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White House press secretary Ari Fleischer tells reporters that they should only print expurgated transcripts of the statements made by Osama bin Laden and other terror leaders, for fear that they might incite anti-American violence or worse, contain coded messages to other terrorists. “At best,” the messages are nothing more than “propaganda inciting people to kill Americans,” Fleischer says of bin Laden’s statements. “At worst, he could be issuing orders to his followers to initiate such attacks.” [BBC, 10/11/2001] The statements, and their presumed coded messages, might wind up “in the hands of people who can read it and see something in it,” Fleischer says. [Rich, 2006, pp. 31] Fleischer’s demand dovetails with a request from National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice that the five major television networks not broadcast complete versions of videotaped statements from bin Laden and others (see October 11, 2001). Most American newspapers follow the lead of the New York Times in refusing to comply with Fleischer’s demand. The Times will write in response: “The White House effort is ill advised. … Even if full statements [from bin Laden] were withheld from networks and newspapers, any bin Laden associate… could easily pick them up from foreign broadcast outlets or webcasts. More important, the American people should have unfettered access to information about the terrorist leader and his views.” [Current Events, 11/9/2001]
Five major US television networks agree to self-censor their news broadcasts of statements by Osama bin Laden and his associates. The agreement, made by ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, and Fox News, comes after a conference call between National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and the heads of the networks; Rice’s call comes after White House press secretary Ari Fleischer warns reporters that statements from suspected terrorists could contain anything from incitement to coded messages, and asks them not to print full transcripts of bin Laden’s messages (see October 10, 2001). [BBC, 10/11/2001; Rich, 2006, pp. 31] Rice asks that, instead of automatically airing bin Laden videotapes, news executives should carefully review the tapes and remove any “inflammatory language” before broadcasting. [Current Events, 11/9/2001] The networks say they will now review them first, and edit or censor them as needed. While the American news networks are willing to comply with Rice’s recommendation, the Arab news network Al Jazeera disagrees: chief editor Ibrahim Halil says, “I don’t think the United States, which taught the world about freedom of expression, should now begin to limit it.” Al Jazeera has been the first to broadcast many of the statements in question, broadcasts which were often picked up by American news networks and shown in their entirety. [BBC, 10/11/2001]
'A Silky Form of Censorship' - According to the New York Times, the five networks have never before consulted one another as a group and made such a collective policy decision about news coverage. The executives deny that they were threatened or pressured by Rice or any other White House officials: “Ms. Rice made no specific request of news organizations, other than that we consider the possible existence of such messages in deciding whether and how to air portions of al-Qaeda statements,” says an ABC spokesman. They also deny that the decision amounts to censorship. CBS says it is committed to “responsible journalism that informs the public without jeopardizing American lives.” CBS president Andrew Heyward says: “The issue… was raised by the transmission of unedited, extended propaganda messages from a terrorist group… with the will to kill thousands of people. No network wants to serve as the platform for that propaganda.” And Fox News chairman Roger Ailes notes that “[Rice] was very, very careful to talk about freedom of the press and not to suggest how we do our job.” Matthew Felling of the Center for Media and Public Affairs, a media watchdog group, has a different view. He calls the decision “a silky form of censorship.” Network executives say that the likelihood of bin Laden using his statements to send coded messages to “sleeper” agents in the US is unlikely, and if he is, the agents could get the statements from printed transcripts or Internet video. “What sense would it make to keep the tapes off the air if the message could be found transcripted in newspapers or on the Web?” one executive asks. “The videos could also appear on the Internet. They’d get the message anyway.” [BBC, 10/11/2001; Current Events, 11/9/2001]
Notion that Censorship Could Disrupt Al-Qaeda Communications Fantastical, Says Media Critic - Author and media critic Frank Rich is fascinated by the assumptions behind Rice’s assertions: in 2006, he will write that the Bush administration “entertain[s] at least a passing fantasy that al-Qaeda, despite its access both to the Internet and to the Arabic superstation Al Jazeera… could be disrupted by having its videos kept off the likes of Fox.” The administration’s “ambitions to manage the news [knows] no bounds.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 31]
British Broadcasters Refuse Similar Request - A similar request by the British government is flatly refused; the BBC issues a short statement reading, “Government interference will be resisted.” The Canadian government does not issue such a request, leaving the decision of whether to air unedited broadcasts of the terrorists’ statements up to news executives and editors. [Toronto Star, 9/8/2002]
Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Al Jazeera, Center for Media and Public Affairs, CNN, Andrew Heyward, Ari Fleischer, Al-Qaeda, CBS News, ABC News, New York Times, Roger Ailes, Fox News, Condoleezza Rice, Ibrahim Halil, Frank Rich, Matthew Felling, NBC News, British Broadcasting Corporation
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
Dr. Eileen Preisser testifies before a congressional briefing. Dr. Preisser was one of four analysts in the US Army’s Land Information Warfare Activity (LIWA) supporting Able Danger in late 1999 and 2000 (see Fall 1999). While her testimony remains classified, the next day, Representative Christopher Shays (R-CT) gives a brief summary: “In a briefing we had yesterday, we had Eileen [Preisser], who argues that we don’t have the data we need because we don’t take all the public data that is available and mix it with the security data. And just taking public data, using, you know, computer systems that are high-speed and able to digest, you know, literally floors’ worth of material, she can take relationships that are seven times removed, seven units removed, and when she does that, she ends up with relationships to the bin Laden group where she sees the purchase of chemicals, the sending of students to universities. You wouldn’t see it if you isolated it there, but if that unit is connected to that unit, which is connected to that unit, which is connected to that unit, you then see the relationship. So we don’t know ultimately the authenticity of how she does it, but when she does it, she comes up with the kind of answer that you have just asked, which is a little unsettling.” [US Congress. House. Committee on Government Reform. Subcommittee on National Security, Veterans Affairs and International Relations, 10/12/2001] Note that according to some media accounts, the CIA monitored Mohamed Atta purchasing large quantities of chemicals in Germany in the spring of 2000 (see January-May 2000). Atta also sends a series of e-mails to the US in the spring of 2000, inquiring about flight school opportunities for himself and a “small group” of his associates (see January-March 2000). Dr. Preisser is apparently willing to testify about her role in how Able Danger uncovered Atta’s name, but in September 2005 she is prohibited from publicly testifying before Congress (see September 21, 2005).
On October 11, 2001, President Bush uses his first prime-time news conference to give an update on the early stages of the war on terrorism. He confirms that the Justice Department just issued a blanket alert “in recognition of a general threat.” [CNN News, 10/11/2001] This general threat never materializes. On October 29, the administration warns again of plans to strike the United States “in the next week.” In a quickly called news conference, US Attorney General John Ashcroft says intelligence sources have found “credible” information the nation could be the focus for some sort of terrorist attack within the week. No specific information is provided to the public now or later to explain what information may have caused this alert. [CNN News, 10/29/2001] Bush tells Americans “to go about their lives, to fly on airplanes, to travel, to work.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 36]
In an interview for Parade magazine Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld apparently says the Pentagon was hit by a missile. In the printed interview and a Defense Department website re-posting he is quoted as saying: “Here we’re talking about plastic knives and using an American Airlines flight filled with our citizens, and the missile to damage this building and similar (inaudible) that damaged the World Trade Center.” [Parade Magazine, 10/12/2001] This will be taken by some who think the Pentagon was not hit by American Airlines Flight 77 (see Early March 2002) as an accidental admission of a missile strike. However, in 2004 Parade will say that a “transcription error led to the confusion, but conspiracy theorists latched onto Rumsfeld’s supposed admission and spread it over the Internet.” Although the transcription error is not specified, if the word “and” is replaced by the word “as” the statement becomes “[…] using an American Airlines flight filled with our citizens as the missile to damage this building.” [Parade Magazine, 9/4/2004]
Vice President Dick Cheney suggests al-Qaeda could be behind the recent anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001). Cheney tells PBS: “We know that [Osama bin Laden] has over the years tried to acquire weapons of mass destruction, both biological and chemical weapons. We know that he’s trained people in his camps in Afghanistan. For example, we have copies of the manuals that they’ve actually used to train people with respect to how to deploy and use these kinds of substances. So, you start to piece it altogether. Again, we have not completed the investigation and maybe it’s coincidence, but I must say I’m a skeptic.” He adds, “I think the only responsible thing for us to do is proceed on the basis that it could be linked.” [BBC, 10/13/2001] A senior FBI official will claim in 2008 that this comment came shortly after the FBI told the White House that the anthrax strain was most likely too technically advanced to have been made by al-Qaeda (see Shortly After October 5, 2001).
Attorney General John Ashcroft encourages federal agencies to deny requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). In a memo to all government departments and agencies, he states, “When you carefully consider FOIA requests and decide to withhold records, in whole or in part, you can be assured that the Department of Justice will defend your decisions.” This is a dramatic shift from the Clinton administration, which instructed federal officials to grant all information requests, using a “presumption of disclosure,” unless there was “foreseeable harm” in doing so. [Washington Post, 12/2/2002; Savage, 2007, pp. 96] The New York Times notes that while the new policy was announced after 9/11, “it had been planned well before the attacks.” [New York Times, 1/3/2003] In 2007, author Charlie Savage will write that Ashcroft turns the Clinton policy of foreseeable harm “on its head.” He will write: “Reviving a Reagan-era policy aimed at undermining the Freedom of Information Act, Ashcroft instructed the government to reject FOIA requests if it was at all possible to do so, under any legal reason for withholding documents—even if the information sought was harmless. And he promised to back up any decision to reject a FOIA request in court. The Ashcroft policy quickly discouraged the release of information to the public because few people were willing to go to the trouble and expense of an inevitable lawsuit.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 96]
The Observer reports that investigators of the anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001) believe Iraq is the prime suspect. One CIA source says, “They aren’t making this stuff in caves in Afghanistan. ‘This is prima facie evidence of the involvement of a state intelligence agency. Maybe Iran has the capability. But it doesn’t look likely politically. That leaves Iraq.” [Observer, 10/14/2001] However, this theory only remains the predominant one for a few days. On October 19, the New York Times is dismissive of the Iraq theory and suggests al-Qaeda or a disgruntled American loner could be behind the attacks instead (see October 19, 2001). In November, the American loner theory will become predominant (see November 10, 2001). But in late 2002, with war against Iraq growing increasingly likely, the Iraq theory appears to make a comeback (see October 28, 2002).
At a press conference in Italy, President Bush says “there may be some possible link” between the recent anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001) and al-Qaeda. He adds: “We have no hard data yet, but it’s clear that [Osama] bin Laden is a man who’s an evil man. He and his spokesmen are openly bragging about how they hope to inflict more pain on our country. So we’re watching every piece of evidence.” [CNN, 10/15/2001] A senior FBI official will claim in 2008 that this comment came shortly after the FBI told the White House that the anthrax strain was most likely too technically advanced to have been made by al-Qaeda (see Shortly After October 5, 2001).
Days after National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice persuaded the five major American news broadcasters to self-censor their coverage of statements issued by Osama bin Laden and other terror suspects (see October 11, 2001), Rice is publicly asked if the government believes, as she then asserted, that bin Laden and others might be using those statements as ways to convey coded messages to “sleeper” agents inside the US. Rice acknowledges that the government is busily analyzing those statements for any such coded messages. Of her request that the networks censor their coverage of bin Laden, Rice says: “The point to the networks—and let me just say that I think the networks have been very responsible in the way that they have dealt with this—my message to them was that it’s not to me to judge news value of something like this, but it is to say that there’s a national security concern about an unedited, 15 or 20-minute spew of anti-American hatred that ends in a call to go out and kill Americans. And I think that that was fully understood.” She cannot verify that any coded messages have yet been discovered, saying, “We are still concerned about whether there might be some signaling in here, but I don’t have anything more for you on that yet.” [White House, 10/15/2001]
Referring to the claim that 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta met with Iraqi Counsel al-Ani on April 8, 2001 (see April 8, 2001), Stanislav Gross, the Czech interior minister, states, “I can only confirm one visit in the summer” and Petr Necas, chairman of the parliamentary defense committee, says, “I haven’t seen any direct evidence that Mr. Atta met any Iraqi agent.” Citing a senior Czech Republic official, the New York Times will report on October 20 that “firm documentary evidence existed only that Mr. Atta had passed through the Prague airport from Germany to take a flight to Newark.” [New York Times, 10/20/2001] The rumors, which had first surfaced shortly after the attacks, were based on information from a Czech intelligence source inside Prague’s Middle Eastern community. The source had told the BIS, the Czech Republic’s intelligence service, that he had seen Atta meeting al-Ani in a restaurant outside of Prague on April 8 earlier that year (see April 8, 2001). [CNN, 9/19/2001; Newsweek, 4/28/2002]
House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) takes to the floor of the House to praise conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh. In his “Tribute to Rush Limbaugh,” DeLay says of Limbaugh’s role in the Republican’s capture of the House in 1994, “[He] did not take his direction from us, he was the standard by which we ran. [He] was setting the standard for conservative thought.” [Jamieson and Cappella, 2008, pp. 46]
Nicolo Pollari, the newly appointed head of Italy’s intelligence agency SISMI, visits his counterparts at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has pressured Pollari to give the US any information he has that would be useful for the US case for war with Iraq. As such, Pollari gives the CIA a dossier concerning the supposed uranium deal between Iraq and Niger, not the first time the CIA has received these documents (see October 15, 2001 and October 18, 2001). The actual forged documents are not in Pollari’s dossier. Although CIA analysts will call the report “very limited and lacking necessary detail,” the fact that Pollari himself delivers the dossier adds credibility to the information; as a result, the State Department will direct the US embassy in Niger to look into the allegations. [Unger, 2007, pp. 229]
Vice President Cheney chairs a National Security Council meeting because President Bush is overseas. According to journalist Bob Woodward, who later interviews many participants in the meeting, the topic of the recent anthrax attacks is discussed (see October 5-November 21, 2001). CIA Director George Tenet suggests that al-Qaeda is behind the attacks. He also adds, “I think there’s a state sponsor involved. It’s too well thought out, the powder’s too well refined. It might be Iraq, it might be Russia, it might be a renegade scientist,” perhaps from Iraq or Russia. Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff I. Lewis Libby also suggests the anthrax attacks were state sponsored. “We’ve got to be careful on what we say. If we say it’s al-Qaeda, a state sponsor may feel safe and then hit us thinking they will have a bye because we’ll blame it on al-Qaeda.” Tenet replies, “I’m not going to talk about a state sponsor.” Vice President Cheney comments, “It’s good that we don’t, because we’re not ready to do anything about it.” [Woodward, 2002, pp. 244] No strong evidence will emerge tying the attacks to al-Qaeda or any state sponsor. The anthrax attacks still remain completely unsolved.
