Douglas Feith has been much maligned by Iraq war opponents. In advance of his book release last Tuesday, 60 Minutes ran an interview with Feith, one of the architects of the Iraq War, last Sunday. I was at a weekend festival and missed it; but thanks to the wonders of the internet as well as CBS 60 Minutes now making their video archives embeddable, here is the interview:
This is the only time that I can recall 60 Minutes conducting a book-release interview that was not by an anti-Administration author or by someone who appears to be a Bush critic.
I certainly don’t believe, however, that 60 Minutes conducted the interview to allow Feith to “set the record straight” and dispel media myths. It’s more like, “let’s watch the hawkish neocon hang himself as he tries to rationalize away the debacle that is the Iraq invasion and occupation”.
I take issue with some of the mainstream media-pushed “conventional wisdom” and faulty premises given in the 60 Minutes narrative:
The most frequent and damaging charge has been that Feith used his Pentagon office to produce alternative intelligence reports that linked Saddam to al-Qaeda and then passed them on to the White House. Some of it, like a report that 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta met with Iraqi intelligence in Prague, has been widely discredited. An investigation by the Pentagon’s inspector general called Feith’s activities “inappropriate,” but not illegal or unauthorized.
When Kroft asks the former Defense official if he agrees the report was a rebuke, Feith answers,”Yes.” He goes on saying, “I think it was an unfounded rebuke. An ill founded rebuke.”
The recent Pentagon Report, despite initial misrepresentation of its findings, confirms that Saddam was more than willing to work with Islamic holy warriors. This includes the al-Qaeda network. So if Feith used “alternative intelligence”, hasn’t he been vindicated for having done so by this latest study based upon captured documents, when the CIA conventional beliefs made them refuse to look “outside the box”?
Hugh Hewitt interviewed Douglas Feith on February 13, 2007:
HH: …on Fox News Sunday, when you were being interviewed by Chris Wallace, you said that part of the motivation for the people who undertook this report, including your staff, was a sense on their part, “that the CIA was filtering its own intelligence to suit its own theory that the Baathists would not cooperate with al Qaeda, because they were secularists with the religious extremists of al Qaeda, and that they were not doing proper intelligence work, and that our people were criticizing them, for not putting forward an alternative intelligence analysis.” Do you believe, as opposed to your staff, that the CIA was filtering its own intelligence, Mr. Feith?
DF: Yes, I think that there were people, there were people in the CIA who had a theory that the Baathist secularists would not cooperate with the religious extremists in al Qaeda. And because they had that theory, when they looked at information that was, that showed, or that suggested that there was cooperation, they were inclined not to believe that information. And so what they were doing is they were preparing reports about the Iraq-al Qaeda relationship in the year 2002, that were either excluding altogether, or downplaying older intelligence reports that suggested that there were contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda.
HH: Are those people still in the CIA?
DF: One of the main people who was propounding that theory about…that the Baathists wouldn’t deal with the jihadists is now out in the private sector, and he’s actually been quite vocal, and has written articles, and his name is Paul Pillar. He’s also at Georgetown with me, in fact. But there are other people, I assume, I don’t know all the personnel at the CIA, but I’m sure there are other people who retained that view. Our objection, by the way, was not the fact that CIA people have a theory. There’s nothing wrong…it’s inevitable that people who work in an area develop their own theories of how things work in their areas of expertise. Our point was simply don’t exclude relevant information that is inconsistent with your theory. If you don’t credit the information, if you don’t think it’s very weighty because you theory tells you that it’s probably not the case, present the information, and explain we’re not giving this a lot of weight because, according to our theory, it’s probably not very significant. And that way, people can look at it, they can see the information, if they don’t share your theory, they can say well, we’ll give that information a little more weight than you do, because we don’t share you theory. And that’s fine. I mean, people have to understand that intelligence is not generally about objective truth. Intelligence is very sketchy, it’s speculative, it’s open to interpretation. It’s a very healthy thing when policy people challenge the intelligence people on this point. Intelligence, as we know historically, has often been wrong. The consensus of the intelligence community has often been wrong. And it’s very valuable when policy people challenge that.
And as for the Prague Connection, was it ever “oversold” by Bush Administration officials, based upon what we knew or thought we knew at the time? Accuracy in citing someone, is important. Anything less than that, leads to spin and falsehoods.
Here’s a series of Dick Cheney interviews from Meet the Press with Tim Russert.
RUSSERT: The plane on the ground in Iraq used to train non-Iraqi hijackers.
