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Context of 'July 1998: Rumsfeld Commission Wildly Inflates Threat from Iran, North Korea'

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A team of young, mid-level CIA and DIA analysts, informally dubbed “Team A,” debates the neoconservative/hardline group of outside “analysts” known as “Team B” (see Early 1976) over the CIA’s estimates of Soviet military threats and intentions. The debate is a disaster for the CIA’s group. Team B uses its intellectual firepower and established reputations of members such as Richard Pipes and Paul Nitze to intimidate, overwhelm, and browbeat the younger, more inexperienced CIA analysts. “People like Nitze ate us for lunch,” recalls one member of Team A. “It was like putting Walt Whitman High versus the [NFL’s] Redskins. I watched poor GS-13s and GS-14s [middle-level analysts with modest experience and little real influence] subjected to ridicule by Pipes and Nitze. They were browbeating the poor analysts.” Howard Stoertz, the national intelligence officer who helped coordinate and guide Team A, will say in hindsight, “If I had appreciated the adversarial nature [of Team B], I would have wheeled up different guns.” Team A had prepared for a relatively congenial session of comparative analysis and lively discussion; Team B had prepared for war.
Ideology Trumps Facts - Neither Stoertz nor anyone else in the CIA appreciated how thoroughly Team B would let ideology and personalities override fact and real data. While CIA analysts are aware of how political considerations can influence the agency’s findings, the foundation of everything they do is factual—every conclusion they draw is based on whatever facts they can glean, and they are leery of extrapolating too much from a factual set. Team A is wholly unprepared for B’s assault on their reliance on facts, a line of attack the CIA analysts find incomprehensible. “In other words,” author Craig Unger will write in 2007, “facts didn’t matter.” Pipes, the leader of Team B, has argued for years that attempting to accurately assess Soviet military strength is irrelevant. Pipes says that because it is irrefutable that the USSR intends to obliterate the US, the US must immediately begin preparing for an all-out nuclear showdown, regardless of the intelligence or the diplomatic efforts of both sides. Team B is part of that preparation. [Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, 4/1993; Unger, 2007, pp. 53-57] Intelligence expert John Prados, who will examine the contesting reports, later says that while the CIA analysts believe in “an objective discoverable truth,” the Team B analysts engaged in an “exercise of reasoning from conclusions” that they justify, not in factual, but in “moral and ideological terms.” According to Prados’s analysis, Team B had no real interest in finding the truth. Instead, they employed what he calls an adversarial process similar to that used in courts of law, where two sides present their arguments and a supposedly impartial judge chooses one over the other. Team B’s intent was, in essence, to present the two opposing arguments to Washington policy makers and have them, in author J. Peter Scoblic’s words, “choose whichever truth they found most convenient.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 98]
Attacking the Intelligence Community - The first sentence of Team B’s report is a frontal assault on the US intelligence community. That community, the report says, had “substantially misperceived the motivations behind Soviet strategic programs, and thereby tended consistently to underestimate their intensity, scope, and implicit threat.” Team B writes that the intelligence community has failed to see—or deliberately refused to see—that the entire schema of detente and arms limitations negotiations are merely elements of the Soviet push for global domination.
Fighting and Winning a Nuclear War - Team B writes that the Soviets have already achieved measurable superiority in nuclear weaponry and other military benchmarks, and will use those advantages to cow and coerce the West into doing its bidding. The Soviets worship military power “to an extent inconceivable to the average Westerner,” the report asserts. The entire Soviet plan, the report goes on to say, hinges on its willingness to fight a nuclear war, and its absolute belief that it can win such a war. Within ten years, Team B states, “the Soviets may well expect to achieve a degree of military superiority which would permit a dramatically more aggressive pursuit of their hegemonial objectives.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 94-95]
Lack of Facts Merely Proof of Soviets' Success - One example that comes up during the debate is B’s assertion that the USSR has a top-secret nonacoustic antisubmarine system. While the CIA analysts struggle to point out that absolutely no evidence of this system exists, B members conclude that not only does the USSR have such a system, it has probably “deployed some operation nonacoustic systems and will deploy more in the next few years.” The absence of evidence merely proves how secretive the Soviets are, they argue. [Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, 4/1993; Unger, 2007, pp. 53-57] Anne Cahn, who will serve in the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency in the Carter administration, later says of this assertion, “They couldn’t say that the Soviets had acoustic means of picking up American submarines, because they couldn’t find it. So they said, well maybe they have a non-acoustic means of making our submarine fleet vulnerable. But there was no evidence that they had a non-acoustic system. They’re saying, ‘we can’t find evidence that they’re doing it the way that everyone thinks they’re doing it, so they must be doing it a different way. We don’t know what that different way is, but they must be doing it.