FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Powell’s UN Fiasco

Former CIA Analyst

Yesterday was a difficult day for Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity. It was hard to celebrate the fifth anniversary of our first corporate memorandum, a same-day critique of Colin Powell’s Feb. 5, 2002 UN address, when we could not escape the reality that this speech greased the skids for death and destruction in Iraq and brought unprecedented shame on our country. We found no solace in the realization that those who saw our analysis should have seen disaster coming.

A handful of former CIA intelligence officers joined me in forming the VIPS movement in Jan. 2002, after we concluded that our profession had been corrupted to “justify” what was, pure and simple, a war of aggression. Little did we know at the time that a month later Colin Powell, with then-CIA Director George Tenet plumped down conspicuously behind him, would provide the world with a textbook example of careerism and cowardice in cooking intelligence to the recipe of his master.
Powell’s Prior Practice

It was hardly Powell’s first display of such behavior.

Those able to look past the medals and ribbons have been able to trace a pattern of malleability back to Powell’s early days as a young Army officer in Vietnam, and then in the 1980s as an Iran-Contra accomplice together with his boss Casper Weinberger, then secretary of defense. Weinberger was indicted for perjury but escaped trial when pardoned by George H. W. Bush on Christmas Eve 1992. [See Chapter 8 of Robert Parry’s new book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, for more on Powell’s proclivity to pander.]

A year before his UN speech Powell winked at the introduction of torture into the Army’s repertoire, rather than confront President George W. Bush personally on the pressure that Vice President Dick Cheney was exerting to conjure up legal wiggle-room for torture. Instead, Powell merely asked State Department lawyers to engage White House lawyers Alberto Gonzales and Cheney-favorite David Addington, in what Powell knew would be-absent his personal involvement- a quixotic effort.

Powell’s lawyers put in writing his concern that making an end-run around the Geneva protections for prisoners of war “could undermine U.S. military culture which emphasizes maintaining the highest standards of conduct in combat, and could introduce an element of uncertainty in the status of adversaries.” Well, he got that right.

But when Gonzales and Addington simply declared parts of Geneva “quaint” and “obsolete,” Powell caved, acquiescing in the corruption of the Army to which he owed so much. We know the next chapters of that story-Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. Powell’s instincts were right, but he lacked the strength of his convictions. It turns out that this key instance of abject obeisance-important as it was in its own right-was just practice for the super bowl at the UN.
VIPS’ Maiden Effort

When those of us in our fledgling VIPS movement learned that Powell would address the UN on Feb. 5, 2003, we decided to do a same-day analytic assessment-the kind we used to do when someone like Khrushchev, or Gorbachev, or Gromyko, or Mao Tse-dung, or Castro gave a major address. We were well accustomed to the imperative to beat the media with our commentary. Coordinating our Powell draft via email, at 5:15 p.m. we issued VIPS’ first Memorandum for the President: “Subject: Today’s Speech by Secretary Powell at the UN.”

Our understanding at that time was far from perfect. It was not yet completely clear to us, for example, that Saddam Hussein had for the most part been abiding by, rather than flouting, UN resolutions. We stressed, though, that the key question was whether any of this justified war:

“This is the question the world is asking. Secretary Powell’s presentation does not come close to answering it.”

We warned the president of the “politicization of intelligence” and the deep analytical flaws that inevitably follow, for example:

“Intelligence community analysts are finding it hard to make themselves heard above the drumbeat for war…”

“Your Pentagon advisers draw a connection between war with Iraq and terrorism, but for the wrong reasons. The connection takes on much more reality in a post-US invasion scenario. (bold in original) Indeed, it is our view that an invasion of Iraq would ensure overflowing recruitment centers for terrorists into the indefinite future. Far from eliminating the threat it would enhance it exponentially.”

Dissociating VIPS from Powell’s bravado claim that the evidence he presented was “irrefutable,” we noted that no one has a corner on the truth and ended our memo for President Bush with this observation:

“…after watching Secretary Powell today, we are convinced you would be well served if you widened the discussion beyond violations of Resolution 1441, and beyond the circle of those advisers clearly bent on a war for which we see no compelling reason and from which we believe the unintended consequences are likely to be catastrophic.”

Senator Clinton Knew

Five years later, we take no pleasure at having been right; we take considerable pain at having been ignored. The impending debacle was a no-brainer, and serious specialists like former UN inspector Scott Ritter, to his credit, were shouting it from the rooftops.

What follows is more than a mere footnote. It is not widely known that our Feb. 5, 2003 memorandum analyzing Powell’s speech was shared with the junior senator from New York. Thus, she still had plenty of time to raise her voice before the Bush administration launched the fateful attack on Iraq on March 19.

RAY McGOVERN was a CIA analyst from 1963 to 1990 and Robert Gates’ branch chief in the early 1970s. McGovern now serves on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS). He is a contributor to Imperial Crusades, edited by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair. He can be reached at: rrmcgovern@aol.com

VIPS’ issuances are listed below; complete texts of all 16 can be found at afterdowningstreet.org/vips.

