Sunday, February 08, 2004

Mother Jones
January 1, 2004

The lie factory: only weeks after 9/11, the Bush
administration set up a secret Pentagon unit to
create the case for invading Iraq. Here is the inside
story of how they pushed disinformation and bogus
intelligence and led the nation to war.

By Robert Dryfuss & Jason Vest

It's a crisp fall day in western Virginia, a hundred
miles from Washington, D.C., and a breeze is rustling
the red and gold leaves of the Shenandoah hills. On
the weather-beaten wood porch of a ramshackle 90-year
-old farmhouse, at the end of a winding dirt-and-gravel
road, Lt. Colonel Katen Kwiatkowski is perched on a
plastic chair, wearing shorts, a purple sweatshirt,
and muddy sneakers. Two scrawny dogs and a lone cat
are on the prowl, and the air is filled with swarms
of ladybugs.

So far, she says, no investigators have come knocking.
Not from the Central Intelligence Agency, which
conducted an internal inquiry into intelligence on Iraq,
not from the congressional intelligence committees, not
from the president's Foreign Intelligence Advisory
Board. All of those bodies are ostensibly looking into
the Bush administration's prewar Iraq intelligence, amid
charges that the White House and the Pentagon
exaggerated, distorted, or just plain lied about Iraq's
links to Al Qaeda terrorists and its possession of
nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons. In her hands,
Kwiatkowski holds several pieces of the puzzle. Yet she,
along with a score of other career officers recently
retired or shuffled off to other jobs, has not been
approached by anyone.

Kwiatkowski, 43, a now-retired Air Force officer who
served in the Pentagon's Near East and South Asia (NESA)
unit in the year before the invasion of Iraq, observed
how the Pentagon's Iraq war-planning unit manufactured
scare stories about Iraq's weapons and ties to
terrorists. "It wasn't intelligence--it was propaganda,"
she says. "They'd take a little bit of intelligence,
cherry-pick it, make it sound much more exciting,
usually by taking it out of context, often by
juxtaposition of two pieces of information that don't
belong together." It was by turning such bogus
intelligence into talking points for U.S. officials--
including ominous lines in speeches by President Bush
and Vice President Cheney, along with Secretary of State
Colin Powell's testimony at the U.N. Security Council
last February--that the administration pushed American
public opinion into supporting an unnecessary war.

Until now, the story of how the Bush administration
produced its wildly exaggerated estimates of the threat
posed by Iraq has never been revealed in full. But, for
the first time, a detailed investigation by Mother
Jones, based on dozens of interviews--some on the
record, some with officials who insisted on anonymity--
exposes the workings of a secret Pentagon intelligence
unit and of the Defense Department's war-planning task
force, the Office of Special Plans. It's the story of a
close-knit team of ideologues who spent a decade or more
hammering out plans for an attack on Iraq and who used
the events of September 11, 2001 to set it into motion.

SIX MONTHS AFTER THE END of major combat in Iraq, the
United States had spent $ 300 million trying to find
banned weapons in Iraq, and President Bush was seeking $
600 million more to extend the search. Not found were
Iraq's Scuds and other long-range missiles, thousands of
barrels and tons of anthrax and botulism stock, sarin
and VX nerve agents, mustard gas, biological and
chemical munitions, mobile labs for producing biological
weapons, and any and all evidence of a reconstituted
nuclear-arms program, all of which had been repeatedly
cited as justification for the war. Also missing was
evidence of Iraqi collaboration with Al Qaeda.

The reports, virtually all false, of Iraqi weapons and
terrorism ties emanated from an apparatus that began to
gestate almost as soon as the Bush administration took
power. In the very first meeting of the Bush national-
security team, one day after President Bush took the
oath of office in January 2001, the issue of invading
Iraq was raised, according to one of the participants in
the meeting--and officials all the way down the line
started to get the message, long before 9/11. Indeed,
the Bush team at the Pentagon hadn't even been formally
installed before Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of
Defense, and Douglas J. Feith, undersecretary of Defense
for policy, began putting together what would become the
vanguard for regime change in Iraq.

