Thursday, January 29, 2004

Pollack on "Office of Special Plans" or Office of See mo' evil, Hear mo' Evil, Speak mo' Evil.

The following is an excerpt from the Atlantic Monthy where Ken Pollack summarizes why we stumbled into war with Iraq.

Everyone should read at least this section or the whole article. It is the most consise published account of who did what and why I have seen yet.

The Politics of Persuasion


The intelligence community's overestimation of Iraq's WMD capability is only part of the story of why we went to war last year. The other part involves how the Bush Administration handled the intelligence. Throughout the spring and fall of 2002 and well into 2003 I received numerous complaints from friends and colleagues in the intelligence community, and from people in the policy community, about precisely that. According to them, many Administration officials reacted strongly, negatively, and aggressively when presented with information or analysis that contradicted what they already believed about Iraq. Many of these officials believed that Saddam Hussein was the source of virtually all the problems in the Middle East and was an imminent danger to the United States because of his perceived possession of weapons of mass destruction and support of terrorism. Many also believed that CIA analysts tended to be left-leaning cultural relativists who consistently downplayed threats to the United States. They believed that the Agency, not the Administration, was biased, and that they were acting simply to correct that bias.

Intelligence officers who presented analyses that were at odds with the pre-existing views of senior Administration officials were subjected to barrages of questions and requests for additional information. They were asked to justify their work sentence by sentence: "Why did you rely on this source and not this other piece of information?" "How does this conclusion square with this other point?" "Please explain the history of Iraq's association with the organization you mention in this sentence." Reportedly, the worst fights were those over sources. The Administration gave greatest credence to accounts that presented the most lurid picture of Iraqi activities. In many cases intelligence analysts were distrustful of those sources, or knew unequivocally that they were wrong. But when they said so, they were not heeded; instead they were beset with further questions about their own sources.

On many occasions Administration officials' requests for additional information struck the analysts as being made merely to distract them from their primary mission. Some officials asked for extensive historical analyses—a hugely time-consuming undertaking, for which most intelligence analysts are not trained. Requests were constantly made for detailed analyses of newspaper articles that conformed to the views of Administration officials—pieces by conservative newspaper columnists such as Jim Hoagland, William Safire, and George F. Will. These columnists may be highly intelligent men, but they have no claim to superior insight into the workings of Iraq, or to any independent intelligence-collection capabilities.

Of course, no policymaker should accept intelligence estimates unquestioningly. While I was at the NSC, I regularly challenged analysts as to why they believed what they did. I asked for additional material and required them to do significant additional work. Any official who does less is derelict in his or her duty. However, at a certain point curiosity and diligence become a form of pressure. If your employer asks you every so often about your health and seems to take an appropriate interest in the answer, you probably feel that he or she is kind and considerate. If your employer asks you about your health every ten minutes, in highly detailed, probing questions, you may have a more nervous reaction.

As Seymour Hersh, among others, has reported, Bush Administration officials also took some actions that arguably crossed the line between rigorous oversight of the intelligence community and an attempt to manipulate intelligence. They set up their own shop in the Pentagon, called the Office of Special Plans, in order to sift through the information on Iraq themselves. To a great extent OSP personnel "cherry-picked" the intelligence they passed on, selecting reports that supported the Administration's pre-existing position and ignoring all the rest.

Most problematic of all, the OSP often chose to believe reports that trained intelligence officers considered unreliable or downright false. In particular it gave great credence to reports from the Iraqi National Congress, whose leader was the Administration-backed Ahmed Chalabi. It is true that the intelligence community believed some of the material that came from the INC—but not most of it. (In retrospect, of course, it seems that even the intelligence professionals gave INC reporting more credence than it deserved.) One of the reasons the OSP generally believed Chalabi and the INC was that they were telling it what it wanted to hear—giving the OSP, in a kind of vicious circle, further incentive to trust these sources over differing, and ultimately more reliable, ones. Thus intelligence analysts spent huge amounts of time fighting bad information and trying to persuade Administration officials not to make policy decisions based on it. From my own experience I know that it is hard enough to figure out what the reliable evidence indicates—and vast battles are fought over that. To have to also fight over what is clearly bad information is a Sisyphean task.

