Time to Dust Off the Impeachment Papers
Yet Another Intelligence Failure
By RAHUL MAHAJAN
New York City
April 1, 2005 - The "Commission on the Intelligence
Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction" has done reasonably well what it was created to do.
Unfortunately, it was created to provide political cover for the Bush administration in the middle of a scandal that dwarfs
Watergate, Iran-contra, and even Lewinsky-gate, but that, in contrast to those events, has led to no in-depth investigation,
minimal television coverage, and hardly any calls for the heads responsible to roll.
Think back to late January 2004 and the preliminary report
of the Iraq Survey Group, which concluded that no weapons of mass destruction had been found in Iraq. This came on top of
what was by then a mounting wave of revelations that the Bush administration had repeatedly and deliberately deceived the
American public -- and attempted to deceive the world -- about the evidence it claimed to have regarding Iraq's WMD.
Post-war, those revelations started with Joseph Wilson's account
that, acting for the Bush administration, he had debunked the claims that Iraq was buying uranium from Niger. It included
the British government's apology for its "dodgy dossier," in which it plagiarized 12-year-old information from a graduate
student's paper and passed it off as current intelligence, and the revelation that Tony Blair's claim that Iraq could deploy
its nonexistent chemical and biological weapons in 45 minutes was known to based on a single uncorroborated statement by an
untrustworthy defector. It included a comprehensive accounting in the Washington Post showing that Iraq was not and could
not have been using its famous aluminum tubes for uranium enrichment. It also included a comprehensive debunking in the Associated
Press of virtually every element of Colin Powell's February 5, 2003, presentation to the U.N. Security Council. It even included
a description of the role of Cheney, Rumsfeld, and their Office of Special Plans in pressuring the CIA, distorting their conclusions,
and even setting them aside in order to create the most urgent and compelling justification for war.
This wave, and the wave of political discontent with the Bush
administration, crested when David Kay's report came out. Yet, within days of its issuance, the administration, with the help
of prominent Democrats like Jane Harman on the House Intelligence Committee, had already spun the issue around from administration
deception to something called "intelligence failures," shifting blame from the coterie of top officials who had lied us into
a war to the intelligence agencies had been pressured to come up with those lies. The creation of this commission was the
final step in the process, and helped to head off any chance of a serious investigation into those lies.
Instead of impeachment proceedings for Bush, we saw a very
skillful bureaucratic maneuver that killed two birds with one stone -- deflection of attention and also an attack on the CIA,
seen as an institutional obstacle to implementation of the Cheney-Rumsfeld-neoconservative foreign policy agenda. The check
provided by the CIA is a pragmatic, not a moral one, but if heeded might have kept the administration out of embarrassing
adventures like support for the military coup attempt in Venezuela and perhaps even out of the more than two-year-long occupation
Although the commission was specifically not tasked with considering
the administration's use of intelligence, it still went out of its way to opine that political pressure from the administration
played no part in the "intelligence failures," because "The analysts who worked Iraqi
weapons issues universally agreed
that in no instance did political pressure
cause them to skew or alter any of their analytical judgments." Of course, not
only would such an admission be tantamount to saying one didn't do one's job properly, in the current political climate intelligence
analysts had to know that they would be punished for any such claim.
Similarly, the commission reserves particularly harsh criticism
for the way the President's Daily Brief is prepared, characterizing them as "more alarmist and less nuanced" than longer reports
like the famously flawed October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (heavily worked over by the Office of Special Plans).
Their "attention-grabbing headlines and drumbeat
of repetition" supposedly gave top officials the impression that dramatic
claims were much better sourced and heavily corroborated than, in fact, they were.
The commission is clearly trying to imply that some sort of
scaremongering from the intelligence community stampeded the administration into war. And yet, there is no mention of another
"attention-grabbing headline" from the August 6, 2001 PDB -- "Bin Laden Determined to Attack in US." To the uninitiated, this
might well seem alarming, yet it didn't grab enough attention for Bush to cut short his vacation at Crawford or to bring back
other top officials to Washington DC. It's hard to escape the conclusion that the administration got "alarmed" by claims that
supported its pre-existing plans, like the invasion of Iraq, but couldn't be bothered by claims that had little to do with
an imperial agenda, but, of course, the commission escapes it with ease.
Much of what the commission concludes about the shortcomings
of the intelligence community is true and recapitulates what thoughtful critics on the inside like Richard Clarke and Michael
Scheuer have been saying. In a sense, it is the fault not so much of the commission but of the Bush administration that created
it as a diversion and of political figures from across the spectrum who allowed themselves to be diverted.
The most alarming thing about the report is that the sections
on intelligence regarding Iran and North Korea have been kept classified. The justification given is that there's no reason
for the U.S. government to tip its hand to the remaining members of Bush's "axis of evil." But, given the administration's
saber-rattling and consideration of regime change attempts in both countries, the public's right to know is a far more compelling
consideration. If the slightest move is made toward any military aggression against Iran (the more likely scenario of the
two), the first thing we should demand is declassification of those pages.
After that, perhaps we can take up that question of impeachment
Rahul Mahajan is publisher of the weblog Empire Notes, with regularly updated commentary on U.S. foreign policy, the occupation of Iraq, and the state of the American Empire.
He has been to occupied Iraq twice, and was in Fallujah during the siege in April. His most recent book is Full Spectrum Dominance: U.S. Power in Iraq and Beyond. He can be reached at email@example.com