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(guest post by Taylor Marsh

After 9/11, Vice President Richard Cheney seized the initiative. He pushed to expand executive power, transform America’s intelligence agencies and bring the war on terror to Iraq. But first he had to take on George Tenet’s CIA for control over intelligence. "The Dark Side" – FRONTLINE

If you want to know why the Republicans target PBS’s funding, last night’s "The Dark Side" is an example. It’s the reason Americans should thank our lucky stars that we have it. Last night’s program is just another reminder of what can happen when mortal men think they are above the Constitution and are willing to risk it all to control the government. We know the story, at least most of it, but it’s startling all the same.

The relationship between Cheney and Rumsfeld started in the Ford administration. It’s a fascinating tale I happened to watch and live through, but suffice it to say that between the two of them they changed the face of that Administration, while solidifying their own power, which they re-enacted during George W. Bush’s presidency. They are joined in philosophy by what FRONTLINE calls a belief in the "primacy of military power." It’s what I believe finally morphed into Bush’s doctrine of preemption after 9/11. That tragedy became their launching pad for a policy dreamed up long ago.

As for Cheney’s antipathy towards the CIA, it goes back to bad intel on the Iranian revolution, the fact that they missed the collapse of the Soviet Union, but also that the CIA missed Saddam Hussein’s nuclear capabilities back in the early 1990s. However, it is clear that Cheney doesn’t like any arm of the government having separate and independent powers of the president, especially on matters of war and peace. The Nixon era affected us all and depending on your political leanings, on opposite sides of the spectrum, but none more so than Dick Cheney and the man who brought him into power, Donald Rumsfeld.

What is clear about "The Dark Side" is that when the CIA was given the go ahead to go into Afghanistan first, it was a blow to Cheney and Rumsfeld. They decided it would never happen again. What eventually happened in Afghanistan is what John Kerry talked about during the election, but no one would listen. It’s what Gary Berntsen has written about. We had bin Laden and his men, but we let him escape, because the Pentagon and General Tommy Franks didn’t put Army Rangers in to close up the mountainous eastern border, which allowed bin Laden to vanish.

FRONTLINE depicts a story of "Don Rumsfeld’s military." The CIA waited for over a month on the ground in Afghanistan, when it all began, but Rumsfeld did nothing. Then came a "fiery" NSC meeting back in the states where the CIA accused Rumsfeld of "dragging his feet in Afghanistan." Rumsfeld was jealous that George Tenet "had a leg up," so he went to Bush and said, "the CIA has to work for me or this isn’t going to work," said one agent in the documentary.

"We could all feel it slipping away, as week after week after week went by and the U.S. had no military units on the ground except a few Special Forces." – Richard Clarke, FRONTLINE

Knowing what was happening, Gary Berntsen took his men and went in towards bin Laden on his own, without permission of the Defense Department. Berntsen knew where bin Laden was, with around 1,000 men around him. He "urgently" called the Pentagon, which gave air support, but not the Army Rangers needed to finish the job and get bin Laden. It was a "nice beginning" to a "16-day battle," according to Berntsen.

"I’m convinced we wounded him. He was there at Tora Bora. I don’t think there’s any question now that bin Laden was at Tora Bora, was wounded in some way." – CIA agent involved in the mission

CIA officers "in the field told headquarters the border had not been closed and bin Laden had escaped."

Still, the routing of the Taliban in Afghanistan was a thrilling success for the CIA. It wasn’t their fault that not enough force was brought in to get bin Laden. It’s a fatal error that belongs with the Pentagon, but nothing can compare to what would happen next.

Iraq.

Riding high from Afghanistan, Tenet and the CIA then wanted to focus on al Qaeda across the globe. However, Dick Cheney was doing now what he’d done in the Ford administration, "behind closed doors." He "placed loyalists throughout the Administration" to undercut Tenet. It was beginning.

Former Democratic Senator Bob Graham recounts a meeting that General Tommy Franks requested, wherein he is told by the general that resources are now being diverted from Afghanistan to Iraq. Franks denies the encounter.

"…If there were pressures that resulted in Mr. Pillar not being happy with what he finally authored, I can only imagine those pressures must have been extraordinary. Because he’s a man I would want my son to model himself after. To me that says, the pressure from the White House through Mr. Tenet on professional CIA officers was nearly overwhelming." – Michael Scheuer, FRONTLINE

Michael Scheuer talks about Tenet asking CIA agents to go back 10 years to find evidence of Iraq being involved with al Qaeda. Over 75,000 pages and 20,000 documents were examined. There was no connection between Iraq and Al-Qaeda.

One CIA officer after another is interviewed during the FRONTLINE show, giving full throat to what happened inside the intelligence apparatus. It’s as damning an indictment of cooked intelligence and stovepiping as many of us have talked about for months and months on sites and blogs across the web. The coercion of CIA agents was real. We’re still waiting to learn the truth from the Senate, but as long as the Republicans control Congress it will never happen.

Even knowing what happened, nothing prepares you for the unfolding story "The Dark Side" tells about Iraq. We all know it by heart, but to see it laid out again is even more startling than the first time around.

Adding to it all is the reality that Rumsfeld needed to "grow a nearly invisible operation" inside the Pentagon that would produce the intelligence the CIA wouldn’t produce. So he created it, with Douglas Feith in charge. They went to work showing the "true relationship" between Saddam and al Qaeda, what the CIA had been missing.

Then there was the story of the slapped together National Intelligence Estimate, which no one read. It hardly mattered, because it wasn’t worth the paper it was printed on.

"Quite frankly, the thing I find hardest to understand in this entire story: Where was the National Security Adviser, Condi Rice? She should have immediately have said to any DCI, not just George Tenet, anyone who did that in the Oval office: No, you go back and you come back with a better case. … But here again it was allowed to slide. It was allowed to slide because we all know he’s got weapons." David Kay, FRONTLINE

Condoleezza Rice was put in her position for a reason. She was weak, just like Bush, which played right into Cheney and Rumsfeld’s plans.

Then came the State of the Union speech from Bush, which opened out on to Joseph Wilson and the publicizing of the reality behind the hype. While the likes of former General Colin Powell and many others sat by, presented ridiculous tales and did nothing, as we prepared to send our troops to die, Wilson walked into the fire. Considering all the cowards involved in this tale, to call Joseph Wilson a hero is an understatement.

To say everything was a "lie" on Iraq is to cheapen the lives lost. It’s worse. It’s the biggest betrayal in U.S. history, in my opinion, because not even Vietnam compares. The escalation at least came from the president in those days.

During the Bush administration, we’ve been living through the most massive co-opting of the executive branch in history. Rumsfeld now controls the CIA. Cheney’s national security staff, as we now know, is larger than any vice president’s in history. Intelligence is now a function and political arm of the executive branch.

"(Vice President Dick Cheney) went out and had his chief of staff Scooter Libby appoint what amounts to a whole second national security counsel. It became a new source of power within the whole foreign policy community. It’s an agency all its own." – James Mann (author of Rise of the Vulcans)

The real issue then becomes that given Cheney and Rumsfeld’s power, what is George W. Bush really doing and who is really in charge? One thing is certain. It’s not the president.

(picture via)