 

Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity Issuances

 

1 Memorandum for the President, February 5, 2003
“Secretary Powell’s Presentation to the UN Today”

2 Memorandum for Confused Americans, March 12, 2003
“Cooking Intelligence for War”

3 Memorandum for the President, March 18, 2003
“Forgery, Hyperbole, Half-Truth: A Problem”

4 Memorandum, March 26, 2003
“Arafat Interviewed by the Christisons on Current Impasse”

5 Memorandum, April 24, 2003
“The Stakes in the Search for Weapons of Mass Destruction”

6 Memorandum for the President, May 1, 2003
“Intelligence Fiasco”

7 Letter to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, May 19, 2003
“On UN Inspectors and Weapons of Mass Destruction”

8 Memorandum for the President, July 14, 2003
“Intelligence Unglued”

9 Memorandum for Colleagues in Intelligence, August 22, 2003
“Now It’s Your Turn”

10 Memorandum for Colleagues in Intelligence, October 13, 2003
“One Person Can Make a Difference”

11 Memorandum for the President, January 13, 2004
“Your State-of-the-Union Address”

12 Memorandum for the President, August 24, 2005
“Recommendation: Try A Circle of ‘Wise Women'”

13 Memorandum for Speaker of the House, Senate Majority Leader
“Denouement on Iraq: First Stop the Bleeding, March 14, 2007

14 Memorandum, March 29, 2007
“Brinkmanship Unwise in Uncharted Waters”

15 Memorandum, June 17, 2007
“Countering Terrorism-How Not to Do It”

16 Memorandum, July 27, 2007
“Dangers of a Cornered George Bush”
———————————————————–
An earlier version of this article appeared yesterday at Consortiumnews.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

More articles by:

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: rrmcgovern@gmail.com. A version of this article first appeared on Consortiumnews.com.  

Weekend Edition
June 22, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Karl Grossman
Star Wars Redux: Trump’s Space Force
Andrew Levine
Strange Bedfellows
Jeffrey St. Clair
Intolerable Opinions in an Intolerant Time
Paul Street
None of Us are Free, One of Us is Chained
Edward Curtin
Slow Suicide and the Abandonment of the World
Celina Stien-della Croce
The ‘Soft Coup’ and the Attack on the Brazilian People 
James Bovard
Pro-War Media Deserve Slamming, Not Sainthood
Louisa Willcox
My Friend Margot Kidder: Sharing a Love of Dogs, the Wild, and Speaking Truth to Power
David Rosen
Trump’s War on Sex
Mir Alikhan
Trump, North Korea, and the Death of IR Theory
Christopher Jones
Neoliberalism, Pipelines, and Canadian Political Economy
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Why is Tariq Ramadan Imprisoned?
Robert Fantina
MAGA, Trump Style
Linn Washington Jr.
Justice System Abuses Mothers with No Apologies
Martha Rosenberg
Questions About a Popular Antibiotic Class
Ida Audeh
A Watershed Moment in Palestinian History: Interview with Jamal Juma’
Edward Hunt
The Afghan War is Killing More People Than Ever
Geoff Dutton
Electrocuting Oral Tradition
Don Fitz
When Cuban Polyclinics Were Born
Ramzy Baroud
End the Wars to Halt the Refugee Crisis
Ralph Nader
The Unsurpassed Power trip by an Insuperable Control Freak
Lara Merling
The Pain of Puerto Ricans is a Profit Source for Creditors
James Jordan
Struggle and Defiance at Colombia’s Feast of Pestilence
Tamara Pearson
Indifference to a Hellish World
Kathy Kelly
Hungering for Nuclear Disarmament
Jessicah Pierre
Celebrating the End of Slavery, With One Big Asterisk
Rohullah Naderi
The Ever-Shrinking Space for Hazara Ethnic Group
Binoy Kampmark
Leaving the UN Human Rights Council
Nomi Prins 
How Trump’s Trade Wars Could Lead to a Great Depression
Robert Fisk
Can Former Lebanese MP Mustafa Alloush Turn Even the Coldest of Middle Eastern Sceptics into an Optimist?
Franklin Lamb
Could “Tough Love” Salvage Lebanon?
George Ochenski
Why Wild Horse Island is Still Wild
Ann Garrison
Nikki Haley: Damn the UNHRC and the Rest of You Too
Jonah Raskin
What’s Hippie Food? A Culinary Quest for the Real Deal
Raouf Halaby
Give It Up, Ya Mahmoud
Brian Wakamo
We Subsidize the Wrong Kind of Agriculture
Patrick Higgins
Children in Cages Create Glimmers of the Moral Reserve
Patrick Bobilin
What Does Optimism Look Like Now?
Don Qaswa
A Reduction of Economic Warfare and Bombing Might Help 
Robin Carver
Why We Still Need Pride Parades
Jill Richardson
Immigrant Kids are Suffering From Trauma That Will Last for Years
Thomas Mountain
USA’s “Soft” Coup in Ethiopia?
Jim Hightower
Big Oil’s Man in Foreign Policy
Louis Proyect
Civilization and Its Absence
David Yearsley
Midsummer Music Even the Nazis Couldn’t Stamp Out
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail