You have said you regret the "blot" on your record caused by your
parroting spurious intelligence at the U.N. to justify war on Iraq. On the chance
you may not have noticed, I write to point out that you now have a unique opportunity
to do some rehab on your reputation.
If you were blindsided, well, here's an opportunity to try to wipe off some
of the blot. There is no need for you to end up like Lady Macbeth, wandering
around aimlessly muttering, Out damn spot…or blot.
It has always strained credulity, at least as far as I was concerned, to accept
the notion that naiveté prevented you from seeing through the game Vice
President Dick Cheney and then-CIA Director George Tenet were playing on Iraq.
And I was particularly suspicious when you chose to ignore the strong dissents
of your own State Department intelligence analysts who, as you know, turned
out to be far more on target than counterparts in more servile agencies.
It was equally difficult for me to believe that you thought that, by insisting
that shameless George Tenet sit behind you on camera, you could ensure a modicum
of truth in your speech before the U.N. Security Council. You were far savvier
That is certainly the impression I got from our every-other-morning conversations
in the mid-80s, before I went in to brief the President's Daily Brief
to your boss, then-defense secretary Casper Weinberger, one-on-one. I saw the
street smarts you displayed then. They were familiar. I concluded that they
came, in part, from the two decades you and I spent growing up in the same neighborhood
at the same time in the Bronx.
On those Bronx streets, rough as they were, there was also a strong sense of
what was honorable – honorable even among thieves and liars, you might say.
And we had words, which I will not repeat here, for sycophants, pimps, and cowards.
Your U.N. speech of February 5, 2003 left me speechless, so to speak – largely
because of the measure of respect I had had for you before then. Outrage is
too tame a word for what quickly became my reaction and that of my colleagues
in Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS), as we watched you perform
before the Security Council less than six weeks before the unnecessary, illegal
attack on Iraq.
The purpose – as well as the speciousness – of your address were all too transparent
and, in a same-day commentary, we
VIPS warned President George W. Bush that, if he attacked Iraq, "the
unintended consequences are likely to be catastrophic."
That's history. Or, as investigative reporter Ron Suskind would say, "It's
all on the record." You have not yet summoned the courage to admit it,
but I think I know you well enough to believe you have a Lady Macbeth-type conscience
problem that goes far beyond the spot on your record. With 4,141 American soldiers
– not to mention hundreds of thousands of Iraqi citizens – dead, and over 30,000
GIs badly wounded, how could you not?
What Did You Know…and When?
Here is what could be good news for you, Colin.
Information that has come to light over the past two years or so could wipe
some of the blot fouling your record. It all depends, I guess, on how truthful
you are prepared to be now. Much of the new data comes from former CIA officials
who, ironically, have sought to assuage their own consciences by doing talk
therapy with authors like Sidney Blumenthal and Ron Suskind.
At first blush, these revelations seem so outlandish that they themselves strain
credulity. But they stand up to close scrutiny far better than what you presented
in your U.N. speech, for example.
If you now depend on the fawning corporate media (FCM) for your information,
you will have missed this very significant, two-pronged story. In brief, with
the help of Allied intelligence services, the CIA recruited your Iraqi counterpart,
Saddam Hussein's foreign minister, Naji Sabri, and Tahir Jalil Habbush, the
chief of Iraqi intelligence. They were cajoled into remaining in place while
giving us critical intelligence well before the war – actually, well before
your speech laying the groundwork for war.
In other words, at a time when Saddam Hussein believed that Sabri and Habbush
were working for him, we had "turned" them. They were working for
us, and much of the information they provided had been evaluated and verified.
Most important, each independently affirmed that there were no weapons of mass
destruction in Iraq, information that should have prevented you from making
a fool of yourself before the U.N. Security Council.
The Iraqi Foreign Minister
The FCM gave almost no coverage (surprise, surprise!)
to the reporting from Naji Sabri, which continues to be pretty much lost in
the woodwork. In case you missed it, we now know from former CIA officials that
his information on the absence of WMD was concealed from Congress, from our
senior military, and from intelligence analysts – including those working on
the infamous National Intelligence Estimate of October 1, 2002. That NIE, titled
"Iraq's Continuing Programs for WMD," was the one specifically designed
to mislead Congress into authorizing the president to make war on Iraq.
One question is whether it is true that Sabri's reporting was also concealed
Tyler Drumheller, at the time a division chief in CIA's clandestine service,
was the first to tell the story of Naji Sabri, who is now living a comfortable
retirement in Qatar. On CBS's "60 Minutes" on April 23, 2006, Drumheller
disclosed that the CIA had received documentary evidence from Sabri that Iraq
had no WMD.
