Thursday :: Apr 6, 2006

WMDgate: Fixing Intelligence Around Policy, Part 5: The Anatomy of a Cover-Up


by eriposte

This post is part of a series (see Introduction and Parts 1, 2A-1, 2A-2, 2A-3, 2A-4, 2A-5, 2B-1, 2B-2, 2C, 3, 3A, 4A) focused on building a case to demonstrate the Bush White House's intelligence manipulation, fixing and misrepresentation, mostly using published Congressional reports like the Phase I Senate (SSCI) Report, the Robb-Silberman WMD Commission Report, etc. Among the matters I discussed in previous installments of this series, was the official, documentary evidence revealing the misrepresentation of intel by the White House (mostly in the context of the aluminum tubes issue and partly on the uranium from Africa issue).

Earlier this week I started another short series (Part 1, Part 2) discussing Murray Waas's recent articles in National Journal on the uranium/Nigergate/Plamegate matter and the aluminum tubes issue. In Part 1 of this week's series, I highlighted key pieces of information in Waas' recent articles that I had previously reported here at TLC - as part of my aluminum tubes coverage in the series "WMDgate: Fixing Intelligence Around Policy" and as part of my coverage of the uranium from Africa scandal "Uranium from Africa and the Valerie Plame expose (Treasongate): A Synopsis". In Part 2 of this week's series, I highlighted some information missing in Waas' stories which, when filled in, provides even more evidence for the Bush White House's deliberate deceptions and lies. As I continued to review Waas' latest article, I realized that this is an opportune moment to illustrate the multi-layered, elaborate cover-up scheme instituted by the White House and its Republican allies in Congress, to prevent evidence of Bush's misrepresentation of pre-war intelligence from seeing daylight. That is the focus of this post.

1. Summary

2. Layer 1 - The WHIP

3. Layer 2 - The Republicans in the SSCI

4. Layer 3 - The Robb-Silberman Report

5. Layer 4 - Pat Roberts, Redux

6. What the WHIP tells us about the future

7. Epilogue


1. Summary

The Bush administration's misrepresentation of pre-war intelligence is not news to informed people. What is interesting, though, is the elaborate layered approach used by the Bush administration and its allies in Congress to systematically suppress or cover-up the evidence for it. This post explains, using the example of the aluminum tubes, how the multiple layers of cover-up were engineered.

Layer 0 (which is not discussed much in this post) involved the fabrication of "intelligence" (see Footnote 1 for a couple of examples). However, regardless of whether the intelligence was actually fabricated, the mechanism put in place by the Bush administration and its Republican allies in Congress, enabled a systematic misrepresentation of intelligence and an efficient cover-up.

Layer 1 of the scheme was focused on deliberately suppressing accurate intelligence from the public prior to the war - by classifying it - in order to allow the White House to freely misrepresent the facts in public by "cherry-picking" and declassifying the unreliable "intel" that met their approval. This becomes obvious from a review of the NIE's Key Judgments and the little noticed testimony to the SSCI by the then-Vice Chairman of the National Intelligence Committee (NIC) and the National Intelligence Officers (NIO). It cannot be emphasized enough that accuracy in intelligence is impossible as long as the WHIP is in effect.

Layer 2 had the goal of using the pre-Election 2004 SSCI Report and the Bush Rubber Stamp Republican Congress to suppress - again, via classification - any direct evidence that Bush was directly briefed or exposed to alternative intel, i.e., information that contradicted the "cherry-picked" unreliable "intel" that he and his Cabinet aired dishonestly to the public prior to the Iraq war (and beyond).

Layer 3 involved the use of the Robb-Silberman Commission Report in 2005 to expand the facade of Bush's "vindication" by ensuring that the Commission buried the obviously incriminating evidence inside hundreds of hardly read footnotes, while making sure that the Committee's charter did not allow it to point out that the available evidence revealed deliberate misrepresentation of intelligence by the Bush administration.

Layer 4, currently in testing, involves stalling the SSCI Phase II investigation using the help of the Bush Rubber Stamp Republican Congress in order to prevent the previous layers of cover-up from unraveling.


2. Layer 1 - The WHIP [see footnote 1 for a clarification]

What is the WHIP? It is a term coined by one of my readers - Jim - to describe what I wrote about at length in December 2002: the "White House Iraq Protocol" for Deceiving the United States.

I'll explain the WHIP in a moment, but the goal of the WHIP was to deliberately suppress accurate intelligence from the public - by classifying it - in order to allow the White House to misrepresent the facts in public by "cherry-picking" and declassifying the unreliable "raw data" or "intel" that met their approval.

The term "cherry-picking", when considered in isolation, gives the appearance that the Bush White House was only guilty of selecting the information that they liked. In reality, they did not just select and repeatedly air what they liked. They deliberately suppressed, from public view, information that challenged their claims.

The Left Coaster, 12/7/05 [WMDgate: Fixing Intelligence Around Policy, Part 3 -- The White House Iraq Protocol (WHIP) for Deceiving the United States]:

What I'm referring to here is a brief statement made to the SSCI by a top IC official to explain why the Bush Administration's unclassified White Paper of October 2002 dropped numerous critical caveats and direct challenges to the scary claims in the White Paper - caveats and challenges that existed in the classified National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) (all emphasis mine):

The Vice Chairman of the NIC and the NIOs who drafted the classified NIE told Committee staff that the statement in the unclassified white paper - "most intelligence specialists assess" the tubes are intended for a nuclear program - was used because the NIC does not refer to disagreements between intelligence agencies in unclassified documents out of concern that the country being discussed would be tipped off to a potential cover story. For example, by publishing in an unclassified paper that a U.S. intelligence agency believed the tubes were intended for a rocket program, Iraq could learn that such a use was believable and could plausibly argue to the international community that the tubes were intended for rockets, even if they were really intended for a nuclear program. [page 291 of PDF file]

After much consideration of the amazing responses in comments to an earlier post, I decided to use a term suggested by reader Jim to describe this: the White House Iraq Protocol (WHIP). As you can see, the stated goal of the WHIP was to hide or suppress accurate intelligence from public view if such information might contradict the Bush administration's portrayal of the enemy's capabilities (by possibly providing the enemy a "cover story")*. [And they express "surprise" at the "intelligence failure"? What a joke. - ed.] [*edited on 12/14/05]

To understand the gravity of the WHIP, simply extend the Vice-Chairman's statement (above) to public (unclassified) statements made by Bush, Cheney, and their cabinet in the run-up to the war. Since the Bush administration policy was to not publicly reveal any IC disagreements, or challenges to claims made by other members of the IC or the Bush administration, by definition fabrications and false or dubious claims were (allowed to be) freely made in public about Saddam Hussein's alleged capabilities, without presenting to the public the alternative IC views (which remained classified, unless they got leaked to the media)...

I have discussed the WHIP in detail, with examples, and explained the correctness of my inferences in a longer post - so I won't rehash it here. But let me show you how the WHIP was implemented in the case of the aluminum tubes.

The Left Coaster, 11/23/05 [WMDgate: Fixing Intelligence Around Policy - The Aluminum Tubes, Part 2B-1]:

Many readers may be unaware that INR actually had two "alternative views" text boxes in the NIE, not one. As the Senate (SSCI) Report points out (emphasis mine):

In addition to a text box explaining INR's alternative view in the body of the NIE, INR also published a text box in the key judgments explaining its analysis on reconstitution...

This is important to note because the first text box was attached to the Key Judgements in the classified NIE and it was only the second text box that got 'misplaced' in the latter part of the NIE. Some of you will surely remember the second text box, because that is the one which had this statement:

Finally, the claims of Iraqi pursuit of natural uranium in Africa are, in INR’s assessment, highly dubious.

