Saturday, March 17, 2007

4 years in Iraq - how we got there (part 2)

Front paged at Booman Tribune, ePluribus Media and My Left Wing

This is the second part to what I have now decided will be a three part series (instead of two) about the run up to the Iraq invasion. The idea was suggested by Dood Abides and if you missed Part 1, it is here.

Part 1 outlined the background prior to the Bush administration taking office, while this part will outline some of the manufactured intelligence and the propaganda war levied by members of the Bush administration. Part 3 will outline then-Secretary of State Colin Powell’s presentation to the UN Security Council and will also dissect then-candidate Bush’s comments during the 2000 Presidential debate regarding when he would use military force.

Part 1 ended by asking the question “So, what happened?” with respect to how we ended up in Iraq after the following:

On the heels of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, President Bush, Vice President Cheney and their administration had overwhelming support from the American people. A "war on terror" was launched – with Afghanistan as the first stop. Terrorist training camps were destroyed. Funding for terrorism was frozen in many instances. The Taliban – supporters of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda was defeated and driven from power in Afghanistan in a few short months.

Countries like Iran, Libya and Syria made overtures towards the United States to offer some assistance in Afghanistan and to work towards normalizing relations between the countries. And then a drastic shift in focus changed everything.

Here is what happened

Over the next two to three years (from early 2002 through the end of 2004), a series of decisions, both policy and operational, as well as a number of events – some within the control of the Bush administration, some a direct or indirect result of their actions, some which were predicted by many military, intelligence and governmental experts and some out of everyone’s control –changed the course of the “war on terror” and shed a spotlight (and numerous questions) on the true motives and actions of the administration.

There were reports out of the United Kingdom that the decision to invade Iraq was made irrespective of the underlying evidence and that the “facts were being fixed around the policy”. Even before these reports were made public, there was doubt among the intelligence community as to the motives and evidence cited to divert resources from Afghanistan in order to invade Iraq. US intelligence agencies had dismissed and discredited evidence that was repeatedly referenced by President Bush, Vice President Cheney and other members of the administration. Then-National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice warned that “we don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud”.

Bush’s 2003 State of the Union address included the following “sixteen words” that would spark a controversy leading to charges of falsified evidence, backtracking by the administration and the subsequent leaking of the name and front company used by a covert CIA agent who was in the nuclear counter proliferation unit:

The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.

That comment was followed by the following statements:
Our intelligence sources tell us that he has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes suitable for nuclear weapons production. Saddam Hussein has not credibly explained these activities. He clearly has much to hide.

The problem with those two statements is that they not only were not true, but there was much warning from many intelligence sources that they were not true. Therefore, as repressive as Saddam Hussein was towards his people, he couldn’t possibly have explained these activities any more credibly – they just were false accusations.

During 2004 and 2005, word leaked out to the public that these statements were in fact, not true. However, the US military was already involved in an increasingly violent occupation of Iraq. Attacks against US troops were increasing, and the country was sliding towards the civil war that we are now witnessing and our troops are now caught in the middle of.

There are three revelations that caused many people both here in the United States as well as around the world to realize that the administration at a minimum, misled and misspoke about the validity of the evidence that accused Saddam Hussein of having weapons of mass destruction. These revelations are (1) the release of the Downing Street Memos in 2005 (2) the reports that the “aluminum tubes” and “Africa uranium” claims were known to be false at the time they were made and (3) the news that the administration, mainly the Vice President’s office, was not only relying on evidence that lacked credibility but was so exaggerated that Colin Powell reportedly threw the first draft of the speech he was to give the UN in the air and exclaimed “I’m not reading this. This is bullshit” (this will be discussed in Part 3).

As the United States attempted to build support for an invasion of Iraq, it relied heavily on the UK as an ally. However, the case for invading Iraq was met with immediate questions from top British intelligence officials. After a number of meetings between British intelligence and top US advisors, including Condoleezza Rice, confidential internal documents were prepared by UK intelligence that expressed doubts as to the motives of the United States as well as the validity of the reasons and evidence used in order to build support for the invasion. These documents were collectively known as the “Downing Street Memos”.

