Saturday, May 31, 2008

In An Iraq-Related Hole, McCain Keeps On Digging

In politics, as in life, when one is in a hole, he or she should stop digging. This advice was not heeded by John McCain's campaign today. Both the Senator and his aides sought to brush away his factually inaccurate statement that American troops in Iraq were down to pre-surge levels. In the process, they made the hole even bigger.

Reminded that troops in Iraq currently number 155,000, well above the pre-surge level of 130,000, McCain refused to acknowledge on Friday that he had misspoke.

"I said we had drawn down," the Senator declared during a press conference (watch video). "I said we have drawn down and we have drawn down three of the five brigades. We have drawn down three of the five brigades. We have drawn down the marines. The rest will be home the end of July. That's just facts, the facts as I stated them."

But that isn't what he stated. On Thursday, in fact, he made a very specific measurement as to the extent of troop reductions.

"I can tell you that it [the mission in Iraq] is succeeding," said McCain. "I can look you in the eye and tell you it's succeeding. We have drawn down to pre-surge levels."

And that was just the beginning. McCain's gaffe had already been exacerbated during a conference call earlier in the day, when aides to the Arizona Republican insisted that he had not misspoke, even while McCain surrogate Sen. Jon Kyl acknowledged on the same call that he had: "What he said was not entirely accurate. OK. So what?"

The campaign aides also ridiculed reporters for even caring about the topic. "It is the essence of semantics," foreign policy adviser Randy Scheunemann said. "We are having this call about a verb tense and if you choose to write a story about Sen. McCain's use of a verb tense you need to hold Senator Obama to that exact same standard."

All of which, of course, simply piqued the interest of reporters. Michael Dobbs of the Washington Post pointed out that, contrary to the McCain campaign's tone, word choice does, in fact, matter. "If Bush had said 'the mission will be accomplished' as opposed to 'mission accomplished' -- those are two completely different things with completely different meanings."

An increasingly irritated Scheunemann responded: "If you're going to start fact-checking verb tenses, we're going to make sure we start monitoring verb tenses a lot more closely than we have in this campaign."

Later in the call, a reporter questioned whether McCain's verbal error was a sign that the Senator's age was affecting his memory and understanding.

"In every campaign, when you want to change the subject you try to pick a little thing that you can pick on and try to change the subject," replied Senator Jon Kyl, a McCain supporter. "I don't think this has anything to do with age."

The problem, however, was that this was not McCain's only gaffe. During the same Thursday conference when he misstated troop levels, he also argued that conditions were "quiet" in Mosul. That same day, three suicide bombers killed 30 in the city.

The Obama campaign quickly jumped on both the comments, organizing a call with reporters in which surrogates questioned McCain's judgment.

"It is very disturbing to have John McCain continue to raise questions about what he knows and what he bases his judgments on," Sen. John Kerry said. "If you don't know the number of troops, it is difficult to make a judgment as to whether they are overextended. ... It raises serious questions about his comprehension of this challenge."

All of which, apparently, was a step too far for the McCain folks. Hoping to shift attention away from his boss, Scheunemann cried 'journalistic double standard.'

"If we are going to talk about verb tenses in this level of detail, rather than the fact that Senator Obama doesn't care about what is going on in Iraq to even meet General Petraeus or to take time to visit the country in the last 873 days, let's talk about some of the other things that Senator Obama has misstated, like campaigning in 57 states, like the need for Arabic translators in Afghanistan, or for opium poppy agronomists in Iraq, or a non-existent uncle that helped the Red Army liberate Auschwitz."

A reporter later reminded him that McCain had structured his campaign on his judgment on Iraq. Obama had not, in the same regard, built his candidacy around his great uncle or the map of the United States.

"Obama," wrote Ben Smith, "perhaps, meant that the U.S. will, at some future date, add seven states."

