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Are Presidents Afraid of the CIA? December 29, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, History.
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Published on Tuesday, December 29, 2009 by CommonDreams.orgby Ray McGovern

In the past I have alluded to Panetta and the Seven Dwarfs.  The reference is to CIA Director Leon Panetta and seven of his moral-dwarf predecessors-the ones who sent President Barack Obama a letter on Sept. 18 asking him to “reverse Attorney General Holder’s August 24 decision to re-open the criminal investigation of CIA interrogations.”

Panetta reportedly was also dead set against reopening the investigation-as he was against release of the Justice Department’s “torture memoranda” of 2002, as he has been against releasing pretty much anything at all-the President’s pledges of a new era of openness, notwithstanding.  Panetta is even older than I, and I am aware that hearing is among the first faculties to fail.  Perhaps he heard “error” when the President said “era.”

As for the benighted seven, they are more to be pitied than scorned.  No longer able to avail themselves of the services of clever Agency lawyers and wordsmiths, they put their names to a letter that reeked of self-interest-not to mention the inappropriateness of asking a President to interfere with an investigation already ordered by the Attorney General.

Three of the seven-George Tenet, Porter Goss, and Michael Hayden-were themselves involved, in one way or another, in planning, conducting, or covering up all manner of illegal actions, including torture, assassination, and illegal eavesdropping.  In this light, the most transparent part of the letter may be the sentence in which they worry: “There is no reason to expect that the re-opened criminal investigation will remain narrowly focused.”

When asked about the letter on the Sunday TV talk shows on Sept. 20, Obama was careful always to respond first by expressing obligatory “respect” for the CIA and its directors.  With Bob Schieffer on Face the Nation, though, Obama did allow himself a condescending quip.  He commented, “I appreciate the former CIA directors wanting to look out for an institution that they helped to build.”

That quip was, sadly, the exception to the rule.  While Obama keeps repeating the mantra that “nobody is above the law,” there is no real sign that he intends to face down Panetta and the Seven Dwarfs-no sign that anyone has breathed new life into federal prosecutor John Durham, to whom Holder gave the mandate for further “preliminary investigation.”  What is generally forgotten is that it was former Attorney General Michael Mukasey who picked Durham two years ago to investigate CIA’s destruction of 91 tapes of the interrogation of “high-value detainees.”

Durham had scarcely been heard from when Holder added to Durham’s job-jar the task of conducting a preliminary investigation regarding the CIA torture specialists.  These are the ones whose zeal led them to go beyond the already highly permissive Department of Justice guidelines for “harsh interrogation.”

Durham, clearly, is proceeding with all deliberate speed (emphasis on “deliberate”).  Someone has even suggested-I trust, in jest-that he has been diverted to the search for the money and other assets that Bernie Maddow stashed away.

In any case, do not hold your breath for findings from Durham anytime soon.  Holder appears in no hurry.  And President Obama keeps giving off signals that he is afraid of getting crosswise with the CIA-that’s right, afraid.

Not Just Paranoia

In that fear, President Obama stands in the tradition of a dozen American presidents.  Harry Truman and John Kennedy were the only ones to take on the CIA directly.  Worst of all, evidence continues to build that the CIA was responsible, at least in part, for the assassination of President Kennedy.  Evidence new to me came in response to things I included in my article of Dec. 22, “Break the CIA in Two.”

What follows can be considered a sequel that is based on the kind of documentary evidence after which intelligence analysts positively lust.

Unfortunately for the CIA operatives who were involved in the past activities outlined below, the temptation to ask Panetta to put a SECRET stamp on the documentary evidence will not work.  Nothing short of torching the Truman Library might conceivably help.  But even that would be a largely feckless “covert action,” copy machines having long since done their thing.

In my article of Dec. 22, I referred to Harry Truman’s op-ed of exactly 46 years before, titled “Limit CIA Role to Intelligence,” in which the former President expressed dismay at what the Central Intelligence Agency had become just 16 years after he and Congress created it.

The Washington Post published the op-ed on December 22, 1963 in its early edition, but immediately excised it from later editions.  Other media ignored it.  The long hand of the CIA?

Truman wrote that he was “disturbed by the way CIA has been diverted from its original assignment” to keep the President promptly and fully informed and had become “an operational and at times policy-making arm of the government.”

The Truman Papers

Documents in the Truman Library show that nine days after Kennedy was assassinated, Truman sketched out in handwritten notes what he wanted to say in the op-ed.  He noted, among other things, that the CIA had worked as he intended only “when I had control.”

In Truman’s view, misuse of the CIA began in February 1953, when his successor, Dwight Eisenhower, named Allen Dulles CIA Director.  Dulles’ forte was overthrowing governments (in current parlance, “regime change”), and he was quite good at it.  With coups in Iran (1953) and Guatemala (1954) under his belt, Dulles was riding high in the late Fifties and moved Cuba to the top of his to-do list.

