Intelligence Agents from the U.S. and Australia & a Top UK Researcher Condemn Gov’t Falsehoods that Led to Iraq War

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As President Bush says he relied on “darn good” intelligence related to Iraq, questions abound in Washington, London and Australia over whether intelligence was misused. Democracy Now! speaks to former Australian intelligence analyst Andrew Wilkie, Cambridge University’s Glen Rangwala and former CIA analyst Ray McGovern.

The White House is doing everything it can to crush a potentially disastrous political firestorm.

The Democratic party is calling for a public inquiry as a new CBS poll reveals that 56% of the public say Bush administration officials were hiding important elements of what they knew regarding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq or were outright lying.

President Bush yesterday defended the “darn good” intelligence he receives as The White House came under increasing scrutiny over why Bush told Congress and the nation in January that Iraq was attempting to purchase uranium from the African nation of Niger to rebuild its nuclear program.

Bush said the CIA’s doubts about the charge were ?subsequent? to the State of the Union speech in which Bush made the allegation.

Bush’s position is at odds with those of his own aides, who acknowledged over the weekend that the CIA raised doubts about the claim more than four months before the speech.

Meanwhile the White House had been blaming the CIA for failing to remove the statement from drafts of the speech. On Friday CIA Director George Tenet took blame for the statement in an unusual public apology.

Yet according to the Washington Post, Tenet had personally argued the language not be included in Bush?s October address in Cincinnati.

Defending the broader decision to go to war yesterday, Bush said the decision was made after he gave Saddam Hussein “a chance to allow the inspectors in, and he wouldn’t let them in.”

This contradicts the events leading up to war when Saddam Hussein admitted the inspectors into Iraq and Bush subsequently opposed extending their work because he did not believe them effective.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told the Senate Armed Services Committee last week that the U.S. had no new evidence that Iraq was pursuing weapons of mass destruction prior to the attack in March. He insisted the invasion was still justified.

Departing press secretary, Ari Fleischer, used a briefing yesterday to castigate the press for a “media feeding frenzy that misinterprets why America went to war.”

Meanwhile in Britain, responding to the controversy over the claim that Iraq tried to buy uranium from Niger, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw cited evidence that Saddam Hussein was trying to build a nuclear bomb. He failed to mention the evidence was 12 years old.

In an interview with BBC Radio 4’s Today program, Straw referred to Mahdi Obeidi, an Iraqi scientist, who has handed parts and documents needed to build a gas centrifuge system that enriches uranium to American officials. What Straw did not say was that Obeidi had buried the evidence in his garden as long ago as 1991.

Labor MPs claimed the Foreign Secretary had resorted to desperate tactics and accused him of misleading the public.

The discovery of the parts and documents is the only success announced to date of the Iraqi Survey Group, which is searching for Saddam’s alleged weapons of mass destruction.

And a new poll released in the British newspaper The Daily Mirror yesterday concluded that two-thirds of people in Britain think Prime Minister Tony Blair misled them when he made his argument for attacking Iraq.

And finally Australian Prime Minister John Howard has come under intense pressure to explain exactly when he learned of doubts about the accuracy of claims that Iraq tried to buy uranium from Africa.

Three Australian intelligence agencies have said they became aware of the doubts early this year. But all three claim they did not pass them to Howard before he made a key speech to parliament in February outlining his reasons for joining the United States-led invasion.

Asked if he should apologize yesterday, Howard told a Melbourne radio station: “Apologize? I apologize if I mislead people. I don’t accept that I knowingly misled people.”

  • Andrew Wilkie, senior intelligence analyst for Australia’s intelligence agency, the Office of National Assessments. He resigned on March 11, 2003 to protest the way intelligence was used to justify Australia’s support for war on Iraq. He is speaking at a press conference later today with Congressman and Presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich and former CIA analyst Ray McGovern at the Rayburn House office building in Washington DC.
  • Glen Rangwala, lecturer in politics at Cambridge University in Britain. He discovered Britain’s latest intelligence report on Iraq was stolen from a doctoral student?s thesis. He has also written a report: “A First Response to Secretary Colin Powell’s Presentation Concerning Iraq”
  • Ray McGovern, former CIA analyst.


AMY GOODMAN:We’re joined first by Andrew Wilkie, Senior Intelligence Analyst for Australia’s intelligence agency, the Office of National Assessments. He resigned March 11 to protest the way intelligence was used to justify Australia’s support for the invasion of Iraq. Welcome to Democracy Now!

ANDREW WILKIE: Good morning.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. Can you start off by telling us what you’ll be announcing later today at your news conference with congress member and presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich.