‘… [The fact that the weapon doesn’t exist] doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. It just means that we haven’t found it yet.” Cahn will give another example: “I mean, they looked at radars out in Krasnoyarsk and said, ‘This is a laser beam weapon,’ when in fact it was nothing of the sort.… And if you go through most of Team B’s specific allegations about weapons systems, and you just examine them one by one, they were all wrong.… I don’t believe anything in Team B was really true.” [Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, 4/1993; Common Dreams (.org), 12/7/2004; BBC, 1/14/2005]
Soviet Strike Capabilities Grossly Exaggerated - Team B also hammers home warnings about how dangerous the Soviets’ Backfire bomber is. Later—too late for Team A—the Team B contentions about the Backfire’s range and refueling capability are proven to be grossly overestimated; it is later shown that the USSR has less than half the number of Backfires that B members loudly assert exist (500 in Team B’s estimation, 235 in reality). B’s assertions of how effectively the Soviets could strike at US missile silos are similarly exaggerated, and based on flawed assessment techniques long rejected by the CIA. The only hard evidence Team B produces to back their assertions is the official Soviet training manual, which claims that their air-defense system is fully integrated and functions flawlessly. The B analysts even assert, without evidence, that the Soviets have successfully tested laser and charged particle beam (CPB) weapons. [Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, 4/1993; Quarterly Journal of Speech, 5/2006 pdf file] (The facility at Semipalatansk that is supposedly testing these laser weapons for deployment is in reality a test site for nuclear-powered rocket engines.) [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 96]
Fundamental Contradiction - One befuddling conclusion of Team B concerns the Soviets’ ability to continue building new and expensive weapons. While B acknowledges “that the Soviet Union is in severe decline,” paradoxically, its members argue that the threat from the USSR is imminent and will grow ever more so because it is a wealthy country with “a large and expanding Gross National Product.”
Allegations 'Complete Fiction' - Cahn will say of Team B’s arguments, “All of it was fantasy.… [I]f you go through most of Team B’s specific allegations about weapons systems, and you just examine them one by one, they were all wrong.” The CIA lambasts Team B’s report as “complete fiction.” CIA director George H. W. Bush says that B’s approach “lends itself to manipulation for purposes other than estimative accuracy.” His successor, Admiral Stansfield Turner, will come to the same conclusion, saying, “Team B was composed of outsiders with a right-wing ideological bent. The intention was to promote competition by polarizing the teams. It failed. The CIA teams, knowing that the outsiders on B would take extreme views, tended to do the same in self-defense. When B felt frustrated over its inability to prevail, one of its members leaked much of the secret material of the proceedings to the press” (see Late November, 1976). Former CIA deputy director Ray Cline says Team B had subverted the National Intelligence Estimate on the USSR by employing “a kangaroo court of outside critics all picked from one point of view.” Secretary of State Henry Kissinger says that B’s only purpose is to subvert detente and sabotage a new arms limitation treaty between the US and the Soviet Union. [Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, 4/1993; Common Dreams (.org), 12/7/2004; BBC, 1/14/2005; Quarterly Journal of Speech, 5/2006 pdf file; Unger, 2007, pp. 53-57]
Costs of Rearmament - In 1993, after reviewing the original Team B documents, Cahn will reflect on the effect of the B exercise: “For more than a third of a century, assertions of Soviet superiority created calls for the United States to ‘rearm.’ In the 1980s, the call was heeded so thoroughly that the United States embarked on a trillion-dollar defense buildup. As a result, the country neglected its schools, cities, roads and bridges, and health care system. From the world’s greatest creditor nation, the United States became the world’s greatest debtor—in order to pay for arms to counter the threat of a nation that was collapsing.” [Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, 4/1993] Former Senator Gary Hart (D-CO) will agree: “The Pro-B Team leak and public attack on the conclusions of the NIE represent but one element in a series of leaks and other statements which have been aimed as fostering a ‘worst case’ view for the public of the Soviet threat. In turn, this view of the Soviet threat is used to justify new weapons systems.” [Quarterly Journal of Speech, 5/2006 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Howard Stoertz, Henry A. Kissinger, Stansfield Turner, Richard Pipes, J. Peter Scoblic, Ray Cline, George Herbert Walker Bush, Craig Unger, Defense Intelligence Agency, ’Team A’, Gary Hart, Anne Cahn, ’Team B’, Carter administration, Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, Paul Nitze, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: US International Relations, Neoconservative Influence

