You have to give CIA director George Tenet credit: he managed to pack more obfuscations, evasions, and outright lies into what couldn’t have been more than a half hour speech than one might have thought humanly possible.
The purpose of Tenet’s peroration was to get the President, and also his own Agency, off the hook when it comes to the complete absence of “weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq. Either the President of the United States and his advisors made it all up out of whole cloth, or the intelligence they were being fed was faulty. The first conclusion is not allowable, and so the second conclusion was the Republican line by default and that, from Tenet’s point of view, wasn’t good either, because it looked like the CIA was being set up to take the fall. Thus, the speech had to walk a very fine line between blaming the boss, and taking it on the chin, and, when all is said and done, one has to say: Good job, George!
That is, if we don’t look too closely .
“The question being asked about Iraq in the starkest terms is, were we right or were we wrong? In the intelligence business, you are almost never completely wrong or completely right. That applies in full to the question of Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction. And like many of the toughest intelligence challenges, when the facts of Iraq are all in, we will neither be completely right nor completely wrong.”
Nobody’s right, nobody’s wrong, and we’re just gonna have to make the most of it. It’s something that a philosophy teacher might want to put forward in the classroom especially in our modern universities, where concepts of right, wrong, and objective reality are definitely out of fashion. But is this radical subjectivism really suited to a foreign policy of hegemonic preemption, which assumes the right to strike at a potential threat?
Secondly, the question being asked is not, were we right or wrong, but, rather: why were we so wrong?
Tenet says that the intelligence assessment of Iraqi WMD drew from three information streams: history, the UN inspection team, and “other means,” including not only satellite imagery but also information funneled in through foreign intelligence agencies.
Looking at the history of Iraq’s WMD, Tenet claims we couldn’t have drawn any other conclusion but that the Iraqi dictator was reconstituting his program:
“Everyone knew that Iraq had chemical and biological weapons in the 1980s and 1990s. Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons against Iran and his own people on at least 10 different occasions. He launched missiles against Iran, Saudi Arabia and Israel.”
But that was more than a decade ago before the crippling sanctions that decimated Iraq’s military capabilities, as well as the civilian economy. Aside from that, however, Iraq, you’ll remember, lost the war against Iran in spite of our best efforts to help the Iraqi dictator prevail over Tehran. So much for the military value of Iraqi WMD.
It’s true that, on Feb. 24, 1991, what the Pentagon’s own propagandists called “a low-tech Scud ballistic missile armed with a conventional warhead” struck an American barracks in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, where twenty-eight soldiers died, and 98 were wounded. But that was at the height of Gulf War I, when the U.S. was invading Iraq and decimating its cities from the air hardly a case of Saddam suddenly and inexplicably lashing out.
As for the equally low-tech Scuds he lobbed into Israel, these were unguided and flopped harmlessly to the ground, failing spectacularly in their mission of breaking apart the Anglo-American-Arab coalition assembled by Bush I. An article published by the official American Forces Press Service avers that “the Scud missiles in Hussein’s arsenal were not much technologically beyond the Nazi V-2s.”
How is a nation wielding World War II era weaponry a threat to America, with all its hi-tech super-duper military equipment and a “defense” budget equaling more than the sum total of the top 25 spenders on God’s green earth?
“By definition,” said Tenet, “intelligence deals with the unclear, the unknown, the deliberately hidden.” In analyzing his Georgetown remarks, it’s best to keep that last phrase in mind.
The function of intelligence agencies worldwide, and down through the ages, has been to hide, rather than reveal. The problem however, is that it’s becoming increasingly impossible to hide the truth in the age of instantaneous communications. Not only television, and other mass communications networks, but also the Internet make a policy of systematic lying virtually impossible to sustain. It used to be that war propaganda buried the truth for years, even decades, after the fact: now the machinations of the War Party are exposed practically before they are implemented.
As blogger Ken Layne famously put it: watch out, bud, because we can fact-check your ass.
“Our second stream of information,” says Tenet, “was that the United Nations could not and Saddam would not account for all the weapons the Iraqis had: tons of chemical weapons precursors, hundreds of artillery shells and bombs filled with chemical or biological agents.”
But where are these hundreds of bombs and shells? Where are the biological agents? They are nowhere to be seen: and that is the problem faced by this administration, and its apologists, which Tenet fails to surmount.
As Gertrude Stein said of her hometown of Oakland, California: There is no there there.
