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Part 1: McCain's Role in the WMD Cover up

The Crimes and Cover-Ups of John McCain Part 1



McCain's Role in the WMD Cover up


John McCain and Charlie Black’s War
How a Senator and a Lobbyist Led the Deception Campaign
that Tricked the U.S.

By Mark G. Levey

Part 2, Part 3

Who’s responsible for the “intelligence failure” that plunged the U.S. into the Iraq War? As much as anyone else, that distinction is shared by two Americans who discovered and nurtured Ahmad Chalabi and “Curveball”, and pushed their fortunes in Washington.

One of those men is currently the presumptive Republican candidate for President of the United States, and the other is his chief political fixer.

This is the story about how they did it, and then shifted the spotlight of intelligence failure, political scandal, and criminal conspiracy off themselves.

***

Here are some key events to keep in mind as the Iraq War deception unfolds:

  • 1998-2003 - John McCain enthusiastically espoused the delusion about cheap and easy Middle East wars, and sponsored Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress (I.N.C.) organization, even though the CIA had cut it off for producing faulty intelligence.
  • 1998 - McCain was a co-sponsor of the Iraq Liberation Act that led to the creation of a false intelligence factory that replaced CIA Iraq reporting. He led charges in the Senate about Iraqi WMD programs that U.S. intelligence was reporting didn’t exist.
  • 2001-2003 - Using $100 million allocated by the Act cosponsored by McCain, Ahmed Chalabi’s I.N.C. generated the false intelligence about nonexistent mobile bioweapons labs cited as part of the case for the Iraq invasion. I.N.C. Chalabi’s group was paid $335,000 a month in the lead-up to the Iraq war to gather intelligence.
  • 2003 - McCain and four other Republican Senators made an appeal to Bush to “personally clear the bureaucratic roadblocks within the State Department” that stood in the way of even more funding for the I.N.C. McCain acted as a character witness for Chalabi, stating “He’s a patriot who has the best interests of his country at heart.”
  • Prior to advocating in favor of the October, 2002 Iraq War Resolution, McCain read the classified CIA National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), and was briefed on multiple occasions about it. While he knew that U.S. intelligence was split over Iraq WMDs, McCain never said anything publicly about the other view contained in the classified documents in which he had been given special access.
  • 05/03 – present - Even after the Iraq WMD deception and failed occupation became clear, McCain has refused to acknowledge that he had been wrong all along about the justifications for the Iraq War, and says he would vote again for that war, and again vote to fund Chalabi.
  • Senator McCain still avoids taking responsibility for his role in the Iraq intelligence failure, perhaps for no better reason than he kept some distance between himself and operatives at the Pentagon and in the Office of the Vice President who actually carried out the policy, some of whom were later convicted of espionage and related charges.
  • 1997-present - The McCain campaign’s chief publicist, Charlie Black, a powerful GOP lobbyist, has protected and promoted the cause of Ahmad Chalabi’s I.N.C. organization in Washington since 1997, and also played a major role in spreading I.N.C. disinformation.
  • 1997-present – As the Iraq War plan developed, Black’s lobbying firm has received hundreds of millions from U.S. companies doing Iraq War related business, a substantial portion of the profits from which Black has funneled back to McCain and other prominent GOP leaders

Iraq War: Made in the USA

The conventional telling of the Iraq War story starts and stops with a motley group of exiled Iraqi businessmen, dissident scientists and professional conmen associated with the Iraqi National Congress (I.N.C.).

Most Americans instantly recognize only two names in connection with the Iraq WMD “intelligence failure”: Ahmad Chalabi, the group’s leader and “Curveball”, an engineer who claimed to have been working inside Saddam Hussein’s biological weapons programs at the time of his defection to Germany in 1998.

The I.N.C. exiles are often portrayed as masters of deception who by their own home-made ingenuity cooked up the raw intelligence that tricked much of the Washington establishment. We are expected to believe that, they alone, made Senators and spies believe – incorrectly -- that Saddam Hussein had WMDs, and “mushroom clouds” would soon be seen over American cities.

The story being told about Saddam Hussein’s WMD was, of course, a lie. And, the easiest thing to do after it was found out was to attach blame for the “intelligence failure” onto a shady cell of foreign outcasts and Arabic-speaking oddballs bearing false documents and phony eyewitness accounts.

The truth is, the Iraq “intelligence failure” was more than anything else a case of deliberate and willful self-deception and bullying by a group of powerful Washington insiders – led by Vice President Dick Cheney, along with John McCain on Capitol Hill, and Donald Rumsfeld at the Pentagon -- who wanted to demonstrate that they, rather than the professional military and CIA, knew best how to start, fight, and (they thought) quickly and easily win wars in the Middle East.

