November 17, 2005
Rolling Stone

The Man Who Sold the War

Meet John Rendon, Bush's general in the propaganda war

by James Bamford

The road to war in Iraq led through many unlikely places. One of them was a chic hotel nestled among the strip bars and brothels that cater to foreigners in the town of Pattaya, on the Gulf of Thailand.

On December 17th, 2001, in a small room within the sound of the crashing tide, a CIA officer attached metal electrodes to the ring and index fingers of a man sitting pensively in a padded chair. The officer then stretched a black rubber tube, pleated like an accordion, around the man's chest and another across his abdomen. Finally, he slipped a thick cuff over the man's brachial artery, on the inside of his upper arm.

Strapped to the polygraph machine was Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri, a forty-three-year-old Iraqi who had fled his homeland in Kurdistan and was now determined to bring down Saddam Hussein. For hours, as thin mechanical styluses traced black lines on rolling graph paper, al-Haideri laid out an explosive tale. Answering yes and no to a series of questions, he insisted repeatedly that he was a civil engineer who had helped Saddam's men to secretly bury tons of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons. The illegal arms, according to al-Haideri, were buried in subterranean wells, hidden in private villas, even stashed beneath the Saddam Hussein Hospital, the largest medical facility in Baghdad.

It was damning stuff -- just the kind of evidence the Bush administration was looking for. If the charges were true, they would offer the White House a compelling reason to invade Iraq and depose Saddam. That's why the Pentagon had flown a CIA polygraph expert to Pattaya: to question al-Haideri and confirm, once and for all, that Saddam was secretly stockpiling weapons of mass destruction.

There was only one problem: It was all a lie. After a review of the sharp peaks and deep valleys on the polygraph chart, the intelligence officer concluded that al-Haideri had made up the entire story, apparently in the hopes of securing a visa.

The fabrication might have ended there, the tale of another political refugee trying to scheme his way to a better life. But just because the story wasn't true didn't mean it couldn't be put to good use. Al-Haideri, in fact, was the product of a clandestine operation -- part espionage, part PR campaign -- that had been set up and funded by the CIA and the Pentagon for the express purpose of selling the world a war. And the man who had long been in charge of the marketing was a secretive and mysterious creature of the Washington establishment named John Rendon. . . .

Rendon is a man who fills a need that few people even know exists. Two months before al-Haideri took the lie-detector test, the Pentagon had secretly awarded him a $16 million contract to target Iraq and other adversaries with propaganda. One of the most powerful people in Washington, Rendon is a leader in the strategic field known as "perception management," manipulating information -- and, by extension, the news media -- to achieve the desired result. His firm, the Rendon Group, has made millions off government contracts since 1991, when it was hired by the CIA to help "create the conditions for the removal of Hussein from power."

. . . Rendon assembled a group of anti-Saddam militants, personally gave them their name -- the Iraqi National Congress -- and served as their media guru and "senior adviser" as they set out to engineer an uprising against Saddam. . . .

The INC's choice for the worldwide print exclusive was equally easy: Chalabi contacted Judith Miller of The New York Times. Miller, who was close to I. Lewis Libby and other neoconservatives in the Bush administration, had been a trusted outlet for the INC's anti-Saddam propaganda for years. . . .


Enver Masud, "Deadly Deception, Pretexts for War," The Wisdom Fund, July 30, 2001

Eric Margolis, "U.S. Media Caved In To The Bush Agenda," The Guardian, June 15, 2003

Ilene R. Prusher, "In Volatile Iraq, US Curbs Press," Christian Science Monitor, June 19, 2003

Julian Borger, "The Spies Who Pushed for War," The Guardian, July 17, 2003

"Bush Lied and the Media Didn't Tell You," The Wisdom Fund, February 1, 2004

Eric Margolis, "Liars or Fools?," Toronto Sun, February 9, 2004

Deborah Charles, "Panel Says No Signs of Iraq, Qaeda Link," Reuters, June 16, 2004

Enver Masud, "Iraq War: 'Supreme International Crime'," The Wisdom Fund, June 29, 2005

[In both JINSA and the AEI it is common knowledge that Chalabi has promised his neoconservative associates that he will reopen diplomatic relations with Israel and re-activate the oil pipeline to Haifa if he becomes Prime Minister of Iraq. . .

