Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Inmates 1, asylum 0 = CIA version

As I noted here and here, the CIA has been nearly mutinous against the Bush Administration. No, not George Tenet or the Operations Division, but the analytical arm of the CIA has continually attempted to undermine the Bush Administration's policies on Iraq while concurrently seeking to cover its collective rear-end after all the mistakes it has made in the past 5-10 years. This is petty politicking at its worst.

Much of the CIA's distaste for Bush may stem from his negative reaction to the infamous 8-6-01 Presidential Daily Briefing about al-Qaeda. That PDB showed Bush that the CIA work was shoddy and outdated but had a reassuring indication -- although the PDB said al-Qaeda had cells in the US, the FBI had 70 field investigations ongoing; a seemingly reassuring note. The PDB was based in large part on media reports (nice to see our spies read the daily fishwrap) and its information was primarily from 1997 and 1998. See here for the report text and here for a photo of the declassified portion on Findlaw. The most revealing information was that "A clandestine source said in 1998 that a Bin Ladin cell in New York was recruiting Muslim-American youth for attacks." As of 8-6-01, that statement begged the question: what have we learned in the past 3 years? And that question is essentially what Bush asked Tenet -- why is the information in this PDB old, outdated, not updated and so preposterously general that it is of no value?

If that alone did not tip the scales of the CIA against Bush, the continual failures of the CIA viz. Iraq, and Bush's refusal to follow CIA analysis, may have done so. (Yes, I'm assuming that the CIA would have been neutral towards Bush when he became president, an assumption that is generous to the CIA's motivations). As the WSJ notes (link above to Opinion Journal free reprint):

In a public lecture last year at Johns Hopkins University, [senior CIA analyst Paul Pillar] sought to downplay Saddam Hussein's connections to terrorism. And his corner of the CIA has long claimed that the "secular" Baathists in Iraq would never do business with the fundamentalist al Qaeda. Tell that to Abu Musab al Zarqawi and the Baathists now cooperating in Fallujah.

And a further excerpt from the WSJ piece is notable because analyst-side officials in the CIA are now actively working for the election of John Kerry, albeit anonymously:

[The CIA's] latest improvised explosive political device blew up yesterday on the front page of the New York Times, in a story proclaiming that the agency had warned back in January 2003 of a possible insurgency in Iraq. This highly selective leak (more on that below) was conveniently timed for two days before the first Presidential debate.

This follows Joe Wilson, whose CIA-employee wife nominated the anti-Bush partisan to assess intelligence on Iraq. Then there's the book by "Anonymous," a current CIA employee who has been appearing everywhere to trash U.S. policy, with the approval of agency higher-ups. And now we have one Paul R. Pillar, who has broken his own cover as the author of a classified National Intelligence Estimate this summer outlining pessimistic possibilities for the future of Iraq.

* * *

None of this is surprising in the case of Mr. Pillar, who is also trying to protect his own lousy track record in misjudging the terrorist threat. Around September 11, he had the misfortune to write a book that rejected the "war" metaphor for counterterrorism, comparing it instead to "the effort by public health authorities to control communicable diseases.

With an intelligence agency like this, it's almost miraculous that the US won the Cold War.

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