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02-05-08 Consortiumnews-Five Years for Powell -- And VIPS By

02-05-08 Consortiumnews-Five Years for Powell -- And VIPS By

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February 5, 2008
Five Years for Powell -- and VIPS
By Ray McGovernIt is a difficult anniversary to “celebrate” – Veteran Intelligence Professionals forSanity’s first publication, a same-day critique of Colin Powell’s Feb. 5, 2003, UNaddress – since what he said helped grease the skids for incalculable death anddestruction in Iraq and brought shame on our country.A handful of former CIA intelligence officers formed VIPS in January 2003, after wecould no longer avoid concluding that our profession had been corrupted to “justify”what was, pure and simple, a war of aggression.Little did we know at the time that a month later Colin Powell, with then-CIA DirectorGeorge Tenet sitting conspicuously behind him, would provide the world a textbookexample of careerism and cowardice in cooking intelligence to the recipe of hismaster.It was hardly Powell’s first display of abject obedience.Some biographers have traced the pattern back to his early days as an Army officerin Vietnam and later as an Iran-Contra accomplice while serving as military assistantto Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger in the 1980s. [See Chapter 8 of 
.]A year before his UN speech, rather than confront President George W. Bushpersonally on White House pressure for legal wiggle-room for torture, Powell askedState Department lawyers to engage White House lawyers Alberto Gonzales andCheney favorite David Addington, in what Powell knew would be a quixotic effort,absent his personal involvement.Powell’s lawyers put in writing his concern that making an end-run around theGeneva protections for prisoners of war “could undermine U.S. military culture whichemphasizes maintaining the highest standards of conduct in combat, and couldintroduce an element of uncertainty in the status of adversaries.”But when Gonzales and Addington simply declared parts of Geneva “quaint” and“obsolete,” Powell caved, acquiescing in the corruption of the Army to which he owedso much. We know the next chapters (Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo) of that story.Powell was right, but lacked the strength of his convictions. Turns out that keyinstance of obeisance – important as it was in its own right – was just practice forPowell.
VIPS’ Maiden Effort
When our fledgling VIPS learned that Powell would address the UN, we decided to doa same-day analytic assessment – the kind we used to do when someone likeKhrushchev, or Gorbachev, or Gromyko, or Mao, or Castro gave a major address.We were only too well accustomed to the imperative to beat the media with ourcommentary. Coordinating our Powell effort via e-mail, we issued VIPS’ firstMemorandum for the President at 5:15 p.m. – “Subject: Today’s Speech by SecretaryPowell at the UN.”Our understanding at that time was far from perfect. It was not yet completely clearto us, for example, that Saddam Hussein had for the most part been abiding by,rather than flouting, UN resolutions.
 
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We stressed, though, that the key question was whether any of this justified war:“This is the question the world is asking. Secretary Powell’s presentation does notcome close to answering it.”And we warned the president:“Intelligence community analysts are finding it hard to make themselves heard abovethe drumbeat for war.”And we voiced our distress at “the politicization of intelligence,” as well as the deepflaws:“Your Pentagon advisers draw a connection between war with Iraq and terrorism, butfor the wrong reasons. The connection takes on much more reality in a
post-USinvasion scenario
.” [bold in original]“Indeed, it is our view that an invasion of Iraq would ensure overflowing recruitmentcenters for terrorists into the indefinite future. Far from eliminating the threat itwould enhance it exponentially.”Dissociating VIPS from Powell’s bravado rhetoric claiming that the evidence hepresented was “irrefutable,” we noted, “No one has a corner on the truth,” andwarned the president:“But after watching Secretary Powell today, we are convinced you would be wellserved if you widened the discussion beyond violations of Resolution 1441, andbeyond the circle of those advisers clearly bent on a war for which we see nocompelling reason and from which we believe the unintended consequences arelikely to be catastrophic.”
And Senator Clinton Knew
Five years later, we take no pleasure at having been right; we take considerable painat having been ignored.It was a no-brainer, and serious specialists like former UN inspector Scott Ritter, tohis credit, were shouting it from the rooftops.And here is more than a mere footnote. Folks should know that our Feb. 5, 2003,memorandum analyzing Powell’s speech was shared with the junior senator fromNew York. Thus, she still had plenty of time to raise her voice before the Bushadministration launched the fateful attack on Iraq on March 19.
Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of theecumenical Church of the Saviour in Washington, DC. A veteran of 27 yearsin the analytic ranks of CIA, he is co-founder of Veteran IntelligenceProfessionals for Sanity. VIPS’ issuances are listed below; complete textscan be found at afterdowningstreet.org/vips.
Below is the full text of the VIPS’ first issuance, a Memorandum for the President,Feb. 5, 2003“Secretary Powell’s Presentation to the UN Today”Secretary Powell’s presentation at the UN today requires context. We give him an “A”for assembling and listing the charges against Iraq, but only a “C–” in providingcontext and perspective.What seems clear to us is that you need an intelligence briefi ng, not grand jurytestimony. Secretary Powell effectively showed that Iraq is guilty beyond reasonabledoubt for not cooperating fully with UN Security Council Resolution 1441. That hadalready been demonstrated by the chief UN inspectors. For Powell, it was what thePentagon calls a “cakewalk.”The narrow focus on Resolution 1441 has diverted attention from the wider picture. Itis crucial that we not lose sight of that. Intelligence community analysts are finding it
 
