- Dear Admiral Fallon:
- I have not been able to find out how to reach you directly,
so I have drafted this letter in the hope it will come to your attention.
- First, thank you for honoring the oath we commissioned
officers take to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States
from all enemies, foreign and domestic. As you are doubtless aware, that
oath has no expiration date; it remains on active duty, so to speak.
- You have let it be known that, even though you are now
retired, you do not intend to speak, on or off the record, about the looming
war with Iran.
- You are acutely aware of the dangers of attacking Iran,
but seem to be allowing an inbred reluctance to challenge your erstwhile
commander in chief to trump that oath, and to prevent you from letting
the American people know of the catastrophe about to befall us if, as seems
likely, our country attacks Iran.
- Two years ago I lectured at the Naval Academy in Annapolis.
I found it highly disturbing that, when asked about the oath they took
upon entering the academy, several of the "Mids" thought it was
to the commander in chief. This brought to my mind the photos of German
generals and admirals (as well as top church leaders and jurists) swearing
personal oaths to Hitler. Not our tradition, and yet..
- I was aghast that only the third Mid I called on got
it right - that the oath is to protect and defend the Constitution, not
- Attack Iran: Trash the Constitution
- No doubt you are very clear that an attack on Iran would
be a flagrant violation of the Constitution of the United States, which
stipulates that treaties ratified by the Senate become the supreme law
of the land; that the United Nations Charter treaty - which the Senate
ratified by a vote of 89 to 2 on July 28, 1945 - expressly forbids attacks
on other countries, unless they pose an imminent danger; that there is
no provision allowing some other kind of "pre-emptive" or "preventive"
attack against a nation that poses no imminent danger; and that Iran poses
no imminent danger to the United States or its allies.
- You may be forgiven for thinking: Isn't 41 years of service
enough; isn't it enough that I resigned in order to remove myself from
a chain of command with no conscience or respect for national or international
law - that I shuddered at the thought of being charged in some earthly
or heavenly court as a war criminal, if I "just followed orders"
and helped start an unprovoked war on Iran? Isn't making my misgivings
known to journalists last year, realizing fully that this could be a career-ender
- isn't all that enough?
- With respect, sir, no, that's not enough. The stakes
here are extremely high, and together with the integrity you have already
shown goes still further responsibility. Sadly, the vast majority of your
general officer colleagues have, for whatever reason, ducked that responsibility.
You are pretty much it.
- In their lust for attacking Iran, administration officials
will do their best to marginalize you, but you do not strike me as one
likely to be deterred by that. And, prominent a person that you are, the
corporate media surely will try to do the same, if you exposed the lies
given as justification for attacking Iran.
- Indeed, there are clear signs the media have been given
their marching orders to support an attack on Iran-to include pre-censorship
of factual stories exposing administration hyperbole and fecklessness,
as the White House and the Pentagon paint a dubious portrait of the dangers
posed by Iran.
- Preparing a Captive Audience for War
- At the CIA I used to analyze the Soviet press, so you
will understand when I refer to the Washington Post and the New York Times
as the White House's Pravda and Izvestiya. Sadly, these days it is as easy
as during the days of the controlled Soviet press to follow our own government's
evolving line with a daily reading of our own controlled press.
- In a word, our newspapers are dutifully revving up for
war on Iran, and are even trotting out some of the most widely discredited
cheerleaders for war on Iraq - the New York Times' Michael Gordon of aluminum
tubes fame, for example, who is again parroting what he gets from administration
officials and casting it as news.
- In some respects the manipulation and suppression of
information in the present lead-up to an attack on Iran is even more flagrant
and all encompassing than in early 2003 before the invasion of Iraq.
- It seems entirely possible that you are unaware of a
recent misadventure that speaks volumes about this - unaware precisely
because the media have put the wraps on it. So let me adduce one striking
example of what is afoot here. The example has to do with the studied,
if disingenuous, effort over recent months to blame all the troubles in
southern Iraq on the "malignant" influence of Iran.
- Sadly, some of your erstwhile colleagues are among the
- But Covering Up Fiasco
- Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman, Adm. Mike Mullen told
reporters on April 25 that Gen. David Petraeus would be giving a briefing
"in the next couple of weeks" that would provide detailed evidence
of "just how far Iran is reaching into Iraq to foment instability."
Petraeus' staff alerted U.S. media to a major news event in which captured
Iranian arms in Karbala would be displayed and then destroyed.
