The world press on the U.S. intelligence scandal

Saudi Arabia: If Blair goes down, he'll take Bush with him; Kenya: How do the parents of dead GIs feel about White House lies?

By Compiled by Laura McClure
Published July 15, 2003 7:57PM (EDT)

Lebanon, Salameh Nematt in Al-Hayat

The confession of George Tenet, CIA director, about being the only one responsible for the misleading information mentioned in the American President's speech regarding the weapons of mass destruction didn't come as a surprise. Indeed, it was necessary in order to contain the mounting tension, which started to threaten the president's image and that of his Republican administration in the eyes of the American public.

Although other high White House officials knew that the information about the Iraqi attempt to buy uranium from Niger was inaccurate, the choice fell on Tenet to take full responsibility in what could be considered a "fedayee" act that could turn into a suicide mission if the Congress and the Senate ask for his resignation...

Bush, along with his advisors in the White House, know all too well that Tenet is not the only one responsible for the scandal.

It is no secret that the neo-conservatives in the administration, especially in the Pentagon, have been trying hard to weaken the role of the CIA ever since the 9/11 attacks, which the agency failed to prevent...

The truth is that the conservatives succeeded in besieging Secretary of State Colin Powell and weakening him, and accomplished many breaches in his ministry to the benefit of their groups. Eliminating Tenet, despite Bush's trust in him, is part of a plan aimed to reorganize the agency, its methods and its political aspirations. Recently, we started hearing in Washington that the conservatives are exerting pressures to have Deputy Secretary of State, Richard Armitage, replace Tenet as CIA Director, which would guarantee more harmony in the relations with the Pentagon and the administration's hawks.

In case the conservatives succeed in bringing about a real change inside the CIA, the relations between the agency and several security systems of "friend" nations in the Middle East would definitely be altered, especially with rumors spreading that these nations have been giving Washington false information. This change of relations could mean moving closer to a new approach in U.S. relations with the region ... towards what the conservatives are calling for, namely a harsher way of dealing with Middle Eastern countries.

United Kingdom, Rory Carroll in the Guardian

It was the moment the script changed -- and President George W. Bush was not ready for his new role. The smile became a scowl, the voice moved up an octave and back came the jabbing finger, as if puncturing bubbles.

Just seconds earlier, he had been cracking jokes in the assurance that the five-nation African tour was going according to plan. It was day two, a press conference in lush gardens near Pretoria's Union Buildings, and Bush was polishing his compassionate credentials as the continent's saviour.

And then the question: 'Mr. President, the White House has admitted it was a mistake to accuse Iraq of trying to buy African uranium...'

Maybe it was the midday sun, but Bush's eyes narrowed and face reddened before the questioner finished. It was the first time he had been asked about his claim that Baghdad sought nuclear materials from Niger...

He blustered, coming across as angry and defensive: 'Look, there is no doubt in my mind that Saddam Hussein was a threat to the world peace. There's no doubt in my mind that, when it's all said and done, the facts will show the world the truth.' But everyone else seemed to have doubts and the controversy dogged the five-day swing through five sub-Saharan countries that ended in Nigeria yesterday afternoon.

What was supposed to be a window on to a kinder, gentler White House that cared about Aids and poverty cracked into a ragged, ad lib damage limitation exercise.

Egypt, Mukul Devichand in Al-Ahram Weekly

Leonidas, the loyal commander who saved Greece from invasion by the Persians, could have learned a thing or two from Tony Blair's top aide, Alistair Campbell. In 480 BC, Leonidas put himself in the path of a charging Persian army, knowing that although he would die, Greece would certainly be saved. Campbell, too, has put himself on the line to save his boss, after BBC reports shed light on the official reasons given for invading Iraq. But unlike poor Leonidas, Campbell has come through very much alive -- and spinning...

The latest row started when Campbell attacked a BBC radio report that discredited the government's decision to attack.

The New Labour government first launched its pro-war public relations campaign -- lorded over by Campbell, who is Blair's private press secretary -- last September, in the first of two "dossiers" detailing the threat posed by Saddam Hussein's regime ... It claimed that Iraq still had these weapons; that it had tried to buy uranium to make them from "Africa" ... and, most crucially, that Hussein could deploy his WMD against Britain or America "in 20-45 minutes" if he wanted.

The media hungrily got down to dissecting this evidence, as well as that provided in a second dossier in February this year. That second dossier, now known as the "dodgy dossier" was the first to be discredited ... Now the government only had the September dossier to point to when justifying its unpopular war.

