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Seven years ago this week, then British Prime Minister Tony Blair gathered his top national security advisers at 10 Downing St. to hear a report from U.K. intelligence chief Richard Dearlove, just back in London from face-to-face talks with then-CIA Director George Tenet in Washington.
Blair and President George W. Bush had been talking regularly by telephone for several months. But, as is well known, even the most secure phones can be tapped, and there are some things - like preparing criminal wars of aggression, I suppose - that are so outrageous one doesn't dare take any chances.
Besides, Blair apparently had some misgivings about taking at face value the Texas-size braggadocio he was hearing at the other end of the phone about what was going to happen to Saddam Hussein and why. It is understandable that he would seek independent, authoritative confirmation that this was also what Bush was sharing with his top accomplices.
Who better to confirm or deny than Bush-vassal Tenet, who met six mornings a week with the American president to discuss the President's Daily Brief? Blair prevailed on a reluctant Tenet to host a visit from Dearlove on Saturday, July 20, 2002.
Blair had seen enough of the garrulous Tenet in action to be able to calculate - correctly - that once you got him talking about secrets he was privileged to know about, kernels of truth could be gleaned from beneath all the usual bull.
Documentary evidence now shows that the Dearlove dug out some remarkable kernels. Matthew Rycroft, aide to Blair foreign policy guru David Manning, was taking minutes at the Downing Street meeting on July 23, 2002, minutes he immediately circulated to Blair and other participants.
The minutes observed quite bluntly that "Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy."
Enter an unknown patriotic truth-teller who eventually gave a copy of those minutes to London's Sunday Times which, after performing due diligence regarding their provenance, published them on May 1, 2005. Blair himself has been careful not to dispute the authenticity of what then became known as the "Downing Street Minutes."
We Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity also performed due diligence and were first off the mark with "Proof Bush Fixed the Facts," May 4, 2005.
Too Late the Leak
The Downing Street Minutes represent the kind of documentary evidence after which trial lawyers, intelligence analysts and serious investigative journalists lust. Though the unauthorized disclosure did not come early enough to head off the war, which had started more than two years before the document surfaced, the unique disclosure could have thrown some harsh light on the war's origins - IF the Fawning Corporate Media in the United States did its job.
However, having been acrobatic cheerleaders for war on Iraq, the FCM did its level best to suppress this documentary evidence of the war's fraudulent character.
Enter John Conyers, bless his heart, who was House Judiciary Committee ranking member at the time. Sadly, it is necessary to reach back four years to find the last thing Conyers did that took any courage, but one must give the timid please-don't-say-impeach-in-my-presence Conyers his due with regard to the Downing Street Minutes.
(Full disclosure: Conyers had me arrested on July 23, 2007 - the five-year anniversary of the plotting at 10 Downing St. - when I would not leave his office until he agreed to do his duty under the Constitution to launch hearings on impeachment. I stressed that, like him, I had sworn an oath in my case as an Army officer to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States; that my oath carried no expiration date; and that it was the Constitution that I was trying to protect and defend. Unimpressed, Conyers called the Capitol police. I was quickly marched out of the Rayburn building off to jail, and later convicted of unlawful assembly. I would add only that, while we Irish are notorious for bearing grudges, I continue to believe - strongly - that Conyers' inaction did grave damage to our Constitution by shirking his duty to start the orderly process called impeachment that the Founders intended for use in removing a president who thought he could act like a king.)
With respect to the Downing Street Minutes, though, Conyers did manage a temporary fit of courage. Readers may recall that he scheduled a "hearing" for June 16, 2005, in the only space the Republican majority would make available - a basement room under the Capitol. On the morning before the hearing, Amy Goodman invited Conyers and me to be interviewed on Democracy Now. Just before the interview, I had a chance to look at the editorial page of Pravda, er, I mean the Washington Post, for that morning, and guess what? The Post saw fit to mention the Downing Street Minutes, though dismissively so as not to tarnish the newspaper's glorious cheerleading for war.