Both Wolfowitz and Feith have deep roots in the
neoconservative movement. One of the most influential
Washington neoconservatives in the foreign-policy
establishment during the Republicans' wilderness years
of the 1990s, Wolfowitz has long held that not taking
Baghdad in 1991 was a grievous mistake. He and others
now prominent in the administration said so repeatedly
over the past decade in a slew of letters and policy
papers from neoconservative groups like the Project for
the New American Century and the Committee for the
Liberation of Iraq. Feith, a former aide to Richard
Perle at the Pentagon in the 1980s and an activist in
far-right Zionist circles, held the view that there was
no difference between U.S. and Israeli security policy
and that the best way to secure both countries' future
was to solve the Israeli-Palestinian problem not by
serving as a broker, but with the United States as a
force for "regime change" in the region.

Called in to help organize the Iraq war-planning team
was a longtime Pentagon official, Harold Rhode, a
specialist on Islam who speaks Hebrew, Arabic, Turkish,
and Farsi. Though Feith would not be officially
confirmed until July 2001, career military and civilian
officials in NESA began to watch his office with concern
after Rhode set up shop in Feith's office in early
January. Rhode, seen by many veteran staffers as an
ideological gadfly, was officially assigned to the
Pentagon's Office of Net Assessment, an in-house
Pentagon think tank headed by fellow neocon Andrew
Marshall. Rhode helped Feith lay down the law about the
department's new anti-Iraq, and broadly anti-Arab,
orientation. In one telling incident, Rhode accosted and
harangued a visiting senior Arab diplomat, telling him
that there would be no "bartering in the bazaar
anymore... You're going to have to sit up and pay
attention when we say so."

Rhode refused to be interviewed for this story, saying
cryptically, "Those who speak, pay."

According to insiders, Rhode worked with Feith to purge
career Defense officials who weren't sufficiently
enthusiastic about the muscular anti-Iraq crusade that
Wolfowitz and Feith wanted. Rhode appeated to be
"pulling people out of nooks and crannies of the Defense
Intelligence Agency and other places to replace us
with," says a former analyst. "They wanted nothing to do
with the professional staff. And they wanted us the fuck
out of there."

The unofficial, off-site recruitment office for Feith
and Rhode was the American Enterprise Institute, a
right-wing think tank whose 12th-floor conference room
in Washington is named for the dean of neoconservative
defense strategists, the late Albert Wohlstetter, an
influential RAND analyst and University of Chicago
mathematician. Headquartered at AEI is Richard Perle,
Wohlstetter's prize protege, the godfather of the AEI-
Defense Department nexus of neoconservatives who was
chairman of the Pentagon's influential Defense Policy
Board. Rhode, along with Michael Rubin, a former AEI
staffer who is also now at the Pentagon, was a
ubiquitous presence at AEI conferences on Iraq over the
past two years, and the two Pentagon officials seemed
almost to be serving as stage managers for the AEI
events, often sitting in the front row and speaking in
stage whispers to panelists and AEI officials. Just
after September 11, 2001, Feith and Rhode recruited
David Wurmser, the director of Middle East studies for
AEI, to serve as a Pentagon consultant.

Wurmser would be the founding participant of the
unnamed, secret intelligence unit at the Pentagon, set
up in Feith's office, which would be the nucleus of the
Defense Department's Iraq disinformation campaign that
was established within weeks of the attacks in New York
and Washington. While the CIA and other intelligence
agencies concentrated on Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda as
the culprit in the 9/11 attacks, Wolfowitz and Feith
obsessively focused on Iraq. It was a theory that was
discredited, even ridiculed, among intelligence
professionals. Daniel Benjamin, co-author of The Age of
Sacred Terror, was director of counterterrorism at the
National Security Council in the late 1990s. "In 1998,
we went through every piece of intelligence we could
find to see if there was a link between Al Qaeda and
Iraq," he says. "We came to the conclusion that our
intelligence agencies had it right: There was no
noteworthy relationship between Al Qaeda and Iraq. I
know that for a fact." Indeed, that was the consensus
among virtually all anti-terrorism specialists.

In short, Wurmser, backed by Feith and Rhode, set out to
prove what didn't exist.

