An Unheeded Warning on Iraq
Editor Note: Ten years ago, as the clock was ticking down to George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq, a campaign of U.S. government lies and exaggerations had convinced many Americans that they were the ones under threat. A few U.S. intelligence veterans spoke up, but were heard mostly in Europe and on the Internet. This was the second of three Memoranda issued by the (then-newly formed) Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) before the US/UK attack on Iraq. (The first, addressed to President Bush, gave Colin Powell's speech a C-minus for content -- a far too charitable grade, in retrospect.)
DATE: March 12, 2003
MEMORANDUM FOR: Confused Americans
FROM: Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity
SUBJECT: Cooking Intelligence for War
Two members of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) appeared on German TV’s equivalent of “60 Minutes” on March 6, 2003, to discuss the use/abuse of intelligence to support the U.S. administration’s case for attacking Iraq.
Ray McGovern and David MacMichael were among the former CIA officers interviewed by Channel One’s “Panorama,” whose interviewers were asking questions seldom heard in American media. As a service to confused Americans, we have translated the German portions of the program and append the complete transcript.
We would note that the interviews were taped before the latest indignities regarding U.S. intelligence came to light — the forged letters earlier adduced as proof that Iraq was seeking to obtain uranium from Africa for its nuclear program, for example.
Our embarrassment is actually too painful to dwell, at any length, on other recent indignities — UN inspector ElBaradei’s preliminary finding that Iraq has no nuclear weapons program, the gaffes made by Secretary of State Colin Powell in his debut as imagery analyst before the UN Security Council, and his praising as “exquisite” a graduate school paper masquerading as top secret intelligence from the UK—to name just a few.
Embarrassments of this kind receive little play among those American TV commentators who are helping the administration beat the drums for war. Such stories usually hit the cutting room floor.
Similarly, no airtime in this country is provided to veterans of the U.S. Intelligence Community, unless some can be ferreted out who march to the same drumbeat. Some of us have had the extraordinary experience of been erased at the last minute from the op-ed page of the Wall Street Journal and invited-then-disinvited to/from TV programs like Jim Lehrer and Fox News.
Ordinarily, we would not mind being marginalized; we are used to it. But our country seems to be just days away from a fateful decision to go to war. And many of our former colleagues and successors are facing a dilemma all too familiar to intelligence veterans — the difficult choices that must be faced when the demands of good conscience butt up against deeply ingrained attitudes concerning secrecy, misguided notions of what is true patriotism, and understandable reluctance to put careers — and mortgages — on the line.
In the face of impending catastrophe we feel a responsibility to speak out — if only to remind the present generation of intelligence officers that they do have choices and that in the longer run their consciences will rest easier if they face squarely into those choices.
As the transcript below indicates, the situation in the media is quite different in Europe, where TV is open and hospitable to various viewpoints, pointed questions, and rigorous analysis. We have no illusions that American TV would host a no-holds-barred discussion of U.S. intelligence performance regarding Iraq — or regarding September 11, for that matter.
We do sense, however, that there are millions who crave more than the mantras sung by the administration and, sadly, now echoed by the Director of Central Intelligence. It is primarily for them that we make available below the “Panorama” transcript.
We appeal to those still working inside the Intelligence Community to consider turning state’s evidence. Daniel Ellsberg, one who knows, recently noted that truth telling, in time, can stop a misguided march to war.
Ellsberg and our former CIA colleague, Sam Adams, spoke out courageously to expose the lies of the Johnson administration and to put the brakes on the war in Vietnam — but, sadly, not in time. Sam is now deceased, but Ellsberg recently appealed to insiders at intelligence agencies “to tell the truth and save many, many lives.” We Veterans Intelligence Professionals for Sanity join in that urgent appeal.
We are encouraged to learn that just yesterday [March 11, 2003] a long-time Australian intelligence officer resigned in protest against the handling of U.S. intelligence and his government’s support of U.S. policy on Iraq. So it is indeed possible for intelligence officers to join Foreign Service counterparts like John Brady Kiesling and John H. Brown who already put principle and conscience before obedience and personal advancement in choosing to resign from the Department of State.
