Monitor archives:
Copyrighted material 404: Information Missing From Your Daily News

Summaries of under-reported news, updates on previous Monitor stories

 + GEORGE BUSH, MEET CAPTAIN QUEEG   Just days after moving into the White House, the Bush team and their admirers embarked on a petty conspiracy against Clinton, whispering that the outgoing president and his staff had left their offices in "complete shambles." and "stripped bare" Air Force One. As reported in a MONITOR 404 item last year, neither claim was true. Items missing from the presidential plane included a few towels and glasses worth $140 total. More serious were claims that repairs to the White House and hundreds of offices Eisenhower Executive Office Building could cost up to $200,000, according to anonymous Bush sources. The General Accounting Office (GAO) did a quick review and wrote a memo stating that damage was normal from tenants moving out of offices after eight years. Not mollified, rabid Clinton-basher Rep. Bob Barr (R - Georgia) demanded the GAO produce a full report. Now a year later, the GAO has calculated the bill for the Clintonista's shocking Animal House-behavior. Total itemized cost: between $9-14,000.

The media reaction was predictable. Newspapers and pundits that attacked Clinton during his presidency homed in on the most frightening sounding phrases in the report: "Damage, theft, vandalism, and pranks did occur in the White House complex during the 2001 presidential transition....Any intentional damage at the White House complex, which is a national treasure, is both inappropriate and a serious matter. The theft of or willful damage to government property would constitute a criminal act in violation of federal law."

Clinton media foes also inflated the pricetag by taking the highest estimates in the report, often adding in speculated maintenance costs. The New York Times said the GAO found the bill to be $13-14,000. The Washington Times noted "at least 20,000 worth of damage" and the Washington Post said it was $19,000. None of these newspapers explained how they arrived at their figures, nor did they mention that their estimates were a tiny fraction of the $200k that Bush supporters had loudly predicted.

Okay, so what was the actual damage? Over half the cost was spent replacing about five dozen computer keyboards, at an average price of about $75 (apparently the feds don't realize that anyone can pick up keyboards for $30 or less at CompUSA and every other catalog store). Some keyboards were famously missing the "w" key as a prank, but others were apparently just worn out. The next biggest expenses were about $2,200 to replace 9-10 doorknobs, $221 to purchase 15 television remote controls, and the purchase of 26 cell phones that couldn't be found. One 12-inch presidential seal was replaced (value: $350) and $1200-2000 was spent to replace missing office signs, including some with little presidential medallions.

But most of those expenses can't be traced to mischief. The GAO noted that doorknobs were removed sometime in the past because the passageways were unused and blocked by bookcases; the TV remotes for the old sets apparently were lost ages ago, and the Clinton staff had documentation that the missing cell phones had been turned in before the Democrats left the White House. Thus when all the real numbers are tallied, the GAO's previous memo was still accurate -- while there were some "puckish" tricks, there was no malicious damage and no expensive cleanup.

A boring inventory of missing junk and a little souvenir hunting, you might think. Not hardly -- the real fun begins on page 21, where it's revealed that the Bush White House wanted more juice in the report -- that the Bushies were miffed that the GAO "did not specifically identify each reported instance of vandalism, damage, or a prank." In other words, they didn't want a truthful report -- they only wanted a document that backed up right-wing media innuendo that there was shocking Clinton staff misbehavior.

To that end, the Office of the President cranked out a 76-page response, which the GAO reproduced in full. It was the longest part of the report, second only to the GAO's response to the White House response, itself another 52 pages. The GAO office comes across as professional, yet somewhat cranky at having to tutor White House lawyers in basics such as the difference between heresay and verifiable fact. The White House comes across as whiny and neurotic, obsessed with documenting every petty thing that they can blame on Clinton evildoers.

Read the White House comments by Counsel Alberto Gonzales and think of Captain Queeg, the mad captain in The Caine Mutiny who orders a full-scale investigation to find the sailor who ate a quart of frozen strawberries. Some examples of Clinton "vandalism" that Gonzales complained that the GAO omitted:

  • Three of the team leaders said that they saw personal items left behind, such as unopened beer and wine bottles, a blanket, shoes, and a T-shirt with a picture of a tongue sticking out on it draped over a chair....

  • "Vulgar words" on white board

  • Writing in middle drawer of desk that wishes all "who work here" "good luck"

  • Four EOP (Executive Office of the President) staff ... said they saw food left in refrigerators and that the furniture, carpet, or drapes in their offices were dirty

  • Six EOP staff said that they observed writing on the wall of a stall in a men's restroom that was derogatory to President Bush

  • The EOP provided a copy of a log of broken copy and fax machines for the period from January 29, 2001, to February 28, 2001. The log indicated 18 instances of problems with copiers, such as paper jamming, feeder not working, and printing crooked during this period

  • 13 EOP staff said they heard a total of 22 to 28 inappropriate or prank voice mail greetings or incoming messages left.The content of the most commonly heard voice mail message that EOP staff told us about (3 messages heard by four EOP staff) was that the former staff would be out of their offices for the next 4 years

But the most bizarre part of the White House response can be found in Gonzales' cover letter to his 76-page gripe list, where the White House lawyer claims that they really couldn't care less about investigating any of this:

The President and his Administration had no interest -- and have no interest -- in dwelling upon what happened during the 2001 transition. In early 2001, when the press first asked about damage found in the complex, the President said that "[i] t's time now to move forward." Members of this Administration went to great lengths to dampen public interest in the issue, hoping -- as Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said at the time -- "to put it all behind us" and to "focus [on] . . . just do[ing] the job that the American people elected President Bush to do."

A footnote about Rep. Bob Barr: According to the Washington Post, he has recently sued Bill Clinton, James Carville, and pornographer Larry Flynt. His $30 million lawsuit claims that he needs compensation for "loss of reputation and emotional distress" and "injury in his person and property" that happened during the impeachment imbroglio. MONITOR readers will recall (see 1999 story) that Flynt told the press that Barr -- who had screamed that Clinton was a "moral misfit" -- had pleaded the Fifth Amendment when testifying about adultery during his second divorce, and had also arranged for a wife's abortion.

Barr faces a tough challenge for his House seat this election year, and is playing the victim to his ultra-conservative national audience. With lurid prose, his recent fund-raising e-mail appeals (read: SPAM) make it sound like Sainted Bob is on the verge of martyrdom: "...With murderous revenge, left-wing groups have joined forces with rich DC-types to plot my demise...Somehow, against their smokescreen of seething, withering hate-filled lies, the truth must be told. I'll need many contributions of $20, $25, $35, $50, $100, $250 and even contributions of $500 and $1000, to fight these forces of the radical Left...Right now, I'm in the teeth of the liberal pit bull." (June 4, 2001)

 + THE SECRET COURT'S NEW POWERS   After 9/11, Congress and White House rushed the "Patriot Act" into law, thus setting in motion a rollback on civil liberties -- probably the worst that this nation has witnessed since the Civil War. Every week, a new outrage surfaces; even if you read the news avidly, it is hard to keep track of it all. In late June 2002, one aspect was the FBI has appeared at libraries nationwide, demanding records of people who are supposedly terrorist suspects. Only the FBI knows who is a suspect, of course, and the new laws prohibit librarians from revealing whose records were searched to anyone, including the press.

A key element of the Patriot Act was expanded powers for the FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) court, as was discussed at length in a MONITOR 404 report last year. The court secretly approves wiretaps and other surveillance warrants to the FBI and other police agencies in the interests of national defense. But under the Patriot Act, the FISA rules were loosened. Now, foreign intelligence is only required to be a significant reason to justify a covert operation. As the only Senator to vote against the new law, Russ Feingold (D - Wisconsin) made a chilling prediction were this would lead: "Under this provision, the government can apparently go on a fishing expedition and collect information on virtually anyone. All it has to allege in order to get an order for these records from the court is that the information is sought for an investigation of international terrorism or clandestine intelligence gathering... This is a truly breathtaking expansion of police power."

So what's happed at the FISA court in the nine months since the Sept. attack? The only disclosure that the court makes on its rulings is an annual one-sentence statement on the number of warrants approved. The year 2000 saw a new peak: 1003 warrants. With the nation now on war footing, everyone expected that the number of warrants would skyrocket. Wrong -- during 2001 the number of warrants requested actually went down -- a total of 932 warrants. And that's bad news; it means that the secret court is now even more secretive.

As David Sobel of the Electronic Privacy Information Center has pointed out, the Patriot Act allows the actual number of secret warrants to be hidden via "generic" FISA orders, which allows one warrant to cover scattershot investigations. If a suspicious Middle-Eastern flight student had rented an apartment from you, for example, the FBI could wiretap your phone or access your telephone records, then investigate everyone that you had called.

What authorities will do with all this information is another worry. When Homeland Security Czar Tom Ridge finally testified before Congress, Senator John Edwards (D-North Carolina) asked if there were "training programs for federal, state, local law enforcement agencies so that they can, in fact, recognize foreign intelligence when they see it?" Ridge's answer: He thinks the Justice Dept. and FBI have started that kind of training, but he couldn't be sure.

The media probe into intelligence failures that led to Sept. 11 has also turned up problems with FISA warrants before the Patriot Act became law. An April, 2000 FBI memo noted the Justice Department office supervising FISA warrants had found unspecified "FISA mistakes" by the FBI, and that the office felt there was "a pattern of occurrences which indicate... an inability on the part of the FBI to manage its FISAs."

Those complaints about FBI incompentence were about failures of the Bureau's "UBL" team to properly handle data. UBL stands for Usama bin Laden. (June 26, 2002)

 + COMMON AG PESTICIDE DESTROYS ABILITY TO FIGHT CANCER   Did you hear about the pesticide that can destroy your immune system's ability to fight most cancer, even with a single, brief exposure? No? It seems like a pretty big discovery, but only a single newspaper -- the Dayton Ohio Daily News -- even mentioned it, and that a passing reference within a general article on pollution health risks.

The killer pesticide is Triphenyltin (TPT), often used in fungicides to protect pecan, potato and sugar beet crops and in pesticides to guard against Colorado potato beetles. In tests at Tennessee State University, researchers have found an apparent irreversible inhibition of natural killer cell function after as little as a one-hour exposure to TPT. The findings were presented at the recent national meeting of the American Chemical Society.

A one-hour exposure to TPT "causes about a 50 percent to 60 percent loss of the tumor killing function of the natural killer cell," according to Margaret Whalen, the researcher who led the study. Even after the TPT is removed, tests with human leukemia cells showed that the natural killer cells couldn't recover.

Whalen thinks that most of the TPT levels that agricultural workers are exposed to in the field are probably below what her group tested in the lab, but "It's hard to know what real-life levels for phenyltins are," she noted. (May 26, 2002 Charmayne Marsh/American Chemical Society)

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