By any objective measure, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and their assembled enablers are rightly judged "war criminals." The invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq are, by the definition of the Nuremberg Trials, "crimes against humanity". The carnage visited upon the peoples of these two countries is the lasting legacy of the Bush presidency.
And, it turns out, the carnage was a determined, deliberate policy of the Bush cabal. As early as 1999, Bush was thinking about invading Iraq, when he is reported to have said, "One of the keys to being seen as a great leader is to be seen as a commander-in-chief." And then, of course, there's Darth Vader, who gifted the world with this bit of wisdom, “Start a small war. Pick a country where there is justification you can jump on, go ahead and invade.”
It is now well known, as reported, by the New York Times, that despite public statements to the contrary, George Bush was set on a path to war with Iraq: "...the president was certain that war was inevitable. During a private two-hour meeting in the Oval Office on Jan. 31, 2003, he made clear to Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain that he was determined to invade Iraq without the second resolution, or even if international arms inspectors failed to find unconventional weapons, said a confidential memo about the meeting written by Mr. Blair's top foreign policy adviser." This confidential document, known as the Downing Street Memo, became famous for the line "...the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy."
Saddam Hussein's possession of (non-existent) weapons of mass destruction were the primary justification for George Bush in his invasion of Iraq. The extent to which Bush would go in securing that justification were clear in the farce that masqueraded as Colin Powell's presentation to the UN, detailing the extent of Iraq's WMD program, a program that did not exist. Powell calls the a "blot" on his record, and he has rightly been called to account for it here, and here, and here, and here, just a few of the many commentaries that highlight his embarrassing performance.
The Bush years are synonymous with Niger yellow cake, aluminum tubes, stove piping, and a smoking gun that might turn into a mushroom cloud. Bush has bequeathed a legacy dominated by the Patriot Act and the Surveillance State. And nothing has really changed since he took up painting. Which brings us to Scott Horton's list. The articles reprised below, collected by the libertarian radio host, provide a real-time description of the players and events central to the major war crime of the 21st century, an event that resonates across the Middle East to this day.
1. The Path of War Timeline
by Larisa Alexandrovna and Muriel Kane...
A Policy Without a Home: 1999 - 2001 January 26, 1998
The Project for a New American Century urges President Clinton to oust Saddam Hussein. Among the eighteen signers are Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and John Bolton.
In 1999, Mickey Herskowitz is hired to ghostwrite a campaign autobiography for George W. Bush, an assignment that was later withdrawn. Herskowitz later spoke about Bush for an article by journalist Russ Baker: “He was thinking about invading Iraq in 1999... It was on his mind. He said to me: ‘One of the keys to being seen as a great leader is to be seen as a commander-in-chief.’ ”
"According to Herskowitz, Bush’s beliefs on Iraq were based in part on a notion dating back to the Reagan White House – ascribed in part to now-vice president Dick Cheney, Chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee under Reagan. “Start a small war. Pick a country where there is justification you can jump on, go ahead and invade.”
"Bush’s circle of pre-election advisers had a fixation on the political capital that British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher collected from the Falklands War. Said Herskowitz: “They were just absolutely blown away, just enthralled by the scenes of the troops coming back, of the boats, people throwing flowers at [Thatcher] and her getting these standing ovations in Parliament and making these magnificent speeches.” (Guerrilla News Network)
In December 1999, "Bush surprises veteran political chroniclers with his blunt pronouncements about Saddam at a six-way New Hampshire primary event: “It was a gaffe-free evening for the rookie front-runner, till he was asked about Saddam’s weapons stash,” a Boston Globe reporter penned. ‘I’d take ‘em out,’ [Bush] grinned cavalierly, ‘take out the weapons of mass destruction…I’m surprised he’s still there,” said Bush of the despot who remains in power after losing the Gulf War to Bush Jr.’s father… It remains to be seen if that offhand declaration of war was just Texas talk, a sort of locker room braggadocio, or whether it was Bush’s first big clinker.” (Boston Globe; Also Russ Baker)
The Project for a New American Century's "Rebuilding America's Defenses" states: Though the immediate mission of those forces is to enforce the no-fly zones over northern and southern Iraq, they represent the long-term commitment of the United States and its major allies to a region of vital importance. Indeed, the United States has for decades sought to play a more permanent role in Gulf regional security. While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein.
From the moment he took office, Bush made noises about "finishing the job his father started." (Time Magazine)
George Bush’s former treasury secretary Paul O’Neill asserts that Bush took office in January 2001 fully intending to invade Iraq and desperate to find an excuse for pre-emptive war against Saddam Hussein. “From the very beginning, there was a conviction that Saddam Hussein was a bad person and that he needed to go,” O’Neill said. “For me, the notion of pre-emption, that the US has the unilateral right to do whatever we decide to do, is a really huge leap.” (Sunday Herald)
Testifying at his Senate confirmation hearing former General Colin Powell, who was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Gulf War, said Bush wanted to “re-energize the sanctions regime” and increase support to Iraqi groups trying to overthrow Hussein. Powell also said Hussein, “is not going to be around in a few years time.” (Air Force Magazine Online)
Vice President Dick Cheney, who was defense secretary during the war against Iraq, has also suggested a Bush administration might “have to take military action to forcibly remove Saddam from power,” as has current Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. (Cato Institute)
February 16, 2001
Twenty-four US and UK warplanes bomb sites near Baghdad. Bombings within the no-fly zones have previously been common, but these are more widely noted and criticized. (CNN)
April 2001Cheney's energy task force takes interest in Iraq's oil. Strategic Energy Policy Challenges For The 21st Century describes America's "biggest energy crisis in its history." It targets Saddam as a threat to American interests because of his control of Iraqi oilfields and recommends the use of 'military intervention.'
The report is linked to a veritable who's who of US hawks, oilmen and corporate bigwigs. Commissioned by James Baker, the former US Secretary of State under Bush Sr., it was submitted to Vice-President Dick Cheney in April 2001 -- a full five months before September 11. It advocated a policy of using military force against an enemy such as Iraq to secure US access and control of Middle Eastern oil fields. (Sunday Herald)
Exploiting Tragedy: September 2001 - February 2002 September 11, 2001
In his address to the nation on the evening of Sept. 11, Bush decides to include a tough new passage about punishing those who harbor terrorists. He announces that the U.S. will "make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them." To many observers, the president's words set the tone and direction for the Bush administration's policy on Afghanistan and Iraq. (PBS)
September 12, 2001
According to Richard A. Clarke: "I expected to go back to a round of meetings [after September 11] examining what the next attacks could be, what our vulnerabilities were, what we could do about them in the short term. Instead, I walked into a series of discussions about Iraq... I realized with almost a sharp physical pain that Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz were going to try to take advantage of this national tragedy to promote their agenda about Iraq...By the afternoon on Wednesday [after Sept. 11], Secretary Rumsfeld was talking about broadening the objectives of our response and "getting Iraq."
"On September 12th, I left the video conferencing center and there, wandering alone around the situation room, was the president. He looked like he wanted something to do. He grabbed a few of us and closed the door to the conference room. "Look," he told us, "I know you have a lot to do and all, but I want you, as soon as you can, to go back over everything, everything. See if Saddam did this. See if he's linked in any way."
"I was once again taken aback, incredulous, and it showed. "But, Mr. President, Al Qaeda did this." "I know, I know, but - see if Saddam was involved. Just look. I want to know any shred--" On the Issues ("Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror," by Richard A. Clarke)
September 13, 2001
Two days later, Wolfowitz expands on the president's words at a Pentagon briefing. He seems to signal that the U.S. will enlarge its campaign against terror to include Iraq: "I think one has to say it's not just simply a matter of capturing people and holding them accountable, but removing the sanctuaries, removing the support systems, ending states who sponsor terrorism. And that's why it has to be a broad and sustained campaign."
Colin Powell and others are alarmed by what they view as Wolfowitz's inflammatory words about "ending states." Powell later responds during a press briefing: "We're after ending terrorism. And if there are states and regimes, nations that support terrorism, we hope to persuade them that it is in their interest to stop doing that. But I think ending terrorism is where I would like to leave it, and let Mr. Wolfowitz speak for himself." (PBS)
September 15, 2001
Four days after the Sept. 11 attacks, Bush gathers his national security team at Camp David for a war council. Wolfowitz argues that now is the perfect time to move against state sponsors of terrorism, including Iraq. But Powell tells the president that an international coalition would only come together for an attack on Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan, not an invasion of Iraq. The war council votes with Powell. Rumsfeld abstains. The president decides that the war's first phase will be Afghanistan. Iraq will be reconsidered later. (PBS)
September 16, 2001
According to a 60 Minutes piece, citing Bob Woodward: "just five days after Sept. 11, President Bush indicated to Condoleezza Rice that while he had to do Afghanistan first, he was also determined to do something about Saddam Hussein. "There's some pressure to go after Saddam Hussein. Don Rumsfeld has said, ‘This is an opportunity to take out Saddam Hussein, perhaps. We should consider it.’ And the president says to Condi Rice meeting head to head, ‘We won't do Iraq now.’ But it is a question we're gonna have to return to,’” says Woodward. (CBS News)
The New Yorker's Seymour Hersh writes: "They call themselves, self-mockingly, the Cabal—a small cluster of policy advisers and analysts now based in the Pentagon’s Office of Special Plans. In the past year, according to former and present Bush Administration officials, their operation, which was conceived by Paul Wolfowitz, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, has brought about a crucial change of direction in the American intelligence community. These advisers and analysts, who began their work in the days after September 11, 2001, have produced a skein of intelligence reviews that have helped to shape public opinion and American policy toward Iraq. They relied on data gathered by other intelligence agencies and also on information provided by the Iraqi National Congress, or I.N.C., the exile group headed by Ahmad Chalabi.
According to the Pentagon adviser, Special Plans was created in order to find evidence of what Wolfowitz and his boss, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, believed to be true—that Saddam Hussein had close ties to Al Qaeda, and that Iraq had an enormous arsenal of chemical, biological, and possibly even nuclear weapons that threatened the region and, potentially, the United States. (New Yorker)
Also according to Seymour Hersh, in the fall of 2001, an unsupported allegation by Italian intelligence that Iraq had been attempting to buy uranium from Niger in 1999 was snatched up by Cheney:
Sometime after he first saw it, Cheney brought it up at his regularly scheduled daily briefing from the C.I.A., Martin said. “He asked the briefer a question. The briefer came back a day or two later and said, ‘We do have a report, but there’s a lack of details.’ ” The Vice-President was further told that it was known that Iraq had acquired uranium ore from Niger in the early nineteen-eighties but that that material had been placed in secure storage by the I.A.E.A., which was monitoring it. “End of story,” Martin added. “That’s all we know.” According to a former high-level C.I.A. official, however, Cheney was dissatisfied with the initial response, and asked the agency to review the matter once again. It was the beginning of what turned out to be a year-long tug-of-war between the C.I.A. and the Vice-President’s office. (New Yorker)
November 21, 2001
60 Minutes further cites Bob Woodward: “President Bush, after a National Security Council meeting, takes Don Rumsfeld aside, collars him physically, and takes him into a little cubbyhole room and closes the door and says, ‘What have you got in terms of plans for Iraq? What is the status of the war plan? I want you to get on it. I want you to keep it secret.’"
Woodward says immediately after that, Rumsfeld told Gen. Tommy Franks to develop a war plan to invade Iraq and remove Saddam - and that Rumsfeld gave Franks a blank check," Woodward says. (CBS News)
By the end of 2001, diplomats were discussing how to enlist the support of Arab allies, the military was sharpening its troop estimates, and the communications team was plotting how to sell an attack to the American public. The whole purpose of putting Iraq into Bush's State of the Union address, as part of the "axis of evil," was to begin the debate about a possible invasion. (Time Magazine)
January 29, 2002
In his State of the Union Adress, Bush calls Iraq part of an "axis of evil," and vows that the U.S. "will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons." (White House)
February 13, 2002
Ken Adelman, a onetime assistant to Donald Rumsfeld, writes that the conquest of Iraq would be a cakewalk: "I believe demolishing Hussein's military power and liberating Iraq would be a cakewalk. Let me give simple, responsible reasons: (1) It was a cakewalk last time; (2) they've become much weaker; (3) we've become much stronger; and (4) now we're playing for keeps...
In 1991 we engaged a grand international coalition because we lacked a domestic coalition. Virtually the entire Democratic leadership stood against that President Bush. The public, too, was divided. This President Bush does not need to amass rinky-dink nations as "coalition partners" to convince the Washington establishment that we're right. Americans of all parties now know we must wage a total war on terrorism. (Washington Post)
The Niger uranium story becomes a matter of contention within the CIA; By early 2002, the intelligence—still unverified—had begun to play a role in the Administration’s warnings about the Iraqi nuclear threat. On January 30th, the C.I.A. published an unclassified report to Congress that stated, “Baghdad may be attempting to acquire materials that could aid in reconstituting its nuclear-weapons program.” A week later, Colin Powell told the House International Relations Committee, “With respect to the nuclear program, there is no doubt that the Iraqis are pursuing it.” (New Yorker)
By early 2002 U.S. Ambassador to Niger Barbro Owens-Kirkpatrick was asked about Iraq-Niger uranium trade; she informed Washington that there was no basis to suspect any link. Then Cheney's office decided to investigate the letters' substance. Former U.S. ambassador to Gabon, Joseph C. Wilson (a man of exceptionally distinguished diplomatic career), was (in his words) "invited out to meet with a group of people at the CIA who were interested in this subject" and agreed to investigate the content of the documents, which he had not seen. He left for Niger in February, and made an oral report in March.
Meanwhile, during the same month, a four-star U.S. general, Marine Gen. Carlton W. Fulford Jr., deputy commander of the U-S European Command (the headquarters responsible for military relations with most of sub-Saharan Africa) also visited Niger at the request of the U.S. ambassador. He met with Niger's president February 24 and emphasized the importance of tight controls over its uranium ore deposits. According to MSNBC, he also visited the country two months later. This year, Fulford told the Washington Post that he had come away convinced that Niger's uranium stocks were secure. (CounterPunch)
Fixing the Intelligence: March - August 2002 March 2002
Seymour Hersh writes: "By early March, 2002, a former White House official told me, it was understood by many in the White House that the President had decided, in his own mind, to go to war... The Bush Administration took many intelligence operations that had been aimed at Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups around the world and redirected them to the Persian Gulf... Chalabi’s defector reports were now flowing from the Pentagon directly to the Vice-President’s office, and then on to the President, with little prior evaluation by intelligence professionals. (New Yorker)
" F___ Saddam. we're taking him out." Those were the words of President George W. Bush, who had poked his head into the office of Condoleezza Rice. It was March 2002, and Rice was meeting with three U.S. Senators, discussing how to deal with Iraq through the United Nations, or perhaps in a coalition with America's Middle East allies. Bush wasn't interested. He waved his hand dismissively, recalls a participant, and neatly summed up his Iraq policy in that short phrase. The Senators laughed uncomfortably; Rice flashed a knowing smile. (Time Magazine)
Dick Cheney carried the same message to Capitol Hill in late March. The Vice President dropped by a Senate Republican policy lunch soon after his 10-day tour of the Middle East — the one meant to drum up support for a U.S. military strike against Iraq... Before he spoke, he said no one should repeat what he said, and Senators and staff members promptly put down their pens and pencils. Then he gave them some surprising news. The question was no longer if the U.S. would attack Iraq, he said. The only question was when. (Time Magazine)
As early as March 2002, Blair's foreign policy adviser, Sir David Manning, assured Condoleezza Rice of Blair's deadset support for "regime change." Days later, Sir Christopher Meyer, then British ambassador to the US, sent a dispatch to Downing Street detailing how he repeated the commitment to Paul Wolfowitz, the US Deputy Defence Secretary. The ambassador added that Mr Blair would need a "cover" for any military action. "I then went through the need to wrongfoot Saddam on the inspectors and the UN Security Council resolutions." (Raw Story: Manning; Raw Story: Meyer)
Manning returned from talks in Washington warning that Bush "still has to find answers to the big questions," which included "what happens on the morning after?... They may agree that failure isn't an option, but this does not mean they will necessarily avoid it." The Cabinet Office said that the US believed that the legal basis for war already existed and had lost patience with the policy of containment. (Telegraph)
March 12-13, 2002
Manning meets with Condoleeza Rice. On March 14, he reports to Blair: "I said that you would not budge in your support for regime change but you had to manage a press, a Parliament and a public opinion that was very different than anything in the States. . . . Condi's enthusiasm for regime change is undimmed. But there were some signs, since we last spoke, of greater awareness of the practical difficulties and political risks." (Raw Story PDF)
March 17, 2002
Sir Christopher Meyer, British ambassador to the US, meets with Paul Wolfowitz. The next day, he reports to Manning: "On Iraq I opened by sticking very closely to the script that you used with Condi rice last week. We backed regime change, but the plan had to be clever and failure was not an option. It would be a tough sell for us domestically, and probably tougher elsewhere in Europe. The US could go it alone if it wanted to. But if it wanted to act with partners, here had to be a strategy for building support for military action against Saddam. I then went through the need to wrongfoot Saddam on the inspectors." (PDF of memo; More at Telegraph)
March 8-25, 2002
Several leaked documents show the British government considering the implications of shifting from an Iraq policy based on containment to one of regime change, along with considerations to be addressed in supporting Bush's objectives. A memo from the British Foreign Secretary states: "The rewards from your visit to Crawford will be few. The risks are high, both for you and for the Government. Its just that there is at present no majority inside the PLP for any military action against Iraq. ... A legal justification is a necessary but far from sufficient precondition for military action. We have also to answer the big question - what will this action achieve?" (Iraq Options Paper - P F Ricketts Memo - Jack Straw Memo)
"Rumsfeld has been so determined to find a rationale for an attack that on 10 separate occasions he asked the CIA to find evidence linking Iraq to the terror attacks of Sept. 11. The intelligence agency repeatedly came back empty-handed. The best hope for Iraqi ties to the attack — a report that lead hijacker Mohamed Atta met with an Iraqi intelligence official in the Czech Republic — was discredited last week.
"The White House's biggest fear is that U.N. weapons inspectors will be allowed to go in," says a top Senate foreign policy aide. (Time Magazine)
Throughout this period, and into 2003, Mr Blair was insisting in public that war was not inevitable. In May 2002 he said Iraq would be "in a far better position" without Saddam, but added: "Does that mean that military action is imminent or about to happen? No. We've never said that." (The Independent)
US/UK bombing of Iraq intensifies: Despite strict No-Fly Zone guildeines, Rumsfeld had ordered a more aggressive approach What was going on? There were very strict rules of engagement in the no-fly zones. Rumsfeld later said this was simply to prevent the Iraqis attacking allied aircraft, but a British Foreign Officers' remark told more: In reality, the "spikes of activity" were designed "to put pressure on the regime." (Sunday Times)
Karen Kwiatkowski says: "From May 2002 until February 2003, I observed firsthand the formation of the Pentagon's Office of Special Plans and watched the latter stages of the neoconservative capture of the policy-intelligence nexus in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq... I saw a narrow and deeply flawed policy favored by some executive appointees in the Pentagon used to manipulate and pressurize the traditional relationship between policymakers in the Pentagon and U.S. intelligence agencies. I witnessed neoconservative agenda bearers within OSP usurp measured and carefully considered assessments, and through suppression and distortion of intelligence analysis promulgate what were in fact falsehoods to both Congress and the executive office of the president. (Salon)
June 1, 2002
In a speech at West Point, Bush commits the United States to a doctrine of preemption: "Our security will require all Americans…[to] be ready for preemptive action when necessary to defend our liberty and to defend our lives." (White House)
July 21, 2002
Cabinet Office paper: Conditions for military action: "1. The US Government's military planning for action against Iraq is proceeding apace. But, as yet, it lacks a political framework. In particular, little thought has been given to creating the political conditions for military action, or the aftermath and how to shape it.
2. When the Prime Minister discussed Iraq with President Bush at Crawford in April he said that the UK would support military action to bring about regime change, provided that certain conditions were met: efforts had been made to construct a coalition/shape public opinion, the Israel-Palestine Crisis was quiescent, and the options for action to eliminate Iraq's WMD through the UN weapons inspectors had been exhausted.
3. We need now to reinforce this message and to encourage the US Government to place its military planning within a political framework, partly to forestall the risk that military action is precipitated in an unplanned way by, for example, an incident in the No Fly Zones. This is particularly important for the UK because it is necessary to create the conditions in which we could legally support military action. Otherwise we face the real danger that the US will commit themselves to a course of action which we would find very difficult to support. (Sunday Times)
July 23, 2002
From The Downing Street Memo, minutes of an official high-level meeting between British and American officials: British intel MI6 director Sir Richard Dearlove "reported on his recent talks in Washington... Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. The NSC had no patience with the UN route, and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime's record. There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action.
"The Defense Secretary said that the US had already begun "spikes of activity" to put pressure on the regime. No decisions had been taken, but he thought the most likely timing in US minds for military action to begin was January, with the timeline beginning 30 days before the US Congressional elections.
"It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided. But the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbours, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran. We should work up a plan for an ultimatum to Saddam to allow back in the UN weapons inspectors. This would also help with the legal justification for the use of force. (Raw Story; via Sunday Times)
MINISTERS were warned in July 2002 that Britain was committed to taking part in an American-led invasion of Iraq and they had no choice but to find a way of making it legal. The warning, in a leaked Cabinet Office briefing paper, said Tony Blair had already agreed to back military action to get rid of Saddam Hussein at a summit at the Texas ranch of President George W Bush three months earlier. The briefing paper, for participants at a meeting of Blair’s inner circle on July 23, 2002, said that since regime change was illegal it was “necessary to create the conditions” which would make it legal. . . .
“It is just possible that an ultimatum could be cast in terms which Saddam would reject,” the document says. But if he accepted it and did not attack the allies, they would be “most unlikely” to obtain the legal justification they needed. Suggestions that the allies use the UN to justify war contradicts claims by Blair and Bush, repeated during their Washington summit in June, 2005, that they turned to the UN in order to avoid having to go to war. (Sunday Times)
Late July 2002
"At the end of July 2002, they need $700 million, a large amount of money for all these tasks. And the president approves it. But Congress doesn't know and it is done. They get the money from a supplemental appropriation for the Afghan War, which Congress has approved. …Some people are gonna look at a document called the Constitution which says that no money will be drawn from the Treasury unless appropriated by Congress. Congress was totally in the dark on this." (CBS News)
August 2, 2002
Scott Ritter states: “Are the weapons that were loaded up with VX destroyed? Yes. Is the equipment used to produce VX on a large scale destroyed? Yes.
“The fact Tony Blair cannot put on the table any substantive facts about a re-constituted Iraqi chemical weapons programme is proof positive that no such evidence exists.” (Tribune)
August 7, 2002
Cheney says of Saddam Hussein, “What we know now, from various sources, is that he... continues to pursue a nuclear weapon.” (New Yorker)
U.S., UK conduct secret bombing campaign. "The [air] attacks were intensified from May, six months before the United Nations resolution that Tony Blair and Lord Goldsmith, the attorney-general, argued gave the coalition the legal basis for war. By the end of August the raids had become a full air offensive. (Sunday Times)
Powell reports trouble getting U.S. allies on board for a war with Iraq... As Bush leaves for an August vacation in Crawford, Texas, he agrees to take his case to the U.N. and asks his advisers to start preparing the speech. (PBS)
August 26, 2002
Cheney suggests Saddam had a nuclear capability that could directly threaten “anyone he chooses, in his own region or beyond.” (New Yorker)
September 5, 2002
When It became clear that Saddam Hussein would not provide justification to launch the air war, the U.S. and UK launched it anyway, beneath the cloak of the no-fly zone. More than a hundred allied aircraft attacked the H-3 airfield, Iraq's main air defence site. At the furthest extreme of the southern no-fly zone, far away from the areas that needed to be patrolled to prevent attacks on the Shias, it was destroyed not because it was a threat to the patrols, but to allow allied special forces operating from Jordan to enter Iraq undetected. (New Statesman)
September 8, 2002
Cheney tells a TV interviewer, “We do know, with absolute certainty, that [Saddam] is using his procurement system to acquire the equipment he needs in order to enrich uranium to build a nuclear weapon.”Condoleezza Rice says, “We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud”—a formulation that was taken up by hawks in the Administration. (New Yorker)
September 9, 2002
The International Institute for Strategic Studies releases a report that says Iraq was, "only months away if it were able to get hold of weapons grade uranium . . . from a foreign source." The IISS had bad information. Their argument was compounded by a UK Dossier that relied on the IISS report. (US News)
Bush says, “Saddam Hussein has the scientists and infrastructure for a nuclear-weapons program, and has illicitly sought to purchase the equipment needed to enrich uranium for a nuclear weapon.” There was no confirmed intelligence for the President’s assertion. (New Yorker)
September 16, 2002
Iraq unconditionally accepts the return of UN inspectors. (BBC)
September 17, 2002
Bush's National Security Strategy asserts that the US will never again allow its military supremacy to be challenged and embracesunilateral preemptive military strikes. (White House)
September 19, 2002
Washington Post cites the IISS report to show that the aluminum tubes sought by Iraq were unlikely to have been intended for a nuclear program. (Washington Post)
September 24, 2002
George Tenet and other senior intelligence officials brief the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Iraq’s weapons capability as Congress prepares to vote on authorizing war in Iraq. According to Seymou Hersh, this briefing includes claims about both the aluminum tubes and the Niger uranium. Two days later, Colin Powell will also cite the Niger uranium before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. (New Yorker)
September 24, 2002
(the "sexed up" dossier)Tony Blair is convinced new sources of intelligence from inside Iraq provide "persuasive and overwhelming" evidence that Saddam Hussein is reassembling and expanding his weapons programme... Blair is confident that the 55-page dossier on weapons of mass destruction will convince many doubters. He told colleagues: "Saddam is developing his weapons programme and doing it as fast as he can." (Guardian)
September 26, 2002
Rice says Qaeda operatives have found refuge in Baghdad, and accuses Hussein of helping Osama bin Laden's followers develop chemical weapons. (CBS News)
Run-up to War: October 2002 - March 2003 October 2002
Seymour Hersh writes: "A set of documents suddenly appeared that promised to provide solid evidence that Iraq was attempting to reconstitute its nuclear program. The first notice of the documents’ existence came when Elisabetta Burba, a reporter for Panorama, a glossy Italian weekly owned by the publishing empire of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, received a telephone call from an Italian businessman and security consultant whom she believed to have once been connected to Italian intelligence. He told her that he had information connecting Saddam Hussein to the purchase of uranium in Africa.She wanted to arrange a visit to Niger to verify what seemed to be an astonishing story. At that point, however, Panorama’s editor-in-chief, Carlo Rossella, who is known for his ties to the Berlusconi government, told Burba to turn the documents over to the American Embassy for authentication. Burba dutifully took a copy of the papers to the Embassy on October 9th.
George Tenet clearly was ambivalent about the information: in early October, he intervened to prevent the President from referring to Niger in a speech in Cincinnati. But Tenet then seemed to give up the fight, and Saddam’s desire for uranium from Niger soon became part of the Administration’s public case for going to war. (New Yorker)
October 10, 2002
Congress passes the Joint Resolution to Authorize the Use of United States Armed Forces Against Iraq. (White House)
October 22, 2002
In October 2002, in a notable front-page article titled "For Bush, Facts Are Malleable" (10/22/02), Washington Post reporter Dana Milbank noted two dubious Bush claims about Iraq: his citing of a United Nations International Atomic Energy report alleging that Iraq was "six months away" from developing a nuclear weapon; and that Iraq maintained a growing fleet of unmanned aircraft that could be used, inBush's words, "for missions targeting the United States." While these assertions "were powerful arguments for the actions Bush sought," Milbank concluded they "were dubious, if not wrong. Further information revealed that the aircraft lack the range to reach the United States" and "there was no such report by the IAEA." (FAIR)
November 8, 2002
The UN Security Council unanimously approves resolution 1441 imposing tough new arms inspections on Iraq and requiring Iraq to declare all weapons of mass destruction and account for known chemical weapons material stockpiles on pain of "serious consequences." Iraq accepts the terms of the resolution and UN inspectors return. (Iraqwatch)
November 15, 2002
The Committee for the Liberation of Iraq is formed "to promote regional peace, political freedom and international security through replacement of the Saddam Hussein regime with a democratic government." An offshoot of the Project for a New American Century, it has close ties to Ahmed Chalabi and is dedicated to promoting the Bush administration's Iraq policies. (CounterPunch)
December 2, 2002
The British government is accused of double standards yesterday after launching a dossier on Iraqi human rights abuses designed to soften up public opinion ahead of a possible war. British foreign secretary Straw defends the moves, and cites WMDs.
"He's got these weapons of mass destruction, chemical, biological and, probably, nuclear weapons which he has used in the past against his own people as well as his neighbours and could almost certainly use again in the future," he said.
But the Foreign Office later retreats. It has repeatedly accepted that Iraq does not have nuclear arms and a spokesman, clarifying the position, said Mr Straw had been "referring to Saddam Hussein's intention to acquire such weapons" (Guardian)
December 7-22, 2002 December 7:
Iraq submits a 12,000-page declaration on its chemical, biological and nuclear activities, claiming it has no banned weapons.December 17: Colin Powell indicates there are problems with the declaration.
Jack Straw indicates the UK believes Iraq is in material breach of the UN resolution. The Ministry of Defense reveals ships are being chartered to bring troops and equipment to the Gulf.
Hans Blix says the declaration contains nothing new out its WMD capacities and does not inspire confidence. The US immediately accuses Iraq of being in material breach.
Iraq invites the CIA to come in an look for WMD's. (Guardian)
January 27, 2003
The UN arms inspectors' report indicate that no banned weapons have been found but criticizes Iraq for not giving the inspectors full access to facilities and scientists and not providing clear accounts of certain materials. (Iraqwatch)
January 28, 2003
President Bush delivers the State of the Union address, stating: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.... Saddam Hussein has not credibly explained these activities. He clearly has much to hide." Bush adds that the US is prepared to attack Iraq even without a UN mandate. (White House)
Since October, the CIA had warned the administration not to use the Niger claim in public. CIA Director Tenet personally persuaded deputy national security adviser Stephen Hadley to omit it from President Bush's Oct. 7 speech in Cincinnati. But on the eve of Bush's State of the Union address, Robert Joseph, an assistant to the president in charge of nonproliferation at the National Security Council (NSC), initially asked the CIA if the allegation that Iraq sought to purchase 500 pounds of uranium from Niger could be included in the presidential speech. A CIA official said he told Joseph that the agency objected to the British including that in their published September dossier because of the weakness of the U.S. information. (Washington Post)
January 31, 2003
The United States is conducting a secret 'dirty tricks' campaign against UN Security Council delegations in New York as part of its battle to win votes in favour of war against Iraq.
Details of the aggressive surveillance operation, which involves interception of the home and office telephones and the emails of UN delegates in New York, are revealed in a document leaked to The Observer. (Observer) Katherine Gun, a British intelligence officer is arrested in March on charges of passing secrets. She admits she leaked a secret memo to a British newspaper about US-UK government surveillance of the United Nations before the war in Iraq, and is later freed. (Guardian)
February 5, 2003
Colin Powell makes a presentation to the UN, attempting to prove that Iraq is evading the inspectors, continues to produce WMD's, and is linked to al-Qaeda. (White House)Powell cites the British dossier of February 3 as a "fine paper that the United Kingdom distributed... which describes in exquisite detail Iraqi deception activities." (Guardian)"Powell embellishes an intercepted conversation about weapons inspections between Iraqi officials to make it sound more incriminating, changing an order to "inspect the scrap areas and the abandoned areas" to a command to "clean out" those areas. He also added the phrase "make sure there is nothing there," a phrase that appears nowhere in the State Department's official translation. (FAIR; CommonDreams)
February 7, 2003
Downing Street is plunged into acute international embarrassment after it emerged that large parts of the British government's latest dossier on Iraq - allegedly based on "intelligence material" - were taken from published academic articles, some of them several years old. (Guardian)
February 9, 2003
US rejects a French-German initiative to triple the number of inspectors in Iraq. (Department of State)
February 13, 2003
The Washington Post reveals that, according to anonymous sources, two Special Forces units have been operating in Iraq for over a month. (Washington Post)
March 3, 2003
Britain and the United States have all but fire the first shots of the Iraq war by extending the range of targets in the "no-fly zones" over Iraq to "soften up" the country for an allied ground invasion. Pilots have attacked surface-to-surface missile systems and are understood to have hit multiple-launch rockets. (Guardian)
March 7, 2003
On March 7th, Mohamed ElBaradei, the director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, in Vienna, told the U.N. Security Council that the documents involving the Niger-Iraq uranium sale were fakes. (New Yorker)
March 16, 2003
Dick Cheney states on Meet the Press: "We know he’s out trying once again to produce nuclear weapons and we know that he has a long-standing relationship with various terrorist groups, including the al-Qaeda organization. . . . We know that based on intelligence that he has been very, very good at hiding these kinds of efforts. He’s had years to get good at it and we know he has been absolutely devoted to trying to acquire nuclear weapons. And we believe he has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons. I think Mr. ElBaradei frankly is wrong." (Mount Holyoke transcript)
The British Ministry of Defense's most senior biological weapons expert and adviser to intelligence agencies on Iraq, Dr Kelly was the anonymous source for BBC reports in May 2003 that a dossier used by the Blair Government to justify invading Iraq had been "sexed up." After being revealed as the BBC's source and grilled before a parliamentary inquiry, Dr Kelly was found dead in July 2003. (The Age)
First Published in Raw Story
2. Selective Intelligence
by Seymour Hersh...
They call themselves, self-mockingly, the Cabal—a small cluster of policy advisers and analysts now based in the Pentagon’s Office of Special Plans. In the past year, according to former and present Bush Administration officials, their operation, which was conceived by Paul Wolfowitz, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, has brought about a crucial change of direction in the American intelligence community. These advisers and analysts, who began their work in the days after September 11, 2001, have produced a skein of intelligence reviews that have helped to shape public opinion and American policy toward Iraq. They relied on data gathered by other intelligence agencies and also on information provided by the Iraqi National Congress, or I.N.C., the exile group headed by Ahmad Chalabi. By last fall, the operation rivalled both the C.I.A. and the Pentagon’s own Defense Intelligence Agency, the D.I.A., as President Bush’s main source of intelligence regarding Iraq’s possible possession of weapons of mass destruction and connection with Al Qaeda. As of last week, no such weapons had been found. And although many people, within the Administration and outside it, profess confidence that something will turn up, the integrity of much of that intelligence is now in question.
The director of the Special Plans operation is Abram Shulsky, a scholarly expert in the works of the political philosopher Leo Strauss. Shulsky has been quietly working on intelligence and foreign-policy issues for three decades; he was on the staff of the Senate Intelligence Com-mittee in the early nineteen-eighties and served in the Pentagon under Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard Perle during the Reagan Administration, after which he joined the Rand Corporation. The Office of Special Plans is overseen by Under-Secretary of Defense William Luti, a retired Navy captain. Luti was an early advocate of military action against Iraq, and, as the Administration moved toward war and policymaking power shifted toward the civilians in the Pentagon, he took on increasingly important responsibilities.
W. Patrick Lang, the former chief of Middle East intelligence at the D.I.A., said, “The Pentagon has banded together to dominate the government’s foreign policy, and they’ve pulled it off. They’re running Chalabi. The D.I.A. has been intimidated and beaten to a pulp. And there’s no guts at all in the C.I.A.”
The hostility goes both ways. A Pentagon official who works for Luti told me, “I did a job when the intelligence community wasn’t doing theirs. We recognized the fact that they hadn’t done the analysis. We were providing information to Wolfowitz that he hadn’t seen before. The intelligence community is still looking for a mission like they had in the Cold War, when they spoon-fed the policymakers.”
A Pentagon adviser who has worked with Special Plans dismissed any criticism of the operation as little more than bureaucratic whining. “Shulsky and Luti won the policy debate,” the adviser said. “They beat ’em—they cleaned up against State and the C.I.A. There’s no mystery why they won—because they were more effective in making their argument. Luti is smarter than the opposition. Wolfowitz is smarter. They out-argued them. It was a fair fight. They persuaded the President of the need to make a new security policy. Those who lose are so good at trying to undercut those who won.” He added, “I’d love to be the historian who writes the story of how this small group of eight or nine people made the case and won.”
