March 08, 2004

*I* Never Trusted Ahmed Chalabi! (Oceania Has Always Been at War with Eurasia Department)

Billmon detects certain lapses of memory in Kenneth Pollack:

Billmon: Now He Tells Us! :Here's Ken Pollack (ex-CIA Iraq analyst, ex-Clinton NSC official, and author of The Threatening Storm) on 60 Minutes Sunday:

“There were a number of people in this administration, some of the most senior people in this government, who relied on the information that came from Chalabi's group to a greater extent than did the intelligence community,” says Pollack.

"You have said that they 'cherry-picked' intelligence to support what they wanted," says Stahl. "What did they mean?"

“They were looking at information that seemed to simply confirm a pre-conceived notion of an extremely threatening Iraq, that was deeply in bed with different terrorist groups, and on the cusp of acquiring the most advanced, most dangerous weapons of mass destruction," says Pollack.

“And of course, this was very much in accord with what Ahmad Chalabi had been saying for years, if not decades. And so, they were looking through the intelligence and picking out those pieces of intelligence that supported that view, pushing aside the stuff that didn't support that view, doing it without necessarily looking hard at the reliability of the sources.”

And here's Ken Pollack in an interview with Josh Marshall, published Januay 29, 2003:

I will say flat out [that] I was under the same impression: that we had a very good grip on their nuclear program and there really wasn't much of a nuclear program well into the 1990s. I was constantly being assured that by the IAEA and by the intelligence community. And then all of a sudden we had a slew of defectors come out in the mid- and late 1990s and what they told us was that everything that we had thought was wrong.

Ken Pollack opining in the New York Times, February 21, 2003:

In the late 1990's, American and international nuclear experts again concluded that the Iraqi nuclear program was dormant: yes, the scientists were still working in teams; yes, they still had all of the plans; and yes, they probably were hiding some machinery — but they were not making any progress. Then another batch of important defectors escaped to Europe and told Western intelligence services that after the inspectors left Iraq in 1998, Saddam Hussein had started a crash program to build a nuclear weapon and that the Iraqis had devised methods to hide the effort.

And Ken Pollack crying havoc in Foreign Policy, March 2002:

Thanks to Washington's own missed opportunities and others' shameful cynicism, there are no longer any good policy options toward Iraq. The hawks are wrong to think the problem is desperately urgent or connected to terrorism, but they are right to see the prospect of a nuclear-armed Saddam as so worrisome that it requires drastic action ... The United States should invade Iraq, eliminate the present regime, and pave the way for a successor prepared to abide by its international commitments and live in peace with its neighbors.

So tell us again, Ken -- who got fooled by Ahmad Chalabi and his traveling snake oil show??

Posted by DeLong at March 8, 2004 08:18 AM | TrackBack | | Other weblogs commenting on this post

This is the Ken Pollack of "The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq" who was cited left and (mostly) right as an unimpeachably balanced and level-headed authority, one who trumped the UN and domestic doubters about the risk from Iraq. He was an active participant in the sales effort for a war fought on illegitimate grounds. Probably made a ton on the book, and now will find a nice warm seat in front of a camera anytime the issue intelligence estimates or war. Where's the mea culpa? Why is it some-unnamed-body who was taken in, rather than Pollack. Can't make such admissions. It would diminish the expected flow of future income. Skunk.

Posted by: K Harris on March 8, 2004 09:24 AM


There were 3 amazing things in the 60 minutes interview. How Leslie Stahl did her homework on the Chalabi-Powell lies. How Chalabi is continuing to lie. But you are right - the most amazing thing was KP saying others were suckered. Unless KP wants to include himself in the list of others.

Posted by: Harold McClure on March 8, 2004 09:28 AM


As my lunch break is short, I shouldn't give a full reply. The short reply:

Pollack never liked Chalabi. Most defectors were not from Chalabi or his INC. To the extent Pollack was taken in by defector reports, it was likely these other defectors. But Pollack (along with Martin Indyk and Frank Ricciardone, but pretty much no one else in the Clinton administration) does advocate for Chalabi in the sense of arguing the US's attempts to make an umbrella organization of Iraqi resistance groups is stronger with Chalabi's INC than without it.

Whether this a more or less forgiveable error, I leave to y'all. But it's an error of being too-clever-by-half, not one of being utterly naive.

