TPM News

Well, that didn't take long. Hours after Nick Burns told CNN that the administration has "irrefutable evidence" that Iran is arming the Taliban, Defense Secretary Bob Gates revised his June 4 remarks that the provenance of the Iranian weaponry is unclear. Here's Gates then:

There have been indications over the past few months of weapons coming in from Iran. We do not have any information about whether the government of Iran is supporting this, is behind it, or whether it's smuggling or exactly what's behind this, but there clearly is evidence that some weapons are coming into Afghanistan destined for the Taliban, but perhaps also for criminal elements involved in the drug trafficking coming from Iran.
And here's Gates now:
“It’s pretty clear there is a fairly substantial flow of weapons (into Afghanistan),” he said. “I haven’t seen intelligence specifically to this effect, but I would say given the qualities we’re seeing, it’s difficult to believe it is associated with smuggling or the drug business or that it is taking place without the knowledge of the Iranian government.”


So it's now "difficult to believe" that Tehran might not be involved in the weapons shipments, despite the absence of any particular intelligence on the question. Gates has been the most prominent dissonant voice on Iran -- and the Middle East more broadly -- in the Bush administration, yet here he is, inching closer toward the line that Burns unveiled to CNN. How long before he cites his own "irrefutable evidence?"

In a statement echoing February's claims that the Iranian government was arming Iraqi terrorist groups, Nicholas Burns, the State Department's influential undersecretary for political affairs, told CNN today that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps is arming the Taliban as well:

"There's irrefutable evidence the Iranians are now doing this and it's a pattern of activity," U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns told CNN.

"If you see the Iranians arming Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza and the West Bank and, of course, arming Shia militants inside Iraq itself [sic]. It's very violent and very unproductive activity by the Iranian government."

And one that puts Tehran contrary to the U.N. Security Council, Burns said.


Burns's comments come a little more than a week after Defense Secretary Bob Gates said that it wasn't yet certain whether the presence of Iranian weaponry in Afghanistan indicated a concerted strategy on the part of the Iranian government. Now, apparently, the evidence has become "irrefutable."

If Iran is in fact aiding the Taliban, it's aiding an old enemy. In 2001, according to a presidential rival to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Revolutionary Guard helped U.S.-backed Afghan fighters overthrow the Taliban. (U.S. intelligence officials have called the claim somewhat overblown.) The theory goes that now, Iran feels so threatened by U.S. forces on its borders in Iraq and Afghanistan that it will cast its lot in with whomever fights the Americans, despite old antipathies. It's known as "managed chaos." Muhammed Tahir, writing for the Jamestown Foundation, contends, "Iran has been increasing its operations in Afghanistan in an effort to gain influence with the contending insurgent factions and to hasten the departure of U.S. troops from the country."

It's a plausible enough theory, given that Iran remains surrounded by U.S. forces led by a bellicose administration, but it remains unclear what Burns's "irrefutable evidence" of Iranian strategy is, and how it represents an improvement over the evidence Gates possesses. Determining the ultimate provenance of Iranian weaponry is tricky. Last year, the Guardian reported that Iranian operatives were offering military support to Taliban-held areas in Afghanistan -- but most likely, those Iranians were Baluch seperatists fighting Tehran, rather than Iranian government agents. That's not to say that the Iranians aren't supplying the Taliban -- only that "irrefutable" evidence of who's arming who in Afghanistan is often more refutable than it might initially appear.

To add a bit more to this morning's post on increasing the end-strength of the Iraqi security forces: according to Major General Benjamin Mixon, commander of U.S. troops in the Iraqi north, members of those same security forces collaborated in the attack on the al-Askari shrine in Samarra. Mixon says he's going to reinforce Samarra -- with another Iraqi Army brigade.

The House and Senate judiciary committees will issue subpoenas to former Karl Rove aide Sara Taylor and former White House counsel Harriet Miers this morning, the AP is reporting.

The subpoenas follow fast on Justice Department emails turned over to Congress last night that fattened the already substantial case that the White House was intimately involved in installing Timothy Griffin, a former aide to Karl Rove as the U.S. attorney in Little Rock.

The Justice Department, in a letter vetted by the White House, wrote Congress back in February that Karl Rove didn't play "any role" in Griffin's nomination -- a statement the Department has since admitted was false. And how: emails have shown that Rove's aides worked closely with Monica Goodling and Kyle Sampson at the Justice Department to get Griffin in the spot, and that Sampson, working with Rove's aides, plotted to keep Griffin in place despite objections from Arkansas' senators, stringing them along with the promise that another nomination would be made if Sens. Mark Pryor (D-AR) and Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) objected. A little-noticed provision in the USA PATRIOT Act enabled the attorney general to appoint U.S. attorneys for indefinite terms without Senate confirmation.