But you probably have not heard much about the contents of the first text box. So, let me highlight those contents by borrowing the approach used in Appendix F of the Australian Parliamentary Report [p. 155] to compare what was in the "Key Judgements" portion of the classified NIE and what got dropped in the unclassified "Key Judgements" White Paper that was released for public consumption by the Bush administration (also in October 2002). I reproduce here the sections of the "Key Judgements" portion of the classified NIE that pertain to the aluminum tubes topic, with the portions excluded from the corresponding White Paper highlighted in bold:

We judge that Iraq has continued its weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs in defiance of UN resolutions and restrictions. Baghdad has chemical and biological weapons as well as missiles with ranges in excess of UN restrictions; if left unchecked, it probably will have a nuclear weapon during this decade. (See INR alternative view at the end of these Key Judgments.)
...
Most agencies believe that Saddam’s personal interest in and Iraq’s aggressive attempts to obtain high-strength aluminum tubes for centrifuge rotors—as well as Iraq’s attempts to acquire magnets, high-speed balancing machines, and machine tools—provide compelling evidence that Saddam is reconstituting a uranium enrichment effort for Baghdad’s nuclear weapons program. (DOE [Department of Energy] agrees that reconstitution of the nuclear program is underway but assesses that the tubes probably are not part of the program.)
...
State/INR Alternative View of Iraq’s Nuclear Program

The Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence and Research (INR) believes that Saddam continues to want nuclear weapons and that available evidence indicates that Baghdad is pursuing at least a limited effort to maintain and acquire nuclear weapon-related capabilities. The activities we have detected do not, however, add up to a compelling case that Iraq is currently pursuing what INR would consider to be an integrated and comprehensive approach to acquire nuclear weapons. Iraq may be doing so, but INR considers the available evidence inadequate to support such a judgment. Lacking persuasive evidence that Baghdad has launched a coherent effort to reconstitute its nuclear weapons program, INR is unwilling to speculate that such an effort began soon after the departure of UN inspectors or to project a timeline for the completion of activities it does not now see happening. As a result, INR is unable to predict when Iraq could acquire a nuclear device or weapon.

In INR’s view Iraq’s efforts to acquire aluminum tubes is central to the argument that Baghdad is reconstituting its nuclear weapons program, but INR is not persuaded that the tubes in question are intended for use as centrifuge rotors. INR accepts the judgment of technical experts at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) who have concluded that the tubes Iraq seeks to acquire are poorly suited for use in gas centrifuges to be used for uranium enrichment and finds unpersuasive the arguments advanced by others to make the case that they are intended for that purpose. INR considers it far more likely that the tubes are intended for another purpose, most likely the production of artillery rockets. The very large quantities being sought, the way the tubes were tested by the Iraqis, and the atypical lack of attention to operational security in the procurement efforts are among the factors, in addition to the DOE assessment, that lead INR to conclude that the tubes are not intended for use in Iraq’s nuclear weapon program.

Now, you can see the full significance of what got dropped in the Bush administration "White Paper" (declassified NIE Key Judgements). Not only did they drop the mention of the INR alternative view attached to the Key Judgments, they also dropped the mention of the DOE dissent. More importantly, they dropped the first INR text box "State/INR Alternative View of Iraq’s Nuclear Program" entirely. This box was obviously very damaging to the glib claim: "most agencies believe...Iraq’s aggressive attempts to obtain high-strength aluminum tubes for centrifuge rotors", especially considering that it bolsters the DOE (the IC's nuclear experts) position.

That's not all. INR had a second text box which was not part of the Key Judgements but part of an Annex (in the classified NIE). It should be no surprise to readers that this second text box was also not included in the "White Paper". Here is what it said:

INR’s Alternative View: Iraq’s Attempts to Acquire Aluminum Tubes

Some of the specialized but dual-use items being sought are, by all indications, bound for Iraq’s missile program. Other cases are ambiguous, such as that of a planned magnet-production line whose suitability for centrifuge operations remains unknown. Some efforts involve noncontrolled industrial material and equipment—including a variety of machine tools—and are troubling because they would help establish the infrastructure for a renewed nuclear program. But such efforts (which began well before the inspectors departed) are not clearly linked to a nuclear end-use. Finally, the claims of Iraqi pursuit of natural uranium in Africa are, in INR’s assessment, highly dubious.

Let's make sure we understand the implication of the WHIP:

...an obvious corollary to the WHIP is that as long as the WHIP is in effect (whether in the case of Iraq or Iran or anyone else), disinformation will dominate the Bush administration's claims because any accurate information that does not help the Bush administration's case would continue to be suppressed as much as possible. So here's a tip to all the heralded "bipartisan" Commissions and the media that's rushing to cover Bush's non-news "admission". Stop pretending that you don't see the elephant in the room. Make it clear that accuracy in intelligence is impossible as long as the WHIP is in effect. Then, hold Bush, Cheney, Rice, Tenet and others accountable for the damage they did to the reputation and security of the United States of America.

