A Failure of Policy Not of Intelligence By William Bowles

10 July 2004

LANGLEY, Va. (AP) – Former President Bush, helping the CIA celebrate its 50th birthday Wednesday, called agency critics “nuts,” derided the CIA’s “universally negative press” and labeled congressional staffers who investigate agency misdeeds “crusading young zealots.”

The podium-thumping speech brought repeated ovations from a crowd of about 4,000 CIA retirees – including all the living former directors of central intelligence. Bush focused on his time as the CIA chief in 1976 and 1977, in the wake of highly critical examinations of U.S. intelligence by the press and congressional investigating committees.

“The entire agency,” Bush said, “was demeaned by the universally negative press coverage coming from mistakes made by but a handful of people.”
Associated Press, 09/17/97

“… Secret CIA operations constitute the usually unseen efforts to shore up unjust, unpopular, minority governments, always with the hope that overt military intervention…will not be necessary. The more successful CIA operations are, the more remote overt intervention becomes, and the more remote become reforms. Latin America in the 1960s is all the proof one needs.”
Philip Agee, Inside the Company: CIA Diary

Anybody who has read Agee’s book on his time in the CIA will laugh at today’s ‘report’ on the CIA’s failures to correctly assess the ‘dangers’ from Saddam Hussein’s fabled WMD. In the CIA Diary Agee reveals that the primary objective of the CIA is not the gathering of intelligence (most of which appears to have been invented in order to justify agents’ and their employees jobs) but the overthrow of governments hostile to US corporate interests.

Predictably, given all the disastrous setbacks the imperium has suffered these past months, it was only a question of time before the servants of capital sought to justify the fuck-up called the liberation of Iraq by finding a scapegoat for a failed policy. But in doing so, it has created another trap for itself for so damning are the findings of the Committee that whether the Committee likes it or not, it destroys the rationale for the invasion completely, regardless of whether or not it hinged on so-called faulty intelligence.

“We in Congress would not have authorized that war with 75 votes if we knew what we know now… [I]n Iraq we were even more culpable, because the dots themselves never existed… [O]ur credibility is diminished, our standing in the world has never been lower…we have fostered a deep hatred of Americans in the Muslim world.”
Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.) 9/7/04

It would be more accurate to describe it as a failure of policy not of intelligence. The intelligence failure was to come up with sufficient information that could justify the policy of pre-emptive war.

“What we had was a worldwide intelligence failure.”
Mr. Roberts, the committee chairman, NYT 08/07/04

Ho-hum. Failure? Laughable if hadn’t been for its tragic consequences. Consider for example the presentation made by Colin Powell to UN in February 2003, a full-fledged piece of Göebellian newspeak. Not a single piece of it could have been assembled without the complicity of the White House. It was after all, the final, desperate attempt to justify the unjustifiable. To say that it depended on “intelligence failures” is to stretch credulity like a piece of Lycra™ consisting as it did of fuzzy satellite photos of buildings, intercepted radio conversations, photos of trucks and so on, all of which were questioned at the time by the UN itself. Yet it got unquestioning front-page treatment from almost the entire corporate and state media as the final, and damning indictment of Saddam and his lies about the existence of WMD.

To say that Powell’s presentation was based solely on “faulty intelligence” avoids the fact that the invasion was based not on ‘intelligence’ but on pre-ordained policy, decided at the very highest levels of government in the US and the UK. That not a shred of evidence existed to support the basis for the invasion (aside that is from its illegality under international law) is the reason the ‘evidence’ was fabricated in the first place, a fact that seems to have escaped the army of pundits working overtime to find a reason that doesn’t finally unravel the entire sorry mess.

The Senate Committee’s report does however reveal, albeit reluctantly (and under-reported in the media) that as far back as 1998, the invasion of Iraq was a ‘done deal’:

“ROCKEFELLER: It was clear to all of us in this room who were watching that, and to many others, that they had made up their mind that they were going to go to war. And I believe to this day, and I always have and I’ve said so publicly many times in regretting my vote, that there was a predetermination, even going back to 1998 in a letter to Bill Clinton, saying, “The time for diplomacy has ended and now is the time for the use of military force.” [my emph. WB]

Perhaps most damning of all is Rockefeller’s statement:

“So in conclusion, during a critical time in our nation’s history, 18-month period spanning the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001, to the invasion of Iraq on March 20th, 2003, the credibility of the intelligence community, which is the spear tip of all actions, and particularly under a doctrine of preemption, was significantly compromised.” [my emph. WB]

In other words, it’s the government’s policy of pre-emptive war that underpins the “intelligence failure”, not the failure of the intelligence agencies per se. Rockefeller goes on to say:

“And we had major disagreements on pressure. And I felt that the definition of pressure was very narrowly drawn in the final report. And that is that, sort of, that if somebody came up to you and you were one of the analysts who had been working on WMD, and they said, “Did anybody tell you that you had to change your point of view?” and the answer was, “No,” well that was the description of pressure.

