Poppy Bush’s Virgin Born Intelligence Knowledge

Jack Goldsmith links to an interesting document from the RummyLeaks library: then Chief of Staff Donald Rumsfeld’s memo to President Ford reviewing possible candidates to replace William Colby as head of the CIA.

But Goldsmith doesn’t call out the most amusing part of the memo: the way that Rummy asserts that Poppy has the intelligence experience to do the job without pointing out where he got that experience.

Where Rummy thought someone had real experience with the CIA he laid that out: Harold Brown’s experience with the NRO and SALT,  his and John Foster’s experience with Defense Research and Engineering, Douglas Dillon’s membership on the Rockefeller Committee on the CIA, William Baker and Robert Galvin’s service on the Presidential Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, Melvin Laird’s service on the Appropriations and Armed Services Committees and Gale McGee’s service on Foreign Relations and Appropriations Committees, Stanley Resor’s service as Secretary of the Army and as member of the Mutual and Balanced Force Reductions delegation, Elliott Richardson’s service as Secretary of Defense. Every single member of the Council on Foreign Relations had that detail noted. For a number of these (particularly those with a research focus, Rummy explained precisely how the experience applied).

But Rummy doesn’t really explain how Bush acquired his general familiarity with intelligence.

This is perhaps most obvious when you compare Rummy’s description of Bob Dole’s qualifications with those of Bush.

Robert J. Dole: 52 years old (this month); U.S. Senator (R-Kansas); Past Chairman, RNC; Lawyer, WWII Service.

Pros: Strong “law and order” image. Confirmable.

Cons: No background in intelligence; no management experience; RNC post raises question over politicization potential.


George Bush: 51 years old; Member of Congress; US Ambassador to the UN and subsequently to USLO Peking; Oil producer; Politician.

Pros: Experience in government and diplomacy; generally familiar with the components of the intelligence community and their missions; management experience; high integrity and proven adaptability.

Cons: RNC post lends undesirable political cast.

After all, at this point of their life, these men shared many of the same resume points: they are nearly exact contemporaries, with World War II experience (though Rummy didn’t mention Poppy’s), time in Congress, and service at the head of the RNC. Yet according to Rummy, Bush had the intelligence experience to lead CIA and Dole did not.

Now, obviously, Bush’s service as Ambassador to the UN and–to an even greater degree–as Ambassador to China would clearly have put him in positions at the front line of the Cold War.

But of course Bush’s most direct experience to be Director of the CIA came from that innocuous other resume point: “oil producer.” Heck, Rummy doesn’t even note by name Bush’s leadership of Zapata Oil, which was reportedly a cover for Bay of Pigs preparation. Russ Baker even found a J. Edgar Hoover note indicating that “Mr. George Bush of the Central Intelligence Agency” was briefed on concerns that the Kennedy assassination would encourage anti-Castro groups to strike at Cuba.

Rummy doesn’t explain any of that background. But then, had he done so, he probably couldn’t have claimed (as he did) that “all 23” candidates “are outsiders to the CIA.”

“Our” Terrorist Goes on Trial

Today, Luis Posada Carrilles goes on trial. Posada is, of course, the Cuban-American who was a CIA asset for at least the Bay of Pigs era and almost certainly for years after. Among other things, he orchestrated the bombing of a Cuban plane in 1976, and more recently involved in the bombing of Cuban tourist sites in 1997.

He’s not being tried for terrorism. Instead, he’s being tried for lying about his terrorism.

Nevertheless, as Peter Kornbluh notes, it’ll be the first time evidence of his terrorism gets introduced into trial in this country.