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McCain Declares Mosul "Quiet" On Same Day As Three Suicide Attacks (Video)

Speaking about Iraq at a townhall event on Thursday evening in Greensdale, Wisconsin, Sen. John McCain declared, "I can tell you that it is succeeding. I can look you in the eye and tell you it's succeeding. We have drawn down to pre-surge levels. Basra, Mosul and now Sadr city are quiet and it's long and it's hard and it's tough and there will be setbacks..." (Video is below.)

McCain was wrong on two points. First, U.S. forces have not returned to pre-surge levels. Before the surge, there were 130,000 troops in Iraq; even if the scheduled troop reductions are carried out as planned, there will still be 140,000 troops in Iraq in August.

Moreover, McCain's claim that Mosul is "quiet" was disproved earlier today in grim fashion. Three suicide bombings -- two in Mosul and another in a surrounding town -- left 30 Iraqis dead and more than two dozen injured, according to press reports.

Clearly, McCain's various congressional trips to Iraq haven't made him infallible on the issue.

Here's video of McCain from this evening:

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Obama used party rules to foil Clinton

WASHINGTON - Unlike Hillary Rodham Clinton, rival Barack Obama planned for the long haul.

Clinton hinged her whole campaign on an early knockout blow on Super Tuesday, while Obama's staff researched congressional districts in states with primaries that were months away. What they found were opportunities to win delegates, even in states they would eventually lose.

Obama's campaign mastered some of the most arcane rules in politics, and then used them to foil a front-runner who seemed to have every advantage — money, fame and a husband who had essentially run the Democratic Party for eight years as president.

"Without a doubt, their understanding of the nominating process was one of the keys to their success," said Tad Devine, a Democratic strategist not aligned with either candidate. "They understood the nuances of it and approached it at a strategic level that the Clinton campaign did not."

Careful planning is one reason why Obama is emerging as the nominee as the Democratic Party prepares for its final three primaries, Puerto Rico on Sunday and Montana and South Dakota on Tuesday. Attributing his success only to soaring speeches and prodigious fundraising ignores a critical part of contest.

Obama used the Democrats' system of awarding delegates to limit his losses in states won by Clinton while maximizing gains in states he carried. Clinton, meanwhile, conserved her resources by essentially conceding states that favored Obama, including many states that held caucuses instead of primaries.

In a stark example, Obama's victory in Kansas wiped out the gains made by Clinton for winning New Jersey, even though New Jersey had three times as many delegates at stake. Obama did it by winning big in Kansas while keeping the vote relatively close in New Jersey.

The research effort was headed by Jeffrey Berman, Obama's press-shy national director of delegate operations. Berman, who also tracked delegates in former Rep. Dick Gephardt's presidential bids, spent the better part of 2007 analyzing delegate opportunities for Obama.

"The whole Clinton campaign thought this would be like previous campaigns, a battle of momentum," said Thomas Mann, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank. "They thought she would be the only one would who could compete in such a momentous event as Super Tuesday."

Instead, Obama won a majority of the 23 Super Tuesday contests on Feb. 5 and then spent the following two weeks racking up 11 straight victories, building an insurmountable lead among delegates won in primaries and caucuses.

What made it especially hard for Clinton to catch up was that Obama understood and took advantage of a nominating system that emerged from the 1970s and '80s, when the party struggled to find a balance between party insiders and its rank-and-file voters.

Until the 1970s, the nominating process was controlled by party leaders, with ordinary citizens having little say. There were primaries and caucuses, but the delegates were often chosen behind closed doors, sometimes a full year before the national convention. That culminated in a 1968 national convention that didn't reflect the diversity of the party — racially or ideologically.

The fiasco of the 1968 convention in Chicago, where police battled anti-war protesters in the streets, led to calls for a more inclusive process.

One big change was awarding delegates proportionally, meaning you can finish second or third in a primary and still win delegates to the party's national convention. As long candidates get at least 15 percent of the vote, they are eligible for delegates.

The system enables strong second-place candidates to stay competitive and extend the race — as long as they don't run out of campaign money.

"For people who want a campaign to end quickly, proportional allocation is a bad system," Devine said. "For people who want a system that is fair and reflective of the voters, it's a much better system."

