Wednesday's mustreads

Geraldine Sealey
June 2, 2004 5:20PM (UTC)

Espionage probe at Pentagon
The New York Times said today that at the request of the U.S. government, citing "national security," the paper held off publishing information that fallen Pentagon favorite Ahmad Chalabi reportedly told Iran the U.S. had broken the secret communications code for Tehran's intelligence service. Now that information regarding Chalabi's ties to Iran has been reported elsewhere (including Sidney Blumenthal's column in Salon), the government gave the Times the okay to publish the story, and it did today. The FBI is now conducting an espionage investigation into who in Chalabi's small circle of former cronies at the Pentagon told him about the code in the first place.

"American officials reported that in the cable to Tehran, the Iranian official recounted how Mr. Chalabi had said that one of 'them' -- a reference to an American -- had revealed the code-breaking operation, the officials said. The Iranian reported that Mr. Chalabi said the American was drunk."


"It could not be learned exactly how the United States broke the code. But intelligence sources said that in the past, the United States has broken into the embassies of foreign governments, including those of Iran, to steal information, including codes. The F.B.I. has opened an espionage investigation seeking to determine exactly what information Mr. Chalabi turned over to the Iranians as well as who told Mr. Chalabi that the Iranian code had been broken, government officials said. The inquiry, still in an early phase, is focused on a very small number of people who were close to Mr. Chalabi and also had access to the highly restricted information about the Iran code."

"Some of the people the F.B.I. expects to interview are civilians at the Pentagon who were among Mr. Chalabi's strongest supporters and served as his main point of contact with the government, the officials said. So far, no one has been accused of any wrongdoing."

Crooked Enron traders cursed like sailors, praised Bush
CBS News obtained a videotape showing potty-mouthed Enron traders gleefully cheering on a forest fire that shut down a major transmission line in California ("Burn, baby, burn") and generally gloating over bringing on and cashing in on the energy crisis in the West four years ago. The Enron employees also dreamed of Ken Lay as secretary of energy under his friend George W. Bush, and predicted, correctly, that President Bush would not fight limits on high energy prices. The conversation took place before the 2000 election.

From the CBS story:

"When this election comes Bush will f------g whack this s--t, man. He won't play this price-cap b------t."

Crude, but true.

"We will not take any action that makes California's problems worse and that's why I oppose price caps," said Mr. Bush on May 29, 2001.


Both the Justice Department and Enron tried to prevent the release of these tapes. Enron's lawyers argued they merely prove "that people at Enron sometimes talked like Barnacle Bill the Sailor."

"Full" sovereignty?
President Bush and others in the administration keep saying Iraqis will have "full sovereignty" after the June 30 "handoff," but Reuters reports that the interim Iraqi government that takes power then "will be more caretaking than autonomous, unable to do basic functions such as make laws or control military forces."


"Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security adviser to former President Carter, says the term 'full sovereignty' -- emphasized Tuesday by Bush, Secretary of State Colin Powell and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice -- lacks credibility. No government can be fully sovereign while its country is 'still being occupied by a foreign army, 140,000 men, subject to our authority,' he said.

"Brzezinski envisions a government of 'limited sovereignty,' the same wording used by Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman before Congress in April. The Bush administration quickly disavowed that phrase in favor of 'full sovereignty.' Nevertheless, the Iraqi administration to be installed on July 1 is more a caretaker government than an entity with broad authority to exercise its will. As an example, U.S. forces there will remain under American control. Also, the approval of any new laws must await the early 2006 installation of an elected government contemplated under the current timetable."

"... Simon Chesterman, of the Institute for International Law and Justice at New York University, likens U.S. relations with the future Iraqi caretaker government to the dominant role the Soviet Union maintained over pliable East Bloc allies during the last century."


Bush management style shows weaknesses
The Washington Post looks at how Bush's management style -- delegate, delegate, delegate -- or, as the Post said, "focusing on big goals rather than on niggling details and delegating significant responsibility to his aides," failed him in handling the Abu Ghraib situation. The piece says Bush long knew there were problems at the Abu Ghraib and assumed they were being handled by the military.

"Bush's aides say the graphic images documenting the abuse of detainees took him by surprise. But as they tell it, the president and his staff received many clues over the past year that there might be a problem -- for example, periodic reports from the International Committee of the Red Cross -- and did nothing because they had been assured the Pentagon was on the case."

"A variety of presidential advisers and scholars said the White House's failure to recognize the significance of the warnings points to flaws in Bush's approach to governing that also could have contributed to the administration's inadequate planning and inaccurate presentations in the run-up to the Iraq war."


Calls for Cheney probe
The Boston Globe reports there are new calls on Capitol Hill for an investigation into whether Dick Cheney helped his old firm Halliburton get multi-billion dollar deals for reconstruction work in post-war Iraq.

"A newly unearthed Pentagon e-mail about Halliburton contracts in Iraq prompted fresh calls on Capitol Hill yesterday for probes into whether Vice President Dick Cheney helped his old firm get the deals. The e-mail, reported in the latest edition of Time magazine, provided 'clear evidence' of a relationship between Cheney and multibillion-dollar contracts Halliburton has received for rebuilding Iraq, Senator Patrick Leahy said."

"'It totally contradicts the vice president's previous assertions of having no contact' with federal officials about Halliburton's Iraq deals, Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, said in a conference call with reporters. 'It would be irresponsible not to hold hearings,' Leahy said."

"The March 2003 Pentagon e-mail says action on a no-bid Halliburton contract to rebuild Iraq's oil industry was 'coordinated' with Cheney's office. Cheney was chief executive officer of the oilfield services giant from 1995 until he joined George W. Bush's presidential ticket in 2000."


Herseth in the House
The AP has the late returns of the special House election in South Dakota to fill the seat of Republican Rep. Bill Janklow, who went to jail after a manslaughter conviction in a deadly car accident. Democrat Stephanie Herseth won, but she'll have to run again in November against the same opponent.

"Stephanie Herseth, a lawyer who left the East Coast for a career in politics in her home state, narrowly defeated a Republican former lawmaker yesterday in a special congressional election that was closely watched by national parties looking for momentum heading into November."

"With all but 31 precincts reporting, Herseth had 124,594 votes, or 51 percent, to 121,628 votes, or 49 percent, for Larry Died rich, a farmer and former head of the American Soybean Association. The Democrats were looking not only to gain a House seat but to get a running start on the November elections. The Democrats took a House seat away from the GOP earlier this year in a special election in Kentucky."

Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at

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