In examining the little contretemps between a Bush trying to slide out from under direct responsibility for the single worst decision in the whole Iraq mess and a Bremer determined not to play fall-guy for a president who didn’t think twice about throwing him under the bus to save his own precious neck, Fred Kaplan at Slate isn’t as forgetful about Chalabi’s early role as Blumenthal, but he does miss Chalabi’s later role and, for some reason, comes over all coy about assigning the decision to Cheney even though the evidence is right under his nose.
Bremer is right about one thing: It wasn’t him. Though he wouldn’t be so self-demeaning as to admit it, he was a mere errand boy on this point. He arrived in Baghdad on May 14, 2003. The next day, he released CPA Order No. 1, barring members of the Baath Party from all but the lowliest government posts. The next day, he issued CPA Order No. 2, disbanding the Iraqi army.
In his memoir, published last year, Bremer wrote that he was handed the orders—and told to announce them as soon as possible—by Douglas Feith, undersecretary of defense for policy. “We’ve got to show all the Iraqis that we’re serious about building a new Iraq,” Feith reportedly told him. “And that means that Saddam’s instruments of repression have no role in that new nation.”
Bremer’s version rings true, and if it is then the orders came from Cheney. Period. Feith was L’il Dick’s boy and wouldn’t have dared make a move like that without the Veep told him to. Maybe Kaplan has some doubts about Bremer’s tale, but he doesn’t say what they are.
Memories in America, trained by tv, are remarkably short even when they belong to otherwise intelligent reporters. Two recent articles – one by Sidney Blumenthal in Salon, the other by Fred Kaplan in Slate, both usually reliable – made it clear to me that we need to go back over some fundamental history of the Second Gulf War, key elements of which both seem to have forgotten or lost track of. We’ve covered this ground already but it was several years ago, so it bears repeating.
If you ask, “Why is it important to go through all this again? And why are these picayune details significant anyway?” The answer is, “Because we need to get it into our heads once and for all that conservatives are naive, gullible children, easily led over cliffs by anyone who feeds them what they want to hear.” The real story of the twisted intelligence that led to the SGW and idiotic decisions like de-Ba’athification isn’t just about arrogance, incompetence, and ignorance. It’s also – and crucially – about misplaced trust and a dangerously juvenile credulity that allows conservatives to believe demonstrably false ideas and foist them on the rest of us just because those ideas are appealingly melodramatic.
George Tenet’s new book has stirred up some supposed controversy, primarily by acknowledging and confirming a bunch of stuff we already knew. Why any of this should be “controversial” at this point is beyond me. Maybe because the Great American “Don’t Tell Me, I Don’t Want to Know” Public remains as inexcusably clueless as it was when almost half of it voted for the Emperor for the second – count ’em, second – time and is determined to stay that way.
There’s no “news” here despite the “Today’s Circus” blanket coverage by the so-called “news” media except for two minor details. The first is the surprising – and disappointing – decision by “I’ll Fall on My Sword for You” Tenet to continue covering Junior’s ass. He’s still willing to take the rap for Bush on behalf of the CIA for “mistaken” intel when actually his agency got it right it –
Mr. Tenet takes blame for the flawed 2002 National Intelligence Estimate about Iraq’s weapons programs, calling the episode “one of the lowest moments of my seven-year tenure.” He expresses regret that the document was not more nuanced, but says there was no doubt in his mind at the time that Saddam Hussein possessed unconventional weapons. “In retrospect, we got it wrong partly because the truth was so implausible,” he writes.
– and he continues to praise Dear Leader’s cynical exploitation of 9/11.
Despite such sweeping indictments, Mr. Bush, who in 2004 awarded Mr. Tenet a Presidential Medal of Freedom, is portrayed personally in a largely positive light, with particular praise for the his leadership after the 2001 attacks. “He was absolutely in charge, determined, and directed,” Mr. Tenet writes of the president, whom he describes as a blunt-spoken kindred spirit.
He puts all the responsibility on Cheney, writing as if Junior, you know, didn’t realize the VP was up to all that shit.
An article in todays LAT wastes a lot of space airing the hysterical charges of one of Chalabi’s minions.
