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Ahmed Chalabi, the charismatic, MIT-educated head of Jordan’s Petra Bank, flees to London before charges can be filed against him in regards to the collapse of his bank (see August 2, 1989 and April 9, 1992). Unworried about the Jordanian charges, Chalabi, whose formerly wealthy family fled Iraq in 1958, establishes a loose grouping of Iraqi exiles called the Iraqi National Congress, with the aim of overthrowing Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Chalabi has already forged ties with some US neoconservatives like Albert Wohlstetter and Richard Perle. Now he begins cultivating ties with other influential neoconservatives such as Paul Wolfowitz, James Woolsey, Douglas Feith, and Perle’s protege, David Wurmser. Chalabi makes the rounds of the symposia and conferences, and wins new allies in pro-Israeli think tanks such as the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) and the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP). Chalabi’s appeal to the neoconservatives is directly linked to his support for Israel as a regional power. The new Iraq he will build, he promises, will have strong relations with Israel. He even declares his intention to rebuild the oil pipeline from Kirkuk to Haifa, which has been inoperative since the 1940s. The neoconservatives ignore his close ties with the Iranian Shi’ite theocracy, as well as the Petra Bank’s funding of the Lebanese Shi’ite militia Amal. Instead, the neoconservatives view Chalabi as a potential savior of the Middle East. Patrick Clawson of WINEP says, “He could be Iraq’s national leader.” (Unger 2007, pp. 123-125)
President George H. W. Bush signs a covert “lethal finding” authorizing the CIA to spend a hundred million dollars to “create the conditions for removal of Saddam Hussein from power.” (Mayer 6/7/2004) The CIA forms the Iraqi Opposition Group within its Directorate of Operations to implement this policy. (Ritter 2005, pp. 128) Awash in cash, the agency hires the Rendon Group to influence global political opinion on matters related to Iraq. According to Francis Brooke, an employee of the company who’s paid $22,000 per month, the Rendon Group’s contract with the CIA provides it with a ten percent “management fee” on top of whatever money it spends. “We tried to burn through $40 million a year,” Brooke will tell the New Yorker. “It was a very nice job.” The work involves planting false stories in the foreign press. The company begins supplying British journalists with misinformation which then shows up in the London press. In some cases, these stories are later picked up by the American press, in violation of laws prohibiting domestic propaganda. “It was amazing how well it worked. It was like magic,” Brooke later recalls. Another one of the company’s tasks is to help the CIA create a viable and unified opposition movement against Saddam Hussein (see June 1992). This brings the Rendon Group and Francis Brooke into contact with Iraqi exile Ahmed Chalabi (see After May 1991). The CIA will soon help Chalabi and Rendon create the Iraqi National Congress (INC) to further the goal of toppling Hussein. (Mayer 6/7/2004) Author and intelligence expert James Bamford will later say, “Chalabi was a creature of American propaganda to a large degree. It was an American company, the Rendon Group, that—working secretly with the CIA—basically created his organization, the Iraqi National Congress. And put Chalabi in charge basically.… From the very beginning Chalabi was paid a lot of money from the US taxpayers. The CIA paid him originally about 350,000 dollars a month, to Chalabi and his organization.” (Moyers 4/25/2007)
Over a period of four years, the CIA’s Iraq Operation Group provides the Iraqi National Congress (INC) with $100 million, which the organization uses to set up training camps and propaganda operations in Northern Iraq. (Murphy 6/15/2004; Ritter 2005, pp. 128) During this time span, INC leader Ahmed Chalabi allegedly misuses a lot of the funds. “There was a lot of hanky-panky with the accounting: triple billing, things that weren’t mentioned, things inflated.… It was a nightmare,” a US intelligence official who works with Chalabi will say in 2004. (Hosenball and Hirsh 4/5/2004) Chalabi refuses to share the organization’s books with other members of the INC, and even with the US government itself. According to a former CIA officer, “[T]hey argued that it would breach the secrecy of the operation.” One night, government investigators break into the INC’s offices to do an audit. They find that although the books are in order, many of the group’s expenditures are wasteful. (Mayer 6/7/2004) Chalabi spends much of his time in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq. Robert Baer, a CIA officer who is also working in Iraq, later recalls: “He was like the American Ambassador to Iraq. He could get to the White House and the CIA. He would move around Iraq with five or six Land Cruisers.” Hundreds of thousands of dollars flow “to this shadowy operator—in cars, salaries—and it was just a Potemkin village. He was reporting no intel; it was total trash. The INC’s intelligence was so bad, we weren’t even sending it in.” Chalabi tries to portray Saddam Hussein’s regime as “a leaking warehouse of gas, and all we had to do was light a match,” Baer says. Chalabi, at certain points, claims to know about Iraqi troop movements and palace plans. But “there was no detail, no sourcing—you couldn’t see it on a satellite.” (Mayer 6/7/2004) In her 2007 book Fair Game, former CIA analyst Valerie Plame Wilson, an expert on Iraq’s WMD programs, describes Chalabi as “Machiavellian,” and blames him for sending “dozens of tantalizing but ultimately false leads into the CIA net.” (Wilson 2007, pp. 106-107)
The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), headed by Masud Barzani, and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), headed by Jalal Talabani, meet in Vienna along with nearly 200 delegates from dozens of Iraqi opposition groups to form an umbrella organization for Iraqi dissident groups. (Federation of American Scientists 8/8/1998; Mayer 6/7/2004) The event is organized by the Rendon Group, which has been contracted by the CIA to organize the wide spectrum of Iraqi dissidents into a unified movement against Saddam Hussein. Rendon names the group the “Iraqi National Congress” (INC). The CIA pays the Rendon Group $326,000 per month for the work, funneled to the company and the INC through various front organizations. (ABC 2/7/1998; Cockburn 5/20/2004; Bamford 11/17/2005 Sources: Unnamed former CIA operative) Thomas Twetten, the CIA’s deputy directorate of operations, will later recall: “The INC was clueless. They needed a lot of help and didn’t know where to start.” (Foer 5/20/2002; Bamford 2004, pp. 296-297) Rendon hires freelance journalist Paul Moran and Zaab Sethna as contract employees to do public relations and “anti-Saddam propaganda” for the new organization. (Hoskings 7/23/2003)
Prominent Shiite Iraqi opposition groups join the Iraqi National Congress, a creation of the CIA (see June 1992), and hold a meeting in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq where they select a three-man leadership council and a 26-member executive council. The three leaders include moderate Shiite Muslim cleric Muhammad Bahr al-Ulum; ex-Iraqi general Hasan Naqib; and Masud Barzani. Ahmed Chalabi, who is reportedly not at all popular among the exiles present, is somehow selected to chair the executive council. This event represents the first major attempt to bring together the many different groups in Iraq opposed to Saddam Hussein. (Federation of American Scientists 8/8/1998; Mayer 6/7/2004)
After founding the Iraqi National Congress (INC), Ahmed Chalabi approaches the CIA for help in overthrowing Saddam Hussein. The agency, hoping Chalabi can provide useful intelligence, gives the organization millions of dollars to set up a “forgery shop” inside an abandoned schoolhouse in the Kurdish town of Salahuddin. The INC promptly sets about creating phony mockups of Iraqi newspapers filled with stories of Hussein’s abuses. “It was something like a spy novel,” CIA agent Robert Baer will later recall. “It was a room where people were scanning Iraqi intelligence documents into computers, and doing disinformation. There was a whole wing of it that he did forgeries in.… He was forging back then, in order to bring down Saddam.” Carla Bonini, an Italian reporter, will later recall: “When I visited [Chalabi] in London, he told me, ‘You can have anything you want.’ It was like a shopping mall for intelligence.” Bonini quickly learns that Chalabi’s information, although often sensational, is virtually useless. None of it can be independently confirmed, and most of it turns out to be fabrications. One of the documents fabricated by the INC is a copy of a purported letter to Chalabi from President Clinton’s National Security Council. The letter requests Chalabi’s help in a plot to assassinate Saddam Hussein. Baer believes Chalabi’s intent is to trick the Iranians into believing that the Americans will kill Hussein, thus inspiring them into joining a plot against the dictator. According to Francis Brooke, a Rendon Group employee working with the INC, Chalabi did not create the forged letter. “That would be illegal,” he says. (Mayer 6/7/2004; Unger 2007, pp. 125)
Ahmed Chalabi creates a militia army of about 1,000 fighters in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq and bribes tribal leaders in the city of Mosul to support a planned rebellion against Saddam Hussein (see November 1993). He is also hosting members of Iranian intelligence who promise that when the operation is launched, Iran will simultaneously hit Iraq from the south. But the CIA learns that Baathist officials have caught wind of the plot and the CIA instructs agent Robert Baer to tell Chalabi that “any decision to proceed will be on your own.” Chalabi, who has no military experience, decides to go through with the plot anyway. But the operation quickly flounders when over 100 INC fighters are killed by Iraqi forces, many more of Chalabi’s fighters desert, the bribed Iraqi tribal leaders stay home, and the Iranians do nothing. The CIA is furious that it funded the operation, which becomes known within the agency as the “Bay of Goats.” (Cockburn 5/20/2004; Mayer 6/7/2004; Unger 2007, pp. 126) CENTCOM commander General Anthony Zinni has similar feelings. “It got me pretty angry,” he recalls. “They were saying if you put a thousand troops on the ground, Saddam’s regime will collapse, they won’t fight. I said, ‘I fly over them every day, and they shoot at us. We hit them, and they shoot at us again. No way a thousand forces would end it.’ The exile group was giving them inaccurate information. Their scheme was ridiculous.” Zinni had warned Congress that Chalabi’s invasion plan was “pie in the sky, a fairy tale,” but was ignored. (Unger 2007, pp. 160-161)
After the failed coup attempt in Iraq (see March 1995), Ahmed Chalabi comes to Washington to lobby the US government to pursue a policy of regime change. Chalabi sets up shop in a million-dollar brick row house in Georgetown, owned by Levantine Holdings, a Chalabi family corporation based in Luxembourg. The house will serve as both the Iraqi National Congress’ Washington headquarters and as Chalabi’s home. Francis Brooke, Chalabi’s aide, and Brooke’s family will live in the house for free. (Quinn 11/24/2003; Mayer 6/7/2004) Brooke is reportedly a devout Christian who, the New Yorker reports, “has brought an evangelical ardor to the cause of defeating Saddam.” Brooke tells the magazine: “I do have a religious motivation for doing what I do. I see Iraq as our neighbor. And the Bible says, when your neighbor is in a ditch, God means for you to help him.” (Mayer 6/7/2004) Brooke believes that Saddam Hussein is of such an evil nature, that even the most extreme measures would be justified to remove him. Charles Glass of Harper’s will report that Brooke “says he would support the elimination of Saddam, even if every single Iraqi were killed in the process. He means it. ‘I’m coming from a place different from you…. I believe in good and evil. That man is absolute evil and must be destroyed.’… He says he believes in Jesus and in resurrection and in eternity. If all the Iraqis die, he says, they will live in eternity. But the ‘human Satan’ must go, no matter what.” (Cockburn 5/20/2004) As part of their lobbying strategy, Chalabi and Brookes examine the successes of various American Jewish lobby groups. “We knew we had to create a domestic constituency with some electoral clout, so we decided to use the AIPAC [American Israel Political Action Committee] model,” Brooke later the New Yorker. (Mayer 6/7/2004)
The CIA—concerned about Chalabi’s contacts with Iran and convinced that he is not capable of delivering on his promises—severs its ties with him and the Iraqi National Congress. (ABC 2/7/1998; Mayer 6/7/2004; Murphy 6/15/2004) Former CIA base chief Robert Baer recalls in 2006 that “[t]he quality” of the INC’s intelligence “was very bad. There was a feeling that Chalabi was prepping defectors. We had no systematic way to vet the information, but it was obvious most of it was cooked.” (Fairweather 4/2006)
One of the Kurdish groups within the Iraqi National Congress (INC) invites Iraqi forces into Kurdistan to crush a rival faction allied with Chalabi. Saddam Hussein sends 40,000 Iraqi soldiers and 300 tanks into the Kurdish city of Irbil. Saddam’s forces capture, torture, and kill hundreds of Chalabi’s followers and some INC officials. At this time, Chalabi is in London. The Clinton administration eventually evacuates 7,000 supporters. (ABC 2/7/1998; Borger 2/22/2002; Dreyfuss 11/18/2002; Mayer 6/7/2004) A few years later, Chalabi and his aide, Francis Brooke, will help ABC News produce a documentary that puts the blame on the CIA. (ABC 2/7/1998)
Ahmed Chalabi suggests in an interview with the Jerusalem Post that if the INC is successful in its efforts to topple Saddam Hussein’s government, the new government will restore the oil pipeline from Kirkuk, Iraq to Haifa, Israel. The pipeline has been inoperative since the state of Israel was established in 1948. (Mayer 6/7/2004)
The Committee for Peace and Security in the Gulf (CPSG), a bipartisan group made up largely of foreign policy specialists, sends an “Open Letter to the President” calling for President Clinton to use the US military to help Iraqi opposition groups overthrow Saddam Hussein and replace him with a US-friendly government. US law forbids such an operation. The group is led by, among others, former Representative Stephen Solarz (D-NY) and prominent Bush adviser Richard Perle, a former assistant secretary of defense.
Largely Neoconservative in Makeup - Many of its co-signers will become the core of the Bush administration’s neoconservative-driven national security apparatus. These co-signers include Elliott Abrams, Richard Armitage, John Bolton, Stephen Bryen, Douglas Feith, Frank Gaffney, Fred Ikle, Robert Kagan, Zalmay Khalilzad, William Kristol, Michael Ledeen, Bernard Lewis, Peter Rodman, Donald Rumsfeld, Gary Schmitt, Max Singer, Casper Weinberger, Paul Wolfowitz, David Wurmser, and Dov Zakheim. (CNN 2/20/1998; 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)
Weapons inspectors with the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) report finding evidence that Iraq put VX nerve toxin into missile warheads before the 1991 Gulf War. Iraq has denied being able to make a weapon using VX payloads. The evidence comes from a classified US Army laboratory analysis of warhead fragments recovered by UNSCOM inspectors from a destruction pit at Taji, Iraq, in March 1998. Swabs from the warheads analyzed for the UN at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland showed “significant amounts” of degraded “VX disulfide… and stabilizer” in the samples, according to the UN. The laboratory results seem to confirm suspicions raised by Iraqi defectors and other sources, which indicated that Iraq, contrary to its claims, had indeed succeeded in stabilizing and weaponizing VX nerve gas. VX is an intensely lethal compound; using such nerve toxin in a missile attack would potentially inflict large casualties on the targeted population. The discovery also lends credence to suspicions that Iraq has intentionally misled inspectors about its weapons of mass destruction. Iraq has refused to admit that it ever created weaponized VX or that it deployed the nerve toxin in missile warheads. (Hoagland and Loeb 6/23/1998; Ritter 3/17/2008)
Leaked by INC - The Aberdeen report is leaked to the Washington Post through officials at the Iraqi National Congress (INC), which the Post will describe as “the principal Iraqi exile opposition group.” Diplomatic sources later confirm the findings, and US government officials will not dispute the conclusion.
Used to Criticize Clinton Administration - The report gives fresh ammunition to conservative Republicans seeking to target the Clinton administration for what they see as its failure to strongly support UNSCOM weapons inspections and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) will write in response to the report, “The latest example of a failed policy toward Iraq will not be swept under the rug.” Lott will write that he and other Republicans may use the issue to derail the Senate confirmations of US ambassador to the UN Richard Holbrooke and Energy Secretary Bill Richardson.
Republican Official: Iraqis 'Lied from the Start' - INC president Ahmed Chalabi will call the report “a smoking gun,” and add: “It shows that Saddam is still lying, and that this whole arrangement based on his turning his weapons of terror over to the United Nations is not workable. He has stabilized VX, which means he can store it for a long time and bring it out for use when he wants.” A Republican Senate official adds: “This report means that they have VX out there now, and can use it. They have lied from from the start.” (Hoagland and Loeb 6/23/1998)
Press Leak Alters UNSCOM Reaction - UNSCOM chief Richard Butler’s plans to announce a “major breakthrough” in diplomatic negotiations with Iraq are scuttled when the Post reports on the VX lab test results. The story focuses not just on the fact that traces of VX were found in Iraqi warheads, but on the harsh criticisms leveled by Lott and other Republicans. The Post writes: “The new indications of Iraqi deception also are likely to reverberate in US politics, where conservative Republicans are increasingly critical of what they see as a failure by the Clinton administration to support strongly either aggressive UNSCOM inspections for Iraqi weapons of mass destruction or efforts to overthrow Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.” (Ritter 3/17/2008)
Report Disproven - Further research will disprove the Aberdeen test results, and conclude that Iraq had not, in fact, packed warheads with VX nerve toxin (see July 1998).
David Wurmser says that having a region in northern Iraq controlled by the Iraqi National Congress would provide the missing piece to complete an anti-Syria, anti-Iran block. “If Ahmed [Chalabi] extends a no-fly, no-drive in northern Iraq, it puts scuds out of the range of Israel and provides the geographic beachhead between Turkey, Jordan and Israel,” Wurmser says. “This should anchor the Middle East pro-Western coalition.” (Gitell 7/31/2003)
UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter attempts to leak a confidential United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) report on Iraq’s production of VX nerve agent to the American press (see June 10, 1998). The attempt spirals into an effort by Ahmed Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress (INC—see 1992-1996) to recruit Ritter’s help in crafting a plan for Chalabi’s INC, with American assistance, to overthrow Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and place Chalabi in control. Ritter becomes aware of a report from a US military laboratory that proves in 1991 Iraq had manufactured VX nerve agent and deployed it in missile warheads. The Iraqis have admitted to attempting to produce the deadly toxin, but have long insisted that they were never successful in producing weaponized VX. Although there is no reason to believe that Iraq retains active VX from its former chemical weapons program, UNSCOM officials are furious about having been lied to for years by the Iraqis. UNSCOM chief Richard Butler, involved in delicate negotiations with the Iraqi government on developing a “road map” for addressing numerous outstanding issues between Iraq and the UN, decides to keep the report under wraps. UNSCOM officials are even more outraged at Butler’s decision; many believe that Butler is acquiescing to Clinton administration officials who want to avoid a confrontation with Iraq and the UN. When Ritter offers to leak the document in Washington in such a way that would not be traced to the UNSCOM officials who have seen the report, they quickly slip him a copy of the report, and Ritter prepares to fly to Washington.
First Meeting with Chalabi - Ritter is already scheduled to meet with CIA officials about other intelligence support programs. He calls Randy Scheunemann, the national security adviser for Senator Trent Lott (R-MS), the Senate Majority Leader, and sets up a meeting to, as Ritter will later write, “discuss some new developments” regarding the Iraqis. Scheunemann agrees, and asks if Ritter would be willing to meet with Chalabi at Chalabi’s Georgetown townhouse. Ritter is nonplussed at the request, but decides that since he had already discussed Iraqi weapons of mass destruction with Chalabi in a meeting authorized by Butler (see January 27, 1998), this Georgetown meeting could be construed as a legitimate followup. Ritter agrees. Upon arriving at Washington’s National Airport, he is met by Chalabi’s driver, who takes him to Georgetown. Chalabi presents Ritter with what Ritter will later recall as “an ambitious program, including briefings to senators and their staffs.” The meeting lasts well into the night, and Ritter agrees to stay overnight in a guest room.
Leaking the Report - The next day, Ritter meets with the CIA and then with Scheunemann. Ritter gives Scheunemann the UNSCOM report and explains its significance. “If it could find its way into the press in a way that removed any UNSCOM fingerprints, this would be ideal,” he tells Scheunemann. “That way the data remains uncompromised, and yet politically Butler and the White House can’t ignore it.” Scheunemann says with a smile, “I think we can manage that.”
'The Chalabi Factor' - Scheunemann then takes Ritter to meet Lott, who seems more interested in Ritter’s interactions with Chalabi than in the report. “I hope you take some time to talk with him, and some other interesting people I think you will be meeting with” Lott tells Ritter. “Exchange ideas. See if you can help him in any way. We’re all on the same side here, and we have to start finding ways to break down some barriers others have constructed between us.” Ritter returns to Chalabi’s home, where he meets with Francis Brooke, Chalabi’s principal American adviser, and Max Singer, a conservative foreign policy expert who specializes in what Ritter will term “political warfare.” Scheunemann has asked Singer to write a paper called “The Chalabi Factor” that touts Chalabi as the man to lead a revolution that would result in the ouster of Hussein. Chalabi asked Singer to share the paper with Ritter. Singer has sketched out a scenario that envisions Chalabi and INC fighters capturing the southern oil fields around Basra, giving the INC a political and military foothold inside Iraq, and then rallying disenchanted Shi’ites and Kurds into supporting his insurgency. Ritter later recalls: “I was somewhat taken aback by the content of the Singer paper. I was on dangerous political ground here, a UN weapons inspector charged with the disarmament of Iraq, suddenly dabbling in the world of regime change. Far from advising me on issues of intelligence regarding Iraqi WMD, Ahmed Chalabi had turned the tables and had me advising him on how to overthrow Saddam Hussein.” The three are soon joined by Chalabi and Stephen Rademaker, the lawyer for the House Foreign Affairs Committee and, as Ritter later describes him, an unabashed member of the far right and a Chalabi supporter. The conversation does not center on arms control, as Ritter had originally planned to discuss, but regime change. The others are uninterested in Ritter’s suggestion that pressure be brought to bear on the Hussein regime over the VX discovery. “[W]e all know Saddam is cheating, and that his days are numbered,” Rademaker says. “What we don’t have is a plan on what we are going to do once Saddam is out of office. Mr. Chalabi represents our best hopes in that regard, which is why we’re delighted that you and he are meeting like this.”
