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The recently formed neoconservatives, bound together by magazine publisher Irving Kristol (see 1965), react with horror to the ascendancy of the “McGovern liberals” in the Democratic Party, and turn to conservative senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson (D-WA) for leadership. Jackson calls himself a “muscular Democrat”; others call him “the Senator from Boeing” for his strong support of the US defense industry. Jackson merges a strong support of labor and civil rights groups with a harsh Cold War opposition to the Soviet Union. Jackson assembles a staff of bright, young, ideologically homogeneous staffers who will later become some of the most influential and powerful neoconservatives of their generation, including Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, Elliott Abrams, Abram Shulsky, and Paul Wolfowitz. Jackson’s office—“the bunker,” to staffers—becomes a home for disaffected, ambitious young conservative ideologues with a missionary zeal for change. Jackson presides over the cadre in an almost fatherly fashion.
History of Two Dictators - Many of Jackson’s neoconservative disciples came of age either fighting two foreign dictators—Stalin and/or Hitler—or growing up with family members who fought against them. (Unger 2007, pp. 35-41) Wolfowitz’s father’s family perished in the Holocaust; he will later say that what happened to European Jews during World War II “shaped a lot of my views.” (Schmitt 4/22/2002) Feith will tell the New Yorker in 2005, “[My] family got wiped out by Hitler, and… all this stuff about working things out—well, talking to Hitler to resolve the problem didn’t make any sense.” Most neoconservatives like Feith and Wolfowitz tend to look to military solutions as a first, not a last, resort. To them, compromise means appeasement, just as Britain’s Neville Chamberlain tried to appease Hitler. Stefan Halper, a White House and State Department official in the Nixon, Ford, and Reagan administrations, will say of the neoconservatives, “It is use force first and diplomacy down the line.”
Former Trotskyites - On the other hand, many neoconservatives come to the movement from the hardline, socialist left, often from organizations that supported Bolshevik revolutionary Leon Trotsky (see Late 1930s - 1950s). Trotskyites accused Stalin of betraying the purity of the Communist vision as declaimed by Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin. “I can see psychologically why it would not be difficult for them to become [conservative] hard-liners,” says Harvard Sovietologist Richard Pipes, himself a hardliner whose son, Daniel Pipes, will become an influential neoconservative. “It was in reaction to the betrayal.” Many neoconservatives like Stephen Schwartz, a writer for the Weekly Standard, still consider themselves to be loyal disciples of Trotsky. Richard Perle is a Trotskyite socialist when he joins Jackson’s staff, and will always practice what author Craig Unger calls “an insistent, uncompromising, hard-line Bolshevik style” of policy and politics. Like Trotsky, Unger writes, the neoconservatives pride themselves on being skilled bureaucratic infighters, and on trusting no one except a small cadre of like-minded believers. Disagreement is betrayal, and political struggles are always a matter of life and death. (Unger 2007, pp. 35-41)
Secretary of State George Shultz offers prominent neoconservative and State Department official Elliott Abrams (see Early 1970s) the position of assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs (ARA), overseeing the department’s South and Central American issues and initiatives, as well as those for the Caribbean. Abrams accepts and, according to State Department notes of the meeting, promises to “manage the emergence of EA [Abrams] as King of LA [Latin America].” Abrams begins his duties in July 1985, and quickly becomes one of the State Department’s most vocal supporters of Nicaragua’s Contra movement, often appearing before Congress as an emissary of the Reagan administration to ask for funds for the insurgent group. (Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986 8/4/1993)
Lewis Tambs becomes the US Ambassador to Costa Rica. Tambs is under orders to open what is called a “southern front” for the Nicaraguan Contras; a small force of Contras is striking into southern Nicaragua from northern Costa Rica, and the Costa Rican government wants them out of their territory. Tambs believes that the orders for the “southern front” come from National Security Council (NSC) officer Oliver North, Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams, and their Restricted Interagency Group (RIG—see Late 1985 and After). Tambs, with the assistance of North’s liaison in Central America, Felix Rodriguez (see Mid-September 1985), secures permission from the Costa Rican government to build an airstrip for use by the Contras in northern Costa Rica, as long as it is not close enough to the border to allow the Contras to use it as a staging area for ground raids. One of Abrams’s first questions to North after being tasked to “monitor” the NSC officer (see September 4, 1985) is why the Costa Ricans are allowing the airstrip. The airstrip will be built at Santa Elena, Costa Rica, by the Udall Corporation, one of the private firms controlled by North’s partner, retired General Richard Secord (see November 19, 1985 and February 2, 1987), and will be called “Point West.” Abrams will later testify, falsely, that no US officials were involved in securing permission to build the airstrip. Notes taken by the US Ambassador to El Salvador, Edwin Corr, about discussions concerning the airstrip, will prove that Abrams lies under oath about the airstrip. (Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986 8/4/1993)
Newly ensconsced Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams (see April 19, 1985 and After) meets with Secretary of State George Shultz, Shultz’s executive assistant Charles Hill, and Shultz’s executive secretary Nicholas Platt. In this meeting, Abrams learns that National Security Council official Oliver North is conducting covert actions to support the Nicaraguan Contras (see December 6, 1985 and April 4, 1986). According to Abrams’s notes from the meeting, Shultz tasks him to “monitor Ollie.” Abrams will later testify to the Iran-Contra investigative committee (see May 5, 1987) about this meeting, saying that he asks, “All these accusations about Colonel North, you want me to try to find out whether they are true and what he is up to, or do you want me to sort of leave?” Shultz replies, “No, you have got to know.” During the meeting, Abrams notes that Shultz does not want White House officials to know too much about North’s activities in funding the Contras. Abrams notes that Shultz says to him: “We don’t want to be in the dark. You [are] suppose[d] to be mgr [manager] of overall CA [Central America] picture. Contras are integral part of it. So y[ou] need to know how they [are] getting arms. So don’t just say go see the WH [White House]. It’s very risky for WH.” Platt, too, takes notes of the meeting. According to his notes, Shultz says: “What is happening on other support for Contras for lethal aid etc.—E. Abrams doesn’t have the answer. Stayed away let Ollie North do it. Fundraising continuing—weapons stocks are high. We have had nothing to do with private aid. Should we continue? Hate to be in position, [Shultz] says, of not knowing what’s going on. You are supposed to be managing overall Central American picture. Ollie can go on doing his thing, but you, [Abrams], should know what’s happening.” The notes from Abrams and Platt, and Abrams’s own testimony all confirm that Abrams is aware of North’s activities by September 1985, though he will subsequently lie to Congress about possessing such knowledge (see November 25-28, 1986). Abrams will later testifz that he has a very good idea about North’s activities from working with North in an interagency group (see Late 1985 and After). (Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986 8/4/1993)
The first meeting of the State Department’s Nicaraguan Humanitarian Assistance Office (NHAO) is held. Two aides to Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams (see April 19, 1985 and After and September 4, 1985) attend the meeting. During the meeting, National Security Council (NSC) officer Oliver North offers the services of former CIA agent Felix Rodriguez to assist in distributing the $27 million in humanitarian aid recently approved for the Contras (see August 1985). Rodriguez is helping North channel illegal funds to the Contras (see Mid-September 1985). The agreement is to channel the funds to the Contras through El Salvador’s Ilopango Air Base, Rodriguez’s center of operations. By early 1986, the legal NHAO fund distribution will merge with the illegal North fund distribution (see December 6, 1985 and April 4, 1986). (Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986 8/4/1993) Some of the $27 million is never used for humanitarian purposes, but instead used to buy weapons, both for the Contras and for the mujaheddin in Afghanistan. (Spartacus Schoolnet 12/28/2007)
Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams (see April 19, 1985 and After) joins the National Security Council (NSC)‘s Oliver North and the CIA’s Central American Task Force chief Alan Fiers as the principal members of a Restricted Interagency Group (RIG) which works on Central American affairs for the Reagan administration. Abrams, a staunch supporter of Nicaragua’s Contras, becomes aware of North’s machinations to divert US funds to the Contras (see December 6, 1985 and April 4, 1986) in spite of Congress’s prohibition on such funding (see October 10, 1984). Abrams will also become directly involved in secret, illegal efforts to secure funding for the Contras from other nations (see June 11, 1986). (Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986 8/4/1993)
CIA and State Department officials begin learning, to their dismay, about the illegal merging of legitimate Congressional funding of the Nicaraguan Contras with the illegal funding operation driven by National Security Council (NSC) official Oliver North (see October 1985). A senior CIA official in Central America cables Washington reporting the emergency landing of one of North’s Caribou transport planes on a road in El Salvador, and the potential embarrassment of reports from United Press International (UPI) about the plane. The official reports that North’s liaison in El Salvador, former CIA agent Felix Rodriguez (see Mid-September 1985), is “‘coordinating’ all of this with Ollie North (one supposes on open phone). [I] had to say, honestly, that [I] knew nothing of this Caribou and indeed had not heard anything from [CIA official Alan Fiers—see Late 1985 and After ] on the subject for two weeks. Rodrigues [sic] has just called [an embassy official] to advise that UPI is on the downed Caribou and wants a story. Charge’s position is that he has no knowledge re this A/C [aircraft]. God knows what Felix Rodrigues [sic] is saying.” William Walker, the deputy for Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams (see September 4, 1985), discusses the matter with the US Ambassador to El Salvador, Edwin Corr, expressing the same concerns. Walker says that “Ollie and Max,” referring to North and Rodriguez (by his pseudonym, “Max Gomez”), “are to have nothing to do w/humanitarian assistance deliveries, etc.” Walker tells Corr to “impress on Fiers that we cannot proceed in this ‘fouled up manner.’ This is the 3d recent screw up & Washington being surprised by unknown & uncoordinated activities.” It is unclear as to what other “screw ups” Corr is referring. Walker will later testify, falsely, that he had never heard of Felix Rodriguez until August 1986. (Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986 8/4/1993)
Congress narrowly defeats a measure pushed by, among others, Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams (see September 4, 1985), for $100 million in military and other aid for the Nicaraguan Contras. Abrams, National Security Council officer Oliver North (see December 6, 1985 and April 4, 1986), and senior CIA official Alan Fiers (see Late 1985 and After) quickly fly to Central America to reassure Contra officials that they will continue to receive funding from the Reagan administration. (Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986 8/4/1993) Congress will approve the funding three months later (see June 16, 1986).
