How Torture Trapped Colin Powell

By Ray McGovern

Consortiumnews.com
May 18, 2009

Four days before trying to sell the invasion of Iraq to the United Nations, Secretary of State Colin Powell was ready to scrap dubious allegations about Saddam Hussein’s ties to al-Qaeda but was dissuaded by top CIA officials who cited a new “bombshell” that now appears to have been derived from torture, a top Powell aide says.

Retired Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, who was then Powell’s chief of staff, said the key moment occurred on Feb. 1, 2003, as the two men labored at the CIA over Powell’s presentation to the U.N. Security Council set for Feb. 5.

“Powell and I had a one-on-one — no one else even in the room — about his angst over what was a rather dull recounting of several old stories about Al Qa’ida-Baghdad ties [in the draft speech],” Wilkerson said. “I agreed with him that what we had was bull___t, and Powell decided to eliminate all mention of terrorist contacts between AQ and Baghdad.

“Within an hour, [CIA Director George] Tenet and [CIA Deputy Director John] McLaughlin dropped a bombshell on the table in the [CIA] director’s Conference Room: a high-level AQ detainee had just revealed under interrogation substantive contacts between AQ and Baghdad, including Iraqis training AQ operatives in the use of chemical and biological weapons.”

Though Tenet and McLaughlin wouldn’t give Powell the identity of the al-Qaeda source, Wilkerson said he now understands that it was Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi, an al-Qaeda operative who later claimed he gave the CIA false information in the face of actual and threatened torture.

Not realizing that the new intelligence was tainted, “Powell changed his mind and this information was included in his UNSC presentation, along with some more general information from the previous text about Baghdad’s terrorist tendencies,” Wilkerson said.

Wilkerson’s account underscores how the Bush administration’s reliance on harsh interrogations of al-Qaeda suspects influenced the rush to war with Iraq, while also pointing out how the need to justify the war gave impetus to the use of torture for extracting information.

Sealing the Deal

Powell, whose credibility essentially sealed the deal for war as far as millions of Americans were concerned, also appears to have let himself be manipulated by senior CIA officials who kept him in the dark about crucial details, including the fact that the Defense Intelligence Agency doubted al-Libi’s credibility.

“As you can see, nowhere were we told that the high-level AQ operative had a name, or that he had been interrogated [in Egypt] with no US personnel present or much earlier rather than just recently (the clear implication of Tenet’s breathtaking delivery),” Wilkerson said.

“And not a single dissent was mentioned (later we learned of the DIA dissent) … All of this was hidden from us – the specific identity, we were informed, due to the desire to protect sources and methods as well as a cooperative foreign intelligence service. …

“As for me in particular, I learned the identity of al-Libi only in 2004 and of the DIA dissent about the same time, of al-Libi’s recanting slightly later, and of the entire affair’s probably being a Tenet-McLaughlin fabrication – to at least a certain extent – only after I began to put some things together and to receive reinforcement of the ‘fabrication’ theme from other examples.”

Among those other examples, Wilkerson said, was the case of an Iraqi “defector” codenamed Curveball, who supplied false intelligence about mobile labs for making biological and chemical weapons, and various Iraqi walk-ins who spun bogus stories about an Iraqi nuclear weapons program.

Though some of those sources appear to have concocted their tales after being recruited by the pro-invasion exiles of the Iraqi National Congress, al-Libi told his stories – he later claimed – to avoid or stop torture, a central point in the current debate about whether torture saved American lives.

For those of you distracted by the Fawning Corporate Media (FCM) spotlight on “what-did-Pelosi-know-about-torture-and-when-did-she- know-it,” please turn off the TV long enough to ponder the case of the recently departed al-Libi, who reportedly died in a Libyan prison, a purported suicide.

The al-Libi case might help you understand why, even though information from torture is notoriously unreliable, President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and the sycophants running U.S. intelligence ordered it anyway.

In short, if it is untruthful information you are after, torture can work just fine! As the distinguished Senator from South Carolina, Lindsey Graham put it during a Senate hearing on May 13 — with a hat-tip to the Inquisition — “One of the reasons these techniques have been used for about 500 years is that they work.”

All you really need to know is what you want the victims to “confess” to and then torture them, or render them abroad to “friendly” intelligence services toward the same end.

Poster Child for Torture

Al-Libi, born in 1963 in Libya, ran an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan from 1995 to 2000. He was detained in Pakistan on Nov. 11, 2001, and then sent to a U.S. detention facility in Kandahar, Afghanistan. He was deemed a prize catch, since he would know of any Iraqi training of al-Qaeda.

The CIA successfully fought off the FBI for first rights to interrogate al-Libi. FBI’s Dan Coleman, who “lost” al-Libi to the CIA (at whose orders, I wonder?), said, “Administration officials were always pushing us to come up with links” between Iraq and al-Qaeda.

Meanwhile, at the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba, Maj. Paul Burney, a psychiatrist sent there in summer 2002, told the Senate, “A large part of the time we were focused on trying to establish a link between al-Qaeda and Iraq and we were not successful.

“The more frustrated people got in not being able to establish that link … there was more and more pressure to resort to measures that might produce more immediate results.”

