Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Top three questions Larry King almost got around to asking Dan Rather last night ...

1. "Dan, what was it like to travel to the Moon on Apollo 51? It changes your life, right?"

2. "Have you seen Liza? She looks twenty-years younger, right? Those two are really in love."

3. "Jacques Cousteau. You interviewed him many times. If Jacques could have had an operation to become a fish, would he have done it?"

I'm told we're about to hear of yet another red-letter intell screw-up. The details I have are sketchy. But my understanding is that this one has to do with money transfers which happened in the summer or fall of 2000. There was a former roommate of arch-terrorist Mohammed Atta who was barred from entry into the US because he was considered a terrorist threat. While he was on our terror list he began wiring large sums of cash from the United Arab Emirates to Atta, Atta's roommate in Florida and apparently also Zacarias Moussaoui.

In other words, while known-terrorist X was being kept out of the country, he was wiring money to as-yet-unknown terrorists in the country. Apparently at least one of these transfers was reported by a bank to the appropriate people at the US Treasury at the time. But the lead appears to have died there.

Let me be clear: this is scuttlebutt, informed scuttlebutt, but scuttlebutt nonetheless. I think this is permissible in the weblog format. But I want to be sure there's truth in advertising. Some of the particulars I have here may be slightly off. But I believe this will be next story coming down the pike.

So that's the ticket!

Apparently Bill Delaney, who if memory serves is CNN's Boston Bureau Chief, is putting together a segment on how Harvard and other universities are now "factoring in gayness as an enhancement to a college application." The idea, it seems, is that coming out in high school shows independence, guts and character -- which I have no doubt is true. Still, it makes you think of some interesting lists of extra-curriculars.

Anyway, here's the run-down from an internal CNN memo ...

Forget winning the science fair or being an all-state pole vaulter or, well, getting straight A's - not being straight's now worth a lot too, when it comes to looking good to the college of your choice. Harvard and other universities around the country now are factoring in gayness as an enhancement to a college application...thinking having confronted one's sexual orientation at a young age shows independence - and builds character and leadership potential -

The more I read up on the Intelligence Community and Homeland Security the more at least one point becomes abundantly and undeniably clear: the President should fire Tom Ridge and abolish his job.

The point is not that Tom Ridge is a bad guy or even that he has failed at his job. The point is that he has no job and to the extent that one can infer what his job might be he has been given no resources or powers or support to succeed at it.

Having him there -- as well as his largely bogus Office of Homeland Security -- is simply an impediment to any real and thorough reorganization and coordination of the country's homeland security apparatus.

In the war on terrorism, there's no room for comic relief.

If Tim Noah isn't working on this whopper for his Whopper of Week column I'll have to have a serious talk with him.

Yesterday on CNN's Crossfire, former FBI Deputy Director Weldon Kennedy was the designated defender of the FBI. Even in the current climate of rampant Monday-morning quarterbacking, Kennedy seemed, to my lights, painfully unwilling to admit that the Bureau had really made any mistakes.

But check this out. In reference to FBIHQ's refusal to okay a warrant request to search Zacarias Moussaoui's computer and other belongings, Kennedy said (and repeated on other CNN shows) ...

For example, even in the Moussaoui case, there's lot of uproar over the fact that the -- there was a failure to obtain a warrant to search his computer. Well, the facts now are that warrant was ultimately obtained. The computer was searched and guess what? There was nothing significant on there pertaining to 9/11.

Look at this apparently-uncontradicted snippet from last week's Newsweek ...

People close to Rowley and her Minnesota colleagues say they were devastated after the attacks, convinced that they could have done more to stop the plot if only Washington had listened. (Moussaoui's computer, searched after September 11, revealed information about crop-dusting and large jets, and his belongings included the phone number of lead hijacker Mohamed Atta's roommate.) Rowley herself wanted to interrogate Moussaoui. "She was in favor of a hostile interview," an FBI agent says. "A little shoving, a little chair slamming." But her supervisors said Moussaoui, who had invoked his right to a lawyer, was off-limits.
Is this the same as saying up is down or denying that the sky is blue? No, not exactly. And it's not like Mohamed Atta's roommate's phone number would necessarily have busted the whole plot open. And perhaps he's trying to hang this on finding the number in Moussaoui's 'belongings' and not his laptop. But given the extreme tendentiousness of the comment and the near felonious $%#-covering embodied in it, I think this counts as a Whopper of pretty sizeable proportions.

