US Intelligence Failures on Iraq WMD Rooted in Trusting Chalabi, Likud, Neocons
Carl W. Ford Jr., the just-retired assistant secretary of State for intelligence and research, has given an extended interview to the Los Angeles Times in which he forthrightly acknowledges that something went wrong with US intelligence estimations of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction programs.
Actually, to us ordinary folks without security clearances, it has been fairly apparent for some time that the “intelligence” on Iraqi weapons was questionable. There were Iraqi nuclear scientists in the West who were telling anyone who would listen that the program was abandoned in 1991. But they weren’t given the airtime on MSNBC, Fox and CNN. It was given to poseurs like Khidhir Hamza, who appears to have first attempted to sell his life story as a scientist working for Saddam. When that didn’t work, I was told, he then turned to writing the mendacious Saddam’s Bombmaker.
The problem was that the intellectual context for the interpretation of what evidence was gathered was highly politicized. The US intelligence services had satellite photos that were highly ambiguous. They saw them through the lens of three main groups: 1) Iraqi expatriates with an axe to grind; 2) Israeli hardliners like Ariel Sharon; and 3) his backers among American neoconservatives who managed to take charge of Pentagon and NSC Middle East policy.
A great deal that the US intelligence folks knew about Iraqi weapons programs was supplied to them by corrupt expatriates like Ahmad Chalabi, who were trying to bait the US into a war to overthrow Saddam, so that they could come in and take over. Some of the rest came from the greedy and unscrupulous, such as Hamza.
Other information derived from satellite photos and telephone intercepts. The satellite photos would just show a vehicle driving up to a building that used to be used for say, biological weapons development back in the 1980s. The analysts interpreted that as evidence that the site was being revived for that purpose. But the truck would actually belong to looters who were stealing the equipment and copper wire. The telephone intercepts would show what Saddam wanted them to show, since he knew the calls were bugged–and he wanted the world to think he had WMD to ward off an attack. There was very little use of Iraqi human intelligence, which could easily have inspected the supposedly reactivated weapons sites (if looters could get in, so could an Iraqi agent run by the CIA).
In addition, the US depends heavily on Mossad, Israeli intelligence, for assessments of threats in the Middle East. As Benny Morris has shown in Israel’s Secret Wars, however, Mossad can be stupid or self-interested just like any other organization. UPI reported on June 28, 2002:
“Israel also has “clear indications” that Iraq resumed efforts to produce fissile materials, Mossad leader Ephraim Halevy said while addressing a closed session of the council Wednesday in Brussels. The Israeli Yediot Aharonot newspaper published the full text of the speech Friday.” (
Halevy was just plain wrong. One doesn’t know whether he was a “weasel,” producing such an assessment because Israeli PM Ariel Sharon demanded it, or whether he was misled by the same Iraqi expatriates who lied to the CIA. If US intelligence counted Mossad’s reports as separate and confirmatory to what Chalabi was saying, they may have made a huge mistake and simply counted Chalabi twice. Not only was Mossad producing false intelligence that misled the US, but Sharon created an office of special plans similar to that of US undersecretary of defense for planning Douglas Feith in the Pentagon (headed by Abram Shulsky), with the charge of producing intelligence that would support an Iraq war.
Robert Dreyfuss quoted a high former US government official in The Nation for June 19, 2003, saying of Sharon’s operation:
“According to the former official, also feeding information to the Office of Special Plans was a secret, rump unit established last year in the office of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel. This unit, which paralleled Shulsky’s–and which has not previously been reported–prepared intelligence reports on Iraq in English (not Hebrew) and forwarded them to the Office of Special Plans. It was created in Sharon’s office, not inside Israel’s Mossad intelligence service, because the Mossad–which prides itself on extreme professionalism–had views closer to the CIA’s, not the Pentagon’s, on Iraq. This secretive unit, and not the Mossad, may well have been the source of the forged documents purporting to show that Iraq tried to purchase yellowcake uranium for weapons from Niger in West Africa, according to the former official.“
Karen Kwiatkowski, then working at the Pentagon describes how she saw with her own eyes that “career Pentagon analysts assigned to Rumsfeld’s office were generally excluded from what were “key areas of interest” to Feith, Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld, notably Israel, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia. “In terms of Israel and Iraq, all primary staff work was conducted by political appointees; in the case of Israel, a desk officer appointee from the Washington Institute for Near Policy [a think tank closely tied to the main pro-Israel lobby in Washington, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee].” ” http://www.atimes.com/atimes/
A front for the main pro-Sharon Israeli lobby actually supplied the Israel desk officer to the Pentagon! Why not just forget the pretense and appoint Ariel Sharon the US Secretary of Defense?
Kwiatkowski provides more information; according to Jim Lobe: “At the National Security Council (NSC), they communicated mainly with Stephen Hadley, the deputy national security adviser, until Elliott Abrams, a dyed-in-the-wool neocon with close ties to Feith and Perle, was appointed last December as the NSC’s top Middle East aide. “They worked really hard for Abrams; he was a necessary link,” Kwiatkowski told IPS Wednesday. “The day he got (the appointment), they were whooping and hollering, ‘We got him in, we got him in.’” But she recounts one incident in which she helped escort a group of half a dozen Israelis, including several generals, from the first floor reception area to Feith’s office. “We just followed them, because they knew exactly where they were going and moving fast.” When the group arrived, she noted the book which all visitors are required to sign under special regulations that took effect after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. “I asked his secretary, ‘Do you want these guys to sign in?’ She said, ‘No, these guys don’t have to sign in.’” It occurred to her, she said, that the office may have not wanted to maintain a record of the meeting. One person in the OSP with a long career in the National Security bureaucracy told her at one point: “What these people are doing now makes Iran-Contra look like amateur hour.””
By the way, the same groups, like WINEP, that bamboozled the US public into the Iraq war with lies, now want to take over the academic Middle East Studies establishment and use Federal funds to dictate to people like me what we can and cannot say about Middle East politics. They have managed to get congressmen to create a McCarthyite “advisory board” to supervise federally funded international studies programs at major universities, on the grounds that we academics are “disloyal” (!) Since they have managed to deprive so many in Washington (including virtually all sitting members of Congress) of an effective voice on Middle East affairs if it contradicts the Ariel Sharon platform, they assume it will be easy enough to silence a few rumpled professors in the Midwest. They have another think coming. The Syrian Baath Party and other real experts in censorship have tried to bowdlerize my prose. Stanley Kurtz is a piker compared to Hafez al-Asad.
For Karen Kwiatkowski’s whistle blowing on the neocons in the Pentagon, see
The are only three really big winners in the Iraq war: Iraqi Kurds, Iraqi Shiites, and the Israelis. The Israelis, unlike other US allies, have contributed nothing to rebuilding Iraq, and virtually the only thing seen from them has been a) false intelligence and b) hectoring of the US to go on to invade Iran immediately, also apparently mainly for the political gain of Sharon’s Likud party. Sharon has also, of course, completely ignored the Bush administration’s pleading to make peace with the Palestinians and to seek a Palestinian state. Instead, Sharon is gobbling up the West Bank the same way he seems to gobble up eight meals a day (surely no politician has had a gut quite like that since Henry VIII).