Sunday, April 30, 2006

Conspiracy Query: Your thoughts on Pink's "Mr. President"; the movie "Loose Change," etc.

Dear friends:
I'm interested in the viral marketing of pop-opposition to the Iraq War and the Bush administration. You may recall Eminem's very successful get-out-the-vote (against Bush) diatribe in 2004: "Mosh." Now we have Pink weighing in with "Dear Mr. President" (which should load and play very quickly from this link).
At the same time, it seems a low-budget picture called "Loose Change" is pushing the conspiracy theory (first widely promoted by a best-seller in France) that the United States government, or people in it, actually launched the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon.
( - Conspiracy film rewrites Sept. 11 )
I'd welcome any further examples, and your thoughts on this phenomenon generally.
Best regards, Chris
You can e-mail me at or any of the other addresses you may have for me.

Iran: Known Knowns, Known Unknowns...

An effort to put in perspective the run-up to war -- or not:

Newsweek Magazine: Iran: A Rummy Guide, 30 April 2006
To borrow a phrase used for Iraq, there are 'things we now know we don't know.' NEWSWEEK sorts it out.

May 8, 2006 issue - Back in June 2002, as the Bush administration started pushing hard for war with Iraq by focusing on fears of the unknown—terrorists and weapons of mass destruction—Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld explained that when it came to gathering intelligence on such threats, "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence." Elaborating, Rumsfeld told a news conference: "There are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns; that is to say there are things that we now know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we do not know we don't know."

Now there's a crisis brewing with Iran. And the same basic problem applies: what is known, what is suspected, what can be only guessed or imagined? Is danger clear and present or vague and distant? Washington is abuzz now, as it was four years ago, with "sources" talking of sanctions, war, regime change. In 2002, despite a paucity of hard evidence, Iraq was made to seem an urgent threat demanding immediate action. "We don't want 'the smoking gun' to be a mushroom cloud" is the memorable phrase used by the then national-security adviser Condoleezza Rice.

Given the results of Washington's rush into the Iraqi unknown, concern is growing about U.S. policy toward Iran. Yet the Iranian case is very different—and more dangerous. The latest report from the United Nations' International Atomic Energy Agency, released last Friday by Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei, makes it clear that Tehran is defying U.N. demands that it freeze its nuclear activities. European and American diplomats are considering resolutions calling for unspecified consequences—and, according to European sources, they have contingency plans for sanctions outside the United Nations if they're blocked by Russian or Chinese vetoes. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, lest there be any doubt about his stand, said, "The Iranian nation won't give a damn about such useless resolutions."

With the confrontation raising questions about future oil supplies, and fears growing that a seemingly crazy regime may soon acquire atomic bombs, the IAEA and Western intelligence agencies are working overtime to separate fundamental facts from guesswork and propaganda....

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Iran, Oil, Angry Readers

A lot of mail came in to about "Pumping Irony," which linked the ongoing Iran crisis to the huge surge in oil prices. Most of the readers seem to think I missed the point. They blame the oil companies, U.S. government policies and the American consumerh:

“This is a crock,” writes James from Collinsville, Texas. “You can watch 10 different news shows and [get] 10 different reason why gas is high. It’s a new formula, it’s China, it’s Iran … It’s simple. There is a monopoly in the oil business. The oil companies set the cost. They can sell it for what they want. When Clinton was president I paid $1.80 a gallon. Bush talk is just talk. They might drive it down in time for the elections, but it will not last long.”

Fran from Caldwell, Idaho, presents a similar view. “If gas costs so much at the pump because the price of crude is up, why exactly did Exxon post the biggest profits EVER in the history of mankind?” she writes. “If the refiners and distributors justify their price raises by telling us that they are sorry, but they are only passing along their own cost increases—would you not think then that oil company profits would be level with last year?”

“I don’t understand how Iran could be the problem,” writes Ryan from Spring, Texas. “To blame Iran for our problems is foolish. We are in this jam because our leadership refuses to take a constructive lead in alternative energy and energy conservation. We need leadership not excuses.”

Stephen from New York comments: “Yes Iran is manipulating prices. And tomorrow it will be Iraq or Saudi Arabia or Nigeria … The only means to reduce OPEC's power is to reduce our dependence—which is very doable with a combination of tax incentives, penalties and higher mileage requirements. It would be great to see the leaders of opinion move the country that way.”