When Tenet says of the UN inspectors’ work that “we did not take this data on face value,” surely he is uttering a considerable understatement. The Americans disdained the repeated statements of Hans Blix that evidence of Iraqi WMD was thin to nonexistent. As war clouds darkened over the Middle Eastern horizon, Blix said he suspected Iraq had most likely destroyed its WMD shortly after Gulf War I a statement that turned out to be right on the money. Yet Tenet claims:
“To conclude before the war that Saddam had destroyed his existing weapons, we would have had to ignore what the United Nations and allied intelligence said they could not verify.”
But Blix and the UN pleaded with the Americans and their British allies to hold off for a while, to give the inspectors the time they needed to verify what turned out to be the truth. Saddam’s last minute proposal to let the UN inspectors back in without conditions was brushed aside. The rush to war was not to be stopped.
“The third stream of information,” according to Tenet, “came after the U.N. inspectors left Iraq in 1998. We gathered intelligence through human agents, satellite photos and communications intercepts. Other foreign intelligence services were clearly focused on Iraq and assisted in the effort.”
Tenet’s description of the various bits of evidence gathered up by purely technological means is baffling: if the incidents he recounts are true, then where’s the beef? Why were the satellite photos wrong, or misleading? How is it that those intercepted communications haven’t provided any leads in physically tracking down the missing WMD?
In getting down to brass tacks, Tenet essentially admits that arms inspector David Kay was absolutely right when he said “we were almost all wrong.” He just says it in a more roundabout way:
“Our community said with high confidence that Saddam was continuing and expanding his missile programs, contrary to U.N. resolutions. He had missiles and other systems with ranges in excess of UN restrictions and he was seeking missiles with even longer ranges.
“What do we know today? Since the war we have found an aggressive Iraqi missile program concealed from the international community.”
Iraq, we are told, would have made “improvements” if the war had not occurred, a prediction worthy of Nostradamus. Oh yes, and “Iraq had plans and advanced design work.” Plenty of plans and programs, but no missiles. To date, not a single missile with a range beyond the permitted distance has been found.
There’s no there there, is there?
This becomes even more apparent when Tenet gets to the rather sensitive topic of the unmanned aerial drones that George W. Bush declared to be a threat to the U.S. mainland. Tenet loyally echoes Bush’s assessment, and goes on to ask:
“What do we know today? The Iraq Survey Group found that two separate groups in Iraq were working on a number of unmanned aerial vehicles designs that were hidden from the U.N. until Iraq’s declaration in December of 2002. Now we know that important design elements were never fully declared.
“The question of intent, especially regarding the smaller unmanned aerial vehicle, is still out there. But we should remember that the Iraqis flight tested an aerial biological weapons spray system intended for a large unmanned aerial vehicle.
“A senior Iraqi official has now admitted that their two large unmanned vehicles, one developed in the early ’90s and the other under development in late 2000, were intended for the delivery of biological weapons.
“My provisional bottom line today: We detected the development of prohibited and undeclared unmanned aerial vehicles. But the jury is still out on whether Iraq intended to use its newer, smaller unmanned aerial vehicle to deliver biological weapons.”
This is utter nonsense. As the Associated Press reported last year:
“Huddled over a fleet of abandoned Iraqi drones, U.S. weapons experts in Baghdad came to one conclusion: Despite the Bush administration’s public assertions, these unmanned aerial vehicles weren’t designed to dispense biological or chemical weapons. The evidence gathered this summer matched the views of Air Force intelligence analysts who argued in a national intelligence assessment of Iraq before the war that the remotely piloted planes were unarmed reconnaissance drones.”
The commander of the facility where the drones were found, and interviews with Iraqi scientists, yielded the same conclusions.
In spite of Colin Powell’s extravagant fantasy, which had Iraqi drones spraying poison over American cities, the dissenting footnotes to the national intelligence assessment on Iraq turned out to have been right. The Defense Intelligence Agency agreed with their Air Force counterparts: those drones didn’t have the capabilities to dispense WMD. They were strictly for reconnaissance. After American troops combed the conquered country, searching for an ex post facto rationalization for the war, these infamous drones were found in various stages of disrepair. Scientists were brought in to analyze the find, and their assessment was unequivocal:
“‘We just looked at the UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) and said, “There’s nothing here. There’s no room to put anything in here,”‘ one of the scientists said. The wingspan on drones that Iraqis showed journalists in March measured 24.5 feet, and the aircraft were built like large, model airplanes.”
There’s no there there.