Mithal Alusi, a member of Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress party, said arrest warrants issued by an Iraqi court over the weekend were part of an international plot that is “bigger than anyone could imagine” to strip Chalabi of his popularity.
Yeah, yeah, blah blah blah. Poor persecuted little Ahmad. The LAT reporters, Henry Chu and Paul Richter, spent so much time on this foolishness that they missed one of the two more important stories around this arrest and buried the other at the bottom of the column.
The story they missed altogether has to do with Chalabi’s successful attempt to burrow into Iraq’s blossoming bureaucracy like a tick into a hound. Ahmad has spent the year-and-a-half since the invasion putting his followers, employees, family and friends in positions that control the everyday life of Iraqis, and while a lot of them will probably use this arrest as an excuse to dump him, a lot won’t. How are they going to handle it? Will they tie up the life of the city even more than it is with red tape and baksheesh? Will they make a concerted attempt to undermine Chalabi’s trial or Allawi’s govt or both? How are they going to respond?
By all accounts, Chalabi has been very shrewd, placing his most valued and trusted employees deep into the Finance Ministry, the Defense Ministry, and the legal system (that’s how Salem got to be in charge of Saddam’s trial), among other vital govt agencies. Yes, Ahmad made enemies in the process of doing that; he was riding high at the time, with the US wind at his back, and he wasn’t any too gentle in his maneuvering, apparently. There were reports that he stepped on a lot of toes, and that he may have used the old Iraqi secret police files that we gave him after the invasion (another untold story: Who ordered that and why?) to blackmail members of the IGC and others coming into the new puppet govt. Chalabists are now located in many of the key chokehold points on the govt grid, and if they worked together, they could bring the activities of the nascent govt to a grinding halt.
Chalabi’s arrest almost certainly has more to do with Allawi trying to break that power than it does with counterfeiting. Not that I think Ahmad is innocent of the charges (it’s just the sort of thing he would try if he was in the position to get away with it) but the evidence appears to be awfully thin.
Ahmad Chalabi is accused of counterfeiting old Iraqi dinars. But Alusi said only about 3,000 counterfeit dinars, worth approximately $2, were found in Chalabi’s office, and they were marked as forgeries with a red stamp from the Iraqi Central Bank. Chalabi, who headed the Finance Committee of the now-defunct Iraqi Governing Council, has said he was engaged in an effort to stem counterfeiting. Alusi said Chalabi held the forged dinars as part of that effort.A Central Bank official said his agency never sought the counterfeiting charges.
“The Central Bank has not lodged a complaint against any individual regarding money counterfeiting and never requested that such charges be brought,” Sinan Shabibi, the bank’s governor, told the French news agency Agence France-Presse.
And just whose boy is Shabibi?
The political reality is that Allawi has to break Chalabi’s stranglehold or he won’t be in control of his own govt, and he knows it. They have been rivals, jockeying for position as the New Puppet Potentate-in-Waiting; Chalabi chose to burrow into the govt infrastructure, Allawi decided to use his heavy CIA and CPA connections to strike directly for the top. Allawi won, but now he has the problem of cleaning out Chalabi’s die-hard button-men. The best way to kill a poisonous snake is to chop off the head. Allawi’s sword is the countertfeiting charge.
Then there’s the little matter that Ahmad has been running around trying to make a ‘coalition’ out of all the Shi’ite tribes that don’t think they’re represented by the new puppet regime and are looking for a champion. It was a last-ditch act of desperation by a Chalabi looking to build some kind of powerbase, but it could have worked well enough to make him a player and a major thorn in Allawi’s side.
No, the idea that the US is behind Chalabi’s arrest is strictly for the domestic market. The occupation is increasingly hated by more and more of the population, and blaming us is a convenient tactic, nothing more. From the US side, Chalabi is still being defended by Bush Admin neocons and their home-away-from-home, the American Enterprise Institute. While Poor Paul (Wolfowitz) hasn’t made any public statements since Michael Moore showed him wetting his hair down with his own spit, as recently as May he was defending Ahmad, ‘saying that intelligence he had provided saved American lives and helped troops.’ Sure. It killed a lot more, but we’re emphasizing the positive in BushAmerica. In any case, Poor Paul has adopted the BA’s new hands-off policy with regard to Ahmad–he ain’t talking.
