Larry C. Johnson

Uncomfortable Truths about Israel

What would we be saying if Hizbullah kidnapped the Israeli Deputy Prime Minister and launched a daring raid inside Israel to disrupt a U.S. effort to resupply the Israeli Defense Force? We would be up in arms over their provocation and would be convening the UN Security Council to recommend new sanctions. Hell, we'd probably have the National Security Council in session and be ready to dispatch U.S. military forces to help Israel.

Okay. Back to reality. Hizbullah is minding its own business (or at least fostering that public image) and has embarked on public relief operation to counteract the devastation visited on the people of Lebanon by Israel's recent invasion and bombing campaign. The Hizbullah aid and recovery effort is so successful that some wags suggest that Nasrallah be hired to take over from FEMA in the event the U.S. is hit with another storm like Katrina. How inept are you when Hizbullah is able to organize a better public relief effort? But I digress.

Having helped transform Hizbullah from a band of terrorists into the rock stars of the Muslim world, Israel persists with being stupid. Ehud Olmert either never learned or forgot the first rule of crisis management--i.e., when you're in a hole, stop digging. With the reputation of the Isreali Defense Force in tattters after the debacle in Lebanon, Israeli leaders apparently decided to go all out to secure their reputation as the supreme rogue state in the Middle East. How else to explain the following?

Keep reading... Show less

Israel Takes a Stupid Pill

Apparently not content to let the US do a self-immolation act in the Middle East by itself, Israel decided to set itself on fire by invading Lebanon. Burn baby burn? Like George Bush, Israel's Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, never served in a combat unit and launched military operations without thinking the matter through. In fact, Olmert reportedly never even served in the military. I raise this because there is one simple question Israel cannot answer about the current operations-what is their strategic military objective. Olmert has somehow persuaded the Israeli military to ignore strategy, think tactically, and in the process become really stupid. The events in the next several weeks will expose as myth the canard that you can secure a nation by killing terrorists. No you can't.

Killing "terrorists" has a place in policy but it is not a strategic military obective. It is a tactical objective and may serve political purposes, but achieves little in terms of securing Israel. Israel is attacking targets in Lebanon like a drunken sailor in a bar fight. Flailing about, causing significant damage, hitting innocent bystanders, and generally making a mess of things. This is not the Israeli military that pulled off the brilliant and daring raid at Entebbe.

What about Hamas and Hezbollah?

They are not terrorists. They carry out terrorist attacks, but they are not terrorists. They are something far more dangerous. They are a fully functioning political, social, religious, and military organizations that use terrorism tactics, but they are far more formidible than terrorist groups like Al Qaeda or the Basque Terrorist Organization. They do have the resources and the personnel to project force, sustain operations, and cannot be easily defeated. Unlike the Egyptian and Syrian armies in 1973, Hamas and Hezbollah will not easily fold and cannot be defeated in a seven day war. If that is the assumption among some Israeli military planners it is a crazy fantasy.

While most folks in the United States buy into the Hollywood storyline of poor little Israel fighting for its survival against big, bad Muslims, the reality unfolding on our TV screens shows something else. Exodus, starring Paul Newman, is ancient history. Hamas and Hezbollah attacked military targets; kidnapping soldiers on military patrols may be an act of war and a provocation, but it is not terrorism. (And yes, Hezbollah and Hamas have carried out terrorist attacks in the past against Israeli civilians. I'm not ignoring those acts, I condemn them, but we need to understand what the dynamics are right now.) Israel is not attacking the individuals who hit their soldiers. Israel is engaged in mass punishment.

How did Israel respond? They bombed civilian targets and civilian infrastructure and have killed many civilians. Let's see if I have this right.

The Arab "terrorists" attack military units, destroy at least one tank, and are therefore terrorists. Israel retaliates by launching aerial, naval, and artillery bombardments of civilian areas and they are engaging in self-defense. If we are unable to recognize the hypocrisy of this construct then we ourselves are so enveloped by propaganda and emotion that, like the Israelis, Hezbollah, and Hamas, we can't think rationally. We can only think in terms of tribalism and revenge.

Iran, meanwhile, is sitting in the catbird's seat. They have a well-trained and highly competent surrogate force in Hezbollah. Hezbollah's successful attack on Friday on an Israeli naval vessel is a reminder that Hezbollah is not a bunch of crazy kids carrying RPGs and wearing flip flops. I would be willing to wager that at least one Iranian military advisor was helping Hezbollah launch the missile that hit the Israeli ship. But Iran is doing more than simply engage in tit-for-tat. They are thinking strategically.

