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2004-07-09

July Surprise: Is Bush Pressuring Pakistan to Capture Bin Laden During DNC?

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An article in The New Republic charges that the Bush administration may be pressuring Pakistan to deliver a so-called "High Value Target" before November–ideally at the height of the Democratic National Convention. We speak with the reporter who broke the story.

In the latest in what have become regular, uninformative announcements from the Bush administration on possible terror threats, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge warned yesterday that terror groups may attempt to attack the United States in an effort to disrupt the November elections. In making the announcement, Ridge and several news outlets cited the bombings in Spain ahead of that country’s elections earlier this year as an example of what could happen here in the US. In reporting on Ridge’s announcement yesterday, CNN host Miles O’Brien said that in Spain, the terrorists had shifted the elections "in their favor." In that election, Socialists ousted the right wing government of Jose Maria Aznar.

Yesterday’s announcement follows previous warnings from Ridge and other administration officials about possible attacks at the Republican and Democratic conventions this summer.

Meanwhile, an explosive new article has just come out in the new edition of The New Republic magazine called "Pakistan for Bush: July Surprise?" It charges that the Bush administration may be pressuring Pakistan to deliver a so-called "High Value Target" before November-ideally at the height of the Democratic National Convention at the end of this month. Such a move would surely eclipse John Kerry’s moment in the national spotlight and could lessen the boost in the polls Kerry is expected to gain during the convention.

Recent moves by the Bush administration regarding Pakistan policy also indicate that a deal could well be in the works that would reward Pakistan for a big bust at a time convenient for the Bush reelection effort. We are joined now by the lead journalist on the story.

  • John Judis, senior editor at The New Republic and a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. His latest piece is called "Pakistan for Bush: July Surprise?"

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! Democracynow.org. "The War and Peace Report." We’re broadcasting from Tampa, Florida. I’m Amy Goodman. In the latest what would have become regular uninformative announcements from the Bush Administration and possible terror threats, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge warned yesterday that terror groups may attempt to attack the United States in an effort to disrupt the November elections. In making the announcement, Ridge and several news outlets cited the bombings in Spain ahead of that country’s elections earlier this year as an example of what could happen here in the United States. In reporting on Ridge’s announcement yesterday, CNN host Miles O’Brien said that in Spain, the terrorists had shifted the elections "in their favor." In that election, socialists ousted the right-wing government of Jose Maria Aznar. Yesterday’s announcement follows previous warnings from Ridge and other administration officials about possible attacks at the Republican and Democratic conventions this summer. Meanwhile, an explosive new article has just come out in The New Republic magazine called "Pakistan for Bush: July Surprise?" It charges the Bush Administration may be pressuring Pakistan to deliver a so-called high-value target or h.v.t., before November, ideally at the height of the Democratic National Convention at the end of this month. Such a move would surely eclipse John Kerry’s moment in the national spotlight and could lessen the boost in the polls Kerry is expected to gain during the convention. Recent moves by the Bush Administration regarding Pakistan policy also indicate a deal could well be in the works that would reward Pakistan for a big bust at a time convenient for the Bush re-election effort. We’re joined now by the journalist, the lead journalist on the story, John Judis, Senior Editor at The New Republic and Visiting Scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. His latest piece called "Pakistan for Bush: July Surprise?" Welcome to Democracy Now!, John Judis.

JOHN JUDIS: : Thanks for having me.

AMY GOODMAN: Good to have you with us. Well, why don’t you lay out what you have learned and where you’ve learned it from?

JOHN JUDIS: : Well, we knew beforehand that the Bush Administration was putting a lot of pressure this year on the Pakistanis to deliver one of the three main players in the terrorist world: Mullah Omar of the Taliban, Osama bin Laden, or his deputy, al-Zawarhiri. The question was why did the Bush Administration suddenly put pressure on the Pakistanis now and not last year or the year before? Why did they ask them, for instance, to go into the tribal areas, which they had rarely ventured into before in order to root out these guys? And we heard from sources in Pakistan in two — two of the people were with the I.S.I., the equivalent of the C.I.A. in Pakistan, their intelligence services, a top general, and someone from the interior ministry in Pakistan. The interior ministry is not like the interior ministry in the United States. Interior ministry is in charge of the police and security. So, it would be part of any offensive against the terrorists in Pakistan. We heard from four different sources that the Bush Administration was specifically pressuring the Pakistanis to deliver these people before the November election. In addition to that, one of the people told us that they were being pressured to deliver the people in the last weeks of July . And this person said that the Administration had told I.S.I., the intelligence service, that they would prefer that the Pakistanis make the announcement on July 26, 27, or 28. Those turn out to be the first three days of Democratic Convention. We thought that this information was credible enough and important enough that we went ahead with the article. You might want to ask me about how we checked on it and things like that. And I’d be happy to answer any of those questions you have.

