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Age of Obama
Barack Obama's presidency

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George W. Bush's presidency since 2007

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George W. Bush's presidency from 2005-06

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Contra drug stories uncovered

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America's tainted historical record

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From free trade to the Kosovo crisis.

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The Many Lies of Karl Rove

By Melvin A. Goodman
March 19, 2010

Editor’s Note: The political power of the American Right and the neoconservatives rests in their ability to state something no matter how implausible and have it reverberate through their own and the mainstream media as if it were true.

That is the current case with Karl Rove’s continuing denial of what should now be regarded as a fact, that the Bush administration “fixed” the WMD intelligence to justify invading Iraq and then tried to destroy anyone who told the truth, as former CIA analyst Melvin A. Goodman notes in this guest essay:

Joseph Goebbels, the leading propagandist of the Third Reich, understood the power of the lie; the greater the lie, the greater its power.

So, Goebbels would have appreciated Karl Rove's Courage and Consequences: My Life as a Conservative in the Fight, a pastiche of lies, fabrications and distortions designed to rehabilitate the record of the Bush-Cheney years.

There are too many lies to treat in this one column, but his greatest lie is that the Bush administration would not have invaded Iraq if it had known there were no weapons of mass destruction (WMD) there. Its corollary is that the administration did not lie about the presence of such weapons in Saddam Hussein's Iraq.

In fact, the Bush administration mounted an intense six-month campaign to make sure that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) produced "evidence" of WMD, and then made sure that such players as National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice and Secretary of State Colin Powell parroted the administration's big lie to the American public and to the international community.

President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and their acolytes Lewis "Scooter" Libby and Karl Rove desperately wanted to go to war against Iraq for reasons that have never been fully explained. As a result, they created and employed a strategic disinformation campaign to convince Congress and the American people of the need for war.

Of course, this is not the first time the United States has manipulated intelligence to make a case for war.

It happened prior to the Mexican-American War to support the policies of President James Polk, the Spanish-American War to support the policies of President William McKinley and the Vietnam War to support President Lyndon Johnson.

But the Iraq war marked the first time that the White House mounted a full-court press with such zeal to take the nation to a war that was unneeded, illegal and immoral.

Rove and Libby were key operatives in a programmatic "marketing plan" to justify the war, which included the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame, whose husband had dared to challenge the case for war; the phony intelligence documents produced by the CIA and DIA; and the public commentary linking Saddam Hussein to 9/11 and Iraq to al-Qaeda.

Bush's chief of staff Andrew Card has already admitted to the marketing plan, which was introduced in September 2002, because "from a marketing point of view, you don't introduce new products in August."

In the summer of 2002, the White House Iraq Group was formed to convince public opinion at home and abroad of the need for war against Iraq. The group met regularly in the White House Situation Room and the regular attendants included Rove, Libby, Condi Rice and her deputy Stephen Hadley.

At the same time, Cheney and Libby began meeting directly with analysts at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, an unprecedented procedure. The purpose of these meetings was to garner the intelligence justification for a pre-emptive war to remove Saddam Hussein, a case that would then be presented to Congress, the American public and the international community.

In July 2002, the chief of the British MI6 intelligence service, Sir Richard Dearlove, after several meetings with CIA Director George Tenet, warned Prime Minister Tony Blair about the American misuse of intelligence and the public relations campaign to justify war. Dearlove concluded that "intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy," and that "military action was now seen as inevitable."

A major aspect of Rove's "marketing plan" was to leak unsubstantiated and flawed intelligence (supplied by Iraqi defector Ahmad Chalabi and his minions) to the press and then offer authoritative White House confirmation of the leaked information.

The White House selected Judith Miller of The New York Times as the key recipient of these leaks. Miller co-authored a front-page Times story on Sept. 8, 2002, citing administration officials as claiming that Saddam had acquired aluminum tubes "specifically designed" to enrich uranium.

On the same day, Cheney told "Meet the Press" that "we know with absolute certainty" that Saddam was "using his procurement system to acquire the equipment he needs to enrich uranium to build a nuclear weapon."

Four days later, President Bush took the aluminum tubes claim to the UN General Assembly. The issue was central to Secretary of State Powell's UN speech in February 2003.

Rove and Libby were also central to the outing of Plame, a CIA operative whose husband, former U.S. Ambassador Joe Wilson, refuted Cheney's charge that Iraq was trying to obtain uranium from Niger. The outing of Plame embarrassed the ambassador and served to keep other insiders from speaking out against the White House's case for war.

Rove was not indicted for lying about the outing of Plame, although Libby's lawyer, Theodore Wells, argued that Libby was a scapegoat to protect Rove.
In one internal note about the Plame affair, Cheney charged that the White House was failing to "protect one staffer and sacrifice the guy this Pres asked to stick his neck in the meat grinder because of the incompetence of others." Cheney ultimately scratched out "this Pres" and substituted "that was."

Rove, of course, was not alone in these efforts. He had help from CIA Director Tenet and Deputy Director John McLaughlin, who lied to Secretary of State Powell about the sources for the secretary's speech to the UN Security Council.

Rove’s case benefited, too, from CIA senior analysts such as Robert Walpole and Paul Pillar, who helped craft specious documents such as a National Intelligence Estimate and a white paper that were used to influence the congressional vote on the use of force authorization in October 2002.

As the chief of the CIA's largest analytic office Alan Foley told his senior managers, "If the President decides to go to war, it's our job to supply the intelligence to allow him to do so."

Foley's comments took place several days after Tenet assured President Bush that gathering intelligence support for a public case to go to war would be a "slam dunk."

At the Pentagon, Douglas Feith and Abram Shulsky created the Office of Special Plans (OSP) to circulate intelligence that even the CIA did not believe was credible. According to the Pentagon's Inspector General, OSP's major mission was to provide the White House with so-called intelligence to make the case for war.

Feith regularly briefed the White House on this disinformation in August and September 2002 and then passed the "classified" findings to Stephen Hayes of the Weekly Standard. The OSP had close links with the Defense Policy Board, whose members - particularly Richard Perle, former CIA Director Jim Woolsey and former Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich - peddled the OSP's disinformation to high-level opinion makers at home and abroad.

There were many CIA and Defense Department puppets in this effort, but two major Geppettos pulling the strings in the White House: one named Libby and one named Rove. Perhaps that is why the Rove memoir is titled Courage and Consequence and not “Truth and Consequence.”

Melvin A. Goodman, a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and adjunct professor of government at Johns Hopkins University, spent 42 years with the CIA, the National War College, and the U.S. Army. His latest book is Failure of Intelligence: The Decline and Fall of the CIA. [This story originally appeared at]

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