Gen. Richard Myers, acting Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman on 9/11, says of 9/11, “You hate to admit it, but we hadn’t thought about this.” He was promoted from Vice-Chairman to Chairman three days after 9/11. [American Forces Press Service, 10/23/2001]
The Justice Department’s John Yoo and Robert Delahunty issue a memo to White House counsel Alberto Gonzales claiming President Bush has sweeping powers in wartime that essentially void large portions of the Constitution. The memo, which says that Bush can order military operations inside the US (see October 23, 2001), also says that Bush can suspend First Amendment freedoms: “First Amendment speech and press rights may also be subordinated to the overriding need to wage war successfully.” It adds that “the current campaign against terrorism may require even broader exercises of federal power domestically.” [American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 ; New York Times, 3/2/2009]
John Yoo, a deputy assistant attorney general in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, and OLC special counsel Robert Delahunty issue a joint memo to White House counsel Alberto Gonzales. The memo claims that President Bush has sweeping extraconstitutional powers to order military strikes inside the US if he says the strikes are against suspected terrorist targets. In the days following the 9/11 attacks, Gonzales asked if Bush could legally order the military to combat potential terrorist activity within the US. The memo is first revealed to exist seven years later (see April 2, 2008) after future OLC head Steven Bradbury acknowledges its existence to the American Civil Liberties Union; it will be released two months after the Bush administration leaves the White House (see March 2, 2009). [US Department of Justice, 10/23/2001 ; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 ; New York Times, 3/2/2009]
Granting Extraordinary, Extraconstitutional Authority to Order Military Actions inside US - Yoo and Delahunty’s memo goes far past the stationing of troops to keep watch at airports and around sensitive locations. Instead, the memo says that Bush can order the military to conduct “raids on terrorist cells” inside the US, and even to seize property. “The law has recognized that force (including deadly force) may be legitimately used in self-defense,” they write. In 2009, Reuters will write, “The US military could have kicked in doors to raid a suspected terrorist cell in the United States without a warrant” under the findings of the OLC memo. “We do not think that a military commander carrying out a raid on a terrorist cell would be required to demonstrate probable cause or to obtain a warrant,” Yoo and Delahunty write. [US Department of Justice, 10/23/2001 ; New York Times, 3/2/2009; Reuters, 3/2/2009] The memo reasons that since 9/11, US soil can be legally construed as being a battlefield, and Congress has no power to restrict the president’s authority to confront enemy tactics on a battlefield. [Savage, 2007, pp. 131]
No Constitutional or Other Legal Protections - “[H]owever well suited the warrant and probable cause requirements may be as applied to criminal investigations or to other law enforcement activities, they are unsuited to the demands of wartime and the military necessity to successfully prosecute a war against an enemy. [Rather,] the Fourth Amendment does not apply to domestic military operations designed to deter and prevent foreign terrorist attacks.” Any objections based on the Fourth Amendment’s ban on unreasonable search and seizures would be invalid since whatever possible infringement on privacy would be trumped by the need to protect the nation from injury by deadly force. The president is “free from the constraints of the Fourth Amendment.” The Posse Comitatus Act, which bars the military from operating inside the US for law enforcement purposes, is also moot, the memo says, because the troops would be acting in a national security function, not as law enforcement. [US Department of Justice, 10/23/2001 ; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 ; New York Times, 3/2/2009; Reuters, 3/2/2009; Ars Technica, 3/2/2009] There are virtually no restrictions on the president’s ability to use the military because, Yoo and Delahunty write, the nation is in a “state of armed conflict.” The scale of violence, they argue, is unprecedented and “legal and constitutional rules” governing law enforcement, even Constitutional restrictions, no longer apply. The US military can be used for “targeting and destroying” hijacked airplanes, they write, or “attacking civilian targets, such as apartment buildings, offices, or ships where suspected terrorists were thought to be.” The memo says, “Military action might encompass making arrests, seizing documents or other property, searching persons or places or keeping them under surveillance, intercepting electronic or wireless communications, setting up roadblocks, interviewing witnesses, or searching for suspects.” [Newsweek, 3/2/2009] Yoo writes that the Justice Department’s criminal division “concurs in our conclusion” that federal criminal laws do not apply to the military during wartime. The criminal division is headed by Michael Chertoff, who will become head of the Department of Homeland Security. [Washington Post, 4/4/2008]
Sweeping Away Constitutional Rights - Civil litigator Glenn Greenwald will later note that the memo gives legal authorization for President Bush to deploy the US military within US borders, to turn it against foreign nationals and US citizens alike, and to render the Constitution’s limits on power irrelevant and non-functional. Greenwald will write, “It was nothing less than an explicit decree that, when it comes to presidential power, the Bill of Rights was suspended, even on US soil and as applied to US citizens.”
Justifying Military Surveillance - Greenwald will note that the memo also justifies the administration’s program of military surveillance against US citizens: “[I]t wasn’t only a decree that existed in theory; this secret proclamation that the Fourth Amendment was inapplicable to what the document calls ‘domestic military operations’ was, among other things, the basis on which Bush ordered the NSA, an arm of the US military, to turn inwards and begin spying—in secret and with no oversight—on the electronic communications (telephone calls and emails) of US citizens on US soil” (see December 15, 2005 and Spring 2004). “If this isn’t the unadorned face of warped authoritarian extremism,” Greenwald will ask, “what is?” [Salon, 3/3/2009] If the president decides to use the military’s spy agency to collect “battlefield intelligence” on US soil, no law enacted by Congress can regulate how he goes about collecting that information, including requiring him to get judicial warrants under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). In 2007, Yoo will say in an interview: “I think there’s a law greater than FISA, which is the Constitution, and part of the Constitution is the president’s commander in chief power. Congress can’t take away the president’s powers in running war.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 131; PBS Frontline, 5/15/2007] Cheney and Addington will push the NSA to monitor all calls and e-mails, including those beginning and ending on US soil, but the NSA will balk. Domestic eavesdropping without warrants “could be done and should be done,” Cheney and Addington argue, but the NSA’s lawyers are fearful of the legal repercussions that might follow once their illegal eavesdropping is exposed, with or without the Justice Department’s authorization. The NSA and the White House eventually reach a compromise where the agency will monitor communications going in and out of the US, but will continue to seek warrants for purely domestic communications (see Spring 2001, After September 11, 2001, and October 2001). [Savage, 2007, pp. 131]
Military Use Considered - In 2009, a former Bush administration lawyer will tell a reporter that the memo “gave rise to the Justice Department discussing with the Defense Department whether the military could be used to arrest people and detain people inside the United States. That was considered but rejected on at least one occasion.” The lawyer will not give any indication of when this will happen, or to whom. Under the proposal, the suspects would be held by the military as “enemy combatants.” The proposal will be opposed by the Justice Department’s criminal division and other government lawyers and will ultimately be rejected; instead, the suspects will be arrested under criminal statutes. [Los Angeles Times, 3/3/2009]
Entity Tags: Steven Bradbury, US Department of Homeland Security, US Department of Defense, Robert J. Delahunty, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Bush administration (43), Michael Chertoff, Alberto R. Gonzales, National Security Agency, American Civil Liberties Union, Glenn Greenwald, George W. Bush, US Department of Justice, John C. Yoo
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
The House of Representatives passes the final version of the Patriot Act and other previously unpopular Bush administration projects: Alaska oil drilling, $25 billion in tax cuts for corporations, taps into Social Security funds, and cuts in education. [CNN, 10/25/2001] Republican Congressman Ron Paul states: “It’s my understanding the bill wasn’t printed before the vote—at least I couldn’t get it. They played all kinds of games, kept the House in session all night, and it was a very complicated bill. Maybe a handful of staffers actually read it, but the bill definitely was not available to members before the vote.” It is later found that only two copies of the bill were made available in the hours before its passage, and most House members admit they voted for the act without actually reading it first. [Insight, 11/9/2001] Two days later, the Senate will pass the final version of the Patriot Act. Anthrax targets Senators Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy (see October 15, 2001) now support the bill. President Bush signs it into law the same day (see October 26, 2001). [Fox News, 10/26/2001]
President Bush signs the Patriot Act into law. [Source: White House]President Bush signs the USA Patriot Act (see October 2, 2001) into law. The act’s provisions include:
1) Non-citizens can be detained and deported if they provide “assistance” for lawful activities of any group the government chooses to call a terrorist organization. Under this provision the secretary of state can designate any group that has ever engaged in violent activity as a terrorist organization. Representative Patsy Mink (D-HI) notes that in theory supporters of Greenpeace could now be convicted for supporting terrorism. [San Francisco Chronicle, 11/12/2001]
2) Immigrants can be detained indefinitely, even if they are found not to have any links to terrorism. They can be detained indefinitely for immigration violations or if the attorney general decides their activities pose a danger to national security. They need never be given a trial or even a hearing on their status. [San Francisco Chronicle, 9/8/2002]
3) Internet service providers can be ordered to reveal the websites and e-mail addresses that a suspect has communicated to or visited. The FBI need only inform a judge that the information is relevant to an investigation. [Village Voice, 11/26/2001; San Francisco Chronicle, 9/8/2002]
4) The act “lays the foundation for a domestic intelligence-gathering system of unprecedented scale and technological prowess.” [Washington Post, 11/4/2001] It allows the government to access confidential credit reports, school records, and other records, without consent or notification. [San Francisco Chronicle, 9/8/2002] All of this information can now be given to the CIA, in violation of the CIA’s mandate prohibiting it from spying within the US. [Village Voice, 11/26/2001]
5) Financial institutions are encouraged to disclose possible violations of law or “suspicious activities” by any client. The institution is prohibited from notifying the person involved that it made such a report. The term “suspicious” is not defined, so it is up to the financial institutions to determine when to send such a report.
6) Federal agents can easily obtain warrants to review a library patron’s reading and computer habits (see January 2002). [Village Voice, 2/22/2002] Section 215 allows the FBI to ask the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) for an order to obtain documents relating to counterterrorism investigations without meeting the usual standard of legal “probable cause” that a crime may have been committed. Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI—see October 9, 2001) says that Section 215 can allow the FBI to “go on a fishing expedition and collect information on virtually anyone.” Librarians will make Section 215 the centerpiece of their objections to the Patriot Act, arguing that the government can now “sweep up vast amounts of information about people who are not suspected of a crime.” In 2005, one librarian will say, “It reminds me of the Red Scare of the 1950s.” However, some FBI officials find it easier to use provisions of Section 505, which expands the usage of so-called “national security letters” (see November 28, 2001). [Roberts, 2008, pp. 39-40]
7) The government can refuse to reveal how evidence is collected against a suspected terrorist defendant. [Tampa Tribune, 4/6/2003]
Passes with No Public Debate - The law passes without public debate. [Village Voice, 11/9/2001; Village Voice, 11/26/2001] Even though it ultimately took six weeks to pass the law, there were no hearings or congressional debates. [Salon, 3/24/2003] Congressman Barney Frank (D-MA) says: “This was the least democratic process for debating questions fundamental to democracy I have ever seen. A bill drafted by a handful of people in secret, subject to no committee process, comes before us immune from amendment” (see October 2-4, 2001 and October 24, 2001). [Village Voice, 11/9/2001] Only 66 congresspeople, and one senator, Feingold, vote against it. Few in Congress are able to read summaries, let alone the fine print, before voting on it. [Los Angeles Times, 10/30/2001] Feingold says, “The new law goes into a lot of areas that have nothing to do with terrorism and have a lot to do with the government and the FBI having a wish list of things they want to do.” [Village Voice, 11/9/2001] Supporters of the act point out that some of its provisions will expire in four years, but in fact most provisions will not expire. [Chicago Tribune, 11/1/2001]
Mounting Opposition - One year later, criticism of the law will grow. [San Francisco Chronicle, 9/8/2002] Dozens of cities will later pass resolutions criticizing the Patriot Act (see January 12, 2003).
On October 26, 2001, Peter Jennings starts ABC News’s World News Tonight evening news broadcast with the comment: “We’re going to begin this evening with what we believe is a meaningful lead in the most sensitive anthrax case so far, despite a very recent denial by the White House. ABC News has learned what made the anthrax so dangerous in the letter to Senator Tom Daschle was a particular additive which only one country, as far as we know, that’s a very important caveat, only one country as far as we know, has used to produce biological weapons.”
Bentonite - ABC News reporter Brian Ross then adds: “The discovery of bentonite came in an urgent series of tests conducted at Fort Detrick, Maryland, and elsewhere. [Bentonite is] a substance which helps keep the tiny anthrax particles floating in the air by preventing them from sticking together. It’s possible other countries may be using it, too, but it is a trademark of Saddam Hussein’s biological weapons program.”
Significance - Jennings ends the story by commenting: “This news about bentonite as the additive is being a trademark of the Iraqi biological weapons program is very significant. Partly because there’s been a lot of pressure on the Bush administration inside and out to go after Saddam Hussein. And some are going to be quick to pick up on this as a smoking gun. There is a battle about Iraq that’s been raging in the administration.”
Repeated - The story is repeated by ABC over the next several days, especially by Ross. Qualifications in the initial story are dropped over the next few days as Ross definitely claims that the anthrax “was laced with bentonite” and “the anthrax found in a letter to Senator Daschle is nearly identical to samples they recovered in Iraq in 1994.” On October 28, Ross claims, “[D]espite continued White House denials, four well-placed and separate sources have told ABC News that initial tests on the anthrax by the US Army at Fort Detrick, Maryland, have detected trace amounts of the chemical additives bentonite and silica.” [ABC News, 10/29/2001; Salon, 4/9/2007; Salon, 8/1/2008]
ABC News Keeps Promoting Story despite White House Denial - On October 29, ABC News notes that White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer has denied that bentonite was found on the letters. Fleischer says that no test or analysis has shown the presence of bentonite, and “no other finding contradicts or calls into question” that conclusion. But ABC News continues to push the story and quotes former UN weapons inspector Tim Trevan, who says that bentonite “means to me that Iraq becomes the prime suspect as the source of the anthrax used in these letters.” ABC News even brings up the alleged meeting between 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta and an Iraqi spy in Prague, and quotes former UN weapons inspector Richard Butler: “There are reports that one of the things that may have happened at that meeting was that [Atta] was given by the Iraqi some sample of anthrax.… We do not know if that is true. I believe it is something that should be investigated.” [ABC News, 10/29/2001]
Dropped, Sort Of - ABC News finally drops the story on November 1, when Ross reports: “The White House said that despite initial test results which we reported suggesting the presence of a chemical called bentonite, a trademark of the Iraqi weapons program, a further chemical analysis has ruled that out. The White House says there are chemical additives in that anthrax including one called silica.” Yet this account is not entirely correct, because the White House denied the story from the very beginning, as ABC News made clear in their first stories on the subject, and their quoting of White House Press Secretary Fleischer. [TVNewser, 8/6/2008] But an ABC News article the same day by Gary Matsumoto continues to push the bentonite theory, despite acknowledging that lab results do not show signs of bentonite. He argues that perhaps a different form of bentonite was used that did not show the usual signs. He also argues that perhaps the anthrax was coated with silica, which would be another sign of high sophistication and possible government involvement in the attacks. This is the theory the White House is pushing (see October 25-29, 2001), although it too will eventually be discredited by the FBI (see August 2006). [ABC News, 11/1/2001]
Iraq's Link to Bentonite Questioned - In October 2002, the Washington Post will reveal that early in the anthrax investigation, “US authorities dismissed the possibility that Iraq could have sponsored the attacks because investigators determined that the spores had been coated with silica to make them disperse quickly, rather than the mineral bentonite, regarded by the US Army Medical Research and Materiel Command as Iraq’s additive of choice.” Furthermore, “Iraq’s alleged preference for bentonite appears to be based on a single sample of a common pesticide collected by UN authorities from Iraq’s Al Hakam biological weapons facility in the mid-1990s.” [Washington Post, 10/28/2002]
Common Clay - Salon columnist Glenn Greenwald will later note: “The very idea that bentonite is ‘a troubling chemical additive,’ let alone that it is some sort of unique Iraqi hallmark, is inane. Bentonite is merely a common clay that is produced all over the world, including from volcanic eruptions.” A geology professor comments: “It is not ‘a chemical additive’ and it is not unique to Iraq. It is widespread and common, and readily available wherever you can get ‘drilling mud.’” [Salon, 4/9/2007]
No Correction - But even though it emerges that bentonite was never actually detected in the anthrax samples, ABC News will not correct its story until after it is heavily pressured to do so in late 2008 (see August 6, 2008).