According to the Pentagon adviser, Special Plans was created in order to find evidence of what Wolfowitz and his boss, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, believed to be true—that Saddam Hussein had close ties to Al Qaeda, and that Iraq had an enormous arsenal of chemical, biological, and possibly even nuclear weapons that threatened the region and, potentially, the United States.
Iraq’s possible possession of weapons of mass destruction had been a matter of concern to the international community since before the first Gulf War. Saddam Hussein had used chemical weapons in the past. At some point, he assembled thousands of chemical warheads, along with biological weapons, and made a serious attempt to build a nuclear-weapons program. What has been in dispute is how much of that capacity, if any, survived the 1991 war and the years of United Nations inspections, no-fly zones, and sanctions that followed. In addition, since September 11th there have been recurring questions about Iraq’s ties to terrorists. A February poll showed that seventy-two per cent of Americans believed it was likely that Saddam Hussein was personally involved in the September 11th attacks, although no definitive evidence of such a connection has been presented.
Rumsfeld and his colleagues believed that the C.I.A. was unable to perceive the reality of the situation in Iraq. “The agency was out to disprove linkage between Iraq and terrorism,” the Pentagon adviser told me. “That’s what drove them. If you’ve ever worked with intelligence data, you can see the ingrained views at C.I.A. that color the way it sees data.” The goal of Special Plans, he said, was “to put the data under the microscope to reveal what the intelligence community can’t see. Shulsky’s carrying the heaviest part.”
Even before September 11th, Richard Perle, who was then the chairman of the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board, was making a similar argument about the intelligence community’s knowledge of Iraq’s weapons. At a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee hearing in March, 2001, he said, “Does Saddam now have weapons of mass destruction? Sure he does. We know he has chemical weapons. We know he has biological weapons. . . . How far he’s gone on the nuclear-weapons side I don’t think we really know. My guess is it’s further than we think. It’s always further than we think, because we limit ourselves, as we think about this, to what we’re able to prove and demonstrate. . . . And, unless you believe that we have uncovered everything, you have to assume there is more than we’re able to report.”
Last October, an article in the Times reported that Rumsfeld had ordered up an intelligence operation “to search for information on Iraq’s hostile intentions or links to terrorists” that might have been overlooked by the C.I.A. When Rumsfeld was asked about the story at a Pentagon briefing, he was initially vague. “I’m told that after September 11th a small group, I think two to start with, and maybe four now . . . were asked to begin poring over this mountain of information that we were receiving on intelligence-type things.” He went on to say, “You don’t know what you don’t know. So in comes the daily briefer”—from the C.I.A.—“and she walks through the daily brief. And I ask questions. ‘Gee, what about this?’ or ‘What about that? Has somebody thought of this?’ “ At the same briefing, Rumsfeld said that he had already been informed that there was “solid evidence of the presence in Iraq of Al Qaeda members.”
If Special Plans was going to search for new intelligence on Iraq, the most obvious source was defectors with firsthand knowledge. The office inevitably turned to Ahmad Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress. The I.N.C., an umbrella organization for diverse groups opposed to Saddam, is constantly seeking out Iraqi defectors. The Special Plans Office developed a close working relationship with the I.N.C., and this strengthened its position in disputes with the C.I.A. and gave the Pentagon’s pro-war leadership added leverage in its constant disputes with the State Department. Special Plans also became a conduit for intelligence reports from the I.N.C. to officials in the White House.
There was a close personal bond, too, between Chalabi and Wolfowitz and Perle, dating back many years. Their relationship deepened after the Bush Administration took office, and Chalabi’s ties extended to others in the Administration, including Rumsfeld; Douglas Feith, the Under-Secretary of Defense for Policy; and I. Lewis Libby, Vice-President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff. For years, Chalabi has had the support of prominent members of the American Enterprise Institute and other conservatives. Chalabi had some Democratic supporters, too, including James Woolsey, the former head of the C.I.A.
There was another level to Chalabi’s relationship with the United States: in the mid-nineteen-nineties, the C.I.A. was secretly funnelling millions of dollars annually to the I.N.C. Those payments ended around 1996, a former C.I.A. Middle East station chief told me, essentially because the agency had doubts about Chalabi’s integrity. (In 1992, Chalabi was convicted in absentia of bank fraud in Jordan. He has always denied any wrongdoing.) “You had to treat them with suspicion,” another former Middle East station chief said of Chalabi’s people. “The I.N.C. has a track record of manipulating information because it has an agenda. It’s a political unit—not an intelligence agency.”
In August, 1995, General Hussein Kamel, who was in charge of Iraq’s weapons program, defected to Jordan, with his brother, Colonel Saddam Kamel. They brought with them crates of documents containing detailed information about Iraqi efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction—much of which was unknown to the U.N. inspection teams that had been on the job since 1991—and were interviewed at length by the U.N. inspectors. In 1996, Saddam Hussein lured the brothers back with a promise of forgiveness, and then had them killed. The Kamels’ information became a major element in the Bush Administration’s campaign to convince the public of the failure of the U.N. inspections.
Last October, in a speech in Cincinnati, the President cited the Kamel defections as the moment when Saddam’s regime “was forced to admit that it had produced more than thirty thousand liters of anthrax and other deadly biological agents. . . . This is a massive stockpile of biological weapons that has never been accounted for, and is capable of killing millions.” A couple of weeks earlier, Vice-President Cheney had declared that Hussein Kamel’s story “should serve as a reminder to all that we often learned more as the result of defections than we learned from the inspection regime itself.”
The full record of Hussein Kamel’s interview with the inspectors reveals, however, that he also said that Iraq’s stockpile of chemical and biological warheads, which were manufactured before the 1991 Gulf War, had been destroyed, in many cases in response to ongoing inspections. The interview, on August 22, 1995,was conducted by Rolf Ekeus, then the executive chairman of the U.N. inspection teams, and two of his senior associates - Nikita Smidovich and Maurizio Zifferaro. “You have an important role in Iraq,” Kamel said, according to the record, which was assembled from notes taken by Smidovich. “You should not underestimate yourself. You are very effective in Iraq.” When Smidovich noted that the U.N. teams had not found “any traces of destruction,” Kamel responded, “Yes, it was done before you came in.” He also said that Iraq had destroyed its arsenal of warheads. “We gave instructions not to produce chemical weapons,” Kamel explained later in the debriefing. “I don’t remember resumption of chemical-weapons production before the Gulf War. Maybe it was only minimal production and filling. . . . All chemical weapons were destroyed. I ordered destruction of all chemical weapons. All weapons - biological, chemical, missile, nuclear - were destroyed.”
Kamel also cast doubt on the testimony of Dr. Khidhir Hamza, an Iraqi nuclear scientist who defected in 1994. Hamza settled in the United States with the help of the I.N.C. and has been a highly vocal witness concerning Iraq’s alleged nuclear ambitions. Kamel told the U.N. interviewers, however, that Hamza was “a professional liar.” He went on, “He worked with us, but he was useless and always looking for promotions. He consulted with me but could not deliver anything. . . . He was even interrogated by a team before he left and was allowed to go.” After his defection, Hamza became a senior fellow at the Institute for Science and International Security, a Washington disarmament group, whose president, David Albright, was a former U.N. weapons inspector. In 1998, Albright told me, he and Hamza sent publishers a proposal for a book tentatively entitled “Fizzle: Iraq and the Atomic Bomb,” which described how Iraq had failed in its quest for a nuclear device. There were no takers, Albright said, and Hamza eventually “started exaggerating his experiences in Iraq.” The two men broke off contact. In 2000, Hamza published “Saddam’s Bombmaker,” a vivid account claiming that by 1991, when the Gulf War began, Iraq was far closer than had been known to the production of a nuclear weapon. Jeff Stein, a Washington journalist who collaborated on the book, told me that Hamza’s account was “absolutely on the level, allowing for the fact that any memoir puts the author at the center of events, and therefore there is some exaggeration.” James Woolsey, the former head of the C.I.A., said of Hamza, “I think highly of him and I have no reason to disbelieve the claims that he’s made.” Hamza could not be reached for comment. On April 26th, according to the Times, he returned to Iraq as a member of a group of exiles designated by the Pentagon to help rebuild the country’s infrastructure. He is to be responsible for atomic energy.
The advantages and disadvantages of relying on defectors has been a perennial source of dispute within the American intelligence community—as Shulsky himself noted in a 1991 textbook on intelligence that he co-authored. Despite their importance, he wrote, “it is difficult to be certain that they are genuine. . . . The conflicting information provided by several major Soviet defectors to the United States . . . has never been completely sorted out; it bedeviled U.S. intelligence for a quarter of a century.” Defectors can provide unique insight into a repressive system. But such volunteer sources, as Shulsky writes, “may be greedy; they may also be somewhat unbalanced people who wish to bring some excitement into their lives; they may desire to avenge what they see as ill treatment by their government; or they may be subject to blackmail.” There is a strong incentive to tell interviewers what they want to hear.
With the Pentagon’s support, Chalabi’s group worked to put defectors with compelling stories in touch with reporters in the United States and Europe. The resulting articles had dramatic accounts of advances in weapons of mass destruction or told of ties to terrorist groups. In some cases, these stories were disputed in analyses by the C.I.A. Misstatements and inconsistencies in I.N.C. defector accounts were also discovered after the final series of U.N. weapons inspections, which ended a few days before the American assault. Dr. Glen Rangwala, a lecturer in political science at Cambridge University, compiled and examined the information that had been made public and concluded that the U.N. inspections had failed to find evidence to support the defectors’ claims.
For example, many newspapers published extensive interviews with Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri, a civil engineer who, with the I.N.C.’s help, fled Iraq in 2001, and subsequently claimed that he had visited twenty hidden facilities that he believed were built for the production of biological and chemical weapons. One, he said, was underneath a hospital in Baghdad. Haideri was apparently a source for Secretary of State Colin Powell’s claim, in his presentation to the United Nations Security Council on February 5th, that the United States had “firsthand descriptions” of mobile factories capable of producing vast quantities of biological weapons. The U.N. teams that returned to Iraq last winter were unable to verify any of al-Haideri’s claims. In a statement to the Security Council in March, on the eve of war, Hans Blix, the U.N.’s chief weapons inspector, noted that his teams had physically examined the hospital and other sites with the help of ground-penetrating radar equipment. “No underground facilities for chemical or biological production or storage were found so far,” he said.
Almost immediately after September 11th, the I.N.C. began to publicize the stories of defectors who claimed that they had information connecting Iraq to the attacks. In an interview on October 14, 2001, conducted jointly by the Times and “Frontline,” the public-television program, Sabah Khodada, an Iraqi Army captain, said that the September 11th operation “was conducted by people who were trained by Saddam,” and that Iraq had a program to instruct terrorists in the art of hijacking. Another defector, who was identified only as a retired lieutenant general in the Iraqi intelligence service, said that in 2000 he witnessed Arab students being given lessons in hijacking on a Boeing 707 parked at an Iraqi training camp near the town of Salman Pak, south of Baghdad.
In separate interviews with me, however, a former C.I.A. station chief and a former military intelligence analyst said that the camp near Salman Pak had been built not for terrorism training but for counter-terrorism training. In the mid-eighties, Islamic terrorists were routinely hijacking aircraft. In 1986, an Iraqi airliner was seized by pro-Iranian extremists and crashed, after a hand grenade was triggered, killing at least sixty-five people. (At the time, Iran and Iraq were at war, and America favored Iraq.) Iraq then sought assistance from the West, and got what it wanted from Britain’s MI6. The C.I.A. offered similar training in counter-terrorism throughout the Middle East. “We were helping our allies everywhere we had a liaison,” the former station chief told me. Inspectors recalled seeing the body of an airplane—which appeared to be used for counter-terrorism training—when they visited a biological-weapons facility near Salman Pak in 1991, ten years before September 11th. It is, of course, possible for such a camp to be converted from one purpose to another. The former C.I.A. official noted, however, that terrorists would not practice on airplanes in the open. “That’s Hollywood rinky-dink stuff,” the former agent said. “They train in basements. You don’t need a real airplane to practice hijacking. The 9/11 terrorists went to gyms. But to take one back you have to practice on the real thing.”
Salman Pak was overrun by American troops on April 6th. Apparently, neither the camp nor the former biological facility has yielded evidence to substantiate the claims made before the war.
A former Bush Administration intelligence official recalled a case in which Chalabi’s group, working with the Pentagon, produced a defector from Iraq who was interviewed overseas by an agent from the D.I.A. The agent relied on an interpreter supplied by Chalabi’s people. Last summer, the D.I.A. report, which was classified, was leaked. In a detailed account, the London Timesdescribed how the defector had trained with Al Qaeda terrorists in the late nineteen-nineties at secret camps in Iraq, how the Iraqis received instructions in the use of chemical and biological weapons, and how the defector was given a new identity and relocated. A month later, however, a team of C.I.A. agents went to interview the man with their own interpreter. “He says, ‘No, that’s not what I said,’ “ the former intelligence official told me. “He said, ‘I worked at a fedayeen camp; it wasn’t Al Qaeda.’ He never saw any chemical or biological training.” Afterward, the former official said, “the C.I.A. sent out a piece of paper saying that this information was incorrect. They put it in writing.” But the C.I.A. rebuttal, like the original report, was classified. “I remember wondering whether this one would leak and correct the earlier, invalid leak. Of course, it didn’t.”
The former intelligence official went on, “One of the reasons I left was my sense that they were using the intelligence from the C.I.A. and other agencies only when it fit their agenda. They didn’t like the intelligence they were getting, and so they brought in people to write the stuff. They were so crazed and so far out and so difficult to reason with—to the point of being bizarre. Dogmatic, as if they were on a mission from God.” He added, “If it doesn’t fit their theory, they don’t want to accept it.”
Shulsky’s work has deep theoretical underpinnings. In his academic and think-tank writings, Shulsky, the son of a newspaperman—his father, Sam, wrote a nationally syndicated business column—has long been a critic of the American intelligence community. During the Cold War, his area of expertise was Soviet disinformation techniques. Like Wolfowitz, he was a student of Leo Strauss’s, at the University of Chicago. Both men received their doctorates under Strauss in 1972. Strauss, a refugee from Nazi Germany who arrived in the United States in 1937, was trained in the history of political philosophy, and became one of the foremost conservative émigré scholars. He was widely known for his argument that the works of ancient philosophers contain deliberately concealed esoteric meanings whose truths can be comprehended only by a very few, and would be misunderstood by the masses. The Straussian movement has many adherents in and around the Bush Administration. In addition to Wolfowitz, they include William Kristol, the editor of the Weekly Standard, and Stephen Cambone, the Under-Secretary of Defense for Intelligence, who is particularly close to Rumsfeld. Strauss’s influence on foreign-policy decision-making (he never wrote explicitly about the subject himself) is usually discussed in terms of his tendency to view the world as a place where isolated liberal democracies live in constant danger from hostile elements abroad, and face threats that must be confronted vigorously and with strong leadership.
How Strauss’s views might be applied to the intelligence-gathering process is less immediately obvious. As it happens, Shulsky himself explored that question in a 1999 essay, written with Gary Schmitt, entitled “Leo Strauss and the World of Intelligence (By Which We Do Not Mean Nous)”—in Greek philosophy the term nous denotes the highest form of rationality. In the essay, Shulsky and Schmitt write that Strauss’s “gentleness, his ability to concentrate on detail, his consequent success in looking below the surface and reading between the lines, and his seeming unworldliness . . . may even be said to resemble, however faintly, the George Smiley of John le Carré’s novels.” Echoing one of Strauss’s major themes, Shulsky and Schmitt criticize America’s intelligence community for its failure to appreciate the duplicitous nature of the regimes it deals with, its susceptibility to social-science notions of proof, and its inability to cope with deliberate concealment.
The agency’s analysts, Shulsky and Schmitt argue, “were generally reluctant throughout the Cold War to believe that they could be deceived about any critical question by the Soviet Union or other Communist states. History has shown this view to have been extremely naïve.” They suggested that political philosophy, with its emphasis on the variety of regimes, could provide an “antidote” to the C.I.A.’s failings, and would help in understanding Islamic leaders, “whose intellectual world was so different from our own.”
Strauss’s idea of hidden meaning, Shulsky and Schmitt added, “alerts one to the possibility that political life may be closely linked to deception. Indeed, it suggests that deception is the norm in political life, and the hope, to say nothing of the expectation, of establishing a politics that can dispense with it is the exception.”
Robert Pippin, the chairman of the Committee on Social Thought at Chicago and a critic of Strauss, told me, “Strauss believed that good statesmen have powers of judgment and must rely on an inner circle. The person who whispers in the ear of the King is more important than the King. If you have that talent, what you do or say in public cannot be held accountable in the same way.” Another Strauss critic, Stephen Holmes, a law professor at New York University, put the Straussians’ position this way: “They believe that your enemy is deceiving you, and you have to pretend to agree, but secretly you follow your own views.” Holmes added, “The whole story is complicated by Strauss’s idea - actually Plato’s - that philosophers need to tell noble lies not only to the people at large but also to powerful politicians.”
When I asked one of Strauss’s staunchest defenders, Joseph Cropsey, professor emeritus of political science at Chicago, about the use of Strauss’s views in the area of policymaking, he told me that common sense alone suggested that a certain amount of deception is essential in government. “That people in government have to be discreet in what they say publicly is so obvious—‘If I tell you the truth I can’t but help the enemy.’ “ But there is nothing in Strauss’s work, he added, that “favors preëmptive action. What it favors is prudence and sound judgment. If you could have got rid of Hitler in the nineteen-thirties, who’s not going to be in favor of that? You don’t need Strauss to reach that conclusion.”
Some former intelligence officials believe that Shulsky and his superiors were captives of their own convictions, and were merely deceiving themselves. Vincent Cannistraro, the former chief of counter-terrorism operations and analysis at the C.I.A., worked with Shulsky at a Washington think tank after his retirement. He said, “Abe is very gentle and slow to anger, with a sense of irony. But his politics were typical for his group - the Straussian view.” The group’s members, Cannistraro said, “reinforce each other because they’re the only friends they have, and they all work together. This has been going on since the nineteen-eighties, but they’ve never been able to coalesce as they have now. September 11th gave them the opportunity, and now they’re in heaven. They believe the intelligence is there. They want to believe it. It has to be there.”
The rising influence of the Office of Special Plans has been accompanied by a decline in the influence of the C.I.A. and the D.I.A. One internal Pentagon memorandum went so far as to suggest that terrorism experts in the government and outside it had deliberately “downplayed or sought to disprove” the link between Al Qaeda and Iraq. “For many years, there has been a bias in the intelligence community” against defectors, the memorandum said. It urged that two analysts working with Shulsky be given the authority to “investigate linkages to Iraq” by having access to the “proper debriefing of key Iraqi defectors.”
A former C.I.A. task-force leader who is a consultant to the Bush Administration said that many analysts in the C.I.A. are convinced that the Chalabi group’s defector reports on weapons of mass destruction and Al Qaeda have produced little of value, but said that the agency “is not fighting it.” He said that the D.I.A. had studied the information as well. “Even the D.I.A. can’t find any value in it.” (The Pentagon, asked for comment, denied that there had been disputes between the C.I.A. and Special Plans over the validity of intelligence.)
In interviews, former C.I.A. officers and analysts described the agency as increasingly demoralized. “George knows he’s being beaten up,” one former officer said of George Tenet, the C.I.A. director. “And his analysts are terrified. George used to protect his people, but he’s been forced to do things their way.” Because the C.I.A.’s analysts are now on the defensive, “they write reports justifying their intelligence rather than saying what’s going on. The Defense Department and the Office of the Vice-President write their own pieces, based on their own ideology. We collect so much stuff that you can find anything you want.”
“They see themselves as outsiders, ” a former C.I.A. expert who spent the past decade immersed in Iraqi-exile affairs said of the Special Plans people. He added, “There’s a high degree of paranoia. They’ve convinced themselves that they’re on the side of angels, and everybody else in the government is a fool.”
More than a year’s worth of increasingly bitter debate over the value and integrity of the Special Plans intelligence came to a halt in March, when President Bush authorized the war against Iraq. After a few weeks of fighting, Saddam Hussein’s regime collapsed, leaving American forces to declare victory against a backdrop of disorder and uncertainty about the country’s future. Ahmad Chalabi and the I.N.C. continued to provoke fights within the Bush Administration. The Pentagon flew Chalabi and hundreds of his supporters, heavily armed, into Iraq, amid tight security, over angry objections from the State Department. Chalabi is now establishing himself in Baghdad. His advocates in the Pentagon point out that he is not only a Shiite, like the majority of Iraqis, but also, as one scholar put it, “a completely Westernized businessman” (he emigrated to England with his parents in 1958, when he was a boy), which is one reason the State Department doubts whether he can gain support among Iraqis.
Chalabi is not the only point of contention, however. The failure, as of last week, to find weapons of mass destruction in places where the Pentagon’s sources confidently predicted they would be found has reanimated the debate on the quality of the office’s intelligence. A former high-level intelligence official told me that American Special Forces units had been sent into Iraq in mid-March, before the start of the air and ground war, to investigate sites suspected of being missile or chemical- and biological-weapon storage depots. “They came up with nothing,” the official said. “Never found a single Scud.”
Since then, there have been a number of false alarms and a tip that weapons may have been destroyed in the last days before the war, but no solid evidence. On April 22nd, Hans Blix, hours before he asked the U.N. Security Council to send his team back to Iraq, told the BBC, “I think it’s been one of the disturbing elements that so much of the intelligence on which the capitals built their case seemed to have been so shaky.”
There is little self-doubt or second-guessing in the Pentagon over the failure to immediately find the weapons. The Pentagon adviser to Special Plans told me he believed that the delay “means nothing. We’ve got to wait to get all the answers from Iraqi scientists who will tell us where they are.” Similarly, the Pentagon official who works for Luti said last week, “I think they’re hidden in the mountains or transferred to some friendly countries. Saddam had enough time to move them.” There were suggestions from the Pentagon that Saddam might be shipping weapons over the border to Syria. “It’s bait and switch,” the former high-level intelligence official said. “Bait them into Iraq with weapons of mass destruction. And, when they aren’t found, there’s this whole bullshit about the weapons being in Syria.”
In Congress, a senior legislative aide said, “Some members are beginning to ask and to wonder, but cautiously.” For now, he told me, “the members don’t have the confidence to say that the Administration is off base.” He also commented, “For many, it makes little difference. We vanquished a bad guy and liberated the Iraqi people. Some are astute enough to recognize that the alleged imminent W.M.D. threat to the U.S. was a pretext. I sometimes have to pinch myself when friends or family ask with incredulity about the lack of W.M.D., and remind myself that the average person has the idea that there are mountains of the stuff over there, ready to be tripped over. The more time elapses, the more people are going to wonder about this, but I don’t think it will sway U.S. public opinion much. Everyone loves to be on the winning side.”
Weapons may yet be found. Iraq is a big country, as the Administration has repeatedly pointed out in recent weeks. In a speech last week, President Bush said, “We’ve begun the search for hidden chemical and biological weapons, and already know of hundreds of sites that will be investigated.” Meanwhile, if the American advance hasn’t uncovered stashes of weapons of mass destruction, it has turned up additional graphic evidence of the brutality of the regime. But Saddam Hussein’s cruelty was documented long before September 11th, and was not the principal reason the Bush Administration gave to the world for the necessity of war.
Former Senator Bob Kerrey, a Democrat who served on the Senate Intelligence Committee, has been a strong supporter of the President’s decision to overthrow Saddam. “I do think building a democratic secular state in Iraq justifies everything we’ve done,” Kerrey, who is now president of New School University, in New York, told me. “But they’ve taken the intelligence on weapons and expanded it beyond what was justified.” Speaking of the hawks, he said, “It appeared that they understood that to get the American people on their side they needed to come up with something more to say than ‘We’ve liberated Iraq and got rid of a tyrant.’ So they had to find some ties to weapons of mass destruction and were willing to allow a majority of Americans to incorrectly conclude that the invasion of Iraq had something to do with the World Trade Center. Overemphasizing the national-security threat made it more difficult to get the rest of the world on our side. It was the weakest and most misleading argument we could use.” Kerrey added, “It appears that they have the intelligence. The problem is, they didn’t like the conclusions.”
By Seymour Hersh, First Published in The New Yorker, May 12, 2003
3. The Stovepipe
How conflicts between the Bush Administration and the intelligence community marred the reporting on Iraq’s weapons.
by Seymour Hersh...
Since midsummer, the Senate Intelligence Committee has been attempting to solve the biggest mystery of the Iraq war: the disparity between the Bush Administration’s prewar assessment of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and what has actually been discovered.
The committee is concentrating on the last ten years’ worth of reports by the C.I.A. Preliminary findings, one intelligence official told me, are disquieting. “The intelligence community made all kinds of errors and handled things sloppily,” he said. The problems range from a lack of quality control to different agencies’ reporting contradictory assessments at the same time. One finding, the official went on, was that the intelligence reports about Iraq provided by the United Nations inspection teams and the International Atomic Energy Agency, which monitored Iraq’s nuclear-weapons programs, were far more accurate than the C.I.A. estimates. “Some of the old-timers in the community are appalled by how bad the analysis was,” the official said. “If you look at them side by side, C.I.A. versus United Nations, the U.N. agencies come out ahead across the board.”
There were, of course, good reasons to worry about Saddam Hussein’s possession of W.M.D.s. He had manufactured and used chemical weapons in the past, and had experimented with biological weapons; before the first Gulf War, he maintained a multibillion-dollar nuclear-weapons program. In addition, there were widespread doubts about the efficacy of the U.N. inspection teams, whose operations in Iraq were repeatedly challenged and disrupted by Saddam Hussein. Iraq was thought to have manufactured at least six thousand more chemical weapons than the U.N. could account for. And yet, as some former U.N. inspectors often predicted, the tons of chemical and biological weapons that the American public was led to expect have thus far proved illusory. As long as that remains the case, one question will be asked more and more insistently: How did the American intelligence community get it so wrong?
Part of the answer lies in decisions made early in the Bush Administration, before the events of September 11, 2001. In interviews with present and former intelligence officials, I was told that some senior Administration people, soon after coming to power, had bypassed the government’s customary procedures for vetting intelligence.
A retired C.I.A. officer described for me some of the questions that would normally arise in vetting: “Does dramatic information turned up by an overseas spy square with his access, or does it exceed his plausible reach? How does the agent behave? Is he on time for meetings?” The vetting process is especially important when one is dealing with foreign-agent reports - sensitive intelligence that can trigger profound policy decisions. In theory, no request for action should be taken directly to higher authorities - a process known as “stove piping” - without the information on which it is based having been subjected to rigorous scrutiny.
The point is not that the President and his senior aides were consciously lying. What was taking place was much more systematic - and potentially just as troublesome. Kenneth Pollack, a former National Security Council expert on Iraq, whose book “The Threatening Storm” generally supported the use of force to remove Saddam Hussein, told me that what the Bush people did was “dismantle the existing filtering process that for fifty years had been preventing the policymakers from getting bad information. They created stovepipes to get the information they wanted directly to the top leadership. Their position is that the professional bureaucracy is deliberately and maliciously keeping information from them.
“They always had information to back up their public claims, but it was often very bad information,” Pollack continued. “They were forcing the intelligence community to defend its good information and good analysis so aggressively that the intelligence analysts didn’t have the time or the energy to go after the bad information.” The Administration eventually got its way, a former C.I.A. official said. “The analysts at the C.I.A. were beaten down defending their assessments. And they blame George Tenet” - the C.I.A. director - “for not protecting them. I’ve never seen a government like this.”
A few months after George Bush took office, Greg Thielmann, an expert on disarmament with the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research, or INR, was assigned to be the daily intelligence liaison to John Bolton, the Under-Secretary of State for Arms Control, who is a prominent conservative. Thielmann understood that his posting had been mandated by Secretary of State Colin Powell, who thought that every important State Department bureau should be assigned a daily intelligence officer. “Bolton was the guy with whom I had to do business,” Thielmann said. “We were going to provide him with all the information he was entitled to see. That’s what being a professional intelligence officer is all about.”
But, Thielmann told me, “Bolton seemed to be troubled because INR was not telling him what he wanted to hear.” Thielmann soon found himself shut out of Bolton’s early-morning staff meetings. “I was intercepted at the door of his office and told, ‘The Under-Secretary doesn’t need you to attend this meeting anymore.’ “ When Thielmann protested that he was there to provide intelligence input, the aide said, “The Under-Secretary wants to keep this in the family.”
Eventually, Thielmann said, Bolton demanded that he and his staff have direct electronic access to sensitive intelligence, such as foreign-agent reports and electronic intercepts. In previous Administrations, such data had been made available to under-secretaries only after it was analyzed, usually in the specially secured offices of INR. The whole point of the intelligence system in place, according to Thielmann, was “to prevent raw intelligence from getting to people who would be misled.” Bolton, however, wanted his aides to receive and assign intelligence analyses and assessments using the raw data. In essence, the under-secretary would be running his own intelligence operation, without any guidance or support. “He surrounded himself with a hand-chosen group of loyalists, and found a way to get C.I.A. information directly,” Thielmann said.
In a subsequent interview, Bolton acknowledged that he had changed the procedures for handling intelligence, in an effort to extend the scope of the classified materials available to his office. “I found that there was lots of stuff that I wasn’t getting and that the INR analysts weren’t including,” he told me. “I didn’t want it filtered. I wanted to see everything - to be fully informed. If that puts someone’s nose out of joint, sorry about that.” Bolton told me that he wanted to reach out to the intelligence community but that Thielmann had “invited himself” to his daily staff meetings. “This was my meeting with the four assistant secretaries who report to me, in preparation for the Secretary’s 8:30 a.m.staff meeting,” Bolton said. “This was within my family of bureaus. There was no place for INR or anyone else - the Human Resources Bureau or the Office of Foreign Buildings.”
There was also a change in procedure at the Pentagon under Paul Wolfowitz, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, and Douglas Feith, the Under-Secretary for Policy. In the early summer of 2001, a career official assigned to a Pentagon planning office undertook a routine evaluation of the assumption, adopted by Wolfowitz and Feith, that the Iraqi National Congress, an exile group headed by Ahmad Chalabi, could play a major role in a coup d’état to oust Saddam Hussein. They also assumed that Chalabi, after the coup, would be welcomed by Iraqis as a hero.
An official familiar with the evaluation described how it subjected that scenario to the principle of what planners call “branches and sequels” - that is, “plan for what you expect not to happen.” The official said, “It was a ‘what could go wrong’ study. What if it turns out that Ahmad Chalabi is not so popular? What’s Plan B if you discover that Chalabi and his boys don’t have it in them to accomplish the overthrow?”
The people in the policy offices didn’t seem to care. When the official asked about the analysis, he was told by a colleague that the new Pentagon leadership wanted to focus not on what could go wrong but on what would go right. He was told that the study’s exploration of options amounted to planning for failure. “Their methodology was analogous to tossing a coin five times and assuming that it would always come up heads,” the official told me. “You need to think about what would happen if it comes up tails.”
Getting rid of Saddam Hussein and his regime had been a priority for Wolfowitz and others in and around the Administration since the end of the first Gulf War. For years, Iraq hawks had seen a coup led by Chalabi as the best means of achieving that goal. After September 11th, however, and the military’s quick victory in Afghanistan, the notion of a coup gave way to the idea of an American invasion.
In a speech on November 14, 2001, as the Taliban were being routed in Afghanistan, Richard Perle, a Pentagon consultant with long-standing ties to Wolfowitz, Feith, and Chalabi, articulated what would become the Bush Administration’s most compelling argument for going to war with Iraq: the possibility that, with enough time, Saddam Hussein would be capable of attacking the United States with a nuclear weapon. Perle cited testimony from Dr. Khidhir Hamza, an Iraqi defector, who declared that Saddam Hussein, in response to the 1981 Israeli bombing of the Osiraq nuclear reactor, near Baghdad, had ordered future nuclear facilities to be dispersed at four hundred sites across the nation. “Every day,” Perle said, these sites “turn out a little bit of nuclear materials.” He told his audience, “Do we wait for Saddam and hope for the best, do we wait and hope he doesn’t do what we know he is capable of . . . or do we take some preemptive action?”
In fact, the best case for the success of the U.N. inspection process in Iraq was in the area of nuclear arms. In October, 1997, the International Atomic Energy Agency issued a definitive report declaring Iraq to be essentially free of nuclear weapons. The I.A.E.A.’s inspectors said, “There are no indications that there remains in Iraq any physical capability for the production of amounts of weapon-usable nuclear material of any practical significance.” The report noted that Iraq’s nuclear facilities had been destroyed by American bombs in the 1991 Gulf War.
The study’s main author, Garry Dillon, a British nuclear-safety engineer who spent twenty-three years working for the I.A.E.A. and retired as its chief of inspection, told me that it was “highly unlikely” that Iraq had been able to maintain a secret or hidden program to produce significant amounts of weapons-usable material, given the enormous progress in the past decade in the technical ability of I.A.E.A. inspectors to detect radioactivity in ground locations and in waterways. “This is not kitchen chemistry,” Dillon said. “You’re talking factory scale, and in any operation there are leaks.”
The Administration could offer little or no recent firsthand intelligence to contradict the I.A.E.A.’s 1997 conclusions. During the Clinton years, there had been a constant flow of troubling intelligence reports on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, but most were in the context of worst-case analyses - what Iraq could do without adequate United Nations inspections - and included few, if any, reliable reports from agents inside the country. The inspectors left in 1998. Many of the new reports that the Bush people were receiving came from defectors who had managed to flee Iraq with help from the Iraqi National Congress. The defectors gave dramatic accounts of Iraq’s efforts to reconstituteits nuclear-weapons program, and of its alleged production of chemical and biological weapons - but the accounts could not be corroborated by the available intelligence.
Greg Thielmann, after being turned away from Bolton’s office, worked with the INR staff on a major review of Iraq’s progress in developing W.M.D.s. The review, presented to Secretary of State Powell in December, 2001, echoed the earlier I.A.E.A. findings. According to Thielmann, “It basically said that there is no persuasive evidence that the Iraqi nuclear program is being reconstituted.”
The defectors, however, had an audience prepared to believe the worst. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld had long complained about the limits of American intelligence. In the late nineteen-nineties, for example, he had chaired a commission on ballistic-missile programs that criticized the unwillingness of intelligence analysts “to make estimates that extended beyond the hard evidence they had in hand.” After he became Secretary of Defense, a separate intelligence unit was set up in the Pentagon’s policy office, under the control of William Luti, a senior aide to Feith. This office, which circumvented the usual procedures of vetting and transparency, stovepiped many of its findings to the highest-ranking officials.
In the fall of 2001, soon after the September 11th attacks, the C.I.A. received an intelligence report from Italy’s Military Intelligence and Security Service, or sismi, about a public visit that Wissam al-Zahawie, then the Iraqi Ambassador to the Vatican, had made to Niger and three other African nations two and a half years earlier, in February, 1999. The visit had been covered at the time by the local press in Niger and by a French press agency. The American Ambassador, Charles O. Cecil, filed a routine report to Washington on the visit, as did British intelligence. There was nothing untoward about the Zahawie visit. “We reported it because his picture appeared in the paper with the President,” Cecil, who is now retired, told me. There was no article accompanying the photograph, only the caption, and nothing significant to report. At the time, Niger, which had sent hundreds of troops in support of the American-led Gulf War in 1991, was actively seeking economic assistance from the United States.
None of the contemporaneous reports, as far as is known, made any mention of uranium. But now, apparently as part of a larger search for any pertinent information about terrorism, sismi dug the Zahawie-trip report out of its files and passed it along, with a suggestion that Zahawie’s real mission was to arrange the purchase of a form of uranium ore known as “yellowcake.” (Yellowcake, which has been a major Niger export for decades, can be used to make fuel for nuclear reactors. It can also be converted, if processed differently, into weapons-grade uranium.)
What made the two-and-a-half-year-old report stand out in Washington was its relative freshness. A 1999 attempt by Iraq to buy uranium ore, if verified, would seem to prove that Saddam had been working to reconstitute his nuclear program - and give the lie to the I.A.E.A. and to intelligence reports inside the American government that claimed otherwise. The sismi report, however, was unpersuasive. Inside the American intelligence community, it was dismissed as amateurish and unsubstantiated. One former senior C.I.A. official told me that the initial report from Italy contained no documents but only a written summary of allegations. “I can fully believe that sismi would put out a piece of intelligence like that,” a C.I.A. consultant told me, “but why anybody would put credibility in it is beyond me.” No credible documents have emerged since to corroborate it.
The intelligence report was quickly stovepiped to those officials who had an intense interest in building the case against Iraq, including Vice-President Dick Cheney. “The Vice-President saw a piece of intelligence reporting that Niger was attempting to buy uranium,” Cathie Martin, the spokeswoman for Cheney, told me. Sometime after he first saw it, Cheney brought it up at his regularly scheduled daily briefing from the C.I.A., Martin said. “He asked the briefer a question. The briefer came back a day or two later and said, ‘We do have a report, but there’s a lack of details.’ “ The Vice-President was further told that it was known that Iraq had acquired uranium ore from Niger in the early nineteen-eighties but that that material had been placed in secure storage by the I.A.E.A., which was monitoring it. “End of story,” Martin added. “That’s all we know.” According to a former high-level C.I.A. official, however, Cheney was dissatisfied with the initial response, and asked the agency to review the matter once again. It was the beginning of what turned out to be a year-long tug-of-war between the C.I.A. and the Vice-President’s office.
As the campaign against Iraq intensified, a former aide to Cheney told me, the Vice-President’s office, run by his chief of staff, Lewis (Scooter) Libby, became increasingly secretive when it came to intelligence about Iraq’s W.M.D.s. As with Wolfowitz and Bolton, there was a reluctance to let the military and civilian analysts on the staff vet intelligence.
“It was an unbelievably closed and small group,” the former aide told me. Intelligence procedures were far more open during the Clinton Administration, he said, and professional staff members had been far more involved in assessing and evaluating the most sensitive data. “There’s so much intelligence out there that it’s easy to pick and choose your case,” the former aide told me. “It opens things up to cherry-picking.” (“Some reporting is sufficiently sensitive that it is restricted only to the very top officials of the government - as it should be,” Cathie Martin said. And any restrictions, she added, emanate from C.I.A. security requirements.)
By early 2002, the seism intelligence - still unverified - had begun to play a role in the Administration’s warnings about the Iraqi nuclear threat. On January 30th, the C.I.A. published an unclassified report to Congress that stated, “Baghdad may be attempting to acquire materials that could aid in reconstituting its nuclear-weapons program.” A week later, Colin Powell told the House International Relations Committee, “With respect to the nuclear program, there is no doubt that the Iraqis are pursuing it.”
The C.I.A. assessment reflected both deep divisions within the agency and the position of its director, George Tenet, which was far from secure. (The agency had been sharply criticized, after all, for failing to provide any effective warning of the September 11th attacks.) In the view of many C.I.A. analysts and operatives, the director was too eager to endear himself to the Administration hawks and improve his standing with the President and the Vice-President. Senior C.I.A. analysts dealing with Iraq were constantly being urged by the Vice-President’s office to provide worst-case assessments on Iraqi weapons issues. “They got pounded on, day after day,” one senior Bush Administration official told me, and received no consistent backup from Tenet and his senior staff. “Pretty soon you say ‘Fuck it.’ “ And they began to provide the intelligence that was wanted.
In late February, the C.I.A. persuaded retired Ambassador Joseph Wilson to fly to Niger to discreetly check out the story of the uranium sale. Wilson, who is now a business consultant, had excellent credentials: he had been deputy chief of mission in Baghdad, had served as a diplomat in Africa, and had worked in the White House for the National Security Council. He was known as an independent diplomat who had put himself in harm’s way to help American citizens abroad.
Wilson told me he was informed at the time that the mission had come about because the Vice-President’s office was interested in the Italian intelligence report. Before his departure, he was summoned to a meeting at the C.I.A. with a group of government experts on Iraq, Niger, and uranium. He was shown no documents but was told, he said, that the C.I.A. “was responding to a report that was recently received of a purported memorandum of agreement” - between Iraq and Niger - “that our boys had gotten.” He added, “It was never clear to me, or to the people who were briefing me, whether our guys had actually seen the agreement, or the purported text of an agreement.” Wilson’s trip to Niger, which lasted eight days, produced nothing. He learned that any memorandum of understanding to sell yellowcake would have required the signatures of Niger’s Prime Minister, Foreign Minister, and Minister of Mines. “I saw everybody out there,” Wilson said, and no one had signed such a document. “If a document purporting to be about the sale contained those signatures, it would not be authentic.” Wilson also learned that there was no uranium available to sell: it had all been pre-sold to Niger’s Japanese and European consortium partners.
Wilson returned to Washington and made his report. It was circulated, he said, but “I heard nothing about what the Vice-President’s office thought about it.” (In response, Cathie Martin said, “The Vice-President doesn’t know Joe Wilson and did not know about his trip until he read about it in the press.” The first press accounts appeared fifteen months after Wilson’s trip.)
By early March, 2002, a former White House official told me, it was understood by many in the White House that the President had decided, in his own mind, to go to war. The undeclared decision had a devastating impact on the continuing struggle against terrorism. The Bush Administration took many intelligence operations that had been aimed at Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups around the world and redirected them to the Persian Gulf. Linguists and special operatives were abruptly reassigned, and several ongoing anti-terrorism intelligence programs were curtailed.
Chalabi’s defector reports were now flowing from the Pentagon directly to the Vice-President’s office, and then on to the President, with little prior evaluation by intelligence professionals. When INR analysts did get a look at the reports, they were troubled by what they found. “They’d pick apart a report and find out that the source had been wrong before, or had no access to the information provided,” Greg Thielmann told me. “There was considerable skepticism throughout the intelligence community about the reliability of Chalabi’s sources, but the defector reports were coming all the time. Knock one down and another comes along. Meanwhile, the garbage was being shoved straight to the President.”
A routine settled in: the Pentagon’s defector reports, classified “secret,” would be funnelled to newspapers, but subsequent C.I.A. and INR analyses of the reports - invariably scathing but also classified - would remain secret. “It became a personality issue,” a Pentagon consultant said of the Bush Administration’s handling of intelligence. “My fact is better than your fact. The whole thing is a failure of process. Nobody goes to primary sources.” The intelligence community was in full retreat.
In the spring of 2002, the former White House official told me, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz began urging the President to release more than ninety million dollars in federal funds to Chalabi. The 1998 Iraq Liberation Act had authorized ninety-seven million dollars for the Iraqi opposition, but most of the funds had not been expended. The State Department opposed releasing the rest of the money, arguing that Chalabi had failed to account properly for the funds he had already received. “The Vice-President came into a meeting furious that we hadn’t given the money to Chalabi,” the former official recalled. Cheney said, “Here we are, denying him money, when they” - the Iraqi National Congress - “are providing us with unique intelligence on Iraqi W.M.D.s.” In late summer, the White House sharply escalated the nuclear rhetoric. There were at least two immediate targets: the midterm congressional elections and the pending vote on a congressional resolution authorizing the President to take any action he deemed necessary in Iraq, to protect America’s national security.
On August 7th, Vice-President Cheney, speaking in California, said of Saddam Hussein, “What we know now, from various sources, is that he . . . continues to pursue a nuclear weapon.” On August 26th, Cheney suggested that Saddam had a nuclear capability that could directly threaten “anyone he chooses, in his own region or beyond.” He added that the Iraqis were continuing “to pursue the nuclear program they began so many years ago.” On September 8th, he told a television interviewer, “We do know, with absolute certainty, that he is using his procurement system to acquire the equipment he needs in order to enrich uranium to build a nuclear weapon.” The President himself, in his weekly radio address on September 14th, stated, “Saddam Hussein has the scientists and infrastructure for a nuclear-weapons program, and has illicitly sought to purchase the equipment needed to enrich uranium for a nuclear weapon.” There was no confirmed intelligence for the President’s assertion.
The government of the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, President Bush’s closest ally, was also brought in. As Blair later told a British government inquiry, he and Bush had talked by telephone that summer about the need “to disclose what we knew or as much as we could of what we knew.” Blair loyally took the lead: on September 24th, the British government issued a dossier dramatizing the W.M.D. threat posed by Iraq. In a foreword, Blair proclaimed that “the assessed intelligence has established beyond doubt that Saddam . . . continues in his efforts to develop nuclear weapons.” The dossier noted that intelligence - based, again, largely on the seism report - showed that Iraq had “sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.” A subsequent parliamentary inquiry determined that the published statement had been significantly toned down after the C.I.A. warned its British counterpart not to include the claim in the dossier, and in the final version Niger was not named, nor was sismi.
The White House, meanwhile, had been escalating its rhetoric. In a television interview on September 8th, Condoleezza Rice, the national-security adviser, addressing questions about the strength of the Administration’s case against Iraq, said, “We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud” - a formulation that was taken up by hawks in the Administration. And, in a speech on October 7th, President Bush said, “Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof - the smoking gun - that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.”
At that moment, in early October, 2002, a set of documents suddenly appeared that promised to provide solid evidence that Iraq was attempting to reconstitute its nuclear program. The first notice of the documents’ existence came when Elisabetta Burba, a reporter for Panorama, a glossy Italian weekly owned by the publishing empire of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, received a telephone call from an Italian businessman and security consultant whom she believed to have once been connected to Italian intelligence. He told her that he had information connecting Saddam Hussein to the purchase of uranium in Africa. She considered the informant credible. In 1995, when she worked for the magazine Epoca, he had provided her with detailed information, apparently from Western intelligence sources, for articles she published dealing with the peace process in Bosnia and with an Islamic charity that was linked to international terrorism. The information, some of it in English, proved to be accurate. Epoch had authorized her to pay around four thousand dollars for the documents - a common journalistic practice in Italy.
Now, years later, “he comes to me again,” Burba told me. “I knew he was an informed person, and that he had contacts all over the world, including in the Middle East. He deals with investment and security issues.” When Burba met with the man, he showed her the Niger documents and offered to sell them to her for about ten thousand dollars.
The documents he gave her were photocopies. There were twenty-two pages, mostly in French, some with the letterhead of the Niger government or Embassy, and two on the stationery of the Iraqi Embassy to the Holy See. There were also telexes. When Burba asked how the documents could be authenticated, the man produced what appeared to be a photocopy of the codebook from the Niger Embassy, along with other items. “What I was sure of was that he had access,” Burba said. “He didn’t receive the documents from the moon.”
The documents dealt primarily with the alleged sale of uranium, Burba said. She informed her editors, and shared the photocopies with them. She wanted to arrange a visit to Niger to verify what seemed to be an astonishing story. At that point, however, Panorama’s editor-in-chief, Carlo Rossella, who is known for his ties to the Berlusconi government, told Burba to turn the documents over to the American Embassy for authentication. Burba dutifully took a copy of the papers to the Embassy on October 9th.
A week later, Burba travelled to Niger. She visited mines and the ports that any exports would pass through, spoke to European businessmen and officials informed about Niger’s uranium industry, and found no trace of a sale. She also learned that the transport company and the bank mentioned in the papers were too small and too ill-equipped to handle such a transaction. As Ambassador Wilson had done eight months earlier, she concluded that there was no evidence of a recent sale of yellowcake to Iraq. The Panorama story was dead, and Burba and her editors said that no money was paid. The documents, however, were now in American hands.
Two former C.I.A. officials provided slightly different accounts of what happened next. “The Embassy was alerted that the papers were coming,” the first former official told me, “and it passed them directly to Washington without even vetting them inside the Embassy.” Once the documents were in Washington, they were forwarded by the C.I.A. to the Pentagon, he said. “Everybody knew at every step of the way that they were false - until they got to the Pentagon, where they were believed.”
The documents were just what Administration hawks had been waiting for. The second former official, Vincent Cannistraro, who served as chief of counter-terrorism operations and analysis, told me that copies of the Burba documents were given to the American Embassy, which passed them on to the C.I.A.’s chief of station in Rome, who forwarded them to Washington. Months later, he said, he telephoned a contact at C.I.A. headquarters and was told that “the jury was still out on this” - that is, on the authenticity of the documents.
George Tenet clearly was ambivalent about the information: in early October, he intervened to prevent the President from referring to Niger in a speech in Cincinnati. But Tenet then seemed to give up the fight, and Saddam’s desire for uranium from Niger soon became part of the Administration’s public case for going to war. On December 7th, the Iraqi regime provided the U.N. Security Council with a twelve-thousand-page series of documents in which it denied having a W.M.D. arsenal. Very few in the press, the public, or the White House believed it, and a State Department rebuttal, on December 19th, asked, “Why is the Iraqi regime hiding their Niger procurement?” It was the first time that Niger had been publicly identified. In a January 23rd Op-Ed column in the Times, entitled “Why We Know Iraq Is Lying,” Condoleezza Rice wrote that the “false declaration . . . fails to account for or explain Iraq’s efforts to get uranium from abroad.” On January 26th, Secretary Powell, speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, asked, “Why is Iraq still trying to procure uranium?” Two days later, President Bush described the alleged sale in his State of the Union address, saying, “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.”
Who produced the fake Niger papers? There is nothing approaching a consensus on this question within the intelligence community. There has been published speculation about the intelligence services of several different countries. One theory, favored by some journalists in Rome, is that sismiproduced the false documents and passed them to Panorama for publication.
Another explanation was provided by a former senior C.I.A. officer. He had begun talking to me about the Niger papers in March, when I first wrote about the forgery, and said, “Somebody deliberately let something false get in there.” He became more forthcoming in subsequent months, eventually saying that a small group of disgruntled retired C.I.A. clandestine operators had banded together in the late summer of last year and drafted the fraudulent documents themselves.
“The agency guys were so pissed at Cheney,” the former officer said. “They said, ‘O.K, we’re going to put the bite on these guys.’ “ My source said that he was first told of the fabrication late last year, at one of the many holiday gatherings in the Washington area of past and present C.I.A. officials. “Everyone was bragging about it - ‘Here’s what we did. It was cool, cool, cool.’ “ These retirees, he said, had superb contacts among current officers in the agency and were informed in detail of the sismi intelligence.
“They thought that, with this crowd, it was the only way to go - to nail these guys who were not practicing good tradecraft and vetting intelligence,” my source said. “They thought it’d be bought at lower levels - a big bluff.” The thinking, he said, was that the documents would be endorsed by Iraq hawks at the top of the Bush Administration, who would be unable to resist flaunting them at a press conference or an interagency government meeting. They would then look foolish when intelligence officials pointed out that they were obvious fakes. But the tactic backfired, he said, when the papers won widespread acceptance within the Administration. “It got out of control.”
Like all large institutions, C.I.A. headquarters, in Langley, Virginia, is full of water-cooler gossip, and a retired clandestine officer told me this summer that the story about a former operations officer faking the documents is making the rounds. “What’s telling,” he added, “is that the story, whether it’s true or not, is believed” - an extraordinary commentary on the level of mistrust, bitterness, and demoralization within the C.I.A. under the Bush Administration. (William Harlow, the C.I.A. spokesman, said that the agency had no more evidence that former members of the C.I.A. had forged the documents “than we have that they were forged by Mr. Hersh.”)
The F.B.I. has been investigating the forgery at the request of the Senate Intelligence Committee. A senior F.B.I. official told me that the possibility that the documents were falsified by someone inside the American intelligence community had not been ruled out. “This story could go several directions,” he said. “We haven’t gotten anything solid, and we’ve looked.” He said that the F.B.I. agents assigned to the case are putting a great deal of effort into the investigation. But “somebody’s hiding something, and they’re hiding it pretty well.” President Bush’s State of the Union speech had startled Elisabetta Burba, the Italian reporter. She had been handed documents and had personally taken them to the American Embassy, and she now knew from her trip to Niger that they were false. Later, Burba revisited her source. “I wanted to know what happened,” she said. “He told me that he didn’t know the documents were false, and said he’d also been fooled. ”
Burba, convinced that she had the story of the year, wanted to publish her account immediately after the President’s speech, but Carlo Rossella, Panorama’seditor-in-chief, decided against it. Rossella explained to me, “When I heard the State of the Union statement, I thought to myself that perhaps the United States government has other information. I didn’t think the documents were that important - they weren’t trustable.” Eventually, in July, after her name appeared in the press, Burba published an account of her role. She told me that she was interviewed at the American consulate in Milan by three agents for the F.B.I. in early September.
The State of the Union speech was confounding to many members of the intelligence community, who could not understand how such intelligence could have got to the President without vetting. The former intelligence official who gave me the account of the forging of the documents told me that his colleagues were also startled by the speech. “They said, ‘Holy shit, all of a sudden the President is talking about it in the State of the Union address!’ They began to panic. Who the hell was going to expose it? They had to build a backfire. The solution was to leak the documents to the I.A.E.A.”
I subsequently met with a group of senior I.A.E.A. officials in Vienna, where the organization has its headquarters. In an interview over dinner, they told me that they did not even know the papers existed until early February of this year, a few days after the President’s speech. The I.A.E.A. had been asking Washington and London for their evidence of Iraq’s pursuit of African uranium, without receiving any response, ever since the previous September, when word of it turned up in the British dossier. After Niger was specified in the State Department’s fact sheet of December 19, 2002, the I.A.E.A. became more insistent. “I started to harass the United States,” recalled Jacques Baute, a Frenchman who, as director of the I.A.E.A.’s Iraq Nuclear Verification Office, often harassed Washington. Mark Gwozdecky, the I.A.E.A.’s spokesman, added, “We were asking for actionable evidence, and Jacques was getting almost nothing. ”
On February 4, 2003, while Baute was on a plane bound for New York to attend a United Nations Security Council meeting on the Iraqi weapons dispute, the U.S. Mission in Vienna suddenly briefed members of Baute’s team on the Niger papers, but still declined to hand over the documents. “I insisted on seeing the documents myself,” Baute said, “and was provided with them upon my arrival in New York.” The next day, Secretary Powell made his case for going to war against Iraq before the U.N. Security Council. The presentation did not mention Niger—a fact that did not escape Baute. I.A.E.A. officials told me that they were puzzled by the timing of the American decision to provide the documents. Baute quickly concluded that they were fake.
Over the next few weeks, I.A.E.A. officials conducted further investigations, which confirmed the fraud. They also got in touch with American and British officials to inform them of the findings, and give them a chance to respond. Nothing was forthcoming, and so the I.A.E.A.’s director-general, Mohamed ElBaradei, publicly described the fraud at his next scheduled briefing to the U.N. Security Council, in New York on March 7th. The story slowly began to unravel.
Vice-President Cheney responded to ElBaradei’s report mainly by attacking the messenger. On March 16th, Cheney, appearing on “Meet the Press,” stated emphatically that the United States had reason to believe that Saddam Hussein had reconstituted his nuclear-weapons program. He went on, “I think Mr. ElBaradei frankly is wrong. And I think if you look at the track record of the International Atomic Energy Agency on this kind of issue, especially where Iraq’s concerned, they have consistently underestimated or missed what it was Saddam Hussein was doing. I don’t have any reason to believe they’re any more valid this time than they’ve been in the past.” Three days later, the war in Iraq got under way, and the tale of the African-uranium-connection forgery sank from view.
Joseph Wilson, the diplomat who had travelled to Africa to investigate the allegation more than a year earlier, revived the Niger story. He was angered by what he saw as the White House’s dishonesty about Niger, and in early May he casually mentioned his mission to Niger, and his findings, during a brief talk about Iraq at a political conference in suburban Washington sponsored by the Senate Democratic Policy Committee (Wilson is a Democrat). Another speaker at the conference was the Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, who got Wilson’s permission to mention the Niger trip in a column. A few months later, on July 6th, Wilson wrote about the trip himself on the Times Op-Ed page. “I gave them months to correct the record,” he told me, speaking of the White House, “but they kept on lying.”
The White House responded by blaming the intelligence community for the Niger reference in the State of the Union address. Condoleezza Rice, the national-security adviser, told a television interviewer on July 13th, “Had there been even a peep that the agency did not want that sentence in or that George Tenet did not want that sentence . . . it would have been gone.” Five days later, a senior White House official went a step further, telling reporters at a background briefing that they had the wrong impression about Joseph Wilson’s trip to Niger and the information it had yielded. “You can’t draw a conclusion that we were warned by Ambassador Wilson that this was all dubious,” the unnamed official said, according to a White House transcript. “It’s just not accurate.” But Wilson’s account of his trip forced a rattled White House to acknowledge, for the first time, that “this information should not have risen to the level of a Presidential speech.” It also triggered retaliatory leaks to the press by White House officials that exposed Wilson’s wife as a C.I.A. operative—and led to an F.B.I. investigation.
Among the best potential witnesses on the subject of Iraq’s actual nuclear capabilities are the men and women who worked in the Iraqi weapons industry and for the National Monitoring Directorate, the agency set up by Saddam to work with the United Nations and I.A.E.A. inspectors. Many of the most senior weapons-industry officials, even those who voluntarily surrendered to U.S. forces, are being held in captivity at the Baghdad airport and other places, away from reporters. Their families have been told little by American authorities. Desperate for information, they have been calling friends and other contacts in America for help.
One Iraqi émigré who has heard from the scientists’ families is Shakir al Kha Fagi, who left Iraq as a young man and runs a successful business in the Detroit area. “The people in intelligence and in the W.M.D. business are in jail,” he said. “The Americans are hunting them down one by one. Nobody speaks for them, and there’s no American lawyer who will take the case.”
Not all the senior scientists are in captivity, however. Jafar Dhia Jafar, a British-educated physicist who coördinated Iraq’s efforts to make the bomb in the nineteen-eighties, and who had direct access to Saddam Hussein, fled Iraq in early April, before Baghdad fell, and, with the help of his brother, Hamid, the managing director of a large energy company, made his way to the United Arab Emirates. Jafar has refused to return to Baghdad, but he agreed to be debriefed by C.I.A. and British intelligence agents. There were some twenty meetings, involving as many as fifteen American and British experts. The first meeting, on April 11th, began with an urgent question from a C.I.A. officer: “Does Iraq have a nuclear device? The military really want to know. They are extremely worried.” Jafar’s response, according to the notes of an eyewitness, was to laugh. The notes continued:
Jafar insisted that there was not only no bomb, but no W.M.D., period. “The answer was none.” . . . Jafar explained that the Iraqi leadership had set up a new committee after the 91 Gulf war, and after the unscom [United Nations] inspection process was set up. . . and the following instructions [were sent] from the Top Man [Saddam]—“give them everything.”
The notes said that Jafar was then asked, “But this doesn’t mean all W.M.D.? How can you be certain?” His answer was clear: “I know all the scientists involved, and they chat. There is no W.M.D.” Jafar explained why Saddam had decided to give up his valued weapons:
Up until the 91 Gulf war, our adversaries were regional. . . . But after the war, when it was clear that we were up against the United States, Saddam understood that these weapons were redundant. “No way we could escape the United States.” Therefore, the W.M.D. warheads did Iraq little strategic good.
Jafar had his own explanation, according to the notes, for one of the enduring mysteries of the U.N. inspection process - the six-thousand-warhead discrepancy between the number of chemical weapons thought to have been manufactured by Iraq before 1991 and the number that were accounted for by the U.N. inspection teams. It was this discrepancy which led Western intelligence officials and military planners to make the worst-case assumptions. Jafar told his interrogators that the Iraqi government had simply lied to the United Nations about the number of chemical weapons used against Iran during the brutal Iran-Iraq war in the nineteen-eighties. Iraq, he said, dropped thousands more warheads on the Iranians than it acknowledged. For that reason, Saddam preferred not to account for the weapons at all.
There are always credibility problems with witnesses from a defeated regime, and anyone involved in the creation or concealment of W.M.D.s. would have a motive to deny it. But a strong endorsement of Jafar’s integrity came from an unusual source - Jacques Baute, of the I.A.E.A., who spent much of the past decade locked in a struggle with Jafar and the other W.M.D. scientists and technicians of Iraq. “I don’t believe anybody,” Baute told me, “but, by and large, what he told us after 1995 was pretty accurate.”
In early October, David Kay, the former U.N. inspector who is the head of the Administration’s Iraq Survey Group, made his interim report to Congress on the status of the search for Iraq’s W.M.D.s. “We have not yet found stocks of weapons,” Kay reported, “but we are not yet at the point where we can say definitively either that such weapon stocks do not exist or that they existed before the war.” In the area of nuclear weapons, Kay said, “Despite evidence of Saddam’s continued ambition to acquire nuclear weapons, to date we have not uncovered evidence that Iraq undertook significant post-1998 steps to actually build nuclear weapons or produce fissile material.” Kay was widely seen as having made the best case possible for President Bush’s prewar claims of an imminent W.M.D. threat. But what he found fell far short of those claims, and the report was regarded as a blow to the Administration. President Bush, however, saw it differently. He told reporters that he felt vindicated by the report, in that it showed that “Saddam Hussein was a threat, a serious danger.”
The President’s response raises the question of what, if anything, the Administration learned from the failure, so far, to find significant quantities of W.M.D.s in Iraq. Any President depends heavily on his staff for the vetting of intelligence and a reasonable summary and analysis of the world’s day-to-day events. The ultimate authority in the White House for such issues lies with the President’s national-security adviser—in this case,Condoleezza Rice. The former White House official told me, “Maybe the Secretary of Defense and his people are short-circuiting the process, and creating a separate channel to the Vice-President. Still, at the end of the day all the policies have to be hashed out in the interagency process, led by the national-security adviser.” What happened instead, he said, “was a real abdication of responsibility by Condi.”
Vice-President Cheney remains unabashed about the Administration’s reliance on the Niger documents, despite the revelation of their forgery. In a September interview on “Meet the Press,” Cheney claimed that the British dossier’s charge that “Saddam was, in fact, trying to acquire uranium in Africa” had been “revalidated.” Cheney went on, “So there may be a difference of opinion there. I don’t know what the truth is on the ground. . . . I don’t know Mr. Wilson. I probably shouldn’t judge him.”
The Vice-President also defended the way in which he had involved himself in intelligence matters: “This is a very important area. It’s one that the President has asked me to work on. . . . In terms of asking questions, I plead guilty. I ask a hell of a lot of questions. That’s my job.”
By Seymour Hersh, First Published in The New Yorker, October 27, 2003
4. The Lie Factory
by Robert Dreyfuss and Jason Vest...
It's a crisp fall day in western Virginia, a hundred miles from Washington, D.C., and a breeze is rustling the red and gold leaves of the Shenandoah hills. On the weather-beaten wood porch of a ramshackle 90-year-old farmhouse, at the end of a winding dirt-and-gravel road, Lt. Colonel Karen Kwiatkowski is perched on a plastic chair, wearing shorts, a purple sweatshirt, and muddy sneakers. Two scrawny dogs and a lone cat are on the prowl, and the air is filled with swarms of ladybugs.
So far, she says, no investigators have come knocking. Not from the Central Intelligence Agency, which conducted an internal inquiry into intelligence on Iraq, not from the congressional intelligence committees, not from the president's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. All of those bodies are ostensibly looking into the Bush administration's prewar Iraq intelligence, amid charges that the White House and the Pentagon exaggerated, distorted, or just plain lied about Iraq's links to Al Qaeda terrorists and its possession of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons. In her hands, Kwiatkowski holds several pieces of the puzzle. Yet she, along with a score of other career officers recently retired or shuffled off to other jobs, has not been approached by anyone.
Kwiatkowski, 43, a now-retired Air Force officer who served in the Pentagon's Near East and South Asia (NESA) unit in the year before the invasion of Iraq, observed how the Pentagon's Iraq war-planning unit manufactured scare stories about Iraq's weapons and ties to terrorists. "It wasn't intelligence‚ -- it was propaganda," she says. "They'd take a little bit of intelligence, cherry-pick it, make it sound much more exciting, usually by taking it out of context, often by juxtaposition of two pieces of information that don't belong together." It was by turning such bogus intelligence into talking points for U.S. officials‚ -- including ominous lines in speeches by President Bush and Vice President Cheney, along with Secretary of State Colin Powell's testimony at the U.N. Security Council last February‚ -- that the administration pushed American public opinion into supporting an unnecessary war.
Until now, the story of how the Bush administration produced its wildly exaggerated estimates of the threat posed by Iraq has never been revealed in full. But, for the first time, a detailed investigation by Mother Jones, based on dozens of interviews‚ -- some on the record, some with officials who insisted on anonymity‚ -- exposes the workings of a secret Pentagon intelligence unit and of the Defense Department's war-planning task force, the Office of Special Plans. It's the story of a close-knit team of ideologues who spent a decade or more hammering out plans for an attack on Iraq and who used the events of September 11, 2001, to set it into motion.
Six months after the end of major combat in Iraq, the United States had spent $300 million trying to find banned weapons in Iraq, and President Bush was seeking $600 million more to extend the search. Not found were Iraq's Scuds and other long-range missiles, thousands of barrels and tons of anthrax and botulism stock, sarin and VX nerve agents, mustard gas, biological and chemical munitions, mobile labs for producing biological weapons, and any and all evidence of a reconstituted nuclear-arms program, all of which had been repeatedly cited as justification for the war. Also missing was evidence of Iraqi collaboration with Al Qaeda.
The reports, virtually all false, of Iraqi weapons and terrorism ties emanated from an apparatus that began to gestate almost as soon as the Bush administration took power. In the very first meeting of the Bush national-security team, one day after President Bush took the oath of office in January 2001, the issue of invading Iraq was raised, according to one of the participants in the meeting‚ -- and officials all the way down the line started to get the message, long before 9/11. Indeed, the Bush team at the Pentagon hadn't even been formally installed before Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of Defense, and Douglas J. Feith, undersecretary of Defense for policy, began putting together what would become the vanguard for regime change in Iraq.
Both Wolfowitz and Feith have deep roots in the neoconservative movement. One of the most influential Washington neo- conservatives in the foreign-policy establishment during the Republicans' wilderness years of the 1990s, Wolfowitz has long held that not taking Baghdad in 1991 was a grievous mistake. He and others now prominent in the administration said so repeatedly over the past decade in a slew of letters and policy papers from neoconservative groups like the Project for the New American Century and the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq. Feith, a former aide to Richard Perle at the Pentagon in the 1980s and an activist in far-right Zionist circles, held the view that there was no difference between U.S. and Israeli security policy and that the best way to secure both countries' future was to solve the Israeli-Palestinian problem not by serving as a broker, but with the United States as a force for "regime change" in the region.
Called in to help organize the Iraq war-planning team was a longtime Pentagon official, Harold Rhode, a specialist on Islam who speaks Hebrew, Arabic, Turkish, and Farsi. Though Feith would not be officially confirmed until July 2001, career military and civilian officials in NESA began to watch his office with concern after Rhode set up shop in Feith's office in early January. Rhode, seen by many veteran staffers as an ideological gadfly, was officially assigned to the Pentagon's Office of Net Assessment, an in-house Pentagon think tank headed by fellow neocon Andrew Marshall. Rhode helped Feith lay down the law about the department's new anti-Iraq, and broadly anti-Arab, orientation. In one telling incident, Rhode accosted and harangued a visiting senior Arab diplomat, telling him that there would be no "bartering in the bazaar anymore. You're going to have to sit up and pay attention when we say so."
Rhode refused to be interviewed for this story, saying cryptically, "Those who speak, pay."
According to insiders, Rhode worked with Feith to purge career Defense officials who weren't sufficiently enthusiastic about the muscular anti-Iraq crusade that Wolfowitz and Feith wanted. Rhode appeared to be "pulling people out of nooks and crannies of the Defense Intelligence Agency and other places to replace us with," says a former analyst. "They wanted nothing to do with the professional staff. And they wanted us the fuck out of there."
The unofficial, off-site recruitment office for Feith and Rhode was the American Enterprise Institute, a right-wing think tank whose 12th-floor conference room in Washington is named for the dean of neoconservative defense strategists, the late Albert Wohlstetter, an influential RAND analyst and University of Chicago mathematician. Headquartered at AEI is Richard Perle, Wohlstetter's prize protege, the godfather of the AEI-Defense Department nexus of neoconservatives who was chairman of the Pentagon's influential Defense Policy Board. Rhode, along with Michael Rubin, a former AEI staffer who is also now at the Pentagon, was a ubiquitous presence at AEI conferences on Iraq over the past two years, and the two Pentagon officials seemed almost to be serving as stage managers for the AEI events, often sitting in the front row and speaking in stage whispers to panelists and AEI officials. Just after September 11, 2001, Feith and Rhode recruited David Wurmser, the director of Middle East studies for AEI, to serve as a Pentagon consultant.
Wurmser would be the founding participant of the unnamed, secret intelligence unit at the Pentagon, set up in Feith's office, which would be the nucleus of the Defense Department's Iraq disinformation campaign that was established within weeks of the attacks in New York and Washington. While the CIA and other intelligence agencies concentrated on Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda as the culprit in the 9/11 attacks, Wolfowitz and Feith obsessively focused on Iraq. It was a theory that was discredited, even ridiculed, among intelligence professionals. Daniel Benjamin, co-author of The Age of Sacred Terror, was director of counterterrorism at the National Security Council in the late 1990s. "In 1998, we went through every piece of intelligence we could find to see if there was a link between Al Qaeda and Iraq," he says. "We came to the conclusion that our intelligence agencies had it right: There was no noteworthy relationship between Al Qaeda and Iraq. I know that for a fact." Indeed, that was the consensus among virtually all anti-terrorism specialists.
In short, Wurmser, backed by Feith and Rhode, set out to prove what didn't exist.
In an Administration devoted to the notion of "Feith-based intelligence," Wurmser was ideal. For years, he'd been a shrill ideologue, part of the minority crusade during the 1990s that was beating the drums for war against Iraq. Along with Perle and Feith, in 1996 Wurmser and his wife, Meyrav, wrote a provocative strategy paper for Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu called "A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm." It called on Israel to work with Jordan and Turkey to "contain, destabilize and roll back" various states in the region, overthrow Saddam Hussein in Iraq, press Jordan to restore a scion of the Hashemite dynasty to the Iraqi throne, and, above all, launch military assaults against Lebanon and Syria as a "prelude to a redrawing of the map of the Middle East which would threaten Syria's territorial integrity."
In 1997, Wurmser wrote a column in the Wall Street Journal called "Iraq Needs a Revolution" and the next year co-signed a letter with Perle calling for all-out U.S. support of the Iraqi National Congress (INC), an exile group led by Ahmad Chalabi, in promoting an insurgency in Iraq. At AEI, Wurmser wrote Tyranny's Ally: America's Failure to Defeat Saddam Hussein, essentially a book-length version of "A Clean Break" that proposed an alliance between Jordan and the INC to redraw the map of the Middle East. Among the mentors cited by Wurmser in the book: Chalabi, Perle, and Feith.
The purpose of the unnamed intelligence unit, often described as a Pentagon "cell," was to scour reports from the CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, and other agencies to find nuggets of information linking Iraq, Al Qaeda, terrorism, and the existence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction (WMD). In a controversial press briefing in October 2002, a year after Wurmser's unit was established, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld acknowledged that a primary purpose of the unit was to cull factoids, which were then used to disparage, undermine, and contradict the CIA's reporting, which was far more cautious and nuanced than Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and Feith wanted. Rumsfeld particularly enjoyed harassing the CIA staffer who briefed him every morning, using the type of data produced by the intelligence unit. "What I could do is say, 'Gee, what about this?'" Rumsfeld noted. "'Or what about that? Has somebody thought of this?'" Last June, when Feith was questioned on the same topic at a briefing, he acknowledged that the secret unit in fact looked at the connection between Iraq and terrorism, saying, "You can't rely on deterrence to deal with the problem of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of state sponsors of terrorism because [of] the possibility that those state sponsors might employ chemical weapons or biological weapons by means of a terrorist organization proxy.
Though Feith, in that briefing, described Wurmser's unit as an innocent project, "a global exercise" that was not meant to put pressure on other intelligence agencies or create skewed intelligence to fit preconceived policy notions, many other sources assert that it did exactly that. That the White House and the Pentagon put enormous pressure on the CIA to go along with its version of events has been widely reported, highlighted by visits to CIA headquarters by Vice President Cheney and Lewis Libby, his chief of staff. Led by Perle, the neocons seethed with contempt for the CIA. The CIA's analysis, said Perle, "isn't worth the paper it's printed on." Standing in a crowded hallway during an AEI event, Perle added, "The CIA is status quo oriented. They don't want to take risks."
That became the mantra of the shadow agency within an agency.
Putting Wurmser in charge of the unit meant that it was being run by a pro-Iraq-war ideologue who'd spent years calling for a pre-emptive invasion of Baghdad and who was clearly predisposed to find what he wanted to see. Adding another layer of dubious quality to the endeavor was the man partnered with Wurmser, F. Michael Maloof. Maloof, a former aide to Perle in the 1980s Pentagon, was twice stripped of his high-level security clearances‚ -- once in late 2001 and, again, last spring, for various infractions. Maloof was also reportedly involved in a bizarre scheme to broker contacts between Iraqi officials and the Pentagon, channeled through Perle, in what one report called a "rogue [intelligence] operation" outside official CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency channels.
As the momentum for war began to build in early 2002, Wolfowitz and Feith beefed up the intelligence unit and created an Iraq war-planning unit in the Pentagon's Near East and South Asia Affairs section, run by Deputy Undersecretary of Defense William Luti, under the rubric "Office of Special Plans," or OSP; the new unit's director was Abram N. Shulsky. By then, Wurmser had moved on to a post as senior adviser to Undersecretary of State John Bolton, yet another neocon, who was in charge of the State Department's disarmament, proliferation, and WMD office and was promoting the Iraq war strategy there. Shulsky's OSP, which incorporated the secret intelligence unit, took control, banishing veteran experts‚ -- including Joseph McMillan, James Russell, Larry Hanauer, and Marybeth McDevitt‚ -- who, despite years of service to NESA, either were shuffled off to other positions or retired. For the next year, Luti and Shulsky not only would oversee war plans but would act aggressively to shape the intelligence product received by the White House.
Both Luti and Shulsky were neoconservatives who were ideological soul mates of Wolfowitz and Feith. But Luti was more than that. He'd come to the Pentagon directly from the office of Vice President Cheney. That gave Luti, a recently retired, decorated Navy captain whose career ran from combat aviation to command of a helicopter assault ship, extra clout. Along with his colleague Colonel William Bruner, Luti had done a stint as an aide to Newt Gingrich in 1996 and, like Perle and Wolfowitz, was an acolyte of Wohlstetter's. "He makes Ollie North look like a moderate," says a NESA veteran.
Shulsky had been on the Washington scene since the mid-1970s. As a Senate intelligence committee staffer for Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, he began to work with early neoconservatives like Perle, who was then an aide to Senator Henry Jackson. Later, in the Reagan years, Shulsky followed Perle to the Pentagon as Perle's arms-control adviser. In the '90s, Shulsky co-authored a book on intelligence called Silent Warfare, with Gary Schmitt. Shulsky had served with Schmitt on Moynihan's staff and they had remained friends. Asked about the Pentagon's Iraq intelligence "cell," Schmitt‚ -- who is currently the executive director of the Project for the New American Century‚ -- says that he can't say much about it "because one of my best friends is running it."
According to Lt. Colonel Kwiatkowski, Luti and Shulsky ran NESA and the Office of Special Plans with brutal efficiency, purging people they disagreed with and enforcing the party line. "It was organized like a machine," she says. "The people working on the neocon agenda had a narrow, well-defined political agenda. They had a sense of mission." At NESA, Shulsky, she says, began "hot-desking," or taking an office wherever he could find one, working with Feith and Luti, before formally taking the reins of the newly created OSP. Together, she says, Luti and Shulsky turned cherry-picked pieces of uncorroborated, anti-Iraq intelligence into talking points, on issues like Iraq's WMD and its links to Al Qaeda. Shulsky constantly updated these papers, drawing on the intelligence unit, and circulated them to Pentagon officials, including Rumsfeld, and to Vice President Cheney. "Of course, we never thought they'd go directly to the White House," she adds.
Kwiatkowski recalls one meeting in which Luti, pressed to finish a report, told the staff, "I've got to get this over to 'Scooter' right away." She later found out that "Scooter" was none other than Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Cheney's chief of staff. According to Kwiatkowski, Cheney had direct ties through Luti into NESA/OSP, a connection that was highly unorthodox.
"Never, ever, ever would a deputy undersecretary of Defense work directly on a project for the vice president," she says. "It was a little clue that we had an informal network into Vice President Cheney's office." Although Feith insists that the OSP did not seek to gather its own intelligence, Kwiatkowski and others sharply disagree. Staff working for Luti and Shulsky in NESA/OSP churned out propaganda-style intelligence, she says. As an example, she cited the work of a U.S. intelligence officer and Arabic specialist, Navy Lt. Commander Youssef Aboul-Enein, who was a special assistant to Luti. "His job was to peruse the Arabic-language media to find articles that would incriminate Saddam Hussein about terrorism, and he translated these." Such raw intelligence is usually subject to a thorough vetting process, tracked, verified, and checked by intelligence professionals. But not at OSP‚ -- the material that it produced found its way directly into speeches by Bush, Cheney, and other officials.
According to Melvin Goodman, a former CIA official and an intelligence specialist at the National War College, the OSP officials routinely pushed lower-ranking staff around on intelligence matters. "People were being pulled aside [and being told], 'We saw your last piece and it's not what we're looking for,'" he says. "It was pretty blatant." Two State Department intelligence officials, Greg Thielmann and Christian Westermann, have both charged that pressure was being put on them to shape intelligence to fit policy, in particular from Bolton's office. "The Al Qaeda connection and nuclear weapons issue were the only two ways that you could link Iraq to an imminent security threat to the U.S.," Thielmann told the New York Times. "And the administration was grossly distorting the intelligence on both things."
Besides Cheney, key members of the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board, including Perle and ex-House Speaker Newt Gingrich, all Iraq hawks, had direct input into NESA/OSP. The offices of NESA were located on the Pentagon's fourth floor, seventh corridor of D Ring, and the Policy Board's offices were directly below, on the third floor. During the run-up to the Iraq war, Gingrich often came up for closed-door meetings with Luti, who in 1996 had served as a congressional fellow in Speaker of the House Gingrich's office.
As OSP got rolling, Luti brought in Colonel Bruner, a former military aide to Gingrich, and, together, Luti and Bruner opened the door to a vast flow of bogus intelligence fed to the Pentagon by Iraqi defectors associated with Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress group of exiles. Chalabi founded the Iraqi National Congress in 1992, with the help of a shadowy CIA-connected public-relations firm called the Rendon Group, one of whose former employees, Francis Brooke, has been a top aide to Chalabi ever since. A scion of an aristocratic Iraqi family, Chalabi fled Baghdad at the age of 13, in 1958, when the corrupt Iraqi Hashemite monarchy was overthrown by a coalition of communists and the Iraqi military. In the late 1960s, Chalabi studied mathematics at the University of Chicago with Wohlstetter, who introduced him to Richard Perle more than a decade later. Long associated with the heart of the neoconservative movement, Chalabi founded Petra Bank in Jordan, which grew to be Jordan's third-largest bank by the 1980s. But Chalabi was accused of bank fraud, embezzlement, and currency manipulation, and he barely escaped before Jordanian authorities could arrest him; in 1992, he was convicted and sentenced in absentia to more than 20 years of hard labor. After founding the INC, Chalabi's bungling, unreliability, and penchant for mismanaging funds caused the CIA to sour on him, but he never lost the support of Perle, Feith, Gingrich, and their allies; once, soon after 9/11, Perle invited Chalabi to address the Defense Policy Board.
According to multiple sources, Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress sent a steady stream of misleading and often faked intelligence reports into U.S. intelligence channels. That information would flow sometimes into NESA/OSP directly, sometimes through Defense Intelligence Agency debriefings of Iraqi defectors via the Defense Human Intelligence Service, and sometimes through the INC's own U.S.-funded Intelligence Collection Program, which was overseen by the Pentagon. The INC's intelligence "isn't reliable at all," according to Vincent Cannistraro, a former CIA chief of counterterrorism. "Much of it is propaganda. Much of it is telling the Defense Department what they want to hear, using alleged informants and defectors who say what Chalabi wants them to say, [creating] cooked information that goes right into presidential and vice presidential speeches."
Bruner, the aide to Luti and Gingrich's former staffer, "was Chalabi's handler," says Kwiatkowski. "He would arrange meetings with Chalabi and Chalabi's folks," she says, adding that the INC leader often brought people into the NESA/OSP offices for debriefings. Chalabi claims to have introduced only three actual defectors to the Pentagon, a figure Thielmann considers "awfully low." However, according to an investigation by the Los Angeles Times, the three defectors provided by Chalabi turned up exactly zero useful intelligence. The first, an Iraqi engineer, claimed to have specific information about biological weapons, but his information didn't pan out; the second claimed to know about mobile labs, but that information, too, was worthless; and the third, who claimed to have data about Iraq's nuclear program, proved to be a fraud. Chalabi also claimed to have given the Pentagon information about Iraqi support for Al Qaeda. "We gave the names of people who were doing the links," he told an interviewer from PBS's Frontline. Those links, of course, have not been discovered. Thielmann told the same Frontline interviewer that the Office of Special Plans didn't apply strict intelligence-verification standards to "some of the information coming out of Chalabi and the INC that OSP and the Pentagon ran with." In the war's aftermath, the Defense Intelligence Agency‚ -- which is not beholden to the neoconservative civilians at the Pentagon‚ -- leaked a report it prepared, concluding that few, if any, of the INC's informants provided worthwhile intelligence.
So far, despite all of the investigations under way, there is little sign that any of them are going to delve into the operations of the Luti-Shulsky Office of Special Plans and its secret intelligence unit. Because it operates in the Pentagon's policy shop, it is not officially part of the intelligence community, and so it is seemingly immune to congressional oversight.
With each passing day, it is becoming excruciatingly clearer just how wrong U.S. intelligence was in regard to Iraqi weapons and support for terrorism. The American teams of inspectors in the Iraq Survey Group, which has employed up to 1,400 people to scour the country and analyze the findings, have not been able to find a shred of evidence of anything other than dusty old plans and records of weapons apparently destroyed more than a decade ago. Countless examples of fruitless searches have been reported in the media. To cite one example: U.S. soldiers followed an intelligence report claiming that a complex built for Uday Hussein, Saddam's son, hid a weapons warehouse with poison-gas storage tanks. "Well," U.S. Army Major Ronald Hann Jr. told the Los Angeles Times, "the warehouse was a carport. It still had two cars inside. And the tanks had propane for the kitchen."
Countless other errors and exaggerations have become evident. The thousands of aluminum tubes supposedly imported by Iraq for uranium enrichment were fairly conclusively found to be designed to build noncontroversial rockets. The long-range unmanned aerial vehicles, allegedly built to deliver bioweapons, were small, rickety, experimental planes with wood frames. The mobile bioweapon labs turned out to have had other, civilian purposes. And the granddaddy of all falsehoods, the charge that Iraq sought uranium in the West African country of Niger, was based on forged documents‚ -- documents that the CIA, the State Department, and other agencies knew were fake nearly a year before President Bush highlighted the issue in his State of the Union address in January 2003.
"Either the system broke down," former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who was sent by the CIA to visit Niger and whose findings helped show that the documents were forged, told Mother Jones, "or there was selective use of bits of information to justify a decision to go to war that had already been taken."
Edward Luttwak, a neoconservative scholar and author, says flatly that the Bush administration lied about the intelligence it had because it was afraid to go to the American people and say that the war was simply about getting rid of Saddam Hussein. Instead, says Luttwak, the White House was groping for a rationale to satisfy the United Nations' criteria for war. "Cheney was forced into this fake posture of worrying about weapons of mass destruction," he says. "The ties to Al Qaeda? That's complete nonsense."
In the Senate, Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) is pressing for the Intelligence Committee to extend its investigation to look into the specific role of the Pentagon's Office of Special Plans, but there is strong Republican resistance to the idea.
In the House, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) has introduced legislation calling for a commission to investigate the intelligence mess and has collected more than a hundred Democrats‚ -- but no Republicans‚ -- in support of it. "I think they need to be looked at pretty carefully," Waxman told Mother Jones when asked about the Office of Special Plans. "I'd like to know whether the political people pushed the intelligence people to slant their conclusions."
Congressman Waxman, meet Lt. Colonel Kwiatkowski.
By Robert Dreyfuss and Jason Vest, First Published in Mother Jones, January/February, 2003
5. In Rumsfeld's Shop
Lt. Col. Karen Kwiatkowski recently retired from the U.S. Air Force. Her final posting was as an analyst at the Pentagon. Below is the first of three installments describing her experience there. They provide a unique view of the Department of Defense during a period of intense ideological upheaval, as the United States prepared to launch—for the first time in its history—a “preventive” war.
by Karen Kwiatowski...
In early May 2002, I was looking forward to retirement from the United States Air Force in about a year. I had a cushy job in the Pentagon’s Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, International Security Affairs, Sub-Saharan Africa.
In the previous two years, I had published two books on African security issues and had passed my comprehensive doctoral exams at Catholic University. I was very pleased with the administration’s Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Sub-Saharan Africa, former Marine and Senator Helms staffer Michael Westphal, and was ready to start thinking about my dissertation and my life after the military. When Mike called me in to his office, I thought I was getting a new project or perhaps that one of my many suggestions of fun things to do with Africa policy had been accepted. But the look on his face clued me in that this was going to be one of those meetings where somebody wasn’t leaving happy. After a quick rank check, I had a good idea which one it would be.
There was a position in Near East South Asia (NESA) that they needed to fill right away. I wasn’t interested. They phrased the question another way: “We have been tasked to send a body over to Bill Luti. Can we send you?” I resisted—until I slowly guessed that in true bureaucratic fashion and can-do military tradition my name had already been sent over. This little soirée in Mike’s office was my farewell.
I went back to my office and e-mailed a buddy in the Joint Staff. Bob wrote back, “Write down everything you see.” I didn’t do it, but these most wise words from a trusted friend proved the first of three omens I would soon receive.
I showed up down the hall a few days later. It looked just like the office from which I came, newer blue cubicles, narrow hallways piled high with copy paper, newspapers, unused equipment, and precariously leaning map rolls. The same old concrete-building smell pervaded, maybe a little mustier. I was taking over the desk of a CIA loaner officer. Joe had been called back early to the agency and was hoping to go to Yemen. Before he left, he briefed me on his biggest project: ongoing negotiations with the Qatari sheiks over who was paying for improvements to Al Udeid Air Base. I was familiar with Al Udeid from my time on the Air Staff a few years before. Back then we seemed to like the Saudis, and our Saudi bases were a few hours closer to the action than Al Udeid, so the U.S. played a woo-me game. Now that we needed and wanted Al Udeid to be finished quickly and done up right, it was time for the emirs to play hard to get. Joe gave me the rundown on counterterrorism ops in Yemen and an upcoming agreement with the Bahraini monarch to extend our military-security agreement, locking in a relationship just in case those Bahraini experiments with democracy actually took off.
I had an obligatory meeting with the deputy director, Paul Hulley, Navy Captain. This meeting followed a phone call in which I hadn’t been as compliant as I should have been with a Navy Captain, and since Paul had handled my bad attitude with candor and grace, I was determined to like him—and I did. I gave him my story: I was a year from retirement and, more importantly, I was in a car pool. I’d be working a 7:15 to 17:30 schedule. He was neither charmed nor impressed. He advised that I’d need to be working a lot longer than that. Then we stepped in to meet Deputy Undersecretary of Defense Bill Luti. I knew Luti had a Ph.D. in international relations from the Fletcher School at Tufts and was a recently retired Navy Captain himself. At this point, I didn’t know what a neocon was or that they had already swarmed over the Pentagon, populating various hives of policy and planning like African hybrids, with the same kind of sting reflex. Luti just seemed happy to have me there as a warm body.
My second omen was the super-size bottles of Tums and Tylenol Joe left in his desk. The third occurred as I was chatting with my new office mate, a career civil servant working the Egypt desk. As the conversation moved into Middle East news and politics, she mentioned that if I wanted to be successful here, I shouldn’t say anything positive about the Palestinians. In 19 years of military service, I had never heard such a politically laden warning on such an obscure topic to such an inconsequential player. I had the sense of a single click, the sound tectonic plates might make as they shift deep under the earth and lock into a new resting position - or when the trigger is pulled in a game of Russian roulette.
I had never worked for neocons before, and the philosophical journey to understand what they stood for was not a trip I wanted to take. But my conversations with coworkers and some of the people I was meeting in the office opened my eyes to something strange and fascinating. Those who had watched the transition from Clintonista to Bushite knew that something calculated had happened to NESA. Key personnel, long-time civilian professionals holding the important billets, had been replaced early in the transition. The Office Director, second in command and normally a professional civilian regional expert, was vacant. Joe McMillan had been moved to the NESA Center over at National Defense University. This was strange because in a transition the whole reason for the Office Director being a permanent civilian (occasionally military) professional is to help bring the new appointee up to speed, ensure office continuity, and act as a resource relating to regional histories and policies. To remove that continuity factor seemed contraindicated, but at the time, I didn’t realize that the expertise on Middle East policy was being brought in from a variety of outside think tanks.
Another civilian replacement about which I was told was that of the long-time Israel/Syria/Lebanon desk, Larry Hanauer. Word was that he was even-handed with Israel, there had been complaints from one of his countries, and as a gesture of good will, David Schenker, fresh from the Washington Institute, was serving as the new Israel/Syria/Lebanon desk.
I came to share with many NESA colleagues a kind of unease, a sense that something was awry. What seemed out of place was the strong and open pro-Israel and anti-Arab orientation in an ostensibly apolitical policy-generation staff within the Pentagon. There was a sense that politics like these might play better at the State Department or the National Security Council, not the Pentagon, where we considered ourselves objective and hard boiled.
The anti-Arab orientation I perceived was only partially confirmed by things I saw. Towards the end of the summer, we welcomed to the office as a temporary special assistant to Bill Luti an Egyptian-American naval officer, Lt. (later Lt. Cmdr.) Youssef Aboul-Enein. His job wasn’t entirely clear to me, but he would research bits of data in which Bill Luti was interested and peruse Arabic-language media for quotations or events that could be used to demonize Saddam Hussein or link him to nastiness beyond his own borders and with unsavory characters.While I was still hoping to be sent back to the Africa desk, I was also angling to take the NESA North Africa desk that would be vacated in July. During this time, May through mid-July, the news in the daily briefing was focused on war planning for the Iraq invasion. Slides from a CENTCOM brief appeared on the front page of the New York Times on July 5. A few weeks later, Secretary Donald Rumsfeld ordered an investigation into who leaked this information. The Air Force Office of Special Investigation was tasked to work with the FBI, and everyone in NESA was supposed to be interviewed.My interview, by two fresh-faced OSI investigators, occurred sometime in July. One handed me a copy of an article by William Arkin discussing Iraq-war planning published in May 2002 in the Los Angeles Times and asked if I knew Arkin. I didn’t recall the name, but when I checked I learned that he had spent time at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). Apparently, Arkin had facilitated a leak six weeks before, but it hadn’t caused a fuss. I pointed out that I did know a person with major SAIS links who probably knew Arkin. They leaned forward eagerly. “Have you ever heard of Paul Wolfowitz?” They looked puzzled, so I called up the bio of the deputy secretary and showed them how he ran SAIS during most of the Clinton years. I suggested the investigation look at the answers to the cui bono question. I also told them no one in the military or at CENTCOM would leak war plans because as Rumsfeld accurately said, it gets people killed. But the politicos who were anxious to get the American people over the mental hump that the Bush administration was going to send troops to Iraq were not military and had both motive and opportunity to leak.
During the summer, I assumed the duties of the North Africa desk. Part of my job was to schedule and complete two overdue bilateral meetings with longtime U.S. security partners Morocco and Tunisia. Bilateral meetings historically included a tailored regional-security briefing addressing Weapons of Mass Destruction threats and status. In planning my upcoming bilateral agendas and attendee lists, I discovered that Bill Luti had certain issues regarding the regional-security briefing, in particular with the aspects relating to WMD and terrorism. There had been an incident shortly before I arrived in which the Defense Intelligence Officer had been prohibited from giving his briefing to a particular country only hours before he was scheduled. During the summer, the brief was simply not scheduled for another important bilateral meeting. Instead, a briefing was prepared by another policy office that worked on non-proliferation issues. This briefing was not a product of the Defense Intelligence Agency or CIA but instead came from the Office of the Secretary of Defense.
At the end of the summer of 2002, new space had been found upstairs on the fifth floor for an “expanded Iraq desk.” It would be called the Office of Special Plans. We were instructed at a staff meeting that this office was not to be discussed or explained, and if people in the Joint Staff, among others, asked, we were to offer no comment. We were also told that one of the products of this office would be talking points that all desk officers would use verbatim in the preparation of their background documents.About that same time, my education on the history and generation of the neoconservative movement had completed its first stage. I now understood that neoconservatism was both unhistorical and based on the organizing construct of “permanent revolution.” I had studied the role played by hawkish former Sen. Scoop Jackson (D-Wash.) and the neoconservative drift of formerly traditional magazines like National Review and think tanks like the Heritage Foundation. I had observed that many of the neoconservatives in the Pentagon not only had limited military experience, if any at all, but they also advocated theories of war that struck me as rejections of classical liberalism, natural law, and constitutional strictures. More than that, the pressure of the intelligence community to conform, the rejection of it when it failed to produce intelligence suitable for supporting the “Iraq is an imminent threat to the United States” agenda, and the amazing things I was hearing in both Bush and Cheney speeches told me that not only do neoconservatives hold a theory based on ideas not embraced by the American mainstream, but they also have a collective contempt for fact.
By August, I was morally and intellectually frustrated by my powerlessness against what increasingly appeared to be a philosophical hijacking of the Pentagon. Indeed, I had sworn an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic, but perhaps we were never really expected to take it all that seriously …
By Karen Kwiatowski, First Published in The American Conservative, December 1, 2003
6. Conscientious Objector
Lt. Col. Karen Kwiatkowski, a former Pentagon insider, continues her revelations in this second of a three-part series.
by Karen Kwiatowski... By the end of the summer of 2002, our Near East South Asia (NESA) office spaces were beginning to get crowded. Several senior people, including Abe Shulsky had moved into some of the enclosed front offices, and the cubicles were entirely filled, as were some less than ideal workspaces in the hallway.
Chatter swirled, and word went out that NESA was looking for additional space. By late August, a large office was located upstairs on the fifth floor. At a staff meeting, we were told that the expanded Iraq desk would become the Office of Special Plans and would move out. We were told not to refer to this office as the Office of Special Plans and, if pressed, we were also not to confirm that it was the expanded Iraq desk. This instruction came across as both surreal and humorous. When someone asked whether we could tell our Joint Staff counterparts, Bill Luti said no, to deny knowledge of the organizational shift. In my experience, our canny, connected, and cynical Joint Staff counterparts probably already knew more about it than we did, and this suspicion was later confirmed in conversations with some of them.
The subterfuge was not necessary in any case, as several weeks later Luti was announced as the new Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, NESA and Special Plans, allowing him to work directly for Undersecretary Doug Feith. Luti had always seemed to work directly for Feith. In one staff meeting, interrupted by a call from Feith’s office, Luti, in his famously incautious manner, proclaimed to all present, that Feith couldn’t wipe his ass without his [Luti’s] help.
The establishment of the Office of Special Plans, under Abe Shulsky, and including several military folks, a civil servant or two, and the larger group of neocon-friendly appointees or contractors, meant to the rest of us that we would have more space and a reduction in cross-regional chatter. The Iraq-war planning aspect would now be isolated from the rest of NESA and would establish its own rhythm and cadence, separate from the non-political-minded professionals covering the rest of the region. In planning a war, loose lips sink ships, and if anyone didn’t remember this World War II slogan, the Pentagon had several posters in common areas to remind us. (Interestingly, the planning and execution of wars—writing and implementing war plans—is the function of the Combatant Commander, with the Joint Staff as chief technical advisor and the Undersecretary of Policy as policy advisor. The Secretary of Defense approves, but combatant commanders work directly for the president. Nowhere in OSD should one, by law, custom, or common sense, find people busy developing and writing war plans, even if they are special.)
If they were not writing war plans, the Office of Special Plans did produce something related to the upcoming war. By August, only the Pollyannas at the Pentagon felt that the decision to invade Iraq, storm Baghdad, and take over the place (or give it to Ahmad Chalabi) was reversible. What was still being worked out at that time was the propaganda piece, a sustained refinement of the storyline that had been hinted at in neoconservative circles and the White House for months, even years. Based on the successful second leak of the war plans in July, Washington’s initial reactions of “Oh, no—so many troops!” was shaped masterfully by the Pentagon publicity machine with offended and vociferous denials of the stories, claiming that the operation would not require nearly that many troops. It was a propaganda coup of understated elegance and razor-edged acumen.
That genius, in some ways, was due to Abe Shulsky. A kindly and gentle-appearing man who would say hello in the hallways, he seemed to be someone with whom I, as a political-science grad student, would have loved to sit over coffee and discuss the world’s problems. Seeing me as a uniformed and relatively junior officer, I doubt he entertained similar desires. In any case, he was very busy. I didn’t see much of what Abe did on a daily basis, but I know that he approved a particular document produced by the Office of Special Plans for the staff officers in Policy. Desk officers write policy papers for our senior officers to help prepare them for meetings, speeches, or events where they will need to communicate U.S. security policy. In early September, after the OSP had been established, we were told via staff meetings and e-mails that whenever we wrote something that might include reference to the Iraq threat, and WMD and terrorism in general, we would now inform OSP and request their talking points. The actual contact point was Air Force Col. Kevin Jones. On a number of occasions from September through January, I e-mailed or called Colonel Jones and requested the latest version of the talking points. On several occasions, they weren’t available in an approved form, and we waited for Shulsky’s OK. This crafting and approval of the exact words to use when discussing Iraq, WMD, and terrorism were, for most of us, the only known functions of OSP and Mr. Shulsky.
As a desk officer, having a patented set of words to copy meant less to research, and I welcomed the talking points on principle. Then I made the mistake of reading them. They were a series of bulletized statements, written in a convincing way, and at first glance, they seemed reasonable and rational. Up to a point. Saddam Hussein had gassed his neighbors, abused his people, and was continuing in that mode, a threat to his neighbors and to us. Saddam Hussein tried to shoot at our aircraft when they enforced the no-fly zone. Saddam Hussein had harbored al-Qaeda operatives and offered and probably provided them training facilities. Saddam Hussein was pursuing and had WMD of the type that could be used by him, in conjunction with al-Qaeda and other terrorists, to attack and damage American interests, Americans, and America. Saddam Hussein had not been seriously weakened by war and sanctions and weekly bombings over the past 12 years and in fact was plotting to hurt America and support anti-American activities, in part through terrorists. His support for the Palestinians and Arafat proved his terrorist connections, and, basically, the time to act was now. This was the gist of the talking points, and they remained on message throughout the time I watched them evolve.
But evolve they did, and the subtle changes I saw from September to late January were revealing as to what exactly the Office of Special Plans was contributing to national security. Two key types of modifications would be directed, or approved, by Abe Shulsky and his team of politicos. First was the deletion of entire references or bullets. The one I remember most specifically is when they dropped the bullet that said one of Saddam’s intelligence operatives met with Mohamed Atta in Prague and that this was salient proof that Saddam was in part responsible for the 9/11 attack. It lasted through several revisions, but after the media reported the claim as unsubstantiated by U.S. intelligence, denied by the Czech government, and that the location of Atta had been confirmed to be elsewhere by our own FBI, that particular bullet was dropped entirely from our “advice on things to say” to senior Pentagon officials when they met with guests or outsiders.
The other type of change to the talking points was along the lines of fine-tuning and generalizing. Much of what was there was already so general as to be less than accurate. Some bullets would be softened, particularly statements of Saddam’s readiness and capability in the chemical, biological, or nuclear arena. Others were altered over time to match more exactly something Bush or Cheney had said in recent speeches. One item I never saw in our talking points was a reference to Saddam’s purported attempt to buy yellowcake uranium in Niger. The OSP list of crime and evil included a statement relating to Saddam’s attempts to seek fissionable materials or uranium in Africa. (Our point, written mostly in the present tense had conveniently omitted dates of the last known attempt, some time in the late 1980s.) I was later surprised to hear the president’s mention of the yellowcake in Niger because that indeed would be new, and in theory might have represented new actual intelligence, something remarkably absent in what we were seeing from the OSP.
During the late summer and fall I was industriously trying to get our overdue bilateral visits with Morocco and Tunisia back on schedule. There must have been clues throughout the fall that I was less than politically reliable. On the wall behind my desk, I had a display of cartoons and articles questioning the legality and justness of pre-emptive wars, images of neoconservatives gone wild, and other antiwar humor. I had plenty of visitors, and even folks who I had pegged as a little too imperialist for my taste enjoyed my personal wailing wall. But as winter approached, the propaganda campaign gained ground, Congress bought in, my sense of humor darkened, and the cartoons selected for the wall got angrier. It was becoming clearer that, after a year, the Afghan campaign was not proceeding as promised, and Iraq having been falsely advertised and politically manipulated would be even uglier and deadlier. And no one in the Pentagon with any political or moral power seemed to care.
By Karen Kwiatowski, First Published in The American Conservative, December 15, 2003
7. Open Door Policy
Lt. Col. Karen Kwiatkowski, a former Pentagon insider, concludes her observations on the run-up to the Iraq war in this last of a three-part series.
by Karen Kwiatowski...
As the winter of 2002 approached, I was increasingly amazed at the success of the propaganda campaign being waged by President Bush, Vice President Cheney, and neoconservative mouthpieces at the Washington Times and Wall Street Journal. I speculated about the necessity but unlikelihood of a Phil-Dick-style minority report on the grandiose Feith-Wolfowitz-Rumsfeld-Cheney vision of some future Middle East where peace, love, and democracy are brought about by pre-emptive war and military occupation.
In December, I requested an acceleration of my retirement after just over 20 years on duty and exactly the required three years of time-in-grade as a lieutenant colonel. I felt fortunate not to have being fired or court-martialed due to my politically incorrect ways in the previous two years as a real conservative in a neoconservative Office of Secretary of Defense. But in fact, my outspokenness was probably never noticed because civilian professionals and military officers were largely invisible. We were easily replaceable and dispensable, not part of the team brought in from the American Enterprise Institute, the Center for Security Policy, and the Washington Institute for Near East Affairs.
There were exceptions. When military officers conspicuously crossed the neoconservative party line, the results were predictable—get back in line or get out. One friend, an Army colonel who exemplified the qualities carved in stone at West Point, refused to maneuver into a small neoconservative box, and he was moved into another position, where truth-telling would be viewed as an asset instead of a handicap. Among the civilians, I observed the stereotypical perspective that this too would pass, with policy analysts apparently willing to wait out the neocon phase.
In early winter, an incident occurred that was seared into my memory. A coworker and I were suddenly directed to go down to the Mall entrance to pick up some Israeli generals. Post-9/11 rules required one escort for every three visitors, and there were six or seven of them waiting. The Navy lieutenant commander and I hustled down. Before we could apologize for the delay, the leader of the pack surged ahead, his colleagues in close formation, leaving us to double-time behind the group as they sped to Undersecretary Feith’s office on the fourth floor. Two thoughts crossed our minds: are we following close enough to get credit for escorting them, and do they really know where they are going? We did get credit, and they did know. Once in Feith’s waiting room, the leader continued at speed to Feith’s closed door. An alert secretary saw this coming and had leapt from her desk to block the door. “Mr. Feith has a visitor. It will only be a few more minutes.” The leader craned his neck to look around the secretary’s head as he demanded, “Who is in there with him?”
This minor crisis of curiosity past, I noticed the security sign-in roster. Our habit, up until a few weeks before this incident, was not to sign in senior visitors like ambassadors. But about once a year, the security inspectors send out a warning letter that they were coming to inspect records. As a result, sign-in rosters were laid out, visible and used. I knew this because in the previous two weeks I watched this explanation being awkwardly presented to several North African ambassadors as they signed in for the first time and wondered why and why now. Given all this and seeing the sign-in roster, I asked the secretary, “Do you want these guys to sign in?” She raised her hands, both palms toward me, and waved frantically as she shook her head. “No, no, no, it is not necessary, not at all.” Her body language told me I had committed a faux pas for even asking the question. My fellow escort and I chatted on the way back to our office about how the generals knew where they were going (most foreign visitors to the five-sided asylum don’t) and how the generals didn’t have to sign in. I felt a bit dirtied by the whole thing and couldn’t stop comparing that experience to the grace and gentility of the Moroccan, Tunisian, and Algerian ambassadors with whom I worked.
In my study of the neoconservatives, it was easy to find out whom in Washington they liked and whom they didn’t. They liked most of the Heritage Foundation and all of the American Enterprise Institute. They liked writers Charles Krauthammer and Bill Kristol. To find out whom they didn’t like, no research was required. All I had to do was walk the corridors and attend staff meetings. There were several shared prerequisites to get on the Neoconservative List of Major Despicable People, and in spite of the rhetoric hurled against these enemies of the state, most really weren’t Rodents of Unusual Size. Most, in fact, were retired from a branch of the military with a star or two or four on their shoulders. All could and did rationally argue the many illogical points in the neoconservative strategy of offensive democracy—guys like Brent Scowcroft, Barry McCaffrey, Anthony Zinni, and Colin Powell.
I was present at a staff meeting when Deputy Undersecretary Bill Luti called General Zinni a traitor. At another time, I discussed with a political appointee the service being rendered by Colin Powell in the early winter and was told the best service he could offer would be to quit. I heard in another staff meeting a derogatory story about a little Tommy Fargo who was acting up. Little Tommy was, of course, Commander, Pacific Forces, Admiral Fargo. This was shared with the rest of us as a Bill Luti lesson in civilian control of the military. It was certainly not civil or controlled, but the message was crystal.
When President Bush gave his State of the Union address, there was a small furor over the reference to the yellowcake in Niger that Saddam was supposedly seeking. After this speech, everyone was discussing this as either new intelligence saved up for just such a speech or, more cynically, just one more flamboyant fabrication that those watching the propaganda campaign had come to expect. I had not heard about yellowcake from Niger or seen it mentioned on the Office of Special Plans talking points. When I went over to my old shop, sub-Saharan Africa, to congratulate them for making it into the president’s speech, they said the information hadn’t come from them or through them. They were as surprised and embarrassed as everyone else that such a blatant falsehood would make it into a presidential speech.
When General Zinni was removed as Bush’s Middle East envoy and Elliot Abrams joined the National Security Council (NSC) to lead the Mideast division, whoops and high-fives had erupted from the neocon cubicles. By midwinter, echoes of those celebrations seemed to mutate into a kind of anxious anticipation, shared by most of the Pentagon. The military was anxiously waiting under the bed for the other shoe to drop amidst concerns over troop availability, readiness for an ill-defined mission, and lack of day-after clarity. The neocons were anxiously struggling to get that damn shoe off, gleefully anticipating the martinis to be drunk and the fun to be had. The other shoe fell with a thump on Feb. 5 as Colin Powell delivered his United Nations presentation. It was a sad day for me and many others with whom I worked when we watched Powell’s public capitulation. The era when Powell had been considered a political general, back when he was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, had in many ways been erased for those of us who greatly admired his coup of the Pentagon neocons when he persuaded the president to pursue UN support for his invasion of Iraq. Now it was as if Powell had again rolled military interests—and national interests as well.
Around that same time, our deputy director forwarded a State Department cable that had gone out to our embassy in Turkey. The cable contained answers to 51 questions that had been asked of our ambassador by the Turkish government. The questions addressed things like after-war security arrangements, refugees, border control, stability in the Kurdish north, and occupation plans. But every third answer was either “To be determined” or “We’re working on that” or “This scenario is unlikely.” At one point, an answer included the “fact” that the United States military would physically secure the geographic border of Iraq. Curious, I checked the length of the physical border of Iraq. Then I checked out the length of our own border with Mexico. Given our exceptional success in securing our own desert borders, I found this statement interesting. Soon after, I was out-processed for retirement and couldn’t have been more relieved to be away from daily exposure to practices I had come to believe were unconstitutional. War is generally crafted and pursued for political reasons, but the reasons given to Congress and the American people for this one were so inaccurate and misleading as to be false. Certainly, the neoconservatives never bothered to sell the rest of the country on the real reasons for occupation of Iraq—more bases from which to flex U.S. muscle with Syria and Iran, better positioning for the inevitable fall of the regional sheikdoms, maintaining OPEC on a dollar track, and fulfilling a half-baked imperial vision. These more accurate reasons could have been argued on their merits, and the American people might indeed have supported the war. But we never got a chance to debate it. My personal experience leaning precariously toward the neoconservative maw showed me that their philosophy remains remarkably untouched by respect for real liberty, justice, and American values. My years of military service taught me that values and ideas matter, but these most important aspects of our great nation cannot be defended adequately by those in uniform. This time, salvaging our honor will require a conscious, thoughtful, and stubborn commitment from each and every one of us, and though I no longer wear the uniform, I have not given up the fight.
By Karen Kwiatowski, First Published in The American Conservative, January 19, 2004
8. The New Pentagon Papers
by Karen Kwiatowski...
In July of last year, after just over 20 years of service, I retired as a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force. I had served as a communications officer in the field and in acquisition programs, as a speechwriter for the National Security Agency director, and on the Headquarters Air Force and the office of the secretary of defense staffs covering African affairs. I had completed Air Command and Staff College and Navy War College seminar programs, two master’s degrees, and everything but my Ph.D. dissertation in world politics at Catholic University. I regarded my military vocation as interesting, rewarding and apolitical. My career started in 1978 with the smooth seduction of a full four-year ROTC scholarship. It ended with 10 months of duty in a strange new country, observing up close and personal a process of decision making for war not sanctioned by the Constitution we had all sworn to uphold. Ben Franklin’s comment that the Constitutional Convention of 1787 in Philadelphia had delivered “a republic, madam, if you can keep it” would come to have special meaning.
In the spring of 2002, I was a cynical but willing staff officer, almost two years into my three-year tour at the office of the secretary of defense, undersecretary for policy, sub-Saharan Africa. In April, a call for volunteers went out for the Near East South Asia directorate (NESA). None materialized. By May, the call transmogrified into a posthaste demand for any staff officer, and I was “volunteered” to enter what would be a well-appointed den of iniquity.
The education I would receive there was like an M. Night Shyamalan movie - intense, fascinating and frightening. While the people were very much alive, I saw a dead philosophy - Cold War anti-communism and neo-imperialism - walking the corridors of the Pentagon. It wore the clothing of counterterrorism and spoke the language of a holy war between good and evil. The evil was recognized by the leadership to be resident mainly in the Middle East and articulated by Islamic clerics and radicals. But there were other enemies within, anyone who dared voice any skepticism about their grand plans, including Secretary of State Colin Powell and Gen. Anthony Zinni.
From May 2002 until February 2003, I observed firsthand the formation of the Pentagon’s Office of Special Plans and watched the latter stages of the neoconservative capture of the policy-intelligence nexus in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. This seizure of the reins of U.S. Middle East policy was directly visible to many of us working in the Near East South Asia policy office, and yet there seemed to be little any of us could do about it. I saw a narrow and deeply flawed policy favored by some executive appointees in the Pentagon used to manipulate and pressurize the traditional relationship between policymakers in the Pentagon and U.S. intelligence agencies.
I witnessed neoconservative agenda bearers within OSP usurp measured and carefully considered assessments, and through suppression and distortion of intelligence analysis promulgate what were in fact falsehoods to both Congress and the executive office of the president.
While this commandeering of a narrow segment of both intelligence production and American foreign policy matched closely with the well-published desires of the neoconservative wing of the Republican Party, many of us in the Pentagon, conservatives and liberals alike, felt that this agenda, whatever its flaws or merits, had never been openly presented to the American people. Instead, the public story line was a fear-peddling and confusing set of messages, designed to take Congress and the country into a war of executive choice, a war based on false pretenses, and a war one year later Americans do not really understand. That is why I have gone public with my account.
To begin with, I was introduced to Bill Luti, assistant secretary of defense for NESA. A tall, thin, nervously intelligent man, he welcomed me into the fold. I knew little about him. Because he was a recently retired naval captain and now high-level Bush appointee, the common assumption was that he had connections, if not capability. I would later find out that when Dick Cheney was secretary of defense over a decade earlier, Luti was his aide. He had also been a military aide to Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich during the Clinton years and had completed his Ph.D. at the Fletcher School at Tufts University. While his Navy career had not granted him flag rank, he had it now and was not shy about comparing his place in the pecking order with various three- and four-star generals and admirals in and out of the Pentagon. Name dropping included references to getting this or that document over to Scooter, or responding to one of Scooter’s requests right away. Scooter, I would find out later, was I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the vice president’s chief of staff.
Co-workers who had watched the transition from Clintonista to Bushite shared conversations and stories indicating that something deliberate and manipulative was happening to NESA. Key professional personnel, longtime civilian professionals holding the important billets in NESA, were replaced early on during the transition. Longtime officer director Joe McMillan was reassigned to the National Defense University. The director’s job in the time of transition was to help bring the newly appointed deputy assistant secretary up to speed, ensure office continuity, act as a resource relating to regional histories and policies, and help identify the best ways to maintain course or to implement change. Removing such a critical continuity factor was not only unusual but also seemed like willful handicapping. It was the first signal of radical change.
At the time, I didn’t realize that the expertise on Middle East policy was not only being removed, but was also being exchanged for that from various agenda-bearing think tanks, including the Middle East Media Research Institute, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs. Interestingly, the office director billet stayed vacant the whole time I was there. That vacancy and the long-term absence of real regional understanding to inform defense policymakers in the Pentagon explains a great deal about the neoconservative approach on the Middle East and the disastrous mistakes made in Washington and in Iraq in the past two years.
I soon saw the modus operandi of “instant policy” unhampered by debate or experience with the early Bush administration replacement of the civilian head of the Israel, Lebanon and Syria desk office with a young political appointee from the Washington Institute, David Schenker. Word was that the former experienced civilian desk officer tended to be evenhanded toward the policies of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel, but there were complaints and he was gone. I met David and chatted with him frequently. He was a smart, serious, hardworking guy, and the proud author of a book on the chances for Palestinian democracy. Country desk officers were rarely political appointees. In my years at the Pentagon, this was the only “political” I knew doing that type of high-stress and low-recognition duty. So eager was the office to have Schenker at the Israel desk, he served for many months as a defense contractor of sorts and only received his “Schedule C” political appointee status months after I arrived.
I learned that there was indeed a preferred ideology for NESA. My first day in the office, a GS-15 career civil servant rather unhappily advised me that if I wanted to be successful here, I’d better remember not to say anything positive about the Palestinians. This belied official U.S. policy of serving as an honest broker for resolution of Israeli and Palestinian security concerns. At that time, there was a great deal of talk about Bush’s possible support for a Palestinian state. That the Pentagon could have implemented and, worse, was implementing its own foreign policy had not yet occurred to me.
Throughout the summer, the NESA spaces in one long office on the fourth floor, between the 7th and 8th corridors of D Ring, became more and more crowded. With war talk and planning about Iraq, all kinds of new people were brought in. A politically savvy civilian-clothes-wearing lieutenant colonel named Bill Bruner served as the Iraq desk officer, and he had apparently joined NESA about the time Bill Luti did. I discovered that Bruner, like Luti, had served as a military aide to Speaker Gingrich. Gingrich himself was now conveniently an active member of Bush’s Defense Policy Board, which had space immediately below ours on the third floor.
I asked why Bruner wore civilian attire, and was told by others, “He’s Chalabi’s handler.” Chalabi, of course, was Ahmad Chalabi, the president of the Iraqi National Congress, who was the favored exile of the neoconservatives and the source of much of their “intelligence.” Bruner himself said he had to attend a lot of meetings downtown in hotels and that explained his suits. Soon, in July, he was joined by another Air Force pilot, a colonel with no discernible political connections, Kevin Jones. I thought of it as a military-civilian partnership, although both were commissioned officers.
Among the other people arriving over the summer of 2002 was Michael Makovsky, a recent MIT graduate who had written his dissertation on Winston Churchill and was going to work on “Iraqi oil issues.” He was David Makovsky’s younger brother. David was at the time a senior fellow at the Washington Institute and had formerly been an editor of the Jerusalem Post, a pro-Likud newspaper. Mike was quiet and seemed a bit uncomfortable sharing space with us. He soon disappeared into some other part of the operation and I rarely saw him after that.
In late summer, new space was found upstairs on the fifth floor, and the “expanded Iraq desk,” now dubbed the “Office of Special Plans,” began moving there. And OSP kept expanding.
Another person I observed to appear suddenly was Michael Rubin, another Washington Institute fellow working on Iraq policy. He and Chris Straub, a retired Army officer who had been a Republican staffer for the Senate Intelligence Committee, were eventually assigned to OSP.
John Trigilio, a Defense Intelligence Agency analyst, was assigned to handle Iraq intelligence for Luti. Trigilio had been on a one-year career-enhancement tour with the office of the secretary of defense that was to end in August 2002. DIA had offered him routine intelligence positions upon his return from his OSD sabbatical, but none was as interesting as working in August 2002 for Luti. John asked Luti for help in gaining an extension for another year, effectively removing him from the DIA bureaucracy and its professional constraints.
Trigilio and I had hallway debates, as friends. The one I remember most clearly was shortly after President Bush gave his famous “mushroom cloud” speech in Cincinnati in October 2002, asserting that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction as well as ties to “international terrorists,” and was working feverishly to develop nuclear weapons with “nuclear holy warriors.” I asked John who was feeding the president all the bull about Saddam and the threat he posed us in terms of WMD delivery and his links to terrorists, as none of this was in secret intelligence I had seen in the past years. John insisted that it wasn’t an exaggeration, but when pressed to say which actual intelligence reports made these claims, he would only say, “Karen, we have sources that you don’t have access to.” It was widely felt by those of us in the office not in the neoconservatives’ inner circle that these “sources” related to the chummy relationship that Ahmad Chalabi had with both the Office of Special Plans and the office of the vice president.
The newly named director of the OSP, Abram Shulsky, was one of the most senior people sharing our space that summer. Abe, a kindly and gentle man, who would say hello to me in the hallways, seemed to be someone I, as a political science grad student, would have loved to sit with over coffee and discuss the world’s problems. I had a clear sense that Abe ranked high in the organization, although ostensibly he was under Luti. Luti was known at times to treat his staff, even senior staff, with disrespect, contempt and derision. He also didn’t take kindly to staff officers who had an opinion or viewpoint that was off the neoconservative reservation. But with Shulsky, who didn’t speak much at the staff meetings, he was always respectful and deferential. It seemed like Shulsky’s real boss was somebody like Douglas Feith or higher.
Doug Feith, undersecretary of defense for policy, was a case study in how not to run a large organization. In late 2001, he held the first all-hands policy meeting at which he discussed for over 15 minutes how many bullets and sub-bullets should be in papers for Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. A year later, in August of 2002, he held another all-hands meeting in the auditorium where he embarrassed everyone with an emotional performance about what it was like to serve Rumsfeld. He blithely informed us that for months he didn’t realize Rumsfeld had a daily stand-up meeting with his four undersecretaries. He shared with us the fact that, after he started to attend these meetings, he knew better what Rumsfeld wanted of him. Most military staffers and professional civilians hearing this were incredulous, as was I, to hear of such organizational ignorance lasting so long and shared so openly. Feith’s inattention to most policy detail, except that relating to Israel and Iraq, earned him a reputation most foul throughout Policy, with rampant stories of routine signatures that took months to achieve and lost documents. His poor reputation as a manager was not helped by his arrogance. One thing I kept hearing from those defending Feith was that he was “just brilliant.” It was curiously like the brainwashed refrain in “The Manchurian Candidate” about the programmed sleeper agent Raymond Shaw, as the “kindest, warmest, bravest, most wonderful human being I’ve ever known.”
I spent time that summer exploring the neoconservative worldview and trying to grasp what was happening inside the Pentagon. I wondered what could explain this rush to war and disregard for real intelligence. Neoconservatives are fairly easy to study, mainly because they are few in number, and they show up at all the same parties. Examining them as individuals, it became clear that almost all have worked together, in and out of government, on national security issues for several decades. The Project for the New American Century and its now famous 1998 manifesto to President Clinton on Iraq is a recent example. But this statement was preceded by one written for Benyamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party campaign in Israel in 1996 by neoconservatives Richard Perle, David Wurmser and Douglas Feith titled “A Clean Break: Strategy for Securing the Realm.”
David Wurmser is the least known of that trio and an interesting example of the tangled neoconservative web. In 2001, the research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute was assigned to the Pentagon, then moved to the Department of State to work as deputy for the hard-line conservative undersecretary John Bolton, then to the National Security Council, and now is lodged in the office of the vice president. His wife, the prolific Meyrav Wurmser, executive director of the Middle East Media Research Institute, is also a neoconservative team player. Before the Iraq invasion, many of these same players labored together for literally decades to push a defense strategy that favored military intervention and confrontation with enemies, secret and unconstitutional if need be. Some former officials, such as Richard Perle (an assistant secretary of defense under Reagan) and James Woolsey (CIA director under Clinton), were granted a new lease on life, a renewed gravitas, with positions on President Bush’s Defense Policy Board. Others, like Elliott Abrams and Paul Wolfowitz, had apparently overcome previous negative associations from an Iran-Contra conviction for lying to the Congress and for utterly miscalculating the strength of the Soviet Union in a politically driven report to the CIA.
Neoconservatives march as one phalanx in parallel opposition to those they hate. In the early winter of 2002, a co-worker U.S. Navy captain and I were discussing the service being rendered by Colin Powell at the time, and we were told by the neoconservative political appointee David Schenker that “the best service Powell could offer would be to quit right now.” I was present at a staff meeting when Bill Luti called Marine Gen. and former Chief of Central Command Anthony Zinni a “traitor,” because Zinni had publicly expressed reservations about the rush to war. After August 2002, the Office of Special Plans established its own rhythm and cadence separate from the non-politically minded professionals covering the rest of the region. While often accused of creating intelligence, I saw only two apparent products of this office: war planning guidance for Rumsfeld, presumably impacting Central Command, and talking points on Iraq, WMD and terrorism. These internal talking points seemed to be a mélange crafted from obvious past observation and intelligence bits and pieces of dubious origin. They were propagandistic in style, and all desk officers were ordered to use them verbatim in the preparation of any material prepared for higher-ups and people outside the Pentagon. The talking points included statements about Saddam Hussein’s proclivity for using chemical weapons against his own citizens and neighbors, his existing relations with terrorists based on a member of al-Qaida reportedly receiving medical care in Baghdad, his widely publicized aid to the Palestinians, and general indications of an aggressive viability in Saddam Hussein’s nuclear weapons program and his ongoing efforts to use them against his neighbors or give them to al-Qaida style groups. The talking points said he was threatening his neighbors and was a serious threat to the U.S., too. I suspected, from reading Charles Krauthammer, a neoconservative columnist for the Washington Post, and the Weekly Standard, and hearing a Cheney speech or two, that these talking points left the building on occasion. Both OSP functions duplicated other parts of the Pentagon. The facts we should have used to base our papers on were already being produced by the intelligence agencies, and the war planning was already done by the combatant command staff with some help from the Joint Staff. Instead of developing defense policy alternatives and advice, OSP was used to manufacture propaganda for internal and external use, and pseudo war planning.
As a result of my duties as the North Africa desk officer, I became acquainted with the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) support staff for NESA. Every policy regional director was served by a senior executive intelligence professional from DIA, along with a professional intelligence staff. This staff channeled DIA products, accepted tasks for DIA, and in the past had been seen as a valued member of the regional teams. However, as the war approached, this type of relationship with the Defense Intelligence Agency crumbled.
Even the most casual observer could note the tension and even animosity between “Wild Bill” Luti (as we came to refer to our boss) and Bruce Hardcastle, our defense intelligence officer (DIO). Certainly, there were stylistic and personality differences. Hardcastle, like most senior intelligence officers I knew, was serious, reserved, deliberate, and went to great lengths to achieve precision and accuracy in his speech and writing. Luti was the kind of guy who, in staff meetings and in conversations, would jump from grand theory to administrative minutiae with nary a blink or a fleeting shadow of self-awareness.
I discovered that Luti and possibly others within OSP were dissatisfied with Hardcastle’s briefings, in particular with the aspects relating to WMD and terrorism. I was not clear exactly what those concerns were, but I came to understand that the DIA briefing did not match what OSP was claiming about Iraq’s WMD capabilities and terrorist activities. I learned that shortly before I arrived there had been an incident in NESA where Hardcastle’s presence and briefing at a bilateral meeting had been nixed abruptly by Luti. The story circulating among the desk officers was “a last-minute cancellation” of the DIO presentation. Hardcastle’s intelligence briefing was replaced with one prepared by another Policy office that worked nonproliferation issues. While this alternative briefing relied on intelligence produced by DIO and elsewhere, it was not a product of the DIA or CIA community, but instead was an OSD Policy “branded” product - and so were its conclusions. The message sent by Policy appointees and well understood by staff officers and the defense intelligence community was that senior appointed civilians were willing to exclude or marginalize intelligence products that did not fit the agenda.
Staff officers would always request OSP’s most current Iraq, WMD and terrorism talking points. On occasion, these weren’t available in an approved form and awaited Shulsky’s approval. The talking points were a series of bulleted statements, written persuasively and in a convincing way, and superficially they seemed reasonable and rational. Saddam Hussein had gassed his neighbors, abused his people, and was continuing in that mode, becoming an imminently dangerous threat to his neighbors and to us - except that none of his neighbors or Israel felt this was the case. Saddam Hussein had harbored al-Qaida operatives and offered and probably provided them with training facilities - without mentioning that the suspected facilities were in the U.S./Kurdish-controlled part of Iraq. Saddam Hussein was pursuing and had WMD of the type that could be used by him, in conjunction with al-Qaida and other terrorists, to attack and damage American interests, Americans and America - except the intelligence didn’t really say that. Saddam Hussein had not been seriously weakened by war and sanctions and weekly bombings over the past 12 years, and in fact was plotting to hurt America and support anti-American activities, in part through his carrying on with terrorists - although here the intelligence said the opposite. His support for the Palestinians and Arafat proved his terrorist connections, and basically, the time to act was now. This was the gist of the talking points, and it remained on message throughout the time I watched the points evolve.
But evolve they did, and the subtle changes I saw from September to late January revealed what the Office of Special Plans was contributing to national security. Two key types of modifications were directed or approved by Shulsky and his team of politicos. First was the deletion of entire references or bullets. The one I remember most specifically is when they dropped the bullet that said one of Saddam’s intelligence operatives had met with Mohammad Atta in Prague, supposedly salient proof that Saddam was in part responsible for the 9/11 attack. That claim had lasted through a number of revisions, but after the media reported the claim as unsubstantiated by U.S. intelligence, denied by the Czech government, and that Atta’s location had been confirmed by the FBI to be elsewhere, that particular bullet was dropped entirely from our “advice on things to say” to senior Pentagon officials when they met with guests or outsiders.
The other change made to the talking points was along the line of fine-tuning and generalizing. Much of what was there was already so general as to be less than accurate.
Some bullets were softened, particularly statements of Saddam’s readiness and capability in the chemical, biological or nuclear arena. Others were altered over time to match more exactly something Bush and Cheney said in recent speeches. One item I never saw in our talking points was a reference to Saddam’s purported attempt to buy yellowcake uranium in Niger. The OSP list of crime and evil had included Saddam’s attempts to seek fissionable materials or uranium in Africa. This point was written mostly in the present tense and conveniently left off the dates of the last known attempt, sometime in the late 1980s. I was surprised to hear the president’s mention of the yellowcake in Niger in his 2003 State of the Union address because that indeed was new and in theory might have represented new intelligence, something that seemed remarkably absent in any of the products provided us by the OSP (although not for lack of trying). After hearing of it, I checked with my old office of Sub-Saharan African Affairs - and it was news to them, too. It also turned out to be false.
It is interesting today that the “defense” for those who lied or prevaricated about Iraq is to point the finger at the intelligence. But the National Intelligence Estimate, published in September 2002, as remarked upon recently by former CIA Middle East chief Ray McGovern, was an afterthought. It was provoked only after Sens. Bob Graham and Dick Durban noted in August 2002, as Congress was being asked to support a resolution for preemptive war, that no NIE elaborating real threats to the United States had been provided. In fact, it had not been written, but a suitable NIE was dutifully prepared and submitted the very next month. Naturally, this document largely supported most of the outrageous statements already made publicly by Bush, Cheney, Rice and Rumsfeld about the threat Iraq posed to the United States. All the caveats, reservations and dissents made by intelligence were relegated to footnotes and kept from the public. Funny how that worked.
Starting in the fall of 2002 I found a way to vent my frustrations with the neoconservative hijacking of our defense policy. The safe outlet was provided by retired Col. David Hackworth, who agreed to publish my short stories anonymously on his Web site Soldiers for the Truth, under the moniker of “Deep Throat: Insider Notes From the Pentagon.” The “deep throat” part was his idea, but I was happy to have a sense that there were folks out there, mostly military, who would be interested in the secretary of defense-sponsored insanity I was witnessing on almost a daily basis. When I was particularly upset, like when I heard Zinni called a “traitor,” I wrote about it in articles like this one.
In November, my Insider articles discussed the artificial worlds created by the Pentagon and the stupid naiveté of neocon assumptions about what would happen when we invaded Iraq. I discussed the price of public service, distinguishing between public servants who told the truth and then saw their careers flame out and those “public servants” who did not tell the truth and saw their careers ignite. My December articles became more depressing, discussing the history of the 100 Years’ War and “combat lobotomies.” There was a painful one titled “Minority Reports”about the necessity but unlikelihood of a Philip Dick sci-fi style “minority report” on Feith-Wolfowitz-Rumsfeld-Cheney’s insanely grandiose vision of some future Middle East, with peace, love and democracy brought on through preemptive war and military occupation.
I shared some of my concerns with a civilian who had been remotely acquainted with the Luti-Feith-Perle political clan in his previous work for one of the senior Pentagon witnesses during the Iran-Contra hearings. He told me these guys were engaged in something worse than Iran-Contra. I was curious but he wouldn’t tell me anything more. I figured he knew what he was talking about. I thought of him when I read much later about the 2002 and 2003 meetings between Michael Ledeen, Reuel Marc Gerecht and Iranian arms dealer Manucher Ghorbanifar - all Iran-Contra figures.
In December 2002, I requested an acceleration of my retirement to the following July. By now, the military was anxiously waiting under the bed for the other shoe to drop amid concerns over troop availability, readiness for an ill-defined mission, and lack of day-after clarity. The neocons were anxiously struggling to get that damn shoe off. That other shoe fell with a thump, as did the regard many of us had held for Colin Powell, on Feb. 5 as the secretary of state capitulated to the neoconservative line in his speech at the United Nations - a speech not only filled with falsehoods pushed by the neoconservatives but also containing many statements already debunked by intelligence.
War is generally crafted and pursued for political reasons, but the reasons given to the Congress and to the American people for this one were inaccurate and so misleading as to be false. Moreover, they were false by design. Certainly, the neoconservatives never bothered to sell the rest of the country on the real reasons for occupation of Iraq - more bases from which to flex U.S. muscle with Syria and Iran, and better positioning for the inevitable fall of the regional ruling sheikdoms. Maintaining OPEC on a dollar track and not a euro and fulfilling a half-baked imperial vision also played a role. These more accurate reasons for invading and occupying could have been argued on their merits - an angry and aggressive U.S. population might indeed have supported the war and occupation for those reasons. But Americans didn’t get the chance for an honest debate.
President Bush has now appointed a commission to look at American intelligence capabilities and will report after the election. It will “examine intelligence on weapons of mass destruction and related 21st century threats … [and] compare what the Iraq Survey Group learns with the information we had prior…” The commission, aside from being modeled on failed rubber stamp commissions of the past and consisting entirely of those selected by the executive branch, specifically excludes an examination of the role of the Office of Special Plans and other executive advisory bodies. If the president or vice president were seriously interested in “getting the truth,” they might consider asking for evidence on how intelligence was politicized, misused and manipulated, and whether information from the intelligence community was distorted in order to sway Congress and public opinion in a narrowly conceived neoconservative push for war. Bush says he wants the truth, but it is clear he is no more interested in it today than he was two years ago.
Proving that the truth is indeed the first casualty in war, neoconservative member of the Defense Policy Board Richard Perle called this February for “heads to roll.” Perle, agenda setter par excellence, named George Tenet and Defense Intelligence Agency head Vice Adm. Lowell Jacoby as guilty of failing to properly inform the president on Iraq and WMD. No doubt, the intelligence community, susceptible to politicization and outdated paradigms, needs reform. The swiftness of the neoconservative casting of blame on the intelligence community and away from themselves should have been fully expected. Perhaps Perle and others sense the grave and growing danger of political storms unleashed by the exposure of neoconservative lies. Meanwhile, Ahmad Chalabi, extravagantly funded by the neocons in the Pentagon to the tune of millions to provide the disinformation, has boasted with remarkable frankness, “We are heroes in error,” and, “What was said before is not important.”
Now we are told by our president and neoconservative mouthpieces that our sons and daughters, husbands and wives are in Iraq fighting for freedom, for liberty, for justice and American values. This cost is not borne by the children of Wolfowitz, Perle, Rumsfeld and Cheney. Bush’s daughters do not pay this price. We are told that intelligence has failed America, and that President Bush is determined to get to the bottom of it. Yet not a single neoconservative appointee has lost his job, and no high official of principle in the administration has formally resigned because of this ill-planned and ill-conceived war and poorly implemented occupation of Iraq. Will Americans hold U.S. policymakers accountable? Will we return to our roots as a republic, constrained and deliberate, respectful of others? My experience in the Pentagon leading up to the invasion and occupation of Iraq tells me, as Ben Franklin warned, we may have already failed. But if Americans at home are willing to fight - tenaciously and courageously - to preserve our republic, we might be able to keep it.
By Karen Kwiatowski, First Published in Salon, March 10, 2004
9. How Ahmed Chalabi Conned the Neocons
The hawks who launched the Iraq war believed the deal-making exile when he promised to build a secular democracy with close ties to Israel. Now the Israel deal is dead, he's cozying up to Iran -- and his patrons look like they're on the way out.
by John Dizard... When the definitive history of the current Iraq war is finally written, wealthy exile Ahmed Chalabi will be among those judged most responsible for the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq and topple Saddam Hussein. More than a decade ago Chalabi teamed up with American neoconservatives to sell the war as the cornerstone of an energetic new policy to bring democracy to the Middle East - and after 9/11, as the crucial antidote to global terrorism. It was Chalabi who provided crucial intelligence on Iraqi weaponry to justify the invasion, almost all of which turned out to be false, and laid out a rosy scenario about the country’s readiness for an American strike against Saddam that led the nation’s leaders to predict - and apparently even believe - that they would be greeted as liberators. Chalabi also promised his neoconservative patrons that as leader of Iraq he would make peace with Israel, an issue of vital importance to them. A year ago, Chalabi was riding high, after Saddam Hussein fell with even less trouble than expected.
Now his power is slipping away, and some of his old neoconservative allies - whose own political survival is looking increasingly shaky as the U.S. occupation turns nightmarish - are beginning to turn on him. The U.S. reversed its policy of excluding former Baathists from the Iraqi army - a policy devised by Chalabi - and Marine commanders even empowered former Republican Guard officers to run the pacification of Fallujah. Last week United Nations envoy Lakhdar Brahimi delivered a devastating blow to Chalabi’s future leadership hopes, recommending that the Iraqi Governing Council, of which he is finance chair, be accorded no governance role after the June 30 transition to sovereignty. Meanwhile, administration neoconservatives, once united behind Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress he founded, are now split, as new doubts about his long-stated commitment to a secular Iraqi democracy with ties to Israel, and fears that he is cozying up to his Shiite co-religionists in Iran, begin to emerge. At least one key Pentagon neocon is said to be on his way out, a casualty of the battle over Chalabi and the increasing chaos in Iraq, and others could follow.
“Ahmed Chalabi is a treacherous, spineless turncoat,” says L. Marc Zell, a former law partner of Douglas Feith, now the undersecretary of defense for policy, and a former friend and supporter of Chalabi and his aspirations to lead Iraq. “He had one set of friends before he was in power, and now he’s got another.” While Zell’s disaffection with Chalabi has been a long time in the making, his remarks to Salon represent his first public break with the would-be Iraqi leader, and are likely to ripple throughout Washington in the days to come. Zell, a Jerusalem attorney, continues to be a partner in the firm that Feith left in 2001 to take the Pentagon job. He also helped Ahmed Chalabi’s nephew Salem set up a new law office in Baghdad in late 2003. Chalabi met with Zell and other neoconservatives many times from the mid-1990s on in London, Turkey, and the U.S. Zell outlines what Chalabi was promising the neocons before the Iraq war: “He said he would end Iraq’s boycott of trade with Israel, and would allow Israeli companies to do business there. He said [the new Iraqi government] would agree to rebuild the pipeline from Mosul [in the northern Iraqi oil fields] to Haifa [the Israeli port, and the location of a major refinery].” But Chalabi, Zell says, has delivered on none of them. The bitter ex-Chalabi backer believes his former friend’s moves were a deliberate bait and switch designed to win support for his designs to return to Iraq and run the country.
Chalabi’s ties to Iran - Israel’s most dangerous enemy - have also alarmed both his allies and his enemies in the Bush administration. Those ties were highlighted on Monday, when Newsweek reported that “U.S. officials say that electronic intercepts of discussions between Iranian leaders indicate that Chalabi and his entourage told Iranian contacts about American political plans in Iraq.” According to one government source, some of the information he gave Iran “could get people killed.” A Chalabi aide denied the allegation. According to Newsweek, the State Department and the CIA - Chalabi’s longtime enemies - were behind the leak: “the State Department and the CIA are using the intelligence about his Iran ties to persuade the president to cut him loose once and for all.”
But the neocons have bigger problems than Chalabi. As the intellectual architects of an “easy” war gone bad, they stand to pay the price. The first to go may be Zell’s old partner Douglas Feith. Military sources say Feith will resign his Defense Department post by mid-May. His removal was reportedly a precondition imposed by Ambassador to the U.N. John Negroponte when he agreed to take over from Paul Bremer as the top U.S. official in Iraq. “Feith is on the way out,” Iraqi defense minister (and Chalabi nephew) Ali Allawi says confidently, and other sources confirm it. Feith’s boss, Undersecretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, may follow. Bush political mastermind Karl Rove is said to be determined that Wolfowitz move on before the November election, even if he comes back in a second Bush term. Sources say one of the positions being suggested is the director of Central Intelligence.
In part, the White House political crew is reacting to pressure from the uniformed military, which is becoming a quiet but effective enemy of the neocons. The White House seems to be performing triage to save the political capital of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney, Iraq hawks who have close ties to the neocons. “Rumsfeld and Cheney stay,” says an Army officer. “Powell has his guy Negroponte in there. But the neocons are losing power day by day.”
Why did the neocons put such enormous faith in Ahmed Chalabi, an exile with a shady past and no standing with Iraqis? One word: Israel. They saw the invasion of Iraq as the precondition for a reorganization of the Middle East that would solve Israel’s strategic problems, without the need for an accommodation with either the Palestinians or the existing Arab states. Chalabi assured them that the Iraqi democracy he would build would develop diplomatic and trade ties with Israel, and eschew Arab nationalism.
Now some influential allies believe those assurances were part of an elaborate con, and that Chalabi has betrayed his promises on Israel while cozying up to Iranian Shia leaders. Whether because of intentional deception or a realistic calculation of what the Iraqi people will accept, it’s clear that Chalabi won’t be delivering on his bright promises to ally a democratic Iraq with Israel. Had the neocons not been deluded by gross ignorance of the Arab world and blinded by wishful thinking, they would have realized that the chances that Chalabi or any other Iraqi leader could deliver on such promises were always remote. In fact, they need have looked no further than the Israeli media: A long piece in Israel’s Jerusalem Report magazine published nine days before the war began last year featured Israelis who dismissed Chalabi’s promises about Israel as a political ploy, “a means by which to appeal to the Jewish lobby and, in turn, the administration.”
“Chalabi has no use for Israel. He knew all along that this was a nonstarter,” says Robert Baer, a former CIA field officer who led covert U.S. operations inside Iraq in the mid-1990s aimed at toppling Saddam. “Chalabi knows exactly what Israel stands for in Iraq and in Iran, with or without Saddam. The idea of building the pipeline to Haifa, or rapprochement with Iran … I’m sure he told [the neocons] these things could happen, that he played to their prejudices and said, ‘This is the new Middle East,’ but he didn’t believe any of it. That’s the way Chalabi operates.”
“He was willing to ally with anyone to get where he is now, whether it was the neocons, the Israelis or the Iranians,” adds Baer. “He wanted back into Iraq and nothing was going to stop him.”
It could have been predicted that Chalabi would want to deal with Israel’s enemies in Iran. He and his relatives have made that clear. As Iraq’s defense minister, Ali Allawi, says, “We have a lot of problems in common with Iran. If we could involve them in a regional security agreement with us, that would be very fruitful.” Still, Chalabi’s visit to Iran last December and his repeated assertions that peace in Iraq requires peace with Iran first alarmed, then embittered, his old friends.
Chalabi’s neoconservative friends, however, seem to have looked away from evidence that the businessman has always allied himself with whomever can help him the most. In the 1980s, Chalabi’s scandal-plagued Petra Bank funneled money to Amal, a Shia militia allied with Iran in Lebanon. And according to a former CIA case officer who worked in Iraq, Chalabi had close ties to the Iranian regime when he was in Kurdish Northern Iraq in the mid-1990s trying to foment resistance to Saddam. He even dealt with Saddam himself when the price was right, and initiated a method to finance the dictator’s trade with Jordan in the 1980s through his Petra Bank.
Chalabi’s Arab admirers say they knew he’d never make good on his promises to ally with Israel. “I was worried that he was going to do business with the Zionists,” confesses Moh’d Asad, the managing director of the Amman, Jordan-based International Investment Arabian Group, an industrial and agricultural exporter, who is one of Chalabi’s Palestinian friends and business partners. “He told me not to worry, that he just needed the Jews in order to get what he wanted from Washington, and that he would turn on them after that.”
AdvertisementAhmed Chalabi refused to speak to Salon. He has denounced U.N. envoy Brahimi as an “Arab nationalist” and compared the U.S. decision to bring back some former Iraqi soldiers to “allowing Nazis into the German government immediately after World War II.” Douglas Feith, Chalabi’s longtime ally and sponsor, also declined a request for an interview. Nevertheless, the outline of the new conflict between the Shiite former exile and his erstwhile sponsors is clear, based on interviews with Iraqi officials, U.S. military personnel and intelligence officers, and politically connected Israelis.
The crux of the conflict is Iran, and whether the U.S. should try to make a deal with the Islamic Republic to enlist its support for peace in Iraq. Before and immediately after the war, the neoconservative position was that U.S. empowerment of the long-disenfranchised Shia community would make possible an Iraqi government that would make a “warm peace” with Israel. This in turn would pressure the rest of the Arab world to make a similar peace, without the need to concede land to the Palestinians.
This was, of course, a pipe dream: The Shia community in Iraq, like the Sunni community, is overwhelmingly anti-Israel, and the entire range of its leadership has close ties with Iran. Belatedly realizing that Chalabi’s promise to build a secular, pro-Israel Shiite government is not going to come true, in the past couple of months the neocons in the Defense Department have tried to come up with a new plan. Feith, Wolfowitz and others are backing away from the Shia, due to their ties to Iran as well as Chalabi’s deceptions. They are trying to cobble together a coalition of rehabilitated Sunni Muslim Iraqi Army officers and Kurdish leaders backed by their militias that would have Shia participation, but in a reduced role. For proponents of this strategy, the front-runner to be prime minister of the next version of the transitional government is Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani, the founder and leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.
