Friday, March 26, 2010

Mayer Vs Thiessen

Readers of Marc Thiessen's book "Courting Disaster" will find a frequently mentioned name--Jane Mayer. For those unaware, she is a prize-winning writer for the New Yorker Magazine. Thiessen seems to have quite a beef with that writing, especially related to waterboarding and his 2006 speech written for Bush about closing the secret CIA prisons.

I came to this post by reading about the Frum scrum, where Colin Friedersdorf mentioned Mayer's response to Thiessen in the process of attacking Frum's unspoken contention that he was fired. He calls her rebuttal 'devastating', along with this Slate piece. Both appear to be garden-variety liberally slanted anti-torture efforts but I suppose devastation is in the eye of the beholder. Here's some of Mayer's:
Thiessen’s claim about Khalid Sheikh Mohammed looks equally shaky. The Bush interrogation program hardly discovered the Philippine airlines plot: in 1995, police in Manila stopped it from proceeding and, later, confiscated a computer filled with incriminating details. By 2003, when Mohammed was detained, hundreds of news reports about the plot had been published. If Mohammed provided the C.I.A. with critical new clues—details unknown to the Philippine police, or anyone else—Thiessen doesn’t supply the evidence.
Here's what Thiessen says (we know Mayer made it at least as far as page 7 of his book), regarding one of the supposed 6000 reports his EIT generated:
In one of those reports, KSM describes in detail the revisions he made to his failed 1994-95 plan known as the "Bojinka plot"--formulated with his nephew Ramzi Yousef--to blow up a dozen airplanes carrying some 4,000 passengers over the Pacific Ocean."
My emphasis. He goes on to say an unnamed CIA agent busy analyzing a cell the Brits were watching noticed a similarity (presumably based on the EIT-generated plan update) and notified the Brits who, while initially skeptical, eventually came around. Now, it's true this is an anonymous CIA source and they might be jacking him around to tweak their MI5-6 counterparts or involved in some kind of urinating contest, but it's hardly unsurprising a CIA analyst would speak off record. Mayer got a guy from Scotland Yard for her pushback, who said:
“version of events is simply not recognized by those who were intimately involved in the airlines investigation in 2006.”
But he doesn't provide any names either. He says Scotland Yard knew about liquid bombs due to the Tube attacks in 2005 but Thiessen's book doesn't say exactly what information the CIA analyst provided. It might have been about something else.

Looking back for stories, there was clearly some friction between agencies at the time with the US worried the Brits were going to dilly-dally too long before rounding them up but it's doubtful that either Thiessen's contention (or Mayer's contention he lied) can be proved via open sources. That hardly seems devastating.

Besides, the devastation may be more focused on Thiessen's main assertion challenging her honesty regarding her segment about the 2006 speech and her claim about a counter draft making the rounds nixed by Darth Cheney. Thiessen was there and talked to people who should know; she was not there and talked to people in State who might have had axes to grind. So we have a he said, she said situation, which is apparently good enough for some to call devastation.

As to my own opinion of his book, the main critique would be that in defending his own actions and those of the Bush administration in trying to protect America (easily forgotten) he's far too dismissive about the nastiness of waterboarding. If it's a necessary evil then it's still evil. He probably would have been more credible to the left had he volunteered to be waterboarded himself like Hitchens before writing the book but maybe they wouldn't have believed him anyway.

I have a feeling the real reason for their nastiness has more to do with his hit on Obama than the torture. In the 'Double Agents' chapter he listed the many lawyers who volunteered to work for suspected terrorists who later went to work for Holder at Justice along with some of their fairly radical support group ties. One such group was called the "1848 Foundation" (no web site but the year featured many revolutions and one manifesto). And yes, the name 'Che' comes up.

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