Based in DC, Dan covers politics and national security. His work has appeared in the Boston Globe Magazine, the Village Voice, the Columbia Journalism Review, and other publications. Email him at dschulman (at) motherjones.com.
Push polling is one of the dirtier, yet mostly legal, tricks in a political operative's bag of last-minute campaign tools; robo-calling software makes it dirt cheap to place millions of calls to a single swing district. And the game is changing: Reports after November's election suggested that some races were tipped to Republicans after voters endured a slew of "false-flag" calls, which take the art of voter suppression to a new level. With the 2008 race approaching, things are only going to get nastier. Meet one of the kings of the political robo-call.
Name: Gabriel Joseph III, president of FreeEats.
Odds that you might hear from him: FreeEats can make up to 3.5 million phone calls a day. "We generally talk to more people than watch television, listen to the radio, or read the newspaper combined," says Joseph.
Who’s calling: FreeEats is also known as Advantage Research, ccAdvertising, Data Research, Election Research, fec Research, fecads, Political Research, and Public Research. It has been accused of disguising or "spoofing" its caller IDs; Joseph has reportedly said his company has "thousands" of aliases.
Before the Senate Armed Services Committee interrupted its questioning of Robert Gates to break for lunch, outgoing chairman John Warner commented that today's hearing was among "the best we've had" in his 28 years in the Senate "best" being code, one assumes, for least contentious. The hearing was certainly uncharacteristically civil and free, for the most part, of partisan barbs, save for one surreal moment when Senator Hillary Clinton questioned Gates on whether he believed the President and the Vice President are "intelligent men." But absent from the hearing as well were any tough questions about the serious allegations that have been leveled against Gates in the past, including his role in Iran-Contra and in politicizing intelligence at the CIA.
Senator Carl Levin, the ranking Democrat on the committee, came the closest to raising these issues, asking Gates to comment on a passage from former Secretary of State George Shultz's memoir, Turmoil and Triumph: My Years as Secretary of State, which relates a conversation Shultz had with Gates, then the acting CIA director, in January 1987. "I don't have any confidence in the intelligence community," Shultz reportedly told Gates. "I feel you all have very strong policy views. I feel you try to manipulate me. So you have a very dissatisfied customer. If this were a business, I'd find myself another supplier."
Gates responded by telling Levin that he believed Shultz's view of intelligence was colored by his fractious relationship with former CIA director (and Gates' mentor) William Casey. "Bad blood influenced the Secretary of State's view of intelligence," he said, pointing out that Casey had once written to President Ronald Reagan recommending that Shultz be fired. Levin did not press him further.
Certainly Shultz was not the only one who distrusted the information coming out of the CIA. So did some career CIA analysts who believed Casey and Gates were subverting the intelligence process in order to play up the Soviet menace. One of them was Mel Goodman, a longtime friend of Gates and a veteran Soviet analyst, who became one of his most vocal critics, offering damaging testimony during Gates' confirmation hearings in 1991 as he sought to become the director of Central Intelligence. "My major concerns are issues of integrity," Goodman told me recently. "For me, basically, the test of character is what you do when no one's looking. I don't think Bob Gates can be trusted when no one's looking."
Perhaps the Democratic wing of the Armed Services Committee, who would seem the most likely to raise questions about Gates' past, feel this is ancient history, but it certainly seems relevant given the intelligence failures to put it charitably that preceded the Iraq war.
During the hearing Gates, who has previously been circumspect about what he knew about Iran-Contra, was praised repeatedly by members on both sides of the aisle for being a straight-shooter. "Dr. Gates, thank you for your candor," Clinton remarked. "That's something that has been sorely lacking from the current occupant in the position that you seek to hold." She was referring to the way Gates had fielded questions about Iraq, at one point answering "No, sir" when asked by Carl Levin whether "we are currently winning in Iraq." Sadly, it seems any semblance of truth passes for candor in Washington these days.
Intelligence cherry-picked for ideological purposes; the claims of a single, unreliable source treated as fact and stovepiped straight up to the White House; a National Intelligence Estimate riddled with dubious claims; efforts made to connect an enemy regime with international terrorism. Echoing the prelude to the Iraq War, these are, in fact, a sampling of the allegations directed at Robert Gates 15 years ago, when the Senate Intelligence Committee considered Gates' nomination to be the director of Central Intelligence.
The Federation of American Scientists' Steven Aftergood unearthed this fascinating nugget in a recent Navy directive on its "Human Research Protection Program," which, much as the name suggests, is tasked with safeguarding human research subjects from inhumane experiments.
The Under Secretary of the Navy (UNSECNAV) is the Approval Authority for research involving... severe or unusual intrusions, either physical or psychological, on human subjects (such as consciousness-altering drugs or mind-control techniques).
Umm, mind control. Part of me is relieved that research, of the Manchurian Candidate variety, if it does indeed exist, requires some form of high level approval. Mostly, though, I'm unnerved by the possibility that government researchers are spending any time whatsoever contemplating this line of inquiry. Perhaps I shouldn't be too surprised. The DoD is known for floating some pretty absurd proposals, such as one in 1994 by researchers at the Air Force's Wright Laboratory who pitched developing "harassing, annoying, and 'bad guy' identifying chemicals." One example:
Chemicals that effect human behavior so that discipline and morale in enemy units is adversely affected. One distasteful but completely non-lethal example would be strong aphrodisiacs, especially if the chemical also caused homosexual behavior.
Kim Jong Il has made a sport of defying U.S. efforts to halt his country's burgeoning nuclear program, essentially thumbing his nose at the international community in October by staging North Korea's first nuclear test. Today, after the U.S. government's latest diplomatic overture failed, the Bush administration was forced to take swift and decisive action intended to hit Kim where it hurts that is, to cut off exports of luxury goods, such as yachts, plasma TVs, Rolexes, and iPods to North Korea in conjunction with the U.N. Also embargoed is Kim's favorite French cognac, Hennessy, which is certain to agitate "Dear Leader," who is reputed to purchase upwards of $700,000 per year of the stuff. As the AP points out, these trade sanctions seem squarely targeted at Kim, a connoisseur of the finer things in life, who's one of the few people in the impoverished nation who can afford to indulge his taste for extravagances. It remains to be seen whether this effort will bring North Korea back into the diplomatic fold. But one would think that Kim, whose regime has successfully negotiated the nuclear black market, probably won't have a great deal of trouble getting his hands on some outlawed hooch.