Sampson testified to congressional investigators that Taylor, formerly Rove's top aide (she resigned last month), was "upset" when Alberto Gonzales finally decided not to follow Sampson's plan in January. From a January 25th email, it appears that Taylor was still committed to Sampson's plan of stringing the senator's along at that late date. Reacting to a draft of a Justice Department letter to Sen. Pryor, Taylor wrote "I'm concerned we imply that we'll pull down Griffin's nomination should Pryor object."

The emails released last night show how worked up Taylor was about Griffin's nomination.

Read More →

Ali Mohammed Nasser Mohammed was approved for released from Guantanamo Bay in May 2006. Because of confusion over his nationality, Mohammed is still being held in Cuba over a year later. (Washington Post)

The FBI's terrorist watch list now contains over half a million names, raising the worry that the list is too large to be useful. (ABC's The Blotter)

After nine unsuccessful requests that the Justice Department voluntarily turn over documents about domestic surveillance, the Senate Judiciary Committee is set to authorize subpoenas for the information. (Think Progress)

Better late than never. The State Department has decided to start a center whose aim will be to counter the message of terrorists. (McClatchy Newspapers)

Read More →

As Donald Rumsfeld famously wrote in a different context, "the harder we work, the behinder we get." That could sum up the message given by the general formerly in charge of training Iraqi security forces to a House Armed Services Committee panel yesterday.

According to General Martin Dempsey, Iraq needs at least 50,000 more soldiers and policemen than the U.S. had previously estimated. Reports the Washington Post:

"Iraqi security forces will require growth in scope and scale similar to what we accomplished in 2007 in order to ensure sufficient force to protect the population throughout Iraq," Dempsey said, referring to this year's planned increase of more than 50,000 Iraqi soldiers and police. Otherwise, he said, U.S. forces will be locked into "tactical" jobs such as providing neighborhood security, and Iraqi security forces will face substantially higher risks when U.S. forces draw down.

One immediate goal, set this month by (General David) Petraeus, is to add 20,000 soldiers to the Iraqi army alone, so that each combat battalion will be filled to 120 percent of its official manpower. That number does not include tens of thousands more Iraqi soldiers who will be required to fill vacant slots in the country's army, which has an annual attrition rate of 15 to 18 percent.


Over the past four years, U.S. officials have repeatedly upped their assessments of needed Iraqi security forces. The Brookings Institution's Iraq Index notes that the desired end-strength of the Iraqi Army and Police by December 2006 was 325,000. (pdf) Iraqi forces currently stand at 348,000 -- a figure that includes a whole lot of no-shows:

He pointed out that when units showed up in Baghdad at 50 percent strength for their 90-day rotations, the American officers were upset, but "senior military leaders of the Iraqi government were kind of pleased that they had gotten 50 percent to come." ...

Similar problems, including "ghost" personnel, afflict the police, Dempsey said. Of the 32,000 Iraqi police lost from the U.S.-and-foreign-trained force of 188,000 in the 18 months before January, more than 14,000 were killed or severely wounded, 5,000 deserted, and the rest are "unaccounted for," he said.


One obvious reason for the increased estimate in needed forces is that the security situation isn't a fixed picture. Building an army and a police force takes time. But as Iraqi forces get closer to meeting their U.S.-mandated goals, Iraq's myriad political-security picture deteriorates. Just today, for instance, terrorists again attacked the al-Askari shrine in Samarra. Given that an attack on the Shiite shrine in 2006 has been cited by President Bush as the catalyst for Iraq's current sectarian war, it can be expected that the new attack -- and those like it in the future -- will yield reprisal attacks on Sunnis, increased political acrimony and a further decrease in general public safety. To date, the answer given by U.S. officials to the problem is -- you guessed it -- a needed increase in the size of Iraq's security forces. And the cycle repeats itself. UPDATE: This post originally stated that the al-Askari shrine was attacked yesterday; I regret the error.

Accusations continue to swarm about a British defense corporation's alleged kickbacks over 20 years to Prince Bandar, the former Saudi ambassador to the United States.

Last week, the BBC and the Guardian reported that BAE Systems, the world's fourth-largest defense company, paid approximately $2 billion to an Saudi account in the now-defunct Riggs Bank controlled by Bandar as part of Britain's largest-ever defense deal. That purchase, known as al-Yamamah, brought Britain over $80 billion in Saudi money in return for BAE-manufactured aircrat in 1985, and has been a fruitful target for UK scandal-watchers ever since. Tony Blair personally scotched an investigation by his government's Serious Fraud Office into the alleged kickbacks in December, and he reaffirmed that decision last week when the Bandar allegations broke, saying, "I don't believe the investigation would have led to anywhere except to the complete wreckage of a vital interest to our country."

