Scott McClellan, the most significant defector from behind the Iron Curtain of the War Party’s domain, doesn’t think we were lied into war. According to him, it was all due to the “partisan” attitudes that dominate Washington discourse on every issue. As he puts it, “the permanent campaign” atmosphere made them do it: “I don’t think that this was some deliberate, conscious effort to mislead the American people.”
In an interview with Keith Olbermann the other night, he disdained the very idea as a “conspiracy theory.” McClellan seems to believe that the need to bias intelligence is inherent in the American political system, the inevitable consequence of the Washington ethos as defined by the struggle between the two major parties. He denies any “criminal intent” in the actions of the administration and its flunkies, and he trivializes the matter by referring to “people sitting around a table” making plans to dupe Congress and the American people. The evidence, however, points in the other direction, as “Phase Two” of the long-awaited and deliberately-delayed report of the Senate Intelligence Committee makes clear [.pdf].
In spite of Keith’s effusive reference to McClellan as “the Rosetta Stone” for helping us understand what we’ve endured during the past eight years, the former White House spokesman seems incapable of deciphering what he saw and participated in, as the first section of the “Phase Two” Senate report shows. All the prewar “talking points” of the administration, and the flimsy-to-nonexistent “evidence” used to back them up, are here debunked, and the pattern of deceit is all too clear. However, it is the second section of the report which deals with the activities of the Office of Special Plans and other parallel intelligence-gathering operations set up by the neocons that suggests something more sinister than extreme partisanship is motivating the actors in this drama of deception.
In 2001, as the wheels that would eventually drive us to war with Iraq began to turn, the groundwork was being laid for the inevitable denouement of that historic error: the present looming conflict with Iran.
Leafing through the story of the secret Rome meetings conducted by Michael Ledeen and Manucher Ghorbanifar set up by a “foreign intelligence service,” as the report avers this section of the Senate report reads like a spy thriller set in the future, a future in which we are about to go to war with Iran.
Neocon warlord Ledeen isn’t just one of the War Party’s most tireless polemicists. The fun part about being a foreign agent disguised as a “commentator” is that you get to rail away at the Bushies for not being enthusiastic enough about the Grand Plan of “liberating” the Middle East, demanding “faster, please!” Yet Ledeen isn’t just one of those armchair types who merely pontificates from his pundit’s perch: this student of Italian fascism is a man-of-action, too.
Indeed, that’s a considerable understatement. He and Ghorbanifar are longtime partners in crime, having been the two biggest spiders at the center of the Iran-Contra web, in which Ledeen and Ghorbanifar deployed their contacts in Israel and within the Iranian government to broker the mid-1980s arms-for-hostages deal.
As the Senate report reveals, Ledeen and Ghorbanifar, together with a group centered around the Office of Special Plans and including a former Pentagon official convicted of engaging in espionage on behalf of Israel met with a group of Iranians and officials of a certain “foreign intelligence service” that is never named. The purpose of the meeting: regime change in Iran.
The Office of Special Plans was one of several neocon-created “parallel institutions” designed to circumvent the ordinary vetting process for intelligence gathered by U.S. agencies. Two analysts from the neocons’ DoD policy shop, Harold Rhode and Larry Franklin, were assigned to the Rome meetings. Franklin was once Douglas Feith‘s top Iran analyst. His career ended in 2005 when he was convicted of stealing U.S. state secrets on behalf of Israel.
Rhode, an expert on the Middle East, speaks a good number of languages, including Farsi, Turkish, and Hebrew, and was the key organizer for and advocate of the Iraqi National Congress in the U.S. He was described by one CIA hand as “living out of [Ahmed] Chalabi’s office” during his time in Iraq. Indeed, Rhode served as Chalabi’s American agent, rallying support for the American Enterprise Institute’s Che Guevara when Chalabi’s offices were raided by U.S. forces. It later came out that Chalabi was doing just what Franklin was doing stealing U.S. secrets on behalf of a foreign power.
In a UPI piece by Richard Sale, a “former senior intelligence official” who served in the Coalition Provisional Authority is quoted as saying that “‘Rhode was observed by CIA operatives as being constantly on his cell phone to Israel,’ and that the information that the intelligence officials overheard him passing to Israel was ‘mind-boggling.'”
As for Franklin, his activities on behalf of the Israeli intelligence services, acting through the American-Israel Political Affairs Committee (AIPAC), have been covered extensively in this space. Together with Ledeen founding president of JINSA and Ghorbanifar, whose extensive and long-standing links to the Israelis are common knowledge, the provenance of this whole Rome operation seems beyond dispute. The Senate report informs us that the Rome meetings were coordinated and facilitated by this mysterious, unnamed “foreign intelligence” entity, and then mentions the presence of at least one official of SISMI, a personal friend of Ledeen’s, but the report’s language is ambiguous although it isn’t hard to figure out that the Italian connection is just a diversion.
So here we have American officials, without the full knowledge or consent of their superiors, including the president, traveling around on the taxpayers’ dime, in concert with and apparently under the direction of the Israeli government, plotting regime change in Iran, and rehearsing all the talking points that we hear today from the Pentagon and the White House. At one point, we are told, Ghorbanifar wrote down his plan for regime change on a napkin in a bar, telling Franklin he would need at least $5 million to start initial “disruptions” in and around Tehran, but that the bill would get higher as the “revolution” progressed.
