Profile: Ahmed Chalabi
Positions that Ahmed Chalabi has held:
- President of the Iraqi National Congress
“American companies will have a big shot at Iraqi oil.”
[Washington Post, 9/15/2002]
April 13, 2003
“After (Gen. Jay Garner) finishes his job of restoring basic services, the interim Iraqi authority will be established. And that interim authority will be an authority of Iraqis, chosen by Iraqis. And it will be able to function as an authority in the country immediately after Gen. Garner’s job is finished, which should be only a few weeks.”
(Late May 2003)
Ahmad Chalabi, head of the Iraqi National Congress “They told us, ‘Liberation now,’ and then they made it occupation. Bush said he was a liberator, not an occupier, and we supported the United States on this basis.”
[Philadelphia Inquirer, 5/29/2003]
February 18, 2004
“As far as we’re concerned we’ve been entirely successful. That tyrant Saddam is gone and the Americans are in Baghdad. What was said before is not important. The Bush administration is looking for a scapegoat. We’re ready to fall on our swords if he wants.”
[Daily Telegraph, 2/19/2004]
Ahmed Chalabi was a participant or observer in the following events:
Ahmed Chalabi. [Source: Tim Sloan / Agence France-Presse]On October 30, 1944, Ahmed Chalabi is born into a wealthy, oligarchic Shiite family with close ties to Iraq’s Hashemite monarchy. [American Prospect, 11/18/2002; CounterPunch, 5/20/2004; New Yorker, 6/7/2004] Chalabi’s mother runs political salons catering to Iraq’s elite and his father loans money to members of the ruling family who reward him with top posts in the government, which he uses to advance his business interests. His grandfather was also close to the monarchy, holding nine cabinet positions in government during his lifetime. [American Prospect, 11/18/2002; New Yorker, 6/7/2004] But it was Chalabi’s great grandfather who, as the tax farmer of Kadimiah, a town near Baghdad, established the family’s grand fortunes. According to Iraqi historian Hanna Batatu, Ahmed’s great grandfather was “a very harsh man, [who] kept a bodyguard of armed slaves and had a special prison at his disposal” where, according to a friend of Chalabi’s, he imprisoned serfs who failed to pay their taxes or produce wheat. “When he died the people of Kadimiah heaved a sigh of relief,” Batatu writes. [Batatu, 2004; New Yorker, 6/7/2004] In 1958, Chalabi’s family will flee Iraq when the Iraqi Communist Party overthrows the monarchy. Decades later, Imad Khadduri, a schoolmate of Chalabi’s, will say: “Ahmed wanted to avenge his father’s ouster and the deprivation of his lands.… Now he’s trying to fit in his father’s shoes.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 123]
Ahmed Chalabi, an Iraqi exile, studies for his doctorate in math at the University of Chicago where he gets to know Albert Wohlstetter, a prominent cold-war strategist and a mentor for Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle. After receiving his degree, Chalabi moves to Lebanon where he works as a math teacher at the American University of Beirut. His brother, Jawad, is also living in Beirut and runs Middle East Banking Corp. (Mebco). [American Prospect, 11/18/2002; Salon, 5/5/2004; New Yorker, 6/7/2004; Christian Science Monitor, 6/15/2004]
Two years after its founding, Petra Bank, run by Ahmed Chalabi, is the second largest bank in Jordan. The bank’s success is attributed to the Chalabi family’s vast network of international connections which has enabled Petra to move money in and out of Jordan several steps ahead of the Jordon’s strict exchange controls. “They were far more efficient than the other banks,” a Jordanian businessman tells Salon. Chalabi’s bank lends money to several influential figures, including Prince Hasan, now a close acquaintance of Chalabi, to whom the bank lends $30 million. Chalabi’s friendship with Hassan enables Petra to open a chain of branches in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. [Guardian, 4/14/2003; Salon, 5/4/2004; New Yorker, 6/7/2004; Christian Science Monitor, 6/15/2004] During this period, Petra bank even does business with Saddam Hussein, helping the dictator finance Iraqi trade with Jordan. [Salon, 5/5/2004]
Albert Wohlstetter introduces Ahmed Chalabi to Richard Perle, undersecretary of defense for international-security policy. [American Prospect, 11/18/2002]
Eminent academic, foreign policy analyst, and neoconservative Albert Wohlstetter (see 1965) introduces his proteges Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz to Iraqi exile Ahmed Chalabi (see 1992-1996), who is already plotting to overthrow Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Wolfowitz and Perle will become key players in the run-up to the US’s 2003 invasion of Iraq (see Late December 2000 and Early January 2001). [Unger, 2007, pp. 44]
Mohammed Said Nabulsi, Jordan’s central bank governor, orders the country’s banks to deposit 30 percent of their foreign exchange holdings with the central bank. The measure is part of an effort to enforce regulations on liquidity ratios and reduce the outflow of foreign exchange from Jordan. Petra, run by Ahmed Chalabi, is the only bank among the 20 that is unable to comply with the order. At the urging of Nabulsi, King Hussein puts Petra under government supervision and orders an audit of the bank’s books. Petra’s board of directors are replaced and an investigation begins. Two weeks later, in August 1989, Chalabi flees the country—reportedly with $70 million. According to Hudson Institute’s Max Singer, Prince Hassan personally drives Chalabi to the Jordanian border, helping him escape. The investigation subsequently uncovers evidence of massive fraud. “The scale of fraud at Petra Bank was enormous,” Nabulsi will later recall. “It was like a tiny Enron.” Arthur Andersen determines that the bank’s assets are overstated by $200 million. The bank is found to have enormous bad debts (about $80 million); “unsupported foreign currency balances at counter-party banks” (about $20 million); and money purportedly owed to the bank which could not be found (about $60 million). Millions of dollars of depositors’ money had been routed to the Chalabi family empire in Switzerland, Lebanon, and London, in the form of loans that had not been repaid. The Chalabi family’s Swiss and Lebanese firms, Mebco and Socofi, are later put into liquidation. As a result of the fraud, the Jordanian government is forced to pay $200 million to depositors whose money had disappeared, and to avert a potential collapse of the country’s entire banking system. [American Prospect, 11/18/2002; Guardian, 4/14/2003; Salon, 5/4/2004; CounterPunch, 5/20/2004; New Yorker, 6/7/2004; Christian Science Monitor, 6/15/2004] Chalabi later provides a different account of what happened. According to Zaab Sethna, a spokesman for the Iraqi National Congress, King Hussein of Jordan turned on Chalabi in coordination with Iraq because Chalabi was “using the bank to fund [Iraqi] opposition groups and learning a lot about illegal arms transfers to Saddam.” Petra Bank was also providing the CIA with information on the Jordanian-Iraqi trade. [American Prospect, 11/18/2002; New Yorker, 6/7/2004]
Ahmed Chalabi, the charismatic, MIT-educated head of Jordan’s Petra Bank, flees to London before charges can be filed against him in regards to the collapse of his bank (see August 2, 1989 and April 9, 1992). Unworried about the Jordanian charges, Chalabi, whose formerly wealthy family fled Iraq in 1958, establishes a loose grouping of Iraqi exiles called the Iraqi National Congress, with the aim of overthrowing Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Chalabi has already forged ties with some US neoconservatives like Albert Wohlstetter and Richard Perle. Now he begins cultivating ties with other influential neoconservatives such as Paul Wolfowitz, James Woolsey, Douglas Feith, and Perle’s protege, David Wurmser. Chalabi makes the rounds of the symposia and conferences, and wins new allies in pro-Israeli think tanks such as the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) and the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP). Chalabi’s appeal to the neoconservatives is directly linked to his support for Israel as a regional power. The new Iraq he will build, he promises, will have strong relations with Israel. He even declares his intention to rebuild the oil pipeline from Kirkuk to Haifa, which has been inoperative since the 1940s. The neoconservatives ignore his close ties with the Iranian Shi’ite theocracy, as well as the Petra Bank’s funding of the Lebanese Shi’ite militia Amal. Instead, the neoconservatives view Chalabi as a potential savior of the Middle East. Patrick Clawson of WINEP says, “He could be Iraq’s national leader.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 123-125]
Entity Tags: Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, Albert Wohlstetter, Ahmed Chalabi, David Wurmser, Douglas Feith, Iraqi National Congress, Paul Wolfowitz, James Woolsey, Saddam Hussein, Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Patrick Clawson
Timeline Tags: Neoconservative Influence
Jordanian investigators spend 45 days in the US looking for hidden assets belonging to a Washington, DC subsidiary of Petra Bank, a Chalabi-controlled enterprise that collapsed in 1989 (see August 2, 1989). Nearly all of the US assets listed in Petra Bank’s books turn out to be worthless, with the notable exception of an auxiliary office where valuable bank records are presumably kept. The “office” is a country estate with a swimming pool in upscale Middleburg, Virginia. It belongs to the Chalabi family, which had been charging the bank a monthly rent. “There was not one business record in the whole place,” an official will later recall. [New Yorker, 6/7/2004]
Iraqi opposition leader Ahmed Chalabi, already forging ties with the CIA and positioning himself to take over from Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein (see May 1991 and 1992-1996), is also strengthening his position with the Iranian government. A CIA case officer later says that while he cannot be sure exactly when Chalabi began reaching out to Iran, he “was given safe houses and cars in [Kurdish-controlled] northern Iraq, and was letting them be used by agents from the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security [VEVAK], and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.” [Salon, 5/5/2004; Unger, 2007, pp. 125-126]
Ahmed Chalabi, an Iraqi exile fleeing charges of embezzlement from his former bank in Jordan (see August 2, 1989 and April 9, 1992), continues forging ties with American neoconservatives (see January 30, 2001 and 1985). Chalabi forms a friendship with neoconservative academic Bernard Lewis, who asks his colleagues inside the Bush administration, including Pentagon aide Zalmay Khalilzad, to help boost Chalabi’s profile inside the administration. Chalabi also meets neoconservative General Wayne Downing while Downing is in command of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. [Middle East Policy Council, 6/2004]
A 500-page report completed on behalf of the Jordanian military attorney-general charges that Ahmed Chalabi was directly responsible for the collapse of Petra Bank (see August 2, 1989). It accuses him of making “fictitious deposits and entries to make the income… appear larger; losses on shares and investments; [and] bad debts… to Abhara company and Al Rimal company.” The technical report contains 106 chapters, each of which addresses a different irregularity. Most of them are attributed to Chalabi. [Guardian, 4/14/2003]
President George H. W. Bush signs a covert “lethal finding” authorizing the CIA to spend a hundred million dollars to “create the conditions for removal of Saddam Hussein from power.” [New Yorker, 6/7/2004] The CIA forms the Iraqi Opposition Group within its Directorate of Operations to implement this policy. [Ritter, 2005, pp. 128] Awash in cash, the agency hires the Rendon Group to influence global political opinion on matters related to Iraq. According to Francis Brooke, an employee of the company who’s paid $22,000 per month, the Rendon Group’s contract with the CIA provides it with a ten percent “management fee” on top of whatever money it spends. “We tried to burn through $40 million a year,” Brooke will tell the New Yorker. “It was a very nice job.” The work involves planting false stories in the foreign press. The company begins supplying British journalists with misinformation which then shows up in the London press. In some cases, these stories are later picked up by the American press, in violation of laws prohibiting domestic propaganda. “It was amazing how well it worked. It was like magic,” Brooke later recalls. Another one of the company’s tasks is to help the CIA create a viable and unified opposition movement against Saddam Hussein (see June 1992). This brings the Rendon Group and Francis Brooke into contact with Iraqi exile Ahmed Chalabi (see After May 1991). The CIA will soon help Chalabi and Rendon create the Iraqi National Congress (INC) to further the goal of toppling Hussein. [New Yorker, 6/7/2004] Author and intelligence expert James Bamford will later say, “Chalabi was a creature of American propaganda to a large degree. It was an American company, the Rendon Group, that—working secretly with the CIA—basically created his organization, the Iraqi National Congress. And put Chalabi in charge basically.… From the very beginning Chalabi was paid a lot of money from the US taxpayers. The CIA paid him originally about 350,000 dollars a month, to Chalabi and his organization.” [PBS, 4/25/2007]
Iraqi National Congress logo. [Source: Iraqi National Congress]Over a period of four years, the CIA’s Iraq Operation Group provides the Iraqi National Congress (INC) with $100 million, which the organization uses to set up training camps and propaganda operations in Northern Iraq. [Christian Science Monitor, 6/15/2004; Ritter, 2005, pp. 128] During this time span, INC leader Ahmed Chalabi allegedly misuses a lot of the funds. “There was a lot of hanky-panky with the accounting: triple billing, things that weren’t mentioned, things inflated.… It was a nightmare,” a US intelligence official who works with Chalabi will say in 2004. [Newsweek, 4/5/2004] Chalabi refuses to share the organization’s books with other members of the INC, and even with the US government itself. According to a former CIA officer, “[T]hey argued that it would breach the secrecy of the operation.” One night, government investigators break into the INC’s offices to do an audit. They find that although the books are in order, many of the group’s expenditures are wasteful. [New Yorker, 6/7/2004] Chalabi spends much of his time in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq. Robert Baer, a CIA officer who is also working in Iraq, later recalls: “He was like the American Ambassador to Iraq. He could get to the White House and the CIA. He would move around Iraq with five or six Land Cruisers.” Hundreds of thousands of dollars flow “to this shadowy operator—in cars, salaries—and it was just a Potemkin village. He was reporting no intel; it was total trash. The INC’s intelligence was so bad, we weren’t even sending it in.” Chalabi tries to portray Saddam Hussein’s regime as “a leaking warehouse of gas, and all we had to do was light a match,” Baer says. Chalabi, at certain points, claims to know about Iraqi troop movements and palace plans. But “there was no detail, no sourcing—you couldn’t see it on a satellite.” [New Yorker, 6/7/2004] In her 2007 book Fair Game, former CIA analyst Valerie Plame Wilson, an expert on Iraq’s WMD programs, describes Chalabi as “Machiavellian,” and blames him for sending “dozens of tantalizing but ultimately false leads into the CIA net.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 106-107]
After a two-year investigation, Ahmed Chalabi is convicted in absentia and sentenced by a Jordanian military court to 22 years of hard labor and ordered to return $230 million in embezzled funds from his crimes connected with the Petra Bank. The 223-page verdict charges Chalabi with 31 counts of embezzlement, theft, forgery, currency speculation, making false statements, and making millions of dollars in bad loans to himself, to his friends, and to his family’s other financial enterprises in Lebanon and Switzerland (see June 1992). [Guardian, 4/14/2003; Newsweek, 4/5/2004; Salon, 5/4/2004; New Yorker, 6/7/2004; Christian Science Monitor, 6/15/2004]
Prominent Shiite Iraqi opposition groups join the Iraqi National Congress, a creation of the CIA (see June 1992), and hold a meeting in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq where they select a three-man leadership council and a 26-member executive council. The three leaders include moderate Shiite Muslim cleric Muhammad Bahr al-Ulum; ex-Iraqi general Hasan Naqib; and Masud Barzani. Ahmed Chalabi, who is reportedly not at all popular among the exiles present, is somehow selected to chair the executive council. This event represents the first major attempt to bring together the many different groups in Iraq opposed to Saddam Hussein. [Federation of American Scientists, 8/8/1998; New Yorker, 6/7/2004]
Iraqi exile Ahmed Chalabi (see 1992-1996) approaches the Clinton administration with a plan to overthrow Saddam Hussein. Defense Intelligence Agency agent Patrick Lang will later recall that the plan, dubbed “End Game,” starts with a revolt by Iraq’s Kurdish and Shi’a insurgents that will, theoretically, trigger an insurrection by Iraqi military commanders. The military will replace Hussein with a regime friendly to both Israel and the US. Clinton officials give the plan tentative approval, though as Lang will later write: “The plan was based on a belief that Iraq was ripe for revolt and that there were no units in the armed forces that would fight to preserve Saddam’s government. Since the same units had fought to keep Saddam in power during the Kurdish and Shi’a revolts of a few years before, it is difficult to see why the sponsors of End Game would have thought that.” Meanwhile, Saddam Hussein learns of the plan and prepares his own response. When Chalabi puts the plan into action, the Iraqi military, instead of revolting against Hussein, kills over 100 INC-backed insurgents (see March 1995). After the debacle, neither the CIA nor the White House will have anything more than superficial contact with Chalabi until 2001. [Middle East Policy Council, 6/2004; Unger, 2007, pp. 126]
After founding the Iraqi National Congress (INC), Ahmed Chalabi approaches the CIA for help in overthrowing Saddam Hussein. The agency, hoping Chalabi can provide useful intelligence, gives the organization millions of dollars to set up a “forgery shop” inside an abandoned schoolhouse in the Kurdish town of Salahuddin. The INC promptly sets about creating phony mockups of Iraqi newspapers filled with stories of Hussein’s abuses. “It was something like a spy novel,” CIA agent Robert Baer will later recall. “It was a room where people were scanning Iraqi intelligence documents into computers, and doing disinformation. There was a whole wing of it that he did forgeries in.… He was forging back then, in order to bring down Saddam.” Carla Bonini, an Italian reporter, will later recall: “When I visited [Chalabi] in London, he told me, ‘You can have anything you want.’ It was like a shopping mall for intelligence.” Bonini quickly learns that Chalabi’s information, although often sensational, is virtually useless. None of it can be independently confirmed, and most of it turns out to be fabrications. One of the documents fabricated by the INC is a copy of a purported letter to Chalabi from President Clinton’s National Security Council. The letter requests Chalabi’s help in a plot to assassinate Saddam Hussein. Baer believes Chalabi’s intent is to trick the Iranians into believing that the Americans will kill Hussein, thus inspiring them into joining a plot against the dictator. According to Francis Brooke, a Rendon Group employee working with the INC, Chalabi did not create the forged letter. “That would be illegal,” he says. [New Yorker, 6/7/2004; Unger, 2007, pp. 125]
Ahmed Chalabi creates a militia army of about 1,000 fighters in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq and bribes tribal leaders in the city of Mosul to support a planned rebellion against Saddam Hussein (see November 1993). He is also hosting members of Iranian intelligence who promise that when the operation is launched, Iran will simultaneously hit Iraq from the south. But the CIA learns that Baathist officials have caught wind of the plot and the CIA instructs agent Robert Baer to tell Chalabi that “any decision to proceed will be on your own.” Chalabi, who has no military experience, decides to go through with the plot anyway. But the operation quickly flounders when over 100 INC fighters are killed by Iraqi forces, many more of Chalabi’s fighters desert, the bribed Iraqi tribal leaders stay home, and the Iranians do nothing. The CIA is furious that it funded the operation, which becomes known within the agency as the “Bay of Goats.” [CounterPunch, 5/20/2004; New Yorker, 6/7/2004; Unger, 2007, pp. 126] CENTCOM commander General Anthony Zinni has similar feelings. “It got me pretty angry,” he recalls. “They were saying if you put a thousand troops on the ground, Saddam’s regime will collapse, they won’t fight. I said, ‘I fly over them every day, and they shoot at us. We hit them, and they shoot at us again. No way a thousand forces would end it.’ The exile group was giving them inaccurate information. Their scheme was ridiculous.” Zinni had warned Congress that Chalabi’s invasion plan was “pie in the sky, a fairy tale,” but was ignored. [Unger, 2007, pp. 160-161]
After the failed coup attempt in Iraq (see March 1995), Ahmed Chalabi comes to Washington to lobby the US government to pursue a policy of regime change. Chalabi sets up shop in a million-dollar brick row house in Georgetown, owned by Levantine Holdings, a Chalabi family corporation based in Luxembourg. The house will serve as both the Iraqi National Congress’ Washington headquarters and as Chalabi’s home. Francis Brooke, Chalabi’s aide, and Brooke’s family will live in the house for free. [Washington Post, 11/24/2003; New Yorker, 6/7/2004] Brooke is reportedly a devout Christian who, the New Yorker reports, “has brought an evangelical ardor to the cause of defeating Saddam.” Brooke tells the magazine: “I do have a religious motivation for doing what I do. I see Iraq as our neighbor. And the Bible says, when your neighbor is in a ditch, God means for you to help him.”
[New Yorker, 6/7/2004] Brooke believes that Saddam Hussein is of such an evil nature, that even the most extreme measures would be justified to remove him. Charles Glass of Harper’s will report that Brooke “says he would support the elimination of Saddam, even if every single Iraqi were killed in the process. He means it. ‘I’m coming from a place different from you…. I believe in good and evil. That man is absolute evil and must be destroyed.’… He says he believes in Jesus and in resurrection and in eternity. If all the Iraqis die, he says, they will live in eternity. But the ‘human Satan’ must go, no matter what.”
[CounterPunch, 5/20/2004] As part of their lobbying strategy, Chalabi and Brookes examine the successes of various American Jewish lobby groups. “We knew we had to create a domestic constituency with some electoral clout, so we decided to use the AIPAC [American Israel Political Action Committee] model,” Brooke later the New Yorker. [New Yorker, 6/7/2004]
The CIA—concerned about Chalabi’s contacts with Iran and convinced that he is not capable of delivering on his promises—severs its ties with him and the Iraqi National Congress. [ABC, 2/7/1998; New Yorker, 6/7/2004; Christian Science Monitor, 6/15/2004] Former CIA base chief Robert Baer recalls in 2006 that “[t]he quality” of the INC’s intelligence “was very bad. There was a feeling that Chalabi was prepping defectors. We had no systematic way to vet the information, but it was obvious most of it was cooked.” [Mother Jones, 4/2006]
One of the Kurdish groups within the Iraqi National Congress (INC) invites Iraqi forces into Kurdistan to crush a rival faction allied with Chalabi. Saddam Hussein sends 40,000 Iraqi soldiers and 300 tanks into the Kurdish city of Irbil. Saddam’s forces capture, torture, and kill hundreds of Chalabi’s followers and some INC officials. At this time, Chalabi is in London. The Clinton administration eventually evacuates 7,000 supporters. [ABC, 2/7/1998; Guardian, 2/22/2002; American Prospect, 11/18/2002; New Yorker, 6/7/2004] A few years later, Chalabi and his aide, Francis Brooke, will help ABC News produce a documentary that puts the blame on the CIA. [ABC, 2/7/1998]
Cover of ‘Tyranny’s Ally’. [Source: Amazon (.com)]Neoconservative David Wurmser, the co-author of “A Clean Break,” the recently prepared plan to redraw the Middle East (see July 8, 1996), writes a book, Tyranny’s Ally, in which he advocates that the US use military force to literally redraw the map of the Middle East. In his book, Wurmser says that Iran’s Shi’ites will be negated by Iraq’s Shi’ites, whom for some unexplained reason can be expected “to present a challenge to Iran’s influence and revolution.” Wurmser writes that by overthrowing Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, the US will destabilize the role of the mullahs in Iran as well. “Any serious display of American determination,” Wurmser writes, will cause “our regional enemies to wilt.” Overthrowing Hussein “will send terrifying shock waves into Tehran… and will promote pro-American coalitions in the region, unravel hostile coalitions.” We even asserts that “the Iraqi Shi’ites… if liberated from [Hussein’s tyranny], can be expected to present a challenge to Iran’s influence and revolution.” In 2007, author Craig Unger writes sarcastically, “Democracy would spread throughout the region! Israel would be secure and the US would have allies in the oil-rich states of Iran and Iraq! But, again, the text contained no facts to back up Wurmser’s assumptions.” Wurmser acknowledges those “who guided my understanding” as Iraqi exile Ahmed Chalabi, “Clean Break” co-author Richard Perle, and Perle’s close colleague Douglas Feith, among others, leading Unger to observe, “In other words, the neocon echo chamber had begun to rely on itself to reinforce their own myths.” [Unger, 2007; Unger, 2007]
Ahmed Chalabi, speaking before an audience at the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), insists that with just minimal support from the US, Saddam Hussein’s government could easily be toppled and replaced with a government friendly to Israel. Chalabi’s ideas reportedly catch the attention of neoconservatives Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith. [Newsweek, 5/31/2003; New Yorker, 6/7/2004]
According to Middle East expert Judith Kipper, around this time, Ahmed Chalabi makes “a deliberate decision to turn to the right,” having realized that conservatives are more likely than liberals to support his plan to use force to topple Saddam Hussein’s government. Chalabi’s aide, Francis Brooke, later explains to the New Yorker: “We thought very carefully about this, and realized there were only a couple of hundred people” in Washington capable of influencing US policy toward Iraq. He also attends social functions with Richard Perle, whom he met in 1985 (see 1985) and who is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and Dick Cheney, the CEO of Halliburton. According to Brooke, “from the beginning, Cheney was in philosophical agreement with this plan. Cheney has said, ‘Very seldom in life do you get a chance to fix something that went wrong.’” Paul Wolfowitz is said to be enamored with Chalabi. According to an American friend of Chalabi, “Chalabi really charmed him. He told me they are both intellectuals. Paul is a bit of a dreamer.” [New Yorker, 6/7/2004] He also becomes friends with L. Marc Zell and Douglas Feith of the Washington-Tel Aviv law, Feith and Zell. [Salon, 5/5/2004] Chalabi tells his neoconservatives friends that if he replaces Saddam Hussein as Iraq’s leader, he would establish normal diplomatic and trade ties with Israel, eschew pan-Arab nationalism, and allow the construction of a pipeline from Mosul to the Israeli port of Haifa, Zell later tells Salon magazine. Having a pro-Israeli regime in Iraq would “take off the board” one of the only remaining major Arab threats to Israeli security, a senior administration official says in 2003. It would do this “without the need for an accommodation with either the Palestinians or the existing Arab states,” notes Salon. [Knight Ridder, 7/12/2003; Salon, 5/5/2004] But Chalabi has a different story for his Arab friends. He tells his friend, Moh’d Asad, the managing director of the Amman, Jordan-based International Investment Arabian Group, “that he just need[s] the Jews in order to get what he want[s] from Washington, and that he [will] turn on them after that.” [Salon, 5/5/2004] Chalabi also says that the Iraqis would welcome a US liberation force with open arms. [Christian Science Monitor, 6/15/2004]
David Wurmser, director of the Middle East program at the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute, writes an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal arguing that the US government should support Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress [INC] and work to foment “an Iraqi insurgency to depose the butcher of Baghdad.” Wurmser writes: “Washington has no choice now but to abandon the coup option and resurrect the INC. An insurgency may be able to defeat Saddam’s weak and demoralized conventional army. But one thing is clear: There is no cost-free way to depose Saddam. He is more resolute, wily and brutal than we. His strength lies in his weapons of terror; that is why he is so attached to them…. Organizing an insurgency to liberate Iraq under the INC may provoke Saddam to use these weapons on the way down. Better that, though, than current policy, which will lead him to use them on his way back up.” [Wall Street Journal, 11/12/1997]
UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter meets with Ahmed Chalabi of the Iraqi National Congress. According to Ritter, Chalabi tells him that he has close contacts with Iranian Intelligence and offers to set up a meeting between Ritter and the head of Iranian intelligence. (Chalabi later claims this is “an absolute falsehood.”) [CounterPunch, 5/20/2004]
Ahmed Chalabi suggests in an interview with the Jerusalem Post that if the INC is successful in its efforts to topple Saddam Hussein’s government, the new government will restore the oil pipeline from Kirkuk, Iraq to Haifa, Israel. The pipeline has been inoperative since the state of Israel was established in 1948. [New Yorker, 6/7/2004]
Chalabi shaking hands with Sen. Joe Lieberman, date unknown. While Lieberman is a Democrat, his hawkish foreign policy stance will eventually force him to leave the Democratic party and become an independent. [Source: CBC]Ahmed Chalabi and Francis Brooke find allies in the US Senate’s Republican leadership. They provide the Republicans with details about the events surrounding the INC-CIA’s 1995 failed plot against Saddam Hussein (see March 1995) and Iraq’s subsequent incursion into Kurdish territory (see August 1996) which the Republican senators use against the Clinton White House and the CIA. “Clinton gave us a huge opportunity,” Brooke later recalls. “We took a Republican Congress and pitted it against a Democratic White House. We really hurt and embarrassed the president.” The Republican leadership in Congress, he acknowledges, “didn’t care that much about the ammunition. They just wanted to beat up the president.” Senior Republican senators, according to Brooke, are “very receptive, right away” to Chalabi and Brooke’s information, and Chalabi is soon on a first-name basis with 30 members of Congress, including senators Trent Lott, Jesse Helms, and Newt Gingrich. [Alternet, 5/21/2004; New Yorker, 6/7/2004]
Scott Ritter. [Source: Public domain/ David Shankbone]Ahmed Chalabi meets Scott Ritter, a liaison for the UN weapons inspectors program, in his London apartment. When Chalabi asks Ritter what kind of information inspectors need, Ritter discloses all of the inspectors’ intelligence gaps. “I should have asked him what he could give me,” Ritter later tells the New Yorker. “We made the biggest mistake in the intelligence business: we identified all of our gaps.” The New Yorker reports: “Ritter outlines most of the UN inspectors’ capabilities and theories, telling Chalabi how they had searched for underground bunkers with ground-penetrating radar. He also told Chalabi of his suspicion that Saddam may have had mobile chemical- or biological-weapons laboratories.…” [New Yorker, 6/7/2004]
The Committee for Peace and Security in the Gulf (CPSG), a bipartisan group made up largely of foreign policy specialists, sends an “Open Letter to the President” calling for President Clinton to use the US military to help Iraqi opposition groups overthrow Saddam Hussein and replace him with a US-friendly government. US law forbids such an operation. The group is led by, among others, former Representative Stephen Solarz (D-NY) and prominent Bush adviser Richard Perle, a former assistant secretary of defense.
Largely Neoconservative in Makeup - Many of its co-signers will become the core of the Bush administration’s neoconservative-driven national security apparatus. These co-signers include Elliott Abrams, Richard Armitage, John Bolton, Stephen Bryen, Douglas Feith, Frank Gaffney, Fred Ikle, Robert Kagan, Zalmay Khalilzad, William Kristol, Michael Ledeen, Bernard Lewis, Peter Rodman, Donald Rumsfeld, Gary Schmitt, Max Singer, Casper Weinberger, Paul Wolfowitz, David Wurmser, and Dov Zakheim. [CNN, 2/20/1998; Middle East Policy Council, 6/2004] The CPSG is closely affiliated with both the neoconservative Project for the New American Century (PNAC—see June 3, 1997 and January 26, 1998) and the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI), both of which boast Perle as a powerful and influential member. Jim Lobe of the Project Against the Present Danger later learns that the CPSG is funded in large part by a sizable grant from the right-wing Bradley Foundation, a key funding source for both the PNAC and the AEI. According to Counterpunch’s Kurt Nimmo, the plan for overthrowing Iraq later adopted by the Bush administration, and currently advocated by the CPSG, will be echoed in the PNAC’s September 2000 document, “Rebuilding America’s Defenses” (see September 2000). [CounterPunch, 11/19/2002]
Advocates Supporting Iraq-Based Insurgency - The letter reads in part: “Despite his defeat in the Gulf War, continuing sanctions, and the determined effort of UN inspectors to root out and destroy his weapons of mass destruction, Saddam Hussein has been able to develop biological and chemical munitions.… This poses a danger to our friends, our allies, and to our nation.… In view of Saddam Hussein’s refusal to grant UN inspectors the right to conduct unfettered inspections of those sites where he is suspected of storing his still significant arsenal of chemical and biological munitions and his apparent determination never to relinquish his weapons of mass destruction, we call upon President Clinton to adopt and implement a plan of action designed to finally and fully resolve this utterly unacceptable threat to our most vital national interests.” The plan is almost identical to the “End Game” scenario proposed in 1993 (see November 1993) and carried out, without success, in 1995 (see March 1995). It is also virtually identical to the “Downing Plan,” released later in 1998 (see Late 1998). In 2004, then-Defense Intelligence Agency official Patrick Lang will observe, “The letter was remarkable in that it adopted some of the very formulations that would later be used by Vice President [Dick] Cheney and other current administration officials to justify the preventive war in Iraq that commenced on March 20, 2003” (see March 19, 2003). The CPSG advocates:
US support for Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress (INC—see 1992-1996) as the provisional government to replace Hussein’s dictatorship;
Funding the INC with seized Iraqi assets, designating areas in the north and south as INC-controlled zones, and lifting sanctions in those areas;
Providing any ground assault by INC forces (see October 31, 1998) with a “systematic air campaign” by US forces;
Prepositioning US ground force equipment “so that, as a last resort, we have the capacity to protect and assist the anti-Saddam forces in the northern and southern parts of Iraq”;
Bringing Hussein before an international tribunal on war crimes charges.
Carrying out these actions, Solarz says, would completely eliminate the threat of weapons of mass destruction that he claims Iraq owns. [Abrams et al., 2/19/1998; CNN, 2/20/1998; Middle East Policy Council, 6/2004]
Entity Tags: Richard Burt, Richard Armitage, Richard Perle, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Paula J. Dobriansky, Peter Rosenblatt, Project for the New American Century, Richard V. Allen, Peter Rodman, Robert A. Pastor, Saddam Hussein, Robert Kagan, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, William Kristol, Zalmay M. Khalilzad, William B. Clark, Sven F. Kraemer, Stephen Solarz, Roger Robinson, Paul Wolfowitz, Stephen Bryen, Robert C. McFarlane, Michael Ledeen, Patrick Lang, Fred C. Ikle, Dov S. Zakheim, Elliott Abrams, Frank Carlucci, Douglas Feith, Frank Gaffney, Donald Rumsfeld, Committee for Peace and Security in the Gulf, American Enterprise Institute, Ahmed Chalabi, Max Singer, David Wurmser, Bernard Lewis, Caspar Weinberger, Gary Schmitt, Kurt Nimmo, Leon Wienseltier, Martin Peretz, Joshua Muravchik, Frederick L. Lewis, John R. Bolton, Jeffrey T. Bergner, Helmut Sonnenfeldt, Jarvis Lynch, Jeffrey Gedmin, Jim Lobe, Iraqi National Congress
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Neoconservative Influence
Weapons inspectors with the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) report finding evidence that Iraq put VX nerve toxin into missile warheads before the 1991 Gulf War. Iraq has denied being able to make a weapon using VX payloads. The evidence comes from a classified US Army laboratory analysis of warhead fragments recovered by UNSCOM inspectors from a destruction pit at Taji, Iraq, in March 1998. Swabs from the warheads analyzed for the UN at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland showed “significant amounts” of degraded “VX disulfide… and stabilizer” in the samples, according to the UN. The laboratory results seem to confirm suspicions raised by Iraqi defectors and other sources, which indicated that Iraq, contrary to its claims, had indeed succeeded in stabilizing and weaponizing VX nerve gas. VX is an intensely lethal compound; using such nerve toxin in a missile attack would potentially inflict large casualties on the targeted population. The discovery also lends credence to suspicions that Iraq has intentionally misled inspectors about its weapons of mass destruction. Iraq has refused to admit that it ever created weaponized VX or that it deployed the nerve toxin in missile warheads. [Washington Post, 6/23/1998; TruthDig, 3/17/2008]
Leaked by INC - The Aberdeen report is leaked to the Washington Post through officials at the Iraqi National Congress (INC), which the Post will describe as “the principal Iraqi exile opposition group.” Diplomatic sources later confirm the findings, and US government officials will not dispute the conclusion.
Used to Criticize Clinton Administration - The report gives fresh ammunition to conservative Republicans seeking to target the Clinton administration for what they see as its failure to strongly support UNSCOM weapons inspections and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) will write in response to the report, “The latest example of a failed policy toward Iraq will not be swept under the rug.” Lott will write that he and other Republicans may use the issue to derail the Senate confirmations of US ambassador to the UN Richard Holbrooke and Energy Secretary Bill Richardson.
Republican Official: Iraqis 'Lied from the Start' - INC president Ahmed Chalabi will call the report “a smoking gun,” and add: “It shows that Saddam is still lying, and that this whole arrangement based on his turning his weapons of terror over to the United Nations is not workable. He has stabilized VX, which means he can store it for a long time and bring it out for use when he wants.” A Republican Senate official adds: “This report means that they have VX out there now, and can use it. They have lied from from the start.” [Washington Post, 6/23/1998]
Press Leak Alters UNSCOM Reaction - UNSCOM chief Richard Butler’s plans to announce a “major breakthrough” in diplomatic negotiations with Iraq are scuttled when the Post reports on the VX lab test results. The story focuses not just on the fact that traces of VX were found in Iraqi warheads, but on the harsh criticisms leveled by Lott and other Republicans. The Post writes: “The new indications of Iraqi deception also are likely to reverberate in US politics, where conservative Republicans are increasingly critical of what they see as a failure by the Clinton administration to support strongly either aggressive UNSCOM inspections for Iraqi weapons of mass destruction or efforts to overthrow Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.” [TruthDig, 3/17/2008]
Report Disproven - Further research will disprove the Aberdeen test results, and conclude that Iraq had not, in fact, packed warheads with VX nerve toxin (see July 1998).
David Wurmser says that having a region in northern Iraq controlled by the Iraqi National Congress would provide the missing piece to complete an anti-Syria, anti-Iran block. “If Ahmed [Chalabi] extends a no-fly, no-drive in northern Iraq, it puts scuds out of the range of Israel and provides the geographic beachhead between Turkey, Jordan and Israel,” Wurmser says. “This should anchor the Middle East pro-Western coalition.” [Forward, 7/31/2003]
UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter attempts to leak a confidential United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) report on Iraq’s production of VX nerve agent to the American press (see June 10, 1998). The attempt spirals into an effort by Ahmed Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress (INC—see 1992-1996) to recruit Ritter’s help in crafting a plan for Chalabi’s INC, with American assistance, to overthrow Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and place Chalabi in control. Ritter becomes aware of a report from a US military laboratory that proves in 1991 Iraq had manufactured VX nerve agent and deployed it in missile warheads. The Iraqis have admitted to attempting to produce the deadly toxin, but have long insisted that they were never successful in producing weaponized VX. Although there is no reason to believe that Iraq retains active VX from its former chemical weapons program, UNSCOM officials are furious about having been lied to for years by the Iraqis. UNSCOM chief Richard Butler, involved in delicate negotiations with the Iraqi government on developing a “road map” for addressing numerous outstanding issues between Iraq and the UN, decides to keep the report under wraps. UNSCOM officials are even more outraged at Butler’s decision; many believe that Butler is acquiescing to Clinton administration officials who want to avoid a confrontation with Iraq and the UN. When Ritter offers to leak the document in Washington in such a way that would not be traced to the UNSCOM officials who have seen the report, they quickly slip him a copy of the report, and Ritter prepares to fly to Washington.
First Meeting with Chalabi - Ritter is already scheduled to meet with CIA officials about other intelligence support programs. He calls Randy Scheunemann, the national security adviser for Senator Trent Lott (R-MS), the Senate Majority Leader, and sets up a meeting to, as Ritter will later write, “discuss some new developments” regarding the Iraqis. Scheunemann agrees, and asks if Ritter would be willing to meet with Chalabi at Chalabi’s Georgetown townhouse. Ritter is nonplussed at the request, but decides that since he had already discussed Iraqi weapons of mass destruction with Chalabi in a meeting authorized by Butler (see January 27, 1998), this Georgetown meeting could be construed as a legitimate followup. Ritter agrees. Upon arriving at Washington’s National Airport, he is met by Chalabi’s driver, who takes him to Georgetown. Chalabi presents Ritter with what Ritter will later recall as “an ambitious program, including briefings to senators and their staffs.” The meeting lasts well into the night, and Ritter agrees to stay overnight in a guest room.
Leaking the Report - The next day, Ritter meets with the CIA and then with Scheunemann. Ritter gives Scheunemann the UNSCOM report and explains its significance. “If it could find its way into the press in a way that removed any UNSCOM fingerprints, this would be ideal,” he tells Scheunemann. “That way the data remains uncompromised, and yet politically Butler and the White House can’t ignore it.” Scheunemann says with a smile, “I think we can manage that.”
'The Chalabi Factor' - Scheunemann then takes Ritter to meet Lott, who seems more interested in Ritter’s interactions with Chalabi than in the report. “I hope you take some time to talk with him, and some other interesting people I think you will be meeting with” Lott tells Ritter. “Exchange ideas. See if you can help him in any way. We’re all on the same side here, and we have to start finding ways to break down some barriers others have constructed between us.” Ritter returns to Chalabi’s home, where he meets with Francis Brooke, Chalabi’s principal American adviser, and Max Singer, a conservative foreign policy expert who specializes in what Ritter will term “political warfare.” Scheunemann has asked Singer to write a paper called “The Chalabi Factor” that touts Chalabi as the man to lead a revolution that would result in the ouster of Hussein. Chalabi asked Singer to share the paper with Ritter. Singer has sketched out a scenario that envisions Chalabi and INC fighters capturing the southern oil fields around Basra, giving the INC a political and military foothold inside Iraq, and then rallying disenchanted Shi’ites and Kurds into supporting his insurgency. Ritter later recalls: “I was somewhat taken aback by the content of the Singer paper. I was on dangerous political ground here, a UN weapons inspector charged with the disarmament of Iraq, suddenly dabbling in the world of regime change. Far from advising me on issues of intelligence regarding Iraqi WMD, Ahmed Chalabi had turned the tables and had me advising him on how to overthrow Saddam Hussein.” The three are soon joined by Chalabi and Stephen Rademaker, the lawyer for the House Foreign Affairs Committee and, as Ritter later describes him, an unabashed member of the far right and a Chalabi supporter. The conversation does not center on arms control, as Ritter had originally planned to discuss, but regime change. The others are uninterested in Ritter’s suggestion that pressure be brought to bear on the Hussein regime over the VX discovery. “[W]e all know Saddam is cheating, and that his days are numbered,” Rademaker says. “What we don’t have is a plan on what we are going to do once Saddam is out of office. Mr. Chalabi represents our best hopes in that regard, which is why we’re delighted that you and he are meeting like this.”
Handling the Ba'athists - Ritter tells the others that the Shi’ites and Kurds cannot be treated as “homogeneous movement[s],” but as loose, fractious amalgamations of disparate elements. He then asks: “The key to me is what is missing here: any discussion of the Ba’ath Party or the Sunni tribes. The Ba’ath Party is the only vehicle that exists in Iraq today that unites Sunnis, Shi’a and Kurds alike. It makes modern Iraq function. How do you plan on dealing with the Ba’ath Party in a post-Saddam environment? And what is your plan for winning over the Sunni tribes? How will you bring the tribes that represent the foundation of Saddam’s political support into the fold with your Kurdish and Shi’a supporters?” As Ritter later writes: “Steve Rademaker and Francis Brooke stared blankly. Chalabi was grinning ear to ear. ‘We have a plan. First, we will do away completely with the Baath Party. Those minor members who were forced to join out of survival, of course, they will be allowed to retain their jobs. But anyone who profited from Baathist rule will be punished. As for the Sunni tribes, we are already in contact with their representatives. We feel that the best way to negotiate with them, however, is to make them realize that there is no future with Saddam. Once they realize that, they will come over to our side.’ Chalabi’s ‘plan’ struck me as simplistic at best, and entirely unrealistic.”
The Downing Plan - In answer to Ritter’s questions about defeating the Iraqi military—the large Iraqi Army, the well-trained Republican Guard and other security forces—Chalabi shows Ritter a document, “The Military Plan.” Chalabi says: “This was written for me by Gen. Wayne Downing. I believe you know him from Operation Desert Storm.” Downing had been a Special Forces commander during the 1991 Gulf War; Ritter had worked with Downing’s unit in preventing Iraqi missile launches at Israel (see January 17, 1991). Downing has crafted a plan (see Late 1998) that calls for the US to train and arm several thousand INC fighters who would operate out of bases in western Iraq, out of Hussein’s control. They would fight from light vehicles armed with anti-tank missile launchers, and would rely on support from local tribes in the area, particularly the al-Duleimi in and around Ramadi and Anbar. Ritter is dubious, knowing that the al-Duleimi have provided many of Hussein’s best soldiers. Chalabi is unworried about their support, and tells Ritter, “My people have already had discussions with the tribal leaders of the al-Duleimi, who are ready to join us once we get situated on the ground.” Ritter then objects to Downing’s inclusion of US military advisers and US warplanes, both directly supporting and perhaps even fighting alongside the INC troops. “We don’t operate like that,” Ritter objects. “If we have forces on the ground, then we’ll need to have a base, with a base support element, and base security, and a quick-reaction force in case some of our boys get in trouble. The US presence would have to be much greater than what you’re saying here.” Chalabi merely smiles. “That may be so,” he says, “but we don’t have to highlight it at this time.” Ritter later observes: “The ‘Downing Plan’ was a nice bit of trickery, plotting what was ostensibly an Iraqi opposition military force with minor US military involvement, but masking what was in reality a much larger US military effort with a minor role played by Chalabi’s INC ‘army.’” Ritter is now thoroughly alarmed.
'My Friend Ahmed' - The small group is joined by Danielle Pletka, Rademaker’s wife and a staunchly conservative staffer on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and former CIA director James Woolsey. Over dinner, the group moves from discussing the military plans for overthrowing Hussein to a broader discussion of Chalabi’s political future. Woolsey, a vocal supporter of Chalabi, has no patience with the CIA’s objections to earlier actions by Chalabi and the INC (see January 1996). “This [criticism] is all bunk,” Woolsey says. “Chalabi is an Iraqi patriot and visionary who intimidates many lesser thinkers in Langley. My friend Ahmed is a risk taker who understands the reality of Iraq, unlike the desk-bound analysts and risk-averse operators at the CIA. Chalabi scares these people, so they have created false accusations in order to denigrate him and ultimately destroy him.” Pletka agrees: “We cannot allow this to happen. Ahmed Chalabi has many friends in Congress, and it is our goal to make sure Ahmed Chalabi gets the support he needs to not only survive as a viable opposition figure to Saddam Hussein but more importantly to prevail in Iraq.” Ritter is increasingly uncomfortable with what he will later call “a political strategy session.” It is clear, Ritter will write, “that Chalabi was being groomed for another run at power” (see March 1995).
Recruitment - According to Ritter, Chalabi suggests that Ritter would be very helpful to his organization, and Chalabi could be helpful to Ritter in return. “I have many friends here in Washington,” Chalabi says over breakfast. “With what you know about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, you can be of invaluable assistance to our cause. The VX story is but the tip of the iceberg.” Ritter will describe himself as “taken aback,” since he never told Chalabi about the VX lab report. Ritter replies: “Well, I am just a simple weapons inspector. In any event, it wouldn’t go over well back at the UN to have an UNSCOM inspector plotting regime change down in Washington, DC.” Then, locking eyes with Chalabi, Ritter says: “This is why you must be very discreet about the VX lab report. It simply won’t do for you to have your fingerprints on this information.” Chalabi smilingly replies: “I understand completely. As for your status as a weapons inspector, you must understand that those days are nearly gone. The inspection process has run its course. You need to think about what you are going to be doing in the future. I would like you to work for me.” Ritter objects, noting that an American citizen can’t be involved in plots to overthrow heads of foreign nations. Chalabi corrects Ritter: “You wouldn’t be working for me, but for the US Senate. My friends would create an advisory position for you, and you would in turn advise me. It wouldn’t pay much upfront. But don’t worry. One day I will be the president of Iraq, and will be in control of Iraq’s oil. When that day comes, I will not forget those who helped me in my time of need. Let’s just say that my friends will be given certain oil concessions that will make them very wealthy.”
Meeting with the Senator - Chalabi’s butler drives Ritter to meet with Pletka at the Capitol Building; the two go to the office of Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS), who is fully aware of the VX lab report. Brownback is angry that the Clinton administration is reluctant to fully assist the UNSCOM inspectors. “This will not stand,” he tells Ritter. “Believe me when I say you and your colleagues have friends here in the US Senate who will make sure America honors its commitments and obligations, especially when it comes to disarming a cruel tyrant such as Saddam Hussein.” Afterwards, Ritter and Pletka are joined by Rademaker in the Senate cafeteria, who says he has the ear of several influential Congressmen. “We’ve got their attention,” Rademaker says, “and I think you’ll find that serious pressure will be brought on the Clinton administration to better support your work.” Pletka and Ritter then meet Lott and Scheunemann again; Scheunemann once again asks Ritter for his future collaboration. Lott reassures Ritter that there would be no legal or ethical conflicts: “Well, maybe we can find a way to bring you down here working for us. That might be the most useful thing to do.” Leaving the Senate building, Ritter muses that “Chalabi’s schemes seemed to have some substance behind them.”
Long-Term Ramifications - Butler will drastically revise his report to the UN Security Council, and the news of a “major breakthrough” in disarmament work with the Iraqis is shelved. The Clinton administration will issue statesments publicly supporting the UNSCOM inspectors, undercutting behind-the-scenes attempts by National Security Adviser Sandy Berger and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to have the US pull back from blanket support of the inspections. Conservative Republicans will rally around the cause of Iraqi duplicity; Scheunemann will use the VX report to drum up support for the Iraqi Liberation Act, which will pass several months after Ritter’s dinner with Chalabi (see October 31, 1998). And Chalabi and the INC will become the leading candidates for replacing Hussein. Reflecting on Chalabi’s prominence in the Post report, Ritter will write, “After watching the Republicans build up Chalabi, I should have known that they could not have passed up this opportunity to interject his name into the limelight.”
Iraqis Truthful about VX - Later evidence and inspection findings show that the Iraqi scientists had been truthful: they had never succeeded in stabilizing VX, and had never filled any warheads with the nerve toxin. The lab results are later shown to be severely flawed. Ritter will write, “In the end, I was wrong to have pushed so hard to have the lab results made public.” [New Yorker, 6/7/2004; TruthDig, 3/17/2008]
Entity Tags: Washington Post, Stephen Rademaker, Wayne Downing, United Nations Special Commission, Sandy Berger, Trent Lott, Samuel Brownback, Scott Ritter, Richard Butler, Ahmed Chalabi, Central Intelligence Agency, Clinton administration, Danielle Pletka, Francis Brooke, James Woolsey, Randy Scheunemann, Iraqi National Congress, Max Singer, Madeleine Albright, Saddam Hussein
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion
President Clinton signs the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998 (ILA) into law. The act, which passed with overwhelming support from Democrats and Republicans in both the House and Senate, was written by Trent Lott (R-MS) and other Republicans with significant input from Ahmed Chalabi and his aide, Francis Brooke. [US Congress, 10/31/1998 ; Washington Post, 1/25/2002; New Yorker, 6/7/2004] (Former Defense Intelligence Agency official Patrick Lang will later write that one of the driving goals behind the ILA is to revive the failed 1995 coup plans against Saddam Hussein, called “End Game”—see November 1993.) [Middle East Policy Council, 6/2004] The act makes it “the policy of the United States to support efforts to remove the regime headed by Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq and to promote the emergence of a democratic government to replace that regime.” To that end, the act requires that the president designate one or more Iraqi opposition groups to receive up to $97 million in US military equipment and nonlethal training. The act authorizes another $43 million for humanitarian, broadcasting, and information-collection activities. To be eligible for US assistance, an organization must be “committed to democratic values, to respect for human rights, to peaceful relations with Iraq’s neighbors, to maintaining Iraq’s territorial integrity, and to fostering cooperation among democratic opponents of the Saddam Hussein regime.” [US Congress, 10/31/1998 ; Washington Post, 1/25/2002; New Yorker, 6/7/2004]
Chalabi Receives Millions from State Department - Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress receives $17.3 million from the State Department to carry out what it calls the “collection and dissemination of information” about Saddam Hussein’s atrocities to the public. It will continue to receive hundreds of thousands per month from the Defense Department as well. [Mother Jones, 4/2006] However, the Clinton administration itself has little use for Chalabi. One administration official will say, “He represents four or five guys in London who wear nice suits and have a fax machine.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 160]
Zinni Warns of Legislation Presaging Military Action - While few in Washington see the ILA as presaging military action against Iraq, one who does is Marine Corps General Anthony Zinni, the commander of CENTCOM. As the bill works its way through Congress, Zinni tells some of his senior staff members that the bill is far more serious than most believe. It is much more than a sop for the pro-war crowd, Zinni believes, but in reality a first step towards an invasion of Iraq. In 2004, former ambassador Joseph Wilson will write, “He was, of course, right, but few were listening.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 290]
A number of neoconservatives, led by retired General Wayne Downing (see 1990-1991) and retired CIA officer Duane “Dewey” Clarridge (see December 25, 1992), use the recently passed Iraqi Liberation Act (ILA—see October 31, 1998) to revive the failed “End Game” coup plans against Saddam Hussein (see November 1993 and March 1995). Both Downing and Clarridge are “military consultants” to Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress, who attempted to carry out the coup in 1995 with dismal results. Downing and Clarridge produce an updated version of the INC’s “End Game” scenario, calling it “The Downing Plan.” The Downing scenario varies very little from the original plan. Their plan stipulates that a “crack force” of 5,000 INC fighters, backed up by a detachment of US Special Forces soldiers, could bring down the Iraqi Army. Clarridge later tells reporters: “The idea from the beginning was to encourage defections of Iraqi units. You need to create a nucleus, something for people to defect to. If they could take Basra, it would be all over.” Former Defense Intelligence Agency official Patrick Lang will later write, “It is difficult to understand how a retired four-star Army general [Downing] could believe this to be true.” General Anthony Zinni, commander of CENTCOM, which has operational control of US combat forces in the Middle East, is provided with a copy of Chalabi’s military plan to overthrow Saddam Hussein. “It got me pretty angry,” he later recalls. He warns Congress that Chalabi’s plan is a “pie in the sky, a fairy tale,” and predicts that executing such a poorly envisioned assault would result in a “Bay of Goats.” Chalabi’s INC is nothing more than “some silk-suited, Rolex-wearing guys in London;” neither the INC nor any of the other 91 or so Iraqi opposition groups have anywhere near “the viability to overthrow Saddam.” He tells the New Yorker: “They were saying if you put a thousand troops on the ground Saddam’s regime will collapse, they won’t fight. I said, ‘I fly over them every day, and they shoot at us. We hit them, and they shoot at us again. No way a thousand forces would end it.’ The exile group was giving them inaccurate intelligence. Their scheme was ridiculous.” Zinni earns the enmity of the neoconservative developers of the plan for his stance. [Middle East Policy Council, 6/2004; New Yorker, 6/7/2004]
An associate of Ahmed Chalabi later tells journalist Andrew Cockburn that in the late ‘90s, “Ahmed opened an INC office in Tehran, spending the Americans’ money, and he joked to me that ‘the Americans are breaching their embargo on Iran.’”
