The Bush orthodoxy is in shreds
A series of investigations has shattered neocon self-belief
Thursday May 27, 2004 "The Guardian" -- At a conservative thinktank in downtown Washington, and across the Potomac at the Pentagon, FBI agents have begun paying quiet calls on prominent neoconservatives, who are being interviewed in an investigation of potential espionage, according to intelligence sources. Who gave Ahmed Chalabi classified information about the plans of the US government and military?
The Iraqi neocon favourite, tipped to lead his liberated country post-invasion, has been identified by the CIA and Defence Intelligence Agency as an Iranian double-agent, passing secrets to that citadel of the "axis of evil" for decades. All the while the neocons cosseted, promoted and arranged for more than $30m in Pentagon payments to the George Washington manque of Iraq. In return, he fed them a steady diet of disinformation and in the run-up to the war sent various exiles to nine nations' intelligence agencies to spread falsehoods about weapons of mass destruction. If the administration had wanted other material to provide a rationale for invasion, no doubt that would have been fabricated. Either Chalabi perpetrated the greatest con since the Trojan horse, or he was the agent of influence for the most successful intelligence operation conducted by Iran, or both.
The CIA and other US agencies had long ago decided that Chalabi was a charlatan, so their dismissive and correct analysis of his lies prompted their suppression by the Bush White House.
In place of the normal channels of intelligence vetting, a jerry-rigged system was hastily constructed, running from the office of the vice president to the newly created Office of Special Plans inside the Pentagon, staffed by fervent neocons. CIA director George Tenet, possessed with the survival instinct of the inveterate staffer, ceased protecting the sanctity of his agency and cast in his lot. Secretary of state Colin Powell, resistant internally but overcome, decided to become the most ardent champion, unveiling a series of neatly manufactured lies before the UN.
Last week, Powell declared "it turned out that the sourcing was inaccurate and wrong and, in some cases, deliberately misleading. And for that I'm disappointed, and I regret it". But who had "deliberately" misled him? He did not say. Now the FBI is investigating espionage, fraud and, by implication, treason.
A former staff member of the Office of Special Plans and a currently serving defence official, two of those said to be questioned by the FBI, are considered witnesses, at least for now. Higher figures are under suspicion. Were they witting or unwitting? If those who are being questioned turn out to be misleading, they can be charged ultimately with perjury and obstruction of justice. For them, the Watergate principle applies: it's not the crime, it's the cover-up.
The espionage investigation into the neocons' relationship with Chalabi is only one of the proliferating inquiries engulfing the Bush administration. In his speech to the Army War College on May 24, Bush blamed the Abu Ghraib torture scandal on "a few American troops". In other words, there was no chain of command. But the orders to use the abusive techniques came from the secretary of defence, Donald Rumsfeld.
The trials and investigations surrounding Abu Ghraib beg the question of whether it was an extension of the far-flung gulag operating outside the Geneva conventions that has been built after September 11. The fallout from the Chalabi affair has also implicated the nation's newspaper of record, the New York Times, which published yesterday an apology for running numerous stories containing disinformation that emanated from Chalabi and those in the Bush administration funnelling his fabrications. The Washington Post, which published editorials and several columnists trumpeting Chalabi's talking points, has yet to acknowledge the extent to which it was deceived.
Washington, just weeks ago in the grip of neoconservative orthodoxy, absolute belief in Bush's inevitability and righteousness, is in the throes of being ripped apart by investigations. Things fall apart: the military, loyal and lumbering, betrayed and embittered; the general in the field, General Sanchez, disgraced and cashiered; the intelligence agencies abused and angry, their retired operatives plying their craft with the press corps, seeping dangerous truths; the press, hesitating and wobbly, investigating its own falsehoods; the neocons, publicly redoubling defence of their hero and deceiver Chalabi, privately squabbling, anxiously awaiting the footsteps of FBI agents; Colin Powell, once the most acclaimed man in America, embarked on an endless quest to restore his reputation, damaged above all by his failure of nerve; everyone in the line of fire motioning toward the chain of command, spiralling upwards and sideways, until the finger pointing in a phalanx is directed at the hollow crown.
· Sidney Blumenthal, a former senior adviser to President Clinton, is Washington bureau chief of Salon.com
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004