We can also blame Nigerian rebels, Hugo Chavez, Alaskan tundra-huggers, China, India ... and all are factors. But Iran is the problem of the moment, taking advantage of the extremely tight market created by all these other elements to achieve two basic goals: an increase in prices at a time when the country is actually having trouble sustaining past production levels and, oh yes, keeping the oil-dependent world at bay while it develops the technology for atomic energy and weapons. For more on all this, see the Iran archive below, especially the "Countdown" pieces from the beginning of the year. - C.D.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Egypt and The Global War on Tourists

I was sad to see what happened in Dahab this week. I used to live in Egypt and it remains one of my favorite places in the world. In this week's Shadowland column, "The Global War on Tourists," I look at the way Al Qaeda's decentralization has forced it to focus on soft targets, putting vacationers at risk all over the world, but especially in the Muslim world. One grim detail in a memo Vivian Salama sent from the scene: diving instructors volunteered to search the waters off Dahab for bits and pieces of the victims.

Among the people I talked to for this article was Bruce Hoffman, who is certainly one of the most reasonable and reliable authorities on terrorism I know. His 1998 book, "Inside Terrorism," was updated after 2001, but its greatest value is the historical background it gives about the years when the danger was mounting, but few policymakers, and even fewer members of the public, were paying attention. (Of course, this was also the theme of my 1997 novel, "Innocent Blood.")

Another source for the column was Scott Atran's very interesting and persuasive article in the most recent issue of "The Washington Quarterly," which brings our understanding of trends in suicide terrorism up to date, and puts those new developments in the context of emerging ideological treatises like that of the Syrian Abu Mus'ab al-Suri. -- C.D.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Iran: An Annotated Archive

For quick reference, here are links to several stories and columns I've done on Iran, dating back to 2003. For more, see The Shadowland Archives:

Shadowland: Most-Favored Terrorists? , 19 July 2003
What's behind the French arrests of Iranian freedom fighters?

Leaders of a controversial Iranian opposition group had been arrested in a small town outside Paris that used to be the home of Vincent Van Gogh:

...Over coffee and sweets inside the headquarters in Auvers, spokesmen for the Mojehedin e-Khalq scoff at the notion their group would carry out terrorist attacks in Europe. They never have, they say, and never would. Some suggest that the arrests and threatened extraditions back to Iran are just France’s way of currying favor—and perhaps winning lucrative contracts—with the Tehran regime. “We condemn this shameful haggling with the mullahs,” proclaim the posters on Rue des Gords.

It’s a muddle, this case. Could the French government be so cynical that it would stage these arrests just to win contracts for oil deals and airplane sales? Or does it really believe the Americans might invade Iran, and thus set off a wave of terror in Europe? As I mulled all this over on the drive back to Paris, I kept thinking about the name the French interior ministry gave the raid on the Mojahedin headquarters: “Operation Théo.” It’s a reference to Van Gogh’s art-dealer brother, who is buried beside him on a hilltop overlooking Auvers. But what perverse sense of culture or history inspired such a rubric for such an action?

When I got home I pulled a copy of Vincent’s letters off the shelf and looked at the last lines—the very last lines of the very last unfinished note to Theo. If there was no clear answer, there was an odd reflection of the question some of the French may be asking themselves right now: “You’re not in the business of selling men as far as I know, and you can take a side, I find, really acting with humanity, but what do you want?”


Shadowland: Countdown Iran, 19 Oct 2003
The United States finally won a diplomatic victory in the United Nations. But
Washington and Tehran are moving toward war. How far will they go?

Look at the date. These tensions have been mounting for long time. But the pattern is well known:

A countdown has started for war between the United States and Iran. It’s quiet but persistent right now, like the ticking of a Swatch. Soon enough though, alarms will start ringing.

When did this move toward war begin? You could say 25 years ago, with the fall of the Shah of Iran, or just this year, when Saddam was deposed. You could make the case that the clock started the moment some of Osama bin Laden’s key aides found sanctuary in Iran, or on the day that Iranian equipment used to make nuclear fuel showed traces of the stuff used in nuclear weapons. But whenever the countdown to war began, it’s already well under way.

Now, countdowns come in a lot of guises. They can be bluffs as trivial as a schoolyard threat, “I’m gonna count to three!” And sometimes they can be stopped, of course. But when it comes to making war, the closer you get to zero hour, the harder that is to do. Expectations rise, political capital is spent, troops are deployed. A crescendo approaches, a point of no return is passed—or is said to be—and the drama of the countdown itself starts to dictate events.

That’s part of the reason we rushed to war in Iraq last spring. The Bush administration didn’t want to lose the momentum it had drummed up for ousting Saddam Hussein, even if it had to fudge the facts about him. So: weapons of mass destruction? “Check.” Links to Al Qaeda? “Check.” United Nations support? A pause there. “Not needed.” U.S. troops in place? “Check.” Ready for action? “Hoo-ah!” Popular support in Iraq? “That’s what they say.” Popular support in the U.S.? “Just look at the polls!” Pliant press? “Yep.” Supine Congress? “Got it.”

