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Context of 'Late March 2003 and After: ’Off-the-Books’ Team Sent to Iraq to Find WMD for ‘Political’ Purpose'

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Iraqi National Congress logo.Iraqi National Congress logo. [Source: Iraqi National Congress]Over a period of four years, the CIA’s Iraq Operation Group provides the Iraqi National Congress (INC) with $100 million, which the organization uses to set up training camps and propaganda operations in Northern Iraq. [Christian Science Monitor, 6/15/2004; Ritter, 2005, pp. 128] During this time span, INC leader Ahmed Chalabi allegedly misuses a lot of the funds. “There was a lot of hanky-panky with the accounting: triple billing, things that weren’t mentioned, things inflated.… It was a nightmare,” a US intelligence official who works with Chalabi will say in 2004. [Newsweek, 4/5/2004] Chalabi refuses to share the organization’s books with other members of the INC, and even with the US government itself. According to a former CIA officer, “[T]hey argued that it would breach the secrecy of the operation.” One night, government investigators break into the INC’s offices to do an audit. They find that although the books are in order, many of the group’s expenditures are wasteful. [New Yorker, 6/7/2004] Chalabi spends much of his time in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq. Robert Baer, a CIA officer who is also working in Iraq, later recalls: “He was like the American Ambassador to Iraq. He could get to the White House and the CIA. He would move around Iraq with five or six Land Cruisers.” Hundreds of thousands of dollars flow “to this shadowy operator—in cars, salaries—and it was just a Potemkin village. He was reporting no intel; it was total trash. The INC’s intelligence was so bad, we weren’t even sending it in.” Chalabi tries to portray Saddam Hussein’s regime as “a leaking warehouse of gas, and all we had to do was light a match,” Baer says. Chalabi, at certain points, claims to know about Iraqi troop movements and palace plans. But “there was no detail, no sourcing—you couldn’t see it on a satellite.” [New Yorker, 6/7/2004] In her 2007 book Fair Game, former CIA analyst Valerie Plame Wilson, an expert on Iraq’s WMD programs, describes Chalabi as “Machiavellian,” and blames him for sending “dozens of tantalizing but ultimately false leads into the CIA net.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 106-107]

Entity Tags: Valerie Plame Wilson, Ahmed Chalabi, Central Intelligence Agency, Robert Baer, Iraqi National Congress

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Abu Zeinab al-Qurairy, posing as Jamal al-Ghurairy for Frontline.Abu Zeinab al-Qurairy, posing as Jamal al-Ghurairy for Frontline. [Source: PBS]An Iraqi defector identifying himself as Jamal al-Ghurairy, a former lieutenant general in Saddam Hussein’s intelligence corps, the Mukhabarat, tells two US reporters that he has witnessed foreign Islamic militants training to hijack airplanes at an alleged Iraqi terrorist training camp at Salman Pak, near Baghdad. Al-Ghurairy also claims to know of a secret compound at Salman Pak where Iraqi scientists, led by a German, are producing biological weapons. Al-Ghurairy is lying both about his experiences and even his identity, though the reporters, New York Times war correspondent Chris Hedges and PBS’s Christopher Buchanan, do not know this. The meeting between al-Ghurairy and the reporters, which takes place on November 6, 2001, in a luxury suite in a Beirut hotel, was arranged by Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress (INC). Buchanan later recalls knowing little about al-Ghurairy, except that “[h]is life might be in danger. I didn’t know much else.” Hedges recalls the former general’s “fierce” appearance and “military bearing.… He looked the part.” Al-Ghurairy is accompanied by several other people, including the INC’s political liaison, Nabeel Musawi. “They were slick and well organized,” Buchanan recalls. Hedges confirms al-Ghurairy’s credibility with the US embassy in Turkey, where he is told that CIA and FBI agents had recently debriefed him. The interview is excerpted for an upcoming PBS Frontline episode, along with another interview with an INC-provided defector, former Iraqi sergeant Sabah Khodada, who echoes al-Ghurairy’s tale. While the excerpt of al-Ghurairy’s interview is relatively short, the interview itself takes over an hour. Al-Ghurairy does not allow his face to be shown on camera.
Times Reports Defectors' Tale - Two days later, on November 8, Hedges publishes a story about al-Ghurairy in the New York Times Times. The Frontline episode airs that same evening. [New York Times, 11/8/2001; Mother Jones, 4/2006] Hedges does not identify al-Ghurairy by name, but reports that he, Khodada, and a third unnamed Iraqi sergeant claim to have “worked for several years at a secret Iraqi government camp that had trained Islamic terrorists in rotations of five or six months since 1995. They said the training at the camp, south of Baghdad, was aimed at carrying out attacks against neighboring countries and possibly Europe and the United States.” Whether the militants being trained are linked to al-Qaeda or Osama bin Laden, the defectors cannot be sure, nor do they know of any specific attacks carried out by the militants. Hedges writes that the interviews were “set up by an Iraqi group that seeks the overthrow of… Hussein.” He quotes al-Ghurairy as saying, “There is a lot we do not know. We were forbidden to speak about our activities among each other, even off duty. But over the years, you see and hear things. These Islamic radicals were a scruffy lot. They needed a lot of training, especially physical training. But from speaking with them, it was clear they came from a variety of countries, including Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Algeria, Egypt, and Morocco. We were training these people to attack installations important to the United States. The Gulf War never ended for Saddam Hussein. He is at war with the United States. We were repeatedly told this.” He uses Khodada’s statements as support for al-Ghurairy’s, identifies Khodada by name, and says that Khodada “immigrated to Texas” in May 2001 “after working as an instructor for eight years at Salman Pak…” He quotes the sergeant as saying, “We could see them train around the fuselage. We could see them practice taking over the plane.” Al-Ghurairy adds that the militants were trained to take over a plane without using weapons. Hedges reports that Richard Sperzel, the former chief of the UN biological weapons inspection teams in Iraq, says that the Iraqis always claimed Salman Pak was an anti-terror training camp for Iraqi special forces. However, Sperzel says, “[M]any of us had our own private suspicions. We had nothing specific as evidence.” The US officials who debriefed al-Ghurairy, Hedges reports, do not believe that the Salman Pak training has any links to the 9/11 hijackings. Hedges asks about one of the militants, a clean-shaven Egyptian. “No, he was not Mohamed Atta.” Atta led the 9/11 hijackers. Hedges notes that stories such as this one will likely prompt “an intense debate in Washington over whether to extend the war against Osama bin Laden and the Taliban government of Afghanistan to include Iraq.” [New York Times, 11/8/2001; Columbia Journalism Review, 7/1/2004]
Heavy Press Coverage - The US media immediately reacts, with op-eds running in major newspapers throughout the country and cable-news pundits bringing the story to their audiences. National security adviser Condoleezza Rice says of the story, “I think it surprises no one that Saddam Hussein is engaged in all kinds of activities that are destabilizing.” The White House will use al-Ghurairy’s claims in its background paper, “Decade of Deception and Defiance,” prepared for President’s Bush September 12, 2002 speech to the UN General Assembly (see September 12, 2002). Though the tale lacks specifics, it helps bolster the White House’s attempts to link Saddam Hussein to the 9/11 hijackers, and helps promote Iraq as a legitimate target in the administration’s war on terror. (Five years later, the reporters involved in the story admit they were duped—see April 2006.)
Complete Fiction - The story, as it turns out, is, in the later words of Mother Jones reporter Jack Fairweather, “an elaborate scam.” Not only did US agents in Turkey dismiss the purported lieutenant general’s claims out of hand—a fact they did not pass on to Hedges—but the man who speaks with Hedges and Buchanan is not even Jamal al-Ghurairy. The man they interviewed is actually a former Iraqi sergeant living in Turkey under the pseudonym Abu Zainab. (His real name is later ascertained to be Abu Zeinab al-Qurairy, and is a former Iraqi general and senior officer in the Mukhabarat.) The real al-Ghurairy has never left Iraq. In 2006, he will be interviewed by Fairweather, and will confirm that he was not the man interviewed in 2001 (see October 2005). [Columbia Journalism Review, 7/1/2004; Mother Jones, 4/2006] Hedges and Buchanan were not the first reporters to be approached for the story. The INC’s Francis Brooke tried to interest Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff in interviewing Khodada to discuss Salman Pak. Isikoff will recall in 2004 that “he didn’t know what to make of the whole thing or have any way to evaluate the story so I didn’t write about it.” [Columbia Journalism Review, 7/1/2004]
"The Perfect Hoax" - The interview was set up by Chalabi, the leader of the INC, and former CBS producer Lowell Bergman. Bergman had interviewed Khodada previously, but was unable to journey to Beirut, so he and Chalabi briefed Hedges in London before sending him to meet with the defector. Chalabi and Bergman have a long relationship; Chalabi has been a source for Bergman since 1991. The CIA withdrew funding from the group in 1996 (see January 1996) due to its poor intelligence and attempts at deception. For years, the INC combed the large Iraqi exile communities in Damascus and Amman for those who would trade information—real or fabricated—in return for the INC’s assistance in obtaining asylum to the West. Helping run that network was Mohammed al-Zubaidi, who after 9/11 began actively coaching defectors, according to an ex-INC official involved in the INC’s media operations (see December 17, 2001 and July 9, 2004). The ex-INC official, Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri, did everything from help defectors brush up and polish their stories, to concocting scripts that defectors with little or no knowledge could recite: “They learned the words, and then we handed them over to the American agencies and journalists.” After 9/11, the INC wanted to come up with a big story that would fix the public perception of Saddam Hussein’s involvement in the 9/11 attacks. Al-Zubaidi was given the task. He came up with al-Ghurairy. He chose Zainab for his knowledge of the Iraqi military, brought him to Beirut, paid him, and began prepping him. In the process, al-Zainab made himself known to American and Turkish intelligence officials as al-Ghurairy. “It was the perfect hoax,” al-Haideri will recall in 2006. “The man was a born liar and knew enough about the military to get by, whilst Saddam’s regime could hardly produce the real Ghurairy without revealing at least some of the truth of the story.” Al-Haideri will say that the reality of the Salman Pak story was much as the Iraqis claimed—Iraqi special forces were trained in hostage and hijack scenarios. Al-Zubaidi, who in 2004 will admit to his propaganda activities, calls Al-Zainab “an opportunist, cheap and manipulative. He has poetic interests and has a vivid imagination in making up stories.” [Mother Jones, 4/2006]
Stories Strain Credulity - Knight Ridder reporter Jonathan Landay later says of al-Qurairy, “As you track their stories, they become ever more fantastic, and they’re the same people who are telling these stories, until you get to the most fantastic tales of all, which appeared in Vanity Fair magazine.” Perhaps al-Qurairy’s most fabulous story is that of a training exercise to blow up a full-size mockup of a US destroyer in a lake in central Iraq. Landay adds, “Or, jumping into pits of fouled water and having to kill a dog with your bare teeth. I mean, and this was coming from people, who are appearing in all of these stories, and sometimes their rank would change.… And, you’re saying, ‘Wait a minute. There’s something wrong here, because in this story he was a major, but in this story the guy’s a colonel. And, in this story this was his function, but now he says in this story he was doing something else.’” Landay’s bureau chief, John Walcott, says of al-Qurairy, “What he did was reasonably clever but fairly obvious, which is he gave the same stuff to some reporters that, for one reason or another, he felt would simply report it. And then he gave the same stuff to people in the Vice President’s office [Dick Cheney] and in the Secretary of Defense’s office [Donald Rumsfeld]. And so, if the reporter called the Department of Defense or the Vice President’s office to check, they would’ve said, ‘Oh, I think that’s… you can go with that. We have that, too.’ So, you create the appearance, or Chalabi created the appearance, that there were two sources, and that the information had been independently confirmed, when, in fact, there was only one source. And it hadn’t been confirmed by anybody.” Landay adds, “[L]et’s not forget how close these people were to this administration, which raises the question, was there coordination? I can’t tell you that there was, but it sure looked like it.” [PBS, 4/25/2007]
No Evidence Found - On April 6, 2003, US forces will overrun the Salman Pak facility. They will find nothing to indicate that the base was ever used to train terrorists (see April 6, 2003).

