Patterico's Pontifications


Let the Fisking of Tenet’s Book Begin

Filed under: General — WLS @ 10:26 pm

[Posted by WLS] 

In a significant blow (or maybe not) to 60 Minutes and HarperCollins, the NYT managed to make a retail purchase of George Tenet’s book “At The Center of the Storm” which isn’t supposed to hit bookstore shelves until Monday.  They have an early story up which focuses, shockingly, on disputes Tenet has with the V.P. and the “neocons” over the intelligence case for the Iraq War.

The 60 Minutes tease and now this NYT story focus first on the source of Tenet’s “Slam Dunk” nickname bestowed upon him by the leftwingnutroots.  Tenet claims that his use of the phrase has been taken out of context by the VP and others who have deflected blame for the faulty intelligence to the CIA.   Here is his explanation as explained by the NYT reporters:

He gives a detailed account of the episode, which occurred during an Oval Office meeting in December 2002 when the administration was preparing to make public its case for war against Iraq.

During the meeting, the deputy C.I.A. director, John McLaughlin, unveiled a draft of a proposed public presentation that left the group unimpressed. Mr. Tenet recalls that Mr. Bush suggested that they could “add punch” by bringing in lawyers trained to argue cases before a jury.

“I told the president that strengthening the public presentation was a ‘slam dunk,’ a phrase that was later taken completely out of context,” Mr. Tenet writes. “If I had simply said, ‘I’m sure we can do better,’ I wouldn’t be writing this chapter — or maybe even this book.”

So, in other words, Tenet claims his “slam dunk” comment was nothing more than an assurance to the President that the CIA could re-tool their presentation to make it more persuasive when presented to the public.

I find this less than compelling — it sure sounds like a guy trying to reverse-engineer the situation to make it come out better for himself.  Tenet’s primary gripe is that “Slam Dunk” has come to define his career with the CIA, and that the VP and other war advocate have repeatedly referred back to it in their years-long battle with the CIA over where the blame for faulty intelligence should lie.

The reporting on this subject started with Woodward’s book.  Of the same meeting, Woodward wrote:

On Dec. 19, 2002, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice asked Tenet and McLaughlin how strong the case was on weapons of mass destruction and what could be said publicly….

Two days later, Tenet and McLaughlin went to the Oval Office. The meeting was for presenting “The Case” on WMD as it might be presented to a jury with Top Secret security clearances. There was great expectation. In addition to the president, Cheney, Rice and White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. attended.

With some fanfare, McLaughlin stepped up to brief with a series of flip charts. This was the rough cut, he indicated, still highly classified and not cleared for public release….

When McLaughlin concluded, there was a look on the president’s face of, What’s this? And then a brief moment of silence.

“Nice try,” Bush said. “I don’t think this is quite — it’s not something that Joe Public would understand or would gain a lot of confidence from.”

Card was also underwhelmed. The presentation was a flop. In terms of marketing, the examples didn’t work, the charts didn’t work, the photos were not gripping, the intercepts were less than compelling.

Bush turned to Tenet. “I’ve been told all this intelligence about having WMD and this is the best we’ve got?”

From the end of one of the couches in the Oval Office, Tenet rose up, threw him arms in the air. “It’s a slam-dunk case!” the director of central intelligence said.

Bush pressed. “George, how confident are you?”

Tenet, a basketball fan who attended as many home games of his alma mater Georgetown University as possible, leaned forward and threw his arms up again. “Don’t worry, it’s a slam dunk!”

It was unusual for Tenet to be so certain. From McLaughlin’s presentation, Card was worried that there might be no “there there,” but Tenet’s double reassurance on the slam dunk was memorable and comforting. Cheney could think of no reason to question Tenet’s assertion. He was, after all, the head of the CIA and would know the most. The president later recalled that McLaughlin’s presentation “wouldn’t have stood the test of time.” But, said Bush, Tenet’s reassurance — “That was very important.”

This is a pretty straightforward account by Woodward, and it is completely at odds with what Tenet is now saying. Given the way its written, I suspect the primary source for the account was Card, who was reported to have been quite accommodating of Woodward when he was writing the book.

Woodward’s book was excerpted by the WaPo in April 2004.  But in 2003, Ronald Kessler had published “The CIA At War”, for which Tenet had given two sitdown interviews, and McLaughlin had given more than one interview.