Another big change was the introduction of superdelegates, the party and elected officials who automatically attend the convention and can vote for whomever they choose regardless of what happens in the primaries and caucuses.

Superdelegates were first seated at the 1984 convention. Much has been made of them this year because neither Obama nor Clinton can reach the number of delegates needed to secure the nomination without their support.

A more subtle change was the distribution of delegates within each state. As part of the proportional system, Democrats award delegates based on statewide vote totals as well as results in individual congressional districts. The delegates, however, are not distributed evenly within a state, like they are in the Republican system.

Under Democratic rules, congressional districts with a history of strong support for Democratic candidates are rewarded with more delegates than districts that are more Republican. Some districts packed with Democratic voters can have as many as eight or nine delegates up for grabs, while more Republican districts in the same state have three or four.

The system is designed to benefit candidates who do well among loyal Democratic constituencies, and none is more loyal than black voters. Obama, who would be the first black candidate nominated by a major political party, has been winning 80 percent to 90 percent of the black vote in most primaries, according to exit polls.

"Black districts always have a large number of delegates because they are the highest performers for the Democratic Party," said Elaine Kamarck, a Harvard University professor who is writing a book about the Democratic nominating process.

"Once you had a black candidate you knew that he would be winning large numbers of delegates because of this phenomenon," said Kamarck, who is also a superdelegate supporting Clinton.

In states like Ohio and Pennsylvania, Clinton won the statewide vote but Obama won enough delegates to limit her gains. In states Obama carried, like Georgia and Virginia, he maximized the number of delegates he won.

"The Obama campaign was very good at targeting districts in areas where they could do well," said former DNC Chairman Don Fowler, a Clinton superdelegate from South Carolina. "They were very conscious and aware of these nuances."

But, Fowler noted, the best strategy in the world would have been useless without the right candidate.

"If that same strategy and that same effort had been used with a different candidate, a less charismatic candidate, a less attractive candidate, it wouldn't have worked," Fowler said. "The reason they look so good is because Obama was so good."

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Poll: New York Dems Say Obama More Electable Than Clinton

Fifty percent (50%) of New York Democrats say it's time for Senator Hillary Clinton to drop out of the race for the White House. Just 43% believe she should keep going. The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey also found that most New York Republicans--52%--want Clinton to keep striving for the nomination. Overall, among all Empire State voters, 45% believe she should drop out while 43% disagree.

Just 16% of New York Democrats think Obama should drop out of the race.

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In Contrast With Core Hillary Message, Carville Says He Thinks Obama "Will" Win General Election

In a quick phone interview with me just now, prominent Hillary supporter James Carville diverged from the Hillary campaign message on several key "electability" questions, saying that he thinks Obama "will" win the general election.

Carville, surprisingly, also seemed to downplay Obama's problems with non-college whites -- a cornerstone of Hillary's electability claim -- saying that if Obama gets the same level of non-college whites that John Kerry did in 2004, he "will" win the general.

Asked if he thought Obama would beat McCain, Carville said: "I think he will. I think Democrats will win in November...There's a crushing desire for change in this country. No one has seen a party or brand held in such low esteem" than the Republicans.

Carville's repeated suggestions that Obama "will" beat McCain contrast with the core Hillary message -- repeated frequently by Hillary advisers -- that Obama merely "can" win a general election, while Hillary "will" win it. Carville's comments also suggest that with the fall contest looming, it's becoming tougher for prominent Hillary backers to sustain any argument that doesn't show full confidence in Obama's chances against McCain.

Carville stressed that he thought Hillary was a better bet against McCain, but reiterated his confidence in Obama. "Hillary would be a stronger candidate, but I think he'll win this thing," Carville said.

Asked about claims that Obama has a problem with non-college whites that could hamper his electability, Carville said that thanks to changes in the electorate, to win Obama merely has to match the performance of Kerry, who underperformed with that group.

