Book Review: A Pretext for War: 9/11, Iraq, and the Abuse of America’s Intelligence Agencies

Full Disclosure. Circa 2001 I was probably what we would now call a ‘Neo-Con.’ I originally supported the current war in Iraq out of ignorance (of the evidence) and a belief that Bush would always, or at least usually, do the right thing. I now concede that I was WAY off. I now feel as though I was lied to or at least manipulated.

[One minor point … though many have claimed that the Bush administration claimed that Iraq was involved in the 9/11 attacks, I’ve never personally seen that claim.]

A Pretext for War: 9/11, Iraq, and the Abuse of America’s Intelligence Agencies

Hardcover: 432 pages
Publisher: Doubleday; First printing edition (June 8, 2004)
ISBN-10: 0385506724

Years ago (circa 1990), I read James Bamford’s Puzzle Palace, the first time many of us had ever heard of the NSA. So Bamford is no newbie to this subject matter, with respect to writing A Pretext for War: 9/11, Iraq, and the Abuse of America’s Intelligence Agencies. He clearly has a number of trustworthy inside sources.

In A Pretext for War: 9/11, Iraq, and the Abuse of America’s Intelligence Agencies, Bamford describes the roles of the CIA, FBI, and NSA from the lead-up to the 9/11 attacks to the Bush administration’s marketing tactics in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. In short, it’s a tale of incompetence, turf fights, bad luck, and bureacracy. While I generally find the vast majority of Bamford’s narrative convincing and fair, I think at times he takes advantage of hindsight to put pieces together that were not necessarily clear before the events took place. This does not detract from the fact that numerous mistakes were made and that significant problems remain.

Some items of note from the book:
1. The Central Security Service is the NSA’s paramilitary organization. p. 53
2. Site ‘R’ – an interesting tale. p. 64
3. 2857th Test Squadron, secret group, exists solely to extract POTUS and VP from the rubble of the White House after a nuclear attack. p. 64

4. Ike’s secret govt. [particularly scary] p. 71
5. Building 7 of the World Trade Center, more information. p. 82
6. Camp Peary, the CIA’s 10,000 acre training center near Williamsburg, Virginia. p. 131

7. NOC or ‘Non-traditional Platform': a group within the CIA’s Clandestine Service, still wrapped in mystery, few mknow many details, may involve deniability. p. 190
8. TIPOFF, State Department’s terrorist watchlist. p. 228
9. Operation Bramble Bush. It sounds like few options are off the table for some clandestine ops. p. 264

10. David Wurmser, an adviser to Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz, looking for a pretext for war allegedly claimed, “Crises can be opportunities.” Reminds me of Rahm Emanuel. [You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before. — Rahm Emanuel]
11. More detail about the Valeria Plame/Joe Wilson affair than I’d read before. After reading this account I’m beginning to believe that the Niger ‘yellowcake’ story was known by the Bush administration to be bogus, but taken at face value since it backed-up what they wanted to do.
12. Ahmed Chalabi was (is?) a questionable character with his own agendas, he looks to have played the U.S. like a fiddle at times. pp. 291-292

13. The Rendon Group. This part of the story is one of the most unsettling in my opinion. I immediately wondered what else is being manipulated? Maybe it’s easier to ask what isn’t? p. 295
14. The Office of Strategic Influence. I don’t care for the way that sounds. p. 296
15. The head of the CIA is only in control of 15% of the nation’s intelligence assets, the rest fall under the Secretary of Defense.

As mentioned above, we can now see that it was poor decision-making, incompetence, bad luck, mistakes, and agendas that allowed the the 9/11 attackers to succeed, at times literally under the nose of the NSA. After 9/11 attacks the White House manipulated information, cherry-picked information, and appear to have lied at times in order to start a war with Iraq. The U.S. Congress clearly failed again and again in its oversight responsibilities and deferred too much to the White House. I think the bottom line is that if only half of what Bamford claims is true (and I suspect it’s MUCH higher than that), we’re in trouble. Even moreso than before, I question what were are told, and why we are told it. The book is a good read and a bit of an eye-opener. You may realize that the federal government and it’s intelligence agencies are capable of much more than you expected.