Monday, January 31, 2005

Does this actually surprise anyone? Why does the Bush administration want to waste more money on these useless programs when it's obvious they don't work?

Texas Teens Increased Sex After Abstinence Program

HOUSTON (Reuters) - Abstinence-only sex education programs, a major plank in President Bush's education plan, have had no impact on teenagers' behavior in his home state of Texas, according to a new study.

Despite taking courses emphasizing abstinence-only themes, teenagers in 29 high schools became increasingly sexually active, mirroring the overall state trends, according to the study conducted by researchers at Texas A&M University.

"We didn't see any strong indications that these programs were having an impact in the direction desired," said Dr. Buzz Pruitt, who directed the study.

The study was delivered to the Texas Department of State Health Services, which commissioned it.

The federal government is expected to spend about $130 million to fund programs advocating abstinence in 2005, despite a lack of evidence that they work, Pruitt said.

"The jury is still out, but most of what we've discovered shows there's no evidence the large amount of money spent is having an effect," he said.

The study showed about 23 percent of ninth-grade girls, typically 13 to 14 years old, had sex before receiving abstinence education. After taking the course, 29 percent of the girls in the same group said they had had sex.

Boys in the tenth grade, about 14 to 15 years old, showed a more marked increase, from 24 percent to 39 percent, after receiving abstinence education.

Abstinence-only programs, which have sprouted up in schools across the nation, cannot offer information about birth control and must promote the social and health benefits of abstaining from sex.

Pruitt said he hoped the study would bring about changes in the content of abstinence-promoting programs.

"These programs seem to be much more concerned about politics than kids, and we need to get over that," he said.

One program technique has been to try to bolster students' self-esteem, based on the theory that self-confident teenagers would not have sex. Those programs, which sometimes do not even mention sex, have shown no effect, Pruitt said.

Other programs that focus on the social norms and expectations appear to be more successful, he said.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Social Security `fix'--the next disaster

By R.C. Longworth, former Tribune senior correspondent and business editor
Published January 23, 2005

President Bush has promised to make Social Security reform the domestic centerpiece of his second term in office. But this reform, to be unveiled next month, shows all the unreality, fiscal irresponsibility and overhyped salesmanship of the keystones of his first term, the war in Iraq and tax cuts for the rich.

Like these two adventures, Social Security reform is a disaster in the making. For that reason, it is necessary to sort the facts from the fiction in this flawed proposal.

No matter what the administration says, there is no Social Security crisis. Social Security isn't broke and doesn't need fixing. It is a system that will run just fine for 40 years, probably more, even if nothing at all is done.

A problem will appear at midcentury, but it's a relatively small problem that is easily fixed. Full-scale reform, on the other hand, would end up killing the system it is meant to save.

In his inaugural address Thursday, Bush said he wants to "build an ownership society" in America, and he has made clear that a key to that would be partial privatization of Social Security.

But he had launched his campaign for partial privatization of Social Security earlier this month with a fear-mongering speech that told young workers, "If you're 20 years old, in your mid-20s, and you're beginning to work, I want you to think about a Social Security system that will be flat bust, bankrupt, unless the United States Congress has got the willingness to act now."

Vice President Dick Cheney followed this up by predicting "fiscal collapse" by 2042, leaving the government no option "other than to suddenly and dramatically reduce benefit payments by over 25 percent, or to impose a massive, economically ruinous tax increase on all American workers."

These two statements, by the two highest officers in the land, are not even remotely true. Here are the facts:

Social Security began in 1935 and has gone a long way toward eliminating poverty among America's elderly. That rate is about 8 percent today, down from 35 percent in 1960.

The payback is not lavish: The typical annual pension for a retired couple amounts to less than $17,000. Better-off retirees supplement it with private investments, but two-thirds of older Americans rely on it for the majority of their income. For most of the elderly, it's insurance, and it works. In an era when most private pensions are tied to the value of an employer's stock, this guarantee is more important than ever.

How it works now

Social Security is basically a pay-as-you-go system, with the taxes paid by today's workers financing pensions for today's retired persons. You pay for your parents' retirement now, and your kids will pay for your retirement later.

Here's where the problem comes in. If you're a typical American, especially if you're a Baby Boomer, you don't have as many kids as your parents did. This means that, when all those Boomers retire in the next two or three decades, there won't be enough younger workers to keep their Social Security pensions fully funded.

This is no surprise. Demographers saw this coming years ago. So did the government. In 1983, the Reagan administration, acting on a recommendation by Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan, raised Social Security taxes higher than necessary, by about 2.2 percent, to build a surplus--a trust fund--to help pay the Boomer pensions.

It worked. There's $1.5 trillion in that trust fund now, all invested in government bonds. It will keep growing until about 2019, when the full flood of Boomer retirements hits, and it begins to shrink.

In about 40 years, this surplus will be gone. Social Security trustees predict it will run out in 2042; the Congressional Budget Office says 2052. It all depends on how fast the economy and wages grow in the meantime, how many immigrants join the workforce and how much longer we live.

This spending of the surplus is what supporters of the Bush privatization plan mean when they talk about a "crisis." It's what Bush means when he says the "Social Security system will be flat bust, bankrupt."

No such thing. Even then, workers will still be paying enough into Social Security each month to finance some 70 to 80 percent of its pensions and other benefits.

But 70 or 80 percent isn't good enough, and that's the problem. Bush and Cheney are right, at least, when they foresee a problem "unless Congress has got the willingness to act now."

Rough look at plan

While the White House so far has spoken in general terms about its plans, most observers expect Bush and Cheney to push Congress to change the pay-as-you-go system by enabling workers to divert up to half their Social Security taxes into private accounts.

The money would no longer go to today's retirees, but would be held in personal accounts that would be invested in the stock market, much like 401(k) accounts are now. No one doubts that Bush eventually wants to privatize all of Social Security.

This is radical reform that might or might not work; Bush's radical approaches to Iraq or taxes haven't worked very well. At the least, it would end Social Security's basic role as a national insurance system, turning it into a semiprivate investment fund.

