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Archive for January 26th, 2007


CIA leak Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald gave White House spokesman Ari Fleischer immunity in the case investigating the outing of CIA officer Valerie Plame without even knowing his story, the prosecutor told court Thursday.

“As Fitzgerald’s inquiry was heating up into who revealed CIA operative Valerie Plame’s name to reporters, Fleischer stepped forward with an offer: Give me immunity from prosecution and I’ll give you information that might help your case,” AP reported Friday. “What prosecutors didn’t know was that Fleischer was one of the leakers. And without immunity, he refused to talk. Not even a hint.”

“Prosecutors normally insist on an informal account of what a witness will say before agreeing to immunity,” AP continues. “It’s known in legal circles as a proffer, and Fitzgerald said Thursday that he never got one from Fleischer, who was chief White House spokesman for the first 2 1/2 years of President Bush’s first term.”

“I didn’t want to give him immunity. I did so reluctantly,” Fitzgerald told the court. “I was buying a pig in a poke.”

FULL STORY HERE.

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Bush: ‘I’m the decision-maker’ on Iraq

WASHINGTON -
President Bush, on a collision course with Congress over Iraq, said Friday “I’m the decision-maker” about sending more troops to the war. He challenged skeptical lawmakers not to prematurely condemn his buildup.

“I’ve picked the plan that I think is most likely to succeed,” Bush said in an Oval Office meeting with senior military advisers.

The president had strong words for lawmakers on both sides of the aisle who are lining up to support resolutions opposing his decision to send 21,500 troops to Iraq. He challenged them to put up their own ideas.

“I know there is skepticism and pessimism and that some are condemning a plan before it’s even had a chance to work,” the president said. “They have an obligation and a serious responsibility therefore to put up their own plan as to what would work.”

Despite doubts in Congress and among the public about his strategy, Bush said lawmakers agree that failure in Iraq would be a disaster and that he chose a strategy that he and his advisers thought would help turn the tide in Iraq.

The president met with Army Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, newly confirmed by the Senate to command U.S. troops in Iraq.

“My instruction to him was `Get over to the zone as quickly as possible, and implement a plan that will achieve our goals,’” Bush said.

“You’re going into an important battle in the war on terror,” he told Petraeus.

During a photo opportunity, Bush was asked about stepped-up activities in Iraq against Iranian activities thought to be fueling the violence.

Bush defended the policy, but said it is no indication that the United States intends to expand the confrontation beyond Iraq’s borders.

“That’s a presumption that’s simply not accurate,” Bush said. But added: “Our policy is going to be to protect our troops. It makes sense.”

Bush also said he was confident that the dispute over Iran’s nuclear program could be resolved diplomatically.

On the sidelines of the World Economic Forum, Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency, said Friday that Iran expects to start installing thousands of centrifuges in an underground facility next month. He said the installation would pave the way to large-scale uranium enrichment, a potential means of making nuclear weapons.

“I understand that they are going to announce that they are going to build up their 3,000-centrifuge facility … sometime next month,” ElBaradei said.

Meanwhile, Bush also called Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to thank her for her support in the global war on terror. The president commended Arroyo for actions against the al-Qaida-linked group, Abu Sayyaf. Philippine officials say DNA test results have confirmed that the leader of the group was killed in a clash with Philippine troops in September, officials said Saturday.

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U.S. invasion was "idiot decision"-Iraq vice president

DAVOS, Switzerland, Jan 25 (Reuters) – The U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 was an “idiot decision” and Iraqi troops now need to secure Baghdad to ensure the country’s future, Vice-President Adel Abdul Mahdi said on Thursday.

“Iraq was put under occupation, which was an idiot decision,” Mahdi said at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Mahdi said the Iraqi government planned to bring troops in to Baghdad from surrounding areas and said it was “a technical question” for the United States to decide whether to deploy more soldiers.

President George W. Bush plans to send another 21,500 troops to Iraq, a move widely criticised in the United States. On Wednesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted against the decision, which is due to go before the Senate next week.