(The whole story is a sad tale of blowback. The longer version is:

1) The CIA and NSC thought they could use Chalabi. Deciding to support his Iraqi National Congress in 1992. To use Pollack's phrase in _The Treatening Storm_, they recognized his "organizational skills" (feel free to snicker... but Chalabi does seem like a master manipulator which the CIA probably can apprecaite). But most importantly, they thought the nicest thing about Chalabi was he had no prestablished organization whatsoever within Iraq, and thus it should be possible to keep him dependent (read: on a leash).

2) Chalabi thought he could parlay CIA support into a coup that'd establish him as leader, or at least kingmaker, in Iraq. All he'd need, he thought, is a source of about 10,000 troops and US air support. First, he thought the INC could make its own militia--and Lord knows he kept insisting it could for the sake of getting funding---but he knew it couldn't, so he settled for getting the troops by an Iraqi army mutiny and hoping he'd remain essentially the guy who people thought would be critical for getting the US to supply air support. When this mutiny arose in March 1995, he couldn't. The CIA thought it'd be another Bay of Pigs (and in not providing air support, it really did become another Bay of Pigs). [NB: A different account of this can be found in Bob Baer's _See No Evil_. He seems to have been the key CIA case officer on the ground for this aborted coup.)

Then that wonderful illogic that governs the world (or at least the large bureaucracies that govern the world) pours forth. The CIA and NSC pretty well comes to the conclusion that Chalabi can't follow orders, and moreover, even if he did couldn't execute them right. (After all, he never did make the 10,000 member INC militia he promised). But the CIA and NSC doesn't cut Chalabi loose (and Pollack bears some measure of direct, personal responsibility for this), thinking that it'll need some umbrella organization of resistance groups in and outside Iraq and among the slim pickings Chalabi's INC is certainly worth keeping. (The illogic, especially in retrospect, is stunning. Yeah, the INC managed to do SOMEthing in Iraq circa 1995, whereas all the other groups couldn't manage to do ANYthing. However, that something was really stupid and counterproductive. Also, the CIA and NSC's thought process was too-clever-by-half (read: pretty f$$%ing specious). This idea of: "I don't trust this guy, but hey, I can keep him on a leash since he doesn't an established resistance organization in Iraq" might well be applicable for many agents you'd want to run in Iraq, but almost by definition it can't be applied to running the very agent you want to run the resistance in Iraq.

Anyways, as we all know, Chalabi sticks around and finds ever more enthusiastic supporters (indeed, it's worth remembering that he probably never had to convince most of these supporters of the "merits" of invading Iraq). First, these supporters come from among the Congressional Republicans who led the movement to have that resolution in favor of regime change in Iraq passed (circa 1998 if I remember correctly) and then, of course, among the Bush administration.

Damn. I really have gone too long on my lunch break to write this bit of bloggy ephemera. Luckily, I'm a grad student, and this is pretty much par for the course.

Posted by: Bill on March 8, 2004 12:59 PM


I know how to make nuclear weapons. My ex-wife Susan knows how to make nuclear weapons. My eldest daughter, Gwyneth, knows how to make nuclear weapons (and she is assistant to the president of a major Japanese electronic and industrial complex, which should make everyone recount the number of nuclear powers in the world). I wouldn't be surprised if middle-daughter Rebecca has picked up the art around the breakfast table some time.

I can tell by the look in the eye of my youngest daughter, Anai-Bronwyn, that she plans on nuking me as soon as she can figger out how. This bodes ill for the government in Khartoum.

Nevertheless we are not an average family. There are not many people in Iraq who know how to do it.

One of the hallmarks of Saddam's sort of fucked-up, a technical term, way of doing things is that people who do know tend to leave.

All the major players in the Iraqi nuclear enterprise had left the country well before Bushlet came to power. There was visibly nobody with the first clue left in the operation. The whole thing was, to use a popular term, hollowed out. Gone. Nobody home. Nothing happening.

Why isn't the cheap-ass little crook Richard Perle in jail yet?

Posted by: David Lloyd-Jones on March 8, 2004 01:21 PM



Posted by: Gabe on March 8, 2004 01:30 PM


Brad DeLong is a double plus ungood un person. Oceania is at war with Eastasia. Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia. I am so upset that I would crimethink if the chocolate ration hadn't just been increased again.

Posted by: Robert Waldmann on March 10, 2004 03:41 PM


A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.

Posted by: Nielsen Lief on May 2, 2004 03:47 PM


The words of truth are always paradoxical.

Posted by: Brown Heidi on May 20, 2004 11:15 AM


Inertia is not limited to matter.

Posted by: Osner Miriam on June 3, 2004 05:03 AM


Genius hath electric power which earth can never tame.

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