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David Kurtz

David Kurtz is Managing Editor and Washington Bureau Chief of Talking Points Memo where he oversees the news operations of TPM and its sister sites.

Articles by David

One last takeaway from the WP story on the search for bin Laden. Remember how one of the key breakdowns leading to the failure to prevent 9/11 was institutional resistance to sharing intelligence across agencies?

Looks like things have really improved:

Bureaucratic battles slowed down the hunt for bin Laden for the first two or three years, according to officials in several agencies, with both the Pentagon and the CIA accusing each other of withholding information. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's sense of territoriality has become legendary, according to these officials.

In early November 2002, for example, a CIA drone armed with a Hellfire missile killed a top al-Qaeda leader traveling through the Yemeni desert. About a week later, Rumsfeld expressed anger that it was the CIA, not the Defense Department, that had carried out the successful strike.

"How did they get the intel?" he demanded of the intelligence and other military personnel in a high-level meeting, recalled one person knowledgeable about the meeting.

Gen. Michael V. Hayden, then director of the National Security Agency and technically part of the Defense Department, said he had given it to them.

"Why aren't you giving it to us?" Rumsfeld wanted to know.

Hayden, according to this source, told Rumsfeld that the information-sharing mechanism with the CIA was working well. Rumsfeld said it would have to stop.

A CIA spokesman said Hayden, now the CIA director, does not recall this conversation. Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said, "The notion that the department would do anything that would jeopardize the success of an operation to kill or capture bin Laden is ridiculous." The NSA continues to share intelligence with the CIA and the Defense Department.

. . .

Today, however, no one person is in charge of the overall hunt for bin Laden with the authority to direct covert CIA operations to collect intelligence and to dispatch JSOC units. Some counterterrorism officials find this absurd. "There's nobody in the United States government whose job it is to find Osama bin Laden!" one frustrated counterterrorism official shouted. "Nobody!"


If Republicans don't pay a steep price politically this November for this kind of malfeasance, I really don't know what it will take to convince voters it's time for a change of course.

Back to the excellent WP story on the hunt for Osama bin Laden. While the story goes on at length about how Bush pulled operatives out of the region for use in the invasion of Iraq and about how the trail is now "stone cold," it also contains this pertinent piece of reporting:

But in the last three months, following a request from President Bush to "flood the zone," the CIA has sharply increased the number of intelligence officers and assets devoted to the pursuit of bin Laden. The intelligence officers will team with the military's secretive Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) and with more resources from the National Security Agency and other intelligence agencies.

The problem, former and current counterterrorism officials say, is that no one is certain where the "zone" is.


Playing politics with terrorism? See, just as I'm trying to break the stranglehold cynicism has on me, something like this comes along. I'm not sure there is such a thing as too cynical with these guys.

It's a constant battle not to fall victim to complete and unrelenting cynicism about this President and his Administration. Here's a perfect example of where the president is saying all the right things, yet I catch myself rolling my eyes in disbelief:

U.S. President George W. Bush personally signed off on a visa allowing former Iranian president Mohammed Khatami to visit the United States because he wanted to hear his views, the Wall Street Journal reported on Saturday.

. . .

"I was interested to hear what he had to say," Bush told the Wall Street Journal in an interview. "I'm interested in learning more about the Iranian government, how they think, what people think within the government."

. . .

"My hope is that diplomacy will work in convincing the Iranians to give up their nuclear weapons ambitions. And in order for diplomacy to work, it's important to hear voices other than Ahmadinejad's," Bush added.


Part of me says, hopeful sign! The other side of me laughs darkly.

The CIA has a videotape that shows Osama Bin Laden walking on a trail toward Pakistan at the end of the battle of Tora Bora in December 2001, when he eluded capture by U.S. forces, according to the WP. Since then his trail has gone "stone cold":

The clandestine U.S. commandos whose job is to capture or kill Osama bin Laden have not received a credible lead in more than two years. Nothing from the vast U.S. intelligence world -- no tips from informants, no snippets from electronic intercepts, no points on any satellite image -- has led them anywhere near the al-Qaeda leader, according to U.S. and Pakistani officials.

. . .

On the videotape obtained by the CIA, bin Laden is seen confidently instructing his party how to dig holes in the ground to lie in undetected at night. A bomb dropped by a U.S. aircraft can be seen exploding in the distance. "We were there last night," bin Laden says without much concern in his voice. He was in or headed toward Pakistan, counterterrorism officials think.

