Editors’ Blog

Wow Nice catch by

Wow! Nice catch by TPM reader WG.

I’m never one who likes seeing speakers heckled or booed at college commencement speeches, pretty much no matter who they are.

But check out the last graf of this AP story on President Bush’s speech on volunteerism at Ohio State University today.

Bush was invited to speak at the Ohio State commencement by representatives of the graduating class. But immediately before class members filed into the giant football stadium, an announcer instructed the crowd that all the university’s speakers deserve to be treated with respect and that anyone demonstrating or heckling would be subject to expulsion and arrest. The announcer urged that Bush be greeted with a “thunderous” ovation.

Yikes. Talk about zero tolerance.

Heres some good evidence

Here’s some good evidence that you don’t have to be an out-of-favor (Christie Whitman) or out-to-lunch (Spence Abraham) cabinet secretary to sound like a complete goof. But, man, does it help …

A couple reporter friends

A couple reporter friends and I made a trip this morning up to the part of DC’s Rock Creek park where the remains of Chandra Levy were found a few weeks back. The quick and dirty story I can tell you pretty quickly: we didn’t see much.

Admittedly, I was hoping we’d maybe find a bone or maybe a Vote Gary! button or something. But ever since the Levy family investigators found Chandra’s shin last week (after it had — if you believe the DC Metro police — been planted there by a dead-beat racoon), the cops have been back in force cordoning the place off and not letting anyone get anywhere near it.

Why this matters exactly — since everyone and his brother had the run of the place for a week — isn’t exactly clear. But that’s how it is.

Anyway, a few observations.

First of all, we could not get close enough to see the specific area where the remains were found. But we could see enough to get a sense of the sort of area in which it happened, how dense the foliage is, how steep the incline is — stuff like that.

And here’s the deal, the foliage is really dense. The place in question may be as little as a few hundred yards from residential homes but you might as well be in the middle of a forest. Scratch the word ‘park’ from your consciousness when you think of the scene and replace it with the movie title ‘Deliverance.’

Second, there aren’t a lot of people around. My friends and I spent a while driving around that section of the park trying to find an access toward the crime scene that wasn’t blocked by a police car with a couple cops kickin’ it, working on a donut, or playing solitaire on the on-board laptop. In maybe twenty or thirty minutes of driving around the different little roads and by the numbered picnic grounds we saw a total of two people. One was a guy parked on the side of the road with a van. I had the sense that he was probably also dumping a body. So he wouldn’t have given anyone much grief. The other guy was either a homeless guy or a jogger. Or maybe he was a self-improving homeless jogger. It was a little unclear. Anyway, point being, we were there in the late morning. And I think you probably could have done a lot at that time of the day and not have worried that people were going to see you.

Third, there were a lot of cops tight around the crime scene. But it was hard not to get the sense that the reason they were there was that it was so *&$%@#& embarrassing to have missed the leg bone that they pretty much just had to go there and hang out for a few days and put up a lot of tape just to live the whole thing down.

Fourth, this is pretty speculative. But having seen the lay of the land here is what occurred to me. In the area in question there is basically a plateau where there are some picnic areas and some other places to hang out and either have a picnic, throw a ball around, have sex, or kill someone. Then sloping down from that plateau is a ravine that’s quite steep — in many places 45% or greater. And at the bottom is a tiny brook. Chandra’s body was found a bit more than half-way down one of those ravines. You can see most of this on this map from the Post.

From seeing the terrain, one thing that’s very clear is that no one took her body up the ravine. It’s just too steep and that would be the one place where someone could potentially see you. What sort of made intuitive sense to me, though, is that someone may have basically shoved the body over that ravine and then it rolled down to the approximate area in which it was found.

This is morbid, I admit. But that seemed to me like the most logical supposition.

One other point, from various circumstantial evidence, I think it’s quite clear that she went there to meet someone she knew. But we’ll get to that later. And I still have a hunch — and a bit of information — that tells me this case is going to blow open sooner rather than later.

TPM makes special personal

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

As you know last

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.


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.


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 (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

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

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

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 weve had this

“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.


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 Milbanks

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 Ridges

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.

Ive had a few

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?

Un- believable. Despite giving

Un-&%$^#@* believable. Despite giving them a hard time now and then I’ve always resisted the idea that the DC cops were really fundamentally incompetent, that the seeming inscrutability of Chandra Levy’s disappearance and murder might simply be the result of ridiculously inept police work.

Now I’ve changed my mind.

As you no doubt know, Levy’s remains were found recently in an isolated section of DC’s Rock Creek park.

But a couple days ago a fellow Chandra-phile and I were watching Greta Van Susteren’s show when she and a couple guests — a renowned forensic pathologist and a retired DC cop — did a walkaround through the area where Levy’s remains were found. What they found a bit disconcerting was that there was a lot of stuff there that the police hadn’t bothered to pick up — a shoe, an empty condom wrapper, some rope, and some other stuff.

Almost certainly this stuff had nothing to do with Chandra’s death. But it certainly could have. And certainly tons of people are going to go to the spot over the coming days and weeks to see the area and if this was evidence it’ll be gone or compromised before long. The point is, you pick up everything and go through it to see if it might have any relevance to the case. (I know they’re overflowing with hot leads and all but …)

Anyway, it seemed like they’d done a pretty shoddy search.

