The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War On the fifth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks, President Bush took the occasion to claim success in the “war on terror” and defend his decision to invade Iraq. Now a new book has been released with new details of what was happening inside the White House in the run-up to the invasion. It’s called “Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War.” The book has already made headlines for exposing former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage was the White House source who outed CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson. We spend the hour with the co-authors of the book, journalists Michael Isikoff of Newsweek and David Corn of The Nation. [includes rush transcript]
Memorials across the country marked the fifth anniversary of the September 11th attacks. On Monday morning, New Yorkers held a moment of silence at 8:46 and again at 9:03–when the north and south towers were hit. At Ground Zero, police and firefighters held a ceremony honoring their fallen colleagues. Family members and partners read out the names of the 2,749 known victims who died in the attack on the World Trade Center.
President Bush began the day in New York where he attended a ceremony at Fort Pitt firehouse. He went on to Pennsylvania, where he placed a wreath near the crash site of United Flight 93. The President’s day ended here in Washington, DC with a visit to the Pentagon. Later in the evening, he addressed the country in a nationally-televised prime time speech. President Bush took the occasion to claim success in the “war on terror” and defend his decision to invade Iraq.
- President Bush: “I am often asked why we are in Iraq when Saddam Hussein was not responsible for the 9/11 attacks. The answer is that the regime of Saddam Hussein was a clear threat. My Administration, the Congress, and the United Nations saw the threat–and after 9/11, Saddam’s regime posed a risk that the world could not afford to take. The world is safer because Saddam Hussein is no longer in power.”
The President’s comments come just days after a major Senate Intelligence Committee report concluded Saddam Hussein had no relationship with Al Qaeda despite the Bush administration’s claims. The report also disclosed for the first time the CIA had concluded Saddam’s government “did not have a relationship, harbor or turn a blind eye toward” al-Qaida operative Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. In fact Hussein tried to have Zarqawi captured once he moved to Northern Iraq. The report’s findings on Iraq’s pre-war weapons capability is expected to be released after November’s mid-term elections.
Amid this latest evidence the Bush administration ignored its own intelligence to lead the country into war, a new book has been released with new details of what was happening inside the White House. It’s called ”HUBRIS: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War.” It’s already made headlines for revealing former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage was the White House source who outed CIA operative Valerie Plame. We speak with book’s authors — Michael Isikoff and David Corn.
- Michael Isikoff, investigative correspondent for Newsweek. Co-Author of the new book Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal and the Selling of the Iraq War.
- David Corn, Washington Editor of The Nation magazine. He is the Co-Author of “Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal and the Selling of the Iraq War” He is also author of “The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception.” More information at Davidcorn.com.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined right now in Washington, D.C. by the book’s authors, Michael Isikoff and David Corn. Michael Isikoff is an investigative correspondent for Newsweek magazine. His co-author, David Corn, is the Washington editor of The Nation magazine. He’s also the author of The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception. We welcome you both to Democracy Now!
DAVID CORN: Good morning.
MICHAEL ISIKOFF: Good morning.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you both with us. Let’s start with Michael Isikoff. Richard Armitage, how do you know he is the source? Tell us the story.
MICHAEL ISIKOFF: Well, when we started work on this book late last year, the Valerie Plame leak case was clearly going to be a part of it, because I think our view is that the whole controversy over the Joe Wilson, Valerie Wilson affair grew out of the administration’s faulty selling of the war on Iraq and its need to defend its pre-war sales pitch, so that when Joe Wilson came forward in the summer of 2003, they had to fight back very hard, because they realized at that moment that the faulty intelligence that was used to sell the war in Iraq was becoming a front-and-center major political issue. We had been in there a few months. No WMD, weapons of mass destruction, had been found.
AMY GOODMAN: And Joe Wilson, an ambassador — Joe Wilson went to Niger, just to remind people.
MICHAEL ISIKOFF: Right. And had been the first sort of insider to come forward and say, I told them that what they were saying — or told them that this wasn’t true, and yet they used it anyway. Since then, there have been a parade of people who have said similar things and many of them come forward for the first time in Hubris, and we talk about the many, many dissents that were going on within the U.S. intelligence community.
