Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Faulty Powers

The mounds of speculation surrounding the CIA/Plame investigation is becoming nearly unfathomable. Everyone has a theory about who said what to whom and what will happen. At the moment, it looks like Cheney's office is point of focus and several have sounded off with howls of glee at the prospect of a frog march.
I love the smell of indictments in the morning
will be the happy refrain should the Post's prediction that Fitzgerald will hand out the papers on Wednesday come true. And finally, adding fuel the raging Flame, Judith Miller offered up her own self-gratified account of her conversations with those various White House officials who, at the time of the leak, had all denied that they had ever, ever spoken to anyone about Valerie Plame.

You're not going to learn much directly from Miller's account of herself. She's far too busy covering her ass to fess up to anything. But one particular part of the story caught my eye.
I recalled Mr. Libby's frustration and anger about what he called "selective leaking" by the C.I.A. and other agencies to distance themselves from what he recalled as their unequivocal prewar intelligence assessments. The selective leaks trying to shift blame to the White House, he told me, were part of a "perverted war" over the war in Iraq.
Ha! Now, that's funny. I have to really wonder if Miller believed that the CIA was shifting "blame" onto the White House at the time. Does she now believe that? If that was the CIA's intent, it was only partially successful.

There are a lot things that are funny about Libby's "frustration and anger," not the least of which is the White House's own selective intelligence cherry picking. It has since become abundantly clear that, yes, the CIA was leaking information -- information that contradicted White House claims -- and that they were probably doing this for a number of reasons. Libby's and, by default, Miller's assertion that the CIA's prewar intelligence was "unequivocal" is another calculated delusion; the repetition of a known falsehood that they hope will eventually be believed by sheer force of will. Miller, wittingly or not, continues to dish out the White House agitprop.

Many of the White House's now-known false claims about Iraq WMD had been doubted by low level experts both at the CIA and the Department of Energy. These doubts were being downplayed or outright ignored by upper management, possibly even by Tenet, who seemed intent on delivering a "slam dunk" for Bush. Although, on the Niger yellow cake story, Tenet himself had to finally pull the plug:
Tenet had telephoned a Bush aide and sent two memos to White House officials asking them to remove the uranium reference from a speech Bush gave in Cincinnati on Oct. 7 [2002].
Despite this, Bush would still make the claim in the State of the Union speech in January, 2003. Bush would couch it such terms that would relieve him of any blame for inaccuracy by telling Americans that, if the claim is not correct, well, it's the bloody Brits' fault:
the British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.
It was immediately pointed out that the Hussein urananium-hunting claim was, if not wrong, completely unverified. And we would not know until months after the SoTU speech that the administration had been fairly warned off the notion by the findings of a one Joseph Wilson. The White House would launch into one of their patented blame-game routines by claiming that the CIA never stopped them from putting those words in the speech, even though Tenet had done exactly that months earlier. And it was Rice who would lead the chorus of fault-casting:
The CIA cleared the speech in its entirety. With the changes in that sentence, the speech was cleared. The agency did not say they wanted that sentence out.
Another good, though lesser known example of White House intel fudge can be had in the tale of those ominous aluminum tubes that all White House politburo members had claimed were proof of a nascent nuclear weapons program. Condi Rice even went so far as to say that the tubes "are only really suited for nuclear weapons programs, centrifuge programs," despite the fact that some of the features (anodizing) specifically ruled this out. DoE and CIA analysts raised these technical arguments, which either never bubbled up to Tenet or were ignored by the White House. Considering how Tenet treated the yellow cake story, fault does not likely sit with the CIA.

The White House even ignored the findings of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which concluded that:
The 81mm tubes sought by Iraq were 'not directly suitable' for centrifuges, but appeared intended for use as conventional artillery rockets.
So much for being bamboozled by the CIA.

Now, I am not about to claim that the CIA's motivation in leaking substantial arguments against White House claims was based entirely on some need to expose "the truth." This has never generally been feature of CIA behaviour. People in the CIA are tricky, probably far trickier than Karl Rove has ever imagined. They're spies, for god's sake. It's what they do. It is completely believable that, indeed, the CIA was playing both hands: put out semi-believable intelligence for the White House while making sure "concerns and doubts" were known. Thinking this would exculpate them for either potential WMD search outcome, they instead took more heat than they probably were prepared for when the search turned up nothing, a result they more than likely expected.

What I think the CIA was probably not prepared for was the virulent assault they suffered at the hands of the mainstream press. When the White House started blaming the CIA and congressional Republicans also pointed the finger -- via the "investigations" -- the media slurped it all up and spewed it across the land. And despite all the evidence to the contrary, many Americans likely still believe that the WMD fiasco and, ultimately, the war itself, is the fault of the CIA and its "faulty" intelligence.


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