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resend of Jauvert article on Iraq
Iraq: The Big Manipulation
By Vincent Jauvert
Le Nouvel Observateur Hebdomadaire
Week of 24 June 2004
Now it's obvious to everyone: Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass
destruction, the famous arsenal brandished by George Bush and Tony Blair
to justify the Iraq invasion, were a fiction. What is less well known is
why the CIA went so far astray and what the White House' exact role was
in this tremendous mystification. Vincent Jauvert has taken apart the
mechanism of a manipulation whose consequences prove to be more deadly
He appeared in Bangkok one day in December 2001. The man said he
was an Iraqi construction engineer. He had just fled Saddam Hussein's
regime and had things to reveal. In Iraq, he had built twenty factories
for the production of biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons - all
underground. He could show the exact locations on a map. He has proof of
this frightening arsenal: copies of contracts, plans... The CIA
interrogates him several times in Thailand. Then it installs him in a
little Virginia town with his whole family. For the intelligence agency,
the engineer has become a precious defector - "the most important of
all", the "New York Times" will write just before the war.
In his famous speech at the UN in September 2002, George Bush cites the
engineer's name: Adnan Saeed al-Haideri. According to the President of
the United States, this man is the most convincing witness to the Iraqi
threat. Six months later, after the fall of Baghdad, CIA officers will go
to the sites the engineer has designated. The American spies will search,
will dig up the earth, will excavate all over. They won't, however, find
anything: no weapons of mass destruction, no laboratory, no evidence of a
program start-up. Nothing. Adnan Saeed lied.
He wasn't the only one. According to an official American report revealed
recently by the "Los Angeles Times", almost all the Iraqi
defectors were fabulists; and on May 16, Colin Powell made this
disturbing confession: some of the proofs he presented to the UN were
"false" because the "sources" had lied.
Oh those weapons of mass destruction in Iraq! All of America, or almost,
believed in them. They "justified" the war. They didn't exist.
What happened? Why did the CIA go so far astray? How and by whom were
Americans - whether simple citizens or senators - brainwashed? What was
the White House role in this affair?
In recent months, congressmen have launched inquiries. Spies have begun
to talk. Former Bush administration officials have revealed pre-war
behind the scenes activity. "Le Nouvel Observateur" has
questioned several of these witnesses. Thanks to them, a year and a half
after the invasion of Iraq, we may attempt to reconstitute the causes of
this unbelievable collective hallucination and to shed some light on the
mechanisms of an unprecedented State manipulation.
Kenneth Pollack is the first witness. In his elegant forties, he was in
the forefront during the months preceding the invasion. In 2002, this
former CIA man wrote a book subtitled "Why We Must Invade
Iraq". Kenneth Pollack, however, is neither an extremist nor a
Republican, but a staunch Democrat. He advised Bill Clinton on the Gulf
dossier at the White House. Then, in the fall of 2002, he puts himself at
the Bush administration's service and criss-crosses the world to
"sell" the war. In the United States, he convinces a good many
Democrats of the Iraqi threat. In his office at Washington's Brookings
Institute, this reserved man explains why he was fooled. "You must
understand that I was obsessed by the past. When I worked in the CIA,
Saddam Hussein had tricked us several times. In 1990, we didn't see that
Iraq was inches away from having the atomic bomb. In 1995, we thought he
hadn't succeeded in developing biological weapons, and we were wrong:
when his son-in-law, Hussein Kamel, defected, we discovered the scope of
his bacteriological program. So how was one to imagine that Saddam had
stopped all that after the inspectors' departure in 1998? For me, it was
It was even more inconceivable for David Kay. This short and mustached
former UN inspector has been a virulent pro-war proponent. Before the
conflict, he stumped against those in favor of inspections. Two months
after the fall of Baghdad, he continued to stomp around. He shouted it
from every rooftop: the American army hadn't found anything because they
hadn't looked well enough. The Bush administration took him at his word.
