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Context of 'July 23, 1986: CIA Director Casey Plots to Break Stalled Arms-for-Hostages Deal'

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Imad Mugniyah.
Imad Mugniyah. [Source: FBI]In February 1994, double agent Ali Mohamed goes to Sudan and trains Osama bin Laden’s bodyguards (see February 4-5, 1994 and Shortly Afterwards). While there, Mohamed arranges security for a meeting between bin Laden and Imad Mugniyah, the security chief for the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah who is said to have directed the 1983 bombing of the US Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon (see April 18-October 23, 1983). Bin Laden and Mugniyah are said to discuss upcoming operations. Mugniyah is believed to be involved in the hijacking of an Air India jet in 1999 where passengers will be exchanged for three militants in Indian prisons, including Saeed Sheikh, who will be the paymaster for 9/11 (see December 24-31, 1999). Mohamed will later claim in court that Hezbollah subsequently provided explosives training for al-Qaeda and Islamic Jihad. [Los Angeles Times, 10/21/2000; Raleigh News and Observer, 10/21/2001; Chicago Tribune, 12/11/2001; LA Weekly, 5/24/2002] A number of al-Qaeda operatives train with Hezbollah in Lebanon after this meeting (see Mid-1990s). Dan Benjamin and Steve Simon, director and senior director of the National Security Council’s counterterrorism team, will later write that “The meeting between the two preeminent terrorists of the era reportedly did take place, and there was an agreement to cooperate. But there the record ends; there is little evidence that a long-term bond between the Sunni and Shiite groups was ever formed.” [Benjamin and Simon, 2005, pp. 128] Mohamed will return to the US after an FBI agent phones him and asks to speak to him about an upcoming trial (see December 9, 1994).

Entity Tags: Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Imad Mugniyah, Ali Mohamed, Daniel Benjamin, Hezbollah, Al-Qaeda, Steve Simon, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Imad Mugniyah, holding gun, in a 1985 TWA hijacking.Imad Mugniyah, holding gun, in a 1985 TWA hijacking. [Source: ABC News]The CIA gains intelligence that could lead to the capture of Imad Mugniyah, one of the world’s most wanted people, but the Saudi government refuses to help. Mugniyah is a leader of the Hezbollah militant group and is wanted for a role in bombings that killed US soldiers in Lebanon (see April 18-October 23, 1983). He also allegedly met Osama bin Laden in 1994 (see Shortly After February 1994). In 2008, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will claim that in 1996, the CIA learns that Mugniyah has boarded a commercial airplane in Khartoum, Sudan, that is due to stop in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. US officials appeal to Saudi officials to arrest him when he arrives, but the Saudis refuse. Clarke will claim: “We raised the level of appeals all the way through Bill Clinton who was on the phone at three in the morning appealing to [Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah] to grab him. Instead, the Saudis refused to let the plane land and it continued on to Damascus.” Mugniyah will remain free until 2008, when he will be assassinated. [ABC News, 2/13/2008]

Entity Tags: Richard A. Clarke, Hezbollah, Imad Mugniyah, Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Richard Perle, chairman of the Defense Policy Board, says in a speech delivered at the Foreign Policy Research Institute’s annual dinner that Saddam Hussein “is busily at work on a nuclear weapon” and that “it’s simply a matter of time before he acquires nuclear weapons.” His assertion is based on information that was provided to him personally by Iraqi defector Khidir Hamza. According to Perle, Hamza said that after the Israeli strikes against Iraq’s Osirak reactor in 1981 (see June 7, 1981), Iraq built some 400 uranium enrichment facilities all over the country in order to protect its nuclear program from future attacks. “Some look like farmhouses, some of them look like classrooms, some of them look like warehouses. You’ll never find them. They don’t turn out much but every day they turn out a little bit of nuclear materials.” [Foreign Policy Research Institute, 11/14/2001]

Entity Tags: Khidir Hamza, Richard Perle

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Neoconservative Influence

Laurent Murawiec.Laurent Murawiec. [Source: Hudson Institute]A briefing given to a top Pentagon advisory group by RAND Corp. analyst Laurent Murawiec states: “The Saudis are active at every level of the terror chain, from planners to financiers, from cadre to foot-soldier, from ideologist to cheerleader.… Saudi Arabia supports our enemies and attacks our allies.” Saudi Arabia is called “the kernel of evil, the prime mover, the most dangerous opponent.” This position still runs counter to official US policy, but the Washington Post says it “represents a point of view that has growing currency within the Bush administration.” The briefing suggests that the Saudis be given an ultimatum to stop backing terrorism or face seizure of their oil fields and financial assets invested in the United States. The advisory group, the Defense Policy Board, is headed by Richard Perle. [Washington Post, 8/6/2002] An international controversy follows the public reports of the briefing in August 2002 (for instance, [Scotsman, 8/12/2002] ). In an abrupt change, the media starts calling the Saudis enemies, not allies, of the US. Slate reports details of the briefing the Post failed to mention. The briefing states, “There is an ‘Arabia,’ but it needs not be ‘Saudi.’” The conclusion of the briefing: “Grand strategy for the Middle East: Iraq is the tactical pivot. Saudi Arabia the strategic pivot. Egypt the prize.” [Slate, 8/7/2002] Note that a similar meeting of the Defense Policy Board appears to have preceded and affected the United States’ decision to take a warlike stance against Iraq (see September 19-20, 2001). Murawiec is later identified as a former editor of the Executive Intelligence Review, a magazine controlled by Lyndon LaRouche, an infamous far-right conspiracy theorist and convicted felon. Perle invited Murawiec to make his presentation. [New Yorker, 3/17/2003]

Entity Tags: Saudi Arabia, Richard Perle, Lyndon LaRouche, Laurent Murawiec, RAND Corporation, Defense Policy Board, Bush administration (43), Executive Intelligence Review