The Bush officials who created the OSP gave its reports directly to those in the highest levels of government, often passing raw, unverified intelligence straight to the Cabinet level as gospel. Senior Administration officials made public statements based on these reports—reports that the larger intelligence community knew to be erroneous (for instance, that there was hard and fast evidence linking Iraq to al-Qaeda). Another problem arising from the machinations of the OSP is that whenever the principals of the National Security Council met with the President and his staff, two completely different versions of reality were on the table. The CIA, the State Department, and the uniformed military services would present one version, consistent with the perspective of intelligence and foreign-policy professionals, and the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Office of the Vice President would present another, based on the perspective of the OSP. These views were too far apart to allow for compromise. As a result, the Administration found it difficult, if not impossible, to make certain important decisions. And it made some that were fatally flawed, including many relating to postwar planning, when the OSP's view—that Saddam's regime simultaneously was very threatening and could easily be replaced by a new government—prevailed.

For the most part, the problems discussed so far have more to do with the methods of Administration officials than with their motives, which were often misguided and dangerous, but were essentially well-intentioned. The one action for which I cannot hold Administration officials blameless is their distortion of intelligence estimates when making the public case for going to war.

As best I can tell, these officials were guilty not of lying but of creative omission. They discussed only those elements of intelligence estimates that served their cause. This was particularly apparent in regard to the time frame for Iraq's acquisition of a nuclear weapon—the issue that most alarmed the American public and the rest of the world. Remember that the NIE said that Iraq was likely to have a nuclear weapon in five to seven years if it had to produce the fissile material indigenously, and that it might have one in less than a year if it could obtain the material from a foreign source. The intelligence community considered it highly unlikely that Iraq would be able to obtain weapons-grade material from a foreign source; it had been trying to do so for twenty-five years with no luck. However, time after time senior Administration officials discussed only the worst-case, and least likely, scenario, and failed to mention the intelligence community's most likely scenario. Some examples:


In a radio address on September 14, 2002, President Bush warned, "Today Saddam Hussein has the scientists and infrastructure for a nuclear-weapons program, and has illicitly sought to purchase the equipment needed to enrich uranium for a nuclear weapon. Should his regime acquire fissile material, it would be able to build a nuclear weapon within a year."


On October 7, 2002, the President told a group in Cincinnati, "If the Iraqi regime is able to produce, buy, or steal an amount of highly enriched uranium a little larger than a single softball, it could have a nuclear weapon in less than a year."


On November 1, 2002, Undersecretary of State John Bolton told the Second Global Conference on Nuclear, Bio/Chem Terrorism, "We estimate that once Iraq acquires fissile material—whether from a foreign source or by securing the materials to build an indigenous fissile-material capability—it could fabricate a nuclear weapon within one year."


Vice President Cheney said on NBC's Meet the Press on September 14, 2003, "The judgment in the NIE was that if Saddam could acquire fissile material, weapons-grade material, that he would have a nuclear weapon within a few months to a year. That was the judgment of the intelligence community of the United States, and they had a high degree of confidence in it."


None of these statements in itself was untrue. However, each told only a part of the story—the most sensational part. These statements all implied that the U.S. intelligence community believed that Saddam would have a nuclear weapon within a year unless the United States acted at once.

Some defenders of the Administration have reportedly countered that all it did was make the best possible case for war, playing a role similar to that of a defense attorney who is charged with presenting the best possible case for a client (even if the client is guilty). That is a false analogy. A defense attorney is responsible for presenting only one side of a dispute. The President is responsible for serving the entire nation. Only the Administration has access to all the information available to various agencies of the U.S. government—and withholding or downplaying some of that information for its own purposes is a betrayal of that responsibility.


What Is to Be Done?


What we have learned about Iraq's WMD programs since the fall of Baghdad leads me to conclude that the case for war with Iraq was considerably weaker than I believed beforehand. Because of the consensus among American and foreign intelligence agencies, outside experts, and former UN weapons inspectors, I had been convinced that Iraq was only years away from having a nuclear weapon—probably only four or five years, as Robert Einhorn had testified. That estimate was clearly off, possibly by quite a bit. My reluctant conviction that war was our only option (although not at the time or in the manner in which the Bush Administration pursued it) was not entirely based on the nuclear threat, but that threat was the most important factor in it.