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Richard Sperzel, Newsweek, Saddam Hussein, Taliban, New York Times, Sabah Khodada, Washington Post, United Nations, Vanity Fair, Nabeel Musawi, Public Broadcasting System, Mother Jones, Ahmed Chalabi, Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri, Abu Zeinab al-Qurairy, Chris Hedges, Al-Qaeda, CBS News, Bush administration (43), Central Intelligence Agency, Mukhabarat, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, Francis Brooke, Lowell Bergman, Michael Isikoff, Mohammed al-Zubaidi, Jonathan Landay, John Walcott, Jamal al-Ghurairy, Jack Fairweather, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Christopher Buchanan, Iraqi National Congress

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda

Zaab Sethna of the Iraqi National Congress (INC) arranges for Iraqi defector Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri to be interviewed by Judith Miller of the New York Times. Miller, who has known Chalabi for about eight years (see May 1, 2003), immediately flies out to Bangkok for the interview. Her story is published on December 20, just three days after Haideri told his story to a CIA agent who subjected him to a polygraph and determined Haideri’s story was a complete fabrication (see December 17, 2001). Miller’s front-page article, titled “An Iraqi defector tells of work on at least 20 hidden weapons sites,” reports: “An Iraqi defector who described himself as a civil engineer, said he personally worked on renovations of secret facilities for biological, chemical and nuclear weapons in underground wells, private villas and under the Saddam Hussein Hospital in Baghdad as recently as a year ago.” If verified, Miller notes, “his allegations would provide ammunition to officials within the Bush administration who have been arguing that Mr. Hussein should be driven from power partly because of his unwillingness to stop making weapons of mass destruction, despite his pledges to do so.” Sethna also contacts freelance journalist Paul Moran. Moran is a former employee of the INC and has been employed for years by the Rendon Group, a firm specializing in “perception management” and which helped develop the INC (see May 1991). Moran’s on-camera interview with Haideri is broadcast worldwide by the Australian Broadcasting Corp. [New York Times, 12/20/2001; SBS Dateline, 7/23/2003; New York Review of Books, 2/26/2004; Rolling Stone, 11/17/2005] Reporter Jonathan Landay will later say that he and others were skeptical from the outset: “There were some red flags that the New York Times story threw out immediately, which caught our eye, immediately. The first was the idea that a Kurd—the enemy of Saddam—had been allowed into his most top secret military facilities. I don’t think so. That was, for me, the biggest red flag. And there were others, like the idea that Saddam Hussein would put a biological weapons facility under his residence. I mean, would you put a biological weapons lab under your living room? I don’t think so.” Landay’s partner Warren Strobel will add, “The first rule of being an intelligence agent, or a journalist, and they’re really not that different, is you’re skeptical of defectors, because they have a reason to exaggerate. They want to increase their value to you. They probably want something from you. Doesn’t mean they’re lying, but you should be—journalists are supposed to be skeptical, right? And I’m afraid the New York Times reporter in that case and a lot of other reporters were just not skeptical of what these defectors were saying. Nor was the administration…” [PBS, 4/25/2007]

