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Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

TPM makes special personal visit to police-cordoned-off Chandra crime scene. More later tonight.

As you know, last Thursday's surprise presidential announcement of a major restructuring of the nation's homeland security apparatus was in no way connected to the testimony that day of FBI agent Coleen Rowley or poll slippage due the ever-mounting number of FBI screw-ups. In fact it was a triumph of leak-discipline pulled off by the Bush White House getting a jump on the bureaucracy by presenting the bureaucracy and the congress with an already-put-together blueprint for how it was all going to happen.

Yep.

No doubt this is why Andy Card, Nick Calio and a few of Tom Ridge's people yesterday had to tell a presumably somewhat bewildered group of congressional aides that the White House wouldn't be able to send over any actual legislation for upwards of a month. ("Two to three weeks" is what the Post article actually says.)

(The Post reporter who just filed this story is none other than Dana Milbank, who wrote the earlier rather glowing piece on the White House secrecy triumph ... catch-up for earlier ingenuousness? We report, you decide ;-) ... )

Let's not even try to carve any delicate humor out of this one. Clearly, if the 'get the jump on the Hill and the bureaucracy' line were even vaguely true, they would have had this done already. No question. The fact that they haven't confirms -- as much as anything like this ever can be confirmed -- that they were trying to get a jump on the polls and the media cycle, not the 'bureaucracy.'

And in case you're wondering whether there was any poll number deterioration, check out this snippet from today's Cook Report ...

Then the last Gallup Poll, taken before the president's Thursday night announcement of a new Homeland Security Department, showed his approval rating dropping seven points in a week, to 70 percent, the lowest since Sept. 11, with his disapproval rating up six points to 23 percent, the highest since the September tragedy. Although it's dangerous to read too much into any single poll, what in effect happened is that the Gallup polling simply came into line with most other surveys that showed the president in the low 70s and on the verge of dropping into the 60s -- still good numbers, but no longer considered "stratospheric."

There was also an intangible that seemed to be taking hold before the announcement. Pollsters and other political operatives had begun suggesting that there was a certain uneasiness among Americans in recent weeks, that things didn't seem to be in control. There was a certain frustration from the endless warnings of upcoming terrorist acts against our country and that we still had not managed to track down Osama bin Laden. In some private polling, but not in the Ipsos-Reid/Cook Political Report samplings, there was also a drop in "right direction" numbers, with the "wrong track" column surging. And even though it was not directly rubbing off on the president, it was not what a president's advisers like to see happening.

Lucky for the White House the president really does have an aggressive polling operation. Or else they might not have seen this one coming.

Phew!

Not to Josh Green: Buddy, move quick. You can probably squeeze a quick Oped out of this. The polling angle never dies!

Great (or not so great) moments from the TPM mailbag ...

Russ H. to TPM
Sun, 9 Jun 2002 10:45:16 -0700

irrefutable facts I never see on your site as written by David Horowitz...

How The Left Undermined America’s Security
By David Horowitz
FrontPageMagazine.com | February 18, 2002



TPM to Russ H.
Sunday, June 09, 2002 8:36 AM

mr. horowitz is a reckless fool. i'm not going to slog through his article. but if you would like to point out some issues or examples he raises then I'd be happy to consider them. josh



Russ H. to TPM
Sun, 9 Jun 2002 10:58:23 -0700

Hello Mr. Josh: No sir! The only reckless fool is you and your inept and inane whining that is showcased on your site proves it... None the less, thanks for the reply... If and when you leftist parasites ever get your act together then maybe you'll be taken seriously... Have a good day...



TPM to Russ H.
Sunday, June 09, 2002 8:54 AM

Okay, Russ. I tried to talk seriously with you. But clearly you're an imbecile. You're welcome to your laughable friend Horowitz. Josh



Russ H. to TPM
Mon, 10 Jun 2002 09:10:13 -0700

Well Good Morning you whining GORON: Let's see if this reply is up to the, "drivel standards" that is the norm for your site... Well of course it is but that's hardly a suprise coming from a someone who either was hypocritical enough or stupid enough to support Democrats and their whore, Gore... I can see where your disgust with Horowitz is really a reflection of your inability to apply critical thinking but then again that would mean understanding of the basic facts... We both know you leftist/liberal parasites have a real hard time with facts since it tends to undercut your positions everytime... My one and only hope is that you don't have kids.... It would be a crime against humanity for you to keep spreading that stupidity gene that so seems to have had a large part of forming what passes for your makeup and intelligence...