Ahmed Chalabi of the Iraqi National Congress, who has plotted for years to overthrow Saddam Hussein (see May 1991, 1992-1996, November 1993, and March 1995), exults over the selection of former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney as George W. Bush’s presidential running mate. “Cheney is good for us,” Chalabi says. [New Republic, 11/20/2003]
The cover of ‘Saddam’s Bombmaker.’ [Source: Simon and Schuster]Former Iraqi nuclear scientist Khidir Hamza publishes a book with reporter Jeff Stein entitled Saddam’s Bombmaker: The Terrifying Inside Story of the Iraqi Nuclear and Biological Weapons Agenda. Two years before, Hamza had tried and failed to get a deal for a book that would show Iraq’s nuclear weapons plans had “fizzled” (see 1998). This book is radically different, telling a dramatic tale of his career as a nuclear bomb-builder and his death-defying escape from Iraq (Hamza defected from Iraq and was brought to the US by Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress). Hamza now asserts that Iraq is aggressively pursuing nuclear weapons. According to former Defense Intelligence Agency official Patrick Lang, this is a “vast exaggeration” of the reality of the situation. [Middle East Policy Council, 6/2004]
Despite the claims by the Iraqi National Congress, and many Republicans, that the defector commonly known as Curveball (see November 4, 2007) has no connections with the INC (see November 4, 2007), at least some evidence exists to the contrary. Los Angeles Times reporter Bob Drogin, author of the 2007 book Curveball: Spies, Lies, and the Con Man Who Caused a War, will note both in his book and in an interview that Curveball has an older brother who fled Iraq in 1992, and who joined the INC shortly thereafter. For years, Curveball and his brother had little contact. But in 2001 the brother calls Curveball and tells him that Ahmed Chalabi, the leader of the INC, heard that Curveball is in Germany, and that Chalabi wants any information on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction that the INC might steer towards US intelligence. Drogin will say that Curveball, who he will describe as “semi-psychotic” by this time, is “sent over the edge” by the phone call. He is convinced that he had been tracked down by the Iraqis who, he feels, want to assassinate him, so at that point he stops cooperating with German intelligence. After the invasion of Iraq, CIA agents will track down Curveball’s mother in Baghdad, where she will tell them about the brother. The agents locate the brother, who is still working for the INC out of a Baghdad location called the Hunting Club. The brother will confirm the phone call. However, Drogin will say, “No one was able to prove—and Chalabi repeatedly, angrily denied—that he had sent Curveball out as a deliberate plant. And the reason that this is credible in this case is that Chalabi did send out numerous people—I think 20 is the number who have been identified—who came out through the Iraqi National Congress, and in almost every case proved to be providing false information of one kind or another. But in every one of those cases, they were handed off directly to the Americans. When the CIA found out about the brother, they totally freaked out because they thought, ‘Oh my God, we’ve been set up, Chalabi really pulled the wool over us on this one.’ But in the end it was determined that it was just another fluke in this case, but one that sent them all going crazy for quite a while.” [Salon, 10/16/2007] House member John Conyers (D-MI), the ranking minority member of the House Judiciary Committee, will note in a November 8, 2005 letter to Chalabi, “[W]e have learned that ‘Curveball’ is, in fact, the brother of one of your top lieutenants within the Iraqi National Congress.” He will request that Chalabi “make yourself available to us to explain the details and reasons for your involvement in the manipulation of intelligence as the Bush Administration pushed for war. It is vital to the integrity of both our democracies that the truth behind these terribly destructive events be known.” It is not clear if, and how, Chalabi will respond to Conyers’s request. [Huffington Post, 11/8/2005] And in 2006, a PBS documentary will quote former CIA official Vincent Cannistraro as saying, “Curveball was a relative of a senior official of the INC, the Iraqi National Congress, headed by Ahmed Chalabi.” [PBS Frontline, 6/20/2006] The extent of Curveball’s contact with the INC, and whether or not he was “aimed” at the US to deliberately spread disinformation, is not known.
During a White House meeting, Bush administration officials discuss new proposals on how to undermine Saddam Hussein. At one point during the meeting, Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley tells Deputy CIA Director John McLaughlin that the CIA needs to stop bad-mouthing Iraqi exile Ahmed Chalabi so the Bush administration can work with Chalabi to overthrow the Iraqi government. McLaughlin reportedly makes it clear to Hadley that the agency will not undermine White House efforts to work with Chalabi. Hadley’s pressure on the CIA produces the intended results. Though the CIA will never work directly with Chalabi, the CIA will nonetheless allow the Pentagon to disseminate intelligence reports to other US intelligence agencies based on information from Iraqi defectors supplied by Chalabi’s organization, the Iraqi National Congress. One CIA official later tells author James Risen that the White House message to drop its objections to Chalabi was sent to the CIA “a thousand times, in a thousand different ways.” [Risen, 2006, pp. 183-184]
Retired US soldiers give weapons training to members of the Iraqi National Congress (INC), the Iraqi opposition group led by Ahmed Chalabi. The five-day training session takes place in College Station, Texas, and is said to only be the first round of training. The INC has a contract with the Guidry Group, a consulting firm comprised of ex-secret service agents, to learn diplomatic security. Previously, the US backed training for the INC, but limited it only to “non-lethal” activities such as public relations, emergency medical care, and war crimes investigations. But with the Bush administration newly in power, approval has been given to let the INC learn how to use 12-gauge shotguns, pistols, Kalishnikov rifles, and other fire-arms. Retired Gen. Wayne Downing says, “This is significant because this is the first lethal training. It is designed to protect, so the significance is that this is the first time they are being trained to do anything on this level.” Downing, who has been advising the INC for three years, calls the training “a drop in the bucket.” He adds, “This is not the training they will need to put together a liberation army. There you would need individual training, basic training, weapons training, involving anti tank weapons, machine guns, rockets and that sort of thing.” The Washington Post will later call Downing the INC’s “mentor and biggest cheerleader.” [United Press International, 2/12/2001; Washington Post, 11/20/2001]
In a column exploring the idea of US-led regime change in Iraq and advocating the support of Iraqi opposition groups to overthrow Saddam Hussein, Washington Post columnist Jim Hoagland calls Iraqi opposition leader Ahmed Chalabi (see 1992-1996) “a dedicated advocate of democracy” in Iraq. (Hoagland lauds Chalabi’s advanced college degrees, his success as a Jordanian banker (see August 2, 1989), and what he calls Chalabi’s exposure of the CIA’s “gross failures” in Iraq (see (1994)). Hoagland decries “15 years of failed US policy toward Saddam,” and writes that Chalabi is a fine choice to lead Iraq in the place of Hussein. “Mr. Chalabi is a dedicated advocate of democracy who does fight against enormous military odds and deep religious and social divisions in the Arab world,” he writes. Lambasting those in the CIA and State Department who are determined to prove that Chalabi is a fraud (see January 1996), Hoagland writes, “A policy review dedicated to trashing him and other exiles is a shameful and self-defeating way to begin anew on Iraq. It is a phony way to argue that nothing can or should be done to oust the predatory psychopath who holds Iraq hostage.” [Washington Post, 4/9/2001; Unger, 2007, pp. 206]
The Defense Policy Board (DPB) meets in secret in Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s Pentagon conference room on September 19 and 20 for 19 hours to discuss the option of taking military action against Iraq. [New York Times, 10/12/2001] They also discuss how they might overcome some of the diplomatic and political pressures that would likely attempt to impede a policy of regime change in Iraq. [New York Times, 10/12/2001] Among those attending the meeting are Rumsfeld, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, Princeton academic Bernard Lewis, Iraqi National Congress leader Ahmed Chalabi (see 1992-1996), Chalabi’s aide Francis Brooke, and the 18 members of the DPB. [New York Times, 10/12/2001; Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 236; New Yorker, 6/7/2004] Defense Intelligence Agency official Patrick Lang will later call the DPB “a neocon[servative] sanctuary,” boasting such members as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former CIA Director James Woolsey, former arms control adviser Ken Adelman, former Undersecretary of Defense Fred Ikle, and former Vice President Dan Quayle. [Middle East Policy Council, 6/2004]
Powell, State Officials Not Informed of Meeting - Secretary of State Colin Powell and other State Department officials in charge of US policy toward Iraq are not invited and are not informed of the meeting. A source will later tell the New York Times that Powell was irritated about not being briefed on the meeting. [New York Times, 10/12/2001]
Chalabi, Lewis Lead Discussion - During the seminar, two of Richard Perle’s invited guests, Chalabi and Lewis, lead the discussion. Lewis says that the US must encourage democratic reformers in the Middle East, “such as my friend here, Ahmed Chalabi.” Chalabi argues that Iraq is a breeding ground for terrorists and asserts that Saddam Hussein’s regime has weapons of mass destruction. [Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 232; Middle East Policy Council, 6/2004] He also asserts “there’d be no resistance” to an attack by the US, “no guerrilla warfare from the Ba’athists, and [it would be] a quick matter of establishing a government.” [New Yorker, 6/7/2004]
Overthrow of Hussein Advocated - Attendees write a letter to President Bush calling for the removal of Saddam Hussein. “[E]ven if evidence does not link Iraq directly to the attack [of 9/11], any strategy aiming at the eradication of terrorism and its sponsors must include a determined effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq. Failure to undertake such an effort will constitute an early and perhaps decisive surrender in the war on international terrorism,” the letter reads. The letter is published in the Washington Times on September 20 (see September 20, 2001) in the name of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), a neoconservative think tank that believes the US needs to shoulder the responsibility for maintaining “peace” and “security” in the world by strengthening its global hegemony. [Project for the New American Century, 9/20/2001; Manila Times, 7/19/2003] Bush reportedly rejects the letter’s proposal, as both Vice President Dick Cheney and Powell agree that there is no evidence implicating Saddam Hussein in the 9/11 attacks. [New York Times, 10/12/2001]
Woolsey Sent to Find Evidence of Hussein's Involvement - As a result of the meeting, Wolfowitz sends Woolsey to London to find evidence that Saddam Hussein was behind the 9/11 attacks and the earlier 1993 attack on the World Trade Center (see Mid-September-October 2001). [Middle East Policy Council, 6/2004]
Entity Tags: Newt Gingrich, Paul Wolfowitz, James Woolsey, Kenneth Adelman, Patrick Lang, Harold Brown, Defense Policy Board, Francis Brooke, Adm. David E. Jeremiah, Fred C. Ikle, Ahmed Chalabi, Dan Quayle, Bernard Lewis, Henry A. Kissinger, Donald Rumsfeld
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion
Farid Ghadry. [Source: Publicity photo via Committee on the Present Danger]Fariz Ghadry founds the Reform Party of Syria just weeks after 9/11. Though Ghadry wants to distance himself from comparisons to Iraqi exile Ahmad Chalabi, the comparisons are myriad. Like Chalabi, Ghadry is a rich Arab exile who has not been to his native country in decades, but wants to return and rule, or at least be part of the ruling government, of his country. Like Chalabi, Ghadry has deep ties to a number of powerful American neoconservatives. And like Chalabi, Ghadry wants to overthrow the Ba’athist dictator of his native country—in this case, Syria’s Bashir Assad. In the months and years to come, Ghadry will try, with no real success, to build a case for the US to invade Syria, and presumably place him in power after Assad is overthrown (see January 12, 2006). [Slate, 2/7/2005; House Committee on International Relations, 7/7/2006]
In a television interview, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) supports the allegation that 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta met with an Iraqi intelligence agent in Prague. McCain says, “The evidence is very clear.” This comment comes several days after a Czech government official claimed that the meeting took place (see October 26, 2001). McCain makes other comments around the same time also trying to link Iraq to the 9/11 attacks. For instance, in mid-September 2001, he told television host Jay Leno that he believes “some other countries” had assisted al-Qaeda, suggesting Iraq, Iran, and Syria as potential suspects. McCain also relies on dubious claims made by Ahmed Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress (INC). For instance, in a television interview, McCain echoes the INC’s claim that two Iraqi defectors know about terrorist training camps in Iraq (see November 6-8, 2001). McCain claims there are “credible reports of involvement between Iraqi administration officials, Iraqi officials and the terrorists.” In 2006, McCain will admit that he had been “too enamored with the INC.” [New York Times, 8/16/2008]
Abu Zeinab al-Qurairy, posing as Jamal al-Ghurairy for Frontline. [Source: PBS]An Iraqi defector identifying himself as Jamal al-Ghurairy, a former lieutenant general in Saddam Hussein’s intelligence corps, the Mukhabarat, tells two US reporters that he has witnessed foreign Islamic militants training to hijack airplanes at an alleged Iraqi terrorist training camp at Salman Pak, near Baghdad. Al-Ghurairy also claims to know of a secret compound at Salman Pak where Iraqi scientists, led by a German, are producing biological weapons. Al-Ghurairy is lying both about his experiences and even his identity, though the reporters, New York Times war correspondent Chris Hedges and PBS’s Christopher Buchanan, do not know this. The meeting between al-Ghurairy and the reporters, which takes place on November 6, 2001, in a luxury suite in a Beirut hotel, was arranged by Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress (INC). Buchanan later recalls knowing little about al-Ghurairy, except that “[h]is life might be in danger. I didn’t know much else.” Hedges recalls the former general’s “fierce” appearance and “military bearing.… He looked the part.” Al-Ghurairy is accompanied by several other people, including the INC’s political liaison, Nabeel Musawi. “They were slick and well organized,” Buchanan recalls. Hedges confirms al-Ghurairy’s credibility with the US embassy in Turkey, where he is told that CIA and FBI agents had recently debriefed him. The interview is excerpted for an upcoming PBS Frontline episode, along with another interview with an INC-provided defector, former Iraqi sergeant Sabah Khodada, who echoes al-Ghurairy’s tale. While the excerpt of al-Ghurairy’s interview is relatively short, the interview itself takes over an hour. Al-Ghurairy does not allow his face to be shown on camera.
Times Reports Defectors' Tale - Two days later, on November 8, Hedges publishes a story about al-Ghurairy in the New York Times Times. The Frontline episode airs that same evening. [New York Times, 11/8/2001; Mother Jones, 4/2006] Hedges does not identify al-Ghurairy by name, but reports that he, Khodada, and a third unnamed Iraqi sergeant claim to have “worked for several years at a secret Iraqi government camp that had trained Islamic terrorists in rotations of five or six months since 1995. They said the training at the camp, south of Baghdad, was aimed at carrying out attacks against neighboring countries and possibly Europe and the United States.” Whether the militants being trained are linked to al-Qaeda or Osama bin Laden, the defectors cannot be sure, nor do they know of any specific attacks carried out by the militants. Hedges writes that the interviews were “set up by an Iraqi group that seeks the overthrow of… Hussein.” He quotes al-Ghurairy as saying, “There is a lot we do not know. We were forbidden to speak about our activities among each other, even off duty. But over the years, you see and hear things. These Islamic radicals were a scruffy lot. They needed a lot of training, especially physical training. But from speaking with them, it was clear they came from a variety of countries, including Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Algeria, Egypt, and Morocco. We were training these people to attack installations important to the United States. The Gulf War never ended for Saddam Hussein. He is at war with the United States. We were repeatedly told this.” He uses Khodada’s statements as support for al-Ghurairy’s, identifies Khodada by name, and says that Khodada “immigrated to Texas” in May 2001 “after working as an instructor for eight years at Salman Pak…” He quotes the sergeant as saying, “We could see them train around the fuselage. We could see them practice taking over the plane.” Al-Ghurairy adds that the militants were trained to take over a plane without using weapons. Hedges reports that Richard Sperzel, the former chief of the UN biological weapons inspection teams in Iraq, says that the Iraqis always claimed Salman Pak was an anti-terror training camp for Iraqi special forces. However, Sperzel says, “[M]any of us had our own private suspicions. We had nothing specific as evidence.” The US officials who debriefed al-Ghurairy, Hedges reports, do not believe that the Salman Pak training has any links to the 9/11 hijackings. Hedges asks about one of the militants, a clean-shaven Egyptian. “No, he was not Mohamed Atta.” Atta led the 9/11 hijackers. Hedges notes that stories such as this one will likely prompt “an intense debate in Washington over whether to extend the war against Osama bin Laden and the Taliban government of Afghanistan to include Iraq.” [New York Times, 11/8/2001; Columbia Journalism Review, 7/1/2004]
Heavy Press Coverage - The US media immediately reacts, with op-eds running in major newspapers throughout the country and cable-news pundits bringing the story to their audiences. National security adviser Condoleezza Rice says of the story, “I think it surprises no one that Saddam Hussein is engaged in all kinds of activities that are destabilizing.” The White House will use al-Ghurairy’s claims in its background paper, “Decade of Deception and Defiance,” prepared for President’s Bush September 12, 2002 speech to the UN General Assembly (see September 12, 2002). Though the tale lacks specifics, it helps bolster the White House’s attempts to link Saddam Hussein to the 9/11 hijackers, and helps promote Iraq as a legitimate target in the administration’s war on terror. (Five years later, the reporters involved in the story admit they were duped—see April 2006.)
Complete Fiction - The story, as it turns out, is, in the later words of Mother Jones reporter Jack Fairweather, “an elaborate scam.” Not only did US agents in Turkey dismiss the purported lieutenant general’s claims out of hand—a fact they did not pass on to Hedges—but the man who speaks with Hedges and Buchanan is not even Jamal al-Ghurairy. The man they interviewed is actually a former Iraqi sergeant living in Turkey under the pseudonym Abu Zainab. (His real name is later ascertained to be Abu Zeinab al-Qurairy, and is a former Iraqi general and senior officer in the Mukhabarat.) The real al-Ghurairy has never left Iraq. In 2006, he will be interviewed by Fairweather, and will confirm that he was not the man interviewed in 2001 (see October 2005). [Columbia Journalism Review, 7/1/2004; Mother Jones, 4/2006] Hedges and Buchanan were not the first reporters to be approached for the story. The INC’s Francis Brooke tried to interest Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff in interviewing Khodada to discuss Salman Pak. Isikoff will recall in 2004 that “he didn’t know what to make of the whole thing or have any way to evaluate the story so I didn’t write about it.” [Columbia Journalism Review, 7/1/2004]
"The Perfect Hoax" - The interview was set up by Chalabi, the leader of the INC, and former CBS producer Lowell Bergman. Bergman had interviewed Khodada previously, but was unable to journey to Beirut, so he and Chalabi briefed Hedges in London before sending him to meet with the defector. Chalabi and Bergman have a long relationship; Chalabi has been a source for Bergman since 1991. The CIA withdrew funding from the group in 1996 (see January 1996) due to its poor intelligence and attempts at deception. For years, the INC combed the large Iraqi exile communities in Damascus and Amman for those who would trade information—real or fabricated—in return for the INC’s assistance in obtaining asylum to the West. Helping run that network was Mohammed al-Zubaidi, who after 9/11 began actively coaching defectors, according to an ex-INC official involved in the INC’s media operations (see December 17, 2001 and July 9, 2004). The ex-INC official, Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri, did everything from help defectors brush up and polish their stories, to concocting scripts that defectors with little or no knowledge could recite: “They learned the words, and then we handed them over to the American agencies and journalists.” After 9/11, the INC wanted to come up with a big story that would fix the public perception of Saddam Hussein’s involvement in the 9/11 attacks. Al-Zubaidi was given the task. He came up with al-Ghurairy. He chose Zainab for his knowledge of the Iraqi military, brought him to Beirut, paid him, and began prepping him. In the process, al-Zainab made himself known to American and Turkish intelligence officials as al-Ghurairy. “It was the perfect hoax,” al-Haideri will recall in 2006. “The man was a born liar and knew enough about the military to get by, whilst Saddam’s regime could hardly produce the real Ghurairy without revealing at least some of the truth of the story.” Al-Haideri will say that the reality of the Salman Pak story was much as the Iraqis claimed—Iraqi special forces were trained in hostage and hijack scenarios. Al-Zubaidi, who in 2004 will admit to his propaganda activities, calls Al-Zainab “an opportunist, cheap and manipulative. He has poetic interests and has a vivid imagination in making up stories.” [Mother Jones, 4/2006]
Stories Strain Credulity - Knight Ridder reporter Jonathan Landay later says of al-Qurairy, “As you track their stories, they become ever more fantastic, and they’re the same people who are telling these stories, until you get to the most fantastic tales of all, which appeared in Vanity Fair magazine.” Perhaps al-Qurairy’s most fabulous story is that of a training exercise to blow up a full-size mockup of a US destroyer in a lake in central Iraq. Landay adds, “Or, jumping into pits of fouled water and having to kill a dog with your bare teeth. I mean, and this was coming from people, who are appearing in all of these stories, and sometimes their rank would change.… And, you’re saying, ‘Wait a minute. There’s something wrong here, because in this story he was a major, but in this story the guy’s a colonel. And, in this story this was his function, but now he says in this story he was doing something else.’” Landay’s bureau chief, John Walcott, says of al-Qurairy, “What he did was reasonably clever but fairly obvious, which is he gave the same stuff to some reporters that, for one reason or another, he felt would simply report it. And then he gave the same stuff to people in the Vice President’s office [Dick Cheney] and in the Secretary of Defense’s office [Donald Rumsfeld]. And so, if the reporter called the Department of Defense or the Vice President’s office to check, they would’ve said, ‘Oh, I think that’s… you can go with that. We have that, too.’ So, you create the appearance, or Chalabi created the appearance, that there were two sources, and that the information had been independently confirmed, when, in fact, there was only one source. And it hadn’t been confirmed by anybody.” Landay adds, “[L]et’s not forget how close these people were to this administration, which raises the question, was there coordination? I can’t tell you that there was, but it sure looked like it.” [PBS, 4/25/2007]
No Evidence Found - On April 6, 2003, US forces will overrun the Salman Pak facility. They will find nothing to indicate that the base was ever used to train terrorists (see April 6, 2003).
Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Richard Sperzel, Newsweek, Saddam Hussein, Taliban, New York Times, Sabah Khodada, Washington Post, United Nations, Vanity Fair, Nabeel Musawi, Public Broadcasting System, Mother Jones, Ahmed Chalabi, Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri, Abu Zeinab al-Qurairy, Chris Hedges, Al-Qaeda, CBS News, Bush administration (43), Central Intelligence Agency, Mukhabarat, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, Francis Brooke, Lowell Bergman, Michael Isikoff, Mohammed al-Zubaidi, Jonathan Landay, John Walcott, Jamal al-Ghurairy, Jack Fairweather, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Christopher Buchanan, Iraqi National Congress
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda
PBS’s Frontline broadcasts an October 2001 interview with Bush foreign policy adviser Brent Scowcroft as part of its Gunning for Saddam episode. Scowcroft recently cemented his status as an outsider in the administration with an op-ed calling for the US to focus on building a coalition of allies before considering invading Iraq (see October 16, 2001). Scowcroft says that a unilateral move to invade Iraq and “deal with Saddam Hussein” will destroy the coalition of nations that still exists ten years after the 1991 Gulf War “virtually instantly.” Suspicion that the US is manipulating information to prove its rationale for war with Iraq is paramount throughout the Middle East and even among the US’s closest allies in Europe. Part of the responsibility for that perception, Scowcroft notes, comes from Iraq: “Saddam has managed to get the view out that the Iraqi people are suffering because of the [UN-mandated economic] sanctions. In fact, they’re suffering because Saddam Hussein doesn’t use the income from the oil he sells to provide for his people. But that’s the fact. So if we turn on Iraq now, it will look like we’re just using September 11 as an excuse to go after our favorite enemy.… So we need to sort of reestablish the kind of confidence that the United States enjoyed a decade ago around the time of the Gulf War. And to do that, we need to prosecute the Afghan/Osama bin Laden part of this whole thing in a way which will demonstrate that we know what we’re doing, that we do it carefully, not wildly and so on.”
Focusing on Terrorist Threat, Not Iraq, a Necessity - Scowcroft calls Hussein and Iraq “a separate problem” from al-Qaeda and global Islamist terrorism. “It is not at all clear that he is a part of a global terrorist network, which is what we’re focusing on.… Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden have one thing in common, and that is they both hate the United States. Otherwise, they have very little in common. As a matter of fact, my guess is, if it weren’t for the United States, Osama bin Laden would turn on Saddam Hussein.” Scowcroft says that even if the US manages to render al-Qaeda impotent, Iraq might not be the next problem on the list. “It’s a problem which right now should be differentiated from the Osama bin Laden problem.… Hezbollah, for example, is a global terrorist network, which has attacked the United States and US interests before. How about that?… We need to be skillful about this. We need to use scalpels, not sledgehammers.” He continues: “Nobody has said what ‘going after Saddam’ really means. What does it mean? Five hundred thousand troops again, based in a Saudi Arabia that would not accept them now? What does ‘going after Saddam’ mean?”
