Insiders speaking out, being heard, despite administration flim-flam
In the March issue of the Iguana, you read about how the Bush administration, utterly fixated on attacking Iraq, may have circumvented established intelligence procedures in order to get information to support the case for war. Nearly a month later, almost daily we find new information from credible sources that support the claim that the administration was disorganized, operating on conflicting information, and determined to invade Iraq regardless of the status of its campaign to capture and punish Osama bin Laden.
Only a week after last month's issue went to press, retired US Air Force Lt. Col. Karen Kwiatkowski wrote a lengthy article for Salon magazine that detailed how the Pentagon manipulated information in order to the support the case for war. Kwiatkowski had been stationed at the Pentagon's Near East South Asia directorate (NESA) from May 2002 until February 2003 and observed the creation of the Office of Special Plans (OSP), which would later be a major source of the administration's "intelligence" leading up to the war. "I saw a narrow and deeply flawed policy favored by some executive appointees in the Pentagon used to manipulate and pressurize the traditional relationship between policymakers in the Pentagon and U.S. intelligence agencies," Kwiatkowski wrote, detailing how think tanks such as the Middle East Media Research Institute, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs were intimately involved in what she termed "instant-policy" - derived without debate or discussion.
Just two days after Kwiatkowski's article appeared in Salon, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said at a town hall meeting that he did not believe that Pentagon officials bypassed intelligence channels. "We do it all the time in this department. We brief the president. We brief the vice president," Rumsfeld said. "Nobody was bypassed; there was no mystery."
But Kwiatkowski describes an organization at OSP so bloated that it quickly outgrew the space assigned to it in the Pentagon and had to move to a different floor. Throughout the summer of 2002, various people would "appear" and be tasked with working on "Iraq issues." It was in the fall of 2002 that Kwiatkowski began to publish short accounts of what was going on at Defense. Her stories, however, were published under the nickname "Deep Throat: Insider Notes from the Pentagon" on the Soldiers for the Truth website (run by retired Col. David Hackworth). See http://www.sftt.org
When Congress was asked in August 2002 to pass a resolution for preemptive war, Senator Bob Graham (D - Fla) noted that he had not seen a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that detailed the threats that the U.S. was facing. Incredibly, the non-existent NIE was cobbled together in the ensuing weeks and presented in September. The heavily footnoted document supported the claims that the Administration had been making regarding Iraq - the reservations voiced by intelligence officials were relegated to the footnotes, which were redacted in public versions of the document.
At about the same time that Kwiatkowski was pointing at the Pentagon, Richard Clarke was making the talk show rounds in support of his new book, Against all Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror. Clarke, former counter-terrorism czar for both Clinton and Bush, is a well-known and very credible source. Clarke describes in his book a Bush administration that did not believe that Al Qaida was much of a threat to the U.S. and was intent on attacking Iraq almost immediately after the September 11 attacks.
The Bush administration immediately brought out the attack dogs. Presidential spokesman Scott McClellan said that Clarke was just trying to promote his book and that Clarke was upset because he was demoted early in the Bush administration. Clarke was even accused of working for the Kerry campaign and hoping for a position in the Kerry administration, should there be one. Clarke calmly and steadily denied the charges, and when testifying before the 9/11 Commission, said that he had no affiliation with the Kerry campaign and would not accept any position even if one were offered.
Clarke says that early during the transition to the Bush presidency, he briefed "each of my old friends and associates from the first Bush administration, Condi Rice, Steve Hadley [Rice's Deputy], Dick Cheney, and Colin Powell." Rice, said Clarke, "gave me the impression that she had never heard the term [Al Qaida] before." Clarke tells of a meeting in April 2001--months after he had pressed for a Cabinet-level meeting to discuss the Al Qaida threat--that consisted of all the deputies, i.e. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz and Deputy National Security Advisor Steve Hadley. At that meeting, Clarke stated, "We are talking about a network of terrorist organizations called al-Qaida, that happens to be led by bin Laden, and we are talking about that network because it and it alone poses an immediate and serious threat to the United States." Wolfowitz, unfazed, said, "you give bin Laden too much credit. He could not do all these things like the 1993 attack on New York, not without a state sponsor. Just because the FBI and the CIA have failed to find the linkages does not mean they don't exist." Only Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage agreed with Clarke, saying, "we see al-Qaida as a major threat and countering it as an urgent priority."
In June 2001, Clarke convened a meeting at the White House with the Secret Service, Immigration, the FAA, Coast Guard, U.S. Customs, and the Federal Protective Service. He put all those agencies on "high alert" and asked for them to report anything unusual, "even if a sparrow should fall from a tree." He asked the FBI to warn police departments across the nation, and told everyone, "tell me, tell each other, about anything unusual." They failed:
"Somewhere in CIA there was information that two known al-Qaida terrorists had come into the United States. Somewhere in FBI there was information that strange things had been going on at flight schools in the United States. I had asked to know if a sparrow fell from a tree that summer. What was buried in CIA and FBI was not a matter of one sparrow falling from a tree, red lights and bells should have been going off. They had specific information about individual terrorists from which one could have deduced what was about to happen. None of that information got to me or the White House."
