Michael Isikoff

Stories by Michael Isikoff


    The White House publicly bemoaned Congress's failure to pass a sweeping measure to overhaul the U.S. intelligence community--a top 9/11 Commission recommendation--and said it would press to revive the bill soon. But behind the scenes, the White House's support has been less than vigorous, reflecting ambivalence on the part of many in the administration, especially the Pentagon, about the idea of creating an all-powerful new intelligence czar. Aides said President George W. Bush, while on Air Force One on his way to Chile, called one of the two principal congressional holdouts--House judiciary committee chairman Jim Sensenbrenner--in an effort to break the legislative logjam. But Sensenbrenner tells NEWSWEEK that Bush was "extremely low-key" during their conversation and never pressured him. ("He knows that arm-twisting with me... is not the way to go," he adds.) After their phone chat, Bush authorized a White House aide to push for one of Sensenbrenner's pet proposals to make it...
  • Terror Watch: Whistle-Blower Crackdown Spreads

    A judge is ordering government workers to waive their confidentiality agreements with journalists. What impact will the controversial tactic have on the media's ability to report news?
  • Terror Watch: The End of the Muslim Brotherhood?

    On the face of it, a little-noticed report in a London-based Arabic-language newspaper last week seemed to signal a major victory in the Bush administration's international campaign to crack down on alleged financiers of Islamic terrorism. According to the Nov. 11 edition of Al-Sharq-al-Awsat, the Muslim Brotherhood Organization, an international fundamentalist movement that spawned many of the world's key Islamic extremist and terrorist groups--including Al Qaeda--recently held a secret conference at which its leaders discussed whether to dissolve their organization in the wake of Washington's moves to crack down on some of its leading members and corporate organizations.But like other developments in what the administration calls the global war on terror, the alleged move by the Brotherhood to abolish itself may have less substance than meets the eye. Indeed, it may even mean that efforts by the U.S. and its allies to move against financiers of Islamic terror groups will become...
  • Terror Watch: The Real Target?

    New intelligence suggests that Al Qaeda was planning to attack London, not U.S. financial centers, in the run-up to the presidential election. A Kerry adviser blames politics for the timing of the government's summer alert

    The CIA is keeping the lid on a hard-hitting report about agency officials who might be held accountable for 9/11 intel failures. The report identifies a host of current and former officials who could be candidates for possible disciplinary procedures imposed by a special CIA Accountability Board, sources familiar with the document tell NEWSWEEK. The report by the agency's inspector general's office was completed last June. But it has not been made public or sent to the two congressional oversight committees, which first asked for the review more than two years ago. Officially, the agency's position is that more work needs to be done. In a recent private letter to CIA Director Porter Goss, House intelligence committee chairman Peter Hoekstra and ranking Democrat Jane Harman contrasted the CIA's failure to turn over the report with the Pentagon's ability to provide an exhaustive investigative report on the far more recent Abu Ghraib scandal. But Goss shows no inclination to release...

    President George W. Bush counts Libya's decision to give up its nuclear-weapons program--a move that helped thaw relations with the longtime pariah regime of Col. Muammar Kaddafi--as one of his foreign-policy successes. To reward the Libyan strongman, Bush last month lifted most U.S. sanctions against Libya, prompting a rush of U.S. energy executives to Tripoli in search of drilling-rights concessions and other deals. (Among the beneficiaries: Halliburton, whose chief financial officer recently told investors that the Libyan market presented "a great opportunity for us.") Another sign of the thaw: the Libyans have just hired their own D.C. lobbyist, signing a $1.4 million contract with Randa Fahmy Hudome, until last year a top Bush-administration energy official.But U.S. counterterrorism officials are deeply uneasy. Libya is still on the State Department list of state "sponsors" of terrorism, and sources tell NEWSWEEK the country is likely to remain there for some time. One reason:...
  • Lobbying for Libya--and Bush

    A last-minute endorsement of President George W. Bush by a hastily formed coalition of Arab-Americans was coordinated in part by a registered lobbyist for the Libyan regime of Col. Muammar Kaddafi--a government formally branded by the State Department as a state sponsor of terrorism.Randa Fahmy Hudome, who just this month signed a $1.4 million contract to represent the Libyan government, served as a behind-the-scenes "media consultant" helping to prepare this week's press release praising Bush's record in promoting "human rights, democracy and self-determination" in the Middle East, a chief organizer of the group told NEWSWEEK.Walid Phares, who described himself as the academic adviser for the newly created group called Middle Eastern American National Conference, said he had no idea when he worked with Hudome in recent days on the group's endorsement that she was simultaneously representing Libyan interests in Washington as a recently registered foreign agent.Copies of the Bush...
  • Terror Watch: Saddam's Surrogates

    While the sadistic Zarqawi network grabs the headlines, it's the former dictator's loyalists who are probably carrying out most of the attacks in Iraq.
  • Terror Watch: The Money Trail

    New information about an Islamic agency suggests that U.S. tax money may have been used inadvertently to help Al Qaeda.
  • Terror Watch: Shades of Gray

    The Duelfer Report alleges that Saddam gave funds to a listed terror group. But the claim does little to advance the White House case for war.