This policy has very little support. It’s opposed by those neocons who still back Ahmed Chalabi and his Shia allies — including influential former Defense Policy Board chair Richard Perle, along with neocon intellectuals Michael Ledeen, Bernard Lewis and Barbara Lerner. Although they like Talabani, they oppose the tilt toward the Sunnis, and some are still adamant that Chalabi play a role. “He’s effective in bringing groups of Iraqis together, something he’s done for many years,” Perle said on CNN on March 28. “He believes in democracy. I have complete confidence in him, and I hope the people of Iraq are wise enough to see his benefits.”
The shift in strategy toward Talabani is also being dismissed, for different reasons, by National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State Colin Powell, John Negroponte, the new ambassador to Iraq, and the uniformed military. They look at the Iraqi population statistics, which show a Shia majority; a map of the country, which shows a long, hard-to-defend border with Iran; and the U.S. military order of battle, which shows overstretched armed forces, and conclude there cannot be a stable Iraqi government that isn’t led by the majority Shia.
Even the Kurds have their doubts about the new rise in their standing with the neocons. Richard Galustian, a British security contractor in Iraq who works closely with the Kurdish authorities, says, “The political elevation of the Kurds within Iraq will be very unpopular with other Iraqis, and will be treated with caution by the Kurdish leaders themselves. Many will be skeptical of the ability of the U.S. administration to sustain and remain consistent in any new relationships.” If the Americans can turn on the Shia, the reasoning goes, why couldn’t they later turn on the Kurds?
President Bush’s ability to impose order on this mess is not obvious, and he doesn’t have more than a couple of weeks to figure out a solution. With photographs of U.S. troops torturing and abusing Iraqi prisoners inflaming the Arab world, U.S. casualties soaring, the June 30 date to turn over sovereignty looming and no exit strategy in sight, Bush’s Iraq adventure has turned into a deadly mess that seems certain to make the U.S. more at risk from terrorism, not less. Bush brought this trouble on himself by buying into the neocons’ interpretation of the dynamics of the Middle East, and into Ahmed Chalabi’s plans for Iraq — maybe most disastrously by buying Chalabi’s assurances that a secular government dominated by Israel-friendly Shia was possible. If Bush and the neocons wanted to know about Chalabi’s real deal-making nature, the signs were there for them to read. But they didn’t want to know.
Chalabi appears to have recognized that the neocons, while ruthless, realistic and effective in bureaucratic politics, were remarkably ignorant about the situation in Iraq, and willing to buy a fantasy of how the country’s politics worked. So he sold it to them.
Ahmed Chalabi’s family, Shia Muslims from Kut in southern Iraq, has a tradition of working with occupation governments, starting with the regime of the Ottoman Turks in 1638. Chalabi’s father, Abdul Haydi Chalabi, was a member of the council of ministers of King Faisal II, whose short-lived Hashemite dynasty was installed by the British in 1921. He was also president of the Iraqi Senate created by the Hashemites.
The Hashemites are Sunni Muslim nobility, originally from a region in today’s Saudi Arabia. While they lost their leading position in the Arabian peninsula to the Al Sa’ud family, they were successfully installed as monarchs in both Jordan and Iraq with British support. The Jordanian Hashemites found a base of support in the local Bedouin tribes, and retain power to this day. The Iraqi Hashemite branch, though, was strongly opposed by the local Shia Muslim ayatollahs from the beginning. So in 1922 the Iraqi Shia religious leaders in Najaf issued a fatwa, or decree, forbidding observant Shia from supporting the Hashemites. The Chalabi family wasn’t deterred, though. They were among the few Shia to defy the fatwa and support the British-imposed dynasty. They were rewarded with royal patronage, and wound up controlling the flour milling industry in Baghdad and Basra. The fatwa was finally lifted in 1937, and by then the Chalabis had made a fortune.
Ahmed Chalabi was born in 1944. His family reached the peak of its wealth and influence during his childhood. In 1958, though, the Hashemite royals were slaughtered during a military coup d’état, and the Chalabis fled, first to Jordan, then to Britain. Chalabi reportedly still has a British passport.
The highly intelligent Chalabi enrolled at MIT at 16, where he earned a degree in mathematics. He then took a Ph.D. in math at the University of Chicago in 1969. (His thesis was “On the Jacobson Radical of a Group Algebra.”) Despite these serious power-geek credentials, Chalabi has always been known as charming, worldly, and a skilled networker. While at Chicago, Chalabi met Albert Wohlstetter, an applied mathematician and one of the founders of the neoconservative movement. Wohlstetter introduced Chalabi to future movement leaders like Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz.
After earning his doctorate, Chalabi returned to the Middle East and became a math professor in Beirut. At the time Beirut was the peaceful financial center of the region, and in 1963 Chalabi’s family had, along with some local partners, started Mebco, or the Middle East Banking Corp. It was run by Chalabi’s brother Jawad. They had also established a Swiss financial company, Socofi, in 1954, as well as a Swiss subsidiary of MEBCO.
As Ahmed Chalabi has told the story, the Jordanian Hashemite crown prince, Hassan bin Talal, persuaded him to start the Petra Bank in Jordan in 1977. Chalabi’s associates say the family had given the Jordanian Hashemites some of the assassinated Iraqi Hashemites’ overseas assets after the 1958 coup, which no doubt helped smooth the way. The Chalabi family’s other banking and financial companies provided further support.
Just after the overthrow of the Shah of Iran, Chalabi seems to have first established his ties with the Iranian Shia theocracy. The new Islamic Republic turned on the shah’s former allies in Israel with a vengeance. The Iranian regime set up a substantial intelligence and political apparatus in Lebanon, among the oppressed local Shia. One of the key Shia institutions in Lebanon was MEBCO in Beirut, which by the 1980s had become a banker for the Shia Amal militia. Amal and Hezbollah were the principal private armies in Lebanon tied to the regime in Iran. Chalabi was placing Petra depositors’ money with MEBCO in those years; by the time Petra collapsed in 1989, bank auditors found, the equivalent of $41 million in transactions with MEBCO were on the books. “All the Lebanese banks were divided between political parties and factions,” says Hassan Abdul Aziz, a former director at Petra Bank. “MEBCO bank was no different. All the Shia were close to Iran emotionally or otherwise.” A former CIA case officer in Lebanon has a less sympathetic view. “This was basically funding a civil war, which meant murders, assassinations, and blowing up Israelis. MEBCO was putting their chips on every square.” Iran and the Shite militias were not the only violent elements destabilizing Lebanon in the ’70s and ’80s, of course. The bloody Israeli invasions of Lebanon, along with later punitive expeditions, inflamed the Shia and other Lebanese. But Lebanon was not the only venue for the Chalabi family’s flexible and innovative approach to international finance. This may come as a surprise to some of Ahmed Chalabi’s newer friends, but he helped finance Saddam Hussein’s trade with Jordan during the 1980s. Specifically, Chalabi helped organize a special trading account for Iraq at the Jordanian central bank. Due to the problems created by the war with Iran, Saddam Hussein was unable to obtain credit on normal terms. The special account with the Jordanians allowed him to swap oil for necessary imports — at least Saddam thought they were necessary — without going through the international credit system. As Hassan Abdul Aziz explains, “Petra was the first to give letters of credit to Iraq, which they did for 23 months before Banco del Lavoro did in 1984. (The Banco del Lavoro scandal involved the provision of U.S. government commodities loans to buy arms for Saddam Hussein.) By 1986 Jordan had $1 billion in annual trade with Iraq this way, and Petra Bank had 50% of the market.” It makes the neocons’ insistence that Saddam was behind Petra’s fall — and Chalabi’s conviction for embezzling and fraud — even less credible.
After Petra was seized by the Jordanian authorities in August 1989, Chalabi fled Jordan in the trunk of Crown Prince Hassan’s car. Chalabi and his family were still wealthy, despite the collapse of their banking empire, but his career in Middle East banking was over. He was now a double exile, from Jordan as well as Iraq, comfortably ensconced in London. Just a year after his fall, though, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. When the subsequent Gulf War weakened but did not topple Saddam, a new possibility beckoned: the return of the Chalabi family to power in Iraq.
Like many people in the Middle East, Ahmed Chalabi may have had the image of the CIA as an all-knowing organization of worldwide puppet masters. If so, he soon learned otherwise. But in the early 1990s the CIA looked like a good prospect to sponsor an anti-Saddam Iraqi exile movement. At the same time, though, Chalabi was also looking to the Islamic regime in Iran for help.
Chalabi and some fellow exiles founded the Iraqi National Congress in 1992. The INC was largely funded by the CIA, which provided part of its support through the Rendon Group, a Washington public relations company that also does international political work for the Department of Defense. The CIA’s support for the INC paid for two radio stations, various propaganda operations, and training camps in northern Iraq for Iraqi army defectors. (Northern Iraq, controlled by various Kurdish factions and protected by U.S. air cover, was a safe haven for Iraqi dissidents along with U.S. and allied intelligence operators.)
While Chalabi was perfectly willing to take the CIA’s money, he quickly learned that it had become an ineffectual, self-obsessed bureaucracy. “He had absolute, total disdain for D.C.,” says one of his former case officers in northern Iraq. “He looked at the Agency, and Rendon, and they flashed incompetence.”
The case officer doesn’t know precisely when Chalabi developed a deep relationship with the Iranian clerical regime, but it was in place when Chalabi was in northern Iraq in the early ’90s. As the case officer recounts it, “He was given safe houses and cars in northern Iraq, and was letting them be used by agents from the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security [Vevak], and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. At one point he tried to broker a meeting between the CIA and the Iranians.”
The same officer says from time to time Chalabi would offer him “intelligence,” which the officer would turn down. “I knew it wasn’t any good, and he knew I knew. He took the refusal in good humor. We had a good relationship. I like him.”
The CIA’s relationship with Chalabi came to an end after a failed offensive in March 1995 against Saddam’s forces by the small group of INC exiles and the militia of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. The CIA had withdrawn the support it had initially offered for the offensive, in what looks like a classic conflict between field officers and desk officers. Chalabi left northern Iraq the next month, and the CIA cut off its funding for the INC. It was at this time that Chalabi turned his attention to the American neoconservatives. The neocons were deeply disturbed by the Israeli government’s “land for peace” negotiations with the Palestinians. The usefulness of the West Bank for “defense in depth” was less important than it would have been from the ’40s to the ’70s, given the increase in Israel’s relative technological and military advantage over the Arabs. However, the idea of giving up what Israel’s right-wing Likud leaders and some of the neocons themselves believed to be Israel’s God-given lands on the West Bank of the Jordan River was anathema to them. The solution to Israel’s strategic dilemma, in their view, was to somehow change the Arab governments.
The neoconservative strategy for Israel was laid out in a 1996 paper called “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm,” issued by the Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies in Jerusalem (but written by Americans). The principal authors for the paper were Douglas Feith, then a lawyer with the Washington and Jerusalem firm of Feith and Zell, and Richard Perle, who until last year was the chairman of the Defense Policy Board, an advisory committee for Defense Secretary Rumsfeld.
In the section on Iraq, and the necessity of removing Saddam Hussein, there was telltale “intelligence” from Chalabi and his old Jordanian Hashemite patron, Prince Hassan: “The predominantly Shi’a population of southern Lebanon has been tied for centuries to the Shi’a leadership in Najaf, Iraq, rather than Iran. Were the Hashemites to control Iraq, they could use their influence over Najaf to help Israel wean the south Lebanese Shi’a away from Hizbollah, Iran, and Syria. Shi’a retain strong ties to the Hashemites.” Of course the Shia with “strong ties to the Hashemites” was the family of Ahmed Chalabi. Perle, Feith and other contributors to the “Clean Break” seemed not to recall the 15-year fatwa the clerics of Najaf proclaimed against the Iraqi Hashemites. Or the still more glaring fact, pointed out by Rashid Khalidi in his new book “Resurrecting Empire,” that Shiites are loyal only to descendants of the prophet Muhammad’s son-in-law, Ali, and reject all other lineages, including the Hashemites. As Khalidi caustically notes, “Perle and his colleagues were here proposing the complete restructuring of a region whose history and religion their suggestions reveal they know hardly anything about.” In short, the Iraqi component of the neocons “new strategy” was based on an ignorant fantasy of prospective Shia support for ties with Israel.
For Ahmed Chalabi, the neoconservatives’ support was the key to getting Washington on his side. And Chalabi’s leadership, in turn, was key to the neocons’ support for the INC. Perle and Feith, along with future Bush administration officials Paul Wolfowitz and Donald Rumsfeld, signed the February 1998 “open letter” to President Clinton, in which they listed nine policy steps that were in the “vital national interest” of the United States. The first of these was “Recognize a provisional government of Iraq based on the principles and leaders of the Iraqi National Congress (INC) that is representative of all the peoples of Iraq.” In October 1998, under intense lobbying pressure from the neocons, Congress passed, and President Clinton signed, the “Iraqi Liberation Act,” which provided money and U.S. legitimacy for Chalabi’s INC, along with six other exile groups. However, while Chalabi had proven himself as a lobbyist, if not a guerrilla leader, he had a continuous uphill battle with U.S. intelligence agencies, diplomats and the military, who never liked the INC’s loose ways with the facts and taxpayer money. This meant that Chalabi had to constantly reinforce his countervailing support from the neoconservatives - at least until they took power in the Bush administration in 2001, and squashed all dissonant internal voices on Chalabi. That’s when Chalabi and his allies stepped up their planning for an American overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Behind the scenes, Chalabi was also detailing for the neoconservatives and their Israeli allies in the Likud party how the INC would take care of Israel.
One of the key promises he made concerned the revival of the Iraq-Israel oil pipeline. The pipeline from the oilfields of Kirkuk and Mosul to Haifa had been built by the British in the late 1920s, and was one of the main targets of the Palestinian Arab revolt in 1936-38. The 8-inch line was finally cut after Israel’s independence in 1948. The sections in Arab territory have mostly rusted away or been carted off for scrap. The Israeli section is used as an irrigation pipe. The fully surveyed right of way, though, remains. It could handle a modern, 42-inch pipe, sufficient to supply the Haifa refinery.
With Chalabi’s encouragement, the Israeli Ministry of National Infrastructure, which is responsible for oil pipelines, dusted off and updated plans for a new pipeline from Iraq. “The pipeline would be a dream,” says Joseph Paritzky, the minister of national infrastructures. “We’d have an additional source of supply, and could even export some of the crude through Haifa. If we could build it, a pipeline would give us stable transport prices. Compare that to tankers; this year their price has almost tripled. We could also avoid problems such as strikes in our ports, which I’ve had to deal with. But we’d need a treaty with Iraq, and a treaty with Jordan to build the pipeline.”
With Chalabi in power in Iraq, either in front or behind the scenes, L. Marc Zell confirms, the neocons were told there would be such a treaty with Iraq. “He promised that. He promised a lot of things.”
Just after the U.S. takeover of Iraq, but before the establishment of the Governing Council of which Chalabi would be finance chair, Paritzky was lobbied by INC representatives in a meeting at the Dead Sea Marriott Hotel resort in Jordan. “We had a chitchat about it with the Iraqis, and with the Jordanians. But we couldn’t go to the market and raise funds based on chitchat. We would have needed more to go on.” Nevertheless, shortly afterward, on April 9, 2003, Paritzky announced a new technical appraisal of the pipeline.
The neocons in the Defense Department, such as Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith, were more optimistic about the pipeline project than Paritzky, who knew too much about the Middle East to be easily enthused by Chalabi’s promises. The DOD neocons sent a telegram directly to the Israeli Foreign Ministry, violating protocol in bypassing the State Department, expressing interest and support for the pipeline project. The State Department had been told by the Jordanians that there would be no pipeline unless the Israelis reached a settlement with the Palestinians. The neocons didn’t want to hear that. “If the government agreed to a pipeline without a Palestinian settlement,” says a Jordanian official, “the monarchy would fall.”
In the meantime, having used the neocons to get himself on the Governing Council, Chalabi appointed friends and relatives to key positions in the government. His nephew Salem (Sam) Chalabi, a lawyer, did much of the drafting of the interim constitution. Another nephew, Ali Allawi, was made minister of trade, with responsibility over foreign trade and investment in Iraq (he was later also named defense minister). Other Chalabi nominees went into the Central Bank, the Finance Ministry and the Oil Ministry.
But Chalabi had his eye on the bigger picture. The wealthy exile had visited Tehran before the war, in August 2002 and January 2003. On those trips he met with senior Iranian officials, and with Mohammed Bakr Al-Hakim, the leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the main Shia opposition group. The neoconservatives chose to overlook these visits to a member of the “Axis of Evil.” It could be argued that there was no other way to liaise with Iraqi Shia leaders.
Then in December 2003, Chalabi went to Tehran to meet with Hasan Rohani, the head of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council. At that meeting, Chalabi said, “The role of the Islamic Republic of Iran in supporting and guiding the opposition in their struggles against Saddam’s regime in the past, and its assistance toward the establishment of security and stability in Iraq at present, are regarded highly by the people of Iraq.” U.S. intelligence agencies, along with leading neocons, began to look again at just who Chalabi’s real friends might be, especially since Iranian intelligence agents from his old friends at Vevak were known to be active in Iraq. Also, the Israelis began to notice that Chalabi’s old promises had been forgotten.
“I just got the bid papers for a $145 million highway project that were put out by the Iraqis, and they had the Israeli boycott language in them,” an Israeli in Baghdad told me in March. “Chalabi promised the boycott would be over.”
Ali Allawi, the Chalabi nephew in charge of the Ministry of Trade, and now also the minister of defense, calls trade with Israel “a non-starter. We aren’t plugged into that network, and as far as I’m concerned they sell things we don’t need. As for the boycott. I don’t care. What’s the matter with it? The U.S. boycotts Cuba, and nobody says anything about it.
“Our future is more to the east, with Iran, and to the south, with the Gulf states. Iran has natural geographic ties to Iraq. I’m not interested in what those neoconservatives at the (Coalition Provisional Authority) have to say about Iran. We don’t have sufficient port capacity, for example. We should use the Iranian ports and roads. Iraq should have fundamental economic and trade relations with Iran, and Turkey, as long as they reciprocate, and I think they will.” He dismissed the Mosul-Haifa pipeline with a wave of his hand.
Nabil Al Moussa, the deputy minister of planning for the Oil Ministry, confirmed Allawi’s position. Asked whether the ministry had any plans for rebuilding the pipeline to Israel, his previous professional courtesy went out the window. “Absolutely not, and never! Don’t ever ask us if we will sell oil to Israel, because we never will!”
Told of Allawi’s and Al Moussa’s reaction, Joseph Paritzky was philosophical, and a little contemptuous of his would-be neocon benefactors. “How naive can these Americans be? What, they thought they had a deal? Didn’t they notice they were in the Middle East?” A neocon’s reaction to Paritzky was characteristic: “He’s a populist asshole who should have kept his mouth shut.” But Paritzky obviously understood Middle Eastern politics far better than the neocons.
While the neocons felt they could ignore negative reports on Chalabi from the CIA, the State Department and other bureaucratic enemies, they have a harder time dismissing what comrades like Marc Zell have to say. Nevertheless, for the time being, many are sticking to the Bush strategy of staying on message and never admitting to mistakes. For example, last week, Michael Ledeen, a leading neocon at the American Enterprise Institute, complained in the National Review Online about “the cascade of anti-Chalabi leaks from his many mortal enemies at the Department of State and the Central Intelligence Agency.” Changing the message is painful. As one neocon says: “The worst part of all this [Chalabi’s betrayal] is that it will be embarrassing to my friends in the Pentagon.”
Defense minister Allawi doubts that the neocons will be able to prevail in their plan to replace Shia dominance in the new Iraq with the Sunni-Kurdish coalition. “This is the last stand of the neocons, I think. The U.S. does have a new policy, which is to find a way to leave. That plan isn’t the way to do it. I hear Condi Rice’s office opposes the idea, and so does Ambassador Negroponte.”
“We really don’t have any choice,” says a former intelligence officer and West Pointer in Iraq. “We have to make a deal, though we probably don’t have to deal with Iran directly. We can make it through the Shia clergy in Iraq.” Allawi dismisses Feith and the neocons and what he calls “their grandiose schemes,” but adds, “The neocons still have some influence, partly because they have good ties with the Kurds. And Sharon is still the 840-pound gorilla for U.S. policy.”
Clearly the neocons are now in the process of retreating and regrouping. The consensus they’d forged among themselves on Iraq policy has dissolved. The massive plans for the democratization of the Middle East are heading for the recycling bin. Meanwhile, Chalabi’s hopes for playing a leadership role in Iraq appear to be gone, although the crafty businessman’s ability to resurrect himself from the dead should not be underestimated. It should also be noted that Chalabi family members continue to wield power in Iraq, and will likely continue to. For example, defense minister Allawi insists that he is not “in my uncle’s entourage. Instead I travel alongside him.” The remark can be interpreted to mean that he doesn’t take orders from his uncle, and yet they are still close. Allawi has had a rather more conventional business career than that of his uncle, which has helped his political position in Iraq. While an early investor in Petra Bank, he soon parted company with his uncle and the other partners. He went on to become a successful and respectable portfolio manager in London before returning to Iraq last year.
In the end, despite the neocons’ best hopes, Iran has emerged as crucial to the administration’s desire for a political settlement in Iraq. Governments in the neighboring countries have taken notice of the neocons’ big blunder. “The Iranians have proven to be absolutely brilliant in all of this,” says a well-connected Jordanian. “They’re showing that they’re going to be the ones to win this one, and they’ll do it with American money and lives.”
For his part, Allawi praises what he sees as the U.S. military’s new realism about the need for what he calls “a cold peace” with Iran. “There is no way to have stability in Iraq without Iran,” he insists. “The U.S. military has been very correct in its contact with Iran at the border, and has never violated the unwritten agreement.” The neocons’ Iraq triumph of last year has turned to ashes. Their Likud allies in Israel are bitterly split over Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s plans for the settlements in the territories. They have a coldly hostile Iraqi government coming in the near future. The clerical regime they loathe in Iran has dramatically improved its strategic position. Some of them must be rueing the day they met Ahmed Chalabi, who told them the fairy tales they wanted to hear.
By John Dizard, First Published in Salon, May 4, 2004
10. The Spies Who Pushed For War
by Julian Borger...
As the CIA director, George Tenet, arrived at the Senate yesterday to give secret testimony on the Niger uranium affair, it was becoming increasingly clear in Washington that the scandal was only a small, well-documented symptom of a complete breakdown in US intelligence that helped steer America into war.It represents the Bush administration's second catastrophic intelligence failure. But the CIA and FBI's inability to prevent the September 11 attacks was largely due to internal institutional weaknesses.
This time the implications are far more damaging for the White House, which stands accused of politicising and contaminating its own source of intelligence.
According to former Bush officials, all defence and intelligence sources, senior administration figures created a shadow agency of Pentagon analysts staffed mainly by ideological amateurs to compete with the CIA and its military counterpart, the Defence Intelligence Agency.
The agency, called the Office of Special Plans (OSP), was set up by the defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, to second-guess CIA information and operated under the patronage of hardline conservatives in the top rungs of the administration, the Pentagon and at the White House, including Vice-President Dick Cheney.
The ideologically driven network functioned like a shadow government, much of it off the official payroll and beyond congressional oversight. But it proved powerful enough to prevail in a struggle with the State Department and the CIA by establishing a justification for war.
Mr Tenet has officially taken responsibility for the president's unsubstantiated claim in January that Saddam Hussein's regime had been trying to buy uranium in Africa, but he also said his agency was under pressure to justify a war that the administration had already decided on.
How much Mr Tenet reveals of where that pressure was coming from could have lasting political fallout for Mr Bush and his re-election prospects, which only a few weeks ago seemed impregnable. As more Americans die in Iraq and the reasons for the war are revealed, his victory in 2004 no longer looks like a foregone conclusion. The White House counter-attacked yesterday when new chief spokesman, Scott McClellan, accused critics of "politicising the war" and trying to "rewrite history". But the Democratic leadership kept up its questions over the White House role.
The president's most trusted adviser, Mr Cheney, was at the shadow network's sharp end. He made several trips to the CIA in Langley, Virginia, to demand a more "forward-leaning" interpretation of the threat posed by Saddam. When he was not there to make his influence felt, his chief of staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, was. Such hands-on involvement in the processing of intelligence data was unprecedented for a vice-president in recent times, and it put pressure on CIA officials to come up with the appropriate results.
Another frequent visitor was Newt Gingrich, the former Republican party leader who resurfaced after September 11 as a Pentagon "consultant" and a member of its unpaid defence advisory board, with influence far beyond his official title. An intelligence official confirmed Mr Gingrich made "a couple of visits" but said there was nothing unusual about that. Rick Tyler, Mr Gingrich's spokesman, said: "If he was at the CIA he was there to listen and learn, not to persuade or influence."
Mr Gingrich visited Langley three times before the war, and according to accounts, the political veteran sought to browbeat analysts into toughening up their assessments of Saddam's menace. Mr Gingrich gained access to the CIA headquarters and was listened to because he was seen as a personal emissary of the Pentagon and, in particular, of the OSP.
In the days after September 11, Mr Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, mounted an attempt to include Iraq in the war against terror. When the established agencies came up with nothing concrete to link Iraq and al-Qaida, the OSP was given the task of looking more carefully. William Luti, a former navy officer and ex-aide to Mr Cheney, runs the day-to-day operations, answering to Douglas Feith, a defence undersecretary and a former Reagan official.
The OSP had access to a huge amount of raw intelligence. It came in part from "report officers" in the CIA's directorate of operations whose job is to sift through reports from agents around the world, filtering out the unsubstantiated and the incredible. Under pressure from the hawks such as Mr Cheney and Mr Gingrich, those officers became reluctant to discard anything, no matter how far-fetched. The OSP also sucked in countless tips from the Iraqi National Congress and other opposition groups, which were viewed with far more scepticism by the CIA and the state department.
There was a mountain of documentation to look through and not much time. The administration wanted to use the momentum gained in Afghanistan to deal with Iraq once and for all. The OSP itself had less than 10 full-time staff, so to help deal with the load, the office hired scores of temporary "consultants". They included lawyers, congressional staffers, and policy wonks from the numerous rightwing thinktanks in Washington. Few had experience in intelligence.
"Most of the people they had in that office were off the books, on personal services contracts. At one time, there were over 100 of them," said an intelligence source. The contracts allow a department to hire individuals, without specifying a job description.
As John Pike, a defence analyst at the thinktank GlobalSecurity.org, put it, the contracts "are basically a way they could pack the room with their little friends". "They surveyed data and picked out what they liked," said Gregory Thielmann, a senior official in the state department's intelligence bureau until his retirement in September. "The whole thing was bizarre. The secretary of defence had this huge defence intelligence agency, and he went around it." In fact, the OSP's activities were a complete mystery to the DIA and the Pentagon. "The iceberg analogy is a good one," said a senior officer who left the Pentagon during the planning of the Iraq war. "No one from the military staff heard, saw or discussed anything with them."
The civilian agencies had the same impression of the OSP sleuths. "They were a pretty shadowy presence," Mr Thielmann said. "Normally when you compile an intelligence document, all the agencies get together to discuss it. The OSP was never present at any of the meetings I attended."
Democratic congressman David Obey, who is investigating the OSP, said: "That office was charged with collecting, vetting and disseminating intelligence completely outside of the normal intelligence apparatus. In fact, it appears that information collected by this office was in some instances not even shared with established intelligence agencies and in numerous instances was passed on to the national security council and the president without having been vetted with anyone other than political appointees."
The OSP was an open and largely unfiltered conduit to the White House not only for the Iraqi opposition. It also forged close ties to a parallel, ad hoc intelligence operation inside Ariel Sharon's office in Israel specifically to bypass Mossad and provide the Bush administration with more alarmist reports on Saddam's Iraq than Mossad was prepared to authorise.
"None of the Israelis who came were cleared into the Pentagon through normal channels," said one source familiar with the visits. Instead, they were waved in on Mr Feith's authority without having to fill in the usual forms. The exchange of information continued a long-standing relationship Mr Feith and other Washington neo-conservatives had with Israel's Likud party.
In 1996, he and Richard Perle - now an influential Pentagon figure - served as advisers to the then Likud leader, Binyamin Netanyahu. In a policy paper they wrote, entitled A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm, the two advisers said that Saddam would have to be destroyed, and Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and Iran would have to be overthrown or destabilised, for Israel to be truly safe.
The Israeli influence was revealed most clearly by a story floated by unnamed senior US officials in the American press, suggesting the reason that no banned weapons had been found in Iraq was that they had been smuggled into Syria. Intelligence sources say that the story came from the office of the Israeli prime minister. The OSP absorbed this heady brew of raw intelligence, rumour and plain disinformation and made it a "product", a prodigious stream of reports with a guaranteed readership in the White House. The primary customers were Mr Cheney, Mr Libby and their closest ideological ally on the national security council, Stephen Hadley, Condoleezza Rice's deputy.
In turn, they leaked some of the claims to the press, and used others as a stick with which to beat the CIA and the state department analysts, demanding they investigate the OSP leads.
The big question looming over Congress as Mr Tenet walked into his closed-door session yesterday was whether this shadow intelligence operation would survive national scrutiny and who would pay the price for allowing it to help steer the country into war.
A former senior CIA official insisted yesterday that Mr Feith, at least, was "finished" - but that may be wishful thinking by a rival organisation. As he prepares for re-election, Mr Bush may opt to tough it out, rather than acknowledge the severity of the problem by firing loyalists. But in that case, it will inevitably be harder to re-establish confidence in the intelligence on which the White House is basing its decisions, and the world's sole superpower risks stumbling onwards half-blind, unable to distinguish real threats from phantoms.
By Julian Borger, First Published in The Guardian, July 17, 2003
11. Agents of Influence
by Bob Dreyfuss...
Did Ariel Sharon, the Prime Minister of Israel, run a covert program with operatives in high-level US government positions to influence the Bush Administration’s decision to go to war in Iraq? The FBI wants to know.
That’s the story behind the latest Washington spy scandal, involving Israel, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and a mid-level civilian Pentagon employee allegedly caught red-handed trying to deliver US secrets to the Israelis.
It’s not a routine spy case. According to sources familiar with the investigation, the FBI is looking at a group of neoconservatives who have occupied senior posts at the White House, the Pentagon and in Vice President Cheney’s office. It’s not that they are supporters of Israel–no crime there–but that some of them might be conspirators in a clandestine operation launched by Sharon’s Likud Party. They make up the very network of ideologues - from civilians at the Defense Department to fellow travelers at right-wing think tanks - who have been accused of pushing George W. Bush into war. The point of the probe, sources believe, is not to examine the push to war but rather to ascertain whether Sharon recruited or helped place in office people who knowingly, and secretly, worked with him to affect the direction of US policy in the Middle East. The most likely targets of the inquiry are Douglas Feith, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, and Harold Rhode of the Pentagon’s Office of Net Assessment.
It’s an explosive inquiry and one that raises the most sensitive hackles, since it involves the possibility that US officials (most, but not all, Jews) are working on Sharon’s behalf. They include Feith and a handful of other officials, including those in the inner circle of his policy office who formed the core of the Office of Special Plans (OSP). The probe faces stiff political resistance. Yet it may have legs.
The investigation burst into the news in late August when CBS News reported that the FBI had caught a Feith staffer, later identified as Larry Franklin, trying to deliver what turned out to be a classified draft of a presidential memo on Iran to AIPAC and an Israeli Embassy diplomat. Subsequent attention focused largely on whether Franklin was a spy for Israel, but in fact he is only a minor figure in a far more sweeping probe that began two years ago.
What triggered the original investigation isn’t known, but it is known that it began at a critical moment, as Feith and Rhode began assembling a team, which included Franklin, to form the OSP. It’s been widely reported that the OSP manufactured exaggerated intelligence reports on the threat from Iraq, but less reported is the fact that the OSP also carried out unauthorized operations. Several OSP officials - including Rhode, Franklin and Michael Maloof, one of the two original staffers of the forerunner to OSP, joined by Michael Ledeen of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI)–took part in a rogue Pentagon initiative, beginning in 2001 with unsavory wheeler-dealers in Rome and Paris, to discuss regime change beyond Iraq, in Iran and Syria. The CIA found out about the Rome meeting, and the agency may have asked the FBI to start watching Feith, Rhode, Ledeen, Franklin et al. Former CIA and Defense intelligence officials familiar with the case stress that the FBI is looking at an operation run by the Israeli prime minister, not by the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, and that the investigation is based solely on concerns about foreign influence. “It’s about Sharon,” says a former senior CIA operations officer. “This has nothing to do with anti-Semitism.”
Some familiar with the case suggest that the FBI’s investigation is looking back as far as 1996, when Feith, Richard Perle, Feith’s boss at the Pentagon in the 1980s and until recently chairman of the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board, and David Wurmser, a co-founder of OSP who is now Cheney’s Middle East adviser, wrote a radical memo, called “A Clean Break,” to incoming Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calling for confrontation with Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and the PLO.
Since the investigation came to light, Sharon’s closest allies have led an effort to derail it. Screaming the loudest is Marc Zell, Feith’s former law partner, who is now an attorney in Israel tied to the Likud’s right wing and to the settler movement. “It’s a cheap shot by certain people inside the government to embarrass Doug and the Pentagon leadership,” Zell told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “Certain elements inside the military and intelligence communities are unhappy with the policy decisions of people in the upper echelon and attempt, sometimes in a very crude way, to embarrass them.” News of the investigation stunned AIPAC, the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, AEI and others in Likud’s Washington circuit. And, of course, AIPAC’s friends in Congress are hopping mad. Ha’aretz, the Israeli daily, said that news of the inquiry landed like the “diplomatic equivalent of an unexploded cluster bomb.”
Perle is demanding that the White House clamp down on the investigators, according to the Boston Globe. “It’s pretty nasty, and unfortunately the Administration doesn’t seem to have it under control,” the Globe quotes Perle as saying. But according to the Financial Times, the White House is quietly doing just that: The London daily reports that the White House is pressuring the FBI and the Justice Department not to issue indictments in the case.
Other voices are also being heard. Democratic Representative John Conyers wrote to the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee demanding an investigation into “substantial and credible evidence that Pentagon officials…have engaged in unauthorized covert activities.” Conyers specifically cited Feith. And the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence is now deep into phase two of its own probe, which includes examining the work of the OSP; its report is expected after the November election.
The FBI has an ace in the hole that may allow it to resist White House pressure. “By now,” says a retired intelligence official, “the FBI has gathered up so much material in grand jury records and things like that that they are in a position to push back against pressure from the Administration to back away from this. When they get pressure, they leak to somebody. And the potential of disclosure is a real threat to the Administration.” In addition, the counterintelligence probe could spin off investigations in several possibly related scandals, including the Ahmad Chalabi case and the Valerie Plame leak, not to mention the Franklin matter.
“They have no case,” says AEI’s Michael Ledeen. We'll see. By Bob Dreyfuss, First Published in The Nation, October 4, 2004
12. Secret Pentagon Group Manipulated Intelligence
by Jason Leopold...
A half-dozen former CIA agents investigating prewar intelligence have found that a secret Pentagon committee, set up by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in October 2001, manipulated reams of intelligence information prepared by the spy agency on the so-called Iraqi threat and then delivered it to top White House officials who used it to win support for a war in Iraq.
More than a dozen calls to the White House, the CIA, the National Security Council and the Pentagon for comment were not returned.
The ad-hoc committee, called the Office of Special Plans, headed by Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith and other Pentagon hawks, described the worst-case scenarios in terms of Iraq's alleged stockpile of chemical and biological weapons and claimed the country was close to acquiring nuclear weapons, according to four of the CIA agents, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the information is still classified, who conducted a preliminary view of the intelligence.
The agents said the Office of Special Plans is responsible for providing the National Security Council and Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice and Rumsfeld with the bulk of the intelligence information on Iraq's weapons program that turned out to be wrong. But White House officials used the information it received from the Office of Special Plans to win support from the public and Congress to start a war in Iraq even though the White House knew much of the information was dubious, the CIA agents said.
