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Events Leading Up to the 2003 Invasion of Iraq

Specific Cases and Issues

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

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Vice President Dick Cheney tells Rocky Mountain News that a November 2003 article published in the conservative Weekly Standard (see November 14, 2003) represents “the best source of information” on cooperation between Iraq and al-Qaeda. The article was based on a leaked intelligence memo that had been written by Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith in 2002 and was the product of the Office of Special Plans (see August 2002). Cheney also insists that the administration’s decision to invade Iraq was “perfectly justified.” [Rocky Mountain News, 1/10/2004; Knight Ridder, 3/9/2004]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Douglas Feith

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Category Tags: Alleged Al-Qaeda Ties, Office of Special Plans, Iraq Ties to Terrorists Allegations

The lurid tale of Iraq’s readiness to deploy WMD within 45 minutes, a claim used to great effect by both British and American officials to justify the war with Iraq (see September 28, 2002 and December 7, 2003), is shown to be false (see October 13, 2004)). Both the source, supposed Iraqi military official Lieutenant Colonel al-Dabbagh, and Iraqi government official Iyad Allawi, who turned over al-Dabbagh’s raw intelligence to US and British agents, now say they bear no responsibility for the claims. Nick Theros, Allawi’s Washington representative, says the information was raw intelligence from a single source: “We were passing it on in good faith. It was for the intelligence services to verify it.” Middle East expert Juan Cole says that Allawi and al-Dabbagh “passed to British intelligence and to Con Coughlin at the Telegraph a series of patently false reports that bolstered the case for war against Iraq but which were wholly unfounded. (Coughlin is either gullible or disingenuous.)” [Newsweek, 1/12/2004; Juan Cole, 1/27/2004; Guardian, 1/27/2004] Theros now says al-Dabbagh’s information was a “crock of sh_t,” and adds, “Clearly we have not found WMD.” [Newsweek, 1/12/2004; Guardian, 1/27/2004]

Entity Tags: Nick Theros, “al-Dabbagh”, Con Coughlin, Iyad Allawi, Juan Cole

Category Tags: Key Events Related to DSM, Alleged WMDs, Chalabi and the INC

Ahmed Chalabi, president of the Iraqi National Congress (INC), tells the London Telegraph during an interview in Baghdad that he has no regrets that the intelligence he fed to the US turned out to be wrong. Though his group has been accused of intentionally providing misleading information to US intelligence through the Pentagon offices under Douglas Feith, he believes its members should be regarded as “heroes in error.” “As far as we’re concerned we’ve been entirely successful,” he contends. “That tyrant Saddam is gone and the Americans are in Baghdad. What was said before is not important. The Bush administration is looking for a scapegoat. We’re ready to fall on our swords if he wants.” One of the most significant claims Secretary of State Colin Powell had made to the UN Security Council on February 5, 2003, had been supplied by a source supplied by the INC. In that case, a defected Iraqi major had claimed that Iraq possessed mobile biological weapons labs. [Daily Telegraph, 2/19/2004]

Entity Tags: Iraqi National Congress, Ahmed Chalabi

Category Tags: Politicization of Intelligence, Chalabi and the INC

Katharine Gun, who leaked an NSA memo to the British press in February 2003 that revealed the existence of an elaborate US plan to “bug” UN delegates (see January 31, 2003), is arrested and charged with violating the Official Secrets Act for giving a copy of the memo to the press. Gun was a translator for British intelligence, who worked at the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) before losing her job over the leak in June. Gun does not dispute leaking the memo, instead calling it “justified.” Any leaks she made exposed “serious illegality and wrongdoing on the part of the US Government,” she says, and were made to prevent “wide-scale death and casualties among ordinary Iraqi people and UK forces.” [BBC, 11/13/2003] Gun has had the support of a wide array of antiwar and civil rights activists, led in the US by actor Sean Penn and activist Jesse Jackson, who signed a statement shortly before her court appearance praising her as a whistleblower. [Observer, 1/18/2004] The British government decides to drop the charges against her. No official explanation for this is forthcoming, though it may have been precipitated by the defense’s intent to argue that Gun leaked to the media in order to save lives from being lost in a war, an argument that would cause political damage to the government. Liberty spokeswoman Shami Chakrabarti says the decision to charge Gun may itself have been politically motivated, perhaps to cow future whistleblowers, and observes, “One wonders whether disclosure in this criminal trial might have been a little too embarrassing.” Sir Menzies Campbell, the Liberal Democrats’ foreign affairs spokesman, says the reason for dropping the charges might be to keep the Attorney General’s legal advice for war with Iraq a secret. Prosecutor Mark Ellison merely tells the court, “There is no longer sufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction. It would not be appropriate to go into the reasons for this decision.” The only thing needed for a successful prosecution under the Official Secrets Act is for the prosecution to show that Gun is covered by the act, which she is, and that she revealed information covered by the Act, which she has admitted. Gun’s lawyer, James Webb, calls the prosecution’s excuse “rather lame.” [BBC, 11/13/2003; Evening Standard, 2/25/2004] Gun says that leaking the NSA memo was “necessary to prevent an illegal war in which thousands of Iraqi civilians and British soldiers would be killed or maimed.… I have only ever followed my conscience.” [ZNet, 12/28/2005] A month before the court proceedings, the New York Times’s Bob Herbert writes in defense of Gun, “We are not talking about a big-time criminal here. We are not talking about someone who would undermine the democratic principles that George W. Bush and Tony Blair babble about so incessantly, and self-righteously, even as they are trampling on them. Ms. Gun is someone who believes deeply in those principles and was willing to take a courageous step in support of her beliefs. She hoped that her actions would help save lives. She thought at the time that if the Security Council did not vote in favor of an invasion, the United States and Britain might not launch the war.” [New York Times, 1/19/2004] And just days before the court proceedings begin, liberal columnist Molly Ivins wrote, “…Gun may be sentenced to prison for doing precisely what we all hope every government employee will try to do: Prevent the government from committing an illegal and immoral act. Some dare call it patriotism.” [AlterNet, 2/18/2004]

Entity Tags: Katherine Gun, Jesse Jackson, Government Communications Headquarters, George W. Bush, Bob Herbert, James Webb, Tony Blair, United Nations, Sean Penn, Molly Ivins, National Security Agency, Walter Menzies Campbell, New York Times, Mark Ellison, Shami Chakrabarti, Liberty

Category Tags: Legal Justification, Spying on the UN

L. Marc Zell, a former law partner of Douglas Feith, tells Salon magazine: “Ahmed Chalabi is a treacherous, spineless turncoat. He had one set of friends before he was in power, and now he’s got another.” Salon notes that Zell’s “remarks… represent his first public break with the would-be Iraqi leader.” Zell believes Chalabi pulled a deliberate bait and switch, telling neoconservatives what they wanted to hear so they would back his bid to be the future leader of Iraq. [Salon, 5/5/2004]

Entity Tags: L. Marc Zell, Ahmed Chalabi

Timeline Tags: Neoconservative Influence

Category Tags: Chalabi and the INC

The CIA sends one of its best officers to Germany to interrogate the Iraqi defector known as Curveball (see November 1999 and November 4, 2007). Until now, both Curveball and German intelligence officials have resisted allowing the US to interview Curveball for themselves, but evidence that Curveball is not who he says he is has already surfaced (see June 2003-Late 2003). The CIA officer, fluent in German and experienced at questioning reluctant sources, quickly determines that Curveball is a fabricator. Each night, the officer files a report summarizing the day’s interrogation session, and then follows up with a phone call to Tyler Drumheller, the head of CIA spying in Europe. “After the first couple of days, he said, ‘This doesn’t sound good,’” Drumheller later recalls. “After the first week, he said, ‘This guy is lying. He’s lying about a bunch of stuff.’” [Los Angeles Times, 11/20/2005]
Unable to Explain Discrepancy in Statements - One key item was Curveball’s inability to explain the discrepancies between his description of the supposed mobile bioweapons facility at Djerf al Nadaf, in particular why there was a wall blocking what Curveball claimed was a secret entrance to a warehouse where mobile bioweapons trucks entered (see Mid- and Late 2001). Drumheller says in 2007, “[T]he key thing, I think, was the wall. He showed him pictures of the wall.” Curveball retorts, according to Drumheller, “‘You doctored these pictures.’ And [the CIA interrogator] said, ‘No, we didn’t.’” Curveball would have no way of knowing about the wall because it had been built in 1997, two years after he had left Djerf al Nadaf. Drumheller recalls, “… Curveball said, ‘I don’t think I’m gonna say anything else.’” [CBS News, 11/4/2007] Curveball never admits he’s lying. “He never said, ‘You got me,’” according to Drumheller. “He just shrugged, and didn’t say anything. It was all over. We told our guy, ‘You might as well wrap it up and come home.’” [Los Angeles Times, 11/20/2005]
Reporter: Curveball a Liar and Con Artist - In October 2007, reporter Bob Drogin, author of Curveball: Spies, Lies and the Con Man Who Caused a War, calls Curveball “a twitchy, possibly mentally disturbed drunk who was prone to rapid mood-swings and whose story tended to shift according to what he thought investigators wanted to hear.” [Alternet, 10/22/2007]

Entity Tags: Tyler Drumheller, ’Curveball’

Category Tags: Biological Weapons Trailers, Curveball Fabrications

The CIA recalls more than 100 intelligence reports that were based on information provided by Iraqi defector Curveball. A notice to CIA stations around the world states: “Discrepancies surfaced regarding the information provided by… Curveball in this stream of reporting, which indicate that he lost his claimed access in 1995. Our assessment, therefore, is that Curveball appears to be fabricating in this stream of reporting.” The CIA now believes that Curveball’s descriptions of the make-believe trailers were based on various piece of information that he obtained through Internet research and what his former co-workers refer to as “water cooler gossip.” [Los Angeles Times, 11/20/2005]

