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The Story
August 12, 2003
By Raul Groom

"You get the ankles, and I'll get the wrists." - Soul Coughing

It was a Soul Coughing kind of week. There were deadlines and unexplained oddities and looming crises and, of course, this pesky full-time job that I seem to wind up at practically every damn day. I waited in joyful hope for The Story to appear in its malevolent magnificence and upset the teetering apple-carts of the imbeciles and bag men and two-bit bookmakers who are currently dominating every aspect of American politics, most of all the steroid-crazed caricature of Ronald Reagan inexplicably transcending his well-earned place in the pantheon of Hollywood shark jumpers by mounting a whirlwind campaign of photo-opping and catchphrase uttering in a fool attempt to storm the California Governor's Mansion. The decisive question, so far unexplored, is whether Arnie's candidacy will be able to survive the airing (on the Fox network, no less) of the inevitable "McBain Runs For Office" episode of The Simpsons. But never mind all that.

Monday and Tuesday passed, and The Story did not surface. By Wednesday, it was clear that something was amiss. The Washington Post was running dull and unserious headlines about trivial issues and showing unmistakable signs of falling down on the job. The optimists among us became convinced that something big was in the works, but when Friday rolled around and The Story was not forthcoming, we started to concede that the cynics might be right. The Post newsroom had obviously been swept up, like everyone else, in the oohing and ahhing over Gore's weird declaration of intent to play Kingmaker in 2004 and the orgy of cliche-hurling masquerading as national media coverage of the California recall.

I finally gave up on Saturday and headed out to buy a copy of Ruby Vroom (for therapeutic purposes) and watch the Browns kick off the preseason against the Tennessee Titans. The Bushies were going to be let off the hook again, and I was not going to take it lying down. I was going to get drunk and yell and go home to listen to a group of nutcases belt out lunatic rhymes over sugar-free jazz riffs. Under the circumstances, it seemed like the right thing to do.

The fates were lined up against me even in surrender. DirecTV broadcasts of preseason games are apparently unreliable, and the only game the pub had was the Washington v. Carolina game, which I will care about - on behalf of Stephen Davis, whom the Redskins heartlessly and brainlessly discarded in the offseason and who now totes the pill for the Panthers - when the teams meet again in November, but in which I had no interest on August 9th. Even for a hard-line gridiron junkie, it's impossible to watch any team other than your own in a game that does not count and in which a large percentage of the players are desperate losers who could easily be selling life insurance by Halloween.

Sophia and I left the pub to get dinner elsewhere, and the evening began picking up steam. The food was surprisingly good, and we stopped by a photography exhibition afterwards to see some friends who are shipping off to Mali in a few months. The photographs were spectacular, and the house was alive with the dissatisfaction and brilliance and apathy that can only be exuded by a large group of affluent artists. The wine flowed and the mosquitoes hummed and no one talked about politics or football or any of the other obsessions that poison my dreams and heat my motor into the red zone.

The world was a pale yellow glow of satisfaction when I arrived back at the house, and I decided to give the news a quick check. I popped over to the Post website to take in whatever tripe they would be pushing as their Sunday lead before heading off to bed. As I entered the spare bedroom where we keep the computer, though, a black-clad group of bandits and scalawags whunked me over the head with a sack of pennies and carted me off to a parallel universe.

I have no specific memory of the incident, but that is the only explanation I can offer for the enormous bombshell that I saw detonating on the cover of the paper's online incarnation. It seems Barton Gellman and Walter Pincus spent the week talking to well-connected people at the CIA, who told them all about a certain agent who was the front man for the Bush administration's efforts to convince the United Nations that the overwhelming majority of world nuclear experts were wrong in their assessment that Saddam Hussein was using rocket body tubes to produce, of all things, rockets.

The Official Administration Line, which this dogged spook - whom the unnamed CIA source has asked the Post to call "Joe" - faithfully parroted, was that the tubes were part of an elaborate operation to deceive everyone in the world and produce a nuclear bomb without acquiring any of the key technology required for the job by less diabolical nuclear powers such as the United States. According to the Bush Approved version of the tale, U.S. nuclear engineers were far behind even mid-level Iraqi civil servants in their understanding of the refining and weaponization of uranium. Joe assured the U.N. that the Iraqis were MacGyver-like in their ability to produce weapons-ready uranium using spare rocket parts and imaginary yellow cake from what George W. has occasionally referred to as "the nation of Africa."