Tenet backs away completely from the nuclear issue, contending that the CIA never claimed Saddam had nukes to begin with, and conceding, in the end, that “we may have overestimated the progress Saddam was making.” Again, Tenet’s penchant for understatement is notable, especially considering National Security advisor Condoleeza Rice’s dramatic assertion that
“The problem here is that there will always be some uncertainty about how quickly he [Saddam] can acquire nuclear weapons. But we don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.”
Nor did that stop Vice President Dick Cheney from going on Meet the Press and telling Tim Russert that Iraq could launch a nuclear attack:
Russert: “And even though the International Atomic Energy Agency said he does not have a nuclear program, we disagree?”
Cheney: “I disagree, yes. And you’ll find the CIA, for example, and other key parts of our intelligence community disagree. Let’s talk about the nuclear proposition for a minute. We know that based on intelligence, that [Saddam] 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.”
In this context, Tenet’s statement that “most were convinced that he still had a program and if he obtained fissile material he could have a weapon within a year, but we detected no such acquisition” means: Don’t blame us!
On the biological weapons front, it’s the same story: the CIA initially distrusted reports of Iraq reconstituting its bio-chemical WMD, and, as it turned out, there were plenty of purported “plans,” but, as Tenet lamely admits, no actual stocks of such weapons.
What’s really interesting is that, aside from blaming, by implication, those administration officials, like Cheney and Rice, who clearly went overboard in an effort to ratchet up support for the war, Tenet also tries to shift the blame to those he calls “our foreign partners.” Who are they? Tenet doesn’t say, but begs us to understand “some of what was going on in the fall of 2002.” According to the CIA chief:
“Several sensitive reports crossed my desk from two sources characterized by our foreign partners as established and reliable. The first from a source who had direct access to Saddam and his inner circle said Iraq was not in the possession of a nuclear weapon. However, Iraq was aggressively and covertly developing such a weapon. Saddam had recently called together his nuclear weapons committee, irate that Iraq did not yet have a weapon because money was no object and they possessed the scientific know-how .
“The same source said that Iraq was stockpiling chemical weapons and that equipment to produce insecticides under the oil-for-food program had been diverted to covert chemical weapons production. The source said that Iraq’s weapons of last resort were mobile launchers armed with chemical weapons which would be fired at enemy forces in Israel .”
Now take a good guess as to the identity of our “foreign partner.”
Reports that Israel was feeding the U.S. false information via the “Office of Special Plans” (OSP) the nexus of the neoconservative cabal inside the administration are varied and widespread. The Guardian‘s Julian Borger reports an Israeli equivalent of the OSP, that worked in tandem with its American counterpart, as does Robert Dreyfuss in The Nation. So does a first-hand observer on the scene at the Pentagon, former Lt. Colonel Karen Kwiatkowski, who recounts a chilling story of high-ranking Israelis ushered in the offices of high-ranking officials without having to sign in. As Dreyfuss reports:
“According to [a] former [U.S.] official, also feeding information to the Office of Special Plans was a secret, rump unit established last year in the office of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel. This unit, which paralleled Shulsky’s and which has not previously been reported prepared intelligence reports on Iraq in English (not Hebrew) and forwarded them to the Office of Special Plans. It was created in Sharon’s office, not inside Israel’s Mossad intelligence service, because the Mossad which prides itself on extreme professionalism had views closer to the CIA’s, not the Pentagon’s, on Iraq. This secretive unit, and not the Mossad, may well have been the source of the forged documents purporting to show that Iraq tried to purchase yellowcake uranium for weapons from Niger in West Africa, according to the former official.”
The question of the OSP’s key role in pushing us into this war was raised after the Georgetown philippic, when one of the students asked Tenet:
“Recent investigative reports, including a long piece in the journal Mother Jones, which came out this past January, detailed the creation of a Pentagon group a few weeks after September 11th which, as of January of 2002, became known as the Office of Special Programs [sic]. And it contained prominent neoconservatives with direct ties to Dick Cheney and members of the administration. This group was shown to have a clear political agenda, to have influenced people in the intelligence community, and definitely used gross intelligence to promote their case.
“So my question is, can you confirm or deny the existence of such a Pentagon group? And if so, how can we prevent small ideological groups from influencing intelligence estimates?”
