It’s a truism that neoconservatives have a talent for failing upward: for repeatedly getting important things wrong and not seeing their careers suffer - for, in fact, being handed new opportunities to pursue their work (see, e.g., Kristol, Bill; and Hayes, Stephen).
Today we can add another name to that list: Laurie Mylroie, the quintessential conspiracy theorist of the Iraq War era, wrote reports about Iraq for the Pentagon as recently as Fall 2007, years after she was discredited, according to documents obtained by TPMmuckraker.
Mylroie is the author of two studies — “Saddam’s Strategic Concepts: Dealing With UNSCOM,” dated Feb. 1, 2007, and “Saddam’s Foreign Intelligence Service,” dated Sept. 24, 2007 — on a list of reports from the Pentagon’s Office Of Net Assessment [ONA], obtained by TPMmuckraker through the Freedom Of Information Act. The ONA is the Defense Department’s internal think tank, once described by the Washington Post as “obscure but highly influential.”
Those who follow the neoconservative movement closely are stunned that Mylroie has surfaced again — and especially that she is doing government-sponsored work on Iraq. “It’s kind of astonishing that the ONA would come even within a mile of her,” says Jacob Heilbrunn, author of They Knew They Were Right: The Rise of the Neocons. “I think she is completely discredited.”
“I’m shocked,” Steve Clemons of the New America Foundation says. “If this came out in 2007, she was presumably working on it in 2006, and, by that time, the fate and fortunes of a lot of these people was already switching.”
Why is it so astonishing that a government agency would hire Mylroie to write about Iraq? While her career as an Iraq specialist started out auspiciously enough — she studied and later taught at Harvard, wrote a book on Saddam with Judith Miller in 1990, and served as an adviser to the 1992 Clinton campaign — Mylroie later veered outside the mainstream and became enamored with theories rejected by virtually everyone else in the field.
Heilbrunn suggests Mylroie has been underappreciated as one of the intellectual progenitors of the Iraq war. “She was one of the original fermenters of the idea that Saddam Hussein had these intimate ties with Al Qaeda,” he says.
In the definitive profile of Mylroie, written for the Washington Monthly in 2003, terrorism analyst Peter Bergen locates Mylroie’s turn in the wake of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, when she developed her theory that the Iraqi government was behind the attack. Bergen sums up the animating principle of Mylroie’s work: that “Saddam was the mastermind of a vast anti-U.S. terrorist conspiracy in the face of virtually all evidence and expert opinion to the contrary.” (For a good example of Mylroie Logic, read her Sept. 13, 2001, WSJ op-ed “The Iraqi Connection,” in which she argues that Iraq had a hand in 9/11 because … well, mainly just because.) Bergen goes on:
Mylroie believes that Saddam was not only behind the ‘93 Trade Center attack, but also every anti-American terrorist incident of the past decade, from the bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania to the leveling of the federal building in Oklahoma City to September 11 itself.
Mylroie’s theories wouldn’t have mattered - except that she had the ear of Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, Scooter Libby, Jim Woolsey, et al. Perle blurbed Mylroie’s January 2001 book, Study of Revenge: The First World Trade Center Attack and Saddam Hussein’s War against America, as “splendid and wholly convincing.”
In response to TPMmuckaker’s questions about the selection process for ONA researchers, a DOD spokesperson said in a statement: “All aspects of researchers and research institutions are considered, with an emphasis on obtaining the widest range of possible intellectual approaches in order to provide a fully balanced approach to the analysis of future developments.”
And how did the Pentagon use Mylroie’s Iraq reports? Says DOD: “These reports were part of a multi-scope research effort to identify the widest possible range of analysts whose expertise was likely to generate insights and concepts which would contribute to Net Assessments on-going work to develop and refine trends, risks, and opportunities which will shape future (2020) national security environments.”
Mylroie’s work for the Pentagon is all the more interesting because, as her star faded along with the Iraq war, she largely disappeared from the public sphere. Her most recent public writings consist of a nasty spat with other writers on the right in 2008. The Weekly Standard’s Stephen Hayes, himself a prominent perpetuator of falsehoods about Saddam-Al Qaeda links, is one of a group of journalists who cannot stomach Myrloie out of annoyance that her work helps to discredit their own, somewhat less feverish theories. Hayes has reported, with distaste, that Mylroie believes “al Qaeda is little more than an Iraqi ‘front group.’” For more, read Daniel Pipes on “Laurie Mylroie’s Shoddy, Loopy, Zany Theories - Exposed.”
While Mylroie is often identified as an “adjunct fellow” at the American Enterprise Institute, an AEI spokesperson calls that category “a very loose relationship” and says that the main link between Mylroie and the think tank was the publication of her book back in 2001.
Laurie Mylroie did not respond to emails seeking comment. The DOD spokesperson has promised to send me copies of Mylroie’s Iraq reports. We’ll tell you more when we hear anything.