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Powell's Chief of Staff: Iraq Intel Was "Outright Lies", But Powell Didn't "Knowingly Lie" at UN

Tuesday, 26 February 2013 11:22 By Brad Friedman, The Brad Blog | Report

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In a response to a charge cited by The BRAD BLOG on Tuesday that then Sec. of State Colin Powell "knowingly lied" during his infamous February 5, 2003 presentation of false intelligence to the U.N. Security Council about the need to attack Iraq, Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, Powell's Chief of Staff at the time, characterizes the allegation as unfair.

He says points made in support of that claim are "misleading and even spurious" and "not supported in the surrounding narrative."

"I have admitted what a hoax we perpetrated," says Wilkerson in his reply today, sent in response to our request for comment. "But it actually spoils or desecrates a fair condemnation of what is already a bad enough set of misstatements, very poor intelligence analysis, and --- I am increasingly convinced, outright lies --- to take the matter to absurdity with one man, in this case Powell."

David Swanson, who authored the charges in question, as cited earlier this week byThe BRAD BLOG, disputes Wilkerson's response. The full remarks by both men are posted in full at the end of this article.

On Tuesday, we ran Swanson's critique of Hubris: Selling the Iraq War, a new NBC News documentary based on the book of a similar name by journalists David Corn and Michael Isikoff. (You can watch the entire film online here.)

While Swanson lauded the project for helping to "prolong Americans' awareness of the lies that destroyed Iraq," he offered a number of worthy criticisms as well, including the fact that MSNBC, which aired the documentary, failed to acknowledge its own participation in propagating many of those same lies to the American people.

Featured in the film are several new pieces of information and commentary that have come to light since the original publication of Corn and Isikoff's 2007 book.

Some of those revelations come by way of Wilkerson, a retired U.S. Army Colonel and, more to the point, Powell's Chief of Staff at the time of his February 5, 2003 presentation to the U.N. Security Council on the supposed chemical, biological and nuclear threats posed by Saddam Hussein. That presentation by, perhaps, the most well-respected official in the Bush Administration at the time, is widely credited with turning the tide of public opinion in favor of the invasion of Iraq which would commence just weeks later, ten years ago next month.

Unfortunately, virtually every piece of evidence presented by Powell at the U.N., said to have been culled from various intelligence agencies, turned out to be completely false. Some years later, Powell would describe the speech as a "painful" "blot" on his career. As Hubris details, Powell's evidence was not only wrong, but known to be wrong by many in the intelligence community by the time that it was presented to the public as fact by the well-respected Secretary of State.

"Though neither Powell nor anyone else from the State Department team intentionally lied," says Wilkerson in the film, "we did participate in a hoax."

Swanson's critique, however, takes that point further, charging that "The Hubrisversion of Colin Powell's lies at the United Nations is misleadingly undertold."

"Powell was not a victim. He 'knowingly lied.'," wrote Swanson, including a link to his own 2011 op-ed at Consortium News headlined "Colin Powell's Disgraceful Lies".

Given the serious nature of the charges cited by Swanson, as detailed in his 2011 piece --- all well-documented with direct quotes from the State Department's own January 31, 2003 Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) assessment repeatedly describing most of the claims Powell would offer the following week at the U.N. as "WEAK" at best, and "implausible" in many cases --- it seemed appropriate to given Wilkerson the opportunity to respond to the direct allegation that Powell was outright lying during his U.N. presentation.

In his response, Wilkerson draws a line in the sand, if you will, against the contention that his former boss "knowingly lied"...

He says he believes that Swanson's "use of INR's assessment of 'weak' repeatedly, is weak itself."

"INR was at the time one of 15 intelligence entities in the US intelligence architecture at the federal level. (Add Israel France, the UK, Jordan, Germany, et al, and of course you get even more)," writes Wilkerson. "INR's assessments were often viewed --- indeed still are --- as maverick within that group (and were particularly so viewed by [the CIA's Director of Intelligence] George Tenet and his deputy John McLaughlin. Indeed, INR's insistence on putting a footnote in the October 2002 NIE [National Intelligence Estimate] with regard to its doubts about Saddam's having an active nuclear weapons program was only grudgingly acknowledged and allowed by Tenet.)"

