Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

A quick look at the morning news reports confirms my fears of last night -- about the true scope of the attacks in Saudi Arabia and shoddy deceptiveness of the original reporting. (As I said last night, this isn't a comment on the journalists but the impossible conditions they must operate in there, the fact that so few are even in the country, and the implacable closedness of the country itself.) It's almost a pale shade of Chernobyl.

It was wildly improbable that four coordinated bombings accompanied by fire-fights to get the bombs closer in to their targets would cause no fatalities or just one or two. (Overnight reports had it that Colin Powell had been told by the Saudis that there were no US deaths.) At just after 11:00 EDT, CNN is reporting that the attackers killed 20 people in addition nine terrorists killed. But I suspect even this count will prove low. This report from London's Evening Standard says a "Danish doctor in Riyadh said there were 40-50 bodies in one hospital alone." (After noting the Evening Standard report I just saw this new report from Deutsche Welle that the State Department now says more than 90 people were killed.)

It says a lot that the anecdotal reports from anonymous bystanders are proving more accurate than the official government estimates. This of course is the close to the essence of the problem with Saudi Arabia -- the unwillingness or inability to confront or deal with the problem, the need to deny it, cover it up, pretend it doesn't exist.

Working on deadline this evening, so no time for a long post. But just a quick note on the bombings in Saudi Arabia. On the one hand, it's hard to know what to say at this point since, even hours after the bombings, we know very little about what seems to have happened. On the other hand, this strikes me as perhaps the most revealing, telling part of the story, in as much as it says a great deal about how Saudi Arabia operates, how closed it is, and how we -- the United States -- operate within Saudi Arabia.

As of just before midnight on the East Coast we know that there were apparently four separate, though coordinated, bombings. Three were aimed at heavily guarded residential compounds populated disproportionately by Westerners. Another hit a US-Saudi jointly owned business. The explosions are said to have been massive, yet the casualty figures being reported hover around 50 persons, with an improbably low estimate of one dead. Thus far, there are no pictures, video or otherwise, aside from some pictures of billowing smoke from a distance (decidedly less detailed than those from Baghdad in the early days of the war). And the low casualty estimates are belied by some eyewitness reports like one, for instance, from Britain's Sky News which speaks of "bodies everywhere and blood everywhere." And another: "We heard a huge noise and we saw many ambulances coming and gathering victims." Or this from a Saudi website: "According to Al-Arabiya television channel, security forces exchanged fire with the terrorists inside the compound. The network also reported that many charred bodies were seen being taken from ambulances at a local hospital ... Another resident said that he saw 'scores' of bodies on the ground following the explosion at Al-Hamra compound. 'I do not want to cause panic. The security and police said they will handle the situation,' he said."

I certainly haven't read every report. But I've skimmed around various news sources around the net. And I don't think I've seen any official comment from any Saudi government source on what happened, how many casualties there are, how many deaths, etc. The reports are anecdotal ones from unnamed sources at different hospitals in Riyadh. Another thing I've just noticed is where the stories in tomorrow's papers are datelined: The New York Times (Kuwait), The Washington Post (Amman), Los Angeles Times (Washington), Reuters (London), AP (Riyadh).

In other words, almost no Western reporters seem to be there.

A few notes on books. My copy of Sid Blumenthal's The Clinton Wars finally, finally, finally arrived today. So I'll be eagerly diving into it and reporting back on what I find. I've also just started Fareed Zakaria's The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad, of which I'll be saying more shortly. (My stack of books to read grew quite tall while busy finishing up the dissertation. Finally, let me recommend The Iraq War Reader: History, Documents, Opinions, just out and compiled and edited by Micah Sifry and Christopher Cerf. I think those of a more hawkish disposition may find it ever-so-slightly tilted in the favor of skeptics -- in the sense of counting up selections from each side. But I'm not even sure about that and may change my opinion after further reading and leafing through the selections. It's extremely up-to-date, featuring a number of selections from the weeks just before the war, and probably the best single-volume introduction to the debate I've seen so far, with well-chosen selections from almost every shade of opinion out there. Even if you're an Iraq war aficionado, it's worth picking up a copy.

Just read this snippet from a new article in Newsweek ...

