We are beginning to learn that the Bush administration declined to talk about the discovery of thousands of WMDs in Iraq. But that’s only the beginning of the story, since that policy was just one part of a concerted and largely successful effort to quash unwanted news from the battlefield. That effort predated the invasion of Iraq by two years, and its consequences — a systematic distortion of recent history that shapes our national security policies — are still very much with us.
Of the Bush administration’s many failures, its inability to craft and pursue a serious Iran policy was one of the worst. I don’t know all their reasons, but I do know that they didn’t want to know about Iranian killers of Americans on the ground in both Iraq and Afghanistan. My information is first hand, it doesn’t hinge on leaks from “sources.”
Afghanistan came first, as we invaded shortly after 9/11/2001. In December of that year, I and two DoD officials met in Rome with a senior Iranian intelligence officer who had information — including documents — about Iranian hunter-killer teams in Afghanistan who had been ordered and trained to kill Americans. The information was passed on to the commanders of U.S. Special Forces, and it was confirmed. The killers were where the Iranian official told us, and they were quickly put out of business.
I felt good about the Rome trip; it isn’t every day that you get to participate in a project that saves American lives. The Iranian official said he would be available in the future, and he had other information of the same sort, dealing with Iranian activities outside the country. I told him I was positive that the United States government would get back to him, and we discussed ways to do that.
I was completely wrong, The U.S. government was furious, at the highest levels. Both Secretary of State Colin Powell and CIA Director George Tenet were told about the meeting by the CIA station chief in Rome, who, having no first-hand information (he didn’t talk to us), conjured a series of lies out of the ether. Although the meeting had been approved in advance by the White House (in the person of Deputy National Security Adviser Hadley, and, I am convinced, the National Security adviser, Condi Rice, herself), and although it had generated life-saving information, both Powell and Tenet demanded there be no followup, and the story of the meeting — the false version from CIA — was leaked to the press and presented as some kind of scandal.
I guess you could say that bureaucracy trumps life sometimes.
The Iranian official was killed in Tehran a few years later. I don’t know why.
Then there’s Iraq. For those of us who had children on the battlefield, the lethal use of IEDs was a nightmare. Indeed, over the course of the war, IEDs were the single greatest source of U.S. casualties, and they did terrible things to our guys, producing a ghastly loss of life and limbs. It seemed intuitively obvious that we should do something against this enemy device, and the Pentagon spent billions of dollars on technologies to detect and disable the things.
I had information that the IEDs came from the Iranians, who designed and manufactured many of them, trained their Iraqi proxies how to use them, and even dispatched Iranian troops to deploy them. I reported this to the excellent assistant secretary of defense for Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict (SOLIC), Army Colonel (ret) Thomas O’Connell, a family friend. I don’t know all the things he did, but I do know that he queried the so-called intelligence community, and did not get a satisfactory reply.
O’Connell ultimately issued an order to track the serial numbers on the IEDs we captured, and lo and behold they were in large part Iranian. We were even able to identify the factories at which the components were manufactured, and the sites, inside Iran, where many of them were assembled. QED, right?