Anyway, back to Armitage. Clearly the big mystery in Washington was who was Robert Novak’s initial source that got the whole controversy started, that erupted it. And in the course of reporting on the book, we were able to nail down that it was unquestionably Richard Armitage, a surprising figure to a lot of people. He had not who many people had expected initially. He was a member of the small moderate cell within the administration that had misgivings about the march to war in Iraq. And in the course of reporting it, we had on-the-record sources, Carl Ford, the State Department intelligence chief, who told us that Richard Armitage had confessed, “I may be the guy who caused this whole thing. I was the one who spoke to Novak and told him there are other people,” and we described in great detail Armitage’s confession to Secretary of State Powell on the morning of October 1st, when Robert Novak wrote a second column saying that his source was a senior administration official who was not a partisan gunslinger.
AMY GOODMAN: Tell us that scene, that setting.
MICHAEL ISIKOFF: Yes. That Novak column runs just a few days after it has been disclosed that the Justice Department has launched a criminal investigation into the outing of Valerie Plame Wilson. A lot of people suspect that the leak had come out of the White House, and in fact, as we amply document, the White House on its own, White House officials were pointing reporters towards Valerie Wilson’s role. But it is one of the ironies of this case that the initial leaker was, in fact, Armitage. He had met with Robert Novak on July 8th, 2003, in his office, a meeting that was recommended to him by another surprising figure, Ken Duberstein, former Ronald Reagan chief of staff, very close to Colin Powell. Duberstein was urging Armitage to meet with Novak, who he didn’t have a close relationship with. And they met, and Armitage provided this information to Novak. When the criminal investigation gets launched, Novak writes the second column. Armitage is at home reading the paper early in the morning and essentially freaks out and calls Colin Powell and says, “I think I’m the guy he’s talking about. What are we going to do?” There’s a frantic series of meetings at the State Department that morning.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain Armitage’s relationship with Powell.
MICHAEL ISIKOFF: Deputy Secretary of State number two. They were very close, old friends. And they realized they had an enormous problem. What they had to — they did contact the Justice Department. Will Taft, the State Department legal counsel, gets called in. He says, “We’ve got to let the Justice Department know.” Armitage — they arrange a meeting for Armitage to meet with the FBI the next day. But what they’re really worried about is the White House. If the White House finds out, they are going to leak that it’s Armitage publicly to deflect attention from themselves, and that would then point the finger at Powell and Armitage. They were sort of known as thick of sleeves, anyway.
And Taft, there is this extraordinary scene where we describe Taft calling Alberto Gonzales, the White House counsel, saying, “Look, we have some information relevant to this information.” Taft is worried that Gonzales is going to say, “Tell me what it is. And then we’ll let the President know or Karl Rove know,” and instantly the word would get out. Gonzales never asks any questions. Perhaps it’s emblematic. Perhaps he’s playing it by the book, just doing the right thing, doesn’t want to step on a Justice Department investigation. Or perhaps it’s emblematic of, you know, larger incuriosity at the White House about matters. But for whatever reason, Taft, Powell and Armitage breathe a huge sigh of relief. The information doesn’t get to the White House, and it stays secret for three years, until we revealed it in Hubris.
AMY GOODMAN: And you, David Corn, on the issue of what Valerie Plame was doing at the time that she was outed.
DAVID CORN: I think there were two big mysteries in the Plame case. One was, who was the first leaker to Bob Novak? And the other was, what did Valerie Plame, Valerie Wilson do at the CIA? After the leak came out and people raised criticisms and were outraged about it and expressed disagreement with the White House and pointed to it as a, perhaps, example of White House thuggery or hardball politics, a lot of people on the conservative side, a lot of Bush defenders, said, well, she was just an analyst. In fact, Robert Novak reported in that second column that Michael just described that he had been told that she was just an analyst. In other words, she was a paper-pusher, a desk jockey, and her outing had been basically insignificant, nothing to get all hot and bothered about, certainly nothing that you would need to bring a special counsel in to investigate.
Well, for years — and I’m kind of surprised by this — what she actually did at the CIA had remained a secret, until our book came out and we revealed that she was no analyst. She was an undercover operations officer. She was chief of operations in a unit called the Joint Task Force on Iraq. That was part of a greater unit called the Counter-Proliferation Division, which is part of the super-secret Operations Directorate, which is the part of the CIA, not the analytical side, it’s the part of the CIA that mounts espionage operations and covert actions around the world. And what the Joint Task Force on Iraq was doing, what she had been doing for two years prior to being outed, was seeking intelligence on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. So it had been her job, literally her job, to find the evidence to justify the invasion of Iraq and the argument the White House had been making for two years.