Some of the lapses are frightening. The well-known Al Tuwaitha Nuclear Research Center, about 12 miles south of Baghdad, had nearly two tons of partially enriched uranium, along with significant quantities of highly radioactive medical and industrial isotopes, when International Atomic Energy Agency officials made their last visit in January. By the time U.S. troops arrived in early April, armed guards were holding off looters—but the Americans only disarmed the guards, Al Tuwaitha department heads told NEWSWEEK. “We told them, ‘This site is out of control. You have to take care of it’,” says Munther Ibrahim, Al Tuwaitha’s head of plasma physics. “The soldiers said, ‘We are a small group. We cannot take control of this site’.” As soon as the Americans left, looters broke in. The staff fled; when they returned, the containment vaults’ seals had been broken, and radioactive material was everywhere.

U.S. officers say the center had already been ransacked before their troops arrived. They didn’t try to stop the looting, says Colonel Madere, because “there was no directive that said do not allow anyone in and out of this place.” Last week American troops finally went back to secure the site. Al Tuwaitha’s scientists still can’t fully assess the damage; some areas are too badly contaminated to inspect. “I saw empty uranium-oxide barrels lying around, and children playing with them,” says Fadil Mohsen Abed, head of the medical-isotopes department. Stainless-steel uranium canisters had been stolen. Some were later found in local markets and in villagers’ homes. “We saw people using them for milking cows and carrying drinking water,” says Ibrahim. The looted materials could not make a nuclear bomb, but IAEA officials worry that terrorists could build plenty of dirty bombs with some of the isotopes that may have gone missing. Last week NEWSWEEK visited a total of eight sites on U.N. weapons-inspection lists. Two were guarded by U.S. troops. Armed looters were swarming through two others. Another was evidently destroyed many years ago. American forces had not yet searched the remaining three.

There are a lot of things happening in Iraq now, about which it's fair to say 'it's a complicated job, it's messy, but it's early, etc.' But I don't see how you can say this isn't pretty bad.

This from an April 11th article in the Sacramento Bee ...

A Chinese American business consultant from Southern California, Leung spoke Cantonese, Mandarin and English with ease, was well connected and was eager to donate her energy and money to the GOP.

She gave thousands of dollars last year to gubernatorial candidates Richard Riordan and Bill Simon, and they thanked her by name in speeches and on Web sites. U.S. Rep. David Dreier liked his San Marino constituent so much that he recently appointed her as a voting member on the state party's central committee.

Oh my ...

And yet another installment of 'The Party Affiliation That Dares Not Speak Its Name ...'

Today, Part III: Even The Liberal New York Times ...

How does the Grey Lady stack up on the Katrina Leung Republican affiliation question?

Not so well.

By TPM's count, the NYT has published 14 articles on the L'Affaire Leung, the first on April 10th and the most recent, today, May 9th. Of those, by my count, only three make any reference to her as a GOP fund-raiser.

The first article, that of April 10th, said: "Ms. Leung was identified by the federal authorities as owning a bookstore in Monterey Park and is well known as a Republic fund-raiser [sic] who is active in community groups around Los Angeles."

The second article, on April 11th, said: "And though a businesswoman, with her own consulting company, she appeared to well understand the power of politics and of playing both sides. She gave money to many prominent Republicans, including a former mayor of Los Angeles and two of California's United States Senate candidates, but also reached out to influential Democrats in a city dominated by the Democratic Party." (Note: I have, errr TPM has not yet been able to find any evidence of Leung giving any money to Democrats.)

The other article on April 11th, plus those of of April 12th, 13th, 15th, 16th, 17th, 20th and 23rd make no mention of her Republican ties. When her political ties are mentioned at all, she is referred to as "a businesswoman and political fund-raiser," as she was in today's article, or a "prominent political fund-raiser," as she was on April 15th.

The only article that makes reference to Leung's Republican ties is that of April 29th. That comes in the last three grafs of the piece when the author describes how Leung apparently compromised the 96-97 campaign finance investigation.

Ms. Leung, a donor and fund-raiser for political candidates in California, also played an important role in the investigation of Chinese donations to the Clinton-Gore campaign. A former senior official in the Justice Department said that if Ms. Leung was a double agent, she might have compromised the entire campaign finance investigation. "It raises questions about whether the Chinese knew the details about the whole finance investigation even before Congress or Janet Reno knew them," the official said, referring to the former attorney general in the Clinton administration.