Accustomed to the carte blanche given him by Eisenhower, Dulles was offended when young President Kennedy came on the scene and had the temerity to ask questions about the Bay of Pigs adventure, which had been set in motion under Eisenhower.  When Kennedy made it clear he would NOT approve the use of U.S. combat forces, Dulles reacted with disdain and set out to mousetrap the new President.

Coffee-stained notes handwritten by Allen Dulles were discovered after his death and reported by historian Lucien S. Vandenbroucke.  They show how Dulles drew Kennedy into a plan that was virtually certain to require the use of U.S. combat forces.  In his notes Dulles explains that, “when the chips were down,” the new President would be forced by “the realities of the situation” to give whatever military support was necessary “rather than permit the enterprise to fail.”

Additional detail came from a March 2001 conference on the Bay of Pigs, which included CIA operatives, retired military commanders, scholars, and journalists.  Daniel Schorr told National Public Radio that he had gained one new perception as a result of the “many hours of talk and heaps of declassified secret documents:”

“It was that the CIA overlords of the invasion, Director Allen Dulles and Deputy Richard Bissell had their own plan on how to bring the United States into the conflict…What they expected was that the invaders would establish a beachhead…and appeal for aid from the United States…

“The assumption was that President Kennedy, who had emphatically banned direct American involvement, would be forced by public opinion to come to the aid of the returning patriots.  American forces, probably Marines, would come in to expand the beachhead.

“In fact, President Kennedy was the target of a CIA covert operation that collapsed when the invasion collapsed,” added Schorr.

The “enterprise” which Dulles said could not fail was, of course, the overthrow of Fidel Castro.  After mounting several failed operations to assassinate him, this time Dulles meant to get his man, with little or no attention to what the Russians might do in reaction.  Kennedy stuck to his guns, so to speak; fired Dulles and his co-conspirators a few months after the abortive invasion in April 1961; and told a friend that he wanted to “splinter the CIA into a thousand pieces and scatter it into the winds.”

The outrage was mutual, and when Kennedy himself was assassinated on November 22, 1963, it must have occurred to Truman that the disgraced Dulles and his outraged associates might not be above conspiring to get rid of a President they felt was soft on Communism-and, incidentally, get even.

In his op-ed of December 22, 1963 Truman warned:  “The most important thing…was to guard against the chance of intelligence being used to influence or to lead the President into unwise decisions.”  It is a safe bet that Truman had the Bay of Pigs fiasco uppermost in mind.

Truman called outright for CIA’s operational duties [to] be terminated or properly used elsewhere.”  (This is as good a recommendation now as it was then, in my view.)

On December 27, retired Admiral Sidney Souers, whom Truman had appointed to lead his first central intelligence group, sent a “Dear Boss” letter applauding Truman’s outspokenness and blaming Dulles for making the CIA “a different animal than I tried to set up for you.”  Souers specifically lambasted the attempt “to conduct a ‘war’ invading Cuba with a handful of men and without air cover.”

Souers also lamented the fact that the agency’s “principal effort” had evolved into causing “revolutions in smaller countries around the globe,” and added:

With so much emphasis on operations, it would not surprise me to find that the matter of collecting and processing intelligence has suffered some.”

Clearly, CIA’s operational tail was wagging the substantive dog-a serious problem that persists to this day.  For example, CIA analysts are super-busy supporting operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan; no one seems to have told them that they need to hazard a guess as to where this is all leading and whether it makes any sense.

That is traditionally done in a National Intelligence Estimate.  Can you believe there at this late date there is still no such Estimate?  Instead, the President has chosen to rely on he advice of Gen. David Petraeus, who many believe will be Obama’s opponent in the 2012 presidential election.

Fox Guarding Henhouse?

In any case, the well-connected Dulles got himself appointed to the Warren Commission and took the lead in shaping the investigation of JFK’s assassination.  Documents in the Truman Library show that he then mounted a targeted domestic covert action of his own to neutralize any future airing of Truman’s and Souers’ warnings about covert action.

So important was this to Dulles that he invented a pretext to get himself invited to visit Truman in Independence, Missouri.  On the afternoon of April 17, 1964 he spent a half-hour trying to get the former President to retract what he had said in his op-ed.  No dice, said Truman.

No problem, thought Dulles.  Four days later, in a formal memo for his old buddy Lawrence Houston, CIA General Counsel from 1947 to 1973, Dulles fabricated a private retraction, claiming that Truman told him the Washington Post article was “all wrong,” and that Truman “seemed quite astounded at it.”

No doubt Dulles thought it might be handy to have such a memo in CIA files, just in case.

A fabricated retraction?  It certainly seems so, because Truman did not change his tune.  Far from it.  In a June 10, 1964 letter to the managing editor of Look magazine, for example, Truman restated his critique of covert action, emphasizing that he never intended the CIA to get involved in “strange activities.”