She worked with a staff of ten to twelve officers. She traveled overseas to oversee these operations, and they had gotten some operations going. Their basic target was Iraqi scientists, scientists who could tell them about any sort of WMD program Iraq might have. They tried to find them out out of Iraq. They tried to find them inside Iraq. And it was very hard work. They built up a stable of a couple of sources, not too many. But every Iraqi scientist they got to, either directly or indirectly — sometimes they sent relatives to Iraq and said put these questions to your cousin, your brother, whoever — all the answers they got back were, “We don’t know anything about any WMD programs.” They couldn’t find any evidence. And they were quite frustrated, the people on her unit, because they could not tell if they were getting the right answer, which is there are no WMDs, or that they just were not finding the right sources. But they dutifully wrote up their reports that this scientist or that scientist denies there are any WMD activities going on in Iraq and sent them into the CIA bureaucracy, where they disappeared.
But at the end of the day here, you have the situation where, as Mike said, it wasn’t just Armitage. Karl Rove, Scooter Libby, others at the White House, set on undermining and discrediting Joe Wilson, were leaking information about her to reporters. This was classified information. And they, you know, purposefully or not, certainly recklessly, they undermined and destroyed her career and outed the CIA officer who had been tasked with perhaps the administration’s top priority.
AMY GOODMAN: When we come back from break, I want to ask about why Karl Rove was not indicted, but Scooter Libby was. We’re talking to two investigative reporters, Michael Isikoff for Newsweek and David Corn for The Nation. They have just published a book. It’s called Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal and the Selling of the Iraq War. Back in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: We are talking with two investigative reporters who have just come out with a book called Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal and the Selling of the Iraq War: Michael Isikoff, investigative correspondent for Newsweek, as well as David Corn, who is the Washington editor of The Nation magazine. They have broken a number of stories within this book: one, Richard Armitage, the source of the leak, the outing of Valerie Plame, and what Valerie Plame was doing at the time of her outing, that she was looking for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. David, you said that this, of course, derailed the whole thing. It’s always been talked about as going after her husband for revealing in the New York Times that he had gone to Niger and, in fact, that Saddam Hussein was not getting weapons of mass destruction. But it could have been just an outright attack on her. She’s the chief of a division that says no WMD.
DAVID CORN: Well, she was operations chief. I don’t think it was. I don’t think they actually knew what she was doing. Armitage and others were reading off a State Department memo, which we describe in the book had been written in sort of an inaccurate fashion, that described her as working in WMDs, not WMDs in Iraq. And she was one of thousands of mid-level CIA officers. It just so happened that Iraq was her beat. I think this was more an example of the White House acting as if they were in a political campaign, when you just throw anything you can at the other side, you know: “What’s up with this trip with Joe Wilson? It must have been a boondoggle. It was a junket. Let’s try that as a talking point. Throw it out his wife sent him,” which meant that he wasn’t sent on the basis of merit. So that’s my — I don’t think they investigated fully. I don’t think they were targeting her, per se. But I think it was just, you know, politics overall.
I mean, we have one scene in the book where Karl Rove calls a reporter and explains the White House attitude here. And it was, the Wilsons are screwing us, we’re going to screw the Wilsons. But I don’t think it’s conscious that we we’re going to get the one person who worked on Iraq weapons.
AMY GOODMAN: Michael Isikoff.
MICHAEL ISIKOFF: First of all, the junket line comes from Vice President Cheney directly. He was the one who threw that out there, when he scribbles on the Joe Wilson op-ed that he then hands to Scooter Libby, “Did his wife send him on a junket?” question mark. He was the first one to put the junket idea into play, at least as far as the record shows. But you asked about Karl Rove and Karl Rove’s role. And we actually have some new details on the Karl Rove case in the book, as well, and as has been known since last July when I first reported it in Newsweek, that Karl Rove had been the source for Matt Cooper just a few days after —
AMY GOODMAN: The Time magazine reporter.
MICHAEL ISIKOFF: The Time magazine reporter. So you have —
DAVID CORN: But it’s important to note, he leaked the same information that Armitage did before the Novak column came out, too, so he was trying as hard as he could to get this information out. It’s just that Armitage beat him by a day or two.