IN AN ADMINISTRATION devoted to the notion of "Feith-
based intelligence," Wurmser was ideal. For years, he'd
been a shrill ideologue, part of the minority crusade
during the 1990s that was beating the drums for war
against Iraq. Along with Perle and Feith, in 1996
Wurmser and his wife, Meyrav, wrote a provocative
strategy paper for Israeli prime minister Benjamin
Netanyahu called "A Clean Break: A New Strategy for
Securing the Realm." It called on Israel to work with
Jordan and Turkey to "contain, destabilize and roll
back" various states in the region, overthrow Saddam
Hussein in Iraq, press Jordan to restore a scion of the
Hashemite dynasty to the Iraqi throne, and, above all,
launch military assaults against Lebanon and Syria as a
"prelude to a redrawing of the map of the Middle East
which would threaten Syria's territorial integrity."

In 1997, Wurmser wrote a column in the Wall Street
Journal called "Iraq Needs a Revolution" and the next
year co-signed a letter with Perle calling for all-out
U.S. support of the Iraqi National Congress (INC), an
exile group led by Ahmad Chalabi, in promoting an
insurgency in Iraq. At AEI, Wurmser wrote Tyranny's
Ally: America's Failure to Defeat Saddam Hussein,
essentially a book-length version of"A Clean Break" that
proposed an alliance between Jordan and the INC to
redraw the map of the Middle East. Among the mentors
cited by Wurmser in the book: Chalabi, Perle, and Feith.

The purpose of the unnamed intelligence unit, often
described as a Pentagon "cell," was to scour reports
from the CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the
National Security Agency, and other agencies to find
nuggets of information linking Iraq, Al Qaeda,
terrorism, and the existence of Iraqi weapons of mass
destruction (WMD). In a controversial press briefing in
October 2002, a year after Wurmser's unit was
established, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld
acknowledged that a primary purpose of the unit was to
cull factoids, which were then used to disparage,
undermine, and contradict the CIA's reporting, which was
far more cautious and nuanced than Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz,
and Feith wanted. Rumsfeld particularly enjoyed
harassing the CIA staffer who briefed him every morning,
using the type of data produced by the intelligence
unit. "What I could do is say, 'Gee, what about this?'"
Rumsfeld noted. "'Or what about that? Has somebody
thought of this?'" Last June, when Feith was questioned
on the same topic at a briefing, he acknowledged that
the secret unit in fact looked at the connection between
Iraq and terrorism, saying, "You can't rely on
deterrence to deal with the problem of weapons of mass
destruction in the hands of state sponsors of terrorism
because [of] the possibility that those state sponsors
might employ chemical weapons or biological weapons by
means of a terrorist organization proxy...."

Though Feith, in that briefing, described Wurmser's unit
as an innocent project, "a global exercise" that was not
meant to put pressure on other intelligence agencies or
create skewed intelligence to fit preconceived policy
notions, many other sources assert that it did exactly
that. That the White House and the Pentagon put enormous
pressure on the CIA to go along with its version of
events has been widely reported, highlighted by visits
to CIA headquarters by Vice President Cheney and Lewis
Libby, his chief of staff. Led by Perle, the neocons
seethed with contempt for the CIA. The CIA's analysis,
said Perle, "isn't worth the paper it's printed on."
Standing in a crowded hallway during an AEI event, Perle
added, "The CIA is status quo oriented. They don't want
to take risks."

That became the mantra of the shadow agency within an

Putting Wurmser in charge of the unit meant that it was
being run by a pro-Iraq-war ideologue who'd spent years
calling for a pre-emptive invasion of Baghdad and who
was clearly predisposed to find what he wanted to see.
Adding another layer of dubious quality to the endeavor
was the man partnered with Wurmser, F. Michael Maloof.
Maloof, a former aide to Perle in the 1980s Pentagon,
was twice stripped of his high-level security
clearances--once in late 2001 and again last spring, for
various infractions. Maloof was also reportedly involved
in a bizarre scheme to broker contacts between Iraqi
officials and the Pentagon, channeled through Perle, in
what one report called a "rogue [intelligence]
operation" outside official CIA and Defense Intelligence
Agency channels.