Entity Tags: Bundesnachrichtendienst, Central Intelligence Agency

Category Tags: Biological Weapons Trailers, Curveball Fabrications

In an op-ed piece defending Ahmed Chalabi, Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute writes that “throughout the 1990s, Chalabi was regularly accused of malfeasance by his enemies,” and asserts that the conviction in Jordan (see April 9, 1992) “has never been documented.” [Los Angeles Times, 6/4/2004]

Entity Tags: Ahmed Chalabi, Danielle Pletka

Timeline Tags: Neoconservative Influence

Category Tags: Chalabi and the INC

Mohammed al-Zubaidi, a former Iraqi National Congress (INC) official who worked until April 2003 to prep INC defectors with falsified stories to link the Saddam Hussein regime to the 9/11 attacks (see November 6-8, 2001), admits that the INC intentionally exaggerated information it provided to journalists. (His former boss Ahmed Chalabi has admitted the same; see February 18, 2004). “We all know the defectors had a little information on which they built big stories,” he says. INC officials will respond by calling al-Zubaidi “loony” and “childish.” [Mother Jones, 4/2006]

Entity Tags: Ahmed Chalabi, Saddam Hussein, Mohammed al-Zubaidi, Iraqi National Congress

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

President Bush reportedly asks King Abdulla of Jordan to pardon Ahmed Chalabi for his role in the 1989 collapse of Petra Bank (see August 2, 1989). In 1992, a military court found Chalabi guilty on 31 counts of embezzlement and other charges, sentencing him to 22 years of hard labor and ordering him to return $230 million in embezzled funds (see April 9, 1992). According to Seymour Hersh, the king is “stunned” by the request. “How can he pardon Chalabi after what he had done?” Hersh asks. “The money he stole was from old women and children… and he was reviled.” [Democracy Now!, 5/11/2005]

Entity Tags: Ahmed Chalabi, Abdullah II ibn al-Hussein, George W. Bush

Category Tags: Chalabi and the INC

In an op-ed piece published by the Washington Post, David Kay, formerly of the Iraq Survey Group, recommends five steps the US should follow in order to avoid making the same “mistake” it made in Iraq when it wrongly concluded that Iraq had an active illicit weapons program. Three of the points address the issue of politicized intelligence. He implies that the US should learn from the experience it had with the Iraqi National Congress (see 2001-2003), which supplied US intelligence with sources who made false statements about Iraq’s weapon program. “Dissidents and exiles have their own agenda—regime change—and that before being accepted as truth any ‘evidence’ they might supply concerning Iran’s nuclear program must be tested and confirmed by other sources,” he says. In his fourth point, Kay makes it clear that the motives of administration officials should also be considered. He says it is necessary to “understand that overheated rhetoric from policymakers and senior administration officials, unsupported by evidence that can stand international scrutiny, undermines the ability of the United States to halt Iran’s nuclear activities.” And recalling the CIA’s infamous 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq (see October 1, 2002), he says that an NIE on Iran “should not be a rushed and cooked document used to justify the threat of military action” and “should not be led by a team that is trying to prove a case for its boss.” [Washington Post, 2/9/2005]

Entity Tags: Iraqi National Congress, David Kay, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

