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2003-07-25

Ex-CIA Agent on Cheney Iraq Speech: "Longest Statement of Disinformation" Ever Fed U.S. Public

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Vice President Dick Cheney yesterday attempted to restate the administration’s case for war at a speech at the conservative think tank the American Enterprise Institute.

Yesterday, Vice President Dick Cheney attempted to restate the administration’s case for war at a speech at the conservative think tank the American Enterprise Institute.

He repeatedly cited an October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate that warned Saddam Hussein was seeking to develop nuclear weapons.

"Those charged with the security of this nation could not read such an assessment and pretend that it did not exist. Ignoring such information, or trying to wish it away, would be irresponsible in the extreme," Cheney said. "And our President did not ignore that information—he faced it. He sought to eliminate the threat by peaceful, diplomatic means and, when all else failed, he acted forcefully to remove the danger."

Former CIA analyst Melvin Goodman responded on Democracy Now! by describing Cheney’s speech as the "longest statement of disinformation that I think the American government has distributed to the American people."

Goodman went on to say, "For Dick Cheney to recite those charges we all know now not to be true adds to the terrible politicization of intelligence that’s created a scandal in the intelligence community unlike anything I ever saw in my 24 years in the C.I.A. that includes the period of Vietnam, the period of the intelligence failure on the Soviet Union, and the incredibly contentious disputes over arms control."

Cheney did not discuss his role in the Iraq-Niger uranium scandal or the reports that he personally went to CIA headquarters to pressure the Agency on Iraq intelligence.

Senator Bob Graham of Florida yesterday called for a congressional probe to examine whether Cheney’s meetings with the CIA.

  • Vice President Dick Cheney, speaking on July 23, 2003 at the American Enterprise Institute.
  • Melvin Goodman, former CIA and State Department analyst. He is a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and director of the Center?s National Security Project. He is the author of the forthcoming book Bush League Diplomacy: Putting the Nation At Risk (Prometheus). He is a professor of international security studies and chairman of the international relations department at the National War College.

TRANSCRIPT

TAPE:
DICK CHENEY: The ability to criticize is one of the great strengths of our democracy. But those who do so have an obligation to answer this question. How could any responsible leader have ignored the Iraqi threat? Last October, the director of central intelligence issued a National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq’s continuing programs of weapons of mass destruction. That document contained the consensus judgments of the intelligence community based upon the best information available about the Iraqi threat. The N.I.E. declared: We judge that Iraq has continued its weapons of mass destruction program in defiance of the U.N. resolutions and restrictions. Baghdad has chemical and biological weapons as well as missiles with ranges in excess of U.N. restrictions. If left unchecked, it probably will have a nuclear weapon during this decade. Those charged with the security of this nation, could not read such an assessment and pretend that it did not exist. Ignoring such information, or trying to wish it away would be irresponsible in the extreme. And our President did not ignore that information, he faced it. He sought to eliminate the threat by peaceful diplomatic means and when all else failed, he acted forcefully to remove the danger.

Consider another passage from last October’s National Intelligence Estimate. It reported: All key aspects, the R&D, production, and weaponization of Iraq’s offensive program are active and that most elements are larger and more advanced than they were before the Gulf War. Remember we were dealing here with a regime that had already killed thousands of people with chemical weapons. Against this background, to disregard the N.I.E.’s warnings would have been irresponsible in the extreme. And our President did not ignore that information. He faced it and acted to remove the danger. Take a third example — the N.I.E. cautioned that, Since inspections ended in 1998, Iraq has maintained its chemical weapons effort, energized its missile program, and invested more heavily in biological weapons. In the view of most agencies, Baghdad is reconstituting its nuclear weapons program. Here again, this warning could hardly be more blunt or disturbing. To shrug off such a warning would have been irresponsible in the extreme. And so President Bush faced that information and acted to remove the danger.

A fourth and final example — the National Intelligence Estimate contains a section that specifies the level of confidence that the intelligence community has on the various judgments included in the report. In the N.I.E. on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, the community had high confidence in the conclusion that Iraq is continuing, and in some areas expanding its chemical, biological, nuclear, and missile programs contrary to U.N. resolutions. The intelligence community also had high confidence in the judgment that, and I quote, Iraq could make a nuclear weapon in months to a year once it acquires sufficient weapons grade fissile material.End quote. Ladies and gentlemen, this is some of what we knew. Knowing these thing, how could we, I ask, have allowed that threat to stand. These judgments were not lightly arrived at, and all who were aware of them bore a heavy responsibility for the security of America.

AMY GOODMAN: Vice President Dick Cheney speaking yesterday at the American Enterprise Institute just after the congressional report came out. You are listening to Democracy Now!. Melvin Goodman, former C.I.A. and State Department analyst, your response to what Dick Cheney was attempting to put out yesterday?

