Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War

Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War

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by Michael Isikoff, David Corn, Stefan Rudnicki

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March 2003: The United States invades Iraq.

October 2006: The world finds out why.

What was really behind the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq? As George W. Bush steered the nation to war, who spoke the truth and who tried to hide it? Hubris takes us behind the scenes at the Bush White House, the CIA, the Pentagon, the State Department, and Congress to answer


March 2003: The United States invades Iraq.

October 2006: The world finds out why.

What was really behind the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq? As George W. Bush steered the nation to war, who spoke the truth and who tried to hide it? Hubris takes us behind the scenes at the Bush White House, the CIA, the Pentagon, the State Department, and Congress to answer all the vital questions about how the Bush administration came to invade Iraq.

Filled with new revelations, Hubris is a gripping narrative of intrigue that connects the dots between George W. Bush’s expletive-laden outbursts at Saddam Hussein, the bitter battles between the CIA and the White House, the fights within the intelligence community over Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction, the startling influence of an obscure academic on top government officials, the real reason Valerie Plame was outed, and a top reporter’s ties to wily Iraqi exiles trying to start a war. Written by veteran reporters Michael Isikoff and David Corn, this is the inside story of how President Bush took the nation to war using faulty and fraudulent intelligence. It is a news-making account of conspiracy, backstabbing, bureaucratic ineptitude, journalistic malfeasance, and, especially, arrogance.

Editorial Reviews

Martin Kettle
There have been many books about the Iraq war, and there will be many others before we are through. This one, however, pulls together with unusually shocking clarity the multiple failures of process and statecraft that led so many people to persuade themselves that the evidence pointed to an active Iraqi program to develop weapons of mass destruction and that it was in the interests of the United States to overthrow Saddam Hussein.
—The Washington Post
Jacob Heilbrunn
In Hubris, Michael Isikoff and David Corn chronicle the Bush administration's delusional march to war.Though there has been a deluge of works denouncing the follies of the military and the administration, Isikoff and Corn cover somewhat different terrain. They offer the most comprehensive account of the White House's political machinations, aimed at convincing Congress and the public that Iraq posed a dire threat…The authors, who have interviewed key politicians and government officials, supply a lot of new information. They show that in many ways the administration became the dupe of its own propaganda. Though their narrative spins out of control by the end, much of the book makes for fascinating reading.
—The New York Times
From the Publisher
"Indispensable ... There have been many books about the Iraq War, and there will be many others before we are through. This one, however, pulls together with unusually shocking clarity the multiple failures of process and statecraft."

"The most comprehensive account of the White House's political machinations ... fascinating reading."

"A bold and provocative book."

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The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War
By Michael Isikoff David Corn


Copyright © 2006 Michael Isikoff and David Corn
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-307-34681-1


I'm going to kick his sorry motherfucking ass all over the Mideast. -President George W. Bush

EARLY ON the afternoon of May 1, 2002, George W. Bush slipped out of the Oval Office, grabbed a tennis racquet, and headed to the South Lawn. He had a few spare moments for one of his recreational pleasures: whacking tennis balls to his dogs, Spot and Barney. It was a pleasant spring day in Washington and not an especially taxing one for the president. He had no pressing political worries. Having routed the Taliban regime in Afghanistan the previous fall, Bush was standing tall in the polls, with an approval rating hovering at 70 percent. That morning, there had been his usual terrorism briefings, then meetings with congressional leaders where Bush had talked about moving forward his domestic proposals, including a measure promoting faith-based social programs. Later in the day, the president was due to meet the vice president of China. Bush also had an unusual press interview on his schedule that afternoon. As he hit the balls and watched the dogs scamper, Bush prepared for that session with two press aides by reviewing questions he would likely be asked about one of hispredecessors he admired most: Ronald Reagan.

Ever since September 11, 2001, Bush had increasingly identified with Reagan: his optimism, his firm convictions, his stark, uncompromising stand against Soviet communism. Bush had come to consider Reagan's battle against the Soviet Union a parallel of his own struggle against Islamic extremism. The Evil Empire was now the Axis of Evil-that trio of tyrannies, Iraq, Iran, and North Korea, that Bush had proclaimed the nation's foes months earlier during his first State of the Union speech.

Frank Sesno, the veteran newscaster, was due shortly at the White House to query Bush about Reagan and the parallels between his presidency and Bush's. The interview was for a History Channel special that would air upon the death of the former president, who was ninety-one years old and suffering from advanced Alzheimer's disease. On a two-page "pre-brief" memo prepared by his staff and containing questions that might be asked, Bush had written out by hand points he wanted to emphasize. The presidential scribbles, his aides thought, were revealing-perhaps a window onto Bush's view of himself. "Optimism and strength," Bush had scrawled on top of the memo. Also, "decisive" and "faith." Next to a question about Reagan's direct, blunt style, Bush had written, "moral clarity." He had drawn an arrow next to the word "forceful." Alongside a question about the 1983 suicide bombing attack on the U.S. Marines barracks in Lebanon (which killed 241 American troops) and how a president copes with such losses, Bush had written, "There will be casualties."

On the South Lawn, Press Secretary Ari Fleischer and another member of the communications staff, a burly, irrepressible former television producer named Adam Levine, reviewed these points with Bush. Then they all moved inside and headed upstairs to the Red Room so Bush could have makeup applied for the interview. Bush casually asked Fleischer how his day had been going and what the talk in the pressroom was. Fleischer mentioned Helen Thomas, the longtime correspondent then writing for Hearst News Service. She was a gadfly and constantly giving Fleischer a tough time about an issue much in the news: Iraq. Bush and other administration officials had been decrying Saddam Hussein, the dictator of Iraq, as a threat to the United States and the world. To many, it sounded like war talk. The media were filled with speculation that the White House was preparing for an invasion. But Bush had steadfastly refused to state his intentions. His aides repeatedly claimed that Bush had reached no decisions. Interviewed by a British broadcaster a few weeks earlier, Bush had resorted to a Clintonesque evasion: "I have no plans to attack on my desk."

At that day's daily press briefing, Thomas had peppered Fleischer with questions about Iraq. Referring to stories in the media about secret plans for military action, she asked, "What is the president's rationale for invading Iraq?" What made Saddam different from other dictators and worth an invasion? Fleischer bantered with Thomas and pointed out that "regime change" in Iraq had been the official policy of the U.S. government since President Bill Clinton signed the Iraq Liberation Act in 1998. Thomas shot back: Did the law mandate that the United States overthrow the Iraqi government by force? Bush, Fleischer said, "believes that the people of Iraq, as well as the region, will be more peaceful, better off without Saddam Hussein." Thomas retorted, "That's not a reason" to go to war. "Well, Helen," Fleischer replied, "if you were the president, you could have vetoed the law." The reporters chuckled, and Fleischer called on another journalist.

As Fleischer recounted this exchange for the president, Bush's mood changed, according to Levine. He grew grim and determined-steely. Out of nowhere, he unleashed a string of expletives.

"Did you tell her I don't like motherfuckers who gas their own people?" the president snapped.

"Did you tell her I don't like assholes who lie to the world?"

"Did you tell her I'm going to kick his sorry motherfucking ass all over the Mideast?"

Fleischer paused. "I told her half of that," he replied. Bush laughed, as did his aides. Still, Bush's visceral reaction was telling. This wasn't bluster; this was real. The president had meant what he said-every word of it. This was the Bush that Levine admired. "You know where we're going here," Levine thought.

The vice president's limousine sped through downtown Washington and headed over the Potomac River on its way to Langley, Virginia. It was days after Bush's outburst, and Dick Cheney was making another of his visits to CIA headquarters. These trips-unknown to the public at this point-had become the talk of the intelligence community. Cheney would arrive at agency headquarters and park himself in Director George Tenet's seventhfloor conference room. Then officers and analysts would be summoned to brief him-on Iraq and other matters-and often encounter a withering interrogation. How do we know this? What more do you have on that? What have you done to follow up? Cheney was proper and respectful. His questions were delivered in his soft, low, monotone voice, his arms folded. Still, they had an intimidating impact on his briefers. "I've seen him people," said John Maguire, an Iraq covert operations officer who often attended the Cheney briefings. "He would drill in on substantive details. If he asked you something that you didn't know, you better have an answer the next time you saw him.... He would say, 'I want answers on this. This is not acceptable.'" The worst thing to do with Cheney was to hedge or to waffle. "He'd say, 'Make a call,'" Maguire recalled. He didn't want to hear sentences that began, "We don't know."

During these sessions, Cheney demanded answers on Iraq. Cheney had long-standing and firm views on Saddam Hussein that went back to when he had served as secretary of defense during the first Persian Gulf War. Cheney had been convinced then that the CIA had blown it by badly underestimating how close Saddam had been to building a nuclear bomb before that war. And ever since the cataclysmic events of September 11, Cheney seemed obsessed with Iraq. He was sure that Saddam was a grave threat to the United States-and that the agency was missing the crucial intelligence that would prove it. In February 2002, Cheney had seized on a murky item presented to him during his daily morning briefing from the CIA: a report forwarded to the CIA by Italian military intelligence that Iraq had arranged to purchase 500 tons of yellowcake uranium from the impoverished African nation of Niger. If the report was accurate-if there had been such a transaction-this would be compelling evidence Iraq had revived a moribund nuclear weapons program that had been dismantled in the mid-1990s under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency. But there was nothing to substantiate the report, and parts of it did not make sense. Still, Cheney had jumped on it. What more can you get on this? he had asked his CIA briefer. What more can you find out? As always, the answer from the CIA was, We'll get on this right away. And it did.

Another issue Cheney fixated on was Baghdad's ties to terrorists, especially the allegations of a connection between Saddam and al-Qaeda. The agency would write up answers to the vice president's repeated questions and send them to his office, often reporting that there was little to substantiate Cheney's darkest suspicions of an operational alliance between Saddam and Osama bin Laden. But Cheney and his hard-nosed chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby (who went by the nickname of Scooter), were never satisfied and continually asked for more. "It was like they were hoping we'd find something buried in the files or come back with a different answer," Michael Sulick, deputy chief of the CIA's Directorate of Operations, later said. There was no "obvious pressure" by Cheney and Libby to change the answers, Sulick recalled. But the barrage of questions and the frequent visits by the vice president had created an environment that was subtly, but unmistakably, influencing the agency's work. The CIA's analysts, Sulick believed, had become "overly eager to please."

Libby may have been harder to please than Cheney. He was one of the most powerful officials in the Bush White House. As Cheney's top national security adviser, he oversaw a "shadow" National Security Council, with tentacles reaching deep into the foreign policy and defense bureaucracy. One NSC staffer recalled being stunned to discover, years after he began working at the White House, that his internal memos to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice had routinely been routed to Libby without his knowledge. A CIA official was surprised to discover that Libby's staff was reading unedited transcripts of National Security Agency intercepts.

A cool, meticulous, and secretive Washington lawyer, Libby was an ideological and philosophical soul mate of his mentor, Paul Wolfowitz, the eputy secretary of defense and leading neoconservative hawk, who was even more preoccupied with Iraq than Cheney. Libby had been a student of Wolfowitz at Yale University in the 1970s; Wolfowitz had hired him as a speechwriter at the State Department in 1981 and again, as his principal deputy, nearly a decade later, when Wolfowitz was undersecretary of defense for policy and planning during the administration of George H. W. Bush. Libby and Wolfowitz shared with Cheney a congenital distrust of the CIA. They had a near-theological conviction that the agency's analysts were wedded to an inside-the-Beltway conventional wisdom that obscured the sinister plottings of America's enemies.

That was why Libby, on Cheney's behalf, relentlessly demanded that the agency supply the vice president's office with raw intelligence reports. Cheney's team believed that unanalyzed reports contained hidden nuggets that had been overlooked or ignored by the CIA because the data undercut the don't-rock-the-boat predilections of the agency's analysts. But the vice president's aides were confident that if they looked at the material, they could assess the real risks to America. In one nine-month period, starting in 2002, court records would later show, Libby sent requests to the CIA that generated between three hundred and five hundred documents, including e-mails, internal memos, and reports. The agency estimated that finding and retrieving from its files all the queries it had received from Libby-and all the responses it had sent back-would take nearly a year.

Libby was not popular at the CIA. "He had a reputation of being a prick," recalled one senior CIA official. In questioning analysts, "he was nasty and obnoxious about it." Libby was most aggressive on intelligence related to Saddam and al-Qaeda, according to this CIA veteran: "He wouldn't let go of the al-Qaeda-Saddam connection." A Bush NSC official recalled Libby as being aloof but skilled-and, if need be, devious-in the ways of bureaucratic infighting. "Whenever Scooter Libby walked into the elevator," this official said, "the temperature seemed to drop five degrees."

Libby was not with Cheney this particular May morning when the vice president arrived at the CIA. But as Cheney's top national security adviser, he would soon get a full report. Cheney had come to Langley to be updated on the latest intelligence on Iraq, including what was known about Saddam's unconventional weapons. But another subject was on the agenda, a matter of the utmost sensitivity. It was one of the most closely held secrets in the U.S. government: the Anabasis project.

DB/Anabasis was the code name for an extensive covert operations plan that had been drawn up by the CIA to destabilize and ultimately topple the regime of Saddam Hussein. (DB was the agency cryptonym for Iraq.) At the direction of the White House, Tenet had commissioned the scheme, not too long after the U.S. military had defeated the Taliban. About this time, Bush asked Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to order up a fresh war plan for Iraq. It was clear to top intelligence officials that Iraq was next on Bush's agenda, and the task of developing the CIA's secret plan was handed to two seasoned officers in the Iraq Operations Group within the agency's Directorate of Operations, or DO.

One of the officers was a stocky, balding Cuban American whose first name was Luis. He had previously been a special assistant to CIA Deputy Director John McLaughlin. Before that he had spent years as a case officer in CIA stations throughout the world. His father had participated in the CIA's Bay of Pigs debacle in 1961, when an agency-directed invasion of Cuba failed miserably. The other officer in charge of Anabasis was the forty-nine-year-old John Maguire, a strapping former Baltimore city cop who had specialized in busting down doors as a member of the city's SWAT team. Both were veterans of the CIA's covert wars of the 1980s, when CIA director William Casey, acting on orders from Ronald Reagan, was mounting secret paramilitary operations around the globe. Maguire had run guns to the Nicaraguan contra rebels fighting the Sandinista government, and he had participated in one of the more notorious episodes of that clandestine war: the mining of the ports of Nicaragua. In the middle of the night, he had directed local commandoes who would dump mines off the sides of speedboats. For cover, Maguire posed as an employee of the Johnson Outboard Motor Repair shop in La Union, El Salvador.

When the operation was exposed by the news media in April 1984, there was an uproar on Capitol Hill. "I am pissed off!" Senator Barry Goldwater, then the chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, wrote Casey. "[M]ine the harbors in Nicaragua? This is an act violating international law. It is an act of war." The mining program was shut down. Months later, Congress cut off money for the CIA's contra operations. Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North and the National Security Council covertly took over the program, and their clandestine scheming led to the Iran-contra scandal. Many CIA operatives whom Maguire had worked with became ensnared in the subsequent investigations. But Maguire escaped unscathed. He did learn a lesson about covert ops: they can get messy and not always go as planned.

Later, Maguire was dispatched to Afghanistan, where he provided explosives and weapons training for Ahmed Shah Massoud's Northern Alliance. Subsequently, he made his first foray into Iraq, where he helped plan a disastrous 1995 coup attempt-a debacle that he blamed in large part on the unreliability of Ahmad Chalabi, the self-promoting Iraqi exile the agency had been supporting. Maguire was bitter. Agents he had worked with and their family members had been murdered by Saddam. By the mid-1990s, he was also frustrated. The CIA, shuddering from the investigations and prosecutions triggered by Iran-contra and serving the more cautious Bill Clinton, had backed away from paramilitary operations and convert ops. Maguire left CIA headquarters to be an instructor at the Farm, the agency's training facility in rural Virginia.


Excerpted from Hubris by Michael Isikoff David Corn Copyright © 2006 by Michael Isikoff and David Corn. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Michael Isikoff is an award-winning investigative correspondent for Newsweek, a frequent guest on MSNBC and other cable news networks, and the author of the bestselling Uncovering Clinton.

David Corn is the Washington editor of The Nation and a Fox News Channel contributor. He’s the author of the bestselling The Lies of George W. Bush, the novel Deep Background, and the biography Blond Ghost.

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Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 17 reviews.
AppalledMO More than 1 year ago
This book confirms my worst suspicions clearly. Why Bush, Cheney, & Rumsfeld aren't in jail escapes me. Bush & his administration either chose to ignore or fabricated intel. They were going to go to Iraq and after Saddam and the facts were irrelevant. And 36,000 Americans were killed or wounded. We squandered the opportunity to go to Afghanistan in force and retaliate promptly. Saddam was a bad guy to be sure. But he wasn't the first priority after 9/11. al-Qaeda was. Now we have several messes in process, that likely won't be resolved in favor to the United States. And 4,400 Americans gave all for........... A "MUST READ."
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
There are 3 sides to a political answer. The republicans side, the democrats side and the truth. The sad truth is the truth is seldom the answer given to the American people. This book is at times confusing with all of the finger pointing. However, if you do not rush trough the book, you can keep the story line straight. It answers some questions about the war with Iraq and leaves others unanswered. There was another war that started with a few troops and then sent thousands to war. This war was even going to let the local soldiers fight their own battles but that felt through and the United States left in a hurry. I think Bush #1 had a war with the right generals to run it and he came out looking like a hero. Bush #2 wanted to be the next hero like his father and was going to go to war no matter what. The problem was the foundation for war was very weak and got weaker each day but this is my opinioin. I liked the book and I would say it is worth reading.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is well written and documented. It does not matter if you are a ¿Rabid¿ Conservative or a ¿Bleeding¿ Liberal this book is a must read. This book details how America got into the wrong war for the wrong reasons. I suggest this book to many fellow readers
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Guest More than 1 year ago
If you like reading true stories about government and corruption, check out Jules Archer's The Plot to Seize the White House. It's the shocking story of the attempt to overthrow FDR. Great read!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book presents a disturbing composite of officials in the highest echelons of the US government. In essence, the premise is that officials in the White House, NSA, CIA and other government agencies responsible for the security of this nation skewed, ignored or twisted intelligence to fit their own personal and/or geopolitcal views regarding the Middle East and to support a pre-existing agenda to make war with Iraq. This premise is convincingly supported by painstaking research, including extremely revealing glimpses into the mindset of the government leaders. One of the most provocative and telling quotes is attributed to the President, who, after the Valerie Wilson debacle, was asked by one reporter what level of accountability would be imposed. The President was recounted as replying that the 2004 election was the 'accountability moment'. No one in his administration was ever fired, even after later information confirmed their ineptitude. Stylistically, the book is not the easiest read and the narrative suffers from time-shifting. However, it is a must read for those intrerested in learning about how flaws in human character shape national policy and can lead the country into war.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A must read for those who actually want facts!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Filled with revelations, this book will blow your socks off. Provides insight never before seen. All pure fact. Buy this book today!
Guest More than 1 year ago
The 'Real' inside story of the outing of Valerie Plame? Does he mean the REAL story that just broke that said that Bush and Rove had NOTHING to do with it? Somehow I doubt there will be a retraction in the book.