Chapter 68: Ned Lamont

Ned Lamont won the primary in August.
I didn't wait for evening to fall, as Holmes had suggested, but went straight to work as soon as he had departed. He had asked me a simple question, but I had a premonition that the answer might not be as simple as the question. And I was right.

My friend had asked what was happening in early August of 2006 that the American government wanted to keep off the front pages. The short answer was "Ned Lamont."

Senator Joe Lieberman, a Democrat from Connecticut who had been Al Gore's running mate in 2000, was a strong supporter of Republican President George W. Bush, especially on issues such as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Lieberman was also a loyal supporter of Israel and a fierce advocate of curtailing civil rights under the banner of "Homeland Security."

Many Democrats considered Lieberman a traitor to the party and to the principles it pretends to support, and some hoped he could be unseated. One of them was Ned Lamont, a Connecticut millionaire with limited political experience but sufficient independence to take a position mildly against the war in Iraq. Lamont challenged and defeated Lieberman in the primary election of August 8, 2006, earning the right to campaign as the official candidate of the Democratic party in the general election in November.

The result was a major victory for the anti-war "wing" of the Democratic Party, and therefore it was seen by strategists of both parties as a potential "hinge," on which political momentum might take a significant turn. As usual, the two sides were battling over how the result would be reported.

But Rashid Rauf was arrested in Pakistan.
By the end of the week prior to the primary, Lamont's victory had been seen by both sides as all but certain, and, according to some published reports, the Republicans were bracing for a national backlash against their policies of the past six years. They were also, apparently, casting about for an issue or an event which would unite the party -- and possibly even the nation -- around the president, as he strove to retain as much power as possible for the last two years of his second term. But it didn't take them long to find something they could use.

Presidential power in the United States comes by degrees: if the President's party controls both the House of Representatives and the Senate, the President will get what he wants much more often than if the Senate or the House, or both, are controlled by the opposing party. And Republican control of the Senate during the G. W. Bush years was almost always razor-thin.

As a Senior Democrat with a dedicated Republican point of view, Lieberman's value to the President was beyond measure. To have lost his Senate seat would have been a serious blow to the Republicans, especially if the new Senator from Connecticut was prepared to lead an anti-war charge against the President.

None of these Democratic pipe-dreams ever came to pass, however. Lieberman announced immediately after the primary loss that he would contest the general election as an independent -- that is, without the official backing of his party, or of any party. Lieberman was quoted as saying:
"For the sake of our state, our country and my party, I cannot and will not let that result stand."
Lieberman’s campaign manager, Sean Smith, took a different tack as regards the Democratic party.
"This is bigger than the party now," Smith said.
Regardless of whether it was more noble to denigrate the party by ignoring the stated wishes of its members in favour of something "bigger," or to support it by acting against those stated wishes "for the sake of the party," Lieberman ran against Lamont in November and won, retaining his Senate seat. Thus was crisis averted, as seen from the Republican point of view.

And George W. Bush rallied his supporters.
Furthermore, the sequence of events, and the sequence in which those events were reported, leave no doubt that American officials were notified -- in advance of the arrests of the "Liquid Bombers," and in advance of the Connecticut primary -- that the British were tracking what appeared to be a big terror plot in its early stages.

British intelligence felt they had the matter well in hand, and that the plot posed no danger to the public. The Brits were also of the opinion that it would be quite safe to allow the plotters to go ahead for a while longer, and they favoured this course, in the hope that it would encourage more evidence to appear.

According to a book written later by American journalist Ron Suskind, President Bush urged the British to act immediately against the plotters, but when they did not do so, Bush moved to preempt them. According to Suskind, the Americans sent a high-ranking CIA officer on a clandestine mission to Pakistan to make sure the Pakistani security forces arrested Rashid Rauf immediately.

The arrest of Rashid Rauf, and the subsequent arrests of the "Liquid Bombers," were portrayed in the press as a victory against terrorism achieved by unprecedented multi-way cooperation among the Pakistanis, the British, and the Americans. But, at least according to some British intelligence officers, nothing could have been further from the truth. In their view, the prosecution of the "Liquid Bombers" was hampered by the arrests coming too early, before there was enough evidence to ensure convictions all around.

However, the Republicans were looking to mount a sustained propaganda barrage which would obliterate the name of Ned Lamont from the national landscape permanently, or at least until the general election in November. The fifth anniversary of the September 11 attacks was coming, but not soon enough to suit their purposes. American voters could not be allowed to spend the next month rallying around Ned Lamont, the anti-war Democrats, or the people who merely pointed out that Bush had not kept America safe, and that the wars of choice which he started in Afghanistan and Iraq were making America less, rather than more, secure.

The news of the arrests of the "Liquid Bombers" came at just the right time for the Republicans -- roughly twenty-four hours after Lamont's victory -- and they exploited it expertly. Whether calling the Democrats "Defeatocrats," or suggesting that Democrats -- especially anti-war Democrats -- were "al-Q'aeda types," or insinuating that anyone who opposed the war in Iraq was working for the terrorists, the Republicans worked the "Liquid Bombers" story with their usual combination of oratory sleight-of-hand and relentless determination, turning the political momentum to their advantage once again.

And Joe Lieberman was re-elected in November.
Shamefully, in my view, the President's political men spoke openly about how much benefit they could derive from "terrorist attacks" and "foiled terror plots" such as that of the "Liquid Bombers." Even more shamefully, nobody was paying enough attention to grasp what they really meant.

In retrospect, it seems the "terror plot" involving the "Liquid Bombers" was always known by British security to be quite harmless, probably -- in my opinion -- because the British understood that it relied on impossible mechanisms. Further, it is clear that the "danger" posed by the "plot" underwent a significant increase as soon as the Americans became aware of it, whatever it was.

Having shared information with the Americans, were British security forces trapped by the arrest of Rashid Rauf? Were they forced to expose their own trap by springing it too soon? Were they trying to cover the fact that the plot was bogus by implementing draconian security measures which were never to be lifted, and by prosecuting the suspects as many times as necessary to obtain convictions?

I couldn't answer these questions, but I found myself returning to them again and again while I re-filed the news clippings. I wondered if Gareth Williams had ever asked himself the same questions. And I wondered whether Holmes would ever learn to put things back where he had filed them.