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March 03, 2006

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Cecil Turner

You're making it sound like this is only a question of an official speech or document the text of which Rice did not control.

Jon, you've obviously never worked at a mid-to-high level governmental organization, or you'd know how this stuff works. Rice doesn't know anything about the intelligence first-hand, she relies on reports. Before a public appearance, she's given a briefing book and a "talking points paper" (usually limited to 4-6 points). Further, when releasing a bit of classified information, it's required to go through a review, and no, she doesn't control it. (Though obviously she can dick up the delivery.) Sometimes the reviewers even want to massage the content and tone of the statement--something that led to the much-ballyhooed argument Bolton had with his reviewer.

so it seems these disputes to manage to filter up to those summaries . . .

Yes, the caveat box is in the NIE summary linked above, and I suspect most of the people who got it saw it. But it is also directly contradicted by the main findings of the report, so it's reasonable that the person summarizing the report would go with the CIA judgment.

clarice

If my memory doesn't fail, I think virtually everything in the NIE is a composite picture from the various participating agencies of the analysis of their people, and every single factual assertion was refuted by someone in at least one agency.

If you have a better idea for compiling and sorting thru these threat analyses I'd like to hear it.

Cecil Turner

. . . it would have been preferable for Bush and Rice to acknowlege the dispute over the tubes (i.e., preserve nuance) in their public statements.

I disagree. If you preserve nuance on every CYA caveat in intel reports, you end up saying nothing. Despite the foofraw on this topic, there was no serious dispute in the intelligence agencies over Iraqi WMDs. (Though there was wingeing on some specifics.) It is not reasonable to expect people dealing with finished products to know of internal analyst disputes that in most cases did not rise above CIA division head level.

However, I find your position somewhat reasonable, in marked contrast to some folks' statements in places like HuffingPost (which were remarkably ill-informed, even after someone pointed out the NIE was available online). Stick around.

Jon

TM,

Thanks for those links. That was exactly what I was talking about.

However, this statement -- "Baghdad could produce a nuclear weapon within a year if it were able to procure weapons-grade fissile material abroad" -- is, as was pointed out at the time, like saying "Iraq could have a nuclear weapon if it got a nuclear weapon." Everyone agrees getting the fissile material is by far the most significant challenge. I have no idea if it's true, but people say that if you have the fissile material, college physics students would be capable of triggering a crude nuclear weapon.

I continue to hope that Dems will focus on what we should have done in 2003, rather than on what we ought to do in 2006.

Here's a poll from last December:

58. How important do you think it is right now for members of Congress to question the Bush Administration about the way the intelligence was used in order to make the case for going to war in Iraq -- do you think it is very important, somewhat important, not too important, or not important at all?

56% Very
24% Somewhat
9% Not too
9% Not at all

Foo Bar

Cecil,

So you're saying that she while she was aware of the dispute, she was cleared at the time of the CNN appearance only to make unqualified, no-nuance public statements about the tubes? Can you cite a link? Again, if this is the case, I really don't get why she hasn't made that point herself after getting pounded repeatedly in the public on this. Those are some seriously feeble communications skills on the part of the country's chief diplomat if that's really true.


Cecil Turner

So you're saying that she while she was aware of the dispute, she was cleared at the time of the CNN appearance only to make unqualified . . .

No. The "most agencies believe" bit would probably be stripped out by a reviewer (which of course would not then be part of the record) . . . I think the dissenting opinion would be fair game if requested. Her final remark was undoubtedly approved, but they would not normally have veto power on content (which again brings to mind Bolton's reviewer who was trying to do precisely that). It's all, you know, nuanced.

Whoever drafted the thing to begin with probably selected only the main finding on the tubes (or possibly put in some qualifier, which was then stripped) to make the desired point. Which again would be inappropriate, if it misstated the gist of the estimate. I think it didn't. And again, I don't agree with putting in every caveat (especially when it contradicts the basic point). A point about which we can reasonably disagree, IMHO.

Foo Bar

It is not reasonable to expect people dealing with finished products to know of internal analyst disputes

Again, she's admitted she was aware of the disputes (and later, according to Waas, Bush got the one-pager informing him of the disputes). Maybe she was a super-informed national security advisor going above and beyond the call of duty in informing herself, but she was aware, so I don't see how that point is relevant to the question of what she should have said.


If you preserve nuance on every CYA caveat in intel reports, you end up saying nothing

So Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Cheney, etc. should just have shut the f--- up about significant Iraq-Al Qaeda links, according to your rule: you go with the majority intelligence community view and stick with that unequivocally in public, right?

I don't agree that preserving nuance means saying nothing. Saying "we're not sure, based on our intelligence, but we think he may have WMDs, and maybe even a nuclear program, and since he hasn't been as cooperative as he should be (although there were inspectors in there in the leadup) we can't take the chance" is a respectable argument for invasion, and I think Bush's trust poll numbers would be significantly better right now if that had been the nature of the case made before invading.

P.S. I'm sure somebody will be able to dredge up some administration quotes that are more along the lines of "we're not sure and we can take a chance" but again, my real point is only in regards to how the tubes info was presented.

Jon

Cecil:

Rice doesn't know anything about the intelligence first-hand

Again, perhaps we could both endorse a policy where administration officials could constantly wear bright red tshirts saying this: "I DON'T KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT THE INTELLIGENCE FIRST HAND."