A former prosecutor who was active in the case said several important figures in the investigation whom authorities sought to subpoena disappeared before they could testify. "There were people we never found," the prosecutor said. "There were dead ends. Whether those were legitimate dead ends or artificial dead ends, we don't know."

Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, Democrat of Connecticut, sent a letter today to Attorney General John Ashcroft seeking assurances that the Justice Department would fully explore Ms. Leung's political connections to Republicans.

A reader might be forgiven for thinking that Joe is some hysterical whackjob since there is no evidence anywhere else in the article suggesting that Leung had any Republican ties. And, of course, he's not a whackjob. Can't seem to raise any money, but not a whackjob.

Also of note: this April 25th UPI article is one of several to note that back during the 1997 investigation there were a number of Senate investigators who believed Leung was a conduit for funneling PRC money into the US political system.

Senate investigators in 1996 suspected Leung as being a conduit for secret Chinese government payments to the Republicans, but the committee, headed by former Tennessee Republican Sen. Fred Thompson, dropped the inquiry before a report could be written. "The money came out of Macao," said one former congressional investigator, and "was funneled through Taiwan."


Some Senate investigators suspect that Leung was the Republican opposite number to Chung. She is a major contributor to GOP candidates, including, indirectly through political action groups, the 2000 campaign of President George W. Bush.

Finally, one more note under the heading of credit where credit is due. Michelle Malkin is a very conservative columnist who was one of the most aggressive pushers of the 1996-1997 Chinagate Democrat-bashing. But she's being nothing if not consistent, making no effort whatsoever to soft-pedal Leung's GOP ties. Malkin's article gives some numbers for Leung's giving at the federal level, which was actually comparatively small. Where she really seems to have been a big player is in the California state GOP.

And now for another installment of 'The Party Affiliation That Dares Not Speak Its Name ...' Today, Part II: Mikey Doesn't Like It ...

When last we left the Liberal Media, ABC News and CNN were insisting on reporting the arrest and indictments of suspected Chinese spy Katrina Leung and her connection to the 1996-97 campaign finance investigation without mentioning that Leung is a longtime GOP activist, fund-raiser, and party donor.

Now, we have Michael Isikoff getting into the act. Or rather, he's been in the act but TPM just hadn't noticed yet. (TPM only has two eyes and he can sometimes barely keep those open. And, yes, acronyms have two eyes.)

This afternoon I got an email from a TPM reader who told me he was surprised to see yesterday evening's post on Leung since he had read about her in Newsweek at the dentist's office and had gotten the distinct impression that Leung was a Democratic fundraiser and/or pol.

So I pulled up the old Nexis account. And it turns out the problem wasn't my emailer's reading comprehension skills.

According to my quick research, Isikoff has written about Leung twice. First, was an April 21st Periscope item that gives a pretty straightforward run-down of Leung's apparent treachery, her role in compromising the 96-97 investigation and other details. He reasonably, but lavishly, mentions that the point of the investigation was to "prove the Chinese government was behind millions of dollars in suspect campaign contributions to former president Bill Clinton and members of Congress during the 1990s." And we also hear about the Buddhist Temple and other stuff. But there's no mention of Leung's being a Republican or a GOP fundraiser.

Now, in the May 12th issue of Newsweek, Isikoff and Andrew Murr have another article. The piece is nicely reported, goes into further details about the case, Leung's business dealings, and so forth. And we are told that Leung "had a million-dollar house in upscale San Marino, threw lavish parties and gave generously to political candidates."

That's it.

Is there something I'm missing here? This whole issue centers on a scandal about alleged PRC funds being funneled into US campaigns. Katrina Leung was a major donor to the Republican party. The US government believes she was a Chinese spy. Don't her contributions and party affiliation deserve any mention? Mike, can you help me with this?

Coming Up Soon: Help TPM find the new TPM world headquarters ...

Finally some good news. Jim Edgar, popular former Illinois Governor, won't run for Senate, thus making a Dem pick-up pretty likely. Even Karl can't win 'em all -- baseball bats and all.