So the stakes were high when, on 29 May, at around 8am, BBC Radio Four's Andrew Gilligan ... reported that anonymous intelligence sources had told him the government had "sexed up" some of the claims in the September dossier.

It was then that Campbell ... demanded an apology. "I simply say in relation to the BBC story it is a lie," Campbell told MPs, before writing to the BBC demanding a full retraction of its "allegations" within 24 hours.

But when, at 10am on Monday, the parliamentary select committee released its 54-page report, its findings seemed split straight down the middle. Was the BBC report right? Well, sort of.

So then did the report claim that Campbell lied? Well, not exactly that either. "Alistair Campbell did not exert or seek to exert improper influence on the drafting of the September dossier," said the report. But the dossier was "more assertive" about the case for war than it ought to have been. With this mild criticism, Campbell -- unlike Leonidas in 480 BC -- will be sure to keep his job, and his head.

The deeper implications of a falsified intelligence dossier -- the second, February dossier -- will likely have been forgotten as the media circus fixates on the BBC controversy...

The question remains whether the public will pick up on the rest of the select committee report. In fact, the report calls for more inquiries. When it comes to Blair's claims of the huge threat posed by Saddam Hussein, the report says, "the jury is still out."

Hong Kong, Jim Lobe in Asia Times

The White House was forced to admit earlier this week that Bush's assertion during his State of the Union address in late January regarding Saddam Hussein's alleged attempts to buy uranium in Africa for a supposed nuclear arms program was based on flawed intelligence and should have been omitted from the speech.

But a growing number of lawmakers and independent analysts are suggesting that the uranium report -- which was actually based on crudely forged documents supposedly provided by an Italian intelligence agency -- may be just the tip of the iceberg of an effort by neo-conservative and right-wing hawks centered primarily in the Pentagon and around Vice President Dick Cheney to skew the intelligence to make their case for war.

"The Bush administration did not provide an accurate picture of the military threat with respect to Iraq," according to Gregory Thielmann, who served as the director of the Strategic, Proliferation and Military Affairs Office in the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), until last September...

His charges and the growing attention being paid to them come on the heels of similar charges by another retired foreign service officer, ambassador Joseph Wilson, who had been sent by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to Niger to check out the reports of Iraq's purchase of uranium "yellowcake".

In a television interview, Wilson, who was Washington's highest-ranking diplomat in Baghdad during the first Gulf War in 1991, said that he was stunned when Bush referred to it in his State of the Union address and concluded that its mention was part of a broader effort to influence public opinion. "It really comes down to the administration misrepresenting the facts on an issue that was a fundamental justification for going to war," he told the Washington Post. "It begs the question, what else are they lying about?" ...

"If the American people conclude that American soldiers have died because the administration has lied, it will be extremely serious," according to Joseph Cirincione, an arms control specialist at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace...

When he heard Bush's uranium reference, Thielmann said ... "This administration has a faith-based attitude to intelligence," which, simply stated, consisted of, "We know the answers. Give us the evidence to support those answers."

Kenya, Betty Caplan in the Daily Nation

If you are going to tell a lie, make sure it is a whopping big one. That is the lesson of the last few months.

Oh, and it is preferable to be white and male if you're hoping to get away with it. We have learnt this week what we had all suspected for a long time -- that the gun wasn't smoking, and that both U.S. President George Bush and UK Premier Tony Blair used fabricated evidence to convince us that the threat from Iraq was so imminent, it was necessary to go to war.

Of course there is nothing new in politicians lying; what is perhaps unprecedented is the scale of the deceit and the perpetrators' confidence in their belief that they could hoodwink the general public.

So why worry? Can't we be sure that the forces of truth and good will ultimately overcome the legacy of lies?

The point is that even if we could be sure, which we can't, too much damage gets done in the meantime. British and American soldiers are dying daily in Iraq, a country with an ancient civilisation which has been brought to its knees.

If Bush and Blair weren't as selective about their use of the Bible, they would know they were attacking the original location of paradise. We were fooled into thinking the war was over in May but it isn't...

The fact of the matter is that lying becomes a habit; once you've begun, you need to keep it up lest you be found out...

How do the parents of dead or injured U.S. soldiers feel about this?

Pakistan, Eric Margolis in Dawn

Watching him [Bush] play John Wayne at Iwo Jima for the benefit of his adoring core voters, many of whom believe Elvis still lives, made me realize how much American politics have been debased by the double whammy of catch-me-if-you-can Bill Clinton and truth-deprived George Bush...

