NEW YORK -- Take equal parts of ignorance and arrogance, the standard measure of U.S. policy in the Muslim world, shake well, and you get a frothy cocktail of stupidity and blundering that offers a perfect growth medium for con men, special interest promoters, and disinformation.
The black comedy of the Iraqi defector codenamed "Curveball" that has just resurfaced tells us much about how the U.S. has made such a mess in the Mideast and why Washington can't understand or deal with the historic revolution now flaring across the Muslim world.
In 2000, an Iraqi, Ahmed al-Janabi, defected to Germany. To bolster his refugee status, he offered Germany's intelligence service, BND, a bunch of laughable lies about Iraqi chemical and biological weapons. The most notorious: the claim that President Saddam Hussein had mobile biological weapons units that threatened the world.
The Germans didn't believe "Curveball". None of his claims checked out. But, being dutiful U.S. allies, and knowing the Bush administration was hungering for alarming reports about Iraq, no matter how dubious, Germany passed on "Curveball's" claims to the CIA.
The CIA's able European chief, Tyler Drumheller, warned Langley that Curveball's claims were patently false. But CIA's sycophantic director, George Tenet, knowing President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney were determine to invade Iraq, sent "Curveball's" phony tale to the White House without, it seems, any reservations. Another "slam dunk."
This is hardly the first time fakers have made monkeys of U.S. intelligence. For a good example, back in the 1980's, a shady Iranian arms dealer and Israeli agent, Manucher Ghorbanifar, sent President Reagan's Washington into hysteria with phony tales of non-existent Libyan hit-men.
In 2001, an Israeli agent of influence in the U.S. government and other neocon officials resurfaced fraudster Ghorbanifar in Rome to offer false claims and forged documents about Iraq's supposed nuclear ambitions.
The deputy CIA director later admitted "Curveball's" tall story was the only "evidence" he had for claims that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction.
On 5 Feb., 2003, Secretary of State Colin Powell went before the UN and gravely warned of nefarious Iraqi germ weapons that threatened the entire world, complete with fanciful drawings of bio-warfare vans.
Powell even fingered a little phial of white powder that everyone took to be anthrax. This was a clear reminder of the 2001 anthrax panic in the U.S. that was falsely blamed on Muslim extremists or Iraq.
Secretary Powell's performance was a tour de force. He was one of the most trusted figures in America. Behind Powell sat CIA chief Tenet, and U.S. UN chief John Negroponte, their eyes downcast and hooded, looking like high churchmen at mass.
How Powell, a decent if hardly brilliant man, allowed himself to be made a fool and liar, remains a mystery. Powell now blame CIA and the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency for misleading him. But Gen. Powell, the Bush White House, and Congress were either arrant fools for swallowing all the lies about Iraq or knew it was all a big lie.
The Bush administration's standard excuse after the 2003 war was: "well, all our allies also thought Iraq had weapons of mass destruction." Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld repeated this canard last week.
In fact, the false intelligence that came from France, Germany, Italy had originally been provided to their intelligence agencies by CIA under long-standing intelligence sharing agreements. Garbage in, garbage out. Some of the original U.S. intelligence on Iraq, which was fake, also came from Iraq's bitter enemies, Israel, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. We must suspect that much of the Obama administration's data on Iran's supposed nuclear weapons is coming from agents of influence, phony Iranian sources, and disinformation similar to "Curveball."
The US Congress and media bayed for action against Iraq. As war fever swept over the United States, this writer, an old Iraq hand and war correspondent, warned that Powell's claims were absurd and that Iraq had neither weapons of mass destruction nor delivery systems.
Other veteran Mideast observers were brushed aside or ignored. Journalists like me who were "not with the program" were silenced, sometimes at the direct demand of the White House Oval office. George Orwell's famous line about how telling the truth in a time of mass lies becomes an act of sedition was never truer.
I take little pleasure in being vindicated. I'd have much preferred the U.S. had never invade Iraq, an unnecessary war that killed hundreds of thousands, ravaged Iraq, and cost U.S. taxpayers close to $1 trillion -- so far.
Ironically, it was Saddam Hussein, not Bush or Cheney, who was telling the truth. He was lynched after the 2003 U.S. invasion in good part to prevent him from revealing the full extent of U.S.-Iraqi collaboration prior to 1991.
The U.S. media played a major role promoting the Iraq war. It trumpeted White House war propaganda, headlined false stories, and kept the American public in a state of constant fear and confusion.
Thanks to collusion between the Bush White House and the media, over 80% of Americans wrongly believed Iraq was behind the 9/11 attacks.
Nearly all the media's commentators, think tanks, and Mideast "experts" who beat the war drums over Iraq remain in place today, continuing to misinform Americans about the Muslim world.
WikiLeaks showed U.S. diplomats to be capable and often well informed, but handcuffed in their reporting by the party line set by Washington. The same applies to CIA, where heretical voices were silenced.
In 2009, this writer produced a book about America's pervasive influence over the Mideast, American Raj, subtitled, 'Liberation or Domination,' It predicted much of the political and social turmoil now sweeping the Mideast, and proposed ways the United States could practice what it preaches by promoting real democracy and social progress in the Muslim world.
My book was coldly received. Americans, as with most people, like to be told only what they already believe. The U.S. corporate media often acts as a megaphone for government or special interests rather than performing its key role in a democracy -- keeping government honest.
That, by default, became the job of WikiLeaks.
Copyright Eric S. Margolis 2011