For months and years, George Bush and Tony Blair built the case with certainty that Iraq is an evil power that possessed Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). The US and UK built the case that Saddam Hussain must be toppled if the world is to be safe. Then they attacked and pounded Iraq to rubbles. But after the war, numerous investigations found Saddam had no WMD. Bush and Blair had peddled lies to the world.
After the Iraq war the events and claims that led to the joint decision by America and Britain to launch the invasion came under a lot of scrutiny. The Chilcot Commission and the ISG investigation by the CIA, the two most comprehensive studies – the first one by reviewing all the available documents and the second one by sending 1,200 inspectors to Iraq– found that both George Bush and Tony Blair had misled their people and the world at large to embark on a war on the false pretext that Saddam had Weapons of Mass Destruction.
Now, the Centre for Public Integrity, a US non-profit investigative journalism organisation, has done a computer aided analysis and come up with interesting statistics about how much Bush and his top men had been lying about WMD. The falsehood they had resorted to is actually a confirmation of Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels’ favourite theory: if one keeps on telling a lie repeatedly, the lie ultimately appears to be the truth in public mind. Bush and his administration had taken the same route of planting the idea of Saddam’s WMD in the public mind to persuade the Senate and the Congress to accede to invade Iraq.
The Centre for Public Integrity has shown that Bush and seven of his administration’s top brass including vice president Dick Cheney, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld made at least 935 false statements in two years following the 9/11 attack on the Twin Towers.
On at least 532 occasions, Bush, these three officials along with secretary of state Colin Powell, deputy defence secretary Paul Wolfowitz and two White House press secretaries specifically claimed that Saddam had WMD and links to Al-Qaeda.
Bush himself made 232 false claims on WMD and 28 false statements on Al-Qaeda link. Some of his statements were so assertive that these led people to believe such authoritative voices cannot be false.
Powel made the second highest numbers of false statements. About WMD, he made 244 false statements and about al-Qaeda, he made 10 false statements.
White House press secretary during the invasion, Scott McClellan, in a memoir in 2008 wrote that in the fall of 2002, Bush and his White House were engaging in a “carefully orchestrated campaign to shift and manipulate sources of public approval to our advantage.”
For example, on August 28, 2002, Dick Cheney declared at the national convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars: “Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us.”
In September 2002, Bush, in his weekly radio address, said: “The Iraqi regime possesses biological and chemical weapons, is rebuilding the facilities to make more.”
Then he referred to the infamous sexed-up British report 45-minutes to doom and said, “According to the British government, (Iraq) could launch a biological or chemical attack in as little as 45 minutes after the order is given.”
Soon after the war was over, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, in June 2003, began a formal review of US intelligence on Iraq’s WMD, its ties with terrorist groups and Saddam’s threat to stability in the region.
It went through 65,000 pages of intelligence assessment and source reporting on WMD and interviewed more than 200 individuals including senior intelligence officials, defence officials, diplomats and former UN inspectors.
In conclusion, the committee said most of the intelligence claims of WMD were false. They were “either overstated, or were not supported by the underlying intelligence reporting.”
“The assessment that Iraq ‘is reconstituting its nuclear program’ was not supported by the intelligence provided to the Committee,” the report said.
Claims of Iraq’s chemical weapon programme were also false. Moreover, the intelligence agencies did not properly brief the policymakers about the weaknesses of the claims.
The committee’s vice chairman, Democratic senator Jay Rockefeller, went a step further to tell reporters a year later: “We in Congress would not have authorised that war, we would not have authorised that war with 75 votes, if we knew what we know now.”
Republican senator Pat Roberts who headed the committee said in 2004, “In the end what the president and the Congress used to send the country to war was information that was provided by the intelligence community and that information was flawed. Today we know these assessments were wrong.”
In fact, just as in Britain Downing Street sexed up the documents, so did the White House in America. The UK released its infamous doctored “45-minute dossier” in September 2002 and just a month later in October, CIA released its white paper on Iraqi WMD programmes. Both these reports were used to sway the public opinion in favour of Iraq invasion.
The timing of the CIA’s draft white paper coincides with the British government’s dossier on Iraqi WMD. The National Security Archive feels this coincidence demonstrates that “the Bush administration and the Tony Blair government began acting in concert to build support for an invasion of Iraq two to three months earlier than previously understood.”
Declassified Pentagon documents demonstrate that the CIA white paper was modified in ways that conformed to the desires of the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy and his office, in much the same way that British documents indicate that country’s white paper was changed to conform to the desires of the Blair government, the Archive maintained.
CIA director of that time, George Tenet, had later said intelligence was under pressure from the Bush administration to skew reports.
But an ex-CIA intelligence officer Larry Johnson, in an interview with CNN in 2007, said, although Tenet knew intelligence about WMD “was a problem,” he still went along with the Bush administration’s message to the American people that Iraq was a threat.
“In fall of 2002, he was told specifically that there was a high level source in Saddam’s government that was saying, ‘We don’t have WMD,’ ” Johnson said. “George Tenet’s hands are just as bloody as everybody else in this administration in helping gin up what was an unfounded case for war.”
The aforementioned “high level source” was no other than the Iraqi foreign minister Naji Sabri.
In 2007, Johnson and five other CIA senior officials issued an open letter that said: “CIA field operatives produced solid intelligence in September 2002 that stated clearly there was no stockpile of any kind of WMD in Iraq. This intelligence was ignored and later misused.”
Tenet, however, as a reward for his producing lies for the White House, later received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from George Bush.
The National Security Archives also makes it clear that there were two streams of data flowing into the CIA office — one from reliable sources like Iraqi foreign minister who worked as a spy and Iraqi scientists who said there was no WMD, and the other from unreliable sources and sources with self-interest such as Iraqi exiles and fabricated documents that said Saddam had a deal with Niger to buy uranium for his nuclear programme. As it transpires now, US intelligence used information from the second kind of unreliable sources than the more reliable sources like scientists and Sabri.
CIA, on the other hand, was under pressure of and closely watched by the White House to include fake information on Saddam. For example, vice president Dick Cheney and his most senior aide made multiple visits to CIA to question analysts on WMD and al-Qaeda links.
There were also a lot of assumptions involved in intelligence assessment – assumptions that Saddam was hiding his WMD programme which is why nobody could find his weapons. Such blind assumptions also shaped intelligence on Iraq.
The National Security Archive after reviewing declassified documents said in 2008 that Cheney questioned his CIA briefers aggressively, “pressing them to the wall when he saw intelligence from other agencies that portrayed a more somber picture than that in CIA’s reporting.”
He sent briefers back for more information and when the CIA came back with same kind of information, Cheney would become aggressive on CIA’s rejection of claims that one of the 9/11 terrorists had met with Iraqi intelligence officers in Prague.
“On a number of occasions, Cheney sent his chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby, to CIA headquarters to follow up on his concerns. Mr. Cheney went there himself, not just once but on almost a dozen occasions,” the National Security Archive mentioned.
Defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s Pentagon office worked closely with Dick Cheney’s office to gather claims from Dubious Iraqi sources about WMD and pressed the intelligence agencies to include them in their reports.
“Under Paul Wolfowitz, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, and the undersecretary for policy, Douglas Feith, the Pentagon formed a special group to review reports on Saddam’s links to Al Qaeda. This unit, the Policy Counterterrorism Evaluation Group (PCTEG) has been represented by Feith as merely charged with assembling a briefing on terrorism, but its real function was to bring additional pressure to bear on the CIA,” the national archive reveals.
What we have talked about so far is direct and visible manipulation of intelligence. There had been behind the scene operation as well to taylor reports to the White House’s desire. These include firing of CIA officials who refused to clear texts in officials’ speeches that contained unsubstantiated extreme allegations against different countries.
Such operation continued when the Iraq invasion was in full preparation and aimed at offices which played a central role in producing Iraq intelligence.
The Bureau of Intelligence and Research at the Department of State, the National Intelligence Council (NIC) and the Weapons Intelligence, Proliferation and Arms Control (WINPAC) center at CIA were the main targets of such intimidation.
“Analysts working on Iraq intelligence could not be blamed for concluding that their own careers might be in jeopardy if they supplied answers other than what the Bush administration wanted to hear,” the National Security Archive said.
Not only did the White House manipulate intelligence report, it also tried to manipulate investigation intoa intelligence failure after the war.