In George W. Bush's book Decision Points, the former president tells a story of his presidency based on his own say-so. In my book Family of Secrets, based on five years of research, hundreds of interviews and thousands of documents, I reveal a very different one.
BUSH: Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld pushed him to invade Iraq. He portrays himself as a reluctant warrior who had qualms about resort to force.
BAKER: Bush was already looking forward to invading Iraq years earlier. Bush told his own contracted ghostwriter, back in 1999, when he was not yet even the GOP nominee, that if elected president he would invade Iraq. The reason? Score political points and secure high poll numbers. Bush confided his belief that successful presidents needed to win a war, and he thought Iraq would be an easy one.
[excerpt from FAMILY OF SECRETS, PP. 422-23
W. told Mickey Herskowitz, then his ghostwriter, about what makes a successful leader. Prominent among them, the future president of the United States confided, was the benefit of starting a war. ... "He was thinking about invading Iraq in 1999," Herskowitz told me in our 2004 interview..."It was on his mind. He said to me: 'One of the keys to being seen as a great leader is to be seen as a commander in chief.' And he said, 'My father had all this political capital built up when he drove the Iraqis out of Kuwait, and he wasted it.' He said, 'If I have a chance to invade . . . if I had that much capital, I'm not going to waste it. I'm going to get everything passed that I want to get passed, and I'm going to have a successful presidency.' "
BUSH: A religious conversion changed his life.
BAKER: In a way, yes; but not as Bush's account implies. Bush's "conversion" came after a key Bush family political adviser warned that it was impossible to win the presidency without embracing the sentiments of America's huge bloc of fundamentalist Christians.
[excerpt from FAMILY OF SECRETS, PP. 399-401
The beauty of the religious right as a political bloc was that it provided a large pool of voters that often acted in unison.... Despite the Bush family's traditional aversion to its culture, Rove and the other strategists knew that they had to have that bloc.
In March 1987, after years of reading and vetting religion adviser Doug Wead's memos, W. finally met the influential evangelical. He quickly developed a close relationship with the man he came to call "Weadie."...One day, the two were sitting in W.'s office on Fourteenth Street in Washington, discussing strategies for approaching various evangelicals. "We're going through a list of the names of these religious leaders,"Wead told me in a 2006 interview, "and . . . W.'s not into details at all . . . His eyes glaze over in thirty seconds; you got to be right to the point, quick. We're going over these leaders and how his dad can win them over one by one, discussing different strategies. And he looks down the list and bing! He sees this guy's name, the guy with the cross. He says, tell me about him, tell me about this guy." The guy was Arthur Blessitt.... In fact, W. was playing dumb with Wead, because he already knew all about the fortuitously named Blessitt. He had met him in April 1984 when the itinerant minister had come to Midland on a crusade, while dragging a giant cross through America....
However, Wead had warned the Bushes that they had to be careful how they couched their conversion story. It couldn't be seen as something too radical or too tacky. Preachers who performed stunts with giant crosses would not do. Billy Graham, "spiritual counselor to presidents," would do perfectly. ...After W. began recounting the story of a private spiritual chat with Graham, the establishment's favorite minister admitted to one journalist that he didn't remember the encounter with Bush at all.
BUSH: He was mortified by the disaster that resulted from Hurricane Katrina (and takes some responsibility for the slow response)
BAKER: The incompetence of the federal government was the result of willful neglect of FEMA, the agency in charge of response. Bush and his team were interested in weakening and defunding agencies like FEMA, and outsourcing their functions and budgets to friends and supporters.
[excerpt from FAMILY OF SECRETS, PP. 476, 484-487
The botched handling of Katrina cut deep; and the reason for it was the same as for the other derelictions and misdeeds. Government was to be a honeypot for cronies and supporters, and a grindstone for ideological axes.
... "When I saw Brown up there at FEMA, I had a premonition of bad things to come," his former boss Stephen Jones recalled when I visited him at his Enid, Oklahoma office. Brown had been awful, even botching a simple wrongful death case while working there. In the years after Jones' firm let him go, Brown would be sued for failing to pay his rent for shared law offices--a piece of civil litigation he neglected to mention in the Senate confirmation process, even though he was required to do so. He would also be accused by his sister-in-law of changing her father's will in a way that benefited Brown and his wife while leaving the sister-in-law a virtual pauper.
