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A Bush defector in Kerry's camp

By MASSIMO CALABRESI


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Rand Beers says he has taken two big risks in his life.

The first was in Vietnam in May 1967 when, as a desk officer at a Marine command post, he extended his tour of duty on the condition he be given a frontline rifle company to lead.

"I thought I was immortal," says Beers, now 61. He survived the experience and returned to Washington in the early 1970s to settle into a long, safe career as a national-security bureaucrat.

It was political cross fire, not real bullets, into which Beers stepped when he took his second big risk, nearly 40 years later. Last spring he quit his job as President Bush's senior assistant for counterterrorism and went to work as the top foreign policy and national-security adviser for John Kerry's presidential campaign.

"I wanted to defeat George Bush," Beers says. He was convinced Bush had gone to war in Iraq too soon and had taken his eye off the global war on terrorism.

Such high-level side switching is almost unheard of in Washington and was an uncharacteristic gamble for Beers, whom colleagues describe as cautious and discreet. But he knew his value to the untested Kerry campaign, which rolled him out for high-profile interviews in which he detailed his criticisms of Bush.

Beers also brought organizational skills to the Kerry team, creating a shadow national-security council that holds conference calls nearly every Monday at 4:30 p.m. to discuss everything from Iraq to North Korea, scrubbing campaign positions against Kerry's past Senate votes and clearing them for speechwriters and spokespeople.

His high-profile defection has exposed Beers to attacks on his record, including his performance related to the 1997 scandal over a Chinese intelligence operation to buy influence in several congressional election campaigns. The FBI informed Beers, then Bill Clinton's senior intelligence assistant at the National Security Council, of the Chinese efforts, and he opted not to tell National Security Adviser Anthony Lake.

Later, Republican critics questioned the Clinton team's commitment to national security. Beers defends his decision not to notify Lake, saying the Chinese operation was small and that he asked the FBI to brief him again if it got more serious.

At the core of Beers' team are Kerry's longtime Senate aide Nancy Stetson, Beers' former deputy Jonathan Winer and Washington lawyer Dan Feldman. Since Kerry all but clinched the nomination, the Monday conference call has grown to some 30 eager participants.

Democratic luminaries like Sandy Berger, Richard Holbrooke, Joe Biden and George Mitchell are among those whom Kerry speaks with regularly, and his advisers believe all would be on the short list for Kerry's National Security Adviser or Secretary of State.

Advisers also say Kerry's commitment to intelligence reform would require picking a Republican Secretary of Defense to win Capitol Hill's support in the inevitable battle with the Pentagon, which controls 90% of the spy budget. They have floated John McCain's name as a contender.

--With reporting by Douglas Waller/Washington



Copyright © 2004 Time Inc.

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