"I would argue that if he gets what Kerry got he will still win the election, because the dynamics have changed," Carville said, pointing to likely larger turnout among young voters, African Americans and other demographic changes. Carville joked, however, that he'd be loath to see Obama fall below Kerry's performance.

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Young Hillary Clinton

Clinton’s Latest Claim: She’s The Most “Fiscally Responsible” Candidate

HURON, S.D. -- On her last day of campaigning in South Dakota, Hillary Clinton told a group of supporters huddled inside a ballroom that South Dakotans should pick her on Tuesday because of her economic experience. “If you will vote for me next Tuesday, you are voting for the most fiscally responsible candidate in this race on either side of the aisle,” Clinton said, a blatant jab at both Barack Obama and John McCain. Clinton was referring to her practice of offering explanations on how she will pay for all of the programs she has laid out, including her very expensive universal health care plan.

“We need a president who will put us back on the path to fiscal responsibility,” she said. “I am the only candidate running who has told you specifically how I will pay for everything I propose because I want you to hold me accountable.”

There are a couple of problems with this claim, though. First, her campaign is approximately $20 million in debt, even after she loaned over $11 million of her own money to the cause. Several vendors and suppliers have come forward to say they are owed money by the campaign, and her former chief strategist, Mark Penn, is owed $5 million for his services before he parted ways with Clinton.

Second, Clinton received more than five times the number of earmarks than any other senator, according Taxpayers for Common Sense. Their report also found that Clinton is responsible for receiving over $2 billion in earmarks from 2002 to 2006, which is more than either Barack Obama or John McCain.

The report set off controversy when it was revealed that Clinton, and the senior senator from New York, Charles Schumer, supported a $1 million earmark for a Woodstock museum. McCain knocked the project during a Republican debate last year, calling Woodstock a “cultural and pharmaceutical event.” He added that he didn’t attend Woodstock because he was “tied up at the time,” a reference to his day as a prisoner of war in Vietnam.

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Scott McClellan On Countdown: Talks To Keith Olbermann About His New Book (Video)

On "Countdown with Keith Olbermann" Thursday Scott McClellan sat down for a nearly hour-long interview with the MSNBC host to discuss his new book, "What Happened". The wide-ranging interview covered everything from the CIA leak to Fox News to McClellan's critics to the possibility of military action in Iran.

Towards the beginning of the interview Olbermann noted a passage in McClellan's book where he says Bush's foreign policy view was grounded in a "philosophy of coercive democracy." Olbermann noted, "it's a marvelous phrase, but is it an oxymoron?" McClellan said it was:

"[C]ertainly those [policies] have tarnished the reputation of the United States in a very negative way. And I think that has been harmful over the long term. But in terms of the coercive democracy, that was -- and you bring up a very good point about the oxymoron there -- but that was always the strategy for going into Iraq in first place. And I think that is what really drove the president's motivation to push ahead and rush into this. When I think that there were probably other options -- there were definitely other options available to him. He didn't have to box himself in. But when he went to the United Nations he said, either he disarms and the U.N. -- if he doesn't, then the U.N. goes in, or the security council authorizes it, or we will do it ourselves."

McClellan also struck back at the former colleagues who have emerged to speak out against his new book, pointing out that despite their criticism of his actions none of them have so far refuted anything specific about his account:

One, some of the people that are making those comments are almost trying to judge the content of the book, judge me and my motivations for writing the book, and they haven't even read the book. And the second, which you bring up, is that I haven't seen people refuting specific parts within the book. Dan Bartlett earlier today, when he was doing an interview right after me or in between segments with me, said, well, we need to set the leak episode to the side. And the other day, he said, well, I'm not going to talk about the Katrina part, because that's internal deliberations. So I did find that very interesting.

McClellan shed some light on the administration's, in particular Dick Cheney's, relationship with Fox News and its role in disseminating information:

OLBERMANN: What was Fox News to you and to the White House? Was it a friendly cousin, house organ, was it the choice for funneling propaganda? What was it?

