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a classi¬ed memorandum that described concerns about Arab stu-
dents training at U.S. ¬‚ight schools. Special Agent Colleen Rowley
became one of Time magazine™s “Persons of the Year” when she
revealed internal disputes about the handling of evidence in the
FBI™s Minneapolis ¬eld of¬ce before 9/11. (Rowley relied on protec-
tions in the 1989 Whistleblower Protection Act.) By June 2002, Time
reported that federal of¬cials were “banging down our doors, seeking
sanctuary” and hoping to avoid blame for failing to anticipate the
More damage was done to the administration in March 2004,
when former counterterrorism advisor Richard Clarke published a
book alleging that its agencies had failed to act on warnings of
an imminent terror attack.124 The book, and Clarke™s appearance
on 60 Minutes, provoked a “ferocious” counterassault by the White
House.125 Within hours of the broadcast, the White House booked
more than twenty interviews with Condoleeza Rice and other of¬cials
on network morning shows and cable news channels. This had the
perverse effect of undercutting the White House™s refusal of the 9/11
Commission™s request that Rice give public testimony under oath on
pre-attack planning. How, after all, could the administration insist
that the President™s relationship with his national security advisor
was “unique and con¬dential and private,”126 if the mass media was
saturated with Rice™s defense of the administration™s performance?
Within days, the White House abandoned its claim of executive priv-
ilege, warning that Rice™s testimony would not set any precedent for
the future127 “ which of course it did.
A similar dynamic led to the release of a contentious copy of the
President™s Daily Brief, documents prepared by the CIA and regarded
as one of the government™s “most closely guarded secrets”128 (“the
family jewels,” as Vice President Cheney called them129 ). In May 2002,
CBS reported that the PDB for August 6, 2001, had given the President

Regime Change

a warning of an imminent threat of a massive terrorist attack in the
United States. The White House refused to release the document, but
questions about what the President had known in the days before
9/11 festered. In October 2003, the 9/11 Commission threatened to
issue a subpoena for the document. Seeking to de¬‚ect growing pub-
lic sentiment that it was hiding incriminating evidence, the White
House allowed a few commissioners to inspect the PDB in November
2003. This was heralded as a “watershed moment” in the history of
presidential“congressional relations,130 but still it was not enough. A
succession of leaks suggested that the PDB had provided the Presi-
dent with an unambiguous warning,131 and in April 2004 Condoleeza
Rice “ testifying publicly before the commission “ conceded that the
title of the brie¬ng had been, “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in the
United States.” Later that day the White House relented and agreed
to release the PDB, which was quickly posted on the internet. For the
second time in two weeks, the White House warned that its action
should not be taken as a precedent.132
The 9/11 Commission™s report, released in July 2004, quickly
became a national bestseller. The report “shattered the ceiling on
access” to internal government information, providing a detailed and
damning account of the political and bureaucratic missteps that pre-
ceded the 9/11 attacks.133 The commission provided details of an
aborted CIA plan to capture or kill Osama bin Laden, and used classi-
¬ed evidence from the interrogation of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed “
an al Qaeda leader captured in Pakistan a year earlier “ to describe
how the 2001 attacks had been planned. Alleged connections between
the Iraqi government and bin Laden™s terror network were disputed,
while new evidence was proferred to show that Iran had aided the
hijackers. Another of the “family jewels” “ a 1998 PDB on an al Qaeda
plot to hijack U.S. airliners “ was released. And the commission put
more emphasis on the signi¬cance of the August 6 PDB: CIA analysts,
it said, had tried to make clear that in August 2001 the threat from al
Qaeda was “both current and serious.”134
Another maelstrom led to remarkable disclosures about the Bush
administration™s planning for war in Iraq. By July 2003, the failure
of American forces to ¬nd substantial evidence of weapons of mass
destruction in Iraq led to widespread questioning of the soundness
of the Bush administration™s case for war. Debate was stirred further

