As vice president, Cheney has been the decisive force pushing America into war. In the inner councils of the administration, it was he who emasculated Colin Powell, cut the State Department out of effective policymaking, foisted fake reports on the intelligence agencies and supplanted the National Security Council. It was also Cheney who placed appointees personally loyal to him, including Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz, in charge of the Pentagon and speckled the warmaking bureaucracy with desk officers culled from neoconservative Washington think tanks -- ideologues with no military experience.
"They were like cancer cells," says retired Lt. Col. Karen Kwiatkowski, who worked on the Defense Department's Near East and South Asia desk during the buildup to the Iraq war. "They didn't care about the truth. They had an agenda. I'd never seen anything like it. They deformed everything."
Even within the State Department, officials of Cheney's choosing -- not Powell's -- controlled the key positions when it came to maneuvering the United States into the Iraq war. "Even when there was a show of Defense listening to State, it was just one Cheney operative talking to another," says Greg Thielmann, a former member of the State Department Intelligence Agency. "We were simply bypassed from the start."
Over at Defense, competent intelligence professionals were purged in order to ease the way to war. Douglas Feith, brought in under Rumsfeld to serve as undersecretary of defense for policy, applied an ideological test to his staff: He didn't want competence; he wanted fervor. Col. Pat Lang, a Middle East expert who served under five presidents, Republican and Democratic, in key posts in military intelligence, recalls being considered for a job at the Pentagon. During the job interview, Feith scanned Lang's impressive resume. "I see you speak Arabic," Feith said. When Lang nodded, Feith said, "Too bad," and dismissed him.
Bad and worse.