Entity Tags: Tim Trevan, Richard Butler, Glenn Greenwald, Gary Matsumoto, Peter Jennings, Ari Fleischer, ABC News, Brian Ross
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda, 2001 Anthrax Attacks, US Domestic Terrorism
A London Times article by Daniel McGrory claims that not only did Mohamed Atta meet with an Iraqi agent in Prague, but that “a special FBI team” is studying “a report from Prague that anthrax spores were given to Atta” during the meeting. Furthermore, “Saddam’s agents were spotted at various times this year with Atta in Germany, Spain, Italy and the Czech Republic,” and that Atta met with the agent in Prague at least four times. Additionally, an Iraqi intelligence agent in Rome was seen with Atta in Prague and Hamburg and then disappeared shortly before the 9/11 attacks. The article also alleges numerous meetings between Iraqi agents and Osama bin Laden, as well as a meeting between al-Qaeda second-in command Ayman Zawahiri and Iraqi Vice-President Taha Yasin Ramadan. Furthermore, al-Qaeda operatives were supposedly given advanced weapons training in Iraq supervised by Saddam Hussein’s son Uday Hussein. The article mentions no sources at all for these stunning allegations, except to refer to some other recent articles in a couple of cases. However, the article does mention former CIA Director James Woolsey, and it seems probable that Woolsey is a force behind the article, since he is in London at the time attempting to find evidence supporting the Prague meeting and Iraqi involvement in the anthrax attacks (see Mid-September-October 2001). [London Times, 10/27/2001] This article represents the height of the propaganda effort attempting to link al-Qaeda and the Iraqi government together. Many of the allegations in the article are never mentioned in any other newspaper article, and all of them will eventually be debunked.
The White House repeats its warning to the UN that the US will act if the UN fails to pass a stronger resolution. Speaking in New Mexico, George Bush says: “Either the United Nations will do its duty to disarm Saddam Hussein, or Saddam Hussein will disarm himself. In either case, if they refuse to act, in the name of peace, in the name of a secure tomorrow, in the name of freedom, the United States will lead a coalition and disarm Saddam Hussein.” [US President, 11/4/2002] And Ari Fleischer, the White House Press Secretary, says, “The United Nations has debated this long enough. The time has come for people to raise their hands and cast their vote.” [White House, 10/28/2002]
Michael Ledeen, speaking at an event sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), states: “No stages. This is total war. We are fighting a variety of enemies. There are lots of them out there. All this talk about first we are going to do Afghanistan, then we will do Iraq… this is entirely the wrong way to go about it. If we just let our vision of the world go forth, and we embrace it entirely and we don’t try to piece together clever diplomacy, but just wage a total war… our children will sing great songs about us years from now.” [Institute, 10/29/2001; Village Voice, 11/21/2001] Interestingly, several sources credit fellow AEI neoconservative Richard Perle, and not Ledeen, with the quote, including John Pilger’s book The New Rulers of the World [Pilger, 2002, pp. 10] and former State Department and USAID official William Fisher. [Informed Comment, 2/1/2005] Perle is the moderator of the AEI event where Ledeen speaks. [Institute, 10/29/2001; Village Voice, 11/21/2001]
In a television interview, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) supports the allegation that 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta met with an Iraqi intelligence agent in Prague. McCain says, “The evidence is very clear.” This comment comes several days after a Czech government official claimed that the meeting took place (see October 26, 2001). McCain makes other comments around the same time also trying to link Iraq to the 9/11 attacks. For instance, in mid-September 2001, he told television host Jay Leno that he believes “some other countries” had assisted al-Qaeda, suggesting Iraq, Iran, and Syria as potential suspects. McCain also relies on dubious claims made by Ahmed Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress (INC). For instance, in a television interview, McCain echoes the INC’s claim that two Iraqi defectors know about terrorist training camps in Iraq (see November 6-8, 2001). McCain claims there are “credible reports of involvement between Iraqi administration officials, Iraqi officials and the terrorists.” In 2006, McCain will admit that he had been “too enamored with the INC.” [New York Times, 8/16/2008]
Robert Bartley, conservative editor of The Wall Street Journal, writes an editorial in his newspaper strongly suggesting that Iraq is behind the recent anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001). He cites former CIA Director James Woolsey, who says the possibility should be considered that “the attacks—whether perpetrated by bin Laden and his associates or by others—were sponsored, supported, and perhaps even ordered by Saddam Hussein.” He also draws on the controversial and eventually discredited theories of Laurie Mylroie, for instance claiming that Iraq was behind the 1993 WTC bombing (see February 26, 1993), and the controversial and eventually discredited reports that 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta met with an Iraqi spy in Prague. He concludes, “Saddam Hussein has the motive, means and opportunity to mount terrorism, and the anthrax attacks fit his modus operandi. There is plenty of reason to presume he’s behind the current attacks, with bin Laden and his al-Qaeda network as a front or ally. In any event, given his capabilities and intentions, he remains a threat to American lives as long as he’s at large.” [Wall Street Journal, 10/29/2001]
Neoconservative writers Robert Kagan and William Kristol predict “a wide-ranging war in locales from Central Asia to the Middle East and, unfortunately, back again to the United States,” of which the Afghanistan conflict is merely “an opening battle.” The “unequivocal destruction of the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and Osama bin Laden” are the first steps in a larger conflict that must “spread and engulf a number of countries in conflicts of varying intensity,” requiring US forces to invade “multiple” countries. “It is going to resemble the clash of civilizations that everyone has hoped to avoid. And it is going to put enormous and perhaps unbearable strain on parts of an international coalition that today basks in contented consensus.” Kagan and Kristol say that both the 9/11 attacks and the recent anthrax mailings are likely the work of Iraq, and thus President Bush “ha[s] no choice” but to destroy the Iraqi government of Saddam Hussein. The continued security of Israel is of paramount importance, they write; the US must join with Israel in battling Islamist terrorism in the region by any means necessary. There is virtually no difference between the Taliban and the Palestinian Authority, they write; both must be shut down. Putative US allies such as Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia might object, and may even declare war against Israel. If so, they must be given the same treatment as the Taliban, the Palestinians, and Iraq: overthrow and domination. “With or without a new Arab-Israeli war, it is possible that the demise of some ‘moderate’ Arab regimes may be just around the corner.” [Weekly Standard, 10/29/2001]
Attorney General John Ashcroft issues a second terror alert for the month (see October 11-29, 2001). The intelligence received by the FBI does not, he says, “contain specific information as to the type of attack or specific targets.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 36]
Scores of family planning clinics in at least 12 states have received letters containing anthrax threats, according to officials of feminist and abortion-rights organizations. Eleanor Smeal of the Feminist Majority Foundation says that over 200 clinics and advocacy organizations received letters in early November, all delivered in Federal Express envelopes. The envelopes that were opened contained a suspicious white powder and letters signed by the Army of God (AOG), a violent anti-abortion group (see 1982). This was the second such mailing in recent weeks; the first mailing was comprised of some 280 letters containing threatening letters and white powder purporting to be anthrax. None of the powder in any of the envelopes contained real anthrax; the letters were apparently hoaxes. Some of the letters in the latest mailings said: “You’ve ignored our earlier warnings. You’ve been exposed to the real thing. High-quality.” Groups targeted by the mailings include the Feminist Majority Foundation, the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy, Catholics for a Free Choice, Advocates for Youth, and the American Association of University Women. The persons responsible for the mailings somehow obtained the account numbers of two pro-choice organizations, the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the National Abortion Federation, and used those accounts to pay for the mailings. The mailings have been traced to at least three drop-off locations in Virginia and Philadelphia. More packages are believed to be en route, and Federal Express is trying to intercept them. “I think the people responsible are despicable,” says Vicki Saporta of the National Abortion Federation. “They actually used our account number and our address, so our members would feel comfortable opening them.” Gloria Feldt, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, says: “These letters are designed to terrorize us, and disrupt our work and our lives. That’s terrorism, plain and simple, and we take it very seriously.… The fact that they would forge the names of our staff members to terrorize employees is truly evil. Their heinous activities will not succeed.” Brian Emanuelson of the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection says, “These were intended to be a threat to scare people and we want to make sure this is not what they say it is.” [CBS News, 11/9/2001] The anthrax mailings were from anti-abortion activist and AOG member Clayton Waagner (see 1997-December 2001).
Entity Tags: Feminist Majority Foundation, Brian Emanuelson, Army of God, American Association of University Women, Advocates for Youth, Catholics for a Free Choice, Eleanor Smeal, Center for Reproductive Law and Policy, Planned Parenthood, Gloria Feldt, Clayton Waagner, National Abortion Federation, Vicki Saporta
Timeline Tags: US Health Care, US Domestic Terrorism
White House deputy press secretary Scott McClellan will, in 2008, write: “As soon as [President] Bush decided to confront Iraq, the groundwork for a public campaign began to be laid. The new doctrine on preemption (see Fall 2002) was part of the elaborate effort. So was the gradual ratcheting up of the rhetoric from late 2001 into 2002. Before 9/11, our rhetoric about Iraq had focused on warning Saddam Hussein not to develop weapons of mass destruction, while the policy centered on containing him with enhanced sanctions (see February 2001).… But by late November, the president was not ruling out military action against Iraq and he was saying that Iraq would be held accountable if it was found to be developing WMD.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 135-136]
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, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda
PBS’s Frontline broadcasts an October 2001 interview with Bush foreign policy adviser Brent Scowcroft as part of its Gunning for Saddam episode. Scowcroft recently cemented his status as an outsider in the administration with an op-ed calling for the US to focus on building a coalition of allies before considering invading Iraq (see October 16, 2001). Scowcroft says that a unilateral move to invade Iraq and “deal with Saddam Hussein” will destroy the coalition of nations that still exists ten years after the 1991 Gulf War “virtually instantly.” Suspicion that the US is manipulating information to prove its rationale for war with Iraq is paramount throughout the Middle East and even among the US’s closest allies in Europe. Part of the responsibility for that perception, Scowcroft notes, comes from Iraq: “Saddam has managed to get the view out that the Iraqi people are suffering because of the [UN-mandated economic] sanctions. In fact, they’re suffering because Saddam Hussein doesn’t use the income from the oil he sells to provide for his people. But that’s the fact. So if we turn on Iraq now, it will look like we’re just using September 11 as an excuse to go after our favorite enemy.… So we need to sort of reestablish the kind of confidence that the United States enjoyed a decade ago around the time of the Gulf War. And to do that, we need to prosecute the Afghan/Osama bin Laden part of this whole thing in a way which will demonstrate that we know what we’re doing, that we do it carefully, not wildly and so on.”
Focusing on Terrorist Threat, Not Iraq, a Necessity - Scowcroft calls Hussein and Iraq “a separate problem” from al-Qaeda and global Islamist terrorism. “It is not at all clear that he is a part of a global terrorist network, which is what we’re focusing on.… Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden have one thing in common, and that is they both hate the United States. Otherwise, they have very little in common. As a matter of fact, my guess is, if it weren’t for the United States, Osama bin Laden would turn on Saddam Hussein.” Scowcroft says that even if the US manages to render al-Qaeda impotent, Iraq might not be the next problem on the list. “It’s a problem which right now should be differentiated from the Osama bin Laden problem.… Hezbollah, for example, is a global terrorist network, which has attacked the United States and US interests before. How about that?… We need to be skillful about this. We need to use scalpels, not sledgehammers.” He continues: “Nobody has said what ‘going after Saddam’ really means. What does it mean? Five hundred thousand troops again, based in a Saudi Arabia that would not accept them now? What does ‘going after Saddam’ mean?”
INC Not a Viable Replacement for Hussein - Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress (INC) may or may not be a “viable alternative to Saddam,” Scowcroft says, but it is “certainly not a viable means to” overthrow Hussein. “It is weak, disparate, riven with disputes—probably unattractive to almost anyone inside or out.” [PBS Frontline, 11/8/2001; PBS Frontline, 11/8/2001]
After issuing several terror alerts that came to nothing (see October 11-29, 2001 and October 29, 2001), Attorney General John Ashcroft declares victory in overcoming the threat: “[T]he home front has witnessed the opening battle in the war against terrorism, and America has emerged victorious.” He claims that “two periods of extremely high threat have passed” without incident. But in 2006, author Frank Rich will note that this assessment is based solely on Ashcroft’s word, since no evidence of actual threats will ever be advanced. [Rich, 2006, pp. 36-37]
Family Research Council logo. [Source: Mediamouse (.org)]The Family Research Council (FRC), a Christian conservative organization headed by the Reverend James Dobson, authorizes an advertisement linking Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) to Saddam Hussein. The ad is triggered by Daschle’s opposition to the Bush administration’s desire to drill for oil in the protected Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). The ad is released by American Renewal, the lobbying wing of the FRC headed by Richard Lessner, who formerly headed the editorial page staff at the Manchester Union Leader. In a press release announcing the ad, Lessner asks: “What do Saddam Hussein and Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle have in common? Neither man wants America to drill for oil in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.” It juxtaposes photos of Daschle and Hussein, and charges that American buys 725,000 barrels of oil a day from Hussein because Daschle “won’t let America drill for oil at home.” Daschle spokesman Doug Hattaway calls the ad “an outrageous, extremist attack at a time when the nation is unified.” Lessner calls the ad an example of “telling the truth” necessitating “tough talk.” Washington Post pundit Dana Milbank says the ad has all “the subtlety of a Scud missile.” [Washington Post, 11/9/2001]
In a New York Times editorial, conservative columnist William Safire calls the alleged meeting between Mohamed Atta and an Iraqi diplomat in Prague an “undisputed fact.” He does not offer any significant new evidence to support this assertion, however. [New York Times, 11/12/2001]
Neoconservative Richard Perle, the chairman of the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board, says during remarks at the Foreign Policy Research Institute that the proposed invasion of Iraq is merely the first step in a much larger military strategy that should encompass most of the Middle East and other states which, in Perle’s view, pose threats to the US. “Those who think Iraq should not be next may want to think about Syria or Iran or Sudan or Yemen or Somalia or North Korea or Lebanon or the Palestinian Authority,” Perle says. “These are all institutions, governments for the most part, that permit acts of terror to take place, that sponsor terrorists, that give them refuge, give them sanctuary, and very often much more help than that. When I recite this list, people typically say ‘Well, are we going to go to war against a dozen countries?’ And I think the answer to that is that, if we do it right with respect to one or two, we’ve got a reasonable chance of persuading the others that they should get out of the business of supporting terrorism. If we destroy the Taliban in Afghanistan, and I’m confident we will, and we then go on to destroy the regime of Saddam Hussein, and we certainly could if we chose to do so, I think we would have an impressive case to make to the Syrians, the Somalis, and others. We could deliver a short message, a two-word message: ‘You’re next. You’re next unless you stop the practice of supporting terrorism.’ Given the fact that until now there has been no cost attached to supporting terror, I think there’s a reasonable prospect that looking at the costs on the one side—that is, that those regimes will be brought to an end—and the benefits on the other—they will decide to get out of the terrorist business. It seems to me a reasonable gamble in any event.” [Foreign Policy Research Institute, 11/14/2001]
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]
Neoconservative professor Eliot Cohen writes that the Afghan war is misnamed. It should be, he says, the latest salvo in “World War IV,” the US-led fight against Islamist terrorism. In agreement with other neoconservatives (see 1992, February 2002, April 3, 2003, and Spring 2007), Cohen says that World War III was the Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union. Like the Cold War, this “world war” against militant Islam “is, in fact, global;… will involve a mixture of violent and nonviolent efforts;… will require mobilization of skill, expertise and resources, if not of vast numbers of soldiers;… may go on for a long time; and… has ideological roots.” Afghanistan is “just one front in World War IV,” Cohen asserts, and after the US destroys al-Qaeda and kills its leadership, including, presumably, Osama bin Laden, it must then engage in new battles. Cohen recommends that the US ally itself with secular democracies in the Muslim world, and actively target Islamic regimes that sponsor terrorism, including Iraq (which he calls “the obvious candidate,” as it “not only helped al-Qaeda, but attacked Americans directly… and developed weapons of mass destruction”). After overthrowing the Iraqi regime, he counsels the US to “mobilize in earnest.” [Wall Street Journal, 11/20/2001]
Assistant Secretary of Defense Peter Rodham, who works in Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith’s office, asks Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz to “[o]btain approval of creation of a Team B” (see Early 1976) which “[t]hrough independent analysis and evaluation… would determine what is known about al-Qaeda’s worldwide terror network, its suppliers, and relationship to states and other international terrorist organizations.” The 1976 Team B exercise was a deeply flawed effort by conservatives and neoconservatives to second-guess the US intelligence community’s findings about Soviet military and intelligence capabilities (see November 1976). Feith studied under Team B leader Richard Pipes at Harvard, and shares his fundamental distaste and mistrust of US intelligence capabilities. Feith and Wolfowitz believe that “Team B” showed just how limited and misguided the CIA’s intelligence reporting could be, and think that the same “Team B” approach could provide heretofore-unrevealed information about Islamist terrorism. Feith sets about producing a report “proving” a sinister relationship between al-Qaeda and Iraq (see July 25, 2002), while Wolfowitz begins work on what will become the Office of Special Plans (see September 2002). [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 218-220]
Entity Tags: Paul Wolfowitz, ’Team B’, Al-Qaeda, Central Intelligence Agency, Douglas Feith, Office of Special Plans, US Department of Defense, Richard Pipes, Peter Rodham
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, US International Relations, Neoconservative Influence
Greg Thielmann, director for strategic proliferation and military affairs at the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), reviews Iraq’s alleged WMD programs for Secretary of State Colin Powell. Thielmann’s review concludes that Italian reports of a possible uranium deal between Iraq and Niger (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001, October 15, 2001, October 18, 2001, November 20, 2001, February 5, 2002, Late April or Early May 2002-June 2002, and Late June 2002) are completely false. Thielmann will later recall: “A whole lot of things told us that the report was bogus. This wasn’t highly contested. There weren’t strong advocates on the other side. It was done, shot down” (see March 1, 2002). [Unger, 2007, pp. 229]
Vice President Cheney says in an interview on Meet the Press, “Well, what we now have that’s developed [recently]… was that report that’s been pretty well confirmed, that [Mohamed Atta] did go to Prague and he did meet with a senior official of the Iraqi intelligence service in Czechoslovakia last April, several months before the attack. Now, what the purpose of that was, what transpired between them, we simply don’t know at this point. But that’s clearly an avenue that we want to pursue.” [Washington Post, 12/9/2001] The CIA already believes the reports of Atta visiting Prague are incorrect (see December 2001).