"In truth," Wilkerson continues, "INR itself concurred in the overall NIE's finding that chems and bios existed (and the NIE was the root document of Powell's 5 Feb presentation)."

Swanson contests Wilkerson's response. He says in reply that "Powell's own staff, the INR...told him the claims were weak and questionable and even implausible."

He notes that Hubris highlights the fact that even claims that had been rejected by Powell and Wilkerson as "bullshit" about flimsy claims of ties between Iraq and al-Qaeda "were put back in" to the speech, after insistence from the CIA.

"That is a moment to resign in protest," Swanson notes in his reply, "not to move forward and dismiss the INR, the State Department's own experts, as 'maverick.'"

"When the Pentagon and the White House build a transparently fraudulent case for war, rejected by countless experts, many nations, and much of the public, the State Department's job is to support fact-based analysis regardless of whether it is 'maverick,'" Swanson contends.

In their dueling replies, the two also exchange thoughts on the use of intelligence that came from "Curveball", the code-name given to Iraqi defector Rafid Ahmed Alwan Al-Janabi, who later admitted to blatantly lying to Germany's intelligence agency about the existence of mobile bioweapons labs used by Saddam.

Wilkerson says Powell was never warned about the dubious nature of "Curveball" and, "in fact quite the opposite." He says that while the now-discredited anti-Saddam operative was Tenet's "strongest weapon," in pushing the case for war internally, "the title 'Curveball' was never heard until well after the 5 Feb presentation."

Finally, for all his admissions, Wilkerson still seems to allow room for both himself and Powell off the biggest hook. "One must realize that whether Powell had given his presentation or not, the President would have gone to war with Iraq. That doesn't relieve Powell or me or any of us who participated in preparing Powell of responsibility; it simply places the bulk of that responsibility squarely where it should rest."

"I don't believe blame works that way," replies Swanson. "Blaming Bush more doesn't blame Powell or you less. It just blames Bush more."

In his last thought in reply to Swanson, Wilkerson is generous, even while acknowledging that he, Swanson and other anti-war voices like former CIA analyst Ray McGovern "will never reach accord on this I'm certain."

"But I must say that just as I may have biases from my long association with Powell, I believe both of you [Swanson and McGovern] should examine your biases with regard to the man. Just as it was very difficult for me to face the fact I had participated in a hoax, it probably is just as difficult that you two admit you may be too aggressively critical of Powell. Both our conditions are recognizably human and yours more forgiveable than mine to be sure."

* * *

The full responses from both Wilkerson and Swanson follow below:

Wilkerson's complete Wednesday, 2/20/13 response

David,

Several misleading and even spurious bullets and headlines that make strong claims that are not supported in the surrounding narrative. For example, no one ever DID warn Powell about Curveball, in fact quite the opposite. This particular source --- billed as an Iraqi engineer who had defected --- was George Tenet's --- the DCI's --- strongest weapon. And incidentally, the title "Curveball" was never heard until well after the 5 Feb presentation.

Your use of INR's assessment of "weak" repeatedly, is weak itself. INR was at the time one of 15 intelligence entities in the US intelligence architecture at the federal level. (Add Israel France, the UK, Jordan, Germany, et al, and of course you get even more). INR's assessments were often viewed --- indeed still are --- as maverick within that group (and were particularly so viewed by George Tenet and his deputy John McLaughlin. Indeed, INR's insistence on putting a footnote in the October 2002 NIE with regard to its doubts about Saddam's having an active nuclear weapons program was only grudgingly acknowledged and allowed by Tenet. And in truth, INR itself concurred in the overall NIE's finding that chems and bios existed (and the NIE was the root document of Powell's 5 Feb presentation).

I have admitted what a hoax we perpetrated. But it actually spoils or desecrates a fair condemnation of what is already a bad enough set of misstatements, very poor intelligence analysis, and --- I am increasingly convinced, outright lies --- to take the matter to absurdity with one man, in this case Powell.

To see my point dramatically, one must realize that whether Powell had given his presentation or not, the President would have gone to war with Iraq. That doesn't relieve Powell or me or any of us who participated in preparing Powell of responsibility; it simply places the bulk of that responsibility squarely where it should rest.