MICHAEL ISIKOFF: Right. And, of course, Rove was the sort of secondary source, confirming source, for Novak. When the investigation begins, Rove acknowledges that he spoke to Novak and said, “I heard that, too.” That was his loose confirmation of what Armitage had told Novak. But he doesn’t — he, Rove, doesn’t tell the FBI nor the Grand Jury about his conversation with Matt Cooper. He says he forgot. He forgot that he had blurted out the same information without prompting to Matt Cooper just a few days later.
Well, it turns out, as we report in the book, that at some point after the investigation begins, Rove’s lawyer asks Rove’s staff to print out all his emails, just to see if there’s some reference to the Valerie Plame Wilson matter in Rove’s emails. And it turns out there was. Rove, after talking to Cooper, had actually sent an email to Steve Hadley, then the Deputy National Security Advisor, telling him, “I got a phone call from Matt Cooper. He asked about Wilson, Niger. Isn’t it damaging? I told him to hold back.” Now, it turns out he actually told a lot more, as we know from Matt Cooper’s contemporaneous email. But this was hard confirmation that Rove had spoken to Cooper, who, of course, later wrote about Valerie Plame Wilson’s role, as well.
AMY GOODMAN: In Time magazine.
MICHAEL ISIKOFF: In Time. Here is the interesting wrinkle, as we report in the book for the first time. That email was printed out by Rove’s office on November 25th, 2003. Rove goes before the Grand Jury in February 2004 and does not mention the Matt Cooper conversation. His lawyer already has the hard evidence that he did speak to Matt Cooper. Rove tells the Grand Jury he did not speak to Matt Cooper some months later, after his lawyer had the hard evidence.
AMY GOODMAN: He said he did not speak to Matt Cooper? Or he just didn’t mention it?
MICHAEL ISIKOFF: In his initial Grand Jury appearance, he’s asked and says he did not speak to Matt Cooper. This is why Karl Rove was under investigation for so long.
DAVID CORN: And the other point is —
MICHAEL ISIKOFF: Now, just to finish the story, though. At some point, Rove does disclose the email and that he spoke to Steve Hadley, and he turns it over in his third Grand Jury appearance. But what’s interesting about that third Grand Jury appearance is the timing. It’s October, mid-October of 2004, right in the tail end of the election campaign. Why does he just turn it over on October 15th, 2004? Well, the day before, there’s a headline in the newspaper, in the New York Times and the Washington Post: “Matt Cooper held in contempt for not talking about who his source was.” It was at that point that Rove and his lawyer had good reason to know that Matt Cooper may be going to jail and may be forced to testify to keep out of jail about who his source was. And his source, of course, was Karl Rove. So it was at the point that Cooper was threatened with jail and there was real concern he might be forced to talk, that Rove finally comes forward and turns over the email and acknowledges he spoke to Matt Cooper. This is why Karl Rove had five Grand Jury appearances. This is why he remained under investigation until just June of this year.
AMY GOODMAN: David Corn.
DAVID CORN: For nearly a year, a critical email that had been printed out in November 2003 was not turned over, even though there was a subpoena that had been presented to Rove and everybody else. And so, what we’ve seen in the last week or two after our story broke, that defenders of the White House have slammed Patrick Fitzgerald: if you knew from the beginning that it was Richard Armitage, why did you investigate, you know, Libby and Rove? Why did this go on for so long? The reason really is based on what Rove and Libby told the FBI and the Grand Jury. As Mike just detailed, Fitzgerald had reason to believe that Rove hadn’t played straight up with him. This email had sat in somebody’s office for a year. He had not initially acknowledged this conversation with Matt Cooper, while Armitage had very quickly acknowledged what he did. And with Scooter Libby, when the FBI came knocking, he didn’t say — unlike Rove, he didn’t say, “I don’t remember anything.” He said, “Well, I had learned this from other reporters and then told other reporters about Valerie Wilson, and I did nothing proactive myself.”
AMY GOODMAN: Not responding to the original subpoena, not telling the truth in the Grand Jury investigation, isn’t that a crime?
DAVID CORN: Well, it is if you can show that it’s intentional. You know, if you come before a Grand Jury and say, I don’t remember something, which is what Karl Rove did, as opposed to Scooter Libby, who said, “I had a certain conversation, and I was told specifically a, b, c,” it’s much easier for a prosecutor to prove the latter might be wrong or false, because you have other pieces of evidence you can compare against it. To prove someone had a false memory or is not telling the truth about that is very difficult. And so I think Fitzgerald spent, though, a good year and a half trying to sort this out with Rove and seeing if indeed he had a strong enough case that could survive the reasonable doubt standard before a jury. And he obviously looked long and hard at it. But it was that that prolonged the investigation. It wasn’t that Fitzgerald was on a witch-hunt or anything. If everybody had told him the truth and had good recollections early on, this thing might have been over within a few months.