Brown found haven in another state, as commissioner of judges and stewards with the International Arabian Horse Association (IAHA)...His official bio on the FEMA Web site didn't even mention this job, which suggests how irrelevant it was to the responsibilities that had been entrusted to him. Yet it turns out that Brown, a low-level GOP operative, had his own reasons to be modest about this portion of his career. Brown supposedly was hired to root out cronyism and corruption in the horse world. Instead, he devoted the bulk of his energies to a crusade against the sport's most successful trainer, who had angered powerful people with connections at the top of the Republican Party. ...Brown's predecessor at FEMA, Joe Allbaugh, who brought him into the emergency agency, left Brown in charge and became a lobbyist for companies seeking government contracts for Katrina cleanup and security projects in Iraq.
BUSH: His father did not have much influence with him, beyond being generally supportive offstage.
BAKER: Father and son were joined in the family enterprise from the start. Their respective ventures in the oil business were connected to covert intelligence operations.
[excerpt from FAMILY OF SECRETS, PP. 34-35, 337-341]
Zapata Offshore, which provided perfect cover for activities in a host of hot spots around the world, may have been the brightest stone in CIA director Allen Dulles's crown. Two weeks after Zapata Offshore land-based sister Zapata Petroleum was launched, Neil Mallon wrote to CIA director Dulles about "an upcoming meeting... [to which he had] invited a close personal friend, Prescott Bush. We want to talk to them about our Pilot Project in the Caribbean and have you listen in."
Mallon would play a crucial role for Dulles by introducing him to the powerful new-moneyed oil elites in Dallas that would, along with a separate group in Houston, become the leading funders of off-the-books covert operations in Latin America. They would commence with efforts to overthrow Latin American and Caribbean leaders in the 1950s. The efforts would continue, under Poppy Bush, with Iran-contra in the 1980s....
In 1958, Zapata Offshore's drilling rig Scorpion was moved from the Gulf of Mexico to Cay Sal Bank, ... fifty-four miles north of Isabela, Cuba.... CIA-connected entities were involved in the operation.... The same year that Gulf leased Bush's platform, CIA veteran Kermit "Kim" Roosevelt joined Gulf's board. This was the same Kermit Roosevelt who had overseen the CIA's successful 1953 coup against the democratically elected Iranian prime minister Mohammad Mossadegh...It looked like the Bush-CIA group was preparing for operations in the Caribbean basin....
...Harken Energy had absorbed George W. Bush's failed oil company, put him on its board and paid him handsomely, though he did little work. Yet the largesse of the figures behind Harken Energy played role in the younger Bush's quick march to the presidency. Virtually everyone who has looked at Harken over the years agrees that it is some strange kind of corporate beast...One finds figures associated with BCCI, gold caches, and an alphabet soup of secret societies appearing at critical junctures to bail out Harken, traveling to the White House to meet with Bush's father, George H.W. Bush, then flying off to make deals with the likes of Saddam Hussein or the Chinese in the wake of the Tiananmen Massacre. ...Harken also pulls the curtain back further on ... collusions and interferences in a broad range of institutions, from precious metals to the awarding of drilling contracts.... One thing, though, is clear: The story of Harken fits in perfectly with our evolving exploration of the Bush family's role in a globally reaching, fundamentally amoral, financial-intelligence-resource apparatus that has never before been properly documented....
Most intriguingly, Robert G. Stone, Jr., the longtime chairman of the seven-member Harvard Corporation [which invested massive sums in Harken around the time George W. Bush came on board], turns out to have been in business with the "former" CIA officer Thomas J. Devine. That's the same Thomas J. Devine who purportedly retired from the agency in order to help the elder Bush start up Zapata Offshore.
Those are just a few of the problems with the Bush narrative. But the principal failing of Decision Points is that it skips over so much that is crucial to understanding the man and his presidency. It is not accidental that, like his father, George W. chose not to write a full-bore memoir that would have brought this broader focus into play.
