Politics & Policy

The Great Intelligence Committee Report

Some mysteries remain unsolved.

Wow, more than 520 pages. As Dan Darling and I worked through it (and don’t miss his more detailed analysis at www.windsofchange.net), we were constantly entertained by big blocks of “redacted” pages. Why don’t they just put in ellipses instead of all those blacked-out paragraphs? Maybe the Government Printing Office gets paid by the page, and Congress wants the GPO to have more money?

The other great mystery is how the authors expect us to read the report. It’s terribly written, and talks breathlessly about “trade craft” when “logic” or “common sense” would do better. It takes multiple sentences to say things that should be reduced to one or two. Are there no editors around?

Whatever the explanation, you should know that the text does not always conform to the talk-about-the-text. The text, for example, is at pains to say that the report does not deal with the “accuracy” of the intelligence. That will come later (barely five minutes later in the case of Senator Jay Rockefeller, who looked as if he’d just leapt out of a sauna and hadn’t had time to towel off–I hadn’t seen an American politician sweat like that since the glory days of Milhous). This report is said to focus on the intelligence “process”–that is, how information was gathered, analyzed, and provided to policymakers.

What a fine idea. But Rockefeller, at the press conference with Senator Roberts, was not happy about it. You could see that the poor man wanted, oh so desperately, to scream “Bush Lied!!!,” but he couldn’t go all the way. However, he certainly strained at his leash. Listen to this, for example:

The central issue of how intelligence on Iraq was–in this Senator’s opinion, was exaggerated by the Bush administration officials, was relegated to that second phase, as yet unbegun…

But in the very next breath, it turns out that it has begun.

We’ve done a little bit of work on the number three guy in the Defense Department, Douglas Feith, part of his alleged efforts to run intelligence past the intelligence community altogether… And was he running a private intelligence failure, which is not lawful. (emphasis added)

I’m not sure what to make of this. On the one hand, I love that “private intelligence failure” bit, as if only the CIA is entitled to intelligence failure. On the other hand, it’s appalling and disgusting to have this senator hint of something “not lawful” on the part of the undersecretary of defense for policy, especially when said senator’s own fat report totally exonerates Feith of the nasty rumors that have been circulated by the likes of Seymour Hersh, Joshua Marshall, and other camp followers for many months.

Then Rockefeller went on to lament that the report didn’t really explain “the environment of intense pressure in which the intelligence officials were asked to render judgments,” implying that administration officials bullied the analysts into saying what the president wanted to hear. Not so. The report explained that there was certainly pressure, but that pressure came from the real situation–from the knowledge that error might lead to the death of many Americans–not from policymakers demanding that intelligence officials get the analysis just right.

In fact, for those few people who actually read the report, there’s a pretty big story around page 357, on which we learn that Chairman Roberts got upset at the many anonymous leaks alleging pressure to “cook” the intelligence in the run-up to the war. So he, along with his House counterpart, Porter Goss, “made a public call for officials to come forward and contact the Committee if they had information” about such pressure. Roberts issued that call at least nine different times, but “the Committee was not presented with any evidence that intelligence analysts changed their judgments as a result of political pressure…or that anyone even attempted to coerce, influence or pressure analysts to do so…”

So Rockefeller should either put up or shut up. If the report is wrong, he put his signature on a lie. If it’s right, he should stop talking as if he lived in an alternate sauna…I mean universe.

It’s even worse than that, because the report does talk about pressure, but it’s the opposite of what Rockefeller and the Hate Bush crowd was hoping for. It turns out that the CIA pressured some analysts into agreeing with its view of the aluminum tubes–which it said were headed for uranium-enriching centrifuges but could easily have been for rockets. And it wasn’t the Pentagon that ran its own private intelligence “failure” but the CIA, which kept the experts at the Department of Energy–who were specialized in such matters–out of that particular loop.

For those who follow the debates over this stuff, I think the plethora of reported contacts between al Qaeda biggies and Iraqi-intelligence officials is sufficient to convince any open-minded person that there was enough to worry about.

The best part of the report is the thorough discrediting of former Ambassador Wilson, who duped just about every self-proclaimed “investigative journalist” in America. Wilson is the husband of a CIA officer who was sent by the CIA to Niger to check on an allegation–based at least in part on some documents given to the American embassy in Rome–that Saddam’s minions had approached the Nigeriens with a request for uranium. Wilson had told everyone that the Nigeriens had denied it, and he personally told the Washington Post and others that the documents in question were probably forgeries because names and dates were wrong.

Well, the report says that Wilson had not seen the documents, so he couldn’t have had any serious basis for claiming that names and dates were wrong. Worse yet, the Nigeriens told him about an Iraqi delegation that had gone there in ‘99, and that the Niger’s prime minister “believed the Iraqis were interested in purchasing uranium.” As the Wall Street Journal elegantly put it, Iraq asked to expand trade, and Niger had only two exports: uranium and goats.

The Wilson story gets even better. He had sworn that his CIA wife had had nothing to do with his appointment as special emissary, but the report quotes a memo from his wife recommending him for the post. And Wilson had chewed out the vice president for standing by the claim, famously made by President Bush in his 2003 State of the Union address, that British intelligence had reported Iraqi requests for uranium from Niger. Wilson said, in effect, the veep knew of my report but he just dissed it. Not true. “CIA’s briefer did not brief the vice president on the report (that Iraqis had indeed discussed uranium in Niger), despite the vice president’s previous question about the issue.”

