May 10, 2007 2:32 pm


The question most often asked is this:"Did members of the Bush administration ask the CIA to hype the intelligence about Iraqi WMD in order to sell the war to the American people?" The question that should be asked is did the CIA hype the information about Iraqi WMD to help Powell convince Bush to disregard Cheney's objections and go the UN route (which meant charging Iraq with having WMD)?

For as Tenet correctly points out and we all know, the reasons for the war were strategic. 9/11 showed that the status quo in the ME has become dangerous to the US. Since the ME could not be remade from peripheral Afghanistan, it had to be remade from Iraq. Richard Pearl may not have told Tenet that we are going to a war with Iraq on 9/12 but I told that to my students on 9/13 and I was not the only international relations professor to do so. Hence, the central question was always not whether to go to war but the public justification for it. Tenet may argue that he did not hype the information to help Powel but he admits that the PDB (Presidential Daily Briefings) were hyped and that Condi Rice realized it. Tenet writes (the black emphasis is mine):

On a Saturday morning shortly after Christmas 2002, John McLaughlin and Bob Walpole were attending yet another meeting at the White House. The subject turned to trying to improve upon the unsatisfactory presentation we had given a week or so before, during the"slam dunk" meeting. . . . Condi asked Walpole to summarize the Estimate's key judgments. He began doings so from memory, citing all the"we assess and"we judge" language that appears in the document.

-"Wait a minute," Condi interrupted."Bob, if you are saying there are assertions, we need to know this now." That was the word she used."We can't send troops to war based on assertions."

Walpole calmly said that the NIE was an"assessment" and that these were analytical judgments. He explained that the agencies attached certain levels of confidence to the various judgments - some matters we had high confidence in, other moderate or low - but there was a reason the document's title contained the word"estimate."

Condi asked what he meant about confidence levels. Walpole said that, for example, the analysts had"high confidence" that Saddam had chemical weapons.

What is high confidence, ninety percent?" she asked.

"Yeah, that's about right," Bob replied.

Condi said:"That's a heck of a lot lower than we're getting from reading the PDB." . . .

Turning to John McLaughlin, the national security advisor said:"You (the intelligence community) have gotten the president out on a limb on this."

Was she right? Were the PDB hyped? Tenet admits they were:

After the war, as part of our lessons-learned efforts, we went back and had analysts review everything the Agency had written regarding Iraq and WMD. We had in fact been much more assertive in what we were writing the president on some issues, such as aluminum tubes, than we had been for some other publications, including the NIE.

In other words, Condi was right. Intentionally or not, the CIA misled their most important client, the President of the United States, by painting him a more dire picture than the one they painted Congress and the country. If Bush and Cheney were in a hurry, it was because the CIA PDBs convinced them, they did not have time to lose.

No, Bush did not ask Tenet to hype the intelligence. Tenet and company hyped it all on their own. Bush should have given him the boot, not the Medal of Freedom.

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