Senior White House officials attend a National Security Planning Group (NSPG) meeting on the subject of Central America. Attending the meeting are President Reagan, Vice President Bush, Secretary of State George Shultz, Treasury Secretary James Baker, Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, CIA Director William Casey, and White House Chief of Staff Donald Regan. The interests of the Nicaraguan Contras are represented by Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams (see September 4, 1985), NSC officer Oliver North (see December 6, 1985 and April 4, 1986), and senior CIA official Alan Fiers (see Late 1985 and After). According to minutes of the meeting, North reminds the group that under the 1986 Intelligence Authorization Bill, the State Department can legally approach other countries for non-military funding for the Contras. During the ensuing discussion, Reagan asks, according to the minutes: “What about the private groups who pay for ads for the contras? Have they been contacted? Can they do more than ads?” This indicates that Reagan is well aware of the private, illegal funding being channeled to the Contras. Fiers will later give a somewhat different version of events in his testimony to the Iran-Contra grand jury (see July 17, 1991), recalling Reagan asking about “Ollie’s people” working with the Contras and asking if they could help with funding. Fiers will recall the question causing tension among the group, and then someone quickly responding, “that’s being worked on.” After the meeting, North becomes more outspoken in his descriptions of his illegal funding of the Contras. (Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986 8/4/1993)
After a National Security Planning Group (NSPG) meeting that covered the need for further monetary assistance to the Nicaraguan Contras, Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams, in a discussion with his boss, Secretary of State George Shultz, broaches the idea of soliciting donations from other nations. Shultz is receptive, but warns Abrams that he does not want donations from a country that receives large amounts of US aid, as such solicitations might appear to be kickbacks from such aid. And Shultz does not want a right-wing dictatorship such as Taiwan or South Korea to contribute because it would create a potentially embarrassing link between those countries and the Contras. Abrams suggests asking the Sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Bolkiah, for funds. Brunei is a tremendously rich Muslim oil state in Southeast Asia. Shultz is planning on visiting Brunei in late June anyway, and Abrams says the visit is a perfect opportunity for Shultz to ask for donations. Shultz agrees (see June 11, 1986), but will not ultimately ask the Sultan for money during the visit (see June 23-24, 1986). After the discussion, Abrams meets with National Security Council officer Oliver North, and asks where the money should be sent should the Sultan agree to provide funds. North tells Abrams to wait until he can clear the solitication with his boss, NSC chief John Poindexter. North tells Poindexter that he has “the accounts and the means by which this thing [transfer of solicited funds] needs to be accomplished.” Poindexter will approve the solicitation. (Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986 8/4/1993)
National Security Adviser John Poindexter advises the National Security Council’s Oliver North that the Sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Bolkiah, will donate an unspecified sum of money to the Contras (see After May 16, 1986). Poindexter says the deal was brokered by Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams; Poindexter has discussed the deal over lunch with Abrams. (New York Times 11/19/1987; Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986 8/4/1993)
To facilitate the donation of funds from the Sultan of Brunei to the Nicaraguan Contras (see After May 16, 1986 and June 11, 1986), Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams obtains bank account information from the National Security Council’s Oliver North, on a card typed by North’s secretary, Fawn Hall. Hall accidentally transposed two numbers in the account, resulting in the eventual transfer of the funds to the wrong account. (Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986 8/4/1993)
National Security Council (NSC) officer Oliver North has become far more outspoken among government officials about his illegal funding of the Nicaraguan Contras (see May 16, 1986). During a meeting of his Restricted Interagency Group (RIG—see Late 1985 and After), CIA official Alan Fiers, a member of the group, is discomfited at North’s straightforward listing of the many activities that he is causing to be conducted on behalf of the Contras, everything from supplying aircraft to paying salaries. Fiers is even less sanguine about North’s frank revelations about using illegally solicited private funding for the Contras (see May 16, 1986). North goes down the list, asking if each activity should be continued or terminated, and, according to Fiers, making it very clear that he can cause his Contra support program (which he now calls PRODEM, or “Project Democracy”) to respond as he directs. North also begins arranging, through Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams, for $2 million in stopgap funding for the project. North will confirm the $2 million in an e-mail to NSC Director John Poindexter. North will conduct similar meetings in August and September 1986, at least one of which will include Assistant Defense Secretary Richard Armitage (see July 22, 1987) and other Defense Department officials (see November 13, 1990). (Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986 8/4/1993) It is not until Fiers testifies in 1991 about North’s behaviors that verification of North’s discussion of such specifics about Contra activities and funding will be made public (see July 17, 1991).
Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams meets with the Deputy Minister of Defense of Brunei, General Pengiran Haji Ibnu Ba’asith, to discuss a secret donation from the Sultan of Brunei to the Nicaraguan Contras (see After May 16, 1986). Ibnu was told earlier that an emissary from the US would call him using the pseudonym “Kenilworth.” Abrams calls Ibnu, using the false name, and meets with Ibnu in London. Ibnu oversees the donation of $10 million from the Sultan of Brunei’s Citibank account to a Swiss bank account in the Eaux Vives branch of the Credit Suisse bank, to account number 368430-22-1. But the money is deposited in the wrong account (see Late June, 1986). (Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986 8/4/1993)
Costa Rica’s newly elected president, Oscar Arias Sanchez, a foe of the Nicaraguan Contras, is outraged to learn of the deal made by his predecessor for a Contra airstrip in the northern portion of his country (see Summer 1985). He stops its use for Contra resupply. On September 6, 1986, CIA agent Felix Rodriguez, the liaison for National Security Council officer Oliver North in the region (see Mid-September 1985), informs North and CIA official Alan Fiers that Arias intends to hold a press conference denouncing the airstrip, revealing its construction by North’s partner, retired General Richard Secord, and announcing that its existence is a violation of Costa Rican law. North discusses the impending conference with Fiers, Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams, and the US Ambassador to Costa Rica, Lewis Tambs. They mull over informing Arias that he will never be allowed in the White House, and will never get any of the $80 million promised to Costa Rica by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) if the airstrip is revealed. Tambs passes along these threats, and the press conference is initially canceled. Fiers later testifies (see July 17, 1991) that he, North, and Abrams are worried that the public revelation of the airstrip will expose the connections between the Contras, North, and the White House. (Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986 8/4/1993) In late September, Costa Rica will publicly reveal the existence of the airstrip (see September 25, 1986).
A meeting of Oliver North’s Restricted Interagency Group (RIG—see Late 1985 and After) takes place in the office of Assistant Defense Secretary Richard Armitage. As in previous RIG meetings, North details the specific activities of the Contras, and asks for approval for each activity (see July 1986 and After). But in this meeting, North makes an extraordinary proposal. Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega has offered to conduct sabotage inside Nicaragua on behalf of the Contras for $1 million in cash. According to later testimony from RIG member Alan Fiers, a senior CIA official (see July 17, 1991), it is clear that the $1 million will not come from duly appropriated US funds, but from North’s so-called “Project Democracy,” which collects private funds from US citizens and other governments to fund the Contras. The sabotage would be conducted by mercenaries. Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams meets with two aides to Secretary of State George Shultz, M. Charles Hill and Nicholas Platt, to discuss the Noriega proposal. Hill’s notes of the meeting read in part: “Noriega offers to do some sabotage (electric pylons) that we training contras to do but which they can’t do for 18 mos. Wd [would] get us on the map fast—by Oct. . Do it via mercenaries who may not know who employers are. Brits. Wd do it for cash (not from USG [US government]). Wants our go-ahead. Ollie will meet him w/approval of Pdx. [John Poindexter, the head of the National Security Council].” Ultimately, the idea is rejected. (Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986 8/4/1993)
A CIA C-123 transport plane (see November 19, 1985) is shot down in southern Nicaragua by a Sandinista soldier wielding a surface-to-air missile. The transport plane left an airfield in El Salvador with arms and other supplies intended for the Nicaraguan Contras. Three crew members—US pilots William Cooper and Wallace Sawyer, Jr, and an unidentified Latin American—die in the crash, but one, a “cargo kicker” named Eugene Hasenfus, ignores CIA orders and parachutes to safety—and capture by the Sandinistas. Hasenfus is a construction worker from Wisconsin who signed on to do temporary work with CIA contractors, and has no intention of “going down with the plane.” The next day, newspapers around the world run stories with Hasenfus’s face peering out from their front pages.
Reveals US's Arming of Contras - The Hasenfus shoot-down will break the news of the Reagan administration’s secret arming of the Contras in their attempt to bring down the democratically elected Socialist government of Nicaragua. (New York Times 11/19/1987; Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986 8/4/1993; Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 64)
Damage Control - Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams (see Late 1985 and After) is the designated US spokesman on the Hasenfus shootdown. Abrams coordinates with his fellow Contra supporters, the NSC’s Oliver North and the CIA’s Alan Fiers, and with the US Ambassador to El Salvador, Edwin Corr, on how to handle the situation. Between the three, they coordinate a denial from the Salvadoran military about any Salvadoran or US involvement in the Hasenfus flight. As for themselves, they agree not to flatly lie about anything, because they cannot be sure of what Hasenfus will say, but they agree to remain as quiet as possible and hope the media sensation surrounding Hasenfus dies down with little long-term effect. According to notes taken by Corr during one meeting, everyone knows that a leak—“eventually someone in USG [the US government] will finally acknowledge some ‘winking.’ Salv role now more public”—is inevitable. It is eventually decided that the Contras themselves will take all responsibility for the flight. Fiers worries that the flight will be connected to previous humanitarian aid supplied to the Contras (see October 1985). They also confirm that Felix Rodriguez, North’s liaison to the Contras in Central America (see Mid-September 1985), is in Miami, hiding from the press. Hasenfus will later acknowledge making at least ten supply flights into Nicaragua (see October 9, 1986). (Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986 8/4/1993)
Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams is interviewed by conservative columnist Robert Novak and Novak’s partner, Rowland Evans. Novak, who is openly sympathetic to the Nicaraguan Contras, asks Abrams about his knowledge of the connections between the US government and the Contras as revealed by the downing of a CIA transport plane over Nicaragua (see October 5, 1986). Abrams, who provides false testimony to Congress today and in the following days, tells a similar story to Novak. Abrams goes further with Novak than he does with Congress, denying that any such person as “Max Gomez,” the CIA liaison to the Contras, even exists (Gomez is actually former CIA agent Felix Rodriguez—see October 10-15, 1986). “Whoever that gentleman is, he certainly isn’t named Max Gomez,” Abrams notes. Abrams also denies that “Gomez” has any connection to Vice President Bush (see October 11-14, 1986). Abrams adds that whoever this “Gomez” is, “he is not on the US government payroll in any way.” Novak asks if Rodriguez has any connection to the National Security Council or any other government agency, and Abrams says: “I am not playing games.… No government agencies, none.” In June 1987, Abrams will admit that he lied to Novak. (Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986 8/4/1993)
Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams (see Late 1985 and After and September 4, 1985) testifies three times to Congress that the Contra resupply operation, exposed by the downing of a CIA transport plane (see October 5, 1986 and October 9, 1986), is not a US government operation. There is no coordination whatsoever from any government official (see Summer 1985, Mid-September 1985, October 1985, Late 1985 and After, February 7-8, 1986, May 16, 1986, July 1986 and After, September 19-20, 1986, September 25, 1986, and January 9, 1986), and no one in the government knows who organized or paid for the transport flight that was shot down.
'Not Our Supply System' - Abrams tells the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that while he and other government officials are aware of the Contra resupply operation, “[i]t is not our supply system. It is one that grew up after we were forbidden from supplying the resistance, and we have been kind of careful not to get closely involved with it and to stay away from it.… We do not encourage people to do this. We don’t round up people, we don’t write letters, we don’t have conversations, we don’t tell them to do this, we don’t ask them to do it. But I think it is quite clear, from the attitude of the administration, the attitude of the administration is that these people are doing a very good thing, and if they think they are doing something that we like, then, in a general sense, they are right.” In testimony to the House Intelligence Committee, Abrams is asked by Chairman Lee Hamilton (D-IN), “Can anybody assure us that the United States government was not involved, indirectly or directly, in any way in supply of the contras?” Abrams responds: “I believe we have already done that, that is, I think, the president has done it, the secretary has done it [Secretary of State George Shultz], and I have done it.… Now again, this normal intelligence monitoring is there, but the answer to your question is yes.” Abrams and CIA officials Clair George and Alan Fiers tell the same falsehoods to a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee. “We don’t know,” Abrams asserts, “because we don’t track this kind of activity.”
