The Wrath About Khan

Plame's not the first spy outed by the Bush team. Remember the case of the Pakistani computer tech?

Last month's bombing of the London subways brought back memories of a botched spy plot in August 2004 in which the Bush administration unaccountably outed the only double agent we ever had inside Al Qaeda.

Working with British and Pakistani intelligence, this man was sending e-mails back and forth to the Al Qaeda network in Britain. He was a highly placed, trusted lieutenant who had been turned. Once his name was revealed by the White House, Al Qaeda people disappeared into the woodwork. The outing infuriated the Brit cops who had been working to nail down the Al Qaeda network in the U.K. before it could launch an attack.

Like the Plame-Wilson saga, last year's plot was entangled in politics. The story goes like this: Around the time of the Democratic National Convention, the Bush campaign was trying to upstage new Democratic nominee John Kerry and show the president to be a fearless—and successful—fighter against terrorism. In early August, just as Kerry was setting off on his campaign, U.S. officials leaked news of the arrest in Lahore, Pakistan, of Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan, a young Pakistani computer expert.

Pakistani officials told the Associated Press that reports in the "Western media" about Khan's capture let other Al Qaeda operatives flee. "Let me say that this intelligence leak jeopardized our plan and some al-Qaida suspects ran away," said one official. Khan was arrested July 13, 2004; his arrest was reported in American papers on August 2, a day after reporters in D.C. learned of it. Pakistani intelligence officials told the Associated Press at the time, "Khan led authorities to Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani—a Tanzanian with a $25 million American bounty on his head for his suspected involvement in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in East Africa—and the capture of about 20 other al-Qaida suspects." The arrests were followed by raids in Britain.

The Pakistanis diplomatically attributed the source of the leak to "coalition partners." However, after New York senator Charles Schumer asked the White House to explain why Khan's name was given to reporters, Condoleezza Rice, at the time the national security adviser, explained that Khan was outed "on background," which means the information could be published but not attributed. The AP reported at the time: "Officials say Ghailani and Khan's computer contained photographs of potential targets in the United States and Britain, including London's Heathrow Airport and underpasses beneath London buildings."

In its investigation of the intelligence community's operations leading up to 9-11, the congressional joint inquiry led by then senator Bob Graham concluded that the U.S. never had penetrated Al Qaeda. This was surprising, because John Walker Lindh and several other young American recruits walked right in and mixed with the Al Qaeda leadership with little trouble.

Nearly three years after 9-11, after all the shake-ups and pledges to reform, we finally were inside Al Qaeda. Then the White House steps in and wrecks the operation. All in the interest of Bush's re-election.


GLOWING REPORT ON THE NEW BILL

Last week's energy legislation is unlikely to reduce prices or increase production. But it will take another step in jump-starting the moribund nuclear power industry and give the government authority to override local opposition to dangerous liquefied natural-gas processing plants on both coasts. The measure sidesteps mandatory fuel emissions standards and opens the way for greater fuel monopoly. And it is a barrel of pork.

Three outstanding rip-offs:

Allows U.S.-produced plutonium on the world market. That opens the door to more nuclear weapon production around the globe. Current U.S. policy bans export of weapons-grade uranium unless and until the buyers start to convert their nuclear power plants to a less dangerous form of uranium. The new bill's changed provisions are largely due to lobbyists for a trade organization called the Alpine Group, which is promoting nuclear medicine. The chief beneficiary, reports The Washington Post, is the world's largest producer of medical isotopes, a Canadian company called MDS Nordion, which makes isotopes for treating cancer, heart disease, and epilepsy. Currently there is no shortage of medical isotopes, and none is in sight. But there are plenty of terrorists who might very well like to get their hands on nuclear materials. Alpine Group lobbyists have contributed $25,000 to members of both houses' energy committees, and other nuclear medicine groups have given tens of thousands more. Furthers energy deregulation—what's left of the regulations, anyway—by repealing the Public Utility Holding Company Act, the FDR-era mechanism that sought to undo monopoly among electric utilities. For decades, nonutilities, such as oil companies or investment banks, have been forbidden to own utilities. Now the repeal opens the way for a surge of takeovers.

The new measure also provides financial incentives to electric utilities to sell their power lines to so-called regional transmission organizations. These RTOs are a hot-ticket item in the energy business in the post-Enron era. One dominant player is Goldman Sachs, already supplying much of the power to New York City through ownership of regional power plants, Reliant Energy, and others. "RTOs allow these companies to more easily move power from cheaper regions of the country," says Public Citizen, "and sell it in higher-priced regions—without any guarantee that prices will be reduced for consumers, but with a guarantee that these energy companies will enjoy higher profits."

Sets up a $1.5 billion fund for drilling research into "Ultra-Deepwater and Unconventional Natural Gas and Other Petroleum Resources," which, according to California Democrat Henry Waxman, directly benefits Bush cronies and Tom DeLay's district. The money goes to a highly profitable industry. One prediction is that oil and gas net income will reach $230 billion this year. These people don't need any more handouts. It is a thinly disguised con, appearing to support arcane research techniques. In fact, the language in the bill would allow an oil or gas company to apply for funds for a wide variety of activities, including those involving "innovative exploration and production techniques" or "enhanced recovery techniques." According to the legislative language the government is to ladle out the money through a "contract with a corporation that is constructed as a consortium." The leading contender for this contract appears to be the Research Partnership to Secure Energy for America (RPSEA), housed in the Texas Energy Center in Sugar Land, Texas. Halliburton is a member of RPSEA and sits on the board, as does Marathon Oil. The consortium can keep up to 10 percent of the funds—a fee of more than $100 million in this case, according to Waxman.

In a letter to House Speaker Dennis Hastert last Wednesday, Waxman wrote, "The provision was inserted into the energy legislation after the conference was closed, so members of the conference committee had no opportunity to consider or reject this measure. Before the final energy legislation is brought to the House floor, this provision should be deleted."

Needless to say, DeLay, the congressman from Sugar Land, promptly lost it. "Henry Waxman knows zero about Texas," said DeLay spokesperson Kevin Madden. "Zero about energy security, and apparently even less about how a bill becomes law."

"This is a good bill," White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters after the energy measure passed the House. "This legislation will help us reduce our dependence on foreign sources of energy and help address the root causes that have led to high energy prices."

Will it bring down gas prices? "Well," said McClellan, "we didn't get into this overnight, and we're not going to get out of it overnight."


STEADY THERE, BIG BOY

"It's a little bit like biblical Pharisees, you know, who basically are always trying to undermine Jesus Christ. . . . You know, it goes on the same way. If they can catch him in something, they can then criticize and the outside groups will go berserk." That was Utah Republican senator Orrin Hatch on July 21, describing to Fox News the nature of potential Democratic opposition to Supreme Court nominee Judge John Roberts.


Additional reporting: Halley Bondy and Natalie Wittlin

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