[A] Wolfowitz spokesman did not return a call seeking comment.
“His future will be decided by the people of Iraq, if he wants to continue to be involved in Iraq ‘s future,” White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said. “This latest investigation, that is a matter for Iraqi authorities to handle.”The State Department, never as close to Chalabi as the White House or Pentagon, also distanced itself. Adam Ereli, a State Department spokesman, said the charges “are certainly new to us. This is a question of the Iraqi justice system at work. And we are going to play the appropriate role, which is to let that process take its course.”
That cautious distancing does not, however, extend to his other neocon backers. Perle the Pearl, for example, has been actively defending Chalabi every chance he gets.
Richard N. Perle, a former top advisor to Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and a leader of the so-called neoconservatives who embraced Chalabi and the war, said in an interview that he believed the warrants were part of an effort against Chalabi undertaken by the Iraqi government with the support of the U.S. government.”I’m sure it’s been encouraged by the U.S.,” Perle said in an interview from Europe.
He said CIA and State Department officials have long opposed Chalabi and have convinced others in the government to move against him. Now officials in the White House oppose Chalabi as well, Perle said.
“It was those reports that led to a decision to destroy him,” Perle said, adding that he believed there was no basis to the reports that Chalabi passed classified information to Iran.
And, of course, the AEI, avid Laurie Mylroie supporter and the place where Gingrich gave his famous speech proposing the stovepiping of raw data to get around the CIA’s pickiness about needing to have actual proof before they’d believe anything Ahmad said, has been in there pitching.
Michael Rubin, a former advisor to the U.S.-led occupation authority in Iraq now at the American Enterprise Institute think tank, said the judge who issued the warrant was unqualified, and that the Bush administration and government of interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi wanted to keep Chalabi from gaining influence.Rubin said the Allawi government had moved against Chalabi to prevent him from gaining a role in the upcoming conference
Maybe, but as usual with the NWB’s, Rubin asserts facts without offering either evidence or compelling analysis. Here’s mine: nobody in the BA is smart enough or knowledgable enough about internal Iraqi politics, particularly in their present chaotic state, to predict how this is going to shake out, much less take control of the shaking. The Admin that started a war with ‘plans’ that could have been written on the back of an envelope is not an Admin so canny in the ways of the maze/minefield of Arabic politics that it would dare to pick a winner, much less plot the strategy to get him there.
It’s much easier and safer to do what they’re doing: foster the illusion of Iraqi sovereignty by sitting back and letting the battle play itself out. Chalabi could still become a power–if the trial doesn’t result in a conviction, Ahmad has the right to stump the country as a persecuted victim of US manipulation who successfully beat the Superpower at its own game. He becomes a hero to a certain segment, and can no longer be ignored. Allawi’s taking a helluva gamble, but if he wants to run Iraq without Ahmad nipping at his heels all the time, he doesn’t have much choice.
Read Robert Scheer’s column, ‘One More Chalabi Black Eye’.
Our old buddy Ahmad Chalabi is about to be arrested by the Iraqi ‘govt’ for–wait for it!–counterfeiting. Is there no end to this man’s talent? Embezzler, swindler, con-artist, double agent, and trouble-maker extraordinaire, Chalabi, the NWB Pin-Up Boy, just can’t seem to keep his hand out of the till or his ass out of a sling. He may have fooled the Neocon Wonder Boys (‘fooled’ them? he wrapped duct tape around his little finger and sold it to them as ‘gray gold’) but the Iraqis know him for what he is and they’re not having any.
BAGHDAD — Iraq’s interim government announced arrest warrants Sunday for special tribunal head Salem Chalabi, on murder charges, and former Governing Council member Ahmad Chalabi, on counterfeiting charges.Ahmad Chalabi, a longtime opposition leader, was a Pentagon favorite in the years leading up to the Iraq war but fell out of favor in the spring over allegations that his political faction gave flawed intelligence to U.S. agents and leaked American secrets to Iran.
Um, guys? We’re waaaay past the ‘allegations’ phase at this point. If conning gullible idiots like Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz was a crime, Ahmad would be in Leavenworth right now.