- Small problem. When American munitions experts went to
Karbala to inspect the alleged cache of Iranian weapons they found nothing
that could be linked credibly to Iran.
- News to you? That's because this potentially embarrassing
episode went virtually unreported in the media-like the proverbial tree
falling in the forest with no corporate media to hear it crash. So Mullen
and Petraeus live, uninhibited and unembarrassed, to keep searching for
Iranian weapons so the media can then tell a story more supportive of the
orders they have been given to find ways to blame Iran for the troubles
in Iraq. Luckily for them, a fiasco is only a fiasco if folks know about
- Media suppression of this misadventure is the most significant
aspect of this story, in my view, and a telling indicator of how difficult
it is to find honest reporting on these key issues.
- Meanwhile, the Iraqis announced that Iraqi Prime Minister
Nouri al-Maliki had formed his own Cabinet committee to investigate U.S.
claims about Iranian weapons, and to attempt to "find tangible information
and not information based on speculation."
- Dismissing the Intelligence Estimate
- Top officials from the president on down have been dismissing
the key judgment of the National Intelligence Estimate released on December
3, 2007, a judgment concurred in by the 16 intelligence units of our government,
that Iran had stopped the weapons-related part of its nuclear program in
- Always willing to do his part, the malleable CIA chief,
Michael Hayden, on April 30 publicly offered his "personal opinion"
that Iran is building a nuclear weapon-the National Intelligence Estimate
notwithstanding. For good measure, Hayden added:
- "It is my opinion, it is the policy of the Iranian
government, approved to the highest level of that government, to facilitate
the killing of Americans in Iraq.Just make sure there's clarity on that."
- Voicing his various "opinions," Hayden is beginning
to sound like the overly clever lawyers who advised him, orally, that it
would be just fine to order NSA to violate the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance
Act (FISA), and like the other attorneys who approved water boarding.
- And, please, tell me why we should care about Hayden's
"personal opinion?" My neighbor Suzie, who gets her news from
FOX, keeps voicing her "personal opinion" that all Muslims want
to kill Americans, that generals with blue uniforms are the most trustworthy,
and that weapons of mass destruction will still be found in Iraq.
- But, seriously, I don't need to tell you about the Haydens
and the other smartly saluting, desk-riding headquarters generals here
- The Price of Silence
- What I would suggest is that you have a serious conversation
with a real general, Gen. Anthony Zinni, one of your predecessor CENTOM
commanders (1997 to 2000). As you know probably better than I, this Marine
general is an officer of unusual integrity. Nevertheless, when placed into
circumstances very similar to those you now face, he could not find his
voice. And so he missed his chance to interrupt-or at least slow down-the
juggernaut to war in Iraq. You might ask him how he feels about that now,
and what he would advise in current circumstances.
- Zinni happened to be one of the honorees at the Veterans
of Foreign Wars convention on August 26,2002, at which Vice President Dick
Cheney delivered the exceedingly alarmist speech, unsupported by our best
intelligence, about the nuclear threat and other perils awaiting us at
the hands of Saddam Hussein. That speech not only launched the seven-month
public campaign against Iraq leading up to the war, but set the terms of
reference for the Oct. 1, 2002 National Intelligence Estimate fabricated
- yes, fabricated - to convince Congress to approve war on Iraq, which
it did ten days later.
- Gen. Zinni later shared publicly that, as he listened
to Cheney, he was shocked to hear a depiction of intelligence that did
not square with what he knew. Although Zinni had retired two years earlier,
his role as consultant had required him to stay up to date on intelligence
relating to the Middle East. One Sunday morning three and a half years
after Cheney's speech, Zinni told Meet the Press. "There was no solid
proof that Saddam had weapons of mass destructionI heard a case being made
to go to war."
- Zinni had as good a chance as anyone to stop an unnecessary
war-not a "pre-emptive war," since there was nothing to pre-empt
- and Zinni knew it. What he and other knowledgeable officials could -
and should - have tried to block was a war of aggression, defined at the
post-WWII Nuremberg Tribunal as the "supreme international crime."
- Sure, Zinni would have had to stick his neck out. He
may have had to speak out alone, since most senior officials, like then-CIA
Director George Tenet, lacked courage and integrity. In his memoir published
a year ago, Tenet writes that Cheney did not follow the usual practice
of clearing his August 26, 2002 speech with the CIA; that much of what
Cheney said took him completely by surprise; and that Tenet "had the
impression that the president wasn't any more aware of what his number-two
was going to say to the VFW until he said it."