Forgive me if I indulge in a little conspiracy theorizing, but I hardly think that’s inappropriate when we’re talking about the head of an agency which has been known to pull off a covert operation or two. I know a planted question when I hear one, and the student who asked it no doubt has a bright future ahead of him or her, and a desk all picked out at Langley. Because it was this question, and not Tenet’s rather evasive answer, that really was significant. “There’s gambling in this casino,” the CIA chieftain joked. “Everybody has different views of what the intelligence means or doesn’t mean.” Yes, but why did one side the CIA side, the side of caution, of skepticism in the face of the claims of our “foreign partner,” lose out, and the neocons win?
That is the real question before the house, and the answer won’t be forthcoming until a thorough investigation is undertaken, not by the executive which cannot investigate itself but by the people’s elected representatives. Congress has the constitutional and moral responsibility to uncover how and why the intelligence-gathering process was subverted perhaps by agents of a foreign power.
One sure way to prevent small ideological groups from influencing intelligence estimates and hijacking U.S. foreign policy in the process is to return to the policy of the Founders of this country, recalling in particular George Washington’s sage advice:
“A passionate attachment of one nation for another produces a variety of evils . It leads also to concessions to the favorite nation of privileges denied to others which is apt doubly to injure the nation making the concessions; by unnecessarily parting with what ought to have been retained, and by exciting jealousy, ill-will, and a disposition to retaliate, in the parties from whom equal privileges are withheld. And it gives to ambitious, corrupted, or deluded citizens (who devote themselves to the favorite nation), facility to betray or sacrifice the interests of their own country, without odium, sometimes even with popularity; gilding, with the appearances of a virtuous sense of obligation, a commendable deference for public opinion, or a laudable zeal for public good, the base or foolish compliances of ambition, corruption, or infatuation.”
The Iraq war, we are learning, was the dubious achievement of ambitious, corrupted, and deluded citizens, who devoted themselves and continue to devote themselves to their favorite nation, which is not the U.S. In dragging us into this unwinnable, undesirable, and unjustifiable conflict, they betrayed their own country, sacrificing American interests on the altar of their devotion to Israel, whose partisans in this country had been agitating to “finish” the war with Iraq for over a decade.
As I pointed out in my last column, the President’s attempts to provide cover for the War Cabal may prove fruitless in light of the Justice Department’s investigation in the Plame affair. Two figures at the very heart of the neocon network are very close to being indicted: the Vice President’s chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby (as I predicted in a special article, posted in early October of last year) and John Hannah, in charge of Middle East policy in the Vice President’s office. Hannah is a former deputy director of Washington Institute for Near East Policy, widely known as the thinktank division of Israel’s amen corner in Washington.
This is how we prevent a small cabal of ideologically-motivated moles from taking over: dig them up, root and branch, and then jail them.
And it won’t end with Scooter and Hannah. As the Washington Times/UPI/Insight Magazine reports:
“‘We believe that Hannah was the major player in this,’ one federal law-enforcement officer said.
The strategy of the FBI is to make clear to Hannah ‘that he faces a real possibility of doing jail time’ as a way to pressure him to name superiors, one federal law-enforcement official said.”
By going after Libby and Hannah, federal prosecutors are homing in on the command center of what Borger in the Guardian calls the “shadow government” that pushed us into war. Borger writes:
“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.”
What the Justice Department is now uncovering is evidence that the Libby-Hannah-OSP Axis of Neocons also prosecuted the war on the home front, breaking the law in the process.
And there’s more good news to report: rumor has it that Richard Perle, the neocons’ Prince of Darkness, is next to be indicted. (Whether in connection with the Boeing tanker deal, the Hollinger brouhaha, his paid speaking engagement at a terrorist fundraiser, or yet another of Perle’s multifarious business investments that somehow cashed in on his government connections, remains to be seen.)
They thought they could get away with it. The neocons really believed that they ruled Washington, and that their power was unassailable. But in the end their own hubris was their undoing, just as it will be the Waterloo of our Napoleonic foreign policy.
Dick Cheney is over. And so are the neocons. The only question now is: will they plea bargain, or fight? I’m betting on the latter. And how long before we hear the cry go up that these people are being persecuted and that’s it’s all an “anti-Semitic” conspiracy? I give it a few hours, at the most .
But that isn’t going to work — not this time. As I said in my last [February 4] column:
“So keep your eye on the prize, and think of the glory and wonder of a future headline reading: Neocons Behind Bars.”
It looks like Patrick J. “Bulldog” Fitzgerald is living up to his nickname after all, and much sooner than even I dared to hope.
As the immortal Jackie Gleason used to say: How sweet it is!