Strategic Defense Initiative logo.Strategic Defense Initiative logo. [Source: United States Missile Defense Agency]President Reagan announces his proposal for the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI, later nicknamed “Star Wars”), originally conceived two years earlier (see 1981). SDI is envisioned as a wide-ranging missile defense system that, if it works, will protect the United States from nuclear attacks from the Soviet Union or other countries with ballistic missiles, essentially rendering nuclear weapons, in Reagan’s words, “impotent and obsolete.” Reagan says, “I call upon the scientific community in our country, those who gave us nuclear weapons, to turn their great talents now to the cause of mankind and world peace, to give us the means of rendering these nuclear weapons impotent and obsolete.” Soviet leader Yuri Andropov’s response is unprececented in its anger (see March 27, 1983); Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrinyn says SDI will “open a new phase in the arms race.” [PBS, 2000; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 129]
US Hardliners 'Ecstatic' - Hardliners in and out of the Reagan administration are, in author J. Peter Scoblic’s characterization, “ecstatic, seeing SDI as the ultimate refutation of [the principle of] mutual assured destruction and therefore of the status quo, which left [the US] unable to seek victory over the Soviet Union.” The day after the speech, Senator Barry Goldwater (R-AZ) sends Reagan a one-sentence letter: “That was the best statement I have heard from any president.”
'Less Suicidal' Adjunct to First Strike - Scoblic will write that if SDI is implemented as envisioned, “[a]lthough the Soviets would still be able to inflict enough damage that a first strike by the United States would be suicidal, it would be ‘less suicidal’ to the extent that such a concept made sense, which some Reagan officials believed it did. In short, SDI was a better adjunct to a first strike than it was a standalone defense. That made it critically destabilizing, which is why missile defense had been outlawed by [earlier treaties] in the first place.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 129-130]

Entity Tags: Strategic Defense Initiative, J. Peter Scoblic, Ronald Reagan, Anatoly Dobrinyn, Barry Goldwater, Yuri Andropov

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

Conservative defense analyst Frank Gaffney calls for a second round of “Team B” competitive intelligence exercises (see November 1976), writing, “[N]ow is the time for a new Team B and a clear-eyed assessment of the abiding Soviet (and other) challenges that dictate a continued, robust US defense posture.” [Quarterly Journal of Speech, 5/2006 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Frank Gaffney, ’Team B’

Timeline Tags: Neoconservative Influence

Conservative New York Times columnist William Safire calls for a second “Team B” competitive intelligence analysis exercise (see November 1976), urging that “a prestigious Team B” be formed “to suggest an alternative Russia policy to Mr. Clinton.” Safire ignores the fact that the Team B procedures and findings were discredited almost immediately (see Late November, 1976). [Quarterly Journal of Speech, 5/2006 pdf file]

Entity Tags: William Safire, ’Team B’, Clinton administration

Timeline Tags: Neoconservative Influence

1996: Wolfowitz Argues for New Team B Exercise

Neoconservative Paul Wolfowitz, currently a professor at Johns Hopkins University, argues strenuously for the need for a second “Team B” competitive intelligence analysis (see November 1976) of the US’s foreign policies as the Cold War is ending. Wolfowitz, himself a former Team B member, writes: “The idea that somehow you are saving work for the policymaker by eliminating serious debate is wrong. Why not aim, instead, at a document that actually says there are two strongly argued positions on the issue? Here are the facts and evidence supporting one position, and here are the facts and evidence supporting the other, even though that might leave the poor policymakers to make a judgment as to which one they think is correct.” Wolfowitz does not consider the fact that the Team B procedures and findings were almost immediately discredited (see Late November, 1976). [Quarterly Journal of Speech, 5/2006 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Paul Wolfowitz, ’Team B’

