WMDgate: Fixing Intelligence Around Policy, Part 3 -- The White House Iraq Protocol (WHIP) for Deceiving the United States
This post is part of a series (see Introduction and Parts 1, 2A-1, 2A-2, 2A-3, 2A-4, 2A-5, 2B-1, 2B-2, 2C) focused on building a case to demonstrate the Bush White House's intelligence manipulation, fixing and misrepresentation, mostly using published Congressional reports like the Phase I Senate (SSCI) Report, the Robb-Silberman WMD Commission Report, etc. In previous parts of this series I have demonstrated that the Bush administration routinely made false or deliberately misleading claims about the intended end use of the aluminum tubes (not to mention, on the uranium from Africa claim) by deliberately ignoring contrary intelligence community (IC) reporting which they were aware of. However, the icing on the cake is the Bush administration's formal admission that deliberately misleading the public was, in effect, their official policy.
The source of this post is not new information. Rather, it is a brief, largely unnoticed paragraph buried in the 2004 Senate (SSCI) Report, the significance of which has clearly not permeated as deeply as it should have.
What I'm referring to here is a brief statement made to the SSCI by a top IC official to explain why the Bush Administration's unclassified White Paper of October 2002 dropped numerous critical caveats and direct challenges to the scary claims in the White Paper - caveats and challenges that existed in the classified National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) (all emphasis mine):
The Vice Chairman of the NIC and the NIOs who drafted the classified NIE told Committee staff that the statement in the unclassified white paper - "most intelligence specialists assess" the tubes are intended for a nuclear program - was used because the NIC does not refer to disagreements between intelligence agencies in unclassified documents out of concern that the country being discussed would be tipped off to a potential cover story. For example, by publishing in an unclassified paper that a U.S. intelligence agency believed the tubes were intended for a rocket program, Iraq could learn that such a use was believable and could plausibly argue to the international community that the tubes were intended for rockets, even if they were really intended for a nuclear program. [page 291 of PDF file]
After much consideration of the amazing responses in comments to an earlier post, I decided to use a term suggested by reader Jim to describe this: the White House Iraq Protocol (WHIP). As you can see, the stated goal of the WHIP was to hide or suppress accurate intelligence from public view if such information might contradict the Bush administration's portrayal of the enemy's capabilities (by possibly providing the enemy a "cover story")*. [And they express "surprise" at the "intelligence failure"? What a joke. - ed.] [*edited on 12/14/05]
To understand the gravity of the WHIP, simply extend the Vice-Chairman's statement (above) to public (unclassified) statements made by Bush, Cheney, and their cabinet in the run-up to the war. Since the Bush administration policy was to not publicly reveal any IC disagreements, or challenges to claims made by other members of the IC or the Bush administration, by definition fabrications and false or dubious claims were (allowed to be) freely made in public about Saddam Hussein's alleged capabilities, without presenting to the public the alternative IC views (which remained classified, unless they got leaked to the media). In other words, this protocol explains how Bush and his cabinet stage-managed the run-up to the Iraq war by deliberately cherry-picking the stove-piped, dubious or false reports that allowed them to falsely portray a worst case scenario, while hiding from the public (classifying) information they received from the IC that challenged those misleading or false claims. The dramatic differences between the classified NIE and the declassified White Paper based on the NIE were merely an example of the WHIP at work, considering that the public record is quite replete with other examples of the Bush administration's mendacity and misleading (my recent series' themselves have documented considerable evidence just on the aluminum tubes and uranium from Africa topics). (NOTE: I'm setting aside the issue of how dubious/false intel was created in the first place, at the Bush administration's behest; that's an equally important ingredient that is reserved for a future post but even without that, the WHIP explains the deliberate misleading and lying that occurred).
The rest of this post discusses important aspects of the WHIP.
1. This was official policy
2. This was official policy set by George Bush
3. Saddam Hussein was Bush's cover story to use the WHIP
4. As long as the WHIP is in effect, the disinformation will continue
1. This was official policy
The WHIP was official policy but before I talk about that let me add one thing. Even if you believe the “Saddam could use it as a cover story” nonsense, the fact remains that suppressing accurate intel in public was their policy (regardless of the reason why). At the minimum, the Vice-Chairman's admission (above) destroys the GOP talking point that the intel was “all wrong” and it was all just an “intelligence failure”. Clearly, the WHIP shows that there was far less of an “intelligence failure” and far more of a deliberate attempt to suppress intelligence that did not fit a pre-existing agenda. Indeed, if I were to reword the statement of the Vice-Chairman, here's another (my) version that is perfectly consistent with his statement: "...For example, by publishing in an unclassified paper that a U.S. intelligence agency believed the tubes were intended for a rocket program, Iraq could learn that such a use was believable and could plausibly argue to the international community that the tubes were intended for rockets, especially if they were really intended for a rocket program."
