Tuesday, April 20, 2004
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Why I have no plan of attack on Plan of Attack
I just received the following e-mail from an avid reader:
The plain and simple answer is, I'm swamped. These books are coming fast and furious, and I only have so many hours in the day. I'll try to get to it sometime soon. [Oh, sure you're swamped -- on things that don't sit well with your political views--ed. No -- I haven't had time to blog about either the oil-for-food scandal or Iran's role in the Shiite uprising. Really, I'm swamped.]
Parenthetically, there is another reason -- they're expensive to get in hardcover, dammit. Thankfully, one or two publishers have started sending me the occasional review copy -- and have I mentioned recently Ivo Daalder and James Lindsey's America Unbound: The Bush Revolution in Foreign Policy (Brookings, 2003) is a hell of a good read? However, publishers are unlikely to send bestsellers like the Susskind, Clarke, or Woodward books to bloggers -- they don't need us. [Jayson Blair needs you!--ed. Yes, but we don't want him.]
Apparently, I'm in the minority on even getting the occasional review book. David Bernstein's not getting review copies -- and he thinks that since he blogs at the Volokh Conspiracy, book companies should be sending him gratis review copies. Tyler Cowen points out that there may be a reason why this won't happen:
Kevin Keith offers an amusing but illegal solution to the problem.
Back to main point: feel free to discuss the Woodward book here.
UPDATE: The Weekly Standard's Richard Starr e-mails a useful suggestion on the question of review copies:
posted by Dan on 04.20.04 at 08:58 PM
Don't have a library card?posted by: claude tessier on 04.20.04 at 08:58 PM [permalink]
Matt Felling over at the Center for Media and Public Affairs asks this.
Is Woodward an author or a journalist?
If he is an author, then I'm not going to throw the flag. But if he's primarily a journalist, then it's a little disturbing that he kept such important information about how we ended up going to war in Iraq quiet for so long.
Perhaps this information would have effected the Democratic primaries. Perhaps this information would have effected polls and foreign policy. We'll never know.
And I understand the argument is a tad apples/oranges because authors might get access that reporters wouldn't. But this is Bob Woodward, the New York Yankees of journalism -- he has unlimited access, the Yankees an infinite payroll -- and I think that he would be able to get information other reporters couldn't, book or not.
So while I'm encouraged by the fact that The Truth Will Out, I would rather have the truth "out" in a more timely fashion and for less than $28.00.
I think he makes a pretty damn good point. Woodward's exclusivity is information denied to the public in a timely matter.posted by: Brennan Stout on 04.20.04 at 08:58 PM [permalink]
Since the host is busy, and I'm curious about the answers, I'll throw up a question to the teaming mob that reads these comments:
It seems like one of the surprises in the book is that Bush recognized there were weaknesses in the wmd case, and pushed Tenet on the issue. After Tenet inisisted it was "a slam-dunk case", Bush was ok with the admin's wmd case.
Now, back last summer/fall, when the whole "yellowcake" / Plame scandal broke, there were two rumors floating around:
1. That Bush & Co. were setting up Tenet to take the fall on WMDs; and
2. The parade of CIA leaks was the CIA's way of making sure that they did NOT get the blame for the failure to find WMDs.
In that context, what do you all think of the Woodward "revelation"? Did Tenet really say it was a slam dunk? If he did, how could he be so wrong? Or, has Woodward been fooled by one (or a number) of his sources into spreading Bush disinformation? Feel free to speculate, but links to hard evidence would be great.
Sorry for hijacking your blog, Mr. Drezner. I should probably get one of my own, but I'd never be able to snag this audience.posted by: Appalled Moderate on 04.20.04 at 08:58 PM [permalink]
As DCI it's almost impossible to have bad intelligence and not hold the DCI responsible. If the DCI is getting bad intel and is approving it then he needs to also hold the provider(Office of Special Plans? Feith?) of the intelligence responsible.
As far as I can tell Tenet has done little to clean his own house.posted by: Brennan Stout on 04.20.04 at 08:58 PM [permalink]
This explanation jibes a lot better with the Bush we know: when convinced of something, he does not reexamine the issue afterwards. And we know he "still" is convinced there WMD somewhere.
Sorry for the long cut&paste, but since it is from the Washington Post, I fear link rot.
