Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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August 5, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

BUSH AND THE PAKISTANIS....Last month, John Judis, Spencer Ackerman and Massoud Ansari wrote a story in The New Republic saying that American officials were pressuring Pakistan to announce the capture of an important al-Qaeda figure during the Democratic convention. Sure enough, on the last day of the convention, Pakistan's interior minister, Faisal Saleh Hayyat, announced the capture of the terrorist who is #22 on the FBI's most wanted list.

Was this evidence of manipulation, or just a coincidence? Judis, Ackerman and Ansari vote for "manipulation":

A proud Hayyat dubbed the arrest "another crowning success of Pakistan's security apparatus in the fight against terrorism." But it is doubtful Hayyat was really addressing his fellow Pakistanis: He made the announcement at midnight. More likely, his intended audience was half a world away--in the United States, where, in the middle of the afternoon, John Kerry was preparing to deliver his nomination speech to the Democratic National Convention.

....Though there is no policy governing how long to keep such arrests secret, standard intelligence practices dictate that the capture should not have been made public until investigators had finished with Ghailani (and the laptop and computer disks he had been captured with). Indeed, Ghailani may still talk, but some current and former American officials fear that, by broadcasting his name around the world, the Pakistanis have reduced the value of the intelligence that interrogators can extract from him.

"Now, anything that he was involved in is being shredded, burned, and thrown in a river," a senior counterterrorism official told the Los Angeles Times. "We have to assume anyone affiliated with this guy is on the run ... when, usually, we can get great stuff as long as we can keep it quiet." Adds former CIA operative Robert Baer: "It makes no sense to make the announcement then. Presumably, everything [Al Qaeda] does is compartmented. By announcing to everybody in the world that we have this guy, and he is talking, you have to assume that you shoot tactics. To keep these guys off-balance, a lot of this stuff should be kept in secret. You get no benefit from announcing an arrest like this. You always want to get these guys when they are on vacation, when they are not expecting you."

Of course, this isn't conclusive. It might still be a coincidence. Interior ministers give midnight press conferences all the time, right?

And First Ladies routinely visit buildings that were the focus of alarming terrorist threats just hours before, don't they? (Ken Layne, back from whatever the hell he's been doing for the past year, has a very nice screed about this.)

At worst, the Bush administration is deliberately manipulating intelligence to scare everyone into voting for him. At best, the intelligence is real but the Bushies are doing everything in their power to hype it for partisan purposes. In the end, though, it probably doesn't really matter which, since in either case it's obvious that Bush treats national intelligence and the wider war on terror as little more than cynical campaign tools. The country would be a lot better off with a president who takes this stuff seriously.

Kevin Drum 2:51 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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