Saturday, October 21, 2006

The War on Democracy

In “Meet the Press” three days after 9/11, a grim-faced US Vice President Dick Cheney issued an ominous warning: “We've got to spend time in the shadows. We have to work toward the dark side, if you will. A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion, using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies.” The vice president became the chief architect of the new war on terror. He designed new laws enhancing executive power, institution strong action in the US and abroad, and above all instituted a regime of secrecy.

The CIA knew immediately that Osama Bin Laden’s Al Qaeda organisation was responsible for the 9/11 attacks. George Tenet was the CIA director at the time. He was a holdover from the Clinton administration and distrusted by Cheney and his close confidante Donald Rumsfeld, the Defence Secretary. Rumsfeld had wanted to finger Hussein for 9/11 but the facts did not support his assertion. Cheney and Rumsfeld had worked together since the Ford administration and also in the elder Bush presidency. They distrusted the CIA since it failed to pick Iraqi nuclear activity prior to the first Gulf War. But Tenet was allowed to run with the immediate response to 9/11 and he prepared the invasion of Afghanistan and the overthrow of the Taliban. The CIA bought off the Northern Alliance and the military were brought in a month later. By now Rumsfeld and the Pentagon had assumed control of the operation. By mid-November Kabul had fallen. The CIA wanted to take on Al Qaeda across the world.

Cheney and Rumsfeld started to set up their own intelligence networks in the Pentagon. They discovered a story that Mohammed Atta, the leader of the 9/11 attacks had allegedly met Iraqi agents in Prague. Cheney announced this to the world as a fact in December 2001. However Atta was in Florida at the time of supposed meeting. Cheney continued to spread the rumour of the Prague – Atta link for the next two years. His case is strengthened by information from the captured Sheikh al Libi (no relation to Scooter Libby). Libi admits under torture that Saddam Hussein provided training in chemical weapons to al Qaeda. By August 2002, Cheney was selling the idea that Iraq had Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs). Congress would have to vote for the war based on Cheney’s information. Tenet was brought in to do a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq for Congress. A process that ordinarily takes months or years would be reduced to just over two weeks. Cheney was determined to control the content of the NIE. He and his chief of staff, Scooter Libby, had made about 10 trips to CIA headquarters, where they personally questioned analysts.

In September the New York Times published outdated information from 1990 "Iraq has sought to buy thousands of specially designed aluminium tubes, which American officials believe were intended as components of centrifuges to enrich uranium." The NIE was kept in a locked room where Congress could read it, but few did. In mid-October, they voted overwhelmingly in favour of the Iraqi war resolution. A declassified version of the NIE, known as the "white paper" was prepared by the CIA and released three days later. It was a glossy advocacy piece designed to strengthen support for the war. Bush quoted the NIE in the 2003 State of the Union speech “Saddam Hussein has gone to elaborate lengths, spent enormous sums, taken great risks to build and keep weapons of mass destruction”. A controversial assertion that Saddam was buying nuclear material would become known as "the 16 words”. They were: “the British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa”.

One of the chief arguments the Bush administration used to justify the invasion was that Iraq was "reconstituting its nuclear weapons programs." They claimed that Iraq attempted to obtain processed uranium from Africa, and that it attempted to acquire specialized aluminium tubes to enrich that uranium. Bush included both of these allegations in his State of the Union speech advocating war. However the African connection was already known to be untrue. In 2002, the CIA sent diplomat and African expert Joseph Wilson to Niger. His brief was to find out if Iraq bought or attempted to buy “yellowcake” from Niger. Yellowcake is uranium concentrates obtained from leach solutions. It is mainly used in the preparation of fuel for nuclear reactors, where it is processed into purified Uranium dioxide for use in fuel rods. However it can also be enriched for use in nuclear weapons. Wilson spent eight days talking to Niger’s uranium officials. He found no evidence that Niger and Iraq had done business on yellowcake.

As a result, The State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) sent a memorandum in March 2002 to Secretary of State Colin Powell stating that claims regarding Iraqi attempts to obtain uranium from Niger were not credible. Nonetheless the allegation was included in the NIE and the State of the Union. After the address, the administration stepped up the allegations until IAEA Director General Mohamed El-Baradei emphatically told the UN Security Council that the documents allegedly detailing uranium transactions between Iraq and Niger are "not authentic" and "these specific allegations are unfounded." One week before the invasion, Powell acknowledged that the documents concerning the alleged Iraq-Niger uranium deal might be false.

I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby was a presidential adviser and former Chief of Staff and assistant for National Security Affairs to vice-president Cheney. It was Libby who pushed Cheney to publicly argue that Saddam Hussein had ties to al Qaeda and 9/11. He wrote the speech for Colin Powell’s February 2003 address to the UN. There was strong doubt over information in Powell’s speech from the NIE: "Baghdad has mobile facilities for producing bacterial and toxin BW agents. These facilities can evade detection and are highly survivable." The source for this information was an Iraqi code-named "Curveball." His story had been given to the American intelligence network by the Germans, but they could not verify the accuracy of his claims. Powell was not told that there had been warnings from the Germans that Curveball was an undependable alcoholic. Powell used information from Sheik al Libi, who was rendered and tortured in Egypt, about Iraq providing training to Al Qaeda. Libi had made it up. The US invaded in March and found no WMDs.

On July 6, 2003 Joseph Wilson went public and wrote an article “What I didn’t find in Africa” for the New York Times. His second sentence was damning: “Based on my experience with the administration in the months leading up to the war, I have little choice but to conclude that some of the intelligence related to Iraq's nuclear weapons program was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat”. Cheney was furious. He wrote “Did his wife send him on a junket?” The administration hit back. It leaked a rumour to the Washington press that Wilson's wife Valerie had arranged his trip to Niger. Washington Post journalist Robert Novak disclosed that Valerie Wilson was working as an undercover CIA agent under her maiden name, Plame. Whoever disclosed her name to Novak was guilty of a crime under US law. US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald investigated the matter. Joseph Wilson, buoyed by public outrage and Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, announced that he would not rest until the Bush spin doctor Karl Rove was arrested. Wilson suspected him of the leak because Rove was a friend of Novak. It has since been revealed that former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage was the one who first mentioned Valerie Wilson's name to Novak. Scooter Libby had told the New York Times’s Judith Miller.

Prosecutor Fitzgerald indicted Libby in October 2005 on five counts of criminal charges. He immediately resigned his government position and pleaded not guilty at his arraignment. Judge Walton set a trial date for January 2007. It was Libby - along with Paul Wolfowitz and a handful of other top aides at the Pentagon and White House - who convinced the president that the U.S. should go to war in Iraq. Despite Libby’s indictment, Cheney got everything he wanted for out of the CIA. Tenet resigned in June 2004, and kept his mouth shut. The CIA’s power is now with Cheney’s team in the Pentagon.

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