INC Not a Viable Replacement for Hussein - Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress (INC) may or may not be a “viable alternative to Saddam,” Scowcroft says, but it is “certainly not a viable means to” overthrow Hussein. “It is weak, disparate, riven with disputes—probably unattractive to almost anyone inside or out.” [PBS Frontline, 11/8/2001; PBS Frontline, 11/8/2001]
Zaab Sethna of the Iraqi National Congress (INC) arranges for Iraqi defector Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri to be interviewed by Judith Miller of the New York Times. Miller, who has known Chalabi for about eight years (see May 1, 2003), immediately flies out to Bangkok for the interview. Her story is published on December 20, just three days after Haideri told his story to a CIA agent who subjected him to a polygraph and determined Haideri’s story was a complete fabrication (see December 17, 2001). Miller’s front-page article, titled “An Iraqi defector tells of work on at least 20 hidden weapons sites,” reports: “An Iraqi defector who described himself as a civil engineer, said he personally worked on renovations of secret facilities for biological, chemical and nuclear weapons in underground wells, private villas and under the Saddam Hussein Hospital in Baghdad as recently as a year ago.” If verified, Miller notes, “his allegations would provide ammunition to officials within the Bush administration who have been arguing that Mr. Hussein should be driven from power partly because of his unwillingness to stop making weapons of mass destruction, despite his pledges to do so.” Sethna also contacts freelance journalist Paul Moran. Moran is a former employee of the INC and has been employed for years by the Rendon Group, a firm specializing in “perception management” and which helped develop the INC (see May 1991). Moran’s on-camera interview with Haideri is broadcast worldwide by the Australian Broadcasting Corp. [New York Times, 12/20/2001; SBS Dateline, 7/23/2003; New York Review of Books, 2/26/2004; Rolling Stone, 11/17/2005] Reporter Jonathan Landay will later say that he and others were skeptical from the outset: “There were some red flags that the New York Times story threw out immediately, which caught our eye, immediately. The first was the idea that a Kurd—the enemy of Saddam—had been allowed into his most top secret military facilities. I don’t think so. That was, for me, the biggest red flag. And there were others, like the idea that Saddam Hussein would put a biological weapons facility under his residence. I mean, would you put a biological weapons lab under your living room? I don’t think so.” Landay’s partner Warren Strobel will add, “The first rule of being an intelligence agent, or a journalist, and they’re really not that different, is you’re skeptical of defectors, because they have a reason to exaggerate. They want to increase their value to you. They probably want something from you. Doesn’t mean they’re lying, but you should be—journalists are supposed to be skeptical, right? And I’m afraid the New York Times reporter in that case and a lot of other reporters were just not skeptical of what these defectors were saying. Nor was the administration…” [PBS, 4/25/2007]
The Bush administration develops plans for post-war Iraq. But the process is plagued with infighting between a small, highly secretive group of planners in the Pentagon and experts at the CIA and State Department who are involved with the “Future of Iraq Project” (see April 2002-March 2003). The two opposing groups disagree on a wide range of topics, but it is the Pentagon group which exerts the strongest influence on the White House’s plans (see Fall 2002) for administering post-Saddam Iraq. One State Department official complains to The Washington Post in October 2002 “that the Pentagon is seeking to dominate every aspect of Iraq’s postwar reconstruction.” The group of Pentagon planners includes several noted neoconservatives who work in, or in association with, the Pentagon’s Office of Special Plans (see September 2002) and the Near East/South Asia bureau. The planners have close ties to the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), two think tanks with a shared vision of reshaping the geopolitical landscape of the Middle East in favor of US and Israeli interests. The Pentagon planning group “had a visionary strategy that it hoped would transform Iraq into an ally of Israel, remove a potential threat to the Persian Gulf oil trade and encircle Iran with US friends and allies,” Knight Ridder Newspapers will later observe. The group’s objectives put it at odds with planners at the CIA and State Department whose approach and objectives are much more prudent. The Pentagon unit works independently of the CIA and State Department and pays little attention to the work of those two agencies. Critics complain that the group is working in virtual secrecy and evading the scrutiny and oversight of others involved in the post-war planning process by confining their inter-agency communications to discussions with their neoconservative colleagues working in other parts of the government. The Pentagon planners even have a direct line to the office of Dick Cheney where their fellow neoconservative, Lewis Libby, is working. [Daily Telegraph, 11/12/2002; Washington Post, 4/2/2003; Knight Ridder, 7/12/2003] In the fall of 2002, the various groups involved in planning for post-war Iraq send their recommendations to the White House’s Executive Steering Committee, which reviews their work and then passes on its own recommendations to the cabinet heads (see Fall 2002). According to a July 2003 report by Knight Ridder Newspapers, the ultimate responsibility for deciding the administration’s post-war transition plans lay with Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. [Knight Ridder, 7/12/2003]
The Office of Special Plans -
The civilian planners at the Pentagon believe that the UN should exert no influence over the structure, make-up, or policy of the interim Iraqi post-Saddam government. They seek to limit the UN’s role to humanitarian and reconstruction projects, and possibly security. The State Department, however, believes that the US will not be able to do it alone and that UN participation in post-Saddam Iraq will be essential. [Los Angeles Times, 4/2/2003; Observer, 4/6/2003]
The Pentagon group wants to install Ahmad Chalabi, the controversial Iraqi exile leader of the Iraqi National Congress (INC), as leader of post-Saddam Iraq. [American Prospect, 5/1/2003; Knight Ridder, 7/12/2003 Sources: Richard Perle] The group thinks that the Iraqis will welcome Chalabi, who claims he has a secret network inside and outside the Ba’ath government which will quickly fill in the power vacuum to restore order to the country. Chalabi is a notorious figure who is considered untrustworthy by the State Department and CIA and who has a history of financial misdealings. [Knight Ridder, 7/12/2003] But the Pentagon is said to be enamored with Chalabi “because he [advocates] normal diplomatic relations with Israel” which they believe will “‘[take] off the board’ one of the only remaining major Arab threats to Israeli security.” Another geopolitical benefit to installing Chalabi is that he can help the US contain “the influence of Iran’s radical Islamic leaders in the region, because he would… [provide] bases in Iraq for US troops,” which would “complete Iran’s encirclement by American military forces around the Persian Gulf and US friends in Russia and Central Asia.” [Knight Ridder, 7/12/2003 Sources: Unnamed Bush administration official] Danielle Pletka, vice president of the American Enterprise Institute, with close ties to the Pentagon’s planning group, tells Robert Dreyfuss of American Prospect Magazine that the State Department’s perception of Chalabi is wrong. “The [Defense Department] is running post-Saddam Iraq,” said Pletka, almost shouting. “The people at the State Department don’t know what they are talking about! Who the hell are they?… the simple fact is, the president is comfortable with people who are comfortable with the INC.” [American Prospect, 5/1/2003]
The Pentagon’s planning unit believes that the Iraqis will welcome US troops as liberators and that any militant resistance will be short-lived. They do not develop a contingency plan for persistent civil unrest. [Knight Ridder, 7/12/2003] However the State Department’s “Future of Iraq” planning project is more prudent, noting that Iraqis will likely be weary of US designs on their country. [New York Times, 10/19/2003]
The Pentagon planners believe that Iraq’s oil reserves—estimated to contain some 112 billion barrels of oil—should be used to help fund the reconstruction of Iraq. They also advocate a plan that would give the US more control over Iraq’s oil. “[The Pentagon] hawks have long argued that US control of Iraq’s oil would help deliver a second objective,” reports the Observer. “That is the destruction of OPEC, the oil producers’ cartel, which they argue is ‘evil’—that is, incompatible with American interests.” The State Department, however, believes such aggressive policies will surely infuriate Iraqis and give credence to suspicions that the invasion is motivated by oil interests. One critic of the plan says “that only a puppet Iraqi government would acquiesce to US supervision of the oil fields and that one so slavish to US interests risks becoming untenable with Iraqis.” [Observer, 11/3/2002; Insight, 12/28/2002]
Ahmed Chalabi. [Source: Associated Press]In an interview with the Guardian of London, Ahmed Chalabi describes his plan to overthrow the Iraqi government. “The United States will help us to train and equip light anti-tank battalions, well-trained, and highly mobile. Those people, once on the ground, will be able to defeat Saddam’s forces.” Just 11 weeks of training would be adequate to train the Iraqi National Congress’ forces to defeat Iraq’s army of 400,000, he insists. “Chalabi gave a theoretical example: a rebel incursion across the Kuwaiti border to capture a frontier town. The rebel force would be protected from counter-attack by US air power, and within days the key southern city of Basra would fall as its garrison mutinied.” According to Chalabi, Saddam would quickly lose his grip on the country. “Once that happens, our problem will not be finding people—our problem will be absorbing people,” Chalabi claims. [New Yorker, 6/7/2004]
Senior Bush administration officials say President Bush has decided to oust Iraqi despot Saddam Hussein from power. “This is not an argument about whether to get rid of Saddam Hussein,” one official says. “That debate is over. This is… how you do it.”
CIA, Pentagon Making Plans for Regime Change - Bush has ordered the CIA, the Pentagon, and other agencies to come up with a plan combining military, diplomatic, and covert actions to force Hussein from power. A military strike is not yet imminent, but Bush has decided that Hussein and his putative weapons of mass destruction are such a threat to US security that he must be removed from power, even if US allies do not help. The CIA has already presented Bush with a plan to destabilize Hussein’s regime, incorporating covert action campaigns, sabotage, information warfare, and stepped-up bombing runs throughout the northern and southern “no-fly” zones. Bush is reportedly enthusiastic about the plan, and the CIA has begun assigning officers to the task. Reporters Warren P. Strobel and John Walcott write: “The president’s decision has launched the United States on a course that will have major ramifications for the US military, the Middle East’s future political alignment, international oil flows, and Bush’s own war on terrorism.”
Some Allies Dubious - Allies such as Russia have already expressed grave doubts about the wisdom of such a series of actions, and military experts warn that any campaign in Iraq would be long, bloody, and difficult to bring to a satisfactory conclusion. Nevertheless, one foreign leader who recently met with Bush came away “with the feeling that a decision has been made to strike Iraq, and the ‘how’ and ‘when’ are still fluid,” according to a diplomat.
Cheney to Inform Middle Eastern Leaders of US Intentions - Vice President Cheney will soon depart for a visit to 11 Middle East nations; while the public explanation is that he wants to listen to those nations’ views on the US’s Iraq policy, in reality, Cheney will inform them that the US will overthrow the Hussein regime. One senior official says: “He’s not going to beg for support. He’s going to inform them that the president’s decision has been made and will be carried out, and if they want some input into how and when it’s carried out, now’s the time for them to speak up.” At least one Middle Eastern ally, Egypt, has reservations about such a plan. Egyptian Ambassador Nabil Fahmy said last week that Bush should keep the US focus on fighting international terrorism, where he has broad international backing. “If you mix two issues together, you will lose this focus,” he said.
Debate over Role of Chalabi, INC - There is still sharp debate within the administration over the role that Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress will play in the overthrow and subsequent realignment. Many neoconservatives, particularly in the offices of Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, tout Chalabi as the next leader of Iraq, but others are not sanguine about Chalabi and his organization, with CIA officials warning that the INC is riven by internal debate and undoubtedly riddled with spies from Iraq and Iran. [Knight Ridder, 2/13/2002]
Entity Tags: Warren Strobel, Saddam Hussein, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), Ahmed Chalabi, Donald Rumsfeld, George W. Bush, Iraqi National Congress, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Nabil Fahmy, John Walcott, US Department of Defense
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion
Ahmed Chalabi, the leader of the Iraqi National Congress, says that “informants within the Iraqi intelligence community,” have revealed “that Hussein’s VX stockpile is far larger than the 3.9 tons Iraq reported—something UNSCOM inspectors have long suspected,” reports the Washington Post. “Chalabi also says that the VX had been converted into a dry salt for long term storage and was positioned in various sites across Iraq for use in the event of a foreign attack. UNSCOM officials said the account seemed credible, given what was learned about Iraq’s VX program in the final months of weapons inspections.” [Washington Post, 7/31/2002]
The Bush White House establishes a “high-level, interagency task force” charged with the task of “coordinating all Iraq war planning efforts and postwar initiatives.” The task force is headed by the Deputies Committee, which is made up of the “No. 2 officials at the Pentagon, Joint Chiefs of Staff, State Department, CIA, National Security Council, and vice president’s office.” The committee’s job is to review the work of other groups who have been involved in the planning of post-war Iraq, and provide recommendations to President Bush’s top advisers. The committee draws on the work of the Pentagon’s Office of Special Plans (OSP) (see 2002-2003 and September 2002), Elliott Abrams’s group (see November 2002-December 2002 and December 2002) and the State Department’s “Future of Iraq” project (see April 2002-March 2003). Later accounts make clear that Abrams’s and the OSP’s recommendations have much more influence. The Deputies Committee usually meets in the White House situation room. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice keeps Bush updated on the progress of the task force’s work. In November, US News and World Report reports that a consensus is forming “at the highest levels of the Bush administration over how to run the country after Saddam and his regime are history.” [Financial Times, 11/4/2002; US News and World Report, 11/25/2003; Reuters, 11/25/2003]
Some Conclusions of the Deputies Committee -
No US-Created Government - The US should not create a provisional government or a government in exile. “We are not going to be in the business of choosing” who should lead Iraq, a senior official tells US News and World Report. [US News and World Report, 11/25/2003]
Lengthy Occupation - The invasion of Iraq will likely be followed by a lengthy occupation. This conclusion is passed on to Bush. “I have been with the president when he has been briefed about the need to have US forces there for an extended period of time,” a senior administration official will later tell US News and World Report. [US News and World Report, 11/25/2003]
Military Occupation Rule before Turning over Rule to Iraqis - During the first phase of the occupation, Iraq will be ruled by the military, probably a US general. The primary objective during this phase will be maintaining security and preventing the emergence of hostilities between the Shi’ites and Sunnis. Pentagon officials involved in planning this stage are reported to have reviewed the archived plans for the occupation of Germany and Japan. The second phase of the occupation will involve some sort of international civilian administration, with a diminished US military presence, and Iraqis will be given a larger role in the government. In the last phase, a constitution will be drafted, transferring power to a representative, multiethnic Iraqi government that commits to being free of weapons of mass destruction. [US News and World Report, 11/25/2003]
War Paid for by Iraqi Oil - Revenue generated from the sale of Iraq’s oil will be used for the cost of reconstruction and for conducting humanitarian operations. Hardliners however want the funds to pay for the military costs of the invasion as well. [US News and World Report, 11/25/2003]
Dissension over Roles of Iraqi Exiles - No firm decisions are made about the what role, if any, Iraqi exiles affiliated with the Iraqi National Congress (INC) will play in post-Saddam Iraq. Pentagon hardliners and some top officials in the White House favor giving them a prominent role, while the CIA and State Department adamantly oppose their inclusion, arguing that the exiles cannot be trusted. [US News and World Report, 11/25/2003]
US Will Not Be Seen as 'Liberators' - Iraqis will not necessarily treat the invading American soldiers as “liberators.” Many Iraqis harbor a deep resentment against the US for the decades-long sanction policy. [US News and World Report, 11/25/2003]
Entity Tags: Office of Special Plans, National Security Council, Office of the Vice President, US Department of State, Joint Chiefs of Staff, US Department of Defense, George W. Bush, Iraqi National Congress, Bush administration (43), Central Intelligence Agency, Ahmed Chalabi, Condoleezza Rice, Elliott Abrams
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion
Vice President Cheney and his staff have become increasingly reliant on intelligence from Ahmed Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress (INC—see Early 2003). Cheney’s senior aide John Hannah, the liaison between Cheney and the INC, has become increasingly invested in the exile group. “He relied on Ahmed Chalabi for insights and advice,” a Bush administration official will later recall. Cheney has himself become an increasingly vocal Chalabi advocate. At a meeting of President Bush’s National Security Council, the State Department and Pentagon officials argue over whether to increase funding to the INC. Cheney, a former NSC staffer will recall, “weighed in, in a really big way. He said, ‘We’re getting ready to go to war, and we’re nickel-and-diming the INC at a time when they’re providing us with unique intelligence on Iraqi WMD.’” The fact that no one else, particularly the CIA, could confirm anything the INC was providing was merely proof that the CIA was recklessly disregarding INC intelligence. The administration official will say that before long, “there was something of a willingness to give [INC- provided intelligence] greater weight” than that offered by the intelligence community. In return, Cheney’s aides tried to inject their intelligence into the CIA’s own conduits. One CIA analyst will recall that both Cheney and his chief of staff, Lewis Libby, “come out there loaded with crap from OSP [the Office of Special Plans—see September 2002], reams of information from Chalabi’s people” on both terrorism and WMD. One of the main channels into the CIA for Cheney and his staff is Alan Foley, the director of the CIA’s Nonproliferation Center. Cheney’s office inundates Foley with questions about Iraq’s nuclear weapons program, particularly about Iraq’s supposed attempts to purchase uranium from Niger (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001, October 15, 2001, October 18, 2001, November 20, 2001, February 5, 2002, March 1, 2002, Late April or Early May 2002-June 2002, and Late June 2002). At first, Foley attempts to push back by “stressing the implausibility of it,” a colleague of Foley’s will recall. But as Cheney and his aides keep pressing, Foley begins to give in. “He was bullied and intimidated,” one of his friends will recall. The pressure on Foley and other analysts is both relentless and hostile. One retired CIA analyst close to current analysts will recall: “It was done along the lines of: ‘What’s wrong with you bunch of assh_les? You don’t know what’s going on, you’re horribly biased, you’re a bunch of pinkos.’” A current analyst later explains, “It gets to the point where you just don’t want to fight it anymore.” [New Republic, 11/20/2003]
Entity Tags: Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Alan Foley, Ahmed Chalabi, Bush administration (43), John Hannah, Central Intelligence Agency, Office of Special Plans, Iraqi National Congress, National Security Council, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, US International Relations
Ahmed Chalabi, leader of the London-based Iraqi National Congress (INC), meets with the executives of “three US oil multinationals to negotiate the carve-up of Iraq’s massive oil reserves post-Saddam.” Also in attendance are “leading oilmen, exiled Iraqis, and lawyers.” The meeting, titled “Invading Iraq: dangers and opportunities for the energy sector,” meets “behind the closed doors of the Royal Institute of International Affairs” in London. Several weeks after the meeting one delegate will tell The Guardian that the whole day could have been summarized with, “Who gets the oil?” The meeting is confirmed by INC spokesman Zaab Sethna. [Observer, 11/3/2002; Guardian, 11/22/2002] Sethna says: “The oil people are naturally nervous. We’ve had discussions with them, but they’re not in the habit of talking about them.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 264]
The Oil and Energy Working Group, one of 17 such groups working under the US State Department’s “Future of Iraq” project (see April 2002-March 2003), meets to discuss plans for the oil industry in a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq. The only known member of the 15-member group is Ibrahim Bahr al-Ulum, who will become Iraq’s oil minister after the invasion. Other people likely involved include Ahmed Chalabi of the Iraqi National Congress, Sharif Ali Bin al Hussein of the Iraqi National Congress; recently defected personnel from Iraq’s Ministry of Petroleum; the former Iraqi head of military intelligence; Sheikh Yamani, the former Oil Minister of Saudi Arabia; and unnamed representatives from the US Energy Department. The responsibilities of this working group include: (1) developing plans for restoring the petroleum sector in order to increase oil exports to partially pay for a possible US military occupation government. (2) reconsidering Iraq’s continued membership in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and “whether it should be allowed to produce as much as possible or be limited by an OPEC quota.” (3) “consider[ing] whether to honor contracts made between the Hussein government and foreign oil companies, including the US $3.5 billion project to be carried out by Russian interests to redevelop Iraq’s oilfields.”] [Oil and Gas International, 10/30/2002; Observer, 11/3/2002; US Department of State, 12/19/2002; Financial Times, 4/7/2003; Financial Times, 9/5/2003; Muttitt, 2005] By April 2003, the working group will have met a total of four times. One of the policies they agree on is that Iraq “should be opened to international oil companies as quickly as possible after the war” and that development of Iraq’s oil fields should be done through the use of Production Sharing Agreements (PSAs). Under a typical PSA, oil ownership remains with the state, while exploration and production are contracted to the private companies under highly favorable terms. [Muttitt, 2005; Los Angeles Times, 12/8/2006]
Mark Garlasco. [Source: Canal+]The Defense Intelligence Agency [DIA] concludes early in 2003 that the intelligence being provided by dissidents supplied by Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress (INC) is of little value. The New York Times reports that an internal DIA study has found that “dissidents invented or exaggerated their credentials as people with direct knowledge of the Iraqi government and its suspected unconventional weapons program.” [New York Times, 9/29/2003; Independent, 9/30/2003] The study also reveals that more than $1 million was paid to Chalabi’s group for information about Saddam Hussein’s alleged banned weapons programs. [New York Times, 9/29/2003; Independent, 9/30/2003] Unnamed officials interviewed by the Times say the defectors were considered by the Defense Intelligence Agency to be dubious sources from the start. It is believed that the dissidents’ motivation for talking has been money and their opposition to Saddam Hussein. But the Times’ sources “would not speculate on whether the defectors had knowingly provided false information and, if so, what their motivation might have been.” [New York Times, 9/29/2003; Independent, 9/30/2003] Similarly, Mark Garlasco of the DIA will tell PBS Frontline in 2006, that the “INC was constantly shoving crap at us. They were providing information that they thought we wanted to hear. They were feeding the beast [referring to the Office of Special Plans and those within the administration who wanted to go to war with Iraq].” [PBS Frontline, 6/20/2006] The bureau chief of Knight Ridder Newspapers, John Walcott, will later say of Chalabi, “Chalabi’s motives were always perfectly clear in this and understandable. He was an Iraqi. He didn’t want his country run by a thug and a murderer, a mass murderer, and a crook. And everything he said had to be looked at in that light, and scrutinized in that light. And why anyone would give him a free pass, or anyone else a free pass for that matter, on a matter as important as going to war, is beyond me.” [PBS, 4/25/2007]
President George W. Bush meets with Iraqi exiles. According to a former senior White House official, after the meeting, Bush decides that the exiles will not be put in power in post-Saddam Iraq. “The future of this country… is not going to be charted by people who sat out the sonofabitch (Saddam) in London or Cambridge, Massachusetts,” Bush is said to have stated. This effectively kills the Pentagon’s plan to create an Iraqi-government-in-exile which was to include the Ahmed Chalabi, the president of the Iraqi National Congress (INC). [Knight Ridder, 7/12/2003]
Colin Powell’s chief of staff, Larry Wilkerson, meets with other administration officials and aides at the CIA’s Langley headquarters in a conference room down the hall from George Tenet’s office to review two White House reports on Iraq’s alleged illegal activities. The team includes George Tenet, John McLaughlin, William Tobey and Robert Joseph from the National Security Council, and John Hannah from Vice President Cheney’s office. (Tenet had intended to leave for a Middle East junket, but Powell stopped him from going, insisting on his input and participation.) The two dossiers are meant to serve as the basis for Powell’s upcoming speech at the UN (see February 5, 2003). One of the reports—a 48-page dossier that had been provided to Powell’s office a few days earlier (see January 29, 2003)—deals with Iraq’s supposed arsenal of weapons of mass destruction while the other, a slightly more recent report totaling some 45 pages, addresses the issue of Iraq’s history of human rights violations and its alleged ties to Islamic militant groups. Shortly after Wilkerson begins reviewing the 48-page report on Iraq’s alleged WMD, it becomes apparent that the material is not well sourced. [Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 230; Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 177; Unger, 2007, pp. 276]
Dossiers Contain Large Amounts of White House Misinformation - Wilkerson has been given three dossiers: about 90 pages of material on Iraq’s WMD, on its sponsorship of terrorism, and on its violation of human rights. Wilkerson is not well informed about the variety of machinations surrounding the WMD issue, but it doesn’t take him long to realize there is a problem. The CIA has an array of analysts with decades of experience studying Iraq’s weapons programs, rigorous peer review procedures to prevent unreliable intelligence from making it into the final assessments, and a large budget devoted to Middle East intelligence. But the CIA had not produced Wilkerson’s dossiers. They had been prepared by Libby, Cheney’s chief of staff. Wilkerson is taken aback by such a breach of procedure, especially on such a critically important matter of state. Former NSC counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke later says, “It’s very strange for the Vice President’s senior adviser to be… saying to the Secretary of State, ‘This is what you should be saying.’” As Wilkerson goes through the material, he realizes, in Unger’s words, “just how aggressively Cheney and his men have stacked the deck.” Wilkerson first reads the 48-page WMD dossier, and is not impressed. “It was anything but an intelligence document,” he later says. “It was, as some people characterized it later, sort of a Chinese menu from which you could pick and choose.”
