Thursday, April 06, 2006

Revenge of the Nerds

It's a delicious irony, isn't it, that the folks most defiant at being steamrolled by the Bush administration are those geeks over at the Justice Department. Not that we shouldn't expect our civil servants to stand for truth, justice and the American way. It's just that six years of the White House's war on dissent had us pretty much believing they could get by with anything. When our own citizens can be locked up without due process; when the highest-ranking lawman in the land condones torture; and when, after setting aside decades of precedence and policy to lead us into an illegal war in Iraq, the administration now has the brass to suggest they'll do it again in Iran -- well, it makes one realize the fragility of our democratic process, to say the least.

Buried in the bowels of government are everyday patriots, the career civil servants who can't be bribed or threatened: people like scientist James Hansen at NASA, who spoke out on global climate change despite pressure from on high. Unfortunately, speaking truth to power in today's political climate is usually a career ender. Army Corps of Engineers chief contracting officer, Bunnatine Greenhouse, was fired for suggesting no-bid contracts to Halliburton violated rules on government oversight. Since the Bush administration came to power, scores of our best, most experienced public servants have been culled from the ranks for presenting uncomfortable truths or opinions out of sync with the neocon cabal currently in charge.

We began hearing stories of internal critics being silenced early on in the Interior Department, when the Environmental Protection Agency and the Bureau of Land Management came under attack. Rumsfeld's purge of the Pentagon began before the war. Lately, the axe has fallen heavily with Bolton's shake-up of the State Department, and Porter Goss' witch hunt at the CIA. The result has been brain drain and a declining morale among those who are left.

Once open disagreement was shutdown, whistleblowers began leaking to the press. The NSA eavesdropping scandal launched when an insider leaked to the New York Times. Calling the disclosure a "shameful act," the administration responded with an aggressive crackdown, asking the Justice Department to open an investigation. Porter Goss threatened employees with random lie detector tests to uncover leakers in the CIA. An investigation as to who leaked the secret prisons in Europe is on-going.

The Justice Department itself has felt the heat from this administration. President Bush was personally responsible for demoting the supervising federal prosecutor, U.S. Attorney Frederick A. Black, just as his investigation into Jack Abramoff's lobbying efforts on behalf of Superior Court officials in Guam was starting to yield fruit. And former Deputy Attorney General James Comey and former Asst. Attorney General Jack Goldsmith hung tough in response to pressure to approve illegal wiretaps in what Newsweek termed a palace revolt. But they paid the price. On his way out, James Comey appointed his friend, nerdy Patrick Fitzgerald, (alright, make that sexy nerd ), to serve as special prosecutor investigating the CIA leak scandal.

Since indicting I. Lewis Libby, Fitzgerald has been playing a version of high stakes poker with the Libby defense team. When Libby's lawyers asked for thousands of pages of classified material, (a tactic known as greymail), ostensibly for the purpose of proving that Libby was so distracted by his job that he forgot he talked to reporters about Plame, Fitzgerald fired back a sassy letter, calling the attempt "nothing short of breathtaking," and added that he was not required to search every government agency's files for evidence that might help Libby's defense. The special counsel also released correspondence making a tantalizing reference to missing White House emails, since rediscovered. Libby's lawyers filed a motion to dismiss, arguing Fitzgerald had no authority to conduct the investigation. Now the Justice Department drops a bomb: Bush authorized Libby to leak classified material. Well, well.

Today's revelations on the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) memo on Iraq make stark the hypocrisy of an administration that declassifies and leaks highly sensitive intel for political purposes, while aggressively pursuing whistleblowers who try to shine some light on the most secretive presidency since Nixon. The President is authorized to disclose classified information, although it's questionable whether he followed protocol, and the debate regarding the aluminum tubes has been known, although not highlighted, all along. But it is politically damning, contradicting as it does so many previous statements by the administration regarding Plamegate. Every new revelation in this case makes apparent the degree to which the administration was gaming the system, and the contempt with which they regard the public and the press.

Certainly, no one in the inner circle at the White House had reason to believe Fitzgerald's investigation would get this far. At the very least, we now have proof that the President set in motion a series of events which led to the outing of a covert agent. And the sensational nature of today's revelations make Libby's excuse that he forgot about Wilson's wife until he heard it from reporters even less plausible. It's too early to say whether Fitzgerald's investigation of Scooter Libby will lead to a conviction, much less to further indictments. And a true accounting of the build-up to the war won't come from the special prosecutor's actions. That's the role of Congress. Let's hope the Democrats are taking notes.

But watching Fitzgerald turn the tables on the Bush administration must be heartening to the unsung heroes in the government ranks. If there is anyone in a position to appreciate the fetid stench of corruption and spite that characterizes this administration, it's those on the inside. Chalk one up to the guys with the white hats (and the pocket protectors).

1 comment:

Bradley Bowen said...

Wow! Great investigative blogging! This was "nothing short of breathtaking" in itself!

When I heard that Bush had been named as authorizing the CIA leak, my jaw dropped. I couldn't believe that it wasn't the main story on the CNN site. Of course, the Zacarias Moussaoui is important, but so is this. I wonder if there will be any repercussions.