Taking Down the Neocons

by , August 02, 2005

The War Party is facing disaster on a number of fronts, both foreign and domestic: in Iraq, the stubborn defiance of the insurgency and squabbling political factions underscores the failure of the occupation and its unraveling into an all-out civil war. Under the guise of “federalism,” the split-up of Iraq into three separate states – the Shi’ite south, the Kurdish enclave, and the no-man’s-land of the Sunni Triangleproceeds apace. Iranian influence is growing, and the government of Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari is already calling for an American withdrawal, albeit not a precipitous one.

In Europe, the price of our Iraqi “victory” is being extracted from the English, as evidenced by the London terror bombings, and even former Prime Minister John Major concedes that this is blowback from the Iraq invasion.

It is in the United States, however, that the neoconservatives – the vanguard of the War Party – have suffered the biggest reverses and are in the greatest danger. It is one thing to have your policies discredited – and quite another to wind up behind bars because of them. The outcome of multiple investigations into their activities on the home front in the run-up to war may very well result in the latter. As I wrote last summer:

“Oh, some of the neocons have a future, alright – wearing one of those cute little orange jumpsuits and making some tattooed bruiser named Butch very happy. It’s not legal to out CIA agents, feed forgeries to U.S. intelligence, and employ methods that, if used by any other nation on earth, would certainly be judged as war crimes.”

We’re still working on the war crimes charges, but the others – outing CIA agent Valerie Plame and passing off the Niger uranium forgeries as credible intelligence – are now the subjects of at least two legal proceedings that could very well end just as I predicted last year. Or perhaps I wasn’t so much predicting as hoping that the truth would come out. In the case of the Plame investigation, my keeping hope alive, as the Rev. Jackson would say, paid off in the end, and it appears that yet another one of my great expectations has been at least partially fulfilled, one expressed in December 2001, as I was writing about Carl Cameron’s famous exposé of Israeli covert activities in the U.S.:

“In the months preceding 9/11, a secret war was being waged on American soil, a silent struggle from coast to coast – not an undercover battle between us and Muslim terrorists, but one pitting U.S. law enforcement agencies against one of our closest allies. Make of that what you will. For until the U.S. government comes clean, and Congress investigates, we’ll never even have a chance to start asking the right questions.”

Now it appears that someone is starting to ask the right questions, and, indeed, has been doing so all along. Israeli spying in the Pentagon has become the subject of an investigation by the office of U.S. Attorney Paul McNulty, in the Eastern District of Virginia, which led to the indictment [.pdf] of Pentagon Iran analyst Larry Franklin. Two other defendants – Steve Rosen, a longtime top official of the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), and his aide, foreign policy director Keith Weissman – are expected to be indicted shortly. The charges involve passing top-secret information to the government of Israel: word is out that American law enforcement wants to talk to any Israeli diplomats who may have been involved with these transactions or may have knowledge of them. It’s no secret that the Israeli diplomat directly involved is Naor Gilon, chief political officer at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, who has been mysteriously recalled just in time to avoid having to claim diplomatic immunity.

The original thread of the Franklin investigation predated 9/11, as Richard Sale of UPI reported in December 2004:

“Franklin was caught quite by accident last summer as part of a larger investigation, these sources said.

“In 2001, the FBI discovered new, ‘massive’ Israeli spying operations in the East Coast, including New York and New Jersey, said one former senior U.S. government official. The FBI began intensive surveillance on certain Israeli diplomats and other suspects and was videotaping Naor Gilon, chief of political affairs at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, who was having lunch at a Washington hotel with two lobbyists from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee lobby group. Federal law enforcement officials said they were floored when Franklin came up to their table and sat down.”

They were videotaping Gilon in the course of an investigation – for what purpose? The original subject of this inquiry, apparently undertaken by the FBI’s counterintelligence unit, is not at all clear, but Sale’s wouldn’t be the first reference to “massive Israeli spying operations” on the East Coast, including New York and New Jersey. Longtime readers of Antiwar.com read about these activities as they were reported in the foreign and domestic media at the time. The Franklin investigation and subsequent indictment clearly branched off from the original probe into a much broader, overarching matter.

The FBI is now taking a fresh interest in Franklin’s other extracurricular activities, paramount among them his interactions with a group of neocons actively trying to push America into a confrontation with Iran. As Joshua Marshall, Laura Rozen, and Paul Glastris report in The Washington Monthly:

“The investigation of Franklin is now shining a bright light on a shadowy struggle within the Bush administration over the direction of U.S. policy toward Iran. In particular, the FBI is looking with renewed interest at an unauthorized back-channel between Iranian dissidents and advisers in Feith’s office, which more senior administration officials first tried in vain to shut down and then later attempted to cover up.

