Washington: a city of denials, spin, and political calculations. The Nation's former DC editor David Corn spent 2002-2007 blogging on the policies, personalities and lies that spew out of the nation's capital. The complete archive appears below. Corn is now the DC editor at Mother Jones.
Once more, George W. Bush has assaulted the truth in front of the United Nations. A year ago, he launched his push for war with a speech before the General Assembly that was filled with distortions to set the stage for the invasion to come. (See here.) This time around, Bush was defending his war against Saddam Hussein and the occupation and again relied on misrepresentations. "The regime of Saddam Hussein," he claimed, "cultivated ties to terror while it built weapons of mass destruction. It used those weapons in acts of mass murder." This is a slippery rendition of what's known. Hussein may have "cultivated" contacts with terrorists, but the Bush administration has yet to demonstrate he had developed any operational ties to al Qaeda. And built WMDs? Certainly, he did so in the past--before UN inspectors in the mid-1990s reported that they had destroyed most of his WMDs. But there's no undeniable proof he was manufacturing WMDs more recently. In fact, a classified Defense Intelligence Agency analysis produced in October 2002 noted that there was no reliable evidence that Hussein was n=making chemical weapons.
Before the war, the heart of Bush's case for war was that Hussein possessed unconventional weapons and could turn them over to his pals in al Qaeda at any moment. At the UN, Bush fuzzed up his depiction of the threat from Hussein. As for Hussein having "used those weapons," that horrific act occurred in 1980s, and afterward the Reagan and Bush I administrations still continued to court Hussein (as a counter-balance to Iran). Prior to the invasion, Bush did not claim the reason for the war was a two-decades-old weapons charge against the dictator. But now it has become front-and-center in his brief against Washington's former partner.
Bush stretched the truth in his rosy descriptions of present-day Iraq. He noted that Iraq "now has a governing council; the first truly representative institution in that country." But that body was handpicked by the US occupation authorities. How representative is that? He also boasted, "Iraq's new leaders are showing the opernness and tolerance that democracy requires." Yet the day before, the governing council had booted out of Iraq two Arab satellite networks--Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya--claiming they had incited violence against the new government and challenged its legitimacy. Bush also argued that the United States, by invading Iraq, had "acted to defend...the credibility of the United Nations," falsely suggesting that the UN had been unwilling to take any steps in the face of Iraq's violations of Security Council resolutions. But the UN was moving toward more intrusive and aggressive inspections when Bush launched the war. It might be that the UN actions would not have happened or might have ended up ineffective, but Bush has repeatedly maintained that there was only one choice: go to war or do nothing. That is a misrepresentation.
Overall, Bush's speech was not likely to please allies who opposed the war or to rally American public support. He offered nothing in terms of shared authority for the contributions (in cash and troops) he is trying to squeeze out of other nations. No surprise, he made no concessions regarding his prewar assertions. He claimed he only wanted "self-government" for the people, but provided not even a general timetable for a transition to self-rule. (Before such "self-government" is accomplished, the US occupation authority does feel entitled to render critical economic decisions on behalf of the Iraqi people. Days ago it announced it would open up practically all of the nation's economy--except the oil sector--to foreign investment. or what critics might call "foreign control.")
Bush devoted a good chunk of his speech to calling for an international effort to eradicate the trafficking of humans, particularly in relation to the sex trade. "The American government is committing $50 million to support the good work of organizations that are rescuing women and children from exploitation....I urge other governments to do their part." This was all well and good. But $50 milllion is a modest figure. For comparison's sake, Bush is expected to raise between $170 million and $200 million for his reelection campaign.
There was no chance that Bush was going to speak candidly about the war and occupation in Iraq. He has tied himself to the mast of his prewar fabrications. He concedes no ground, no problems, no missteps, no miscalculations--even as he looks to the UN and other nations to help bail him out in Iraq. With a pricetag approaching $200 billion and an American public that is becoming restless about the occupation (and its cost), Bush needs assistance from the UN and the allies. He's just not willing to tell the truth to get it.
COMING SOON: David Corn's new book, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (Crown Publishers, due out September 30). For more information and a sample, check out the book's official website: www.bushlies.com.
This coming week, President Bush will head to the United Nations to try to rally international support for his Iraq endeavor. After addressing the General Assembly, he is scheduled to stick around to lobby various heads of state--particularly France's Jacque Chirac and Germany's Gerhard Schroeder--in an attempt to win commitments of troops and money. Bush's targets ought to view this effort warily. For if Bush's last speech to the UN is any guide, he can be expected to mangle the truth in order to get his way.
A year ago, Bush kicked off his public campaign against Iraq with a much-anticipated General Assembly address. Shortly before the speech, White House chief of staff Andrew Card quipped, "From a marketing point of view, you don't introduce new products in August." And Bush's appearance at the UN did seem to mark the rollout of his latest product: confrontation with Iraq. It was a launch that just happened to coincide with the emotion-rich first anniversary of the September 11 attacks.
In the speech, Bush fingered Saddam Hussein's Iraq as the home of the "most lethal and aggressive forms" of dangers threatening the United States and international security. He accurately described the brutality of Hussein's regime and recounted Hussein's history of defying UN resolutions. But he also depicted Iraq as an immediate threat that was loaded with chemical and biological weapons and close to developing nuclear weapons. UN inspectors, Bush said, had "revealed that Iraq likely maintains stockpiles of VX, mustard and other chemical agents and that the regime is rebuilding and expanding facilities capable of producing chemical weapons."
This was sleight of hand. UN inspections had ended four years earlier. How could they have "revealed" the present-day "rebuilding and expanding" of chemical weapons facilities? More seriously, Bush was misrepresenting the findings of the inspectors. The inspectors had not declared that Iraq was maintaining WMD stockpiles. The UN inspection force that searched Iraq in the 1990s--the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM)--had reported that it had dismantled the key facilities Iraq used to develop chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons and that it had destroyed significant amounts of chemical and biological weapons. But the UNSCOM inspectors had encountered major discrepancies in the accounting of Iraq's weapons and WMD material. They found that Iraq could have produced more weapons than the inspectors had uncovered or Iraq had acknowledged. That did not mean, though, Iraq was maintaining large WMD reserves. Bush deceptively turned unaccounted-for material into here-and-now weapons.
On the subject of biological weapons, Bush said that "UN inspectors believe Iraq has produced two to four times the amount of biological agents it declared." That was an inaccurate description of the inspectors' view. For example, Iraq claimed it had produced 8,445 liters of anthrax and then had destroyed this supply. The UN inspectors deduced that Hussein's regime had maintained the production capacity to manufacture 22,000 to 39,000 liters. Had Iraq used its full capacity and produced all that anthrax? The inspectors were not sure. It was a possibility that required further examination. The UN's WMD-searchers also suspected that 10,000 liters of anthrax had not been destroyed and might still exist. But to the UN inspectors, this was an unresolved question--a serious one--but not an established fact.
In front of the UN, Bush was mischaracterizing its inspectors' work. In an interview in 2000, Rolf Ekeus, the former executive chairman of UNSCOM, had summed up the 1990s inspections: "UNSCOM was highly successful in identifying and eliminating Iraq's prohibited weapons--but not to the degree that everything was destroyed….In my view, there are no large quantities of weapons. I don't think Iraq is especially eager in the biological and chemical area to produce such weapons for storage….Rather, Iraq has been aiming to keep the capability to start up production immediately should it need to."
That was not the picture Bush presented. Perhaps the UN inspectors had been wrong, and Iraq had managed to hide stockpiles from them. But Bush did not offer evidence of that. Instead, he twisted their findings. And a classified Defense Intelligence Agency analysis conducted at this time said, "There is no reliable information on whether Iraq is producing or stockpiling chemical weapons, or where Iraq has--or will--establish its chemical warfare agent production facilities."
