July 26, 2004

Another Party In August

I have to tell you: Watching the DNC from a hotel room in Minneapolis while you have press credentials waiting for you in Boston, frankly, sucks.

But so is the way of the world, and today work should rightly come before play.

There is some good news, though (aside from being gainfully employed). First is that the Command Post’s Election 2004 page has been added by the Library of Congress to its MINERVA permanent online collection. Second is that we’ve received credentials to the RNC in New York this August, so we’re two-for-two in conventions, and we’ll be in the rare (I presume) blog-spot of playing compare-and-contrast between the two events.

So I have that going for me … which is nice.

Posted by Avocare at 11:09 PM | TrackBack

July 25, 2004

The DNC, The RNC, And The False Choice

The 1964 RNC in San Francisco was an interesting convention for the Republicans. Barry Goldwater and William Miller were the ticket, Goldwater gave a convention speech that is regarded as one of the 100 best American political speeches of that century, and pandemonium repeatedly broke out on the convention floor.

convention.jpgOne of the people reporting this pandemonium was legendary journalist John Chancellor, who, in a moment made instantly famous by the images of television, said as he was physically removed from the floor, “Here we go down the middle aisle … I've been promised bail, ladies and gentlemen, by my office. This is John Chancellor, somewhere in custody.”

It was an important moment in journalism: a staid institution, the RNC, was attempting to control a new medium and was quickly learning it could not … that ultimately, they had to embrace a medium they could no longer control. It was a stark contrast to the DNC just four years later, when TV openly captured every hostile and shocking moment in Chicago, and conventions (and the world for that matter) changed for forever.

I think of that moment, John Chancellor being lifted from his feet, radio on his back, wires dangling, as I consider the invitation of bloggers by the DNC (a path the RNC, we presume, we follow). We’re quite the story this year, we few credentialed bloggers. I’ve had two reporters tell me that they believe we’re the story in Boston, the “hot house flowers” in an otherwise “news-less convention,” as one said, forecasting “about a billion cameras” at the blogger breakfast tomorrow morning (sorry I’ll miss it … I’ll explain later).

My response, though, was that we’re NOT the real story here. The real story is not that the Political Machine decided to officially extend access to citizen journalists by extending a select few press credentials … the real story is that they already, although unknowingly, had.

At last count, there are 11 DNC delegates or DNC officials, with full access to the convention, who also happen to blog:

One would expect that these bloggers, especially the mainstream delegates, will blog the convention. And it’s here that we find the main point: the decision to extend press credentials to select bloggers was a false choice … the convention in Boston was going to be blogged, from the floor and by citizens with no editorial board, whether I or any other blogger received credentials or not. I presume the same will be true in New York this August.

I’m not saying the credentialing decision wasn’t significant … it did give a small group of non-professional, non-party-official citizens a window into a forum not otherwise available, and it does indicate that blogs have achieved a form of legitimacy among the media. But the REAL sign of the medium’s legitimacy isn’t that we were given the opportunity … it’s that the opportunity is purely symbolic in its importance.

In 1964, the Republicans learned that, try as they might, the time in which they could choose their level of TV news inclusion had long passed. The same is true for the DNC and RNC for blogs forty years later. It doesn’t matter if I or Dave Winer or anybody else is there … blogger delegates already will be, and will be with greater access than any of us.

To me, this false choice is the real indication that blogging has “arrived.” We’re becoming pervasive. In time, no forum of significance will be a forum without a blogger, and the result will be even greater transparency, openness, and democratization of information. And the convention committees aren’t the only ones facing the consequences: all staid institutions face the same false choice … we saw it in Iraq, and we’ll increasingly see it in China, Iran, Microsoft, and the Pentagon.

The printing press made us readers, the personal computer made us writers, and now, with weblogs, the Internet is making us reporters. The conventions will be blogged … of course they will … whether the DNC and RNC wish it or not, and they can never again remove the reporters from the floor.

(Cross-posted here.)

Posted by Avocare at 10:53 AM | TrackBack

July 24, 2004

All The Wrong Priorities

Dave Pell notes that Congress isn't taking immediate action on the 9/11 Commission's recommendations, preferring instead to focus on the Marriage Protection Act:

Think about it folks. An important commission is informing us of all the weaknesses in our homeland security and of the locked-arm effort that will be required for our government to make the fixes needed to thwart this era's greatest threat at the very moment these House jokers are worried about what word we use to describe people who love each other.

It's sad, it's pathetic, and because of the urgency of these times, it's dangerous.