Preview of week's Washington Post 9/11 probe headlines ...

Monday: CIA Failed To Share Intelligence On Hijacker: Data Could Have Been Used to Deny Visa, Washington Post

TUESDAY: CIA Gave FBI Warning On Hijacker: Agency Told That Almihdhar Attended Malaysia Meeting, Washington Post

WEDNESDAY: CIA Gave Warning, Later Said Just Kidding: FBI Sources Say CIA Not Clear, Washington Post

THURSDAY: Tenet Denies Head-Fake Report: Heated Inter-Agency Rivalry Boils to Surface, Washington Post

FRIDAY: CIA Warning Delivered in Invisible Ink: Ingredients for Reading Potion Not Shared with FBI, Washington Post

SATURDAY: Warning Memo Found at FBI Headquarters: Shelby Says Tests for Invisible Ink Negative, Washington Post

SUNDAY: CIA Borrowed, Did Not Return 'Phoenix Memo': New Twist In Lingering Mystery, Washington Post

Please pardon the persistent post paucity, but for the moment TPM must be cobbled together on this feeble Toshiba laptop which for some odd reason seemed like the niftiest thing going when I bought it at some point in like 1997. I'm told the old TPM world HQ will be up and going again as early as tomorrow. So let's hope.

In any case, as you may remember, TPM was a notoriously early-adopter of the Chandra Levy story, first discussing the case in these virtual pages last May 18th. When the sad, but inevitable news surfaced a couple weeks ago I was out of online contact and unable to make any comment.

But let me just mention a thought circulating among some Chandra-obsessives. You'll remember that at the crime scene where Chandra's remains were found, one item found was a pair of her spandex leggings which were knotted together end-to-end.

This has led to various speculation that Chandra was bound and perhaps assaulted before she was killed. Here's an example from a May 31st article in the New York Post ...

Police sources said the leggings were found inside out and knotted on both ends of each leg.

Because no bone matter was discovered inside the leggings, police theorize that they were removed and used to restrain her before she died.

"If someone wanted to just kill her, they wouldn't have removed the leggings," said former FBI profiler Cliff Van Zandt.

"The other working theory you could have with this is that they were pulled off her by someone who wanted to make it look like a sexual assault," Van Zandt added.

The D.C. Medical Examiner's Office, which ruled earlier this week that the 24-year old Levy was murdered, has not found any traces of blood or semen on the former intern's clothing found at the scene, although the items are being sent to FBI labs for further analysis.

Police sources said the sex crime angle is just one theory being pursued by detectives seeking to unravel the 13-month long mystery.

Well, maybe. But isn't there another possibility, one no one seems to be mentioning in print? Don't spandex leggings seem a bit more like something you'd tie someone up with during what I guess you'd call consensual bondage rather than during an assault? You know, like a necktie or a silk scarf or something?

Just a thought.

I was at a party last night and a few folks asked me -- in response to the previous post I suppose -- why it is that no one ever makes fun of Larry King.

Now, I grant you, people sometimes goof on Larry's softball interviewing techniques. But for someone who so often embarrasses guests by asking knuckleheaded questions which show he hasn't the slightest idea what he and the guest are even talking about, you've gotta admit that Larry skates by pretty free. (If you need an example, see yesterday's post.)

Well, here's the scoop. There actually is a reason, just one that's normally kept pretty close to the vest by insiders. But in honor of Larry's much-hyped 45 years in show business, I think I have to let the cat outta the bag. So here goes.

The no-goofing-on-Larry rule, generally just abbreviated to no-goL among insiders, is actually a corollary of the Warhol Doctrine. You know, Warhol's famous comment that "In the future, everybody will be world famous for fifteen minutes."

Clearly, we now are in the future. And everyone is famous for at least fifteen minutes. And it follows from this that everyone will eventually make an appearance on Larry King. Everyone. Look, you may be a barkeep in some dive in Mobile. But you know as well as I do that eventually you're going to make an appearance on Larry's show. Don't deny it!

So since everyone's eventually going to have to face Larry, and since Larry seems such a hail-fellow-well-met, the price of pointing out that about half of Larry's questions sound like they were conceived by a circus clown or a zoo monkey is actually pretty steep. And thus, absent truly brave souls like TPM, it just never happens.

