Dec 27, 2003 1:43 am


Did a former CIA agent forge the Niger documents to expose W and the boys as fraudulent manipulators of intelligence?

This and other explosive questions are raised in the latest bombshell Seymour Hersh article in the New Yorker.

And Hersh lays a lot of the blame for the mishandling and manipulation of intelligence directly on Condi:

In early October, David Kay, the former U.N. inspector who is the head of the Administration’s Iraq Survey Group, made his interim report to Congress on the status of the search for Iraq’s W.M.D.s. “We have not yet found stocks of weapons,” Kay reported, “but we are not yet at the point where we can say definitively either that such weapon stocks do not exist or that they existed before the war.” In the area of nuclear weapons, Kay said, “Despite evidence of Saddam’s continued ambition to acquire nuclear weapons, to date we have not uncovered evidence that Iraq undertook significant post-1998 steps to actually build nuclear weapons or produce fissile material.” Kay was widely seen as having made the best case possible for President Bush’s prewar claims of an imminent W.M.D. threat. But what he found fell far short of those claims, and the report was regarded as a blow to the Administration. President Bush, however, saw it differently. He told reporters that he felt vindicated by the report, in that it showed that “Saddam Hussein was a threat, a serious danger.”

The President’s response raises the question of what, if anything, the Administration learned from the failure, so far, to find significant quantities of W.M.D.s in Iraq. Any President depends heavily on his staff for the vetting of intelligence and a reasonable summary and analysis of the world’s day-to-day events. The ultimate authority in the White House for such issues lies with the President’s national-security adviser—in this case,Condoleezza Rice. The former White House official told me, “Maybe the Secretary of Defense and his people are short-circuiting the process, and creating a separate channel to the Vice-President. Still, at the end of the day all the policies have to be hashed out in the interagency process, led by the national-security adviser.” What happened instead, he said, “was a real abdication of responsibility by Condi.”

This story exposes this administration's short-circuiting of the intelligence vetting process -- primarily so they could cherry-pick the intelligence information in order to make their fraudulent case for war.

One of the more eye-opening passages is this one:

By early March, 2002, a former White House official told me, it was understood by many in the White House that the President had decided, in his own mind, to go to war. The undeclared decision had a devastating impact on the continuing struggle against terrorism. The Bush Administration took many intelligence operations that had been aimed at Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups around the world and redirected them to the Persian Gulf. Linguists and special operatives were abruptly reassigned, and several ongoing anti-terrorism intelligence programs were curtailed.

Chalabi’s defector reports were now flowing from the Pentagon directly to the Vice-President’s office, and then on to the President, with little prior evaluation by intelligence professionals. When INR analysts did get a look at the reports, they were troubled by what they found. “They’d pick apart a report and find out that the source had been wrong before, or had no access to the information provided,” Greg Thielmann told me. “There was considerable skepticism throughout the intelligence community about the reliability of Chalabi’s sources, but the defector reports were coming all the time. Knock one down and another comes along. Meanwhile, the garbage was being shoved straight to the President.”

A routine settled in: the Pentagon’s defector reports, classified “secret,” would be funnelled to newspapers, but subsequent C.I.A. and INR analyses of the reports—invariably scathing but also classified—would remain secret.

“It became a personality issue,” a Pentagon consultant said of the Bush Administration’s handling of intelligence. “My fact is better than your fact. The whole thing is a failure of process. Nobody goes to primary sources.” The intelligence community was in full retreat.

So W and Cheney had convinced themselves that Saddam had WMDs and wouldn't listen to anyone who said anything different. As Josh put it earlier this evening, they clearly had deceived themselves:

At heart this was an issue of people who had something they were just dying to find, just dying to believe in. By cutting themselves off from anybody who was a dissenting voice --- which usually also meant anybody who knew what they were doing --- they managed to isolate themselves with their own credulity and walk their country into a profound embarrassment and a potential disaster.
However, I'd argue that, since W and the boys were receiving these reports from the CIA knocking Chalabi's defectors' intelligence, it seems obvious to me that W and Cheney knew they were using questionable intelligence to make their case. That is what makes this whole mess more than simple incompetence. Therefore, this one breaks the plane and becomes a case of willful deception of the public.

Folks, I can't help but think that in another era (or, more plausibly, if the president simply was a member of the other political party) this would have easily been viewed as an impeachable offense.

Do you agree?

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