People of my political tendencies have many reasons for disliking former FBI Director Louis Freeh. He a) was an uptight moralizer who gave the Clinton White House no end of headaches, b) hobnobbed with Hill Republicans to no good purpose, and c) presided over an FBI which was responsible for a series of big time screw-ups which ended up creating even more headaches for the then-Clinton White House. Basically, Freeh inhabited a netherworld created by the antagonism between Bill Clinton and congressional Republicans in which accountability did not exist.

So Clinton partisans have reason to dislike him and want to saddle him with having left the FBI unprepared for 9/11. But, my god, you don't have to look very hard to find lots of justification for doing so. I've been working for a bit more than a week on an article about problems with the FBI and US counter-terrorism efforts and the more I learn the less I think of Freeh. He really blew it. For everything that ended up counting on 9/11 he was a really big time disaster.

What's ironic is that Mueller and George Tenet are the ones getting grilled because as nearly as I can tell they're both pretty solid. In Mueller's case he was already talking about doing stuff to clean up Freeh's mess even before 9/11, even though he only took office slightly before then. As to Tenet, my reporting has also given me a better sense of him and the work that he's done since he came in in 1997.

Talking Points Memo piece today in the New York Post on how the clamor for 9/11 investigations led to the new Bush Homeland Security plan.

The whole idea of intelligence failures -- how they come about, and how one properly structures an intelligence service -- has quickly become central to much of the news we're reading about the war on terrorism and the reorganization of the federal government.

I little while back I reviewed Ernest R. May's recent book Strange Victory: Hitler's Conquest of France, a study of one of the great intelligence failures of the 20th century: the French failure to predict the timing and and strategy of Hitler's devastating lightning conquest.

It's a great book. And May makes a strong argument that the Fall of France itself was principally due to this catastrophic intelligence failure.

But the book is also a crisp and clarifying exploration of how intelligence agencies can have lots of assets and lots of information but still not be able to use either effectively -- often with fatal consequences.

This, of course, is precisely what seems to have been the case with America's intelligence agencies in the lead-up to 9/11. And you can't read May's book -- written in 2000 -- without getting a very clear sense that he was quite aware of this. Here's one snippet from the introduction ...

The story is particularly well worth recalling now, for in the post-Cold War era, the United States and other seemingly victorious Western democracies exhibit many of the same characteristics that France and Britain did in 1938-40 -- arrogance, a strong disinclination to risk life in battle, heavy reliance on technology as a substitute, and governmental procedures poorly designed for anticipating or coping with ingenious challenges from the comparatively weak.
If you want to think deeply about this whole question of intelligence failures and learn a lot about how not to organize and acculturate an intelligence service, read May's book. It's really, really good. And it's the book to read on this subject.

"Honey, we've had this bone in the burrow for months now and we haven't done anything with it. Do you mind if I toss it out to make room for other edibles and bric-a-brac?"

This isn't a quote from today's Washington Post article on the Chandra investigation.

But pretty damn close!

The DC police seem confident that they didn't actually miss Chandra Levy's leg bone in their search of the apparent crime scene in Rock Creek Park a couple weeks ago. What they actually think happened is that some animal had the bone in his or her burrow and just now decided to toss it. Chief Ramsey told the Post that ...

there was a "very strong probability" that an animal indeed had retrieved it, possibly from a burrow. That hypothesis is based on information the police received from the National Zoo, which told investigators that the animals making this part of the park their home could have abandoned the area during the search and may have been replaced by others after police left. Under this theory, the bone may have been uncovered by an animal cleaning out an old den.
Man, you can't make this stuff up.
The new focus on animal burrows and dens places the police in the difficult position of explaining why these were not searched more thoroughly. Ramsey said search teams looked in burrows and sometimes poked around with sticks. But he said they saw no need to dig them up until the appearance of the tibia. "Animals got hold of the bones; they're scattered all over. They're pulling them out of burrows," Ramsey said.
Damn animals!