During his UN speech, Bush argued that Iraq was taking steps to manufacture nuclear weapons. He pointed to its "attempts to buy high-strength aluminum tubes used to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons." He noted that Saddam Hussein had been meeting with nuclear scientists. But media reports and disclosed US intelligence have since revealed that there was a debate within the intelligence community over Iraq's use of these aluminum tubes, with some intelligence analysts concluding they were destined for rocket launchers not uranium enrichment. Even after the Bush administration obtained photographic evidence suggesting that the tubes were to be used for rockets, it continued to deny that was an alternative explanation. As for those meetings with nuclear scientists, The Washington Post recently reported that the CIA had concluded these scientists were not likely working on a serious weapons program.
Bush also falsely portrayed the argument against war. "To assume this regime's good faith," he said, "is to bet the lives of millions and the peace of the world in a reckless gamble." But the influential UN members that opposed a war at this juncture--including Washington's closest allies--were not assuming Hussein's "good faith." They advocated reviving intrusive inspections and pursuing other means before contemplating war. But Bush implied--disingenuously--that weapons inspections would not work. He claimed that UN inspectors had only uncovered Hussein's bioweapons in 1995 after a senior Iraqi official had defected and revealed the existence of this program. According to Ekeus, the UN inspectors' discovery of the bioweapons program had come months before this defection.
Certainly, the UN had good reason to worry about Hussein and WMDs. But Bush overstated the case and even misrepresented the UN's own work in this area. Now, a year later, he returns to the international body, hoping to persuade its members to join his Iraq project as junior partners. Already, other nations are complaining that Bush is pressing them to send money and troops but is not willing to share economic, political, and military responsibility. Bush may have to offer concessions and make promises to get these allies aboard. If he has a hard time winning their trust, he will only have himself to blame.
COMING SOON: David Corn's new book, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (Crown Publishers, due out September 30). For more information and a sample, check out the book's official website: www.bushlies.com.
Is there some deadline approaching, after which Bush administration officials have to engage in honest debate? It seems as if there has been a rash of misleading, deceptive, and disingenuous remarks coming from on high in recent days. The gang at "Capital Games" has been working overtime to keep up with the truth-bending of the president, the vice president, the defense secretary, and the deputy defense secretary. (After all, we do have a book coming out in two weeks called The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception.) Here is--we fear--a partial report.
Let's start with Dick Cheney. He appeared on Meet The Press and was asked by host Tim Russert if there was a connection between Saddam Hussein and the 9/11 attacks. He replied, "Of course, we've had the story that's been public out there. The Czechs alleged that Mohamed Atta, the lead attacker, met in Prague with a senior Iraqi intelligence official five months before the attack. But we've never been able to develop any more of that yet either in terms of confirming it or discrediting it. We just don't know." This was a deceptive answer. Shortly after 9/11, Czech intelligence officials did say they had a report from a source--a single source--that Atta had met with this Iraqi intelligence official in April 2001. Subsequent media reports in the United States noted that the source was an Arab student who was not considered particularly reliable. The FBI investigated and found nothing to substantiate the report of the meeting. In fact, the FBI concluded that Atta was most likely in Florida at the time of the supposed meeting, and the CIA questioned the existence of this meeting. (Even if there had been a meeting, one could not tell what it meant unless it was known what was said--and no one, not even Cheney, has claimed to know what might have transpired.)
Moreover, on October 21, 2002, The New York Times reported that Czech President Vaclav Havel "quietly told the White House he has concluded that there is no evidence to confirm earlier reports" of the meeting. And it seemed that Atta had gone to Prague in June 2000, not April 2001. "Now," the paper noted, "some Czech and German officials say that their best explanation of why Mr. Atta came to Prague was to get a cheap airfare to the United States."
For some reason, Cheney did not share with the Meet the Press audience the information about Havel's denial. Nor did he note that U.S. forces had nabbed this Iraqi intelligence official in July and that there has been no word--no leaks--about him confirming the supposed meeting. All in all, the case for the meeting is rather flimsy. But Cheney, as he did a year ago on the same show, pointed to this alleged meeting as a reason to suspect Hussein was in on the 9/11 attacks--which, if true, would justify the U.S. strike against Iraq. Waving the Atta-in-Prague story was an act of mendacious information manipulation, and Russert did not challenge Cheney on it.
Cheney also violated the truth in other exchanges. He declared that two tractor-trailers discovered in northern Iraq were mobile bioweapons labs. That is what the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency have stated. But other experts--including the DIA's own engineering experts--have challenged that conclusion. At best, the purpose of these trucks remains an open question. Cheney refused to acknowledge the case is far from closed.
Cheney claimed that if the U.S. succeeds in Iraq "we will have struck a major blow right at the heart of the base, if you will, the geographic base of the terrorists who have had us under assault now for many years, but most especially on 9/11." Huh? What's the public evidence that any of the 9/11 plotters used Iraq as a "geographic base"? There is none. Afghanistan was the "geographic base" for al Qaeda. Has Cheney forgotten that?
And when Russert asked Cheney about a Congressional Budget Office report that says that the Army "lacks sufficient active-duty forces to maintain its current level of nearly 150,000 troops in Iraq beyond next spring," Cheney ducked this tough issue, replying that "failure's not an option." He did not say whether the Bush administration has an unannounced plan for dealing with this or whether it is simply ignoring the possible crisis ahead.
On the subject of the missing WMD in Iraq, Cheney backpedaled from the administration's former claims that Iraq possessed conventional weapons: "There's no doubt in my mind but that Saddam Hussein had these capabilities." Capabilities? At one point, Bush said Hussein had "massive stockpiles." Was the war waged over "capabilities" or actual weapons? Asked for evidence to back up his prewar claim that Hussein had "reconstituted" his nuclear weapons program, Cheney cited Hussein's before-the-war possession of 500 tons of uranium. But this material was the waste-product of a nuclear reactor and could only become suitable for weapons through a sophisticated enrichment process. And there is no evidence that Iraq possessed such technology (though it had sought this sort of equipment in the past).
Cheney added, "To suggest that there is no evidence there [in Iraq] that [Hussein] had no aspirations to acquire nuclear weapons, I don't think is valid." This is disingenuous. The issue was not Hussein's "aspirations," but what he had in hand, what he was developing. Before the war, Cheney claimed Hussein had revived a nuclear weapons program that had been dismantled previously by inspectors. He did not say back then that Hussein merely was yearning for nuclear weapons. And those who said before the war that there was no evidence of any such reconstitution--including the inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency--were not so foolish to argue that Hussein had dropped his interest in nukes.
Discussing the widening deficit, Cheney kept up his assault on truthful discourse. Russert asked if the administration would consider freezing the Bush tax cuts for the top 1 percent of Americans to cover the $87 billion request Bush recently made for operations in Iraq. Cheney answered, "I think it's a serious mistake; the wrong time to raise taxes." No, the issue is not raising existing taxes; it is preventing certain tax cuts from kicking in. Big difference. Cheney, though, purposefully (presumably) miscast the terms of the debate to score political points.
There was more in the Cheney interview that can be dissected, but other Bushies deserve their due. Speaking at a National Press Club luncheon last week, Rumsfeld was asked, "On March 30th you said, referring to Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, quote, 'We know where they are.' Do you know where they are now? Will they be found?" He replied, "In that instance, we had been in the country for about 15 seconds; sometimes I overstate for emphasis....What we had...is a long list of suspect sites. And they were sites that the inspectors had been in the process of looking at when they concluded that the inspection process really wasn't working, because of lack of cooperation on the part of Saddam Hussein's regime. And I said, 'We know they're in that area.' I should have said, 'I believe they're in that area.'..And we were being pressed to find them while the war was still in its earliest, earliest days. And it seemed to me a somewhat unrealistic expectation."
Rumsfeld was pegging the needle on the duplicity meter. The UN inspectors never concluded that the inspections process wasn't working. They had identified problems and complained about aspects of the process, presenting mixed reports to the Security Council on their progress and Iraq's cooperation. And their complaints mostly concerned Iraq's reluctance to account for past WMD materials, not the lack of access to suspected sites.
Were there, as Rumsfeld now maintains, unrealistic expectations about finding WMDs? During the first week of the war--before he made the comment quoted in the question at the luncheon--Rumsfeld himself declared, "We're there to eliminate the weapons of mass destruction in that country." Didn't that suggest the U.S. military was hell-bent on finding them ASAP? And when he said on March 30--after a weak of fighting--that the administration knew where to find the WMDs, that was yet another signal from the administration that there was no question about the reason for going to war. Before the war, the administration peddled suspicion as fact. Bush and his aides did not say, we think Hussein has weapons. They repeatedly asserted they knew it for a fact. Rumsfeld's March 30th remark was fully in keeping with the truth-defying rhetoric of the administration, not a verbal slip.
As for his, "sometimes I overstate" remark, that was indeed truthful. Now he tells us.And during the same talk, Rumsfeld said, "I don't believe it's our job to reconstruct that country after 30 years of centralized, Stalinist-like economic controls in that country." Then why is the Bush administration asking U.S. taxpayers for $20 billion for Iraq reconstruction?
Now, we turn to Rumsfeld's second. In an interview with Associated Press on September 12, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz conceded he had not spoken accurately the previous day when he said on ABC's Good Morning America. "We know [Iraq] had a great deal to do with terrorism in general and with al Qaeda in particular, and we know a great many of bin Laden's key lieutenants are now trying to organize in cooperation with old loyalists from the Saddam regime to attack in Iraq." Well, Wolfowitz's many meant one. Speaking to AP, he said he was only referring to a single individual--Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a terrorist whom the Bush administration has linked to al Qaeda. But the Zarqawi connection has not been confirmed, and intelligence officials have been repeatedly quoted noting that Zarqawi perhaps maintained ties with al Qaeda but acted independently of Osama bin Laden's network. In fact, Newsweek reported that Zarqawi might be more of a rival than a partner of al Qaeda.
As for Wolfowitz's larger claim--that the Bush administration knows that Iraq had a "great deal to do" with al Qaeda--the only significant case the administration has put forward in this regard is based on the iffy Zarqawi link. And former deputy CIA director, Richard Kerr, who is conducting a review of the CIA's prewar intelligence, has said that the intelligence before the war did not conclusively connect Saddam Hussein to al Qaeda. So then how could Wolfowitz have known "a great deal" on the unproven collaboration between Hussein and al Qaeda? As AP notes, "The Bush administration has outlined only limited evidence of Iraqi-al Qaeda contacts before the war, and no conclusive evidence that Iraq and al Qaeda plotted joint terror operations." Wolfowitz did retract the "many" in his Good Morning America remark, but he did not retreat on his overall--and misleading--assertion about a Hussein-al Qaeda relationship.
Last, but not least, George W. Bush. September is back-to-school time, and Bush hit the road to promote his education policies. During a speech at a Nashville elementary school, he hailed his education record by noting that "the budget for next year boosts funding for elementary and secondary education to $53.1 billion. That's a 26-percent increase since I took office. In other words, we understand that resources need to flow to help solve the problems." A few things were untrue in these remarks. Bush's proposed elementary and secondary education budget for next year is $34.9 billion, not $53.1 billion, according to his own Department of Education. It's his total proposed education budget that is $53.1 billion. More importantly, there is no next-year "boost" in this budget. Elementary and secondary education received $35.8 billion in 2003. Bush's 2004 budget cuts that back nearly a billion dollars, and the overall education spending in his budget is the same as the 2003 level.
Instead of a "boost," there is the opposite--a decrease. Perhaps like Rumsfeld--and Cheney and Wolfowitz--the president merely was overstating.
COMING SOON: David Corn's new book, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (Crown Publishers, due out September 30). For more information and a sample, check out the book's official website: www.bushlies.com.
Television viewers on Sunday night had a choice of two George W. Bushes. They could see him standing tall on a Showtime docudrama on 9/11 (produced by a prominent Hollywood conservative), in which a heroic Bush all but exclaims "damn the torpedoes" before all but parachuting Rambo-like into Afghanistan to capture Osama bin Laden single-handedly. (Remember bin Laden?) Or they could watch the real thing stiffly read a speech in which he did little than to urge Americans and allies to buck up and stay his course.
There's nothing like dropping to a 52-percent approval rating to send a president--especially a wartime president--rushing to the Cabinet room ( sans table) to deliver a primetime speech declaring "great progress." Bush both reiterated that Iraq was a crucial battle in the war against terrorism and asserted it now is "the central front." On the first point, he had nothing to say--literally--to back up his prewar assertions. He did not address the where-are-the-weapons criticism he has received over the past few months. Instead, he hailed his invasion for having overturned a regime that "sponsored terror" and "possessed and used weapons of mass destruction." Possessed and used, that is, if one looks back to the Iraq of the 1980s (when Saddam Hussein was being courted by the Reagan and Bush I administrations). In all his advocacy for war, Bush never based his case on a two-decades-old weapons charge. His argument was that Hussein had unconventional weapons now (not in the 1980s or early 1990s) and that this tyrant was sponsoring a particular set of terrorists, namely al Qaeda. None of that has proven true, and the available evidence to date supports the notion that Bush was lying to the American public. So as Bush continues to adhere to his pre-invasion fibs, what credibility does he carry when he now maintains he is willing to cooperate with other nations in the rebuilding of Iraq (as long as they pony up)?
But Bush's argument that Iraq was key to the war on terrorism has become self-fulfilling due to his own actions. It appears that the occupation has led to the rise of a terrorist claque within Iraq, attracting jihadists from elsewhere. US troops are indeed confronting terrorists in Mesopotamia. (What else do you call the brutal killers behind the blast at the UN compound?) Bush may have succeeded in achieving what neither bin Laden nor Hussein could have done: uniting the secular Ba'athists and the fundamentalist Islamic fascists. Iraq has become the frontline because Bush sent in the Marines--and the Army, Navy, and Air Force. Yet he keeps on pushing the neoconnish line that if Iraq were to be transformed into a democracy, that would be a blow to terrorists everywhere--especially the terrorists who aim to strike the United States. There remains no indication that Hussein enabled the mass-murderers of 9/11. So Bush's theory is just that--an assertion that may or may not be true. He told his television audience that the triumph of democracy and tolerance in Iraq would be a "grave setback to terrorists." Certainly, this triumph would be a good thing--but there is no telling whether or not such a development would have any impact upon the terrorist threat America faces.
During the speech, Bush also maintained that American misadventures in Beirut and Somalia (the first authored by Reagan; the second initiated by Bush the Elder) were partial causes of 9/11. These episodes--in which Washington ended up cutting and running--supposedly led anti-American terrorists like bin Laden to see the United States as a soft foe and, consequently, encouraged them to take on America. Indeed, bin Laden and others had wondered about US resolve, though I'd be willing to wager that bin Laden did assume that the 9/11 attack would result in serious payback. Bush dumbs down the analysis. "Terrorist attacks," he said, "are not caused by the use of strength. They are invited by the perception of weakness." Bush's self-acclaimed boldness, though, has given the terrorists in Iraq--whoever they are--more chances to kill Americans. The use of strength does not necessarily provide a disincentive to terrorists. See Israel. The goal should be the smart use of strength. But Bush is now depicting the Iraq war as justified because it sent a don't-mess-with-us message. And he argues, in a way, that the United States is now stuck with this message, like it or not. After all, would turning tail enhance American security?
