Last week the Senate intel committee released their report on pre-war intelligence in Iraq
, which confirmed the disconnect between intelligence information espoused by Bush Administration officials and what was actually known.
The parameters of Phase II were negotiated between Senate Republicans and Democrats, for years, so it was maybe doomed to be a document with glaring omissions. But as damning as parts of the report were (Rumsfeld's false testimony
.) it probably could have been a lot worse for the executive branch, had not large swaths of White House communications been excluded from the scope of the investigations.
As Walter Pincus of the Washington Post
writes, "the panel did not review 'less formal communications between intelligence agencies and other parts of the Executive Branch.'"
Which basically means that only the speeches and public press statements by senior officials, fell within the purview of the intel. committee's investigation. As Pincus points out, that leaves out a number of the other ways the administration misled the public before going into Iraq:
One obvious target for such an expanded inquiry would have been the records of the White House Iraq Group (WHIG), a group set up in August 2002 by then-White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr.
The group met weekly in the Situation Room. Among the regular participants (many have since left or changed jobs) were Karl Rove, the president's senior political adviser; communications strategists Karen Hughes, Mary Matalin and James R. Wilkinson; legislative liaison Nicholas E. Calio; and policy aides led by national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and her deputy, Stephen J. Hadley, as well as I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Cheney's chief of staff.
As former White House press secretary Scott McClellan wrote in his recently released book, What Happened, the Iraq Group "had been set up in the summer of 2002 to coordinate the marketing of the war to the public."
"The script had been finalized with great care over the summer," McClellan wrote, for a "campaign to convince Americans that war with Iraq was inevitable and necessary." [Emphasis ours]
Beyond rehashing sentiments of the Senate intel. committee's purposeful stonewalling and foreshortening of the investigation
, Fred Kaplan at Slate
takes a different read on the line "less formal communications between intelligence agencies and other parts of the executive branch." Kaplan believes the line addresses the covert pressure the White House placed on the CIA to play up its pro-war intelligence:
Another intriguing point, made fleetingly in the Senate report's preface, is that the committee reviewed "only finished analytic intelligence documents"--not "less formal communications between intelligence agencies and other parts of the executive branch."
In other words (though the authors don't put it in these terms), the committee once again evaded the key question of whether the White House pressured the Central Intelligence Agency into hardening its October 2002 NIE on Iraq.
Unless this question is addressed, the report is beside the point. Its full, ungainly title is "Report on Whether Public Statements Regarding Iraq by U.S. Government Officials Were Substantiated by Intelligence Information." If those same government officials politicized the intelligence information, then the report only perpetuates the sham. (I am not saying this is the case, only that the committee should have investigated whether it is--should have reviewed those "less formal communications.")
In sum, while Phase II shed light on the "lies," or "misstatements," or "misinformation," or "whatever-you-want-to-call-it," of the administration's public claims in the days leading up to the Iraq war, it still leaves much to be desired in terms of scope and accountability.