Ahmad Chalabi and interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi also have frequently clashed over issues such as Allawi’s move to partially reverse the U.S.-sponsored “de-Baathification” process.Salem Chalabi, Ahmad’s nephew, has been in charge of the effort to try ousted President Saddam Hussein on war crimes charges. “They should be arrested and then questioned, and then we will evaluate the evidence, and then if there is enough evidence, they will be sent to trial,” Zuhair Maliky, Iraq’s chief investigating judge, said Sunday.
Spokesmen for the White House and the State Department said the charges were up to the Iraqis to deal with.
Supporters like Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz were not available for comment.
Really? Well, they wouldn’t be, would they? They’re all in the basement of Cheney’s new bunker with the doors locked and the blankets pulled up over their heads and ear plugs so they can’t hear the questions, chanting ‘Ahmad is a hero, Ahmad is a national treasure, Ahmad is King’ in unison while they whap each other blindly with rolled-up copies of the 9/11CR. Chalabi, of course, says it’s all a frame.
“I’m going to go back to confront those lies,” Ahmad Chalabi, head of the Iraqi National Congress party, told CNN, speaking from Tehran. “There is no case here. I will go back to meet those charges head-on…. This judge should recuse himself because he went on many times in the American press attacking me personally on political grounds.”Ahmad Chalabi also accused Maliky of trying to derail Hussein’s trial. “He attacked the court, he attacked the trial of Saddam Hussein in the press,” Chalabi said.
The warrant against Ahmad Chalabi reportedly accuses him of counterfeiting old Iraqi dinars. But Chalabi told CNN that the former Governing Council’s Finance Committee, which he had headed, had been trying to stop the circulation of fake currency and had been in possession of counterfeit bills.
“All this was done under the auspices of the Finance Committee to stop the forgeries and to put a stop to the theft,” he said. “Without a doubt, I’m being set up…. They think they can hurt me by doing this, politically.”
Now that’s vintage Ahmad. He was trying to stop counterfeiting when he was circulating all those counterfeit bills. He’s really just a poor govt clerk who was simply doing his job and now he’s caught up in the middle of a ‘political’ fracas. Pity poor innocent him. They call that gall where I come from; in the next neighborhood over they call it chutzpah.
The charges against Salem are much more serious.
Word of the investigation against Salem Chalabi in connection with the May slaying of Haitham Fadhil, a Finance Ministry official who was delving into the Chalabi family’s real estate holdings, was first reported by The Times last week. Iraq’s top criminal court has been looking into allegations that Salem Chalabi threatened Fadhil days before he was killed.Fadhil, who was shot on May 28, had been preparing a report on reclaiming government-owned real estate. According to the source who spoke earlier with The Times, the document stated that members of the Chalabi family and the Iraqi National Congress had illegally seized hundreds of properties after the U.S.-led invasion last year. The property, the source said, included government offices, mansions and agricultural land.
Salem Chalabi, 41, denied involvement in the slaying and said the allegations were aimed at removing him as executive director of the Iraqi Special Tribunal, which will try top officials of Hussein’s government for crimes against humanity.
Well, he’s got his uncle’s way with an excuse, anyway. It’s all a plot to keep him from trying Saddam. Right.
I have been waiting almost a decade to see Chalabi’s inevitable fall from grace. I thought he was going to be outed, finally, five or six years ago when the CIA exposed the INC as a fraud and their ‘intelligence’ as either useless or a pack of lies. But then Newt Gingrich, Laurie Mylroie’s Champion Defender of the Faith and a man who has less experience with intelligence than your Aunt Millie’s cat, began using the American Enterprise Institute as a platform to attack the CIA as a bunch of incompetent hacks who wouldn’t know good intel if they fell in it. In early 2000, he made a speech at AEI in which he proposed the stovepiping of raw data that acolyte Doug Feith would later set up C-TEG to handle, zipping unconfirmed reports that fit the NWB’s preconceptions straight to the Veep’s office without the annoyance of checking to see if anything in them was accurate.