In the case of Iran, the first part of that checklist is much the same, except the evidence against the ayatollahs is much more damning. ...


Shadowland: Sandbagged in Baghdad, 21 Jan 2005
As bad as things are in
Iraq, the Americans can thank Iranian influences for preventing a total collapse. Why, for better or worse, Iraq's elections have to be held on time.

By far the most obvious trap for American and regional interests right now is a short-term strategy that could well put the long-term future of Iraqi democracy in the hands of Iran’s mullah-ocracy. Two years ago, this seemed a minor risk compared to the big-picture accomplishment of ousting the dictator and eventually installing majority rule. No longer...


Article: The Spying Game, 14 Feb 2005
Washington calls the MEK a terrorist group. But some administration hawks think its members could help provide intelligence on Iran's quest to develop nuclear weapons.

The MEK, Rajavi says, is the answer to American prayers as Tehran continues to dabble defiantly in both terrorism and nuclear arms. "I believe increasingly the Americans have come to realize that the solution is an Iranian force that is able to get rid of the Islamic fundamentalists in power in Iran," she told NEWSWEEK in a rare interview at her organization's compound. ...


Shadowland: Democratic Terrorists?, 24 Feb 2005
Lebanon could emerge as the center of a new Middle East. But first the United States may have to come to terms with Hizbullah.

A look at the role of Iranian-backed political movements in
Lebanon and elsewhere:

...Turn terrorists into democrats? That’s not as incongruous as it sounds. The Palestine Liberation Organization was a terrorist group, by most definitions. Now its leaders are hailed as legitimate elected officials. Twenty-five years ago one of the most infamous international terrorist organizations in the world was a Shiite group called the Dawa Party, many of whose cadres eventually became involved with Hizbullah and carried out terrorist acts that included kidnapping Americans and blowing up the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait. (The Dawa was fighting Saddam Hussein, in fact, and Washington and Kuwait were backing him.) Now Dawa Party leader Ibrahim Jafari may well become the new elected prime minister in Baghdad, with Washington’s blessing. So, if politics have made terrorists our strange bedfellows in Palestine and Iraq, why not Lebanon? It’s a tough call, and there’s no guarantee Hizbullah will take on this role. But only if it does is there a real chance Beirut can emerge as the center of the center of the new, democratic Middle East...


Shadowland: Writing Lolita in Tehran, 31 May 2005
Iranian bloggers have harnessed the subversive power of the Web to express themselves politically--and also to find dates in a society that curtails public courting.

…By 2000, in fact, my friend Hossein the Geek and many other young Iranians came to the conclusion they had to emigrate. “We see that our future is canceled if we want to stay in Iran," he told me then, and a few months later he moved to Canada. In September 2001, after the shock of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, Hossein started reading the commentaries on U.S. blogs, and decided to start his own ( in Farsi. Soon afterward he posted a how-to guide. By 2004, according to a survey cited in Alavi’s book, there were some 64,000 Persian-language Weblogs: more than in Spanish, German, Italian, Chinese or Russian. “The Internet,” writes Alavi, “has opened a new virtual space for free speech in a country that Reporters sans Frontières has dubbed ‘the biggest prison for journalists in the Middle East'.”…


Article: Iran's Nuclear Lies, 2 July 2005
Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful uses only. But a history of deception raises doubts.

Iran's concealments have been as vast as a secret underground facility at Natanz that was being readied for 50,000 centrifuges to enrich uranium when it was exposed in 2002. They have seemed as small as some undeclared milligrams of plutonium from a research laboratory. In a cat-and-mouse game reminiscent of the lead-up to the Iraq invasion in 2003, the Iranians have claimed to be cooperating while throwing up what often seem to be petty obstacles in front of inspectors. Iranians have bulldozed suspect sites. They have declined to allow investigators access to some military areas. They say they just can't find key documents that would show where and how they acquired key designs when they started their enrichment program in the 1980s. (Typically, under heavy international pressure this year, they finally produced one page from 1987 for inspectors to look at, but wouldn't turn it over.)…


Interview: Mohamed ElBaradei of the International Atomic Energy Agency, 2 July 2005

