Paul R. Pillar’s Intelligence and U.S. Foreign Policy: Iraq, 9/11, and Misguided Reform

The latest book from a former CIA agent promises to be a good read, but does it deliver on this promise?

by Alyssa A. Lappen
Family Security Matters | Oct. 21, 2011

Intelligence and U.S. Foreign Policy: Iraq, 9/11, and Misguided Reform
by Paul R. Pillar

Released September 6, 2011
Publisher: Columbia University Press (432 pp)
ISBN-10: 0231157924
ISBN-13: 978-0231157926

The preface to Intelligence and U.S. Foreign Policy: Iraq, 9/11, and Misguided Reform promises a good read as former CIA officer Paul R. Pillar details perches from which he “observed the end of one misguided war and the beginning of another” — a pair of bookends to his public service career and “two tragically ill-conceived military expeditions.” In 1973, as the Vietnam war wound down, Pillar served as a junior army field officer at Camp Alpha outside Saigon. From 2000 to 2005, he headed CIA national intelligence for the Near East and South Asia in Washington D.C. — albeit with hardly “any more influence on events in one job than in the other.”

Unfortunately, the book quickly disappoints.

On joining any U.S. military or intelligence service, officers must swear a solemn oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic;… bear true faith and allegiance to the same;…[and] obey the orders of the President of the United States….”

But like a stutterer intent on avoiding words he can’t pronounce, Pillar has mentally blocked names for the enemies against whom the U.S. must now defend. He omits mention of jihad or Islam, whose chief Al Azhar University and Muslim Brotherhood intellectuals have for decades declared war on the U.S. — and lists neither term in his too-brief, five-page index. Yet he’s proud to have headed the team that held secret talks with the Libyan regime of Muammar Qaddafi to “become an ally,” an ally that subsequently the U.S. helped replace with al Qaeda peons.

All this unwittingly represents what U.S. Air Force major John M. Klein, Jr. might call “intellectual emasculation” and signals Pillar’s active role in catastrophic failures that have plagued U.S. intelligence since the Iranian hostage crisis, to borrow a phrase from former Joint Chiefs of Staff officer Stephen C. Coughlin.

Early on, Pillar reveals his personal biases against “neoconservative” Jewish advisers and policies of the “Israeli political Right,” which he insists manufactured the raisons d’être for the 2003 Iraq invasion. (pp. 15-30) He also claims U.S. intelligence unearthed no al Qaeda connections in Iraq, or evidence that Saddam Hussein ran chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs in various stages of advance. He seems to have persuaded himself, but both assertions are demonstrably false. Indeed, redacted captured Iraqi documents, published by the U.S. military in Arabic and English translation, have been publicly available since 2007, as Jim Lacey brilliantly reported last month in the National Review. Clearly, Iraq did indeed have both biological and chemical weapons.

Assuredly, moreover, Pillar knows that Saddam Hussein at one time had a nuclear weapons program and periodically bought West African yellowcake to supply it — even if the purchases were not coincident with former CIA agent Joe Wilson’s 2002 investigation in Niger. In July 2008, the U.S. shipped to Canada 550 metric tons of evidence — concentrated natural uranium, later widely identified as “the last major remnant of Saddam Hussein’s nuclear program.”

By 2010, even DigitalGlobe images on Google Earth confirmed existence of at least five Syrian facilities, three of them respectively reported in 2004 and earlier, by a defecting Syrian journalist and Iraqi general, to store transported Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. But Pillar neglects Syria and the Al-Kibar graphite nuclear reactor under construction in September 2007 — just over Iraq’s border, and across a bridge on the Euphrates. Israeli bombers dipped under Syria’s radar and took out the plant, meant to process plutonium for an Iranian heavy-water reactor then rising, in nearby Arak. Soil samples gathered by the United Nation’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) included key chemically processed “anthropogenic natural uranium particles,” undeclared in Syria’s nuclear inventory.

As for Syria, al Qaeda and their close ties to Iran — Pillar barely scrapes the surface. From October 2000 to February 2001, a senior Hezbollah commander ferried eight to 10 of the 14 Saudi “muscle” operatives on trips to and from Iran, the 9/11 Commission reported. Imad Mughniyah also reportedly co-founded Muqtada al-Sadr’s Iraqi Mehdi Army, co-sponsored Basra’s Thaarullah (God’s Revenge), drafted Kuwaitis and Saudis and trained recruits in Lebanon’s Bekka Valley. Imad Mughniyah was assassinated in Damascus’ diplomatic district in February 2008 — near Iran’s embassy and Syria’s national Atomic Energy Commission (AECS) — after meeting Hamas chief Khalid Mashaal and a general of Bashar al-Assad assassinated in Tartous five months later. With help from Germany, and later Russia, Iran’s first nuclear plant at Bushehr went live in September 2011.

By 2002, Iraq had bought nearly 1 million tons of mostly Russian munitions. Before the war, Russia moved them, noted former Romanian intelligence chief Ion Mihai Pacepa in August 2003. After visiting Iraq no fewer than 20 times over the prior six years, Russian Gen. Yevgeny Primakov, returned to Iraq in late 2002 — with a Russian former deputy defense minister, an ex-air defense chief and others, according to Pacepa, the Soviet bloc’s highest official to defect. Anticipating Iraq’s defeat, Russia oversaw an emergency “Sarindar” exit plan to liquidate its arms, but keep material and skills to remake them. Pacepa learned of Sarindar from Romanian secretary general Nicolae Ceausescu, KGB chair Yury Andropov, and Gen. Primakov, who cheered Arab radicals, manged Iraqi weapons supplies, and hates Israel. Arabic documents captured by Operation Iraqi Freedom troops discussed the plans, too. One featured an unknown man telling Hussein, the “factories will be in our brains and souls, and [we] can make missiles…and can certainly achieve a great deal in one, two, or five years.” As the February 2006 Intelligence Summit disclosed, an Army unit published many tapes online and requested help translating from the public. Tape ISGC-2003-M0003997 mentioned removal of warheads from Iraq. The Army quickly deleted published tapes, which the government never again referenced, although captured, translated and redacted English and Arabic documents, published by the U.S. military in 2007, have remained available since then, as noted above; invalidating all claims that Saddam Hussein did not have biological or chemical weapons. He certainly did.

