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“What went wrong? Did a poorly conceived propaganda effort by British intelligence, whose practices had been known for years to senior American officials, manage to move, without significant challenge, through the top layers of the American intelligence community and into the most sacrosanct of Presidential briefings? Who permitted it to go into the president’s State of the Union speech? Was the message-the threat posed by Iraq-more important than the integrity of the intelligence-vetting process? Was the Administration lying to itself? Or did it deliberately give Congress and the public what it knew to be bad information?”
“[The OSP] brought about a crucial change of direction in the American intelligence community. These advisers and analysts, who began their work in the days after September 11, 2001, have produced a skein of intelligence reviews that have helped to shape public opinion and American policy toward Iraq.… By last fall , the operation rivaled both the CIA and the Pentagon’s own Defense Intelligence Agency, the DIA, as President Bush’s main source of intelligence regarding Iraq’s possible possession of weapons of mass destruction and connection with al-Qaeda.” [New Yorker, 5/12/2003]
“It turns out that the intelligence community is really very much dominated by a small group of people in the Pentagon. Donald Rumsfeld, the Secretary of Defense, has more or less muscled his way into day-to-day intelligence operations. I wrote about an ad-hoc analytical group that began working in the Pentagon in the aftermath of September 11th, and which became formally known as the Office of Special Plans last August. The office is the responsibility of William Luti, the Under-Secretary of Defense, and its director is Abram Shulsky. They argued that the CIA and other agencies, including the Defense Intelligence Agency and the State Department, weren’t able to understand the connections between Iraq and al-Qaeda, and the extent to which Iraq was involved in the pursuit of weapons of mass destruction. They felt that these agencies didn’t get it right because they didn’t have the right point of view. The Pentagon group’s idea was, essentially: Let’s just assume that there is a connection between al-Qaeda and Iraq, and let’s assume that they have made weapons of mass destruction, and that they’re still actively pursuing nuclear weapons and have generated thousands of tons of chemical and biological weapons and not destroyed them. Having made that leap of faith, let’s then look at the intelligence the CIA has assembled with fresh eyes and see what we can see. As one person I spoke to told me, they wanted to believe it was there and, by God, they found it…. If it is true that this Administration deliberately, from the very beginning, understood that the best way to mobilize the American people was to present Saddam as a direct national-security threat to us, without having the evidence beforehand that he was, that’s, well, frankly, lying. That’s the worst kind of deceit a President can practice. We don’t elect our President to not tell us the real situation of the world, particularly when he sends kids to kill and be killed…. My view as a journalist is simple: you have to hold public officials to the highest possible standard. What’s happened in America is very disturbing. All of us, as parents, don’t want our children to lie to us, and, earlier, as children, don’t want to be lied to by our parents. We all understand that integrity in a relationship is the core issue. The tragedy in America today is that we don’t begin to impose on our national leaders the same standard which we hold so dear in our personal life. In other words, if we were to say, ‘Well, that’s always happened,’ we’d almost be officially saying that there is a double standard—that what we can’t tolerate in our personal life is O.K. in the most important officials we have, those officials with power not only over us but over our young men and women who go to fight, and over the people they kill. If we start saying that anything less than the highest standard is tolerable, we’re really destroying democracy. Democracy exists on the basis of truth.” [New Yorker, 5/12/2003]
“Over the next year , a former American intelligence officer told me, at least one member of the UN inspection team who supported the American and British position arranged for dozens of unverified and unverifiable intelligence reports and tips-data known as inactionable intelligence-to be funneled to MI6 operatives and quietly passed along to newspapers in London and elsewhere. ‘It was intelligence that was crap, and that we couldn’t move on, but the Brits wanted to plant stories in England and around the world,’ the former officer said. There was a series of clandestine meetings with MI6, at which documents were provided, as well as quiet meetings, usually at safe houses in the Washington area. The British propaganda scheme eventually became known to some members of the UN inspection team. ‘I knew a bit,’ one official still on duty at UN headquarters acknowledged last week, ‘but I was never officially told about it.’” [New Yorker, 3/31/2003]
“Taguba’s report, however, amounts to an unsparing study of collective wrongdoing and the failure of Army leadership at the highest levels. The picture he draws of Abu Ghraib is one in which Army regulations and the Geneva conventions were routinely violated, and in which much of the day-to-day management of the prisoners was abdicated to Army military-intelligence units and civilian contract employees. Interrogating prisoners and getting intelligence, including by intimidation and torture, was the priority.” [New Yorker, 5/10/2004]
“Rumsfeld’s decision embittered the American intelligence community, damaged the effectiveness of elite combat units, and hurt America’s prospects in the war on terror.” [New Yorker, 5/24/2004]
President Nixon urges House Minority Leader Gerald Ford (R-MI) to ensure that the House Banking and Currency Committee fails to investigate the source of the freshly minted, sequential stack of $100 bills found on the Watergate burglars (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972). Ford, who has proven his loyalty to Nixon by mounting an unsuccessful bid to impeach Supreme Court Justice William Douglas at Nixon’s behest (see Mid-April 1970), complies without question. Ford will later lie about his actions during his confirmation hearings to become vice president (see October 12, 1973). Ford, according to reporter Seymour Hersh, “understood that personal and political loyalty would get him further in Washington than complete testimony.” (Werth 2006, pp. 234)
After the first day of testimony in the Watergate trial (see January 8-11, 1973), Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein piles into a taxicab with the four Miami-based Watergate burglars and their lawyer, and accompanies them to the airport and even onto the plane one of them is taking in order to have a conversation—an impromptu interview—with one of the men. (In the book All the President’s Men, Bernstein does not identify the subject of the conversation.) The airborne conversation flows with surprising ease. Bernstein learns that E. Howard Hunt has been pressuring the others for a week to plead guilty; their families will be cared for financially, and they will certainly receive some sort of executive clemency within a few months. Hunt is once again serving as a “case officer” giving orders to his lower-level operatives. Their lawyer, Henry Rothblatt (see Early January, 1973), is furious, and has instructed his clients to “stay away from that son of a b_tch Hunt.” (Hunt’s lawyer, William Bittman, denies that Hunt pressured anyone to do anything.) Bernstein, colleague Bob Woodward, and Post editors are leery of publishing the story, worrying that the trial judge, John Sirica, might consider the interview a possible obstruction of justice or interference with the trial. The next day, the New York Times’s Seymour Hersh prints a story that says burglar Frank Sturgis believes former Nixon campaign chief John Mitchell knew about, and even encouraged, the Watergate operation. Time magazine claims that the four Miami burglars will receive $1,000 a month for their jail sentences. And columnist Jack Anderson writes that campaign money for the defendants is being funneled through burglar E. Howard Hunt. Emboldened by the other stories, the Post prints Bernstein’s story. (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 232-233)
The CIA attempts to carry out a secretive recovery, code-named Project Jennifer, of a Soviet Golf-II ballistic submarine that sunk in April 1968 in the Pacific Ocean. The submarine, carrying nuclear missiles, had sunk in over three miles of water. Analysts believe the submarine may have been a rogue on its way to attack Hawaii. The Pentagon is capable of carrying out the necessary deep-sea recovery effort itself, but President Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger decide instead to outsource the recovery to a private firm, Summa Corporation, headed by eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes. The cover story, which has Summa attempting to mine manganese from the ocean floor, is only preserved by CIA Director William Colby feeding Watergate leads to investigative journalist Seymour Hersh to keep Hersh from finding out more about the recovery mission (see February 1975). Summa has built an enormous recovery ship, the Glomar Explorer, for the mission, and the ship goes to the site. Kissinger badly wants the submarine for verification of arms control analyses of Soviet military and nuclear capabilities, as well as for his dealings with defense hawks such as Defense Secretary James Schlesinger. The Glomar has been on site since June, but for the last two weeks an armed Soviet trawler has been near the recovery vessel, taking photographs and making the civilian crew nervous. Many in Washington worry that the Soviets may try to board the Glomar. Kissinger feels that the “intelligence coup” of the recovered sub makes the possibility of a confrontation with the Soviets worthwhile. Ford, like Kissinger and the other senior officials informed of the operation, knows that the Glomar is completely vulnerable, but if President Ford sends US naval vessels to the site, the Soviets will do the same, thus escalating the situation. Worse, the closest Navy vessels are days away. This is Ford’s first test against the Soviets. Ford orders the Glomar to continue operations, but holds off sending naval vessels to the site just yet. (Werth 2006, pp. 28-30; Pike 9/14/2006) The rescue attempt is unsuccessful; as the sub is being pulled to the surface, it breaks apart, irretrievably scattering missiles, computer components, secret codes, and everything else of real value. (Werth 2006, pp. 56) However, unconfirmed accounts say the CIA manages to retrieve a number of items, including three nuclear missiles, two nuclear torpedoes, the ship’s code machine, and various code books. (Pike 9/14/2006)
The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has repeatedly, and illegally, spied on US citizens for years, reveals investigative journalist Seymour Hersh in a landmark report for the New York Times. Such operations are direct violations of the CIA’s charter and the law, both of which prohibit the CIA from operating inside the United States. Apparently operating under orders from Nixon officials, the CIA has conducted electronic and personal surveillance on over 10,000 US citizens, as part of an operation reporting directly to then-CIA Director Richard Helms. In an internal review in 1973, Helms’s successor, James Schlesinger, also found dozens of instances of illegal CIA surveillance operations against US citizens both past and present (see 1973). Many Washington insiders wonder if the revelation of the CIA surveillance operations tie in to the June 17, 1972 break-in of Democratic headquarters at Washington’s Watergate Hotel by five burglars with CIA ties. Those speculations were given credence by Helms’s protests during the Congressional Watergate hearings that the CIA had been “duped” into taking part in the Watergate break-in by White House officials.
Program Beginnings In Dispute - One official believes that the program, a successor to the routine domestic spying operations during the 1950s and 1960s, was sparked by what he calls “Nixon’s antiwar hysteria.” Helms himself indirectly confirmed the involvement of the Nixon White House, during his August 1973 testimony before the Senate Watergate investigative committee (see August 1973).
Special Operations Carried Out Surveillance - The domestic spying was carried out, sources say, by one of the most secretive units in CI, the special operations branch, whose employees carry out wiretaps, break-ins, and burglaries as authorized by their superiors. “That’s really the deep-snow section,” says one high-level intelligence expert. The liaison between the special operations unit and Helms was Richard Ober, a longtime CI official. “Ober had unique and very confidential access to Helms,” says a former CIA official. “I always assumed he was mucking about with Americans who were abroad and then would come back, people like the Black Panthers.” After the program was revealed in 1973 by Schlesinger, Ober was abruptly transferred to the National Security Council. He wasn’t fired because, says one source, he was “too embarrassing, too hot.” Angleton denies any wrongdoing.