MCCLELLAN: Well -- there certainly are allies there that work at Fox News and there's one story that I've told before, I didn't include it in the book, but during the vice president's hunting accident, which was another disillusioning moment for me because I was out there advocating get this news out and get it out now and of course the vice president said, no no, no, and then decided to send it to the Web site where the Corpus Christy Collar Times (ph) Web site, as opposed to getting it out widely to the national media.

OLBERMANN: I remember.

MCCLELLAN: And caused me a lot of fun at the podium for three days before the vice president decided that he was going to go out and talk about this after a little nudging from the president. And we were standing outside the Oval getting ready for a meeting and he looked at me, and he said, you already know why I picked Fox News to do this, because I want everybody else to have to cite Fox News when they do their report. It's just kind of the attitude of the vice president about things.

McClellan also suggested that some Bush officials may still be considering military action on Iran, and urged viewers to be skeptical of the current press secretary Dana Perino's statements on the matter:

MCCLELLAN: [T]hey are still in this permanent campaign mode. They haven't backed away from that. I can't speak specifically to what the intent is in some of the people's heads there. I think that our options are certainly limited with all of our commitments right now, but I hope that when people look and read this book, that they will learn some of the lessons from Iraq and that we won't make some of the same mistakes that we've made elsewhere.

OLBERMANN: So knowing what you know, if Dana Perino gets up there and starts making noises that sound very similar to what you heard from the administration, from Ari Fleischer in 2002, from other actual members of the administration and the cabinet, you would be suspicious?

MCCLELLAN: I would be. I would be. I think that you would need to take those comments very seriously and be skeptical.

Read the entire transcript here.

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How John McCain Went from the GOP's 4th Choice to Its Nominee

Flash back to a little less than 12 months ago. In Iowa, the leader board featured a former Mayor of New York, a former Governor of Massachusetts, and the DA from Law & Order. In New Hampshire, the outlook was similar: Mitt Romney was at the front of the pack, followed distantly by Rudy Giuliani.

By all accounts, John McCain's presidential hopes were dead in the water.

But sometime between the summer of 2007 and the New Hampshire Republican Primary on January 8th, McCain's fortunes changed, leaving him the sole contender for the Republican nomination by early February. The catalyst for that change was the rise of Mike Huckabee, and the domino effect that ensued.

Few initially took Huckabee's candidacy seriously, and maybe that was the problem. But whatever the case may have been, the former Arkansas Governor's meteoric rise in Iowa touched off a series of events that wiped just about everyone - himself included - off the board, leaving the nomination to McCain for the taking.

The 2008 Republican nomination race was unique, at least for the recent era. In each of the previous two contests, George W. Bush was ultimately successful in his efforts to unite the entire Republican coalition behind his cause. But in the race to become the 44th American Presdient, the GOP was fractured, with each candidate representing a different faction of the party.

The conservatives were primarily behind Romney, their concerns about his decidedly un-conservative past notwithstanding. The defense and homeland security vote was behind Giuliani. Huckabee was rounding up the Christian right. Moreover, each candidate had significant barriers preventing their acceptance by the other factions. Giuliani was far too socially and fiscally liberal to attract either the religious right or the conservatives. Huckabee would end up being branded by one of his own rivals for the nomination, Fred Thompson, as a "pro-life liberal," effectively barring the conservatives from him as well. And Romney, a once pro-life Mormon, was going to have serious problems courting the traditional religious right.

For his part, McCain stood well outside even that circle, at best tangentially considered to be a member of the top tier of Republican candidates. As it would become readily apparent later, the Arizona Senator's clout came from the very fringe of the party, and moreover from those on the outside: moderates and independents. His own impediments to uniting the GOP factions seemed insurmountable. Conservative guru Rush Limbaugh declared that McCain was simply "not a conservative," a dagger that wasn never removed- even after Romney threw his support behind McCain in his post-Super Tuesday concession speech. And the religious right wasn't going with him either. In 2000, McCain directed his now-infamous "agents of intolerance" speech at some of conservative Christianity's most notable pastors and preachers, effectively dooming himself in that demographic. He lost the support of the staunchly Republican National Rifle Association when he virtually eliminated the interest group's ability to load the coffers of pro-gun candidates with the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Reform bill. When it came to support, John McCain had little ground to stand on within the Republican Party.