That was December 2001. Only two months later, Bush decided to pull out most of the special operations troops and their CIA counterparts in the paramilitary division that were leading the hunt for bin Laden in Afghanistan to prepare for war in Iraq, said Flynt L. Leverett, then an expert on the Middle East at the National Security Council.

"I was appalled when I learned about it," said Leverett, who has become an outspoken critic of the administration's counterterrorism policy. "I don't know of anyone who thought it was a good idea. It's very likely that bin Laden would be dead or in American custody if we hadn't done that."

Several officers confirmed that the number of special operations troops was reduced in March 2001.


In another indication of how seriously the Bush Administration takes the pursuit of bin Laden, his FBI Most Wanted Poster makes no mention of the 9/11 attack.

Kentucky businessman Vernon Jackson, who pleaded guility to bribing Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA), sentenced to 7+ years in prison. He continues to cooperate with the investigation and won't report to jail until sometime after the first of the year.

Sunday's Washington Post front page:

Republicans are planning to spend the vast majority of their sizable financial war chest over the final 60 days of the campaign attacking Democratic House and Senate candidates over personal issues and local controversies, GOP officials said.

The National Republican Congressional Committee, which this year dispatched a half-dozen operatives to comb through tax, court and other records looking for damaging information on Democratic candidates, plans to spend more than 90 percent of its $50 million-plus advertising budget on what officials described as negative ads.

The hope is that a vigorous effort to "define" opponents, in the parlance of GOP operatives, can help Republicans shift the midterm debate away from Iraq and limit losses this fall.


Anyone not see this coming?

TPM Reader BH checks in from New Zealand:

Just reading through the paper this morning in Christchurch, New Zealand, and I see that Channel 1 is planning to air "Path to 911" tonight. Thought everyone might be interested in the fact that this shameless propaganda isn't limited to the states and has the potential to impact people (and history books) everywhere.


If I have my time zones correct, BH is reading the paper on Sunday morning New Zealand time.

Earlier, I wrote that I was starting to think that ABC's role in the "The Path to 9/11" was less about the network being boneheaded and more about it being complicit in a right-wing propaganda push. Says LA Times media critic Tim Rutten:

It is none of those things.

It's an opportunistic and self-interested organization that somehow thought it could approach the most wrenching American tragedy since Pearl Harbor with the values that prevail among network television executives — the sort of ad hoc ethics that would make a streetwalker blush — and that nobody would mind.

I have been particularly fascinated with the internecine war among Republicans being played out in the Rhode Island Senate race. Those who have been following along at TPM's Election Central know the national GOP is spending a small fortune in the Republican primary to save incumbent Lincoln Chafee from a conservative challenger, the thinking being that the moderate Chafee stands a much better chance of winning the general election.

Especially striking has been how little coverage the race has gotten compared to the Democratic Primary in Connecticut, where the national party basically stayed out the way. You would think the GOP spending money in a tight election year to defeat a bona fide conservative candidate would get more attention. For one, the GOP spending money against a pro-life Republican to shore up a pro-choice incumbent validates what religious conservatives have complained about for years: that the GOP only comes calling on Election Day. In this case, they're being ignored on Election Day, too.

In the earlier post about the NYT, Lamont and Lewinksy, I wrote: "Who cares? It's not as if Lamont is touring Connecticut talking about berets and cigars."

To which a TPM reader replies:

No. You're missing this pretty badly (as did Drum). Lamont has been talking about this all spring and summer.

And this is a reporter doing a good job.

Lamont is being asked about it repeatedly because L'affair Lewinsky has long been a standard part of Lamont's attack on Lieberman.

And since the Lamont camp has basically been repeatedly making a false charge, I don't blame a reporter for wanting to pin the candidate down on the precise basis of the attacks.


If L'affair Lewinsky has been a standard Lamont attack on Lieberman, then I would be wrong to say the NYT was ginning up news on this. So, have berets and cigars been a part of the Lamont repertoire (I mean that figuratively, folks)? Shoot me the links, and I'll eat some crow. Late update: However, as a number of readers have pointed, the NYT's characterization of the email that Lamont sent Lieberman way back when does seem a tad misleading. You be the judge.

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