Handling the Ba'athists - Ritter tells the others that the Shi’ites and Kurds cannot be treated as “homogeneous movement[s],” but as loose, fractious amalgamations of disparate elements. He then asks: “The key to me is what is missing here: any discussion of the Ba’ath Party or the Sunni tribes. The Ba’ath Party is the only vehicle that exists in Iraq today that unites Sunnis, Shi’a and Kurds alike. It makes modern Iraq function. How do you plan on dealing with the Ba’ath Party in a post-Saddam environment? And what is your plan for winning over the Sunni tribes? How will you bring the tribes that represent the foundation of Saddam’s political support into the fold with your Kurdish and Shi’a supporters?” As Ritter later writes: “Steve Rademaker and Francis Brooke stared blankly. Chalabi was grinning ear to ear. ‘We have a plan. First, we will do away completely with the Baath Party. Those minor members who were forced to join out of survival, of course, they will be allowed to retain their jobs. But anyone who profited from Baathist rule will be punished. As for the Sunni tribes, we are already in contact with their representatives. We feel that the best way to negotiate with them, however, is to make them realize that there is no future with Saddam. Once they realize that, they will come over to our side.’ Chalabi’s ‘plan’ struck me as simplistic at best, and entirely unrealistic.”
The Downing Plan - In answer to Ritter’s questions about defeating the Iraqi military—the large Iraqi Army, the well-trained Republican Guard and other security forces—Chalabi shows Ritter a document, “The Military Plan.” Chalabi says: “This was written for me by Gen. Wayne Downing. I believe you know him from Operation Desert Storm.” Downing had been a Special Forces commander during the 1991 Gulf War; Ritter had worked with Downing’s unit in preventing Iraqi missile launches at Israel (see January 17, 1991). Downing has crafted a plan (see Late 1998) that calls for the US to train and arm several thousand INC fighters who would operate out of bases in western Iraq, out of Hussein’s control. They would fight from light vehicles armed with anti-tank missile launchers, and would rely on support from local tribes in the area, particularly the al-Duleimi in and around Ramadi and Anbar. Ritter is dubious, knowing that the al-Duleimi have provided many of Hussein’s best soldiers. Chalabi is unworried about their support, and tells Ritter, “My people have already had discussions with the tribal leaders of the al-Duleimi, who are ready to join us once we get situated on the ground.” Ritter then objects to Downing’s inclusion of US military advisers and US warplanes, both directly supporting and perhaps even fighting alongside the INC troops. “We don’t operate like that,” Ritter objects. “If we have forces on the ground, then we’ll need to have a base, with a base support element, and base security, and a quick-reaction force in case some of our boys get in trouble. The US presence would have to be much greater than what you’re saying here.” Chalabi merely smiles. “That may be so,” he says, “but we don’t have to highlight it at this time.” Ritter later observes: “The ‘Downing Plan’ was a nice bit of trickery, plotting what was ostensibly an Iraqi opposition military force with minor US military involvement, but masking what was in reality a much larger US military effort with a minor role played by Chalabi’s INC ‘army.’” Ritter is now thoroughly alarmed.
'My Friend Ahmed' - The small group is joined by Danielle Pletka, Rademaker’s wife and a staunchly conservative staffer on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and former CIA director James Woolsey. Over dinner, the group moves from discussing the military plans for overthrowing Hussein to a broader discussion of Chalabi’s political future. Woolsey, a vocal supporter of Chalabi, has no patience with the CIA’s objections to earlier actions by Chalabi and the INC (see January 1996). “This [criticism] is all bunk,” Woolsey says. “Chalabi is an Iraqi patriot and visionary who intimidates many lesser thinkers in Langley. My friend Ahmed is a risk taker who understands the reality of Iraq, unlike the desk-bound analysts and risk-averse operators at the CIA. Chalabi scares these people, so they have created false accusations in order to denigrate him and ultimately destroy him.” Pletka agrees: “We cannot allow this to happen. Ahmed Chalabi has many friends in Congress, and it is our goal to make sure Ahmed Chalabi gets the support he needs to not only survive as a viable opposition figure to Saddam Hussein but more importantly to prevail in Iraq.” Ritter is increasingly uncomfortable with what he will later call “a political strategy session.” It is clear, Ritter will write, “that Chalabi was being groomed for another run at power” (see March 1995).
Recruitment - According to Ritter, Chalabi suggests that Ritter would be very helpful to his organization, and Chalabi could be helpful to Ritter in return. “I have many friends here in Washington,” Chalabi says over breakfast. “With what you know about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, you can be of invaluable assistance to our cause. The VX story is but the tip of the iceberg.” Ritter will describe himself as “taken aback,” since he never told Chalabi about the VX lab report. Ritter replies: “Well, I am just a simple weapons inspector. In any event, it wouldn’t go over well back at the UN to have an UNSCOM inspector plotting regime change down in Washington, DC.” Then, locking eyes with Chalabi, Ritter says: “This is why you must be very discreet about the VX lab report. It simply won’t do for you to have your fingerprints on this information.” Chalabi smilingly replies: “I understand completely. As for your status as a weapons inspector, you must understand that those days are nearly gone. The inspection process has run its course. You need to think about what you are going to be doing in the future. I would like you to work for me.” Ritter objects, noting that an American citizen can’t be involved in plots to overthrow heads of foreign nations. Chalabi corrects Ritter: “You wouldn’t be working for me, but for the US Senate. My friends would create an advisory position for you, and you would in turn advise me. It wouldn’t pay much upfront. But don’t worry. One day I will be the president of Iraq, and will be in control of Iraq’s oil. When that day comes, I will not forget those who helped me in my time of need. Let’s just say that my friends will be given certain oil concessions that will make them very wealthy.”
Meeting with the Senator - Chalabi’s butler drives Ritter to meet with Pletka at the Capitol Building; the two go to the office of Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS), who is fully aware of the VX lab report. Brownback is angry that the Clinton administration is reluctant to fully assist the UNSCOM inspectors. “This will not stand,” he tells Ritter. “Believe me when I say you and your colleagues have friends here in the US Senate who will make sure America honors its commitments and obligations, especially when it comes to disarming a cruel tyrant such as Saddam Hussein.” Afterwards, Ritter and Pletka are joined by Rademaker in the Senate cafeteria, who says he has the ear of several influential Congressmen. “We’ve got their attention,” Rademaker says, “and I think you’ll find that serious pressure will be brought on the Clinton administration to better support your work.” Pletka and Ritter then meet Lott and Scheunemann again; Scheunemann once again asks Ritter for his future collaboration. Lott reassures Ritter that there would be no legal or ethical conflicts: “Well, maybe we can find a way to bring you down here working for us. That might be the most useful thing to do.” Leaving the Senate building, Ritter muses that “Chalabi’s schemes seemed to have some substance behind them.”
Long-Term Ramifications - Butler will drastically revise his report to the UN Security Council, and the news of a “major breakthrough” in disarmament work with the Iraqis is shelved. The Clinton administration will issue statesments publicly supporting the UNSCOM inspectors, undercutting behind-the-scenes attempts by National Security Adviser Sandy Berger and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to have the US pull back from blanket support of the inspections. Conservative Republicans will rally around the cause of Iraqi duplicity; Scheunemann will use the VX report to drum up support for the Iraqi Liberation Act, which will pass several months after Ritter’s dinner with Chalabi (see October 31, 1998). And Chalabi and the INC will become the leading candidates for replacing Hussein. Reflecting on Chalabi’s prominence in the Post report, Ritter will write, “After watching the Republicans build up Chalabi, I should have known that they could not have passed up this opportunity to interject his name into the limelight.”
Iraqis Truthful about VX - Later evidence and inspection findings show that the Iraqi scientists had been truthful: they had never succeeded in stabilizing VX, and had never filled any warheads with the nerve toxin. The lab results are later shown to be severely flawed. Ritter will write, “In the end, I was wrong to have pushed so hard to have the lab results made public.” (Mayer 6/7/2004; Ritter 3/17/2008)
President Clinton signs the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998 (ILA) into law. The act, which passed with overwhelming support from Democrats and Republicans in both the House and Senate, was written by Trent Lott (R-MS) and other Republicans with significant input from Ahmed Chalabi and his aide, Francis Brooke. (US Congress 10/31/1998 ; DeYoung and Pincus 1/25/2002; Mayer 6/7/2004) (Former Defense Intelligence Agency official Patrick Lang will later write that one of the driving goals behind the ILA is to revive the failed 1995 coup plans against Saddam Hussein, called “End Game”—see November 1993.) (Lang 6/2004) The act makes it “the policy of the United States to support efforts to remove the regime headed by Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq and to promote the emergence of a democratic government to replace that regime.” To that end, the act requires that the president designate one or more Iraqi opposition groups to receive up to $97 million in US military equipment and nonlethal training. The act authorizes another $43 million for humanitarian, broadcasting, and information-collection activities. To be eligible for US assistance, an organization must be “committed to democratic values, to respect for human rights, to peaceful relations with Iraq’s neighbors, to maintaining Iraq’s territorial integrity, and to fostering cooperation among democratic opponents of the Saddam Hussein regime.” (US Congress 10/31/1998 ; DeYoung and Pincus 1/25/2002; Mayer 6/7/2004)
Chalabi Receives Millions from State Department - Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress receives $17.3 million from the State Department to carry out what it calls the “collection and dissemination of information” about Saddam Hussein’s atrocities to the public. It will continue to receive hundreds of thousands per month from the Defense Department as well. (Fairweather 4/2006) However, the Clinton administration itself has little use for Chalabi. One administration official will say, “He represents four or five guys in London who wear nice suits and have a fax machine.” (Unger 2007, pp. 160)
Zinni Warns of Legislation Presaging Military Action - While few in Washington see the ILA as presaging military action against Iraq, one who does is Marine Corps General Anthony Zinni, the commander of CENTCOM. As the bill works its way through Congress, Zinni tells some of his senior staff members that the bill is far more serious than most believe. It is much more than a sop for the pro-war crowd, Zinni believes, but in reality a first step towards an invasion of Iraq. In 2004, former ambassador Joseph Wilson will write, “He was, of course, right, but few were listening.” (Wilson 2004, pp. 290)
A number of neoconservatives, led by retired General Wayne Downing (see 1990-1991) and retired CIA officer Duane “Dewey” Clarridge (see December 25, 1992), use the recently passed Iraqi Liberation Act (ILA—see October 31, 1998) to revive the failed “End Game” coup plans against Saddam Hussein (see November 1993 and March 1995). Both Downing and Clarridge are “military consultants” to Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress, who attempted to carry out the coup in 1995 with dismal results. Downing and Clarridge produce an updated version of the INC’s “End Game” scenario, calling it “The Downing Plan.” The Downing scenario varies very little from the original plan. Their plan stipulates that a “crack force” of 5,000 INC fighters, backed up by a detachment of US Special Forces soldiers, could bring down the Iraqi Army. Clarridge later tells reporters: “The idea from the beginning was to encourage defections of Iraqi units. You need to create a nucleus, something for people to defect to. If they could take Basra, it would be all over.” Former Defense Intelligence Agency official Patrick Lang will later write, “It is difficult to understand how a retired four-star Army general [Downing] could believe this to be true.” General Anthony Zinni, commander of CENTCOM, which has operational control of US combat forces in the Middle East, is provided with a copy of Chalabi’s military plan to overthrow Saddam Hussein. “It got me pretty angry,” he later recalls. He warns Congress that Chalabi’s plan is a “pie in the sky, a fairy tale,” and predicts that executing such a poorly envisioned assault would result in a “Bay of Goats.” Chalabi’s INC is nothing more than “some silk-suited, Rolex-wearing guys in London;” neither the INC nor any of the other 91 or so Iraqi opposition groups have anywhere near “the viability to overthrow Saddam.” He tells the New Yorker: “They were saying if you put a thousand troops on the ground Saddam’s regime will collapse, they won’t fight. I said, ‘I fly over them every day, and they shoot at us. We hit them, and they shoot at us again. No way a thousand forces would end it.’ The exile group was giving them inaccurate intelligence. Their scheme was ridiculous.” Zinni earns the enmity of the neoconservative developers of the plan for his stance. (Lang 6/2004; Mayer 6/7/2004)
President Clinton signs Presidential Decision Directive (PDD) 99-13 designating seven Iraqi opposition groups as being eligible to receive US federal funds under the 1998 Iraq Liberation Act (see October 31, 1998). The act stated that the policy of the US should be to support regime change in Iraq. The seven groups include the Iraqi National Accord, the Iraqi National Congress, the Islamic Movement of Iraqi Kurdistan, the Kurdistan Democratic Party, the Movement for Constitutional Monarchy, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, and the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. (White House 2/4/1999)
“Curveball,” an Iraqi in his late 20s later identified as Rafid Ahmed Alwan (see November 4, 2007), travels to Germany on a tourist visa and applies for political asylum, telling German immigration officials that he embezzled money from the Iraqi government and fears prison or worse if he returns home. The Germans send him to Zirndorf, a refugee center near Nuremberg, where other Iraqi exiles seeking German visas are being held. There, he changes his story, telling German intelligence (BND) officers that he was a chemical engineer (see 1994) who had been promoted to direct a secret mobile biological weapons plant at Djerf al Nadaf, just outside of Baghdad. The plant masqueraded as a “seed purification plant,” he claims. Curveball tells the Germans that in Iraq, he designed laboratory equipment to convert trucks into biological weapons laboratories. He offers the names of six sites where Iraq might be hiding them, three of which, he says, are already in operation. He also says that a farm program to boost crop yields is a front for Hussein’s new biological weapons production program. He tells the Germans of a warehouse at the plant that housed trucks; the trucks had been equipped to create and transport biological weapons. His story dovetails with the long-held fears by Western intelligence agencies that Saddam Hussein was cooking up biological and chemical weapons; the Germans stash him away, nickname him “Curveball,” and interrogate him every few days for the next eighteen months (see January 2000-September 2001). Curveball refuses to meet with Americans; therefore, only summaries of his debriefings will be sent to Washington. CIA analysts will be mesmerized by Alwan’s information. Former senior CIA official Tyler Drumheller recalls in late 2007, “Curveball was the one piece of evidence where they could say, ‘Look at this. If they have this capability, where they can transport biological weapons, anthrax, all these horrible weapons, they can attack our troops with them. They can give them to terrorist groups.’” Most arresting is Curveball’s story that in 1998 he saw an accidental release of a biological weapon that killed 12 people. His story is almost entirely false. (Drogin and Goetz 11/20/2005; CBS News 11/4/2007) Vincent Cannistraro, former head of the CIA’s Counter Terrorism Center, will tell the New Yorker in 2004 that the CIA believes that Aras Habib, the INC intelligence chief later accused of providing US intelligence to Iran, played a part in Curveball’s going to Germany. “The CIA is positive of it,” he says. (Mayer 6/7/2004)
Bob Drogin, author of the 2007 book Curveball: Spies, Lies and the Con Man Who Caused a War, will write that Curveball gives the Germans detailed diagrams of germ-making equipment, fermenters, mixing vats, controllers, and other items, which appear “plausible,” even though they can’t be reverse-engineered to “brew anthrax” or “build a bio-lab in a garage.” Instead, he will write, Curveball’s inconsistent information will be “interpreted, summarized, reformatted and analyzed at every stage,” but will never be verified. Drogin will call the entire affair “the dark side of intelligence,” and will write that, to the CIA’s top officials, the risk of going so far on uncorroborated evidence would take care of itself once US forces found the fabled Iraqi WMDs. Once the weapons were in hand, Drogin will write, they will figure “no one would remember a bogus defector.” As a CIA supervisor will later e-mail to a frustrated agency whistleblower, “Let’s keep in mind the fact that this war’s going to happen regardless of what Curveball said or didn’t say, and that the Powers That Be probably aren’t terribly interested in whether Curveball knows what he’s talking about.” (Roane 10/21/2007)
Congress allocates $10 million “to support efforts to bring about political transition in Iraq, of which not less than $8 million shall be made available only to Iraqi opposition groups designated under the ILA [Iraq Liberation Act of 1998] for political, economic humanitarian, and other activities of such groups, and not more than $2 million may be made available for groups and activities seeking the prosecution of Saddam Hussein and other Iraqi Government officials for war crimes.” President Clinton signs the appropriation bill into law on November 29. (US Congress 11/29/1999 ) This $10 million dollars is the first allocation of funds to Iraqi opposition groups out of the total $97 million that was authorized by the 1998 Iraq Liberation Act (see October 31, 1998).
Former CIA director James Woolsey serves as a corporate officer for the Iraqi National Congress Support Foundation which manages the Iraqi National Congress’ US funding. Also during this time, Woolsey and his former law firm, Shea and Gardner, provide the INC and Iraqi exiles with pro bono work. (Landay and Strobel 7/16/2004)
The State Department begins funding the Iraqi National Congress’ “information collection” program to the tune of $150,000 per month. The program is part of the US government’s larger goal of effecting a regime change in Iraq (see October 31, 1998). According to the agreement between the State Department and the INC, the group is permitted to use the money to “implement a public information campaign to communicate with Iraqis inside and outside of Iraq and also to promulgate its message to the international community at large.” The INC is prohibited from engaging in activities “associated with, or that could appear to be associated with, attempting to influence the policies of the United States Government or Congress or propagandizing the American people.” But according to Francis Brooke, an INC spokesman, some of the State Department’s funds are used to finance the expenses of Iraqi defectors who serve as the sources for several US news stories. Brookes claims that there are “no restrictions” on the use of US federal funds to make defectors available to the media. Another Chalabi spokesman will say: “The INC paid some living and travel expenses of defectors with USG funds. None of these expenses was related to meeting journalists.” He adds that the INC “did not violate any US laws.” (Hosenball and Hirsh 4/5/2004)
Ahmed Chalabi of the Iraqi National Congress, who has plotted for years to overthrow Saddam Hussein (see May 1991, 1992-1996, November 1993, and March 1995), exults over the selection of former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney as George W. Bush’s presidential running mate. “Cheney is good for us,” Chalabi says. (Foer and Ackerman 11/20/2003)
Congress substantially increases its support for Iraqi opposition organizations, more than doubling the groups’ funding to $25 million for 2001. Of this amount, $18 million is specifically designated for the Iraqi National Congress: $12 million for “food, medicine, and other humanitarian assistance,” and $6 million for the “production and broadcasting inside Iraq of radio and satellite television programming.” In addition, $2 million is allocated for groups and activities seeking the prosecution of Saddam Hussein, while the remaining $5 million is “to support efforts to bring about political transition in Iraq.” (US Congress 11/6/2000 ; US Congress 11/6/2000 )
Former Iraqi nuclear scientist Khidir Hamza publishes a book with reporter Jeff Stein entitled Saddam’s Bombmaker: The Terrifying Inside Story of the Iraqi Nuclear and Biological Weapons Agenda. Two years before, Hamza had tried and failed to get a deal for a book that would show Iraq’s nuclear weapons plans had “fizzled” (see 1998). This book is radically different, telling a dramatic tale of his career as a nuclear bomb-builder and his death-defying escape from Iraq (Hamza defected from Iraq and was brought to the US by Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress). Hamza now asserts that Iraq is aggressively pursuing nuclear weapons. According to former Defense Intelligence Agency official Patrick Lang, this is a “vast exaggeration” of the reality of the situation. (Lang 6/2004)
With Donald Rumsfeld in as Defense Secretary (see December 28, 2000), Vice President Cheney is moving closer to getting a team in place that will allow him to fulfill his dream of the “unitary executive”—the gathering of power into the executive branch at the expense of the legislative and judicial branches. One key piece to Cheney’s plan is to place neoconservative academic Paul Wolfowitz as the head of the CIA. However, Wolfowitz’s personal life is proving troublesome for Cheney’s plans. Wolfowitz’s marriage is crumbling. His wife of over 30 years, Clare, is threatening to go public with her husband’s infidelities. Wolfowitz is having one affair with a staffer at the School of International Studies, and is openly romancing another woman, Shaha Ali Riza, a secular Muslim neoconservative with close ties to Iraqi oppositions groups, including Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress. Smitten with the idea of a secular Muslim and a secular Jew forming a romantc liaison, Wolfowitz frequently escorts Riza, and not his wife, to neoconservative social events. Many insiders joke about Wolfowitz’s “neoconcubine.” His dalliances, particularly with a Muslim foreign national, raise questions about his ability to obtain the necessary national security clearance he will need to head the CIA. Cheney does not intend to allow questions of security clearances or wronged and vengeful wives to stop him from placing Wolfowitz at the head of the agency, but this time he does not succeed. After Clare Wolfowitz writes a letter to President-elect Bush detailing her husband’s sexual infidelities and possible security vulnerabilities, Wolfowitz is quietly dropped from consideration for the post. Current CIA Director George Tenet, after reassuring Bush that he can work with the new regime, is allowed to keep his position. Author Craig Unger later writes, “If Cheney and the neocons were to have control over the national security apparatus, it would not come from the CIA.” (Unger 2007, pp. 187-189)
Despite the claims by the Iraqi National Congress, and many Republicans, that the defector commonly known as Curveball (see November 4, 2007) has no connections with the INC (see November 4, 2007), at least some evidence exists to the contrary. Los Angeles Times reporter Bob Drogin, author of the 2007 book Curveball: Spies, Lies, and the Con Man Who Caused a War, will note both in his book and in an interview that Curveball has an older brother who fled Iraq in 1992, and who joined the INC shortly thereafter. For years, Curveball and his brother had little contact. But in 2001 the brother calls Curveball and tells him that Ahmed Chalabi, the leader of the INC, heard that Curveball is in Germany, and that Chalabi wants any information on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction that the INC might steer towards US intelligence. Drogin will say that Curveball, who he will describe as “semi-psychotic” by this time, is “sent over the edge” by the phone call. He is convinced that he had been tracked down by the Iraqis who, he feels, want to assassinate him, so at that point he stops cooperating with German intelligence. After the invasion of Iraq, CIA agents will track down Curveball’s mother in Baghdad, where she will tell them about the brother. The agents locate the brother, who is still working for the INC out of a Baghdad location called the Hunting Club. The brother will confirm the phone call. However, Drogin will say, “No one was able to prove—and Chalabi repeatedly, angrily denied—that he had sent Curveball out as a deliberate plant. And the reason that this is credible in this case is that Chalabi did send out numerous people—I think 20 is the number who have been identified—who came out through the Iraqi National Congress, and in almost every case proved to be providing false information of one kind or another. But in every one of those cases, they were handed off directly to the Americans. When the CIA found out about the brother, they totally freaked out because they thought, ‘Oh my God, we’ve been set up, Chalabi really pulled the wool over us on this one.’ But in the end it was determined that it was just another fluke in this case, but one that sent them all going crazy for quite a while.” (Koppelman 10/16/2007) House member John Conyers (D-MI), the ranking minority member of the House Judiciary Committee, will note in a November 8, 2005 letter to Chalabi, “[W]e have learned that ‘Curveball’ is, in fact, the brother of one of your top lieutenants within the Iraqi National Congress.” He will request that Chalabi “make yourself available to us to explain the details and reasons for your involvement in the manipulation of intelligence as the Bush Administration pushed for war. It is vital to the integrity of both our democracies that the truth behind these terribly destructive events be known.” It is not clear if, and how, Chalabi will respond to Conyers’s request. (Conyers 11/8/2005) And in 2006, a PBS documentary will quote former CIA official Vincent Cannistraro as saying, “Curveball was a relative of a senior official of the INC, the Iraqi National Congress, headed by Ahmed Chalabi.” (Kirk 6/20/2006) The extent of Curveball’s contact with the INC, and whether or not he was “aimed” at the US to deliberately spread disinformation, is not known.
The Bush White House holds its first National Security Council meeting. The focus is on Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (Bamford 2004, pp. 261) This meeting sets the tone for how President Bush intends to handle foreign affairs. Counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke wants to focus on the threat from al-Qaeda and Islamist terrorism, especially in light of the recent attack on the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000). But Bush isn’t interested in terrorism. (Unger 2007, pp. 201)
Israeli-Palestinian Conflict to be 'Tilted Back Towards Israel' - Instead, Bush channels his neoconservative advisers, particularly incoming Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz (see February 18, 1992 and April-May 1999), in taking a new approach to Middle East affairs, particularly the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Referring to President Clinton’s efforts to make peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians, Bush declares: “Clinton overreached, and it all fell apart. That’s why we’re in trouble. If the two sides don’t want peace, there’s no way we can force them. I don’t see much we can do over there at this point. I think it’s time to pull out of the situation.… We’re going to correct the imbalance of the previous administration on the Mideast conflict. We’re going to tilt it back towards Israel.” His view is that the Israeli government, currently headed by Ariel Sharon, should be left alone to deal as it sees fit with the Palestinians. “I’m not going to go by past reputations when it comes to Sharon. I’m going to take him at face value. We’ll work on a relationship based on how things go.” Justifying his position, he recalls a recent trip he took to Israel with the Republican Jewish Coalition. “We flew over the Palestinian camps. Looked real bad down there.… I don’t see much we can do over there at this point.” Secretary of State Colin Powell, surprised by Bush’s intended policy towards the 50-year old Israeli-Palestinian conflict, objects. According to Secretary of the Treasury Paul O’Neil, Powell “stresse[s] that a pullback by the United States would unleash Sharon and the Israeli army.” When Powell warns the president that the “consequences of that [policy] could be dire, especially for the Palestinians,” Bush shrugs. “Sometimes a show of strength by one side can really clarify things,” he suggests. (Bamford 2004, pp. 265-266; Lang 6/2004) In this and subsequent meetings, Bush’s National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice, “parrot[s]… the neocon line,” in author Craig Unger’s words, by discussing Iraq. “Iraq might be the key to reshaping the entire region,” she says, clearly alluding to regime change and overthrow in that nation (see March 8, 1992, Autumn 1992, July 8, 1996, Late Summer 1996, Late Summer 1996, 1997-1998, January 26, 1998, February 19, 1998, September 2000, Late December 2000 and Early January 2001, and Shortly after January 20, 2001). (Unger 2007, pp. 201)
Possible WMD Sites in Iraq Spark Bush to Order Plans for Ground Assaults - The meeting then moves on to the subject of Iraq. Rice begins noting “that Iraq might be the key to reshaping the entire region.” She turns the meeting over to CIA Director George Tenet who summarizes current intelligence on Iraq. He mentions a factory that “might” be producing “either chemical or biological materials for weapons manufacture.” The evidence he provides is a picture of the factory with some truck activity, a water tower, and railroad tracks going into a building. He admits that there is “no confirming intelligence” on just what is going on at these sites. Bush orders Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Hugh Shelton to begin preparing options for the use of US ground forces in Iraq’s northern and southern no-fly zones in support of a native-based insurgency against the Hussein regime. (Bamford 2004, pp. 267; Lang 6/2004) Author Ron Suskind later sums up the discussion: “Meeting adjourned. Ten days in, and it was about Iraq. Rumsfeld had said little, Cheney nothing at all, though both men clearly had long entertained the idea of overthrowing Saddam.” Defense Intelligence Agency official Patrick Lang later writes: “If this was a decision meeting, it was strange. It ended in a presidential order to prepare contingency plans for war in Iraq.” (Lang 6/2004)
Regime Change Intended from the Outset - US Secretary of the Treasury Paul O’Neill, later recalls: “From the very beginning, there was a conviction, that Saddam Hussein was a bad person and that he needed to go.… From the very first instance, it was about Iraq. It was about what we can do to change this regime. Day one, these things were laid and sealed.” O’Neill will say officials never questioned the logic behind this policy. No one ever asked, “Why Saddam?” and “Why now?” Instead, the issue that needed to be resolved was how this could be accomplished. “It was all about finding a way to do it,” O’Neill will explain. “That was the tone of it. The president saying ‘Go find me a way to do this.’” (CBS News 1/10/2004; Stevenson 1/12/2004; Borger 1/12/2004; Burrough et al. 5/2004, pp. 234) Another official who attends the meeting will later say that the tone of the meeting implied a policy much more aggressive than that of the previous administration. “The president told his Pentagon officials to explore the military options, including use of ground forces,” the official will tell ABC News. “That went beyond the Clinton administration’s halfhearted attempts to overthrow Hussein without force.” (Cochran 1/13/2004) Unger later writes, “These were the policies that even the Israeli right had not dared to implement.” One senior administration official says after the meeting, “The Likudniks are really in charge now.” (Unger 2007, pp. 201)
Funding the Iraqi National Congress - The council does more than just discuss Iraq. It makes a decision to allow the Iraqi National Congress (INC), an Iraqi opposition group, to use $4 million to fund efforts inside Iraq to compile information relating to Baghdad’s war crimes, military operations, and other internal developments. The money had been authorized by Congress in late 2004. The US has not directly funded Iraqi opposition activities inside Iraq itself since 1996. (Kettle 2/3/2005)
White House Downplays Significance - After Paul O’Neill first provides his account of this meeting in 2004, the White House will attempt to downplay its significance. “The stated policy of my administration toward Saddam Hussein was very clear,” Bush will tell reporters during a visit to Mexico In January 2004. “Like the previous administration, we were for regime change.… And in the initial stages of the administration, as you might remember, we were dealing with desert badger or fly-overs and fly-betweens and looks, and so we were fashioning policy along those lines.” (Stevenson 1/12/2004)
Retired US soldiers give weapons training to members of the Iraqi National Congress (INC), the Iraqi opposition group led by Ahmed Chalabi. The five-day training session takes place in College Station, Texas, and is said to only be the first round of training. The INC has a contract with the Guidry Group, a consulting firm comprised of ex-secret service agents, to learn diplomatic security. Previously, the US backed training for the INC, but limited it only to “non-lethal” activities such as public relations, emergency medical care, and war crimes investigations. But with the Bush administration newly in power, approval has been given to let the INC learn how to use 12-gauge shotguns, pistols, Kalishnikov rifles, and other fire-arms. Retired Gen. Wayne Downing says, “This is significant because this is the first lethal training. It is designed to protect, so the significance is that this is the first time they are being trained to do anything on this level.” Downing, who has been advising the INC for three years, calls the training “a drop in the bucket.” He adds, “This is not the training they will need to put together a liberation army. There you would need individual training, basic training, weapons training, involving anti tank weapons, machine guns, rockets and that sort of thing.” The Washington Post will later call Downing the INC’s “mentor and biggest cheerleader.” (Lake 2/12/2001; Leiby 11/20/2001)
Newly hired Defense Department public relations chief Victoria Clarke (see May 2001) begins a series of regular meetings with a number of Washington’s top private PR specialists and lobbyists. The group is tasked with developing a marketing plan for the upcoming war in Iraq. It is remarkably successful in securing press cooperation to spread its message (see August 13, 2003 and After May 31, 2001).
Bipartisan Makeup - Reporter Jeffrey St. Clair will later write, “The group was filled with heavy-hitters and was strikingly bipartisan in composition.” The group, later informally dubbed “the Rumsfeld Group,” is made up of, among others, PR executives John Rendon and Sheila Tate, Republican political consultant Rich Galen, and Democratic operative Tommy Boggs (brother of NPR’s Cokie Roberts and a PR consultant for the Saudi royal family; St. Clair believes Boggs may have had a hand in the decision to redact 20+ pages concerning the Saudis from Congress’s report on the intelligence failures leading to the 9/11 attacks—see April 2003 and August 1-3, 2003). The direct involvement, if any, of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is unclear.
Rendon's Involvement - John Rendon, the head of the Rendon Group, is a noteworthy veteran of the 1990-91 PR efforts to market the Gulf War (see August 11, 1990), has worked for both Democratic and Republican politicians and lobbying groups, and was instrumental in creating Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress (see May 1991). Rendon, already under contract with the Pentagon to help market the US bombing of Afghanistan, is one of the key players in marketing the upcoming Iraq invasion. Though Rendon refuses to discuss his work for the Pentagon, St. Clair believes he will be partially or completely responsible for some of the invasion’s signature events, including the toppling of the statue of Hussein in Firdos Square by US troops and Chalabi associates (see April 9, 2003), and video-friendly Iraqi crowds waving American flags as US Army vehicles roll by. Rendon explains his role like this: “I am not a national security strategist or a military tactician. I am a politician, and a person who uses communication to meet public policy or corporate policy objectives. In fact, I am an information warrior and a perception manager.” The Pentagon defines “perception management” as “actions to convey and/or deny selected information and indicators to foreign audiences to influence their emotions, motives, and objective reasoning.” St. Clair adds, “In other words, lying about the intentions of the US government.” One of the biggest instances of Pentagon “perception management” is the Office of Strategic Influence (see Shortly after September 11, 2001), also developed by Rendon. (Clair 8/13/2003)
State Department auditors discover that the Iraqi National Congress’ “information collection” program has failed to keep its books in order. According to the audit, the INC used a mixture of accounting methods (both cash and accrual); lacked adequate internal controls; lacked written accounting policies and procedures; had bank balances that exceeded FDIC insured amounts; and “did not comply with applicable regulations and agreements.” The auditors question the costs of about $2.2 million out of $4.3 million in expenditures between March 2000 and May 2001. “Of that amount, $113,794 was unallowable under terms and conditions of the agreement, and $2,107,093 was classified as unsupported because of either inadequate or a lack of documentation.” (United States Department of State and the Broadcasting Board of Governors 9/2001 ) Examples cited by auditors include $2,070 paid for a Washington health center membership and money paid to the Burson-Marsteller public relations firm. (DeYoung and Pincus 1/25/2002) Another $101,762 was spent in undocumented expenses related to travel and badge distribution for attendees at a human rights conference. Additionally, the INC made $578,795 in undocumented cash payments. The auditors also draw attention to the INC’s shifting of funds “back and forth among several different banks into several different currencies” which they note created a potential for “fraud, waste, and abuse.” (United States Department of State and the Broadcasting Board of Governors 9/2001 ) In a 200-page response to the audit, the INC acknowledges “the need to strengthen internal [financial] controls,” but denies any misuse of federal funds. Entifadh K. Qanbar, the INC’s Washington office director, says the US government is using the financial issues as a “smoke screen” to divert attention away from its failure to develop its own policy on Iraq. “There is a sense that the INC will make Saddam very angry if we are allowed to conduct aggressive actions inside the country,” Qanbar says. “That will drag the United States into a war. They are not prepared to go to war against Saddam. This is why the review is stalled.” (DeYoung and Pincus 1/25/2002)
Former CIA Director James Woolsey makes a secret trip to Europe to find evidence that could link the Iraqi government to various terrorist attacks. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz funds and supports his trip. He visits Wales in a fruitless search for evidence to link Iraq to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing (see Late September 2001). But he also looks for evidence tying Iraq to 9/11 and the anthrax attacks once they become publicly known in early October (see October 5-November 21, 2001). The Village Voice will later report, “Woolsey was also asked to make contact with Iraqi exiles and others who might be able to beef up the case that hijacker Mohamed Atta was working with Iraqi intelligence to plan the September 11 attacks, as well as the subsequent anthrax mailings.” (Vest 11/21/2001) In late October, the Iraqi National Congress (INC), the exile group opposed to Saddam Hussein, says it recently held meetings in London with him. (Harden 10/26/2001) Woolsey is a prominent neoconservative and already has extensive links with the INC (see 2000). It is unknown exactly what Woolsey does in Europe, but his trip has an apparent effect on the media. In addition to numerous articles about Atta’s alleged Prague visit, some articles appear attempting to tie Atta and the Iraqi government to the anthrax attacks as well. For instance, on October 14, 2001, The Observer will report, “According to sources in the Bush administration, investigators are talking to Egyptian authorities who say members of the al-Qaeda network, detained and interrogated in Cairo, had obtained phials of anthrax in the Czech Republic.” (Rose and Vulliamy 10/14/2001) And in late October, the London Times will not only report that Atta was given a vial of anthrax in Prague, but that he met with Iraqi agents numerous times all over Europe (see October 27, 2001). But no hard evidence will emerge supporting any of these allegations pushed by Woolsey.
In a television interview, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) supports the allegation that 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta met with an Iraqi intelligence agent in Prague. McCain says, “The evidence is very clear.” This comment comes several days after a Czech government official claimed that the meeting took place (see October 26, 2001). McCain makes other comments around the same time also trying to link Iraq to the 9/11 attacks. For instance, in mid-September 2001, he told television host Jay Leno that he believes “some other countries” had assisted al-Qaeda, suggesting Iraq, Iran, and Syria as potential suspects. McCain also relies on dubious claims made by Ahmed Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress (INC). For instance, in a television interview, McCain echoes the INC’s claim that two Iraqi defectors know about terrorist training camps in Iraq (see November 6-8, 2001). McCain claims there are “credible reports of involvement between Iraqi administration officials, Iraqi officials and the terrorists.” In 2006, McCain will admit that he had been “too enamored with the INC.” (Kirkpatrick 8/16/2008)
Wayne Downing, a retired Army general who recently replaced Richard Clarke as the White House counterterrorism “tsar,” is drawing up plans for a US takeover of Iraq on his own initiative. (Kessler 1/12/2003 Sources: Unnamed senior administration official) Downing, who had previously been an adviser to the Iraqi National Congress (INC) exile group, is said to favor a rebellion more than a US military invasion, similar to a plan he drew up in 1998 (see July 1998). (Horrock and Lake 6/27/2002)
An Iraqi defector identifying himself as Jamal al-Ghurairy, a former lieutenant general in Saddam Hussein’s intelligence corps, the Mukhabarat, tells two US reporters that he has witnessed foreign Islamic militants training to hijack airplanes at an alleged Iraqi terrorist training camp at Salman Pak, near Baghdad. Al-Ghurairy also claims to know of a secret compound at Salman Pak where Iraqi scientists, led by a German, are producing biological weapons. Al-Ghurairy is lying both about his experiences and even his identity, though the reporters, New York Times war correspondent Chris Hedges and PBS’s Christopher Buchanan, do not know this. The meeting between al-Ghurairy and the reporters, which takes place on November 6, 2001, in a luxury suite in a Beirut hotel, was arranged by Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress (INC). Buchanan later recalls knowing little about al-Ghurairy, except that “[h]is life might be in danger. I didn’t know much else.” Hedges recalls the former general’s “fierce” appearance and “military bearing.… He looked the part.” Al-Ghurairy is accompanied by several other people, including the INC’s political liaison, Nabeel Musawi. “They were slick and well organized,” Buchanan recalls. Hedges confirms al-Ghurairy’s credibility with the US embassy in Turkey, where he is told that CIA and FBI agents had recently debriefed him. The interview is excerpted for an upcoming PBS Frontline episode, along with another interview with an INC-provided defector, former Iraqi sergeant Sabah Khodada, who echoes al-Ghurairy’s tale. While the excerpt of al-Ghurairy’s interview is relatively short, the interview itself takes over an hour. Al-Ghurairy does not allow his face to be shown on camera.
Times Reports Defectors' Tale - Two days later, on November 8, Hedges publishes a story about al-Ghurairy in the New York Times Times. The Frontline episode airs that same evening. (Hedges 11/8/2001; Fairweather 4/2006) Hedges does not identify al-Ghurairy by name, but reports that he, Khodada, and a third unnamed Iraqi sergeant claim to have “worked for several years at a secret Iraqi government camp that had trained Islamic terrorists in rotations of five or six months since 1995. They said the training at the camp, south of Baghdad, was aimed at carrying out attacks against neighboring countries and possibly Europe and the United States.” Whether the militants being trained are linked to al-Qaeda or Osama bin Laden, the defectors cannot be sure, nor do they know of any specific attacks carried out by the militants. Hedges writes that the interviews were “set up by an Iraqi group that seeks the overthrow of… Hussein.” He quotes al-Ghurairy as saying, “There is a lot we do not know. We were forbidden to speak about our activities among each other, even off duty. But over the years, you see and hear things. These Islamic radicals were a scruffy lot. They needed a lot of training, especially physical training. But from speaking with them, it was clear they came from a variety of countries, including Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Algeria, Egypt, and Morocco. We were training these people to attack installations important to the United States. The Gulf War never ended for Saddam Hussein. He is at war with the United States. We were repeatedly told this.” He uses Khodada’s statements as support for al-Ghurairy’s, identifies Khodada by name, and says that Khodada “immigrated to Texas” in May 2001 “after working as an instructor for eight years at Salman Pak…” He quotes the sergeant as saying, “We could see them train around the fuselage. We could see them practice taking over the plane.” Al-Ghurairy adds that the militants were trained to take over a plane without using weapons. Hedges reports that Richard Sperzel, the former chief of the UN biological weapons inspection teams in Iraq, says that the Iraqis always claimed Salman Pak was an anti-terror training camp for Iraqi special forces. However, Sperzel says, “[M]any of us had our own private suspicions. We had nothing specific as evidence.” The US officials who debriefed al-Ghurairy, Hedges reports, do not believe that the Salman Pak training has any links to the 9/11 hijackings. Hedges asks about one of the militants, a clean-shaven Egyptian. “No, he was not Mohamed Atta.” Atta led the 9/11 hijackers. Hedges notes that stories such as this one will likely prompt “an intense debate in Washington over whether to extend the war against Osama bin Laden and the Taliban government of Afghanistan to include Iraq.” (Hedges 11/8/2001; McCollam 7/1/2004)
Heavy Press Coverage - The US media immediately reacts, with op-eds running in major newspapers throughout the country and cable-news pundits bringing the story to their audiences. National security adviser Condoleezza Rice says of the story, “I think it surprises no one that Saddam Hussein is engaged in all kinds of activities that are destabilizing.” The White House will use al-Ghurairy’s claims in its background paper, “Decade of Deception and Defiance,” prepared for President’s Bush September 12, 2002 speech to the UN General Assembly (see September 12, 2002). Though the tale lacks specifics, it helps bolster the White House’s attempts to link Saddam Hussein to the 9/11 hijackers, and helps promote Iraq as a legitimate target in the administration’s war on terror. (Five years later, the reporters involved in the story admit they were duped—see April 2006.)
