Sunday 01 June 2003
THE spooks are on the offensive. In their eyes, it still remains to be seen whether Tony Blair lied to the British public by claiming that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), but as the Prime Minister's own intelligence officers now say, Parliament was misled and subjected to spin, exaggeration and bare-faced flim-flammery.
It is now seven weeks since the war in Iraq ground to a confused, stuttering halt and still not one WMD has been found. A couple of possible mobile bio-weapons labs have been located, but a close examination showed they hadn't seen so much as a speck of anthrax or nerve gas. Blair and Foreign Secretary Jack Straw made clear before the invasion that the UK was entering the war to disarm Saddam. We were specifically told this was not a battle about regime change, but a battle to 'eradicate the threat of weapons of mass destruction'.
Ironically, it was the ultra-hawkish US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld who let the cat out of the bag when he said on Wednesday: 'It is possible Iraqi leaders decided they would destroy (WMDs) prior to the conflict.' If that was true then Saddam had fulfilled the criteria of UN resolution 1441 and there was absolutely no legal right for the US and UK to go to war. Rumsfeld's claim that Iraq might have destroyed its weapons makes a mockery of the way the US treated the UN's chief weapons inspector Dr Hans Blix. The US effectively told him he wasn't up to the job and the Iraqis had fooled him .
To add to Blair's woes, Paul Wolfowitz, US deputy defence secretary and the man credited with being the architect of the Iraqi war, told American magazine Vanity Fair last week that the Bush administration only focused on alleged WMDs because it was a politically convenient means of justifying the removal of Saddam. 'For bureaucratic reasons we settled on one issue, weapons of mass destruction,' the leading neo-conservative hawk said, 'because it was the one reason everyone could agree on'.
Then to cap it all, a secret transcript of a discussion between US Secretary of State Colin Powell and Foreign Secretary Jack Straw came to light on Friday showing that, even while they were telling the world that Saddam was armed and dangerous, the pair were worried that the claims about Iraq's WMD programme couldn't be proved. Powell reportedly told Straw he hoped that when the facts came out they wouldn't 'explode in their faces'.
So how on earth did the British people come to believe Saddam was sitting in one of his palaces with an itchy trigger finger poised above a button marked 'WMD'? And if there were no WMDs, then why did we fight the war? The answer lies with Rumsfeld.
With September 11 as his ideological backdrop, Rumsfeld decided in autumn 2001 to establish a new intelligence agency, independent of the CIA and the Pentagon, called the Office of Special Plans (OSP). He put his deputy, Wolfowitz, in charge. The pair were dissatisfied with the failure of the CIA among others to provide firm proof of both Saddam's alleged WMD arsenal and links to al-Qaeda.
Regime change in Iraq had been a long-term goal of Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz. Even before Bush took over the presidency in September 2000 the pair were planning 'regime change' in Iraq. As founders of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), one of the USA's most extreme neo-con think-tanks, the pair were behind what has been described as the 'blueprint' for US global domination -- a document called Rebuilding America's Defences.
Other founders of the PNAC include: Vice-President Dick Cheney; Bush's younger brother Jeb; and Lewis Libby, Cheney's chief of staff. The Rebuilding America's Defences document stated: 'The United States has for decades sought to play a more permanent role in Gulf regional security. While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein.'
The PNAC document supports a 'blueprint for maintaining global US pre-eminence, precluding the rise of a great-power rival and shaping the international security order in line with American principles and interests'.
It also calls for America to 'fight and decisively win multiple, simultaneous major theatre wars' and describes US armed forces as 'the calvary on the new American frontier'. The UN is sidelined as well, with the PNAC saying that peace-keeping missions demand 'American political leadership rather than that of the United Nations'.
That was the policy blueprint, but to deliver it Rumsfeld turned to the Office of Special Plans. Put simply, the OSP was told to come up with the evidence of WMD to give credence to US military intervention.