Further encouragement is taken from FBI Special Agent Coleen Rowley’s courageous decision to call public attention to the severe threat to domestic security that would inevitably come in the wake of a U.S. attack on Iraq — a threat involving critical dangers that have been soft-pedaled by the administration. Ms. Rowley is less than two years short of eligibility for retirement.
Richard Beske, San Diego
Kathleen McGrath Christison, Santa Fe
William Christison, Santa Fe
Patrick Eddington, Alexandria
Raymond McGovern, Arlington
Steering Group, Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity
“Panorama” management informs us that there are no restrictions on further dissemination of what follows.
German TV (ARD/Erstes Programm)
8:15 PM, March 6, 2003
Cooking the Books; Falsifying the Evidence: How Bush is Mobilizing for War
Moderator: Anja Reschke
Welcome to Panorama!
While many Americans listen submissively to George Bush’s statements regarding plans for war against Iraq, he is having a rather difficult time with his own government workers, particularly his intelligence analysts.
The Central Intelligence Agency is responsible for collecting and analyzing evidence relating to Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction and his relationship to al-Qaeda. But CIA analysts apparently are not doing their job to the satisfaction of the president. Indeed, as Bush keeps coming up with new claims about Iraq’s weapons and its plans for terrorist attacks, one thing is certain: The information is not coming from the CIA. Here is a president who no longer trusts his own intelligence service.
The Media Prepare for War on American TV
Every day the media warn about Saddam Hussein’s chemical and biological weapons. American audiences also hear again and again: Saddam and bin Laden work together. The only hope—war!
The continual propaganda is effective. Virtually everyone feels threatened by Saddam, even as they go about their daily lives. Indeed, the majority of Americans believe that Saddam Hussein was personally behind the attacks of September 11, 2001.
We asked Americans the question: Did Saddam Hussein play a role in the 9/11 attacks?
Man: “Saddam Hussein and all the rest of those terrorists played a role in a lot of things. People forget in this country what happened in New York. Let’s not forget that.”
Woman: “I hope that Saddam Hussein wasn’t the one behind the 9/11 attacks, but I believe he was though.”
Woman: “I think he probably had a lot to do with it. I don’t know that he was actually the spearhead for it, but I think he supported it.”
This complete nonsense is the result of a successful disinformation campaign.
Ray McGovern, veteran of a 27-year CIA career, for several years provided daily briefings to the president’s most senior advisers, including George Bush senior.
McGovern: “The day after 9/11 Dick Cheney, Wolfowitz, and Rumsfeld were saying, “Now let’s go get Iraq.” And so the push was on to find evidence that Iraq had some sort of connection with 9/11. And I am very sad to say that our president himself has in a subliminal way always made that connection. And that is why most Americans—pity them—tend to believe that Iraq did have something to do with 9/11, while the intelligence community is convinced it did not.”
President Bush is still leaning on the CIA to provide the kind of evidence that will support his plans for war against Iraq. The evidence is still lacking, but this has not slowed the president down.
Saddam and the Terrorists
In a letter dated October 7, 2002, CIA Director George Tenet told the US Senate that Iraq was “drawing a line short” of conducting terrorist attacks with either conventional or chemical/biological weapons against the United States.” The CIA took the position that the probability was low that Iraq would either initiate an attack with weapons of mass destruction or give them to terrorists.
On the very same day, October 7, President Bush went before the cameras and turned the content of Tenet’s letter on its head. Bush claimed, “Iraq could decide on any given day to provide a biological or chemical weapon to a terrorist group or individual terrorists.”
McGovern: “The ethic at CIA reflects the inscription on the entrance wall, which says, ‘You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.’ And we—that is, CIA analysts—took that very seriously. And so, if we do not see evidence of a tie between al-Qaeda and Iraq, for example, we will not write that.”
The Alleged Threat From Saddam’s Weapons of Mass Destruction
As we have indicated, the CIA Director told Bush and his national security advisers that the probability that Saddam will launch such an attack—in the foreseeable future—would be low.” But simultaneously President Bush claimed in public the exact opposite. He told the American people, “The risk is simply too great that he will use them.”
