When Spooks Speak Out

As I observed about a week ago, as stories about the philosophical underpinnings of the neocons’ activities began appearing in the mainstream press, we may now be seeing “the turning of the tide.” As the days go by and “Coalition” forces in Iraq fail to discover any weapons of mass destruction that would validate the stated cause for the Iraq war, the sea change surges. Mainstream journalists once on board the Iraq attack, accepting it somehow as an extension of the “War on Terror” against al-Qaeda, are now writing grimly that we seem to have been misinformed by the administration. Newsweek, Time and U.S. News & World Report all simultaneously carry cover stories asking where are the terrifying WMDs? Staring out at Joe Public from the drug-store check-out counter, the headlines must be having some affect on public opinion; indeed, CNN reports that one-third of Americans polled now think that the administration misinformed (the polite term is “hyped”) them about Iraq’s terror threat to themselves. That number might grow, quickly. In Britain the journalism is more critical, and the mass reaction more indignant (40% think themselves misled), despite the wonted British reserve.

Meanwhile mainstream politicians are finally waking up, or at least feeling it politically safe to question the rationale for the war. (They are perhaps increasingly inclined to do so as the taste of glorious victory sours in their mouths. Iraqis, day after day, prove themselves rather hostile to their “liberation;” it becomes apparent that the occupation—if it is to realize the Rumsfeld-Wolfowitz objectives—will require far more troops, last longer, and be more costly than originally predicted.) Rep. Jane Harman of California, ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, says: “This [story about WMDs threatening the U.S.] could conceivably be the greatest intelligence hoax of all time.” Sen. Bob Graham of Florida, member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, states the lack of evidence for WMDs might indicate “the manipulation of that [Iraq] intelligence to keep the American people in the dark.” These committees both plan investigations. So does the Armed Service Committee in the Senate, headed by Republican Sen. John Warner. Ranking Republican senator Richard Lugar (Ind.), who heads the Foreign Relations Committee, and Sen. Joseph Biden (Del.), top Democrat on that committee, were both timidly critical of the Iraq war, and in its aftermath unhappy with the apparent disinformation that preceded it. Perhaps they will become more outspoken, especially if they smell blood and political advantage.

So far the critics present their censure mildly; they ask, “Was there an intelligence failure?” (As though the fault lies in screw-ups in the intelligence community.) Was the U.S. duped by opportunists in the Iraqi National Congress? (Useful scapegoat; let’s watch what happens with that one. You have to ask how the most sophisticated intelligence-gathering apparatus in the world could be so used by so discredited an organization. Or for that matter, since we’re on the subject, so embarrassed by a posited, unnamed African diplomat who lied to the U.S. about that Niger uranium-Saddam connection for personal gain. The message will be: Look, people lied to us. Forces of evil, lying to the good. We in our naïve goodness believed them. But did we, the good, make this up? No way! Ridiculous! How dare anyone suggest such a thing!)

In any case, should indignation lead to serious investigation, and investigation to exposure of conscious fraud, we could be talking impeachment. Two-thirds public approval today, Nixonian disgrace tomorrow. Eventually, as Sen. Robert Byrd told the Senate, “like it always does, the truth will emerge. And when it does, this house of cards, built of deceit, will fall.”

The intelligence community itself might well play a key role in that necessary fall. It seems that intelligence operatives in the U.S. and Britain are outraged and insulted by the lies surrounding the Iraq war. In a May 30 Reuters article, Vince Cannistraro, former chief of CIA counterterrorist operations, says he knows of CIA agents currently serving who complain that “fraudulent” evidence was used to justify the war on Iraq. A group of former CIA analysts has written Bush denouncing “a policy and intelligence fiasco of monumental proportions“. Patrick Lang, former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, which coordinates military intelligence, says the neocon cabal in Washington “cherry-picked the intelligence stream” in a bid to portray Iraq as an imminent threat, and that the DIA was “exploited and abused and bypassed in the process of making the case for war in Iraq based on the presence of WMD.” The U.S. News & World Report (a rather conservative publication which has no reason to make this up) tells us that the DIA issued a classified assessment of Iraq’s chemical weapons program last September, concluding “there is no reliable information on whether Iraq is producing and stockpiling chemical weapons.” But almost immediately thereafter Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld told Congress that Saddam had “amassed large, clandestine stockpiles of chemical weapons, including VX, sarin, cyclosarin, and mustard gas.”

