What a difference a couple weeks make. On May 22 the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee approved legislation on a party-line 9-7 vote to create a Cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security. Republicans opposed the bill on orders from the White House, which had resisted creation of a Cabinet-level department for nine months. On May 30, current Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge, who has resisted testifying to Congress about his activities, told the National Journal he would advise President Bush to veto any legislation creating a congressionally authorized Office of Homeland Security. "I believe that the president and future presidents always would be well served having an adviser coordinating the actions among [the] multiple agencies" charged with protecting homeland security. "I don't think you get that if you are accountable to Congress," Ridge said. Then on June 6, the morning Congress was scheduled to hear from FBI whistleblower Coleen Rowley on obstruction of an FBI investigation that might have uncovered the Sept. 11 terrorist attack, George W. Bush all of a sudden announces that he wants legislation to create the new Department of Homeland Security, which dominated newscasts and pushed the FBI whistleblower "below the fold" of the next day's newspapers.
WHITE HOUSE ANTHRAX PROBE. The conservative group Judicial Watch is suing the Bush administration for access to documents about last fall's anthrax attacks, asserting that top officials might have known the bioterrorist attack was coming. Judicial Watch, which also has sued for documents about Vice President Cheney's energy task force, says it represents US postal workers at the Brentwood post office in the District. Two workers from Brentwood died of inhalation anthrax before officials closed the site, which had handled anthrax-laden letters headed to Capitol Hill. Larry Klayman, chairman of Judicial Watch, noted that some White House staff members had begun taking the antibiotic Cipro on Sept. 11, several weeks before the anthrax attacks were made public. "We believe that the White House knew or had reason to know that an anthrax attack was imminent or underway," Klayman said, according to the Associated Press June 8. "We want to know what the government knew and when they knew it."
The first case of anthrax was reported Oct. 4, 2001, when Bob Stevens, a photo editor for American Media's tabloid Sun, was stricken. He later died. Letters containing powdered anthrax arrived at the New York City headquarters of ABC News, CBS News, and the New York Post. The morning of Oct 15, as the Senate was finishing work on the USA PATRIOT Bill, an envelope containing a suspicious substance later confirmed to be anthrax spores was opened in Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle office. Another envelope addressed to Sen. Pat Leahy, Judiciary chairman, and containing anthrax spores similar to that used by US military researchers was found in a batch of segregated, unopened mail. Six D.C. postal workers contracted inhalation anthrax; two died, and four recovered.
MORE 9/11 WHISTLEBLOWERS. Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said June 9 "significant numbers of people" from inside the government were coming forward with new information on US intelligence failures related to the Sept. 11 attacks on America, following the lead of FBI whistle-blower Coleen Rowley. Graham also said it was becoming clear "there are some people who deserve to get sanctions as a result of what they were doing before Sept. 11."
Sen. Richard Shelby, the ranking Republican on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said failures extended beyond the FBI and CIA to the super-secret National Security Agency and elsewhere. Knight Ridder Newspapers reported June 6 that the NSA monitored telephone conversations before Sept. 11 between the suspected commander of the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks and the alleged chief hijacker, but did not share the information with other intelligence agencies.
Shelby also said the sweeping plan for a new Department of Homeland Security proposed by President Bush did not effectively address the failures of intelligence-gathering uncovered so far.
Meanwhile, FBI Director Robert S. Mueller suggested that Congress expand surveillance powers put into law only seven months ago. He said it could take two or three years to bring FBI computer systems up to standards needed to deal with information efficiently.
AL-QAEDA MONITORED AFGHAN PIPELINE TALKS. A 1998 memo written by al-Qaeda military chief Mohammed Atef reveals that Osama bin Laden's group had detailed knowledge of negotiations that were taking place between Afghanistan's ruling Taliban and American government and business leaders over plans for a US oil and gas pipeline across that Central Asian country, Jean-Charles Brisard reported at Salon.com on June 5. The e-mail memo was found in 1998 on a computer seized by the FBI during its investigation into the 1998 African embassy bombings, which were sponsored by al-Qaeda. Atef's memo was discovered by FBI counter-terrorism expert John O'Neill, who left the bureau in 2001, complaining that US oil interests were hindering his investigation into al-Qaeda. O'Neill, who became security chief at the World Trade Center, died in the Sept. 11 attack. Brisard wrote that the Clinton administration negotiated with the Taliban, both to get the repressive regime to widen its government as well as look favorably on US companies' attempts to construct an oil pipeline. The Clinton administration denounced the regime after the 1998 embassy bombings and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright turned up the heat on Taliban human rights abuses. The Bush White House resumed negotiations with the Taliban in 2001. When those talks stalled in July, a Bush administration representative threatened the Taliban with military reprisals if the government did not go along with American demands. The memo raised questions as to whether the US military threat to the Taliban in July 2001 could have prompted al-Qaeda's Sept. 11 attack.