ANDREW WILKIE: Sure. I welcome the opportunity to speak with the Congressman. I would hope to have the opportunity to explore, amongst other things, the core issues which really are being neglected a little at the moment because of the focus on the Niger information. The fact that in some ways—as important as this information is—in some ways it’s distracting us from what I call these core issues. The first one is that we were sold this war on the basis of Iraq possessing a massive arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. Not programs, but weapons. Of course they haven’t been found and whatever is likely to be found now is certainly not going to meet the definition of massive or mammoth. The other core issue I think which has been a little neglected over recent weeks, is the fact that the second pillar of the war was the claim that Iraq was cooperating actively with Al Qaeda. Which I don’t think has ever been proven, and is certainly at odds with my experience when I was working for the Office of National Assessments, where I never saw even a single piece of what I would call hard intelligence to establish that there was any active cooperation between the two. I’d like to also impress upon those at this meeting with the Congressman that the issue now has it’s moved on a little from Iraq, and it’s now a broader issue about honesty in government and the fact that the Iraq mess has been characterized by what I would describe as a systemic exaggeration and twisting of the truth. And from time to time, even downright dishonesty. I think we’re seeing some of that in these recent events over the claims and counter claims about the uranium out of Africa. And even if the last couple of days, the claims that the British have some most secret intelligence from a third country which they can’t share which, given my experience I think is just a ridiculous proposition because my experience was that sensitive third country information which wasn’t supposed to be shared was in fact shared routinely, given the extraordinarily close intelligence relationship between the U.K. and the U.S.

AMY GOODMAN: Andrew Wilkie, Senior Intelligence Analyst for Australia’s intelligence agency, the Office of National Assessments, resigned in protest of the way intelligence was used to justify Australia’s support for the U.S. led invasion of Iraq. We’re also joined by Ray McGovern who is a former C.I.A. analyst for more than two decades. I’m puzzled, Ray, by the response of President Bush and Rumsfeld and others, Condoleezza Rice as well—National Security Advisor—saying that technically they were accurate, saying that they were quoting a British report. Yet it was the U.S. itself who had sent, on a C.I.A. sponsored mission, ambassador Joseph Wilson to Niger to investigate, and he had come back well before the State of the Union address and said that the documents, that alleged that Saddam Hussein had tried to buy yellow cake uranium from Niger, were bogus, were forged.

RAY MCGOVERN: Yes. It’s all very disingenuous, isn’t it, Amy? The play by play has been extraordinary and for the first time the Bush number two White House is showing itself unable to cope even with the correct spin. I think probably they’re calling up Karen Hughes now and asking Ari to please come back because there’s great disarray in trying to handle these questions. Because essentially, they are deceptions and they can’t really be handled by anyone, even accomplished people such as the spin-doctors of the White House. Let me take a leaf out of Andrew’s book, Andrew who I admire so much for doing what he did when he did it and doing it so publicly, and resigning under protest when he saw the fraudulent means being used to justify this war. What I’d like to do is just say a word about the forgery in context.

The focus on the State of the Union address is almost a red herring. I’ll tell you what I mean by that. It’s bad enough that the president did say that it was quite wrong, but he said it. But that pales in significance to the reality that that forgery, the information from that forgery, was used deliberately knowing it was a forgery in September and October to frighten our duly elected representatives and senators into approving a resolution empowering a president to make war on another country. That is incredibly complex incredibly grave constitutional crisis, when the administration deliberately uses false evidence, evidence it knows to be false to trick essentially our elected representatives into seating their power, on declaring war and saying yes, Mr. President, we’re frightened enough. We hear all about this mushroom cloud and the people have, too. We will give you the right to wage war even though there’s no provocation. That is I can outline, I don’t want to take up too much time, I can outline how that all happened. Basically in a nutshell they didn’t have anything else. The Al Qaeda thing, they didn’t have because the Central Intelligence Agency analysts to their great credit refused to contrive connections between Iraq and Al Qaeda. They didn’t have much on bio or chemical warfare, because the D.I.A., the Defense Intelligence analysts to their credit, said there’s no reliable sources on these things. The aluminum tubes—that argument bent as easily as aluminum bends, so they couldn’t use that either. So as they looked around for something to persuade Congress to authorize a war, they dusted off these documents known to be forgeries and said, before anybody finds out about the forgery, we can, number one, get the resolution to approve the war. Number two, we can have our war. Number three, we can relish the victory. And who’s going to care if part of the rationale was based on a forgery, when we have a victory. And that’s the fatal miscalculation. Because the press and American people do care when they’re lied to. That’s what we’re seeing playing out right now.

