Leopold: Clarke, O'Neill Accounts Support Tenet's
Clarke, O'Neill Accounts Support Tenet's Claims
By Jason Leopold
t r u t h o u t | Report
Monday 07 May 2007
With the publication of his memoir, "At the Center of the Storm," former CIA Director George Tenet joins a growing list of former Bush administration officials who have written books accusing the White House of cooking intelligence immediately after 9/11 to win support for a US-led invasion of Iraq.
Tenet is the highest-ranking administration official to level such charges against senior White House members, claiming that there was a coordinated effort within the Office of the Vice President, the National Security Council and the Pentagon to fix intelligence related to the so-called Iraqi threat around Bush's policy toward the country. He claims that the 9/11 terrorist attacks were used to justify an invasion, despite the absence of intelligence showing Iraq was an imminent threat.
The ex-CIA chief's assertions support similar claims over the past few years by other, former high-ranking officials. Among them are Richard Clarke, the counterterrorism czar, and Paul O'Neill, the treasury secretary, who provided reporter and author Ron Suskind with detailed information about the White House effort to overthrow Saddam Hussein prior to 9/11.
Tenet got a $4 million advance for his memoirs. Since his book's revelation became public last week, he has been the subject of a widespread backlash by former intelligence colleagues, who said he should have spoken out sooner. Still, his information on flawed prewar intelligence related to Iraq has once again sparked serious debate within Congress on whether the White House knowingly misled the public. The Iraq war has claimed the lives of more than 3,300 US soldiers and tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians.
With Democrats controlling both houses of Congress, hearings and investigations have been launched in an effort to determine how the bogus intelligence made its way into the hands of the White House executive staff, and why it was cited as fact despite prior warnings about its veracity by Tenet and other intelligence analysts at the CIA.
This issue comes up time and again, whenever a new book by Washington insiders is published. And every time a revelation turns up in a book about the White House's interest in toppling Saddam Hussein prior to 9/11, administration officials dismiss the allegations as conspiratorial, saying publicly they don't recall having such discussions with former White House officials-turned- authors.
That was the case over the weekend. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice appeared on three Sunday news shows to deny Tenet's claims that the administration did not seriously discuss whether Iraq was a threat. Rice made identical statements when Clarke published his book, "Against All Enemies," and when O'Neill's claims were quoted in Suskind's book, "The Price of Loyalty."
Veracity of Prewar Iraq Intelligence Hotly Debated
The question of whether the Bush administration targeted Iraq prior to 9/11 has long been the subject of heated debate between Democrats and Republicans. The Bush administration says Iraq was not in its crosshairs before 9/11. Rice, who was national security adviser during Bush's first term as president, has for years denied the existence prior to 9/11 of any plan to attack Iraq. She has long maintained that the White House had been focused on rooting out Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda network, testifying before the 9/11 Commission that Bush was "tired of swatting at flies."
Rice's comment regarding the president not wanting to swat at flies as it pertained to the 9/11 commission's inquiry could raise broader questions about how the White House handled pre-9/11 warnings by Tenet and others. If in fact it was Bush's policy that responding to Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda's plans constituted swatting at flies, that would cast a more critical light on the administration's non-response to Tenet's now-famous August 6, 2001 briefing to Bush at the White House titled, "Bin Ladin Determined To Strike in US".
"We also moved to develop a new and comprehensive strategy to eliminate the al-Qaeda terrorist network," Rice said, according to a copy of her testimony. "President Bush understood the threat, and he understood its importance. He made clear to us that he did not want to respond to al-Qaeda one attack at a time. He told me he was "tired of swatting flies." This new strategy was developed over the spring and summer of 2001, and was approved by the president's senior national security officials on September 4. It was the very first major national security policy directive of the Bush administration - not Russia, not missile defense, not Iraq, but the elimination of al-Qaeda."
Not so, said O'Neill and Clarke, and now Tenet. They claim the administration was searching for reasons to invade Iraq as soon as Bush took office in January 2001. The common theme in Tenet's and Clarke's books is that both say they had personally warned Rice in the summer of 2001 about a looming attack being planned by al-Qaeda, but were rebuffed by the former national security adviser. They say Rice and other White House officials had been shifting military and intelligence resources toward Iraq.
