U.S. Intelligence Thwarted Attack on Iran
By Ray McGovern
Why should George W. Bush have been “angry” to learn in late 2007 of the “high-confidence” unanimous judgment of all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies that Iran had stopped working on a nuclear weapon four years earlier? Seems to me he might have said “Hot Dog!” rather than curse under his breath.
Nowhere in his memoir, Decision Points, is Bush’s bizarre relationship with 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 National Intelligence Estimate on Iran. As the Bush-book makes abundantly clear, that NIE rammed an iron rod through the wheels of the juggernaut rolling toward war.
Nowhere is Bush’s abiding conviction clearer, now as then, that his role as “decider” include the option to create his own reality.
The Fawning Corporate Media (FCM) has missed that part of the book. And hundreds of Dallas “sheriffs,” assembled to ensure decorum at the Bush library groundbreaking last week, kept us hoi polloi well out of presidential earshot.
But someone should ask Bush why he was not relieved, rather than angered, to learn from U.S. intelligence that Iran had had no active nuclear weapons program since 2003. And would someone dare ask why Bush thought Israel should have been “furious with the United States over the NIE?”
It seems likely that Bush actually dictated this part of the book himself. For, in setting down his reaction to the NIE on Iran, he unwittingly confirmed an insight that Dr. Justin Frank, M.D., who teaches psychiatry at George Washington University Hospital, gave us veteran intelligence officers into how Bush comes at reality — or doesn’t.
“His pathology is a patchwork of false beliefs and incomplete information woven into what he asserts is the whole truth... He lies — not just to us, but to himself as well... What makes lying so easy for Bush is his contempt — for language, for law, and for anybody who dares question him.... So his words mean nothing. That is very important for people to understand.” [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Dangers of a Cornered Bush.”]
Not Enough Sycophants
When the NIE on Iran came out in late 2007, Bush may have pined for his sycophant-in-chief, former CIA Director George Tenet and his co-conspirator deputy, John McLaughlin, who had shepherded the bogus Iraq-WMD analysis through the process in 2002 but had resigned in 2004 when their role in the deceptions became so obvious that it shamed even them.
Tenet and his CIA cronies had been expert at preparing estimates-to-go — to go to war, that is. They had proved themselves worthy rivals of the other CIA, the Culinary Institute of America, in cooking intelligence to the White House menu.
On Iraq, they had distinguished themselves by their willingness to conjure up “intelligence” that Senate Intelligence Committee chair Jay Rockefeller described as “uncorroborated, unconfirmed, and nonexistent,” after a five-year review by his panel. (That finding was no news to any attentive observer, despite Herculean — and largely successful — efforts by the FCM to promote drinking the White House Kool-Aid.)
What is surprising in the case of Iran is the candor with which George W. Bush explains his chagrin at learning of the unanimous judgment of the intelligence community that Iran had not been working on a nuclear weapon since late 2003. [There is even new doubt about reports that the Iranians were working on a nuclear warhead before 2003. See Consortiumnews.com’s “Iranian Nuke Documents May Be Fake.”]
The Estimate’s findings were certainly not what the Israelis and their neoconservative allies in Washington had been telling the White House — and not what President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney were dutifully proclaiming to the rest of us.
Shocked at Honesty
Bush lets it all hang out in Decision Points. He complains bitterly that the NIE “tied my hands on the military side.” He notes that the Estimate opened with this “eye-popping” finding of the intelligence community:
“We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program.”
The former president adds, “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?
The mind boggles at the thought that Bush actually thought the White House, even with de rigueur help from an ever-obliging FCM, could put a positive spin on intelligence conclusions that let a meretricious cat out of the bag—that showed that the Bush administration’s case for war against Iran was as flimsy as its bogus case for invading Iraq.
How painful it was to watch the contortions the hapless Stephen Hadley, national security adviser at the time, went through in trying to square that circle. His task was the more difficult since, unlike the experience with the dishonestly edited/declassified version of what some refer to as the Whore of Babylon — the Oct. 1, 2002 NIE on WMD in Iraq, this time the managers of the Estimate made sure that the declassified version of the key judgments presented a faithful rendering of the main points in the classified Estimate.
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.
But can you blame Bush for his chagrin? Alas, the NIE had knocked out the props from under the anti-Iran propaganda machine, imported duty-free from Israel and tuned up by neoconservatives here at home.
How embarrassing. Here before the world were the key judgments of an NIE, the most authoritative genre of intelligence analysis, unanimously approved “with high confidence” by16 agencies and signed by the Director of National Intelligence, saying, in effect, that Bush and Cheney were lying about the “Iranian nuclear threat.”
It is inconceivable that as the drafting of the Estimate on Iran proceeded during 2007, the intelligence community would have kept the White House in the dark about the emerging tenor of its conclusions. And yet, just a month before the Estimate was issued, Bush was claiming that the threat from Iran could lead to “World War III.”
The Russians More Honest?
Ironically, Russian President Vladimir Putin, unencumbered by special pleading and faux intelligence, had come to the same conclusions as the NIE.
