Politics Trumps Intelligence

Just freshly back into the weblogging fold – if only on a week-by-week basis – ¿and I’m already dictating what sort of news should be covered more and what sort less? The sheer noive! (That “¿” was taken from the Spanish to let you know up-front that a question was coming. Thoughtful of me, ¿eh, amigos?) OK, so coverage of the late, great pope and/or his earthly remains belongs in the latter category; what should be in the former?

Consider that Thursday of last week saw the release of the report of the the commission on intelligence, assigned to evaluate culpability in light of the US intelligence community’s utter failure (together with most of its foreign partners) to correctly evaluate the extent of Iraq’s holdings of weapons of mass destruction. But by that point the pope was already seriously ailing – and then he died two days later, and the world’s journalists began their own professional pilgrimage to Rome! Is George W. Bush a lucky son-of-a-gun, or what?

But actually, the requirement would have gone beyond simple coverage of the face-value of the commission’s report, for that report focused on the supposed mistakes of the various intelligence agencies, the CIA at the forefront, and largely exonerated Bush administration officials from the charge of having tried to influence what the intelligence community reported to it over Iraq. So it’s a tall order: coverage that can discuss the report, yet disregard its more blatant presentations of sheer horsefeathers. (On the other hand, you might ordinarily consider the task simple, comparable to simply pointing out the obvious fact that the emperor is wearing no clothes.) Fortunately, there are journalists in the world up to the task, and newspapers willing to publish them, as in this case is Dorrit Saietz (who’s preferred by-line is simply “DS”) and her employer, the Danish commentary newspaper Information (Political Spies).

That’s pretty funny about the part of the report that cites the absence of political pressure on American intelligence agencies as war-clouds gathered over Iraq, she notes. (Admittedly, the report does concede that “intelligence analysts worked in an environment that did not encourage skepticism.”) What do you call vice-president Dick Cheney’s virtual siege of the CIA in 2002 as the October National Intelligence Estimate was being prepared? What do you call the establishment within the Pentagon of the “Office of Special Plans,” as a “shadow” agency competing with the CIA? Or the way the vice-president’s men got Colin Powell to make his infamous presentation to the Security Council in February, 2003, detailing aluminum tubes for uranium processing, mobile chemical laboratories, and ties with al-Qaeda that turned out to have no basis in fact? In fact, Saietz claims, it was CIA personnel who were frantically trying to notify their chain-of-command up to the last of the factual weaknesses in Powell’s presentation.

Perhaps he who is a sinner himself is the one best suited to condemn another, for Denmark suffered its own episode of analysis of what was actually going on in Iraq falling by the wayside as the pressure for joining the American “Coalition of the Willing” grew. The culprits guilty here of applying the political pressure were Premier Anders Fogh Rasmussen and his Foreign Minister, Per Stig Møller. Interestingly, both of these, like George W. Bush, are still in office, having won re-election. (Well, it’s more complicated than that in Denmark; basically, their respective political parties did.) Still, save any sympathy for the Danes: they don’t have to face coming up the weapons-of-mass-destruction intelligence challenges of Iran and North Korea.

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