As far as this post is concerned, the bottom line is simple: the WHIP was the first level of deception (Layer 1, just above Layer 0) in an elaborate scheme to deceive the American people.

The automatic question that this raises is:

How come the SSCI Report, which mentioned the WHIP (well hidden and well ignored in the Report), failed to point out that Bush misrepresented the intelligence?

That brings us to Layer 2.


3. Layer 2 - The Republicans in the SSCI

In order to hide, ignore or sidestep the significance of the WHIP, it would have been desirable for the first serious Congressional (SSCI) inquiry on pre-war intelligence to suppress, i.e., classify, any direct evidence that Bush was directly briefed or exposed to the alternative intel, i.e., information that contradicted the "cherry-picked" views that he and his Cabinet aired dishonestly to the public prior to the Iraq war. That was the goal of Layer 2 and it was implemented by the GOP, thanks in no small part to Emperor Rubber Stamp himself - Sen. Pat Roberts.

To understand how Layer 2 worked, let's start with the following observation from Murray Waas in his most recent article.

Waas, 3/30/06:

In the end, the White House's damage control was largely successful, because the public did not learn until after the 2004 elections the full extent of the president's knowledge that the assessment linking the aluminum tubes to a nuclear weapons program might not be true. The most crucial information was kept under wraps until long after Bush's re-election.
...
As National Journal first disclosed on its Web site on October 27, 2005, Cheney, Libby, and Cheney's current chief of staff, David Addington, rejected advice given to them by other White House officials and decided to withhold from the committee crucial documents that might have shown that administration claims about Saddam's capabilities often went beyond information provided by the CIA and other intelligence agencies. Among those documents was the President's Summary of the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate.

In July 2004, when the Intelligence Committee released a 511-page report on its investigation of prewar intelligence by the CIA and other agencies, Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., said in his own "Additional Views" to the report, "Concurrent with the production of a National Intelligence Estimate is the production of a one-page President's Summary of the NIE. A one-page President's Summary was completed and disseminated for the October 2002 NIE ... though there is no mention of this fact in [this] report. These one-page NIE summaries are ... written exclusively for the president and senior policy makers and are therefore tailored for that audience."

Durbin concluded, "In determining what the president was told about the contents of the NIE dealing with Iraq's weapons of mass destruction -- qualifiers and all -- there is nothing clearer than this single page."

The statement I've highlighted in bold in the first paragraph above is not really new to me (or to many others, I imagine) but Waas' statements have some additional significance which I had not yet gotten around to specifically highlighting in this WMDgate series. In other words, the phrase "most crucial information was kept under wraps until long after Bush's re-election" is a reference to the fact that the direct evidence for Bush's deliberate misrepresentation of intelligence (especially on the aluminum tubes) was suppressed in the SSCI Report thanks to the Bush Rubber Stamp Republicans in Congress.

Here's how that was done in the case of the aluminum tubes. If you have read the rest of this WMDgate series (or Part 1 of this week's series) you will notice that the crystal clear evidence which directly showed that Bush was briefed or exposed to the alternative views on the aluminum tubes was buried in the hundreds of footnotes in the Robb-Silberman Commission report which came out in 2005 (more on that in the next section), while this same evidence was classified and suppressed in the declassified portion of the whitewashed SSCI Report which came out in 2004, prior to the election.

In his article, Waas reminds us of Senator Dick Durbin's additional views at the end of the SSCI Report that hints at this very fact. Here is the relevant portion of Sen. Durbin's remarks from the SSCI Report:

The President's Summary of the NIE

Concurrent with the production of a National Intelligence Estimate is the production of a one page President's Summary of the NIE. A one page President's Summary was completed and disseminated for the October 2002 NIE, Iraq's Continuing Programs for Weapons of Mass Destruction, though there is no mention of this fact in the report. These one page NIE summaries are drafted by members of the National Intelligence Council's Analysis and Production Staff and are based on and consistent with the NIE. They are, however, written exclusively for the President and senior policymakers and are therefore tailored for that audience. Unlike NIE Key Judgments which are coordinated by agency representatives, President's Summaries are coordinated by the National Foreign Intelligence Board principals.