He was thrust into the position of boss to the 130 American inspectors
(Iraq Survey Group) sent into Iraq by the CIA in June 2003. Seven months
later, however, the Napoleon of preventative war came back stammering,
and he courageously confessed his defeat to Congress last January:
"We have to admit it, we were all fooled - and myself first of
all." Today he explains: "We were imprisoned in a certainty:
Saddam had always lied and hidden his weapons, therefore he is still
doing that; and we based all our evaluations on this hypothesis."
An example? The famous stocks of chemical and biological weapons. It was
known that they existed before the 1991 Gulf War. The UN inspectors had
destroyed several tons of them in the 1990s. The Iraqis swore that they
had finished the job, the proof of those destructions, however, was
inadequate. The American secret services - and Western secret services in
general - concluded from this that the Iraqis were still lying as usual
and that these weapons were hidden away somewhere. And they estimated
these stocks to be the size of what they believed to be hidden.
However, this time the Iraqis were telling the truth. But they couldn't
give all the details - and for good reason. "Here's what an Iraqi
officer reported to me after the fall of Baghdad," David Kay
relates. "During the Gulf War, a military truck that was carrying a
large quantity of VX gas was at the front lines on the Kuwaiti border. At
the moment of retreat, there was an ordinary traffic accident and the
truck and all its cargo burned. Do you believe the company commander
dared admit that to Saddam Hussein? Of course not. He was too scared. So
we were still counting those particular tons in the presumed VX
David Kay gives another dramatic example. He says that Iraqi military got
rid of very toxic agents several times near Baghdad without taking any
precautions. That also could not be confessed to UN inspectors. In fact,
fear, corruption, and chaos made a precise accounting impossible.
However, David Kay is now certain that Saddam Hussein made the strategic
decision to destroy all stocks of biological and chemical agents. Why?
"Because they weren't good for anything any more: he had no more
missiles in condition to project them," explains David Kay.
"And then, he wanted to get sanctions lifted and he knew that for
that to happen, he'd have to accept a final round of inspections. It was
highly probable that the UN inspectors would find all or part of those
stocks. Consequently, he had to get rid of them. With the idea, of
course, that he'd start all over again after the end of the
No Western intelligence service wanted to see this new strategy of Saddam
Hussein. The CIA even believed that the dictator was not content just to
hide his old stocks of anthrax and VX: he was producing new agents. There
again, their judgments were based on fallacious reasoning. A present UN
weapons inspector, who does not wish to be identified, explains:
"Iraq would buy something that could be used to make either shampoo
or sarin gas, for example. Well, then, the American secret services
automatically accounted for the quantities of sarin that could be
produced with this precursor in their estimates of new sarin stock.
While, in fact, that product was used only to make shampoo...There are
dozens of examples like that." Certain vaccines or antibiotics that
could also be used as elements for the production of biological weapons
were treated the same way. Or fuses that could be used in an atomic bomb
or a dialysis machine... It must be said that the Iraqis acted
suspiciously. "These purchases of problematic material were often
made through front companies, or smuggled," the inspector continues.
"So the secret services thought that they were probably intended for
illicit activities. In fact, all of Iraq bought and sold the same way, on
the black market. Because many people in Baghdad and the neighboring
capitals profited from the commissions associated with this
trafficking." The American spies, however, did not take that into
account, since, as David Kay said, they rejected "all the evidence
that didn't match their pre-established model."
One affair perfectly illustrates this blindness. In June 2001, a
suspicious freighter arrived at the port of Aqaba in Jordan. The
freighter came from Hong Kong and carried 3,000 aluminum tubes. A
Jordanian firm - a front company had ordered it: the true destination was
Iraq-, the CIA knew it. American agents seize the cargo. At CIA
headquarters in Langley, Joe T. exults. This analyst has been following
the affair for several weeks. He is sure that the tubes must be used for
the manufacture of centrifuges, machines to enrich uranium. They are
proof that Saddam Hussein will soon have a nuclear weapon. Outside of the
CIA, however, nobody shares Joe T.'s opinion.