No Knowledge of 'Gomez' - He also claims under questioning not to know the identity of “Max Gomez,” who he well knows is former CIA agent Felix Rodriguez (see Mid-September 1985). Senator John Kerry (D-MA) asks, “You don’t know whether or not [Gomez] reports to the vice president of the United States?” (see October 10, 1986). Both George and Abrams deny any such knowledge, though Abrams is highly aware of Rodriguez’s activities in El Salvador (he does not inform the committee of those activities). During the Congressional sessions, media reports identify Gomez as Rodriguez. (Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986 8/4/1993)
The Washington Post, having gotten wind of a secret fund transfer from a third-party nation to the Nicaraguan Contras (see August 9-19, 1986), reports that Saudi Arabia may be funding the Contras. (The Post’s sources are apparently unaware of the Brunei transaction.) Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams, who originated and facilitated the Brunei deal (see After May 16, 1986), is asked by Senator John Kerry (D-MA) during his testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (see October 10-15, 1986) if he or the CIA representatives accompanying him—Clair George and Alan Fiers—are aware of any third-party funding of the Contras, whether it be Saudi Arabia or anyone else. Abrams says, “No.” George, also aware of the Brunei transaction, says, “No.” Fiers, who was involved in discussions of the transactions, says, “No, sir.” Abrams adds, “I think I can say that while I have been assistant secretary, which is about 15 months, we have not received a dime from a foreign government, not a dime, from any foreign government.” He says that if the Contras have received funding from other nations, he is not aware of it. “The thing is I think I would know about it because if they went to a foreign government, a foreign government would want credit for helping the contras and they would come to us to say you want us to do this, do you, and I would know about that.” Abrams repeats the lie to the House Intelligence Committee. (Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986 8/4/1993)
After the press identifies former CIA agent Felix Rodriguez as Contra liaison “Max Gomez” (see October 10-15, 1986), and learns that Rodriguez reports to Vice President Bush’s foreign policy adviser, Donald Gregg (see October 10, 1986), Bush denies any knowledge of Rodriguez’s involvement with the Contras. Bush admits to having met Rodriguez a few times, but refuses to clarify what relationship, if any, they may have. Bush tells one reporter that Rodriguez is a US counter-insurgency adviser working with the government of El Salvador, an assertion strongly denied by the Salvadoran government. Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams, who has lied repeatedly to Congress about the government’s role in supplying and supporting the Contras (see October 10-15, 1986), tells the House Intelligence Committee that he knows nothing of any link between Rodriguez and Bush that concerns the Contras. (Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986 8/4/1993)
The Reagan administration, reeling from the revelation that it has illegally armed the Nicaraguan Contras (see October 5, 1986), attempts to conceal its workings in Nicaragua. In a closed session of the House Intelligence Committee, Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams, joined by CIA officials, assures committee members that the US government is not involved in supplying the Contras. According to the witnesses, the CIA claims it had nothing to do with Eugene Hasenfus, the cargo handler who survived the recent downing of a CIA transport plane and in doing so revealed the existence of the illegal arms deals. Supposedly, the only involvement by US officials was to offer public encouragement. The committee Democrats do not believe anything Abrams or the CIA officials say, but at least one committee member, Dick Cheney (R-WY) offers his support. According to the summary written by the administration staffer taking notes that day, “Mr. Cheney said he found our ignorance credible.” There is far more going on than the committee Democrats know—or than Cheney will tell them. For years, Cheney has been urging Congress to authorize aid to the Contras, but the majority Democrats have been inconsistent in their support. As authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein will later characterize the situation, Abrams, a self-described former socialist turned enthusiastic neoconservative, and others in the administration, such as National Security Council staffer Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, have now taken matters into their own hands (see October 5, 1986), in direct violation of US law. Committee Democrats are as yet unaware that Reagan officials such as North have also been negotiating arms-for-hostages deals with Iran, in a covert three-way deal involving Iran, the US, and the Contras (see November 3, 1986). (Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 65)
Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams, who has already lied repeatedly under oath to Congress about third-party funding of the Contras (see October 10-14, 1986), lies again to the Senate Intelligence Committee about his knowledge of any such funding (see August 9-19, 1986). Appearing before the committee with senior CIA official Alan Fiers, who has himself lied to Congress about the same activities, Abrams tells the committee: “Well, we—after the Hasenfus shootdown (see October 5, 1986) we were asked about, you know, what did you know about the funding of Hasenfus and his operation. And the answer here is the same answer. That is, that we knew there were private contributions coming in, because they sure weren’t surviving on the money that we were giving them, which at one time was nothing and then the 27 million came along (see August 1985). So there was money coming in. But there was no reason to think it was coming from foreign governments, and I certainly did not inquire as to which individuals it was coming from.” Abrams denies ever discussing third-party funding with anyone on the National Security Council staff, which would include Oliver North, Abrams’s partner in the $10 million Brunei deal (see June 11, 1986). A frankly disbelieving Senator Bill Bradley (D-NJ) says: “Well, you would say gee, they got a lot of problems, they don’t have any money. Then you would just sit there and say, what are we going to do? They don’t have any money. You never said, you know, maybe we could get the money this way?” Abrams replies: “No.… We’re not—you know, we’re not in the fundraising business.” Two weeks later, Abrams will “correct” his testimony, but will still insist that he knows nothing of any such third-party funding. (Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986 8/4/1993)
Former Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams testifies to the House Intelligence Committee about his knowledge of the Iran-Contra affair (see Mid-October, 1986). Like CIA official Alan Fiers (see November 25, 1986), Abrams testifies that neither he nor his superiors at the State Department knew anything of the illegal diversion of funds to the Nicaraguan Contras (see December 6, 1985 and April 4, 1986); like Fiers, Abrams is lying (see Late 1985 and After). Several days later, Abrams testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Senator Thomas Eagleton (D-MO) accuses Abrams of lying during the first session, and Abrams replies, “You’ve heard my testimony.” Eagleton retorts, “I’ve heard it, and I want to puke.” (Lacayo, Beaty, and van Voorst 7/22/1991; Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986 8/4/1993) Abrams will later admit to lying to both the House and Senate (see October 7, 1991).
Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams, testifying before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, says that before the Iran-Contra revelations of October 1986 (see October 5, 1986, October 10-15, 1986, and October 11-14, 1986) he had never even heard of CIA agent Felix Rodriguez, the liaison between the Nicaraguan Contras and the National Security Council (see Mid-September 1985). As he has done so many times before, Abrams is lying. When he took his position in July 1985 (see April 19, 1985 and After), Rodriguez was already working out of the Ilopango airfield in El Salvador. Notes taken by the US Ambassador to El Salvador, Edwin Corr, indicate that Abrams knew of Rodriguez by September 1985 at the latest (see September 4, 1985). During that month, Abrams and Corr discussed Rodriguez in at least one meeting. (Corr will later say he cannot recall any such meeting.) Rodriguez was also a frequent topic of discussion in meetings held in late 1985 by the Restricted Interagency Group (RIG—see Late 1985 and After) chaired by Abrams. And Abrams was aware of concerns within the government about Rodriguez’s involvement in disbursing humanitarian funds allocated by the US Congress to the Contras (see October 1985). (Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986 8/4/1993)
Former Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams, in testimony before the Iran-Contra committee, admits he previously lied under oath when he denied the existence of third-party funding of the Nicaraguan Contras. In fact, Abrams himself had facilitated the funding of the Contras by the Sultan of Brunei (see June 11, 1986). Abrams will eventually plead guilty to lying to Congress, but will never see the inside of a jail cell, as President George H. W. Bush will pardon him (see December 25, 1992). During questioning, Republican committee member Dick Cheney (R-WY) praises Abrams’s service, saying, “I do personally believe you have an extremely bright future in the public arena in the United States.” When Cheney becomes vice president in the Bush-Cheney White House, he will name Abrams as deputy national security adviser (see June 2001). (Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 74-75)
A group of Nicaraguan Contra leaders walks unexpectedly into the office of Speaker of the House Jim Wright (D-TX) and demands a meeting. They want to discuss prisoners being held by the Sandinista government. Wright is perplexed, but agrees to see them.
'Reagan-Wright' Peace Plan - Wright has engineered a peace program between the US and Nicaragua known as “Reagan-Wright,” a program very unpopular with right-wing Republicans both in the White House and in Congress. White House officials such as President Reagan’s national security affairs assistant Colin Powell and Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams have attempted to derail the program by trying to persuade other Central American leaders to come out against Nicaragua and thereby undermine the peace talks. But the program has progressed, largely because of Wright’s tireless efforts and the cooperation of Costa Rican President Oscar Arias Sanchez (who won the 1987 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts). Wright had informed the leaders of the different factions in Nicaragua, Contras and Sandinistas alike, that his door was always open to them.
Enemy in House - Wright does not realize that he has an implacable enemy in powerful House member Dick Cheney (R-WY). Cheney is offended by what he sees as Wright’s encroachment on powers that should be reserved for the executive branch alone, and has devised a campaign to further undermine Wright.
Meeting between Wright and Contras - When the Contra leaders meet with Wright, the speaker has already informed the CIA that its agents who were fomenting civil unrest and provoking the Sandinistas were violating the law. He tells the Contras that they can no longer expect CIA agitators to work on their behalf. When news of the meeting gets back to Cheney and Abrams, they are, in Wright’s recollection, “furious.”
Washington Times Claims Wright Leaked Classified Information - The State Department steers the angry Contra delegation to the offices of the right-wing Washington Times, where they tell the editorial staff what Wright had told them—that the CIA is illegally provoking unrest in Nicaragua. A week later, Wright is floored when a Times reporter confronts him with accusations that he has leaked classified CIA information to foreign nationals.
Security Breach Allegation - Wright’s defense—he had told the Contras nothing they didn’t already know—does not placate Cheney, who immediately calls for a thorough investigation of Wright’s “security breach.” Speaking as a member of the House Intelligence Committee, Cheney says Wright has raised serious “institutional questions that go to the integrity of the House, to the integrity of the oversight process in the area of intelligence, and to the operation of the Intelligence Committee.”
Set-Up - An investigative reporter from Newsday, Roy Gutman, learns from State Department sources that Wright had been set up by Cheney and Abrams. State Department officials sent the Contras to the Washington Times with specific instructions to leak the CIA content of their discussion with Wright to the editors. But Gutman’s discovery has little impact on the situation.
Ethics Complaint - Cheney, with House Minority Leader Robert Michel (R-IL), files a complaint with the House Ethics Committee and demands an investigation by the Intelligence Committee, claiming Wright has compromised US intelligence operations in Central America. Throughout the process, neither Michel nor Cheney give Wright any warning of the complaints before they are filed.