Supposition That Civil Rights Movement 'Riddled' With Foreign Spies - Moscow, who relayed information about violent underground protesters during the height of the antiwar movement, says that black militants in the US were trained by North Koreans, and says that both Yasser Arafat, of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, and the KGB were involved to some extent in the antiwar movement, a characterization disputed by former FBI officials as based on worthless intelligence from overseas. For Angleton to make such rash accusations is, according to one member of Congress, “even a better story than the domestic spying.” A former CIA official involved in the 1969-70 studies by the agency on foreign involvement in the antiwar movement says that Angleton believes foreign agents are indeed involved in antiwar and civil rights organizations, “but he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”
'Cesspool' of Illegality Distressed Schlesinger - According to one of Schlesinger’s former CIA associates, Schlesinger was distressed at the operations. “He found himself in a cesspool,” says the associate. “He was having a grenade blowing up in his face every time he turned around.” Schlesinger, who stayed at the helm of the CIA for only six months before becoming secretary of defense, informed the Department of Justice (DOJ) about the Watergate break-in, as well as another operation by the so-called “plumbers,” their burglary of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office after Ellsberg released the “Pentagon Papers” to the press. Schlesinger began a round of reforms of the CIA, reforms that have been continued to a lesser degree by Colby. (Some reports suggest that CIA officials shredded potentially incriminating documents after Schlesinger began his reform efforts, but this is not known for sure.) Intelligence officials confirm that the spying did take place, but, as one official says, “Anything that we did was in the context of foreign counterintelligence and it was focused at foreign intelligence and foreign intelligence problems.”
'Huston Plan' - But the official also confirms that part of the illegal surveillance was carried out as part of the so-called “Huston plan,” an operation named for former White House aide Tom Charles Huston (see July 26-27, 1970) that used electronic and physical surveillance, along with break-ins and burglaries, to counter antiwar and civil rights protests, “fomented,” as Nixon believed, by so-called black extremists. Nixon and other White House officials have long denied that the Huston plan was ever implemented. “[O]bviously,” says one government intelligence official, the CIA’s decision to create and maintain dossiers on US citizens “got a push at that time.…The problem was that it was handled in a very spooky way. If you’re an agent in Paris and you’re asked to find out whether Jane Fonda is being manipulated by foreign intelligence services, you’ve got to ask yourself who is the real target. Is it the foreign intelligence services or Jane Fonda?” Huston himself denies that the program was ever intended to operate within the United States, and implies that the CIA was operating independently of the White House. Government officials try to justify the surveillance program by citing the “gray areas” in the law that allows US intelligence agencies to encroach on what, by law, is the FBI’s bailiwick—domestic surveillance of criminal activities—when a US citizen may have been approached by foreign intelligence agents. And at least one senior CIA official says that the CIA has the right to engage in such activities because of the need to protect intelligence sources and keep secrets from being revealed.
Surveillance Program Blatant Violation of Law - But many experts on national security law say the CIA program is a violation of the 1947 law prohibiting domestic surveillance by the CIA and other intelligence agencies. Vanderbilt University professor Henry Howe Ransom, a leading expert on the CIA, says the 1947 statute is a “clear prohibition against any internal security functions under any circumstances.” Ransom says that when Congress enacted the law, it intended to avoid any possibility of police-state tactics by US intelligence agencies; Ransom quotes one Congressman as saying, “We don’t want a Gestapo.” Interestingly, during his 1973 confirmation hearings, CIA Director Colby said he believed the same thing, that the CIA has no business conducting domestic surveillance for any purpose at any time: “I really see less of a gray area [than Helms] in that regard. I believe that there is really no authority under that act that can be used.” Even high-level government officials were not aware of the CIA’s domestic spying program until very recently. “Counterintelligence!” exclaimed one Justice Department official upon learning some details of the program. “They’re not supposed to have any counterintelligence in this country. Oh my God. Oh my God.” A former FBI counterterrorism official says he was angry upon learning of the program. “[The FBI] had an agreement with them that they weren’t to do anything unless they checked with us. They double-crossed me all along.” Many feel that the program stems, in some regards, from the long-standing mistrust between the CIA and the FBI. How many unsolved burglaries and other crimes can be laid at the feet of the CIA and its domestic spying operation is unclear. In 1974, Rolling Stone magazine listed a number of unsolved burglaries that its editors felt might be connected with the CIA. And Senator Howard Baker (R-TN), the vice chairman of the Senate Watergate investigative committee, has alluded to mysterious links between the CIA and the Nixon White House. On June 23, 1972, Nixon told his aide, H.R. Haldeman, “Well, we protected Helms from a hell of a lot of things.” (Hersh 12/22/1974 )
The Los Angeles Times prints the first story on the apparently failed Project Jennifer, the CIA’s 1974 attempt to raise a sunken Soviet submarine (see June 20-August 14, 1974). (Pike 9/14/2006) The New York Times’s Seymour Hersh had learned of the secret project in mid-1974, and had prepared a story for publication while it was still underway, but the CIA persuaded the newspaper not to publish the story. After the Los Angeles Times prints its piece, the New York Times publishes the Hersh story, with a lengthy explanation of the agreement not to publish the story almost a year before. (Manjoo 12/22/2005)
Investigative journalist Seymour Hersh publishes an explosive story in the New York Times, revealing that US submarines are tapping into Soviet communications cables inside the USSR’s three-mile territorial limit. Hersh notes that his inside sources gave him the information in hopes that it would modify administration policy: they believe that using submarines in this manner violates the spirit of detente and is more risky than using satellites to garner similar information. The reaction inside both the Pentagon and the White House is predictably agitated. Chief of Staff Donald Rumsfeld, traveling in Europe with President Ford, delegates his deputy Dick Cheney to formulate the administration’s response. Cheney goes farther than most administration officials would have predicted. He calls a meeting with Attorney General Edward Levi and White House counsel Philip Buchan to discuss options. Cheney’s first thought is to either engineer a burglary of Hersh’s home to find classified documents, or to obtain search warrants and have Hersh’s home legally ransacked. He also considers having a grand jury indict Hersh and the Times over their publication of classified information. “Will we get hit with violating the 1st amendment to the constitution[?]” Cheney writes in his notes of the discussion. Levi manages to rein in Cheney; since the leak and the story do not endanger the spying operations, the White House ultimately decides to let the matter drop rather than draw further attention to it. Interestingly, Cheney has other strings to his bow; he writes in his notes: “Can we take advantage of [the leak] to bolster our position on the Church committee investigation (see April, 1976)? To point out the need for limits on the scope of the investigation?” (Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 34-35)
The US Congress passes the “Pressler Amendment,” requiring the president to certify that Pakistan does not have nuclear weapons every year. The amendment was championed by Senator Larry Pressler (R-SD). If the president does not issue such certification, Pakistan cannot not get any foreign aid from the US. Presidents Reagan and Bush will falsely certify Pakistan does not have nuclear weapons several times (see August 1985-October 1990). Journalist Seymour Hersh will later comment: “There is indisputable evidence that Pakistan has been able to escape public scrutiny for its violations of the law because senior officials of the Reagan and the Bush administrations chose not to share the intelligence about nuclear purchases with Congress. The two Republican administrations obviously feared that the legislators, who had voted for the Solarz (see August 1985) and Pressler Amendments, would cut off funds for the war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. It was yet another clash between a much desired foreign-policy goal and the law.” (Hersh 3/29/1993)
President Ronald Reagan in 1987 and 1988 and President George Bush in 1989 continue to certify that Pakistan does not have a nuclear weapon, a condition of continuing aid to Pakistan under the law (see August 1985). These certifications began in 1985 (see August 1985-October 1990) and are thought to be important because Pakistan is a key base for the CIA-backed Afghan mujaheddin, and cutting off aid to Pakistan might curtail CIA support for the anti-Soviet forces. According to journalist Seymour Hersh, the rationale behind the certifications is that there is “no specific evidence that Pakistan [has] indeed done what it was known to be capable of doing,” and produced a nuclear weapon. In addition, it is apparently thought that if the US continues to supply conventional weapons, Pakistan will not need a nuclear bomb, although Hersh says this is “a very thin argument, as everyone involved [knows].” However, CIA officer Richard Kerr will later say, “There is no question that we had an intelligence basis for not certifying from 1987 on.” By this time there is mounting evidence of Pakistan’s nuclear program (see 1987, (1987), and July 1987 or Shortly After). (Hersh 3/29/1993)
A. Q. Khan, father of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program, tells an Indian reporter that the program has been successful (see 1987). “What the CIA has been saying about our possessing the bomb is correct,” he says, adding, “They told us Pakistan could never produce the bomb and they doubted my capabilities, but they now know we have it.” He says that Pakistan does not want to use the bomb, but “if driven to the wall there will be no option left.” The comments are made during a major Indian army exercise known as Brass Tacks that Pakistanis consider a serious threat, as it is close to the Pakistani border. In fact, at one point the Indian commanding general is reported to consider actually attacking Pakistan—an attack that would be a sure success given India’s conventional superiority. According to reporter Seymour Hersh, the purpose of the interview is “to convey a not very subtle message to the Indians: any attempt to dismember Pakistan would be countered with the bomb.” This interview is an embarrassment to the US government, which aided Pakistan during the Soviet-Afghan War, but has repeatedly claimed Pakistan does not have nuclear weapons (see August 1985-October 1990). Khan retracts his remarks a few days later, saying he was tricked by the reporter. (Hersh 3/29/1993)
President Ronald Reagan invokes the Solarz amendment (see August 1985), cutting off aid to Pakistan due to its illicit nuclear weapons program. This is in response to the arrest of a Pakistani agent attempting to purchase technology for the program in the US six months previously (see Before July 1987). However, Reagan then waives the provisions of the amendment, allowing US aid to Pakistan to continue. Journalist Seymour Hersh will comment, “The president was telling Pakistan that it could have its money—and its bomb.” (Hersh 3/29/1993)
According to some accounts, by this time it is common knowledge in certain Washington circles that Pakistan has nuclear weapons. Despite this, the US government and Congress continues to pretend that Pakistan does not have such weapons, so that aid to Pakistan and the anti-Soviet mujaheddin based there can continue (see 1987-1989). A former top-level Reagan Administration official will later question the integrity of members of Congress who outwardly pretended to be tough on nuclear proliferators, but did not really want the aid to be cut off: “All this morality horse****. We were caught in a dilemma, and I didn’t know how to solve it: there was no way to stop the Pakistanis.… All this talk about breaking the law—it’s just a morality play. Of course everybody in Congress knew. The Administration was carrying out a popularly based policy in Afghanistan. If we’d cut off the aid to Pakistan, would we have been able to withstand the political heat from Congress?”
Former Ambassador: Congress 'Acquiesced' to Pakistani Program - According to the New Yorker, “many former members of the Reagan and Bush Administrations,” such as former ambassador to Pakistan Robert Oakley, will say that the essential facts about Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program were known fully at this time to Congress, whose members “acquiesced” to the program, because of the Soviet-Afghan War and the popularity of Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in the US. Journalist Seymour Hersh will later comment, “Oakley’s point seemed to be that passive approval by Congress of bad policy somehow justified bad policy.”
Glenn: Nonproliferation Initiatives Thwarted - Senator John Glenn (D-OH) will say that most lawmakers did not want to know anyway: “I always thought in terms of the bigger picture—the nonproliferation treaty… We made a commitment that we’d cut off aid to transgressors, and we had to keep faith with those Third World people who signed with us. I didn’t think I had any option but to press for enforcement of the law against Pakistan.” He adds: “The Administration would always come to me and say how important it is to keep the arms flowing through to Afghanistan. I’d take my case on nonproliferation to the floor and lose the vote.”
Solarz: Balancing Concerns between Pakistan, Afghan War - Congressman Stephen Solarz (D-NY), one of the strongest opponents of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program during the Soviet-Afghan War, will admit that he and others who cared about non-proliferation constantly tried to balance that concern with a desire to support the anti-Soviet effort, which was based in Pakistan. “There were legitimate concerns that the Afghan war might spill over to Pakistan, and I felt we needed to give the President flexibility,” Solarz will say. “I didn’t want us to be in a worst-case scenario in case the Soviets moved across the border. I thought I was being responsible at the time.” Referring to allegations made by former State Department, CIA, and Pentagon analyst Richard Barlow that the administration was well-aware of the program and constantly lied to Congress (see July 1987 or Shortly After), he adds, “If what Barlow says is true, this would have been a major scandal of Iran-Contra proportions, and the officials involved would have had to resign. We’re not dealing with minor matters. Stopping the spread of nuclear weapons is one of the major foreign-policy issues of the nation—not to mention the law of the land.” (Hersh 3/29/1993)
Based on intelligence gathered about Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program, the US concludes that Pakistan has between six and ten nuclear weapons. Seymour Hersh of the New Yorker will later say that at this time Pakistan’s leadership is “fully prepared to use the weapons, if necessary, in a war against India.” There are heightened tensions between the two countries at this time due to unrest in Kashmir and Indian army manouevers (see January-May 1990 and May 1990). (Hersh 3/29/1993)
After the US successfully resolves a crisis that could have led to nuclear war between Pakistan and India (see January-May 1990 and May 1990), essential details of the affair remain secret until March 1993, when they are revealed in a New Yorker article by Seymour Hersh. Hersh will comment, “Stopping a nuclear exchange seemed made to order for the public-relations machinery of the White House.” However, what reports there are at the time in the US and British press are dismissed as exaggerations by the Bush administration. Hersh will say: “An obvious explanation for the high-level quiet revolves around the fact, haunting to some in the intelligence community, that the Reagan administration had dramatically aided Pakistan in its pursuit of the bomb.… [The administration] looked the other way throughout the mid-nineteen-eighties as Pakistan assembled its nuclear arsenal with the aid of many millions of dollars’ worth of restricted, high-tech materials bought inside the United States.” (Hersh 3/29/1993)
President George Bush allows Pakistan to buy US-made weapons from commercial companies, despite having invoked the Pressler amendment (see August 1985) the previous year due to the Pakistanis’ nuclear weapons program. The Pressler amendment provided for sanctions against Pakistan, such as the suspension of foreign aid, if the US president failed to certify Pakistan did not have a nuclear weapon, which President Bush did not do in 1990 (see October 1990). Journalist Seymour Hersh will later comment that this permission “nullif[ies] the impact of the law.” (Hersh 3/29/1993)
An Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) employee tells journalist Seymour Hersh that the 9/11 hijackings were accomplished with guns put on the planes by airport employees. Hersh then calls Rear Admiral Cathal Flynn, associate administrator of security at the Federal Aviation Administration, and tells him, “The guns were put onto the plane by the ramp workers.” When Flynn argues that there are no reports of this, Hersh replies, “Those ramp workers aren’t even checked,” and insists, “There were pistols and they were put onto the plane by the ramp workers.” (Trento and Trento 2006, pp. 47-8) Although there are some reports of guns being used on the hijacked flights (see (8:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and 9:27 a.m. September 11, 2001), the 9/11 Commission, for example, will not say that guns were used by the hijackers. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004)
Journalist Seymour Hersh will write in the New Yorker in late September 2001, “After more than two weeks of around-the-clock investigation into the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the American intelligence community remains confused, divided, and unsure about how the terrorists operated, how many there were, and what they might do next. It was that lack of solid information, government officials told me, that was the key factor behind the Bush Administration’s decision last week not to issue a promised white paper listing the evidence linking Osama bin Laden’s organization to the attacks” (see September 23-24, 2001). An unnamed senior official tells Hersh, “One day we’ll know, but at the moment we don’t know.” Hersh further reports, “It is widely believed that the terrorists had a support team, and the fact that the FBI has been unable to track down fellow-conspirators who were left behind in the United States is seen as further evidence of careful planning. ‘Look,’ one person familiar with the investigation said. ‘If it were as simple and straightforward as a lucky one-off oddball operation, then the seeds of confusion would not have been sown as they were.’” The hijackers left a surprisingly obvious trail of clues, even regularly paying for delivered pizzas using credit cards in their own name (see September 11-13, 2001). Hersh further reports, “Many of the investigators believe that some of the initial clues that were uncovered about the terrorists’ identities and preparations, such as flight manuals, were meant to be found. A former high-level intelligence official told me, ‘Whatever trail was left was left deliberately—for the FBI to chase.’” (Hersh 10/8/2001) Many newspaper reports in late September 2001 indicate doubt over the identities of many hijackers (see September 16-23, 2001). The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry’s 2003 report will strongly suggest that the hijackers at least had numerous accomplices in the US (see July 24, 2003). But the 9/11 Commission’s 2004 report will downplay any suggestions of US accomplices and will indicate no doubts about the hijackers’ identities. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 231, 238-9)
In late 2001 or early 2002, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld creates Operation Copper Green, which is a “special access program” with “blanket advance approval to kill or capture and, if possible, interrogate ‘high value’ targets.” especially al-Qaeda leaders (see Late 2001-Early 2002). According to a Pentagon counterterrorism consultant involved in the operation, the authorizations are “very calibrated” and vague in order to minimize political risk. “The CIA never got the exact language it wanted.” According to a high-level CIA official involved in the operation, the White House would hint to the CIA that the CIA should operate outside official guidelines to do what it wants to do. The CIA will later deny this, but CIA Director George Tenet will later acknowledge that there had been a struggle “to get clear guidance” in terms of how far to go during detainee interrogations. Slowly, official authorizations are expanded, and according to journalist Seymour Hersh, they turn “several nations in North Africa, the Middle East, and Asia into free-fire zones with regard to high-value targets.” But Copper Green has top-level secrecy and runs outside normal bureaucracies and rules. According to Hersh, “In special cases, the task forces could bypass the chain of command and deal directly with Rumsfeld’s office.” One CIA officer tells Hersh that the task-force teams “had full authority to whack—to go in and conduct ‘executive action,’” meaning political assassination. The officer adds, “It was surrealistic what these guys were doing. They were running around the world without clearing their operations with the ambassador or the chief of station.” (Hersh 6/17/2007) Another former intelligence official tells Hersh, “The rules are ‘Grab whom you must. Do what you want.’” (Hersh 9/13/2004) The above-mentioned high-level CIA official will claim, “The dirt and secrets are in the back channel. All this open business—sitting in staff meetings, etc…, etc…—is the Potemkin Village stuff.” Over time, people with reservations about the program get weeded out. The official claims that by 2006, “the good guys… are gone.” (Hersh 6/17/2007)
Seymour Hersh of New Yorker magazine reveals that, despite a weak case against Zacarias Moussaoui, no federal prosecutor has discussed a plea bargain with him since he was indicted in November 2001. Hersh reports that “Moussaoui’s lawyers, and some FBI officials, remain bewildered at the government’s failure to pursue a plea bargain.” Says a federal public defender, “I’ve never been in a conspiracy case where the government wasn’t interested in knowing if the defendant had any information—to see if there wasn’t more to the conspiracy.” Apparently a plea bargain isn’t being considered because Attorney General Ashcroft wants nothing less than the death penalty for Moussaoui. One former CIA official claims, “They cast a wide net and [Moussaoui] happened to be a little fish who got caught up in it. They know it now. And nobody will back off.” A legal expert says, “It appears that Moussaoui is not competent to represent himself, because he doesn’t seem to understand the fundamentals of the charges against him, but I am starting to feel that the rest of us are crazier… we may let this man talk himself to death to soothe our sense of vulnerability.” (Hersh 9/30/2002)
Italian journalist Elisabetta Burba flies to Niger to investigate some documents (see March 2000) she received a few days earlier (see Afternoon October 7, 2002). Not wanting to draw attention to her mission, she claims to be in Niger to investigate a newly discovered dinosaur fossil in the Tenere Desert. It does not take her long to discover just how difficult it would be to clandestinely ship 500 tons of uranium from Niger to Iraq (see March 1, 2002). (Priest 7/20/2003; Associated Press 7/20/2003; Unger 2007, pp. 261) “They would have needed hundreds of trucks,” she reports, a large percentage of all the trucks in Niger. It would have been impossible to conceal. (Eisner 4/3/2007) Investigative journalist Seymour Hersh will later report: “She visited mines and the ports that any exports would pass through, spoke to European businessmen and officials informed about Niger’s uranium industry, and found no trace of a sale. She also learned that the transport company and the bank mentioned in the papers were too small and too ill-equipped to handle such a transaction.” (Priest 7/20/2003; Associated Press 7/20/2003; Hersh 10/27/2003) With all evidence indicating that the papers are bogus, Burba returns to Italy, ready to write a different story: not on the claims of a uranium purchase, but on the attempt to pass off forged documents to make such an explosive claim. Instead, her editor, Carlo Rossella, calls her off. “I told her to forget the documents,” Rossalla later recalls. “From my point of view, the story was over.” (Unger 2007, pp. 261)
Author and famed reporter Bob Woodward’s book Bush at War is published.
Unprecedented Access - Woodward, who made his reputation uncovering the Watergate conspiracy from 30 years before (see June 15, 1974), is no longer an unknown young reporter working to find sources that will confide in him. Now he is an established Washington insider. For this book, Woodward was granted “unprecedented access” to Bush administration officials, including notes from National Security Council meetings and two long interviews with President Bush himself, far more access than even that granted to the 9/11 Commission and Congressional inquiries into other events of interest. Former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich will find this level of access inexplicable, saying that “it makes no sense for an administration that has jealously guarded its executive privilege to allow a reporter the access it denies to members of Congress.”
Hagiographic Account - The Observer’s Peter Preston calls Woodward’s book a “more-or-less instant study of the White House after 9/11,” and writes that while Woodward could have created “a classic of investigative journalism,” instead he gave us a compendium of “painful, obsessively useless detail” that generally paints the picture the White House wants painted. If Woodward’s book is to be believed, Preston writes, the Colin Powell moderates and the Dick Cheney hawks “had their snappy moments, but they’re OK-ish now.” CIA Director George Tenet “is a far-sighted man” who not only immediately divined that Osama bin Laden was behind the attacks, but while the towers were still burning, wondered if the attacks had anything to do with “that guy taking pilot training,” Zacarias Moussaoui. Iraq war planner General Tommy Franks usually feels “finer than the hair on a frog’s back.” Former President Clinton’s “weak-willed men used to ‘pound the desert’ ineffectually, while his brilliant successors like to hit something, if at all possible.” And President Bush “is bright and talented and eloquent and decisive,” who runs National Security Council meetings himself and knows all he needs to know about the state of the world (Woodward quotes Bush as saying, “I’m not a textbook player—I’m a gut player”). Both Preston and author Frank Rich accuse Woodward of “burnishing” Bush’s image at the expense of the truth. A few potentially embarrassing tidbits manage to poke their way through what both Preston and Rich call the “hagiography,” mostly relating to senior administration officials’ lack of knowledge about Afghan tribal politics and the lack of evidence tying Saddam Hussein to the 9/11 attacks. But all told, the book seems to tell a clear story: where Clinton was indecisive, Bush is forthright; where Clinton muddled around with bin Laden and Middle East terrorism, Bush is taking the war straight into the heart of the Islamist redoubt. (Preston 12/1/2002; Rich 2006, pp. 66-67) The book gives such a favorable impression of Bush and his administration that the Republican National Committee will recommend it on its Web site. (Foer 11/12/2006)
Selective Reporting - The administration officials who talked to Woodward are painted in largely glowing terms, while those who did not (including Attorney General John Ashcroft and Homeland Security head Tom Ridge) are, in Preston’s words, “written out of the script.” Potentially embarrassing incidents such as the administration’s complete failure to find the source of the anthrax mailings of 2001 (see September 17-18, 2001 and October 5-November 21, 2001) and the ineffective roundup of thousands of Middle Eastern “terror suspects” after 9/11 (see Late November, 2001) are ignored entirely. The pivotal Afghan battle of Tora Bora, where bin Laden was allowed to escape US clutches (see Mid-November 2001-Mid-December 2001), gets two paragraphs. (Preston 12/1/2002; Rich 2006, pp. 66-67) Guardian reviewer Peter Symon notes that Woodward even fails to ask the most “obvious questions” about the 9/11 attacks, instead accepting the administration’s accounts of events and its responses as absolute and unquestionable. (Symon 1/29/2003) Rich notes that Woodward grants Bush and his officials tremendous individual credence, taking their word on one issue after another without question: for example, when Bush calls investigative journalist Seymour Hersh “a liar,” Woodward takes Bush’s word without giving Hersh a chance to respond. More generally, Woodward never asks the obvious follow-up questions. Bush explains why the US didn’t attack Afghanistan and Iraq simultaneously after the 9/11 attacks: “If we tried to do too many things… militarily, then… the lack of focus would have been a huge risk.” Rich notes, “The follow-up question that was not to be found in Bush at War was simple enough: If it was a huge risk to split our focus between Saddam and al-Qaeda then, why wasn’t it now?” Preston concludes: “Maybe the Woodward of three decades ago would have given [the Bush administration more intense scrutiny]. No longer. Today’s Woodward, eight bestsellers later, skates breathlessly from interview to interview and notepad to notepad without ever, seemingly, stopping to think, ‘Why am I being told all this? What does it mean?’ It isn’t investigation, just cross-referenced compilation.” (Preston 12/1/2002; Rich 2006, pp. 66-67)
Jacques Baute, head of the UN Iraq Nuclear Verification office, returns to Vienna after having interviewed several current and former Iraqi officials in Baghdad. The Iraqis denied that their government had tried to obtain uranium from Niger, as has been alleged by the Bush administration. Baute does not believe the Iraqis were telling the truth and intends to confront them with the Niger documents after he has researched the details of the purported uranium purchase deal that is described in the documents. He is concerned to see that the documents contain a note from US intelligence officials that reads, “We cannot confirm these reports and have questions regarding some specific claims.” Baute conducts an initial Google search for a few keywords and phrases from the documents and quickly finds an inaccurate reference to Niger’s constitution. “At that point,” Baute later recalls, “I completely changed the focus of my search to ‘Are these documents real?’ rather than ‘How can I catch the Iraqis?’” (Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 202-203; Unger 2007, pp. 289) Several months later, Melissa Fleming, a spokeswoman for the IAEA, will describe to reporters how easy it was for Baute to determine that the documents were fakes. “These were blatant forgeries. We were able to determine that they were forgeries very quickly,” she says. (Grice and Usborne 6/5/2003) In another interview, Fleming adds: “It was very clear from our analysis that they were forgeries. We found 20 to 30 anomalies within a day.” (Hamburger and Efron 8/25/2005) When Baute asks for an explanation from the US, there is no response. “What do you have to say? They had nothing to say,” Baute will later recall in an interview with Seymour Hersh. (Hersh 3/31/2003) There are numerous indications that the documents are forgeries.
Erroneous Postmark - A letter dated October 10, 2000 bears a September 28 postmark, indicating it was received over two weeks before its supposed writing. (Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 212; Unger 2007, pp. 236-237)
Names and Titles Incorrect - Several of the names and titles of officials mentioned in the documents are incorrect. For example, one of the letters is purportedly signed by Niger’s President Tandja Mamadou. Experts say the signature is an obvious forgery. An IAEA official will tell Reuters: “It doesn’t even look close to the signature of the president. I’m not a [handwriting] expert but when I looked at it my jaw dropped.” (Unknown n.d.; Sallot 3/8/2003; Charbonneau 3/26/2003; Hersh 3/31/2003; Landay 6/13/2003) The incorrectly postmarked letter is signed “Alle Elhadj Habibou”—Niger’s foreign minister who had not been in office since 1989. (Unknown n.d.; Charbonneau 3/26/2003; Hersh 3/31/2003; Landay 6/13/2003; Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 212; Unger 2007, pp. 236-237) Another letter includes the forged signature and seal of Wissam al-Zahawie, Iraq’s former ambassador to the Vatican. When al-Zahawie is interviewed by the IAEA, he informs the agency that it was standard procedure for all diplomatic notes to be initialed and sealed, while letters were only to be signed—with no seal. He explains that correspondences were never both signed and sealed. (Unknown n.d.; Whitaker 8/10/2003)
Letterhead Erroneous - In addition to problems with signatures and seals, there are other problems. One letter is on the wrong letterhead. (Landay 6/13/2003) The “letterhead was out of date and referred to Niger’s ‘Supreme Military Council’ from the pre-1999 era—which would be like calling Russia the Soviet Union,” reports Reuters. (Unknown n.d.; Charbonneau 3/26/2003)
Incorrect Citation of Constitution - Another letter, purported to be from the president of Niger, refers to his authority under the country’s obsolete 1966 constitution instead of the one enacted in 1999. (Unknown n.d.; Charbonneau 3/26/2003; Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 212; Unger 2007, pp. 236-237)
Misspellings, Incorrect Dates - Also, in some letters, French words are misspelled and dates do not correspond to the correct days of the week. (Stober 3/18/2003) One of the letters is dated July 30, 1999, but refers to agreements not enacted until 2000. (Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 212; Unger 2007, pp. 236-237)
Unrealistic Uranium Requests - The IAEA also points out that the amount of uranium which Iraq is purportedly interested in purchasing is unrealistic. Seymour Hersh, writing for the New Yorker, explains: “The large quantity of uranium involved should have been another warning sign. Niger’s ‘yellow cake’ comes from two uranium mines controlled by a French company, with its entire output pre-sold to nuclear power companies in France, Japan, and Spain. ‘Five hundred tons can’t be siphoned off without anyone noticing‘… [an] IAEA official told me.” (Hersh 3/31/2003) Furthermore, the purported agreement calls for the 500 tons of uranium to be transferred from one ship to another in international waters, a tremendously difficult undertaking. (Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 212; Unger 2007, pp. 236-237)
Denial of Signature - Al-Zawahie is asked whether he had signed a letter on July 6, 2000 that concerned Nigerien uranium (see February 1999). Al-Zawahie will later recall telling the inspectors, “I said absolutely not; if they had seen such a letter it must be a forgery.” Al-Zawahie provides his signature to IAEA inspectors; he will later say, “[T]hose letters must have convinced the IAEA team that the document they had was a forgery.” (Whitaker 8/10/2003)
Neoconservative and Defense Policy Board (DPB) member Richard Perle calls journalist Seymour Hersh a “terrorist” to a CNN audience. Hersh has published an article speculating that Perle’s investments in firms providing homeland security services put him in the position of profiting off of an invasion of Iraq, and subject to conflict of interest charges (see March 17, 2003). Perle retorts that Hersh is “the closest thing American journalism has to a terrorist.” Host Wolf Blitzer twice asks Perle why he calls Hersh a terrorist, giving Perle the chance to call Hersh “widely irresponsible” and say, “[T]he suggestion that my views are somehow related for the potential for investments in homeland defense is complete nonsense.” Perle continues, “[Hersh] sets out to do damage and he will do it by whatever innuendo, whatever distortion he can…” Blitzer concludes the interview by saying: “All right. We’re going to leave it right there.” (CNN 3/9/2003; Unger 2007, pp. 256) Later in the month, Perle will resign from the DPB over his conflicts of interest as detailed by Hersh (see March 27, 2003).
An outraged Richard Perle, the neoconservative chairman of the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board (DPB), says he is suing journalist Seymour Hersh over an article Hersh wrote that implied Perle is using his position as a Pentagon adviser to profit from a US invasion of Iraq (see March 17, 2003).
Filing Planned for Britain - Interestingly, Perle plans to sue Hersh in British courts, not US courts, because the burden of proof on plaintiffs is far less in Britain than America. “I intend to launch legal action in the United Kingdom. I’m talking to Queen’s Counsel right now,” Perle says. Perle says of Hersh’s article, “It’s all lies, from beginning to end.”
Perle Defended - Stephen Bryen, a former deputy undersecretary of defense, defends Perle, saying: “It’s pretty outrageous for a leftwing columnist to make accusations like this with no factual basis. Most of the many hours he works each day are pro bono to help the administration with its policy on Iraq. He should get a medal of honor.”
Editor Defends Hersh - David Remnick, the editor of the New Yorker, the publisher of Hersh’s article, says his magazine stands by the story. “It went through serious reporting, with four members of the board talking to Sy [Hersh], and rigorous factchecking, legal-checking, and all the rest.” Remnick takes issue with Perle’s recent characterization of Hersh as a “terrorist” (see March 9, 2003), saying, “I would have thought after all this many years, Mr. Perle would be a bit more refined than that.” (Daifallah 3/12/2003)
Journalists Defend Hersh - Many journalists defend Hersh, with one, Slate’s Jack Shafer, calling Perle a “grandstanding pantywaist,” “double-dar[ing]” him to sue Hersh, and accusing Perle of “venue-shopping” by planning to file the lawsuit in Britain. “As a public figure and government official,” Shafer explains, “Perle would be laughed out of court in the United States. If he got a settlement in the UK, he could raid the substantial British assets of the New Yorker’s parent company, Conde Nast.” (Shafer 3/13/2003)
Perle Resigns, Does Not File Lawsuit - Later in the month, Perle will resign from the DPB over his conflicts of interest (see March 27, 2003). A year later, after much blustering in the media and promises of “dossiers” and “revelations” about Hersh, Perle will decide not to sue Hersh after all, saying he cannot meet the burden of proof that a court would impose. (New York Sun 3/12/2004) Months later, the dossiers and information Perle promised to release about Hersh remain unrevealed. (Shafer 6/17/2004)
Investigative reporter Seymour Hersh publishes a scathing portrayal of Defense Policy Board (DPB) chairman Richard Perle, who Hersh alleges is using his position in the Pentagon to profiteer on the upcoming Iraq war. Hersh does not accuse Perle of breaking any laws, but he does show that Perle is guilty of conflicts of interests. The article, which is released days before its official March 17 publication date, prompts outrage from Perle and his neoconservative defenders, with Perle saying any questions of his potential conflicts of interest would be “malicious,” calling Hersh a “terrorist” (see March 9, 2003), and threatening to sue Hersh, a lawsuit that is never filed (see March 12, 2003). Later in the month, Perle will resign from the DPB over his conflicts of interest as detailed by Hersh (see March 27, 2003).
Dealings with Corrupt Saudis in Violation of Federal Conduct Guidelines - Hersh provides readers with details of Perle’s business dealings with the notoriously corrupt Saudi businessman and arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi (perhaps most famous in the US for his involvement in Iran-Contra—see July 3, 1985) and his activities as a managing partner of the venture capital firm Trireme Partners LP. Trireme is involved in investments that will make large profits if the US actually invades Iraq. Perle, as chairman of the DPB, is subject to the Federal Code of Conduct that bars officials such as himself from participating in an official capacity in any matter in which he has a financial interest. A former government attorney who helped write the code says, “One of the general rules is that you don’t take advantage of your federal position to help yourself financially in any way.” The point is to “protect government processes from actual or apparent conflicts.”
'Off the Ethical Charts' - One DPB member says that he and his fellows had no idea about Perle’s involvement with either Trireme or Khashoggi, and exclaims: “Oh, get out of here. He’s the chairman!… Seems to me this is at the edge of or off the ethical charts. I think it would stink to high heaven.” The DPB member is equally disturbed that fellow board member Gerald Hillman, Perle’s partner in Trireme, was recently added to the board at Perle’s request. Hillman has virtually no senior policy or military experience in government before joining the board. Larry Noble, the executive director of the Washington-based Center for Responsive Politics, says of Perle’s Trireme involvement: “It’s not illegal, but it presents an appearance of a conflict. It’s enough to raise questions about the advice he’s giving to the Pentagon and why people in business are dealing with him.… The question is whether he’s trading off his advisory-committee relationship.”
Lining up Investors, Overthrowing Saddam - According to Khashoggi, Perle met with him in January 2003 to solicit his assistance in lining up wealthy Saudi investors for Trireme. “I was the intermediary,” Khashoggi says. Together with Saudi businessman Harb Zuhair, Perle hoped to put together a consortium of investors that would sink $100 million into his firm. “It was normal for us to see Perle,” Khashoggi says. “We in the Middle East are accustomed to politicians who use their offices for whatever business they want.” But Khashoggi says Perle wanted more than just money—he wanted to use his position in both Trireme and the DPB to, in Perle’s words, “get rid of Saddam” Hussein. Perle admits to meeting with Khashoggi and Zuhair, but says that money never came up in conversation, and as for Hussein, Perle says he was at the meeting to facilitate a surrender bargain between Hussein and the US.
Khashoggi Amused - Khashoggi is amused by Perle’s denials. “If there is no war, why is there a need for security? If there is a war, of course, billions of dollars will have to be spent.… You Americans blind yourself with your high integrity and your democratic morality against peddling influence, but they were peddling influence.” Hillman sent Zuhair several documents proposing a possible surrender, but Zuhair found them “absurd,” and Khashoggi describes them as silly. (Hillman says he drafted the peace proposals with the assistance of his daughter, a college student.) Perle denies any involvement in the proposals. When the proposals found their way into the Arabic press, Perle, not Hillman, was named as the author.
Blackmailing the Saudis? - Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the influential Saudi ambassador to the US and a close friend of the Bush family, says he was told that the meeting between Perle and the Saudi businessmen was purely business, but he does not believe the disclaimers. He says of Perle, who publicly is a vociferous critic of Saudi Arabia (see July 10, 2002): “There is a split personality to Perle. Here he is, on the one hand, trying to make a hundred-million-dollar deal, and, on the other hand, there were elements of the appearance of blackmail—‘If we get in business, he’ll back off on Saudi Arabia’—as I have been informed by participants in the meeting.” Iraq was never a serious topic of discussion, Bandar says: “There has to be deniability, and a cover story—a possible peace initiative in Iraq—is needed. I believe the Iraqi events are irrelevant. A business meeting took place.” (Hersh 3/17/2003)
According to journalist Seymour Hersh, by the summer of 2003, US-led forces have conquered Iraq but it becomes increasingly obvious that there is a growing insurgency movement. However, the US knows very little about the insurgency. A secret military report from the time states, “Human intelligence is poor or lacking… due to the dearth of competence and expertise.” Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his close assistant Under-Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Steven Cambone try to solve this problem by authorizing increasingly aggressive interrogation of detainees in Iraq prisons. Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, commander of the Guantanamo (or “Gitmo”) prison in Cuba, comes to Iraq with a plan to “Gitmoize” the prisons in Iraq to make them more geared towards interrogation (see August 31, 2003-September 9, 2003). A former intelligence official will later tell Hersh, “They weren’t getting anything substantive from the detainees in Iraq. No names. Nothing that they could hang their hat on. Cambone says, I’ve got to crack this thing and I’m tired of working through the normal chain of command. I’ve got this apparatus set up—the black special-access program—and I’m going in hot.” The program mentioned is Operation Copper Green, which allows secret task forces to capture and interrogate wanted figures with very little oversight, and which is expanded to Iraq around this time. This official continues, “And it’s working. We’re getting a picture of the insurgency in Iraq and the intelligence is flowing into the white world. We’re getting good stuff. But we’ve got more targets” - meaning Iraqi detainees -“than people who can handle them.” As a result, Cambone decides to include some of the military intelligence officers working in the Iraqi prisons in the special access programs that are a part of Operation Copper Green. “So here are fundamentally good soldiers—military-intelligence guys—being told that no rules apply. And, as far as they’re concerned, this is a covert operation, and its’ to be kept within Defense Department channels.” As a result, more and more people, including the MPs (military police) pictured in the later Abu Ghraib abuse photographs, get involved in these covert programs that have almost no accountability and the stage is set for abuses to occur. The official says, “as soon as you enlarge the secret program beyond the oversight capability of experienced people, you lose control.” By the end of 2003, this official claims that senior CIA officials were complaining. “They said, ‘No way. We signed up for the core program in Afghanistan—pre-approved for operations against high-value terrorist targets—and now you want to use it for cabdrivers, brothers-in-law, and people pulled off the streets.’” The CIA supposedly ends its involvement with the covert programs in Iraqi prisons, although exactly when this happens is not clear. (Hersh 5/24/2004)
The Army Criminal Investigation Division (CID) agent who received the Abu Ghraib prison photographs from Spc. Joseph Darby (see January 13, 2004), calls his boss, a colonel, who takes them to Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez. (Worden 7/4/2004) Within three days, a report on the photos makes its way to Donald Rumsfeld, who informs President Bush, though it is not clear exactly when Bush is informed (see Late January-Mid-March 2004). (Hersh 5/24/2004) Within the Pentagon, few people are informed—unusually few—according to Hersh, who will later write that knowledge of the abuses were “severely, and unusually restricted.” A former intelligence official will tell him: “I haven’t talked to anybody on the inside who knew; nowhere. It’s got them scratching their heads.” Rumsfeld and his civilian staff, Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez and Gen. John P. Abizaid, reportedly try to suppress the issue during the first months of the year. “They foresaw major diplomatic problems,” according to a Pentagon official. (Hersh 5/17/2004) According to one former intelligence official, the Defense Secretary’s attitude is: “We’ve got a glitch in the program. We’ll prosecute it.” The former official explains to Seymour Hersh, “The cover story was that some kids got out of control.” (Hersh 5/24/2004)
According to journalist Seymour Hersh, “Within three days” of when army investigators are given photographs depicting Abu Ghraib prison abuse on January 13, 2004, “a report made its way to Donald Rumsfeld, who informed President Bush” (see January 13-16, 2004). (Hersh 5/24/2004) But Rumsfeld is vague in later public testimony about just when he first informs Bush. He suggests it could have been late January or early February. He explains that he routinely met with Bush “once or twice a week… and I don’t keep notes about what I do.” But he remembers that in mid-March, he and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Richard Myers “meeting with the President and discussed the reports that we had obviously heard” about Abu Ghraib. But Hersh later comments that regardless of when Bush was first informed, “Bush made no known effort to forcefully address the treatment of prisoners before the scandal became public, or to reevaluate the training of military police and interrogators, or the practices of the task forces that he had authorized. Instead, Bush acquiesced in the prosecution of a few lower-level soldiers. The President’s failure to act decisively resonated through the military chain of command: aggressive prosecution of crimes against detainees was not conducive to a successful career.” (Hersh 6/17/2007)
The New Yorker magazine publishes an in-depth article by investigative journalist Seymour Hersh on the Abu Ghraib abuses, as well as excerpts of the Taguba report (see February 26, 2004). The article includes some of the graphic photos of the abuses that were turned in by Spc. Joseph Darby (see January 13, 2004) in January. (Hersh 5/10/2004) Soon thereafter, subordinates of Undersecretary for Policy Douglas Feith send out an “urgent” e-mail around the Pentagon warning officials not to read the Taguba report and not to mention the report to anybody including family members, even though major parts of it are now part of the public record. Newsweek later quotes a military lawyer as saying, that Feith has turned his office into a “ministry of fear.” (Hirsh and Barry 6/7/2004)
A former high-level Defense Department official later tells journalist Seymour Hersh that when the Abu Ghraib scandal broke, Senator John Warner (R-VA), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, was warned “to back off” on the investigation, because “it would spill over to more important things.” A spokesman for Warner later acknowledges that there had been pressure on Warner, but says that Warner stood up to it. For instance, Warner insisted on putting Rumsfeld under oath when he testified about Abu Ghraib (see May 7, 2004). However, Hersh will later note, “Despite the subsequent public furor over Abu Ghraib, neither the House nor the Senate Armed Services Committee hearings led to a serious effort to determine whether the scandal was a result of a high-level interrogation policy that encouraged abuse.… An aggressive congressional inquiry into Abu Ghraib could have provoked unwanted questions about what the Pentagon was doing, in Iraq and elsewhere, and under what authority.” (Hersh 6/17/2007)
Investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, in a speech to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), says that there is proof that Iraqi prisoners, including women and children, were raped and sodomized by US guards while in custody at Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison. Hersh, who, as evidenced by a video recording of the speech, is struggling with what to say and what not to say, tells the assemblage: “Debating about it, ummm.… Some of the worst things that happened you don’t know about, okay? Videos, um, there are women there. Some of you may have read that they were passing letters out, communications out to their men. This is at Abu Ghraib.… The women were passing messages out saying, ‘Please come and kill me, because of what’s happened,’ and basically what happened is that those women who were arrested with young boys, children in cases that have been recorded. The boys were sodomized with the cameras rolling. And the worst above all of that is the soundtrack of the boys shrieking that your government has. They are in total terror. It’s going to come out.” Hersh continues: “It’s impossible to say to yourself how did we get there? Who are we? Who are these people that sent us there? When I did My Lai [a US military atrocity during the Vietnam War] I was very troubled like anybody in his right mind would be about what happened. I ended up in something I wrote saying in the end I said that the people who did the killing were as much victims as the people they killed because of the scars they had, I can tell you some of the personal stories by some of the people who were in these units witnessed this. I can also tell you written complaints were made to the highest officers, and so we’re dealing with a enormous massive amount of criminal wrongdoing that was covered up at the highest command out there and higher, and we have to get to it and we will. We will.” In an earlier speech, Hersh noted the photos and videos of “horrible things done to children of women prisoners, as the cameras run.” (Koppelman 7/15/2004) Other stories from Abu Ghraib document the rape and sexual assault of prisoners (see October 7, 2003, October 24, 2003, and January 4, 2004).
A marine who was a prison guard at Guantanamo in 2003 tells Seymour Hersh, anonymously, that he and his colleagues were encouraged by their squad leaders to “give the prisoners a visit” once or twice a month. This means they could rough them up. “We tried to [expletive] with them as much as we could—inflict a little bit of pain,” he says. But the fear of exposure held them back. “We couldn’t do much. There were always news people there,” he says. “That’s why you couldn’t send them back with a broken leg or so. And if somebody died, I’d get court-martialed.” The mistreatment was often administered ad hoc. The marine says: “A squad leader would say, ‘Let’s go—all the cameras are on lunch break.’” He also recalls hooding prisoners and then driving “them around the camp in a Humvee, making turns so they didn’t know where they were.… I wasn’t trying to get information. I was just having a little fun—playing mind control.” A senior FBI official tells Hersh that FBI agents at Guantanamo have described similar activities. (Hersh 9/13/2004)
Investigative reporter Seymour Hersh interviews a government consultant with close ties to the Pentagon about the administration’s plans to invade Iran. He says that Pentagon officials, including Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz, believe that a limited attack on Iran would inspire a secular revolution in the country. “The minute the aura of invincibility which the mullahs enjoy is shattered, and with it the ability to hoodwink the West, the Iranian regime will collapse,” the consultant says. (CNN 1/17/2005; Hersh 1/24/2005)
Chris Matthews, the host of MSNBC’s Hardball, asks three of the Pentagon’s most reliable “military analysts” (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond)—retired generals Montgomery Meigs, Wayne Downing, and Kenneth Allard—on his show to pillory a recent New Yorker article by Seymour Hersh that reveals Pentagon plans for an attack on Iran (see (Early January 2005)). Matthews calls the three “Hardball’s war council.” After the broadcast, Allard writes an e-mail to Pentagon public relations official Larry Di Rita, in which he says, “As you may have seen on MSNBC, I attributed a lot of what [Hersh] said to disgruntled CIA employees who simply should be taken out and shot.” (Greenwald 5/10/2008)
Concerned that the balance of power in the Middle East has tilted in favor of Shiite-dominated Iran, the Bush administration implements a major shift in its policy toward the region. According to a number of current and former high-level government officials interviewed by reporter Seymour Hersh, the focus of the new policy is to roll back Iran’s growing influence in Iraq. The administration’s top concern is that the failure of its policy in Iraq has empowered Iran. To undermine Iranian influence, the Bush administration begins supporting clandestine operations in Lebanon, Iran, and Syria. The administration avoids disclosing these operations to Congress by skirting congressional reporting requirements and by running them through the Saudis. The White House is also turning a blind eye to Saudi support for religious schools and charities linked to Islamic extremists. “A by-product of these activities has been the bolstering of Sunni extremist groups that espouse a militant vision of Islam and are hostile to America and sympathetic to al-Qaeda,” Hersh notes. One former senior intelligence official explains to Hersh, “We are in a program to enhance the Sunni capability to resist Shiite influence, and we’re spreading the money around as much as we can.” The official adds that the money “always gets in more pockets than you think it will. In this process, we’re financing a lot of bad guys with some serious potential unintended consequences. We don’t have the ability to determine and get pay vouchers signed by the people we like and avoid the people we don’t like.” Much of the money used to finance these activities became available as a result of the budgetary chaos in Iraq, where billions of dollars are unaccounted for. A Pentagon consultant tells Hersh, “There are many, many pots of black money, scattered in many places and used all over the world on a variety of missions.” Hersh reports that according to his sources, the US is providing large sums of cash to the Sunni government of Lebanon, which in turn is being funneled to emerging Sunni radical groups in northern Lebanon, the Bekaa Valley, and around Palestinian refugee camps in the south. “These groups, though small, are seen as a buffer to Hezbollah; at the same time, their ideological ties are with al-Qaeda,” Hersh writes. Another group receiving support is the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, a radical Sunni group that is an avowed enemy of the US and Israel. The “Redirection” is reportedly being led by Vice President Dick Cheney, Deputy National Security Adviser Elliott Abrams, former Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad, and Saudi Arabia National Security Adviser Prince Bandar bin Sultan. The clandestine activities are said to be guided by Cheney. Critics of the White House’s new policy compare it to other times Western state-powers have backed Islamic militants, such as when the CIA supported the mujahedeen against the Soviets in Afghanistan during the 1980s (see 1986-1992). The “blowback” from that policy included the creation of al-Qaeda. Vali Nasr, a senior fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations, notes another instance: “The last time Iran was a threat, the Saudis were able to mobilize the worst kinds of Islamic radicals. Once you get them out of the box, you can’t put them back.” (Democracy Now! 2/28/2007; Hersh 3/5/2007; Cooper 12/13/2007)
Investigative reporter Seymour Hersh meets with Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah for an interview. Nasrallah offers his analysis of US Middle East policy, telling Hersh that the administration is interested in “the drawing of a new map for the region. They want the partition of Iraq…. The daily killing and displacement which is taking place in Iraq aims at achieving three Iraqi parts, which will be sectarian and ethnically pure as a prelude to the partition of Iraq. Within one or two years at the most, there will be total Sunni areas, total Shiite areas, and total Kurdish areas. Even in Baghdad, there is a fear that it might be divided into two areas, one Sunni and one Shiite…. I can say that President Bush is lying when he says he does not want Iraq to be partitioned. All the facts occurring now on the ground make you swear he is dragging Iraq to partition. And a day will come when he will say, ‘I cannot do anything, since the Iraqis want the partition of their country and I honor the wishes of the people of Iraq.’” (Hersh 3/5/2007)
Flynt Leverett, a former Bush administration National Security Council official, tells investigative reporter Seymour Hersh that “there is nothing coincidental or ironic” about the administration’s new policy to support Sunni extremists (see Late 2006). “The administration is trying to make a case that Iran is more dangerous and more provocative than the Sunni insurgents to American interests in Iraq, when—if you look at the actual casualty numbers—the punishment inflicted on America by the Sunnis is greater by an order of magnitude,” Leverett explains. “This is all part of the campaign of provocative steps to increase the pressure on Iran. The idea is that at some point the Iranians will respond and then the administration will have an open door to strike at them.” (Hersh 3/5/2007)
According to Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, author of the most probing investigation into Abu Ghraib abuses (see February 26, 2004), many photographs and videos of the abuses have yet to surface publicly. While making his report, Taguba saw “a video of a male American soldier in uniform sodomizing a female detainee.” This video has not even been mentioned in any court proceedings. (Hersh 6/17/2007) Journalist Seymour Hersh, who first broke the Abu Ghraib abuse story, also claims that still unreleased photos show “other, more sexual abuse than we knew, sodomy of women prisons by American soldiers, a father and his son forced to do acts together. There was more stuff [than] was made public.” (Byrne and Edwards 6/17/2007) The US Army’s Criminal Investigation Division (CID) continues to hold such photos and videos and declines to release them, citing ongoing criminal investigations and their “extremely sensitive nature.” (Hersh 6/17/2007)
A New Yorker article by journalist Seymour Hersh claims that the abuses committed at Abu Ghraib in 2003 were covered up at a high political level in order to protect a clandestine operation called Copper Green where Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) task forces were given virtually unlimited preapproved authority to capture and interrogate high ranking al-Qaeda figures (see Late 2001-Early 2002). JSOC interrogation techniques were brought to Abu Ghraib prison right when the worst documented abuses began taking place (see (Late August 2003 or September 2003)). One anonymous former senior intelligence official tells Hersh that when photographs of the Abu Ghraib abuses were published, some in the Pentagon and the White House “didn’t think the photographs were that bad” because they put the focus on low ranking soldiers instead of on the secret task force operations. A Pentagon counterterrorism consultant also tells Hersh that the “basic strategy was ‘prosecute the kids in the photographs but protect the big picture.’” (Hersh 6/17/2007)
Journalist Seymour Hersh says that a new CIA assessment concludes, in his words, that “there’s no evidence Iran is doing anything that puts them close to a bomb. There’s no secret program of significant bomb making.” However, the White House is ignoring that assessment and still moving forward with plans to launch a military strike against Iran.
'Stovepiping' - Hersh says that President Bush and Vice President Cheney are “stovepiping” intelligence [funnelling selected intelligence directly to top officials] and keeping information provided by the Israelis hidden from the CIA. According to Hersh, the Israelis have informed White House officials that Israel has a reliable agent inside Iraq, and that agent reports that Iran is working on a trigger for a nuclear device (see November 2005). “[T]he CIA isn’t getting a good look at the Israeli intelligence. It’s the old word, stovepiping. It’s the President and the Vice President, it’s pretty much being kept in the White House. Of course the people in the CIA want to know who [the agent] is, obviously,” Hersh tells a reporter. “They certainly want to know what other evidence he has of actual making of a warhead. This is the internecine fight that’s going on—the same fight, by the way, that we had before Iraq.” The CIA has no way of verifying the Israeli intelligence claims, but in light of recent events with unverifiable evidence such as the “Curveball” debacle (see November 1999), that agency is understandably wary of such dramatic claims that contradict their own findings. (CNN 11/19/2007)
Israeli Claims Unverifiable - A former senior intelligence official says of the Israeli’s claim: “The problem is that no one can verify it. We don’t know who the Israeli source is. The briefing says the Iranians are testing trigger mechanisms,” simulating a zero-yield nuclear explosion without any weapons-grade materials, “but there are no diagrams, no significant facts. Where is the test site? How often have they done it? How big is the warhead—a breadbox or a refrigerator? They don’t have that.” But the report is being used by the White House to “prove the White House’s theory that the Iranians are on track. And tests leave no radioactive track, which is why we can’t find it.” Another problem that evokes the “stovepiping” of pre-war Iraq intelligence is the fact that White House officials have asked the Israelis for the raw intelligence, the original, unanalyzed, and unvetted material. Similar requests were used to draw false conclusions about Iraq’s WMD program before the US invasion of that country. A Pentagon consultant says, “Many presidents in the past have done the same thing, but intelligence professionals are always aghast when presidents ask for stuff in the raw. They see it as asking a second grader to read Ulysses.” (Hersh 11/27/2006)
Similar to Iraq Intelligence Problems - Former State Department intelligence expert Greg Thielmann noted in October 2003 that before the Iraq war, “garbage was being shoved straight to the President.” (Hersh 10/27/2003) Hersh suggests the same effect is happening now. (CNN 11/19/2007)
White House Hostile to CIA Analysis - According to a current senior intelligence official, the White House is actively hostile to the CIA analysis, which is based on satellite imagery and other empirical evidence such as measurement of the radioactivity of water samples and highly classified radiation-detection devices surreptitiously placed near the Iranian nuclear facilities. Empirical data or not, the CIA analysis does not fit the White House’s needs, the intelligence official says. In its analysis, the CIA specifically warns that it would be a mistake to conclude that the failure to find a secret nuclear-weapons program in Iran is evidence that the Iranians are hiding it well. According to a former senior intelligence official, at the height of the Cold War, the Soviets were quite effective at deception and misdirection, but the US intelligence community was readily able to discern the details of their nuclear weapons and long-range missile programs. But, the former official says, many in the White House, particularly in Cheney’s office, are making just such an assumption: “the lack of evidence means they must have it.” (Hersh 11/27/2006)
According to national security director Stephen Hadley (see December 3, 2007) and President Bush himself (see December 3-4, 2007), Bush will not be informed about the findings of a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) showing that Iran stopped work on its nuclear program until November 28. But that may be false. On December 4, journalist Seymour Hersh will tell a CNN reporter, “Israel objects to this report. I’m told that [Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert had a private discussion with Bush about it during Annapolis—before Annapolis [where Israel and the US engaged in preliminary peace talks over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict]. Bush briefed him about it. The Israelis were very upset about the report. They think we’re naive, they don’t think we get it right. And so they have a different point of view.” If Hersh is correct, then Bush discussed the NIE’s findings with Israel’s Olmert on November 26, two days before he supposedly learns of them. (CNN 12/4/2007) According to the Israeli news outlet Ha’aretz, “Israel has known about the report for more than a month. The first information on it was passed on to Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and to Shaul Mofaz, who is the minister responsible for the strategic dialog with the Americans. The issue was also discussed at the Annapolis summit by Barak and US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and it seems also between Bush and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.” (Harel 12/5/2007)
In a wide-ranging seminar with former Democratic Vice President Walter Mondale and investigative journalist Seymour Hersh at the University of Minnesota, Hersh claims that he has evidence that the US operated what he calls an “executive assassination wing” during the Bush administration, perhaps controlled by the office of then Vice President Dick Cheney. (Black 3/11/2009) (Hersh will later say he used the word “wing,” but it was widely misreported as “ring” in the media.) (Blitzer 3/30/2009) Hersh says he will explain his charges more fully in an upcoming book. When asked about recent instances of a president exceeding his constitutional authority, Hersh gives a response that moves from CIA activities, through the Joint Special Operations Command, to the alleged “assassination wing”: “After 9/11, I haven’t written about this yet, but the Central Intelligence Agency was very deeply involved in domestic activities against people they thought to be enemies of the state. Without any legal authority for it. They haven’t been called on it yet. Right now, today, there was a story in the New York Times that if you read it carefully mentioned something known as the Joint Special Operations Command—JSOC it’s called. It is a special wing of our special operations community that is set up independently. They do not report to anybody, except in the Bush-Cheney days, they reported directly to the Cheney office. They did not report to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff or to Mr. [Robert] Gates, the secretary of defense. They reported directly to him.… Congress has no oversight of it. It’s an executive assassination wing essentially, and it’s been going on and on and on. Just today in the Times there was a story that its leaders, a three star admiral named [William H.] McRaven, ordered a stop to it because there were so many collateral deaths. Under President Bush’s authority, they’ve been going into countries, not talking to the ambassador or the CIA station chief, and finding people on a list and executing them and leaving. That’s been going on, in the name of all of us. It’s complicated because the guys doing it are not murderers, and yet they are committing what we would normally call murder. It’s a very complicated issue. Because they are young men that went into the Special Forces. The Delta Forces you’ve heard about. Navy Seal teams. Highly specialized. In many cases, they were the best and the brightest. Really, no exaggerations. Really fine guys that went in to do the kind of necessary jobs that they think you need to do to protect America. And then they find themselves torturing people. I’ve had people say to me—five years ago, I had one say: ‘What do you call it when you interrogate somebody and you leave them bleeding and they don’t get any medical committee and two days later he dies. Is that murder? What happens if I get before a committee?’ But they’re not gonna get before a committee.” Mondale says of Cheney and his office that “they ran a government within a government.” Hersh adds, “Eight or nine neoconservatives took over our country.” Mondale notes that the precedents of abuse of vice presidential power by Cheney would remain “like a loaded pistol that you leave on the dining room table.” (Black 3/11/2009) CIA spokesman George Little responds to Hersh’s allegation by writing: “I saw your story on Seymour Hersh’s recent allegations regarding CIA activities since 9/11. If you wish, you can attribute the quoted portion that follows to me, in name, as a CIA spokesman: ‘This is utter nonsense.’” (Black 3/12/2009)
Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean says that the allegation of an “executive assassination wing,” as recently made by investigative reporter Seymour Hersh (see March 10, 2009), could well be a war crime if it is true. Both Dean and MSNBC host Keith Olbermann note that if true, Cheney’s actions could well violate a 1976 executive order that states in part, “No employee of the United States government shall engage in or conspire to engage in political assassination.” Dean says: “[F]ighting terrorism is not dealing with tiddlywinks. We want our government to deal with the most effective tools they have. But they also have to be legal. The executive order, really, is nothing more than direction to the executive branch and the presidency is the only one who you can even argue might have the authority to engage in assassinations. It’s an unresolved question. So, it’s potentially a war crime, it’s potentially just outright murder, and it could clearly be in violation of the Ford executive order.” In the same broadcast, author and political analyst Howard Fineman says of Hersh’s report: “In checking around in the intelligence community today, I can say this, you know, Seymour Hersh is somebody they respect. They don’t always trust. But they put it this way, as one of them said to me, ‘Look, I don’t know anything about this specifically at all, but I wouldn’t dismiss what Sy Hersh is saying without checking carefully.’ That’s their backhanded way of saying it’s worth looking into, for sure.” (MSNBC 3/12/2009)
Conservative commentator Bill O’Reilly writes an op-ed that claims, apparently sarcastically, that former Vice President Cheney would have had reporters assassinated if he really controlled a military assassination squad. Responding to the allegations by investigative journalist Seymour Hersh that Cheney controlled an “executive assassination wing” (see March 10, 2009), O’Reilly writes: “The other day, left-wing muckraker Seymour Hersh went on MSNBC and said he had information, provided by the usual anonymous sources, that Dick Cheney was running an assassination squad out of the White House. I have but one simple observation: If Cheney really had such a crew, Hersh would have been dead a long time ago, and so would most everybody at MSNBC.” (O'Reilly 3/22/2009; Corley 3/22/2009)
CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer interviews investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, who recently alleged that an “executive assassination wing” operated out of the White House (see March 10, 2009). Blitzer notes that the entity Hersh cited, the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), denies Hersh’s claim, and says, in Blitzer’s words, “their forces operate under established rules of engagement and the law of armed conflict.” The JSOC “has no command and control authorities over the US military,” the JSOC has told Blitzer. Additionally, former Bush national security expert Frances Townsend has denied Hersh’s claim.
