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Events Leading Up to the 2003 Invasion of Iraq

Media Coverage of Threat Posed by Iraq

Project: Events Leading Up to the 2003 Invasion of Iraq
Open-Content project managed by Derek, KJF, mtuck

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Nine days after Iraq invades Kuwait (see August 2, 1990), the public relations firm Hill & Knowlton creates a front organization, “Citizens for a Free Kuwait,” almost entirely funded by Kuwaiti money. Hill & Knowlton’s point man with the Kuwaitis is Craig Fuller, a close friend and political adviser to President Bush (see July 23, 1986). Veteran PR reporter Jack O’Dwyer will later write, “Hill & Knowlton… has assumed a role in world affairs unprecedented for a PR firm.” [Christian Science Monitor, 9/6/2002; Public Relations Watch, 6/3/2007] Citizens for a Free Kuwait is one of about twenty PR and lobbying groups formed by the Kuwaiti government. Other American PR firms representing these groups include the Rendon Group and Neill & Co. Citizens for a Free Kuwait will spread a false story of Kuwaiti babies being killed in their incubators by Iraqi troops, a story that will help inflame US public opinion and win the Bush administration the authority to launch an assault against Iraq (see October 10, 1990). Another public relations and lobbying effort includes a 154-page book detailing supposed Iraqi atrocities, entitled The Rape of Kuwait, that is distributed to various media outlets and later featured on television talk shows and in the pages of the Wall Street Journal. The Kuwaiti embassy also buys 200,000 copies of the book for distribution to American troops. Hill & Knowlton will produce dozens of “video news releases” that are offered as “news stories” to television news broadcasters throughout America; the VNRs are shown on hundreds of US television news broadcasts, usually as straight news reports without being identified as the product of a public relations firm. [Public Relations Watch, 6/3/2007]

Entity Tags: Jack O’Dwyer, Hill and Knowlton, Craig Fuller, Neill and Company, Citizens for a Free Kuwait, Rendon Group

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Category Tags: Legal Justification, Media Coverage, Desert Shield/Desert Storm, Iraq Invasion of Kuwait

The televised Congressional hearings of Iraqi atrocities against the Kuwaiti people, featuring the emotional testimony of a young Kuwaiti girl who tells the wrenching tale of Iraqi soldiers murdering Kuwaiti babies in their incubators (see October 10, 1990), sparks an outcry among both lawmakers and members of the US public. The story is later proven to be entirely false, but only long after the story, the product of an American public relations firm (see August 11, 1990), has had its desired impact (see January 9-13, 1991). The story is repeated over and over again, by President Bush, in subsequent Congressional testimony, on television and radio broadcasts, and even at the UN Security Council. Bush says that such “ghastly atrocities” are like “Hitler revisited,” and uses the images of “babies pulled from incubators and scattered like firewood across the floor” to excoriate Congressional Democrats reluctant to authorize the impending invasion. Author John MacArthur will later write, “Of all the accusations made against the dictator [Saddam Hussein], none had more impact on American public opinion than the one about Iraqi soldiers removing 312 babies from their incubators and leaving them to die on the cold hospital floors of Kuwait City.” American public opinion remains deeply divided about the necessity of a war with Iraq; the US Senate authorizes the war by a bare five-vote margin (see January 9-13, 1991). Journalists John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton will later write, “Given the narrowness of the vote, the babies-thrown-from-incubators story may have turned the tide in Bush’s favor.” [Christian Science Monitor, 9/6/2002; Christian Science Monitor, 9/6/2002; CounterPunch, 12/28/2002; Public Relations Watch, 6/3/2007] In 1995, Bush’s National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft will say: “We didn’t know it wasn’t true at the time.… [I]t was useful in mobilizing public opinion.” [Christian Science Monitor, 9/6/2002]

Entity Tags: United Nations Security Council, Brent Scowcroft, George Herbert Walker Bush, Bush administration (41)

Category Tags: Legal Justification, Media Coverage, Politicization of Intelligence, Desert Shield/Desert Storm, Iraq Invasion of Kuwait

’Nayirah’ testifying before Congress.’Nayirah’ testifying before Congress. [Source: Web Fairy (.com)]An unconfirmed report of Iraqi soldiers entering a Kuwaiti hospital during the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait (see August 2, 1990) and removing newborns from their incubators causes a sensation in the US media. The rumor, which later turns out to be false, is seized upon by senior executives of the PR firm Hill & Knowlton, which has a $11.9 million contract from the Kuwaiti royal family to win support for a US-led intervention against Iraq—the largest foreign-funded campaign ever mounted to shape US public opinion. (Under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, the firm should have been held accountable for its marketing campaign, but the Justice Department fails to intervene.) The firm also has close ties to the Bush administration, and will assist in marketing the war to the US citizenry. [Christian Science Monitor, 9/6/2002; Independent, 10/19/2003; Public Relations Watch, 6/3/2007] Hill & Knowlton uses a front group, “Citizens for a Free Kuwait” (see August 11, 1990), to plant the stories in the news media.
Congressional Hearings - Hearings on the story, and other tales of Iraqi atrocities, are convened by the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, chaired by Representatives Tom Lantos (D-CA) and John Porter (R-IL). Reporters John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton will later characterize the caucus as little more than an H&K-funded sham; Lantos and Porter are also co-chairs of the Congressional Human Rights Foundation, a legally separate entity that occupied free office space in Hill & Knowlton’s Washington, DC offices. The star of the hearings is a slender, 15-year old Kuwaiti girl called “Nayirah.” According to the Caucus, her true identity is being concealed to prevent Iraqi reprisals against her or her family. Sobbing throughout her testimony, “Nayirah” describes what she says she witnessed in a hospital in Kuwait City; her written testimony is provided to reporters and Congressmen in a media kit prepared by Citizens for a Free Kuwait. “I volunteered at the al-Addan hospital,” she tells the assemblage. “While I was there, I saw the Iraqi soldiers come into the hospital with guns, and go into the room where… babies were in incubators. They took the babies out of the incubators, took the incubators, and left the babies on the cold floor to die.” [Christian Science Monitor, 9/6/2002; Los Angeles Times, 1/5/2003; Public Relations Watch, 6/3/2007] The hearings, and particularly “Nayirah’s” emotional tale, inflame American public opinion against the Iraqis (see October 10, 1990 and After) and help drum up support for a US invasion of Iraq (see January 9-13, 1991).
Outright Lies - Neither Lantos, Porter, nor H&K officials tell Congress that the entire testimony is a lie. “Nayirah” is the daughter of Saud Nasir al-Sabah, the Kuwaiti ambassador to the US. Neither do they reveal that “Nayirah’s” testimony was coached by H&K vice president Lauri Fitz-Pegado. Seven other “witnesses” testify to the same atrocities before the United Nations; the seven use false names and identities. The US even presents a video made by Hill & Knowlton to the Security Council. No journalist investigates the claims. As author Susan Trento will write: “The diplomats, the congressmen, and the senators wanted something to support their positions. The media wanted visual, interesting stories.” It is not until after the war that human rights investigators look into the charges. No other witnesses can be located to confirm “Nayirah’s” story. Dr. Mohammed Matar, director of Kuwait’s primary care system, and his wife, Dr. Fayeza Youssef, who runs the obstretrics unit at the maternity hospital, says that at the time of the so-called atrocities, few if any babies were in incubator units—and Kuwait only possesses a few such units anyway. “I think it was just something for propaganda,” Dr. Matar will say. It is doubtful that “Nayirah” was even in the country at the time, as the Kuwaiti aristocracy had fled the country weeks before the Iraqi invasion. Amnesty International, which had supported the story, will issue a retraction. Porter will claim that he had no knowledge that the sobbing little girl was a well-rehearsed fabricator, much less an ambassador’s daughter. Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reporters will ask al-Sabah for permission to question his daughter about her testimony; he will angrily refuse. “Naiyrah” herself will later admit that she had never been in the hospital herself, but had learned of the supposed baby murders from a friend. In a subsequent interview about media manipulation during the war, Fitz-Pegado will say: “Come on.… Who gives a sh_t whether there were six babies or two? I believed her.” She will later clarify that statement: “What I meant was one baby would be too many.” [CounterPunch, 12/28/2002; Independent, 10/19/2003; Public Relations Watch, 6/3/2007]

Entity Tags: Susan Trento, Tom Lantos, Sheldon Rampton, US Congress, United Nations Security Council, Saud Nasir al-Sabah, US Department of Justice, Mohammed Matar, Lauri Fitz-Pegado, Citizens for a Free Kuwait, ’Nayirah’, Amnesty International, Bush administration (41), John Stauber, Congressional Human Rights Caucus, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Fayeza Youssef, John MacArthur, John Porter, Hill and Knowlton, Congressional Human Rights Foundation, Jack O’Dwyer

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Category Tags: Legal Justification, Media Coverage, Politicization of Intelligence, Propaganda, Desert Shield/Desert Storm, Iraq Invasion of Kuwait

The US Defense Department begins censoring war reporting from the Persian Gulf. [PBS Frontline, 1/9/1996]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Category Tags: Media Coverage, Desert Shield/Desert Storm

One of the many air strikes launched against Iraqi targets during Operation Desert Storm.One of the many air strikes launched against Iraqi targets during Operation Desert Storm. [Source: US Air Force]The US launches a massive air assault against Iraq in retaliation for that country’s invasion of Kuwait (see August 2, 1990). The air assault begins the day after a UN deadline for Iraq’s withdrawal from Kuwait expires (see November 29, 1990). F-117 Stealth bombers hit Baghdad with an array of high-tech bombs and missiles; many of the explosions are televised live, or on briefly delayed feeds, on CNN, which launches virtually 24-hour coverage of the air strikes. In the first 48 hours of the war, 2,107 combat missions drop more than 5,000 tons of bombs on Baghdad alone, nearly twice the amount that incinerated Dresden in World War II.
'Thunder and Lightning of Desert Storm' - US Army General Norman Schwarzkopf, chief of the US Central Command (CENTCOM), announces the beginning of hostilities by transmitting the following: “Soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines of the United States Central Command, this morning at 0300, we launched Operation Desert Storm, an offensive campaign that will enforce the United Nation’s resolutions that Iraq must cease its rape and pillage of its weaker neighbor and withdraw its forces from Kuwait. My confidence in you is total. Our cause is just! Now you must be the thunder and lightning of Desert Storm. May God be with you, your loved ones at home, and our country.” [US Navy, 9/17/1997]
Initial Attacks Obliterate Iraqi Navy, Much of Air Force, Many Ground Installations - The attack begins with an assault of over 100 Tomahawk land attack missiles (TLAMs) launched from US naval vessels in the Persian Gulf and Red Sea, and attack helicopter strikes on Iraqi radar installations near the Iraq-Saudi Arabian border. The assaults destroy much of Iraq’s air defense and command-and-control capabilities. The missile assault is quickly followed by fighter, bomber, and assault helicopter strikes which continue pounding at Iraqi government buildings, power stations, dams, military sites, radio and television stations, and several of Saddam Hussein’s palaces. The strikes essentially obliterate the Iraqi Navy, and drastically cripple the Iraqi Air Force. (Between 115 and 140 aircraft and crews of the Iraqi Air Force flees to Iran over the course of the war, a move that surprises US commanders, who expected the aircraft and their crews to attempt to flee to Jordan, not Iran. The Iranians will never give Iraq back its aircraft, and will not release Iraqi air crews for years to come.) A US Navy review later calls the combined Navy-Marine air campaign, conducted in concert with US Air Force strikes, “successful beyond the most optimistic expectations.” The Navy later reports that “allied air forces dropped over 88,500 tons of ordnance on the battlefield.” [US Navy, 9/17/1997; NationMaster, 12/23/2007] Iraqi anti-aircraft counterattacks are surprisingly effective, downing around 75 US and British aircraft in the first hours of attacks. The US media does not widely report these downings, nor does it give much attention to the dozens of pilots and air crew captured as POWs. [NationMaster, 12/23/2007]
'The Mother of All Battles' - Five hours after the first attacks, Baghdad state radio broadcasts a voice identified as Saddam Hussein. Hussein tells his people that “The great duel, the mother of all battles has begun. The dawn of victory nears as this great showdown begins.” [NationMaster, 12/23/2007]
US Embassy Helped Locate Targets for Air Strikes - Deputy Chief of Mission Joseph Wilson, the last American to leave Baghdad (see January 12, 1991), and his staff provided critical assistance to the US battle planners in choosing their initial targets. Over the months, Wilson and his staff developed a “hostage tracking system,” monitoring and recording the movements of the American hostages as they were transferred from site to site to be used as human shields in the event of a US strike (see August 4, 1990 and August 8, 1990). Wilson and his staff were able to identify some 55 sites that were being used around the country, presumably some of the most critical military and infrastructure sites in Iraq. Wilson gave that information to the Pentagon. He will later write, “I was gratified when several months later, on the first night of Desert Storm, long after the hostages had been released, many of those sites were ones hit by American bombs.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 141]

Entity Tags: US Department of the Navy, United Nations, US Department of the Marines, US Department of the Air Force, US Department of the Army, CNN, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Norman Schwarzkopf, Joseph C. Wilson, US Department of Defense, US Department of State, Saddam Hussein

Category Tags: Media Coverage, Pre-war Attacks against Iraq, The Decision to Invade, Desert Shield/Desert Storm, US Hostages During Desert Shield

UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter attempts to leak a confidential United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) report on Iraq’s production of VX nerve agent to the American press (see June 10, 1998). The attempt spirals into an effort by Ahmed Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress (INC—see 1992-1996) to recruit Ritter’s help in crafting a plan for Chalabi’s INC, with American assistance, to overthrow Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and place Chalabi in control. Ritter becomes aware of a report from a US military laboratory that proves in 1991 Iraq had manufactured VX nerve agent and deployed it in missile warheads. The Iraqis have admitted to attempting to produce the deadly toxin, but have long insisted that they were never successful in producing weaponized VX. Although there is no reason to believe that Iraq retains active VX from its former chemical weapons program, UNSCOM officials are furious about having been lied to for years by the Iraqis. UNSCOM chief Richard Butler, involved in delicate negotiations with the Iraqi government on developing a “road map” for addressing numerous outstanding issues between Iraq and the UN, decides to keep the report under wraps. UNSCOM officials are even more outraged at Butler’s decision; many believe that Butler is acquiescing to Clinton administration officials who want to avoid a confrontation with Iraq and the UN. When Ritter offers to leak the document in Washington in such a way that would not be traced to the UNSCOM officials who have seen the report, they quickly slip him a copy of the report, and Ritter prepares to fly to Washington.
First Meeting with Chalabi - Ritter is already scheduled to meet with CIA officials about other intelligence support programs. He calls Randy Scheunemann, the national security adviser for Senator Trent Lott (R-MS), the Senate Majority Leader, and sets up a meeting to, as Ritter will later write, “discuss some new developments” regarding the Iraqis. Scheunemann agrees, and asks if Ritter would be willing to meet with Chalabi at Chalabi’s Georgetown townhouse. Ritter is nonplussed at the request, but decides that since he had already discussed Iraqi weapons of mass destruction with Chalabi in a meeting authorized by Butler (see January 27, 1998), this Georgetown meeting could be construed as a legitimate followup. Ritter agrees. Upon arriving at Washington’s National Airport, he is met by Chalabi’s driver, who takes him to Georgetown. Chalabi presents Ritter with what Ritter will later recall as “an ambitious program, including briefings to senators and their staffs.” The meeting lasts well into the night, and Ritter agrees to stay overnight in a guest room.
Leaking the Report - The next day, Ritter meets with the CIA and then with Scheunemann. Ritter gives Scheunemann the UNSCOM report and explains its significance. “If it could find its way into the press in a way that removed any UNSCOM fingerprints, this would be ideal,” he tells Scheunemann. “That way the data remains uncompromised, and yet politically Butler and the White House can’t ignore it.” Scheunemann says with a smile, “I think we can manage that.”
'The Chalabi Factor' - Scheunemann then takes Ritter to meet Lott, who seems more interested in Ritter’s interactions with Chalabi than in the report. “I hope you take some time to talk with him, and some other interesting people I think you will be meeting with” Lott tells Ritter. “Exchange ideas. See if you can help him in any way. We’re all on the same side here, and we have to start finding ways to break down some barriers others have constructed between us.” Ritter returns to Chalabi’s home, where he meets with Francis Brooke, Chalabi’s principal American adviser, and Max Singer, a conservative foreign policy expert who specializes in what Ritter will term “political warfare.” Scheunemann has asked Singer to write a paper called “The Chalabi Factor” that touts Chalabi as the man to lead a revolution that would result in the ouster of Hussein. Chalabi asked Singer to share the paper with Ritter. Singer has sketched out a scenario that envisions Chalabi and INC fighters capturing the southern oil fields around Basra, giving the INC a political and military foothold inside Iraq, and then rallying disenchanted Shi’ites and Kurds into supporting his insurgency. Ritter later recalls: “I was somewhat taken aback by the content of the Singer paper. I was on dangerous political ground here, a UN weapons inspector charged with the disarmament of Iraq, suddenly dabbling in the world of regime change. Far from advising me on issues of intelligence regarding Iraqi WMD, Ahmed Chalabi had turned the tables and had me advising him on how to overthrow Saddam Hussein.” The three are soon joined by Chalabi and Stephen Rademaker, the lawyer for the House Foreign Affairs Committee and, as Ritter later describes him, an unabashed member of the far right and a Chalabi supporter. The conversation does not center on arms control, as Ritter had originally planned to discuss, but regime change. The others are uninterested in Ritter’s suggestion that pressure be brought to bear on the Hussein regime over the VX discovery. “[W]e all know Saddam is cheating, and that his days are numbered,” Rademaker says. “What we don’t have is a plan on what we are going to do once Saddam is out of office. Mr. Chalabi represents our best hopes in that regard, which is why we’re delighted that you and he are meeting like this.”
Handling the Ba'athists - Ritter tells the others that the Shi’ites and Kurds cannot be treated as “homogeneous movement[s],” but as loose, fractious amalgamations of disparate elements. He then asks: “The key to me is what is missing here: any discussion of the Ba’ath Party or the Sunni tribes. The Ba’ath Party is the only vehicle that exists in Iraq today that unites Sunnis, Shi’a and Kurds alike. It makes modern Iraq function. How do you plan on dealing with the Ba’ath Party in a post-Saddam environment? And what is your plan for winning over the Sunni tribes? How will you bring the tribes that represent the foundation of Saddam’s political support into the fold with your Kurdish and Shi’a supporters?” As Ritter later writes: “Steve Rademaker and Francis Brooke stared blankly. Chalabi was grinning ear to ear. ‘We have a plan. First, we will do away completely with the Baath Party. Those minor members who were forced to join out of survival, of course, they will be allowed to retain their jobs. But anyone who profited from Baathist rule will be punished. As for the Sunni tribes, we are already in contact with their representatives. We feel that the best way to negotiate with them, however, is to make them realize that there is no future with Saddam. Once they realize that, they will come over to our side.’ Chalabi’s ‘plan’ struck me as simplistic at best, and entirely unrealistic.”
The Downing Plan - In answer to Ritter’s questions about defeating the Iraqi military—the large Iraqi Army, the well-trained Republican Guard and other security forces—Chalabi shows Ritter a document, “The Military Plan.” Chalabi says: “This was written for me by Gen. Wayne Downing. I believe you know him from Operation Desert Storm.” Downing had been a Special Forces commander during the 1991 Gulf War; Ritter had worked with Downing’s unit in preventing Iraqi missile launches at Israel (see January 17, 1991). Downing has crafted a plan (see Late 1998) that calls for the US to train and arm several thousand INC fighters who would operate out of bases in western Iraq, out of Hussein’s control. They would fight from light vehicles armed with anti-tank missile launchers, and would rely on support from local tribes in the area, particularly the al-Duleimi in and around Ramadi and Anbar. Ritter is dubious, knowing that the al-Duleimi have provided many of Hussein’s best soldiers. Chalabi is unworried about their support, and tells Ritter, “My people have already had discussions with the tribal leaders of the al-Duleimi, who are ready to join us once we get situated on the ground.” Ritter then objects to Downing’s inclusion of US military advisers and US warplanes, both directly supporting and perhaps even fighting alongside the INC troops. “We don’t operate like that,” Ritter objects. “If we have forces on the ground, then we’ll need to have a base, with a base support element, and base security, and a quick-reaction force in case some of our boys get in trouble. The US presence would have to be much greater than what you’re saying here.” Chalabi merely smiles. “That may be so,” he says, “but we don’t have to highlight it at this time.” Ritter later observes: “The ‘Downing Plan’ was a nice bit of trickery, plotting what was ostensibly an Iraqi opposition military force with minor US military involvement, but masking what was in reality a much larger US military effort with a minor role played by Chalabi’s INC ‘army.’” Ritter is now thoroughly alarmed.
'My Friend Ahmed' - The small group is joined by Danielle Pletka, Rademaker’s wife and a staunchly conservative staffer on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and former CIA director James Woolsey. Over dinner, the group moves from discussing the military plans for overthrowing Hussein to a broader discussion of Chalabi’s political future. Woolsey, a vocal supporter of Chalabi, has no patience with the CIA’s objections to earlier actions by Chalabi and the INC (see January 1996). “This [criticism] is all bunk,” Woolsey says. “Chalabi is an Iraqi patriot and visionary who intimidates many lesser thinkers in Langley. My friend Ahmed is a risk taker who understands the reality of Iraq, unlike the desk-bound analysts and risk-averse operators at the CIA. Chalabi scares these people, so they have created false accusations in order to denigrate him and ultimately destroy him.” Pletka agrees: “We cannot allow this to happen. Ahmed Chalabi has many friends in Congress, and it is our goal to make sure Ahmed Chalabi gets the support he needs to not only survive as a viable opposition figure to Saddam Hussein but more importantly to prevail in Iraq.” Ritter is increasingly uncomfortable with what he will later call “a political strategy session.” It is clear, Ritter will write, “that Chalabi was being groomed for another run at power” (see March 1995).
Recruitment - According to Ritter, Chalabi suggests that Ritter would be very helpful to his organization, and Chalabi could be helpful to Ritter in return. “I have many friends here in Washington,” Chalabi says over breakfast. “With what you know about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, you can be of invaluable assistance to our cause. The VX story is but the tip of the iceberg.” Ritter will describe himself as “taken aback,” since he never told Chalabi about the VX lab report. Ritter replies: “Well, I am just a simple weapons inspector. In any event, it wouldn’t go over well back at the UN to have an UNSCOM inspector plotting regime change down in Washington, DC.” Then, locking eyes with Chalabi, Ritter says: “This is why you must be very discreet about the VX lab report. It simply won’t do for you to have your fingerprints on this information.” Chalabi smilingly replies: “I understand completely. As for your status as a weapons inspector, you must understand that those days are nearly gone. The inspection process has run its course. You need to think about what you are going to be doing in the future. I would like you to work for me.” Ritter objects, noting that an American citizen can’t be involved in plots to overthrow heads of foreign nations. Chalabi corrects Ritter: “You wouldn’t be working for me, but for the US Senate. My friends would create an advisory position for you, and you would in turn advise me. It wouldn’t pay much upfront. But don’t worry. One day I will be the president of Iraq, and will be in control of Iraq’s oil. When that day comes, I will not forget those who helped me in my time of need. Let’s just say that my friends will be given certain oil concessions that will make them very wealthy.”
Meeting with the Senator - Chalabi’s butler drives Ritter to meet with Pletka at the Capitol Building; the two go to the office of Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS), who is fully aware of the VX lab report. Brownback is angry that the Clinton administration is reluctant to fully assist the UNSCOM inspectors. “This will not stand,” he tells Ritter. “Believe me when I say you and your colleagues have friends here in the US Senate who will make sure America honors its commitments and obligations, especially when it comes to disarming a cruel tyrant such as Saddam Hussein.” Afterwards, Ritter and Pletka are joined by Rademaker in the Senate cafeteria, who says he has the ear of several influential Congressmen. “We’ve got their attention,” Rademaker says, “and I think you’ll find that serious pressure will be brought on the Clinton administration to better support your work.” Pletka and Ritter then meet Lott and Scheunemann again; Scheunemann once again asks Ritter for his future collaboration. Lott reassures Ritter that there would be no legal or ethical conflicts: “Well, maybe we can find a way to bring you down here working for us. That might be the most useful thing to do.” Leaving the Senate building, Ritter muses that “Chalabi’s schemes seemed to have some substance behind them.”
Long-Term Ramifications - Butler will drastically revise his report to the UN Security Council, and the news of a “major breakthrough” in disarmament work with the Iraqis is shelved. The Clinton administration will issue statesments publicly supporting the UNSCOM inspectors, undercutting behind-the-scenes attempts by National Security Adviser Sandy Berger and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to have the US pull back from blanket support of the inspections. Conservative Republicans will rally around the cause of Iraqi duplicity; Scheunemann will use the VX report to drum up support for the Iraqi Liberation Act, which will pass several months after Ritter’s dinner with Chalabi (see October 31, 1998). And Chalabi and the INC will become the leading candidates for replacing Hussein. Reflecting on Chalabi’s prominence in the Post report, Ritter will write, “After watching the Republicans build up Chalabi, I should have known that they could not have passed up this opportunity to interject his name into the limelight.”
Iraqis Truthful about VX - Later evidence and inspection findings show that the Iraqi scientists had been truthful: they had never succeeded in stabilizing VX, and had never filled any warheads with the nerve toxin. The lab results are later shown to be severely flawed. Ritter will write, “In the end, I was wrong to have pushed so hard to have the lab results made public.” [New Yorker, 6/7/2004; TruthDig, 3/17/2008]