Particularly not Professor Houston Wood. He is the top American expert in
centrifuges. He examines these tubes at Oak Ridge Atomic Center and gives
his assessment. He remembers: "They were too thick. There was no way
I could see how they could be used for centrifuges." His colleagues
in the energy department advanced another explanation. These tubes were
for rocket manufacture. The Iraqis were trying to copy one of the Italian
Medusa company's models. They have proof: photos taken from spy
satellites over Iraq. The satellite photos show tubes identical to the
ones seized in Jordan, inscribed "Medusa, 81 mm rockets".
However Joe T. doesn't want to let it go, and he succeeds in convincing
CIA boss, George Tenet. His version becomes the agency's position and
that of the Bush administration.
In fact, the White House provokes the American secret services'
blindness. It exerts permanent pressure on them. It wants intelligence
that justifies the invasion it has already planned. It is within this
framework that Vice President Cheney, the head of the war party, makes
several visits to Langley during spring 2002. He demands to meet the Iraq
experts. He pushes them around. Look harder, find more proof, he says to
them in effect. In the past, you've always underestimated Saddam, don't
start doing that again. In short, he behaved as no other Vice President
ever dared to do in the past, but he's been anointed by George Bush, who
asks him to take the CIA in hand. The agency executes, gritting its
teeth. "During this whole time," Kenneth Pollack explains,
"I got a lot of indignant phone calls from friends inside the agency
who couldn't stand the constant intimidation any more."
Out of obstinacy and under pressure, the CIA consequently constructs a
virtual Iraq: a fictitious country conceived in Langley by a handful of
analysts. To complete the picture, the agency will not refer to its
agents on the ground: it has none or very few in Iraq, but to defectors
who will brainwash with disconcerting ease.
At the heart of this disinformation machinery is a 56 year old Shi'ite
banker, Ahmed Chalabi. He presides over the Iraqi National Congress
(INC), the principal diaspora organization. He knows America and its
secret services intimately. He grew up in Chicago where his family came
as refugees in 1958 after the overthrow of the monarchy in Baghdad. In
the United States, the Chalabis continued to live the high life. They are
used to money and honors: Ahmed's father was President of the Senate. The
son is brilliant: he takes a doctorate in mathematics at MIT. He's not
made for research, however; he's an ambitious man in search of a career.
First he tries finance. He starts a bank in Jordan that goes bankrupt in
1989 - a fraudulent bankruptcy. Having taken refuge in London, Ahmed
Chalabi turns to politics. He has big ideas: he'll be Saddam Hussein's
successor or bust.
After the Gulf War, the CIA becomes infatuated with this young Iraqi
Anglophone with the mind-boggling manner. The CIA makes him its protégé.
It bets millions of dollars on him. In 1992, it completely sets up the
Iraqi National Congress and puts Ahmed Chalabi at its head. The family
scion is now a creature of the American agency. He has a secret mission:
to mount an espionage network in Iraq and organize defector flight. As
often happens, however, the creature turns against its master. The
manipulated becomes the manipulator. He's going to brainwash Langley.
How? The idea probably came to him the night of January 27, 1998. That
day he welcomed a UN inspector to his home in London. It was Scott
Ritter. Ritter was looking for the INC head's assistance. In Iraq, he
said, the UN experts were at an impasse: they weren't finding anything
any more, even though they were sure that Saddam was still hiding things
from them. Could Chalabi gear up his clandestine organization to help
them find the forbidden arsenal? Of course, the jovial Chalabi answered,
With big glasses and a square face, Scott Ritter tells what happened
next: "So he'd understand, I gave him many details. I explained
precisely what we were looking for. In particular, I told him that we
suspected the Iraqis of having perfected mobile laboratories for the
manufacture of biological weapons." And the naive Ritter doesn't
stop there: he describes to the attentive Chalabi what such laboratories
look like. The "creature" now knows how to appease and then
manipulate the CIA. It only remains to make a suitably
"briefed" defector appear.
Appear where? Why not in Germany? A few months later, a thirty-something
year old Iraqi presents himself to the Berlin authorities. He's an
engineer who has just fled Saddam Hussein's regime. He says he wants to
spill the beans. He has learned his lesson well. The story he tells the
Bundesnachrichtendienst (Bnd), the German secret service, goes something
like this: "In Baghdad, I was a particularly brilliant student.
