Mukhabarat Agent: No WMDs here!

No WMDs in Iraq but plenty of chaos!

The _Jerusalem Post_ has an interesting interview with a former colonel in Saddam’s secret police, the _Mukhabarat_, who says Iraq had no WMDs in the run-up to war.

Concern that Saddam had actively concealed deadly weapons of mass destruction served as one of primary reasons’ for the Coalition forces’ invasion of Iraq in March.
“In 1991 we were very close to developing a nuclear weapon, but had nothing at the time of the [March 2003] war, after so many years of [UNSCOM] inspections,” said the agent, adding, “they destroyed everything.”

It will come as little surprise to people who read this blog and others, but this is just one more little stone added to the mountain of evidence that the White House lied about/misused/screwed up whatever intelligence it was getting about WMD programs in Iraq.
But, and this fits in with everything I encountered in Iraq and from my own research and readings, Saddam was also fooled — by “maniacally sycophantic commanders and bodyguards who deceived him into believing that Iraq” stood a chance again the United States’ military.
I also believe Saddam felt he could bluff the West by claiming to have no WMDs, which is what everyone thought he would say, while acting like he did. By behaving like he had a royal flush when all he had was a measly pair of sixes, he could buck up his standing in the Arab world as the only leader to stand up to the United States, maintain his grip on his subjects who well remembered the gas attacks on the Kurdish north from 1984-1988 and keep his hold on power. But America called his bluff and now the world is what it is. I imagine the White House is feeling a bit like it won a huge pot of Monopoly money.
Two leaders lying, for their own purposes rather than for the good of their people. And such a mess of it all now. Today, Juan Cole reports, “three U.S. soldiers have been wounded in Kirkuk and Mosul”:http://www.juancole.com/2003_12_01_juancole_archive.html#107173487313180742; pro-Saddam demonstrations continue in Mosul, where police shot four students and protesters attacked Turkmen offices in the city; roadside bombs were exploded in Humairah and Baghdad; a senior member of the “Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/archives/000451.php#000451 from the al-Hakim family has been killed; and a former Ba’ath official was literally torn limb from limb by a mob in Najaf.

Yet more on Paul Moran

If you thought the Paul Moran story on B2I was over, guess again. Sheldon Rampton, who’s work I based the original story on, weighs in with a pretty interesting rebuttal to ABC TV reporter Eric Campbell.

I may very well regret this, but in the interest of fairness and/or throwing gasoline on a dying fire, I’m reprinting Sheldon Rampton’s email to me — with his full permission — in which he responds to Eric Campbell, the Australian Broadcasting Corp. reporter who defended Paul Moran’s work in Iraqi Kurdistan. (And whose criticism led me to apologize.) Rampton is the co-author of “Weapons of Mass Deception,” which was the original prod to this whole Paul Moran imbroglio.

1585422762.01.LZZZZZZZ.jpgAs the co-author with John Stauber of “Weapons of Mass Deception,” I read with interest your recent apology about Paul Moran, the Australian TV cameraman who was killed in Iraq and who also worked for the Rendon Group. However, I think you have apologized excessively and prematurely.
In “Weapons of Mass Deception,” John and I describe Moran’s work for Rendon very briefly, but there is more to the story than we tell there. We decided not go go into further detail, partly because a more extensive telling didn’t seem to fit within the flow of that chapter. However, the facts in total are actually MORE disturbing than you would imagine from the brief mention that appears in our book. Moreover, I would challenge some of the statements that Eric Campbell made in his comments to you.
To begin with, Campbell refers to an “unending repetition of false claims” about Moran. However, Colin James, the reporter who first wrote about Moran’s relationship with the Rendon Group, continues to stand by his story. James works for the “Adelaide Advertiser,” and he learned about Moran’s work for Rendon when he attended his funeral. According to “The Bulletin,” an Australian news magazine, James sat down with “two close friends and two of Moran’s brothers” the day after the funeral:

