What We Knew in May, 2003


May 7: Pearle told investors they could profit from war

Pentagon adviser Richard Perle briefed an investment seminar on ways to profit from conflicts in Iraq and North Korea just weeks after he received a top-secret government briefing on the crises in the two countries.

Perle, who until March was chairman of the Defense Policy Board, a group of outside advisers to the Pentagon, also serves on the board of several defense contractors. His actions raise concerns about conflicts of interest.

Perle attended a Defense Intelligence Agency briefing in February and three weeks later participated in a Goldman Sachs conference call in which he advised investors in a talk titled Implications of an Imminent War: Iraq Now. North Korea Next?

A financial advisor who participated in the conference call told Capitol Hill Blue that Perle offered "advice on how to cash if war broke out in Iraq and/or North Korea."

Perle did not return phone calls or e-mails seeking comment.

One of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's closest advisers, Perle was a vocal advocate of going to war against Iraq and publicly questioned the reliability of some longtime U.S. allies, including France and Saudi Arabia.

He resigned as chairman of the Defense Policy Board on March 27 after it was reported he had worked as a consultant to bankrupt telecommunications company Global Crossing Ltd., which was trying to get Pentagon approval to be sold to Asian investors.

In offering his resignation, Perle, 61, denied any wrongdoing and said he didn't want questions about his outside interests to be a distraction to Rumsfeld. He remained a member of the board.

"The guiding principle here is that you do not give advice in the Defense Policy Board on any particular matter in which you have an interest," he said at the time. "And I don't do that. I haven't done that."

Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, has asked the Pentagon's inspector general to investigate Perle's business activities and any conflicts they might pose for his membership.


May 30: ‘Why Rumsfeld Is Wrong’
Former British foreign secretary Robin Cook discusses his resignation over the Iraq war—and why it’s unlikely that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction

On the eve of the Iraq war, Robin Cook shook British politics by quitting the government in protest of the planned invasion. In his powerful resignation speech, the foreign secretary urged respect for multilateral agreements and insisted that the dangers posed by the regime of Saddam Hussein had been overstated. Cook, who served in Tony Blair’s cabinet as leader of Parliament’s House of Commons, claimed in particular that Iraq possessed no weapons of mass destruction “in the commonly understood sense.” His supporters now say that the Coalition’s failure to find such weapons has vindicated his stand. Cook, who is still has his seat in Parliament, spoke this week to NEWSWEEK’s William Underhill in London.

COALITION FORCES only overthrew Saddam Hussein a few weeks ago. There must be a chance that weapons of mass destruction will still be uncovered? Robin Cook:

These are things that are not easy to conceal. For a nuclear bomb you need a nuclear reactor. For a missile you need a large factory. You won’t find them round in someone’s back garden. And all these synthetic claims about Iraq being a big country are irrelevant. If Saddam had the capacity to hit us with weapons of mass destruction, we would have found it. I did say it was quite probable that he had laboratory stocks of biological toxins and chemical shells that might be used on the battlefield, but it’s an awful long time after the end of the war [and] we haven’t found any of them, either. One other point is frequently overlooked. Chemical and biological weapons have a limited shelf life. All the materials that Saddam had in 1991 (at the end of the gulf war) would have degraded to the point of being useless long before 2003, whether or not he had destroyed them.

Isn’t it possible that Saddam Hussein ordered their destruction, as U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has suggested?

No. I don’t think it’s even remotely possible. I just cannot follow the Rumsfeld logic; that watching CNN and seeing the American build-up Saddam said to his generals, “It’s obvious that the U.S. is going to invade; we had better destroy our biggest weapons, so that when I am toppled there might be some very difficult questions for Donald Rumsfeld to answer.”

So was the public deliberately misled over the weapons’ existence?

These are charged terms. I think it’s much wiser to keep the spotlight on the issues, and leave questions for the government to answer rather than end up [with] personalized headlines that I would then have to defend. The focus should be on how the government can square what it said at the time of the build-up to [war with] Iraq with what they have discovered—or failed to discover—in the aftermath. It is a real issue, which they are not entitled to brush under the carpet. We were sold the menace of the weapons of mass destruction as the reason for the war. And the [British] attorney general based his legal justification for war on the necessity to disarm Saddam Hussein. If those weapons didn’t exist then the justification falls away.

Are you saying that the Blair government itself never believed in the existence of these weapons of mass destruction?

I never saw any [cabinet] briefing or other evidence that suggested that there was an urgent or compelling threat from Saddam Hussein. I am not going to comment on the motivation or sincerity of others, but I am rather puzzled that people who went to the same briefings as me and saw the same material could come to such radically different conclusions. To be fair to the United States administration, it never made any bones about the reasons why it went to war. It wanted to carry out a change of regime in Iraq. And many of the proponents of were lobbying for it long before September 11.

And that’s also why the British government went to war?

No, but they were madly keen to prove that they were reliable allies of President Bush—and there were those around President Bush who were determined to have a war.

There are those in Washington who now appear to see the weapons issue as irrelevant.

It was their decision to put this at the heart of their case. It cannot be a side issue after the war when they made it a central issue before the war.

Recent weeks have produced still more evidence to demonstrate the brutality of Saddam Hussein’s rule. Has that altered your position in any way?

I was never in any doubt about the brutality of the Saddam Hussein’s regime, but neither government [the United States or Britain] ever based its case for invasion on brutality—because that’s simply no basis in international law for going to war just to change a regime. If we do decide that we are going to go to war to remove brutal regimes then we have a very busy time in front of us. We are not proposing to intervene to relieve the people of Zimbabwe of the repressive rule of President [Robert] Mugabe. We are not proposing to intervene in Burma where the military junta has run the country for longer than Saddam Hussein. We have allowed more people to be killed in the Congo civil war than were ever killed inside Iraq. If you are going to decide that brutality is a reason for military intervention, it must be a decision that is [made] multilaterally by an international forum. You cannot have individual nations such as the U.K. or the U.S. deciding for themselves which ones they are going to pick on next. One important reason is that if you accept that principle that countries can invade countries where you disapprove of the regime, the next time it may not be the U.S. or the U.K. that acts on that principle.