Two days later, Tenet and McLaughlin went to the Oval Office. The meeting was for presenting "The Case" on WMD as it might be presented to a jury with Top Secret security clearances. There was great expectation. In addition to the president, Cheney, Rice and White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. attended.
With some fanfare, McLaughlin stepped up to brief with a series of flip charts. This was the rough cut, he indicated, still highly classified and not cleared for public release. The CIA wanted to reserve on what would be revealed to protect sources and detection methods if there was no military conflict.
When McLaughlin concluded, there was a look on the president's face of, What's this? And then a brief moment of silence.
"Nice try," Bush said. "I don't think this is quite -- it's not something that Joe Public would understand or would gain a lot of confidence from."
Card was also underwhelmed. The presentation was a flop. In terms of marketing, the examples didn't work, the charts didn't work, the photos were not gripping, the intercepts were less than compelling.
Bush turned to Tenet. "I've been told all this intelligence about having WMD and this is the best we've got?"
From the end of one of the couches in the Oval Office, Tenet rose up, threw him arms in the air. "It's a slam-dunk case!" the director of central intelligence said.
Bush pressed. "George, how confident are you?"
Tenet, a basketball fan who attended as many home games of his alma mater Georgetown University as possible, leaned forward and threw his arms up again. "Don't worry, it's a slam dunk!"
It was unusual for Tenet to be so certain. From McLaughlin's presentation, Card was worried that there might be no "there there," but Tenet's double reassurance on the slam dunk was memorable and comforting. Cheney could think of no reason to question Tenet's assertion. He was, after all, the head of the CIA and would know the most. The president later recalled that McLaughlin's presentation "wouldn't have stood the test of time." But, said Bush, Tenet's reassurance -- "That was very important."
"Needs a lot more work," Bush told Card and Rice. "Let's get some people who've actually put together a case for a jury." He wanted some lawyers, prosecutors if need be. They were going to have to go public with something.posted by: ch2 on 04.20.04 at 08:58 PM [permalink]
What catches my eye is this:
Saul was discovering that the CIA reporting sources inside Iraq were pretty thin.
What was thin?
"I can count them on one hand," Saul said, pausing for effect, "and I can still pick my nose."
Rest of the article details some fevered CIA recruiting to learn more, but it strikes me that sources gathered together quickly wouldn't be all that reliable. What also bothers me is that the yakity yak about Saddam's WMD had been going on for years under Clinton, presumably at the time our Iraq assets remained thin.
I also have to wonder what Tenet was thinking. Was he "daring to be wrong" in order to cater to his new can do boss? That's fine, but when you are an advisor, there's another dare that you need to keep in mind -- dare to be unpoular. I don't think tenet did Bush or this country any favors by overstating the WMD case, even if Bush went to bed smiling after the meeting cause he finally got a chance to kick some Saddam tush.
you should read Bob Somerby's takedown at today's DailyHowler. He focuses on the timeline, something that had escaped me.
For the record, I think the buck stops at the president. Does it really matter whether he was a dupe or duplicitous ?
I don't think Tenet did overstate the case on WMDs. He simply interpreted evidence to point in a direction we now know (or are pretty sure) it didn't.
A lot of the evidence was based on inference -- the idea that Saddam would not be acting as if he still had WMDs if he had gotten rid of them. And there is room for additional criticism as well, mostly having to do with the lack of internal, recent intelligence on what was happening in pre-3/03 Iraq. But though getting intelligence wrong is a problem -- actually it's an enormous problem -- it is not the same problem as overstating intelligence. Tenet's conclusions were substantially identical to those of most other intelligence experts, and of those who disagreed most were guessing at least as much as the CIA was.
There is obviously a strong temptation to regard what was done then in light of what we know now, or more specifically to assume that what we know (or think we know) now must have been known then. Consensus, even when it is wrong, is no easier a thing to flout in the intelligence business than in any other, and the consensus Tenet relied on and reflected all pointed to Iraqi WMD being a very serious issue and potentially a deadly threat.posted by: Zathras on 04.20.04 at 08:58 PM [permalink]
Incidentally I'm with Dan on the price of these damn newly-published books. With the bestsellers at least you can get a discount. Virginia Postrel's new book was $24 at Borders! I think we should discuss this season's hot books in about six months, when they've been remaindered or start showing up in used bookstores.posted by: Zathras on 04.20.04 at 08:58 PM [permalink]
Stating that you know something for certain when you don't,
The book excerpt ch2 links to actually shows that there was at least some dispute about the conclusions that there were wmds in Iraq. Certtainly there was consensus among the policymakers -- but was there really consesus in the intelligence community? And Tenet was speaking for that community when he said "slam dunk."
The screaming problem with Bush is "lack of intellectual curiosity". I doubt he was much interested in WMDs once Tenet had said all was OK with them. That is, of course, primarily Bush's failure. (Y'think when Tenet says it's a slam dunk, Bush would at least ask "why?")
But it is the job of a subordinate, like it or not, to help his chief succeed. Part of this is NOT pandering to your boss' worst instincts, particularly when the stakes are this high. And this is what Tenet did. So, yeah, I blame tenet too.posted by: Appalled Moderate on 04.20.04 at 08:58 PM [permalink]
Didn't Cheney, Wolfowitz, Perle, & other true believers have undue power of persuasion over Bush? Doesn't that explain GWB's rather immediate and unquestioning acceptance of Tenet's WMD assertion?posted by: wishIwuz2 on 04.20.04 at 08:58 PM [permalink]
Are we really comfortable with Woodward's unsourced quotation of Tenet saying it was a "slam dunk"? I'm not sure I am. This is typical Woodward, e.g., DCI Casey making comments on his deathbed.
I think the Administration has been setting up the CIA as the scapegoat for a long time (as other Administrations have done as well). We seem to assume that Woodward is too clever to be manipulated, but how do we know--everything he writes is essentially unverifiable. I'm sure Tenet has some blame in this matter, but from what I read (at least in The New Republic), the CIA was at some pains to point out that this was not a slam dunk.posted by: MWS on 04.20.04 at 08:58 PM [permalink]
I agree with you on all but one point.
I don't think he is intellectually curious either, but this explanation does not take into account Bush's well-documented desire to go to war with Iraq, and his need to make a good case for Joe Public. The latter raises the distinct possibility that he willfully overlooked uncertainties and hyped evidence of WMD.
Shorter version: I am really arguing active versus passive mistake.posted by: ch2 on 04.20.04 at 08:58 PM [permalink]
Reading the tea leaves, either Cheyney or Card (or both or people "familiar with their thinking") are the sources of the story, and Bush himself is vaguely confirming it. Since tenet's thoughts and feelings are absent, I do not think he ratted himself out.
Can't say that's going to alleviate your concern.posted by: Appalled Moderate on 04.20.04 at 08:58 PM [permalink]
I get your drift, and I am not inclined to argue you out of it, being undecided myself. I will say that Bush certainly believed there were WMDs, and probably dismissed anything he saw to the contrary. So any active deception does contain an element of active self-deception.posted by: Appalled Moderate on 04.20.04 at 08:58 PM [permalink]
your last post reached the asymptotic point of total agreement. Is it me or are a lot of the regulars missing ?posted by: ch2 on 04.20.04 at 08:58 PM [permalink]
David Thomson must be on vacation and Oldman keeps late hours. I don't know where the other usual Bush defenders are. Maybe they are up talking about mutual funds...posted by: Appalled Moderate on 04.20.04 at 08:58 PM [permalink]
Hey Ch2, Hey Moderate.
Sorry, I'm burned after fighting all the spin on all the mil threads, and it's been pretty hectic here as you may have notice from the news. Pretty ambivalent about the book though - plus, you've just about said it all.
You're probably right about DT, and I hope you know that the Oldman has started his own blog - google "oldman1787", so he's mostly there now. His economy stuff is still pretty good - so I'm content to recommend him - even though his Military ramblings are total garbage.
Holsinger can be found most any day over at his strategypage.com, as can Buehner.posted by: Tommy G on 04.20.04 at 08:58 PM [permalink]
Plus Zatharas is a regular (as I scan up the page - Sorry Z) and so is Wishiwuz. You got your Quorum - and without any lunatic ramblings from guys without jobs - so shut the hell up and enjoy it (g)posted by: Tommy G on 04.20.04 at 08:58 PM [permalink]
lol ! I just was curious. It's like when you to go work, and a lot of people are gone and you wonder... is there a meeting I don't know about ?posted by: ch2 on 04.20.04 at 08:58 PM [permalink]
President Bush's unwillingness to dismiss bumbling subordinates turns their mistakes into his mistakes. So it doesn't matter who screwed up. Bush is in charge and responsible for the screwups.posted by: Tom Holsinger on 04.20.04 at 08:58 PM [permalink]
I'm interested in the WH response - almost an endorsement of the book. Strange, since it is, in places, almost as damning as Clarke's and/or O'Neill's.
