The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War
by Michael Isikoff and David Corn
What was really behind the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq? As George W. Bush steered the nation to war, who spoke the truth and who tried to hide it? HUBRIS: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War (Crown, September 8, 2006) takes us behind the scenes at the Bush White House, the CIA, the Pentagon, the State Department, and Congress to answer all the vital questions about how the Bush administration came to invade Iraq. HUBRIS, a gripping narrative, is filled with new revelations. The book disclosures include:
* President Bush was driven by a visceral hatred of Saddam Hussein, which he privately demonstrated in expletive-laden tirades against the Iraqi dictator. In May 2002--months before he asked Congress for authority to attack Saddam-Bush bluntly revealed his ultimate game plan in a candid moment with two aides. When told that reporter Helen Thomas was questioning the need to oust Saddam by force, Bush snapped: "Did you tell her I intend to kick his sorry mother fucking ass all over the Mideast?" In a meeting with congressional leaders, the President angrily thrust his middle finger inches in front of the face of Senator Tom Daschle to illustrate Saddam's attitude toward the United States.
* As part of an aggressive prewar covert action program--codenamed Anabasis (after an ancient text about a botched invasion of Babylon)--the CIA was authorized by the White House in the winter of 2002 to blow up targets in Iraq and engage in "direct action" (an agency euphemism for assassination) to weaken Saddam's regime and to prepare for his ouster by the U.S. military. For Anabasis, the agency smuggled Iraqi exiles to a top-secret site in the Nevada desert and trained them in sabotage and explosives. The Iraqi force, known as the Scorpions, was being trained to seize an isolated Iraqi military post-in order to create a provocation that could trigger a war with Iraq.
* When Bush was first briefed that no WMDs had been found in Iraq, he was totally unfazed and asked few questions. "I'm not sure I've spoken to anyone at that level who seemed less inquisitive," the briefer told the authors.
* Colin Powell remains intensely bitter and angry about his UN Security Council Speech, during which he presented the case for war. After it became clear that much of his speech was wrong, he refused to have anything to do with CIA director George Tenet. "It's annoying to me," Powell told the authors. "Everybody focuses on my presentation....Well the same goddamn case was presented to the U.S. Senate and the Congress and they voted for [Bush's Iraq] resolution....Why aren't they outraged....The same case was presented to the President. Why isn'' the President outraged? It's always, 'Gee, Powell, you made this speech to the UN.'"
* After the invasion, Dick Cheney's aides desperately sifted through raw intelligence nuggets in search of any evidence that would justify the war. On one occasion they sent the WMD hunters in Iraq a satellite photo that they suspected showed a hiding place for WMDs. But it was only an overhead photo of a watering hole for cows.
* A critical memo in the CIA leak case was based on notes of a State Department official that were (as this official told the authors) inaccurate. This memo reported that former ambassador Joseph Wilson's wife was a CIA employee who played a key role in sending him on his trip to Niger. Yet the State Department official now acknowledges his notes did not describe Valerie Wilson's role accurately.
* At the time of her outing, Valerie Wilson was an undercover officer in the CIA whose mission had been to gather intelligence about WMDs in Iraq. She was the operations manager of the Joint Task Force on Iraq, a unit in the clandestine service of the CIA. This unit desperately tried to obtain evidence to back up the Bush administration's assertions about Saddam's WMDs, yet it found no such evidence.
* Richard Armitage, the deputy secretary of state, was the original leaker in the CIA leak case. But as he was disclosing information to columnist Robert Novak, Karl Rove, Scooter Libby and other top White House aides were engaged in a fierce campaign to discredit Joseph Wilson. Rove even told MSNBC anchor Chris Matthews that the Wilsons "were trying to screw the White House so the White House was going to screw them back."
* Many of the White House's most dramatic claims about the threat posed by weapons of mass destruction were repeatedly questioned by senior members of the U.S. intelligence community-but these dissents and views were suppressed or ignored by the White House. Admiral Thomas Wilson, the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency until May 2002, is quoted in the book as casting doubt on virtually the entire White House case for an invasion of Iraq. "I didn't really think [Iraq] had a nuclear program," retired Admiral Wilson told the authors. "I didn't think [Saddam and Iraq] were an immediate threat on WMD."