Here are a few examples of what Bush has chosen not to tell us:
-A Good Cleaning Saves a Presidency: Two generations of George Bushes, working together, used a simple dental exam to cover up the son's disappearance from the military during the Vietnam War. The trick has successfully deflected inquiry for nearly four decades.
[excerpt from FAMILY OF SECRETS, P. 153, 443-450
From their holiday gathering in Washington, the Bush clan repaired for New Year's 1973 to their winter home on Florida's exclusive Hobe Sound...Father and son had a big fight over the son's behavior. He was behaving like a jerk....But what really needed urgent attention was W.'s vanishing act from the Guard. Poppy Bush, an expert in making problems go away, apparently took matters into his own hands....
From Florida, W. did not head directly back to Texas. Instead, he stopped off in Alabama--a state where he no longer resided--and did two things. First, he visited a dentist at Dannelly Air Force Base for a routine X-ray, thereby generating paperwork that could be presented to the press three decades later as evidence of his Alabama military service....But in a 2004 interview, the dentist who had seen Bush, Dr. John Andrew Harris, told me that his clinic did not even do actual dental work. Bush, he said, was merely there to have his teeth charted for identification purposes in case of death. This is especially odd, since by the time of Bush's visit, the nonresident of Alabama was no longer flying at all, seemingly negating the entire purpose of the exam. On that same quick stop in Montgomery, W. called a young female acquaintance, invited her to dinner, showed up wearing his military uniform, and announced that he was in town for "guard training."
Decades later, during W.'s 2004 reelection campaign against John Kerry, who had served with distinction in Vietnam, Bush's staff was pressed to explain the gap in his military service. The White House released the record of the dental exam and referred phone calls to Bush's now older female acquaintance. The American media, for the most part, accepted these two items as proof that Bush had fulfilled his service obligation....ABC's World News Tonight with Peter Jennings took the new White House bait. Terry Moran reported, "That puts Mr. Bush in Alabama, on duty, and seems to disprove the charge by Democratic Party leader Terry McAuliffe and others that the president was AWOL at that time."
-Oil the Presidents Men: A close friend of George W. Bush helped provide cover for W's disappearance from the Texas Air National Guard unit in which both served. He then was rewarded with a lucrative assignment as middleman between Saudi oil interests and the Bush family, that included financing of the illegal Iran-Contra operation and an alliance with a clan called Bin Laden.
[excerpt from FAMILY OF SECRETS, PP. 294-315, passim]
Poppy's secret past with the agency and his powerful connections at the epicenter of the oil-money culture in Texas would help him to implement the growing covert relationship with the Saudis. In this, Poppy worked closely with his counterpart at the Saudi General Intelligence Division (GID), Kamal Adham, who was also head of the separate agency charged with protecting the Saudi royal family. Adham had a third important connection, his longtime friendship and business partnership with Khalid bin Mahfouz--the man who together with his partner Salem bin Laden, hired Jim Bath....
....It was often the people they claimed not to have known, the ones they felt they had to whisper about, who really mattered. Jim Bath was one of these people. Beginning when he and George W. were suspended from flying in 1972, Bath's relationship with the Bush family, which had been common knowledge, became akin to classified information. For years thereafter, W. sought to create distance from his friend while Poppy Bush denied knowing him at all.
"Bush was responsible for Bath's relationship with the Arabs from the onset,"said Charles W. "Bill" White.... Bath..moved away from his role as W.'s minder...White says Bath told him that he was personally recruited by George H. W. Bush when the senior Bush was CIA director in 1976...."He explained that the Saudis had basically entered into a quid pro quo relationship with Bush and that Bush--when he was CIA director-- worked with the head of Saudi Intelligence, and the CIA trained the Palace Guard to protect the Saudi royal family, which was concerned about a fundamentalist revolution."
"My understanding of it is that Bath represented the Bush interests and bin Laden/bin Mahfouz interchangeably represented the Saudi royal family interests," said White... The two Saudis entered into a business relationship with Bath. They would provide the money, and he would be the front man and manager of the enterprises....Salem bin Laden and Khalid bin Mahfouz arrived in Houston shortly after Jim Bath flew that clunky plane out to Riyadh.
It would soon be apparent that some, if not most, of this Texas-Saudi connection had to do with the growing off- the-books covert intelligence operations in which Poppy was deeply immersed. Between them, the wealthy Saudis and Americans controlled what amounted to an empire....