The events unfolding in Iraq and Lebanon are going Tehran's way. The United States is being portrayed in the world media as a government that tolerates and excuses attacks on civilian populations. The perception becomes the reality and the ability of the United States to rally support among the Russians, the Chinese, and even the French becomes more impaired. We need the international community to deal effectively with nuclear proliferation in North Korea and Iran. Now, we will be bogged down trying to defend Israel from an angry international community.     

In the past, the United States had enough credibility on both sides and kept enough of a distance during these blood fueds so that we could intervene and prevent the fighting from escalating into a gigantic war. It appears that there is no one in the Bush Administration who can step up and intervene to calm the situation. Hell, with John Bolton and Elliot Abrams leading the charge, we are Israel's enablers.

Former Senator Fred Thompson played a U.S. Navy Admiral in The Hunt for Red October. While speaking about escalating tensions as the United States and the Soviet Union chased a renegade submarine, he said: "This business will get out of control. It will get out of control and we'll be lucky to live through it."

Those words are relevant today. Let's hope and pray they don't come to pass.

The Betrayal of Valerie Plame

Valerie Plame was a covert intelligence officer covered by the Intelligence Officer's Identity Protection Act, and Lewis "Scooter" Libby lied to the grand jury. These two truths emerge from the opinion written by Judge Tatel, of the U.S. Court of Appeals, and released in February 2005. Thanks to a FOIA request by the Wall Street Journal we now have a more complete record, although key parts of his decision are still blacked out. Perhaps most of the media will now realize that they have been fed a pack of lies by the likes of Ken Mehlman, Victoria Toensing, Cliff May and others.

Tatel's opinion also is relevant to the current furor over "domestic spying" and whether reporters will have any ability to protect their sources. It certainly appears that Tatel would uphold the right of the reporters to protect sources who told them about illegal spying. Tatel's concludes his opinion that Judy Miller and Matt Cooper had to testify before the grand jury with the following:

Keep reading... Show less

Democracy and Delusion in Iraq

With voting already underway in Iraq we should harbor no illusion about the ultimate outcome -- the Iraqi Shias with the closest ties to Iran will secure the largest share of the votes. George Bush is right about one thing; this vote is likely to remake the face of the Middle East. Unfortunately, his vision that Iraq will become a launching pad for a new era of peace and understanding among the nations in the region is not only farfetched, but ignores what is actually taking place on the ground.

A few hundred miles to the west, the radical Muslim Brothers (spiritual kin of the Wahabis of Saudi Arabia) have secured an historic place in the Egyptian legislature. Despite intense pressure by the Mubarak government they rallied their supporters and got out the vote. At least they heeded Bush's call for democracy. On the northern border of Iraq, in Turkey, the Islamists also are on the upswing. And let's not forget Lebanon, where forces with close ties to Iran are consolidating power and influence. Remember, Hezbollah is no longer a rag tag band of terrorists, instead it has grown into a disciplined de facto Army of Lebanon.

We are unwilling to come to grips with a very simple truth -- the majority of people in the Middle East prefer an Islamic rather than a secular government. Economic development does not ensure a steady march towards a secular, diverse society. Heavens (irony intended) just look at us. Despite our economic prowess and alleged sophistication, religious fundamentalists in our own country have succeeded in bringing great pressure to bear on our government and our media.

So, what does all of this mean? In the coming year the Shia-led government in Iraq will flex its new muscle. They will expand beyond the two torture centers already discovered and press ahead with their campaign against the Sunnis. While there are some secular Shia who willingly mingle with Sunni neighbors, the Shia activists with the guns are religiously driven and intent on ensuring the new government pays proper homage to their particular faith.

Don't be surprised if we find ourselves helping out Al Zarqawi, the Jordanian Sunni who hates Shias more than he hates Americans. War can make strange bedfellows. Notwithstanding George Bush's cry that we can't have a timetable for withdrawal, the U.S. will start cutting and running from Iraq in January 2006. The current plan is for U.S. counter insurgency operations to be dramatically scaled back by next summer.

What we've failed to appreciate is that most people in the region believe that a country as large and as rich as the United States is actually executing a secret plan. In other words, the car bombings and chaos are, according to their own belief, part of a deliberate plan by us. They find it impossible to believe that we are genuinely confused, divided and deluded about what to do in Iraq.

