Friday :: Oct 24, 2003

CIA Starts Its Counteroffensive: NIE Was a "Cut and Paste" Job

by Steve

Earlier I had a post on the upcoming attempt by GOP Senator Pat Roberts to shift blame for Iraq WMD lies from the Administration to the CIA, reported in today's Post. I now notice that the Post buried a companion piece in this morning’s edition from Walter Pincus, wherein a “senior intelligence expert”, knowing that Roberts was about to blame the CIA and not the White House, trots out a ready-made CYA reason for why the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq was garbage: it was rushed into production.

Today’s story by Pincus shows that the Administration itself, after rolling out its new product (an Iraq war) last fall, didn’t seek what would normally be part of the ramp-up for such an endeavor: a NIE that would summarize all available intelligence and assumptions in a deliberative document. Instead, Democratic Senator Dick Durbin had to ask for a NIE in September in response to the sudden pressure the Senate was facing from the White House due to their new product: a war hatched up in time to divert attention at the midterms.

Such estimates are usually requested by the White House and take months to prepare, with the CIA and other elements of the U.S. intelligence community weighing their own information and working out disagreements after review and debate. But this one was rushed into production only after requests from Democratic senators who were being asked to give President Bush authorization to go to war.

"The NIE was hastily done in three weeks," one senior intelligence expert said. "It was a cut-and-paste job, with agencies and officials given only one day to review the draft final product when they usually take months. . . . Today they still disagree on the meaning of what came out."

As the Bush administration built its case for war against Iraq in the fall of 2002, a thorough NIE would seem to have been crucial: Hussein's reported chemical, biological or nuclear weapons were central to the pro-war argument. Equally important were questions about how likely Hussein was to use such weapons against U.S. troops or worse, the U.S. homeland.

And why wasn’t an NIE sought by the Administration either months before, or allowed more time to be developed? Well, in answer to the first question,

Durbin's letter also referred to what some senior analysts inside the intelligence community see as the reason no NIE had been sought by the White House: a reluctance to submit individual intelligence findings to challenge from competing analysts.

The White House plainly did not want an NIE because the PNAC cabal’s case for war would not have survived the scrutiny of a normal NIE process. And in answer to the second alternative, allowing more time for the NIE to be done, this was a nonstarter as well. Why? Because Bush and Rove needed to pressure the Senate into a war resolution vote right away before the November midterms to gain maximum political benefit out of it. As a result, the case made for war used to pressure Senators into their votes was a “cut and paste” NIE that was rushed, but still qualified with less than definitive statements. However, the NIE itself was classified, so such caveats didn’t see the light of day until months later. What was released publicly at the time, and what was used to pressure Senators into going along just before the midterms, was a “White Paper” summary drawn from the NIE, but which was more definitive and not accurately reflective of the caution in the NIE itself. How do we know this?

We noted that in a June 7, 2003 Page One by Pincus and Dana Priest (the author of the blame-shifting story today), both writers used their intelligence sources to establish that Bush, Cheney, and Rummy made definitive statements about Iraqi WMD capabilities during September 2002 that weren’t supported by the available intelligence. According to this earlier piece, as the Administration rolled out its campaign before the midterm elections to pressure Congress into a war resolution, officials from Bush on down used increasingly definitive language asserting a WMD capability that the eventual NIE didn’t support. The story also shows that Rummy’s own Defense Intelligence Agency had circulated their own analysis during the time the CIA was developing the now–admitted “cut and paste” NIE that also contained less than certain assessments of Iraqi WMD capabilities. Moreover, although the actual NIE was replete with caveats and a less-than-certain assessment of Saddam’s capabilities, the declassified White Paper summary of the NIE that was given to Congress to pressure them on the war resolution contained no such qualifications. Bush endorsed this White Paper on October 7th, even though the NIE itself was less definitive, but the harsher summary was used to sell Congress into the war resolution less than two weeks later, and just before the midterm election.

And now Tenet wants to get off the hook from Roberts by claiming he was forced to do a “cut and paste” job on the NIE. Tenet is just a culpable for the poor and misleading staff work on the NIE and White Paper as anyone else is, because he allowed the White House to push through this slipshod NIE and bogus White Paper with the CIA’s name on it for political purposes just before the midterm elections.

Of course, the person who would have had to sign off both the NIE and bogus White Paper before they went to Congress and were used to sell a phony bill of goods against opponents at a time of maximum political pressure would be none other than Condi Rice.

Steve :: 7:40 AM :: Comments (3) :: Digg It!