By Ray 0aMcGovern
Tuesday 29 July 2003
When Vice President Dick Cheney comes out of seclusion to brand 0acritics irresponsible, you know the administration is in trouble.
Cheney was enlisted to do so in the spring of 2002 amid reports 0athat warning given to President Bush before 9/11 should have prompted preventive 0aaction. Cheney branded such commentary irresponsible, and critics in the press 0aand elsewhere were duly intimidated. It will be interesting to see what happens 0athis time.
Sifting through the congressional report on 9/11, I was reminded 0aof the President s Daily Brief item of August 6, 2001 titled Bin Laden 0aDetermined to Strike in US. Dana Priest of the Washington Post has learned that 0athis PDB article stated bin Laden had wanted to conduct attacks in the United 0aStates for years and that (his) group apparently maintained a support base 0ahere.
According to Priest, the PDB went on to cite FBI judgments about 0apatterns of activity consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types 0aof attacks. The president has cited executive privilege in refusing to 0adeclassify the PDB item.
With the administration under fire once again, the vice president 0acame off the bench with a major statement on July 24 in which he tried to hit 0atwo birds with one speech: (1) distract attention from the highly embarrassing 0a9/11 report released that same day, and (2) arrest the plunge in administration 0acredibility caused by the absence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and 0athe use of spurious reporting alleging that Iraq had been seeking uranium in 0aAfrica. In the words of one Cheney aide, We had to get out of the hole we were 0ain.
But, alas, they have dug themselves in deeper by pushing 0adisingenuousness to new heights or depths. Cheney made the centerpiece of his 0aspeech a series of quotes from the key National Intelligence Estimate, Iraq s 0aContinuing Programs for Weapons of Mass Destruction published on October 1. 0a2002. The NIE judgments he selected were adduced to prove that Iraq posed such 0aan urgent threat to the US that it would have been irresponsible to shy away 0afrom making war.
Inconveniently, experience on the ground in Iraq for more than 0afour months now has cast great doubt on the validity of those judgments. Worse 0astill, as Cheney knows better than anyone, it was largely the unrelenting 0apressure he put on intelligence analysts for example, by his unprecedented multiple visits to CIA headquarters that rendered those judgments so 0adubious.
Giving new meaning to chutzpah, Cheney quoted four statements 0afrom the NIE:
1. Baghdad has chemical and biological weapons if left 0aunchecked, it probably will have a nuclear weapon during this decade. Where are 0athe chemical and biological weapons?
2. All key aspects the R&D, production, and weaponization of 0aIraq s offensive (biological weapons) program are active and most elements are 0alarger and more advanced than they were before the Gulf War. Where are they?
3. Since inspections ended in 1998, Iraq has maintained its 0achemical weapons effort, energized its missile program, and invested more 0aheavily in biological weapons; in the view of most agencies, Baghdad is 0areconstituting its nuclear weapons program. Where is the evidence of this in 0aIraq?
4. The Intelligence Community has high confidence in the 0aconclusion that Iraq is continuing, and in some areas expanding, its chemical, 0abiological, nuclear and missile programs contrary to UN Resolutions .
The last four months have shown that such judgments though stated 0ato be marked by high confidence were far off the mark. I know from my own 0aexperience that this is frequently the case when analysts are put under pressure 0afrom policymakers who have already publicly asserted, a priori, the correct 0aanswers to key questions.
Cheney did so in the administration s rollout of its marketing 0astrategy for war, when he charged in a major address on August 26, 2002 Saddam 0ahas resumed his efforts to acquire nuclear weapons. The intelligence community 0aspent the subsequent weeks in a desperate search evidence to prove Cheney right. 0aIf he is looking for something to label irresponsible in the extreme, the 0aextreme pressure he put on intelligence analysts last September certainly 0aqualifies.
Cheney did not mention in his speech that analysts in the State 0aDepartment s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) insisted on recording in 0athe NIE their strong dissent on the key nuclear issue. All signs point to their 0ahaving chosen the wiser approach. Their diplomatically stated but nonetheless 0abiting dissent is worth a careful read:
The activities we have detected do not, however, add up to a 0acompelling case that Iraq is currently pursuing an integrated and comprehensive 0aapproach to acquire nuclear weapons INR considers available evidence inadequate 0ato support such a judgment. Lacking persuasive evidence that Baghdad has 0alaunched a coherent effort to reconstitute its nuclear weapons program, INR is 0aunwilling to project a time line for completion of activities it does not now 0asee happening.
It was also INR analysts who branded the infamous 0aIraq-seeking-uranium-from-Niger story (widely recognized as bogus but included 0ain the estimate anyway) highly dubious. One of the ironies here is that the 0aintelligence analysts at State, a department steeped in politics, felt more 0asecure in speaking truth to power than their counterparts in the CIA. In my day, 0aCIA analysts were generally given the necessary insulation from pressure from 0apolicymakers and career protection when it was necessary to face them down.
Here the buck stops with CIA Director George Tenet. And fresh 0alight was thrown on his remarkable malleability when Newt Gingrich (also a 0afrequent visitor to CIA over recent months) made this gratuitous comment to ABC 0aon July 27: Tenet is so grateful and loyal that he will do anything he can to 0ahelp President Bush.