As we exit Iraq in the coming months we must try to reinforce our ties to those Sunni and Shia Iraqis who are sincerely committed to living in a secular, tolerant society. Regrettably those souls are few and, in the coming years, will probably find it necessary to seek refuge in Europe from the sectarian war that will sweep Iraq.

We must also be mindful that our "exit" from Iraq will be along the supply line that runs south thru Kuwait. Whether we have to fight our way out of Iraq will be determined in part by whether the new Shia rulers believe we pose a threat to their position. Our ability to expose and liberate torture centers is likely to become more compromised as the new democracy in Iraq takes hold. Why? Because at the end of the day, a majority of Shias are likely to feel quite justified in torturing the Sunnis who had inflicted pain and suffering on the Shias for so many generations. If the blood lust takes hold we will just have to remind ourselves what a wonderful thing democracy is, particularly when a majority decides to act in what it perceives as its own best interest. Power to the people.

Decoding the PDB

Are George W. Bush and Condoleezza Rice really as clueless as they are claiming to be? Bush and Rice are both on the record misstating what was in the 6 August 2001 PDB (Presidential Daily Briefing). They both insist the information was only "historical" and "not actionable." They apparently are not alone in their faux ignorance. Republican partisans and even some members of the media are busy bolstering the spin that this was "an historical memo." Absolute nonsense!

I wrote about 40 PDB's during my four-year tenure at the CIA. This particular PDB article was written in response to a presidential request. I am told that Bush's request was a reaction to the intelligence warnings he was hearing during the daily CIA morning briefings. Something caught his attention and awakened his curiosity. He reportedly asked the CIA to come back with its assessment of Bin Laden's intentions. The CIA answered the question -- Bin Laden was targeting the United States.

The PDB article released Saturday is a classic CIA response to such a request. It lays out the historical and evidentiary antecedents that undergird the analyst's belief about the nature of the threat and provides current intelligence indicators that reinforce the basic conclusion of the piece -- i.e., Bin Laden was determined to attack the United States. It is true that the piece did not contain specific details about the plot that was launched subsequently on 9/11. However, the details that are included in the piece are so alarming that anyone familiar with the nature of Bin Laden and Al Qaeda should have asked, "What are they planning and what can we do to stop it?"

Remember the furious attacks against Richard Clarke during the past month? Now that we have seen the content of the PDB we know he was telling the truth when he said that President Bush and Condoleezza Rice did not make fighting Al Qaeda a priority prior to 9/11. At a minimum, the details in the 6 August PDB should have motivated Rice to convene a principals' meeting. Such a meeting would have ensured that all members of the president's national security team were aware of the information that had been shared with the president. George Bush should have directed the different department heads to report back within one week on any information relevant to the Al Qaeda threat. Had he done this there is a high probability that the FBI field agents concerns about Arabs taking flight training would have rung some bells. There is also a high probability that the operations folks at CIA would have shared the information they had in hand about the presence of Al Qaeda operators in the United States. While Condoleezza Rice is correct that there was no "silver bullet" in that PDB, she conveniently ignores the huge pieces of the puzzle that were in the hands of various members of the U.S. government.

None of these steps were taken. Bush was on vacation and Condi -- the smartest woman in Washington, we are told -- was asleep at the switch.

The PDB revealed another very fascinating item -- the analyst who wrote the piece had access to details about FBI investigations. This is something I never had access to when I was writing PDBs. It was forbidden territory. In other words, Bill Clinton has opened some level of cooperation between the FBI and CIA. The FBI, in a break with tradition, was telling the CIA what it was doing in some measure. Unfortunately, with the benefit of hindsight, not enough was shared.

Larry C. Johnson is a member of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity. He served with the CIA from 1985 through 1989 and worked in the State Department's office of Counter Terrorism from 1989 through 1993. He also is a registered Republican who contributed financially to the Bush Campaign in 2000.

The War on Clarke

Richard Clarke must be wondering if explaining what the United States did not do in the war on terrorism is more dangerous than actually fighting the terrorists. Clarke, the former terrorism czar for both Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, is now being vilified by a host of Bush officials, including Dick Cheney and Condoleezza Rice, as a liar.

The attack on Clarke, which consists of leaks, threats and intimidation tactics, has become the genuine hallmark of the Bush presidency. Previous victims of the Bush smear machine include:

Keep reading... Show less