Essentially, McCain could do nothing to improve his standing on his own, being locked out of the rank-and-file of his own party. Even debates proved fruitless. New York Times columnist Katharine Q. Seelye called McCain's performance in the debate in South Carolina "uneven," noting his inability to return crisp answers. In a poll after that event, the Drudge Report had McCain finishing a paltry fourth- behind Romney, Giuliani, and Ron Paul. Later debates would be no more helpful to him.

The "Straight Talk Express" had lost its steam, stopped dead in its tracks by the runaway-train campaigns that the many in his party were climbing aboard. In the end, McCain's laurels rested on the off chance that his rivals' own White House bids could be derailed. Little did he know, that opportunity was just around the corner.

Giuliani began the contest as the Republican equivalent of Hillary Clinton- well known, well funded, and the nationwide favorite for the nomination. But Giuliani's cosmopolitan background and history as the quasi-liberal mayor of an ueber-liberal big city made it difficult for him to connect with reliable red state voters in early contests like Iowa and South Carolina, sending shockwaves of doubt through his campaign. Though he'd hang on through his last stand in Florida, Giuliani was effectively finished before the first vote was cast.

But more important than Giuliani's fall was Romney's rise. As time wore on, Romney- though an imperfect fit for the GOP mantle- appeared to be the candidate most likely to unite the party. And what was promising for both the Romney campaign and the Republican Party was that he was succeeding across the board, building considerable margins not just in Iowa, but in New Hampshire as well. Even the Christian right, reluctant to support a Mormon candidate, were beginning to respond to what many were calling his "JFK-style" speech on religion in Houston.

What Romney wasn't counting on was the absolute blitz of Huckabee in Iowa. Sure, the religious right could vote for a Mormon, but with a viable alternative in the Baptist preacher from Arkansas, Huckabee made it so they didn't have to. And so began the surge of Huckabee the spoiler.

It was then that the presidential aspirations of McCain, who erstwhile had considered withdrawing from the race altogether, were revived. Huckabee's instant rise to the top of the pile in Iowa opened up a significant opportunity for McCain to regain the competitive edge he'd had in 2000. In fact, McCain's New Hampshire surge directly coincided with Huckabee's jump in Hawkeye State polls- or perhaps more importantly, with Mitt Romney's decline. Here's why:

Huckabee was essentially a one-trick pony. Iowa was ideal. Stock full of rural farmers and conservative Christians, it was tailor-made for his campaign. But New Hampshire, with its Ivy League schools and aristocratic New England inhabitants, was a different story. Success in Iowa wasn't going to generate enough momentum for Huckabee to fare well in the Granite State, but it was certainly enough to cause serious doubt about Romney's long-term prospects. With Giuliani out of the picture and Huckabee a non-issue, that left McCain as the only other viable candidate.

Consider, then, that New Hampshire is rich with independents who were allowed to vote in the state's Republican primary. Huckabee's knocking-off of Romney, Giuliani's utter collapse, and New Hampshire's electoral gold mine of independent voters added up to an alignment of stars for McCain, who took the one group with whom he was popular and ran with it.

Over the next few weeks, the inability of Romney to score early wins led to his demise. Giuliani's inability to win at all caused his. And despite his popularity in the South and the Heartland, Huckabee showed little promise in the grand scheme of things. Fred Thompson hamstringed himself by waiting too long to get in the race, joining a fight that was already in progress and too far along for voters to even be interested in getting to know a new candidate.

