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Thursday, June 22, 2006 

Pat Roberts ties "Phase Two" up in knots

Today there's a slight break in the virtual news blackout about the state of the notorious "Phase Two" investigation into the White House's use and abuse of intelligence before the invasion of Iraq. Since 2004 the Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, the notorious shill Pat Roberts, has been promising to let this thing be completed. All the while, he's been throwing up obstacles, though what exactly these were hasn't always been clear.

I see via Greg Sargent that Byron York has a piece up at NRO that reveals a fair amount about the Committee's work. His pen is dipped in poison for a Committee staffer, but once you get beyond that there's real news about what has been done on the five parts of the investigation.

It looks like the two most politically sensitive parts could be tied up indefinitely, and one could well be mangled by the Pentagon.

The first three parts, York reports, are nearly completed. The facts are pretty cut and dried, and already known, so there's little to be gained by stonewalling here.

Part One is a survey of the pre-war intelligence. What intelligence agencies eventually came up with was a crock, as Republicans too are happy to report.

Part Two examines how much credence was given to the junk being fed to the administration by the Iraqi National Congress. Partisan Republicans have wanted to downplay the influence of these rascals (see Robb-Silverman). Sensible Republicans and Democrats recognize that Bush was going to welcome support for an invasion of Iraq from any quarter, so it comes as no surprise that there's said to be agreement here as well.

Part Three looks at pre-war planning for the occupation of Iraq. Nobody can dispute that the rosy scenarios were somewhat off the mark; again, most of the work is completed.

Part Four, on the Office of Special Plans, is where things begin to get messy. This unit located in the White House existed to stovepipe questionable intelligence directly to Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. Of Part Four, York states:

This area is virtually the sole project of Sen. Levin, who has been acutely interested in the work of the office's former chief, Douglas Feith. Levin has accused Feith of distorting, exaggerating, inventing, or manipulating intelligence about the connections between Iraq and al Qaeda and about Saddam Hussein's weapons capabilities -- and then deceiving Congress about it. Committee chairman Pat Roberts has said his panel found no credible evidence to support Levin's charges and referred the matter to the Pentagon's inspector general for review. Now, nothing will be done in this area until the Pentagon gives its findings to the committee -- which could take months.

It's highly likely that the Pentagon Inspector General will put the kabosh on this part of "Phase Two". Three weeks ago the White House nominated David Laufman to become the next Inspector General of the DoD. As I reported at the time, it was a curious choice. Laufman has no background that would truly qualify him for such a job. I surmised that Bush chose him because Laufman appears to be a loyalist, even an extremist, in carrying out administration policies in the war on terror. I speculated that his appointment might serve to keep a lid on any potential investigations into scandals like the NSA warrantless spying.

By good luck, one of the few bloggers who paid any attention whatever to my post was Cernig at NewsHog. He did some further digging on Laufman and found a piece I had missed, written by Robert Parry. Here, Parry mentions that a group of Republican lawyers including Laufman were considered to be partisan hacks. They served on the 'October Surprise' commission, downplaying all the evidence of wrongdoing by the Reagan/Bush team. Then as soon as that whitewash was wrapped up, they were hired to do the same on the Clinton-passport investigation.

Later, one senior Clinton administration official reviewed the whitewashing of the October Surprise issue and similar handling of the passport case. The official shook his head in disgust. "They're the cleaners," he said about the investigative team, a reference to ruthless intelligence experts who are brought onto the scene of a botched operation to clean up the incriminating evidence.

I think Cernig has it right. Laufman was nominated to be Inspector General of DoD precisely because he has a record of reliably whitewashing scandals associated with the Bush family. I believe that any investigation dropped on Laufman's desk at DoD regarding the Office of Special Plans will be dry cleaned and starched.

Part Five of "Phase Two" is the section that Sargent focuses on. It concerns the public pronouncements about intelligence by Bush Co. before the invasion of Iraq. Here is York again:

This area is said to be a matter of such deep division and contention that it might never be completed. Originally, committee Democrats wanted to examine only the statements made by White House and administration officials, comparing those statements to available intelligence to determine whether they were exaggerated. But Roberts pointed out that many lawmakers, Republican and Democrat, had made statements before the war, too. For example, Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy said, in September 2002, that "We have known for many years that Saddam Hussein is seeking and developing weapons of mass destruction." Why not examine statements like Kennedy's, too? Roberts asked. Democrats resisted, especially when Roberts proposed that senators evaluate each statement on its substance without knowing the identity of the speaker. That course would have been fraught with danger for Democrats: What if they condemned one of their own? A standoff ensued, and it is not clear when, or if, it will be resolved.

York seems to take pleasure in Roberts' gamesmanship, and characteristically does not notice, or care, that the result may be to delay or block the completion of an already long overdue report.

Roberts' position is of course nasty and ridiculous. It doesn't matter whether members of Congress believed that Hussein still had WMD. They had only as much accurate intelligence as Bush Co. was willing to give them. Likewise, Roberts' proposal to investigate as well the statements made by Clinton administration officials in the 1990s demonstrates what a partisan hack he is. Clinton did not order an invasion of Iraq based upon what they thought they knew.

The issue in question is whether Bush and his "people" represented the state of intelligence accurately and completely, or cherry-picked intel to make a case for war. If Senators like Kennedy were mistaken in over-estimating the amount of chemical and biological weapons that Hussein retained, they were not President and did not drag the country to war. In fact, Kennedy opposed the war.

Furthermore, the existence of stocks of chemical and biological weapons did not per se threaten the United States. Bush built his case for war not primarily on the notion that Hussein still possessed mustard gas shells, but rather on the basis of an alleged nuclear weapons program; an alleged ability to deliver those weapons in the United States; an alleged intent to do so; and alleged ties to al Qaeda. Props to ALevin and Bob Somerby for making those points over at American Prospect.

Also worth noting is this: Bush was told that all American intelligence agencies agreed that Hussein posed no threat to attack the United States. As Murray Waas reported in March, Bush received a one-page summary of intelligence in January 2003:

According to interviews and records, Bush personally read the one-page summary in Tenet's presence during the morning intelligence briefing, and the two spoke about it at some length. Sources familiar with the summary said it was highly significant that the president was informed that it was the unanimous conclusion of the intelligence agencies participating in the production of the January 2003 NIE that Saddam was unlikely to consider attacking the U.S. unless Iraq was attacked first.

This is the kind of thing that matters, Mr. York, not whether Democrats can be discombobulated by outlandish demands from Chairman Roberts.

Crossposted at Inconvenient News and Daily Kos

 posted by smintheus  # 9:42 PM   1 comments  

Wednesday, June 21, 2006 

About those WMDs you just found, Senator Santorum...

Senator Santorum held a breathless news conference on Wednesday afternoon (along with the hapless Rep. Hoekstra) to announce that the Army had discovered WMD in Iraq, finally. The ever vigilent junior Senator from Pennsylvania has been pushing for the release of this information for months, he tells us.

Just as you'd suspect, the facts were trivial. The military in Iraq discovered around 500 artillery shells with degraded mustard gas and sarin, dating from the Iran-Iraq War. Santorum and Hoekstra could not explain why they still considered it news that a few ancient chemical weapons yet existed somewhere in Iraq. Nor had the two statesmen bothered to inquire why the White House had not trumpeted this "incredibly" important revelation when it first turned up.

There's a slight problem with identifying these degraded shells as Weapons of Mass Destruction. A weapon is something one can use. These shells cannot be used because they are so degraded, as even Negroponte's statement (reproduced virtually verbatim in Santorum's press release) makes clear. They are the Iraqi equivalent, on a vastly smaller scale, of the tons of WWI era munitions buried and forgotten around Washington DC.

Even Fox News is having a hard time trying to decide whether run with or away from this nonsense.

Offering the official administration response to FOX News, a senior Defense Department official pointed out that the chemical weapons were not in useable conditions.

"This does not reflect a capacity that was built up after 1991," the official said, adding the munitions "are not the WMDs this country and the rest of the world believed Iraq had, and not the WMDs for which this country went to war."

And the AP report is utterly dismissive.

With some Democrats saying the decision to go to war was a mistake, Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., and House Intelligence Chairman Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich., tried to dispel arguments by Democratic lawmakers that no weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq.

Santorum and Hoekstra released a newly declassified military intelligence report that said coalition forces have found 500 munitions in Iraq that contained degraded sarin or mustard nerve agents, produced before the 1991 Gulf War.

But a defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the weapons were not considered likely to be dangerous because of their age. Also, Democrats said a lengthy 2005 report from the top U.S. weapons inspector contemplated that such munitions would be found.

This is a mark of how desperate the Republicans are to find some distraction from the bad news from Iraq. The war has turned into a nearly unmitigated disaster, and they're afraid that the public will actually hold them accountable.

I commented on the "news" as it broke here. You'll find a much fuller discussion there of the various claims that the Bush apologists have tried to make based upon these discarded shells. See also Think Progress for more, if you have the stomach.

