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In his latest column, Congressional Quarterly's Jeff Stein revisits the Silvestre Reyes Shia-or-Sunni fiasco (which his previous column had sparked).

The incoming House intelligence committee chairman isn't the only person who doesn't know his ABCs, Stein reports:

Former Army intelligence Col. Rich Reynolds, who spent over two decades in the Middle East, told me he was startled recently to hear about several young CIA intelligence analysts at the CIA headquarters who were completely unfamiliar with Israel’s disastrous 1982 invasion of Lebanon.

The analysts’ current area of responsibility? Lebanon.

Likewise, a young intelligence analyst specializing in terrorist finances at the Department of Homeland Security was baffled a few weeks back by a question about hawalas, the ubiquitous Arab shops that work like an informal Western Union network to transfer money around the Middle East.

Experts think hawalas are one of al Qaeda’s prime channels for moving cash.

“What’s a hawala?” she asked.

Another young CIA analyst at the National Counterterrorism Center, according to a former White House National Security Council official who continues to work on intelligence matters, seemed totally surprised to learn that the terrorist group most responsible for killing Americans before 9/11 was not al Qaeda or a Palestinian faction but Hezbollah. The Iran-backed Shiite“Party of God” killed more than 300 Americans in suicide bombings in Beirut and Saudi Arabia in the 1980s and 1990s.


I guess we'll find out if it's true what they say -- what you don't know can't hurt you.

Reid Does His Own "Dead-of-Night" Legislation "Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, who has pledged to stop 'dead-of-night legislating,' did a little of his own in the final hours of this year's congressional session.

"Reid slipped two home state projects into the last major bill Congress passed last week: a transfer of federal land in Nevada to state and private control that's almost two-thirds the size of Rhode Island; and a $4 million grant for a hospice. Neither had been approved by any congressional committee.

"Reid said the land measure will help Las Vegas and other cities in his state grow and the hospice money rights a flawed Medicare ruling. One senator and some government watchdog groups criticized the actions, pointing to promises by Reid and the new Democratic majority in Congress to change a lawmaking process known for targeted funding and secretive deals.

"'Doing anything last minute shoved into an irrelevant measure — that's exactly what Harry Reid said he was going to stop,' said Steve Ellis, vice president of programs at Taxpayers for Common Sense, a Washington-based nonprofit that monitors government spending. 'It goes against the grain of transparency and openness.'" (Bloomberg)

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From The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

Authorities are investigating whether Rep. Tim Murphy's (R-PA) legislative staff members performed campaign work while on government time, which would violate federal law, according to a broadcast report.

Federal authorities have started interviewing Mr. Murphy's former staff members, according to KDKA-TV, which cited anonymous sources.


It's hard to keep track, but I believe this would be the 19th member of the 109th Congress under federal investigation. Time's running out. Who'll make it an even twenty?

Oh, and no mention of Murphy's alleged transgression should go unaccompanied by a link to this.

Sometimes numbers tell a story better than any amount of words can. But that's only if the public gets to see them.

This chart was just produced by Congress' watchdog, the Government Accountability Office. It shows the number of attacks in Iraq, month by month, based on statistics kept by the military. It was contained in correspondence released today:



You can see a larger version of the chart here. It tells a pretty compelling story -- part of a compelling story. It was produced in December, but it's missing data for the months of September, October and November of this year -- a period of increased violence, according to news reports. What gives?

I called Joseph A. Christoff, the GAO official who produced the document. "I have all [the Pentagon's] data" for those months, he told me. But the military stamped it classified, he said. And despite making weeks of phone calls, he can't convince anyone there to declassify the numbers.

"They give conflicting reasons," Christoff told me. "For some reason, they haven't gotten through their bureaucracy."

News accounts from the period indicate that violence has increased since August, and the rate of U.S. casualties has accelerated. October was said to be particularly bloody.

It was a fundraising pitch for Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS), but in a May, 2002 email Jack Abramoff's colleague couldn't help taking time out to praise a favorite: Rep. John Doolittle (R-CA). "[N]obody," wrote lobbyist Todd Boulanger, "comes even close (except for Doolittle, maybe) to doing as much for our main clients as Senator Cochran."

