Collusion: International Espionage & the War on Terror

collusionAfter days of deliberation, army whistleblower Chelsea Manning has been sentenced to 35 years in prison. This ruling has delivered a devastating blow to any concept of a free press and government accountability. It has also served to ideologically legitimate many of the crimes carried out in the invasion and occupation of Iraq. The day before the sentencing in the Manning trial was announced the Obama Department of Justice declared that the Bush administration should be immune from legal action for what was, by any standard of international law, a war of aggression. The case was brought before the San Francisco federal court by Sundus Shaker Saleh, an Iraqi refugee and mother who currently resides in Jordan.

In the preemptive bombing of Iraq, Bush officials were “acting within the legitimate scope of their employment,” the Obama DOJ asserted. One can get key insight into the outlandish nature of this statement by reading Carlo Bonini and Giuseppe D’Avanzo’s Collusion: International Espionage and the War on Terror. Bonini and D’Avanzo meticulously detail how the Iraq war was planned. At the core of the war planning process was a vast and carefully coordinated system of fraud. This fraudulent enterprise included the use of what the author’s called “competitive intelligence”, a “disinformation technique” whereby unsubstantiated allegations are passed from one intelligence agency to another and interpreted as uncontroversial fact.

In the case of the Iraq war Italian intelligence agency SISMI passed to the US, via the United Kingdom, utterly fraudulent dossiers suggesting Saddam Hussein’s Iraq purchased 500 tons of so-called yellow cake uranium from Niger. The major culprits in this conspiracy included the head of Italian intelligence Nicolo Pollari, secret agent Rocco Martino, George W. Bush and his administration, the CIA, and UK intelligence agency MI6. Director of the Office of Strategic Proliferation in Military Affairs (2003)  Greg Thielman agreed that these dossiers were fraudulent once noting that “the story of the uranium sale was false,” and “a whole bunch of the things that had been sent to [them] were bogus.” In fact, all of the relevant intelligence agencies–CIA, MI6, SISMI–knew that this dossier was based on a lie yet the Bush administration exploited the fabricated intelligence to stir up support for the invasion. At one point when Bush was delivering speeches to the American public, grimly warning them of the dangers of an Iraqi nuclear bomb, intelligence agencies internally wondered whether he was suffering from a “fit of lunacy”.

Alongside the stream of misinformation about the Niger-Iraq uranium deal was another lie suggesting that Iraq’s importing of aluminum tubes was for centrifuge technology. Subsequent investigations revealed that the tubes were for non-nuclear missiles, in particular the Medusa missile pioneered by the Italians. Technical specifications of the aluminum tubes conformed with this conclusion. Together these deliberate, and successful, efforts to deceive the American public completely discredit the Obama administration’s statement that Bush officials were “acting within the legitimate scope of their employment” when they bombed Iraq. In fact, a serious reading of international law would conclude that the Bush regime was acting in violation of core principles of international law, norms articulated most powerfully in the Nuremberg Charter. Article VI of the Charter criminalizes the “planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression”. Though these crimes are incomparably greater than Manning’s leaking of US documents Bush and his associates remain unhindered by these legal restraints. This planning of aggressive war extended into other quarters of American life as well. For example, the American and Italian media acted as an accomplice in this propaganda campaign. Leading the charge in the United States was New York Times journalist Judith Miller who uncritically regurgitated White House claims about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction despite the absence of any empirical evidence.

In a remarkable demonstration of “advocacy journalism,” Miller published a front page article in the New York Times making the claim that Saddam Hussein’s acquiring of aluminum tubes could be used to build nuclear bombs. “The diameter, thickness and other technical specifications of the aluminum tubes had persuaded American intelligence experts that they were meant for Iraq’s nuclear program . . . ” wrote Miller. Respected Italian media investigator Roberto Reale maintained that Miller’s articles “gave the green light for an acceleration of the war,” and characterized her subsequent appearances on television and in newsstands as “a propaganda offensive of perfect efficiency, worthy of a military operation.”

Incidentally, this same cozy relationship between journalists and power centers in the service of war is resurfacing, if in less extreme ways, in the current ideological and political campaign against Iran. The latest incident in this trend was an article published by the Wilson Center’s Aaron David Miller in Foreign Policy magazine where he casually mentions that one of Obama’s main goals as president is to stop Iran’s “nuclear weapons program,” neglecting the fact that material evidence for such a program has never been discovered. In Italy Miller’s counterpart Pino Buongiorno parroted similar claims in Panorama.

“In recent years Iraq has tried to acquire both the technical finesse and industrial components (easily converted to military use) from Leycochem . . . But [CIA head] Tenet’s warning is also aimed at Italy, where Saddam Hussein may try to acquire some futuristic agricultural machinery that his scientists can transform into weapons of mass destruction,” Buongiorno ominously warned in the pages of the Italian press.

It’s instructive to note neither Judith Miller nor Pino Buongiorno were subjected to the terror of State coercion for their “advocacy journalism”. Prominent hosts of Sunday news shows did not ask Miller why she thought she shouldn’t be arrested for “aiding and abetting” the Bush administration in their execution of the “supreme crime” of military aggression. Miller’s loved ones were not detained at the airport for nine hours under a ludicrous “terrorism” law nor was her laptop and other electronic devices confiscated for inspection or destruction. Radical behavior of this kind is reserved for other “advocacy journalists”, those who subscribe to the notion that informing the public is much more important than serving power, journalists like Glenn Greenwald. In accordance with imperial norms, viewpoints which align with the objectives of power are not categorized as opinions or, as in this case, blatant falsehoods but as a form of “non-controversial objectivity” to borrow David Sirota’s apt phrase.

Despite this bleak portrait of international affairs that Bonini and D’Avanzo present, there are glimmers of justice which serve as a countervailing force to this culture of gangsterism. In the epilogue it is noted that SISMI director Nicolo Pollari was fired in November of 2006. Pollari went on to stand trial for the US-backed kidnapping of Egyptian cleric Abu Omar, a crime which he is now serving a 10 year prison sentence for committing. Larry Franklin of the Pentagon’s Office of Special Plans was also found guilty of “sharing classified information about Iran” with Israel. For his crime he was fined $10,000 and sentenced to 151 months in prison.

The leader of the Office of Special Plans Doug Fieth and, most importantly, George W. Bush remain free. This is despite a 2006 ruling by the European Parliament in Strasbourg that declared the “1,245 clandestine flights within European airspace” (so-called rendition flights) “an open violation of international law.” The Obama administration would presumably say these crimes also fell within “the legitimate scope” of the Bush administration’s “employment”. Collusion is necessary reading to gain insight into the tyrannical powers national leaders and their constituents are willing to seize in the absence of credible oversight mechanisms sustained and kept functional by a well-informed, engaged public. In other words, it is a sobering reminder to us all just how vital whistleblowers like Manning and Snowden are to the survival of a society able to uphold ideals of justice in theory and practice.




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