April 10, 2006
Missing the Big Story: The CIA's War with the White HouseBy Rick Moran
Did the lead editorial in yesterday's Washington Post that defended the President's authorizing the declassification of a secret NIE report on Iraq WMD misstate the facts surrounding the Administration's handling of pre—war intelligence?
The entire left wing of the blogosphere believes so. Jay Rosen believes so. Even Tom McGuire, still doggedly carrying his lantern in daylight looking for one honest man in the Fitzgerald prosecution, believes so.
Certainly the figure at the center of the firestorms believes so. Three years ago, Joe Wilson was a nobody, an ex—Ambassador just trying to start a new business venture using his extensive contacts in Africa in order to facilitate the usual introductions and business deals, oiling the machinery of international trade as only someone with Mr. Wilson's credentials is able to do.
Then a request from the CIA; we understand from talking to your wife that you're planning a trip to Africa. As long as you're going to be there to establish your business contacts, why not visit some old friends in Niger and look into this cockamamie story about Saddam trying to purchase yellowcake uranium in order to reconstitute his nuclear program?
Wilson denies to this day that his wife had anything to do with his being selected by the CIA for this routine assignment, despite sworn testimony and memos to the contrary. At best, he may be engaging in a little wishful thinking, ashamed in a macho sort of way that his wife was assisting him in furthering his career.
At worst, he's a bald—faced liar.
Regardless of who pushed his name forward or even what he discovered while in Niger (which to this day is a matter of fierce dispute), it is the aftermath of Wilson's trip that has brought us to where we are today. And the fact is that Wilson, the lefty blogs, and especially Jay Rosen have missed the biggest story of the young century in their efforts to uncover the minutia, the nuggets of selected, disjointed information that writers have leapt upon like ravenous beasts, devouring, regurgitating as 'proof' of their conspiracy theories, the evil machinations of evil men who 'fabricated' intelligence on our way to war.
Perhaps the biggest purveyor of these fact flakes that make up the rickety structure of conspiracy is Murray Waas, writing for the National Journal among other publications. Jay Rosen, a godfather of New Media journalism, calls Waas 'our Bob Woodward' as if one more self—important, insufferably arrogant practitioner of 'gotchya' journalism were necessary in Washington. Waas has become a hero to left for his uncanny ability to leap to the most outrageous conclusions when uncovering the tiniest of 'facts' regarding everything from the Fitzgerald investigation to the latest illegal leak from the intelligence community. Waas has built a house of cards about White House conspiracies based on the careful accumulation of 'evidence' which may or may not indicate a pattern of deceit depending just how much one wishes to see when looking into the shadows and fog surrounding most of his information.
But in concentrating on the mote in the other fellow's eye, Waas has missed the knife sticking out of the back of the Bush Administration; a knife planted by a group of leakers — organized or not — at the CIA who, unelected though they were, took it upon themselves to first try and prevent the execution of United States policy they were sworn to carry out, and failing that, trying to destroy in the most blatantly partisan manner an Administration with which they had a policy disagreement.
How can anyone possibly understand the motivations, the actions, or the thinking in the White House during this crucial time without taking into account the war being conducted against them by the CIA?
In truth, those predisposed to believe the worst about Bush chalk up all the maneuvering on the part of the White House to 'covering up' their supposed misrepresentations and exaggerations of pre—war intelligence in the lead up to the war.
But what if there is a different explanation?
What if prior to the invasion, the Bush Administration was roiled in a policy dispute between elements at the CIA and national security hawks in the White House and Department of Defense? What if this policy dispute got so contentious that the White House lost faith in what the intelligence community was telling it about Iraq? And what if, following the revelations about Saddam's lack of WMD, elements at the CIA worked to exact revenge on the Administration by illegally leaking cherry—picked analyses at odds with what the Administration had been telling the American people?
This is the Big Story not being reported by the press, the blogs, or even Jay Rosen's golden boy Murray Waas. It is a familiar story in Washington, a mix of arcanity and idiocy, of the high affairs of state with the lowliest of backstabbing bureaucracies. And it is a story that while not absolving the Bush Administration of some of its actions, certainly gives background and context that is so sorely lacking in this obsession with minutia that passes for serious analysis in both the new and old media.
Prior to the Iraq War, there were two schools of thought about Saddam; a realpolitik view which held that Saddam was a monster but was a useful counterweight to Islamic radicalism. Opposing this view is what has become known as the neo—conservative view: that Saddam was a sponsor of terror and that regime change could transform the Middle East. The 'we can use Saddam' clique at the CIA had opposed the toppling of the monster since the 1991 Gulf War when a similar debate roiled the Administration of George H.W. Bush. Amazingly, the players back then were some of the same names that are at odds today.
