Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Colin Powell Sinks To New Low

 Tuesday 13th September, 2005

Colin Powell Sinks To New Low   

Big News     Tuesday 13th September, 2005    

Colin Powell is one of the most decent men in America. He is well regarded internationally and has a formidable record with the U.S. military, and in subsequent years as a politician.

On this news site we have lauded him on a number of occasions. The Bush administration may never have been elected in 2000, or re-elected in 2004, without Powell. He provided an ingredient most commonly described as integrity.

The one major blot on his reputation, as he admitted himself this past week, was a speech he made to the United Nations Security Council on February 5 2003 when he effectively made a case for war with Iraq. Little-reported or understood was the fact that the audience he supposedly targeted did not buy his delivery. The United Nations, that is the member nations of the world, rejected his argument. Not a single country was won over. The real target of his speech however bought it, hook, line, and sinker. While the rest of the world, other than for Britain and Australia, disbelieved Powell, the majority of Americans took their Secretary of State at his word. Bush had a mandate to continue his march to war, with or without the UN, with the American people on his side.

If Powell was an investment banker on Wall Street and had delivered a due diligence evaluation of a strategy for a corporation, and that corporation spent hundreds of billions of dollars carrying it out, and tens of thousands of people (at a minimum) were killed in the process, and it was later revealed the due diligence, and the conclusions reached, was as faulty and ficticious as his UN speech, Powell would now be in jail; and he would not be alone.

Powell today says he was misinformed, or perhaps even misled. For these comments to pass into the public record unchallenged would be a grave injustice, particularly to those within the lower ranks of the intelligence agencies who Powell now portrays as people who, he said, ?knew at the time that some of these sources were not good and shouldn?t be relied upon, and they didn?t speak up.? He added, ?That devastated me.?

To contest Powell?s portrayal of his being misled would put us in the position of saying he lied. In the first instance at the UN, and again this week. On balance, in light of the volumes of information already on the record, there is no option. It is a matter of fact that Powell is the one who misinformed, and misled.

Powell, and other members of the administration, consistently, and routinely, adopted every negative claim against Saddam Hussein?s regime, while overlooking or seeking to discredit any counter-claim, or acting to discredit any person, party, or country, that had an opposing view. Long before Powell?s speech, claim after claim by the Bush administration, was discredited. Remember the absurd assertion by Tony Blair that Saddam could activate a nuclear weapon in 45 minutes? Blair made the claim in a dossier produced by his government in September 2002, and it was repeated by George W. Bush the day after Blair made it. The dossier itself, along with another produced in January 2003, was discredited. Much of the information was found to have been downloaded from the Internet and some of it was more than a decade old. Remember the claim that Iraq was seeking uranium from Niger made in George W. Bush?s State of the Union address, which was based on forged documents.

No, most of the world knew all along the claims being made were false, ?sexed-up,? and baseless. For Powell, or any member of the administration, to suggest they were fooled would be insulting. Millions marched in the streets in major cities and regions of the world in opposition to the war. Many countries went on the record denouncing the administration?s plans.

Powell now says this week, lower ranked intelligence analysts knew the evidence he was putting forward could not be relied upon, and they should have spoken up. In fact a large number did, and were either dismissed, ignored, or worse: discredited. A large number in the three countries principally involved in the war, resigned in protest at the misuse of intelligence.

Gregory Thielmann, who served as a director in the U.S. state department's bureau of intelligence until his retirement in September 2002, and had access to the classified reports which formed the basis for the US case against Saddam, spelled out by President Bush and his aides, was one of them. In July 2003 he said, "I believe the Bush administration did not provide an accurate picture to the American people of the military threat posed by Iraq. Most of it (the problem) lies with the way senior officials misused the information they were provided."

At a press conference Thielmann said that, ?as of March 2003, when the US began military operations, Iraq posed no imminent threat to either its neighbors or to the United States.?

Thielmann also said there was no significant pattern of cooperation between Iraq and al-Qaida. He added: "This administration has had a faith-based intelligence attitude ... 'We know the answers - give us the intelligence to support those answers'."

Days before the invasion, on March 12 2003, the Australian government was stunned by the resignation of one of its senior intelligence analysts who argued that, based on U.S. and other intelligence information he had seen, there was no justification for a war on Iraq.
''I'm convinced a war against Iraq at this time would be wrong. For a start, Iraq does not pose a security threat to the U.S., or to the U.K. or Australia, or to any other country, at this point in time,? former Office of National Assessments intelligence analyst Andrew Wilkie said, in announcing his resignation.