You, Ray McGovern, and I will never reach accord on this I'm certain; but I must say that just as I may have biases from my long association with Powell, I believe both of you should examine your biases with regard to the man. Just as it was very difficult for me to face the fact I had participated in a hoax, it probably is just as difficult that you two admit you may be too aggressively critical of Powell. Both our conditions are recognizably human and yours more forgiveable than mine to be sure.

lw

Swanson's complete, same-day reply in turn:

Larry,

Thanks for this response. I'm CCing Brad Blog which posted my commentary and might want to post your reply. Here's my reply to your reply (also available to publish) :-)

Whether or not anyone told Powell of Curveball's reputation, Powell's own staff, the INR, told him the claims were weak, the claims that came from Curveball and from numerous other sources. The INR told him the claims were weak and questionable and even implausible.

Powell used fabricated dialogue. He used evidence from a source who had admitted all the weapons had been destroyed years ago, but failed to mention that bit. Again, here is the catalog of bogus claims:http://www.consortiumnews.com/2011/021811a.html

You yourself in Hubris state that claims you'd rejected were put back in. That is a moment to resign in protest, not to move forward and dismiss the INR, the State Department's own experts, as "maverick."

When the Pentagon and the White House build a transparently fraudulent case for war, rejected by countless experts, many nations, and much of the public, the State Department's job is to support fact-based analysis regardless of whether it is "maverick."

You recently accused Norman Solomon on DemocracyNow! and all other truth tellers of that time of having failed to warn you --- as if we weren't shouting into every available microphone. If word had slipped through to you, it seems you would have rejected it as "maverick."

This is highly discouraging. If analysis within our government consciously engages in groupthink, where will we find the whistleblowers necessary to prevent the next war?

Please do not imagine that any of us suppose the President wasn't intent on going to war at all costs. It was the transparency of that intention that created the largest public protest in world history. But to suggest that Powell and you did no harm by supporting a war that might have gone ahead even if you'd resisted is a complete breakdown in morality.

I don't believe blame works that way. Blaming Bush more doesn't blame Powell or you less. It just blames Bush more. Blame is not a finite quantity born of a drive for vengeance and distributable to a limited number of people. Blame is what we each deserve when we fail to take the best actions available, as explained here.

* * *

Ray McGovern, 27-year CIA analyst turned staunch anti-war activist following his years personally delivering the CIA's Presidential Daily Briefings to Presidents George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, replies to our request for comment in response to Wilkerson's response with the following tonight:

thanks brad ---

There are very few people still around with the kind of integrity that leads me to give them virtually implicit trust (allowing for the fact that all of us are nonetheless human). One such person is Larry Wilkerson.

It seems to me that a lot hinges on whether Powell and Wilkerson could bring themselves to believe that Tenet and McLaughlin would lie to their faces about Curveball. Tenet is the mother of all con men, and one can argue that Powell and Wilkerson should have been quite aware of that.

Still, I can readily believe that Powell and Wilkerson found it difficult to conclude that Tenet was making stuff up on such a critical issue --- that, assured of backing by Cheney, Tenet and McLaughlin would feel free to let Powell dangle softly in the wind....for the greater cause, of course.

Sizing up Powell, Tenet and McLaughlin might well have concluded that, as long as Cheney was around to protect them (and that he would badmouth Powell to the President if Powell stepped out of line), Powell would not dare accuse them of outright lying. If that was part of their calculation, they appear to have been right.

What incredible fear Cheney inspires --- still! Let's see what Powell says if Cheney ever dies!

I looked into all this at some length earlier this month. For what it's worth, this is how I came out: "Colin Powell: Conned or Con-Man?"

feel free to share my comments, if you wish.

Best regards,

ray
raymcgovern.com

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license. It may not be reproduced in any form without permission or license from the source.

Brad Friedman

Brad Friedman is an investigative blogger, journalist and broadcaster. Frequent contributor to Salon, Truthout and many other sites, publisher and creator of The BRAD BLOG (BradBlog.com) and the host of KPFK/Pacifica Radio's The BradCast. Follow him on Twitter @TheBradBlog.