But what do conventional intelligence experts make of the OSP? Colonel Patrick Lang is a former chief of human intelligence for the Pentagon's Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) in the 1990s. He was also the DIA's chief of Middle East intelligence and was regularly in Iraq. He said of the OSP : 'This office had a great deal of influence in a number of places in Washington in a way that seemed to me to be excessive and rather ill-advised.
'The regular organisations of the intelligence community have very rigorous rules for how you evaluate information and resources, and tend to take a conservative view of analytic positions because they're going to dictate government decisions.
'That wasn't satisfactory in Secretary Rumsfeld's Pentagon so he set up a separate office to review this data, and the people in this office, although they're described as intelligence people, are by and large congressional staffers. They seemed to me not to have deceived intentionally but to have seen in the data what they believe is true. I think it's a very risky thing to do.'
Most of the OSP intelligence was based on debriefings with Iraqi exiles -- a tactic, says Lang, which is highly questionable as the exiles have clear, personal agendas that might taint their claims. But even if the US was using selective intelligence to justify war against Iraq, does that mean that Tony Blair was also being briefed with OSP intelligence ? According to Melvin Goodman, veteran CIA analyst and current professor of national security at the National War College in Washington, the answer is an unequivocal 'yes'. Goodman says that there is 'no question' that Blair was 'brought along at the highest level' by Bush and Rumsfeld, adding that the Prime Minister was 'vulnerable because of his own evangelical bent' over bringing democracy to the Middle East.
That US view has been corroborated by British intelligence sources who have confirmed to the Sunday Herald that the UK government was being influenced by the selective intelligence emanating from the OSP. Senior UK intelligence sources representing a range of views from across all the spying services said: 'There was absolute scepticism among British intelligence over the invasion of Iraq. The intelligence we were working on was basically of a technical nature coming from satellite surveillance and eavesdropping. The only real Humint (human intelligence from agents) that we had was from Iraqi exiles and we were sceptical of their motives.'
It was this 'tainted' information which was used to compile the crucial dossier on Iraq which Blair presented to MPs last September. The most sensational part of the dossier claimed that Iraq could deploy chemical and biological weapons within 45 minutes -- a claim based on one single Iraqi defector. A British intelligence source said: 'The information had been lying around for ages. The problem was we didn't really trust the defectors as they were working in their own self-interest and really doing their master's bidding -- by that I mean us, the UK. They also had one eye to the future and their role in any new Iraqi government.'
The British intelligence source said the best Humint on Saddam was held by the French who had agents in Iraq.
'French intelligence was telling us that there was effectively no real evidence of a WMD programme. That's why France wanted a longer extension on the weapons inspections. The French, the Germans and the Russians all knew there were no weapons there -- and so did Blair and Bush as that's what the French told them directly. Blair ignored what the French told us and instead listened to the Americans.'
Another source -- an official involved in preparing the Iraqi dossier for Blair -- told the BBC: 'Most people in intelligence weren't happy with [the dossier] as it didn't reflect the considered view they were putting forward.' Other sources said they accepted there was a 'small WMD programme' in Iraq, but not one that would either threaten the West or even Saddam's neighbours. Another said they were 'very unhappy' with the dossier, others said they were 'pissed off' and one described the claim that WMDs could be ready in 45 minutes as 'complete and utter bollocks'.
The Sunday Herald was told: 'The spooks were being asked to write this stuff. The dossier had been lying around for about six months. When it came time for publication Downing Street said it wasn't exciting or convincing enough. The message was that it didn't cut the mustard in terms of PR as there wasn't much more in it than a discerning newspaper reader would know.
'The intelligence services were asked if there was anything else that could be added into it. Intelligence told Downing Street that the 45-minute claim hadn't been added in as it only came from one source who was thought to be wrong.
'The intelligence services were asked to go back and do a rewrite even though Downing Street was told the 45 minute claim was unconvincing.'