“Franklin, along with another colleague from Feith’s office, a polyglot Middle East expert named Harold Rhode, were the two officials involved in the back-channel, which involved on-going meetings and contacts with Iranian arms dealer Manucher Ghorbanifar and other Iranian exiles, dissidents and government officials. Ghorbanifar is a storied figure who played a key role in embroiling the Reagan administration in the Iran-Contra affair. The meetings were both a conduit for intelligence about Iran and Iraq and part of a bitter administration power-struggle pitting officials at DoD who have been pushing for a hard-line policy of ‘regime change’ in Iran, against other officials at the State Department and the CIA who have been counseling a more cautious approach.”

Present at the first meeting, which took place in Rome, in December 2001: Franklin, the spy for Israel; Rhode, the administration’s liaison with Ahmad Chalabi and his noble band of “heroes in error” who fed us a steady diet of fabrications via Judy Miller and various Iraqi “defectors“; and Michael Ledeen, of Iran-Contra fame, now a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a neoconservative guru. On the Iranian side: Ghorbanifar and a former senior leader of the Revolutionary Guards proffering information about support for regime change in Iran from within the security services. Also present: Nicolo Pollari, head of Italian military intelligence, and Italian Defense Minister Antonio Martino, who, among other honors, is vice-president of the Italian Friends of Israel. Ledeen, according to Rozen, was the chief organizer of the meeting.

Ledeen’s role as the go-between in the arms-for-hostages scheme, serving as the middle-man or broker in coordinating the transfer of the arms via Israel, with links to Ghorbanifar, has gone down in the annals of American political scandals as one of the big ones of the modern era, right up there with Watergate. Yet he may have outdone himself in the current instance.

The Plame investigation, as I have asserted in the past, involves more than merely the outing of a CIA officer operating under deep cover. Regular readers of Antiwar.com and watchers of this space will not be surprised at the recent news that the investigation is widening:

The special prosecutor in the CIA leak probe has interviewed a wider range of administration officials than was previously known, part of an effort to determine whether anyone broke laws during a White House effort two years ago to discredit allegations that President Bush used faulty intelligence to justify the Iraq war, according to several officials familiar with the case.

“Prosecutors have questioned former CIA director George J. Tenet and deputy director John E. McLaughlin, former CIA spokesman Bill Harlow, State Department officials, and even a stranger who approached columnist Robert D. Novak on the street.

“In doing so, special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald has asked not only about how CIA operative Valerie Plame’s name was leaked but also how the administration went about shifting responsibility from the White House to the CIA for having included 16 words in the 2003 State of the Union address about Iraqi efforts to acquire uranium from Africa, an assertion that was later disputed.

Standing behind the investigation into who outed Valerie Plame there has always been the much larger specter of treason. Much of the “evidence” of Iraqi “weapons of mass destruction” that figured prominently in the decision to take us to war turned out to be bogus, but surely the smoking gun was the Niger uranium documents. These phony letters and memos, purporting to be the record of a transaction between Iraq and the African nation of Niger, where much of the world’s uranium is mined and refined into “yellowcake,” turned out to be forgeries – and crude ones, to boot, which it took IAEA personnel all of a few hours using Google to unmask as fraudulent. Yet these incompetently produced fakes wound up in the president’s 2003 State of the Union speech, in the form of those now infamous “16 words” in the course of which the Niger uranium claim was made.

The clear import of the Niger uranium forgeries is that, far from being a “mistake,” the intelligence was fixed.

Who fixed it? Who coordinated the effort to lie us into war? These questions are being raised by multiple investigations into illegal activities at the highest reaches of this administration.

The cruel debunking of the president’s assertion about African uranium, and the way critics took out after the White House shortly afterward, stung the administration to the quick – and launched an investigation into the Niger uranium forgeries that appears to be ongoing, and getting hotter. The people in the administration who were out to get Plame – and her husband, Joseph C. Wilson, former ambassador to Gabon who blew the whistle on the Niger uranium claims in a New York Times op-ed piece – were furious that Wilson had exposed the intramural fight that preceded the Niger uranium fiasco. The outing of Wilson’s wife as a CIA agent, who supposedly got him his mission to Niger as an act of nepotism, was their revenge. At the root of their fury, however, was a real need to cover their trail, because it leads directly to the root question in all this tangled thicket of plots and counterplots: Who forged the Niger uranium documents?

The effort to smear Wilson and exact vengeance on him via his wife was and is an effort to cover up something a lot more serious than violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, a silly law that should never have been enacted and has only been successfully prosecuted on a single occasion. If Patrick J. “Bulldog” Fitzgerald is now making inquiries into how those 16 words got into Bush’s speech, and is now busy tying this effort into those who planted information about Plame in the media through journalistic “cutouts,” then he is also homing in on the essence of the matter – who were the forgers?

