It's all fun and games until somebody invades Iran

Who was that mysterious "senior administration official"? Hint: His initials are Dick Cheney.

By Tim Grieve
Published February 28, 2007 8:04PM (EST)

If you don't think Bush administration officials' insistence on anonymity is getting just a little out of hand, then you probably haven't seen the transcript of this press briefing on the White House Web site.

The title of the document is "Interview of a Senior Administration Official by the Traveling Press, Aboard Air Force Two En Route Muscat, Oman." And way up at the top, the document attributes the following words to the unidentified "Senior Administration Official":

"Let me just make one editorial comment here. I've seen some press reporting says, 'Cheney went in to beat up on [the Pakistani government], threaten them.' That's not the way I work. I don't know who writes that, or maybe somebody gets it from some source who doesn't know what I'm doing, or isn't involved in it. But the idea that I'd go in and threaten someone is an invalid misreading of the way I do business."

The "Senior Administration Official" then goes on to defend comments one Dick Cheney made about Nancy Pelosi and Jack Murtha. "I was asked by one of your colleagues ... I responded very carefully ... What I said was that that the al-Qaida strategy is based on the notion that they can break the will of the American people."

The document shows that the "Senior Administration Official" started speaking at 3:09 p.m. and stopped at 3:25 p.m., and that there was some sort of break in between. And what's this? Another document on the White House Web site, this one documenting the "Vice President's Remarks to the Traveling Press Aboard Air Force Two En Route Muscat, Oman" between 3:19 and 3:23 p.m. There, Cheney describes -- on the record -- his reaction to the bomb attack outside the U.S. military base in Afghanistan where he was staying. And just where that document ends, the background briefing of the "Senior Administration Official" seems to pick back up again with more general observations about the strength of the Taliban.

We think we might be cracking some kind of code here. But don't tell anyone, OK?

To their credit, at least some members of the mainstream press aren't playing along, at least not this time. The AP's Terence Hunt has laid out all the clues about the "mystery official" so that readers can connect their own dots. And the New York Times' David Sanger is attributing the senior administration official's remarks to Cheney on the ground that he violated "the first rule of conducting a background interview: never refer to yourself in the first person, when it makes it obvious who is talking."

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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