That would help clear things up for all the Americans (a majority, as I understand it) who've never worked at a mid-to-high level governmental organization.

(Also, what you were responding to -- "You're making it sound like this is only a question of an official speech or document the text of which Rice did not control" -- was written by Foo Bar, not me.)

Foo Bar

No. The "most agencies believe" bit would probably be stripped out by a reviewer (which of course would not then be part of the record) . . . I think the dissenting opinion would be fair game if requested. Her final remark was undoubtedly approved, but they would not normally have veto power on content

This is still a little unclear to me, especially the dissent being fair game. We know she was aware of the dissent. You're making it sound like she was passively given the talking points, but couldn't she have gotten them changed in light of her knowledge of the caveats? Are you saying

(1) She definitely could have included the dissent in her public remarks if she had wanted to.

(2) She could have asked for approval to include dissent but she didn't, and we don't know whether she would have gotten approval or not.

or

(3) She could not have gotten approval to include the dissent

?

Unless the answer is (3) I don't see how any of your discussion of the process of how public remarks get cleared for approval is relevant to the defense of Rice.

If you just flatly don't agree that including caveats is a good thing, just because it's better to make a crisp, unambiguous case, that's one thing. I don't see the process discussion supporting your point, though.

Cecil Turner

Again, she's admitted she was aware of the disputes . . .

Yet again, I suspect she's referring to the caveat box in the NIE, which starts:

"[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 weapons-related capabilities."
So Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Cheney, etc. should just have shut the f--- up about significant Iraq-Al Qaeda links . . .

Are you seriously suggesting there were none, or that there was serious dispute over the known ones? If so, perhaps you should reread the 911 Commission Report.

Saying "we're not sure . . ."

Again, that's qualifying the intel. You can provide both sides, but describing your confidence level in the intel is a problem. So you can present two contradictory opinions . . . (for obvious reasons, this normally isn't done).

perhaps we could both endorse a policy where administration officials could constantly wear bright red tshirts . . .

I'd like to think most folks can figure that one out without the shirts.

. . . was written by Foo Bar, not me.

Sorry. I usually leave off names because it reduces the inclination to ad hominem. And maybe oughta make that a rule, cuz obviously I suck at it.

Jon

I'd like to think most folks can figure that one out without the shirts.

Well, why don't we go with the tshirts, just to be sure?

First instance, I think it would have been particularly helpful if Dick Cheney had been wearing such a shirt saying "I DON'T KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT THE INTELLIGENCE FIRST HAND" when he said this:

I ask a hell of a lot of questions. That’s my job. I’ve had an interest in the intelligence area since I worked for Gerry Ford 30 years ago, served on the Intel Committee in the House for years in the ’80s, ran a big part of the intelligence community when I was secretary of Defense in the early ’90s. This is a very important area. It’s one the president’s asked me to work on, and I ask questions all the time. I think if you’re going to provide the intelligence and advice to the president of the United States to make life and death decisions, you need to be able to defend your conclusions, go into an arena where you can make the arguments about why you believe what you do based on the intelligence we’re got.
Cecil Turner

I think it would have been particularly helpful if Dick Cheney had been wearing such a shirt . . .

I think the first statement ("I ask a hell of a lot of questions.") is ample disclosure that the information is second-hand.

Foo Bar

Yet again, I suspect she's referring to the caveat box in the NIE, which starts:

"[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 weapons-related capabilities."

Yet again, I doubt very much that she was referring to the NIE when she made her September 8 CNN appearance, since it didn't exist yet.


Even if the overall conclusion about nukes was solid, you seem to be implying that that makes it OK to overstate the solidity of a supporting piece of evidence. Is that what you're saying? If you're very confident that A is true, and one among many contributing reasons for that is a significantly less confident belief that B is true, are you saying it's fine when someone asks why you believe A to say "well, for instance, B is *definitely* true"?

I know you have other arguments against qualifying intelligence statements, but you seem to be advancing the agreement regarding nukes overall as an additional, independent justification for overstating the confidence in the tubes.

Anyway, in her Sec State confirmation hearings, Rice said


there was one agency that disagreed that he was reconstituting his nuclear program and that was the State Department, the INR.

***

Back to Cecil:

Are you seriously suggesting there were none, or that there was serious dispute over the known ones?

The issue at hand is whether it's OK to publicly acknowledge that you don't have confidence in your intel about a currently existing enemy (as Saddam was in '02). The special DOD team established to give raw intel from other agencies a second look and search for previously-missed evidence of significant Iraq/Al Qaeda links, and the Wolfowitz quote about hypotheses predetermining conclusions makes it clear to me that DOD had no problem conveying publicly that they had low confidence in their currently available intel and the conclusions drawn from it by the CIA, when they didn't like the CIA's conclusion (i.e., not enough evidence of links as they would have liked).

Are you seriously suggesting that in the leadup to the war it was not public knowledge that there was a dispute between defense and the CIA about the extent of Iraq/Al Qaeda links?

Foo Bar

My yet again link didn't come through OK in that last post.

Jon

Cecil:

I think the first statement ("I ask a hell of a lot of questions.") is ample disclosure that the information is second-hand

I think the most puzzling development of the last five years is how every conservative in America has turned into Bill Clinton.

When Mr. Starr asked whether I "knew anything about the intelligence first-hand," I answered no, because I had not personally been recruited by the CIA to spy on Iraq
Cecil Turner

Yet again, I doubt very much that she was referring to the NIE when she made her September 8 CNN appearance, since it didn't exist yet.

The NIE is a conglomeration of other intel reports, and this one was published in October. There's little doubt that caveat existed in substantially the same form in September (and as it originated in Rice's department . . .).

The issue at hand is whether it's OK to publicly acknowledge that you don't have confidence in your intel about a currently existing enemy (as Saddam was in '02).

In the first place, there wasn't much specificity on this. In the second, it was an effort to sift through already gathered intel. The relevance to the point seems marginal to me, but I agree it shouldn't have been publicized.

every conservative in America has turned into Bill Clinton

I point out what ought to be obvious (that Rice has no first-hand knowledge and perforce relies on others), and the sophistry flowers. Perhaps an indication of some mighty fine fertilizer . . .

Jon

Cecil, here's a serious question: has the entire Iraq NIE been declassified? I'm not baiting you; I don't know the answer.

TM

I'm not sure, but could that be a concession (albeit a concession followed by a groan, shrug, and roll-of-the-eyes) on the part of the proprietor of the blog?

You left out "grab the remote control and change the channel". Which doesn't work on my computer monitor yet, but someday...

TM

Saying "we're not sure, based on our intelligence, but we think he may have WMDs, and maybe even a nuclear program, and since he hasn't been as cooperative as he should be (although there were inspectors in there in the leadup) we can't take the chance" is a respectable argument for invasion, and I think Bush's trust poll numbers would be significantly better right now if that had been the nature of the case made before invading.

Significantly? Obviously, that is a matter of opinion, but I think Bush has been hammered in the polls for the same reason we are even talking about this - the war has gone badly relative to what most people had expected.

Put another way - if there was no significant insurgency and Iraq was looking like a big success, would anyone still care about the WMDs?

Foo Bar

describing your confidence level in the intel is a problem

In the first place, there wasn't much specificity on this. In the second, it was an effort to sift through already gathered intel

The man demands specificity, and specificity he shall have. OK, well in 2002 Cheney went on Meet the Press and had this to say about the Atta Prague meeting reports:


"It's credible," Cheney replied. "But, you know, I think the way to put it would be it's unconfirmed at this point."

Hmm, sounds like a bit of a qualifier, a description of our confidence level as less than absolute, that Cheney threw in there. Did he tip off the enemy that that's what we were looking at, that's where we were gathering further intel? Ah, I see, the Atta Prague meeting really did take place, but it was never fully confirmed because blabbermouth Cheney went and announced to the world, alerting the bad guys.

Jon

if there was no significant insurgency and Iraq was looking like a big success, would anyone still care about the WMDs?

I'm 100% sure that was part of the Bush administration's calculation.

Rick Ballard

"Perhaps an indication of some mighty fine fertilizer . . ."

Nope. Nothing will ever grow in this "stuff".

Faux fauxness won't even grow weeds.

Jon

Faux fauxness won't even grow weeds

You know, I like to think that if I'd been wrong about an issue like this, I'd have the modesty and self-awareness to take seriously the people who were right.

Rick Ballard

Well, you'd be absolutely wrong then. All that you have accomplished is to replay a broken record ad nauseum. Which was all the Waas piece was from the beginning.

You have successfully presented a case that the world is not a perfect place and presented proof by retrospectively picking fragments of political speech for examination under a microscope.

What a truly significant achievement. Surely, your remarks and observations shall ring through history. You stand upon the shoulders of the mighty Waas.

Such a pity that no one is able to see you.

Jon

presented proof by retrospectively picking fragments of political speech for examination under a microscope

No; what I did was bet someone $1000 that Iraq had no banned weapons.

I understand that it's painful when reality is not as you believed. Like all people, I've had that experience myself (at other times).

Nevertheless, I've found in my own experience that it's generally a good idea afterwards to take seriously the people who were right.

Rick Ballard

"I understand that it's painful when reality is not as you believed."

Tell it to Blix.

My belief in the necessity for the Iraqi incursion will remain untouched regardless of the postulations of those whom I would not trust to plan a picnic in the park.

Jon

those whom I would not trust to plan a picnic in the park.

Well, I'm actually not suggesting that you trust me. Rather, I'm suggesting that when people turn out to be right about something and you turn out to be wrong, it's worth taking what they say seriously.

Once you've actually listened to their reasons for believing what they believed, you can evaluate whether they're worthy of trust.

The alternative is to give your trust based on emotion. It's true people often do that (and the emotion is generally fear), but it has unhappy consequences.

boris

if there was no significant insurgency and Iraq was looking like a big success, would anyone still care about the WMDs?

The sad sad truth and dirty low down is that the current state of Iraq and Afghanistan in a Gore presidency would be presented in the MSM as unqualified success.

Wiretapping suspected terrorists communicating with US parties would still be secret. The interrogation camps where only humane methods like harmless waterboarding would remain unrevealed.

Val and Joe would be loyal unknowns.

Gitmo would be paridise only lacking virgins.

boris

you turn out to be wrong

My Israeli brother in law and I both said WMDs would not be found. All in all your take on the subject is still crap in a hundred different ways. When history continues to bear me out will you admit "it's worth taking what boris says more seriously" ???

Doubt it.

Jon

My Israeli brother in law and I both said WMDs would not be found.

Really? Why did you think that?

Rick Ballard

"The alternative is to give your trust based on emotion."

Nah, I like to work with a map of the ME and consider logistics. Only idiots get wrapped up in words.

I look at a map today and am more cheerful about the cost of using a specific tactic having been rendered very recognizable than I did on Sept. 12th. Fear does abound but the locii are Teheran, Pyongyang, Damascus and Riyadh.

No thanks to the pusillanomous.

But you know that, in some dark recess of a misbegotten soul, don't you? And it's just a terrible thing that the ability to spin like one of Hussein's dreamed of centrifuges isn't adequately rewarded, isn't it?

Cowardice must remain it's own and only reward. Even cowardice masked as persiflage and advocacy.

Jon

I look at a map today and am more cheerful about the cost of using a specific tactic having been rendered very recognizable than I did on Sept. 12th. Fear does abound but the locii are Teheran, Pyongyang, Damascus and Riyadh.

Fair enough. I'm sure North Korea trembles to know that if they sponsor terrorist attacks against us, we may well invade Brazil.

But wee jokes aside, you of all people should be concerned about the way the Iraq war was sold. If it had (successfully) been presented acccording to your rationale, there would be a far greater chance there would be enough U.S. support for your desired ends. As things stand now, you're deeply screwed.

Anyway, I've got to go. But Boris, I would genuinely like to know why you thought what you did. Please respond and I'll check back.

Cecil Turner

Cecil, here's a serious question: has the entire Iraq NIE been declassified?

I don't know, but I think not. (OTOH, I can't find a version of the excerpt I know has been declassified, so . . .)

Hmm, sounds like a bit of a qualifier, a description of our confidence level as less than absolute, that Cheney threw in there.

I'm not sure if you're not paying attention, or are trying to be difficult, but this is pretty basic stuff. We don't reveal what our uncertainties are on things we're still trying to acquire (it helps the enemy know what to hide). Obviously that doesn't apply to data already gathered (e.g., we're not going to acquire intel again on whether Atta met with the IIS in Prague--or anything else about him, for that matter--so there's nothing the enemy could do to interfere with our collection). In the case of something like a WMD program, especially if the enemy is taking steps to conceal it, it's a particularly serious concern. It becomes a lot less important after regime change.

No; what I did was bet someone $1000 that Iraq had no banned weapons.

Well, I'd hope your opponent collected. Or else how'd you explain away these two?

Since 2003, insurgents have attacked Coalition Forces with two CW rounds (not including attacks with riot control agents) that ISG judges were produced by Iraq prior to 1991. Neither attack caused casualties and ISG believes the perpetrators did not know the rounds contained CW agent because the rounds were not marked to indicate they contained CW agent and they were used no differently than insurgents had employed conventional munition Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs).
In any event, the real threat was bio agents passed along to terrorists exactly like the post-9/11 anthrax attack (though comptetently executed). All the other concerns were proxy indicators for the far more concealable (and still undetermined) state of the bio program.

boris

Why did you think that?

Didn't say I thought it. I hoped they would be found. I said we should have gone in sooner, that WMD was a lost cause to gain UN support, it wasn't going to happen anyway. If he had stockpiles they'd be gone.

After Oil for Food and the bribes to France and Russia came out it was "see, told ya". Now we know Bush and Putin made a deal to let them be removed. In my book I'm the one who got it right, not you.

Jon

Cecil, what I was confused by was this statement of yours:

The NIE is on record for all to judge (gee, why was that declassified?)

As far as I know, only small sections of the NIE have ever been declassified, despite FOIA requests and attempts by several senators. There's more here.

Cecil Turner

As far as I know, only small sections of the NIE have ever been declassified . . .

Including all the key findings. You'd find more detail in the full report, but the big picture is in the executive summary. It clearly establishes the intel community's view that: "Iraq is continuing, and in some areas expanding, its chemical, biological, nuclear and missile programs contrary to UN resolutions . . ." Not sure what your point is, but the idea that the rest of the report is substantially different from what's been declassified seems a bit farfetched.

Jon

the idea that the rest of the report is substantially different from what's been declassified seems a bit farfetched

Actually, almost all of the government reports I've read have had some substantial differences from the key findings in the body. For instance, there's nothing in the key findings of the Duelfer report saying that Saddam had repeatedly told underlings Iraq had given up any WMD ambitions if the UN kept its side of the bargain. Nor is there any mention of the repeated attempts by the regime during the nineties to make itself America's "best friend bar none." And a lot more. Just releasing the key findings would have been seriously misleading.

From what I've been told about the process, it seems clear that the analysts often do a fairly good, honest job, while the political hacks take care of the key findings/executive summary/what have you. They know that's the only part most people will ever read.

Jim in Chicago

"repeated attempts by the regime during the nineties to make itself America's "best friend bar none.""

Was that before or after Iraq tried to assassinate GHWB?

Before or after their persistent efforts to shoot down US planes enforcing the no-fly zones?

Oh right, Iraq under Saddam was a kite-flying paradise.

Hacks indeed.

MayBee

Why would we want to be Saddam's friend? Thank goodness Bill Clinton had the brains to not want him as a BBF. History had already shown having him as an uncomfortable ally was mistake enough.

Cecil Turner

For instance, there's nothing in the key findings of the Duelfer report saying that Saddam had repeatedly told underlings Iraq had given up any WMD ambitions if the UN kept its side of the bargain.

Heh. That's way funny. I suppose he had an explanation for the obfuscation efforts that continued up to the invasion as well, eh? And I hope you're not referring to speeches like this one:

Saddam said major speeches he drafted and gave, such as the June 2000 speech, on why Iraq could not give up its strategic weapons capability if its neighbors did not, were intended to shape internal and external conditions, in this case the positions of both Iran and the UN.
Nor is there any mention of the repeated attempts by the regime during the nineties to make itself America's "best friend bar none."

Isn't that sweet? And we meanies passed the ILA in '98, so I guess we just weren't listening, eh? Personally, I'm surprised you'd focus on this sort of thing as opposed to more interesting stuff like:

  • Under the aegis of the intelligence service, a secretive team developed assassination instruments using poisons or toxins for the Iraqi state. A small group of scientists, doctors and technicians conducted secret experiments on human beings, resulting in their deaths.
But I'm also more than a bit miffed that I fell for your silly little game (and blatant misdirection here). I find that I don't really care what you think any longer, so . . . Toodles, chum.

kim

He seems upset that we didn't befriend him. Someone missed a bet. There's way better ways to get your needs addressed than invoking troopers or SS agents. Think what he could have learned from Saddam and Sons.
==================================================

Rick Ballard

Cecil,

Thank you for your patience in rebuttal. I am left wondering how many propagandists make up the Waas Weasel Corps? Only these two or are they just one cell? Shared database or does each Weasel have to prepare his own?

Foo Bar

It becomes a lot less important after regime change.

The Cheney MTP statement I referenced was in 2002, before invasion and regime change.


We don't reveal what our uncertainties are on things we're still trying to acquire (it helps the enemy know what to hide). Obviously that doesn't apply to data already gathered (e.g., we're not going to acquire intel again on whether Atta met with the IIS in Prague--or anything else about him, for that matter--so there's nothing the enemy could do to interfere with our collection).

Are you claiming that pre-invasion,Saddam in power, IIS free to join up with Al Qaeda to do further nefarious deeds, we weren't trying to acquire further intelligence on that Atta meeting?

The WP article I linked shows that we most certainly were. Cheney had several MTP appearances were he mentioned Atta. The first mentioned in the article was Dec 9, 2001. Later, the article says

Meanwhile, CIA and FBI officials were running down thousands of leads on Atta

and it's not until May '02 that they conclude there's no evidence he left the U.S. at the time the Prague meeting supposedly took place. The point being, our intelligence agencies were hard at work trying to acquire intelligence on this question while Cheney was making repeated MTP appearances, mentioning the Prague meeting despite its "unconfirmed" status.

IIS (as well as perhaps some Al Qaeda operatives involved in setting up the meeting) is still in operation, free to go about covering their tracks, erasing traces of the meeting, and changing their methods for communicating with each other (instead of using the channels used to set up the Prague meeting), all because they know from watching MTP that we're taking a close look at that meeting.

You don't think that as of '02 acquiring further intelligence establishing that meeting had national security value going forward from that point? Couldn't nailing down the details demonstrating it took place have generated leads helping us capture other, still-at-large enemies involved in setting it up? At the very least, establishing that it took place might have gotten us more international support for invasion, right?


Cecil Turner

The Cheney MTP statement I referenced was in 2002, before invasion and regime change.

We're talking past each other on that one. I was referring to declassifying the NIE [or parts thereof] after the invasion.

. . . we weren't trying to acquire further intelligence on that Atta meeting?

Atta was dead, the meeting a year in the past. No, there wasn't an ongoing collection effort. (Though we were undoubtedly still comparing notes with other agencies and allies on previously collected data.)

The WP article I linked shows that we most certainly were.

They were sifting through reports. If you can come up with a credible means whereby Al Qaeda operatives could intercept our officers between their desks and the filing cabinets, I'd allow as you had a point.

You don't think that as of '02 acquiring further intelligence establishing that meeting had national security value going forward from that point?

I'm not sure what you're talking about, and suspect you aren't either. Telling the Iraqis that we're unsure of the status of their bio program, for example, tells them:

  1. What we're looking for (and thus what to hide); and
  2. their masking efforts on that program are at least somewhat effective (and thus to continue, and perhaps expand them).
It ought to be obvious that there was no surveillance on Atta after his death; and in the event the ongoing analysis foundered for lack of data, and there was no practical method of obtaining more. Not sure what Al Qaeda or the IIS could have done to interfere (UBL: "tell Atta to lay low for a while"; Zawahiri: "Er, he's dead, sir").

Foo Bar

and in the event the ongoing analysis foundered for lack of data, and there was no practical method of obtaining more

Your argument is based on the claim that every last bit of relevant raw data had been collected by 12/9/01, Cheney's first MTP appearance. Seems very doubtful to me.

For instance, there was confusion over whether the Atta in Prague was the 9/11 Atta, another, Pakistani Atta by the same name, or even some other dude named Saleh who looked just like Atta. Same deal with the Iraqi he supposedly met, al-Ani- 2 Iraqis by that name, one minor diplomat, one important spy, confusion over which one it was.

Arabs in Prague who knew or claimed to have known Atta and/or al-Ani were being interviewed in Dec '01, e.g. here">http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2001/12/18/wirq18.xml">here (end of article).

IIS and/or Al Qaeda could have bribed or otherwise influenced the people being interviewed in order to throw us off the trail.