US TROOPS TARGETED 'HOSTILE' WOMEN AND CHILDREN. When the Ithaca, N.Y., Journal interviewed Army Private Matt Guckenheimer, 22, on his return home after two missions in Eastern Afghanistan, he spoke candidly about the reality of war --perhaps too candidly as Guckenheimer recounted how he was sent on March 6 in a company of more than 100 soldiers to participate in the largest US-led ground engagement in Eastern Afghanistan. "We were told there were no friendly forces," said Guckenheimer in the May 25 article. "If there was anybody there, they were the enemy. We were told specifically that if there were women and children to kill them." On June 4, in a Journal follow-up, Guckenheimer clarified that US soldiers were only supposed to kill women and children who showed "hostile intent."
GREEN MISSES MASS. MONEY. Jill Stein, Green Party candidate for governor in Massachusetts, may have missed a chance to get as much as $3.4 million in public financing for her campaign after she filed to file the required 6,000 certified small contributions by a June 4 deadline, the Boston Globe reported. The campaign had submitted only 5,666 certified contribution forms, each recording a contribution of between $5 and $100 by a registered voter, to the office of campaign and political finance. Hundreds of other qualifying contribution forms were still in city and town halls across the state. Volunteers dropped them off weeks ago to be certified by municipal officials in 351 cities and towns, but some failed to retrieve them. Campaigns are required to pick up the forms in their cities and towns, and bring them to Boston. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Warren Tolman, a former state senator, qualified for Clean Elections funds months ago.
USAF OFFICER: W KNEW ABOUT ATTACKS. An Air Force officer was relieved from duties at the Presidio of Monterey and threatened with court martial after a newspaper published his letter to the editor accusing President George W. Bush of having advance knowledge of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Lt. Col. Steve Butler was vice chancellor for student affairs at the Defense Language Institute when he wrote the letter, which was published in the Monterey Herald on May 26. The letter accused Bush of allowing the attacks to occur for political reasons.
It reads in part: "Of course Bush knew about the impending attacks on America. He did nothing to warn the American people because he needed this war on terrorism. His daddy had Saddam and he needed Osama.
"His presidency was going nowhere. He wasn't elected by the American people, but placed into the Oval Office by the conservative Supreme Court (if you really want to know why the justices voted like they did, I suggest 'Supreme Injustice' by Alan Dershowitz), the economy was sliding into the usual Republican pits and he needed something to hang his presidency on." Butler's letter called the president's course of action "sleazy and contemptible." Butler reportedly planned to retire after 24 years in the Air Force, including duty as a combat pilot in Desert Storm. The last Article 88 court-martial for contempt of the president was in 1965 when an Army second lieutenant was prosecuted for taking part in an anti-war protest in Texas.
Article 88 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice says that "any commissioned officer who uses contemptuous words against the president, the vice president, Congress, the secretary of defense, the secretary of a military department, the secretary of transportation or the governor or legislature of any state, territory, commonwealth, or possession in which he is on duty or present shall be punished as a court-martial may direct." The last Article 88 court-martial came in 1965 when an Army second lieutenant was prosecuted for taking part in an anti-war protest in Texas.
R'S BENEFIT FROM CAMPAIGN REFORM. The doubling of "hard money" contributions to federal candidates which was part of the campaign finance legislation will benefit Republican candidates more than Democrats, Thomas Edsall wrote in the June 3 Washington Post. A survey of donors, described by Clyde Wilcox of Georgetown University, John C. Green of the University of Akron and four others, found that 15% of the respondents said they would capitalize on the new contributing limits of $2,000. These "expanded givers" were decisively more Republican --including more men --and were wealthier than the entire sample.
The new law is also expected to increase the influence of shadowy "527" political organizations, named for a section of the IRS code, as the political parties themselves and members of Congress are prohibited from raising soft money. "527s," which can still accept unlimited contributions from unions, corporations and wealthy individuals, scrambled to collect nearly $11 million in soft money during the first three months of 2002 as they prepared for the November congressional elections, according Public Citizen.
Since July 1, 2000, when "527" committees were first required to file reports, the top "non-politician 527s," which will be able to continue operation after the campaign law takes effect, are the AFSCME Special Account, associated with the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, which has raised $16.5 million since June 1, 2000; Pro-Choice Vote, an abortion rights group funded entirely by Jane Fonda, which raised $12.7 million; Planned Parenthood Votes, an abortion rights group that raised $7.2 million; and Emily's List, which backs the election of Democratic women who support abortion rights and which raised $6.2 million.
On the GOP side, ARMPAC, the 527 committee affiliated with House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (Tex.), raised nearly $400,000 during the first quarter, including $50,000 from Philip Morris, $25,000 from U.S. Tobacco and $25,000 from BellSouth. Tobacco, pharmaceutical and telecommunications companies dominated the flow of money to 527 committees associated with members of Congress, while unions, wealthy individuals and the parties were the major donors to the non-affiliated 527 committees, according to the Public Citizen survey. But right-wing money is expected to be redirected into conservative 527 committees as the new law takes effect.