If there were no other choice, this might be palatable. But ever since Social Security began in 1935, Congress has tinkered with it to keep it solvent; the 1983 Greenspan-inspired trust fund is a good example. There's plenty of tinkering that can be done now to keep it solvent pretty much through the 21st Century.

The easiest is to raise the Social Security tax. Right now that tax is 12.4 percent of paychecks, half paid by workers, half by employers. Raising that tax by about 1.9 percent--split between workers and employers--would solve the problem. (That raise, remember, is less than the 2.2 percent Reagan-Greenspan increase of 1983.)

Another idea is to end the cap on contributions. Workers now pay Social Security taxes only on the first $90,000 of their annual income. That means that anyone earning $90,000 or less--which means most people--pays a 6.2 percent Social Security tax. But a boss earning $900,000 pays only one-tenth as much of his total salary--six-tenths of one percent. This is about as regressive as taxes get. Raising this cap to $140,000 would erase about one-third of the shortfall.

There are lots of other ways to make the system solvent, some mildly painful, none calamitous. Retirees now pay only about 50 to 80 percent of full taxes on Social Security benefits--this tax could be raised. Or the 7 million state and local employees who now have their own pension funds could be included in Social Security, helping fund the system. The annual cost-of-living increase to benefits, which some economists think is unrealistically high, could be lowered.

The official retirement age, which already is being raised from 65 to 67, could be raised further to 70--an idea that probably sounds better to those of us who work at a desk than it does to, say, waitresses or construction workers.

Some economists argue that even these fixes aren't necessary. They say that economic growth and high immigration will keep Social Security solvent forever. But most feel some mix of higher taxes and lower benefits is inevitable--the sooner the better, to minimize the long-term pain.

Well, why inflict any pain at all? Because the reforms are worse.

First, even Bush says that Social Security pensions due to older workers--those above 40, say--must be paid in full: No politician wants to stiff gray-haired voters. But if half the Social Security donations go into private accounts, there won't be enough money going into the system to pay these pensions.

Some privatization advocates favor a sharp tax to make up the difference. But Bush rejects any new taxes and wants to borrow the money--no less than $2 trillion--instead. This would add trillions more to the other trillions in national debt, much of it due to Bush's tax cuts, all of which must eventually be paid by--guess who?--the younger workers who are supposed to benefit from privatization.

But will they benefit? In the long run, stock markets have indeed paid a higher return than government bonds. But retirees don't need their money in the long run. They need it right now, when they retire. If their retirement coincides with a boom market, fine. If not, not so fine.

Stock markets can and do decline, for a decade or more. A lot of people who retired in 2000 to live on the returns of the 1990s boom are back to work now. Presumably, the market will grow again one day, and they can go back to the golf course.

But is this guaranteed? And when will it happen?

At least those Americans who rely on boring old Social Security for their retirement have got all the money they expected.

No one knows how the private accounts will work in practice. Bush says we will "own" them, which means we'll have control. Can we cash them in, to meet a medical emergency or college tuition? Then what happens when we retire? Can we invest them as we wish? If we invest in Singapore derivatives or Florida swampland and get wiped out, will the government let us starve?

Actually, there probably will be rules against cashing in, and Cheney says there will be government "guidelines" on where we can invest. Some "ownership."

Presumably, those "guidelines" will approve normal, solid, profitable companies. Like cigarette companies or (listen up, conservatives!) condom manufacturers. No? Then which companies will get the government seal of approval? And how many conservatives want the government to have this much clout on the stock market?

None of these questions is close to being answered, and they needn't be asked if Social Security is seen as what it is: an insurance plan, not a get-rich-quick scheme. It pays less than the stock market because, unlike the stock market, it's not risky. Its name is Social Security, not Social Maximum Return.

Of all the things wrong with the Bush plan, the worst is the outright lying that has been used to justify it.

White House distortion

The administration claims that Social Security faces a $10 trillion shortfall and only privatization can stave off this calamity. This just isn't true.

The Social Security trustees say that Social Security will find itself $10 trillion short only if the shortfall is allowed to run forever and ever, literally. Actually, the projected shortfall over the next 75 years is $2 trillion, or about three-tenths of 1 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product, assuming that the economy doesn't grow at all in the next 75 years.

This also assumes that Congress does nothing at all to close that shortfall. As we saw above, there's plenty that can be done in the next 40 years to keep that from happening.

At any rate, that $2 trillion shortfall, which probably won't happen, is only one-fifth as big as the cost over the same period if Bush gets his wish to make his tax cuts permanent.

Privatization advocates also warn that Social Security's future rests on trillions of dollars of "unfunded obligations." What they mean is that, when it comes time to pay the pensions, the money won't be there.

Wrong again. As seen above, at least 70 percent will come from normal payroll taxes. The rest comes from that trust fund, which is invested in government bonds: In essence, the government borrows from the fund to pay its bills now, promising to repay when the bonds come due.

To say that these obligations are "unfunded" is to say that the U.S. government will renege on this debt. In fact, the government, unlike a lot of companies that would sell stock to those privatized accounts, has never defaulted on a debt in the nation's history.

There's one more reason to keep Social Security as it is now. It has nothing to do with economics and everything to do with America's soul.

This is a divided nation. So many of the obligations that once held America together have vanished. But Social Security remains, a promise from one generation to another, perhaps the only program that unites the nation in mutual responsibility.

Privatization of Social Security would sever that last remaining tie and make this generational promise just one more item to be bought and sold in the marketplace, which may be exactly what its proponents have in mind.

Someone speaks the truth at Fox News:


Saturday, January 29, 2005

Columnist axed after taking cash to promote Bush plan

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Tribune Media Services will stop distributing columns written by conservative commentator Armstrong Williams because he received money to promote President Bush's education programs, the company said.

Meanwhile, the nation's largest African-American journalists' organization has asked other media outlets that use Williams' work to do the same.

Williams confirmed Friday that he received $240,000 from the Department of Education in exchange for promoting No Child Left Behind, the centerpiece of Bush's education agenda. Williams said the payment was merely for advertising time.

The department defended the deal, claiming its public-relations contractor "sought avenues to reach minority parents."

"The contract paid to provide the straightforward distribution of information about the department's mission on No Child Left Behind, a permissible use of taxpayer funds under legal government contracting procedures," according to a department statement.

