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February 21, 2007
The Significance Of Frank Gaffney
A few weeks ago I wrote something comparing Michelle Malkin's moral and intellectual standards to those of Holocaust deniers. But I also said Malkin has no significance in and of herself; every country has people as strange and confused and angry as she is. What matters is that normal societies leave them to fulminate in their parents' basement. In contrast, troubled societies let them organize "conferences" and guest host national television programs.
This brings us to Frank Gaffney, third-string neocon and founder of the Center for Security Policy. In a healthy country, Gaffney would spend his days arguing with his enormous collection of Star Wars action figures. Here in America, we constantly put him on TV as as "expert" on foreign policy and give him an organization with a $2 million budget.
Last week Gaffney appeared on the Alan Colmes Show with Glenn Greenwald to talk about his recent column for the Washington-Moonie Times. As Greenwald had publicized, the column originally started with a fabricated Abraham Lincoln "quote," which has now been removed. Gaffney's call to hang Sen. Carl Levin remains, however.
During the program Gaffney made some claims about Iraq and WMD that are standard in the further reaches of wingnuttia—out in the wilderness where even Dick Cheney doesn't venture. Below are the most important parts; if you want to listen to it, Crooks & Liars has the audio. (Both of these sections are in the second segment.)
starting about 8:50
GAFFNEY: The Iraq Survey Group, the guys who went in and did a forensic analysis of what was the status of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction program, found -- contrary to what Glenn keeps saying -- that there was a hot production line for chemical and biological agents in Iraq, that there were plans to ramp it up when sanctions were lifted, which was imminent, and to place the products of those lines into aerosol cans and perfume sprayers for shipment to the United States and Europe. That's documented fact.
COLMES: Why isn't the administration making that argument?
GAFFNEY: I don't know why they're not, but I'm telling you that's a fact!
starting about 13:20
GAFFNEY: I'm simply asking you to square what you just said with what I pointed out is the fact of what Saddam Hussein had -- which was active production of chemical and biological weapons, albeit at low levels, with the plans to ramp them up for use as terrorist weapons against the United States and Europe. That's not something I'm making up! That's not something that was fraudulently presented to the American people! That's what we now know on the basis of the facts we discovered when we finally liberated Iraq!...
Glenn, you don't know the facts! You're a "stickler for the facts," and you don't know the facts!...
What [the ISG report] said is they did not find large stockpiles of chemical weapons. What happened to them is a mystery they weren't able to explain. But what they did find, and what is in the [ISG] report, and what I'm citing, and what is fact, is that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction programs, and plans to ramp them up and use them against us. You may choose to ignore that. You may choose to say that's irrelevant...
There was evidence Saddam Hussein had actual stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction. There is evidence they were removed across the border into Syria. I don't know.
But what is not in dispute, except from Glenn, who apparently chooses to ignore it, or at least won't come to grips with the fact it validates my position and undermines his, is the [ISG] report said he had production of these chemical and biological agents and he planned to put them in weapons to ship to the United States. Now that's the kind of thing that did require, I believe, the liberation of the country!
Now I'll go through and examine Gaffney's effluvia in detail. I don't do this in hopes Gaffney himself would ever acknowledge what he said was false; in fact, I doubt he can distinguish between fantasy and reality well enough to understand this. Moreover, even if you could get him to stop doing this kind of thing, it wouldn't make any difference. He'd just get fired, and his bosses would hire another mouthpiece.
However, it is worth examining Gaffney's silliness to demonstrate the levels to which his bosses require their toadies to sink in order to get their money. Again: it's the people in charge who're the problem, not Gaffney.
GAFFNEY: The Iraq Survey Group, the guys who went in and did a forensic analysis of what was the status of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction program, found -- contrary to what Glenn keeps saying -- that there was a hot production line for chemical and biological agents in Iraq...
The Iraq Survey Group report is here. It's actually an impressive piece of work that reflects well on the CIA. While the "key findings" section—the only part anyone ever looks at—is highly spun and misleading, the body contains a great deal of information that's deeply embarrassing for the US government. (Or at least it would be, if anyone in Washington's political class ever read it.)
Anyway, Gaffney's statement that "there was a hot production line for chemical and biological agents in Iraq" is completely fanciful. Here's the ISG conclusion about Iraq's chemical weapons program (throughout, bold and italics are in the original; underlines are mine):
While a small number of old, abandoned chemical munitions have been discovered, ISG judges that Iraq unilaterally destroyed its undeclared chemical weapons stockpile in 1991. There are no credible indications that Baghdad resumed production of chemical munitions thereafter...
And here's the ISG conclusion about Iraq's biological weapons program:
ISG found no direct evidence that Iraq, after 1996, had plans for a new BW program or was conducting BW-specific work for military purposes.
So where could Gaffney's claim about "a hot production line for chemical and biological agents" come from? Almost certainly from the description in the ISG report of the labs of the Iraqi Intelligence Services (IIS). This appears in the section on Iraq and chemical weapons:
ISG uncovered information that the Iraqi Intelligence Service (IIS) maintained throughout 1991 to 2003 a set of undeclared covert laboratories to research and test various chemicals and poisons, primarily for intelligence operations. The network of laboratories could have provided an ideal, compartmented platform from which to continue CW agent R&D or small-scale production efforts, but we have no indications this was planned. (See Annex A.)
• ISG has no evidence that IIS Directorate of Criminology (M16) scientists were producing CW or BW agents in these laboratories. However, sources indicate that M16 was planning to produce several CW agents including sulfur mustard, nitrogen mustard, and Sarin.
• Exploitations of IIS laboratories, safe houses, and disposal sites revealed no evidence of CW-related research or production, however many of these sites were either sanitized by the Regime or looted prior to OIF. Interviews with key IIS officials within and outside of M16 yielded very little information about the IIS' activities in this area.
So you can see the process within Gaffney's mind: he took something the ISG report said "could have" occurred but for which there was "no evidence," and decided that the ISG report said it had in fact happened. No wonder Gaffney tells us Doug Feith is an "old friend" who is "thoughtful, careful and conscientious."
Still, you might say, these IIS labs sound pretty bad. What's this about testing "various chemicals and poisons"?
It's impossible to know for sure. Perhaps these labs served as Dr. Evil's headquarters in his endless quest for world domination. But the actual explanation is likely more prosaic. The chemical section of the ISG report has an annex examing this issue in detail. According to this annex, it appears the labs may have been involved in attempted assassinations of regime enemies in the eighties and early nineties (just as US labs have been). More recently the labs were in charge of testing Saddam's food:
Exploitation of the M16 headquarters building revealed that the directorate had large amounts of laboratory glassware and analytic equipment, which could be used for both legitimate work such as food testing and forensic analysis, and illicit CW production and development. However, precursor chemicals required for CW agent production were not found among the various chemicals located at the headquarters building or its storage site in Djerf al-Naddaf...
The equipment, chemicals, and literature found at the [M16 headquarters in Karada] are consistent with sensitive reporting on the activities of the M16's chemical forensics division, which does not have strong ties to CBW research or the development of assassination-related compounds.
• The M16 chemical forensic division was responsible for testing food for the regime. Other reports corroborate that there was an M16 division which had the ability to analyze chemical substances and test food and other items for the presence of poisons and toxins.
• According to a senior IIS official who has reported reliably in the past, this building served as the M16 headquarters, where research on toxins and their properties took place. However, the same source stated that the work was solely for defensive purposes.
• Laboratory analysis of several samples taken at the site revealed that the M16 had samples of potassium cyanide, the pesticides diazinon and Malathion, the herbicide glyphosate, and several other innocuous chemicals. It would not be unusual to find these chemicals at a laboratory examining foodstuffs for poisons or contaminants, because such a lab would need standards to which it could compare analytic results.
You may recall that back before the war, Saddam's paranoia about being poisoned was used as evidence of why he was a tyrant who had to be removed. Here's a relevant section from a May, 2002 article in the Atlantic:
Fresh food is flown in for him twice a week—lobster, shrimp, and fish, lots of lean meat, plenty of dairy products. The shipments are sent first to his nuclear scientists, who x-ray them and test them for radiation and poison. The food is then prepared for him by European-trained chefs, who work under the supervision of al Himaya, Saddam's personal bodyguards.
But what's this statement in the ISG report about the IIS labs "planning to produce several CW agents including sulfur mustard, nitrogen mustard, and Sarin"? Isn't that important?
Nope. It's clear from the labs annex that this is the basis for Gaffney's claim that Saddam planned to "place the products of those lines into aerosol cans and perfume sprayers for shipment to the United States and Europe." But look carefully at what the labs annex says about this:
Future Plans To Produce CW Agent
ISG is unable to corroborate the sensitive reporting that the IIS was planning to produce nitrogen mustard, sulfur mustard, and Sarin, but assesses that if plans to produce chemical agent within the IIS existed, the M16 chemical preparation division would have been the group tasked with carrying them out.
• A former Iraqi intelligence officer reported that the M16 chemical preparation division planned to produce and weaponize nitrogen mustard using CS rifle grenades. The source provided ISG with two grenade launchers and cases of CS grenades he claimed M16 officers were supposed to modify.
• The same source later reported that the IIS had a plan to produce Sarin and sulfur mustard, which the IIS planned to distribute to the US and Europe. The source claimed that the director of M16, Nu'man Muhammad al-Tikriti, gave him a perfume-bottling machine that was to be used to help carry out this plan.
Both of these plans are extremely difficult to corroborate...
In other words, one unnamed Iraqi claimed that Iraq was going to do this at some point in the indefinite future. And the ISG didn't corroborate it.
It would be hilarious under any circumstance for Gaffney to say this amounts to "documented fact." But remember this all started with Gaffney's column defending Douglas Feith from accusations of shoddy cherry-picking of intelligence to reach predetermined conclusions. It's as if Gaffney were defending Feith from charges of wife-beating by punching his own wife in the face. No wonder these two get along so well.
