You had a lot of people who played along to get along, and they understood that in that kind of administration, you couldn’t say exactly what it is that you really believed.

Now, having said all that, it’s not to exonerate the intelligence community, because, clearly, there were major gaps. And I think the major gap was the failure of, specifically, the CIA and the DIA to develop their own proprietary Iraqi sources that could be in a position to give them the kind of information they really needed — rather than having this dependence on foreign sources that you did not have direct access to. There’s nothing wrong in dealing with a liaison and sharing information. But, to be utterly a hundred percent — not 100 percent, let’s say, but 98 percent — dependent on such sources is a telling criticism of the American intelligence community for having failed to recognize that this was a priority that they needed to develop sources on. They had plenty of time to do it. They didn’t do it. And, again, you see some of this married in some of the other intelligence failures, such as 9/11 and the failure to penetrate al Qaeda. The problem really began when there was no appreciation for what al Qaeda was. That it was a threat. And I think that’s the same rationale that drove the Iraqi programs as well.

This particular White House coined the phrase “the axis of evil,” naming Iraq, Iran and North Korea, and it’s worth noting that we didn’t have any diplomatic relations with all three of those countries Then, Iran, where there’s rumors of war, in terms of some pre-emption against their developing nuclear weapons. North Korea, estimates are that they had maybe two, now since they’ve been reprocessing fuel rods for plutonium, they have up to six. Again, we don’t have any representation. So, isn’t that the heart of the problem, that you’ve got all the overhead collections from the satellites, but, unless you have people on the ground, you’re flying blind. And it gets to the real question, which is why do we have this foreign policy rigidity here, where we don’t recognize these countries. I mean, couldn’t you just recognize these countries just for the sake of getting people in there?

Well, I mean, it’s a good point. The question is the areas where we are very deficient on in terms of understanding the societies and understanding the policy decisions that are being made in those societies are areas where we have no official representation. We have no real official dialog. And that is part of the problem. In that kind of absence of contact, you’re really susceptible to people who have their own agenda, primarily exiles.

North Korea is an example where we don’t know in the U.S. government how many weapons they may have. There are estimates which range from four — which is the last one I’ve seen at the CIA — to 14, which comes out of DIA. That’s a huge disparity in estimate. And it just really tells you that we just don’t have solid information. And when you don’t, how do you devise a rational policy to deal with those countries. And I think the one spin-off from the Silberman-Robb report — as well as other reports that were made by the Senate and the National Commission on Terrorism — will be to cast doubt on the basis of any aggressive policies that the Bush administration takes against Iran, in particular, over the next few years.

Ian Masters, AlterNet. Posted April 7, 2005

Ian Masters is the host of the radio programs Background Briefing (Sundays from 11am - 12 noon) and Live From the Left coast (Sundays from 12 noon - 1pm), heard on KPFK 90.7FM Los Angeles. The full transcript and mp3 audio of the Vincent Cannistraro interview is available at IanMasters.org.

Hunger-Based Lines Lengthen at the Faith-Based Soup Kitchens

The 1,130 soup kitchen guests, as they're respectfully called, began gathering outside the church doors an hour early, curling around the corner in a long line to await a free main meal - their safety-net highlight in another day of being down and out, part of the working poor, or surviving somewhere in between.

The repast, at 2,500 calories a serving, steamed aromatically: chicken à la king, rice, buttered spinach, peaches. A staff member in the nave of the building, the Church of the Holy Apostles, cued dozens of volunteer helpers: "Ladies and gentlemen, it's showtime. Thanks be to God." And from Ninth Avenue in Manhattan, the diners flowed in.

The sight of masses of Americans gratefully chowing down on free food is indeed a show, an amazingly discreet one that is classified not as outright hunger but as "food insecurity" by government specialists who are busy measuring the growing lines at soup kitchens and food pantries across the nation. There were 25.5 million supplicants regularly lining up in 2002; they were joined by 1.1 million more the next year. And even more arrive as unemployment and other government programs run out.

Much as the diners at Holy Apostles peered ahead to see what was being dished up at the steam tables, soup kitchen administrators across the country are currently eying governments' trilevel budget season and wincing at all the politicians' economizing vows. They know that "budget tightening" eventually means longer lines outside their doors.

"It's a desperate thing," said the Rev. Bill Greenlaw, director of the Holy Apostles charity, one of the largest among 1,298 kitchens and pantries regularly helping more than one million residents in New York City. "Every level of government seems to have the same mantra, that these programs are vulnerable.

"We're bracing that all three levels of government are coming down at the same time."

Most immediately, food charities are pleading against further cuts in the federal emergency food and shelter program, which directly fights hunger. Last year, 48 soup kitchens closed in the city as supplies were exhausted, and hundreds of others reported to be making do by cutting back on daily portions.

Beyond that, however, administrators know that the myriad of severe program cuts looming in Washington - for everything from low-income wage supplements to health care spending for poor people - can only lead to further cuts down the revenue food chain in statehouses and city halls and, finally, longer lines of people silently begging for food.

The budget debate in the Republican-run Capitol presents a Hobson's choice between the House's five-year, $30 billion-plus in program cuts for the poor and the Senate's $2.8 billion in cuts - one-tenth the pain, but focused most heavily on nutrition programs. The compromise cuts are likely to lean toward the House, levying more than their fair budget share on the poor, even as President Bush and the G.O.P. leaders argue that still more upper-bracket tax cuts are somehow justifiable.

So Father Greenlaw can only turn to pleading for even more charity from the city's better-off residents.

According to a survey by the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, seven out of 10 of the city's pantries and kitchens are "faith based," using the terminology of the Bush administration. But their besieged directors overwhelmingly warn that government, not charities, must take the lead if poverty is to be properly confronted.

"We're faith-based by the old rules, not the new ones," Father Greenlaw carefully noted. "We'll be feeding more guests unless and until society decides we don't have to tolerate a huge underclass in our cities."

In the meantime, the pungent scene in the nave at Holy Apostles is unabashedly hunger-based. People are being fed, not proselytized, at dining tables where the pews used to be. A midday hubbub of satiation rises up, plain as the pipes of the church organ, as the line lengthens outside.

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company