As the momentum for war began to build in early 2002,
Wolfowitz and Feith beefed up the intelligence unit and
created an Iraq war-planning unit in the Pentagon's Near
East and South Asia Affairs section, run by Deputy
Undersecretary of Defense William Luti, under the rubric
"Office of Special Plans," or OSP; the new unit's
director was Abram N. Shulsky. By then, Wurmser had
moved on to a post as senior adviser to Undersecretary
of State John Bolton, yet another neocon, who was in
charge of the State Department's disarmament,
proliferation, and WMD office and was promoting the Iraq
war strategy there. Shulsky's OSP, which incorporated
the secret intelligence unit, took control, banishing
veteran experts--including Joseph McMillan, James
Russell, Larry Hanauer, and Marybeth McDevitt--who,
despite years of service to NESA, either were shuffled
off to other positions or retired. For the next year,
Luti and Shulsky not only would oversee war plans but
would act aggressively to shape the intelligence product
received by the White House.

Both Luti and Shulsky were neoconservatives who were
ideological soulmates of Wolfowitz and Feith. But Luti
was more than that. He'd come to the Pentagon directly
from the office of Vice President Cheney. That gave
Luti, a recently retired, decorated Navy captain whose
career ran from combat aviation to command of a
helicopter assault ship, extra clout. Along with his
colleague Colonel William Bruner, Luti had done a stint
as an aide to Newt Gingrich in 1996 and, like Perle and
Wolfowitz, was an acolyte of Wohlstetter's. "He makes
Ollie North look like a moderate," says a NESA veteran.

Shulsky had been on the Washington scene since the
mid-1970s. As a Senate intelligence committee staffer
for Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, he began to work
with early neoconservatives like Perle, who was then an
aide to Senator Henry Jackson. Later, in the Reagan
years, Shulsky followed Perle to the Pentagon as Perle's
arms-control adviser. In the '90s, Shulsky co-authored a
book on intelligence called Silent Warfare, with Gary
Schmitt. Shulsky had served with Schmitt on Moynihan's
staff and they had remained friends. Asked about the
Pentagon's Iraq intelligence "cell," Schmitt--who is
currently the executive director of the Project for the
New American Century--says that he can't say much about
it "because one of my best friends is running it."

According to Lt. Colonel Kwiatkowski, Luti and Shulsky
ran NESA and the Office of Special Plans with brutal
efficiency, purging people they disagreed with and
enforcing the party line. "It was organized like a
machine," she says. "The people working on the neocon
agenda had a narrow, well-defined political agenda. They
had a sense of mission." At NESA, Shulsky, she says,
began "hot-desking," or taking an office wherever he
could find one, working with Feith and Luti, before
formally taking the reins of the newly created OSP.
Together, she says, Luti and Shulsky turned cherry-
picked pieces of uncorroborated, anti-Iraq intelligence
into talking points, on issues like Iraq's WMD and its
links to Al Qaeda. Shulsky constantly updated these
papers, drawing on the intelligence unit, and circulated
them to Pentagon officials, including Rumsfeld, and to
Vice President Cheney. "Of course, we never thought
they'd go directly to the White House," she adds.

Kwiatkowski recalls one meeting in which Luti, pressed
to finish a report, told the staff, "I've got to get
this over to 'Scooter' right away." She later found out
that "Scooter" was none other than Lewis "Scooter"
Libby, Vice President Cheney's chief of staff. According
to Kwiatkowski, Cheney had direct ties through Luti into
NESA/OSP, a connection that was highly unorthodox.

"Never, ever, ever would a deputy undersecretary of
Defense work directly on a project for the vice
president," she says. "It was a little clue that we had
an informal network into Vice President Cheney's

Although Feith insists that the OSP did not seek to
gather its own intelligence, Kwiatkowski and others
sharply disagree. Staff working for Luti and Shulsky in
NESA/OSP churned out propaganda-style intelligence, she
says. As an example, she cited the work of a U.S.
intelligence officer and Arabic specialist, Navy Lt.
Commander Youssef Aboul-Enein, who was a special
assistant to Luti. "His job was to peruse the Arabic-
language media to find articles that would incriminate
Saddam Hussein about terrorism, and he translated
these." Such raw intelligence is usually subject to a
thorough vetting process, tracked, verified, and checked
by intelligence professionals. But not at OSP--the
material that it produced found its way directly into
speeches by Bush, Cheney, and other officials.