In denying the Committee's request for a copy of the President's Summary of the October 2002 NIE, the CIA stated that "we will not provide any materials written exclusively for the President or for the PDB [President's Daily Brief] readership." However, the Committee has also been informed by the CIA that 80 copies of the President's Summary were distributed to the White House — indicating that the document was not intended "exclusively" for the President, and apparently far exceeding the PDB readership at the White House. The President's Summary contains no intelligence beyond that contained in the widely disseminated NIE, and does not set forth policy advice that could be considered privileged.

While the Committee staff were permitted to take notes from the President's Summary, the full document should have been provided to the Committee. Furthermore, there is no reason the President's Summary should not be declassified in its entirety and publicly released. In determining what the President was told about the contents of the NIE dealing with Iraq's weapons of mass destruction — qualifiers and all — there is nothing clearer than this single page.

Now, some bloggers have noted, correctly, that the White House covered up Bush's knowledge of the alternative views. But it is equally true that the Republicans in the SSCI deliberately allowed the White House to hide the direct evidence which showed that Bush misrepresented the views of the intelligence community (using the WHIP). The fact that the references to Bush being briefed on the alternative views on the aluminum tubes were noted in the footnotes of the 2005 Robb-Silberman report is evidence in itself that there was no reason to not mention this in the SSCI Report that was published before the 2004 election.

Which brings us to the Robb-Silberman Commission report, which was Layer 3.


4. Layer 3 - The Robb-Silberman Report

Some of you may wonder why I characterize the Robb-Silberman Report as being Layer 3 in the scheme to prevent the truth about King George's misrepresentation of intelligence from coming out. The answer is obvious - the R-S Commission never bothered to point out the misrepresentation of intelligence by the Bush administration because they did not consider that part of their charter!

As the Commission noted:

[W]e were not authorized to investigate how policymakers used the intelligence assessments they received from the Intelligence Community.

Moreover, by burying some of the most serious findings inside hundreds of footnotes, they practically ensured that few in the media were going to report on the official record of deliberate misrepresentation of intelligence by the Bush administration. It is no surprise then, that we see the first mainstream news item (by Waas) highlighting some of the facts buried in those footnotes - relating to the aluminum tubes and uranium from Africa - about a year after the Commission published its findings (I published the findings late last year on this blog).

There are in fact multiple ways in which the R-S Commission, while providing new and useful information, ultimately helped cover-up the truth about the Bush administration's misrepresentation and politicization of intelligence. For example, as Joseph Cirincione of the Carnegie Endowment pointed out (emphasis mine):

To most reasonable observers, this would be a clear case of senior management not wanting to change a threat assessment that was heavily used by the White House "downtown." Political considerations trumped the findings from the professional analysts. However, the commission does not agree. . They label this "bad management" and a "failure of tradecraft."
...
The Los Angeles Times notes in an April 1 editorial, "Somehow, the panel must have missed the intelligence agents who told reporters for The Times on several prewar occasions that they thought their product was being politicized and that they were pushed to provide evidence to support the Bush administration’s claims." The panel must have also forgotten (even though it cites the article from the Washington Post December 9, 2004 in footnote 860) about the lawsuit filed by an analyst who said his superiors at the CIA "insisted that Plaintiff falsify his reporting" and when he refused, he was removed from his position. These claims may not be correct, but they are not even mentioned by the commission. In fact, their existence is denied.
...
Finally, if it truly was management and tradecraft failures that skewed the intelligence, then why didn’t these failures skew the intelligence prior to 2002? Same management, same tradecraft, but the estimates in 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2001 were decidedly more cautious and more accurate. It is only in 2002 that the estimates make several unexplained dramatic leaps in findings and certainty. The Carnegie Endowment study, "WMD in Iraq: Evidence and Implications" detailed this pattern in January 2003.