Category Tags: Chalabi and the INC, Politicization of Intelligence

Speaking at the New America Foundation, Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, the former chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, argues that power in Washington has become so concentrated, and the inter-agency processes within the Federal government so degraded, that the government is no longer capable of responding competently to threatening events—whether such events are natural disasters or international conflicts. He describes how successive administrations over the last five decades have damaged the national security decision-making process and warns that new legislation is desperately needed to force transparency on the process and restore checks and balances within the federal bureaucracy. The process has hit a nadir with the Bush administration, he says, whose secrecy and disregard for inter-agency processes has resulted in disastrous policies, such as those toward Iraq, North Korea, and Iran, and the policies that resulted in the prisoner abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib. “Fundamental decisions about foreign policy should not be made in secret,” he says. “You don’t have this kind of pervasive attitude out there unless you’ve condoned it.” He says, “[T]he case that I saw for four-plus years was a case that I have never seen in my studies of aberrations, bastardizations, and perturbations in the national-security [policy-making] process.” This approach to government also contributed to the failures in responding to hurricanes Katrina and Rita. “Decisions that send men and women to die, decisions that have the potential to send men and women to die, decisions that confront situations like natural disasters and cause needless death or cause people to suffer misery that they shouldn’t have to suffer, domestic and international decisions, should not be made in a secret way.” His speech includes a very direct and open attack on the Bush administration. “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. And then when the bureaucracy was presented with those decisions and carried them out, it was presented in such a disjointed incredible way that the bureaucracy often didn’t know what it was doing as it moved to carry them out.” Wilkerson contrasts the current president with his father, George H.W. Bush, “one of the finest presidents we have ever had,” who, in Wilkerson’s opinion, understood how to make foreign policy work. Wilkerson likens George W. Bush’s brand of diplomacy to “cowboyism” and notes that he was unable to persuade US allies to stand behind his policies because “it’s hard to sell shit.” He explains that Bush is “not versed in international relations and not too much interested in them either. There’s a vast difference between the way George H. W. Bush dealt with major challenges, some of the greatest challenges at the end of the 20th century, and effected positive results in my view, and the way we conduct diplomacy today.” Wilkerson lays the blame for the Abu Ghraib detainee abuse directly at the feet of the younger Bush and his top officials, whom Wilkerson says gave tacit approval to soldiers to abuse detainees. As for Condoleezza Rice, then the national security adviser and now Powell’s successor at the State Department, she was and is “part of the problem.” Instead of ensuring that Bush received the best possible advice even if it was not what Bush wanted to hear, Rice “would side with the president to build her intimacy with the president.” Wilkerson also blames the fracturing and demoralization of the US military on Bush and his officials. Officers “start voting with their feet, as they did in Vietnam,” he says, “and all of a sudden your military begins to unravel.” Wilkerson is particularly scathing in his assessment of the Pentagon’s supervisor of the OSP, Douglas Feith, one of the original members of the Cabal. Asked if he agrees with General Tommy Franks’s assessment of Feith as the “f_cking stupidest guy on the planet.” Wilkerson says, “Let me testify to that. He was. Seldom in my life have I met a dumber man. And yet, after the [Pentagon is given] control, at least in the immediate post-war period in Iraq, this man is put in charge. Not only is he put in charge, he is given carte blanche to tell the State Department to go screw themselves in a closet somewhere.…That’s telling you how decisions were made and…how things got accomplished.” [American Strategy Program, 10/19/2005; Financial Times, 10/20/2005; Inter Press Service, 10/20/2005; Salon, 10/27/2005]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Lawrence Wilkerson, George W. Bush, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, George Herbert Walker Bush

Category Tags: Internal Opposition, Office of Special Plans

Mother Jones reporter Jack Fairweather and his Iraqi colleague, Aqil Hussein, use tribal records to track down the real Lieutenant General Jamal al-Ghurairy. After 9/11, the Iraqi National Congress prepared an Iraqi defector to pose as al-Ghurairy for a sensational, and false, story claiming that the Hussein regime was training Islamist terrorists (see November 6-8, 2001). The general lives in his home town of Mahmudiya, and meets with the reporters. During their interview, al-Ghurairy grows increasingly angry. He says he never worked at the Salman Pak military installation, where the supposed terrorist training took place, but had been the commandant at the Suwara military base from 1993 until 2000. He says he has never spoken to US intelligence agents or military officials, and until now was unaware that someone had borrowed his identity to disseminate fabrications. “I have never met these people!” he storms. “I have not left Iraq. The people who say this were trying to use my name to make war!” Fairweather notes that he cannot independently verify al-Ghurairy’s identity, writing, “[R]ecords in Iraq are in considerable disarray, and many people have incentive to conceal the truth about their activities before and after the war—former generals are likely high on that list.” But Fairweather was able to corroborate al-Ghurairy’s information with other senior Iraqi officials, who confirmed that the training at the Salman Pak facility was for Iraqi special forces preparing to retake hijacked planes from terrorists. (They do confirm that some foreign fighters were housed at the facility in preparation for the US’s March 2003 invasion.) [Mother Jones, 4/2006]

Entity Tags: Aqil Hussein, Jamal al-Ghurairy, Jack Fairweather, Iraqi National Congress

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

The Los Angeles Times concludes a 6-month investigation on how misinformation provided by Curveball was used to bolster the Bush administration’s claims that Iraq was producing weapons of mass destruction. In a front-page article summarizing the investigation, the Times reports: “An investigation by the Times based on interviews since May [2005] with about 30 current and former intelligence officials in the US, Germany, England, Iraq and the United Nations, as well as other experts, shows that US bungling in the Curveball case was worse than official reports have disclosed. The White House, for example, ignored evidence gathered by United Nations weapons inspectors shortly before the war that disproved Curveball’s account. Bush and his aides issued increasingly dire warnings about Iraq’s biological weapons before the war even though intelligence from Curveball had not changed in two years.” [Los Angeles Times, 11/20/2005 Sources: Massimo Brutti]

Entity Tags: SISMI

Category Tags: Biological Weapons Trailers, Curveball Fabrications

(Show related quotes)

The National Security Council rejects a request from the Defense Department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) to interview Stephen Hadley. The OIG is conducting an investigation into whether the Defense Department’s Office of Special Plans had been engaged in inappropriate intelligence activities prior to the invasion of Iraq. [Think Progress, 2/9/2007; US Congress, 2/9/2007] During the time period in question, Hadley had been deputy national security adviser, and was reportedly one of the Pentagon office’s main contacts in the National Security Council (see, e.g., Shortly After September 11, 2001 and September 2002).