MPA or none, we should all be outraged that Congress would rather fund-raise-and-run than deal with our systemic intelligence failures. As I noted here, not all our Reps are eager to delay … McCain, Specter, Lieberman, and Bayh are calling for a special session.

But they're lone voices in the wilderness, friends. Whatever terrorist threat faces us, Congress seems secure that it's not as important as reelection.

Go here to email your elected official and make your thoughts known. Then vote for the opposition (seems only fair, after all).

Posted by Avocare at 11:05 PM | TrackBack

July 23, 2004

When Policy Becomes Fashion

Foreign Policy writer Parag Khanna:

According to Michael Flocker's 2003 bestseller, The Metrosexual Guide to Style: A Handbook for the Modern Man, the trendsetting male icons of the 21st century must combine the coercive strengths of Mars and the seductive wiles of Venus. Put simply, metrosexual men are muscular but suave, confident yet image-conscious, assertive yet clearly in touch with their feminine sides. Just consider British soccer star David Beckham. He is married to former Spice Girl Victoria “Posh” Adams, but his combination of athleticism and cross-dressing make him a sex symbol to both women and men worldwide, not to mention the inspiration for the 2002 hit movie Bend It Like Beckham. Substance, Beckham shows, is nothing without style.

Geopolitics is much the same. American neoconservatives such as Robert Kagan look down upon feminine, Venus-like Europeans, gibing their narcissistic obsession with building a postmodern, bureaucratic paradise. The United States, by contrast, supposedly carries the mantle of masculine Mars, boldly imposing freedom in the world's nastiest neighborhoods. But by cleverly deploying both its hard power and its sensitive side, the European Union (EU) has become more effective”and more attractive”than the United States on the catwalk of diplomatic clout. Meet the real New Europe: the world's first metrosexual superpower.

That's what our ForPol needs: better shoes.

Posted by Avocare at 11:07 AM | TrackBack

Daily Distraction

What you don't know may surprise you—Sudan.Net.

Posted by Avocare at 10:59 AM | TrackBack

July 22, 2004

The First Person Account

I'm not certain how I've missed this, but Jeff Jarvis, who publishes Buzz Machine among his many projects, has posted his first-person account of the 9/11 WTC attack here. Jeff is a top-notch reporter, and I can only describe it as compelling listening.

Posted by Avocare at 10:07 PM | TrackBack

Bye Bye Miss American Geek From Hell

What does one find at the critical juncture of fandom, popular mythology, and the Internet? The The Annotated “American Pie” FAQ. Everything you speculated about while “of the condition,” and then some. Via AEB.

Posted by Avocare at 09:47 PM | TrackBack

July 18, 2004

Cache And Carry

My wife and I are enjoying our usual summer vacation in Utah. We spent the first several days down south, hiking Capitol Reef and Grand Staircase, and are now in Brighton trekking the alpine clime.

Notable for this trip, though, is the GPS unit we've added to the family, and with it we've discovered geocaching. What is geocaching, you ask? From Wikipedia:

Geocaching is an outdoor sport that involves the use of a Global Positioning System (“GPS”) receiver to find a “cache” placed anywhere in the world. A typical cache is a small, waterproof container full of “treasures”. Geocaching is a unique take on a traditional Easter-egg hunt in that it uses two recent technologies, the GPS and the Internet.

One participant will place the cache and note its coordinates. These coordinates, along with other details of the location are posted online. Other players obtain the coordinates from the Internet and, using handheld GPS receivers, seek out the caches, hoping to record their exploits in a logbook contained therein. Geocachers are free to take objects from the cache, in exchange for leaving something in return, so there's always a “treasure” for the next person to find.

We've found three caches so far:

We've had a great time, and plan to hike caches the rest of the trip. If you want to learn more about geocaching, I'd suggest a visit to the geocache center of the universe: Geocaching.com.

Posted by Avocare at 09:03 AM | TrackBack

July 14, 2004

Please Come To Boston, She Said

My wife and I are vacationing in Utah for the next week (expect photoblog updates in short order). As I connected to the web to catch up on the world this morning, I learned that Michele and I have received press credentials (for the hall, no less) for the Democratic National Convention in Boston later this month.

I'm going to try and go, if only for a day or two, to blog a bit, rub elbows with press and politicos, and see history happen.

Posted by Avocare at 10:30 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Everything You Wanted To Know About The Office Of Special Plans

I posted this at my other gig last weekend, and thought it would be of interest here as well.