Entity Tags: Zaab Sethna, Warren Strobel, Jonathan Landay, Judith Miller, Paul Moran, Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri, Ahmed Chalabi, Saddam Hussein

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Ahmed Chalabi.Ahmed Chalabi. [Source: Associated Press]In an interview with the Guardian of London, Ahmed Chalabi describes his plan to overthrow the Iraqi government. “The United States will help us to train and equip light anti-tank battalions, well-trained, and highly mobile. Those people, once on the ground, will be able to defeat Saddam’s forces.” Just 11 weeks of training would be adequate to train the Iraqi National Congress’ forces to defeat Iraq’s army of 400,000, he insists. “Chalabi gave a theoretical example: a rebel incursion across the Kuwaiti border to capture a frontier town. The rebel force would be protected from counter-attack by US air power, and within days the key southern city of Basra would fall as its garrison mutinied.” According to Chalabi, Saddam would quickly lose his grip on the country. “Once that happens, our problem will not be finding people—our problem will be absorbing people,” Chalabi claims. [New Yorker, 6/7/2004]

Entity Tags: Ahmed Chalabi

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Ahmed Chalabi, the leader of the Iraqi National Congress, says that “informants within the Iraqi intelligence community,” have revealed “that Hussein’s VX stockpile is far larger than the 3.9 tons Iraq reported—something UNSCOM inspectors have long suspected,” reports the Washington Post. “Chalabi also says that the VX had been converted into a dry salt for long term storage and was positioned in various sites across Iraq for use in the event of a foreign attack. UNSCOM officials said the account seemed credible, given what was learned about Iraq’s VX program in the final months of weapons inspections.” [Washington Post, 7/31/2002]

Entity Tags: Iraqi National Congress, Ahmed Chalabi, United Nations Special Commission

