June 22, 2005
Ray McGovern was a CIA analyst for 27 years, and is co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity. He now works at Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour.
With last week's hearings on the Downing Street memos concluded, much work lies ahead. Now, the information in the Downing Street memos needs to be collated carefully with evidence from the mainstream media, on the Internet, and from other sources regarding what was going on in top policymaking circles in Washington in the preparations for the invasion of Iraq.
All this can be expected to take some time.
Those who have read the most recent British cabinet documents know that they show senior U.K. lawyers and diplomats desperately trying to place a veneer of legality on Prime Minister Tony Blair's promise to President George W. Bush that Britain would join the United States in launching an unprovoked attack on Iraq.
The new memos provide a wealth of information supplementing what has already been revealed—like the relatively unsung example of Elizabeth Wilmshurst, then-deputy legal adviser to the British Foreign Office. Wilmshurst kept insisting that the attack could not be squared with international law, and said it would start "a war of aggression." When her superiors caved in to Blair, Wilmshurst did the honorable thing. She resigned.
But as the word on the memos is getting out and the case is being carefully formulated, the Downing Street memos and the media coverage they are receiving are already giving the Bush administration fits as they try to slow down a train that has already left the station. British Prime Minister Tony Blair's early decision that it would be a fool's errand to challenge the authenticity of the papers has prevented the White House from labeling them spurious. Thus, the administration has concluded that smoke, rather than denial, is what is indicated.
In their opening salvo, Bush supporters have chosen to target their smoke against the most damning sentence in the many official Downing Street memos; the 11 words with which the head of British intelligence unwittingly gave away the game:
"But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy."
So, while the evidence is being analyzed and timelines are being developed, it is important to muster what might be called an ad-hoc "smokescreen patrol" to identify and dispel the smoke being blown by Bush administration and its surrogates.
Woolsey's Tour de Force
Enter Washington insider and neoconservative favorite James Woolsey, the former director of Central Intelligence, who just a few days after 9/11 called publicly for war on Iraq. Rhodes Scholar Woolsey told MSNBC's "Hardball" Tuesday night that he is not clear on British usage of the word "fixed." Woolsey argued that what Blair was told by the U.K.'s intelligence chief does not mean that Washington was "cooking the books." Since there is no basis for that allegation, says Woolsey, "We ought to back off a bit."
An objective "source description" for intelligence reporting from Woolsey would have to include the following: "Source was assigned by then-chair of the Defense Policy Board Richard Perle to facilitate reports like the since-disproved story of a meeting between 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta and an Iraqi intelligence officer in Prague, as well as the other unfortunate ones about Iraqi mobile laboratories for producing biological weapons. Source's political views may cloud his objectivity."
Not surprisingly, other pundits have joined the Woolsey smoke machine. On June 19, Washington Post ombudsman Michael Getler opined that "maybe 'fixed' means something different in British-speak." And Christopher Hitchens, in an article posted on Slate the same day Woolsey went on "Hardball," wrote: "Never mind for now that the English employ the word "fix" in a slightly different way—a better term might have been 'organized.'"
Michael Smith, the Sunday Times reporter who broke the story thinks he knows what "fixed" means. On June 16, he told The Washington Post:
There are a number of people asking about 'fixed' and its meaning. This is a real joke. I do not know anyone in the UK who took it to mean anything other than fixed, as in fixed a race, fixed an election, fixed the intelligence. If you fix something, you make it the way you want it. The intelligence was fixed...the head of MI-6 has just been to Washington. He has just talked with George Tenet. He said the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. That translates in clearer terms as the intelligence was being cooked to match what the administration wanted it to say to justify invading Iraq.
I contacted a number of British friends who are close observers of the political scene, to get their opinion. Here is one recent e-mail reply:
Nobody that I have come across here in London interprets the term 'fixed' in this context as other than cooked/manipulated/selected. Fixed refers to trickery-as in 'the fix is in.' What Woolsey & Co. may think…that is completely irrelevant. It is what we British think that counts. The memo was written to be read by us British, not by Woolsey. It appears that he and his "neoconservative" friends are getting a bit desperate. He would probably be one of the people to go to jail at the end of this, given the key role he has played.
Or, from VIPS colleague Col. Patrick Lang, USA (ret.), former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency's human intelligence section, who tends to be more succinct: "Fixed is fixed, man."
The Washington Post's Getler did offer a constructive suggestion; namely, that Blair produce the former intelligence chief and the drafter of the minutes of July 23, 2002, for a news conference or open parliamentary session and let reporters or legislators pursue clarification. Given the seriousness of the issue and the documentary nature of the evidence, my own suggestion would be to subpoena testimony from George Tenet and other senior U.S. officials whose views were reported to Blair—and the sooner the better.