For example, the agents said the Office of Special Plans told the National Security Council last year that Iraq's attempt to purchase aluminum tubes were part of a clandestine program to build an atomic bomb. The Office of Special Plans leaked the information to the New York Times last September. Shortly after the story appeared in the paper, Bush and Rice both pointed to the story as evidence that Iraq posed a grave threat to the United States and to its neighbors in the Middle East, even though experts in the field of nuclear science, the CIA and the State Department advised the White House that the aluminum tubes were not designed for an atomic bomb.
Furthermore, the CIA had been unable to develop any links between Iraq and the terrorist group al-Qaeda. But under Feith's direction, the Office of Special Plans came up with information of such links by looking at existing intelligence reports that they felt might have been overlooked or undervalued. The Special Plans office provided the information to the Pentagon and to the White House. During a Pentagon briefing last year, Rumsfeld said he had "bulletproof" evidence that Iraq was harboring al-Qaeda terrorists.
At a Pentagon news conference last year, Rumsfeld said of the intelligence gathered by Special Plans: "Gee, why don't you go over and brief George Tenet? So they did. They went over and briefed the CIA. So there's no there's no mystery about all this."
CIA analysts listened to the Pentagon team, nodded politely, and said, "Thank you very much," said one government official, according to a July 20 report in the New York Times. That official said the briefing did not change the agency's reporting or analysis in any substantial way.
Several current and former intelligence officials told the Timesthat they felt pressure to tailor reports to conform to the administration's views, "particularly the theories Feith's group developed."
Moreover, the agents said the Office of Special Plans routinely rewrote the CIA's intelligence estimates on Iraq's weapons programs, removing caveats such as "likely," "probably" and "may" as a way of depicting the country as an imminent threat. The agents would not identify the names of the individuals at the Office of Special Plans who were responsible for providing the White House with the wrong intelligence. But, the agents said, the intelligence gathered by the committee sometimes went directly to the White House, Cheney's office and to Rice without first being vetted by the CIA.
In cases where the CIA's intelligence wasn't rewritten the Office of Special Plans provided the White House with questionable intelligence it gathered from Iraqi exiles from the Iraqi National Congress, a group headed by Ahmad Chalabi, a person whom the CIA has publicly said is unreliable, the CIA agents said.
More than a dozen CIA agents responsible for writing intelligence reports for the agency told the former CIA agents investigating the accuracy of the intelligence reports said they were pressured by the Pentagon and the Office of Special Plans to hype and exaggerate intelligence to show Iraq as being an imminent threat to the security of the U.S.
The White House has been dogged by questions for nearly a month on whether the intelligence information it had relied upon was accurate and whether top White House officials knowingly used unreliable information to build a case for war. The furor started when President Bush said in his January State of the Union address that Iraq had tried to purchase uranium ore from Africa. Bush credited British intelligence for the claims, but the intelligence was based on forged documents. The Office of Special Plans is responsible for advising the White House to allow Bush to use the uranium claims in his speech, according to Democratic Senators and a CIA agent who are privy to classified information surrounding the issue.
CIA Director George Tenet took responsibility last week for allowing Bush to cite the information, despite the fact that he had warned the Rice's office that the claims were likely wrong. Earlier this week, Stephen Hadley, an aide to Rice, said he received two memos from the CIA last year and before Bush's State of the Union address alerting him to the fact that the uranium information should not be included in the State of the Union address. Hadley, who also took responsibility for failing to remove the uranium reference from Bush's speech, said he forgot to advise the President about the CIA's warnings.
Hawks in the White House and the Pentagon seized upon the uranium claims before and after Bush's State of the Union address, telling reporters, lawmakers and leaders of other nations that the only thing that can be done to disarm Saddam Hussein is a preemptive strike against his country.
The only White House official who didn't cite the uranium claim is Secretary of State Colin Powell. According to Greg Thielmann, who resigned last year from the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research – whose duties included tracking Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs – he personally told Powell that the allegations were "implausible" and the intelligence it was based upon was a "stupid piece of garbage."
Patrick Lang, the former head of worldwide human intelligence gathering for the Defense Intelligence Agency, which coordinates military intelligence, said the Office of Special Plans "cherry-picked the intelligence stream" in a bid to portray Iraq as an imminent threat. Lang said in interviews with several media outlets that the CIA had "no guts at all" to resist the allegedly deliberate skewing of intelligence by a Pentagon that he said was now dominating U.S. foreign policy.
Vince Cannistraro, a former chief of CIA counter-terrorist operations, said he has spoken to a number of working intelligence officers who blame the Pentagon for playing up "fraudulent" intelligence, "a lot of it sourced from the Iraqi National Congress of Ahmad Chalabi."
In an October 11, 2002 report in the Los Angeles Times, several CIA agents "who brief Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz on Iraq routinely return to the agency with a long list of complaints and demands for new analysis or shifts in emphasis."
"There is a lot of unhappiness with the analysis," usually because it is seen as not hard-line enough, one intelligence official said, according to the paper.
Another government official said CIA agents "are constantly sent back by the senior people at Defense and other places to get more, get more, get more to make their case," the paper reported.
Now, as U.S. military casualties have surpassed that of the first Gulf War, Democrats in Congress and the Senate are starting to question whether other information about the Iraqi threat cited by Bush and his staff was reliable or part of a coordinated effort by the White House to politicize the intelligence to win support for a war.
The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence is investigating the issue but so far neither the Senate intelligence committee nor any Congressional committee has launched an investigation into the Office of Special Plans. But that may soon change.
Based on several news reports into the activities of the Office of Special Plans, a number of lawmakers have called for an investigation into the group. Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher, D-California, who sits on the House Armed Services Committee, wrote a letter July 9 to Congressman Duncan Hunter, R-California, chairman of the Armed Services committee, calling for an investigation into the Office of Special Plans.
The Office of Special Plans should be examined to determine whether it "complemented, competed with, or detracted from the role of other United States intelligence agencies respecting the collection and use of intelligence relating to Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and war planning. I also think it is important to understand how having two intelligence agencies within the Pentagon impacted the Department of Defense's ability to focus the necessary resources and manpower on pre-war planning and post-war operations," Tauscher's letter said.
Congressman David Obey, D-Wisconsin, also called for a widespread investigation of the Office of Special Plans to find out whether there is any truth to the claims that it willfully manipulated intelligence on the Iraqi threat. During a Congressional briefing July 8, Obey described what he knew about Special Plans and why an investigation into the group is crucial.
"A group of civilian employees in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, all of whom are political employees have long been dissatisfied with the information produced by the established intelligence agencies both inside and outside the Department. That was particularly true, apparently, with respect to the situation in Iraq," Obey said. "As a result, it is reported that they established a special operation within the Office of the Secretary of Defense, which was named the Office of Special Plans. That office was charged with collecting, vetting, and disseminating intelligence completely outside the normal intelligence apparatus. In fact, it appears that the information collected by this office was in some instances not even shared with the established intelligence agencies and in numerous instances was passed on to the National Security Council and the President without having been vetted with anyone other than (the Secretary of Defense)."
"It is further alleged that the purpose of this operation was not only to produce intelligence more in keeping with the pre-held views of those individuals, but to intimidate analysts in the established intelligence organizations to produce information that was more supportive of policy decisions which they had already decided to propose."
By Jason Leopold, First Published in Antiwar, July 25, 2003
13. Special Pentagon Unit Skirted CIA on Iraq
by Greg Miller...
A special intelligence unit at the Pentagon privately briefed senior officials at the White House on alleged ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda without the knowledge of CIA Director George J. Tenet, according to new information presented at a Senate hearing Tuesday.
The disclosure suggests that the controversial Pentagon office played a greater role than previously understood in shaping the administration's views on Iraq's alleged ties to the terrorist network behind the Sept. 11 attacks, and bypassed usual channels to make a case that conflicted with the conclusions of CIA analysts.
Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Tenet said he was unaware until recently that the Pentagon unit had presented its findings to the offices of Vice President Dick Cheney and national security advisor Condoleezza Rice. It is not clear whether Cheney or Rice were present for the briefing, which was mentioned in a Defense Department letter released by the Armed Services Committee on Tuesday.
In a wide-ranging hearing, Tenet said violence in Iraq was on the upswing, but that he thought there was a "low probability" that strife would prevent the United States from handing authority to an interim Iraqi government on July 1.
Although the hearing was billed as a session to discuss international security concerns, it was marked by heated exchanges reflecting the political tensions over the Iraq war and the failure to find weapons the Bush administration cited as the principal reason for last year's U.S.-led war.
Tenet came under sharp attack from Democrats, who called the prewar intelligence a "fiasco," pointed to what they said were disturbing disparities between classified CIA estimates and more alarming versions released to the public before the war, and criticized the CIA director for saying recently that the agency never portrayed Iraq as an imminent threat. "The fact that the intelligence assessments before the war were so wildly off the mark should trouble all Americans," said Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), the ranking Democrat on the committee.
It was under questioning from Levin that Tenet acknowledged that he did not know until within the last few weeks that a special Pentagon intelligence analysis unit had briefed the White House on ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda. "I did not know that at the time, and I think I first learned about this at [a congressional] hearing last week," Tenet said. A U.S. intelligence official said Tenet first learned of the White House briefing Feb. 24 during a closed hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee.
The Pentagon unit was created by Douglas J. Feith, undersecretary of Defense for policy, after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon. The unit was a handful of intelligence analysts, Feith has said, and was established to examine state sponsorship of terrorism, but is principally known for its efforts to assemble evidence linking Iraq to Al Qaeda. It has been reported previously that the so-called Policy Counter Terrorism Evaluation Group presented its findings to the CIA in August 2002. But in a letter to Warner released Tuesday for the first time, Feith said the group's briefing "was also given to National Security Council and Office of Vice President staff members."
Levin asked Tenet whether it was "standard operating procedure" for intelligence analysis to be presented to the White House without his involvement. "I don't know," Tenet replied. "I've never been in the situation." Tenet emphasized that he briefed President Bush personally almost daily, and that his was "the definitive view about these subjects." "I know you feel that way," Levin replied, making it clear he wasn't convinced.
Levin said the committee had obtained copies of the Pentagon group's written briefing material, and that the version presented to the White House included material omitted from the briefing for the CIA. He declined to elaborate, saying the documents were classified.
A government official familiar with the briefings said the presentation for the White House included a slide sharply critical of the CIA for failing to recognize evidence pointing toward collaboration between Iraq and Al Qaeda. That slide was excluded from the briefing at CIA headquarters at Langley, Va. The government official said those briefed at the White House included the staff of Stephen Hadley, the deputy national security advisor, and I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the vice president's chief of staff.
The Pentagon intelligence group was disbanded before the war, but remains under scrutiny because of its controversial mission and role. Critics say it sifted through years of intelligence reports on Iraq, seizing on shards that supported the contention that there was collaboration between Iraq and Al Qaeda, and then funneling the information to senior policymakers to help bolster the case for war. Pentagon officials reject that characterization.
Many of the group's findings have been disputed by the CIA and other agencies, who say there is a history of contacts between Iraq and Al Qaeda but no evidence of an operational relationship. But administration officials continue to cling to the theme, and polls show many Americans believe that Iraq was involved in the Sept. 11 attacks.
In January, Cheney said "there's overwhelming evidence there was a connection between Al Qaeda and the Iraqi government." Cheney has touted the work of the Pentagon group, saying a Feith memo that lists Iraq-Al Qaeda connections and was leaked to the media is the "best source" on the subject. Tenet said Tuesday that the CIA "did not agree with the way the data was characterized in that document," and that he intended to contact Cheney to caution him about its conclusions. "I learned about [Cheney's] quote last night when I was preparing for this hearing," Tenet said. "And I will talk to him about it."
Some lawmakers said that if Tenet did not believe Iraq was an imminent threat as he said in a recent speech at Georgetown University he should have done more to challenge the prewar assertions by Bush and others casting Hussein's regime as a danger that required immediate military intervention.
"You can't have it both ways, can you, Mr. Tenet?" said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.). "You can't on the one hand just say look, we never said that war was imminent, and then have this superheated dialogue and rhetoric [from the White House] and tell us here before the committee that you have no obligation to correct it or didn't even try."
Tenet shot back: "I'm not going to sit here today and tell you what I did or what I didn't do, except that you have the confidence to know that when I believed that somebody was misconstruing intelligence I said something about it." Kennedy then asked Tenet whether he believed the administration "misrepresented the facts to justify the war." Tenet responded, "No, sir, I don't."
Dissecting a key prewar intelligence estimate on Iraq's weapons program, Levin cited a number of cases in which he said the CIA or the administration hardened its language or dropped caveats to bolster the case for war. A declassified version of the report warned that Iraq's alleged weapons stocks could be used "against the U.S. homeland," language he said was missing from the classified text.
In another example, Levin cited the CIA's assessment in its classified analysis that Iraq would supply weapons to Al Qaeda only under "desperate" or "extreme" circumstances, qualifiers missing from the public version of the report. Democrats attacked Tenet for allowing recent statements by administration officials to go unchallenged. Cheney, in particular, has reiterated claims that the intelligence community has backed away from, including comments suggesting Iraq might have been complicit in the Sept. 11 attacks, and that Iraqi trailers seized by American forces are "conclusive" evidence that Iraq had banned weapons.
Urged by Levin to be more swift and assertive in correcting public statements by White House officials, Tenet said, "Sir, it's a fair point."
Republicans on the committee accused Democrats of using the hearing to score political points against the Bush administration as the presidential election is heating up. Some Republicans defended Tenet, and said he should not have to answer for the prewar claims made by policymakers. The CIA director "is not their keeper," said Sen. John Warner (R-Va.), the chairman of the committee.
Even Republicans who were not involved in the hearing reacted to Democrats' criticisms. One, Rep. Porter Goss (R-Fla.), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, in a television interview called Kennedy and Levin "two old attack dogs gumming their way through artificial outrage about something they should know a lot more about and be more responsible about."
By Greg Miller, First Published in The Los Angeles Times, March 10, 2004
14. Abusive Tactics Used To Seek Links
by Jonathan S. Landay...
The Bush administration applied relentless pressure on interrogators to use harsh methods on detainees in part to find evidence of cooperation between al Qaida and the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's regime, according to a former senior U.S. intelligence official and a former Army psychiatrist.
Such information would've provided a foundation for one of former President George W. Bush's main arguments for invading Iraq in 2003. In fact, no evidence has ever been found of operational ties between Osama bin Laden's terrorist network and Saddam's regime.
The use of abusive interrogation — widely considered torture — as part of Bush's quest for a rationale to invade Iraq came to light as the Senate issued a major report tracing the origin of the abuses and President Barack Obama opened the door to prosecuting former U.S. officials for approving them.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney and others who advocated the use of sleep deprivation, isolation and stress positions and waterboarding, which simulates drowning, insist that they were legal. A former senior U.S. intelligence official familiar with the interrogation issue said that Cheney and former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld demanded that the interrogators find evidence of al Qaida-Iraq collaboration.
"There were two reasons why these interrogations were so persistent, and why extreme methods were used," the former senior intelligence official said on condition of anonymity because of the issue's sensitivity. "The main one is that everyone was worried about some kind of follow-up attack (after 9/11). But for most of 2002 and into 2003, Cheney and Rumsfeld, especially, were also demanding proof of the links between al Qaida and Iraq that (former Iraqi exile leader Ahmed) Chalabi and others had told them were there."
It was during this period that CIA interrogators waterboarded two alleged top al Qaida detainees repeatedly — Abu Zubaydah at least 83 times in August 2002 and Khalid Sheik Muhammed 183 times in March 2003 — according to a newly released Justice Department document. "There was constant pressure on the intelligence agencies and the interrogators to do whatever it took to get that information out of the detainees, especially the few high-value ones we had, and when people kept coming up empty, they were told by Cheney's and Rumsfeld's people to push harder," he continued. "Cheney's and Rumsfeld's people were told repeatedly, by CIA . . . and by others, that there wasn't any reliable intelligence that pointed to operational ties between bin Laden and Saddam, and that no such ties were likely because the two were fundamentally enemies, not allies." Senior administration officials, however, "blew that off and kept insisting that we'd overlooked something, that the interrogators weren't pushing hard enough, that there had to be something more we could do to get that information," he said.
A former U.S. Army psychiatrist, Maj. Charles Burney, told Army investigators in 2006 that interrogators at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention facility were under "pressure" to produce evidence of ties between al Qaida and Iraq. "While we were there a large part of the time we were focused on trying to establish a link between al Qaida and Iraq and we were not successful in establishing a link between al Qaida and Iraq," Burney told staff of the Army Inspector General. "The more frustrated people got in not being able to establish that link . . . there was more and more pressure to resort to measures that might produce more immediate results." Excerpts from Burney's interview appeared in a full, declassified report on a two-year investigation into detainee abuse released on Tuesday by the Senate Armed Services Committee. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., called Burney's statement "very significant."
"I think it's obvious that the administration was scrambling then to try to find a connection, a link (between al Qaida and Iraq)," Levin said in a conference call with reporters. "They made out links where they didn't exist." Levin recalled Cheney's assertions that a senior Iraqi intelligence officer had met Mohammad Atta, the leader of the 9/11 hijackers, in the Czech Republic capital of Prague just months before the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
The FBI and CIA found that no such meeting occurred.
A senior Guantanamo Bay interrogator, David Becker, told the committee that only "a couple of nebulous links" between al Qaida and Iraq were uncovered during interrogations of unidentified detainees, the report said. Others in the interrogation operation "agreed there was pressure to produce intelligence, but did not recall pressure to identify links between Iraq and al Qaida," the report said. The report, the executive summary of which was released in November, found that Rumsfeld, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and other former senior Bush administration officials were responsible for the abusive interrogation techniques used at Guantanamo and in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Rumsfeld approved extreme interrogation techniques for Guantanamo in December 2002. He withdrew his authorization the following month amid protests by senior military lawyers that some techniques could amount to torture, violating U.S. and international laws. Military interrogators, however, continued employing some techniques in Afghanistan and later in Iraq.
Bush and his top lieutenants charged that Saddam was secretly pursuing nuclear, biological and chemical weapons in defiance of a United Nations ban, and had to be overthrown because he might provide them to al Qaida for an attack on the U.S. or its allies.
By Jonathan S. Landay, First Published by McClatchy Newspapers, April 21, 2009
15. The War Party
16. Practice to Deceive
by Joshua Micah Marshall...
Imagine it's six months from now. The Iraq war is over. After an initial burst of joy and gratitude at being liberated from Saddam's rule, the people of Iraq are watching, and waiting, and beginning to chafe under American occupation. Across the border, in Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Iran, our conquering presence has brought street protests and escalating violence. The United Nations and NATO are in disarray, so America is pretty much on its own. Hemmed in by budget deficits at home and limited financial assistance from allies, the Bush administration is talking again about tapping Iraq's oil reserves to offset some of the costs of the American presence--talk that is further inflaming the region. Meanwhile, U.S. intelligence has discovered fresh evidence that, prior to the war, Saddam moved quantities of biological and chemical weapons to Syria. When Syria denies having such weapons, the administration starts massing troops on the Syrian border. But as they begin to move, there is an explosion: Hezbollah terrorists from southern Lebanon blow themselves up in a Baghdad restaurant, killing dozens of Western aid workers and journalists. Knowing that Hezbollah has cells in America, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge puts the nation back on Orange Alert. FBI agents start sweeping through mosques, with a new round of arrests of Saudis, Pakistanis, Palestinians, and Yemenis.
To most Americans, this would sound like a frightening state of affairs, the kind that would lead them to wonder how and why we had got ourselves into this mess in the first place. But to the Bush administration hawks who are guiding American foreign policy, this isn't the nightmare scenario. It's everything going as anticipated.
In their view, invasion of Iraq was not merely, or even primarily, about getting rid of Saddam Hussein. Nor was it really about weapons of mass destruction, though their elimination was an important benefit. Rather, the administration sees the invasion as only the first move in a wider effort to reorder the power structure of the entire Middle East. Prior to the war, the president himself never quite said this openly. But hawkish neoconservatives within his administration gave strong hints. In February, Undersecretary of State John Bolton told Israeli officials that after defeating Iraq, the United States would "deal with" Iran, Syria, and North Korea. Meanwhile, neoconservative journalists have been channeling the administration's thinking. Late last month, The Weekly Standard's Jeffrey Bell reported that the administration has in mind a "world war between the United States and a political wing of Islamic fundamentalism ... a war of such reach and magnitude [that] the invasion of Iraq, or the capture of top al Qaeda commanders, should be seen as tactical events in a series of moves and countermoves stretching well into the future."
In short, the administration is trying to roll the table--to use U.S. military force, or the threat of it, to reform or topple virtually every regime in the region, from foes like Syria to friends like Egypt, on the theory that it is the undemocratic nature of these regimes that ultimately breeds terrorism. So events that may seem negative--Hezbollah for the first time targeting American civilians; U.S. soldiers preparing for war with Syria--while unfortunate in themselves, are actually part of the hawks' broader agenda. Each crisis will draw U.S. forces further into the region and each countermove in turn will create problems that can only be fixed by still further American involvement, until democratic governments--or, failing that, U.S. troops--rule the entire Middle East.
There is a startling amount of deception in all this--of hawks deceiving the American people, and perhaps in some cases even themselves. While it's conceivable that bold American action could democratize the Middle East, so broad and radical an initiative could also bring chaos and bloodshed on a massive scale. That all too real possibility leads most establishment foreign policy hands, including many in the State Department, to view the Bush plan with alarm. Indeed, the hawks' record so far does not inspire confidence. Prior to the invasion, for instance, they predicted that if the United States simply announced its intention to act against Saddam regardless of how the United Nations voted, most of our allies, eager to be on our good side, would support us. Almost none did. Yet despite such grave miscalculations, the hawks push on with their sweeping new agenda.
Like any group of permanent Washington revolutionaries fueled by visions of a righteous cause, the neocons long ago decided that criticism from the establishment isn't a reason for self-doubt but the surest sign that they're on the right track. But their confidence also comes from the curious fact that much of what could go awry with their plan will also serve to advance it. A full-scale confrontation between the United States and political Islam, they believe, is inevitable, so why not have it now, on our terms, rather than later, on theirs? Actually, there are plenty of good reasons not to purposely provoke a series of crises in the Middle East. But that's what the hawks are setting in motion, partly on the theory that the worse things get, the more their approach becomes the only plausible solution.
Moral Cloudiness Ever since the neocons burst upon the public policy scene 30 years ago, their movement has been a marriage of moral idealism, military assertiveness, and deception. Back in the early 1970s, this group of then-young and still mostly Democratic political intellectuals grew alarmed by the post-Vietnam Democrats' seeming indifference to the Soviet threat. They were equally appalled, however, by the amoral worldview espoused by establishment Republicans like Henry Kissinger, who sought co-existence with the Soviet Union. As is often the case with ex-socialists, the neocons were too familiar with communist tactics to ignore or romanticize communism's evils. The fact that many neocons were Jewish, and outraged by Moscow's increasingly visible persecution of Jews, also caused them to reject both the McGovernite and Kissingerian tendencies to ignore such abuses.
In Ronald Reagan, the neocons found a politician they could embrace. Like them, Reagan spoke openly about the evils of communism and, at least on the peripheries of the Cold War, preferred rollback to coexistence. Neocons filled the Reagan administration, and men like Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, Frank Gaffney, and others provided the intellectual ballast and moral fervor for the sharp turn toward confrontation that the United States adopted in 1981.
But achieving moral clarity often requires hiding certain realities. From the beginning, the neocons took a much more alarmist view of Soviet capacities and intentions than most experts. As late as 1980, the ur-neocon Norman Podhoretz warned of the imminent "Finlandization of America, the political and economic subordination of the United States to superior Soviet power," even raising the possibility that America's only options might be "surrender or war." We now know, of course, that U.S. intelligence estimates, which many neocons thought underestimated the magnitude and durability of Soviet power, in fact wildly overestimated them.
This willingness to deceive--both themselves and others--expanded as neocons grew more comfortable with power. Many spent the Reagan years orchestrating bloody wars against Soviet proxies in the Third World, portraying thugs like the Nicaraguan Contras and plain murderers like Jonas Savimbi of Angola as "freedom fighters." The nadir of this deceit was the Iran-Contra scandal, for which Podhoretz's son-in-law, Elliot Abrams, pled guilty to perjury. Abrams was later pardoned by Bush's father, and today, he runs Middle East policy in the Bush White House.
But in the end, the Soviet Union did fall. And the hawks' policy of confrontation did contribute to its collapse. So too, of course, did the economic and military rot most of the hawks didn't believe in, and the reforms of Mikhail Gorbachev, whom neocons such as Richard Perle counseled Reagan not to trust. But the neocons did not dwell on what they got wrong. Rather, the experience of having played a hand in the downfall of so great an evil led them to the opposite belief: that it's okay to be spectacularly wrong, even brazenly deceptive about the details, so long as you have moral vision and a willingness to use force.
What happened in the 1990s further reinforced that mindset. Hawks like Perle and William Kristol pulled their hair out when Kissingerians like Brent Scowcroft and Colin Powell left Saddam's regime in place after the first Gulf War. They watched with mounting fury as terrorist attacks by Muslim fundamentalists claimed more and more American and Israeli lives. They considered the Oslo accords an obvious mistake (how can you negotiate with a man like Yasir Arafat?), and as the decade progressed they became increasingly convinced that there was a nexus linking burgeoning terrorism and mounting anti-Semitism with repressive but nominally "pro-American" regimes like Saudi Arabia and Egypt. In 1996, several of the hawks--including Perle--even tried to sell Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the idea that Israel should attack Saddam on its own--advice Netanyahu wisely declined. When the Oslo process crumbled and Saudi Arabian terrorists killed 3,000 Americans on 9/11, the hawks felt, not without some justification, that they had seen this danger coming all along, while others had ignored it. The timing was propitious, because in September 2001 many already held jobs with a new conservative president willing to hear their pitch.
Prime Minister bin Laden The pitch was this: The Middle East today is like the Soviet Union 30 years ago. Politically warped fundamentalism is the contemporary equivalent of communism or fascism. Terrorists with potential access to weapons of mass destruction are like an arsenal pointed at the United States. The primary cause of all this danger is the Arab world's endemic despotism, corruption, poverty, and economic stagnation. Repressive regimes channel dissent into the mosques, where the hopeless and disenfranchised are taught a brand of Islam that combines anti-modernism, anti-Americanism, and a worship of violence that borders on nihilism. Unable to overthrow their own authoritarian rulers, the citizenry turns its fury against the foreign power that funds and supports these corrupt regimes to maintain stability and access to oil: the United States. As Johns Hopkins University professor Fouad Ajami recently wrote in Foreign Affairs, "The great indulgence granted to the ways and phobias of Arabs has reaped a terrible harvest"--terrorism. Trying to "manage" this dysfunctional Islamic world, as Clinton attempted and Colin Powell counsels us to do, is as foolish, unproductive, and dangerous as détente was with the Soviets, the hawks believe. Nor is it necessary, given the unparalleled power of the American military. Using that power to confront Soviet communism led to the demise of that totalitarianism and the establishment of democratic (or at least non-threatening) regimes from the Black Sea to the Baltic Sea to the Bering Strait. Why not use that same power to upend the entire corrupt Middle East edifice and bring liberty, democracy, and the rule of law to the Arab world?
The hawks' grand plan differs depending on whom you speak to, but the basic outline runs like this: The United States establishes a reasonably democratic, pro-Western government in Iraq--assume it falls somewhere between Turkey and Jordan on the spectrum of democracy and the rule of law. Not perfect, representative democracy, certainly, but a system infinitely preferable to Saddam's. The example of a democratic Iraq will radically change the political dynamics of the Middle East. When Palestinians see average Iraqis beginning to enjoy real freedom and economic opportunity, they'll want the same themselves. With that happy prospect on one hand and implacable United States will on the other, they'll demand that the Palestinian Authority reform politically and negotiate with Israel. That in turn will lead to a real peace deal between the Israelis and Palestinians. A democratic Iraq will also hasten the fall of the fundamentalist Shi'a mullahs in Iran, whose citizens are gradually adopting anti-fanatic, pro-Western sympathies. A democratized Iran would create a string of democratic, pro-Western governments (Turkey, Iraq, and Iran) stretching across the historical heartland of Islam. Without a hostile Iraq towering over it, Jordan's pro-Western Hashemite monarchy would likely come into full bloom. Syria would be no more than a pale reminder of the bad old days. (If they made trouble, a U.S. invasion would take care of them, too.) And to the tiny Gulf emirates making hesitant steps toward democratization, the corrupt regimes of Saudi Arabia and Egypt would no longer look like examples of stability and strength in a benighted region, but holdouts against the democratic tide. Once the dust settles, we could decide whether to ignore them as harmless throwbacks to the bad old days or deal with them, too. We'd be in a much stronger position to do so since we'd no longer require their friendship to help us manage ugly regimes in Iraq, Iran, and Syria.
The audacious nature of the neocons' plan makes it easy to criticize but strangely difficult to dismiss outright. Like a character in a bad made-for-TV thriller from the 1970s, you can hear yourself saying, "That plan's just crazy enough to work."
But like a TV plot, the hawks' vision rests on a willing suspension of disbelief, in particular, on the premise that every close call will break in our favor: The guard will fall asleep next to the cell so our heroes can pluck the keys from his belt. The hail of enemy bullets will plink-plink-plink over our heroes' heads. And the getaway car in the driveway will have the keys waiting in the ignition. Sure, the hawks' vision could come to pass. But there are at least half a dozen equally plausible alternative scenarios that would be disastrous for us.
To begin with, this whole endeavor is supposed to be about reducing the long-term threat of terrorism, particularly terrorism that employs weapons of mass destruction. But, to date, every time a Western or non-Muslim country has put troops into Arab lands to stamp out violence and terror, it has awakened entire new terrorist organizations and a generation of recruits. Placing U.S. troops in Riyadh after the Gulf War (to protect Saudi Arabia and its oilfields from Saddam) gave Osama bin Laden a cause around which he built al Qaeda. Israel took the West Bank in a war of self-defense, but once there its occupation helped give rise to Hamas. Israel's incursion into southern Lebanon (justified at the time, but transformed into a permanent occupation) led to the rise of Hezbollah. Why do we imagine that our invasion and occupation of Iraq, or whatever countries come next, will turn out any differently?
The Bush administration also insists that our right to act preemptively and unilaterally, with or without the international community's formal approval, rests on the need to protect American lives. But with the exception of al Qaeda, most terrorist organizations in the world, and certainly in the Middle East, do not target Americans. Hamas certainly doesn't. Hezbollah, the most fearsome of terrorist organizations beside al Qaeda, has killed American troops in the Middle East, but not for some years, and it has never targeted American civilians on American soil. Yet like Hamas, Hezbollah has an extensive fundraising cell operation in the States (as do many terrorist organizations, including the Irish Republican Army). If we target them in the Middle East, can't we reasonably assume they will respond by activating these cells and taking the war worldwide?
Next, consider the hawks' plans for those Middle East states that are authoritarian yet "friendly" to the United States--specifically Egypt and Saudi Arabia. No question these are problem countries. Their governments buy our weapons and accept our foreign aid yet allow vicious anti-Semitism to spew from the state run airwaves and tolerate clerics who preach jihad against the West. But is it really in our interests to work for their overthrow? Many hawks clearly think so. I asked Richard Perle last year about the dangers that might flow from the fall of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. "Mubarak is no great shakes," he quipped. "Surely we can do better than Mubarak." When I asked Perle's friend and fellow Reagan-era neocon Ken Adelman to calculate the costs of having the toppling of Saddam lead to the overthrow of the House of Saud, he shot back: "All the better if you ask me."
This cavalier call for regime change, however, runs into a rather obvious problem. When the communist regimes of Eastern and Central Europe fell after 1989, the people of those nations felt grateful to the United States because we helped liberate them from their Russian colonial masters. They went on to create pro-Western democracies. The same is unlikely to happen, however, if we help "liberate" Saudi Arabia and Egypt. The tyrannies in these countries are home grown, and the U.S. government has supported them, rightly or wrongly, for decades, even as we've ignored (in the eyes of Arabs) the plight of the Palestinians. Consequently, the citizens of these countries generally hate the United States, and show strong sympathy for Islamic radicals. If free elections were held in Saudi Arabia today, Osama bin Laden would probably win more votes than Crown Prince Abdullah. Topple the pro-Western autocracies in these countries, in other words, and you won't get pro-Western democracies but anti-Western tyrannies.
To this dilemma, the hawks offer two responses. One is that eventually the citizens of Egypt and Saudi Arabia will grow disenchanted with their anti-Western Islamic governments, just as the people of Iran have, and become our friends. To which the correct response is, well, sure, that's a nice theory, but do we really want to make the situation for ourselves hugely worse now on the strength of a theoretical future benefit?
The hawks' other response is that if the effort to push these countries toward democracy goes south, we can always use our military might to secure our interests. "We need to be more assertive," argues Max Boot, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, "and stop letting all these two-bit dictators and rogue regimes push us around and stop being a patsy for our so-called allies, especially in Saudi Arabia." Hopefully, in Boot's view, laying down the law will be enough. But he envisions a worst-case scenario that would involve the United States "occupying the Saudi's oil fields and administering them as a trust for the people of the region."
What Boot is calling for, in other words, is the creation of a de facto American empire in the Middle East. In fact, there's a subset of neocons who believe that given our unparalleled power, empire is our destiny and we might as well embrace it. The problem with this line of thinking is, of course, that it ignores the lengthy and troubling history of imperial ambitions, particularly in the Middle East. The French and the English didn't leave voluntarily; they were driven out. And they left behind a legacy of ignorance, exploitation, and corruption that's largely responsible for the region's current dysfunctional politics.
Another potential snafu for the hawks is Iran, arguably the most dangerous state in the Middle East. The good news is that the fundamentalist Shi'a mullahs who have been running the government, exporting terrorism, and trying to enrich their uranium, are increasingly unpopular. Most experts believe that the mullahs' days are numbered, and that true democracy will come to Iran. That day will arrive sooner, the hawks argue, with a democratic Iraq on Iran's border. But the opposite could happen. If the mullahs are smart, they'll cooperate just enough with the Americans not to provoke an attack, but put themselves forth to their own people as defenders of Iranian independence and Iran's brother Shi'a in southern Iraq who are living under the American jackboot. Such a strategy might keep the fundamentalists in power for years longer than they otherwise might have been.
Then there is the mother of all problems, Iraq. The hawks' whole plan rests on the assumption that we can turn it into a self-governing democracy--that the very presence of that example will transform politics in the Middle East. But what if we can't really create a democratic, self-governing Iraq, at least not very quickly? What if the experience we had after World War II in Germany and Japan, two ethnically homogeneous nations, doesn't quite work in an ethnically divided Iraq where one group, the Sunni Arabs, has spent decades repressing and slaughtering the others? As one former Army officer with long experience with the Iraq file explains it, the "physical analogy to Saddam Hussein's regime is a steel beam in compression." Give it one good hit, and you'll get a violent explosion. One hundred thousand U.S. troops may be able to keep a lid on all the pent-up hatred. But we may soon find that it's unwise to hand off power to the fractious Iraqis. To invoke the ugly but apt metaphor which Jefferson used to describe the American dilemma of slavery, we will have the wolf by the ears. You want to let go. But you dare not.
And what if we do muster the courage to allow elections, but the Iraqis choose a government we can't live with--as the Japanese did in their first post-war election, when the United States purged the man slated to become prime minister? But if we do that in Iraq, how will it look on Al Jazeera? Ultimately, the longer we stay as occupiers, the more Iraq becomes not an example for other Arabs to emulate, but one that helps Islamic fundamentalists make their case that America is just an old-fashioned imperium bent on conquering Arab lands. And that will make worse all the problems set forth above.