-Land of Opportunity: One of the strangest companies ever to appear in the oil business, tied to the CIA, foreign dictators, money launderers, and illicit caches of gold, helped fund George W. Bush's rise to the presidency.
[excerpt from FAMILY OF SECRETS, P. 331-333, 336-339
[excerpt from FAMILY OF SECRETS, P. 354, 361, 363, 368, 381-382]
Young Bush's failing oil company Bush Exploration was rescued by a bigger firm, Spectrum 7 Energy, run by William DeWitt, who Bush as president would later name to his Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, and Mercer Reynolds, who Bush would appoint as his ambassador to the banking havens Switzerland and Liechtenstein. When Spectrum 7 itself ran into trouble, it was scooped up by an even bigger firm, the Dallas-based Harken Energy, a comparatively little- known independent oil and gas company. Harken put W. on its board, and gave him a handsome compensation package which required almost nothing of him, and he moved to Washington to help manage his father's presidential campaign.
Virtually everyone who has looked at Harken over the years agrees that it is some strange kind of corporate beast. The company's books have never made any sense to outsiders--which might have had something to do with the fact that the only people who seemed to make any money were the insiders. In 1991 Time proclaimed Harken "one of the most mysterious and eccentric outfits ever to drill for oil."...
For the first decade of its existence, Harken was a fairly conventional, and mostly profitable, oil exploration firm. But in 1983, things began to change when New York lawyer Alan Quasha gradually began buying out the owner, Phil Kendrick.... The funding for all this was baffling... the money came through an entity in Bermuda, a trust in the name of Quasha's mother, with major blocks of shares taken by other members of the Quasha family. According to company filings, his father, William Quasha, who lived in the Philippines and was close to the strongman Ferdinand Marcos, bought 21 percent of Harken's stock. Why did the Quasha family find this particular company so interesting? Kendrick couldn't stop thinking about what he had heard about the Quashas and Marcos--and couldn't help wondering whether the money going into Harken wasn't really Marcos's money--or, more precisely, because of Marcos's reputation for pillaging his country's treasury, the money of the people of the Philippines. Bush was being taken care of by Harken, after all, and Bush's father was a strong supporter of the controversial Marcos.
-The Loan (ar)Ranger-- A group of individuals seeking favor with the administration of Bush's father subsidized George W. Bush's stock holdings in the Texas Rangers baseball team. They created a lucrative virtual no-show job that associated him with a popular local sports franchise and also with a business success. Later, Bush sold his Rangers stock at a big gain to a man he enabled to profit off University of Texas pension funds--and who ultimately put the Rangers into bankruptcy.
All W.'s Texas Rangers position really required was for him to show up at baseball games--which, of course, he was eager to do because of the public exposure it gave him. For this he received a salary of $200,000, about $350,000 in today's dollars--his largest compensation ever--for what was at most a part- time job.... As Glenn Sodd, the opposing attorney on the Rangers' land seizures recalled: "Bush never showed up at any of the key meetings about the [stadium deal]. If Bush spent two hours a week working on the baseball team, I'd be surprised."...
One of the investments Bush had not shed until well into his gubernatorial years was his stake in the Rangers. It was a wise move, financially speaking. Bush's personal stock rose with the value of the team, and when he and his group sold out in 1998 for $250 million, Bush took out $15 million--not bad for an initial $600,000 investment, which was borrowed money to begin with.
The buyer was a financier named Tom Hicks....Hicks's most controversial play came in the early nineties, when he became enraged after the University of Texas refused to invest part of its endowment in a dental company he owned. Not one to take defeat lightly, Hicks launched a concerted effort to secure control of university investments.
There was nothing subtle about Hicks's attempts to buy influence. He and his brother Steven gave a total of $146,000 to W.'s 1994 and 1998 gubernatorial campaigns. At the same time he was lobbying heavily for the creation of the University of Texas Investment Management Company (UTIMCO)--the first external investment corporation ever formed by a public university system.