CIA interrogators elicited some “cooperation” from al-Libi through a combination of rough treatment and threats that he would be turned over to Egyptian intelligence with even greater experience in the torture business.

By June 2002, al-Libi had told the CIA that Iraq had “provided” unspecified chemical and biological weapons training for two al-Qaeda operatives, an allegation that soon found its way into other U.S. intelligence reports. Al-Libi’s claim was well received even though the DIA was suspicious.

“He lacks specific details” about the supposed training, the DIA observed. “It is possible he does not know any further details; it is more likely this individual is intentionally misleading the debriefers. Ibn al-Shaykh has been undergoing debriefs for several weeks and may be describing scenarios to the debriefers that he knows will retain their interest.”

Despite his cooperation, al-Libi was still shipped to Egypt where he underwent more abuse, according to a declassified CIA cable from 2004 when al-Libi recanted his earlier statements. The cable reported that al-Libi said Egyptian interrogators wanted information about al-Qaeda’s connections with Iraq, a subject “about which [al-Libi] said he knew nothing and had difficulty even coming up with a story.”

According to the CIA cable, al-Libi said his interrogators did not like his responses and “placed him in a small box” for about 17 hours. After he was let out of the box, al-Libi was given a last chance to “tell the truth.”

When his answers still did not satisfy, al-Libi says he “was knocked over with an arm thrust across his chest and fell on his back” and then was “punched for 15 minutes.”

And, as Sen. Graham noted, that stuff really works! For it was then that al-Libi expanded on his tales about collaboration between al-Qaeda and Iraq, adding that three al-Qaeda operatives had gone to Iraq “to learn about nuclear weapons.” Afterwards, he said his treatment improved.

Al-Libi’s stories misinformed Colin Powell’s U.N. speech, which sought to establish a “sinister nexus” between Iraq and al-Qaeda to justify invading Iraq.

Al-Libi recanted his claims in January 2004. That prompted the CIA, a month later, to recall all intelligence reports based on his statements, a fact recorded in a footnote to the report issued by the 9/11 Commission.

Bear in mind that before the attack on Iraq on March 19, 2003, polls showed that some 70 percent Americans believed that Saddam Hussein had operational ties with al-Qaeda and thus was partly responsible for the attacks of 9/11.

Just What the Doctor Ordered

George Bush relied on al-Libi’s false confession for his crucial speech in Cincinnati on Oct. 7, 2002, just a few days before Congress voted on the Iraq War resolution. Bush declared, “We’ve learned that Iraq has trained al-Qaeda members in bomb making and poisons and deadly gases.”

Colin Powell relied on it for his crucial speech to the U.N. on Feb. 5, 2003. He said: “I can trace the story of a senior terrorist operative telling how Iraq provided training in these [chemical and biological] weapons to al-Qaeda. Fortunately, this operative is now detained, and he has told his story.”

For a while, al-Libi was practically the poster boy for the success of the Cheney/Bush torture regime; that is, until he publicly recanted and explained that he only told his interrogators what he thought would stop the torture.

In his disingenuous memoir, At the Center of the Storm, Tenet sought to defend the CIA’s use of the claims made by al-Libi in the run-up to the Iraq war, suggesting that al-Libi’s later recantation may not have been genuine.

“He clearly lied,” Tenet writes in his book. “We just don’t know when. Did he lie when he first said that Al Qaeda members received training in Iraq or did he lie when he said they did not? In my mind, either case might still be true.”

Really; that’s what Tenet writes.

Tenet’s stubborn faith in the CIA’s “product” reflects the reality that he is not a disinterested observer. If there was a CIA plan to extract a false confession, it’s likely he was a key participant.

After all, he devoted 2002-03 to the mission of manufacturing a “slam-dunk” case for invading Iraq in order to please his bosses. He had both the motive and the opportunity to commit this crime.

Well, if al-Libi is now dead — strangely our embassy in Tripoli was unable to find out for sure — this means the world will never hear his own account of the torture he experienced and the story he made up and then recanted.

And we will all be asked to believe he “committed suicide” even though it is apparently true that al-Libi was a devout Muslim and Islam prohibits suicide.

Hafed al-Ghwell, a Libyan-American and a prominent critic of the Gaddafi regime, explained to Newsweek, “This idea of committing suicide in your prison cell is an old story in Libya.”

He added that, throughout Gaddafi’s 40-year rule, there had been several instances in which political prisoners were reported to have committed suicide, but that “then the families get the bodies back and discover the prisoners had been shot in the back or tortured to death.”

Am I suggesting…?

Anatomy of a Crime

Commenting on what he called the “Cheney interrogation techniques,” Col. Wilkerson, writing for The Washington Note on May 13, made the following observations:

“…as the administration authorized harsh interrogation in April and May of 2002 — well before the Justice Department had rendered any legal opinion — its principal priority for intelligence was not aimed at pre-empting another terrorist attack on the U.S. but on discovering a smoking gun linking Iraq to al-Qaeda.