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when a former diplomat, Joseph Wilson, revealed in the New York
Times that he had been asked before the war to investigate a claim
that Iraq had sought nuclear material in Africa, and told the CIA that
the claims were unfounded. President Bush included the claim in his
State of the Union address anyway. The administration, said Wilson,
had “twisted” intelligence to bolster its case for war.135
Wilson™s claim drove a wedge between the White House and the
CIA. In its effort to show that the President had not willfully dis-
torted evidence, White House of¬cials relied on the fact that the
CIA had included the claim in its classi¬ed 2002 National Intelli-
gence Estimate “ in their view, “the gold standard of our intelligence
about Iraq.”136 CIA of¬cials argued that they had made efforts to tell
White House staff that the intelligence supporting the Estimate had
become suspect. On July 17, 2003, a Democratic proposal to estab-
lish a commission to probe the con¬‚icting claims was defeated in
the Senate. The next day, the White House attempted to bolster its
position by declassifying the key ¬ndings of the 2002 Estimate. The
disclosure actually fueled more controversy, by revealing other incon-
sistencies with the administration™s public statements in the run-up to
The next months saw a further unraveling of the secrecy sur-
rounding the administration™s pre-war planning. In January 2004,
internal documents posted on the web by Paul O™Neill™s collaborator,
Ron Suskind, suggested that the administration had begun planning
for a “post-Saddam Iraq” within days of Bush™s inauguration.138 In
March, Richard Clarke™s book Against All Enemies reported on a pri-
vate conversation with the President the day after the 2001 attacks
in which Bush pressed for a report on the possible involvement of
the Iraqi government. In April, Bob Woodward™s book Plan of Attack
(widely believed to have been written with the close cooperation
of Secretary of State Colin Powell139 ) revealed more compromising
details about con¬‚ict within the administration about the build-up
to invasion. In June, a veteran CIA of¬cial wrote an anonymous
book, Imperial Hubris, that was harshly critical of the administra-
tion™s execution of the war on terror.140 In August, General Tommy
Franks, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq until his retirement in
July 2003, published his own memoir describing tensions within
the administration over war planning. Franks was a friend of the

Regime Change

administration who endorsed the reelection effort of President Bush.
This did not cause him to be any more reticent in his assessment of
the country™s civilian and military leadership: Defense Undersecretary
Douglas Feith, Franks wrote, was the “dumbest fucking guy on the
The Abu Ghraib abuses stirred yet another maelstrom. In this
case, technology, internal dissent, and media competition combined
powerfully. In an earlier age, censorship of soldiers™ correspondence
might have slowed the diffusion of knowledge about the abuses:
Today, however, soldiers have digital cameras and ready access to
high-speed internet, even in the ¬eld. Soldiers and their families had
also become less willing to rely on military justice, instead giving
documents or interviews to the media about the complicity of higher
levels of command. Tensions within components of the defense and
intelligence community “ military police against military intelligence,
CIA against the military, career of¬cers against politically appointed
overseers “ also encouraged each to resort to disclosure as a technique
for shuf¬‚ing blame. The effect of these disclosures was ampli¬ed in
the internet, cable, and broadcast media.
Quickly the Abu Ghraib controversy transformed into a larger
debate about the administration™s policy on the torture of detainees.
Secretary Rumsfeld promised that the administration was adhering
to international accords banning the use of torture,142 but at the
same time classi¬ed the documents that would allow a judgment
about whether the claim was defensible. Within the military, however,
there was substantial disagreement about the legality of interrogation
methods approved by Rumsfeld. In spring 2003, a group of military
lawyers concerned by an internal March 2003 report that upheld the
new techniques approached a human rights lawyer in New York for
con¬dential advice on their predicament.143
Abu Ghraib brought this internal dispute into the public domain.
On the morning of Monday, June 7, 2004, the Wall Street Journal
reported that it had received a leaked copy of the troubling (and still
classi¬ed) March 2003 report.144 On Tuesday, the New York Times
and Washington Post reported that each had received internal Justice
Department memos written in 2002 that provided a legal justi¬ca-
tion for the torture of detainees.145 On Wednesday, the Los Angeles
Times reported on leaks from Defense Department staff who said that