Entity Tags: Office of Special Plans, Stephen J. Hadley, Office of the Inspector General (DoD), National Security Council

Category Tags: Office of Special Plans

The second part of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation into the mismanagement of intelligence before the Iraq invasion (see July 9, 2004) is being held up by the Pentagon’s internal investigation of former Defense Department official Douglas Feith, one of the department’s primary architects of the war plans (see Late December 2000 and Early January 2001, Shortly After September 11, 2001, September 20, 2001, Fall 2002, and May 9, 2005). The committee is waiting on a report from the Pentagon inspector general on Feith’s alleged role in manipulating pre-war intelligence to support a case for war. Feith is also being investigated by the FBI for his role in an Israeli spy case. One aspect of the committee’s investigation is likely to focus on the efforts by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to procure top-level security clearances for Feith after he was fired from the National Security Council in 1982 over allegations of espionage (see March 1982). Feith is one of a large number of pro-war conservatives to shuttle in and out of the Pentagon despite being involved in intelligence-related scandals (see Late 1969, October 1970, 1978, April 1979, March 1981, 1983, April 13, 1999-2004, 2001, and October 5, 2005), many of whom were provided security clearances by Rumsfeld. The committee’s report is being delayed because both Feith and the Defense Department refuse to provide documents and witnesses to the committee. The committee is investigating whether Feith and other current and former Defense Department officials broke the 1947 National Security Act by refusing to keep the committee “fully and currently informed of all intelligence activities” and refusing to “furnish the Congressional intelligence committees any information or material concerning intelligence activities, other than covert actions, which is within their custody or control, and which is requested by either of the Congressional intelligence committees in order to carry out its authorized responsibilities.” Senate sources say committee chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) is not pressuring the Pentagon to cooperate, but instead is deferring to the Pentagon’s Inspector General, in essence allowing the Pentagon to investigate itself. [Raw Story, 1/30/2006] The report will be issued in June 2008, with few of the above issues addressed (see June 5, 2008).

Entity Tags: National Security Council, US Department of Defense, Office of the Inspector General (DoD), Pat Roberts, Senate Intelligence Committee, Douglas Feith, Donald Rumsfeld

Category Tags: Politicization of Intelligence, Office of Special Plans

A map drawn by one of the defectors, showing his version of the Salman Pak facility.A map drawn by one of the defectors, showing his version of the Salman Pak facility. [Source: PBS]The story told by three Iraqi defectors in November 2001, of a terrorist training camp in Salman Pak, outside of Baghdad, has long been disproven (November 6-8, 2001) and one defector has been shown to have pretended to be former Iraqi general Jamal al-Ghurairy, the key source for the story. But only now are the news reporters and pundits beginning to acknowledge—however grudgingly—that they were duped, and that their credulous reportings helped cement the Bush administration’s fabricated case for invading Iraq. The story was one of at least 108 planted in the US and British press by the Iraqi National Congress (INC) between October 2001 and May 2002, a number audaciously provided by the INC itself in its attempts to persuade Congress to continue its funding (see June 26, 2002). The New York Times eventually admitted some faults with its prewar reporting, but only admitted that its coverage of the Salman Pak story had “never been independently verified.” PBS, similarly gulled by the defectors and their fraudulent claims (see October 2005), amended its Frontline Web site for its “Gunning for Saddam” story, which featured interviews with the defectors, to note that the defector’s claims have “not been substantiated,” and later will admit to the likelihood that its reporter, Christopher Buchanan, was duped. New York Times reporter Chris Hedges now says he took the word of producer Lowell Bergman as to the validity of the defector, and was further convinced by one of the defector’s military appearance. As for Bergman, Hedges says, “There has to be a level of trust between reporters. We cover each other’s sources when it’s a good story because otherwise everyone would get hold of it.” Hedges admits he was not aware at the time of how close Bergman, and other Times reporters such as Judith Miller, was to INC head Ahmed Chalabi. “I was on the periphery of all this. This was Bergman’s show.” [Mother Jones, 4/2006] In 2004, Hedges noted that he attempted to get confirmation from the US government about the defectors and their story, and government officials confirmed the claims: “We tried to vet the defectors and we didn’t get anything out of Washington that said ‘these guys are full of sh*t.’” [Columbia Journalism Review, 7/1/2004] Hedges says he later rejected an attempt by Chalabi to convince him that UN inspectors were spying for Saddam Hussein. He also says that he never believed the stories placing 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta in Prague (see April 8, 2001). He no longer trusts Chalabi as a source of information: “He’s a sleazy guy who I was not comfortable working around, but there was nothing right after 9/11 to indicate he was an outright liar.” [Mother Jones, 4/2006] Hedges notes that Chalabi seemed to have an “endless stable” of defectors to talk with reporters. “He had defectors for any story you wanted. He tried to introduce me to this guy who said he knew about Iraqi spies on the UN inspection teams: the guy was a thug. I didn’t trust either of them.” [Columbia Journalism Review, 7/1/2004] However, none of this uncertainty made it into Hedges’s Times report. Bergman says, “You’ve got to remember that back then there really was only one show in town, and that was Chalabi’s. If you were doing a story on Saddam’s Iraq, you would speak to the Iraqi government, the White House, and the INC.” Bergman tried to confirm the al-Ghurairy story with former CIA director and prominent neoconservative James Woolsey, and Woolsey told him that “al-Ghurairy” had met with the FBI in Ankara. (At the time, Woolsey was hardly a neutral source since it was already reported that he was aggressively trying to drum up connections between Iraq and al-Qaeda (see Late September 2001 and Mid-September-October 2001).) “Chalabi was dangerous goods in the sense you know he’s advocating war” Bergman recalls. “But that label is up-front. I think Chalabi is given too much credit for influencing the march to war.” Many conservative pundits still cite the al-Ghurairy tale as justification for the Iraq invasion. And the White House still lists “shutting down the Salman Pak training camp where members of many terrorist camps trained” in its “Progress Report on the Global War on Terrorism” Web page. In 2004, Chalabi boasted, “As far as we’re concerned, we’ve been entirely successful. That tyrant Saddam is gone, and the Americans are in Baghdad. What was said before is not important. The Bush administration is looking for a scapegoat. We’re ready to fall on our swords if he wants. We are heroes in error.” [Columbia Journalism Review, 7/1/2004; Mother Jones, 4/2006]