It's all reminiscent of a story that emerged from the 2002 winter Olympic games with which Romney himself was so involved. In the 1000-meter speed skating competition, a fall from one of the top-tier skaters ended up wiping the entire front four skaters off the ice on the final turn of the final lap, allowing the far-behind fifth-place skater to surge across the finish line to take the gold medal. That same thing happens often in auto racing; cars thundering down the home stretch will get tangled up, allowing another party to cruise to victory. McCain's story is hardly any different.

The Arizona Senator looks a lot like a Phoenix rising from the flames of what appeared to be a vanquished campaign. But what many in the media are overlooking is that his success and ultimate coronation as the Republican nominee was not a result of his ability to convince those both within as well as outside his party that he's the best man for the job. Rather, his rise to the top was born out of a pile-up that took the top-tier out of contention. Whether he'll be able to parlay that success into the White House is yet to be seen.

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NORAD had drills of jets as weapons

WASHINGTON — In the two years before the Sept. 11 attacks, the North American Aerospace Defense Command conducted exercises simulating what the White House says was unimaginable at the time: hijacked airliners used as weapons to crash into targets and cause mass casualties.

One of the imagined targets was the World Trade Center. In another exercise, jets performed a mock shootdown over the Atlantic Ocean of a jet supposedly laden with chemical poisons headed toward a target in the United States. In a third scenario, the target was the Pentagon — but that drill was not run after Defense officials said it was unrealistic, NORAD and Defense officials say.

NORAD, in a written statement, confirmed that such hijacking exercises occurred. It said the scenarios outlined were regional drills, not regularly scheduled continent-wide exercises.

"Numerous types of civilian and military aircraft were used as mock hijacked aircraft," the statement said. "These exercises tested track detection and identification; scramble and interception; hijack procedures; internal and external agency coordination and operational security and communications security procedures."

A White House spokesman said Sunday that the Bush administration was not aware of the NORAD exercises. But the exercises using real aircraft show that at least one part of the government thought the possibility of such attacks, though unlikely, merited scrutiny.

On April 8, the commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks heard testimony from national security adviser Condoleezza Rice that the White House didn't anticipate hijacked planes being used as weapons.

On April 12, a watchdog group, the Project on Government Oversight, released a copy of an e-mail written by a former NORAD official referring to the proposed exercise targeting the Pentagon. The e-mail said the simulation was not held because the Pentagon considered it "too unrealistic."

President Bush said at a news conference Tuesday, "Nobody in our government, at least, and I don't think the prior government, could envision flying airplanes into buildings on such a massive scale."

The exercises differed from the Sept. 11 attacks in one important respect: The planes in the simulation were coming from a foreign country.

Until Sept. 11, NORAD was expected to defend the United States and Canada from aircraft based elsewhere. After the attacks, that responsibility broadened to include flights that originated in the two countries.

But there were exceptions in the early drills, including one operation, planned in July 2001 and conducted later, that involved planes from airports in Utah and Washington state that were "hijacked." Those planes were escorted by U.S. and Canadian aircraft to airfields in British Columbia and Alaska.

NORAD officials have acknowledged that "scriptwriters" for the drills included the idea of hijacked aircraft being used as weapons.

"Threats of killing hostages or crashing were left to the scriptwriters to invoke creativity and broaden the required response," Maj. Gen. Craig McKinley, a NORAD official, told the 9/11 commission. No exercise matched the specific events of Sept. 11, NORAD said.

"We have planned and executed numerous scenarios over the years to include aircraft originating from foreign airports penetrating our sovereign airspace," Gen. Ralph Eberhart, NORAD commander, told USA TODAY. "Regrettably, the tragic events of 9/11 were never anticipated or exercised."

NORAD, a U.S.-Canadian command, was created in 1958 to guard against Soviet bombers.

Until Sept. 11, 2001, NORAD conducted four major exercises a year. Most included a hijack scenario, but not all of those involved planes as weapons. Since the attacks, NORAD has conducted more than 100 exercises, all with mock hijackings.

NORAD fighters based in Florida have intercepted two hijacked smaller aircraft since the Sept. 11 attacks. Both originated in Cuba and were escorted to Key West in spring 2003, NORAD said.

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