Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

You can tell that President Bush is serious about pushing for change in Cuba and not just pandering to emigre whack-jobs because of the conditions he's setting for easing the embargo: free and fair elections next year and creating a market economy.

Actually, I believe this can be seen as an example of the greatness of American democracy: the way our government can simultaneously undertake grave and profound efforts like the struggle against al Qaida but still have time for goofball antics like playing the old Cuba game down in Little Havana.

If we don't make fools of ourselves in South Florida the terrorists will have won!

This is a very, very, very bad situation.

With last week's revelations about possible early hints of a terrorist attack, and the ferocious response from the White House to calls for an investigation, there's one thing that would be extremely convenient right now for the White House: some pointed reminder of how close we might be to another terrorist attack, and that it's no time to be second-guessing the President, or resorting to the conventional political expedient of a congressional investigation.

And, voila ... Here it is.

As every paper is reporting tomorrow, US intelligence agencies have intercepted "vague yet troubling series of communications among Al Qaeda operatives" that might be portend another 9/11-scale attack.

Of course, maybe it's true. It could well be true. I'm certain it's at least partly true. But the problem is that it's so deeply convenient and the administration's response to calls for inquiries has been so strident and aggressive that it's difficult to see this as mere coincidence.

Another clue adds to my suspicion. One of the two outlets to break this story, The New York Times, says that the increased activity has been for "the last few months." NBC says it's for the "past several weeks." So why do we hear about it right now? And what about Tom Ridge's color-coded terror system? Come to think of it, where's Tom Ridge?

The "senior administration official" who was apparently the source of both stories told NBC ...

There is a real potential for a terrorist attack again. The president has been saying since Sept. 11 that there is a possibility of another attack. America needs to be vigilant.
Again, that's really right from the script.

I don't think the intel agencies themselves would go in for this sort of game-playing. Not so nakedly at least or in so partisan a fashion. But the White House -- especially post-9/11 -- will always be getting all sorts of creepy stuff coming in over the transom. If you read between the lines in these stories what seems to have happened is that the "senior administration official" put this stuff out there.

The problem is that this is really serious stuff and it's pretty hard right now for people to know whether they're being legitimately warned or if their emotions are being *$%#$* with for political purposes. Everybody suffers from that ambiguity and confusion.

Are the Democrats 'playing politics'? Maybe. But political oppositions do that. Get used to it. The Republicans definitely did it in spades under Clinton.

The more relevant point is that the Democrats would be negligent if they didn't call for some sort of investigation -- ideally, an independent commission. There's a higher standard for the administration in a situation like this because the administration is, as the name implies, the government. They're the ones with responsibility to act, with control over various pieces of secret information, with control over the national security apparatus. And, again, they're the government, the responsible entity.

(The White House has been stunningly indifferent to this reality, a fact laughably evidenced by the their effort to shift the question to 'what did Congress know' etc. There is a reason after all that they call it the E-X-E-C-U-T-I-V-E branch.)

In any case, the administration's stance in the last few days has been far more vitriolic and political than anything from the opposition party. And that is damaging the country.

Winner of the pie-charts TPM would most like to see contest ...

Percentage of time former FBI Director Louis Freeh spent on counter-terrorism, percentage time former FBI Director Louis Freeh spent on investigations of Bill Clinton, percentage of time former FBI Director Louis Freeh spent on investigations of Al Gore, percentage of time former FBI Director Louis Freeh spent hobnobbing with congressional Republicans, percentage of time former FBI Director Louis Freeh spent talking trash about Janet Reno ... etc.

I'm quite surprised that no one has yet mentioned what I am about to discuss. Or if someone has (which is entirely possible) I haven't seen it.

The sort of intelligence failure which now seems to have occurred prior to September 11th is seldom the fault of a single individual or even a group of individuals. The problem is most often structural and organizational, a failure to devise a framework that gets the right information into the right hands in a timely fashion.

Having said that, consider this.

The key window of time for all the warnings and hints was last summer, roughly June, July and August of 2001, the period right before the attacks. No one has considered that this was also the period of time when the post of FBI Director was vacant.

Certainly something worth considering, no?

Let's review the history. On May 1st of last year then-Director Louis Freeh announced his resignation and that he would leave sometime in early June (Freeh's questionable tenure at the Bureau is another major point of concern, but that's for another post.) I'm not sure when Freeh's official last day was, but on June 22nd Attorney General John Ashcroft made Deputy Director Tom Pickard Acting Director, effective the following day.

Through May and June the White House searched for a replacement for Freeh, first focusing on Robert S. Mueller, then deciding the President wanted other choices, then finally settling on Mueller.

President Bush announced Mueller's appointment on July 5th. But he wasn't confirmed until August 2nd. And then he didn't take the oath of office until September 5th.

None of this was dilatory or out of the ordinary. But during this key period the FBI's leadership was at best in deep flux and at worst the Bureau was leaderless.

Following up on this earlier post, the last thing the White House should be doing right now is sending that despicable rat Ari Fleischer out to swipe at Senator Hillary Clinton for posing a question many of her constituents are no doubt asking. Fleischer's *#$%-eating grin and nervously gnashing remarks aren't called for. Messrs. Daschle's and Gephardt's comments were far more biting than Hillary's. Hers were comparatively generous. Trying to get the Hillary-haters to bail them out of this one will not work.