Entity Tags: Jamal al-Ghurairy, Chris Hedges, Bush administration (43), Ahmed Chalabi, Iraqi National Congress, Christopher Buchanan, Saddam Hussein, Mohamed Atta, New York Times, Public Broadcasting System, Lowell Bergman, Judith Miller, James Woolsey

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

Larry Wilkerson, the former chief of staff to ex-Secretary of State Colin Powell, recalls helping Powell prepare for his February 2003 presentation to the United Nations that made the administration’s case for war with Iraq (see January 29, 2003 and January 30-February 4, 2003). The presentation was later proven to be filled with half-truths, fabrications, and outright lies, many of them provided by the Office of the Vice President, Wilkerson says. Powell made the decision to toss aside the three dossiers given to him and Wilkerson by Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, and instead go with the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, recently prepared by the CIA (NIE—see October 1, 2002). Wilkerson now believes that Libby’s dossiers were set-ups, red herrings designed to steer Powell to the NIE, which was better sourced but almost as badly flawed and misleading. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 182]

Entity Tags: Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Office of the Vice President

Category Tags: Alleged WMDs, Politicization of Intelligence, Powell's Speech to UN

An investigation by the Defense Department’s Office of Inspector General finds that the Pentagon’s Office of Special Plans (OSP) (see Shortly After September 11, 2001) inappropriately produced “alternative” intelligence reports that falsely concluded that Saddam Hussein’s regime had collaborated with al-Qaeda. The report says, “We believe the actions were inappropriate because a policy office was producing intelligence products and was not clearly conveying to senior decision-makers the variance with the consensus of the intelligence community.” The report cites a July 2002 memo (see July 25, 2002) issued by the OSP that had taken issue with the intelligence community’s view that Iraq would not work with Islamic extremists. The inspector general says that as an alternative view, the memo should have been developed in accordance with the appropriate intelligence agency guidelines. But the report also says that the unit did nothing illegal. The inspector general’s investigation had been requested by Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) on September 22, 2005. [US Department of Defense, 2/9/2007 pdf file; New York Times, 2/9/2007; McClatchy Newspapers, 2/9/2007; Associated Press, 2/10/2007] Responding to the report’s conclusions, Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) says in a statement that the Pentagon intelligence unit’s activities may have violated the 1947 National Security Act. The act “requires the heads of all departments and agencies of the US government involved in intelligence activities ‘to keep the congressional oversight committees informed,’” Rockefeller says. “The IG has concluded that [Feith’s] office was engaged in intelligence activities. The Senate Intelligence Committee was never informed of these activities. Whether these actions were authorized or not, it appears that they were not in compliance with the law.” [McClatchy Newspapers, 2/9/2007]

Entity Tags: Office of the Inspector General (DoD), Douglas Feith, John D. Rockefeller, Office of Special Plans