Cherry-Picked Intel - Wilkerson will continue, “When we had a question, which was virtually every line, John Hannah from the vice president’s office would consult a huge clipboard he had.” Hannah, a former official of the pro-Israel Washington Institute for Near East Policy, had coauthored the dossier with Libby. He had also worked closely with Libby in the White House Iraq Group (see August 2002). Hannah cites the source of each questionable datum Wilkerson asks about, and Wilkerson and his team set about tracking down the original sources of each item. They spend hours poring over satellite photos, intercepts of Iraqi military communications, and various foreign intelligence reports. Wilkerson and his team find that in almost every instance, the original sources do not support the conclusions drawn in the dossier. “Once we read the entirety of those documents,” he will recall, “we’d find that the context was not quite what the cherry-picked item imparted.” Wilkerson believes that much of the dossier’s intelligence comes from Ahmed Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress (see 1992-1996), a belief given credence by the fact that Hannah had served as the chief liaison between the INC and Cheney’s office. As Wilkerson will later recall, “It was clear the thing was put together by cherry-picking everything from the New York Times to the DIA.” Reporters Michael Isikoff and David Corn will later write that “a Defense Intelligence Agency report was not being used properly, a CIA report was not being cited in a fair way, a referenced New York Times article was quoting a DIA report out of context,” and will confirm that much of the material had come from the Iraqi National Congress. [US News and World Report, 6/9/2003; Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 177; Unger, 2007, pp. 276-278]
Incomprehensible 'Genealogy' - According to Wilkerson, Feith’s office had strung together an incomprehensible “genealogy.” “It was like the Bible,” Wilkerson later recalls. “It was the Old Testament. It was ‘Joe met Bob met Frank met Bill met Ted met Jane in Khartoum and therefore we assume that Bob knew Ralph.’ It was incredible.” [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 180-181]
Link to Office of Special Plans? - Powell’s staff is also “convinced that much of it had been funneled directly to Cheney by a tiny separate intelligence unit set up by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld” (see Summer 2002 and September 2002), Vanity Fair magazine later reports. [Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 230]
Cheney's Aides Attempt to Reinsert Deleted Material - Soon Wilkerson’s team faces the same difficulties with the dossier on Iraq’s connections to Islamist terrorism that it faced with the White House-prepared dossier on Iraq’s WMD (see January 30-February 4, 2003). Tenet has tried manfully to give the administration what it so desperately wants—proof of Iraq’s connections to the 9/11 attacks. The CIA’s unit on Osama bin Laden had gone through 75,000 pages of documents and found no evidence of any such connections. Vice President Cheney and his staffers have always insisted that such a connection does indeed exist. Their strongest claim to that effect is the supposed meeting between 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta and an Iraqi intelligence agent in April 2000 (see September 14, 2001). This claim has long been discredited (see September 18, 2001), but Cheney’s people keep attempting to bring it back into play (see February 1, 2003-February 4, 2003). [US News and World Report, 6/9/2003; Bamford, 2004, pp. 370-1; Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 230; Unger, 2007, pp. 276-278]
Information about Australian Software Erroneous - One item in the White House’s original draft alleged that Iraq had obtained software from an Australian company that would provide Iraqis with sensitive information about US topography. The argument was that Iraqis, using that knowledge, could one day attack the US
with biological or chemical weapons deployed from unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). But when Powell’s intelligence team investigated the issue, it became “clear that the information was not ironclad” (see October 1, 2002). [US News and World Report, 6/9/2003]
'Idiocy' - “We were so appalled at what had arrived from the White House,” one official later says. [Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 230] As another senior official (likely Wilkerson) will later recall, “We went through that for about six hours—item by item, page by page and about halfway through the day I realized this is idiocy, we cannot possibly do this, because it was all bullsh_t—it was unsourced, a lot of it was just out of the newspapers, it was—and I look back in retrospect—it was a [Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas] Feith product, it was a Scooter Libby product, it was a Vice President’s office product. It was a product of collusion between that group. And it had no way of standing up, anywhere, I mean it was nuts.” [Bamford, 2004, pp. 368-9]
Starting from Scratch - After several hours, Wilkerson and Tenet are both so fed up that they decide to scrap the WMD dossier entirely. “Let’s go back to the NIE,” Tenet suggests, referring to the recently released National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq (see October 1, 2002). Wilkerson is not aware of how badly the NIE had been, in author Craig Unger’s words, “tampered with,” but Powell should have known, as his own intelligence bureau in the State Department had disputed key elements of the NIE. [Bamford, 2004, pp. 368-9; Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 230; Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 177-178; Unger, 2007, pp. 276-278]
Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Office of the Vice President, National Security Council, Richard A. Clarke, White House Iraq Group, Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Robert G. Joseph, William H. Tobey, Lawrence Wilkerson, John Hannah, Michael Isikoff, Iraqi National Congress, Colin Powell, Central Intelligence Agency, Ahmed Chalabi, Craig Unger, David Corn, Donald Rumsfeld, John E. McLaughlin, George J. Tenet, Douglas Feith
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion
Colin Powell and George Tenet, at the UN presentation. [Source: CBS News]US Secretary of State Colin Powell presents the Bush administration’s case against Saddam to the UN Security Council, in advance of an expected vote on a second resolution that the US and Britain hope will provide the justification to use military force against Iraq. [US Department of State, 2/5/2003] At the insistence of Powell, CIA Director George Tenet is seated directly behind him to the right. “It was theater, a device to signal to the world that Powell was relying on the CIA to make his case that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction,” Vanity Fair magazine will later explain. [Bamford, 2004, pp. 371-2; Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 232] In his speech before the Council, Powell makes the case that Iraq is in further material breach of past UN resolutions, specifically the most recent one, UN Resolution 1441 (see November 8, 2002). Sources cited in Powell’s presentation include defectors, informants, communication intercepts, procurement records, photographs, and detainees. [US Department of State, 2/5/2003] Most of the allegations made by Powell are later demonstrated to be false. “The defectors and other sources went unidentified,” the Associated Press will later report. “The audiotapes were uncorroborated, as were the photo interpretations. No other supporting documents were presented. Little was independently verifiable.” [Associated Press, 8/9/2003]
Iraq's December 7 Declaration Was Inaccurate - Powell contends that Iraq’s December 7 declaration was not complete. According to UN Resolution 1441 the document was supposed to be a “currently accurate, full and complete declaration of all aspects” of its programs to develop weapons of mass destruction. But Saddam has not done this, says Powell, who explains that Iraq has yet to provide sufficient evidence that it destroyed its previously declared stock of 8,500 liters of anthrax, as it claimed in the declaration. Furthermore, notes the secretary of state, UNSCOM inspectors had previously estimated that Iraq possessed the raw materials to produce as much as 25,000 liters of the virus. [New York Times, 2/5/2003; US Department of State, 2/5/2003; Washington Post, 2/6/2003]
Iraq Has Ties to Al-Qaeda - Powell repeats earlier claims that Saddam Hussein’s government has ties to al-Qaeda. Powell focuses on the cases of the militant Islamic group Ansar-al-Islam and Abu Musab Zarqawi, a Jordanian-born Palestinian, who had received medical treatment in Baghdad during the summer of 2002 (see December 2001-Mid-2002). [US Department of State, 2/5/2003] However, just days before Powell’s speech, US and British intelligence officials—speaking on condition of anonymity—told the press that the administration’s allegations of Iraqi-al-Qaeda ties were based on information provided by Kurdish groups, who, as enemies of Ansar-al-Islam, should not be considered reliable. Furthermore, these sources unequivocally stated that intelligence analysts on both sides of the Atlantic remained unconvinced of the purported links between Iraq and al-Qaeda (see February 3-4, 2003). [Independent, 2/3/2003; Daily Telegraph, 2/4/2003] Powell also claims that Iraq provided “chemical or biological weapons training for two al-Qaeda associates beginning in December 2000.” The claim is based on a September 2002 CIA document which had warned that its sources were of “varying reliability” and that the claim was not substantiated (see September 2002). The report’s main source, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, an al-Qaeda operative who offered the information to CIA interrogators while in custody, later recounts the claim (see February 14, 2004). [CNN, 9/26/2002; New York Times, 7/31/2004; Newsweek, 7/5/2005] Larry Wilkerson, Powell’s chief of staff, will later say that neither he nor Powell ever received “any dissent with respect to those lines… indeed the entire section that now we know came from [al-Libi].” [Newsweek, 11/10/2005] Senior US officials will admit to the New York Times and Washington Post after the presentation that the administration was not claiming that Saddam Hussein is “exercising operational control” of al-Qaeda. [New York Times, 2/6/2003; Washington Post, 2/7/2003]
Iraq Has Missiles Capable of Flying Up to 1,200 Kilometers - Describing a photo of the al-Rafah weapons site, Powell says: “As part of this effort, another little piece of evidence, Iraq has built an engine test stand that is larger than anything it has ever had. Notice the dramatic difference in size between the test stand on the left, the old one, and the new one on the right. Note the large exhaust vent. This is where the flame from the engine comes out. The exhaust vent on the right test stand is five times longer than the one on the left. The one of the left is used for short-range missiles. The one on the right is clearly intended for long-range missiles that can fly 1,200 kilometers. This photograph was taken in April of 2002. Since then, the test stand has been finished and a roof has been put over it so it will be harder for satellites to see what’s going on underneath the test stand.” [US Department of State, 2/5/2003; New York Times, 2/5/2003] But according to the Associated Press, “… UN missile experts have reported inspecting al-Rafah at least five times since inspections resumed Nov. 27, have studied the specifications of the new test stand, regularly monitor tests at the installation, and thus far have reported no concerns.” [Associated Press, 2/7/2003] Similarly, Reuters quotes Ali Jassem, an Iraqi official, who explains that the large stand referred to in Powell’s speech is not yet in operation and that its larger size is due to the fact that it will be testing engines horizontally. [Reuters, 2/7/2003; Guardian, 2/15/2003] Several days later, Blix will report to the UN that “so far, the test stand has not been associated with a proscribed activity.” [Guardian, 2/15/2003]
Iraqis Attempted to Hide Evidence from Inspectors - Powell shows the UN Security Council satellite shots depicting what he claims are chemical weapons bunkers and convoys of Iraqi cargo trucks preparing to transport ballistic missile components from a weapons site just two days before the arrival of inspectors. “We saw this kind of housecleaning at close to 30 sites,” Powell explains. “We must ask ourselves: Why would Iraq suddenly move equipment of this nature before inspections if they were anxious to demonstrate what they had or did not have?” [US Department of State, 2/5/2003] But the photos are interpreted differently by others. An unnamed UN official and German UN Inspector Peter Franck both say the trucks in the photos are actually fire engines. [Mercury News (San Jose), 3/18/2003; Agence France-Presse, 6/6/2003]
'Literally Removed the Crust of the Earth' - Another series of photos—taken during the spring and summer of 2002—show that Iraqis have removed a layer of topsoil from the al-Musayyib chemical complex. This piece of evidence, combined with information provided by an unnamed source, leads Powell to draw the following conclusion: “The Iraqis literally removed the crust of the earth from large portions of this site in order to conceal chemical weapons evidence that would be there from years of chemical weapons activity.” [US Department of State, 2/5/2003; Washington Post, 2/6/2003] Showing another series of pictures—one taken on November 10 (before inspections) and one taken on December 22—Powell says that a guard station and decontamination truck were removed prior to the arrival of inspectors. Powell does not explain how he knows that the truck in the photograph was a decontamination truck. [US Department of State, 2/5/2003; Washington Post, 2/6/2003; Washington Post, 2/6/2003] AP reporter Charles Hanley says that some of Powell’s claims that Iraq is hiding evidence are “ridiculous.” Powell says of a missile site, “This photograph was taken in April of 2002. Since then, the test stand has been finished and a roof has been put over it so it will be harder for satellites to see what’s going on underneath the test stand.” Hanley later says, “What he neglected to mention was that the inspectors were underneath, watching what was going on.” [PBS, 4/25/2007]
Communication Intercepts Demonstrate Iraqi Attempts to Conceal Information from Inspectors - Powell plays recordings of three conversations intercepted by US intelligence—one on November 26, another on January 30, and a third, a “few weeks” before. The conversations suggest that the Iraqis were attempting to hide evidence from inspectors. [New York Times, 2/5/2003; US Department of State, 2/5/2003; London Times, 2/6/2003; Sydney Morning Herald, 2/7/2003] Senior administration officials concede to the Washington Post that it was not known “what military items were discussed in the intercepts.” [Washington Post, 2/13/2003] Some critics argue that the intercepts were presented out of context and open to interpretation. [Sydney Morning Herald, 2/7/2003; Sydney Morning Herald, 2/9/2003] Others note that the conversations were translated from Arabic by US translators and were not analyzed or verified by an independent specialist. [Newsday, 2/6/2003]
Biological Weapons Factories - Colin Powell says that US intelligence has “firsthand descriptions” that Iraq has 18 mobile biological weapons factories mounted on trucks and railroad cars. Information about the mobile weapons labs are based on the testimonies of four sources—a defected Iraqi chemical engineer who claims to have supervised one of these facilities, an Iraqi civil engineer (see December 20, 2001), a source in “a position to know,” and a defected Iraqi major (see February 11, 2002). Powell says that the mobile units are capable of producing enough dry biological agent in a single month to kill several thousand people. He shows computer-generated diagrams and pictures based on the sources’ descriptions of the facilities. Powell says that according to the chemical engineer, during the late 1990s, Iraq’s biological weapons scientists would often begin the production of pathogens on Thursday nights and complete the process on Fridays in order to evade UNSCOM inspectors whom Iraq believed would not conduct inspections on the Muslim holy day. [New York Times, 2/5/2003; US Department of State, 2/5/2003; Washington Post, 2/6/2003; Reuters, 2/11/2003] Powell tells the delegates, “The source was an eyewitness, an Iraqi chemical engineer, who supervised one of these facilities. He actually was present during biological agent production runs. He was also at the site when an accident occurred in 1998. Twelve technicians died from exposure to biological agents.” He displays models of the mobile trucks drawn from the source’s statements. [CBS News, 11/4/2007] Responding to the allegation, Iraqi officials will concede that they do in fact have mobile labs, but insist that they are not used for the development of weapons. According to the Iraqis, the mobile labs are used for food analysis for disease outbreaks, mobile field hospitals, a military field bakery, food and medicine refrigeration trucks, a mobile military morgue and mobile ice making trucks. [Guardian, 2/5/2003; ABC News, 5/21/2003] Iraq’s explanation is consistent with earlier assessments of the UN weapons inspectors. Before Powell’s presentation, Hans Blix had dismissed suggestions that the Iraqis were using mobile biological weapons labs, reporting that inspections of two alleged mobile labs had turned up nothing. “Two food-testing trucks have been inspected and nothing has been found,” Blix said. And Ewen Buchanan, spokesman for the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, said, “The outline and characteristics of these trucks that we inspected were all consistent with the declared purposes.” [Guardian, 2/5/2003; ABC News, 5/21/2003]
'Curveball' Primary Source of Claims - Powell’s case is further damaged when it is later learned that one of the sources Powell cited, the Iraqi major, had been earlier judged unreliable by intelligence agents at the Defense Intelligence Agency (see February 11, 2002). In May 2002, the analysts had issued a “fabricator notice” on the informant, noting that he had been “coached by [the] Iraqi National Congress” (INC) (see May 2002). But the main source for the claim had been an Iraqi defector known as “Curveball,” who was initially believed to be the brother of a top aide to Ahmed Chalabi. The source claimed to be a chemical engineer who had helped design and build the mobile labs. His information was passed to Washington through Germany’s intelligence service, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), which had been introduced to the source by the INC. In passing along the information, the BND noted that there were “various problems with the source.” And only one member of the US intelligence community had actually met with the person—an unnamed Pentagon analyst who determined the man was an alcoholic and of dubious reliability. Yet both the DIA and the CIA validated the information. [Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, 8/22/2003; Los Angeles Times, 3/28/2004; Knight Ridder, 4/4/2004; Newsweek, 4/19/2004; Newsweek, 7/19/2004] Powell says that the US has three other intelligence sources besides Curveball for the mobile bioweapons labs. Powell will be infuriated to learn that none of those three sources ever corroborated Curveball’s story, and sometimes their information contradicted each other. One of the three had failed a polygraph test and was determined to have lied to his debriefers. Another had already been declared a fabricator by US intelligence community, and had been proven to have mined his information off the Internet. [Buzzflash (.com), 11/27/2007] In November 2007, Curveball is identified as Rafid Ahmed Alwan. Serious questions about Curveball’s veracity had already been raised by the time of Powell’s UN presentation. He will later be completely discredited (see November 4, 2007).
Further Problems with Mobile Lab Claims - In addition to the inspectors’ assessments and the dubious nature of the sources Powell cited, there are numerous other problems with the mobile factories claim. Raymond Zilinskas, a microbiologist and former UN weapons inspector, argues that significant amounts of pathogens such as anthrax, could not be produced in the short span of time suggested in Powell’s speech. “You normally would require 36 to 48 hours just to do the fermentation…. The short processing time seems suspicious to me.” He also says: “The only reason you would have mobile labs is to avoid inspectors, because everything about them is difficult. We know it is possible to build them—the United States developed mobile production plants, including one designed for an airplane—but it’s a big hassle. That’s why this strikes me as a bit far-fetched.” [Washington Post, 2/6/2003] After Powell’s speech, Blix will say in his March 7 report to the UN that his inspectors found no evidence of mobile weapons labs (see March 7, 2003). [CNN, 3/7/2003; Agence France-Presse, 3/7/2003; CNN, 3/7/2003] Reporter Bob Drogin, author of Curveball: Spies, Lies and the Con Man Who Caused a War, says in 2007, “[B]y the time Colin Powell goes to the UN to make the case for war, he shows the world artists’ conjectures based on analysts’ interpretations and extrapolations of Arabic-to-German-to-English translations of summary debriefing reports of interviews with a manic-depressive defector whom the Americans had never met. [CIA director George] Tenet told Powell that Curveball’s information was ironclad and unassailable. It was a travesty.” [Alternet, 10/22/2007]
'Four Tons' of VX Toxin - Powell also claims that Iraq has “four tons” of VX nerve toxin. “A single drop of VX on the skin will kill in minutes,” he says. “Four tons.” Hanley later notes, “He didn’t point out that most of that had already been destroyed. And, on point after point he failed to point out that these facilities about which he was raising such alarm were under repeated inspections good, expert people with very good equipment, and who were leaving behind cameras and other monitoring equipment to keep us a continuing eye on it.” [PBS, 4/25/2007]
Iraq is Developing Unmanned Drones Capable of Delivering Weapons of Mass Destruction - Powell asserts that Iraq has flight-tested an unmanned drone capable of flying up to 310 miles and is working on a liquid-fueled ballistic missile with a range of 745 miles. He plays a video of an Iraqi F-1 Mirage jet dispersing “simulated anthrax.” [US Department of State, 2/5/2003; New York Times, 2/5/2003; Washington Post, 2/6/2003] But the Associated Press will later report that the video was made prior to the 1991 Gulf War. Apparently, three of the four spray tanks shown in the film had been destroyed during the 1991 military intervention. [Associated Press, 8/9/2003]
Imported Aluminum Tubes were Meant for Centrifuge - Powell argues that the aluminum tubes which Iraq had attempted to import in July 2001 (see July 2001) were meant to be used in a nuclear weapons program and not for artillery rockets as experts from the US Energy Department, the INR, and the IAEA have been arguing (see February 3, 2003)
(see January 11, 2003)
(see August 17, 2001)
(see January 27, 2003). To support the administration’s case, he cites unusually precise specifications and high tolerances for heat and stress. “It strikes me as quite odd that these tubes are manufactured to a tolerance that far exceeds US requirements for comparable rockets,” he says. “Maybe Iraqis just manufacture their conventional weapons to a higher standard than we do, but I don’t think so.” Powell also suggests that because the tubes were “anodized,” it was unlikely that they had been designed for conventional use. [US Department of State, 2/5/2003; Washington Post, 2/5/2003; Washington Post, 3/8/2003] Powell does not mention that numerous US nuclear scientists have dismissed this claim (see August 17, 2001)
(see September 23, 2002)
(see December 2002). [Albright, 10/9/2003] Powell also fails to say that Iraq has rockets identical to the Italian Medusa 81 mm rockets, which are of the same dimensions and made of the same alloy as the 3,000 tubes that were intercepted in July 2001 (see After January 22, 2003). [Washington Post, 8/10/2003] This had been reported just two weeks earlier by the Washington Post. [Washington Post, 1/24/2003] Moreover, just two days before, Powell was explicitly warned by the US State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research not to cite the aluminum tubes as evidence that Iraq is pursuing nuclear weapons (see February 3, 2003). [Financial Times, 7/29/2003]
Iraq Attempted to Acquire Magnets for Use in a Gas Centrifuge Program - Powell says: “We… have intelligence from multiple sources that Iraq is attempting to acquire magnets and high-speed balancing machines. Both items can be used in a gas centrifuge program to enrich uranium. In 1999 and 2000, Iraqi officials negotiated with firms in Romania, India, Russia and Slovenia for the purchase of a magnet production plant. Iraq wanted the plant to produce magnets weighing 20 to 30 grams. That’s the same weight as the magnets used in Iraq’s gas centrifuge program before the Gulf War.” [US Department of State, 2/5/2003; New York Times, 2/6/2003] Investigation by the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] will demonstrate that the magnets have a dual use. IAEA Director Mohamed ElBaradei said a little more than a week before, on January 27, in his report to the Security Council: “Iraq presented detailed information on a project to construct a facility to produce magnets for the Iraqi missile program, as well as for industrial applications, and that Iraq had prepared a solicitation of offers, but that the project had been delayed due to ‘financial credit arrangements.’ Preliminary investigations indicate that the specifications contained in the offer solicitation are consistent with those required for the declared intended uses. However, the IAEA will continue to investigate the matter….”
(see January 27, 2003) [Annan, 1/27/2003 ] On March 7, ElBaradei will provide an additional update: “The IAEA has verified that previously acquired magnets have been used for missile guidance systems, industrial machinery, electricity meters and field telephones. Through visits to research and production sites, reviews of engineering drawings and analyses of sample magnets, IAEA experts familiar with the use of such magnets in centrifuge enrichment have verified that none of the magnets that Iraq has declared could be used directly for a centrifuge magnetic bearing.”
(see March 7, 2003) [CNN, 3/7/2003]
Iraq Attempted to Purchase Machines to Balance Centrifuge Rotors - Powell states: “Intercepted communications from mid-2000 through last summer show that Iraq front companies sought to buy machines that can be used to balance gas centrifuge rotors. One of these companies also had been involved in a failed effort in 2001 to smuggle aluminum tubes into Iraq.” [US Department of State, 2/5/2003; New York Times, 2/6/2003]
Powell Cites Documents Removed from Home of Iraqi Scientist Faleh Hassan - Powell cites the documents that had been found on January 16, 2003 by inspectors with the help of US intelligence at the Baghdad home of Faleh Hassan, a nuclear scientist. Powell asserts that the papers are a “dramatic confirmation” that Saddam Hussein is concealing evidence and not cooperating with the inspections. The 3,000 documents contained information relating to the laser enrichment of uranium (see January 16, 2003). [Daily Telegraph, 1/18/2003; Associated Press, 1/18/2003; BBC, 1/19/2003; US Department of State, 2/5/2003] A little more than a week later, in the inspectors’ February 14 update to the UN Security Council (see February 14, 2003), ElBaradei will say, “While the documents have provided some additional details about Iraq’s laser enrichment development efforts, they refer to activities or sites already known to the IAEA and appear to be the personal files of the scientist in whose home they were found. Nothing contained in the documents alters the conclusions previously drawn by the IAEA concerning the extent of Iraq’s laser enrichment program.” [Guardian, 2/15/2003; BBC, 2/17/2003; Associated Press, 8/9/2003]
Iraq is Hiding Missiles in the Desert - Powell says that according to unidentified sources, the Iraqis have hidden rocket launchers and warheads containing biological weapons in the western desert. He further contends that these caches of weapons are hidden in palm groves and moved to different locations on a weekly basis. [US Department of State, 2/5/2003] It will later be suggested that this claim was “lifted whole from an Iraqi general’s written account of hiding missiles in the 1991 war.” [Associated Press, 8/9/2003]
Iraq Has Scud Missiles - Powell also says that according to unnamed “intelligence sources,” Iraq has a few dozen Scud-type missiles. [Associated Press, 8/9/2003]
Iraq Has Weapons of Mass Destruction - Secretary of State Colin Powell states unequivocally: “We… have satellite photos that indicate that banned materials have recently been moved from a number of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction facilities. There can be no doubt that Saddam Hussein has biological weapons and the capability to rapidly produce more, many more.” Elsewhere in his speech he says: “We know that Saddam Hussein is determined to keep his weapons of mass destruction, is determined to make more.” [US Department of State, 2/5/2003; CNN, 2/5/2003]
Governments, Media Reaction Mixed - Powell’s speech will fail to convince many skeptical governments, nor will it impress many in the European media. But it will have a tremendous impact in the US media (see February 5, 2003 and After).