Are you so sure we knew we wouldn't need to do any more interviews after 12/9/01?

Another example: Mueller is quoted in that WP piece as saying that

"We ran down literally hundreds of thousands of leads and checked every record we could get our hands on, from flight reservations to car rentals to bank accounts"

Records could have been deleted or altered by IIS or Al Qaeda spies in our midst. Should it be obvious to me that the raw data from every single one of those hundreds of thousands of leads were already in our possession as of 12/9/01, and from that point on our analysts were holed up in their offices simply sifting through reports? Doesn't any decent investigation weave back and forth between analysis and data collection- wouldn't you think an initial period of analysis might have generated a decision later on to go out and collect more raw data to follow up in certain places?

In fact, 12/9 is really too generous to you. Given that the Prague story in its ambiguous, unconfirmed form broke publicly in October '01 and that there was no domestic-wiretapping-style outrage on the part of the administration complaining that the media was screwing up its investigation, your theory implies that by October '01, we had definitely already talked to anyone we might want to talk to and collected every last record we might want to collect. Sorry, I don't buy it.


Cecil Turner

IIS and/or Al Qaeda could have bribed or otherwise influenced the people being interviewed in order to throw us off the trail.

If you're serious about this, you're unserious.

In fact, 12/9 is really too generous to you.

Keep moving it back in time, and sooner or later it'll make some sense ('round about April). Dude, I'm not sure why you're fixated on this obviously inapt example, but you've exceeded my interest. You win. Cheers.

kim

The speculation is fixation over offal beyond all recognition. Roll in it or piss on it, but let's go.
==========================================

Foo Bar

Dude, I'm not sure why you're fixated on this obviously inapt example

To explain that, let's return to an earlier example. I believe Cecil has probably left the room for good, but let the record show (if by chance someone is still reading) that I did earlier elicit (in contrast to Cecil's "You win") a seemingly ">http://justoneminute.typepad.com/main/2006/03/its_not_a_secre.html#comment-14646710"> sincere concession: the existence of that little DOD group, set up to look over the CIA's data a second time and make sure the CIA didn't miss any evidence of Iraq-Al Qaeda links, should not have been publicized. And what was the message conveyed by the media stories in fall '02 about that DOD group? Something like this: Sure, the CIA doesn't think there's a whole lot of evidence of significant Iraq-Al Qaeda cooperation, but you know, can we really trust the CIA to analyze their own data properly? Maybe they need a little help. In other words, the publicizing of that DOD group (an error, according to Cecil) helped make the case for war by pushing the plausibility of Iraq-Al Qaeda cooperation. True, the story broke after the AUMF vote, but the administration still had strong motivations (reelection, enlistment of help from other countries) for pounding home the idea of a significant Iraq-Al Qaeda connection. Was the publicizing of the group an innocent mistake? I leave it to the (nonexistent?) reader to ponder.

That the DOD made a mistake there was deduced as following from the Cecil's principle that you can't say "maybe" when it comes to intelligence about an existing enemy, cuz that tells them what to hide and/or that their concealment techniques are working. My point about the publicizing of the DOD group is that this "can't say maybe" rule seems to have been applied inconsistently, in a way that helped sell the war, i.e., "can't say maybe" was adhered to when saying the aluminum tubes are definitely for nukes, but not was adhered to when saying "hmm.. maybe the CIA has overlooked Iraq-Al Qaeda ties".

My fixation with Cheney saying "maybe Atta and an Iraqi met in Prague" was an attempt to illustrate a second example in which "can't say maybe" was not applied when it would have hindered the case for war, but it seems my interlocutor found this second example less persuasive than the first. So be it.

This is all not to say that I completely buy this "can't say maybe" business; I remain skeptical in light of the fact that the declassified NIE

allowed that "some" experts might disagree

... about the purpose of the tubes. But "can't say maybe" was the only real defense I'd heard of the earlier unequivocal public statements about the tubes, so I figured I'd see what else that implied (i.e., the DOD screwing up by publicizing their double-checking of the CIA).

If you're serious about this, you're unserious.

OK. Thanks for engaging my arguments as much as you did. Sorry if you feel like I was wasting your time by making up stupid arguments; that was honestly not intentional on my part.

Cecil Turner

Sorry if you feel like I was wasting your time by making up stupid arguments;

Actually, I thought you were making an unnecessarily tortuous argument . . . and I'd submit you were. However, it's nice to see there was a point to all that. Might suggest getting to it a bit more directly next time. I suspect there are better examples than the one you chose, which would prove either:

  1. a mistake by an administration official;
  2. a faulty declassification process; or,
  3. the error of the underlying principle.
There are several historical examples of the first two, and I'd further suggest worrying that particular data point to death wasn't really necessary.

This is all not to say that I completely buy this "can't say maybe" business; I remain skeptical in light of the fact that the declassified NIE . . .

Again, not a very good example. By the time the NIE was declassified, Iraqi weapons programs were predominantly a military issue, and the IIS's ability to conduct deception efforts was severely limited. Besides, if your claim is that we often do that sort of thing (and trade off compromising intelligence for desired public effect), I'll readily concede the point. It's interesting, for example, to note the complaints among intelligence professionals that Sec Powell's UN presentation gave away too much. Adlai Stevenson's presentation of Cuban missile photos is an even better case in point.

But "can't say maybe" was the only real defense I'd heard of the earlier unequivocal public statements . . .