Entity Tags: Washington Post, Stephen Rademaker, Wayne Downing, United Nations Special Commission, Sandy Berger, Trent Lott, Samuel Brownback, Scott Ritter, Richard Butler, Ahmed Chalabi, Central Intelligence Agency, Clinton administration, Danielle Pletka, Francis Brooke, James Woolsey, Randy Scheunemann, Iraqi National Congress, Max Singer, Madeleine Albright, Saddam Hussein

Category Tags: Alleged WMDs, Media Coverage, Politicization of Intelligence, Pre-war Planning, Chalabi and the INC

The cover of ‘Saddam’s Bombmaker.’The cover of ‘Saddam’s Bombmaker.’ [Source: Simon and Schuster]Former Iraqi nuclear scientist Khidir Hamza publishes a book with reporter Jeff Stein entitled Saddam’s Bombmaker: The Terrifying Inside Story of the Iraqi Nuclear and Biological Weapons Agenda. Two years before, Hamza had tried and failed to get a deal for a book that would show Iraq’s nuclear weapons plans had “fizzled” (see 1998). This book is radically different, telling a dramatic tale of his career as a nuclear bomb-builder and his death-defying escape from Iraq (Hamza defected from Iraq and was brought to the US by Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress). Hamza now asserts that Iraq is aggressively pursuing nuclear weapons. According to former Defense Intelligence Agency official Patrick Lang, this is a “vast exaggeration” of the reality of the situation. [Middle East Policy Council, 6/2004]

Entity Tags: Defense Intelligence Agency, Ahmed Chalabi, Patrick Lang, Khidir Hamza, Jeff Stein, Iraqi National Congress

Category Tags: Alleged WMDs, Media Coverage, Politicization of Intelligence

An orchestrated push in the media begins to make the case for the need to invade Iraq. The San Diego Union-Tribune reprints a Weekly Standard article by William Kristol and Robert Kagan that tells readers (after comparing President Bush favorably to Ronald Reagan, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Harry Truman, and lauding Bush’s “steely determination”) that US military action “could well be necessary to bring Saddam down.” They write: “At some point, Bush could well find himself confronted by an Iraq armed with weapons of mass destruction. During these past few years, it was relatively easy for congressional Republicans to call for arming and funding the Iraqi opposition. That remains a good idea. But the more sober of Bush’s advisers, like Robert Zoellick and Paul Wolfowitz (see February 18, 1992 and February 27, 2001), have recognized that this alone will not do the trick. Some use of American military force, both from the air and on the ground, could well be necessary to bring Saddam down, no matter how wonderfully the Iraqi opposition performs. Whether he chooses it or not, Bush may quickly be faced with the same decision his father had to make in 1990. He has in his cabinet at least one person who counseled inaction the last time [referring to Secretary of State Colin Powell]. If the crisis comes, Bush, like his father, will not be able to rely only on the judgment of the men and women around him: He will have to act from his own instincts and his own courage.” [Weekly Standard, 1/22/2001; Unger, 2007, pp. 206] In the coming weeks, an onslaught of print and television op-eds and commentaries, some from Bush administration officials, will advocate the overthrow of Hussein (see February 27, 2001, February 16, 2001, April 9, 2001, and July 30, 2001).

Entity Tags: Robert Kagan, William Kristol

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Neoconservative Influence

Category Tags: Media Coverage, Motives, Politicization of Intelligence, Pre-9/11 Plans for War, Public Opinion on Iraqi Threat

Conservative media pundit Bill O’Reilly tells his listeners, “You know, I don’t take Saddam Hussein all that seriously anymore as far as a world threat. Maybe I’m wrong and naive here. Should we be very frightened of this guy?” [Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), 5/2003]

Entity Tags: Bill O’Reilly, Saddam Hussein

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Category Tags: Media Coverage

In a column exploring the idea of US-led regime change in Iraq and advocating the support of Iraqi opposition groups to overthrow Saddam Hussein, Washington Post columnist Jim Hoagland calls Iraqi opposition leader Ahmed Chalabi (see 1992-1996) “a dedicated advocate of democracy” in Iraq. (Hoagland lauds Chalabi’s advanced college degrees, his success as a Jordanian banker (see August 2, 1989), and what he calls Chalabi’s exposure of the CIA’s “gross failures” in Iraq (see (1994)). Hoagland decries “15 years of failed US policy toward Saddam,” and writes that Chalabi is a fine choice to lead Iraq in the place of Hussein. “Mr. Chalabi is a dedicated advocate of democracy who does fight against enormous military odds and deep religious and social divisions in the Arab world,” he writes. Lambasting those in the CIA and State Department who are determined to prove that Chalabi is a fraud (see January 1996), Hoagland writes, “A policy review dedicated to trashing him and other exiles is a shameful and self-defeating way to begin anew on Iraq. It is a phony way to argue that nothing can or should be done to oust the predatory psychopath who holds Iraq hostage.” [Washington Post, 4/9/2001; Unger, 2007, pp. 206]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Ahmed Chalabi, Washington Post, Saddam Hussein, Jim Hoagland

Category Tags: Media Coverage, Politicization of Intelligence, Public Opinion on Iraqi Threat, Chalabi and the INC

Ratcheting up the anti-Iraq rhetoric in the press, neoconservative Reuel Marc Gerecht writes in the Weekly Standard that the US is a “cowering superpower” for not directly challenging Iraq, and demands that President Bush explain “how we will live with Saddam [Hussein] and his nuclear weapons.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 206]

Entity Tags: Saddam Hussein, George W. Bush, Reuel Marc Gerecht

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Neoconservative Influence

Category Tags: Alleged WMDs, Media Coverage, Politicization of Intelligence

Just hours after the terrorist attacks on Washington and New York, neoconservative writer and former CIA asset Michael Ledeen writes an op-ed at the National Review’s website attacking the more moderate “realists” in the Bush administration. Ledeen urges someone in the White House to remind President Bush that “we are still living with the consequences of Desert Storm [referencing the decision not to overthrow Saddam Hussein in 1991—see February 1991-1992 and September 1998] when his father and his father’s advisers—most notably Colin Powell and Brent Scowcroft—advised against finishing the job and liberating Iraq.” Ledeen is clearly implying that Iraq is responsible for the attacks, and that Bush should “correct” his father’s mistake by invading Iraq. [Unger, 2007, pp. 215]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Colin Powell, Michael Ledeen, Brent Scowcroft, Bush administration (43), George Herbert Walker Bush

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Neoconservative Influence

Category Tags: Alleged Al-Qaeda Ties, Media Coverage, Desert Shield/Desert Storm

Ann Coulter.Ann Coulter. [Source: Universal Press Syndicate]Conservative columnist Ann Coulter writes an enraged op-ed for the National Review. Reflecting on the 9/11 attacks and the loss of her friend Barbara Olson in the attacks (see (9:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001), Coulter says America’s retribution should be immediate and generalized: “This is no time to be precious about locating the exact individuals directly involved in this particular terrorist attack. Those responsible include anyone anywhere in the world who smiled in response to the annihilation of patriots like Barbara Olson. We don’t need long investigations of the forensic evidence to determine with scientific accuracy the person or persons who ordered this specific attack. We don’t need an ‘international coalition.’ We don’t need a study on ‘terrorism.’ We certainly didn’t need a congressional resolution condemning the attack this week.” Coulter says a “fanatical, murderous cult”—Islam—has “invaded” the nation, welcomed by Americans and protected by misguided laws that prohibit discrimination and “‘religious’ profiling.” She blasts airport security measures that insist on checking every passenger—“[a]irports scrupulously apply the same laughably ineffective airport harassment to Suzy Chapstick as to Muslim hijackers. It is preposterous to assume every passenger is a potential crazed homicidal maniac. We know who the homicidal maniacs are. They are the ones cheering and dancing right now.” She concludes by calling for all-out vengeance: “We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity. We weren’t punctilious about locating and punishing only Hitler and his top officers. We carpet-bombed German cities; we killed civilians. That’s war. And this is war.” [National Review, 9/13/2001] In October 2002, Reason magazine’s Sara Rimensnyder will call Coulter’s screed “the single most infamous foreign policy suggestion inspired by 9/11.” [Reason Magazine, 10/2002]

Entity Tags: Ann Coulter, Sara Rimensnyder

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, US International Relations, Domestic Propaganda, US Domestic Terrorism

Category Tags: Alleged Al-Qaeda Ties, Media Coverage, Politicization of Intelligence

Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz create a secretive, ad hoc intelligence bureau within the Pentagon that they mockingly dub “The Cabal.” This small but influential group of neoconservatives is tasked with driving US foreign policy and intelligence reporting towards the goal of promoting the invasion of Iraq. To this end, the group—which later is folded into the slightly more official Office of Special Plans (OSP) (see 2002-2003)—gathers and interprets raw intelligence data for itself, refusing the participation of the experts in the CIA and DIA, and reporting, massaging, manipulating, and sometimes falsifying that information to suit their ends. [New Yorker, 5/12/2003] In October 2005, Larry Wilkerson, Secretary of State Colin Powell’s chief of staff, will say of the Cabal and the OSP (see October 2005), “What I saw was a cabal between the vice president of the United States, Richard Cheney, and the secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, on critical issues that made decisions that the bureaucracy did not know were being made. Now it is paying the consequences of making those decisions in secret, but far more telling to me is America is paying the consequences.” [Financial Times, 10/20/2005]

Dan Rather.Dan Rather. [Source: CBS News]On September 17, 2001, CBS News anchor Dan Rather says in an interview, “George Bush is the president, he makes the decisions and you know, as just one American wherever he wants me to line up, just tell me where.” [PBS, 4/25/2007] On September 22, he is interviewed again, and says that journalists are reluctant to criticize the Bush administration for fear of a public backlash. He adds, “I am willing to give the government, the President, and the military the benefit of any doubt here in the beginning.… I’m going to do my job as a journalist, but at the same time I will give them the benefit of the doubt, whenever possible in this kind of crisis, emergency situation. Not because I am concerned about any backlash. I’m not. But because I want to be a patriotic American without apology.” [Artz and Kamalipour, 2005, pp. 69] Less than a year later, Rather will say in another interview that he has not been aggressive enough in reporting since 9/11 for fear of being seen as unpatriotic (see May 17, 2002).

Entity Tags: CBS News, Dan Rather

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Domestic Propaganda

Category Tags: Media Coverage

Neoconservative author, ad hoc White House foreign policy adviser, and one-time intelligence asset Michael Ledeen, one of the loudest voices for US military expansionism throughout the Middle East (see February 19, 1998 and October 29, 2001), writes that the US must use Iraq as the first battle of a much larger war.
Must Expand Mission to Destroy Governments, Not Merely Terror Organizations - In his book The War Against the Terror Masters: Why It Happened. Where We Are Now. How We’ll Win, Ledeen writes that the US must destroy the governments of the nations that he claims sponsor Islamist terrorism. “First and foremost, we must bring down the terror regimes, beginning with the Big Three: Iran, Iraq, and Syria,” Ledeen writes. “And then we have to come to grips with Saudi Arabia.… Once the tyrants in Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Saudi Arabia have been brought down, we will remain engaged.… We have to ensure the fulfillment of the democratic revolution.… Stability is an unworthy American mission, and a misleading concept to boot. We do not want stability in Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and even Saudi Arabia; we want things to change. The real issue is not whether, but how to destabilize.”
US a Force for 'Creative Destruction' - The US’s current mission of battling Islamist terror is “unworthy” of such a militarily powerful nation, Ledeen asserts, and defines its true “historic mission:” “Creative destruction is our middle name, both within our society and abroad. We tear down the old order every day, from business to science, literature, art, architecture, and cinema to politics and the law. Our enemies have always hated this whirlwind of energy and creativity which menaces their traditions (whatever they may be) and shames them for their inability to keep pace.… [W]e must destroy them to advance our historic mission.” The US must be “imperious, ruthless, and relentless,” he continues, until there has been “total surrender” by the Muslim world. “We must keep our fangs bared, we must remind them daily that we Americans are in a rage, and we will not rest until we have avenged our deed, we will not be sated until we have had the blood of every miserable little tyrant in the Middle East, until every leader of every cell of the terror network is dead or locked securely away, and every last drooling anti-Semitic and anti-American mullah, imam, sheikh, and ayatollah is either singing the praises of the United States of America, or pumping gasoline for a dime a gallon on an American military base near the Arctic Circle.”
Buchanan: Ledeen's Statement Not Truly Conservative - Conservative author and commentator Pat Buchanan will write in 2003, “Passages like this owe more to Leon Trotsky than to Robert Taft and betray a Jacobin streak in neoconservatism that cannot be reconciled with any concept of true conservatism.” [American Conservative, 3/24/2003; Unger, 2007, pp. 231-232]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Michael Ledeen

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Neoconservative Influence

Category Tags: Diversion of Resources to Iraq, Media Coverage, Politicization of Intelligence

The Project for the New American Century (PNAC), an influential neoconservative think tank, publishes a letter addressed to President Bush and signed by magazine publisher William Kristol, Defense Policy Board chairman Richard Perle (see September 16, 2001), and 38 other neoconservatives and hardliners. It is reprinted by Kristol’s Weekly Standard shortly thereafter. The authors threaten to brand Bush as a “wimp,” guilty of “surrender in the war on international terrorism” if he fails to carry out their demand to make “a determined effort” to overthrow Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, “even if evidence does not link Iraq directly to the [9/11] attack[s].” [Project for the New American Century, 9/20/2001; Rich, 2006, pp. 28] Any failure to attack Iraq, the authors say, “will constitute an early and perhaps decisive surrender in the war on international terrorism.” Invading Iraq is not their only demand. To retain their support, the letter reads, Bush must also target the terror organization Hezbollah for eradication, and retaliate against Syria and Iran if they do not break their ties with Hezbollah. The letter calls Israel “America’s staunchest ally against international terrorism.” Conservative isolationist Pat Buchanan will later write that the real motive for this letter seems to be tied to Israel: “Here was a cabal of intellectuals telling the commander in chief, nine days after an attack on America, that if he did not follow their war plans, he would be charged with surrendering to terror. Yet, Hezbollah had nothing to do with 9/11. What had Hezbollah done? Hezbollah had humiliated Israel by driving its army out of Lebanon. President Bush had been warned. He was to exploit the attack of 9/11 to launch a series of wars on Arab regimes, none of which had attacked us. All, however, were enemies of Israel.… The War Party [Bush administration neoconservatives] seemed desperate to get a Middle East war going before America had second thoughts.” [Project for the New American Century, 9/20/2001; American Conservative, 3/24/2003]

Entity Tags: Patrick Buchanan, William Kristol, Weekly Standard, Project for the New American Century, George W. Bush, Richard Perle

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Neoconservative Influence

Category Tags: Media Coverage, The Decision to Invade

In an op-ed column for the neoconservative Weekly Standard, writers Thomas Donnelly and Gary Schmitt state that the US’s enemies “want to push the United States out of the Middle East. Our response must be to prevent that.” Donnelly and Schmitt, members of the Project for the New American Century think tank (PNAC—see January 26, 1998 and September 2000), say that such an effort “will require more than a vague, unfocused ‘war on terrorism.‘… Last week’s strikes represent a new and more complex phase of this war. But this is not a new war. This is a ‘theater war’ in the classic sense. Neither [O]sama bin Laden nor Saddam [Hussein] cares much about America’s role in Europe or East Asia. They want us out of their region.”
Reasserting Dominance in Middle East - The US can win this “struggle for power in the Persian Gulf” by “reasserting our role as the region’s dominant power; as the guarantor of regional security; and as the protector of Israel, moderate Arab regimes, and the economic interests of the industrialized world.” Donnelly and Schmitt trace the US’s problems in the region back to the decision not to overthrow Hussein in 1991 (see January 16, 1991 and After). “As Saddam has crawled back from defeat,” they write, “bin Laden has grown increasingly bold. Meanwhile, our regional allies have begun to hedge their bets, not only with the terrorists and Iraq, but with Iran as well.” The US should focus on routing both bin Laden and Hussein from the region, they say. It is unclear if Hussein was involved in the 9/11 attacks, they say, though they assert that Hussein was “implicated in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing (see February 26, 1993 and October 2000).… But as with bin Laden, we have long known that Saddam is our enemy, and that he would strike us as hard as he could. And if we have learned anything at all from [the] past week, it is that adopting a defensive posture risks attacks with unacceptable consequences. The only reasonable course when faced with such foes is to preempt and to strike first.” Overthrowing Hussein “is the key to restoring our regional dominance and preventing our enemies from achieving their war aims.… When Bush administration officials speak of ‘ending’ regimes that participate in the war against America, they must mean Saddam Hussein’s Iraq” (see Before January 20, 2001).
Cowing Other Nations, Restoring 'Global Credibility' - Overthrowing the Iraqi government will also cow Iran, Syria, and other regional threats, the authors say, and “will restore the global credibility tarnished in the Clinton years. Both our friends and our enemies will be watching to see if we pass this test.” Although attacking Afghanistan is not necessary, toppling the Saddam regime will not be difficult in a military sense, and “the larger challenge will be occupying Iraq after the fighting is over.”
Surpluses Will Pay for Effort - The so-called “lockboxes”—Social Security funds and others—previously kept from being spent on other government programs are, the authors write, “yesterday’s news,” but the sharp increases in defense spending that this war effort will require will not be difficult to fund: “given the surpluses that exist, there is no impediment to such increases.” [Weekly Standard, 9/24/2001]

Entity Tags: Thomas Donnelly, Gary Schmitt, Weekly Standard, Project for the New American Century

Timeline Tags: Neoconservative Influence

Category Tags: Media Coverage, Politicization of Intelligence, Iraq Invasion of Kuwait

Neoconservative commentator and publisher William Kristol writes that the US must implement “regime change where possible” throughout the Middle East, and especially in Iraq. He excoriates Secretary of State Colin Powell for being against such an aggressive policy. The next day, the Washington Times, a right-wing newspaper, prints an editorial agreeing with Kristol about the need for regime change, and adds its voice to Kristol’s in criticizing Powell. [Unger, 2007, pp. 217]

Entity Tags: Washington Times, Colin Powell, William Kristol

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Neoconservative Influence

Category Tags: Media Coverage

Neoconservative William Kristol, the editor of the Weekly Standard, says on NBC’s Meet the Press that the first Bush administration erred in 1991: “The biggest mistake we have made—it’s our mistake, it’s not the mistake of the Arabs—was not finishing off Saddam Hussein in 1991.” Kristol garners a tremendous amount of coverage during the months after the 9/11 attacks, relentlessly advocating for the overthrow of Hussein. [PBS, 4/25/2007]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), William Kristol, Saddam Hussein, NBC

Timeline Tags: Neoconservative Influence

Category Tags: Media Coverage, Politicization of Intelligence, Propaganda, Public Opinion on Iraqi Threat, The Decision to Invade

The Bush administration asks the major US television networks to refrain from showing unedited video messages taped by Osama bin Laden. They agree. A Newsweek article is critical of the decision, pointing out that “all but one [of these networks] are controlled by major conglomerates that have important pending business with the government.” The article openly questions if the media is “doing too much of the government’s bidding” in reporting on 9/11. Says one expert, “I’m not saying that everything is a horrible paranoid fantasy, but my sense is there’s an implicit quid pro quo here. The industry seems to be saying to the administration, ‘We’re patriotic, We’re supporting the war, we lost all of this advertising, now free us from [business] constraints.’” [Newsweek, 10/13/2001]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline, Domestic Propaganda