You would be correct in thinking that the revelations from Clarke are pretty serious, but there's more. People within and close to the administration are coming out of the woodwork to report on an administration so broken, that its officials repeatedly contradict one another in public statements. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, National Security Advisor Condolezza Rice, and Vice President Cheney all seemed to contradict one another in their responses to Clarke's charges. Rice claimed that there was indeed a strategy for dealing with Al Qaida prior to Sept. 11, but Armitage apparently didn't think so. In late March 2004 Rice said that Bush had told her that Iraq was on the back burner, but a search of Executive Orders reveals one signed on September 17, 2001 that directs the Pentagon to begin planning for operations in Iraq. Cheney, for his part, claims that we shouldn't pay much attention to Clarke because he (Clarke) was "out of the loop," yet Rice's recent statements indicate that Clarke was a part of the pre-9/11 discussions. Moreover, Rice said that Clarke was the architect of failed Clinton policies, but later said that she had retained Clarke in order to continue established anti-terrorism policies. You are forgiven if you need to re-read the paragraph.
Now comes the revelation that even as Richard Clarke was desperately trying to get the administration to listen to reason on Al Qaida, the U.S. Commission on National Security had issued a report in early 2001 entitled, "Road Map for National Security: Imperative for Change." The bi-partisan commission was created by President Clinton to evaluate national security policies given new threats on the horizon. The commission was co-chaired by former Senators Gary Hart (D - Colo) and Warren Rudman (R - N.H.) and the report was undertaken in three phases, with Phase III pulling everything together and providing recommendations. The report was delivered to the White House on January 31, 2001 and made public within the next two weeks. The report warned that an attack against Americans on American soil was almost a certainty, and issued a list of recommendations on how to deal with the terrorist threat and on how to ensure that the U.S. would remain a world leader in science and technology. Among the report's recommendations:
Copies of the report were provided to members of Congress and in the spring of 2001, legislation was introduced to create the NHSA. But Bush asked Congress to delay action, saying that Dick Cheney would be reviewing the matter and advising Bush on courses of action. The measure never got any further until June 6, 2002 - a full year later - when Bush proposed the creation of the Department of Homeland Security. In a speech to the nation on June 7, 2002, Bush said, in part:
"After September the 11th, we needed to move quickly, and so I appointed Tom Ridge as my Homeland Security Advisor. As Governor Ridge has worked with all levels of government to prepare a national strategy, and as we have learned more about the plans and capabilities of the terrorist network, we have concluded that our government must be reorganized to deal more effectively with the new threats of the 21st century. So tonight, I ask the Congress to join me in creating a single, permanent department with an overriding and urgent mission: securing the homeland of America, and protecting the American people."
Bush never mentions that the idea for such a department was presented to the administration a full year earlier. The entire report can be found at the commission's website: http://www.nssg.gov/Reports/reports.htm
Then there's the case of Sibel Edmonds, a former FBI translator. The case was publicized in late 2002 and Edmonds had appeared on CBS's 60 Minutes and told Ed Bradley the story of her short tenure at the FBI and included charges that should surely force a shake-up at the Bureau. Edmonds had been hired shortly after 9/11 to translate documents that might contain information regarding the attacks. Fluent in Turkish, and several other Middle Eastern languages, Edmonds was granted top-secret security clearance and asked to translate documents obtained before and after September 11. Edmonds told "60 Minutes" that the FBI's language division was corrupt and its management incompetent, and that when she aired her concerns to FBI officials and the Justice Department Inspector General, she was fired.
Edmonds says that as soon as she arrived on the job she was told to take her time on translating documents because if the division appeared to be overworked, it could then request more funding and additional staff to handle the load. She said that her supervisor even deleted completed translations from her computer so that she would have to start all over. She also said that some employees who worked in her department were not qualified to do these detailed translations - some employees could not even pass proficiency tests in the language they were supposed to be translating.
One of Edmonds' co-workers, Jan Dickerson, was also a Turkish translator. CBS learned that the FBI was not aware that Dickerson worked for a Turkish organization that was being investigated by the FBI's counterintelligence unit. Dickerson also had a relationship with a Turkish intelligence officer who was part of that investigation. Edmonds said that Dickerson insisted that only she (Dickerson) be allowed to translate wiretaps of the Turk with whom she was involved. Edmonds says that when she reported the situation, she was told that if she persisted, it would turn into an investigation on her.
Edmonds also went to Senator Charles Grassley (R - Iowa) because he chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee. Grassley told 60 Minutes that others in the FBI had corroborated her story and that the FBI needed "to be turned upside down."
Edmonds' allegations are serious and show a criticism-sensitive FBI that didn't want to see the duplicitous Dickerson exposed as a security threat. Edmonds has testified before the 9/11 Commission and the Senate Judiciary and Senate Select Intelligence Committees. A statement released by her attorneys asserts that the FBI had admitted to the issues Edmonds raised regarding Dickerson. According to the statement, "The FBI has now conceded that its security program was deficient and flawed. The security lapses already confirmed during the investigation of Ms. Edmonds' allegations demonstrate that the FBI has again failed to properly protect the American people. The FBI also retaliated against the whistleblower who courageously raised these issues, in an improper attempt to hide gross lapses in its own security program." She told Government Executive magazine that documents dating before September 11 that she had retranslated showed that the hijackers were in the U.S. and were planning to use planes as missiles. She said the documents also contained information about their financial dealings. Edmonds has been under a gag order since October 2002 and says that she cannot provide any further information. It will be interesting to see what questions the 9/11 Commission has for FBI Director Robert Mueller when he is scheduled to testify later this month.
And this morning (April 4, 2004) on Meet the Press, 9/11 Commission Chair Thomas Kean said that the Bush administration would have the final say on the text of the report to be issued by the commission and will also determine when the report should be released. Although Kean doesn't think that this will be a problem, you still have to shudder at the prospect that the White House will redact key portions of the report, claiming that national security interests would be compromised if the text were released unedited.
This is certainly not the end of a story that continues to twist and turn in unexpected directions nearly daily. We'll bring an update in the next issue.
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