Archive for the ‘Guess Who Has a New Book to Promote’ Category

  • The Hunt for MH370: Courtney Love is all over this story, offering her own analysis of satellite imagery as to the possible location of the plane. Internet hilarity predictably ensues.
  • Photographing Chernobyl: Interesting read and amazing photographs of the site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster by Gerd Ludwig, who has made multiple reporting trips there over the past two decades. You can also support Ludwig’s upcoming photo book by donating via his Kickstarter page.

There have been some developments regarding the Alice in Chains project I’ve been working on for nearly two years. I recently signed a deal with a publisher. Here’s the official announcement, it ran in Publisher’s Marketplace yesterday (it’s behind a paywall, text is pasted below):

July 9, 2013

Pop Culture
Journalist David de Sola’s TOUCH ON THE DARK, the first and only biography on the band Alice In Chains, promising countless never-before reported stories on the band with exclusive access to producers, journalists, musicians, and many others who have never gone on the record about their time working with the band, to Rob Kirkpatrick at Thomas Dunne Books, by Anthony Mattero at Foundry Literary + Media (NA).

In the meantime, work on the project continues. We are hoping for a late 2014/early 2015 release.

You can read some of my previous reporting on Alice in Chains here, here and here. All of this will be covered in greater depth in the book.

Update: For visitors who have questions about me, I would recommend they read about my background and look at some of my previous work from over the years.
Even though it’s completely unrelated to Alice in Chains, if you want a general idea of how I’m writing the book, I would recommend reading The Man Who Volunteered for Auschwitz.

I recently finished reading “Meltdown: The Inside Story of the North Korean Nuclear Crisis” by former CNN correspondent Mike Chinoy. Before I go any further with this, I should note in the interest of full disclosure that Mike was a teacher of mine at USC, and that I transcribed several interviews and contributed some research for this book.

It’s an excellent read, although the nuances of nuclear proliferation policy may be a bit complicated for a person unfamiliar with the issues surrounding America’s complicated relationship with North Korea. Mike does a good job documenting some of the behind-the-scenes power struggles within the Bush administration. There’s enough duplicity and backstabbing going on to rival any reality TV show, only that there are real world consequences as a result.

The major characters in this book – secretaries of State Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, nonproliferation chief John Bolton, North Korea negotiator Christopher Hill, and others – come across as dedicated public servants regardless of their position on the ideological and diplomatic spectrum in handling the North Korea issue, even when they are at each others’ throats.

Mike also does a good job at analyzing the M.O. of the North Koreans, parsing through the public and private statements of government officials as well as the official reports from the North Korean news agency to put developments and events into context, and how these comments often foretold of positive or negative developments in the U.S.-North Korea relationship. It’s easy and tempting to try and dismiss the North Koreans for their behavior, and wonder about how accurate the caricature of Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s Kim Jong Il really is (I’ve been guilty of that), but they certainly do not come across this way in the book.

If there is such a thing as being able to figure out what makes North Korea and Dear Leader tick, Mike is probably pretty close to it. He once said to me words to the effect that Kim Jong Il was as rational as a person could be in an irrational environment. Some of the words and actions of the North Korean government do seem irrational, and even childish at times. Their nuclear test in October of 2006 was neither of these, but rather something akin to Glenn Close’s famous line in the movie Fatal Attraction: “I’m not gonna be ignored.”

There are no bombshells in this book like George Tenet’s infamous slam dunk comment, but Washington Post diplomatic correspondent Glenn Kessler reviewed Meltdown and has a far better understanding of the news value and significance of what Mike uncovered in the course of his reporting for this book.

Regardless of who wins the election next week, the next president will have to figure out how to continue dealing with North Korea and make sure that the relationship does not deteriorate the way it did during the past eight years.

