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The Tentacle


April 28, 2006

Plumbers Needed

Roy Meachum

Maybe somewhere around the White House there still exists Richard M. Nixon's notice: Plumbers Needed! Not since heady Watergate days has there been such a furor about "leaks."

George W. Bush's frantic search has intensified as the polls put the president in the lowest ranks among the men who once held his job. His standing has fallen by four points in the last month.

According to The Washington Post-ABC survey, he's now down to 38 percent approval.

The Iraq war and the economy, especially gas prices, are the obvious causes for the decline. Leaks play a significant role; they have frequently demonstrated the official position ain't necessarily so.

In the time span between 9/11/01 the twin towers attack and 3/19/03 the Iraq invasion - Americans wanted to believe everything and anything the administration said or did.

People liked Mr. Bush's doughty self-confidence and the belligerency he displayed. They were angry and they were scared, very willing to follow a leader who seemed to know what to do.

The U.S. public followed the president, vice president and the secretary of defense against Saddam Hussein, believing he plotted with the 9/11 terrorists and manufacturing weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

In turn, the country's highest officials accepted exiles' view that once Saddam was toppled Iraqis would rally to the red-white-and-blue and establish the Arab world's first democracy, and at little cost.

Things starting coming unglued shortly after Mr. Bush landed on the flight deck of the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln and pronounced: "Mission Accomplished." That was three years ago next Tuesday.

As the number of American dead accumulated, the insurgency grew and the world's second largest oil reservoir scarcely produced a drop to pay the invasion's staggering costs, folks started paying attention to the leaks and the doubters.

Leaks to the media proved true: there were no weapons of mass destruction. As a secular Muslim, Saddam was anathema to al-Qaeda. Over the past three years, Iraq had to import petroleum at the expense of the U.S. Treasury.

And the prospect of an Arab democracy proved illusionary, exactly as reporters were told by leakers inside the establishment.

Running a bang-up counteroffensive, the administration's top guns provided leaks of their own. The New York Times had its Judith Miller, The Washington Post Bob Woodward. Journalism's ultimate expert on the Middle East, Thomas Friedman, bought whatever line that was offered. In the event, they all cheered the run-up to the invasion as the White House arranged.

Ms. Miller rode the leaks into a Pulitzer Prize based on reporting about Saddam's non-existent arsenal of WMD. She served a celebrated time in an Alexandria (VA) federal hoosegow for refusing to reveal her source's name.

When her editors finally realized eventually how she had been manipulated and the paper along with her Ms. Miller was shown the Times' back door.

Not incidentally, the administration's first causality on the war of leaks was Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, Ms. Miller's source.

In another situation, a federal grand jury found Lewis "Scooter" Libby's actions worthy of being heard in court. He's suspected of providing several reporters the name of a CIA agent. Her husband, an ex-ambassador, had dismissed claims, in a New York Times' piece, that Hussein had attempted to buy radioactive material for a non-existent WMD.

The special prosecutor in that case has hauled back before a grand jury Mr. Bush's favorite White House advisor. Karl Rove faces a possible indictment on leaking the agent's identity to other reporters.

Stay tuned.

Not to be outdone, CIA Director Porter Goss announced a lie detector test had prompted the firing of an agency senior executive.

Whom Mary McCarthy leaked to remains up in the air at this stage. Initially, she was accused of aiding and abetting The Washington Post's Dana Goss to win the Pulitzer Prize.

The topic was the CIA's secret prisons in Europe for Middle East terrorists, which the White House stoutly denied. Only this week a coalition of nations and their law enforcement agencies confirmed their reality in a protest to the American government.

On second thought, it seemed, former GOP Congressman Goss allowed as how Ms. McCarthy was not let go because of the secret prisons. She's gone anyway.

By the way, FBI Director Robert Mueller let it be known he means to see where the leakers are in his bailiwick.

All this reminds me of the McCarthy-era witch hunts that went after communists but punished chiefly homosexuals, on the basis they were security risks.

Landing on the job new White House press spokesman Tony Snow will need all his reputed charm and personality to cool down this mess, which does his boss no good.

The original plumbers, it seems, were unable to stem the leaks from within Mr. Nixon's administration; the present situation does not look any more promising.



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