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is subjected to intense questioning by Senator Robert Byrd about the United States’ role in providing Iraq with the materials for its chemical and biological weapons and Rumsfeld’s December 20, 1983 visit to Baghdad (see December 20, 1983). [US Congress, 9/20/2002]
Byrd - “Mr. Secretary, to your knowledge, did the United States help Iraq to acquire the building blocks of biological weapons during the Iran-Iraq War? Are we, in fact, now facing the possibility of reaping what we have sown?” [US Congress, 9/20/2002]
Rumsfeld - “Certainly not to my knowledge. I have no knowledge of United States companies or government being involved in assisting Iraq develop chemical, biological or nuclear weapons.” [US Congress, 9/20/2002]
Byrd - “[After reading Mr. Rumsfeld excerpts from a Newsweek article] Let me ask you again: Did the United States help Iraq to acquire the building blocks of biological weapons during the Iran-Iraq War? Are we, in fact, now facing the possibility of reaping what we have sown?” [US Congress, 9/20/2002]
Rumsfeld - “I have not read the article…. I was, for a period in late ‘83 and early ‘84, asked by President Reagan to serve as Middle East envoy after the Marines—241 Marines were killed in Beirut. As part of my responsibilities I did visit Baghdad. I did meet with Mr. Tariq Aziz. And I did meet with Saddam Hussein and spent some time visiting with them about the war they were engaged in with Iran. At the time our concern, of course, was Syria and Syria’s role in Lebanon and Lebanon’s role in the Middle East and the terrorist acts that were taking place. As a private citizen I was assisting only for a period of months. I have never heard anything like what you’ve read, I have no knowledge of it whatsoever, and I doubt it.” [US Congress, 9/20/2002]

Entity Tags: Robert C. Byrd, Donald Rumsfeld

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, US-Iraq 1980s

Former Democratic congressman Lee Hamilton is considered by his party for the position of vice chairman of the 9/11 Commission, but does not get the appointment, which goes to former Senator George Mitchell (see November 27, 2002). Hamilton, who is nonetheless appointed to the Commission as an ordinary member, is rejected as vice chairman by Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle and other leading Democrats because he is seen as too soft on Republicans—he lacks “a taste for partisan fights,” and seems “always to assume the best about people, Republicans included.” He is also friends with two of the investigation’s targets, Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who he calls “Dick” and “Don,” and Cheney’s White House counsel, David Addington. He got to know Cheney during the Iran-Contra investigation, when Cheney was the ranking Republican on the committee and Hamilton failed to distinguish himself (see Mid-1980s), as he did over the “October Surprise” affair (see 1992-January 1993). Author Philip Shenon will comment, “While [Hamilton] might disagree with Cheney and Rumsfeld on policy, Hamilton trusted both men always to tell the truth.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 32-33] However, Mitchell will subsequently resign and Hamilton will replace him as vice chairman (see December 11, 2002). In this role Hamilton will have good relations with the Bush White House (see March 2003-July 2004 and Early July 2004).

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, 9/11 Commission, Lee Hamilton, Donald Rumsfeld, Philip Shenon

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline, Iran-Contra Affair

The White House comes to prefer dealing with the 9/11 Commission’s vice chairman, Democrat Lee Hamilton, rather than its Republican chairman Tom Kean. Author Philip Shenon will comment: “The White House found that its best support on the Commission came from an unexpected corner—from Lee Hamilton.… Hamilton, they could see, was as much a man of the Washington establishment as he was a Democratic partisan. Probably more so.” This is because Hamilton, a friend of Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, “underst[ands] the prerogatives of the White House—in particular, the concept of executive privilege—in a way that Kean d[oes] not or w[ill] not.” White House chief of staff Andrew Card will comment: “I came to really respect Lee Hamilton. I think he listened better to our concerns better than Tom Kean.” The White House even comes to view Kean as disloyal, effectively operating as one of the Commission’s Democrats, while Hamilton is a de facto Republican (see Early July 2004). Kean will later say, “I think the White House believed Lee was more reliable than I was.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 177] Hamilton previously helped Republicans cover up political scandals (see Mid-1980s and 1992-January 1993). He is friends with Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and trusts them to tell the truth (see Before November 27, 2002).

Entity Tags: Thomas Kean, Andrew Card, Lee Hamilton, 9/11 Commission, Philip Shenon

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Neoconservative and Defense Policy Board (DPB) member Richard Perle calls journalist Seymour Hersh a “terrorist” to a CNN audience. Hersh has published an article speculating that Perle’s investments in firms providing homeland security services put him in the position of profiting off of an invasion of Iraq, and subject to conflict of interest charges (see March 17, 2003). Perle retorts that Hersh is “the closest thing American journalism has to a terrorist.” Host Wolf Blitzer twice asks Perle why he calls Hersh a terrorist, giving Perle the chance to call Hersh “widely irresponsible” and say, “[T]he suggestion that my views are somehow related for the potential for investments in homeland defense is complete nonsense.” Perle continues, “[Hersh] sets out to do damage and he will do it by whatever innuendo, whatever distortion he can…” Blitzer concludes the interview by saying: “All right. We’re going to leave it right there.” [CNN, 3/9/2003; Unger, 2007, pp. 256] Later in the month, Perle will resign from the DPB over his conflicts of interest as detailed by Hersh (see March 27, 2003).

Entity Tags: Seymour Hersh, Richard Perle, Wolf Blitzer

Timeline Tags: Neoconservative Influence

An outraged Richard Perle, the neoconservative chairman of the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board (DPB), says he is suing journalist Seymour Hersh over an article Hersh wrote that implied Perle is using his position as a Pentagon adviser to profit from a US invasion of Iraq (see March 17, 2003).
Filing Planned for Britain - Interestingly, Perle plans to sue Hersh in British courts, not US courts, because the burden of proof on plaintiffs is far less in Britain than America. “I intend to launch legal action in the United Kingdom. I’m talking to Queen’s Counsel right now,” Perle says. Perle says of Hersh’s article, “It’s all lies, from beginning to end.”
Perle Defended - Stephen Bryen, a former deputy undersecretary of defense, defends Perle, saying: “It’s pretty outrageous for a leftwing columnist to make accusations like this with no factual basis. Most of the many hours he works each day are pro bono to help the administration with its policy on Iraq. He should get a medal of honor.”
Editor Defends Hersh - David Remnick, the editor of the New Yorker, the publisher of Hersh’s article, says his magazine stands by the story. “It went through serious reporting, with four members of the board talking to Sy [Hersh], and rigorous factchecking, legal-checking, and all the rest.” Remnick takes issue with Perle’s recent characterization of Hersh as a “terrorist” (see March 9, 2003), saying, “I would have thought after all this many years, Mr. Perle would be a bit more refined than that.” [New York Sun, 3/12/2003]
Journalists Defend Hersh - Many journalists defend Hersh, with one, Slate’s Jack Shafer, calling Perle a “grandstanding pantywaist,” “double-dar[ing]” him to sue Hersh, and accusing Perle of “venue-shopping” by planning to file the lawsuit in Britain. “As a public figure and government official,” Shafer explains, “Perle would be laughed out of court in the United States. If he got a settlement in the UK, he could raid the substantial British assets of the New Yorker’s parent company, Conde Nast.” [Slate, 3/13/2003]
Perle Resigns, Does Not File Lawsuit - Later in the month, Perle will resign from the DPB over his conflicts of interest (see March 27, 2003). A year later, after much blustering in the media and promises of “dossiers” and “revelations” about Hersh, Perle will decide not to sue Hersh after all, saying he cannot meet the burden of proof that a court would impose. [New York Sun, 3/12/2004] Months later, the dossiers and information Perle promised to release about Hersh remain unrevealed. [Slate, 6/17/2004]

