On a day when it has just been announced that another American
soldier died and six were wounded in an ambush near Baghdad, when
Secretary of State Rumsfeld is hinting at a future escalation of troop
levels in Iraq and the possibility of rising attacks on U.S. forces
over the length of the summer, Veteran Intelligence Professionals for
Sanity, a group of retired intelligence agents, have written a
memorandum to President Bush pointing the finger directly at the Vice
President in the Niger forgery flap and calling for his resignation.
("Sad to say, it is equally clear that your vice president led this
campaign of deceit. This was no case of petty corruption of the kind
that forced Vice President Spiro Agnew's resignation. This was a matter
of war and peace. Thousands have died. There is no end in sight.")
If anyone wants to look for humor in this situation, note the
defense raised yesterday on the inside-the-Beltway talk shows by Rice
and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld. Their case seems to be:
a) The President was, technically speaking, accurate in his
sixteen-word sentence in the State of the Union speech. According to
the Washington Post,
"Rumsfeld, appearing on NBC's 'Meet the Press,' said that it was
'technically correct, what the president said, that the [British
government] did say that and still says that.' But the defense
secretary added that Bush and Tenet now believe 'referencing another
country's intelligence as opposed to your own' was probably the wrong
thing to do in a speech as important as the State of the Union." This
begins, it seems to me, to put Rumsfeld and his colleagues in the
category of people wondering what the definition of "is" is.
b) A single sentence is being blown all out of proportion. "Rice
said on CBS's 'Face the Nation' that 'it was a mistake about a single
sentence, a single data point. And I frankly think it has been
overblown.'" This from an administration that took us into Code
Orange-land, promoted duct tape for our problems, and turned the
pathetically punch-less regime of a brutal local dictator into the
equivalent of a superpower enemy. Overblown? Please.
c) The Brits did it. (And with Tony Blair all set to arrive in town later in the week.)
If, by the way, you want one piece to bring you fully up to date on the Niger forgery flap, check out Neil Mackay's Niger and Iraq: the war's biggest lie? in the Glasgow Sunday Herald
("One senior western diplomat told the Sunday Herald: 'There were more
than 20 anomalies in the Niger documents – it is staggering any
intelligence service could have believed they were genuine for a
Of course, in a sense Condi Rice is right. This isn't really a
flap over sixteen words in a presidential speech. Not faintly. It's
about the possible unraveling, under the pressure of unexpected postwar
events in Iraq, of a truly audacious and deeply radical policy for
global and domestic domination.
I received today the following memorandum to the President from
Ray McGovern, one of three members of the steering committee of Veteran
Intelligence Professionals for Sanity. It's a fascinating statement
from that group. McGovern is a 27 year veteran from the analysis ranks
of the CIA. Here's McGovern's description of VIPS: "This is a group of
30 retired senior intelligence officers formed in January of 2003 to
keep watch on the use/abuse of intelligence primarily regarding Iraq.
Most of us are from the analytic ranks of the CIA, but we have strong
representation from the operations officers as well and we are truly an
intelligence community body inasmuch as retired officers from State
Department Intelligence, Defense Intelligence, Army Intelligence and
the FBI are also members."
It's important to keep in mind, as you read this piece and other
comments in coming days from retired former members of various branches
of American and British intelligence, that people inside the
bureaucracy are seldom willing to talk directly for quotation. It's a
job-endangering prospect. So, as with the military, it's often retired
former members of the "community" who hear from and speak for them.
July 14, 2003
MEMORANDUM FOR: The President
FROM: Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity
SUBJECT: Intelligence Unglued
The glue that holds the Intelligence Community together is
melting under the hot lights of an awakened press. If you do not act
quickly, your intelligence capability will fall apart – with grave
consequences for the nation.
The Forgery Flap
By now you are all too familiar with the play-by-play. The
Iraq-seeking-uranium-in-Niger forgery is a microcosm of a mischievous
nexus of overarching problems. Instead of addressing these problems,
your senior staff is alternately covering up for one another and gently
stabbing one another in the back. CIA Director George Tenet's
extracted, unapologetic apology on July 11 was classic – I confess; she
It is now dawning on our until-now somnolent press that your
national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, shepherds the foreign
affairs sections of your state-of-the-union address and that she, not
Tenet, is responsible for the forged information getting into the
speech. But the disingenuousness persists. Surely Dr. Rice cannot
persist in her insistence that she learned only on June 8, 2003 about
former ambassador Joseph Wilson's mission to Niger in February 2002,
when he determined that the Iraq-Niger report was a con-job. Wilson's
findings were duly reported to all concerned in early March 2002. And,
if she somehow missed that report, the New York Times' Nicholas
Kristoff on May 6 recounted chapter and verse on Wilson's mission, and
the story remained the talk of the town in the weeks that followed.