The editors of the University of Maine newspaper, the Maine Campus, angrily respond to Attorney General John Ashcroft’s excoriation of civil libertarians who “scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty” (see December 6, 2001). The editors write, “The only reason why we lost liberty, you jack_ss, is because you took it away from us!” [Roberts, 2008, pp. 30]
Vice President Cheney says on Fox News, “I never say anything is inevitable, but if I were Saddam Hussein, I’d be thinking very carefully about the future and I’d be looking very closely to see what happened to the Taliban in Afghanistan.” [PBS Frontline, 6/20/2006]
Fox News removes its series on the “art student spy ring” from its website after only two days, in response to pressure from The Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) and others. CAMERA suggests the reporter “has something, personally, about Israel.… Maybe he’s very sympathetic to the Arab side.” [Salon, 5/7/2002] The head of the ADL calls the report “sinister dangerous innuendo which fuels anti-Semitism.” [Forward, 12/21/2001] Yet there does not appear to be any substance to these personal attacks (and Forward magazine later reverses its stance on the spy ring (see March 15, 2002)). Fox News also never makes a formal repudiation or correction about the series. The contents of the series continues to be generally ignored by the mainstream media, but it makes a big impact inside the US government: An internal DEA communiqué from December 18 mentions the Fox report by name, and warns of security breaches in telecommunications as described in the Fox report. [Salon, 5/7/2002]
The Asia Times reports that Osama bin Laden has sought refuge in Iran and is being sheltered by members of the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK). The report—citing Pakistani jihadi who fought in Afghanistan, journalists, and intelligence sources—says bin Laden crossed into Iran from Afghanistan around the time of the surrender of Kandahar (see November 25, 2001). [Asia Times, 12/19/2001] This report will later be shown to wildly clash with more reliable evidence placing bin Laden in Tora Bora near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border at this time instead.
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]
[Source: United States Agency for International Development]Afghan Prime Minister Hamid Karzai and his transitional government assume power in Afghanistan. The press reported a few weeks before that Karzai had been a paid consultant for Unocal at one time (Karzai and Unocal both deny this), as well as the Deputy Foreign Minister for the Taliban. [Le Monde (Paris), 12/13/2001; CNN, 12/22/2001]
Leading Republican consultant Frank Luntz issues a briefing book for GOP congressional candidates recommending what they should say when discussing issues that are important to the American public. The environment section of the report includes 16 pages of tips on how to discuss global warming and other sensitive issues. In general, Luntz says, candidates need to shy away from making economic arguments, since the party is perceived to be so close to business, and instead portray the party’s platform as being for a “safer,” “cleaner,” and “healthier” environment. Furthermore, candidates must convince their constituents of their “sincerity and concern,” Luntz argues, suggesting that once this has been achieved “the conservative, free market approach to the environment actually has the potential to become quite popular.” [Luntz, 2002 ]
Arsenic in the water - Luntz says that the “Bush administration’s suspension of Clinton’s last-minute executive order toughening the federal standard for arsenic in drinking water” was the president’s “biggest public relations misfire.” The “Democrats’ message came through loud and clear: Bush and the Republicans put business interests above public health,” he notes. He says the Republicans should have responded to the debacle with statements asserting the party’s dedication “to the continued improvement of our nation’s water supply, and to ensuring that Americans have the best quality water available.” Secondly, they should have argued that “sound science” does not support the notion that reducing arsenic by the amount specified in the order was in fact necessary. Finally, the question should have been raised as to why Clinton waited until the final moments of his presidency to issue this order. [Luntz, 2002 ]
Global Warming - On the issue of global warming, Luntz says: “The scientific debate is closing [against us] but not yet closed. There is still a window of opportunity to challenge the science. Voters believe that there is no consensus about global warming within the scientific community. Should the public come to believe that the scientific issues are settled, their views about global warming will change accordingly. Therefore, you need to continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue in the debate.” The section is peppered with boxes titled, “Language That Works,” suggesting carefully crafted phrases to convey key points that Luntz says Republicans must get across to their constituents. Luntz says that Republicans must stress that “the scientific debate remains open” and that rushing to conclusions about global warming would harm America. It must be stressed that ratifying the Kyoto protocol would “handcuff” the US and require “unnecessary” regulations that would “hurt moms and dads, grandmas and grandpas.” Furthermore, according to Luntz, it should be made clear that additional regulations would make “American life less safe” by requiring “major lifestyle changes.” Luntz also recommends that GOP politicians avoid using the phrase “global warming,” opting instead for “climate change,” which he notes sounds “less frightening.” [Luntz, 2002 ; Guardian, 3/4/2003]
Impact - Not all Republicans agree with Luntz’s advice, Republican Mike Castle says the report fails to address the fact that pollution is a health threat. “If I tried to follow these talking points at a town hall meeting with my constituents, I’d be booed,” he says. Vermont Senator Jim Jeffords, who abandoned the Republican Party in 2001, says the briefing book aims to deceive voters. But others seemingly adopt Luntz’s strategy. [Guardian, 4/4/2003] The Observer will later note that in 2002, Bush’s use of the phrase “global warming” decreases to almost nothing. [Guardian, 3/4/2003] And the Environmental Working Group, which first discloses the memo, finds numerous instances where Bush officials appear to be using Luntz’s recommended language. [Environmental Working Group, 2002]
An unnamed senior CIA operative will later allege in a lawsuit that in 2002, his superiors instructed him to falsify his reporting on weapons of mass destruction because it was “contrary” to “official CIA dogma” and “the politically mandated conclusion.” When the operative refuses to change his reporting, the “management” of the CIA’s Counterproliferation Division orders that he “remove himself from any further ‘handling’” of the unnamed asset, who the CIA regards as “a highly respected human asset.” The operative will also allege that CIA managers retaliated in response to his refusal to obey their orders. [Washington Post, 12/9/2004]
The violent anti-abortion group known as the Army of God (AOG—see 1982) praises the Saudi Arabian government for publicly beheading three citizens accused of being gay. The US government has long suspected that the AOG has broadened its focus to oppose homosexuality as well as abortion. [Extremist Groups: Information for Students, 1/1/2006] AOG chaplain Michael Bray (see September 1994) posts a message on the AOG Web site proclaiming, “Let us give thanks” for the executions. Surina Khan of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission says: “This is really chilling. It really disturbs me, in terms of the rhetoric and what effect it has.” AOG is proclaiming its solidarity with Muslim extremists over their opposition to gay rights in their countries, posted anti-gay stories on its Web site, and publicly praised the fake anthrax attacks against abortion clinics (see 1997-December 2001). Bray writes: “While the Christians among us westerners would decline to emulate our Muslim friends in many ways… we can appreciate the justice they advocate regarding sodomy. Might these fellows also consider an embryonic jihad? Let us welcome these tools of purification. Open the borders! Bring in some agents of cleansing.… In the meantime,” he concludes, “let us pray for justice: viz., that the heads of adulterers, sodomites, murderers, child murderers [abortionists], witches, traitors, and kidnappers roll.” Lorri Jean of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force tells a reporter: “I think this is a blatant call for people to murder gays and lesbians, among others. It’s the logical extension of radical fundamentalism and religious intolerance.” Khan notes: “I think that any alliance they may be building with fundamentalist Muslims is alarming. And this may be just the beginning.” Chip Berlet of the firm Political Research Associates says: “One has to appreciate the cosmic irony here. They can side with a religion they don’t approve of against a scapegoat they both loathe and demonize.” He adds, “Within the Christian Right, there is a distinction between the reformists and those who want insurgency.” Violent extremist groups such as AOG, he says, see before them a “three-headed monster—of liberalism, feminism [which includes abortion], and the gay and lesbian civil rights movement. And the monster doesn’t die unless you cut off all three.” [Salon, 2/19/2002]
An unnamed CIA case officer with the agency’s Directorate of Operations (DO) will later say with regard to Iraq’s alleged arsenal of WMD: “Where I was working, I never saw anything—no one else there did either.” [Bamford, 2004, pp. 333]
In the lead-up to the war, top Bush administration officials make strong statements asserting that Saddam Hussein possesses weapons of mass destruction. The administration claims that it has incontrovertible evidence, though no such evidence is disclosed to the public—neither before nor after the invasion. [Chicago Tribune, 2/7/2002; Daily Telegraph, 8/21/2002; Guardian, 8/22/2002; White House, 8/26/2002; US Department of Defense, 9/3/2002; Associated Press, 9/3/2002; United Press International, 9/3/2002; Associated Press, 9/8/2002; NewsMax, 9/8/2002; PBS, 9/12/2002; US President, 9/16/2002; US President, 10/14/2002; CBC News, 12/5/2002; Associated Press, 1/7/2003; White House, 1/9/2003; US President, 2/3/2003; US Department of State, 2/5/2003; US Department of State, 2/5/2003; White House, 3/21/2003; US President, 3/24/2003; Age (Melbourne), 6/7/2003; Village Voice, 6/18/2003; Sunday Herald (Glasgow), 7/13/2003; Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 7/17/2003; Fox News, 8/20/2003; Associated Press, 12/5/2003] Then-deputy press secretary Scott McClellan later observes: “[A]s the campaign [to sell the Iraq war to the American public] accelerated, caveats and qualifications were downplayed or dropped altogether. Contradictory intelligence was largely ignored or simply disregarded. Evidence based on high confidence from the intelligence community was lumped together with intelligence of lesser confidence. A nuclear threat was added to the biological and chemical threats to create a greater sense of urgency. Support for terrorism was given greater weight by playing up dubious al-Qaeda connections to Iraq. When it was all packaged together, the case constituted a ‘grave and gathering danger’ (see September 16, 2002) that needed to be dealt with urgently.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 144-145]
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:
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.
Thomas McInerney, a retired Air Force general and Fox News analyst, sits on the boards of several military contractors.
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.”
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:
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.
