Administration nearly made its goal of 1,000 lies
WASHINGTON - A new study by two non-profit groups reveals that, in the two years following September 11, President Bush and other top administration officials made 935 false statements about the risk posed by Iraq, falling 65 lies short of their goal of 1,000.
According to the report, members of the White House began targeting Iraq immediately after the September 11 attacks, believing the former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had somehow been involved. But the administration lacked a key ingredient for going to war: evidence.
Bush convened his advisors and outlined options. While Secretary of State Colin Powell asked for the administration to gather evidence, Vice President Dick Cheney argued that if they waited too long, Hussein would have time to perfect his army of "flesh-eating flying zombie monkeys." The Vice President's argument convinced President Bush to authorize a secret initiative calling for 1,000 false statements that would support a war with Iraq by the fall of 2003. It received the code name, "Operation: Pants on Fire."
Using the Afghanistan operation as a cover, key administration officials underwent months of covert Straight-Face Training from the C.I.A. The training would allow the officials to deliver any statement, no matter how outlandish, without winking, crossed fingers, laughter, or swear-to-Gods. The training was almost a complete success.
"We never could quite get President Bush's smirk reflex under control," said one intelligence official who spoke under the condition of anonymity. "But once we realized he always smirks, we concluded it would be a dead giveaway if he didn’t smirk."
The study shows that the White House used a full arsenal of lies. It relied most frequently on STDs—Subtle Truth Distortions that could penetrate almost undetected and not be exposed until much later, such as discussing raw, unconfirmed intelligence as if it had been vetted and deemed factual. However, the administration occasionally deemed it necessary to launch much more powerful SHT (Super Hyperbole Transmissions) at the media, massive high-load deceptions designed to obscure their excessive implausibility by spreading clouds of ignorance and fear across a wide viewing area. This was a favorite tactic of the Vice President's office, where officials referred to the technique as "skull-f--king the facts."
One of the most obvious SHTs occurred when National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, after admitting there was "uncertainty" about Iraq’s possession of nuclear weapons, followed up by stating, "We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud." However, the largest SHT came from Secretary of State Powell’s presentation about mobile biological weapons labs at the United Nations, a delivery that nearly tripled previous levels of SHT delivered by the administration.
White House officials developed a number of even higher-yield deceptions that never made it past the prototype stage, most of which remain classified. One such statement, recently declassified through a Freedom of Information Act inquiry, showed that the President intended to declare in his 2003 State of the Union address that Saddam Hussein, "ate babies every day for breakfast," a statement designed to appeal to undecided soccer moms. However, the C.I.A. believed that Iraq would retaliate by releasing sensitive intelligence about Vice President Cheney's baby-eating activities. Instead, the President unleashed a smaller SHT about Iraq's attempts to purchase uranium from Niger.
While the White House set a goal of 1,000 lies, that number was later deemed unnecessary. One former White House official, who wished to remain anonymous but is most definitely not a former Secretary of Defense, illustrated the high level of discussions about how many lies they would need.
"We actually weren’t sure 1,000 lies would be enough. But then it only took 67 lies to get the Democrats on board, and most of the mainstream media stopped fighting around lie 279."
With all significant resistance subdued, some called for an end to Operation: Pants on Fire. But as the source explained, "It was so much fun we kept it going. We could have easily hit 1,000 if we wanted—hell, I've lied three times in the same sentence before. I could have gotten us the last 65 in a one-hour interview with Wolf Blitzer. But we ultimately decided to conserve some of our STDs and SHT until after the war started."