I don’t claim to know the answer to that question, but I do have my suspicions, and these were given at least some corroboration in a recent radio interview [.mp3] by Antiwar.com’s own Scott Horton with Philip Giraldi, a former military intelligence and CIA counterterrorism official now with Cannistraro Associates. In the course of a general discussion about the interconnections between various espionage investigations and the prosecution of Plame-gate, Horton asked Giraldi the same question I’ve been asking ever since the Niger uranium hoax was debunked, barely a month after the President’s address: Who forged the Niger uranium documents? Giraldi’s answer:

“A couple of former CIA officers who are familiar with that part of the world who are associated with a certain well-known neoconservative who has close connections with Italy.”

The forged documents, students of the Niger uranium mystery will recall, first surfaced in Italy, via the enigmatic Rocco Martino and an Italian journalist who works for the Berlusconi-owned Panorama magazine.

Scott then named Ledeen as the aforementioned “well-known neoconservative” with Italian connections, and Giraldi did not deny it, while averring that “there are issues involved in raising someone’s name.” Giraldi went on to say that the forgers

“Also had some equity interests, shall we say, with the operation. A lot of these people are in consulting positions, and they get various, shall we say, emoluments in overseas accounts, and that kind of thing.”

According to The Washington Monthly, Ledeen worked as a consultant to Feith’s Pentagon policy shop – the same department that, as the Franklin investigation shows, has been penetrated by Israeli intelligence. In addition, Laura Rozen reports that Ghorbanifar told her

“He has had fifty meetings with Michael Ledeen since September 11th, and that he has given Ledeen ’4,000 to 5,000 pages of sensitive documents’ concerning Iran, Iraq, and the Middle East, ‘material no one else has received.’”

Of the thousands of pages of “sensitive documents” that passed from Ghorbanifar to Ledeen, how many wound up in the files of the Office of Special Plans, where Ledeen protégé Harold Rhode and others of that circle labored mightily to provide “talking points” for the administration in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq? Were the Niger uranium forgeries among them? I don’t know, but surely investigators will want to be asking these questions of “a certain well-known neoconservative who has close connections with Italy,” and other less well-known neocons who have close connections with him.

If we look at the pattern of methods and sources utilized by some in this administration to deceive Congress, the American people, and even the president (on one memorable occasion) with bogus “intelligence,” this practice of subcontracting out seems to have served the neocons well. When they couldn’t get the professionals to go along with doctoring the intelligence, they simply did an end-run around the mainline agencies – the CIA, the DIA, and the State Department’s INR – and set up their own rogue operations, just as they did in Contra-gate. That some of the same lawless ideologues who played a key role in that scandal are now embroiled in the current incarnation of the same sort of shenanigans ought to surprise no one.

What is needed is a congressional investigation into the Niger uranium forgeries, the purpose of which would be to determine how and why they managed to go undetected, and it is one that Republicans should be in the forefront of. After all, this is nothing less than a serious breach of U.S. national security involving the corruption of the U.S. intelligence-gathering process. Failure to plug up what is apparently a gaping hole in our security fence could prove fatal in an era when having the right intelligence can make the difference between preventing another 9/11 or failing to do so. Just as it made the difference between war and peace in the case of Iraq’s fabled WMD.

This administration is facing a crisis of confidence, as far as the public is concerned, and that is in large part due to growing alarm at the gathering clouds of scandal currently hanging over Washington. A surprising proportion of the American people are paying attention to Plame-gate, and it has gone from being a story mainly of interest to Washington insiders and bloggers to a major and growing embarrassment – and all because of rising public awareness.

We don’t take credit for that awareness, only for a surprising degree of it – and for helping to keep the story alive during its long incubation period. Antiwar.com is now approaching 100,000 visitors daily, a level we never dreamed of when we first founded this site a decade ago, and just based on the numbers we can say – with some pride – that Antiwar.com has helped make a difference.

I’m not going to knock you over the head with a passionate and lengthy harangue about why it is absolutely necessary for us to go on with our work, and why you need to support our Summer Fundraising Drive. This is always the most difficult fundraiser of them all: so many people are away on vacation, or otherwise engaged, that it’s always a struggle to make our goal.

Yet make it we must. If not, we will have to make radical cutbacks – and you won’t like the results, I can guarantee you that.

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We need to keep raising public awareness of the issues, and we are increasingly in a position to do so: as our rising audience numbers indicate, the public is increasingly turning to Antiwar.com. We helped keep the spotlight on the various scandals – Plame-gate, Niger-gate, the Larry Franklin spy scandal – that could put prominent members of the War Party behind bars. Only you can ensure that Antiwar.com continues to exert the kind of pressure we need to finally see that justice is done.

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