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Powell's Chief of Staff: Iraq Intel Was "Outright Lies", But Powell Didn't "Knowingly Lie" at UN

Tuesday, 26 February 2013 11:22 By Brad Friedman, The Brad Blog | Report

Think the world needs an alternative to corporate media? Click here to make a tax-deductible donation to Truthout and keep independent journalism strong.

In a response to a charge cited by The BRAD BLOG on Tuesday that then Sec. of State Colin Powell "knowingly lied" during his infamous February 5, 2003 presentation of false intelligence to the U.N. Security Council about the need to attack Iraq, Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, Powell's Chief of Staff at the time, characterizes the allegation as unfair.

He says points made in support of that claim are "misleading and even spurious" and "not supported in the surrounding narrative."

"I have admitted what a hoax we perpetrated," says Wilkerson in his reply today, sent in response to our request for comment. "But it actually spoils or desecrates a fair condemnation of what is already a bad enough set of misstatements, very poor intelligence analysis, and --- I am increasingly convinced, outright lies --- to take the matter to absurdity with one man, in this case Powell."

David Swanson, who authored the charges in question, as cited earlier this week byThe BRAD BLOG, disputes Wilkerson's response. The full remarks by both men are posted in full at the end of this article.

On Tuesday, we ran Swanson's critique of Hubris: Selling the Iraq War, a new NBC News documentary based on the book of a similar name by journalists David Corn and Michael Isikoff. (You can watch the entire film online here.)

While Swanson lauded the project for helping to "prolong Americans' awareness of the lies that destroyed Iraq," he offered a number of worthy criticisms as well, including the fact that MSNBC, which aired the documentary, failed to acknowledge its own participation in propagating many of those same lies to the American people.

Featured in the film are several new pieces of information and commentary that have come to light since the original publication of Corn and Isikoff's 2007 book.

Some of those revelations come by way of Wilkerson, a retired U.S. Army Colonel and, more to the point, Powell's Chief of Staff at the time of his February 5, 2003 presentation to the U.N. Security Council on the supposed chemical, biological and nuclear threats posed by Saddam Hussein. That presentation by, perhaps, the most well-respected official in the Bush Administration at the time, is widely credited with turning the tide of public opinion in favor of the invasion of Iraq which would commence just weeks later, ten years ago next month.

Unfortunately, virtually every piece of evidence presented by Powell at the U.N., said to have been culled from various intelligence agencies, turned out to be completely false. Some years later, Powell would describe the speech as a "painful" "blot" on his career. As Hubris details, Powell's evidence was not only wrong, but known to be wrong by many in the intelligence community by the time that it was presented to the public as fact by the well-respected Secretary of State.

"Though neither Powell nor anyone else from the State Department team intentionally lied," says Wilkerson in the film, "we did participate in a hoax."

Swanson's critique, however, takes that point further, charging that "The Hubrisversion of Colin Powell's lies at the United Nations is misleadingly undertold."

"Powell was not a victim. He 'knowingly lied.'," wrote Swanson, including a link to his own 2011 op-ed at Consortium News headlined "Colin Powell's Disgraceful Lies".

Given the serious nature of the charges cited by Swanson, as detailed in his 2011 piece --- all well-documented with direct quotes from the State Department's own January 31, 2003 Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) assessment repeatedly describing most of the claims Powell would offer the following week at the U.N. as "WEAK" at best, and "implausible" in many cases --- it seemed appropriate to given Wilkerson the opportunity to respond to the direct allegation that Powell was outright lying during his U.N. presentation.

In his response, Wilkerson draws a line in the sand, if you will, against the contention that his former boss "knowingly lied"...

He says he believes that Swanson's "use of INR's assessment of 'weak' repeatedly, is weak itself."

"INR was at the time one of 15 intelligence entities in the US intelligence architecture at the federal level. (Add Israel France, the UK, Jordan, Germany, et al, and of course you get even more)," writes Wilkerson. "INR's assessments were often viewed --- indeed still are --- as maverick within that group (and were particularly so viewed by [the CIA's Director of Intelligence] George Tenet and his deputy John McLaughlin. Indeed, INR's insistence on putting a footnote in the October 2002 NIE [National Intelligence Estimate] with regard to its doubts about Saddam's having an active nuclear weapons program was only grudgingly acknowledged and allowed by Tenet.)"

