How an Iran War Was Averted

Exclusive: A decade ago, the Bush administration was eager to bomb Iran but U.S. intelligence analysts challenged the casus belli by finding that Iran was not building a nuclear bomb, recalls ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern.

By Ray McGovern

On a recent TV appearance, I was asked about whistleblowing, but the experience brought back to mind a crystal-clear example of how, before the Iraq War, CIA careerists were assigned “two bosses” – CIA Director George Tenet and John Bolton, the Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, the arch-neocon who had been thrust on an obedient Secretary of State Colin Powell.

CIA “analyst” Frederick Fleitz took the instructions quite literally, bragging about being allowed to serve, simultaneously, “two bosses” — and becoming Bolton’s “enforcer.” Fleitz famously chided a senior intelligence analyst at State for not understanding that it was the prerogative of policymakers like Bolton – not intelligence analysts – to “interpret” intelligence data.

President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney receive an Oval Office briefing from CIA Director George Tenet. Also present is Chief of Staff Andy Card (on right). (White House photo)

President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney receive an Oval Office briefing from CIA Director George Tenet. Also present is Chief of Staff Andy Card (on right). (White House photo)

In an email from Fleitz in early 2002, at the time when one of his bosses, the pliable George Tenet, was “fixing” the intelligence to “justify” war on Iraq, Fleitz outlined the remarkable new intelligence ethos imposed by President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and their subordinates who were reshaping the U.S. Intelligence Community.

Apparently, senior State Department intelligence analyst, Christian Westermann, “had not gotten the memo” on how things had changed. Rather, he was performing his duties like a professional analyst under the old rules. Westermann had the temerity to block coordination on a speech in which Bolton wanted to make the spurious assertion that Cuba had a developing biological weapons program.

On Feb. 12, 2002, after a personal run-in with Westermann, Fleitz sent Bolton this email: “I explained to Christian [Westermann] that it was a political judgment as to how to interpret this data and the I.C. [Intelligence Community] should do as we asked.” Fleitz informed Bolton that Westermann still “strongly disagrees with us.”

At this point, Bolton became so dyspeptic that he summoned Westermann to his office for a tongue-lashing and then asked top officials of the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) to fire him. Instead, they defended him, and this was not the only time intelligence managers at State – virtually alone in the Intelligence Community – gave the Bush-43 White House and political hacks like Bolton the clear message not to count on managers and analysts at INR to acquiesce in the politicization of intelligence.

Exaggerating Iran Threat

Later, Fleitz went on to bigger and better things. In 2006, he became “senior adviser” to House Intelligence Committee chair Pete Hoekstra, R-Michigan. Bowing to desires of the White House to portray Iran as a strategic threat, Hoekstra had Fleitz draft an almost comically alarmist paper titled “Recognizing Iran as Strategic Threat: An Intelligence Challenge for the United States.” Fleitz was told not to coordinate his paper with the Intelligence Community.

The objective was to pre-empt a formal National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear weapons program – an NIE that the Senate had just commissioned. Fleitz and Hoekstra feared the NIE might come to unwelcome conclusions, contradicting the kinds of stark warnings about Iran’s nuclear program that the White House wanted to use to stir up fear and justify action against Iran. Iraq deja vu.

The Fleitz-Hoekstra gambit failed. Their over-the-top paper made them the subject of ridicule in professional intelligence circles.

Meanwhile, Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence Thomas Fingar was named to manage the formal NIE on Iran, and, mirable dictu, he was not only a seasoned professional but also a practitioner of the old-time ethos of objective, non-politicized intelligence.

Worse still for Bush, Cheney and their sycophants, the NIE of November 2007, endorsed by all 16 agencies of the Intelligence Community began: “We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program.”

Former President George W. Bush prepares to celebrate the dedication of his presidential library, which opens to the public on May 1, 2013.

Former President George W. Bush prepares to celebrate the dedication of his presidential library, which opens to the public on May 1, 2013.

That Estimate holds the distinction of being the only NIE of which I am aware that demonstrably played a key role in preventing an unnecessary war – the war on Iran that Cheney and Bush were planning for 2008. Bush pretty much admits this in his memoir Decision Points, which includes a highly instructive section that he must have written himself.

Indeed, nowhere in his memoir is Bush’s bizarre relationship to truth so manifest as when he describes his dismay at learning that the Intelligence Community had redeemed itself for its lies about Iraq by preparing an honest NIE that stuck a rod in the wheels of the juggernaut rolling toward war with Iran.

