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Context of 'November 19, 2007: CIA Finds No Evidence of Iranian Nuclear Bomb; White House Ignores CIA In Favor of Unverifiable Israeli Claims'

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Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, along with then-President Gerald Ford, April 28, 1975.Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, along with then-President Gerald Ford, April 28, 1975. [Source: David Hume Kennerly / Gerald R. Ford Library] (click image to enlarge)Throughout the 1980s, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld are key players in one of the most highly classified programs of the Reagan administration. Presently, Cheney is working as a Republican congressman, while Rumsfeld is head of the pharmaceutical company G. D. Searle. At least once per year, they both leave their day jobs for periods of three or four days. They head to Andrews Air Force Base, near Washington, DC, and along with 40 to 60 federal officials and one member of the Reagan Cabinet are taken to a remote location within the US, such as an underground bunker. While they are gone, none of their work colleagues, or even their wives, knows where they are. They are participating in detailed planning exercises for keeping government running during and after a nuclear war with the Soviet Union.
Unconstitutional 'Continuity of Government' - This highly secret “Continuity of Government” (COG) program is known as Project 908. The idea is that if the US were under a nuclear attack, three teams would be sent from Washington to separate locations around the US to prepare to take leadership of the country. If somehow one team was located and hit with a nuclear weapon, the second or third team could take its place. Each of the three teams includes representatives from the State Department, Defense Department, CIA, and various domestic-policy agencies. The program is run by a new government agency called the National Program Office. Based in the Washington area, it has a budget of hundreds of million dollars a year, which grows to $1 billion per year by the end of Reagan’s first term in office. Within the National Security Council, the “action officer” involved in the COG program is Oliver North, who is a key figure in the mid-1980s Iran-Contra scandal. Reagan’s Vice President, George H. W. Bush, also supervises some of the program’s efforts. As well as Cheney and Rumsfeld, other known figures involved in the COG exercises include Kenneth Duberstein, who serves for a time as President Reagan’s chief of staff, and future CIA Director James Woolsey. Another regular participant is Richard Clarke, who on 9/11 will be the White House chief of counterterrorism (see (1984-2004)). The program, though, is extraconstitutional, as it establishes a process for designating a new US president that is nowhere authorized in the US Constitution or federal law. After George H. W. Bush is elected president in 1988 and the effective end of the Soviet Union in 1989, the exercises continue. They will go on after Bill Clinton is elected president, but will then be based around the threat posed by terrorists, rather than the Soviet Union (see 1992-2000). According to journalist James Mann, the participation of Rumsfeld and Cheney in these exercises demonstrates a broader truth about them: “Over three decades, from the Ford administration onward, even when they were out of the executive branch of government, they were never too far away; they stayed in touch with its defense, military, and intelligence officials and were regularly called upon by those officials. Cheney and Rumsfeld were, in a sense, a part of the permanent, though hidden, national security apparatus of the United States.” [Mann, 2004, pp. 138-145; Atlantic Monthly, 3/2004; Washington Post, 4/7/2004; Cockburn, 2007, pp. 85]
No Role for Congress - According to one participant, “One of the awkward questions we faced was whether to reconstitute Congress after a nuclear attack. It was decided that no, it would be easier to operate without them.” Thus the decision is made to abandon the Constitutional framework of the nation’s government if this plan is ever activated. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 198]
Reactivated after 9/11 - The plan they rehearse for in the COG exercises will be activated, supposedly for the first time, in the hours during and after the 9/11 attacks (see (Between 9:45 a.m. and 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 3/1/2002] Mann subsequently comments, “The program is of particular interest today because it helps to explain the thinking and behavior of the second Bush Administration in the hours, days, and months after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.” [Atlantic Monthly, 3/2004]

Entity Tags: Richard A. Clarke, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Oliver North, National Program Office, James Woolsey, Kenneth Duberstein, Donald Rumsfeld, George Herbert Walker Bush