Is this a new strategy - diffuse the story quickly by playing nice? Maybe a better method of damage control?posted by: wishIwuz2 on 04.20.04 at 08:58 PM [permalink]
And Iraq did have WMD's which were moved to Syria just before the invasion pursuant to long-standing plans originally prepared per KGB advice. We saw the things being moved. There were news stories about that at the time which I commented on then as the press hadn't a clue about what was in those trucks.
But that was almost entirely chemical weapons stocks, and there wasn't much of those in military effectiveness terms. The crucial WMD were biological agents, in particular the weaponized anthrax powder used on us.
The US military did not try to find Iraq's WMD during the invasion and immediate post-invasion period. There were two hastily organized teams of twelve men each, with Judith Miller of the New York Times assigned to one of them. She probably had more intelligence and WMD expertise than the rest of her team combined.
It is therefore likely that Iraq's biological weapons stocks and the know-how to make more are in the hands of Syria and/or Al Qaeda. There are unconfirmed reports that Iraqi nerve gas stocks transferred to Syria were the ones Al Qaeda just tried to use to decapitate Jordan's government.
Here's an email from one of our 12-man military WMD search teams in Iraq which a friend forwarded to me:
"permission to repost. LTC Kurt Westerman '80 gave this report to the West Point Society of SW Virginia in the occasion of our Founders Day celebration
March 13, 2004 at the Roanoke Country Club)
Kurt Westerman's report to us on his team of WMD searchers in Iraq was a revelation of how far the truth lies from the public's perception via the media. There were only TWO teams of a dozen soldiers each, deployed to Iraq with less than a month's spin up. No TO&E, no equipment, no training, no weapons. Just a credit card with a $2M limit. Less than 30 days to equip and train and deploy.
On arrival, they were fully occupied with identifying already declared WMD inventory and determining where it was. There was, and are, literally hundreds of tons of this stuff they secured and safeguarded. He has nice before/after photos of yellow cake storage areas where locals had dumped drums just to get the containers for water storage.
Of special interest was the portion of his presentation on media activities in Iraq, and the striking disconnect that happened when the embedded reporters were replaced with the Hotel Warriors. Kurt had a split screen with "What I said" on the left, and "What the media said" on the right. Right out of Alice's Rabbit Hole!
The most amazing aspect of this to me was the lack of structure and organization we have at this planetary pivot of WMD, about which point, we wage wars and economic Armageddon. No wonder we didn't know squat about Libya.
Two teams of a dozen men each. To cover a country the size of Iraq. And, they have now been disbanded. It doesn't add up.
If you missed this Founders Day, it'll be a long time coming before you see its equal again! The best part was checking out Kurt with gear from the night vision display when the lights were dimmed, to see how strongly he glowed in the dark. Just a slight halo, and Nancy said they're through having kids, so it should not be a problem. Besides, we all know the government is prompt to care for veterans with radiation exposure....
Jack Price President WPS SW Virginia"posted by: Tom Holsinger on 04.20.04 at 08:58 PM [permalink]
Well, speak of the devil (well, Oldman's Devil, anyhow)
You know, Tom - we were having a nice, quiet discussion until YOU barged in...
(Hah - kidding, previous conversation - ask Ch2.)
Full disclosure, Ch2, I had that same feeling (lol)
posted by: Tommy G on 04.20.04 at 08:58 PM [permalink]
All respect to your friend at the West Point Society, Tom, but what you are describing does not suggest an administration with any idea what it was to do with the weapons of mass destruction it expected to find. It suggests the military throwing together a WMD search effort in the absence of any but the most general guidance from its civilian masters. It was as if the White House and Rumsfeld thought Saddam's overthrow would bring instant democracy, hence instant cooperation in getting rid of chemical and biological weapons. It would never occur to me to ascribe wishful thinking on this level to an American administration if we had not seen that very thing in many other areas related to Iraq.
