If fool-me-once was the Bush Administration’s reams of faked intelligence about Iraq’s nonexistent weapons of mass destruction and nonexistent ties to Al Qaeda, then fool-me-twice is the Administration’s shameless effort to shift the blame for American casualties in Iraq from the Sunni-led resistance, where it belongs, to a make-believe threat from Iran and allied Shiite militias.
It’s Iran in the headlines today, but happily on February 9 we got a timely reminder of how brazenly the Bush Administration–along with its neoconservative allies at The Weekly Standard and the American Enterprise Institute–trumped up the case for war against Iraq five years ago.
In a stunning indictment of the Administration’s chicanery, Pentagon Inspector General Thomas Gimble slammed the super-secret predecessor organizations to the Office of Special Plans for “disseminating alternative intelligence assessments on the Iraq and Al Qaeda relationship.” Its actions, Gimble concluded, were “inappropriate,” and its conclusions “were not supported by the available intelligence.” Among the absurdly wrong conclusions reached by the OSP and its earlier incarnations–the equally Orwellian-sounding Policy Support Office and the Policy Counter Terrorism Evaluation Group–were that a “mature symbiotic relationship” existed between Iraq and Al Qaeda and that Baghdad and Osama bin Laden’s terrorists displayed “cooperation in all categories.” Vice President Cheney used this nonsense to bolster his dark muttering about “possible Iraq coordination” with Al Qaeda in the 9/11 attacks.
Make no mistake: The phrase “not supported by the available intelligence” is merely bureaucratese for a “lie-filled pile of crap,” and that’s the most straightforward way to describe the intelligence product produced by the OSP, which was run directly out of the office of then-Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith. Feith, who was called “the fucking stupidest guy on the face of the earth” by Gen. Tommy Franks, is a hard-core neoconservative with intimate ties to the Israeli far right. The Inspector General’s report chips away at merely the tip of a gigantic iceberg, a virtual empire of lies that was owned and operated by the Defense Department from 9/11 though the start of the Iraq War in March 2003. (For a complete account of the inner workings of the OSP, see “The Lie Factory,” by me and Jason Vest, in the January 2004 edition of Mother Jones.)
At a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator Carl Levin invited Gimble in to air Feith’s dirty laundry. “The Inspector General’s report is a devastating condemnation,” said Levin. “These issues are as critical as any I have ever seen.” After drawing out Gimble on his careful inquiry into Feith’s mischief, Levin noted that despite having interviewed some seventy-five people for the report, there were still many–including at the White House, the National Security Council and the Vice President’s office–who had somehow avoided talking to Gimble. “We’re gonna be interviewing a lot of folks, including people who have refused to talk to you…including the Chief of Staff of the Vice President.”
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That “Chief of Staff” would be none other than Feith comrade-in-arms I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the now-disgraced neocon who is standing trial for perjury for trying to cover up information about the Administration’s lies and deception over Iraqi WMD four years ago. Thus, very neatly, the Inspector General’s inquiry dovetails with US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald’s long-running effort to pull on yet another thread in the Feith-Libby spider web.
Appearing on Fox News Sunday, Feith was shockingly unrepentant, denying any and all evidence that he stacked the deck for war. It was too much even for Chris Wallace, the show’s host, who seemed incredulous that Feith would deny the obvious. (You can read the whole transcript here.) An excerpt:
WALLACE: Okay. Let’s talk about it, because the briefing was titled “Iraq and Al Qaeda Making the Case,” and here are some of the highlights from your PowerPoint presentation. “Intelligence indicates cooperation in all categories, mature symbiotic relationship.” “Some indications of possible Iraq coordination with Al Qaeda specifically related to 9/11.” And you said an alleged meeting between 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta and an Iraqi agent in Prague in April 2001 was a known contact. Mr. Feith, all of that–all of that was wrong, wasn’t it?
FEITH: No, not at all. There was substantial intelligence. I mean, evidence is a legal term not really appropriate here. There was a lot of information out there. Intelligence is very sketchy, and it’s always open to interpretation. On this issue, there were people who disagreed about the intelligence and the people in the Pentagon were giving a critical review. They were not presenting alternative conclusions. They were presenting a challenge to the way the CIA was looking at things and filtering its own information.
WALLACE: I have to tell you, I mean, when I–I mean, I read these as “mature symbiotic relationship,” “known contact”–that sure sounds like conclusions.
FEITH: You’re plucking language out of a briefing, the thrust of which was why is the CIA accounting for information that it had that suggested an Iraq-Al Qaeda relationship when the CIA was excluding that information from its own finished intelligence at the time. It was a criticism. It’s healthy to criticize the CIA’s intelligence. What the people in the Pentagon were doing was right. It was good government.
The New York Times, in a scathing editorial ridiculing Feith, also pointed the finger at Feith’s boss, then-Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz: “Wolfowitz would feverishly sketch out charts showing how this Iraqi knew that Iraqi, who was connected through six more degrees of separation to terrorist attacks, all the way back to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.”
After Feith’s OSP concocted its cock-and-bull story about Iraq, they had the temerity to take it over to the CIA and present it to a team of professional analysts there. George Tenet, after listening politely to Feith’s team on August 15, 2002, quietly asked his staff to stick around after the OSP briefers departed. The CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency reviewed Feith’s conclusions (apparently there were some two dozen or more pieces of “evidence”) and promptly disagreed with more than 50 percent of it, Gimble said. Five days later, they all met once again, and the CIA pointedly offered to footnote Feith’s report with strident objections of its own. Feith’s team said thanks–and then promptly set up an appointment to brief the White House, without so much as adding a single CIA footnote. Needless to say, that briefing was widely cited by President Bush, Vice President Cheney and others–and it was helpfully leaked to The Weekly Standard, which printed it nearly verbatim. Later, when asked why he kept insisting that Iraq and Al Qaeda were allies, Cheney pointed to the Weekly Standard article to support his charges!
Bizarre as all this is, it is important to remember that because of these lies, America went to war against a country that had never attacked the United States, that had no weapons of mass destruction and that had no ties to Al Qaeda or 9/11. As a result, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis are dead, along with 3,109 Americans. Not only that, but there is every reason to believe that the Administration is once again involved in fabricating intelligence to justify its increasingly belligerent stance toward Iran. While Senator Levin keeps one eye on the Feith-Libby lies of 2003, let’s hope he and the rest of Congress keep the other on what looks like additional baloney about Iran. As President Bush himself so eloquently put it: “Fool me once, shame on–shame on you. Fool me–you can’t get fooled again.”