Chutzpah!

“Utter nerve” – that’s how the dictionary defines chutzpah, and that just about sums up, in a single, wonderfully descriptive Yiddish word, Richard Perle‘s recent suggestion that “heads should roll” in the U.S. intelligence community. We didn’t find the “weapons of mass destruction” Perle and his neocon buddies insisted were there in the run-up to the Iraq war, and whose fault is that? CIA Director George Tenet’s, says the neoconservative guru and former chairman of the Defense Policy Board:

“George Tenet has been at the CIA long enough to assume responsibility for its performance. There’s a record of failure and it should be addressed in some serious way.”

Perle, you remember, is the one who assured us that Iraq was crawling with WMD:

“We will find Saddam’s well-hidden chemical and biological weapons programs, but only when people who know come forward and tell us where to look. While Saddam was in power, even a hint about his concealment and deception was a death sentence, often by unimaginable torture against whole families. Saddam had four years to hide things. We have had a few weeks to find them. Patience – and some help from free Iraqis – will be rewarded.”

But Perle needn’t take responsibility: only Tenet, whose Agency debunked cherry-picked “intelligence” that made the case for war, is so burdened.

It was Tenet who fought an unsuccessful battle to keep claims of an Iraqi nuclear program not far from success out of the President’s 2003 State of the Union. It was Tenet whose Agency was sidelined by the Office of Special Plans (OSP), a division of the Defense Department set up especially to propagandize for war and “stovepipe” cherry-picked (and unverified) intelligence directly to the White House via the office of the Vice President. When Perle and his cohorts were concocting tall tales of Al Qaeda’s “links” to the Iraqi government, and Saddam’s mythical quest for Niger “yellowcake,” CIA analysts were outspokenly (if anonymously) debunking these fanciful effusions. Even as the CIA was denying it, Perle was busy spreading the fable about an alleged meeting of Mohammed Atta and an Iraqi intelligence agent in Prague that turned out never to have happened. While Perle was confidently concurring with fellow Defense Policy Board member Ken Adelman’s prediction that the conquest and occupation of Iraq would be a “cakewalk,” a State Department study (shelved by the neocons) accurately foretold the mess we find ourselves in today.

So, tell me again why it is that Tenet has to step down.

Perle is right when he says:

“I think, of course, heads should roll. When you discover that you have an organization that doesn’t get it right time after time, you change the organization, including the people.”

Heads should roll, alright: starting with Perle’s, and don’t think he doesn’t know it. That’s what the chutzpah strategy is all about: brazening it out.

He blithely avers that “the CIA has an almost perfect record of getting it wrong in relation to the (Persian) Gulf going back to the Shah of Iran,” but what about Perle’s record? The vaunted “cakewalk” has turned into a major stumble that constantly threatens to become a flat-out failure. The WMD he confidently said would be found in Iraq dissipated like a desert mirage – along with the President’s credibility. Now he wants the CIA to take responsibility for the lies he told, and he’ll settle for nothing less than “a shakeup,” i.e. a purge of anyone who opposed the neocon agenda and the forced march to war:

“‘I’d start with the head head,’ Perle said when asked which heads should roll at the CIA. Perle said the D[efense] I[ntelligence A[gency] ‘is in at least as bad shape as CIA (and) needs new management.'”

But if you look at the National Intelligence Estimate [pdf file], a document prepared by the White House with input from all agencies, the section on Iraq, which postulates a whole arsenal of active WMD, is filled with dissenting footnotes authored by the very agencies Perle would purge: not only the CIA and the DIA, but also the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), which described the African yellowcake story as “highly dubious.” That didn’t stop the President from proclaiming the infamous "16 words" to the country and the world as a prime reason for targeting Iraq.

Air Force intelligence appended a disdainful dissent to the claim that Saddam possessed “drones” capable of dropping biological agents on American cities. Bush didn’t listen to his own Air Force: instead, he highlighted this ridiculous claim in a major speech.

Dick Cheney’s henchmen were feeding both the President and the country a strict diet of pure science fiction and fantasy authored by the Office of Special Plans: in a very short time a whole new genre of speculative fiction was spawned by the neocons.

They always were a literary bunch. Besides being a full-time warmonger, Perle is also a novelist, author of Hard Line, a tale whose title says it all: so is Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the Vice President’s chief of staff and a special advisor to George W. Bush, whose name comes up often in reference to the investigation into who “outed” undercover CIA agent Valerie Plame. Many have noted the influence of the literary theorist and philosopher Leo Strauss on the neoconservative imagination, while others contend the Straussian theme is overdrawn. However, the appearance of Abram Shulsky, one of Professor Strauss’s top students, somewhere near the center of this narrative of deception, confirms the appeal of the philosopher of the “noble lie” within the inner sanctums of US power. Shulsky was the onsite overseer of the OSP operation, as described by retired Lt. Col. Karen Kwiatkowski in an interview with the LA Weekly:

“Abe was the director of the Office of Special Plans. He was in our shared offices when I joined, in May 2002. He comes from an academic background; he’s definitely a neoconservative. He is a student of Leo Strauss from the University of Chicago – so he has that Straussian academic perspective. He was the final proving authority on all the talking points that were generated from the Office of Special Plans and that were distributed throughout the Pentagon, certainly to staff officers. And it appears to me they were also distributed to the Vice President’s Office and to the presidential speechwriters. Much of the phraseology that was in our talking points consists of the same things I heard the president say.