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

William Luti.William Luti. [Source: Helene C. Stikkel / Defense Department]Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas J. Feith and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, both staunch neoconservatives, rename the Northern Gulf Affairs Office on the Pentagon’s fourth floor (in the seventh corridor of D Ring) the “Office of Special Plans” (OSP) and increase its four-person staff to sixteen. [Knight Ridder, 8/16/2002; Los Angeles Times, 11/24/2002; New Yorker, 5/12/2003; Inter Press Service, 8/7/2003; Tom Paine (.com), 8/27/2003; American Conservative, 12/1/2003; Mother Jones, 1/2004] William Luti, a former navy officer and ex-aide to Vice President Cheney, is put in charge of the day-to-day operations [Guardian, 7/17/2003; Mother Jones, 1/2004] , apparently at the behest of Cheney. Luti was, according to former Defense Intelligence Agency official Patrick Lang, a member of Cheney’s “shadow National Security Council.” [Middle East Policy Council, 6/2004]
Transforming NESA - Luti worked for the Near East and South Asian Affairs desk (NESA) at the Pentagon since mid-2001. Lang later describes NESA as having been “a Pentagon backwater, responsible primarily for arranging bilateral meetings with military counterparts” from various nations. Before the Afghanistan war, NESA worked closely with the Defense Intelligence Agency’s Defense Intelligence Officer (DIO) for the Near East, South Asia, and Counterterrorism. During Luti’s first months at NESA, the DIO was Bruce Hardcastle. The Pentagon dismantled the entire DIO system, partly because of friction between Luti and Hardcastle (see Early 2002). Lang will write, “The roots of the friction between Hardcastle and Luti were straightforward: Hardcastle brought with him the combined wisdom of the professional military intelligence community. The community had serious doubts about the lethality of the threat from Saddam Hussein, the terrorism links and the status of the Iraqi WMD programs. Luti could not accept this. He knew what he wanted: to bring down Saddam Hussein. Hardcastle could not accept the very idea of allowing a desired outcome to shape the results of analysis.” Luti transforms NESA into what Lang will call “a ‘de facto’ arm of the vice president’s office,” and in the process shuts Hardcastle out of NESA (and later OSP) intelligence briefings. Luti does not report to either Feith or Donald Rumsfeld, as his chain of command delineates, but to Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby. OSP staffer Karen Kwiatkowski later recalls being “shocked” to learn that Luti reports to Libby and not to his putative Pentagon superiors. She will say, “In one of the first staff meetings that I attended there, Bill Luti said, ‘Well, did you get that thing over to Scooter? Scooter wants this, and somebody’s got to get it over to him, and get that up to him right away.’ After the meeting, I asked one of my co-workers, who’d been there longer, ‘Who is this Scooter?’ I was told, ‘That’s Scooter Libby over at the OVP (Office of the Vice President). He’s the Vice President’s chief of staff.’ Later I came to understand that Cheney had put Luti there.” Under Luti, NESA becomes a virtual adjunct to the OSP. [Inter Press Service, 8/7/2003; Mother Jones, 1/2004; Middle East Policy Council, 6/2004]
Strong Neoconservative Influence - The Office of Special Plans is staffed with a tight group of like-minded neoconservative ideologues, who are known advocates of regime change in Iraq. Notably, the staffers have little background in intelligence or Iraqi history and culture. [Salon, 7/16/2003; Inter Press Service, 8/7/2003; American Conservative, 12/1/2003; Mother Jones, 1/2004] Some of the people associated with this office were earlier involved with the Counter Terrorism Evaluation Group, also known as the “Wurmser-Maloof” project (see Shortly After September 11, 2001). They hire “scores of temporary ‘consultants‘… including like-minded lawyers, congressional staffers, and policy wonks from the numerous right-wing think-tanks in the US capital.” Neoconservative ideologues, like Richard Perle, Michael Ledeen, and Newt Gingrich, are afforded direct input into the Office of Special Plans. [Guardian, 7/17/2003; Mother Jones, 1/2004; Vanity Fair, 7/2006, pp. 150] Kwiatkowski later says she saw Ledeen going “in and out of there (OSP) all the time.” [Vanity Fair, 7/2006, pp. 150]
Planning for Post-Saddam Iraq - The official business of Special Plans is to help plan for post-Saddam Iraq. The office’s staff members presumably “develop defense policies aimed at building an international coalition, prepare the secretary of defense and his top deputies for interagency meetings, coordinate troop-deployment orders, craft policies for dealing with prisoners of war and illegal combatants, postwar assistance and reconstruction policy planning, postwar governance, Iraqi oil infrastructure policy, postwar Iraqi property disputes, war crimes and atrocities, war-plan review and, in their spare time, prepare congressional testimony for their principals.” [Insight, 12/2/2003]
Covert Source of 'Alternative' Intelligence - But according to numerous well-placed sources, the office becomes a source for many of the administration’s prewar allegations against Iraq. It is accused of exaggerating, politicizing, and misrepresenting intelligence, which is “stovepiped” to top administration officials who use the intelligence in their policy decisions on Iraq. [Knight Ridder, 8/16/2002; Los Angeles Times, 11/24/2002; New Yorker, 5/12/2003; Inter Press Service, 8/7/2003; Tom Paine (.com), 8/27/2003; American Conservative, 12/1/2003; Mother Jones, 1/2004; Daily Telegraph, 7/11/2004; CNN, 7/11/2004]
'Top Secret' - There are very few news reports in the American mainstream media that report on the office. In fact, the office is reportedly Top Secret. [Bamford, 2004, pp. 308] “We were instructed at a staff meeting that this office was not to be discussed or explained,” Kwiatkowski will later say, “and if people in the Joint Staff, among others, asked, we were to offer no comment.” [American Conservative, 12/1/2003]
Part of a 'Separate Government,' Powell Feels - Colin Powell is said to have felt that Cheney and the neoconservatives in this “Gestapo” office had established what was essentially a separate government. [Washington Post, 4/17/2004] Powell’s former chief of staff, Larry Wilkerson, is even more blunt. “When I say ‘secret cabal,’ I mean ‘secret cabal,’ he says of the White House officials behind the OSP. He compares Cheney, Rumsfeld, and the neoconservatives to the Jacobins, the radical zealots who plunged 18th-century France into the Reign of Terror. “I see them as messianic advocates of American power from one end of the globe, much as the Jacobins in France were messianic advocates of the French Revolution. I don’t care whether utopians are Vladimir Lenin on a sealed train to Moscow or Paul Wolfowitz. You’re never going to bring utopia, and you’re going to hurt a lot of people in the process.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 299-300] Among the claims critics find most troubling about the office are:
Heavy Reliance on Intelligence from Exiles and Defectors - The office relies heavily on accounts from Iraqi exiles and defectors associated with Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress (INC), long considered suspect by other US intelligence agencies. [New Yorker, 5/12/2003; Salon, 7/16/2003; Guardian, 7/17/2003; Inter Press Service, 8/7/2003; Independent, 9/30/2003; Mother Jones, 1/2004] One defector in particular, code-named “Curveball,” provides as much as 98 percent of the intelligence on Iraq’s alleged arsenal of biological weapons. [CNN, 7/11/2004] Much of the information provided by the INC’s sources consists of “misleading and often faked intelligence reports,” which often flow to Special Plans and NESA directly, “sometimes through Defense Intelligence Agency debriefings of Iraqi defectors via the Defense Human Intelligence Service and sometimes through the INC’s own US-funded Intelligence Collection Program, which was overseen by the Pentagon.” [Mother Jones, 1/2004] According to Kwiatkowski, the movement of intelligence from the INC to the Office of Special Plans is facilitated by a Colonel Bruner, a former military aide to Gingrich. [Newsweek, 12/15/2003; Mother Jones, 1/2004; Salon, 3/10/2004] Bruner “was Chalabi’s handler,” Kwiatkowski will tell Mother Jones. “He would arrange meetings with Chalabi and Chalabi’s folks.” [Mother Jones, 1/2004] Kwiatkowski also finds that OSP personnel, along with DIA and CIA officials, are taking part in the debriefing of INC informants. She will recall confronting one DIA officer, John Trigilio, about the practice: “I argued with [Tregilio] after the president’s Cincinnati speech (see October 5, 2002 and October 6, 2002). I told him that the president had made a number of statements that were just not supported by the intelligence. He said that the president’s statements are supported by intelligence, and he would finally say, ‘We have sources that you don’t have.’ I took it to mean the sources that Chalabi was bringing in for debriefing… Trigilio told me he participated in a number of debriefs, conducted in hotels downtown, or wherever, of people that Chalabi brought in. These debriefs had Trigilio from OSP, but also CIA and DIA participated… If [the information] sounded good, it would go straight to the OVP or elsewhere. I don’t put it out of possibility that the information would go straight to the media because of the (media’s) close relationship with some of the neoconservatives. So this information would make it straight out into the knowledge base without waiting for intelligence [analysts] to come by with their qualifications and reservations.” [Middle East Policy Council, 6/2004]