    How far will federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald go in his campaign to sniff out government leakers? As special counsel in the Valerie Plame leak probe, Fitzgerald, the hard-charging U.S. attorney in Chicago, has subpoenaed D.C. reporters, demanding they identify sources who told them Plame was an undercover CIA operative. But Fitzgerald's war on leakers may generate more controversy in another case: his efforts to hunt down the officials who alerted The New York Times to raids on two Islamic charities in 2001. Fitzgerald recently informed the newspaper that he will subpoena the phone records of two reporters--Judith Miller and Philip Shenon--from the local phone company. (Normally, records of local phone calls are kept on computer tapes for about three months, but an industry official tells NEWSWEEK phone companies are now paid by the Feds to retrieve tapes of much older calls.) The Times last week sued to block the threatened subpoenas; lawyer Floyd Abrams noted they'd identify...

  • Terror Watch: Like Clockwork

    Swiss investigators have broken an Al Qaeda cell that proves the remarkable reach of the global-terror network.
  • McGreevey: Affair to Regret


    New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey had stayed a step ahead of the rumors for years. In down-and-dirty New Jersey politics, Republican opponents had tried to hint at his double life, sometimes none too subtly. One Republican opponent in a local election sent out a mass mailing with photographs of McGreevey's car getting late-night parking tickets in a particularly seedy area near New York City's Times Square.McGreevey was nervous about exposure. When his opponent in the 2001 governor's race, Bret Schundler, hired "oppo men" who tried to get into McGreevey's sealed divorce papers (McGreevey married for a second time and has a child by each wife), McGreevey countered in classic New Jersey fashion: he sent an emissary to tell Schundler's operatives that he, too, knew some embarrassing secrets about his opponent. In a "gentleman's agreement," both sides backed off.But the suspicions never went away. Shortly after he was elected governor, McGreevey fell and badly broke his leg in Cape May, N...
  • Terror Watch: Goss's Wish List

    Bush's CIA nominee has alarmed civil libertarians with a plan that would authorize the agency to arrest U.S. Citizens. Plus, the real threat to the Olympic games.
  • Terror Watch: Deconstructing the Intelligence

    Critics charge the Bush administration is mixing politics and terror. Here's why the White House believes the threat against U.S. financial institutions remains very real.
  • Terror Watch: On Alert

    A flapping tent. Bottles of urine. Amid fears of a pre-election terror attack, jumpy Feds are investigating everything in their efforts to protect the first post-9/11 national political convention.

    The Iranian frontier with Afghanistan is a wild and desolate area of goat farmers and mud-brick huts, the perfect place for illicit opium--and terrorists--to cross the border. But the region is hardly a no man's land. U.S. intelligence believes that in faraway Tehran, the hard-line Islamist clerics who now exercise near total control over Iran directed their border guards to help jihadists coming from Afghanistan. And sometime between October 2000 and February 2001, according to the forthcoming final report of the 9-11 Commission, eight to 10 of the "muscle" hijackers of the September 11 plot were among those who benefited from this Iranian good-fellowship.That conclusion--the strongest evidence yet of a relationship between Iran and Al Qaeda--is one of the most surprising findings to emerge in the commission's report, which is due out this week. According to a December 2001 memo buried in the files of the National Security Agency, obtained by the commission, Iranian officials...
  • Bush Reacts

    President George W. Bush has ordered a high-level White House review of the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission and wants to begin implementing some of them "within weeks," a senior White House official told NEWSWEEK.Just one day after the commission proposed a sweeping overhaul of the U.S. intelligence and counterterrorism community, Bush directed White House chief of staff Andrew Card to immediately convene a group of top cabinet members to review the proposals and "discuss implementation," a top White House official said."He's expecting action in weeks," said Frances Fragos Townsend, deputy national-security adviser for counterterrorism, who will help oversee the review.The action comes despite reservations among some senior officials about the wisdom of some of the major commission proposals, including one to create a presidentially appointed cabinet-level national intelligence director--separate from the CIA director--with authority over the entire U.S. intelligence...

    The more he read, the more uneasy he became. In early February 2003 Colin Powell was putting the finishing touches on his speech to the United Nations spelling out the case for war in Iraq. Across the Potomac River, a Pentagon intelligence analyst going over the facts in the speech was alarmed at how shaky that case was. Powell's presentation relied heavily on the claims of one especially dubious Iraqi defector, dubbed "Curve Ball" inside the intel community. A self-proclaimed chemical engineer who was the brother of a top aide to Iraqi National Congress chief Ahmad Chalabi, Curve Ball had told the German intelligence service that Iraq had a fleet of seven mobile labs used to manufacture deadly biological weapons. But nobody inside the U.S. government had ever actually spoken to the informant--except the Pentagon analyst, who concluded the man was an alcoholic and utterly useless as a source. He recalled that Curve Ball had shown up for their only meeting nursing a "terrible...