“So furious was this effort on one particular detainee, even when the interrogation team had reported to Cheney’s office that their detainee ‘was compliant’ (meaning the team recommended no more torture), the VP’s office ordered them to continue the advanced methods. The detainee had not revealed any al-Qa’ida-Baghdad contacts yet.

“This ceased only after Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, under waterboarding in Egypt, ‘revealed’ such contacts. Of course later we learned that al-Libi revealed these contacts only to get the torture to stop.”

Stung by Wilkerson’s criticism of her father, Liz Cheney, who worked in the State Department during the last administration, lashed out at Wilkerson, charging he has made “a cottage industry out of fantasies” about the former Vice President.

All that Ms. Cheney could manage in rebuttal, though, was to point out that al-Libi was not among the three al-Qaeda figures that the U.S. has admitted to waterboarding.

After his article in The Washington Note, I asked Col. Wilkerson for a retrospective look at how it could have been that the torture-derived information from al-Libi was not recognized for what it was and thus kept out of Secretary Powell’s speech at the UN.

Since al-Libi had been captured over a year before the speech and had been put at the tender mercies of the Egyptian intelligence service, should he and Powell not have suspected that al-Libi had been tortured?

Wilkerson responded by e-mail with the comments cited above regarding Tenet and McLaughlin interrupting Powell’s evaluation of the Iraqi WMD intelligence with their new – vaguely sourced –“bombshell.”

I asked Col. Wilkerson: “Were there no others from the State Department with you at CIA headquarters on Feb. 1, 2003. Was INR [State’s very professional, incorruptible intelligence unit] not represented? He answered:

“When I gathered ‘my team’ – some were selected for me, such as Will Toby from Bob Joseph’s NSC staff and John Hanna from the VP’s office – in my office at State to give them an initial briefing and marching orders, I asked Carl [Ford, head of INR] to attend. I wanted Carl – or even more so, one of his deputies whom I knew well and trusted completely, Tom Fingar – to be on ‘my team’.

“Carl stayed after the meeting and I asked him straightforwardly to come with me or to send someone from INR. Carl said that he did not need to come nor to send anyone because he had the Secretary’s ear (he was right on that) and could weigh in at any time he wanted to.

“Moreover, he told me, the Secretary knew very well where INR stood, as did I myself (he was right on that too).

“As I look back, I believe one of my gravest errors was in not insisting that INR send someone with me.

“Fascinating and completely puzzling at first was the total absence of a Department of Defense representative on my team; however, after 3-4 days and nights I figured out … DoD was covering its own butt, to an extent, by having no direct fingerprints on the affair — and being directly wired into Cheney’s office, Rumsfeld’s folks knew they were protected by Toby and Hanna.

“When we all arrived at CIA, we were given the NIC [National Intelligence Council] spaces and staff. [But] I could not even get on a computer!! Protests to Tenet and McLaughlin got me perfunctory CIA-blah blah about security clearances, etc. — and me with 7 days and nights to prepare a monumentally important presentation! …

“[It took] 24 hours before George or John acknowledged I could be on a computer…. From there on, it was a madhouse.

“But at the end of the day, had I had an INR rep, had I had better support, had I been more concerned with WHAT I was assembling rather than HOW on earth I would assemble it and present it on time, I’m not sure at all it would have made any difference in the march to war.”

Not the Only Crime

So there you have it folks, the anatomy of a crime — one of several such, I might add.

Mention of Carl Ford and Tenet and McLaughlin remind me of another episode that has gone down in the annals of intelligence as almost equally contemptible. This one had to do with CIA’s furious attempt to prove there were mobile biological weapons labs of the kind Curveball had described.

Remember, Tenet and McLaughlin had been warned about Curveball long before they let then-Secretary of State Powell shame himself, and the rest of us, by peddling Curveball’s wares at the U.N. Security Council on Feb. 5, 2003.

But the amateur attempts at deception did not stop there. After the war began, CIA intrepid analysts, still “leaning forward,” misrepresented a tractor-trailer found in Iraq outfitted with industrial equipment as one of the mobile bio-labs.

On May 28, 2003, CIA analysts cooked up a fraudulent six-page report claiming that the trailer discovered earlier in May was proof they had been right about Iraq’s “bio-weapons labs.”

They then performed what could be called a “night-time requisition,” getting the only Defense Intelligence Agency analyst sympathetic to their position to provide DIA “coordination,” (which was subsequently withdrawn by DIA).

On May 29, President George W. Bush, visiting Poland, proudly announced on Polish TV, “We have found the weapons of mass destruction.” [For a contemporaneous debunking of the CIA-DIA report, see Consortiumnews.com’s “America’s Matrix.”]

When the State Department’s Intelligence and Research (INR) analysts realized that this was not some kind of Polish joke, they “went ballistic,” according to Carl Ford, who immediately warned Powell there was a problem.

Tenet must have learned of this quickly, for he called Ford on the carpet, literally, the following day. No shrinking violet, Ford held his ground. He told Tenet and McLaughlin, “That report is one of the worst intelligence assessments I’ve ever read.”

This vignette — and several like it — are found in Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War by Michael Isikoff and David Corn, who say Ford is still angry over the fraudulent paper.