Well, no sooner had I returned from my two week trip to various states on this side of the Mississippi River than the Talking Points Memo world headquarters (aka a gunned-up IBM ThinkPad 570e) experienced a major hardware systems breakdown necessitating an emergency retrenchment back to the old TPM world HQ for at least the next several days.

Now you might be asking yourself, what exactly does this have to do with you? how exactly does it affect your life? Well, as it happens, it does. Because on that for-the-moment-inaccessible TPM workstation is a choice thousand words of mockery of an incident that took place yesterday on Larry King Live. I was going to scrap it. But now that I think of it, honestly, it's just too funny not to note for posterity. So here goes ...

If you're a regular viewer of Larry King Live and familiar with the typologies and established fooleries which make up the show, then you'll no doubt be familiar with this one. Larry will have on some goofball or malefactor and he'll be snowballing him or her with question and after question and the goofball/malefactor will be just lapping it up.

Then Larry lofts one more snowball. But this time it's different. This question isn't just inane. It's based on what turns out to be Larry's complete lack of understanding of what's being talked about.

(Larry: "That's like what happened when you discovered the cure for gravity, right?")

This presents the goofball/malefactor with a quandary. He really wants the softball (otherwise why would he be going on Larry King Live?). But biting for this one means validating or buying into Larry's foolery or at the very least squandering whatever remaining dignity the goofball/malefactor has left. It's always a tough spot to be in and it's a challenge for even the craftiest of guests.

Anyway, last night on LKL there was a perfect example of just this sort of moment. John Ashcroft was on Larry's show defending Robert Mueller and the new powers he's granting to the FBI. The to-die-for moment happens at about 24 minutes into the show. Ashcroft is describing for Larry the new FBI guidelines which will allow FBI agents to snoop at public meetings and forums even when not working on a specific investigation. Let's go to the transcript with explanatory comments from TPM ...

ASHCROFT: One of the things that some individuals have been distressed about is simply the statement that an FBI agent is allowed to go to any public place where any other member of the public is invited, so that if there's a rally in the park, the FBI agent doesn't have to have a specific investigation in mind in order to go to the rally in the park. Or it's surfing the net. You know, an FBI agent ought to be able to surf the net and look for sites that instruct people in how to make bombs. Any 14-year-old in America can sit down at his keyboard -- I've got a 4-year-old grandson that can surf the net. And they can go anywhere on the net they need to, want to, because the net's a public place. The FBI has previously had rules that said, unless you have a specific investigation under way or you're following a specific...

KING: Like a wiretap, you mean.

(TPM: Okay, let's stop right there. Here we (as no doubt Ashcroft did too) see that Larry has no idea what the AG just said. Ashcroft is talking about listening in on public forums and Larry tries to clarify the AG's long answer by ridiculously explaining that this is like a wiretap. There's a pained look on Ashcroft's face as he contemplates what an imbecile Larry must be and what a pickle he's in. But he quickly regains his footing and opts for a classic example of what people in the biz call the "LKL 'Or' Maneuver". As in, yeah, Larry, just like that "or" like this other example which isn't ridiculous. Let's go back to the tape and see a master at work...)
ASHCROFT: Or you've been told you can't look for things that might be a problem.
(TPM: It's a well-executed move on the AG's part and he thinks he's pulled it off. But Larry isn't done with him. He lunges back at Ashcroft with a blistering fusillade of ridiculousness.)
KING: That's why [the] Minneapolis memo was declined, right?


KING: In a sense. They didn't want to look into the Internet of the man arrested.

(TPM: Larry's new angle is that the previous rule barring FBI agents from snooping on public meetings was the reason why FBI HQ didn't approve the Minneapolis field office's request to seek a warrant to search 20th hijacker Zacarias Moussaoui's computer. At this point Larry's new demonstration of cluelessness knocks the AG back on his heels and he can scarcely get out a defeated 'well' before Larry comes back for the coup de grace, showing that he doesn't know the difference between a 'hard drive' and an 'Internet.' After a few moments with the pained look on his face, Ashcroft realizes that Larry is just too big a bonehead to be reasoned with and he comes up with the original strategy of declining to n not because it makes no sense but because it's a delicate matter of national security currently being looked into by the Intelligence Committees.)
ASHCROFT: There are a variety of things there. I don't want to try and be conclusive. The Joint Committees on Intelligence are looking at that situation. We're going to cooperate with them. I think they'll do a good job. The Patriot Act also expanded our capacity to make inquiry and to develop information.
More on the L-man soon.