In the Downing Street Memo (dated July 23, 2002), it was clear that UK intelligence was concerned about two things – the lack of post invasion planning and the lack of real evidence:

C reported on his recent talks in Washington. There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. The NSC had no patience with the UN route, and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime's record. There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action.

This was July 2002. Yet, a full six months later, President Bush was still indicating that no decision had been made to go to war and that he “hoped the Iraq situation will be resolved peacefully”. Additionally, during a meeting between Condoleezza Rice and a number of US Senators regarding Iraq back in March 2002, President Bush poked his head into the room and said “Fuck Saddam, we’re taking him out.” Hardly words of someone who was still preaching diplomacy and negotiations with Iraq.

Around the same time, the White House Iraq Group was created, headed up by then-White House Chief of Staff Andy Card. The purpose of the White House Iraq Group (“WHIG”) was to “sell the idea” of an Iraq invasion to the American public. When asked about the purpose of the WHIG, Card replied “from a marketing point of view, you don’t introduce new products in August”.

Other members of the WHIG included Senior Advisor Karl Rove, Vice President Cheney’s Chief of Staff I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, her top assistant and current National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley and a number of other top officials. Over the next eight months, the WHIG members aggressively pushed for war with Iraq– through use of terms such as “mushroom cloud”, hinting that Saddam had nuclear and biological weapons that he was ready to use and by appearing on the Sunday morning talk show circuit.

Many of the WHIG members had been questioned in the case surrounding the leak of covert CIA agent Valerie Plame’s name and front employer in order to discredit and silence critics of their assertions, and Libby has been charged with perjury and obstruction of justice in this case.

Although the release of the Downing Street Memo didn’t get as much attention in the United States as it did around the world, it was one of the more important pieces of information that would show the true intent of this administration with respect to its decision to invade Iraq. For starters, it came from one of our staunchest allies. Secondly, it expressed significant reservations by top intelligence officials as to the motives and the lack of evidence surrounding the decision to invade Iraq. Third, it was a highly credible source, and it reflected the gap between the rhetoric used by the administration and the doubts privately raised by our allies. Lastly, it reflected these doubts at a point in time that was nearly a full year before the invasion actually started.

Another piece of evidence cited was the “aluminum tubes” that were used as proof of Saddam Hussein’s intentions to build a nuclear weapon. The intelligence sources President Bush cited in his State of the Union address were actually overruled and proven to be inaccurate by a number of other (and more senior) intelligence agencies and officials as well as the International Atomic Energy Agency (“IAEA”). Not only was this debunked, but it was debunked back in 2002 – well before the 2003 State of the Union address.

A little more than a month after the State of the Union address, IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei gave a presentation to the UN Security Council, where the issue of the aluminum tubes was raised again. In his presentation, ElBaradei stated firmly that a thorough investigation into the tubes, including the measurement, width and strength of the tubes found that the tubes was unlikely to have been used for anything related to centrifuges in making nuclear material:

Based on available evidence, the IAEA team has concluded that Iraq efforts to import these aluminum tubes were not likely to have been related to the manufacture of centrifuge, and moreover that it was highly unlikely that Iraq could have achieved the considerable redesign needed to use them in a revived centrifuge program.

At least a year before ElBaradei’s presentation to the UN, senior members at the CIA, experts at the Energy Department and nuclear scientists had all cast serious doubts on the theory that the tubes were to be used for centrifuges:
But almost a year before [in 2001], Ms. Rice's staff had been told that the government's foremost nuclear experts seriously doubted that the tubes were for nuclear weapons, according to four officials at the Central Intelligence Agency and two senior administration officials, all of whom spoke on condition of anonymity. The experts, at the Energy Department, believed the tubes were likely intended for small artillery rockets.

The White House, though, embraced the disputed theory that the tubes were for nuclear centrifuges, an idea first championed in April 2001 by a junior analyst at the C.I.A. Senior nuclear scientists considered that notion implausible, yet in the months after 9/11, as the administration built a case for confronting Iraq, the centrifuge theory gained currency as it rose to the top of the government.