Do you still believe there is no evidence that Iraq was involved in September 11?
[in a previous appearance on MTP, the Sunday following 9/11, when directly asked if there was evidence that Iraq had a part in 9/11, Cheney flat out said “No.” So much for the theory that since day one the Bushies had war in Iraq on their collective minds- wordsmith]
CHENEY: Well, what we now have that’s developed since you and I last talked, Tim, of course, was that report that’s been pretty well confirmed, that he did go to Prague and he did meet with a senior official of the Iraqi intelligence service in Czechoslovakia last April, several months before the attack.
Now, what the purpose of that was, what transpired between them, we simply don’t know at this point. But that’s clearly an avenue that we want to pursue.
RUSSERT: What we do know is that Iraq is harboring terrorists. This was from Jim Hoagland in The Washington Post that George W. Bush said that Abdul Ramini Yazen (ph), who helped bomb the World Trade Center back in 1993, according to Louis Freeh was hiding in his native Iraq. And we’ll show that right there on the screen. That’s an exact quote.
If they’re harboring terrorist, why not go in and get them?
CHENEY: Well, the evidence is pretty conclusive that the Iraqis have indeed harbored terrorists. That wasn’t the question you asked the last time we met. You asked about evidence involved in September 11.
VICE PRES. CHENEY: With respect to the connections to al-Qaida, we haven’t been able to pin down any connection there. I read this report with interest after our interview last fall. We discovered, and it’s since been public, the allegation that one of the lead hijackers, Mohamed Atta, had, in fact, met with Iraqi intelligence in Prague, but we’ve not been able yet from our perspective to nail down a close tie between the al-Qaida organization and Saddam Hussein. We’ll continue to look for it.
Mr. RUSSERT: One year ago when you were on MEET THE PRESS just five days after September 11, I asked you a specific question about Iraq and Saddam Hussein. Let’s watch:
(Videotape, September 16, 2001):
Mr. RUSSERT: Do we have any evidence linking Saddam Hussein or Iraqis to this operation?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: No.
Mr. RUSSERT: Has anything changed, in your mind?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: Well, I want to be very careful about how I say this. I’m not here today to make a specific allegation that Iraq was somehow responsible for 9/11. I can’t say that. On the other hand, since we did that interview, new information has come to light. And we spent time looking at that relationship between Iraq, on the one hand, and the al-Qaeda organization on the other. And there has been reporting that suggests that there have been a number of contacts over the years. We’ve seen in connection with the hijackers, of course, Mohamed Atta, who was the lead hijacker, did apparently travel to Prague on a number of occasions. And on at least one occasion, we have reporting that places him in Prague with a senior Iraqi intelligence official a few months before the attack on the World Trade Center. The debates about, you know, was he there or wasn’t he there, again, it’s the intelligence business.
Mr. RUSSERT: What does the CIA say about that and the president?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: It’s credible. But, you know, I think a way to put it would be it’s unconfirmed at this point. We’ve got…
Mr. RUSSERT: Anything else?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: There is-again, I want to separate out 9/11, from the other relationships between Iraq and the al-Qaeda organization. But there is a pattern of relationships going back many years. And in terms of exchanges and in terms of people, we’ve had recently since the operations in Afghanistan-we’ve seen al-Qaeda members operating physically in Iraq and off the territory of Iraq. We know that Saddam Hussein has, over the years, been one of the top state sponsors of terrorism for nearly 20 years. We’ve had this recent weird incident where the head of the Abu Nidal organization, one of the world’s most noted terrorists, was killed in Baghdad. The announcement was made by the head of Iraqi intelligence. The initial announcement said he’d shot himself. When they dug into that, though, he’d shot himself four times in the head. And speculation has been, that, in fact, somehow, the Iraqi government or Saddam Hussein had him eliminated to avoid potential embarrassment by virtue of the fact that he was in Baghdad and operated in Baghdad. So it’s a very complex picture to try to sort out.
Mr. RUSSERT: But no direct link?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: I can’t-I’ll leave it right where it’s at. I don’t want to go beyond that. I’ve tried to be cautious and restrained in my comments, and I hope that everybody will recognize that.
Russert is always fishing for “gotcha” statements, regarding 9/11-Saddam connections. He keeps coming back to repeating the same question in all of these interviews.
