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The Bureaucracy Strikes Back


In the first installment of this series, I offered 42 names to begin what now seems an endless — and ever-growing — list of top officials as well as beleaguered administrators, managers, and career civil servants who quit their government posts in protest or were ridiculed, defamed, threatened, fired, forced out, demoted, or driven to retire by Bush administration strong-arm tactics, cronyism, and disastrous policies. In the second installment, I added what turned out to be a modest 175 further casualties to the rolls of “the Fallen.” With this latest installment, TomDispatch’s tally of the battling bureaucracy’s casualties stands at approximately 243 — and rising (so please continue to send your suggestions of deserving legionnaires to: [email protected]).

 

Despite this toll, now into the hundreds and counting, it seems that we’ve barely scratched the surface. In fact, since the last installment, other commentators have increased our knowledge of these folks by digging into what Tom Engelhardt has aptly called the Bush administration’s “war with the bureaucracy” — a battle between the Bush administration and the career civil servants (sometimes even Bush’s own appointees), who constitute “the only significant check-and-balance in our system since September 11, 2001.”

 

In one such effort, Daniel Klaidman, Stuart Taylor Jr., and Evan Thomas, writing for Newsweek chronicled a Palace Revolt — a secret war waged not by black-ops troops in the wilds of Waziristan, but behind closed doors in Washington where “loyal conservatives, and Bush appointees fought a quiet battle to rein in the President’s power in the war on terror.” They profiled a number of the unlikely rebels, including:

 

Jack Goldsmith: A former assistant attorney general who, after working in the general counsel’s office at the Pentagon, was tapped to head the Justice Department’s powerful Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) — known as the “mini Supreme Court” of the executive branch. There, his opinions against torture, among other principled stands, brought him into direct conflict with David Addington, formerly counsel (now chief of staff) to Vice President Dick Cheney. He became “a rallying point for Justice Department lawyers who had legal qualms about the administration’s stance” that the President had near-absolute power and “the central figure in a secret but intense rebellion of a small coterie of Bush administration lawyers.” All of this eventually led him to leave “his post in George W. Bush’s Washington to become a professor at Harvard Law School.” Resigned, Summer 2004.

 

James Comey: A former prosecutor and Bush nominee who served as deputy attorney general from 2003-2005. In December 2003, after then-U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft recused himself from a probe into the leak of CIA officer Valerie Plame’s identity (meant to discredit her husband, Joseph C. Wilson IV, a former diplomat who challenged White House justifications for the Iraq war), Comey appointed dogged special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald. Then, during Ashcroft’s hospitalization in March 2004, as acting Attorney General — and on the advice of his national-security aide Patrick Philbin as well as Goldsmith — he further endeared himself to the administration by refusing to reauthorize the President’s illegal spying program, angering White House figures from Addington to President Bush (who began referring to Comey with various “put-down nicknames”). Resigned, Summer 2005.

 

Patrick Philbin: A former OLC lawyer who then became national-security aide to the deputy attorney general and was “the in-house favorite to become deputy solicitor general. Philbin saw his chances of securing any administration job derailed when Addington, who had come to see him as a turncoat on national-security issues, moved to block him from promotion, with Cheney’s blessing.” He declined comment to Newsweek but was reported to be “planning a move into the private sector.” Expected to resign soon.

 

Daniel Levin: A senior Justice Department lawyer who “fought pitched battles with the White House” over the definitions of torture — “battles” which “took their toll on his political future” and ultimately saw him leave to settle into private practice. Resigned, 2005.

 

Newsweek noted that these “rebels were not whistle-blowers in the traditional sense” nor were they “downtrodden career civil servants.” They were actually “conservative political appointees who had been friends and close colleagues of some of the true believers they were fighting against.” Despite their connections to the administration, these public servants, at least in some cases, demanded “that the White House stop using what they saw as farfetched rationales for riding rough-shod over the law” and “fought to bring government spying and interrogation methods within the law.”

 

Far from being atypical, these public servants, like their Fallen Legion sistren and brethren, rebelled “at their peril” and some found themselves “ostracized… were denied promotions, while others left for more comfortable climes in private law firms and academia.” Like others on (or soon to be added to) the Fallen Legion list, they represent perhaps, the last bastion of viable opposition to an almost totally unfettered administration. For years now, these bureaucrats have stepped into the near-check-and-balance-less breach becoming a crucial counterweight to an administration run amok — a counterweight of a sort the founders of this country couldn’t have imagined but surely would have applauded, given their support for an elaborate system of checks and balances meant to forestall the rise of tyranny and their antipathy to executive power, unnecessary warmaking, and standing armies.

 

Some Fallen Legionnaires have merely been attacked and smeared but remain in the fight, others have gone down swinging. Here are more for our ever-expanding roll of honor, starting with a couple of other casualties of David Addington, who “[e]ven in a White House known for its dedication to conservative philosophy,” wrote Dana Milbank in the Washington Post back in 2004, “is known as an ideologue, an adherent of an obscure philosophy called the unitary executive theory that favors an extraordinarily powerful president.”

 

Matthew C. Waxman: The Pentagon’s former chief adviser on detainee issues was also set upon by Addington, who objected to his “insistence that a new set of Pentagon standards for handling terror suspects adopt language from the Geneva Conventions barring cruel, humiliating and degrading treatment.” Waxman “eventually quit” and moved to the State Department where he now serves as principal deputy director of the department’s policy planning staff. Quit the Pentagon, 2005.

 

John B. Bellinger III: The chief legal adviser to then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and another Addington-generated refugee to the State Department. Bellinger was, during Bush’s first term in office, a “special target of Addington’s needling” and, according to one colleague, was assailed by him for espousing views that were “too liberal” or that gave “away executive power.” As a result, Bellinger left with Rice to be her legal adviser at the State Department. Defamed, 2001-2004.

 

Russell Tice: A former intelligence agent with the National Security Agency and the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), Tice worked at the NSA up until May of 2005 when, he notes, he was “given [his] walking papers and told [he] was no longer a federal employee.” Tice, who worked on “special access” programs, what he and other insiders called “black world programs and operations,” publicly blew the whistle on illegal NSA spying on U.S. citizens that began in 2002. As he put it, “We need to clean up the intelligence community. We’ve had abuses, and they need to be addressed.” Tice also made charges about possible espionage within the Defense Intelligence Agency and incompetence by the FBI. As a result, he said, “retaliation came down on me like a ton of bricks.” Fired, May 2005.

 

James Robertson: Until recently one of eleven federal judges serving on the top secret the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Courts, Robertson submitted his resignation — in protest of [President Bush's illegal domestic spying program] according to two sources familiar with his decision.” As Carol D. Leonnig and Dafna Linzer of the Washington Post reported, “Robertson indicated privately to colleagues in recent conversations that he was concerned that information gained from warrantless NSA surveillance could have then been used to obtain FISA warrants.” Said “one source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the classified nature of the FISA warrants, ‘What I’ve heard some of the judges say is they feel they’ve participated in a Potemkin court.’” Resigned, December 2005.

 

Frederick A. Black: Named as the acting U.S. attorney for Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands by President George H.W. Bush in 1991, Black later launched an investigation of top Republican fundraiser and now infamous Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Back in 2002, a U.S. grand jury in Guam, in a move unrelated to the now far better known allegations that Abramoff bilked millions of dollars from Indian tribes, issued a subpoena for records relating to a secret contract with “[Guam] Superior Court officials to lobby against a court reform bill [which would have put the Superior Court under the authority of the Guam Supreme court] then pending in Congress.” A day later, a “White House news release announced that Bush was replacing Black” — the man who had launched the investigation. After 10 years on the job, he was demoted to a staff post. The inquiry into Abramoff’s activities soon ended. Demoted, November 19, 2002.

 

Noel L. Hillman: The former chief of the Justice Department’s public integrity division has the distinction of being the list’s first “Risen Legionnaire.” He served as the chief prosecutor in the case of the disgraced Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff, an inquiry (wrote Philip Shenon and Elisabeth Bumiller of the New York Times )”that has reached into the administration as well as the top ranks of the Republican leadership on Capitol Hill.” In late January 2006, however, the Justice Department announced that he would step down because he had been nominated to a federal judgeship by President Bush. Democrats questioned the timing of the promotion, given that the “announcement came,” noted Shenon and Bumiller, “as Mr. Bush faced a barrage of questions about why he would not make public ‘grip-and-grin’ photographs of him with Mr. Abramoff.” Promotion Announced, January, 2006.

 

Rick Piltz: A long-time federal employee, he worked on the government program researching global climate change for NASA, the EPA, the National Science Foundation, and other agencies, which became known, under George W. Bush, as the Climate Change Science Program (CCSP). Pilz resigned as a Senior Associate of the CCSP, stating that:

 

“In 14 years, I have seen the program and its leadership go through a lot of changes. Each administration has a policy position on climate change. But I have not seen a situation like the one that has developed under this administration during the past four years, in which politicization by the White House has fed back directly into the science program in such a way as to undermine the credibility and integrity of the program in its relationship to the research community, to program managers, to policymakers, and to the public interest.”

 

Resigned, March 2, 2005.

 

James Hansen: After he gave a speech warning, “We’re getting very close to a tipping point in the climate system. If we don’t get off our ‘business as usual’ scenario and begin to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, we’re going to get big climate changes,” NASA’s chief climate scientist reported that the Bush administration attempted to silence him. “One threat was relayed to me that there would be ‘dire consequences — not specified,’” said Hansen, who told ABC News that threats came only by phone from NASA officials careful to leave no paper trail. Threatened, 2006.

 

Col. Ted Westhusing: A military ethics scholar and full professor at West Point who — wrote T. Christian Miller of the Los Angeles Times — “volunteered to serve in Iraq to be able to better teach his students.” While in Iraq, Westhusing was tasked with overseeing USIS, a Virginia-based private security company with $79 million in contracts, to “train a corps of Iraqi police to conduct special operations.” In the course of his duties, he received a report detailing corruption and human rights violations by USIS and Iraqi police trainees. Wrote Miller, “In e-mails to his family, Westhusing seemed especially upset by one conclusion he had reached: that traditional military values such as duty, honor and country had been replaced by profit motives in Iraq, where the U.S. had come to rely heavily on contractors for jobs once done by the military.” Westhusing expressed feelings disillusionment and talked of resigning his command. Then, less than a month before his scheduled return home, Col. Ted Westhusing, according to the Army, committed suicide with his service revolver. A note in his room severely criticized his commanding officers and proclaimed, “I cannot support a msn [mission] that leads to corruption, human rights abuse and liars. I am sullied. I came to serve honorably and feel dishonored. Death before being dishonored any more.” Committed suicide, June 5, 2005.

 

lan L. Balaran: The government’s court-appointed Special Master overseeing a lawsuit involving the government’s management of an over 115 year-old trust fund for Native Americans, worth hundreds of millions of dollars, found “sufficient evidence” suggesting the Bureau of Indian Affairs had retaliated against a whistleblower — Mona Infield, a computer specialist in the BIA’s Office of Information Resource Management. Balaran eventually resigned from his job, wrote the Washington Post, charging “that the Department of the Interior blocked his work in a bid to conceal its deals to enrich energy companies and cheat American Indians.” In his letter of resignation, Balaran wrote, “A full investigation into these matters might well result in energy companies being forced to repay significant sums to individual Indians. [The Department of] Interior could not let this happen. . . Billions of dollars are at stake.” Resigned, April 2004.

 

David Gunn: The President and Chief Executive of Amtrak, he headed the government-subsidized railroad from May 2002 until he was fired in November 2005. A former transit-systems chief for New York City, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Toronto, Gunn repeatedly clashed with White House officials over their increasingly divergent views on the future of Amtrak’s passenger railway service. Back in 2003, Gunn noted that Amtrak wasn’t even consulted concerning the Bush Administration’s plan to “turn over rail service to private operators and let states decide routes.” He decried Bush-backed budget cuts and plans to “privatize [Amtrak's] track in the Northeast and eliminate long-distance lines that serve rural America.” Even Republican Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi called Gunn’s firing “a step backward” for the railroad. When he was terminated, by an all-Bush appointed board of directors at Amtrak, Gunn noted of the administration: “They have a very different vision for the place. Zero funding, bankruptcy and break it up. My efforts were not being helpful in what they were trying to accomplish.” Fired, November 2005.

 

Lawrence A. Greenfeld: He was a Bush-appointee and the head of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, a small agency of mostly “statisticians who conduct studies and issue reports on law enforcement issues.” According to news stories, he was ordered by acting Assistant Attorney General Tracy A. Henke to delete references to “findings that police treated Hispanic and black drivers more aggressively than whites during traffic stops” in a news release prepared to announce a study on the treatment of different ethnic groups by the police. Greenfeld refused and was summoned to be questioned by the third highest ranking official in the Justice Department. After continuing to fight the order he was, according to the Washington Post, “called to the White House and urged to resign six months before he was eligible for full pension benefits.” Although Greenfeld “was initially threatened with dismissal,” the New York Times reported in August 2005 that he was “expected to leave the agency soon for a lesser position at another agency.” Reassigned/Demoted, 2005.