LA Weekly: “So Shulsky was the sort of controller, the disciplinarian, the overseeing monitor of the propaganda flow. From where you sat, did you see him manipulate the information?

Kwiatkowski: “We had a whole staff to help him do that, and he was the approving authority. I can give you one example of how the talking points were altered. We were instructed by Bill Luti, on behalf of the Office of Special Plans, on behalf of Abe Shulsky, that we would not write anything about Iraq, WMD or terrorism in any papers that we prepared for our superiors except as instructed by the Office of Special Plans.”

The OSP, with Defense Undersecretary for Policy Douglas Feith, and his subordinates William Luti and Shulsky pulling the strings, was the command center for what Kwiatkowski calls a “neoconservative coup, a hijacking of the Pentagon” that preceded the invasion of Iraq. Perle and his neocon confreres, including columnist David Brooks, are intent on legitimizing the coup and making it permanent: having taken Baghdad, they’ve now turned their sights on Langley.

Affording a rare look into the inner workings of a secretive government agency, Kwiatkowski’s anonymous columns written during the propaganda war that preceded the shooting war were posted on the website of Col. David Hackworth, American’s most decorated veteran, and became enormously popular. After retiring, she began writing under her own name, and became what she calls “a soldier for truth,” getting out the story of how we were lied into war, and pointing the finger at the liars. Her speaking out, along with the investigative work done by such journalists as Seymour Hersh, Jim Lobe, Robert Dreyfuss, Jason Vest, and others, is not unconnected to the announcement by the Senate Intelligence Committee that an investigation into the OSP, and a shadowy outfit known as the Counter Terrorism Evaluation Group, is underway. As Reuters reports:

“Critics of the Bush administration argue that these two offices, driven by ideology and a predisposition for war, operated outside normal intelligence channels to manipulate and politicise data to portray Saddam Hussein’s government in the most threatening light. ‘What is deeply troubling is that this was an administration that was hell-bent on using force,’ said Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher, a California Democrat who says these Pentagon operations ‘cherry picked’ intelligence to amplify bad news and nullify caveats.

“… Mr Feith and other Pentagon officials defended the two offices and dismissed what they said were ‘urban legends’ about shadowy intelligence cells.”

The ultimate fallback position: the OSP is an “urban legend!” Where have we heard this pungent phrase, or a very similar version, before?

Move along, folks, nothing to see here….

Washington is rife with investigations these days: at least two grand juries are currently deliberating over the backstage machinations of the War Party, and, if Rep. Tauscher has her way, and there’s a House version of the OSP inquiry, then we have a four-pronged assault on the neoconservative redoubt in this administration.

The chutzpah strategy is a desperate attempt to deflect this all-sided attack, by launching a preemptive – some would say suicidal – strike against the enemy. While the sheer effrontery of Perle’s call for a purge of the US intelligence community is so bold as to be almost admirable, this isn’t likely to save him from the consequences of his own hubris. For the umpteenth time, it looks like Perle is caught up in yet another scandal involving the intersection of his finances and his ideology. The Times of London reports:

“Richard Perle, the former US Assistant Defence Secretary and Hollinger International board member, is under investigation for allegedly failing to disclose bonuses worth about $3 million (£1.6 million) which he received for running an investment scheme, The Times has learnt. Mr Perle, a vocal supporter of President Bush, was awarded the money as a reward for investing Hollinger shareholder funds in a series of separate businesses. Mr Perle also held a stake in some of those businesses. While the scheme put Hollinger International shareholders’ money at risk, it was never disclosed to them.”

The Hollinger scandal that imploded Lord Conrad Black’s media empire underscores Perle’s role as the greediest of a greedy lot on the Hollinger board of directors. Lord Black’s flagship papers – the British Telegraph, the Jerusalem Post, and the Chicago Sun-Times – are always reliable receptacles of the War Party’s propaganda, advocates of policies that stand to enrich members of the Hollinger board, such as Perle.

Although he was exonerated on a technicality, Perle was forced to step down as chairman of the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board because of the appearance of a conflict of interest. In Britain, as well as the US, the interaction of ideology and business on Perle’s personal finances has been duly noted. A certain pattern, in relation to Perle’s activities, is readily apparent, one that ought to give this administration pause. Mired in scandal, and hardly a team player of the sort that is supposed to be typical of Team Bush, here is someone who openly calls for the resignation of top officials and refuses to take any responsibility for the failure of policies that he championed.

Perle should have been kicked off the Defense Policy Board long ago, but perhaps even more puzzling than his continued association with the US government is why he hasn’t suffered the same fate as Martha Stewart. After all, Martha has long since had the charges of “insider trading” against her dropped, in favor of prosecuting her statements as to her innocence. Her crime, in short, is defending herself. Perle’s crimes are far more substantial – yet he has so far avoided prosecution, either by the Securities and Exchange Commission or the Justice Department.

Free Martha! Prosecute Perle! No justice – no peace!

Read more by Justin Raimondo

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of Antiwar.com, and a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He is a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and writes a monthly column for Chronicles. He is the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].