In War, Some Facts Less Factual

When George H. W. Bush ordered American forces to the Persian Gulf, part of the administration case was that an Iraqi juggernaut was also threatening to roll into Saudi Arabia. Citing top-secret satellite images, Pentagon officials estimated that up to 250,000 Iraqi troops stood on the border, threatening the key US oil supplier. But when the St. Petersburg Times in Florida acquired two commercial Soviet satellite images of the same area, taken at the same time, no Iraqi troops were visible near the Saudi border – just empty desert.

2002.09.06

When George H. W. Bush ordered American forces to the Persian Gulf – to reverse Iraq’s August 1990 invasion of Kuwait – part of the administration case was that an Iraqi juggernaut was also threatening to roll into Saudi Arabia.

Citing top-secret satellite images, Pentagon officials estimated in mid–September that up to 250,000 Iraqi troops and 1,500 tanks stood on the border, threatening the key US oil supplier.

But when the St. Petersburg Times in Florida acquired two commercial Soviet satellite images of the same area, taken at the same time, no Iraqi troops were visible near the Saudi border – just empty desert.

“It was a pretty serious fib,” says Jean Heller, the Times journalist who broke the story.

[ Read about how the Pentagon circumvented this problem during the Afghanistan phase of their “War on Terror:”
US Buys Up All Satellite War Images – http://www.theexperiment.org/articles.php?news_id=1523. ]

The White House is now making its case to Congress and the public for another invasion of Iraq; President George W. Bush is expected to present specific evidence of the threat posed by Iraq during a speech to the United Nations.

But past cases of bad intelligence or outright disinformation used to justify war are making experts wary.

“My concern in these situations, always, is that the intelligence that you get is driven by the policy, rather than the policy being driven by the intelligence,” says former US Rep. Lee Hamilton.

Examining the evidence

Shortly before US strikes began in the Gulf War, for example, the St. Petersburg Times asked two experts to examine the satellite images of the Kuwait and Saudi Arabia border area taken in mid-September 1990, a month and a half after the Iraqi invasion. The experts, including a former Defense Intelligence Agency analyst who specialized in desert warfare, pointed out the US build-up – jet fighters standing wing-tip to wing-tip at Saudi bases – but were surprised to see almost no sign of the Iraqis.

“That [Iraqi buildup] was the whole justification for Bush sending troops in there, and it just didn’t exist,” Ms. Heller says. Three times Heller contacted the office of Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney (now vice president) for evidence refuting the Times photos or analysis – offering to hold the story if proven wrong.

The official response: “Trust us.” To this day, the Pentagon’s photographs of the Iraqi troop buildup remain classified.

John MacArthur, publisher of Harper’s Magazine and author of “Second Front: Censorship and Propaganda in the Gulf War,” says that considering the number of senior officials shared by both Bush administrations, the American public should bear in mind the lessons of Gulf War propaganda.

“These are all the same people who were running it more than 10 years ago,” Mr. MacArthur says. “They’ll make up just about anything … to get their way.”

On Iraq, analysts note that little evidence so far of an imminent threat from Mr. Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction has been made public.

Critics, including some former United Nations weapons inspectors in Iraq, say no such evidence exists. Mr. Bush says he will make his decision to go to war based on the “best” intelligence.

“You have to wonder about the quality of that intelligence,” says Mr. Hamilton.

“This administration is capable of any lie … in order to advance its war goal in Iraq,” says a US government source in Washington. “It is one of the reasons it doesn’t want to have UN weapons inspectors go back in, because they might actually show that the probability of Iraq having [threatening illicit weapons] is much lower than they want us to believe.”

Author: Scott Peterson

News Service: The Christian Science Monitor

URL: http://www.csmonitor.com/2002/0906/p01s02-wosc.html