Which is worse, a president who doesn’t know what’s going on and is manipulated by others, or a president who launches a war knowingly using false or misleading information to sell it to the American people?

This question was posed by former CIA analyst Ray McGovern as a growing array of military and intelligence experts, politicians, and journalists, spanning the political spectrum, say the war on Iraq had nothing to do with any real threat to the United States, but instead was driven by top Bush administration officials as part of a long-simmering, fanatical geopolitical project of a tiny non-elected grouping. They paint a picture of how leading administration figures like Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and their deputies twisted and disregarded facts, destroying the government’s foreign policy credibility, to claim an imminent threat to the United States when none in fact existed.

Ray McGovern, a former CIA “all-source analyst” who prepared daily briefings for several presidents during his 27 years at the agency, charges that the CIA’s National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) issued Oct. 1, 2002, to sell Congress on authorizing the war, was hastily thrown together at the behest of the administration in order to “deceive Congress.”

The October national intelligence estimate was “hurriedly prepared in three weeks’ time” under the supervision of CIA officer Robert Walpole, “who has a reputation as being the most malleable manager in the agency,” McGovern told the World in a phone interview. Normally such estimates take three months to prepare, according to McGovern, who chaired NIE projects while at the CIA. The October 2002 report “regurgitated” an Aug. 26, 2002, speech by Dick Cheney and was “dead wrong on every count … smoke and mirrors,” McGovern said.

Bush had decided on war months before, in the spring of 2002, without any NIE, said McGovern. There was no intelligence estimate, McGovern said, because, had CIA Director George Tenet asked for one, CIA analysts would have said, “We don’t know much, the evidence is not good, it’s elusive.”

Aside from the Oct. 1 report, there had been no NIE on Iraq for two years before the U.S. attack, McGovern said. Why? “The place has been so politicized, they don’t want to even risk involving real analysts,” he said. In the past, noted McGovern, who retired from the agency in 1990, it was standard practice to have annual intelligence estimates of countries like the Soviet Union, North Korea, and Israel-Palestine.

In a three-part series published in the American Conservative in December 2003 and January 2004, former Pentagon officer Air Force Lt. Col. Karen Kwiatkowski described how the Bush administration’s ultra-right ideologues worked behind the scenes to manufacture a rationale for war. Kwiatkowski’s last assignment before she took early retirement last year was in the Office of Special Plans (OSP), the secret war-planning unit set up by Rumsfeld deputy Paul Wolfowitz and policy undersecretary Douglas Feith in 2002.

Darryl Kimball, executive director of the nonprofit Arms Control Association, speaking to the World by phone, characterized the OSP as “designed to second-guess the official intelligence community.”

Calling herself “a real conservative in a neoconservative Office of Secretary of Defense,” Kwiatkowski described the “propaganda campaign being waged by President Bush, Vice President Cheney, and neoconservative mouthpieces at the Washington Times and Wall Street Journal,” which, she charged, followed a “storyline that had been hinted at in neoconservative circles and the White House for months, even years.”

“The pressure on the intelligence community to conform, the rejection of it when it failed to produce intelligence suitable for supporting the ‘Iraq is an imminent threat to the United States’ agenda, and the amazing things I was hearing in both Bush and Cheney speeches told me that not only do neoconservatives hold a theory based on ideas not embraced by the American mainstream, but they also have a collective contempt for fact,” Kwiatkowski wrote.

The president’s efforts to distance himself from responsibility for the misuse of intelligence to sell the war are being met with increasing skepticism. The New York Times called Bush’s Feb. 8 “Meet the Press” performance “far from reassuring.” The Times editorialized, “The only clarity in the president’s vision appears to be his own perfect sense of self-justification.”

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) assailed Bush’s appointment of a commission to study intelligence, calling it a political cover-up maneuver that “insulates the White House from review.” In a Feb. 6 statement, Waxman said, “The commission has been told to ignore the elephant in the middle of the room, which is how the intelligence was used and misused by President Bush, Vice President Cheney, and other senior administration officials. A commission appointed and controlled by the White House cannot be truly independent.”

Waxmam continued, “A much better approach would be a congressionally appointed commission like the one Sen. Corzine and I have been proposing for months.” (See related article, page 5.)

The author can be reached at suewebb@pww.org.

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Susan Webb
Susan Webb

Susan Webb is a retired co-editor of People's World. She has written on a range of topics both international - the Iraq war, World Social Forums in Brazil and India, the Israel-Palestinian conflict and controversy over the U.S. role in Okinawa - and domestic - including the meaning of socialism for Americans, attacks on Planned Parenthood, the U.S. as top weapons merchant, and more.