They drank coffee and reminisced about their friend the altar boy, the sea scout, the livewire. The journalist was inquiring of the cameraman’s work in northern Iraq when one of the friends mentioned that Moran worked for a “shadowy” company. Shadowy company, wondered the journalist. Whatever could you mean?
The friend mentioned a name: the Rendon Group. He talked of Moran’s involvement in helping an Iraqi defector escape and Moran’s work with the INC. Moran, he said, had helped mobilise a popular uprising against Saddam Hussein’s regime and trained dissidents in the use of hidden cameras. There were the renowned “Paul Moran channels” � he seemed able to contact important people with little bother � and the “James Bond lifestyle”. In short, Moran had spent a decade, on and off, trying to destabilise Saddam Hussein’s regime for a company hired by both the CIA and Pentagon.
Perhaps Moran’s death wasn’t so random, after all. Perhaps this nice guy had a secret. Well, that’s how the journalist reported it, anyway. Colin James, an Adelaide Advertiser reporter with a 1994 Walkley Award, stands by his story. No one demurred while one friend spun tales about Moran, he says. James’ main fear during the interview was that his eyes might turn into saucers. He rushed back to the office and punched “Rendon Group” into an internet search engine. And his eyes grew wider.

The URL for the above story is as follows: http://bulletin.ninemsn.com.au/bulletin/EdDesk.nsf/0/
B1B47ED7DABBEDBCCA256D480013C030?OpenDocument

It should be noted that Colin James did not intend his story to be any sort of attack or criticism of Moran’s work. To the contrary, it was headlined “Moran’s secret crusade against the tyranny of Saddam,” and it is full of laudatory comments about Moran by his grieving friends. You can read James’ story at the following URL:
http://www.theadvertiser.news.com.au/printpage/ 0,5942,6239116,00.html
Clearly, James’ account differs from Eric Campbell’s claim that Moran merely “did occasional audio visual production work [for] Rendon and other PR companies.” Moreover, James’ account is corroborated and amplified in a TV segment for the Australian news program Dateline. You can read a transcript of the program and view the video at the following URL:
http://www.sbs.com.au/dateline/
trans.php3?dte=2003-07-23&title= Paul+Moran+Story

The Dateline program interviewed Zaab Sethna, a longtime spokesman for the Iraqi National Congress. According to Sethna, he and Moran began working together more than a decade ago, prior to Operation Desert Storm:

When I first met Paul we were working for the government of Kuwait. That ended after Kuwait was liberated by the Americans and then the Rendon group came back us to.
We weren’t employees we were on contract. The Rendon group came back to us and said, “We now have a contract to bureaucracy, to kind of do anti-Saddam propaganda on behalf of the Iraqi opposition.”
So, there was some radio, some television, there was like a travelling human rights exhibition around the world to show Saddam’s human rights violations. There was sending out press releases, kind of standard public relations. What we did�nt know, what the Rendon group didn’t tell us, was in fact it was the CIA that had hired them to do this work so we hired on…

Moreover, Moran’s relationship with the INC and the Rendon Group led to one of the high-profile international news stories that purported to document a covert Iraqi program to develop weapons of mass destruction. As Sethna explains in the Dateline piece, Moran was chosen by the INC as one of only two reporters (the other was Judith Miller of the New York Times) invited to interview Adnan Ihsan Saeed al Haideri, an Iraqi defector who claimed that he had been used by Saddam to build specialised bunkers and other facilities for chemical, biological and nuclear weapons research. After Miller and Moran did their separate stories on al Haideri, he disappeared into a U.S. witness protection program. You can see some of the stories about Iraq that were based on al Haideri’s allegations at the following URLs:
http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2002/01/18/eveningnews/ main324937.shtml
http://usinfo.state.gov/topical/pol/terror/01122107.htm
http://observer.guardian.co.uk/worldview/story/ 0,11581,669024,00.html
As this example illustrates, it is inaccurate for Campbell to characterize Paul Moran as merely a cameraman. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation also treated him as a reporter and allowed him to break a story that was of major importance in making the case for war with Iraq. To have this story reported by someone who has worked closely with both the Rendon Group and the Iraqi National Congress is a clear case of conflict of interest. Eric Campbell is merely blowing smoke when he tries to use the distinction between a “contract worker” and an “employee” as his basis for claiming that no such conflict existed. It is also striking that no one has been able to substantiate al Haideri’s detailed descriptions (including locations) of an extensive weapons program that included underground storage facilities. As Scott Ritter has pointed out, it would have been impossible for Saddam Hussein to destroy such facilities quickly without leaving a trace in the days preceding the war. There is a good chance that al Haideri’s claims about weapons facilities were the basis for Donald Rumsfeld’s claim on March 30 that “We know where they are.” But if we knew where they are, why haven’t we found them by now?
I think that it is also rather disingenous for Campbell to complain that it is now “too late to repair the damage” of allegedly “false claims” about Moran that have circulated on the Internet. Following the publication of Colin James’s story in the Adelaide Advertiser, Moran’s family and friends were asked repeatedly to clarify the facts about his life and work, and they repeatedly declined to do so, usually citing their grief as the reason for remaining silent. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation has also been very “economical with the truth” in its comments on the matter. For example, here is the URL to a transcript from ABC’s “Media Watch,” which comments on the Adelaide Advertiser:
http://www.abc.net.au/mediawatch/transcripts/s832032.htm
The ABC response consists of calling Colin James’s story “a superficial piece” and then declining to comment further on grounds that it wasn’t “a story most of the Australian media followed” — a classic “non-denial denial” that fails to identify a single error of fact in James’s story while insinuating that something was wrong with it. And how can Moran’s people have it both ways? If the Colin James story wasn’t followed by most of the media, how can it have caused the intense grief and suffering of which they complain? And if they can’t be bothered to publicly correct any errors in the story, why should we take them at face value now when they complain that errors have gone uncorrected? And what errors specifically are they talking about? The only error that Campbell mentions in his complaint to you is that Moran worked on contract for Rendon rather than being an “employee.” That’s arguably an error on your part (not ours), but it’s a pretty nit-picky complaint, given the extent of Moran’s relationship with the Rendon Group.
As for the complaint that Moran is being villainized, John and I never characterized him as a villain, and neither did you. I think Campbell brought up that claim for the purpose of emotional intimidation. I have no doubt that Campbell liked Paul Moran and resents reading criticism of his work. I also have no reason to doubt that Moran believed in the cause of the Kurds, and he probably also believed in the work he did for the INC. People who work on public relations campaigns often internalize the beliefs of their clients. “Sincerity of belief,” however, is not a valid defense against the specific charge of conflict of interest, and by any reasonable interpretation, Moran crossed that line. To say that this is the case does not mean that Moran was a villain, and it is not intended to convey any disrespect for the dead. Out of respect for the LIVING, however, I think the public is entitled to know the full story of how we were sold the war on Iraq.

Sheldon Rampton
Editor, PR Watch (www.prwatch.org)
Author of books including:
Friends In Deed: The Story of US-Nicaragua Sister Cities
Toxic Sludge Is Good For You
Mad Cow USA
Trust Us, We’re Experts
Weapons of Mass Deception

There is obviously more to this story than a first — or second or third — glance shows. I’ll be working on this one over the next few days.

There is no spoon…

Did the President really just say that?

Is George Bush going mad? Losing his grip on reality?

In a photo op in the Oval Office with U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan yesterday, Bush made a comment at the very end of the event that didn’t quite jibe with the collectively agreed upon reality:

The larger point is, and the fundamental question is, did Saddam Hussein have a weapons program? And the answer is, absolutely. *And we gave him a chance to allow the inspectors in, and he wouldn’t let them in.* And, therefore, after a reasonable request, we decided to remove him from power, along with other nations, so as to make sure he was not a threat to the United States and our friends and allies in the region. I firmly believe the decisions we made will make America more secure and the world more peaceful. (Emphasis added.)

Now, I don’t know about you, but I distinctly remember Hans Blix et al. running around Iraq while Saddam was in power, often accompanied by Iraqi minders who were there, one would suspect, on the orders of Saddam Hussein.

Joe Conason over at Salon has a good take on this, including this nugget: “Another recent president once said something that was blatantly untrue, if fairly trivial, and the videotape of his statement was replayed again, and again, and again, and again…” He also points to Dana Milbank’s _Washington Post_ coverage of the event, which has this marvelously understated passage:

The president’s assertion that the war began because Iraq did not admit inspectors appeared to contradict the events leading up to war this spring: Hussein had, in fact, admitted the inspectors and Bush had opposed extending their work because he did not believe them effective.