Another intelligence source was quoted as telling the BBC that they had been asked to rewrite the dossier as well to make it 'sexier'. The intelligence source said the dossier had been 'transformed' a week before publication. Blair has rejected each and every one of these claims as 'completely absurd'.
In a further curious twist, an intelligence source claimed the real 'over-arching strategic reason' for the war was the road map to peace, designed to settle the running sore of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The source said: 'I believe that Britain and America see the road map as fundamental. They were being told by Ariel Sharon's government that Israel would not play ball until Saddam was out of the picture. That was the condition. So he had to go.'
Meanwhile, the blame game is now well and truly under way and someone is going to end up carrying the can. Jane Harman, the senior Democrat on the House Select Committee on Intelligence, said: 'This could conceivably be the greatest intelligence hoax of all time ... It was the moral justification for war. I think the world is owed an accounting.'
CIA director George Tenet has just over a month to get his act together before the House and Senate Intelligence committees start hearings into the nature of intelligence and the Iraq war. Like Downing Street, the Pentagon strongly denies it manipulated information.
Here in the UK, more than 70 MPs have signed an early day motion calling on the government to justify its case for war by publishing the intelligence on which it was based. Labour rebels are threatening to report Blair to the Speaker of the Commons for the cardinal sin of misleading Parliament. This would force Blair to answer emergency questions in the Commons.
The government, however, has hit back by starting to spin against its own intelligence agencies -- a potentially deadly tactic. One senior minister was quoted as saying anonymously: 'If we don't find weapons of mass destruction, it will be Britain's biggest ever intelligence failure. We would have to look at the whole set up of how we gather intelligence in the future. It would have serious consequences.'
Peter Kilfoyle, the former defence minister who is organising the backbench protests, said: 'The only cogent reason that was offered for the war was weapons of mass destruction, which the government said could be utilised within 45 minutes. It seems to me that, at the very least, evidence was used selectively from intelligence reports to fit the case.' He added that failure to prove the case for war was built on solid ground would 'shatter trust' in the government. 'Tony Blair, Jack Straw and Geoff Hoon are all barristers,' Kilfoyle said. 'They know very well a case based on this sort of information would be laughed out of court.'
Five steps to the world according to Bush
The ultra-hawkish neo-conservative think-tank, the Project for the New American Century, was set up in 1997 by the likes of Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Jeb Bush (George W's brother) and Paul Wolfowitz. Its over-arching aim is the establishment of a 'global Pax Americana' -- a re-ordered world squarely under the control of the USA. To achieve this grand strategic goal, the PNAC says these steps must be achieved:
As the world has seen, nearly all of these aims have been achieved.
2. The Office of Special Plans
This new intelligence agency was set up in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks by US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
Frustrated by the failure of conventional spying organisations such as the CIA to come up with proof that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction and was linked to Osama bin Laden, the OSP cherry-picked intelligence from mountains of raw data to build the intelligence picture its political masters required. 3. Bush and Blair
With Bush fully briefed by Rumsfeld using intelligence from the OSP, the US was convinced it had a case to prosecute a war against Iraq. But could America take its allies with it? Blair was briefed at length by Bush and other leading members of the US administration using OSP information. The British intelligence services were not coming up with the same sort of information that the OSP were collating. Nevertheless, Blair threw his lot in with Bush, banking on the OSP intelligence.
4. Troops and conflict
With Afghanistan under US control after the first major battle in the seemingly endless war on terror, Bush and Blair were able to topple Saddam using the OSP intelligence to take the public with them. With Iraq occupied, the hawks have turned their attentions to Iran, with claims that the 'Mullahcracy', in the words of the neo-conservatives, had a weapons of mass destruction programme and was tied to al-Qaeda. Sound familiar?
5. Pax Americana
This is the ultimate aim of the neo-conservatives now running the United States. America stands as the world's policeman, the US has no powerful rivals and global capitalism flourishes: the PNAC's project is complete.
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