What We Knew in November, 2003
US Intelligence is Being Scapegoated for Getting It Right on Iraq
In Baghdad, the Bush administration acts as though it is astonished by the postwar carnage. Its feigned shock is a consequence of Washington's intelligence wars. In fact, not only was it warned of the coming struggle and its nature - ignoring a $5m state department report on The Future of Iraq - but Bush himself signed another document in which that predictive information is contained.
According to the congressional resolution authorizing the use of military force in Iraq, the administration is required to submit to the Congress reports of postwar planning every 60 days. The report, bearing Bush's signature and dated April 14 - previously undisclosed but revealed here - declares: "We are especially concerned that the remnants of the Saddam Hussein regime will continue to use Iraqi civilian populations as a shield for its regular and irregular combat forces or may attack the Iraqi population in an effort to undermine Coalition goals." Moreover, the report goes on: "Coalition planners have prepared for these contingencies, and have designed the military campaign to minimize civilian casualties and damage to civilian infrastructure."
Yet, on August 25, as the violence in postwar Iraq flared, the secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, claimed that this possibility was not foreseen: "Now was - did we - was it possible to anticipate that the battles would take place south of Baghdad and that then there would be a collapse up north, and there would be very little killing and capturing of those folks, because they blended into the countryside and they're still fighting their war?"
"We read their reports," a senate source told me. "Too bad they don't read their own reports."
In advance of the war, Bush (to be precise, Dick Cheney, the de facto prime minister to the distant monarch) viewed the CIA, the state department and other intelligence agencies not simply as uncooperative, but even disloyal, as their analysts continued to sift through information to determine what exactly might be true. For them, this process is at the essence of their professionalism and mission. Yet the strict insistence on the empirical was a threat to the ideological, facts an imminent danger to the doctrine. So those facts had to be suppressed, and those creating contrary evidence had to be marginalized, intimidated or have their reputations tarnished.
Twice, in the run-up to the war, Vice-president Cheney veered his motorcade to the George HW Bush Center for Intelligence in Langley, Virginia, where he personally tried to coerce CIA desk-level analysts to fit their work to specification.
If the CIA would not serve, it would be trampled. At the Pentagon, Rumsfeld formed the Office of Special Plans, a parallel counter-CIA under the direction of the neoconservative deputy secretary of defense, Paul Wolfowitz, to "stovepipe" its own version of intelligence directly to the White House. Its reports were not to be mingled or shared with the CIA or state department intelligence for fear of corruption by skepticism. Instead, the Pentagon's handpicked future leader of Iraq, Ahmed Chalabi of the Iraqi National Congress, replaced the CIA as the reliable source of information, little of which turned out to be true - though his deceit was consistent with his record. Chalabi was regarded at the CIA as a mountebank after he had lured the agency to support his "invasion" of Iraq in 1995, a tragicomic episode, but one which hardly discouraged his neoconservative sponsors.
Early last year, before Hans Blix, chief of the UN team to monitor Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, embarked on his mission, Wolfowitz ordered a report from the CIA to show that Blix had been soft on Iraq in the past and thus to undermine him before he even began his work. When the CIA reached an opposite conclusion, Wolfowitz was described by a former state department official in the Washington Post as having "hit the ceiling". Then, according to former assistant secretary of state James Rubin, when Blix met with Cheney at the White House, the vice-president told him what would happen if his efforts on WMDs did not support Bush policy: "We will not hesitate to discredit you." Blix's brush with Cheney was no different from the administration's treatment of the CIA.
Having already decided upon its course in Iraq, the Bush administration demanded the fabrication of evidence to fit into an imminent threat. Then, fulfilling the driven logic of the Bush doctrine, preemptive action could be taken. Policy a priori dictated intelligence á la carte.
In Bush's Washington, politics is the extension of war by other means. Rather than seeking to reform any abuse of intelligence, the Bush administration, through the Republican-dominated senate intelligence committee, is producing a report that will accuse the CIA of giving faulty information.
While the CIA is being cast as a scapegoat, FBI agents are meanwhile interviewing senior officials about a potential criminal conspiracy behind the public identification of a covert CIA operative - who, not coincidentally, happens to be the wife of the former US ambassador Joseph Wilson, author of the report on the false Niger yellowcake uranium claims (originating in the Cheney's office). Wilson's irrefutable documentation was carefully shelved at the time in order to put16 false words about Saddam Hussein's nuclear threat in the mouth of George Bush in his state of the union address.
When it comes to responsibility for the degradation of intelligence in developing rationales for the war, Bush is energetically trying not to get the bottom of anything. While he has asserted the White House is cooperating with the investigation into the felony of outing Mrs Wilson, his spokesman has assiduously drawn a fine line between the legal and the political. After all, though Karl Rove - the president's political strategist and senior adviser, indispensable to his re election campaign - unquestionably called a journalist to prod him that Mrs. Wilson was "fair game", his summoning of the furies upon her apparently occurred after her name was already put into the public arena by two other unnamed "senior administration officials".
Rove is not considered to have committed a firing offence so long as he has merely behaved unethically. What Bush is not doing - not demanding that his staff sign affidavits swearing their innocence, or asking his vice-president point-blank what he knows - is glaringly obvious. Damaging national security must be secondary to political necessity.
"It's important to recognize," Wilson remarked to me, "that the person who decided to make a political point or that his political agenda was more important than a national security asset is still there in place. I'm appalled at the apparent nonchalance shown by the president."