Dulles and Dallas

Dulles could hardly have expected to get Truman to recant publicly.  So why was it so important for Dulles to place in CIA files a fabricated retraction.  My guess is that in early 1964 he was feeling a good bit of heat from those suggesting the CIA might have been involved somehow in the Kennedy assassination.  Indeed, one or two not-yet-intimidated columnists were daring to ask how the truth could ever come out with Allen Dulles on the Warren Commission.  Prescient.

Dulles feared, rightly, that Truman’s limited-edition op-ed might yet get some ink, and perhaps even airtime, and raise serious questions about covert action.  Dulles would have wanted to be in position to flash the Truman “retraction,” with the hope that this would nip any serious questioning in the bud.  The media had already shown how co-opted-er, I mean “cooperative”-it could be.

As the de facto head of the Warren Commission, Dulles was perfectly positioned to exculpate himself and any of his associates, were any commissioners or investigators-or journalists-tempted to question whether the killing in Dallas might have been a CIA covert action.

Did Allen Dulles and other “cloak-and-dagger” CIA operatives have a hand in killing President Kennedy and then covering it up?  The most up-to-date-and, in my view, the best-dissection of the assassination appeared last year in James Douglass’ book, JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters.  After updating and arraying the abundant evidence, and conducting still more interviews, Douglass concludes the answer is Yes.

This article first appeared on Consortiumnews.com.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in Washington, DC. During his career as a CIA analyst, he prepared and briefed the President’s Daily Brief and chaired National Intelligence Estimates. He is a member of the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS). 

Groups Seek Disbarment for Bush’s Top Lawyers May 18, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Torture.
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CNN, May 18, 2009

Washington – A coalition of progressive groups sought Monday to have 12 Bush administration lawyers disbarred for their roles in crafting the legal rationale for so-called enhanced interrogation techniques that many view as torture.

    Alberto Gonzales is among the former attorneys general named in the complaints.

    “It is time to hold these lawyers accountable for violating their legal oath,” Kevin Zeese, an attorney for the coalition, said in a written statement.

    “Just as the bar would suspend an attorney who advised a police officer to torture and brutalize a detained immigrant or criminal defendant, the bar must suspend these attorneys for advocating and causing the torture of war detainees. The disciplinary boards that hear these complaints must act or they will be seen as complicit in the use of torture.”

    Zeese called disbarment “an important step toward the ultimate accountability of criminal prosecution.”

    The group registered formal complaints against David Addington, John Ashcroft, Stephen Bradbury, Jay Bybee, Michael Chertoff, Douglas Feith, Alice Fisher, Timothy Flanigan, Alberto Gonzales, William Haynes II, Michael Mukasey and John Yoo.

    Ashcroft, Gonzales and Mukasey served as attorney general in former President George W. Bush’s administration. Chertoff served as homeland security secretary.

    The complaints, filed with the bars in California, the District of Columbia, New York, Pennsylvania and Texas, also seek other forms of disciplinary action in addition to disbarment.

    A preliminary internal report on the Justice Department investigation into the authors of the Bush administration’s “torture memos” indicated that the federal government might also urge state bar associations to take sanctions against the memo writers, according to two government sources.

    The draft, which has been sent to Attorney General Eric Holder for approval or revisions, reportedly does not call for criminal prosecutions.

    Sources said investigators for the Justice Department’s ethics unit, the Office of Professional Responsibility, have focused heavily on internal communications involving Bradbury, Bybee and Yoo.

    The three former Office of Legal Counsel lawyers were top officials who provided legal guidance, including permissible interrogation procedures to the CIA and other executive branch agencies. Guidance written by Bybee and Yoo in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks allowed for harsh interrogation techniques that later were withdrawn.

    The draft report is said to be critical of Yoo and Bybee in particular.

Lawrence Walsh and America’s law-free zone February 17, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Dick Cheney, George W. Bush.
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Glenn Greenwald

(updated below)

David Rivkin and Lee Casey are right-wing lawyers and former Reagan DOJ officials who, over the last eight years, have been extremely prolific in jointly defending Bush/Cheney theories of executive power. Today, they have one of their standard Op-Eds, this time in The Washington Post, demanding that there be no investigations or prosecutions of Bush officials.  Most of the arguments they advance are the standard platitudes now composing Beltway conventional wisdom on this matter.  But there is one aspect of their advocacy that is somewhat remarkable and worth noting.

Rivkin and Casey have long been vigorous opponents of the legitimacy of international tribunals to adjudicate crimes committed by American officials.  In February, 2007, they wrote an Op-Ed in the Post bitterly criticizing Italian officials for indicting 25 CIA agents who had literally kidnapped a Muslim cleric from Italy and “rendered” him from Milan to Egypt.  In that Op-Ed, the Bush-defending duo argued that Italy had no right to prosecute these agents (h/t reader tc):

An Italian court announced this month that it is moving forward with the indictment and trial of 25 CIA agents charged with kidnapping a radical Muslim cleric. These proceedings may well violate international law, but the case serves as a wake-up call to the United States . . . .