Crossposted at Inconvenient News

 posted by smintheus  # 11:51 PM   3 comments  

Monday, June 12, 2006 

"Accept the personal risks of revealing the truth"

Today in the LA Times Daniel Ellsberg, the man who leaked the Pentagon Papers, urged anybody in government who has access to them, to leak documents that would show the true story of how and why we invaded Iraq. This is pretty heady stuff for the MSM.

Today, there must be, at the very least, hundreds of civilian and military officials in the Pentagon, CIA, State Department, National Security Agency and White House who have in their safes and computers comparable documentation of intense internal debates - so far carefully concealed from Congress and the public - about prospective or actual war crimes, reckless policies and domestic crimes: the Pentagon Papers of Iraq, Iran or the ongoing war on U.S. liberties. Some of those officials, I hope, will choose to accept the personal risks of revealing the truth - earlier than I did - before more lives are lost or a new war is launched.

Haditha holds a mirror up not just to American troops in the field, but to our whole society. Not just to the liars in government but to those who believe them too easily. And to all of us in the public, in the administration, in Congress and the media who dissent so far ineffectively or who stand by as murder is being done and do nothing to stop it or expose it.

It is past time for Americans to summon the civil courage to face what is being done in their name and to refuse to be accomplices. We must force Congress and this president, or their successors if necessary, to act upon the moral proposition that the U.S. must stop killing men, women and children in Iraq, and must not begin to do so in Iran.

Neither the lives we have lost, nor the lives we have taken, give the U.S. any right to determine by fire and airpower who shall govern or who shall die in countries we have wrongly attacked.

Of course we do have documents galore out in the open, British documents. But does anybody care to investigate them seriously?

Heck, in early February we learned of a new document that pins George W. Bush right back to the wall of shame--the (British) minutes from the Jan. 31, 2003 meeting at the White House between Bush and Blair. At the meeting, Bush talks about trying to find a way to trick Hussein into starting a shooting war by setting up a U.S. spy plane to be shot down by Iraq.

From the new document, it was clear Bush had already decided to go to war, and it was just a question of finding the right pretext. In other words, the new "smoking gun" confirmed that the correct interpretation of the Downing Street Memo was exactly what the Iraq War critics had said it was.

The British press was all over the story. The U.S. media? Not so much. The Christian Science Moniter, San Diego Union Tribune, and Chicago Sun-Times quickly printed good articles on the British reports; the Associated Press too produced a story. Then, radio silence for weeks, as if the document really meant nothing more than business as usual in DC.

Then in late March out of the blue, the NY Times decided to publish a story on the "new" document. And then another flurry of media interest, and then again, nothing more.

So we have a pretty damning document already. Or do we? For some reason never revealed, the NY Times article by Don van Natta was NOT accompanied by publication of the actual minutes.

This, sad to say, perfectly encapsulates the contrast between American journalism of the 1970s and of today. In 1971, first the NY Times and then the Washington Post stepped forward to publish the immense, and rambling, texts we call the Pentagon Papers. In 2006, however, the NY Times has in its hand a short, decisive document on how and why we were dragged into another disastrous war--and they don't even bother to explain why they haven't published it!

Well, compare this to the sorry reporting on the Downing Street Memo in 2005. When we were conducting our media campaign one year ago at Daily Kos, I asked letter writers to urge all newspapers to publish that text in full. It was key to making the DSM a huge scandal in the U.S. And the result? However much they eventually did write about the DSM last June, almost no newspapers actually printed the damn text.

If they had, if even half the American population had read the full minutes from that July 23rd, 2002 war meeting, there's a reasonable chance the nation would have called for Bush's ouster. The document makes a powerful impression upon the reader.

So I fully welcome Ellsberg's call today for patriots to leak the most incriminating evidence they have access to. But, I have to wonder, would the newspapers print it even if they do?

Crossposted at Inconvenient News.

 posted by smintheus  # 7:49 PM   0 comments  

Tuesday, June 06, 2006 

Bush "was planning to go to war all along."

Ken Silverstein just posted an interesting piece at Harpers, Creating the Inevitable: The CIA visits Iraq in April 2002. He's been talking to CIA types, who tell him that they'd figured out already by spring or summer of 2002 that the Bush administration had decided to overthrow Saddam Hussein by force. Not surprising news, at this stage, but important none the less.

One thing is of particular interest. A former, anonymous, CIA agent pointed out that the Agency infiltrated the Kurdish area of Iraq in April 2002.

One former officer described how in April of 2002, nearly a year before the invasion, the CIA sent a special unit of eight men to "set up shop" in the Kurdish areas of northern Iraq....