Howard Fineman of Newsweek lays out some of this history:
Do you think it would have been helpful if in all the millions of words written about the Wilson/Plame affair, a few paragraphs had been devoted to this singular, important fact? Does this color Mr. Wilson's motivations in any way? At the very least, the consumer of news should be given the opportunity to assess this information for themselves and make their own judgment about whether there was any ax to grind on Mr. Wilson's or Mr. Cheney's part when push came to shove over Wilson's self—aggrandizing editorial in the New York Times.
Then there was the anger and resentment at the CIA over the Bush Administration's efforts to make the agency more accountable for the pre—war intelligence it was sending its way. In the best of times, the process of gathering, analyzing, and disseminating intelligence is fraught with uncertainty. But these were not the best of times. The realpolitik clique at the CIA was suspected — rightly or wrongly — of doing a little intelligence twisting of its own especially with regard to Saddam's links to al Qaeda. A secret group at the Pentagon called the Office of Special Plans was set up specifically to examine (or re—examine) Iraq intelligence relating to its WMD programs and possible links to terror groups. The reason for the formation of this group according to the CIA was to shape and manipulate intelligence to give the Administration a false justification for going to war against Saddam.
Is that the real story? Or had the Administration become so frustrated and distrustful of the Iraq group at CIA who was feeding policymakers intelligence reports at odds with what they were hearing elsewhere? The National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq which, it was revealed this past weekend, was declassified by the President and disseminated to reporters in the aftermath of the war indicated that Saddam did indeed have weapons of mass destruction, may have been trying to re—initialize his nuclear program, had possible links to al Qaeda, and was a threat to his neighbors.
Other documents recently translated from the millions of captured archives of the Saddam regime are beginning to paint a picture also at odds with the CIA assessment that Iraq had no ties to al Qaeda. This is a developing story and certainly bears watching — not that this information is being reported on or given much shrift by many in the media.
This was after all, not some arcane debate over trifles. What the Administration was dealing with in the aftermath of 9/11 was nothing less than the safety and security of the United States. The Office of Special Plans may have been bitterly opposed by the CIA, seeing as they apparently did an intrusion on their bureaucratic turf. But the elected leaders of the country, charged with defending the United States against threats (not to mention radically altering policy to include preventive war as a measure to insure that defense) at the very least thought itself in a bind on Iraq largely because they believed the CIA was not doing its job.
Right or wrong, isn't this part of the story too? When talking about 'twisting' and even 'fabricating' intelligence (a term that is used willy nilly by Bush critics despite the fact that there is not one shred of proof that any such thing occurred), don't you think it important to give that story a little context by informing people about the extraordinary level of mistrust and resentment between both the White House and the CIA?
One can argue who was at fault. But when the big picture is being subsumed by trivial revelations about the tiniest of details regarding what the White House was doing with Iraq War intel, a distorted view of what really happened is bound to emerge.
And this is especially true when, during the months leading up to the 2004 election, we witnessed what can only be termed an attempted coup by the very same faction at the CIA who had been fighting the Administration in the lead up to the war. This partisan campaign by unelected bureaucrats to defeat a sitting president was called 'unprecedented' and characterized as having a 'viciousness and vindictiveness' not witnessed on the Washington scene in many years. The Daily Telegraph commented on the CIA campaign to unseat the President in October of 2004:
The Wall Street Journal went even further, publishing this editorial following the confirmation of new DCIA Porter Goss:
The leaks were condemned by one of the most brilliant men ever to serve the United States in any capacity, Admiral Bobby Inman, who worked in the intelligence community for more than 30 years:
Inman is speaking about the book Imperial Hubris by Michael Scheuer (published under the author's nom de plum 'Anonymous' when it came out weeks before the election) that skewered the Administration over everything from the war against Bin Laden to Iraq.
This, of course, is the context of the entire Wilson/Plame affair. And the question arises what should the White House have done? Clearly, the effort to counteract Wilson's charges had both political and policy overtones. But Wilson had been shopping his 'story' for months prior to the publication of his Niger adventure in the Times.
What appeared to be more of the same effort to 'get' the President by the CIA couldn't go unanswered. Scooter Libby is paying for the White House trying to do something about the leaking and sniping done by the Administration's partisan opponents and others may as well. But to posit the notion that the Wilson/Plame imbroglio took place in a vacuum and was a matter of sheer 'revenge' is lunacy. The facts do not support such a claim. But you'd never know it because of the curious reluctance on the part of both the mainstream press and the New Media to face up to the consequences of CIA perfidy in the lead up to the election.
I honestly don't know how many of the millions of words written about pre—war intelligence are true and how much is fantasy, a construct of thousands of unrelated parts that are shaped and shaded to fit into a conspiracy of monstrous proportions. But by failing to illuminate this story by placing all the revelations in the context of the continuing war by the CIA against the Bush Administration, an enormous disservice is done to the American people. Because in the end, in order to find the truth of the matter, you have to understand the motivating factors of both sides. And the way writers are approaching the story now, that just isn't happening.
Rick Moran is a frequent contributor and proprietor of Rightwing Nuthouse.