In any case, Alan Colmes asks precisely the right question here: if this is "documented fact," why hasn't the Bush administration ever said anything about it? The answer is obvious: it's so preposterous that even Dick Cheney won't stand behind it.
GAFFNEY: What [the ISG report] said is they did not find large stockpiles of chemical weapons. What happened to them is a mystery they weren't able to explain...
There was evidence Saddam Hussein had actual stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction. There is evidence they were removed across the border into Syria. I don't know.
What happened to them is a mystery they weren't able to explain. Right. Again, here's the ISG report on Iraq's chemical weapons:
ISG judges that Iraq unilaterally destroyed its undeclared chemical weapons stockpile in 1991.
On Iraq's biological weapons:
ISG judges that in 1991 and 1992, Iraq appears to have destroyed its undeclared stocks of BW weapons and probably destroyed remaining holdings of bulk BW agent.
This, more than anything else, is why I compare Gaffney to Holocaust deniers. Holocaust deniers begin by holding a crazy position; say, no European Jews died during World War II. When confronted by overwhelming evidence to the contrary—for instance, there used to be all these Jews in Europe, and after the war they weren't there anymore—the most they'll ever say is that the missing people's whereabouts is a "mystery" that may never be solved.
Here are some examples from the Holocaust denial website "Focal Point":
Did Jews sent to Auschwitz go to Transnistria (Rumania) instead? The Mystery Deepens.
The confirmation of the involvement of Majdanek in the Operation Reinhardt deportations serves only to deepen the mystery of what happened to the Jews of Poland.
Yeah, it's a mystery all right.
Likewise with Gaffney: the evidence that Iraq destroyed its undeclared chemical and biological weapon stockpiles in the early nineties is overwhelming. That's what the ISG report says happened. That's what all the Iraqis say happened. There's physical evidence that it happened. And of course, there were all those stockpiles in 1990, and by 1992 they weren't there anymore. To Frank Gaffney, this all adds up to an unsolvable "mystery." (The same is true for another JV neocon, Clifford May.)
And what about Gaffney's "evidence" that these stockpiles "were removed across the border into Syria"? It doesn't exist:
As the hunt for weapons of mass destruction dragged on unsuccessfully in Iraq, top Bush administration officials speculated publicly that the banned armaments may have been smuggled out of the country before the war started...
But intelligence and congressional officials say they have not seen any information — never "a piece," said one — indicating that WMD or significant amounts of components and equipment were transferred from Iraq to neighboring Syria, Jordan or elsewhere...
[O]fficials familiar with the search say U.S. authorities have found no evidence that former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein transferred WMD or related equipment out of Iraq...
Last week, a congressional official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said suggestions that weapons or components were sent from Iraq were based on speculation stemming from uncorroborated information.
But who knows? My suspicion is the missing WMD went to Transnistria (Rumania), and those six million missing Jews are all in Syria.
AND IN CONCLUSION
I emphasize once more that it's a mistake to focus on Gaffney and all the people like him. They don't matter, just as the crazy individuals at the Tehran Holocaust denial conference don't matter.
What matters is that Iran has nutty, powerful rich people willing to fund that kind of garbage, and a society that acts like it's part of legitimate debate. And what matters is that we have nutty, powerful rich people willing to fund this kind of garbage, and a society that acts like it's legitimate.
And who exactly are the nutty rich people behind Frank Gaffney? According to tax documents, his organization received $2.2 million in tax-deductible donations in 2004. About $600,000 appears to have come from various right-wing foundations.
I don't think it's possible to find out for sure who provided the rest of the donations; while organizations like Gaffney's have to file this information with the IRS, it's blacked out when the documents are made public. (One thing we can learn from the forms is that CSP is basically Gaffney alone. His 2004 salary was $272,850. The rest of the expenses were for rent, events, a few consultants, etc.)
But we can make some educated guesses. According to Jim Lobe of Inter Press Service, CSP is funded by "defense contractors and far-right Zionists associated with Israel's Likud Party." One person on the CSP board of directors is Charles Kupperman, Vice President of Space and Strategic Missiles Sector at Boeing. Another is an investment banker named David P. Steinmann, who's also on the board of JINSA. And the Chairman is Terry Elkes, who used to be CEO and president of Viacom, and now runs an equity firm "deeply engaged in the media industry." (I assume Elkes is in charge of keeping the media so liberal.)
It's these people—along with billionaires like Rupert Murdoch and Sun Myung Moon, who give Gaffney his prominent platforms—who are the source of the craziness. Gaffney himself is essentially irrelevant.
Of course, you may say you don't want to believe we're a country with lots of powerful people who wholeheartedly support the equivalent of Holocaust denial. You may say you don't want to believe our political system is as crazy as Iran's. Well, I don't want to believe it either. The only reason I do is because it's true.Posted at February 21, 2007 01:47 AM | TrackBack