I can just imagine the uncomfortable shuffling of feet in the room as reporters glanced to each other. “Did he just really say that?” they may have whispered to each other once Bush was out of earshot.

Actually, I take that back. Judging from a quick Nexis search, most reporters yesterday completely missed the comment. Nexis reveals just 10 hits on the quote, and five of them are the same Knight-Ridder story, one is a story in the Irish Times, which gives Bush’s comment headline treatment, and another is a CNN transcript of the event. The last three are government transcripts. Newsday has something on it, and CNN’s Wolf Blitzer quotes it, but — astonishingly — doesn’t address it all. “The best way for the White House to resolve the matter once and for all — of course — is for the Bush administration actually to locate weapons of mass destruction,” writes Blitzer. “Short of that, the debate will not only continue but is likely to intensify in the weeks and months to come.”

Shame, shame, you guys in the D.C. press corps.

[UPDATE On his first day on the job, new White House press secretary Scott McClellan had to respond to Bush’s “he wouldn’t let them in” statement. He said this:

*Q* Two quick questions, one on Iraq. When the President said of Saddam Hussein, we gave him a chance to allow the inspectors in and he wouldn’t let them in, why didn’t he say that, when the inspectors went into Iraq?

*MR. McCLELLAN:* What he was referring to was the fact that Saddam Hussein was not complying with 1441, that he continued his past pattern and refused to comply with Resolution 1441 of the United Nations Security Council, which was his final opportunity to comply. And the fact that he was trying to thwart the inspectors every step of the way, and keep them from doing their job. So that’s what he’s referring to in that statement.

*Q* But that isn’t what he said.

*Q* Just quickly on a different subject, on North Korea. …

Argh! Why the hell did someone not keep up on that line of questioning?]

Anyway, statements like Bush’s are truly freaky, and remind me of his Social Security line in the closing days of the 2000 election (“They want the federal government controlling the Social Security like it’s some kind of federal program!”) He often says stupid things when he’s under stress, and when he’s coming up with whoppers like this, Ari Fleischer’s assertions that the president has “moved on” don’t quite ring true. And it’s playing havoc with the Bush White House’s aura of inevitability.

Much of Team Bush’s success has been because officials are adept at presenting a _fait accompli_ to opponents and the public. They also like to imbue Bush with some kind of Pope-like infallibility, sort of like he’s the Gipper’s vicar. THis technique worked in Florida, when he assumed a presidential stance in the days after the election, even though everyone knew by that point that it was very much up in the air. It worked for a while after May 1, when Bush landed on the USS Abraham Lincoln and declared the Iraq war as a “mission accomplished.”

As long as the Washington press corps and an apathetic public allowed the White House to do this, it worked like a charm. Unfortunately — for Bush — it now looks like that era is over. There’s blood in the water and tossing DCI George Tenet over the side won’t do much to calm the churn, especially after the White House has made contradictory declarations regarding the CIA.

There’s no doubt the White House is in disarray and in full damage control mode. The uranium story may be the spark to ignite a full-on forest fire of media scrutiny licking at Bush’s toes as he makes convoluted statements regarding Iraq. And if that happens, the larger story about the reasons for war might get so hot, it will be radioactive.

Bush to Iraq: “Who’s in charge here?”

Who’s in charge here? Bush goes looking for his WMD inspector.

Lord. Daily Kos has a jaw-dropping anecdote from _Time_ about President Bush’s attempt at not only finding WMD, but also finding Stephen Cambone, a little-known deputy to Donald Rumsfeld, back in Washington. Pause. “Who?” Bush asked.