Complete Fiction - The story, as it turns out, is, in the later words of Mother Jones reporter Jack Fairweather, “an elaborate scam.” Not only did US agents in Turkey dismiss the purported lieutenant general’s claims out of hand—a fact they did not pass on to Hedges—but the man who speaks with Hedges and Buchanan is not even Jamal al-Ghurairy. The man they interviewed is actually a former Iraqi sergeant living in Turkey under the pseudonym Abu Zainab. (His real name is later ascertained to be Abu Zeinab al-Qurairy, and is a former Iraqi general and senior officer in the Mukhabarat.) The real al-Ghurairy has never left Iraq. In 2006, he will be interviewed by Fairweather, and will confirm that he was not the man interviewed in 2001 (see October 2005). (McCollam 7/1/2004; Fairweather 4/2006) Hedges and Buchanan were not the first reporters to be approached for the story. The INC’s Francis Brooke tried to interest Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff in interviewing Khodada to discuss Salman Pak. Isikoff will recall in 2004 that “he didn’t know what to make of the whole thing or have any way to evaluate the story so I didn’t write about it.” (McCollam 7/1/2004)
"The Perfect Hoax" - The interview was set up by Chalabi, the leader of the INC, and former CBS producer Lowell Bergman. Bergman had interviewed Khodada previously, but was unable to journey to Beirut, so he and Chalabi briefed Hedges in London before sending him to meet with the defector. Chalabi and Bergman have a long relationship; Chalabi has been a source for Bergman since 1991. The CIA withdrew funding from the group in 1996 (see January 1996) due to its poor intelligence and attempts at deception. For years, the INC combed the large Iraqi exile communities in Damascus and Amman for those who would trade information—real or fabricated—in return for the INC’s assistance in obtaining asylum to the West. Helping run that network was Mohammed al-Zubaidi, who after 9/11 began actively coaching defectors, according to an ex-INC official involved in the INC’s media operations (see December 17, 2001 and July 9, 2004). The ex-INC official, Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri, did everything from help defectors brush up and polish their stories, to concocting scripts that defectors with little or no knowledge could recite: “They learned the words, and then we handed them over to the American agencies and journalists.” After 9/11, the INC wanted to come up with a big story that would fix the public perception of Saddam Hussein’s involvement in the 9/11 attacks. Al-Zubaidi was given the task. He came up with al-Ghurairy. He chose Zainab for his knowledge of the Iraqi military, brought him to Beirut, paid him, and began prepping him. In the process, al-Zainab made himself known to American and Turkish intelligence officials as al-Ghurairy. “It was the perfect hoax,” al-Haideri will recall in 2006. “The man was a born liar and knew enough about the military to get by, whilst Saddam’s regime could hardly produce the real Ghurairy without revealing at least some of the truth of the story.” Al-Haideri will say that the reality of the Salman Pak story was much as the Iraqis claimed—Iraqi special forces were trained in hostage and hijack scenarios. Al-Zubaidi, who in 2004 will admit to his propaganda activities, calls Al-Zainab “an opportunist, cheap and manipulative. He has poetic interests and has a vivid imagination in making up stories.” (Fairweather 4/2006)
Stories Strain Credulity - Knight Ridder reporter Jonathan Landay later says of al-Qurairy, “As you track their stories, they become ever more fantastic, and they’re the same people who are telling these stories, until you get to the most fantastic tales of all, which appeared in Vanity Fair magazine.” Perhaps al-Qurairy’s most fabulous story is that of a training exercise to blow up a full-size mockup of a US destroyer in a lake in central Iraq. Landay adds, “Or, jumping into pits of fouled water and having to kill a dog with your bare teeth. I mean, and this was coming from people, who are appearing in all of these stories, and sometimes their rank would change.… And, you’re saying, ‘Wait a minute. There’s something wrong here, because in this story he was a major, but in this story the guy’s a colonel. And, in this story this was his function, but now he says in this story he was doing something else.’” Landay’s bureau chief, John Walcott, says of al-Qurairy, “What he did was reasonably clever but fairly obvious, which is he gave the same stuff to some reporters that, for one reason or another, he felt would simply report it. And then he gave the same stuff to people in the Vice President’s office [Dick Cheney] and in the Secretary of Defense’s office [Donald Rumsfeld]. And so, if the reporter called the Department of Defense or the Vice President’s office to check, they would’ve said, ‘Oh, I think that’s… you can go with that. We have that, too.’ So, you create the appearance, or Chalabi created the appearance, that there were two sources, and that the information had been independently confirmed, when, in fact, there was only one source. And it hadn’t been confirmed by anybody.” Landay adds, “[L]et’s not forget how close these people were to this administration, which raises the question, was there coordination? I can’t tell you that there was, but it sure looked like it.” (Moyers 4/25/2007)
No Evidence Found - On April 6, 2003, US forces will overrun the Salman Pak facility. They will find nothing to indicate that the base was ever used to train terrorists (see April 6, 2003).
PBS’s Frontline broadcasts an October 2001 interview with Bush foreign policy adviser Brent Scowcroft as part of its Gunning for Saddam episode. Scowcroft recently cemented his status as an outsider in the administration with an op-ed calling for the US to focus on building a coalition of allies before considering invading Iraq (see October 16, 2001). Scowcroft says that a unilateral move to invade Iraq and “deal with Saddam Hussein” will destroy the coalition of nations that still exists ten years after the 1991 Gulf War “virtually instantly.” Suspicion that the US is manipulating information to prove its rationale for war with Iraq is paramount throughout the Middle East and even among the US’s closest allies in Europe. Part of the responsibility for that perception, Scowcroft notes, comes from Iraq: “Saddam has managed to get the view out that the Iraqi people are suffering because of the [UN-mandated economic] sanctions. In fact, they’re suffering because Saddam Hussein doesn’t use the income from the oil he sells to provide for his people. But that’s the fact. So if we turn on Iraq now, it will look like we’re just using September 11 as an excuse to go after our favorite enemy.… So we need to sort of reestablish the kind of confidence that the United States enjoyed a decade ago around the time of the Gulf War. And to do that, we need to prosecute the Afghan/Osama bin Laden part of this whole thing in a way which will demonstrate that we know what we’re doing, that we do it carefully, not wildly and so on.”
Focusing on Terrorist Threat, Not Iraq, a Necessity - Scowcroft calls Hussein and Iraq “a separate problem” from al-Qaeda and global Islamist terrorism. “It is not at all clear that he is a part of a global terrorist network, which is what we’re focusing on.… Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden have one thing in common, and that is they both hate the United States. Otherwise, they have very little in common. As a matter of fact, my guess is, if it weren’t for the United States, Osama bin Laden would turn on Saddam Hussein.” Scowcroft says that even if the US manages to render al-Qaeda impotent, Iraq might not be the next problem on the list. “It’s a problem which right now should be differentiated from the Osama bin Laden problem.… Hezbollah, for example, is a global terrorist network, which has attacked the United States and US interests before. How about that?… We need to be skillful about this. We need to use scalpels, not sledgehammers.” He continues: “Nobody has said what ‘going after Saddam’ really means. What does it mean? Five hundred thousand troops again, based in a Saudi Arabia that would not accept them now? What does ‘going after Saddam’ mean?”
INC Not a Viable Replacement for Hussein - Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress (INC) may or may not be a “viable alternative to Saddam,” Scowcroft says, but it is “certainly not a viable means to” overthrow Hussein. “It is weak, disparate, riven with disputes—probably unattractive to almost anyone inside or out.” (PBS Frontline 11/8/2001; PBS Frontline 11/8/2001)
US embassies are approached by a number of individuals claiming to have information about Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction programs. But in every case, the CIA’s Joint Task Force on Iraq—the division that has been tasked with following these leads—determines that the would-be informant is a fabricator. The agency suspects that these individuals are being sent to them by Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress. (Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 14-15)
Former CIA Director James Woolsey telephones Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary Linton Wells to arrange a meeting between Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) analysts and Mohammad Harith, an Iraqi defector being supplied by the Iraqi exile group, the Iraqi National Congress. (Landay and Strobel 7/16/2004 Sources: Classified Pentagon report) After the phone call, Wells issues an “executive referral,” requesting that the Iraqi National Congress (INC) introduce Harith to the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). (Landay and Strobel 7/16/2004) Later in the day, two DIA officers meet with Ahmed Chalabi to arrange an interview with Harith. In an email to Knight Ridder Newspapers, Wells will later recall, “I discussed the issue of an individual with information on Iraq[i] weapons of mass destruction with intelligence community members. They said they would follow up. I never met with any member of the INC.” (Landay and Strobel 7/16/2004)
After several meetings with Mohammad Harith (see February 11, 2002) —an Iraqi defector provided by the Iraqi National Congress—a Defense Intelligence Agency debriefer determines that the defector’s information on Iraq’s presumed arsenal of banned weapons seems “accurate, but much of it [appears] embellished.” Defense Intelligence Agency analysts also determine that the defected Iraqi has been “coached by the Iraqi National Congress.” Harith claims that he was a major in an Iraqi intelligence unit charged with concealing illicit weapons and that Iraq has developed mobile biological weapons labs. (Landay and Strobel 7/16/2004)
Senior Bush administration officials say President Bush has decided to oust Iraqi despot Saddam Hussein from power. “This is not an argument about whether to get rid of Saddam Hussein,” one official says. “That debate is over. This is… how you do it.”
CIA, Pentagon Making Plans for Regime Change - Bush has ordered the CIA, the Pentagon, and other agencies to come up with a plan combining military, diplomatic, and covert actions to force Hussein from power. A military strike is not yet imminent, but Bush has decided that Hussein and his putative weapons of mass destruction are such a threat to US security that he must be removed from power, even if US allies do not help. The CIA has already presented Bush with a plan to destabilize Hussein’s regime, incorporating covert action campaigns, sabotage, information warfare, and stepped-up bombing runs throughout the northern and southern “no-fly” zones. Bush is reportedly enthusiastic about the plan, and the CIA has begun assigning officers to the task. Reporters Warren P. Strobel and John Walcott write: “The president’s decision has launched the United States on a course that will have major ramifications for the US military, the Middle East’s future political alignment, international oil flows, and Bush’s own war on terrorism.”
Some Allies Dubious - Allies such as Russia have already expressed grave doubts about the wisdom of such a series of actions, and military experts warn that any campaign in Iraq would be long, bloody, and difficult to bring to a satisfactory conclusion. Nevertheless, one foreign leader who recently met with Bush came away “with the feeling that a decision has been made to strike Iraq, and the ‘how’ and ‘when’ are still fluid,” according to a diplomat.
Cheney to Inform Middle Eastern Leaders of US Intentions - Vice President Cheney will soon depart for a visit to 11 Middle East nations; while the public explanation is that he wants to listen to those nations’ views on the US’s Iraq policy, in reality, Cheney will inform them that the US will overthrow the Hussein regime. One senior official says: “He’s not going to beg for support. He’s going to inform them that the president’s decision has been made and will be carried out, and if they want some input into how and when it’s carried out, now’s the time for them to speak up.” At least one Middle Eastern ally, Egypt, has reservations about such a plan. Egyptian Ambassador Nabil Fahmy said last week that Bush should keep the US focus on fighting international terrorism, where he has broad international backing. “If you mix two issues together, you will lose this focus,” he said.
Debate over Role of Chalabi, INC - There is still sharp debate within the administration over the role that Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress will play in the overthrow and subsequent realignment. Many neoconservatives, particularly in the offices of Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, tout Chalabi as the next leader of Iraq, but others are not sanguine about Chalabi and his organization, with CIA officials warning that the INC is riven by internal debate and undoubtedly riddled with spies from Iraq and Iran. (Strobel and Walcott 2/13/2002)
Defense Intelligence Agency analysts issue a “fabricator notice,” warning the intelligence community that the agency has determined (see Between February 12, 2002 and March 31, 2002) that Iraqi defector Mohammad Harith is of questionable reliability and recommending that agencies disregard any intelligence that he has provided. It also notes that Harith had been “coached by [the] Iraqi National Congress” on what to tell US interrogators. (Jehl 2/13/2004; Hosenball and Barry 2/16/2004; Landay and Strobel 7/16/2004 Sources: Unnamed US intelligence official) The classified memo is “widely circulated within intelligence agencies, including the DIA and CIA,” Newsweek will later report, citing unnamed intelligence officials. (Hosenball and Barry 2/16/2004 Sources: Unnamed US Intelligence Officials, Linton Wells) Almost a year later, in a presentation to the UN, Secretary of State Colin Powell will make the claim that Iraq has mobile biological weapons labs (see February 5, 2003), and cite Harith as one of US Intelligence’s four sources. Explaining how the reference to a dubious source made its way into Powell’s speech, the State Department will say that the “fabricator notice” had not been properly cross-referenced in intelligence computers. (Hosenball and Barry 2/16/2004)
Ahmed Chalabi, the leader of the Iraqi National Congress, says that “informants within the Iraqi intelligence community,” have revealed “that Hussein’s VX stockpile is far larger than the 3.9 tons Iraq reported—something UNSCOM inspectors have long suspected,” reports the Washington Post. “Chalabi also says that the VX had been converted into a dry salt for long term storage and was positioned in various sites across Iraq for use in the event of a foreign attack. UNSCOM officials said the account seemed credible, given what was learned about Iraq’s VX program in the final months of weapons inspections.” (Warrick 7/31/2002)
The Iraqi National Congress (INC—see 1992-1996) sends a letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee asking that the INC’s “Intelligence Collection Program” be transferred from the State Department’s oversight to the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA)‘s HUMINT (Human Intelligence) Service. In what former DIA official Patrick Lang will later call “a clumsy act of indiscretion,” the letter reveals that there is, in Lang’s words, “already a direct flow of information from the INC into the hands of Bill Luti [a senior official at the Pentagon’s Office of Special Plans—see September 2002 ] and John Hannah, the latter being Scooter Libby’s deputy in [Vice President] Cheney’s office.” (Lang 6/2004)
Entifadh Qanbar, a lobbyist for the Iraqi National Congress (INC), sends a memo to the staff of the Senate Appropriations Committee, in which he provides information about a State Department-funded intelligence program, known as the “information-collection program,” run by the INC (see September 2004-September 2006). Qanbar, who says he is the overall manager of the group, states in the memo that under the program, “defectors, reports and raw intelligence are cultivated and analyzed,” and “the results are reported through the INC newspaper (Al Mutamar), the Arabic and Western media and to appropriate governmental, nongovernmental and international agencies.” Information is also passed on to William Luti, who will later run the Office of Special Plans (see September 2002), and John Hannah, a senior national-security aide on Cheney’s staff, who Qunbar describes as the “principal point of contact.” (Hosenball and Isikoff 12/15/2003; Risen 2/12/2004 Sources: Memo) The memo provides a description of some of the people involved in the group and their activities. It says that the analytical group includes five analysts with a background in Iraq’s military, Iraq’s intelligence services and human rights. One person, a consultant, monitors the Iraqi government’s alleged efforts to develop banned weapons. The five analysts process information and write reports, which are sent to Al Mutamar, the INC’s newspaper, as well as the US government and many mainstream news organizations. Qanbar says that the information-collection program issued 30 reports between August 2001 and June 2002, which were sent to Al Mutamar. (Al Mutamar is only available inside Iraq on the Internet; the effectiveness of other government-funded projects to disseminate propaganda inside Iraq could not be proven, and may not have ever existed.) According to the memo, the group published 28 private reports in collaboration with the INC’s headquarters in London. The memo reveals that between October 2001 and May 2002, information provided by the INC was cited in 108 articles published by a variety of English-language news publications, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, Time, Newsweek, the New Yorker, CNN, Fox News, and several others. (Risen 2/12/2004; Mayer 6/7/2004; McCollam 7/1/2004) New York Daily News reporter Helen Kennedy will say in 2004, “The INC’s agenda was to get us into a war.” Kennedy’s name appears on Qanbar’s list. “The really damaging stories all came from those guys, not the CIA. They did a really sophisticated job of getting it out there.” Bob Drogin of the Los Angeles Times will say, “I think something that hasn’t gotten a lot of attention is how [the INC] used the British press to plant a lot of this stuff, some of it pretty outlandish.” British journalist Jamie Dettmer points the finger the other way. “I’ve been utterly appalled by the lack of skepticism about this entire Iraq project and the war on terrorism” in the press. When Dettmer learns that his name is on the list, he shouts, “Complete bollocks!” Other journalists on the list will refuse to admit that they were duped by the INC, even though some of their stories contain extensive interviews and dramatic claims from INC sources that were later disproven. Qanbar will say, “We did not provide information. We provided defectors. We take no position on them. It’s up to you reporters to decide if they are credible or not.” (McCollam 7/1/2004)
After the State Department decides it will no longer provide the Iraqi National Congress (INC) with monthly payments, funding for the INC’s “information collection” program and other covert operations is picked up by the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) which begins providing Chalabi’s group with a monthly stipend of $340,000. Under the DIA’s rules, the INC is forbidden from publicly releasing any info about its intelligence program without written permission from the Pentagon. Under the State Department, the INC had been feeding stories to the media. The Defense Department tasks the INC with collecting intelligence on Iraq’s alleged ties to al-Qaeda, its presumed arsenal of WMD, and the whereabouts of Michael Scott Speicher, a US Navy pilot missing since being shot down during the first gulf war. Not withstanding its divorce with the INC, the State Department will continue supporting other INC initiatives, providing it with $8 million for its newspaper, anti-Hussein television broadcasts into Iraq, and regional offices and humanitarian relief programs. (Kessler 8/16/2002; Houston Chronicle 3/11/2004; Hosenball and Hirsh 4/5/2004; Mayer 6/7/2004)
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)
Vice President Cheney and his staff have become increasingly reliant on intelligence from Ahmed Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress (INC—see Early 2003). Cheney’s senior aide John Hannah, the liaison between Cheney and the INC, has become increasingly invested in the exile group. “He relied on Ahmed Chalabi for insights and advice,” a Bush administration official will later recall. Cheney has himself become an increasingly vocal Chalabi advocate. At a meeting of President Bush’s National Security Council, the State Department and Pentagon officials argue over whether to increase funding to the INC. Cheney, a former NSC staffer will recall, “weighed in, in a really big way. He said, ‘We’re getting ready to go to war, and we’re nickel-and-diming the INC at a time when they’re providing us with unique intelligence on Iraqi WMD.’” The fact that no one else, particularly the CIA, could confirm anything the INC was providing was merely proof that the CIA was recklessly disregarding INC intelligence. The administration official will say that before long, “there was something of a willingness to give [INC- provided intelligence] greater weight” than that offered by the intelligence community. In return, Cheney’s aides tried to inject their intelligence into the CIA’s own conduits. One CIA analyst will recall that both Cheney and his chief of staff, Lewis Libby, “come out there loaded with crap from OSP [the Office of Special Plans—see September 2002], reams of information from Chalabi’s people” on both terrorism and WMD. One of the main channels into the CIA for Cheney and his staff is Alan Foley, the director of the CIA’s Nonproliferation Center. Cheney’s office inundates Foley with questions about Iraq’s nuclear weapons program, particularly about Iraq’s supposed attempts to purchase uranium from Niger (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001, October 15, 2001, October 18, 2001, November 20, 2001, February 5, 2002, March 1, 2002, Late April or Early May 2002-June 2002, and Late June 2002). At first, Foley attempts to push back by “stressing the implausibility of it,” a colleague of Foley’s will recall. But as Cheney and his aides keep pressing, Foley begins to give in. “He was bullied and intimidated,” one of his friends will recall. The pressure on Foley and other analysts is both relentless and hostile. One retired CIA analyst close to current analysts will recall: “It was done along the lines of: ‘What’s wrong with you bunch of assh_les? You don’t know what’s going on, you’re horribly biased, you’re a bunch of pinkos.’” A current analyst later explains, “It gets to the point where you just don’t want to fight it anymore.” (Foer and Ackerman 11/20/2003)
Ahmed Chalabi, leader of the London-based Iraqi National Congress (INC), meets with the executives of “three US oil multinationals to negotiate the carve-up of Iraq’s massive oil reserves post-Saddam.” Also in attendance are “leading oilmen, exiled Iraqis, and lawyers.” The meeting, titled “Invading Iraq: dangers and opportunities for the energy sector,” meets “behind the closed doors of the Royal Institute of International Affairs” in London. Several weeks after the meeting one delegate will tell The Guardian that the whole day could have been summarized with, “Who gets the oil?” The meeting is confirmed by INC spokesman Zaab Sethna. (Beaumont 11/3/2002; Cholmondeley 11/22/2002) Sethna says: “The oil people are naturally nervous. We’ve had discussions with them, but they’re not in the habit of talking about them.” (Unger 2007, pp. 264)
Concurrent with the New York Times’s revelation of the existence of the Office of Special Plans (OSP—see October 24, 2002), Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld announces the existence of a similar operation, the Counter-Terrorism Evaluation Group (CTEG—see Shortly After September 11, 2001). CTEG has been absorbed into the OSP by this point. The Washington Post will call CTEG “a small team of defense officials outside regular intelligence channels to focus on unearthing details about Iraqi ties with al-Qaeda and other terrorist networks.” The unveiling of CTEG coincides with Rumsfeld’s move to take over the financing and management of an outside project, the “Information Collection Project,” sponsored by the Iraqi National Congress and one of CTEG’s primary sources of information. Before now, the State Department had financed and overseen the INC project, and had grown increasingly reluctant to maintain what Defense Intelligence Agency official Patrick Lang later calls an “off the reservation” intelligence operation (see September 15, 2001). Rumsfeld tells reporters, “Any suggestion that [CTEG is] an intelligence-gathering activity or an intelligence unit of some sort, I think would be a misunderstanding of it.” Rumsfeld’s assertion is contradicted by former CIA case officer, enthusiastic neoconservative, and CTEG consultant Reuel Marc Gerecht, who describes the intelligence-gathering mission of CTEG: “The Pentagon is setting up the capability to assess information on Iraq in areas that in the past might have been the realm of the agency (CIA). They don’t think the product they receive from the agency is always what it should be.” (Lang 6/2004)
The Defense Intelligence Agency [DIA] concludes early in 2003 that the intelligence being provided by dissidents supplied by Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress (INC) is of little value. The New York Times reports that an internal DIA study has found that “dissidents invented or exaggerated their credentials as people with direct knowledge of the Iraqi government and its suspected unconventional weapons program.” (Jehl 9/29/2003; Buncombe 9/30/2003) The study also reveals that more than $1 million was paid to Chalabi’s group for information about Saddam Hussein’s alleged banned weapons programs. (Jehl 9/29/2003; Buncombe 9/30/2003) Unnamed officials interviewed by the Times say the defectors were considered by the Defense Intelligence Agency to be dubious sources from the start. It is believed that the dissidents’ motivation for talking has been money and their opposition to Saddam Hussein. But the Times’ sources “would not speculate on whether the defectors had knowingly provided false information and, if so, what their motivation might have been.” (Jehl 9/29/2003; Buncombe 9/30/2003) Similarly, Mark Garlasco of the DIA will tell PBS Frontline in 2006, that the “INC was constantly shoving crap at us. They were providing information that they thought we wanted to hear. They were feeding the beast [referring to the Office of Special Plans and those within the administration who wanted to go to war with Iraq].” (Kirk 6/20/2006) The bureau chief of Knight Ridder Newspapers, John Walcott, will later say of Chalabi, “Chalabi’s motives were always perfectly clear in this and understandable. He was an Iraqi. He didn’t want his country run by a thug and a murderer, a mass murderer, and a crook. And everything he said had to be looked at in that light, and scrutinized in that light. And why anyone would give him a free pass, or anyone else a free pass for that matter, on a matter as important as going to war, is beyond me.” (Moyers 4/25/2007)
Colin Powell’s chief of staff, Larry Wilkerson, meets with other administration officials and aides at the CIA’s Langley headquarters in a conference room down the hall from George Tenet’s office to review two White House reports on Iraq’s alleged illegal activities. The team includes George Tenet, John McLaughlin, William Tobey and Robert Joseph from the National Security Council, and John Hannah from Vice President Cheney’s office. (Tenet had intended to leave for a Middle East junket, but Powell stopped him from going, insisting on his input and participation.) The two dossiers are meant to serve as the basis for Powell’s upcoming speech at the UN (see February 5, 2003). One of the reports—a 48-page dossier that had been provided to Powell’s office a few days earlier (see January 29, 2003)—deals with Iraq’s supposed arsenal of weapons of mass destruction while the other, a slightly more recent report totaling some 45 pages, addresses the issue of Iraq’s history of human rights violations and its alleged ties to Islamic militant groups. Shortly after Wilkerson begins reviewing the 48-page report on Iraq’s alleged WMD, it becomes apparent that the material is not well sourced. (Burrough et al. 5/2004, pp. 230; Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 177; Unger 2007, pp. 276)
Dossiers Contain Large Amounts of White House Misinformation - Wilkerson has been given three dossiers: about 90 pages of material on Iraq’s WMD, on its sponsorship of terrorism, and on its violation of human rights. Wilkerson is not well informed about the variety of machinations surrounding the WMD issue, but it doesn’t take him long to realize there is a problem. The CIA has an array of analysts with decades of experience studying Iraq’s weapons programs, rigorous peer review procedures to prevent unreliable intelligence from making it into the final assessments, and a large budget devoted to Middle East intelligence. But the CIA had not produced Wilkerson’s dossiers. They had been prepared by Libby, Cheney’s chief of staff. Wilkerson is taken aback by such a breach of procedure, especially on such a critically important matter of state. Former NSC counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke later says, “It’s very strange for the Vice President’s senior adviser to be… saying to the Secretary of State, ‘This is what you should be saying.’” As Wilkerson goes through the material, he realizes, in Unger’s words, “just how aggressively Cheney and his men have stacked the deck.” Wilkerson first reads the 48-page WMD dossier, and is not impressed. “It was anything but an intelligence document,” he later says. “It was, as some people characterized it later, sort of a Chinese menu from which you could pick and choose.”