VICE PRES. CHENEY: With respect to 9/11, of course you’ve had the story that’s been publicly out there: The Czechs alleged that Mohamed Atta, the lead attacker, met in Prague with a senior Iraqi intelligence official five months before the attack. But we’ve never been able to develop any more of that yet, either in terms of confirming it or discrediting it. We just don’t know.
Finally, MTP 9/10/06, where Russert tries to play “gotcha”:
RUSSERT: And now we have the Select Committee on Intelligence coming out with a report on Friday, it says here, “A declassified report released [Friday] by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence revealed that U.S. intelligence analysts were strongly disputing the alleged links between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda while senior Bush administration officials were publicly asserting those links to justify invading Iraq.”
You said here that it was pretty well confirmed that Atta may have had a meeting in Prague, that that was credible. All the while, according to the Senate Intelligence Committee in January and in June and in September, the CIA was saying that wasn’t the case. And then the president…
“Pretty well confirmed” was said in Dec 2001. Why doesn’t Russert bring up Cheney’s subsequent statements on the matter?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: Well, let me, let me—on that—well, go ahead.
RUSSERT: No, go ahead.
VICE PRES. CHENEY: No, I want a, I want a chance to jump on that.
RUSSERT: OK, but, but you said it was pretty well confirmed that it was credible and now the Senate Intelligence Committee says not true, the CIA was waving you off.
VICE PRES. CHENEY: No –
RUSSERT: Any suggestion there was a meeting with Mohamed Atta, one of the hijackers, with Iraqi officials?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: (unintelligible) The sequence, Tim, was, when you and I talked that morning, we had not received any reporting with respect to Mohamed Atta going to Prague. Just a few days after you and I did that show, the CIA, CIA produced an intelligence report from the Czech Intelligence Service that said Mohammad Atta, leader of the hijackers, had been in Prague in April of ‘01 and had met with a senior Iraqi intelligence official in Prague. That was the first report we had that he’d been to Prague and met with Iraqis. Later on, some period of time after that, the CIA produced another report based on a photographer—on a photograph that was taken in Prague of a man they claim 70 percent probability was Mohammad Atta on another occasion. This was the reporting we received from the CIA when I responded to your question and said it had been pretty well confirmed that he’d been in Prague. The—later on, they were unable to confirm it. Later on, they backed off of it.
But what I told you was exactly what we were receiving at the time. It never said, and I don’t believe I ever said, specifically, that it linked the Iraqis to 9/11. It specifically said he had been in Prague, Mohamed Atta had been in Prague and we didn’t know…
RUSSERT: And the meeting with Atta did not occur?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: Uh. We don’t know. I mean, we’ve never been able to, to, to link it, and the FBI and CIA have worked it aggressively. I would say, at this point, nobody has been able to confirm …
I think anyone who is serious about politics and more specifically, a serious student on the run-up to war, should check out Douglas Feith’s book. Whether you are a critic or not, whether you believe what he says or not, he is a key architectural player in this, and so what he presents is very relevant, from either standpoint.
Excerpt from Frank Gaffney’s book review:
I was unprepared for the thoroughness of the documentation, the sweeping nature of the narrative and the highly readable prose with which War and Decision depicts the actions precipitated at the highest levels of the U.S. government by the 9/11 attacks. Particularly edifying are Mr. Feith’s exploration of the serious policy differences between various decision-makers and the material contribution those disagreements made to the way in which the preparation, execution and aftermath of the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s regime went down.
In contrast to previous books and memoirs on the subject that have been published to date, Feith’s is not aimed at self-promotion or self-vindication. Neither is it an effort to settle scores with those who have, in some cases viciously, attacked the author in their own screeds.
Rather, it is the first attempt by a serious student of history to lay out the myriad, challenging choices confronting a president who, within eight months of taking office, witnessed a devastating attack on this country and resolved to prevent another – possibly far more destructive one – from occurring. The considerations, the competing recommendations and the presidential and Cabinet-level decisions that shaped the Bush Administration’s approach to the terrorist threat emanating from state-sponsored networks are documented in an unvarnished, highly accessible way.
Particularly interesting are the many points on which earlier tomes and conventional wisdom are mistaken. For instance, Mr. Feith demonstrates that the record simply does not support claims that: “Bush and his hawkish advisors” were intent on waging war on Iraq from the get-go; Rumsfeld and his “neo-cons” failed to prepare for post-war Iraq and that the State Department had, only to have its plans spurned by the Pentagon; and Feith’s office tried to manipulate pre-war intelligence about Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction. Given how central many of these myths are to the current criticism of the Iraq war, the contradictory evidence deserves attention.