Bush complains bitterly that the “eye-popping” NIE “tied my hands on the military side,” adding that the “NIE’s conclusion was so stunning that I felt it would immediately leak to the press.” He writes that he authorized declassification of the key findings “so that we could shape the news stories with the facts.” Facts?

A disappointed Bush writes, “The backlash was immediate. [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad hailed the NIE as a ‘great victory.’” Bush’s apparent “logic” here is to use the widespread disdain for Ahmadinejad to discredit the NIE through association, i.e. whatever Ahmadinejad praises must be false.

An Embarrassment

How embarrassing it must have been for Bush and Cheney! Here before the world were the key judgments of an NIE, the most authoritative genre of intelligence report, unanimously approved “with high confidence” by 16 U.S. intelligence agencies and signed by the Director of National Intelligence, saying, in effect, that Bush and Cheney were lying about the “Iranian nuclear threat.” Just a month before the Estimate was issued, Bush was claiming that the threat from Iran could lead to “World War III.”

In his memoir, Bush laments: “I don’t know why the NIE was written the way it was. … Whatever the explanation, the NIE had a big impact — and not a good one.” Spelling out how the NIE had tied his hands “on the military side,” Bush included this kicker:

Vice President Dick Cheney.

Vice President Dick Cheney.

“But after the NIE, how could I possible explain using the military to destroy the nuclear facilities of a country the intelligence community said had no active nuclear weapons program?”

Yet, that didn’t stop neocon warmongers from trying. The NIE was subject to virulent criticism by those disappointed that it did not provide justification for a “preventive” attack on Iran.

Former CIA Director James Woolsey, who has proudly described himself as the “anchor of the Presbyterian wing of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA),” called the Iran NIE “deceptive.” Hoekstra called it “a piece of trash.”

Greg Thielmann, a former State Department official who had managed strategic intelligence analysis but quit before the intelligence debacle on Iraq, could not resist commenting on this bizarre set of circumstances from his new position as a senior fellow at the Arms Control Association: “There is some considerable irony in hearing such criticism from those intimately familiar with the inner workings of the intelligence community, who seemed to have sleep-walked through the serious professional lapses of the 2002 NIE on Iraq WMD.”

But the neocons were deprived of the Iran war for which they had been lusting (just as, six years later, they were deprived of the war on Syria, into which they almost mouse-trapped President Barack Obama).

Still, you need not worry about any negative consequences for the compliant Bush-Cheney “analysts” who were willing to “fix” more intelligence around war policies. As usually happens in Official Washington, they landed on their feet. For instance, Fleitz is now Senior Vice President for Policy and Programs with the Center for Security Policy, a think tank founded by Frank Gaffney, Jr., an archdeacon of neocondom, who is still its president.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. A former Army officer and CIA analyst, McGovern co-founded Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) in January 2003, in an attempt to expose the corruption of intelligence under the Cheney-Bush regime.

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29 comments for “How an Iran War Was Averted

  1. Jill
    April 12, 2016 at 6:49 pm

    Good for Westermann and the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) and Thomas Fingar. It’s wonderful to find out about these heroes and their integrity that apparently saved us from getting into 2 more wars before W’s presidency was over.

    I love that word: neocondom, LOL. Is that a system that protects us against peace and love, making sure they are prevented? We need to remove the purveyors of neocondom from government– and replace them with people of integrity, ASAP. What are we doing, letting these people keep their jobs, after their massive screwups due to their lack of integrity?

    • April 13, 2016 at 12:59 am

      Thanks, Jill. I was hoping someone would catch “neocondom.” Speaks volumes, as you suggest!

      Ray

      • Geoff
        April 13, 2016 at 3:30 pm

        Yes, I noticed and appreciated the “neocondom” term as well but the image that comes with that term wouldn’t be family friendly. :)

    • David Smith
      April 13, 2016 at 2:53 pm

      Is this the “Jill” that commented on “Lure of Syrian No Fly Zone” the following: “Assad is a butcher.He has slaughtered large numbers of his own people, with or without sarin…”. Besides the absurd extremist language, you archly imply President Assad ordered the Ghouta nerve gas attacks, a position unsupported by US analysts.

    • David Smith
      April 14, 2016 at 9:20 am

      Still waiting for an answer, “Jill”; if that is your name…..

  2. JWalters
    April 12, 2016 at 6:52 pm

    Thanks for this great telling of an important tale. The Bush-Cheney gang also believed interpreting data from scientific studies was a political job. Especially studies that impacted their financial masters. Hillary will do her best to follow suit and outsource America’s Middle East policy to the Israeli cabal of war profiteers. Unfortunately for voters, the Establishment Media is owned by this same gang.