Pressure from Cheney - Looking back, Wright will be more disturbed by Michel’s actions than by Cheney’s. He considered Michel a friend, and was amazed that Michel went along with Cheney in blindsiding him. Michel will later apologize to Wright, and say that Cheney had pressured him so much that he went along with Cheney in filing the ethics complaint without telling Wright. One aspect that Michel does not explain is why, as House minority leader, he would put the stamp of approval of the House leadership on the complaint, raising it to a much higher level than a complaint from a rank-and-file representative like Cheney. (Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 60-62)
Former Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams, facing multiple counts of lying under oath to Congress about, among other things, his knowledge of the US government’s involvement in the resupply operation to the Nicaraguan Contras (see October 10-15, 1986), his knowledge of the role played by former CIA agent Felix Rodriguez in the resupply (see December 17, 1986), and his knowledge of third-party funding of the Nicaraguan Contras (see November 25, 1986), agrees to plead guilty to two misdemeanor charges of withholding evidence from Congress. Abrams agrees to the plea after being confronted with reams of evidence about his duplicity by investigators for special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh as well as from testimony elicited during the House-Senate investigation of 1987 (see July 7-10, 1987) and the guilty plea and subsequent testimony of former CIA agent Alan Fiers (see July 17, 1991). Abrams pleads guilty to two counts of withholding information from Congress, to unlawfully withholding information from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Intelligence Committee, and admits lying when he claimed that he knew nothing of former National Security Council official Oliver North’s illegal diversion of government funds to the Contras (see December 6, 1985, April 4, 1986, and November 25-28, 1986). Abrams says that he lied because he believed “that disclosure of Lt. Col. [Oliver] North’s activities in the resupply of the Contras would jeopardize final enactment” of a $100 million appropriation pending in Congress at the time of his testimony, a request that was narrowly defeated (see March 1986). Abrams also admits to soliciting $10 million in aid for the Contras from the Sultan of Brunei (see June 11, 1986). (Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986 8/4/1993)
The outgoing President Bush pardons six former Reagan officials for any crimes they may have committed as part of their involvement in the Iran-Contra affair. One of the six, former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, was slated to go on trial in January 1993 on charges that he lied to Congress about his knowledge of arms sales to Iran and funding from other countries for the Nicaraguan Contras (see July 24, 1992). Weinberger’s case was expected to reveal details of then-Vice President Bush’s involvement in the affair. Bush has refused to turn over a 1986 campaign diary he kept that may contain evidence of his involvement. Special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh says of the pardons, “[T]he Iran-Contra cover-up, which has continued for more than six years, has now been completed.” The pardons “undermine… the principle that no man is above the law. It demonstrates that powerful people with powerful allies can commit serious crimes in high office—deliberately abusing the public trust without consequence.” Walsh says that he believes Bush may have pardoned Weinberger to conceal his own complicity and possibly criminal actions in Iran-Contra. Bush also pardons former National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane and former Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams, both of whom have already pled guilty to misdemeanor charges of withholding information from Congress. Bush also pardons Clair George, the former head of the CIA’s clandestine services, convicted earlier in December of two felony charges of perjury and misleading Congress. Finally, he pardons two other CIA officials, Duane Clarridge, who is awaiting trial, and Alan Fiers, who pled guilty to withholding information from Congress, and who testified against George. For his part, Bush says he is merely trying to “put bitterness behind us” in pardoning the six, many of whom he said have already paid a heavy price for their involvement. Senator George Mitchell (D-ME) is sharply critical of the pardons, saying, “If members of the executive branch lie to the Congress, obstruct justice and otherwise break the law, how can policy differences be fairly and legally resolved in a democracy?” (Johnston 12/25/1992)
The Project for the New American Century (PNAC), an influential neoconservative think tank, publishes a letter to President Clinton urging war against Iraq and the removal of Saddam Hussein because he is a “hazard” to “a significant portion of the world’s supply of oil.” In a foretaste of what eventually happens, the letter calls for the US to go to war alone, attacks the United Nations, and says the US should not be “crippled by a misguided insistence on unanimity in the UN Security Council.” The letter is signed by many who will later lead the 2003 Iraq war. 10 of the 18 signatories later join the Bush Administration, including Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Assistant Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, Deputy Secretaries of State Richard Armitage and Robert Zoellick, Undersecretaries of State John Bolton and Paula Dobriansky, presidential adviser for the Middle East Elliott Abrams, Defense Policy Board chairman Richard Perle, and George W. Bush’s special Iraq envoy Zalmay Khalilzad. Other signatories include William Bennett, Jeffrey Bergner, Francis Fukuyama, Robert Kagan, William Kristol, Peter Rodman, William Schneider, Vin Weber, and James Woolsey. (Project for the New American Century 1/26/1998; Mackay 3/16/2003; Unger 2007, pp. 158) Clinton does heavily bomb Iraq in late 1998, but the bombing doesn’t last long and its long term effect is the break off of United Nations weapons inspections. (Weisman 3/23/2003) The PNAC neoconservatives do not seriously expect Clinton to attack Iraq in any meaningful sense, author Craig Unger will observe in 2007. Instead, they are positioning themselves for the future. “This was a key moment,” one State Department official will recall. “The neocons were maneuvering to put this issue in play and box Clinton in. Now, they could draw a dichotomy. They could argue to their next candidate, ‘Clinton was weak. You must be strong.’” (Unger 2007, pp. 158)
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; Lang 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). (Nimmo 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; Lang 6/2004)
The Project for a New American Century publishes an open letter to President Clinton urging him put an end to diplomatic efforts attempting to resolve the situation in the Balkans. Instead, they argue, he should take “decisive action” against the Serbs. The US must “distance itself from Milosevic and actively support in every way possible his replacement by a democratic government committed to ending ethnic violence,” the group writes. (Century 9/11/1998)
The American Committee for Peace in Chechnya (ACPC) is founded by Freedom House. Its mission is to promote a “peaceful resolution of the Russo-Chechen war.” Board members include Zbigniew Brzezinski, Alexander M. Haig, Jr., Steven J. Solarz, and Max Kampelman. ACPC’s regular members include Richard Perle; Elliott Abrams, Kenneth Adelman, Midge Decter, Frank Gaffney, Bruce Jackson, Michael Ledeen of the American Enterprise Institute, James Woolsey, Robert Kagan, William Kristol, Norman Podhoretz, among others. The APC is closely tied to the American Enterprise Institute and the Jamestown Foundation and National Endowment for Democracy and other US democratization initiatives. (Laughland 9/8/2004; American Committee for Peace in Chechnya 11/15/2005)
The neoconservative think tank Project for the New American Century writes a “blueprint” for the “creation of a ‘global Pax Americana’” (see June 3, 1997). The document, titled Rebuilding America’s Defenses: Strategies, Forces and Resources for a New Century, was written for the George W. Bush team even before the 2000 presidential election. It was written for future Vice President Cheney, future Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, future Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, Florida Governor and Bush’s brother Jeb Bush, and Cheney’s future chief of staff Lewis Libby. (Project for the New American Century 9/2000, pp. iv and 51 )
Plans to Overthrow Iraqi Government - The report calls itself a “blueprint for maintaining global US preeminence, precluding the rise of a great power rival, and shaping the international security order in line with American principles and interests.” The plan shows that the Bush team intends to take military control of Persian Gulf oil whether or not Saddam Hussein was in power and should retain control of the region even if there is no threat. It says: “The United States has for decades sought to play a more permanent role in Gulf regional security. While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein.” The report calls for the control of space through a new “US Space Forces,” the political control of the internet, the subversion of any growth in political power of even close allies, and advocates “regime change” in China, North Korea, Libya, Syria, Iran and other countries. It also mentions that “advanced forms of biological warfare that can ‘target’ specific genotypes may transform biological warfare from the realm of terror to a politically useful tool” (see February 7, 2003). (Project for the New American Century 9/2000 ; Mackay 9/7/2002)
Greater Need for US Role in Persian Gulf - PNAC states further: “The United States has for decades sought to play a more permanent role in Gulf regional security. While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein.”
'US Space Forces,' Control of Internet, Subversion of Allies - PNAC calls for the control of space through a new “US Space Forces,” the political control of the Internet, and the subversion of any growth in political power of even close allies, and advocates “regime change” in China, North Korea, Libya, Syria, Iran, and other countries.
Bioweapons Targeting Specific Genotypes 'Useful' - It also mentions that “advanced forms of biological warfare that can ‘target” specific genotypes may transform biological warfare from the realm of terror to a politically useful tool.”
'A New Pearl Harbor' - However, PNAC complains that thes changes are likely to take a long time, “absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event—like a new Pearl Harbor.” (Johnson 1/12/2003)
Bush Will Claim a 'Humble' Foreign Policy Stance - One month later during a presidential debate with Al Gore, Bush will assert that he wants a “humble” foreign policy in the Middle East and says he is against toppling Saddam Hussein in Iraq because it smacks of “nation building” (see October 11, 2000). Around the same time, Cheney will similarly defend Bush’s position of maintaining President Clinton’s policy not to attack Iraq, asserting that the US should not act as though “we were an imperialist power, willy-nilly moving into capitals in that part of the world, taking down governments.” (Masters 1/12/2002) Author Craig Unger will later comment, “Only a few people who had read the papers put forth by the Project for a New American Century might have guessed a far more radical policy had been developed.” (Unger 3/15/2004) A British member of Parliament will later say of the PNAC report, “This is a blueprint for US world domination—a new world order of their making. These are the thought processes of fantasist Americans who want to control the world.” (Mackay 9/7/2002) Both PNAC and its strategy plan for Bush are almost virtually ignored by the media until a few weeks before the start of the Iraq war (see February-March 20, 2003).
The Bush team moves into Washington. Neoconservative Zalmay Khalilzad heads the Pentagon transition team, and he ensures that plenty of his friends and colleagues move into the civilian offices of the Defense Department. Four of the most influential advocates for the US overthrow of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein—Elliott Abrams, Douglas Feith, Richard Perle, and Abram Shulsky—are waiting to learn where they will serve in the department. But Vice President Cheney is still concerned with ensuring the placement of his own colleagues and cronies who will help him build what many will call the “imperial presidency.” Secretary of State Colin Powell, Cheney’s ideological rival, is working to install his friend and colleague Richard Armitage as deputy secretary of defense. For Cheney, Armitage would be a calamity—although Armitage is sufficiently hardline and in line with conservative foreign policy aims, he is far too centrist for Cheney and the neoconservatives. The neoconservative magazine the Weekly Standard alerts the faithful to the potential problem with an article entitled “The Long Arm of Colin Powell: Will the Next Secretary of State Also Run the Pentagon?” Powell does not get his wish; Armitage eventually becomes deputy secretary of state. Abrams will join the National Security Council; Khalilzad, Feith, and Shulksy will join the Defense Department; and Perle will head the Defense Policy Board, an independent group that advises the Pentagon. (Rees 12/25/2000 ; Unger 2007, pp. 115, 191-192, 204, 249)
Hardline neoconservative Elliott Abrams (see June 2, 1987) joins the National Security Council as senior director of Near East and North African affairs. A State Department official will later recall: “Elliott embodied the hubris of the neocon perspective. His attitude was, ‘All the rest of you are pygmies. You don’t have the scope and the vision we have. We are going to remake the world.’ His appointment meant that good sense had been overcome by ideology.”
Rush of Neoconservatives into Administration - Abrams’s entry into the White House heralds a rush of former Project for the New American Century members (PNAC—see January 26, 1998 and September 2000) into the Bush administration, almost all of whom are staunch advocates of regime change in Iraq. “I don’t think that most people in State understood what was going on,” the State Department official will say later. “I understood what this was about, that PNAC was moving from outside the government to inside. In my mind, it was an unfriendly takeover.” (Unger 2007, pp. 205)