Perhaps it might. If that would mean internationalizing the redevelopment of Iraq. Bush, who was willing to go to war alone, now says he is committed to a more multilateral approach in Iraq. But it's unclear what he is offering to allies--except the opportunity to pay for his occupation. In his address, he remarked that members of the international community must assume "a broader role" and that "past differences" cannot interfere with "present duties." But his administration was quick to snub the French and to signal that nations that went along with Bush's march to war would be rewarded, while those who resisted would be punished. In his speech, Bush also called for the Iraqis to get with the program, noting that "now they must rise to the responsibilities of a free people." A point of clarification: they are not a free people. The occupation authority has canceled local elections and still exercises censorship over some media. After first promising a speedy hand-off of power to the Iraqis, the US occupation authority then slowed the transition and, of late, has been trying to quicken the pace, perhaps to rid itself of sole responsibility for governing a problem-wracked nation.
In demanding that Iraqis meet their obligations, Bush seemed rather ungracious. He still has been unable to provide the security needed for political revival in Iraq. Members of the Iraqi governing council--who were handpicked by the Americans--have bitterly complained that the occupation authority has not responded to their requests for additional security for themselves. And it is clear that the Bush administration never had a plan on how it would "rise to the responsibilities" of an occupying power and provide security and generate economic development.
In his short address, Bush announced the occupation (and reconstruction in Afghanistan) would cost an extra $87 billion in the coming year--on top of the $79 billion already approved for the war and the occupation through September 30. He offered no explanation of how he would pay for that. He did not say, Sorry, but we're going to have to ask the major beneficiaries of the latest round of tax cuts--millionaires, investors, and the like--to do with a little less. Or, There's going to be less Medicare coverage for our seniors, but that's the price of defending freedom. Bush vowed he would do "whatever is necessary." But that does include asking Americans to make any sacrifices (other than those who serve in the military). Presumably, Bush will just charge it--add the price of the occupation to an already bulging deficit and let someone else worry about it down the road. Once more, this is hardly rising to responsibility.
Bush is in a fix. He's stuck in his Iraqmire. He did not prepare the country for a long drawn-out endeavor in Iraq, which keeps on claiming the lives of Americans. In fact, before the war, some Bush aides claimed that this would be a no-fuss occupation. Now Bush has little choice but to resort to the usual rah-rah about resolve. He points fingers at the international community and the Iraqis, failing, of course, to acknowledge his own miscalculations. And he's looking a tad desperate. Don't expect a Showtime sequel covering Bush's days as an occupier.
******COMING SOON: David Corn's new book, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (Crown Publishers), will be released on September 30. For more information, click here.
Will there be an investigation into whether Bush administration officials violated the law and undermined national security in order to mount a political vendetta? It's up to the CIA and the Justice Department. Cynics, start your engines.
As first noted here (and further explored here), several weeks ago, Bush officials lashed out at former Ambassador Joseph Wilson by telling journalists--including conservative columnist Robert Novak--that Wilson's wife was a deep-cover CIA operative working in the field of weapons counterproliferation. Novak and others reported what they were heard from these administration sources. Their stories either blew her cover or falsely branded a woman, who is known to friends as an energy analyst in a private firm, as a CIA officer. Wilson will not say whether his wife is a spy. But the prevailing assumption among journalists covering this controversy is that she is (or was) a CIA operative. After all, administration officials keep repeating this claim. And in case you forgot, Wilson's sin (in the eyes of the vengeful Bushies) was that he went public about a trip he took to Niger in February 2002--at the request of the CIA--during which he investigated the allegation that Iraq was shopping for uranium there. He concluded that the charge was "highly doubtful." His account undercut White House claims that it had no reason to suspect President Bush was not speaking accurately when he included this dubious allegation in his case for war during his 2003 State of the Union address.
If Wilson's wife is an Agency op specializing in counter-WMD work, then it is possible that Bush officials damaged the intelligence establishment's effort to thwart the spread of weapons of mass destruction and broke the law. Under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982, it is a crime for anyone with access to classified information to reveal intentionally the identity of an undercover intelligence officer. The punishment: a fine up to $50,000 and/or up to ten years in jail. (Journalists are generally not covered by the law.)
So if a crime of this sort has been committed, where's the investigation? In a July 24 letter to FBI director Robert Mueller, Senator Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, requested that the FBI "immediately launch an investigation to determine the source of this [leaked] information and assess whether there is enough evidence to refer the matter for criminal prosecution." In a statement, Schumer noted that investigations into such leaks are not unusual. In June 2002, the FBI investigated the allegation that someone had leaked classified congressional testimony provided by Lt. General Michael Hayden, the head of the National Security Agency. The Bureau, according to Schumer, questioned 37 members of the House and Senate intelligence committees and about 60 staffmembers. Vice President Dick Cheney had been one of the instigators of that inquiry. "The current scandal," Schumer says, "is just as serious as the one from June 2002." He adds, "This is one of the most reckless and nasty things I've seen in all my years of government. Leaking the name of a CIA agent is tantamount to putting a gun to that agent's head. It compromises her safety and the safety of her loved ones, not to mention those in her network and other operatives she may have dealt with. On top of that, the officials who have done it may have also seriously jeopardized the national security of this nation." (Without knowing exactly what Wilson's wife did for the CIA, it is not possible to judge fully the consequences of this leak. But Schumer's melodramatic appraisal could well be justified.)
Is the FBI hot on the trail? Not exactly, not yet. And that's partly because the CIA gets to say whether there is a full-fledged criminal inquiry. In other words, the CIA will determine if the Justice Department and the FBI investigate Bush administration officials. According to several government sources familiar with leaks investigations, this is how it usually works: if the CIA learns of an authorized disclosure of classified information and wants to see the case pursued, it refers the allegation to the Justice Department. The DOJ then evaluates the legal issues and decides whether to have the FBI investigate. After Schumer made his formal request to Mueller, the FBI kicked the matter over to the CIA, according to a government source monitoring the case. Does the CIA want an investigation? Mark Mansfield, a spokesman for the CIA, declined to comment. And what about the congressional intelligence committees? A Senate intelligence committee source says that committee members have made inquiries but that nothing major is likely to happen until the CIA informs the Justice Department that it suspects the law was broken.
By now, you see the potential problem. For an investigation to proceed, it appears, the CIA--and that probably means CIA chief George Tenet--has to ask for one, and Attorney General John Ashcroft (or an underling) has to greenlight it. Will either of these two Bush allies be willing to take on the White House and trigger an inquiry that could embarrass, if not threaten, the Bush administration? The relationship between the CIA and the White House has already been strained recently. War hawks in the administration--including Cheney--reportedly leaned on the CIA before the invasion of Iraq to produce intelligence to back up their claims that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction and was in cahoots with al Qaeda. Unidentified CIA officials fought back by telling reporters that the White House was trying to pressure the CIA and rig the intelligence.
During the Nigergate scandal, the CIA contradicted explanations offered by the White House, which at one point tried to pin the blame for this screw-up entirely on the CIA. And a new--and slim--book by Laurie Mylroie, a neoconservative scholar associated with the American Enterprise Institute, accuses the CIA of actually trying to thwart Bush's war on terrorism. Mylroie's book--endorsed by Pentagon adviser Richard Perle--may well reflect the suspicion with which some neocons in (and close to) the Bush administration view the CIA.