Category Tags: Media Coverage, Propaganda

Abu Zeinab al-Qurairy, posing as Jamal al-Ghurairy for Frontline.Abu Zeinab al-Qurairy, posing as Jamal al-Ghurairy for Frontline. [Source: PBS]An Iraqi defector identifying himself as Jamal al-Ghurairy, a former lieutenant general in Saddam Hussein’s intelligence corps, the Mukhabarat, tells two US reporters that he has witnessed foreign Islamic militants training to hijack airplanes at an alleged Iraqi terrorist training camp at Salman Pak, near Baghdad. Al-Ghurairy also claims to know of a secret compound at Salman Pak where Iraqi scientists, led by a German, are producing biological weapons. Al-Ghurairy is lying both about his experiences and even his identity, though the reporters, New York Times war correspondent Chris Hedges and PBS’s Christopher Buchanan, do not know this. The meeting between al-Ghurairy and the reporters, which takes place on November 6, 2001, in a luxury suite in a Beirut hotel, was arranged by Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress (INC). Buchanan later recalls knowing little about al-Ghurairy, except that “[h]is life might be in danger. I didn’t know much else.” Hedges recalls the former general’s “fierce” appearance and “military bearing.… He looked the part.” Al-Ghurairy is accompanied by several other people, including the INC’s political liaison, Nabeel Musawi. “They were slick and well organized,” Buchanan recalls. Hedges confirms al-Ghurairy’s credibility with the US embassy in Turkey, where he is told that CIA and FBI agents had recently debriefed him. The interview is excerpted for an upcoming PBS Frontline episode, along with another interview with an INC-provided defector, former Iraqi sergeant Sabah Khodada, who echoes al-Ghurairy’s tale. While the excerpt of al-Ghurairy’s interview is relatively short, the interview itself takes over an hour. Al-Ghurairy does not allow his face to be shown on camera.
Times Reports Defectors' Tale - Two days later, on November 8, Hedges publishes a story about al-Ghurairy in the New York Times Times. The Frontline episode airs that same evening. [New York Times, 11/8/2001; Mother Jones, 4/2006] Hedges does not identify al-Ghurairy by name, but reports that he, Khodada, and a third unnamed Iraqi sergeant claim to have “worked for several years at a secret Iraqi government camp that had trained Islamic terrorists in rotations of five or six months since 1995. They said the training at the camp, south of Baghdad, was aimed at carrying out attacks against neighboring countries and possibly Europe and the United States.” Whether the militants being trained are linked to al-Qaeda or Osama bin Laden, the defectors cannot be sure, nor do they know of any specific attacks carried out by the militants. Hedges writes that the interviews were “set up by an Iraqi group that seeks the overthrow of… Hussein.” He quotes al-Ghurairy as saying, “There is a lot we do not know. We were forbidden to speak about our activities among each other, even off duty. But over the years, you see and hear things. These Islamic radicals were a scruffy lot. They needed a lot of training, especially physical training. But from speaking with them, it was clear they came from a variety of countries, including Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Algeria, Egypt, and Morocco. We were training these people to attack installations important to the United States. The Gulf War never ended for Saddam Hussein. He is at war with the United States. We were repeatedly told this.” He uses Khodada’s statements as support for al-Ghurairy’s, identifies Khodada by name, and says that Khodada “immigrated to Texas” in May 2001 “after working as an instructor for eight years at Salman Pak…” He quotes the sergeant as saying, “We could see them train around the fuselage. We could see them practice taking over the plane.” Al-Ghurairy adds that the militants were trained to take over a plane without using weapons. Hedges reports that Richard Sperzel, the former chief of the UN biological weapons inspection teams in Iraq, says that the Iraqis always claimed Salman Pak was an anti-terror training camp for Iraqi special forces. However, Sperzel says, “[M]any of us had our own private suspicions. We had nothing specific as evidence.” The US officials who debriefed al-Ghurairy, Hedges reports, do not believe that the Salman Pak training has any links to the 9/11 hijackings. Hedges asks about one of the militants, a clean-shaven Egyptian. “No, he was not Mohamed Atta.” Atta led the 9/11 hijackers. Hedges notes that stories such as this one will likely prompt “an intense debate in Washington over whether to extend the war against Osama bin Laden and the Taliban government of Afghanistan to include Iraq.” [New York Times, 11/8/2001; Columbia Journalism Review, 7/1/2004]
Heavy Press Coverage - The US media immediately reacts, with op-eds running in major newspapers throughout the country and cable-news pundits bringing the story to their audiences. National security adviser Condoleezza Rice says of the story, “I think it surprises no one that Saddam Hussein is engaged in all kinds of activities that are destabilizing.” The White House will use al-Ghurairy’s claims in its background paper, “Decade of Deception and Defiance,” prepared for President’s Bush September 12, 2002 speech to the UN General Assembly (see September 12, 2002). Though the tale lacks specifics, it helps bolster the White House’s attempts to link Saddam Hussein to the 9/11 hijackers, and helps promote Iraq as a legitimate target in the administration’s war on terror. (Five years later, the reporters involved in the story admit they were duped—see April 2006.)
Complete Fiction - The story, as it turns out, is, in the later words of Mother Jones reporter Jack Fairweather, “an elaborate scam.” Not only did US agents in Turkey dismiss the purported lieutenant general’s claims out of hand—a fact they did not pass on to Hedges—but the man who speaks with Hedges and Buchanan is not even Jamal al-Ghurairy. The man they interviewed is actually a former Iraqi sergeant living in Turkey under the pseudonym Abu Zainab. (His real name is later ascertained to be Abu Zeinab al-Qurairy, and is a former Iraqi general and senior officer in the Mukhabarat.) The real al-Ghurairy has never left Iraq. In 2006, he will be interviewed by Fairweather, and will confirm that he was not the man interviewed in 2001 (see October 2005). [Columbia Journalism Review, 7/1/2004; Mother Jones, 4/2006] Hedges and Buchanan were not the first reporters to be approached for the story. The INC’s Francis Brooke tried to interest Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff in interviewing Khodada to discuss Salman Pak. Isikoff will recall in 2004 that “he didn’t know what to make of the whole thing or have any way to evaluate the story so I didn’t write about it.” [Columbia Journalism Review, 7/1/2004]
"The Perfect Hoax" - The interview was set up by Chalabi, the leader of the INC, and former CBS producer Lowell Bergman. Bergman had interviewed Khodada previously, but was unable to journey to Beirut, so he and Chalabi briefed Hedges in London before sending him to meet with the defector. Chalabi and Bergman have a long relationship; Chalabi has been a source for Bergman since 1991. The CIA withdrew funding from the group in 1996 (see January 1996) due to its poor intelligence and attempts at deception. For years, the INC combed the large Iraqi exile communities in Damascus and Amman for those who would trade information—real or fabricated—in return for the INC’s assistance in obtaining asylum to the West. Helping run that network was Mohammed al-Zubaidi, who after 9/11 began actively coaching defectors, according to an ex-INC official involved in the INC’s media operations (see December 17, 2001 and July 9, 2004). The ex-INC official, Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri, did everything from help defectors brush up and polish their stories, to concocting scripts that defectors with little or no knowledge could recite: “They learned the words, and then we handed them over to the American agencies and journalists.” After 9/11, the INC wanted to come up with a big story that would fix the public perception of Saddam Hussein’s involvement in the 9/11 attacks. Al-Zubaidi was given the task. He came up with al-Ghurairy. He chose Zainab for his knowledge of the Iraqi military, brought him to Beirut, paid him, and began prepping him. In the process, al-Zainab made himself known to American and Turkish intelligence officials as al-Ghurairy. “It was the perfect hoax,” al-Haideri will recall in 2006. “The man was a born liar and knew enough about the military to get by, whilst Saddam’s regime could hardly produce the real Ghurairy without revealing at least some of the truth of the story.” Al-Haideri will say that the reality of the Salman Pak story was much as the Iraqis claimed—Iraqi special forces were trained in hostage and hijack scenarios. Al-Zubaidi, who in 2004 will admit to his propaganda activities, calls Al-Zainab “an opportunist, cheap and manipulative. He has poetic interests and has a vivid imagination in making up stories.” [Mother Jones, 4/2006]
Stories Strain Credulity - Knight Ridder reporter Jonathan Landay later says of al-Qurairy, “As you track their stories, they become ever more fantastic, and they’re the same people who are telling these stories, until you get to the most fantastic tales of all, which appeared in Vanity Fair magazine.” Perhaps al-Qurairy’s most fabulous story is that of a training exercise to blow up a full-size mockup of a US destroyer in a lake in central Iraq. Landay adds, “Or, jumping into pits of fouled water and having to kill a dog with your bare teeth. I mean, and this was coming from people, who are appearing in all of these stories, and sometimes their rank would change.… And, you’re saying, ‘Wait a minute. There’s something wrong here, because in this story he was a major, but in this story the guy’s a colonel. And, in this story this was his function, but now he says in this story he was doing something else.’” Landay’s bureau chief, John Walcott, says of al-Qurairy, “What he did was reasonably clever but fairly obvious, which is he gave the same stuff to some reporters that, for one reason or another, he felt would simply report it. And then he gave the same stuff to people in the Vice President’s office [Dick Cheney] and in the Secretary of Defense’s office [Donald Rumsfeld]. And so, if the reporter called the Department of Defense or the Vice President’s office to check, they would’ve said, ‘Oh, I think that’s… you can go with that. We have that, too.’ So, you create the appearance, or Chalabi created the appearance, that there were two sources, and that the information had been independently confirmed, when, in fact, there was only one source. And it hadn’t been confirmed by anybody.” Landay adds, “[L]et’s not forget how close these people were to this administration, which raises the question, was there coordination? I can’t tell you that there was, but it sure looked like it.” [PBS, 4/25/2007]
No Evidence Found - On April 6, 2003, US forces will overrun the Salman Pak facility. They will find nothing to indicate that the base was ever used to train terrorists (see April 6, 2003).

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Richard Sperzel, Newsweek, Saddam Hussein, Taliban, New York Times, Sabah Khodada, Washington Post, United Nations, Vanity Fair, Nabeel Musawi, Public Broadcasting System, Mother Jones, Ahmed Chalabi, Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri, Abu Zeinab al-Qurairy, Chris Hedges, Al-Qaeda, CBS News, Bush administration (43), Central Intelligence Agency, Mukhabarat, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, Francis Brooke, Lowell Bergman, Michael Isikoff, Mohammed al-Zubaidi, Jonathan Landay, John Walcott, Jamal al-Ghurairy, Jack Fairweather, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Christopher Buchanan, Iraqi National Congress

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Domestic Propaganda

Category Tags: Alleged Al-Qaeda Ties, Media Coverage, Propaganda, Chalabi and the INC

Defense Policy Board member Richard Perle, discussing the US’s planned reaction to the 9/11 attacks, says that Iraq is next on the US’s military strike list. CNN anchor John King asks, “Next phase Saddam Hussein?” and Perle replies, “Absolutely.” The day before, on ABC, Perle explained why the US had to make such a move: “Weapons of mass destruction in the hands of Saddam Hussein, plus his known contact with terrorists, including al-Qaeda terrorists, is simply a threat too large to continue to tolerate.” And what would the upshot of such an invasion be? Perle tells his CNN listeners, “We would be seen as liberators in Iraq.” [PBS, 4/25/2007]

Entity Tags: ABC News, Richard Perle, CNN, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Neoconservative Influence

Category Tags: Media Coverage, Politicization of Intelligence, Public Opinion on Iraqi Threat, The Decision to Invade

Walter Isaacson.Walter Isaacson. [Source: Aspen Institute]In 2007, Walter Isaacson, chairman and CEO of CNN in the early 2000s, will say: “There was a patriotic fervor and the Administration used it so that if you challenged anything you were made to feel that there was something wrong with that.… And there was even almost a patriotism police which, you know, they’d be up there on the internet sort of picking anything a Christiane Amanpour, or somebody else would say as if it were disloyal… Especially right after 9/11. Especially when the war in Afghanistan is going on. There was a real sense that you don’t get that critical of a government that’s leading us in war time.” When CNN starts showing footage of civilian casualties in Afghanistan, people in the Bush administration and “big people in corporations were calling up and saying, ‘You’re being anti-American here.’” [PBS, 4/25/2007] So in October 2001, Isaacson sends his staff a memo, which says, “It seems perverse to focus too much on the casualties or hardship in Afghanistan.” He orders CNN to balance such coverage with reminders of the 9/11 attacks. [Washington Post, 10/31/2001] Isaacson will add, “[W]e were caught between this patriotic fervor and a competitor [Fox News] who was using that to their advantage; they were pushing the fact that CNN was too liberal that we were sort of vaguely anti-American.” An anonymous CNN reporter will also later say, “Everybody on staff just sort of knew not to push too hard to do stories critical of the Bush Administration.” [PBS, 4/25/2007]

Entity Tags: Walter Isaacson, CNN, Christiane Amanpour

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Domestic Propaganda, War in Afghanistan

Category Tags: Media Coverage, Propaganda

Zaab Sethna of the Iraqi National Congress (INC) arranges for Iraqi defector Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri to be interviewed by Judith Miller of the New York Times. Miller, who has known Chalabi for about eight years (see May 1, 2003), immediately flies out to Bangkok for the interview. Her story is published on December 20, just three days after Haideri told his story to a CIA agent who subjected him to a polygraph and determined Haideri’s story was a complete fabrication (see December 17, 2001). Miller’s front-page article, titled “An Iraqi defector tells of work on at least 20 hidden weapons sites,” reports: “An Iraqi defector who described himself as a civil engineer, said he personally worked on renovations of secret facilities for biological, chemical and nuclear weapons in underground wells, private villas and under the Saddam Hussein Hospital in Baghdad as recently as a year ago.” If verified, Miller notes, “his allegations would provide ammunition to officials within the Bush administration who have been arguing that Mr. Hussein should be driven from power partly because of his unwillingness to stop making weapons of mass destruction, despite his pledges to do so.” Sethna also contacts freelance journalist Paul Moran. Moran is a former employee of the INC and has been employed for years by the Rendon Group, a firm specializing in “perception management” and which helped develop the INC (see May 1991). Moran’s on-camera interview with Haideri is broadcast worldwide by the Australian Broadcasting Corp. [New York Times, 12/20/2001; SBS Dateline, 7/23/2003; New York Review of Books, 2/26/2004; Rolling Stone, 11/17/2005] Reporter Jonathan Landay will later say that he and others were skeptical from the outset: “There were some red flags that the New York Times story threw out immediately, which caught our eye, immediately. The first was the idea that a Kurd—the enemy of Saddam—had been allowed into his most top secret military facilities. I don’t think so. That was, for me, the biggest red flag. And there were others, like the idea that Saddam Hussein would put a biological weapons facility under his residence. I mean, would you put a biological weapons lab under your living room? I don’t think so.” Landay’s partner Warren Strobel will add, “The first rule of being an intelligence agent, or a journalist, and they’re really not that different, is you’re skeptical of defectors, because they have a reason to exaggerate. They want to increase their value to you. They probably want something from you. Doesn’t mean they’re lying, but you should be—journalists are supposed to be skeptical, right? And I’m afraid the New York Times reporter in that case and a lot of other reporters were just not skeptical of what these defectors were saying. Nor was the administration…” [PBS, 4/25/2007]

Entity Tags: Zaab Sethna, Warren Strobel, Jonathan Landay, Judith Miller, Paul Moran, Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri, Ahmed Chalabi, Saddam Hussein

Category Tags: Alleged WMDs, Media Coverage, Politicization of Intelligence, Propaganda, Public Opinion on Iraqi Threat

Pentagon chief of public relations Victoria Clarke.Pentagon chief of public relations Victoria Clarke. [Source: Department of Defense]While detailed plans for the upcoming invasion of Iraq are well underway, the administration realizes that the American people are not strongly behind such an invasion. They aren’t convinced that Saddam Hussein was responsible for the 9/11 attacks, and unsure about Iraq having weapons of mass destruction. White House and Pentagon officials decide that using retired military officers as “independent military analysts” in the national media can help change hearts and minds (see April 20, 2008). Assistant secretary of defense for public affairs Victoria “Torie” Clarke, a former public relations executive, intends to achieve what she calls “information dominance.” The news culture is saturated by “spin” and combating viewpoints; Clarke argues that opinions are most swayed by voices seen as authoritative and completely independent. Clarke has already put together a system within the Pentagon to recruit what she calls “key influentials,” powerful and influential people from all areas who, with the proper coaching, can generate support for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s agenda. After 9/11, when each of the news networks rushed to land its own platoon of retired military officers to provide commentary and analysis, Clarke saw an opportunity: such military analysts are the ultimate “key influentials,” having tremendous authority and credibility with average Americans. They often get more airtime than network reporters, Clarke notes. More importantly, they are not just explaining military minutiae, but telling viewers how to interpret events. Best of all, while they are in the news media, they are not creatures of the media. Reporter David Barstow will write in 2008, “They were military men, many of them ideologically in sync with the administration’s neoconservative brain trust, many of them important players in a military industry anticipating large budget increases to pay for an Iraq war.” And even those without such ties tended to support the military and the government. Retired Army general and ABC analyst William Nash will say: “It is very hard for me to criticize the United States Army. It is my life.”
'Writing the Op-Ed' for the War - As a result, according to Clarke’s aide Don Meyer, Clarke decides to make the military analysts the main focus of the public relations push to build a case for invading Iraq. They, not journalists, will “be our primary vehicle to get information out,” Meyer recalls. The military analysts are not handled by the Pentagon’s regular press office, but are lavished with attention and “perks” in a separate office run by another aide to Clarke, Brent Krueger. According to Krueger, the military analysts will, in effect, be “writing the op-ed” for the war.
Working in Tandem with the White House - The Bush administration works closely with Clarke’s team from the outset. White House officials request lists of potential recruits for the team, and suggests names for the lists. Clarke’s team writes summaries of each potential analyst, describing their backgrounds, business and political affiliations, and their opinions on the war. Rumsfeld has the final say on who is on the team: “Rumsfeld ultimately cleared off on all invitees,” Krueger will say. Ultimately, the Pentagon recruits over 75 retired officers, though some only participate briefly or sporadically.
Saturation Coverage on Cable - The largest contingent of analysts is affiliated with Fox News, followed by NBC and CNN, the networks with 24-hour cable news coverage. Many analysts work for ABC and CBS as well. Many also appear on radio news and talk broadcasts, publish op-ed articles in newspapers, and are quoted in press reports, magazine articles, and in Web sites and blogs. Barstow, a New York Times reporter, will note that “[a]t least nine of them have written op-ed articles for The Times.”
Representing the Defense Industry - Many of the analysts have close ties with defense contractors and/or lobbying firms involved in helping contractors win military contracts from the Pentagon:
bullet Retired Army general James Marks, who begins working as an analyst for CNN in 2004 (until his firing three years later—see July 2007) is a senior executive with McNeil Technologies, and helps that firm land military and intelligence contracts from the government.
bullet Thomas McInerney, a retired Air Force general and Fox News analyst, sits on the boards of several military contractors.
bullet CBS military analyst Jeffrey McCausland is a lobbyist for Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney, a major lobbying firm where he is director of a national security team that represents several military contractors. His team proclaims on the firm’s Web site, “We offer clients access to key decision makers.”
bullet Shortly after signing with CBS, retired Air Force general Joseph Ralston became vice chairman of the Cohen Group, a consulting firm headed by former Defense Secretary William Cohen (also an analyst for CNN). The Cohen Group says of itself on its Web site, “The Cohen Group knows that getting to ‘yes’ in the aerospace and defense market—whether in the United States or abroad—requires that companies have a thorough, up-to-date understanding of the thinking of government decision makers.”
Ideological Ties - Many military analysts have political and ideological ties to the Bush administration and its supporters. These include:
bullet Two of NBC’s most familiar analysts, retired generals Barry McCaffrey and Wayne Downing, are on the advisory board of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, an advocacy group created with White House encouragement in 2002 to push for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. [New York Times, 4/20/2008] Additionally, McCaffrey is chief of BR McCaffrey Associates, which “provides strategic, analytic, and advocacy consulting services to businesses, non-profits, governments, and international organizations.” [Washington Post, 4/21/2008] Other members include senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), and prominent neoconservatives Richard Perle and William Kristol. [Truthout (.org), 4/28/2008] Both McCaffrey and Downing head their own consulting firms and are board members of major defense contractors.
bullet Retired Army general Paul Vallely, a Fox News analyst from 2001 through 2007, shares with the Bush national security team the belief that the reason the US lost in Vietnam was due to negative media coverage, and the commitment to prevent that happening with the Iraq war. In 1980, Vallely co-wrote a paper accusing the US press of failing to defend the nation from what he called “enemy” propaganda—negative media coverage—during the Vietnam War. “We lost the war—not because we were outfought, but because we were out Psyoped,” he wrote. Vallely advocated something he called “MindWar,” an all-out propaganda campaign by the government to convince US citizens of the need to support a future war effort. Vallely’s “MindWar” would use network TV and radio to “strengthen our national will to victory.” [New York Times, 4/20/2008]
bullet Ironically, Clarke herself will eventually leave the Pentagon and become a commentator for ABC News. [Democracy Now!, 4/22/2008]
Seducing the Analysts - Analysts describe a “powerfully seductive environment,” in Barstow’s words, created for them in the Pentagon: the uniformed escorts to Rumsfeld’s private conference room, lavish lunches served on the best government china, embossed name cards, “blizzard[s] of PowerPoints, the solicitations of advice and counsel, the appeals to duty and country, the warm thank you notes from the secretary himself.” Former NBC analyst Kenneth Allard, who has taught information warfare at the National Defense University, says: “[Y]ou have no idea. You’re back. They listen to you. They listen to what you say on TV.” Allard calls the entire process “psyops on steroids,” using flattery and proximity to gain the desired influence and effect. “It’s not like it’s, ‘We’ll pay you $500 to get our story out,’” Allard says. “It’s more subtle.”
Keeping Pentagon Connections Hidden - In return, the analysts are instructed not to quote their briefers directly or to mention their contacts with the Pentagon. The idea is always to present a facade of independent thought. One example is the analysts’ almost perfect recitation of Pentagon talking points during a fall and winter 2002 PR campaign (see Fall and Winter 2002). [New York Times, 4/20/2008]

The “military analysts” named by the New York Times as participants in the Pentagon’s propaganda operation to manipulate public opinion on the Iraq war (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond) appear over 4,500 times on network and television news broadcasts between January 1, 2002 and May 13, 2008. The news outlets included in the May 13, 2008 count, performed by the media watchdog group Media Matters, includes ABC, ABC News Now, CBS, CBS Radio Network, NBC, CNN, CNN Headline News, Fox News, MSNBC, CNBC, and NPR. Media Matters uses the Lexis/Nexis database to compile their report. Media Matters releases a spreadsheet documenting each analyst’s appearance on each particular broadcast outlet. [Media Matters, 5/13/2008] Salon columnist Glenn Greenwald notes, “If anything, the Media Matters study actually under-counts the appearances, since it only counted ‘the analysts named in the Times article,’ and several of the analysts who were most active in the Pentagon’s propaganda program weren’t mentioned by name in that article.” [Salon, 5/15/2008]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, New York Times, National Public Radio, Media Matters, CNBC, CBS News, ABC News, NBC, Fox News, MSNBC, Glenn Greenwald, CNN

Timeline Tags: US Military, Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda

Category Tags: Military Analysts Propaganda, Propaganda, Media Coverage

Senior administration officials say the White House intends to create a permanent office of global diplomacy in order to spread a positive image of the United States around the world and combat anti-Americanism, which the administration believes has been caused by the world’s failure to understand America. “A lot of the world does not like America, and it’s going to take years to change their hearts and minds,” an unnamed senior official tells the New York Times. The office will coordinate the public statements of the State, Defense, and the other departments to ensure that foreign governments, media organizations, and opinion-makers understand US policies. The Times reports that according to one official, “global diplomacy as envisioned in the new office will inject patriotism into the punishing 24-hour, seven-day news cycle.” Reports broadcast by the office would include information about both US foreign and domestic policies and would utilize the State Department’s huge communications network of American embassies and media offices. The earlier White House effort to create a more positive image of the United States was handled by the Coalition Information Center, a joint effort between the US and Britain that was led by the president’s senior advisor, Karen P. Hughes. [New York Times, 2/2/2002] The office will be formally created in July and given the name “The Office of Global Communications” (see July 30, 2002).

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Office of Global Communications

Timeline Tags: US International Relations, Domestic Propaganda

Category Tags: Media Coverage, Propaganda

CBS anchorman Dan Rather tells the BBC that he and other journalists haven’t been properly investigating since 9/11. He says, “There was a time in South Africa that people would put flaming tires around people’s necks if they dissented. And in some ways the fear is that you will be necklaced here, you will have a flaming tire of lack of patriotism put around your neck. Now it is that fear that keeps journalists from asking the toughest of the tough questions.” [Guardian, 5/17/2002]

Entity Tags: Dan Rather

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline, Domestic Propaganda

Category Tags: Media Coverage

According to deputy press secretary Scott McClellan, the White House is in the midst of a large and widespread effort to manipulate public opinion in favor of the impending invasion of Iraq. Writing in 2008, McClellan will note: “[President] Bush and the White House were engaging in a carefully orchestrated campaign to shape and manipulate sources of public approval to our advantage. We’d done much the same on other issues—tax cuts and education—to great success. But war with Iraq was different. Beyond the irreversible human costs and the substantial financial price, the decision to go to war and the way we went about selling it would ultimately lead to increased polarization and intensified partisan warfare. Our lack of candor and honesty in making the case for war would later provoke a partisan response from our opponents that, in its own way, further distorted and obscured a more nuanced reality.… And through it all, the media would serve as complicit enablers. Their primary focus would be in covering the campaign to sell the war, rather than aggressively questioning the rationale behind the war in pursuing the truth behind it. The White House knew the national media would cover its arguments for war even if the underlying evidence was a little shaky. Questions ought to be raised, but the administration had the biggest platform, especially when something as dramatic and controversial as war was at stake. And the public is generally inclined to believe what the White House says, or at least give it the benefit of the doubt until the watchdog media proves it is unreliable. But in this case, the media would neglect their watchdog role, focusing less on truth and accuracy and more on whether the campaign was succeeding.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 125-126] Writing in hindsight, McClellan will continue: “In the permanent campaign era, it was all about manipulating sources of public opinion to the president’s advantage. Of course, I didn’t see it that way at the time. Like most if not all of those involved, I viewed it as the way things were done to advance the broader agenda—simply part of the way Washington governed. I didn’t pause to think about the potential consequences of our campaign to manipulate the public debate. When you are caught up in the intense day-to-day experience of the White House and Washington, your focus is on winning the daily battles, which makes it extremely difficult to step back and have a clear-eyed perspective on the broader meaning of it all.… Today, the fatal flaws of the administration’s strategy are apparent. Bush’s team confused the political propaganda campaign with the realities of the war-making campaign. We were more focused on creating a sense of gravity and urgency about the threat from Saddam Hussein than governing on the basis of the truths of the situation.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 134-135]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Scott McClellan, Bush administration (43)

Category Tags: Media Coverage, Propaganda

In his 2004 book The Politics of Truth, former ambassador Joseph Wilson will reflect that by this time, it has become “clear that there were few forces willing to confront the neoconservative juggernaut” and its drive towards war with Iraq. “They had mastered the art of marketing their policy prescriptions and were aggressive and intimidating in debate. Their strategy, as I discovered, was to make an opening statement, interrupt the person making a different argument, and then filibuster to the end of a five-minute television segment. That domination of the available time, coupled with aggressively stated talking points and ad hominem attacks on the credibility and intelligence of their interlocutors, was designed to leave viewers with the impression these neocon experts were the only ones who knew what they were talking about. After a while, many of the genuine experts on the region, people who had spent their careers living and working in the Arab world, simply refused to subject themselves to such demeaning behavior and retired to the sidelines.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 292]