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hard to make themselves heard above the drumbeat for war. Speaking both forourselves, as veteran intelligence officers on the VIPS Steering Group with over ahundredyears of professional experience, and for colleagues within the community who areincreasingly distressed at the politicization of intelligence, we feel a responsibility tohelp you frame the issues. For they are far more far-reachingand complicatedthan “UN v. Saddam Hussein.” And they need to be discussed dispassionately, in asettingin which sobriquets like “sinister nexus,” “evil genius,” and “web of lies” can be morehindrance than help.
Flouting UN Resolutions
The key question is whether Iraq’s flouting of a UN resolution justifies war. This is thequestion the world is asking.Secretary Powell’s presentation does not come close to answering it. One might wellcome away from his briefing thinking that the Iraqis are the only ones in flagrantviolation of UN resolutions. Or one might argue that there is more urgency to theneed to punish the violator of Resolution 1441 than, say, of Resolution 242 of 1967requiring Israel to withdraw from Arab territories it occupied that year. More urgency?You will not find many Palestinians, Arabs, Muslims who would agree.It is widely known that you have a uniquely close relationship with Israeli PrimeMinister Ariel Sharon. This presents a strong disincentive to those who mightotherwise warn you that Israel’s continuing encroachment on Arab territories, itsoppression of the Palestinian people, and its pre-emptive attack on Iraq in 1981 areamong the root causes not only of terrorism, but of Saddam Hussein’s felt need todevelop the means to deter further Israeli attacks.Secretary Powell dismisses this factor far too lightly with his summary judgment thatIraq’s weapons of mass destruction are “not for self-defense.”
Containment
You have dismissed containment as being irrelevant in a post 9/11 world. You shouldknow that no one was particularly fond of containment, but that it has been effectivefor the last 55 years. And the concept of “material breach” is hardly anything new.
Material Breach
In the summer of 1983 we detected a huge early warning radar installation atKrasnoyarsk in Siberia. In 1984 President Reagan declared it an outright violation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. At an ABM Treaty review in 1988, the US spokeof this continuing violation as a “material breach” of the treaty. In the fall of 1989,the Soviet Union agreed to eliminate the radar at Krasnoyarsk without preconditions.We adduce this example simply to show that, with patient, persistent diplomacy, theworst situations can change over time.You have said that Iraq is a “grave threat to the United States,” and many Americansthink you believe it to be an imminent threat. Otherwise why would you be sendinghundreds of thousands of troops to the Gulf area? In your major speech in Cincinnation October 7, 2002, you warned that “the risk is simply too great that SaddamHusseinwill use instruments of mass death and destruction, or provide them to a terrornetwork.”
Terrorism
Your intelligence agencies see it differently. On the same day you spoke in Cincinnati,a letter from the CIA to the Senate Intelligence Committee asserted that theprobability is low that Iraq would initiate an attack with such weapons or give them toterroristsUNLESS: “Should Saddam conclude that a US-led attack could no longerbe deterred, he probably would become much less constrained in adopting terroristactions.”

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