Few people register higher on the index of self-important, blustering demagogues than Pennsylvania's Congressman Curt Weldon. Granted, he's a mere piker when compared with former congressman Tom DeLay, or such conservative propagandists as Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly or Ann Coulter, but it's not for lack of effort.
Called a "connoisseur of terrorism nightmares," who possesses the personality of a "blowtorch," Weldon likes to use props - a dummy nuclear suitcase, or a replica of a sarin gas dispenser, or a genuine Russian missile gyroscope - to bring theatricality to his Chicken Little histrionics.
But his "sky is falling" routine has a deadly serious objective; the hawking of so-called "indispensable" weapons programs, which, coincidentally, provide jobs for his constituents and business for crony defense contractors - for which they respectively reward him with votes and campaign contributions. In a word, it's the military-industrial-complex at its worst, the behemoth that President Eisenhower warned us about.
One Weldon is bad enough, but when Congress is loaded with similar (if less egregious) hucksters, the nation's security suffers. Why? Because, as Jonathan Karp has written in June 16, 2006, Wall Street Journal: "Five years after the Sept. 11 attacks changed American military priorities, the U.S. defense machine is still churning out weapons made for old-style, conventional conflicts, even as it needs new tools to battle terrorists and insurgents. One big reason is the sclerotic nature of the procurement process, in which the military, the White House, the defense industry and Congress fight for pet projects that aren't always in sync with strategic priorities."
According the May 8, 2006, Philadelphia Inquirer, Weldon "has reported raising $724,285 since last year for his campaign. Of that, at least $292,000 - about 40 percent of the total - has come from defense interests." Does that mean Weldon's been bought? Smoke isn't fire, but when one observes that two daughters of Weldon, Karen and Kim, secured lobbying jobs at companies to which the congressman had lent his political support, one is hard pressed to avoid two suspicions about Weldon's modus operandi: (1) One hand washes the other and (2) the fish rots from the head. Yet, it was demagogue Weldon, who recently called on his Democratic opponent, Joe Sestak, to return $350 -- yes $350 - in allegedly tainted campaign contributions.
Suspicions about corruption aside, there is abundant evidence demonstrating that Weldon has often employed his famous Chicken Little histrionics in support of unnecessary weapons programs, especially the V-22 and national missile defense -- before he went off the deep end about Iran and Able Danger.
Unnecessary weapons programs? Yes, even the then Defense Secretary, Richard Cheney, attempted to kill the V-22 program in 1989. He failed, in part, because Weldon formed the Tilt-rotor Technology Coalition, "a group of House members that met every week to plot ways to save the V-22 from Cheney's budget knife." [The money and the machine, newsobserver.com Mar. 27, 2001]. One method was to assure that V-22 work (and thus employment) was spread over as many congressional districts as possible - in this case "276...since 1992." [Ibid] Nevertheless, in January 2003, a defense analyst from the CATO Institute concluded that the V-22 "is only marginally more capable than helicopters in terms of speed, range and payload but costs four to five times as much." [Charles V. Pena, V-22: Osprey or Albatross?] Thus, the V-22 appears to be more of a profit center for his campaign-contributing defense contractors -- and a jobs program for his constituents -- than a weapons program vital to America's national security.
Even worse is national missile defense, which ranks as America's foremost weapons scam of the past fifty years. Although I've written extensively about missile defense - see here, here and here -- one need not take my word. Simply read the April 25, 2006 Center for Defense Information article written by defense analyst, Victoria Samson. Entitled An "F" for Missile Defense: How seven government reports in two months illustrate the need for missile defense to change its ways, Ms. Samson concludes: "If MDA [the Missile Defense Agency] continues in the same vein it has been, the United States will see itself saddled with a missile defense system that costs tens of billions, possibly hundred of billions, of dollars, yet provides no actual defense."
Nevertheless, Weldon continues to be a zealot for the missile defense jobs program.
In June 2001, I caught Weldon's act in person at a missile defense conference held in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. Weldon was there to deliver the conference's keynote address to more than 220 sympathetic participants from the Defense Department, the military industry, think tanks, various universities and the press.
As I wrote in the January 28, 2002 issue of The Nation, "Weldon told the audience that the United States requires a missile-defense system to protect its citizens from an intentional missile attack by a 'rogue' regime presumably undeterred by the prospect of an overwhelming American nuclear retaliation. He even displayed an accelerometer and a gyroscope, Russian missile components allegedly bound for a 'rogue.' He then displayed an enlarged, poster-size photograph of Russia's SS-25 ICBM. Russia possesses more than 400 such missiles, he asserted, and any one of them might be launched accidentally against the United States, given Russia's deteriorating command and control capabilities."
Although I was seeing these impressive visual props for the first time, Weldon had been using the accelerometer and gyroscope as integral parts of his road show for more than a year. But he began talking about them, Chicken Little style, even earlier - at least as early as February 27, 1996, when he delivered a speech to the House of Representatives devoted to missile defense.
It was during that speech that Weldon noted, "the Jordanian intelligence agency, working with the Israeli intelligence agency...intercepted a shipment of sophisticated advanced accelerometers and gyroscopes" that were "going from Russia to Iraq." [Congressional Record, MISSILE DEFENSE (House of Representatives - February 27, 1996]
After jumping to the conclusion that the "items in question can only be used for a long-range ICBM," Weldon delivered his punch line: "Now Mr. Speaker, we have been told [by the Clinton administration] that there is no threat from a long-range intercontinental ballistic missile coming from Iraq. Then why would there be advanced accelerometers and gyroscopes going to Iraq from Russia?" [Ibid] Near the end of his speech, Weldon flatly accused Iraq of "trying to get long-range missile capabilities." [Ibid]
But, thanks to the recent book by former UN weapons inspector, Scott Ritter - yes, the same Scott Ritter who correctly informed us in 2002 and in early 2003 (and, thus, before Bush's war) that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction - we now know that Weldon was wrong. Thanks to Ritter (writing in Iraq Confidential), we now know that the smuggled accelerometers and gyroscopes came from dismantled Soviet submarine-launched missiles and thus, were "useless for anything the Iraqis might have been planning in the field of ballistic missiles." [Ritter, p. 131]
According to Ritter, "We had caught the Iraqis violating sanctions, but it seemed there was no governmental involvement, and it didn't get us very far. Furthermore, the weapons system in question, the Ababil-100, was a permitted system, and was being developed under the full monitoring of UNSCOM [United Nations Special Commission] inspectors." [Ritter, p. 132]
Unfortunately, Weldon's obsession with missile defense not only explains his reckless exaggerations and scare tactics - "spin," if you'll indulge me - concerning gyroscopes, but also his underestimation of the threat posed by international terrorists.
Finding new hope for a robust missile defense program in the election of George W. Bush, in 2001 Weldon gave speeches, ostensibly devoted to the homeland defense, which discounted any homeland defense except missile defense. For example, on May 2, 2001, Weldon gave a speech to the House of Representatives titled: "Defense of America's Homeland." But when one reads the fourteen pages devoted to that subject, he finds that Weldon devotes less than one page to the first responders at FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) and more than thirteen pages to missile defense.
Thus, Weldon, like Bush, Cheney and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, spent much of 2001 building a case for missile defense. And like Bush, Cheney and Rice, Weldon blew off warnings about the threat posed by international terrorists in order to trumpet the dire need for missile defense.
Bush, you'll recall, admitted that he "didn't feel that sense of urgency" about Osama bin Laden prior to the 9/11 attacks. [Bob Woodward, Bush at War, p. 39] Perhaps you'll also recall that, in May 2001, President Bush announced that Vice President Cheney would himself lead an effort looking at preparations for managing a possible attack by weapons of mass destruction and at more general problems of national preparedness." [The 9/11 Commission Report, p. 204]
Yet, when Cheney "emphasized the bold new U.S. plan for a 21st century approach to security," on August 2, 2001, he asserted: "We're fundamentally transforming the U.S. strategic relationship around the world as we look at missile defenses and modifications to our offensive strategic arms." [Washington Post, "Top Focus Before 9/11 Wasn't on Terrorism," April 1, 2004]
What happened to the task force, supposedly led by Cheney, that was to look into "general problems of national preparedness?" According to the 9/11 Commission Report: "The Vice President's task force was just getting under way when the 9/11 attack occurred." [p. 204]
As almost every American knows by now, national security adviser Rice was planning to deliver a speech about the urgent need for missile defense on the very day al Qaeda struck the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. She had planned to say that the "real threat" to America, came from "long range missiles."