Meanwhile, former U.S. Deputy Undersecretary of Defense John A. Shaw fully briefed CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) officials with independent data. He documented identities, strengths and dates of Russian Spetsnaz transports, through files gathered by his U.K. contacts in London and at Syria’s border, Ukraine intelligence chief Igor Smesko and a friend of the late David Nicholas, then Europe’s Organization for Security and Co-operation (OSCE) Ambassador to Kiev. DIA rejected it as “Israeli disinformation;” the CIA likewise tried to discredit Shaw’s sources.

Oddly, none of this appears in Pillar’s book.

U.S. intelligence systems are overly politicized, an “affliction” Pillar compares to “alcoholism,” whose victims, ironically, often exhibit denial. But he ignores its chief result — that volumes of known intelligence, for many political reasons, go unreported, or are altogether hidden. Masses of classified documents located by 9/11 Commission members on the eve of their report’s publication attest to Iran’s long history of operating with al Qaeda — data that Pillar and U.S. intelligence agencies never officially mentioned or, apparently, investigated. Nor, to date, have intelligence agencies acknowledged or addressed their penetration by National Iranian American Council (NIAC) operatives and others — the “Iran Lobby” of which 2008 reports in Tehran-controlled Aftab News and Baztab News openly bragged.

To yank political thorns from the sides of U.S. intelligence forces, Pillar proposes an outrageous solution — “substantial paring down of the unusually large political layer of the executive branch.” (p. 12) The U.S. should institutionalize intelligence agencies’ independence, he says, and create a “collective body, somewhat akin to the Federal Reserve Board of Governors,” and give it the “last say” on intelligence community “output.” (pp. 314-315) A new bureaucracy, requiring Senate hearings — “with probably not all nominations in the hands of the president.”

The U.S. desperately needs some practical means to eliminate political cat fighting inside and between intelligence agencies — and with the executive branch. Yet another costly layer of officialdom would only complicate things, which are bad largely for reasons unrelated to Pillar’s complaints. Besides, trying to institute an enormous new supervisory board over matters of national security might not work too well, considering an all-time record of Americans — 80% — currently disapprove of Congress.

On Sept. 22, 1776, the British hanged Nathan Hale for spying. After Gen. Washington’s forces expelled them, Americans saw no further need for intelligence, quips Pillar at one point. Until July 1941, “America’s splendid geographic isolation” and infrequent interaction with outside powers made U.S. intelligence service superfluous and essentially intolerable except during time of war.

Since Pearl Harbor, though, blaming U.S. intelligence professionals and agencies for trauma suffered at foreign hands has grown into a sort of iconic national sport. Too bad this book squandered a chance to meaningfully advance our understanding of the game.

______________________________________________________ Contributing Editor Alyssa A. Lappen is a U.S.-based investigative journalist, with a focus on the Middle East and Islam. A former Senior Fellow of the American Center for Democracy (2005-2008), she previously covered the economy, business and finance, as a Senior Editor at Institutional Investor (1993-1999), Working Woman (1991-1993) and Corporate Finance (1991); and an Associate Editor at Forbes (1978-1990).

She contributes regularly to the Terror Finance Blog and International Analyst Network and her work appears frequently in Pajamas Media, Front Page Magazine, American Thinker, Right Side News, the Washington Times and many other Internet and print journals.

Ms. Lappen is also an accomplished poet, whose work has won several awards and honorable mentions, and appeared in dozens of books and (print and online) literary journals, including the 2007, second edition of Blood to Remember: American Poets on the Holocaust and issues of Wales’ notable Seventh Quarry: Swansea Poetry Magazine.

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Alyssa A. Lappen is a U.S.-based investigative journalist. She is the former Managing Editor at the Leeb Group (2012-2017); a former Senior Fellow of the American Center for Democracy (2005-2008); and a former Senior Editor of Institutional Investor (1993-1999), Working Woman (1991-1993) and Corporate Finance (1991). She served six of her 12 years at Forbes (1978-1990) as an Associate Editor. Ms. Lappen was also a staff reporter at The New Haven Register (1975-1977). During a decade as a freelance, her work appeared in Big Peace, Pajamas Media, Front Page Magazine, American Thinker, Right Side News, Family Security Matters, the Washington Times and many other Internet and print journals. Ms. Lappen also contributed to the Terror Finance Blog, among others. She supports the right of journalists worldwide to write without fear or restriction on politics, governments, international affairs, terrorism, terror financing and religious support for terrorism, among other subjects. Ms. Lappen is also an accomplished poet. Her first full-length collection, The Minstrel's Song, was published by Cross-Cultural Communications in April 2015. Her poems have been published in the 2nd 2007 edition of Blood to Remember: American Poets on the Holocaust and both 2007 issues of Wales' award-winning Seventh Quarry: Swansea Poetry Magazine. Dozens of her poems have appeared in print and online literary journals and books. She won the 2000 annual Ruah: A Journal of Spiritual Poetry chapbook award and has received a Harvard Summer Poetry Prize and several honorable mentions.

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