Well, today the two Levy family investigators — former DC cops — went to scene to see what they could find. And what did they find? A sock? Panties? Some hair that might have been Chandra’s?

No. Try her shin.

They found what appears to be her left tibia. (The bone hasn’t been DNA tested yet. But on the basis of size and wear the DC Medical Examiner told the Washington Post that his “working hypotheses is that it comes from Chandra.”)

The bone was apparently some 25 yards from where Levy’s skull recovered. But this isn’t like a toe or something. It’s like a foot long.

It simply beggars belief.

Though obviously not a

Though obviously not a great supporter of the president, what President Bush seems poised to announce tonight sounds like a promising move in the right direction. It’s only part of the solution. But it’s a very important part.

But let’s step back and consider an obvious but all-too-important point.

Would this be happening without the political heat being generated because of the embarrassing intelligence failure revelations? Of course not.

And how willingly did the administration leap forward to get these investigations underway? Enough said on that count.

The point is clear. Do politicians try to reap political gain through aggressive investigations? Of course, they do. Get used to it.

But they also help the nation. In Smithian fashion, impure motives nonetheless create a public good. Especially when a recalcitrant administration puts secrecy — which is too often the hand-maiden of &$@-covering — above all else.

One other quick point in passing: Tom Ridge really, really, really shouldn’t get this job. It’s important. And even worth fighting over. He’s damaged goods and has no relevant experience for the task. No special perks for being the president’s friend.

Just a quick note

Just a quick note for TV news producers, newspaper editors or even just Hill staffer types trying to make their bosses look good. If you want to get out ahead of the Ashcroft fingerprinting story, read this article in last month’s Washington Monthly and ask the obvious questions. You’ll be glad you did.

Yesterday we took Former

Yesterday we took Former FBI Deputy Director Weldon Kennedy to task for his demonstrably false claim that there turned out to be nothing of value in the possession of Zacarias Moussaoui even after the FBI got a post-9/11 warrant to search his possessions. Well, here’s the lede of tomorrow’s article on the same in the Washington Post

Amid the latest revelations about FBI and CIA lapses prior to the Sept. 11 attacks, congressional investigators say it is now clear that the evidence that lay unexamined in Zacarias Moussaoui’s possession was even more valuable than previously believed.

Tim, how meaty does this one have to be before it’s a Whopper?

Im willing to grant

I’m willing to grant the state some expanded policing and surveillance powers as the price for protecting the nation against the threat of terrorism. What’s distressing is when the state asks for expanded powers which seem to offer little real payoff or assistance in combatting terrorism. It’s even more disappointing when we shy away from this or that reform because it offends some prized interest group or because — and here’s the biggie — making the change would require the investment of real political capital and standing down entrenched bureaucracies.

This is where the war on terrorism really is being won or lost today. And I’m afraid it’s the latter.

This administration is really hardcore in the mountains of Afghanistan. It talks a great game on Iraq. But when it comes to busting some heads or getting a little bloody in the trench warfare of the DC bureaucracy George W. Bush is turning out to be a mix of George McGovern and Alan Alda.

I’m telling ya, you talk to the people who follow this stuff and they’re clear that these guys are just doing nothing.

Let’s look at today’s announcement from John Ashcroft in which the AG outlines a new plan to require …

“visa holders temporarily entering the United States from [Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya and Sudan] to be fingerprinted and photographed and to provide contacts in the United States and in their home countries. After 30 days, the visa holders would have to report to the Immigration and Naturalization Service about their activities, and again after each year in the United States and when leaving. Violators would be barred from re-entering the United States.”

That’s the description from the Washington Post.

But wait. The very next sentence reads: “A similar arrangement already exists for all of the five countries except for Syria.”

Excuse me?

I thought this was something new. We’re cracking down on the Syrians?

There’s also going to be a slightly less draconian system which will cover a larger group of countries.

But why exactly are we doing this when we’re stymied even putting in place a simple database to keep track of where kids on student visas are hanging out?

Oh right, I forgot. The Immigration lobby and the Foreign Student Advisors’ lobby are against it.

If you’re a conservative and you’re gratified that the administration seems unfettered by political correctness in toughening up the nation’s defenses, don’t be so gratified. Most of this stuff is window-dressing or simply beside the point. Most of the important stuff simply isn’t getting done. Taking on the ACLU and John Conyers is child’s play. But going head to head with the barons at the FBI, the CIA and Main Justice is just something this administration doesn’t have the stomach for.

Earth to Dems: If you want your issue, this is it.

Top three questions Larry

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?”

Im told were about

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 thats the ticketApparently

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

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 isnt

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.

Now Dick Gephardt supports

Now Dick Gephardt supports using the military to force regime change in Iraq. Did he just get his new issue of the Washington Monthly?

Preview of weeks Washington

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

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

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

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.

