May 29, 2002
Scheer Watch

Scheer's latest toxic spewing is even more vile than normal. Please activate the flamethrower.
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OK, so maybe John Ashcroft and Robert Mueller are not the sharpest tools in the shed. How else to explain that, after Sept. 11, it took the attorney general and the FBI director more than eight months to get around to telling the president and his top national security advisors about that prescient memo from the Phoenix FBI office warning of potential terrorists flooding American flight schools?

Because, it was only obviously important when one views it with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight. The FBI has hundreds (perhaps thousands) of clues that they are tracking, and it may not be readily apparent which clues are important, and which are simply red herrings.

Of course, the best thing would have been to clue in the president when there was still time to tighten airport and immigration security and possibly avert tragedy. But, at the very least, you would think that Ashcroft—who learned of the Phoenix memo a few days after the attack—would have piped up when the president asked his top people whether U.S. intelligence had advance warning of the terror attacks.

Let's see, Ashcroft found out *after* the attacks. Tightened security was in place after the attacks, but they would not have prevented the attacks. Scheer is such a fluorescent idiot that he misses an obvious point.

Further, since Scheer has never shut his yap about how Ashcroft has been trying to curtail our civil liberties, any actions taken before the attack in an effort to prevent it would have been met by outraged resistance by all the flaming lefties, and I'm sure that Scheer would have led the charge.

Remember, though, that Ashcroft, who managed to lose a Senate race to a dead man, was not picked for his smarts but rather as a naked political concession to his fellow right-wing fundamentalists. The new president wanted to assure conservative zealots that he would hew to their religious commandments when it came to appointments of prosecutors and judges—and to zing ACLU liberals by putting an extremist in charge of our nation's civil liberties. Unfortunately for the victims of Sept. 11, the consequences of putting a Keystone Kop in charge of federal law enforcement mock such callow Beltway calculations. Ashcroft's FBI chieftains ignored field reports of outspoken Muslim fanatics training at U.S. flight schools—and later cited manpower shortfalls for not investigating further—while the bureau had plenty of resources for drug interdiction forays and surveillance and questioning Wen Ho Lee, now exonerated of spying.

Ashcroft had been running neck-and-neck with Mel Carnahan, a popular two-term governor, but was starting to show a small lead. When Carnahan died, the new governor announced that he would appoint Jean Carnahan (the bereaved widow) to the seat if Carnahan won. Carnahan won, due in large part to the sympathy vote for his widow.

Before Ashcroft was a senator and governor, he was the attorney general for the state of Missouri, and was elected by the 50 attorneys-general as the leader of their organization, a testament to his qualifications. The fact that he was conservative was clearly a consideration for Bush, but he was not chosen because he was conservative, he was chosen because he was an excellent choice who happened to be conservative.

Ashcroft was not responsible for the attacks. The FBI's budget for intelligence shrank approximately 20% during the Clinton administration, and over 40% of the FBI's agents were on the job for less than eight years. The Wen Ho Lee case, which ultimately proved to be incorrect, was most certainly an important activity for the FBI to investigate (even without the added concern of Clinton's ties to the Chinese government). While I will agree that the war on drugs is of dubious value, I doubt that most Americans would agree with my assessment.

Federal agents in Minnesota, who questioned alleged wannabe terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui last summer, were so frustrated with HQ that they took the radical step of going to the CIA for help in their investigation, according to FBI whistle-blower Coleen Rowley. Some of the Sept. 11 terrorists were so clumsy before their suicide missions as to suggest a subconscious desire to be caught: asking to be taught to fly but not to land airliners, for example, and showing up at flight school with huge quantities of cash and little aviation experience. Moussaoui was exposed to agents as an extremist because he had talked openly about his respect for "martyrs" who kill non-Muslims.

I agree with Scheer's contention that there is deadwood in the FBI, but firing entrenched bureaucrats is a daunting task at best. Considering that Ashcroft was confirmed in March, and his choice to head the FBI, Robert Mueller, was confirmed in August, it is fairly obvious that they didn't have enough time to reshape the agency. The command structure in place at the time of the attacks was almost entirely left over from the previous administration's Justice Department, headed by the spectacularly inept Janet Reno.