“If we can win this war in Baghdad then I think we can change the course of events,” Mahdi told a panel on the state of affairs in Iraq.

“As Iraqis, we think we need more (Iraqi) troops in Baghdad, and we are calling for some regiments to come from other parts of the country,” he said.

Mahdi’s party, the powerful Shi’ite Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, was one of the exiled opposition parties consulted by Washington as it planned the invasion.

Its leader Abdul Aziz al-Hakim is a key figure behind the U.S.-backed national unity government.

MORE CHAOS?

Some commentators are concerned that without the support of U.S. troops in Iraq, the already boiling sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shi’ites could break out into ever greater killing sprees.

Adnan Pachachi, a member of Iraq’s parliament and a former acting speaker, said that if the United States could not stay in Iraq, other troops should be drafted in. “If because of domestic pressure in the United States, the U.S. feels it is not possible to continue undertaking this burden, then I think we should consider going to the United Nations and having an international force,” said Pachachi.

“This is a last resort really, otherwise there would be total chaos in the country.”
Bush, who this week pleaded for the United States to give his new Iraq plan a chance, does not have to abide by a Senate resolution if legislators vote against sending more troops.

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WASHINGTON: The spokeswoman for Vice President Dick Cheney told a jury Thursday that she informed Cheney and his chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby Jr., that the wife of a prominent critic of the invasion of Iraq worked for the CIA days before Libby contended he heard the information from a reporter.

Cathie Martin, who was Cheney’s chief spokeswoman, was the fourth witness for the prosecution in the perjury and obstruction of justice trial of Libby, who is charged with lying during an investigation of who leaked the name of the CIA operative, Valerie Plame Wilson, and why. Unlike the previous three witnesses, who worked at the CIA and State Department, Martin provided an insider’s perspective, one from directly inside the office of the vice president.

The perspective she laid out under questioning from a federal prosecutor was damaging to Libby. She testified that both Cheney and Libby were intensely interested in Wilson and her husband, Joseph Wilson, who had been sent on a mission to Africa to investigate reports that Saddam Hussein was trying to buy uranium from Niger for his nuclear weapons program.

Martin’s testimony was damaging for Libby in two respects. She bolstered the prosecution’s assertion that Libby was fully aware of Wilson’s identity from a number of administration officials, and did not first learn about her from reporters, as he has claimed. Perhaps more important, she testified as a former close colleague of Libby’s and demonstrated her familiarity with him by repeatedly referring to him by his nickname, Scooter.

Martin, who still works at the White House but no longer for Cheney, described how Libby had telephoned a senior Central Intelligence Agency official in her presence and asked about the Wilson trip. She said she was then put on the phone with Bill Harlow, the CIA’s spokesman, who told her that Wilson went on behalf of the agency and that his wife worked there.

Libby is facing five felony counts that he lied when he told a grand jury and FBI agents that he learned of Wilson’s identity from reporters. Her identity was first disclosed in a news column by Robert Novak on July 14, 2003, just days after her husband had written a commentary in The New York Times asserting that the Bush administration had distorted intelligence to bolster the case for invading Iraq.

Martin also described a senior staff meeting at the White House in which Stephen Hadley, then the deputy national security adviser, expressed anger after receiving a query from Andrea Mitchell of NBC. Mitchell had heard that the White House was blaming the CIA for causing the president to inaccurately say in his State of the Union address that the British government had confirmed Iraq’s efforts to buy uranium in Africa.

Martin said that Libby earlier had taken on the task of speaking with Mitchell about that issue. But at the July meeting in the White House, she said that Hadley made a point of turning around and looking at her, as of to signify he knew she was Mitchell’s source.

“Were you the source?” she was asked by Patrick Fitzgerald, the prosecutor. She said she was not.

“What was Mr. Libby doing during this complaint from Mr. Hadley?” Fitzgerald asked.

“He was looking down at the floor,” she said. At the end of the meeting, she said, Hadley took her aside and upbraided her further.

