Between the Lines Q&A

A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints
on national and international issues
under-reported in mainstream media
for release Jan. 19, 2004

Secret Pentagon Unit Churned Out
Dubious 'Intelligence'
to Justify Iraq War

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Interview with journalist Robert Dreyfuss, conducted by Scott Harris

As November's presidential election draws nearer, more information is being revealed about the dubious evidence, exaggerations and misrepresentations used by the Bush administration to justify its war to remove Saddam Hussein from power. Former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill recently made headlines with comments in a new book and in an interview on CBS TV's "60 Minutes," in which he says that the White House started planning their war against Iraq shortly after President Bush was sworn into office and eight months before the Sept.11 terrorist attacks.

Secretary of State Colin Powell recently said that there is no evidence connecting Saddam Hussein's government with the al Qaeda terrorist network, contradicting numerous statements made by the White House to rally public support for the war. Even as David Kay, the Bush administration's chief postwar weapons inspector, announced his departure from his position, a 400-man team assigned to find Saddam's weapons of mass destruction was withdrawn from Iraq. A report written by a research professor at the U.S. Army War College asserts that the war in Iraq was unnecessary and diverted attention and resources from the threat posed by al Qaeda.

Adding to the body of evidence indicating the Bush White House employed deception and dishonest intelligence assessments to aid their war effort, is an investigative report in Mother Jones Magazine titled, "The Lie Factory," detailing the existence of a secret Pentagon unit used to create the case for invading Iraq leading the nation to war. Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with journalist Robert Dreyfuss, who co-wrote the article along with Jason Vest. He explains how the White House used a network of defense department offices and think tanks to launch a pre-emptive war.

Robert Dreyfuss: We now know from listening to Paul O'Neill, the former treasury secretary, that the Bush administration intended to invade Iraq before 9/11. In other words, the invasion of Iraq had nothing to do with the war on terrorism and everything with a much broader strategic policy that the Bush administration was pursuing. And in my article, I said the same thing, that the effort to build a plan to go into Iraq started really on the first day of the Bush administration, after the inauguration, when his national security team met and the first item on the agenda was regime change in Iraq. That was in January 2001, and almost immediately afterwards they started assembling people inside the Pentagon to do war planning. And so what my article talks about is, the effort that began then accelerated after 9/11 and really took off of August 2002 to create pretext for going to war. I say "pretext" to look for weapons of mass destruction and ties between Iraq and terrorism which didn't exist, and to use those basically exaggerated threat charges to justify the push for war.

Between The Lines: Maybe you could go through some of the names of the officials within the Pentagon system and other areas of the government that supplied this information or were used by the White House to furnish the information.

Robert Dreyfuss: Well, the first thing to say is that most of the people who eventually assembled on the eve of the war were like a fraternity of people, co-thinkers or ideologues who'd been beating the drums for Iraq for a decade or more. And they all gradually kind of one-by-one, like the Blues Brothers getting the band back together, were brought into the Pentagon into this unit. None of them were intelligence professionals; most of them were kind of advocates and agitators, but not really trained in intelligence detail.

The person who organized the effort from the top was Douglas Feith, who is the undersecretary of defense for policy. He works directly under the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, and Paul Wolfowitz, who is the deputy secretary. So Doug Feith was really in charge of the effort. And the next down the list was a guy named Bill Luti who headed the Near East South Asia Affairs, called the NESA office at the Pentagon, where the actual planning for the war took place. Luti was a former aide to Newt Gingrich who was given essentially the portfolio for planning the war and he worked with a guy named Harold Rhode, who'd been in the Pentagon for 20 years, a neo-conservative specialist on the Middle East and Islam, who speaks four Middle Eastern languages. And they were the ones who started trying to recruit the talent for this secret intelligence office.

The first person they brought was a guy named David Wurmser. Wurmser at the time was not even a Pentagon employee. He was director of Middle East policy for the American Enterprise Institute, which is the think tank in Washington and where many of the neo-conservatives take up residence as fellows. Among the people who were there are people like Richard Perle and Newt Gingrich, both of whom are leading advocates for the war effort. So, beginning with David Wurmser, they started putting together this team and it built up to a pretty powerful group of several dozen people -- perhaps up to a hundred when you count the consultants and the people they brought in to talk to them once in awhile -- who created the intelligence rationale to justify the threat and to make Saddam into a much more powerful boogeyman than he really is, or was.

Between The Lines: Robert Dreyfuss, in your investigation, did you find that the information supplied to Dick Cheney and eventually to George W. Bush stating the threat that they thought emanated from Iraq and justifying the U.S. invasion, was this information known to be false by the people who produced it? Or was there some fuzziness and wiggle room for them to claim, justifiably, that they really weren't aware of the erroneous nature of what they were presenting?

Robert Dreyfuss: Well, of course it depends on which particular aspect of this you're talking about. Certainly in some parts of it they knew that it was either false or wildly exaggerated. If you're trying to find out, let's say, about Saddam Hussein's relationship to terrorist organizations, well, there may be 10,000 or 100,000 bits of information, you know, interviews that the CIA has done, articles, intercepted communications, documents etc., etc., just mounds and mounds of this information -- and a lot of it is going to be contradictory because some of it is going to be lies that were told, some of it is going to be false or bogus forged documents.

So if you look at those thousands and thousands of pieces of information, you can come up with a small percentage of them that justify almost any conclusion, and if you exclude the massive evidence that contradicts that, you can write a pretty scary report. If you are not an intelligence professional and you're trying to prove your case to look for information that only justifies a predetermined conclusion, then you're going to jump on and cherry pick these little bits and pieces of information and that's what they did. They created talking points, papers, taking the most extreme information, whether it was true or not and then that's the information that got directly into the speeches that Rumsfeld, Cheney and even the president gave in the two years before the war. That's not intelligence, that's propaganda. That's what dictators do, not what democracies do.

Read Robert Dreyfuss' "The Lie Factory," on the Mother Jones magazine's website at Paul O'Neill's book, "The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House and the Education of Paul O'Neill," is published by Simon and Schuster.

Related links on our website at by clicking here:

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace ( study, "WMD IN IRAQ: Evidence and Implications". Summary of findings, recommendations
"War College Study Calls Iraq a 'Detour'"
"O'Neill Denies Charges on Book Documents"
"US Treasury to probe O'Neill book"
"Truth About Iraq Known; Fallout Isn't"
"Bush Sought Iraq Invasion Pre-9/11"
"Carnegie group says Bush made wrong claims on WMD"
"No proof links Iraq, al-Qaida, Powell says"
"Critics Question Credibility of FBI Investigation into White House Leak Exposing CIA Operative"
"The Crazies Are Back"

----------------------------------------- Scott Harris is executive producer of Between The Lines, which can be heard on over 35 radio stations. This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines (, for the week ending Jan. 23, 2004. Between The Lines Q&A is compiled by Anna Manzo and Scott Harris.

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