One of the team's chief goals was to develop a network of intelligence sources that could support the invasion and, afterwards, the occupation and reconstruction of Iraq. The team started its efforts with the Kurds. "The key thing was credibility," said this person. "We had to get them . . . fully committed by convincing them that this time we were serious, [that] we would finish it and get rid of Saddam."

The CIA was ultimately able to recruit assets in many parts of Iraq, in part because it won support from tribal leaders. "It was extremely well funded," said the second person involved in the effort. "They passed out . . . a lot of money to the sheikhs." Agency operators also distributed satellite phones and other communications equipment to support intelligence gathering, and used laser technology to "paint" buildings and other infrastructure so they could be easily targeted when the war began....

[A former CIA station chief in the Middle East] said he believed Bush "was planning to go to war all along." His view was shared by the two sources involved with the special unit. One said that, by the summer of 2002, he was absolutely convinced that war was coming based on discussions and activities at the CIA.

The second source reached the same conclusion by April of 2002, when the special unit went into Iraq. That same month, he said, the CIA sent people to a country neighboring Iraq for detailed discussions on how best to move troops into Iraqi territory. He described the special unit's work as "battlefield preparation"—and for a battle that was not hypothetical....

Several other former CIA officials I spoke with said that everything they have heard from colleagues at the agency points to an early decision to go to war.

Silverstein's sources indicate that the CIA shop in Kurdish Iraq was set up to function more or less autonomously, with little actual communication with Washington. It sounds like Washington was working on the same problem from its own end, more or less simultaneously. We already knew, from this July, 2002 report in The Guardian (from our timeline) that in late April, 2002, at a site in Virginia, the CIA discussed plans to cooperate in overthrowing Hussein with several Kurdish leaders.

A US intelligence source also told the Guardian...that the US was represented by CIA officials and General Wayne Downing, the president's military adviser on counter-terrorism and the author of a 1998 plan to unseat Saddam relying heavily on local opposition and US air power.

"The idea was to see what the Kurds would be prepared to do in a war on Baghdad," the US source said.

Specifically, the Kurds were asked to agree to the establishment of CIA stations at their headquarters in Irbil and Suleimaniyah, but they demurred. According to one account, Mr Barzani and Mr Talabani asked for more money than the CIA was prepared to offer.

However, according to a Kurdish source, the meeting failed for a more fundamental reason: lack of trust....

"We wanted to know if that was going to happen again. If Saddam struck at us, would we be protected?" the Kurdish opposition activist said.

At one point, the Kurds reportedly asked whether the US officials at The Farm really represented the entire administration, and so Ryan Crocker, a state department official who had visited Kurdistan a few months earlier, was hastily called in from Washington.

The attempt to convince the Kurds failed at that time, we're told. But that does not undermine Silverstein's allegation that another group of CIA officers was spreading money around in northern Iraq, preparing for an invasion, already in April 2002. That same summer, the Asian Times reported, in an extremely important article (Iraq: In all but name, the war's on), that the U.S. had infiltrated 1,800 troops into northern Iraq by late March 2002.

So, Silverstein's report gibes with the other available evidence.

Note also this section of his column, which addresses the White House's propaganda head on in a way that has been too rare.

One former official had interesting observations on the administration's repeated claims that it was not only the United States but also our chief European allies who believed that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, hence the administration's failure on that score was understandable and not the result of cherry-picked intelligence.

"They say everyone else was wrong," said this former official, "but we conditioned them to be wrong. We spend [tens of billions of dollars per year] on signals intelligence and when we reach a conclusion, the people who spend less than that tend to believe us. They weren't wrong, they chose to believe us. The British, Germans, and Italians don't have all those overhead assets, so they rely on us. Historically they have been well-served, so they believe us when we tell them the earth is round. The French have their own assets—and guess what? They didn't go with us."

The second source cited regarding the special unit agreed with this assessment. "The allies sort of believed that Iraq had WMDs, but we were feeding them a lot of information," he said. "The only alternative source of information out there was coming from the United Nations inspectors, and they were not stupid or incompetent. But [the administration] tried to discredit them by creating the idea that they were a bunch of goofballs that couldn't shoot straight."

Can't be emphasized enough. The rest of the world did NOT 'believe' that Iraq had WMD. They suspected it. And those who suspected it, did so partly because the U.S. was feeding them misleading information. And even so, many of them refused to agree that those suspicions warranted an invasion of Iraq.

You don't invade another country because you 'believe' your own propaganda.

 posted by smintheus  # 12:59 AM   0 comments  

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