News and opinions on situation in Iraq
02/06/03 The Price of Cooking the CIA Books Joe Trento's Column
 
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George Bush has a self-confidence most Americans like. There was another Texan named Lyndon Johnson who was also self-confident. Johnson also took America to war on hyped intelligence. Johnson's legislative record would have ranked him among the great Presidents except his entire Presidency ended stained with the blood of the Vietnam War.

Johnson died knowing that lying to your countrymen over war is about the worse thing a President can do. Let's hope President Bush learns the same lesson. It is clear now the intelligence was hyped.

The apparent long and slow downhill slide of U.S. intelligence capability is a myth. The correct information about Iraq's lack of weapons of mass destruction was inside the CIA prior to the United States attacking Iraq. The tragic lessons unlearned from dozens of previous CIA Directors over the decades was repeated by George Tenant. Tenant caved to White House and Pentagon political pressure to help sell President Bush's war in Iraq.

For the last month this reporter has been interviewing scores of our best intelligence minds concerning the subject of the Iraqi military and their views were nearly the same. One 30-year veteran of the CIA put it this way: “NSA commercial intercepts gave us a very clear understanding of what Saddam's people were not buying since the U.N. inspection teams left. What they were not buying was components for chemical, biological and nuclear weapons… In fact what we learned was that across the board military expenditures were massively down. We reported that but it was not what the bosses wanted to hear.”

These commercial intercepts, which are at the heart of real U.S. intelligence gathering, were confirmed by the few intelligence assets the CIA had inside Iraq. When this information was put in digest form and sent around to top government officials, it angered the top rung of political appointees in Donald Rumsfeld's Pentagon. The result was that Rumsfeld began to use information supplied by various Iraqi exile leaders. His favorite source became Achmed Chalabi, head of the Iraqi National Congress and a man with little credibility out at the CIA. Chalabi and his supporters supplied Judith Miller of the New York Times with much of her hyped reporting on WMD in Iraq previous to the war.

George Tenant had held fast on his experts' view of Iraq until a political consensus within the Administration came down on the side of war. The White House wanted evidence it could present to the United Nations and through press leaks to help sell the war. The entire exercise was almost a replay of what took place in Bush's father's administration when Kuwait and Hill and Knowlton got together to put on a show at the United Nations that Iraqi's were baby killers. A young Kuwaiti woman told the heart breaking tail of how the Iraqi invaders tossed babies out of incubators. We later learned from author Rick MacArthur that the young woman was the daughter of the Kuwait Ambassador and the entire story was concocted as part of a $20 million campaign to get America to go to war in Iraq.

This time Tony Blair and Colin Powell put their reputations on the line on what turned out to be false intelligence. The mobile labs that have repeatedly been cited by President Bush as evidence of weapons of mass destruction have a much older and embarrassing history for the Bush administration. Arms dealer Sarkis Soghanalian, who was the major arms supplier for Iraq in the 1980s, told National Security News Service from his home in Jordan: “I helped Iraq bring that equipment in. I will tell you that your government was fully aware that Iraq was developing both chemical and biological weapons and the trucks were part of the effort to defeat Iran… what your soldiers found were twenty year old mobile trucks.”

Soghanalian had a close relationship with then Vice-President George H. W. Bush's office at the time the current President's father was running the aid program to Saddam to defeat Iran. In February 1984, this reporter asked the then top U.S. diplomat in Iraq, Thomas Eagleton, about how much knowledge the U.S. had of the Iraqi chemical and biological weapons program. Eagleton said at the time: “We know they have converted fertilizer plants into weapons plants and are working with a major German and some U.S. companies… they are outnumbered by Iran on the battlefield and this is their version of going nuclear.”

American complicity in the earlier program and using hardware from that program to justify the most recent war is leaving U.S. credibility in shambles.

The Iraqi intelligence lie is not the first. In Vietnam the CIA helped paper over the cover-up of cover-ups – the Gulf of Tonkin incident that President Johnson used to send hundreds of thousands of Americans into Vietnam. The Reagan Administration refused to allow the CIA reports predicting that the Soviet empire would fall from its own weight get into he public debate. Instead wildly inaccurate Soviet economic models were concocted to justify in massive continued defense expenditures to stave off what turned out to be a fictional threat.

Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld has cooked the intelligence books and his President has gone along, as has the Secretary of State and Director of Central Intelligence. If they lied to us about WMD in Iraq, will this administration create evidence in North Korea, Iran and in the war on terrorism? How will the world react the next time the American political leadership makes claims about intelligence.

The CIA's job is to supply independent information so the President can make the hard decisions. We now know that the reasons we asked hundreds of thousands of Americans to go to war in Iraq were made-up. At the end of all of this, the President will have to live with the fact that he sent America's best into danger on the basis of hyped intelligence.

Let's hope President Bush is a big enough Texan to clean house and tell us the truth. If he doesn't learn that lesson he still might win re-election with big numbers but like old LBJ, the big lie will catch up with you.

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