As the argument over Iraq continues to develop, it's clear to me that there’s still confusion about the Pentagon's Office of Special Plans (the OSP), especially since some are claiming the OSP is now a “never existed” organization within the Pentagon (people can’t find any evidence of it, etc.).

That may or may not be, but there’s plenty of information of the OSP in the public domain, so here’s a primer on the topic:

  • The OSP was formed in September, 2002, when Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas J. Feith and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz renamed the Northern Gulf Affairs Office on the Pentagon's fourth floor (in the seventh corridor of D Ring) the “Office of Special Plans” (OSP) and increased its four-person staff to sixteen. (Center for Cooperative Research timeline … and interesting collection in its own right). At its height, the staff was 18, although it made use of a large number of advisors and consultants (Right Web).
  • In June, 2003 the Pentagon announced that the Office of Special Plans will revert to its previous name, the “Northern Gulf Affairs Office,” explaining that this name more accurately reflects the activities and mission of that office (Center for Cooperative Research). See the Tom Paine press release on the name change here.
  • This July 17, 2003 Guardian article profiles the OSP, calling it “the shadow rightwing intelligence network set up in Washington to second-guess the CIA and deliver a justification for toppling Saddam Hussein by force.”
  • This Salon article (posted at Common Dreams) was authored by Karen Kwiatkowski, a Pentagon staffer on the Near East South Asia directorate desk (which shared space with OSP) offers a “near insider’s” view of the Office. She’s definitely pushing a perspective, but it’s one of the few insider accounts available. A sample:
Throughout the summer, the NESA spaces in one long office on the fourth floor, between the 7th and 8th corridors of D Ring, became more and more crowded. With war talk and planning about Iraq, all kinds of new people were brought in. A politically savvy civilian-clothes-wearing lieutenant colonel named Bill Bruner served as the Iraq desk officer, and he had apparently joined NESA about the time Bill Luti did. I discovered that Bruner, like Luti, had served as a military aide to Speaker Gingrich. Gingrich himself was now conveniently an active member of Bush's Defense Policy Board, which had space immediately below ours on the third floor.

I asked why Bruner wore civilian attire, and was told by others, “He's Chalabi's handler.” Chalabi, of course, was Ahmad Chalabi, the president of the Iraqi National Congress, who was the favored exile of the neoconservatives and the source of much of their “intelligence.” Bruner himself said he had to attend a lot of meetings downtown in hotels and that explained his suits. Soon, in July, he was joined by another Air Force pilot, a colonel with no discernible political connections, Kevin Jones. I thought of it as a military-civilian partnership, although both were commissioned officers.

Among the other people arriving over the summer of 2002 was Michael Makovsky, a recent MIT graduate who had written his dissertation on Winston Churchill and was going to work on “Iraqi oil issues.” He was David Makovsky's younger brother. David was at the time a senior fellow at the Washington Institute and had formerly been an editor of the Jerusalem Post, a pro-Likud newspaper. Mike was quiet and seemed a bit uncomfortable sharing space with us. He soon disappeared into some other part of the operation and I rarely saw him after that.

In late summer, new space was found upstairs on the fifth floor, and the “expanded Iraq desk,” now dubbed the “Office of Special Plans,” began moving there. And OSP kept expanding.

Notably, Michael Rubin takes Kwiatkowski to task at NRO here. In it he notes:

Kwiatkowski did serve in the Pentagon prior to the war, as did I, as did approximately 23,000 others. But, Kwiatkowski was not involved in Iraq policy. Her reminiscences fall more into the realm of fiction than fact. I worked in the Office of Special Plans (OSP), charged with some aspects of the Iraq portfolio. My job was that of any desk officer: Writing talking points for my superiors, analyzing reports, burying myself in details, and drafting replies to frequent letters from Congressmen John Dingell and Dennis Kucinich. I was a participant or a fly-on-the-wall at many postwar planning meetings and accompanying video teleconferences. One person I never met was Kwiatkowski. This should not be a surprising. Kwiatkowski was an Africa specialist who was the point woman for issues relating to Morocco. Just as I never attended meetings relating to Western Sahara, Kwiatkowski was not involved in Iraq policy sessions.

Rather than an inside scoop, Kwiatkowski provided an ideological screed. By her own admission, she started writing Internet columns while still a Pentagon desk officer. But, she did not know many of the people about whom she wrote. The Office of Special Plans consisted of a small number of active duty military officers, reservists, and civilians; both Democrats and Republicans. Kwiatkowski got ranks and services wrong. In rank-conscience corridors of the Pentagon and among military officers, such things do not happen.

