Yesterday was a difficult day for Veteran Intelligence
Professionals for Sanity. It was hard to celebrate the fifth anniversary of
our first corporate memorandum, a same-day critique of Colin Powell's Feb. 5,
2002 UN address, when we could not escape the reality that this speech greased
the skids for death and destruction in Iraq and brought unprecedented shame
on our country. We found no solace in the realization that those who saw our
analysis should have seen disaster coming.
A handful of former CIA intelligence officers joined me in forming the VIPS
movement in Jan. 2002, after we concluded that our profession had been corrupted
to "justify" what was, pure and simple, a war of aggression. Little
did we know at the time that a month later Colin Powell, with then-CIA Director
George Tenet plumped down conspicuously behind him, would provide the world
with a textbook example of careerism and cowardice in cooking intelligence to
the recipe of his master.
Powell's Prior Practice
It was hardly Powell's first display of such behavior.
Those able to look past the medals and ribbons have been able to trace a pattern
of malleability back to Powell's early days as a young Army officer in Vietnam,
and then in the 1980s as an Iran-Contra accomplice together with his boss Casper
Weinberger, then secretary of defense. Weinberger was indicted for perjury but
escaped trial when pardoned by George H. W. Bush on Christmas Eve 1992. [See
Chapter 8 of Robert Parry's new book, Neck
Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, for more on Powell's
proclivity to pander.]
A year before his UN speech Powell winked at the introduction of torture into
the Army's repertoire, rather than confront President George W. Bush personally
on the pressure that Vice President Dick Cheney was exerting to conjure up legal
wiggle-room for torture. Instead, Powell merely asked State Department lawyers
to engage White House lawyers Alberto Gonzales and Cheney-favorite David Addington,
in what Powell knew would be – absent his personal involvement – a quixotic
Powell's lawyers put in writing his concern that making an end-run around the
Geneva protections for prisoners of war "could undermine U.S. military
culture which emphasizes maintaining the highest standards of conduct in combat,
and could introduce an element of uncertainty in the status of adversaries."
Well, he got that right.
But when Gonzales and Addington simply declared parts of Geneva "quaint"
and "obsolete," Powell caved, acquiescing in the corruption of the
Army to which he owed so much. We know the next chapters of that story – Guantánamo
and Abu Ghraib. Powell's instincts were right, but he lacked the strength of
his convictions. It turns out that this key instance of abject obeisance – important
as it was in its own right – was just practice for the super bowl at the UN.
VIPS' Maiden Effort
When those of us in our fledgling VIPS movement
learned that Powell would address the UN on Feb. 5, 2003, we decided to do a
same-day analytic assessment – the kind we used to do when someone like Khrushchev,
or Gorbachev, or Gromyko, or Mao Tse-dung, or Castro gave a major address. We
were well accustomed to the imperative to beat the media with our commentary.
Coordinating our Powell draft via email, at 5:15 p.m. we issued VIPS' first
Memorandum for the President: "Subject: Today's Speech by Secretary Powell
at the UN."
Our understanding at that time was far from perfect. It was not yet completely
clear to us, for example, that Saddam Hussein had for the most part been abiding
by, rather than flouting, UN resolutions. We stressed, though, that the key
question was whether any of this justified war:
"This is the question the world is asking. Secretary Powell's presentation
does not come close to answering it."
We warned the president of the "politicization of intelligence" and
the deep analytical flaws that inevitably follow, for example:
"Intelligence community analysts are finding it hard to make themselves
heard above the drumbeat for war..."
"Your Pentagon advisers draw a connection between war with Iraq and
terrorism, but for the wrong reasons. The connection takes on much more reality
in a post-US invasion scenario (bold in original). Indeed, it is our
view that an invasion of Iraq would ensure overflowing recruitment centers for
terrorists into the indefinite future. Far from eliminating the threat it would
enhance it exponentially."
Dissociating VIPS from Powell's bravado claim that the evidence he presented
was "irrefutable," we noted that no one has a corner on the truth
and ended our memo for President Bush with this observation:
"...after watching Secretary Powell today, we are convinced you would
be well served if you widened the discussion beyond violations of Resolution
1441, and beyond the circle of those advisers clearly bent on a war for which
we see no compelling reason and from which we believe the unintended consequences
are likely to be catastrophic."
Senator Clinton Knew
Five years later, we take no pleasure at having
been right; we take considerable pain at having been ignored. The impending
debacle was a no-brainer, and serious specialists like former UN inspector Scott
Ritter, to his credit, were shouting it from the rooftops.
What follows is more than a mere footnote. It is not widely known that our
Feb. 5, 2003 memorandum analyzing Powell's speech was shared with the junior
senator from New York. Thus, she still had plenty of time to raise her voice
before the Bush administration launched the fateful attack on Iraq on March
An earlier version of this article appeared yesterday at Consortiumnews.com.