AMY GOODMAN: Michael Isikoff.
MICHAEL ISIKOFF: Yeah, well, look, at the end of the day, just in the interest of fairness, he could not prove that Karl Rove was intentionally deceiving the Grand Jury. And in fact, one spin on this from Rove’s lawyer is that it may have been Robert Luskin, Rove’s lawyer, who screwed up here, who had the email. And in fact, Luskin has admitted that and admitted that to another lawyer, or at least used that line to another lawyer in the case. We cite that in the book. Whether Luskin was covering for his client or was just acknowledging his own screw-up, we’ll probably never know.
AMY GOODMAN: What about the marathon session between Luskin and Fitzgerald at the very end, when the decisions were being made?
MICHAEL ISIKOFF: Well, this was one of the issues, that they were unquestionably talking about: Why wasn’t Rove forthcoming in that initial Grand Jury appearance?
AMY GOODMAN: Not just not forthcoming, he lied. He said, “I did not speak to” —
MICHAEL ISIKOFF: Yeah, he denied doing what, in fact, he had done. And that’s central to why this investigation took so long. But, remember, at the end of the day, in the case of Scooter Libby, Vice President Cheney’s staff, Fitzgerald had a parade of witnesses who contradicted Libby’s story.
DAVID CORN: And documents, too.
MICHAEL ISIKOFF: And documents that undermined Libby’s story. Libby, too, claimed not to have been at all involved, says he only learned about Valerie Plame Wilson from Tim Russert. And, of course, when Tim Russert testified, he said, “My conversation with Scooter Libby had nothing to do with Valerie Plame Wilson.” In fact, we disclose for the first time what that conversation was really all about. And it’s actually quite interesting.
AMY GOODMAN: What was it about?
MICHAEL ISIKOFF: It was about Chris Matthews, the host of Hardball, and Scooter Libby’s firm belief that Chris Matthews was blurting out anti-Semitic comments by attacking neocons for applauding the war on Iraq. In fact, Russert is quoted as saying, “Why is it he only always says Pearle and Wolfowitz and Libby? Why is he always using those names?” Russert instantly interpreted that as Scooter Libby trying to suggest that Chris Matthews was trying to blame Jewish neoconservatives for launching the war in Iraq. Now, you know, that was, I think, the furthest thing from Chris Matthews’s mind, and there really isn’t anybody who believes that, but that was what Scooter Libby was trying to suggest to Tim Russert. And that’s what their conversation was all about.
DAVID CORN: It goes to the mindset at the time of Scooter Libby and Karl Rove, that it’s not just about the Wilson op-ed piece. The book is far from just about the leak case. I mean, what they were most concerned with was that the argument for war that they had sold, that we document how they had mis-sold, before the invasion was in some ways falling apart. And it wasn’t just Joe Wilson attacking it. There were people within the CIA and State Department who were leaking information about the pre-war sales campaign that was making the administration look really bad.
And I think maybe in the back of their minds, some of them had to realize that they had engaged in cherry picking, that they had tried to rig the deck to some degree. Scooter Libby knew that he had put together a 24-page memo on the supposed connections between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein’s regime that Colin Powell refused to use at the UN speech. So they realized they had really gone overboard on a lot of these matters, which we detail, you know, quite specifically in the book. And that’s sort of the narrative inside story of the book. And yet, so when things — when WMDs wound up falling apart and other parts of the government were trying to explain why they weren’t there, Scooter Libby and Karl Rove and others felt under siege, and they, as one White House aide told us, they went crazy.
AMY GOODMAN: You write about President Bush’s first WMD briefing.
DAVID CORN: Yes. That was the end of July. David Kay had been selected by the CIA to head up the Iraq Survey Group, which was to look for the —
AMY GOODMAN: 2003.
DAVID CORN: In 2003, which was to look for the WMDs. They didn’t start really until a few months after the invasion. And David Kay, before the war, firmly believed that there were WMDs. He was an NBC News consultant, had testified before Congress and had said so many a time. So he took the job, saying, “Now I’m going to get to find everything.” And he went there. After six, seven weeks, he started coming to the conclusion that there were no WMDs to be found. He thought, perhaps optimistically, that there would be what he called a production surge capability, meaning that at the snap of a finger, Saddam Hussein could order up his scientists to cook up some chemical and biological weapons very quickly, and that would be, you know, not — that would be close to what the administration had said, maybe enough of a threat to have been worried about. So that’s what he was aiming to find evidence of six weeks into the job.
