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A number of senior government officials who left the White House or the Eisenhower Executive Office Building when these buildings were evacuated return to the White House and join other senior officials in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC), the bunker below the East Wing. (Sewanee Today 2/24/2003; Bridgeland 2012, pp. 5; Johnson 9/3/2013) The officials were among dozens of government employees who went to the office of DaimlerChrysler in Washington, DC, after they were evacuated from the White House or the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next to it (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Anita McBride, the acting director of White House personnel, contacted the White House Situation Room and let officials there know who was with her at the DaimlerChrysler building, and arrangements were then made for a few senior officials to go back to the White House (see (Shortly After 9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (McBride 9/9/2011) These officials head from the DaimlerChrysler building to the White House around midday. (Johnson 9/3/2013) They are escorted through downtown Washington by members of the Secret Service. (Lindsey 2008, pp. 86; Crescent 10/3/2011) The officials who go back to the White House include Nicholas Calio, assistant to the president for legislative affairs; Larry Lindsey, assistant to the president for economic policy; Albert Hawkins, secretary of Cabinet affairs; Clay Johnson, assistant to the president for presidential personnel; Tucker Eskew, director of the White House Office of Media Affairs; and Logan Walters, President Bush’s personal aide. (Draper 2007, pp. 142; Crescent 10/3/2011; Bridgeland 2012, pp. 5) After arriving at the White House, the officials go to the PEOC, where they join Vice President Dick Cheney, members of the Cabinet, and other senior White House staffers. (Lindsey 2008, pp. 86; Bridgeland 2012, pp. 5)
White House chief of staff Andrew Card forms the White House Iraq Group, or WHIG, which aims to “educate the public” about the alleged threat from Iraq. WHIG is formed concurrently with the Office of Special Plans (see September 2002). A senior official involved with the group will later describe it as “an internal working group, like many formed for priority issues, to make sure each part of the White House was fulfilling its responsibilities.” (Gellman and Pincus 8/10/2003) According to White House deputy press secretary Scott McClellan, the WHIG is “set up in the summer of 2002 to coordinate the marketing of the [Iraq] war,” and will continue “as a strategic communications group after the invasion had toppled Saddam [Hussein]‘s regime.” McClellan, who will become a full-fledged member of the WHIG after rising to the position of senior press secretary, will write: “Some critics have suggested that sinister plans were discussed at the WHIG meetings to deliberately mislead the public. Not so. There were plenty of discussions about how to set the agenda and influence the narrative, but there was no conspiracy to intentionally deceive. Instead, there were straightforward discussions of communications strategies and messaging grounded in the familiar tactics of the permanent campaign.” (McClellan 2008, pp. 142) Author Craig Unger will sum up the WHIG’s purpose up more bluntly: “to sell the war.” Members of the group include White House political advisers Karl Rove, Karen Hughes, Mary Matalin, James R. Wilkinson, and Nicholas E. Calio, and policy advisers led by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, her deputy Stephen Hadley, and Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby. They meet weekly in the White House Situation Room. A “strategic communications” task force under the WHIG is charged with planning speeches and writing position papers. (Gellman and Pincus 8/10/2003; Unger 2007, pp. 241)
Marketing Fear, Idea of Invasion as Reasonable - After Labor Day 2002—and after suitable test marketing—the group launches a full-fledged media marketing campaign. The images and storyline are simple and visceral: imminent biological or chemical attack, threats of nuclear holocaust, Saddam Hussein as a psychopathic dictator who can only be stopped by American military force. A key element of the narrative is forged documents “proving” Iraq sought uranium from Niger (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001, October 15, 2001, October 18, 2001, November 20, 2001, February 5, 2002, March 1, 2002, Late April or Early May 2002-June 2002, and Late June 2002). One of the main objectives is to swing the dialogue ever farther to the right, creating the assumption in the public mind that war with Iraq is a thoughtful, moderate, well-reasoned position, and delegitimizing any opposition. To that end, Cheney stakes out the “moderate” position, with statements like “many of us are convinced that Saddam will acquire nuclear weapons fairly soon” (see August 26, 2002), and neoconservatives such as Michael Ledeen pushing the extremes ever rightward with calls to invade not only Iraq, but Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia (see September 20, 2001, August 6, 2002, and September 4, 2002). The real push is delayed until the second week of September. As Card reminds the group, “From a marketing point of view, you don’t introduce new products in August” (see September 6, 2002). The first anniversary of the 9/11 attacks is a perfect opportunity to launch the new campaign (see September 8, 2002). (Unger 2007, pp. 250-251) Wilkinson, the group’s communications director, is tasked with preparing one of the group’s first public releases, a white paper that will describe the “grave and gathering danger” of Iraq’s “reconstituted” nuclear weapons program. Wilkinson will claim that Iraq “sought uranium oxide, an essential ingredient in the enrichment process, from Africa.” (Leupp 11/9/2005)
'Push[ing] the Envelope' - According to an intelligence source interviewed by the New York Daily News in October 2005, the group, on “a number of occasions,” will attempt “to push the envelope on things.… The [CIA] would say, ‘We just don’t have the intelligence to substantiate that.’” (Meek and Bazinet 10/19/2005) In 2003, three unnamed officials will tell a Washington Post reporter that the group “wanted gripping images and stories not available in the hedged and austere language of intelligence,” what author and reporter Charlie Savage will call “a stark display of the political benefits that come with the power to control information.” (Savage 2007, pp. 357) In 2008, McClellan will write of “the heightened rhetoric on Iraq, including unequivocal statements that made things sound more certain than was known.” (McClellan 2008, pp. 137)
Using Friendly Media Outlets - An important part of the WHIG strategy is to feed their messages to friendly journalists, such as New York Times reporter Judith Miller. James Bamford, in his book A Pretext for War, will write: “First OSP [Office of Special Plans] supplies false or exaggerated intelligence; then members of the WHIG leak it to friendly reporters, complete with prepackaged vivid imagery; finally, when the story breaks, senior officials point to it as proof and parrot the unnamed quotes they or their colleagues previously supplied.” (Bamford 2004, pp. 325)
Slate editor John Dickerson, who played a small role in the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak (see February 7, 2006), writes about the recently launched Lewis Libby defense fund’s Web site created to help raise money for Libby’s defense (see After October 28, 2005 and February 21, 2006). Far from looking like the Web site of an indicted criminal, Dickerson writes, the site’s design makes it seem as if Libby is running for elected office. He is shown with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, while “[o]ther snapshots portray him in soft focus and at oblique angles, the kinds of images candidates use to make themselves look more huggable. Fortunately, Libby’s Web designers didn’t stoop to showing him with dogs and children.”
The 'Soft Sell' - Dickerson says the site is attempting to portray Libby to the American people as a likeable, honest person whose years of public service have left him open to unfair and unwarranted criminal charges. The site claims that Libby has virtually no money with which to fight those charges, and is basically relying on the generosity of the public to help him fight the government. The site does not focus as strongly on the array of powerful Washington Republicans lined up to help Libby raise money, particularly the large number of star fundraisers who raised large amounts of money for the Bush-Cheney presidential campaigns. However, the site notes, the Libby defense fund will not publicly release the names of donors to the fund. The site does focus on what Dickerson calls “the soft Scooter sell.” It intends to “clean… up his image for the public, the press, and potential jurors. The Web site offers a page titled ‘What You Aren’t Hearing,’ with testimonials lined up like movie blurbs.”
Possible Defense Strategy - And, Dickerson writes, the site offers hints as to what Libby’s defense strategy might be.
If the site is accurate, the defense team intends to portray Libby as “a good guy” who, as former Republican congressman Vin Weber says in a testimonial, “is a tough, honorable, honest guy.” He has spent his adult life in “selfless,” and apparently almost penniless, service to his country, fighting for the American people and battling terrorism and other national security threats with every waking breath. He is a “perfectionist,” says former Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz.