Theodore Wells Jr., Libby’s chief lawyer, in his cross-examination of Martin, had her acknowledge that she had not listened fully to a telephone conversation with Matthew Cooper, then of Time Magazine, on July 12. It was in that conversation that Libby is charged with having told Cooper about Wilson.

On Wednesday, prosecutors paraded a roster of former government officials before the jury to testify that they had informed Libby about the identity of Wilson, contrary to Libby’s claim that he had learned about her weeks later from reporters.

Libby’s lawyers spent their time cross-examining those witnesses in an effort to attack both their credibility and their memories.

Libby has put the issue of memory front and center in his defense.

He has sworn that he did not discuss Wilson’s identity with reporters in the spring and summer of 2003. But two reporters — Judith Miller, formerly of The New York Times, and Cooper — have testified that Libby explicitly told them about Wilson.

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Six months ago, Harper’s Ken Silverstein reported that “in spite of pressure from CIA analysts, intelligence czar John Negroponte was blocking a new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq.” National Intelligence Estimates present the consensus view of the U.S. intelligence apparatus. Despite pressure from Congress, the administration insisted it could not complete the NIE until January 2007.

Last week, however, an administration intelligence official told senators that the report is still not complete. According to Silverstein, Senate hearing attendees “believe that senior intelligence officials are stalling because an NIE will be bleak enough to present a significant political liability.”

Yesterday, NPR host Diane Rehm may have revealed why the NIE remains so politically sensitive. On her national radio show, Rehm said:

It’s my understanding that the National Intelligence Estimate…is going to suggest that adding troops is the wrong way to go, that it’s not going to improve the situation.

CLICK HERE FOR AUDIO

Yesterday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), and the House and Senate intelligence committee chairmen wrote President Bush “urging prompt completion of a national intelligence estimate (NIE) on Iraq first requested by Congress six months ago.” Read the full letter

HERE.

Digg It!

Full transcript:

REHM: It’s my understanding that the National Intelligence Estimate — that now at least two months overdue — is going to suggest that adding troops is the wrong way to go, that it’s not going to improve the situation. Why has that NIE been delayed for so long? And was it deliberately delayed until after the election — after President Bush’s speech last night?

VIN WEBER: I don’t know. I doubt it. I mean, I don’t often buy into conspiracy theories in Washington. There’s too many reporters that uncover those.

REHM: Do you question that John?

JOHN PODESTA: Well, you know it was due in August. I think when they want to get something out, they get it out. And when they want to have more review, they have more reviews. So I think at this point that the Congress demand that that NIE be completed and provided to the Congress.

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A project of Raw Story Investigates

(Click here to read the full timeline of the decades-long buildup to Iran)

The escalation of US military planning on Iran is only the latest chess move in a six-year push within the Bush Administration to attack Iran, a RAW STORY investigation has found.

While Iran was named a part of President George W. Bush’s “axis of evil” in 2002, efforts to ignite a confrontation with Iran date back long before the post-9/11 war on terror. Presently, the Administration is trumpeting claims that Iran is closer to a nuclear weapon than the CIA’s own analysis shows and positing Iranian influence in Iraq’s insurgency, but efforts to destabilize Iran have been conducted covertly for years, often using members of Congress or non-government actors in a way reminiscent of the 1980s Iran-Contra scandal.

The motivations for an Iran strike were laid out as far back as 1992. In classified defense planning guidance – written for then-Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney by then-Pentagon staffers I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, World Bank Chief Paul Wolfowitz, and ambassador-nominee to the United Nations Zalmay Khalilzad – Cheney’s aides called for the United States to assume the position of lone superpower and act preemptively to prevent the emergence of even regional competitors. The draft document was leaked to the New York Times and the Washington Post and caused an uproar among Democrats and many in George H. W. Bush’s Administration.

In September 2000, the Project for the New American Century (PNAC) issued a report titled “Rebuilding America’s Defenses,” which espoused similar positions to the 1992 draft and became the basis for the Bush-Cheney Administration’s foreign policy. Libby and Wolfowitz were among the participants in this new report; Cheney, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other prominent figures in the Bush administration were PNAC members.