A critical factor behind Wilkie's resignation was the claim made by Powell to the UN Security Council purporting that a link existed between al-Qaeda and Iraq. ''As far as I'm aware there was no hard evidence and there is still no hard evidence that there is any active cooperation between Iraq and al-Qaeda,'' Wilkie told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) television.

Three years prior, Wilkie, the 41-year-old career military officer, was seconded to the Office of National Assessments, which prepared briefings for the Australian Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet from a wide range of intelligence sources. Wilkie had worked on global terrorism and transnational issues including Afghanistan and the likely humanitarian consequences of a war on Iraq.

''I don't believe I could stand by any longer and take no action as this coalition marches to war. I think the interests of the thousands of people, perhaps tens or even more, tens of thousands of people or even more who could be injured, displaced or killed in a war, I think their interests are more important,'' he said at the time.

In August 2003 before a Federal Government parliamentary inquiry Wilkie went further. ?I wish to make it very clear that I do not apologise for or withdraw from in any way my accusation that the Howard Government misled the Australian public over Iraq,? he said.

?The Government deliberately skewed the truth by taking the ambiguity out of the issue. Key intelligence assessment qualifications like "probably", "could", and "uncorroborated evidence? and ?suggests" were frequently dropped,? he added. In response to a question on the involvement of the Prime Minister?s office, he answered, ?Yes, I, I will go that far as to say the Government misused the intelligence they were receiving to make the point they wanted to make.?

?The Government even went so far as to fabricate the truth. The claims about Iraq cooperating actively with al-Qaeda were obviously nonsense, as was the Government's reference to Iraq seeking uranium in Africa,? he said. Asked whether the assessments from his department went direct to the Prime Minister?s office, Wilkie responded, ?Yes, yes, I mean, I see where you're trying to take me and I'll go there. I will go so far as to say that the material was going straight from ONA to the Prime Minister's Office and the exaggeration was, was occurring in there. Or the dishonesty was occurring somewhere in there.?

Wilkie also spoke of his surprise at certain claims made by Powell at the UN. Speaking to the Bulletin magazine, he said, ?It troubles me that Australia has adopted a position, a very strong position, based on incomplete information. We do not have unrestricted access to all US information on this matter. There were certain things in [US Secretary of State] Colin Powell?s address to the UN Security Council a few weeks ago that surprised [me] at ONA.?

The best known whistle-blower on Iraq in Britain was Dr. David Kelly. The Guardian described Kelly as the Ministry of Defence's chief scientific officer and senior adviser to the proliferation and arms control secretariat, and to the Foreign Office's non-proliferation department. The senior adviser on biological weapons to the UN biological weapons inspections teams (Unscom) from 1994 to 1999, he was also, in the opinion of his peers, pre-eminent in his field, not only in the U.K., but in the world.

In a report broadcast by the BBC, Kelly was quoted as "a senior British intelligence official" who confirmed the September 2002 Iraq dossier produced by the intelligence agencies for the British government had been ?sexed-up? to make a more convincing case for war. Kelly, in circumstances similar to those surrounding the naming of Valerie Plame, the wife of retired career diplomat Joseph Wilson as a CIA operative, was eventually exposed as the source, an event which subsequently drove him to suicide.

In February 2004, a year after Powell?s infamous UN speech, CBS?s 60 Minutes ran a special titled, ?The man who knew.? The program quoted a number of sources, many close to Powell, who confirmed much of the information in the Secretary?s speech was false, and known to be false at the time.

Thielmann appeared on the program saying key evidence cited by the administration was misrepresented to the public.

?I had a couple of initial reactions. Then I had a more mature reaction,? he said of Powell?s presentation.

?I think my conclusion now is that it's probably one of the low points in his long, distinguished service to the nation."

Thielmann was admired at the State Department. One high-ranking official called him honorable, knowledgeable, and very experienced.

On Feb. 5, 2003, Powell said, ?The gravity of this moment is matched by the gravity of the threat that Iraq?s weapons of mass destruction pose to the world."

At the time, Thielmann says that Iraq didn't pose an imminent threat to the U.S. ?I think it didn't even constitute an imminent threat to its neighbors at the time we went to war.?