Timeline Tags: Neoconservative Influence

An independent panel issues its report on recently released National Intelligence Estimate NIE 59-19, “Emerging Missile Threats to North America During the Next 15 Years.” The panel, chaired by former CIA Director Robert Gates, was commissioned by Congressional conservatives as a “Team B” (see November 1976) to challenge and disprove the NIE’s finding that no rogue state such as North Korea or Iraq would be able to develop a nuclear-tipped ballistic missile capable of striking the continental US or Canada until at least 2011. Gates’s panel includes former ambassador Richard Armitage; nuclear scientist Sidney Drell; former State Department and National Security Council official Arnold Kanter; Brookings Institution fellow Janne Nolan; former Defense Department official and RAND Corporation president Henry Rowen; and Major General Jasper Welch, a retired Air Force flag officer and former National Security Council staffer. The panel’s findings enrage those conservatives who pushed for its creation; the panel not only agrees with the NIE’s conclusions about the capabilities of those rogue nations, but finds that the Congressional conservatives’ allegations that the NIE had been “politicized” and written to satisfy Clinton administration positions have no basis in fact. “The panel found no evidence of politicization,” it reports, and adds: “There was no breach of the integrity of the intelligence process. Beyond this, the panel believes that unsubstantiated allegations challenging the integrity of intelligence community analysts by those who simply disagree with their conclusions, including members of Congress, are irresponsible. Intelligence forecasts do not represent ‘revealed truth,’ and it should be possible to disagree with them without attacking the character and integrity of those who prepared them—or the integrity of the intelligence process itself.” [Central Intelligence Agency, 12/23/1996; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 172] Congressional conservatives will demand, and receive, another study of the NIE that will provide them with conclusions more to their liking (see July 1998).

Entity Tags: Sidney Drell, Robert M. Gates, Richard Armitage, Jasper Welch, Clinton administration, Arnold Kanter, ’Team B’, Henry S. Rowen, Janne Nolan

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

The “Team B” intelligence analysis exercise of 1975, which so disastrously overestimated the Soviet threat (see November 1976), returns in the form of the “Rumsfeld Commission,” which issues its report this month. Conservative commentators and former participants have called for a second “Team B”-style competitive intelligence analysis ever since the fall of the Berlin Wall (see 1990, 1994, and 1996). The “Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States” (see July 15, 1998), led by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, is packed with conservative and neoconservative hardliners much as the original Team B cadre was; it includes some former Team B members such as former Pentagon official Paul Wolfowitz. Like the original Team B, the Rumsfeld Commission challenges CIA estimates of foreign military threats; like the original Team B, the Rumsfeld Commission wildly overestimates the impending threat from countries such as Iran and North Korea, both of which it judges will be capable of striking the US with nuclear weapons in five years or perhaps less. The original Team B findings impelled thirty years of full-bore military spending by the US to counter a Soviet threat that was fading, not growing; the Rumsfeld Commission’s equally alarmist findings impels a new push for spending on the so-called “Star Wars” ballistic missile defense system (see March 23, 1983). Conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly will observe that the Rumsfeld Commission’s report “provided Congress with enough talking points to win the argument [on missile defense] both in the strategic arena and in the 20-second soundbite television debates.” Former State Department intelligence analyst Greg Thielmann will later observe, “time has proven Rumsfeld’s predictions dead wrong.” Author and professor Gordon R. Mitchell will write that the second “Team B” exercise shows “that by 1998, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz had honed the art of intelligence manipulation through use of competitive intelligence analysis. Retrospective assessments revealing serious flaws in the Team B work products came long after political officials had already converted the alarmist reports into political support for favored military policies.” [Quarterly Journal of Speech, 5/2006 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Strategic Defense Initiative, ’Team B’, Central Intelligence Agency, Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States, Donald Rumsfeld, Gordon R. Mitchell, Phyllis Schlafly, Paul Wolfowitz, Greg Thielmann