Entity Tags: Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Bush administration (43), Bundesnachrichtendienst, Bob Drogin, Central Intelligence Agency, Ansar al-Islam, ’Curveball’, Al-Qaeda, Charles Hanley, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Ahmed Chalabi, Ali Jassem, Colin Powell, Ewen Buchanan, Faleh Hassan, Saddam Hussein, United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, United Nations Special Commission, Raymond Zilinskas, Peter Franck, United Nations Security Council, Lawrence Wilkerson, Hans Blix, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, Iraqi National Congress, Mohamed ElBaradei, George J. Tenet
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
The US trains between Iraqi exiles at the Taszar military base in Hungary. At the base, dubbed “Camp Freedom,” the exiles, or “Free Iraqi Forces” (FIF), are taught both survival skills and support functions. Most of those trained are believed to be supporters of INC president Ahmed Chalabi. [BBC, 4/1/2003; Associated Press, 4/1/2003; Knight Ridder, 7/12/2003]
The Weekly Standard’s Stephen Schwartz celebrates the success of the Iraq invasion and mocks antiwar critics, writing, “In recent weeks, anti-Shi’a propaganda has emerged as a staple of the liberal media, full of dire predictions that the fall of the Butcher of Baghdad will result in Iraq’s being torn apart, as Shi’as, Sunnis, and Kurds fight each other for power.” Schwartz continues, “Incompetent voices at the State Department proclaim the need to back old, exhausted politicians, who will presumably serve as pliable tools, in preference to Shi’a leaders like Ahmed Chalabi, of the Iraqi National Congress.” Schwartz seems to suggest that Iraq’s Shi’as, presumably under the leadership of Chalabi, are ready and willing to ally with the US against their Shi’a brethren in Iran, and establish a Western-style democracy. [Weekly Standard, 3/24/2003; Unger, 2007, pp. 303]
According to multiple sources, the Defense Department’s head of intelligence, Stephen Cambone, dispatches a quasi-military team to Iraq in the weeks after the invasion. Cambone’s “off-the-books” team, consisting of four or five men, operates under the auspices of Defense Department official Douglas Feith and the Office of Special Plans (OSP—see September 2002). The team is tasked to secure the following, in order of priority: downed Navy pilot Scott Speicher, Iraq’s WMD stockpiles, and Saddam Hussein. The sources, who speak to reporter Larisa Alexandrovna in 2006 on the condition of anonymity, include three US intelligence sources and a person with close ties to the United Nations Security Council. Speicher, classified as “killed in action” (KIA) after being shot down in 1991 during Operation Desert Storm, was touted by Iraqi National Congress leader Ahmed Chalabi (see 1992-1996, November 6-8, 2001, December 20, 2001, and February 2002) as alive and held as a prisoner of war as part of Chalabi’s push for the US invasion of Iraq. Chalabi also told Bush administration officials of enormous stockpiles of chemical and biological WMD throughout Iraq (see Summer 2002, Fall 2002, and Early 2003). Cambone’s team operates outside the auspices of other officially sanctioned groups such as Task Force 20 and other units operating in Iraq before the invasion itself, though the team may be comprised of TF20 personnel. The team is not tasked with actually finding and destroying any WMD stockpiles so much as it is ordered to find such a stockpile and thereby solve what the UN Security Council source calls the administration’s “political WMD” problem. “They come in the summer of 2003, bringing in Iraqis, interviewing them,” the UN source later says. “Then they start talking about WMD and they say to [these Iraqi intelligence officers] that ‘Our president is in trouble. He went to war saying there are WMD and there are no WMD. What can we do? Can you help us?’” [Raw Story, 1/5/2006]
Jamal Mustafa Sultan Tikriti, photographed at Chalabi’s ANC headquarters on April 21, 2003. [Source: Reuters / Corbis]New York Times reporter Judith Miller is embedded with Mobile Exploitation Team Alpha (MET Alpha), a US Army unit charged with trying to find weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq. Miller had written a number of front-page Times stories before the war, strongly suggesting Iraq was pursuing WMD programs; all those stories will later be proven incorrect (see November 6-8, 2001, September 8, 2002, April 20, 2003, September 18, 2002, and July 25, 2003). Miller plays what the press will later call a “highly unusual role” with the unit. One US official will later claim that she turns the unit into a “rogue operation.” [Washington Post, 6/25/2003]
Accepting Military Restrictions - Miller accepted an unusual set of restrictions from the military in order to embed with MET Alpha. Most embedded journalists agreed not to report on forthcoming military tactics and to conceal sensitive information about troop movements and positions. Miller, on the other hand, agreed to allow the military to censor her work, and agreed not to publish items until they were approved by military officials. MET Alpha public affairs officer Eugene Pomeroy, who works closely with her, will later recall the agreement, saying that Miller helped negotiate the terms, and will recall the agreement being so sensitive that Defense Secretary Donal Rumsfeld signed off on it. According to the agreement, Pomeroy will recall: “Any articles going out had to be, well, censored. The mission contained some highly classified elements and people, what we dubbed the ‘Secret Squirrels,’ and their ‘sources and methods’ had to be protected and a war was about to start.” Miller’s copy is censored by a colonel, presumably MET Alpha commander Colonel Richard McPhee, who, according to Pomeroy, often reads her work in his sleeping bag, clutching a small flashlight between his teeth. Sometimes, while traveling with the unit, Miller wears a military uniform. [New York Magazine, 5/21/2005]
Threats and Connections - Miller, who has the reputation of being a “diva,” is friends with powerful neoconservatives such as Rumsfeld, his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith, Pentagon adviser Richard Perle, and other figures in the Pentagon and the Bush administration. One military officer will later claim Miller sometimes “intimidated” Army soldiers by mentioning her relationship to Rumsfeld or Feith, saying, “Essentially, she threatened them,” to get the unit to do her bidding. Another officer says Miller “was always issuing threats of either going to the New York Times or to the secretary of defense. There was nothing veiled about that threat.” This officer adds that MET Alpha “was allowed to bend the rules.” [Washington Post, 6/25/2003; New York Magazine, 5/21/2005] In 2005, reporter Franklin Foer will write: “While Miller might not have intended to march in lockstep with these hawks, she was caught up in an almost irresistible cycle. Because she kept printing the neocon party line, the neocons kept coming to her with huge stories and great quotes, constantly expanding her access.” [New York Magazine, 5/21/2005]
Miller Influences Where the Unit Will Go - On April 21, MET Alpha is ordered to withdraw to the southern Iraqi town of Talil, but Miller objects in a handwritten note to two public affairs officers. Her note says: “I see no reason for me to waste time (or MET Alpha, for that matter) in Talil.… Request permission to stay on here with colleagues at the Palestine Hotel till MET Alpha returns or order to return is rescinded. I intend to write about this decision in the [New York] Times to send a successful team back home just as progress on WMD is being made.” Miller challenges the plan to go to Talil, and takes her concerns to Major General David Petraeus, commander of the 101st Airborne. Petraeus does not have direct authority over McPhee, the commander of the 75th Exploitation Task Force, which contains the MET Alpha unit. But McPhee rescinds the withdrawal order after Petraeus advises him to do so. [Washington Post, 6/25/2003; New York Magazine, 5/21/2005]
Redirecting the Unit's Mission - Miller is also friends with Iraqi National Congress (INC) leader Ahmed Chalabi, who gave her leads for many later-debunked stories. More than half a dozen military officers will later claim that Miller acts as a go-between between Chalabi and the unit. On one occasion in April she takes some unit leaders to Chalabi’s headquarters, where the unit takes custody of Jamal Mustafa Sultan Tikriti, Saddam Hussein’s son-in-law, number 40 on the US’s most wanted list. She also sits in on his debriefing. None of the members of the unit have any experience in interrogation. Several US military officials will say they are upset that completely untrained officers led the debriefing of Tikriti. One Chalabi aide will explain why they turned Tikriti over to the MET Alpha unit instead of using the ANC’s usual contacts with the US miliary, saying, “We told Judy because we thought it was a good story.” When Miller later writes a story about Tikriti’s capture, she will claim that the handover was pure coincidence, as leaders of the unit “happened to be meeting” with Chalabi to “discuss nonproliferation issues.” One official will later complain that the unit became the “Judith Miller team” when she effectively redirected it from finding WMDs to holding and interrogating high-ranking prisoners. A military officer will later say: “This was totally out of their lane, getting involved with human intelligence.… [Miller] came in with a plan. She was leading them.… She ended up almost hijacking the mission.” A senior staff officer of the 75th Exploitation Task Force will similarly complain, “It’s impossible to exaggerate the impact she had on the mission of this unit, and not for the better.” [Washington Post, 6/25/2003]
Guarding Her Access - Pomeroy and another witness will recall Miller jealously guarding her access from other reporters. In one instance, when Washington Post reporter Barton Gellman travels with the unit for a day, Miller orders the unit’s troops not to speak to him. According to Pomeroy, “She told people that she had clearance to be there and Bart didn’t.” [New York Magazine, 5/21/2005]
Miller Has Unit Investigate Dubious Tips from Chalabi - In other cases, the unit apparently follows leads given to Miller by Chalabi or his aides. For instance, it discovers Iraqi intelligence documents and maps related to Israel, and Miller writes a story about this. Chalabi aide Zaab Sethna will later say: “We thought this was a great story for the New York Times.… That came from us.” While embedded with the unit, Miller writes stories for the Times strongly suggesting the unit has discovered WMDs. For instance, one of her headlines is “US Analysts Link Iraq Labs to Germ Arms,” and another is “US Experts Find Radioactive Material in Iraq.” But like her pre-war stories about WMDs in Iraq, these stories also will be completely discredited. It is unclear how long Miller hijacks the MET Alpha unit for, but the Washington Post will publish an expose about these connections in late June 2003. [Washington Post, 6/25/2003] In late 2003, Miller will say that her reliance on Chalabi’s information is “exaggerated.” [New York Review of Books, 2/26/2004] In 2005, Foer will call Miller one of “Chalabi’s credulous allies” along with a number of Bush administration officials. The Times will not acknowledge the breadth of Chalabi’s influence on the reports it published by Miller until May 2005, but will refuse to connect Chalabi and Miller. Foer will note that although Miller had more access to MET Alpha than any other reporter, “she was the only major reporter on the WMD beat to miss the story so completely.” [New York Magazine, 5/21/2005]
A Mouthpiece for the Administration? - In 2004, Miller tells columnist and media expert Michael Massing that as an investigative reporter in the intelligence area, “my job isn’t to assess the government’s information and be an independent intelligence analyst myself. My job is to tell readers of the New York Times what the government thought about Iraq’s arsenal.” Massing will write, “Many journalists would disagree with this; instead, they would consider offering an independent evaluation of official claims one of their chief responsibilities.” [New York Review of Books, 2/26/2004]
Admission of Error - In late 2005, Miller will admit that her reporting on Iraqi WMD issues was almost “entirely wrong” (see October 16, 2005).
Entity Tags: Mobile Exploitation Team Alpha, Richard McPhee, Michael Massing, Ahmed Chalabi, Jamal Mustafa Sultan Tikriti, Iraqi National Congress, David Petraeus, Donald Rumsfeld, Douglas Feith, Judith Miller, Franklin Foer
Timeline Tags: US Military, Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda
Ahmed Chalabi, head of the Iraqi National Congress, tells NBC’s Tim Russert: “After (Gen. Jay Garner) finishes his job of restoring basic services, the interim Iraqi authority will be established. And that interim authority will be an authority of Iraqis, chosen by Iraqis. And it will be able to function as an authority in the country immediately after Gen. Garner’s job is finished, which should be only a few weeks.” [MSNBC, 4/13/2003]
New York Times reporter Judith Miller speaks about her reporting on PBS. [Source: PBS]New York Times reporter Judith Miller, embedded with the Army’s 101st Airborne Division south of Baghdad, writes that Iraq destroyed large stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons in the days before the March 2003 invasion.
Single Unidentified 'Scientist' as Source - Miller’s source is identified as an Iraqi scientist who claims to have worked in Iraq’s chemical weapons program for over a decade; this scientist is said to have told an American military team hunting for unconventional weapons in Iraq, the Mobile Exploitation Team Alpha, or MET Alpha (see April-May 2003), of the stockpiles. According to MET Alpha, the scientist has taken the team to a supply of material he buried in his backyard—“precursors for a toxic agent”—as evidence of Iraq’s illicit weapons programs. The scientist also claims that Iraq sent unconventional weapons and technology to Syria, and has been cooperating with al-Qaeda. In the last years of the Hussein regime, Miller reports the scientist as claiming, Iraq “focused its efforts… on research and development projects that are virtually impervious to detection by international inspectors, and even American forces on the ground combing through Iraq’s giant weapons plants.” MET Alpha refuses to identify the scientist, saying to do so would imperil his safety, and does not take Miller to see the scientist’s buried supply of materials. According to Miller, the team describes the scientist’s assertions and his cache of materials as “the most important discovery to date in the hunt for illegal weapons.” Moreover, Miller writes that the discovery “supports the Bush administration’s charges that Iraq continued to develop those weapons and lied to the United Nations about it. Finding and destroying illegal weapons was a major justification for the war.”
Military Controlled, Vetted Report - Miller admits to not interviewing the scientist, not being permitted to write about the scientist for three days, and having her report vetted by military officials before submitting it for publication. She says that portions of her report detailing the chemicals located by the MET Alpha team were deleted, again for fear that such reporting might place the scientist in jeopardy. Neither Pentagon officials in Washington nor CENTCOM officials in Qatar will verify that the scientist is actually working with American forces. Miller’s only contact with the scientist is viewing him “from a distance at the sites where he said that material from the arms program was buried,” where he wore a baseball cap and pointed at spots in the sand where he claimed chemical weapons materials were buried.
'Incalculable Value' - Miller quotes the commander of the 101st Airborne, Major General David Petraeus, as calling the potential of MET Alpha’s work “enormous.” Petraeus adds: “What they’ve discovered could prove to be of incalculable value. Though much work must still be done to validate the information MET Alpha has uncovered, if it proves out it will clearly be one of the major discoveries of this operation, and it may be the major discovery.” [New York Times, 4/21/2003] The day after her report is published, Miller will tell a PBS interviewer: “I think they found something more than a smoking gun.… What they’ve found is… a silver bullet in the form of a person, an Iraqi individual, a scientist, as we’ve called him, who really worked on the programs, who knows them firsthand, and who has led MET Alpha people to some pretty startling conclusions.” Asked if the report will confirm “the insistence coming from the US government that after the war, various Iraqi tongues would loosen, and there might be people who would be willing to help,” Miller responds: “Yes, it clearly does.… That’s what the Bush administration has finally done. They have changed the political environment, and they’ve enabled people like the scientists that MET Alpha has found to come forth.” [American Journalism Review, 8/2003; Huffington Post, 1/30/2007]
Report Almost Entirely Wrong - Miller’s reporting will be proven to be almost entirely wrong. Neither Miller nor MET Alpha will ever produce any tangible evidence of the scientist’s claims, including the so-called “evidence” he claims he buried in his backyard. And, Miller will later admit, the “scientist” was actually a former Iraqi military intelligence officer with no connection to Iraq’s WMD programs (see July 25, 2003). [Slate, 7/25/2003] Other reporters, such as the Washington Post’s Barton Gellman and the Associated Press’s Dafna Linzer, report that teams such as MET Alpha have found nothing of use. Linzer will soon report that nothing the Iraqi scientist claims can be verified. And Miller will admit that much of the information she has published in the Times has come from Iraqi National Congress head Ahmed Chalabi (see May 1, 2003), a known fabricator (see 1992-1996, (1994), November 6-8, 2001, Summer 2002, Early 2003, and July 9, 2004). Miller will continue to insist that her reporting is accurate. [American Journalism Review, 8/2003]
Barry McCaffrey. [Source: NBC]The Nation examines the use of so-called “military analysts” by the broadcast news media, retired generals and high-ranking officers brought on camera to share their knowledge and expertise regarding the invasion of Iraq. The report finds that, like Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and many other administration officials and supporters, the retired military analysts have consistently taken a pro-military, pro-administration slant that has led many of them to make consistently wrong judgments and analyzes. It will be five years before the New York Times exposes the Pentagon propaganda operation in which many of these analysts take part (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond).
Ideological and Financial Interests in Promoting the War - While many of them indeed have what one analyst, retired Lieutenant General Barry McCaffrey, calls “a lifetime of experience and objectivity,” many of them also have what the report terms as “ideological or financial stakes in the war. Many hold paid advisory board and executive positions at defense companies and serve as advisers for groups that promoted an invasion of Iraq.” As a result, the report says, these analysts’ objectivity must be questioned. McCaffrey and his colleague, retired Colonel Wayne Downing, both NBC analysts, are both on the advisory board of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, a lobbying group formed to bolster public support for the invasion. Its mission is to “engage in educational advocacy efforts to mobilize US and international support for policies aimed at ending the aggression of Saddam Hussein,” and it deliberately reaches out to influence reporting in both the US and European media. Downing has also served as an unpaid adviser to Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress, a prime source of the fraudulent propaganda and disinformation that provided a rationale for the war (see June 1992 and (1994)). NBC viewers are unaware of McCaffrey’s and Downing’s connections to these pro-war organizations.
McCaffrey and IDT - Neither are they aware of McCaffrey’s seat on the board of four defense firms—Mitretek, Veritas Capital, Raytheon Aerospace, and Integrated Defense Technologies (IDT)—all which have multimillion-dollar defense contracts. IDT is of particular interest, as stock analysts believe that its currently floundering financial state could be remedied by hefty government contracts. McCaffrey has been an outspoken critic of Rumsfeld and his war policies, but his primary objection is his repeated statement that “armor and artillery don’t count” enough in the offensive. He recently told an MSNBC audience, “Thank God for the Abrams tank and… the Bradley fighting vehicle,” and added that the “war isn’t over until we’ve got a tank sitting on top of Saddam’s bunker.” In March 2003, IDT received over $14 million in contracts relating to Abrams and Bradley machinery parts and support hardware.
Downing and Metal Storm - Downing is a board member of Metal Storm Ltd, a ballistics-technology company with both US and Australian defense contracts. According to its executive director, Metal Storm’s technologies will “provide some significant advantage” in the type of urban warfare being fought in Iraq.
Fox News and wvc3 - Fox News analysts Lieutenant Colonel William Cowan and Major Robert Bevelacqua are CEO and vice president, respectively, of the wvc3group, a defense consulting firm that serves as a liaison between arms companies and the US government. The firm recently signed a contract to promote military aviation equipment produced by a New Zealand firm. The firm promotes itself by advising potential customers of its inside contacts with the US military and the Defense Department. A message on its Web site, augmented by a sound file of loud gunfire, reads, “We use our credibility to promote your technology.” Another Fox analyst, Major General Paul Vallely, represents several information-technology firms. Vallely is most valuable, says Fox bureau chief Kim Hume, as a commentator on psychological operations.
Little Concern at the Networks - The networks are relatively uninterested in any potential conflicts of interest or possible promotions of ideological or financial agendas. Elena Nachmanoff, vice president of talent development at NBC News, dismisses any such concerns: “We are employing them for their military expertise, not their political views.” She says that the analysts play influential roles behind the cameras at NBC, helping producers decide on what to report and how to report it. But, she says, defense contracts are “not our interest.” Hume says that Fox “expect[s] the analysts to keep their other interests out of their commentary, or we stop using them.” Hume admits that Fox has never severed its connection with any analyst, though it is aware of Cowan’s, Bevelacqua’s, and Vallely’s ties to their respective defense firms. Interestingly, Vallely, the expert on so-called “psyops” warfare, developed a concept he called “MindWar,” a psychological propaganda strategy that uses, in his words, “electronic media—television and radio” in the “deliberate, aggressive convincing of all participants in a war that we will win that war.” Nation reporters Daniel Benaim, Priyanka Motaparthy, and Vishesh Kumar muse, “With the televised version of Operation Iraqi Freedom, we may be watching his theory at work—and at a tidy profit, too.” [Nation, 4/21/2003]
Entity Tags: The Nation, Raytheon, Priyanka Motaparthy, Veritas Capital, William Cowan, wvc3 Group, Vishesh Kumar, Wayne Downing, Robert Bevelacqua, NBC, Donald Rumsfeld, Daniel Benaim, Elena Nachmanoff, Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, Barry McCaffrey, Ahmed Chalabi, Bush administration (43), New York Times, Paul Vallely, Iraqi National Congress, Fox News, MSNBC, Metal Storm Ltd, Mitretek, Kim Hume, Integrated Defense Technologies
Timeline Tags: US Military, Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda
In an email to New York Times Baghdad bureau chief John Burns, reporter Judith Miller defends a story she filed on Ahmed Chalabi, which had scooped a major story being written by another Times reporter. In her email she reveals that Chalabi was the source of most of her reporting on Iraq’s alleged arsenal of WMD. She writes: “I’ve been covering Chalabi for about 10 years, and have done most of the stories about him for our paper, including the long takeout we recently did on him. He has provided most of the front page exclusives on WMD to our paper.” [Washington Post, 5/26/2003] Miller has long relied on Chalabi as a primary source for information about Iraq. She has also proven more than willing—“eager,” in author Craig Unger’s words—to pass along information and disinformation alike from Chalabi and the White House about Iraq and its supposed WMD program. However, she will later retract her admission. [Unger, 2007, pp. 252]
British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s now-infamous claim that Iraq could launch weapons of mass destruction “within 45 minutes” is based on information gathered from a single, anonymous Iraqi defector of dubious reliability, British Armed Forces Minister Adam Ingram admits. According to Ingram, the defector was supplied by Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress. The INC defector told American intelligence agents that if Saddam Hussein gave the order, WMDs, presumably contained in missiles, could be on their way to their targets in 45 minutes. The Americans shared that intelligence with their British counterparts, but British intelligence officials considered the story to be unreliable and uncorroborated. According to The Independent, “[h]ow it came to be included as the most dramatic element in the government’s ‘intelligence dossier’ last September, making the case for war (see September 24, 2002), is now the subject of a furious row in Whitehall and abroad.” The 45-minute claim was not part of the original draft of the September 2002 dossier (see September 28, 2002), and government officials deny that the claim was added at the behest of politicians who wanted the dossier “sexed up.” Faced with thunderous denunciations from his own Labour Party and his Conservative opponents for apparently deceiving the nation about Iraqi WMD, Blair says that he has further intelligence, gleaned from former Iraqi scientists, that proves Iraq had an arsenal of WMD. He will present that intelligence in due course, he says. An intelligence source says: “The ‘45-minute’ remark was part of the American intelligence input into the dossier. It was being treated cautiously by the British, but it was alighted on by the politicos and blown out of proportion.” [Independent, 6/1/2003] Further verification of the hearsay nature of the claim comes in August, when a previously unreleased document shows that the claim came from an anonymous Iraqi source (see August 16, 2003).
Ahmed Chalabi, head of the Iraqi National Congress, complains about the US occupation of Iraq that he played a pivotal role in bringing about. “They told us, ‘Liberation now,’ and then they made it occupation,” he says. “Bush said he was a liberator, not an occupier, and we supported the United States on this basis.” [Philadelphia Inquirer, 5/29/2003]
Slate reporter Jack Shafer lambasts New York Times reporter Judith Miller’s record of error as the Times’s primary chronicler of the claims for Iraqi WMD. Miller has just written an article backing away from her previous claims (see July 20, 2003), but blaming the failure to find WMD on everything from “chaos [and] disorganization” to “flawed intelligence[,] interagency feuds,” and the wrong choice of people to head the US searches. Shafer responds: “Judith Miller finds everybody associated with the failed search theoretically culpable except Judith Miller. This rings peculiar because Miller, more than any other reporter, showcased the WMD speculations and intelligence findings by the Bush administration and the Iraqi defector/dissidents. Our WMD expectations, such as they were, grew largely out of Miller’s stories.” He notes that Miller’s reports were largely based on assertions from sources affiliated with Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress (INC), and writes, “If reporters who live by their sources were obliged to die by their sources… Miller would be stinking up her family tomb right now.” Shafer goes on to note that Miller’s words were always carefully selected to ensure that the sources, not Miller herself, painted a picture of Iraq teeming with WMD. “[I]f Miller got taken by her coveted sources, so did the reading public, and the Times owes its readers a review of Miller’s many credulous pieces,” Shafer writes. Since the Times has yet to provide such a review, Shafer says, he has done some of the initial work for it.
'The Renovator, Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri' - Shafer begins with an Iraqi civil engineer, Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri, who, thanks to the INC (see December 17, 2001), provided Miller with the information required for stories describing the secret renovation of facilities to store and develop chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons (see December 20, 2001). Shafer notes that al-Haideri, who now lives in the US, has boasted of his willingness to return to Iraq once Saddam Hussein is out of power; he suggests that the Times send him back to Iraq “where he can lead them on a tour of the 20 sites and 20 installations” that he claims housed WMD.
'The Pseudonymous Ahmed al-Shemri' - In September 2002, Miller and her colleague Michael Gordon wrote that Iraq was continuing to develop, produce, and store chemical agents in secret mobile and fixed weapons laboratories, many underground, in defiance of UN weapons sanctions (see September 8, 2002). The allegations, made as part of a much broader story, were based on the allegations of Ahmed al-Shemri, the admitted pseudonym of an Iraqi who claimed to have been “involved” in chemical weapons production in Iraq before his defection in 2001. “All of Iraq is one large storage facility,” al-Shemri told Miller. He also told her of the existence of large, secret labs in Mosul, those labs’ production of 5 tons of liquid VX nerve agent, and their ability to produce far more if requested. And, he told her that Iraq had created a new solid form of VX that makes decontamination difficult. Russian and North Korean scientists were assisting the Iraqis, al-Shemri asserted, and told of stockpiles of “12,500 gallons of anthrax, 2,500 gallons of gas gangrene, 1,250 gallons of aflotoxin, and 2,000 gallons of botulinum throughout the country.” Shafer suggests that al-Shemri “drop his pseudonym to make his background more transparent and lead the Times to the Mosul lab.”
Making the Case for the White House - On September 13, 2002, Miller and Gordon printed a story titled “White House Lists Iraq Steps to Build Banned Weapons” (see September 13, 2002). The story related the White House’s claims of Iraq’s attempt to purchase aluminum tubes to be used in building nuclear missiles, its development of mobile biological laboratories, its attempt to buy poison gas precursors, and the secret development of chlorine gas at Fallujah and three other locations. Also, the article noted, Iraq was constructing missiles in violation of the 1991 cease-fire agreement, was conducting prohibited missile research, and was rebuilding a destroyed facility once used to build long-range missile engines. Shafer suggests that the Times send a delegation of reporters and experts to the sites noted in the article, saying, “Maybe the Times can find evidence that supports or discredits the administration’s claim.”
'Khidir Hamza, Nuclear Mastermind' - Miller has written extensively of the claims of former Iraqi nuclear bomb expert Khidir Hamza (see July 30, 2002), who defected in 1994. Perhaps her most influential story was printed on September 18, 2002 (see September 18, 2002), where she reported Hamza’s claims that Iraq was within two to three years of mass-producing centrifuges necessary to enrich uranium. Shafer suggests that Hamza “take the Times on an Iraqi atomic tour.”
Proclaiming the Defectors' Accuracy - In October 2002, Miller wrote that al-Haideri and Hamza complained that US intelligence was not taking them seriously. She quoted Chalabi and Pentagon adviser Richard Perle’s enthusiastic support for the two defectors’ claims, along with their vociferous attacks on the CIA, and wrote: “The INC has been without question the single most important source of intelligence about Saddam Hussein.… What the agency has learned in recent months has come largely through the INC’s efforts despite indifference of the CIA.” Shafer writes: “Either the INC was wrong or the CIA was wrong. If the INC was wrong, the Times should feed Perle’s words back to him with a fork and spoon.” Miller wrote another story quoting an administration defender of the defectors in January 2003, this time Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz. Shafer says “[t]he Times should review the credibility of all the Iraqis who defected to Miller. Who are the defectors? What did they tell the United States? How much of it was true? How much was blarney?”
Atropine Auto-Injectors - In November 2002, Miller wrote that, according to White House officials, Iraq had ordered “large quantities” of atropine auto-injectors (see November 12, 2002). Atropine is an antidote to sarin and VX, two lethal nerve agents. Shafer says “[t]he Times should track the atropine order to the source, if possible, to see if the request was in preparation for a chemical weapons attack.”
Russian Smallpox Allegations - In December 2002, Miller wrote that a Russian scientist may have provided a virulent strain of smallpox to Iraqi scientists (see December 3, 2002). Shafer notes that it is clear Miller does not know who the source for the allegation was, and the Times should now reinvestigate the story.