None of these problems are inevitable, of course. Luck, fortitude, deft management, and help from allies could bring about very different results. But we can probably only rely on the first three because we are starting this enterprise over the expressed objections of almost every other country in the world. And that's yet another reason why overthrowing the Middle East won't be the same as overthrowing communism. We did the latter, after all, within a tight formal alliance, NATO. Reagan's most effective military move against Moscow, for instance, placing Pershing II missiles in Western Europe, could never have happened, given widespread public protests, except that NATO itself voted to let the weapons in. In the Middle East, however, we're largely alone. If things go badly, what allies we might have left are liable to say to us: You broke it, you fix it.
Whacking the Hornet's Nest If the Bush administration has thought through these various negative scenarios--and we must presume, or at least pray, that it has--it certainly has not shared them with the American people. More to the point, the president has not even leveled with the public that such a clean-sweep approach to the Middle East is, in fact, their plan. This breaks new ground in the history of pre-war presidential deception. Franklin Roosevelt said he was trying to keep the United States out of World War II even as he--in some key ways--courted a confrontation with the Axis powers that he saw as both inevitable and necessary. History has judged him well for this. Far more brazenly, Lyndon Johnson's administration greatly exaggerated the Gulf of Tonkin incident to gin up support for full-throttle engagement in Vietnam. The war proved to be Johnson's undoing. When President Clinton used American troops to quell the fighting in Bosnia he said publicly that our troops would be there no longer than a year, even though it was widely understood that they would be there far longer. But in the case of these deceptions, the public was at least told what the goals of the wars were and whom and where we would be fighting.
Today, however, the great majority of the American people have no concept of what kind of conflict the president is leading them into. The White House has presented this as a war to depose Saddam Hussein in order to keep him from acquiring weapons of mass destruction--a goal that the majority of Americans support. But the White House really has in mind an enterprise of a scale, cost, and scope that would be almost impossible to sell to the American public. The White House knows that. So it hasn't even tried. Instead, it's focused on getting us into Iraq with the hope of setting off a sequence of events that will draw us inexorably towards the agenda they have in mind.
The brazenness of this approach would be hard to believe if it weren't entirely in line with how the administration has pursued so many of its other policy goals. Its preferred method has been to use deceit to create faits accomplis, facts on the ground that then make the administration's broader agenda almost impossible not to pursue. During and after the 2000 campaign, the president called for major education and prescription drug programs plus a huge tax cut, saying America could easily afford them all because of large budget surpluses. Critics said it wasn't true, and the growing budget deficits have proven them right. But the administration now uses the existence of big budget deficits as a way to put the squeeze on social programs--part of its plan all along. Strip away the presidential seal and the fancy titles, and it's just a straight-up con.
The same strategy seemed to guide the administration's passive-aggressive attitude towards our allies. It spent the months after September 11 signaling its distaste for international agreements and entangling alliances. The president then demanded last September that the same countries he had snubbed support his agenda in Iraq. And last month, when most of those countries refused, hawks spun that refusal as evidence that they were right all along. Recently, a key neoconservative commentator with close ties to the administration told me that the question since the end of the Cold War has been which global force would create the conditions for global peace and security: the United States, NATO, or the United Nations. With NATO now wrecked, he told me, the choice is between the United States and the United Nations. Whether NATO is actually wrecked remains to be seen. But the strategy is clear: push the alliance to the breaking point, and when it snaps, cite it as proof that the alliance was good for nothing anyway. It's the definition of chutzpah, like the kid who kills his parents and begs the judge for sympathy because he's an orphan.
Another president may be able to rebuild NATO or get the budget back in balance. But once America begins the process of remaking the Middle East in the way the hawks have in mind, it will be extremely difficult for any president to pull back. Vietnam analogies have long been overused, and used inappropriately, but this may be one case where the comparison is apt.
Ending Saddam Hussein's regime and replacing it with something stable and democratic was always going to be a difficult task, even with the most able leadership and the broadest coalition. But doing it as the Bush administration now intends is something like going outside and giving a few good whacks to a hornets' nest because you want to get them out in the open and have it out with them once and for all. Ridding the world of Islamic terrorism by rooting out its ultimate sources--Muslim fundamentalism and the Arab world's endemic despotism, corruption, and poverty--might work. But the costs will be immense. Whether the danger is sufficient and the costs worth incurring would make for an interesting public debate. The problem is that once it's just us and the hornets, we really won't have any choice.
By Joshua Micah Marshall, First Published in Washington Monthly, April 2003
17. The Man Who Sold the War
by James Bamford...
The road to war in Iraq led through many unlikely places. One of them was a chic hotel nestled among the strip bars and brothels that cater to foreigners in the town of Pattaya, on the Gulf of Thailand.
On December 17th, 2001, in a small room within the sound of the crashing tide, a CIA officer attached metal electrodes to the ring and index fingers of a man sitting pensively in a padded chair. The officer then stretched a black rubber tube, pleated like an accordion, around the man's chest and another across his abdomen. Finally, he slipped a thick cuff over the man's brachial artery, on the inside of his upper arm.
Strapped to the polygraph machine was Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri, a forty-three-year-old Iraqi who had fled his homeland in Kurdistan and was now determined to bring down Saddam Hussein. For hours, as thin mechanical styluses traced black lines on rolling graph paper, al-Haideri laid out an explosive tale. Answering yes and no to a series of questions, he insisted repeatedly that he was a civil engineer who had helped Saddam's men to secretly bury tons of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons. The illegal arms, according to al-Haideri, were buried in subterranean wells, hidden in private villas, even stashed beneath the Saddam Hussein Hospital, the largest medical facility in Baghdad.
It was damning stuff -- just the kind of evidence the Bush administration was looking for. If the charges were true, they would offer the White House a compelling reason to invade Iraq and depose Saddam. That's why the Pentagon had flown a CIA polygraph expert to Pattaya: to question al-Haideri and confirm, once and for all, that Saddam was secretly stockpiling weapons of mass destruction.
There was only one problem: It was all a lie. After a review of the sharp peaks and deep valleys on the polygraph chart, the intelligence officer concluded that al-Haideri had made up the entire story, apparently in the hopes of securing a visa.
The fabrication might have ended there, the tale of another political refugee trying to scheme his way to a better life. But just because the story wasn't true didn't mean it couldn't be put to good use. Al-Haideri, in fact, was the product of a clandestine operation -- part espionage, part PR campaign -- that had been set up and funded by the CIA and the Pentagon for the express purpose of selling the world a war. And the man who had long been in charge of the marketing was a secretive and mysterious creature of the Washington establishment named John Rendon.
Rendon is a man who fills a need that few people even know exists. Two months before al-Haideri took the lie-detector test, the Pentagon had secretly awarded him a $16 million contract to target Iraq and other adversaries with propaganda. One of the most powerful people in Washington, Rendon is a leader in the strategic field known as "perception management," manipulating information -- and, by extension, the news media -- to achieve the desired result. His firm, the Rendon Group, has made millions off government contracts since 1991, when it was hired by the CIA to help "create the conditions for the removal of Hussein from power." Working under this extraordinary transfer of secret authority, Rendon assembled a group of anti-Saddam militants, personally gave them their name -- the Iraqi National Congress -- and served as their media guru and "senior adviser" as they set out to engineer an uprising against Saddam. It was as if President John F. Kennedy had outsourced the Bay of Pigs operation to the advertising and public-relations firm of J. Walter Thompson. "They're very closemouthed about what they do," says Kevin McCauley, an editor of the industry trade publication O'Dwyer's PR Daily. "It's all cloak-and-dagger stuff."
Although Rendon denies any direct involvement with al-Haideri, the defector was the latest salvo in a secret media war set in motion by Rendon. In an operation directed by Ahmad Chalabi -- the man Rendon helped install as leader of the INC -- the defector had been brought to Thailand, where he huddled in a hotel room for days with the group's spokesman, Zaab Sethna. The INC routinely coached defectors on their stories, prepping them for polygraph exams, and Sethna was certainly up to the task -- he got his training in the art of propaganda on the payroll of the Rendon Group. According to Francis Brooke, the INC's man in Washington and himself a former Rendon employee, the goal of the al-Haideri operation was simple: pressure the United States to attack Iraq and overthrow Saddam Hussein.
As the CIA official flew back to Washington with failed lie-detector charts in his briefcase, Chalabi and Sethna didn't hesitate. They picked up the phone, called two journalists who had a long history of helping the INC promote its cause and offered them an exclusive on Saddam's terrifying cache of WMDs.
For the worldwide broadcast rights, Sethna contacted Paul Moran, an Australian freelancer who frequently worked for the Australian Broadcasting Corp. "I think I've got something that you would be interested in," he told Moran, who was living in Bahrain. Sethna knew he could count on the trim, thirty-eight-year-old journalist: A former INC employee in the Middle East, Moran had also been on Rendon's payroll for years in "information operations," working with Sethna at the company's London office on Catherine Place, near Buckingham Palace. "We were trying to help the Kurds and the Iraqis opposed to Saddam set up a television station," Sethna recalled in a rare interview broadcast on Australian television. "The Rendon Group came to us and said, 'We have a contract to kind of do anti-Saddam propaganda on behalf of the Iraqi opposition.' What we didn't know -- what the Rendon Group didn't tell us -- was in fact it was the CIA that had hired them to do this work."
The INC's choice for the worldwide print exclusive was equally easy: Chalabi contacted Judith Miller of The New York Times. Miller, who was close to I. Lewis Libby and other neoconservatives in the Bush administration, had been a trusted outlet for the INC's anti-Saddam propaganda for years. Not long after the CIA polygraph expert slipped the straps and electrodes off al-Haideri and declared him a liar, Miller flew to Bangkok to interview him under the watchful supervision of his INC handlers. Miller later made perfunctory calls to the CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency, but despite her vaunted intelligence sources, she claimed not to know about the results of al-Haideri's lie-detector test. Instead, she reported that unnamed "government experts" called his information "reliable and significant" -- thus adding a veneer of truth to the lies.
Her front-page story, which hit the stands on December 20th, 2001, was exactly the kind of exposure Rendon had been hired to provide. AN IRAQI DEFECTOR TELLS OF WORK ON AT LEAST 20 HIDDEN WEAPONS SITES, declared the headline. "An Iraqi defector who described himself as a civil engineer," Miller wrote, "said he personally worked on renovations of secret facilities for biological, chemical and nuclear weapons in underground wells, private villas and under the Saddam Hussein Hospital in Baghdad as recently as a year ago." If verified, she noted, "his allegations would provide ammunition to officials within the Bush administration who have been arguing that Mr. Hussein should be driven from power partly because of his unwillingness to stop making weapons of mass destruction, despite his pledges to do so."
For months, hawks inside and outside the administration had been pressing for a pre-emptive attack on Iraq. Now, thanks to Miller's story, they could point to "proof" of Saddam's "nuclear threat." The story, reinforced by Moran's on-camera interview with al-Haideri on the giant Australian Broadcasting Corp., was soon being trumpeted by the White House and repeated by newspapers and television networks around the world. It was the first in a long line of hyped and fraudulent stories that would eventually propel the U.S. into a war with Iraq -- the first war based almost entirely on a covert propaganda campaign targeting the media.
By law, the Bush administration is expressly prohibited from disseminating government propaganda at home. But in an age of global communications, there is nothing to stop it from planting a phony pro-war story overseas -- knowing with certainty that it will reach American citizens almost instantly. A recent congressional report suggests that the Pentagon may be relying on "covert psychological operations affecting audiences within friendly nations." In a "secret amendment" to Pentagon policy, the report warns, "psyops funds might be used to publish stories favorable to American policies, or hire outside contractors without obvious ties to the Pentagon to organize rallies in support of administration policies." The report also concludes that military planners are shifting away from the Cold War view that power comes from superior weapons systems. Instead, the Pentagon now believes that "combat power can be enhanced by communications networks and technologies that control access to, and directly manipulate, information. As a result, information itself is now both a tool and a target of warfare."
It is a belief John Rendon encapsulated in a speech to cadets at the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1996. "I am not a national-security strategist or a military tactician," he declared. "I am a politician, a person who uses communication to meet public-policy or corporate-policy objectives. In fact, I am an information warrior and a perception manager." To explain his philosophy, Rendon paraphrased a journalist he knew from his days as a staffer on the presidential campaigns of George McGovern and Jimmy Carter: "This is probably best described in the words of Hunter S. Thompson, when he wrote, 'When things turn weird, the weird turn pro.'" John Walter Rendon Jr. rises at 3 a.m. each morning after six hours of sleep, turns on his Apple computer and begins ingesting information -- overnight news reports, e-mail messages, foreign and domestic newspapers, and an assortment of government documents, many of them available only to those with the highest security clearance. According to Pentagon documents obtained by Rolling Stone, the Rendon Group is authorized "to research and analyze information classified up to Top Secret/SCI/SI/TK/G/HCS" -- an extraordinarily high level of clearance granted to only a handful of defense contractors. "SCI" stands for Sensitive Compartmented Information, data classified higher than Top Secret. "SI" is Special Intelligence, very secret communications intercepted by the National Security Agency. "TK" refers to Talent/Keyhole, code names for imagery from reconnaissance aircraft and spy satellites. "G" stands for Gamma (communications intercepts from extremely sensitive sources) and "HCS" means Humint Control System (information from a very sensitive human source). Taken together, the acronyms indicate that Rendon enjoys access to the most secret information from all three forms of intelligence collection: eavesdropping, imaging satellites and human spies.
Rendon lives in a multimillion-dollar home in Washington's exclusive Kalorama neighborhood. A few doors down from Rendon is the home of former Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara; just around the corner lives current Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. At fifty-six, Rendon wears owlish glasses and combs his thick mane of silver-gray hair to the side, Kennedy-style. He heads to work each morning clad in a custom-made shirt with his monogram on the right cuff and a sharply tailored blue blazer that hangs loose around his bulky frame. By the time he pulls up to the Rendon Group's headquarters near Dupont Circle, he has already racked up a handsome fee for the morning's work: According to federal records, Rendon charges the CIA and the Pentagon $311.26 an hour for his services.
Rendon is one of the most influential of the private contractors in Washington who are increasingly taking over jobs long reserved for highly trained CIA employees. In recent years, spies-for-hire have begun to replace regional desk officers, who control clandestine operations around the world; watch officers at the agency's twenty-four-hour crisis center; analysts, who sift through reams of intelligence data; and even counterintelligence officers in the field, who oversee meetings between agents and their recruited spies.
According to one senior administration official involved in intelligence-budget decisions, half of the CIA's work is now performed by private contractors -- people completely unaccountable to Congress. Another senior budget official acknowledges privately that lawmakers have no idea how many rent-a-spies the CIA currently employs -- or how much unchecked power they enjoy.
Unlike many newcomers to the field, however, Rendon is a battle-tested veteran who has been secretly involved in nearly every American shooting conflict in the past two decades. In the first interview he has granted in decades, Rendon offered a peek through the keyhole of this seldom-seen world of corporate spooks -- a rarefied but growing profession. Over a dinner of lamb chops and a bottle of Chateauneuf du Pape at a private Washington club, Rendon was guarded about the details of his clandestine work -- but he boasted openly of the sweep and importance of his firm's efforts as a for-profit spy. "We've worked in ninety-one countries," he said. "Going all the way back to Panama, we've been involved in every war, with the exception of Somalia."
It is an unusual career twist for someone who entered politics as an opponent of the Vietnam War. The son of a stockbroker, Rendon grew up in New Jersey and stumped for McGovern before graduating from Northeastern University. "I was the youngest state coordinator," he recalls. "I had Maine. They told me that I understood politics -- which was a stretch, being so young." Rendon, who went on to serve as executive director of the Democratic National Committee, quickly mastered the combination of political skulduggery and media manipulation that would become his hallmark. In 1980, as the manager of Jimmy Carter's troops at the national convention in New York, he was sitting alone in the bleachers at Madison Square Garden when a reporter for ABC News approached him. "They actually did a little piece about the man behind the curtain," Rendon says. "A Wizard of Oz thing." It was a role he would end up playing for the rest of his life.
After Carter lost the election and the hard-right Reagan revolutionaries came to power in 1981, Rendon went into business with his younger brother Rick. "Everybody started consulting," he recalls. "We started consulting." They helped elect John Kerry to the Senate in 1984 and worked for the AFL-CIO to mobilize the union vote for Walter Mondale's presidential campaign. Among the items Rendon produced was a training manual for union organizers to operate as political activists on behalf of Mondale. To keep the operation quiet, Rendon stamped CONFIDENTIAL on the cover of each of the blue plastic notebooks. It was a penchant for secrecy that would soon pervade all of his consulting deals.
To a large degree, the Rendon Group is a family affair. Rendon's wife, Sandra Libby, handles the books as chief financial officer and "senior communications strategist." Rendon's brother Rick serves as senior partner and runs the company's Boston office, producing public-service announcements for the Whale Conservation Institute and coordinating Empower Peace, a campaign that brings young people in the Middle East in contact with American kids through video-conferencing technology. But the bulk of the company's business is decidedly less liberal and peace oriented. Rendon's first experience in the intelligence world, in fact, came courtesy of the Republicans. "Panama," he says, "brought us into the national-security environment."
In 1989, shortly after his election, President George H.W. Bush signed a highly secret "finding" authorizing the CIA to funnel $10 million to opposition forces in Panama to overthrow Gen. Manuel Noriega. Reluctant to involve agency personnel directly, the CIA turned to the Rendon Group. Rendon's job was to work behind the scenes, using a variety of campaign and psychological techniques to put the CIA's choice, Guillermo Endara, into the presidential palace. Cash from the agency, laundered through various bank accounts and front organizations, would end up in Endara's hands, who would then pay Rendon.
A heavyset, fifty-three-year-old corporate attorney with little political experience, Endara was running against Noriega's handpicked choice, Carlos Duque. With Rendon's help, Endara beat Duque decisively at the polls -- but Noriega simply named himself "Maximum Leader" and declared the election null and void. The Bush administration then decided to remove Noriega by force -- and Rendon's job shifted from generating local support for a national election to building international support for regime change. Within days he had found the ultimate propaganda tool.
At the end of a rally in support of Endara, a band of Noriega's Dignity Battalion -- nicknamed "Dig Bats" and called "Doberman thugs" by Bush -- attacked the crowd with wooden planks, metal pipes and guns. Gang members grabbed the bodyguard of Guillermo Ford, one of Endara's vice-presidential candidates, pushed him against a car, shoved a gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger. With cameras snapping, the Dig Bats turned on Ford, batting his head with a spike-tipped metal rod and pounding him with heavy clubs, turning his white guayabera bright red with blood -- his own, and that of his dead bodyguard.
Within hours, Rendon made sure the photos reached every newsroom in the world. The next week an image of the violence made the cover of Time magazine with the caption POLITICS PANAMA STYLE: NORIEGA BLUDGEONS HIS OPPOSITION, AND THE U.S. TURNS UP THE HEAT. To further boost international support for Endara, Rendon escorted Ford on a tour of Europe to meet British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, the Italian prime minister and even the pope. In December 1989, when Bush decided to invade Panama, Rendon and several of his employees were on one of the first military jets headed to Panama City.
"I arrived fifteen minutes before it started," Rendon recalls. "My first impression is having the pilot in the plane turn around and say, 'Excuse me, sir, but if you look off to the left you'll see the attack aircraft circling before they land.' Then I remember this major saying, 'Excuse me, sir, but do you know what the air-defense capability of Panama is at the moment?' I leaned into the cockpit and said, 'Look, major, I hope by now that's no longer an issue.'"
Moments later, Rendon's plane landed at Howard Air Force Base in Panama. "I needed to get to Fort Clayton, which was where the president was," he says. "I was choppered over -- and we took some rounds on the way." There, on a U.S. military base surrounded by 24,000 U.S. troops, heavy tanks and Combat Talon AC-130 gunships, Rendon's client, Endara, was at last sworn in as president of Panama.
Rendon's involvement in the campaign to oust Saddam Hussein began seven months later, in July 1990. Rendon had taken time out for a vacation -- a long train ride across Scotland -- when he received an urgent call. "Soldiers are massing at the border outside of Kuwait," he was told. At the airport, he watched the beginning of the Iraqi invasion on television. Winging toward Washington in the first-class cabin of a Pan Am 747, Rendon spent the entire flight scratching an outline of his ideas in longhand on a yellow legal pad.
"I wrote a memo about what the Kuwaitis were going to face, and I based it on our experience in Panama and the experience of the Free French operation in World War II," Rendon says. "This was something that they needed to see and hear, and that was my whole intent. Go over, tell the Kuwaitis, 'Here's what you've got -- here's some observations, here's some recommendations, live long and prosper.'"
Back in Washington, Rendon immediately called Hamilton Jordan, the former chief of staff to President Carter and an old friend from his Democratic Party days. "He put me in touch with the Saudis, the Saudis put me in touch with the Kuwaitis and then I went over and had a meeting with the Kuwaitis," Rendon recalls. "And by the time I landed back in the United States, I got a phone call saying, 'Can you come back? We want you to do what's in the memo.'"
What the Kuwaitis wanted was help in selling a war of liberation to the American government -- and the American public. Rendon proposed a massive "perception management" campaign designed to convince the world of the need to join forces to rescue Kuwait. Working through an organization called Citizens for a Free Kuwait, the Kuwaiti government in exile agreed to pay Rendon $100,000 a month for his assistance.
To coordinate the operation, Rendon opened an office in London. Once the Gulf War began, he remained extremely busy trying to prevent the American press from reporting on the dark side of the Kuwaiti government, an autocratic oil-tocracy ruled by a family of wealthy sheiks. When newspapers began reporting that many Kuwaitis were actually living it up in nightclubs in Cairo as Americans were dying in the Kuwaiti sand, the Rendon Group quickly counterattacked. Almost instantly, a wave of articles began appearing telling the story of grateful Kuwaitis mailing 20,000 personally signed valentines to American troops on the front lines, all arranged by Rendon.
Rendon also set up an elaborate television and radio network, and developed programming that was beamed into Kuwait from Taif, Saudi Arabia. "It was important that the Kuwaitis in occupied Kuwait understood that the rest of the world was doing something," he says. Each night, Rendon's troops in London produced a script and sent it via microwave to Taif, ensuring that the "news" beamed into Kuwait reflected a sufficiently pro-American line.
When it comes to staging a war, few things are left to chance. After Iraq withdrew from Kuwait, it was Rendon's responsibility to make the victory march look like the flag-waving liberation of France after World War II. "Did you ever stop to wonder," he later remarked, "how the people of Kuwait City, after being held hostage for seven long and painful months, were able to get hand-held American -- and, for that matter, the flags of other coalition countries?" After a pause, he added, "Well, you now know the answer. That was one of my jobs then."
Although his work is highly secret, Rendon insists he deals only in "timely, truthful and accurate information." His job, he says, is to counter false perceptions that the news media perpetuate because they consider it "more important to be first than to be right." In modern warfare, he believes, the outcome depends largely on the public's perception of the war -- whether it is winnable, whether it is worth the cost. "We are being haunted and stalked by the difference between perception and reality," he says. "Because the lines are divergent, this difference between perception and reality is one of the greatest strategic communications challenges of war."
By the time the Gulf War came to a close in 1991, the Rendon Group was firmly established as Washington's leading salesman for regime change. But Rendon's new assignment went beyond simply manipulating the media. After the war ended, the Top Secret order signed by President Bush to oust Hussein included a rare "lethal finding" -- meaning deadly action could be taken if necessary. Under contract to the CIA, Rendon was charged with helping to create a dissident force with the avowed purpose of violently overthrowing the entire Iraqi government. It is an undertaking that Rendon still considers too classified to discuss. "That's where we're wandering into places I'm not going to talk about," he says. "If you take an oath, it should mean something."
Thomas Twetten, the CIA's former deputy of operations, credits Rendon with virtually creating the INC. "The INC was clueless," he once observed. "They needed a lot of help and didn't know where to start. That is why Rendon was brought in." Acting as the group's senior adviser and aided by truckloads of CIA dollars, Rendon pulled together a wide spectrum of Iraqi dissidents and sponsored a conference in Vienna to organize them into an umbrella organization, which he dubbed the Iraqi National Congress. Then, as in Panama, his assignment was to help oust a brutal dictator and replace him with someone chosen by the CIA. "The reason they got the contract was because of what they had done in Panama -- so they were known," recalls Whitley Bruner, former chief of the CIA's station in Baghdad. This time the target was Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and the agency's successor of choice was Ahmad Chalabi, a crafty, avuncular Iraqi exile beloved by Washington's neoconservatives.
Chalabi was a curious choice to lead a rebellion. In 1992, he was convicted in Jordan of making false statements and embezzling $230 million from his own bank, for which he was sentenced in absentia to twenty-two years of hard labor. But the only credential that mattered was his politics. "From day one," Rendon says, "Chalabi was very clear that his biggest interest was to rid Iraq of Saddam." Bruner, who dealt with Chalabi and Rendon in London in 1991, puts it even more bluntly. "Chalabi's primary focus," he said later, "was to drag us into a war." The key element of Rendon's INC operation was a worldwide media blitz designed to turn Hussein, a once dangerous but now contained regional leader, into the greatest threat to world peace. Each month, $326,000 was passed from the CIA to the Rendon Group and the INC via various front organizations. Rendon profited handsomely, receiving a "management fee" of ten percent above what it spent on the project. According to some reports, the company made nearly $100 million on the contract during the five years following the Gulf War.
Rendon made considerable headway with the INC, but following the group's failed coup attempt against Saddam in 1996, the CIA lost confidence in Chalabi and cut off his monthly paycheck. But Chalabi and Rendon simply switched sides, moving over to the Pentagon, and the money continued to flow. "The Rendon Group is not in great odor in Langley these days," notes Bruner. "Their contracts are much more with the Defense Department."
Rendon's influence rose considerably in Washington after the terrorist attacks of September 11th. In a single stroke, Osama bin Laden altered the world's perception of reality -- and in an age of nonstop information, whoever controls perception wins. What Bush needed to fight the War on Terror was a skilled information warrior -- and Rendon was widely acknowledged as the best. "The events of 11 September 2001 changed everything, not least of which was the administration's outlook concerning strategic influence," notes one Army report. "Faced with direct evidence that many people around the world actively hated the United States, Bush began taking action to more effectively explain U.S. policy overseas. Initially the White House and DoD turned to the Rendon Group."
Three weeks after the September 11th attacks, according to documents obtained from defense sources, the Pentagon awarded a large contract to the Rendon Group. Around the same time, Pentagon officials also set up a highly secret organization called the Office of Strategic Influence. Part of the OSI's mission was to conduct covert disinformation and deception operations -- planting false news items in the media and hiding their origins. "It's sometimes valuable from a military standpoint to be able to engage in deception with respect to future anticipated plans," Vice President Dick Cheney said in explaining the operation. Even the military's top brass found the clandestine unit unnerving. "When I get their briefings, it's scary," a senior official said at the time. In February 2002, The New York Times reported that the Pentagon had hired Rendon "to help the new office," a charge Rendon denies. "We had nothing to do with that," he says. "We were not in their reporting chain. We were reporting directly to the J-3" -- the head of operations at the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Following the leak, Rumsfeld was forced to shut down the organization. But much of the office's operations were apparently shifted to another unit, deeper in the Pentagon's bureaucracy, called the Information Operations Task Force, and Rendon was closely connected to this group. "Greg Newbold was the J-3 at the time, and we reported to him through the IOTF," Rendon says.
According to the Pentagon documents, the Rendon Group played a major role in the IOTF. The company was charged with creating an "Information War Room" to monitor worldwide news reports at lightning speed and respond almost instantly with counterpropaganda. A key weapon, according to the documents, was Rendon's "proprietary state-of-the-art news-wire collection system called 'Livewire,' which takes real-time news-wire reports, as they are filed, before they are on the Internet, before CNN can read them on the air and twenty-four hours before they appear in the morning newspapers, and sorts them by keyword. The system provides the most current real-time access to news and information available to private or public organizations."
The top target that the pentagon assigned to Rendon was the Al-Jazeera television network. The contract called for the Rendon Group to undertake a massive "media mapping" campaign against the news organization, which the Pentagon considered "critical to U.S. objectives in the War on Terrorism." According to the contract, Rendon would provide a "detailed content analysis of the station's daily broadcast . . . [and] identify the biases of specific journalists and potentially obtain an understanding of their allegiances, including the possibility of specific relationships and sponsorships."
The secret targeting of foreign journalists may have had a sinister purpose. Among the missions proposed for the Pentagon's Office of Strategic Influence was one to "coerce" foreign journalists and plant false information overseas. Secret briefing papers also said the office should find ways to "punish" those who convey the "wrong message." One senior officer told CNN that the plan would "formalize government deception, dishonesty and misinformation."
According to the Pentagon documents, Rendon would use his media analysis to conduct a worldwide propaganda campaign, deploying teams of information warriors to allied nations to assist them "in developing and delivering specific messages to the local population, combatants, front-line states, the media and the international community." Among the places Rendon's info-war teams would be sent were Jakarta, Indonesia; Islamabad, Pakistan; Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; Cairo; Ankara, Turkey; and Tashkent, Uzbekistan. The teams would produce and script television news segments "built around themes and story lines supportive of U.S. policy objectives."
Rendon was also charged with engaging in "military deception" online -- an activity once assigned to the OSI. The company was contracted to monitor Internet chat rooms in both English and Arabic -- and "participate in these chat rooms when/if tasked." Rendon would also create a Web site "with regular news summaries and feature articles. Targeted at the global public, in English and at least four (4) additional languages, this activity also will include an extensive e-mail push operation." These techniques are commonly used to plant a variety of propaganda, including false information.
Still another newly formed propaganda operation in which Rendon played a major part was the Office of Global Communications, which operated out of the White House and was charged with spreading the administration's message on the War in Iraq. Every morning at 9:30, Rendon took part in the White House OGC conference call, where officials would discuss the theme of the day and who would deliver it. The office also worked closely with the White House Iraq Group, whose high-level members, including recently indicted Cheney chief of staff Lewis Libby, were responsible for selling the war to the American public.
Never before in history had such an extensive secret network been established to shape the entire world's perception of a war. "It was not just bad intelligence -- it was an orchestrated effort," says Sam Gardner, a retired Air Force colonel who has taught strategy and military operations at the National War College. "It began before the war, was a major effort during the war and continues as post-conflict distortions."
In the first weeks following the September 11th attacks, Rendon operated at a frantic pitch. "In the early stages it was fielding every ground ball that was coming, because nobody was sure if we were ever going to be attacked again," he says. "It was 'What do you know about this, what do you know about that, what else can you get, can you talk to somebody over here?' We functioned twenty-four hours a day. We maintained situational awareness, in military terms, on all things related to terrorism. We were doing 195 newspapers and 43 countries in fourteen or fifteen languages. If you do this correctly, I can tell you what's on the evening news tonight in a country before it happens. I can give you, as a policymaker, a six-hour break on how you can affect what's going to be on the news. They'll take that in a heartbeat."
The Bush administration took everything Rendon had to offer. Between 2000 and 2004, Pentagon documents show, the Rendon Group received at least thirty-five contracts with the Defense Department, worth a total of $50 million to $100 million.
The mourners genuflected, made the sign of the cross and took their seats along the hard, shiny pews of Our Lady of Victories Catholic Church. It was April 2nd, 2003 -- the start of fall in the small Australian town of Glenelg, an aging beach resort of white Victorian homes and soft, blond sand on Holdback Bay. Rendon had flown halfway around the world to join nearly 600 friends and family who were gathered to say farewell to a local son and amateur football champ, Paul Moran. Three days into the invasion of Iraq, the freelance journalist and Rendon employee had become the first member of the media to be killed in the war -- a war he had covertly helped to start.
Moran had lived a double life, filing reports for the Australian Broadcasting Corp. and other news organizations, while at other times operating as a clandestine agent for Rendon, enjoying what his family calls his "James Bond lifestyle." Moran had trained Iraqi opposition forces in photographic espionage, showing them how to covertly document Iraqi military activities, and had produced pro-war announcements for the Pentagon. "He worked for the Rendon Group in London," says his mother, Kathleen. "They just send people all over the world -- where there are wars."
Moran was covering the Iraq invasion for ABC, filming at a Kurdish-controlled checkpoint in the city of Sulaymaniyah, when a car driven by a suicide bomber blew up next to him. "I saw the car in a kind of slow-motion disintegrate," recalls Eric Campbell, a correspondent who was filming with Moran. "A soldier handed me a passport, which was charred. That's when I knew Paul was dead."
As the Mass ended and Moran's Australian-flag-draped coffin passed by the mourners, Rendon lifted his right arm and saluted. He refused to discuss Moran's role in the company, saying only that "Paul worked for us on a number of projects." But on the long flight back to Washington, across more than a dozen time zones, Rendon outlined his feelings in an e-mail: "The day did begin with dark and ominous clouds much befitting the emotions we all felt -- sadness and anger at the senseless violence that claimed our comrade Paul Moran ten short days ago and many decades of emotion ago."
The Rendon Group also organized a memorial service in London, where Moran first went to work for the company in 1990. Held at Home House, a private club in Portman Square where Moran often stayed while visiting the city, the event was set among photographs of Moran in various locations around the Middle East. Zaab Sethna, who organized the al-Haideri media exclusive in Thailand for Moran and Judith Miller, gave a touching tribute to his former colleague. "I think that on both a personal and professional level Paul was deeply admired and loved by the people at the Rendon Group," Sethna later said.
Although Moran was gone, the falsified story about weapons of mass destruction that he and Sethna had broadcast around the world lived on. Seven months earlier, as President Bush was about to argue his case for war before the U.N., the White House had given prominent billing to al-Haideri's fabricated charges. In a report ironically titled "Iraq: Denial and Deception," the administration referred to al-Haideri by name and detailed his allegations -- even though the CIA had already determined them to be lies. The report was placed on the White House Web site on September 12th, 2002, and remains there today. One version of the report even credits Miller's article for the information.
Miller also continued to promote al-Haideri's tale of Saddam's villainy. In January 2003, more than a year after her first article appeared, Miller again reported that Pentagon "intelligence officials" were telling her that "some of the most valuable information has come from Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri." His interviews with the Defense Intelligence Agency, Miller added, "ultimately resulted in dozens of highly credible reports on Iraqi weapons-related activity and purchases, officials said."
Finally, in early 2004, more than two years after he made the dramatic allegations to Miller and Moran about Saddam's weapons of mass destruction, al-Haideri was taken back to Iraq by the CIA's Iraq Survey Group. On a wide-ranging trip through Baghdad and other key locations, al-Haideri was given the opportunity to point out exactly where Saddam's stockpiles were hidden, confirming the charges that had helped to start a war. In the end, he could not identify a single site where illegal weapons were buried.
As the war in Iraq has spiraled out of control, the Bush administration's covert propaganda campaign has intensified. According to a secret Pentagon report personally approved by Rumsfeld in October 2003 and obtained by Rolling Stone, the Strategic Command is authorized to engage in "military deception" -- defined as "presenting false information, images or statements." The seventy-four-page document, titled "Information Operations Roadmap," also calls for psychological operations to be launched over radio, television, cell phones and "emerging technologies" such as the Internet. In addition to being classified secret, the road map is also stamped noforn, meaning it cannot be shared even with our allies.
As the acknowledged general of such propaganda warfare, Rendon insists that the work he does is for the good of all Americans. "For us, it's a question of patriotism," he says. "It's not a question of politics, and that's an important distinction. I feel very strongly about that personally. If brave men and women are going to be put in harm's way, they deserve support." But in Iraq, American troops and Iraqi civilians were put in harm's way, in large part, by the false information spread by Rendon and the men he trained in information warfare. And given the rapid growth of what is known as the "security-intelligence complex" in Washington, covert perception managers are likely to play an increasingly influential role in the wars of the future.
Indeed, Rendon is already thinking ahead. Last year, he attended a conference on information operations in London, where he offered an assessment on the Pentagon's efforts to manipulate the media. According to those present, Rendon applauded the practice of embedding journalists with American forces. "He said the embedded idea was great," says an Air Force colonel who attended the talk. "It worked as they had found in the test. It was the war version of reality television, and for the most part they did not lose control of the story." But Rendon also cautioned that individual news organizations were often able to "take control of the story," shaping the news before the Pentagon asserted its spin on the day's events.
"We lost control of the context," Rendon warned. "That has to be fixed for the next war."
By James Bamford, First Published in Rolling Stone, November 18, 2005