    American counter-terrorism officials, citing what they call "alarming" intelligence about a possible Qaeda strike inside the United States this fall, are reviewing a proposal that could allow for the postponement of the November presidential election in the event of such an attack, NEWSWEEK has learned. The prospect that Al Qaeda might seek to disrupt the U.S. election was a major factor behind last week's terror warning by Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge. Ridge and other counterterrorism officials concede they have no intel about any specific plots. But the success of March's Madrid railway bombings in influencing the Spanish elections--as well as intercepted "chatter" among Qaeda operatives--has led analysts to conclude "they want to interfere with the elections," says one official.As a result, sources tell NEWSWEEK, Ridge's department last week asked the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel to analyze what legal steps would be needed to permit the postponement of...
  • Terror Watch: At Work--The Patriot Act

    A justice department report claims the controversial law helped the FBI to unravel a bizarre south pole 'cyberterror' plot. Scientists don't necessarily agree.
  • Terror Watch: At Odds

    Both the FBI and civil-liberties groups are worried that Edwards, and possibly Kerry, will use their campaign to promote the formation of a new domestic spy agency

    A captured Qaeda commander who was a principal source for Bush administration claims that Osama bin Laden collaborated with Saddam Hussein's regime has changed his story, setting back White House efforts to shore up the credibility of its original case for the invasion of Iraq. The apparent recantation of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, a onetime member of bin Laden's inner circle, has never been publicly acknowledged. But U.S. intelligence officials tell NEWSWEEK that al-Libi was a crucial source for one of the more dramatic assertions made by President George W. Bush and his top aides: that Iraq had provided training in "poisons and deadly gases" for Al Qaeda. Al-Libi, who once ran one of bin Laden's biggest training camps, was captured in Pakistan in November 2001 and soon began talking to CIA interrogators. Although he never mentioned his name, Secretary of State Colin Powell prominently referred to al-Libi's claims in his February 2003 speech to the United Nations; he recounted how a ...

    Can Michael Moore be believed? It is a question more than a few moviegoers may be asking this week as his new documentary, "Fahrenheit 9/11," hits theaters. Like Moore's previous works, the movie is a melange of investigative journalism, partisan commentary and conspiracy theories. A run-down of some of Moore's most provocative allegations, and how they stack up against the record:Bush's initial response to the 9/11 attacks. Moore has unearthed video showing Bush attending a photo op in a second-grade classroom in Sarasota, Fla., when chief of staff Andrew Card whispers in his ear: "America is under attack." Card told a TV interviewer in 2002 that the president got up from the classroom "not that many seconds later." Moore's video depicts a seemingly shaken Bush continuing to sit in the classroom for seven agonizing minutes, even reading to the children from a book, "My Pet Goat." The movie suggests Bush reads from the book because he is uncertain about what to do. A report this...

    Last February, two Army counterintelligence agents showed up at the University of Texas law school and demanded to see the roster from a conference on Islamic law held a few days earlier. Their reason: they were trying to track down students who the agents claimed had been asking "suspicious" questions. "I felt like I was in 'Law & Order'," said one student after being grilled by one of the agents. The incident provoked a brief campus uproar, and the Army later admitted the agents had exceeded their authority. But if the Pentagon has its way, the Army may not have to make such amends in the future. Without any public hearing or debate, NEWSWEEK has learned, Defense officials recently slipped a pro-vision into a bill before Congress that could vastly expand the Pentagon's ability to gather intelligence inside the United States, including recruiting citizens as informants.Ever since the 1970s, when Army intel agents were caught snooping on antiwar protesters, military intel...
  • The Clinton Book

    Presidential memoirs are usually ho-hum affairs. But Bill Clinton was no ordinary president, and his memoir, the much-anticipated "My Life," is no ordinary book: a historic document (Clinton was the first two-term Democratic president since FDR), the Alfred A. Knopf book is also a publishing-industry phenomenon. "My Life" isn't officially released until Tuesday, but it's already No. 1 on Amazon.com. The press release of the former president's "60 Minutes" interview with Dan Rather promoting the book landed on the cover of both New York tabloids on Thursday.The rollout is vintage Clinton--charming, down home and completely calculated. In speeches and interviews, the former president has coyly hinted at great revelations amid "My Life's" 957 pages. But it's a tease: he shows just enough leg to make you want to buy the book.And indeed, "My Life" will give critics and champions alike plenty to ponder for weeks to come. The book confirms what we have long known: that Bill Clinton is a...