Miller's Mobile Exploitation Team Scoop - Shafer writes that Miller’s “biggest scoop” was an April 20, 2003 article titled “Illicit Arms Kept Till Eve of War, an Iraqi Scientist Is Said to Assert” (see April 20, 2003 and April-May 2003). Miller reported on an Iraqi scientist in the custody of a US Mobile Exploitation Team (MET) in search of WMD. The scientist said that Iraq destroyed large stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons just before the invasion, and he led the MET to buried precursor materials from which illegal weapons can be made. Moreover, the scientist alleged that Iraq sent its remaining stockpiles of WMD to Syria in the mid-1990s, where they remain hidden to this day. Iraq provided some of those weapons to al-Qaeda, and has focused heavily on researching new and more powerful weapons. Miller wasn’t allowed to name the precursor element the scientist had named, but wrote that it could be used to create a toxic agent banned under chemical weapons treaties. She was not allowed to speak to the scientist himself, nor could she reveal his name. And, she noted, she agreed to allow the military to review her story, and held off publishing it for three days. In return, the military allowed her to look at the scientist from a distance, as he pointed at spots in the desert where he said the precursor elements were buried. One day after the article appeared, Miller went on PBS, where she called her reporting the “silver bullet” in the WMD search. The next day, she published another article announcing a “paradigm shift” by investigators as a result of what they’d learned from the Iraqi scientist. But neither Miller nor any of the METs actually found anything concrete as a result of the scientist’s allegations. She later admitted that the “scientist” was actually a military intelligence officer, but continued to stand by his original allegations. Shafer suggests that Miller persuade the military to allow her to identify the so-called “precursor” substance, and explain the deceptive portrayal of a military intelligence officer as a scientist familiar with Iraqi WMD programs.
Impact and Consequences - Shafer says that the most important question about Miller is, “Has she grown too close to her sources to be trusted to get it right or to recant her findings when it’s proved that she got it wrong?” He continues: “Because the Times sets the news agenda for the press and the nation, Miller’s reporting had a great impact on the national debate over the wisdom of the Iraq invasion. If she was reliably wrong about Iraq’s WMD, she might have played a major role in encouraging the United States to attack a nation that posed it little threat. At the very least, Miller’s editors should review her dodgy reporting from the last 18 months, explain her astonishing credulity and lack of accountability, and parse the false from the fact in her WMD reporting. In fact, the Times’ incoming executive editor, Bill Keller, could do no better than to launch such an investigation.” [Slate, 7/25/2003]
Entity Tags: New York Times, Ahmed al-Shemri, Ahmed Chalabi, Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri, Bush administration (43), Paul Wolfowitz, Iraqi National Congress, Judith Miller, Jack Shafer, Michael Gordon, Khidir Hamza, Richard Perle
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Iraq under US Occupation
A previously unrevealed document shows that British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s claim that Iraq could strike a target with weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes of an order to deploy was based on hearsay information. The claim had already been shown to be the product of an unreliable Iraqi defector from Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress (see Late May 2003), but an internal Foreign Service document released by the Hutton inquiry undercuts the original claim even further. British and US officials had stated that the 45-minute claim came from an Iraqi officer high in Saddam Hussein’s command structure; the document shows, however, that it came from an informant who passed it on to British intelligence agency MI6. The Guardian writes, “[T]he foundation for the government’s claim was… a single anonymous uncorroborated source quoting another single anonymous uncorroborated source.” Liberal Democrat Menzies Campbell says: “This is classic hearsay. It provides an even thinner justification to go to war. If this is true, neither the prime minister nor the government have been entirely forthcoming.” [Guardian, 8/16/2003]
Michael Massing, the author of a probing New York Review of Books article on the poor quality of US reporting on Iraq prior to the Iraq war, will say that in the autumn of 2003, “I ran into a senior editor at the [New York] Times and asked him” why journalists were so uncritical about information from defectors like Ahmed Chalabi. “Well, he said, some reporters at the paper had relied heavily on Chalabi as a source and so were not going to write too critically about him.” Massing comments, “The editor did not name names, but he did not have to,” and notes that New York Times reporter Judith Miller has been heavily criticized for publishing stories based on information from defectors that later proved completely false. [New York Review of Books, 2/26/2004]
On camera, PBS producer Martin Smith asks Iraqi National Congress chief Ahmed Chalabi to produce “documentary evidence of any kind” that proves his contention that Iraq and al-Qaeda have ties (see November 6-8, 2001 and February 5, 2003). Chalabi promises to deliver a document showing “money changing hands between Saddam Hussein’s government and al-Qaeda,” but never produces such a document. [Rich, 2006, pp. 106]
The administration’s plan to overthrow Saddam Hussein, give off governance of Iraq to Ahmed Chalabi and other exiles, and withdraw gracefully from the country without further expenditures, has come to a crashing end, writes reporter and author George Packer. According to a senior administration official interviewed by Packer: “There was a desire by some in the vice president’s office and the Pentagon to cut and run from Iraq and leave it up to Chalabi to run it. The idea was to put our guy in there and he was going to be so compliant that he’d recognize Israel and all the problems in the Middle East would be solved. He would be our man in Baghdad. Everything would be hunky-dory.… It isn’t pragmatism, it isn’t Realpolitik, it isn’t conservatism, it isn’t liberalism. It’s theology.” [New Yorker, 11/24/2003]
Saddam Hussein shortly after his capture. [Source: BBC]Saddam Hussein is captured by US forces, in an operation given the title of “Red Dawn.” Hussein is hiding in a tiny cellar at a farmhouse in Adwar, a village south of his hometown of Tikrit. Coalition Provisional Authority administrator L. Paul Bremer announces Hussein’s capture to a group of journalists by saying: “Ladies and gentlemen, we got him.… The tyrant is a prisoner.” According to soldiers present at the capture, Hussein put up no resistance. Iraqi Governing Council head Abdul Aziz al-Hakim says a DNA test proves the man in custody is indeed Saddam Hussein.
Reactions from Western Leaders - US President George W. Bush calls Hussein’s capture “good news,” and White House spokesman Scott McClellan says, “The Iraqi people can finally be assured that Saddam Hussein will not be coming back—they can see it for themselves.” British Prime Minister Tony Blair says Hussein’s capture “removes the shadow” hanging over Iraq. “Where his rule meant terror and division and brutality, let his capture bring about unity, reconciliation and peace between all the people of Iraq.”
Tip from Clan Member Leads to Capture - US military spokesman Major General Raymond Odierno says Hussein was captured within 24 hours of US forces receiving a tip as to Hussein’s whereabouts from a member of his clan. “He was caught like a rat,” says Odierno. “It was ironic that he was in a hole in the ground across the river from the great palaces he built using all the money he robbed from the Iraqi people.” Of the tip, Odierno says: “Over the last 10 days we brought in about five to 10 members of these families, and finally got the ultimate information from one of these individuals.… This was not something that happened overnight. Since we have been [in Iraq] we have collected a lot of intelligence. We always knew that he was relying on family and tribal ties.” It is not known whether that clan member will receive the $25 million offered by the US for information leading to Hussein’s capture. Odierno describes Hussein as “very much bewildered,” and notes that when Hussein was captured, he said “hardly anything at first.” He is described by US officials as polite and cooperative in his captivity.
'Spider Hole' - Hussein’s hiding place, characterized by some US spokesmen as a “spider hole,” was a small hut with two rooms: a bedroom cluttered with clothes, and a kitchen with running water. [BBC, 12/14/2003; Fox News, 12/14/2003] The hut contains some $750,000 in US money. [Christian Science Monitor, 12/15/2003] The cellar where Hussein is found is a tiny, rough-dug hiding place, with a styrofoam cover and a tube to allow air in.
Iraqis Celebrate - In the northern Kurdish town of Kirkuk, people celebrate the news of Hussein’s capture and arrest by blowing their automobile horns and firing guns into the air. [BBC, 12/14/2003; Fox News, 12/14/2003] “We are celebrating like it’s a wedding,” says one Kirkuk resident. “We are finally rid of that criminal.”
Council Members: Hussein Will Stand Trial; Capture Will Bring End to Terrorism in Iraq - Iraqi Governing Council member Ahmed Chalabi says Hussein will be put on trial. “Saddam will stand a public trial so that the Iraqi people will know his crimes,” Chalabi says. Fellow council member Jalal Talabani says that with Hussein’s capture, terrorism in Iraq will cease: “With the arrest of Saddam, the source financing terrorists has been destroyed and terrorist attacks will come to an end. Now we can establish a durable stability and security in Iraq.” [Fox News, 12/14/2003]
Journalist Andrew Cockburn asks an investigator who spent several years looking into the collapse of Ahmed Chalabi’s Petra Bank if the US government has ever questioned him about the scandal. “No, not once,” he replies, adding that journalists have also avoided reporting about Chalabi’s involvement in Petra Bank. [CounterPunch, 5/20/2004]
Ahmed Chalabi, president of the Iraqi National Congress (INC), tells the London Telegraph during an interview in Baghdad that he has no regrets that the intelligence he fed to the US turned out to be wrong. Though his group has been accused of intentionally providing misleading information to US intelligence through the Pentagon offices under Douglas Feith, he believes its members should be regarded as “heroes in error.” “As far as we’re concerned we’ve been entirely successful,” he contends. “That tyrant Saddam is gone and the Americans are in Baghdad. What was said before is not important. The Bush administration is looking for a scapegoat. We’re ready to fall on our swords if he wants.” One of the most significant claims Secretary of State Colin Powell had made to the UN Security Council on February 5, 2003, had been supplied by a source supplied by the INC. In that case, a defected Iraqi major had claimed that Iraq possessed mobile biological weapons labs. [Daily Telegraph, 2/19/2004]
L. Marc Zell, a former law partner of Douglas Feith, tells Salon magazine: “Ahmed Chalabi is a treacherous, spineless turncoat. He had one set of friends before he was in power, and now he’s got another.” Salon notes that Zell’s “remarks… represent his first public break with the would-be Iraqi leader.” Zell believes Chalabi pulled a deliberate bait and switch, telling neoconservatives what they wanted to hear so they would back his bid to be the future leader of Iraq. [Salon, 5/5/2004]
Ahmed Chalabi, a member of Iraq’s governing council, meets with the Baghdad station chief for Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security and informs him that the US has broken the code used to encrypt Iran’s intelligence communications. Chalabi says that he learned about the code-break from a drunken American official. A frantic exchange of communications takes place between the Iranian agent and Tehran concerning Chalabi’s claim. The US intercepts and decodes all of them, revealing Chalabi’s role. When the story is broken in the press, Chalabi denies having passed classified information to the Iranians. [Newsweek, 5/10/2004; New York Times, 6/2/2004; CBS News, 6/3/2004; News Insight, 6/9/2004]
CBS graphic illustrating interview with General Anthony Zinni. [Source: CBS News]Retired Marine General Anthony Zinni was the chief of the US Central Command until 2000, and, until just before the invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration’s special envoy to the Middle East. Now he has become an outspoken critic of the administration’s war efforts in Iraq. Zinni gives an interview to CBS’s 60 Minutes, in part to promote his new biography, Battle Ready, co-authored by famed war novelist Tom Clancy.
'Dereliction of Duty' among Senior Pentagon Officials - Zinni says that senior officials at the Pentagon, from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on down, are guilty of what he calls dereliction of duty, and he believes it is time for “heads to roll.” Zinni tells correspondent Steve Kroft: “There has been poor strategic thinking in this. There has been poor operational planning and execution on the ground. And to think that we are going to ‘stay the course,’ the course is headed over Niagara Falls. I think it’s time to change course a little bit, or at least hold somebody responsible for putting you on this course. Because it’s been a failure.” In his book, Zinni writes: “In the lead up to the Iraq war and its later conduct, I saw at a minimum, true dereliction, negligence, and irresponsibility, at worse, lying, incompetence, and corruption.… I think there was dereliction in insufficient forces being put on the ground and fully understanding the military dimensions of the plan. I think there was dereliction in lack of planning.”
'The Wrong War at the Wrong Time' - Zinni calls Iraq “the wrong war at the wrong time,” and with the wrong strategy. Before the invasion, Zinni told Congress (see October 31, 2002): “This is, in my view, the worst time to take this on. And I don’t feel it needs to be done now.” The generals never wanted this war, Zinni says, but the civilians in the Pentagon and the White House did. “I can’t speak for all generals, certainly,” he says. “But I know we felt that this situation was contained (see Summer 2002-2003). Saddam was effectively contained.… And I think most of the generals felt, let’s deal with this one at a time. Let’s deal with this threat from terrorism, from al-Qaeda.”
Much Larger Force Required - Zinni was heavily involved in planning for any invasion of Iraq, going back to at least 1999 (see April-July 1999). Zinni always envisioned any such invasion as being implemented with enough ground forces to get the job done quickly and cleanly. Rumsfeld had different ideas—the invasion could be carried off with fewer troops and more high-tech weaponry. Zinni wanted around 300,000 troops: “We were much in line with General Shinseki’s view. We were talking about, you know, 300,000, in that neighborhood.” Would a larger force have made a difference? Kroft asks. Zinni replies, “I think it’s critical in the aftermath, if you’re gonna go to resolve a conflict through the use of force, and then to rebuild the country.” Rumsfeld should have anticipated the level and ferocity of violence that erupted in the aftermath of the toppling of the Hussein government, but, Zinni says, he did not, and worse, he ignored or belittled those such as Shinseki and a number of foreign allies who warned him of the possible consequences. Instead, Zinni notes, Rumsfeld relied on, among other sources, fabricated intelligence from Ahmed Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress (see September 19-20, 2001).
'Seat of the Pants Operation' - The entire reconstruction effort was, in Zinni’s mind, a seat-of-the-pants affair. “As best I could see, I saw a pickup team, very small, insufficient in the Pentagon with no detailed plans that walked onto the battlefield after the major fighting stopped and tried to work it out in the huddle,” he says, “in effect to create a seat-of-the-pants operation on reconstructing a country.” Coalition Provisional Authority head L. Paul Bremer is “a great American who’s serving his country, I think, with all the kind of sacrifice and spirit you could expect. But he has made mistake after mistake after mistake.” Bremer’s mistakes include “Disbanding the army (see May 23, 2003). De-Baathifying (see May 16, 2003), down to a level where we removed people that were competent and didn’t have blood on their hands that you needed in the aftermath of reconstruction—alienating certain elements of that society.” Zinni reserves most of the blame for the Pentagon: “I blame the civilian leadership of the Pentagon directly.”
Heads Should Roll, Beginning with Rumsfeld's - Zinni continues: “But regardless of whose responsibility I think it is, somebody has screwed up. And at this level and at this stage, it should be evident to everybody that they’ve screwed up. And whose heads are rolling on this? That’s what bothers me most.” The first one to go, Zinni says, is Rumsfeld: “Well, it starts with at the top. If you’re the secretary of defense and you’re responsible for that.”
Neoconservatives at Fault - Next up are Rumsfeld’s advisers, whom Kroft identifies as the cadre of neoconservatives “who saw the invasion of Iraq as a way to stabilize American interests in the region and strengthen the position of Israel.” Zinni says: “Certainly those in your ranks that foisted this strategy on us that is flawed. Certainly they ought to be gone and replaced.” Kroft identifies that group as including Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz; Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith; former Defense Policy Board member Richard Perle; National Security Council member Elliott Abrams; and Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby. Zinni calls them political ideologues who have hijacked US policy in Iraq: “I think it’s the worst-kept secret in Washington. That everybody—everybody I talk to in Washington has known and fully knows what their agenda was and what they were trying to do.” Like so many others who criticized them, Zinni recalls, he was targeted for personal counterattacks. After publishing one article, he says: “I was called anti-Semitic. I mean, you know, unbelievable that that’s the kind of personal attacks that are run when you criticize a strategy and those who propose it.”
Fundamental Conceptual Flaws - Zinni says the neoconservatives believed they could remake the Middle East through the use of American military might, beginning with Iraq. Instead, the US is viewed in the region as “the modern crusaders, as the modern colonial power in this part of the world.”
Changing Course - Zinni has a number of recommendations. He advises President Bush and his senior officials to reach out much more strongly to the United Nations, and to US allies, and secure the UN’s backing. Do these other countries “want a say in political reconstruction? Do they want a piece of the pie economically? If that’s the cost, fine. What they’re gonna pay for up front is boots on the ground and involvement in sharing the burden.” Many more troops are needed on the ground, and not just American troops, he says, enough to seal off the borders, protect the road networks.
Exit Strategy - Zinni says that planning for an exit is necessary because it is inevitable that the US will want to withdraw, and that time will come sooner rather than later. “There is a limit,” he says. “I think it’s important to understand what the limit is. Now do I think we are there yet?”
Speaking Out - He is speaking out, he says, because it is his duty to do so: “It is part of your duty. Look, there is one statement that bothers me more than anything else. And that’s the idea that when the troops are in combat, everybody has to shut up. Imagine if we put troops in combat with a faulty rifle, and that rifle was malfunctioning, and troops were dying as a result. I can’t think anyone would allow that to happen, that would not speak up. Well, what’s the difference between a faulty plan and strategy that’s getting just as many troops killed?” [CBS News, 5/21/2004]
Entity Tags: Iraqi National Congress, Douglas Feith, Donald Rumsfeld, CBS News, Bush administration (43), Anthony Zinni, Eric Shinseki, Ahmed Chalabi, Al-Qaeda, US Department of the Army, Steve Kroft, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Richard Perle, Elliott Abrams, Tom Clancy, US Department of Defense, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, US Central Command, Joint Chiefs of Staff, L. Paul Bremer
Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation
Former Defense Intelligence Agency analyst Patrick Lang writes that, in his opinion, a “small group of people who think they are the ‘bearers’ of a uniquely correct view of the world… sought to dominate the foreign policy of the United States in the Bush 43 administration, and succeeded in doing so through a practice of excluding all who disagreed with them. Those they could not drive from government they bullied and undermined until they, too, had drunk from the vat.” (Lang correlates the phrase “drunk from the vat” with the common metaphor of “drinking the Kool-Aid,” a particularly nasty turn of phrase sourced from the 1978 Jonestown massacre in Guyana. The phrase now means, Lang explains, “that the person in question has given up personal integrity and has succumbed to the prevailing group-think that typifies policymaking today.”) The result is the war in Iraq, Lang argues, with steadily rising body counts and no clear end in sight.
'Walking Dead' Waiting for Retirement - Lang notes that senior military officers have said that the war’s senior strategist, General Tommy Franks, “had drunk the Kool-Aid,” and many intelligence officers have told Lang that “they too drank the Kool-Aid and as a result consider themselves to be among the ‘walking dead,’ waiting only for retirement and praying for an early release that will allow them to go away and try to forget their dishonor and the damage they have done to the intelligence services and therefore to the republic.” Lang writes that the US intelligence community has been deeply corrupted, bent on serving “specific group goals, ends, and beliefs held to the point of religious faith” and no longer fulfilling its core mission of “describing reality. The policy staffs and politicals in the government have the task of creating a new reality, more to their taste.… Without objective facts, decisions are based on subjective drivel. Wars result from such drivel. We are in the midst of one at present.”
Shutting out Regional Experts - There is little place in Bush administration policy discussions for real experts on the Middle East, Lang writes: “The Pentagon civilian bureaucracy of the Bush administration, dominated by an inner circle of think-tankers, lawyers, and former Senate staffers, virtually hung out a sign, ‘Arabic Speakers Need Not Apply.’ They effectively purged the process of Americans who might have inadvertently developed sympathies for the people of the region. Instead of including such veterans in the planning process, the Bush team opted for amateurs brought in from outside the executive branch who tended to share the views of many of President Bush’s earliest foreign policy advisors and mentors. Because of this hiring bias, the American people got a Middle East planning process dominated by ‘insider’ discourse among longtime colleagues and old friends who ate, drank, talked, worked, and planned only with each other. Most of these people already shared attitudes and concepts of how the Middle East should be handled. Their continued association only reinforced their common beliefs.” The Bush administration does not countenance dissent or open exchange and discussion of opposing beliefs. The Bush policymakers behave, Lang writes, as if they have seized power in a ‘silent coup,’ treating outsiders as political enemies and refusing to hear anything except discussion of their own narrow, mutually shared beliefs.
Using INC Information - Beginning in January 2001, the Bush administration began relying heavily on dubious intelligence provided by Ahmed Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress (INC—see January 30, 2001). The INC began receiving State Department funds in what some White House officials called the “Information Collection Program.” While the US intelligence community had little use for Chalabi, considering him an unreliable fabricator (see 1992-1996), he had close ties with many in the administration, particularly in the office of the vice president and in the senior civilian leadership of the Pentagon (see 1960s, 1985, and 1990-1991). Lang writes that while the INC excelled in providing Iraqi defectors with lurid, usually false tales, “what the program really did was to provide a steady stream of raw information useful in challenging the collective wisdom of the intelligence community where the ‘War with Iraq’ enthusiasts disagreed with the intelligence agencies.” The office of the vice president created what Lang calls “its own intelligence office, buried in the recesses of the Pentagon, to ‘stovepipe’ raw data to the White House, to make the case for war on the basis of the testimony of self-interested emigres and exiles” (see August 2002). From working as the DIA’s senior officer for the Middle East during the 1991 Gulf War and after, Lang knows from personal experience that many neoconservative White House officials believe, as does Vice President Cheney, that it was a mistake for the US to have refrained from occupying Baghdad and toppling Saddam Hussein in 1991 (see August 1992). Lang calls some of these officials “deeply embittered” and ready to rectify what they perceive as a grave error. [Middle East Policy Council, 6/2004]
In an op-ed piece defending Ahmed Chalabi, Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute writes that “throughout the 1990s, Chalabi was regularly accused of malfeasance by his enemies,” and asserts that the conviction in Jordan (see April 9, 1992)
“has never been documented.”
[Los Angeles Times, 6/4/2004]
Mohammed al-Zubaidi, a former Iraqi National Congress (INC) official who worked until April 2003 to prep INC defectors with falsified stories to link the Saddam Hussein regime to the 9/11 attacks (see November 6-8, 2001), admits that the INC intentionally exaggerated information it provided to journalists. (His former boss Ahmed Chalabi has admitted the same; see February 18, 2004). “We all know the defectors had a little information on which they built big stories,” he says. INC officials will respond by calling al-Zubaidi “loony” and “childish.” [Mother Jones, 4/2006]
President Bush reportedly asks King Abdulla of Jordan to pardon Ahmed Chalabi for his role in the 1989 collapse of Petra Bank (see August 2, 1989). In 1992, a military court found Chalabi guilty on 31 counts of embezzlement and other charges, sentencing him to 22 years of hard labor and ordering him to return $230 million in embezzled funds (see April 9, 1992). According to Seymour Hersh, the king is “stunned” by the request. “How can he pardon Chalabi after what he had done?” Hersh asks. “The money he stole was from old women and children… and he was reviled.”
[Democracy Now!, 5/11/2005]
An Iraqi voter displays her purple finger for a reporter’s camera. [Source: Agence France-Presse]Elections for Iraq’s 275-member national assembly are held, the first democratic elections in Iraq in 50 years. Fifty-eight percent of Iraqis go to the polls to vote for a new government, the first national elections since Saddam Hussein’s overthrow. Iraqis proudly display their ink-dipped purple fingers as signs that they voted. In Washington, Republicans display their own enpurpled fingers as a sign of solidarity with President Bush and as a symbol of their pride in bringing democracy to Iraq. The Shi’ite-dominated United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) wins 48.2 percent of the vote, a coalition of two major Kurdish parties garners 25.7 percent, and a bloc led by interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi wins only 13.8 percent. As expected, the Sunni parties capture only a fraction of the vote. [Washington Post, 2/14/2005; Unger, 2007, pp. 327-329]
Shi'ite Turnout High, but Election Marred by Violence - Suicide bombers and mortar attacks attempt to disrupt the elections, killing 44 around the country, but voters turn out in large numbers regardless of the danger. Three cloaked women going to polls in Baghdad tell a reporter in unison, “We have no fear.” Another Iraqi tells a reporter: “I am doing this because I love my country and I love the sons of my nation. We are Arabs, we are not scared and we are not cowards.” [Associated Press, 1/31/2005]
Sunni Boycott Undermines Legitimacy of Election Results - The political reality of the vote is less reassuring. Millions of Shi’ites do indeed flock to the polls, but most Sunnis, angered by years of what they consider oppression by US occupying forces, refuse to vote. Brent Scowcroft, the former foreign policy adviser held in such contempt by the administration’s neoconservatives (see October 2004), had warned that the election could well deepen the rift between Sunnis and Shi’a, and indeed could precipitate a civil war. Soon after the elections, Sunni insurgents will shift their targets and begin attacking Shi’ite citizens instead of battling US troops. Another popular, and effective, target will be Iraq’s decaying oil production infrastructure.
