Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Obama's State Dept. jokes about Osama but is serious about WikiLeaks

Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs Philip “P.J.” Crowley isn't playing around when it comes to WikiLeaks and Julian Assange. At the Daily Beast, Howard Kurtz reports, "As Julian Assange steps up his rhetoric and his releases of sensitive material, the State Department is becoming increasingly undiplomatic."
With Julian Assange in jail, the State Department steps up its WikiLeaks counteroffensive. Howard Kurtz talks to State brass about his motive and why he should be considered dangerous.

As Julian Assange steps up his rhetoric and his releases of sensitive material, the State Department is becoming increasingly undiplomatic.

“Mr. Assange is not seemingly worried about real lives and real careers which can be put at risk of being intimidated, jailed or killed,” Assistant Secretary P.J. Crowley told The Daily Beast. His most recent statements “really unmasked him.”

Hours after WikiLeaks published a secret memo listing more than 100 factories, labs, and underseas cables that the United States considers critical for world security, Crowley said: “In releasing that kind of information, Mr. Assange is giving a group like al Qaeda a potential targeting list.”

All seriousness now, Mr. Crowley is not in a joke-telling mood. Unfortunately, when the subject matter is al Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden, the State Department flack believes it's his duty to turn into Robin Williams (of the unfunny Patch Adams variety). On March 29, 2010 at a State Dept. press conference a reporter and Crowley had the following exchange after President Obama made a surprise visit to Afghanistan:
QUESTION: I hope you have some Osama bin Laden soon.


QUESTION: I hope you have Osama bin Laden coming soon.

MR. CROWLEY: (Laughter.) We all hope for that day.

In May, Crowley's joking on bin Laden attracted a bit more attention. AFP reported,
The US State Department, after hearing Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad say Osama bin Laden was in Washington, joked Wednesday it found no trace of him despite a thorough search.

"We've done an intensive search here at the Department of State -- every nook and cranny, every rock -- and we can safely report that Osama bin Laden is not here," State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said.

"You mean Greater Washington, or you just looked at the State Department?" a reporter asked as he played along with the joke from Crowley, the spokesman for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

"Just the confines of the State Department, but it was reported by the president of Iran that he's here in Washington. That's news to us," Crowley said before turning to the news of the day.

"And thank you for laughing," he said, smiling broadly.

Just a few weeks ago, on November 16, Crowley again elicited laughs when asked about Osama bin Laden, although the transcript seems to be missing the punchline:
Q And -- but just to follow up, should we wait for later in the day? Because the second is that bin Laden is still at large because the U.S. Army has not caught him, you know. So --

MR. CROWLEY: I'm not sure. Is there a question there?

Q He says it is because we haven't caught him. Bin Laden is still out there.

(Cross talk.)

MR. CROWLEY: (Laughs.) That would be true. (Laughs.)

Q So is it -- how do you take it? Like is it that you know where he is and you are just letting him around?

Q (Tell us ?).

MR. CROWLEY: Look, we continue our hunt for and interest in capturing Mr. bin Laden.

The funny thing is, years ago, when Crowley worked for the progressive Center for American Progress, he was more serious about Osama bin Laden. The blog Jihad Watch reported in June of 2007,
P.J. Crowley, a military analyst at the Center for American Progress and a former national security aide to President Clinton, said the Iraq war has diverted assets that could be used to find bin Laden.

"Now that he is in the tribal areas, I doubt that a bounty of any number will be helpful," Crowley said "Given tribal relationships, they will protect him."

But after being tapped to Obama's State Department in May of 2009, Crowley began to dismiss bin Laden's relevance. From an Associated Press article in January shortly after the failed underwear bomb attempt,
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said that while bin Laden remains a "catalyst" for terrorist activities by groups affiliated with his organization, there is no indication that he or his lieutenants have a direct hand in ordering attacks.

"They offer strategic guidance and rely on their affiliates to carry out that strategic guidance," Crowley said in an interview. The audio tape made public Sunday offers no evidence that bin Laden's relationship with affiliates such as al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, based in Yemen, has changed, Crowley said.

"He's trying to continue to appear relevant" by talking up an attempted attack by an affiliate, Crowley added.

This October 15, 2001 interview of Crowley, when he was vice president of the Insurance Information Institute, is very revealing in a post-WikiLeaks sense.
TERENCE SMITH: Colonel Crowley, Dr. Rice told reporters today that analysts were still studying the messages to see if there was any imbedded message to al-Qaida's followers in it but had not yet detected any. Do you feel it was a legitimate request to limit the exposure of these?

P.J. CROWLEY: I think it is unusual but not necessarily unprecedented. In every crisis there's always going to be times where the news media is in possession of information that, as you evaluate the national interest, it's better that they not broadcast right away or not broadcast at all. This is a little bit unusual in the nature of the delivery system where al-Qaida will pass a videotape to al Jazeera and then from there to the networks, but, you know, bin Laden is not the President of the United States. He should not be able to have unfettered access to our airwaves any time one of those tapes gets past.

I do agree with Bob that this is something where we need to have the administration make its case. If they have concerns that there are codes being passed, they need to be able to substantiate that. I also agree that over time these guys don't wear well. As we saw, for example, in the crisis in Kosovo, the more we heard from Slobodan Milosevic, the stronger the international resolve was to defeat him. I think that could be well the case in this instance, but I think early on where we have this kind of very strong emotion and unprecedented kind of situation caution is appropriate.

"It could well be that it's putting television at a slight reportorial disadvantage but television, on many occasions agrees to restrictions in return for access," Crowley said in October of 2001.


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