AMY GOODMAN: There is an extensive discussion going on right now about who pushed the Niger story. Dick Cheney’s name is coming up again and again in the paper, when the first reports of Hussein’s reported interest in Niger flowed in apparently from a foreign intelligence service. They caught the eye of aides to Vice President Dick Cheney, perhaps the most hawkish corner of a hawkish administration, but one with long experience in Iraq. Also the reports in June of Cheney going personally with his most senior aide making multiple trips to the C.I.A. over the past year to question analysts studying Iraq’s weapons programs and alleged links to Al Qaeda. Ray McGovern you’re a former C.I.A. analyst. What does that mean when the vice president personally goes to the C.I.A.?

RAY MCGOVERN: It means that this is the first time it happened. I spent 27 years working for the C.I.A. and never once in all that time, did a vice president of the United States come to visit us in a working visit. The routine is, you do your analysis alone, thank you very much. You amass all your facts, you do your best coming up with estimates and you take that down to the White House, vice president’s office, wherever. And then if he needs more information you bring the specialist down the next day. This is unprecedented. It’s a crude attempt at intimidation. And it was at a time when the premiere publication of Central Intelligence Agency and the whole intelligence community a socalled national intelligence estimate was being prepared. Now, one little footnote about that estimate. There was a real split on whether Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear program. A real split in the community. In this controversy the bogus evidence known to be a forgery was introduced into the substantive analysis and indeed appeared in the national intelligence estimate, which I find unconscionable. And the ironic twist here is that here comes Condoleezza Rice who’s been telling us over the last couple of days that, hey, the drafter of the State of the Union address he was depending on the estimate. Of course he was, because the estimate is supposed to be the most authoritative statement of what Iraq is up to. But the reality was, and this is the irony, the estimate had already been cooked. And I’m sure it was cooked under the influence of folks like Cheney and his staff who made these unprecedented visits out to C.I.A. headquarters. High irony there.

AMY GOODMAN: Ray McGovern, former C.I.A. analyst for 27 years. And we’ll be back with our guests and we’ll be going to Britain to researcher, Glen Rangwalla, the person who first exposed that the British socalled intelligence report had relied on a plagiarized report of a student in the United States that had been written something like 12 years before. Glen writes about twenty lies about the war. He said editors forced him to take it down from one hundredâ€| “Twenty Lies about the Warâ€? is the name of Glen Rangwalla and Raymond Whitaker’s piece. “Falsehoods ranging from exaggeration to plain untruth were used to make the case for war. More lies are being used in the aftermath.â€? Glen Rangwalla is with us, he is a lecturer in politics at Cambridge University in Britain. He discovered Britain’s latest intelligence report on Iraq was stolen from a doctoral students’ thesis in the United States. He also wrote the report, “A First Response to Secretary Colin Powell’s Presentation Concerning Iraqâ€? So there is a fire storm that is brewing here in the United States, in your country, in Britain and Australia as well. Glenn, can you go through the lies, sometimes the big focus on the big one right now obscures many others.

GLEN RANGWALLA: That’s right, Amy. One of the things about the Niger story and the whole uranium saga that is going on about the last week and half, is the focus on one particular claim. Now Condoleezza Rice I think, was at least right to say that this was a relatively minor justification for the invasion of Iraq. It wasn’t something that was repeated in the immediate prelude to the invasion itself. The focus there was much more on the widespread nature of Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons. So if one looks at the State Department report put out immediately prior to the invasion, that was the focus. It was upon armed missiles that could be fired with chemical and biological weapons. And it is to that level at least to which I think a more detailed critical scrutiny is necessary at the moment. So, one sees in Colin Powell’s statement to the Security Council on 5th of February, probably his most alarming claim, was that in his words, Baghdad had a missile brigade that was outside Baghdad with rocket launchers and warheads containing biological warfare agents, and that these were hidden in the large palm groves outside Baghdad. Now, that is a very direct claim. It’s about particular facilities that Colin Powell was claiming was there in Iraq, in February this year. Now to say that this could be so, requires the U.S. now to show that that material was actually there. And that shouldn’t actually be too difficult. The United States has, as the former U.N. inspectors had in the country quite sophisticated equipment for detecting biological and chemical agents, detecting movement on the ground. Detecting large-scale movements of troops or weapons. Now if it really was the case that Iraq had this fleet of missiles stationed outside Baghdad one would expect by now the U.S. to be able to find those weapons, to take them out and inevitably, to publicize the fact that they found them. Instead we’ve seen no such weapons of course. One can only presume that the original claim was inaccurate. Now the relevant question comes in here of how it is that such grievously inaccurate claims can find their way into such an important address by the Secretary of State.