According to Melvin Goodman, a former CIA official and
an intelligence specialist at the National War College,
the OSP officials routinely pushed lower-ranking staff
around on intelligence matters. "People were being
pulled aside [and being told], 'We saw your last piece
and it's not what we're looking for,'" he says. "It was
pretty blatant." Two State Department intelligence
officials, Greg Thielmann and Christian Westermann, have
both charged that pressure was being put on them to
shape intelligence to fit policy, in particular from
Bolton's office. "The Al Qaeda connection and nuclear
weapons issue were the only two ways that you could link
Iraq to an imminent security threat to the U.S.,"
Thielmann told the New York Times. "And the
administration was grossly distorting the intelligence
on both things."

BESIDES CHENEY, key members of the Pentagon's Defense
Policy Board, including Perle and ex-House Speaker Newt
Gingrich, all Iraq hawks, had direct input into
NESA/OSP. The offices Of NESA were located on the
Pentagon's fourth floor, seventh corridor of D Ring, and
the Policy Board's offices were directly below, on the
third floor. During the run-up to the Iraq war, Gingrich
often came up for closed-door meetings with Luti, who in
1996 had served as a congressional fellow in Speaker of
the House Gingrich's office.

As OSP got rolling, Luti brought in Colonel Bruner, a
former military aide to Gingrich, and, together, Luti
and Bruner opened the door to a vast flow of bogus
intelligence red to the Pentagon by Iraqi defectors
associated with Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress group
of exiles. Chalabi founded the Iraqi National Congress
in 1992, with the help of a shadowy CIA-connected
public-relations firm called the Rendon Group, one of
whose former employees, Francis Brooke, has been a top
aide to Chalabi ever since. A scion of an aristocratic
Iraqi family, Chalabi fled Baghdad at the age of 13, in
1958, when the corrupt Iraqi Hashemite monarchy was
overthrown by a coalition of communists and the Iraqi
military. In the late 1960s, Chalabi studied mathematics
at the University of Chicago with Wohlstetter, who
introduced him to Richard Perle more than a decade
later. Long associated with the heart of the
neoconservative movement, Chalabi founded Petra Bank in
Jordan, which grew to be Jordan's third-largest bank by
the 1980s. But Chalabi was accused of bank fraud,
embezzlement, and currency manipulation, and he barely
escaped before Jordanian authorities could arrest him;
in 1992, he was convicted and sentenced in absentia to
more than 20 years of hard labor. After founding the
INC, Chalabi's bungling, unreliability, and penchant for
mismanaging funds caused the CIA to sour on him, but he
never lost the support of Perle, Feith, Gingrich, and
their allies; once, soon after 9/11, Perle invited
Chalabi to address the Defense Policy Board.

According to multiple sources, Chalabi's Iraqi National
Congress sent a steady stream of misleading and often
faked intelligence reports into U.S. intelligence
channels. That information would flow sometimes into
NESA/OSP directly, sometimes through Defense
Intelligence Agency debriefings of Iraqi defectors via
the Defense Human intelligence Service, and sometimes
through the INC's own U.S.-funded Intelligence
Collection Program, which was overseen by the Pentagon.
The INC's intelligence "isn't reliable at all,"
according to Vincent Cannistraro, a former CIA chief of
counterterrorism. "Much of it is propaganda. Much of it
is telling the Defense Department what they want to
hear, using alleged informants and defectors who say
what Chalabi wants them to say, [creating] cooked
information that goes right into presidential and vice
presidential speeches."

Bruner, the aide to Luti and Gingrich's former staffer,
"was Chalabi's handler," says Kwiatkowski. "He would
arrange meetings with Chalabi and Chalabi's folks," she
says, adding that the INC leader often brought people
into the NESA/OSP offices for debriefings. Chalabi
claims to have introduced only three actual defectors to
the Pentagon, a figure Thielmann considers "awfully
low." However, according to an investigation by the Los
Angeles Times, the three defectors provided by Chalabi
turned up exactly zero useful intelligence. The first,
an Iraqi engineer, claimed to have specific information
about biological weapons, but his information didn't pan
out; the second claimed to know about mobile labs, but
that information, too, was worthless; and the third, who
claimed to have data about Iraq's nuclear program,
proved to be a fraud. Chalabi also claimed to have given
the Pentagon information about Iraqi support for Al
Qaeda. "We gave the names of people who were doing the
links," he told an interviewer from PBS's Frontline.
Those links, of course, have not been discovered.
Thielmann told the same Frontline interviewer that the
Office of Special Plans didn't apply strict
intelligence-verification standards to "some of the
information coming out of Chalabi and the INC that OSP
and the Pentagon ran with."