Putin told French President Nicolas Sarkozy in early October 2007:
“We don’t have information showing that Iran is striving to produce nuclear weapons. That’s why we’re proceeding on the basis that Iran does not have such plans.”
In a mocking tone, Putin asked what evidence the U.S. and France had for asserting that Iran intends to make nuclear weapons. And, adding insult to injury, during a visit to Tehran on Oct. 16, 2007, Putin warned: “Not only should we reject the use of force, but also the mention of force as a possibility."
This brought an interesting outburst by President Bush the next day at a press conference, a bizarre reaction complete with his famously tortured syntax:
Q. “Mr. President, I'd like to follow on Mr.--on President Putin's visit to Tehran … about the words that Vladimir Putin said there. He issued a stern warning against potential U.S. military action against Tehran. …Were you disappointed with [Putin’s] message?”
Bush: “I -- as I say, I look forward to -- if those are, in fact, his comments, I look forward to having him clarify those … And so I will visit with him about it.”
Q. “But you definitively believe Iran wants to build a nuclear weapon?”
Bush: “I think so long -- until they suspend and/or make it clear that they -- that their statements aren't real, yes, I believe they want to have the capacity, the knowledge, in order to make a nuclear weapon. And I know it's in the world's interest to prevent them from doing so. I believe that the Iranian -- if Iran had a nuclear weapon, it would be a dangerous threat to world peace.
“But this is -- we got a leader in Iran who has announced that he wants to destroy Israel. So I've told people that if you're interested in avoiding world war III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them from have the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon. I take the threat of Iran with a nuclear weapon very seriously, and we'll continue to work with all nations about the seriousness of this threat.”
Can’t Handle the Truth
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 Estimate had tied his hands “on the military side,” Bush included this (apparently unedited) kicker:
“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?”
Thankfully, not even Dick Cheney could persuade Bush to repair the juggernaut and let it loose for war on Iran. The avuncular Vice President has made it clear that he was very disappointed in his protégé. On Aug. 30, 2009, he told “Fox News Sunday” that he was isolated among Bush advisers in his enthusiasm for war with Iran.
“I was probably a bigger advocate of military action than any of my colleagues,” Cheney said when asked whether the Bush administration should have launched a pre-emptive attack on Iran before leaving office.
Bush briefed Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert before the NIE was released. Bush later said publicly that he did not agree with his own intelligence agencies. [For more on the Bush memoir’s conflicts with the truth, see Consortiumnews.com’s “George W. Bush: Dupe or Deceiver?”]
And it is entirely possible that the Iran-war juggernaut would have been repaired and turned loose anyway, were it not for strong opposition by the top military brass who convinced Bush that Cheney, his neocon friends and Olmert had no idea of the chaos that war with Iran would unleash.
There’s lots of evidence that this is precisely what Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen and then-CENTCOM commander Adm. William Fallon told Bush, in no uncertain terms. And it is a safe bet that these two were among those hinting broadly to Bush that the NIE was likely to “leak,” if he did not himself make its key judgments public.
What About Now
The good news is that Cheney is gone and that Adm. Mullen is still around.
The bad news is that Adm. Fallon was sacked for making it explicitly clear that, “We’re not going to do Iran on my watch,” and there are few flag officers with Fallon’s guts and honesty. Moreover, President Barack Obama continues to show himself to be an invertebrate vis-à-vis Israel and its neocon disciples.
Meanwhile, a draft NIE update on Iran’s nuclear program, completed earlier this year, is dead in its tracks, apparently because anti-Iran hawks inside the Obama administration are afraid it will leak. It is said to repeat pretty much the same conclusions as the NIE from 2007.
There are other ominous signs. The new Director of National Intelligence, retired Air Force Lt. Gen. James Clapper, is a subscriber to the Tenet school of malleability. It was Clapper whom former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld put in charge of imagery analysis to ensure that no one would cast serious doubt on all those neocon and Iraqi “defector” reports of WMD in Iraq.
And, when no WMD caches were found, it was Clapper who blithely suggested, without a shred of good evidence, that Saddam Hussein had sent them to Syria. This was a theory also being pushed by neocons both to deflect criticism of their false assurances about WMD in Iraq and to open a new military front against another Israeli nemesis, Syria.
In these circumstances, there may be some value in keeping the NIE update bottled up. At least that way, Clapper and other malleable managers won’t have the chance to play chef to another “cooked-to-order” analysis.
On the other hand, the neocons and our invertebrate President may well decide to order Clapper to “fix” the updated Estimate to fit in better with a policy of confrontation toward Iran. In that case, the new Director of National Intelligence might want to think twice. For Clapper could come a cropper. How?
The experience of 2007 showed that there are still some honest intelligence analysts around with integrity and guts—and with a strong aversion to managers who prostitute their work. This time around, such truth-tellers could opt for speedy, anonymous ways of getting the truth out—like, say, WikiLeaks.
Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. During his 27 years as a CIA intelligence analyst, his duties included chairing NIEs and preparing The President’s Daily Brief. He now serves on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).
This article appeared first on Consortiumnews.com.