Monday, August 18, 2008

How the lying began in the lead up to the Iraq War

In May, 1991, President George H. W. Bush signed a covert “lethal finding” that authorized the C.I.A. to spend a hundred million dollars to “create the conditions for removal of Saddam Hussein from power.”

The CIA hired an organizantion called the Redon Group. The Redon Group is a leader in the strategic field known as "perception management," manipulating information -- and, by extension, the news media -- to achieve the desired result.

John Rendon encapsulated in a speech to cadets at the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1996. "I am not a national-security strategist or a military tactician," he declared. "I am a politician, a person who uses communication to meet public-policy or corporate-policy objectives. In fact, I am an information warrior and a perception manager."

Rendon assembled a group of anti-Saddam militants, personally gave them their name -- the Iraqi National Congress -- and served as their media guru and "senior adviser" as they set out to engineer an uprising against Saddam. It set up the Iraqi National Congress (INC), an opposition coalition of 19 Iraqi and Kurdish organizations whose main tasks were to "gather information, distribute propaganda and recruit dissidents." Journalist James Bamford reports that Rendon came up with the name for the INC and helped install Ahmad Chalabi as its head.

In addition, ABC reports that Rendon channeled $12 million of covert CIA funding to the INC between 1992 and 1996. Writing in the New Yorker, Seymour Hersh says the Rendon Group was "paid close to a hundred million dollars by the CIA" for its work with the INC.

Francis Brooke was hired by the Rendon Group

From an office near Victoria Station, the Rendon Group set out to influence global political opinion against Saddam. Given Saddam’s record of atrocities against his own people, it wasn’t a hard sell. “It was a campaign environment, with a lot of young people, and no set hierarchy,” Brooke recalled. “It was great. We had a real competitive advantage. We knew something about the twenty-four-hour media cycle, and how to manage a media campaign. CNN was new at that point. No one else knew how to do these things, but Rendon was great at issue campaigns.” The group began offering information to British journalists, and many articles subsequently appeared in the London press. Occasionally, he said, the company would be reprimanded by project managers in Washington when too many of those stories were picked up by the American press, thereby transgressing laws that prohibited domestic propaganda. But, for the most part, Brooke said, “It was amazing how well it worked. It was like magic.”

In addition to generating anti-Saddam news stories and creating a traveling “atrocity exhibit,” which documented the human-rights abuses of Saddam’s regime, the Rendon Group was charged with the delicate task of helping to create a viable and unified opposition movement against Saddam. “That is when I first met Dr. Chalabi,” Brooke said.

Chalabi, who had become an international banker and financier, had surfaced almost immediately as the C.I.A.’s favored opposition figure. As Frank Anderson, a former agency official, said, “Chalabi had rare administrative competence.” A secular Shiite who was passionately dedicated to overthrowing Saddam, he spoke excellent English, dressed elegantly, and was well organized and impressively connected. He also displayed a facility for backroom political maneuvering. He wasn’t popular with other exiles, however. According to a former I.N.C. member, in June, 1992, the Iraqi National Congress held one of its first organizational meetings, in Vienna; Chalabi didn’t win enough backing to qualify for a seat on the fifteen-member board. By the time attendees returned from the meeting, however, Chalabi’s name had somehow been added to the list of members. (Chalabi claims that support for him was unanimous.) His management of the group, other exiles complained, was similarly impervious to the democratic will.

The The Redon Group (which was sponsored by the CIA) sponsorship of Chalabi came at an opportune moment. He had recently been convicted, in absentia, by a military court in Jordan for his part in a spectacular bank fraud that imperiled the country’s fragile economy. With the help of the U.S. government, Chalabi was able to recast himself from an accused swindler to a charismatic political leader and a champion of liberal democratic values.

Chalabi was a willing pawn.

The first BIG story that transgressed laws that prohibited domestic propaganda

On December 17th, 2001, in a small room, Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri, a forty-three-year-old Iraqi who had fled his homeland in Kurdistan, was given a lie detector test.
He insisted insisted repeatedly that he was a civil engineer who had helped Saddam's men to secretly bury tons of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons. The illegal arms, according to al-Haideri, were buried in subterranean wells, hidden in private villas, even stashed beneath the Saddam Hussein Hospital, the largest medical facility in Baghdad.

There was only one problem: It was all a lie. After a review of the sharp peaks and deep valleys on the polygraph chart, the intelligence officer concluded that al-Haideri had made up the entire story, apparently in the hopes of securing a visa.

Al-Haideri, in fact, was the product of the Rendon PR campaign. And they liked the story al-Haideri told. So, in a really bold, and terribally illegle move, they contacted Judith Miller of The New York Times.

Miller, who was close to I. Lewis Libby and other neoconservatives in the Bush administration, had been a trusted outlet for the INC's anti-Saddam propaganda for years. Not long after the CIA polygraph expert slipped the straps and electrodes off al-Haideri and declared him a liar, Miller flew to Bangkok to interview him under the watchful supervision of his INC handlers. Miller later made perfunctory calls to the CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency, but despite her vaunted intelligence sources, she claimed not to know about the results of al-Haideri's lie-detector test. Instead, she reported that unnamed "government experts" called his information "reliable and significant" -- thus adding a veneer of truth to the lies.

Her front-page story, which hit the stands on December 20th, 2001, was exactly the kind of exposure Rendon had been hired to provide. AN IRAQI DEFECTOR TELLS OF WORK ON AT LEAST 20 HIDDEN WEAPONS SITES, declared the headline. "An Iraqi defector who described himself as a civil engineer," Miller wrote, "said he personally worked on renovations of secret facilities for biological, chemical and nuclear weapons in underground wells, private villas and under the Saddam Hussein Hospital in Baghdad as recently as a year ago." If verified, she noted, "his allegations would provide ammunition to officials within the Bush administration who have been arguing that Mr. Hussein should be driven from power partly because of his unwillingness to stop making weapons of mass destruction, despite his pledges to do so."

For months, hawks inside and outside the administration had been pressing for a pre-emptive attack on Iraq. Now, thanks to Miller's story, they could point to "proof" of Saddam's "nuclear threat." The story, reinforced by Moran's on-camera interview with al-Haideri on the giant Australian Broadcasting Corp., was soon being trumpeted by the White House and repeated by newspapers and television networks around the world. It was the first in a long line of hyped and fraudulent stories that the CIA was paying the Redon Group, to make up, that would eventually propel the U.S. into a war with Iraq -- the first war based almost entirely on a covert propaganda campaign targeting the media.

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