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Journalist Bob Woodward warns of Police State

San Antonio Express-News | February 22, 2006
By Tracy Idell Hamilton

The greatest threat to America's democracy is not terrorism but governmental secrecy, said Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Bob Woodward, whose reporting 35 years ago pierced the veil of secrecy behind Richard Nixon's presidency.

Although a massive, coordinated attack on the country, making 9-11 look like a "footnote," is still possible, the nation faces a greater threat from the federal government's current secrecy drive, Woodward told an audience in San Antonio on Tuesday.

"Democracies die in darkness," Woodward told the 500-person crowd of mostly business and community leaders as part of Trinity University's policy maker breakfast series, a 25-year tradition.

...His darkest fear [is that] "multiple, high-stakes attacks" can be launched on U.S. cities and targets.

He said, "9-11 will be a footnote, but it could happen, and if it does, we will become a police state."

The Bush administration, which gave Woodward remarkable access for his two books on the administration's war on terror, "Bush At War," in 2002 and "Plan of Attack," in 2004, has cloaked its decision-making in "an immense amount of secrecy," he said, "too much, in my view."

The administration says it needs to work in secret because of the nature of the Iraqi war and the surprise tactics terrorists rely on.

Ann Knoebel, of Trinity University, chats with renowned journalist Bob Woodward. The reporter addressed a breakfast crowd Tuesday.

He also faulted a round-the-clock news cycle that emphasizes speed over accuracy and demands that journalists not just report but predict the future.

Having a year to work on his latest book, about Bush's decision to launch the Iraqi war, he said, allowed him to gather an immense amount of information from a variety of sources.

He then wrote a 21-page memo to the president, outlining what he had learned.

Jokes aside about whether the president reads 21-page memos, Woodward said he was given 31/2 hours to interview the president. He called it the longest interview a sitting president has ever granted.

The resulting book, "Plan of Attack," tries to offer "understanding and perspective, not to condemn, or endorse, but to explain" what happened during the 16 months he said it took Bush to decide to go to war.

"And make no mistake, it was Bush's decision," he said, although he called Vice President Dick Cheney "a steam rolling force" in the process.

At the beginning of his talk, Woodward asked for a show of hands from those who voted for Bush in 2004.

Most in the crowd raised their hands.

But fewer hands were raised when he asked if attendees believed in Bush's tax cuts, and whether they agreed with Bush's decision to launch a secret wiretap program to listen in an unknown number of domestic communications to overseas telephones without court-issued warrants.

When he asked the crowd if it believed, with the benefit of hindsight, if going to war was "necessary and wise," fewer than half the room's hands went up.

After noting that the results of the last question of his unscientific poll could spell trouble for the administration, he told the crowd that all the questions were really just tricks, to see how many "rich nosy warmongering Republicans" were in the room.

"A lot, I see," he said, drawing laughs. "And very proud of it, I can see."

But it is not just governments that keep secrets; Trinity declined to say how much it paid Woodward.

A report by the Toronto Sun estimated his fee at between $20,000 and $30,000.

By comparison, Tour de France cyclist Lance Armstrong, golfer Arnold Palmer and former President George Bush make about $100,000 per engagement.

Woodward said the possibility of "the Mideast imploding," cannot be dismissed, and that his darkest fear, shared by some in the intelligence community, is that terrorists are waiting until "multiple, high-stakes attacks" can be launched on U.S. cities and targets.

He said, "9-11 will be a footnote, but it could happen, and if it does, we will become a police state."

Even as he scolded the media's tendency to prophesy the future, Woodward offered his prediction for the 2008 presidential race.

By all indications, he said, Democrat Hillary Clinton is running.

He noted that Republicans have a long track record of nominating "old war horses."

Given that, and depending on how things in Iraq proceed, "You're going to think I'm crazy, but you heard it here first. I think they could nominate Dick Cheney."

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