Bush's Hard-Line Stance Toward Iraq Surfaced in January 2001
A January 11, 2001 article in the New York Times, "Iraq Is Focal Point as Bush Meets with Joint Chiefs," which has been overlooked post-9/11, seems to support the assertions of Tenet, O'Neill and Clarke.
"George W. Bush, the nation's commander in chief to-be, went to the Pentagon today for a top-secret session with the Joint Chiefs of Staff to review hot spots around the world where he might have to send American forces into harm's way," reads the lead paragraph of the Times article.
Bush was joined at the Pentagon meeting by Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and National Security Adviser Rice.
The Times reported that, "About half of the 75-minute meeting ... focused on a discussion about Iraq and the Persian Gulf, two participants said. Iraq was the first topic briefed because 'it's the most visible and most risky area' Mr. Bush will confront after he takes office, one senior officer said."
"Iraq policy is very much on his mind," one senior Pentagon official told the Times. "Saddam was clearly a discussion point."
Responding to a reporter's question on January 26, 2001 about the Bush administration's policy toward Saddam Hussein's regime days after his Senate confirmation hearing, Rumsfeld said, "I think that the policy of the country is that it is not helpful to have Saddam Hussein's regime in office."
In his inaugural address on January 20, 2001 President Bush also alluded to the possibility of war, although he did not mention Iraq by name.
"We will confront weapons of mass destruction, so that a new century is spared new horrors," Bush said. "The enemies of liberty and our country should make no mistake. We will defend our allies and our interests."
Sanctions Were Working, Powell Said
In February 2001, Bush sent Powell on a trip to the Middle East to study the situation in Iraq and decide whether the administration should keep the sanctions in place or start to lay the groundwork for a preemptive strike.
Powell returned to the US and championed the sanctions, saying Iraq posed absolutely no threat to the US. He made that statement while testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on March 8, 2001 - much to the dismay of Cheney, Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, all of whom believed in using military force to oust Saddam Hussein.
"When we took over on the 20th of January, I discovered that we had an Iraq policy that was in disarray, and the sanctions part of that policy was not just in disarray; it was falling apart," Powell testified. "We were losing support for the sanctions that had served so well over the last ten years. With all of the ups and downs and with all of the difficulties that are associated that regime, it was falling apart. It had been successful. Saddam Hussein has not been able to rebuild his army, notwithstanding claims that he has. He has fewer tanks in his inventory today than he had 10 years ago. Even though we know he is working on weapons of mass destruction, we know he has things squirreled away, at the same time we have not seen that capacity emerge to present a full-fledged threat to us."
Former Officials Call White House "Obsessed With Iraq Prior to 9/11"
In Suskind's book, "The Price of Loyalty," O'Neill told Suskind that the Iraq war was planned just days after the president was sworn into office.
"From the very beginning, there was a conviction that Saddam Hussein was a bad person and that he needed to go," O'Neill said, adding that going after Saddam Hussein was a priority 10 days after Bush's inauguration and eight months before September 11.
"From the very first instance, it was about Iraq. It was about what we can do to change this regime," Suskind wrote, quoting O'Neill. "Day one, these things were laid and sealed."
As treasury secretary, O'Neill was a permanent member of the National Security Council. He is quoted in the book as saying he was surprised at the meeting that questions such as "Why Saddam?" and "Why now?" were never asked.
O'Neill was fired from his post for disagreeing with Bush's economic policies. The White House dismissed O'Neill's allegations, and labeled him a "disgruntled employee," whose remarks about a plot to invade Iraq pre-9/11 were "laughable."
Clarke's book also says the Bush administration was obsessed with Iraq before 9/11.
Tenet Warned Rice About al-Qaeda
In Tenet's tell-all, he portrays Rice, Cheney, Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld as obsessed with finding a rationale to attack Iraq. Moreover, Tenet claims that while top administration officials were focusing on Iraq, he was advising Rice and others about the increasing threat from al-Qaeda. He said his warnings fell on deaf ears, and he further claims that national security was not a top priority for Bush, Rice and others during their first eight months in office.
Tenet testified before Congress on February 7, 2001 that Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda terrorist network remained the single greatest threat to US interests. Tenet eerily describes in the report a scenario that six months later would become a grim reality.
"Terrorists are also becoming more operationally adept and more technically sophisticated in order to defeat counter-terrorism measures," the former CIA director said. "For example, as we have increased security around government and military facilities, terrorists are seeking out "softer" targets that provide opportunities for mass casualties."
