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By PAUL KRUGMAN

A Culture of Cover-Ups Published: October 26, 2004 ides to John Kerry say that if he wins, he'll replace Porter Goss as head of the C.I.A. Let's hope

A Culture of Cover-Ups

Published: October 26, 2004

Aides to John Kerry say that if he wins, he'll replace Porter Goss as head of the C.I.A. Let's hope so: Mr. Goss has already confirmed the fears of those who worried about his appointment by placing Republican staff members from Capitol Hill in key positions and raising fears about a partisan purge.

But the flap over Mr. Goss is only a symptom of a much broader issue: whether the Bush administration will be able to maintain its culture of cover-ups. That culture affects every branch of policy, but it's strongest when it comes to

Although President Bush's campaign is based almost entirely on his self-proclaimed leadership in that war, his officials have thrown a shroud of secrecy over any information that might let voters assess his performance.

Yesterday we got two peeks under that shroud. One was The Times's report about what the International Atomic Energy Agency calls "the greatest explosives bonanza in history." Ignoring the agency's warnings, administration officials failed to secure the weapons site, Al Qaqaa, in Iraq, allowing 377 tons of deadly high explosives to be looted, presumably by insurgents...

If the administration had had its way, the public would never have heard anything about this. Administration officials have known about the looting of Al Qaqaa for at least six months, and probably much longer. But they didn't let the I.A.E.A. inspect the site after the war, and pressured the Iraqis not to inform the agency about the loss. They now say that they didn't want our enemies - that is, the people who stole the stuff - to know it was missing. The real reason, obviously, was that they wanted the news kept under wraps until after Nov. 2.

The story of the looted explosives has overshadowed another report that Bush officials tried to suppress - this one about how the Bush administration let Abu Musab al-Zarqawi get away. An article in yesterday's Wall Street Journal confirmed and expanded on an "NBC Nightly News" report from March that asserted that before the Iraq war, administration officials called off a planned attack that might have killed Mr. Zarqawi, the terrorist now blamed for much of the mayhem in that country, in his camp.

Citing "military officials," the original NBC report explained that the failure to go after Mr. Zarqawi was based on domestic politics: "the administration feared destroying the terrorist camp in Iraq" - a part of Iraq not controlled by Saddam Hussein - "could undermine its case for war against Saddam." The Journal doesn't comment on this explanation, but it does say that when NBC reported, correctly, that Mr. Zarqawi had been targeted before the war, administration officials denied it. read on

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