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]
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]
Entity Tags: Richard Perle, Paul Vallely, Thomas G. McInerney, William S. Cohen, Wayne Downing, US Department of Defense, William Nash, William Kristol, New York Times, Joseph Ralston, Kenneth Allard, CBS News, Bush administration (43), Brent T. Krueger, Barry McCaffrey, ABC News, CNN, Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, David Barstow, Don Meyer, Joseph Lieberman, John McCain, NBC, Jeffrey McCausland, Fox News, Donald Rumsfeld, James Marks, Victoria (“Torie”) Clarke
Timeline Tags: US Military, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda
The Travel Industry Association of America (TIA) coordinates its effort with the Bush administration to sell America’s airlines and hotel chains to consumers after the 9/11 attacks (see September 27, 2001). According to the TIA, “Travel was also linked to patriotic duty with expressions, such as ‘A return to travel is normal. Restoring travel is restoring our country’s economy.’” President Bush, apparently unaware that sitting presidents do not normally appear in industry ad campaigns, appears in “public service” ads created by TIA. The ads are part of a $20 million advertising campaign steered by, among others, J. W. “Bill” Marriott of Marriott International, one of the world’s largest hotel chains. Marriott personally solicited Bush’s participation in the television advertisements, which run throughout the US and in a number of foreign countries for four weeks. According to TIA polls, the Bush ad campaign reaches 70 percent of Americans, and most understand it as an appeal to travel and spend money. In 2008, author and public policy professor Alasdair Reynolds will write, “Many Americans appreciated that there was something strangely out of kilter about the president’s prominent role in boosting consumption in a moment of crisis.” [Association of Travel Marketing Executives, 2002; Roberts, 2008, pp. 90]
While most US military and intelligence professionals dismiss the Iraq-Niger uranium deal as sheer fabrications that have been repeatedly discredited (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), neoconservatives in the Pentagon keep the reports alive. They “delighted in telling people, ‘You don’t understand your own data,’” former DIA analyst Patrick Lang will later recall. “‘We know that Saddam [Hussein] is evil and deceptive, and if you see this piece of data, to say just because it is not well supported it’s not true, is politically naive.’” [Unger, 2007, pp. 239]
White House political guru Karl Rove tells the Republican National Committee: “We can go to the American people on this issue of winning the war [against terrorism]. We can go to the country on this issue because they trust the Republican Party to do a better job of protecting and strengthening America’s military might and thereby protecting America.” In 2008, current deputy White House press secretary Scott McClellan will write: “Rove was the first administration official to publicly make the case for winning the war as a partisan issue, a marked shift in tone from [President] Bush’s repeated emphasis on unity and bipartisanship in confronting and defeating radical Islam.… Rove’s candor about this strategy infuriated suspicious Democrats, who condemned Rove for trying to politicize the war.” Bush will soon begin campaigning for Republicans in the midterm elections using Rove’s strategy. McClellan will note: “As governor [of Texas], he’d maintained good relations with friendly legislators by refusing to campaign against them, even if they were members of the opposing party. Bush’s actions prompted concern and anxiety among Democrats.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 112-113]
Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz proposes that President Bush should declare Ramzi Yousef an “enemy combatant.” Yousef is already in the “Supermax” prison, the most secure prison in the US, after being sentenced to life in prison for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing years before. But Wolfowitz contends that as an enemy combatant, heavy interrogation could get Yousef to admit he bombed the WTC on behalf of the Iraqi government. However, Wolfowitz’s proposal is strongly opposed by the FBI, which asserts that theories tying Yousef to the Iraqi government had been repeatedly investigated and debunked. Further, Yousef doesn’t meet any of the criteria the White House had laid out for designating enemy combatants. “At one point, the high-level discussions apparently prompted a top Bureau of Prisons official to make an unauthorized entry to Yousef’s [Supermax cell] to sound out his willingness to talk—a move that prompted strong protests to the Justice Department from the bomber’s lawyer…” The issue is debated until the start of the Iraq war, at which point apparently Wolfowitz loses interest. One lawyer involved in the discussions will later recall, “We talked it to death.” [Newsweek, 4/21/2004]
Michael Edward Smith, a well-dressed young man wearing sunglasses and surgical gloves, sits in a parked car across from the Sherith Israel Congregation synagogue in Nashville, Tennessee. Smith has an AR-15 assault rifle, and plans on shooting someone either entering or exiting the building. A passing motorist sees Smith and his rifle and calls the police. When police confront Smith outside his apartment, he refuses to surrender, and manages to break away to his car, where he proceeds to flee down Interstate 65 while holding a gun to his own head. The chase ends in a parking lot outside a pharmacy, where the police find the AR-15, a handgun, ammunition, and surgical gloves in Smith’s car. After learning of the incident, Deborah Lauter of the Anti-Defamation League tells reporters: “The sight of a man pointing an assault rifle at a synagogue is chilling. We are thankful to the person who reported the incident and to law enforcement for their swift actions in apprehending the suspect.” Smith, a member of the violent, neo-Nazi National Alliance (see 1970-1974), has been influenced by two books, both published by Alliance founder William Pierce: The Turner Diaries, which tells of a genocidal race war in a near-future America (see 1978), and Hunter, a novel depicting a lone assassin gunning down Jews and African-Americans (see 1988). Three days later, he is charged with multiple felonies after divulging his ties to the National Alliance and the existence of a small arsenal in his apartment, in a storage facility, and buried on his parents’ land in the country. Authorities find, among other items: an anti-tank rocket; eight firearms, including a sniper rifle; 13 grenades; 13 pipe bombs; over 2,000 rounds of armor-piercing ammunition; smoke bombs; dynamite fuses; and two duffel bags filled with chemicals. They also find copies of both novels and other materials from the Alliance and the Ku Klux Klan, to which he also admits membership. The FBI classifies Smith as a “domestic terrorist.” James Cavanaugh of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) says: “Basically, we’ve got hand grenades, we’ve got assault rifles, and we’ve got a mind full of hate and a recipe for disaster.… Anybody who would stockpile that stuff is certainly on the precipice of using them.” Smith readily admits his admiration for the fictional main chacter of Hunter, Oscar Yeager, who in the first scene of the book assassinates an interracial couple from a vantage point inside his car. And, he says, the National Alliance and the KKK gave him training in “how to make and how to use explosives, [and gave him] sniper and combat training.” Smith tells questioners that he “dislike[s] Jews.” Local activists later tell the FBI that Smith took part in a November 2001 National Alliance rally outside the Israeli embassy in Washington, DC. Authorities later find an email from Smith stating Jews “perhaps” should be “stuffed head first into an oven.” [Center for New Community, 8/2002 ; Anti-Defamation League, 5/27/2003; Southern Poverty Law Center, 6/2005] Smith will later plead guilty to four weapons-related offenses. [Anti-Defamation League, 5/27/2003]
Entity Tags: National Alliance, James Cavanaugh, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Deborah Lauter, Ku Klux Klan, Michael Edward Smith, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Sherith Israel Congregation, William Luther Pierce
Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism
Justice Department lawyer John Yoo sends a classified memo to White House counsel Alberto Gonzales. The contents of the memo will remain secret, but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will later learn that the memo is about the Geneva Conventions. [American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 ]
Jay Bybee, the chief of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), sends a classified memo to White House counsel Alberto Gonzales. The contents will never be divulged, but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will later learn that it regards the authority of the OLC, the attorney general, the Justice Department, and the State Department in interpreting treaties and international law. [American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 ]
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, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda
Attorney General John Ashcroft warns that suicide attacks “might be expected because of confidential information” the US government has received. He further warns, in regards to the five most wanted terrorists, that “These men could be anywhere in the world” and “may be trained and prepared to commit future suicide terrorist acts.” [NBC, 1/17/2002]
White House political adviser Karl Rove says that the Republican Party should campaign primarily on the war on terror in the 2002 midterm elections. “Americans trust the Republicans to do a better job of keeping our communities and our families safe,” Rove tells the Republican National Committee. “We can also go to the country on this issue because they trust the Republican Party to do a better job of protecting and strengthening America’s military might and thereby protecting America.” President Bush has said repeatedly that the war on terror should not be considered fodder for partisan political gain. Just days before Rove’s speech, Bush told a gathering in California, “It’s time to take the spirit of unity that has been prevalent when it comes to fighting the war and bring it to Washington, DC.” And Rove recently told reporters that Bush had told his aides: “Politics has no role in this. Don’t talk to me about politics for a while.” Now Rove is publicly advising Republicans to politicize the war. Democratic Party chairman Terry McAuliffe says: “If the White House is politicizing the war, that’s nothing short of despicable. For Karl Rove to politicize the issue is an affront to the integrity of the entire United States military.” McAuliffe’s Republican counterpart, Marc Racicot, calls on McAuliffe “to help stop the politics of obstruction.” [New York Times, 1/19/2002]
Three weeks after the “Karine A” is seized, allegedly filled with Iranian weapons destined to be used against Israel (see January 3, 2002 and After), President Bush names Iran as one of the world’s “axis of evil” nations (see January 29, 2002). State Department official Hillary Mann, who has been facilitating secret backchannel discussions with Iranian officials for over a year (see September 11, 2001 and Fall 2001), later confirms that the “Karine A” incident helped prompt Iran’s inclusion in Bush’s speech. The speech prompts the Iranians to skip the monthly meeting with Mann in Geneva. When they resume their meeting in March, the Iranians, according to Mann, are disturbed by Bush’s characterization. “They said they had put their necks out to talk to us and they were taking big risks with their careers and their families and their lives,” she will recall. [Esquire, 10/18/2007]
President Bush’s State of the Union speech describes an “axis of evil” consisting of Iraq, Iran, and North Korea. Osama bin Laden is not mentioned in the speech. [US President, 2/4/2002] Bush says: “States like these and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world. By seeking weapons of mass destruction, these regimes pose a grave and growing danger. They could provide these arms to terrorists, giving them the means to match their hatred. They could attack our allies or attempt to blackmail the United States. In any of these cases, the price of indifference would be catastrophic.” Bush goes on to suggest for the first time that the US might be prepared to launch pre-emptive wars by saying, “The United States of America will not permit the world’s most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world’s most destructive weapons.” [Vanity Fair, 5/2004] When Bush advisor Richard Perle was asked one month before 9/11 about new challenges the US faced, he replied by naming these exact three countries (see August 6, 2001). Michael Gerson, head of the White House speechwriting team at the time, will later claim that, as Newsweek will later put it, “Bush was already making plans to topple Saddam Hussein, but he wasn’t ready to say so.” Iran and North Korea are inserted into the speech in order to avoid focusing solely on Iraq. The speech is followed by a new public focus on Iraq and a downplaying of bin Laden (see September 15, 2001-April 6, 2002). Prior to the speech, the Iranian government had been very helpful in the US fight against the Taliban, since the Taliban and Iran were enemies. [Newsweek, 2/12/2007] At the time, al-Qaeda operatives had been streaming into Iran from Afghanistan following the defeat of the Taliban. Iran has been turning over hundreds of suspects to US allies and providing US intelligence with the names, photographs, and fingerprints of those it is holding. [Washington Post, 2/10/2007] Newsweek will later say that it is “beyond doubt” the Iranian government was “critical… to stabilizing [Afghanistan] after the fall of Kabul.” But all this cooperation comes to an end after the speech. Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammad Hossein Adeli will later say that “Those [inside the Iranian government] who were in favor of a rapprochement with the United States were marginalized. The speech somehow exonerated those who had always doubted America’s intentions.” [Newsweek, 2/12/2007] In August 2003, reporter Jeffrey St. Clair will write that “the Axis of Evil [is not] an ‘axis’ at all, since two of the states, Iran and Iraq, hate… each other, and neither [have] anything at all to do with the third, North Korea.” [CounterPunch, 8/13/2003]
When asked why he included Iran in the “axis of evil” (see January 29, 2002), President Bush answers: “It is very important for the American president at this point in history to speak very clearly about the evils the world faces.… I believe the United States is the beacon for freedom in the world. And I believe we have a responsibility to promote freedom that is as solemn as the responsibility is to protecting the American people, because the two go hand in hand.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 247]
The Defense Intelligence Agency issues a four-page Defense Intelligence Terrorism Summary (DITSUM No. 044-02) stating that it is probable that prisoner Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi intentionally misled debriefers when he claimed Iraq was supporting al-Qaeda in working with illicit weapons. During interviews with al-Libi, the DIA noted the Libyan al-Qaeda operative could not name any Iraqis involved, any chemical or biological material used, or where the alleged training took place. “It is possible he does not know any further details; it is more likely this individual is intentionally misleading the debriefers,” the report says. “Ibn al-Shaykh has been undergoing debriefs for several weeks and may be describing scenarios to the debriefers that he knows will retain their interest.” The DIA report is presumably circulated widely within the government, and is available to the CIA, the White House, the Pentagon, the National Security Council, and other agencies.
No Evidence of Connections between Iraq, al-Qaeda - On the general subject of Iraq’s alleged ties to al-Qaeda, the DIA report notes: “Saddam [Hussein]‘s regime is intensely secular and is wary of Islamic revolutionary movements. Moreover, Baghdad is unlikely to provide assistance to a group it cannot control.” The report also questions the reliability of information provided by high-value al-Qaeda detainees being held in secret CIA facilities or who have been “rendered” to foreign countries where they are believed to undergo harsh interrogation tactics.
Using al-Libi's Information to Bolster Case for War - Information supplied by al-Libi will be the basis for a claim included in an October 2002 speech (see October 7, 2002) by President Bush, in which he states, “[W]e’ve learned that Iraq has trained al-Qaeda members in bomb making and poisons and gases.” Intelligence provided by al-Libi will also be included in Colin Powell’s February speech (see February 5, 2003) to the UN. In that speech, Powell will cite “the story of a senior terrorist operative telling how Iraq provided training in these weapons to al-Qaeda.” [New York Times, 11/6/2005; Washington Post, 11/6/2005; Los Angeles Times, 11/7/2005; Newsweek, 11/10/2005]
Report Released as Proof of Administration's Reliance on Poor Intelligence Sources - Declassified portions of the DIA report will be issued on November 6, 2005 by two senators, Carl Levin (D-MI) and John D. Rockefeller (D-WV). Rockefeller will tell CNN that al-Libi is “an entirely unreliable individual upon whom the White House was placing a substantial intelligence trust.” The situation was, Rockefeller will say, “a classic example of a lack of accountability to the American people.” [Los Angeles Times, 11/7/2005]
Entity Tags: Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, US Department of Defense, National Security Council, George W. Bush, Saddam Hussein, Colin Powell, Al-Qaeda, Defense Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), John D. Rockefeller, Carl Levin, Central Intelligence Agency
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion
Norman Podhoretz, the editor of the neoconservative magazine Commentary, writes a call to arms called “How to Win World War IV.” For Podhoretz, the US has already won World War III—the Cold War with the Soviet Union. Now, he asserts, it is time to win the war against Islamist terrorism. The US must embrace this war against civilizations, and President Bush must accept that it is his mission “to fight World War IV—the war against militant Islam.” To win this war, Podhoretz writes, the nations of Iraq, Iran, and North Korea must be overthrown, but also Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the Palestinian Authority. Bush must reject the “timorous counsels” of the “incorrigibly cautious Colin Powell [and] find the stomach to impose a new political culture on the defeated” Islamic world. The 9/11 attacks caused the US to destroy the Afghan Taliban in the process of battling al-Qaeda, Podhoretz writes: “We may willy-nilly find ourselves forced… to topple five or six or seven more tyrannies in the Islamic world (including that other sponsor of terrorism, Yasir Arafat’s Palestinian Authority). I can even [imagine] the turmoil of this war leading to some new species of an imperial mission for America, whose purpose would be to oversee the emergence of successor governments in the region more amenable to reform and modernization than the despotisms now in place.… I can also envisage the establishment of some kind of American protectorate over the oil fields of Saudi Arabia, as we more and more come to wonder why 7,000 princes should go on being permitted to exert so much leverage over us and everyone else.” A year later, conservative pundit Pat Buchanan will explain why Podhoretz wants to so drastically remake the map of the Middle East: “[O]ne nation, one leader, one party. Israel, [Ariel] Sharon, Likud.” [Commentary, 2/2002; American Conservative, 3/24/2003]
Mark Crutcher. [Source: Life Dynamics]Members of the anti-abortion organization Life Dynamics call Planned Parenthood clinics in 49 states, pretending to be teenaged girls pregnant by older men, and use the clinics’ promises of confidentiality to accuse them of covering up sexual abuse. The group secretly records telephone conversations with some 800 receptionists and staff members, and then uses selectively edited snippets of the taped conversations in a national publicity campaign against Planned Parenthood. The intent of the organization is to discredit Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers, and to encourage lawsuits against them, according to information published on the organization’s Web site. Life Dynamics, based in Denton, Texas, claims that the tapes are “evidence” that Planned Parenthood and other women’s clinics are complicit in child sex abuse. The organization’s founder, Mark Crutcher, releases a report called “Child Predators,” which is picked up by, among other news outlets, Newsday and Fox News. The organization’s evidence fails to hold up under scrutiny by law enforcement officials and media outlets, and pro-choice attorneys and advocates raise questions about the legality of Life Dynamics’s tactics. The organization bills itself as a “political marketing agency” whose stated goal is to prevent women from obtaining abortions, even if they are legally entitled to them. Crutcher and the group have previously attempted to claim that abortions cause breast cancer, and that Planned Parenthood trafficked in human body parts; both claims have been solidly debunked. Roger Evans of Planned Parenthood notes: “No one has an obligation to report or to conduct an inquisition based on a phone call, because you have no idea who is on the other end and what the truth is. And in this case, [the] Life Dynamics hoax caller was scrupulously careful not to give a name.” He goes on to say that law enforcement officials who have investigated the Life Dynamics charges “have been satisfied that people are conscientiously complying with the law as it’s written, and that people are reporting when kids are in danger.” Life Dynamics denies that its covert recording of the conversations is a violation of any state or federal laws (though 13 states targeted by the organization have anti-wiretapping laws), and is working diligently to spread its story throughout the press, starting with right-wing advocacy groups. The magazine Citizen, published by James Dobson’s Christian group Focus on the Family, says in a cover story that the tapes will “bring down Planned Parenthood.” And Neal Horsley’s far-right Nuremberg Files Web site features a story by Massachusetts attorney Greg Hession that outlines a strategy for “pro-life attorneys” to pursue in filing criminal and civil charges against Planned Parenthood. [Womens ENEws, 11/10/2002] (Horsley is an acknowledged advocate for the murder of abortion providers—see January 1997.) [Feminist Women's Health Center News, 2010] Evans says that if Life Dynamics achieves its stated objective of forcing medical providers to report all instances of teenagers’ sexual activity, “The system would be deluged,” and, in the absence of confidentiality, he predicts “teenagers would stop coming in.” [Womens ENEws, 11/10/2002]
Though the CIA has chosen not to add anything about the Iraq-Niger allegations (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) to the President’s Daily Briefing, it issues a new report on the purported deal, including what it calls “verbatim text” of the agreement between Iraq and Niger (see February 5, 2002). The neoconservatives in the Pentagon (see Early 2002), in author Craig Unger’s words, “pounce… on the new material, and quickly begin working on their own reports that will allege Iraqi attempts to buy enough uranium to make nuclear weapons.” [US Congress, 7/7/2004; Unger, 2007, pp. 239]
George Tenet tells the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, “Our major near-term concern is the possibility that Saddam might gain access to fissile material, . . . [and] with substantial foreign assistance, [Iraq] could flight-test a longer-range ballistic missile within the next five years.” [Chicago Tribune, 2/7/2002]
In a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, 48 percent of the respondents believe that Iraq has “weapons that threaten US.” [USA Today, 2/11/2002]
Attorney General John Ashcroft says “I want to encourage…all Americans everywhere to be on the highest state of alert.” The FBI warns of a threat from Yemeni or Saudi Arabian terrorists who may be planning an imminent attack. [CNN, 2/12/2002] It is later revealed that the threat hadn’t been corroborated by other US intelligence agencies. In addition, the threat actually indicated a more likely attack in Yemen. This announcement was made the same day that Enron CEO Kenneth Lay appeared before Congress. A week earlier, the White House had been ordered to refrain from destroying any documentation related to Enron. [Rolling Stone, 9/21/2006 ]
Senior Bush administration officials say President Bush has decided to oust Iraqi despot Saddam Hussein from power. “This is not an argument about whether to get rid of Saddam Hussein,” one official says. “That debate is over. This is… how you do it.”