Entity Tags: Defense Policy Board, Richard Perle, Jack Shafer, Stephen Bryen, David Remnick, Seymour Hersh

Timeline Tags: Neoconservative Influence

Investigative reporter Seymour Hersh publishes a scathing portrayal of Defense Policy Board (DPB) chairman Richard Perle, who Hersh alleges is using his position in the Pentagon to profiteer on the upcoming Iraq war. Hersh does not accuse Perle of breaking any laws, but he does show that Perle is guilty of conflicts of interests. The article, which is released days before its official March 17 publication date, prompts outrage from Perle and his neoconservative defenders, with Perle saying any questions of his potential conflicts of interest would be “malicious,” calling Hersh a “terrorist” (see March 9, 2003), and threatening to sue Hersh, a lawsuit that is never filed (see March 12, 2003). Later in the month, Perle will resign from the DPB over his conflicts of interest as detailed by Hersh (see March 27, 2003).
Dealings with Corrupt Saudis in Violation of Federal Conduct Guidelines - Hersh provides readers with details of Perle’s business dealings with the notoriously corrupt Saudi businessman and arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi (perhaps most famous in the US for his involvement in Iran-Contra—see July 3, 1985) and his activities as a managing partner of the venture capital firm Trireme Partners LP. Trireme is involved in investments that will make large profits if the US actually invades Iraq. Perle, as chairman of the DPB, is subject to the Federal Code of Conduct that bars officials such as himself from participating in an official capacity in any matter in which he has a financial interest. A former government attorney who helped write the code says, “One of the general rules is that you don’t take advantage of your federal position to help yourself financially in any way.” The point is to “protect government processes from actual or apparent conflicts.”
'Off the Ethical Charts' - One DPB member says that he and his fellows had no idea about Perle’s involvement with either Trireme or Khashoggi, and exclaims: “Oh, get out of here. He’s the chairman!… Seems to me this is at the edge of or off the ethical charts. I think it would stink to high heaven.” The DPB member is equally disturbed that fellow board member Gerald Hillman, Perle’s partner in Trireme, was recently added to the board at Perle’s request. Hillman has virtually no senior policy or military experience in government before joining the board. Larry Noble, the executive director of the Washington-based Center for Responsive Politics, says of Perle’s Trireme involvement: “It’s not illegal, but it presents an appearance of a conflict. It’s enough to raise questions about the advice he’s giving to the Pentagon and why people in business are dealing with him.… The question is whether he’s trading off his advisory-committee relationship.”
Lining up Investors, Overthrowing Saddam - According to Khashoggi, Perle met with him in January 2003 to solicit his assistance in lining up wealthy Saudi investors for Trireme. “I was the intermediary,” Khashoggi says. Together with Saudi businessman Harb Zuhair, Perle hoped to put together a consortium of investors that would sink $100 million into his firm. “It was normal for us to see Perle,” Khashoggi says. “We in the Middle East are accustomed to politicians who use their offices for whatever business they want.” But Khashoggi says Perle wanted more than just money—he wanted to use his position in both Trireme and the DPB to, in Perle’s words, “get rid of Saddam” Hussein. Perle admits to meeting with Khashoggi and Zuhair, but says that money never came up in conversation, and as for Hussein, Perle says he was at the meeting to facilitate a surrender bargain between Hussein and the US.
Khashoggi Amused - Khashoggi is amused by Perle’s denials. “If there is no war, why is there a need for security? If there is a war, of course, billions of dollars will have to be spent.… You Americans blind yourself with your high integrity and your democratic morality against peddling influence, but they were peddling influence.” Hillman sent Zuhair several documents proposing a possible surrender, but Zuhair found them “absurd,” and Khashoggi describes them as silly. (Hillman says he drafted the peace proposals with the assistance of his daughter, a college student.) Perle denies any involvement in the proposals. When the proposals found their way into the Arabic press, Perle, not Hillman, was named as the author.
Blackmailing the Saudis? - Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the influential Saudi ambassador to the US and a close friend of the Bush family, says he was told that the meeting between Perle and the Saudi businessmen was purely business, but he does not believe the disclaimers. He says of Perle, who publicly is a vociferous critic of Saudi Arabia (see July 10, 2002): “There is a split personality to Perle. Here he is, on the one hand, trying to make a hundred-million-dollar deal, and, on the other hand, there were elements of the appearance of blackmail—‘If we get in business, he’ll back off on Saudi Arabia’—as I have been informed by participants in the meeting.” Iraq was never a serious topic of discussion, Bandar says: “There has to be deniability, and a cover story—a possible peace initiative in Iraq—is needed. I believe the Iraqi events are irrelevant. A business meeting took place.” [New Yorker, 3/17/2003]

Entity Tags: Larry Noble, Defense Policy Board, Richard Perle, Seymour Hersh, Trireme Partners LP, Center for Responsive Politics, Harb Zuhair, Adnan Khashoggi, Bandar bin Sultan, Gerald Hillman