Drumheller added, "We continued to validate him the whole way through."
two other former CIA officers confirmed this account to author Sidney Blumenthal,
adding that George Tenet briefed this information to President George W. Bush
on September 18, 2002, and that Bush dismissed the information as worthless.
Wait. It gets worse. The two former CIA officers told Blumenthal that someone
in the agency rewrote the report from Sabri to indicate that Saddam Hussein
was "aggressively and covertly developing" nuclear weapons and already
had chemical and biological weapons. That altered report was shown to the likes
of UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, who was "duped," according to one
of the CIA officers.
Worse still, the former CIA officials reported that George Tenet never shared
the unadulterated information from the Iraqi foreign minister with you, the
secretary of state and Naji Sabri's counterpart. Again, whether that is true
is a very large outstanding question.
The Chief of Iraqi Intelligence
Again, Colin, I am assuming you take your information
from the FCM, so let me brief you, as in the old days, on what else has popped
up over the past couple of weeks. Two other CIA clandestine service officers
have told author Ron Suskind that Iraqi intelligence chief Habbush had become
one of our secret sources on Iraq, beginning in January 2003.
I hope you are sitting down, Colin, because Habbush also told us Iraq had no
WMD. One of the helpful insights he passed along to us was that Saddam Hussein
had decided that some ambiguity on the WMD issue would help prevent his main
enemy, Iran, from thinking of Iraq as a toothless tiger.
Habbush, part of Saddam's inner circle, had direct access to this kind of information.
But when President Bush was first told of Habbush's report that there were no
WMD in Iraq, Suskind's sources say the president reacted by saying, "Well,
why don't you tell him to give us something we can use to make our case?"
Putting the Kibosh on Habbush
Apparently, Habbush was unable or unwilling to
oblige by changing his story. Nevertheless, later in 2003, when it became clear
that he had been telling the unwelcome truth, Habbush was helped to resettle
in Jordan and given $5 million to keep his mouth shut.
Suskind also reveals that in the fall of 2003, Habbush was asked to earn his
keep by participating in a keystone-cops-type forgery aimed at "proving"
that Saddam Hussein did, after all, have a direct hand in the tragedy of 9/11.
This crude forgery was not unlike the one that originally gave us the yarn about
yellowcake uranium going from Niger to Iraq.
You will hardly be surprised to hear there is evidence, much of it circumstantial,
that Vice President Dick Cheney was the intellectual author of both incredibly
inept forgery operations.
Sorry to have to bring this up, but there is something else about Habbush that
you need to know. He had actually been in charge of overseeing what was left
of the Iraqi biological weapons program after the 1991 Gulf War, and reported
that it was stopped in 1996.
Sabri vs. Curveball
Before the attack on Iraq, Tenet's deputy, John
McLaughlin, was repeatedly briefed on Sabri's information, but complained that
it was at variance with "our best source" – a reference to the infamous
"Curveball," the con-man whom German intelligence had warned the CIA
not to take seriously.
You may recall hearing that on the evening before your U.N. speech, Drumheller
warned Tenet not to use the information from Curveball on mobile biological
weapons laboratories; Tenet gave Drumheller the brush-off.
The CIA artists' renderings of those laboratories, to which you called such
prominent attention during your speech, were spiffy, but bore no relationship
to reality. Tenet and McLaughlin knew this almost as well as Sabri and Habbush
"We have firsthand descriptions of biological weapons factories on wheels
and rails," you will recall telling the world. Later, you lamented publicly
that you had not been warned about Curveball either.
McLaughlin seemed to confirm that this was so, in an interview with the Washington
Post in 2006: "If someone had made those doubts clear to me, I would not
have permitted the reporting to be used in Secretary Powell's speech."
This is highly disingenuous, even by McLaughlin's and Tenet's standards, since
they had deliberately chosen to ignore Drumheller's warning. I know Drumheller;
he is a far better bet for truthfulness that the other two.
Although I am against the death penalty, I can
sympathize with the vehement reaction of normally taciturn Carl Ford, head of
State Department intelligence at the time. Ford has revealed that both Tenet
and McLaughlin went to extraordinary lengths, and even took a personal hand
in trying to salvage some credibility for the notorious Curveball. In an interview
for Hubris, a book by Michael Isikoff and David Corn, Carl Ford spared
no words, asserting that Tenet's and McLaughlin's analysis "was not just
wrong, they lied…they should have been shot."
Though I've been around a while, I am not the best judge of character, Colin,
and perhaps I am being too credulous in giving you the benefit of the doubt
concerning what you knew – or didn't. It could be, I suppose, that you were
fully briefed on Naji Sabri, Habbush, Curveball, and all the rest of it, and
have been able to orchestrate plausible denial. If that is the case, I suppose
it would seem safer to you to let sleeping dogs lie.
If, on the other hand, what my former colleagues say about your having been
fenced off from this key intelligence is true, your reaction seems a bit…. how
shall I describe it?….understated.
Perhaps you are too long gone from the Bronx. Back there, back then, letting
folks use you and make a fool of you without any response was just not done.
It was the equivalent to running away when someone was messing with your sister.
And letting oneself be bullied always set a bad precedent, affirming for the
bullies that they can push people around – especially understated ones – and
In sum, the CIA had both the Iraqi foreign minister and the Iraqi intelligence
chief "turned" and reporting to us in the months before the war (in
Naji Sabri's case) and the weeks before your U.N. speech (in the case of Tahir
Jalil Habbush). Both were part of Saddam Hussein's inner circle; both reported
that there were no weapons of mass destruction.
But this was not what the president wanted to hear, so Tenet put the kibosh
on Habbush and put Sabri on a cutter to Qatar.
So Here's Your Opportunity
Either you knew about Sabri, Habbush, and Curveball,
or you did not. If you knew, I suppose you will keep hunkering down, licking
your blot, and hoping that plausible denial will continue to work for you.
If you were kept in the dark, though, I would think you would want to raise
holy hell – if not to hold accountable those of your former superiors and colleagues
responsible for the carnage of the past five years, then at least to try to
wipe the "blot" off your record.
Granted, it probably strikes you as a highly unwelcome choice – whether to
appear complicit or naïve. Here's an idea. Why not just tell the truth?
In Congress: Unusual Signs of Interest
If House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers
is any guide, Congress seems quite taken with the explosive revelations in Ron
Suskind's book The
Way of the World. On Thursday, Conyers joined Suskind on Amy Goodman's
"Democracy Now," and declared that he is "the third day into
the most critical investigation of the entire Bush administration." (He
clearly was referring to the Suskind revelations.)
Conyers emphasized that, even though Congress is in recess, "We're starting
our work, and…I'm calling everyone back. We've got a huge amount of work to
engage in." At the same time, though, Conyers said he is "maybe the
most frustrated person attempting to exercise the oversight responsibilities
that I have on Judiciary."
A good deal of his frustration comes from stonewalling by the Bush/Cheney administration,
which will surely cite national security concerns to justify withholding any
Bush Visits CIA
It was, no doubt, pure coincidence that President
Bush made a highly unusual visit to CIA headquarters, also on Thursday, before
leaving for Crawford on vacation.
The official line is that he wanted an update on the situation in Georgia and
the Soviet role there, but Bush did not need to go to Langley for that. Rather,
given the record of the past seven years, it is reasonable to suggest that he
also wanted to assure malleable Mike Hayden, the CIA director, and his minions
that they will be protected if they continue to stiff-arm appropriate congressional
committees, denying them the information they need for a successful investigation.
Pardons dangled as hush money? Not so bizarre at all. Some will recall that
George H.W. Bush, just before leaving the White House, pardoned one of your
former bosses, Casper Weinberger, who had been indicted and was about to go
to trial for lying about his role in the Iran-Contra fiasco.
Out Damn Blot
If past is precedent, sad
to say, Conyers is not likely to get to first base, UNLESS he can get knowledgeable
witnesses to come forward. On Thursday he did not rule out a suggestion that
Habbush be asked to come before Congress to testify, but the CIA can easily
thwart that kind of thing – or delay it indefinitely.
In any case, your own credibility, though damaged, has got to be greater than
Let me suggest that you offer yourself as a witness to help clear the air on
these very important issues. This would seem the responsible, patriotic thing
to do in the circumstances and could also have the salutary effect of beginning
the atonement process for that day of infamy at the Security Council.
If we hear no peep out of you in the coming weeks, we shall not be able to
escape concluding one of two things:
(1) That, as was the case with the White House Situation Room sessions on torture,
you were a willing participant also in suppressing/falsifying key intelligence
on Iraq; or
(2) That you lack the courage to expose the scoundrels who betrayed not only
you, but also that segment of our country and our world that still puts a premium
on truth telling and the law.
Think about it.
With all due respect,