… “Obviously [Iran] wants to get the maximum technology, and not just nuclear... All the modern technology—Airbus, Boeing. They need the technology to modernize. And I think they understand that the fuel cycle enables them to be part of the "big boys" club, and it's a smart insurance policy, if they can get that, because again, it sends a message to their neighbors. IranMiddle East, which is being reshaped right now... I don't want to speak for them, but they also would like to normalize their relationship, ultimately, with the U.S. Their dialogue with Europe is a bridge toward their ultimate normalization with the U.S.... It is not just the nuclear issue, it is the whole future of the Middle East, it is the whole future of regional security, global security. That's why it makes it more difficult, and that's why it takes time, and that's why people should be patient. As long as they are talking, I'm comfortable. As long as the fuel cycle is suspended, as long as they are making progress, keep at it.” wants to be a major player in the whole


Shadowland: Rita's Revelation 23 Sep 2005
As oil prices soar, so will demands for atomic energy.
Iran knows this and Americans should, too. Why it's time to rethink the global approach to nuclear proliferation.

…The Iranians, for their part, say God doesn't want them to have The Bomb, and they're OK with that. "In accordance with our religious principles," Ahmadinejad told the U.N., "pursuit of nuclear weapons is prohibited." So they claim they're focusing all their attention on the need for nuclear energy as a relatively cheap, efficient and reliable long-term source of electricity. That's why they're conducting their research. That's why they're building their reactors. That's why they're enriching uranium. That's why they are signatories to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which is supposed to open the way for them to develop peaceful nuclear energy, and that's why they are very careful to observe the letter (if not the spirit), of the treaty's language…


Shadowland: Confidence Game 10 Jan 2006
Iraq has taught us that 'unknown unknowns' make lousy targets. Will Washington heed that lesson when it responds to Tehran breaking its nuclear seals?

…Do [the Iranians] just want to generate electricity, as they claim? Or are they building The Bomb? "This is a matter of trust," said White House spokesman Scott McLellan earlier this week. "They have shown in the past they cannot be trusted." And if that's the case, then what? McClellan added "that's why these negotiations are so important," with a nod to Europe's diplomatic efforts. But leaks seeping into the press suggesting the United States or Israel—or both—might be planning military action could be testing public opinion, or preparing it. When the Bush administration concluded it just couldn't trust Saddam with those unknown unknowns, the invasion scenario came to seem inevitable….


Interview: Diplomacy and Force 15 Jan 2006
The United Nations' top inspector is prepared to issue a report on
Iran's nuclear program that will 'reverberate around the world.

“No, I'm not angry [with Iran], but I'd like to make sure the process will not be abused. There's a difference. I still would like to be able to avoid escalation, but at the same time I do not want the agency to be cheated; I do not want the process to be abused. I think that is clear. I have a responsibility, and I would like to fulfill it with as good a conscience as I can.”…


Article: Iran's Rogue Rage 15 Jan 2006
Nukes: Iranians want nuclear know-how—and seem to be daring the West to stop them.

…The complex, contradictory game of secrecy and revelation, cooperation and provocation that the mullahs have played since some of their hidden nuclear facilities were discovered in 2002 has revealed just how little leverage Washington and its allies really have. But the Bush administration and European officials clearly hope they can appeal to Iran's supposedly restive masses to somehow oppose the regime. "The Iranian people, frankly, deserve better," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said last week. She took pains to say efforts to isolate the government would try not to isolate the people. But a senior European diplomat involved with Iranian negotiations, who asked not to be quoted by name because of their sensitivity, pointed out the basic problem with that strategy: "There are millions of people in Iran who want to move ahead with democracy, but unfortunately we have not been able to help them—and at the same time the nuclear issue unifies the country."…


Shadowland: Countdown to a Showdown 23 Jan 2006
The next few weeks of diplomacy on Iran's nukes may be too fast and too furious. What we really need to avoid Armageddon.

…Let’s not let ourselves be rushed toward an apocalypse with too-fast, too-furious diplomacy. Let’s keep our eyes on the IAEA, and keep the message to Iran as clear as Joe Friday’s: “Just the facts, Mahmoud.” …


Shadowland: Countdown to a Showdown: Part II 25 Jan 2006
Two American congressmen have proposed a 'quarantine' they think could stop
Iran’s mullahs from building nukes. It’s a high-risk strategy.

…Using a word borrowed from the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, the congressmen proposed a “quarantine” to stop ships taking gasoline to Iran and, in Kirk’s phrase, “quickly implode her economy.”…


Cover Story: Devoted and Defiant 5 Feb 2006
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says he doesn't want nuclear weapons. The world is suspicious. How dangerous is he?