Amid all this, would Tenet want to get into a new pissing match with the White House and place Bush officials in the crosshairs? That would be the bureaucratic equivalent of declaring nuclear war. And despite the tensions of late between the White House and the CIA on Iraq-related issues, Tenet certainly owes Bush. After 9/11--which was, in part, an intelligence failure--Bush enthusiastically defended Tenet's CIA and embraced the director. There was no talk from the White House of replacing him. (It probably didn't hurt that Tenet, a savvy Washington survivor, had named CIA headquarters after Bush's father, who spent one year as CIA director in the 1970s.)
Will Tenet dare ask Ashcroft to unleash the FBI's gumshoes upon the White House? Would Ashcroft and the FBI mount an unfettered, let-the-chips-fall inquiry? And if either the CIA or the Justice Department declines to pursue this issue, can the public be confident that the decision was based on legitimate--not political--grounds?
No official--as far as I can tell--has yet publicly broached the possibility of a special counsel. The independent counsel law no longer exists. But the Bush administration could still on its own appoint a special counsel to examine the Wilson leak. The Bush White House, though, has shown little interest in determining if vindictive administration officials did disclose classified information to harm Wilson and his family. Once summer is over and Congress returns to Washington, several Democratic legislators--including Schumer--are expected to ask if an appropriate investigation is under way. If one is not, they might have no recourse other than to call for a special counsel.
The leak about Wilson's wife was an ugly act. Wilson is convinced it was arranged by the White House to intimidate others who might consider disclosing information troubling for the administration. If Bush officials did purposefully destroy the cover of a government employee combating WMD proliferation in order to punish Wilson, certainly an accounting is deserved and punishment warranted. But is Tenet in any position to sic the FBI on the White House, upon which he depends for his budget and his own job? Can FBI officials who answer to Ashcroft be sure their careers will not be impaired should they vigorously investigate Bush officials? Perils abound for the spooks and law enforcement officers who chase this case. After all, the suspects are people who went after a man's family.
The public may not learn--officially--whether the CIA requests an investigation. The CIA has good reason to keep its decision under wraps. If the CIA or the Justice Department were to announce that the Agency had asked for an investigation, it would be public confirmation that Wilson's wife was (and may still be) a CIA officer. Members of Congress and officials at the CIA and the FBI, though, will be in a position to know if an inquiry goes forward. And news of an investigation--or the lack thereof--will likely slip out. In the meantime, the few Senate and House members who have expressed outrage over the Wilson leak ought to start considering the next step. The only way to assure that there is an honest investigation devoid of bureaucratic intrigues could well be to turn to a special counsel and free Tenet and Ashcroft from deciding whether the Bush White House ought to be probed for a dirty deed that might have threatened national security.
-----Watch for David Corn's forthcoming The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception, due out from Crown Publishers in September. For info on the book, click here.
Call me naive. But I still am occasionally surprised that George W. Bush keeps getting away with his dog-ate-my-homework presidency. The latest example was his press conference a few days ago, his first since March.
The headlines focused on Bush accepting responsibility for the dubious sentence in his state of the union speech, in which he reported that Saddam Hussein (according to the Brits) had been shopping for uranium in Africa. But at the press conference, Bush said nothing about how that line had made it into his speech--whether it had been inserted because his aides were so eager to make a case for war that they were willing to exploit unconfirmed information the CIA had opposed using. Bush quickly shifted to hailing his decision to go to war against Hussein.
During the press conference, Bush several times uttered the most disingenuous statements to defend the war. These were remarks that cannot withstand scrutiny. But it's good to be king (or president). You don't get laughed out of the room--or a rose garden--no matter what you say. Here are three examples:
Question: Saddam Hussein's alleged ties to al Qaeda were a key part of your justification for war. Yet, your own intelligence report, the NIE [National Intelligence Estimate], defined it as--quote "low confidence that Saddam would give weapons to al Qaeda." Were those links exaggerated to justify war? Or can you finally offer us some definitive evidence that Saddam was working with al Qaeda terrorists?
Bush: Yes, I think, first of all, remember I just said we've been there for 90 days since the cessation of major military operations. Now, I know in our world where news comes and goes and there's this kind of instant--instant news and you must have done this, you must do that yesterday, that there's a level of frustration by some in the media. I'm not suggesting you're frustrated. You don't look frustrated to me at all. But it's going to take time for us to gather the evidence and analyze the mounds of evidence, literally, the miles of documents that we have uncovered.
Hold on. The question was not what new evidence Bush had to back up his previous allegations. The question was whether those earlier allegations had been supported by any evidence when Bush was using them to rally popular support for war. For months prior to the invasion, Bush repeatedly charged that Saddam Hussein was directly in cahoots with al Qaeda. That was supposedly why the Iraqi dictator could be considered a direct and imminent threat to the United States. In November 2002, Bush claimed that Hussein was "dealing with" al Qaeda. In February 2003, he said that Hussein was "harboring a terrorist network headed by a senior al Qaeda terrorist planner." Days before the invasion, Dick Cheney cited Hussein's "long-standing relationship" with al Qaeda.
What intelligence did Bush and Cheney have to make such alarming statements? That's the evidence the reporter was asking about. The indications so far are that Bush had bupkis. Richard Kerr, a former deputy CIA director who is leading an internal review of the CIA's prewar intelligence, said a few weeks ago that the agency prior to the war had uncovered no proof of operational ties between al Qaeda and Hussein's government. Representative Jane Harman, the senior Democrat on the House intelligence panel, which is conducting its own inquiry, has noted that the intelligence produced before the war contradicted Bush's claim of a relationship between Hussein and al Qaeda. And The Washington Post has reported that the October 2002 NIE maintained there was no intelligence showing a clear connection between Iraq and Osama bin Laden's outfit. (The White House has released eight pages of that 90-page report, but not--for some reason--the pages on this topic.)
Back to the original question: can you, Mr. President, offer any evidence to support those inflammatory assertions you made before the war? At the press conference, Bush did not respond directly. Instead, he offered a weasel-worded answer about the ongoing search for information in Iraq and the need to be patient. But he should already have evidence to cite because he already has made the charge. It was so Red Queenish ("sentence first--verdict afterward"), except Bush's philosophy is, allegation first--evidence afterward. Asked to prove he had not lied to the public before the war, Bush would--or could--not do so.
* * *
Question: There's a sense here in this country, and a feeling around the world, that the U.S. has lost credibility by building the case for Iraq upon sometimes flimsy or, some people have complained, nonexistent evidence. And I'm just wondering, sir, why did you choose to take the world to war in that way.
Bush: ....In order to placate the critics and the cynics about the intentions of the United States, we need to produce evidence. And I fully understand that. And I'm confident that our search will yield that which I strongly believe, that Saddam had a weapons program.
A weapons program? That's not what Bush before the war had said he believed that Saddam possessed. Back then, he referred to "massive" stockpiles of WMDs maintained by Hussein (who could at any moment slip one of his WMDs to his close friends in al Qaeda). A program is much different from an arsenal. A program might include research and development but not production. In fact, that increasingly seems to be what was going on in Iraq. A number of former officials of the Hussein government have claimed since the war that Hussein had ordered the continuation of a covert R&D effort but had not instructed his WMD teams to manufacture actual weapons. The goal apparently was to be ready to roll if UN sanctions were lifted or if Hussein found himself at war with a regional foe, say Iran. A weapons program under Hussein's control would have been worrisome, but not as immediately troubling as the existence of weapons that could be used or transferred. If the assertions of these Iraqis turn out to be true, that would suggest that the inspections-and-sanction campaign against Iraq had succeeded in constraining and containing Hussein.
In responding to this question, Bush was rewriting history--which he frequently accuses his critics of doing--and lowering the bar. It presumably will be far easier for the WMD hunters in Iraq to uncover evidence of weapons programs than of actual weapons. If they do locate proof of covert R&D projects, Bush, no doubt, will say, Told you so. But no, he did not. He said weapons. He said it over and over. What was the evidence stockpiles existed? Where is the evidence now?