Timeline Tags: Neoconservative Influence

Congressional conservatives receive a second “alternative assessment” of the nuclear threat facing the US that is far more to their liking than previous assessments (see December 23, 1996). A second “Team B” panel (see November 1976), the Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States, led by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and made up of neoconservatives such as Paul Wolfowitz and Stephen Cambone, finds that, contrary to earlier findings, the US faces a growing threat from rogue nations such as Iran, Iraq, and North Korea, who can, the panel finds, inflict “major destruction on the US within about five years of a decision.” This threat is “broader, more mature, and evolving more rapidly” than previously believed. The Rumsfeld report also implies that either Iran or North Korea, or perhaps both, have already made the decision to strike the US with nuclear weapons. Although Pakistan has recently tested nuclear weapons (see May 28, 1998), it is not on the list. Unfortunately for the integrity and believability of the report, its methodology is flawed in the same manner as the previous “Team B” reports (see November 1976); according to author J. Peter Scoblic, the report “assume[s] the worst about potential US enemies without actual evidence to support those assumptions.” Defense analyst John Pike is also displeased with the methodology of the report. Pike will later write: “Rather than basing policy on intelligence estimates of what will probably happen politically and economically and what the bad guys really want, it’s basing policy on that which is not physically impossible. This is really an extraordinary epistemological conceit, which is applied to no other realm of national policy, and if manifest in a single human being would be diagnosed as paranoia.” [Guardian, 10/13/2007; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 172-173] Iran, Iraq, and North Korea will be dubbed the “Axis of Evil” by George W. Bush in his 2002 State of the Union speech (see January 29, 2002).

Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld, J. Peter Scoblic, Paul Wolfowitz, Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States, Stephen A. Cambone, John Pike

