What we learned from Seymour Hersh 5.

In the days after 9/11 some intelligence and military people suspected that so complex an operation could only have been mounted by—or at least with the support of—a foreign intelligence agency. (p. 75.) On 14 October 2001, Sabah Khodada, an Iraqi army captain who had defected, told reporters for the NYT and the PBS program “Frontline” that the 9/11 attacks were “conducted by people who were trained by Saddam.” (Quoted, p. 216.) Another defector, apparently a former lieutenant general in Iraqi intelligence, said he had observed Arab students being taught how to hijack planes in a security facility at Salman Pak. (p. 216.)

In Fall 2001, Italy’s intelligence service sent a report to CIA of a February 1999 visit by the Iraqi ambassador to the Vatican[1] to Niger and three other African countries. The Italians—apparently—suggested that the ambassador had been seeking to arrange the purchase of “yellow cake” uranium from Niger. This report alarmed some officials in the American government because it suggested that the Iraqis were trying to re-establish a nuclear weapons program soon after the IAEA had declared that they no longer had a nuclear program. (p. 226.)   Intelligence analysts derided the report, but someone “stovepiped” it to Vice President Cheney. (p. 227.) So, in Fall 2001, the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) launched a review of Iraq’s WMD programs. (p. 225.)

In late 2001, an unanticipated division arose within the ranks of the conservatives who had signed the 1998 letter to President Clinton. There were two issues. The first question was whether to extend the war on terror from Afghanistan to Iraq. On the one hand, according to Hersh, “Perle and Woolsey inspired a surge of articles and columns calling for the extension of the Afghan war into Iraq.” (p. 169.) On the other hand, Richard Armitage, now at the State Department, concluded that the extension of the war to Iraq would be a bad idea. (p. 169.) Armitage has adopted the long-standing position voiced by Anthony Zinni. A “former high-level intelligence official” who supported Armitage’s position in the debate told Hersh that “We have no idea what could go wrong in Iraq if the crazies took over that country. Better the devil we know than the one we don’t.” (p. 170.) Secretary of State Colin Powell failed to support for Armitage in the debate, apparently believing that his deputy would be able to hold up the momentum for war while he played the disinterested adjudicator.[2]

The second question was whether to use Ahmad Chalabi and the INC in any effort to topple Hussein or to find someone else. (p. 179.) [It looks to me like the opponents of war with Iraq used the Chalabi-is-death argument as a fall-back position. This then required them to find an alternative to Chalabi in the form of other dissident groups.] For the State Department, the “someone else” turned out to be the two factions of the Kurds, the Shi’ite Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution, and a group headed by Iyad Allawi.[3] (pp. 179-180.) For the CIA the “someone else” was Nizar Khasraji[4], a former Iraqi general who had bolted in the mid-1990s. (p. 181.) These candidates had various defects. Allawi appears to have been one of Hussein’s original supporters, a former senior intelligence officer, and a “thug.” In the mid-Seventies, Allawi parted ways with Saddam and then survived several assassination attempts. Khasraji was very Westernized, so he might not play well with the majority of Iraqis, who were not, and he had been involved in the use of poison gas against the Kurds in 1988.

[1] Who knew?

[2] To my mind, Powell was a soldier-turned-administrator, rather than someone with finely-honed political skills.

[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ayad_Allawi

[4] http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/not_in_website/syndication/monitoring/media_reports/2286537.stm

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