Joe Conason's Journal

British reports debunk mobile "biological laboratories" described by the White House. Plus: A Bush counterterrorism assistant resigns -- and signs up with John Kerry.

Published June 16, 2003 4:40PM (EDT)

True believers of false claims
The White House can't fool all the people all of the time, but with the help of the mainstream media the administration has deceived a lot of people about issues of global importance. A national survey reported in today's Knight-Ridder newspapers says that one-third of the American public "believes U.S. forces found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq" -- which means they also believed the false (and universally quoted) statement to that effect the president made two weeks ago on Polish television. The political science professors who analyzed that survey for the University of Maryland are wondering why a substantial minority would think they have seen proof that doesn't yet exist.

Theories aside, the most suggestive fact found by the mid-May poll is that respondents who supported the war are more likely than others to believe that weapons of mass destruction have already been discovered. They won't let the facts disturb their opinions. Weak, credulous media coverage of administration claims also serves to confuse the citizenry. That explains why pollsters find strikingly different results in Britain, where the press treats the Blair government with the skepticism it has earned on this issue. Nearly 60 percent of the British public suspects that their own government and ours "exaggerated the threat of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction," while a third said the Iraq war has diminished their trust in the prime minister.

Bush and his Cabinet may face equally bad numbers if they fail to deliver on their repeated promises of proof that those fearsome weapons exist.

Meanwhile, the few scraps of "proof" they have offered to date don't seem to be holding up so well. Yesterday the Observer (of London)reported that those mobile "biological laboratories" promoted by Bush, Colin Powell and the CIA have been debunked by an "official British investigation." London's own "biological weapons experts" have determined that the pair of trailers found in northern Iraq aren't "mobile germ warfare labs" but instead produced hydrogen for artillery balloons, "as the Iraqis have continued to insist." Assuming that the Observer accurately reported those British government conclusions, perhaps someday the hoax of the mobile labs will be reported in the American media.

Top NSC professional resigns to advise Kerry
Demonizing Rand Beers won't be easy for the Bush administration and its surrogates -- but they may well feel a powerful urge to try after reading today's extraordinary Washington Post portrait of the former National Security Council staffer.

At age 60, following 35 years of government service that includes stints on the staff of every White House since Ronald Reagan, Beers resigned last March as special assistant to the president for counterterror. Now he has signed on as a key advisor to John Kerry's presidential campaign.

In a front-page interview with Laura Blumenfeld, Beers strongly suggests that he joined the opposition because the Bush administration is dangerous to America's future. "The administration wasn't matching its deeds to its words in the war on terrorism. They're making us less secure, not more secure. As an insider, I saw the things that weren't being done. And the longer I sat and watched, the more concerned I became, until I got up and walked out."

Of the need to change policy -- and obviously to replace the president -- Beers tells Blumenfeld that he "never felt so strongly about something in my life."

Like Kerry, Beers didn't oppose military action against the Saddam Hussein regime, but sharply criticizes the administration's "ill-conceived and poorly executed strategy" in Iraq as well as its precipitous insistence on war without international support. "I continue to be puzzled by it," he says. "Why was it such a policy priority?"

It isn't surprising that Beers was drawn to Kerry, because he shares the Massachusetts senator's critique of the fumbled Afghan war and the failure to promote real security at home and abroad. "Terrorists move around [Afghanistan] with ease. We don't even know what's going on [there]," he says. "Osama bin Laden could be almost anywhere in Afghanistan." As for the homeland, Bush's security policy suffers from what Beers calls "policy constipation." Little or nothing has been accomplished in crucial areas such as port and immigration security, the protection of cyber networks and other vulnerable infrastructure, or even the defense of obvious terror targets like chemical factories.

Predictably, Republicans will jeer Beers as a registered Democrat, but they will find his experience and dedication difficult to discount. Like Kerry -- and unlike many of Kerry's conservative critics -- he served in Vietnam before entering government. Indeed, from the Republican perspective his credentials are quite impeccable, dating all the way back to the 1980s -- when he took over as NSC counterterrorism director from a Marine lieutenant colonel named Oliver North.
[3:00 p.m. PDT, June 16, 2003]

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By Salon Staff

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