[T]he United States must still vigorously resist the prosecution of its indicted agents. . . . [I]t is up to American, not Italian, authorities to determine whether any offense was committed in the capture and rendition of Nasr.

Unfortunately, the effort to prosecute these American agents is only one instance of a growing problem. Efforts to use domestic and international legal systems to intimidate U.S. officials are proliferating, especially in Europe. Cases are pending in Germany against other CIA agents and former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld — all because of controversial aspects of the war on terrorism. These follow Belgium’s misguided effort to pursue “universal jurisdiction” claims for alleged violations of international law, which also resulted in complaints against American officials including Vice President Cheney and former secretary of state Colin Powell. That law was amended, but the overall problem is unlikely to go away.  The initiation of judicial proceedings against individual Americans is too attractive a means of striking at the United States — and one often not subject to control by the relevant foreign government.

Accordingly, Congress should make it a crime to initiate or maintain a prosecution against American officials if the proceeding itself otherwise violates accepted international legal norms.

So it’s up to the U.S. — not any foreign tribunals — to prosecute war crimes and other felonies committed by American officials (for reasons that, at least in part and under certain circumstances (not prevailing in the Italian case), I find persuasive).  In fact, they argue, international prosecutions are so illegitimate that such proceedings themselves should be declared crimes.  Indeed, like most of their political comrades, Rivkin and Casey have consistently argued that U.S. jurisdiction over alleged violations of international law and U.S. treaties by U.S. citizens — including our leaders — is exclusive. 

They made the same argument when opposing U.S. ratification of the enabling statute of the International Criminal Court (.pdf), arguing that “[t]he question is whether [international] law can, or should, be enforced outside national legal systems that have generally functioned well.”  Their answer, of course, is that, when it comes to Americans, international law obligations cannot and shouldn’t be enforced anywhere but America:

There are many problems with the Rome Treaty.  The most immediate one, for Americans, is the danger of its being used as a political instrument against us.  But the most profound flaw is a philosophical one:  The concept of “international” justice underpinning the ICC project is more apparent than real. . . .

The prosecution of political leaders is inherently political, and there are at least two sides to every political conflict. . . . From America’s perspective, the greatest practical danger of joining the ICC regime would be that the court, driven by those who may resent American global preeminence, could seek to restrain the use of U.S. military power through prosecutions of U.S. leaders.

They then went on to call for the Bush administration to vocally and decisively reject the legitimacy of the ICC  so that the whole edifice would collapse.  This is because American leaders should not be subjected to prosecution in foreign countries for their crimes — only in America.

Yet what do these two argue today?  That domestic investigations and prosecutions — by American tribunals and American courts — are also inappropriate, illegitimate and destructive.  Though they acknowledge that “the Justice Department is capable of considering whether any criminal charges are appropriate,” they nonetheless insist that this must not be done:

For his part, President Obama has reacted coolly to calls to investigate Bush officials. Obama is right to be skeptical; this is a profoundly bad idea — for policy and, depending on how such a commission were organized and operated, for legal and constitutional reasons. . . .

Attempting to prosecute political opponents at home or facilitating their prosecution abroad, however much one disagrees with their policy choices while in office, is like pouring acid into our democratic machinery. As the history of the late, unlamented independent counsel statute taught, once a Pandora’s box is opened, its contents can wreak havoc equally across the political and party spectrum. . . .

Obama and the Democratic Congress are entitled to revise and reject any or all of the Bush administration’s policies. But no one is entitled to hound political opponents with criminal prosecution, whether directly or through the device of a commission, and those who support such efforts now may someday regret the precedent it sets.

So no international tribunals or foreign countries have any power to investigate or prosecute American officials for war crimes (even when those war crimes are against citizens of those countries and/or committed within their borders).  And, American political officials must also not be prosecuted inside the U.S., by American courts.  “Nobody is entitled” to do that either, because “attempting to prosecute political opponents at home or facilitating their prosecution abroad is like pouring acid into our democratic machinery.”

The implication of their argument — which is now the conventional Beltway view — is too obvious to require much elaboration.  If our political leaders can’t be held accountable for their war crimes and other serious felonies in foreign countries or international tribunals, and must never be held accountable in the U.S. either (because to do so is to “pour acid into our democratic machinery”), then it means that American political officials (in contrast to most other leaders) are completely and explicitly exempt from, placed above, the rule of law.  That conclusion is compelled from their premises. 

