By Robert Scheer
“The policy was set. The war in Iraq was coming and they were looking for intelligence to fit into the policy.”
—Tyler Drumheller, formerly CIA’s top spy in Europe
Confession time: In fall 2004, during a crucial presidential election campaign, I made the mistake of playing by corporate media rules that amount to self-censorship.
Specifically, I joined other journalists in denying the public the right to learn of a definitive investigative report by CBS’ “60 Minutes” on President Bush’s disregard for the truth concerning the weapons-of-mass-destruction threat allegedly posed to the United States by Iraq. Having received an advance copy of the devastating segment, I honored CBS’ proprietary request not to write about the news it carried until after it aired.
Only, it never aired. CBS got cold feet, probably because of Dan Rather’s troubles over an unrelated story critical of the president. The suppressed story was solidly reported and, by exposing the Bush administration’s utter disregard for the truth concerning Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, should have been made available to the public before the November election. Now, no one seems to care.
The segment finally aired this past Sunday, in a more robust form. Unfortunately, the response has been tepid; it seems the media, at least, have become jaded with all the endless examples of the president’s perfidy. But the CBS story remains very important as further evidence of the depths of the Bush administration’s deception.
Perhaps most damning is an interview, added for the broadcast version, with Tyler Drumheller, a CIA veteran of 26 years’ service who was the agency’s top spy in Europe until his retirement a year ago. According to him, before the war Hussein’s foreign minister had been “turned” and was talking secretly to U.S. intelligence. At first excited by this rare inside look at Hussein’s regime, the top dogs at the White House dropped the issue like a hot rock as soon as his information contradicted their overheated rationale for “preemptive” war. “The policy was set,” Drumheller told CBS correspondent Ed Bradley. “The war in Iraq was coming. And they were looking for intelligence to fit into the policy, to justify the policy.”
That’s how more than three years later, after at least two major governmental investigations into prewar intelligence on Iraq and countless journalistic post-mortems, we are only just now finding out that a highly placed double agent in Iraq was poking a huge hole in the Hussein-as-WMD-bogeyman story.
“They were enthusiastic” at first, said Drumheller, “that we had a high-level penetration of Iraqis.” CIA Director George Tenet reported the news that Hussein’s foreign minister, Naji Sabri, was working covertly for the United States to a White House meeting attended by President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Their initial enthusiasm, Drumheller says, quickly turned to cold indifference when Sabri told them the opposite of what they wanted to hear.
“He told us that they had no active weapons-of-mass-destruction program,” said the ex-CIA official. “The [White House] group that was dealing with preparation for the Iraq war came back and said they were no longer interested. And we said ‘Well, what about the intel?’ And they said ‘Well, this isn’t about intel anymore. This is about regime change.’ “
The White House refused to comment for the “60 Minutes” report, but CBS noted that Rice has said Sabri was just one source, and therefore not reliable. It was ironic, considering how heavily the Bush administration relied on the now infamous Iraqi defector “Curveball,” whose statements so informed the main administration allegations concerning Iraq’s biochemical weapons.
Drumheller was in contact with the German intelligence agency CIS, which had detained the man with the apt code name, and says he himself informed the top CIA officials that Curveball was an outright fraud.
“They certainly took information that came from single sources on the yellowcake story and on several other stories with no corroboration at all,” Drumheller said.
No wonder this man, who risked his life gathering intelligence for our country, has become a critic of the Bush administration. He is clearly unwilling to allow what the president has described as a permanent war to destroy our democracy. True patriotism is not the blind acceptance of presidential deceit.
Imperial ambition turns truth-tellers into enemies, by default, because their goal is not the exaltation of the leader’s power. No wonder so many national security professionals, be they top generals or intelligence officials, have gone public recently to denounce how the Iraq war has been sold and fought: The Bush administration’s willful ignorance and buck-passing mock their dedicated service to the nation.
“It just sticks in my craw every time I hear them say it’s an intelligence failure,” Drumheller said. “This was a policy failure.”