Upon her retirement, Kwiatkowski took her story to Jeff Steinberg, editor of the Executive Intelligence Review, the journal of Lyndon LaRouche's movement. Pat Lang, former chief Middle East analyst at the Defense Intelligence Agency, circulated Kwiatkowski's deposition to Steinberg in a September 16, 2003, e-mail in which he carbon-copied, rather than blind carbon-copied his distribution list. Among the recipients were prominent journalists and producers, scions of the alternative press, and a smattering of current and former intelligence analysts who often serve as sources in news analyses and articles.

  • In December of 2003, Dennis Kucinich sent a letter to Donald Rumsfeld to “demand answers on his role in promoting misinformation in the lead-up to the war against Iraq.” In the letter, Kucinich writes of the OSP. Read it here.
First of all, the Office of Special Plans that you referred to has nothing really whatsoever to do with intelligence it is one of the regional offices in the policy organization. We have regional offices for Latin America and Africa and Asia. We had - it is the Office of Northern Gulf Affairs. It was created in the fall of 2002 when we had to beef up our staff to handle all of the extra Iraq related work. We needed to increase it by something like 18 people. So we created a new office, and since there was an enormous amount of attention on the Pentagon, on what we were doing and are we planning for war and the creation of a new office that would have been called the Iraq office would have probably in and of itself created headlines. We chose the kind of name that the government gives to offices throughout the government that’s kind of nondescript - you know, “special plans,” long-range plans” - that kind of thing and it's been grist for the conspiracy mongers ever since. But you referred to some intelligence unit, as many press reports did, confuse it with the special plans office. The so-called intelligence unit that was much discussed - it was two people, it was two people who did a project for about - it as not a unit, it was not an office. It was two people. And they did a project for about three months, and then another two people did a follow-on project for about 6 or 7 months.

It's rather amazing that there have been numerous stories that said this was the Pentagon's effort to replace the CIA and I can assure you that we do not hold the CIA in such low regard that we think we could replace them with two people. And in fact we think we - what those people did in that so-called intelligence unit that has been written about, was simply help me read and absorb the intelligence produced by the intelligence community, the CIA and other members of the intelligence community. So all I can say is there is, as I said, so much misinformation on this subject that I would urge everybody to treat with great skepticism what you read on that subject.

  • Here you may read a May 3, 2004 speech (PDF file) by U.S. Senator Jon Kyl to the Center for Strategic and International Studies titled “DOD’s Role in Pre-War Iraq Intelligence: Setting the Record Straight.” In it Kyl discusses the OSP, and offers a view from the right and dismissing much of the thinking in the press as “urban myth.” In part, he notes:
Now to the Office of Special Plans (OSP), which was formed after the PCTEG disbanded. Simply, the office was one of many regional offices in the DOD policy organization. It was designed to develop defense policy options for senior decision makers, coordinate those options within the Defense Department and across the various federal agencies, monitor the implementation of defense policy, and recommend course corrections to defense policy. That’s it. That is what the Policy organization at the Department of Defense is supposed to do. And that is what the Policy organization did under Presidents Clinton, and Bush, and Reagan, and Carter. The Policy organization develops policy options for policymakers based on intelligence assessments, news reports, and facts on the ground.
  • In February, 2004 NPR reported that Senate investigators were looking into the OSP … you may listen to the report here.
  • Disinfopedia has their (not necessarily neutral) profile here.
  • Salon has a feature critical of the OSP, titled “Rumsfeld’s Personal Spy Ring,” here. (The lead: “The defense secretary couldn't count on the CIA or the State Department to provide a pretext for war in Iraq. So he created a new agency that would tell him what he wanted to hear.”)
In addition to the CIA, which is an independent agency, there are four major intelligence organizations inside the Department of Defense. All of these entitles are funded in this bill. The press stories referred to above argue that a group of civilian employees in the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD), some of whom are political appointees, have long been dissatisfied with the information produced by the established intelligence agencies both inside and outside of the Department. This was particularly true with respect to the situation in Iraq and the reports that these agencies produced regarding Saddam Hussein, his regime, and the general political and military situation in that country.

As a result a special operation was established within the Office of the Secretary of Defense’s Office of Special Plans. This cadre of handpicked officials was charged with collecting, vetting, and disseminating intelligence information outside of the normal intelligence apparatus. In fact, it appears that information collected by this office was, in some instances, not shared with established intelligence agencies and, further, passed on to the National Security Council and the President not having been vetted with anyone other that certain OSD political appointees. Perhaps most troubling of all, the articles claim that the purpose of this operation was not only to develop intelligence supporting the cadre’s pre-held views about Iraq, but to intimidate analysts in the established intelligence organizations to produce information that supported policy decisions which they had already decided to propose.