Speaking of wishful thinking, if Saddam had sent his WMD stockpiles to Syria what on earth could he believe would ever induce Assad's regime to give them back? It would have been the Iraqi Air Force's exodus to Iran during the Gulf War all over again.posted by: Zathras on 04.20.04 at 08:58 PM [permalink]
I'm only an occasional reader here, but someone did ask for a defense of Bush....
Personally, I don't get the whole "Bush lied" argument -- or even the less dramatic form: "Bush heard only what he wanted to hear". Nearly everyone thought Saddam either had or was aggressively pursuing WMD. Several Clinton admin quotes have been gathered here http://www.glennbeck.com/news/01302004.shtml (and elsewhere; I have no association with the site, I just found them a few minutes after reading this). Various European intelligence reports show similar beliefs.
Interpreting via 20-20 hindsight is NOT a good proxy for the best, most fair-minded interpretation at the time.
As for Bush starting to plan a war on Iraq soon after 9/11; yawn. That's news? I haven't checked, but I'll bet there were plenty of bloggers talking about Iraq soon after 9/11. Or, we're told that plans started even BEFORE 9/11? Another yawn. Our military was already engaged in the no-fly zone, and, independent of 9/11, many people thought Iraq was a threat and that the long-running sanctions were not a good option. So, of course war was something the new administration would consider -- and would have been even if another Republican (or a hawkish Democrat) came into office.posted by: Tisnot on 04.20.04 at 08:58 PM [permalink]
I get a few review copies offered to me due to my relatively high ranking on Amazon.com. The last one was from Harper Collins: John Stossel’s “Give Me a Break.” The publishes tend to send me copies that I’m likely to review positively. I guess that’s why I didn’t receive a copy of Hillary Clinton’s latest.
My next review on Amazon.com, however, will be on a book that I had to purchase. I strongly recommend “VIXI: Memoirs of a Non-Belonger” by Richard Pipes. He is living proof that not everyone associated with Harvard University is an idiot.posted by: David Thomson on 04.20.04 at 08:58 PM [permalink]
“Speaking of wishful thinking, if Saddam had sent his WMD stockpiles to Syria what on earth could he believe would ever induce Assad's regime to give them back? It would have been the Iraqi Air Force's exodus to Iran during the Gulf War all over again.”
I can easily believe that Saddam would ship his WMDs to Syria. Desperate madmen do stupid things. We cannot forget how crazy he was at the end of his regime.posted by: David Thomson on 04.20.04 at 08:58 PM [permalink]
“David Thomson must be on vacation and Oldman keeps late hours. I don't know where the other usual Bush defenders are. Maybe they are up talking about mutual funds...”
I have no real problem with the Bob Woodward book. Human beings often disagree with each other. So what? We had to invade Iraq. This is what Christopher Hitchens adds to the debate:
“I debate with the opponents of the Iraq intervention almost every day. I always have the same questions for them, which never seem to get answered. Do you believe that a confrontation with Saddam Hussein's regime was inevitable or not? Do you believe that a confrontation with an Uday/Qusay regime would have been better? Do you know that Saddam's envoys were trying to buy a weapons production line off the shelf from North Korea (vide the Kay report) as late as last March? Why do you think Saddam offered "succor" (Mr. Clarke's word) to the man most wanted in the 1993 bombings in New York? Would you have been in favor of lifting the "no fly zones" over northern and southern Iraq; a 10-year prolongation of the original "Gulf War"? Were you content to have Kurdish and Shiite resistance fighters do all the fighting for us? Do you think that the timing of a confrontation should have been left, as it was in the past, for Baghdad to choose?”
There is only one real reason why the moderate Democrat scholars hesitate to agree with Hitchens---they do not want to help President Bush to be reelected!posted by: David Thomson on 04.20.04 at 08:58 PM [permalink]
I enjoyed the application of pre-conceived theories (based only on speculation and animus) to the interpretation of the 'slam dunk' section.
I don't think you guys missed anything except AWOL. LOLposted by: Syl on 04.20.04 at 08:58 PM [permalink]
I'm so glad that Syl is visiting this site. She is the one who recently pointed out this brilliant insight:
“I truly believe that anyone who hates this man (President Bush) hates America. I don't mean in the unpatriotic hate your country kind of way, but in the dismissal of the idea, the essence, of being American.”