There's only so much oxygen in the media universe at any one time. And much of it, understandably, is being taken up now by Iraq, Iran and North Korea. But if that weren't the case, you'd think there'd be a lot more attention to the fact that a prominent Republican activist and fundraiser has been arrested on suspicion of being a double-agent for the People's Republic of China.

Katrina Leung was a prominent Southern California GOP operator and also a highly paid informant for the FBI. Over the years the Bureau paid her just less than $2 million for her information. For that entire time, however, she was actually a double-agent, providing all manner of highly classified information to the PRC.

There's more here than just a gotcha for Republican scribblers who tried to make the 1996-1997 campaign finance scandal into a sort of Red Scare manque -- though there's plenty of that, the one really clear spy turns out to have been not just a Republican, but something of a high-roller in the club.

More importantly, Leung's treachery seems to have profoundly compromised the entire 1996-97 investigation. The details remain sketchy. And, of course, what we're hearing at this point comes almost entirely from the government -- or, in other words, from the prosecution side. But Leung -- and two of her FBI handlers who she managed to seduce -- were placed at key points in the investigation, where it would have been easy to give the Chinese excellent real-time knowledge of the investigation and the ability to misdirect it.

A couple weeks ago, Joe Lieberman (who, if he can manage to raise some money, may be the Dems' chief contender -- what's the point of being a New Dem if you can't raise cash? and that's coming from a New Dem...) asked the Justice Department to open an investigation into whether Leung may have funnelled money into GOP coffers in the 1990s. Senators Leahy, Grassley, Specter then asked Orrin Hatch to open an investigation in the Senate. But Hatch responded that his committee was "too busy" to hold such hearings. Imagine that.

For all the politics, the real issue here is the FBI and its series of disasters in the field of counter-intelligence. I suspect Louis Freeh's much blackened reputation will get several shades darker over this (security lapses he ascribed with no evidence to the Clinton White House now seem to have come from his own shop). But the problem is clearly institutional and not at all limited to his inglorious tenure. Ames, Hanssen, now this. More about this soon.

And now another installment of Great Moments in Liberal Media.

As we noted earlier today, it now turns out that one of the FBI agents investigating the Asian campaign finance scandal of 1996-97, James J. Smith, was also the handler of an FBI informant, Katrina Leung. She turns out to have been a double-agent, in the service of the People's Republic of China. Smith and Leung were lovers. And through this relationship and one with another FBI agent, William Cleveland, Leung managed to compromise not only the campaign finance investigation but perhaps also a great deal of US espionage against China over the last two decades. Now it seems clear that higher-ups at the FBI suspected or knew Leung was a double agent as early as 1991.

Oh, and one other thing: Leung is a long-time Republican party activist, fundraiser and party-donor. A November 2nd 1997 article in the Los Angeles Times called her "a dynamic Republican known to have friends and family connections in the highest echelons of Beijing government ... [who] has opened her spacious San Marino home for local political fund-raisers and has facilitated visits to China by the mayor and others."

You'd think that given the fact that her espionage is so deeply related to an investigation into political contributions and potential espionage, that this fact would deserve some mention.

And yet the reports of the charges filed against her today both at ABC News and CNN, give this no mention whatsoever. Not a one.

I'm told by a reader that Peter Jennings report on the news this evening also had no mention of this. (This AP article at the FOX News website notes that she was a 'political activist', but says nothing more.) There's also no mention of the fact that Democrats and Republicans have been unable to get Orrin Hatch to find the time to hold hearings on any of this.

Now, one could go on about this and note that all the while that the FBI was investigating the Democrats, and all the while the Republicans were hyperventilating and milking the whole thing for political gain, one of the lead agents in the investigation was carrying on with a Republican fundraiser who also happened to be a PRC double-agent, probably helping to compromise and misdirect the investigation in various ways.

Here, though, is the deeper problem. What does it say about the Republican party that one of their activists was a spy? Not much. At least, not necessarily. It's embarrassing that one of their fund-raisers, someone who gave money to GOP politicians and no doubt rubbed shoulders with many of them, was a spy. But does it mean the Republicans are traitors? That they're compromised in some way? That they're soft on China?