At least to me, it’s just endlessly perplexing how anyone — let alone our political class in unison — could actually endorse such absolute lawlessness for political leaders.  Didn’t our opinion-making elites learn in the eighth grade that the alternative to a “nation of laws” was a “nation of men” — i.e., the definition of tyranny?  Those are the only two choices.  It’s just so basic.

Apparently, though, this is all fine with our political establishment, since none of this is new.  Here’s what Iran-contra prosecutor (and life-long Republican official) Lawrence Walsh said in 1992 after George H.W. Bush pardoned Casper Weinberger days before his trial was set to begin:

President Bush’s pardon of Caspar Weinberger and other Iran-contra defendants undermines the principle that no man is above the law. It demonstrates that powerful people with powerful allies can commit serious crimes in high office — deliberately abusing the public trust without consequence.

Weinberger, who faced four felony charges, deserved to be tried by a jury of citizens. Although it is the President’s prerogative to grant pardons, it is every American’s right that the criminal justice system be administered fairly, regardless of a person’s rank and connections.

The Iran-contra cover-up, which has continued for more than six years, has now been completed with the pardon of Caspar Weinberger. . . . Weinberger’s early and deliberate decision to conceal and withhold extensive contemporaneous notes of the Iran-contra matter radically altered the official investigations and possibly forestalled timely impeachment proceedings against President Reagan and other officials. Weinberger’s notes contain evidence of a conspiracy among the highest-ranking Reagan Administration officials to lie to Congress and the American public. . . .

In light of President Bush’s own misconduct, we are gravely concerned about his decision to pardon others who lied to Congress and obstructed official investigations.

Does anyone deny that we are exactly the country that Walsh described:  one where “powerful people with powerful allies can commit serious crimes in high office — deliberately abusing the public trust without consequence”? And what rational person could think that’s a desirable state of affairs that ought not only be preserved — but fortified still further– as we move now to immunize Bush 43 officials for their far more serious and disgraceful crimes? As the Rivkin/Casey oeuvre demonstrates, we’ve created a zone of lawlessness around our highest political leaders and either refuse to acknowledge that we’ve done that or, worse, have decided that we don’t really mind.

 

UPDATE:  In a world in which the Rivkin/Casey mentality dominates (i.e., the world in which we actually live), imagine that you’re the American President, sitting in the Oval Office, tempted to issue a secret order that you know directs that laws be broken.  What possible pragmatic motive would you have to refrain from doing that?  Wouldn’t any rational person in that situation think to themselves:  

There’s nothing that would stop me from doing this because, fortunately, we live in a country where the President actually has the right to break the law and to do so without consequences.  In fact, amazingly enough, the citizenry — or at least the opinion-making elite — has somehow become convinced that it’s a good thing — vital even — for the President to have this lawbreaking right and to be shielded from consequences when he commits crimes.  I don’t know how that they got convinced of that, but that’s actually how they think.  As strange as it is, I know that if I decide to commit this crime, political and media figures from across the political spectrum will join together to insist that there must be no consequences for what I have done.

Ironically, while there is consensus horror in America’s political class over the idea that our political leaders might be charged and tried in the U.S. (let alone a foreign country) for their torture and other war crimes, we — Americans — have adopted a statute that expressly arrogates unto ourselves the power to do exactly that to leaders of other countries, and the Bush administration — even as they presided over their own torture regime — actually invoked that law to pursue such prosecutions.  After a torture prosecution of a Liberian official last December, Bush’s Attorney General, Michael Mukasey, actually spoke these words — what very well might be the most audaciously hypocritical quote of all of 2008:

Law without conscience is no guarantee of freedom; that even the seemingly most advanced of nations can be led down the path of evil; and that we must confront horror with action and vigilance, not lethargy and cowardice. . . .

His conviction – the first in history under our criminal anti-torture statute – provides a measure of justice to those who were victimized by his reprehensible acts, and it sends a powerful message to human rights violators around the world that, when we can, we will hold them accountable for their crimes.

No torturer is safe from American judicial accountability — as long as the torturer is not an American political official.

– Glenn Greenwald

A Torture Report Could Spell Big Trouble For Bush Lawyers February 15, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, George W. Bush, Torture.
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Michael Isikoff | NEWSWEEK

An internal Justice Department report on the conduct of senior lawyers who approved waterboarding and other harsh interrogation tactics is causing anxiety among former Bush administration officials. H. Marshall Jarrett, chief of the department’s ethics watchdog unit, the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), confirmed last year he was investigating whether the legal advice in crucial interrogation memos “was consistent with the professional standards that apply to Department of Justice attorneys.” According to two knowledgeable sources who asked not to be identified discussing sensitive matters, a draft of the report was submitted in the final weeks of the Bush administration. It sharply criticized the legal work of two former top officials—Jay Bybee and John Yoo—as well as that of Steven Bradbury, who was chief of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) at the time the report was submitted, the sources said. (Bybee, Yoo and Bradbury did not respond to multiple requests for comment.)