Timeline Tags: Neoconservative Influence

Embroiled in controversy over multiple conflicts of interests, Richard Perle resigns his position as chairman of the Defense Advisory Panel (DAP). [CNN, 3/28/2003] His resignation is the result of criticism of his mix of business activities as an investor, consultant, lobbyist, and political advocacy as an adviser to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. In the weeks prior to his resignation, the New Yorker revealed that Perle’s venture capital firm, Trireme Partners LP, solicited funds from Saudi financiers, despite Perle’s vociferous criticisms of the Saudi government (see March 17, 2003). (Perle had notably invited a RAND Corp. analyst to give the DAP a briefing advocating the overthrow of the Saudi regime.) In the New Yorker article, the Saudi ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar, said, “Here he is, on the one hand, trying to make a hundred-million-dollar deal, and, on the other hand, there were elements of the appearance of blackmail—‘If we get in business, he’ll back off on Saudi Arabia’—as I have been informed by participants in the meeting.” [New Yorker, 3/17/2003; Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, 5/2003; Washington Post, 7/24/2004]

Entity Tags: Defense Policy Board, Richard Perle, Bandar bin Sultan, Trireme Partners LP

Timeline Tags: Neoconservative Influence

Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh informs his listeners of a Harris poll showing a majority of those surveyed believe that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction when the war began over a year before (see March 19, 2003). Limbaugh blames the misconception on the “liberal media,” not on the government officials and conservative pundits, including Limbaugh, who pushed the idea of Iraqi WMD on the public before the invasion (see July 30, 2001, Mid-September, 2001, Mid-September-October 2001, October 17, 2001, November 14, 2001, December 20, 2001, 2002, February 11, 2002, Summer 2002, July 30, 2002, August 26, 2002, September 4, 2002, September 8, 2002, September 8, 2002, September 12, 2002, September 12, 2002, September 24, 2002, September 28, 2002, October 7, 2002, December 3, 2002, December 19, 2002, January 2003, January 9, 2003, February 5, 2003, February 17, 2003, March 16-19, 2003, March 23, 2003, May 21, 2003, May 29, 2003, and June 11, 2003), and uses the incident to warn his listeners about getting their news from the “liberal media.” [Jamieson and Cappella, 2008, pp. 151]

Entity Tags: Rush Limbaugh, Saddam Hussein

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Dr. Michael Gelles, the head psychologist for the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS), says that torture and coercion do not produce reliable information from prisoners. Gelles adds that many military and intelligence specialists share his view. Gelles warned of problems with torture and abuse at Guantanamo nearly three years ago (see Early December, 2002 and December 18, 2002). And he is frustrated that Bush administration officials have “dismissed” critics of coercive techniques as weaklings and “doves” who are too squeamish to do what is necessary to obtain information from terror suspects. In reality, Gelles says, many experienced interrogators are convinced that torture and coercion do more harm than good. Gelles has extensive experience with interrogations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo, and notes that NCIS had interrogated Muslim terror suspects well before 9/11, including investigations into the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000) and the 1983 bombing of a Marine barracks in Lebanon (see April 18-October 23, 1983).
'Rapport-Building' - The best way to extract reliable intelligence from a Muslim extremist, Gelles says, is through “rapport-building”—by engaging the suspect in conversations that play on his cultural sensitivities. Similar techniques worked on Japanese soldiers during the height of battles during World War II (see July 17, 1943). Gelles says he and others have identified patterns of questioning that can elicit accurate information from Islamist radicals, but refuses to discuss them specifically. “We do not believe—not just myself, but others who have to remain unnamed—that coercive methods with this adversary are… effective,” he says. “If the goal is to get ‘information,’ then using coercive techniques may be effective. But if the goal is to get reliable and accurate information, looking at this adversary, rapport-building is the best approach.”
Conflict between Experts, Pentagon Civilians - Gelles describes a sharp division between interrogation specialists such as himself, and civilian policymakers at the Pentagon. Many government specialists, including fellow psychologists, intelligence analysts, linguists, and interrogators who have experience extracting information from captured Islamist militants, agree with Gelles that coercion is not effective, but top civilians in the Office of the Secretary of Defense disagree. Coercive interrogations try to “vacuum up all the information you can and figure out later” what is true and what is not, he says. This method jams the system with false and misleading data. Gelles compares it to “coercive tactics leading to false confessions” by suspects in police custody. Many at the Pentagon and elsewhere mistake “rapport-building” techniques for softness or weakness. Just because those interrogations are not humiliating or physically painful, Gelles says, the techniques are not necessarily “soft.” Telling a detainee that he is a reprehensible murderer of innocents is perfectly acceptable, Gelles says: “Being respectful doesn’t mean you don’t confront, clarify, and challenge the detainee when he gives the appearance of being deceptive.” On the other hand, coercive techniques induce detainees to say anything to make the pain and discomfort stop. “Why would you terrify them with a dog?” Gelles asks, referring to one technique of threatening detainees with police dogs. “So they’ll tell you anything to get the dog out of the room?” Referring to shackling prisoners in “stress positions” for hours on end, Gelles adds: “I know there is a school of thought that believes [stress positions] are effective. In my experience, I’ve never seen it be of any value.” Innocent suspects will confess to imagined crimes just to stop the abuse, Gelles says.
Other Harmful Consequences - Gelles also notes that coercive techniques undermine the possibility of building rapport with the prisoner to possibly gain information from him. And, he says, unless the prisoner is either killed in custody or detained for life, eventually he will be released to tell the world of his captivity, damaging America’s credibility and moral authority. [Boston Globe, 3/31/2005; Savage, 2007, pp. 217-218]

Entity Tags: Michael Gelles, Bush administration (43), US Department of Defense, Naval Criminal Investigative Service

