My God this is

October 24, 2003 12:21 p.m.

My God, this is such a joke.

We’re really in Moscow show trial territory here.

You’ve probably seen these stories which report that the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence is set to issue a blistering report on the CIA’s (and the broader intelligence community’s) pre-war Iraq intelligence. It was hastily prepared, the report will say. Much of the evidence was thin and circumstantial. And even much of that was single-sourced, and often to unreliable sources.

“The executive was ill-served by the intelligence community,” Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan), the lockstep Committee Chairman told the Washington Post.

(Roberts is one of the White House’s greatest assets in this whole mess, since he will literally do or say anything to keep the White House in the clear.)

Now, by and large, the bill of particulars above is a fair characterization of the National Intelligence Estimate which was assembled in the fall of 2002. And George Tenet deserves all sorts of criticism for his role in all this.

But this isn’t the criticism he should be getting.

What he’s guilty of isn’t ill-serving the White House but allowing the White House to stack the intel deck in favor of alarmist reports about Iraq.

As I say, we’ll be saying much more about the details of this. But let’s start with the essential observation. Why was the NIE so rushed?

An NIE is a systematic evaluation of all the Intelligence Community knows about a given subject. And it’s put together to help the government frame a policy to address a given problem or challenge.

But as the articles in the Washington Post today note (if rather obliquely), that’s not what happened here.

This NIE was done after the White House had already chosen its policy. And it wasn’t even the White House that called for it, but rather Senate Democrats who were miffed that the administration had never requested an NIE.

In fact, the White House specifically resisted requesting an NIE because it didn’t want the findings getting in the way of its policy.

So Roberts’ claim that the White House was “ill-served” fails on chronology and simple logic. The NIE could not have failed the White House, because the White House didn’t use it. Simple as that.

(The point of this NIE was not to frame policy but to sway votes in the Senate. And on that count, if one wanted to be cheeky, one would say the administration was served rather well.)

And why was the NIE so rushed? Because it was a double-quick affair rushed into print at the last minute to get Senate Democrats to vote for the Iraq resolution.

The NIE was done after the White House was already on the record with a policy. So the White House’s views on what it wanted the NIE to say were, shall we say, rather clear. And this whole project came after 18 months in which the administration was mau-mauing the CIA to come up with more alarmist reports about Iraq.

George Tenet deserves censure for allowing himself to become complicit in the politicization and manipulation of intelligence on an almost unprecedented scale. Other top officials at the Agency do as well. (And there are certainly many other issues on which the Agency itself deserves to be taken to task.)

But this fish is rotting from the head down. And the head’s not George Tenet. It’s a many-headed monster. And they’re all at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and the OSD.

This is up-is-downism of the worst and most transparent sort.

Who will say so? Who will go along with it? Who will say, ‘Enough. No more!’

Masthead Masthead
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