Daniel Schulman

Senior Editor

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. He is the author of the new Koch brothers biography, Sons of Wichita (Grand Central Publishing). Email him at dschulman (at) motherjones.com.

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The Book the Pentagon Doesn't Want You to Read

| Fri Sep. 10, 2010 9:55 AM EDT

I admit I was unfamiliar with Operation Dark Heart, the new book by former Defense Intelligence Agency officer and retired army reservist Anthony Shaffer, until I read about it in the Times last night. But now I can't wait to get my hands on a copy—partly because it sounds like an interesting read (tagline: "spycraft and special ops on the frontlines of Afghanistan and the path to victory") but mostly because the Pentagon does want me (or you) to get a look at what's inside.

The book was originally cleared by army reviewers, who vetted the manuscript to ensure it didn't reveal national security secrets. It went to press, was sent to reviewers, and was even available for a short time online. Now your best best of getting a copy may be to bid for the one some opportunist put up on Ebay—starting bid, $500 $1000. That's because the Pentagon is now negotiating with Shaffer's publisher to purchase all 10,000 copies of the first print run with the intention of destroying them. It turns out the book may indeed contain a significant amount of senstive material. Once the DIA looked over the book, and shared it with other intelligence agencies, "200 passages suspected of containing classified information" were discovered "setting off a scramble by Pentagon officials to stop the book’s distribution," according to the Times.

It's worth noting that just because information is classified doesn't mean it's not widely available publicly. Details intel community censors might consider worthy of redaction could have already appeared in a news article or elsewhere. And it's not unusual for retired spooks and their publishers to do battle with their former employers over what can and cannot be divulged. (Former CIA officer Gary Berntsen, for one, famously clashed with the agency over what he believed were capricious redactions to his book, Jawbreaker. It's a great book, if you don't mind reading around the swaths of black hiding key details of Berntsen's story.)

The classified portions of Shaffer's book, according to the Times, include "the names of American intelligence officers who served with Colonel Shaffer and his accounts of clandestine operations, including N.S.A. eavesdropping operations." Fox is reporting that intelligence officials are also trying to deep-six portions of the book concerning a classified data mining program known as "Able Danger." Shaffer—and others—have previously said that the program, established in 1999, had identified Mohammed Atta and other 9/11 hijackers well before the attacks, though an investigation by the Senate intelligence committee has determined the claim doesn't hold up.

One thing's for sure: the Pentagon's effort to block the book's release has probably done more to boost its future sales prospects (albeit, for a heavily redacted version) than any ad blitz. (See Wings Over Iraq for more on DIA's inadvertent publicity campaign.) It's certainly one way to sell out a first printing in record time.

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Rep. Louie Gohmert's "Terror Baby" Meltdown

| Fri Aug. 13, 2010 6:36 AM EDT

Recently, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.) has beens sounding the alarm about a new and insidious plot involving so called "terror babies." Infants are sometimes known to be terrors in their own right, but this diabolical plan involves terrorists sending pregnant women into the US to birth their America-hating spawns. The mothers and their kids then return home where, the congressman says, the children "could be raised and coddled as future terrorists"— and later, "twenty, thirty years down the road, they can be sent in to help destroy our way of life." Gohmert, a member of the newly formed Tea Party Caucus and a supporter of a bill stemming from the "birther" conspiracy about the president's citizenship, has used the far-fetched terror baby conspiracy to bash the Obama administration's immigration policy and its legal challenge to Arizona's draconian law. "They figured out how stupid we are being in this country to allow our enemies to game our system," he said during a debate on the House floor in late June. "We won’t do anything about it we’ll even sue a state that tries to do something about it."

Here's the thing: There doesn't appear to be a morsel of evidence to support Gohmert's terror baby tale, which the congressman says he learned of from a woman on a plane while en route to the Middle East and from a retired FBI agent. (The FBI says it has no information about such a plot. And former top bureau official Tom Fuentes has called Gohmert's claims "ludicrous.") So last night Anderson Cooper featured Gohmert and his terror babies plot in the show's "Keeping Them Honest" segment. What followed was about 9 minutes of high-quality crazy, courtesy of a congressman known for making outlandish claims and staking out unorthodox and outright bizarre positions.

