I must confess to


I must confess to being slightly baffled by James Risen’s piece in Wednesday’s Times on Doug Feith’s Counter Terrorism Evaluation Group, the shop which had Michael Maloof and David Wurmser trying to find ties between terrorist groups across sectarian lines as well as ties between al Qaida and states like Iraq.

Elements of this story have been reported previously, particularly by the Washington Bureau of Knight-Ridder.

But what the Times presents is almost entirely the group’s apologia for their own work. One can write a story from various perspectives of course. But from the vantage point of April 2004, the take Risen takes leaves the story a tad incomplete. It’s rather like writing a narrative about interagency battles in 2002 in which those claiming the most maximal views about Iraqi WMD are valiantly fighting the forces of bureaucratic fuddy-duddyism to bring the truth to light.

An interesting story, no doubt — but rather incomplete without some discussion of the fact that the fuddy-duddies turned out to be right.

The article’s only clear statement on the underlying facts of the matter is this paragraph …

The C.I.A. and other intelligence agencies found little evidence to support the Pentagon’s view of an increasingly unified terrorist threat or links between Mr. Hussein and Mr. bin Laden, and still largely dismiss those ideas. Foreign Islamic fighters have sought haven in Iraq since the American-led invasion and some Sunnis and Shiites have banded together against the occupiers, but the agencies say that is the result of anger and chaotic conditions, not proof of prewar alliances.

That’s quite an agnostic view. Risen seems even to imply that the influx of foreign fighters into Iraq since the war somehow validates the group’s pre-war arguments about ties between the secular Iraqi government and al Qaida.

On the other hand, there’s choice passages like this …

“I think the people working on the Persian Gulf at the C.I.A. are pathetic,” Mr. Perle said in an interview. “They have just made too many mistakes. They have a record over 30 years of being wrong.” He added that the agency “became wedded to a theory,” that did not leave room for the possibility that Iraq was working with Al Qaeda, and that “they went to battle stations every time someone pointed to contrary evidence.”

So all’s not lost.