Exclusive: As George Bush and his national security team marched the U.S. off to war in Iraq, they were aided by key news outlets, especially the neocon-dominated Washington Post. Now a decade later, the Post still won’t take a hard, honest look at what was done, writes ex-CIA analyst Melvin A. Goodman.
By Melvin A. Goodman
The Washington Post continues to allow former members of the Bush administration, including President George W. Bush, to distort the case for going to war against Iraq in 2003 and to blame the intelligence from the Central Intelligence Agency for the decision to use force.
In the “Outlook” section on Feb. 3 (“Still Fighting over a flawed case for war”), the Post cites memoirs from six key decision-makers, who are unwilling to acknowledge that the Iraq War was a deadly undertaking paved by lies and deceit.
It was never a case of whether the White House distorted the intelligence it received on Iraq or whether the Central Intelligence Agency provided bad intelligence to the White House. In fact, both the White House and the CIA had a hand in the distortion of intelligence and both contributed to making the phony case for war to the Congress and the American people.
The article revolves around former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s anger with CIA officials who failed to inform him that his speech to the United Nations in February 2003 included unsupported claims and with himself for failing to “sniff out” the weaknesses of the CIA intelligence case for war. [Powell’s It Worked for Me: In Life and Leadership]
Powell fails to mention that the director of the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research did his best to stop the Secretary of State from relying on CIA intelligence for his UN speech, let along spending four days and nights at CIA headquarters in drafting the speech, and alerted him to the phony National Intelligence Estimate of October 2002 that was used to craft Powell’s speech.
Similarly, Powell paid no attention to the numerous authoritative CIA sources that denied the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraqi inventories, and ignored the warning of the former director of IAEA, Hans Blix, who charged “Never before has a nation had 100 percent confidence about its intelligence with 0 percent information.”
Former CIA director George Tenet acknowledges that “flawed information” made its way into Powell’s speech because the CIA had spent too much time “getting the garbage out of a White House draft” for the Secretary’s UN speech. [Tenet’s At the Center of the Storm: the CIA During America’s Time of Crisis]
In fact, the White House draft was prepared by Lewis “Scooter” Libby and Steve Hadley, and Secretary of State Powell instantly pronounced, “I’m not reading this. This is bullshit.” No time was lost at the CIA dealing with Libby’s fatuous draft.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney is critical of Powell for rejecting the White House draft prepared by Libby and Hadley, particularly for discarding the information on Saddam Hussein’s ties to terrorism, which included “charges that would stand the test of time.” [Cheney’s In My Time: A Personal and Political Memoir]
In fact, the primary source for intelligence linking Iraq to training in chemical and biological weapons to al Qaeda was a fabricator, which was known to the Defense Intelligence Agency a full year before Powell gave his speech. Another source was rendered by the United States and tortured by the Egyptians; he recanted his claims in February 2004, seven years before Cheney produced his memoir.
The “Outlook” account does not include former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s order to military commanders several hours after the 9/11 attacks to “judge whether [intelligence] good enough [to] hit S.H. [Saddam Hussein] @ same time–not only UBL [Osama bin Laden].” [Rumsfeld’s Known and Unknown: A Memoir]
A military aide conceded that it was “hard to get a good case,” but the Pentagon would “sweep it all up. Things related and not.” (This is reminiscent of CIA Director Tenet’s exclamation to President Bush that it would be a “slam dunk” to provide intelligence to the American people to make the case for war.)
The Post merely cites Rumsfeld as stating “I did not lie. The far less dramatic truth is that we were wrong.”
Similarly, President Bush in his Decision Points argues that Powell’s speech “reflected the considered judgment of intelligence agencies at home and around the world,” which totally distorts the intelligence picture.
Along those same lines, former national secretary adviser Condoleezza Rice contends that the CIA believed that Saddam Hussein reconstituted his biological and chemical weapons capability and even Iraq’s nuclear capability, although the intelligence community repeatedly told the Bush administration that the Iraqis were several years away from developing a nuclear weapon. [Rice’s No Higher Honor: A Memoir of My Years in Washington]
The sole source on intelligence on the mobile biological labs was an agent code-named “Curveball,” who was in fact trading disinformation to the Germans in order to obtain citizenship. The Germans warned the CIA against using Curveball’s information, but they were ignored.
When David Kay, the chief of the Iraq Survey Group, told Tenet that Curveball was a liar and that Iraq had no mobile labs or other illicit weapons, Kay was assigned to a windowless office without a working telephone.
All of these memoirs by senior Bush administration officials blame faulty intelligence for the decision to go to war, but the speeches of these principals, including the President and the Vice President, confirm that they were willing to go beyond evidence to justify a state of “permanent war” against terrorism.
The speeches, which were given careful review inside the White House as well as in the intelligence community, provide excellent evidence of the Bush administration taking phony intelligence to the Congress, the American people, and the international community.
The Washington Post could have used the memoirs to depict a President presiding over a national security process marked by incoherent decision-making and policy drift, a dysfunctional national security process riven by tensions between the Pentagon and the State Department, and a politicized Central Intelligence Agency.
Instead, the Post used the memoirs to present the “fighting” over the case for war as a food fight between the President and his key decision-makers. Nearly a decade after the start of the unconscionable Iraq War, the American people are entitled to know more about the deceit of its key leaders and the national security decision-making process.
Melvin A. Goodman, a former CIA analyst, is a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and an adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins University. His most recent book is National Insecurity: The Cost of American Militarism (City Lights Publisher, February 2013).