Ford told the authors: “It was clear that they [Tenet and McLaughlin] had been personally involved in the preparation of the report… It wasn’t just that it was wrong. They lied.”

Too bad Carl Ford made the incorrect assumption that he could rely on his credibility and entrée with Secretary Powell to thwart the likes of Tenet and McLaughlin, as they peddled their meretricious wares at CIA headquarters — with Col. Wilkerson left to twist in the wind, so to speak.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour. He served in all four directorates of the CIA, mostly as an analyst, and is now a member of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).


Story Transcript

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network, coming to you from our studio in Washington, DC. On Sunday morning on the George Stephanopoulos show on ABC, Liz Cheney accused former chief of staff for Colin Powell, Larry Wilkerson, of creating a cottage industry, making up fantasy stories about her father, Dick Cheney. Here’s what she had to say.

~~~

Courtesy: TPM

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, HOST, ABC’S THIS WEEK: The report, though, that the vice president’s office did ask specifically to have information about Iraq – al-Qaeda connections presented to this detainee. Do you deny that?

LIZ CHENEY, ATTORNEY: I think it’s very important for us to look at exactly what the facts are, and the facts are that three people were waterboarded. The people that are—claims to be waterboarded in these articles are not any of those people. And I think, frankly, you’ve also got to look at the source of some of these allegations, and one of the big sources is, you know, Colonel Wilkerson. Now, Colonel Wilkerson gets coverage because of his associations with General Powell.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Former chief of staff.

CHENEY: And has made a cottage industry out of, you know, fantasies about the vice president since he left office.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, he’s not the only one reporting it, but it’s good to get your—.

~~~

JAY: Now, to help us understand what is the truth of all of this, we’re joined by Ray McGovern. He’s a retired CIA analyst, used to do the morning briefings during the Reagan administration. Thanks for joining us.

RAY MCGOVERN, RETIRED CIA ANALYST: You’re welcome, Paul.

JAY: So you’ve been working with Larry Wilkerson. You’ve interviewed him for an article he recently wrote. What do you make of this cottage industry of fantasy?

MCGOVERN: It would be wonderful if it were fantasy. It’s all too real. Remember when Larry testified before the Democratic policy committee, the only committee that seemed interested three years ago. He was with other Iraqi and other analysts—Paul Pillar from CIA, Carl Ford, who headed up State’s intelligence bureau—and after they got finished talking about what the bureaucracy was saying and how the policy became so skewed—now, this was policy on WMD as well as ties between Iraq and al-Qaeda—one of the senators says, “How did this happen?” Everybody kind of demurred, and Larry said, “Well, I’ll give it to you in three words. Those are: please the vice president.”

JAY: Now, I don’t understand what—in terms of the chain of command of the CIA end of the military, where does the vice president fit? I thought he isn’t in that chain of command. How does he order anything of anybody?

MCGOVERN: Well, Dick Cheney was the acting president. Dick Cheney told George Tenet what to do, and George Tenet said, “Yes, sir. How I would you like me to jump? You want weapons of mass destruction? No problem. I’ll serve them up to you. It’s a slam dunk. You want ties between Iraq and al-Qaeda? I can do that too. We have a very friendly Egyptian intelligence service, which is now working on this fellow [Ibn al-Shaykh] al-Libi, who ran a training camp for al-Qaeda. And we think he knows about Saddam Hussein training al-Qaeda in chemical and biological weapons, and we’ve told the Egyptians that. We couldn’t really get very much out of them, but I’ll bet the Egyptians can.” And thereon hangs a tale.

JAY: So, just before we get into the al-Libi case, so what we have is a fundamental breakdown of the U.S. Constitution, the division of powers, the role of the vice president, and nobody says anything about it. I mean, I’ve always thought it takes two to make to [inaudible].

MCGOVERN: Well, if the other side is a sycophant, the other side is somebody that sort of bubbled up to the top of the Iraq bureaucracy like Colin Powell, then it’s a piece of cake for Cheney. You know, it’s kind of a no-brainer. He was allowed to have his head, and he did. And the only other thing that’s necessary as far as the CIA is concerned is to have a person, really a charlatan—George Tenet decided that his job was to gladhand and backslap George Bush and Dick Cheney, and if they wanted him to distort the intelligence, well, we know that story. But this story’s really interesting, because now I have Larry Wilkerson telling me exactly what happened as they were preparing the briefing for Colin Powell to give to the world on February 5.

JAY: So, did we have, in constitutional terms, a kind of, for awhile, vice presidential coup?

MCGOVERN: Paul, for the last eight years, the Constitution has been sort of in abeyance with the willing acknowledgment and acquiescence of the legislative branch, which we used to call the Congress of the United States.

JAY: Certainly the leadership of both parties knew exactly what was going on.

MCGOVERN: It’s a vacuum.

JAY: So what did Wilkerson tell you about the al-Libi case?

MCGOVERN: Well, I asked him, you know, how exactly did it turn out there that Colin Powell ended up making these ridiculous claims about what he—I’ll never forget the term “a sinister nexus”—you know, a sinister nexus between Iraq and al-Qaeda. I said, “Where do you get that stuff?” He said, “Well, you know, Colin Powell and I, we got together alone in a room up there at CIA headquarters, and after we’ve gone through all this stuff about these reports of relations or operational contacts between al-Qaeda and Iraq, we decided—in the Bronx we call that crock, okay? We said it was a crock. We weren’t going to use any of it, see. And we went back into the room, and within 10 minutes, George Tenet and John McLachlan, his reliable deputy, came in, slapped down on the table, “We’ve just got a report from a high-level al-Qaeda type that Saddam Hussein was indeed instructing them in the deployment of biological and chemical warfare agents. Here it is.” Wow. It was done with demonstrable fanfare, as George Tenet was able to do. And so they looked at it, and to make a long story short, Colin Powell changed his mind and included it. I said, “Larry was there no specialist from the State Department there to give some reading on this?” He said, “Well, no.” He said, “The head of state intelligence, Carl Ford, a reputable guy, I asked him to come with me to CIA headquarters. He said, ‘No, it’s not necessary. Colin Powell knows this story, he knows how I feel about this, and I have direct access to Colin Powell.’”

JAY: Well, we know Colin Powell had already ignored Greg Thielmann, who previously ran security and intelligence for State and who told them that there was no weapons of mass destruction. So there was already a pattern of ignoring the expertise within their own department.

MCGOVERN: Sure. And Carl Ford kind of knew that. And he’s pretty gutsy guy, though. I think he probably really thought that Colin Powell would check with him before he went with a final draft on this stuff. And, in reality, he did not. It’s really a sad story, because there’s nothing worse than, you know, manufacturing things. And, as Larry explains it, they weren’t allowed to know who the source was. Now, the source had already been declared by the Defense Intelligence Agency to be fabricator. Okay? And then he retracted it. Okay? And so here’s Larry Wilkerson alone, left dangling in the wind, when his boss, Colin Powell, decides to go along with what George Tenet and John McLachlan say. Now, Larry thought he and Colin Powell worked this thing out. You know, it’s a crock, okay? So what happened behind closed doors? Larry points out that every now and then, Colin Powell went behind closed doors with George Tenet, and God knows what happened there. But this is really pretty despicable, because al-Libi, you know, he was the fellow, he was the fellow who is given to Egyptians to do their job on him and admit, you know, and confess, and then later he recanted. Now the most recent thing, and this is really important: all of a sudden he commits suicide at a time when lawyers for the Guantánamo people and others are making it very clear to the Libyans, who have him in prison, that they want to interview him, they want to pursue this thing, they want to find out about what al-Libi said first and why he recanted, all this business. And guess what? He commits suicide. Now the problem with that: he’s a devout Muslim. Okay? Muslims don’t commit suicide, usually, okay, except in Iraq prisons. Then sometimes they do. And you know what happens? When their relatives get them back, get the body back, gosh, they’ve shot themselves in the back or in the back of the head.

JAY: An often they’ve beaten themselves black and blue.

MCGOVERN: Yeah, you know, they really self-flagellated, these fellows.

JAY: In Wilkerson’s account to you of this, and I guess this has come out to some extent publicly, but there was a point where the CIA says to Cheney’s office, “We don’t think there should be more torture,” and he says, “No, you’ve got to keep going at it.” Well, what’s that?

MCGOVERN: Well, the CIA integrity interrogators pronounced him compliant, which means you’re not getting more stuff out of him; he’s complying. And Dick Cheney’s office said, “No, no, no. Give him some more of the business. We need some more information about this tie between al-Qaeda and Iraq.” Now, this is not made up. There were other people in Guantánamo, some Army brass, that have said the same thing now: the main objective of this torture stuff was to make sure we had enough, quote, “evidence” to show that Iraq was involved.

JAY: Go back to the first point. Is this legal in and of itself, that Cheney is giving direct orders to the CIA?

MCGOVERN: Paul, you’ve missed the last eight years.

JAY: No, I understand that. But I’m saying, in terms of what is being discussed, most of the conversation’s taking place about did the torture work or didn’t it work. But this point of the violation of the Constitution, for a vice president to be issuing direct orders to the CIA and the CIA follows those orders in some ways seems like an even more important breakdown.

MCGOVERN: Well, the only time you had Tenet stand up was when his people, the interrogators or the contractors, said, “Hey, we’re not going to torture anybody without a finding.” So [if] you go to the president and you have him sign this, no problem, we’ll do it.” Okay? They got that. Okay? We know the whole story with the lawyers and all that kind of stuff. From there on, it’s carte blanche. Now, president is deputizing Dick Cheney to give the orders [inaudible]

JAY: And is there an actual deputizing of Dick Cheney?

MCGOVERN: In fact. That’s what happened in fact. Now, people don’t realize that there are really two CIAs. Okay? There’s the one I worked in the one I worked in, the substance part of the business, and then there’s this—.

JAY: The analysis section.