Not New Reporting - Hersh tells Blitzer that though he has not written specifically about the “assassination wing,” he and others have written about the actions of the JSOC well before now. “[I]t’s a separately independent unit that does not report to Congress, at least in the years I know about.… It has been given executive authority by the president in as many as 12 countries to go in and kill we’re talking about high value targets. That’s absolutely correct.” He says that such actions are not only illegal, but have no basis in intelligence. “The idea that you’re telling a group of American combat soldiers,” he says, “[t]he idea that we have a unit set up who goes after high-value targets who up to a certain point I know for sure until very recently were clearing lists. That doesn’t mean Cheney has an assassination unit that he says I want to go get somebody. That’s how it sort of played out in the press. The idea that we have a unit that goes around and without reporting to Congress, Congress knows very little about this group, can’t get clearings, can’t get hearings, can’t get even a classified hearings on it. Congresspeople have told me this. Those are out and has authority for the president to go into a country without telling the CIA station chief or the ambassador and whack somebody and I’m sorry, Wolf, I have a lot of problems with that.”
Poor Choice of Phrase - Hersh says he regrets using the phrase “executive assassination wing,” because it is a “loaded phrase.” Word choice aside, Hersh says: “It comes down to the same thing, that you can—you’ve delegated authority to troops in the field to hit people on the basis of whatever intelligence they think is good and I can tell you it’s always not good and sometimes things get very bloody.… The bottom line is, it’s—if it were the way your little presentation set up, that everything was checked and cleared, in fact, it was an awful lot of delegation to this group, which does not brief the Congress. And this does raise profound questions of constitutional authority. It’s the same questions that have come up repeatedly in the Bush administration. That is a unitarian president, the notion that a president can do things without telling Congress and unilaterally. This is an extension of that issue.”
Implied Confirmation from Former Cheney Adviser - John Hannah, the former national security adviser to Vice President Cheney, says Hersh’s allegations are “not true,” but in his next statement, he seems to confirm Hersh’s allegations to an extent. Blitzer says: “Explain exactly what’s going on in terms of a list. Is there a list of terrorists, suspected terrorists, out there who can be assassinated?” Hannah replies: “There is—there’s clearly a group of people that go through a very extremely well-vetted process—interagency process, as I think was explained in your piece, that have committed acts of war against the United States, who are at war with the United States, or is suspected of planning operations of war against the United States, who authority is given, to our troops in the field in certain war theaters to capture or kill those individuals. That is certainly true.… Osama bin Laden and his number two are right at the top of the list. [The number of individuals to be assassinated] is a small group and the point is that it is very, very heavily vetted throughout the interagency process.” Hannah says that he has trouble believing that Congress was not aware of actions, presumably including possible assassinations, carried out by the JSOC: “I don’t know exactly what the consultations are with the Congress, but it’s hard for me to believe that those committee chairman and the leadership on the Hill involved in intelligence and armed services, if they want to know about these operations, cannot get that information through the Defense Department.” Asked if such assassinations are legal and Constitutional, Hannah says: “There is no question. And in a theater of war, when we are at war, and there’s no doubt, we are still at war against al-Qaeda in Iraq, al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, and on that Pakistani border, that our troops have the authority to go out after and capture and kill the enemy, including the leadership of the enemy.” (Blitzer 3/30/2009; Black 3/31/2009)
Investigative reporter Seymour Hersh discusses his recent allegation that what he calls an “executive assassination wing” was run from the office of former Vice President Dick Cheney (see March 10, 2009). Interviewer Amy Goodman opens her segment with Hersh by playing what was apparently an implicit confirmation, to an extent, of Hersh’s claims from a former Cheney aide (see March 30, 2009). Hersh notes that the comments from the former aide, John Hannah, verify that “yes, we go after people suspected—that was the word he used—of crimes against America. And I have to tell you that there’s an executive order, signed by Jerry Ford, President Ford, in the ‘70s, forbidding such action. It’s not only contrary—it’s illegal, it’s immoral, it’s counterproductive.” Of the allegations that the “assassination wing” is operated through the military’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), Hersh says: “[T]he problem with having military go kill people when they’re not directly in combat, these are asking American troops to go out and find people and… they go into countries without telling any of the authorities, the American ambassador, the CIA chief, certainly nobody in the government that we’re going into, and it’s far more than just in combat areas. There’s more—at least a dozen countries and perhaps more. [President Bush] has authorized these kinds of actions in the Middle East and also in Latin America, I will tell you, Central America, some countries. They’ve been—our boys have been told they can go and take the kind of executive action they need, and that’s simply—there’s no legal basis for it.… [T]he idea that the American president would think he has the constitutional power or the legal right to tell soldiers not engaged in immediate combat to go out and find people based on lists and execute them is just amazing to me.… And not only that, Amy, the thing about George Bush is, everything’s sort of done in plain sight. In his State of the Union address (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003)… about a month and a half before we went into Iraq, Bush was describing the progress in the war, and he said—I’m paraphrasing, but this is pretty close—he said that we’ve captured more than 3,000 members of al-Qaeda and suspected members, people suspected of operations against us. And then he added with that little smile he has, ‘And let me tell you, some of those people will not be able to ever operate again. I can assure you that. They will not be in a position.’ He’s clearly talking about killing people, and to applause. So, there we are. I don’t back off what I said. I wish I hadn’t said it ad hoc… sometimes when you speak off the top, you’re not as precise.” JSOC, Hersh explains, is a group of Navy Seals, Delta Force soldiers, and other “commandos” (a word the soldiers don’t prefer, but, Hersh says, most journalists use), which has been “transmogrified, if you will, into this unit that goes after high-value targets.” Hersh explains the involvement of Cheney’s office: “And where Cheney comes in and the idea of an assassination ring—I actually said ‘wing,’ but of an assassination wing—that reports to Cheney was simply that they clear lists through the vice president’s office. He’s not sitting around picking targets. They clear the lists. And he’s certainly deeply involved, less and less as time went on, of course, but in the beginning very closely involved.” Goodman concludes by asking, “One question: Is the assassination wing continuing under President Obama?” Hersh replies: “How do I know? I hope not.” (Democracy Now! 3/31/2009)
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen announce the nomination of controversial former special/black operations commander Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal to replace the top US commander in Afghanistan, General David McKiernan. At the Pentagon, Gates explains that “new leadership and fresh eyes” are needed to reverse the course of the seven-year-old war. “We have a new strategy, a new mission, and a new ambassador. I believe that new military leadership also is needed,” he says. The White House confirms that President Obama has signed off on the nomination. McChrystal is the former commander of the secretive Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), which during his tenure was tied to prisoner abuse and covert assassinations in Iraq, as well as controversy in the military’s handling of the death of Pat Tillman in Afghanistan. McKiernan will remain in place until the Senate confirms the appointments of McChrystal and his designated deputy, Lieutenant General David Rodriguez, also a veteran of elite US forces. Both officers have experience in Afghanistan and have more familiarity with counterinsurgency operations than McKiernan. Gates says that McChrystal and Rodriguez will “bring a unique skill set in counterinsurgency to these issues, and I think that they will provide the kind of new leadership and fresh thinking that [Admiral Mike Mullen] and I have been talking about.” (CNN 5/11/2009; Tice 5/11/2009)
Prisoner Abuse, Geneva Convention Violations - Under McChrystal’s command, the Joint Special Operations Command supplied elite troops to a secret unit known variously as Task Force 626 and Task Force 121, based at Camp Nama (an acronym for “nasty ass military area”) near Baghdad. A Human Rights Watch report found evidence that the task force engaged in prisoner torture and abuse, and that the JSOC command likely violated the Geneva Conventions (see November 2004). According to the report, which was based on soldier testimony, inmates at the camp were subjected to beatings, exposure to extreme cold, threats of death, humiliation, and various forms of psychological abuse or torture. The report’s sources claimed that written authorizations were required for abusive techniques—indicating that the use of these tactics was approved up the chain of command—and that McChrystal denied the Red Cross and other investigators access to Camp Nama, a violation of the Geneva Conventions. (Schmitt and Marshall 3/19/2006; Sifton and Garlasco 7/22/2006; Doyle 5/17/2009)
Secret Assassinations - During McChrystal’s tenure as head of JSOC, he led campaigns to track down, capture, or kill enemies. To this end, McChrystal built a sophisticated network of soldiers and intelligence operatives to assassinate Sunni insurgent leaders and decapitate al-Qaeda in Iraq. He is also understood to have led the hunt for Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan and Pakistan. However, a Human Rights Watch report on the secret units under JSOC command states that although targets included Saddam Hussein and Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, the operations also swept up “hundreds of anonymous, and often innocent, detainees.” One senior Pentagon officer, quoted by the Washington Post, warns, “People will ask, what message are we sending when our high-value-target hunter is sent to lead in Afghanistan?” (Sifton and Garlasco 7/22/2006; Tyson 5/13/2009) Newsweek has noted that JSOC is likely part of what then-Vice President Dick Cheney was referring to when he said America would have to “work the dark side” after 9/11 (see September 16, 2001). (Hirsh and Barry 6/26/2006) Furthermore, investigative reporter Seymour Hersh has reported that JSOC ran what he called an “executive assassination wing” that reported directly to Cheney’s office, which then cleared lists of people to be targeted for assassination by secret JSOC units (see March 10, 2009 and March 31, 2009).
Pat Tillman Silver Star Controversy - The Pentagon’s inspector general found McChrystal responsible for promulgating false and misleading information in the aftermath of the “friendly fire” death of Pat Tillman in 2004. In the controversy, McChrystal had approved paperwork recommending Tillman for a silver star, which stated that he died from “devastating enemy fire,” despite knowledge of internal investigations pointing to friendly fire as the cause of death (see April 29, 2004) and April 23-Late June, 2004). McChrystal then backtracked only when he learned that then-President Bush was about to quote from the misleading silver star citation in a speech. The US Army later overruled the Pentagon inspector general’s recommendation that McChrystal be held accountable for his actions. (Lindlaw and Mendoza 8/4/2007; Doyle 5/17/2009)
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