Newspaper stories see the light of day for all sorts of strange and inscrutable reasons. Often the nominal ‘story’ is like the calm or slightly rippled surface of a lake in which all sorts of hidden business is taking place beneath.
Why are you hearing about a given story now? Who dropped a dime on who? The surface story is often at least as important as the backstory. But the backstory is something you want to know too.
Here’s one of those cases.
You’ve likely already seen or will soon see the story running in several major news outlets this evening about apparent last minute overtures that Iraq made to the US, looking for a deal just before the outbreak of the war.
The story centers on an apparent back channel (or attempted back channel) using a Lebanese-American businessman who had a relationship with an analyst in Doug Feith’s shop at the Pentagon, Michael Maloof. (Richard Perle was part of the potential back channel too.)
In aftermath of 9/11, Maloof and David Wurmser were each part of a two-man team tasked by the Pentagon with finding links between Shi’a and Sunni extremist groups as well as between Islamist terrorists and secular Arab regimes. They reported finding lots of evidence. But the folks at the CIA never bought it.
Down deep in the New York Times article, there’s this line contained in a parantheses: “In May, Mr. Maloof, who has lost his security clearances, was placed on paid administrative leave by the Pentagon.”
There’s your ripple.
And that’s where I think you’ll find a lot of the backstory for why we’re hearing now about this business with the last-minute overture.
To start getting a feel for that backstory, see this piece from Knight Ridder’s Warren Strobel from August 1st (“U.S. revokes security clearance for Pentagon employee.”)
This issue of security clearances and the revocation of security clearances and investigations in the depths of the bureaucracy is an important story of which we’re only getting the vaguest hints.
Late Update: Let me be a bit more clear about what I’m getting at here.
Let’s say I’m a career defense bureaucrat struggling to get my security clearances restored because it’s very hard for me to be a defense bureaucrat without them. And let’s say one of the reasons I can’t get them restored is because of some unauthorized contacts I had with a Lebanese-American businessman under investigation for running guns to Liberia. And let’s further add to the mix that my whole mess with the security clearances is part of a larger struggle between different factions in the national intelligence bureaucracy. Oh, and one last thing: let’s say I’m a protÃ©gÃ© of Richard Perle.
Now, if I’m on the line for these unauthorized contacts with the gun-running businessman, wouldn’t it be a lot harder to punish me for it if it looked like that contact almost allowed me to secure a deal that would have averted the need for war?
And if that’s the case, wouldn’t it be cool if my buddies and mentors went to the press with the story of how I almost saved the day?