Oh, I see. The vice president of the United States asks for information about the story. The CIA sends this lout to Niger. He hears from the prime minister of the place that the story is true, and reports as much to the CIA (while saying the opposite to the pressies). And the CIA never bothers to tell Cheney. Is this not a scandal? What have I missed? Maybe somebody should tell Senators Rockefeller and Roberts that the CIA is supposed to answer such questions. They often don’t, by the way. I can tell you that two senior administration officials asked the CIA, five months ago, about a report that Iraqi officials had arrested two people in the act of transporting a barrel full of uranium from Iraq to Iran. There is still no answer. If we’re really interested in the intelligence “process,” this sort of silence has to stop.

Anyway, back to Wilson. The whole journalistic universe was in heat over the Niger story, because Wilson had convinced them that it was a hoax, based on forgeries. All kinds of celebrated journalists, from Hersh on up, presented theories about the origin of the forgeries, as if that were the issue. But it wasn’t. Throughout it all, the British government continued to say that they had evidence, that they still believed in that evidence, and that they believed the story was true.

The Brits were right: It was true, as Wilson undoubtedly realized. Thanks to a couple of articles in the Financial Times over the past few weeks, we know that several European countries had reason to believe it. The “forgeries” were a total red herring, they had nothing to do with the price of eggs, and thus Seymour Hersh’s breathless spasm–in which he theorized that the forgeries were created by a bunch of ex-CIA “old boys” in order to gull Cheney so they could then “expose” him–is idiocy. And Joshua Marshall’s narcissistic echo chamber, broadcasting “Bush lied” 24/7, is another. (I am obliged to reveal that I have an intense personal contempt for Mr. Marshall, who slimed me and my wife and my daughter on the basis of lies and suppositions, and has yet to acknowledge it, let alone apologize.)

Before we leave the Wilson story, here’s another mystery: Why did the Bush administration apologize for the16 truthful words the president pronounced? Why was poor Steve Hadley sent out to take the fall for…telling the truth? There are two obvious possibilities. One is that, somehow or other, our leaders decided that the CIA had indeed been gulled by a forgery. The other is that politics trumps truth once again, the story was painful to them, and they decided they’d rather run away than tell the painful truth. But it’s peculiar, don’t you think?

Penultimate observation: The report tells us several times that we had no human sources “collecting against weapons of mass destruction in Iraq” (there’s that awful language again), and we are told that this was the result of “a broken corporate culture and poor management.” And why, pray tell, was the “corporate culture” broken? The committee doesn’t probe this very deeply, and they are right to avoid it, because the Congress is the main culprit in this sad story.

No one has seen fit to point out that, thanks to the depredations of President Bill Clinton and Senator Robert Torricelli a few years back, the CIA had been told to avoid working relationships with persons of dubious human-rights records. Well, it would be hard to find a high official in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq who didn’t have a really rotten human-rights record. So, even if the agency had an olive-skinned case officer, fluent in Iraqi Arabic, capable of penetrating the Baathist state, he would probably have had to deal with some real monsters in order to get real secrets. If you were the CIA, you’d have avoided that one. Remember that Torricelli’s scorched-earth campaign was the result of a CIA case officer talking to a Guatemalan paramilitary type who killed people from time to time.

On this one, I hold Congress and Clinton guilty. The CIA didn’t have a broken culture–it had a lunatic overseer in the legislature and a cowardly customer in the White House.

Finally, we come to the really big question, and the weird answer of the committee. The big question is this: How could every serious intelligence agency on earth have come to believe there were WMDs in Iraq when (as the current article of faith has it) there were none? Senator Roberts likens it to a global epidemic. The CIA got it wrong and then infected all the others. A worldwide virus, so to speak. The WMD flu, if you will.

I don’t buy it. I don’t think the French were swayed by the CIA. I don’t think the Israelis and the Russians were infected by our views. I think this is like the David Kay theory of WMDs. Remember? He said that Saddam really believed he had some, because all his guys lied to him about it. He didn’t actually have WMDs at all, because the Iraqis had failed, and they feared for their lives if Saddam found them out, and so they lied, and he bought the lies.

These are pretty complicated theories, you must admit. What about a simpler approach? Let’s say that there were WMDs. Then, in the disgracefully long period between Afghanistan and Iraq, Saddam, knowing he was gonna be overrun, exported some (mostly to Syria and Iran), destroyed some, and hid some.

That’s my story, and I’m sticking with it for the time being. I’m sticking with it because I know–as Senator Roberts and the committee staff know, because I told them–that there are very credible reports of WMD sites, but the CIA chooses not to go look at them. Since I told my own story I’ve learned about others, one of which comes from a very high-ranking former official of the American government. I’m also sticking with it because the Polish government insists that their guys in Iraq found warheads with chemical weapons, even though a CENTCOM press release denies it, and because Zarkawi’s killers arrived in Jordan with large quantities of chemical weapons. And because I don’t believe the Iraqis would have bought all those funny suits that protect you from chemical and biological weapons unless they had such weapons and expected to use them.

Enough already.

Michael Ledeen, an NRO contributing editor, is most recently the author of The War Against the Terror Masters. Ledeen is Resident Scholar in the Freedom Chair at the American Enterprise Institute.

Michael LedeenMichael Ledeen is an American historian, philosopher, foreign-policy analyst, and writer. He is a former consultant to the National Security Council, the Department of State, and the Department of Defense. ...

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