On June 20, 2006, PBS aired a program produced by Frontline called “The Dark Side.” According to Frontline, after 9/11, Dick Cheney urged the President to go after Saddam Hussein. On the other hand, the CIA claims that they opposed invading Iraq, as Saddam Hussein had no connection to the 9/11 attacks.
According to Frontline, Cheney had no faith in the CIA. Cheney believed the CIA had been wrong about the collapse of the Soviet Union, wrong about the Iranian Revolution, wrong about whether or not Saddam would invade Kuwait, and wrong about whether or not Saddam had a nuclear weapons program before the Gulf War. As such, Cheney took it upon himself to become “the chief architect of the war on terror,” according to Frontline. The way Frontline describes it, Cheney had basically taken over the government and recreated it in his image.
“We’ve never had a vice president as powerful as Dick Cheney,” said Melvin Goodman, a former CIA officer.
According to Frontline, Cheney had installed his people throughout the administration. Cheney dramatically expanded the Office of the Vice President, adding political, legal, and policy units to the office. And Cheney had Rumsfeld create a new intelligence operation at the Pentagon. John Brennan, a former CIA official, accused the Pentagon of trying “to chew away at CIA’s traditional authorities and responsibilities.”
“[Cheney] needed an office that would produce the intelligence that the CIA wouldn’t produce,” said Goodman.
Meaning that, Cheney wanted an agency which would provide him with information that connected Saddam Hussein to Osama bin Laden. Frontline argued that the people the Pentagon hired weren’t very good. According to Frontline, the Pentagon hired “politically connected policy analysts,” instead of people who had experience analyzing intelligence information.
Apparently, this new intelligence agency produced all sorts of faulty intelligence, including a report that claimed that one of the 9/11 hijackers had met with an Iraqi intelligence agent and another report claiming that Iraq had provided chemical weapons training to Al Qaeda. The CIA discounted both reports.
In the run up to the war, Congress wanted as much information as possible, and so they asked the CIA for their National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq. Incredibly, the CIA told Congress that they hadn’t made an NIE on Iraq. Bob Graham was shocked.
“Stunning,” said Graham. “We do these on almost every significant activity, much less significant than getting ready to go to war.”
To rectify this situation, Congress told the CIA to produce an NIE on Iraq. The CIA accused Dick Cheney of pressuring them into writing an NIE that would convince Congress and the American public that we needed to invade Iraq. Vincent Cannistraro, another former CIA official, called the NIE a “fatally flawed document” that “should never had seen the light of day.”
After viewing the report, President Bush said, “Is this all we got?”
To which George Tenet replied, “Don’t worry, Mr. President. It’s a slam dunk.”
Frontline claims that before Tenet, the CIA director told the president the “unvarnished truth.” But Tenet had a different kind of relationship with the president. He had a friendship with the president and to maintain that friendship, Tenet told the president what he wanted to hear.
Paul Pillar wrote a good portion of the NIE. After the report was discredited, he tried to blame Cheney for the report he wrote. He said the purpose of the report was to convince the American public to go to war. He said it was not appropriate for the CIA to publish that kind of document. And he said he regretted having a role in producing the document.
“Cheney pretty much got everything he wanted for in terms of the CIA,” said James Bamford. “They still have a CIA, but all the power is now with his team over at the Pentagon. So largely, Cheney won.”
This story, as told by Frontline, is the conventional wisdom on how the Bush administration worked. Dick Cheney took over the administration and nothing could stop him and his dastardly plans. Yes, America spends $80 billion on its intelligence bureaucracy every year, but when Cheney came in he just took everything over man.
The CIA could do nothing to stop him. Every dipshit policy America adopted during the Bush administration originated from one man’s brain.
In reality, in a democracy, the bureaucrats run the show and the politicians are there to take the blame. That is the reason why the CIA claimed they did not have a NIE on Iraq – they needed to write the NIE while Cheney was “hounding” them so they could blame Cheney for the bullshit report.
This “theatrical system of government” has other benefits too. In a given administration, different officials will take different positions on a given issue. Their true beliefs may or may not match the positions they publicly support. At any given time, if the government wants to adopt a certain policy, the official(s) who espouse that policy will seem strong while the official(s) who oppose that policy will be made to appear weak. Cheney, of course, was the administration’s hawk while Colin Powell and the State Department had a more dovish outlook (incidentally, the government made Cheney out to be more pro-Asia while they made Powell out to be more pro-Europe). The benefit to using this system is that it makes it easy for our government to switch positions on an issue. For example, in the Bush administration, Cheney was the hawk. But if America wanted to adopt a more dovish approach, our government could simply get rid of Cheney (or humiliate him or discredit him), and then they could adopt a new approach. You will be able to see how some of this played out on this blog.
Of course, as I mentioned earlier, the nice thing about this system, for bureaucrats, is that you never have to take the blame for any dipshit idea you have. The bureaucrats, in this case the CIA, probably rationalize this system by saying that they have to remain on good terms with their counterparts overseas. After all, politicians come and go but bureaucrats remain in place forever. Using this system, the CIA can go to Europe (or anywhere else) and say…
We don’t want to invade Iraq. Really. But Cheney, man, the dude is crazy. We can’t control him. There’s nothing we can do. We have tried to make him see reason but the dude is just plain nuts. We’re sorry. Really. We’re still friends, right?In police work, this strategy is referred to as the good cop / bad cop routine.
By the way, Japan used this routine during World War II when they claimed that their Army had taken control of the country.