* * *
Question: You often speak about the need for accountability in many areas. I wonder, then, why is Dr. Condoleeza Rice not being held accountable for the statement that your own White House has acknowledged was a mistake in your State of the Union address regarding Iraq's attempts to purchase uranium. And, also, do you take personal responsibility for that inaccuracy?
Bush: I take personal responsibility for everything I say, of course. Absolutely, I also take responsibility for making decisions on war and peace. And I analyzed a thorough body of intelligence--good, solid, sound intelligence--that led me to come to the conclusion that it was necessary to remove Saddam Hussein from power.
Note Bush's claim that he personally analyzed a "thorough body of intelligence." Two points. First, on July 18, White House officials, during a background briefing for reporters, said that Bush did not entirely read the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq. This report was the most substantial prewar assessment produced by the intelligence agencies. What sort of analysis did Bush conduct if he did not read all 90 pages of this report? Second, as Harman and Kerr have said, the intelligence reporting on Iraq's WMDs were full of caveats and qualifiers. (Two Defense Intelligence Agency reports produced in the fall of 2002 said that there was no "reliable" information on chemical weapons stockpiles in Iraq.) How did Bush's analysis take the ambiguities into account? If he had read through this "thorough body" loaded with qualifiers, how could he say--as he did on March 17, 2003--that "intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised." (My italics--but they could just as easily have been Bush's, but for different reasons.) Cosnidering what has emerged from the reviews under way and what has been leaked to the public, it seems clear there had been plenty of doubt. It is true that the NIE Bush didn't read all of did say that "Baghdad has chemical and biological weapons." But it added, "We lack specific information on many key aspects of Iraq's WMD programs." And Kerr has said that, overall, intelligence analysts did underscore the uncertainty of their findings.
So Bush dodged a straightforward question about the evidence (or lack thereof) underlying his Hussein-and-al Qaeda assertions by discussing the search for new evidence, he engaged in transparent revisionism (referring to weapons programs rather than weapons stockpiles), and he claimed to have conducted an extensive review of intelligence, though his aides say he did not fully read the major document on matter. All in one press conference. That was quite a performance--above and beyond the normal call of spin. To top it off, he declared that he takes responsibility for everything he says, "of course." How nice. He may take responsibility. But he is not held accountable.
______Watch for David Corn's forthcoming The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception, due out from Crown Publishers this September.
The White House--at least in public--doesn't seem willing to do much to determine whether administration officials blew the cover of an undercover CIA operative in order to mount a political hit job.
As reported in this column, a July 14 article by conservative journalist Robert Novak indicated that two unnamed "senior administration officials" had undermined national security and perhaps broken the law by revealing to Novak that the wife of former Ambassador Joseph Wilson IV was a deep-cover CIA officer. Wilson is the envoy the CIA sent to Niger in February 2002 to check out the allegation that Saddam Hussein had tried to buy uranium there. He reported back that the charge was probably false. Earlier this month, he went public and challenged the Bush administration's account of the Niger episode. The Novak article--which made public the name of Wilson's wife and reported she worked in the important area of weapons counterproliferation--had the stench of White House revenge and intimidation. It could be seen as a warning: take on this administration, and we'll hurt you and your family.
Wilson will not confirm whether his wife, who is known to friends as an energy analyst in a private firm, is a CIA officer. But if she is, these officials ruined her career (and possibly past and present counterproliferation operations presumably of importance to national security) and they may have violated a federal law that prohibits persons with access to classified information from identifying covert officials. If she is not CIA, they falsely branded a private citizen an agency employee. And it was not only Novak whom they tipped off. Time reported that "government officials" had said the same to its reporters.
Was the White House conducting a smear campaign against the Wilson family and using classified intelligence to do so? When a reporter asked Scott McClellan, the new White House press secretary, about these articles, he replied, "Thank you for bringing that up. That is not the way this president or this White House operates. And there is absolutely no information that has come to my attention or that I have seen that suggests that there is any truth to that suggestion. And, certainly, no one in this White House would have given authority to take such a step."
Notice that he did not say that the White House was trying to find out if any of its people had engaged in this underhanded maneuver. McClellan said that he had seen no evidence, not that he (or anyone else in the White House) was looking for evidence.
"Is Novak lying?" McClellan was asked. "Do you think he's making it up?"
"I'm telling you our position. I'll let the columnist speak for himself."
Was McClellan saying "flatly" it did not happen?
"I'm telling you, flatly, that that is not the way this White House operates....I'm saying no one was certainly given any authority to do anything of that nature."
Did McClellan "want to get some more facts?"
"If I could go find 'anonymous,' Terry, I would."
And did Bush support "a criminal investigation"?
McClellan did not answer that question and moved on. He did not report that Bush was outraged that anything of this sort might have happened and was demanding to know for certain it had not. His remarks hardly conveyed a message from Bush to his underlings: don't you dare pull crap like this. And McClellan dodged the inconvenient fact that it was not only Novak who claimed to have received information about Wilson's wife from administration officials; it was Time, too. What are the odds that both the newsmagazine and the columnist got it wrong? McClellan wasn't asked that.
Here's the accusation: to punish Wilson and frighten others, administration officials outed Wilson's wife at the risk of damaging government efforts to track and block the spread of WMDs. Here's the White House reply: well, we don't know anything about it, and we're not looking into it.
This is as serious--if not more so--than the FBI files flap that occurred during the Clinton years, when it turned out that a White House security office improperly had in its possession the FBI files of hundreds of people--including officials of the previous administration. That caused a major fuss: investigations, denunciations from media commentators. The Wilson affair is a natural subject of inquiry for, say, the House government affairs committee, which generally conducts oversight of the White House. Under GOP Representative Dan Burton this committee enthusiastically probed every nook and cranny of the Clinton administration: Filegate, Travelgate, Whitewater. Representative Henry Waxman, the ranking Democrat on the committee, is interested in the Wilson case. But don't bet on the Republicans in control of the committee to rush ahead. Even some Democrats are not eager to deal with an issue like this. At a meeting of House Democrats this morning, several senior legislators cautioned their comrades that it was bad politics to be raising questions about Bush's prewar assertions and related matters. That was not the majority position, a participant said, but it does hinder the Democrats from aggressively pursuing contentious issues.
There is no doubt that the FBI and other institutions in Washington have taken note of the Novak and Time articles. But there are no signs yet any investigations will materialize. Of the leading members of the congressional intelligence committees, only one (as of this writing) has expressed anger that the Bush administration might have ruined the operations and career of an operative involved in a critical area. "If the allegations are true, then I think it is reprehensible," says Senator John Rockefeller IV, the senior Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee. But he has not yet publicly demanded an investigation.
Sometimes in the nation's capital, controversies fizzle and fade, sometimes they intensify and spread. Will these administration officials get away with a smear that may have harmed national security? If Bush has his way, they will.
Did senior Bush officials blow the cover of a US intelligence officer working covertly in a field of vital importance to national security--and break the law--in order to strike at a Bush administration critic and intimidate others?
It sure looks that way, if conservative journalist Bob Novak can be trusted.