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

Joseph Wilson.Joseph Wilson. [Source: public domain]The CIA sends Joseph C. Wilson, a retired US diplomat, to Niger to investigate claims that Iraq had sought to purchase uranium from that country (see February 13, 2002). The CIA pays Wilson’s expenses for the trip, but does not pay him in any other respect. The identity of the party who requests the mission is later disputed. While Wilson will claim the trip was requested directly by Dick Cheney’s office, other sources will indicate that the CIA had decided (see February 19, 2002) that a delegation to Niger was needed in order to investigate questions raised by one of Dick Cheney’s aides (see (February 13, 2002)). [New York Times, 5/6/2003; Washington Post, 6/12/2003 pdf file; Independent, 6/29/2003; New York Times, 7/6/2003; US Congress, 7/7/2004]
Reason behind Request - Former CIA analyst Melvin Goodman will later note that “Wilson was asked to go to Niger for one specific purpose. It was the CIA’s idea to get Cheney off their backs. Cheney would not get off their backs about the yellowcake documents. They couldn’t get Cheney to stop pressing the issue. He insisted that was the proof of reconstitution of [Iraq’s nuclear] program.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 214]
Normal Skepticism - Wilson goes into the situation with a healthy dose of skepticism. “My skepticism was the same as it would have been with any unverified intelligence report, because there is a lot of stuff that comes over the transom every day,” he will recall in 2006. Wilson knows nothing of the influence of the Pentagon neoconservatives (see July 8, 1996, January 26, 1998, July 1998, September 2000, Late December 2000 and Early January 2001, Shortly after January 20, 2001, and Shortly After September 11, 2001) or the growing rift in the intelligence community over the reports: “I was aware that the neocons had a growing role in government and that they were interested in Iraq,” he will recall. “But the administration had not articulated a policy at this stage.” He is not given a copy of the Niger documents before leaving for Africa, nor is he told of their history. “To the best of my knowledge, the documents were not in the possession of the [CIA] at the time I was briefed,” he will recall. “The discussion was whether or not this report could be accurate. During this discussion, everyone who knew something shared stuff about how the uranium business worked, and I laid out what I knew about the government in Niger, what information they could provide.” With this rather sketchy preparation, Wilson leaves for Niger. [Unger, 2007, pp. 240; Wilson, 2007, pp. 113] Wilson’s wife, senior CIA case officer Valerie Plame Wilson, will later write, “He figured that if the vice president had asked a serious and legitimate question, it deserved a serious answer and he would try to help find it.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 111]
No Trouble Finding Information - Wilson, who knows the Nigerien government and many of its officials, has little trouble finding the information he needs in the following week. In 2006, he will recall: “Niger has a simplistic government structure. Both the minister of mines and the prime minister had gone through the mines. The French were managing partners of the international consortium [which handles Niger’s uranium]. The French mining company actually had its hands on the project. Nobody else in the consortium had operators on the ground.” Wilson also personally knows Wissam al-Zahawie, Iraq’s ambassador to the Vatican who supposedly negotiated the uranium deal with Niger (see February 1999). Wilson will later observe: “Wissam al-Zahawie was a world-class opera singer, and he went to the Vatican as his last post so he could be near the great European opera houses in Rome. He was not in the Ba’athist inner circle. He was not in Saddam [Hussein]‘s tribe. The idea that he would be entrusted with the super-secret mission to buy 500 tons of uranium from Niger is out of the question.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 240-241] Wilson meets with, among other officials, Niger’s former minister of mines, Mai Manga. As later reported by the Senate Intelligence Committee (see July 9, 2004), Manga tells Wilson “there were no sales outside of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) channels since the mid-1980s,” and he “knew of no contracts signed between Niger and any rogue states for the sale of uranium.” Manga says a “French mining consortium controls Nigerien uranium mining and keeps the uranium very tightly controlled from the time it is mined until the time it is loaded onto ships in Benin for transport overseas,” and, “it would be difficult, if not impossible, to arrange a special shipment of uranium to a pariah state given these controls.” [CounterPunch, 11/9/2005]
