Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

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David Brooks' column in tomorrow's Times has a more nuanced and literary version of the 'CIA sold the president a bill of goods' line.

What we need, says Brooks, isn't less nudging and hammering from politicians, but more. Game-theory, bureaucratic thinking, and hyper-rationalism aren't the answer to the nimble, quick-on-its-feet, lickety-split irrationalism and nihilist violence of the early 21st century terrorist threat.

There's probably a lot of truth in that (though if you read histories of the early CIA you'll see that quite a number of the luminaries were, shall we say, more than a bit in touch with the irrational.)

But I don't know how Brooks gets past the fact that these politicians were pushing for conclusions (and putting them in the president's speeches) three or four times more erroneous than those offered up by the latter-day Von Neumanns at Langley.

And, after reading his column, I don't think Brooks does either.

A question. Going back over the last decade, name me the Democratic president, presidential nominee, or primary frontrunner whom my friend Mickey Kaus has not diagnosed with a ‘character problem’?

A pearl. Lapidary. As Churchill might have said, hypocrisy wrapped in mendacity, bundled up in ridiculousness. A true gem. Richard Perle tells the Times that the CIA did indeed sell the president a bill of goods. “The president is a consumer of intelligence, not a producer of it," Perle told the Times. "I have long thought our intelligence in the gulf has been woefully inadequate."

Right. Perle has long been a staunch critic of the CIA. His argument was that they understated the scope of Saddam’s WMD programs, naively discounted his ties to terrorist organizations and had an overly pessimistic vision of post-war Iraq.

In other words, if the CIA is all wet, Perle is all wet squared. Or probably even cubed.

The skeptical voices in the Intelligence Community --- the ones who are now vindicated in spades --- were the objects of his greatest derision. And his solution was to give even more credence to the unreliable defector testimony which played such a key role in our bamboozlement.

We shouldn't be surprised that the president has now decided to "sign an executive order creating an investigation of intelligence failures in Iraq" or that he's apparently mandated that it not report its finding until after the November election.

But what comes under its purview? "White House sources," tell CBS that "the commission will have full access to materials they need."

But can we get a bit more specificity on that? Will it just look at the collection and analysis of intelligence? And just at the CIA and other intelligence agencies? Or will it look at the administration's use of intelligence, and at the White House, the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Office of the Vice President?

I confess: I'm just too gullible.

This morning Post columnist James Hoagland endorses the 'CIA sold the president a bill of goods' defense. Hoagland is willing to concede that the president may have "inflated" the "flawed intelligence that [his] spy bosses and senior aides provided."

But still, he writes, "Credulity, not chicanery, would be the plea, your honor."

As I said, or rather as Hoagland says, the Agency sold the president a bill of goods.

Now, here I am at my favorite cafe, laptop on my knees, latte at the ready, trying to make sense of the world. And this all throws me, because Hoagland spent the last two years telling me that the president and his top aides had to bully the Agency and the rest of the career types in the Intelligence Community and the national security establishment into getting religion on the Iraq threat.

And now I hear it's just the opposite?

For instance, take Hoagland's October 20th, 2002 column ("CIA's New Old Iraq File"). That's where he said that the Agency's record of underestimating the Iraqi threat was so dire that "it is no surprise that Bush has until now relied little on the Langley agency for his information on Iraq. There is simply no way to reconcile what the CIA has said on the record and in leaks with the positions Bush has taken on Iraq."

The column -- which I really recommend you read -- describes how the president and his aides had bullied the analysts at the CIA into finally admitting what a threat Saddam posed. "As President Bush's determination to overthrow the Iraqi dictator has become evident to all, a cultural change has come over the world's most expensive intelligence agency: Some analysts out at Langley are now willing to evaluate incriminating evidence against the Iraqis and call it just that."

A cultural change, indeed.

In that column, and in the ones that followed, Hoagland praised the President's now-notorious October 7th Cincinnati speech as the kind of goods on Saddam that could be wrung from the Intelligence Community when the president asserted sufficient 'leadership.'

So, for instance, a couple weeks later on November 3rd, Hoagland asked where the president got his info about Saddam's ties to al Qaida in the Cincinnati speech? "Sez who?," asked Hoagland, "The answer: Sez the CIA, when pressed to the mat." (Itals added.)

Like so much else in this up-is-down, black-is-white world the president and his backers want us to live in, this new defense doesn't even hold up against the google test. And somehow I imagine that the folks on the inside have access to more evidence and examples than I'm able to track down with my wifi-enabled laptop and a nexis account.

Late Update: And, of course, there's more. This from Hoagland's October 10th, 2002 column ...

A sea change has occurred in official Washington since the president decided last summer that he would soon have to be ready to go to war against Iraq. Public attempts by officials to bury or explain away menacing information about Iraq have largely dried up or gone underground, although the CIA fights a rear-guard action. Now information and intelligence are marshaled to make the case, rather than deflect it.

This is, broadly speaking, political use of information -- no more and no less so than was the previous phase of denial and obfuscation. Bush mobilized facts on Monday to mobilize the nation for a challenge that is no less dangerous for being "largely familiar," as the New York Times labeled Bush's arguments in Tuesday editions.

The State Department and the CIA, institutionally wary and dismissive of the extensive intelligence about Saddam Hussein and his crimes provided by the dissidents of the Iraqi National Congress, had to listen Monday night to the president recite a dossier full of Iraqi National Congress information and insights that have filtered down over the years through the media, the government and academia to the skillful and alert speechwriters on Bush's staff.

Ahh, yes. The INC and the president's speechwriters. Why do we need intelligence agencies when we've got these guys?

The Hoagland archive, truly the gift that keeps on giving, and giving, and giving ...

We're really happy to report our highest traffic month yet. For January 2004: 2,192,404 page views, 1,632,034 visits and 411,239 individual visitors. A very sincere thanks, as always, for being visitors to, and readers of, the site.

Look at this. 117 reformist members of the Iranian parliament have now submitted their resignations over the deepening electoral exclusion crisis. Could this really be coming to a head?

This evening the Post has an article reporting that the <$NoAd$> White House has decided to support an independent probe of the intelligence failure over Iraqi WMD.

Here are the key grafs (emphasis added) ...

The details about the commission are not yet firm, including how much authority it would have to investigate not just the intelligence gathering apparatus but also how the administration used the intelligence it was given.

By joining the effort to create the commission rather than allowing Congress to develop its framework on its own, Bush will likely have more leverage to keep the focus on the CIA and other intelligence organizations rather than on the White House. Democrats have asserted that Bush exaggerated the intelligence on Iraq to justify going war, a theory that was boosted by recent allegations from former Treasury secretary Paul H. O'Neill that Bush had been contemplating the ouster of Hussein long before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

There it is. They want to wall off the investigation so it only scrutinizes their political enemies at the CIA and the rest of the Intelligence Community.

From a story on CNN yesterday evening: "Amid calls for an independent probe into prewar intelligence failures, Vice President Dick Cheney has called key lawmakers to say the administration is open to a range of options, sources tell CNN."

Why is the White House scrambling to get out ahead of these calls for an investigation and contain the potential investigation being called for?

Three data points framed as questions ...

1. Did the White House play fast and loose with the truth about the Iraq threat?

2. Are people in the Intelligence Community likely to know just how they played fast and loose?

3. Do people in the Intelligence Community feel ill-used by this administration?

Add them up.

And one other thing: how credible will an inquiry be if it covers the CIA but not the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Office of the Vice President?