 

David Kay: The head of the Iraq Survey Group — the organization the Bush administration tasked with locating Saddam Hussein’s nonexistent weapons of mass destruction in Iraq resigned from his position as chief weapons’ inspector citing a lack of resources to complete the task. According to the Boston Globe, he said “that he believed no such weapons existed and that the failure to find them raised serious questions about the quality of prewar intelligence.” He added, “We are in grave danger of having destroyed our credibility internationally and domestically with regard to warning about future events. The answer is to admit you were wrong, and what I find most disturbing around Washington… is the belief… you can never admit you’re wrong.” Resigned, January, 2004.

 

DeForest Soaries: A Republican, former New Jersey secretary of state, Baptist minister, and the White House’s choice for the “first chairman of the federal voting agency created after the 2000 election dispute,” he resigned, stating that the Republican-controlled congress and the federal government did not supply adequate support for the Election Assistance Commission. “All four of us [on the Election Assistance Commission] had to work without staff, without offices, without resources. I don’t think our sense of personal obligation has been matched by a corresponding sense of commitment to real reform from the federal government,” said Soaries. The White House’s only response was, “We appreciate his service and we are working to fill the vacancy promptly.” Resigned, April 2005.

 

Michael Scheuer: A 22-year veteran of the CIA, who worked in the Agency’s Counterterrorist Center and once headed its Osama bin Laden task force, he resigned his post, wrote the Christian Science Monitor, publicly “criticizing the Bush administration for going to war in Iraq and for the way it has conducted the war on terror in general.” Scheuer, author of Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror, a book critical of the Bush administration’s counterterrorism policy (written under the pen name “Anonymous”), said of the situation at the CIA at the time of his resignation:

 

“I’ve never experienced this much anxiety and controversy. Suddenly political affiliation matters to some degree. The talk is that they’re out to clean out Democrats and liberals. The administration doesn’t seem to be able to come to grips with the reality that it was a stupid thing to do to invade Iraq… If it goes too far like this into the political realm our fortunes overseas are going to be hurt.”

 

Resigned, November, 2004

 

Lt. Colonel Steve Butler: The vice chancellor for student affairs at the Defense Language Institute, he had a letter published in the May 26, 2002 Monterey County Herald in which he said, “Of course Bush knew about the impending attacks on America. He did nothing to warn the American people because he needed this war on terrorism. His daddy had Saddam and he needed Osama.” As a result, the PhD and former combat pilot was relieved of duties at the DLI and threatened with court-martial. In the end, an Air Force spokesperson intimated that Butler would most likely face “administrative or nonjudicial disciplinary action.” Further details have never been made public. Suspended from his duties, May/June, 2002.

 

Clark Kent Ervin: The improbably-named Houston Republican with close ties to the Bush family, he served as associate director of policy for the White House Office of National Service from 1989 to 1991 under President George H.W. Bush, then, under President George W. Bush, as inspector general at the State Department. In December 2003, when Congress was out of session, he was appointed the Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security. According to a report by ABC News, “Clark Ervin made himself very unpopular by issuing a series of stinging reports on security programs that he said had failed, officials he called inept, and fraud that he suspected. He alleged that millions of dollars had been wasted or were unaccounted for by the department and exposed lax airport security (undercover investigators were able to sneak explosives and weapons past screeners); federal air marshals who were sleeping on the job and tested positive for alcohol or drugs while on duty; and lavish spending by the Transportation Security Administration (“executive bonuses of $16,477 to 88 of its 116 senior managers in 2003, an amount one-third higher than the bonuses given to executives at any other federal agency”; $1,500 paid for three cheese displays and $3.75 for each soft drink served at a TSA banquet). After reporting these findings, among other unwelcome information, Ervin failed to be renominated when his term as IG expired. Asked for comment, White House spokesman Scott McClellan, stated, “I don’t get into speculating about who might be nominated,” adding only the obligatory, “We appreciate the job he has done.” Failed to be reappointed, December, 2004.

 

James P. Hoffa: The President of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters General, one of the largest U.S. labor unions, resigned from Bush’s President’s Advisory Committee on Trade Policy and Negotiations (ACTPN). In his letter of resignation, Hoffa stated that Bush had:

 

“pledged to bring a new level of respect and bipartisan comity to the nation’s capital. I took him at his word and endeavored to forge a mutually respectful, productive relationship with both the President and his administration. However, in recent months I have become increasingly uncomfortable with that association. The administration has clearly decided to wage a full-fledged attack on workers’ rights, social justice and economic common sense.”

