More than five years have passed since President
Bush labeled Iraq, Iran and North Korea the "axis of evil." It is imperative
that we try to piece together what role U.S. intelligence played in supporting
the "axis" idea and the misguided policies and actions that ensued.
For the "axis of evil" sobriquet morphed into axes for grinding by accomplices
like then-CIA Director George Tenet, and the pandering was consequential. Here
is the "axis" part of Bush's State of the Union address on Jan. 29, 2002:
"North Korea is a regime arming with missiles and weapons of mass destruction....
Iran aggressively pursues these weapons.... The Iraqi regime has plotted to
develop anthrax and nerve gas and nuclear weapons for over a decade.... States
like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil ... posing
a grave and growing danger.... I will not wait on events ..."
Nor, apparently, wait on good intelligence, either.
It used to be that presidents made decisions based, at least in part, on the
judgments of the intelligence community. It was a shock to see that process
stood on its head, with the president asserting a "grave and growing danger"
and then telling functionaries like Tenet to conjure up the "intelligence"
to support his rhetorical flourishes. We are talking about untruths with tragic
Iraq: Anyone who has been awake over the past five years is aware of
how the intelligence process was corrupted to justify attacking Iraq. No thanks
to the corporate media, but many have also learned of the "Downing Street Memorandum,"
which provides documentary evidence of lying. That memo, acknowledged by the
British to be authentic, contains the minutes of a meeting on July 23, 2002,
at which the chief of British intelligence gave Prime Minister Tony Blair an
update on Bush's plans for war.
Based on conversations with Tenet at CIA headquarters three days before, the
UK intelligence chief told Blair and his advisors about the evidence that Bush
intended to use to "justify" his decision to make war on Iraq. When the British
foreign minister observed that the intelligence was "thin," the intelligence
chief famously said, "But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around
It does not get much clearer than that.
North Korea: It turns out that Bush's repeated claims, beginning in
the fall of 2002, that North Korea was secretly producing highly enriched uranium
in addition to its publicly known plutonium program were, well, wrong. We should
not be surprised, since that dubious intelligence analysis was brought to us
by the same folks who were stretching those Iraqi "aluminum tubes" well beyond
their tolerance, and stretching our credulity well beyond the breaking point.
Pyongyang had bought some nuclear equipment from Pakistan and elsewhere but,
according to multiple sources of veteran reporter Jonathan Landay, there was
never any evidence that the North Koreans were able to assemble that equipment
into a functioning uranium enrichment program. This came up at a Senate Armed
Services Committee hearing on Feb. 27, when a senior intelligence officer announced
that the earlier judgment (stated, mind you, with "high confidence") that
North Korea was building an industrial-scale uranium enrichment program has
now been downgraded to a "mid-level confidence" judgment.
Was the earlier judgment consequential? Judge for yourself: Bush used the alleged
uranium effort to renege in December 2002 on deliveries of heavy fuel oil promised
in return for North Korea freezing its plutonium production program under the
bilateral agreement of 1994. The following month, North Korea ended its freeze
and expelled U.N. inspectors. It has now harvested enough plutonium for about
a dozen nuclear weapons and conducted its first test.
Iran: Maybe, just maybe, this consistent record of hyping the nuclear
threat from the "axis of evil" will prompt sober minds to look under the hood
and kick the tires when it comes to Iran. On Iran the intelligence community
at least has been consistent, but in a manner far from reassuring. In 1995 it
started saying every year that Iran was "within five years" of reaching
a nuclear weapons capability. When the last National Intelligence Estimate (NIE)
was published almost two years ago, the forecast basically was moved out to
10 years. But in a fit of nervous caution the estimators agreed on the expression
"early-to-mid-next decade." Testifying before the Senate on Feb. 27, National
Intelligence Director Michael McConnell was consistent; he used that same formula.
A fresh NIE on Iran is said to be in final draft, and McConnell surely had
been briefed on how it addresses this question. OK, let's assume the new consistent
forecast is correct that Iran does intend to produce nuclear weapons and
could have that capability within that time-frame.
Hello! That would mean there is still time for unconditional U.S.-Iran bilateral
talks to address Iran's intentions even if especially if the Iranians
are determined to create a "grave and growing danger" of the kind fraudulently
posited for Iraq. As Churchill put it, "Better to Jaw-Jaw than War-War."
This article originally appeared in the Miami Herald. Reprinted with