Entity Tags: Joseph C. Wilson

Timeline Tags: Neoconservative Influence, Domestic Propaganda

Category Tags: Media Coverage, Politicization of Intelligence, Propaganda

White House chief of staff Andrew Card forms the White House Iraq Group, or WHIG, which aims to “educate the public” about the alleged threat from Iraq. WHIG is formed concurrently with the Office of Special Plans (see September 2002). A senior official involved with the group will later describe it as “an internal working group, like many formed for priority issues, to make sure each part of the White House was fulfilling its responsibilities.” [Washington Post, 8/10/2003] According to White House deputy press secretary Scott McClellan, the WHIG is “set up in the summer of 2002 to coordinate the marketing of the [Iraq] war,” and will continue “as a strategic communications group after the invasion had toppled Saddam [Hussein]‘s regime.” McClellan, who will become a full-fledged member of the WHIG after rising to the position of senior press secretary, will write: “Some critics have suggested that sinister plans were discussed at the WHIG meetings to deliberately mislead the public. Not so. There were plenty of discussions about how to set the agenda and influence the narrative, but there was no conspiracy to intentionally deceive. Instead, there were straightforward discussions of communications strategies and messaging grounded in the familiar tactics of the permanent campaign.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 142] Author Craig Unger will sum up the WHIG’s purpose up more bluntly: “to sell the war.” Members of the group include White House political advisers Karl Rove, Karen Hughes, Mary Matalin, James R. Wilkinson, and Nicholas E. Calio, and policy advisers led by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, her deputy Stephen Hadley, and Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby. They meet weekly in the White House Situation Room. A “strategic communications” task force under the WHIG is charged with planning speeches and writing position papers. [Washington Post, 8/10/2003; Unger, 2007, pp. 241]
Marketing Fear, Idea of Invasion as Reasonable - After Labor Day 2002—and after suitable test marketing—the group launches a full-fledged media marketing campaign. The images and storyline are simple and visceral: imminent biological or chemical attack, threats of nuclear holocaust, Saddam Hussein as a psychopathic dictator who can only be stopped by American military force. A key element of the narrative is forged documents “proving” Iraq sought uranium from Niger (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001, October 15, 2001, October 18, 2001, November 20, 2001, February 5, 2002, March 1, 2002, Late April or Early May 2002-June 2002, and Late June 2002). One of the main objectives is to swing the dialogue ever farther to the right, creating the assumption in the public mind that war with Iraq is a thoughtful, moderate, well-reasoned position, and delegitimizing any opposition. To that end, Cheney stakes out the “moderate” position, with statements like “many of us are convinced that Saddam will acquire nuclear weapons fairly soon” (see August 26, 2002), and neoconservatives such as Michael Ledeen pushing the extremes ever rightward with calls to invade not only Iraq, but Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia (see September 20, 2001, August 6, 2002, and September 4, 2002). The real push is delayed until the second week of September. As Card reminds the group, “From a marketing point of view, you don’t introduce new products in August” (see September 6, 2002). The first anniversary of the 9/11 attacks is a perfect opportunity to launch the new campaign (see September 8, 2002). [Unger, 2007, pp. 250-251] Wilkinson, the group’s communications director, is tasked with preparing one of the group’s first public releases, a white paper that will describe the “grave and gathering danger” of Iraq’s “reconstituted” nuclear weapons program. Wilkinson will claim that Iraq “sought uranium oxide, an essential ingredient in the enrichment process, from Africa.” [CounterPunch, 11/9/2005]
'Push[ing] the Envelope' - According to an intelligence source interviewed by the New York Daily News in October 2005, the group, on “a number of occasions,” will attempt “to push the envelope on things.… The [CIA] would say, ‘We just don’t have the intelligence to substantiate that.’” [New York Daily News, 10/19/2005] In 2003, three unnamed officials will tell a Washington Post reporter that the group “wanted gripping images and stories not available in the hedged and austere language of intelligence,” what author and reporter Charlie Savage will call “a stark display of the political benefits that come with the power to control information.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 357] In 2008, McClellan will write of “the heightened rhetoric on Iraq, including unequivocal statements that made things sound more certain than was known.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 137]
Using Friendly Media Outlets - An important part of the WHIG strategy is to feed their messages to friendly journalists, such as New York Times reporter Judith Miller. James Bamford, in his book A Pretext for War, will write: “First OSP [Office of Special Plans] supplies false or exaggerated intelligence; then members of the WHIG leak it to friendly reporters, complete with prepackaged vivid imagery; finally, when the story breaks, senior officials point to it as proof and parrot the unnamed quotes they or their colleagues previously supplied.” [Bamford, 2004, pp. 325]

Entity Tags: Stephen J. Hadley, Scott McClellan, Saddam Hussein, Nicholas E. Calio, White House Iraq Group, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Condoleezza Rice, Mary Matalin, Andrew Card, Craig Unger, James Bamford, Charlie Savage, Karen Hughes, James R. Wilkinson, Karl C. Rove

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Category Tags: Media Coverage, Politicization of Intelligence, Propaganda

In 2007, author Craig Unger will observe that during the eight months of the administration’s strongest push for war with Iraq (between August 2002 and March 2003), the Washington Post runs about 190 front-page articles making the administration’s case for war, and 27 pro-war editorials—about one every nine days. Antiwar reports are given much less coverage. When 100,000 people march against the war in Washington, the largest antiwar demonstration since the Vietnam War, the Post buries the story in its Metro section. The Post is joined in slanting its coverage by other newspapers and even more openly on network and cable news broadcasts. Saddam Hussein is routinely, and effectively, conflated with 9/11, and the “smoking gun-mushroom cloud” trope (see September 4, 2002) is reported over and over again in TV news broadcasts. Unger will call it the “all fear all the time” campaign (see August 2002). By late September 2002, over half of Americans polled believe that Saddam was responsible for the 9/11 attacks, and 72 percent believe that Saddam will attack the US with chemical or biological weapons. Republican pollster David Winston explains, “The reaction that you’re getting from the American people is, for the first time, their personal safety and security is threatened in a way that it’s never been before, and they want action.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 255-256]

Entity Tags: Washington Post, Craig Unger, Saddam Hussein, David Winston

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Category Tags: Media Coverage, Politicization of Intelligence

Washington Post syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer, speaking on “Inside Washington” in a discussion with fellow Post columnist Charlie King and Post military reporter Thomas Ricks, argues in favor of the Bush administration’s policy on Iraq. At one point, moderator Gordan Petersons asks what the US should do after deposing Saddam Hussein. Krauthammer responds: “We don’t speak about exit strategies; this is not Bosnia, or Haiti, or the Balkans. This is very important, everybody understands it, we are not going to run away. We are going to get there, and we are going to stay. We are going to try to make a reasonably civil society, reasonably pro-American, a good influence on the neighbors, and disarmed. That’s a large undertaking, and I think we are absolutely [unintelligible] everybody who is supporting the war or the invasion is in favor of staying and doing the job.” When Thomas Ricks notes that Krauthammer’s proposal would involve nine of the US Army’s ten active-duty divisions, he counters, “That assumption is entirely unwarranted. I think we will be accepted as liberators, as we were in Afghanistan.” He also shoots down a comment from Peterson referring to the cost of invading Iraq. “If we win the war, we are in control of Iraq, it is the single largest source of oil in the world, it’s got huge reserves, which have been suppressed because of Iraq’s actions, and Saddam’s. We will have a bonanza, a financial one, at the other end, if the war is successful,” Krauthammer explains. [WUSATV, 8/3/2002; Unger, 2007, pp. 289]

Entity Tags: Charlie King, Charles Krauthhammer, Thomas Ricks, Washington Post

Category Tags: Media Coverage, Motives, Pre-war Planning

Rena Golden, the executive vice-president and general manager of CNN International, claims that the press has censored itself over 9/11 and the Afghanistan war. “Anyone who claims the US media didn’t censor itself is kidding you. It was not a matter of government pressure but a reluctance to criticize anything in a war that was obviously supported by the vast majority of the people. And this isn’t just a CNN issue—every journalist who was in any way involved in 9/11 is partly responsible.” [Press Gazette (London), 8/15/2002] These comments echo criticisms by Dan Rather in May 2002 (see May 17, 2002).

Entity Tags: Rena Golden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline, Domestic Propaganda

Category Tags: Media Coverage, Public Opinion on Iraqi Threat, Propaganda

Howard Kurtz.Howard Kurtz. [Source: CNN / ThinkProgress.org]In 2007, Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz will say, “From August 2002 until the war was launched in March of 2003 there were about 140 front page pieces in The Washington Post making the [Bush] administration’s case for war. It was, ‘The President said yesterday.’ ‘The Vice President said yesterday.’ ‘The Pentagon said yesterday.’ Well, that’s part of our job. Those people want to speak. We have to provide them a platform. I don’t have anything wrong with that. But there was only a handful—a handful—of stories that ran on the front page, some more that ran inside the pages of the paper, that made the opposite case. Or, if not making the opposite case, raised questions.” [PBS, 4/25/2007] Kurtz will also write in an August 2004 front page Washington Post story criticizing the newspaper’s pre-war coverage, “An examination of the paper’s coverage, and interviews with more than a dozen of the editors and reporters involved, shows that The Post published a number of pieces challenging the White House, but rarely on the front page. Some reporters who were lobbying for greater prominence for stories that questioned the administration’s evidence complained to senior editors who, in the view of those reporters, were unenthusiastic about such pieces. The result was coverage that, despite flashes of groundbreaking reporting, in hindsight looks strikingly one-sided at times.” At the time, The Post’s editorial page was strongly advocating war with Iraq. For instance, a day after Colin Powell’s presentation to the UN (see February 5, 2003), the Post commented that “it is hard to imagine how anyone could doubt that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction.” [Washington Post, 8/12/2004]

Entity Tags: Washington Post, Bush administration (43), Howard Kurtz

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Category Tags: Media Coverage, Public Opinion on Iraqi Threat, Propaganda

As the administration’s push to convince Americans that the Iraq war is necessary is reaching its height, the Pentagon sends its military analysts out to the television networks and the press (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond) with talking points portraying Iraq as an imminent threat. The analysts are to emphasize that Iraq has chemical and biological weapons that it can and will use, that it is developing nuclear weapons, and that it is sure to provide these weapons to al-Qaeda. A military invasion, the talking points state, is not only a necessity, but will be a relatively quick, relatively bloodless, and relatively inexpensive “war of liberation.” Pentagon public relations chief Victoria Clarke and her staff are thrilled at how well the analysts incorporate Pentagon talking points into their own presentations. Clarke’s aide Brent Krueger recalls: “You could see that they were messaging. You could see they were taking verbatim what the secretary was saying or what the technical specialists were saying. And they were saying it over and over and over.” Some days, “We were able to click on every single station and every one of our folks were up there delivering our message. You’d look at them and say, ‘This is working.’” [New York Times, 4/20/2008]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Brent T. Krueger, Al-Qaeda, US Department of Defense, Victoria (“Torie”) Clarke

Timeline Tags: US Military, Domestic Propaganda

Category Tags: Legal Justification, Media Coverage, Politicization of Intelligence, Propaganda, Public Opinion on Iraqi Threat, Military Analysts Propaganda

Jeff Cohen.Jeff Cohen. [Source: Jeff Cohen]Jeff Cohen, the founder of the media watchdog organization Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) and a former producer for MSNBC talk show host Phil Donahue, loses almost all of his airtime on the network as the Iraq invasion approaches. Cohen, once a frequent guest on MSNBC’s various opinion and commentary shows, will reflect in his 2006 book Cable News Confidential that he argued passionately against invading Iraq, using “every possible argument that might sway mainstream viewers—no real threat, cost, instability.” However, as the run-up to war progresses, he is no longer allowed on the air. He will write: “There was no room for me after MSNBC launched ‘Countdown: Iraq’—a daily one-hour show that seemed more keen on glamorizing a potential war than scrutinizing or debating it. ‘Countdown: Iraq’ featured retired colonels and generals, sometimes resembling boys with war toys as they used props, maps and glitzy graphics to spin invasion scenarios. They reminded me of pumped-up ex-football players doing pre-game analysis and diagramming plays. It was excruciating to be sidelined at MSNBC, watching so many non-debates in which myth and misinformation were served up unchallenged.” In 2008, Cohen will write: “It was bad enough to be silenced. Much worse to see that these ex-generals—many working for military corporations—were never in debates, nor asked a tough question by an anchor.” Cohen’s recollections will be bolstered by a 2008 New York Times investigation that documents a systematic, well-organized media manipulation program by the Pentagon that successfully sells the war to the media and the American public by using so-called “independent military analysts” (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). While the Times article focuses primarily on the analysts and their Pentagon handlers, Cohen says that an equal portion of blame belongs to the media outlets themselves. “The biggest villain here is not Rumsfeld nor the Pentagon,” Cohen writes. “It’s the TV networks. In the land of the First Amendment, it was their choice to shut down debate and journalism. No government agency forced MSNBC to repeatedly feature the hawkish generals unopposed. Or fire Phil Donahue. Or smear weapons expert Scott Ritter. Or blacklist former attorney general Ramsey Clark. It was top NBC/MSNBC execs, not the Feds, who imposed a quota system on the Donahue staff requiring two pro-war guests if we booked one anti-war advocate—affirmative action for hawks.… [T]he major TV networks… were not hoodwinked by a Pentagon propaganda scheme. They were willingly complicit, and have been for decades.” [Truthout (.org), 4/28/2008]

Entity Tags: Phil Donahue, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, Donald Rumsfeld, Jeff Cohen, New York Times, MSNBC, Scott Ritter, NBC, Ramsey Clark, US Department of Defense

Timeline Tags: US Military, Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda

Category Tags: Media Coverage, Military Analysts Propaganda, Propaganda

David Albright, a respected nuclear physicist who had investigated Iraq’s nuclear weapons program after the first Gulf War, frequently appears as a commentator on television in the autumn of 2002. In 2004, he will say, “I felt a lot of pressure” from journalists “to stick to the subject, which was Iraq’s bad behavior.… I always felt the administration was setting the agenda for what stories should be covered, and the news media bought into that, rather than take a critical look at the administration’s underlying reasons for war.” On one occasion, Albright appears on an unnamed cable news show and says that he feels UN weapons inspections in Iraq should continue and that the impasse over Iraq is not simply France’s fault. During a commercial break, the host “got really mad and chastised me.” Albright concludes: “The administration created a set of truths, then put up a wall to keep people within it. On the other side of the wall were people saying they didn’t agree. The media were not aggressive enough in challenging this.” [New York Review of Books, 2/26/2004]

Entity Tags: David Albright

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Category Tags: Internal Opposition, Media Coverage

Jonathan Landay, a reporter for Knight Ridder Newspapers, watches Vice President Cheney’s speech on August 26, 2002, in which Cheney argues that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction and must be confronted soon (see August 26, 2002). Landay is particularly interested in Cheney’s comment, “Many of us are convinced that Saddam Hussein will acquire nuclear weapons fairly soon.” Landay will later recall, “I looked at that and I said, ‘What is he talking about?’ Because, to develop a nuclear weapon you need specific infrastructure and in particular the way the Iraqi’s were trying to produce a nuclear weapon was through enrichment of uranium. Now, you need tens of thousands of machines called centrifuges to produce highly enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon. You’ve gotta house those in a fairly big place, and you’ve gotta provide a huge amount of power to this facility. Could [Saddam Hussein] really have done it with all of these eyes on his country?… So, when Cheney said that, I got on the phone to people, and one person said to me - somebody who watched proliferation as their job - said, ‘The Vice President is lying.’” [PBS, 4/25/2007] Around the same time, John Walcott, chief of Knight Ridder’s Washington bureau, begins hearing from other sources in the military, intelligence community, and foreign service who question the Bush administration’s claims. Most of them are career officials, not political appointees. Walcott will later comment, “These people were better informed about the details of the intelligence than the people higher up in the food chain, and they were deeply troubled by what they regarded as the administration’s deliberate misrepresentation of intelligence, ranging from overstating the case to outright fabrication.” Walcott assigns Landay and Landay’s frequent reporting partner Warren Strobel to talk with these sources. [New York Review of Books, 2/26/2004] On September 6, a story by Landay is published, entitled, “Lack of Hard Evidence of Iraqi Weapons Worries Top US Officials.” It quotes anonymous senior US officials who say that “they have detected no alarming increase in the threat that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein poses to American security and Middle East stability.” While it is well known that Iraq is “aggressively trying to rebuild” its weapons programs, “there is no new intelligence that indicates the Iraqis have made significant advances” in doing so. [Knight Ridder, 9/6/2002] But while Knight Ridder publishes 32 newspapers in the US, it has no outlets in New York or Washington, and so it has little impact on the power elite. Additionally, its story is drowned out by a false claim in the New York Times two days later that Iraq is trying to use aluminum tubes to build a nuclear weapon (see September 8, 2002). [PBS, 4/25/2007]

Entity Tags: John Walcott, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Jonathan Landay, Warren Strobel, Knight Ridder Newspapers

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Category Tags: Alleged WMDs, Media Coverage

Condoleezza Rice appears on CNN to discuss the alleged threat posed to the US by Saddam Hussein. She insists that Iraq is intent on developing a nuclear weapon. “We do know that he is actively pursuing a nuclear weapon. We do know that there have been shipments going into Iran, for instance—into Iraq, for instance, of aluminum tubes that really are only suited to—high-quality aluminum tools that are only really suited for nuclear weapons programs, centrifuge programs. We know that he has the infrastructure, nuclear scientists to make a nuclear weapon. And we know that when the inspectors assessed this after the Gulf War, he was far, far closer to a crude nuclear device than anybody thought, maybe six months from a crude nuclear device. The problem here is that there will always be some uncertainty about how quickly he can acquire nuclear weapons. But we don’t what the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.” [CNN, 9/8/2002; CNN, 9/8/2002; New York Times, 7/20/2003; US House Committee on Government Reform, 3/16/2004] In his 2006 book The One Percent Doctrine, author Ron Suskind writes, “The statement sent off shock waves. Rice was criticized for fear-mongering, for suggesting that there was evidence that Hussein might have such a weapon. Arguments about proof, though, were missing the point—Rice’s roundabout argument was that the United States should act whether or not it found a “smoking gun.” She was showing an edge of the actual US policy: the severing of fact-based analysis from forceful response; acting on any inkling was now appropriate—to be safe, to be sure, to get an opponent before he can develop capability, so others know to not even start down that path.” [Suskind, 2006, pp. 170]

Entity Tags: White House Iraq Group, Ron Suskind, Condoleezza Rice

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Category Tags: Alleged WMDs, Media Coverage, Politicization of Intelligence, Propaganda, Aluminum Tubes Allegation, Nuclear Weapons Allegations

Judith Miller.Judith Miller. [Source: Washington Post]Judith Miller and Michael Gordon of the New York Times report in a front page story that Iraq is trying to obtain materials to build a nuclear weapon. Citing unnamed senior administration officials, they break the story of the aluminum tubes that were confiscated in Jordan in July 2001 (see July 2001) and write that both “American intelligence experts” and top officials believe the tubes were meant to be used as centrifuge rotors in a nuclear enrichment program. “In the last 14 months, Iraq has sought to buy thousands of specially designed aluminum tubes, which American officials believe were intended as components of centrifuges to enrich uranium,” reports the newspaper. “The diameter, thickness and other technical specifications of the aluminum tubes had persuaded American intelligence experts that they were meant for Iraq’s nuclear program….” Officials cited in the article warn that the US must not wait for more evidence before taking action to disarm Iraq because the first sign of a “smoking gun” may be a mushroom cloud. [New York Times, 9/8/2002] (The “smoking gun/mushroom cloud” analogy was conceived by presidential speech writer Michael Gerson a few days earlier; see September 4, 2002 for details.) What Gordon and Miller’s sources did not tell them, and what they neglected to find out on their own, was that the country’s top nuclear experts do not believe the tubes are suitable for rotors (see, e.g., July 2001-March 2003, August 17, 2001, and Late 2001). For example, Houston G. Wood III, a retired Oak Ridge physicist, filed a report with the US government more than a year before (see August 17, 2001) concluding that the tubes were not meant for centrifuges. When he reads the New York Times story, he is shocked. In an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation more than a year later, he will recount his initial reaction: “My first thought was, ‘This must be some new tubes,’ you know. And then… and then when I realized that these were the tubes that I had been looking at a year before, I was just… I was… I was just shocked. I couldn’t believe that, you know, here we were, saying that these tubes were, you know, the same tubes that I’d come to the conclusion a year before were not valid for centrifuges, and here they’re saying they are. So, er… that was a real surprise.” [Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 10/27/2003] In subsequent stories about the tubes, the Times will note that there is a debate, however these reports will appear in the back pages of the newspaper (see, e.g., September 13, 2002). [New York Times, 5/26/2004]

Entity Tags: Michael Gordon, Judith Miller, Houston G. Wood III

Category Tags: Aluminum Tubes Allegation, Media Coverage

David Albright, a physicist who helped investigate Iraq’s nuclear weapons program following the 1991 Persian Gulf War as a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s inspection team, is disturbed to read Judith Miller’s story in the New York Times claiming that Iraq is trying to purchase aluminum tubes as part of an attempt to build centrifuges for a nuclear weapon (see September 8, 2002). After the aluminum tubes had been intercepted in the summer of 2001, Albright had been asked by an official to find out some information about them (see Late July 2001), and he had discovered that many experts doubted they were suitable for use in centrifuges. He had frequently worked with Miller in the past, and he contacts her and alerts her about the doubts of many officials, particularly those in the Department of Energy, regarding the Bush administration’s claims about the tubes.
Follow-up Article - Miller and Michael Gordon do write a follow-up article in the Times on September 13, 2002. But while the article does eventually note that “there have been debates among intelligence experts about Iraq’s intentions in trying to buy such tubes,” it states that “other, more senior, officials insisted last night that this was a minority view among intelligence experts and that the CIA had wide support, particularly among the government’s top technical experts and nuclear scientists. ‘This is a footnote, not a split,’ a senior administration official said.”
Insufficient - Albright is upset. He will later claim that he asked Miller “to alert people that there’s a debate, that there are competent people who disagreed with what the CIA was saying. I thought for sure she’d quote me or some people in the government who didn’t agree. It just wasn’t there.” He adds that the Times “made a decision to ice out the critics and insult them on top of it.” Albright goes to Joby Warrick of the Washington Post instead in hopes the Post will publish a better story. Warrick’s story comes out on September 19 and reveals the debate within the government about the tubes. It also notes reports that the Bush administration “is trying to quiet dissent among its own analysts over how to interpret the evidence.” But the story appears on page A18 and gets little notice compared to Miller’s front-page stories. [New York Review of Books, 2/26/2004] Still frustrated, Albright publishes his own report several days later challenging the aluminum tubes story (see September 23, 2002).

Entity Tags: Judith Miller, David Albright, Joby Warrick, Michael Gordon

Category Tags: Media Coverage, Aluminum Tubes Allegation

The New York Times publishes an article by Judith Miller entitled, “Verification Is Difficult at Best, Say the Experts, and Maybe Impossible.” Miller quotes a number of officials and former inspectors who claim that UN inspectors would face nearly insurmountable obstacles if they return to Iraq. But the sources chosen seem to be selected to agree with Miller’s position. For instance, she quotes David Kay at length, and he says “their task is damn near a mission impossible.” She describes Kay as “a former inspector who led the initial nuclear inspections in Iraq in the early 1990s,” but in fact Kay only spent five weeks as an inspector, in 1991. She also quotes Iraqi defector Khidir Hamza, who she says “led part of Iraq’s nuclear bomb program until he defected in 1994.” Hamza claims that Iraq is getting close to developing a nuclear bomb, and the Iraqi government “now excelled” in hiding its nuclear weapons program. But in fact Hamza resigned from Iraq’s nuclear program in 1990 and had no firsthand knowledge of it after that. Hamza moved to the US and worked for David Albright’s Institute for Science and International Security, but by 1999 Albright could no longer stand Hamza’s exaggerated claims and fired him. Hamza then published a book that contained “many ridiculous claims,” according to Albright (see November 2000), who will also say that Hamza’s claims are “often inaccurate.… He sculpts his message to get the message across.… [He] wants regime change [in Iraq] and what interferes with that is just ignored.” Of Miller, Albright will later claim: “She should have known about this. This is her area.” One International Atomic Energy Agency staff member will later say: “Hamza had no credibility at all.… Journalists who called us and asked for an assessment of these people—we’d certainly tell them.” [New York Times, 8/18/2002; New York Review of Books, 2/26/2004; Unger, 2007, pp. 252]

Entity Tags: Khidir Hamza, David Kay, International Atomic Energy Agency, David Albright, Judith Miller

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Category Tags: Media Coverage, Politicization of Intelligence, Weapons Inspections

Eleven days after the New York Times published a front-page article detailing Iraq’s supposed attempt to procure components for creating nuclear weapons (see August 2002 and September 8, 2002), the Washington Post’s Joby Warrick has a story published, “Evidence on Iraq Challenged; Experts Question if Tubes Were Meant for Weapons Program,” that disputes the Times’ article and questions whether the components—aluminum tubes—are indeed intended for nuclear use. Warrick cites “a report by independent experts” from the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) questioning the conclusion that the tubes must be for use in constructing nuclear weapons (see September 23, 2002). The ISIS report also notes that the Bush administration is trying to rein in dissent among its own analysts about how to interpret the evidence provided by the aluminum tubes. “By themselves, these attempted procurements are not evidence that Iraq is in possession of, or close to possessing, nuclear weapons,” the report says. “They do not provide evidence that Iraq has an operating centrifuge plant or when such a plant could be operational.” In recent days, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice has told television viewers that the tubes “are only really suited for nuclear weapons programs, centrifuge programs” (see September 8, 2002). But Warrick’s story is buried on page 18 of the Post and widely ignored. Author Craig Unger will later write: “No one paid attention. Once the conventional wisdom had been forged, mere facts did not suffice to change things.” [Washington Post, 9/19/2002; Unger, 2007, pp. 254]

Entity Tags: Institute for Science and International Security, Condoleezza Rice, Craig Unger, New York Times, Joby Warrick, Washington Post

Category Tags: Alleged WMDs, Media Coverage, Politicization of Intelligence, Propaganda, Aluminum Tubes Allegation

The New York Times publishes a highly detailed set of military options the Pentagon has recently given President Bush for attacking Iraq (see September 20, 2002). General Tommy Franks gave Bush the document just before a US speech at the UN calling for military action against Saddam Hussein. The attack would begin with a lengthy air campaign by B-2 bombers using satellite-guided bombs to knock out Iraqi command centers and air defenses, to isolate Hussein from field commanders. Ground forces would stage out of Kuwait. “The President has options now, and he has not made any decisions,” states White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer. [New York Times, 9/21/2002] These plans assume that only 5,000 troops would remain in Iraq by December 2006, a date only 45 months from the proposed invasion date - D-Day. The plans discussed goals and strategies for the invasion: “POTUS/SECDEF [President of US/Secretary of Defense] directed effort; limited to a very small group… Integrate / consider all elements of national power… [State Department] will promote creation of a broad-based, credible provisional government - prior to D-day… Iraqi regime has WMD capability.” [National Security Archive, 2/14/2007] The release of the military plans causes no widespread outrage or official US investigation, suggesting the White House approved the leak.