Robert Baer, a former CIA case officer who spent years working on covert operations in Iraq, is astonished.
Baer: “There is no imminent threat from Iraq, all right! If he does have missiles, which he probably does, they are buried in the ground, and it is going to take months to dig them up. We’ve seen no evidence of VX gas, or Bubonic plague, or anthrax, or any of this stuff.”
McGovern: “The logical conclusion is that the information has been doctored, that the information has been cooked to the recipe of policy and this—for an intelligence outfit—is anathema, beyond the pale. This is something that renders it superfluous to even have an intelligence agency.”
Saddam and Nuclear Weapons
According to President Bush, the “Iraqi dictator” will be able to produce his own nuclear weapons in the very near future.
George Bush: “We could wait and hope that Saddam does not give weapons to terrorists, or develop a nuclear weapon to blackmail the world. But I’m convinced that is a hope against all evidence.”
McGovern: “President Bush has said the Iraqis could produce a nuclear weapon perhaps in another year. Now theformal intelligence estimate on that is that they could not possibly do that until the end of the decade. One wonders where the president gets his information. I really don’t fault him as much for being dishonest as for being naive to think that he can go to Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz and expect to get a straight answer on such things.”
Former CIA Officer David MacMichael: “I think the administration is indeed pressuring the intelligence system, whether it be the CIA, FBI, or anyone else, to come up with the strongest possible evidence to indicate there is a genuine and immediate threat of attack by chemical, biological, or other weapons of mass destruction by terrorist groups—and in particular those associated with al-Qaeda, and to link Iraq to that.”
Bush and Rumsfeld have been putting the pressure on the CIA for months. Still, CIA analysts would not let themselves be pressured into twisting the intelligence to support the “line” dictated from above. And so, the Defense Secretary in the meantime has created his own secret intelligence group as a rival to the CIA.
Baer: “The CIA said, ‘Listen; we don’t have enough information to indict Saddam on terrorism charges.’ And Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense, said, ‘That’s not good enough. Give us the raw databases and we’ll make our own decisions.’ And they rounded up these people who are non-professionals—a couple of ex-lawyers, consultants, who all rallied around and said, ‘Well, let’s take this, let’s take that, let’s take this and we can indict.’”
Rumsfeld’s private intelligence group put its shoulder to the wheel and provided a doubting world with alleged evidence that Saddam is producing nuclear weapons. Armed with this “new evidence,” UN inspectors in the last several weeks were sent off to confirm it. They could not.
Former UN Inspector David Albright: “Often what you see in the Bush administration is that they don’t care. I mean, you say, ‘This isn’t true.’ They say, ‘Oh, Okay,’ and then they repeat it again publicly. Or they just say, ‘Don’t form a conclusion. Keep working on it.’ And so there are several cases where the inspectors are just expected to keep working on it, and yet they think it’s garbage.”
McGovern: Intelligence needs to be as pure as a virgin. When intelligence is pimped, as is now being done by the White House and the Defense Department, it loses its virginity. And, as is well known, nothing is quite the same again once you have lost your virginity.”
President Bush has almost reached his goal: war against Saddam Hussein. And the American media are beating the drums. For example, Fox TV, America’s most watched news channel and its very popular star-anchor Bill O’Reilly, who stirs up millions of viewers:
O’Reilly: “When the war begins, this is what we expect from every American: Either you support the military or you shut up. Americans and our foreign allies who come out against us are enemies of the state.”
Baiting, intimidation, disinformation—with results that are grotesque:
A question put to US citizens: “Do you think that Saddam Hussein may attack America in the near future with weapons of mass destruction?”
Woman: “If we don’t watch out, it just might happen.”
Man: “Absolutely. I think they will attack the United States with chemical weapons.”
Woman: “I hear that Iraq has a lot of nuclear weapons that could hit the West Coast and it is very worrisome to me.”
Worrisome indeed. Clearly, it is feelings and opinions—not facts—that are determining support in the US for war or peace.
Reporters: John Goetz and Volker Steinhoff; Edit: Karen Menge
This, from the archives, appeared on Consortiumnews on 10th anniversary, March 12, 2013.