 

Resigned, June 24, 2004.

 

Max H. Bazerman: A Harvard business professor as well as noted expert in the fields of corporate decision-making and, appropriately enough, the psychology of unethical behavior, Bazerman was slated to give expert testimony in the U.S. government’s case that the “tobacco industry engaged in a 50-year conspiracy to defraud the public about the dangers and addictiveness of smoking.” According to the Washington Post, “A top Justice Department official threatened to remove [Bazerman] from its witness list if he did not water down his recommended penalties for the tobacco industry.” The Harvard professor responded: “I would have felt I was lying under oath, and I couldn’t do that.” Bazerman stated that the pressure on him was conveyed by Justice Department senior litigation counsel Frank J. Marine on behalf of Associate Attorney General Robert D. McCallum Jr. — a senior political appointee supervising the case, who is believed to have radically cut the government’s request for Tobacco industry penalties (from $130 billion to $10 billion). Oh yes, McCallum is a former partner in the law firm Alston and Bird, “which has represented R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, one of the defendants in the case.” Bazerman was eventually allowed to testify. Threatened, 2005.

 

Richard S. Foster: “A longtime civil servant… [and] the Medicare program’s chief actuary for nine years,” he reported that he was repeatedly “threatened with firing if he disclosed too much information to Congress [and] he believe[d] the White House participated in the decision to withhold analyses that Medicare legislation President Bush sought would be far more expensive than lawmakers knew.” Threatened, 2004.

 

Doug Parker: The pesticide coordinator and assistant director of forestry health for the U.S. Forest Service’s Southwestern region, he “voiced concerns about alleged pesticide misuse in forests” in New Mexico and Arizona, according to an Associated Press report. Parker also accused some agency officials of not preparing proper environmental-risk assessments. He was promptly fired. “They want to be pesticide cowboys and go out there and do what they want to do without consideration of compliance with their own policies, regulations and environmental laws,” he said. Fired, October, 2005.

 

The final entry for this installment of the “Fallen Legion” comes from a Legionnaire kind enough to share his letter of resignation with TomDispatch.

 

Michael Kelly: A fishery biologist in the Arcata, California National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries Field Office, he left his job in May 2004. In his letter of resignation to NOAA and the NOAA Fisheries Leadership, he wrote, in part:

 

“My particular case is just symptomatic of this agency’s failure to correctly apply science and caution to its decisions and public pronouncements. I speak for many of my fellow biologists who are embarrassed and disgusted by the agency’s apparent misuse of science…

 

“Properly conducted, objective science always describes the amount of uncertainly present in a conclusion. It appears that this agency, and others under the Bush administration, routinely abuse the science by giving equal credit to very small amounts of uncertainly when making decisions based on the available science. Depending on the desired outcome, this administration appears to select either the preponderance of evidence or the slightest uncertainty on which to base its conclusion. Not only does this lack of caution and misuse of science adversely impact natural resources, it misleads the American public about how science and the scientific method work. I can only conclude that, with NOAA Fisheries’ help, this administration has considerably set back the public’s understanding of science.

 

“My resignation is due to my futile efforts to contribute to NOAA Fisheries’ attaining what I believe to be its mission, and the cumulative effects of observing this agency’s performance over the last four years.

 

“Thank you for listening to my concerns. I just hope that my explanation will help you recognize, understand, and address the mood of your hard working and dedicated staff by paying proper attention to their well-informed opinions. And I sincerely hope my bad experiences will not discourage agency personnel from speaking up for what is right if they find themselves in similar situations.”

 

Resigned, May 18, 2004.

 

 

Nick Turse is the Associate Editor and Research Director of TomDispatch.com. He has written for the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Nation, the Village Voice, Daily Ireland, and writes regularly for Tomdispatch. If you have further legionnaires to recommend for our series, please send them to the address below with the subject line: “fallen legion.” If you have whistles to blow yourself, or have confidential and unexposed muck you think Nick should rake, send your insider information with the subject line: “info” to [email protected]

 

 [This article first appeared on Tomdispatch.com, a weblog of the Nation Institute, which offers a steady flow of alternate sources, news, and opinion from Tom Engelhardt, long time editor in publishing, co-founder of the American Empire Project and author of The End of Victory Culture.]

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