I understand why some of the DIA guys would be annoyed by the brazenness of such official dishonesty. They went to all that trouble to find out the facts—and then their bosses said the facts just weren’t useable. “Go back and do it again.” Humiliating, to any self-respecting professional, you’d think. And then they created that oddly-titled “Office of Strategic Influence” (now Office of Special Plans) as if to say to the CIA and DIA guys, “You’re not good enough, or brave enough, or special enough, because you’re not dishonest enough to produce disinformation at the macro level we require in these heroic times.” (Maybe you don’t even love the smell of napalm in the morning.)

The Boston Globe (June 5) quotes a “US official long involved in intelligence” as stating “Within the [intelligence] community there were people showing their expertise and challenging a lot of this. Policymakers in the Bush administration, to the extent they were weighing in, were always on the side of ‘You’re not being aggressive enough.'” The New York Times reports (June 4) that an “unusual briefing” by Under Secretary of Defense for Policy (and key neocon) Douglas J. Feith, held to refute allegations that the Defense Department had “politicized intelligence” “baffled or angered” “some defense officials familiar with classified intelligence assessments on Iraq.” “One senior official, who said he was skeptical of Mr. Feith’s account, was too angry to answer immediately. Another official said simply, ‘There was a lot of doublespeak out there.'” When you have senior Defense Department officials enraged over official lying, you have a potential political problem, maybe even the basis for regime change.

Similarly, the intelligence agencies of the other major proponents of the war, Britain and Australia, are upset. Members of Britain’s MI6 have “strongly contested” claims originating with the U.S. Defense Department that there was any link between al-Qaeda and Iraq. John Reid, the Leader of the Commons, blames such contestation on “rogue elements in the intelligence community,” and asks why their word “should be believed against the word of the British Prime Minister.” Such statements must certainly boost the morale of the British intelligence community as a whole. In Australia, analysts at the Office of National Assessments thought “a decent chunk of the growing pile” of intelligence information “looked like rubbish.

U.S. News reports that when Colin Powell was given disinformation about Iraq’s imagined WMDs last February, by Vice-President Cheney’s chief of staff, neocon “Scooter” Libby, and asked to present it to the United Nations, he exploded. He tossed several pages into the air, declaring, “I’m not reading this. This is bullshit.” It’s being reported that both Colin Powell and his British counterpart Jack Straw had “serious doubts” about the rationale for the war, when they met and held discussions in the Waldorf Hotel in New York in early February. “Powell told Straw that he hoped the facts about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, when they came out, would not ‘blow up in their faces.'”. Powell reportedly said in that meeting that while he’d “moved in” to the Iraq war cause, he was concerned with the consequences (as of course he well should have been), knowing that Iraqis, like most people, wouldn’t like having their country invaded and devastated for no good honest reason.

He might have added that Americans might not in the long run support that invasion, especially when their kids get shot every day as a result. As Sen. Byrd put it last month: “When it comes to shedding American blood—when it comes to wrecking havoc on civilians, on innocent men, women, and children, callous dissembling is not acceptable. Nothing is worth that kind of lie—not oil, not revenge, not reelection, not somebody’s grand pipedream of a democratic domino theory.” Some in the spook community evidently agree.

Powell and Straw bear some responsibility for the crime of the war itself; they are deeply complicit, and one would hope, burdened by guilty consciences. (Honest confession can always alleviate those burdens.) Meanwhile, men and women of integrity in the intelligence profession, who knew the war was wrong and the product of “cooked” intelligence foisted on the American people and the world, may be guilty of the crime of silence, misguided by some notion of professional discipline which should, in my opinion, not apply in these exceptional circumstances. Those of you who have been quietly talking among yourselves, or raging inside yourselves against the evident dishonesty: please speak out now.

Spill the beans, or at least leak them. Do something positive for the world. Everybody needs a job, so I’m not suggesting resignation, necessarily. But you can help turn the tide against the neocons’ Straussian made-in-USA incipient fascism. Years from now, your kids might speak proudly of you.

GARY LEUPP is an an associate professor, Department of History, Tufts University and coordinator, Asian Studies Program.

He can be reached at: gleupp@tufts.edu


Gary Leupp is Emeritus Professor of History at Tufts University, and is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa JapanMale Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900 and coeditor of The Tokugawa World (Routledge, 2021). He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He can be reached at: gleupp@tufts.edu