    • Kiza
      April 13, 2016 at 9:12 pm

      Under Hillary, the neocondom will become the Board of Inquisition. Anyone who does not do as instructed will be publicly burned on a stake. Resistance is futile, you will be assimilated.

  3. Dr. Ibrahim Soudy
    April 12, 2016 at 7:54 pm

    I am just curious……How many individuals in the “intelligence community” KNEW before the Iraq War that the story was being “politicized” and how many of those professionals decided to quit their jobs and not be part of that fiasco? Just wondering…………

    • April 13, 2016 at 4:40 pm

      Sad to say — LOTS knew — hundreds probably (it was clear BEFORE the war, after all, to us VIPS on the outside looking in, as our record shows).

      … and I know of no one from the “intelligence community”who quit on principle. THREE State Department Foreign Service officers DID quit, and loudly, in an attempt not only to dissociate but to warn: Brady Kiesling, John H. Brown, and Ann Wright. Men and a woman of principle — of the kind in short supply these days. There are some, though; and I am told some even read Consortiumnews. Perhaps they will take the Kiesling/Brown/Wright example to heart. All three tell me it is very easy for them to look in the mirror these days.

      Ray

      • Dr. Ibrahim Soudy
        April 13, 2016 at 6:53 pm

        Thank you, SIR!! See, this is just my point. We can keep talking about corrupt politicians and media till the cows come home. BUT, it is the corruption of the BASE that we are not talking about. CIA treated Kermit Roosevelt like a hero for overthrowing a DEMOCRATICALLY elected government of IRAN!! That in itself indicates that the CIA is part of the very corrupt government of the US. I would not be surprised if that goes to so many more outside the CIA!!

        What will destroy America is no one other than the American People themselves either by directly participating in the crimes of the government or by staying silent while eating Burgers, drinking Beers, and watching Ball games…………(Burgers, Beers, and Ball games)

  4. April 12, 2016 at 11:59 pm

    Excellent article. What about these two public statements by Brzzinski and Pace in 2007:

    Feb 1, 2007 testimony by Brzezinski: “February 1, 2007: “If the United States continues to be bogged down in a protracted bloody involvement in Iraq, the final destination on this downhill track is likely to be a head-on conflict with Iran and with much of the world of Islam at large. A plausible scenario for a military collision with Iran involves Iraqi failure to meet the benchmarks; followed by accusations of Iranian responsibility for the failure; then by some provocation in Iraq or a terrorist act in the U.S. blamed on Iran; culminating in a “defensive” U.S. military action against Iran that plunges a lonely America into a spreading and deepening quagmire eventually ranging across Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan…” (Zbigniew Brzezinski, Senate Foreign Relations Committee http://www.foreign.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/BrzezinskiTestimony070201.pdf in http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/HL1110/S00196/quds-force-ii-the-storyline-repeats-itself.htm)

    And Joint Chiefs Chairman General Peter Pace: February 12: Canberra, Australia. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Peter Pace, denies that there is a demonstrated link between weapons found in Iraq and the Iranian government. “We know that the explosively formed projectiles are manufactured in Iran. What I would not say is that the Iranian government, per se [specifically], knows about this.” (Voice of America) in http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/HL0702/S00079.htm

    It looks like they tried this in 2007, failed, and failed again in 2008. These people would have ruined things in the world for a good long time if they hadn’t been blocked. Thanks to the honest and patriotic people in government for this fine work.

  5. Truth
    April 13, 2016 at 12:08 am

    Disgusting, but not surprising stuff. What current “Presidential Candidate” is going to go after these war criminals? Answer: None. The US seems to the most free war criminals in the world along with the most imprisoned and persecuted freedom fighters (Snowden, Assange, and more), The Iran War is still in play regardless of which “Candidate” wins. Obama has sanctioned them like Clinton sanctioned Iraq to soften them up before an invasion. Let’s not forget sanctions are an act of war.

