Events do rush by us in a blur, I know, but let’s not abandon Secretary of State Colin Powell’s February 5 UN speech to the graveyard of history without one last backward glance. It was, after all, billed by the President as a conclusive intelligence briefing on exactly how Saddam Hussein has been concealing his weapons of mass destruction, and how he’s hand in glove with Al Qaeda.
Now, when the Commander in Chief states publicly that his Secretary of State will deliver the goods, we can be safe in assuming he’s been assured that, yes, the US intelligence “community” has indeed got the goods. But less than a week after Powell’s speech it looked as though its major claims were at best speculative and at worst outright distortions, some of them derided in advance by UN chief inspector Hans Blix.
There was the supposed transporter of biotoxins that turned out to be a truck from the health department; the sinisterly enlarged test ramp for long-range missiles that was nothing of the sort; the suspect facility that had recently been cleared by the UN inspection teams; the strange eavesdropped conversations that could just as well have been Iraqi officers discussing how to hide stills for making bootleg whiskey. The promoter of the Iraq/Al Qaeda link, Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi, turns out to be an imaginative liar trying to get a prison sentence commuted; and the terror cell Ansar al-Islam, a bunch of Islamic fundamentalists violently opposed to Saddam and operating out of Kurdish territory.
A few days later Powell cited Osama bin Laden’s latest tape as confirming that Saddam and Al Qaeda are in cahoots. Actually it’s mostly a vivid account, which has the ring of truth, of how bin Laden and his men in their Tora Bora foxholes survived ferocious US bombing with minimal casualties. He concludes by urging all Muslims “to pull up your pant legs for jihad” against the Great Satan. Of Saddam and the Baath, he says, “The socialists are infidels wherever they are, either in Baghdad or Aden. Such war which may take place these days is similar to the war between Muslims and Romans, when the interests of the Muslims came along with the interests of the Persians, who both fought against the Romans.”
And of course there was the British intelligence report sent by Tony Blair to Powell, who commended it in his UN speech as particularly “fine.” The report turned out to be a series of plagiarisms from old articles from Jane’s and from a paper on Iraqi politics written by a student called Ibrahim al-Marashi, at the Monterey Institute of International Studies.
The Marashi plagiarism represents an instructive parable on how “intelligence” reports actually get put together to fulfill a political agenda. From some enterprising work by freelance reporter Kenneth Rapoza, who worked on the Iraq Dossier story for the Boston Globe, it emerges that Marashi himself comes from a Shiite family in Baltimore. He has never visited Iraq and is keen to see Saddam toppled by US invasion.