"In truth," Wilkerson continues, "INR itself concurred in the overall NIE's finding that chems and bios existed (and the NIE was the root document of Powell's 5 Feb presentation)."

Swanson contests Wilkerson's response. He says in reply that "Powell's own staff, the INR...told him the claims were weak and questionable and even implausible."

He notes that Hubris highlights the fact that even claims that had been rejected by Powell and Wilkerson as "bullshit" about flimsy claims of ties between Iraq and al-Qaeda "were put back in" to the speech, after insistence from the CIA.

"That is a moment to resign in protest," Swanson notes in his reply, "not to move forward and dismiss the INR, the State Department's own experts, as 'maverick.'"

"When the Pentagon and the White House build a transparently fraudulent case for war, rejected by countless experts, many nations, and much of the public, the State Department's job is to support fact-based analysis regardless of whether it is 'maverick,'" Swanson contends.

In their dueling replies, the two also exchange thoughts on the use of intelligence that came from "Curveball", the code-name given to Iraqi defector Rafid Ahmed Alwan Al-Janabi, who later admitted to blatantly lying to Germany's intelligence agency about the existence of mobile bioweapons labs used by Saddam.

Wilkerson says Powell was never warned about the dubious nature of "Curveball" and, "in fact quite the opposite." He says that while the now-discredited anti-Saddam operative was Tenet's "strongest weapon," in pushing the case for war internally, "the title 'Curveball' was never heard until well after the 5 Feb presentation."

Finally, for all his admissions, Wilkerson still seems to allow room for both himself and Powell off the biggest hook. "One must realize that whether Powell had given his presentation or not, the President would have gone to war with Iraq. That doesn't relieve Powell or me or any of us who participated in preparing Powell of responsibility; it simply places the bulk of that responsibility squarely where it should rest."

"I don't believe blame works that way," replies Swanson. "Blaming Bush more doesn't blame Powell or you less. It just blames Bush more."

In his last thought in reply to Swanson, Wilkerson is generous, even while acknowledging that he, Swanson and other anti-war voices like former CIA analyst Ray McGovern "will never reach accord on this I'm certain."

"But I must say that just as I may have biases from my long association with Powell, I believe both of you [Swanson and McGovern] should examine your biases with regard to the man. Just as it was very difficult for me to face the fact I had participated in a hoax, it probably is just as difficult that you two admit you may be too aggressively critical of Powell. Both our conditions are recognizably human and yours more forgiveable than mine to be sure."

* * *

The full responses from both Wilkerson and Swanson follow below:

Wilkerson's complete Wednesday, 2/20/13 response

David,

Several misleading and even spurious bullets and headlines that make strong claims that are not supported in the surrounding narrative. For example, no one ever DID warn Powell about Curveball, in fact quite the opposite. This particular source --- billed as an Iraqi engineer who had defected --- was George Tenet's --- the DCI's --- strongest weapon. And incidentally, the title "Curveball" was never heard until well after the 5 Feb presentation.

Your use of INR's assessment of "weak" repeatedly, is weak itself. INR was at the time one of 15 intelligence entities in the US intelligence architecture at the federal level. (Add Israel France, the UK, Jordan, Germany, et al, and of course you get even more). INR's assessments were often viewed --- indeed still are --- as maverick within that group (and were particularly so viewed by George Tenet and his deputy John McLaughlin. Indeed, INR's insistence on putting a footnote in the October 2002 NIE with regard to its doubts about Saddam's having an active nuclear weapons program was only grudgingly acknowledged and allowed by Tenet. And in truth, INR itself concurred in the overall NIE's finding that chems and bios existed (and the NIE was the root document of Powell's 5 Feb presentation).

I have admitted what a hoax we perpetrated. But it actually spoils or desecrates a fair condemnation of what is already a bad enough set of misstatements, very poor intelligence analysis, and --- I am increasingly convinced, outright lies --- to take the matter to absurdity with one man, in this case Powell.

To see my point dramatically, one must realize that whether Powell had given his presentation or not, the President would have gone to war with Iraq. That doesn't relieve Powell or me or any of us who participated in preparing Powell of responsibility; it simply places the bulk of that responsibility squarely where it should rest.

