The exercise of power is determined by thousands of interactions between the world of the powerful and that of the powerless, all the more so because these worlds are never divided by a sharp line: everyone has a small part of himself in both - Vaclav Havel
aspirant Jeb Bush this week may have damaged his chances by flubbing the answer to an
entirely predictable question about his big brother’s decision to attack Iraq.
Monday, Fox’s Megyn Kelly asked the former Florida governor: “Knowing what we
know now, would you have authorized the invasion?” Jeb Bush answered, “I
would’ve. And so would’ve Hillary Clinton, just to remind everybody, and so
would’ve almost everybody who was confronted with the intelligence they got.”
“You don’t think it was a mistake.”
retrospect, the intelligence that everyone saw — that the world saw, not just
the United States — was faulty.”
some backfilling and additional foundering on Tuesday and Wednesday, Bush
apparently memorized the “correct” answer. So on Thursday, he proceeded to ask
the question himself: “If we’re all supposed to answer hypothetical questions:
Knowing what we now know, what would you have done? I would not have engaged. I
would not have gone into Iraq.”
It is a
safe bet that, by Thursday, Iraq War champion Paul Wolfowitz, now a senior
adviser to Jeb Bush, had taken him to the woodshed, admonishing him along these
lines: “Jeb, you remembered to emphasize the mistaken nature of pre-war
intelligence; that’s the key point; that’s good. But then you need to say that
if you knew how mistaken the intelligence was, you would not have
attacked Iraq. Got it?”
then-Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz — together with his boss Donald
Rumsfeld, Vice President Dick Cheney and a string of neocon advisers — who
exploited the tragedy of 9/11 to make war on Iraq, which they had been itching
for since the 1990s. They tried mightily (and transparently) to link Iraqi
President Saddam Hussein to the Sept. 11 attacks. Following their lead, the
fawning corporate media played up this bum rap with such success that, before
the attack on Iraq, polls showed that almost 70 percent of Americans believed
that Saddam Hussein played some kind of role in 9/11.
said honest intelligence analysts who, try as they might, could find no
persuasive evidence for Hussein’s guilt other than the synthetic kind in
Wolfowitz’s purposively twisted imagination. Yet the pressure on the analysts
to conform was intense. CIA’s ombudsman commented publicly that never in his
32-year career with the agency had he encountered such “hammering” on CIA
analysts to reconsider their judgments and state that there were operational
ties between Iraq and al-Qaeda.
pressure was reflected in pronouncements at the highest levels. A year after
9/11, President Bush was still saying, “You cannot distinguish between al-Qaeda
and Saddam when you talk about the war on terror.” Defense Secretary Rumsfeld
was more direct, claiming that the evidence tying Iraq to al-Qaeda was
Scowcroft, national security advisor to President George H.W. Bush and Chairman
of George W. Bush’s President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, supported
honest analysts in CIA and elsewhere, stating publicly that evidence of any
such connection was “scant.”
the looming danger of a principled leak, or possibly even an insurrection of
some kind on the part of those opposed to creating pretexts for war. And so the
administration chose to focus first and foremost on “weapons of mass
be an easier – and scarier – sell a claim that Iraq had chemical, biological
and perhaps nuclear weapons and that the Iraqis could give them to “terrorists”
for another attack on the “homeland” (introducing a term that both the Nazis
and the Soviets used to good effect in whipping up nationalistic fervor in
get honest intelligence analysts to go along with the carefully nurtured “noble
lie” that Iraq played a role in 9/11, or even that operational ties existed
between Iraq and al-Qaeda, the administration ordered up a separate but related
genre of faux intelligence – WMD. This PR offensive was something of a
challenge, for in the months before 9/11, Condoleezza Rice and then-Secretary
of State Colin Powell had insisted publicly that Saddam Hussein posed no
security threat. You don’t remember?