Personally, I think "fairly captured the intelligence consensus as it was then reported" is a better defense . . . the desire to avoid characterizing intelligence is perhaps just a new consideraton for you. Speaking of new, I stumbled across this contemporary article which made the intelligence fusion point very well:

These are prosecutor's briefs, based on a mix of facts, circumstance, and theory. Dissenting views are common.
For a real laugh, check out that "dissenting views" link, which makes your point, and TM's, eloquently. It's also a pretty good indicator of bureaucratic inertia, since Kaplan is correct that the initial CIA position had been fairly thoroughly discredited by then . . . and yet it was still the official CIA position.

Foo Bar

Personally, I think "fairly captured the intelligence consensus as it was then reported" is a better defense

I don't agree (although I do agree that was Rice's rationale, since that's the argument she made at her confirmation hearings), as I tried to explain">http://justoneminute.typepad.com/main/2006/03/its_not_a_secre.html#comments">explain earlier with my abstract, propositions A and B discussion. Let me try one more time: to take that logic to an extreme just to make the point clear, the implication is that if all of the agencies thought Saddam had a nukes program, but based that belief on evidence other than the tubes, and none of the agencies thought the tubes were for nuke development, then it still would have been OK for Rice to say that all of the agencies thought the tubes were for nukes. If somebody objects when the truth about the tubes assessments comes out later, she shrugs and says "What's the big deal? All the agencies thought Saddam had a nukes program." That's the logic, in less extreme form, behind justifying not mentioning State and DOE dissent by pointing out most agencies thought he had nukes.

Again, not a very good example. By the time the NIE was declassified, Iraqi weapons programs were predominantly a military issue, and the IIS's ability to conduct deception efforts was severely limited

Great! The NIE declassification was before Bush's October 7 Cincinnati speech where the tubes were cited unequivocally, so he was free to mention the State and DOE dissent in his speech if he'd wanted to. And the Waas article that you dismissed in disgust shows Bush personally had already been specifically informed (in concise, one-page format) at that point in time of those dissents. Also, the Rice CNN statements you were defending (in part) on "can't say maybe" grounds occurred less than a month before the NIE declassification, so I guess the deterioration in Iraq's deception capabilities happened rather quickly.


It's also a pretty good indicator of bureaucratic inertia, since Kaplan is correct that the initial CIA position had been fairly thoroughly discredited by then . . . and yet it was still the official CIA position.

!!! Alas, if only Powell had had access to good information (like, say, Slate magazine) about the true beliefs of the CIA at the time. Damn that "bureaucratic inertia". There couldn't possibly be any other explanation, since Robb-Silbermann says there was no pressure on the CIA and that's the bipartisan final word. The administration backed off and let the CIA do its job... except for when the CIA didn't think there was a lot of Iraq-Al Qaeda cooperation and DOD decided to give them a helping hand. So helpful, that DOD. Hey, maybe there needs to be an investigation of whether CIA analysts were pressured during the Robb-Silbermann investigation into saying that that there was no White House pressure in the leadup to the war! Kidding, kidding.


However, it's nice to see there was a point to all that. Might suggest getting to it a bit more directly next time.

Thought I'd already had here">http://justoneminute.typepad.com/main/2006/03/its_not_a_secre.html#comment-14633136">here (see "Seems to me like the rule ..." sentence), but I realize it's hard to keep track of everything when the posts are flying back and forth like this.

Foo Bar

The "explain earlier" link is no good in the above post; here it is.

Cecil Turner

I don't agree (although I do agree that was Rice's rationale . . .

And I think we'll have to agree to disagree on this one. (And I got your arguments, just didn't buy 'em.) It happens.

Great! The NIE declassification was before Bush's October 7 Cincinnati speech . . .

If you're talking about this Cincinnati speech in Oct, 2002, it obviously pre-dated the July 18, 2003 NIE declassification. Not so great, I think.

. . . about the true beliefs of the CIA at the time . . .

I think you're missing the big picture, here. The CIA beliefs were the problem, not the answer.

Thought I'd already had . . .

The problem with beating an ancillary point to death is that it focuses the discussion on that point. And while Atta doesn't really make the case, IMHO, I was quite willing to concede the point that others existed that did.

Foo Bar

If you're talking about this Cincinnati speech in Oct, 2002, it obviously pre-dated the July 18, 2003 NIE declassification. Not so great, I think.

I am indeed referring to that October 7, 2002 Cincinnati speech, which somewhat less obviously pre-dated the October 1, 2002 NIE declassification to which I was referring. From that link:

On October 1, 2002, Tenet produced a declassified NIE

... and then you might give up on that paragraph since it starts talking about how Graham and Durbing were so mad that it omitted qualifications, but if you read a few sentences further down it says

Subsequently, the NIE allowed that "some" experts might disagree

which is the same quote I was referencing a few posts earlier (the one where I said I remain skeptical about "can't say maybe" and I explained the fixation on the Atta argument).

Still not so great?

Foo Bar

I think you're missing the big picture, here. The CIA beliefs were the problem, not the answer.

Well, the fact that the initial CIA position had been thoroughly discredited by the time of that Kaplan article yet remained the official position was the problem. I thought you meant it had been discredited within the bowels of the CIA's own analyst community but that change of opinion hadn't yet bubbled up (or, just maybe, was ignored/suppressed by higher-ups). So it depends on what you mean by the "CIA's beliefs". Or were you saying it had been discredited entirely outside the CIA and the CIA at all levels was being stubbornly pigheaded?

Cecil Turner

Still not so great?

Still not so great, but at least it makes a little sense. As it leaves out the specific disagreements and glosses over the rest--admitting only what was being publicly discussed as a result of the UN dispute--I think it rather bolsters my point, but obviously you don't. If they'd provided the rest (the version declassified in July '03), it'd have made your point perfectly. (Speaking of which, assuming you're not trying for "gotcha's," it'd be helpful if you note when you're referring to a different document with a similar descriptor.)

I thought you meant it had been discredited within the bowels of the CIA's own analyst community but that change of opinion hadn't yet bubbled up . . .

Actually, I believe most of the discrediting on this one came from outside the agency, just like the Niger documents. I think there was also a "bubbling up" issue, but the official opinion of the agency is in their reports, and those of the CIA were very slow to change.

Foo Bar

I think it rather bolsters my point

Well, I don't see how it bolsters your disagreement with my original thesis, which was not that Bush or Rice needed to describe every nitty -gritty detail of the tubes dissension, but that they should have publicly acknowledged the dissension in some form, as the October 1 declassified NIE did:

Most intelligence specialists assess this to be the intended use, but some believe that these tubes are probably intended for conventional weapons programs

Note that it also acknowledged there was not even unanimity on reconstitution (e.g. "Most") here:

most analysts assess Iraq is reconstituting its nuclear program

This dispenses with the idea that publicly qualifying our intelligence at this high level of detail gives aid to the enemy, and we know Bush and Rice were informed of the dissents, so what are we left with as objections to what I was claiming?

1) Most agencies thought there was a nukes program, so that justifies absolutist statements about the tubes (how a "most"-style consensus on the general issue doesn't
require at least "most"-style qualifying language on the tubes, when there was even more dissent there, remains beyond me).

2) If you preserve every CYA qualification, then you end up saying nothing (I guess the classified reports themselves said nothing to the White House, then? Or is it just the public, the commoners, that can't handle/don't deserve nuance?)

3) Big deal, quit nickpicking.

I suppose someone might point out that the declassified NIE acknowledged dissent, so that info was publicly available before the AUMF vote, so what's my problem? Yes, the White House, after touting the tubes unequivocally for a month or more, and while Bush continued to tout them unequivocally on Oct. 7, gave Graham et.al. a whole week to try to draw attention to the dissent. Very sporting of the White House, very sporting indeed.

OK, I'm done.


Cecil Turner

This dispenses with the idea that publicly qualifying our intelligence at this high level of detail gives aid to the enemy . . .

It does? No other possibilities? BTW, here's a classification guide that hits the subject somewhat:

Classified information on intelligence methods might be disclosed indirectly by intelligence reports, because their content may give clues as to the identity of methods (or agents) used to gather the information. Consequently, the products of intelligence are frequently classified . . .
and, snipped for brevity:
An intelligence estimate is normally classified, because it contains sensitive sources, methods, or raw or evaluated intelligence. [. . . ] An intelligence requirement is classified when it reveals what is not known, what is necessary to know, and why.
Moreover, it appears you're trying to disprove, through sophistry, what I know to be true from experience. Feel free to continue, but you're unlikely to convince.

Most agencies thought there was a nukes program . . .

Most? Even the INR's disclaimer said "Baghdad is pursuing at least a limited effort to maintain and acquire nuclear weapons-related capabilities." Seems to me that'd be "all agencies . . ." (and that you're doing what you claim the White House did, in reverse).

If you preserve every CYA qualification, then you end up saying nothing . . .

You certainly aren't going to fit them all into a coherent statement suitable for a media soundbite.

Very sporting of the White House, very sporting indeed.

The complaint appears to be that Administration spokespersons over-hyped the threat. I'd suggest that the Iraq NIE was impossible to over-hype, as it was already well into "alarmist." Nitpicking at details does not change the fact that the intelligence, taken as a whole, was unequivocal. And the "lied us into war" meme founders on those shoals.

OK, I'm done.

Me too. Cheers.

Foo Bar

OK, I guess I'm not quite done.

This dispenses..
It does?

OK, that was not well-worded on my part. I'm not claiming that, in general, revealing intelligence uncertainties to the enemy isn't sometimes a concern. I'm claiming that in the specific case of the tubes, this concern did not preclude the mentioning of dissent in a high-level overview kind of way, e.g., "some believe that these tubes are probably intended for conventional weapons programs". Why do I claim this? Because that is exactly what the October 1 declassified NIE said.


Seems to me that'd be "all agencies . . ." (and that you're doing what you claim the White House did, in reverse).

I'll allow that INR's dissent seems to have been a little mealy-mouthed, but again, at her
confirmation hearing Secretary Rice said

there was one agency that disagreed that he was reconstituting his nuclear program and that was the State Department, the INR.

My apologies for basing "most agencies" on a quote from Rice. I'll make sure not to trust what she says in the future.

You certainly aren't going to fit them all into a coherent statement suitable for a media soundbite.

Wasn't saying you had to mention them all. E.g., "some specialists think they're probably for conventional rockets rather than a nuclear program, though" takes an extra 5 seconds, max. And I don't think anybody was going to shut off Bush's mike at his Cincinnati speech if he ran a minute or 2 long.

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