Jason Vest

February 27, 2005

Almost immediately after John Negroponte was announced as George W. Bush's pick for director of national intelligence (DNI), the blogosphere exploded with postings and articles exhuming Negroponte's dark, proconsul-like stint as Ronald Reagan's ambassador to Honduras from 1981 to 1985. This is, of course, entirely proper and germane: it's certainly worth reminding the world that the guy who will have ostensible control of the entire US intelligence apparatus — elements of which are currently operating a global archipelago of clandestine interrogation centers — has a history that includes enabling death squads and sacrificing facts on the altar of political convenience.

But the sad fact (to liberals, anyway) is that none of this is news — and rehashing it isn't likely to impede Negroponte's Senate confirmation. According to a number of active and retired career intelligence officials, however, Negroponte-haters need not worry. Actually, they say, a stint as DNI could very well be the career diplomat's Waterloo, illustrating just how poorly conceived the "bipartisan reforms" meted out by the 9/11 Commission and Congress really are.

July 18, 2004

Ever since The Guardian of London revealed almost two weeks ago that "Anonymous," the author of the soon-to-be-published Imperial Hubris: Why the West Is Losing the War on Terror (Brassey's, Inc.), is a CIA figure "centrally involved in the hunt for Bin Laden," the American press has been playing catch-up — yet in a strangely coy sort of way.

Public interest in the book itself isn't at all hard to understand: it's not every day that an active US intelligence officer publishes a work that disputes the Bush administration's assertions, holding that, among other things, bin Laden is not on the run; the invasion of Iraq has not made the United States safer; and that Islamists are in a campaign of insurgency, not terrorism, against the US because of US policies, not out of hatred for American values. But what's a bit harder to grasp is exactly why the media seem so reflexively deferential to the idea that "Anonymous" must be anonymous — especially when critical details revealed in a June 23 New York Times story indicated that his real identity is well-known to at least a few denizens of the Washington press corps.

July 18, 2004

Based on some of the interviews with Imperial Hubris author Anonymous (CIA officer Michael Scheuer, as we've revealed) over the past couple of weeks, it's hard to avoid concluding that Scheuer is not spoiling for a crusade of bloody constraint against the Islamic and Arab worlds. He recently told NPR that "I'm not, you know, a warmonger." Still, phrases from the book like "killing in large numbers is not enough to defeat our Muslim foes" and "proceed ... until we have annihilated the Islamists who threaten us," suggest otherwise to many.

Scheuer's fits of bellicosity are best understood in context, so here's a brief summation of the book.

May 30, 2004

On Nov. 22, 2003, the 16th paragraph of an Associated Press story filed from Baghdad reported that troops from the US Army's Fourth Infantry Division had arrested former Iraqi lieutenant general "Taha Hassan" "for alleged involvement in mortar attacks on police stations" in his hometown of Baquoba. One day later, Agence France-Presse noted the arrest of "Taha Hassan Abbas," as he was correctly identified, in a report that included additional dramatic details. A Fourth Infantry Division spokesman quoted by AFP provided the official account of the arrest: Abbas had "resisted when an assault force approached his house," and "engaged [in] fire," which was returned by US troops who "captured" Abbas and two others.

May 23, 2004

It was a bad week for both Stephen Cambone and Ahmad Chalabi. Not only did Jason Vest advance the story of Cambone's culpability in Abu Ghraib which the Washington Post echoed in a Friday story by R. Jeffery Smith -- but on Friday Vest observed what no one else did: That the most damning reporting about the raids by US and Iraqi authorities on Chalabi's INC was in the low-circulation but highly-influential-on-the-Right New York Sun.

There was a story making the rounds in foreign-policy circles last fall about an exchange between two of Ahmad Chalabi's most prominent patrons and detractors -- a juicy bit that rang true, but seemed hopelessly, tantalizingly just beyond the journalistic grasp. Ubiquitous as it had become in the halls of Foggy Bottom and the Pentagon, the standard for publication lay in the ability to get verbatim confirmation of the conversational back and forth -- something no one seemed able to satisfactorily secure.

May 16, 2004

Before we turn our attention to Tuesday's reactionary and indicative-of-utter-ignorance comments made on Capitol Hill by Senator James Inhofe, let's first revisit Sunday's Washington Post. Under the headline "Dissension Grows In Senior Ranks On War Strategy; U.S. May Be Winning Battles in Iraq But Losing the War, Some Officers Say," a number of career Army officers — including the commander of the 82nd Airborne Division and the Coalition Provisional Authority's first director of planning — said that in strategic terms, the U.S. military has made a mess of things in Iraq, and perhaps fatally so.

May 9, 2004

April 20th, 2004

As the situation in Iraq grows ever more tenuous, the Bush administration continues to spin the ominous news with matter-of-fact optimism. According to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Iraqi uprisings in half a dozen cities, accompanied by the deaths of more than 100 soldiers in the month of April alone, is something to be viewed in the context of "good days and bad days," merely "a moment in Iraq's path towards a free and democratic system." More recently, the president himself asserted, "Our coalition is standing with responsible Iraqi leaders as they establish growing authority in their country."

But according to a closely held Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) memo written in early March, the reality isn't so rosy. Iraq's chances of seeing democracy succeed, according to the memo's author—a U.S. government official detailed to the CPA, who wrote this summation of observations he'd made in the field for a senior CPA director—have been severely imperiled by a year's worth of serious errors on the part of the Pentagon and the CPA, the U.S.-led multinational agency administering Iraq. Far from facilitating democracy and security, the memo's author fears, U.S. efforts have created an environment rife with corruption and sectarianism likely to result in civil war.

April 18, 2004

Men like Richard Clarke do not, as a rule, write books. Mandarins of the national security establishment who long ago embedded themselves in the bureaucracy, the closest they ever come to anything like public authorship is via the pens of others. They frequently speak to journalists, sometimes on the record as adjuncts of the political master du jour; other times, only on background, perhaps in the service of what they see as sounder policy than the White House does. They consider their import to be their possession of more focused experience and better institutional memory than the strictly politicals they work for; yet by and large they are committed to working within the system, and even in anger rarely consider transgressing the informal boundary that lies just beyond the utterance of an undermining anonymous quote to a major daily newspaper.

April 11, 2004

On Feb. 5, 2003, as U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell tried to convince the United Nations Security Council of the need for war against Iraq, in a quiet Baghdad neighborhood half a world away, Mahdi Obeidi watched Al-Jazeera intently as Powell's presentation unfolded.

Once tasked with designing and building a centrifuge to enrich uranium for use in Iraq's nuclear-weapons program, Obeidi had spent most of the past decade tracking budget numbers as the state Military Industrial Commission's director of projects — a position that put the scientist in the unique position of knowing the line-item details of every ongoing Iraqi weapons endeavor. Though the nuclear knowledge he had gained in '80s-era clandestine missions all over the world made him one of Saddam Hussein's most important scientists, this was a special status he could have done without: He and his family were under constant surveillance because of his refusal to join the Baath Party.

October 5, 2003

Neocons are now part of the sordid history of CIA betrayal

I can recall more than a few moments prior to George W. Bush's presidency that, though seemingly trivial at the time, have since taken on a certain prophetic quality. One such moment came during a July 2000 conversation I had in a European capital with a senior U.S. diplomat of some standing.

Like many veterans of the U.S. Foreign Service, this diplomat had spent most of his career engaged in a delicate dance with CIA personnel, sometimes quite happy to be working with them, other times resenting their actions -- if not their mere presence. But he was, on the whole, favorably disposed toward the agency, having done a few things with its employees that he felt had actually contributed to making the world a better, safer place.

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