But then–Attorney General Michael Mukasey and his deputy, Mark Filip, strongly objected to the draft, according to the sources. Filip wanted the report to include responses from all three principals, said one of the sources, a former top Bush administration lawyer. (Mukasey could not be reached; his former chief of staff did not respond to requests for comment. Filip also did not return a phone message.) OPR is now seeking to include the responses before a final version is presented to Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. “The matter is under review,” said Justice spokesman Matthew Miller.

If Holder accepts the OPR findings, the report could be forwarded to state bar associations for possible disciplinary action. But some former Bush officials are furious about the OPR’s initial findings and question the premise of the probe. “OPR is not competent to judge [the opinions by Justice attorneys]. They’re not constitutional scholars,” said the former Bush lawyer. Mukasey, in speeches before he left, decried the second-guessing of Justice lawyers who, acting under “almost unimaginable pressure” after 9/11, offered “their best judgment of what the law required.”

But the OPR probe began after Jack Goldsmith, a Bush appointee who took over OLC in 2003, protested the legal arguments made in the memos. Goldsmith resigned the following year after withdrawing the memos, and later wrote that he was “astonished” by the “deeply flawed” and “sloppily reasoned” legal analysis in the memos by Yoo and Bybee, including their assertion (challenged by many scholars) that the president could unilaterally disregard a law passed by Congress banning torture.

OPR investigators focused on whether the memo’s authors deliberately slanted their legal advice to provide the White House with the conclusions it wanted, according to three former Bush lawyers who asked not to be identified discussing an ongoing probe. One of the lawyers said he was stunned to discover how much material the investigators had gathered, including internal e-mails and multiple drafts that allowed OPR to reconstruct how the memos were crafted. In a departure from the norm, Jarrett also told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee last year he would inform them of his findings and would “consider” releasing a public version. If he does, it could be the most revealing public glimpse yet at how some of the major decisions of Bush-era counterterrorism policy were made.

© 2009

Republican IT Specialist Dies in Plane Crash December 24, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Electoral Fraud, U.S. Election 2008.
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Democracy Now! December 22, 2008 (www.democracynow.org)

A top Republican internet strategist who was set to testify in a case alleging election tampering in 2004 in Ohio has died in a plane crash. Michael Connell was the chief IT consultant to Karl Rove and created websites for the Bush and McCain electoral campaigns. Michael Connell was deposed one day before the election this year by attorneys Cliff Arnebeck and Bob Fitrakis about his actions during the 2004 vote count in Ohio and his access to Karl Rove’s email files and how they went missing.

AMY GOODMAN: A top Republican internet strategist who was set to testify in a case alleging election tampering in 2004 in Ohio has died in a plane crash. Mike Connell was the chief IT consultant to Karl Rove and created websites for the Bush and McCain electoral campaigns. He also set up the official Ohio state election website reporting the 2004 presidential election returns.

 

Connell was reportedly an experienced pilot. He died instantly Friday night when his private plane crashed in a residential neighborhood near Akron, Ohio.

 

Michael Connell was deposed one day before the election this year by attorneys Cliff Arnebeck and Bob Fitrakis about his actions during the 2004 vote count and his access to Karl Rove’s email files and how they went missing.

 

Velvet Revolution, a non-profit investigating Connell’s activities, revealed this weekend that Connell had recently said he was afraid George Bush and Dick Cheney would “throw [him] under the bus.” Cliff Arnebeck had also previously alerted Attorney General Michael Mukasey to alleged threats from Karl Rove to Connell if he refused to “take the fall.”

 

Well, Mark Crispin Miller joins us now, a professor of media culture and communication at New York University, the author of several books, including Loser Take All: Election Fraud and the Subversion of Democracy, 2000-2008 and Fooled Again: How the Right Stole the 2004 Election & Why They’ll Steal the Next One Too. Mark Crispin Miller us now in our firehouse studio.

Welcome to Democracy Now!

MARK CRISPIN MILLER: It’s good to be here, Amy. Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Alright, well, we had you on right before the election, because that’s when Mike Connell was being deposed. This news that came out of his death in a plane crash on Friday night, talk about what you understand has happened.

MARK CRISPIN MILLER: Well, I cannot assert with perfect confidence that this was no accident, but I will say that the circumstances are so suspicious and so convenient for Rove and the White House that I think we’re obliged to investigate this thing very, very thoroughly. And that means, first of all, taking a close look at some of the stories that were immediately circulated to account for what happened, that it was bad weather. That was the line they used when Wellstone’s plane went down. There had been bad weather, but it had passed two hours before. And this comes from a woman at the airport information desk in Akron. We’re told that his plane was running out of gas, which is a little bit odd for a highly experienced pilot like Connell, but apparently, when the plane went down, there was an explosion, a fireball that actually charred and pocked some of the house fronts in the neighborhood. People can go online and see the footage that news crews took. But beyond the, you know, dubiousness of the official story, we have to take a close look at—and a serious look at all the charges that Connell was set to make.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, he had asked the Attorney General Mukasey for protective custody, because of threats to him and his wife?

