Ray McGovern, who served in all four directorates of the CIA, mostly as an analyst, is now an activist and political commentator. He works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour, and is a member of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS). Yesterday he was in touch with me regarding some background to the story of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi (whose death I reported here, in the first of several articles examining the significance of a lie he produced under torture that was used by the Bush administration to justify the invasion of Iraq) for use in an article he was writing about the willful manipulation of intelligence in the run-up to the war, which has now been published at Consortium News.
Of particular interest are new comments by Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell’s chief of staff, who wrote an excellent blog post last week in which he stated that the Bush administration’s “principal priority for intelligence was not aimed at pre-empting another terrorist attack on the US but discovering a smoking gun linking Iraq and al-Qaeda.” In an email exchange with McGovern, Col. Wilkerson explained exactly what happened in the days before the Secretary of State’s notorious UN Security Council presentation on February 5, 2003, in which he attempted to drum up support for the impending invasion of Iraq by presenting examples of the dangers posed by Saddam Hussein. These included a claim that al-Qaeda operatives had been meeting the Iraqi leader to discuss the use of chemical and biological weapons, which, as we now know, was a lie produced by al-Libi in a torture dungeon in Egypt, where he had been sent by the CIA.
Col. Wilkerson expands on the CIA’s crucial “torture” briefing
Describing what happened on February 1, 2003, four days before the presentation, McGovern writes that Col. Wilkerson explained to him,
Powell and I had a one-on-one — no one else even in the room — about his angst over what was a rather dull recounting of several old stories about al-Qaeda-Baghdad ties [in the draft speech]. I agreed with him that what we had was bulls*it, and Powell decided to eliminate all mention of terrorist contacts between AQ and Baghdad. Within an hour, [CIA Director George] Tenet and [CIA Deputy Director John] McLaughlin dropped a bombshell on the table in the [CIA] Director’s Conference Room: a high-level AQ detainee had just revealed under interrogation substantive contacts between AQ and Baghdad, including Iraqis training AQ operatives in the use of chemical and biological weapons.
Col. Wilkerson explained that Tenet and McLaughlin wouldn’t give Powell the identity of the source (and added that he only later learned that it was al-Libi, that the information had been extracted through the use of torture, that it had first been extracted over a year before, and that it had been disputed at the time by a Defense Intelligence Agency report), but he went on to note that Powell, who did not know that the new intelligence was tainted, “changed his mind and this information was included in his UNSC presentation, along with some more general information … about Baghdad’s terrorist tendencies.”
As you can see, nowhere were we told that the high-level AQ operative had a name, or that he had been interrogated [in Egypt] with no US personnel present or much earlier rather than just recently (the clear implication of Tenet’s breathtaking delivery). And not a single dissent was mentioned (later we learned of the DIA dissent) … All of this was hidden from us — the specific identity, we were informed, due to the desire to protect sources and methods as well as a cooperative foreign intelligence service … As for me in particular, I learned the identity of al-Libi only in 2004 and of the DIA dissent about the same time, of al-Libi’s recanting slightly later, and of the entire affair’s probably being a Tenet-McLaughlin fabrication — to at least a certain extent — only after I began to put some things together and to receive reinforcement of the “fabrication” theme from other examples.
Powell and Wilkerson are isolated by Cheney, Rumsfeld and the CIA
To establish more information about the context in which George Tenet and John McLaughlin delivered the “bombshell” to Colin Powell, McGovern asked him, “Were there no others from the State Department with you at CIA headquarters on Feb. 1, 2003? Was INR [The Bureau of Intelligence and Research, the State Department’s very professional, incorruptible intelligence unit] not represented?”
This was Col. Wilkerson’s response:
When I gathered “my team” — some were selected for me, such as Will Toby from Bob Joseph’s NSC [National Security Council] staff and John Hanna from the VP’s office — in my office at State to give them an initial briefing and marching orders, I asked Carl [Ford, head of INR] to attend. I wanted Carl — or even more so, one of his deputies whom I knew well and trusted completely, Tom Fingar — to be on “my team.” Carl stayed after the meeting and I asked him straightforwardly to come with me or to send someone from INR. Carl said that he did not need to come nor to send anyone because he had the Secretary’s ear (he was right on that) and could weigh in at any time he wanted to. Moreover, he told me, the Secretary knew very well where INR stood, as did I myself (he was right on that too). As I look back, I believe one of my gravest errors was in not insisting that INR send someone with me.
Fascinating and completely puzzling at first was the total absence of a Department of Defense representative on my team; however, after 3-4 days and nights I figured out … DoD was covering its own butt, to an extent, by having no direct fingerprints on the affair — and being directly wired into Cheney’s office, Rumsfeld’s folks knew they were protected by Toby and Hanna.
When we all arrived at CIA, we were given the NIC [National Intelligence Council] spaces and staff. [But] I could not even get on a computer! Protests to Tenet and McLaughlin got me perfunctory CIA-blah blah about security clearances, etc. — and me with 7 days and nights to prepare a monumentally important presentation! … [It took] 24 hours before George or John acknowledged I could be on a computer … From there on, it was a madhouse. But at the end of the day, had I had an INR rep, had I had better support, had I been more concerned with WHAT I was assembling rather than HOW on earth I would assemble it and present it on time, I’m not sure at all it would have made any difference in the march to war.
This is valuable material, shedding new light on how George Tenet and John McLaughlin, the CIA’s Director and Deputy Director, manipulated and isolated Colin Powell and Col. Wilkerson in the run-up to the invasion, and I find it particularly interesting how Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld maintained a deliberate distance from the whole affair, with Cheney hidden behind his representative John Hanna, and Rumsfeld not even represented at all, hiding behind Cheney, and “covering [the Defense Department’s] butt.”
McGovern and Wilkerson are also good on other examples of false intelligence used to justify the invasion. Expanding on the “other examples” that persuaded him that “the entire affair” was probably “a Tenet-McLaughlin fabrication — to at least a certain extent,” Wilkerson mentioned Curveball, the supposed Iraqi “defector,” who supplied false intelligence about mobile labs for making biological and chemical weapons, “and various Iraqi walk-ins who spun bogus stories about an Iraqi nuclear weapons program,” also certainly “after being recruited by the pro-invasion exiles of the Iraqi National Congress.”
McGovern goes on to note,
Mention of Carl Ford and Tenet and McLaughlin reminds me of another episode that has gone down in the annals of intelligence as almost equally contemptible. This one had to do with CIA’s furious attempt to prove there were mobile biological weapons labs of the kind Curveball had described. Remember, Tenet and McLaughlin had been warned about Curveball long before they let then-Secretary of State Powell shame himself, and the rest of us, by peddling Curveball’s wares at the UN Security Council on Feb. 5, 2003.
But the amateur attempts at deception did not stop there. After the war began, CIA intrepid analysts, still “leaning forward,” misrepresented a tractor-trailer found in Iraq outfitted with industrial equipment as one of the mobile bio-labs. On May 28, 2003, CIA analysts cooked up a fraudulent six-page report claiming that the trailer discovered earlier in May was proof they had been right about Iraq’s “bio-weapons labs.” They then performed what could be called a “night-time requisition,” getting the only Defense Intelligence Agency analyst sympathetic to their position to provide DIA “coordination,” (which was subsequently withdrawn by DIA).
On May 29, President George W. Bush, visiting Poland, proudly announced on Polish TV, “We have found the weapons of mass destruction.” When the State Department’s Intelligence and Research (INR) analysts realized that this was not some kind of Polish joke, they “went ballistic,” according to Carl Ford, who immediately warned Powell there was a problem. Tenet must have learned of this quickly, for he called Ford on the carpet, literally, the following day. No shrinking violet, Ford held his ground. He told Tenet and McLaughlin, “That report is one of the worst intelligence assessments I’ve ever read.”
As McGovern also explains, “This vignette — and several like it — are found in Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War by Michael Isikoff and David Corn, who say Ford is still angry over the fraudulent paper. Ford told the authors: ‘It was clear that they [Tenet and McLaughlin] had been personally involved in the preparation of the report … It wasn’t just that it was wrong. They lied.’”
He concludes, “Too bad Carl Ford made the incorrect assumption that he could rely on his credibility and entrée with Secretary Powell to thwart the likes of Tenet and McLaughlin, as they peddled their meretricious wares at CIA headquarters — with Col. Wilkerson left to twist in the wind, so to speak.”
My thanks to Ray McGovern and Col. Wilkerson for helping to keep alive the most important story of our times — how Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and other senior figures within the Bush administration used torture to justify an illegal war.
Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed, and also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009.
For an update on the al-Libi story, see: WORLD EXCLUSIVE: New Revelations About The Torture Of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi.
Well, that explains a lot.
I’m thinking of Barbra Streisand as Fanny Brice in Funny Girl in the scene after Nicky Arnstein gets arrested. Still in a baby doll costume from her stage show she absorbs the terrible news, puts her performance face back on and declares to the hungry waiting press, “My dope was a dupe!”
[…] Lawrence Wilkerson Nails Cheney’s Iraq Lies Again (And Rumsfeld And The CIA) […]
Congress is fooling the American people when it makes a big issue of investigating a few side issues of our invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan. It should be investigating the REAL issue: How and why we invaded Iraq in the first place. For an answer, read Reagan`s 1983 NSDD 114: U.S. Policy Toward the Iran-Iraq War. (Declassified formerly Top Secret).
Writer, campaigner, investigative journalist and commentator. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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