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Politicizing War on Fox News A Tale of Two Memos

Politicizing War on Fox News

by GARY LEUPP

Fair and balanced Fox News has reported extensively this month on the Senate Intelligence Committee. The two big stories are (1) that the Democrats on the Committee are politicizing its work (by calling for a broader investigation than the Republican leadership desires), and (2) that the Committee has received a blockbuster report from the Defense Department documenting ties between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda. The latter story hails from the neocon rag, The Weekly Standard, which has promoted the Iraq War every step of the way and bewails the fact that Donald Rumsfeld is unwilling to deploy more troops to insure the U.S. gets the job done in the occupied nation. The Standard and Fox News are of course both owned by Rupert Murdoch, whose fair and balanced view of the world is well known.

These stories draw attention to the fact that the Senate Intelligence Committee plays a key role in the ongoing discussion, within the ruling elite, of how to deal with the obvious quagmire that is Iraq. The American people have increasingly come to see the war as a mistake, or something not worth the human and financial costs; too few yet understand the war as a crime, predicated on lies and the conscious exploitation of 9-11 by unprincipled warmongers with an agenda. But that understanding may come, and neither the Standard nor Fox News wants it to happen. Presently, they see Democratic presidential candidates, for their own political purposes (let us not assume any higher, morally-grounded ones) driving home the fact that Iraq did not constitute an urgent threat to the U.S., and had nothing to do with 9-11. In response, Fox insists on the Bushites’ view of reality, with increasingly ferocious determination as that view becomes discredited. Having erased even the traditional bourgeois journalistic distinction between "news" and "commentary," Fox exists to bludgeon even timid anti-imperialist voices, whether they emanate from the right or left.

The Rockefeller Memo

Fox rages against Senator Jay Rockefeller, ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, and his staff for politicizing the Committee’s work. What, specifically, does this mean? It seems that Rockefeller has insisted that the Committee scrutinize not only the CIA’s collection of information, but that amassed (or generated) by the Office of Special Plans. The committee’s chair, Kansas Republican Pat Roberts, opposes this, insists that the committee’s work is "90 to 95" percent finished, and has already concluded that any intelligence failures are attributable to the CIA. (This has become the conventional wisdom articulated in the corporate press. Newsweek’s cover story says it all: "How Dick Cheney Sold the War. The Inside Story: Why He Fell for Bad Intelligence—And Preached It to the President." The V-P fell for bad intelligence. Now the question is: Does one blame the CIA, which actually resisted pressure to doctor and cherry-pick intelligence to justify the attack on Iraq, or the Office of Special Plans, which did not so much mislead Cheney as assist him in manufacturing a casus belli for a conflict he was eager to fight whatever the legitimately collected intelligence might say?

Now, very few Americans have ever heard of the Office of Special Plans, and Fox no doubt wants to keep it that way. This was the office created last spring, after the CIA and DIA kept telling Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and his deputy Paul Wolfowitz that they just couldn’t come up with any links between 9-11 and Saddam Hussein. Created in Spring 2002 and peopled by former Congressional staffers (rather than intelligence operatives), it was charged with "thinking outside the box" and rethinking information rejected by intelligence professionals in order to make a case for war. Its business was what Greg Thielmann, former proliferation expert in the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research and now a principled critic of Bushite disinformation, called "faith-based intelligence." It was headed by Straussian neocons William Luti and Abe Shulsky, who are on record as advocating the use of noble lies to create public opinion that serves the policy agendas of the warmongering Wise.

It’s not clear whether the super-secret office, which reported to ultra-hawk, Likudist, neocon Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas J. Feith, is still operative. But I think it quite likely that some version of it lingers in the bowels of the Defense Department, assigned new chores in accordance with the New American Century program that Feith helped author. Over here, you have a team assigned to produce a "finding" about Syrian weapons of mass destruction threatening the American homeland; over there, a former Congressional staffer asked to prove Syrian intimacy with bin Laden and al-Qaeda. At an adjoining desk, someone investigating Syria’s receipt of WMDs as gifts from Saddam Hussein; others handle state-run Syrian banks’ financial services to Iraq and to international terrorism, Syrian government coordination of "foreign terrorists’ infiltration" into Iraq through the unpoliceable 400-mile desert border. Over there, people on top of containing the damage caused by statements that emanate from different agencies and branches in government which for their own reasons aren’t on board the program, and keep denying the disinformation. And so on. That’s how the neocons operate.

Senator Rockefeller is apparently uncomfortable with this sort of deviousness. Perhaps he feels some empathy with the CIA, whose personnel are in a bind. They understand the need for psy-ops and lies, and for people sometimes taking responsibility for things that they have in fact no relation to. Thus when the Niger uranium lie came to light, George J. Tenet, as CIA head, "fell on his sword" as the media repeatedly put it (although the Roman martial allusion wasn’t really apt) and assumed responsibility. But the lie didn’t originate with the CIA. It was straight out of Special Plans. Now Bush loyalist Senator Roberts, guiding the Intelligence Committee, wants again to pin any errors or exaggerations pertinent to the administration’s pre-war accusations about Iraqi WMDs on the conventional intelligence agencies, and Rockefeller’s saying: We need to check out Special Plans. Rockefeller’s office sent a memo to Democrats noting Roberts’ defensiveness, suggesting ways to counter it, noting that Roberts sought to confine attention to the venerable Agency. Fox’s Sean Hannity somehow got a copy and was on Rockefeller’s case immediately.


The Feith Memo

How political! accused patriotic Sean. How dare Rockefeller try to politicize the issue of the official rationale for war with Iraq? To investigate the possibility that what everyone with a brain now understands to have been, at minimum, "flawed" or "hyped" intelligence, might actually have been deliberate disinformation—-now, that’s an a politicizing type of inquiry. Shame on Rockefeller! Praise be, meanwhile, unto Office of Special Plans boss Douglas Feith, author of yet another "leaked" memo falling into the hands of Fox News anchors via the Weekly Standard.

This memo, sent to the Senate Intelligence Committee October 27, contains a "classified annex" that "proves" (to the Standard’s and Fox’s low standards) the putative Saddam-Osama link. Fox does not suggest that this memo and its leakage politicize discussion of the war, or that there’s anything untoward about their own use of this "news."

The Weekly Standard tendentiously titles its screed "Case Closed," as if to demand an end to the discussion. Alas for the neocons and their noble lies, a Washington Post piece by Walter Pincus November 18 cast doubt on the leaked memo’s blockbuster annex:

W. Patrick Lang, former head of the Middle East section of the DIA, said yesterday that the Standard article "is a listing of a mass of unconfirmed reports, many of which themselves indicate that the two groups continued to try to establish some sort of relationship. If they had such a productive relationship, why did they have to keep trying?"

Another former senior intelligence official said the memo is not an intelligence product but rather "data points . . . among the millions of holdings of the intelligence agencies, many of which are simply not thought likely to be true."

The Defense Department itself, interestingly enough, issued a statement declaring that the annex to Feith’s memo outlining "the relationship between Iraq and al Qaida" in fact "drew no conclusions." The statement concludes: "Individuals who leak or purport to leak classified information are doing serious harm to national security; such activity is deplorable and may be illegal."

So Fox has both trashed an apparently honest effort to expose government deceit paving the way for a bloody imperialist war; and also promoted distorted "intelligence" information (in typical neocon fashion) to desperately justify that disaster. The crudity of its effort obliged the Defense Department itself to step in and clarify. All in a week’s time.

GARY LEUPP is a professor of History at Tufts University and coordinator of the Asian Studies Program.

He can be reached at: gleupp@tufts.edu