In his first year in office, W. approved legislation creating UTIMCO; then he appointed Hicks as its first chair. Acting in secrecy, UTIMCO handed out public funds to friends and cronies. About $252 million went to projects run by associates of Hicks and other large Republican donors. Among the investments: the Carlyle group (heavily into military contracting, with the involvement of Poppy Bush and James Baker and the bin Laden family); Maverick Capital Fund, a project of the Wyly brothers, who would in 2004 donate thousands of dollars to the Swift Boat Veterans' attack on the military record of W.'s opponent John Kerry; and Bass Brothers Enterprises (investors in Harken Energy).
After the Houston Chronicle exposed these insider dealings in a 1999 article, Tom Hicks, while denying any improprieties, resigned from the board. When he bought the Texas Rangers, in which Bush had retained his stake after becoming governor, Hicks helped make his influential friend a multimillionaire.
- Back in the Saddle, Temporarily: The Crawford ranch was a favored venue for photo ops of a president supposedly more at home clearing brush than behind a White House desk. Yet George W.--a product of Eastern establishment pillars such as Philips Andover, Yale, and Harvard-- bought the ranch shortly before he ran for president, and rarely visits it now that he's back in Texas.
[excerpt from FAMILY OF SECRETS, P. 385]
If there were an Academy Award for Best Pre-Presidential Set Design, they would have won hands-down. The secretive Rainbo Club membership disappeared, and in its place came a more acceptable "ranch." Purchased in 1999, it played a crucial role as a campaign prop, making the Andover- bred W. into a cowboy. By 2004 the notion seemed ludicrous enough that an ad for the anti- Bush group America Coming Together cast comedian Will Ferrell as a convincingly bumbling W. who fears horses and pretends to mend his fence with tools he hardly knows how to hold. But in the early days the imagery held sway. The real W., a man with no interest in foreign affairs, was suddenly receiving foreign leaders and dignitaries, in a carefully manipulated limelight.
-Making (Up) The Grade: Bush's future Education Secretary faked the Texas school performance numbers that helped persuade voters that Bush was the man to fix the nation's schools.[SEE FAMILY OF SECRETS, P. 385-386]
Credit for W.'s supposed success was initially given to Houston school superintendent Rod Paige, whose popularity reached across party lines. Dropout rates in Houston had dwindled, and test scores had soared. Once W. was elected president, he named Paige as his education secretary, and used Houston as the model for "No Child Left Behind."
Despite the fact that polls consistently show education as a primary voter concern, few have heard of Rod Paige--and few realize what actually happened in the Texas schools.
It turns out that Paige's district was cooking the books. According to a 60 Minutes II investigation, one high school "reported zero dropouts, but dozens of the students did just that. School officials hid that fact by classifying, or coding, them as leaving for acceptable reasons: transferring to another school, or returning to their native country."
Though Houston's school district reported a dropout rate of 1.5 percent, experts estimated the true rate as being between 25 and 50 percent. The lower rate was cited by W. on the campaign trail as evidence of his educational prowess. Upon leaving the administration, Paige joined the board of News Corp, the parent of the Fox News Channel, and cofounded a firm that offers consulting on education reform, ostensibly attempting to spread Texas-style "miracles" across the country.
- An Eye for Talent: Bush touted his environmental convictions during his presidential campaign. Then he turned the Environmental Protection Agency's most polluted region over to a car dealer who had helped Bush earn a fortune off the Texas Rangers baseball team.
[excerpt from FAMILY OF SECRETS, P. 365-367]
The Rangers deal was essentially predicated on public funding through a tax increase and the seizure of private land through eminent domain. One attorney called it "welfare for billionaires." To make money, the owners needed a new stadium, and they needed someone else to pay for it....The inside inside man was the mayor of Arlington, car dealer Richard Greene.
Greene played a key role in the city's decision to heavily subsidize Bush and his group. At the time he began working to secure a home on favorable terms for Bush's Rangers, he was in trouble with federal banking regulators working for W.'s dad.
In 1990, at the same time he was talking with the Rangers about a new stadium, Greene was negotiating with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) to settle a large lawsuit it had filed against him. He had headed the Arlington branch of Sunbelt Savings Association, which the local Fort Worth Star- Telegram described as "one of the most notorious failures of the S&L scandal." Sunbelt lost an estimated $2 billion, and the feds (and the nation's taxpayers) had to chip in about $297 million to clean it up. Greene and the FDIC reached an agreement on the pending suit just as he was signing the Rangers deal. The Arlington mayor paid just $40,000 to settle the case--and walked away.