In the war's aftermath, the Defense Intelligence
Agency--which is not beholden to the neoconservative
civilians at the Pentagon--leaked a report it prepared,
concluding that few, if any, of the INC's informants
provided worthwhile intelligence.

SO FAR, DESPITE ALL of the investigations under way,
there is little sign that any of them are going to delve
into the operations of the Luti-Shulsky Office of
Special Plans and its secret intelligence unit. Because
it operates in the Pentagon's policy shop, it is not
officially part of the intelligence community, and so it
is seemingly immune to congressional oversight.

With each passing day, it is becoming excruciatingly
clearer just how wrong U.S. intelligence was in regard
to Iraqi weapons and support for terrorism. The American
teams of inspectors in the Iraq Survey Group, which has
employed up to 1,400 people to scour the country and
analyze the findings, have not been able to find a shred
of evidence of anything other than dusty old plans and
records of weapons apparently destroyed more than a
decade ago. Countless examples of fruitless searches
have been reported in the media. To cite one example:
U.S. soldiers followed an intelligence report claiming
that a complex built for Uday Hussein, Saddam's son, hid
a weapons warehouse with poison-gas storage tanks.
"Well," U.S. Army Major Ronald Hann Jr. told the Los
Angeles Times, "the warehouse was a carport. It still
had two cars inside. And the tanks had propane for the

Countless other errors and exaggerations have become
evident. The thousands of aluminum tubes supposedly
imported by Iraq for uranium enrichment were fairly
conclusively found to be designed to build
noncontroversial rockets. The long-range unmanned aerial
vehicles, allegedly built to deliver bioweapons, were
small, rickety, experimental planes with wood frames.
The mobile bioweapon labs turned out to have had other,
civilian purposes. And the granddaddy of all falsehoods,
the charge that Iraq sought uranium in the West African
country of Niger, was based on forged documents--
documents that the CIA, the State Department, and other
agencies knew were fake nearly a year before President
Bush highlighted the issue in his State of the Union
address in January 2003.

"Either the system broke down," former Ambassador Joseph
Wilson, who was sent by the cIA to visit Niger and whose
findings helped show that the documents were forged,
told Mother Jones, "or there was selective use of bits
of information to justify a decision to go to war that
had already been taken."

Edward Luttwak, a neoconservative scholar and author,
says flatly that the Bush administration lied about the
Intelligence it had because it was afraid to go to the
American people and say that the war was simply about
getting rid of Saddam Hussein. Instead, says Luttwak,
the White House was groping for a rationale to satisfy
the United Nations' criteria for war. "Cheney was forced
into this fake posture of worrying about weapons of mass
destruction," he says. "The ties to Al Qaeda? That's
complete nonsense."

In the Senate, Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) is
pressing for the Intelligence Committee to extend its
investigation to look into the specific role of the
Pentagon's Office of Special Plans, but there is strong
Republican resistance to the idea.

In the House, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) has
introduced legislation calling for a commission to
investigate the intelligence mess and has collected more
than a hundred Democrats--but no Republicans--in support
of it. "I think they need to be looked at pretty
carefully," Waxman told Mother Jones when asked about
the Office of Special Plans. "I'd like to know whether
the political people pushed the intelligence people to
slant their conclusions." Congressman Waxman, meet Lt.
Colonel Kwiatkowski.

Robert Dreyfuss ("The Lie Factory," page 34) is a
longtime Washington journalist and a contributing writer
for Mother Jones. His last cover story for the magazine
focused on the neoconservative plan to topple Saddam
Hussein and reshape the Middle East ("The Thirty-Year
Itch," March/April 2003).

Jason Vest ("The Lie Factory," page 34) is a Washington
reporter whose work has appeared in the Washington Post,
U.S. News & World Report, the American Prospect, and the
Village Voice.

Copyright 2004 Gale Group, Inc.

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