5 June 2003
Except of course, they won’t (the media that is), go for the jugular. We’ll be lucky if they name and shame a pinky. On both sides of the Atlantic, the frantic search for scapegoats continues apace, one of the latest being Ahmed Chalabi of the INC (favourite of the Wolfie clan) on whose ‘intelligence’ both the Pentagon and the New York Times have relied on so much:
‘[T]he intelligence information and Iraqi defectors supplied by the Iraqi National Congress were taken seriously in two important places: the New York Times and a special intelligence group set up by Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith.
The Iraqi National Congress, U.S. intelligence officials said, bypassed skeptics in the CIA and DIA and fed the same information about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and links to Al-Qaida to the Times and the Pentagon, so Pentagon officials would confirm what the nation’s most influential newspaper was hearing and the newspaper would confirm what the Pentagon was hearing.
An internal Times e-mail reported by the Washington Post said Chalabi ‘has provided most of the front-page exclusives on WMD to our paper” and added that a team of U.S. troops searching for chemical and biological weapons in Iraq was ‘using Chalabi’s intel [intelligence] and document network for its own WMD work.”’ http://www.bayarea.com/mld/mercurynews/news/5984212.htm
This is a tactic that’s been used for years as a method of spreading disinformation whereby, false information is leaked to multiple organisations or individuals and each in turn, uses the other as the ‘unimpeachable source’ in a self-referential merry-go-round.
But what the article I’ve quoted from above doesn’t address, is the fact that the Pentagon or for that matter, the NYT were and are quite happy to accept as ‘fact’ information that backs up an already formed position, in this case the existence of the WMDs as a justification for the war. And one has to ask the question, why were they so happy to accept as fact, information that clearly came from suspect sources? Could it be that the political agenda of the NYT is in fact in lock-step with that of the government?
‘It could have been a man in a pub’
Meanwhile, in London, it’s reached the point where John Reid, leader of the Commons is now blaming ‘rogue elements [that] are seeking to undermine the government’ in the intelligence services by supplying them (the government) with ‘misleading’ information.
In a remarkable exchange on BBC’s Radio 4 April 4 between the BBC’s John Humphries and John Reid (I can’t supply you with a transcript but if you go to http://www.bbc.co.uk/today/audio/john.reid.ram you can hear the entire incredulous exchange as well as interviews with others), Reid prevaricated and quibbled over who said what to who; whether it was a ‘source’ or ‘sources’ and managed to avoid every question Humphries put to him. I’ve transcribed just a few of the highlights of this amazing exchange:
John Humphries: ‘[The government has] still not [produced] a single shred of evidence that the 45-minute claim was true.’ – John Reid: ‘That sounds like a sleight of hand.’
Humphries: ‘[But] I put it to you that’s what you’ve been doing for the past eight minutes.’
Reid: (Outraged): ‘We’ve been accused of forcing the security forces of duping the people of this country.’
Humphries: ‘I never said that…you’re putting words in my mouth.’
Reid (avoiding the retort): ‘I don’t know who leaked it’
Humphries: ‘Oh it’s a leak now is it?’
Read (referring to the source of the leaks): ‘It could have been a man in a pub.’
Humphries: ‘I’m sure Andrew Gillingham [who did the interview] knows the difference between a security service source and a man in a pub.’And so on…
At the beginning of the piece though was an extremely enlightening interview with an ex-intelligence official, Andrew Wilkie who used to work for the Office for National Assessment, the senior intelligence agency in Australia who said that a number of his associates did not believe that the intelligence, supplied largely by the US and the UK justified the war and that he had resigned because of ‘the disinformation pouring out of Iraq [designed] to justify invasion.’ That ‘the assessments were skewed by political interference…governments latched onto those parts of intelligence that justified going to war.’
‘This is bullshit’
Meanwhile, back in the US, things are going from bad to worse. The meeting between foreign secretary Jack Straw and secretary of state Colin Powell that was leaked by a British official showed that even Powell was ‘apprehensive’ about the ‘evidence’.
And US News reported that ‘during a rehearsal of Powell’s presentation [for the UN] at…( CIA) headquarters on February 1, [Powell] at one point ‘tossed several pages in the air. ‘I’m not reading this’, he declared. ‘This is bullshit’.’
‘Newsweek [reported] that when the US Central Command (CENTCOM) asked the CIA for specific WMD targets that should be destroyed in the first stages of the invasion, the agency only complied reluctantly. But what it provided ‘was crap’, a CENTCOM planner told the magazine.’
The issue however, that is still not being dealt with, is why the lies? I don’t know how many times I’m going to have to ask this question, but it has to be done. Until the relationship between the lies and the war is shown for what it is, ‘exposes’, ‘leaks’, or whatever you want to call them, are essentially without meaning or context unless they lead to unraveling and exposure of the long term strategies of the USUK empire-building ambitions.
When thieves fall out
But what these ‘leaks’ do reveal however, is the degree to which the ruling political classes have fallen out, not over strategies but over the tactics that have ultimately failed them. After all, why would loyal civil servants who, throughout this entire process have produced the ‘evidence’ that has been demanded of them by their political masters, decide that the time had come to ‘tell all’? Could it be that like many people, they were trying to protect their jobs and reputations? Or could the outrageous hypocrisy of their employers have gotten just too much even for them to swallow? Whatever the motivations were for the leaks, they have revealed an underlying weakness, a weakness that opens up an opportunity to unpack the rationale behind the invasion.
It also exposes the degree to which government policies rely on the vast army of apparatchiks, the spooks and analysts, who create the ‘facts’ that the political elite need in order to persuade an increasingly skeptical public. The sheer complexity of creating and managing a 21st century empire, which in spite of all the ‘dry runs’ of the past 20 years, is still subject to Murphy’s Law.
And interestingly, the greater the control exerted over the flow of information (‘embedded’ journalists, TV-style ‘news’ centres, reams of documents, videos and so forth), the more people have demanded a deeper understanding of events. If anything, the attempts at absolute control governments have tried to exert over the flow of information has had the reverse effect of the one intended.
Smoke and mirrors?
The question now however, is whether the issue of the invasion will be sidetracked into nitpicking over who said what to who and when, or whether the substantive issue of policy and objectives will be pursued with even greater vigour? The exchange between John Reid and John Humphries on the BBC above, outrageous though it was, is a perfect example of the kind of smoke and mirrors that obscure the essential issues. For in spite of Humphries ‘searching’ questions, not once did he ask the question why? Ultimately, the relationship between the media and the government, when looked at over time, is altogether too comfortable and self-serving. It’s not enough that now the ‘evidence’ is revealed for what it is, a pack of lies, where was John Humphries et al when the ‘evidence’ was first presented? Ultimately, when the line of questioning threatens to go just too far, the media back off.
When for example, Humphries almost implied that the government might have lied to us and Reid got into his affronted, ‘how dare you suggest that Blair would lie’ mode, Humphries slunk back to his corner of the studio, suitably chastened and ‘put in his place’. This ‘master and servant’ relationship is deeply ingrained in the power relations of the state and civil society in the UK, and one has to say that in the US, the possibility for exposing the fabrications of the Bush administration through the Senate and Congressional investigating Committees, for whatever motivations (Democrat versus Republican or whatever), has a greater potential for revealing the true reasons. The lessons of Watergate and Iran-Contra have not been forgotten in spite of the massive propaganda campaign the government/corporate media has mounted to cow the public into submission. The experiences of those two events are a lurking undercurrent that threatens to surface. The history of duplicity coupled to a deep mistrust of central (federal) government could combine to challenge and ultimately, undermine the Bush administration and its policies.