Last night’s 60 Minutes interview with Richard Clarke is raising temperatures all over the country. The Bush Admin already has its flack-attack in high gear with NSA whipping-boy Stephen Hadley insisting that everything Clarke said is untrue and Communications Director (read: Public Relations Hack) Dan Bartlett in full denial mode, calling Clarke’s charges “political”:
“We believe the timing is questionable,” he said. “When (Clarke) left office, he had every opportunity” to make any grievances known.
Hadley I understand–he was the junior goat who took the rap for Condi Rice when she claimed she’d never seen Tenet’s memo debunking the Niger document–but what’s Bartlett doing out there? Couldn’t the BA find an actual official other than Hadley with some responsibility for National Security matters to rebut Clarke’s charges? After all, they’re pretty serious. I suppose I’d be wasting my breath pointing out to this group of illusionists that National Security is NOT a matter of image.
Nevertheless, there is a legitimate question of credibility here. Clarke’s charges are severe, suggesting a level of incompetence in the BA that the mainstream press hasn’t reported hardly at all in the 3 years Junior’s been in office. If what he says is true, why wasn’t it reported before? Regular readers will know what I think the answer to that one is. The more important question is: Where did this certainty that Iraq was involved in 9/11 come from if the IC was insisting the connection didn’t exist?
Let’s take the credibility issue first.
Tim Dunlop at The Road to Surfdom helpfully supplies in two posts generous quotes from The Age of Sacred Terror by ex-NSC directors Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon that help support Clarke’s statements and put them in perspective. The book, published in 2002, was largely ignored, but it paints a similar picture of both the WH and Clarke’s role.
Military leaders who remained in office in the Bush administration saw terrorism moving “farther to the back burner,” as Hugh Shelton (chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff) put it. “The squeaky wheel was Dick Clarke, but he wasn’t at the the top of their priority list, so the lights went out for a few months. Dick did a pretty good job because he’s abrasive as hell, but given the level he was at” there no breaking through into the new team’s field of vision.************************************
General Don Kerrick, the outgoing deputy nation security adviser, spent the first four months of the new administration–and his final ones in uniform–in the Old Executive Office Building. He worried that the new crew had the “same strategic perpsective as the folks in the eighties.” They did not appreciate new threats such as terrorism that had arisen in the 1990s, and they fixated on a missile defense system that he, like much of the uniformed military, considered unworkable and unnecessary. As a courtesy, he sent a memo to the NSC front office on “things you need to pay attention to.” About the al-Qaeda terrorist threat he wrote bluntly, “We are going to be struck again.” He never heard back. “I don’t think it was above the waterline,” he says. “They were gambling nothing would happen.” That remained the new administration’s posture even after February 9, when intelligence briefers told Vice President Dick Cheney that the CIA had concluded that al-Qaeda was responsible for bombing the Cole.
Clarke is clearly not the only terrorist expert who had trouble getting through the BA reality-filters. As Digby wrote yesterday, too many ultra-conservative members of the BA came in with their Cold War attitudes intact and were unwilling to shift them to accommodate the new realities. The treatment Clarke complains of exactly mirrors the treatment others describe when they tried to get the BA off the stick–they were ignored, shuffled to the side, downgraded or denigrated. The BA simply didn’t want to hear it.
What did they want to hear? That Iraq was behind AQ. They came into power already believing that, and they insisted on believing it despite all evidence to the contrary provided by the IC. Why? I can answer that question in 2 words: Laurie Mylroie. And just who, you may be asking yourself, is Laurie Mylroie?
Let’s start with a quote from Clarke:
He said that within one week of Bush’s inauguration he “urgently” sought a meeting of senior Cabinet leaders to discuss “the imminent al-Qaida threat.”Three months later, in April 2001, Clarke met with deputy secretaries. During that meeting, he wrote, the Defense Department’s Paul Wolfowitz told Clarke, “You give bin Laden too much credit,” and he said Wolfowitz sought to steer the discussion to Iraq.
Why would Wolfowitz react that way? Because he was a devoted follower of Laurie Mylroie, that’s why, and Laurie believed that Saddam Hussein was behind all the Islamic terror in the Middle East. All of it.
A Little Background
Mylroie fancies herself an expert on the Middle East and has the resume to prove it. Among other positions, she’s been on the faculty of Harvard and the Naval War College and worked at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Joel Beinin, Prof of History at Stanford Univ, characterized WINEP as a pro-Israeli lobby.
Its first major success was the publication of the report Building for Peace: An American Strategy for the Middle East on the eve of the 1988 presidential elections. The report urged the incoming administration to “resist pressures for a procedural breakthrough [on Palestinian-Israeli peace issues] until conditions have ripened”.Six members of the study group that produced the report joined the administration of President Bush Sr, which adopted this recipe: Not to change until change was unavoidable. So the US acceded to Israel’s refusal to negotiate directly with the Palestine Liberation Organisation during and after the 1991 Madrid conference despite the PLO’s recognition of Israel at the November 1988 session of the Palestine National Council.
