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Profile: John Maguire
John Maguire was a participant or observer in the following events:
Veteran CIA operative John Maguire calls long-time friend Mohammed Abdullah al-Shahwani, a former Iraqi general, and tells him, “It’s showtime.” Maguire and al-Shahwani worked together in the ‘90s on a covert plan to overthrow the Iraqi government, but the plan was never approved by the Clinton White House. Maguire believes the 9/11 attacks have provided the long awaited opportunity to remove Saddam Hussein. [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 154]
At the request of CIA director George Tenet, veteran CIA agents Luis (his full name has not been disclosed) and John Maguire devise a covert plan to overthrow the government of Saddam Hussein. Under the plan, code-named Anabasis, the CIA would send a team of paramilitary CIA officers to recruit disloyal Iraqi officers by offering them large chunks of cash. The CIA would conduct a disinformation campaign aimed at making Hussein believe that there was growing internal dissent. Hussein would become increasingly paranoid and eventually implement a repressive internal security policy, mostly likely involving the executions of suspected disloyal officers. In addition, the plan calls for “direct action operations” (understood to be a euphemism for the assassinations of key regime officials); disrupting the government’s finances and supply networks; and conducting sabotage operations, such as the blowing up of railroads and communications towers. Finally, the plan includes creating a casus belli for an open military confrontation between the US and Iraq. The US would transport a group of exiles to Iraq, where they would take over an Iraqi base close to the Saudi border. When Hussein flies his troops south to handle the insurrection, the US would shoot his aircraft down under the guise of enforcing the US-imposed “no-fly” zone. The confrontation would then be used as a pretext for full-scale war. “The idea was to create an incident in which Saddam lashes out,” Maguire later recalls. If the plan worked the US “would have a premise for war: we’ve been invited in.” Implementing the plan would cost an estimated $400 million. [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 6-9, 154; Guardian, 9/7/2006] The plan will be canceled at the last minute by Gen. Tommy Franks (see After January 2003).
The CIA leadership informs the two veteran CIA agents working on Anabasis (see Late November 2001 or December 2001), CIA agents Luis (his full name has not been disclosed) and John Maguire, that the plan needs to be ready for implementation by January 2003. Maguire will later recall the message being: “Be ready to turn this thing on by January 2003. Be ready to go in a year. You got a year.” Maguire understands this to mean that the decision to invade Iraq has been made. [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 12]
The French arrange a backchannel meeting between a friend of Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri Hadithi and the CIA’s station chief in Paris, Bill Murray. Sabri’s friend, a Lebanese journalist, tells Murray that Sabri would be willing to provide the CIA with accurate information on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction program in exchange for $1 million. The CIA agrees to advance the journalist $200,000. [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 45; MSNBC, 3/21/2006] When CIA Director George Tenet announces the deal during a high-level meeting at the White House—attended by President Bush, Vice President Cheney, and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice—the news is greeted with enthusiasm. “They were enthusiastic because they said, they were excited that we had a high-level penetration of Iraqis,” Tyler Drumheller, the agency’s head of spying in Europe, later tells 60 Minutes. [CBS News, 4/23/2006] But Sabri does not tell the CIA what the White House is expecting to hear. In a New York hotel room, the Lebanese journalist says that according to Sabri Iraq does not have a significant, active biological weapons program. He does however acknowledge that Iraq has some “poison gas” left over from the first Gulf War. Regarding the country’s alleged nuclear weapons program, Sabri’s friend says the Iraqis do not have an active program because they lack the fissile material needed to develop a nuclear bomb. But he does concede that Hussein desperately wants one. [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 62-63; MSNBC, 3/21/2006] “He told us that they had no active weapons of mass destruction programs,” Drumheller, will recall. [Unger, 2007, pp. 246-247] The White House immediately loses interest in Sabri as a source after the New York meeting. Sabri, Bush says, is merely telling the US “the same old thing.” The CIA continues to corroborate material provided to the agency by Sabri. Wiretaps on Sabri’s phone conversations by French intelligence back up Sabri’s claims, but Bush could not care less. “Bush didn’t give a f_ck about the intelligence,” a CIA officer will later say. “He had his mind made up.” CIA agent Luis (whose full name has never been disclosed) and John Maguire, the chief and deputy chief of the Iraq Operations Group, also lose interest in the lead. In one confrontation between Maguire and Murray, Maguire allegedly says: “One of these days you’re going to get it. This is not about intelligence. This is about regime change.” Drumheller will agree, saying the White House is “no longer interested.… They said, ‘Well, this isn’t about intel anymore. This is about regime change.’” [MSNBC, 3/21/2006; CBS News, 4/23/2006; Unger, 2007, pp. 246-247]
The CIA flies the leader of Iraq’s Sufi movement (Sufism is a mystic tradition of Islam) to Washington to discuss his possible involvement in the Anabasis project. One night at Marrakesh, a popular Moroccan restaurant, the Sufi asks Luis and John Maguire, the two CIA operatives who are heading the project, if the US is certain that it will remove Saddam Hussein. “You’re not just going to come to Iraq, poke Saddam in the eye, and leave, are you?” Maguire assures him that the US is serious this time. The CIA agrees to pay him $1 million a month in exchange for information from high-level Iraqi officials. Soon after the agreement, CIA officers in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq begin receiving high-quality intelligence from Iraqi insiders, including information on the movements of Saddam Hussein. The sources include Iraqi military officials who are more loyal to the Sufi leader than to Hussein. [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 157]
The Iraqi Operations Group, headed by Luis (his full name has not been disclosed) and John Maguire, orders the CIA station chief in Annan Jordan to conduct a sabotage operation against a fleet of cars used by Iraqi officials in Jordan. They want the CIA in Annan to pour contaminants into the fuel tanks of the vehicles so as to destroy their the engines. But the station chief refuses, telling agency headquarters in a cable that he won’t participate in “juvenile college pranks.” Maguire is livid with anger. “We have a directive from the president of the United States to do this,” Maquire says. “So shut the f_ck up and do this! We’re not interested in your grousing as to whether or not this is a wise move or not. The president has made a decision!” The operation never takes place. [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 160-161]
John Maguire, a CIA official with experience of Iraqi issues, leaves the agency’s headquarters staff to take up a position at the CIA station in Baghdad. The exact position he fills in Baghdad is unknown. [Suskind, 2008, pp. 371-372]
John Maguire, former deputy chief of the Iraq Operations Group, says the Bush administration made a huge mistake alleging that Saddam Hussein’s government had supported al-Qaeda. According to Maguire, US intelligence “never had anything that said that.” He says that while there had been an occasional meeting between Iraqis and Osama bin Laden’s organization, it was nothing significant because that’s what intelligence agencies do. But “the way this was cast [by the White House] created a picture that was different than reality.” [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 418]
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