Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Instant Karma?

Ohplease ohplease ohplease let this be true. From Raw Story (via Reddhedd at firedoglake):

Senator Trent Lott (R-MS) told CNN's Ed Henry Tuesday afternoon that he believed it was a Republican senator who gave information about secret CIA jails abroad to the Washington Post, RAW STORY can report.

Lott said that much of the information contained in the Post report -- which stated that the U.S. was holding terrorist suspects in secret CIA jails overseas -- was discussed at a meeting of Republican senators last Tuesday.

The revelation appears to torpedo the political gambit of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) and House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-IL) who called on the Senate and House intelligence committees to investigate who leaked the information to the Post.

That's it, if this pans out, I'm going to dust off my copy of the Upanishads and convert to Hinduism.

UPDATE: CNN has confrimed this much. Trent Lott indeed told a roomful of reporters that he believes that a Republican Senator and/or staffer leaked the "black sites" story to the Post. According to CNN's Ed Henry, Lott "stunned reporters" by disclosing that the "black sites" were discussed at a republican-Senators-only luncheon with Dick Cheney the day before the Post article ran (once again, the image of a beer hall in Munich around 1923 leaps to mind, don't know why). Apparently Lott complained that "we can't keep our mouths shut" and that "every word that was said in there [i.e., inn the Minich-beer-hall luncheon] went right to the newspaper." Wolf Blitzer then dons his Captain Obvious suit and says, "this could really boomerang against the Republican leadership." ThinkProgress has the video.

There can be no doubt (to use the immoral words of the Big Dick himself) that this is an hilarious spectacle. And I do hope that Lott's instinct is correct and that at least one source for the Dana Priest article is a Republican Senator or Senate staffer. But I'm getting a distinctly fishy whiff from Lott's statements. First of all, taking Lott's statements at face value (perilous, I know), he is basing his belief in the GOP origin of the leak on the coincidence of the article coming out the day after the black sites were discussed at a GOP-Senator-and-Cheney luncheon putsch and the similarities between what was related in the meeting and what Dana Priest reported in the Post. That is, to be sure, a might big co-ink-ee-dink. But I have a number of problems with the Lott scenario all the same:

The Post article simply does not look like something that was dashed off in less than one day on the basis of a leak from a Senator or hill staffer. To the contrary, looking first just at the substance of the thing, it appears to be a throughly researched piece, with a great deal of background and context woven into it, not simply a wad of Capitol Hill dish. Moreover, even allowing for some of the, shall we say, vagaries of how reporters describe anonymous sources, the piece is sourced variously to: "U.S. and foreign officials familiar with the arrangement"; "current and former intelligence officials and diplomats from three continents"; "officials familiar with the program"; "current and former and U.S. and foreign government and intelligence officials"; "four current and former officials"; and, more specifically, in some instances to "a former senior intelligence officer who worked in the CIA's Counterterrorist Center"; "another former senior CIA official"; and "a senior CIA officer." If we were dealing with Judith Miller rather than Dana Priest, I might be less credulous, but I'd say it is very safe to say that Priest has at least four sources, probably more -- at a minimum, two distinct former CIA officials (part of the Goss purge, no doubt), one current CIA official (that's one brave hombre), one or more current or former State officials. I would like to think that there's somebody at Justice with a conscience and a set of cojones as well.

I listened to Dana Priest's interview on the Diane Rehm show last week, and in it Priest convincingly and credibly painted a picture of a story that has been long in the making and that is based on disclsoures from a variety of long-cultivated sources. She was rather cagey when asked why those sources suddenly decided to talk about the black sites; her response was that it was due to the dogged pursuit of the information (or words to that effect), which is certainly tantalizing. But I was convinced -- especially having read the article -- of her veracity on the matter of the article's development.

None of this, of course, excludes the possibility that one of Priest's sources was a GOP Senator or Hill staffer. Indeed, some of the information reported smells like it might have come from the Hill (e.g., "[t]he CIA and the White House . . . have dissuaded Congress from demanding that the agency answer questions [about the treatment of CIA-held prisoners] in open testimony" or "[m]ost of the facilities were built and are maintained with congressionally appropriated funds, but the White House has refused to allow the CIA to brief anyone except the House and Senate intelligence committees' chairmen and vice chairmen on the program's generalities"). But what I have briefly cataloged above certainly leads me to doubt that a Hill souce -- if one does exist -- was anything like the prime source for the piece.

It also is possible that Lott knows more than he is letting on and that he actually does have some inside info on a GOP leak. But color me very, very suspicious. Let's hope Lott's not handing the Democrats a boomerang.

1 comment:

Adrian J. Seath said...

It seems much more likely that the reason why Cheney finally went to the GOP senators to discuss the secret prisons is because his office had some sort of forewarning that the story was about to break. Cheney was probably hoping to get some sort of partisan pushback (in the sense of seeing the media as "the other party") underway by disclosing what the administration had been doing behind the Senate's back before it showed up on the front page of the Washington Post. Surely Lott must not have read Priest's article, which clearly was not the kind of work that could have been based purely on secondhand information from an annoyed senator.