Cherry-Picked Intel - Wilkerson will continue, “When we had a question, which was virtually every line, John Hannah from the vice president’s office would consult a huge clipboard he had.” Hannah, a former official of the pro-Israel Washington Institute for Near East Policy, had coauthored the dossier with Libby. He had also worked closely with Libby in the White House Iraq Group (see August 2002). Hannah cites the source of each questionable datum Wilkerson asks about, and Wilkerson and his team set about tracking down the original sources of each item. They spend hours poring over satellite photos, intercepts of Iraqi military communications, and various foreign intelligence reports. Wilkerson and his team find that in almost every instance, the original sources do not support the conclusions drawn in the dossier. “Once we read the entirety of those documents,” he will recall, “we’d find that the context was not quite what the cherry-picked item imparted.” Wilkerson believes that much of the dossier’s intelligence comes from Ahmed Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress (see 1992-1996), a belief given credence by the fact that Hannah had served as the chief liaison between the INC and Cheney’s office. As Wilkerson will later recall, “It was clear the thing was put together by cherry-picking everything from the New York Times to the DIA.” Reporters Michael Isikoff and David Corn will later write that “a Defense Intelligence Agency report was not being used properly, a CIA report was not being cited in a fair way, a referenced New York Times article was quoting a DIA report out of context,” and will confirm that much of the material had come from the Iraqi National Congress. (Auster, Mazzetti, and Pound 6/9/2003; Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 177; Unger 2007, pp. 276-278)
Incomprehensible 'Genealogy' - According to Wilkerson, Feith’s office had strung together an incomprehensible “genealogy.” “It was like the Bible,” Wilkerson later recalls. “It was the Old Testament. It was ‘Joe met Bob met Frank met Bill met Ted met Jane in Khartoum and therefore we assume that Bob knew Ralph.’ It was incredible.” (Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 180-181)
Link to Office of Special Plans? - Powell’s staff is also “convinced that much of it had been funneled directly to Cheney by a tiny separate intelligence unit set up by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld” (see Summer 2002 and September 2002), Vanity Fair magazine later reports. (Burrough et al. 5/2004, pp. 230)
Cheney's Aides Attempt to Reinsert Deleted Material - Soon Wilkerson’s team faces the same difficulties with the dossier on Iraq’s connections to Islamist terrorism that it faced with the White House-prepared dossier on Iraq’s WMD (see January 30-February 4, 2003). Tenet has tried manfully to give the administration what it so desperately wants—proof of Iraq’s connections to the 9/11 attacks. The CIA’s unit on Osama bin Laden had gone through 75,000 pages of documents and found no evidence of any such connections. Vice President Cheney and his staffers have always insisted that such a connection does indeed exist. Their strongest claim to that effect is the supposed meeting between 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta and an Iraqi intelligence agent in April 2000 (see September 14, 2001). This claim has long been discredited (see September 18, 2001), but Cheney’s people keep attempting to bring it back into play (see February 1, 2003-February 4, 2003). (Auster, Mazzetti, and Pound 6/9/2003; Bamford 2004, pp. 370-1; Burrough et al. 5/2004, pp. 230; Unger 2007, pp. 276-278)
Information about Australian Software Erroneous - One item in the White House’s original draft alleged that Iraq had obtained software from an Australian company that would provide Iraqis with sensitive information about US topography. The argument was that Iraqis, using that knowledge, could one day attack the US with biological or chemical weapons deployed from unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). But when Powell’s intelligence team investigated the issue, it became “clear that the information was not ironclad” (see October 1, 2002). (Auster, Mazzetti, and Pound 6/9/2003)
'Idiocy' - “We were so appalled at what had arrived from the White House,” one official later says. (Burrough et al. 5/2004, pp. 230) As another senior official (likely Wilkerson) will later recall, “We went through that for about six hours—item by item, page by page and about halfway through the day I realized this is idiocy, we cannot possibly do this, because it was all bullsh_t—it was unsourced, a lot of it was just out of the newspapers, it was—and I look back in retrospect—it was a [Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas] Feith product, it was a Scooter Libby product, it was a Vice President’s office product. It was a product of collusion between that group. And it had no way of standing up, anywhere, I mean it was nuts.” (Bamford 2004, pp. 368-9)
Starting from Scratch - After several hours, Wilkerson and Tenet are both so fed up that they decide to scrap the WMD dossier entirely. “Let’s go back to the NIE,” Tenet suggests, referring to the recently released National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq (see October 1, 2002). Wilkerson is not aware of how badly the NIE had been, in author Craig Unger’s words, “tampered with,” but Powell should have known, as his own intelligence bureau in the State Department had disputed key elements of the NIE. (Bamford 2004, pp. 368-9; Burrough et al. 5/2004, pp. 230; Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 177-178; Unger 2007, pp. 276-278)
US Secretary of State Colin Powell presents the Bush administration’s case against Saddam to the UN Security Council, in advance of an expected vote on a second resolution that the US and Britain hope will provide the justification to use military force against Iraq. (Powell 2/5/2003) At the insistence of Powell, CIA Director George Tenet is seated directly behind him to the right. “It was theater, a device to signal to the world that Powell was relying on the CIA to make his case that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction,” Vanity Fair magazine will later explain. (Bamford 2004, pp. 371-2; Burrough et al. 5/2004, pp. 232) In his speech before the Council, Powell makes the case that Iraq is in further material breach of past UN resolutions, specifically the most recent one, UN Resolution 1441 (see November 8, 2002). Sources cited in Powell’s presentation include defectors, informants, communication intercepts, procurement records, photographs, and detainees. (Powell 2/5/2003) Most of the allegations made by Powell are later demonstrated to be false. “The defectors and other sources went unidentified,” the Associated Press will later report. “The audiotapes were uncorroborated, as were the photo interpretations. No other supporting documents were presented. Little was independently verifiable.” (Hanley 8/9/2003)
Iraq's December 7 Declaration Was Inaccurate - Powell contends that Iraq’s December 7 declaration was not complete. According to UN Resolution 1441 the document was supposed to be a “currently accurate, full and complete declaration of all aspects” of its programs to develop weapons of mass destruction. But Saddam has not done this, says Powell, who explains that Iraq has yet to provide sufficient evidence that it destroyed its previously declared stock of 8,500 liters of anthrax, as it claimed in the declaration. Furthermore, notes the secretary of state, UNSCOM inspectors had previously estimated that Iraq possessed the raw materials to produce as much as 25,000 liters of the virus. (Chivers 2/5/2003; Powell 2/5/2003; Warrick 2/6/2003)
Iraq Has Ties to Al-Qaeda - Powell repeats earlier claims that Saddam Hussein’s government has ties to al-Qaeda. Powell focuses on the cases of the militant Islamic group Ansar-al-Islam and Abu Musab Zarqawi, a Jordanian-born Palestinian, who had received medical treatment in Baghdad during the summer of 2002 (see December 2001-Mid-2002). (Powell 2/5/2003) However, just days before Powell’s speech, US and British intelligence officials—speaking on condition of anonymity—told the press that the administration’s allegations of Iraqi-al-Qaeda ties were based on information provided by Kurdish groups, who, as enemies of Ansar-al-Islam, should not be considered reliable. Furthermore, these sources unequivocally stated that intelligence analysts on both sides of the Atlantic remained unconvinced of the purported links between Iraq and al-Qaeda (see February 3-4, 2003). (Sengupta 2/3/2003; Smith and Rennie 2/4/2003) Powell also claims that Iraq provided “chemical or biological weapons training for two al-Qaeda associates beginning in December 2000.” The claim is based on a September 2002 CIA document which had warned that its sources were of “varying reliability” and that the claim was not substantiated (see September 2002). The report’s main source, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, an al-Qaeda operative who offered the information to CIA interrogators while in custody, later recounts the claim (see February 14, 2004). (CNN 9/26/2002; Jehl 7/31/2004; Isikoff 7/5/2005) Larry Wilkerson, Powell’s chief of staff, will later say that neither he nor Powell ever received “any dissent with respect to those lines… indeed the entire section that now we know came from [al-Libi].” (Isikoff and Hosenball 11/10/2005) Senior US officials will admit to the New York Times and Washington Post after the presentation that the administration was not claiming that Saddam Hussein is “exercising operational control” of al-Qaeda. (Gordon 2/6/2003; Pincus 2/7/2003)
Iraq Has Missiles Capable of Flying Up to 1,200 Kilometers - Describing a photo of the al-Rafah weapons site, Powell says: “As part of this effort, another little piece of evidence, Iraq has built an engine test stand that is larger than anything it has ever had. Notice the dramatic difference in size between the test stand on the left, the old one, and the new one on the right. Note the large exhaust vent. This is where the flame from the engine comes out. The exhaust vent on the right test stand is five times longer than the one on the left. The one of the left is used for short-range missiles. The one on the right is clearly intended for long-range missiles that can fly 1,200 kilometers. This photograph was taken in April of 2002. Since then, the test stand has been finished and a roof has been put over it so it will be harder for satellites to see what’s going on underneath the test stand.” (Powell 2/5/2003; Chivers 2/5/2003) But according to the Associated Press, “… UN missile experts have reported inspecting al-Rafah at least five times since inspections resumed Nov. 27, have studied the specifications of the new test stand, regularly monitor tests at the installation, and thus far have reported no concerns.” (Hanley 2/7/2003) Similarly, Reuters quotes Ali Jassem, an Iraqi official, who explains that the large stand referred to in Powell’s speech is not yet in operation and that its larger size is due to the fact that it will be testing engines horizontally. (Ladki 2/7/2003; Steele 2/15/2003) Several days later, Blix will report to the UN that “so far, the test stand has not been associated with a proscribed activity.” (Steele 2/15/2003)
Iraqis Attempted to Hide Evidence from Inspectors - Powell shows the UN Security Council satellite shots depicting what he claims are chemical weapons bunkers and convoys of Iraqi cargo trucks preparing to transport ballistic missile components from a weapons site just two days before the arrival of inspectors. “We saw this kind of housecleaning at close to 30 sites,” Powell explains. “We must ask ourselves: Why would Iraq suddenly move equipment of this nature before inspections if they were anxious to demonstrate what they had or did not have?” (Powell 2/5/2003) But the photos are interpreted differently by others. An unnamed UN official and German UN Inspector Peter Franck both say the trucks in the photos are actually fire engines. (Stober 3/18/2003; Agence France-Presse 6/6/2003)
'Literally Removed the Crust of the Earth' - Another series of photos—taken during the spring and summer of 2002—show that Iraqis have removed a layer of topsoil from the al-Musayyib chemical complex. This piece of evidence, combined with information provided by an unnamed source, leads Powell to draw the following conclusion: “The Iraqis literally removed the crust of the earth from large portions of this site in order to conceal chemical weapons evidence that would be there from years of chemical weapons activity.” (Powell 2/5/2003; Warrick 2/6/2003) Showing another series of pictures—one taken on November 10 (before inspections) and one taken on December 22—Powell says that a guard station and decontamination truck were removed prior to the arrival of inspectors. Powell does not explain how he knows that the truck in the photograph was a decontamination truck. (Powell 2/5/2003; Warrick 2/6/2003; DeYoung and Pincus 2/6/2003) AP reporter Charles Hanley says that some of Powell’s claims that Iraq is hiding evidence are “ridiculous.” Powell says of a missile site, “This photograph was taken in April of 2002. Since then, the test stand has been finished and a roof has been put over it so it will be harder for satellites to see what’s going on underneath the test stand.” Hanley later says, “What he neglected to mention was that the inspectors were underneath, watching what was going on.” (Moyers 4/25/2007)
Communication Intercepts Demonstrate Iraqi Attempts to Conceal Information from Inspectors - Powell plays recordings of three conversations intercepted by US intelligence—one on November 26, another on January 30, and a third, a “few weeks” before. The conversations suggest that the Iraqis were attempting to hide evidence from inspectors. (Chivers 2/5/2003; Powell 2/5/2003; Reid 2/6/2003; Sydney Morning Herald 2/7/2003) Senior administration officials concede to the Washington Post that it was not known “what military items were discussed in the intercepts.” (Priest and Pincus 2/13/2003) Some critics argue that the intercepts were presented out of context and open to interpretation. (Sydney Morning Herald 2/7/2003; Sydney Morning Herald 2/9/2003) Others note that the conversations were translated from Arabic by US translators and were not analyzed or verified by an independent specialist. (Breslin 2/6/2003)
Biological Weapons Factories - Colin Powell says that US intelligence has “firsthand descriptions” that Iraq has 18 mobile biological weapons factories mounted on trucks and railroad cars. Information about the mobile weapons labs are based on the testimonies of four sources—a defected Iraqi chemical engineer who claims to have supervised one of these facilities, an Iraqi civil engineer (see December 20, 2001), a source in “a position to know,” and a defected Iraqi major (see February 11, 2002). Powell says that the mobile units are capable of producing enough dry biological agent in a single month to kill several thousand people. He shows computer-generated diagrams and pictures based on the sources’ descriptions of the facilities. Powell says that according to the chemical engineer, during the late 1990s, Iraq’s biological weapons scientists would often begin the production of pathogens on Thursday nights and complete the process on Fridays in order to evade UNSCOM inspectors whom Iraq believed would not conduct inspections on the Muslim holy day. (Chivers 2/5/2003; Powell 2/5/2003; Warrick 2/6/2003; Marshall 2/11/2003) Powell tells the delegates, “The source was an eyewitness, an Iraqi chemical engineer, who supervised one of these facilities. He actually was present during biological agent production runs. He was also at the site when an accident occurred in 1998. Twelve technicians died from exposure to biological agents.” He displays models of the mobile trucks drawn from the source’s statements. (CBS News 11/4/2007) Responding to the allegation, Iraqi officials will concede that they do in fact have mobile labs, but insist that they are not used for the development of weapons. According to the Iraqis, the mobile labs are used for food analysis for disease outbreaks, mobile field hospitals, a military field bakery, food and medicine refrigeration trucks, a mobile military morgue and mobile ice making trucks. (Plesch 2/5/2003; ABC News 5/21/2003) Iraq’s explanation is consistent with earlier assessments of the UN weapons inspectors. Before Powell’s presentation, Hans Blix had dismissed suggestions that the Iraqis were using mobile biological weapons labs, reporting that inspections of two alleged mobile labs had turned up nothing. “Two food-testing trucks have been inspected and nothing has been found,” Blix said. And Ewen Buchanan, spokesman for the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, said, “The outline and characteristics of these trucks that we inspected were all consistent with the declared purposes.” (Plesch 2/5/2003; ABC News 5/21/2003)
'Curveball' Primary Source of Claims - Powell’s case is further damaged when it is later learned that one of the sources Powell cited, the Iraqi major, had been earlier judged unreliable by intelligence agents at the Defense Intelligence Agency (see February 11, 2002). In May 2002, the analysts had issued a “fabricator notice” on the informant, noting that he had been “coached by [the] Iraqi National Congress” (INC) (see May 2002). But the main source for the claim had been an Iraqi defector known as “Curveball,” who was initially believed to be the brother of a top aide to Ahmed Chalabi. The source claimed to be a chemical engineer who had helped design and build the mobile labs. His information was passed to Washington through Germany’s intelligence service, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), which had been introduced to the source by the INC. In passing along the information, the BND noted that there were “various problems with the source.” And only one member of the US intelligence community had actually met with the person—an unnamed Pentagon analyst who determined the man was an alcoholic and of dubious reliability. Yet both the DIA and the CIA validated the information. (Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity 8/22/2003; Drogin and Miller 3/28/2004; Landay and Brown 4/4/2004; Newsweek 4/19/2004; Isikoff 7/19/2004) Powell says that the US has three other intelligence sources besides Curveball for the mobile bioweapons labs. Powell will be infuriated to learn that none of those three sources ever corroborated Curveball’s story, and sometimes their information contradicted each other. One of the three had failed a polygraph test and was determined to have lied to his debriefers. Another had already been declared a fabricator by US intelligence community, and had been proven to have mined his information off the Internet. (Drogin and Karlin 11/27/2007) In November 2007, Curveball is identified as Rafid Ahmed Alwan. Serious questions about Curveball’s veracity had already been raised by the time of Powell’s UN presentation. He will later be completely discredited (see November 4, 2007).
Further Problems with Mobile Lab Claims - In addition to the inspectors’ assessments and the dubious nature of the sources Powell cited, there are numerous other problems with the mobile factories claim. Raymond Zilinskas, a microbiologist and former UN weapons inspector, argues that significant amounts of pathogens such as anthrax, could not be produced in the short span of time suggested in Powell’s speech. “You normally would require 36 to 48 hours just to do the fermentation…. The short processing time seems suspicious to me.” He also says: “The only reason you would have mobile labs is to avoid inspectors, because everything about them is difficult. We know it is possible to build them—the United States developed mobile production plants, including one designed for an airplane—but it’s a big hassle. That’s why this strikes me as a bit far-fetched.” (Warrick 2/6/2003) After Powell’s speech, Blix will say in his March 7 report to the UN that his inspectors found no evidence of mobile weapons labs (see March 7, 2003). (CNN 3/7/2003; Agence France-Presse 3/7/2003; King et al. 3/7/2003) Reporter Bob Drogin, author of Curveball: Spies, Lies and the Con Man Who Caused a War, says in 2007, “[B]y the time Colin Powell goes to the UN to make the case for war, he shows the world artists’ conjectures based on analysts’ interpretations and extrapolations of Arabic-to-German-to-English translations of summary debriefing reports of interviews with a manic-depressive defector whom the Americans had never met. [CIA director George] Tenet told Powell that Curveball’s information was ironclad and unassailable. It was a travesty.” (Holland 10/22/2007)
'Four Tons' of VX Toxin - Powell also claims that Iraq has “four tons” of VX nerve toxin. “A single drop of VX on the skin will kill in minutes,” he says. “Four tons.” Hanley later notes, “He didn’t point out that most of that had already been destroyed. And, on point after point he failed to point out that these facilities about which he was raising such alarm were under repeated inspections good, expert people with very good equipment, and who were leaving behind cameras and other monitoring equipment to keep us a continuing eye on it.” (Moyers 4/25/2007)
Iraq is Developing Unmanned Drones Capable of Delivering Weapons of Mass Destruction - Powell asserts that Iraq has flight-tested an unmanned drone capable of flying up to 310 miles and is working on a liquid-fueled ballistic missile with a range of 745 miles. He plays a video of an Iraqi F-1 Mirage jet dispersing “simulated anthrax.” (Powell 2/5/2003; Chivers 2/5/2003; Graham 2/6/2003) But the Associated Press will later report that the video was made prior to the 1991 Gulf War. Apparently, three of the four spray tanks shown in the film had been destroyed during the 1991 military intervention. (Hanley 8/9/2003)
Imported Aluminum Tubes were Meant for Centrifuge - Powell argues that the aluminum tubes which Iraq had attempted to import in July 2001 (see July 2001) were meant to be used in a nuclear weapons program and not for artillery rockets as experts from the US Energy Department, the INR, and the IAEA have been arguing (see February 3, 2003) (see January 11, 2003) (see August 17, 2001) (see January 27, 2003). To support the administration’s case, he cites unusually precise specifications and high tolerances for heat and stress. “It strikes me as quite odd that these tubes are manufactured to a tolerance that far exceeds US requirements for comparable rockets,” he says. “Maybe Iraqis just manufacture their conventional weapons to a higher standard than we do, but I don’t think so.” Powell also suggests that because the tubes were “anodized,” it was unlikely that they had been designed for conventional use. (Powell 2/5/2003; Warrick 2/5/2003; Warrick 3/8/2003) Powell does not mention that numerous US nuclear scientists have dismissed this claim (see August 17, 2001) (see September 23, 2002) (see December 2002). (Albright 10/9/2003) Powell also fails to say that Iraq has rockets identical to the Italian Medusa 81 mm rockets, which are of the same dimensions and made of the same alloy as the 3,000 tubes that were intercepted in July 2001 (see After January 22, 2003). (Gellman and Pincus 8/10/2003) This had been reported just two weeks earlier by the Washington Post. (Richburg 1/24/2003) Moreover, just two days before, Powell was explicitly warned by the US State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research not to cite the aluminum tubes as evidence that Iraq is pursuing nuclear weapons (see February 3, 2003). (Wetzel 7/29/2003)
Iraq Attempted to Acquire Magnets for Use in a Gas Centrifuge Program - Powell says: “We… have intelligence from multiple sources that Iraq is attempting to acquire magnets and high-speed balancing machines. Both items can be used in a gas centrifuge program to enrich uranium. In 1999 and 2000, Iraqi officials negotiated with firms in Romania, India, Russia and Slovenia for the purchase of a magnet production plant. Iraq wanted the plant to produce magnets weighing 20 to 30 grams. That’s the same weight as the magnets used in Iraq’s gas centrifuge program before the Gulf War.” (Powell 2/5/2003; Gordon 2/6/2003) Investigation by the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] will demonstrate that the magnets have a dual use. IAEA Director Mohamed ElBaradei said a little more than a week before, on January 27, in his report to the Security Council: “Iraq presented detailed information on a project to construct a facility to produce magnets for the Iraqi missile program, as well as for industrial applications, and that Iraq had prepared a solicitation of offers, but that the project had been delayed due to ‘financial credit arrangements.’ Preliminary investigations indicate that the specifications contained in the offer solicitation are consistent with those required for the declared intended uses. However, the IAEA will continue to investigate the matter….” (see January 27, 2003) (Annan 1/27/2003 ) On March 7, ElBaradei will provide an additional update: “The IAEA has verified that previously acquired magnets have been used for missile guidance systems, industrial machinery, electricity meters and field telephones. Through visits to research and production sites, reviews of engineering drawings and analyses of sample magnets, IAEA experts familiar with the use of such magnets in centrifuge enrichment have verified that none of the magnets that Iraq has declared could be used directly for a centrifuge magnetic bearing.” (see March 7, 2003) (CNN 3/7/2003)
Iraq Attempted to Purchase Machines to Balance Centrifuge Rotors - Powell states: “Intercepted communications from mid-2000 through last summer show that Iraq front companies sought to buy machines that can be used to balance gas centrifuge rotors. One of these companies also had been involved in a failed effort in 2001 to smuggle aluminum tubes into Iraq.” (Powell 2/5/2003; Gordon 2/6/2003)
Powell Cites Documents Removed from Home of Iraqi Scientist Faleh Hassan - Powell cites the documents that had been found on January 16, 2003 by inspectors with the help of US intelligence at the Baghdad home of Faleh Hassan, a nuclear scientist. Powell asserts that the papers are a “dramatic confirmation” that Saddam Hussein is concealing evidence and not cooperating with the inspections. The 3,000 documents contained information relating to the laser enrichment of uranium (see January 16, 2003). (Coughlin 1/18/2003; Jahn 1/18/2003; BBC 1/19/2003; Powell 2/5/2003) A little more than a week later, in the inspectors’ February 14 update to the UN Security Council (see February 14, 2003), ElBaradei will say, “While the documents have provided some additional details about Iraq’s laser enrichment development efforts, they refer to activities or sites already known to the IAEA and appear to be the personal files of the scientist in whose home they were found. Nothing contained in the documents alters the conclusions previously drawn by the IAEA concerning the extent of Iraq’s laser enrichment program.” (Steele 2/15/2003; BBC 2/17/2003; Hanley 8/9/2003)
Iraq is Hiding Missiles in the Desert - Powell says that according to unidentified sources, the Iraqis have hidden rocket launchers and warheads containing biological weapons in the western desert. He further contends that these caches of weapons are hidden in palm groves and moved to different locations on a weekly basis. (Powell 2/5/2003) It will later be suggested that this claim was “lifted whole from an Iraqi general’s written account of hiding missiles in the 1991 war.” (Hanley 8/9/2003)
Iraq Has Scud Missiles - Powell also says that according to unnamed “intelligence sources,” Iraq has a few dozen Scud-type missiles. (Hanley 8/9/2003)
Iraq Has Weapons of Mass Destruction - Secretary of State Colin Powell states unequivocally: “We… have satellite photos that indicate that banned materials have recently been moved from a number of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction facilities. There can be no doubt that Saddam Hussein has biological weapons and the capability to rapidly produce more, many more.” Elsewhere in his speech he says: “We know that Saddam Hussein is determined to keep his weapons of mass destruction, is determined to make more.” (Powell 2/5/2003; CNN 2/5/2003)
Governments, Media Reaction Mixed - Powell’s speech will fail to convince many skeptical governments, nor will it impress many in the European media. But it will have a tremendous impact in the US media (see February 5, 2003 and After).
New York Times reporter Judith Miller is embedded with Mobile Exploitation Team Alpha (MET Alpha), a US Army unit charged with trying to find weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq. Miller had written a number of front-page Times stories before the war, strongly suggesting Iraq was pursuing WMD programs; all those stories will later be proven incorrect (see November 6-8, 2001, September 8, 2002, April 20, 2003, September 18, 2002, and July 25, 2003). Miller plays what the press will later call a “highly unusual role” with the unit. One US official will later claim that she turns the unit into a “rogue operation.” (Kurtz 6/25/2003)
Accepting Military Restrictions - Miller accepted an unusual set of restrictions from the military in order to embed with MET Alpha. Most embedded journalists agreed not to report on forthcoming military tactics and to conceal sensitive information about troop movements and positions. Miller, on the other hand, agreed to allow the military to censor her work, and agreed not to publish items until they were approved by military officials. MET Alpha public affairs officer Eugene Pomeroy, who works closely with her, will later recall the agreement, saying that Miller helped negotiate the terms, and will recall the agreement being so sensitive that Defense Secretary Donal Rumsfeld signed off on it. According to the agreement, Pomeroy will recall: “Any articles going out had to be, well, censored. The mission contained some highly classified elements and people, what we dubbed the ‘Secret Squirrels,’ and their ‘sources and methods’ had to be protected and a war was about to start.” Miller’s copy is censored by a colonel, presumably MET Alpha commander Colonel Richard McPhee, who, according to Pomeroy, often reads her work in his sleeping bag, clutching a small flashlight between his teeth. Sometimes, while traveling with the unit, Miller wears a military uniform. (Foer 5/21/2005)
Threats and Connections - Miller, who has the reputation of being a “diva,” is friends with powerful neoconservatives such as Rumsfeld, his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith, Pentagon adviser Richard Perle, and other figures in the Pentagon and the Bush administration. One military officer will later claim Miller sometimes “intimidated” Army soldiers by mentioning her relationship to Rumsfeld or Feith, saying, “Essentially, she threatened them,” to get the unit to do her bidding. Another officer says Miller “was always issuing threats of either going to the New York Times or to the secretary of defense. There was nothing veiled about that threat.” This officer adds that MET Alpha “was allowed to bend the rules.” (Kurtz 6/25/2003; Foer 5/21/2005) In 2005, reporter Franklin Foer will write: “While Miller might not have intended to march in lockstep with these hawks, she was caught up in an almost irresistible cycle. Because she kept printing the neocon party line, the neocons kept coming to her with huge stories and great quotes, constantly expanding her access.” (Foer 5/21/2005)
Miller Influences Where the Unit Will Go - On April 21, MET Alpha is ordered to withdraw to the southern Iraqi town of Talil, but Miller objects in a handwritten note to two public affairs officers. Her note says: “I see no reason for me to waste time (or MET Alpha, for that matter) in Talil.… Request permission to stay on here with colleagues at the Palestine Hotel till MET Alpha returns or order to return is rescinded. I intend to write about this decision in the [New York] Times to send a successful team back home just as progress on WMD is being made.” Miller challenges the plan to go to Talil, and takes her concerns to Major General David Petraeus, commander of the 101st Airborne. Petraeus does not have direct authority over McPhee, the commander of the 75th Exploitation Task Force, which contains the MET Alpha unit. But McPhee rescinds the withdrawal order after Petraeus advises him to do so. (Kurtz 6/25/2003; Foer 5/21/2005)
Redirecting the Unit's Mission - Miller is also friends with Iraqi National Congress (INC) leader Ahmed Chalabi, who gave her leads for many later-debunked stories. More than half a dozen military officers will later claim that Miller acts as a go-between between Chalabi and the unit. On one occasion in April she takes some unit leaders to Chalabi’s headquarters, where the unit takes custody of Jamal Mustafa Sultan Tikriti, Saddam Hussein’s son-in-law, number 40 on the US’s most wanted list. She also sits in on his debriefing. None of the members of the unit have any experience in interrogation. Several US military officials will say they are upset that completely untrained officers led the debriefing of Tikriti. One Chalabi aide will explain why they turned Tikriti over to the MET Alpha unit instead of using the ANC’s usual contacts with the US miliary, saying, “We told Judy because we thought it was a good story.” When Miller later writes a story about Tikriti’s capture, she will claim that the handover was pure coincidence, as leaders of the unit “happened to be meeting” with Chalabi to “discuss nonproliferation issues.” One official will later complain that the unit became the “Judith Miller team” when she effectively redirected it from finding WMDs to holding and interrogating high-ranking prisoners. A military officer will later say: “This was totally out of their lane, getting involved with human intelligence.… [Miller] came in with a plan. She was leading them.… She ended up almost hijacking the mission.” A senior staff officer of the 75th Exploitation Task Force will similarly complain, “It’s impossible to exaggerate the impact she had on the mission of this unit, and not for the better.” (Kurtz 6/25/2003)
Guarding Her Access - Pomeroy and another witness will recall Miller jealously guarding her access from other reporters. In one instance, when Washington Post reporter Barton Gellman travels with the unit for a day, Miller orders the unit’s troops not to speak to him. According to Pomeroy, “She told people that she had clearance to be there and Bart didn’t.” (Foer 5/21/2005)
Miller Has Unit Investigate Dubious Tips from Chalabi - In other cases, the unit apparently follows leads given to Miller by Chalabi or his aides. For instance, it discovers Iraqi intelligence documents and maps related to Israel, and Miller writes a story about this. Chalabi aide Zaab Sethna will later say: “We thought this was a great story for the New York Times.… That came from us.” While embedded with the unit, Miller writes stories for the Times strongly suggesting the unit has discovered WMDs. For instance, one of her headlines is “US Analysts Link Iraq Labs to Germ Arms,” and another is “US Experts Find Radioactive Material in Iraq.” But like her pre-war stories about WMDs in Iraq, these stories also will be completely discredited. It is unclear how long Miller hijacks the MET Alpha unit for, but the Washington Post will publish an expose about these connections in late June 2003. (Kurtz 6/25/2003) In late 2003, Miller will say that her reliance on Chalabi’s information is “exaggerated.” (Massing 2/26/2004) In 2005, Foer will call Miller one of “Chalabi’s credulous allies” along with a number of Bush administration officials. The Times will not acknowledge the breadth of Chalabi’s influence on the reports it published by Miller until May 2005, but will refuse to connect Chalabi and Miller. Foer will note that although Miller had more access to MET Alpha than any other reporter, “she was the only major reporter on the WMD beat to miss the story so completely.” (Foer 5/21/2005)
A Mouthpiece for the Administration? - In 2004, Miller tells columnist and media expert Michael Massing that as an investigative reporter in the intelligence area, “my job isn’t to assess the government’s information and be an independent intelligence analyst myself. My job is to tell readers of the New York Times what the government thought about Iraq’s arsenal.” Massing will write, “Many journalists would disagree with this; instead, they would consider offering an independent evaluation of official claims one of their chief responsibilities.” (Massing 2/26/2004)
Admission of Error - In late 2005, Miller will admit that her reporting on Iraqi WMD issues was almost “entirely wrong” (see October 16, 2005).
US forces overrun the Iraqi military training facility at Salman Pak, just south of Baghdad. The facility has been identified by several Iraqi National Congress defectors as a training facility for foreign terrorists, possibly aligned with al-Qaeda (see November 6-8, 2001). (Hersh 5/12/2003; Landay and Strobel 11/2/2005) The day of the raid, Brigadier General Vincent Brooks attempts to give the impression that US forces have found evidence that the camp was used to train terrorists, telling reporters that the camp was hit “in response to information that had been gained by coalition forces from some foreign fighters that we encountered from other country, not Iraq, and we believe that this camp had been used to train these foreign fighters in terror tactics…. The nature of the work being done by some of those people that we captured, their inferences to the type of training that they received, all of these things give us the impression that there was terrorist training that was conducted at Salman Pak.” Brooks says that tanks, armored personnel carriers, buildings used for “command and control and… morale and welfare” were destroyed. “All of that when you roll it together, the reports, where they’re from, why they might be here tell us there’s a linkage between this regime and terrorism and that’s something that we want to break…. There’s no indications of specific organizations that I’m aware of inside of that. We may still find it as with all operations that we conduct into a place, we look for more information after the operation is complete. We’ll pull documents out of it and see what the documents say, if there’s any links or indications. We’ll look and see if there’s any persons that are recovered that may not be Iraqi.” (CNN 4/6/2003) However, US forces find no evidence whatsoever of any terrorists training activities at the camp. The story had a sensational effect in the media, and helped feed the public impression that the regime of Saddam Hussein was connected in some way with the 9/11 terrorists, but others, from Iraqi spokespersons to former US intelligence officials, asserted before the March 2003 invation that the Salman Pak facility was built, not for training terrorists, but for training Iraqi special forces to combat passenger jet hijackers. The facility formerly housed an old fuselage, generally identified as being from a Boeing 707, used in the training, and has been used in counter-terrorism training since the mid-1980s. A former CIA station chief says the agency assisted the Iraqis in their training: “We were helping our allies everywhere we had a liaison.” The former station chief adds that it is unlikely that the Iraqis, or anyone else, would train for terrorist strikes in an open facility easily spotted by satellite surveillance and human observers. “That’s Hollywood rinky-dink stuff,” he says. “They train in basements. You don’t need a real airplane to practice hijacking. The 9/11 terrorists went to gyms. But to take one back you have to practice on the real thing.” The US forces comb through Salman Pak, and find nothing to indicate that the facility was used for anything except counter-terrorism training. (Hersh 5/12/2003; Landay and Strobel 11/2/2005) In 2004, a senior US official will say of the claims about Salman Pak as a terrorist training facility, “We certainly have found nothing to substantiate that.” (Landay and Wells 3/15/2004) In 2006, the Senate Intelligence Committee will report similar findings (see ISeptember 8, 2006). The CIA doubted reports of Salman Pak being used as a terrorist training camp as early as 2003 (see January 2003). And former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter was debunking those stories in 2002 (see August 2002).
The Nation examines the use of so-called “military analysts” by the broadcast news media, retired generals and high-ranking officers brought on camera to share their knowledge and expertise regarding the invasion of Iraq. The report finds that, like Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and many other administration officials and supporters, the retired military analysts have consistently taken a pro-military, pro-administration slant that has led many of them to make consistently wrong judgments and analyzes. It will be five years before the New York Times exposes the Pentagon propaganda operation in which many of these analysts take part (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond).
Ideological and Financial Interests in Promoting the War - While many of them indeed have what one analyst, retired Lieutenant General Barry McCaffrey, calls “a lifetime of experience and objectivity,” many of them also have what the report terms as “ideological or financial stakes in the war. Many hold paid advisory board and executive positions at defense companies and serve as advisers for groups that promoted an invasion of Iraq.” As a result, the report says, these analysts’ objectivity must be questioned. McCaffrey and his colleague, retired Colonel Wayne Downing, both NBC analysts, are both on the advisory board of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, a lobbying group formed to bolster public support for the invasion. Its mission is to “engage in educational advocacy efforts to mobilize US and international support for policies aimed at ending the aggression of Saddam Hussein,” and it deliberately reaches out to influence reporting in both the US and European media. Downing has also served as an unpaid adviser to Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress, a prime source of the fraudulent propaganda and disinformation that provided a rationale for the war (see June 1992 and (1994)). NBC viewers are unaware of McCaffrey’s and Downing’s connections to these pro-war organizations.
McCaffrey and IDT - Neither are they aware of McCaffrey’s seat on the board of four defense firms—Mitretek, Veritas Capital, Raytheon Aerospace, and Integrated Defense Technologies (IDT)—all which have multimillion-dollar defense contracts. IDT is of particular interest, as stock analysts believe that its currently floundering financial state could be remedied by hefty government contracts. McCaffrey has been an outspoken critic of Rumsfeld and his war policies, but his primary objection is his repeated statement that “armor and artillery don’t count” enough in the offensive. He recently told an MSNBC audience, “Thank God for the Abrams tank and… the Bradley fighting vehicle,” and added that the “war isn’t over until we’ve got a tank sitting on top of Saddam’s bunker.” In March 2003, IDT received over $14 million in contracts relating to Abrams and Bradley machinery parts and support hardware.
Downing and Metal Storm - Downing is a board member of Metal Storm Ltd, a ballistics-technology company with both US and Australian defense contracts. According to its executive director, Metal Storm’s technologies will “provide some significant advantage” in the type of urban warfare being fought in Iraq.
Fox News and wvc3 - Fox News analysts Lieutenant Colonel William Cowan and Major Robert Bevelacqua are CEO and vice president, respectively, of the wvc3group, a defense consulting firm that serves as a liaison between arms companies and the US government. The firm recently signed a contract to promote military aviation equipment produced by a New Zealand firm. The firm promotes itself by advising potential customers of its inside contacts with the US military and the Defense Department. A message on its Web site, augmented by a sound file of loud gunfire, reads, “We use our credibility to promote your technology.” Another Fox analyst, Major General Paul Vallely, represents several information-technology firms. Vallely is most valuable, says Fox bureau chief Kim Hume, as a commentator on psychological operations.
Little Concern at the Networks - The networks are relatively uninterested in any potential conflicts of interest or possible promotions of ideological or financial agendas. Elena Nachmanoff, vice president of talent development at NBC News, dismisses any such concerns: “We are employing them for their military expertise, not their political views.” She says that the analysts play influential roles behind the cameras at NBC, helping producers decide on what to report and how to report it. But, she says, defense contracts are “not our interest.” Hume says that Fox “expect[s] the analysts to keep their other interests out of their commentary, or we stop using them.” Hume admits that Fox has never severed its connection with any analyst, though it is aware of Cowan’s, Bevelacqua’s, and Vallely’s ties to their respective defense firms. Interestingly, Vallely, the expert on so-called “psyops” warfare, developed a concept he called “MindWar,” a psychological propaganda strategy that uses, in his words, “electronic media—television and radio” in the “deliberate, aggressive convincing of all participants in a war that we will win that war.” Nation reporters Daniel Benaim, Priyanka Motaparthy, and Vishesh Kumar muse, “With the televised version of Operation Iraqi Freedom, we may be watching his theory at work—and at a tidy profit, too.” (Benaim, Motaparthy, and Kumar 4/21/2003)
British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s now-infamous claim that Iraq could launch weapons of mass destruction “within 45 minutes” is based on information gathered from a single, anonymous Iraqi defector of dubious reliability, British Armed Forces Minister Adam Ingram admits. According to Ingram, the defector was supplied by Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress. The INC defector told American intelligence agents that if Saddam Hussein gave the order, WMDs, presumably contained in missiles, could be on their way to their targets in 45 minutes. The Americans shared that intelligence with their British counterparts, but British intelligence officials considered the story to be unreliable and uncorroborated. According to The Independent, “[h]ow it came to be included as the most dramatic element in the government’s ‘intelligence dossier’ last September, making the case for war (see September 24, 2002), is now the subject of a furious row in Whitehall and abroad.” The 45-minute claim was not part of the original draft of the September 2002 dossier (see September 28, 2002), and government officials deny that the claim was added at the behest of politicians who wanted the dossier “sexed up.” Faced with thunderous denunciations from his own Labour Party and his Conservative opponents for apparently deceiving the nation about Iraqi WMD, Blair says that he has further intelligence, gleaned from former Iraqi scientists, that proves Iraq had an arsenal of WMD. He will present that intelligence in due course, he says. An intelligence source says: “The ‘45-minute’ remark was part of the American intelligence input into the dossier. It was being treated cautiously by the British, but it was alighted on by the politicos and blown out of proportion.” (Whitaker 6/1/2003) Further verification of the hearsay nature of the claim comes in August, when a previously unreleased document shows that the claim came from an anonymous Iraqi source (see August 16, 2003).
Slate reporter Jack Shafer lambasts New York Times reporter Judith Miller’s record of error as the Times’s primary chronicler of the claims for Iraqi WMD. Miller has just written an article backing away from her previous claims (see July 20, 2003), but blaming the failure to find WMD on everything from “chaos [and] disorganization” to “flawed intelligence[,] interagency feuds,” and the wrong choice of people to head the US searches. Shafer responds: “Judith Miller finds everybody associated with the failed search theoretically culpable except Judith Miller. This rings peculiar because Miller, more than any other reporter, showcased the WMD speculations and intelligence findings by the Bush administration and the Iraqi defector/dissidents. Our WMD expectations, such as they were, grew largely out of Miller’s stories.” He notes that Miller’s reports were largely based on assertions from sources affiliated with Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress (INC), and writes, “If reporters who live by their sources were obliged to die by their sources… Miller would be stinking up her family tomb right now.” Shafer goes on to note that Miller’s words were always carefully selected to ensure that the sources, not Miller herself, painted a picture of Iraq teeming with WMD. “[I]f Miller got taken by her coveted sources, so did the reading public, and the Times owes its readers a review of Miller’s many credulous pieces,” Shafer writes. Since the Times has yet to provide such a review, Shafer says, he has done some of the initial work for it.
'The Renovator, Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri' - Shafer begins with an Iraqi civil engineer, Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri, who, thanks to the INC (see December 17, 2001), provided Miller with the information required for stories describing the secret renovation of facilities to store and develop chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons (see December 20, 2001). Shafer notes that al-Haideri, who now lives in the US, has boasted of his willingness to return to Iraq once Saddam Hussein is out of power; he suggests that the Times send him back to Iraq “where he can lead them on a tour of the 20 sites and 20 installations” that he claims housed WMD.
'The Pseudonymous Ahmed al-Shemri' - In September 2002, Miller and her colleague Michael Gordon wrote that Iraq was continuing to develop, produce, and store chemical agents in secret mobile and fixed weapons laboratories, many underground, in defiance of UN weapons sanctions (see September 8, 2002). The allegations, made as part of a much broader story, were based on the allegations of Ahmed al-Shemri, the admitted pseudonym of an Iraqi who claimed to have been “involved” in chemical weapons production in Iraq before his defection in 2001. “All of Iraq is one large storage facility,” al-Shemri told Miller. He also told her of the existence of large, secret labs in Mosul, those labs’ production of 5 tons of liquid VX nerve agent, and their ability to produce far more if requested. And, he told her that Iraq had created a new solid form of VX that makes decontamination difficult. Russian and North Korean scientists were assisting the Iraqis, al-Shemri asserted, and told of stockpiles of “12,500 gallons of anthrax, 2,500 gallons of gas gangrene, 1,250 gallons of aflotoxin, and 2,000 gallons of botulinum throughout the country.” Shafer suggests that al-Shemri “drop his pseudonym to make his background more transparent and lead the Times to the Mosul lab.”
Making the Case for the White House - On September 13, 2002, Miller and Gordon printed a story titled “White House Lists Iraq Steps to Build Banned Weapons” (see September 13, 2002). The story related the White House’s claims of Iraq’s attempt to purchase aluminum tubes to be used in building nuclear missiles, its development of mobile biological laboratories, its attempt to buy poison gas precursors, and the secret development of chlorine gas at Fallujah and three other locations. Also, the article noted, Iraq was constructing missiles in violation of the 1991 cease-fire agreement, was conducting prohibited missile research, and was rebuilding a destroyed facility once used to build long-range missile engines. Shafer suggests that the Times send a delegation of reporters and experts to the sites noted in the article, saying, “Maybe the Times can find evidence that supports or discredits the administration’s claim.”
'Khidir Hamza, Nuclear Mastermind' - Miller has written extensively of the claims of former Iraqi nuclear bomb expert Khidir Hamza (see July 30, 2002), who defected in 1994. Perhaps her most influential story was printed on September 18, 2002 (see September 18, 2002), where she reported Hamza’s claims that Iraq was within two to three years of mass-producing centrifuges necessary to enrich uranium. Shafer suggests that Hamza “take the Times on an Iraqi atomic tour.”
Proclaiming the Defectors' Accuracy - In October 2002, Miller wrote that al-Haideri and Hamza complained that US intelligence was not taking them seriously. She quoted Chalabi and Pentagon adviser Richard Perle’s enthusiastic support for the two defectors’ claims, along with their vociferous attacks on the CIA, and wrote: “The INC has been without question the single most important source of intelligence about Saddam Hussein.… What the agency has learned in recent months has come largely through the INC’s efforts despite indifference of the CIA.” Shafer writes: “Either the INC was wrong or the CIA was wrong. If the INC was wrong, the Times should feed Perle’s words back to him with a fork and spoon.” Miller wrote another story quoting an administration defender of the defectors in January 2003, this time Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz. Shafer says “[t]he Times should review the credibility of all the Iraqis who defected to Miller. Who are the defectors? What did they tell the United States? How much of it was true? How much was blarney?”
Atropine Auto-Injectors - In November 2002, Miller wrote that, according to White House officials, Iraq had ordered “large quantities” of atropine auto-injectors (see November 12, 2002). Atropine is an antidote to sarin and VX, two lethal nerve agents. Shafer says “[t]he Times should track the atropine order to the source, if possible, to see if the request was in preparation for a chemical weapons attack.”
Russian Smallpox Allegations - In December 2002, Miller wrote that a Russian scientist may have provided a virulent strain of smallpox to Iraqi scientists (see December 3, 2002). Shafer notes that it is clear Miller does not know who the source for the allegation was, and the Times should now reinvestigate the story.
Miller's Mobile Exploitation Team Scoop - Shafer writes that Miller’s “biggest scoop” was an April 20, 2003 article titled “Illicit Arms Kept Till Eve of War, an Iraqi Scientist Is Said to Assert” (see April 20, 2003 and April-May 2003). Miller reported on an Iraqi scientist in the custody of a US Mobile Exploitation Team (MET) in search of WMD. The scientist said that Iraq destroyed large stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons just before the invasion, and he led the MET to buried precursor materials from which illegal weapons can be made. Moreover, the scientist alleged that Iraq sent its remaining stockpiles of WMD to Syria in the mid-1990s, where they remain hidden to this day. Iraq provided some of those weapons to al-Qaeda, and has focused heavily on researching new and more powerful weapons. Miller wasn’t allowed to name the precursor element the scientist had named, but wrote that it could be used to create a toxic agent banned under chemical weapons treaties. She was not allowed to speak to the scientist himself, nor could she reveal his name. And, she noted, she agreed to allow the military to review her story, and held off publishing it for three days. In return, the military allowed her to look at the scientist from a distance, as he pointed at spots in the desert where he said the precursor elements were buried. One day after the article appeared, Miller went on PBS, where she called her reporting the “silver bullet” in the WMD search. The next day, she published another article announcing a “paradigm shift” by investigators as a result of what they’d learned from the Iraqi scientist. But neither Miller nor any of the METs actually found anything concrete as a result of the scientist’s allegations. She later admitted that the “scientist” was actually a military intelligence officer, but continued to stand by his original allegations. Shafer suggests that Miller persuade the military to allow her to identify the so-called “precursor” substance, and explain the deceptive portrayal of a military intelligence officer as a scientist familiar with Iraqi WMD programs.
Impact and Consequences - Shafer says that the most important question about Miller is, “Has she grown too close to her sources to be trusted to get it right or to recant her findings when it’s proved that she got it wrong?” He continues: “Because the Times sets the news agenda for the press and the nation, Miller’s reporting had a great impact on the national debate over the wisdom of the Iraq invasion. If she was reliably wrong about Iraq’s WMD, she might have played a major role in encouraging the United States to attack a nation that posed it little threat. At the very least, Miller’s editors should review her dodgy reporting from the last 18 months, explain her astonishing credulity and lack of accountability, and parse the false from the fact in her WMD reporting. In fact, the Times’ incoming executive editor, Bill Keller, could do no better than to launch such an investigation.” (Slate 7/25/2003)
A previously unrevealed document shows that British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s claim that Iraq could strike a target with weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes of an order to deploy was based on hearsay information. The claim had already been shown to be the product of an unreliable Iraqi defector from Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress (see Late May 2003), but an internal Foreign Service document released by the Hutton inquiry undercuts the original claim even further. British and US officials had stated that the 45-minute claim came from an Iraqi officer high in Saddam Hussein’s command structure; the document shows, however, that it came from an informant who passed it on to British intelligence agency MI6. The Guardian writes, “[T]he foundation for the government’s claim was… a single anonymous uncorroborated source quoting another single anonymous uncorroborated source.” Liberal Democrat Menzies Campbell says: “This is classic hearsay. It provides an even thinner justification to go to war. If this is true, neither the prime minister nor the government have been entirely forthcoming.” (Dodd, Watt, and Taylor 8/16/2003)
The single source for the controversial claim that Iraq could launch a strike with its weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes (see September 28, 2002 and March 12, 2007) is identified as “Lieutenant Colonel al-Dabbagh,” an Iraqi who has allegedly spied on Saddam Hussein’s government for British and US intelligence for over seven years. Al-Dabbagh, who does not allow his first name to be used or his photograph taken, is interviewed in Baghdad by journalist and author Con Coughlin. Al-Dabbagh, identified as an adviser to the Iraqi Governing Council, is later revealed to be an Iraqi defector who was brought to US and British attention by Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress. Coughlin is apparently unaware of this. He portrays al-Dabbagh as a heroic risk-taker, “not a man who is easily frightened,” he writes. “[D]eath threats from Saddam’s loyalists” do not deter him from “revealing details of the former Iraqi dictator’s deployment of weapons of mass destruction”; his determination “remain[s] undiminished.”
WMD Remain Hidden - These selfsame loyalists are the reason why US forces cannot find the weapons of mass destruction, al-Dabbagh tells Coughlin. “Saddam’s people are doing this all the time,” he says. “That is why it is so difficult to find the weapons of mass destruction. I am sure the weapons are hidden in Iraq just like I see you now. I am concerned that the chemical and biological weapons are there.” Al-Dabbagh says he is proud to risk his life in divulging Hussein’s secrets: “If Saddam’s people kill me for saying this, I do not mind. I have done my duty to my country and we have got rid of Saddam. And if the British government wants me to come to London to tell the truth about Saddam’s secret weapons program, I am ready to help in any way I can.”
Claim '200 Percent Accurate' - The 45-minute claim is “200 percent accurate!” al-Dabbagh exclaims. “And forget 45 minutes. We could have fired them within half an hour.” Is he the original source of the intelligence? Coughlin asks. Al-Dabbagh replies, “I am the one responsible for providing this information.” A member of the Iraqi Governing Council, General A. J. M. Muhie, al-Dabbagh’s supposed brother-in-law, confirms that al-Dabbagh is the sole source of the claim: “We only had one source for this information and that was Dabbagh,” says the general. Fellow council member Iyad Allawi says he was the one who funnelled al-Dabbagh’s reports to Western intelligence agencies. Muhie is the one who set up the meeting between Coughlin and al-Dabbagh.
Plans to Use WMD against US Invading Forces - Al-Dabbagh tells a detailed story of how the weapons were to be deployed against the American invaders, saying that he and other officers were ordered to use specially designated four-wheel drive Isuzus and only to deploy them if Iraqi forces were in danger of being overrun. Al-Dabbagh and others were then to drive the Isuzus towards American troop emplacements and fire the weapons, presumably chemical and biological weapons tipping hand-held rockets. But the weapons were never deployed, al-Dabbagh claims, because the majority of Iraqi soldiers refused to fight against the Americans. “The West should thank God that the Iraqi army decided not to fight,” he says. “If the army had fought for Saddam, and used these weapons, there would have been terrible consequences.” Whatever became of those fearsome weapons, al-Dabbagh does not know. He believes they were hidden away by Hussein’s Fedayeen loyalists. The weapons will be found, al-Dabbagh predicts, when Hussein is caught or killed: “Only when Saddam is captured will these people talk openly about these weapons. Then they will reveal where they are.” (Coughlin 12/7/2003)
Claims Proven False - Weeks after Coughlin’s interview, al-Dabbagh’s claims will be proven entirely false, and both al-Dabbagh and Allawi will deny any responsibility for their claims (see January 27, 2004).
Ahmed Chalabi, president of the Iraqi National Congress (INC), tells the London Telegraph during an interview in Baghdad that he has no regrets that the intelligence he fed to the US turned out to be wrong. Though his group has been accused of intentionally providing misleading information to US intelligence through the Pentagon offices under Douglas Feith, he believes its members should be regarded as “heroes in error.” “As far as we’re concerned we’ve been entirely successful,” he contends. “That tyrant Saddam is gone and the Americans are in Baghdad. What was said before is not important. The Bush administration is looking for a scapegoat. We’re ready to fall on our swords if he wants.” One of the most significant claims Secretary of State Colin Powell had made to the UN Security Council on February 5, 2003, had been supplied by a source supplied by the INC. In that case, a defected Iraqi major had claimed that Iraq possessed mobile biological weapons labs. (Fairweather and Guardia 2/19/2004)
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)
Former Defense Intelligence Agency analyst Patrick Lang writes that, in his opinion, a “small group of people who think they are the ‘bearers’ of a uniquely correct view of the world… sought to dominate the foreign policy of the United States in the Bush 43 administration, and succeeded in doing so through a practice of excluding all who disagreed with them. Those they could not drive from government they bullied and undermined until they, too, had drunk from the vat.” (Lang correlates the phrase “drunk from the vat” with the common metaphor of “drinking the Kool-Aid,” a particularly nasty turn of phrase sourced from the 1978 Jonestown massacre in Guyana. The phrase now means, Lang explains, “that the person in question has given up personal integrity and has succumbed to the prevailing group-think that typifies policymaking today.”) The result is the war in Iraq, Lang argues, with steadily rising body counts and no clear end in sight.
'Walking Dead' Waiting for Retirement - Lang notes that senior military officers have said that the war’s senior strategist, General Tommy Franks, “had drunk the Kool-Aid,” and many intelligence officers have told Lang that “they too drank the Kool-Aid and as a result consider themselves to be among the ‘walking dead,’ waiting only for retirement and praying for an early release that will allow them to go away and try to forget their dishonor and the damage they have done to the intelligence services and therefore to the republic.” Lang writes that the US intelligence community has been deeply corrupted, bent on serving “specific group goals, ends, and beliefs held to the point of religious faith” and no longer fulfilling its core mission of “describing reality. The policy staffs and politicals in the government have the task of creating a new reality, more to their taste.… Without objective facts, decisions are based on subjective drivel. Wars result from such drivel. We are in the midst of one at present.”
Shutting out Regional Experts - There is little place in Bush administration policy discussions for real experts on the Middle East, Lang writes: “The Pentagon civilian bureaucracy of the Bush administration, dominated by an inner circle of think-tankers, lawyers, and former Senate staffers, virtually hung out a sign, ‘Arabic Speakers Need Not Apply.’ They effectively purged the process of Americans who might have inadvertently developed sympathies for the people of the region. Instead of including such veterans in the planning process, the Bush team opted for amateurs brought in from outside the executive branch who tended to share the views of many of President Bush’s earliest foreign policy advisors and mentors. Because of this hiring bias, the American people got a Middle East planning process dominated by ‘insider’ discourse among longtime colleagues and old friends who ate, drank, talked, worked, and planned only with each other. Most of these people already shared attitudes and concepts of how the Middle East should be handled. Their continued association only reinforced their common beliefs.” The Bush administration does not countenance dissent or open exchange and discussion of opposing beliefs. The Bush policymakers behave, Lang writes, as if they have seized power in a ‘silent coup,’ treating outsiders as political enemies and refusing to hear anything except discussion of their own narrow, mutually shared beliefs.
Using INC Information - Beginning in January 2001, the Bush administration began relying heavily on dubious intelligence provided by Ahmed Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress (INC—see January 30, 2001). The INC began receiving State Department funds in what some White House officials called the “Information Collection Program.” While the US intelligence community had little use for Chalabi, considering him an unreliable fabricator (see 1992-1996), he had close ties with many in the administration, particularly in the office of the vice president and in the senior civilian leadership of the Pentagon (see 1960s, 1985, and 1990-1991). Lang writes that while the INC excelled in providing Iraqi defectors with lurid, usually false tales, “what the program really did was to provide a steady stream of raw information useful in challenging the collective wisdom of the intelligence community where the ‘War with Iraq’ enthusiasts disagreed with the intelligence agencies.” The office of the vice president created what Lang calls “its own intelligence office, buried in the recesses of the Pentagon, to ‘stovepipe’ raw data to the White House, to make the case for war on the basis of the testimony of self-interested emigres and exiles” (see August 2002). From working as the DIA’s senior officer for the Middle East during the 1991 Gulf War and after, Lang knows from personal experience that many neoconservative White House officials believe, as does Vice President Cheney, that it was a mistake for the US to have refrained from occupying Baghdad and toppling Saddam Hussein in 1991 (see August 1992). Lang calls some of these officials “deeply embittered” and ready to rectify what they perceive as a grave error. (Lang 6/2004)
Mohammed al-Zubaidi, a former Iraqi National Congress (INC) official who worked until April 2003 to prep INC defectors with falsified stories to link the Saddam Hussein regime to the 9/11 attacks (see November 6-8, 2001), admits that the INC intentionally exaggerated information it provided to journalists. (His former boss Ahmed Chalabi has admitted the same; see February 18, 2004). “We all know the defectors had a little information on which they built big stories,” he says. INC officials will respond by calling al-Zubaidi “loony” and “childish.” (Fairweather 4/2006)
Rich creditor nations in the Paris Club announce they have reached a deal with the US on the proposed forgiveness of the $38.9 billion owed to those countries. The US wanted 95 percent of the debt canceled while the Paris Club was initially only willing to forgive 50 percent. Under the agreement, the Paris Club agrees to forgive 80 percent. Thirty percent of this will be forgiven immediately, followed by another 30 percent when Iraq agrees on a reform program with the International Monetary Fund, which it is expected to do in 2005. The remaining 20 percent will be canceled in 2008, after Iraq has implemented the reforms. The creditor countries owed the largest sums of money are Japan (4.1 billion dollars), France (2.9 billion), Germany (2.4 billion), the United States (2.2 billion), Britain (900 million), and Russia (9 billion). (St. Petersburg Times 11/22/2004; Mekay 11/23/2004) The deal is denounced in a resolution passed by the Iraqi National Assembly on November 30. The resolution states that “the Paris Club has no right to make decisions and impose IMF conditions on Iraq.” It also says that nearly all of the debt is odious and should be canceled. (Mekay 11/23/2004; Iraqi National Assembly 11/30/2004)
In an op-ed piece published by the Washington Post, David Kay, formerly of the Iraq Survey Group, recommends five steps the US should follow in order to avoid making the same “mistake” it made in Iraq when it wrongly concluded that Iraq had an active illicit weapons program. Three of the points address the issue of politicized intelligence. He implies that the US should learn from the experience it had with the Iraqi National Congress (see 2001-2003), which supplied US intelligence with sources who made false statements about Iraq’s weapon program. “Dissidents and exiles have their own agenda—regime change—and that before being accepted as truth any ‘evidence’ they might supply concerning Iran’s nuclear program must be tested and confirmed by other sources,” he says. In his fourth point, Kay makes it clear that the motives of administration officials should also be considered. He says it is necessary to “understand that overheated rhetoric from policymakers and senior administration officials, unsupported by evidence that can stand international scrutiny, undermines the ability of the United States to halt Iran’s nuclear activities.” And recalling the CIA’s infamous 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq (see October 1, 2002), he says that an NIE on Iran “should not be a rushed and cooked document used to justify the threat of military action” and “should not be led by a team that is trying to prove a case for its boss.” (Kay 2/9/2005)
According to CounterPunch, the Italian Parliament releases a report on the forged Iraq-Niger uranium documents (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001, Late September 2001-Early October 2001, October 15, 2001, December 2001, February 5, 2002, February 12, 2002, October 9, 2002, October 15, 2002, January 2003, February 17, 2003, March 7, 2003, March 8, 2003, and 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003). The report names four people as the most likely forgers: neoconservative Michael Ledeen (see April 3, 2005), former CIA agent Duane Clarridge (see Late 1998), Iraqi National Congress (INC) head Ahmed Chalabi (see 1992-1996 and February 2002), and Chalabi’s close friend and colleague Francis Brooke, who belongs to the Rendon Group, a public relations group formed by the Pentagon in part to promote Chalabi and the INC (see May 1991 and Mid-December 2003). The report suggests the forgeries may have been planeed at a December 2001 meeting in Rome (see December 9, 2001) that involved Ledeen, head of the Italian intelligence service SISMI Nicolo Pollari (see September 9, 2002), and accused spy Larry Franklin (see December 9, 2001). (Leupp 11/1/2005; Leupp 11/9/2005) When the report is publicized in November 2005, Italian government officials will deny the existence of any such report, a denial bolstered by media reports. Journalist Laura Rozen will write that no such report was ever produced, nor was a parliamentary investigation into the Niger forgeries held by the Italian parliament at the time. “There is no parliamentary report,” a spokeswoman for Enzo Bianco, a member of Italy’s parliament, will say. Nor is there an unpublished report, the spokeswoman will say. Rozen will write that Bianco’s spokeswoman “does not just appear to be engaged in a cover up of a secret report. No one in Italy seriously investigating the Niger forgeries has heard of such a report.” The Italian newspaper La Repubblica will also report that no such parliamentary report was ever written. Former CIA officer Vincent Cannistraro, who will say he knew of rumors about such a report at one time, will also say that no such report exists. “There is no published report,” he will tell Rozen. “If there is a report, we might expect it would have some analysis and conclusions. There is no report, at least not a published report.… I think this stuff is just getting circulated.” (Laura Rozen 11/3/2005)
Mother Jones reporter Jack Fairweather and his Iraqi colleague, Aqil Hussein, use tribal records to track down the real Lieutenant General Jamal al-Ghurairy. After 9/11, the Iraqi National Congress prepared an Iraqi defector to pose as al-Ghurairy for a sensational, and false, story claiming that the Hussein regime was training Islamist terrorists (see November 6-8, 2001). The general lives in his home town of Mahmudiya, and meets with the reporters. During their interview, al-Ghurairy grows increasingly angry. He says he never worked at the Salman Pak military installation, where the supposed terrorist training took place, but had been the commandant at the Suwara military base from 1993 until 2000. He says he has never spoken to US intelligence agents or military officials, and until now was unaware that someone had borrowed his identity to disseminate fabrications. “I have never met these people!” he storms. “I have not left Iraq. The people who say this were trying to use my name to make war!” Fairweather notes that he cannot independently verify al-Ghurairy’s identity, writing, “[R]ecords in Iraq are in considerable disarray, and many people have incentive to conceal the truth about their activities before and after the war—former generals are likely high on that list.” But Fairweather was able to corroborate al-Ghurairy’s information with other senior Iraqi officials, who confirmed that the training at the Salman Pak facility was for Iraqi special forces preparing to retake hijacked planes from terrorists. (They do confirm that some foreign fighters were housed at the facility in preparation for the US’s March 2003 invasion.) (Fairweather 4/2006)
The State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs (NEA) spends at least $85 million over the year to fuel dissident movements in Iran and Syria. According to authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein, the State Department program “bore similarities to the program to support Ahmed Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress in the run-up to the war on Iraq” (see (1994), After 1996, and After April 18, 2006). The program has the support of Vice President Cheney, not the least because his daughter, Elizabeth “Liz” Cheney, heads it. Dubose and Bernstein describe the younger Cheney as “smart, competent, hard-working… and compltely unqualified for the job she held: principal deputy assistant for Near Eastern affairs,” or PDAS. Her boss, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Welch, apparently knows better than to attempt to control the younger Cheney. “[S]he’s the vice president’s daughter,” says a State Department source. “There was a kind of parallel universe over there, where David had his projects and Liz had hers. There were some things that David didn’t touch.” The younger Cheney will eventually leave the State Department, but before leaving, she places people throughout the NEA bureau who are ideologically in sync with her and her father, and are intensely loyal. “Until she came in, the NEA bureau always had a variety of people and a variety of perspectives,” the State Department source recalls. “Under [former Secretary of State Colin] Powell, anyone could voice their opinion, make dissenting arguments even if it wasn’t the policy of the administration. That changed when Liz came to be PDAS. It’s now understood that it does you no good to make your views known. In fact, it can even hurt you professionally.… There’s always a fear of the [Pentagon] hawks associated with her father, and she’s obviously talking to her father and his people.” Dubose and Bernstein will write that once the younger Cheney leaves the department in the spring of 2006, “there [will be] a definite policy shift away from military options and toward negotiation with Iran.” (Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 183-184)
The story told by three Iraqi defectors in November 2001, of a terrorist training camp in Salman Pak, outside of Baghdad, has long been disproven (November 6-8, 2001) and one defector has been shown to have pretended to be former Iraqi general Jamal al-Ghurairy, the key source for the story. But only now are the news reporters and pundits beginning to acknowledge—however grudgingly—that they were duped, and that their credulous reportings helped cement the Bush administration’s fabricated case for invading Iraq. The story was one of at least 108 planted in the US and British press by the Iraqi National Congress (INC) between October 2001 and May 2002, a number audaciously provided by the INC itself in its attempts to persuade Congress to continue its funding (see June 26, 2002). The New York Times eventually admitted some faults with its prewar reporting, but only admitted that its coverage of the Salman Pak story had “never been independently verified.” PBS, similarly gulled by the defectors and their fraudulent claims (see October 2005), amended its Frontline Web site for its “Gunning for Saddam” story, which featured interviews with the defectors, to note that the defector’s claims have “not been substantiated,” and later will admit to the likelihood that its reporter, Christopher Buchanan, was duped. New York Times reporter Chris Hedges now says he took the word of producer Lowell Bergman as to the validity of the defector, and was further convinced by one of the defector’s military appearance. As for Bergman, Hedges says, “There has to be a level of trust between reporters. We cover each other’s sources when it’s a good story because otherwise everyone would get hold of it.” Hedges admits he was not aware at the time of how close Bergman, and other Times reporters such as Judith Miller, was to INC head Ahmed Chalabi. “I was on the periphery of all this. This was Bergman’s show.” (Fairweather 4/2006) In 2004, Hedges noted that he attempted to get confirmation from the US government about the defectors and their story, and government officials confirmed the claims: “We tried to vet the defectors and we didn’t get anything out of Washington that said ‘these guys are full of sh*t.’” (McCollam 7/1/2004) Hedges says he later rejected an attempt by Chalabi to convince him that UN inspectors were spying for Saddam Hussein. He also says that he never believed the stories placing 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta in Prague (see April 8, 2001). He no longer trusts Chalabi as a source of information: “He’s a sleazy guy who I was not comfortable working around, but there was nothing right after 9/11 to indicate he was an outright liar.” (Fairweather 4/2006) Hedges notes that Chalabi seemed to have an “endless stable” of defectors to talk with reporters. “He had defectors for any story you wanted. He tried to introduce me to this guy who said he knew about Iraqi spies on the UN inspection teams: the guy was a thug. I didn’t trust either of them.” (McCollam 7/1/2004) However, none of this uncertainty made it into Hedges’s Times report. Bergman says, “You’ve got to remember that back then there really was only one show in town, and that was Chalabi’s. If you were doing a story on Saddam’s Iraq, you would speak to the Iraqi government, the White House, and the INC.” Bergman tried to confirm the al-Ghurairy story with former CIA director and prominent neoconservative James Woolsey, and Woolsey told him that “al-Ghurairy” had met with the FBI in Ankara. (At the time, Woolsey was hardly a neutral source since it was already reported that he was aggressively trying to drum up connections between Iraq and al-Qaeda (see Late September 2001 and Mid-September-October 2001).) “Chalabi was dangerous goods in the sense you know he’s advocating war” Bergman recalls. “But that label is up-front. I think Chalabi is given too much credit for influencing the march to war.” Many conservative pundits still cite the al-Ghurairy tale as justification for the Iraq invasion. And the White House still lists “shutting down the Salman Pak training camp where members of many terrorist camps trained” in its “Progress Report on the Global War on Terrorism” Web page. In 2004, Chalabi boasted, “As far as we’re concerned, we’ve been entirely successful. That tyrant Saddam is gone, and the Americans are in Baghdad. What was said before is not important. The Bush administration is looking for a scapegoat. We’re ready to fall on our swords if he wants. We are heroes in error.” (McCollam 7/1/2004; Fairweather 4/2006)
Dick Cheney’s Office of the Vice President (OVP) is so cloaked in secrecy, journalist Robert Dreyfuss reports, that it routinely refuses to provide a directory of staff members or even the numbers of staff and employees. Dreyfus writes, “Like disciplined Bolsheviks slicing through a fractious opposition, Cheney’s team operates with a single-minded, ideological focus on the exercise of American military power, a belief in the untrammeled power of the presidency, and a fierce penchant for secrecy.” The list of current and former staffers includes, as of April 2006: former chief of staff Lewis Libby; his replacement, David Addington; top national security advisers Eric Edelman and Victoria Nuland; neoconservative and hardline Middle East specialists such as John Hannah, William Luti, and David Wurmser; anti-Chinese Asia specialists such as Stephen Yates and Samantha Ravich; a varying number of technocratic neoconservatives in other posts; and an array of communications specialists, including “Cheney’s Angels”: Mary Matalin, Juleanna Glover Weiss, Jennifer Millerwise, Jennifer Mayfield, Catherine Martin, and Lea Anne McBride. It is known that Cheney’s national security staff was assembled by Libby from various far-right think tanks such as the American Enterprise Institute, the Hudson Institute, and the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), as well as carefully screened Cheney supporters from a variety of Washington law firms. (Dreyfuss 4/16/2006) Lawrence Wilkerson, the former chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, will recall in early 2007: “A friend of mine counted noses [at the office] and came away with 88. That doesn’t count others seconded from other agencies.” (Rozen 1/7/2007)
'Cabal' of Zealots - Wilkerson calls Cheney’s inner group a “cabal” of arrogant, intensely zealous, highly focused loyalists. Recalling Cheney’s staff interacting in a variety of interagency meetings and committees, “The staff that the vice president sent out made sure that those [committees] didn’t key anything up that wasn’t what the vice president wanted,” says Wilkerson. “Their style was simply to sit and listen, and take notes. And if things looked like they were going to go speedily to a decision that they knew that the vice president wasn’t going to like, generally they would, at the end of the meeting, in great bureaucratic style, they’d say: ‘We totally disagree. Meeting’s over.’” The committee agendas were generally scuttled. And if something did get written up as a “decision memo” bound for the Oval Office, Cheney himself would ensure that it died before ever reaching fruition.”
Sidestepping the NSC - The National Security Council (NSC) is designated as the ultimate arbiter for foreign policy options and recommendations for the president. But, according to Wilkerson, Cheney’s office and the NSC were often at loggerheads, and Cheney’s “shadow NSC” had the upper bureaucratic hand. Cheney “set up a staff that knew what the statutory NSC was doing, but the NSC statutory staff didn’t know what his staff was doing,” says Wilkerson.
China Threat - Cheney’s Asia advisers, Yates and Ravich, were most often encountered by Wilkerson. They helped drive Cheney’s agenda for China, which was obsessive to the point of paranoia. China was a grave, if long-term, threat to the US, they believed. The US must begin strongly cultivating Taiwan as a counterbalance to China, whom they asserted was preparing for military action against the US. Former US ambassador to China Charles Freeman compares Yates to the Defense Department’s Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith; all three believed, Freeman says, that China was “the solution to ‘enemy deprivation syndrome.’”
Iraq Policy - Cheney’s current and former staffers played an even larger role in shaping the administration’s Iraq policy than is generally known, and Cheney “seeded” staffers in other departments to promote his war agenda. Luti left the OVP in 2001 to join the Department of Defense, where he organized the Office of Special Plans (OSP). Wurmser, an AEI neoconservative, joined the Pentagon and created the forerunner of the OSP, the Counterterrorism Evaluation Group, which helped manufacture the evidence of connections between Hussein and al-Qaeda. Wurmser worked closely with Hannah, Libby, Luti, and another Pentagon official, Harold Rhode. Ravich worked with neoconservative Middle East analyst Zalmay Khalilzad to build up Ahmad Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress, their designated supplanter of Hussein.
US or Israel Interests? - Many of Cheney’s most influential staffers are pro-Israeli to the point where many observers wonder where their ultimate loyalties lie. David Wurmser is a standout of this group. Wurmser worked at WINEP with Hannah, then joined the AEI, where he directed that group’s Middle East affairs, then joined Feith’s OSP before moving on to Bolton’s inner circle at the State Department, all before joining Cheney in the OVP. Most outsiders consider Wurmser’s ideas wildly unrealistic. A former ambassador says of Wurmser, “I’ve known him for years, and I consider him to be a naive simpleton.” (Dreyfuss 4/16/2006)
A bipartisan Senate report finds that no credible evidence of any links between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein’s government ever existed, despite repeated and insistent claims by the White House and its allies (see Early 1995), March-June 1998, (2:40 p.m.) September 11, 2001, Shortly After September 11, 2001, September 18, 2001, September 19, 2001, September 21, 2001, October 27, 2001, 2002, February 6, 2002, March 22, 2002, July 25, 2002, September 12, 2002, September 15, 2002, September 25, 2002, October 1, 2002, October 2, 2002, October 7, 2002, October 7, 2002, December 2, 2002, Mid-January 2003, January 26, 2003, January 28, 2003, January 28, 2003, February 1, 2003-February 4, 2003, February 5, 2003, February 5, 2003, February 6, 2003, February 8, 2003, February 9, 2003, February 11 or 12, 2003, February 16, 2003, March 9, 2003, March 17, 2003, March 17-18, 2003, Shortly After April 9, 2003, July 9, 2003, September 7, 2003, September 14, 2003-September 17, 2003, September 28, 2003, December 17, 2003, January 8, 2004, January 9, 2004, Early June 2004, June 14, 2004, June 15, 2004, June 15, 2004, October 4, 2004, May 2005, October 2005, (2006), January 31, 2006, March 29, 2006, and September 10, 2006). Panel Democrats say that the White House knew the intelligence surrounding its claims of such links was flawed and unreliable.
Tenet Admitted to Giving in to Pressure - They note that in July former CIA Director George Tenet told the panel that the White House pressured him to support its arguments and that he agreed despite the findings of his own analysts. “Tenet admitted to the Intelligence Committee that the policymakers wanted him to ‘say something about not being inconsistent with what the president had said,’” says Intelligence Committee member Carl Levin (D-MI). Such compliance was, in hindsight, “the wrong thing to do,” Tenet added, according to Levin. “Well, it was much more than that,” Levin says. “It was a shocking abdication of a CIA director’s duty not to act as a shill for any administration or its policy.” Tenet also admitted that he erred in issuing a statement after President Bush’s October 7, 2002 speech saying that Bush’s claims were consistent with CIA findings (see October 7, 2002).
Republicans Say Report Just 'Election-Year Politicking' - Republican committee members insist that there is little new information about prewar intelligence or claims about Iraq’s links to terrorism. Ranking committee member Pat Roberts (R-KS) accuses Levin and other Democrats of trying to “use the committee… insisting that they were deliberately duped into supporting the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s regime.… That is simply not true, and I believe the American people are smart enough to recognize election-year politicking when they see it.” Democrats retort that the report speaks for itself.
Impeachment Not Warranted - However, committee Democrats such as John Rockefeller (D-WV) say that the report does not prove any criminal behavior from Bush or his top officials, and say that impeachment of Bush or anyone else is not warranted.
Hussein Opposed to US Policies - An FBI summary quoted in the report shows Hussein acknowledging that his government had met with al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, but denying any collusion. Hussein said he opposed only US policies, and added that “if he wanted to cooperate with the enemies of the US, he would have allied with North Korea or China,” according to the FBI summary.
Other Portions of Report - Other sections of the report find that no evidence existed to support claims that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear program (see February 7, 2001, February 12, 2001, November 14, 2001, May 2002-September 2002, September 9, 2002, January 9, 2003, March 8, 2003, May 25, 2003, and May 30, 2003), had possessed biological weapons in 2003 (see 2002, 2002-March 2003, Mid-January 2002, March 22, 2002, August 2002, September 2002, September 24, 2002, December 2002, End of December 2002, January 9, 2003, and March 7, 2003), used the Salman Pak facility to train Islamist terrorists (see September 8, 2006), or that Iraqi officials met with 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta in the months before the 9/11 attacks (see September 8-10, 2006). The report also finds that the White House relied heavily on false intelligence from Ahmed Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress (see After August 2, 1989, (1994), January 1996, November 6-8, 2001, Between February 12, 2002 and March 31, 2002, Between February 12, 2002 and March 31, 2002, Summer 2002, and June 26, 2002). (Senate Intelligence Committee 9/8/2006 ; Associated Press 9/9/2006)
The US is receiving false and misleading information about Iran’s nuclear capabilities from an Iranian dissident group labeled as a terrorist organization, says a former UN weapons inspector. The Mujahedeen-e Khalq, or MEK (see 1970s), is an exile group labeled by the US State Department as a terrorist organization, but embraced by many Washington neoconservatives, including a key group of White House officials operating inside Vice President Dick Cheney’s office and another working with Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. David Albright, a former UN weapons inspector for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), says, “We should be very suspicious about what our leaders or the exile groups say about Iran’s nuclear capacity. There’s a drumbeat of allegations, but there’s not a whole lot of solid information. It may be that Iran has not made the decision to build nuclear weapons. We have to be very careful not to overstate the intelligence.” Albright says the information from MEK is somewhat more believable than the extravagantly false information provided by Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraq National Congress, which was used to bolster Bush administration allegations that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq posed a grave and imminent threat to world peace and US security (see (1994). In 2002, MEK provided critical information about Iran’s nuclear-enrichment complex at Natanz and a heavy-water production facility at Arak (see August 2002). It is unclear if Iran is pursuing a nuclear-weapons program; one UN official says of the information gleaned by the IAEA, “It’s a mixed bag.” Of MEK, he says, “The Mujahedeen Khalq appears to have some real sources inside Iran, but you can’t trust them all the time.” Iran has not been fully compliant with IAEA attempts to determine the nature and extent of its nuclear program. Nevertheless, some Congressional lawmakers say that, in light of the misinformation surrounding the claims of Iraq’s weapons programs, policy makers need to be doubly cautious about making claims and pursuing aggressive deterrence operations against Iran. Jane Harman, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, says, “In Iran, as well as North Korea, Syria, and so on, we need accurate, unbiased and timely intelligence. Iraq has shown that our intelligence products have a credibility problem and improvements are critically needed.” Iranian journalist Emadeddin Baghi, a columnist for the liberal Sharq newspaper who served two years in prison for criticizing the religious establishment, says that in Iran, skepticism runs deep. “Many Iranians instinctively disbelieve anything their own government says, but they also disbelieve the Americans, and what has happened in Iraq has strengthened that,” Baghi says. “Iranians see the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and they see the American accusations about nuclear weapons as just another pretext for other hidden aims.” (Collier 10/26/2006)
Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress releases a statement in response to CBS’s 60 Minutes segment revealing the name of discredited Iraqi defector “Curveball” (see November 4, 2007). (Note: the CBS report did not mention Curveball’s alleged INC affiliations.) The INC says that the segment proves once and for all that there is no link between the INC and Curveball: “The INC can state categorically that there has never been any person at any level of the INC who is related to anyone named Rafid Ahmed Alwan.” The statement continues, “The CIA engaged in a smear campaign to link Curveball to the INC in order to deflect blame from its own failures in Iraq.” It calls on the US media to correct the “false information that has misled their readers.” (Iraqi National Congress 11/4/2007) The INC’s blanket denial may not be entirely accurate (see 2001, February 5, 2003, and October 22, 2007).
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