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Holding Leaders Accountable for Lies


While the pot continues to boil in Washington and London over the manipulated evidence used to ”justify” attacking Iraq, an equally passionate debate has been taking place in Australia, where former Australian intelligence analyst Andrew Wilkie resigned before the war and immediately went public about the lying.

That the Australian Senate saw fit, in a rare move on Oct. 7, formally to censure Prime Minister John Howard for misleading the public shows that truth can win out even in a country with a largely apathetic populace and a mainstream press all too eager to parrot the official line. There are lessons for us, of course, but Americans cannot be accused of apathy in this particular instance because the U.S. media have largely ignored the story.

The Australian Senate censured Howard for producing no evidence to support his claims last March that Iraq had stockpiles of biological and chemical weapons, and for suppressing Australian intelligence warnings that war with Iraq would increase the likelihood of terrorist attacks. One senator accused Howard of “unprecedented deceit.”

The Senates action came just six weeks after Wilkie testified before a parliamentary committee about the abuse of intelligence in the run-up to war and found himself embroiled in a highly publicized one-on-one debate with the prime minister. A senior analyst in Australia’s (CIA-equivalent) Office of National Assessments, Wilkie is still the only intelligence analyst, of all those in Washington and London with direct experience of the flim-flam marketing of the war, to resign in protest.

His testimony included the following accusations against the government:

“Australia’s tiny agencies needed to rely on the sometimes weak and skewed views contained in the assessments prepared in Washington. . . . Intelligence gaps were sometimes back-filled with disinformation. Worst-case sometimes took primacy over most-likely. The threat was sometimes overestimated as a result of the fairy tales coming out of the U.S.”

“Most often the government deliberately skewed the truth by taking the ambiguity out of the issue. . . . Qualifications like `probably,’ ‘could’ and ‘uncorroborated evidence suggests’ were frequently dropped. Much more useful words like ‘massive’ and ‘mammoth’ were included, even though such words had not been offered to the government by the intelligence agencies. Before we knew it, the government had created a mythical Iraq, one where every factory was up to no good and weaponization was continuing apace.”

Australia’s government, for its part, has done everything it can to smear and discredit Wilkie. Sound familiar?

The Australian press found it impossible to ignore the Howard-Wilkie controversy, and now much of the populace understands that the ostensible reasons for attacking Iraq were cooked in Washington and served up by Australian leaders all too willing to march in lockstep with the Bush administration. Those Australian leaders are now being held accountable.

Wilkie’s Aug. 22 testimony to parliament was devastating and holds up particularly well in the wake of special CIA advisor David Kay’s fools errand in search of “weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.”

In his testimony, Wilkie addressed the question that keeps cropping up not only in Australia but in the United States and the United Kingdom as well: If the casus belli was neither WMD nor support for al Qaeda, then what was it? He reminded Australian lawmakers that ONA had made it ”very clear” to the government that “the U.S. was intent on invading Iraq for more-important reasons.”

To find the ”more-important reasons,” Wilkie’s former ONA colleagues needed no spies to ferret out the answer. They could, and did, simply read the ideological and strategic rationale for conquering Iraq by clicking on the Project for a New American Century, a think-tank created in 1977 by Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and others now in charge of U.S. policy toward the Middle East.

A PNAC White Paper of September 2000, ”Rebuilding Americas Defenses,” laid out two central requirements for U.S. military forces: (1) ”Fight and decisively win multiple, simultaneous major theater wars;” and (2) “perform the `constabulary duties associated with shaping the security environment in critical regions.”

The tragedy of 9/11 made it possible for Cheney, Rumsfeld and others, with help from National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, to morph that White Paper into a new military strategy. On Sept. 20, 2001, the White House proclaimed its new preemptive war strategy in ”National Security Strategy of the United States of America” — the ideological twin of “Rebuilding Americas Defenses.”

If Wilkie’s colleagues could discern the implications, so can intelligence analysts in Syria, Iran and North Korea. What is truly remarkable is the way that the U.S. press remains clueless. We are being fed the line that, because the United States has its hands full with its ”constabulary duties” in Iraq, the likelihood of further adventures is slight.

I want to believe it. But a year ago, despite the escalating rhetoric, I wanted to believe that U.S. leaders would realize the folly of attacking and trying to occupy Iraq. Given what they said then about Iraq, it is far from reassuring to hear senior administration officials now say that, although the Syrians have WMD, President Bush ”has no plans” to attack Syria.

It is all the more essential, then, that the Andrew Wilkies of U.S. and British intelligence come out of hiding and tell their fellow citizens of the curious change that Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair have introduced into the intelligence cycle — first decide on war, and then cook up the ”intelligence” to justify it.

RAY McGOVERN is a 27-year veteran of the CIA and co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity. He is currently Co-Director of the Servant Leadership School, an inner-city outreach ministry in Washington, DC. He can be reached at:


Ray McGovern was an Army officer and CIA analyst for almost 30 year. He now serves on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity.  He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press). He can be reached at: A version of this article first appeared on  

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