The National Association of Black Journalists also called on the White House to rebuke the department's employees.

In a statement, the group of 4,000 members called on all broadcast and print media that carry Williams' work or use him as a commentator -- a group that includes CNN -- to "drop him immediately."

"I thought we in the media were supposed to be watchdogs, not lapdogs," said Bryan Monroe, a vice president of the association. "I thought we had an administration headed by a president who took an oath to uphold the First Amendment, not try to rent it."

Williams is African-American, but NABJ said he is not a member of the organization.

Tribune Media Services, which distributes Williams' column, released a statement saying it was dropping him.

"Accepting compensation in any form from an entity that serves as a subject of his weekly newspaper columns creates, at the very least, the appearance of a conflict of interest," the company said. "Under these circumstances, readers may well ask themselves if the views expressed in his columns are his own, or whether they have been purchased by a third party."

Williams' failure to notify TMS of his receipt of the payments violates his syndication agreement, the company said.

Williams told CNN Friday that some might feel his actions were unethical, but "it was advertising."

Still, he acknowledged the appearance of impropriety.

Williams said his company taped a one-minute commercial with Education Secretary Rod Paige, and he had two one-minute commercial spots in Williams' shows. He said many of his affiliates do not use paid advertising, instead airing only public service announcements.

"He's lost his credibility," said Barbara Ciara, another vice president of the NABJ. "He's tainted fruit. And he's unfairly indicted all commentators who have their own independent opinion, don't need a script from the administration and don't need to be paid off."


Friday, January 28, 2005

Letter from David Brock to Universal Press Syndicate

January 26, 2005

Lee Salem
Executive Vice President and Editor
Universal Press Syndicate
4520 Main Street
Kansas City, MO 64111-7701

Dear Mr. Salem:

I am writing to bring to your attention a report in the January 26 edition of The Washington Post that conservative columnist Maggie Gallagher was paid $21,500 by the U.S. government to promote a Bush administration proposal intended to promote marriage.

Gallagher has acknowledged the payments, has acknowledged that she failed to disclose the payments -- even though, as the Post reported, she "repeatedly defended President Bush's push for a $300 million initiative encouraging marriage" in her columns -- and has acknowledged that she should have disclosed the payments. Yet despite Ms. Gallagher's admission that she was secretly paid by the Bush administration to promote government policies during a period of time when the president was publicly debating those policies, the Post article indicated that Universal Press Syndicate has no plans to drop her column. I respectfully ask that you reconsider, on the grounds that Ms. Gallagher has irrevocably damaged her integrity by taking money to influence the public debate and failing to disclose such payments. Readers have a right to expect that the columns they are reading have not been secretly bought and paid for by the government. If Universal Press does not take any action in this matter, readers will know that the syndicate does not take that expectation seriously.

Yours sincerely,

David Brock
President and CEO
Media Matters for America

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

The White House estimated on January 25, 2005 that the U.S. budget deficit for 2005, including an extra $80 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan operations, will total $427 billion. (Reuters Graphic)


This is what me and my generation will be paying off for a long time. Thanks.

Sign Barbara Boxer's Petition:

Last week, more than 70,000 concerned citizens like you came together to sign my petition and demand the truth from Condoleezza Rice. Your support emboldened me during Dr. Rice's confirmation hearings to ask the tough questions that Americans deserve to have answered. I can't thank you enough, and America can't thank you enough.

Perhaps even more importantly, the groundswell of support you created forced the Republican Senate leadership to give us what we wanted -- not a rubber stamp of Dr. Rice's nomination by voice vote last Thursday before the Republicans dashed off to Inaugural parties, but nine full hours of debate on the floor of the United States Senate.

With your support, our voices are being heard -- in the halls of Congress, in the White House, and across the country. So today I ask for your support once more:

Help me add thousands more signatures to our petition to hold Condoleezza Rice accountable.
Tell your friends, family, neighbors, and colleagues to sign our petition, so that when I stand up on the Senate floor Tuesday and Wednesday, I'm speaking with the power of tens of thousands of Americans behind me.

White House Chief of Staff Andy Card has attacked me as "small" for seeking the truth. But I won't allow this Administration to try to sweep the facts about our failures in Iraq and the war on terrorism under the rug. I'm taking the "advice and consent" role, granted to the Senate in the U.S. Constitution, seriously.

During the full Senate debate over Condoleezza Rice's nomination tomorrow, I intend to take the floor, joined by many other of my Democratic colleagues, to express my frustration about Dr. Rice's lack of candor during the confirmation hearings -- her unwillingness to level with the American people about the misleading statements she made about aluminum tubes, mushroom clouds, and connections between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda to try to justify the war in Iraq.
Condoleezza Rice refused to come clean about the actual number of trained Iraqi forces on the ground. And perhaps even more disturbingly, she refused to tell us why she personally intervened to kill an anti-torture provision in a recent intelligence bill.

I refuse to let these misstatements, misjudgments, and poor decisions go unanswered. So I ask you one last time, before the Senate debate Tuesday and final vote on Wednesday, to tell everyone you know about our petition. Help me find thousands more Americans who are willing to sign our petition and stand with us.

I can't thank you enough for everything you've done over this past week. Now, in these final 48 hours before the vote on Dr. Rice's nomination, I ask for your help once more. Join me as we continue to fight for what's right -- because the process of democracy is as important as the outcome.

In Friendship,

Barbara BoxerU.S. Senator

P.S. After forwarding our petition to everyone you know, be sure to call or email your Senators and encourage them to join us in Tuesday's debate. Americans deserve a full and open debate about Dr. Rice's confirmation, as well as the important issues like Iraq, the war on terrorism, and the use of torture that underlie her nomination.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

The real reason Condi is getting promoted
Look, I know I shouldn't post this but I found it and... well it's really funny so I'm gonna. It really doesn't matter but I just can't help myself on this on. Oh this is so funny cause I bet it's true.