In a recent column on Nigergate, Novak examined the role of former Ambassador Joseph Wilson IV in the affair. Two weeks ago, Wilson went public, writing in The New York Times and telling The Washington Post about the trip he took to Niger in February 2002--at the request of the CIA--to check out allegations that Saddam Hussein had tried to purchase uranium for a nuclear weapons program from Niger. Wilson was a good pick for the job. He had been a State Department officer there in the mid-1970s. He was ambassador to Gabon in the early 1990s. And in 1997 and 1998, he was the senior director for Africa at the National Security Council and in that capacity spent a lot of time dealing with the Niger government. Wilson was also the last acting US ambassador in Iraq before the Gulf War, a military action he supported. In that post, he helped evacuate thousands of foreigners from Kuwait, worked to get over 120 American hostages out Iraq, and sheltered about 800 Americans in the embassy compound. At the time, Novak's then-partner, Rowland Evans, wrote that Wilson displayed "the stuff of heroism." And President George H. W. Bush commended Wilson: "Your courageous leadership during this period of great danger for American interests and American citizens has my admiration and respect. I salute, too, your skillful conduct of our tense dealings with the government of Iraq....The courage and tenacity you have exhibited throughout this ordeal prove that you are the right person for the job."
The current Bush administration has not been so appreciative of Wilson's more recent efforts. In Niger, he met with past and present government officials and persons involved in the uranium business and concluded that it was "highly doubtful" that Hussein had been able to purchase uranium from that nation. On June 12, The Washington Post revealed that an unnamed ambassador had traveled to Niger and had reported back that the Niger caper probably never happened. This article revved up the controversy over Bush's claim--which he made in the state of the union speech--that Iraq had attempted to buy uranium in Africa for a nuclear weapons program.
Critics were charging that this allegation had been part of a Bush effort to mislead the country to war, and the administration was maintaining that at the time of the speech the White House had no reason to suspect this particular sentence was based on faulty intelligence. "Maybe someone knew down in the bowels of the agency," national security adviser Condoleezza Rice said days before the Post article ran. "But no one in our circles knew that there were doubts and suspicions." Wilson's mission to Niger provided more reason to wonder if the administration's denials were on the level. And once Wilson went public, he prompted a new round of inconvenient and troubling questions for the White House. (Wilson, who opposed the latest war in Iraq, had not revealed his trip to Niger during the prewar months, when he was a key participant in the media debate over whether the country should go to war.)
Soon after Wilson disclosed his trip in the media and made the White House look bad. the payback came. Novak's July 14, 2003, column presented the back-story on Wilson's mission and contained the following sentences: "Wilson never worked for the CIA, but his wife, Valerie Plame, is an Agency operative on weapons of mass destruction. Two senior administration officials told me Wilson's wife suggested sending him to Niger to investigate" the allegation.
Wilson caused problems for the White House, and his wife was outed as an undercover CIA officer. Wilson says, "I will not answer questions about my wife. This is not about me and less so about my wife. It has always been about the facts underpinning the President's statement in the state of the union speech."
So he will neither confirm nor deny that his wife--who is the mother of three-year-old twins--works for the CIA. But let's assume she does. That would seem to mean that the Bush administration has screwed one of its own top-secret operatives in order to punish Wilson or to send a message to others who might challenge it.
The sources for Novak's assertion about Wilson's wife appear to be "two senior administration officials." If so, a pair of top Bush officials told a reporter the name of a CIA operative who apparently has worked under what's known as "nonofficial cover" and who has had the dicey and difficult mission of tracking parties trying to buy or sell weapons of mass destruction or WMD material. If Wilson's wife is such a person--and the CIA is unlikely to have many employees like her--her career has been destroyed by the Bush administration. (Assuming she did not tell friends and family about her real job, these Bush officials have also damaged her personal life.) Without acknowledging whether she is a deep-cover CIA employee, Wilson says, "Naming her this way would have compromised every operation, every relationship, every network with which she had been associated in her entire career. This is the stuff of Kim Philby and Aldrich Ames." If she is not a CIA employee and Novak is reporting accurately, then the White House has wrongly branded a woman known to friends as an energy analyst for a private firm as a CIA officer. That would not likely do her much good.
This is not only a possible breach of national security; it is a potential violation of law. Under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982, it is a crime for anyone who has access to classified information to disclose intentionally information identifying a covert agent. The punishment for such an offense is a fine of up to $50,000 and/or up to ten years in prison. Journalists are protected from prosecution, unless they engage in a "pattern of activities" to name agents in order to impair US intelligence activities. So Novak need not worry.
Novak tells me that he was indeed tipped off by government officials about Wilson's wife and had no reluctance about naming her. "I figured if they gave it to me," he says. "They'd give it to others....I'm a reporter. Somebody gives me information and it's accurate. I generally use it." And Wilson says Novak told him that his sources were administration officials.
So where's the investigation? Remember Filegate--and the Republican charge that the Clinton White House was using privileged information against its political foes? In this instance, it appears possible--perhaps likely--that Bush administration officials gathered material on Wilson and his family and then revealed classified information to lash out at him, and in doing so compromised national security.
Was Wilson's wife involved in sending him off to Niger? Wilson won't talk about her. But in response to this query, he says, "I was invited out to meet with a group of people at the CIA who were interested in this subject. None I knew more than casually. They asked me about my understanding of the uranium business and my familiarity with the people in the Niger government at the time. And they asked, 'what would you do?' We gamed it out--what I would be looking for. Nothing was concluded at that time. I told them if they wanted me to go to Niger I would clear my schedule. Then they got back to me and said, 'yes, we want you to go.'"
Is it relevant that Wilson's wife might have suggested him for the unpaid gig. Not really. And Wilson notes, with a laugh, that at that point their twins were two years old, and it would not have been much in his wife's interest to encourage him to head off to Africa. What matters is that Wilson returned with the right answer and dutifully reported his conclusions. (In March 2003, the International Atomic Energy Agency concluded that the documents upon which the Niger allegation was based were amateurish forgeries.) His wife's role--if she had one--has nothing but anecdotal value. And Novak's sources could have mentioned it without providing her name. Instead, they were quite generous.
"Stories like this," Wilson says, "are not intended to intimidate me, since I've already told my story. But it's pretty clear it is intended to intimidate others who might come forward. You need only look at the stories of intelligence analysts who say they have been pressured. They may have kids in college, they may be vulnerable to these types of smears."
Will there be any inquiry? Journalists who write about national security matters (as I often do) tend not to big fans of pursuing government officials who leak classified information. But since Bush administration officials are so devoted to protecting government secrets--such as the identity of the energy lobbyists with whom the vice president meets--one might (theoretically) expect them to be appalled by the prospect that classified information was disclosed and national security harmed for the purposes of mounting a political hit job. Yet two days after the Novak column's appearance, there has not been any public comment from the White House or any other public reverberation.
The Wilson smear was a thuggish act. Bush and his crew abused and misused intelligence to make their case for war. Now there is evidence Bushies used classified information and put the nation's counter-proliferation efforts at risk merely to settle a score. It is a sign that with this gang politics trumps national security.
If you blinked--or were busy buying hot-dogs and beer for a Fourth of July cookout--you might have missed the latest evidence that George W. Bush misrepresented the threat from Iraq as he guided the country into invasion and occupation in the Middle East.
The day before Independence Day, Richard Kerr, a former CIA deputy director who is leading a review of the CIA's prewar intelligence on Iraq's unconventional weapons, held a series of interviews with journalists and revealed that his unfinished inquiry had so far found that the intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction had been somewhat ambiguous, that analysts at the CIA and other intelligence services had received pressure from the Bush administration, and that the CIA had not found any proof of operational ties between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein's regime.
In other words, Bush lied.
Bush had said that intelligence gathered by the United States and other nations had determined--"no doubt"--that Hussein possessed WMDs, and he had declared that the Iraqi dictator was "dealing" with al Qaeda. Kerr's statements undermined these vital assertions Bush had made to justify the war.