Cherry-Picked Intelligence - The Office of Special Plans purposefully ignores intelligence that undermines the case for war while exaggerating any leads that support it. “It wasn’t intelligence—it was propaganda,” Kwiatkowski will later explain. “They’d take a little bit of intelligence, cherry-pick it, make it sound much more exciting, usually by taking it out of context, often by juxtaposition of two pieces of information that don’t belong together.” [New York Times, 10/24/2002; New Yorker, 5/12/2003; Salon, 7/16/2003; Guardian, 7/17/2003; Inter Press Service, 8/7/2003; Independent, 9/30/2003; Mother Jones, 1/2004] “At the OSP, what they were doing was looking at all the intelligence they could find on WMD. That was the focal point, picking bits and pieces that were the most inflammatory, removing any context that might have been provided in the original intelligence report, that would have caused you to have some pause in believing it or reflected doubts that the intelligence community had, so if the intelligence community had doubts, those would be left out… They would take items that had occurred many years ago, and put them in the present tense, make it seem like they occurred not many years ago… But they would not talk about the dates; they would say things like, ‘He has continued since that time’ and ‘He could do it tomorrow,’ which of course, wasn’t true… The other thing they would do would be to take unrelated events that were reported in totally unrelated ways and make connections that the intelligence community had not made. This was primarily in discussing Iraq’s activities and how they might be related to al-Qaeda or other terrorist groups that might be against us, or against Israel… These kinds of links would be made. They would be made casually, and they would be made in a calculated way to form an image that is definitely not the image that anyone reading the original reports would have. The summaries that we would see from Intelligence did not match the kinds of things that OSP was putting out. So that is what I call propaganda development. It goes beyond the manipulation of intelligence to propaganda development.” [Middle East Policy Council, 6/2004]
No Intelligence Oversight - The OSP bypasses established oversight procedures by sending its intelligence assessments directly to the White House and National Security Council without having them first vetted by a review process involving other US intelligence agencies. [New Yorker, 5/12/2003; Salon, 7/16/2003; Guardian, 7/17/2003; Mother Jones, 1/2004] The people at Special Plans are so successful at bypassing conventional procedures, in part, because their neoconservative colleagues hold key positions in several other agencies and offices. Their contacts in other agencies include: John Bolton, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security; Bolton’s adviser, David Wurmser, a former research fellow on the Middle East at the American Enterprise Institute, who was just recently working in a secret Pentagon planning unit at Douglas Feith’s office (see Shortly After September 11, 2001); Elizabeth Cheney, deputy assistant secretary of state for Near East Affairs; Stephen Hadley, the deputy national security adviser; Elliott Abrams, the National Security Council’s top Middle East aide; and Richard Perle, Newt Gingrich, James Woolsey and Kenneth Adelman of the Defense Policy Board. The office provides very little information about its work to other US intelligence offices. [Salon, 7/16/2003; Guardian, 7/17/2003; Inter Press Service, 8/7/2003]
'Stealth Organization' - Greg Thielmann, the former director of the Strategic, Proliferation and Military Affairs Office at the State Department’s Intelligence Bureau, later says of the OSP: “It was a stealth organization. They didn’t play in the intelligence community proceedings that our office participated in. When the intelligence community met as a community, there was no OSP represented in these sessions. Because, if they had done that, they would have had to subject their views to peer review. Why do that when you can send stuff right in to the vice president?” [Middle East Policy Council, 6/2004; Unger, 2007, pp. 299] Lang will say in January 2004 that what happened was fundamentally different from anything that had happened under previous presidents. Cheney’s staff and allies “behaved as though they had seized control of the government in a ‘silent coup,’” The result, according to Lang, is “a highly corrupted system of intelligence and policymaking, one twisted to serve specific group goals, ends, and beliefs held to the point of religious faith.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 301]
Pressuring Intelligence Analysts - Retired Marine Lieutenant Colonel Dale Davis, who headed the International Programs Department at the Virginia Military Institute until March 2004, and an expert on Middle East affairs, later says he believes intelligence analysts at the CIA and other agencies were pressured indirectly. Davis will say, “By creating the OSP [Office of Special Plans], Cheney was able to say, ‘Hey, look at what we’re getting out of OSP. How come you guys aren’t doing as well? What is your response to what this alternative analysis that we’re receiving from the Pentagon says?’ That’s how you do it. You pressure people indirectly.” Vincent Cannistraro, a former senior counterterrorism official with the CIA, will agree: “Over a long period of time, there was a subtle process of pressure and intimidation until people started giving them what was wanted… When the Senate Intelligence Committee interviewed, under oath, over 100 analysts, not one of them said, ‘I changed my assessment because of pressure.‘… The environment was conditioned in such a way that the analyst subtly leaned toward the conceits of the policymakers… The intelligence community was vulnerable to the aggressiveness of neoconservative policymakers, particularly at the Pentagon and at the VP’s office. As one analyst said to me, ‘You can’t fight something with nothing, and those people had something. Whether it was right or wrong, fraudulent or specious, it almost didn’t make any difference, because the policymakers believed it already, and if you didn’t have hard countervailing evidence to persuade them, then you were at a loss.’” [Middle East Policy Council, 6/2004]
Strong Pro-Israel, Anti-Arab Biases - Lastly, the people involved in Special Plans openly exhibit strong pro-Israel and anti-Arab bias. The problem, note critics, is that the analysis of intelligence is supposed to be apolitical and untainted by ideological viewpoints. [American Conservative, 12/1/2003] According to a CIA intelligence official and four members of the Senate’s Intelligence Committee, Special Plans is the group responsible for the claim Bush will make in his 2003 State of the Union address that Iraq had attempted to procure uranium from an African country (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). [Nation, 6/19/2003; Information Clearing House, 7/16/2003]
Personal Grudges against Intelligence Community - The OSP reflects the personal grudges and ill will of many in the Office of the Vice President against the intelligence community, in part because of the CIA’s refusal to give much weight to the claims of Chalabi and the INC. “This had been a fight for such a long period of time, where people were so dug in,” a friend of one of Vice President Cheney’s senior staffers will later reflect. A colleague of the senior staff later says, “They so believed that the CIA were wrong, they were like, ‘We want to show these f_ckers that they are wrong.’” [New Republic, 11/20/2003]
Propaganda - Kwiatkowski will later recall that the OSP generated a large amount of what she terms propaganda, in the form of “talking points” used in briefings and in press conferences. “With the talking points, many of the propagandistic bullets that were given to use in papers for our superiors to inform them—internal propaganda—many of those same phrases and assumptions and tones, I saw in Vice President Cheney’s speeches and the president’s speeches,” she will say. “So I got the impression that those talking points were not just for us, but were the core of an overall agenda for a disciplined product, beyond the Pentagon. Over at the vice president’s office and the [neoconservative news magazine] Weekly Standard, the media, and the neoconservative talking heads and that kind of thing, all on the same sheet of music.” Kwiatkowski identifies Abram Shulsky, a neoconservative academic and recent Pentagon hire, as the source of many of these talking points. [Middle East Policy Council, 6/2004]
Denials, Counter-Accusations after Public Learns of OSP - After the existence of the Office of Special Plans is revealed to the public, the Pentagon will deny that it served as a direct conduit to the White House for misleading intelligence, instead claiming that its activities had been limited to postwar plans for Iraq. [New Yorker, 5/12/2003] And a December 2003 opinion piece published in Insight magazine will call the allegations surrounding the Office of Special Plans the work of conspiracy theorists. [Insight, 12/2/2003]