The real issue, as nearly as I can see it, is the terrible, persistent failure at the FBI to deal with counter-intelligence. But, then, this isn't exactly the standard the Republicans followed, is it?

Republicans took some pretty iffy evidence about PRC-connected campaign donations to Democrats and spun it into a florid tale of perfidy, scandal, and treachery. In the late 1990s and into the 2000 campaign it became a standard line among Republicans and conservative commentators that President Clinton had sold nuclear secrets or missile secrets or in one way or another sold out the national security of the United States for campaign money. The whole thing, of course, was crap, the product of a conspiracy of the shameless and the stupid, the crudest and most country-shaming sort of political opportunism. And they partook in it happily.

So what now? On the one hand, Democrats should just set a higher standard, not stoop to the shamelessness of the opposing side. The problem, as I see it, is that this leads to a sort of unilateral disarmament in the domestic political contest within the United States. Republicans have their standard of shameless demagoguing of this issue and do Democrats no little damage in so doing. Then Democrats, if they so choose, adopt a different standard and the GOP gets a pass.

There is an analogy here, though an imperfect one, with the Bill Bennett craziness. Peter Beinart has a TRB column in this week's New Republic in which he says that Michael Kinsley and I expose ourselves to the charge of hypocrisy (I think that's a gentle way of saying we are hypocrites, but fair enough) by applauding the revelations about Bill Bennett even though we mainly believe that people's private lives should remain private.

This is a very good point -- I don't think a persuasive point, but a good one, and one I've thought about a lot and frankly struggled with in the Bennett case. I do believe in privacy as an extremely high value in our society and I think someone in my position --- obviously I didn't write the story, but I've spoken on its behalf --- has to be very careful not to betray their own principles in the process of defending them.

But I don't think in this case I or others have. Beinart writes: "Under the Marshall and Kinsley standard (which, since you're judging hypocrisy, is the Bennett standard), the press should snoop around to see whether Bennett committed adultery as well." And then later: "And, while Bennett may be one of Washington's most high-profile right-wing moralists, he's surely not alone. John Ashcroft, Rick Santorum, Gary Bauer, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Jesse Helms, Alan Keyes, Sean Hannity--they would all come in for similar scrutiny. In fact, dozens, if not hundreds, of Republicans in Congress have probably said the same things about private morality as Bennett. If this sounds like a slippery-slope argument, it is. I don't see any clear principle that justifies exposing Bennett's gambling that wouldn't justify prying into the private lives of most public representatives of the cultural right."

Frankly, this strikes me as schoolmen's logic: impeccable, but off-point. Push around the principles as much as you want, I still think it comes down to something more straightforward: Bennett has spent a decade being a self-righteous *#$%, moralizing about responsibility, balance and values, poking into people's personal shortcomings (or even things that aren't at all shortcomings), using them to score cheap points, and generally giving tons of grief to people who never deserved it. If it turns out he's blown millions of dollars of his family's money yanking the arms of slot machines in the middle of the night at casinos in Vegas, I think it's fair game to report it. To say otherwise would be to let the Bill Bennetts of the world hide behind the boundaries they so routinely transgress. That strikes me as unfair. Equity is a principle too.

Now, Peter says that by this principle the press should now snoop into other parts of Bennett's private life. I can't speak for the press. But it certainly doesn't seem to me like we should. I certainly would never support doing so. I have no doubt The Washington Monthly has no interest in doing so. In part, to me this is because delving into someone's sex life is an inherently greater violation of privacy than discussing someone's gambling habits -- something that is, to a degree, a public activity. But it's not really an issue of a distinction so much as simple discretion. And this is the problem with all slippery slope arguments: they make principle king and banish discretion. To me, I don't see where it's that difficult to distinguish Bennett on this count from the other folks Peter mentions. He really is sui generis. Nor do I think there's a slippery slope. Principles and logic aren't everything -- in part because different principles come into conflict. That's why we have common sense.

I'm not without some discomfort about the Bennett story. I'd like it to be over. And I thought his statement a couple days ago -- saying it wasn't an example he wanted to set, etc. -- was a good, dignified way to put an end to it. But common sense leads me to a very different conclusion from Peter's. As to Katrina Leung, well ... I'm still thinking about that.