Entity Tags: Saddam Hussein, US Department of Defense, George W. Bush, Ari Fleischer, Thomas Franks

Category Tags: Media Coverage, The Decision to Invade

National Public Radio (NPR) learns of the administration’s tough approach to what it calls a pattern of information leaks from Congress and government employees. The FBI is investigating a number of Congressmen who are suspected of leaking information about the administration’s Iraq policies to the press (regardless of the presumption that members of Congress have the right to reveal unclassified information as they see fit), but the administration wants more from the FBI than questioning legislators. The administration is pushing the FBI to administer lie detector tests to legislators and federal employees it suspects of talking to reporters. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld wants to jail leakers who work for the government. And one of Rumsfeld’s analysts has suggested that police SWAT teams be sent to reporters’ homes to help find leakers. [Unger, 2007, pp. 256] By August 2002, the FBI also questioned nearly all senators and congresspeople making up the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry to uncover which one of them leaked information to the press (see August 2, 2002).

Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld, Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Public Radio, Bush administration (43)

Category Tags: Internal Opposition, Media Coverage, Politicization of Intelligence, Propaganda, The Decision to Invade

The Times of London uses the recently released intelligence “dossier” from British intelligence (see September 24, 2002) to report that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein has sent agents into Africa to find uranium for Iraqi nuclear weapons. The Times does not inform its readers that many British journalists were shown evidence contradicting the British intelligence claims (see September 24, 2002). It focuses on the dossier’s claim that Iraqi “agents” have secretly visited several African countries in search of uranium. Thirteen African nations produce uranium to one extent or another. A Whitehall source tells The Times that while Hussein may have attempted to find African uranium, those alleged efforts were unsuccessful. “If Iraq had succeeded in buying uranium from Africa, the dossier would have said so,” the source says. The Times reports that Iraq attempted to purchase uranium from, among other sources, the Democratic Republic of Congo, though at least part of that nation’s uranium mines are currently under the control of troops from Zimbabwe. The dossier does not specify any other countries that may have been contacted by Iraq. The Times also repeats the dossier’s claim that Iraq has biological and chemical weapons that can be launched against targets in as little as 45 minutes (see Late May 2003, August 16, 2003, December 7, 2003, January 27, 2004, and October 13, 2004), that Iraq is developing missiles with ranges of 600 miles (see January 9, 2003, January 16, 2003, February 27, 2003, March 7, 2003, and June 2004), and that Hussein may have given his son Qusay the power to order the use of those weapons. It also reports that the dossier specifically downplays suspected links between Iraq and radical Islamist groups such as al-Qaeda. Hussein has little sympathy for Islamist fundamentalists, The Times reports. [London Times, 9/25/2002]

Entity Tags: Saddam Hussein, London Times, UK Secret Intelligence Service (MI6)

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Category Tags: Key Events Related to DSM, Alleged WMDs, Media Coverage, Politicization of Intelligence, Africa-Uranium Allegation

During a White House meeting with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, George Bush makes the claim that Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden work together. “They’re both risks, they’re both dangerous,” Bush tells reporters. “The danger is, is that they work in concert,” he says in response to a question from a Reuters reporter. “The difference, of course, is that al-Qaeda likes to hijack governments. Saddam Hussein is a dictator of a government. Al-Qaeda hides, Saddam doesn’t, but the danger is, is that they work in concert. The danger is, is that al-Qaeda becomes an extension of Saddam’s madness and his hatred and his capacity to extend weapons of mass destruction around the world. Both of them need to be dealt with. The war on terror, you can’t distinguish between al-Qaeda and Saddam when you talk about the war on terror. And so it’s a comparison that is - I can’t make because I can’t distinguish between the two, because they’re both equally as bad, and equally as evil, and equally as destructive.” [Knight Ridder, 9/25/2002; Washington Post, 9/26/2002; US President, 9/30/2002; Center for Public Integrity, 1/23/2008] Later in the day, Bush’s comments are downplayed by White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, who says that Bush did not mean bin Laden and Hussein are working together, but rather that there is the danger that they could work together. He explains: “Clearly, al-Qaeda is operating inside Iraq. In the shadowy world of terrorism, sometimes there is no precise way to have definitive information until it is too late.” [Washington Post, 9/26/2002; White House, 9/25/2003] Bush fails to mention that the Defense Intelligence Agency has found no evidence of any such connections (see July 2002), or that eight days before his statement, the director of the CIA, George Tenet, told a Senate committee that no such connections can be shown to exist (see September 17, 2002). [Center for Public Integrity, 1/23/2008]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, Central Intelligence Agency, Defense Intelligence Agency, Al-Qaeda, Alvaro Uribe, Ari Fleischer, George J. Tenet, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Category Tags: Alleged Al-Qaeda Ties, Media Coverage, Politicization of Intelligence, Propaganda, Iraq Ties to Terrorists Allegations

<i>War on Iraq</i> book cover.War on Iraq book cover. [Source: Public domain]The book War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn’t Want You to Know is published. It is written by William Rivers Pitt, a journalist, and Scott Ritter, a former US Marine and UN inspector in Iraq. In it, they write: “The case for war against Iraq has not been made. This is a fact. It is doubtful in the extreme that Saddam Hussein has retained any functional aspect of the chemical, nuclear, and biological weapons programs so thoroughly dismantled by the United Nations weapons inspectors who worked tirelessly in Iraq for seven years. This is also a fact. The idea that Hussein has connections to fundamentalist Islamic terrorists is laughable—he is a secular leader who has worked for years to crush fundamentalist Islam within Iraq, and if he were to give weapons of any kind to al-Qaeda, they would use those weapons on him first.… If Bush decides unilaterally to attack, he will be in violation of international law. If Bush does attack Iraq, he will precipitate the exact conflict of cultures between the West and Islam that Osama bin Laden was hoping for when his agents flew three planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. An attack on Iraq could bring about a wider world war America cannot afford, and that a vast majority of Americans do not desire.… The economic sanctions have rendered [Hussein’s] conventional weaponry impotent by denying him access to the spare parts that are essential to any functioning mechanized military. The UNSCOM inspectors destroyed, right to the ground, any and all capabilities he possessed to create weapons of mass destruction. He has no connections whatsoever to the terrorists who struck America on September 11th. Saddam Hussein is not capable of acting upon any of his desires, real or imagined. He does not have the horses.” [Pitt and Ritter, 2002, pp. 9-10]

Entity Tags: Scott Ritter, Saddam Hussein, William Rivers Pitt

Category Tags: Internal Opposition, Media Coverage

Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) delivers an impassioned speech at Johns Hopkins University raising questions about the upcoming war with Iraq: “I have come here today to express my view that America should not go to war against Iraq unless and until other reasonable alternatives are exhausted,” he says. Kennedy questions the rationale behind the administration’s claims of Iraqi perfidy: “I have heard no persuasive evidence that Saddam is on the threshold of acquiring the nuclear weapons he has sought for more than 20 years. And the administration has offered no persuasive evidence that Saddam would transfer chemical or biological weapons of mass destruction to al-Qaeda.” Kennedy warns of the possible calamitous aftereffects of a US invasion: “War with Iraq before a genuine attempt at inspection and disarmament, without genuine international support, could swell the ranks of al-Qaeda with sympathizers and trigger an escalation in terrorist acts.” Kennedy’s speech is virtually ignored by the mainstream media. Author and media commentator Eric Boehlert later says, “[The] Washington Post gave that speech one sentence. Thirty-six words. I calculated in 2002, the Washington Post probably published 1,000 articles and columns about Iraq. Probably one million words, in excess of one million words. And one of the most famous Democrats in the country raised questions about the war, the Washington Post set aside 36 words.” [CNN, 9/27/2002; CommonDreams, 9/30/2002; PBS, 4/25/2007]

Entity Tags: Edward M. (“Ted”) Kennedy, Al-Qaeda, Bush administration (43), Saddam Hussein, Washington Post, Eric Boehlert

Category Tags: Internal Opposition, Media Coverage, Politicization of Intelligence, Public Opinion on Iraqi Threat

In his weekly radio address, President Bush tells the nation: “The Iraqi regime possesses biological and chemical weapons, is rebuilding the facilities to make more, and, according to the British government, could launch a biological or chemical attack in as little as 45 minutes after the order is given. The regime has long-standing and continuing ties to terrorist groups, and there are al-Qaeda terrorists inside Iraq. This regime is seeking a nuclear bomb, and with fissile material could build one within a year.” Many Americans are shocked and frightened by Bush’s flat litany of assertions. What they do not know is that none of them are true. The CIA had reluctantly agreed to produce a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq less than three weeks before (see September 5, 2002); the result is an NIE packed with half-truths, exaggerations, and outright lies (see October 1, 2002). None of Bush’s statements are supported by hard intelligence, and all will later be disproven. [White House, 9/28/2002; Center for Public Integrity, 1/23/2008] In 2007, author Craig Unger will write that the conflict seems to have gotten personal with Bush. “There’s no doubt [Saddam Hussein’s] hatred is mainly directed against us,” Bush says during the address. “There’s no doubt he can’t stand us. After all, this is a guy that tried to kill my dad at one time.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 264]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Al-Qaeda, Saddam Hussein, George W. Bush

Category Tags: Alleged Al-Qaeda Ties, Alleged WMDs, Legal Justification, Media Coverage, Politicization of Intelligence, Propaganda, Public Opinion on Iraqi Threat, The Decision to Invade, Chemical & Bio Weapons Allegations, Imminent Threat Allegations, Iraq Ties to Terrorists Allegations, Nuclear Weapons Allegations

Washington Post journalist Thomas Ricks turns in a story he calls “Doubts.” It says that senior Pentagon officials are resigned to the fact that the US is going to invade Iraq, but are reluctant and worried that the risks are being underestimated. Most sources in the article are retired military officers or outside experts. Ricks has been reporting on national security issues for fifteen years, and used to be an editor on the topic for the Wall Street Journal. However, Post editor Matthew Vita kills the story and the newspaper never runs it. During this time, the vast majority of the newspaper’s coverage supports the push to war (see August 2002-March 19, 2003). [Washington Post, 8/12/2004]

Entity Tags: Washington Post, Matthew Vita, Thomas Ricks

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Category Tags: Media Coverage

George Will.George Will. [Source: Washington Policy Group]Conservative columnist George Will calls two anti-war House Democrats “American collaborators” working with Saddam Hussein, either implicitly or directly. Will singles out Representatives Jim McDermott (D-WA) and David Bonior (D-MI) for criticism because of their opposition to the impending Iraq invasion. Will compares the two to World War II propaganda maven William Joyce, the British citizen who earned the sobriquet “Lord Haw Haw” for his pro-Nazi diatribes on the radio, and goes on to observe that McDermott and Bonior provided a spectacle unseen by Americans “since Jane Fonda posed for photographers at a Hanoi anti-aircraft gun” during the Vietnam War. McDermott and Bonior became a target for Will’s wrath by saying they doubted the Bush administration’s veracity in its assertions that Iraq has large stashes of WMD, but believed Iraqi officials’ promises to allow UN inspectors free rein to look for such weapons caches. “I think you have to take the Iraqis on their value—at face value,” McDermott told reporters in recent days, but went on to say, “I think the president [Bush] would mislead the American people.”
Leninist 'Useful Idiots' - After comparing the two to Joyce and Fonda, Will extends his comparison to Bolshevik Russia, writing: “McDermott and Bonior are two specimens of what Lenin, referring to Westerners who denied the existence of Lenin’s police-state terror, called ‘useful idiots.’” Will also adds UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in this last category, compares Annan with British “appeaser” Neville Chamberlain for good measure, and labels him “Saddam’s servant.”
Slamming Democrats for Not Supporting War - Will saves the bulk of his ire for the accusations by McDermott and Bonior that Bush officials might be lying or misrepresenting the threat of Iraqi WMD, and adds former Vice President Al Gore to the mix. “McDermott’s accusation that the president—presumably with Cheney, Powell, Rumsfeld, Rice, and others as accomplices—would use deceit to satisfy his craving to send young Americans into an unnecessary war is a slander licensed six days earlier by Al Gore,” Will writes. Extending his comparisons to the Watergate era, Will adds, “With transparent Nixonian trickiness—being transparent, it tricks no one—Gore all but said the president is orchestrating war policy for political gain in November.” Will accuses Gore and other Democrats of what he calls “moral infantilism” because they voted to support the 1998 Iraq Liberation Act (see October 31, 1998). Will returns to his complaints about the Democratic congressmen in his conclusion: “McDermott’s and Bonior’s espousal of Saddam’s line, and of Gore’s subtext (and Barbra Streisand’s libretto), signals the recrudescence of the dogmatic distrust of US power that virtually disqualified the Democratic Party from presidential politics for a generation. It gives the benefits of all doubts to America’s enemies and reduces policy debates to accusations about the motives of Americans who would project US power in the world. Conservative isolationism—America is too good for the world—is long dead. Liberal isolationism—the world is too good for America—is flourishing.” [Washington Post, 10/1/2002]

Entity Tags: George Will, Jim McDermott, David Bonior

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Category Tags: Propaganda, Media Coverage

In the beginning of October 2002, Knight Ridder reporter Jonathan Landay is intrigued to notice that the newly completed National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq (see October 1, 2002) shows some intelligence experts register disagreement that Iraq is intending to use aluminum tubes to build a nuclear weapon. Landay reaches a veteran of the US uranium enrichment program. Landay will later say, “He’d been given data on the tubes, and he said that this wasn’t conclusive evidence.” On October 4, Knight Ridder publishes a story noting that the NIE has “exposed a sharp dispute among US intelligence experts” over Iraq. One expert says he does not believe the tubes are intended for use in nuclear weapons because “their diameters were too small and the aluminum they were made from was too hard.” [Knight Ridder, 10/4/2002; New York Review of Books, 2/26/2004]

Entity Tags: Jonathan Landay

Category Tags: Media Coverage, Aluminum Tubes Allegation

Reporter Jonathan Landay will recall being surprised about the superficial evidence in the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq (see October 1, 2002), particularly the evidence regarding the aluminum tubes that were supposedly for nuclear weapons production. Landay says: “I got my copy [of the unclassified version—see October 4, 2002], and I opened it up and I came to the part that talked about the aluminum tubes. Now, it said that the majority of analysts believed that those tubes were for the nuclear weapons program. It turns out, though, that that majority of intelligence analysts had no background in nuclear weapons.… So, here was yet another building block in this chain of building blocks that we had collected over these months about what they were saying to the public, and what the intelligence was actually telling them. And, there were differences. Some of them were nuanced. Some of them were quite large. But, it became quite apparent that they were grabbing just about anything they could to make the case for going to war in Iraq.” [PBS, 4/25/2007]

Entity Tags: Jonathan Landay

Category Tags: Media Coverage, Politicization of Intelligence, Public Opinion on Iraqi Threat, Aluminum Tubes Allegation

Knight Ridder publishes a story written by Warren Strobel, Jonathan Landay, and John Walcott entitled, “Some in Bush Administration Have Misgivings about Iraq Policy.” They are among the very few mainstream journalists willing to report something besides administration talking points on Iraq (see After October 4, 2002 and September 6, 2002). The story states: “While President Bush marshals Congressional and international support for invading Iraq, a growing number of military officers, intelligence professionals, and diplomats in his own government privately have deep misgivings about the administration’s double-time march toward war. These officials charge that administration hawks have exaggerated evidence of the threat that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein poses—including distorting his links to the al-Qaeda terrorist network-have overstated the amount of international support for attacking Iraq, and have downplayed the potential repercussions of a new war in the Middle East. They charge that the administration squelches dissenting views and that intelligence analysts are under intense pressure to produce reports supporting the White House’s argument that Saddam poses such an immediate threat to the United States that pre-emptive military action is necessary.” They also confirm rumors of pressure on CIA analysts from the White House to produce intelligence analyses that conform to their desires, quoting an official as saying, “Analysts at the working level in the intelligence community are feeling very strong pressure from the Pentagon to cook the intelligence books” (see 2002-Early 2003). Strobel and his fellows add: “A dozen other officials echoed his views in interviews with Knight Ridder. No one who was interviewed disagreed.… [Vice President] Cheney, [Defense Secretary] Rumsfeld, and others are ignoring intelligence reports and analysis they don’t like, the officials say. ‘There is group-think among the leadership,’ said one Pentagon official.” But Knight Ridder, a relatively small news corporation with no outlets in either New York City or Washington, has little impact on the national debate. The story is roundly ignored. [Knight Ridder, 10/7/2002; Unger, 2007, pp. 263-264; Roberts, 2008, pp. 151] Within days, the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Associated Press, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and the Guardian of London all publish articles raising questions about the Bush administration’s allegations. [New York Review of Books, 2/26/2004]

Entity Tags: Warren Strobel, John Walcott, Knight Ridder Newspapers, Jonathan Landay

Category Tags: Alleged Al-Qaeda Ties, Alleged WMDs, Internal Opposition, Media Coverage, Politicization of Intelligence

The House votes to give President Bush sweeping authorization to use military force against Iraq, on an overwhelming 296-133 vote. One hundred and twenty-six Democrats vote against the bill even though House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-MO) co-authored it. House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX) issues a veiled warning to the president to use his newly granted powers judiciously: “Mr. President, we are about to give you a great trust.” After the bill passes the House, Bush says, “The days of Iraq acting as an outlaw state are coming to an end… [t]he gathering threat of Iraq must be confronted fully and finally.” One of the opponents of the House bill, John Spratt (D-SC), says that without an international diplomatic approach, “this will be the United States versus Iraq and in some quarters the US versus the Arab and the Muslim world.” Commenting on the passing of the resolution, the Washington Post reports: “Yesterday’s debate often lacked the passion and unpredictability of the 1991 affair, when members sat late into the night listening attentively to a war of words. By contrast, the House chamber was largely empty most of yesterday: the arguments familiar, the outcome certain, the conclusion anticlimactic.” [White House, 10/2/2002; PBS, 10/10/2002; Washington Post, 10/11/2002] Bush calls on the Senate to pass the bill (see October 11, 2002) so it can be signed into law as soon as possible (see October 16, 2002). The Senate overwhelmingly approves the resolution the next day. [PBS, 10/10/2002; US Senate, 10/11/2002] The AUMF contains a caveat in the authorization that conditions Congress’s authorization of military force on a formal determination by Bush that Iraq poses a threat to the US that cannot be contained diplomatically, and that any military action against Iraq must be consistent with the war against those who attacked the US on 9/11 (see March 18, 2003). The US media virtually ignores this condition, and therefore the Bush administration does not feel particularly bound by it. Congress asks for the formal declaration either before launching an attack or within 48 hours of the attack, and insists that the declaration contain solid evidence of the impossibility of further diplomacy, and of Iraq’s connection to the 9/11 terrorists. [Dean, 2004, pp. 143-148]

Entity Tags: Richard Gephardt, John Spratt, Bush administration (43), Dick Armey, George W. Bush, Washington Post

Category Tags: Legal Justification, Media Coverage

Former ambassador Joseph Wilson, having broken his decade-long silence on Middle Eastern affairs just months before (see May 2002), pens an op-ed for the San Jose Mercury News titled “How Saddam Thinks.” Wilson warns of a “bloody American invasion and long occupation of Iraq” if President Bush follows up on his threats of “regime change,” with the United Nations failing to derail the US push for war with forceful weapons inspections.
Crucial Lessons of Desert Shield/Desert Storm - “Both the US and UN approaches are dangerously flawed,” he warns. “They ignore crucial lessons we learned in the Persian Gulf War about how Saddam thinks.” If Bush does go to war, Wilson writes, “Saddam [Hussein] will use every weapon in his arsenal to defend himself,” which may well include chemical and biological weapons. “But,” he continues, “history also shows that the less-confrontational approach favored by some on the Security Council—France and Russia—isn’t likely to work, either. Saddam has, after all, repeatedly flouted UN resolutions and ignored its demands to let weapons inspectors back into the country for almost four years.” Wilson recalls listening to Hussein gloat over the prospect of slaughtering American soldiers during Desert Shield (see August 6, 1990), and the difficulties Wilson and his fellow diplomats encountered in persuading Hussein to release hundreds of foreign hostages intended for use as “human shields” (see August 8, 1990).
Hussein a 'Malignant Narcissist' - Wilson writes that “[w]e learned firsthand… what the CIA psychiatrists have said for years: Saddam is an egomaniacal sociopath whose penchant for high-risk gambles is exceeded only by a propensity for miscalculation. Those psychiatrists, who study the characters of world leaders, believe that he suffers from what is popularly called ‘malignant narcissism,’ a sense of self-worth that drives him to act in ways that others would deem irrational, such as invading neighboring countries. But the trait also makes him highly sensitive to direct confrontation and embarrassment, even as he is contemptuous of compromise.”
Confrontation without War - Wilson found that a confrontational, “in your face” approach worked the best in getting the desired results from Hussein (see August 8-9, 1990). Wilson recommends revisiting the techniques that worked during the 1991 Gulf War, incorporating “[a]n aggressive UN-sanctioned campaign to disarm Iraq—bolstered by a militarily supported inspection process—would combine the best of the US and UN approaches, a robust disarmament policy with the international legitimacy the United States seeks.” Wilson continues: “Our message to Saddam can be simple: ‘You are going to lose your weapons of mass destruction capability either through the inspections or through a sustained cruise-missile assault on the 700 suspicious sites the United Nations has already identified. If you rebuild them, we will attack again. And if you use weapons of mass destruction or attack another country in the region, we will destroy you and your regime.’ The decision to live or die then becomes his to make. The ultimate lesson of the Gulf War may be that when offered the choice, Saddam will sacrifice almost everything before sacrificing his own life or grip on power.” [Mercury News (San Jose), 10/13/2002]
Response - Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board chief Brent Scowcroft (see October 16, 2001 and March 2002) asks Wilson if he can “take [the editorial] over to the White House.” Scowcroft says that White House officials need to hear the views of someone who actually has experience with Iraq and with Hussein. Days later, Wilson receives a note from former President George H. W. Bush indicating that he agrees wholeheartedly with Wilson’s position. The op-ed will also garner invitations from a variety of television news shows for Wilson to appear as a commentator. [Wilson, 2004, pp. 295-297]

Entity Tags: Joseph C. Wilson, George Herbert Walker Bush, Bush administration (43), Brent Scowcroft, Saddam Hussein, George W. Bush, United Nations Security Council

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Category Tags: Internal Opposition, Media Coverage, Predictions

The New York Times publishes an article by Eric Schmitt and Thom Shanker exposing the Pentagon’s Office of Special Plans (see September 2002). The office had already been described in a Knight Ridder Newspapers article published on August 16, 2002. But Knight Ridder is not as well read, and the New York Times publishes its article on the front page. [Knight Ridder, 8/16/2002; New York Times, 10/24/2002] The article states that Defense Secretary Donald “Rumsfeld and his senior advisers have assigned a small intelligence unit to search for information on Iraq’s hostile intentions or links to terrorists that the nation’s spy agencies may have overlooked.” It notes that “the view among even some senior intelligence analysts at the Central Intelligence Agency is that Mr. Hussein is contained and is unlikely to unleash weapons of mass destruction unless he is attacked.” [New York Times, 10/24/2002] But there is little follow-up reporting by major media outlets. In 2004, the New York Review of Books will discuss this article and comment: “As such reports show, [the Office of Special Plans] was widely known before the war. With many analysts prepared to discuss the competing claims over the intelligence on Iraq, the press was in a good position to educate the public on the administration’s justifications for war. Yet for the most part, it never did so.” [New York Review of Books, 2/26/2004]

Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld, Office of Special Plans

Category Tags: Internal Opposition, Media Coverage, Office of Special Plans

Concurrent with the New York Times’s revelation of the existence of the Office of Special Plans (OSP—see October 24, 2002), Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld announces the existence of a similar operation, the Counter-Terrorism Evaluation Group (CTEG—see Shortly After September 11, 2001). CTEG has been absorbed into the OSP by this point. The Washington Post will call CTEG “a small team of defense officials outside regular intelligence channels to focus on unearthing details about Iraqi ties with al-Qaeda and other terrorist networks.” The unveiling of CTEG coincides with Rumsfeld’s move to take over the financing and management of an outside project, the “Information Collection Project,” sponsored by the Iraqi National Congress and one of CTEG’s primary sources of information. Before now, the State Department had financed and overseen the INC project, and had grown increasingly reluctant to maintain what Defense Intelligence Agency official Patrick Lang later calls an “off the reservation” intelligence operation (see September 15, 2001). Rumsfeld tells reporters, “Any suggestion that [CTEG is] an intelligence-gathering activity or an intelligence unit of some sort, I think would be a misunderstanding of it.” Rumsfeld’s assertion is contradicted by former CIA case officer, enthusiastic neoconservative, and CTEG consultant Reuel Marc Gerecht, who describes the intelligence-gathering mission of CTEG: “The Pentagon is setting up the capability to assess information on Iraq in areas that in the past might have been the realm of the agency (CIA). They don’t think the product they receive from the agency is always what it should be.” [Middle East Policy Council, 6/2004]

Entity Tags: Iraqi National Congress, Counter Terrorism Evaluation Group, Donald Rumsfeld, US Department of State, Reuel Marc Gerecht, Patrick Lang, Office of Special Plans, US Department of Defense

Category Tags: Media Coverage, Politicization of Intelligence, Propaganda

A typical atropine auto-injector as provided for the US military.A typical atropine auto-injector as provided for the US military. [Source: King Pharmaceutical]White House officials report that Iraq has ordered a million doses of atropine, a drug used as an antidote to sarin and VX nerve agents. Iraq has also ordered a million auto-injectors, designed to inject the material into a person’s leg. Both orders were made with suppliers in Turkey, who are being pressured to abort the sales. White House officials say that the quantities ordered by Iraq are far larger than any amount they might need for normal hospital use. “If the Iraqis were going to use nerve agents, they would want to take steps to protect their own soldiers, if not their population,” an official says. “This is something that US intelligence is mindful of and very concerned about.” Iraq claims to have destroyed its stockpiles of sarin and VX, but US intelligence officials doubt this. US soldiers carry atropine and auto-injectors in first-aid kits in case of chemical attacks. One official notes that Iraq has also ordered another antidote for chemical weapons, obidoxime chloride. Officials admit that atropine is commonly used in hospitals and clinics to resuscitate patients who have suffered heart attacks: “Atropine and auto-injectors are common products,” an official says. Auto-injectors commonly inject five times as much atropine as is usually used for heart attack victims. [New York Times, 11/12/2002]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43)

Category Tags: Alleged WMDs, Media Coverage

Conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh excoriates Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD), accusing him of attempting to “destroy this country” by questioning the Bush administration’s rationale for war with Iraq (see September 25, 2002 and September 26, 2002). Limbaugh directly impugns Daschle’s patriotism, accusing him of being a traitor and comparing him to “Hanoi Jane” Fonda and World War II’s Japanese propaganda maven, Tokyo Rose. “What more do you want to do to destroy this country than what you’ve already done?” Limbaugh shouts. “It is unconscionable what this man has done! This stuff gets broadcast around the world, Senator. What do you want your nickname to be? Hanoi Tom? Tokyo Tom?… You sit there and pontificate on the fact that we’re not winning the war on terrorism when you and your party have done nothing but try to sabotage it.” One of Limbaugh’s callers accuses Daschle and the Democrats of giving “aid and comfort to the enemy”—a legal definition of treason—and says of Daschle, “He’s not interested in the safety of this country.” [Jamieson and Cappella, 2008, pp. 156-157]

Entity Tags: Tom Daschle, “Tokyo Rose”, Rush Limbaugh, Jane Fonda

Category Tags: Media Coverage, Politicization of Intelligence, Propaganda, The Decision to Invade

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) responds to conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh’s accusations that Daschle and Congressional Democrats are guilty of treason by not supporting the Bush administration’s push for war with Iraq (see November 15, 2002). Daschle calls Limbaugh “and all of the Rush Limbaugh wannabees” of having “a shrill edge,” and says of his listeners: “They want to act because they get emotionally invested. And so, you know, the threats to us in public life go up dramatically (see October 5-November 21, 2001), and on our families and on us in a way that’s very disconcerting. You know, we see it in foreign countries. And we think, well my God, how can this religious fundamentalism become so violent? Well, it’s the same shrill rhetoric. It’s that same shrill power that motivates. They—you know, they—that somebody says something, and then it becomes a little more shrill the next time, and then more shrill the next time.” Some media observers, such as the Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz, later say that such responses from their political targets merely elevate figures such as Limbaugh in their listeners’ eyes. [Jamieson and Cappella, 2008, pp. 157]

Entity Tags: Tom Daschle, Howard Kurtz, Rush Limbaugh

Category Tags: Media Coverage, Politicization of Intelligence, Propaganda, The Decision to Invade

The cover of ‘Bush at War.’The cover of ‘Bush at War.’ [Source: Amazon (.co.uk)]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. [Observer, 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. [New York Times, 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. [Observer, 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. [Guardian, 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.” [Observer, 12/1/2002; Rich, 2006, pp. 66-67]

Entity Tags: Peter Preston, National Security Council, John Ashcroft, Frank Rich, Bob Woodward, Bush administration (43), Newt Gingrich, Thomas Franks, Peter Symon, George W. Bush, Republican National Committee, Seymour Hersh, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Category Tags: Media Coverage, Propaganda, The Decision to Invade

Former ambassador Joseph Wilson debates former Reagan defense official and neoconservative Frank Gaffney on a cable news program over the question of the upcoming Iraq invasion. Wilson takes a certain perverse pleasure in using what he has called the typical neoconservative debate tactics (see June 2002) against Gaffney; as he later recalls: “I let Frank have the first word and listened to him carefully. The host of the show asked me what I thought of Frank had said, and I answered, ‘Hogwash,’ then started my rebuttal. Predictably, Frank interrupted, or tried to. I told him he would have his chance after I had said my piece, and kept speaking over him until he shut up. I then filibustered till the end of the segment. As we went to commercial, I looked down at the screen to see Gaffney red-faced and sputtering. I thought to myself that here was somebody who was never likely to be a friend.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 308]

Entity Tags: Joseph C. Wilson, Frank Gaffney

Category Tags: Media Coverage

An enhanced photo of the variola virus, which causes smallpox.An enhanced photo of the variola virus, which causes smallpox. [Source: University College London]New York Times reporter Judith Miller reports that the CIA is investigating an anonymous report that Iraq has obtained a virulent strain of smallpox from a Russian scientist. According to the anonymous informant, the smallpox may have come from Nelja N. Maltseva, a virologist who worked for over 30 years at the Research Institute for Viral Preparations in Moscow before her death in 2001. The CIA has briefed President Bush about the investigation, though, as Miller notes, “The attempt to verify the information is continuing.” Maltseva visited Iraq in 1972 and 1973, according to intelligence officials, and may have visited as recently as 1990. The facility where she worked housed what Russia has claimed was its entire national collection of some 120 strains of smallpox. Miller writes, “[S]ome experts fear that she may have provided the Iraqis with a version that could be resistant to vaccines and could be more easily transmitted as a biological weapon.” In response, the White House may decide that 500,000 military personnel and another 500,000 civilian medical workers should be vaccinated against smallpox, a disease officially eradicated in 1980. The White House says that despite promises made by Russian President Vladimir Putin, Russia has not cooperated with US requests for information about its smallpox strains. “There is information we would like the Russians to share as a partner of ours,” says William Winkenwerder Jr., assistant secretary of defense for health affairs. “Because if there are strains that present a unique problem with respect to vaccines and treatment, it is in the interests of all freedom-loving people to have as much information as possible.” Recently declassified Soviet-era records show that in 1971, Maltseva was sent to Aralsk, a port city in what was then the Soviet republic of Kazakhstan, to help stop an epidemic of smallpox. That outbreak was possibly the result of open-air tests of a Soviet smallpox strain. Some scientists worry that Maltseva may have shared the Aralsk strain with Iraqi scientists in 1990, according to administration sources. David Kelly, a former United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq, says there was a “resurgence of interest” in smallpox vaccine in Iraq in 1990, “but we have never known why.” Both Maltseva’s daughter and her deputy in the Moscow laboratory deny that Maltseva ever went to Iraq. [New York Times, 12/3/2002]

Entity Tags: William Winkenwerder Jr., Bush administration (43), Central Intelligence Agency, David Kelly, George W. Bush, Judith Miller, Vladimir Putin, Research Institute for Viral Preparations, Nelja N. Maltseva

Category Tags: Alleged WMDs, Media Coverage, Politicization of Intelligence, Chemical & Bio Weapons Allegations

On December 6, 2002, conservative media pundit Bill O’Reilly says about Saddam Hussein, “I can’t, in good conscience, tell the American people that I know for sure that he has smallpox or anthrax or he’s got nuclear or chemical and that he is ready to use that. I cannot say that as a journalist or an American.” O’Reilly is far more certain on February 7, 2003, when he tells his listeners, “According to the UN, he’s got anthrax, VX gas, ricin, and on and on.” On February 23, 2003, he says flatly, “This guy we know has anthrax and VX and all this stuff.” Then on March 18, 2003, just two days before the US invades Iraq, he says that he isn’t sure what kind of WMDs Saddam Hussein may possess: “Here’s the bottom line on this for every American and everybody in the world: Nobody knows for sure, all right? We don’t know what he has. We think he has 8,500 liters of anthrax. But let’s see.” [Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), 5/2003]

Entity Tags: Bill O’Reilly, Saddam Hussein, United Nations

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Category Tags: Media Coverage, 2001 Anthrax Attacks

Barton Gellman.Barton Gellman. [Source: Publicity photo via Washington Post]On December 12, 2002, the Washington Post publishes a front-page story by reporter Barton Gellman entitled “US Suspects Al-Qaeda Got Nerve Agent From Iraqis.” It states: “The Bush administration has received a credible report that Islamic extremists affiliated with al-Qaeda took possession of a chemical weapon in Iraq last month or late in October, according to two officials with firsthand knowledge of the report and its source. They said government analysts suspect that the transaction involved the nerve agent VX and that a courier managed to smuggle it overland through Turkey.” [Washington Post, 12/12/2002] The story proves so controversial that the Post’s ombudsman Michael Getler writes a column about in on December 22. Getler notes that, “[B]eginning with the second paragraph, which started out, ‘If the report proves true…’ the story contains an extraordinary array of flashing yellow lights.” He asks, “[W]hat, after all, is the use of this story that practically begs you not to put much credence in it? Why was it so prominently displayed, and why not wait until there was more certainty about the intelligence?” However, he says the Post stands by publishing the story. [Washington Post, 12/12/2002] Slate will comment in 2004, “[T]he Gellman scoop withered on the vine.… nobody advanced or refuted the story—not even Gellman.” Gellman will later admit that he should have run a follow-up story, if only to point out that no confirming evidence had come out. [Slate, 4/28/2004] He will later admit the story was incorrect. But he will continue to defend the story, claiming that “it was news even though it was clear that it was possible this report would turn out to be false.” [Washington Post, 8/12/2004]

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Michael Getler, Barton Gellman

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Domestic Propaganda

Category Tags: Alleged WMDs, Alleged Al-Qaeda Ties, Media Coverage, Politicization of Intelligence, Poisons and Gases

Former Green Beret Robert Bevelacqua, a Fox News military analyst and a part of the Pentagon’s propaganda operation to promote the Iraq war (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond), is, along with other analysts, briefed about Iraq’s purported stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction. When he asks his briefer about “smoking gun” proof, the briefer admits, “We don’t have any hard evidence.” Bevelacqua and the other analysts are alarmed by the concession. Another analyst, retired Army lieutenant colonel Robert Maginnis, who works in the Pentagon for a military contractor, is at the same briefing. Maginnis later confirms Bevelacqua’s recollection, saying that he felt “very disappointed” and that he and the other analysts were being “manipulated” to believe in weapons that were not proven to exist. Yet Bevelacqua, Maginnis, and other analysts are firm in their on-air insistence that these weapons do indeed exist. Bevelacqua has started a new defense contracting business, the wvc3 Group, and hopes to win lucrative government contracts. “There’s no way I was going to go down that road and get completely torn apart,” he will later say. “You’re talking about fighting a huge machine.” [New York Times, 4/20/2008]

Entity Tags: Fox News, Bush administration (43), US Department of Defense, wvc3 Group, Robert Maginnis, Robert Bevelacqua

Timeline Tags: US Military, Domestic Propaganda

Category Tags: Legal Justification, Media Coverage, Politicization of Intelligence, Propaganda, Public Opinion on Iraqi Threat, Military Analysts Propaganda

Associated Press reporter Charles Hanley, an award-winning news veteran with over 30 years of weapons issues coverage on his record, accompanies the UN weapons inspectors combing through Iraq to find the suspected weapons of mass destruction. In 2007, Hanley will recall: “What we did was go out everyday with the inspectors. These guys would roar out on these motorcades at very high speed and roar through towns and do sudden U-turns and drive over land and do all of these things to confuse the Iraqis about where they were going so that there wouldn’t be a call ahead telling them to put away all the bad stuff. The inspectors then would issue a daily report. And as it turned out, of course, inspection after inspection, it turned out to be clean. They had nothing to report, no violations to report.” Hanley files repeated reports with statements such as, “No smoking guns in… almost 400 inspections.” But, Hanley will later say, his editors often refuse to print his work. “[T]hat would be stricken from my copy because it would strike some editors as tendentious. As sort of an attack or some sort of allegation rather than a fact. You know and we don’t want our reporters alleging things. We, you know, we just report the facts. Well it was a fact. It was a very important fact that seemed to be lost on an awful lot of journalists unfortunately.” Instead, Hanley says, “The media just continued on this path of reporting, ‘Well, the Bush administration alleges that there are WMD,’ and never really stopped and said ‘It doesn’t look like there are. There’s no evidence.’ That should have been the second sentence in any story about the allegations of WMD. The second sentence should have been, ‘But they did not present any evidence to back this up.’” [PBS, 4/25/2007]

Entity Tags: Charles Hanley, Associated Press

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Category Tags: Alleged WMDs, Media Coverage, Politicization of Intelligence, Propaganda, Public Opinion on Iraqi Threat, Weapons Inspections

President Bush, speaking with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi (see Shortly after September 11, 2001), rebuffs Berlusconi’s attempts to persuade him not to invade Iraq. (Publicly, Berlusconi supports the invasion plans, but he worries about public opinion in Italy, which is heavily opposed to any such invasion.) Of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, Bush says: “We have put together a lethal military and we will kick his _ss.… This is going to change. You watch—public opinion will change. We lead our publics. We cannot follow our publics.” The statement to Berlusconi will be quoted in Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward’s book Plan of Attack. [Hunt, 9/1/2009, pp. 12]

Entity Tags: Silvio Berlusconi, George W. Bush, Saddam Hussein

Category Tags: Internal Opposition, Media Coverage, Public Opinion on Iraqi Threat, The Decision to Invade, Decision to Invade Quotes

President Bush signs an executive order creating the Office of Global Communications (OGC—see July 30, 2002), whose mission is to “ensure consistency in messages that will promote the interests of the United States abroad, prevent misunderstanding, build support for and among coalition partners of the United States, and inform international audiences.” The OGC soon sends out a daily “Global Messenger” e-mail of talking points to administration officials, US embassies, Congress, and outside recipients. It organizes daily telephone conference calls to coordinate foreign policy messages among US government agencies and representatives of British Prime Minister Tony Blair. PR expert Sheldon Rampton later writes, “These activities may sound innocuous. The idea of ‘ensuring consistency’ is a cardinal rule of PR crisis communications, whose practitioners try whenever possible to make sure that all messages flow through a single, controlling channel. In practice, however, ensuring consistency leads to a concerted effort to enforce a ‘party line’ on all messages emanating from the US government, effectively silencing officials whose point of view contradicts the official institutional message.” [PRWatch, 4/2003; US State Department, 9/28/2004]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Sheldon Rampton, Tony Blair, Office of Global Communications

Timeline Tags: US Military, Domestic Propaganda

Category Tags: Media Coverage, Politicization of Intelligence, Propaganda, Public Opinion on Iraqi Threat

On January 9, 2003, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) publishes preliminary results of the UN’s renewed weapons inspections in Iraq, and finds no evidence at all that Iraq has resumed its nuclear weapons program. It also finds no evidence that Iraq has used aluminum tubes to generate nuclear material (see January 9, 2003). In 2004, the New York Review of Books will comment: “Given the importance the [Bush] administration had attached to this matter, this would have seemed news of the utmost significance. Yet it was largely ignored. The [New York] Times, which had so prominently displayed its initial story about the aluminum tubes, buried its main article about [it] on page A10.” At the time, the Bush administration is arguing that the UN inspections are meaningless (see January 9, 2003). IAEA spokesperson Mark Gwozdecky will later say: “Nobody wanted to challenge the president. Nobody wanted to believe inspections had anything of value to bring to the table. The press bought into that.” [New York Review of Books, 2/26/2004]

Entity Tags: International Atomic Energy Agency

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Category Tags: Media Coverage, Weapons Inspections

Frank Koza, chief of staff in the “Regional Targets” section of the National Security Agency, issues a secret memo to senior NSA officials that orders staff to conduct aggressive, covert surveillance against several United Nations Security Council members. This surveillance, which has the potential to wreak havoc on US relations with its fellow nations, is reportedly ordered by George W. Bush and his national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice. Koza, whose section spies on countries considered strategically important to US interests, is trying to compile information on certain Security Council members in order to help the United States to win an upcoming UN resolution vote on whether to support military action against Iraq (see February 24, 2003.
Targeted Nations Include 'Middle Six' - The targeted members are the delegations from Angola, Cameroon, Chile, Mexico, Guinea, and Pakistan, who together make up the so-called “Middle Six.” These six nations are officially “on the fence,” and their votes are being aggressively courted by both the pro-war faction, led by the US and Britain, and the anti-war faction, led by France, Russia and China (see Mid-February 2003-March 2003. [Observer, 3/2/2003] Bulgaria is another nation targeted, and that operation will apparently be successful, because within days Bulgaria joined the US in supporting the Iraq war resolution. Mexico, another fence-straddler, is not targeted, but that may be because, in journalist Martin Bright’s words, “the Americans had other means of twisting the arms of the Mexicans.” (Bright is one of the authors of the original news report.) The surveillance program will backfire with at least one country, Chile, who has its own history of being victimized by US “dirty tricks” and CIA-led coups. Chile is almost certain to oppose the US resolution. [Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 3/6/2003] It is also likely, some experts believe, that China is an ultimate target of the spy operation, since the junior translater who will leak the Koza memo in February, Katharine Gun, is fluent in Mandarin Chinese and is unlikely to have seen the memo unless she would have been involved in translating it into that language. [AlterNet, 2/18/2004]
Operation Ruined US Chances of Winning Vote - Later assessment shows that many experts believe the spying operation scuttled any chance the US had of winning the UN vote, as well as the last-ditch attempt by the UN to find a compromise that would avert a US-British invasion of Iraq. [Observer, 2/15/2004]
Chile 'Surprised' to be Targeted - Chile’s ambassador to Britain, Mariano Fernandez, will say after learning of the NSA surveillance, “We cannot understand why the United States was spying on Chile. We were very surprised. Relations have been good with America since the time of George Bush, Sr.” [Observer, 3/9/2003]
Mexico Suspected Spying - Mexico’s UN representative, Adolfo Aguilar Zinser, will tell the Observer a year later that he and other UN delegates believed at the time that they were being spied upon by the US during their meetings. “The surprising thing was the very rapid flow of information to the US quarters,” he will recall. “It was very obvious to the countries involved in the discussion on Iraq that we were being observed and that our communications were probably being tapped. The information was being gathered to benefit the United States.” [Observer, 2/15/2004]
Memo Comes Before Powell's UN Presentation - The memo comes just five days before Colin Powell’s extraordinary presentation to the UN to build a case for war against Iraq (see [complete_timeline_of_the_2003_invasion_of_iraq_442]]), and is evidence of the US’s plans to do everything possible to influence the UN to vote to authorize war with that nation. The memo says the eavesdropping push “will probably peak” after Powell’s speech. [Baltimore Sun, 3/4/2003]
NSA Wants Details of Voting Plans, More - The NSA wants information about how these countries’ delegations “will vote on any second resolution on Iraq, but also ‘policies’, ‘negotiating positions’, ‘alliances’ and ‘dependencies’—the whole gamut of information that could give US policymakers an edge in obtaining results favorable to US goals or to head off surprises.” [Observer, 3/2/2003] Bright will tell other reporters on March 9, “It’s quite clear what they were going for was not only the voting patterns and the voting plans and the negotiations with other interested parties such as the French or the Chinese, it wasn’t just the bare bones, it was also the office telephone communications and email communications and also what are described as ‘domestic coms’, which is the home telephones of people working within the UN. This can only mean that they were looking for personal information. That is, information which could be used against those delagates. It’s even clear from the memo that this was an aggressive operation. It wasn’t simply a neutral surveillance operation.” According to Bright’s sources, the orders for the program came “from a level at least as high as Condoleezza Rice, who is the President’s National Security Adviser.” [Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 3/6/2003]
'Surge' of Covert Intelligence Gathering - Koza advises his fellow NSA officials that the agency is “mounting a surge” aimed at gaining covert information that will help the US in its negotiations. This information will be used for the US’s so-called Quick Response Capability (QRC), “against” the six delegations. In the memo, Koza writes that the staff should also monitor “existing non-UN Security Council Member UN-related and domestic comms [office and home telephones] for anything useful related to Security Council deliberations,” suggesting that not only are the delegates to be monitored in their UN offices, but at their homes as well. Koza’s memo is copied to senior officials at an unnamed foreign intelligence agency (later revealed to be Britain). Koza addresses those officials: “We’d appreciate your support in getting the word to your analysts who might have similar more indirect access to valuable information from accesses in your product lines [intelligence sources].…I suspect that you’ll be hearing more along these lines in formal channels.” The surveillance is part of a comprehensive attempt by the US to influence other nations to vote to authorize a war against Iraq; these US attempts include proffers of economic and military aid, and threats that existing aid packages will be withdrawn. A European intelligence source says, The Americans are being very purposeful about this.” [National Security Agency, 1/31/2003; Observer, 3/2/2003; Observer, 2/8/2004]
US Media Ignores Operation - While the European and other regional media have produced intensive coverage of the news of the NSA’s wiretapping of the UN, the American media virtually ignores the story until 2004, when Gun’s court case is scheduled to commence (see February 26, 2004). Bright, in an interview with an Australian news outlet, says on March 6 that “[i]t’s as well not to get too paranoid about these things and too conspiratorial,” he was scheduled for interviews by three major US television news outlets, NBC, Fox News, and CNN, who all “appeared very excited about the story to the extent of sending cars to my house to get me into the studio, and at the last minute, were told by their American desks to drop the story. I think they’ve got some questions to answer too.” [Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 3/6/2003] Most US print media outlets fail to cover the story, either. The New York Times, the self-described newspaper of record for the US, do not cover the story whatsoever. The Times’s deputy foreign editor, Alison Smale, says on March 5, “Well, it’s not that we haven’t been interested, [but] we could get no confirmation or comment” on the memo from US officials. “We would normally expect to do our own intelligence reporting.” The Washington Post publishes a single story about the operation, focusing on the idea that surveillance at the UN is business as usual. The Los Angeles Times fixes on claims by unnamed “former top intelligence officials” believe Koza’s memo is a forgery. (When the memo is proven to be authentic, both the Post and the Los Angeles Times refuse to print anything further on the story.) Author Norman Solomon writes, “In contrast to the courage of the lone woman who leaked the NSA memo—and in contrast to the journalistic vigor of the Observer team that exposed it—the most powerful US news outlets gave the revelation the media equivalent of a yawn. Top officials of the Bush administration, no doubt relieved at the lack of US media concern about the NSA’s illicit spying, must have been very encouraged.” [ZNet, 12/28/2005]
UN to Launch Inquiry - The United Nations will launch its own inquiry into the NSA surveillance operation (see March 9, 2003).