24, 2001, Powell had said, “Saddam Hussein has not developed any significant
capability with respect to weapons of mass destruction. He is unable to project
conventional power against his neighbors.”
six weeks before 9/11, Condoleezza Rice told CNN: “let’s remember that his
[Saddam’s] country is divided, in effect. He does not control the northern part
of his country. We are able to keep his arms from him. His military forces have
not been rebuilt.” Obligingly, the compliant U.S. media pressed the delete
button on those telling statements.
times have we heard that, after 9/11, “everything changed.” Well, we were soon
to observe a major attempt to apply this adage to Saddam’s inventory of WMD
that Rice and Powell had said did not exist. The world was being asked to
believe that, almost immediately, hundreds of stealth WMD had wafted down like
manna from the heavens for a soft landing on the sands of Iraq.
after the Sept. 11 attacks, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld began promoting the
notion that Iraq might have weapons of mass destruction and that “within a
week, or a month, Saddam could give his WMD to al-Qaeda.” This was an early
articulation of the bogus “conjunction of terrorism and WMD,” now immortalized
in what is the most damning, first-hand, documentary evidence of U.S./U.K.
collusion in launching a war of aggression on false pretenses and how it was to
This evidence was contained in the “Downing Street
Memorandum,” written on July 23, 2002, though not published until May 1, 2005,
by The London Times (discussed in more detail below). The goal was to
systematically conflate Iraq’s supposed stockpiles of WMD with al-Qaeda and
9/11, as a kind of subliminal fear/revenge message to the American public.
not long before the agile Rice did a demi-pirouette of 180 degrees, claiming
that Saddam had suddenly become “a danger in the region where the 9/11 threat
emerged.” By the summer of 2002, the basic decision for war having been taken,
something persuasive had to be conjured up to get Congress to authorize it.
Weapons of mass deception, as one wag called them, together with warnings about
“mushroom clouds” were just what the Doctor Rice ordered.
CIA’s malleable director George Tenet followed orders to conjure up WMD in a
deceitful National Intelligence Estimate issued on Oct. 1, 2002. The NIE’s main
purpose was to deceive Congress into authorizing war on Iraq, which Congress
did just ten days later.
media din about WMD, and with Rep. Barbara Lee, D-California, the sole
exception, no legislator proved willing to risk being seen as “weak on
terrorism” as the mid-term elections approached in November, the disinformation
operation was – well, you might say a “cakewalk.” Tenet and his deputy John
McLaughlin satisfied President Bush they could fashion the evidence into a “slam
dunk,” and then fed the cooked intelligence to Secretary of State Colin Powell
to use at the U.N.
High, Wolfowitz Slips
in the glory of “Mission Accomplished” after Baghdad fell in April 2003,
Wolfowitz succumbed to a brief bout of hubris-induced honesty. He openly
admitted that the Bush administration had focused on weapons of mass
destruction to justify war on Iraq “for bureaucratic reasons.” It was, he
explained, “the one reason everyone could agree on” – meaning, of course, the
one that could successfully sell the war to Congress and the American people.
the real reasons, Wolfowitz again let his guard drop at about the same time.
When asked in May 2003 why North Korean WMD were being treated differently from
those claimed to exist in Iraq, he responded, “Let’s look at it simply. …
[Iraq] swims on a sea of oil.”
usually circumspect senior officials have had unguarded moments of candor. In
another moment of unusual frankness – this one before the war – Philip Zelikow,
a member of the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board from 2001 to
2003, spilled the other key reason. Discounting any real danger to the U.S.
from Iraq, Zelikow pointed rather to the threat he said Iraq posed to Israel as
“the unstated threat.” It was a threat, he added, that dared not speak its name
– because it was so politically sensitive.
getting the picture why the Bush administration didn’t want to level with the
American people who might have viewed the war very differently if the real motives
and the nagging doubts had been expressed frankly and bluntly?
with which CIA analysts were pressed to manufacture intelligence to serve the
cause of war was unprecedented in CIA history and included personal visits by
Vice President Cheney to make sure the intelligence analysts knew what was
wanted. That many of my former colleagues in the Analysis Directorate took
willing part in this unconscionable charade was hard to believe. But they did.