MARK CRISPIN MILLER: He reported threats to his lawyer, Cliff Arnebeck, and Arnebeck—also, Velvet Revolution heard from tipsters, as well, tipsters who also claimed that Connell’s life was at risk. Stephen Spoonamore, the whistleblower who was the first—who was the one to name Connell in the first place, also had an ear to the inside. He’s also very connected. And all these people were saying Rove is making threats, the White House is very worried about this case.

Having heard all this, Arnebeck contacted Mukasey, he contacted Nancy Rogers, who is the Ohio Attorney General, and he wrote a letter to the court, telling all of them that “This man should be in protective custody. He is an important witness in a RICO case. Please do something to look after him.” And they didn’t respond to this.

AMY GOODMAN: So, explain what this case is all about and exactly what Mike Connell has been doing over these last years. What does it mean to be Karl Rove’s IT guru?

MARK CRISPIN MILLER: Well, the lawyers in the case refer to him as a high-IQ Forrest Gump, by which they mean that he seems to have been present at the scene of every dubious election of the last eight years. We’re talking about Florida in 2000. We’re talking about Ohio in 2004. We’re talking about Alabama in 2002. He seems to have been involved in the theft of Don Siegelman’s re-election for governor. There’s some evidence that links him with the Saxby Chambliss-Max Cleland Senate race in Georgia in 2002. To be Karl Rove’s IT guru seems to have meant basically setting it up so that votes could be electronically shaved to the disadvantage of the Democrats and the advantage of Republicans.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean, “electronically shaved”? I mean, you’ve got all these precincts all over Ohio. They’re counting up their votes. What does he have to do with this?

MARK CRISPIN MILLER: Well, specifically, there’s a computer architecture setup called “Man in the Middle,” which involves shunting the election returns from, you know, the state in question—in this case, Ohio—shunting them to a separate computer elsewhere. All of the election returns in Ohio in 2004 went from the Secretary of State’s website—this is Ken Blackwell—to a separate computer in a basement in Chattanooga, Tennessee, which was under the control of another private company called SMARTech.

So we have now two private companies: GovTech Solutions, which is Connell’s company, SMARTech, which is run by a guy named [Jeff] Averbeck. And the company—the third private company that managed the voting tabulators in Ohio was called Triad. All three of these companies worked closely together on election night in Ohio in 2004. It turns out that the state’s own IT person was sent home at 9:00 p.m. They said, “Go ahead. Go home. We’ll take care of this.” So that this trio of highly partisan and, let me add, Christianist companies basically took over the whole—

AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean, “Christianist”?

MARK CRISPIN MILLER: Well, they’re radical theocratic activists, particularly—particularly Triad and SMARTech. You know, they are fervently anti-choice.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Mike Connell was, in fact—many said that’s what motivated him through all of this, his fierce anti-abortion stance.

MARK CRISPIN MILLER: He told—Connell told Spoonamore that one of the primary reasons why he helped Bush-Cheney steal elections was to save the babies. I do think, though, that we have to draw a distinction between Connell, on the one hand, and the Averbeck and the Rapp family, on the other hand, because Connell was far less ferocious in his political views. He was an ardent anti-abortionist, it’s true, but he wasn’t quite as hardcore as the others. And in fact, you know, he was a little bit alienated from the others, and that’s one of the reasons why he was inclined to talk, and so on.

But the fact is, to answer your question, that on election night in 2004, it had been Connell, with these other two companies working with him, who had managed the computer setup, enabling Ken Blackwell to study the maps of precincts and voter turnout very carefully and figure out how many votes they need. By shunting the data to Chattanooga, they kind of slowed down the data stream.

AMY GOODMAN: Wasn’t Karl Rove’s email also there in Chattanooga on some of these servers?

MARK CRISPIN MILLER: Yes, yes. The same servers were used to host a whole bunch of highly partisan websites. And also, indeed, Karl Rove’s emails were on that server, too.

AMY GOODMAN: That have gone missing.

MARK CRISPIN MILLER: That have gone missing. Incidentally, Stephen Spoonamore, again, the whistleblower who’s the one who named Connell, has told us—and I’ve seen his own contemporary notes—

AMY GOODMAN: And explain again who he was. Why was he in a position to whistleblow?

MARK CRISPIN MILLER: Stephen Spoonamore is a conservative Republican, a former McCain supporter and a very prominent expert at the detection of computer fraud. He’s the star witness in the Ohio lawsuit, right, in which Connell was involved. He has done extensive work of this kind, involving computer security, and had therefore worked with Connell, knew Connell personally and knew a lot of the people who were involved in the sort of cyber-security end of the Bush operation.