CIA, Pentagon Making Plans for Regime Change - Bush has ordered the CIA, the Pentagon, and other agencies to come up with a plan combining military, diplomatic, and covert actions to force Hussein from power. A military strike is not yet imminent, but Bush has decided that Hussein and his putative weapons of mass destruction are such a threat to US security that he must be removed from power, even if US allies do not help. The CIA has already presented Bush with a plan to destabilize Hussein’s regime, incorporating covert action campaigns, sabotage, information warfare, and stepped-up bombing runs throughout the northern and southern “no-fly” zones. Bush is reportedly enthusiastic about the plan, and the CIA has begun assigning officers to the task. Reporters Warren P. Strobel and John Walcott write: “The president’s decision has launched the United States on a course that will have major ramifications for the US military, the Middle East’s future political alignment, international oil flows, and Bush’s own war on terrorism.”
Some Allies Dubious - Allies such as Russia have already expressed grave doubts about the wisdom of such a series of actions, and military experts warn that any campaign in Iraq would be long, bloody, and difficult to bring to a satisfactory conclusion. Nevertheless, one foreign leader who recently met with Bush came away “with the feeling that a decision has been made to strike Iraq, and the ‘how’ and ‘when’ are still fluid,” according to a diplomat.
Cheney to Inform Middle Eastern Leaders of US Intentions - Vice President Cheney will soon depart for a visit to 11 Middle East nations; while the public explanation is that he wants to listen to those nations’ views on the US’s Iraq policy, in reality, Cheney will inform them that the US will overthrow the Hussein regime. One senior official says: “He’s not going to beg for support. He’s going to inform them that the president’s decision has been made and will be carried out, and if they want some input into how and when it’s carried out, now’s the time for them to speak up.” At least one Middle Eastern ally, Egypt, has reservations about such a plan. Egyptian Ambassador Nabil Fahmy said last week that Bush should keep the US focus on fighting international terrorism, where he has broad international backing. “If you mix two issues together, you will lose this focus,” he said.
Debate over Role of Chalabi, INC - There is still sharp debate within the administration over the role that Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress will play in the overthrow and subsequent realignment. Many neoconservatives, particularly in the offices of Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, tout Chalabi as the next leader of Iraq, but others are not sanguine about Chalabi and his organization, with CIA officials warning that the INC is riven by internal debate and undoubtedly riddled with spies from Iraq and Iran. [Knight Ridder, 2/13/2002]
Entity Tags: Warren Strobel, Saddam Hussein, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), Ahmed Chalabi, Donald Rumsfeld, George W. Bush, Iraqi National Congress, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Nabil Fahmy, John Walcott, US Department of Defense
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion
The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) issues “a finished intelligence product” summarizing the February 5, 2002 SISMI report (see February 5, 2002). The report, entitled “Niamey Signed an Agreement to Sell 500 Tons of Uranium a Year to Baghdad,” states as irrefutable fact that Iraq intends to buy weapons-grade 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). It concludes, “Iraq probably is searching abroad for natural uranium to assist in its nuclear weapons program.” It does not comment on the credibility of the sourcing. The report is sent directly to Vice President Dick Cheney. Within hours, Cheney directs the CIA (see February 5, 2002) to investigate the claims. According to the Senate Intelligence Committee’s 2004 report on Iraqi WMD (see July 9, 2004), CIA and DIA analysts find the subsequent reports more informative and believable than the first, more sketchy reports (see February 5, 2002). The CIA’s Directorate of Operations tells one agency analyst that the report comes from a “very credible source.” Analysts with the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) continue to find the reports unconvincing. [US Congress, 7/7/2004; Unger, 2007, pp. 239] Former CIA analyst Ray McGovern will later describe Cheney’s receipt of this document as “odd.” “[I]n more than two years of briefing then-Vice President George H. W. Bush every other morning, not once did he ask a question about a DIA report or even indicate that he had read one,” McGovern will note. “That this particular report was given to Cheney almost certainly reflects the widespread practice of ‘cherry picking’ intelligence.” [AfterDowningStreet (.org), 7/25/2005]
Valerie Plame Wilson. [Source: PEP]In response to questions from Vice President Dick Cheney (see (February 13, 2002)), CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson and officials from the CIA’s DO counterproliferation division (CPD) meet to discuss what the agency should do to determine the validity of recent Italian intelligence reports (see October 15, 2001 and February 5, 2002) alleging that Iraq had sought to purchase uranium from Niger. During the meeting, Plame Wilson suggests sending her husband, Joseph Wilson, an Africa expert and former US diplomat, to Niger to investigate the reports. [US Congress, 7/7/2004] The meeting is chronicled in an internal agency memo obtained by the Wall Street Journal in October 2003. [Wall Street Journal, 10/17/2003] Intelligence officials subsequently will not deny that Plame Wilson was involved in the decision to send Wilson to Niger, but will say she was not “responsible” for the decision. [Wall Street Journal, 10/17/2003]
CIA Alerted to Cheney's Concerns - In her 2007 book Fair Game, Plame Wilson recalls that shortly after Cheney’s initial questions, a young officer rushes into her CPD office and tells her “someone from the vice president’s office” just called the officer on her secure telephone line. The caller, apparently a member of Cheney’s staff, wants information about an intelligence report that the Italian government has passed to the US, alleging that in 1999 Iraq attempted to buy yellowcake uranium from Niger. Cheney is, according to the staffer, “interested and want[s] more information.” Plame Wilson will write, “If the report was true at all, I knew that it would be damning evidence indeed that Iraq was seeking to restart its nuclear program.”
'Nonplussed' at White House Contact - “I was momentarily nonplussed that someone from the vice president’s office had reached down into the junior working levels of the agency to discuss or find an answer to an intelligence report,” she will write. “In my experience, I had never known that to happen. There were strict protocols and procedures for funneling intelligence to policy makers or fielding their questions. Whole offices within the agency were set up and devoted to doing just that. A call to a random desk officer might get the policy maker a quick answer in the heat of the moment, but it was also a recipe for trouble. Handing a senior policy maker ‘raw’ intelligence that had not been properly vetted, placed into context, or appropriately caveated by intelligence professionals usually led to misinterpretation—at a minimum.” She adds that at the time, she is “not aware of the unprecedented number of visits the vice president had made to our headquarters to meet with analysts and look for any available evidence to support the Iraq WMD claims the administration was beginning to make.… I was still blissfully ignorant of any special visits or pressure from the administration vis-a-vis Iraq. I just wanted to get some answers.”
Decision to Ask Wilson Originates with Records Officer, Not Plame Wilson - Plame Wilson tables her concerns about the unusual contact, and begins pondering how best to find answers to Cheney’s questions. The “first and most obvious choice,” she will write, “would be to contact our [REDACTED] office in Niger and ask them to investigate these allegations using local sources available on the ground.” But the budget cuts of the mid-1990s had forced the closing of numerous CIA offices in Africa, including its station in Niamey, Niger. Plame Wilson will recall, “A midlevel reports officer who had joined the discussion in the hallway enthusiastically suggested, ‘What about talking to Joe about it?’” The reports officer is referring to Plame Wilson’s husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson. “He knew of Joe’s history and role in the first Gulf War (see September 5, 1988 and After and September 20, 1990), his extensive experience in Africa, and also that in 1999 the CIA had sent Joe on a sensitive mission to Africa on uranium issues. Of course, none of us imagined the firestorm this sincere suggestion would ignite. At the moment, the only thought that flashed through my mind was that if Joe were out of the country for an extended period of time I would be left to wrestle two squirmy toddlers into bed each evening.… So I was far from keen on the idea, but we needed to respond to the vice president’s office with something other than a lame and obviously unacceptable, ‘We don’t know, sorry.’” Plame Wilson and the reports officer make the suggestion to send Wilson to Niger; her supervisor decides to meet with Wilson “and the appropriate agency and State [Department] officials.” At her supervisor’s behest, Plame Wilson sends an e-mail to her division chief (whom she will only identify as “Scott”), informing him of the decision and noting that “my husband has good relations with both the PM [prime minister] and the former minister of mines (not to mention lots of French contacts), both of whom could possibly shed some light on this sort of activity.” Plame Wilson will write that her words are intended to “gently remind [her division chief] of Joe’s credentials to support why my boss thought he should come into headquarters in the first place.” She will note: “Months later, those words would be ripped out of that e-mail and cited as proof that I had recommended Joe for the trip (see February 13, 2002). But at the time, I simply hit the ‘send’ button and moved on to the other tasks that were demanding my attention.” That night, Plame Wilson broaches the subject of going to Niger with her husband; he agrees to meet with her superiors at the CPD. [US Congress, 7/7/2004; Wilson, 2007, pp. 108-110]
Cheney Later Denies Knowledge of Iraq-Niger Claims - During the investigation of the Plame Wilson leak (see September 26, 2003), Cheney will repeatedly deny any knowledge that the CIA was following up on his request for more information. This is a lie. Among other refutations, the Senate Intelligence Committee will report in 2004 that he was told on February 14 that CIA officers were working with clandestine sources to find out the truth behind the Niger allegations (see July 9, 2004). [Wilson, 2007, pp. 368]
The US embassy in Niger disseminates a cable reporting that the alleged Iraq-Niger uranium deal “provides sufficient detail to warrant another hard look at Niger’s uranium sales. The names of GON [government of Niger] officials cited in the report track closely with those we know to be in those, or closely-related positions. However, the purported 4,000-ton annual production listed is fully 1,000 tons more than the mining companies claim to have produced in 2001.” The report says that US ambassador to Niger Barbro Owens-Kirkpatrick met with the Nigerien foreign minister to ask for an unequivocal assurance that Niger is not selling uranium to so-called “rogue states.” The cable also notes that in September 2001 Nigerien Prime Minister Mamadou Tandja had informed the US embassy that there were buyers like Iraq who had expressed willingness to pay more for Niger’s uranium than France, but he assured them at that time that “of course Niger cannot sell to them.” However, the cable concludes that “we should not dismiss out of hand the possibility that some scheme could be, or has been, underway to supply Iraq with yellowcake from here.” [US Congress, 7/7/2004] Shortly after the cable is sent, Owens-Kirkpatrick reports to the State Department that “there was no possibility” that Iraq made any sort of uranium deal with Niger. She comes to this conclusion after reviewing the possibility of such a deal with the director general of Niger’s French-led uranium consortium. [US Congress, 7/7/2004; Unger, 2007, pp. 229]
The New York Times is the first to report that the Office of Strategic Influence, a secret Pentagon office established shortly after the September 11 attacks (see Shortly after September 11, 2001), is “developing plans to provide news items, possibly even false ones, to foreign media organizations as part of a new effort to influence public sentiment and policy makers in both friendly and unfriendly countries.” The article reports that many inside the government are opposed to these plans. “[S]everal senior officials have questioned whether its mission is too broad and possibly even illegal,” the Times says. “[T]hey are disturbed that a single office might be authorized to use not only covert operations like computer network attacks, psychological activities, and deception, but also the instruments and staff of the military’s globe-spanning public affairs apparatus.” Critics are also concerned that “disinformation planted in foreign media organizations, like Reuters or Agence France-Presse, could end up being published or broadcast by American news organizations.” [New York Times, 2/19/2002] The Washington Post similarly reports that discussions on the use of disinformation “have sparked widespread concern inside the Defense Department among officials who feel that the new office, by seeking to manipulate information and even knowingly dispense false information, could backfire and discredit official Pentagon statements.” [Washington Post, 2/25/2002] News of the Defense Department’s initiative causes an immediate public outcry and the Pentagon denies that it is considering plans to disseminate disinformation. “The Department of Defense, this secretary and the people that work with me tell the American people and the people of the world the truth,” Donald Rumsfeld insists. [Washington Post, 2/21/2002] Jim Wilkinson, deputy White House communications director and head of the Coalition Information Center (CIC) war room, likewise states, “The president is a plain-spoken, truthful man and he expects that same high standard from every public affairs spokesperson in the government.” [Washington Post, 2/25/2002] Some of the most strenuous objections center around the use of the Army’s Psychological Operations unit to carry out OSI programs. [Rich, 2006, pp. 32] Rumsfeld, facing mounting criticism, closes the office a few days later (see February 26, 2002).
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).