The war was not all bad. I do not believe that it was a strategic mistake, although the appalling handling of postwar planning was. There is no question that Saddam Hussein was a force for real instability in the Persian Gulf, and that his removal from power was a tremendous improvement. There is also no question that he was pure evil, and that he headed one of the most despicable regimes of the past fifty years. I am grateful that the United States no longer has to contend with the malign influence of Saddam's Iraq in this economically irreplaceable and increasingly fragile part of the world; nor can I begrudge the Iraqi people one day of their freedom. What's more, we should not forget that containment was failing. The shameful performance of the United Nations Security Council members (particularly France and Germany) in 2002-2003 was final proof that containment would not have lasted much longer; Saddam would eventually have reconstituted his WMD programs, although further in the future than we had thought. That said, the case for war—and for war sooner rather than later—was certainly less compelling than it appeared at the time. At the very least we should recognize that the Administration's rush to war was reckless even on the basis of what we thought we knew in March of 2003. It appears even more reckless in light of what we know today.

The problems that led to our mistaken beliefs about the threat posed by Iraq's weapons of mass destruction must be addressed immediately. Unfortunately, to some extent the problems are contradictory, and therefore the solutions may work against one another. For example, a remedy used in the past to address influence from the executive branch on the intelligence process has been to increase oversight of intelligence operations and analysis by Congress. However, in this instance increasing congressional oversight could have exacerbated another problem: the failure of the intelligence community to sufficiently challenge its own assumptions about Saddam's strategy. The more that intelligence agencies must report to both Congress and the White House, the more they fear becoming a political football, and the more they will tone down their estimates, stick to mainstream judgments, and avoid taking controversial positions. Arguing that Iraq had minimized its WMD holdings after 1996 would have been a very controversial position indeed.

Some of the problems that led to our misunderstanding of Iraq's WMD may be insoluble, at least by bureaucratic changes. The forms of pressure exerted on the intelligence community by the Bush Administration were perfectly legal; it would probably be impossible to regulate against them. Moreover, doing so could preclude useful and necessary questioning of intelligence analysts by Administration officials. Still, some fixes do suggest themselves.

In the future we as a nation must be willing to devote enough resources to intelligence so that we will always be able to sustain a large, aggressive program to collect all manner of information and a sophisticated analysis program on all high-priority issues. In retrospect, our over-reliance on UNSCOM inspectors lulled us into a false sense of security; this in turn contributed to our inflated estimates of Iraq's WMD progress after 1998. Even though Iraq was a difficult environment for any intelligence service to operate in, and the CIA did devote substantial assets to it at all times, it would have made some difference if the Agency could have devoted still greater resources to it, even when that seemed redundant with UNSCOM's missions.

Our failings in the WMD experience also argue for a more powerful and independent director of central intelligence. The DCI currently serves at the pleasure of the President, and although he is the nominal head of the entire intelligence community, in reality he does not have much authority over most of the intelligence agencies, whose budgets and personnel come largely from the Department of Defense. The United States could make the DCI position similar to that of the director of the FBI: the President would nominate a candidate who would then need to be confirmed by Congress, and who would serve a fixed term. And the DCI could be made the true head of intelligence, with control over the budgets and personnel of all the intelligence agencies. Many of the intelligence agencies that currently report to the Secretary of Defense, including the National Security Agency and the National Reconnaissance Office, to name just two, should instead report to the DCI. These changes would put the DCI in a stronger position to resist pressure from the executive branch (or Congress) and to protect his people from the same.

Strengthening the DCI and increasing his independence might make for smarter, bolder analysis. The less intelligence analysts have to worry that the DCI is going to take heat for unpopular if accurate judgments, the more willing they will be to make them. This is not a slur against DCI George Tenet, who I think handled the difficulties of his situation extraordinarily well. But it is a recognition that DCIs must not be put in the position that Tenet was forced into.

Another step worth considering is forbidding the CIA or anyone else in government from making any intelligence estimates public for five or ten years. As someone firmly committed to the concept of open government, who believes that the CIA has benefited from its efforts in the past decade to be more open to the public, I dislike the idea of greater secrecy. However, when intelligence estimates become public, they have a huge impact on the course of foreign-policy debates, and administrations therefore find themselves with a great incentive to make sure the Agency's estimates support the Administration's preferred policy. If such estimates were not made public, an administration would have little reason to try to influence them. The government could still produce white papers, but they should come from the State Department—the agency that is, after all, officially charged with public diplomacy.

