A detailed report in the January 24 Washington Post by Joby Warrick, headlined “U.S. Claim on Iraqi Nuclear Program Is Called Into Question”
adds to a growing body of evidence that the Bush administration is hoarding intelligence information that disproves or weakens the case against Saddam Hussein with respect to banned WMD activities as well as collaboration with al Qaeda on 9-11 and other terrorist activities.
That’s right: disproves or weakens, not strengthens.
Warrick shows that there was plenty of disagreement amongst the experts in the national-security bureaucracies last summer over the purpose of Iraqi attempts to purchase thousands of aluminum tubes. Was it part of an effort to regenerate its nuclear-weapons program, or did it have some non-WMD purpose — perhaps in support of the two-decades old “well-documented 81mm conventional rocket program” for which, Warrick reports, the tubes were “a perfect fit”?
Now it is an absolute necessity for those who are charged with protecting our national security to assume and prepare for the worst.
But it’s another thing for the president — who presents himself as Mr. Integrity — to assume that the most dire interpretation is the incontrovertible truth when he’s pretending to give an honest, here-are-the-facts-as-we-know-them speech.
“When President Bush traveled to the United Nations in September to make his case against Iraq,” Warrick reports, “he brought along a rare piece of evidence for what he called Iraq’s ‘continued appetite’ for nuclear bombs. The finding: Iraq had tried to buy thousands of high-strength aluminum tubes, which Bush said were ‘used to enrich uranium for a nuclear weapon.’ Vice President Cheney and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice both repeated the claim, with Rice describing the tubes as ‘only really suited for nuclear weapons programs.’”
For a host of reasons (the dimensions of the tubes, the unsuitability of aluminum for uranium enrichment, the fact that Iraq apparently had made no effort to purchase a number of other items necessary for uranium enrichment), some of which were obvious prior to Bush’s U.N. address, the International Atomic Energy Agency is growing ever more certain that the tubes were destined for use in a technical process to reverse-engineer conventional, 81mm artillery rockets to replace Iraq’s corroding stockpile. Today, the IAEA finds the alibi of the lying, cheat-and-retreat Iraqis far more convincing than the accusation of the plain-spoken, straight-shooting Texan.
Party-line Powell, devious hawk in dove's clothing
This tall tubular tale is a classic illustration of the fundamental dishonesty of this president and his top advisers. But what about the administration’s knight in shining armor, Secretary of State Colin Powell, hero to such generally astute liberal columnists as Eric Alterman and Robert Scheer? Powell’s State Department had taken the view in the internal debate prior to Bush’s U.N. address that the available evidence did not support a nuclear conclusion. Did Powell warn the president that the tube part of the speech, as written, was dishonest? Did he thunder, “You’ve got no right to denounce Saddam for lying if you are going to go to the U.N. and lie to the world”?
On January 26, party-line Powell repeated the hoary, unproven chestnut of a Saddam-al Qaeda connection in a major address at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Later that day, National Public Radio sought comment from Senator Carl Levin (D-Michigan) on Powell’s accusation. He dismissed it with contempt, pointing out just how pathetically flimsy was the case the White House made to forty senators just a few days before. Powell’s dovish admirers need to face this
fact: In an administration dominated by dishonest, unilateral hawks, he does indeed stand apart: He’s a dishonest multilateral hawk.
A few good journalists, a hundred news-media weenies
In contrast to the dilligent digging of the Post's Warrick, many in the news media are filing lame stories on the alleged dilemma facing the president - should he risk exposing intelligence "sources and methods" to make the smoking-gun case against Saddam Hussein, or should he protect sources and methods even if it weakens his case. Such reporters are operating from a preposterous premise: This is an honest president in an honest dilemma, rather than a president who, when it comes to Iraqi policy, has never hesitated to misrepresent, exaggerate and lie.
The news media should be demanding the release of ALL relevant material (again, taking precautions to protect sources and methods) - the material that weakens Bush's case as well as that which supports it.
Where is this information? It is in the offices of dozens of experienced, conscientious professionals, toiling anonymously at the State Department, Pentagon, FBI, CIA, NSA, Energy Department and perhaps other bureaucracies. Some of them have spoken with reporters such as the Post's Joby Warrick, Knight-Ridder's Jonathan Landay and Warren Strobel (http://www.chron.com/cs/CDA/story.hts/nation/1607676 ), and the Los Angeles Times' Greg Miller and Bob Drogin (http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/wire/la-na-cia11oct11.story).
They shared information with the reporters because they were profoundly troubled that our leaders were routinely making assertions that were not supported by evidence.
These dedicated public servants, Landay and Strobel report, "charge that the administration squelches dissenting views and that intelligence analysts are under intense pressure to produce reports supporting the White House's argument that Saddam poses such an immediate threat to the United States that pre-emptive military action is necessary. 'Analysts at the working level in the intelligence community are feeling very strong pressure from the Pentagon to cook the intelligence books,' said one official, speaking on condition of anonymity. A dozen other officials echoed his views in interviews. No one who was interviewed disagreed."
I can't tell you their names. I don't know them because they spoke to the reporters on the condition they not be named. Landay and Strobel explained why: "None of the dissenting officials, who work in a number of different agencies, would agree to speak publicly, out of fear of retribution."
Congress's role in exposing administration disinformation
Someone wrote a book about Saddam’s Iraq called “Republic of Fear.” The intimidated U.S. officials don’t fear jail, torture or death — fears that motivate Iraqis, including, reportedly, those scientists who are reluctant to speak to weapons inspectors without the presence of Iraqi government “minders.” They fear instead for their careers. It’s not easy to step out of the shadows when you’ve got three kids to put through college and you’re convinced that the administration would just love to make an example out of you.
A Congress truly interested in getting to the bottom of the administration’s campaign of deceit — a campaign directed at its members and their constituents, not Saddam Hussein — could bring our well-informed but frightened bureaucrats out of the closet. Congress could put them under oath and on camera, and guarantee them protection from retribution. Congress could use their testimony to force higher-ups to testify. Step by step, Congress could establish the process by which the Bush administration “enriches” clean information and turns it into dirty disinformation.
The Dowdy-Bush connection
The administration prefers to keep its collected intelligence under wraps for two reasons: (1) By releasing it, the Bush team would be providing the American people with all the facts relevant to the monumental decision of whether or not to go to war, and the last thing the Bush team wants is a fully and honestly informed citizenry. (2) The released information would demonstrate beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Bush team, for many months, has consciously deceived the American people.
That second point might get citizens thinking about "regime change" closer to home - or even criminal prosecution. Most Americans are glad that it's a punishable crime to provide false information to police, as Matthew Dowdy was charged with doing in the D.C. sniper case. If convicted, he could spend six months in jail.
What is an appropriate penalty for lying to those very same police officers - not to mention the rest of the officers' fellow Americans - to trick them into going to war?
Dennis Hans is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, National Post (Canada) and online at TomPaine.com, Slate and The Black World Today (tbwt.com), among other outlets. He has taught courses in mass communications and American foreign policy at the University of South Florida-St. Petersburg, and can be reached at HANS_D@popmail.firn.edu
Copyright 2003 Dennis Hans