Libby just forgot about his knowledge of Plame Wilson’s CIA status, the site emphasizes, because he was too busy serving his country (see January 31, 2006). Former Bush Legislative Affairs Director Nick Calio is quoted as saying: “There are a lot of things that I don’t remember. I go through notes sometimes now and say I don’t even remember being in the meeting, let alone, you know, having said what I said.” Former Bush Solicitor General Theodore Olson adds, “From personal experience as a former public official who has been investigated by a special prosecutor, I know how easy it is not to be able to remember details of seemingly insignificant conversations.”
Dickerson notes that the two arguments are somewhat contradictory. He writes, “Libby’s site has a hard time, because it simultaneously is trying to argue that a) he was likely to forget the Plame episodes and b) he was hypercompetent.”
The site also spends a large amount of time and bandwidth attacking special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald. Seven of the 19 perspectives on Libby are criticisms of Fitzgerald, such as a statement by former Deputy Attorney General Victoria Toensing (see November 3, 2005) that the special counsel “has been investigating a very simple factual scenario and he’s missed this crucial fact.” (Dickerson 2/27/2006) Toensing will engage in further criticism of Fitzgerald and the criminal case against Libby in op-eds (see February 18, 2007, February 18, 2007, and March 16, 2007).
The recently released Senate Intelligence Committee report on misleading, exaggerated, and inaccurate presentations of the prewar Iraqi threat by the Bush administration (see June 5, 2008) leaves out some significant material. The report says that the panel did not review “less formal communications between intelligence agencies and other parts of the executive branch.” The committee made no attempt to obtain White House records or interview administration officials because, the report says, such steps were considered beyond the scope of the report. Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus notes that “[o]ne obvious target for such an expanded inquiry would have been the records of the White House Iraq Group (WHIG), a group set up in August 2002 by then-White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr.” WHIG (see August 2002) was composed of, among other senior White House officials, senior political adviser Karl Rove; the vice president’s chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby; communications strategists Karen Hughes, Mary Matalin, and James Wilkinson; legislative liaison Nicholas Calio; and a number of policy aides led by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and her deputy, Stephen Hadley.
WHIG Led Marketing of War - Scott McClellan, the former White House press secretary, recently wrote in his book What Happened that WHIG “had been set up in the summer of 2002 to coordinate the marketing of the war to the public.… The script had been finalized with great care over the summer [for a] “campaign to convince Americans that war with Iraq was inevitable and necessary.” On September 6, 2002, Card hinted as much to reporters when he said, “From a marketing point of view, you don’t introduce new products in August” (see September 6, 2002). Two days later, the group scored its first hit with a front-page New York Times story about Iraq’s secret purchase of aluminum tubes that, the story said, could be used to produce nuclear weapons (see September 8, 2002). The information for that story came from “senior administration officials” now known to be members of WHIG. The story was the first to make the statement that “the first sign of a ‘smoking gun’ [proving the existence of an Iraqi nuclear weapons program] may be a mushroom cloud” (see September 4, 2002); that same morning, the same message was repeated three times by various senior administration officials on the Sunday talk shows (see September 8, 2002, September 8, 2002, and September 8, 2002). WHIG did not “deliberately mislead the public,” McClellan claimed in his book, but wrote that the “more fundamental problem was the way [Bush’s] advisers decided to pursue a political propaganda campaign to sell the war to the American people.… As the campaign accelerated,” caveats and qualifications were downplayed or dropped altogether. Contradictory intelligence was largely ignored or simply disregarded.”
Records Perusal Would 'Shed Light' - If indeed the White House “repeatedly presented intelligence as fact when it was unsubstantiated, contradicted, or even nonexistent,” as committee chairman John D. Rockefeller (D-WV) has said, then an examination of WHIG’s records would, Pincus writes, “shed much light” on the question. (Pincus 6/9/2008)
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