Let me emphasize that the statement of the Vice Chairman of the NIC and the NIOs (one of the senior officers in the United States intelligence community) indeed reflected official policy. We have not just his admission but other news reports which have mentioned the same thing. For example, this very point was noted briefly in a long New York Times article in October 2004 on the topic of the aluminum tubes hoax (emphasis mine):
Several Democrats said in interviews that secrecy rules had prevented them from speaking out about the gap between the administration's view of the tubes and the more benign explanations described in classified testimony.
One senior C.I.A. official recalled cautioning members of Congress in a closed session not to speak publicly about the possibility that the tubes were for rockets. ''If people start talking about that and the Iraqis see that people are saying rocket bodies, that will automatically become their explanation whenever anyone goes to Iraq,'' the official said in an interview.
So while administration officials spoke freely about the agency's theory, the evidence that best challenged this view remained almost entirely off limits for public debate.
Also recall how the DOE - the IC's nuclear experts, who had challenged the tubes-for-centrifuges claim in classified reports sent to the President/White House - reacted after their dissent got leaked to the public. As the NYT article points out (emphasis mine):
But on Sept. 13, the day the article appeared, the Energy Department sent a directive forbidding employees from discussing the subject with reporters.
The Energy Department, in a written statement, said that it was ''completely appropriate'' to remind employees of the need to protect nuclear secrets and that it had made no effort ''to quash dissent.''
David Albright at ISIS mentioned another related incident which goes to heart of this "cover story" cover story. In this case, of course, Colin Powell did at least admit the alternative views but read what he said (emphasis mine):
[Powell] mentioned that disagreement existed among experts about the purpose of the tubes, but he then dismissed it as a minority view. He said, "Other experts, and the Iraqis themselves, argue that they are really to produce the rocket bodies for a conventional weapon, a multiple rocket launcher."
Many experts, including DOE scientists, felt insulted and accused of being disloyal for their technical assessments. Houston Wood captured their sentiment in the October 2003 Four Corners television program. He said:
That really was like a slap in the face. And I think that my friends in the Department of Energy felt shocked by that. He said, "the Iraqis and other experts". We were thrown in the same camp as the Iraqis. We were trying to argue with the Iraqis. And that was hurtful when he said it in that way.
The protocol of classifying information that challenged the blanket false or misleading claims by the Bush White House was not restricted to the aluminum tubes issue. It was used in several of the key areas which the Bush administration used to mislead/lie to the public. Here are some other examples from the SSCI report (emphasis mine):
Conclusion 85. The Intelligence Community's elimination of the caveats from the unclassified White Paper misrepresented their judgments to the public which did not have access to the classified National Intelligence Estimate containing the more carefully worded assessments.
Conclusion 86. The names of agencies which had dissenting opinions in the classified National Intelligence Estimate were not included in the unclassified white paper and in the case of the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), the dissenting opinion was excluded completely. In both cases in which there were dissenting opinions, the dissenting agencies were widely regarded as the primary subject matter experts on the issues in question. Excluding the names of the agencies provided readers with an incomplete picture of the nature and extent of the debate within the Intelligence Community regarding these issues.
Conclusion 87. The key judgment in the unclassified October 2002 White Paper on Iraq's potential to deliver biological agents conveyed a level of threat to the United States homeland inconsistent with the classified National Intelligence Estimate.
And another (emphasis mine):
The DCI's unclassified, February 2003 testimony addressed "training in poisons and gases" which "comes to us from credible and reliable sources." The DCI's classified, September 2002 testimony addressed "evidence that Iraq provided al-Qaida with various kinds of training" of which "details on training are [DELETED] from sources of varying reliability." The DCI's unclassified testimony did not include source descriptions, which could have led the recipients of that testimony to interpret that the CIA believed the training had definitely occurred.
[Also read the quotes from Sen. Dick Durbin and Sen. Bob Graham.]
You will see another important trend in these incidents. The IC did not withhold the alternative views from the Bush White House. They actually supplied the alternative views to Bush in the classified intel reports. This is an important piece of information which I will discuss further in the next section.
2. This was official policy set by George Bush
Now, some may argue that the WHIP was actually just a Langley Protocol. That argument has no merit.
The answer to the question of whether the WHIP was only official policy for the IC or also official policy for the Bush administration, is obvious in three ways.
