Cooking the Books

It's been highly amusing to watch the flow of charges and countercharges over cooking the intelligence books on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

"The administration deliberately bent the data to make 'the Merkin people' believe the WMDs were there!"

"Did not!"

"Did so!"

Sure they did. I don't think I've ever met a spy who doesn't have his "I told 'em, and I told 'em, and I told 'em, and they ju-u-u-u-st wouldn't listen" story.

I suppose the classic example, at least for Special Forces, was in 1945, when Colonel Aaron Bank of San Clemente (now over 100 years old and still active and who later went on to become the founder of Special Forces) was with the OSS in Indochina. He was returning from a meeting in Hanoi to his jungle headquarters and bummed a ride with Ho Chi Minh to get there. He and Ho spent three days in the back seat of that car, working out every detail of American-Vietnamese cooperation. They were working on the establishment of a workable, noncolonial Vietnam, one in which Vietnam and America had a solid strategic alliance and Vietnam had a socialist but democratic government.

Bank filed a complete report of this meeting, along with his recommendation, in the strongest possible terms.

Some months later a couple of "striped-pants boys" in their 20s from the State Department came out for a whirlwind tour and recommended we give Vietnam back to the French. "After all," I've heard President Truman quoted as saying, "we've got to give them something."

Sixty thousand American deaths and three million Vietnamese deaths later, that country is as brutal a dictatorship as exists in the world today. And if you were an ally of the Americans, it is hell on Earth.

The echoes of that one extremely stupid decision will reverberate forever.

On a more mundane level, I once knew a retired military intelligence lieutenant colonel who lost his chance for promotion this way: He had been a spymaster in Czechoslovakia for four or five years. He had run a lot of agents, but he stayed too long at the fair. He was burnt. The other side knew who he was.

He went home, did his mandatory Pentagon tour, and three years later was reassigned to Czechoslovakia.

Immediately he went to his superiors and told them that it was a mistake to send him back. "I'm burnt there," he said. "I won't be able to run agents, and any I try to run will be at great risk."

I don't know how they do these things today. But at that time nobody wanted to hear it.

He went to Czechoslovakia. He tried to run agents. It didn't work. He got a terrible efficiency report, was sent home in disgrace, and retired involuntarily.

I, too, have such a story. In April of 1964, my commanding officer, Crews McCulloch, led a patrol into the Chu Cle Ya mountain area of Phu Bon province, Republic of Vietnam. The patrol itself was a bitch. They ran into heavy opposition and were totally outgunned. Our chief communicator, Ken Miller (not Kenn Miller, author of Tiger the Lurp Dog), had to beat out his own evacuation message with the wounded hand he was being evacuated for. Our junior medic, Bill Foody (who later retired from the Air Force as a full colonel and surgeon), had his left ankle shattered by a burst from an enemy Browning automatic rifle. It was actually the worst patrol of our six-month tour.

So this stuff was on my mind when I got a message to pick the old man up on the road, ahead of our trucks, when they walked out about 20 miles south of the camp. I grabbed a jeep and headed south. I was alone but unafraid of an ambush, because I had given no prior warning that I planned to travel.

I found Crews, flaked out by the road with the troops. He got in the jeep and said, "Get me to the camp, ASAP." I floorboarded the jeep, which was kind of pointless, since it only meant we were going 45 miles an hour on a dirt road. On the way back he briefed me. Cowboy, Philippe Drouin, our best and most aggressive interpreter, had decided that we were trustworthy. He told Crews that the Montagnards were going to revolt against the South Vietnamese. I could tell you many horror stories about South Vietnamese treatment of the Montagnards, but suffice to say that such a revolt was more than justified.

What they wanted us to do was be ready. They didn't want to fight the Americans too; they just wanted to be treated decently and have the same rights and privileges as any other citizen.

He had provided Crews with everything: their constitution, their plan, their organization (FULRO -- Le Front Unifié de Lutte des Races Opprimées, or Unified Fighting Front of the Oppressed Races), their leadership. Even their flag.

He had already radioed our next higher headquarters in Pleiku, and Major Rick Buck, the commander of that headquarters, was supposedly on his way to Buon Beng, our camp, by helicopter.

Crews briefed me on the way home. As soon as Buck got there he briefed him. Then he went to Saigon and made the rounds of the intelligence services, giving them all the same spiel. We all volunteered to stay in Vietnam until after the crisis had passed.

A week or so later the Vietnamese intelligence service, also known as the Sureté, sent a fake malarial-spray control crew to the camp. They were obviously not a real malaria crew, because they were sharply uniformed and started to work before noon. Also, they would enter a longhouse, asking anyone there subtle questions on the order of "Say, how about that revolt?" and then leave without having used their props, the spray cans.

Another week passed. A CIA spook, posing as a cultural anthropologist, arrived by helio-courier, an airplane used only by the CIA, and asked to see Crews. "Captain," he said, "we've received reports on this revolt from you, from the MAAG [military assistance advisory group], and from USAID [U.S. Agency for International Development]. All of those reports can be traced back directly to you.

"What I want to know, Captain, is what you hope to gain by making up this preposterous story."

We threw him out of the camp and went back to Okinawa on the sixth of June, 1964, the 20th anniversary of D Day in Normandy.

In October the revolt happened. We had not been the only team that knew it was coming. Some teams handled it well, some not so well. A lot of Vietnamese and a few Montagnards were killed. The Montagnards took over the radio station in Ban Me Thuot (now Buon Ma Thuot).

The Montagnards got a lot out of the revolt. They got slots for their better leaders, including Cowboy, to their officers candidate school. They got eligibility for passports. They got title to many of their ancestral lands, and the Vietnamese Ministry of Ethnic Minorities was formed.

But they might have achieved all of that without bloodshed if the CIA had believed us.

So I am not outraged that the Bush administration cooked the books on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. As far as I know, every book is always cooked. At the least it is spun.

As far as I am concerned, Saddam, at one time, had WMD. It was not up to the United States or the United Nations or anybody else to prove that he had none. It was up to Iraq. They couldn't do so, because they had no credibility. But that was their own doing.

Weapons of mass destruction may well turn up yet. We're talking about a country the size of California, made mostly of sand. How hard is it to bury barrels under sand?

Assuming that Iraq did, in fact, destroy all of its WMD, this was obviously done because the U.S. was building up to invade, and they were trying to pre-empt the invasion by getting rid of the ostensible cause for it. It seems logical that, had they succeeded, as soon as the U.S. military left Kuwait, the WMD programs would be back on the front burner.

The real spin, in my view, the real cooking of the book was that we invaded Iraq, not because it had WMD, but because we needed a win, and we needed it badly. American morale was in the toilet because of 9/11. Afghanistan was changing from partial payback into a permanent running sore. Even our client states in the Arab world hate us for our support of Israel. We had been hurt, and the Arab world was pretty happy about it.

Meanwhile, the War on Terror was going well, but not in any public way. It was a shadow war of 3:00 a.m. arrests and confiscated bank accounts. We needed a large public win.

So we invaded Iraq because it's large, obviously evil, and we could actually find it. The fascinating thing is that it seems to have worked. Americans don't feel impotent anymore. We are no longer merely hated but also feared in the Arab world.

We can all feel so much better now.

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