“The United States has for decades sought to play a more permanent role in Gulf regional security,” the report read. “While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein. . . . We cannot allow North Korea, Iran, Iraq or similar states to undermine American leadership, intimidate American allies or threaten the American homeland itself.”

This approach became official US military policy during the current Bush Administration. It was starkly on display yesterday when Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns noted a second aircraft carrier strike force headed for the Persian Gulf, saying, “The Middle East isn’t a region to be dominated by Iran. The Gulf isn’t a body of water to be controlled by Iran. That’s why we’ve seen the United States station two carrier battle groups in the region.”

The Structure

Almost immediately after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, Iran became a focal point of discussion among senior Administration officials. As early as December 2001, then-Deputy National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley and the leadership of the Defense Department, including Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith, allegedly authorized a series of meetings between Defense Department officials and Iranian agents abroad.

The first of these meetings took place in Rome with Pentagon Iran analyst, Larry Franklin, Middle East expert Harold Rhode, and prominent neoconservative Michael Ledeen. Ledeen, who held no official government position, introduced the US officials to Iran-Contra arms dealer Manucher Ghorbanifar. According to both Ghorbanifar and Ledeen, the topic on the table was Iran. Ledeen told RAW STORY last year the discussion concerned allegations that Iranian forces were killing US soldiers in Afghanistan, but Ghorbanifar has claimed the conversation focused on regime change.

In January 2002, evidence that Iran was enriching uranium began to appear via credible intelligence and satellite imagery. Despite this revelation – and despite having called Iran part of the Axis of Evil in his State of the Union that year – President Bush continued to focus on Iraq. Perhaps for that reason, throughout 2002 the strongest pressure for regime change flowed through alternative channels.

In early 2002, Ledeen formed the Coalition for Democracy in Iran, along with Morris Amitay, the former executive director of the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

In August 2002, Larry Franklin began passing classified information involving United States policy towards Iran to two AIPAC employees and an Israeli diplomat. Franklin pleaded guilty to the charges in October 2005, explaining that he had been hoping to force the US to take a harder line with Iran, but AIPAC and Israel have continued to deny them.

At the same time, another group’s political representatives begin a corollary effort to influence domestic political discourse. In August 2002, the National Council of Resistance of Iran – a front for a militant terrorist organization called Mujahedin-E-Khalq (MEK) – held a press conference in Washington and stated that Iran had a secret nuclear facility at Natanz, due for completion in 2003.

Late that summer , the Pentagon’s Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz expanded its Northern Gulf Affairs Office, renamed it the Office of Special Plans (OSP), and placed it under the direction of Abram Shulsky, a contributor to the 2000 PNAC report.
Most know the Office of Special Plans as a rogue Administration faction determined to find intelligence to support the Iraq War. But that wasn’t its only task.

According to an article in The Forward in May 2003, “A budding coalition of conservative hawks, Jewish organizations and Iranian monarchists is pressing the White House to step up American efforts to bring about regime change in Iran. . . . Two sources [say] Iran expert Michael Rubin is now working for the Pentagon’s ‘special plans’ office, a small unit set up to gather intelligence on Iraq, but apparently also working on Iran. Previously a researcher at the Washington Institute for Near East policy, Rubin has vocally advocated regime change in Tehran.”

Dark Actors/Covert Activities

While the Iraq war was publicly founded upon questionable sources, much of the buildup to Iran has been entirely covert, using non-government assets and foreign instruments of influence to conduct disinformation campaigns, plant intelligence and commit acts of violence via proxy groups.

A few weeks prior to the Iraq invasion, in February 2003, Iran acknowledged that it was building a nuclear facility at Natanz, saying that the facility was aimed at providing domestic energy. However, allegations that Iran was developing a nuclear weapons program would become louder in the course of 2003 and continue unabated over the next three years.

That spring, then-Congressman Curt Weldon (R-PA) opened a channel on Iran with former Iranian Minister Fereidoun Mahdavi, a secretary for Ghorbanifar.

