Earning Your Bones in the Bush Bada Bing! Club

For those interested in why Wolfowitz could possibly secure gainful employment in government after his disasters in Iraq and the World Bank, this prior column may be of interest on how to succeed in the Bush Administration:

Gen. Hayden earns his `bones’ and a nominationBy Jonathan TurleyPublished May 10, 2006The nomination of four-star Gen. Michael Hayden as the next CIA director shocked many people, including civil libertarians who associate Hayden with the controversial National Security Agency domestic spying program–an operation viewed as criminal by many experts. Even Republican senators expressed dismay this week at yet another controversial nomination by President Bush.

Despite the vocal surprise, Hayden’s nomination is actually all too predictable. While alleged violations of federal laws have long been viewed as a negative resume item, it doesn’t appear to be a problem for Bush’s inner circle.From his very first appointments, Bush appeared inclined toward officials who appear willing to treat the law as a mere technicality.

Some people were taken aback when, in his first term, Bush filled his administration with top officials accused of criminal and unethical conduct during his father’s term and the Reagan administration. They included people like Elliott Abrams to oversee Middle Eastern affairs, despite his pleading guilty to a federal crime during the Reagan years. There also was Otto Reich, accused of running an unlawful domestic propaganda operation for Reagan; he was tapped as a special envoy. Bush also recruited Adm. John Poindexter, convicted of various federal crimes stemming from his service as national security adviser to Reagan. (The convictions were later overturned.) Poindexter was chosen by Bush to head the controversial Total Information Awareness data-mining project, an operation viewed as so dangerous to privacy and civil liberties that it was formally stopped by Congress.

There was also John Negroponte, accused of shielding human-rights violations and unlawfully supporting the Nicaraguan contras. After Negroponte’s stint as ambassador to the United Nations, Bush made him the director of national intelligence.

Likewise, then-White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales was accused of signing the infamous “torture memo” that not only approved of forms of torture but also suggested that the president could violate federal law. Gonzales was later made attorney general.

Other officials involved in controversial programs were given other rewards, ranging from judgeships to presidential honors. Former CIA Director George Tenet was accused of the most serious intelligence blunders of the century. It was Tenet who gave Bush the excuse to invade Iraq by stating that the presence of weapons of mass destruction was a “slam dunk.” Bush gave Tenet the prestigious Presidential Medal of Freedom. Now comes Hayden, accused of being the architect of the administration’s domestic spying program where, without securing a court order, the Bush administration unilaterally engaged in surveillance of phone calls and e-mails between people in the U.S. and people abroad who are thought to have Al Qaeda connections.

Congress is still debating how to deal with the NSA program, and Republicans and Democrats have denounced the operation. Now Hayden is about to be elevated to one of the two highest intelligence positions in government, with the controversial Negroponte holding the other office.There appears to be more here than simply a tendency of Bush’s to hang around with a bad group of kids. Bush himself has long displayed an equally dismissive view of the law, claiming the right to violate federal law when he considers it to be in the nation’s interest.

As these shadowy figures multiply, you can understand why civil libertarians increasingly see the White House like a gathering at Tony Soprano’s Bada Bing! club. In Soprano’s world, you cannot become a “made man” unless you first earn your bones by “doing” some guy or showing blind loyalty. Only when you have proven unquestioning loyalty does Tony “open the books” for a new guy.

Hayden earned his bones by implementing the NSA operation despite clear federal law declaring such surveillance to be a criminal act. He can now join the rest of the made men of the Bush administration.