The “slam dunk” episode isn’t recounted in Kessler’s book, but there is zero animosity by Tenet towards the VP or the White House, and McLaughlin actually praises the VP and his interaction with the CIA in the months leading up to the war.   Take this passage, for example, from pg. 316-17:

When Cheney visited the CIA, McLaughlin would escort him into a conference room across the hall from the DCI’s office.  There, the Vice President would spend three or four hours at a time with analysts.  Besides the weapons of mass destruction issue, Cheney made visits to look into three or four other issues that interested him, such as North Korea and China.

“He came here a lot,” McLaughlin told me.  “The characterization Colin Powell gave was exactly right:  He loves to dig into things.  When he comes, he is polite and respectful.  Most of the people I would bring in to talk to him were thankful he was here.  We were saying, “Thank you, God, for bringing us someone who is interested.”

More later.  WLS

Flap Over L.A. Times Recognition of Armenian Genocide

Filed under: Dog Trainer — Patterico @ 10:06 pm

There is an interesting controversy going on at the L.A. Times in which a reporter is alleging that he was taken off a story about the Armenian genocide because he is Armenian. The reporter e-mailed some colleagues to say:

Colleagues, You should know that I had a Page One story killed this week by Doug Frantz. His stated rationale for killing the piece had nothing to do with any problems with the story itself. In an email to me, he cited no bias, no factual errors, no contextual mishaps, no glaring holes….

Because his logic is so illogical, questions must be raised about Frantz’ own objectivity, his past statements to colleagues that he personally opposes an Armenian genocide resolution and his friendship with Turkish government officials, including the consul general in Los Angeles who’s quoted in my story. Frantz is heavily involved and invested in defending the policies of Turkey.

Read more about it at L.A. Observed (here and here) and at the L.A. Weekly.

Two Cops Who Killed Kathryn Johnston Plead Guilty — to Manslaughter

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 5:45 pm

CNN reports that the officers who shot Kathryn Johnston have pleaded guilty — to manslaughter:

A police officer and a former officer pleaded guilty Thursday to manslaughter in the shooting death of a 92-year-old woman during a botched drug raid last fall. Another officer still faces charges in the woman’s death.

Officer J.R. Smith told the judge Thursday that he regretted what had happened.

“I’m sorry,” the 35-year-old said, his voice barely audible. He pleaded guilty to manslaughter, violation of oath, criminal solicitation, making false statements and perjury, which was based on untrue claims in a warrant.

Former Officer Gregg Junnier, 40, who retired from the Atlanta police force in January, pleaded guilty to manslaughter, violation of oath, criminal solicitation and making false statements. Both men are expected to face more than 10 years in prison.

It’s not enough. We now know, based on the plea, that these officers lied to get into that house. This was a felony murder. These men should never again see the light of day.

When this case was first reported, I urged people not to jump to conclusions, and I continue to believe that was the right call. However, in the comment section to my posts, I made some comments to the effect that, based on the information then available (service of a valid search warrant at an address where suspected narcotics were recovered), Ms. Johnston was at fault for shooting at the police. Since that information has proven to be incorrect, those comments were wrong. Making matters worse, I didn’t qualify my statements every time I made them, so that, for example, I said: “If she fired first and shot 3 cops, then shooting her was eminently justified.” Well, not if they busted into her house based on a phony search warrant! — something we now know to be the case.

If you read the entirety of the thread, it’s clear that my main point was that people should not leap to the conclusion that the warrant was served at the wrong location. I still think that was a valid point to make. But my sloppier comments — especially the unqualified ones like the one I just quoted — are an illustration of the dangers of commenting off the cuff. Now that we know Ms. Johnston did nothing wrong [UPDATE: or, at least, there is good reason to believe she didn’t — see UPDATE below], I regret any suggestion I made to the contrary, and I apologize to her memory and to her family — not that they will likely ever see my apology.

I don’t promise to refrain from approaching issues in a cautious manner, and I don’t promise to leap to conclusions in the future. That would be the wrong lesson to learn from this incident. But I will do my best to avoid making sloppy comments. This incident has taught me that people sometimes pay as much attention to those as they pay to my more carefully crafted posts.

UPDATE: Several commenters are arguing that the validity of the warrant is a wholly separate issue from whether the shooting is justified. I disagree. They are not the same issue, but the issues are intertwined to a large degree.