A pressing issue of dinner-party etiquette is vexing Washington, according to a story now making the D.C. rounds: How should you react when your guest, in this case national-security adviser Condoleezza Rice, makes a poignant faux pas? At a recent dinner party hosted by New York Times D.C. bureau chief Philip Taubman and his wife, Times reporter Felicity Barringer, and attended by Arthur Sulzberger Jr., Maureen Dowd, Steven Weisman, and Elisabeth Bumiller, Rice was reportedly overheard saying, “As I was telling my husb—” and then stopping herself abruptly, before saying, “As I was telling President Bush.” Jaws dropped, but a guest says the slip by the unmarried politician, who spends weekends with the president and his wife, seemed more psychologically telling than incriminating. Nobody thinks Bush and Rice are actually an item. A National Security Council spokesman laughed and said, “No comment.” Sorce

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Sign the petition:

Mr. President,
I was surprised and disappointed that you told the Washington Post last week that no Bush administration official should be held accountable for our failures in Iraq. As the situation worsens and more American lives are lost and troops deployed to the region, it's time to stop rewarding incompetence and to start demanding accountability. For the sake of our men and women in uniform and their families here at home, I urge you to start by replacing Donald Rumsfeld. His record of failure and his inability to play it straight with the American people and our troops overseas make him unfit to serve as Secretary of Defense for one more day, never mind four more years.

If you care about restoring our credibility around the world and our credibility with our troops on the ground in Iraq, you've got to start by removing Donald Rumsfeld as Secretary of Defense. That's why I am joining Senator John Kerry and hundreds of thousands of Americans in adding my name to the johnkerry.com petition calling for Rumsfeld's immediate removal from office.

I urge you to act without delay. We can't afford any more auto-penned letters of condolences and shifting stories about what kind of armor we have to protect our troops.
American soliders and their families are counting on you as Commander in Chief to hold those in charge of the war in Iraq to the highest standards.

And forward to as many people as you can:


Tuesday, January 18, 2005


What the Pentagon can now do in secret.

George W. Bush’s reëlection was not his only victory last fall. The President and his national-security advisers have consolidated control over the military and intelligence communities’ strategic analyses and covert operations to a degree unmatched since the rise of the post-Second World War national-security state. Bush has an aggressive and ambitious agenda for using that control—against the mullahs in Iran and against targets in the ongoing war on terrorism—during his second term. The C.I.A. will continue to be downgraded, and the agency will increasingly serve, as one government consultant with close ties to the Pentagon put it, as “facilitators” of policy emanating from President Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney. This process is well under way.

Despite the deteriorating security situation in Iraq, the Bush Administration has not reconsidered its basic long-range policy goal in the Middle East: the establishment of democracy throughout the region. Bush’s reëlection is regarded within the Administration as evidence of America’s support for his decision to go to war. It has reaffirmed the position of the neoconservatives in the Pentagon’s civilian leadership who advocated the invasion, including Paul Wolfowitz, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, and Douglas Feith, the Under-secretary for Policy. According to a former high-level intelligence official, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld met with the Joint Chiefs of Staff shortly after the election and told them, in essence, that the naysayers had been heard and the American people did not accept their message. Rumsfeld added that America was committed to staying in Iraq and that there would be no second-guessing.

“This is a war against terrorism, and Iraq is just one campaign. The Bush Administration is looking at this as a huge war zone,” the former high-level intelligence official told me. “Next, we’re going to have the Iranian campaign. We’ve declared war and the bad guys, wherever they are, are the enemy. This is the last hurrah—we’ve got four years, and want to come out of this saying we won the war on terrorism.”

Bush and Cheney may have set the policy, but it is Rumsfeld who has directed its implementation and has absorbed much of the public criticism when things went wrong—whether it was prisoner abuse in Abu Ghraib or lack of sufficient armor plating for G.I.s’ vehicles in Iraq. Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers have called for Rumsfeld’s dismissal, and he is not widely admired inside the military. Nonetheless, his reappointment as Defense Secretary was never in doubt.

Rumsfeld will become even more important during the second term. In interviews with past and present intelligence and military officials, I was told that the agenda had been determined before the Presidential election, and much of it would be Rumsfeld’s responsibility. The war on terrorism would be expanded, and effectively placed under the Pentagon’s control. The President has signed a series of findings and executive orders authorizing secret commando groups and other Special Forces units to conduct covert operations against suspected terrorist targets in as many as ten nations in the Middle East and South Asia.

The President’s decision enables Rumsfeld to run the operations off the books—free from legal restrictions imposed on the C.I.A. Under current law, all C.I.A. covert activities overseas must be authorized by a Presidential finding and reported to the Senate and House intelligence committees. (The laws were enacted after a series of scandals in the nineteen-seventies involving C.I.A. domestic spying and attempted assassinations of foreign leaders.) “The Pentagon doesn’t feel obligated to report any of this to Congress,” the former high-level intelligence official said. “They don’t even call it ‘covert ops’—it’s too close to the C.I.A. phrase. In their view, it’s ‘black reconnaissance.’ They’re not even going to tell the cincs”—the regional American military commanders-in-chief. (The Defense Department and the White House did not respond to requests for comment on this story.)

In my interviews, I was repeatedly told that the next strategic target was Iran. “Everyone is saying, ‘You can’t be serious about targeting Iran. Look at Iraq,’” the former intelligence official told me. “But they say, ‘We’ve got some lessons learned—not militarily, but how we did it politically. We’re not going to rely on agency pissants.’ No loose ends, and that’s why the C.I.A. is out of there.”

For more than a year, France, Germany, Britain, and other countries in the European Union have seen preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon as a race against time—and against the Bush Administration. They have been negotiating with the Iranian leadership to give up its nuclear-weapons ambitions in exchange for economic aid and trade benefits. Iran has agreed to temporarily halt its enrichment programs, which generate fuel for nuclear power plants but also could produce weapons-grade fissile material. (Iran claims that such facilities are legal under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, or N.P.T., to which it is a signator, and that it has no intention of building a bomb.) But the goal of the current round of talks, which began in December in Brussels, is to persuade Tehran to go further, and dismantle its machinery. Iran insists, in return, that it needs to see some concrete benefits from the Europeans—oil-production technology, heavy-industrial equipment, and perhaps even permission to purchase a fleet of Airbuses. (Iran has been denied access to technology and many goods owing to sanctions.)