MCGOVERN: Yeah. And there’s the operational thing. Now, the operational thing is of two kinds. One is to collect information. That’s the legitimate part of the CIA. The other is covert action, inherited from the OSS during World War II. Okay? Shouldn’t be in the same agency, but it is. Now, how is that justified? The National Security Act of 1947 says, “the director of Central intelligence shall perform such other functions and duties related to intelligence as the head of the National Security Council shall direct.” Who’s the head of the National Security Council? The president. Is there any vote? No, the president decides. That gives the president—I use this word advisedly—the power to have his own personal Gestapo. The only check on that is the kind of director who will stand up to that and say, no, I won’t do this kind of thing, or a Congress that’s supposed to have an oversight role, but over the last years has had this overlook role, and we know the result of that now. So it’s a structural flaw in the setup of the intelligence apparatus in our country, but there’s also a premium on character. I worked for nine separate directors of Central Intelligence. Most of them stood up to this kind of schizophrenic, two-headed approach. Most of them had integrity; the last couple have not had integrity.

JAY: So, just quickly, in terms of going forward, what do you make of go forward, don’t look backward, versus a truth commission with everything on the table? Cheney says he wants these two CIA memos that will show that some of the torture was [inaudible].

MCGOVERN: Senator Feingold’s already seen those memos and has said they don’t say what Cheney says they say. But I agree, everything should be out on the table. We should have an educative, an instructive commission or inquiry where the American people are apprised of the facts to the point where a special prosecutor, if indicated, should do his or her job.

JAY: And what about this idea of a truth commission where everything’s on the table, from Iraq to Afghanistan to illegal torture?

MCGOVERN: Well, I think you—well, I’m not an expert. This is beyond my pay rate. But I would say that you start with the torture because it’s very, very clear what happened and why, who was responsible, and then you burden out as it seems to be indicated. But what we need to do is hold people accountable. Otherwise—and there are reports that some of the torture is continuing in places like Bagram, in places like Guantánamo with these goon squads. It’s continuing. You know, that’s unconscionable, ’cause this president has to—. You know, I think, Paul, in all reality, I think the president is afraid of the CIA. I think Leon Panetta is afraid of the CIA.

JAY: That’s Leon Panetta, the new director of the CIA.

MCGOVERN: Yeah, for whom I had great hopes. They have been either co-opted or they’re afraid, and that’s new. I’ve never seen that in my 46 years in this city, where the chief executive and the head of the CIA is afraid. And even Nancy Pelosi. Did you see how she backtracked to say, no—? Well, you know, they’re respectable; they’re honest, hard-working people. I mean the Bush guys. I don’t mean the people that work in the CIA. So, you know, if that’s the case, you know, if it’s come to that point, you know, that’s really, really dangerous for our civil liberties. It’s dangerous for us foreign policy. It’s dangerous for our ability to defend ourselves.

JAY: Thanks very much for joining us Ray.

MCGOVERN: You’re welcome, Paul.

JAY: Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

DISCLAIMER:

Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


Story Transcript

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network, coming to you from our studio in Washington, DC. On Sunday morning on the George Stephanopoulos show on ABC, Liz Cheney accused former chief of staff for Colin Powell, Larry Wilkerson, of creating a cottage industry, making up fantasy stories about her father, Dick Cheney. Here’s what she had to say. ~~~ Courtesy: TPM GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, HOST, ABC’S THIS WEEK: The report, though, that the vice president’s office did ask specifically to have information about Iraq – al-Qaeda connections presented to this detainee. Do you deny that? LIZ CHENEY, ATTORNEY: I think it’s very important for us to look at exactly what the facts are, and the facts are that three people were waterboarded. The people that are—claims to be waterboarded in these articles are not any of those people. And I think, frankly, you’ve also got to look at the source of some of these allegations, and one of the big sources is, you know, Colonel Wilkerson. Now, Colonel Wilkerson gets coverage because of his associations with General Powell. STEPHANOPOULOS: Former chief of staff. CHENEY: And has made a cottage industry out of, you know, fantasies about the vice president since he left office. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, he’s not the only one reporting it, but it’s good to get your—. ~~~ JAY: Now, to help us understand what is the truth of all of this, we’re joined by Ray McGovern. He’s a retired CIA analyst, used to do the morning briefings during the Reagan administration. Thanks for joining us. RAY MCGOVERN, RETIRED CIA ANALYST: You’re welcome, Paul. JAY: So you’ve been working with Larry Wilkerson. You’ve interviewed him for an article he recently wrote. What do you make of this cottage industry of fantasy? MCGOVERN: It would be wonderful if it were fantasy. It’s all too real. Remember when Larry testified before the Democratic policy committee, the only committee that seemed interested three years ago. He was with other Iraqi and other analysts—Paul Pillar from CIA, Carl Ford, who headed up State’s intelligence bureau—and after they got finished talking about what the bureaucracy was saying and how the policy became so skewed—now, this was policy on WMD as well as ties between Iraq and al-Qaeda—one of the senators says, "How did this happen?" Everybody kind of demurred, and Larry said, "Well, I’ll give it to you in three words. Those are: please the vice president." JAY: Now, I don’t understand what—in terms of the chain of command of the CIA end of the military, where does the vice president fit? I thought he isn’t in that chain of command. How does he order anything of anybody? MCGOVERN: Well, Dick Cheney was the acting president. Dick Cheney told George Tenet what to do, and George Tenet said, "Yes, sir. How I would you like me to jump? You want weapons of mass destruction? No problem. I’ll serve them up to you. It’s a slam dunk. You want ties between Iraq and al-Qaeda? I can do that too. We have a very friendly Egyptian intelligence service, which is now working on this fellow [Ibn al-Shaykh] al-Libi, who ran a training camp for al-Qaeda. And we think he knows about Saddam Hussein training al-Qaeda in chemical and biological weapons, and we’ve told the Egyptians that. We couldn’t really get very much out of them, but I’ll bet the Egyptians can." And thereon hangs a tale. JAY: So, just before we get into the al-Libi case, so what we have is a fundamental breakdown of the U.S. Constitution, the division of powers, the role of the vice president, and nobody says anything about it. I mean, I’ve always thought it takes two to make to [inaudible]. MCGOVERN: Well, if the other side is a sycophant, the other side is somebody that sort of bubbled up to the top of the Iraq bureaucracy like Colin Powell, then it’s a piece of cake for Cheney. You know, it’s kind of a no-brainer. He was allowed to have his head, and he did. And the only other thing that’s necessary as far as the CIA is concerned is to have a person, really a charlatan—George Tenet decided that his job was to gladhand and backslap George Bush and Dick Cheney, and if they wanted him to distort the intelligence, well, we know that story. But this story’s really interesting, because now I have Larry Wilkerson telling me exactly what happened as they were preparing the briefing for Colin Powell to give to the world on February 5. JAY: So, did we have, in constitutional terms, a kind of, for awhile, vice presidential coup? MCGOVERN: Paul, for the last eight years, the Constitution has been sort of in abeyance with the willing acknowledgment and acquiescence of the legislative branch, which we used to call the Congress of the United States. JAY: Certainly the leadership of both parties knew exactly what was going on. MCGOVERN: It’s a vacuum. JAY: So what did Wilkerson tell you about the al-Libi case? MCGOVERN: Well, I asked him, you know, how exactly did it turn out there that Colin Powell ended up making these ridiculous claims about what he—I’ll never forget the term "a sinister nexus"—you know, a sinister nexus between Iraq and al-Qaeda. I said, "Where do you get that stuff?" He said, "Well, you know, Colin Powell and I, we got together alone in a room up there at CIA headquarters, and after we’ve gone through all this stuff about these reports of relations or operational contacts between al-Qaeda and Iraq, we decided—in the Bronx we call that crock, okay? We said it was a crock. We weren’t going to use any of it, see. And we went back into the room, and within 10 minutes, George Tenet and John McLachlan, his reliable deputy, came in, slapped down on the table, "We’ve just got a report from a high-level al-Qaeda type that Saddam Hussein was indeed instructing them in the deployment of biological and chemical warfare agents. Here it is." Wow. It was done with demonstrable fanfare, as George Tenet was able to do. And so they looked at it, and to make a long story short, Colin Powell changed his mind and included it. I said, "Larry was there no specialist from the State Department there to give some reading on this?" He said, "Well, no." He said, "The head of state intelligence, Carl Ford, a reputable guy, I asked him to come with me to CIA headquarters. He said, ‘No, it’s not necessary. Colin Powell knows this story, he knows how I feel about this, and I have direct access to Colin Powell.’" JAY: Well, we know Colin Powell had already ignored Greg Thielmann, who previously ran security and intelligence for State and who told them that there was no weapons of mass destruction. So there was already a pattern of ignoring the expertise within their own department. MCGOVERN: Sure. And Carl Ford kind of knew that. And he’s pretty gutsy guy, though. I think he probably really thought that Colin Powell would check with him before he went with a final draft on this stuff. And, in reality, he did not. It’s really a sad story, because there’s nothing worse than, you know, manufacturing things. And, as Larry explains it, they weren’t allowed to know who the source was. Now, the source had already been declared by the Defense Intelligence Agency to be fabricator. Okay? And then he retracted it. Okay? And so here’s Larry Wilkerson alone, left dangling in the wind, when his