by Alexander Cockburn
postwar travails of the Bush and Blair regimes have been moving at roughly the same tempo. Last Saturday, the Financial Times announced on its front page, "Blow for Blair as 50 percent want him to go." At that same moment, U.S. headlines were assigning the same collapse in popular esteem for Bush.
On the business of faked intelligence, the chickens have been slowly but inexorably coming home to roost, albeit with much irksome pomposity about some supposed new corruption of such intelligence estimates from former high standards. Never forget, U.S. intelligence created or endorsed some of the most brazen lies of the twentieth century, starting with Kennedy's "missile gap" thrown in Eisenhower's face.
Now, from the U.S. Congress, indeed from a former CIA officer, have come indignant charges that U.S. intelligence estimates were willfully perverted.
The British inquiry by Lord Hutton into the circumstances of scientist Dr. David Kelly's death was intended by the Blair government as a detour from the main issue of bogus, government-endorsed "intelligence" about Saddam's nuclear and CBW arsenal. But the grudging testimony of men like John Scarlett, chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee has provoked fierce derision in the press here about the quality of the infamous government dossier "Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction," published by the British government on Sept. 24, last year.
An easy way of appreciating the dossier's true intentions (misrepresentation, the prime function of government intelligence) is to compare the final draft of this dossier with an earlier one, prepared on Sept. 2. We can do this because the Hutton inquiry extracted the earlier draft from Whitehall and Ewen MacAskill, and Richard Norton-Taylor did a good job in the Guardian last Saturday of underscoring the contrasts.
It becomes clear that as the deadline for publication of the final dossier approached, its editors in 10 Downing St, with Blair the editor in chief, decided it was not, from the desired alarmist point of view, cutting the mustard as an exercise in alarmism.
The earlier proposed title of the dossier was amended from "Iraq's Program for Weapons of Mass Destruction" to the brusquer, more vivid "Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction." Blair, via Alastair Campbell, forced Scarlett to say that Saddam could produce a nuclear weapon between one and two years," whereas the earlier draft merely said that were sanctions against Iraq to be lifted, it would take Saddam's Iraq "at least five years to produce a weapon."
The notorious 45-minute gap was created, giving the eager British press the impression that British troops in Cyprus could be peppered with nuclear and chemical munitions within 45 minutes of Saddam's order to deploy them. In the original draft, itself entirely inaccurate, the 45-minute reference was to deployment of short-range battlefield weapons and the phraseology was cautious: "could deploy," or "could be ready to deploy." Such phrases were tossed out, and "are deployable" substituted.
On Sept. 19, Jonathan Powell, Blair's chief of staff, e-mailed both the pliant Scarlett and Blair's PR chief at the time, Alastair Campbell, "I think the statement ... that 'Saddam is prepared to use chemical and biological weapons if he believes his government is under threat' is a bit of a problem ... It backs up the argument that there is no CBW threat and we will only create one if we attack him. I think you should redraft the para(graph)." He was obeyed.
In a furious column last Monday in The Independent, that newspaper's founding editor, Andreas Whittam Smith, not a rabble-rouser by instinct or avocation, announced, "I am ashamed of my country's leader." He called the Sept. 24 dossier "the most worthless state paper ever published," stressing simultaneously "The dossier was Mr. Blair's dossier and nobody else's." He concluded, "I believe that Mr. Blair should honorably accept responsibility for one of the worst foreign policy disasters which the country has ever experienced, and resign forthwith."
In the United States, too, there's every sign that the prostitution of the intelligence services under the direction of the White House and Defense Department will simmer and boil, to the lasting damage of the Bush presidency.
But we who said at the time of the publication of the British government's dossier, and after Secretary of State Colin Powell's briefing to the UN Security Council on the threat posed by Iraq, that they were manifestly deceptive, can permit ourselves a wry smile at the belated hubbub in the press. It was obvious to any objective soul months ago what was going on.
And then we have to ask, Will there be no proper airing of the role of the press in all this?
For example: On Monday, the New York Times ran a story to the effect that the value of Iraqi defectors as informants on WMDs was scant, albeit costly to the U.S. taxpayer. The story mentioned in passing, near the end, that the Times had relayed such claims. This scarcely does justice to the role of New York Times reporter Judith Miller in touting uncritically, con amore, the myths of the defectors. The Times went after Jayson Blair and beat its breast. Not Miller, who did far, far worse.
Soon we will be reading thoughtful stories about the public's cynicism toward the claims of government. Will we hear much about the culpability of the press? I would have said, a couple of months ago, no. But maybe the dismal performance has tortured some decent souls. Not long ago, Christiane Amanpour of CNN said publicly her own network had been intimidated by the Bush administration and by the bellicose coverage of its rival, Fox. She was brave to do that. Press proprietors relish criticism a lot less than does someone like the thin-skinned Rumsfeld. Amanpour showed the way. Let's have others, from the network anchors down, step up to the plate. It would clear the air of a lot of hypocrisy.
October 1, 2003 (http://www.albionmonitor.com) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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