Monday, January 29, 2007
A Window into America's Pretext for War
Tyler Drumheller is speaking out - a little. The former Chief of the CIA's European Division spoke with Spiegel Online about the events leading up to the conquest of Iraq.
SPIEGEL: The renditions program saw the kidnapping of suspected Islamist extremists to third countries. Were you involved in the program?
Drumheller: I would be lying if I said no. I have very complicated feelings about the whole issue. I do see the purpose of renditions, if they are carried out properly. Guys sitting around talking about carrying out attacks as they smoke their pipes in the comfort of a European capital tend to get put off the idea if they learn that a like-minded individual has been plucked out of safety and sent elsewhere to pay for his crimes.
SPIEGEL: We disagree. At the very least, you need to be certain that the targets of those renditions aren't innocent people.
Drumheller: It was Vice President Dick Cheney who talked about the "dark side" we have to turn on. When he spoke those words, he was articulating a policy that amounted to "go out and get them." His remarks were evidence of the underlying approach of the administration, which was basically to turn the military and the agency loose and let them pay for the consequences of any unfortunate -- or illegal -- occurences.
Drumheller: Every responsible chief in the CIA knows that the more covert the action, the greater the need for a clear policy and a defined target. I once had to brief Condoleezza Rice on a rendition operation, and her chief concern was not whether it was the right thing to do, but what the president would think about it. I would have expected a big meeting, a debate about whether to proceed with the plan, a couple of hours of consideration of the pros and cons. We should have been talking about the value of the target, whether the threat he presented warranted such a potentially controversial intervention. This is no way to run a covert policy. If the White House wants to take extraordinary measures to win, it can't just let things go through without any discussion about their value and morality.
SPIEGEL: Perhaps the White House wanted to gloss over its own responsibility.
Drumheller: Let me give you a general thought: From the perspective of the White House, it was smart to blur the lines about what was acceptable and what was not in the war on terrorism. It meant that whenever someone was overzealous in some dark interrogation cell, President (George W.) Bush and his entourage could blame someone else. The rendition teams are drawn from paramilitary officers who are brave and colorful. They are the men who went into Baghdad before the bombs and into Afghanistan before the army. If they didn't do paramilitary actions for a living, they would probably be robbing banks. Perhaps the Bush Administration deliberately created a gray area on renditions.
SPIEGEL: But it was your agency that was coming up with all the wrong information concerning Saddam Hussein's alleged weapons of mass destruction. To what degree is the intelligence community responsible for the disaster?
Drumheller: The agency is not blameless and no president on my watch has had a spotless record when it comes to the CIA. But never before have I seen the manipulation of intelligence that has played out since Bush took office. As chief of Europe I had a front-row seat from which to observe the unprecedented drive for intelligence justifying the Iraq war.
SPIEGEL: There are more than a few critics in Washington who claim that the Germans, because of Curveball, bear a large part of the repsonsibility for the intelligence mess.
Drumheller: There was no effort by the Germans to influence anybody from the beginning. Very senior officials in the BND expressed their doubts, that there may be problems with this guy. They were very professional. I know that there are people at the CIA who think the Germans could have set stronger caveats. But nobody says: "Here's a great intel report, but we don't believe it." There were also questions inside the CIA's analytical section, but as it went forward, this information was seized without caveats. The administration wanted to make the case for war with Iraq. They needed a tangible thing, they needed the German stuff. They couldn't go to war based just on the fact that they wanted to change the Middle East. They needed to have something threatening to which they were reacting.
SPIEGEL: The German government was convinced that "Curveball" would not be used in the now famous presentation that then US Secretary of State Colin Powell gave in 2003 before the United Nations Security Council.
Drumheller: I had assured my German friends that it wouldn't be in the speech. I really thought that I had put it to bed. I had warned the CIA deputy John McLaughlin that this case could be fabricated. The night before the speech, then CIA director George Tenet called me at home. I said: "Hey Boss, be careful with that German report. It's supposed to be taken out. There are a lot of problems with that." He said: "Yeah, yeah. Right. Dont worry about that."
SPIEGEL: But it turned out to be the centerpiece in Powell's presentation -- and nobody had told him about the doubts.
Drumheller: I turned on the TV in my office, and there it was. So the first thing I thought, having worked in the government all my life, was that we probably gave Powell the wrong speech. We checked our files and found out that they had just ignored it.
Drumheller: The policy was set. The war in Iraq was coming and they were looking for intelligence to fit into the policy. Right before the war, I said to a very senior CIA officer: "You guys must have something else," because you always think it's the CIA. "There is some secret thing I don`t know." He said: "No. But when we get to Baghdad, we are going to find warehouses full of stuff. Nobody is going to remember all of this."
SPIEGEL: In your book, you mention a very high-ranking source who told the CIA before the war that Iraq had no large active WMD program. It has been reported that the source was Saddam Hussein's foreign minister, Naji Sabri.
Drumheller: I'm not allowed to say who that was. In the beginning, the administration was very excited that we had a high-level penetration, and the president was informed. I don't think anybody else had a source in Saddam's cabinet. He told us that Iraq had no biological weapons, just the research. Everything else had been destroyed after the first Gulf War. But after a while we didn't get any questions back. Finally the administration came and said that they were really not interested in what he had to say. They were interested in getting him to defect. In the end we did get permission to get back to the source, and that came from Tenet. I think without checking with the White House, he just said: "Okay. Go ahead and see what you can do."
SPIEGEL: Should you have pressed harder?
Drumheller: We made mistakes. And it may suit the White House to have people believe in a black and white version of reality -- that it could have avoided the Iraq war if the CIA had only given it a true picture of Saddam's armaments. But the truth is that the White House believed what it wanted to believe. I have done very little in my life except go to school and work for the CIA. Intellectually I think I did everything I could. Emotionally you always think you should have something more.