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After a week of hearings into the FEMA response to Katrina that saw Michael Brown laying blame on the DHS and claiming the White House knew from the first moment that New Orleans was flooding, Friday came along and we learned that Scotty Libby was fingering Cheney as the White House leaker-in-chief. That same day, news that former CIA official Robert Pillar, the man in charge of Middle East intelligence, was making claims that
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which simply reinforced the already known content of the Downing Street Memos.
And as though that weren't enough ugly news, air force veteran and former National Security Council aide, Heather A. Wilson (R-NM), chairwoman of the House Intelligence Subcommittee on Technical and Tactical Intelligence, called for a full Congressional inquiry into the NSA wiretapping program.
And then Dick Cheney shot a guy.
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Once the Cheney outrage-fest began to fizzle, Friday was rolling around again and what did we see pop onto the headlines? Why, as though out of the blue, the Bush administration had just awarded a port operations contract to a company based in the United Arab Emirates, a country with known connections to the attacks of 9/11. Even Republicans were jumping on this one, with Senator Graham noting the political tone deafness of the action. Now Senate leader Frist is expressing concern and has called for a halt to the ill-considered deal.
But this contract award announcement is hardly ill-considered. In fact, it has probably been very well-considered and for at least two reasons. One, for the very excellent distraction factor it presents for the White House. After a week of Cheney, which appears to be about all anyone can handle at a given stretch, now the media has moved onto to coverage of this little UAE charade, NSA wiretapping and White House leaks nothing more than media dust-bunnies, twirling around in some dark corner. And two, it presents for various GOP congressional members an excellent issue upon which to appear independent, clear-headed and strong. And just in time for the beginnings of the campaign season.
With an incredibly low public approval rating -- lower than the White House -- and congressional GOP members being labelled a "rubberstamp" for the White House agenda, along comes a contract award that everyone can feel comfortable opposing and look good in doing so. Senators and congressman now have an "issue" upon which to hang strong statements about national security and look like the independent public servants they would like the American public to believe they are.
Of course, this is a phoney issue. The White House probably couldn't care less about backing the contract award. We will see an initial defense, as was half-heartedly offered up by Chertoff, more back and forth will ensue and, after a predetermined number of news cycles, I expect to see the White House appease the concerns of the sincere senators. If the fact that a White House lapdog like Frist feels comfortable about opposing this, there cannot possibly be anything serious in this issue.
Just watch and wait for it.
Oh, and NSA wiretapping? Cheney's authorising leaks? The White House ginning up intelligence to invade Iraq? Move along, folks....
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An astronomer who has worked on a number of NASA projects, Ken lives in Baltimore, where he devotes his scientific training to observations and inferences about current affairs, politics and the media. Beer also helps this.
He authors Anything They Say and The Bonehead Compendium.