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Outgoing Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith, one of the key architects of the Iraq occupation, is bemused by the fact that, despite his predictions and those of his neoconservative colleagues, Iraq is teetering on the edge of all-out civil war. He has come under fire from both political enemies and former supporters, with Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) accusing him of deceiving both the White House and Congress, and fellow neoconservative William Kristol accusing him of “being an agent of” disgraced Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld (see November 6-December 18, 2006). Feith defends the invasion of Iraq, calling it “an operation to prevent the next, as it were, 9/11,” and noting that the failure to find WMD is essentially irrelevant to the justification for the war. “There’s a certain revisionism in people looking back and identifying the main intelligence error [the assumption of stockpiles] and then saying that our entire policy was built on that error.” Feith is apparently ignoring the fact that the administration’s arguments for invading Iraq—including many of his own assertions—were built almost entirely on the “error” of the Iraqi WMD threat (see July 30, 2001, Summer 2001, September 11, 2001-March 17, 2003, Shortly After September 11, 2001, September 14, 2001, September 19-20, 2001, September 20, 2001, October 14, 2001, November 14, 2001, 2002, 2002-March 2003, February 2002, Summer 2002, August 26, 2002, September 3, 2002, September 4, 2002, September 8, 2002, September 8, 2002, September 10, 2002, September 12, 2002, Late September 2002, September 19, 2002, September 24, 2002, September 24, 2002, September 28, 2002, October 7, 2002, December 3, 2002, December 12, 2002, January 9, 2003, February 3, 2003, February 5, 2003, February 8, 2003, March 22, 2003, and March 23, 2003, among others).
Cultural Understanding Did Not Lead to Success - Feith says he is not sure why what he describes as his deep understanding of Iraqi culture did not lead to accurate predictions of the welcome the US would receive from the Iraqi people (see November 18-19, 2001, 2002-2003, September 9, 2002, and October 11, 2002). “There’s a paradox I’ve never been able to work out,” he says. “It helps to be deeply knowledgeable about an area—to know the people, to know the language, to know the history, the culture, the literature. But it is not a guarantee that you will have the right strategy or policy as a matter of statecraft for dealing with that area. You see, the great experts in certain areas sometimes get it fundamentally wrong.” Who got it right? President Bush, he says. “[E]xpertise is a very good thing, but it is not the same thing as sound judgment regarding strategy and policy. George W. Bush has more insight, because of his knowledge of human beings and his sense of history, about the motive force, the craving for freedom and participation in self-rule, than do many of the language experts and history experts and culture experts.”
'Flowers in Their Minds' - When a reporter notes that Iraqis had not, as promised, greeted American soldiers with flowers, Feith responds that they were still too intimidated by their fear of the overthrown Hussein regime to physically express their gratitude. “But,” he says, “they had flowers in their minds.” [New Yorker, 5/9/2005; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 228-229]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Carl Levin, William Kristol, Douglas Feith

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

The Internet news site Raw Story learns that Iranian exile and arms dealer Manucher Ghorbanifar (see December 9, 2001) attempted to peddle a fabricated story of stolen uranium to US and other Western governments in the spring and summer of 2003 (see March 7, 2003 and After). The story comes from US and foreign intelligence sources, and is confirmed by former CIA station chief Bill Murray. Ghorbanifar’s story, of an Iranian intelligence team infiltrating Iraq just before the March 2003 invasion and stealing enriched uranium to use in Iran’s nuclear weapons program, was apparently designed to earn him money as well as to embroil both Iran and Iraq in a spurious WMD plot. It is possible that a June 2003 meeting between Ghorbanifar and two US officials was part of his attempt to peddle the story (see June 2003). Ghorbanifar was extensively involved in the Iran-Contra scandal as a middleman between Iranian government officials and members of the Reagan administration (see July 18, 1985, July 25, 1985, December 8, 1985, and December 1986). [Raw Story, 1/11/2006]

Entity Tags: Raw Story, Bill Murray, Manucher Ghorbanifar

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

Ali Reza Asgari.Ali Reza Asgari. [Source: FARS / Reuters]Iran’s former Deputy Minister of Defense, General Ali Reza Asgari, defects during a visit to Turkey. [Inter Press Service, 12/17/2007] According to former CIA officer Vincent Cannistraro, Asgari is a longtime Western intelligence agent, and is immediately debriefed by Turkish and US intelligence officials. Asgari will be given a new identity; his current whereabouts are unknown to the public. [Guardian, 12/8/2007]
History and Connections - Asgari held the Defense Ministry position from 1997 through 2005, under the regime of reformist Iranian President Mohammed Khatami, and, according to US media reports, was providing the US with intelligence during that time period. [Inter Press Service, 12/17/2007] He is a former intelligence officer in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), and is believed to have considerable knowledge about several IRGC-ordered terrorist attacks, including the October 1983 bombing of a US Marine barracks in Lebanon (see April 18-October 23, 1983) and the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia (see June 25, 1996). He has close ties to Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah, and presumably can tell US intelligence about Hezbollah’s military command structure, its overseas networks, and perhaps its cells inside the US. [Time, 3/22/2007]
Source for National Intelligence Estimate - Former CIA officer Philip Giraldi says that Asgari is a “key” source for the intelligence community’s National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran’s nuclear program, currently in development (see August 2, 2005). Asgari’s information helps the intelligence community determine that Iran had ceased work on its nuclear program in 2003. According to Giraldi, Asgari had been recruited by Turkish intelligence in 2003, and defected after learning that Iranian intelligence had become suspicious of him. Asgari defects with “bags of documents,” presumably including information about Iran’s nuclear program. Asgari will provide information crucial to the US’s ability to monitor sensitive communications among senior Iranian military officials (see July 2007), which helps corroborate the finding that Iran had indeed ceased research into nuclear weapons development. Former National Security Council official Gary Sick will say that Asgari’s knowledge of the Iranian military is critical in determining what is and is not important among the communications intercepts. “There are zillions of pieces of evidence, and what you look for is defined by what you know,” Sick will say. “What Asgari gave them was a new way of looking at the evidence.” It is highly likely that President Bush will be made aware of Asgari’s information soon after Asgari’s debriefing, though the White House will claim that Bush knew nothing of the new intelligence on Iran until August 2007 (see December 3-4, 2007). [Inter Press Service, 12/17/2007]

Entity Tags: Vincent Cannistraro, Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, George W. Bush, Hezbollah, Ali-Reza Asgari, Central Intelligence Agency, Gary G. Sick, Hojjat ol-Eslam Seyyed Mohammad Khatami, Philip Giraldi