Now, postwar, the intelligence wars, if anything, have got more intense. Blame shifting by the administration is the order of the day. The Republican senate intelligence committee report will point the finger at the CIA, but circumspectly not review how Bush used intelligence. The Democrats, in the senate minority, forced to act like a fringe group, held unofficial hearings this week with prominent former CIA agents: rock-ribbed Republicans who all voted for and even contributed money to Bush, but expressed their amazed anger at the assault being waged on the permanent national security apparatus by the Republican president whose father's name adorns the building where they worked. One of them compressed his disillusionment into the single most resonant word an intelligence agent can muster: "betrayal".
Sidney Blumenthal is former assistant and senior adviser to president Clinton and author of The Clinton Wars. He has been a staff writer on the New Yorker, Washington Post and New Republic. He will be writing a regular column on US politics from Washington.
War critics astonished as US hawk admits invasion was illegal
International lawyers and anti-war campaigners reacted with astonishment yesterday after the influential Pentagon hawk Richard Perle conceded that the invasion of Iraq had been illegal.
In a startling break with the official White House and Downing Street lines, Mr Perle told an audience in London: "I think in this case international law stood in the way of doing the right thing."
President George Bush has consistently argued that the war was legal either because of existing UN security council resolutions on Iraq - also the British government's publicly stated view - or as an act of self-defence permitted by international law.
But Mr Perle, a key member of the defence policy board, which advises the US defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, said that "international law ... would have required us to leave Saddam Hussein alone", and this would have been morally unacceptable.
French intransigence, he added, meant there had been "no practical mechanism consistent with the rules of the UN for dealing with Saddam Hussein".
Mr Perle, who was speaking at an event organised by the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London, had argued loudly for the toppling of the Iraqi dictator since the end of the 1991 Gulf war.
"They're just not interested in international law, are they?" said Linda Hugl, a spokeswoman for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, which launched a high court challenge to the war's legality last year. "It's only when the law suits them that they want to use it."
Mr Perle's remarks bear little resemblance to official justifications for war, according to Rabinder Singh QC, who represented CND and also participated in Tuesday's event.
Certainly the British government, he said, "has never advanced the suggestion that it is entitled to act, or right to act, contrary to international law in relation to Iraq".
The Pentagon adviser's views, he added, underlined "a divergence of view between the British govern ment and some senior voices in American public life [who] have expressed the view that, well, if it's the case that international law doesn't permit unilateral pre-emptive action without the authority of the UN, then the defect is in international law".
Mr Perle's view is not the official one put forward by the White House. Its main argument has been that the invasion was justified under the UN charter, which guarantees the right of each state to self-defence, including pre-emptive self-defence. On the night bombing began, in March, Mr Bush reiterated America's "sovereign authority to use force" to defeat the threat from Baghdad.
The UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, has questioned that justification, arguing that the security council would have to rule on whether the US and its allies were under imminent threat.
Coalition officials countered that the security council had already approved the use of force in resolution 1441, passed a year ago, warning of "serious consequences" if Iraq failed to give a complete ac counting of its weapons programmes.
Other council members disagreed, but American and British lawyers argued that the threat of force had been implicit since the first Gulf war, which was ended only by a ceasefire.
"I think Perle's statement has the virtue of honesty," said Michael Dorf, a law professor at Columbia University who opposed the war, arguing that it was illegal.
"And, interestingly, I suspect a majority of the American public would have supported the invasion almost exactly to the same degree that they in fact did, had the administration said that all along."
The controversy-prone Mr Perle resigned his chairmanship of the defence policy board earlier this year but remained a member of the advisory board.
Meanwhile, there was a hint that the US was trying to find a way to release the Britons held at Guantanamo Bay.
The US secretary of state, Colin Powell, said Mr Bush was "very sensitive" to British sentiment. "We also expect to be resolving this in the near future," he told the BBC.
US hawk admits Iraq war 'illegal'
A Pentagon official widely regarded as the key ideological driving force behind President George Bush's foreign policy has admitted the US-led invasion of Iraq is illegal.
Richard Perle, a senior adviser to the US defence secretary, said the US had broken international law, blaming French reluctance to attack Iraq for leaving Washington with "no practical mechanism consistent with the rules of the UN for dealing with Saddam Hussein".
"I think in this case international law stood in the way of doing the right thing," said Perle in London in comments published by the British media on Thursday. "International law ... would have required us to leave Saddam Hussein alone."
Perle was speaking at an event organised by the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London on Wednesday.
The influential Pentagon official’s comments represent a clear break with official White House statements. President George Bush, presently on a state visit to the UK, has always insisted the war was legal either because of existing UN security council resolutions on Iraq or as an act of self-defence.
Bush’s main ally in the invasion of Iraq, UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, has always said existing UN resolutions legitimised the attack on Iraq.
Antiwar campaigners told Aljazeera.net on Friday they were astonished by Perle’s admission.
"It’s an incredible admission that Bush and Blair’s war in Iraq is illegal," said Andrew Burgin, spokesman of the Stop the War Coalition in London. "It underlines everything we’ve said about the so-called war on terror being an illegal campaign."
Burgin said the recent bomb attacks in Istanbul showed the illegality of the Bush-Blair campaign was "fuelling the level of terror around the world".
A British lawyer and leftist politician who has frequently criticised Washington's foreign policy, Louise Christian, told Aljazeera.net she was "greatly concerned" by Perle's admission and its implicit disregard for international law.
Prince of Darkness
Dubbed the Prince of Darkness by his critics - and a few awed admirers - because of his powerful behind-the-scenes influence, Perle is a senior member of the Pentagon’s defence policy board, which advises the US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
He resigned from the board's chairmanship amid controversy in March, however, after allegations of commercial conflict of interest.
Perle is also a key member of the Project for the New American Century, a rightwing think tank closely linked to the White House and credited with inspiring much of the Bush administration’s foreign policy.
He has been a hawkish advocate of projecting US power both diplomatically and militarily without the restraint of international bodies such as the UN.