"Osama bin Laden and his global network of lieutenants and associates remain the most immediate and serious threat," he added.
Making the rounds on the Sunday news programs, Rice, who has been the recipient of much of the scorn in Tenet's book, denied that she had focused heavily on Iraq in early 2001 and paid little attention to what Tenet claims were numerous warnings about a possible attack against the US by the terrorist network.
Documents Show National Security Not a White House Priority Before 9/11
However, Rice's statements claiming that national security and the threat posed by al-Qaeda were a huge priority for the White House in early 2001 are undercut by a review of White House transcripts and press releases between January and September 2001. Those documents would appear to back up Tenet's allegations against Rice and other senior Bush administration officials.
Indeed, two weeks before 9/11 occurred, security - job security, health security and national security - was last on a list of major issues Bush planned to deal with in the fall of 2001, according to a transcript of an August 31, 2001 speech Bush gave to celebrate the launch of the White House's new web site.
Rice Lobbied for Preemptive Strike Against Iraq in 2000
But one year before she was tapped to be Bush's national security adviser, Rice was part of the same group of White House officials trying to sell a war with Iraq. In January 2000, she wrote an article for Foreign Affairs magazine titled "Campaign 2000 - Promoting the National Interest."
"As history marches toward markets and democracy, some states have been left by the side of the road. Iraq is the prototype. Saddam Hussein's regime is isolated, his conventional military power has been severely weakened, his people live in poverty and terror, and he has no useful place in international politics. He is therefore determined to develop WMD. Nothing will change until Saddam is gone, so the United States must mobilize whatever resources it can, including support from his opposition, to remove him. These regimes are living on borrowed time, so there need be no sense of panic about them.
Rice was interviewed by dozens of print and broadcast journalists between January and September 2001. An extensive search of more than 400 news stories available on Lexis Nexus between January 1, 2001 and September 10, 2001 show that Rice never once spoke about the threat posed by al-Qaeda or its leader, Osama bin Laden.
On July 29, 2001 Rice was interviewed by CNN's John King. She was asked how the United States would respond to missiles Iraq had allegedly fired at US warplanes patrolling the no-fly zones. She didn't mince words with her answer.
"Well, the president has made very clear that he considers Saddam Hussein to be a threat to his neighbors, a threat to security in the region, in fact, a threat to international security more broadly," Rice said. "And he has reserved the right to respond when that threat becomes one that he wishes no longer to tolerate."
Rice added, "But I can be certain of this, and the world can be certain of this: Saddam Hussein is on the radar screen for the administration. The administration is working hard with a number of our friends and allies to have a policy that is broad; that does look at the sanctions as something that should be restructured so that we have smart sanctions that go after the regime, not after the Iraqi people; that does look at the role of opposition in creating an environment and a regime in Baghdad that the people of Iraq deserve, rather than the one that they have; and one that looks at use of military force in a more resolute manner, and not just a manner of tit-for-tat with him every day."
It remains to be seen whether Congress's probe of the Bush administration's misuse of intelligence in the runup to the Iraq war will result in a conclusive finding that the public was knowingly deceived.
Rice was subpoenaed last week by Congressman Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee, to testify about Rice's role in disseminating a key piece of intelligence stating that Iraq had attempted to acquire uranium from Niger. The uranium claim helped to win support for an invasion. The intelligence later turned out to be based on crude forgeries. Tenet said he had personally warned Rice in 2002 not to rely on the Niger claims to make a public case that Iraq constituted an imminent threat. Tenet said the uranium intelligence was dubious. Rice has said she will ignore the subpoena. Waxman is still unsure whether his committee will hold Rice in contempt.
Jason Leopold is a former Los Angeles bureau chief for Dow Jones Newswire. He has written over 2,000 stories on the California energy crisis and received the Dow Jones Journalist of the Year Award in 2001 for his coverage on the issue as well as a Project Censored award in 2004. Leopold also reported extensively on Enron's downfall and was the first journalist to land an interview with former Enron president Jeffrey Skilling following Enron's bankruptcy filing in December 2001. Leopold has appeared on CNBC and National Public Radio as an expert on energy policy and has also been the keynote speaker at more than two dozen energy industry conferences around the country.