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Rumsfeld™s legal counsel had authorized interrogators to “take the
gloves off” in late 2001.146
Appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee that Wednes-
day, Attorney General Ashcroft refused to release the series of memos
on interrogation rules, arguing that the advice had been given in con-
¬dence to the President. However, Ashcroft™s position was quickly
undercut. The nongovernmental Center for Constitutional Rights had
already posted its own leaked copy of the March 2003 report on the
web, and the Washington Post posted its copy of the most damag-
ing of the Justice Department™s documents a few days later. As public
support for the administration softened, the White House relented,
releasing hundreds of pages of Justice and Defense Department doc-
uments on its interrogation policy “ including Secretary Rumsfeld™s
previously classi¬ed directions on questioning of detainees. It was
an “extraordinary” step, said administration of¬cials, designed to
¬ght leaks that had combined into a “constant drip” of damaging
Nevertheless, the “constant drip” continued. In August, Rolling
Stone magazine reported that it had received 6,000 pages of classi¬ed
Army ¬les detailing abuses within Abu Ghraib prison; many of these
¬les were subsequently posted on the internet by the Center for Public
Integrity.148 Responding to a FOIA lawsuit brought by the ACLU, a
federal court ordered the Defense Department to release thousands
of pages of documents that showed patterns of abuse in military facil-
ities in Afghanistan and Pakistan as well; again, the ACLU posted the
documents on its website.149 The report of an independent review
panel led by former defense secretary James Schlesinger con¬rmed
“widespread abuses” sometimes leading to the death of detainees, for
which it said there was “both institutional and personal responsibility
at higher levels.”150 In a book published three weeks later, Seymour
Hersh drew on anonymous government sources to claim that top of¬-
cials in the White House and Defense Department had been warned
repeatedly about abuses as early as 2002.151 By Election Day of 2004,
American voters could not reasonably claim to be in the dark about
the breadth or severity of the abuses committed by American forces,
or about the link between the behavior of soldiers in the ¬eld and the
administration™s overarching determination to use “more aggressive
methods” in the war on terrorism.152 The material question was the
extent to which they cared.

Regime Change

Not without a ¬ght
The Bush administration and its sharpest critics had one thing in
common: a misapprehension about the reversibility of history. The
Bush administration believed that it could roll the clock back to the
pre-Watergate years, and so launched an assault on the many rules it
believed had undercut the power of the presidency and, more broadly,
the governability of the American system. The administration™s critics
accepted the premise that the clock could be rolled back “ not only
that, but also that it had been rolled back.
Of course, neither side was right. Shifts in the political, cultural,
and technological context of American politics over the last three
decades have been too profound to allow an easy reversal of history.
These changes in context made a direct assault on the regime of post-
Watergate controls impossible. Nevertheless, the Bush administra-
tion did its best to hedge and qualify these controls. At the same time,
however, the more complex and turbulent environment surrounding
the Presidency often generated maelstroms that precipitated brief but
extraordinary moments of transparency. The result was paradoxical:
By the end of 2004 we had come to know a great deal about the inter-
nal workings of an administration that was, at the same time, widely
damned for its secretiveness.
Freeing Gulliver “ a domestic project of regime change “ had
proved much more dif¬cult than Donald Rumsfeld and his colleagues
Furthermore, there were some observers who believed that free-
ing Gulliver was simply impossible, at least so far as keeping secrets
was concerned. We might call these the technological fatalists “ or
utopians, depending on your predisposition about a world of uncom-
promised openness. They saw transparency maelstroms as the early
signs of more profound climate change. In 2003 the futurist William
Gibson warned:

We are approaching a theoretical state of absolute informational
transparency. . . . It is becoming unprecedentedly dif¬cult for any-
one, anyone at all, to keep a secret. In the age of the leak and the
blog, of evidence extraction and link discovery, truths will either
out or be outed, later if not sooner. This is something I would
bring to the attention of every diplomat, politician and corpo-
rate leader: the future, eventually, will ¬nd you out. The future,

Blacked Out

wielding unimaginable tools of transparency, will have its way
with you. In the end, you will be seen to have done that which you

By the summer of 2004, it might have been possible to imagine that
Gibson was right. There was so much compromising material from
the Bush administration posted on the web that an enterprising stu-
dent at a New York law school set up a peer-to-peer computer network
ordinarily used for illicitly sharing music to distribute it. He called it
“downloading for democracy.”154
But if critics who saw a reprise of Watergate were misguided,
so too were the technological fatalists. Periodic maelstroms may
have produced important disclosures, but their effect was not always


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