The Europeans have been urging the Bush Administration to join in these negotiations. The Administration has refused to do so. The civilian leadership in the Pentagon has argued that no diplomatic progress on the Iranian nuclear threat will take place unless there is a credible threat of military action. “The neocons say negotiations are a bad deal,” a senior official of the International Atomic Energy Agency (I.A.E.A.) told me. “And the only thing the Iranians understand is pressure. And that they also need to be whacked.”

The core problem is that Iran has successfully hidden the extent of its nuclear program, and its progress. Many Western intelligence agencies, including those of the United States, believe that Iran is at least three to five years away from a capability to independently produce nuclear warheads—although its work on a missile-delivery system is far more advanced. Iran is also widely believed by Western intelligence agencies and the I.A.E.A. to have serious technical problems with its weapons system, most notably in the production of the hexafluoride gas needed to fabricate nuclear warheads.

A retired senior C.I.A. official, one of many who left the agency recently, told me that he was familiar with the assessments, and confirmed that Iran is known to be having major difficulties in its weapons work. He also acknowledged that the agency’s timetable for a nuclear Iran matches the European estimates—assuming that Iran gets no outside help. “The big wild card for us is that you don’t know who is capable of filling in the missing parts for them,” the recently retired official said. “North Korea? Pakistan? We don’t know what parts are missing.”

One Western diplomat told me that the Europeans believed they were in what he called a “lose-lose position” as long as the United States refuses to get involved. “France, Germany, and the U.K. cannot succeed alone, and everybody knows it,” the diplomat said. “If the U.S. stays outside, we don’t have enough leverage, and our effort will collapse.” The alternative would be to go to the Security Council, but any resolution imposing sanctions would likely be vetoed by China or Russia, and then “the United Nations will be blamed and the Americans will say, ‘The only solution is to bomb.’”

A European Ambassador noted that President Bush is scheduled to visit Europe in February, and that there has been public talk from the White House about improving the President’s relationship with America’s E.U. allies. In that context, the Ambassador told me, “I’m puzzled by the fact that the United States is not helping us in our program. How can Washington maintain its stance without seriously taking into account the weapons issue?”

The Israeli government is, not surprisingly, skeptical of the European approach. Silvan Shalom, the Foreign Minister, said in an interview last week in Jerusalem,with another New Yorker journalist, “I don’t like what’s happening. We were encouraged at first when the Europeans got involved. For a long time, they thought it was just Israel’s problem. But then they saw that the [Iranian] missiles themselves were longer range and could reach all of Europe, and they became very concerned. Their attitude has been to use the carrot and the stick—but all we see so far is the carrot.” He added, “If they can’t comply, Israel cannot live with Iran having a nuclear bomb.”

In a recent essay, Patrick Clawson, an Iran expert who is the deputy director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (and a supporter of the Administration), articulated the view that force, or the threat of it, was a vital bargaining tool with Iran. Clawson wrote that if Europe wanted coöperation with the Bush Administration it “would do well to remind Iran that the military option remains on the table.” He added that the argument that the European negotiations hinged on Washington looked like “a preëmptive excuse for the likely breakdown of the E.U.-Iranian talks.” In a subsequent conversation with me, Clawson suggested that, if some kind of military action was inevitable, “it would be much more in Israel’s interest—and Washington’s—to take covert action. The style of this Administration is to use overwhelming force—‘shock and awe.’ But we get only one bite of the apple.”

There are many military and diplomatic experts who dispute the notion that military action, on whatever scale, is the right approach. Shahram Chubin, an Iranian scholar who is the director of research at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, told me, “It’s a fantasy to think that there’s a good American or Israeli military option in Iran.” He went on, “The Israeli view is that this is an international problem. ‘You do it,’ they say to the West. ‘Otherwise, our Air Force will take care of it.’” In 1981, the Israeli Air Force destroyed Iraq’s Osirak reactor, setting its nuclear program back several years. But the situation now is both more complex and more dangerous, Chubin said. The Osirak bombing “drove the Iranian nuclear-weapons program underground, to hardened, dispersed sites,” he said. “You can’t be sure after an attack that you’ll get away with it. The U.S. and Israel would not be certain whether all the sites had been hit, or how quickly they’d be rebuilt. Meanwhile, they’d be waiting for an Iranian counter-attack that could be military or terrorist or diplomatic. Iran has long-range missiles and ties to Hezbollah, which has drones—you can’t begin to think of what they’d do in response.”

Chubin added that Iran could also renounce the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. “It’s better to have them cheating within the system,” he said. “Otherwise, as victims, Iran will walk away from the treaty and inspections while the rest of the world watches the N.P.T. unravel before their eyes.”

The Administration has been conducting secret reconnaissance missions inside Iran at least since last summer. Much of the focus is on the accumulation of intelligence and targeting information on Iranian nuclear, chemical, and missile sites, both declared and suspected. The goal is to identify and isolate three dozen, and perhaps more, such targets that could be destroyed by precision strikes and short-term commando raids. “The civilians in the Pentagon want to go into Iran and destroy as much of the military infrastructure as possible,” the government consultant with close ties to the Pentagon told me.

Some of the missions involve extraordinary coöperation. For example, the former high-level intelligence official told me that an American commando task force has been set up in South Asia and is now working closely with a group of Pakistani scientists and technicians who had dealt with Iranian counterparts. (In 2003, the I.A.E.A. disclosed that Iran had been secretly receiving nuclear technology from Pakistan for more than a decade, and had withheld that information from inspectors.) The American task force, aided by the information from Pakistan, has been penetrating eastern Iran from Afghanistan in a hunt for underground installations. The task-force members, or their locally recruited agents, secreted remote detection devices—known as sniffers—capable of sampling the atmosphere for radioactive emissions and other evidence of nuclear-enrichment programs.

