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THE WHITE HOUSE USE OF COVERT ACTION AND PROPAGANDA
By Mel Goodman
U.S. Tour of Duty
Mel Goodman, co-author of "Bush League Diplomacy: How the Neoconservatives Are Putting the World at Risk," is senior fellow at the Center for International Policy. He worked at the CIA from 1966 to 1990.
In 1947 the new National Security Council directed the new Central Intelligence Agency to conduct clandestine operations against the Soviet Union, primarily covert action and propaganda. Covert action consists of secret operations to influence organizations or individuals in support of a policy in a manner that is not attributable to the United States. Covert propaganda is the distribution of information that has been created with a specific political outcome in mind. Both covert action and propaganda were designed to provide U.S. presidents with plausible denial or the ability to mask the role of the White House. We now know that the Bush administration has been resorting illegally to both covert action and propaganda at home in support of its policies.
Leaks from the grand jury testimony of New York Times reporter Judith Miller on September 30 provides further evidence that the White House was fully engaged two years ago in the outing of a CIA operative, Valerie Plame, whose husband had exposed the Bush administration¹s misuse of intelligence to justify the invasion of Iraq. In apparent violation of federal law, two senior White House officials, Karl Rove and Lewis Libby, provided several prominent reporters with confirmation of Plame¹s identity as a CIA operative. Since Rove is the president¹s chief policy adviser and Libby is the vice president¹s chief of staff, it would be naïve and ingenuous to the extreme to believe that their patrons were not involved in the risky decision to compromise Plame¹s identity. The fact that their actions seemed to risk violation of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982, calling for jail sentences up to twelve years, points to a decision at the highest level.
The role of Vice President Dick Cheney was presumably central to an operation that had all the characteristics of classic covert action. Cheney¹s public and private remarks prior to the invasion of Iraq in March 2003 dwelled on the nuclear capabilities of Iraq as a justification for preemptive attack. Cheney made numerous trips to the CIA in 2002 to pressure the agency to provide intelligence on a reconstituted nuclear capability, and endorsed the creation of the Office of Special Plans at the Department of Defense to provide the finished intelligence that the CIA was reluctant to produce. Cheney was obsessive in his emphasis on Iraq¹s reconstituted nuclear capability, and the work and writings of Plame¹s husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, compromised the vice president¹s case.
In addition to covert action, the White House resorted to propaganda to make the case for war. The bogus statements of President Bush in the State of the Union message in 2003 regarding Iraqi efforts to purchase uranium from Africa were the most troubling. But there were numerous statements by then national security adviser Condoleeza Rice defending the ³technical accuracy² of the president¹s remarks at a time the intelligence community reported they were false. It is quite possible that the top leaders of the administration were trying to make the Congress and the American people believe something that they knew was false. This would be immoral.
We also learned definitively on September 30 that the Bush administration, according to investigators at the Government Accountability Office, illegally bought favorable news coverage and disseminated ³covert propaganda² in the United States in violation of a statutory ban. This coverage was designed to defend administration policies on education and Medicare, but it is certainly possible that syndicated columnists such as Robert Novak were used to defend the foreign policies of the administration, as in the case of the outing of Valerie Plame. At least five additional reporters were given the same information that was available to Novak, but he was the only writer to act on the administration¹s behalf.
The use of covert action and propaganda to spin the case for war is a reminder that we the people still do not have an understanding of the politicization of American intelligence. If the president of the United States resorted to fabricated intelligence to make the case for war, why has there never been a counter-intelligence investigation on who produced the false information and how it moved through the executive branch at the highest levels? Moreover, how and when did the U.S. government receive the forged documents on Niger, and when did it become aware that they might be fabrications? Thus far, the press has been preoccupied with whether or not Judith Miller should have been sent to jail, why she allowed herself to remain in jail so long, and the impact of all this on future secret sources. But there are more important national security questions that must be answered in order to explain why the White House would put at risk a CIA operative who happened to be one of the agency¹s best clandestine officers on a subject that remains the key security threat to the United States, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
The words ³And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free² adorn the spacious foyer of the CIA headquarters building in Langley, Virginia. This biblical injunction would be a good starting point for unraveling many of the mysteries of the Bush administration.