The good news is the FBI has some very good agents who picked up these troubling signs. The bad news is that these warnings stalled in a chain of command that included Ashcroft and never made it to the president.

Again, Scheer inserts Ashcroft's name into the mix in an attempt to tie him to something that was not entirely his fault. The insertion of "including Ashcroft" is obvious and heavy-handed, and should have been omitted. The fact that Scheer has to get in his jab at Ashcroft weakens his argument.

Meanwhile, the clues picked up inside the country were meshing in frightening ways with those gathered beyond our borders. In late June, Osama bin Laden promised a major attack on the United States in an interview with the Arabic television channel MBC. Ashcroft later said he was unaware of any such specific threats at that time. Two weeks later, however, a top FBI official issued a grim warning.
"I'm not a gloom-and-doom type person," FBI Assistant Director Dale Watson told a gathering of state governors July 10, "but I will tell you this ... [We are] headed for a [terrorist] incident inside the United States."
Ashcroft was present when Watson spoke, but if he understood the speech's import he apparently did not convey the G-man's sense of urgency to the president.

Gee, that's a really prescient statement, one that indicated that the FBI knew exactly when, where, and how the terrorists were going to strike.

Perhaps not coincidentally, in the eight months of his presidency leading up to Sept. 11, Bush rarely mentioned Afghanistan, the Taliban and Bin Laden in the same context.
When he spoke of terrorism, he usually focused relentlessly on his father's nemesis, Iraq.

Please show me someone who often mentioned Afghanistan, the Taliban and bin Laden in the same context.

Iraq was the focus of terrorism because Iraq is a sponsor of terrorism, and unlike the relatively insular Taliban, he has boasted of his efforts to strike at the US.

China too was a devil in Bush's first-year foreign policy; before Sept. 11 his administration seemed intent on fighting a new Cold War with China. Playing geopolitical chess with "enemy" states appealed to the old Cold War enthusiasts who dominate the Bush team, but combating stateless terrorists was slippery new terrain.

I'm sure the illegal interception, damage, and detention of our aircraft had nothing to do with Bush's animosity towards the Chinese.

Instead of godless communists controlling tank battalions, the new enemy was a shadowy collection of individuals motivated by religious fanaticism who saw their actions as the ticket to heaven.

I want to hear specific ideas on how we could have combatted terrorist threats without outrage from the left. Even *after* the attacks, we still have people like Scheer fretting that we are headed toward a police state due to egregious violations of our civil rights by the government. Any attempts to isolate Islamic extremists would have resulted in CAIR and PAW screaming about "profiling" and the like.

Perhaps it is just too difficult for a stern, God-fearing fundamentalist like the attorney general to fully anticipate the dark side of religion's wrath.

And it's obviously too difficult for a stupid, Christian-hating ideologue like Robert Scheer to fully anticipate the bright side of religion's worth.

In any event, whether because of bias or incompetence, Ashcroft is clearly not the right man to wage this new "war" against religious fanatics. It's time for him to go.

Scheer's attacks against Ashcroft are reminiscent of the tactics utilized by David Bonior against Newt Gingrich; Bonior filed over 70 ethics complaints against Gingrich, of which only one stuck. (Incidentally, the FEC later cleared Gingrich of the charge for which he was fined $300,000.) Scheer has waged a ceaseless campaign against the Attorney General in a hope that one of his charges will catch the attention of the public. So far his crusade (irony intended) has not succeeded; let us hope that it continues to fail.

posted on May 29, 2002 07:58 PM


Thanks for an excellent job on your piece re Scheer and Ashcroft. As a Missourian I have long appreciated Mr. Ashcroft. He may seem a little strait-laced, but I never once have doubted his sincerity and absolute integrity. I believe it is ingrained in him. I believe that is why Bush wanted him as AG--plus the fact that he would please the super conseratives was an extra added bonus. But overall I do not believe he would do anything to permanently damage our constitutional rights or to blow off the safety of Americans.
Just stumbled onto your blog and enjoyed it! Hope you are enjoying life in the NW. Both my sons live near Olympia and I've visited a few times and I'd sure rather live with the gloom and mist in the winter than the 95 degrees and 90 percent humidity we have here in the summer--not to mention the ice storms in the winter.

posted by Dinah on May 31, 2002 04:03 PM

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