At that point, he comes back to Washington, briefs members of the Congress, and he’s brought to the Oval Office. In the office is the President, the Vice President, the National Security Advisor, Condi Rice. Paul Wolfowitz is there. Scooter Libby’s there. And I think Rumsfeld might have been there, as well. And Kay says —-you know, he’s not a guy who sugarcoats things -— he said, “I’ve got to tell you this. We’re not going to find stockpiles of WMDs, maybe a production surge capability, but nothing like you said would be there.” And he kind of waits for the President to respond. And he’s flabbergasted, because the President poses no questions to him, not “Are you sure? Have you looked here? Have you done this?” You know, “What might happen there? Where were they? What happened?” Nothing. And then he looks around the rest of the room, and everybody, perhaps being deferential to the President — you know, Cheney and Rumsfeld, who are known to be quite harsh when it comes to interrogation skills, you know — don’t say anything, as well. So David Kay walks out of the office. And as he tells us — it’s quoted in the book — he says he had never met a more un-inquisitive fellow at such a senior level of government. And he is shocked by this.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to David Corn and Michael Isikoff. They’ve written the book, Hubris. It has just come out, has broken a number of stories. When we come back from break, I want to ask you about Ahmed Chalabi, right. He is the source for so much information that appears in the front page of the New York Times under Judith Miller’s byline, which she sometimes shares with others. But the White House begins to think that he’s channeling Iranian intelligence, too, but he is being paid by the Bush administration. I want to talk about all of that.
AMY GOODMAN: Our guests today are Michael Isikoff of Newsweek and David Corn of The Nation. They’ve worked together on a book, Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal and the Selling of the Iraq War, broke the Valerie Plame story about what she was doing when she was outed and who outed her, Richard Armitage. But the book is about a lot more. Let’s talk about Ahmed Chalabi. Tell us about who he is, whose payroll he was on and whose information he was channeling, Michael Isikoff.
MICHAEL ISIKOFF: Right, there was probably no more contentious issue within the Bush administration than the role of Ahmed Chalabi, the head of the Iraqi National Congress. And he was sort of the favored Iraqi exile of a lot of senior figures in the administration, particularly at the Pentagon and in the White House and in the Vice President’s office. Chalabi was their guy. He was the guy who was going to take over Iraq and would lead the new democratic government that we were going to install.
But Chalabi was deeply distrusted by the CIA and the State Department and, in fact, in the book, we interview — one of our key figures in the book is a man by the name of John Maguire, who was the CIA liaison with Iraq. He was in charge of Iraq and with Chalabi. And he distrusted Chalabi for years. He had actually looked into Chalabi in the mid-1990s, when Chalabi was first getting U.S. government money supposedly to propagandize within Iraq. Maguire goes to Iraq. He’s supposed to — —-Chalabi’s been getting money from the CIA to fund a TV station, to fund a newspaper, to propagandize against Saddam. And Maguire concludes that Chalabi is scamming the CIA, that he’s not using the money for what he’s supposed to be using it at all. And it leads to this -— it’s one of many factors that leads to this rift between Chalabi and the CIA. The CIA thinks he’s a scam artist. They don’t trust him. They don’t believe the information that he’s bringing forward either.
And that’s when we get to the run-up to the war, when Chalabi’s bringing these defectors out of Iraq, providing them to the news media and to the U.S. intelligence community. And the CIA, one by one, is shooting them down. These guys are fabricators. They don’t know what they are talking about. They are telling us a bunch of cock and bull stories that we, the CIA, don’t believe, don’t trust. Doesn’t matter. Chalabi has his friends in the Pentagon, he’s got his friends in the White House, and he has his friends in the news media. And we go into great detail how these defectors were fed to the New York Times. Judy Miller and other reporters put them on the front page in prominent stories: “Defector Tells Stories of Underground WMD Facilities in Iraq.”