Remember Douglas H. Paal? TPM chronicled his long, restless struggle to secure an ambassador-type appointment in Asia -- any ambassador-type appointment in Asia, really -- from the Bush administration in a March article in The New Republic.

When last we left Mr. Paal ... well, when last we left Mr. Paal, Mr. Paal was leaving us. His long awaited appointment to serve as AIT Director in Taipei -- America's de facto ambassador to Taiwan -- was finally announced on April 5th and off he was supposed to go. This was in spite of the fact that there were still various questions floating out there. But the battle royale between the China hawks and the China engagers was over and Paal was packing his bags.

Over the last couple days though I've been getting signals that something might be amiss. That maybe there was some further hold up. And now that seems confirmed.

Today's Nelson Report -- Washington's bible for the hottest scoops and gossip on Asian diplomacy and trade negotiation politics (yes, believe it or not) -- reveals that "Doug Paal [has] still not [been] fully cleared by State for Taipei."

What's this newest hitch? What is it now?

Let me offer some friendly advice to the Bush White House. And, no, I'm not being facetious. I'm really not. The best thing -- really the only thing -- for the White House or the President to do now is to come out and say ...

Look, in hindsight, there are connections maybe we should have made. Communications should have been better between various intelligence and law enforcement agencies. But hindsight is 20/20 and these things were not as clear then as they are now. Our people did the best they knew how. But I'm the Commander-in-Chief. And I'm responsible. The buck stops here. Let's move ahead now and make whatever improvements we can.

In other words, make your stand on the basis of the obvious, and these drip-drip-drip revelations won't be nearly so painful or costly.

Will this open the president up to political damage and fallout? Messy, uncomfortable investigations?


But as us Clinton folk learned, this is the uncomfortable thing about having the presidency. When the American military -- the strongest in the world, but an institution you had nothing to do with creating -- goes out and wins a war, you rock.

When something terrible happens and in retrospect you maybe should have or could have done more to prevent it -- even if the other guys probably wouldn't have done any better -- you take a hit. Maybe a big one.

Those are the rules. Deal with it.

Otherwise you will end up with situations like this. Yesterday Ari Fleischer and Condi Rice said that no one before September 11th imagined that plane hijackings would equate to using the planes as guided missiles. That certainly sounds right. That is, until you read this new AP story which says inter alia ...

"Suicide bomber(s) belonging to al-Qaida's Martyrdom Battalion could crash-land an aircraft packed with high explosives (C-4 and semtex) into the Pentagon, the headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), or the White House," the September 1999 report said ... The report noted that an al-Qaida-linked terrorist first arrested in the Philippines in 1995 and later convicted in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing had suggested such a suicide jetliner mission.

So you really can't say that it never occurred to anyone. It definitely did.

Also, arrogant trash talk from Dick Cheney accusing the Dems of taking political advantage will likely prove counterproductive.

It's called the responsibility era. Get used to it. And you'll be better off in the long run.

You learn something new every day. For a few weeks now -- seems like a few years, but that's another matter -- I've been working on an article about Iraq and the 'regime change' debate. Basically that means whether we should invade Iraq and otherthrow Saddam Hussein. I ended up coming to some conclusions that surprised me. But the article isn't out yet so I can't go into that.

Anyway, I found something else that surprised me no end.

If you've watched the debate about taking the war on terrorism to Baghdad you've almost certainly seen R. James Woolsey, former Director of the CIA during Bill Clinton's first two years in office. Today Woolsey is a member of the law firm of Shea & Gardner, an outspoken advocate of overthrowing Saddam with military force, and also a strong supporter of something called the Iraqi National Congress (INC).

The INC was formed after the Gulf War under the loose and but fairly open sponsorship of the CIA. In the late 1990s the INC became a big player in DC, making good contacts on the Hill, pushing 'regime change' very successfully and generally playing the Clinton administration like a fiddle.

Anyway, when I was looking into all this I thought I'd check to see who was registered as working as a foreign agent for the INC in Washington. Imagine my surprise when I checked and found that it was the law firm of Shea & Gardner, Jim Woolsey's law firm.

Woolsey's name isn't mentioned on the official filing. But I don't think it needs to be. The connection speaks for itself. Having said that, I don't think Woolsey is 'bought.' He's clearly a true believer. Still you'd think this was a connection the nets would mention when he goes on TV to chat about Iraq and the INC.

The official Justice Department filing is now part of the Talking Points Memo Document Collection.

P.S. It starts to get interesting around page 11.

Current Senate candidate, future Presidential candidate, and all around tall guy, John Kerry speaks out on the new 9/11 disclosures ...

This disclosure underscores the very real need for the President to work openly and in good faith with Congress to fully investigate any breakdowns in intelligence gathering that may have occurred prior to September 11th. Many of us have been very vocal in calling for a widespread examination of our intelligence gathering processes. We have a right and a responsibility to ask questions. Preventing another September 11th undoubtedly requires understanding our past vulnerabilities. Were we focused on the right kinds of intelligence gathering? Did the United States have the necessary capacity to respond? If not, why? Where were the deficiencies? If we weren't appropriately focused on this threat, where was the focus misdirected? There's no need for further government secrecy -- the Administration should be comfortable sharing their evaluation of these intelligence deficits and helping us determine together how best to protect Americans in the future.

Ahha! The source of the Slam TPM on McKinney campaign is revealed. Who says there's no such thing as grassroots organizing anymore?