Neoconservatives Well-Organized, Contemptuous of Congress - In June 2004, former intelligence official Patrick Lang will write: “It should have been a dire warning to the US Congress when the man who had been convicted of lying to Congress during the Iran-contra affair [Abrams] was put in charge of the Middle East section of the NSC staff. One underestimated talent of the neocon group in the run-up to this war was its ability to manipulate Congress. They were masters of the game, having made the team in Washington in the 1970s on the staffs of two of the most powerful senators in recent decades, New York’s Patrick Moynihan and Washington’s Henry ‘Scoop’ Jackson (see Early 1970s). The old boy’s club—Abe Shulsky at OSP [the Office of Special Plans—see September 2002], Undersecretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith, Middle East Desk Officer at the NSC Abrams, Defense Policy Board Chairman Richard Perle—had not only worked together in their early government years in these two Senate offices, but they had stayed together as a network through the ensuing decades, floating around a small number of businesses and think tanks, including the American Enterprise Institute and the openly neoimperialist Project for a New American Century. The neocons were openly contemptuous of Congress, as they were of the UN Security Council.” (Lang 6/2004)
The newly-installed US ambassador to Italy, Mel Sembler, learns during the course of a private dinner with Iran-Contra figure Michael Ledeen and Italian defense minister Antonio Martino about the secret backchannel meeting they attended three days before (see December 9, 2001) with US defense officials, former Iran-Contra figures, and Iranian government officials. After the dinner, Sembler immediately contacts Jeff Castelli, the CIA station chief in Rome, to find out if he knows about the meeting. But the station chief says he was also unaware of the meeting. “Soon both Sembler and the Rome station chief were sending anxious queries back to the State Department and CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., respectively, raising alarms on both sides of the Potomac” since all US government contact with foreign government intelligence agencies is supposed to be overseen by the CIA. (Marshall, Rozen, and Glastris 9/2004) Old State Department hands are horrified to learn of Ledeen’s involvement with the Iraq-Niger fabrications. Bad enough that Elliott Abrams was brought into the administration (see November 2002-December 2002), they say, but with Ledeen and his associate [Iranian arms dealer Manucher] Ghorbanifar making an appearance, it seems to these State Department veterans that the days of Reagan-era “cowboy diplomacy” are back in full swing. “One of the truly remarkable elements of the neocon story is their addiction to Ghorbanifar,” a State Department official will say in 2007. “It is part of their ‘we are smarter, you are stupid’ attitude.” Author Craig Unger will note, “The key players in Iran-Contra were back in business.” (Unger 2007, pp. 234-235)
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is overthrown in a military coup. However, the coup collapses after two days, and Chavez returns to power. (Gibb 4/14/2002) Otto J. Reich, the US’s assistant secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs, is in contact with Chavez’s successor on the very day he takes over. The Bush administration claims Reich was pleading with him not to dissolve the National Assembly. (Marquis 4/17/2002)
The King of Jordan, Abdullah II, visits Washington to discuss the Israel-Palestinian peace process. Abdullah’s visit comes on the heels of Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah’s earlier visit, where he threatened to break off discussions with the US if President Bush refused to deal seriously with the matter (see Spring 2002). Though the Saudi leader seemingly shook up Bush with his unusually direct insistence on American action, Bush appears surprised that the Jordanian king is also concerned with the issue. Bush listens politely to Abdullah’s appeal, and says that the king’s idea of a “road map to peace” sounds reasonable. National Security Council official Flynt Leverett, the head of the NSC’s Mideast affairs division, promises Abdullah that such a “road map” will be drawn up by the end of 2002. No such proposal is ever completed; neoconservatives in the Defense Department (Donald Rumsfeld and Douglas Feith), the Vice President’s Office (John Hannah and Lewis “Scooter” Libby), and the NSC (Elliott Abrams) continue to oppose the idea, calling it nothing but a reward to the Palestinians for “bad behavior” (see December 2001-January 2002). Only if Palestine rejects terrorism and implements democracy will the US enter into negotiations, they insist, regardless of what promises Bush has made. (Richardson 10/18/2007)
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.” (Buck and Clover 11/4/2002; Whitelaw 11/25/2003; Haddadin 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. (Whitelaw 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. (Whitelaw 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. (Whitelaw 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. (Whitelaw 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. (Whitelaw 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. (Whitelaw 11/25/2003)
Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas J. Feith and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, both staunch neoconservatives, rename the Northern Gulf Affairs Office on the Pentagon’s fourth floor (in the seventh corridor of D Ring) the “Office of Special Plans” (OSP) and increase its four-person staff to sixteen. (Strobel 8/16/2002; Arkin 11/24/2002; Hersh 5/12/2003; Lobe 8/7/2003; Rosenfeld 8/27/2003; Kwiatkowski 12/1/2003; Dreyfuss and Vest 1/2004) William Luti, a former navy officer and ex-aide to Vice President Cheney, is put in charge of the day-to-day operations (Borger 7/17/2003; Dreyfuss and Vest 1/2004) , apparently at the behest of Cheney. Luti was, according to former Defense Intelligence Agency official Patrick Lang, a member of Cheney’s “shadow National Security Council.” (Lang 6/2004)
Transforming NESA - Luti worked for the Near East and South Asian Affairs desk (NESA) at the Pentagon since mid-2001. Lang later describes NESA as having been “a Pentagon backwater, responsible primarily for arranging bilateral meetings with military counterparts” from various nations. Before the Afghanistan war, NESA worked closely with the Defense Intelligence Agency’s Defense Intelligence Officer (DIO) for the Near East, South Asia, and Counterterrorism. During Luti’s first months at NESA, the DIO was Bruce Hardcastle. The Pentagon dismantled the entire DIO system, partly because of friction between Luti and Hardcastle (see Early 2002). Lang will write, “The roots of the friction between Hardcastle and Luti were straightforward: Hardcastle brought with him the combined wisdom of the professional military intelligence community. The community had serious doubts about the lethality of the threat from Saddam Hussein, the terrorism links and the status of the Iraqi WMD programs. Luti could not accept this. He knew what he wanted: to bring down Saddam Hussein. Hardcastle could not accept the very idea of allowing a desired outcome to shape the results of analysis.” Luti transforms NESA into what Lang will call “a ‘de facto’ arm of the vice president’s office,” and in the process shuts Hardcastle out of NESA (and later OSP) intelligence briefings. Luti does not report to either Feith or Donald Rumsfeld, as his chain of command delineates, but to Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby. OSP staffer Karen Kwiatkowski later recalls being “shocked” to learn that Luti reports to Libby and not to his putative Pentagon superiors. She will say, “In one of the first staff meetings that I attended there, Bill Luti said, ‘Well, did you get that thing over to Scooter? Scooter wants this, and somebody’s got to get it over to him, and get that up to him right away.’ After the meeting, I asked one of my co-workers, who’d been there longer, ‘Who is this Scooter?’ I was told, ‘That’s Scooter Libby over at the OVP (Office of the Vice President). He’s the Vice President’s chief of staff.’ Later I came to understand that Cheney had put Luti there.” Under Luti, NESA becomes a virtual adjunct to the OSP. (Lobe 8/7/2003; Dreyfuss and Vest 1/2004; Lang 6/2004)
Strong Neoconservative Influence - The Office of Special Plans is staffed with a tight group of like-minded neoconservative ideologues, who are known advocates of regime change in Iraq. Notably, the staffers have little background in intelligence or Iraqi history and culture. (Boehlert 7/16/2003; Lobe 8/7/2003; Kwiatkowski 12/1/2003; Dreyfuss and Vest 1/2004) Some of the people associated with this office were earlier involved with the Counter Terrorism Evaluation Group, also known as the “Wurmser-Maloof” project (see Shortly After September 11, 2001). They hire “scores of temporary ‘consultants‘… including like-minded lawyers, congressional staffers, and policy wonks from the numerous right-wing think-tanks in the US capital.” Neoconservative ideologues, like Richard Perle, Michael Ledeen, and Newt Gingrich, are afforded direct input into the Office of Special Plans. (Borger 7/17/2003; Dreyfuss and Vest 1/2004; Unger 7/2006, pp. 150) Kwiatkowski later says she saw Ledeen going “in and out of there (OSP) all the time.” (Unger 7/2006, pp. 150)
Planning for Post-Saddam Iraq - The official business of Special Plans is to help plan for post-Saddam Iraq. The office’s staff members presumably “develop defense policies aimed at building an international coalition, prepare the secretary of defense and his top deputies for interagency meetings, coordinate troop-deployment orders, craft policies for dealing with prisoners of war and illegal combatants, postwar assistance and reconstruction policy planning, postwar governance, Iraqi oil infrastructure policy, postwar Iraqi property disputes, war crimes and atrocities, war-plan review and, in their spare time, prepare congressional testimony for their principals.” (Timmerman 12/2/2003)
Covert Source of 'Alternative' Intelligence - But according to numerous well-placed sources, the office becomes a source for many of the administration’s prewar allegations against Iraq. It is accused of exaggerating, politicizing, and misrepresenting intelligence, which is “stovepiped” to top administration officials who use the intelligence in their policy decisions on Iraq. (Strobel 8/16/2002; Arkin 11/24/2002; Hersh 5/12/2003; Lobe 8/7/2003; Rosenfeld 8/27/2003; Kwiatkowski 12/1/2003; Dreyfuss and Vest 1/2004; Coman 7/11/2004; CNN 7/11/2004)
'Top Secret' - There are very few news reports in the American mainstream media that report on the office. In fact, the office is reportedly Top Secret. (Bamford 2004, pp. 308) “We were instructed at a staff meeting that this office was not to be discussed or explained,” Kwiatkowski will later say, “and if people in the Joint Staff, among others, asked, we were to offer no comment.” (Kwiatkowski 12/1/2003)
Part of a 'Separate Government,' Powell Feels - Colin Powell is said to have felt that Cheney and the neoconservatives in this “Gestapo” office had established what was essentially a separate government. (Hamilton 4/17/2004) Powell’s former chief of staff, Larry Wilkerson, is even more blunt. “When I say ‘secret cabal,’ I mean ‘secret cabal,’ he says of the White House officials behind the OSP. He compares Cheney, Rumsfeld, and the neoconservatives to the Jacobins, the radical zealots who plunged 18th-century France into the Reign of Terror. “I see them as messianic advocates of American power from one end of the globe, much as the Jacobins in France were messianic advocates of the French Revolution. I don’t care whether utopians are Vladimir Lenin on a sealed train to Moscow or Paul Wolfowitz. You’re never going to bring utopia, and you’re going to hurt a lot of people in the process.” (Unger 2007, pp. 299-300) Among the claims critics find most troubling about the office are:
Heavy Reliance on Intelligence from Exiles and Defectors - The office relies heavily on accounts from Iraqi exiles and defectors associated with Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress (INC), long considered suspect by other US intelligence agencies. (Hersh 5/12/2003; Boehlert 7/16/2003; Borger 7/17/2003; Lobe 8/7/2003; Buncombe 9/30/2003; Dreyfuss and Vest 1/2004) One defector in particular, code-named “Curveball,” provides as much as 98 percent of the intelligence on Iraq’s alleged arsenal of biological weapons. (CNN 7/11/2004) Much of the information provided by the INC’s sources consists of “misleading and often faked intelligence reports,” which often flow to Special Plans and NESA directly, “sometimes through Defense Intelligence Agency debriefings of Iraqi defectors via the Defense Human Intelligence Service and sometimes through the INC’s own US-funded Intelligence Collection Program, which was overseen by the Pentagon.” (Dreyfuss and Vest 1/2004) According to Kwiatkowski, the movement of intelligence from the INC to the Office of Special Plans is facilitated by a Colonel Bruner, a former military aide to Gingrich. (Hosenball and Isikoff 12/15/2003; Dreyfuss and Vest 1/2004; Kwiatkowski 3/10/2004) Bruner “was Chalabi’s handler,” Kwiatkowski will tell Mother Jones. “He would arrange meetings with Chalabi and Chalabi’s folks.” (Dreyfuss and Vest 1/2004) Kwiatkowski also finds that OSP personnel, along with DIA and CIA officials, are taking part in the debriefing of INC informants. She will recall confronting one DIA officer, John Trigilio, about the practice: “I argued with [Tregilio] after the president’s Cincinnati speech (see October 5, 2002 and October 6, 2002). I told him that the president had made a number of statements that were just not supported by the intelligence. He said that the president’s statements are supported by intelligence, and he would finally say, ‘We have sources that you don’t have.’ I took it to mean the sources that Chalabi was bringing in for debriefing… Trigilio told me he participated in a number of debriefs, conducted in hotels downtown, or wherever, of people that Chalabi brought in. These debriefs had Trigilio from OSP, but also CIA and DIA participated… If [the information] sounded good, it would go straight to the OVP or elsewhere. I don’t put it out of possibility that the information would go straight to the media because of the (media’s) close relationship with some of the neoconservatives. So this information would make it straight out into the knowledge base without waiting for intelligence [analysts] to come by with their qualifications and reservations.” (Lang 6/2004)
Cherry-Picked Intelligence - The Office of Special Plans purposefully ignores intelligence that undermines the case for war while exaggerating any leads that support it. “It wasn’t intelligence—it was propaganda,” Kwiatkowski will later explain. “They’d take a little bit of intelligence, cherry-pick it, make it sound much more exciting, usually by taking it out of context, often by juxtaposition of two pieces of information that don’t belong together.” (Schmitt and Shanker 10/24/2002; Hersh 5/12/2003; Boehlert 7/16/2003; Borger 7/17/2003; Lobe 8/7/2003; Buncombe 9/30/2003; Dreyfuss and Vest 1/2004) “At the OSP, what they were doing was looking at all the intelligence they could find on WMD. That was the focal point, picking bits and pieces that were the most inflammatory, removing any context that might have been provided in the original intelligence report, that would have caused you to have some pause in believing it or reflected doubts that the intelligence community had, so if the intelligence community had doubts, those would be left out… They would take items that had occurred many years ago, and put them in the present tense, make it seem like they occurred not many years ago… But they would not talk about the dates; they would say things like, ‘He has continued since that time’ and ‘He could do it tomorrow,’ which of course, wasn’t true… The other thing they would do would be to take unrelated events that were reported in totally unrelated ways and make connections that the intelligence community had not made. This was primarily in discussing Iraq’s activities and how they might be related to al-Qaeda or other terrorist groups that might be against us, or against Israel… These kinds of links would be made. They would be made casually, and they would be made in a calculated way to form an image that is definitely not the image that anyone reading the original reports would have. The summaries that we would see from Intelligence did not match the kinds of things that OSP was putting out. So that is what I call propaganda development. It goes beyond the manipulation of intelligence to propaganda development.” (Lang 6/2004)
No Intelligence Oversight - The OSP bypasses established oversight procedures by sending its intelligence assessments directly to the White House and National Security Council without having them first vetted by a review process involving other US intelligence agencies. (Hersh 5/12/2003; Boehlert 7/16/2003; Borger 7/17/2003; Dreyfuss and Vest 1/2004) The people at Special Plans are so successful at bypassing conventional procedures, in part, because their neoconservative colleagues hold key positions in several other agencies and offices. Their contacts in other agencies include: John Bolton, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security; Bolton’s adviser, David Wurmser, a former research fellow on the Middle East at the American Enterprise Institute, who was just recently working in a secret Pentagon planning unit at Douglas Feith’s office (see Shortly After September 11, 2001); Elizabeth Cheney, deputy assistant secretary of state for Near East Affairs; Stephen Hadley, the deputy national security adviser; Elliott Abrams, the National Security Council’s top Middle East aide; and Richard Perle, Newt Gingrich, James Woolsey and Kenneth Adelman of the Defense Policy Board. The office provides very little information about its work to other US intelligence offices. (Boehlert 7/16/2003; Borger 7/17/2003; Lobe 8/7/2003)
'Stealth Organization' - Greg Thielmann, the former director of the Strategic, Proliferation and Military Affairs Office at the State Department’s Intelligence Bureau, later says of the OSP: “It was a stealth organization. They didn’t play in the intelligence community proceedings that our office participated in. When the intelligence community met as a community, there was no OSP represented in these sessions. Because, if they had done that, they would have had to subject their views to peer review. Why do that when you can send stuff right in to the vice president?” (Lang 6/2004; Unger 2007, pp. 299) Lang will say in January 2004 that what happened was fundamentally different from anything that had happened under previous presidents. Cheney’s staff and allies “behaved as though they had seized control of the government in a ‘silent coup,’” The result, according to Lang, is “a highly corrupted system of intelligence and policymaking, one twisted to serve specific group goals, ends, and beliefs held to the point of religious faith.” (Unger 2007, pp. 301)
Pressuring Intelligence Analysts - Retired Marine Lieutenant Colonel Dale Davis, who headed the International Programs Department at the Virginia Military Institute until March 2004, and an expert on Middle East affairs, later says he believes intelligence analysts at the CIA and other agencies were pressured indirectly. Davis will say, “By creating the OSP [Office of Special Plans], Cheney was able to say, ‘Hey, look at what we’re getting out of OSP. How come you guys aren’t doing as well? What is your response to what this alternative analysis that we’re receiving from the Pentagon says?’ That’s how you do it. You pressure people indirectly.” Vincent Cannistraro, a former senior counterterrorism official with the CIA, will agree: “Over a long period of time, there was a subtle process of pressure and intimidation until people started giving them what was wanted… When the Senate Intelligence Committee interviewed, under oath, over 100 analysts, not one of them said, ‘I changed my assessment because of pressure.‘… The environment was conditioned in such a way that the analyst subtly leaned toward the conceits of the policymakers… The intelligence community was vulnerable to the aggressiveness of neoconservative policymakers, particularly at the Pentagon and at the VP’s office. As one analyst said to me, ‘You can’t fight something with nothing, and those people had something. Whether it was right or wrong, fraudulent or specious, it almost didn’t make any difference, because the policymakers believed it already, and if you didn’t have hard countervailing evidence to persuade them, then you were at a loss.’” (Lang 6/2004)
Strong Pro-Israel, Anti-Arab Biases - Lastly, the people involved in Special Plans openly exhibit strong pro-Israel and anti-Arab bias. The problem, note critics, is that the analysis of intelligence is supposed to be apolitical and untainted by ideological viewpoints. (Kwiatkowski 12/1/2003) According to a CIA intelligence official and four members of the Senate’s Intelligence Committee, Special Plans is the group responsible for the claim Bush will make in his 2003 State of the Union address that Iraq had attempted to procure uranium from an African country (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). (Dreyfuss 6/19/2003; Leopold 7/16/2003)
Personal Grudges against Intelligence Community - The OSP reflects the personal grudges and ill will of many in the Office of the Vice President against the intelligence community, in part because of the CIA’s refusal to give much weight to the claims of Chalabi and the INC. “This had been a fight for such a long period of time, where people were so dug in,” a friend of one of Vice President Cheney’s senior staffers will later reflect. A colleague of the senior staff later says, “They so believed that the CIA were wrong, they were like, ‘We want to show these f_ckers that they are wrong.’” (Foer and Ackerman 11/20/2003)
Propaganda - Kwiatkowski will later recall that the OSP generated a large amount of what she terms propaganda, in the form of “talking points” used in briefings and in press conferences. “With the talking points, many of the propagandistic bullets that were given to use in papers for our superiors to inform them—internal propaganda—many of those same phrases and assumptions and tones, I saw in Vice President Cheney’s speeches and the president’s speeches,” she will say. “So I got the impression that those talking points were not just for us, but were the core of an overall agenda for a disciplined product, beyond the Pentagon. Over at the vice president’s office and the [neoconservative news magazine] Weekly Standard, the media, and the neoconservative talking heads and that kind of thing, all on the same sheet of music.” Kwiatkowski identifies Abram Shulsky, a neoconservative academic and recent Pentagon hire, as the source of many of these talking points. (Lang 6/2004)
Denials, Counter-Accusations after Public Learns of OSP - After the existence of the Office of Special Plans is revealed to the public, the Pentagon will deny that it served as a direct conduit to the White House for misleading intelligence, instead claiming that its activities had been limited to postwar plans for Iraq. (Hersh 5/12/2003) And a December 2003 opinion piece published in Insight magazine will call the allegations surrounding the Office of Special Plans the work of conspiracy theorists. (Timmerman 12/2/2003)
Elliott Abrams, a well-known neoconservative and former Iran-Contra figure, leads one of a dozen Bush administration working groups charged with drafting post-invasion plans. Involved in his group are adamant neoconservatives Joe Collins, a deputy assistant secretary at the Pentagon, and Robin Cleveland, a former aide to Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. His working group is supposed to draft plans for rapid humanitarian planning. But critics in the State Department complain that it involves itself in the issue of post-Saddam politics and economic reconstruction. Abrams’ group is backed by Paul Wolfowitz and the vice president’s office. An ally of Secretary of State Colin Powell tells Insight magazine, “This is a case of stealthy micromanagement by the Wolfowitz hawks—they use what bureaucratic vehicles are available to make their imprint on policy.” Additionally the group is very secretive. It refuses “to brief not only top State Department officials but also aides of Gen. Tommy Franks, the commanding officer of the US Central Command [CENTCOM], about what it is doing.” Instead it stovepipes its work to its contacts in the White House. Sources in the State Department and CIA believe that one of the group’s apparent aims is reducing the influence of the State Department, CIA and the United Nations in post-Saddam Iraq. These critics also question “why a convicted felon [Abrams], pardoned or not, is being allowed to help shape policy.” Within the Pentagon, there is also resentment of Abrams’ group. An unnamed Pentagon source says General Tommy Franks is being “left out of the loop.” A Defense official says, “CENTCOM is for the most part unaware of what Abrams is doing, but friction is developing and the military end of the equation feels that they are being mislead.” (Dettmer and Andersen 11/26/2002; Insight 12/28/2002)
Elliott Abrams, a special assistant to President George W. Bush on the National Security Council [NSC] and a well-known neoconservative and former Iran-Contra figure, is appointed to senior director for Near East and North African affairs within the NSC. Neoconservatives working at the Pentagon’s Near East South Asia (NESA) desk worked hard to get Abrams appointed. “The day he got (the appointment), they were whooping and hollering, ‘We got him in, we got him in,’” Karen Kwiatkowski, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, tells Inter Press Service. Abrams, a controversial figure with close ties to Richard Perle and Douglas Feith, had been convicted of withholding information from Congress during the Iran-Contra scandal, though he was later pardoned by George W. Bush’s father. (Insight 12/28/2002; Lobe 8/7/2003)
Elliott Abrams drafts a proposal, in which he argues that the United States should take de facto control of Iraqi oil fields. The proposal is not well-received by moderates in the Bush administration who question the legality of the proposal, and who argue “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,” reports Insight Magazine. Such a move would also lend credence to suspicions that the invasion is motivated by oil interests, the critics add. (Insight 12/28/2002) A similar recommendation was made in a paper published by the Heritage Foundation in late September (see September 25, 2002).
The governments of Israel and the United States are in almost-perfect accord on most issues, according to a Washington Post analysis. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has talked repeatedly of the “special closeness” he has to the Bush administration, and of the “deep understanding” that President Bush and his officials have for Israel’s security and foreign policy needs. He has thanked Bush for providing what he calls “the required leeway in our ongoing war on terrorism” and lauded the Bush administration’s efforts to promote a peaceful settlement between Israel and the Palestinian people. Thomas Neumann, who heads the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), agrees. “This is the best administration for Israel since Harry Truman,” says Neumann, equating Bush with the first American president to recognize the independent state of Israel. A senior official in the first Bush administration says that Sharon used the 9/11 attacks to cement the bond between his government and the Bush administration. One senior administration official says: “Sharon played the president like a violin: ‘I’m fighting your war, terrorism is terrorism,’ and so on. Sharon did a masterful job.”
Accord with Likud - But the US is not just in accord with Israel; it is in accord with Likud, the hardline conservative political party currently in charge of the Israeli government. The Post writes: “For the first time, a US administration and a Likud government in Israel are pursuing nearly identical policies. Earlier US administrations, from Jimmy Carter’s through Bill Clinton’s, held Likud and Sharon at arm’s length, distancing the United States from Likud’s traditionally tough approach to the Palestinians. But today, as Neumann noted, Israel and the United States share a common view on terrorism, peace with the Palestinians, war with Iraq and more. Neumann and others said this change was made possible by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and their aftermath.” Bush supporters, particularly evangelical Christians, are “delight[ed]” with the administration’s overt support of Likud policies.
Abandoning Peace Talks between Israel and Palestinians - The downside, the Post notes, is that diplomacy with Israel’s Arab neighbors has come to a virtual standstill, and the Middle East “peace process” praised by Sharon is considered by many past and current US officials as a failure. Clinton administration National Security Adviser Sandy Berger says: “Every president since at least Nixon has seen the Arab-Israeli conflict as the central strategic issue in the Middle East. But this administration sees Iraq as the central challenge, and… has disengaged from any serious effort to confront the Arab-Israeli problem.” Retired Marine General Anthony Zinni, the administration’s special envoy to the region, calls the peace process “quiescent,” and adds, “I’ve kind of gone dormant.”
'Likudniks Really in Charge Now' - Bush has appointed neoconservative Elliott Abrams, a vociferous critic of any peace agreement between Israel and Palestine, the head of Mideast affairs for the National Security Council, signaling his administration’s near-total alignment with Israel in the process. Abrams’s hardline views are supported by, among others, Vice President Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and Defense Policy Board chairman Richard Perle, Abrams’s mentor, who in 1996 recommended to Israel’s then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he abandon the Oslo peace accords and refuse to accede to Palestinian demands of “land for peace” (see September 13, 1993). A senior administration official says wryly, “The Likudniks are really in charge now,” using a Yiddish term for supporters of Sharon’s political party. “It’s a strong lineup,” says Neumann. Fellow neoconservative Meyrav Wurmser of the Hudson Institute says of Abrams: “Elliott’s appointment is a signal that the hard-liners in the administration are playing a more central role in shaping policy.… [T]he hard-liners are a very unique group. The hawks in the administration are in fact people who are the biggest advocates of democracy and freedom in the Middle East.” The Post explains that in Abrams’s and Wurmser’s view, promoting democracy in the Middle East is the best way to assure Israel’s security. Like other neoconservatives, they see the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and the establishment of a “democratic Palestine” as necessary for peace in the region. Others who disagree with the neoconservatives call them a “cabal.” The Post writes, “Members of the group do not hide their friendships and connections, or their loyalty to strong positions in support of Israel and Likud.” (Kaiser 2/9/2003)
Three key intelligence advisers are forced to resign, or fired, by neoconservative Elliott Abrams, the National Security Council (NSC)‘s presidential adviser on the Middle East (see December 2002 and December 2002). Flynt Leverett was the senior director for Middle East affairs on the NSC; Hillary Mann was a foreign service officer on detail to the NSC as its director for Iran and Persian Gulf affairs; and Ben Miller was a CIA staffer and an NSC expert on Iran. All three are forced out because they disagree with Abrams’s views towards Israel. Miller also questioned Iraqi exile Ahmed Chalabi’s fitness to become the new leader of Iraq. Leverett will later say: “There was a decision made… basically to renege on the commitments we had made to various European and Arab partners of the United States [in favor of Israel]. I personally disagreed with that decision.” According to Yossef Bodansky, the director of the Congressional Task Force on Terror and Unconventional Warfare, Abrams “led Miller to an open window and told him to jump.” Bodansky will also confirm that Mann and Leverett are ordered to leave the NSC by Abrams. (Unger 2007, pp. 291)
After being ordered to assure the press that Lewis “Scooter” Libby knew nothing of the Plame Wilson leak (see October 4, 2003), White House press secretary Scott McClellan agrees to follow that order if Libby himself will give him that same assurance. McClellan calls Libby and asks, “Were you involved in the leak in any way?” Libby replies, “No, absolutely not.” Together, they decide what reporters McClellan should call, and McClellan begins spreading the word among a wide array of national media correspondents. (McClellan 2008, pp. 218-220) (Later research by author and blogger Marcy Wheeler indicates the reporters McClellan contacts are most likely the Associated Press’s Scott Lindlaw, Michael Isikoff or Evan Thomas of Newsweek, an unnamed reporter for the New York Times, and the Washington Post’s Mike Allen.) (Marcy Wheeler 6/10/2008) The line is, as agreed upon, Libby “neither leaked the classified information, nor would he condone it.” Shortly afterwards, McClellan decides on his own to make the same assurances about National Security Council staffer Elliott Abrams, who has angrily denied rumors of his own involvement (see October 5, 2003). “I was becoming increasingly frustrated,” McClellan will write, “as this was exactly what I didn’t want to happen. I was putting myself in the middle of the investigation by publicly vouching for people, against my own wishes and against the sound advice of White House counsel.… In hindsight, the president should have overruled his advisers and demanded that an internal investigation be conducted to determine whether there might have been any White House involvement. He also should have ordered the public release of as much information as possible as soon as it was known, so that the scandal would not take on a life of its own.” McClellan will theorize that Bush “chose not to do so, perhaps feeling that keeping clear of the story would insulate him and protect him from potential political damage. Instead, it gave the story broader and longer life, only helping to reinforce the permanent state of suspicion and partisan warfare he had pledged to move beyond.” (McClellan 2008, pp. 218-220)
Through White House spokesmen, two senior Bush officials deny being involved in the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak (see July 14, 2003 and July 17, 2003). Neither Lewis “Scooter” Libby, chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, nor Elliott Abrams, the director of Middle East affairs for the National Security Council, were involved in the leak, according to spokesmen; the same claim has been made for White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove. According to press secretary Scott McClellan, Libby “neither leaked the classified information, nor would he condone it.” The disclaimers are in response to reporters’ questions. (New York Times 10/5/2003) In 2007, the prosecution in the Libby perjury trial (see January 16-23, 2007) will enter into evidence a page of undated notes taken by Libby around this time. The notes are talking points for McClellan, and indicate that McClellan should use lines such as “I’ve talked to Libby. I’ve said it was ridiculous about Karl and it is ridiculous about Libby. Libby was not the source of the Novak story. And he did not leak classified information.” Libby’s notes also advise McClellan to say something like, “Not going to protect one staffer & sacrifice the guy the Pres that was asked to stick his neck in the meat grinder because of the incompetence of others.” Cheney has crossed out the words “the Pres,” obviously not wanting McClellan to reference President Bush (see October 4, 2003). (Office of the Vice President 9/2003 ; National Public Radio 3/7/2007)
White House press secretary Scott McClellan reiterates the White House’s stance that three senior aides—deputy chief of staff Karl Rove, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff Lewis “Scooter” Libby, and National Security Council official Elliott Abrams—bear no responsibility for leaking the identity of covert CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson to the press. McClellan has already made the same assurances before (see September 29, 2003 and October 4, 2003). During a press briefing, he is asked: “Scott, you have said that you personally went to Scooter Libby, Karl Rove, and Elliott Abrams to ask them if they were the leakers. Is that what happened? Why did you do that? And can you describe the conversations you had with them? What was the question you asked them?” McClellan replies: “Yes, unfortunately, in Washington, DC, at a time like this, there are a lot of rumors and innuendo. There are unsubstantiated accusations that are made. And that’s exactly what happened in the case of these three individuals. They’re good individuals. They’re important members of our White House team. And that’s why I spoke with them, so that I could come back to you and say that they were not involved. I had no doubt with that, in the beginning (see October 4, 2003), but I like to check my information to make sure it’s accurate before I report back to you. And that’s exactly what I did.” A reporter asks: “You’re saying, categorically, those three individuals were not the leakers or did not authorize the leaks. Is that what you’re saying?” McClellan responds: “That’s correct. I have spoken with them.” A reporter then asks, “Did the president direct you to check with those individuals and get—to find out if they were the leaker?” McClellan refuses to answer directly, but says that President Bush “wants… to get to the bottom of this matter, the sooner the better,” and touts the White House’s “full cooperation” with the Justice Department investigation. Asked the same question again, McClellan again emphasizes the White House’s cooperation with the investigation, and adds, “I think part of cooperating fully is looking into these unsubstantiated accusations that were made to make it clear to everybody that those individuals are not involved.” He gives a similar answer when asked if Bush wants someone “to individually poll senior staff members to find out who the leaker is,” and adds that no one in the White House has any more information on the matter than has been made available in the media—a blanket, if indirect, denial of any White House involvement. McClellan also notes that it would be “premature” to speculate if the White House will claim executive privilege to keep any information out of the investigation (see October 7, 2003). (Washington Transcript Service 10/7/2003)
Many legal experts are highly critical of President Bush’s recent declaration that the identity of the leaker of Valerie Plame Wilson’s CIA identity may never be known (see October 7, 2003), and the White House’s declaration that three senior aides—Karl Rove, Lewis Libby, and Elliott Abrams—are not responsible for the leak (see October 4, 2003 and October 5, 2003). They echo criticisms leveled by Senate Democrats, who say that such declarations undermine the investigation into the leak (see October 10, 2003). Not only do such statements call into question the independence of the Justice Department investigation (see September 26, 2003), the experts say, but the propriety of attempting to clear top officials before the investigation has concluded is equally questionable. Law professor Mary Cheh calls such statements “quite irregular” and says that they could have a chilling effect on the investigation. “It will take someone of considerable fortitude [in the Justice Department] to look past such statements” and investigate any of the officials, she notes. Abner Mikva, former White House counsel to President Clinton, says that despite the White House’s assurances that the three officials are innocent: “I would hope that the Justice Department will do whatever it is supposed to do anyway. But does it have a chilling effect? Sure it does.” Defense lawyer Jeralyn Merritt says if Bush claims not to know the identity of the leaker, neither he nor any White House officials can rule out the involvement of any of their personnel. “I think a special counsel would be an excellent idea,” she says. Law professor Stephen Gillers says White House press secretary Scott McClellan has no way to know if any of the three officials are innocent or guilty. If any of them are guilty, Gillers notes, they can be expected to go to great lengths to keep their participation secret. Gillers also says that Bush appears to be soft-pedaling the investigation by publicly doubting its effectiveness, even if most leak investigations do not yield the name of the leaker. Cheh says the only way the Justice Department can conduct a fair and independent investigation is if the White House ensures that the investigators are “walled off” from political considerations. (Neikirk 10/10/2003)
Congressional Democrats question whether President Bush and White House officials are trying to influence the Plame Wilson leak investigation through their comments. Recently, Bush told reporters that he doubted the person or persons who leaked CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity to the press would ever be identified (see October 7, 2003). While administration officials say Bush was just acknowledging the difficulties such an investigation presents, Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) says his comments threaten to undermine the investigation by lowering expectations. “If the president says, ‘I don’t know if we’re going to find this person,’ what kind of a statement is that for the president of the United States to make?” Lautenberg asks. “Would he say that about a bank-robbery investigation? He should be as indignant as everybody else is over this breach.” Bush, says Lautenberg, “certainly seems far less certain about finding the leaker than he is about finding Osama bin Laden or Saddam Hussein.” Plame Wilson’s husband Joseph Wilson agrees. “This goes far beyond someone identifying my wife,” he says. “This was a breach of public trust, and I would think it would behoove the president to ensure that the appropriate assets are devoted to identifying the leaker.” In contrast, White House press secretary Scott McClellan says that criticism of the investigation “appear[s] to be more about politics than about getting to the bottom of the investigation.” Democrats are also critical of the White House’s vocal opposition to the appointment of a special prosecutor to handle the investigation. And they question McClellan’s recent attempts to exonerate three administration officials—Karl Rove, Lewis Libby, and Elliott Abrams—from any responsibility for the leak (see October 4, 2003 and October 5, 2003). In a letter to Bush, four Democratic senators—Tom Daschle (D-SD), Carl Levin (D-MI), Joseph Biden (D-DE), and Charles Schumer (D-NY)—write that McClellan’s assurances are part of an overall pattern of missteps and errors surrounding the White House’s response to the leak investigation. McClellan lacks the legal expertise to question possible suspects, they note. “The White House has now put the Justice Department in the position of having to determine not only what happened, but also whether to contradict the publicly stated position of the White House,” the senators write. Justice Department spokesman Mark Corallo says that anything White House officials say has “nothing to do with this investigation. The investigation will follow the facts.” (Lichtblau 10/10/2003)
In a press conference, White House press secretary Scott McClellan once again denies that White House officials Karl Rove, Elliott Abrams, and Lewis Libby had any involvement in the Plame Wilson identity leak. A reporter asks “whether any of them told any reporter that Valerie Plame [Wilson] worked for the CIA,” and McClellan responds: “Those individuals—I talked—I spoke with those individuals, as I pointed out, and those individuals assured me they were not involved in this. And that’s where it stands.… They assured me that they were not involved in this.” (White House 10/10/2003)
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)
Veterans of the Iran-Contra scandal meet for a “lessons learned” discussion, led by Elliott Abrams. One of the conclusions drawn is that, had they done it right, they could have gotten away with it. For future covert operations, they reportedly agree that they should abide by the following axioms: “One, you can’t trust our friends. Two, the CIA has got to be totally out of it. Three, you can’t trust the uniformed military, and four, it’s got to be run out of the Vice-President’s office.” (Hersh 3/5/2007)
Newsweek reports that the Pentagon is considering a new approach to dealing with the insurgency in Iraq, one defense officials call the “Salvador Option.” During the 1980s, the US, primarily through the CIA, funded and supported paramilitary units, often called “death squads” by the citizenry and various human rights organizations which monitored their activities, in El Salvador and other Central American nations. These death squads carried out numerous assassinations and kidnappings, including the murder of four American nuns in 1980. Many US conservatives consider the Salvadoran operation a success, though many innocent Salvadorans died, some under torture, and the operation fomented the US government policies that became known collective as “Iran-Contra.” Now the Pentagon is debating whether the same tactics should be used in Iraq. “What everyone agrees is that we can’t just go on as we are,” says a senior military official. “We have to find a way to take the offensive against the insurgents. Right now, we are playing defense. And we are losing.” Another military source contends that Iraqis who sympathize with the insurgents need to be targeted: “The Sunni population is paying no price for the support it is giving to the terrorists. From their point of view, it is cost-free. We have to change that equation.” One proposal would “send [US] Special Forces teams to advise, support and possibly train Iraqi squads, most likely hand-picked Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and Shiite militiamen, to target Sunni insurgents and their sympathizers, even across the border into Syria.” Among the proposal’s supporters is Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. But other Pentagon officials are shy of running any operation that might contravene the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and prefer the CIA to run the proposed operation. And many lawmakers, Pentagon officials, and military experts are wary of expanding the role of US Special Forces operations in such a legally and morally dubious direction. They also worry about the ramifications of using Iraqi Kurds and Shi’ite militia members against Iraqi Sunnis in potential death squads, characterized by investigative reporter Robert Parry as “a prescription for civil war or genocide.” Some speculate that this operation might be one of the reasons John Negroponte was recently named US ambassador to Iraq. Negroponte served as US ambassador to Honduras during the 1980s, and many feel Negroponte was a key figure in the establishment and operations of the Central American death squads. Other Bush officials active in the Central America program include Elliott Abrams, who oversaw Central American policies at the State Department and who is now a Middle East adviser on Bush’s National Security Council staff, and Vice President Dick Cheney, who was a powerful defender of the Central American policies as a member of the House of Representatives. Negroponte denies any involvement in any such program operating in Iraq. (Hirsh and Barry 1/8/2005; Parry 1/11/2005) Christopher Dickey, a Newsweek reporter with personal experience in El Salvador during the time of the death squads, writes that he is “prepared to admit that building friendly democracies sometimes has to be a cold-blooded business in the shadowland of moral grays that is the real world,” but says that the idea of US-formed death squads in Iraq, and the corollary idea of sending US Special Forces teams into Syria and perhaps other Middle Eastern countries is not only potentially a mistake, but one that is little more than “a formalization of what’s already taking place.” Former Defense Intelligence Agency analyst and Middle East specialist Patrick Lang says, “We are, of course, already targeting enemy cadres for elimination whether by capture or death in various places including Afghanistan and Iraq.” So many Special Forces personnel are already involved in such operations, Lang says, that there is an actual shortage of Green Berets to perform their primary task: training regular Iraqi troops. The operation could benefit the US presence in two ways: helping win the hearts and minds of the ordinary citizenry by successfully eliminating insurgents, or just by making the citizenry “more frightened of [the US] than they are of the insurgents.” (Dickey 1/11/2005)
In light of the revelation that White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove was a source for a reporter in the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak (see July 10, 2005), the White House press corps grills press secretary Scott McClellan unmercifully on the entire issue. Plame Wilson will reveal a modicum of sympathy for the beleaguered McClellan, whom she will note “endured what had to be one of his hardest days on the job as reporters competed to ask the next question.” The reporters are eager to pry information out of McClellan and are exasperated at his refusal to answer questions in any depth.
