As Iraq slides into the abyss [.pdf], and the domestic reverberations of the conflict shake American politics, the question of who lied us into war is being raised and not just by Democrats. There is a growing suspicion that we didn’t just get the intelligence wrong and a growing clamor to retrace our steps back to the source of what seems like deliberate deception.
The inspector general at the Department of Defense has issued a report [.pdf] criticizing the intelligence disseminated to senior policymakers in the run-up to war:
“The Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy developed, produced, and then disseminated alternative intelligence assessments on the Iraq and al-Qaeda relationship, which included some conclusions that were inconsistent with the consensus of the Intelligence Community, to senior decision-makers. While such actions were not illegal or unauthorized, the actions were, in our opinion, inappropriate given that the intelligence assessments were intelligence products and did not clearly show the various with the consensus of the Intelligence Community. This condition occurred because of an expanded role and mission of the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy from policy formulation to alternative intelligence analysis and dissemination. As a result, the Office of the Undersecretary for Defense Policy did not provide ‘the most accurate analysis of intelligence’ to senior decision-makers.”
The Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy was headed up by Douglas Feith, now teaching at Georgetown University: his resignation, you’ll recall, was abrupt just as it became apparent that Iraq was going to be a disaster, one of the most strident hawks in the administration took to the tall grass of academia. Unfortunately for Feith, no grass is going to be tall enough to keep him out of the sights of congressional investigators hot on the trail of possibly illegal activities, very similar to what we are seeing come out in the trial of Scooter Libby. In Libby’s case, it was outing a CIA officer in retaliation for debunking the Niger uranium fraud. In Feith’s case, the charges may be even more cloak-and-daggerish
Much has been written about the Office of Special Plans, the secretive “alternative” intelligence-gathering-and-analysis unit set up by order of Paul Wolfowitz. Its purpose was to investigate state sponsorship of terrorism, and in the case of Iraq to look into the alleged relationship between the Ba’athists and al-Qaeda.
This was a classic “Team B” neocon operation, the original “Team B” being the Cold War-era assessment of the Soviets’ supposed military superiority that turned out to be so infamously wrong. The same methods were used, with much more sophistication and attention to imaginative detail, in order to gin up a war with Iraq.
When they didn’t get the answers about Iraq’s supposed “links” to al-Qaeda that they wanted, the neocons in the vice president’s office and the civilian leadership of the Pentagon did an end run around the CIA and the other major components of the intelligence community: they set up an “alternative” intelligence apparatus. They developed their own foreign sources, including Ahmed Chalabi and his fellow “heroes in error,” then stovepiped the results up to the White House, where our clueless president absorbed them with sponge-like alacrity.
An entire mythos was created that portrayed Iraq as the epicenter of evil in the world, and a number of completely fictional narratives were created by the OSP crowd, including the one about the famed meeting between Mohammed Atta and an Iraqi intelligence agent at the Prague airport. While the focus is now on a PowerPoint presentation given by the OSPers to administration higher-ups averring a “mature symbiotic relationship” between al-Qaeda and the Iraqis, this “Team B” did not limit its creative efforts to proving the existence of a Saddam-bin Laden pact.
The nuclear threat from Saddam Hussein was the main thrust of the administration’s war propaganda, and certainly the one theme that resonated with the American public. We don’t want to have to wait until we see a mushroom cloud before we act, said Condi Rice, even as Judy Miller was retailing Chalabi’s tall tales of Iraqi WMD on the front page of the newspaper of record. The president’s 2003 State of the Union address, during which he uttered those infamous “16 words” accusing Iraq of seeking uranium yellowcake in “an African nation,” was another brick in this edifice of pure fiction. He was forced to retract this, a month later, after the International Atomic Energy Agency of the UN declared that the documents on which Bush’s allegation was based were outright forgeries. Not even good forgeries, mind you, but transparently bogus documents purporting to show that the yellowcake had been contracted for and shipped to the Iraqis.
Where did this “intelligence” come from? It motivated a trip by former ambassador Joe Wilson to Niger, where he found no evidence of such a transaction and said so to the CIA. When the president uttered those 16 words, Wilson went public with his trip and his report back, and the result was the outing of his wife, Valerie Plame, as a CIA agent and the indictment of Scooter Libby.
Perhaps the inspector general drew a hasty conclusion by unequivocally declaring that nothing illegal was done, because the OSP crowd has a hand in this matter, too. The Italian newspaper La Repubblica had the scoop on the origin of the Niger uranium forgeries in a story printed last year, revealing that the Italian intelligence agency, SISMI, had cobbled them together and funneled them to Washington via a well-known neoconservative operative with a long history of shady covert dealings:
“The CIA analysts thought the first report ‘very limited’ and ‘without the necessary details.’ INR analysts in the Department of State assessed the information as ‘highly suspect.’ The immediate impact on the American Intelligence community wasn’t very gratifying for [SISMI chief Nicolo] Pollari. Gianni Castellaneta advised him to look in ‘other directions’ too, while the minister of Defense, Antonio Martino, invited him to receive ‘an old friend of Italy’s.’ The American friend was Michael Ledeen, an old fox in the ‘parallel’ intelligence community in the U.S. Ledeen was at Rome on behalf of the Office of Special Plans, created at the Pentagon by Paul Wolfowitz to gather intelligence that would support military intervention in Iraq.”
The CIA was having a hard time accepting the Niger-Iraq story as credible, but the Italians, with a little help from those friendly folks at OSP, were persistent:
“A source at Forte Braschi told La Repubblica: ‘Pollari got a frosty reception from the CIA’s station head in Rome, Jeff Castelli, for this information on uranium. Castelli apparently let the matter drop [lascia cadere la storia]. Pollari got the hint and talked about it with Michael Ledeen.’ We don’t know what things brought Michael Ledeen to Washington. But at the beginning of 2002, Paul Wolfowitz convinced Dick Cheney that the uranium trail intercepted by the Italians had to be explored top to bottom. The vice president, as the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence tells it, once again asked the CIA ‘very decisively’ to find out more about the ‘possible acquisition of Nigerien uranium.’ In this meeting, Dick Cheney explicitly said that this piece of intelligence was at the disposition of a ‘foreign service.'”
Ledeen, no stranger to freelance intelligence work, was in Rome at the behest of the OSP. We know he held unauthorized meetings there with Manucher Ghorbanifar, his associate during the Iran-Contra affair, doing an end run around the State Department. He did so in the company of Harold Rhode, who helped set up the OSP, and Larry Franklin, another OSPer recently convicted of spying for Israel and sentenced to 12 years in the slammer. Franklin is now cooperating with the government in prosecuting AIPAC honcho Steve Rosen and top Iran analyst Keith Weissman, who were caught red-handed [.pdf] as they turned over classified information procured from Franklin to Israeli embassy officials.
As to whether Ledeen (or the OSP) has any connection to the forgeries, that is for a congressional investigating committee or, perhaps, a court of law to decide. I have my own information and opinions, which you can read here. Feith’s sudden resignation, that rather startling FBI raid on the Pentagon, and the news that an FBI probe into illegal activities in Feith’s office was broader than expected now that’s an awful lot of smoke. There must be some fire.