Category Tags: Office of Special Plans

Bob Drogin.Bob Drogin. [Source: CBS News]Reporter Bob Drogin, discussing his new book Curveball: Spies, Lies and the Con Man Who Caused a War, reflects on the opposing views surrounding the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq based on misinformed and sometimes fraudulent information about Iraq’s supposed WMD programs. The Bush administration has repeatedly blamed its erroneous claims of Iraqi WMDs on “bad intelligence,” and administration critics have stated that Bush officials “manipulated” and “cherry-picked” the intelligence they wanted to justify their push for war, and ignored the rest. Drogin says that both descriptions are accurate. “I don’t see that as an either-or proposition. Both happened,” he says. “The White House clearly manipulated information to make its case for war. It exaggerated the supposed link between Saddam [Hussein] and 9/11, for example, going far beyond what the CIA believed.… [T]he White House didn’t need to ‘cherry pick’ intelligence on Saddam’s WMD because the CIA stuff was all wrong. And it flowed into the White House by the truckload. Go back and read [Colin] Powell’s 2003 UN speech, or the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, the so-called gold standard of the US intelligence community. Virtually every sentence is wrong. That was the official view. It gave them the pretext for war.… I wanted to understand how an intelligence system that spends about $50 billion a year could produce the worst intelligence disaster in our history. The cascade of mistakes in the Curveball case is a big part of the answer.” He continues, “It was like witchcraft—the failure to find proof [of WMDs] was considered proof itself. So it became ‘not only does he have them, but look at how good he is at hiding them.’ So the threat was even greater. Our fears blinded us, I think—and the politicians used that to engender a state of national concern.” Drogin puts much of the blame, not on the media for conflating the story into a “crisis,” but on Congress for not standing up and demanding real answers and real proof. “I mean, I was in Washington and there was no debate. Democrats were running absolutely scared, running with their tails between their legs and the Republicans all lined up behind Bush. And the press can only do so much—in the end, I’m a reporter and I can’t prove a negative. I’m not going to go out and say he doesn’t have weapons, I don’t see the intelligence, I don’t know… [I]f members of Congress had fought that battle then it would have been covered and the debate would have been there. There’s only so much you can do as a reporter to create a debate.” [Alternet, 10/22/2007]

Entity Tags: ’Curveball’, Bob Drogin, Bush administration (43), George W. Bush, Colin Powell, Saddam Hussein, Los Angeles Times

Category Tags: Politicization of Intelligence, Biological Weapons Trailers, Curveball Fabrications

November 4, 2007: INC Denies Curveball Link

Curveball, a.k.a. Rafid Ahmed Alwan.Curveball, a.k.a. Rafid Ahmed Alwan. [Source: CNN]Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress releases a statement in response to CBS’s 60 Minutes segment revealing the name of discredited Iraqi defector “Curveball” (see November 4, 2007). (Note: the CBS report did not mention Curveball’s alleged INC affiliations.) The INC says that the segment proves once and for all that there is no link between the INC and Curveball: “The INC can state categorically that there has never been any person at any level of the INC who is related to anyone named Rafid Ahmed Alwan.” The statement continues, “The CIA engaged in a smear campaign to link Curveball to the INC in order to deflect blame from its own failures in Iraq.” It calls on the US media to correct the “false information that has misled their readers.” [Iraqi National Congress, 11/4/2007] The INC’s blanket denial may not be entirely accurate (see 2001, February 5, 2003, and October 22, 2007).

Entity Tags: Iraqi National Congress, ’Curveball’, Ahmed Chalabi, Central Intelligence Agency

Category Tags: Politicization of Intelligence, Propaganda, Curveball Fabrications

Rafid Ahmed Alwan.Rafid Ahmed Alwan. [Source: CBS News]CBS News reveals the identity of the infamous Iraqi defector, “Curveball,” whose information was used by the Bush administration to build its case for Iraqi biological weapons. Curveball’s real identity is Rafid Ahmed Alwan, an Iraqi who defected to Germany in November 1999, where he requested asylum at a refugee center near Nuremberg (see November 1999). The evidence Curveball provided was detailed, compelling, and completely false, but instrumental in driving the US towards invading Iraq. Former senior CIA official Tyler Drumheller, who was unable to convince either his superiors in the agency or senior officials in the White House that Curveball was untrustworthy (see September 2002), says of Curveball’s contribution to the rhetoric of war, “If they [the Bush administration] had not had Curveball they would have probably found something else. ‘Cause there was a great determination to do it. But going to war in Iraq, under the circumstances we did, Curveball was the absolutely essential case.” CBS reporter Bob Simon says Curveball is “not only a liar, but also a thief and a poor student instead of the chemical engineering whiz he claimed to be.” The CIA eventually acknowledged Alwan as a fraud. The question remains, why did he spin such an elaborate tale? Drumheller thinks it was for the most prosaic of reasons. “It was a guy trying to get his Green Card, essentially, in Germany, playing the system for what it was worth. It just shows sort of the law of unintended consequences.” Alwan is believed to be still living in Germany, most likely under an assumed name. [CBS News, 11/4/2007]