While Cochran went to bat for a moneyed interest in his home state (Abramoff's marquee client The Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians), however, Doolittle would help any Abramoff client in need. The Northern Mariana Islands were thousands of miles away from his California district, but they received his special attention; so did Indian tribes from Massachusetts and Iowa.

That's why Cochran has kept his name out of the headlines, while Doolittle nearly lost his recent election due to the Abramoff scandal, which has drained $100,000 from his campaign coffers to pay lawyers to fight off federal prosecutors.

The question for Doolittle now is whether the House ethics committee, following the calls from government watchdogs, will initiate an investigation of him. Despite being more mucked up with Abramoff than even Bob Ney, the former congressman who pled guilty to accepting bribes earlier this year, there have been no clear indications that the largely useless House ethics panel will move against him.

I spoke with Doolittle's office yesterday for this post. His spokeswoman did not provide a comment for the record in time for publication.

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File this one away with the Downing Street Memo. From The Indepenent:

A devastating attack on Mr Blair's justification for military action by Carne Ross, Britain's key negotiator at the UN, has been kept under wraps until now because he was threatened with being charged with breaching the Official Secrets Act.

In the testimony revealed today Mr Ross, 40, who helped negotiate several UN security resolutions on Iraq, makes it clear that Mr Blair must have known Saddam Hussein possessed no weapons of mass destruction. He said that during his posting to the UN, "at no time did HMG [Her Majesty's Government] assess that Iraq's WMD (or any other capability) posed a threat to the UK or its interests."

Mr Ross revealed it was a commonly held view among British officials dealing with Iraq that any threat by Saddam Hussein had been "effectively contained"....

Mr Ross says he questioned colleagues at the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence working on Iraq and none said that any new evidence had emerged to change their assessment.

"What had changed was the Government's determination to present available evidence in a different light," he added.

Who says we're not spreading democracy in Iraq?

Not long after Republicans harrassed tens of thousands of Americans with automated phone messages in November's election, news comes that the robo call, that staple of American democracy, is being deployed in Iraq. And it's literally terrorizing city residents.

Nir Rosen of the new blog Iraqslogger reports, calling it a "mysterious psychological operations campaign," that Baghdad residents have reported "receiving phone calls that the caller ID shows to be originating from outside Iraq." What follows is a "recorded message from an anonymous man speaking formal Arabic" who goes on to condemn the Mahdi Army, the Shiite militia headed by the powerful cleric Muqtada al Sadr that's been a continual thorn in the U.S.'s side.

The Mahdi Army has also infiltrated police ranks, and run assassination squads. Fearing that the militia's inside men have access to wiretapping technology, ordinary Iraqis live in fear that their robocall will be picked up and intepreted as proof they are anti-Mahdi -- and face execution at the militia's hands. The call reportedly left one Iraqi woman in tears.

Like the non-lethal American variety of robo call, the source of the Iraqi calls has been cloaked, and no one has figured out where they're coming from. Or how to stop them.

Starting today, it looks like we'll be all out of Pink Sugar.

Former Rep. Katherine Harris' (R-FL) taxpayer-funded telephone lines at her 13th District office will be cut off today, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune reports. The failed GOP senatorial candidate said it is a "new beginning."

(Since I read that comment, I've been scouring the Web to find a clip of the Dana Carvey Saturday Night Live sketch in which he performs the original song, "New Beginning," but I just can't find it. Does anybody know if one exists online?)

Katherine -- thanks for the memories.

Washingtonian magazine editor Kim Eisler, a personal friend of Jack Abramoff's, has posted excerpts from old emails he received from the imprisoned former lobbyist.

Nothing particularly new -- Abramoff is modest about his golfing abilities, and immodest about his power, access, and tickets to sporting events -- but they're a fun read nonetheless.

"Sue Schmidt is making a career out of me," Abramoff wailed to Eisler in a September 2004 e-mail, reacting to the Washington Post reporter unfurling the evidence against him in her paper. "seems [sic] I am on the front page of the Post more than Kerry is. She's my swift boat veterans all rolled into one." (Schmidt later won a Pulitzer prize for her reporting on the Abramoff scandal.)

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