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January 5, 2006

Two sides to every history

Posted by Phil on January 5, 2006 7:53 AM

Sidney Blumenthal, "Bush's war on professionals,", 1/5/06:

"State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration," by James Risen, the New York Times reporter who broke the NSA story, offers further evidence of Bush's war on professionals in the intelligence community than has already been reported in newspapers.

Then-director of the CIA George Tenet appears as an incorrigible courtier, trying to ingratiate himself with anecdotes of derring-do from the clandestine services. Rumsfeld, seeking to concentrate intelligence within the Pentagon, which controls 80 percent of its budget, was not amused. [...]

While Rumsfeld was trampling Tenet, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz and Deputy Undersecretary Douglas Feith, the Laurel and Hardy of neoconservatism, set up the Counter-Terrorism Evaluation Group, "to sift through raw intelligence reports, searching for ties between Iraq and al Qaeda." CIA analysts were under unrelenting pressure to accept Chalabi's disinformation at face value. "They sent us that message a thousand times, in a thousand different ways," said one former senior CIA official. Tenet did nothing to halt the stream of pollution.


Startlingly, Risen reports that on the eve of war, the CIA knew the U.S. had no proof of weapons of mass destruction, the casus belli, the justification for preemptive attack. The agency had recruited an Arab-American woman living in Cleveland, Dr. Sawsan Alhaddad, as a secret agent to travel to Baghdad to spy on her brother, Saad Tawfiq, an electrical engineer supposedly at the center of Saddam Hussein's nuclear weapons program. Once there, she won his trust and he confided there was no program. He urged her to carry the message back to the CIA. Upon her return, she was debriefed and the CIA filed the report in a black hole.

It turned out that she was one of some 30 Iraqis who had been recruited to travel to Iraq to contact weapons experts there. Risen writes, "All of them … had said the same thing. They all reported to the CIA that the scientists had said that Iraq's programs to develop nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons had long since been abandoned."

Not willing to contradict the administration line, CIA officials withheld this information from the National Intelligence Estimate issued a month after Alhaddad's visit to Baghdad. The NIE stated conclusively that Iraq "is reconstituting its nuclear program."

Risen writes: "From his home in Baghdad in February 2003, Saad Tawfiq watched Secretary of State Colin Powell's televised presentation to the United Nations about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. As Powell dramatically built the American case for war, Saad sank further and further into frustration and despair. They didn't listen. I told them there were no weapons."


After the war, efforts within the CIA to dispel illusion and acknowledge reality in Iraq met with punishment. In November 2003, the CIA station chief in Baghdad submitted what is internally called an "aardwolf," a formal report on country conditions. "It pulled no punches in detailing how the new insurgency was gaining strength from the political and economic vacuum that the United States had allowed to develop in Baghdad," writes Risen. For his honesty, the station chief was subjected to "inflammatory accusations about his personal behavior, all of which he flatly denied," and "quit the CIA in disgust."

The destruction of his career led other CIA officers to hedge their reports, especially on Chalabi. The new station chief, in an "aardwolf" in late 2004, described the lethal conditions on the ground, and as a reward "his political allegiances were quickly questioned by the White House." Reality remained unwelcome.

Risen's book is one of a small and growing library that contains the strangulated, usually anonymous cries of professionals. No doubt there will be other volumes to fill in more spaces and reveal yet new stories of the mangling of policy in the interest of ideology.

By counterattacking against whistle-blowers and the press, Bush is rushing to protect the edifice he has created. He acts as if the exposure of one part threatens the whole. His frantic defense suggests that very little of it can bear scrutiny.

The question is, how much scrutiny, let alone angry opposition, will it get?

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