Both Bandar and BAE strongly maintain their innocence. BAE claims that paying the money into the Saudis' Riggs accounts was an above-board investment in "local advice, capabilities and guidance" in order to ensure the purchase went smoothly. Bandar's lawyers released a statement saying that the prince was an "authorized signatory" to the accounts, which were controlled by the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Defense and Aviation (MODA), and any withdrawals were used "exclusively for purposes approved by MODA." Bandar's father, Prince Sultan, is the Saudi defense minister.

Following lengthy investigations by the Treasury Department and the Senate, in 2005, Riggs Bank, once one of the most prestigious banks in the U.S., admitted its guilt in numerous money laundering schemes involving, among others the Saudi Embassy to Washington (which Bandar helmed), former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, and the government of Equitorial Guinea. According to this week's Newsweek, Riggs's documentation of its Saudi accounts may contain clues about what Bandar in fact received from BAE:

The Riggs Bank records show the use of those funds raised concerns among bank officials and U.S. regulators. In November 2003, Riggs filed a "suspicious activity report" with the Treasury Department disclosing that over a four-month period, $17.4 million from the Saudi Defense account had been disbursed to a single individual in Saudi Arabia. When Riggs officials asked the Saudis who the person was and why he was receiving the funds, they were told the individual "coordinates home improvement/construction projects for Prince Bandar in Saudi Arabia," and the payments were for a "new Saudi palace," one document shows.

In another instance, Bandar wired $400,000 from a Riggs account to a luxury-car dealer overseas. "It was impossible to distinguish between government funds and what would normally be considered personal purposes," said David Caruso, who served as Riggs's compliance officer at the time. Caruso also confirmed to NEWSWEEK that the Saudi Defense account was regularly replenished with $30 million each quarter from an account in London. But the bank never knew the source of the funds. The bank was so concerned about the withdrawals that it cut off all business with the Saudis. In May 2005, the U.S. Treasury fined Riggs $25 million for failing to monitor "extensive and frequent suspicious" activity in Saudi and other accounts. (Asked about the Riggs records, Bandar's lawyer said the palace in question was "Prince Bandar's official residence" in Saudi Arabia and that audits by the Saudi Finance Ministry found "no irregularities" in the Saudi accounts while Bandar was ambassador.)


Look for more to come out of the Riggs collapse involving Bandar in the near future.

White House spokesman Tony Snow got incredulous at his briefing today when asked if indefinite detentions of enemy combatants at Guantanamo Bay undermines President Bush's global push for democratization. Quoth Snow: "Are you kidding me?"

Are you saying that detaining people who are plucked off the battlefields is an assault on democracy? Are you kidding me? You're talking about the people who were responsible for supporting the Taliban, somehow detaining them is an assault on democracy?




Right, who could see any tension there? After all, the Founding Fathers fought a revolution to ensure that in a time of war, which can last as long as a president says it does, a chief executive has the right to detain whomever he wants, for as long as he wishes, with no recourse to habeas corpus, and under conditions that an international human-rights monitor considers "tantamount to torture." How could there be a credibility problem?

Following Bradley Schlozman's memorable performance before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, former senior Civil Rights Division higher-up Hans von Spakovsky will be appearing before the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration tomorrow. The occasion is a confirmation hearing for a spot as commissioner at the Federal Elections Commission, but the senators (the committee is chaired by U.S. attorney firing bloodhound Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is a member) are sure to spend plenty of time grilling von Spakovsky about his past at the Justice Department.

A group of former voting rights attorneys in the Division put it most succinctly in a letter to Sen. Feinstein yesterday urging rejection of his nomination: von Spakovsky was "the point person for undermining the Civil Rights Division's mandate to protect voting rights." Von Spakovsky reported to Schlozman, and the two worked together to purge voters from the rolls, ensure that voter ID laws were approved with no fuss, and punish lawyers who did not toe the line.

But while Schlozman was the enforcer, von Spakovsky seems to have been the brains of the operation. Von Spakovsky, unlike Schlozman, had a background in election law and had been pushing the voter fraud canard for years -- to great effect.

Read More →

Another proud moment in government brought to you by the Bush administration: the Department of Transportation has been accused of working as an auto lobby.

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), who heads the Committee on on Oversight and Government Reform, sent DOT Secretary Mary E. Peters a letter today requesting more information on a voicemail message received by a member of Congress that implicates the agency in a lobbying effort. The message left by Heideh Shahmoradi, an aide at the Transportation Department, urges the unnamed official to take a stand on California’s move to enforce tougher carbon emission standards because “this would greatly impact the auto facilities” in the member’s district.

Waxman wants Shahmoradi deposed for the committee and copies of all documentation related to the incident. He wrote:

It is not an appropriate use of federal resources to lobby members of Congress to oppose state efforts to protect the environment. It is especially problematic on an issue that is pending for decision before the Administration and that is supposed to be decided based on an independent assessment of the merits. At the very least, Ms. Shamoradi's call suggests the presence of an improper hidden agenda.


Waxman’s letter, which includes a full transcript of the voicemail message, is available here.

TPMLivewire