Tyler Drumheller, the CIA’s former master spy in Europe, appeared on 60 Minutes last night. Before I get into what he had to say, I want to make an observation about his position. As head of covert operations for Europe, Drumheller managed the Station Chiefs of Paris, Berlin, Rome…In other words, he had the most coveted and prestigious job in the entire agency. He was a 26-year veteran that had reached the pinnacle of a very, very successful career. He wasn’t deskbound in Langley, he wasn’t bogged down in interdepartmental meetings or with Congressional briefings. He was our master spy, and he was operating in Europe in 2002 as our country tried to win the support of France and Germany for a preemptive war with Iraq.

There is not a whole lot about the case for war that this guy doesn’t know. So, what does he have to say?

“The idea of going after Iraq was U.S. policy. It was going to happen one way or the other,” says Drumheller.

More below the fold.

Drumheller’s words echo those of Richard Dearlove (known as ‘C’), the former head of Britian’s MI6.

C reported on his recent talks in Washington. There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. The NSC had no patience with the UN route, and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime’s record.

Let’s stop for a moment and consider…we now have the testimony of the two most important spies in Europe, the head of MI6 and our head of covert operations, that regime change was our policy from early on in 2002, and that the facts were fixed around the policy. There can no longer be any dispute. We went to war as a first resort, and all the efforts we made with the United Nations and the inspectors were nothing more than a dishonest charade.

But, what about those famous Niger documents? How did they play into all of this?

The road to war in Iraq took some strange turns — none stranger than a detour to the West African country of Niger. In late 2001, a month after 9/11, the United States got a report from the Italian intelligence service that Saddam Hussein had bought 500 tons of so-called yellowcake uranium in order to build a nuclear bomb.

But Drumheller says many CIA analysts were skeptical. “Most people came to the opinion that there was something questionable about it,” he says.

Asked if that was his reaction, Drumheller says, “That was our reaction from the very beginning. The report didn’t hold together.”

Drumheller says that was the “general feeling” in the agency at that time.

How did Drumheller come to the conclusion that the Niger documents ‘didn’t hold together’? In October 2002, Italian reporter, Elisabeta Burba, delivered the documents to the American Embassy in Rome. The CIA’s Station Chief had a look at them and called his boss, Drumheller.

She gave copies of the papers to the U.S. Embassy in Rome. It was the first time the U.S. government had gotten its hands on the documents at the heart of the Niger story.

Drumheller says the CIA station chief in Rome, who worked for him, told him he didn’t believe it. “He said, ‘It’s not true. It’s not; this isn’t real,'” Drumheller recalls.

Nevertheless, the documents were sent on to Washington. They were sent to John Bolton’s Department of Non-Proliferation at State, to an unidentified department of the CIA, and may have been passed on to military intelligence as well.

When the documents arrived in Washington, State Department analysts quickly concluded they were suspect. One analyst wrote in an e-mail: “you’ll note that it bears a funky Emb. of Niger stamp (to make it look official, I guess).”

Even so, John Bolton’s group published the uranium charges as a point the Iraqi’s weapons disclosure to the UN inspectors didn’t address. And the administration continued to push the story, even after it was officially debunked by the National Intelligence Council in January 2003.

I will return to the Niger documents in another piece. We need to look very carefully at the October 2002 timeline. For now, though, let’s look at another revelation from Drumheller…this one, new.

the CIA had made a major intelligence breakthrough on Iraq’s nuclear program. Naji Sabri, Iraq’s foreign minister, had made a deal to reveal Iraq’s military secrets to the CIA. Drumheller was in charge of the operation.

“This was a very high inner circle of Saddam Hussein. Someone who would know what he was talking about,” Drumheller says.

“You knew you could trust this guy?” Bradley asked.

“We continued to validate him the whole way through,” Drumheller replied.

According to Drumheller, CIA Director George Tenet delivered the news about the Iraqi foreign minister at a high-level meeting at the White House, including the president, the vice president and Secretary of State Rice.

At that meeting, Drumheller says, “They were enthusiastic because they said, they were excited that we had a high-level penetration of Iraqis.”

What did this high-level source tell him?

“He told us that they had no active weapons of mass destruction program,” says Drumheller.

“So in the fall of 2002, before going to war, we had it on good authority from a source within Saddam’s inner circle that he didn’t have an active program for weapons of mass destruction?” Bradley asked.

“Yes,” Drumheller replied. He says there was doubt in his mind at all.

“It directly contradicts, though, what the president and his staff were telling us,” Bradley remarked.

“The policy was set,” Drumheller says. “The war in Iraq was coming. And they were looking for intelligence to fit into the policy, to justify the policy.”

While I don’t find any of these new revelations surprising in the least, they should be surprising to anyone who took the Robb-Silbermann or Senate Select Committee on Intelligence reports seriously. As Josh Marshall points out:

So why didn’t we hear about any of this in the reports of those Iraq intel commissions that have given the White House a clean bill of health on distorting the intel and misleading the country about what we knew about Iraq’s alleged WMD programs?

Think about it. It’s devastating evidence against their credibility on a slew of levels.

Did you read in any of those reports — even in a way that would protect sources and methods — that the CIA had turned a key member of the Iraqi regime, that that guy had said there weren’t any active weapons programs, and that the White House lost interest in what he was saying as soon as they realized it didn’t help the case for war? What about what he said about the Niger story?

Did the Robb-Silbermann Commission not hear about what Drumheller had to say? What about the Roberts Committee?

I asked Drumheller just those questions when I spoke to him early this evening. He was quite clear. He was interviewed by the Robb-Silbermann Commission. Three times apparently.

Did he tell them everything he revealed on tonight’s 60 Minutes segment. Absolutely.

Drumheller was also interviewed twice by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (the Roberts Committee) but apparently only after they released their summer 2004 report.

Now, quite a few of us have been arguing for almost two years now that those reports were fundamentally dishonest in the story they told about why we were so badly misled in the lead up to war. The fact that none of Drumheller’s story managed to find its way into those reports, I think, speaks volumes about the agenda that the writers of those reports were pursuing.

“I was stunned,” Drumheller told me, when so little of the stuff he had told the commission’s and the committee’s investigators ended up in their reports. His colleagues, he said, were equally “in shock” that so little of what they related ended up in the reports either.

There you have it, ladies and gentlemen. What clearer evidence could we have of the way ‘bipartisan’ commissions in Washington, D.C. operate? I don’t care if it is the Robb-Silbermann Commission, the Warren Commission, the 9/11 Commission, or Congressional investigations. They don’t get to the bottom of the truth…they spin the truth to maintain momentum for pre-established policies and to prevent the American public from losing faith in the wisdom and morals of our governmental leaders.

Bush lied us into a war. It wasn’t an intelligence failure. Not even close. It was, as Drumheller concludes:

“…I think over time, people will look back on this and see this is going to be one of the great, I think, policy mistakes of all time.”

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