Editor's note: This contribution by the late journalist I.F. Stone first appeared in our January 1975 magazine.
February 2, 2004
Cheney Designs Commission to Evaluate Cheney
When I heard that Bush was succumbing to the pressure to name an independent commission to look into the mysterious case of Iraq's vanishing weapons, I joked that he might appoint Dick Cheney to head it, since Cheney was probably the biggest hornswoggler of all.
Turns out that Cheney, while not heading the commission, is playing an instrumental role in its creation, membership, and mandate, according to The New York Times.
Perhaps that's why this panel will not release its results till after the November election. God forbid the voters know who is culpable before they cast their ballots.
And perhaps that's why this panel will look well beyond Iraq to some broader issues of intelligence failures. The more the commission broadens its focus, the less implicated Bush and Cheney may appear.
At least that seems to be the White House's hope.
So, too, the hope that people will buy the claim that, at bottom, this was an intelligence failure, rather than the result of heavy-handed pressure by the Bush Administration.
Though David Kay denied that such pressure existed, that is not the conclusion the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace reached in its recent report "WMD in Iraq: Evidence and Implications."
The evidence "suggests, but does not prove, that the intelligence community began to be unduly influenced by policymakers' views sometime in 2002," the report says. "Although such situations are not unusual, in this case, the pressure appears to have been unusually intense."
It noted Cheney's own repeated, and extraordinary, visits to CIA headquarters, a fact The Washington Post disclosed on June 5, 2003, in an article by Walter Pincus and Dana Priest.
"Vice President Cheney and his most senior aide made multiple trips to the CIA over the past year to question analysts studying Iraq's weapons programs and alleged links to Al Qaeda, creating an environment in which some analysts felt they were being pressured to make their assessments fit with the Bush Administration's policy objectives, according to senior intelligence officials," the Post article said.
The article quoted a senior CIA official who said the visits "sent signals, intended or otherwise, that a certain output was desired from here."
The Carnegie report also mentions that "political appointees in the Department of Defense set up their own intelligence operations reportedly out of dissatisfaction" with the work of the CIA.
And, as Seymour Hersh has reported for The New Yorker, Cheney and Rumsfeld insisted on getting raw intelligence reports unevaluated by the experts at the CIA.
"It strains credibility," the Carnegie report says, to believe individuals and agencies did not feel pressure "to reach more threatening judgments of Saddam Hussein's weapons programs than many analysts felt were warranted."
It's too easy, and too convenient, to blame the intelligence agencies for screwing up.
Here is a more plausible theory: Bush wanted this war from day one, as did Cheney and Rumsfeld, and their deputies Scooter Libby and Paul Wolfowitz, respectively. All four of those men were part of the Project for the New American Century, which had long advocated the military overthrow of Saddam Hussein as a top U.S. foreign policy priority. To get their way, the President's men breathed heavily on the backs of the intelligence gatherers to come up with anything that could make the President's war wish -- and their own war wish -- come true.
Now to have Cheney appoint his own interrogator is a laughable cover-up.