Colin Powell and the Great "Intelligence Fraud"

Here we are in Condition Orange and hysteria has set in. We’re at the point when rumors careen round like balls on a pool table. Late Friday night a San Francisco lawyer with a New York pal in a company that makes backdrops and scenery for TV companies reported his pal’s tidings that the TV networks had ordered special “Iraqi” set backdrops, to be delivered in time for use on Monday. Virtual war: “This is Christiane Amanpour, live in…”

The day Ashcroft and Ridge announced the entire nation had joined New York at Level Orange, four fugitive Cubans from the military made landfall on the Homeland, passing undetected by southern Florida’s vast flotillas of Coast Guard and Navy vessels, plus Fat Albert, the blimp panopticon tethered above the lower Keys. The four tied up their 32-foot fiber-glass cigarette boat (sporting the Cuban flag and containing two AK-47s, 8 loaded magazines and a GPS finder tuned to the coordinates of the US Coastguard station) on the southern shore of Key West, at the Hyatt Resort dock. Then, clad in their Cuban army fatigues (one had a Chinese made handgun strapped to his hip) they wondered about, marveling at the serene emptiness of the evening streets, looking for a police station where they could turn themselves in. Had they been Terrorists there were plenty of rewarding targets within a strolling distance, including a major surveillance center for the Caribbean and Latin America, run by US Southern Command, also a US Navy base, plus of course Key West’s extensive literary colony.

The Great “Intelligence Fraud”

Events do rush by us in a blur, I know, but let’s not abandon Secretary of State Colin Powell’s Feb 5 speech to the UN in the graveyard of history without one last backward glance. It was, after all, billed by the President as a conclusive intelligence briefing on exactly how Saddam Hussein has been concealing his weapons of mass destruction, and how he’s hand ?in-glove with Al Qaeda.

Now, when the Commander in Chief states publicly that his Secretary of State will deliver the goods, we can be safe in assuming that he’s been assured that yes, the US intelligence “community” has indeed got the goods. But barely more than a week after Powell’s speech it now looks as though its major claims were at best speculative, and at worst outright distortions, some of them derided in advance by UN Chief Inspector Hans Blix.

There was the supposed transporter of biotoxins that turned out to be a truck from the Baghdad health department; the sinisterly enlarged test ramp for long distance missiles that was nothing of the sort; the suspect facility that had recently been cleared by the UN inspection teams; the strange eavesdropped conversations that could as well have been Iraqi officers discussing how to hide stills for making bootleg whiskey. The promoter of the Iraq/Al Qaeda link, Abu Musab Zarqawi turns out to be an imaginative liar trying to get a prison sentence commuted and the terror cell, Ansar-al Islam, a bunch of Islamic fundamentalists violently opposed to Saddam and operating out of Kurdish territory.

(A few days later Powell cited Osama bin Laden’s latest tape as confirming that Saddam and Al Qaeda are in cahoots. Actually it’s mostly a vivid account, which has the ring of truth, of how he and his men in their Tora Bora foxholes survived ferocious US bombing with minimal casualties. Bin Laden concludes by urging all Muslims “to pull up your pant legs for jihad” against the forces of darkness. Of Saddam and the Ba’ath he says, “the Socialists are infidels wherever they are, either in Baghdad or Aden. Such war which may take place these days is similar to the war between Muslims and Romans when the interests of the Muslims came along with the interests of the Persians who both fought against the Romans.”)

And of course there was the British intelligence report, sent by Tony Blair to Powell who commended it in his UN speech as particularly “fine”. The report turned out to be a series of plagiarisms from old articles from Jane’s, and from a paper on Iraqi politics written by a student called Ibrahim al Marashi, at the Monterey Institute for International Studies.

The Marashi plagiarism represents an intrusive parable on how “intelligence” reports actually get put together, to fulfill a political agenda. From some enterprising work by freelance reporter Kenneth Raposa who worked on the Iraqi Dossier story for the Boston Globe, it emerges that Marashi himself comes from a Shi’a family in Baltimore, Md. He’s never visited Iraq and is keen to see Saddam toppled by US invasion.