"George had no knowledge of my problems; there is no connection," he assured the New York Times in September 2000. All of the bank's key figures were charged except for him. Not only was Greene not criminally indicted, but he also escaped with minimal monetary pain. Ten days before Arlington's 1991 public referendum on a special sales tax hike to help finance the stadium, Greene, now charged in losses of $500 million, settled all of his civil litigation for a modest $165,000.
Greene's tenure was identified principally with pro- growth and business-friendly policies. Yet after George W. Bush became president, he appointed Greene to be a regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency, where he oversaw federal environmental programs throughout Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas. These states have some of the nation's most severe pollution problems, most of which are connected to petroleum, and thus of central interest to the Bush political clan--which has typically fought emissions controls.... Greene's EPA appointment was a nice farewell gift from his friends in the White House. He will get a pension equivalent to 100 percent of the highest pay he received at the EPA--this for a man who helped bankrupt two S&L's at massive cost to the public, and who walked away with just a forty- thousand- dollar fine.
- Lemons Into Lemonade: The Bush forces went into the 2004 campaign with a major vulnerability - evidence that, after a plum position in the Texas Air National Guard enabled him to avoid Vietnam, he disappeared from the final third of his obligatory--if cushy--Guard stint. With Bush facing media inquiries from an aggressive CBS News and a daunting threat from John Kerry, a Democratic opponent with a bona fide war record in the jungles of Indochina, the then-president's disinformation machine went into action. In the end, John Kerry was politically wounded and CBS anchorman Dan Rather professionally destroyed. News organizations abandoned intensive scrutiny of Bush, and he squeaked through to another term.
[excerpt from FAMILY OF SECRETS, P. 458, 460, 462, 463, 464]
A mysterious person identifying herself as "Lucy Ramirez" funneled documents to a critic of Bush's, who passed them on to CBS 60 Minutes II, where Dan Rather was a correspondent ....60 Minutes II had a monumental broadcast planned for September 8, 2004. In the middle of a tight election, the program was prepared to challenge the veracity of a sitting president's military service. Former Texas lieutenant governor Ben Barnes was ready to tell the story of how he kept W. from getting drafted. And Dan Rather was ready to present the documents that would finally help answer the broadcast's tantalizing question: "So what happened with Mr. Bush, the draft and the National Guard?" Within seconds, a handful of bloggers began posting claims that the documents were fake, and within hours, had engineered a national firestorm...
Meanwhile, Los Angeles Times reporter Peter Wallsten did some digging, and unearthed the identify of one key blogger, who went by "Buckhead." He was Harry MacDougald, an activist Republican lawyer in Atlanta and a member of the Federalist Society, a conservative law group. He played coy with the Times, declining to tell the reporter how he was able to create his critique so quickly, and failing to explain the basis for his expertise in the matter. Another aspect, this one not reported by the L.A. Times, was the manner in which MacDougald's critique was amplified. Shortly after he posted under a pseudonym, his wife, posting under her own name, Liz MacDougald, and making no mention of their connection, recommended his post to Power Line, which propelled the story further. Actually, there were two people who did so. The other, Tom Mortensen, was also deeply involved with the Swift Boat group that was going after Bush's opponent John Kerry, and questioning his military record....
But was this the real story? As I later learned, there was a Hispanic couple who had worked for the Guard, could have had access to the files of the late Lieutenant Colonel Killian, and were a possible match for the pseudonymous Ramirezes. Their surname was even similar. When I visited their home in Houston, the woman seemed to know exactly why I was there. She cryptically explained that her husband had prohibited her from speaking about the matter. I noticed what seemed to be their recent good fortune: they had apparently just moved into a brand- new house in a brand- new housing development, and had a brand- new car out front. Beyond that, there was little by way of clues, let alone answers....
