Thursday, August 14, 2008

Weapons of Mass Deception

One of the more interesting stories to emerge lately is the tale of the faked WMD letter produced by the CIA. This letter purported to be from the head of Iraqi intelligence, and constituted an important piece of "evidence" of the involvement of Iraq in 9/11 and the existence of WMD in Iraq. (This was despite credible, explicit statements from Habbush stating that neither assertion was true.)

"The White House had concocted a fake letter from Habbush to Saddam, backdated to July 1, 2001," Suskind wrote. "It said that 9/11 ringleader Mohammad Atta had actually trained for his mission in Iraq thus showing, finally, that there was an operational link between Saddam and al-Qaida, something the vice president's office had been pressing CIA to prove since 9/11 as a justification to invade Iraq. There is no link."


"After being told that Habbush had said there were no WMD, Bush was frustrated," Suskind wrote in the book, quoting Bush telling an aide, "Why don't they ask him to give us something we can use to help us make our case?"

That darned reality just keeps getting in the way.

Politico also posted an interesting take on the issue:

The author claims that such an operation, part of “false pretenses” for war, would apparently constitute illegal White House use of the CIA to influence a domestic audience, an arguably impeachable offense.
Suskind writes that the White House had “ignored the Iraq intelligence chief’s accurate disclosure that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq – intelligence they received in plenty of time to stop an invasion.
“It is not the sort of offense, such as assault or burglary, that carries specific penalties, for example, a fine or jail time,” Suskind writes. “It is much broader than that. It pertains to the White House’s knowingly misusing an arm of government, the sort of thing generally taken up in impeachment proceedings.”

If Monica was worth an impeachment, Bush's broad abuses of authority ought to be worth kicking him and Cheney out on their kiesters.

And back to the perils of using facts to formulate policy:

--John Maguire, one of two men who oversaw the CIA’s Iraq Operations Group, was frustrated by what Suskind describes as the “tendency of the White House to ignore advice it didn’t want to hear – advice that contradicted its willed certainty, political judgments, or rigid message strategies.”

That's a pretty common complaint about the White House, where no science or intelligence report goes unedited by the political office.

--Suskind writes in the acknowledgments that his research assistant, Greg Jackson, “was sent to New York on a project for the book” in September 2007 and was “detained by federal agents in Manhattan. He was interrogated and his notes were confiscated, violations of his First and Fourth Amendment rights.” The author provides no further detail.

Bush probably tried to invalidate the First Amendment with a signing statement first...


Suskind says he spoke on the record with U.S. intelligence officials who stated that Bush was informed unequivocally in January 2003 that Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction. Nonetheless, his book relates, Bush decided to invade Iraq three months later — with the forged letter from the head of Iraqi intelligence to Saddam bolstering the U.S. rationale to go into war.

Why even bother to have an intelligence service? Just ask Cheney what he wants the truth to be today.

Blumenthal reports that the Bush administration deliberately spun intelligence to make it appear that the evidence was strong for WMDs in Iraq:

Precisely because of the qualms the administration encountered, it created a rogue intelligence operation, the Office of Special Plans, located within the Pentagon and under the control of neo-conservatives. The OSP roamed outside the ordinary inter-agency process, stamping its approval on stories from Iraqi exiles that the other agencies dismissed as lacking credibility, and feeding them to the president.

At the same time, constant pressure was applied to the intelligence agencies to force their compliance. In one case, a senior intelligence officer who refused to buckle under was removed.

Bruce Hardcastle was a senior officer for the Middle East for the Defence Intelligence Agency. When Bush insisted that Saddam was actively and urgently engaged in a nuclear weapons programme and had renewed production of chemical weapons, the DIA reported otherwise. According to Patrick Lang, the former head of human intelligence at the CIA, Hardcastle "told [the Bush administration] that the way they were handling evidence was wrong." The response was not simply to remove Hardcastle from his post: "They did away with his job," Lang says. "They wanted only liaison officers ... not a senior intelligence person who argued with them."

When the state department's bureau of intelligence and research (INR) submitted reports which did not support the administration's case - saying, for example, that the aluminum tubes Saddam possessed were for conventional rocketry, not nuclear weapons (a report corroborated by department of energy analysts), or that mobile laboratories were not for WMDs, or that the story about Saddam seeking uranium in Niger was bogus, or that there was no link between Saddam and al-Qaida (a report backed by the CIA) - its analyses were shunted aside. Greg Thielman, chief of the INR at the time, told me: "Everyone in the intelligence community knew that the White House couldn't care less about any information suggesting that there were no WMDs or that the UN inspectors were very effective."

Then we get conservatives coming out to say that the administration never really said that they were sure that there were WMD in Iraq. Oh, really?

These problems were not limited to our side of the Atlantic. The Irregular Times reports that some of the evidence provided by the British intelligence services was actually lifted wholesale from a student's term paper.

The British government called their report an "intelligence dossier" that described "up-to-date" information on Iraqi efforts to evade weapons inspectors. However, it turns out that the majority of the document was plagiarized, taken word-for-word without permission from a collection of old academic articles written well before the current set of weapons inspections even began. In one case, a plagiarized article was based upon information that was twelve years old, dating back to the time of the first Gulf War had even begun back in 1991. The author, Ibrahim al-Marashi, complained, "Had they consulted me, I could have provided them with more updated information."

One of the plagiarized passages from this article, written for a September 2002 issue of the journal Middle East Review of International Affairs, contained paragraphs that were cited as originally written by Scott Ritter, a former chief weapons inspector who has become a strong opponent of a preemptive invasion of Iraq by the United States. Mr. Ritter was unaware that his own writings would be depicted as the product of British intelligence work in a document designed to promote the very war he opposes. "I'll be more sceptical of any British intelligence I read in future," said al-Marashi in a telephone interview. "It was a case of cut and paste. They even left in my mistakes." In another interview, al-Marashi commented, "This is wholesale deception. How can the British public trust the Government if it is up to these sort of tricks? People will treat any other information they publish with a lot of scepticism from now on."

The Cato Institute published an opinion piece describing the US and British officials as using "magical thinking" in their planning for the Iraq invasion, including the hunt for WMDs. Perhaps next time they should go where the facts take them.