Getting such evidence is a pressing concern for the Bush Administration. The former high-level intelligence official told me, “They don’t want to make any W.M.D. intelligence mistakes, as in Iraq. The Republicans can’t have two of those. There’s no education in the second kick of a mule.” The official added that the government of Pervez Musharraf, the Pakistani President, has won a high price for its coöperation—American assurance that Pakistan will not have to hand over A. Q. Khan, known as the father of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb, to the I.A.E.A. or to any other international authorities for questioning. For two decades, Khan has been linked to a vast consortium of nuclear-black-market activities. Last year, Musharraf professed to be shocked when Khan, in the face of overwhelming evidence, “confessed” to his activities. A few days later, Musharraf pardoned him, and so far he has refused to allow the I.A.E.A. or American intelligence to interview him. Khan is now said to be living under house arrest in a villa in Islamabad. “It’s a deal—a trade-off,” the former high-level intelligence official explained. “‘Tell us what you know about Iran and we will let your A. Q. Khan guys go.’ It’s the neoconservatives’ version of short-term gain at long-term cost. They want to prove that Bush is the anti-terrorism guy who can handle Iran and the nuclear threat, against the long-term goal of eliminating the black market for nuclear proliferation.”

The agreement comes at a time when Musharraf, according to a former high-level Pakistani diplomat, has authorized the expansion of Pakistan’s nuclear-weapons arsenal. “Pakistan still needs parts and supplies, and needs to buy them in the clandestine market,” the former diplomat said. “The U.S. has done nothing to stop it.”

There has also been close, and largely unacknowledged, coöperation with Israel. The government consultant with ties to the Pentagon said that the Defense Department civilians, under the leadership of Douglas Feith, have been working with Israeli planners and consultants to develop and refine potential nuclear, chemical-weapons, and missile targets inside Iran. (After Osirak, Iran situated many of its nuclear sites in remote areas of the east, in an attempt to keep them out of striking range of other countries, especially Israel. Distance no longer lends such protection, however: Israel has acquired three submarines capable of launching cruise missiles and has equipped some of its aircraft with additional fuel tanks, putting Israeli F-16I fighters within the range of most Iranian targets.)

“They believe that about three-quarters of the potential targets can be destroyed from the air, and a quarter are too close to population centers, or buried too deep, to be targeted,” the consultant said. Inevitably, he added, some suspicious sites need to be checked out by American or Israeli commando teams—in on-the-ground surveillance—before being targeted.

The Pentagon’s contingency plans for a broader invasion of Iran are also being updated. Strategists at the headquarters of the U.S. Central Command, in Tampa, Florida, have been asked to revise the military’s war plan, providing for a maximum ground and air invasion of Iran. Updating the plan makes sense, whether or not the Administration intends to act, because the geopolitics of the region have changed dramatically in the last three years. Previously, an American invasion force would have had to enter Iran by sea, by way of the Persian Gulf or the Gulf of Oman; now troops could move in on the ground, from Afghanistan or Iraq. Commando units and other assets could be introduced through new bases in the Central Asian republics.

It is possible that some of the American officials who talk about the need to eliminate Iran’s nuclear infrastructure are doing so as part of a propaganda campaign aimed at pressuring Iran to give up its weapons planning. If so, the signals are not always clear. President Bush, who after 9/11 famously depicted Iran as a member of the “axis of evil,” is now publicly emphasizing the need for diplomacy to run its course. “We don’t have much leverage with the Iranians right now,” the President said at a news conference late last year. “Diplomacy must be the first choice, and always the first choice of an administration trying to solve an issue of . . . nuclear armament. And we’ll continue to press on diplomacy.”

In my interviews over the past two months, I was given a much harsher view. The hawks in the Administration believe that it will soon become clear that the Europeans’ negotiated approach cannot succeed, and that at that time the Administration will act. “We’re not dealing with a set of National Security Council option papers here,” the former high-level intelligence official told me. “They’ve already passed that wicket. It’s not if we’re going to do anything against Iran. They’re doing it.”

The immediate goals of the attacks would be to destroy, or at least temporarily derail, Iran’s ability to go nuclear. But there are other, equally purposeful, motives at work. The government consultant told me that the hawks in the Pentagon, in private discussions, have been urging a limited attack on Iran because they believe it could lead to a toppling of the religious leadership. “Within the soul of Iran there is a struggle between secular nationalists and reformers, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the fundamentalist Islamic movement,” the consultant told me. “The minute the aura of invincibility which the mullahs enjoy is shattered, and with it the ability to hoodwink the West, the Iranian regime will collapse”—like the former Communist regimes in Romania, East Germany, and the Soviet Union. Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz share that belief, he said.

“The idea that an American attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities would produce a popular uprising is extremely illinformed,” said Flynt Leverett, a Middle East scholar who worked on the National Security Council in the Bush Administration. “You have to understand that the nuclear ambition in Iran is supported across the political spectrum, and Iranians will perceive attacks on these sites as attacks on their ambitions to be a major regional player and a modern nation that’s technologically sophisticated.” Leverett, who is now a senior fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy, at the Brookings Institution, warned that an American attack, if it takes place, “will produce an Iranian backlash against the United States and a rallying around the regime.”

Rumsfeld planned and lobbied for more than two years before getting Presidential authority, in a series of findings and executive orders, to use military commandos for covert operations. One of his first steps was bureaucratic: to shift control of an undercover unit, known then as the Gray Fox (it has recently been given a new code name), from the Army to the Special Operations Command (socom), in Tampa. Gray Fox was formally assigned to socom in July, 2002, at the instigation of Rumsfeld’s office, which meant that the undercover unit would have a single commander for administration and operational deployment. Then, last fall, Rumsfeld’s ability to deploy the commandos expanded. According to a Pentagon consultant, an Execute Order on the Global War on Terrorism (referred to throughout the government as gwot) was issued at Rumsfeld’s direction. The order specifically authorized the military “to find and finish” terrorist targets, the consultant said. It included a target list that cited Al Qaeda network members, Al Qaeda senior leadership, and other high-value targets. The consultant said that the order had been cleared throughout the national-security bureaucracy in Washington.

In late November, 2004, the Times reported that Bush had set up an interagency group to study whether it “would best serve the nation” to give the Pentagon complete control over the C.I.A.’s own élite paramilitary unit, which has operated covertly in trouble spots around the world for decades. The panel’s conclusions, due in February, are foregone, in the view of many former C.I.A. officers. “It seems like it’s going to happen,” Howard Hart, who was chief of the C.I.A.’s Paramilitary Operations Division before retiring in 1991, told me.