In his lengthy career, Ahmad Chalabi has consistently advocated a fundamental realignment of the middle east to conform with the strategic agenda of Israel along classical neoconservative lines. It must be accepted that Chalabi has consistently represented the interests of Israel in long-standing associations with ranking neoconservatives in the Bush government. There can be no serious question that Chalabi is brazenly positioning himself to succeed to the Prime Minister's office in US-Occupied Iraq and that his credentials as a stalwart proponent of Israeli objectives are now seen to be the strongest arguments in his favor.

Congressman John Conyers has sent a letter to Ahmad Chalabi requesting a meeting with him during his sojourn in Washington. Congressman Conyers wishes to discuss Chalabi's role in the manipulation of the bogus intelligence that drove the US into war with Iraq. Congressman Conyers is particularly anxious to interrogate Chalabi specifically about the intelligence provided from his source known mysteriously as, "Curveball.--"Michael Carmichael, "Ahmad Chalabi's Excellent Adventure,", November 16, 2005]

[The White House, for example, ignored evidence gathered by United Nations weapons inspectors shortly before the war that disproved Curveball's account. Bush and his aides issued increasingly dire warnings about Iraq's biological weapons before the war even though intelligence from Curveball had not changed in two years.--Bob Drogin and John Goetz, "How U.S. Fell Under the Spell of 'Curveball': The Iraqi informant's German handlers say they had told U.S. officials that his information was 'not proven,' and were shocked when President Bush and Colin L. Powell used it in key prewar speeches," Los Angeles Time, November 20, 2005]

[The 1,200-strong psychological operations unit based at Fort Bragg turns out what its officers call "truthful messages" to support the United States government's objectives, though its commander acknowledges that those stories are one-sided and their American sponsorship is hidden. . . .

The United States Agency for International Development also masks its role at times. AID finances about 30 radio stations in Afghanistan, but keeps that from listeners.

. . . the White House recruited Jeffrey B. Jones, a former Army colonel who ran the Fort Bragg psychological operations group, to coordinate the new information war. He led a secret committee, the existence of which has not been previously reported, that dealt with everything from public diplomacy, which includes education, aid and exchange programs, to covert information operations.--Jeff Gerth, " Military 's Information War Is Vast and Often Secretive," New York Times, December 11, 2005]

David S. Cloud and Jeff Gerth, "Muslim Scholars Were Paid to Aid U.S. Propaganda," New York Times, January 2, 2006

["The President has cheapened the entire intelligence community by dragging us into his fantasy world," says a longtime field operative of the Central Intelligence Agency. "He is basing this absurd claim on the same discredited informant who told us Al Qaeda would attack selected financial institutions in New York and Washington."--Doug Thompson, "Intel pros say Bush is lying about foiling 2002 terror attack," Capitol Hill Blue, February 10, 2006

"GAO Finds Federal Departments Spent More than $1.6 Billion in Media Contracts," February 13, 2006

[Two years ago, Christian Bailey and Paige Craig were living in a half-renovated Washington group house, with a string of failed startup companies behind them. . . .

Now their company, Lincoln Group, works out of elegant offices along Pennsylvania Avenue and sponsors polo matches in Virginia horse country.--David S. cloud, "Quick Rise for Purveyors of Propaganda in Iraq," New York Times, February 15, 2006]

[An additional $15 million would go to Iranian labor unions, human rights activists and other groups, generally via nongovernmental organizations and democracy groups such as the National Endowment for Democracy.--Glenn Kessler, "Rice Asks for $75 Million to Increase Pressure on Iran," Washington Post, February 16, 2006]

Adam Brookes, "US plans to 'fight the net' revealed," BBC News, January 27, 2006

[The CIA-director George Tenet gave Alwan's information to Secretary of State Colin Powell to use at the U.N. in his speech justifying military action against Iraq. Tenet gave the information to Powell despite a letter - a copy of which 60 Minutes obtained - addressed to him by the head of German intelligence stating that Alwan appeared to be believable, but there was no evidence to verify his story.Bob Simon, "Faulty Intel Source 'Curve Ball' Revealed," CBS 60 Minutes, November 1, 2007]

[ . . . the explicit suggestions contained in the Rendon profiles detailing how best to manipulate reportersŐ coverage during their embeds directly contradict the PentagonŐs stated policies governing the embed process.--Charlie Reed, Kevin Baron and Leo Shane III, "Files prove Pentagon is profiling reporters,", August 27, 2009]

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