Finally, the U.S. government must admit to the world that it was wrong about Iraq's WMD and show that it is taking far-reaching action to correct the problems that led to this error. Iraq is not going to be the last foreign-policy challenge in which we must make choices based on ambiguous evidence. When the United States confronts future challenges, the exaggerated estimates of Iraq's WMD will loom like an ugly shadow over the diplomatic discussions. Fairly or not, no foreigner trusts U.S. intelligence to get it right anymore, or trusts the Bush Administration to tell the truth. The only way that we can regain the world's trust is to demonstrate that we understand our mistakes and have changed our ways.
Kennith M. Pollack

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Dean, Scary

OK, I got it a little wrong. The finish was Kerry, Edwards and Dean. At least I picked the top three accurately. If I was at the track I would have gotten some pay out.
Really finished was Gephardt. Effectively finished was Kucinich.
But did you see Howard Dean’s speech. It scared ME. Did it scare you? It should have. That guy’s nuts. I retract a lot of what I have said in favor of Dean. I still insist that he is not a radical liberal. I began to feel a little iffy on Dean as he defended himself against the onslaught that Kerry and Gephardt unleashed late last week. But last night, as he recited the names of the States with that Beavis on crack look in his eyes. As he ran back and forth across the stage looking some how less Presidential than our current President* (YEEEEEECHH) he convinced me that not only can he NOT beat the evil one*, he may be more dangerous. I have requested that the Dean campaign remove me from its rolls and I’m sending money to a candidate for the first time this season. John Edwards. I’ve felt good about him for a while and he has now shown he can run with the big dogs.

The most meaningful point to take away from last nights caucuses is that momentum, perceived electability, and current level of celebrity are the keys to winning. Being qualified, tenured and organized appears to have only marginal effect.

As I said in my Sunday Morning Quarterback last week John Edwards is the best candidate the Democrats have and James Carville said yesterday on CNN that John Edwards was the best candidate for the nomination he had ever seen in his career, including Clinton.

JBlunt

*G.W. Bush is not a legitimate President of the United States of America
Long Live President Hastert!
©JBlunt Publishing 2004

Monday, January 19, 2004

Carville agrees with Blunt!

JBlunt: "YESTERDAY in the Sunday Morning Quarterback, my weekly review of Sunday news shows, I stated that John Edwards had always been the best choice for ringleader since the democratic circus pitched its tent. I also predicted John Edwards would finish second in Iowa and go on to crush Dean in the South. TODAY on CNN James Carville said John Edwards was 'the best nominee he had ever seen in his career, including Clinton.'

Damn I feel good. You made my day James. Need any good help?

JBlunt

�JBlunt Publishing


Thursday, January 15, 2004

President Hastert bumper stickers now available!

Long Live President Hastert bumper stickers available here!
If you don't recognize the current President* any more than I do, get yourself a bumper sticker that not only makes a statement but forces people to ask questions so you can tell them what’s up! Like, He's* not President*, He* lied about Iraq, He's* getting Americans killed, He's* stealing our civil liberties, He's* trashing the environment, He's* crippling our children's financial future, He's* lost the respect of leaders around the world, He's* short, He's* stupid, He's* easily manipulated, He's* kinda ugly, He's* weak, and He sucks.

JBLunt

*He’s G.W. Bush and He is not a legitimate President of the United States of America.
LONG LIVE President Hastert!

©JBlunt Publishing 2004

Reiner and Sheen Kiss of Death to Dean in Iowa?

Reiner and Sheen may be the kiss of death to Dean’s hopes to win Iowa.
Ever since the Dean campaign brought out Martin Sheen and Rob Reiner, his lead has been evaporating if the polls are to be believed. Polling is a dangerous quest in a caucus state. Caucus goers can do anything on caucus night regardless of public opinion. I personally let out an “Oh God” when I saw Reiner and Sheen pop up on TV and my instinct was right. The overnight Zogby poll puts Kerry on top. The Dean campaign is all about grass roots, low profile, real American down home politics. Reiner and Sheen are Hollywood, high profile, flashy, celebrity fu-fu politics. What moron on the staff thought these guys could help in a Midwestern environment. Dean needs to put the Hollywood crew away until he gets to the east coast. Also, put off all but the most local endorsements until he has the nomination well in hand. Big name endorsements from the fringe will hurt him in the general election and big name endorsements from the middle or conservative sectors of the party may dampen the rebel in your face energy that has kept Dean interesting. Dean and Edwards really are the only candidates who represent anything fresh or interesting. Edwards has been getting some flack lately for being too young at 50. Kennedy and Clinton were both younger, Edwards only gets flack because he looks 35. It’s the same psychological motivation that causes me to refer to George Stephanopoulos as “Manchild” in my Sunday Morning Quarterback weekly review of news shows. God help the Democratic Party if neither Dean nor Edwards ends up with the nomination. Why? Because all the other candidates represent old tired politics or are unqualified neophytes.

