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The Political Folly Awards of 2005

An account of the festivities that caught the spirit of last year.

| Tue Jan. 3, 2006 4:00 AM EST

As with bestselling books by big authors from publishing conglomerates and Oscar-winning films from giant studios, so, when it comes to the Political Folly Awards, the famed PFs, ever fewer members of the Bush administration and associated bureaucrats, spooks, and Pentagon officials took ever more of them in 2005. Unfortunately, our secret panel of judges, all former members of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (or FISA) courts, saw no alternative but to distribute the PFs as they did. We want, however, to give you our ironclad guarantee of probity as we run through the winners for 2005: No unwarranted decisions were made this year.

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The newly minted "Complete Victory" Award, known in previous years as the "Mission Accomplished" Award, goes to President George W. Bush. It was bestowed to honor his sudden declaration on November 30, 2005, against a backdrop of "Plan for Victory" signs, that we would settle for nothing less than the whole shebang in Iraq, right down to the unconditional surrender of whomever it was we were fighting. The President drove home his point by using the word "victory" a record-breaking 15 times in that speech and once in its title ("President Outlines Strategy for Victory in Iraq"); meanwhile, the administration issued a 35-page "strategy document," supposedly from the Pentagon, on how to successfully fight the insurgency. The document was, in fact, written by Peter D. Feaver, a Duke University specialist on wartime public opinion, and as Peter Baker and Jim VandeHei of the Washington Post commented, was "principally designed to prove" that Bush had a strategy. All this left our heads spinning! The citation for this award -- that accompanied the traditional winged plastic turkey statuette -- was written for our judges by an Iraqi commentator, Ghassan Attiyah, who summed up their feelings in a single mission-accomplished sentence: "In two and a half years Bush has succeeded in creating two new Talibans in Iraq." And Ghassan, ever modest, didn't mention the half of it. After all, in the same blindingly short period, our President managed to spread democracy to the Middle East by opening the way for a Shiite theocratic government in Baghdad guaranteed to be closely aligned with the theocratic government of Iran whose shaky leader recently declared the Holocaust to be a figment of the modern Jewish and European imagination! Congratulations, George. And it all comes from skipping the frills and emphasizing the fundamental(ism)s!

The Most Imperial Vice President Award proved, for yet another year, to be a contest of one... and the winner was [redacted]. Please note, if you read further, you will be investigated. If, however, some branch or agency of the U.S. government is already investigating you, as is likely if you are an American or have ever sent an e-message like, "Virginia, the Afghan rug is unraveling. I'd love another one for my birthday. Your loving niece [name withheld]," then read on -- the damage is already done.

The Mission Leap Award (until this year, the Mission Creep Award, also known as the Security Begins Under Your Bed Award) went to the Pentagon's Counterintelligence Field Activity or CIFA. This new counterterrorism agency grew in three brief years from a small coordinating office located in a five-sided broom closet into "an analytic and operational organization with nine directorates and ever-widening authority" (as well as a sizeable secret budget). Without oversight itself, it now oversees a data-mining operation including a database codenamed Talon that contained surveillance reports on peaceful American civilian protests and demonstrations. It was, one PF judge commented, the best mission-leap example of the militarization of civilian counterintelligence seen in years.

According to our panel of judges, this was the most hotly contested category in the competition. After all, as the year ended, we learned that the National Security Agency (NSA) was warrantlessly harvesting unknown but vast numbers of domestic conversations and emails via the American telecommunication system's main arteries (and passing some of the information gleaned on to other government agencies); that FBI and Department of Energy teams were trolling Washington DC Muslim communities and institutions (and entering private property without warrants) looking for nuclear bombs, while the FBI was obtaining controversial "national security letters" to gain secret access to the personal records of tens of thousands of Americans (and depositing anything learned, even from those not suspected of wrongdoing, in permanent government data banks); that the New York City Police Department was conducting illegal surveillance of "people protesting the Iraq war, bicycle riders taking part in mass rallies and even mourners at a street vigil for a cyclist killed in an accident"; and that, despite much negative publicity this year, the CIA program known as GST, which includes the Agency's "extraordinary rendition" or kidnapping operations, its secret fleet of planes to transport kidnapped terror suspects around the globe, its network of secret prisons outside the U.S., and its enhanced ability to mine financial records and eavesdrop on suspects, has not even been slightly dented. For this, according to A. John Radsan, assistant general counsel at the CIA from 2002 to 2004, the CIA can thank the "personal commitment" of a President who "seems to relish the secret findings and the dirty details of operations."

Note that the ceremony for the well-attended Intelligence Community (or IC) Tradecraft and Technical Awards was held several days earlier at an undisclosed location. The following awards were given out:

* The Most Mistaken Kidnappings Directly Off Foreign Highways and Byways Award went to the CIA since, according to the agency's own conservative count, there have been up to 10 mistaken-identity "extraordinary renditions" of perfectly innocent people out of the 100-150 snatch operations the Agency has reportedly undertaken.

* The IC High-Living Award also was corralled by the CIA. Agency renditioners in Italy received this La Dolce Vita award -- according to the judges' citation -- "for most macadamia nuts consumed at a single five-star hotel while on a kidnapping assignment." The site was Milan where hordes of CIA operatives were sent to kidnap a single Muslim cleric named Abu Omar and, in the course of their operation, rang up $9,000 in room charges alone at the Principe di Savoia (where your run-of-the-mill club sandwich costs $28.75 and your basic single room, $588 a night). The CIA's bill at the Principe for seven operatives -- only one of several five-star hotels cleverly absorbed into their spycraft for this single operation -- came to $39,995, not counting meals, parking, and other hotel services -- or nuts.

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