(a) The CIA reported to the White House and not the other way around. So, the policy on what was allowed to be revealed to the public, in unclassified documents, was ultimately set by the Bush White House (unless they chose to violate secrecy rules on their own). After all, this White House has built an almost unprecedented reputation for classification and secrecy.
(b) Even if the WHIP was used by the IC, the Bush White House had final say on whether to accept or reject this policy. Obviously, they chose to accept this policy. They actively supported and executed this policy. The proof is evident in their spreading false or deliberately misleading information on Iraq's capabilities - an epitome of which was covered in previous installments of this series.
(c) The evidence is conclusive that the policy must have been set by Bush. For example, if we just take the aluminum tubes issue, it is obvious that almost all of the classified intel reports from the CIA, DIA, DOE and INR actually mentioned that an alternative end use for the tubes was possible. In other words, the aluminum-tubes-for-centrifuges claim was at worst caveated (CIA, DIA), and in other instances it was basically rejected in favor of an alternate, non-WMD explanation (DOE and INR). Even the classified NIE was clearly and strongly caveated. These are the reports that were being sent and briefed to Bush and his cabinet as I showed in this series - so the White House cannot argue that they were getting uncaveated or unchallenged information in the classified reports they were receiving. Yet, when the White House was making public claims based on the classified reports they received, they hid or ignored all the caveats and made unjustifiably false or deliberately misleading claims about the tubes' end use (sometimes even before the classified NIE or its declassified version - the White Paper - were released).
The implication of this policy was/is obviously profound, and it is worth repeating. The WHIP meant that the default approach used in any public claims by the Bush White House about Iraq's alleged WMDs or capabilities was to remove all IC caveats and challenges to those claims, in order to portray a false or deliberately misleading picture of Saddam's real capabilities. Thus, if a report questioned a claim that Saddam actually had WMDs, that report would, by definition, be set aside using the nonsensical argument (see below) that it would provide Saddam a "cover story" (sometimes the IC's alternative views got leaked to the media, but the Bushies still continued to ignore that in many cases).
NOTE added on 12/14/05: A troll added a litany of nonsense in the comments. One of the nonsensical arguments advanced is that "CIA also reports to the the House and the Senate, and did so upon request by several Democratic senators." This is a predictably pathetic attempt to deflect blame from the White House.
First of all, the CIA sends reports to Congress - it doesn't "report to Congress". The CIA is part of the Executive, not part of the Legislature. The CIA reports to the President of the United States, not to the Senate Majority Leader. The CIA has an obligation to keep Congress informed, but Congress is not the CIA's real boss.
That's not all. The NIE was asked for by Congress precisely because Bush and his staff were making fake claims in public about Iraq's capabilities even though no NIE existed at that time. The aluminum tubes, which are the focus of this series, were mentioned by Bush, Cheney and Rice, using false, deliberately misleading statements about their end use, even before the NIE existed.
Third, when Democratic Senators Dick Durbin and Bob Graham et al. finally received the NIE and the declassified White Paper and realized how the most important challenges to the White Paper's claims (which questioned the aluminum tubes, uranium, and other key assertions) were dropped from it - even though those challenges appeared in the classified NIE - Graham asked for more of the NIE to be declassified since he/they were outraged at what was being hidden from the public. The Bush administration refused. The CIA refused. This has been known for a long time. If the CIA really "reports to Congress", as the troll falsely claimed in the comments, they would have done *what Congress asked them to*. They did not.
George Bush, Mr. Moral Clarity himself, who was the boss of George Tenet, never bothered to tell Tenet - "Hey, you know what, the IC has been sending me (and briefing me on) reports that there could be a different end use for the tubes, the NIE says clearly that the IC's nuclear experts (DOE) and INR have inferred that the tubes are for rockets - so why are you putting out a White Paper where you took out that information?" Not once. Never. He let the public be deliberately misled. Even when Democratic Senators objected.
3. Saddam Hussein was Bush's cover story to use the WHIP
The assertion that challenges to the Bush White House claims could not be publicly revealed because they would provide Saddam Hussein a "cover story" was and is nonsensical. Saddam Hussein was going to have a "cover story" regardless of the claims of the U.S. or anyone else. After all, it was not just Saddam Hussein who was challenging the claims from the Bush administration. The IAEA themselves offered some of the most significant challenges to the U.S. claims, especially because they were not cherry-picking their claims, and also had feet on the ground in Iraq (not to mention they knew how to use Google). Hussein could easily have used their statements to "defend" his position. Yet, the IAEA was not defending Saddam. They were going through all the claims step by step and pointing out where the evidence did not back the Bush administration's claims and pointing out where the evidence did not support Saddam Hussein's claims. They were a neutral arbiter who were willing to work with the Bush administration to keep Saddam Hussein in check. And they got the entire WMD story right from start to finish as history shows (indeed, Powell and Rice had previously admitted the U.N.'s effectiveness in 2001 and David Kay's report made the U.N.'s effectiveness quite clear in 2003).
