Democrats are claiming that the Bush White House “cherry-picked intelligence” and “misled” Congress and the American people, by relying on debunked intelligence and questionable Iraqi defectors, to make the case for war in Iraq.
That's according to two reports released on Thursday by Democrats on the Senate Select Intelligence Committee (SSIC).
The reports are the last in the Senate intelligence committee’s investigation into the Bush administration and the war in Iraq.
Senate Republicans dismissed the reports as a partisan exercise, written solely by Democratic staffers, and a waste of time, composed of “twisted policy-makers’ statements and cherry-picked intelligence in order to reach misleading conclusions, often leaving out pertinent intelligence,” according to Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo.
Democrats Guilty of Distortions
But Bond, the ranking Republican on the committee, said the Democrats were guilty of the same sins ascribed to the Bush administration when the Democrats crafted their reports.
“It is ironic that the Democrats would knowingly distort and misrepresent the Committee’s findings and the intelligence in an effort to prove that the administration distorted and mischaracterized the intelligence,” Bond said.
The first volume is a 172-page compendium of public speeches by top administration officials, including President Bush and Vice President Cheney, juxtaposed with partisan comments by the Democrat majority on the committee. The Democrat comments were disputed in virtually every case by Committee Republicans.
The second volume is even further from the mark, since it examines incidents relating to meetings set up by a private individual with potential defectors from Iran that had nothing to do with the subject matter the Committee was examining.
In a lengthy statement appended to the committee report, on the December 2001 meetings in Rome between Michael Ledeen and Iranian exile Manuchehr Ghorbanifar, Bond called the investigation into Ledeen’s activities “political theatre.”
“Overall, we are at a loss to explain why the chairman went to such great lengths to investigate this issue, only to publish an incomplete report riddled with unsubstantiated claims, which, in the end, refutes his allegations of unlawful activities,” Bond wrote. “It was a complete waste of time and should never have been part of the committee’s Phase II investigation.”
The Democrats' investigation, led by committee Chairman Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, focused on meetings held in Rome in between Michael Ledeen, two Defense department officials, and Ghorbanifar.
As I write in "Shadow Warriors: Traitors, Saboteurs, and the Party of Surrender," Ledeen fully briefed policy officials ahead of the meetings and got specific clearances from them to meet with Ghorbanifar and the Iranian intelligence officers he was bringing to the meetings.
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In the reports, all mention of Italian government participation in the meetings is blacked out by the censor’s pen. And yet, Ledeen has never tried to disguise his relationship to the Italian government, nor their assistance in providing support for these meetings.
As Ledeen told me in an interview for the book, his group was hosted by the head of Italian military intelligence, Nicolo Pollari, who was an acquaintance and fellow bridge player: “Pollari provided a safe house near the Piazza di Spagna in central Rome.”
But to read the Senate Democrats' reports, Ledeen and the two Pentagon officials who had been assigned to accompany him to the meetings were engaged in “inappropriate intelligence collection activities.”
The Democrats then falsely cited a report from the Defense Human Intelligence Service, claiming that Ledeen’s contacts were “nefarious and unreliable,” and that Defense HUMINT “determined that no further contact with Mr. Ledeen was warranted or advisable.”
In fact, the “nefarious and unreliable” smear originated with another agency the Senate Democrats conveniently failed to identify.
The hostility of top CIA officials toward Ledeen and Ghorbanifar dates from Iran-contra days (which the Democrats refer to four times in one paragraph as the Iran-contra “scandal”), when Ghorbanifar provided the United States with access to senior Iranian government officials involved in the holding of U.S. hostages in Lebanon.
Leak Was Payback
Leaking the internal CIA smear of Ledeen shows the partisan hate and utter incompetence of the shadow warriors within the intelligence community, who were unable to recruit Iranian defectors on their own, but ready to smear the reputation of individuals who had the contacts needed to gain access to Iranian government secrets.
As I wrote in "Shadow Warriors," trouble for Ledeen, and the two DoD officials who accompanied him to Rome, began when the CIA’s Rome station chief, Jeff Castelli, learned of the meetings that had taken place without his knowledge.
Castelli fired off an angry memo back to Washington that made it up and down the food chain until hardly anyone at CIA, the State Department, or the elite media was left in the dark about the "secret" meetings in Rome.
“Castelli was a serving CIA clandestine officer,” I wrote. “And yet, he made no effort to protect a clandestine operation that had been approved by the CIA director in person. For Castelli and his division chief at the directorate of operations, Tyler Drumheller, such behavior was apparently motivated by their utter disdain for Bush administration policies.”
Tyler Drumheller was the focus of an earlier Senate intelligence committee report where he was lionized by Democrats and called out by Republicans for making statements to the media that directly contracted statements made earlier under oath to the committee.
The SSIC report lays out in detail the excruciating oversight conducted by Bush administration officials — apparently already fearing a partisan investigation by congressional Democrats — as Ledeen was carrying out the exploratory meetings with Ghorbanifar and the Iranian intelligence officials.
And yet, after all this leg work, the Democrats’ reports conclude that “The U.S. Government officials involved in approving the Rome meeting had the authority to do so, even if it was considered an intelligence activity,” and that “nothing unlawful” occurred.
Pentagon official Larry Franklin, who was subsequently indicted for allegedly passing classified information verbally to Israeli government officials, felt that the information he obtained through Ghorbanifar’s contacts in Rome was so important, that he immediately passed it on the Special Forces contacts in Afghanistan.
The information related to an Iranian intelligence “hit team” operating in Afghanistan, that was intending to murder American servicemen.
One of the Iranian intelligence officers present at the Rome meeting provided Franklin with a photograph of one of the assassins, and names of other members of the team, which Franklin passed on to Special Forces operators, who vetted the information with the DIA and CIA.
The information ultimately led to successful action by Special Forces command in Afghanistan, that was deemed to have “saved American lives.”
Sen. Carl Levin, the ranking Democrat on the Armed Services committee when the investigation was first launched and who cooperated closely with his colleagues on the intelligence committee, engaged in what Pentagon officials told me was a “political witch hunt” to find out who was involved in the Rome meetings and what actually transpired.
“I would love to be subpoenaed by Senator Levin to answer questions on this,” a senior administration official involved in coordinating the trip told me in "Shadow Warriors."
“You want to know what? Why these meetings were kept secret? Senator, we were facing people who wanted to kill our servicemen and women. As the ranking member of this Committee, I would think you would be more concerned with the security of U.S. troops, rather than making cheap political points.”
A key subject left unmentioned by this partisan intelligence committee report is arguably the most important one of all: Who leaked to the media information about these secret efforts by U.S. government officials to meet with Iranian sources and potential defectors?
Word Gets Out
The first story on the meetings appeared on Aug. 8, 2003 in Long Island Newsday and breathlessly asserted, “Pentagon hardliners pressing for regime change in Iran held secret and unauthorized meetings in Paris with a controversial arms dealer who was a major figure in the Iran-contra scandal.”
The next day, a more detailed article in The Washington Post that also mentioned the Rome meeting.
“The newspaper articles prompted DoD officials to begin documenting the contacts involving Mr. Ghorbanifar,” the Democrat report states. In other words, leaks by opponents of the administration to the media caused U.S. government officials to take precious time from their jobs (which at the time involved prosecuting wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, as well as global special forces operations against al-Qaida) to protect themselves from partisan attacks.
Instead of following up on potential new sources of intelligence, State Department and CIA shadow warriors contacted Senate Democrats, whispering that they should conduct an investigation.
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