Entity Tags: Bundesnachrichtendienst, Bob Simon, Tyler Drumheller, CBS News, ’Curveball’, Bush administration (43)

Category Tags: Alleged WMDs, Legal Justification, Politicization of Intelligence, Propaganda, Biological Weapons Trailers, Curveball Fabrications

Nick Davies, author of a new book, Flat Earth News, claims that since the 9/11 attacks, the US has engaged in a systematic attempt to manipulate world opinion on Iraq and Islamist terrorism by creating fake letters and other documents, and then releasing them with great fanfare to a credulous and complicit media.
Al-Zarqawi Letter - Davies cites as one example a 2004 letter purporting to be from al-Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi that became the basis of an alarming news report in the New York Times and was used by US generals to claim that al-Qaeda was preparing to launch a civil war in Iraq (see February 9, 2004). The letter is now acknowledged to have almost certainly been a fake, one of many doled out to the world’s news agencies by the US and its allies. Davies writes: “For the first time in human history, there is a concerted strategy to manipulate global perception. And the mass media are operating as its compliant assistants, failing both to resist it and to expose it.” Davies says the propaganda is being generated by US and allied intelligence agencies working without effective oversight. It functions within a structure of so-called “strategic communications,” originally designed by the US Defense Department and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to use what Davies calls “subtle and non-violent tactics to deal with Islamist terrorism,” but now being used for propaganda purposes. Davies notes that al-Zarqawi was never interested in working with the larger al-Qaeda network, but instead wanted to overthrow the Jordanian monarchy and replace it with an Islamist theocracy. After the 9/11 attacks, when US intelligence was scouring the region for information on al-Qaeda, Jordan supplied the US with al-Zarqawi’s name, both to please the Americans and to counter their enemy. Shortly thereafter, the US intelligence community began placing al-Zarqawi’s name in press releases and news reports. He became front-page material after being cited in Colin Powell’s UN presentation about Iraqi WMDs and that nation’s connections with al-Qaeda (see February 5, 2003). The propaganda effort had an unforeseen side effect, Davies says: it glamorized al-Zarqawi so much that Osama bin Laden eventually set aside his differences with him and made him the de facto leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Davies cites other examples of false propaganda besides the Zarqawi letter:
bullet Tales of bin Laden living in a lavish network of underground bases in Afghanistan, “complete with offices, dormitories, arms depots, electricity and ventilation systems”;
bullet Taliban leader Mullah Omar “suffering brain seizures and sitting in stationary cars turning the wheel and making a noise like an engine”;
bullet Iran’s ayatollahs “encouraging sex with animals and girls of only nine.”
Davies acknowledges that some of the stories were not concocted by US intelligence. An Iranian opposition group produced the story that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was jailing people for texting each other jokes about him. Iraqi exiles filled the American media “with a dirty stream of disinformation about Saddam Hussein.” But much of it did come from the US. Davies cites the Pentagon’s designation of “information operations” as its fifth “core competency,” along with land, air, sea, and special forces. Much of the Pentagon’s “information operations,” Davies says, is a “psyops” (psychological operations) campaign generating propaganda: it has officials in “brigade, division and corps in the US military… producing output for local media.” The psyops campaign is linked to the State Department’s campaign of “public diplomacy,” which Davies says includes funding radio stations and news Web sites. Britain’s Directorate of Targeting and Information Operations in the Ministry of Defense “works with specialists from 15 UK psyops, based at the Defense Intelligence and Security School at Chicksands in Bedfordshire.”
Some Fellow Journalists Skeptical - The Press Association’s Jonathan Grun criticizes Davies’s book for relying on anonymous sources, “something we strive to avoid.” Chris Blackhurst of the Evening Standard agrees. The editor of the New Statesman, John Kampfner, says that he agrees with Davies to a large extent, but he “uses too broad a brush.” [Independent, 2/11/2008] Kamal Ahmad, editor of the Observer, is quite harsh in his criticism of Davies, accusing the author of engaging in “scurrilous journalism,” making “wild claims” and having “a prejudiced agenda.” (Davies singles out Ahmad for criticism in his book, accusing Ahmad of being a “conduit for government announcements” from Downing Street, particularly the so-called “dodgy dossier” (see February 3, 2003).) [Independent, 2/11/2008] But journalist Francis Wheen says, “Davies is spot on.” [Independent, 2/11/2008]

Entity Tags: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Francis Wheen, Directorate of Targeting and Information Operations (British Ministry of Defense), Colin Powell, Chris Blackhurst, Al-Qaeda in Iraq, John Kampfner, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Al-Qaeda, Kamal Ahmad, US Department of Defense, Osama bin Laden, US Department of State, Saddam Hussein, North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Mullah Omar, Nick Davies, Jonathan Grun

Timeline Tags: US Military, Domestic Propaganda

Category Tags: Media Coverage, Politicization of Intelligence, Propaganda, Al Zarqawi Allegation, Powell's Speech to UN

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