UIA Links to Iran and Terrorism Undermine US Ambitions - Another troublesome consequence of the elections is that Bush officials are forced to support a Shi’ite government led by Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a member of the Dawa Party, one of the two Shi’ite factions comprising the United Iraq Alliance. Dawa is so closely aligned with Iran that not only had it supported Iran in the Iraq-Iran War, but it had moved its headquarters to Tehran in 1979. While in the Iranian capital, Dawa had spun off what Middle East expert Juan Cole called “a shadowy set of special ops units generically called ‘Islamic Jihad,’ which operated in places like Kuwait and Lebanon.” Dawa was also an integral part of the process that created the Shi’ite terrorist group Hezbollah. And Dawa was founded by Muhammed Baqir al-Sadr, the uncle of radical Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, whose Mahdi Army has been accused of attempting to exterminate Sunni populations. In other words, the US is now supporting a government which not only supports terrorism, but itself incorporates a terrorist-affiliated organization in its executive structure. Author Craig Unger will write: “One by one the contradictions behind America’s Middle East policies emerged—and with them, the enormity of its catastrophic blunder. Gradually America’s real agenda was coming to light—not its stated agenda to rid Iraq of WMDs, which had been nonexistent, not regime change, which had already been accomplished, but the neoconservative dream of ‘democratizing’ the region by installing pro-West, pro-Israeli governments led by the likes of Ahmed Chalabi in oil-rich Middle East states. Now that Chalabi had been eliminated as a potential leader amid accusations that he was secretly working for Iran (see April 2004), and the Sunnis had opted out of the elections entirely, the United States, by default, was backing a democratically elected government that maintained close ties to Iran and was linked to Shi’ite leaders whose powerful Shi’ite militias were battling the Sunnis.” Moreover, the Iraqi security forces have little intention of cooperating with the US’s plan to “stand up” as US forces “stand down.” Their loyalties are not to their country or their newly elected government, but to their individual militias. Journalist and author Nir Rosen says the Iraqi soldiers are mainly loyal to al-Sadr and to Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI, the other member of the United Iraq Alliance), “but not to the Iraqi state and not to anyone in the Green Zone.” Unger will write, “Unwittingly, America [is] spending billions of dollars to fuel a Sunni-Shi’ite civil war.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 327-329]
In his new book, “Countdown to Terror,” Congressman Curt Weldon (R-PA), the vice chairman of the House Homeland Security and Armed Services Committees, accuses the CIA of dismissing an informant who he says has valuable information on Iran. Weldon’s source claims to have knowledge that Osama Bin Laden is in Iran and that Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, ordered a terrorist assault on the US called the “12th Imam attack.” But according to Bill Murray, a former CIA Station Chief in Paris who met with Weldon’s source on four occasions, the information provided by the informant was believed to have originated with Iranian gunrunner Manucher Ghorbanifar, a “known fabricator,” familiar to the CIA since the 1980s (see December 9, 2001 and December 2003). Murray compares Ghorbanifar to Ahmed Chalabi, whose false claims about Iraqi WMD were fed to US intelligence, Congress, and the public during the lead-up to war with Iraq. [American Prospect, 4/1/2005; New York Times, 6/8/2005] Murray later identifies Weldon’s source, whom Weldon nicknames “Ali,” as Ghorbanifar’s associate Fereidoun Mahdavi. According to Murray, Mahdavi is a complete liar. “Mahdavi works for Ghorbanifar,” Murray will say. “The two are inseparable. Ghorbanifar put Mahdavi out to meet with Weldon.” Weldon was accompanied on at least one visit to “Ali” by Peter Hoekstra, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. [American Prospect, 6/10/2005; Vanity Fair, 3/2007]
According to CounterPunch, the Italian Parliament releases a report on the forged Iraq-Niger uranium documents (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001, Late September 2001-Early October 2001, October 15, 2001, December 2001, February 5, 2002, February 12, 2002, October 9, 2002, October 15, 2002, January 2003, February 17, 2003, March 7, 2003, March 8, 2003, and 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003). The report names four people as the most likely forgers: neoconservative Michael Ledeen (see April 3, 2005), former CIA agent Duane Clarridge (see Late 1998), Iraqi National Congress (INC) head Ahmed Chalabi (see 1992-1996 and February 2002), and Chalabi’s close friend and colleague Francis Brooke, who belongs to the Rendon Group, a public relations group formed by the Pentagon in part to promote Chalabi and the INC (see May 1991 and Mid-December 2003). The report suggests the forgeries may have been planeed at a December 2001 meeting in Rome (see December 9, 2001) that involved Ledeen, head of the Italian intelligence service SISMI Nicolo Pollari (see September 9, 2002), and accused spy Larry Franklin (see December 9, 2001). [CounterPunch, 11/1/2005; CounterPunch, 11/9/2005] When the report is publicized in November 2005, Italian government officials will deny the existence of any such report, a denial bolstered by media reports. Journalist Laura Rozen will write that no such report was ever produced, nor was a parliamentary investigation into the Niger forgeries held by the Italian parliament at the time. “There is no parliamentary report,” a spokeswoman for Enzo Bianco, a member of Italy’s parliament, will say. Nor is there an unpublished report, the spokeswoman will say. Rozen will write that Bianco’s spokeswoman “does not just appear to be engaged in a cover up of a secret report. No one in Italy seriously investigating the Niger forgeries has heard of such a report.” The Italian newspaper La Repubblica will also report that no such parliamentary report was ever written. Former CIA officer Vincent Cannistraro, who will say he knew of rumors about such a report at one time, will also say that no such report exists. “There is no published report,” he will tell Rozen. “If there is a report, we might expect it would have some analysis and conclusions. There is no report, at least not a published report.… I think this stuff is just getting circulated.” [Laura Rozen, 11/3/2005]
Entity Tags: La Repubblica, Enzo Bianco, Duane Clarridge, Ahmed Chalabi, Francis Brooke, Italian Parliament, Nicolo Pollari, Iraqi National Congress, Vincent Cannistraro, Laura Rozen, Larry Franklin, Michael Ledeen
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Ahmed Chalabi, Iraqi deputy prime minister and former chair of the country’s Energy Council, says, “In order to make major quantum increases in oil, we need to have production sharing agreements, but that has to wait until after the formation of parliament.” [Reuters, 11/22/2005; Inter Press Service, 11/23/2005]
Farid Ghadry. [Source: Committee on the Present Danger]Farid Ghadry, the president of the Washington-based Reform Party of Syria (see October 2001), “wants to be the [Ahmed] Chalabi of Syria,” warns Volker Perthes, director of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs. Chalabi played a key role in the US’s attempt to bring about regime change in Iraq, and was the neoconservatives’ choice to lead Iraq after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein (see 2002-2003). Perthes says, “Chalabi is a role model for Ghadry.” [ABC News, 1/12/2006] Ghadry, like Chalabi, is a rich Arab exile with strong connections to Washington neoconservatives who wants to overthrow the Ba’athist dictator of his native country—in this case, Bashir Assad. Ghadry says that even though there doesn’t seem to be a strong impetus to invade Syria any time soon in Washington, Syria needs to be targeted, and soon. In February 2005, he said, “Maybe we don’t have weapons of mass destruction. But there’s reason enough to help. It’s important to free Syria because Syria could be on the avant-garde of helping the US win the war on terror.” Ghadry has taken pains to distance himself from the inevitable comparisons with his Iraqi counterpart, even sending one mass e-mail titled “I am not Ahmed Chalabi.” But like Chalabi, he has cultivated friends and colleagues within the American political and business communities; [Slate, 2/7/2005] in the US, where he is known as “Frank” Ghadry, he once presented himself as Lebanese instead of Syrian, and has owned a number of businesses, including a small defense contracting firm and a failed Washington coffee-shop chain called Hannibal’s. [Washington Business Journal, 10/4/1996; Business Forward, 3/2000] He is charming, comfortable with Westerners, and has long supported the idea of peaceful co-existence with Israel. [Slate, 2/7/2005] For instance, in May 2007, Ghadry, a member of the right-wing American Israel Public Affairs Committee, will write, “As a Syrian and a Muslim, I have always had this affinity for the State of Israel. As a businessman and an advocate of the free economic system of governance, Israel to me represents an astounding economic success in the midst of so many Arab failures.… While many Arabs view Israel as a sore implant, I view it as a blessing.” [Vanity Fair, 3/2007; Farid Ghadry, 5/5/2007]
Ties to US Neoconservatives - Upon creating the Reform Party of Syria, Ghadry told reporters that Chalabi provided him with a template for his own plans for Syria: “Ahmed paved the way in Iraq for what we want to do in Syria.” And in 2005, Ghadry discussed his agenda with Chalabi, a discussion which took place in the living room of powerful US neoconservative and Chalabi sponsor Richard Perle, who, like Ghadry, supports enforced regime change in Syria. [Boston Globe, 12/13/2005] Later, Ghadry joined the Committee on the Present Danger, a group of mostly right wing politicians and think-tank fellows, and which boasts as members such prominent neoconservatives as Newt Gingrich, Jeane Kirkpatrick, and James Woolsey. [Slate, 2/7/2005] He is particularly close to Elizabeth Cheney, the daughter of the vice president, who serves as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs [Syria News Wire, 2/19/2006] and heads of the State Department’s Iran-Syria Operations Group, tasked with planning strategies to “democratize” the two nations. [Vanity Fair, 3/2007] Cheney ensured that Ghadry’s group received some of the hundreds of millions of dollars given to the “Middle East Partnership Initiative,” which contributes to opposition groups throughout the region, [Iran Solidarity, 11/5/2006] and has coordinated at least one meeting, in February 2006, between Ghadry and senior Bush administration officials, including officials from Vice President Cheney’s office, the National Security Council, and the Pentagon. [Washington Post, 3/26/2005] Ghadry describes notorious neoconservative political operator Michael Ledeen as “my friend.” [National Review, 3/2/2005] He writes frequent screeds warning of dire consequences to the world if Assad remains in power, which often get picked up in right-wing media outlets such as Front Page and the Washington Times. And, like Chalabi, Ghadry says that once the US moves against Syria, it will be a virtual cakewalk: though Ghadry hasn’t lived in Syria since the 1960s, he says he has intimate knowledge of the Syrian society and culture, and he knows the Syrian people will welcome their US liberators. Syria has, he says, “good dissidents, who understand the United States, can work with the United States, and can help bring about major change.” [Slate, 2/7/2005] Boston Globe columnist H.D.S. Greenway wasn’t so sure, writing in December 2005, “Chalabi… is often accused of seducing the administration with false intelligence into invading Iraq. But the fact is that the Bush administration desperately wanted to be seduced. If you are feeling charitable, you can say that Chalabi, having lived in exile for so many years, may just have been out of touch with the real situation in Iraq. But one suspects that Farid Ghadry may be no better informed about his homeland than was Chalabi.” [Boston Globe, 12/13/2005]
Refusal to Work With Other Dissidents - A Syrian news site observes in February 2006 that Ghadry’s plans for Syria are made more difficult by his refusal to work with other dissident groups because, according to one dissident leader, Husam Ad-Dairi, Ghadry “only wanted to be a leader.” Another dissident Syrian, Riad At-Turk, calls Ghadry’s idea of opposition “nonsense.” Ad-Dairi says, “Ghadry did not split off from the [Syrian National Council, an umbrella organization of dissident groups] because we are Ba’athists or Islamists. He split off because he was not willing to be part of the group; he only wanted to be a leader. He wanted to start a Syrian government in exile with 19 people in Washington DC. Who does that represent? So we opposed it.” Ghadry will later attack Ad-Dairi, At-Turk, and other dissidents, widely considered some of the most liberal in the disparate dissident movements, “Stalinists” and accuse them of supporting al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. [Syrian Comment, 1/30/2006; Syria News Wire, 2/19/2006]
Ties to Abramoff? - Ghadry’s hopes to lead Syria may be tainted by his apparent ties to GOP lobbyist and convicted criminal Jack Abramoff. In January 2006, the Reform Party of Syria’s headquarters were located very near the offices of Abramoff’s lobbying firm, Middle Gate Ventures, which was apparently partnered with the Reform Party. Middle East expert Joshua Landis called the group “a front organization for Israeli interests in the Levant… supported by an impressive constellation of neoconservative stars. Regime change, effected by a US invasion and occupation of Syria and Lebanon, is the one and only item at the top of this gang’s agenda, and it comes as no surprise that Abramoff’s ill-gotten gains went to funding it.” [Syrian Comment, 1/11/2006]
Entity Tags: Richard Perle, Joshua Landis, Michael Ledeen, Syrian National Council, Newt Gingrich, Reform Party of Syria, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Riad At-Turk, James Woolsey, Farid Ghadry, Institute for International and Security Affairs, Ahmed Chalabi, Bashir Assad, Jack Abramoff, Committee on the Present Danger, Volker Perthes, Elizabeth (“Liz”) Cheney, Middle Gate Ventures, HDS Greenway, Husam Ad-Dairi
Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation, Neoconservative Influence
A map drawn by one of the defectors, showing his version of the Salman Pak facility. [Source: PBS]The story told by three Iraqi defectors in November 2001, of a terrorist training camp in Salman Pak, outside of Baghdad, has long been disproven (November 6-8, 2001) and one defector has been shown to have pretended to be former Iraqi general Jamal al-Ghurairy, the key source for the story. But only now are the news reporters and pundits beginning to acknowledge—however grudgingly—that they were duped, and that their credulous reportings helped cement the Bush administration’s fabricated case for invading Iraq. The story was one of at least 108 planted in the US and British press by the Iraqi National Congress (INC) between October 2001 and May 2002, a number audaciously provided by the INC itself in its attempts to persuade Congress to continue its funding (see June 26, 2002). The New York Times eventually admitted some faults with its prewar reporting, but only admitted that its coverage of the Salman Pak story had “never been independently verified.” PBS, similarly gulled by the defectors and their fraudulent claims (see
October 2005), amended its Frontline Web site for its “Gunning for Saddam” story, which featured interviews with the defectors, to note that the defector’s claims have “not been substantiated,” and later will admit to the likelihood that its reporter, Christopher Buchanan, was duped. New York Times reporter Chris Hedges now says he took the word of producer Lowell Bergman as to the validity of the defector, and was further convinced by one of the defector’s military appearance. As for Bergman, Hedges says, “There has to be a level of trust between reporters. We cover each other’s sources when it’s a good story because otherwise everyone would get hold of it.” Hedges admits he was not aware at the time of how close Bergman, and other Times reporters such as Judith Miller, was to INC head Ahmed Chalabi. “I was on the periphery of all this. This was Bergman’s show.” [Mother Jones, 4/2006] In 2004, Hedges noted that he attempted to get confirmation from the US government about the defectors and their story, and government officials confirmed the claims: “We tried to vet the defectors and we didn’t get anything out of Washington that said ‘these guys are full of sh*t.’” [Columbia Journalism Review, 7/1/2004] Hedges says he later rejected an attempt by Chalabi to convince him that UN inspectors were spying for Saddam Hussein. He also says that he never believed the stories placing 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta in Prague (see April 8, 2001). He no longer trusts Chalabi as a source of information: “He’s a sleazy guy who I was not comfortable working around, but there was nothing right after 9/11 to indicate he was an outright liar.” [Mother Jones, 4/2006] Hedges notes that Chalabi seemed to have an “endless stable” of defectors to talk with reporters. “He had defectors for any story you wanted. He tried to introduce me to this guy who said he knew about Iraqi spies on the UN inspection teams: the guy was a thug. I didn’t trust either of them.” [Columbia Journalism Review, 7/1/2004] However, none of this uncertainty made it into Hedges’s Times report. Bergman says, “You’ve got to remember that back then there really was only one show in town, and that was Chalabi’s. If you were doing a story on Saddam’s Iraq, you would speak to the Iraqi government, the White House, and the INC.” Bergman tried to confirm the al-Ghurairy story with former CIA director and prominent neoconservative James Woolsey, and Woolsey told him that “al-Ghurairy” had met with the FBI in Ankara. (At the time, Woolsey was hardly a neutral source since it was already reported that he was aggressively trying to drum up connections between Iraq and al-Qaeda (see Late September 2001 and Mid-September-October 2001).) “Chalabi was dangerous goods in the sense you know he’s advocating war” Bergman recalls. “But that label is up-front. I think Chalabi is given too much credit for influencing the march to war.” Many conservative pundits still cite the al-Ghurairy tale as justification for the Iraq invasion. And the White House still lists “shutting down the Salman Pak training camp where members of many terrorist camps trained” in its “Progress Report on the Global War on Terrorism” Web page. In 2004, Chalabi boasted, “As far as we’re concerned, we’ve been entirely successful. That tyrant Saddam is gone, and the Americans are in Baghdad. What was said before is not important. The Bush administration is looking for a scapegoat. We’re ready to fall on our swords if he wants. We are heroes in error.” [Columbia Journalism Review, 7/1/2004; Mother Jones, 4/2006]
Entity Tags: Jamal al-Ghurairy, Chris Hedges, Bush administration (43), Ahmed Chalabi, Iraqi National Congress, Christopher Buchanan, Saddam Hussein, Mohamed Atta, New York Times, Public Broadcasting System, Lowell Bergman, Judith Miller, James Woolsey
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion
A bipartisan Senate report finds that no credible evidence of any links between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein’s government ever existed, despite repeated and insistent claims by the White House and its allies (see Early 1995), March-June 1998, (2:40 p.m.) September 11, 2001, Shortly After September 11, 2001, September 18, 2001, September 19, 2001, September 21, 2001, October 27, 2001, 2002, February 6, 2002, March 22, 2002, July 25, 2002, September 12, 2002, September 15, 2002, September 25, 2002, October 1, 2002, October 2, 2002, October 7, 2002, October 7, 2002, December 2, 2002, Mid-January 2003, January 26, 2003, January 28, 2003, January 28, 2003, February 1, 2003-February 4, 2003, February 5, 2003, February 5, 2003, February 6, 2003, February 8, 2003, February 9, 2003, February 11 or 12, 2003, February 16, 2003, March 9, 2003, March 17, 2003, March 17-18, 2003, Shortly After April 9, 2003, July 9, 2003, September 7, 2003, September 14, 2003-September 17, 2003, September 28, 2003, December 17, 2003, January 8, 2004, January 9, 2004, Early June 2004, June 14, 2004, June 15, 2004, June 15, 2004, October 4, 2004, May 2005, October 2005, (2006), January 31, 2006, March 29, 2006, and September 10, 2006). Panel Democrats say that the White House knew the intelligence surrounding its claims of such links was flawed and unreliable.
Tenet Admitted to Giving in to Pressure - They note that in July former CIA Director George Tenet told the panel that the White House pressured him to support its arguments and that he agreed despite the findings of his own analysts. “Tenet admitted to the Intelligence Committee that the policymakers wanted him to ‘say something about not being inconsistent with what the president had said,’” says Intelligence Committee member Carl Levin (D-MI). Such compliance was, in hindsight, “the wrong thing to do,” Tenet added, according to Levin. “Well, it was much more than that,” Levin says. “It was a shocking abdication of a CIA director’s duty not to act as a shill for any administration or its policy.” Tenet also admitted that he erred in issuing a statement after President Bush’s October 7, 2002 speech saying that Bush’s claims were consistent with CIA findings (see October 7, 2002).
Republicans Say Report Just 'Election-Year Politicking' - Republican committee members insist that there is little new information about prewar intelligence or claims about Iraq’s links to terrorism. Ranking committee member Pat Roberts (R-KS) accuses Levin and other Democrats of trying to “use the committee… insisting that they were deliberately duped into supporting the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s regime.… That is simply not true, and I believe the American people are smart enough to recognize election-year politicking when they see it.” Democrats retort that the report speaks for itself.
Impeachment Not Warranted - However, committee Democrats such as John Rockefeller (D-WV) say that the report does not prove any criminal behavior from Bush or his top officials, and say that impeachment of Bush or anyone else is not warranted.
Hussein Opposed to US Policies - An FBI summary quoted in the report shows Hussein acknowledging that his government had met with al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, but denying any collusion. Hussein said he opposed only US policies, and added that “if he wanted to cooperate with the enemies of the US, he would have allied with North Korea or China,” according to the FBI summary.
Other Portions of Report - Other sections of the report find that no evidence existed to support claims that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear program (see February 7, 2001, February 12, 2001, November 14, 2001, May 2002-September 2002, September 9, 2002, January 9, 2003, March 8, 2003, May 25, 2003, and May 30, 2003), had possessed biological weapons in 2003 (see 2002, 2002-March 2003, Mid-January 2002, March 22, 2002, August 2002, September 2002, September 24, 2002, December 2002, End of December 2002, January 9, 2003, and March 7, 2003), used the Salman Pak facility to train Islamist terrorists (see September 8, 2006), or that Iraqi officials met with 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta in the months before the 9/11 attacks (see September 8-10, 2006). The report also finds that the White House relied heavily on false intelligence from Ahmed Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress (see After August 2, 1989, (1994), January 1996, November 6-8, 2001, Between February 12, 2002 and March 31, 2002, Between February 12, 2002 and March 31, 2002, Summer 2002, and June 26, 2002). [Senate Intelligence Committee, 9/8/2006 ; Associated Press, 9/9/2006]
Entity Tags: Iraqi National Congress, Bush administration (43), Ahmed Chalabi, Carl Levin, George J. Tenet, Saddam Hussein, Central Intelligence Agency, Osama bin Laden, Pat Roberts, Senate Intelligence Committee, John D. Rockefeller, Mohamed Atta
Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation
The US is receiving false and misleading information about Iran’s nuclear capabilities from an Iranian dissident group labeled as a terrorist organization, says a former UN weapons inspector. The Mujahedeen-e Khalq, or MEK (see 1970s), is an exile group labeled by the US State Department as a terrorist organization, but embraced by many Washington neoconservatives, including a key group of White House officials operating inside Vice President Dick Cheney’s office and another working with Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. David Albright, a former UN weapons inspector for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), says, “We should be very suspicious about what our leaders or the exile groups say about Iran’s nuclear capacity. There’s a drumbeat of allegations, but there’s not a whole lot of solid information. It may be that Iran has not made the decision to build nuclear weapons. We have to be very careful not to overstate the intelligence.” Albright says the information from MEK is somewhat more believable than the extravagantly false information provided by Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraq National Congress, which was used to bolster Bush administration allegations that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq posed a grave and imminent threat to world peace and US security (see (1994). In 2002, MEK provided critical information about Iran’s nuclear-enrichment complex at Natanz and a heavy-water production facility at Arak (see August 2002). It is unclear if Iran is pursuing a nuclear-weapons program; one UN official says of the information gleaned by the IAEA, “It’s a mixed bag.” Of MEK, he says, “The Mujahedeen Khalq appears to have some real sources inside Iran, but you can’t trust them all the time.” Iran has not been fully compliant with IAEA attempts to determine the nature and extent of its nuclear program. Nevertheless, some Congressional lawmakers say that, in light of the misinformation surrounding the claims of Iraq’s weapons programs, policy makers need to be doubly cautious about making claims and pursuing aggressive deterrence operations against Iran. Jane Harman, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, says, “In Iran, as well as North Korea, Syria, and so on, we need accurate, unbiased and timely intelligence. Iraq has shown that our intelligence products have a credibility problem and improvements are critically needed.” Iranian journalist Emadeddin Baghi, a columnist for the liberal Sharq newspaper who served two years in prison for criticizing the religious establishment, says that in Iran, skepticism runs deep. “Many Iranians instinctively disbelieve anything their own government says, but they also disbelieve the Americans, and what has happened in Iraq has strengthened that,” Baghi says. “Iranians see the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and they see the American accusations about nuclear weapons as just another pretext for other hidden aims.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 10/26/2006]
Entity Tags: Iraqi National Congress, David Albright, Bush administration (43), Ahmed Chalabi, Emadeddin Baghi, International Atomic Energy Agency, Jane Harman, Paul Wolfowitz, US Department of State, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Saddam Hussein, People’s Mujahedin of Iran, House Intelligence Committee
Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran
Curveball, a.k.a. Rafid Ahmed Alwan. [Source: CNN]Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress releases a statement in response to CBS’s 60 Minutes segment revealing the name of discredited Iraqi defector “Curveball” (see November 4, 2007). (Note: the CBS report did not mention Curveball’s alleged INC affiliations.) The INC says that the segment proves once and for all that there is no link between the INC and Curveball: “The INC can state categorically that there has never been any person at any level of the INC who is related to anyone named Rafid Ahmed Alwan.” The statement continues, “The CIA engaged in a smear campaign to link Curveball to the INC in order to deflect blame from its own failures in Iraq.” It calls on the US media to correct the “false information that has misled their readers.” [Iraqi National Congress, 11/4/2007] The INC’s blanket denial may not be entirely accurate (see 2001, February 5, 2003, and October 22, 2007).
The Senate Armed Services Committee releases a classified 261-page report on the use of “harsh” or “enhanced interrogation techniques”—torture—against suspected terrorists by the US. The conclusion of the report will be released in April 2009 (see April 21, 2009). The report will become known as the “Levin Report” after committee chairman Carl Levin (D-MI). Though the report itself is classified, the committee releases the executive summary to the public.
Top Bush Officials Responsible for Torture - One of the report’s findings is that top Bush administration officials, and not a “few bad apples,” as many of that administration’s officials have claimed, are responsible for the use of torture against detainees in Guantanamo, Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere.
Began Shortly after 9/11 - The report finds that US officials began preparing to use “enhanced interrogation” techniques just a few months after the 9/11 attacks, and well before Justice Department memos declared such practices legal. The program used techniques practiced in a US military program called Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE—see December 2001), which trains US military personnel to resist questioning by foes who do not follow international bans on torture. As part of SERE training, soldiers are stripped naked, slapped, and waterboarded, among other techniques. These techniques were “reverse-engineered” and used against prisoners in US custody. Other techniques used against prisoners included “religious disgrace” and “invasion of space by a female.” At least one suspected terrorist was forced “to bark and perform dog tricks” while another was “forced to wear a dog collar and perform dog tricks” in a bid to break down their resistance.
Tried to 'Prove' Links between Saddam, Al-Qaeda - Some of the torture techniques were used before the March 2003 invasion of Iraq (see March 19, 2003). Much of the torture of prisoners, the report finds, was to elicit information “proving” alleged links between al-Qaeda and the regime of Saddam Hussein. US Army psychiatrist Major Paul Burney says of some Guantanamo Bay interrogations: “Even though they were giving information and some of it was useful, while we were there a large part of the time we were focused on trying to establish a link between al-Qaeda and Iraq. We were not being successful in establishing a link between al-Qaeda and Iraq. The more frustrated people got in not being able to establish this link… there was more and more pressure to resort to measures that might produce more immediate results.” Others did not mention such pressure, according to the report. [Senate Armed Services Committee, 12/11/2008 ; Agence France-Presse, 4/21/2009] (Note: Some press reports identify the quoted psychiatrist as Major Charles Burney.) [McClatchy News, 4/21/2009] A former senior intelligence official later says: “There were two reasons why these interrogations were so persistent, and why extreme methods were used. The main one is that everyone was worried about some kind of follow-up attack [after 9/11]. But for most of 2002 and into 2003, Cheney and Rumsfeld, especially, were also demanding proof of the links between al-Qaeda and Iraq that [former Iraqi exile leader Ahmed] Chalabi (see November 6-8, 2001) and others had told them were there.… There was constant pressure on the intelligence agencies and the interrogators to do whatever it took to get that information out of the detainees, especially the few high-value ones we had, and when people kept coming up empty, they were told by Cheney’s and Rumsfeld’s people to push harder.” [McClatchy News, 4/21/2009]
Warnings of Unreliability from Outset - Almost from the outset of the torture program, military and other experts warned that such techniques were likely to provide “less reliable” intelligence results than traditional, less aggressive approaches. In July 2002, a memo from the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JRPA), which oversees the SERE training program, warned that “if an interrogator produces information that resulted from the application of physical and psychological duress, the reliability and accuracy of this information is in doubt. In other words, a subject in extreme pain may provide an answer, any answer, or many answers in order to get the pain to stop” (see July 2002). [Senate Armed Services Committee, 12/11/2008 ; Agence France-Presse, 4/21/2009]
Ignoring Military Objections - When Pentagon general counsel William Haynes asked Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to approve 15 of 18 recommended torture techniques for use at Guantanamo (see December 2, 2002), Haynes indicated that he had discussed the matter with three officials who agreed with him: Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith, and General Richard Myers. Haynes only consulted one legal opinion, which senior military advisers had termed “legally insufficient” and “woefully inadequate.” Rumsfeld agreed to recommend the use of the tactics. [Senate Armed Services Committee, 12/11/2008 ]
Entity Tags: William J. Haynes, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Richard B. Myers, Paul Burney, Joint Personnel Recovery Agency, Douglas Feith, Donald Rumsfeld, Ahmed Chalabi, Senate Armed Services Committee, Carl Levin, US Department of Justice, Bush administration (43)
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives
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