Fire Rove? - One of the most probing questions involves the White House’s promise to fire anyone involved in the leak (see September 29, 2003). Asked, “Does the president stand by his pledge to fire anyone involved in the leak of a name of a CIA operative?” McClellan responds that the White House is not going to comment on an ongoing investigation, an answer the gathered reporters find less than satisfactory. “Excuse me,” the reporter continues, “but I wasn’t actually talking about any investigation. But in June of 2004, the president said that he would fire anybody who was involved in the leak. And I just want to know, is that still his position?” McClellan continues to deflect the question with the standard “refusal to comment on an ongoing investigation” line. He also refuses to answer the direct question, “Did Karl Rove commit a crime?”
McClellan Cleared Rove, Others of Culpability - Another reporter, apparently NBC’s David Gregory, asks why McClellan told reporters that Rove, along with National Security Council staffer Elliott Abrams and the chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, were definitely not involved in the leak. “[Y]ou said, ‘I’ve gone to each of those gentlemen, and they have told me they are not involved in this’—do you stand by that statement?” McClellan confirms he said that “as part of helping the investigation move forward on the investigation we’re not going to get into commenting on it. That was something I stated back near that time, as well.” The reporter calls McClellan’s response “ridiculous,” and says: “The notion that you’re going to stand before us after having commented with that level of detail and tell people watching this that somehow you decided not to talk. You’ve got a public record out there. Do you stand by your remarks from that podium, or not?” When McClellan says he will go into further detail “at the appropriate time,” Gregory interjects, “Why are you choosing when it’s appropriate and when it’s inappropriate?” McClellan begins, “If you’ll let me finish—” and Gregory cuts him off, saying: “No, you’re not finishing—you’re not saying anything. You stand at that podium and said that Karl Rove was not involved. And now we find out that he spoke out about Joseph Wilson’s wife. So don’t you owe the American public a fuller explanation? Was he involved, or was he not? Because, contrary to what you told the American public, he did, indeed, talk about [Wilson’s] wife, didn’t he?” McClellan continues to refuse to answer. Later in the conference, he is asked if “you will be consistent with your word and the president’s word that anybody who was involved would be let go?” McClellan says he “will be glad to talk about it at that point.”
Ordered to Stop Talking? - Another reporter, following up on Gregory’s relentless questioning, asks: “When did they ask you to stop commenting on it, Scott? Can you peg down a date?” McClellan answers vaguely, “Back in that time period.” The reporter then notes that “the president commented on it nine months later (see June 10, 2004). So was he not following the White House plan?” Again, McClellan refuses to answer. Another reporter tries a different tack, asking, “Can you walk us through why, given the fact that Rove’s lawyer has spoken publicly about this, it is inconsistent with the investigation, that it compromises the investigation to talk about the involvement of Karl Rove?” McClellan answers that “those overseeing the investigation expressed a preference to us that we not get into commenting on the investigative side while it’s ongoing.”
When Did Bush Know? - McClellan is asked bluntly, “When did the president learn that Karl Rove had—” to which McClellan interrupts with, “I’ve responded to that question.”
Changing the Subject - McClellan then calls on Raghubar Goyal of the India Times, who he is sure will ask a foreign policy question having nothing to do with Rove or Plame Wilson. He manages to keep the subject more or less off of Rove for the remainder of the conference. Plame Wilson will recall, “I almost felt sorry for McClellan, who was perspiring and had that deer-in-the-headlights look to him.” (White House 7/11/2005; Wilson 2007, pp. 223-227)
Change in Media Focus - After this press conference, as Plame Wilson will note, the press begins issuing far more skeptical reports on the leak and its investigation, depending less on White House spin about the Wilsons’ supposed culpability and zeroing in on the roles of Rove, Libby, and other White House officials. Plame Wilson will recall that for the first time, the pressure was easing off of them and being refocused onto the White House. (Wilson 2007, pp. 227-228)
McClellan: Press Conference 'Brutal,' 'Humiliating' - McClellan will later characterize the press conference as “brutal.” He calls NBC’s Gregory “mocking” when Gregory asks whether he still stands by his old assertions of no involvement by Rove (see September 29, 2003), Lewis Libby (see October 4, 2003), and Elliott Abrams (see October 5, 2003). ABC’s Terry Moran is incredulous that McClellan would try to hide behind a refusal to “comment on an ongoing investigation.” McClellan will later write, “Eventually, long after leaving the White House, I came to see that standing in front of the speeding press bus in those days had much more to do with protecting the president and the White House from further political embarrassment than respecting the sanctity of the investigation.” McClellan will reflect that it was during this press conference, as he felt his “reputation crumbling away, bit by bit,” that he began to lose his “affection for the job.” He will write: “The ridicule I received that day and the following ones, though dispiriting and humiliating, was justified, given what I had previously said. Since my hands were tied (see July 10, 2005), about all I could do was go into a defensive crouch.” After the conference, McClellan receives a brief verbal apology from Rove. McClellan will write, “It’s clear to me, Karl was only concerned about protecting himself from possible legal action and preventing his many critics from bringing him down.” (McClellan 2008, pp. 260-261)
Concerned that the balance of power in the Middle East has tilted in favor of Shiite-dominated Iran, the Bush administration implements a major shift in its policy toward the region. According to a number of current and former high-level government officials interviewed by reporter Seymour Hersh, the focus of the new policy is to roll back Iran’s growing influence in Iraq. The administration’s top concern is that the failure of its policy in Iraq has empowered Iran. To undermine Iranian influence, the Bush administration begins supporting clandestine operations in Lebanon, Iran, and Syria. The administration avoids disclosing these operations to Congress by skirting congressional reporting requirements and by running them through the Saudis. The White House is also turning a blind eye to Saudi support for religious schools and charities linked to Islamic extremists. “A by-product of these activities has been the bolstering of Sunni extremist groups that espouse a militant vision of Islam and are hostile to America and sympathetic to al-Qaeda,” Hersh notes. One former senior intelligence official explains to Hersh, “We are in a program to enhance the Sunni capability to resist Shiite influence, and we’re spreading the money around as much as we can.” The official adds that the money “always gets in more pockets than you think it will. In this process, we’re financing a lot of bad guys with some serious potential unintended consequences. We don’t have the ability to determine and get pay vouchers signed by the people we like and avoid the people we don’t like.” Much of the money used to finance these activities became available as a result of the budgetary chaos in Iraq, where billions of dollars are unaccounted for. A Pentagon consultant tells Hersh, “There are many, many pots of black money, scattered in many places and used all over the world on a variety of missions.” Hersh reports that according to his sources, the US is providing large sums of cash to the Sunni government of Lebanon, which in turn is being funneled to emerging Sunni radical groups in northern Lebanon, the Bekaa Valley, and around Palestinian refugee camps in the south. “These groups, though small, are seen as a buffer to Hezbollah; at the same time, their ideological ties are with al-Qaeda,” Hersh writes. Another group receiving support is the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, a radical Sunni group that is an avowed enemy of the US and Israel. The “Redirection” is reportedly being led by Vice President Dick Cheney, Deputy National Security Adviser Elliott Abrams, former Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad, and Saudi Arabia National Security Adviser Prince Bandar bin Sultan. The clandestine activities are said to be guided by Cheney. Critics of the White House’s new policy compare it to other times Western state-powers have backed Islamic militants, such as when the CIA supported the mujahedeen against the Soviets in Afghanistan during the 1980s (see 1986-1992). The “blowback” from that policy included the creation of al-Qaeda. Vali Nasr, a senior fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations, notes another instance: “The last time Iran was a threat, the Saudis were able to mobilize the worst kinds of Islamic radicals. Once you get them out of the box, you can’t put them back.” (Democracy Now! 2/28/2007; Hersh 3/5/2007; Cooper 12/13/2007)
Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the former Saudi Arabian ambassador to Washington and now King Abdullah’s national security adviser, makes several trips to Washington and holds meetings with Elliott Abrams, the senior Middle East official on the National Security Council. It has been suggested that the visits relate to the White House’s new Mideast policy “redirection,” aimed at undercutting Iranian influence in the region (see Late 2006). Bandar’s actions reportedly upsets Prince Turki bin Faisal, the current Saudi ambassador to the US, prompting him to quit his post (see December 11, 2006). (Harnden 1/10/2007)
President Bush signs a “nonlethal presidential finding” authorizing a CIA plan that will use propaganda, disinformation, and manipulation of Iran’s currency and international financial transactions to destabilize the country’s government. According to unnamed officials interviewed by ABC, the covert “black” operation is designed to force Iran into abandoning its nuclear enrichment program and aid to insurgents in Iraq. The plan is reported to have the fingerprints of both National Security Adviser Steve Hadley and Deputy National Security Adviser Elliott Abrams. Current and former intelligence officials tell ABC that Bush’s approval of the plan is an indication that the White House, for the time being, has decided not to take military action against Iran. “Presidential finding” are reported to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and other key congressional leaders. Vali Nasr, adjunct senior fellow for Mideast studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, says the operation could potentially provoke a larger confrontation. “And this covert action is now being escalated by the new US directive, and that can very quickly lead to Iranian retaliation and a cycle of escalation can follow,” he says. (Ross and Esposito 5/23/2007)
Jon Scott and Jane Skinner, hosts of Fox News’s “straight news” program Happening Now (see October 13, 2009), air selectively edited clips of President Obama to give the false impression that he has singled out the US for criticism during a trip to France. The segment hinges on an upcoming trip by Obama to Europe and the Middle East. Scott asks if “the president’s upcoming trip [will] be what conservatives might call another apology tour”; in teasing Scott’s segment, Skinner raises the same point. Both Scott and Skinner then air cropped clips from Obama’s April 2009 visit to France. During his April speech, Obama both praised and criticized actions taken by the US, and criticized anti-American sentiment in Europe. However, Scott and Skinner air carefully selected portions of the speech to give impetus to their contention that Obama only criticized the US during his time in France. Fellow Fox News host Sean Hannity has suggested that Obama embarked on a “blame America first” visit and “apology tour.” On-air text and graphics illustrate the “apology tour” contention. Neither Scott nor Skinner inform their audience that in the same speech, Obama criticized Europe and praised the US. Guest Elliott Abrams, the convicted Iran-Contra conspirator (see October 7, 1991), advises Obama “to stop apologizing for our country,” and adds that Obama is making a mistake in spending time talking to Muslims during the trip. (Media Matters 6/2/2009)
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