Both Weldon and Ledeen were told a strikingly similar story concerning a cross border plot between Iran and Iraq in which uranium had been removed from Iraq and taken into Iran by Iranian agents. The CIA investigated the allegations but found them spurious. Weldon took his complaints about the matter to Rumsfeld, who pressured the CIA to investigate a second time, with the same result.

In May 2003, with pressure for regime change intensifying within the US, Iran made efforts to negotiate a peaceful resolution with the United States. According to Lawrence Wilkerson, then-Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, these efforts were sabotaged by Vice President Cheney.
“The secret cabal got what it wanted: no negotiations with Tehran,” Wilkerson said.

The US was already looking increasingly to rogue methodology, including support for the Iranian terrorist group MEK. Before the US invasion, MEK forces within Iraq had supported Saddam Hussein in exchange for safe harbor. Despite this, when they were captured by the US military, they were disarmed of only their major weapons and are allowed to keep their smaller arms.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld hoped to use them as a special ops team in Iran, while then-National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice and State Department officials argued against it. By 2005, the MEK would begin training with US forces in Iraq and carrying out bombings and assassinations in Iran, although it is unclear if the bombings were in any way approved by the US military.

The Pressure is On: 2004 – 2006

For a variety of reasons – ranging from the explosion of the insurgency in Iraq following the high point of “Mission Accomplished” to Iran’s willingness to admit IAEA inspectors – the drumbeat for regime change died down over the summer of 2003. In October 2003, with Iran accepting even tougher inspections, Larry Franklin told his Israeli contact that work on the US policy towards Iran which they had been tracking seemed to have stopped.

Yet by the autumn of 2004, pressure for confrontation with Iran had resumed, with President Bush telling Fox News that the US would never allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons. By then, the Pentagon had been directed to have a viable military option for Iran in place by June 2005.

This phase of pressure was marked by increased activity directed at Congress. An “Iran Freedom Support Act” was introduced in the House and Senate in January and February of 2005. Neoconservatives and individuals linked to the defense contracting industry formed an Iran Policy Committee, and in April and May presented briefings in support of MEK before the newly-created Iran Human Rights and Democracy Caucus of the House of Representatives.

In March 2006, administration action became more overt. The State Department created an Office of Iranian Affairs, while the Pentagon created an Iranian Directorate that had much in common with the earlier Office of Special Plans. According to Seymour Hersh, covert US operations within Iran in preparation for a possible air attack also began at this time and included Kurds and other Iranian minority groups.

By setting up the Iranian Directorate within the Pentagon and running covert operations through the military rather than the CIA, the administration was able to avoid both Congressional oversight and interference from then-Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte, who has been vocally skeptical about using force against Iran. The White House also successfully stalled the release of a fresh National Intelligence Estimate on Iran, which could reflect the CIA’s conclusion that there is no evidence of an Iranian nuclear weapons program.

In sum, the Bush Administration seems to have concluded that Iran is guilty until proven innocent and continues to maintain that the Persian Gulf belongs to Americans – not to Persians – setting the stage for a potential military strike.

Click here to read the full timeline of the decades-long buildup to Iran

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In a major development today in the I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby perjury and obstruction of justice trial, a former vice presidential spokeswoman raised questions about the defense employed by Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff.

Cheney’s former Press Secretary Cathie Martin took the stand and told the prosectuion she had briefed Libby and the Vice President on the identity of CIA agent Valerie Plame as the wife of Iraq war critic Ambassador Joseph Wilson.

Martin revealed that she had a conversation with a CIA counterpart who in the course of the discussion said that Plame was Wilson’s wife. She immediately informed Cheney and Libby of this fact, on a date she said was prior to July 6th, according to the Associated Press. Libby claims he learned of Plame’s identity days later.

The defense will cross-examine Martin on Libby’s behalf this afternoon.

MSNBC has provided details on Libby’s lawyers questioning of memory as a tactic to call witnesses’ accounts into doubt during the trial.

DEVELOPING HARD …

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