Bush's claims that mounting attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq are the work of Saddam loyalists and 'terrorists' belong in the same trash bin as White House lies about weapons of mass destruction. Yes, there are some Baath Party loyalists fighting U.S. occupation, but so are many more ordinary Iraqis who are reacting as would any other proud people to invasion of their nation...

George Bush has well and truly stuck the U.S. into twin quagmires in both Afghanistan and Iraq. These on-going guerilla wars and their logistical support now tie down some 175,000 men, fully one third of total U.S. ground forces. Back in the 1980s, Osama bin Laden preached that the only way to drive the U.S. from the Muslim world was to bleed it in a score of small guerilla wars. Bush, who now threatens to attack Iran, is falling right into Osama's strategic trap. Bravo, Mr President.

Iraq is not Vietnam, but we see disturbing reminders of America's Indochina debacle. U.S. pro-consul for Iraq, Paul Bremer just requested more troops, shades of Gen. William Westmoreland. Roads in Iraq are increasingly unsafe. Attacks against U.S. military forces are both of the amateur, spontaneous kind, and well-organized assaults by former military men. Corruption, civic collapse, and political chaos hang over everything...

Faced with the growing mess in Iraq and Afghanistan, the administration is trying to emulate its role model, the late, unlamented British Empire by hiring mercenaries to do the dirty work in Iraq. Washington is offering billions to India and Pakistan to send 15,000 troops each to pacify Iraq's unruly natives. No one in the West will care if Indian or Pakistani mercenaries skin Iraqis alive or burn down their homes.

Other rent-a-nations like Poland, Italy and Bulgaria, are being pressured or bribed to send token forces to help pull Bush's chestnuts out of the fire in Iraq.

Saudi Arabia, editorial in the Arab News

It is now clear that the reasons given for the U.S.-led coalition's invasion of Iraq were false.

According to U.S. pollsters, the average American still doesn't care. He is pleased that an unquestionably brutal dictator has been overthrown and is still quietly proud of this distant exercise of U.S. military might. It is a very different situation in Britain. Unlike the average American, the average Briton is not much pleased that the British military has overwhelmed a markedly weaker enemy...

The rising political storm around Tony Blair may well in time engulf Bush, especially as the cost of the Iraqi occupations continues to rise both in U.S. lives and billions of dollars. Democrat presidential hopeful Howard Dean is already challenging the Bush administration over its honesty of purpose in launching the war. Dean must be calculating that even if the Americans don't much care at the moment, further deterioration in U.S. control in Iraq will begin to change their minds and he will then be able to identify himself as the first politician to cry Foul!

As the case against Blair strengthens along with calls for an independent enquiry into what the British government really knew, so the White House position will also weaken and demands for congressional investigation strengthen. If the Blair administration is found to have rigged intelligence then it will indicate strongly that the Bush White House was implicated as well. The discrediting of one will therefore mean the discrediting of the other.

Germany, article in Der Spiegel

Joschka Fischer's visit was originally intended to defuse political tensions. However, this week's attempt on the part of the German foreign minister, shortly before his vacation in Tuscany, to convey signals of normalization in strained German-American relations amounts to a virtually insurmountable task -- a true "mission impossible." ...

Because the war in Iraq is dragging on and the occupying forces have been unable to find its former dictator or his alleged arsenal of weapons of mass destruction, America the superpower has been forced onto the defensive, both morally and politically. America wanted war, even without legitimation under international law, and now some of its principal reasons for going to war are proving to be manipulated or even fabricated.

Now NATO allies are being asked to share the burden of the occupation, blood money included, preferably while withholding their criticism. Any involvement on the part of such opponents of the war as Germany and France in the embarrassing debate surrounding the justification for war is frowned upon.

There is an urgent desire to bring NATO to Baghdad. However, Europe's opponents of the war, led by Germany and France, have remained coy. "We could only discuss such an issue if a request were issued by the United Nations," said Chancellor Schröder Friday evening. "But this is purely theoretical. At present, our position of not becoming involved militarily in Iraq remains unchanged."

The upshot is that resistance to Bush continues, but that open confrontation is to be avoided...

In this climate, the U.S. administration also wishes to avoid new disputes.

Bush junior could go under in the turmoil generated by his Iraq policy, a policy that will cost the United States billions of dollars. Political leaders in Berlin like to remember that Bush senior only managed to remain in office for a single term, and that the prevailing issue at that time was the miserable state of the economy after the Gulf War, part I.

Compiled by Laura McClure

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