After hearing that the

After hearing that the Wall Street Journal editorial page had called for FBI Director Robert Mueller’s resignation, my first thought was the obvious one: they spend eight years lauding the uber-hack Louis Freeh, who by-rights created the problem, and they call for the head of Robert Mueller, who is trying to clean it up. Now having read the editorial, it is slightly more persuasive than I’d expected. But only slightly. Mueller does seem to be the kind of by-the-books team-player that perhaps the Bureau doesn’t need right now.

But why the need for a resignation even if some mistakes have been made? Doesn’t continuity have its merits as well? Is what we really need right now the resignation of an FBI Director and several months with no one at the helm? There is a sort of mania with calls for resignations. Detroit makes cars; Silicon Valley makes gizmos; and editorial pages call for resignations. Even when they make no sense. But what else are they good for? So they do it anyway.

Another point: the argument behind the Journal resignation piece seems to be that there is merit and use in taking responsibility at the top, making an example of yourself to set an example for everyone else, saying the buck stops here and I’m not going to pass this off on some underling.

Seems to me that logic could get you wondering about someone besides the Director of the FBI, doesn’t it?

Who’s scapegoating who here?

A few days ago

A few days ago I did a radio interview where I went head to head with another one of these ridiculous conservatives who — when thrown on the defensive about some aspect of Bush administration policy — immediately launches into a tirade about how Bill Clinton is actually responsible for virtually everything that happened on September 11th.

(Did you know that Bill Clinton was actually the barber for three of the 9/11 terrorists!?!!? Or that he vetoed a bill which would have made it a felony to fly commercial jets into tall buildings??!?!!?)

In this particular case, the guy went on a tear about the Sudan-bin Laden handover fiasco, but he clearly didn’t understand some pretty elementary details about what had happened.

In any case, clearly, by definition, we were not as prepared as we should have been for September 11th. And there’s plenty of blame to go around. But one of the true ironies of the relationship between Clinton administration responsibility and Bush administration responsibility is this: most of the Clintonite policies which really were screw-ups were precisely those the Bush administration was most intent on continuing.

Here’s an example of that pattern — one which I’m surprised to say seems to have gotten quite little attention. It’s described in an article in the Washington Monthly by Nick Confessore, a former colleague of mine from the American Prospect. (Actually, he’s only ‘former’ because I’m not there anymore. He’s still at the Prospect. But don’t hold that against him. He’s first-rate.)

Anyway, the article … We all know the pitiful story about how the INS sent out visa approval notifications to two of the 9/11 hijackers almost six months after their planes plowed into the Twin Towers. This choice anecdote shined a bright light on how easy it apparently is for potential terrorists to slip into the country under the cover of student visas. Of course, sometimes they really are students, here to upgrade their jobs skills as international terrorists — sort of Robert Reich meets Osama bin Laden. But that’s another matter.

In any case, since then — as the New York Times reported a couple weeks back — the INS has been working to hurry along the new-fangled student visa tracking program — SEVIS — to make sure this sort of screw up never happens again.

But it turns out that there’s a back story here that gives you a sobering sense of just how tough a battle the war on terrorism in Washington is going to be. SEVIS is actually just a ridiculously dumbed-down version of someting called CIPRIS, a pretty high-powered tracking system that the Clinton administration developed starting in the mid-1990s and ran in a pilot program in the Southeast a couple years ago.

CIPRIS was the sort of program you’d want if you were serious about keeping close tabs on whether foreign students were really in school, or out committing crimes, or kickin’ it with the local al Qaida ward leader, or just hanging out in their boxers eating Fritos and watching the Flinstones at two in the afternoon. CIPRIS got a lot of info, had a more or less forgery-proof ID and efficiently and continually cross-checked this info with the relevant databases at Treasury, FBI, CIA and so forth so you’d have a good sense of whether their names or their funding sources were showing up on this or that watch-list.

The INS field-tested it and it worked great.

But it ran afoul of a series of organized interest groups: the immigration lobby and the Washington lobby for university employees who work as advisors to foreign students (yes, believe it or not …) Anyway, through the standard Washington strategems of turning out effective bureaucrats and screwing around with funding these characters managed to get the system gutted and replaced with SEVIS, which did little more than put the existing info onto a computer without cross-referencing it with any other government databases. Basically SEVIS was a high-end, high-tech, New Economy, 21st Century, yada yada yada way of accomplishing nothing, which was more or less — as the article explains — what the interest groups who killed CIPRIS wanted.

Now, fast-forward to the Bush years. Some key folks involved in killing CIPRIS weren’t run out of town on a rail. They got key appointments at INS under Bush. And the administration also helped keep CIPRIS on ice in an effort to cater to the Hispanic voters President Bush and Karl Rove are trying to lure into the Republican party. What’s more, libertarian-minded Bush appointees at the INS are still blocking CIPRIS even after all that’s happened. They’re still there. And they’re still pushing the lametonian SEVIS program even though the better CIPRIS program is waiting right there on the shelf waiting to be used.

The aforementioned article in the Times doesn’t even mention the SEVIS-CIPRIS back story and it’s not clear the author of the piece was even aware of it.

Definitely take a look at the story. It’s a key piece of the ‘what we could have done but didn’t and still aren’t’ debate and it deserves more attention.

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