That's a paraphrase, of course. The actual text of his presentation presumably sounded a little less stupid, although it was not enough to convince the Security Council or the General Assembly that a war in Iraq was justified. It did convince the Bush administration, which is not all that surprising since they were the ones who made up the story in the first place.

When a journalist - or in this case, a pack of them - pounds out a piece this monstrous, this earth-shattering, it is incumbent upon other writers and commentators to stop blathering on about trivial and inconsequential things and call attention to The Story. This attitude has clearly not taken strong root among the charismatic but vacuous pundits who hang out in studios barking one-liners at one another and showing off their shiny new suits and straight white teeth to the Sunday morning TV audiences. Virtually no one was talking this morning about the Gellmann/Pincus article, Hardball and Face the Nation having apparently been story-boarded before the Post hit newsstands with the surefire Pulitzer candidate.

Perhaps the article was simply too long - after all, if top government officials are no longer required to read key intelligence reports, I suppose we can hardly expect Chris Matthews to take a half hour out of his morning blow-dry to read the most important front-page news story of this generation, much less to be familiar with its contents and key arguments in time to actually discuss the matter on his TV program. But it is of no real consequence. After all, one has only to read the article for herself to see the magnitude and scope of the scandal that is suddenly busting out all over Washington, and I would encourage anyone who has not already done so to stop wasting your time on this long-winded piece of trash and immediately go check it out.

The only thing you might not pick up just from reading the story, which is indeed quite long but worth every column inch, is that the real danger for the Bush clan is not what they said or did, but whom they have pissed off, and whom they have "misunderestimated." George Tenet was never well-liked among the rank and file of the agency, but Karl Rove and Dick Cheney must have assumed that loyalty would keep the spooks in line when the two settled on the strategy of diverting as much blame as possible towards the intelligence community. For a while, the ploy seemed to be working, as they had the apparent support of the DCIA, but now Tenet finds himself swinging sickeningly back and forth, his wrists and ankles in the hands of the very men he betrayed every time he allowed weak, unpopular arguments to be presented as the best CIA analysis available.

As Cockburn and St. Clair point out unforgettably in their excellent book WhiteOut, "The CIA is not a kindergarten." When the Agency decides to throw a man overboard, the results are not pretty, and Tenet will be very lucky if the worst that comes of all this is that he has to slink back to Queens and ask for his old job back waiting tables in the family restaurant.

Tenet, unlike almost every other CIA Director in history (though the elder Bush still claims implausibly that he was not with the CIA until he was appointed Director) is not a lifelong CIA man but a political hack and opportunist who lucked into the job when Tony Lake went belly-up during the confirmation process. It is not impossible to imagine that if he continues to show more loyalty to the Bush administration than to the men and women who toil to gather the intelligence that he so cavalierly butchers for Rove's Machiavellian ends, he might meet with a mysterious and unfortunate accident. On the other hand, Tenet's reputation within the agency may be so far gone at this point that he has no choice but to cling to the sinking ship that is Bush/Cheney and hope that the CIA, an organization that has authored more gruesome murders than Agatha Christie, decides to let bygones be bygones.

Now that The Story has finally broken, there is little for the rest of us to do but stand back and watch in awe as the pieces fall into place. In the coming months, there will be plenty of opportunity for handicapping different officials' chances to be around next summer, and lots of side bets on questions like which die-hard conservative columnist will be the first to compare the investigation to McCarthyism. Currently George Will is my favorite in the latter category, at 5:2 just ahead of Ann Coulter, who would be all chalk laying 1:2 if she hadn't just published a book defending McCarthy and his strange quixotic excesses.

So, since I've nothing useful to contribute except a couple hundred words of praise and a link to someone else's story, I'm celebrating with some fuzzy navels and a new recipe for baked spaghetti I'm calling "Roast George." Odds are not yet available on whether the name refers to Tenet or another George altogether.

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