Nothing wrong with that, and in fact there appears to be nothing unusual in the first half of Mylroie’s career. As a Reagan conservative, she supported Saddam right up until he invaded Kuwait, ignoring his war against the Kurds and rationalizing his war with Iran. With the Kuwait war, though, she turned against him with a vengeance, accusing him of being behind or at least connected with nearly every terrorist act of the 90’s, including the bombings in Beirut, the bombing of the Cole, and the Oklahoma City bombing even though no one else in the whole world could find any such connection. Her reasoning was simplicity itself: terrorist cells could not have planned such complicated and co-ordinated attacks; they didn’t have “the resources”. Therefore, a state must have been directing them, and on the flimsiest of pretexts, like a jilted lover, she blamed everything on her ex.
The “evidence” for her conclusion that Saddam was the Professor Moriarty of islamic terror, the Mastermind behind the scenes, boils down to a file in Kuwait on Ramzi Yousef, convicted would-be bomber of the WTC in 1993. She asserts, without actual evidence, first that the file was tampered with and second that the tampering was done by Iraqi Intelligence. Why? Because she says so. From an interview with her done by PBS’ Frontline in October, 2001:
That [the] file in Kuwait was tampered with leads me to believe that Iraqi intelligence tampered with that file to create a false identity for Ramzi Yousef. Only Iraqi intelligence, reasonably, could have tampered with the Kuwaiti Interior Ministry files.
Evidence of tampering? None. Evidence that “only” Iraqi Intelligence could have tampered with it? None. On this slim reed hangs her whole theory: Yousef was NOT a member of AQ, he was a secret agent in the employ of Saddam Hussein and Iraqi Intelligence, therefore the attempted bombing in ’93 was not an AQ plot but a plot of Saddam’s. From there she goes on to scale heights of conspiracy theory undreamed of by the most rabid One Worlder. Here’s Peter Bergen of the Washington Monthly, December 2003:
Mylroie became enamored of her theory that Saddam was the mastermind of a vast anti-U.S. terrorist conspiracy in the face of virtually all evidence and expert opinion to the contrary. In what amounts to the discovery of a unified field theory of terrorism, Mylroie believes that Saddam was not only behind the ’93 Trade Center attack, but also every anti-American terrorist incident of the past decade, from the bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania to the leveling of the federal building in Oklahoma City to September 11 itself. She is, in short, a crackpot, which would not be significant if she were merely advising say, Lyndon LaRouche. But her neocon friends who went on to run the war in Iraq believed her theories, bringing her on as a consultant at the Pentagon, and they seem to continue to entertain her eccentric belief that Saddam is the fount of the entire shadow war against America.
And her friends are legion in the highest levels of the BA.
She laid out her case in Study of Revenge: Saddam Hussein’s Unfinished War Against America, a book published by AEI in 2000 which makes it clear that Mylroie and the neocon hawks worked hand in glove to push her theory that Iraq was behind the ’93 Trade Center bombing. Its acknowledgements fulsomely thanked John Bolton and the staff of AEI for their assistance, while Richard Perle glowingly blurbed the book as “splendid and wholly convincing.” Lewis “Scooter” Libby, now Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff, is thanked for his “generous and timely assistance.” And it appears that Paul Wolfowitz himself was instrumental in the genesis of Study of Revenge: His then-wife is credited with having “fundamentally shaped the book,” while of Wolfowitz, she says: “At critical times, he provided crucial support for a project that is inherently difficult.”
Wolfowitz tried to steer Clarke away from AQ and onto Iraq because Laurie Mylroie had convinced him that Saddam was the brains behind and the moving force of AQ. Like Chalabi, she had no evidence for her claims. Like Chalabi, she made it up as she went along. Like Chalabi, she knew what her patrons wanted to hear–a reason to invade Iraq–and she gave it to them. Unlike Chalabi, she appears to be unhinged enough to have actually believed what she was saying.
Mylroie and Chalabi. The incompetent neocon fantasists of the BA managed to latch onto both the Biggest Con-Artist and the Biggest Fringe Conspiracy Theorist in the Middle East and hand them money, prestige, and influence. James Angleton managed single-handedly to all-but-destroy our intelligence capability in the 60’s and 70’s by directing a paranoid and fruitless witch-hunt for a mythical mole supposedly located at “the highest level”. Allen Dulles convinced himself that the mole was John Kennedy. Both were reacting to paper-thin “signals” from a Soviet defector whose bona fides were extremely shaky and whose information rarely panned out. Mylroie has just done the same kind of damage to our Mid-East policies. Thirty years later, our intelligence services still haven’t fully recovered from the effects of Angleton’s insane mole-hunt, and it looks like it’s going to be a good long time before we recover from the effects of Myroie’s paranoia.
Meanwhile, as the bombing in Madrid proved fairly conclusively, AQ terrorism continues even though Saddam is no longer around. Sort of like identifying a murderer and throwing him in jail only to discover that the murders continue. And yet Mylroie, despite spectacularly being proved totally wrong, still has influence in the Bush govt. None of her fans–Perle, Wolfowitz, Libby, “WWIV” Woolsey, Cheney, Bolton, Rumsfeld–none of them has disowned her theories and in fact most of them continue to defend and repeat them.
What does it take to make these guys give up on a fantasy?