Cooked Intelligence: Bush's Intel-gate?

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by Jim Grichar (aka Exx-Gman)

What did he know and when did he know it? Those words were used during the Watergate hearings to simplify the issues regarding Richard Nixon's conduct in office before, during, and after the Watergate break-in. Answers to those two questions led Nixon to resign rather than face conviction on impeachment charges of obstructing justice.

In a short article last week, I claimed that Bush and his neocon Axis of Deceit were starting to sweat because the public has become aware that one of the Administration's main reasons for attacking Iraq – that it had and would use a large stock of chemical, biological, and possibly nuclear weapons – weapons of mass destruction (WMD) – was based on faulty, most likely deliberately falsified – intelligence reports and/or analyses. Deliberately falsifying intelligence analyses and estimates are informally known as "cooking the estimates."

Well, the folks at the Washington Post managed to dig a little deeper into the matter and were able to cite findings from an Oct. 1, 2002 CIA white paper, based upon the highly classified government-wide National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq finished just before that time. As is usual for such reports and white papers, an executive summary – known as the "Key Judgments" section – is presented up front to save busy political appointees from having to read the whole report.

What the Post authors found out was that the Key Judgments included such items as "Baghdad has chemical and biological weapons" and "Baghdad has begun renewed production of chemical warfare agents, probably including mustard, sarin, cyclosarin and VX."

However, none of these so-called findings were backed up by detail in the main body of the report. According to the Post reporters, what was said in the main body of the report was more qualified and included statements such as: "… gaps in Iraqi accounting and current production capabilities strongly suggest Iraq has the ability to produce chemical warfare agents within its chemical industry" and that Iraq "… has the ability to produce chemical warfare agents."

As Bush cited the stronger findings in the Key Judgments section, one wonders how these findings got so twisted as to grossly mis-characterize the results of the more detailed assessment. And even more important is what price will "Dubya" pay for these "cooked estimates."

Cooking the Results

In the time honored tradition of Washington politicians, if the results of intelligence assessments do not show what you want, then apply lots of political pressure to change the results, that is, cook the results!! This has taken place for many years and has likely included such topics as the CIA's "Team B" assessment of the Soviet Union's strategic capabilities that was done during George H.W. Bush's tenure as CIA Director. In this assessment, somehow the CIA and the Pentagon's various intelligence components were underestimating the numbers of Soviet strategic weapons that were actually deployed and the former USSR's ability to ramp up production of those weapons and thus threaten the U.S. with an overwhelming nuclear attack. To come up with an unbiased estimate, Bush brought in an outside set of experts to review the data collected. The B team did come up with a more frightening spin on the data but essentially did not say that the data was wrong. Of course, this latter finding got lost in the shuffle and the results were used to forestall any nuclear arms reduction treaties being contemplated by Gerald Ford and later Jimmy Carter.

Jimmy Carter got his chance to twist an intelligence assessment to his own political ends. In mid-1976, some of the CIA's economists produced an analysis of the Soviet Union's oil production and concluded that the Russkies would likely experience a major decline in oil production in the late 1970’s – 1980’s and beyond. Pooh-poohed by the CIA's Russian economic experts, nonetheless the oil forecast had enough credible data and analysis behind it to gain attention.

Wearing his trademark blue sweater in a "fireside" address to the nation in early February 1977, Jimmy declared a moral equivalent of war on energy and used this forecast to frighten Americans and the unwitting Congress into establishing a Department of Energy, which continues to this day to waste billions of dollars annually on a plethora of programs including an emergency oil stockpile, alternate energy projects, goofy conservation programs, and, of course, a continuation of Nixon-imposed price controls. After Carter's infamous address – he had not told the CIA he was going to go public with the conclusions of the report, the oil economists at CIA had to scramble to put together a "sanitized," that is, unclassified, version of the report for the public. (Note: eventually Soviet oil output did decline sharply and for the reasons cited in the original CIA report).

There are other numerous instances of intelligence being twisted, cooked up or used for purposes that had little to do with it, but the recent one over the Iraqi WMD and the attempt to claim that Saddam Hussein was backing al Qaeda is the most egregious. According to a variety of published reports, Vice President Cheney visited the folks at CIA on a number of occasions, reportedly putting pressure on the Langley crew to change their findings, particularly on Iraqi WMD, namely stating that Iraq had them, could produce more, and would likely use them.

Cheney might have been taking his cue from a special intelligence unit that was set up within the Pentagon by his buddies Don Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz. This outfit reportedly did all its own analyses – outside of CIA, DIA and intelligence community channels and thus not subject to what is called "coordination," that is, the review and commenting by other intelligence community experts prior to publication or dissemination to senior government officials. In fact, formal coordination allows for dissenting analysts, in some extreme cases, to stop publication.

In any event, the fact that the Key Judgments cited above were significantly stronger than the actual facts and analyses presented in the report indicates that the CIA higher-ups – this could not have been done without CIA Director George Tenet's approval – cooked the results to satisfy Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and others criticizing their findings.

Intel-gate?

Past misuses of intelligence or the cooking of intelligence estimates have never gotten anyone into serious trouble, let alone impeached.

However, this time may be different. In Britain, Prime Minister Tony Blair is facing a hail of criticism for having cooked his version of intelligence estimates on Iraqi WMD. According to a report in the Daily Telegraph of London, British "Intelligence chiefs were asked to rewrite the controversial dossier on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction at least six times, it was claimed yesterday. A source told the BBC (author's note – the British government-owned British Broadcasting Company) that at one point the Prime Minister was personally involved in the decision to get the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) to redraft the document. One Labour Party member of the British House of Lords, Lord Healey, called for Tony Blair to resign if weapons of mass destruction were not found in Iraq and that Blair could be forced out if it is found out that he lied.

If Blair is booted out over his lies on Iraqi WMD – and make no mistake, he had the same weak intelligence evidence the U.S. had on Iraq, expect "Dubya" to break into a real hard sweat. Most Americans may be too lazy or too stupid to hold Bush accountable for this lie about Iraqi WMD, but if Bush is found to have knowingly and deliberately lied – that is, ran his own Intel-gate – he could be in real political trouble. There is enough time before the 2004 election for this issue to torpedo his re-election bid.

But like a baseball manager yanking the starting pitcher for a relief pitcher, Dubya may lay the blame on some of his minions and fire them, just as he fired Paul O'Neill and Lawrence Lindsey last fall for failing him on the economy.

But which neocon is willing to fall on his sword and maintain his silence to preserve Bush's presidency? Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith? Don't count on any of these going quietly, unless Bush can somehow buy their silence.

Stay tuned for further developments as George begins to really sweat.

Jim Grichar (aka Exx-Gman) [send him mail], formerly an economist with the federal government, writes to “un-spin” the federal government’s attempt to con the public. He teaches economics part-time at a community college and provides economic consulting services to the private sector.

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