* The CIA missed an obvious clue that showed that the infamous Niger documents--the basis for Bush's false statement in a State of the Union speech--were crude forgeries. The clue was a bizarre companion document detailing a supposed global alliance of rogue nations (including Iraq and Iran)--a notion so unlikely that one State Department intelligence analyst immediately labeled it a hoax. The CIA also blew the call on these documents partly because an officer misplaced the papers.
* U.S. intelligence officials suspected Iranian intelligence was trying to influence U.S. decision-making through Ahmad Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress-yet they felt they could do nothing about it because the INC had support within the White House and Pentagon.
* Congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle seriously doubted the case for war-and questioned the top-secret briefings they received directly from Cheney. One senior Republican, House Majority Leader Dick Armey, warned the President in a September 2002 meeting that Bush would be stuck in a "quagmire" if he invaded Iraq. But Armey and others were afraid for political reasons to challenge the White House on the prewar intelligence.
* An obscure academic, derided as a virtual crackpot by U.S. law enforcement and the intelligence community, greatly influenced top Bush administration officials, who adopted her farfetched theory that Saddam was the source of most of the terrorism in the world, including the 9/11 attacks. But, oddly, this researcher, Laurie Mylroie, had once been a Saddam apologist and had engaged in secret, back-door diplomacy aimed at brokering a peace accord between Israel and Iraq. After Saddam invaded Kuwait, Mylroie developed bizarre allegations about Saddam and terrorism. Her theories were debunked by the CIA and FBI, yet Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz embraced them, cited them in official meetings, and repeatedly pressed the agency and bureau to come up with evidence to substantiate Mylroie's work.
* The intelligence community's top nuclear experts were afraid to challenge publicly the Bush administration's claim that Iraq had obtained aluminum tubes for a nuclear weapons program, though they disagreed with this assessment. The tubes case was relentlessly pressed by one CIA analyst whose technical expertise did not match those of these scientists and whose name is revealed for the first time in HUBRIS.
* The CIA came close to recruiting Saddam Hussein's foreign minister, Naji Sabri, to be an American spy. Through a Lebanese journalist, Sabri passed word to the CIA's station chief in Paris that Iraq had no active nuclear or WMD programs. But senior CIA and White House officials dismissed the intelligence and opposed the effort to recruit Sabri, fearing it would undercut the case for an invasion. The chief of the CIA's Iraq Operations Group told the Paris station chief, "One of these days you're going to get it. This is not about intelligence. This is about regime change."
* Even as colleagues of Judith Miller at The New York Times were suspicious of her reporting on Iraq's WMDs, her editors stubbornly stood by her. HUBRIS details how some of the Times' most significant-and wrong-stories about Saddam's WMDs came to be written.
* CIA analysts, over the objections of other intelligence community analysts, rigged a post-invasion report to show that a trailer found in Iraq was a mobile bioweapons lab.
* Before the invasion, Bush and General Tommy Franks only briefly discussed how Iraq would be secured after the invasion-and did so in the most general terms. The one idea they discussed--appointing a "lord mayor" in each Iraqi city and town--was not even shared with the military officers in charge of drawing up the plans for a post-invasion Iraq.
* Karl Rove and his lawyer did not turn over a critical piece of evidence in the CIA leak case (a document covered by a subpoena from the special prosecutor) for nearly a year.
HUBRIS connects the dots between George W. Bush's outbursts at Saddam Hussein, the bitter battles between the CIA and the White House, the fights within the intelligence community over Saddam's weapons of mass destruction, the real reason Valerie Plame was outed, and a top reporter's ties to wily Iraqi exiles trying to start a war. Written by veteran reporters Michael Isikoff and David Corn, this is the inside story of how President Bush took the nation to war using faulty and fraudulent intelligence. It is a news-making account of conspiracy, backstabbing, bureaucratic ineptitude, journalistic malfeasance, and, especially, arrogance.
Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.
-President Barack Obama, 1st Inaugural address