Second only to scapegoating Iraqis, the official Washington narrative contains another deceptive subtext: everyone wants to pretend the Iraq WMD operation was somehow free of any partisan motivation. That too, as we shall see, is a g-d damned lie, papered over by the active participation of neoconservative Democrats, particularly Joe Lieberman. Ranking GOP Senators and Congressmen, along with their aides and allies in the network of conservative Republican dominated think-tanks and lobbying shops were instrumental in creating I.N.C., and keeping it generously funded during the 1990s until the disaster in Iraq was fully realized in 2005.

In starkest, bottom-line terms, the U.S. went to war in 2003 as the result of frustration by GOP Congressional leaders and neoconservative operatives at what they viewed as the Clinton Administration’s refusal to “finish off” Saddam Hussein. Starting in 1992, when George H.W. Bush was defeated, lobbying started for regime change in Baghdad. Of course, Bush, Sr. and his advisors had quite intentionally avoided overthrowing Saddam. In 1991, then Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney was quoted by the New York Times as saying,
If you're going to go in and try to topple Saddam Hussein, you have to go to Baghdad. Once you've got Baghdad, it's not clear what you do with it. It's not clear what kind of government you would put in place of the one that's currently there now. Is it going to be a Shia regime, a Sunni regime or a Kurdish regime? Or one that tilts toward the Baathists, or one that tilts toward the Islamic fundamentalists? How much credibility is that government going to have if it's set up by the United States military when it's there? How long does the United States military have to stay to protect the people that sign on for that government, and what happens to it once we leave?

Nonetheless, almost immediately after Clinton took office, voices were raised calling for regime change. Conservative critics in Washington intensified their crusade in the second term as Hussein retained his grasp despite sanctions and periodic air strikes against of his remaining defenses in Operation Desert Fox. In 1997, after a failed uprising and incompetent coup attempt launched by Chalabi’s orders, against the advice of U.S. officials, the CIA cut-off I.N.C. As Robert Baer, who was the CIA officer on the ground in Iraq, Chalabi essentially sacrificed the Kurdish resistance in defiance of Clinton’s National Security Advisor Anthony Lake.

The response of the Washington political establishment was passage in 1998 of the Iraq Liberation Act, which mandated even greater spending on I.N.C. and six other opposition groups. During hearings on the Iraq Liberation Act, a parade of ranking U.S. military and intelligence officers led by Gen, Anthony Zinni clearly warned Congress of the dangers and futility of the plan to overthrow Saddam’s government by “regime change”.

Leading the charge on Capitol Hill was Senator McCain, along with his colleague, Joseph Lieberman, both vociferous advocates of regime change, focusing from an early date on the danger they described about Iraq’ arsenal of Weapons of Mass Destruction. Here’s McCain and Lieberman at a January 28, 1999 hearing:

Sen. McCain also pressed Zinni as to what Operation Desert Fox had
achieved, asking about Iraq's chemical and biological weapons programs,
"How much has that been set back?" Zinni replied, "We didn't attack
that. That's very difficult because many of the plants that could
produce that are pharmaceutical plants or agricultural chemical
production plants. It's easy in dual-use facilities like that, to
produce it. Biological it's even less difficult in labs."

McCain asked, "So conceivably they could continue their development
of biological and chemical weapons, put it on a Scud missile and attack
Israel?" Zinni replied, "That's possible, yes, sir."

Sen. Lieberman said, "The report that Mr. Butler of UNSCOM
submitted to the Security Council earlier this week just confirms all of
our fears that Saddam and Iraq remain a threat, that they have weapons
of mass destruction and capability to deliver them, and it gives--it
should give all of us a sense of real urgency about trying to deal with
this problem and him, particularly." Global Security

That's the political background against which one may understand, why, from Day One, the incoming Bush-Cheney White House was obsessed with invading Iraq. By a number of informed accounts, Iraq was all that Bush's national security team could think and talk about, ignoring expert advice to protect the country against other known threats, such as al-Qaeda cells inside the U.S.

Where Cheney and others could not find sufficient justification in intelligence findings to sell Congress and the UN on invading a sovereign country – a legal nicety that still could not be ignored, even after 9/11 – these officials were quite happy to have evidence manufactured for them by Chalabi’s network, and to loot the U.S. Treasury to pay for it. Those intelligence officers who questioned the construction within the Pentagon and CIA of elaborate stovepipes and “cells” generating falsified data were pushed aside, and those career officers, such as CIA officer Valerie Plame and Lt. Col. Karen Kwaitowski at DIA, who visibly resisted, had their programs and careers destroyed.

But, the story about the I.N.C.-OSP-OVP pipeline has been often told. What still needs to be examined – what avert their eyes from – is the part played by key Members of Congress, including John McCain, in laying the groundwork and funding the Iraq intelligence deception.

John McCain was certainly at the center of this. During the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq, he was Chairman or Ranking Minority Member of the Senate Commerce Committee, as well as a sitting Member on the Senate Armed Services Committee. He used his particular credibility and influence with the U.S. military to sell a fraudulent intelligence product.

Indeed, the principal cause of the “intelligence failure” behind the Iraq war is much closer to home than is officially acknowledged, and the chief culprits speak imperfect English with an American Mid-western and Dixie accents. Among public office holders, the chief sponsors for Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress in the years leading up to the 2003 invasion was a group of GOP leaders and Congressional Committee heads, including Tent Lott, Newt Gingrich, and John McCain.

In October, 1998, after the CIA cut its funding of Chalabi’s group because it was producing unreliable intelligence and a series of disastrous failed rebellions inside Iraq, Congress passed the Iraq Liberation Act, handing the I.N.C. $97 million to overthrow Saddam Hussein. The funding attached to this Bill, which John McCain co-sponsored, was based on little more than a vaguely defined plan to carry out “regime change”, a plan that Chalabi scratched out with a group of neoconservatives working at Washington and Jerusalem think-tanks.

McCain’s other role as a propagandist during the lead up to the Iraq War has also been soft-peddled and largely forgotten in recent years, since attention has focused on the middle to endgame “Surge”, for which he is, also, provides the face.

McCain, among others in Congress, repeated without reservation that Saddam Hussein threatened the American heartland with WMD. McCain read the classified version of the October 2002 CIA NIE on Iraq, yet never even hinted at the fact that U.S. intelligence was far from unanimous that Iraq had mobile bioweapons trailers and uranium enrichment facilities claimed by the Bush Administration. According to Politico, Link
John McCain, whose spokeswoman, Eileen McMenamin, e-mails that "Sen. McCain was briefed on the NIE numerous times and read the Executive Summary."

Furthermore, John McCain betrayed the special trust that many Americans had in him. McCain had a practically unique claim to military expertise combined with a sense of moral certainty about him that many, especially in the military, found unusually compelling. He often repeated in terms of Puritan clarity that the invasion of Iraq was a necessary and just war to “disarm” Saddam, a message that worked like a charm. In a New York Times op-ed, “The Right War for the Right Reasons”, John McCain wrote on March 12, 2003, a week before the invasion: New York Times

"American armed forces will likely soon begin to disarm Iraq by destroying the regime of Saddam Hussein. We do not know whether they will have the explicit authorization of veto-wielding members of the United Nations Security Council. But either way, the men and women ordered to undertake this mission can take pride in the justice of their cause.

"Critics argue that the military destruction of Saddam Hussein's regime would be, in a word, unjust. This opposition has coalesced around a set of principles of ''just war'' -- principles that they feel would be violated if the United States used force against Iraq.

"The main contention is that we have not exhausted all nonviolent means to encourage Iraq's disarmament. They have a point, if to not exhaust means that America will not tolerate the failure of nonviolent means indefinitely. After 12 years of economic sanctions, two different arms-inspection forces, several Security Council resolutions and, now, with more than 200,000 American and British troops at his doorstep, Saddam Hussein still refuses to give up his weapons of mass destruction.

SNIP

"The force our military uses will be less than proportional to the threat of injury we can expect to face should Saddam Hussein continue to build an arsenal of the world's most destructive weapons.

SNIP

"Both houses of Congress, by substantial margins, granted the president authority to use force to disarm Saddam Hussein. That is all the authority he requires.

"Many critics suggest that disarming Iraq through regime change would not result in an improved peace. There are risks in this endeavor, to be sure. But no one can plausibly argue that ridding the world of Saddam Hussein will not significantly improve the stability of the region and the security of American interests and values. Saddam Hussein is a risk-taking aggressor who has attacked four countries, used chemical weapons against his own people, professed a desire to harm the United States and its allies and, even faced with the prospect of his regime's imminent destruction, has still refused to abide by Security Council demands that he disarm.

"Isn't it more likely that antipathy toward the United States in the Islamic world might diminish amid the demonstrations of jubilant Iraqis celebrating the end of a regime that has few equals in its ruthlessness? Wouldn't people subjected to brutal governments be encouraged to see the human rights of Muslims valiantly secured by Americans -- rights that are assigned rather cheap value by the critics' definition of justice?

'Our armed forces will fight for peace in Iraq -- a peace built on more secure foundations than are found today in the Middle East. Even more important, they will fight for the two human conditions of even greater value than peace: liberty and justice.

SNIP

"The one risk that John McCain didn’t mention was the risk that the often-described Iraqi arsenal of the world's most destructive weapons” didn’t actually exist. The good Senator gave no hint amid his public display of moral certitude about “just war” that he had any awareness of an underlying risk of self-deception and deception within the government.

'Fourteen months later, Congressional hearings commenced into the failure to find Weapons of Mass Destruction. Responses fell neatly down party lines. McCain used the opportunity to reassert his assumed moral certitude and appearance of military expertise to continue to support the decision to invade Iraq: In his questioning of Charles Duelfer, head of the Iraq Survey Group that had finally published its long-delayed report. After Duelfer concluded Iraq's weapons of mass destruction were "essentially" destroyed since the 1991 Gulf War, McCain responded: Link
"SEN. JOHN McCAIN: Knowing the history of Saddam Hussein, his use of weapons of mass destruction... he had them in 1991, is there any doubt in your mind that if Saddam Hussein were in power today and there were no restrictions or sanctions placed on him, that he would be attempting to acquire weapons of mass destruction, Mr. Duelfer?

McCain Sponsored INC Disinformation Unit that Replaced CIA Iraq Intelligence Gathering

How did it come to be that McCain and the rest were seemingly so oblivious to the facts on the ground in Iraq? Much of this melts down to the fact that GOP lawmakers simply refused to believe what they were being told by American intelligence officers and international arms inspectors. They wanted a much more aggressive policy there. The response by McCain and others in Congress was to create an alternative intelligence gathering organization, one that would deliver an alternative reality in Iraq to the one being described by the CIA and IAEA.

Along with large piles of public money and the lies they repeated to bolster the case for war, Chalabi’s GOP allies in Congress pushed for I.N.C. to be given extraordinary powers as a sort of quasi-independent intelligence agency housed at the Pentagon under the roof of the Defense Intelligence Agency. After the Bush-Cheney Administration took power, a newly-create “Information Collection Agency” employing I.N.C. assets began to bypass and co-opt the intelligence gathering and analysis functions that had been previously carried out by professional analysts at DIA and CIA Near East desks.

Now safely in place under looser management, I.N.C. produced vast quantities of flawed “product”, raw intelligence and disinformation which it distributed to “US government recipients”, such as William Luti at the Pentagon Office of Special Plans (OSP) and John Hannah, Vice President Cheney’s special assistant for national security. Another recipient of I.N.C. materials was news media, including Judith Miller at the New York Times, who long before developed a close working relationship with Chalabi. On December 20, 2001, Judith Miller published a front-page story in the Times about an Iraqi engineer who claimed to have direct knowledge of twenty secret chemical-, biological-, and nuclear-weapons sites in Iraq. That source was, of course. Chalabi’s protégé, Code-name “Curveball”, and this launched the second Iraq War.

McCain and his Congressional colleagues voted Chalabi money and influence over Iraq intelligence based on a plan that ranking military and intelligence officers strongly and publicly opposed at the time. In open testimony to Congress, General Anthony Zinni, then commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East warned that the notion of cheap and easy invasion of Iraq was unworkable. Zinni called Chalabi’s regime change plan, “pie in the sky, a fairy tale.” Zinni said later, “They were saying if you put a thousand troops on the ground Saddam’s regime will collapse, they won’t fight.” See, Jane Mayer, The New Yorker, “The Manipulator”, (May 29, 2004), Link

McCain fully embraced the delusion about cheap and easy Middle East wars, and was a co-sponsor of the Act that led to the creation of a false intelligence factory funded by the U.S. Congress to replace CIA Iraq reporting.

Even after the Iraq WMD deception and failed occupation became clear, McCain has refused to acknowledge that he had been wrong all along about Iraq.

Senator McCain still avoids taking responsibility for his role in the Iraq intelligence failure, perhaps for no better reason than he was smart enough to keep some distance between himself and the Pentagon operatives who actually carried out the policy. The Los Angeles Times observed about this: Link

"McCain did not publicly embrace or join the hard-core neoconservatives who pushed hardest to unleash the U.S. military against Baghdad before the war. But McCain backed many of the same policies.

"He repeatedly urged backing Iraqi émigré groups, internal dissidents and other proxy forces to overthrow Hussein. His hawkish views carried weight as a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which oversees the Pentagon.

"In 1998, he was among the cosponsors of the Iraq Liberation Act. The law set "regime change" in Baghdad as U.S. policy and mandated support to opposition groups seeking to overthrow the dictator.

"Among the major beneficiaries was the Iraqi National Congress, a London-based exile group headed by Ahmed Chalabi…

McCain’s Success at Keeping His image clean is owed to Good PR and Charlie Black.

Five years, 4,000 US dead, and $600 billion later, John McCain continues to trade on his image as a maverick, a sophisticated military thinker and crusading fiscal conservative. In great part, he owes that lingering mirage to another key figure in this story, a powerful GOP strategist, and head of one of Washington’s wealthiest lobbying firm, BKSH Associates, a man with the appropriate name, Charlie Black. By one estimate, Black’s clients have paid him some $100 million for his peculiar talents in engineering wars, and keeping political events on track until they pay off with no-bid contracts.

To grasp the mutually profitable Peter-paid-Paul relationship between John McCain and Charlie Black, read this 2003 account of the role of lobbyists in drumming up federal contracts for “rebuilding” Iraq:

Lobbyists hustle for reconstruction business in Baghdad
By Peter H. Stone
National Journal Link
August 7, 2003

"Consider BKSH & Associates, the firm run by well-known GOP strategist Charlie Black. Over the past four years, BKSH has been boosting the interests of the Iraqi National Congress, whose leader, Ahmed Chalabi, was a key anti-Saddam opponent and now sits on the newly formed Iraqi Governing Council. Besides helping the INC - which has enjoyed extensive backing from the Pentagon but is quite controversial at the State Department and the CIA - BKSH has started to help open doors for such U.S. companies as AT&T, Cummins Engine, and Fluor that are seeking business in Iraq.

And there is this about Black's role as McCain's Washington fixer: Link

Charlie Black, John McCain Aide and Super-Lobbyist

John McCain's primary defender in the Lady Lobbyist Scandal* is a man named Charlie Black. As a senior adviser to the campaign who is doing McCain's damage control right now, Black has to explain to the press that John McCain didn't have a romantic relationship with lobbyist Vicki Iseman, didn't treat Iseman's clients with undue favoritism, and isn't too close to lobbyists in general despite his years of anti-lobbyist rhetoric.

Black, of course, is a lobbyist. In fact, as the head of the extremely influential lobby shop BKSH and Associates, he's one of Washington's most powerful influence-peddlers. In the Washington Post story today about the lobbyists that populate the upper ranks of McCain's campaign (here's another guy); Black is listed as working for AT&T, Alcoa, JP Morgan, and U.S. Airways. He works and has worked for far more companies than that, however.

By day, Charlie Black represents the corporations that profit from the Iraq War, while by night he clean up after John McCain’s indiscretions that might mar his presidential election effort. Yes, Virginia, Washington is a very small town, and the revolving door is golden. In addition to deserving his own share of the credit for cultivating the careers of the men who started the Iraq War, Black is also one of its biggest profiteers, receiving tens of millions to lobby for a host of companies that have swollen their bottom lines with massive military and intelligence contracts during the era of kleptocratic one-party rule, the period of Bush-Cheney-McCain-Delay-Hastert GOP dominion over America.

Christie Hardin Smith at FiredogLake has observed this about Black: Link /
When you think about Charlie Black, think of him in terms of Jack Abramoff's political reach, connections and influence -- only much, much more so -- with that same odious level of using it to the furthest extent to suck money out of clients who pay-to-play from K Street.

CONCLUSION

John McCain was very much one of Chalabi’s key mentors in Congress, and along with Joe Lieberman, a vocal purveyor of false information about nonexistent Iraqi WMD. And, it was Congress, as well as the White House, the Pentagon, and the CIA, that was responsible for the Iraq WMD deception.

Responsibility for the Iraq intelligence deception should not for a moment be limited to Chalabi and his Iraqi exiles. About this, Jane Meyer wrote in her New Yorker portrait of Chalabi, “The Manipulator”, Link
Peter Galbraith, a former Ambassador to Croatia and a human-rights activist, who has long supported Chalabi’s efforts to depose Saddam, suggested that if the Administration was unhappy with the outcome in Iraq it had only itself to blame. “Chalabi is one of the smartest people I know,” he told me. As Galbraith put it, Chalabi “figured out in the eighties that the road to Baghdad ran through Washington. He cultivated whom he needed to know. If he didn’t get what he wanted from State, he went to Capitol Hill. It’s a sign of being effective. It’s not his fault that his strategy succeeded.

The presumptive Republican nominee for President has been a knowing part of an espionage and deception operation that led to the deaths of 4,000 Americans in Iraq. John McCain is a security risk.

*************

2008. Mark G. Levey.
Reprinted with the permission of the author.

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