The — number of people say, Republican defenders of the administration have said, well, they never actually made it into intelligence community products, this defector information. That’s a bit deceptive, because, as we document, what happened is, those front-page stories in the New York Times and other publications were then used by the White House as fodder for its own white paper on Iraq that was released by the White House in conjunction with the President’s UN speech, prominently citing the New York Times stories based on these false fabricating defectors determined by the CIA. So the information was being used. It was being used by the administration and, of course, you know, one by one, piece by piece, as has been once again documented in last week’s Senate Intelligence Committee, this information was false.
DAVID CORN: There’s another element to this story, too —
AMY GOODMAN: David Corn.
DAVID CORN: —- that we get into the book. Ahmed Chalabi, in his Iraqi National Congress, was for years close to officials in Iran. That made sense to a certain degree. Iran wanted Saddam gone. INC and Chalabi wanted Saddam gone. Chalabi had a home in Iran. The INC had an office in Tehran. But the CIA, starting in the mid—'90s, had a concern. It's not just that they were close and shared a strategic interest. They worried that Iranian intelligence was working through the INC, and there was one INC official in particular, a man named Aras Habib, who they intercepted communications about and came to believe that he was working quite actively with Iranian intelligence. And they were very suspicious about this.
It turns out, a few years later, in late '90s, early 2000s, as we're getting closer to the war, one of the primary projects of the INC was what was called the Information Collection Program, the ICP. They took money from the State Department first, and then from the Pentagon, tens of millions of dollars, to get the defectors that Mike talked about and bring them to governments around the world, but to media, as well, and to pass these stories on that really would raise the drumbeat and give people a reason to believe that we should go to war in Iraq. Well, the person in charge of that probe and the person in charge was the same Aras Habib. So someone who some CIA officials suspected of being perhaps an Iranian asset was involved with giving information to the New York Times and Washington Post and NewsHour and other organizations that would make the case for war.
And when John Maguire and others told us about their suspicions, I mean, I was just kind of stunned. How could this be? So here is the CIA suspecting the guy running this program of being an Iranian agent. And I said, “Well, what did you do about this? You know, certainly this must have been a big deal.” And they kind of shrugged their shoulders, and they said, “Well, we couldn’t do anything about this. And I said, “Well, why not?” And we quote one in the book saying, “You can’t fight City Hall,” meaning that because the White House and the office of the Vice President and the Pentagon were so invested in the INC and Ahmed Chalabi that these concerns or fears of the CIA, they felt they couldn’t even express within the administration. So this raises, I think, the scary possibility — and it’s something that was not looked into in the Senate Intelligence report that came out few days ago, that it’s very good in parts on blowing apart the credibility of the INC, but they didn’t look into this one.
MICHAEL ISIKOFF: Although they do mention the concerns about Iranian intelligence.
DAVID CORN: Yes, there was a —
MICHAEL ISIKOFF: The INC was infected by — was infiltrated by Iranian intelligence and that this was a longstanding CIA concern about the INC. That’s not something that ever got raised before the war.
DAVID CORN: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask something about — you have written about recently, Michael Isikoff, in Newsweek, and that is, how many CIA agents are now buying insurance, afraid that they could be sued?
MICHAEL ISIKOFF: Yes. And that relates to the aggressive interrogation practices that the CIA was using against al-Qaeda suspects, and, in fact, in one of those cases, it ties directly into the selling of the war in Iraq. And we talk about that in great detail in this book. In fact, we have a load of new details about the case of Ibn Sheikh al-Libi, who was the first major al-Qaeda commander who was captured in Afghanistan, was originally interrogated by the FBI. The FBI thought they were making progress with him. They were viewing him as a potential witness in a court case. They were affording him his — they were treating him as somebody who might someday come in a courtroom. So they were treating him with a measure of respect and not stepping over the line. The CIA gets control of Ibn Sheikh al-Libi, takes him away from the FBI, and then sends him to Egypt, where he is rather brutally interrogated. In fact, new details about the brutal interrogation of Ibn Sheikh al-Libi have come out just in recent days. We talk about it in the book, as well.
And then, after being interrogated by the Egyptians, Ibn Sheikh al-Libi tells the story that he hadn’t told the FBI before, but now tells Egyptian interrogators, that al-Qaeda had sent operatives to Iraq for training in chemical and biological warfare training. This report from Ibn Sheikh al-Libi is doubted within the U.S. intelligence community. In fact, there’s a memo in which the DIA says it’s likely he’s just telling interrogators what he thinks they want to hear. Yet, it is used by the administration in a crucial way. In fact, it becomes the prime evidence for what Secretary Powell later calls at the UN the “sinister nexus” between Iraq, al-Qaeda and WMD, and Powell refers to the Ibn Sheikh al-Libi allegations in his speech to the UN.
