If, however, you don't know McGovern, and you're still not convinced that the president and vice president were making it up when they declared, respectively, that Saddam Hussein was "a grave and gathering threat" who "has reconstituted nuclear weapons," then you really ought to give him a listen.
McGovern worked for the CIA from 1964-1990, and he still has lots of friends there and elsewhere in the intelligence community. (He's now co-director of the faith-based Servant Leadership School in Washington.) He worked on lots of National Intelligence Estimates (NIEs) in his time; he calls the one issued by the CIA in October 2002--entitled "Iraq's Continuing Programs for Weapons of Mass Destruction"--the worst one in 40 years. (Or since 1962, when an NIE said the Soviet Union would not risk putting nuclear missiles in Cuba--and they were already en route.)
But it's one thing to be wrong. It's another to issue an NIE that you know is wrong because the vice president is pressuring you to do so. And that's what McGovern and the other VIPs say happened to the CIA when George Tenet was running it. McGovern says:
Down the Tubes: The Bushies knew those infamous "aluminum tubes," the ones Condoleeza Rice said in 2002 could "only" be used for nuclear weapons-making, were in fact almost certainly for conventional weapons, not nukes. But she said it anyway. And, of course, what she said was wrong.
Baking the Cake: Knowing that tubes info wouldn't hold up very long, McGovern says, Vice President Dick Cheney decided to hinge his Aug. 26, 2002, speech--the one in which he declared flatly that Saddam had "resumed his effort to acquire nuclear weapons"--on a document he had to know was forged. The document purported to show that Iraq was trying to buy yellow-cake uranium from Niger. But Cheney was the one who'd set in motion Ambassador Joe Wilson's trip to Niger to check it out, and Wilson had come back saying the yellow-cake thing was bogus. "The White House calculated--correctly--that before anyone would make an issue of the fact that this key piece of 'intelligence' was based on a forgery, Congress would vote yes," McGovern says.
Estimate This: Once Cheney had spoken--and had made repeated visits to CIA headquarters to make sure he'd been heard--Tenet's CIA caved, issuing an NIE that contained the "fraudulent conclusion" (McGovern's words) that "most analysts" agreed Saddam had reconstituted his nuclear and other WMD programs. In fact, most analysts thought no such thing. "The most knowledgeable analysts--those who know Iraq and nuclear weapons--judged that the evidence did not support the conclusion. They now have been proven right," McGovern says.
Who's the Threat? Naturally, Congress will want to get to the bottom of this, right? Wrong, McGovern says. The Republicans who run the oversight committees, including Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts and, until he was appointed the new CIA director, Florida Rep. Porter Goss, have made clear their displeasure with the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) for fighting against the NIE's conclusions at the time--INR, for example, was "disinvited" in February 2004 from taking part in the annual congressional briefings on threat assessments. "(Republicans) decided to preclude the possibility that some recalcitrant senator might ask why INR was able to get it right on Iraq when everyone else was wrong," McGovern says.
Feeling a Draft? McGovern also insists that the Bushies aren't coming clean on their future Iraq plans. They must know, he argues, that far more troops are needed in Iraq than are there now (London's International Institute for Strategic Studies says 500,000) if the United States intends to "stay the course" of occupation. And Bush does intend to stay, McGovern thinks, rather than turn the fight over to Iraqi forces. "Not a chance," he says. "If, as I believe to be the case, the actual objectives of the war on Iraq have mostly to do with achieving military dominance over that oil-rich region and eliminating any conceivable threat to Israel, four more years will mean a still larger U.S. military force there for the duration." To leave sooner, he adds, "would leave Israel far less safe than it was before the war, something the president's advisers are very loath to do."
McGovern is speaking Monday, Oct. 18, at 7 p.m. at the Eno River Unitarian Universalist Fellowship Hall, 4907 Garrett Road, Durham; on Wednesday, Oct. 20, he'll speak at UNC-Chapel Hill in Hanes Auditorium, also at 7 p.m.