Meeting with US Ambassador - Wilson arrives in Niger on February 26, two days after Marine General Carlton W. Fulford Jr.‘s meeting (see February 24, 2002) with Nigerien officials. Wilson first meets with US Ambassador to Niger Barbro Owens-Kirkpatrick, a veteran Foreign Service official, whom Wilson will later describe as “crisp” and well-informed. Over tea in the US Embassy offices in Niamey, Niger’s capital, Owens-Kirkpatrick tells Wilson that she has already concluded that the allegations of uranium sales to Iraq are unfounded. “She had already debunked them in her reports to Washington,” Wilson will later recall. “She said, yeah, she knew a lot about this particular report. She thought she had debunked it—and, oh, by the way, a four-star Marine Corps general had been down there as well—Carlton Fulford. And he had left satisfied there was nothing to report.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 20-22]
Details of Alleged Uranium Production - Niger extracts uranium from two mines, both located in remote locations in the Sahara Desert. It takes well over a day to drive from the mines to Niamey. The mines are owned by a consortium of foreign companies and the Nigerien government, and managed by a French mining company, COGEMA. Because of a recent upswing in the production of Canadian uranium, Niger’s uranium is mined at a net loss, and its only customers are consortium members. Wilson will later write, “[T]he Nigerien government has sold no uranium outside the consortium for two decades.” If Iraq had bought 500 tons of uranium, as the story is told, that would have represented a 40 percent production increase. “There is no doubt,” Wilson will later write, “that such a significant shift from historic production schedules would have been absolutely impossible to hide from the other partners, and most certainly from the managing partner, COGEMA. Everyone involved would have known about it.” Any Nigerien government decision to produce such an amount of uranium would have involved numerous government officials and many well-documented meetings. Because the transaction would have been to a foreign country, Niger’s Foreign Ministry would also have been involved in the decision. To sell Iraq uranium during that time would have been a violation of international law and of UN sanctions against Iraq, a weighty decision that would have ultimately been made by the president of Niger in conjuction with the foreign minister and the minister of mines. Such a decision would have been published in the Nigerien equivalent of the Federal Register and would have dramatic tax and revenue implications. The unexpected huge infusion of cash from the sale would have had a strong impact on the Nigerien economy, and would have been much anticipated and talked about throughout the Nigerien business community. [Wilson, 2004, pp. 22-25]
Off-the-Books Production Virtually Impossible - It is conceivable that such an enormous operation could have been conducted entirely “off the books,” Wilson will write, but virtually impossible to pull off. True, a military junta was in power at the time of the alleged sale, one that felt no responsibility or accountability to the Nigerien people. But even a secret transaction would have been impossible to conceal. Such a transaction would have involved thousands of barrels of clandestinely shipped uranium, extensive and complex adjustments to shipping schedules, and other ramifications. “It simply could not have happened without a great many people knowing about it, and secrets widely known do not remain hidden for long. And again, COGEMA, as the managing partner, would have had to know and be complicit.” Add to that Niger’s dependence on US foreign economic aid and its unwillingness to threaten the loss of that aid by secretly shipping uranium to a country that the US considers a dangerous rogue nation. All told, Wilson concludes, the possibility of such a clandestine operation is remote in the extreme. [Wilson, 2004; Wilson, 2004]
1999 Meeting with Iraqi Official - While speaking with a US Embassy official, Wilson learns about a 1999 meeting between the embassy official and an Iraqi representative in Algiers, perhaps in concert with a similar meeting between Iraqi officials and Niger’s prime minister (see June 1999). [Wilson, 2004, pp. 27-28]
Confirmation that Allegations are Unrealistic - After spending several days talking with current government officials, former government officials, and people associated with the country’s uranium business, Wilson concludes the rumors are completely false. He will later call the allegations “bogus and unrealistic.” [Washington Post, 6/12/2003 pdf file; Knight Ridder, 6/13/2003; Independent, 6/29/2003; New York Times, 7/6/2003; CBS News, 7/11/2003; Vanity Fair, 1/2004; Wilson, 2004, pp. 20-28, 424; Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 282; Wilson, 2007, pp. 113]