Junior’s ‘election’ and selection of the NWB All-Stars as his Defense Team saved Ahmad’s butt that time. Suddenly he was rehabilitated. Suddenly his lies weren’t lies any more, his unverified Fairy Tales became Holy Writ, not to be challenged, and Ahmad had conned the US Govt into invading Iraq (which wasn’t hard since that’s what they wanted to do anyway) with the idea that he and his intrepid band of expatriate
liars–um, Freedom Fighters–would become the new Iraqi govt and hand control of the oilfields over to Chevron (Condi deserved a perk, I guess). It was all going to be so easy, so simple, a walk in a flower-strewn park.
It didn’t work out that way because fantasies never do when you try to make them real. Ahmad, the old chiseler, knew that. The overgrown boys in charge of the US Govt, who’d been shielded from harsh realities all their lives, didn’t have a clue. They were so pampered, so used to getting everything they wanted, that it never dawned on them that what they dreamed about was just that–a dream. But even if it had, in their privileged world Dreams Come True, so why not in Iraq?
Well, now we know. And may it be a lesson to us: Never expect Boys to think like Grown-ups. And for gawd’s-sake don’t give them the keys to the house when you’re gone, to the car on Saturday night, or to the govt anytime. They’re not mature enough to handle them responsibly.
Our old friend Ahmad Chalabi, embezzler, thief, swindler, master con artist and possible double agent, still isn’t in jail if that’s what you thought. No, like the trouper he is, he has re-written the script and taken his act on the road where he is performing as The People’s Friend–and Muqtada al-Sadr’s ally.
Snubbed by the Bush administration neoconservatives who once embraced him [Untrue: Perle is still defending him, as are Wolfowitz and Libby–MA], and excluded from the interim government, he is building a grass-roots coalition of Shiite Muslim groups who lack a voice in the new Iraq.At the same time, he’s reaching out to Iraq’s most prominent anti-American Shiite cleric, Muqtada Sadr, whose followers come mainly from Baghdad’s urban underclass and the impoverished south of the country. Political analysts here believe that the new approach will eventually win support from a significant segment of Sadr’s followers if Chalabi chooses to run for office — and, as expected, Sadr chooses to wield his power from the pulpit instead.
That would give Chalabi and his new organization, the Shiite Political Council, mass support that could yield considerable clout in the majority Shiite community.
More established Shiite parties alternately discount Chalabi and describe him as a strong opponent. He is gathering up the political scraps, “mingling with little groups,” in the words of Ridha Taqi, director of political relations for a major Shiite party, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq.
But he acknowledged that if Chalabi can bring Sadr on board, he will be a formidable force. “If the Sadr movement abandons violence and makes an alliance with Ahmad Chalabi, he will gain something from that movement,” Taqi said. “Sadr is one of the big pillars of the Shiite family.” And, he added, “it’s not that Ahmad Chalabi is [just] thinking of cooperating with the Sadr group — he’s already working with them in an intense manner.”
Chalabi clearly hasn’t given up on his dream of one day ruling Iraq–and controlling its treasury. He has found a little opening and he’s exploiting it for all he’s worth. Remember, he still controls much of the bureaucracy in Iraq, having installed loyalists at key points in the new govt’s infrastructure who know where all the bodies are buried, and Allawi has made no significant attempt to remove or replace them–not a good sign, since it would be one of the surest ways to consolidate his power before the election that will undoubtedly come.
You can file this under Bad News From Iraq. I suspect that the Neocon Wonder Boys are as proud as peacocks that their protege just won’t give up but the rest of us should be seriously concerned that Chalabi hasn’t been stepped on yet. An alliance with al-Sadr bodes no good for either the US or the Iraqi people’s best interests. I’ve said before that I doubted he was doubling for Iranian Intelligence and I still do, but his contacts with them are real enough and they will use him if they get the opportunity. At the moment, I figure he’s probably feeding them information about Iraq’s dissident Shiite groups and they’re patting him on the head and making promises they don’t intend to keep, but if he manages to corral some power in the eventual coalition govt, their contacts could get a lot more serious.
Chalabi is steadily building his new coalition. The leadership of the Shiite Political Council includes several members of the former Governing Council who, like Chalabi, were left out of the interim government. But the bulk of the members come from small, little-known groups. Unsophisticated in politics, they are joining because they see the organization as a means to make their voices heard.And because they are Shiites, they hope that by banding together they will avoid being crushed the way they were under the previous regime.