Kerr was not trying to be difficult. His remarks were primarily pro-CIA. He maintained that the agency had been right to tell Bush and top administration officials that Hussein was seeking WMDs. He said that intelligence analysts had resisted pressure and had done a fine job, considering the limited amount of material they had to work with. Kerr noted that US intelligence analysts had been forced to rely upon information from the early and mid-1990s and had little hard evidence to evaluate after 1998 (when UN weapons inspectors left the Iraq). The material that did come in after then was mostly "circumstantial" or "inferential," he said. It was "less specific and detailed" than in earlier years, "scattered." Speaking to The Washington Post, he commented, "It would have been very hard to conclude those [WMD] programs were not continuing, based on the reports being gathered in recent years." And he noted that CIA intelligence reports included the "appropriate caveats" regarding their less-than-definitive conclusions. (An unclassified CIA report released last October said, without qualification, "Baghdad has chemical and biological weapons." But its supporting material was nuanced, and Kerr noted that intelligence analysts usually pointed out that their information was not perfect.)
Though Kerr did not say so outright, his findings indicate that there was no hard-and-fast intelligence that Iraq possessed ready-to-go chemical or biological weapons. Yet that is what Bush, Dick Cheney, Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Ari Fleischer and other administration officials had asserted repeatedly. In his interviews, Kerr remarked that US intelligence analysts were right to assume, based on older evidence and more recent circumstantial material, that Iraq was maintaining its unconventional weapons programs. But developing weapons is not the same as possessing weapons. Bush and his advisers did not argue that the United States was compelled to go to war--rather than support more intrusive inspections--because Hussein had ongoing weapons programs; they claimed the United States had to invade because it was imminently threatened by actual weapons that were in Hussein's mitts (and that he could slip at any moment to his partners in al Qaeda).
Before the war, there was little doubt that Hussein had a fancy for mass-killing weapons and was defying UN disarmament resolutions in part to maintain programs to develop such awful devices. Yet a desire for WMDs and a development program are not as threatening as the real things, and Bush and his colleagues said the intelligence showed--without question--Hussein was armed with biological and chemical weapons, was close to building a nuclear bomb, and was in league with Osama bin Laden. Kerr's comments offer further proof none of this was true.
So did front-page headlines scream, "Former Deputy CIA Director Contradicts Bush's Key War Claims"? Nope. Kerr's remarks were treated more as a hiccup than a bombshell. A search of the Lexis-Nexis newspaper database turned up only three stories that were published; they appeared in the Post, The Los Angeles Times, and The San Diego Union-Tribune. And the headlines focused on Kerr's rah-rahing for the CIA. "Basis for Arms Claims Affirmed" (the Post). "Official Backs Prewar Claims" ( The Los Angeles). "Internal Review Backs CIA on Iraqi Weapons" ( The San Diego Union-Tribune). Each piece emphasized Kerr's endorsement of the CIA's analysts, rather than the fact that his findings revealed that the Bush administration had misrepresented the work of the analysts. As of this writing, The New York Times has not published a word about Kerr's preliminary findings. You think it's a coincidence that Kerr spoke to reporters the day prior to a long holiday weekend? You don't have to be James Bond to figure that out.
Slowly, official material is seeping out that confirms the allegation that Bush and his national security crew misled the country into war. Last week, Representative Jane Harman, the ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee, referred to preliminary findings of a review being conducted by her committee. This examination, like Kerr's, has found that the intelligence analysts had attached caveats and qualifiers to their assessments of the WMD threat from Iraq (which Bush never bothered to mention) and that there had been no good intelligence linking Hussein with bin Laden. (Click here to read more about her remarks.)
Perhaps Kerr is right and that US intelligence analysts had good cause--if not good evidence--to conclude that Hussein was still on the prowl for WMDs. A cynic, though, might wonder whether this former senior CIA official (who was a longtime analyst for the agency) is being overly kind to his alma mater. Nevertheless, the issue at hand is what Bush and his administration told the public. Kerr's remarks add to the case against Bush. They are another signal that thorough investigations could end up establishing that the accusation that Bush lied needs no qualifiers or caveats.
George W. Bush misled the nation into war.
Representative Jane Harman, the ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee.
On the basis of what?
On the basis of information preliminarily reviewed by the intelligence committee as part of its ongoing investigation into the prewar intelligence on Iraq.
On June 25, during the House debate on the intelligence authorization bill, Harman delivered an informal progress report on her committee's inquiry. Her remarks received, as far as I can tell, little media attention. But they are dramatic in that these comments are the first quasi-findings from an official outlet confirming that Bush deployed dishonest rhetoric in guiding the United States to invasion and occupation in Iraq. This is not an op-ed judgment; this is an evaluation from a member of the intelligence committee who claims to be basing her statements on the investigative work of the committee. Here's what she says:
* On Bush's prewar assertions about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction: "When discussing Iraq's WMD, administration officials rarely included the caveats and qualifiers attached to the intelligence committee's judgments….For many Americans, the administration's certainty gave the impression that there was even stronger intelligence about Iraq's possession of and intention to use WMD."
* On the evidence upon which the WMD assertions were based: "The committee is now investigating whether the intelligence case on Iraq's WMD was based on circumstantial evidence rather than hard facts and whether the intelligence community made clear to the policy-makers and Congress that most of its analytic judgments were based on things like aerial photographs and Iraqi defector interviews, not hard facts."
* On the supposed Hussein-al Qaeda connection: "[T]he investigation suggests that the intelligence linking al Qaeda to Iraq, a prominent theme in the administration's statements prior to the war, [was] contrary to what was claimed by the administration."
She is not beating around the bush. She asserts that the President overstated the WMD case, ignoring nuances and uncertainties in the intelligence reporting, and created a false impression about what was known about the threat posed by Iraq. She maintains that Bush rashly claimed Hussein was in cahoots with the evildoers of 9/11, when intelligence indicated otherwise. This is damning stuff. Never mind all the recent claptrap from administration apologists about the Iraq war having been fought for the good of the repressed Iraqis. The primary rationale for the war Bush offered in public was based on two notions: Iraq possessed ready-to-go WMDs and Saddam Hussein was in league with al Qaeda and could slip these awful weapons to Osama bin Laden at any moment. (Last fall, Bush exclaimed--with no caveats or qualifiers--that Hussein was "dealing" with al Qaeda.) The danger, Bush and his crew argued repeatedly, was imminent and real--so clear-and-present that the United States could not afford to wait any longer or take a chance on enhanced and more intrusive inspections.
Now Harman says Bush had no right to declare, as he did on March 17, that "intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised," or to say Hussein was a bin Laden ally. Harman, a California moderate who is no hothead and who voted for the Iraq war, is essentially branding Bush a liar. If her remarks accurately reflect the committee's work, it means the administration will be confronted with evidence it misrepresented intelligence in its attempt to whip up support for the war. And it may well be confronted in public. Harman notes that Representative Porter Goss, the Republican chairman of the committee, has promised to hold public hearings, perhaps in July, and to produce an unclassified report as soon as possible. (Soon after Harman made her remarks on the floor, Goss led a successful effort to defeat an amendment offered by Representative Dennis Kucinich, a Democratic presidential candidate, that would have required the inspector general of the CIA to investigate the allegation that Vice President Dick Cheney pressured the agency to produce reports supporting the administration's policy on Iraq.)
"It is already clear that there were flaws in US intelligence," Harman says. "Iraq's WMD was not located where the intelligence community thought it might be. Chemical weapons were not used in the war despite the intelligence community's judgment that their use was likely. I urge this administration not to contemplate military action, especially preemptive action, in Iran, North Korea or Syria until these issues are cleared up." She also suggests that an independent commission might be needed to examine the MIA WMD controversy.
Harman's statement was a sneak preview. If she is not blowing smoke, Bush's prewar deceptions may end up more thoroughly substantiated than was his case for war.
Thanks to Secrecy News for bringing Harman's comments to my attention. To see the whole debate on the intelligence bill--which includes Harman's statement--click here.