Marashi’s essay was published in the Middle East Review of International Affairs in Sept 2002, a scholarly magazine run by the GLORIA Center (acronym for Global Research in International Affairs Center) in Herzliya, Israel. Its director is Barry Rubin, who has also been a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy — an Israel policy think tank. Rubin is part of the coterie–which includes Daniel Pipes, Michael Ledeen, and the arch conspirator Richard Perle–who have been pressing for a US attack on Iraq.

Marashi told Raposa that the documents on which he had based his paper had been given him by Kenaan Makiya, a well-known Iraqi exile, and proponent of invasion, much favored by Powell’s own State Department. Makiya claims to have some 4 million pages of documents seized from northern Iraq after Operation Desert Storm.

So here we have a politically-inspired document, spliced together by a Shi’a student, published by an Israeli-based think-tank hot for war, swiped off the web by Blair’s harried minions and served up to Powell as a masterpiece of British intelligence collection from MI6.

Quite aside from the welcome damage done to Powell’s credibility and to the war party in general, the Marashi saga vividly reminds us of just how much rubbish has been served up to the American people in the guise of reliable “intelligence”. Remember how back amid the build-up to the last Iraqi war, the Pentagon invoked satellite photos of 265,000 Iraqi troops massed to invade Saudi Arabia.

Jean Heller, a journalist from the St Petersburg Times in Florida persuaded her newspaper to buy two photos at $1,600 each from the Russian commercial satellite, the Soyuz Karta. No troops showed up on the photos. “You could see the planes sitting wing tip to wing tip in Riyadh airport,” Ms Heller says, “but there wasn’t was any sign of a quarter of a million Iraqi troops sitting in the middle of the desert.”

The ridicule now being showered on Powell’s Iraq Dossier won’t slow up the production of these ridiculous documents or hinder the endless flourishing of supposedly conclusive satellite photography or communications intercepts. If war does come, we can be sure there will be repetitions of the “misinterpretations” and “tragic errors” of the 1991 onslaught.

When my brother Patrick drove from Amman to Baghdad back at the end of the 1991 onslaught he passed the hulks of oil tankers bombed to bits under the claim they were mobile SCUD launchers. The single biggest atrocity of that war was the US bombing of the Almariya shelter in Baghdad. The Pentagon claimed it was a top secret military command center. It wasn’t. Absent its intended occupants, university professors and technocrats, ordinary Iraqi mothers and children had taken shelter there. Just another intelligence screw-up, with several hundred dead mothers and kids as the price.

And yes, we are in the wake of the greatest intelligence failure in American history, for which not one intelligence head rolled. Instead they gave the CIA even more money, and yes, it’s grateful chief George Tenet sitting beside Powell in the UN Security Council. He should have been too ashamed to show his face in public.

Lerner: Worse Than A Mere “Flake”

From John Garcia, of the University of Iowa and Davis, Ca., comes this forceful commentary on Lerner:

“Your jabs at Lerner are well-aimed, but they’re heavy on his ego and too light on his actual racist “vision”. You would be more forceful if you would mention these points:

1. During his KPFA interview on February 11, Lerner set about describing the acts of anti-Semitism displayed by the anti-war rally organizers in SF (here he blurs the distinction between ANSWER and the other organizers), and — this as an utterly shocking racist slip — he enumerated among these “anti-Semitic” acts the fact that the volunteers who toted around the buckets for donations WORE PALESTINIAN KAFFIYEHS.

“Leave aside the reality that there were dozens of volunteers, many of them walk-ups from the rally itself, only a few of which wore the kaffiyeh. The key point is we have him saying on tape that wearing one is anti-Semitic! If you haven’t heard the interview, you really must acquire the tape. It comes about half way through the broadcast of the KPFA evening news (6-7pm).

“2.Lerner has repeatedly called for Israel’s induction into NATO or some other mutual defense treaty with the United States. I’ve seen this in several Tikkun bulletins. Does this Dalai Lama of fairness ask for anything similar for the future Palestinian state? “3. Lerner constantly asks for “reparations” for Palestinians. That is, they get cash payouts in return for dropping their claim to their homeland, to be instead herded into their discontiguous “state” wholly dominated by a NATO neighbor armed to the teeth. This is his vision of peace and reconciliation? Lerner plays a key role in the US branch of the Zionist movement. He is the lenient liberal who supplies a conceptual haven for Jews troubled by their conscience. But his “vision” tallies out to the same morally depleted two-state solution championed by Bush and Sharon. I find that he is much more dangerous than merely a “flake” as Alex called him.”