After the war, Ibn Sheikh al-Libi is transferred back from Egypt into CIA custody, and he acknowledges, he recants the entire story, acknowledges he made up the whole thing because of the brutal interrogation practices that were being used against him. “I told them what they wanted to hear. I had to say that if I wanted to live.” That’s what Ibn Sheikh al-Libi says. And the CIA withdraws all the reporting that it got from Ibn Sheikh al-Libi, says “Never mind, not true. This whole story about Osama sending operatives to Saddam for training in chemical/biological warfare was false, and it was extracted under torture.” This is probably the single most dramatic example of how these sorts of interrogation techniques don’t work. They don’t get you reliable information.
AMY GOODMAN: The parade of generals and military officials we saw in the newsrooms leading up to the invasion, who were beating the drums for war, there was another parade of military officials and generals who, unfortunately, their parade route didn’t take them to the front pages of the newspapers or into the TV networks. They were the ones who were raising questions. Can you give us a list of names? Early on, as the President, as the White House, as the entire corporate media keeps repeating, “No one was saying before that there weren’t weapons of mass destruction.” They all believed it.
DAVID CORN: Well, there were several key components of the WMD case. There was the “sinister nexus.” There was the biological weapons labs and mobile labs that Colin Powell talked about. There were the whole Niger documents that were phonied up. And there were chemical weapon stockpiles. The DIA had put out a report in October 2002 saying that we have no evidence that there are chemical weapons stockpiles.
One good case study, I think, is the aluminum tubes, because of all the WMD arguments, the fact that Saddam Hussein might be close to nuclear weapons is perhaps the most compelling. A lot of countries have chemical and biological weapons. Often they can only be used in a theater of war and are not a direct threat to a country far away. Nuclear weapons is really of a different category. And you might remember that when the administration in September 2002 unveiled the new product, as White House Chief of Staff Andy Card called it, it was with Dick Cheney going on Meet the Press and pointing to a New York Times story that said that Iraq had obtained tens of thousands of aluminum tubes that could only be used for a nuclear centrifuge, which would enrich uranium, which would be used to make nuclear weapons. And the White House came up — a speech writer came up with this metaphor, “We don’t want the smoking gun to appear in the form of a mushroom cloud.” That was the ultimate WMD argument.
Well, at the time, a year prior to that, the aluminum tubes case had been hotly contested within the intelligence community. In fact, there really was only one analyst, a fellow at the CIA who we named for the first time in the book. We name him, because he’s not undercover. The CIA didn’t want us to name him, but we went ahead and did so. This one analyst —
AMY GOODMAN: His name?
DAVID CORN: Joe Turner. And he was pushing the case that these tubes could only be used for nuclear centrifuges. Now, the federal government, as you might suspect, has many experts when it comes to centrifuge. Most of them work for nuclear labs based at the Department of Energy. They all looked at the same evidence and said, “No way, can’t fit in the centrifuge.” And they came up with a whole different use for them: these are for rocket launchers.
AMY GOODMAN: We only have a minute. Some more names. Names of people, every aspect.
MICHAEL ISIKOFF: One of the figures who we interview for the book is Admiral Thomas Wilson, who is the former chief of the Defense Intelligence Agency up until May 2002. A couple of months earlier in 2002, he testifies before the Senate. We found this testimony got no coverage at the time, in which he’s asked to identify the five most pressing threats to the United States, security threats to the United States. Iraq isn’t even on the list. In his testimony about Iraq, Wilson said that he didn’t believe — in fact, in the book, he’s quoted for the first time, saying “I never believed they had a nuclear program. I never believed they were an immediate WMD threat.” What he thought, what he testified at the time was that Saddam’s military was degrading. It was weak. It was morale. It was not a regional threat. And that was the chief intelligence officer of the Department of Defense in the spring of 2002. This testimony got no coverage. He was replaced, and very shortly thereafter, the rhetoric from the Pentagon changed dramatically.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to have to leave it there. I thank you very much for being with us. The book is called Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal and the Selling of the Iraq War, the authors Newsweek investigative reporter Michael Isikoff and The Nation magazine’s David Corn. Thanks so much for joining us.
DAVID CORN: Thank you.
MICHAEL ISIKOFF: Thank you.