Dick Cheney after having lunch at a Roman Restaurant.  September 7, 2008

Dick Cheney after having lunch at a Roman restaurant. September 7, 2008

I recently finished reading Washington Post reporter Barton Gellman’s book “Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency.” It’s a tour-de-force of investigative, political, national security, and economic reporting based on a series of articles he co-wrote for the Post last year that won a Pulitzer Prize.

Having lived and worked in Washington DC during the first five years of the Bush presidency, the power and influence of Cheney was clear immediately.  According to Gellman’s book, Cheney’s office was intimately involved in nearly every major policy decision of the administration, and as I found out from my own investigation and field reporting while working at CNN, it was also Ground Zero for one of its biggest scandals.

The most surprising revelation in Gellman’s reporting to me was how he pieced together Cheney’s M.O.  He comes across as the ultimate bureaucratic warrior, knowing how the system works inside out, knowing where the loopholes are, and how to use them to his advantage.

Cheney was not Bush’s svengali or puppetmaster, as many liberals have claimed.  But he still managed to get a lot of his views and positions adopted in the policymaking process at lower levels in the bureaucracy, by placing ideological allies in key middle and senior-level positions throughout the federal government.  By the time the whole process had played itself out and made its way to the president, Cheney’s position nearly always came out on top.

Cheney comes across as something of a zealot, not necessarily because of his hardline conservative ideology but rather, because of his methods.  Even when the subject of the book focused on Iraq, I did not get the impression that Bob Woodward did when he wrote in Plan of Attack that Cheney had a fever regarding the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, a view attributed to Colin Powell, if my memory is correct.

The biggest bombshells in the book were the behind the scenes tick-tock of the Department of Justice’s impasse with the White House over the legality of the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program, which nearly led to a Saturday Night Massacre-esque decapitation of the national security legal team of the federal government.  The second was the revelation from former House Majority Leader Dick Armey that Cheney misled (if not outright lied) to him about the intelligence on Saddam Hussein’s WMD programs during a private briefing after Armey expressed public doubt about the need to invade Iraq.

What makes the book more impressive is that Gellman was able to get a fair, balanced, and accurate portrayal of Cheney without the benefit of an interview.  He digs deep into the government bureaucracy and spoke extensively with Cheney’s friends and rivals to make sure that a well-rounded picture of his vice presidency came to light.

The major supporting character who pretty much jumps off every page in this book is Cheney’s counsel (and now chief of staff) David Addington, who shares his boss’s views about an expansive, near-unchecked power of the executive branch on matters of war and national security.   Even though Scooter Libby held the chief of staff role until his indictment in 2005, he did not come across in the book anywhere near as big a player in the government as Addington.

This is a very well-written and researched book which, until years pass and internal documents from the Bush White House are declassified and published, will likely be the standard by which all biographies of the Cheney vice presidency will be measured.

Look who’s about to go on book tour

(CBS) Ex-CIA Director George Tenet says the way the Bush administration has used his now famous “slam dunk” comment — which he admits saying in reference to making the public case for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq — is both disingenuous and dishonorable.

It also ruined his reputation and his career, he tells 60 Minutes Scott Pelley in his first network television interview. Pelley’s report will be broadcast Sunday, April 29, at 7 p.m. ET/PT.

The phrase “slam dunk” didn’t refer to whether Saddam Hussein actually had WMDs, says Tenet; the CIA thought he did. He says he was talking about what information could be used to make that case when he uttered those words. “We can put a better case together for a public case. That’s what I meant,” explains Tenet.

It will be interesting to watch the verbal hand grenades being tossed back and forth between Tenet, the White House and the GOP.