The dots are all there, but the commission did not connect them. The commission did not question the president or the vice-president, or apparently any senior official outside the intelligence agencies. Thus, we do not know what happened in the repeated meetings Vice President Cheney had with CIA officials. We do not know what impact the vice-president assertions of "absolute certainty" of an Iraqi nuclear program in August and September 2003 [2002] had on the development of the deeply flawed October National Intelligence Estimate. We do not know how the intelligence activities of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Deputy Secretary Stephen Cambone and Under Secretary Douglas Feith impacted the assessments because the commission never examined their work. They could have done all this, even with their purposely narrow mandate to examine only the performance of the intelligence agencies. They did not.

In fact, none other than Paul Pillar, who was the CIA's National Intelligence Officer (NIO) for the Near East and South Asia (NESA) from 2000 to 2005, wrote about the weakness of the analysis of the Robb-Silberman Commission in this context, in the March/April 2006 issue of Foreign Affairs.


5. Layer 4 - Pat Roberts, Redux

Considering how much the Rubber Stamp Republican Senate invested in hiding the Bush administration's misrepresentation of intelligence from the conclusions of the SSCI Report (Layer 2), and considering their repeated attacks on the CIA and scapegoating of the CIA as being the cause of the intelligence failures, it is no surprise that Pat Roberts and some of his colleagues have a vested interest in keeping their cover-up, er, covered-up. Thus, the spate of news over the last year about the blocking or stalling of SSCI Phase II investigation, is easy to understand as being part of Layer 4.

Time will tell if the Democrats in the Senate are able to penetrate Layer 4.


6. What the WHIP tells us about the future

With the news bubbling up about the Bush administration's alleged plans for military action against Iran, it is important for all of us to understand the implication of the WHIP:

...an obvious corollary to the WHIP is that as long as the WHIP is in effect (whether in the case of Iraq or Iran or anyone else), disinformation will dominate the Bush administration's claims because any accurate information that does not help the Bush administration's case would continue to be suppressed as much as possible. So here's a tip to all the heralded "bipartisan" Commissions and the media that's rushing to cover Bush's non-news "admission". Stop pretending that you don't see the elephant in the room. Make it clear that accuracy in intelligence is impossible as long as the WHIP is in effect. Then, hold Bush, Cheney, Rice, Tenet and others accountable for the damage they did to the reputation and security of the United States of America.


7. Epilogue

The publication of Waas' latest article has resulted in a lot of interesting commentary examining different angles to this story.

Greg Sargent in The American Prospect says:

Thanks to Waas, for the first time, we may now know for a fact that Rove and other Bush advisers viewed the truth about the run-up to war as something that could destroy his re-election prospects. It is entirely plausible that Bush advisers calculated that if it came out that they’d outed Plame, Congress would have been forced by the resulting firestorm to run a far more aggressive investigation of Bush’s pre-war deceptions – and possibly uncover the smoking gun Waas reports on, among other things.

Emptywheel discusses the Plame angle and also the SSCI cover-up angle, but more from the standpoint of the Bush administration being the one covering up. As I discussed in this post, the Bush administration could not have engineered this cover-up without the help of the Rubber Stamp Republican Congress. The fact that the references to Bush being briefed on the alternative views on the aluminum tubes were noted in the footnotes of the 2005 Robb-Silberman report is evidence in itself that there was no reason to not mention this in the SSCI Report that was published before the election.

BooMan mentions the "cherry-picking" angle but as I point out in this post, the story goes beyond cherry-picking - it was about suppression of evidence as well, in order to facilitate that "cherry-picking".

What I've tried to show here is the elaborate, layered mechanism put in place to systematically misrepresent intelligence and cover it up. This layered cover-up then facilitated the routine peddling of false talking points by Republican commentators that there is "no evidence" that Bush misrepresented intelligence.


FOOTNOTE 1

There was a Layer 0 in the intelligence misrepresentation game, which involved fabricating false intelligence. I don't discuss that here, but let there be no doubt that in some cases Layer 0 played a crucial role in getting the ball rolling for the White House.

The Niger forgeries are a good example.

The fabricated claim (see reader KM's comments explaining this succinctly) that the aluminum tubes were specifically intended only for a nuclear end use, especially courtesy WINPAC analyst "Joe", is another good example (also see reader FMJ's long essay on this).

eriposte :: 12:02 AM :: Comments (6) :: TrackBack (0) :: Spotlight :: Digg It!