Consequently, when I left the university, I was contacted by the regime
bigwigs, Saddam's familiars. They asked me to lead a top secret program.
What for? You'll never believe it: the implementation of mobile
laboratories. To make what? Biological weapons."
The Iraqi is an excellent actor. He's also very well documented. His
story has been polished up, down to the slightest details. He begins to
minutely describe his workplace and the layout of the offices. He tells
who does what. He gives the names of a dozen colleagues -"including
the assistant in charge of renting cars...", the "Los Angeles
Times" will later report. Then the conjuror defector goes into the
heart of his subject. He explains that the labs are mounted on trucks and
that he had them built three years before his departure. Then he draws
out of his hat a sort of magic proof: a few very detailed drawings of the
laboratories with the lay-out of compressors, pumps, incubators. As if by
chance, they looks strangely like Inspector Ritter's explanations in
The trick worked. After a few months of questioning, the Bnd considers
the young Iraqi's story "credible" and transmits the
information to the CIA. The Germans, however, do not reveal the source's
identity. The Americans give the mysterious defector a code name:
"Curveball". They've gone for the bait. Now the only thing left
is to reel in the line: convince the CIA that Curveball is telling the
truth. Consequently, in 2001 and 2002, Ahmed Chalabi introduces two other
"dissidents" to the American spies and both assert that they
have seen mobile laboratories in Iraq. One even details that he'd been
able to count seven or eight. The CIA's final doubts disappear. The
agency is caught in the net. It will drag Colin Powell in with it.
On February 5, 2003, the Secretary of State works hard in front of the
world's cameras at the UN. He puts all his authority and prestige into
demonstrating the Iraqi threat. The mobile laboratories affair is the
keystone to his presentation. These labs, he asserts, can "produce
enough anthrax in a single month to kill thousands and thousands of
people." He presents a "very detailed drawing of the way the
trucks are configured" - the drawing Curveball entirely invented -
The CIA won't understand the manipulation until six months later, after
the war. In the summer of 2003, Berlin finally releases its defector's
identity to Washington. David Kay is going to lead the search in Iraq. He
questions the "brilliant student's" family in Baghdad; he
questions his brothers; he searches his university records, noses around
at his workplace.... and, alarmed, he discovers the real Curveball. The
little genius was not the first in his class, but the last. The dynamic
young engineer had been fired from his office. The honest defector had
not fled Iraq for political reasons: he was wanted for theft. Finally,
the bitter cherry on the cake: Curveball is the brother of someone close
to Ahmed Chalabi, the big manipulator. Hats off to the artist!
The Iraqi National Congress president had pulled off his most brilliant
brainwashing operation with that one. There were others. In fact, CIA
analyses of Iraq were riddled with the wild imaginings of suppositious
defectors. To the point where one has to wonder how Chalabi could have
been so effective. How did he know the missing pieces of the puzzle every
time? In plain words, was the manipulator himself being used? If yes, by
whom? The eternal question in espionage matters.
All one can do is highlight troubling connections. Chalabi has several
friends strategically placed at the Pentagon and the White House, men who
have militated with him for years in favor of a US overthrow of Saddam.
Men who found him financing: Paul Wolfowitz, Deputy Defense Secretary,
Douglas Feith, the Pentagon's number three, Lewis Libby, Vice President
Cheney's Chief-of-Staff? powerful men who had access to all State
Did the war clan "fabricate" Chalabi, his network, and his
proofs in order to win the decision and suffocate any hesitations the
planned Iraq invasion aroused, particularly at the State Department? In
short, did Ahmed Chalabi bamboozle the American administration or was he
a simple cog in the Bush propaganda machine? Ongoing Congressional
inquiries are trying to clarify this question. If the answer is yes, the
scandal, Chalabi-gate, will be huge.
Whatever the case, for the Bush clan, anything went to
"justify", then to "sell" the war. After the summer
of 2002, the White House put a formidable machine into operation to
supply disinformation to the general public and Congress. It drew from
the CIA's cooker to feed its sales pitch. It chose the intelligence that
fit its propaganda. It amplified and distorted it. And whenever the
needed intelligence was lacking, it invented another.
