January 13, 2006
McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical
Church of the Saviour. A 27-year veteran of the CIA’s analysis
ranks, he is now on the steering group of Veteran Intelligence
Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).
James Risen’s State of War: the Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration,
may hold bigger secrets than the disclosure that President George W.
Bush authorized warrantless eavesdropping on Americans.
Risen’s book also confirms the most damning element of the British
Cabinet Office memos popularly called the "Downing Street memos;"
namely, that "the intelligence and the facts were being fixed around
the policy." The result is that it is no longer credible to maintain
that the failures in the Iraqi intelligence were the product of a
broken intelligence community. The Bush administration deliberately
fabricated the case against Iraq, lying to Congress and the American
people along the way.
Risen, a senior reporter for The New York Times, reports
that British Prime Minister Tony Blair had an urgent need in the summer
of 2002 to get the equivalent of a "second opinion" regarding Bush’s
plans for war in Iraq—insight independent of his own telephone
conversations with the president and independent of what Blair was
hearing from his own foreign office.
During his April 2002 visit to Crawford, Blair had gone out on a
limb in pledging to support war on Iraq. The following months saw
him getting nervous. So he chose what intelligence parlance calls
a "back channel," and sent the chief of British intelligence, Richard
Dearlove, to Washington to sound out his counterpart: the garrulous CIA
director George Tenet, who he knew to be very close to the president.
The highly revealing Downing Street memo contained the minutes of
Dearlove's briefing of Blair and his top advisers upon his return from
Washington on July 23. But what the memo left unanswered was the
question of who gave Dearlove the confidence to say this to his prime
Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to
remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of
terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and the facts were being
fixed around the policy.
When the Sunday Times published the minutes of that key briefing on May 1, 2005, it seemed a safe bet that Dearlove’s source was Tenet, and I said so.
Now we have the confirmation. Risen writes that George Tenet was
reluctant to receive Dearlove, but acquiesced when the British made
clear that Blair considered the back-channel meeting urgent.
Tenet then rose to the occasion—with a vengeance. Risen, quoting
a former senior CIA official who helped host the British for a session
that lasted most of Saturday, July 20, 2002, reports that Tenet and
Dearlove had a 90-minute one-on-one conversation, during which Tenet
was "very candid."
Risen adds that by the time of this "intelligence summit," senior
CIA officials had concluded that "the quality of the intelligence on
weapons of mass destruction didn’t really matter," since war was
inevitable. That perverse attitude certainly prevailed two months
later, when the fabricated National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq
and WMD was produced by Tenet’s National Intelligence Council in a
successful attempt to deceive Congress into voting for war.
A former CIA official told Risen that after the conversation with
Tenet, Richard Dearlove could certainly "figure out what was going on;
plus, the MI6 station chief in Washington was in CIA headquarters all
the time, with just about complete access to everything." In any case,
we now know that Blair got what he wanted out of the visit—the inside
scoop from someone enjoying the complete trust of, and daily access to,
The president now says that he does not want his political
opposition to dwell on how he lied to Congress and the American people
in order to invade a country and kill tens of thousands of Iraqi
civilians and more than 2,200 U. S. troops—not to mention the many
thousands maimed for life. Perhaps he knows that Risen's book
could do as much damage to his administration by calling renewed
attention to the Downing Street memos as is likely to be done
by the revelations of the secret NSA wiretapping.
One world leader recognizes the extreme danger of official lies told
to a nation in the service of an aggressive war. He also happens to be
a leader who survived the horrors of fascism in the last century. In a
Jan. 1 address to the world, Pope Benedict XVI spoke about the
consequences of lies such as these, in what can only be a thinly veiled
reference to the president of the United States:
…Sacred Scripture, in its very first book, Genesis, points to the
lie told at the very beginning of history by the animal with a forked
tongue, whom the Evangelist John calls ''the father of lies'' (Jn
8:44). Lying is also one of the sins spoken of in the final chapter of
the last book of the Bible, Revelation, which bars liars from the
heavenly Jerusalem: ''outside are... all who love falsehood'' (22:15).
Lying is linked to the tragedy of sin and its perverse consequences,
which have had, and continue to have, devastating effects on the lives
of individuals and nations. We need but think of the events of the past
century, when aberrant ideological and political systems wilfully
twisted the truth and brought about the exploitation and murder of an
appalling number of men and women, wiping out entire families and
communities. After experiences like these, how can we fail to be
seriously concerned about lies in our own time, lies which are the
framework for menacing scenarios of death in many parts of the world.
The ethos of the Central Intelligence Agency in which my
contemporaries and I worked was chiseled into the marble at the
entrance of CIA headquarters: "You will know the truth, and the
truth will set you free."
Sadly, the agency has come a long way.