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the WHIP essentially means that the Government will always have to contradict the enemy's claims and never acknowledge when the enemy is telling the truth, because acknowledging that the enemy is saying something truthful could potentially be used by the enemy as a "cover story" (as bizarre as that sounds - using "truth as a cover story"). I doubt that this is what Bush meant when he and his cronies expressed disappointment at the "intelligence failure" on Iraq. After all, we have had more than one Commission criticizing the fact that intelligence was all "wrong" and urging how we need to be totally accurate in what we claim - and Bush has endorsed these Commissions and their findings. If accuracy is the goal, then the WHIP is the exact opposite of what Bush claims he wants. WHIP will ensure that accuracy is the exception and fakery is the rule, because the goal of the WHIP was to hide or suppress accurate intelligence from public view if such information might contradict the Bush administration's portrayal of the enemy's capabilities (by possibly providing the enemy a "cover story") [*edited on 12/14/05]. Which meant that the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth would never be heard by the public as long as the WHIP is in effect.
In fact, the Saddam "cover story" excuse was merely Bush's own "cover story" to deceive the broader American public because the obvious outcome of hiding or classifying the truth is that half-truths and lies appear in public and the public ends up believing that.
This is a deeply troubling way to direct foreign policy. I can fully understand the need to prevent an enemy (in this case Saddam Hussein) from getting away with lies. But when you have strong evidence from your own top analysts challenging the worst case interpretation of the enemy's capabilities, then the obvious explanation for repeatedly conjuring up the worst case scenario by deliberately hiding or ignoring alternative evidence would be that you have a pre-meditated intent to drive towards war. If war was really the last resort (it wasn't), then there would be no need to ignore information challenging the worst case assumptions - especially when a U.N. inspections process had restarted.
Moreover, no one is arguing that EVERY BIT of intelligence should be revealed to the world. But when only the false intel is allowed to be "public" and miraculously all the true information is "classified", it is obvious that this goes way beyond what is acceptable. When there is no consensus on some "intelligence", then it is not acceptable to go to the world and make it appear that there is a consensus and that everything is solid. That's what lying and misleading is all about. If there is no real consensus then one ought not to go out to the world and fabricate information - and cross the line between what is true and what is not true. Which is why the SSCI, and the Robb-Silberman Commission did not excuse what happened. They said clearly that the intelligence needs to be accurate. In contrast, Bush administration apologists and shills support misleading and lying and keep finding new ways to justify hiding the truth in "classified reports" [added 12/14/05 based on some comments to this post].
A case against Saddam could have been made with information that was not significantly challenged (under the assumption that that is indeed the honest-to-goodness judgement of the IC) instead of adding to it reams of dubious or false information that was significantly challenged by IC experts. Indeed, if you look at the pre-war intelligence claims by the Bush administration, perhaps the most critical pieces of information that were used to build fear in the American public related to Saddam's nuclear capabilities. Those claims were in fact the most challenged or caveated - yet, the Bush White House made a concerted attempt to ignore the challenges to the nuclear claims and repeatedly lied to or misled the country to create an atmosphere of fear because of their well known, pre-meditated intent to go to war with Saddam Hussein. This was further compounded by the administration's basic contempt for the IAEA and the United Nations and their inspectors, who could have systematically verified the most serious of the claims to assess whether those claims had merit (which they did - and found that the claims were often not consistent with the evidence). After all, it was only in 2001 that the administration was saying that Saddam did not have WMDs and that we were able to "keep his arms from him". In addition, Iraq was never an imminent threat and the CIA's own intelligence was that Saddam Hussein was highly unlikely to share his weapons (if they existed) with fundamentalist terrorist groups like Al Qaeda. So, there was no reason to rush to war using dubious claims because a 9/11 style attack was NOT impending from Iraq. If anything, the countries that were funding or supporting Al Qaeda were the Bush administration's "allies" like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.
Even more egregious was the deliberate attempt to force Congress to vote on an Iraq resolution based on false and deliberately misleading claims in the public record, with the real challenges to those claims classified so that the citizens that Senators and Congressmen/women represent were kept in the dark about why some of their representatives decided to oppose the resolution. To top that all off, the whole NIE and Iraq resolution was rushed to Congress, giving them little time to debate or analyze the claims in the White Paper/NIE, and all of this rushed "marketing" was done to maximize political gain in the 2002 mid-term elections where opponents of the Iraq resolution were tarred as unpatriotic. This was truly despicable, unAmerican behavior that is unmatched in modern American history (something that George Bush's father, George H. W. Bush, did not do and would never have done).