Gohmert was in feisty form and quickly came unhinged ("you're going to keep me honest!" he thundered), blasting Cooper for calling him out for political fear-mongering. "You're attacking the messenger," Gohmert yelled. "Anderson, you're better than this. You used to be good. You used to find that there was a problem and go after it instead of going after the messenger." Gohmert grow ever more irate, as Cooper repeatedly pressed him to provide any credible information to back up his claims. "Sir, do you want to offer any evidence?" Cooper asked at one point. "I'm giving up an opportunity to say what research and evidence you have. You've offered none, other then yelling." Let's just say Gohmert declined Cooper's offer. Just watch this clip. You won't be dissappointed. And, while you're watching, keep in mind that Gohmert is a former district and appeals court judge.

Karzai's Anti-Corruption Obstruction

| Thu Aug. 5, 2010 7:02 AM EDT

Here we go again. Remember when Hamid Karzai amped up Afghan-US tensions in February when he moved to bring an independent election watchdog under his control? It was this maneuver that led the Obama administration to rescind an initial White House invite. Now, the Wall Street Journal reports, Karzai has staged a similar power play. Following the arrest of one of Karzai's top security aides on corruption charges, the Afghan president has clamped down on the two NATO-backed anti-corruption units that led the investigation.

Last week, Afghanistan's Major Crimes Task Force (MCTF) and a lesser-known division targeting high-level graft, the Sensitive Investigative Unit, jointly raided the home of Mohammed Zia Saleh, a top official who headed administration for Afghanistan's National Security Council. The Journal explains the allegations against Saleh:

According to several Western officials, U.S.-backed investigators taped a conversation in which Mr. Saleh was negotiating a bribe—in the form of a car—in return for squashing an inquiry into the New Ansari Exchange, a large and influential money-transfer outfit. New Ansari has deep connections with prominent members of the Afghan government and the Karzai family, and, according to investigators, it is also suspected of links to Taliban insurgents and narcotics smugglers. The car, valued at about $10,000, was allegedly a small part of a larger proposed payoff, the officials said.

Saleh's arrest by the anti-corruption units, which are run with the help of American and British adivisors, reportedly enraged Karzai, who viewed it as an assault of Afghan sovereignty. (Karzai apparently wasn't made aware of the operation, which raises its own set of questions.) As in February, when he felt the international community encroaching on the elections watchdog, Karzai swooped in. In this case, he's putting in place a commission that will monitor "all of the activities" of both task forces, while also reviewing past and present investigations. "The president has ordered the commission to look into the overall practices of the MCTF because it seems that there are some aspects of where they went beyond the Afghan legislation and the constitution of Afghanistan," Karzai's top spokesman, Waheed Omar, said earlier this week.

Since the Obama administration ramped up pressure on Karzai to crack down on corruption, the Afghan leader has taken a schizophrenic approach to the issue, making contradictory statements that cast doubt on his commitment. He calls fighting graft a top priority, but later describes Afghanistan's corruption problem is vastly overblown. He convenes an anti-corruption conference, then suggests in his speech that a recent anti-corruption coup (the prosecution of the mayor of Kabul) was a miscarriage of justice. He pledges that "individuals who are involved in corruption will have no place in the government," but chafes when investigators stray too close to his inner circle.

Karzai's latest move seems destined to neuter these two high-level law enforcement organizations—and it has already succeeded in reviving tensions between the Afghan and US governments. It surely sends another mixed message about Karzai's anti-corruption commitment. The Major Crimes Task Force, in particular, has often been cited as one of Afghanistan's anti-corruption success stories by US and Afghan officials alike. Now it's just further evidence that the Obama administration's strategy—of which anti-corruption initiatives are a key pillar—is faring poorly indeed.

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