this time, an anonymous White House official – believed to be George W. Bush’s
political adviser Karl Rove – reportedly boasted, “We’re an empire now, and
when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality
— judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities.”
exemplified by Jeb Bush’ memorized lines this past week, there continues to be
a huge premium among disciples of Rovian historiography, to “create new
reality,” blaming “mistaken intelligence” for the debacle in Iraq and the
ensuing chaos throughout the region. The intelligence was wrong; but it was not
mistaken; it was out-and-out fraud.
become so clear, yet so little known, that ten years ago this month I was
finishing a draft for a chapter I called “Sham Dunk: Cooking Intelligence for
the President” to appear in Neo-CONNED Again! Hypocrisy, Lawlessness, and
the Rape of Iraq.
just finishing the draft when a deus ex machina arrived in the form of a
major leak to the London Times of official minutes of a briefing of then British
Prime Minister Tony Blair at 10 Downing Street on July 23, 2002, eight months
before the war on Iraq, and three days after visiting CIA Director George Tenet
to confirm for Blair exactly what Bush and Cheney were planning. The Downing
Street document destroyed the argument, already being promoted in 2005 by those
responsible for the fraud, that intelligence mistakes were to blame for the war
Downing Street Memorandum
like to draw from the first couple of paragraphs of the chapter, since, sadly,
they seem relevant today as the historical rewrite about “intelligence errors”
is recurring now at the start of Campaign 2016. But first, here is the text of
the most damaging part of the Downing Street Memo as “C” — Richard Dearlove,
the head of British intelligence – reported on recent talks in Washington:
was a perceptible shift in attitude. 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.” (emphasis added)
review. It was bad intelligence that forced an unwitting president to invade
Iraq, right? The sad fact that so many Americans believe this myth is eloquent
testimony to the effectiveness of the White House spin machine. The
intelligence was indeed bad — shaped that way by an administration determined
to find a pretext to effect ‘regime change’ in Iraq.
administration officials — first and foremost Vice President Dick Cheney —
played a strong role in ensuring that the intelligence analysis was corrupt
enough to justify, ex post facto, the decision to make war on Iraq. It
is not altogether clear how witting President George W. Bush was of all this,
but there is strong evidence that he knew chapter and verse. Had he been
mousetrapped into this ‘preemptive’ war, one would expect some heads to roll.
None have. And where is it, after all, that the buck is supposed to stop?
myth has helped the Bush administration attenuate the acute embarrassment it
experienced early last year  when the casus belli became a casus
belly laugh. When U.S. inspector David Kay, after a painstaking search to which
almost a billion dollars and many lives were given, reported that there had
been no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq since 1991, someone had to take the
was CIA director George Tenet, the backslapping fellow from Queens always eager
to do whatever might be necessary to play with the bigger kids. For those of
you just in from Mars, the grave danger posed by Iraqi weapons of mass
destruction was what President Bush cited as the casus belli for
invading Iraq. It was only after Kay had the courage to tell the truth publicly
that Bush fell back on the default rationale for the war; namely, the need to
export democracy, about which we are hearing so much lately.
surprisingly, the usual suspects in the mainstream media that played
cheerleader for the war are now helping the president (and the media) escape
blame. Flawed intelligence that led the United States to invade Iraq was the
fault of the US intelligence community, explained the Washington Times last
July 10 , after regime loyalist Senator Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), chairman of
the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, released his committee’s findings.
months later, after publication of similar findings by a commission handpicked
by the president, the Washington Post’s lead headline was ‘Data on Iraqi Arms
Flawed, Panel Says.’ The date was, appropriately, April Fools Day, 2005. In a
word, they are playing us for fools. The remarkable thing is that most folks
don’t seem able, or willing, to recognize that – or even to mind.
“On May 1,
2005, a highly sensitive document published by The Sunday Times of London
provided the smoking gun showing that President Bush had decided to make war on
Iraq long before the National Intelligence Estimate was produced to conjure up
‘weapons of mass destruction’ there and mislead Congress into granting
authorization for war.
British document is classified ‘SECRET AND STRICTLY PERSONAL – U.K. EYES ONLY.’