In the end, what mattered most was this: the documents were either real or they were forgeries that closely mirrored the reality of Bush's National Guard experience at that point in time. If the latter, then this could mean that they had been concocted with built- in anomalies to set up CBS and Bush's critics. Might that explain why the bloggers were ready to respond so quickly? On the other hand, if the forgeries were designed by anti- Bush conspirators to hurt the president, it wasn't clear how. The memos didn't add a great deal to what reporters had already established, beyond a kind of black-and-white confirmation--though it was enough of an addition to trigger the CBS report. If anti- Bush forgers were going to go to all that trouble, wouldn't they have added some juicy new meat to the rather skeletal facts that were already known?...
In September 2004, after the CBS piece aired, I interviewed Janet Linke, the Florida widow of the man who replaced W. in the Champagne Unit after he left for Alabama in 1972. As noted in chapter 8, she told me how Bush's commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Killian, had confided to her and her husband that W. had been having trouble operating his plane, and had intimated that it was some combination of nerves and perhaps substance abuse that had led him to depart his unit. In the end, it was not reporting or truth that triumphed, but the forces of disinformation. Memogate appears to underline the extent to which the cynical techniques of the spy world have leaped the wall and taken root in the processes of American democracy itself.
-Keyboard Kops: George W. affected a Bubba persona that the media generally bought, and that gained him slack for gaffes and incompetencies. But when it came to strategy and tactics, he actually was sly like a fox. He once confided to an adviser how naïve journalists are, and how easy to fool. His example: hide tactical information "in plain sight" for reporters to "find" and report as inside dope.
[excerpt from FAMILY OF SECRETS, P. 404.
"I've had long discussions with W. about planting stories deep so that journalists who find them have a great sense of authorship and so that they have great authenticity,"
Wead said. "Like doing a good deed and planting it real, real deep, knowing it will be found." It was subtle, and therefore it was effective, a classic strategy of misdirection that is one of the oldest weapons in the arsenal of the covert operative. "We talked about the importance of things that the press would have to find, that you leave a little nugget there, and you got to bury it deep enough that as [for example, Washington Post reporter] Lois Romano goes for it and finds it, she would never ever guess that it was planted. She would die for her story--pride of authorship. She'd fight her editors all the way. We talked about that."
Once, Wead recalled with amusement, they were talking about Mad magazine, and which features were their favorites. W. volunteered that he particularly loved the intrigues of Spy vs. Spy. "He was talking about the subtlety of politics and how what meets the eye is so different from the political [reality]," Wead told me. "I'm still amazed how naïve so many journalists are who have covered politics all their life."
In former White House press secretary Scott McClellan's 2008 tell-all, What Happened, he recounts being invited to W.'s hotel suite during the 2004 campaign while the president is on the phone with a supporter. "The media won't let go of these ridiculous cocaine rumors," W. says into the phone as he motions for McClellan to sit and relax. "You know, the truth is I honestly don't remember whether I tried it or not. We had some pretty wild parties back in the day," the president continues.
In his book, McClellan recalls his own bewilderment. "How can that be? How can someone simply not remember whether or not they used an illegal substance like cocaine?" Though McClellan remembers that the phone call was arranged, and that W. "brought up the [cocaine] issue," he doesn't seem to realize that the president is indirectly relaying a message to the man who serves as his mouthpiece. If W. could only convince his press secretary, through an offhand moment of candor, that he didn't remember using cocaine, then McClellan might repeat the statement to the press with all the conviction of someone telling the truth as he saw it.
-A Bush In Your Future? Notwithstanding George W. Bush's purported Texas isolation and his general silence since leaving Washington, the Bush family enterprise remains as viable as ever. Members of their circle work in the Obama administration, while his brother Jeb gears up for a possible national campaign of his own--raising the prospect of a third Bush in the White House. Meanwhile, through Decision Points, the upcoming George W. Bush presidential library/democracy "think tank", and the active role of his lieutenant Karl Rove in orchestrating a GOP comeback, they are already rewriting past history--and defining history yet to come.
Russ Baker's book is "Family of Secrets: the Bush Dynasty, America's Invisible Government, and the Hidden History of the Last Fifty Years." Gore Vidal calls it "one of the most important books of the past ten years." Baker is an investigative journalist and founder of the nonprofit reporting web site whowhatwhy.com.
Follow Russ Baker on Twitter: www.twitter.com/whowhatwhy