Despite his conservatism—or I suppose some would say because of it—he’s a man of principle—I mean, believes in the Constitution. He believes elections should be honest. He’s the one who came forward and named Connell.

And I have seen his notes of a conversation in which Connell asked Spoonamore how one would go about destroying White House emails. To this, Spoonamore said, “This conversation is over. You’re asking me to do something illegal.” But clearly, clearly—this is the important point—Mike Connell was up past his eyeballs in the most sensitive and explosive aspects of this crime family that, you know, has been masquerading as a political party.

AMY GOODMAN: And what did Fitrakis, the attorney who has brought the suit with Harvey Wasserman, the Ohio lawsuit, learn in the deposition of Mike Connell in the day before the election, which hardly got attention, considering it was the day before this historic election?

MARK CRISPIN MILLER: Yeah. Harvey wasn’t part of it. Harvey writes articles with Bob. It’s Bob Fitrakis and Cliff Arnebeck are the attorneys. They learned very little. What they learned was that Bush-Cheney lawyer who accompanied Connell to the deposition was watching the whole thing like a hawk, repeatedly objected to questions. Connell was stonewalling like crazy at this deposition.

They only learned one thing. And that was, they got confirmation that it was Connell who brought these other private companies into the arrangement, in addition to his own GovTech Solutions. Again, there was Triad and SMARTech. It was Connell who brought those three companies into one unit, so that the three of them were, in effect, handling Ohio’s election returns on election night under Connell’s supervision. That’s what we learned.

We also know, Amy, that since the deposition—I want to make this clear; we said it before, I want to repeat it—that Connell has indicated very clearly a desire to talk further, to tell more, whether it’s his conscience bothering him or whether it’s fear of some kind of a perjury charge because of how vigorously he stonewalled at the deposition. He made it known to the lawyers, he made it known to reporter Larisa Alexandrovna of Raw Story, that he wanted to talk. He was scared. He wanted to talk. And I say that he had pretty good reason to be scared.

AMY GOODMAN: So why did he fly in—why did he pilot his own plane when he was so afraid?

MARK CRISPIN MILLER: Well, that’s a good question. We can’t ask him, unfortunately. I mean, this is kind of a grisly thought, but, I mean, I think we should be asking where the body is? We’re told that a trooper on the scene immediately identified Connell. But then we read elsewhere that there was nothing left but debris and that the fireball was enormous. So maybe he wasn’t on the plane. I mean, who knows, when you’re dealing with people as deep as these?

But the point is—I can’t stress this strongly enough—we’re dealing not just with a shocking accident, if that’s what it was, and a convenient one. We’re dealing not even just with a particular lawsuit that, you know, really requires vigorous promotion. The important point here is that this is all about our elections. That’s what this is about. This is about democratic self-government.

The fact that Obama won so handily has caused a lot of us to sit back and relax. There’s been a lot of popping of champagne corks and people drawing the conclusion that the system must work, because our guy won. Well, this is not a sports event. This is self-government.

In fact, the evidence strongly suggests—and we haven’t had a chance to talk about this since Election Day—that Obama probably won by twice as many votes as we think. Probably a good seven million votes for Obama were undone through vote suppression and fraud, because the stuff was extensive and pervasive, in places where you wouldn’t expect it.

The Illinois Ballot Integrity Project was monitoring the vote in DuPage County, right next door to Obama’s, you know, backyard, Cook County. And two of them, in only two precincts on Election Day, saw with their own eyes 350 voters show up, only to be turned away, told, “You’re not registered,” people who were registered, who voted in the primary. All but one of these people was black. That’s in Illinois.

People at the Election Defense Alliance have discovered, from sifting through the numbers, an eleven-point red shift in New Hampshire. That means that there’s a discrepancy in Obama’s disfavor, primarily through use of the optical scan machines, an eleven-point discrepancy in the Republicans’ favor, OK?

You start to combine this with all the vote suppression, all the disenfranchisement, all the vote machine flipping that went on in this election, you realize, OK, Obama won, but millions of Americans, most of them African American and students, you know, were not able to participate in any civic sense, ironically, a lot of the same people, you know, who would have been disenfranchised and were disenfranchised before the civil rights movement. So the fact that a black president was elected, while cause for jubilation, see, ought not to take place at the expense of a whole lot of our fellow citizens who seem to have been disenfranchised on racial grounds. My point is very simply this: We’ve got to get past the victory of Obama and look seriously at what our election system is like, or else, I promise you, see, the setup that was put in place in this last election, in 2004 and in 2000, OK, will still be there in 2010, still be there in 2012. So we’ve got to take steps to do something about it now.

AMY GOODMAN: Mark Crispin Miller, I want to thank you very much for being with us, professor of media culture and communication at New York University, most recent book Loser Take All: Election Fraud and the Subversion of Democracy, 2000-2008.

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