I agree completely.posted by: David Thomson on 04.20.04 at 08:58 PM [permalink]
Since you offer up a blanket slam, let me ask:
What's your interpretation of the slam dunk remark, and was it prudent for tenet to have said it? And, more to the point, after Bush seemed to doubt the case, was it prudent for him not to at least ask why Tenet thought it was a slam dunk case?posted by: Appalled Moderate on 04.20.04 at 08:58 PM [permalink]
*Nearly everyone thought Saddam either had or was aggressively pursuing WMD.*
That email established, at the very least, that the US military didn't give a **** about Iraqi WMD, that Bush administration oversight of the military is criminally negligent, and neither cares much about the WMD threat to America.
The email also is the most potent inferential evidence I've seen yet that the Bush administration considered Iraqi WMD as a mere pretext for invasion.
The only Iraqi WMD I've ever cared about is biological, because I know the fall 2001 anthrax used on us was created by a foreign government.
BTW, you err by focusing on "stockpiles" as opposed to production capability. Iraq could not produce aircraft, so the fighters sent to Iran in 1990 could not be replaced. It could produce WMD so sending those to Syria meant nothing except concealment.
Second, mere use of the term "stockpile" is wrong. That term properly applies only to chemical munitions, which are not suitable for terrorist use. This is why terrorists prefer explosives. Those are more lethal for the bulk, and easier and safer to transport.
Note that the terrorists recently nabbed in Britain for planning chemical attacks preferred expedient, i.e., created locally from locally obtained materials, chemical weapons. Transporting those a short distance was less risky than importing them from abroad. Note also that Iraqi WMD moved to Syria are believed to have been brought by Al Qaeda terrorists to Jordan to decapitate the Jordanian government. Secure transport over short distances is more feasible than longer distances.
Biological agents are neither bulky nor massive. A terribly dangerous amount of weaponized anthrax can be stored in a quart jar. A nuke can be carried in a van. Manufacturing those is dangerous. Developing a new process for manufacturing weaponized biologicals is both dangerous and requires massive, industrial scale, R&D. But the finished products are far, far, more lethal, small, easily concealed and portable than chemical munitions. The know-how to manufacture biological agents is even smaller and more portable - CD's and the minds of a few men.
You will always, always, be wrong in talking about WMD "stockpiles" in the context of terrorism.posted by: Tom Holsinger on 04.20.04 at 08:58 PM [permalink]
I grant you the distinction between stockpiles and production capacity, particularly of biological weapons. I used shorthand -- stockpiles as meaning both weapons in storage and the ability to produce more -- which is misleading and inappropriate. Though I don't agree that the distinction between chemical and biological weapons as terrorist tools is as clear or widely accepted as you represent, it is one that makes sense to me personally.
I don't, however, think you are being fair to the military, which was never tasked with WMDs before March of last year except as far as defending its troops against them went. The administration decided on war to remove a threat that included WMDs, but only threw together follow-up on WMDs on an ad hoc basis at the last minute, dumping it in the military's lap. I know how bizarre it is that an American administration should decide on war to remove a threat and then expect a key element of the threat to just disappear somehow, but lack of follow-up after major decisions is one of the Bush administration's defining characteristics as we have seen many times on many subjects, many of them relating to Iraq.posted by: Zathras on 04.20.04 at 08:58 PM [permalink]
You assume that, because these two teams were stood up in March 2003, that the military wasn't given the mission until then. The decision to invade was made a lot earlier than that. And the decision to invade was purportedly based in part on Iraq's WMD threat.
The military knew what it was supposed to do. It just didn' wanna do it.
Certainly the Bush administration didn't follow up here. That would have meant nothing if the military had wanted to perform this mission. But it didn't.posted by: Tom Holsinger on 04.20.04 at 08:58 PM [permalink]
The Condensed Bob Woodward
Slate's "Cliff Notes" version (sort of) of Plan of Attack:
"Want to read Bob Woodward's new book, Plan of Attack, without plowing through all 467 gossip-soaked pages? We can help! Slate has taken Woodward's tome and reduced it to a point-by-point executive summary. Grab a copy from the your nearest bookstore and read along.posted by: Tom Holsinger on 04.20.04 at 08:58 PM [permalink]
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