    Aside, let’s look at the list of over 50 governments, most actual democracies, the NWO, or World Dictatorship has used the US to overthrow since WWII:
    China 1949, 1950s
    Albania 1949-53
    East Germany 1950s
    Iran 1953
    Guatemala 1954
    Costa Rica 1950s
    Syria 1956-7
    Egypt 1957
    Indonesia 1957-8
    British Guiana 1953-64
    Iraq 1963
    North Vietnam 1945-73
    Cambodia 1955-70
    Laos 1958-60
    Ecuador 1960-63
    Congo 1960
    France 1965
    Brazil 1962-64
    Dominican Republic 1963
    Cuba 1959-Present
    Bolivia 1964
    Indonesia 1965
    Ghana 1966
    Chile 1964-73
    Greece 1967
    Costa Rica 1970-71
    Bolivia 1971
    Australia 1973-75
    Angola 1975, 1980s
    Zaire 1975
    Portugal 1974-76
    Jamaica 1976-80
    Seychelles 1979-81
    Chad 1981-82
    Grenada 1983
    South Yemen 1982-84
    Suriname 1982-84
    Fiji 1987
    Libya 1980s
    Nicaragua 1981-90
    Panama 1989
    Bulgaria 1990
    Albania 1991
    Iraq 1991
    Afghanistan 1980s
    Somalia 1993
    Yugoslavia 1999
    Ecuador 2000
    Afghanistan 2001
    Venezuela 2002
    Iraq 2003
    Haiti 2004
    Libya 2011
    Syria 2011
    Egypt 2013
    Lebanon – Scheduled for Israeli invasion after Syria
    Iran – Scheduled after US invasion after Lebanon
    North Korea – In longer term plans; ratcheting tensions with them to make them appear evil and insane

    • Jerry D Riley
      April 14, 2016 at 4:01 pm

      Why is Ukraine not on your list Truth?

  6. Bob Van Noy
    April 13, 2016 at 8:29 am

    Thank you Ray McGovern for emphasizing the absolute necessity of clarity (honesty?) in data presented to the executive and military. It is this point that is the reason that I always try to bend the conversation back to 11/22/63, because nearly the full resources of the “intelligence” community were being applied to the “legend” of Lee Harvey Oswald”. Both Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower, without their “microphones”, would warn America about the danger of this kind of deception but it has made little difference until recently, thanks in great part to Consortium News and VIPS, so again, thanks, and let’s hope that finally something like the truth may prevail…

  7. Erik
    April 13, 2016 at 9:55 am

    If the US had a College of Policy Analysis to protect, analyze and debate policy alternatives in every region, informed by analysts in the security agencies, with public access and comment upon articles by analysts, politicians would have much more trouble obscuring and distorting the truth, and could be held accountable for policy ideas thereby discredited.

    The results would generally be multiple well-argued positions on each policy alternative, but the facts and general effects would often be broadly agreed. Shaky or counterfactual grounds for interventions would generally be clear.

    This should be a branch of government, and the executive should be legally accountable for actions that any broad consensus shows to be contrary to US or humanitarian interests.

    • J'hon Doe II
      April 13, 2016 at 10:07 am

      What a comfort it is to have a Ray McGovern on our side — “keeping hope alive” – as it were… .

      Yours is a great idea, Eric — but instead we have this:

      The US Media War against the Leaders of Latin America

      (excerpts)

      Last December the Venezuelan journalist José Vicente Rangel went on his television program to talk about how the Pentagon has created the Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA) that is spreading disinformation about Venezuela. Specialized centers such as CIMA also go after other governments that Washington finds unpalatable.

      The president of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, devoted one of his weekly speeches to the mudslinging being directed against his government via social networks. Social networks are now the principal platform for media warfare.

      Currently the Western Hemisphere is being inundated with a flood of «exposés» featuring the names of politicians who are under attack by Washington. Apparently the CIA and NSA are pursuing a comprehensive plan aimed at getting many influential figures deposed and prosecuted.

      http://www.strategic-culture.org/news/2016/04/04/the-us-media-war-against-leaders-latin-america-i.html

      • Jerry D Riley
        April 14, 2016 at 4:10 pm

        Let’s not forget the propaganda war being waged on Putin!

  8. J'hon Doe II
    April 13, 2016 at 10:42 am

    The Center for International Media Assistance is an off-shoot of the National Endowment for Democracy – the folks that specialize in government overthrows disguised as “Color Revolutions” — read about them at:
    http://www.thirdworldtraveler.com/TroganHorse_RS.html
    ::
    see also Mr. Parry’s article;

    A Shadow US Foreign Policy
    February 27, 2014

    Exclusive: A shadow foreign policy apparatus built by Ronald Reagan for the Cold War survives to this day as a slush fund that keeps American neocons well fed and still destabilizes target nations, now including Ukraine, creating a crisis that undercuts President Obama, reports Robert Parry.

