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OpEdNews Op Eds    H1'ed 5/19/09

Note to Nancy Pelosi: Colin Powell Got Snookered at CIA, too

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I discussed this article with Ray McGovern and came away with this intro; We're in a tough situation Ray McGovern says he's never seen in his 40+ years of government service, The president of the United States and Leon Panetta are afraid of the CIA.  Now, thanks to Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell's chief of staff, we know a lot more about how Powell allowed himself to be snookered into helping Bush sell the war-- and bad information acquired by torturing al-libi, who lied to evade further torture.

Rob Kall, editor in chief


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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. 

Wilkerson’s account provides insight into how the need to justify war gave impetus to the use of torture for extracting information, and how the Bush administration’s reliance on harsh interrogations of al-Qaeda suspects helped grease the skids to war.  Both. 

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Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He was an Army infantry/intelligence officer and then a CIA analyst for 27 years, and is now on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS). His (more...)
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