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline, Civil Liberties

William Casey.William Casey. [Source: CIA]Following an agreement between the CIA and Pakistan’s ISI to make more use of Arabs in the Soviet-Afghan War, recruitment of potential fighters increases significantly. The agreement was a result of CIA dissatisfaction at infighting between indigenous Afghan rebels (see 1985-1986). According to Australian journalist John Pilger, in this year: “CIA Director William Casey [gives] his backing to a plan put forward by Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the ISI, to recruit people from around the world to join the Afghan jihad. More than 100,000 Islamic militants [are] trained in Pakistan between 1986 and 1992, in camps overseen by the CIA and [the British intelligence agency] MI6, with the [British special forces unit] SAS training future al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters in bomb-making and other black arts. Their leaders [are] trained at a CIA camp in Virginia.” [Guardian, 9/20/2003] Eventually, around 35,000 Muslim radicals from 43 Islamic countries will fight with the Afghan mujaheddin. Tens of thousands more will study in the hundreds of new madrassas (Islamic schools) funded by the ISI and CIA in Pakistan. Their main logistical base is in the Pakistani city of Peshawar. [Washington Post, 7/19/1992; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 9/23/2001] Ironically, although many are trained, it seems only a small percentage actually take part fight in serious fighting in Afghanistan, so their impact on the war is small. [New Yorker, 9/9/2002] Richard Murphy, assistant secretary of state for Near East and South Asian relations during the Reagan administration, will later say: “We did spawn a monster in Afghanistan. Once the Soviets were gone [the people trained and/or funded by the US] were looking around for other targets, and Osama bin Laden has settled on the United States as the source of all evil. Irony? Irony is all over the place.” [Associated Press, 8/23/1998] In the late 1980s, Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, feeling the mujaheddin network has grown too strong, tells President George H. W. Bush, “You are creating a Frankenstein.” However, the warning goes unheeded. [Newsweek, 10/1/2001] By 1993, President Bhutto tells Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak that Peshawar is under de facto control of the mujaheddin, and unsuccessfully asks for military help in reasserting Pakistani control over the city. Thousands of mujaheddin fighters return to their home countries after the war is over and engage in multiple acts of violence. One Western diplomat notes these thousands would never have been trained or united without US help, and says, “The consequences for all of us are astronomical.” [Atlantic Monthly, 5/1996]

Entity Tags: Richard W. Murphy, John Pilger, UK Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), Benazir Bhutto, William Casey, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

Retired Lieutenant General Brent Scowcroft leads a presidential panel which proposes that control of the National Security Agency, the National Reconnaissance Office, and the National Imagery and Mapping Agency be transferred from the Department of Defense to the head of the CIA, the director of central intelligence (DCI). The plan is favored by the Congressional 9/11 joint inquiry but opposed by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney. For years experts have argued that the US intelligence community’s 13 disparate agencies—“85 percent of whose assets reside in the Defense Department”—should be consolidated under the head of the CIA. [US News and World Report, 8/12/2002; Washington Post, 8/19/2004]
Intelligence Community Still Focused on Cold War Needs, Scowcroft Finds - Scowcroft, the head of the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board and a close friend and confidant of former President George H. W. Bush, actually revises a report he began before the 9/11 attacks. The report concludes that the US intelligence apparatus had been designed to meet the needs of the Cold War era and should now be overhauled. The 9/11 attacks are evidence of this, Scowcroft believes. The attacks came from rogue Islamist terrorists, not a superpower like China or the old USSR.
Opposition from Rumsfeld, Cheney - But, as Ron Suskind will write in his 2006 book The One Percent Doctrine, Rumsfeld is “strongly opposed” to Scowcroft’s idea, presumably because, by transferring control of the NSA from the Pentagon to the CIA, it would take power away from him. Scowcroft approaches Cheney with the dilemma. Scowcroft is well aware of Cheney and Rumsfeld’s long political partnership, and gives Cheney an easy out. If his proposals are overly “disruptive,” Scowcroft says, “I’ll just fold my tent and go away. I don’t want to… but I’ll be guided by you.” Cheney now has a choice. Knowing this is a battle Scowcroft will not win, he can either call Scowcroft off now and defuse a potential political conflict within the administration, or, in author Craig Unger’s words, he can “send Scowcroft off on a fool’s errand, pitting Bush 41’s close friend, as Suskind noted, against Bush 43’s cabinet secretary [Rumsfeld], who just happened to be Bush 41’s lifelong nemesis (see September 21, 1974 and After). Cheney chose the latter.” Cheney tells Scowcroft to “go ahead, submit the report to the president.” He knows President Bush will listen to Cheney and Rumsfeld’s advice and ignore the report. Unger later notes, “Scowcroft had once been Cheney’s mentor, his patron. Now the vice president was just humoring him.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 225-226]

Entity Tags: National Security Agency, National Reconnaissance Office, Ron Suskind, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, George W. Bush, National Imagery and Mapping Agency, Issuetsdeah, Central Intelligence Agency, Brent Scowcroft, Craig Unger, Donald Rumsfeld, George Herbert Walker Bush

Timeline Tags: US Military

Journalist Seymour Hersh says that a new CIA assessment concludes, in his words, that “there’s no evidence Iran is doing anything that puts them close to a bomb. There’s no secret program of significant bomb making.” However, the White House is ignoring that assessment and still moving forward with plans to launch a military strike against Iran.
'Stovepiping' - Hersh says that President Bush and Vice President Cheney are “stovepiping” intelligence [funnelling selected intelligence directly to top officials] and keeping information provided by the Israelis hidden from the CIA. According to Hersh, the Israelis have informed White House officials that Israel has a reliable agent inside Iraq, and that agent reports that Iran is working on a trigger for a nuclear device (see November 2005). “[T]he CIA isn’t getting a good look at the Israeli intelligence. It’s the old word, stovepiping. It’s the President and the Vice President, it’s pretty much being kept in the White House. Of course the people in the CIA want to know who [the agent] is, obviously,” Hersh tells a reporter. “They certainly want to know what other evidence he has of actual making of a warhead. This is the internecine fight that’s going on—the same fight, by the way, that we had before Iraq.” The CIA has no way of verifying the Israeli intelligence claims, but in light of recent events with unverifiable evidence such as the “Curveball” debacle (see November 1999), that agency is understandably wary of such dramatic claims that contradict their own findings. [CNN, 11/19/2007]
Israeli Claims Unverifiable - A former senior intelligence official says of the Israeli’s claim: “The problem is that no one can verify it. We don’t know who the Israeli source is. The briefing says the Iranians are testing trigger mechanisms,” simulating a zero-yield nuclear explosion without any weapons-grade materials, “but there are no diagrams, no significant facts. Where is the test site? How often have they done it? How big is the warhead—a breadbox or a refrigerator? They don’t have that.” But the report is being used by the White House to “prove the White House’s theory that the Iranians are on track. And tests leave no radioactive track, which is why we can’t find it.” Another problem that evokes the “stovepiping” of pre-war Iraq intelligence is the fact that White House officials have asked the Israelis for the raw intelligence, the original, unanalyzed, and unvetted material. Similar requests were used to draw false conclusions about Iraq’s WMD program before the US invasion of that country. A Pentagon consultant says, “Many presidents in the past have done the same thing, but intelligence professionals are always aghast when presidents ask for stuff in the raw. They see it as asking a second grader to read Ulysses.[New Yorker, 11/27/2006]
Similar to Iraq Intelligence Problems - Former State Department intelligence expert Greg Thielmann noted in October 2003 that before the Iraq war, “garbage was being shoved straight to the President.” [New Yorker, 10/27/2003] Hersh suggests the same effect is happening now. [CNN, 11/19/2007]
White House Hostile to CIA Analysis - According to a current senior intelligence official, the White House is actively hostile to the CIA analysis, which is based on satellite imagery and other empirical evidence such as measurement of the radioactivity of water samples and highly classified radiation-detection devices surreptitiously placed near the Iranian nuclear facilities. Empirical data or not, the CIA analysis does not fit the White House’s needs, the intelligence official says. In its analysis, the CIA specifically warns that it would be a mistake to conclude that the failure to find a secret nuclear-weapons program in Iran is evidence that the Iranians are hiding it well. According to a former senior intelligence official, at the height of the Cold War, the Soviets were quite effective at deception and misdirection, but the US intelligence community was readily able to discern the details of their nuclear weapons and long-range missile programs. But, the former official says, many in the White House, particularly in Cheney’s office, are making just such an assumption: “the lack of evidence means they must have it.” [New Yorker, 11/27/2006]

Entity Tags: Seymour Hersh, George W. Bush, ’Curveball’, Central Intelligence Agency, Greg Thielmann, Bush administration (43), Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

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