The idea was to set up Ghorbanifar as the sponsor of an Iranian version of the Iraqi National Congress, a network that would disseminate intelligence on Tehran’s inner workings as well as work to overthrow the regime. As in the case of Chalabi, who bilked the U.S. out of millions, cash considerations figured prominently in the schemes of the Rome cabal. At one point, the report informs us:
“The proposed funding for and foreign involvement in Mr. Ghorbanifar’s plan for regime change were never fully understood. A synopsis of the Rome discussions averred that Ledeen and Ghorbanifar advised Mr. Franklin and Mr. Rhode that the [foreign government support] for this information collection opportunity and financing by [ foreign] corporate enterprises midway through the interviews. The costs would be in the millions.”
The bill would be picked up by this not-so-mysterious “foreign government” generously supplemented by a “multi-million dollar business deal that the foreign government arranged for the two Iranian interlocutors” and, of course, by the U.S. taxpayers.
Here is the quintessential neocon recipe for regime change, involving a lot of cash floating in a thick soup of ideology, with a bold flavor of espionage pervading the dish.
It’s interesting that a lot of the most incriminating material was gleaned from interviews with Franklin, no doubt pried out of him with the charges of espionage hanging over him. He was sentenced to a mere 12 years in prison and a hefty fine for delivering sensitive materials stolen from his Pentagon office to Israeli embassy officials. Using AIPAC as the go-between, the Israelis ripped off intelligence about terrorist activities in Central Asia and U.S. operations in Iraq, and when Franklin was caught, he spilled the beans but good in a frantic effort to avoid spending the rest of his life in the big house. Perhaps the release of the Senate report and the starring role played in its narrative by Franklin, the convicted spy will bring renewed attention to the case against Franklin’s handlers, former AIPAC bigshot Steve Rosen, and the group’s point man on Iran, Keith Weissman.
For years, the Justice Department has been trying to prosecute Rosen and Weissman without releasing vital U.S. secrets and compromising our national security. The defense the best money can buy has engaged in a strategy of “graymail” from the beginning and stymied what are probably not the Justice Department’s best efforts. The chief prosecutor in the case recently announced he was leaving for greener pastures, and there has been a lot of political resistance to this case for all the usual reasons, and then some.
“Oh, everyone does it,” is the standard defense. That’s what Washington is all about: trading information. Baloney. These two were caught red-handed receiving vital U.S. secrets from Franklin and passing them on to their Israeli handlers in what was a classic spying operation. That’s not “trading information,” it’s espionage. It’s embarrassing to have to point this out, but in the present atmosphere, in which any indication that Israel might be undermining the interests of its major benefactor is dismissed as evidence of resurgent anti-Semitism, the plain truth needs to be stated in unequivocal terms.
For years, I’ve been saying that the only way to understand the Iraq war a war that hurt, rather than advanced, American interests is to see it as a successful covert action carried out by the Israelis and their American collaborators. The “Clean Break” scenario, launched by American “advisers” to then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, laid it all out in 1996. That was the theory, the practice of which is revealed in second section of the Senate intelligence report. It’s no accident that two individuals involved in creating that seminal blueprint for the “transformation” of the Middle East, Doug Feith and David Wurmser, are intimately connected with the activities examined in the Senate report.
The entire report is a goldmine of information that gives us a fascinating overview of the lies that lured us into war. And lies they were, whatever McClellan may say or believe. This is another mark of Empire: when the superpower, as the Old Right polemicist Garet Garrett pointed out more than half a century ago, is taken hostage by its own satellites. A globe-spanning Empire becomes, in effect, “a prisoner of history,” driven by foreign lobbyists and their domestic constituencies, and is no longer cognizant of distinctly American interests.
Yes, we are prisoners of history. Our invasion of Iraq has led directly to a looming confrontation with Iran, just as the war-planners knew it would. What the second portion of the Senate report shows, however, is that we are also prisoners of the Israel lobby, which is inexorably pushing us into war with Iran. That lobby exercises enormous power in Washington and beyond, effectively policing not only the media but the government for the least sign of “anti-Israel” (i.e., pro-American) activity, relentless in pursuit of its goals and its enemies.
Yet there is growing resistance to the Lobby’s hegemony, especially within intelligence, counter-intelligence, and law enforcement circles. They, after all, are expected to put up with Israeli shenanigans conducted on American soil and stand by while the White House and the Pentagon let our alleged best friends get away with the crown jewels, the family silver, and the quarters in the cookie jar to boot.
Now the Senate report has blown away much of their cover; that and the recent exposure of Ben Ami Kadish, an Israeli spy handled by the same spook who directed Jonathan Pollard, constitute a double body-blow to Israel’s fifth column in America which is, today, just another name for the War Party and its top leadership.
As Ledeen might put it: “Faster, please!“
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
Get yourself on over to Taki’s Magazine, and check out my latest: Libertarianism’s Divergent Roads, an adaptation (with a new introduction) of my recent talk at the Future of Freedom conference.
And the first review of the new edition of my Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement is in the Western Standard, is out, written by the perceptive Kalim Kassam, along with a wonderful video illuminating the book’s theme by Jack Hunter, the Southern Avenger, a regular columnist for the Charleston City Paper.