AMY GOODMAN: Glen Rangwalla, a lecturer on politics at Cambridge University. I want to go through your list of lies. But I want to bring in Andrew Wilkie, Intelligence Analyst for Australia’s Office of National Assessments, who quit just before the U.S. attack on Iraq that his country supported along with Britain, saying that intelligence was being misused. Andrew Wilkie, you testified before the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs in Britain.

ANDREW WILKIE: That’s right. A few weeks ago, I was invited over there.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about what you said?

ANDREW WILKIE: Yes. I was very critical of the position the British government had taken on the war. They had quite an interest in their dossier of September of last year, which was used in London but also in Washington and in Cambra in building the case for the war. And I voiced a number of concerns, I had about that document in particular. A general concern that it felt it didn’t feel like an intelligence assessment. It felt like a marketing document because it presented the case for war in unambiguous terms. And of course the case for war wasn’t unambiguous. The intelligence led analysts to frequently use terms like “couldâ€? or the “uncorroborated report suggestsâ€? and so on. But of course by the time the September dossier was put together and polished up by Downing Street, it presented an unequivocal case for war.

One of the striking things about that dossier was the way it filled the intelligence gaps on Iraq. I singled out two in particular. Firstly the intelligence gap on what had happened to all of the weapons and weapons related material that was unaccounted for, and secondly the intelligence gap on what Iraq had been up to during the fours years the inspectors were out of the country. Now I found it striking that the U.K., and this was also done by the U.S. and Australia, filled those intelligence gaps with a lot of worse case assumptions that seemed to suit the decision that clearly had already been made to have a war. The first intelligence gap on the unaccounted-for material, that was always a bit of nonsense what was unaccounted for, because not even the Iraqis knew what they produced. Or knew what they had used during the IranIraq war or knew what in fact they had destroyed. So it was more of an accounting problem than any genuine danger of this material existing. Even if it did exist some of the chemical agents and all of the biological agents probably would have turned to mush by now because the Iraqis weren’t very good at making pure agents, nor very good at stabilizing them. The only thing that might have survived from that period would be small quantity of mustard shells, and the sort of quantity that was referred to by Colin Powell in the Security Council, 550 shells, which—it sounds like a lot of mustard gas, but in fact that is one firing emission for an artillery against target. It’s hardly this massive arsenal of WMD.

In regard to the second intelligence gap, about what Iraq had been up to during those four years. The British filled that intelligence gap with a lot of assumptions and a lot of reference to dual use facilities. Most people are probably familiar with that term now, “dual use,â€? that is facilities or materials that on one hand can be used for peaceful purposes but could also be used for non-peaceful purposes. For example, a dual-use material is chlorine, which is a key ingredient for some sorts of chemical agents but obviously is needed to clean water. And a dual-use facility such as the Faluja castor oil plant which was referred to in the British and referred to in the American literature as well. On the face it was producing Castor oil for use in Iraq but it could be used to make Ricin toxin. But whereas the British had gone into great detail to talk about the rebuilding of dual use facilities, they didn’t actually present any hard evidence. Nor did I see any hard evidence to suggest that these plants or this material was anything other than there for peaceful purposes. At worst it was providing what’s called a break out capability where one day Iraq could have started to manufacture chemical and biological agents. Now if I could just finish off this longwinded diatribe by saying, there is a huge gap between a country having a break out capability and a disjointed and limited WMD program. And these massive arsenals that we were told about, I mean they are at completely opposite ends of the spectrum. And in time they are months and months apart.

AMY GOODMAN: Andrew Wilkie, Australian intelligence analyst who quit over how intelligence was being used leading up to the invasion of Iraq, that Australia and Britain supported. Back to Glen Rangwalla, lecturer at Cambridge University and your 20lie list that, what was a hundred? And you were forced to abridge it?

GLEN RANGWALLA: That’s more or less true, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s continue going through them. Yesterday President Bush spoke at the White House saying that they had used darn good intelligence, saying that Saddam Hussein didn’t allow in the inspectors. Can you go through the list?