Entity Tags: United Nations Security Council, Washington Post, NBC, New York Times, Martin Bright, Condoleezza Rice, George W. Bush, Alison Smale, Britain Mariano Fernández, Los Angeles Times, CNN, Fox News, Colin Powell, National Security Agency, Frank Koza

Category Tags: Legal Justification, Media Coverage, Spying on the UN

Authors Laurie Mylroie and Peter Bergen appear on a Canadian news broadcast to discuss the impending war with Iraq, and Iraq’s supposed connections to 9/11. Mylroie has long argued that Saddam Hussein was behind every terrorist attack on the US (see 1990) from the 1993 World Trade Center bombings (see October 2000) to 9/11 (see September 12, 2001); Bergen, like many in the journalistic and intelligence communities, believes Mylroie is a “crackpot” (see December 2003). According to Bergen, Mylroie opens the interview by “lecturing in a hectoring tone: ‘Listen, we’re going to war because President Bush believes Saddam Hussein was involved in 9/11. Al-Qaeda is a front for Iraqi intelligence… [the US] bureaucracy made a tremendous blunder that refused to acknowledge these links… the people responsible for gathering this information, say in the CIA, are also the same people who contributed to the blunder on 9/11 and the deaths of 3,000 Americans, and so whenever this information emerges they move to discredit it.’” Bergen counters by noting that her theories defy all intelligence and “common sense, as they [imply] a conspiracy by literally thousands of American officials to suppress the truth of the links between Iraq and 9/11.” Mylroie does not like this. Bergen will later write that by “the end of the interview, Mylroie, who exudes a slightly frazzled, batty air, started getting visibly agitated, her finger jabbing at the camera and her voice rising to a yell as she outlined the following apocalyptic scenario: ‘Now I’m going to tell you something, OK, and I want all Canada to understand, I want you to understand the consequences of the cynicism of people like Peter. There is a very acute chance as we go to war that Saddam will use biological agents as revenge against Americans, that there will be anthrax in the United States and there will be smallpox in the United States. Are you in Canada prepared for Americans who have smallpox and do not know it crossing the border and bringing that into Canada?’” Bergen calls Mylroie’s outburst typical of her “hysterical hyperbole” and “emblematic of Mylroie’s method, which is to never let the facts get in the way of her monomaniacal certainties.” [Washington Monthly, 12/2003]

Entity Tags: Laurie Mylroie, Peter Bergen

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Neoconservative Influence, Domestic Propaganda

Category Tags: Alleged Al-Qaeda Ties, Media Coverage, Politicization of Intelligence

Glen Rangwala, a lecturer in politics at Cambridge University, realizes that a just-released dossier on Iraqi WMDs released by the British government is almost wholly plagiarized from the work of his colleague, graduate student Ibrahim al-Marashi. Rangwala alerts al-Marashi to the dossier in an e-mail after being sent a copy of the online version by researchers in Sweden. A Cambridge undergraduate student forwards a copy of Rangwala’s e-mail to journalists. “I found it quite startling when I realized that I’d read most of it before,” Rangwala later tells the press. “Apart from passing this off as the work of its intelligence services, it indicates that [Britain] really does not have any independent sources of information on Iraq’s internal policies. It just draws upon publicly available data.” [Guardian, 2/7/2003; Observer, 2/9/2003] In his e-mail, posted on the discussion board of the organization Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq, Rangwala cites numerous identical passages in the dossier and in al-Marashi’s article. [Glen Rangwala, 2/5/2003] Rangwala notes that in the article al-Marashi acknowledged using 12-year old data, but “the British government, when it transplants that information into its own dossier, does not make that acknowledgment.” Al-Marashi says that when he learned his material had formed the basis for the dossier: “[I was] flattered at first, then surprised that they didn’t cite me… It was a case of cut and paste. They even left in my mistakes.” [Jerusalem Post, 2/8/2003] Al-Marashi also comments, “I’ll be more skeptical of any British intelligence I read in future.” [London Times, 2/7/2003]

Entity Tags: Ibrahim al-Marashi, Blair administration, Glen Rangwala

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Category Tags: Media Coverage, Politicization of Intelligence, Propaganda

Colin Powell’s speech to the UN Security Council (see February 5, 2003) has a far more powerful effect on the American populace than it does among others. [Unger, 2007, pp. 286-288]
Did Not Convince Skeptical Governments - The presentation does little to change minds on the Security Council. France, Russia, and China remain opposed to the idea of a new resolution that would pave the way for the US to invade Iraq. These countries say that Powell’s speech demonstrates that inspections are working and must be allowed to continue. “Immediately after Powell spoke, the foreign ministers of France, Russia and China—all of which hold veto power—rejected the need for imminent military action and instead said the solution was more inspections,” reports the Washington Post. But governments who have been supportive of the United States’ stance remain firmly behind Washington. [Washington Post, 2/6/2003; Washington Post, 2/7/2003]
European Press Skeptical - The European press’s response to Powell’s evidence is also mixed. The Times of London, a relatively conservative daily newspaper, describes Powell’s presentation as a “few smudgy satellite photographs, a teaspoon of talcum powder, some Lego-style drawings of sinister trucks and trains, a picture of an American U2 spy plane, several mugshots of Arabic men, and a script that required a suspension of mistrust by the world’s doves.” [London Times, 2/6/2003]
American Media Strongly Positive - The US media’s reaction to Powell’s presentation is immediate and overwhelmingly positive. Over 100 press outlets compare his speech to Adlai Stevenson’s 1962 denunciation of the USSR during the Cuban Missile Crisis (see January 30-February 4, 2003). One poll shows that 90 percent of Americans now believe Iraq has an active WMD program that poses a dire threat to the nation. Another shows 67 percent of Americans believe that the US is justified in going to war with Iraq because of that nation’s illicit WMD. The San Francisco Chronicle calls the speech “impressive in its breadth and eloquence.” The Denver Post compares Powell to “Marshal Dillon facing down a gunslinger in Dodge City,” and adds that he showed the world “not just one ‘smoking gun’ but a battery of them.” Perhaps the most telling reaction is among the media’s liberals. The Washington Post’s Mary McGrory says Powell won her over. Richard Cohen, a moderate Post colleague, writes that Powell’s evidence is “absolutely bone-chilling in its detail… [and] had to prove to anyone that Iraq not only hadn’t accounted for its weapons of mass destruction but without a doubt still retains them. Only a fool, or possibly a Frenchman, could conclude otherwise.” And the New York Times writes three separate stories praising Powell as “powerful,” “sober,” “factual,” and “nearly encyclopedic.” Columnist William Safire says Powell’s presentation has “half a dozen smoking guns” and makes an “irrefutable and undeniable” case. Safire’s colleague at the Times, Michael Gordon, concludes, “It will be difficult for skeptics to argue that Washington’s case against Iraq is based on groundless suspicions and not intelligence information.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 286-288] In the days after the speech, the Washington Post opinion pages are filled with praises for Powell and the presentation. [New York Review of Books, 2/26/2004] One Post editorial proclaims that after the presentation, it is “hard to imagine how anyone could doubt that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction.” [Washington Post, 2/6/2004]
Powell 'Trusted' - Former ambassador Joseph Wilson will write in 2004: “[I]t was Powell’s credibility that finally put public opinion over the top. Over and over again, I was told, ‘Colin Powell wouldn’t lie to us.‘… Powell’s support for invading Iraq with a pseudo-coalition was essential, and he deserves at least as much of the responsibility for the subsequent situation that we find ourselves in as anybody else in the administration, because, more than anybody else, it was his credibility and standing among the American people that tipped the scales.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 317-318] In 2007, CBS anchor Dan Rather gives a simple reason why Powell’s presentation is so strongly accepted by so many. “Colin Powell was trusted. Is trusted, I’d put it—in a sense. He, unlike many of the people who made the decisions to go to war, Colin Powell has seen war. He knows what a green jungle hell Vietnam was. He knows what the battlefield looks like. And when Colin Powell says to you, ‘I, Colin Powell, am putting my personal stamp on this information. It’s my name, my face, and I’m putting it out there,’ that did make a difference.… I was impressed. And who wouldn’t be?” [PBS, 4/25/2007]

Entity Tags: United Nations Security Council, San Francisco Chronicle, Richard Cohen, New York Times, William Safire, Mary McGrory, Colin Powell, Michael Gordon, Denver Post, Dan Rather, London Times, Joseph C. Wilson

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Category Tags: Media Coverage, Politicization of Intelligence, The Decision to Invade, Powell's Speech to UN

The British media learns that a dossier entitled “Iraq: Its Infrastructure of Concealment, Deception, and Intimidation” that was released by the British government to bolster its case for Iraqi WMD is plagiarized from publicly available magazine articles (see February 3, 2003). Prime Minister Tony Blair’s office initially stands by the report, which becomes colloquially known as the “Dodgy Dossier” (a term apparently coined in an editorial by The Observer—see February 8, 2003), saying the dossier had been “put together by a range of government officials.” It also says, “We consider the text as published accurate.” However, Blair officials will eventually admit that the government should have credited the article. [Associated Press, 2/6/2003; BBC, 2/7/2003] A Channel 4 news report notes: “None of the sources are acknowledged, leading the reader to believe that the information is a result of direct investigative work, rather than simply copied from pre-existing internet sources.… Apart from the obvious criticism that the British government has plagiarized texts without acknowledgment, passing them off as the work of its intelligence services, there are two further serious problems. Firstly, it indicates that [Britain] at least really does not have any independent sources of information on Iraq’s internal politics—they just draw upon publicly available data. Thus any further claims to information based on ‘intelligence data’ must be treated with even more skepticism. Secondly, the information presented as being an accurate statement of the current state of Iraq’s security organizations may not be anything of the sort. [Ibrahim Al-]Marashi—the real and unwitting author of much of the document—has as his primary source the documents captured in 1991 for the Iraq Research and Documentation Project. His own focus is the activities of Iraq’s intelligence agencies in Kuwait, Aug 90-Jan 91—this is the subject of his thesis. As a result, the information presented as relevant to how Iraqi agencies are currently engaged with UNMOVIC is 12 years old.” [Channel 4 News (London), 2/6/2003]

Entity Tags: Ibrahim al-Marashi, Blair administration

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Category Tags: Media Coverage, Politicization of Intelligence, Propaganda, Public Opinion on Iraqi Threat

The London Times pens a scathing editorial regarding the so-called “dodgy dossier,” a report on Iraqi attempts to deceive UN weapons inspectors recently released by the British government, which was quickly proven to be plagiarized from out-of-date articles from publicly available sources (see February 3, 2003). The editorial sarcastically envisions the scene in Downing Street in the weeks before the dossier’s release, with frantic staffers saying: “What do you mean, there’s no smoking gun? Haven’t MI6 [British intelligence] got anything? No photographs? No defectors? TB [Tony Blair] is expecting a dossier next week. We promised. He said the Americans liked the last one—quoted everywhere, robust stuff, saved the CIA from having to go public with any sources. So they want another one—Colin Powell’s thinking of a spot of show and tell at the UN (see February 5, 2003), and wants to point to independent work by the Brits. So, we better get something—and quick.… Well, one of you had better put something together. Get on the Internet. Just type in ricin and Iraq and see what you find on Google. 20 pages, at least. By tomorrow.” The editorial notes that while “[g]overnmental plagiarism is nothing new… plagiarizing intelligence is more difficult. There isn’t much of it around. And the best is all secret—not easy for a media studies undergraduate to prise out of GCHQ overnight. But what TB wants, TB gets. A Downing Street unit is there to provide it. And as any student knows, extracts from American social anthropology dissertations add the required note of pedantic obfuscation to any jejune essay, with a provenance that is virtually undetectable. What better way to triple the value of intelligence assets with a thesis from California? It was regrettable that the author had so obvious an Arab name: far less convincing as a footnote than a reference to the trajectory of a military satellite. But perhaps the report could simply say it was a mix of private and public. Isn’t that the normal pattern nowadays?” [London Times, 2/8/2003] The Observer writes a similarly harsh editorial, noting that such “[d]eception can only corrode public trust,” and apparently coins the term “dodgy dossier.” The Observer editorial calls the dossier “an Internet cut-and-paste exercise largely lifted from a Californian post-graduate thesis focused on evidence from the invasion of Kuwait 13 years ago” and “sprinkl[ed with] unfounded exaggerations… inserted to strengthen the claims made in the thesis.” The editorial says: “Plagiarism is not the main issue. The central issue is that of public trust. At best, this episode demonstrates incompetence and the failure to oversee the most important claims which the government puts into the public domain. At worst, a deliberate attempt to hoodwink and mislead the public will undermine trust in anything the government says about the Iraqi threat at this vital time.… It is not only the government which has access to the Internet. Every claim made will be scrutinized more closely, and by more people, than ever before. Nothing will corrode trust more than to be caught out trying to insult the intelligence of the British public.” [Observer, 2/9/2003]

Entity Tags: UK Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), Colin Powell, Blair administration, Observer, London Times

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Category Tags: Alleged WMDs, Media Coverage, Politicization of Intelligence, Propaganda

In early February, David Corn, an editor of the progressive magazine The Nation, asks former ambassador Joseph Wilson to write an editorial for the magazine. Corn believes that Wilson’s “establishment credentials” give credibility to the antiwar views that Wilson and the magazine share. Wilson publishes an op-ed in the magazine titled “Republic or Empire?” Wilson, who staunchly supported the 1991 Gulf War (see After February 28, 1991), argues that the US has already succeeded in large part in its efforts to contain and disarm Saddam Hussein. Also, the US’s new military basing agreements throughout the region give it what Wilson calls a “[h]egemony in the Arab nations of the Gulf… a dominant presence astride strategic oil reserves that would enable us to respond to crises in the region much more quickly and efficiently in the future than we had ever been able to in the past. Thus, the conquest of Iraq would not materially improve our influence from southern Asia to the Horn of Africa.” The war is not about Iraqi WMD, nor Iraq’s alleged ties to terrorism, or even about liberating an oppressed populace, Wilson writes. “The underlying objective of this war is the imposition of a Pax Americana on the region and installation of vassal regimes that will control restive populations.” The neoconservatives in the Bush administration, Wilson asserts, “want to go beyond expanding US global influence to force revolutionary change on the region. American pre-eminence in the Gulf is necessary but not sufficient for the hawks. Nothing short of conquest, occupation and imposition of handpicked leaders on a vanquished population will suffice. Iraq is the linchpin for this broader assault on the region. The new imperialists will not rest until governments that ape our worldview are implanted throughout the region, a breathtakingly ambitious undertaking, smacking of hubris in the extreme. Arabs who complain about American-supported antidemocratic regimes today will find us in even more direct control tomorrow. The leader of the future in the Arab world will look a lot more like Pakistan’s Pervez Musharraf than Thomas Jefferson.” He concludes: “[W]ith the costs to our military, our treasury and our international standing, we will be forced to learn whether our republican roots and traditions can accommodate the administration’s imperial ambitions. It may be a bitter lesson.” [Nation, 3/3/2003; Wilson, 2004, pp. 318-319, 469-472]

Entity Tags: Joseph C. Wilson, Saddam Hussein, David Corn

Timeline Tags: Neoconservative Influence, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Category Tags: Media Coverage, The Decision to Invade

’Donahue’ show logo.’Donahue’ show logo. [Source: American Renaissance (.com)]MSNBC, the cable news channel owned by NBC, cancels Phil Donahue’s nightly talk show. MSNBC cites “disappointing ratings” for “Donahue.” The show, originally conceived as a more liberal alternative for Fox News’s overtly conservative “O’Reilly Factor,” started very slow and never came close to challenging either O’Reilly’s ratings or CNN’s Connie Chung, whose show is also in the same time slot. But in recent weeks, Donahue’s ratings have steadily increased to the point where it is the top-rated show on the network, even beating MSNBC’s flagship political show, “Hardball With Chris Matthews.”
'Tired Left-Wing Liberal' - An internal report commissioned by the network’s executives, later obtained by media analyst Rick Ellis, calls Phil Donahue “a tired, left-wing liberal out of touch with the current marketplace.” The report says that Donahue’s show presents a “difficult public face for NBC in a time of war.… He seems to delight in presenting guests who are anti-war, anti-Bush, and skeptical of the administration’s motives.” If the show continues on the air, the report warns that it could become “a home for the liberal anti-war agenda at the same time that our competitors are waving the flag at every opportunity.” As Donahue exits the lineup, MSNBC brings aboard former Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey and former Republican congressman Joe Scarborough as commentators, and radical right-wing talk show host Michael Savage and libertarian Jesse Ventura, the former governor of Minnesota, as hosts. Donahue’s time slot will be taken temporarily by the expansion of another show, “Countdown: Iraq,” to two hours. Nation columnist John Nichols writes: “Talk about adding insult to injury. Getting canceled is bad enough; getting canceled to make way for a program devoted to anticipating an unnecessary war is just plain awful.” [New York Times, 2/26/2003; AllYourTV (.com), 2/26/2003; Nation, 2/27/2003] In 2007, Donahue says he knew nothing of the internal memo at the time (see April 25, 2007). “I didn’t know about that till I read about it in the New York Times.” When asked: “What did you think? What does that say to you? That dissent is unpatriotic?” Donahue will reply, “Well, not only unpatriotic, but it’s not good for business.” [PBS, 4/25/2007]
MSNBC 'Tak[ing] the Coward's Road' - A source close to Donahue says that Donahue’s cancellation is “no coincidence.” The MSNBC executives are “scared,” the source says, “and they decided to take the coward’s road and slant towards the conservative crowd that watch Fox News.” Ellis, a veteran media analyst with strong connections in the TV news industry, writes that MSNBC, “[r]ather than building a unique voice, the news channel has opted to become a lesser alternative to the Fox News Channel.” Interestingly, the NBC report recommended against such a course: “The temptation is to chase the audience that is already out there and play to what seems to be working at Fox. But there is another road, and if we build our unique voices from within, we have a chance to develop a loyal and valuable audience.” Nichols writes, “[I]t is a pretty good bet that, now that ‘Donahue’ is going off the air, we will not soon see another show like the one where he featured [consumer advocate] Ralph Nader and [progressive columnist] Molly Ivins in front of a crowd of laid-off Enron employees.” Nichols adds that while Donahue’s show may have been conceived as a liberal alternative to O’Reilly, it was never allowed to be such: “For every program that featured Ralph Nader and Molly Ivins, there were ten where Donahue was forced to ask polite questions of second-string conservative pundits. Where his conservative competitors never worry about fairness or balance, Donahue was under constant pressure to clog his show’s arteries with deadly dull apologists for all things Bush. And when that got too boring, he was pressured to steer the show away from politics and toward the glitzy and the maudlin.” Only in its last few weeks did MSNBC allow Donahue to do what he does best—interview interesting guests in front of a live audience. The show’s ratings began climbing rapidly. Whether the show could have challenged O’Reilly or other conservative shows’ ratings can never be known.
Never Trusted the American Viewing Audience - Nichols concludes: “Now that ‘Donahue’ has been ditched, conservative commentators and network executives will tell themselves that there is no audience for progressive voices on television. They will, of course, be wrong on the broad premise—some of O’Reilly’s best shows feature feisty progressives like US [Representatives] Jan Schakowsky and Bernie Sanders. And they will be wrong more specifically about Donahue. We will never know for sure whether Phil Donahue could have seriously competed with conservative hosts like Bill O’Reilly or Sean Hannity. What we do now, for sure, is that MSNBC executives were never willing to trust Phil Donahue—or the American television viewing audience.” [New York Times, 2/26/2003; AllYourTV (.com), 2/26/2003; Nation, 2/27/2003]

Entity Tags: Fox News, Sean Hannity, Enron Corporation, Connie Chung, CNN, Bill O’Reilly, Bernie Sanders, Rick Ellis, Ralph Nader, Phil Donahue, NBC, MSNBC, Jesse Ventura, John Nichols, Michael Savage, Joseph Scarborough, Molly Ivins, Jan Schakowsky, Dick Armey

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Category Tags: Media Coverage, Politicization of Intelligence, Propaganda, Public Opinion on Iraqi Threat

Neoconservative Richard Perle, the chairman of the Defense Policy Board, has a simple explanation as to why UN inspectors are not finding WMD in Iraq (see February 8, 2003): skullduggery. “UN weapons inspectors are being seriously deceived,” he declares in an essay published on the American Enterprise Institute’s Web site entitled “Take Out Saddam—It’s the Only Way.” Perle’s contentions are similar to those he has extolled in the past (see March, 2001 and November 20, 2002). This time he escalates the rhetoric even farther: “It reminds me of the way Nazis hoodwinked Red Cross officials inspecting the concentration camp at Theresienstadt in 1944.” [American Enterprise Institute, 2/25/2003; Unger, 2007, pp. 289]

Entity Tags: Richard Perle, Defense Policy Board

Timeline Tags: Neoconservative Influence

Category Tags: Media Coverage, Politicization of Intelligence, The Decision to Invade

Fox News pundit Bill O’Reilly delivers a threat to Americans who disagree with the administration’s war policies, telling viewers: “Anyone who hurts this country in a time like this—well, let’s just say you will be spotlighted.… I will call those who publicly criticize their country in a time of military crisis, which this is, bad Americans.” [PBS, 4/25/2007]

Entity Tags: Fox News, Bill O’Reilly

Category Tags: Media Coverage, Public Opinion on Iraqi Threat

Conservative pundit Bill O’Reilly tells his audience on Fox News: “Once the war against Saddam [Hussein] begins, we expect every American to support our military, and if they can’t do that, to shut up. Americans, and indeed our allies, who actively work against our military once the war is underway will be considered enemies of the state by me. Just fair warning to you, Barbra Streisand, and others who see the world as you do. I don’t want to demonize anyone, but anyone who hurts this country in a time like this, well. Let’s just say you will be spotlighted.” [CounterPunch, 3/3/2003; Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), 5/2003]

Entity Tags: Barbra Streisand, Saddam Hussein, Bill O’Reilly

Category Tags: Media Coverage, Politicization of Intelligence, Propaganda, The Decision to Invade

The Columbia Journalism Review reports on the procedures and constraints that so-called “embedded” reporters must agree to follow if they are to accompany US military units into Iraq (see February 2003). They can write about what they like, but must:
bullet Refrain from reporting “about ongoing mission (unless directed to do so by the on-site commander)”;
bullet Refrain from “reporting on the specific results of completed missions, or on future, postponed, or canceled missions”;
bullet Refrain from “breaking embargoes imposed on stories for ‘operational security’ reasons”;
bullet Refrain from “traveling in their own vehicles”;
There are also some other, more technical restrictions. [Unger, 2007, pp. 293]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Columbia Journalism Review

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Category Tags: Media Coverage

ABC’s Nightline hosts a “town meeting” panel discussion with a number of experts and pundits on the subject of the impending invasion of Iraq. The proponents of the war include Senator John McCain (R-AZ), former CIA Director James Woolsey, and Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention. Arguing against the war are the former deputy chief of mission to Iraq, Joseph Wilson; Senator Carl Levin (D-MI); and the Reverend Susan Thistlewaite of the Chicago Theological Seminary. The advocates of the war had prepared for the discussion, even holding a mock debate the night before with Randy Schoeneman of the Iraqi Liberation Front. The anti-war panelists did not discuss their remarks until minutes before the broadcast. “[W]e were disadvantaged by our comparative lack of preparation,” Wilson will later recall in his 2004 book The Politics of Truth. He remembers the panel discussion as “unpleasant,” not the least because, during his remarks about achieving disarmament without occupation (see February 13, 2003 and February 28, 2003), McCain interrupts him and accuses him of “appeasement.” Wilson will later write: “I take great offense at having my patriotism questioned by anyone. John McCain’s service to his country is unimpeachable but that does not give him a monopoly on loyalty, nor is it equatable with wisdom on national security issues.” Woolsey piles on, accusing Wilson of racism when Wilson notes that implementing democracy in Iraq would be “a stiff challenge.” Wilson will write that the accusation, which he will term “an outrageously provocative insult,” angers many of the African-American audience members, including “several members of the House of Representatives who had known me from my White House days managing African Affairs” for the State Department. Wilson will note, “The remark went over with a thud and was subsequently dropped from the standard set of neoconservative talking points spouted against me.” At the end of the debate, host Ted Koppel tells the threesome in favor of war, “You have made some important points, gentlemen, but you have not made your case that war with Iraq now is necessary.” Wilson calls it “a pyrrhic victory,” in part because “the one person whom we would have liked most to influence by our arguments—George W. Bush—was probably already asleep. But then, as he later told Brit Hume of Fox, he gets his information straight from his advisers rather than from newspapers and broadcast outlets.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 321-323]