Rice's denials are reminiscent of her claim in spring 2002 that
there was no reporting suggesting that terrorists were planning to
hijack planes and slam them into buildings. In September, the joint
congressional committee on 9/11 came up with a dozen such reports.
Secretary of State Colin Powell's credibility, too, has taken
serious hits as continued non-discoveries of weapons in Iraq heap doubt
on his confident assertions to the UN. Although he was undoubtedly
trying to be helpful in trying to contain the Iraq-Niger forgery
affair, his recent description of your state-of-the-union words as "not
totally outrageous" was faint praise indeed. And his explanations as to
why he made a point to avoid using the forgery in the way you did was
Whatever Rice's or Powell's credibility, it is yours that
matters. And, in our view, the credibility of the intelligence
community is an inseparably close second. Attempts to dismiss or cover
up the cynical use to which the known forgery was put have been – well,
incredible. The British have a word for it: "dodgy." You need to put a
quick end to the dodginess, if the country is to have a functioning
The Vice President's Role
Attempts at cover up could easily be seen as comical, were the
issue not so serious. Highly revealing were Ari Fleisher's remarks
early last week, which set the tone for what followed. When asked about
the forgery, he noted tellingly – as if drawing on well memorized
talking points – that the Vice President was not guilty of anything.
The disingenuousness was capped on Friday, when George Tenet did his
awkward best to absolve the Vice President from responsibility.
To those of us who experienced Watergate, these comments had an
eerie ring. That affair and others since have proven that cover-up can
assume proportions overshadowing the crime itself. All the more reason
to take early action to get the truth up and out.
There is just too much evidence that Ambassador Wilson was sent
to Niger at the behest of Vice President Cheney's office, and that
Wilson's findings were duly reported not only to that office but to
others as well.
Equally important, it was Cheney who launched (in a major speech
on August 26, 2002) the concerted campaign to persuade Congress and the
American people that Saddam Hussein was about to get his hands on
nuclear weapons – a campaign that mushroomed, literally, in early
October with you and your senior advisers raising the specter of a
"mushroom cloud" being the first "smoking gun" we might observe.
That this campaign was based largely on information known to be
forged and that the campaign was used successfully to frighten our
elected representatives in Congress into voting for war is clear from
the bitter protestations of Rep. Henry Waxman and others. The
politically aware recognize that the same information was used, also
successfully, in the campaign leading up to the mid-term elections – a
reality that breeds a cynicism highly corrosive to our political
The fact that the forgery also crept into your
state-of-the-union address pales in significance in comparison with how
it was used to deceive Congress into voting on October 11 to authorize
you to make war on Iraq.
It was a deep insult to the integrity of the intelligence
process that, after the Vice President declared on August 26, 2002 that
"we know that Saddam has resumed his efforts to acquire nuclear
weapons," the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) produced during the
critical month of September featured a fraudulent conclusion that "most
analysts" agreed with Cheney's assertion. This may help explain the
anomaly of Cheney's unprecedented "multiple visits" to CIA headquarters
at the time, as well as the many reports that CIA and other
intelligence analysts were feeling extraordinarily great pressure,
accompanied by all manner of intimidation tactics, to concur in that
conclusion. As a coda to his nuclear argument, Cheney told NBC's Meet
the Press three days before US/UK forces invaded Iraq: "we believe he
(Saddam Hussein) has reconstituted nuclear weapons."
Mr. Russert: ...the International Atomic Energy Agency said he does not have a nuclear program; we disagree?
Vice President Cheney: I disagree, yes. And you'll find the
CIA, for example, and other key parts of the intelligence community
disagree...we know he has been absolutely devoted to trying to acquire
nuclear weapons. And we believe he has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear
weapons. I think Mr. ElBaradei (Director of the IAEA) frankly is wrong.
Contrary to what Cheney and the NIE said, the most knowledgeable
analysts – those who know Iraq and nuclear weapons – judged that the
evidence did not support that conclusion. They now have been proven
Adding insult to injury, those chairing the NIE succumbed to the
pressure to adduce the known forgery as evidence to support the Cheney
line, and relegated the strong dissent of the State Department's Bureau
of Intelligence and Research (and the nuclear engineers in the
Department of Energy) to an inconspicuous footnote.
It is a curious turn of events. The drafters of the offending
sentence on the forgery in president's state-of-the-union speech say
they were working from the NIE. In ordinary circumstances an NIE would
be the preeminently authoritative source to rely upon; but in this case
the NIE itself had already been cooked to the recipe of high policy.
Joseph Wilson, the former US ambassador who visited Niger at
Cheney's request, enjoys wide respect (including, like several VIPS
members, warm encomia from your father). He is the consummate diplomat.