In light of yesterday’s nuclear test, this seemed worth highlighting. [Note: At the time, Bandar was the Saudi ambassador to the United States and a close friend of the Bush family] From pages 12-13 of State of Denial:

George W. pulled Bandar aside.
“Bandar, I guess you’re the best asshole who knows about the world. Explain to me one thing.”
“Governor, what is it?”
“Why should I care about North Korea?”
Bandar said he didn’t really know. It was one of the few countries that he did not work on for King Fahd.
“I get these briefings on all parts of the world,” Bush said, “and everybody is talking to me about North Korea.”
“I’ll tell you what, Governor,” Bandar said. “One reason should make you care about North Korea.”
“All right, smart aleck,” Bush said, “tell me.”
“The 38,000 American troops right on the border.” Most of the U.S. 2nd Infantry Division was deployed there, along with thousands of other Army, Navy and Air Force personnel. “If nothing else counts, this counts. One shot across the border and you lose half these people immediately. You lose 15,000 Americans in a chemical or biological or even regular attack. The United State of America is at war instantly.”
“Hmmm,” Bush said. “I wish those assholes would put things just point-blank to me. I get half a book telling me about the history of North Korea.”
“Now I tell you another answer to that. You don’t want to care about North Korea anymore?” Bandar asked. The Saudis wanted America to focus on the Middle East and not get drawn into a conflict in East Asia.
“I didn’t say that,” Bush replied.
“But if you don’t, you withdrawl those troops back. Then it becomes a local conflict. Then you have the whole time to decide, ‘Should I get involved? Not involved?’ Etc.”
At that moment, Colin Powell approached.
“Colin,” Bush said, “come here. Bandar and I were shooting the bull, just two fighter pilots shooting the bull.” He didn’t mention the topic.
“Mr. Governor,” Bandar said, “General Powell is almost a fighter pilot. He can shoot the bull almost as good as us.”

Bob Woodward can probably forget about waiting for the invitation to the White House Christmas party to arrive in the mail this year.

From the New York Daily News:

The CIA’S top counterterrorism officials felt they could have killed Osama Bin Laden in the months before 9/11, but got the “brushoff” when they went to the Bush White House seeking the money and authorization.

CIA Director George Tenet and his counterterrorism head Cofer Black sought an urgent meeting with then-national security adviser Condoleezza Rice on July 10, 2001, writes Bob Woodward in his new book “State of Denial.”

They went over top-secret intelligence pointing to an impending attack and “sounded the loudest warning” to the White House of a likely attack on the U.S. by Bin Laden.

Woodward writes that Rice was polite, but, “They felt the brushoff.”

Tenet and Black were both frustrated.

Black later calculated that all he needed was $500 million of covert action funds and reasonable authorization from President Bush to go kill Bin Laden and “he might be able to bring Bin Laden’s head back in a box,” Woodward writes.

Black claims the CIA had about “100 sources and subsources” in Afghanistan who could have helped carry out the hit.

The details of the incident are emerging just days after Sen. Hillary Clinton and former President Bill Clinton sparred with Rice over whether the Bush administration had tried to get Bin Laden before the terror attacks.

Update: Woodward also reports that President Bush was urged to dump Donald Rumsfeld twice after he won re-election, first by his then-Chief of Staff Andrew Card, the second time by Card and (interestingly enough) the First Lady. Looks like Andrew “Marketing Point of View” Card is trying to do some retroactive CYA after being replaced earlier this year.

From today’s Washington Post:

Former White House chief of staff Andrew Card on two occasions tried and failed to persuade President Bush to fire Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, according to a new book by Bob Woodward that depicts senior officials of the Bush administration as unable to face the consequences of their policy in Iraq.

Card made his first attempt after Bush was reelected in November, 2004, arguing that the administration needed a fresh start and recommending that Bush replace Rumsfeld with former secretary of state James A. Baker III. Woodward writes that Bush considered the move, but was persuaded by Vice President Cheney and Karl Rove, his chief political adviser, that it would be seen as an expression of doubt about the course of the war and would expose Bush himself to criticism.

Card tried again around Thanksgiving, 2005, this time with the support of First Lady Laura Bush, who according to Woodward, felt that Rumsfeld’s overbearing manner was damaging to her husband. Bush refused for a second time, and Card left the administration last March, convinced that Iraq would be compared to Vietnam and that history would record that no senior administration officials had raised their voices in opposition to the conduct of the war.