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

Norman Podhoretz, one of the founding fathers of neoconservatism, meets with President Bush to urge a military strike against Iran. Podhoretz meets privately with Bush at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York City, with Bush’s political adviser Karl Rove taking notes. The meeting is not logged in Bush’s schedule. Podhoretz will become senior foreign policy adviser to presidential candidate Rudolph Giuliani (R-NY) (see October 28, 2007). The London Times characterizes the meeting as evidence of “the enduring influence of the neoconservatives at the highest reaches of the White House, despite some high-profile casualties in the past year.”
Iran Discussed - Podhoretz will say of his meeting with Bush: “I urged Bush to take action against the Iranian nuclear facilities and explained why I thought there was no alternative.… I laid out the worst-case scenario—bombing Iran—versus the worst-case consequences of allowing the Iranians to get the bomb.” Podhoretz recalls telling Bush: “You have the awesome responsibility to prevent another holocaust. You’re the only one with the guts to do it.” Podhoretz recalls Bush looking “very solemn.” Primarily, Bush listens without responding, though Podhoretz will recall both Bush and Rove laughing when he mentions giving “futility its chance,” a phrase used by fellow neoconservative Robert Kagan about the usefulness of pursuing United Nations sanctions against Iran.
No Sign of Agreement - “He gave not the slightest indication of whether he agreed with me, but he listened very intently,” Podhoretz will recall. Podhoretz is convinced that “George Bush will not leave office with Iran having acquired a nuclear weapon or having passed the point of no return”—a reference to the Iranians’ acquisition of sufficient technical capability to produce a nuclear weapon. “The president has said several times that he will be in the historical dock if he allows Iran to get the bomb. He believes that if we wait for threats to fully materialize, we’ll have waited too long—something I agree with 100 percent.”
No Need to Use Nukes - Podhoretz tells Bush that the US could neutralize Iran’s nuclear program without using its own nuclear weapons: “I’m against using nuclear weapons and I don’t think they are necessary.” Podhoretz is preparing a book, World War IV: The Long Struggle Against Islamofascism, which echoes the points he makes with Bush. According to Podhoretz, World War IV is the global struggle against terrorism (World War III was the Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union). “The key to understanding what is happening is to see it as a successor to the previous totalitarian challenge to our civilization,” he says. Podhoretz asserts that Iraq, Afghanistan, and Iran are merely different fronts of the same long war. [London Times, 9/30/2007] Podhoretz says that “the debate [over Iran] is secretly over and the people who are against military action are now preparing to make the case that we can live with an Iranian bomb.” [Daily Telegraph, 11/1/2007]

Entity Tags: Rudolph (“Rudy”) Giuliani, Norman Podhoretz, Karl C. Rove, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

Rudolph Giuliani, the former New York City mayor who is running a campaign for the Republican presidential nomination centered on strong national security and aggressive foreign policy, surrounds himself with a group of hardline neoconservative advisers:
bullet Neoconservative eminence Norman Podhoretz (see October 28, 2007). Podhoretz says, “I decided to join Giuliani’s team because his view of the war [on terror]—what I call World War IV—is very close to my own.” Podhoretz has said he “hopes and prays” President Bush attacks Iran. [Newsweek, 10/15/2007] Giuliani says of Podhoretz’s advocacy of US military action against Iran, “From the information I do have available, which is all public source material, I would say that that is not correct, we are not at that stage at this point. Can we get to that stage? Yes. And is that stage closer than some of the Democrats believe? I believe it is.” [New York Times, 10/25/2007]
bullet Michael Rubin, a former Pentagon official and current American Enterprise Institute scholar who argues that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s diplomacy is “dangerous” and signals American “weakness” to Tehran and advocates revoking the US ban on assassination;
bullet Stephen Rosen, a Harvard hawk who wants major new defense spending and has close ties to prominent neoconservative Bill Kristol;
bullet Former senator Bob Kasten (R-WI), who often sided with neocons during the Reagan years; and
bullet Daniel Pipes, who opposes a Palestinian state and believes America should “inspire fear, not affection.” Pipes has advocated the racial profiling of Muslim-Americans, argued that the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II was not morally offensive, and has, in his own words, advocated “razing [Palestinian] villages from which attacks are launched” on Israel. [Newsweek, 10/15/2007; New York Times, 10/25/2007; Daily Telegraph, 11/1/2007] Pipes is even “further out ideologically than Norman Podhoretz,” writes Harper’s Magazine reporter Ken Silverstein. [Harper's, 8/28/2007]
Support for Israel's Likud - Some Giuliani advisers, including Kasten, former State Department aide and political counselor Charles Hill, and Islam expert Martin Kramer (who has attacked US Middle East scholars since 9/11 for being soft on terrorism) indicate Giuliani’s alignment with the right-wing hawks of Israel’s Likud Party, notes Forward Magazine: pro-Israeli lobbyist Ben Chouake says Giuliani is “very serious about his approach to ensuring the security and safety of Israel.” [Forward, 7/18/2007] Giuliani has a long record of supporting Israel’s right wing; as early as 1995, he publicly insulted Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, and in 2001, told an Israeli audience that the US and Israel are “bound by blood.” [Newsweek, 10/15/2007] Giuliani says he wants to expand the North American Treaty Organization (NATO) and invite Israel to join. [New York Times, 10/25/2007] A Republican political operative calls Giuliani’s advisers “red-meat types” chosen to cloak Giuliani’s near-complete lack of foreign experience. The operative says that Giuliani is also trying to head off criticism for his departure from the Iraq Study Group (see December 2006) before it finished its report. Republican attorney Mark Lezell, who supports Giuliani opponent Fred Thompson, says, “The concern with that particular team is that they have been at the forefront of policies that have yet to succeed and could well qualify as political baggage.” [Forward, 7/18/2007]
'Out-Bushing Bush' - Not all of Giuliani’s foreign affairs advisers are neocons. His policy coordinator, Hill, takes a more centrist view and says, perhaps disingenuously, “I don’t really know much about neoconservatives,” adding, “I don’t know of a single person on the campaign besides Norman [Podhoretz] who is a self-identified, card-carrying member of this neocon cabal with its secret handshakes.” Hill says the US should “deliver a very clear message to Iran, very clear, very sober, very serious: they will not be allowed to become a nuclear power,” but stops short of advocating a military solution. Richard Holbrooke, a foreign policy adviser to Democratic candidate Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY), says jocularly that Giuliani is “positioning himself as the neo-neocon.” Dimitri Simes of the Nixon Center says of Giuliani’s team, “Clearly it is a rather one-sided group of people. Their foreign-policy manifesto seems to be ‘We’re right, we’re powerful, and just make my day.’ He’s out-Bushing Bush.” [Newsweek, 10/15/2007; New York Sun, 10/25/2007]

Entity Tags: Bob Kasten, Ken Silverstein, Charles Hill, Daniel Pipes, Steve Rosen, Ben Chouake, Richard Holbrooke, Mark Lezell, Rudolph (“Rudy”) Giuliani, Martin Kramer, Dimitri Simes, Norman Podhoretz, Michael Rubin