- It is difficult to believe that Cheney's shameless speech
took "slam-dunk" Tenet completely by surprise. We know from the
Downing Street Minutes, vouched for by the UK as authentic, that Tenet
told his British counterpart on July 20, 2002 that the president had decided
to make war on Iraq for regime change and that "the intelligence and
facts were being fixed around the policy".
- Encore: Iran
- Admiral Fallon, you know this to be the case also now
with respect to the "intelligence" being fixed to "justify"
war with Iran. And no one knows better than you that your departure from
the chain of command has turned it over completely to smartly saluting
martinets. No doubt you have long since taken the measure, for example,
of Defense Secretary Robert Gates. So have I.
- I was his branch chief when he was a young, disruptively
ambitious, CIA analyst. When Ronald Reagan's CIA Director William Casey
sought someone to shape CIA analysis to accord with his own conviction
that the Soviet Union would never change, Gates leaped at the chance, proved
his mettle, and bubbled right up to be chief of analysis. After Casey died,
Gates admitted to the Washington Post's Walter Pincus that he (Gates) watched
Casey on "issue after issue sit in meetings and present intelligence
framed in terms of the policy he wanted pursued." Gates' entire career
showed that he learned well at Casey's knee.
- So it should come as no surprise that, despite the unanimous
judgment of the 16 U.S. intelligence agencies that Iran stopped the weapons-related
aspects of its nuclear program in mid-2003, Gates is now repeating the
party line that Iran is hell-bent on acquiring nuclear weapons. Some of
his earlier statements were more ambiguous, but Gates recently took advantage
of the opportunity to bend with the prevailing winds and freshen his own
loyalty oath - to the president.
- In an interview on events in the Middle East with a New
York Times reporter on April 11, Gates was asked whether he was on the
same page as the president, Gates replied, "Same line, same word."
I imagine you are no more surprised at that than I. Bottom line: Gates
will salute smartly and transmit the order, legal or illegal, if Cheney
persuades the president to let the Air Force and Navy loose on Iran.
- You know the probable consequences; you need to let the
rest of the American people know.
- A Gutsy Precedent
- Can you, Admiral Fallon, be completely alone; can it
be that you are the only general officer to resign on principle? And, of
equal importance, is there no other general officer, active or retired,
who has taken the risk of speaking out in an attempt to inform Americans
about President George W. Bush's bellicose fixation with Iran. Thankfully,
- Gen. Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser to President
George H.W. Bush, took the prestigious job of Chairman, President's Foreign
Intelligence Advisory Board when asked by the younger Bush. From that catbird
seat, Scowcroft could watch the unfolding of U.S. policy in the Middle
East. Over decades dealing with the press, Scowcroft had honed a reputation
of quintessential discretion. Thus, it was all the more striking when he
did what he decided he had to do to warn Americans about what may be the
president's most dangerous fixation.
- In an interview with London's Financial Times in mid-October
2004 Scowcroft was harshly critical of the president, charging that Bush
had been "mesmerized" by then Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
"Sharon just has him wrapped around his little finger," Scowcroft
said. "He has been nothing but trouble."
- Needless to say, Scowcroft was given his walking papers
and told never to darken the White House doorstep again. His very troubling
observations have been largely shunned in the media, and banned from polite
conversation here in Washington, although the insight they provide is worth
a thousand erudite op-eds. Testifying before Congress on June 16, 2005,
I alluded to Scowcroft's comments, and was widely pilloried in the media
the next day for being, you guessed it, "anti-Semitic."
- A Bush Commitment?
- There is ample evidence that Sharon's successors believe
they have extracted a commitment from President Bush to "take care
of Iran" before he leaves office, and that the president has done
nothing to disabuse them of that notion - no matter the consequences.
- Speaking at the World Economic Forum at Sharm el Sheikh
on Sunday, Bush threw in a gratuitous reference to "Iran's nuclear
- "To allow the world's leading sponsor of terror
to gain the world's deadliest weapon would be an unforgivable betrayal
of future generations. For the sake of peace, the world must not allow
Iran to have a nuclear weapon."
- Pre-briefing the press, Bush's national security adviser
Stephen Hadley identified Iran as one of the dominant themes of the trip,
adding repeatedly what seemed to be the PR formula of the day; namely,
that Iran "is very much behind" all the woes afflicting the Middle
East, from Lebanon to Gaza to Iraq, even to Afghanistan.