Chicken Little Weldon was just as ideologically obtuse. While delivering a speech devoted to missile defense on June 19, 2001 - less than three months before al Qaeda's attacks -- Weldon really put his foot in his mouth:
"Now the liberal opponents of missile defense will say, wait a minute Congressman WELDON, the threat, and I heard the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee say this on Sunday, there is a more likely threat of a truck bomb coming into our cities.
"That's a little bit disingenuous, Mr. Speaker, because as the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee knows full well...We are spending hundred [sic] of millions of dollars on new detection systems, new intelligence systems, on dealing with weapons of mass destruction that could be brought in by terrorist groups. We are not ignoring that threat, but, Mr. Speaker, the facts are there...
"When Saddam Hussein chose to destroy American lives, he did not pick a truck bomb. He did not pick a chemical agent. He picked a SCUD missile...
"The facts are easily understood, Mr. Speaker. THE WEAPON OF CHOICE IS THE MISSILE" (author's emphasis). [House of Representatives - June 19, 2001, "President Bush Has Historic Meeting With President Putin," p. H3254] Like his fellow missile defense zealots, Mr. Weldon would discover less than three months later that the weapons of choice were box cutters and commercial aircraft flown into buildings.
If Weldon was sobered or chastened by his enormous gaff, one will not find evidence of it in his zealotry for regime change in Iraq. For example, in late January 2003, Weldon told reporters: "I'm convinced that the presentation by Colin Powell at the UN will make the case beyond a doubt that Saddam Hussein has to go." [Daily Times, Pakistan, US to wage war against Iraq within weeks, January 31, 2003].
Even today, Weldon's official House of Representative's site contains a post titled, Operation Iraqi Freedom that repeats the same deceitful assertions trumpeted by Bush and Cheney: "Two year ago President George W. Bush went before the United Nations Security Council and got unanimous support for Resolution 1441, which called on Saddam to follow the terms of the cease-fire agreement he signed twelve years ago. Inspectors were let back in, but it quickly became apparent that Saddam had no intention of working with them."
Weldon's post fails to mention that the last paragraph of Resolution 1441 "seized" the Security Council, meaning that the resolution could not serve as a basis for the use of force. Weldon's post also fails to mention that, in coordination with Great Britain, the United States sought a second Security Council resolution that would have declared that Iraq had missed its 'final opportunity' to comply with Resolution 1441, thus justifying the use of force. But the U.S. withdrew that follow-up resolution, when it became clear that it wouldn't pass in the Security Council. Neither does Weldon's post mention that those are the reasons why Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary General, concluded that America's invasion was illegal.
Moreover, note Weldon's weasel words about UN inspections. To whom did it become quickly "apparent that Saddam had no intention of working with them?" Certainly not the inspectors! They asked for more time! But more time would have deprived the Bush administration - as well as those zealots in Congress, such as Weldon, who voted for the 1998 Iraq Liberation Act and the October 2002 resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq - of their primary justification for invasion; the alleged presence of weapons of mass destruction.
Even today, an unrepentant Weldon waffles: "the jury is still out on WMD." [Weldon, Sestak battle over U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, delcotimes.com, 06/08/2006] Thus, you might also suspect more deceit when you read on Weldon's site that "No one wanted war."
By the summer of 2005 Weldon attempted to compensate for his previous neglect of international terrorism by denouncing the Central Intelligence Agency, "accusing it of 'gross incompetence' [certainly a case of psychological projection] for dismissing an Iranian expatriate who he says offered critical information about terrorist threats, the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden and Iran's nuclear weapons program." [The New York Times, Congressman's Book Calls C.I.A. Unfit, June 9, 2005]
Thus, at a time when many Americans remained infuriated by the ability of Iraqi expatriate, Ahmad Chalabi, to feed both the Bush administration and Judith Miller (of The New York Times) false information supporting the existence of Iraq's nonexistent weapons of mass destruction, Weldon swallowed and, in Chicken Little fashion, propagated to the American public false information fed to him by "Ali." an associate of the notorious Manucher Ghorbanifar.