And Thielmann says that's what the intelligence really showed. For example, he points to the evidence behind Powell?s charge that Iraq was importing aluminum tubes to use in a program to build nuclear weapons.

Powell said: ?Saddam Hussein is determined to get his hands on a nuclear bomb. He is so determined that he has made repeated covert attempts to acquire high-specification aluminum tubes from 11 different countries even after inspections resumed.?

?This is one of the most disturbing parts of Secretary Powell's speech for us,? says Thielmann.

Intelligence agents intercepted the tubes in 2001, and the CIA said they were parts for a centrifuge to enrich uranium -- fuel for an atom bomb. But Thielmann wasn?t so sure.

Experts at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the scientists who enriched uranium for American bombs, advised that the tubes were all wrong for a bomb program. At about the same time, Thielmann?s office was working on another explanation. It turned out the tubes' dimensions perfectly matched an Iraqi conventional rocket.

?The aluminum was exactly, I think, what the Iraqis wanted for artillery,? recalls Thielmann, who says he sent that word up to the Secretary of State months before.

Houston Wood was a consultant who worked on the Oak Ridge analysis of the tubes. He watched Powell?s speech, too.

?I guess I was angry, that?s the best way to describe my emotions. I was angry at that,? says Wood, who is among the world?s authorities on uranium enrichment by centrifuge. He found the tubes couldn?t be what the CIA thought they were. They were too heavy, three times too thick and certain to leak.

"Wasn't going to work. They would have failed," says Wood, who reached that conclusion back in 2001.

Thielmann reported to Secretary Powell?s office that they were confident the tubes were not for a nuclear program. Then, about a year later, when the administration was building a case for war, the tubes were resurrected on the front page of The New York Times.

?I thought when I read that there must be some other tubes that people were talking about. I just was flabbergasted that people were still pushing that those might be centrifuges,? says Wood.

The New York Times reported that senior administration officials insisted the tubes were for an atom-bomb program.

?Science was not pushing this forward. Scientists had made their determination, their evaluation, and now we didn?t know what was happening,? says Wood.

In his UN speech, Secretary Powell acknowledged there was disagreement about the tubes, but he said most experts agreed with the nuclear theory.

?There is controversy about what these tubes are for. Most U.S. experts think they are intended to serve as rotors in centrifuges used to enrich uranium,? said Powell.

?Most experts are located at Oak Ridge and that was not the position there,? says Wood, who claims he doesn?t know anyone in academia or foreign government who would disagree with his appraisal. ?I don?t know a single one anywhere.?

Why would the secretary take the information that Thielmann?s intelligence bureau had developed and turn it on its head?

?I can only assume that he was doing it to loyally support the President of the United States and build the strongest possible case for arguing that there was no alternative to the use of military force,? says Thielmann.

That was a case the president himself was making only eight days before Secretary Powell's speech. In his State of the Union address, the president said: ?The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa. Our intelligence sources tell us that he has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes suitable for nuclear-weapons production.?

After the war, the White House said the African uranium claim was false and shouldn?t have been in the president's address. But at the time, it was part of a campaign that painted the intelligence as irrefutable.

?There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us,? said Vice President Dick Cheney.

Powell said: ?My colleagues, every statement I make today is backed up by sources, solid sources. These are not assertions. What we are giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence."

It was solid intelligence, Powell said, that proved Saddam had amassed chemical and biological weapons: ?Our conservative estimate is that Iraq today has a stockpile of between 100 and 500 tons of chemical-weapons agent.?

He also said that part of the stockpile was clearly in these bunkers: ?The four that are in red squares represent active chemical munitions bunkers. How do I know that, how can I say that? Let me give you a closer look.?

Up close, Powell said you could see a truck for cleaning up chemical spills, a signature for a chemical bunker: ?It?s a decontamination vehicle in case something goes wrong.?

But Thielmann disagreed with Powell's statement He told 60 Minutes: ?My understanding is that these particular vehicles were simply fire trucks. You cannot really describe as being a unique signature.?

Satellite photos were also notoriously misleading, according to Steve Allinson, a UN inspector in Iraq in the months leading up to war.

Was there ever a time when American satellite intelligence provided Allinson with something that was truly useful?

?No. No, not to me. Not on inspections that I participated in,? says Allinson, whose team was sent to find decontamination vehicles that turned out to be fire trucks.

Another time, a satellite spotted what they thought were trucks used for biological weapons.

