This Is An Important Post Because This Is What It Is All About

Ken AshfordBush & Co., Congress, Iraq, Plamegate, War on Terrorism/TortureLeave a Comment

Neo-cons were certainly thrown today by Senator Reid’s invocation of a rule calling for a closed session of the Senate.  Mostly, they just said that Reid was throwing a "temper tantrum", which is of course, bullshit.  Not to mention a childish response to a serious concern.

In order for the Senate to discuss matters of intelligence, it is prudent — and probably mandated by law — for the Senate to close its doors.  Republicans, who care about their party more than issues of national security (witness their constant pooh-poohing of Plamegate), simply refuse to acknowledge that basic truth.

Anyway, Reid wanted to discuss manipulation of intelligence in the run-up to the war.  Frankly, I think neo-cons should be happy that these matters were, at least initially, discussed in private.  But to get a sense of what Reid was referring to, let me link to Matt Yglesius, and shamelessly blogwhore what he writes (although you should, as the kids say, read the whole thing):

In case you’re looking for examples of the sort of manipulation of intelligence Harry Reid is talking about, a few are remarkably easy to find and clear-cut. This is a report entitled "Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Programs" released before the war as an unclassified document. It was based, we were told, on a classified National Intelligence Estimate. Over here, you can read some portions of the original NIE that have since been declassified. Mostly, the declassified bits of the document and the unclassified document are the same. But here are a few salient points that were left out of the unclassified release.

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 concluded that the tubes are not intended for use in Iraq’s nuclear weapon program.

Hmm. And:

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 non-controlled 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.

Now a couple of points. First, the White House obviously has perfectly good reasons for keeping some of the intelligence it sees classified. Nevertheless, it’s hard to see what about these INR dissents had to be kept secret. Second, when intelligence agencies disagree (as they do now and again) the White House is perfectly within its rights to choose to believe what one agency says and disagree with the INR’s take. Nevertheless, people outside the White House would seem to have a right to know that controversy exists. What the White House did here was manipulate the classification process to cover-up the existence of disagreement, and deny people opposed to its policy potentially valuable arguments.

Exactly, Matt.  THAT’S what we’ve (or at least I’ve) been talking about.  In a democracy, ultimate power rests with the people.  The people, as well as their elected representatives in Congress (who, constitutionally, have the power to commit the nation to war), require complete information.  That way, a reasoned national debate takes place, and informed decisions get made.  But when the Executive Branch only deals the cards that it wants from a stacked deck, it does a disservice to the country.

Matt continues:

Another point. The classified NIE said this:

Baghdad for now appears to be drawing a line short of conducting terrorist attacks with conventional or CBW against the United States, fearing that exposure of Iraqi involvement would provide Washington a stronger cause for making war.

Iraq probably would attempt clandestine attacks against the US Homeland if Baghdad feared an attack that threatened the survival of the regime were imminent or unavoidable, or possibly for revenge. Such attacks – more likely with biological than chemical agents – probably would be carried out by special forces or intelligence operatives.

  • The Iraqi Intelligence Service (IIS) probably has been directed to conduct clandestine attacks against US and Allied interests in the Middle East in the event the United States takes action against Iraq. The IIS probably would be the primary means by which Iraq would attempt to conduct any CBW attacks on the US Homeland, although we have no specific intelligence information that Saddam’s regime has directed attacks against US territory.

Saddam, if sufficiently desperate, might decide that only an organization such as al-Qa’ida – with worldwide reach and extensive terrorist infrastructure, and already engaged in a life-or-death struggle against the United States – would perpetrate the type of terrorist attack that he would hope to conduct.

  • In such circumstances, he might decide that the extreme step of assisting the Islamist terrorists in conducting a CBW attack against the United States would be his last chance to exact vengeance by taking a large number of victims with him.

In other words, Saddam was unlikely to use whatever WMD he had or might in the future acquire unless the United States attacked him first. Meanwhile, during his infamous speech, "President Bush Outlines Iraqi Threat", the threat was described thusly:

Iraq could decide on any given day to provide a biological or chemical weapon to a terrorist group or individual terrorists. Alliance with terrorists could allow the Iraqi regime to attack America without leaving any fingerprints.

Some have argued that confronting the threat from Iraq could detract from the war against terror. To the contrary; confronting the threat posed by Iraq is crucial to winning the war on terror. When I spoke to Congress more than a year ago, I said that those who harbor terrorists are as guilty as the terrorists themselves. Saddam Hussein is harboring terrorists and the instruments of terror, the instruments of mass death and destruction. And he cannot be trusted. The risk is simply too great that he will use them, or provide them to a terror network.

This is plainly at odds with the consensus view of the Intelligence Community, as expressed in the classified NIE. Again, the White House is entitled to ignore the Intelligence Community and put forward some other beliefs. But the unclassified version of the NIE simply omits the stuff about how Iraq wouldn’t launch an unprovoked terrorist attack on the United States. There was no legitimate national security rationale for denying the public access to this information. Rather, there was a clear-cut political rationale — the White House wanted to obscure the extent to which their argument for war was based on claims that were unsupported by professional analysis.

Those are only two examples, but there are many more. An investigation into the matter is long overdue.

This is what Senator Reid wants to know.  This is exactly why an investigation is needed.  Why wasn’t this information — the dissents of the intelligence community — made known?  Why was it hidden from us?  Why were the American people given an incomplete and one-sided picture of what our government knew?

These questions were supposed to be part of a Congressional investigation.  The Republican-controlled Senate has been dragging its feet, probably until after the 2006 elections. 

Political stunt or not, Reid just put the matter on the front burner, forcing Frist’s hand.  The Senate is now moving forward with Phase II of their investigation, which seeks to asks the following question (again, via Matt):

The subject of dispute is the phase two report, which Pat Roberts has been refusing to produce. I’ve been writing about this for months; Laura Rozen has an article in our current print issue on the subject. Items designated for phase two include:

Whether public statements, reports, and testimony regarding Iraq by U.S. Government officials made between the Gulf War period and the commencement of Operation Iraqi Freedom were substantiated by intelligence information.

Along with "prewar intelligence assessments about postwar Iraq" and a couple of other things.

2,025 U.S. soldiers are dead.  Aren’t these issues worthy of an investigation?  For their sake, if not for the sake of our nation’s soul?

UPDATE: A Daily Kos contributor explains how Reid’s victory turned the political landscape "on a dime".  I think that is true.  Read it here.