Why the administration deliberately embraced highly dubious evidence and did not share the dubious nature of this evidence with Congress or the American people has never been answered. Obviously, an easy conclusion would be because the administration was already committed to war with Iraq and needed to “fix the facts around the policy”. However, this pales in comparison to the issues and circumstances surrounding the “uranium from Africa” claim.

Back in late 2002, the Pentagon, under the direction of Donald Rumsfeld and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, created the Office of Special Plans (“OSP”). This was, in essence, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and Cheney’s project, run by and comprised of neoconservatives whose goal was to find evidence of Saddam’s ties to al-Qaeda and his stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons. The OSP’s true mission, according to Pentagon advisors close to the OSP, was to discredit the CIA’s findings with respect to Iraq, al-Qaeda and its suspected weapons program.

According to the Pentagon official:

Rumsfeld and his colleagues believed that the C.I.A. was unable to perceive the reality of the situation in Iraq. “The agency was out to disprove linkage between Iraq and terrorism,” the Pentagon adviser told me. “That’s what drove them. If you’ve ever worked with intelligence data, you can see the ingrained views at C.I.A. that color the way it sees data.” The goal of Special Plans, he said, was “to put the data under the microscope to reveal what the intelligence community can’t see.”

According to Pat Buchanan’s American Conservative magazine, the OSP, run by Undersecretary of Defense and neoconservative Douglas Feith, was “a parallel intelligence center set up in the Pentagon to develop alternative sources of information in support of war against Iraq.” The “uranium from Africa” story originated from the OSP.

At the same time, Vice President Cheney was leaning heavily on the CIA to come up with some evidence linking Saddam’s regime to al-Qaeda and to the “stockpiles” of chemical and biological weapons that would be used to make the case for war. According to a number of CIA officials, Cheney and his Chief of Staff had made “multiple visits” to the CIA over a one-year period in order to put pressure on the CIA to come up with evidence that would fit the conclusion that Saddam was looking to build nuclear weapons.

On numerous occasions, the Africa-uranium connection was thoroughly refuted, by France refuted the claim to the United States back in July 2002. Additionally, two individuals who traveled to Niger in order to determine the accuracy of these claims both refuted such claims. Ambassador Joseph Wilson and four star Marine General Carlton W. Fulford Jr. made trips to Africa during February 2002, and both came back satisfied that there was no accuracy to the “Niger documents”.

There were a number of other reports and sources that also indicated the documents used to “prove” Saddam had ambitions on purchasing “yellowcake uranium” from Africa were forgeries. The American Conservative reported that the Office Of Special Plans was, on some level, involved in the forgeries, either initially or in a manner that would present the information directly to the White House without the proper vetting by other intelligence agencies.

Finally, after these claims continued to be repeated by the administration (and the invasion of Iraq had already commenced), former US Ambassador Joseph Wilson authored an Op-Ed column in July 2003 reiterating his findings from the 2002 trip to Niger which did not find any evidence of truth to the claim.

What happened next, and what had been going on behind the scenes for the prior few weeks can only be described as highly questionable at best and downright sinister at worst. Instead of disputing the fact that the Niger documents were forgeries, a campaign was undertaken by high level governmental officials to “discredit” Ambassador Wilson. This included the leaking of classified and confidential information to reporters about Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, who was a covert CIA agent working on nuclear counterproliferation. As a result of this, a special prosecutor was appointed to investigate, and Libby was convicted of obstruction of justice and perjury in the investigation.

While there is enough information to fill a book on these events alone (thanks, emptywheel), suffice to say that the information surrounding the leak of Plame’s covert status is rather voluminous and well documented here and here.

Part 3 will examine then-Secretary of State Colin Powell’s presentation to the UN Security Council as well as dissect then-candidate Bush’s comment during the 2000 debates regarding when he would use military force (this was referenced in Part 1 which was posted last night.

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