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld announces the closure of the Office of Strategic Influence (see Shortly after September 11, 2001), after news of the Pentagon propaganda initiative causes a public stir (see February 19, 2002). “The office has clearly been so damaged that it is pretty clear to me that it could not function effectively,” he tells reporters. “So it is being closed down.” Asked if he instructed Rumsfeld to close the office, President Bush says: “I didn’t even need to tell him this. He knows how I feel about this.” [New York Times, 2/27/2002] Nine months later, Rumsfeld says that after the OSI was closed, “I went down that next day and said fine, if you want to savage this thing fine I’ll give you the corpse. There’s the name. You can have the name, but I’m gonna keep doing every single thing that needs to be done and I have.” [US Department of Defense, 11/18/2002] Much of its operations are apparently shifted to another unit called the Information Operations Task Force. Some operations are farmed out to the Rendon Group, a private public relations firm with extensive experience marketing wars and foreign policy for Republican administrations (see May 1991 and Late May 2001). [Rolling Stone, 11/17/2005; Rich, 2006, pp. 189]
On Fox News’s Hannity and Colmes talk show, conservative pundit and author David Horowitz calls the Huntington Beach, California, public school district “racist.” Horowitz is objecting to Huntington Beach’s enforcement of racial-balancing policies that prevent white children from transferring out of certain schools and black children from transferring in. Horowitz says: “What’s going on here, it’s probably a class issue. But we don’t even know why these parents—first of all, it’s racist. The school district is racist.” When civil rights activist Lawrence Guyot attempts to refute Horowitz’s claims, Horowitz calls him a “racialist,” saying, “How can we settle the racial problem when we have racialists like Lawrence out there agitating to make every problem a racial problem?” [Media Matters, 12/1/2004]
Accused abortion clinic and Olympic bomber Eric Rudolph (see January 16, 1997, February 21, 1997, January 16, 1997, and January 29, 1998), a fugitive for four years, is the subject of two letters of support found in Andrews, North Carolina. Rudolph has long been believed to be hiding out in the western mountains of North Carolina, where Andrews is located. One letter is found in the mailbox of the Andrews Journal newspaper offices, and one taped to the door of a boot store where Rudolph once purchased a pair of hiking boots. Both letters claim to be from the Army of God, a violent anti-abortion group to which Rudolph belongs (see 1982). Both letters are headed with the words, “Eric Robert Rudolph” and “May God be with you” in large type. There is no other mention of Rudolph in the letters, which vow a continued effort, “including lethal force,” to stop abortions. [CNN, 3/18/2002]
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld signs Military Commission Order No. 1 prescribing the procedures of the military commission trials (see November 10, 2001). The order says a two-third majority is required to determine a sentence and unanimity for applying the death penalty. It fails to provide for the possibility of appeals. It also says evidence submitted before a commission “shall” be declared admissible if the presiding officer or a majority of the commission members consider that it “would have probative value to a reasonable person.” [US Department of Defense, 3/21/2002 ]
Fundamental Violations of Defendant Rights - Thus, if the presiding member or a majority considers a statement made under any form of coercion, including torture, to have some “probative value,” it “shall” be admitted. Professor Neal Katyal of Georgetown University later says this is a break with standard proceedings in civil courts and courts-martial and calls it “clearly at odds with American military justice.” [Los Angeles Times, 8/18/2004] Under the rules, the “Accused” is assigned a military officer to conduct his defense, but may select another officer. He may also retain a civilian attorney; however, he may only choose a lawyer who is vetted by the military. Unlike a military attorney, the civilian lawyer can be excluded from the trial if the presiding member of the commission decides to hold closed proceedings. This prompts Amnesty International to observe that the commissions “will restrict the right of defendants to choose their own counsel and to an effective defense.” [Amnesty International, 10/27/2004] Under the rules of the military commissions the military is allowed to monitor private conversations between defense lawyers and their clients. This violates, as Human Rights Watch remarks, “the fundamental notion of attorney-client confidentiality.” [Human Rights Watch, 1/9/2004]
Extraordinary Procedures for a 'Special Breed of Person' - In a discussion of the new rules, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, in an appearance on the PBS NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, explains that the detainees being held in Guantanamo are “dangerous people, whether or not they go before a military commission.” He adds, “We’re dealing with a special breed of person here” and thusly new and far more draconian rules must be applied. [PBS, 3/21/2002]
Battle with JAG Lawyers - Rumsfeld worked with lawyers from the Pentagon’s Judge Advocate General (JAG) office to create the procedures for the commissions. The JAG lawyers viewed the commissions as well outside the established rule of law, both in due process as mandated by the Constitution and in the protections mandated by the Geneva Conventions. But Rumsfeld and his group of political appointees considered the JAGs too closed-minded, and insisted on procedures that horrified the military lawyers—low standards for convictions, denial of civilian attorneys, imposition of the death penalty without unanimous consent of the panel of officers judging the case, and other proposed procedures. The JAGs argued that some of the proposals floated by Rumsfeld and his staff would violate their own ethical standards and put them at risk for later prosecution for war crimes if adopted. One top JAG official threatened to resign if the procedures were not brought more in line with established military law. The final version is a compromise between the two camps. Major General Thomas Romig, the head of JAG, later says that the final version still is not what the JAGs would have created on their own. As reporter and author Charlie Savage will later write, based on Romig’s comments: “While less draconian than the political appointees’ initial plans, the military commissions were still legally objectionable in several respects. The commission rules, for example, allowed secret evidence that would be kept hidden from a defendant and allowed the admission of evidence obtained through coercive interrogations [torture]. Moreover, the special trials still had no explicit congressional authorization.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 138-139]
David Manning [Source: Britainusa.com]Britain is accused of falsely claiming the existence of an al-Qaeda biological and chemical weapons laboratory in Afghanistan in order to justify the deployment of Royal Marines to the country. A British government source says that documents found by American soldiers in a cave near the village of Shah-i-Kot indicates that Osama bin Laden had acquired chemical and biological weapons. The source also claimed that American forces had discovered the laboratory in a cave near the city of Gardez earlier this month. These claims are used to justify the deployment of 1,700 Royal Marines. But once these claims are made public, they are strongly denied by the Pentagon and State Department. A US Army official says, “I don’t know what they’re saying in London but we have received no specific intelligence on that kind of development or capability in the Shah-e-Kot valley region - I mean a chemical or biological weapons facility.” British intelligence, military, and Foreign Office sources also deny any knowledge of the claims. The only evidence related to any sort of laboratory was the discovery near Kandahar last December of an abandoned, incomplete building containing medical equipment, which had been previously reported. The source of the claims is eventually identified as an off-the-record briefing by Prime Minister Tony Blair’s senior foreign policy adviser, David Manning. The Prime Minister’s office says it sticks to “the thrust of the story.” It claims that although evidence points to al-Qaeda’s interest in acquiring such weapons, Manning had “not actually told” reporters a laboratory had been found. [Observer, 3/24/2002]
Vice President Cheney discusses Saddam Hussein on CNN: “This is a man of great evil. He knows we’re deadly serious. Our friends and allies in the region know we’re deadly serious and that we do need to find a way to address this problem.” And that same day on Meet the Press, Cheney discusses Iraq: “The evidence is overwhelming. And one of the things that we need to do is to make the case, lay it out there. This is the evidence. This is what he’s done. This is what he’s doing. This is the threat to the United States and to our friends around the world.” [PBS Frontline, 6/20/2006]
Two weeks after the CIA informed the White House and other departments that evidence of an Iraqi attempt to purchase Nigerien uranium is scanty (see March 8, 2002), Vice President Dick Cheney appears on CNN to assert the opposite: that Iraq is actively pursuing nuclear weapons. Cheney says that Iraq “has chemical weapons… has biological weapons… [and is] pursuing nuclear weapons.” [CNN, 3/24/2002]
A terror alert is issued for American interests in four Italian cities. Richard Boucher, spokesman for the State Department, says that “There is not too much more detail I can give you other than saying that we have credible reports that extremists are planning additional terrorist attacks against US interests and that a possible threat exists to US citizens in the cities of Venice, Florence, Milan and Verona on Easter Sunday, March 31st.” [US Department of State, 3/27/2002] No attacks materialize and no further information is given on the nature of the threat. [News Hounds, 10/9/2004]
In the wake of al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida’s arrest (see March 28, 2002), the FBI discovers much useful information (see Shortly After March 28, 2002). FBI agent Dan Coleman leads a team to sort through Zubaida’s computer files and documents. However, at the same time, some US officials come to believe that Zubaida’s prominence in al-Qaeda’s hierarchy has been overestimated. Many FBI officials conclude that he was used as little more than a travel agent for training camp attendees because he was mentally ill. [Suskind, 2006, pp. 94-96, 100]
FBI Agent Coleman: Zubaida Is Mentally Crippled - FBI counterterrorist operative Dan Coleman will go through Zubaida’s journals and other materials seized from his Faisalabad safe house. Coleman will say: “Abu Zubaydah was like a receptionist, like the guy at the front desk [of a hotel]. He takes their papers, he sends them out. It’s an important position, but he’s not recruiting or planning.” Because Zubaida is not conversant with al-Qaeda security methods, “[t]hat was why his name had been cropping up for years.” Of Zubaida’s diaries, Coleman will say: “There’s nothing in there that refers to anything outside his head, not even when he saw something on the news, not about any al-Qaeda attack, not even 9/11. All it does is reveal someone in torment. [Zubaida is physically and mentally crippled from wounds suffered fighting in Afghanistan in the early 1990s.] Based on what I saw of his personality, he could not be what they say he was.” [Vanity Fair, 12/16/2008] Coleman will add: “He knew very little about real operations, or strategy. He was expendable.” Zubaida’s diary evidences his apparent schizophrenia; he wrote it in three different personas, or voices, each with a different and distinctive personality. [Suskind, 2006, pp. 94-96, 100]
Islamist Al-Deen: Importance Overstated? - Noor al-Deen, a Syrian teenager, was captured along with Zubaida. The terrified al-Deen will readily answer questions from his captors, and will describe Zubaida as a well-known functionary with little knowledge of al-Qaeda operations. Al-Deen will be sent to a detention facility in Morocco and later to Syria; his subsequent whereabouts and status will remain unknown to the public. [Washington Post, 3/29/2009]
Informant Says Zubaida Behaved Oddly - Other accounts back up this assessment. For instance, Omar Nasiri, a former informant for European intelligence agencies who met Zubaida in the 1990s, will later describe Zubaida’s odd behavior, saying he “shuffled around his home in near-total darkness, carrying a gas lantern from room to room. He barely spoke and would often communicate by pointing.” [New Yorker, 1/22/2007]
CIA Officer Scheuer: Zubaida Served as Key Hub - Michael Scheuer, who previously ran the CIA’s bin Laden unit (see February 1996), will later say of Zubaida’s importance: “I’d followed him for a decade. If there was one guy you could call a ‘hub,’ he was it.” Scheuer will describe Zubaida not as an actual al-Qaeda member, but “the main cog in the way they organized,” a point of contact for Islamists from many parts of the globe seeking combat training in the Afghan camps. Scheuer will say that Zubaida, a Palestinian, “never swore bayat [al-Qaeda’s oath of allegiance] to bin Laden,” and he was bent on causing damage to Israel, not the US. [Vanity Fair, 12/16/2008]
Involvement in Pre-9/11 Plots - However, Zubaida does appear to have been involved in numerous plots before 9/11 (see for instance November 30, 1999 and Early September 2001). Al-Qaeda operative Ahmed Ressam cooperated with US investigators after being arrested. He worked with Zubaida and suggested Zubaida was of some importance, but not one of al-Qaeda’s highest leaders. According to Ressam, Zubaida “is the person in charge of the [training] camps. He receives young men from all countries. He accepts you or rejects you. He takes care of the expenses of the camps. He makes arrangements for you when you travel coming in or leaving.” [Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 133] Furthermore, when Zubaida was caught, apparently he and several others staying with him were in the middle of building a bomb. According to one of the CIA officers who helped capture him, the soldering iron used in making the bomb was still hot when he was captured (see Shortly After March 28, 2002). [Senate Intelligence Committee, 4/22/2009 ]
CIA Chief Tenet Rejects Diagnosis of Schizophrenia - In a 2007 book, former CIA Director George Tenet will claim that the reports that Zubaida was mentally unstable were “[b]aloney.… Apparently, the source of the rumor that Abu Zubaida was unbalanced was his personal diary, in which he adopted various personas. From that shaky perch, some junior Freudians leapt to the conclusion that Zubaida had multiple personalities. In fact, agency psychiatrists eventually determined that in his diary he was using a sophisticated literary device to express himself.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 243]
Zubaida Touted as High-Level Terror Chief - Regardless, despite being briefed otherwise, President Bush and others in his administration will repeatedly tout the importance of capturing Zubaida and no hint of any doubts about his importance or sanity will be publicly expressed (see April 9, 2002 and After). [Suskind, 2006, pp. 94-96, 100]
FBI senior interrogator and al-Qaeda expert Ali Soufan, in conjunction with FBI agent Steve Gaudin, interrogate suspected al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002) using traditional non-coercive interrogation methods, while Zubaida is under guard in a secret CIA prison in Thailand. A CIA interrogation team is expected but has not yet arrived, so Soufan and Gaudin who have been nursing his wounds are initially leading his questioning using its typical rapport-building techniques. “We kept him alive,” Soufan will later recall. “It wasn’t easy, he couldn’t drink, he had a fever. I was holding ice to his lips.” At the beginning, Zubaida denies even his identity, calling himself “Daoud;” Soufan, who has pored over the FBI’s files on Zubaida, stuns him by calling him “Hani,” the nickname his mother called him. Soufan and Gaudin, with CIA officials present, elicit what he will later call “important actionable intelligence” from Zubaida. To help get him to talk, the agents bring in a box of audiotapes and claim they contain recordings of his phone conversations. He begins to confess.
Zubaida Reveals KSM Is 9/11 Mastermind - Zubaida tells Soufan that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, and confirms that Mohammed’s alias is “Mukhtar,” a vital fact US intelligence discovered shortly before 9/11 (see August 28, 2001). Soufan shows Zubaida a sheaf of pictures of terror suspects; Zubaida points at Mohammed’s photo and says, “That’s Mukhtar… the one behind 9/11” (see April 2002). Zubaida also tells Soufan about American al-Qaeda operative Jose Padilla (see March 2002 and Mid-April 2002). In 2009, Soufan will write of his interrogations of Zubaida (see April 22, 2009): “This experience fit what I had found throughout my counterterrorism career: traditional interrogation techniques are successful in identifying operatives, uncovering plots and saving lives.” When the CIA begins subjecting Zubaida to “enhanced interrogation tactics” (see Mid-April 2002), Soufan will note that they learn nothing from using those tactics “that wasn’t, or couldn’t have been, gained from regular tactics. In addition, I saw that using these alternative methods on other terrorists backfired on more than a few occasions… The short sightedness behind the use of these techniques ignored the unreliability of the methods, the nature of the threat, the mentality and modus operandi of the terrorists, and due process.” [Vanity Fair, 7/17/2007; Mayer, 2008, pp. 155; New York Times, 4/22/2009; Newsweek, 4/25/2009]
Standing Up to the CIA - The CIA interrogation team members, which includes several private contractors, want to begin using “harsh interrogation tactics” on Zubaida almost as soon as they arrive. The techniques they have in mind include nakedness, exposure to freezing temperatures, and loud music. Soufan objects. He yells at one contractor (whom other sources will later identify as psychologist James Mitchell—see Late 2001-Mid-March 2002, January 2002 and After and Between Mid-April and Mid-May 2002), telling him that what he is doing is wrong, ineffective, and an offense to American values. “I asked [the contractor] if he’d ever interrogated anyone, and he said no,” Soufan will later say. But, Mitchell retorts that his inexperience does not matter. “Science is science,” he says. “This is a behavioral issue.” Instead, Mitchell says, Soufan is the inexperienced one. As Soufan will later recall, “He told me he’s a psychologist and he knows how the human mind works.” During the interrogation process, Soufan finds a dark wooden “confinement box” that the contractor has built for Zubaida. Soufan will later recall that it looked “like a coffin.” (Other sources later say that Mitchell had the box constructed for a “mock burial.”) An enraged Soufan calls Pasquale D’Amuro, the FBI assistant director for counterterrorism. “I swear to God,” he shouts, “I’m going to arrest these guys!” Soufan challenges one CIA official over the agency’s legal authority to torture Zubaida, saying, “We’re the United States of America, and we don’t do that kind of thing.” But the official counters with the assertion that the agency has received approval from the “highest levels” in Washington to use such techniques. The official even shows Soufan a document that the official claims was approved by White House counsel Alberto Gonzales. It is unclear what document the official is referring to.