Entity Tags: Barbro Owens-Kirkpatrick, Wissam al-Zahawie, Carlton W. Fulford, COGEMA, Mai Manga, Valerie Plame Wilson, Muhammad Saeed al-Sahhaf, Melvin A. Goodman, Central Intelligence Agency, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Joseph C. Wilson

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

In a speech at the Nixon Center, neoconservative guru Richard Perle (see 1965 and Early 1970s) attempts to drastically rewrite the history of the Bush administration and his role in the invasion of Iraq. The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank writes that listening to Perle gave him “a sense of falling down the rabbit hole.” Milbank notes: “In real life, Perle was the ideological architect of the Iraq war and of the Bush doctrine of preemptive attack (see 1987-2004, Late December 2000 and Early January 2001, March, 2001, Shortly After September 11, 2001, September 15, 2001, September 19-20, 2001, November 14, 2001, November 14, 2001, November 18-19, 2001, May 2002, August 16, 2002, November 20, 2002, January 9, 2003, February 25, 2003, and March 27, 2003). But at yesterday’s forum of foreign policy intellectuals, he created a fantastic world in which:
bullet Perle is not a neoconservative.
bullet Neoconservatives do not exist.
bullet Even if neoconservatives did exist, they certainly couldn’t be blamed for the disasters of the past eight years.” [Washington Post, 2/20/2009]
Perle had previously advanced his arguments in an article for National Interest magazine. [National Interest, 1/21/2009]
'No Such Thing as a Neoconservative Foreign Policy' - Perle tells the gathering, hosted by National Interest: “There is no such thing as a neoconservative foreign policy. It is a left critique of what is believed by the commentator to be a right-wing policy.” Perle has shaped the nation’s foreign policy since 1974 (see August 15, 1974, Early 1976, 1976, and Early 1981). He was a key player in the Reagan administration’s early attempts to foment a nuclear standoff with the Soviet Union (see Early 1981 and After, 1981 and Beyond, September 1981 through November 1983, May 1982 and After, and October 11-12, 1986). Perle denies any real involvement with the 1996 “Clean Break” document, which Milbank notes “is widely seen as the cornerstone of neoconservative foreign policy” (see July 8, 1996 and March 2007). Perle explains: “My name was on it because I signed up for the study group. I didn’t approve it. I didn’t read it.” In reality, Perle wrote the bulk of the “Clean Break” report. Perle sidesteps questions about the letters he wrote (or helped write) to Presidents Clinton and Bush demanding the overthrow of Saddam Hussein (see January 26, 1998, February 19, 1998, and September 20, 2001), saying, “I don’t have the letters in front of me.” He denies having any influence on President Bush’s National Security Strategy, which, as Milbank notes, “enshrin[ed] the neoconservative themes of preemptive war and using American power to spread freedom” (see May 1, 2001), saying: “I don’t know whether President Bush ever read any of those statements [he wrote]. My guess is he didn’t.” Instead, as Perle tells the audience: “I see a number of people here who believe and have expressed themselves abundantly that there is a neoconservative foreign policy and it was the policy that dominated the Bush administration, and they ascribe to it responsibility for the deplorable state of the world. None of that is true, of course.” Bush’s foreign policy had “no philosophical underpinnings and certainly nothing like the demonic influence of neoconservatives that is alleged.” And Perle claims that no neoconservative ever insisted that the US military should be used to spread democratic values (see 1965, Early 1970s, Summer 1972 and After, August 15, 1974, 1976, November 1976, Late November, 1976, 1977-1981, 1981 and Beyond, 1984, Late March 1989 and After, 1991-1997, March 8, 1992, July 1992, Autumn 1992, July 8, 1996, Late Summer 1996, Late Summer 1996, 1997, November 12, 1997, January 26, 1998, February 19, 1998, May 29, 1998, July 1998, February 1999, 2000, September 2000, November 1, 2000, January 2001, January 22, 2001 and After, March 12, 2001, Shortly After September 11, 2001, September 20, 2001, September 20, 2001, September 20, 2001, September 24, 2001, September 25-26, 2001, October 29, 2001, October 29, 2001, November 14, 2001, November 20, 2001, November 29-30, 2001, December 7, 2001, February 2002, April 2002, April 23, 2002, August 6, 2002, September 4, 2002, November 2002-December 2002, November 12, 2002, February 2003, February 13, 2003, March 19, 2003, December 19, 2003, March 2007, September 24, 2007, and October 28, 2007), saying, “I can’t find a single example of a neoconservative supposed to have influence over the Bush administration arguing that we should impose democracy by force.” His strident calls for forcible regime change in Iran were not what they seemed, he says: “I’ve never advocated attacking Iran. Regime change does not imply military force, at least not when I use the term” (see July 8-10, 1996, Late Summer 1996, November 14, 2001, and January 24, 2004).
Challenged by Skeptics - Former Reagan administration official Richard Burt (see Early 1981 and After and May 1982 and After), who challenged Perle during his time in Washington, takes issue with what he calls the “argument that neoconservatism maybe actually doesn’t exist.” He reminds Perle of the longtime rift between foreign policy realists and neoconservative interventionists, and argues, “You’ve got to kind of acknowledge there is a neoconservative school of thought.” Perle replies, “I don’t accept the approach, not at all.” National Interest’s Jacob Heilbrunn asks Perle to justify his current position with the title of his 2003 book An End to Evil. Perle claims: “We had a publisher who chose the title. There’s hardly an ideology in that book.” (Milbank provides an excerpt from the book that reads: “There is no middle way for Americans: It is victory or holocaust. This book is a manual for victory.”) Perle blames the news media for “propagat[ing] this myth of neoconservative influence,” and says the term “neoconservative” itself is sometimes little more than an anti-Semitic slur. After the session, the moderator asks Perle how successful he has been in making his points. “I don’t know that I persuaded anyone,” he concedes. [Washington Post, 2/20/2009]
'Richard Perle Is a Liar' - Harvard professor Stephen Walt, a regular columnist for Foreign Policy magazine, writes flatly, “Richard Perle is a liar.” He continues: “[K]ey neoconservatives like Douglas Feith, I. Lewis ‘Scooter’ Libby, Paul Wolfowitz, and others [were] openly calling for regime change in Iraq since the late 1990s and… used their positions in the Bush administration to make the case for war after 9/11, aided by a chorus of sympathetic pundits at places like the American Enterprise Institute, and the Weekly Standard. The neocons were hardly some secret cabal or conspiracy, as they were making their case loudly and in public, and no serious scholar claims that they ‘bamboozled’ Bush and Cheney into a war. Rather, numerous accounts have documented that they had been openly pushing for war since 1998 and they continued to do so after 9/11.… The bottom line is simple: Richard Perle is lying. What is disturbing about this case is is not that a former official is trying to falsify the record in such a brazen fashion; Perle is hardly the first policymaker to kick up dust about his record and he certainly won’t be the last. The real cause for concern is that there are hardly any consequences for the critical role that Perle and the neoconservatives played for their pivotal role in causing one of the great foreign policy disasters in American history. If somebody can help engineer a foolish war and remain a respected Washington insider—as is the case with Perle—what harm is likely to befall them if they lie about it later?” [Foreign Policy, 2/23/2009]

Entity Tags: Richard Perle, Jacob Heilbrunn, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, George W. Bush, Douglas Feith, Dana Milbank, Bush administration (43), Stephen Walt, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Burt

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Neoconservative Influence


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