MELVIN GOODMAN: Well, this is the longest statement of disinformation that I think the American government has distributed to the American people. You know, the very obvious thing is where are the nuclear weapons. Why haven’t we found the nuclear weapons? Why haven’t we found the evidence that he was really trying to import uranium and enrich uranium for nuclear weapons? Where are the scud-type missiles that Cheney was talking about? Where are the hundreds and hundreds of tons of chemical agents that he said, and the C.I.A. said could fill 16,000 rockets. Where are the huge numbers of materials that were supposedly produced for thousands of liters of Anthrax and botulinum toxin and all of the other biological agents that Colin Powell listed in his speech to the UN—which was written for him by the C.IA. after he turned down a version of the speech that was written for him by Dick Cheney’s chief subordinate? Where is any of this material? The fact of the matter is that there was no clear and present danger, there was no imminent threat. And for Dick Cheney just to recite these charges that we all know now not to be true, adds to the terrible politicization of intelligence that’s created a scandal in the intelligence community unlike anything I ever saw in my 24 years in the C.I.A. That includes the period of Vietnam, the period of the intelligence failure on the Soviet union, and the incredibly contentious disputes over arms control.

The unfortunate thing is that George Tenet’s hands aren’t clean in any of this either. He tried to have it both ways. In October, which is important—the very month that George Tenet sent two memos to the N.F.C. and called Stephen Hadley and told Hadley that he could not use the statement with reference to Iraq trying to obtain supplies of uranium, of so-called yellow cake—that was the same month that George Tenet endorsed, authorized, signed the national intelligence estimate that said many of the things that Dick Cheney just recited. So this is what I mean by George Tenet failing totally in his job as an intelligence coordinator or intelligence arbitrator. He gave evidence out there that the critics of the war could use, and he gave a great deal of material out there that people such as Dick Cheney who wanted this war so badly could also use. That’s why this country faces the terrible dilemma it now faces and continues to witness the terrible situation we have in Iraq, where American lives are lost on almost a daily basis and American treasure to the tune of about $4 billion a month is being spent to try to get through some transition period in Iraq, from which we’re eventually going to have to withdraw from. This is a very sad spectacle and Dick Cheney has just added to this terrible problem.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Melvin Goodman, you talk about the inability of the administration to find any physical evidence. But there was a lot made during the period leading up to the invasion of the — of the Iraqi scientists. And once the Iraqi scientist were able to freely talk about what kind of a program Saddam Hussein had, that the truth would come out. Yet we’ve seen no Iraqi scientists even brought forward by the administration to give eyewitness accounts of this alleged program.

MELVIN GOODMAN: I agree with your point there. And the worst example of that is the fact that the United States is holding at the Baghdad airport the chief scientific advisor to Saddam Hussein. A man by the name of Amir al-Saadi. Now, I would have to think that if Amir al-Saadi were giving information to the United States that would be helpful to make the case that Dick Cheney has just alleged, I think we’d be parading Amir al-Saadi before the National Press Club or meet the American audience to make the case for us. But we’re not doing that. Many of the scientists we captured made it clear that these materials were destroyed in the 1990’s, the so-called weapons of mass destruction.

The picture that’s forming here is that the very point when the C.I.A. lost most of its intelligence collection— remember when the U.N. inspectors could not return to Iraq, we lost our major means of collecting intelligence against Saddam Hussein and against the weapons of mass destruction. That’s when the C.I.A. started doing its worst case estimates. And I think it’s axiomatic, certainly for my 24 years in the intelligence community, that the less intelligence you have, the more dire are your warnings, because you’re so afraid of the gaps in your intelligence. Clearly what we had from 1998 on to 2003 were huge gaps in intelligence. For Dick Cheney to talk about the intelligence community speaking with confidence is incredibly fallacious. There was no confidence within the intelligence community. And most of the serious analysts took argument with a lot of the opinions that were coming out that were supported by George Tenet and others. A good example of that was the case of the aluminum tubes—whether they were for strategic arms or for conventional arms. The Department of Energy which has the key expertise in this government for nuclear matters, made it clear that aluminum tubing was for conventional arms. But Colin Powell made a shaky case at the U.N. for why the aluminum tubes could only be compatible with strategic arms. That’s why the Niger documents were so important. They were a hoax but they became important because if Saddam Hussein was trying to get his hands on uranium, that it would lend some credibility to the very weakest part of the argument about reconstituting its nuclear capability, which was having the aluminum tubes which, I might add, was obtained on the open market, with open documentation, That’s an odd way to obtain something to rebuild a nuclear program that was banned by U.N. resolution. And then that brings one final point. That brings you back to Dick Cheney. Who was the one person in the administration who was pushing the reconstitution of nuclear weapons and the nuclear program so hard? It’s always been Vice President Dick Cheney. Because that’s the most compelling argument you could make about going to war. That’s what would terrify the American people. The President talked about the mushroom cloud from nuclear weapons. Condy Rice, very dramatically talked about the mushroom cloud from nuclear weapons. You know of all of the fraudulent aspects of the reasons why we went to war, the worst was the reconstitution of the nuclear capability because no serious scientist or analyst in this city or at the United Nations believed any of it.

AMY GOODMAN: Melvin Goodman, thank you very much for being with us, former C.I.A. and State Department analyst. You’re listening to Democracy Now!. When we come back, we’ll talk to Robert Fisk back with us from Baghdad and then we’ll look at what Monsanto is doing to a Vermont dairy. We’ll be speaking, among others, to Ben Cohen who is founder of Ben & Jerry’s. Stay with us.


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