GLEN RANGWALLA: Well, one of the most interesting things really, in recent claims by the U.S. administration has been reference to how the United Nations in its claim, the United States claim was verifying the suspicions they had of Iraq’s weapons. So Donald Rumsfeld on Sunday’s ABC program said—probably as his key justification for the belief that he had prior to the invasion—that the United Nations were estimating that Iraq had the capability to use chemical and biological weapons. That was, as it were his key pinch line in justifying why he believed that Iraq had these weapons. Now that is completely in contrast to what the United Nations itself was saying. The inspectors on the ground last found weapons in Iraq and declared them in 1994. That’s when they destroyed the last chemical weapons inside the country. Since 1994 they have not found a single item of chemical or biological warfare inside the country. And have related their suspicions as they’re obliged do, that Iraq could have developed some material before 1991. That it still retained and it could have retained some equipment from that period. But they have no evidence, as they have continually said, of an ongoing program to retain or develop chemical and biological weapons that they were reasonably confident of. And for Donald Rumsfeld to go on ABC to say that the United Nations was saying that Iraq had the capability to use chemical and biological weapons is a complete misrepresentation of the facts of this case.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you continue with the list?

GLEN RANGWALLA: Sure. One of the other serious claims made by Don Rumsfeld and Condoleezza Rice over the weekend, was that Iraq had prevented its scientists from talking to inspectors, and that the reason why they weren’t finding chemical and biological weapons currently in Iraq, was that Saddam Hussein was still in effect, intimidating these scientists by his continued existence, so the scientists were still too scared to relate to the United States authorities in the country, any remaining chemical and biological programs. So effectively that Saddam Hussein may be out of power but he’s still in control of what scientists can and can’t say. Now those two arguments, both of them are wholly implausible.

In the period prior to the invasion, Iraq had started to allow scientists to talk relatively openly, in fact without any restrictions to the United Nations authorities, the U.N. was requesting meetings with scientists and Iraqis were giving free cooperation for the scientist to talk to inspectors. And the U.N. had given assurances that it wouldn’t disclose names of scientists so there would be no retribution on those scientists. At present we have the United States offering large-scale rewards, $200,000 is the usual figure cited, and a free passport out of the country and facilities outside of the country, if scientists disclose where those chemical and biological programs and weapons are based. So there’s no conceivable threat to any Iraqi scientist currently in the country, not to disclose the existence of programs to the occupational authorities. Still, we see the situation where, according to reports, almost every single scientist has either told the United States that there was no program ongoing after 1991, to actually develop or retain chemical and biological weapons. All they were saying. that essentially, that they have no knowledge of anything that was going on in the country, if it still exists. So we have that situation where people are able to talk and if they’re able to come up with a good financial reward but still not disclosing anything of note. One can only conclude from that that the information really isn’t there for them to disclose.

RAY MCGOVERN: I might be able to add a footnote to that Amy?

AMY GOODMAN: Yes, Ray McGovern, former CIA analyst

RAY MCGOVERN: It’s more sorry. It’s a problem not only of government dissembling but also the press being a willing partner in this. And I cite the example used before of Obeidi, the scientist who was very much in charge of the nuclear program. He was the one that brought the press back to his rose bush and showed where some little parts of the centrifuge operation and also some blue prints were found. Now the press played that up as this: See? Those Iraqis they were saving the nuclear parts, see how clever they are, they’re going to the back yard under a rose bush of all places. That’s not the story. The story was that when they asked Obeidi why he hid them there, he said, I was instructed back in 1991 to hide these small parts and these blue prints, and I was instructed to await the order to start working on this stuff again. We would reconstitute the nuclear program perhaps some time in the future. Question, did you ever receive that order? Obeidi: No, that order never came. What does that mean? Well that means that Saddam Hussein’s soninlaw, Hussein Kamel who defected to us in 1995, was telling the truth when he said that, at his order— and he was in charge of all these programs—at his order, all the chemical and biological weaponry and resources were destroyed. Did we believe that, all [were destroyed]? We couldn’t believe that. We said, Kamel tell us the truth. He said, well we kept the few little parts and kept the know-how and blue prints, but in effect the programs were destroyed and the weaponry was destroyed. Well, here is proof positive that he was telling the truth. And the western press missed that whole point.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you all for being with us. We will certainly continue this discussion. In fact we’ll continue in our next section with the greatest hits of Ari Fleischer, the spokesperson for the president who has just stepped down. I want to thank Glen Rangwalla for being from us from Britain. Glen Rangwalla is a lecturer at the University of Cambridge. Also Andrew Wilkie, who is Senior Intelligence Analyst for Australia’s intelligence agency—or was. He quit in the runup to the invasion of Australia, holding a news conference later today with Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich as well as former C.I.A. analyst, Ray McGovern. The news conference today with Andrew Wilkie, Ray McGovern and Dennis Kucinich is going to be held at the Rayburn House office building in Washington at 11:00 A.M.

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