So many investigations, so little time that’s a major problem these days for anyone intent on keeping up with the various scandals that plague this administration’s foreign policy.
There’s the recently-released 500-page-plus report [.pdf] on how we were bamboozled into believing that Saddam Hussein had “weapons of mass destruction,” which concluded that the intelligence community was “dead wrong” about everything.
A study commissioned by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld disses the Pentagon for failing to plan for the aftermath of the invasion, averring that the question of how to stabilize and rebuild Iraq was “addressed only very generally.” The Rand Corp., which conducted the survey of U.S. postwar reconstruction efforts, concluded that “no planning was done to ensure the security of the Iraqi people.” None, zero, nada.
We have the “Fitzgerald report” [.pdf] issued by the United Nations on the assassination of Rafik Hariri, which was trumpeted as conclusive proof that Syria was behind the Lebanese leader’s death at least, if you don’t read beyond the headlines, and cherry-pick only what fits this theory from the actual text.
However, the Fitzgerald report was overshadowed by another UN report, one detailing the shenanigans that went on in the UN’s “oil for food” program, in which Kofi Annan’s son loomed large. Again, the headlines were misleading: Annan was not “cleared,” but merely excused. Oddly, his “Hell no!” response to calls for him to step down as secretary general was fully supported by the supposedly anti-UN Bush administration. More about that later.
Finally, we have the news that the investigation into the role of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), one of the most powerful lobbies in Washington, is reaching a crossroads, with charges about to be filed. The investigation, which has been going on for at least two years, has all kinds of implications, political as well as criminal. It may well provide us with important clues about the mystery of how American foreign policy is created and conducted.
That is enough to keep anyone busy for the next couple of weeks, at least, but if we take an overview of all these reports, a pattern begins to develop, a narrative with disturbing implications: all these reports, either explicitly or by implication, document efforts to manipulate and utilize American foreign policy as an instrument of something other than the national interest.
The WMD report is about as damning as it is possible to get, short of an indictment in a court of law: “dead wrong” is damned strong, especially given the typically understated language of these sorts of documents. The WMD commission concluded that the U.S. government failed completely in assessing Iraq’s alleged biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons programs. These errors, they aver,
“Were not the result of simple bad luck, or a once-in-a-lifetime ‘perfect storm,’ as some would have it. Rather, they were the product of poor intelligence collection, an analytical process that was driven by assumptions and inferences rather than data, inadequate validation and vetting of dubious intelligence sources, and numerous other breakdowns in the various processes that Intelligence Community professionals collectively describe as intelligence ‘tradecraft.’ In many ways, the Intelligence Community simply did not do the job that it exists to do.”
Oh, but don’t worry, this administration didn’t embark on a campaign of deliberate deception it only looks that way. According the commission:
“After a thorough review, the Commission found no indication that the Intelligence Community distorted the evidence regarding Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. What the intelligence professionals told you about Saddam Hussein’s programs was what they believed. They were simply wrong.”
It wasn’t a cabal, as some have claimed, that lied us into war: they just failed in every possible way to do their job. It was a bad case of “tunnel vision.” The policymakers and intelligence professionals who confidently told us we would find WMD after we “liberated” Iraq were sincerely deluded, rather than consciously deceptive. The commissioners tell us this upfront, in the first few paragraphs of their report, but what follows undermines this conclusion.
For example, the report goes into the Bizarro World story of “Curveball,” an alleged Iraqi “defector” provided by Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraq National Congress (INC) whose claims were the basis for Colin Powell’s accusations raised in the UN that Saddam had mobile biological weaponry ready to deploy. Before we look at what the WMD commission has to say about Curveball, however, it’s instructive to place it in the context of what we already know.
Assuming that such weapons existed, the U.S. sent Scott Ritter and a deputy to Chalabi to help them find what they knew was there. As the Los Angeles Times reported:
“‘Chalabi outlined what he could do for us,’ Ritter recalled. ‘His intelligence guy outlined their sources and said he had people inside the government. They told us they had the run of Iraq. Just tell them what we needed. So we outlined the gaps in our understanding of the Iraqi program, including the mobile bioweapons labs. Basically, we gave them a shopping list.’
“‘They began feeding us information,’ Ritter said. ‘We got hand-drawn maps, handwritten statements and other stuff flowing in. At first blush, it looked good. But nothing panned out. Most of it just regurgitated what we’d given them. And the data that was new never checked out.'”
Curveball appeared in Germany some time in 1998, claiming to have been the manager of a secret biological weapons program initiated by the Iraqis. His story was chock full of details, including the layout of the office where he had supposedly worked, the names on the doors, and the methods used by the Iraqis to hide the facility. He also provided Western intelligence agencies with the names of his fellow team members, including the aide in charge of renting his unit’s cars. Curveball’s account came complete with diagrams of the equipment used to create and maintain the biological warfare unit: tanks, compressors, pumps, and the exact modifications performed on the trucks that would transport WMD to the battlefield.
