Two Damning Leaks in the Last Two Days
It is true in Washington that even when an Administration is viewed as having total, intimidating control over the media and the opposition, there will still be a shark pack mentality amongst the oppressed. Such a mentality dictates that those on the losing side of battles will look for opportunities to feed negative stories to the media and then hope that others do likewise, in the hope that the media will shake off its shackles and return to looking for scalps and headlines. There are several stories seeping out over the last several hours that make it appear that people with an axe to grind against Bush are doing exactly this now.
First, buried in today's New York Times was this story, which in effect constitutes a leak from last week’s House and Senate Intelligence Committee hearings on Bush Administration misuse of Iraqi WMD intelligence. A State Department analyst told the committee that he felt pressure to change his analyses to fit the White House’s slant on Iraqi capabilities. I had expected this to eventually emerge from CIA types weeks and months from now, but it is already coming out from a member of Colin Powell’s bureaucracy.
A top State Department expert on chemical and biological weapons told Congressional committees in closed-door hearings last week that he had been pressed to tailor his analysis on Iraq and other matters to conform with the Bush administration's views, several Congressional officials said today.
The officials described what they said was a dramatic moment at a House Intelligence Committee hearing last week when the weapons expert came forward to tell Congress he had felt such pressure. By speaking out, they said, the senior intelligence expert, identified by several officials as Christian Westermann, became the first member of the intelligence community on active service to make this sort of admission to members of Congress.
Mr. Westermann's decision to speak out has caused a stir inside the House and Senate intelligence committees, even though he did not go into details and indicated he was not comfortable doing so in front of the large group of officials around him in the House hearing. But he said he was prepared to discuss the matter further.
Mr. Westermann told lawmakers last week that while he felt pressure, he never actually changed the wording of any of his intelligence reports.
In a second hearing last week with the Senate Intelligence Committee, he made it clear that he had felt pressure from John Bolton, the under secretary of state for arms control and international security, that originally dated to a clash the two had over Mr. Bolton's public assertions last year that Cuba had a biological weapons program. Mr. Westermann argued those assertions were not supported by sufficient intelligence.
A number of analysts have suggested that they felt less direct pressure on reports concerning the status of Iraq's unconventional weapons, but were angered that senior Bush administration officials selectively disclosed classified intelligence reports that supported the worst-case scenario concerning Iraq's weapons programs, making it seem as if there was an imminent threat to the United States.
The analysts believe that in some cases, White House and Pentagon officials made public statements about Iraq's weapons based on intelligence that was far from definitive.
An administration official said that Mr. Westermann had clashed repeatedly with Mr. Bolton.
A State Department official sympathetic to Mr. Bolton's views said of Mr. Westermann, "He doesn't have anything that he can point to, and he doesn't have anything more recent than Cuba." That official added, "We're in a period where people are looking for particular evidence of intelligence being altered, and he's talking about mood swings."
But other administration officials said there had been ongoing tensions between the two since the Cuban issue first came up, to the point that Mr. Bolton has unsuccessfully sought to have Mr. Westermann reassigned.
John Bolton, you may remember, is the lunatic who insisted embarrassingly that Cuba had WMDs, only to have Jimmy Carter tell the world that he received no such information from the Administration prior to his mission to Cuba. He also recently threatened Iran, only to have Powell throw water on his comments days later. Mr. Bolton and Colin Powell are not particularly close.
The second damning story that is curiously making its way into the media is this report from the AP that was just released hours ago. According to the AP, current and former intelligence officials are fingering the Bush Administration for failing to act on recommendations to use armed drones to kill Osama Bin Laden between the Spring of 2001 and 9/11.
Prowling the skies over Afghanistan in the months before President Bush took office, unmanned and unarmed Predator drones proved to be one of America's major successes in its frustrating hunt for Osama bin Laden.
But the promising aircraft remained grounded under the new administration until after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, say current and former U.S. officials who describe a paralyzing internal debate over finances, arming the drones with deadly missiles and concern over who would take the blame if something went wrong.
As late as a week before the suicide attacks against New York and Washington, senior administration officials meeting at the White House had not yet resolved questions about plans to equip each Predator with as many as two Hellfire missiles to kill bin Laden, these officials told The Associated Press.
This came despite the remarkable successes in the fall 2000, including what many intelligence experts concluded were three separate sightings of bin Laden during a series of 11 Predator flights over the Afghan desert.
Unresolved issues at that Sept. 4 meeting included whether the CIA or Pentagon should operate newly armed Predators and whether its new missiles were sufficiently lethal to kill bin Laden, a designated terrorist already blamed for deadly attacks against two U.S. embassies in Africa and the USS Cole and the subject of at least three secret orders by President Clinton to have him captured or killed.
The debate is newly significant because it centers around records of White House meetings and documents largely outside the scope of the earlier congressional investigation, which focused narrowly on intelligence mistakes and not policy choices.
The push to arm Predators and use them to hunt bin Laden was presented to the new Bush administration within days of its inauguration, when top counterterrorism official Richard Clarke cited the 2000 successes for national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and showed videotapes from Predator cameras.
The drones were one component of a broader plan that Clarke, a career government employee, devised during the waning days of Clinton's presidency to go after al-Qaida. But Clinton officials decided just before Christmas to forward the plan to the incoming Bush administration rather than implement it during Clinton's final days, the officials said.
With powerful winter winds over the mountains affecting the flights, Predators were grounded after October 2000 and fitted with weapons. One was repaired after it crashed on landing, sparking debate whether CIA or the Pentagon would pay the damage. Officials anticipated putting Predators back into the air as early as March 2001 after the winds subsided.
But the Predators remained grounded until Sept. 11. Officials at the White House meeting the week earlier put off recommending flying armed Predators to hunt bin Laden. Instead, they finalized a series of other measures to rout al-Qaida from its base in Afghanistan, including rearming the rebel Northern Alliance.
Those recommendations were being forwarded from Rice to Bush when the Sept. 11 hijackers struck, officials said.
So between March 2001, when the staff thought it was safe to put the Predators back up in the air, and 9/11, the Bush Administration dithered and did nothing to go after Bin Laden even though they had the means to cheaply harass him and keep him on the run. Instead they allowed interagency turf wars to go on about who would pay for and run the missions, while the Clinton Administration recommendations that Sandy Berger gave Condi Rice gathered dust on the shelves in her office. Keep in mind that we had threatened the Taliban in the Summer of 2001 to either give up Bin Laden or face a carpet of bombs. And yet after this threat, the Bush Administration still did not see a need to restart the Predator program?
And this is coming out now? What do you think Bob Graham will do with this?
Who are these officials, and why is this damning indictment of Bush Administration lack of attention, decisionmaking, and commitment to getting Bin Laden just now coming out? Does this not give ammunition to the 9/11 Victims Families and Condi Rice opponents, as well as put a potentially-lethal issue out there about Bush Administration abdication of responsibility to protect and defend this country from an imminent threat they were told about by Sandy Berger in January 2001?
And why does Colin Powell look like the only guy inoculated from fallout on both stories?