In the annals of modern justice, the Posada trial stands out as one of the most bizarre and disreputable of legal proceedings. The man identified by US intelligence reports as a mastermind of the midair destruction of a Cuban airliner—all seventy-three people on board were killed when the plane plunged into the sea off the coast of Barbados on October 6, 1976—and who publicly bragged about being behind a series of hotel bombings in Havana that killed an Italian businessman, Fabio Di Celmo, is being prosecuted for perjury and fraud, not murder and mayhem. The handling of his case during the Bush years became an international embarrassment and reflected poorly on the willingness and/or abilities of the Justice Department to prosecute crimes of terror when that terrorist was once an agent and ally of America. For the Obama administration, the verdict will carry significant implications for US credibility in the fight against terrorism, as well as for the future of US-Cuban relations.


To its credit, the Justice Department did quietly empanel a grand jury in New Jersey to weigh an official indictment of Posada for masterminding the hotel bombings in Havana. (Evidence gathered by the FBI indicates that Posada raised funds for that operation from Cuban-American benefactors in Union City, New Jersey.) In April 2006 government lawyers decided to hold a naturalization interview with Posada while he was in jail, surreptitiously gathering self-incriminating evidence against him in the hotel bombing case.

But, for reasons that remain under seal, the New Jersey grand jury proceedings stalled. Initially, as a senior State Department official confided, prosecutors were unable to secure a key piece of evidence—the tape recordings of an interview Posada had given to then–New York Times stringer Ann Louise Bardach in 1998, in which he appeared to take full responsibility for the hotel bombings. “The Italian was in the wrong place at the wrong time, but I sleep like a baby,” Posada proclaimed, according to his statements published in the Times. Under subpoena, Bardach turned over the tapes to the grand jury on December 15, 2006. But no indictment was ever handed down.

Instead, on January 11, 2007, Posada was indicted in El Paso on six counts of making “false statements” and one of fraud about how he came to the United States and for his use of false names and false passports—charges that carry an maximum sentence of five to ten years each. To make matters worse for the credibility of the US legal system, four months later Judge Kathleen Cardone dismissed all charges against Posada. The government, she ruled, had engaged in “fraud, deceit and trickery” in obtaining evidence against Posada under the guise of conducting a naturalization review. The court, she declared, could “not set aside [Posada’s legal] rights nor overlook Government misconduct [just] because Defendant is a political hot potato.”

A free man, Posada took up residence in Miami. Since he is on the government’s no-fly list, Posada was forced to drive back to Florida, where he has lived openly for the past several years, attending right-wing exile fundraisers and even participating in public protests against Castro’s Cuba.

But in August 2008 the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit overruled Cardone’s decision and ordered Posada to proceed to trial. In another positive turn of events in this long, twisted legal saga, in April 2009 the new Obama Justice Department used the New York Times tapes of Posada’s interview with Bardach to file several additional counts of perjury and fraud relating specifically to lying about “soliciting other individuals to carry out…[the hotel] bombings in Cuba.” To be sure, Posada is still not being charged with actually perpetrating those terrorist operations, only with lying about aspects of his involvement in orchestrating them. But for the first time in a US court, a team of lawyers from the Justice Department’s Counterterrorism Division will present concrete evidence to prove that Posada was indeed behind a series of terrorist attacks on Cuban soil.

Now, it always pays to be skeptical about the possibility the United States will hold its old terrorist, Posada, accountable for later acts of terrorism that we may not have officially sanctioned. While most of the efforts to avoid trying him have come under Bush (whose father reportedly was tied to the Bay of Pigs invasion, was director of the CIA at the time of the 1976 Posada bombing, was directly implicated in Iran-Contra, and was President during the 1997 bombings in question [pre-coffee f-up]), it’s not clear the Obama Administration is any more willing to hold “our” terrorists–or those of our allies–accountable.

Also (as Kornbluh further explains in his article), the government was unable to exclude evidence of Posada’s ties to the CIA from trial. Particularly given that DOJ just indicted a former CIA officer who alleges he was ordered to lie in his memoirs, it will be fairly easy for Posada to say he lied about his involvement in terrorism as he was required to to protect the CIA.