Believe it or not this excuse may actually be more ridiculous than it appears on the surface. The idea seems to be that some animal had this bone in his collection for almost a year and then just in the mere week since the crack Chandra investigative team pulled out of his neighborhood he decided to toss it. Or perhaps he bugged out during the search and some new guy who moved into his den afterward decided he didn't want the bone and decided to chuck it.

Yeah.

I mean, it's not that this couldn't't have happened. But given what has come before, I think you've got to ask the following awkward but unavoidable question: Who has more credibility? The DC Metro Police? Or a small burrowing mammal?

The question pretty much answers itself, doesn't it?

And further information from the Post article tends to confirm this. The bone was not found "in plain view. The bone was under a pile of leaves and embedded in the ground." The fact that it was embedded in the ground makes the police/zoo geek hypothesis about its being a recent plant by a scofflaw animal seem pretty far-fetched, doesn't it? Doesn't it take more than a few days for a bone to get covered with leaves and imbedded in the ground?

A slightly less skeptical article in the Washington Times adds that Cmdr. Christopher LoJacono of the D.C. Police Forensic Science Division earlier said that the bone "substantial animal activity" and that police note the bone was found "within 3 feet of what appeared to be an animal's den."

What's a bit sad about this is that I've always had the impression -- and I still think this is true -- that Chief Ramsey himself is a serious character. He was brought in from somewhere in the Midwest I think to shake the place up. But he's only one man. And the ridiculousness of the DC Metro police is the combined work of many. The last graf of the Post article has Ramsey uttering this anguished lament.

"We're working as hard as we can to find out who's responsible for the murder of Chandra Levy," Ramsey said at the news conference. "I wish we had found all the remains, but obviously we didn't. . . . It's easy for people to sit back and Monday morning quarterback."
Buddy, you got that right.

According to Dana Milbank's article in the Post, planning for yesterday's announcement began on April 23rd -- a contention which, if understood in any meaningful sense, I doubt. The idea apparently was to keep the plan secret for as long as possible from the "experts" and "bureaucrats" who will try to slow-roll and kill the plan. The price of that secrecy, however, was having the plan devised by four men -- Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr., Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge, White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales and Office of Management and Budget Director Mitch Daniels -- none of whom have any apparent knowledge or experience with law enforcement, counter-terrorism, intelligence or disaster preparedness.

What a coup.

Next up, the big four release their master-plan for information-sharing among key government agencies ...

Egg, meet Tom Ridge's face.

Tom Ridge's face, meet egg.

Today Tom Ridge is telling everyone who will listen that the new plan for a cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security was the administration's plan all along.

Here's Ridge a bit more than a week ago telling a National Journal editorial board meeting that he'd advise the president to veto pretty much exactly the same plan.

I've had a few people write in to say I've jumped the gun or been irresponsibly critical of the DC cops in assuming that the human leg bone found yesterday near the Chandra crime scene actually belonged to Chandra Levy. Admittedly, not as many have written in saying that as have written in to say that the new TPM face shot makes the author look a) "too confrontational", b) "menacing" or c) "like a serial killer." But that's for another post.

As to the bone, let me rattle off just the first three utterly devastating rejoinders to this criticism.

First, I made clear that the bone has not yet been DNA-confirmed as Chandra's. But for the moment I'm happy to go with the DC Medical Examiner, who believes it is Chandra's.

Second, even if we assume that the human tibia found yesterday is not Chandra's, can't we still agree that it probably would have made sense for the cops to retrieve all other readily available human tibias in the immediate vicinity just to see if they might belong to Chandra?

Third, if there are really more than a few unretrieved and unidentified human tibias in that section of Rock Creek Park which don't belong to Chandra Levy, can't we just agree that this might point to another possible shortcoming of the DC police?

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