- The Rhetoric is Ripening
- In the coming weeks, at least until U.S. forces can find
some real Iranian weapons in Iraq, the rhetoric is likely to focus on what
I call the Big Lie - the claim that Iran's president has threatened to
"wipe Israel off the map." In his controversial speech in 2005,
Ahmadinejad was actually quoting from something Ayatollah Khomeini had
said in the early eighties. Khomeini was expressing a hope that a regime
that was treating the Palestinians so unjustly would be replaced by a more
- A distinction without a difference? I think not. Words
matter. As you may already know (but most Americans don't), the literal
translation from Farsi of what Ahmadinejad said is "The regime occupying
Jerusalem much vanish from the pages of time." Contrary to what the
administration and corporate media would have us all believe, the Iranian
president was not threatening to nuke Israel, push it into the sea, or
wipe it off the map - or, as is so often heard, "destroy" it.
- President Bush is way out in front on this issue, and
this comes through with particular clarity when he ad-libs answers to questions.
On October 17, 2007, long after he had been briefed on the key intelligence
finding that Iran had stopped the nuclear weapons-related part of its nuclear
development program, the president spoke as though, well, "mesmerized."
- "But this - we got a leader in Iran who has announced
he wants to destroy Israel. So I've told people that if you're interested
in avoiding World War III, it seems you ought to be interested in preventing
them from have (sic) the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon.
I take the threat of Iran with a nuclear weapon very seriously."
- Some contend that Bush does not really believe his rhetoric.
I rather think he does, for the Israelis seem to have his good ear, with
the tin one aimed at the U.S. intelligence he has repeatedly disparaged.
But, frankly, which would be worse: that Bush believes Iran to be an existential
threat to Israel and thus requires U.S. military action? - or that he knows
it's just rhetoric to "justify" U.S. action to "take care
of" Iran for Israel?
- What You Can Do
- Admiral Fallon, you can surely speak authoritatively
about what is likely to happen - to U.S. forces in Iraq, for example -
if Bush orders your successors to begin bombing and missile attacks on
Iran. I imagine you have spent more than one sleepless night sorting through
the full array of Iranian options for serious retaliation.
- And you could readily update Scowcroft's remarks, by
drawing on what you observed of the Keystone Cops efforts of White House
ideologues like Iran-Contra convict Elliot Abrams, supported by amateurish
covert action operatives and Israeli intelligence, to overturn by force
the ascendancy of Hamas in 2006-07 and Hezbollah. (Abrams pled guilty to
two misdemeanor counts of misleading Congress about the Iran-Contra affair,
but was pardoned by the first President Bush on Dec. 24, 1992.)
- Clearly, it is the arch-neoconservative Abrams, aided,
instructed, and abetted by the vice president, who is running U.S. policy
toward the Middle East. And it is just as clear that the status of the
secretary state has been reduced simply to "frequent flyer."
- It is easy to understand why no professional military
officer would wish to be in the position of taking orders originating from
the likes of Abrams - not to mention the vice president.
- If you weigh in, as I believe your (non-expiring) oath
to protect and defend the Constitution dictates, you might conceivably
prompt other sober heads and courageous hearts to speak out. I hope you
will agree that an attack on Iran can still be prevented, but it seems
that this will take more outspokenness and energy than those of us who
see what is coming have been able to muster so far. And the controlled
press is a huge problem.
- Were you to speak out strongly at this stage, the media
could not ignore you. I cannot bring myself to believe that you, like so
many on the Hill, would be cowed at the prospect of being pilloried by
FOX and branded anti-Semitic. And, who knows; perhaps some of those former
subordinate officers who admire you for what you have done, will be encouraged
to go and do likewise.
- And, in the end, if profound ignorance and ideology -
supported by a captive corporate press and abetted by political parties
supine before the Israel lobby - enable an attack on Iran, and the Iranians,
for example, take thousands of our troops hostage in southern Iraq, you
will be able to look in the mirror, and at the rest of us, and say at least
- You will not have to live with the remorse of not knowing
what you might have made possible, had you been able to shake your reluctance
to speak out.
- Leadership does not end with retirement; neither do oaths.
- Ray McGovern
- Steering Group
- Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS)
- Ray McGovern is a veteran Army intelligence officer and
a former CIA analyst for 27 years.