FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

WMD Commission: Yet Another Intelligence Failure

New York City

The “Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction” has done reasonably well what it was created to do. Unfortunately, it was created to provide political cover for the Bush administration in the middle of a scandal that dwarfs Watergate, Iran-contra, and even Lewinsky-gate, but that, in contrast to those events, has led to no in-depth investigation, minimal television coverage, and hardly any calls for the heads responsible to roll.

Think back to late January 2004 and the preliminary report of the Iraq Survey Group, which concluded that no weapons of mass destruction had been found in Iraq. This came on top of what was by then a mounting wave of revelations that the Bush administration had repeatedly and deliberately deceived the American public — and attempted to deceive the world — about the evidence it claimed to have regarding Iraq’s WMD.

Post-war, those revelations started with Joseph Wilson’s account that, acting for the Bush administration, he had debunked the claims that Iraq was buying uranium from Niger. It included the British government’s apology for its “dodgy dossier,” in which it plagiarized 12-year-old information from a graduate student’s paper and passed it off as current intelligence, and the revelation that Tony Blair’s claim that Iraq could deploy its nonexistent chemical and biological weapons in 45 minutes was known to based on a single uncorroborated statement by an untrustworthy defector. It included a comprehensive accounting in the Washington Post showing that Iraq was not and could not have been using its famous aluminum tubes for uranium enrichment. It also included a comprehensive debunking in the Associated Press of virtually every element of Colin Powell’s February 5, 2003, presentation to the U.N. Security Council. It even included a description of the role of Cheney, Rumsfeld, and their Office of Special Plans in pressuring the CIA, distorting their conclusions, and even setting them aside in order to create the most urgent and compelling justification for war.

This wave, and the wave of political discontent with the Bush administration, crested when David Kay’s report came out. Yet, within days of its issuance, the administration, with the help of prominent Democrats like Jane Harman on the House Intelligence Committee, had already spun the issue around from administration deception to something called “intelligence failures,” shifting blame from the coterie of top officials who had lied us into a war to the intelligence agencies had been pressured to come up with those lies. The creation of this commission was the final step in the process, and helped to head off any chance of a serious investigation into those lies.

Instead of impeachment proceedings for Bush, we saw a very skillful bureaucratic maneuver that killed two birds with one stone — deflection of attention and also an attack on the CIA, seen as an institutional obstacle to implementation of the Cheney-Rumsfeld-neoconservative foreign policy agenda. The check provided by the CIA is a pragmatic, not a moral one, but if heeded might have kept the administration out of embarrassing adventures like support for the military coup attempt in Venezuela and perhaps even out of the more than two-year-long occupation of Iraq.

Although the commission was specifically not tasked with considering the administration’s use of intelligence, it still went out of its way to opine that political pressure from the administration played no part in the “intelligence failures,” because “The analysts who worked Iraqi
weapons issues universally agreed that in no instance did political pressure
cause them to skew or alter any of their analytical judgments.” Of course, not only would such an admission be tantamount to saying one didn’t do one’s job properly, in the current political climate intelligence analysts had to know that they would be punished for any such claim.

Similarly, the commission reserves particularly harsh criticism for the way the President’s Daily Brief is prepared, characterizing them as “more alarmist and less nuanced” than longer reports like the famously flawed October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (heavily worked over by the Office of Special Plans). Their “attention-grabbing headlines and drumbeat
of repetition” supposedly gave top officials the impression that dramatic claims were much better sourced and heavily corroborated than, in fact, they were.

The commission is clearly trying to imply that some sort of scaremongering from the intelligence community stampeded the administration into war. And yet, there is no mention of another “attention-grabbing headline” from the August 6, 2001 PDB — “Bin Laden Determined to Attack in US.” To the uninitiated, this might well seem alarming, yet it didn’t grab enough attention for Bush to cut short his vacation at Crawford or to bring back other top officials to Washington DC. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that the administration got “alarmed” by claims that supported its pre-existing plans, like the invasion of Iraq, but couldn’t be bothered by claims that had little to do with an imperial agenda, but, of course, the commission escapes it with ease.