Entity Tags: Susan Thistlewaite, ABC News, Carl Levin, Joseph C. Wilson, George W. Bush, John McCain, James Woolsey, Richard Land

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Category Tags: Media Coverage, Politicization of Intelligence, Public Opinion on Iraqi Threat

President Bush holds a press conference—only his eighth since taking office—in which he conflates Iraq and Saddam Hussein with the 9/11 attacks and the global war on terror at least 12 times. For instance, he says: “Iraq is a part of the war on terror. It’s a country that trains terrorists; it’s a country that could arm terrorists. Saddam Hussein and his weapons are a direct threat to this country.” Perhaps his most alarming statement is, “September the 11th should say to the American people that we’re now a battlefield.” [White House, 3/6/2003; Salon, 5/4/2006; PBS, 4/25/2007] Bush insists that he has not yet decided to take military action against Iraq (see March 6, 2003). [Salon, 5/4/2006]
Scripted and Orchestrated - Oddly, none of the 94 assembled journalists challenge Bush’s conflations, no one asks about Osama bin Laden, and no one asks follow-up questions to elicit information past the sound bites Bush delivers. There is a reason for that. In 2007, PBS’s Bill Moyers will report that “the White House press corps will ask no hard questions… about those claims,” because the entire press conference is scripted. “Sure enough, the president’s staff has given him a list of reporters to call on,” Moyers will report. Press Secretary Ari Fleischer later admits to giving Bush the list, which omits reporters from such media outlets as Time, Newsweek, USA Today, and the Washington Post. After calling on CNN reporter John King, Bush says, “This is a scripted—” and then breaks into laughter. King, like his colleagues, continues as if nothing untoward is happening. Author and media commentator Eric Boehlert will later say: “[Bush] sort of giggled and laughed. And, the reporters sort of laughed. And, I don’t know if it was out of embarrassment for him or embarrassment for them because they still continued to play along after his question was done. They all shot up their hands and pretended they had a chance of being called on.” Several questions later, Bush pretends to choose from the available reporters, saying: “Let’s see here… Elizabeth… Gregory… April.… Did you have a question or did I call upon you cold?” The reporter asks, “How is your faith guiding you?” Bush responds: “My faith sustains me because I pray daily. I pray for guidance.” Boehlert will later say: “I think it just crystallized what was wrong with the press coverage during the run up to the war. I think they felt like the war was gonna happen and the best thing for them to do was to get out of the way.” [White House, 3/6/2003; Salon, 5/4/2006; PBS, 4/25/2007]
Defending the Press's Complicity - New York Times reporter Elisabeth Bumiller, a participant in the conference, will later defends the press corps’ “timid behavior,” in Boehlert’s characterization, by saying: “I think we were very deferential because… it’s live, it’s very intense, it’s frightening to stand up there. Think about it, you’re standing up on prime-time live TV asking the president of the United States a question when the country’s about to go to war. There was a very serious, somber tone that evening, and no one wanted to get into an argument with the president at this very serious time.” [Salon, 5/4/2006]
Compliant Media Coverage - The broadcast news media, transmitting the live feed of the conference, could not have been more accommodating, author and media critic Frank Rich will later note. “CNN flashed the White House’s chosen messages in repetitive rotation on the bottom of the screen while the event was still going on—‘People of good will are hoping for peace’ and ‘My job is to protect America.’” After the conference, Fox News commentator Greta van Susteren tells her audience, “What I liked tonight was that in prime time [Bush] said to the American people, my job is to protect the American people.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 70]
Follow-Up Coverage Equally Stage-Managed - Boehlert notes that the post-conference coverage is equally one-sided. On MSNBC’s flagship news commentary show, Hardball, host Chris Matthews spends an hour discussing the conference and the upcoming invasion. Matthews invites six guests on. Five are advocates of the war, and one, given a few moments for “balance,” questions some of the assumptions behind the rationale for war. The five pro-war guests include an “independent military analyst,” retired General Montgomery Meigs, who is one of around 75 retired military officers later exposed as participants in a Pentagon propaganda operation designed to promote the war (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). [Salon, 5/4/2006]
Some Criticism Leveled - Several journalists later write harsh critiques of the conference and the media’s complicity (see March-April 2003).

Entity Tags: Montgomery Meigs, USA Today, Washington Post, Time magazine, MSNBC, George W. Bush, Greta Van Susteren, Ari Fleischer, Bill Moyers, CNN, Chris Matthews, Elisabeth Bumiller, John King, Frank Rich, Eric Boehlert, Newsweek

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Category Tags: Media Coverage, Politicization of Intelligence, Propaganda, Public Opinion on Iraqi Threat, The Decision to Invade, Military Analysts Propaganda

Dr. Stephen Zunes.Dr. Stephen Zunes. [Source: Mother Jones]Author and professor of politics Stephen Zunes writes a lengthy, point-by-point rebuttal to President George Bush’s February 28 speech, in which Bush claimed that overthrowing Saddam Hussein will bring peace and democracy to the Middle East (see February 26, 2003). Zunes calls the speech “sanctimonious and highly misleading,” and decries the fact that while it received plenty of media attention, it garnered little critical response in the press.
No Proof of Iraqi WMD Nor Terrorist Ties - Zunes notes that Bush offered no proof of Iraqi WMD, nor how, if Iraq indeed has such weapons, it could dominate the Middle East, as Bush said. And, if Bush knows where the Iraqi WMD are, Zunes asks, why hasn’t he told the United Nations Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), “which has a mandate to destroy them?” Neither has Bush submitted any evidence of Iraq’s ties to terrorist organizations.
Food, Medicine Shortages Due to US-Led Sanctions - Bush’s sympathy towards the privations and misery of the Iraqi people are undermined, Zunes writes, by the fact that “[t]he scarcity of basic food and medicines are a direct result of the US-led sanctions against Iraq.” He calls Bush’s promises of assistance “woefully inadequate.”
US Has Long Record of Exerting Control over Middle Eastern Oil - Bush’s reassurances that Iraq’s oil will be used to benefit its people are hard to swallow, Zunes says, given the US’s long record of exerting its own control over Middle Eastern oil reserves (see August 19, 1953).
Comparison between Iraq, World War II Axis Historically Invalid - Zunes finds Bush’s comparison of Iraq to World War II-era Japan and Germany completely without historical basis.
Unlikely Overthrow Will Bring Peaceful Palestinian Autonomy - He finds no more validity in Bush’s assertion that overthrowing Hussein will lead to peaceful Palestinian autonomy, noting that as long as the US supports Israel’s harsh policies against the Palestinians, peace and autonomy are unlikely outcomes, and also noting that Bush blocked the publication of the “road map for peace” brokered by the US, the UN, Russia, and the European Union for fear that it might lead to the election loss of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
Bush's Concern for UN, International Relations Hard to Believe - And Zunes will not be convinced of Bush’s internationalist leanings, given his administration’s penchant for sabotaging, ignoring, and breaking international treaties (see March 7, 2001, March 27, 2001, July 9, 2001, July 23-25, 2001, November 19, 2001-December 7, 2001, December 13, 2001, December 31, 2001, August 28, 2002, and September 20, 2002). As for the UN “fulfill[ing] its founding purpose” by accepting the resolution for war, Zunes will note, “The founding purpose of the UN Security Council is to protect international peace and security, not to legitimize the invasion of one country by another.” If people around the world are truly interested in freedom, Zunes will conclude, they “must work even harder to stop President Bush from invading Iraq.” [Foreign Policy In-Focus, 3/8/2003]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Stephen Zunes

Category Tags: Media Coverage, Motives, Predictions, The Decision to Invade

Walter Pincus.Walter Pincus. [Source: Publicity photo]By mid-March 2003, Washington Post journalist Walter Pincus is skeptical of Colin Powell’s speech to the UN (see February 5, 2003) and develops material for an article questioning Powell’s evidence. However, his editors are not interested.
Page A17 - But thanks to pressure from his colleague Bob Woodward, the Post runs his story on March 16, but only on page A17. The article reads, “US intelligence agencies have been unable to give Congress or the Pentagon specific information about the amounts of banned weapons or where they are hidden….” It notes that senior US officials “repeatedly have failed to mention the considerable amount of documented weapons destruction that took place in Iraq between 1991 and 1998.” [New York Review of Books, 2/26/2004] Washington Post Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr. will later say, “In retrospect, that probably should have been on Page 1 instead of A17, even though it wasn’t a definitive story and had to rely on unnamed sources. It was a very prescient story.” [Washington Post, 8/12/2004]
Follow-up - Two days later, the Post publishes another critical story by Pincus, this one co-written with Dana Milbank. It reads, “As the Bush administration prepares to attack Iraq this week, it is doing so on the basis of a number of allegations against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein that have been challenged—and in some cases disproved—by the United Nations, European governments and even US intelligence reports.” However, this story only appears on page A13. [New York Review of Books, 2/26/2004]
Third Story Held Until After Start of War - Around the same time, Post journalists Dana Priest and Karen DeYoung turn in a story that says CIA officials “communicated significant doubts to the administration” about evidence tying Iraq to attempted uranium purchases for nuclear weapons. But the story is held until March 22, three days after the Iraq war begins. [Washington Post, 8/12/2004]
Post's Editors Did Not Want to "Make a Difference" - Pincus will later comment, “The front pages of The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times are very important in shaping what other people think. They’re like writing a memo to the White House.” But the Post’s editors “went through a whole phase in which they didn’t put things on the front page that would make a difference.” [New York Review of Books, 2/26/2004] Downie will later say, “Not enough of those stories were put on the front page. That was a mistake on my part.” [Washington Post, 8/12/2004]

Entity Tags: Bob Woodward, Walter Pincus, Leonard Downie, Jr., Washington Post

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Category Tags: Alleged WMDs, Media Coverage

President Bush’s parents, George H. W. Bush and Barbara Bush, appear on ABC’s Good Morning America. Bush had called them the night before, his mother says, “just to see how we were, and tell us he was fine. He was tired, but he was wonderful. I’m not sure that we’re any different than any other parents in a lot of ways.… But it’s better to stay, you know, stay off the stage.” Former president Bush agrees: “Yeah. That’s the… that’s the key point. What I say is we support the president without reservation.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 293-294] Barbara Bush tells interviewer Diane Sawyer that she does not intend to watch any war coverage. “Why should we hear about body bags and deaths and how many, what day it’s gonna happen?” she asks rhetorically. “It’s not relevant. So why should I waste my beautiful mind on something like that?” [Rich, 2006, pp. 76]

Entity Tags: Diane Sawyer, George W. Bush, George Herbert Walker Bush, Barbara Bush

Category Tags: Media Coverage, The Decision to Invade

The New York Times reveals that CIA analysts acknowledge being pressured to shape their intelligence reports on Iraq to conform to Bush administration policies. In particular, they were pressured to find or create evidence that Iraq had links to al-Qaeda. [New York Times, 3/23/2003] In 2004, Times editor Daniel Okrent will admit that the story was “completed several days before the invasion (see March 19, 2003) and unaccountably held for a week,” not appearing until three days after the war began, when it “was interred on Page B10.” [New York Times, 5/30/2004; Rich, 2006, pp. 192] For months, some CIA analysts have privately expressed concerns over the forcible shaping of their reports to colleagues and Congressional officials, but until now have not revealed those concerns to reporters. “A lot of analysts have been upset about the way the Iraq-al-Qaeda case has been handled,” a senior intelligence official says. The revelation that the claims of Iraq’s attempt to buy uranium from Niger were false (see March 7, 2003) sparked some analysts to come forward. One government official says, “The forgery heightened people’s feelings that they were being embarrassed by the way Iraqi intelligence has been handled.” The intelligence official says: “As we have become an integral component informing the debate for policy makers, we have been asked a lot of questions. I’m sure it does come across as a pressured environment for analysts. I think there is a sense of being overworked, a sense among analysts that they have already answered the same questions. But if you talk to analysts, they understand why people are asking, and why policy makers aren’t accepting a report at face value.” Other analysts have discussed leaving the agency over their frustration with the way intelligence is being manipulated by the Bush administration. Another government official says, “Several people have told me how distraught they have been about what has been going on.” A CIA official says no analysts have resigned in protest over the management of Iraqi intelligence. [New York Times, 3/23/2003]

Entity Tags: Daniel Okrent, Bush administration (43), Al-Qaeda, Central Intelligence Agency, New York Times

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Category Tags: Media Coverage, Politicization of Intelligence

The Weekly Standard’s Stephen Schwartz celebrates the success of the Iraq invasion and mocks antiwar critics, writing, “In recent weeks, anti-Shi’a propaganda has emerged as a staple of the liberal media, full of dire predictions that the fall of the Butcher of Baghdad will result in Iraq’s being torn apart, as Shi’as, Sunnis, and Kurds fight each other for power.” Schwartz continues, “Incompetent voices at the State Department proclaim the need to back old, exhausted politicians, who will presumably serve as pliable tools, in preference to Shi’a leaders like Ahmed Chalabi, of the Iraqi National Congress.” Schwartz seems to suggest that Iraq’s Shi’as, presumably under the leadership of Chalabi, are ready and willing to ally with the US against their Shi’a brethren in Iran, and establish a Western-style democracy. [Weekly Standard, 3/24/2003; Unger, 2007, pp. 303]

Entity Tags: Ahmed Chalabi, Stephen Schwartz, US Department of State

Category Tags: Media Coverage, Predictions

Sheldon Rampton.Sheldon Rampton. [Source: Sheldon Rampton]Author Sheldon Rampton, an expert on public relations and propaganda, observes that the Bush administration uses what he calls “the framework of a ‘propaganda model’ of communication” in releasing information to the public and coordinating communications between administration officials and outsiders (see Early 2002 and Beyond, January 2003, and March 6, 2003). Rampton says such a model’s “strategies and assumptions are fundamentally contrary to a democratic model.… The goal of the propaganda model is simply to achieve efficient indoctrination, and it therefore tends to regard the assumptions of the democratic model as inconvenient obstacles to efficient communication.”
Inherent Contradictions - Rampton notes that using the propaganda model as a communications strategy on such a large scale is impossible in the long term. One problem the Bush administration is facing is in countering the growing disaffection with the US among other nations while simultaneously refusing to listen to criticism from these nations. He cites as examples Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s contemptuous dismissal of European opponents to the Iraq invasion as members of “old Europe” (see January 22, 2003), and Bush’s dismissal of recent worldwide protests with over 11 million participants by saying he doesn’t “decide policy based upon a focus group.” Rampton writes, “Bush’s statement speaks volumes about his inability to think outside the framework of a propaganda model of communication.” The Bush administration is an avid consumer of polls, though it goes to extraordinary lengths to give the impression that it does not. Columnist Joshua Green recently wrote that instead of using polls to determine policy, as the Clinton administration was often accused of doing, in the Bush White House, “[p]olicies are chosen beforehand [and] polls [are] used to spin them.… Because many of Bush’s policies aren’t necessarily popular with a majority of voters, [his pollsters’] job essentially consists of finding words to sell them to the public.” The administration has similar problems with spreading propaganda among foreign nations, particularly among Middle Eastern nations. Rampton writes: “The real problem with the Bush administration is that it doesn’t listen to anything but focus groups. It never thinks of public opinion as worth considering in its own right, and instead merely uses it to refine the message points that go out each day in its ‘Global Messenger’ emails” (see January 2003).
Self-Indoctrination - Rampton notes that while the Bush administration’s propaganda efforts often fail to produce the desired effects, at least to the degree desired, such persistent propaganda practices often have more success in “indoctrinating the propagandist themselves.… The discipline of ‘ensuring message consistency’ cannot hope to succeed at controlling the world’s perceptions of something as broad, sprawling, and contradictory as the Bush administration’s foreign policy. However, it may be successful at enabling people like George W. Bush and Donald Rumsfeld to ignore the warnings coming from Europe and other quarters. As our leaders lose their ability to listen to critics, we face the danger that they will underestimate the risks and costs involved in going to war.” [PRWatch, 4/2003]

Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld, Joshua Green, Sheldon Rampton, Bush administration (43), Clinton administration

Timeline Tags: US Military, Domestic Propaganda

Category Tags: Media Coverage, Politicization of Intelligence, Propaganda, Public Opinion on Iraqi Threat

On CNN’s Larry King Live, CBS news anchor Dan Rather says: “Look, I’m an American. I never tried to kid anybody that I’m some internationalist or something. And when my country is at war, I want my country to win, whatever the definition of ‘win’ may be. Now, I can’t and don’t argue that that is coverage without a prejudice. About that I am prejudiced.” [Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, 5/2003] On September 17, 2001, Rather said he would “line up” with the president (see September 17-22, 2001). In May 2002, he said that fear of being seen as unpatriotic was affecting news coverage (see May 17, 2002). In 2007, Rather will admit to not staying objective after 9/11 (see April 25, 2007).

Entity Tags: Dan Rather, CBS News

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda

Category Tags: Media Coverage

In May 2003, the media watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) reports the results of an analysis of media coverage of the start of the Iraq war. The study looked at the main news programs on ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, and PBS between March 20, 2003, one day after the Iraq war began, through April 9, three weeks later. The study found that 1,617 on-camera sources appeared in stories about Iraq. Sixty-four percent of all sources were pro-war, while ten percent were anti-war. Current and former US or British officials made up 57 percent of all sources. Pro-war sources tended to be interviewed at length in the studio. Whereas, the study’s authors note: “Guests with anti-war viewpoints were almost universally allowed one-sentence soundbites taken from interviews conducted on the street. Not a single show in the study conducted a sit-down interview with a person identified as being against the war.” [Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, 5/2003]

Entity Tags: Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting

Timeline Tags: US Military, Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda

Category Tags: Media Coverage

In an email to New York Times Baghdad bureau chief John Burns, reporter Judith Miller defends a story she filed on Ahmed Chalabi, which had scooped a major story being written by another Times reporter. In her email she reveals that Chalabi was the source of most of her reporting on Iraq’s alleged arsenal of WMD. She writes: “I’ve been covering Chalabi for about 10 years, and have done most of the stories about him for our paper, including the long takeout we recently did on him. He has provided most of the front page exclusives on WMD to our paper.” [Washington Post, 5/26/2003] Miller has long relied on Chalabi as a primary source for information about Iraq. She has also proven more than willing—“eager,” in author Craig Unger’s words—to pass along information and disinformation alike from Chalabi and the White House about Iraq and its supposed WMD program. However, she will later retract her admission. [Unger, 2007, pp. 252]

Entity Tags: John Burns, Craig Unger, Ahmed Chalabi, Judith Miller

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Category Tags: Media Coverage, Politicization of Intelligence, Chalabi and the INC

Judith Miller and William J. Broad of the New York Times report that according to “senior administration officials” US intelligence has “concluded that two mysterious trailers found in Iraq (see April 19, 2003; May 9, 2003) were mobile units to produce germs for weapons.” However, the report also notes that investigators “have found neither biological agents nor evidence that the equipment was used to make such arms.” The report quotes one senior official who says, “The experts who have crawled over this again and again can come up with no other plausible legitimate use.” A theory offered by Iraqi scientists that the trailers were used to produce hydrogen for artillery weather balloons was considered but rejected, according to officials, who said US intelligence analysts believe the story may have been concocted in order to mislead them. [New York Times, 5/21/2003]

Entity Tags: Judith Miller

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

Category Tags: Alleged WMDs, Biological Weapons Trailers, Media Coverage

In the upcoming issue of Vanity Fair, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz admits that the Bush administration chose the issue of Iraqi WMD as its primary justification for war, not because it was necessarily a legitimate concern, but because it was, in the words of reporter David Usbourne, “politically convenient.” Wolfowitz also acknowledges that another justification played a strong part in the decision to invade: the prospect of the US being able to withdraw all of its forces from Saudi Arabia (see August 7, 1990) once Saddam Hussein’s regime was overthrown. “Just lifting that burden from the Saudis is itself going to the door” towards making progress elsewhere in achieving Middle East peace, says Wolfowitz. The presence of US forces in Saudi Arabia has been one of the main grievances of al-Qaeda and other Islamist groups. The most controversial statement by Wolfowitz is his acknowledgement that, “For bureaucratic reasons we settled on one issue, weapons of mass destruction, because it was the one reason everyone could agree on.” Usbourne writes, “The comments suggest that, even for the US administration, the logic that was presented for going to war may have been an empty shell.” He notes that finding a rationale for attacking Iraq that was “acceptable to everyone” may refer to Secretary of State Colin Powell, the most prominent Cabinet member to vocally, if privately, oppose the invasion. Powell relied on the WMD issue in his February presentation to the UN Security Council (see February 5, 2003), which many consider to be a key element in the administration’s effort to convince the American citizenry that the invasion was necessary and justified. [Independent, 5/30/2003]
Democrats: WMD Scare 'Hyped' by Administration - Many Congressional Democrats echo the sentiments of Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE), who says of the administration’s push for war: “I do think that we hyped nuclear, we hyped al-Qaeda, we hyped the ability to disperse and use these weapons. I think that tends to be done by all presidents when they are trying to accomplish a goal that they want to get broad national support for.… I think a lot of the hype here is a serious, serious, serious mistake and it hurts our credibility.” [Washington Times, 5/30/2003]
British Official: Clear That Rationale for War Was False - Former British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, who quit as leader of the House of Commons to protest the war, says he never believed Iraq had the WMD claimed by US and British government officials. “The war was sold on the basis of what was described as a pre-emptive strike, ‘Hit Saddam before he hits us,’” he says. “It is now quite clear that Saddam did not have anything with which to hit us in the first place.” Former Danish Foreign Minister Niels Helveg Petersen says he is shocked by Wolfowitz’s claim. “It leaves the world with one question: What should we believe?” he says. [Associated Press, 5/30/2003]
Wolfowitz Claims Misquoting - After the initial reports of the interview and the resulting storm of controversy and recriminations, Wolfowitz and his defenders will claim that Vanity Fair reporter Sam Tanenhaus misquoted his words and took his statements out of context (see June 1-9, 2003).
Press Official: Selection of WMD as Primary Focus a 'Marketing Choice' - In 2008, current deputy press secretary Scott McClellan will write, “So the decision to downplay the democratic vision as a motive for war was basically a marketing choice.” Reflecting on this choice, he will add: “Every president wants to achieve greatness but few do. As I have heard [President] Bush say, only a wartime president is likely to achieve greatness, in part because the epochal upheavals of war provide the opportunity for transformative change of the kind Bush hoped to achieve. In Iraq, Bush saw his opportunity to create a legacy of greatness. Intoxicated by the influence and power of America, Bush believed that a successful transformation of Iraq could be the linchpin for realizing his dream of a free Middle East. But there was a problem here, which has become obvious to me only in retrospect—a disconnect between the president’s most heartfelt objective in going to war and the publicly stated rationale for that war. Bush and his advisers knew that the American people would almost certainly not support a war launched primarily for the ambitious purpose of transforming the Middle East.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 131-133]

Entity Tags: Vanity Fair, Paul Wolfowitz, Robin Cook, Bush administration (43), Colin Powell, David Usbourne, Joseph Biden, Niels Helveg Petersen, Sam Tanenhaus, Scott McClellan

Category Tags: Alleged WMDs, Media Coverage, Motives, Politicization of Intelligence, Biological Weapons Trailers, Powell's Speech to UN

Lewis Libby, the chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, provides classified information to author and reporter Bob Woodward for use in his upcoming book Plan of Attack, which will document the Bush administration’s push for war with Iraq. According to his own later testimony (see March 24, 2004), Libby is authorized to disclose this information to Woodward by President Bush. The information is from the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate, which documented the purported WMD belonging to Iraq (see October 1, 2002). In 2006, other former senior officials in the Bush administration will add that Bush told others to cooperate with Woodward as well. One official will say: “There were people on the seventh floor [of the CIA] who were told by [CIA Director George] Tenet to cooperate because the president wanted it done. There were calls to people to by [White House communications director] Dan Bartlett that the president wanted it done, if you were not cooperating. And sometimes the president himself told people that they should cooperate.” It is unclear whether any other White House official provides Woodward with classified information. [National Journal, 4/6/2006] It is unclear whether Libby discloses this information to Woodward during two June 2003 meetings he has with the reporter (see June 23, 2003 and June 27, 2003), or at another, unreported meeting.

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Bob Woodward, Bush administration (43), Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, George W. Bush, George J. Tenet, Dan Bartlett

Category Tags: Alleged WMDs, Media Coverage, Politicization of Intelligence, Propaganda

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