August 12, 2003
Papers of Mass Destruction
Relax, It Was All a Pack of Lies
By RAY McGOVERN
Former CIA Analyst
War is scary enough; so it is comforting to be able to allay the unwarranted fears of friends.
My friend Thomas has been plagued for months by nightmares in which al-Qaeda terrorists brandish weapons of mass destruction--the kind described in such rich detail by Secretary of State Colin Powell on Feb. 5 at the UN.
Thomas' trauma is traced to what he insists is the only logical conclusion to be drawn from "the facts" and from a simple process of elimination:
Major premise: Weapons of mass destruction were in Iraq earlier this year. Minor premise: None are there now. Conclusion: They must be in the hands of terrorists. My friend scoffs at the suggestion that Saddam Hussein may have sent such weapons to Syria for safekeeping or that he abruptly decided to destroy them just when he needed them most. (Thomas is credulous, but not stupid.)
He keeps reminding me of the CIA's warning last fall that if Iraq were attacked, Saddam Hussein might give weapons of mass destruction to terrorists like al-Qaeda to retaliate against the US, as "his last chance to exact vengeance by taking a large number of victims with him."
"No way," my friend insists, "No way can we escape the supreme irony that attacking Iraq has brought about the very thing it was supposed to prevent."
But wait, Thomas. Double-check your major premise. Four and half months of futile searching have demonstrated that there were not/are not any "weapons of mass destruction" in Iraq. We knew going in that the vast majority had been destroyed in the nineties. It is now clear that State Department intelligence analysts were right in insisting last fall that there was "no reliable evidence" that they were "reconstituted" (to borrow the term favored by Vice President Dick Cheney).
And the administration's claims that Saddam Hussein was somehow in cahoots with al-Qaeda have been thoroughly discredited--most recently by the report of the joint congressional committee on 9/11.
It is gratifying to watch truth therapy take effect on friends with symptoms of over-credulousness. But it does strike me as bizarre that the healing can come only after they have assimilated the "good news" that we and our elected representatives were conned.
I normally start with the clearest example--the administration's deliberate use of the cockamamie story about Iraq trying to obtain uranium from Niger for a "nuclear weapons program" defunct since 1991. I tell them that, at the behest of Cheney's office, former US Ambassador Joseph Wilson was sent to Niger in February 2002 to investigate that story and found it implausible on its face. There were just too many reasons why it simply made no sense. Then I point out that, besides its substantive flaws, the story was based on forged documents.
As I led Thomas through all this, the furrow burrowed still deeper into his brow. So I tried a lighter touch. He nodded yes when I asked if he remembered my favorite Yul Brunner line from The King and I--"It's a false lie!" This, I told him, is an apt label for the Iraq-Niger canard, adding:
There is nothing at all funny, though, about this particular "false lie," since it inflated the "mushroom cloud" that frightened Congress into ceding its war making power to the president last October. If you want to know how several of our lawmakers feel about that, download the letters that Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) has written to the White House expressing outrage at having been tricked into voting for war.
Thomas: "But that kind of behavior goes to the heart of our constitutional process. One branch of government deceiving another? I thought the current talk about impeachment was a little premature, but now..."
Not premature, just quixotic with the president's party in control of Congress. But, as John Dean has pointed out, Bush has already been "impeached"--the legal term for witnesses who make inconsistent statements. Had Thomas not noted how the president no longer speaks of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction but now says we will find a weapons-of-mass-destruction "program?"
He used that term again at his press conference on July 30, and added, "It's going to take time for us to gather and analyze the mounds of evidence, literally the miles of documents that we have uncovered."
Papers of mass destruction?
None of Thomas' sons or daughters are sweating it out in Iraq, so he and his family can now sleep soundly with the consoling thought that we were lied to. There is no such consolation, though, for the families of hundreds of Americans troops and thousands of Iraqis killed or wounded on a false major premise.
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Ray McGovern, a CIA analyst for 27 years, is on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Analysts for Sanity. He is co-director of the Servant Leadership School, an inner-city outreach ministry in Washington, DC. He can be reached at: