It’s hard to
understateoverstate the level to which Fourthbranch runs this government without being subject to regular government scrutiny.
I’ve been reading Craig Unger’s "Fall of the House of Bush" in preparation for our January 5th Book Salon, and this struck me:
Bush, according to the memo by the former Pentagon official who had once worked with Cheney, "would allow others to define the key ‘policy’ choices to make without any preliminary framing guidance from him…. "What Vice President Cheney has managed to do…is to become the sole framer of key issues — issues deemed important by Dick Cheney — for President Bush."
Exactly what went on behind the scenes in framing these issues was difficult to say because secrecy was paramount to Cheney. To store the everyday business of the office of vice president he had installed a man-size Mosler safe, used elsewhere in government to guard highly classified secrets…. The names of Cheney’s staffers, in many cases, were kept secret. His office location in the West Wing of the White House notwithstanding, it was even unclear which branch of government Cheney worked in. Even such mundane matters as talking points for reporters were sometimes stamped "Treated As: Top Secret/SCI." According to the Washington Post, it was a designation that Cheney’s office appears to have invented….In effect, Cheney was protecting unclassified work as though its disclosure would cause "exceptionally grave damage to national security."
Cheney’s core concerns, "the iron issues," as his aide Mary Matalin referred to them, were the economy, energy, the White House legislative agenda — and, of course, national security. To address those concerns, Cheney put together a staff that was unparalleled in the history of the vice presidency, in the process expanding its powers accordingly.
When Al Gore was vice president, he usually had four or five staffers who were experts in national security. By contrast, Cheney hired at least fourteen on his own staff alone, and had scores of loyalists scattered throughout other departments. Cheney’s chief of staff, Scooter Libby, who had experience both at the Pentagon and the State Department, was given the additional title of "national security advisor to the vice president" to give him more clout at interagency meetings. (emphasis mine)
And on it goes, through Luti, Wolfowitz, and Perle, and, of course, Addington, who Unger describes as a ruthless ideologue whose job it is to enforce Cheney’s interests and those of the neocons — at all costs. All of this was done prior to the attacks on 9/11.
The bit about Libby takes me right back to Marc Grossman’s testimony at Libby’s trial — how we all got the sense that Libby’s spoke with Cheney’s voice in interagency meetings and beyond. That little tap dance that Ted Wells tried to pull off on how Libby was just your average viewer of Meet the Press, dialing in with a viewer complaint and getting to talk with Russert about it. (Ha!) The hubris and willingness to shove anyone around to get Cheney’s way permeated the testimony — and Craig Unger’s book backs that up in spades thus far.
Just when you thought the Nixon Administration was the high water mark for secrecy and paranoia, along comes the Fourthbranch Cult of Cheney.