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

Neoconservative founder Norman Podhoretz, a senior foreign adviser to Republican presidential frontrunner Rudolph Giuliani, says the US has no other choice than to bomb Iran. Podhoretz says heavy and immediate strikes against Iran are necessary to prevent that country from developing nuclear weapons. “None of the alternatives to military action—negotiations, sanctions, provoking an internal insurrection—can possibly work,” Podhoretz says. “They’re all ways of evading the terrible choice we have to make which is to either let them get the bomb or to bomb them.” Podhoretz says that such strikes would be effective: “People I’ve talked to have no doubt we could set [Iran’s nuclear program] five or 10 years. There are those who believe we can get the underground facilities as well with these highly sophisticated bunker-busting munitions.” (Podhoretz does not identify the people he has “talked to.”) “I would say it would take five minutes. You’d wake up one morning and the strikes would have been ordered and carried out during the night. All the president has to do is say go.” Giuliani has echoed Podhoretz’s belligerence towards Iran; last month, Giuliani told a London audience that Iran should be given “an absolute assurance that, if they get to the point that they are going to become a nuclear power, we will prevent them or we will set them back five or 10 years.” Podhoretz says he was pleasantly surprised to hear Giuliani make such assertions: “I was even surprised he went that far. I’m sure some of his political people were telling him to go slow…. I wouldn’t advise any candidate to come out and say we have to bomb—it’s not a prudent thing to say at this stage of the campaign.” Podhoretz has given President Bush much the same advice (see Spring 2007).
'Irrational' 'Insanity' - Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel blasts the “immorality and illegality” of Podhoretz’s “death wish,” and notes that such “military action would be irrational for both sides. The US military is already stretched to the breaking point. We’d witness unprecedented pandemonium in oil markets. Our troops in Iraq would be endangered.” Vanden Heuvel cites the failure to destroy Saddam Hussein’s Scud missiles during six weeks of bombings in 1991 (see January 16, 1991 and After), and the failure of the Israeli bombing of Iraq’s Osirak reactor (see June 7, 1981) to curb “regional [nuclear] proliferation.” She concludes, “Podhoretz and his insanity will embolden Iranian hardliners, plunge the region into even greater and darker instability and undermine our security.” [Nation, 10/28/2007]
Giuliani's Stable of Neocons - Since July 2007, Giuliani has surrounded himself with a group of outspoken hardline and neoconservative foreign policy advisers (see Mid-July 2007).

Entity Tags: Norman Podhoretz, Katrina vanden Heuvel, Saddam Hussein, George W. Bush, Rudolph (“Rudy”) Giuliani

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran, Neoconservative Influence

Neoconservative eminence grise Norman Podhoretz, who recently advocated an all-out military strike against Iran (see October 28, 2007), claims that the recently released National Intelligence Estimate on Iran (see December 3, 2007) is an attempt by the US intelligence community to avoid making the same mistakes with weapons of mass destruction that it made in Iraq. Podhoretz rightly notes that in May 2005, the intelligence community assured the administration in an NIE that Iraq was pushing towards developing a nuclear weapon. Podhoretz writes that he suspects the intelligence community, “having been excoriated for supporting the then universal belief that Saddam [Hussein] had weapons of mass destruction, is now bending over backward to counter what has up to now been a similarly universal view… that Iran is hell-bent on developing nuclear weapons.” Podhoretz then presents what he calls “an even darker suspicion… that the intelligence community, which has for some years now been leaking material calculated to undermine George W. Bush, is doing it again.” [Commentary, 12/3/2007]

Entity Tags: Norman Podhoretz, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