Is Jah God in Kansas? More on Misreadings

“I thought you might enjoy a misreading from my own experience, which begs the question of whether or not I am a vegetarian,” writes CounterPuncher Daniel Summaria, who describes a visit to Sausalito, back in the years when he was in the Navy and stationed in SF.

“At the time I was loath to be seen in public with the military issue eye glasses which were all I could, at the time, afford. As I literally stumbled into the bookstore, I noticed across the room a large display table heaped with large coffee-table type books surmounted by a large sign which read (I thought): THE DONNER PARTY COOK BOOK. Surely, I thought, this is indeed a culture in which anything can be sold if the packaging is right. But upon close inspection (one and a half feet) I saw more clearly that the display featured The DINNER Party Cookbook.”

I see the Donner Party Cookbook as a nice little booklet, with vegetarian recipes for wild mushrooms, grilled pinecones and the like, and then just a few blank pages at the end.

Also Turning his attention to Michael Lerner, Summaria remarks, “What really pissed me off about Michael Lerner back during the Bush Sr attack on Iran was Lerner’s accusation that Barbara Lubin (Middle East Childrens’ Alliance) was a ‘self-hating Jew’. After that, no ad hominem seems to me below the belt. Besides, my family is Italian American, and where I grew up neither tact nor modesty was ever considered much of a virtue. Why my tax dollars should help religious fanatics from Detroit to Brooklyn build fortified luxury condos on stolen land baffles me. Plus one cannot help but wonder how much of US aid to Israel actually hits the ground there, versus the coffers of US arms manufacturers and the Swiss bank accounts of Israeli government officials on the take in the form of kickbacks and other perks. If Iran-Contra taught us anything, anything at all, it is that the Israel government is at least as corrupt as our own.”

Another CounterPuncher supports our position that Lerner should be allowed to speak at all venues he requests, just so long as he is forbidden to use the word “meaning”, as in “politics of meaning”, the phrase that caused Hillary Clinton briefly to patronize Lerner as a spiritual adviser before she realized that Lerner’s lust for self promotion was as keen as her husband’s coarse appetites. As noted earlier CounterPunch’s position is that Lerner should always be allowed to speak at whatever length he demands, on the ground that the amount of a fool he makes himself is in direct proportion to the time allowed him to open his mouth in public.

Black Hawk Down: Who Wrote What?

Here’s a note from Mark Bowden setting the record straight on what he did and did not write, re the conduct of US forces in Somalia:

“In 1997, when the abridged, serialized version of my book “Black Hawk Down” was running in The Philadelphia Inquirer, a British reporter named Dowden wrote an article (in the Guardian, I think) about my stories. Dowden put his own spin on my reporting, announcing that I had revealed that American soldiers had committed atrocities in Mogadishu. The stories had reported that soldiers on the ground and in the air had fired into crowds, crowds that included women and children, so Dowden was certainly entitled to his own interpretation of those facts. He went a little further, however, by inventing scenes to buttress his version and attributing them to my story.

“In 1999, a much fuller version of the serial was published as a book, and in 2001, a feature film was released by the same name. That was when some journalists began telling the story (repeated in your column) that I had reported evidence of atrocities in Mogadishu back in 1993 when it happened, and that I had left these details out of my book — or been forced to leave them out, or some such bullshit.

” The truth is, I did not report anything about the battle in 1993, as your column and others have reported. The first and only writing I have done on the subject as the serial in the Inquirer in 1997. Far from leaving things out when the serial became a book, I actually expanded greatly (by about three times) on what I had written in the serial. Happily, no one has to take my word for these things. The book is available everywhere, and the serial is still posted in its entirety on the internet ( I suppose someone skilled enough at these things could even find Dowden’s report.”


Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined!, A Colossal Wreck and An Orgy of Thieves: Neoliberalism and Its Discontents are available from CounterPunch.