All very convincing, to those already inclined to believe it. There was just one problem: none of it was true. Furthermore, a couple of details that should have alerted U.S. officials that Curveball’s moniker was an exercise in some rather heavy-handed irony were studiously ignored.
He was, to begin with, the brother of one of Chalabi’s top lieutenants. He was also an alcoholic. Worse, we did not have direct access to him: the one American who had ever met him had already warned that he was, at best, unreliable. The response to these concerns came from the deputy director of the CIA’s Iraqi weapons of mass destruction task force in the form of an e-mail message dated Feb. 4, 2003:
“As I said last night, let’s keep in mind the fact that this war’s going to happen regardless of what Curveball said or didn’t say, and the powers that be probably aren’t terribly interested in whether Curveball knows what he’s talking about.”
How did Curveball manage to pitch us such a load of malarkey and get it past the intelligence community’s defenses, undetected and unchallenged? Well, it seems its veracity was challenged, according to the WMD report:
“With respect to Curveball the primary source of our intelligence on Iraq’s BW program the Defense HUMINT Service disclaimed any responsibility for validating the asset, arguing that credibility determinations were for analysts and that the collectors were merely ‘conduits’ for the reporting.
“This abdication of operational responsibility represented a serious failure in tradecraft.
“Although lack of direct physical access to the source made vetting and validating Curveball more difficult, it did not make it impossible. While Defense HUMINT neglected its validation responsibilities, elements of the CIA’s D[irectorate of] O[perations] understood the necessity of validating Curveball’s information and made efforts to do so; indeed, they found indications that caused them to have doubts about Curveball’s reliability. The system nonetheless ‘broke down’ because of analysts’ strong conviction about the truth of Curveball’s information and because the DO’s concerns were not heard outside the DO.” [emphasis in original]
The system did not just break down all by itself: somebody sabotaged it, and that is pretty clearly the “analysts” who fed on the lies concocted by Chalabi & Co. The INC was being actively promoted by the neoconservatives within and around this administration. Chalabi’s enablers and protectors were concentrated primarily in the office of the vice president and the various neocon thinktanks that provided the Pentagon with scores of contractors and “consultants.”
When Chalabi was exposed as an Iranian agent, and his headquarters in Iraq was raided by U.S. authorities, American Enterprise Institute Vice President Danielle Pletka, Michael “Faster, Please” Ledeen, and a whole delegation of outraged neocons marched in a group to the Pentagon to protest this “persecution.” Chalabi, who had always been their Che Guevara, became their Mumia Abu Jamal. They’re still defending him, even as the lurid details of his extravagant falsehoods come to light. As Laura Rozen succinctly put it:
“It is almost dizzying to witness how utterly this guy fabricates, to apprehend what a black hole of lies he is. But it is even more staggering to think how for 12 years, U.S. intelligence and, under this administration, the very highest levels of the U.S. government, were played by this guy. And just perhaps, played by whoever was running him.”
This characterization applies not just to Chalabi, but to those who promoted him, put him on the government payroll, and uncritically accepted the phony intelligence he and his comrades generated. “A black hole of lies” pretty much sums up the intelligence-gathering and analytical units that fed the White House, Congress, and the American people a steady diet of untruths. The WMD report doesn’t go into great detail, because the facts are being kept from us to a large extent. As Senator Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, put it to Tim Russert on Meet the Press last summer:
“Let me tell you something else. Curveball and all of that information that is in our report, much of it is redacted. I can’t really tell you some of the more specific details that would make your eyebrows even raise higher.”
Later on in the program, a clue as to what Roberts was talking about was put out there by Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-W.V.), who also sits on the Senate committee: “We did not do the handling of intelligence,” Rockefeller averred, “the use of intelligence, the misuse of intelligence. None of that did we do. Pat said that starting as of this very day well, I’m sorry, we’ve done a little bit of work on Douglas” and that provoked an interesting exchange:
“SEN. ROBERTS: No, no, no. We’ve been working on this since February, Jay.
“ROCKEFELLER: A little bit of work on Douglas Feith. But the work we
“ROCKEFELLER: Let me finish. The work
“ROBERTS: I know, but we tried to have him up, and you won’t have him up.
“ROCKEFELLER: No, I’ve asked you to have him up again. He’s been up once. Let’s not get into that.
“RUSSERT: Now, the Defense Department has written a letter saying that you unfairly charged him with unlawful conduct when there is none.