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

Investigative journalist Robert Parry speaks at a conference in Heidelberg, Germany concerning the progression of journalism from the 1970s to the present. Parry tells the gathering that American investigative journalism may have hit something of a zenith in the 1970s, with the media exposure of the Pentagon Papers (see March 1971) and the Watergate scandal (see August 8, 1974). “That was a time when US journalism perhaps was at its best, far from perfect, but doing what the Founders had in mind when they afforded special protections to the American press,” he says. “In the 1970s, besides the Pentagon Papers and Watergate, there were other important press disclosures, like the My Lai massacre story and the CIA abuses—from Iran to Guatemala, from Cuba to Chile. For people around the world, American journalism was the gold standard. Granted, that was never the full picture. There were shortcomings even in the 1970s. You also could argue that the US news media’s performance then was exceptional mostly in contrast to its failures during the Cold War, when reporters tended to be stenographers to power, going along to get along, including early in the Vietnam War.” However, those days are long past, Parry notes, and in recent years, American journalism has, he says, gone “terribly wrong.” Parry says that the American press was subjected to an orchestrated program of propaganda and manipulation on a par with what the CIA did in many foreign countries: “Think how the CIA would target a country with the goal of shoring up a wealthy oligarchy. The agency might begin by taking over influential media outlets or starting its own. It would identify useful friends and isolate troublesome enemies. It would organize pro-oligarchy political groups. It would finance agit-prop specialists skilled at undermining and discrediting perceived enemies. If the project were successful, you would expect the oligarchy to consolidate its power, to get laws written in its favor. And eventually the winners would take a larger share of the nation’s wealth. And what we saw in the late 1970s and early 1980s in the United States was something like the behavior of an embattled oligarchy. Nixon’s embittered allies and the Right behaved as if they were following a CIA script. They built fronts; they took over and opened new media outlets; they spread propaganda; they discredited people who got in the way; ultimately, they consolidated power; they changed laws in their favor; and—over the course of several decades—they made themselves even richer, indeed a lot richer, and that, in turn, has translated into even more power.”
Building a Base - Right-wing billionaires such as the Koch brothers (see 1979-1980) and Richard Mellon Scaife, along with Nixon-era figures such as former Treasury Secretary William Simon (a Wall Street investment banker who ran the right-wing Olin Foundation) worked to organize conservative foundations; their money went into funding what Parry calls “right-wing media… right-wing think tanks… [and] right-wing attack groups. Some of these attack groups were set up to go after troublesome reporters.” Parry finds it ironic, in light of the CIA’s interference in the affairs of other nations, that two foreign media moguls, Sun Myung Moon and Rupert Murdoch, were key figures in building and financing this conservative media construct. Some media outlets, such as Fox News (see Summer 1970 and October 7, 1996), were created from scratch, while others, such as the venerable and formerly liberal New Republic, were bought out and taken over by conservatives. When Ronald Reagan ascended to the White House, Parry says, he brought along with him “a gifted team of [public relations] and ad men.” Vice President George H.W. Bush, a former CIA director, enabled access to that agency’s propaganda professionals. And Reagan named William Casey to head the CIA; Casey, a former Nixon administration official, was “obsessed [with] the importance of deception and propaganda,” Parry says. “Casey understood that he who controlled the flow of information had a decisive advantage in any conflict.”
Two-Pronged Attack - Two key sources of information for Washington media insiders were targeted, Parry says: the “fiercely independent” CIA analytical division, whose analyses had so often proven damaging to White House plans when reported, and the “unruly” Washington press corps. Casey targeted the CIA analysts, placing his young assistant, Robert Gates, in charge of the analytical division; Gates’s reorganization drove many troublesome analysts into early retirement, to be replaced with more malleable analysts who would echo the White House’s hard line against “Soviet expansionism.” Another Casey crony, Walter Raymond Jr., worked to corral the Washington press corps from his position on the National Security Council. Raymond headed an interagency task force that ostensibly spread “good news” about American policies in the foreign press, but in reality worked to smear and besmirch American journalists who the White House found troubling. According to Parry, “Secret government documents that later emerged in the Iran-Contra scandal revealed that Raymond’s team worked aggressively and systematically to lobby news executives and turn them against their reporters when the reporters dug up information that clashed with Reagan’s propaganda, especially in hot spots like Central America.” It was easy to discredit female journalists in Central America, Parry says; Raymond’s team would spread rumors that they were secretly having sexual liaisons with Communist officials. Other reporters were dismissed as “liberals,” a label that many news executives were eager to avoid. Working through the news executives was remarkably successful, Parry says, and it was not long before many Washington reporters were either brought to heel or marginalized.
'Perception Management' - Reagan’s team called its domestic propaganda scheme “perception management.” Parry says: “The idea was that if you could manage how the American people perceived events abroad, you could not only insure their continued support of the foreign policy, but in making the people more compliant domestically. A frightened population is much easier to control. Thus, if you could manage the information flows inside the government and inside the Washington press corps, you could be more confident that there would be no more Vietnam-style protests. No more Pentagon Papers. No more My Lai massacre disclosures. No more Watergates.” The New York Times and Washington Post, the newspapers that had led the surge of investigative reporting in the 1970s, were effectively muzzled during the Reagan era; Parry says that the two papers “became more solicitous to the Establishment than they were committed to the quality journalism that had contributed to the upheavals of the 1960s and 1970s.” The same happened at the Associated Press (AP), where Parry had attempted, with limited success, to dig into the Reagan administration’s Central American policies, policies that would eventually crystallize into the Iran-Contra scandal (see May 5, 1987). Few newspapers followed the lead of AP reporters such as Parry and Brian Barger until late 1986, when the Hasenfus air crash provided a news story that editors could no longer ignore (see October 5, 1986). But, Parry says, by the time of the Iran-Contra hearings, few news providers, including the Associated Press, had the stomach for another scandal that might result in another impeachment, particularly in light of the relentless pressure coming from the Reagan administration and its proxies. By June 1990, Parry says he understood “the concept of ‘perception management’ had carried the day in Washington, with remarkably little resistance from the Washington press corps.… Washington journalists had reverted to their pre-Vietnam, pre-Watergate inability to penetrate important government secrets in a significant way.” The process accelerated after 9/11, Parry says: “[M]any journalists reverted back their earlier roles as stenographers to power. They also became cheerleaders for a misguided war in Iraq. Indeed, you can track the arc of modern American journalism from its apex at the Pentagon Papers and Watergate curving downward to that center point of Iran-Contra before reaching the nadir of Bush’s war in Iraq. Journalists found it hard even to challenge Bush when he was telling obvious lies. For instance, in June 2003, as the search for WMD came up empty, Bush began to tell reporters that he had no choice but to invade because Saddam Hussein had refused to let UN inspectors in. Though everyone knew that Hussein had let the inspectors in and that it was Bush who had forced them to leave in March 2003, not a single reporter confronted Bush on this lie, which he repeated again and again right through his exit interviews in 2008” (see November 2002-March 2003, November 25, 2002, December 2, 2002, December 5, 2002, January 9, 2003, March 7, 2003, and March 17, 2003).
The Wikileaks Era and the 'Fawning Corporate Media' - Parry says that now, the tough-minded independent media has been all but supplanted by what former CIA analyst Ray McGovern calls the “Fawning Corporate Media.” This has increased public distrust of the media, which has led to people seeking alternative investigative and reporting methods. Parry comments that much of the real investigative journalism happening now is the product of non-professionals working outside the traditional media structure, such as Wikileaks (see February 15, 2007, 2008, and April 18, 2009). However, the independent media have not demonstrated they can reach the level of influence of institutions like the Washington Post and the New York Times. “[I]f we were assessing how well the post-Watergate CIA-style covert operation worked,” Parry says, “we’d have to conclude that it was remarkably successful. Even after George W. Bush took the United States to war in Iraq under false pretenses and even after he authorized the torture of detainees in the ‘war on terror,’ no one involved in those decisions has faced any accountability at all. When high-flying Wall Street bankers brought the world’s economy to its knees with risky gambles in 2008, Western governments used trillions of dollars in public moneys to bail the bankers out. But not one senior banker faced prosecution.… Another measure of how the post-Watergate counteroffensive succeeded would be to note how very well America’s oligarchy had done financially in the past few decades. Not only has political power been concentrated in their hands, but the country’s wealth, too.… So, a sad but—I think—fair conclusion would be that at least for the time being, perception management has won out over truth. But the struggle over information and democracy has entered another new and unpredictable phase.” [Consortium News, 5/15/2012]

Entity Tags: Fox News, David Koch, Washington Post, William Casey, William Simon, Central Intelligence Agency, Associated Press, The New Republic, Sun Myung Moon, Walter Raymond, Jr, Ronald Reagan, New York Times, George W. Bush, George Herbert Walker Bush, Rupert Murdoch, Robert Parry, Ray McGovern, Robert M. Gates, Olin Foundation, Charles Koch, Richard Mellon Scaife

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

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