CIA enraged by cynical White House end-run around its sources
MARGOLIS -- Contributing Foreign Editor
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- For the Bush administration, which has
wrapped itself in faux patriotism, accusations that it revealed the
identity of a serving CIA agent are a huge political embarrassment and
another blow to its sinking credibility.
Last July, former ambassador Joseph Wilson IV contradicted President
George Bush's assertions that Iraq had imported uranium ore from Niger.
Wilson said his investigations in Niger found the whole story was a
fake, based on forged documents.
Bush nevertheless suggested Iraq was importing uranium in his keynote
state of the union address.
Wilson's patriotic act ruined his career and made him the target of a
vicious smear campaign.
At least six journalists were told by administration sources that
Wilson's wife was an active CIA officer. Journalist Robert Novak cited
her name in his column.
Revealing names of CIA agents is a federal crime. There is
speculation that the source of the story came from within the office of
Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's powerful chief of staff.
(Bush's press secretary has said "absolutely nothing brought to our
attention suggests any White House involvement and that includes the
vice-president's office." Scott McClellan added that if it turns out any
administration officials were involved in the leak, they'll be fired.)
In any event, Libby and Pentagon civilian allies, Deputy Defence
Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith and Richard Perle, all played
key roles in the buildup to the war with Iraq. They brought intensive
pressure on the CIA to produce proof of hidden weapons and links between
Iraq and al-Qaida.
Behind the scandal over identifying Wilson's wife as a CIA agent, a
far more important battle is raging.
The Bush administration plans to spend $1 billion in the fruitless
search for unconventional weapons in Iraq.
The non-existence of these weapons, which were the main excuse for
the invasion, has badly damaged the White House; eroded the power of
Cheney's men Wolfowitz, Feith and Perle -- who jestingly called
themselves "the cabal" -- and humiliated the hapless Secretary of State
Now "the cabal" and some politicians blame the CIA for the failure to
find Iraq's non-existent weapons and alleged links to al-Qaida.
But the CIA is fighting back through leaks, accusing the
administration of distorting, corrupting and politicizing the conduct of
The CIA does deserve sharp criticism over Iraq. It had a shocking
lack of reliable human intelligence there, forcing the agency to rely
heavily on dubious defectors and foreign intelligence, rather than its
Ironically, France had excellent intelligence in Iraq and rightly
warned Bush his war would lead to disaster. Bush was too busy listening
to the neo-conservatives' hyped intelligence to heed France's excellent
and reliable advice.
So far, CIA chief George Tenet has refused public comment over the
attacks, but agency sources report him furious with the White House and
its neo-conservative Pentagon allies. CIA staffers are waiting for Tenet
to go public and take on the neo-cons who are trying to blame the agency
for the fiasco they created.
When White House hawks such as Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld,
Cheney and the Pentagon cabal found the CIA was not providing damning
evidence on Iraq they needed to promote war, they created a special
It cherry-picked bits and pieces of negative data about Iraq,
trumpeted lurid claims by Iraqi defectors, then passed them on to the
Iraqi exiles were used as a primary conduit for the disinformation,
and were provided with funding and political support. The New York Times
repeatedly parroted the Iraqi defectors' distortions.
This special intelligence office reportedly sought to link with
Israel's Mossad intelligence agency in the anti-Iraq campaign. But the
Mossad was too professional to have anything to do with this ad hoc
operation. However, members of Israeli PM Ariel Sharon's government
reportedly provided the neo-cons' special intel unit with a stream of
negative stories about Iraq.
The CIA's professionals were enraged by this end-run, and appalled
that defectors' wild tales and self-serving material were being used to
formulate U.S. national security policy.
Before the war on Iraq, CIA director Tenet took the unprecedented
step of publicly warning many of the claims about Iraq were not
justified by facts.
But he was ignored in Bush's rush to war and did not repeat his
caution. Warnings by ranking CIA officers that their country was being
stampeded into war by neo-cons with a hidden agenda were also ignored.
The Wilson affair has exploded at a time when the extent that
America's professional intelligence cadre was circumvented, or bullied
and intimidated into silence by the Bush administration has become a
major public issue.
Such politically motivated pressure on the nation's intelligence
establishment by men with little American flags on their lapels is
totally unacceptable and gravely endangers U.S. national security.
Real patriots do not start wars to win elections while diverting
attention from financial scandals.
CIA chief Tenet ought to come out and denounce those who led the U.S.
into an unnecessary war that has become a bloody and unimaginably
But CIA officers are trained to remain silent and obey the chain of
So it's up to Congress to demand a full investigation of the
corruption of national security, and of the extremist ideologists who
misled America into a war that should never have been waged.
Eric can be reached by e-mail at
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