JBlunt
©JBlunt Publishing 2004

Thursday, January 08, 2004

Dean's not a Radical Liberal!

Dean’s not a Radical Liberal!
This last weekend a lot of talking heads were marveling at Howard Dean’s ability to weather his occasional gaffs without seeming to suffer any erosion of support. They concluded that his gaffs don’t matter because Dean’s Supporters are “hardcore”. The real reason Dean’s gaffs don’t matter is because of hardcore Bush* haters, not hardcore Dean Supporters. You may think that those two groups are one in the same. Wrong, underestimation breath! The number of people who hate Bush* is far greater. If it were only Dean Supporters that stood solid with him in spite of his gaffs his polling numbers would be driven down with each instance. Yet Dean holds steady at thirty odd percent nationwide, more or less the same as the number of avowed Bush* haters. The terror for Bush* will be when everyone figures out Dean’s actually a moderate and that hardcore Dean Supporters are just the tip of the iceberg. In the general election they will become the digitally connected organization that will motivate and mobilize those who are not yet Dean Supporters. As Dean’s true moderate colors come out, more and more regular Americans will begin to consider him as Presidential material.

The idea that Dean is a radical liberal is a Grand Delusion. This Grand Delusion is being perpetuated by the radical right who don’t want him bleeding off moderate Republican votes and the left who view him as some sort of purely motivated party savior. Dean is pro-gun, consistently produced balanced budgets as Governor and provided greatly expanded health coverage without raising taxes. A Nexus search of Vermont newspapers and TV news transcripts finds the words liberal and Dean never used in the same sentence. In fact, liberal is most frequently used in describing people who were upset with Dean. The folks being deluded include the radical left, conservative left and everyone on the right. When the truth about his politics is fully vetted a huge realignment of Dean’s support demographics will occur. Sure the Kucinich crowd will still be unhappy with him and hardcore Bush* supporters won’t have an epiphany, but conservative democrats and moderate republicans who see through the Grand Delusion will flock to Dean. This includes Democrats who currently support Lieberman, Kerry, Gephardt, and Edwards. Sharpton, Braun and Kucinich Democrats who won’t flock but they will be forced to Dean’s camp in the voting booth. Include Clark’s voters since he will be Dean’s Vice President. And finally all those Republicans, the ones who want to vote Republican but despise Bush’s* immigration policy or fiscal policy or the Patriot Act infringements on civil rights or job exportation or preemptive military doctrine or...blah, blah, blah, there are so many. This President* has angered enough Americans from both sides of the isle that when Dean is finally seen as the fence straddling moderate that he is, he’ll have voters from both parties hanging on his legs. I hope he has cast iron nads! He’ll need them as the Bush* cash campaign juggernaut sets sail. The Democratic Leadership Counsel doesn’t know what they’re missing here. If they help this guy fight the Bush* campaign pirates, they will get a President that is indistinguishable from Bill Clinton on everything but defense and with Clark as V.P. that perceived negative will be mitigated in the eyes of the voters.

As the general election approaches Dean needs to adopt a public face that more realistically represents the reality of his politics, that of a logical liberal, the yin to the yang of a compassionate conservative. As the logical liberal, Dean can recruit pro-gun voters, traditionalists who do not approve of gay “marriage” but do approve of equal rights for same sex unions, fiscal conservatives of both parties, progressives that want true universal competitive healthcare and even flaming liberals who want out of Iraq. Pretty much anyone who’s got an axe to grind with George Bush* can hang their hat on Howard Dean without feeling like a traitor to their core beliefs. Dean hits the perfect moderate tone for a country that grows weary of negative campaigning and extremist positions.

America has a choice. Democrats because of the leftover rage of 2000, Nader’s wise choice to stay out and not F’ things up this time, and the perfectly positioned Dean campaign hold the key. We can pull back from creating an America known for confrontation, debt and polarizing rhetoric, support the Dean campaign and return to the time when America was a beacon of peace, prosperity, and reconciliation. That is of course providing the Sirens of the Grand Delusion can be muted and the truth about Dean revealed.

JBlunt

*G.W. Bush is not a legitimate President of the United States of America.
Long Live President Hastert!
©JBlunt Publishing