Entity Tags: Colonel Bruner, Colin Powell, Abram Shulsky, Craig Unger, Office of the Vice President, David Wurmser, Elizabeth (“Liz”) Cheney, Dale Davis, Douglas Feith, Donald Rumsfeld, James Woolsey, John Trigilio, Office of Special Plans, Kenneth Adelman, Stephen J. Hadley, Vincent Cannistraro, Lawrence Wilkerson, Karen Kwiatkowski, Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Newt Gingrich, Patrick Lang, Greg Thielmann, Elliott Abrams

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Neoconservative Influence, Domestic Propaganda

Mark Garlasco.Mark Garlasco. [Source: Canal+]The Defense Intelligence Agency [DIA] concludes early in 2003 that the intelligence being provided by dissidents supplied by Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress (INC) is of little value. The New York Times reports that an internal DIA study has found that “dissidents invented or exaggerated their credentials as people with direct knowledge of the Iraqi government and its suspected unconventional weapons program.” [New York Times, 9/29/2003; Independent, 9/30/2003] The study also reveals that more than $1 million was paid to Chalabi’s group for information about Saddam Hussein’s alleged banned weapons programs. [New York Times, 9/29/2003; Independent, 9/30/2003] Unnamed officials interviewed by the Times say the defectors were considered by the Defense Intelligence Agency to be dubious sources from the start. It is believed that the dissidents’ motivation for talking has been money and their opposition to Saddam Hussein. But the Times’ sources “would not speculate on whether the defectors had knowingly provided false information and, if so, what their motivation might have been.” [New York Times, 9/29/2003; Independent, 9/30/2003] Similarly, Mark Garlasco of the DIA will tell PBS Frontline in 2006, that the “INC was constantly shoving crap at us. They were providing information that they thought we wanted to hear. They were feeding the beast [referring to the Office of Special Plans and those within the administration who wanted to go to war with Iraq].” [PBS Frontline, 6/20/2006] The bureau chief of Knight Ridder Newspapers, John Walcott, will later say of Chalabi, “Chalabi’s motives were always perfectly clear in this and understandable. He was an Iraqi. He didn’t want his country run by a thug and a murderer, a mass murderer, and a crook. And everything he said had to be looked at in that light, and scrutinized in that light. And why anyone would give him a free pass, or anyone else a free pass for that matter, on a matter as important as going to war, is beyond me.” [PBS, 4/25/2007]