AMY GOODMAN: Why don’t you go ahead and explain exactly what sources you have on this? It’s a very serious charge.

JOHN JUDIS: : You have to understand with a story like this in foreign policy, journalists are operating at an enormous disadvantage and also obviously journalists from a small magazine with a correspondent in Pakistan. But not the kind of resources that the networks or the big newspapers have. Even in the United States, you can’t get officials to talk, to talk on the record, that is to use their names in describing what they really think is going on in, let’s say, the C.I.A., the Defense Intelligence Agency, or any of those organizations. People are simply not authorized to speak to reporters. In Pakistan, the situation is much worse. They have an Official Secrets Act. By that act, a person who makes a leak, who talks to — who makes an unauthorized statement to the press is liable to go to jail for 10 years and the person who prints the leak, the reporter, is also liable. So, we were operating under very difficult circumstances and the people we talked to were afraid to death of having their identities revealed. So, we had to take enormous precautions to make sure that nobody knew — that their identities were not in any way suggested or there were any clues about them from the story itself. At the same time, we took great care ourselves to make sure that they were credible, that they were who they said they were, and to the extend that we could, that the facts that they — that they told us, what they told us happened did happen. For instance, the key person, the key person who described the pressure on the head of Pakistani intelligence to get somebody in the last weeks of July, said that the pressure happened when Ehsanul Haq, the head of I.S.I., visited Washington this spring. The question was, did he visit? And if you look at all the press reports in Pakistan and in Washington, there was no mention of it. So, that got us worried. But then I called somebody at the embassy here, Pakistan embassy, and lo and behold, he had visited. And this person there said, yes, he’d talked to him while he was there. And we got independently confirmation from people in intelligence in Pakistan that he had visited. So, that was a very important — for us — in making the story and a particular source credible. So, we did what we could and here’s the story. We hoped that the big newspapers and the networks who have a lot more resources than we do will now follow up this story and see what they can make of it.

AMY GOODMAN: Hmm. You also quote the senior intelligence official who anonymously authored the recent book Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror, who said he’s not heard that the current pressures on Pakistan are geared to the election. What’s your response to that?

JOHN JUDIS: : My response is just that, that we — that we wanted to make sure that people knew that somebody who was in the C.I.A. had not heard about it. But, of course, you have to realize that according to our sources, the pressure wasn’t coming from even the mid or lower levels or even the upper mid levels of the C.I.A. It was coming from the White House and it was coming from top administration officials who were visiting Pakistan. So, it’s very possible that this could be going on, but somebody in the C.I.A.’s counterterrorism task force would not have heard of it.

AMY GOODMAN: Mm-hmm. Isn’t there also, John Judis, new seating government — new government in Pakistan recently?

JOHN JUDIS: : Is there a new government in Pakistan?

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, the new higher officials under Pervez Musharraf.

JOHN JUDIS: : There is a new prime minister. The head of the intelligence has been there since right after September 11.

AMY GOODMAN: And speaking — speaking of intelligence and what has been going on in Pakistan, the whole issue of how the Bush Administration would treat Pakistan versus how a Kerry Administration would treat Pakistan and Musharraf, especially in regards to nuclear secrets.

JOHN JUDIS: : Well, i think — one of the things that we found in reporting this story was that a lot of Pakistani high officials would very much prefer Bush to be re-elected. They feel the democrats in the past have been much tougher on them than the republicans, especially with regard to nuclear proliferation. Last january, it was revealed that the Pakistan’s top scientist, A.Q. Khan, the father of Pakistani nuclear bomb, was involved in selling nuclear secrets to Iran, North Korea and, I think, also Lybia. Ordinarily, this would have been a revelation that would have brought about great diplomatic repercussions. We cut off Pakistan with sanctions during the Clinton Administration, because of their — because of their going ahead with a nuclear bomb. What the Bush Administration did was say that it was an internal matter for Pakistan and to go along with President Musharraf pardoning Khan for what he had done. Even though it’s pretty clear that he couldn’t have been acting alone, that he must have been acting with complicity of the government. So, i think that one of things that the Pakistanis believe or fear is that if a Kerry Administration would come in, they would be much tougher on that issue than Bush. And I think they also fear that if they don’t deliver, the Bush people will get tougher with them. In any case, there has been a kind of deal. Seymour Hersch wrote about it in The New Yorker a few months ago between the Pakistanis and the United States by which we would look the other way on nuclear proliferation if they would go after al Qaeda.

AMY GOODMAN: Hmm. John Judis, I want to thank you very much for being with us. John Judis is senior editor at The New Republic. He wrote the piece "July Surprise" with Spencer Ackerman and Massoud Ansari. This is Democracy Now! We are broadcasting live from Tampa. We’re going to talk now about an about-face of the Florida Board of Directions in just a minute.

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