18 July 2004
NEW YORK - Having presided over the two worst intelligence disasters since Pearl Harbor 9/11 and the misbegotten invasion of Iraq the Bush Administration and its apologists are now whining, `OK, we were wrong about Iraq's weapons and supposed threat, but so was everybody else. Besides, it was all CIA's fault.’
No so. The Iraq weapons fiasco was absolutely not caused by an `intelligence failure,’ as the White House and the recent Senate whitewash claim. It was not an understandable mistake made by all, as a rigged British `inquiry’ concluded.
US national security and CIA were corrupted and blinded by extremist ideology, cowardice, and careerism. The failure at CIA was not of the organization, but its leadership.
Nor was everyone wrong about Iraq. The UN's arms inspectors (those that were not spies for the US and Israel) declared Iraq had no wmd's. Scores of Mideast professionals, this writer included, insisted from Day 1 that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction, posed no threat to the USA, and had no link to al-Qaida. The Bush Administration had documents confirming destruction in 1992 of all of Iraq's chemical and biological weapons (supplied by the US and Britain for use against Iran).
Britain's Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, had the courage and integrity to resign in protest over Tony Blair's rush to join the Bush Administration in a trumped-up war.
Here's what really happened. In 2002, Cheney thundered that Iraq was seeking nuclear weapons. A month later, Secretary Colin Powell proclaimed `no doubt he (Saddam) has chemical weapons.’ Shortly after, President George Bush assured the UN that Iraq had biological weapons.
National Insecurity Advisor Condoleeza Rice warned a `mushroom cloud’ threatened America. Britain's glib prime minister, Tony Blair, made similar ludicrous claims.
Many veteran CIA officers dismissed these alarms as politically-motivated propaganda. The US State Department, Air Force, and French intelligence challenged claims Iraq had threatening offensive weapons systems. Many senior Pentagon military officers opposed invading Iraq.
But the word went out: Now hear this. If you value your job and pension, do not, repeat, do not contradict the boss.
The president is hell-bent on invading Iraq. Make it so.
Cheney repeatedly visited CIA, intimidating staff and demanding evidence be found of Saddam's weapons of mass destruction and links to al-Qaida. Oblivious to all facts, Cheney keeps warning Iraq still threatens the USA. He appears increasingly out of touch with reality.
CIA director George Tenet, a political apartchik, not an intelligence professional, undermined his agency's ethics by eagerly pandering to all of Bush and Cheney's prejudices over his subordinate's protests. Careerism and hand-licking took precedence over professionalism. Those with dissenting views were ignored, shunted aside, or fired.
This column has long reported smoldering anger among veteran CIA officers over Bush's deeply flawed policies towards Iraq and the Muslim World. In late 2001, I was shocked and horrified to hear a distinguished member of CIA's founding families actually claim a `fifth column’ had taken control of Iraq policy and was driving the US to war.
But even the obsequious Tenet failed to satisfy Bush and Cheney's growing demands for more damning `evidence,’ so Cheney and Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld created two independent intelligence units, Office for Special Plans, and `Team B,’ packing them with far-right neoconservative militarists from the Wolfowitz, Feith, Perle faction. Their mission: find the smoking guns to justify immediate war against Iraq.
These two intelligence units became the main conduits for disinformation about Iraq, confirming every rumor or lie the White House and media wanted to believe, no matter how absurd.
Iraq-exile Ahmad Chalabi, created, financed, and managed by Pentagon neocons, was the main lie-producer. His tales were trumpeted by the White House and media. Israeli and British intelligence provided more faked material to whip up war fever.
This was no intelligence failure. This was strategic deception, a combination the Soviets KGB called disinformatzia and maskirovka. This was facilitated by an ideologically and religiously extreme president; a Dr Strangelovian vice president lusting for war and oil; neocon ideologues determined to advance the Greater Israel cause of PM Ariel Sharon; and a cowardly Congress that gravely violated its most basic responsibility to the nation by giving President Bush a blank check to go to war. And a national security establishment that lacked the cojones to tell superiors or Americans the truth.
Purging CIA is not the answer. If anyone should be held accountable, it is the politicians and neocons in the Pentagon and media, who willfully misled the US into a catastrophic war that has so far cost the lives of over 880 Americans, 13,000 Iraqi civilians, US $200 billion, and ruined the good name of the United States around the world.
They and Britain's Tony Blair must not be allowed to escape full blame and retribution by hiding behind the sophistry that everyone and thus no one was responsible.