Born to a blacksmith, educated as a revolutionary, trained as a killer and derided by rivals as a mystical fanatic, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is easily cast as the personification of everything there is to fear about a nuclear Iran. But he may be worse than that—not because of how he looks to the outside world, but because of what he represents inside his country. Ahmadinejad plays to a nostalgia for war among parts of Iran's leadership, and even some of its young people: a longing for confrontation, a belief that a quarter century ago, when revolutionary Iran was ready to challenge the world, send countless youths to martyrdom in the fight against Saddam Hussein's Iraq, endure missile attacks on its cities, suffer poison-gas attacks against its troops—in those days the regime of the ayatollahs was purer, more noble, more popular and ultimately more secure….

Iran: Oil Shock Epicenter

Shadowland: Pumping Irony, 21 April 2006
Iran is behind the soaring price of gasoline—and not for the first time.

... Before we get that far, it’s worth considering that Iran’s assertiveness in regional and world affairs seems, quite literally, to follow the market. When the Shah depended on the CIA in 1953 (and the barrel of oil was priced in pennies) he was a more-or-less craven ally. Two decades later, flush with petro-dollars, he was a raving imperialist, who later started Iran’s nuclear program. So, too, with the mullahs. When oil prices were astronomical in the early 1980s, ayatollahs were looking to spread their revolution far and wide. When the price had sunk to about $10 a barrel in the late 1990s, reformists were ascendant in Tehran, and wanted to accommodate the West almost any way they could.

More recently, on the nuclear front, when the mullahs agreed to freeze their enrichment research in 2003, the average price of oil was about $30 a barrel. They again started up nuclear fuel enrichment activities—the same process that can be used to make fissionable material for atomic weapons—last year when the price of oil had reached $50. By the time they announced earlier this month that they’d succeeded with enrichment, oil prices were on their way to $70. Tensions drive up the cost of oil, international pressure inspires Iranian nationalism and increased revenues underwrite the mullahs’ ability to resist. ...

And since this column appeared yesterday, as it happens, oil topped $75 a barrel.

Meanwhile, my friends in California were quick to send updates about prices there:

"I'm paying $3.05 at Costco."

"In the past 5 days the price of gasoline at my local Arco station has risen from $2.92 to $3.05 -- and Arco is owned by British Petroleum, which presently gets NONE of it's oil from the Mideast."

Alejandro: "AAA calculates the average national price of a gallon of regular gas today as $2.85. In Beverly Hills, one station was selling it for $4.04, but I think that included the botox."

U.S. Policy: Dictating Democracy?

Shadowland: The Mechanics of Democracy
Despite America's electoral debacle of 2000, Bush still passes judgment on everyone else's vote. Isn't it time to lead by example?

I get e-mails all the time telling me “those Arabs” or “those Muslims” or just “those people” are somehow incapable of having democratic governments. Probably I’ll get a few saying the same thing about Italians. I don’t believe that for a second. But I do believe, as a practical matter, that we Americans need to have a better understanding of how democracy works anywhere before we go prescribing it as a panacea everywhere.

Voters in most places are motivated by questions of jobs, security, pride; promises made and promises kept (or not); perhaps the personalities of the candidates. But the fundamental truth about all more-or-less free elections is that it’s not the best man (or woman) who wins, it’s the best machine. It raises the money, manages the issues and images, exploits patronage, turns out its voters in large numbers at the right times and in the right places to be most effective and imposes discipline. Effective party machinery is all about discipline. And, hey, nobody knows that better than George Bush and his mentor Karl Rove when it comes to American politics. You’d think they’d understand the rule applies elsewhere....

Some letters published on Newsweek's site:

In his April 13 Web-exclusive commentary, ‘The Mechanics of Democracy,’ Christopher Dickey takes a look at this century's disappointing attempts at democracy in the world, and how the Bush administration has passed judgment on them. “Unhappy democracies, like Leo Tolstoy’s unhappy families, are all unhappy in their own way,” Dickey writes. “Washington can’t make them better by trying to dictate the results of elections after the fact, and it makes a mistake thinking it can export freedom by force of arms or impose it by force of will.” Readers respond:

“I think a good old-fashioned sit-down between our insane president and Iran's newest incarnation of evil-doer would produce a true meeting of the minds (mindless),” writes Fran, from Brooklyn, N.Y. “They could both clarify their respective warped visions of their religious obligations to ensure their 'end of times' fantasies come to fruition. Maybe you could put it in print and CDs could be distributed world-wide so all could see what we (the sane) are up against.”

Harold, from Yuba City, Calif. comments: “I think we should stay out of other people’s business and take care of our problems at home. We don’t have a perfect system, I doubt there is one.”

