Think back six years. How often did we hear then-Secretary of State Colin Powell tout his intense four-day vigil at CIA headquarters preparing the speech he would give to the United Nations Security Council on Feb. 5, 2003? Retired Army Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, Powell's chief of staff, who was asked by Powell to herd cats in putting that speech together, recently threw light on why it turned out to be such an acute embarrassment. Surrogates of Vice President Dick Cheney were insisting on giving prominence to highly dubious reports of operational ties between al-Qaeda and Iraq, but on this particular issue (unlike the phantom WMD) CIA and State department intelligence analysts had stood firm in the face of heavy pressure. Indeed, the CIA ombudsman saw fit to tell Congress that never in his 32 years as a CIA analyst had he witnessed a more aggressive "hammering" on analysts to change their minds and give credence to reporting that was trash. How was it, then, that Secretary Powell ended up citing a "sinister nexus between Iraq and the al-Qaeda terrorist network" to depict a relationship that did not exist? Fair labeling: Reading what follows may not make you quite as ill as reading the Department of Justice torture memos, but it may well sicken""and anger""you just the same. According to Col. Wilkerson, just days before trying to sell the invasion of Iraq to the United Nations, his boss Colin Powell had decided not to regurgitate the dubious allegations about Saddam Hussein's ties to al-Qaeda. Just in the nick of time, however, top CIA officials produced a "bombshell" report alleging such ties. The information was more than a year old and apparently extricated via torture, but Powell took the bait. Wilkerson says the key moment occurred on Feb. 1, 2003, as the two men labored at the CIA over Powell's presentation to the U.N. Security Council four days later. "Powell and I had a one-on-one "" no one else even in the room "" about his angst over what was a rather dull recounting of several old stories about Al Qa'ida-Baghdad ties [in the draft speech]," Wilkerson said. "I agreed with him that what we had was bull___t, and Powell decided to eliminate all mention of terrorist contacts between AQ and Baghdad. "Within an hour, [CIA Director George] Tenet and [CIA Deputy Director John] McLaughlin dropped a bombshell on the table in the director's conference room: a high-level AQ detainee had just revealed under interrogation substantive contacts between AQ and Baghdad, including Iraqis training AQ operatives in the use of chemical and biological weapons." Although Tenet and McLaughlin wouldn't give Powell the identity of the al-Qaeda source, Wilkerson said he now understands that it was Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi, who had been captured 15 months earlier; who later claimed he gave the CIA false information in the face of actual and threatened torture; and who now seems to be quite dead. Presumably not realizing that the "new" intelligence was tainted, "Powell changed his mind and this information was included in his UNSC presentation, along with more general information from a previous draft about Baghdad's terrorist tendencies," Wilkerson said.
It's become clear to anyone who wants to see clearly that we now know that torture is unreliable generally and in the case of Al Libi, it is a known fact that the information was bad. We can play with words and argue whether the CIA lied or was misled by Al libi. But it's not a black and white question. McGovern makes it clear that the report Powell received and there's good reason to believe Pelosi received a similar tainted on, was bad information that would not have made it through the normal CIA vetting system. Tenet was ushered out of the CIA and given an award by Bush. At the time, there were millions of Americans who knew then, who knew when Powell gave his infamous UN speech, closing the sale of the Iraq war for Bush and Cheney, that the evidence he was giving was not true. It's now ironic that the mainstream media is vilifying Nancy Pelosi for speaking now. They have totally failed, in every broadcast I've seen, to mention the misleading of Colin Powell. Blowhards like Scarborough, who has blown his cover as a moderate and has now returned to his extremist right wing reality, and losers like Rudy Giuliani are pumping out right wing echo chamber talking points, protecting the CIA-- not today's CIA-- but the Bush Cheney CIA that we now know aided and abetted in the deception of the American Public and the congress in the fraud that led us to war. It's clear that President Obama has left Speaker Pelosi hanging, even, apparently, encouraging CIA Director Leon Panetta to skewer her when Panetta could have handled differently, questioning Tenet's Cheney tainted role. I'm no great fan of Nancy Pelosi, who took impeachment off the table and who has, following the Obama "look forward" mantra, has not pursued hearings for Bush administration war crimes and justice department crimes. But when it comes to standing up the CIA, it takes a lot of cojones and she clearly deserves credit for having them. If only the mainstream media and its gutless wonders would do the same. At least Bob Shrum held HIS ground on the Morning Joe show, as Giuliani and Scarborough found the need to raise their voices as they recited, predictably, the "Pelosi's bad" message that will be echoed throughout the right wing media echo chamber for the next few days. Shrum cited concrete examples of how the CIA had lied, and challenged Giuliani to actually say that the CIA never lies. Giuliani wouldn't admit it. The CIA failed America and Tenet was a traitor. That's the real truth. It would be easy for Leon Panetta to say that it was the leadership of the CIA that failed, in spite of the honest hard work of the loyal CIA employees who did the right thing. Obama could be saying that too. It is sad that they chose not to take that road.
Update; 2:01 PM EST
After 19 comments and a verbal tongue lashing, I'll try to address some things.
First, I don't forgive or excuse Nancy Pelosi for what she's done before.
Second, I've thought a real, real lot about heroism. Heroes are never perfect. Most people credited with being heroes today are really not that heroic. Often, heroes trip and fall and land unintentionally in a situation where they have an opportunity to act heroic, often while trying to save their own asses. That's exactly what's happened to Nancy Pelosi. She's trying to cover or save her ass from the Republican attack on her regarding torture. And maybe saying the CIA lied was a stupid move. But it was not something, I am certain, that she accidentally or impulsively said.
The journey of the hero does not end with one action or decision. It starts there. Some falter or leave the trail. We'll see what Pelosi does. Sometimes when someone finds his or her self on the hero's journey everything appears in a new light. I have been accused of being an optimist and framing things positively. When the capitol is full of cowards who fear facing the CIA, even a flawed person can be heroic if she faces what others all fear and avoid. History is filled with flawed people who made a difference.