The comments on Kos’ site range from the anguished to the conspiratorial. I personally don’t think this little exchange was deliberately engineered to insulate Bush, as Reagan was in the 1980s during the Iran-Contra scandal, but instead I see this as another example of the guy at the top not “sweatin’ the small stuff,” as he might twang when he’s feelin’ particularly Texan and all that.
When will this man realize that he is the _president of the United States_ and he has responsibility — legal, moral and otherwise? Whether he was lying about WMD when he claimed they were an imminent threat or whether he was misinformed _doesn’t matter._ What matters is that people died because of the decisions he made. And since it looks like he was either a liar or ignorant (or both, since why should one have to choose?) _he is responsible._
As Harry Truman once famously said, “The buck stops here.” I think Americans need to stand up and say, “We need to stop Bush here.”
*ADDENDUM*
_Time_ goes on to report that after the Q&A in Doha, Bush charged CIA chief George Tenet to lead the hunt. Tenet, in turn, appointed David Kay, former U.N. weapons inspector and big-time Iraq hawk as his go-to guy in Iraq. As Reagan once famously joked, “My right hand doesn’t know what my far-right hand is doing.”

Iraqi Intifada Gearing Up

The Iraqi intifada hits second gear, and weapons of mass destruction fade ever further from the news pages.

The story now in Iraq is the growing resistance to the American occupation, not weapons of mass destruction. As casualty reports continue their grim drumbeat, the death toll rose to 201 American troops killed since the war started March 20, with the two G.I.s found dead yesterday part of five troops killed since Thursday. In all, 24 American troops have died in attacks since May 1, when President Bush declared the major hostilities over. (Sixty-three have died in non-combat related accidents with 39 of those deaths coming since May 1.) George over on Warblogging has a good summary of the recent deaths.
8390999.jpgSaddamists and criminals who cling to the spectre of Saddam’s return are likely fueling this resistance. Oh, and Islamic fundamentalists, foreign Arab fighters and Iraqi nationalists, as well.
“It was predictable,” said Iraqi political scientist Saad al-Jawwad [in the Guardian.] “To any man or any woman or anybody who’s living in despair what could he do? He has nothing left but to carry arms and defy the people who are here occupying his country and doing nothing for him or his family. Where is democracy? Nonexistent. Where is stability? Nonexistent. Where’s electricity? Where’s water?”
Meanwhile, SecDef Donald Rumsfeld denied the U.S. was facing a guerilla insurgency. “I don’t know that I would use the word,” he said, when asked if the occupation was becoming a guerrilla conflict. He noted that the attacks consisted of 10-20 men, with no large formations involved.
Uh, aren’t small, disorganized cadres of insurgents, making hit-and-run harassment attacks kind of the definition of guerrilla warfare? As Stratfor points out:

The more concentrated the force and the more centrally commanded, the easier it is to defeat. Successful guerrilla movements are inherently “disorganized” — if by organization, one means a command structure that is vulnerable to attack. They certainly don’t aggregate into large units and rarely need to coordinate attacks. It is the very lack of coordination that makes them unpredictable and difficult to defend against. They adopt a basic doctrine, such as attacking convoys, pipelines and electrical infrastructure. Then small units carry out these operations on their own initiative.

Blaming the attacks on criminals completely glosses over the fact that the attacks, regardless of who is making them, are inherently political acts; they are attacks on an occupying power.
Stratfor points out that if this is indeed the beginning stages of a guerrilla war, regardless of whether Rumsfeld says it is or isn’t, it looks like the United States has been ill-prepared to deal with it despite last night’s launching of a counter-insurgency operation, dubbed “Sidewinder,” aimed at capturing whoever is behind the growing attack on U.S. troops. Already, 60 people have been captured as a show of force.
in Washington, officials continue to insist there’s no central command to the burgeoning Iraqi intifada, but troops on the ground are convinced it’s organized. “Somewhere in Diala province, something happens every night,” said Capt. John Wrann [in the Guardian], referring to the province northeast of Baghdad where much of the operation was taking place. “It’s got to be a coordinated thing.”
But, like so many post-war events, Operation Sidewinder has an ad hoc feel to it. Not the operational details, which by nature have to be developed to respond to rapidly changing threats, but the very need for it. One gets the distinct impression that the U.S. never planned at all for the possibility of an insurgency.
Rumsfeld seems to be arguing that the lack of a comprehensive military strategy to deal with this isn’t a problem if it’s criminals and other no-goodniks making trouble, not guerrillas in the midst of American troops. Criminals are a problem for the police and society, not the military — or so the thinking at the Pentagon goes. (Which is ironic, considering the current blurring of the lines between the criminal and the military justice systems in the United States.)
But the bottom line is that Rumsfeld & Co. never planned for a guerrilla war because they listened too much to the Iraqi National Congress, which gave them ridiculously rosy scenarios. I seem to remember a war sold as a “cakewalk” — at least according to Sharif Ali, a spokesman for the INC, said on Aug. 8, 2002.
“All of Iraq has suffered for many years from the oppression of Saddam Hussein’s regime, and there is not a single person out there in Iraq that will fight for or defend him, and therefore, we have full expectations that they will turn against Saddam Hussein. And that is one message we are giving the administration,” Ali told the National Press Club that day.
And not to pull an “I told you so,” but, as I wrote back on Jan. 12, 2003,

Instead of a nice, clean occupation that results in the first Arab democracy … I predict the United States will have years of guerilla insurgency from nationalistic Iraqis (some of the fiercest nationalism in the Arab world), the dirty job of suppressing Kurdish and Shi’ite independence movements and Sunni power grabs, the problem of al Qai’da slipping across the borders (with the help of Iran and sympathetic Saudis) into the country to strike at American troops and meddling in Iraq’s internal affairs by Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Russia. And don’t forget the resentment in the region that will occur when the United States begins exploiting the Iraqi oil fields for its own purposes.

The reality on the ground doesn’t gibe with Rumsfeld’s beliefs, and Stratfor sums it up thusly: “Rumsfeld and U.S. intelligence did not expect to be facing a guerrilla war following the fall of Baghdad, and there are no coherent plans in place for fighting one. Therefore, there is no guerrilla war.”
And if Rumsfeld truly believes this — and there is a precedent for Rumsfeld ignoring facts that don’t fit with what he believes — Stratfor worries that the guerillas have a massive advantage and that Rumsfeld is in fact buying time while he works on Plan B, whatever that is.
Concerning WMD — Remember Those?
All this focus on the Iraqi intifada has caused the Weapons of Mass Destruction, the raison de guerre, to fade. No one, it seems, in the United States particularly cares that they’ve not been found, and any scrap of evidence is increasingly lept upon with breathless hype that starts to sound more than a little desperate. The materials mentioned in the story found date from the before the 1991 Gulf War, when the Americans knew Saddam was working on nuclear weapons. The scientist who buried the barrel, Mahdi Shukur Obeidi, sat on this stuff for 12 years and never got the call to start up the ol’ uranium enrichment program. Why not, if Saddam were intent on bringing the civilized world to its knees and dominating the Gulf?
Before this war, I was convinced that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction — not nukes, but likely biological and chemical arms. After all, he had them before, and used them against the Iranians and the Kurds in 1984-1988 (along with the compliance if not the blessings of the West.) And he had plenty of opportunity to develop them, with the United Nations weapons inspectors out of the country since 1998.
So I thought there was something there. But I didn’t think he had them in any quantity that rendered him an existential threat to the United States, nor did I think he would cooperate with Al Qa’ida. I didn’t think the threat from iraq rose to a level that required a war, and I didn’t trust the Bush administration to follow through with an enlightened “liberation.”
Well, as it turns out, people who thought this way have been proven catastrophically correct, with one exception: It looks like there were no weapons of mass destruction at all. Some evidence may still be found, of course, but it is increasingly obvious that any program to be uncovered was nowhere near the level of development the White House said it was. Can anyone of reasonably sound mind argue to me that weapons so well hidden or programs in a state of such abeyance could be an imminent threat to the United States?
So if there were no weapons, why didn’t the Iraqis say so and avoid an extremely unpleasant war, as former chief weapons inspector Hans Blix once mused? Well, actually, they did. All throughout the fall and winter’s diplomatic cage death match the Iraqis claimed they had nothing. And look what it got them: invaded.
War supporters usually say now that happy, liberated Iraqis were the reason for the war and that the WMD don’t matter. To which I reply: Stop changing the damn subject. There are obviously a fair number of Iraqis neither happy nor particularly liberated, so those post-war rationalization don’t hold much water.
So if there are no weapons of mass destruction and Iraqis increasingly nostalgic for the “good ol’ days” of security, surveillance and secularism are killing Americans troops, why are we in Iraq?