“You surely can't mean what you wrote,” writes Frank, from Mocksville, N.C. “If you’re ashamed of how [the United States] tells people the truth about what they've elected then it's too bad … After 90 years of trying to help defend other countries from tyranny and oppression, I guess it's OK for you to slap this country in the face. What if we hadn’t defeated Japan or Germany? What if we still had the Cold War? … You should be thankful there are still people not afraid to say and do what is right in the world.”

But Basavaraj, from Karnataka, India, disagrees. He says the article shows Dickey “at his best.”...

Bush: Jamming in the Name of the GOP?

There's a bombshell in bottom half of Eleanor Clift's Newsweek column this week :

... A little noticed scandal in New Hampshire about phone-jamming is gaining traction. Initially dismissed as a petty political trick, it led to the trial and conviction for telephone harassment last December of the New England political director for the Republican National Committee, James Tobin. That in itself would barely register on anybody’s radar except Tobin was represented by one of Washington’s white shoe law firms, Williams & Connolly, and his legal fees were $2.5 million. The Republican National Committee picked up the tab, which suggests this may not have been a rogue operation. Was Tobin’s high-priced defense an effort to keep him from ratting out his contacts in the Bush White House? The RNC has said it paid Tobin’s legal fees because he is a long-time supporter and because he has maintained his innocence. Tobin is appealing his conviction.

Meeting with reporters over breakfast Wednesday morning, Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean said an examination of Tobin’s phone records revealed “hundreds of calls” between the White House and New Hampshire party operatives at the time of the phone-jamming on Election Day 2002. “I don’t think they were discussing the weather,” Dean said. The stakes were high in ’02. Democrats controlled the Senate by one vote and the White House was determined to regain the majority. In New Hampshire, Democratic Gov. Jeanne Shaheen and Republican John Sununu were in a tight race for the Senate. Get out the vote operations were critical to both sides, so when Democratic workers arrived at five key centers to find their phone lines jammed, they suspected dirty tricks.

They were right. The jamming was traced to an Idaho telemarketing firm. The fee for the jamming service, reportedly $15,600, was paid by the New Hampshire Republican Party through a Virginia consulting firm. Public records filed by the state GOP show three checks, each for $5,000, conveniently arriving to cover the charge just before the election. One was from Tom DeLay’s Americans for a Republican Majority; the others from Indian tribes that were clients of the now indicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Shaheen lost to Sununu by just under 20,000 votes. Republican Party Chairman Ken Mehlman was White House political director at the time. He says a high volume of calls with field operatives is routine on election day, and that he had no knowledge of the phone jamming. Dean is dubious. “Let’s put him under oath and find out,” he says.

Mehlman and others could indeed end up testifying. In addition to Tobin, two others have already been convicted, Charles McGee, who was executive director of the New Hampshire Republican Party in 2002, and the Virginia telemarketing executive hired to do the job. Meanwhile, a civil suit against the state’s GOP is in the courts. “We’re not going to let this go,” says Dean. Restoring public confidence in the Bush White House will take more than a change of venue for Rove. ...

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Mafia: Provenzano's Macho Mistake

Newsweek: The Demise of the Don, 16 April 2006
The boss of bosses had been on the run for 43 years. His downfall: a reluctance to do his own laundry.

He may have lived like he'd taken vows of poverty, but ....

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Europe: Leftward Ho!

Posted by Picasa

Newsweek Int.: The West is Red Again, 16 Apr 2006
A rancorous election in Italy, protests in France. The Bolshie old days are back.

...For Europeans who want a moderate compromise between social justice and the seemingly inescapable imperatives of the global market, none of this is good news. "People like me who believe the left can be a moderate force—we have failed," says Lucia Annunziata, one of Italy's most prominent commentators. "We are stuck in the medieval notion that there is an aristocracy and a people, and the people want a piece of what the aristocracy had—a life subsidized enough to have a minimum of work and a maximum of pleasure." Of course, no European government—left or right—can deliver that....

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Iraq Propaganda: The Zarqawi Campaign

Thanks to "Editor and Publisher" for following up on the Thomas Ricks story in Monday's Washington Post about the Pentagon's propaganda campaign to build up the myths and legends about Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, not only for the Iraqi audience, but for the "home audience" in the United States.

The Ricks article takes to task Dexter Filkins of The New York Times for his lack of apparent skepticism about the so-called "Zarqawi letter" leaked to him in early 2004. What Ricks did not point out, but "Editor and Publisher" did, was the skepticism that was shown by Newsweek Online:

... A Web search of New York Times articles in the two months after the scoop failed to turn up any articles casting serious doubts on the letter. Two leading writers for Newsweek on its Web site quickly had a different view, however.