This is opinion, and he notes it as such, but it’s of interest because it’s one of the few references to OSP in official Congressional publications.

Finally, you may see the entire USD Policy org chart here. No box for the Northern Gulf Affairs Office, although Luti is listed as lead of the NESA desk.

Now, here’s why you have to love the internet: hyperlinks. Visit the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy website, and it turns out the NESA desk has a website. Follow that link, and you can see they’ve posted this policy document: Pre-war Planning for Post-war Iraq It’s unclassified, and it begins:

Planning in the U.S. Government for post-war Iraq was an interagency process involving officials from the Departments of Defense, State, Justice, Treasury, Energy, and Commerce; the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Central Intelligence Agency, as well as from the staffs of the National Security Council and the Office of Management and Budget.

DoD mid and senior-level planners and officials engaged in multiple planning initiatives for post-war contingencies. DoD staff in the theater and in Washington evaluated a wide-range of possible outcomes, led efforts to merge and synchronize planning from various government agencies, and shaped planning for the major combat phase of the operation to allow for the best possible post-war conditions.

Key to DoD planning for this operation was the assumption that liberating Iraq from 35 years of tyrannical rule and severe social and economic underdevelopment would be a challenging prospect.

The policy document has a subsection titled “DIRECTORATE OF SPECIAL PLANS,” which reads, in full:

The Office of Near East and South Asia (NESA) Affairs was one of four regional offices (working under the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs) whose daily mission was formulating international security and political-military policy. (The other three regional offices being Africa, Asia and Pacific, and Western Hemisphere)


In September 2002, due to increased workload related to the Global War on Terrorism and the possibility of an Iraq contingency, the Deputy Secretary of Defense approved the expansion of the Northern Gulf Directorate within NESA.

This office was responsible for exploring policy concerns in planning issues ranging from deployment, coalition building, potential war crimes investigations, Iraqi opposition and training issues, oil issues, postwar Iraqi media and many others. Their office was increased from 4 people to approximately 16 to handle the increased workload.

In October 2002, the Directorate of Special Plans was formally established as an expansion of the NESA’s Northern Gulf Directorate to concentrate on policy issues with respect to Iran, Iraq and the Global War on Terrorism.


It was titled the “Directorate of Special Plans” because, at that time, the creation of an “Iraq Planning” group (or similarly named group) in the Pentagon conducting specialized planning for a potential Iraq contingency could have undercut ongoing diplomatic efforts in the UN and elsewhere.

The Directorate of Special Plans was a policy planning group, nothing more. As such, it was a consumer, rather than producer of intelligence products. [Ed. Note: This specific line appears elsewhere … I believe in one of Feith’s speeches … I’ll try to find the verbiage.]


It developed defense policy options for senior decision makers, coordinated those options within DoD and across the interagency, monitored the implementation of defense policy and recommended course corrections to defense policy.

It did not conduct intelligence collection, create intelligence products, conduct operational war planning, or implement policy.

In 2003, when planning for Iraq was no longer a sensitive issue, the office’s name reverted to Near East, South Asia/Northern Gulf (NESA/NG) to reflect its regional focus.

Read the entire policy document here.

Posted by Avocare at 10:18 AM | TrackBack

July 03, 2004

I Wish I Hadn't Seen This

Who needs Photoshop contests when you have this, courtesy the AP?

US Secretary of State Colin Powell, performs a version of the Village People disco hit song 'YMCA' at the conclusion of Asia's largest security meeting in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Friday July 2, 2004. Powell took to the stage, dressed as a construction worker Friday, with other unidentified US diplomats to deliver their rendition of the 1970's hit song to an audience of Asia Security meeting delegates.

You don't think I'd post this without photos, do you? These are thumbnails … click 'em to see them full-sized.






The very bold may see streaming video here (over in the right-hand column of the page you'll link to), but I warn you: It is not for the faint of heart (nor ear).

(Cross-posted here.)

Posted by Avocare at 09:21 AM | TrackBack

July 02, 2004

Photoblog Activity

I took a bunch of photos while in Brighton, UT last week, and they're starting to make their way onto the photoblog. Pay a visit, and don't hesitate to offer feedback in the comments.

Posted by Avocare at 10:43 AM | TrackBack