“ROCKEFELLER: Well, let’s find out if there is. I mean, there’s always the question whether or not that he was running a secret intelligence operation that bypassed the entire intelligence community, and the law says you’ve got to inform the intelligence community of anything that you’re doing. Was he doing it or not? I don’t know.”
This arcane bit of dialogue refers to the key role played by Feith, DoD deputy director for policy, in doing an end-run around the mainline intelligence agencies the CIA, the DIA, the Air Force intelligence unit, and others by creating a special unit known as the Office of Special Plans (OSP). This unit was created by Paul Wolfowitz (now on his way to the World Bank) and its head, one Abram Shulsky, was directly under Feith. As reported by Seymour Hersh, Julian Borger, and Karen Kwiatkowski a former Pentagon analyst who worked in close proximity to this secretive agency the OSP manufactured the case for going to war with Iraq by “stovepiping” (as Hersh put it) raw intelligence straight from the INC’s lie factory to the very top of the intelligence-consuming food chain. Curveball’s fallacies massaged and validated by the OSP wound up on the president’s desk via the Office of the Vice President, where Scooter Libby and his minions pumped Chalabi’s oily prevarications directly into the intelligence pipeline that led to the White House.
The defenses against disinformation that normally operate were ineffective because the neocons created a parallel intelligence-gathering operation and packed the joint with their pet analysts such as one Larry Franklin, recently accused of passing sensitive documents and other intelligence to AIPAC, which then passed them on to the Israeli embassy.
The AIPAC investigation is the key to all this: what is involved here is nothing less than the extensive penetration of the Defense Department by agents of a foreign power with a very specific agenda. Chalabi, as we have seen, was in the pay of the Iranians, but this doesn’t settle the question trenchantly raised by Laura Rozen: who was running him? The Franklin affair points away from Tehran and toward Tel Aviv. As Borger pointed out in the Guardian:
“The OSP 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 authorize. ‘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 Israeli influence was revealed most clearly by a story floated by unnamed senior U.S. 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 all-pervasive nature of this Israeli involvement is attested to by former Pentagon analyst Kwiatkowski, who saw it up close:
“In early winter, an incident occurred that was seared into my memory. A co-worker 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 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.”
Larry Franklin is, or was, an analyst with the Iranian desk at DoD, and reportedly agreed to cooperate with the investigation into his activities, fingering an entire network of operatives and agreeing to make calls to several of them, including Richard Perle, in an effort to gather evidence. Law enforcement officials were confident enough to carry out two rather spectacular raids on AIPAC headquarters in Washington. Now the grand jury is finishing up its deliberations, and two of the AIPAC officials accused of being part of the Israeli spy nest have been put on paid leave. Franklin, it seems, has been “quietly rehired” at the Pentagon, although he’s not in his old job and is well away from sensitive material: it’s hard to fire government employees yes, even if they stand accused of treason! He has also stopped cooperating with the investigation, and has since engaged the services of a top Washington lawyer, Plato Cacheris, who specializes in spy cases.
Why did the U.S., against all the evidence and the dictates of common sense, decide to invade and occupy Iraq and why has it launched a campaign to destabilize the entire Middle East, threatening Iran and Syria and sending shockwaves throughout a volatile region?
The cover story that we’re responding to the 9/11 attacks never made much sense. After all, what has Iraq got to do with 9/11? As the 9/11 commission concluded, there was no credible connection. How, then, was the invasion in our interest, when it only provided Osama bin Laden and his followers with a fresh wave of recruits worldwide? The answer is: it wasn’t. Only two forces in the Middle East stood to benefit from the invasion: al-Qaeda and Israel.
Who fed us false information, Chalabi’s lies in the guise of “raw intelligence,” and so thoroughly penetrated the U.S. government with agents that they were able to shape U.S. policy to fit their agenda? In nabbing Franklin, the feds stumbled on a minor but useful cog in the lie machine, one that leads back to the main mechanism and its power source embedded in the national security bureaucracy.
In the Franklin case, we are beginning to see how the same gang that hoodwinked us into making war on Iraq was and is bound and determined to replicate its achievement in the case of Iran. As Rozen, Paul Glastris, and Jonathan Marshall pointed out last September in a must-read piece for 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.”
If and when the Franklin case finally comes to trial, the courtroom deliberations could shed new light on the question of how and why we were lied into war. It will prove in a court of law what I have long contended: that the only way to understand this shameful episode in the history of American wars is to look at the series of “mistakes” and “miscalculations” as a covert operation carried out by agents of a foreign power. Contra the WMD report, it wasn’t “tunnel vision” that led to a monumental “intelligence failure” it was treason.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
Yes, I realize that I haven’t covered the two UN reports mentioned above, but my deadline approaches. Perhaps another time