Red-Handed Lies

By Waller, J. Michael | Insight on the News, November 8, 1999 | Go to article overview

Red-Handed Lies

Waller, J. Michael, Insight on the News

From the beginning, the Clinton administration was well Aware of the Russian government's involvement with Organized crime but punished those who dared point it out.

We pretend to work and they pretend to pay us," went the old Soviet joke. Now it's "You pretend to reform and we pretend to believe you," says former senator Bill Bradley, a longtime critic of the Clinton administration's Russia policy and Democratic presidential challenger to Vice President Al Gore. "A more honest U.S. policy is essential."

With Bradley calling for more honesty -- a code phrase for fewer lies -- the press also has begun to snipe at White House policy toward Russia. "Determinedly blind," said the National Journal. "Naive," asserted the Washington Post. "Misguided," according to the Wall Street Journal. "A charade," declared the New York Times.

The Bank of New York money-laundering scandal is snowballing. More revelations by newly retired officials, criminal investigations from Moscow to Switzerland to London to Manhattan, a set of congressional hearings and a revisiting of old press reports show an emerging pattern: From its first days in office more than six years ago, the Clinton administration systematically tried to suppress the truth about the sorry progress of reform in Russia.

California Republican Rep. Tom Campbell, a longtime and earnest defender of the Clinton administration's Russia policy, sat bug-eyed at an Oct. 6 House International Relations Committee hearing on how the administration ignored warnings and dissent. He was one of the few members who listened to all the expert testimony. But not everyone on Capitol Hill is surprised.

"It's a pattern I've witnessed since Clinton took over," says Rep. Curt Weldon, the Pennsylvania Republican who chairs the House Armed Services sub-committee on Military Research and Development, to which government whistle-blowers have gone with their stories. As distinct from the phlegmatic GOP leadership, Weldon has been on this issue for years while other Republican chiefs were brushing off such concerns and giving Clinton, Gore and the architect of U.S.-Russia policy, Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, the benefit of the doubt.

Weldon and some of his colleagues have found a pattern -- not only in economics, corruption and organized crime, as recent public events have emphasized, but across the board: human rights, weapons proliferation, strategic-weapons modernization, arms control and agriculture. The pattern shows that the administration ignored intelligence reports, disregarded cables from diplomats in the field, pressured diplomats and intelligence analysts into not reporting developments that conflicted with government policy, destroyed the careers of public servants who bucked political pressure by doing their job and misled Congress and the public.

Top Clinton officials knew the scope of government corruption in Russia from their earliest days in office. Clinton's first CIA director, R. James Woolsey, recently told the House Banking and Financial Services Committee that in 1993 "some very able CIA analysts came to me with an excellent briefing on some aspects of Russian organized crime. I moved promptly to ensure that very senior officials at the Justice Department, the FBI, the National Security Council and other relevant agencies received this briefing. In several of these cases -- I remember briefings at Justice and the NSC -- I personally attended in order to highlight the importance of the subject and to emphasize the excellence and the creativity of the CIA officers' work. I then commissioned a special National Intelligence Estimate on Russian Organized Crime."

Woolsey added that he "put this issue on the agenda at some of the intelligence community's most sensitive meetings on intelligence matters with some of our closest allies and ensured that at a very senior level they were appropriately briefed as well. …

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