When looking at the actions of the police, the fact that the warrant was based on lies (and the cops serving it knew that) is critical. If the police were committing a felony when they served the warrant on Ms. Johnston’s home — because they were breaking into a home based upon what they knew to be a trumped-up justification — then they can’t escape the consequences for causing Ms. Johnston’s death by arguing self defense. They set the tragedy in motion by committing the felony to begin with. If I legally walk into a store and the owner pulls a gun on me, I may shoot and kill him. If I rob a store and the owner pulls a gun on me, it’s a different situation entirely. If I shoot and kill him, it’s murder.

When looking at the actions of Ms. Johnston, the fact that the warrant was based on lies is less relevant, but still meaningful. I don’t agree with the argument that an innocent homeowner has the right to shoot at police if they properly identify themselves as serving a search warrant. The innocent homeowner doesn’t know whether the warrant is trumped-up or just a mistake, and to authorize the homeowner to shoot under those circumstances invites anarchy.

However, the fact that Ms. Johnston was innocent, and actually being victimized by dirty cops, has relevance to assessing her actions. First, it makes it much more likely that the police didn’t properly identify themselves, and that she actually thought she was protecting herself against criminals. The police might claim otherwise — but now that I know they lied to get the search warrant, I’m not inclined to believe anything they say. So while we don’t know that Ms. Johnston did nothing wrong, it now seems a much more likely scenario.

California Supreme Court Screws The Pooch On Permanent Speech Injunctions For Libel

Filed under: Constitutional Law,Court Decisions,Law — Justin Levine @ 12:51 pm

[posted by Justin Levine]

For those who know me, it should come as no surprise that I strongly disagree with today’s decision by the California Supreme Court that sustains a permanent injunction against a defendant’s speech after she was found liable for defamation.

In the words of the dissent:


Colbert Rips Into My Office

Filed under: Crime,General,Humor — Patterico @ 5:51 am

Don’t stone me, conservatives, but I think Stephen Colbert is pretty funny sometimes. And those who love to run down the L.A. County District Attorney’s Office might just agree with me after viewing this old chestnut from the Daily Show:

I got this video from another Deputy D.A. in my office and knew I had to have it. Right then.

Important Correction Made

Filed under: Dog Trainer,General — Patterico @ 5:50 am

Here’s an example of a correction that recently made it into the L.A. Times:

Chocolate standards: A photograph accompanying an article in Section A on April 14 about a proposal to loosen government rules that dictate what ingredients go into chocolate described the candy pictured as containing walnuts. In fact, the confection shown contained pecans.

Well, thank God we got that straightened out!

Now for an example of a correction that is still being awaited:

An April 11 article stated that the Los Angeles Police Department’s landmark Special Order 40 prohibits officers from inquiring about the immigration status of suspects. It does not.

That’s how the correction should read. However, despite the fact that I wrote the paper about it on April 11, no such correction has issued. Indeed, the Readers’ Representative hasn’t even written me to say whether there will be a correction. She has said (after some prodding) only that she received my e-mail.

But where’s the urgency? The correction I wrote about is hardly important. It’s just a correction of a lead sentence in an article on the front page of the California section, on an issue of critical importance to the L.A. area — and which could affect the way that law enforcement works to get criminals out of our country.

That pales in comparison to the critical need to tell readers that the confection had pecans instead of walnuts.

L.A. Times Editorial Page Editor: Is There a Chance We Might Make Rick Ellensburg an L.A. Times Columnist? Absolutely!

Filed under: Dog Trainer,General — Patterico @ 5:49 am

Takeaway exchange from today’s chat with new Editorial Page Editor Jim Newton:

scareduck: Getting back to actual questions about the editorial pages, what I’d like to know is why somebody like Glenn Greenwald isn’t doing occaisional pieces. He’s a thoughtful, serious writer who would be a real antidote to Max Boot and Jonah Goldberg. Any chance of that happening?

Jim Newton: Dear Scareduck: I’m not ready to start making adjustments in our columnist lineup until I’ve had a chance to study up on it. So, is there a chance of bringing someone like Greenwald to our pages? Absolutely. But I’m not ready to say yet that we will.

My reaction to this is similar to the reaction of Allahpundit when contemplating the possibility of Rosie O’Donnell being replaced by Margaret Cho:

Oh dear god. NO!

Yup, that about sums it up.

It would terrible to see dishonesty peddled on the pages of the L.A. Times on a regular basis . . .

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