And while we’re used to American hypocrisy on this front, the trial will be closely watched in Latin America. Even while we’re claiming that Posada illegally entered the US, we are refusing to extradite Posada to Venezuela. And the Wikileaks cables reveals our further inconsistency on the treatment of terrorism. While we like to pressure countries like Brazil without great evidence, we treat the claims of Bolivia’s government very skeptically. Yet here, the evidence is clear that Posada is a terrorist.

But chances are high that Posada, like Scooter Libby, will never see jail time for his alleged perjury.

But it will be worth watching to see whether the US is willing and able to put one of the Western Hemisphere’s most celebrated terrorists in prison.

GAO Audits and Poppy Bush’s Covert World

Steven Aftergood has an important update on the continuing saga of whether or not GAO can conduct investigations of intelligence activities. He explores the source of current restrictions on GAO review: a 1988 OLC opnion written by Douglas Kmiec.

The current dispute between the Obama Administration and some members of Congress over whether to strengthen oversight of intelligence programs by the Government Accountability Office is rooted in a 1988 opinion from the Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), which held that GAO access to intelligence information is actually barred by law.

In 1988, the GAO requested access to intelligence files concerning Panama as part of an investigation of U.S. policy towards Panamanian leader Manuel Noriega.  In response to an inquiry from the National Security Council, the Office of Legal Counsel issued an opinion (pdf) stating that the GAO was not entitled to the requested records on Panama and Noriega.  Not only that, but the opinion (written by Acting OLC head Douglas W. Kmiec) concluded categorically that “GAO is precluded by the Intelligence Oversight Act from access to intelligence information.”

Today, the FBI cites that 1988 opinion to justify its refusal to permit GAO to perform a review of the FBI counterterrorism program and other matters previously studied by GAO.

The 1988 OLC opinion “has had a broad negative impact on our access to information at the FBI and several other agencies that are part of the intelligence community,” wrote Acting Comptroller General Gene L. Dodaro in a recent letter (pdf).

Aftergood goes on to explore the troubling current use of this 1988 opinion protecting raw intelligence to protect more function-oriented reviews of Executive Branch counter-terrorism activities.

But I couldn’t get by the multiple levels of irony of the OLC opinion itself.

The OLC opinion was written in response to a June 23, 1988 letter asking to what extent GAO could investigate whether Executive Branch foreign policy making adequately accounted for the illegal activities of top foreign officials like Manuel Noriega.

This memorandum is in response to your request for the opinion of this Office on whether, or to what extent, the Administration has a legal basis for declining to cooperate with the pending General Accounting Office (“GAO”) investigation concerning U.S. foreign policy decisions with respect to Manuel Noriega. In its June 23, 1988 letter to the National Security Council, GAO described the nature and purpose of the investigation: In order to evaluate whether “information about illegal activities by high level officials of other nations may not be adequately considered in U.S. foreign policy decisions . . ., the General Accounting Office is undertaking an initial [*2] case study of how information about General Noriega was developed by various government agencies, and what role such information played in policy decisions regarding Panama.” As stated in the National Security Council’s response to GAO of July 13, 1988, representatives of GAO have made it clear that GAO’s “three areas of interest [are] intelligence files, law enforcement files, and the deliberative process of the Executive branch, including internal communications and deliberations leading to Executive branch actions taken pursuant to the President’s constitutional authority.”

The GAO investigation, then, would have been a part of Congress’ (and, to a significant extent, John Kerry’s) larger attempt to investigate BCCI and Noriega and CIA involvement in the drug trade. Just as importantly, the request and the August 16, 1988 response would have taken place in the shadow of a Presidential election that would result in Poppy Bush’s election. Read more

Still Trying to Read Poppy Bush’s Lips

Am I the only one that finds it especially ironic that Poppy Bush endorsed McCain one day after McCain came out with a "no new taxes" pledge? If the timing was unintentional, I’d consider it a rather inauspicious coincidence if I were McCain.