“That’s not my description of pressure. That’s a description of pressure. But another description of pressure is the total ambience of this cascade of ominous statements, which continued really up to the present, about what was going to happen or the relationship between Al Qaida and Iraq, Mohammed Atta and the rest of it.”

Conveniently, the Senate Committee did not investigate whether or not the CIA came under “pressure” from government, a decision that Rockefeller “regrets”, given that there was nothing to stop the Committee from doing so.

The Senate ‘investigation’ is the last desperate attempt on the part of the state to shift the focus of attention from state policy to the failures of its servants to come up with the goods that could justify invasion. For what the ‘investigation’ does is stand reality on its head.

Meanwhile, back in the vassal state of Tony Blair’s, the lies continue to pour out as if nothing has changed. The first of a new round of so-called justifications for war was revealed in a Financial Times story last week, and repeated again on 07/07/04, conveniently leaked from the forthcoming Butler ‘inquiry’. It says in part,

“The Financial Times revealed last week that a key part of the UK’s intelligence on the uranium came from a European intelligence service that undertook a three-year surveillance of an alleged clandestine uranium-smuggling operation of which Iraq was a part.

“Intelligence officials have now confirmed that the results of this operation formed an important part of the conclusions of British intelligence. The same information was passed to the US but US officials did not incorporate it in their assessment.”

Amazing that the US did not incorporate the ‘evidence’ into their assessment given the paucity of ‘evidence’ available? Who is kidding whom here? This is no doubt the same ‘evidence’ sent by Jack ‘the lights are on but nobody’s home’ Straw that got ‘lost in the mail’ on its way to the UN late in 2002 or early 2003, that is the source the FT’s story is referring to. And in fact, Straw is on record as saying that the ‘other’ source on the Niger yellowcake was not passed on to the US. Of course, it’s no accident that the Butler report concurs with the intellectually challenged Straw on the issue of the ‘other evidence’ that ties Saddam to Niger yellowcake, for to do otherwise would be yet another nail in the coffin of our lying government’s attempts to justify its actions. And if I can be allowed the power of prophecy for just a second, what’s the bet that this other ‘evidence’ will be ‘so sensitive’ that it will never see the light of day.

Well bully for the Financial Times! If this story is correct, how come the ‘intelligence’ got lost in the process of the last year of trying (unsuccessfully) to find a valid reason for invading Iraq? The whole thing is a terrible fiasco, just like the invasion and reveals the desperation of our political masters.

Most important of all, is the media’s failure to correctly present the role of ‘intelligence’ as an arm of state policy, not the other way around. So today (10/7/04), almost without exception, every major newspaper’s front page led with the words “Damning failure of intelligence” thus neatly sidestepping the issue of policy. It’s why Blair could say – in spite of the lack of evidence justifying the invasion – that Saddam “had to go”.

Much self-flagellation is now going on in the editorial offices of the corporate and state media, largely consisting of ‘why (bleat) did we not ask these questions before?’ Why indeed? So much for the power of the 4th Estate’s investigative abilities. Yet the right questions were asked just not by the corporate or state media. And in fact, when credible people did ask the right questions, they were dismissed as not being reliable or credible, for to do so would have meant asking the question: are our governments lying to us? Note that the issue of lies is still not being raised, instead it’s ‘What went wrong?’

Sacrificing a few bureaucrats is a small price to pay and no doubt the loss of face will ‘smart’ for a couple of weeks, or days, to be followed by a request to triple the intelligence budget.

But let us not forget that the key intelligence agency in the US is not the CIA but the National Security Agency or NSA, whose budget is kept secret but according to former NSA employee James Bamford, in his book “Body of Secrets”, its 1995-1999 overall budget totalled $17.5 billion with $7.5 billion requested for 2000-2001.

“[T]he …NSA employs approximately 38,000 people, more than the CIA and the FBI combined. Another 25,000 are employed in the Agency’s Central Security Services, which operates the scores of listening posts; these staffers do not count as NSA employees.”

With total force of over 60,000 people to say that the US is not fully appraised of events in far-flung lands is ludicrous. And not surprisingly, the NSA has not been mentioned at all in all the press coverage of events over the past few days, for to do so, one would have to ask the question, what justifies the multi-billion dollar annual budgets of the combined forces of the CIA, the NSA, Britain’s GCHQ, and other Western intelligence agencies that between them, couldn’t find a single WMD in over twelve years of overflights and countless hundreds of on-site investigations by the UN?

But don’t hold your breath waiting for the BBC or any other media operation to ask this question. Instead, as with BBC Radio 4’s news programme early this am (10/7/04), a pundit was dragged out of bed to try and explain why Saddam “misled” the West into thinking that he did indeed have WMD? So now it’s all Saddam’s fault that they couldn’t find any WMD.

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