    https://consortiumnews.com/2014/02/27/a-shadow-us-foreign-policy/

  9. LJ
    April 13, 2016 at 11:26 am

    Well, Bush and Cheney were certainly very, very bad. Not prudent And all those icky Neoconservatives like Robert Kagan, who is comfortable as Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy advisor that she will lead this country back in the direction that was averted apparently by the State Department under the ‘obedient’ Colin Powell, well, they are still around and doing their thing. I just want to point out that former CIA analyst Jeffery Sterling is doing time for suspicion for leaking information about the Clinton Administration efforts to plant information in Iran’s Nuclear file and program . Hillary Clinton is just as great a threat if not greater threat, to attack Iran for false, manufactured intelligence as was George W. Bush. Same smell. I suggest that Mr. McGovern not wax triumphant for too long over this past Intelligence anomaly. After all, Iraq didn’t exactly go to plan. Like Syria. Like Libya. Like Afghanistan. Like Yemen. . The Intelligence community has to have enough of a backbone to stand against obviously bad policy once in a great while. As we have seen, in the end the President can still attack as Obama would have surely done in Syria over the sarin crisis, if only the Brits will go along with the Big lie.

    • FrankZappa
      April 13, 2016 at 1:09 pm

      Luckily we still had some competent bureaucrats. How many more of them have been purged under Obama’s regime? Shrillary’s State Department makes it appear that many more have been.

  10. Lu
    April 13, 2016 at 1:03 pm

    The so called ICC will not bring any American war vampires to justice, we only know they exist when is a weaker country. This blood thirty American leader dirty bush and England small Blair will face justice eventually in life or in their dreams. Reality is anywhere American have been EVIL follows.

  11. Bruce Dodds
    April 13, 2016 at 5:01 pm

    Hello Ray,

    Since you seem to be reading these comments I’d like to say that I have appreciated your sane and informed commentary for many years. And there are more of us than you probably think.

    Thanks.

    • April 14, 2016 at 1:34 am

      Nice of you to make that comment, Bruce. Saw doctor today for 5,000-mile check-up; got a really good report; says I’ll probably be around for a while. I feel “coached” here (not to mention learning a lot of stuff from “comments). So, send me back in coach!

      ray

  12. Bill Bodden
    April 13, 2016 at 8:49 pm

    Talking about profiles in courage related to the Iraq war, there was a young Army lieutenant who refused to obey an order to serve in Iraq because he believed it would violate his oath to defend and uphold the Constitution. (I will omit his name to protect any anonymity he might be enjoying now and may want to keep it that way.) He was court-martialed, but the kangaroo court would not allow a defense of the war being illegal. Without getting into a long story, this real hero was given a slap on the wrist and released from the Army. So, what does that say about all the military and naval personnel who fought in the war, especially the generals and the admirals?

    • April 14, 2016 at 2:00 am

      Thanks, Bill.

      We were all “young Army Lieutenants” some time ago. Your acquaintance seems to have been unusually conscious of the real state of affairs (and how his oath to the Constitution — not to mention the Nuremberg principles — had to come first).

      If there is a chance he no longer needs/wants anonymity, it would be an incredibly valuable contribution if he could tell his story, so that others could learn from the example provided by his courageous standing on principle — honoring the oath we all took to support and defend the Constitution “against all enemies, foreign and domestic”. If soldiers like him can give priority to abiding by their oath, despite the consequences, they might be able to reinsert “Honor” into “Duty, Honor, Country.”

      ray

      • Jerry D Riley
        April 14, 2016 at 4:45 pm

        Hey Ray,
        Several years back I heard a young lieutenant of this ilk speaking in Seattle at a time when his case had yet to be adjudicated. He is Oriental and Muslim and had already written and was selling a book on his experience so I doubt he worries about anonymity. Because of my disorganized library and a senior memory moment I cannot provide his name.

        And by the what’s a nice guy like you doing in a place like this?

  13. Jim Hannan
    April 14, 2016 at 11:45 am

    The great irony of neocon activism, as pointed out by Donald Trump on Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace, is that the main result of our Iraqi invasion is to make Iraq a province of Iran. I think this photo pretty much sums it up:

    http://jimhannan.com/foreign.htm

  14. Tim Jones
    April 15, 2016 at 7:53 am

    Like the other commenters here, I’m heartened by an informed voice, recounting those true heros who push back against these neocons who are the real clear and present danger.

    Ray, have you read Dr. Judy Wood’s book, ‘Where did the towers go? I would be suprised if you hadn’t.

Comments are closed.