?We were told we were going to the site to look for refrigerated trucks specifically linked to biological agents,? says Allinson. ?We found 7 or 8 of them, I think, in total. And they had cobwebs in them. Some samples were taken and nothing was found.?

If Allinson doubted the satellite evidence, Thielmann watched with worry as Secretary Powell told the Security Council that human intelligence provided conclusive proof.

Thielmann says that many of the human sources were defectors who came forward with an axe to grind. But how reliable was the defector information they received?

?I guess I would say, frequently we got bad information,? says Thielmann.

Some of it came from defectors supplied by the Iraqi National Congress, the leading exile group headed by Ahmed Chalabi.

?You had the Iraqi National Congress with a clear motive for presenting the worst possible picture of what was happening in Iraq to the American government,? says Thielmann.

But there was a good deal more in Secretary Powell?s speech that bothered the analysts. Powell claimed Saddam still had a few dozen Scud missiles.

?I wondered what he was talking about,? says Thielmann. ?We did not have evidence that the Iraqis had those missiles, pure and simple.?

Secretary Powell declined an interview for the 60 Minutes broadcast but told The Washington Post at the time, "The bottom line is this. The president made the right decision. He made the right decision based on the history of this regime, the intention that this terrible leader, terrible despotic leader had the capabilities on a variety of levels. The delivery systems there were there, and nobody's debating that, the infrastructure that was there, the technical know-how that was there. The only thing we are debating are the stockpiles."

In the year since the speech, in February 2004, Thielmann had come to his own conclusion about the presentation. He believed the decision to go to war was made - and intelligence was interpreted to fit that conclusion.

"There's plenty of blame to go around. The main problem was that the senior administration officials had what I call faith-based intelligence. They knew what they wanted the intelligence to show," said Thielmann.

"They were really blind and deaf to any kind of countervailing information the intelligence community would produce. I would assign some blame to the intelligence community and most of the blame to the senior administration officials."

That same week, President Bush announced an independent commission would investigate the intelligence failures on Iraq. Not so independent thought House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California who dismissed the commission as "wholly owned by the executive branch."

"To have a commission appointed exclusively by President Bush investigate his administration's intelligence failures in Iraq does not inspire confidence in its independence," Pelosi said in a written statement at the time.

So what motivated Powell to make the speech? Only one man has the answer to that. Unless he was compromised in some way.

The fact is Powell was a member of an administration that had been seeking a war with Iraq since the 1990s. Long before September 11, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney in particular, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, John Bolton, Stephen Hadley, Douglas Feith, I. Lewis Libby, and others of similar ilk, had been working on a pretext to go into Iraq and remove Saddam Hussein from power. Why that is cannot be addressed here, nor can it be addressed in any forum without admissions from the people involved. Most people around the world, and now even in the United States, accept the reasons proffered for war with Iraq were not the real reasons the invasion was mounted.

In blaming lower ranked intelligence officers Powell really points the finger at himself. If anyone should have spoken up to expose the deception and stop the war, it should have been him. He was in the best position of anyone to do so. He should, and would have known, the whole exercise was a sham. Most people in fact believed with Powell in the administration, war was not inevitable. As it turned out, it was Powell that made it so.

As a soldier Powell repeatedly made the reference that he would not be a party to committing troops to military action unless absolutely necessary. He carried scars from the Vietnam War which underwrote his commitment to preventing politicians from abusing use of the armed forces. In the end though Powell not only gave way to the neo-con-dominated Cabinet but provided the final, necessary, thrust, to bring the invasion into play.

To act against one?s own country is the definition of treason. We would not go that far, to call Powell a traitor. His actions though, along with his former colleagues, will at some time in the future, no doubt post-Bush, need to be the subject of a truly independent commission of inquiry, to establish the facts of what drove this administration to bring on an unnecessary, unwanted, and almost certainly, illegal, war that has brought the destruction of a country requiring reconstruction in the order of tens of billions of dollars,, the deaths of more than 2,000 coalition troops, untold Iraqi military casualties, and anywhere from 25,000 to more than 100,000 Iraqi civilians.

If what Powell said this past week was believable, a number of lower ranked intelligence officers should soon be up on charges of gross, and possibly, criminal, negligence. No-one, certainly not us, think this will happen. The reason, as much as it pains us to say it, is this: Just as Powell could not be believed in February 2003, he cannot be believed now.


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