Christopher Dickey, the Middle East regional editor, on February 13, 2004, asked: “Given the Bush administration’s record peddling bad intelligence and worse innuendo, you’ve got to wonder if this letter is a total fake. How do we know the text is genuine? How was it obtained? By whom? And when? And how do we know it’s from Zarqawi? We don’t. We’re expected to take the administration’s word for it.”

Rod Nordland, the magazine’s Baghdad bureau chief, on March 6 wrote: “The letter so neatly and comprehensively lays out a blueprint for fomenting strife with the Shia, and later the Kurds, that it's a little hard to believe in it unreservedly. It came originally from Kurdish sources who have a long history of disinformation and dissimulation. It was an electronic document on a CD-ROM, so there's no way to authenticate signature or handwriting, aside from the testimony of those captured with it, about which the authorities have not released much information.”...

Let's be clear about this: Zarqawi is an evil S.O.B., and in the age of information war, it's perfectly legitimate for the United States to focus on that fact and make the point to the Iraqi people that he's a foreigner. (Of course, that sort of misses the point that for the Iraqis, Americans are even more foreign.)

The problem lies with the way the Pentagon and Zarqawi worked together to build his image in Iraq and around the world, beginning in 2003 and peaking in 2004, with Zarqawi's decapitation campaign on the Internet. The focus on the Jordanian and his gang distorted not only the public's view of the Iraqi insurgency, it distorted policy as Washington continued the pattern begun before the war of willful self-delusion.

Also see:

Shadowland: A (Terrorist's) Letter from Iraq.
The so-called Zarqawi Memo may or may not be genuine, but it's a revealing picture of Iraq right now

Shadowland: The Executioner's Song, 20 Oct 2004
With just a small support base, Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi used the Web to build himself up into a mythical jihadist. Will he be captured or killed in time to help Bush win re-election?

Cover story: Unmasking the Insurgents, 30 Jan 2005
Shadow war: The elections won't stop the bombers, but quality intel -- and luck -- might help.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Shadowland: French Protests

Shadowland: Militants of the Status Quo, 6 April 2006
France is at a crossroads, but paradoxically it's the government, not the people, that is struggling for change.

Out on the streets for a weird walk down memory lane - C.D.

Gear: I Spy

A young Michael Allin and me with a Minox in 1965.

Newsweek Online: Spyware, 5 April 2006
The newest camcorders are so slick and small they'd make James Bond jealous. A veteran foreign correspondent tells us which ones are worth taking on the road.

I wrote this article mainly for fun, to try out the cameras, and to make one serious point on the record about the difference between spies and journalists. - C.D.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Italy: The Berlusconi Background

Newsweek International Cover: The Rise and Fall of Berlusconi, 26 March 2006
Is Italy's flamboyant leader going down in flames?

When I first started reporting this cover story on Silvio Berlusconi, I was convinced that, despite the fact he was trailing in the polls, he would win the Italian elections to be held on April 9 and 10. His friend Giuliano Ferrara of Il Foglio had written that Berlusconi's strenght lay not only in the fact that he owned most private television networks in Italy, and controlled those run by the state, but that he is himself a television star. Love him or hate him, you don't forget him. Even if you are screaming at your television set, you can't take your eyes off of him. All of this, I thought would give Il Cavaliere the edge over his left-wing challenger Romano Prodi when Italians actually came to cast their ballots. I had interviewed Prodi twice, once as president of the European Commission, and once late last year when the campaign was in its early days, and the man, while apparently kind, beatific, almost priestly in demeanor, is also deadly boring.

Toward the end of February, I finally got an interview with Berlusconi, and found him to be much more defensive than I'd expected. His trademark has always been his confidence, no matter what plague of prosecutions, revelations and defamations descended on him. But now he seemed tense. As we started to talk, a vein stood out on the right side of his face. He wanted to recite a record of accomplishments, and kept trying to keep to that line, but he acted like a man who's been coached too much, his head cluttered with rote details that he'd always thought irrelevant. And our questions, while to the point, were far from hostile. We laughed a lot, especially when discussing Berlusconi's supposed penchant for comparing himself to everyone from Napoleon to Churchill to Jesus Chris.

My colleagues Jacopo Barigazzi, Barbie Nadeau and I were still working on the assumption that Berlusconi would build continuous momentum over the next six weeks and finally triumph at the polls, even if with a fairly small margin. A few days later, when he went to Washington to be received by President Bush and address a joint session of Congress, he seemed to be on a roll. Indeed, the American lawmakers gave him a standing ovation. (In the meantime, the Italian press reaction to our interview with Berlusconi, focusing on my observation that he wore "pancake make-up" -- without seeming to understand the idiom, trying to suggest he looked like he had a crepe on his face -- was testament to the trivialization that takes place in the Italian press.)