You, Ray McGovern, and I will never reach accord on this I'm certain; but I must say that just as I may have biases from my long association with Powell, I believe both of you should examine your biases with regard to the man. Just as it was very difficult for me to face the fact I had participated in a hoax, it probably is just as difficult that you two admit you may be too aggressively critical of Powell. Both our conditions are recognizably human and yours more forgiveable than mine to be sure.

lw

Swanson's complete, same-day reply in turn:

Larry,

Thanks for this response. I'm CCing Brad Blog which posted my commentary and might want to post your reply. Here's my reply to your reply (also available to publish) :-)

Whether or not anyone told Powell of Curveball's reputation, Powell's own staff, the INR, told him the claims were weak, the claims that came from Curveball and from numerous other sources. The INR told him the claims were weak and questionable and even implausible.

Powell used fabricated dialogue. He used evidence from a source who had admitted all the weapons had been destroyed years ago, but failed to mention that bit. Again, here is the catalog of bogus claims:http://www.consortiumnews.com/2011/021811a.html

You yourself in Hubris state that claims you'd rejected were put back in. That is a moment to resign in protest, not to move forward and dismiss the INR, the State Department's own experts, as "maverick."

When the Pentagon and the White House build a transparently fraudulent case for war, rejected by countless experts, many nations, and much of the public, the State Department's job is to support fact-based analysis regardless of whether it is "maverick."

You recently accused Norman Solomon on DemocracyNow! and all other truth tellers of that time of having failed to warn you --- as if we weren't shouting into every available microphone. If word had slipped through to you, it seems you would have rejected it as "maverick."

This is highly discouraging. If analysis within our government consciously engages in groupthink, where will we find the whistleblowers necessary to prevent the next war?

Please do not imagine that any of us suppose the President wasn't intent on going to war at all costs. It was the transparency of that intention that created the largest public protest in world history. But to suggest that Powell and you did no harm by supporting a war that might have gone ahead even if you'd resisted is a complete breakdown in morality.

I don't believe blame works that way. Blaming Bush more doesn't blame Powell or you less. It just blames Bush more. Blame is not a finite quantity born of a drive for vengeance and distributable to a limited number of people. Blame is what we each deserve when we fail to take the best actions available, as explained here.

* * *

Ray McGovern, 27-year CIA analyst turned staunch anti-war activist following his years personally delivering the CIA's Presidential Daily Briefings to Presidents George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, replies to our request for comment in response to Wilkerson's response with the following tonight:

thanks brad ---

There are very few people still around with the kind of integrity that leads me to give them virtually implicit trust (allowing for the fact that all of us are nonetheless human). One such person is Larry Wilkerson.

It seems to me that a lot hinges on whether Powell and Wilkerson could bring themselves to believe that Tenet and McLaughlin would lie to their faces about Curveball. Tenet is the mother of all con men, and one can argue that Powell and Wilkerson should have been quite aware of that.

Still, I can readily believe that Powell and Wilkerson found it difficult to conclude that Tenet was making stuff up on such a critical issue --- that, assured of backing by Cheney, Tenet and McLaughlin would feel free to let Powell dangle softly in the wind....for the greater cause, of course.

Sizing up Powell, Tenet and McLaughlin might well have concluded that, as long as Cheney was around to protect them (and that he would badmouth Powell to the President if Powell stepped out of line), Powell would not dare accuse them of outright lying. If that was part of their calculation, they appear to have been right.

What incredible fear Cheney inspires --- still! Let's see what Powell says if Cheney ever dies!

I looked into all this at some length earlier this month. For what it's worth, this is how I came out: "Colin Powell: Conned or Con-Man?"

feel free to share my comments, if you wish.

Best regards,

ray
raymcgovern.com

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license. It may not be reproduced in any form without permission or license from the source.

Brad Friedman

Brad Friedman is an investigative blogger, journalist and broadcaster. Frequent contributor to Salon, Truthout and many other sites, publisher and creator of The BRAD BLOG (BradBlog.com) and the host of KPFK/Pacifica Radio's The BradCast. Follow him on Twitter @TheBradBlog.


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