So highly disturbed is he, however, at the chicanery he has witnessed
that he allowed himself a very undiplomatic comment to a reporter last
week, wondering aloud "what else they are lying about." Clearly, Wilson
has concluded that the time for diplomatic language has passed. It is
clear that lies were told. Sad to say, it is equally clear that your
vice president led this campaign of deceit.
This was no case of petty corruption of the kind that forced
Vice President Spiro Agnew's resignation. This was a matter of war and
peace. Thousands have died. There is no end in sight.
We recommend that you call an abrupt halt to attempts to
prove Vice President Cheney "not guilty." His role has been so
transparent that such attempts will only erode further your own
credibility. Equally pernicious, from our perspective, is the
likelihood that intelligence analysts will conclude that the way to
success is to acquiesce in the cooking of their judgments, since those
above them will not be held accountable. We strongly recommend that you
ask for Cheney's immediate resignation.
The Games Congress Plays
The unedifying dance by the various oversight committees of the
Congress over recent weeks offers proof, if further proof were needed,
that reliance on Congress to investigate in a non-partisan way is pie
in the sky. One need only to recall that Sen. Pat Roberts, Chair of the
Senate Intelligence Committee, has refused to agree to ask the FBI to
investigate the known forgery. Despite repeated attempts by others on
his committee to get him to bring in the FBI, Roberts has branded such
a move "inappropriate," without spelling out why.
Rep. Porter Goss, head of the House Intelligence Committee, is a
CIA alumnus and a passionate Republican and agency partisan. Goss was
largely responsible for the failure of the joint congressional
committee on 9/11, which he co-chaired last year. An unusually clear
indication of where Goss' loyalties lie can be seen is his admission
that after a leak to the press last spring he bowed to Cheney's
insistence that the FBI be sent to the Hill to investigate members and
staff of the joint committee – an unprecedented move reflecting blithe
disregard for the separation of powers and a blatant attempt at
intimidation. (Congress has its own capability to investigate such
Henry Waxman's recent proposal to create yet another
congressional investigatory committee, patterned on the latest
commission looking into 9/11, likewise holds little promise. To state
the obvious about Congress, politics is the nature of the beast. We
have seen enough congressional inquiries into the performance of
intelligence to conclude that they are usually as feckless as they are
prolonged. And time cannot wait.
As you are aware, Gen. Brent Scowcroft performed yeoman's
service as National Security Adviser to your father and enjoys very
wide respect. There are few, if any, with his breadth of experience
with the issues and the institutions involved. In addition, he has
avoided blind parroting of the positions of your administration and
thus would be seen as relatively nonpartisan, even though serving at
your pleasure. It seems a stroke of good luck that he now chairs your
President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board.
We repeat, with an additional sense of urgency, the
recommendation in our last memorandum to you (May 1) that you appoint
Gen. Brent Scowcroft, Chair of the President's Foreign Intelligence
Advisory Board to head up an independent investigation into the
use/abuse of intelligence on Iraq.
Your refusal to allow UN inspectors back into Iraq has left the
international community befuddled. Worse, it has fed suspicions that
the US does not want UN inspectors in country lest they impede efforts
to "plant" some "weapons of mass destruction" in Iraq, should efforts
to find them continue to fall short. The conventional wisdom is less
conspiratorial but equally unsatisfying. The cognoscenti in Washington
think tanks, for example, attribute your attitude to "pique."
We find neither the conspiracy nor the "pique" rationale
persuasive. As we have admitted before, we are at a loss to explain the
barring of UN inspectors. Barring the very people with the
international mandate, the unique experience, and the credibility to
undertake a serious search for such weapons defies logic. UN inspectors
know Iraq, know the weaponry in question, know the Iraqi
scientists/engineers who have been involved, know how the necessary
materials are procured and processed; in short, have precisely the
expertise required. The challenge is as daunting as it is immediate;
and, clearly, the US needs all the help it can get.
The lead Wall Street Journal article of April 8 had it
right: "If the US doesn't make any undisputed discoveries of forbidden
weapons, the failure will feed already-widespread skepticism abroad
about the motives for going to war." As the events of last week show,
that skepticism has now mushroomed here at home as well.
We recommend that you immediately invite the UN inspectors
back into Iraq. This would go a long way toward refurbishing your
credibility. Equally important, it would help sort out the lessons
learned for the intelligence community and be an invaluable help to an
investigation of the kind we have suggested you direct Gen. Scowcroft
If Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity can be of any further help to you in the days ahead, you need only ask.
Ray Close, Princeton, NJ
David MacMichael, Linden, VA
Raymond McGovern, Arlington, VA
Veteran Intelligence Professionals forSanity