And small wonder. It contains an official account of Prime Minister Tony
Blair’s meeting with top advisers on July 23, 2002, at which Sir Richard
Dearlove, head of MI6 (the U.K. equivalent to the CIA), simply ‘C’ in the
written document, reported on talks he had just held in Washington with top
U.S. officials. Blair has now acknowledged the authenticity of the document.
related in the document, Dearlove told Blair and the others that President Bush
wanted to remove Saddam Hussein through military action, that this ‘was seen as
inevitable,’ and that the attack would be ‘justified by the conjunction of
terrorism and WMD.’ He continued: ‘… but the intelligence and facts were being
fixed around the policy.’
tacked on yet another telling comment: ‘There was little discussion in
Washington of the aftermath after military action.’ British Foreign Secretary
Jack Straw concurred that Bush had made up his mind to take military action,
but noted that finding justification would be challenging, for ‘the case was
thin.’ Straw pointed out that Saddam was not threatening his neighbors, and his
WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea, or Iran.
of MI6, Dearlove was CIA Director George Tenet’s British counterpart. We
Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) have been saying since
January 2003 that the two intelligence chiefs’ marching orders were to ‘fix’
the intelligence around the policy. It was a no-brainer.
however, does one acquire documentary evidence that this – the unforgivable sin
in intelligence analysis – was used by the most senior U.S. government leaders
as a way to ‘justify’ a prior decision for war. There is no word to describe
our reaction to the fact that the two intelligence chiefs quietly acquiesced in
the corruption of our profession on a matter of such consequence. ‘Outrage’
doesn’t even come close.”
later in Atlanta, I had an unusual chance to publicly challenge then Defense
Secretary Rumsfeld – no stranger to the dissembling about WMD – about his
earlier claims saying he knew were the WMD were in Iraq, and knew of ties
between Iraq and al-Qaeda. My question grew into a mini-debate of four minutes,
during which he lied, demonstrably, on both issues. As luck would have it, May
4, 2006 was a very slow news day, and our mini-debate took place in early
afternoon, enabling serious journalists like Keith Olbermann to perform
on June 5, 2008, then-chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee Jay
Rockefeller made some remarkable comments that got sparse attention in U.S.
media. Announcing the findings of a bipartisan report of a five-year study on
misstatements on prewar intelligence on Iraq, Rockefeller said:
making the case for war, the Administration repeatedly presented intelligence
as fact when in reality it was unsubstantiated, contradicted, or even
non-existent. As a result, the American people were led to believe that the
threat from Iraq was much greater than actually existed.”
know what “non-existent” intelligence looks like?
become painfully clear since the trauma of 9/11 is that most of our fellow
citizens have felt an overriding need to believe that administration leaders
are telling them the truth and to ignore all evidence to the contrary. Many
Americans seem impervious to data showing that it was the administration that
misled the country into this unprovoked war and that the “intelligence” was
conjured up well after the White House decided to effect “regime change” in
Iraq (or introduce democracy, if you favor the default rationale) by force of
been asking myself why so many Americans find it so painful to delve deeper.
Why do they resist letting their judgment be influenced by the abundance of
evidence, much of it documentary, exposing how little or no evidence there was
to support what was a most consequential fraud? Perhaps it is because they know
that responsible citizenship means asking what might seem to be “impertinent”
questions, ferreting out plausible answers, and then, when necessary, holding
people accountable, rectifying the situation, and ensuring it does not happen
however, remains strong. At work – in all of us to some degree – is the same
convenient denial mechanism that immobilized so many otherwise conscientious German
citizens during the 1930s, enabling Germany to launch its own unprovoked wars
and curtail civil liberties at home. Taking action, or just finding one’s
voice, entails risk; denial is the more instinctive, easier course.
But it is
too late for denial. We might take to heart Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s
warning: “… there is such a thing as being too late. … Life often leaves us
standing bare, naked and dejected with a lost opportunity. Over the bleached
bones and jumbled residue of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic
words: ‘Too late.’”