Notwithstanding Gorbanifar's role in the Iran-Contra scandal, and notwithstanding the fact that the CIA has branded him a "known fabricator," Weldon believed that the information fed to him by "Ali," justified "launching a pre-emptive war against Iran." [Ibid] As former CIA agent and Iran specialist, Reuel Marc Gerecht dismissively observed: "The greatest antidote to naiveté is to do this day after day. I assume the congressman does not spend much time debriefing Iranian sources." [Ibid]
Unfortunately, naiveté isn't Weldon's main problem. It's nutty demagogy in the service of megalomania.
Let's put our imagination to this test: Instead of Sean Hannity's actual October 20, 2005 studio interview with Curt Weldon, imagine that Hannity had been compelled to conduct his interview inside the confines of Weldon's psychiatric ward. The topic is Weldon's new Chicken Little fantasy about "Able Danger."
For background purposes, recall that Weldon has alleged "that a secret military intelligence program called Able Danger fingered Mohamed Atta and two other al-Qaeda hijackers before the 9/11 attacks," but the government failed to act. [Weldon 9/11 tale unravels, but wait; The Philadelphia Inquirer, March 15, 2006] All of the material below that is bounded by quotation marks can be found in Hannity's actual interview. The unquoted material has been included in the spirit of Weldonesque theatricality.
From an Undisclosed Ward for the Mentally Disturbed: The edited transcript of the Sean Hannity Radio Talk Show, October 20, 2005
CW: "Sean, it's always great to be with you, you're a great American."
SH: "You're a great American my friend. You now find yourself in this unbelievable position...What's going on here?"
CW: "There are a couple of things, Sean." First, the American public is now convinced that my Chicken Little demagogy indicates insanity, Hannity. Second, I plan to prove my sanity, Hannity, by breaking "a story that there are people on the staff of the 9-11 Commission that didn't want the 9-11 Commissioners to know the details of Able Danger...because of the potential to embarrass those commissioners and the previous administration. This story, Sean, I predict will grow worse than Watergate."
SH: "Congressman, hang on, I need to slow you down. I sense this real frustration and anger. I share your anger here, I really do."
CW: "We have 7 people who will testify under oath, that in fact they identified Atta. The bigger picture, Sean, is that we had massive information about Al Qaeda and the Brooklyn cell that was ignored."
SH: "The 9-11 Commission...was a big, colossal waste of money and time."
CW: "Sean, I've got a new one for you and you can run with this one, they will also testify under oath, that Able Danger 2 weeks and 2 days before the attack on the USS Cole..."
SH: "Wait a wait a minute. Stop. Say that slowly."
CW: "They told the Navy not to bring the Cole into Yemen harbor and it went in and was attacked."
SH: "I'm stunned, Congressman."
CW: "I am also, Sean." And not just from the voltage administered to me this morning.
SH: "I would like to sit down with all 7 of these guys for a national 1 hour TV special on Fox News channel."
CW: "Here's our problem, the Pentagon today will not allow any of these people who work for the Pentagon, to talk to the media and they have gagged them from talking to members of Congress."
SH: "Can Col. Shaffer no longer talk to us?"
CW: "Col. Shaffer is prohibited by his lawyer from talking...This is a story that needs to be told, that has been stopped by people in the Defense Intelligence Agency." It's as significant as those gyroscopes we seized in Iraq, as significant as Colin's Powells' speech to the UN, perhaps even as significant as the evidence provided to me by Ali. By the way, Sean, did we bomb Iran?
Humor aside, consider that Weldon also falsely warned about Russian suitcase nukes planted in America, also falsely warned about an Iranian plot to crash hijacked planes into New Hampshire's Seabrook reactor, also falsely denied attending the 2004 Washington D.C. ceremony that, among other things, pronounced the Rev. Sun Myung Moon to be "humanity's Savior, Messiah, Returning Lord and True Parent," and also falsely claimed that Osama bin Laden was dead.
Who can avoid questioning the nutty demagogic spin of Curt Weldon internal gyroscope? Combine that doubt with his demonstrated waste of taxpayer dollars on unnecessary weapons and family empire building, and what you have is a Congressman who richly deserves retirement from office.