Much of what the commission concludes about the shortcomings of the intelligence community is true and recapitulates what thoughtful critics on the inside like Richard Clarke and Michael Scheuer have been saying. In a sense, it is the fault not so much of the commission but of the Bush administration that created it as a diversion and of political figures from across the spectrum who allowed themselves to be diverted.

The most alarming thing about the report is that the sections on intelligence regarding Iran and North Korea have been kept classified. The justification given is that there’s no reason for the U.S. government to tip its hand to the remaining members of Bush’s “axis of evil.” But, given the administration’s saber-rattling and consideration of regime change attempts in both countries, the public’s right to know is a far more compelling consideration. If the slightest move is made toward any military aggression against Iran (the more likely scenario of the two), the first thing we should demand is declassification of those pages.

After that, perhaps we can take up that question of impeachment again.

RAHUL MAHAJAN is publisher of the weblog Empire Notes, with regularly updated commentary on U.S. foreign policy, the occupation of Iraq, and the state of the American Empire. He has been to occupied Iraq twice, and was in Fallujah during the siege in April. His most recent book is Full Spectrum Dominance: U.S. Power in Iraq and Beyond. He can be reached at rahul@empirenotes.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

More articles by:

Weekend Edition
December 14, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
A Tale of Two Cities
Peter Linebaugh
The Significance of The Common Wind
Bruce E. Levine
The Ketamine Chorus: NYT Trumpets New Anti-Suicide Drug
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Fathers and Sons, Bushes and Bin Ladens
Kathy Deacon
Coffee, Social Stratification and the Retail Sector in a Small Maritime Village
Nick Pemberton
Praise For America’s Second Leading Intellectual
Robert Hunziker
The Yellow Vest Insurgency – What’s Next?
Patrick Cockburn
The Yemeni Dead: Six Times Higher Than Previously Reported
Nick Alexandrov
George H. W. Bush: Another Eulogy
Brian Cloughley
Principles and Morality Versus Cash and Profit? No Contest
Michael Duggin
Climate Change and the Limits of Reason
Victor Grossman
Sighs of Relief in Germany
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Robert Fantina
What Does Beto Have Against the Palestinians?
Richard Falk – Daniel Falcone
Sartre, Said, Chomsky and the Meaning of the Public Intellectual
Andrew Glikson
Crimes Against the Earth
Robert Fisk
The Parasitic Relationship Between Power and the American Media
Stephen Cooper
When Will Journalism Grapple With the Ethics of Interviewing Mentally Ill Arrestees?
Jill Richardson
A War on Science, Morals and Law
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Evaggelos Vallianatos
It’s Not Easy Being Greek
Nomi Prins 
The Inequality Gap on a Planet Growing More Extreme
John W. Whitehead
Know Your Rights or You Will Lose Them
David Swanson
The Abolition of War Requires New Thoughts, Words, and Actions
J.P. Linstroth
Primates Are Us
Bill Willers
The War Against Cash
Jonah Raskin
Doris Lessing: What’s There to Celebrate?
Ralph Nader
Are the New Congressional Progressives Real? Use These Yardsticks to Find Out
Binoy Kampmark
William Blum: Anti-Imperial Advocate
Medea Benjamin – Alice Slater
Green New Deal Advocates Should Address Militarism
John Feffer
Review: Season 2 of Trump Presidency
Rich Whitney
General Motors’ Factories Should Not Be Closed. They Should Be Turned Over to the Workers
Christopher Brauchli
Deported for Christmas
Kerri Kennedy
This Holiday Season, I’m Standing With Migrants
Mel Gurtov
Weaponizing Humanitarian Aid
Thomas Knapp
Lame Duck Shutdown Theater Time: Pride Goeth Before a Wall?
George Wuerthner
The Thrill Bike Threat to the Elkhorn Mountains
Nyla Ali Khan
A Woman’s Selfhood and Her Ability to Act in the Public Domain: Resilience of Nadia Murad
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
On the Killing of an Ash Tree
Graham Peebles
Britain’s Homeless Crisis
Louis Proyect
America: a Breeding Ground for Maladjustment
Steve Carlson
A Hell of a Time
Dan Corjescu
America and The Last Ship
Jeffrey St. Clair
Booked Up: the 25 Best Books of 2018
David Yearsley
Bikini by Rita, Voice by Anita
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail