Saturday, August 09, 2008

Just Another Priority

Suppose you have been concerned: over the rise of terrorism in the Gulf as a result of our invasion of Iraq; the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan/Pakistan, with the growing strength of Al Qaeda in northwestern Pakistan; inadequate inspection of shipping containers entering the United States; or with apparent partisan political considerations in hiring practices at the Department of Justice. Suppose, in other words, that the priority placed by the Bush Administration on combatting terrorism has you concerned.

Nevertheless, you are reminded again by Repub politicians that there has been no terrorist attack inside the United States since September 11, 2001. Perhaps you're almost convinced.

But don't be. A posting of 8/8/08 by Jonathan Schwarz on the site links to the interview of the previous day on National Public Radio's "Fresh Air" of Ron Suskind, author most recently of "The Way of the World." Here Schwarz's excerpt of the interview, in which President Bush's reaction and response to the British investigation of terrorists in 2006 is described:

NPR: I want to talk just a little about this fascinating episode you describe in the summer of 2006, when President Bush is very anxious about some intelligence briefings that he is getting from the British. What are they telling him?

SUSKIND: In late July of 2006, the British are moving forward on a mission they’ve been–an investigation they’ve been at for a year at that point, where they’ve got a group of “plotters,” so-called, in the London area that they’ve been tracking…Bush gets this briefing at the end of July of 2006, and he’s very agitated. When Blair comes at the end of the month, they talk about it and he says, “Look, I want this thing, this trap snapped shut immediately.” Blair’s like, “Well, look, be patient here. What we do in Britain”–Blair describes, and this is something well known to Bush–”is we try to be more patient so they move a bit forward. These guys are not going to breathe without us knowing it. We’ve got them all mapped out so that we can get actual hard evidence, and then prosecute them in public courts of law and get real prosecutions and long prison terms”…

Well, Bush doesn’t get the answer he wants, which is “snap the trap shut.” And the reason he wants that is because he’s getting all sorts of pressure from Republicans in Congress that his ratings are down. These are the worst ratings for a sitting president at this point in his second term, and they’re just wild-eyed about the coming midterm elections. Well, Bush expresses his dissatisfaction to Cheney as to the Blair meeting, and Cheney moves forward.

NPR: So you got the British saying, “Let’s carefully build our case. Let’s get more intelligence.” Bush wants an arrest and a political win. What does he do?

SUSKIND: Absolutely. What happens is that then, oh, a few days later, the CIA operations chief–which is really a senior guy. He’s up there in the one, two, three spots at CIA, guy named Jose Rodriguez ends up slipping quietly into Islamabad, Pakistan, and he meets secretly with the ISI, which is the Pakistani intelligence service. And suddenly a guy in Pakistan named Rashid Rauf, who’s kind of the contact of the British plotters in Pakistan, gets arrested. This, of course, as anyone could expect, triggers a reaction in London, a lot of scurrying. And the Brits have to run through the night wild-eyed and basically round up 25 or 30 people. It’s quite a frenzy. The British are livid about this. They talk to the Americans. The Americans kind of shrug, “Who knows? You know, ISI picked up Rashid Rauf.”

NPR: So the British did not even get a heads-up from the United States that this arrest was going to happen?

SUSKIND: Did not get a heads-up. In fact, the whole point was to mislead the British…The British did not know about it, frankly, until I reported it in the book…
What’s interesting is that the White House already had its media plan already laid out before all of this occurred so that the president and vice president immediately–even, in Cheney’s case, before the arrest, the day before–started to capitalize on the war on terror rhetoric and political harvest, which of course they used for weeks to come, right into the fall, about, “The worst plot since 9/11, that has been foiled, and this is why you want us in power.”

To summarize: by July of 2006 the White House has developed a scheme to maximize political advantage for the GOP in the upcoming fall elections, by exploiting arrest of plotters across the ocean to convince voters to keep his party in power. That month, Prime Minister Blair visits President Bush and advises the American president that the British are methodically moving on this group of plotters in the London area so as to gather sufficient evidence and prosecute the individuals most effectively. Mr. Bush is not pleased and voila!: a few days later a CIA agent meets secretly with the Pakistani intelligence service, which then arrests the guy who is the contact in Pakistan for the British plotters. Angry, the British are left with with no option than suddenly one night to zip around and arrest, prematurely, 25-30 individuals.

Yes, President Bush is concerned with terrorism. It has been one of his highest priorities, after overthrowing the dictator in Iraq who bedeviled his father; expanding the power of the Executive Branch over American citizens; establishing corporate control of the country; producing electoral gains for the Repub party; and a few other things. We can be thankful we haven't been hit in this country in almost seven years- but it is in spite of, rather than because of, GWB.

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