There was other evidence of Pentagon encroachment. Two former C.I.A. clandestine officers, Vince Cannistraro and Philip Giraldi, who publish Intelligence Brief, a newsletter for their business clients, reported last month on the existence of a broad counter-terrorism Presidential finding that permitted the Pentagon “to operate unilaterally in a number of countries where there is a perception of a clear and evident terrorist threat. . . . A number of the countries are friendly to the U.S. and are major trading partners. Most have been cooperating in the war on terrorism.” The two former officers listed some of the countries—Algeria, Sudan, Yemen, Syria, and Malaysia. (I was subsequently told by the former high-level intelligence official that Tunisia is also on the list.)

Giraldi, who served three years in military intelligence before joining the C.I.A., said that he was troubled by the military’s expanded covert assignment. “I don’t think they can handle the cover,” he told me. “They’ve got to have a different mind-set. They’ve got to handle new roles and get into foreign cultures and learn how other people think. If you’re going into a village and shooting people, it doesn’t matter,” Giraldi added. “But if you’re running operations that involve finesse and sensitivity, the military can’t do it. Which is why these kind of operations were always run out of the agency.” I was told that many Special Operations officers also have serious misgivings.

Rumsfeld and two of his key deputies, Stephen Cambone, the Under-secretary of Defense for Intelligence, and Army Lieutenant General William G. (Jerry) Boykin, will be part of the chain of command for the new commando operations. Relevant members of the House and Senate intelligence committees have been briefed on the Defense Department’s expanded role in covert affairs, a Pentagon adviser assured me, but he did not know how extensive the briefings had been.

“I’m conflicted about the idea of operating without congressional oversight,” the Pentagon adviser said. “But I’ve been told that there will be oversight down to the specific operation.” A second Pentagon adviser agreed, with a significant caveat. “There are reporting requirements,” he said. “But to execute the finding we don’t have to go back and say, ‘We’re going here and there.’ No nitty-gritty detail and no micromanagement.”

The legal questions about the Pentagon’s right to conduct covert operations without informing Congress have not been resolved. “It’s a very, very gray area,” said Jeffrey H. Smith, a West Point graduate who served as the C.I.A.’s general counsel in the mid-nineteen-nineties. “Congress believes it voted to include all such covert activities carried out by the armed forces. The military says, ‘No, the things we’re doing are not intelligence actions under the statute but necessary military steps authorized by the President, as Commander-in-Chief, to “prepare the battlefield.”’” Referring to his days at the C.I.A., Smith added, “We were always careful not to use the armed forces in a covert action without a Presidential finding. The Bush Administration has taken a much more aggressive stance.”

In his conversation with me, Smith emphasized that he was unaware of the military’s current plans for expanding covert action. But he said, “Congress has always worried that the Pentagon is going to get us involved in some military misadventure that nobody knows about.”

Under Rumsfeld’s new approach, I was told, U.S. military operatives would be permitted to pose abroad as corrupt foreign businessmen seeking to buy contraband items that could be used in nuclear-weapons systems. In some cases, according to the Pentagon advisers, local citizens could be recruited and asked to join up with guerrillas or terrorists. This could potentially involve organizing and carrying out combat operations, or even terrorist activities. Some operations will likely take place in nations in which there is an American diplomatic mission, with an Ambassador and a C.I.A. station chief, the Pentagon consultant said. The Ambassador and the station chief would not necessarily have a need to know, under the Pentagon’s current interpretation of its reporting requirement.

The new rules will enable the Special Forces community to set up what it calls “action teams” in the target countries overseas which can be used to find and eliminate terrorist organizations. “Do you remember the right-wing execution squads in El Salvador?” the former high-level intelligence official asked me, referring to the military-led gangs that committed atrocities in the early nineteen-eighties. “We founded them and we financed them,” he said. “The objective now is to recruit locals in any area we want. And we aren’t going to tell Congress about it.” A former military officer, who has knowledge of the Pentagon’s commando capabilities, said, “We’re going to be riding with the bad boys.”

One of the rationales for such tactics was spelled out in a series of articles by John Arquilla, a professor of defense analysis at the Naval Postgraduate School, in Monterey, California, and a consultant on terrorism for the rand corporation. “It takes a network to fight a network,” Arquilla wrote in a recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle:

When conventional military operations and bombing failed to defeat the Mau Mau insurgency in Kenya in the 1950s, the British formed teams of friendly Kikuyu tribesmen who went about pretending to be terrorists. These “pseudo gangs,” as they were called, swiftly threw the Mau Mau on the defensive, either by befriending and then ambushing bands of fighters or by guiding bombers to the terrorists’ camps. What worked in Kenya a half-century ago has a wonderful chance of undermining trust and recruitment among today’s terror networks. Forming new pseudo gangs should not be difficult.

“If a confused young man from Marin County can join up with Al Qaeda,” Arquilla wrote, referring to John Walker Lindh, the twenty-year-old Californian who was seized in Afghanistan, “think what professional operatives might do.”

A few pilot covert operations were conducted last year, one Pentagon adviser told me, and a terrorist cell in Algeria was “rolled up” with American help. The adviser was referring, apparently, to the capture of Ammari Saifi, known as Abderrezak le Para, the head of a North African terrorist network affiliated with Al Qaeda. But at the end of the year there was no agreement within the Defense Department about the rules of engagement. “The issue is approval for the final authority,” the former high-level intelligence official said. “Who gets to say ‘Get this’ or ‘Do this’?”

A retired four-star general said, “The basic concept has always been solid, but how do you insure that the people doing it operate within the concept of the law? This is pushing the edge of the envelope.” The general added, “It’s the oversight. And you’re not going to get Warner”—John Warner, of Virginia, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee—“and those guys to exercise oversight. This whole thing goes to the Fourth Deck.” He was referring to the floor in the Pentagon where Rumsfeld and Cambone have their offices.