In that same interview -- which went on formally for 90 minutes and informally for another 30 - Berlusconi made it clear he was campaigning as much against Europe as against former EC President Prodi. And to a great extent he seemed to want to portray himself as the last Cold Warrior, taking on Communists still determined to bring icy gray Stalinism to la Bella Italia. His thinking was at once post-Europe and pre-Europe, and if some of his allegations were outlandish, some also made obvious sense. Clearly the upward valuations of the euro have been harmful to Italian exports, even if there are other compensating, stabilizing reasons to keep the single currency. And it is all too obvious that the 11-party coalition of Prodi is going to be shaky from the start, if it wins, and likely to fall sooner rather than later. So our original thought was to write a cover story in early March saying something like "Berlusconi: Why He'll Win, and Why Europe Should Worry."

For various reasons having nothing to do with Berlusconi and everything to do with the urgency of other stories, like President Bush's trip to India, the magazine decided to run a brief version of the interview itself (a Q&A in the International edition; a through-written piece in the domestic American one), and wait a week or two to publish the longer opus that would focus more on the European issues.

Then -- something happened, and while we can trace the events, what I don't understand at this point are the precise causes. One big problem, certainly, was the first debate. Berlusconi looked stiff, constipated, uncomfortable. Prodi, while boring as ever, at least seemed relaxed. We'd been looking to run the Berlusconi cover the week after the debate, but now his numbers were trending strongly in the wrong direction, making it very hard to predict, as we'd expected we would, that he would be the winner. So we waited another week, and by that time it seemed clear that Silvio had lost his trademark smile. Hence, the cover story that ran.

Could Berlusconi still pull off a victory? Perhaps. But neither he nor Prodi is likely to have a strong government, and after listening to their second debate last night (on which I commented for Sky TV's Italian network), my sense is that neither candidate is treating the public with much respect. The fact is, Italy is going to have to go through some wrenching economic reforms if it is going to compete with -- or participate in -- Europe. One wishes it were otherwise. But as the English saying goes, wishes aren't horses, even for Il Cavaliere. - C.D.

Also see: Italy: Berlusconi, Up Close and Personal

Impeach or Not Impeach, That is the Question

Newsweek Poll: Losing Ground, 24 March 2006
A NEWSWEEK poll shows President Bush's approval rating dropping to new lows on domestic issues and rising public anger over Iraq and homeland security.

For most readers, this was just another story about Bush's general poll numbers remaining low. But the blogosphere found its headlines in the third and fourth paragraphs:

...The outright anger against Bush felt by many Americans was reflected in responses to questions about the effort of Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin to censure Bush in Congress for his warrantless wiretapping program. Feingold has found very little support for his move on the Hill. Four in 10 (42 percent) of the adults in the general public say they would support Congressional censure of the president, while half (50 percent) say they would not. Censure wins majority support from Democrats (60 percent) and one in five Republicans (20 percent) say they’d support it. Yet if Democrats in Congress do decide to push for such a measure, they may run into trouble with that same public. By a margin of 53 percent to 33 percent, Americans feel the censure proposal was made as a partisan ploy, not for reasons of principle.

In today’s strongly polarized political climate, roughly one in four American adults (26 percent) say they think Congress should actually impeach President Bush and consider removing him from office. There is in fact no effort to do this on the Hill, and the public mood appears to be more a reflection of the passionate sentiment against Bush in some quarters rather than considered support for actual legislative action. (Some recent national polls show about 45 percent of adults strongly disapprove of the president’s performance.) The NEWSWEEK poll shows that only 5 percent of Republicans would support impeaching Bush, while 94 percent would not. Among Democrats, almost half (49 percent) support impeachment, while 48 percent oppose it. Overall, 69 percent do not think Congress should consider removing him from office. ...

The mail on this poll was fascinating, but more about that later. -- C.D.

France's National Champion?

Newsweek International Cover: Rising Barriers, 13 March 2006
French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin is leading a new wave of protectionism—in Europe—but also, possibly, one of reform.

This story was written just as the French streets were starting to heat up. The protectionism issue had been a sensation among the chattering classes, but it was the new labor law for young people that provoked nation-wide protests. Watch this space for updates. -- C.D.

Back in Action

I was in the States for most of March, traveling to Washington, Mobile, St. Louis, Westchester, and of course New York City. I was also in the midst of changing laptops, which made blogging a little more complicated, and I wrote two covers for Newsweek International, as well as other Web articles, which took time away from the Shadowland column. Now I am back in Paris and back in action. To get things going, I'll be posting links to the several stories I wrote over the last month, under separate headings. -- C.D.