Something strange is going on in our nation’s capital. The lack of transparency with which the U.S. administration has handled the ports sale to Dubai Ports World is just the latest in a series of troubling incidents in which the administration tried to force its will on the public, policy and lawmakers.
In the second week of February, several government agencies – handling national security issues – began a massive campaign to disrupt and discredit a major counter-intelligence conference whose participants and speakers included former and current top U.S. and foreign government, security, defense and intelligence officials and experts.
The Feb. 17, 2006 conference in Arlington, Va., was organized by the Intelligence Summit, a young, private, nonprofit and nonpartisan organization, headed by former U.S. prosecutor John Loftus. Since its planning began a year in advance, the conference attracted hundreds of government officials, security analysts, intelligence, counter-terrorism officers and corporate executives to speak and attend hundreds of sessions over three days.
Ten days before the conference was scheduled to begin, the organizers announced that tapes of Saddam Hussein’s cabinet meetings discussing Iraq’s WMD and nuclear weapons would be released at the conference. Immediately thereafter, the listed participants begin to receive telephone calls, e-mails, faxes and even telegrams from anonymous “friends” in several U.S. government agencies, strongly advising them against attending.
At first, the reason for these warnings was the backing from the “suspicious” industrial magnate and Israeli philanthropist, Michael Cheney. The messages alleged that this Russian emigre to Israel had ties to the “Russian Mafiya.” These allegations, already disproved and dismissed, were now recycled by government agents in an apparent attempt to discredit the conference. And even if they were not, this one source of funding (there were many others) did not justify such a well-orchestrated effort, in which many government officials used their time and offices to intimidate the people registered to attend and speak at this meeting. Moreover, this funding source had nothing to do with the extraordinary collection of new information and insightful presentations that the conference offered.
Considering the timing of this substantial effort, the real reason for this intimidation campaign seemed to be the new information in 12 hours of recorded discussions from Saddam Hussein’s cabinet meetings between 1992 – 2000 about concealing Iraq’s WMD weapons programs from U.N. inspectors. In the tapes – revealed and translated by former U.N. weapons inspector Bill Tierney – Saddam also talks about the possibility of targeting the United States. In addition, the tapes revealed that Iraq had a uranium enrichment plan “using a technique known as plasma separation” in 2000, and that the U.N. weapons inspectors knew nothing about it. Some of these tapes were aired by ABC News’ “Nightline,” on Feb. 15, 2006, before the Intelligence Summit began.
The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich., confirmed two days before the conference began that the tapes were authentic. Yet, the intimidating e-mails and telephone calls from government officials to conference participants only intensified. This is puzzling especially since the tapes confirm the early statements of the administration regarding Iraq’s possession of WMD.
However, these new tapes would have forced the intelligence community to admit that they misled President George W. Bush to state that Iraq had no WMD. Such admission, apparently, was something the intelligence community wanted to avoid by attempting to discredit this conference.
Many Washington veterans commented that they have never before witnessed such a blatant and concerted effort to discredit and silence a private conference – in particular, one focused on advancing U.S. national security.
At the time when the U.S. administration advocates democracy and free speech for the rest of the world, this gauche attempt to silence the truth and defuse embarrassing questions is disturbing.
Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld is the author of “Funding Evil; How Terrorism is Financed – and How to Stop It,” the director of American Center for Democracy and a member of the Committee on the Present Danger. Alyssa A. Lappen is a fellow at the American Center for Democracy.