Entity Tags: Ahmed Chalabi, John Walcott, Iraqi National Congress, Defense Intelligence Agency, Mark Garlasco

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

According to multiple sources, the Defense Department’s head of intelligence, Stephen Cambone, dispatches a quasi-military team to Iraq in the weeks after the invasion. Cambone’s “off-the-books” team, consisting of four or five men, operates under the auspices of Defense Department official Douglas Feith and the Office of Special Plans (OSP—see September 2002). The team is tasked to secure the following, in order of priority: downed Navy pilot Scott Speicher, Iraq’s WMD stockpiles, and Saddam Hussein. The sources, who speak to reporter Larisa Alexandrovna in 2006 on the condition of anonymity, include three US intelligence sources and a person with close ties to the United Nations Security Council. Speicher, classified as “killed in action” (KIA) after being shot down in 1991 during Operation Desert Storm, was touted by Iraqi National Congress leader Ahmed Chalabi (see 1992-1996, November 6-8, 2001, December 20, 2001, and February 2002) as alive and held as a prisoner of war as part of Chalabi’s push for the US invasion of Iraq. Chalabi also told Bush administration officials of enormous stockpiles of chemical and biological WMD throughout Iraq (see Summer 2002, Fall 2002, and Early 2003). Cambone’s team operates outside the auspices of other officially sanctioned groups such as Task Force 20 and other units operating in Iraq before the invasion itself, though the team may be comprised of TF20 personnel. The team is not tasked with actually finding and destroying any WMD stockpiles so much as it is ordered to find such a stockpile and thereby solve what the UN Security Council source calls the administration’s “political WMD” problem. “They come in the summer of 2003, bringing in Iraqis, interviewing them,” the UN source later says. “Then they start talking about WMD and they say to [these Iraqi intelligence officers] that ‘Our president is in trouble. He went to war saying there are WMD and there are no WMD. What can we do? Can you help us?’” [Raw Story, 1/5/2006]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Ahmed Chalabi, Bush administration (43), Douglas Feith, Office of Special Plans, Michael Scott Speicher, Larisa Alexandrovna, Stephen A. Cambone

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

According to a poll just released by Dartmouth professor Benjamin Valentino, 63 percent of self-identified Republicans still believe that Iraq under Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction when the US invaded in March 2003 (see March 19, 2003). Twenty-seven percent of self-identified independents and 15 percent of self-identified Democrats hold that view. The question was: “Do you believe that the following statement is true or not true? ‘Iraq had weapons of mass destruction when the United States invaded in 2003.’” Reporter Dan Froomkin, commenting on the poll results, writes: “The Bush administration’s insistence that the Iraqi government had weapons of mass destruction and might give them to terrorists was a key selling point in its campaign to take the country to war (see September 30, 2001, 2002-2003, July 30, 2002, August 26, 2002, September 4, 2002, September 8, 2002, September 8, 2002, September 12, 2002, September 12, 2002, October 7, 2002, December 12, 2002, January 2003, January 9, 2003, 9:01 pm January 28, 2003, February 5, 2003, February 8, 2003, March 16-19, 2003, March 21, 2003, March 22, 2003, March 22, 2003, March 23, 2003, March 24, 2003, March 30, 2003, Late March 2003 and After, April 10, 2003, April 20, 2003, Between April 20, 2003 and April 30, 2003, May 28, 2003, May 29, 2003, June 2003, June 1, 2003, June 3, 2003, June 9, 2003, June 11, 2003, July 31, 2003, September 14, 2003, January 22, 2004, and March 24, 2004). It turned out to be untrue.… There is no reality-based argument that Iraq actually had WMD, after extensive searches found none (see 2002-March 2003, 2002, Mid-January 2002, March 22, 2002, May 2002-September 2002, September 2002, Late September 2002, September 24, 2002, September 28, 2002, Before October 7, 2002, December 2002, End of December 2002, December 3, 2002, January 9, 2003, January 28-29, 2003, February 20, 2003, March 7, 2003, March 8, 2003, May 4, 2003, May 25, 2003, May 30, 2003, June 2003, Early June 2003-Mid-June 2003, Between June 3, 2003 and June 17, 2003, Mid-June 2003, Early July 2003, July 11, 2003, July 20, 2003, July 29, 2003, July 30, 2003, August 16, 2003, October 2, 2003, October 2003, November 2, 2003, December 2003, December 2003, December 17, 2003, Mid-January 2004, January 20, 2004, January 23, 2004, January 27, 2004, January 28, 2004, February 8, 2004, and July 9, 2004), but this is hardly the first time many Americans have been certain of something that simply wasn’t true” (see May 14, 2003-May 18, 2003). The 65-question poll was conducted by YouGov from April 26 through May 2, 2012, and surveyed 1,056 respondents. It has a margin of error of plus/minus 3.18 percent. [Valentino, 6/20/2012 pdf file; Jim Lobe, 6/20/2012; Huffington Post, 6/21/2012]

Entity Tags: Dan Froomkin, Saddam Hussein, Benjamin Valentino

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

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