Chutzpah, Thy Name Is Perle

Jim Lobe writes for Inter Press Service, an international newswire, and for Foreign Policy in Focus, a joint project of the Washington-based Institute for Policy Studies and the New Mexico-based Interhemispheric Resource Center.

Chutzpahâa Yiddish word that the dictionary defines as "unmitigated effrontery or impertinence, gall"âis best illustrated by a much-cited anecdote.

"Chutzpah is when a man kills his mother and his father and then throws himself on the mercy of the court on the grounds that he is an orphan."

In the last few days in Washington, however, prominent neoconservatives, particularly arch-hawk Richard Perle, are giving new meaning to the word.

It wasn't enough that Perle, author of a new book titled An End to Evil: How to Win the War on Terrorism, gave the keynote speech last week at a rally at the Washington Convention Center in solidarity for an Iranian rebel group officially listed by the State Department as a "foreign terrorist organization." (A self-described terrorism expert, Perle later pleaded ignorance about the rally's purpose, despite the fact that the Red Cross and the La Leche League had figured out the connection and withdrawn their own association with the event.)

No, now Perle and his fellow neoconservatives are hailing chief U.S. weapons-of-mass-destruction hunter, David Kay. On resigning from his post last week, Kay charged that the intelligence community, and particularly the CIA, clearly exaggerated the size and scope of Saddam Hussein's alleged WMD programs. "I don't think they existed," he said, insisting that he himself, as well as the intelligence community, "were almost all wrong" about Iraq's alleged WMD stockpiles and reconstitution of Iraq's nuclear-arms program.

"I have always thought our intelligence in the Gulf has been woefully inadequate," Perle, former chairman of the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board (DPB), confided to The New York Times after Kay disclosed his findings.

You would think from that remark that Perle had spent the run-up to the Iraq invasion warning Congress and the public that the intelligence community had hyped the WMD threat posed by Saddam Hussein.

But, if you thought that, of course, you would be dead wrong. No, Perle and his close associatesâsuch as Center for Security Policy president Frank Gaffney and former CIA director James Woolseyâsaid quite the opposite: their single-minded message, repeated endlessly in op-ed columns, television interviews and Congressional testimony, was that the intelligence community was consistently underestimating the Iraqi threat in a deliberate effort to undermine the drive to war.

Their campaign nowâand there is an orchestrated campaign underway, make no mistakeâis to blame the CIA for exaggerating the Iraqi threat must rank right up there with parenticidal orphans.

It was Gaffney, a long-time Perle protÃgà who worked under him in Sen. "Scoop" Jackson's office and later at the Pentagon during the Reagan administration, for example, who was raising alarms over Hussein's non-existent "atomic and perhaps even thermonuclear weapons" even before 9/11.

Hawking The War

"He (Hussein) has weapons of mass destruction," Perle stated unequivocally as early as November 2001âeven as his friends in the Pentagon were setting up their Office of Special Plans (OSP), an informal intelligence unit whose job it was to mine raw intelligence to find and disseminate the most threatening possible evidence of Iraq's WMD programs and alleged ties to Al Qaeda that the neoconservatives thought the CIA or even the Pentagon's own Defense Intelligence Agency had not given adequate credence.

Perle even used his good offices as DPB chairman to ensure that "defectors" handled by his good friend Ahmed Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress (INC)âsuch as Khidir Hamza, a former nuclear scientist who stoked totally unfounded fears that Hussein was reconstituting his nuclear-weapons programâwere given the widest possible exposure to policy-makers. Senior intelligence officials have since identified the INC's defectors as the source of a great deal of the mis-, if not dis-information, that skewed its assessments.

For Perle, Hussein's WMD program was simply a given. "If (Hussein) eludes us and continues to refine, perfect and expand his arsenal of chemical and biological weapons," he testified to Congress in the fall of 2002, "the danger to us, already great, will only grow." The problem, of course, was that the arsenal whose existence was never subject to the slightest doubt by Perle and his friends didn't exist.

Indeed, just two weeks before his friend Kay acknowledged there were simply no weapons to be found, Perle insisted to an audience at his home base, the American Enterprise Institute, "I don't think that you can draw any conclusion from the fact that stockpiles were not found."

While Perle clearly assumed the existence of a massive WMD threat as described by his INC sources, he was even more expansive in the run-up to the war about Hussein's alleged operational ties to Al Qaeda, a notion for which only the political appointees at OSP could ever find even the slightest, but almost always uncorroborated, evidence.

Perle, for example, has always insisted that 9/11's operational mastermind, Mohammed Atta, met with an Iraqi intelligence official, Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani, at a Prague cafe five months before the suicide hijackings, despite the fact that the CIA and the FBI have both concluded that Atta was in Florida at the time of the alleged meeting. When al-Ani was captured by U.S. forces last July, Perle declared that his version of events would soon be confirmed, but then, in a suggestion that the CIA could not be trusted, added, "a lot depends on who is doing the interrogating." By all accounts, al-Ani has steadfastly denied ever meeting Atta, a problem Perle has not addressed lately.

An Axe To Grind Against The CIA

Perle and his fellow-neocons' contempt for the CIA dates to the 1970s when he and then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld accused the agency of being naive about Soviet strategic capabilities and intentions. That set the pattern. To Perle, the CIA, like the State Department, has long been a haven for naive and foolish "liberals" incapable of understanding just how dangerous and threatening the enemyâany enemyâreally is.

"Over time, it has become an agency with very strong, mostly liberal policy views, and these views have again and again distorted its analysis and presentation of its own information," Perle wrote in An End to Evil, which was co-authored by former White House speechwriter, David Frum.

"The CIA is blinded, too, by the squeamishness that many liberal-minded people feel about noticing the dark side of third world cultures," he continued, arguing that this is especially true of the Arab world. "The CIA's reports on the Middle East today are colored by similar ideological biasesâexacerbated by poor understanding of the region's culture and a politically correct disinclination to acknowledge unflattering facts about non-Western peoples."

"(D)ata yields useful information only if it is analyzed without ideological prejudices or institutional biases," according to Perle's book. "A good intelligence analyst must constantly question his own ideas about the phenomena he studies."

Good advice. Now, if only Perle and his fellow-neocons had applied it to themselves, their own assessments might not have been so much worse than the CIA's.

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