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I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Facts that reflect poorly on the President are false by definition

(updated below)

If you're one of the few loyal Bush defenders who are still around, and a fact is revealed which casts a very negative light on the administration, what do you do? Easy - shut your eyes really tightly, put your fingers in your ears, and just petulantly insist, based on nothing other than faith and desire, that it's not really true. Attack the motives and character of those involved. Threaten those responsible for disclosure of this damaging information with imprisonment. And then insist some more that it just can't be true.

MSNBC reporter David Schuster reported yesterday that at the time the Bush administration disclosed her employment with the CIA, Valerie Plame was working on a project "tracking the proliferation of nuclear weapons material into Iran." Schuster also reported that intelligence sources of his claimed that her disclosure forced her to cease this work and that it disrupted and harmed the efforts of the United States to obtain intelligence relating to Iran's weapons activities.

For obvious reasons, these facts, if true, reflect very poorly on the administration, particularly given its current claims that Iran is the new Nazi Germany, that it is the world's greatest threat to all that is Good, and that stopping Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons is the overarching national security priority. Outing a CIA agent working on precisely that problem, all in order to discredit a political critic, is extremely embarrassing, to put it mildly.

So, if you are a person who defends the administration no matter what, what is there to say about this? You begin by insisting that it's just not true -- it can't be -- and mix in those denials with some nice, distracting character smears. Jeff Goldstein, for instance, says that this MSNBC report is almost surely not true because, among other reasons, the Leader and his aides would never do something to harm the interests of the United States over something as insignificant as Joe Wilson:

Or, put another way, we’re being asked to believe unnamed sources when they tell us that the Bushies sabotaged their own stewardship over Iranian nuclear intelligence gathering initiatives because they feared impotent former diplomat Joe Wilson—who was eventually quite thoroughly discredited by the Senate Intelligence Committee Report and by his own tangle of public lies and half truths.

Which, I suppose that’s possible. But color me skeptical (emphasis in original).

Goldstein provides a whole host of reasons why it is just absurd to think that outing a CIA agent working on Iran's nuclear program could possibly have any negative impact on our intelligence capabilities. I mean, it's just one CIA agent - what's the big deal? Thus, to think that outing Plame impeded our efforts is to believe that "Valerie Plame, who was working as an analyst from a desk in Langley, had exclusive insights into Iran’s nuclear weapons program and is in fact some sort of irreplaceable James Bond-type super spy."

So, to recap: The President -- being The President -- would never do anything to harm the country's intelligence efforts, particularly over something like this, so this just can't be true. And even if it is true, it's only one little CIA agent they outed, so how bad could that be? And oh, Joe Wilson is a liar, so that should be considered, too.

Taking a different approach, Bush defender AJ Strata is angry that Americans even learned about this information:

You would think the CIA insiders would know better than to leak more national security information to the media.

Maybe those responsible for informing Americans about this treachery by the Government can share a cell with the reporters who informed Americans about the Government's illegal eavesdropping program. Like Goldstein, Strata can't believe that everyone would make such a fuss over one single little CIA agent:

What a joke! Valerie was the only analyst who cold track Iran’s ambitions? This is the reason I think this was a canary trap. Only a reporter would be so naive and gullible at the same time! Or are the VIPerS this dumb? Someone tell me this is just a joke and these people are not this stupid.

And with his characteristically substantive commentary, Tom Maguire insists that the whole thing just can't be true -- it just can't be -- because the reporter, Shuster, is a "lying weasel" and "an ignorant clown." And besides, those Guardians of the Truth, Andrea Mitchell and Bob Woodward, previously decreed that there was no national security harm as a result of the Plame leak, so this whole thing is already settled.

All of this reality-denying rationale was spat out literally within hours of the disclosure that Plame was working on Iran's nuclear program when she was outed by the administration. It is a frenzied effort to defend the administration that is composed every standard weapon in the Bush apologist arsenal -- attacks on the motives of those who disclose the information, threats of criminal prosecution against those responsible, an insistence that the Leader's Goodness precludes the truth of the accusations, and when all else fails, a simple fact-free refusal to believe that it's true. There's not yet any coordination or coherence to it because it's driven by emotional instinct - the instinct to simply deny any fact that undermines the pro-Bush world-view. It's just an undifferentiated outburst of denial and attack, all fueled by the overarching desire to defend the President.

I recently documented how this self-justifying, fantasyland mindset is constant and applicable to every issue. Insurgency in Iraq? Can't be; it just doesn't exist. Reports of civil war? Not true - the media is just biased and dishonest. Poll after poll showing the President is reaching historic levels of unpopularity? The polls are just biased and corrupt because the President is really beloved. Secret torture gulags in Eastern Europe? They don't exist either - that was all just a masterful set-up to find the CIA leakers (a fantasy in which Strata indulges for the Plame disclosure, too: "I think this was a canary trap"). The CIA agent outed by the administration was working on Iran's nuclear program? False - the reporter is an idiot, her husband is a liar, it's just one CIA agent, and the President is too good and smart to do that, no matter what facts emerge.

The denial is so steadfast, immediate and shrill because the notion that perhaps it's true never occurs to them. They begin with the premise that any fact that reflects poorly on the Leader is false, and then set out in search for rationale to prove that. When the NSA scandal first emerged, scores of Bush defenders became instantaneous, overnight experts on FISA, and, within hours, wrote post after post insisting that the President's NSA program didn't violate the law, FISA doesn't cover this type of eavesdropping, the law doesn't really require warrants, that it doesn't apply to terrorism, FISA has nothing to do with the NSA program -- all rank nonsense which even the administration refused to get anywhere near, and even eventually repudiated. But Bush defenders then were in the same frenzied mode. A fact had emerged that reflected poorly on the President -- that the President had ordered eavesdropping in violation of the law -- and denial of that fact was the only option. The mission, therefore, was to find the rationale would best support that denial.

I honestly don't know how much impact the disclosure of Plame's CIA employment had on our intelligence efforts, if any. And neither do Bush defenders. But they don't care if it did or didn't. They only care about defending the President no matter the seriousness of his wrongdoing or the obviousness of his errors, and if the only way to do that is to simply refuse to believe facts that contradict that goal, then so be it. The most glaring and destructive by-product of that reality-denying syndrome is the disaster in Iraq, but it is by no means the only one. It repeats itself over and over in almost every issue of controversy.

UPDATE: Raw Story, who (as unmentioned by MSNBC) was the first to report the Plame-Iran connection back in February, has posted an update regarding some additional information reported by Shuster, including a claim that Cheney was aware at the time of the Plame disclosure that she was working on sensitive intelligence matters.

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