Ordered Home - In Washington, D’Amuro is disturbed by Soufan’s reports, and tells FBI director Robert Mueller, “Someday, people are going to be sitting in front of green felt tables having to testify about all of this.” Mueller orders Soufan and then Gaudin to return to the US, and later forbids the FBI from taking part in CIA interrogations (see May 13, 2004). [New York Times, 9/10/2006; Newsweek, 4/25/2009]
Disputed Claims of Effectiveness - The New York Times will later note that officials aligned with the FBI tend to think the FBI’s techniques were effective while officials aligned with the CIA tend to think the CIA’s techniques were more effective. [New York Times, 9/10/2006] In 2007, former CIA officer John Kiriakou will make the opposite claim, that FBI techniques were slow and ineffective and CIA techniques were immediately effective. However, Kiriakou led the team that captured Zubaida in Pakistan and does not appear to have traveled with him to Thailand (see December 10, 2007). [ABC News, 12/10/2007; ABC News, 12/10/2007 ]
Press Investigation Finds that FBI Interrogations Effective - In 2007, Vanity Fair will conclude a 10 month investigation comprising 70 interviews, and conclude that the FBI techniques were effective. The writers will later note, “America learned the truth of how 9/11 was organized because a detainee had come to trust his captors after they treated him humanely.” CIA Director George Tenet reportedly is infuriated that the FBI and not the CIA obtained the information and he demands that the CIA team get there immediately. But once the CIA team arrives, they immediately put a stop to the rapport building techniques and instead begin implementing a controversial “psychic demolition” using legally questionable interrogation techniques. Zubaida immediately stops cooperating (see Mid-April 2002). [Vanity Fair, 7/17/2007]
Entity Tags: Steve Gaudin, Vanity Fair, Robert S. Mueller III, James Elmer Mitchell, Jose Padilla, Abu Zubaida, Ali Soufan, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Central Intelligence Agency, George J. Tenet, John Kiriakou, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Pasquale D’Amuro
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline
CIA case officers stationed all over Europe attend a mandatory special conference in Rome. Officials from the CIA’s Iraq Operations Group inform the case officers that Iraq has been on the administration’s agenda from the very beginning. One officer who attends the conference later tells author James Risen: “They said this was on Bush’s agenda when he got elected, and that 9/11 only delayed it. They implied that 9/11 was a distraction from Iraq. And they said Bush was committed to a change of leadership in Iraq, and that it would start with kinetic energy—meaning bombs. Meaning war.” Officials in the Iraq Operations Group are openly supportive of the administration’s goal. At the conference, they give presentations about the evils of Iraq, most of which is based on information from the public record. One attendee likens it to a “pep rally” aimed at building support within the agency for an invasion of Iraq. “We were supposed to go out and tell our liaison contacts how bad Saddam was,” the officer later says. During the meeting, it is proposed that the CIA plant stories in the European media in support of a war with Iraq. [Risen, 2006, pp. 183-184]
At a luncheon for Republicans in Connecticut, President Bush boasts of the recent capture of alleged al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002). Bush says: “The other day we hauled in a guy named Abu Zubaida. He’s one of the top operatives plotting and planning death and destruction on the United States. He’s not plotting and planning anymore. He’s where he belongs.” [White House, 4/9/2002] Bush is presumably aware that Zubaida is being tortured in Thailand (see Late March 2002 and April - June 2002).
The capture of al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002) is leaked to the press shortly after it occurs and on April 9, 2002, President Bush says in a speech: “The other day we hauled in a guy named Abu Zubaida. He’s one of the top operatives planning death and destruction on the United States. He’s not plotting and planning anymore.” In the weeks and months that follow, Bush and others in his administration will repeatedly tout the importance of capturing Zubaida. He is frequently described as “chief of operations” for all of al-Qaeda and the group’s number three leader. Zubaida is the only significant al-Qaeda capture in the first year after 9/11, so there is pressure to hype his importance. However, at the time there is a raging debate among US intelligence analysts as to Zubaida’s actual importance and even his mental sanity (see Shortly After March 28, 2002). According to journalist Ron Suskind, one day, when CIA Director George Tenet reminds Bush that Zubaida was not such a top leader after all, Bush reportedly says to him: “I said he was important. You’re not going to let me lose face on this, are you?” Tenet replies, “No sir, Mr. President.” Suskind will later comment: “In the wide, diffuse ‘war on terror,’ so much of it occurring in the shadows—with no transparency and only perfunctory oversight—the administration could say anything it wanted to say.… The administration could create whatever reality was convenient.” [Suskind, 2006, pp. 99-100] But in 2006, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) will issue a report containing the biographies of al-Qaeda detainees held at Guantanamo. In marked contrast to previous announcements, this biography downgrades the importance of Zubaida. It merely calls him a “leading extremist facilitator” and “one of al-Qaeda’s senior travel facilitators,” and says he is “not believed to be directly linked to the attacks on 11 September 2001.” [Office of the Director of National Intelligence, 9/6/2006 ; Time, 9/6/2006; Dickey, 2009, pp. 77] In 2006, Bush will make new claims about Zubaida’s capture that are at odds with the known facts (see September 6, 2006).
[Source: House of Representatives]US Representative Cynthia McKinney (D-GA) calls for a thorough investigation into whether President Bush and other government officials may have been warned of the 9/11 attacks but did nothing to prevent them. She is the first national-level politician to do so. She states: “News reports from Der Spiegel to the London Observer, from the Los Angeles Times to MSNBC to CNN, indicate that many different warnings were received by the administration.… I am not aware of any evidence showing that President Bush or members of his administration have personally profited from the attacks of 9/11.… On the other hand, what is undeniable is that corporations close to the administration have directly benefited from the increased defense spending arising from the aftermath of September 11. The Carlyle Group, Dyn-Corp, and Halliburton certainly stand out as companies close to this administration.” [Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 4/12/2002] McKinney’s comments are criticized and ridiculed by other politicians and the media. For instance, Representative Mark Foley (R-FL) states, “She has said some outrageous things but this has gone too far.… Maybe there should be an investigation as she suggests—but one focused on her.” Senator Zell Miller (D-GA) says her comments were dangerous and irresponsible. [Washington Post, 4/12/2002] An editorial in her home state calls her the “most prominent nut” promoting 9/11 “conspiracy theories.” [Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 4/15/2002] One columnist says she is possibly “a delusional paranoiac” or “a socialist rabble-rouser who despises her own country.” [Orlando Sentinel, 4/21/2002] White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer says McKinney “must be running for the hall of fame of the Grassy Knoll Society.” [Washington Post, 4/12/2002] One month after McKinney’s comments, the Bush administration comes under fire after reports reveal it had been warned five weeks before 9/11 about possible al-Qaeda plane hijackings, and McKinney claims vindication. She will lose reelection later in the year, but win her seat back in 2004. [Office of Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, 5/16/2002]
Ahmed Alhaznawi in his martyr video. [Source: Al Jazeera]A martyr video of 9/11 hijacker Ahmed Alhaznawi is shown by the Al Jazeera television network. Alhaznawi does not mention details of the 9/11 plot, but he pledges to send a “bloodied message” to Americans. He says, “It is time to kill the Americans on their own ground among their families and soldiers… The time of humiliation and subjugation is over. It’s time to kill Americans in their heartland.… Lord I regard myself as a martyr for you to accept me as such.” A picture of the World Trade Center exploding appears behind him during his entire speech. It is believed that he recorded the video around March 2001, the same time most other 9/11 hijackers recorded similar videos (see (December 2000-March 2001)), and the background was added in digitally after 9/11. Al Jazeera says they received the video about a week earlier, along with videos from top al-Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, as part of a documentary prepared by al-Qaeda. The Guardian notes that “The al-Qaeda tapes broadcast by [Al Jazeera since 9/11] have gradually moved towards acknowledging the organization’s role in the September 11 conspiracy,” and “Alhaznawi’s statement comes close to a full admission…” [Guardian, 4/16/2002]
Not long after being captured, al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida identifies Jose Padilla as an al-Qaeda operative to his FBI interrogators (see Late March through Early June, 2002). Padilla is a US citizen, and US intelligence has been monitoring him and some of his associates in Florida for nearly a decade already (see (October 1993-November 2001)). However, the New York Times will allege in 2006: “But Mr. Zubaida dismissed Mr. Padilla as a maladroit extremist whose hope to construct a dirty bomb, using conventional explosives to disperse radioactive materials, was far-fetched. He told his questioners that Mr. Padilla was ignorant on the subject of nuclear physics and believed he could separate plutonium from nuclear material by rapidly swinging over his head a bucket filled with fissionable material” (see Early 2002). [New York Times, 9/10/2006] The US arrests Padilla a short time later, when he returns to the US from an overseas trip on May 8 (see May 8, 2002). One month later, Attorney General John Ashcroft will reveal Padilla’s arrest in a widely publicized announcement, and will further allege that Padilla was actively plotting to detonate a radioactive “dirty bomb” inside the US (see June 10, 2002). However, it appears Zubaida may have been correct that Padilla was wildly overhyped. The US will later drop charges that Padilla was making a “dirty bomb,” planning any attack in the US, and was a member of al-Qaeda. [Knight Ridder, 11/23/2005] Journalist Ron Suskind will comment in 2006, “Padilla turned out to not be nearly as valuable as advertised at the start, though, and I think that’s been shown in the ensuing years.” [Salon, 9/7/2006]
President Bush explicitly likens US reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan to the successful Marshall Plan that helped rebuild Europe after World War II. At the Virginia Military Institute, where Gen. George Marshall trained a century ago, Bush calls the Marshall Plan “a beacon to light the path that we, too, must follow.” He says that Afghans have felt abandoned before, including by the US at the end of the Afghan war against the Soviets in the 1980s, and says, “We’re not going to repeat that mistake. We’re tough, we’re determined, we’re relentless. We will stay until the mission is done.” He vows to avoid the syndrome of “initial success, followed by long years of floundering and ultimate failure.” The New York Times will later note that that speech is little-noticed in the US but fuels expectations in Afghanistan and bolsters the stature of Hamid Karzai shortly before he is formally chosen to lead the Afghan government. But Bush’s promise will fail to materialize. In the months following the speech, the Bush administration fails to make any detailed reconstruction plan. For the next few years, Afghanistan will end up getting less assistance per capita than post-conflict Bosnia and Kosovo, or even poverty-stricken Haiti. [New York Times, 8/12/2007]
FBI Director Mueller states: “In our investigation, we have not uncovered a single piece of paper either here in the United States or in the treasure trove of information that has turned up in Afghanistan and elsewhere that mentioned any aspect of the September 11 plot.” He also claims that the attackers used “extraordinary secrecy” and “investigators have found no computers, laptops, hard drives or other storage media that may have been used by the hijackers, who hid their communications by using hundreds of pay phones and cell phones, coupled with hard-to-trace prepaid calling cards.” [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 4/19/2002; Los Angeles Times, 4/22/2002] However, before 9/11, CIA Director Tenet told the Senate that al-Qaeda is “embracing the opportunities offered by recent leaps in information technology” [US Congress, 3/21/2000] ; the FBI broke the al-Qaeda computer encryption before February 2001 [United Press International, 2/13/2001] ; witnesses report seeing the hijackers use computers for e-mail at public libraries in Florida and Maine [South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 9/16/2001; Boston Herald, 10/5/2001] ; in October 2001 there were many reports that hundreds of e-mails discussing the 9/11 plot had been found (see October 2001); Moussaoui’s laptop was found to contain important information (see (Late July-Early August, 2002)), and so on.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s spokesperson states, “Given what we know about al-Qaeda’s interest in the material [Iraq’s supposed WMD], we have to have concerns about a possible marriage between those who wish to acquire it and those who have it.” Immediately after the statement is made, Britain’s own senior military officials refute the claim saying that there is no credible evidence to support the claim. A senior source tells the Independent of London, “We are not aware of evidence, intelligence or otherwise, that the Iraqi government or its agencies are passing on weapons of mass destruction to al-Qaeda. Nor have we seen any credible evidence linking the Iraqi government to the September 11 attacks.” [Independent, 3/26/2002]
Newsweek reports that both US and Czech officials no longer believe the alleged April 2001 meeting between Mohamed Atta and the Iraqi officer, Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani, ever took place (see April 8, 2001). The magazine reports that FBI and CIA investigations show no record that Atta visited Prague during that time and instead place the 9/11 plotter in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and Florida during that month. [Newsweek, 4/28/2002; Washington Post, 5/1/2002; BBC, 5/1/2002] But Czech Interior Minister Stanislav Gross maintains that the meeting did take place. A few days after the Newsweek report is published, he says, “Right now I do not have the slightest information that anything is wrong with the details I obtained from BIS counterintelligence. I trust the BIS more than journalists.” [BBC, 5/1/2002; Prague Post, 5/8/2002]
In part due to pressure from Vice President Cheney, the CIA sends a cable to France’s intelligence agency, the Direction Generale de la Securite Exterieure (DGSE), communicating concerns about intelligence suggesting that Iraq is attempting to purchase uranium from Niger. (Another cable had been sent the year before (see Summer 2001).) Specifically, the CIA says it is concerned about an alleged agreement between Iraq and Niger on the sale of 500 tons of uranium that was signed by Nigerian officials. (In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, DGSE official Alain Chouet will note that the details of this agreement matched those of the forged documents.) [Los Angeles Times, 12/11/2005; Unger, 2007, pp. 241] Niger is a former French colony, and the French keep a tight rein on Niger’s uranium production. Hence, the CIA turns to French intelligence to vet the claim of Nigerien uranium going to Iraq. “The French were managing partners of the international consortium in Niger,” former US ambassador Joseph Wilson will later say. “The French did the actual mining and shipping of [uranium].” [Unger, 2007, pp. 208-209] The CIA asks for an immediate answer about the authenticity of the information. [La Repubblica (Rome), 12/1/2005] In response, the DGSE sends its head of security intelligence, Chouet, to look into the uranium deal. The initial information Chouet receives from the CIA is vague, he will later recall, except for one striking detail: Iraq’s ambassador to the Vatican, Wissam al-Zahawie, made an unusual trip to four African countries in 1999, including Niger. CIA analysts fear the trip may have been a prelude to the uranium deal. But Chouet soon learns that the al-Zawahie trip (see February 1999) had not been secret, as the CIA avers, but had been well covered by, among other news outlets, the local Nigerien press. In addition, French, British, and US intelligence had received routine reports on al-Zawahie’s visits. Chouet, head of a 700-person intelligence unit specializing in weapons proliferation and terrorism, sends an undercover team of five or six men to Niger to check on the security of Niger’s uranium. The investigation produces no evidence that al-Zawahie had even discussed uranium with the Nigeriens. [La Repubblica (Rome), 12/1/2005; Los Angeles Times, 12/11/2005; Unger, 2007, pp. 208-209] Chouet will later recall, “[O]nce back, they told me a very simple thing: ‘the American information on uranium is all bullsh_t.’” [La Repubblica (Rome), 12/1/2005] The French summarize the results of their investigation in a series of formal cables they send to CIA offices in Langley and Paris. Chouet will later tell the Times that they communicated their doubts about the claims in no uncertain terms. “We told the Americans, ‘Bullshi_t. It doesn’t make any sense.’” [La Repubblica (Rome), 12/1/2005; Los Angeles Times, 12/11/2005] Choeut’s formal reports to the CIA use less coarse language, but he later describes them as candid. “We had the feeling we had been heard,” he will recall. [Unger, 2007, pp. 241] The DGSE considers the issue closed. [Unger, 2007, pp. 208-209]
The Bush administration, prodded by State Department official John Bolton, refuses to certify that Russia is in compliance with international accords banning chemical and biological weapons. As a result, Russia is no longer eligible for State Department and Defense Department funding for nuclear nonproliferation programs (see January 10, 2001 and After). The Clinton administration harbored similar concerns, but believed that helping Russia secure its loose nuclear weapons and technology was more important than holding Russia in noncompliance in the CBW accords. In related negotiations, Bolton successfully impedes progress in negotiations in a liability agreement with the US over the securing of “loose nukes”; Bolton insists on absolving US government officials, as well as private firms and personnel, of any liability for accidents or even sabotage encountered as part of the nonproliferation programs. The dispute will not be resolved until September 2006. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 209]
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