Greg Thielmann saw this manipulation of the State at work from the
inside. In 2002, this dashing and athletic man was the principal Iraqi
threat State Department analyst. In this capacity, he had access to top
secret documents on the subject. He therefore knows all about it - to the
point that the television channel CBS entitled a portrait of him it
recently broadcast ""The Man Who Knew." In an Arlington
restaurant close to Washington, he tells the story: "From August
2002 on, Bush, Cheney and the others began to lie to America. First they
scared them with the tons of anthrax and toxic gas Iraq was supposed to
release, without ever saying that they were talking about theoretical
estimates that were not based on any fact."
"Then they waved another red flag, the ultimate peril: the atomic
bomb," Greg Thielmann adds. "They asserted that Saddam Hussein
had reconstituted his nuclear teams. They lied. Thanks to our bugs, we
knew that the atomic engineers didn't work together any more, that they
had been transferred to other duties. We told the highest American
authorities that, but that didn't fit in with their propaganda, so they
acted as though that intelligence didn't exist."
"The same thing was true in the matter of the aluminum tubes.
Outside of the CIA, no one believed it - no specialist, no allied
intelligence service, not even the British MI6. I wrote a memo to Colin
Powell on this subject. However, the White House never stopped repeating
that the majority of experts shared the CIA's opinion! And then, right
before the war, the tubes returned in all the speeches. It's
Then there was the phantasmagoric affair of the Niger uranium. "They
used this re-treaded charade to make people believe in the nuclear
threat," says Greg Thielmann. "At the end of 2001, the Italian
secret services sent us a memo according to which Iraq would perhaps have
tried to buy uranium from Niger. The information was vague and
undocumented." In February 2002, Greg Thielmann lets Colin Powell
know this affair seems hare-brained to him, but the White House doesn't
want to know anything about it. On Vice President Cheney's order, the CIA
sends a former diplomat and Africa specialist, Joseph Wilson, to Niger.
He inquires and finds nothing. He reports that to Langley in March 2002.
The White House, however, would not drop the matter. The marketing men
needed it. So then, miraculously, documents attesting to a negotiation
between Iraq and Niger appear in Italy in October 2002. An anonymous
source hands them over to Elisabetta Burba, a journalist from the weekly
"Panorama". The reporter is wary and conducts her own inquiry
in Niger. She doesn't find anything there and therefore decides not to
publish anything. Her boss, however, is a friend of Berlusconi. Something
tells him these strange documents will please Washington. He asks the
journalist to hand them over to the American embassy in Rome. Bingo! The
matter is re-launched in Washington. Once again, who is manipulating
whom? A mystery.
However that may be, George Bush accuses Iraq of trying to import uranium
from Africa, obviously to make an atomic bomb, on the basis of these 40
pages. The documents are fraudulent, but what does the White House care
about that? Everything is good to convince public opinion and Congress.
Henry Waxman, Democratic Representative from California, voted for the
war in Iraq. He hasn't calmed down ever since. In his office at the House
of Representatives, this little man, a double for Gandhi, explains:
"I believed their patter about a nuclear threat. And it was all a
lie! They brainwashed Congress; that's unacceptable." To denounce
the outrage, Henry Waxman published a devastating report last March: a
list of 237 mendacious declarations made publicly by George Bush, Dick
Cheney and the others on Saddam Hussein's suppositious arsenal. Yes, 237,
55 of which were uttered by the President of the United States himself.
Other voices, daily more numerous, denounce the manipulation of the
State. Ray McGovern is a former CIA high official. Even he is furious:
"There's no word to describe what George Bush has done to America
and the world," he says. "To attack a country on the basis of
false, truncated, or made up intelligence! Will he pay some day?"
Heads have begun to fall. George Tenet, the CIA head, resigned June 3.
Ahmed Chalabi has been dismissed from power in Iraq. The Americans are
even accusing him of having betrayed them for Iran. So far, however, no
American political official has been punished. Next November?
Translation: t r u t h o u t French language correspondent