“It’s a finesse to give power to Rumsfeld—giving him the right to act swiftly, decisively, and lethally,” the first Pentagon adviser told me. “It’s a global free-fire zone.”

The Pentagon has tried to work around the limits on covert activities before. In the early nineteen-eighties, a covert Army unit was set up and authorized to operate overseas with minimal oversight. The results were disastrous. The Special Operations program was initially known as Intelligence Support Activity, or I.S.A., and was administered from a base near Washington (as was, later, Gray Fox). It was established soon after the failed rescue, in April, 1980, of the American hostages in Iran, who were being held by revolutionary students after the Islamic overthrow of the Shah’s regime. At first, the unit was kept secret from many of the senior generals and civilian leaders in the Pentagon, as well as from many members of Congress. It was eventually deployed in the Reagan Administration’s war against the Sandinista government, in Nicaragua. It was heavily committed to supporting the Contras. By the mid-eighties, however, the I.S.A.’s operations had been curtailed, and several of its senior officers were courtmartialled following a series of financial scandals, some involving arms deals. The affair was known as “the Yellow Fruit scandal,” after the code name given to one of the I.S.A.’s cover organizations—and in many ways the group’s procedures laid the groundwork for the Iran-Contra scandal.

Despite the controversy surrounding Yellow Fruit, the I.S.A. was kept intact as an undercover unit by the Army. “But we put so many restrictions on it,” the second Pentagon adviser said. “In I.S.A., if you wanted to travel fifty miles you had to get a special order. And there were certain areas, such as Lebanon, where they could not go.” The adviser acknowledged that the current operations are similar to those two decades earlier, with similar risks—and, as he saw it, similar reasons for taking the risks. “What drove them then, in terms of Yellow Fruit, was that they had no intelligence on Iran,” the adviser told me. “They had no knowledge of Tehran and no people on the ground who could prepare the battle space.”

Rumsfeld’s decision to revive this approach stemmed, once again, from a failure of intelligence in the Middle East, the adviser said. The Administration believed that the C.I.A. was unable, or unwilling, to provide the military with the information it needed to effectively challenge stateless terrorism. “One of the big challenges was that we didn’t have Humint”—human intelligence—“collection capabilities in areas where terrorists existed,” the adviser told me. “Because the C.I.A. claimed to have such a hold on Humint, the way to get around them, rather than take them on, was to claim that the agency didn’t do Humint to support Special Forces operations overseas. The C.I.A. fought it.” Referring to Rumsfeld’s new authority for covert operations, the first Pentagon adviser told me, “It’s not empowering military intelligence. It’s emasculating the C.I.A.”

A former senior C.I.A. officer depicted the agency’s eclipse as predictable. “For years, the agency bent over backward to integrate and coördinate with the Pentagon,” the former officer said. “We just caved and caved and got what we deserved. It is a fact of life today that the Pentagon is a five-hundred-pound gorilla and the C.I.A. director is a chimpanzee.”

There was pressure from the White House, too. A former C.I.A. clandestine-services officer told me that, in the months after the resignation of the agency’s director George Tenet, in June, 2004, the White House began “coming down critically” on analysts in the C.I.A.’s Directorate of Intelligence (D.I.) and demanded “to see more support for the Administration’s political position.” Porter Goss, Tenet’s successor, engaged in what the recently retired C.I.A. official described as a “political purge” in the D.I. Among the targets were a few senior analysts who were known to write dissenting papers that had been forwarded to the White House. The recently retired C.I.A. official said, “The White House carefully reviewed the political analyses of the D.I. so they could sort out the apostates from the true believers.” Some senior analysts in the D.I. have turned in their resignations—quietly, and without revealing the extent of the disarray.

The White House solidified its control over intelligence last month, when it forced last-minute changes in the intelligence-reform bill. The legislation, based substantially on recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, originally gave broad powers, including authority over intelligence spending, to a new national-intelligence director. (The Pentagon controls roughly eighty per cent of the intelligence budget.) A reform bill passed in the Senate by a vote of 96-2. Before the House voted, however, Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld balked. The White House publicly supported the legislation, but House Speaker Dennis Hastert refused to bring a House version of the bill to the floor for a vote—ostensibly in defiance of the President, though it was widely understood in Congress that Hastert had been delegated to stall the bill. After intense White House and Pentagon lobbying, the legislation was rewritten. The bill that Congress approved sharply reduced the new director’s power, in the name of permitting the Secretary of Defense to maintain his “statutory responsibilities.” Fred Kaplan, in the online magazine Slate, described the real issues behind Hastert’s action, quoting a congressional aide who expressed amazement as White House lobbyists bashed the Senate bill and came up “with all sorts of ludicrous reasons why it was unacceptable.”

“Rummy’s plan was to get a compromise in the bill in which the Pentagon keeps its marbles and the C.I.A. loses theirs,” the former high-level intelligence official told me. “Then all the pieces of the puzzle fall in place. He gets authority for covert action that is not attributable, the ability to directly task national-intelligence assets”—including the many intelligence satellites that constantly orbit the world.

“Rumsfeld will no longer have to refer anything through the government’s intelligence wringer,” the former official went on. “The intelligence system was designed to put competing agencies in competition. What’s missing will be the dynamic tension that insures everyone’s priorities—in the C.I.A., the D.O.D., the F.B.I., and even the Department of Homeland Security—are discussed. The most insidious implication of the new system is that Rumsfeld no longer has to tell people what he’s doing so they can ask, ‘Why are you doing this?’ or ‘What are your priorities?’ Now he can keep all of the mattress mice out of it.”

Monday, January 17, 2005

In honor of Martin Luther King:

(Insert "Iraq" for "Vietnam")

"Somehow this madness must cease. We must stop now. I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor of Vietnam. I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose culture is being subverted. I speak for the poor of America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home and death and corruption in Vietnam. I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as an American to the leaders of my own nation. The great initiative in this war is ours. The initiative to stop it must be ours.

The world now demands a maturity of America that we may not be able to achieve. It demands that we admit that we have been wrong from the beginning of our adventure in Vietnam, that we have been detrimental to the life of the Vietnamese people. The situation is one in which we must be ready to turn sharply from our present ways."

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