The Bush administration is coming under heavy attack from an array of top U.S. intelligence professionals, diplomats and former Pentagon officials. In an unprecedented display of candor, they are speaking their minds and blasting the administration for distorting the case for war against Iraq.
They claim the very basis of intelligence-gathering has been damaged severely and could require years, even decades, to repair.
The Independent, a British newspaper, reports a new documentary film starting to circulate in the United States features one potent condemnation after another from people who normally remain in the background. These are individuals such as a former director of the CIA, two former assistant secretaries of defense, an ex-ambassador to Saudi Arabia, and the man who was George W. Bushs Secretary of the Army until a few months ago.
In the film, the two dozen people interviewed disclose how the pre-war intelligence record on Iraq showed just the opposite of what the administration told the Congress and the American people as well as the world.
The film also recreates the way in which senior White House officialsnotably Vice President Dick Cheneytried to intimidate the CIA to produce evidence supporting a preordained set of conclusions.
There was never a clear and present danger, said Mel Goodman, veteran CIA analyst who teaches at the National War College. There was never an imminent threat. Iraqand we have very good intelligence on thiswas never part of the picture of terrorism.
According to veteran CIA agent Robert Baer, the case for charging Saddam Hussein with concealing weapons of mass destruction was largely formulated through data miningthat is going back over old information and trying to reach new conclusions from it.
Charles Freeman, former ambassador to Saudi Arabia under President George Bush Sr., said the agenda was both highly political and extremely misguided.
The theory that you can bludgeon political grievances out of existence doesnt have much of a track record, Freeman said. So essentially we have been neo-conned into applying a school of thought about foreign affairs that has failed everywhere it has been tried.
The paper said the hour-long film was made by Robert Greenwald, a veteran TV producer who is in the vanguard of Hollywoods anti-war movement. The film is titled: Uncovered: The Whole Truth About the Iraq War.
Greenwald said he was surprised that so many establishment figures were willing to speak their minds.
My attitude was, wow, CIA people; I thought these were the bad guys. Not everyone agreed on everything. Not everyone was against the war itself. But there was a universally shared opinion that we had been misled about the reasons for the war, Greenwald said.
Many elements in the film are not new, such as the forged documents on uranium sales by Niger to Iraq and the satellite images of mobile biolabs that were simply trucks used to fill balloons with hydrogen. What comes through, though, is a strong sense of professional betrayal in the intelligence community.
Former CIA analyst Ray McGovern argues strongly that the traditional role of the CIA has been to provide scrupulously accurate information and analysis to a president who is making grave international decisions.
McGovern said that role has been prostituted and the CIA may never be the same. Where is Bush going to turn to now? he asks. Where is his reliable source of information now that Iraq is spinning out of control? Hes frittered that away, and the profound indignity is that he probably doesnt even realize it, McGovern said.
The paper said subversion of the CIA began on Aug. 26, 2002, when Cheney made a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Nashville. He told them that Saddam was reactivating his nuclear weapons program and was thus threatening death on a massive scalein his own region or beyond.
Cheney, according to several sources, followed up that speech with numerous and unusual visits to CIA headquarters in Langley, Va. He reportedly went there to pressure low-level analysts to produce evidence to support the claims in his Nashville speech.
By September, intelligence experts in Congress were calling for a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE). Thats a complete rundown of everything known about Iraqs weapons programs. These reports generally take months to produce, but George Tenet, CIA director, turned out a 100-page report in three weeks.
The paper said Tenet picked weapons expert Robert Walpole to prepare the document. Walpole reportedly has a record of reworking old intelligence assessments to turn out reports supporting the views of a particular political interest group.
Walpole turned out such a report in 1998 to back the case of a congressional commission for a missile defense system. The chairman of that commission was Donald Rumsfeld, now Secretary of Defense.
The misinformation contained in Walpoles analysis found its way into President Bushs Oct. 7 speech to Congress and then was part and parcel of the strong presentation by Secretary of State Colin Powell to the United Nations General Assembly on Iraqs potential threat.
In the film McGovern says of that presentation: It was a masterful performance, but none of it was true.