boss, Colin Powell, decides to go along with what George Tenet and John McLachlan say. Now, Larry thought he and Colin Powell worked this thing out. You know, it’s a crock, okay? So what happened behind closed doors? Larry points out that every now and then, Colin Powell went behind closed doors with George Tenet, and God knows what happened there. But this is really pretty despicable, because al-Libi, you know, he was the fellow, he was the fellow who is given to Egyptians to do their job on him and admit, you know, and confess, and then later he recanted. Now the most recent thing, and this is really important: all of a sudden he commits suicide at a time when lawyers for the Guantánamo people and others are making it very clear to the Libyans, who have him in prison, that they want to interview him, they want to pursue this thing, they want to find out about what al-Libi said first and why he recanted, all this business. And guess what? He commits suicide. Now the problem with that: he’s a devout Muslim. Okay? Muslims don’t commit suicide, usually, okay, except in Iraq prisons. Then sometimes they do. And you know what happens? When their relatives get them back, get the body back, gosh, they’ve shot themselves in the back or in the back of the head. JAY: An often they’ve beaten themselves black and blue. MCGOVERN: Yeah, you know, they really self-flagellated, these fellows. JAY: In Wilkerson’s account to you of this, and I guess this has come out to some extent publicly, but there was a point where the CIA says to Cheney’s office, "We don’t think there should be more torture," and he says, "No, you’ve got to keep going at it." Well, what’s that? MCGOVERN: Well, the CIA integrity interrogators pronounced him compliant, which means you’re not getting more stuff out of him; he’s complying. And Dick Cheney’s office said, "No, no, no. Give him some more of the business. We need some more information about this tie between al-Qaeda and Iraq." Now, this is not made up. There were other people in Guantánamo, some Army brass, that have said the same thing now: the main objective of this torture stuff was to make sure we had enough, quote, "evidence" to show that Iraq was involved. JAY: Go back to the first point. Is this legal in and of itself, that Cheney is giving direct orders to the CIA? MCGOVERN: Paul, you’ve missed the last eight years. JAY: No, I understand that. But I’m saying, in terms of what is being discussed, most of the conversation’s taking place about did the torture work or didn’t it work. But this point of the violation of the Constitution, for a vice president to be issuing direct orders to the CIA and the CIA follows those orders in some ways seems like an even more important breakdown. MCGOVERN: Well, the only time you had Tenet stand up was when his people, the interrogators or the contractors, said, "Hey, we’re not going to torture anybody without a finding." So [if] you go to the president and you have him sign this, no problem, we’ll do it." Okay? They got that. Okay? We know the whole story with the lawyers and all that kind of stuff. From there on, it’s carte blanche. Now, president is deputizing Dick Cheney to give the orders [inaudible] JAY: And is there an actual deputizing of Dick Cheney? MCGOVERN: In fact. That’s what happened in fact. Now, people don’t realize that there are really two CIAs. Okay? There’s the one I worked in the one I worked in, the substance part of the business, and then there’s this—. JAY: The analysis section. MCGOVERN: Yeah. And there’s the operational thing. Now, the operational thing is of two kinds. One is to collect information. That’s the legitimate part of the CIA. The other is covert action, inherited from the OSS during World War II. Okay? Shouldn’t be in the same agency, but it is. Now, how is that justified? The National Security Act of 1947 says, "the director of Central intelligence shall perform such other functions and duties related to intelligence as the head of the National Security Council shall direct." Who’s the head of the National Security Council? The president. Is there any vote? No, the president decides. That gives the president—I use this word advisedly—the power to have his own personal Gestapo. The only check on that is the kind of director who will stand up to that and say, no, I won’t do this kind of thing, or a Congress that’s supposed to have an oversight role, but over the last years has had this overlook role, and we know the result of that now. So it’s a structural flaw in the setup of the intelligence apparatus in our country, but there’s also a premium on character. I worked for nine separate directors of Central Intelligence. Most of them stood up to this kind of schizophrenic, two-headed approach. Most of them had integrity; the last couple have not had integrity. JAY: So, just quickly, in terms of going forward, what do you make of go forward, don’t look backward, versus a truth commission with everything on the table? Cheney says he wants these two CIA memos that will show that some of the torture was [inaudible]. MCGOVERN: Senator Feingold’s already seen those memos and has said they don’t say what Cheney says they say. But I agree, everything should be out on the table. We should have an educative, an instructive commission or inquiry where the American people are apprised of the facts to the point where a special prosecutor, if indicated, should do his or her job. JAY: And what about this idea of a truth commission where everything’s on the table, from Iraq to Afghanistan to illegal torture? MCGOVERN: Well, I think you—well, I’m not an expert. This is beyond my pay rate. But I would say that you start with the torture because it’s very, very clear what happened and why, who was responsible, and then you burden out as it seems to be indicated. But what we need to do is hold people accountable. Otherwise—and there are reports that some of the torture is continuing in places like Bagram, in places like Guantánamo with these goon squads. It’s continuing. You know, that’s unconscionable, ’cause this president has to—. You know, I think, Paul, in all reality, I think the president is afraid of the CIA. I think Leon Panetta is afraid of the CIA. JAY: That’s Leon Panetta, the new director of the CIA. MCGOVERN: Yeah, for whom I had great hopes. They have been either co-opted or they’re afraid, and that’s new. I’ve never seen that in my 46 years in this city, where the chief executive and the head of the CIA is afraid. And even Nancy Pelosi. Did you see how she backtracked to say, no—? Well, you know, they’re respectable; they’re honest, hard-working people. I mean the Bush guys. I don’t mean the people that work in the CIA. So, you know, if that’s the case, you know, if it’s come to that point, you know, that’s really, really dangerous for our civil liberties. It’s dangerous for us foreign policy. It’s dangerous for our ability to defend ourselves. JAY: Thanks very much for joining us Ray. MCGOVERN: You’re welcome, Paul. JAY: Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network. DISCLAIMER: Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

Ray McGovern

Ray McGovern is a retired CIA officer and was employed under seven US presidents for over 27 years, presenting the morning intelligence briefings at the White House under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.