“It has nothing to do with sectarianism. It’s just that Shiites represent the majority,” said Ali Aliausha, an earnest man in a pinstriped suit who spent much of the last 20 years in exile and says he lost two brothers to Hussein’s executioners. He was one of many people at a recent meeting of the council at Chalabi’s headquarters — known as the China House for its pagoda-like architecture.
“Dr. Ahmad Chalabi is an Iraqi citizen, and he has played a big role in this moment of change,” Aliausha said, admiration in his voice.
Oh, so it’s Dr Chalabi now, is it? Cute. That title carries a lot of freight in Arabic countries where it represents a combination of virtues like honesty, selflessness, and political integrity, to none of which Ahmad has any legitimate claim. His populist stance is as big a sham as the ‘information’ he had his minions in the INC invent and then pass along to the gullible neocon newcomers at C-TEG, but it may be awhile before the Shiite groups figure that out.
Little Ahmad better be careful how he steps, though. He’s playing with dynamite in al-Sadr, and the dynamite is sweating.
What a shock.
The way intelligence works–not that any of these guys would know…in either sense of the word–is with a healthy dose of skepticism laced with suspicion. The reason they are healthy is contained in a little story–the kind Judith Miller should have written two years ago–about one of Ahmad Chalabi’s chief information collectors noticing how greatly the defectors’ stories had changed between the time he first heard them and the time they hit Washington.
Mr. Zubaidi said in interviews last week in Lebanon, the ominous claims by the defectors differed significantly from the versions that they had first related to him and his associates. Mr. Zubaidi provided his handwritten diaries from 2001 and 2002, and his existing reports on the statements originally made by the defectors.According to the documents, the defectors, while speaking with precision about aspects of Iraqi military facilities like its stock of missiles, did not initially make some of the most provocative claims about weapons production or that an Iraqi official had met with Mr. bin Laden.
The precise circumstances under which the stories apparently changed remains unclear. The defectors themselves could not be reached for comment.
Mr. Zubaidi contends that the men altered their stories after they met with senior figures in the Iraqi National Congress. Mr. Zubaidi, who acknowledged that he had a bitter split with the I.N.C. in April 2003, said officials of the group prepped the defectors before allowing them to meet with the American intelligence agents and journalists.
“They intentionally exaggerated all the information so they would drag the United States into war,” Mr. Zubaidi said. “We all know the defectors had a little information on which they built big stories.”
As a primer for Doug Feith and his merry band of novitiate intelligence gatherers at OSP and C-TEG, here are a couple of the basic rules of intelligence-gathering.
Defectors, all defectors, no matter where they come from, have a reason for defecting. You may or may not know what that reason is. For instance:
#1: Could they be double agents throwing you chickenfeed and disinformation because they actually work for the opposition?
#2: Could they be free-lance doubles who are selling you information about the opposition and then turning around and selling the opposition information about you, thus working both sides of the street for the greater glory of their expense accounts? (This is extremely common in the Middle East.)
#3: Remember at all times that defectors, whether #1’s, #2’s or relatively honest, have an interest in telling you what they think you want to hear in order to keep you interested in them. They almost always exaggerate or outright lie to make themselves and their information seem more important than it is. This is common. Assume it and verify their stories before you act on them.
#4: When you interrogate/de-brief them, DO NOT LEAD THEM IN ANY PARTICULAR DIRECTION unless you are deliberately testing them (which none of you are competent to do, so leave it to the pros). If you lead, they will follow and their stories will get more and more exaggerated as a result.
Follow these four simple rules and they should keep you from falling into any of the more obvious traps when questioning a defector.
Of course I realize this is like giving you a lecture on how to lock the barn when the horses have already escaped, but, you know, for next time. Real intelligence analysts and interrogators learn these rules their first few days in Spy School but you, of course, came in way late and unprepared, jumped ahead of the rest of the class because your Daddy knows the school’s owner. Influence-peddling and nepotism may be good for your career but they don’t make you smart. In fact, they tend to make you suckers, so beware.
That’s it for today. Now go outside and play nice with the other kids. Try to remember, you don’t know everything and don’t brag too much about how the owner let you skip a grade because your Dad plays golf with him at the Country Club. The other kids may decide you look like a fish and try to drown you in the wading pool.