Finally, it must be noted that the reckless, unplanned invasion of Iraq by Bush and Cheney made it clear they were largely unconcerned about ensuring that potential WMD/weapons sites were guarded. So, it was obvious again that the purpose of the invasion was not to prevent WMD proliferation because, it if was, then the post-invasion scenario would have actually been planned with sufficient troops to prevent looting of materials that could be used to manufacture WMDs.
4. As long as the WHIP is in effect, the disinformation will continue
An obvious corollary to the WHIP is that as long as the WHIP is in effect (whether in the case of Iraq or Iran or anyone else), disinformation will dominate the Bush administration's claims because any accurate information that may be used as a "cover story" by the enemy would continue to be suppressed. So here's a tip to all the heralded "bipartisan" Commissions. Stop pretending that you don't see the elephant in the room. Provide guidance for a clear policy for the Government to use that does not include the WHIP as a basis for it. And then, hold Bush, Cheney, Rice, Tenet and others accountable for the damage they did to the reputation and security of the United States of America.
In a recent interview, Colin Powell's former aide Larry Wilkerson said:
...he has almost, but not quite, concluded that Cheney and others in the administration deliberately ignored evidence of bad intelligence and looked only at what supported their case for war.
I seriously doubt Mr. Wilkerson reads this blog, but if someone who knows him does read this blog, please do me the favor of passing on a link to this post to Mr. Wilkerson since it makes the case for him.
In fact, let me add a specific example to illustrate the WHIP. Take this extract from the October 2004 NYT article (emphasis mine):
Oct. 2, nine days before the Senate vote on the war resolution, the new National Intelligence Estimate was delivered to the Intelligence Committee.
At the Democratic convention in Boston this summer, Senator John Kerry pledged that should he be elected president, ''I will ask hard questions and demand hard evidence.'' But in October 2002, when the Senate voted on Iraq, Mr. Kerry had not read the National Intelligence Estimate, but instead had relied on a briefing from Mr. Tenet, a spokeswoman said. ''According to the C.I.A.'s report, all U.S. intelligence experts agree that Iraq is seeking nuclear weapons,'' Mr. Kerry said then, explaining his vote. ''There is little question that Saddam Hussein wants to develop nuclear weapons.''
The report cited by Mr. Kerry, an unclassified white paper, said nothing about the tubes debate except that ''some'' analysts believed the tubes were ''probably intended'' for conventional arms.
First of all, the (unclassified) White Paper did not say that "...''some'' analysts believed the tubes were ''probably intended'' for conventional arms...". What it said was:
Most agencies believe that Saddam’s personal interest in and Iraq’s aggressive attempts to obtain high-strength aluminum tubes for centrifuge rotors—as well as Iraq’s attempts to acquire magnets, high-speed balancing machines, and machine tools—provide compelling evidence that Saddam is reconstituting a uranium enrichment effort for Baghdad’s nuclear weapons program.
Secondly, and more importantly, here is the question that the comment from Kerry's spokesperson raises:
Why was it wrong or negligent for a member of Congress to use the Bush administration's White Paper on Iraq's WMDs to make their decision on the Iraq resolution?
If someone wants to be argumentative, the person could say that Kerry could have, should have, been more careful or asked more questions or should have read the classified NIE rather than the unclassified Key Judgements White Paper. But the basis for all those arguments is one simple assumption: the Bush administration's claims in the unclassified White Paper are fundamentally untrustworthy, deceptive and false.
After all, why would Kerry or any other member of Congress have to read any other intelligence product if the White Paper was accurate?
The fact is that the White Paper removed almost all the caveats, uncertainties and serious challenges to the WMD claims in the classified Key Judgements in the NIE. In the context of the aluminum tubes issue, as I have discussed previously, the White Paper even removed the alternative views of INR and DOE entirely. Obviously, anyone who read only the White Paper would not have known that the IC community's nuclear experts strongly disagreed with the Bush administration's and the CIA's claims on the aluminum tubes.
The point here is that the accuracy and truthfulness of the intelligence, and the derived conclusions, should not have been a function of whether the intelligence was classified or declassifed. Yet, by dropping the caveats and alternative views, the White Paper became a document that was deliberately misleading or false - a document that could be easily used to deceive the American public that was not allowed to see the classified version of the paper. A deceived public could then be pitted against honest members of Congress, to paint the latter as unpatriotic or unserious about national security.