New Leak Smells of Neo-con Desperation
by Jim Lobe
week's blockbuster leak of a secret memorandum from a senior Pentagon
official to the Senate Intelligence Committee has spurred speculation
that neo-conservative hawks in the Bush administration are on the
defensive and growing more desperate.
the committee and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) have asked
the Justice Department to launch an investigation of the leak, which
took the form of an article published Monday by the influential
neo-conservative journal, The Weekly Standard.
Chairman Pat Roberts characterized the leak as "egregious,"
noting that it might have compromised "highly classified information"
on intelligence sources and methods of collecting information, as
well as ongoing investigations. He also said he did not believe
the leak came from his committee or its staff.
Pentagon issued an unusual press statement declaring that the leak
was "deplorable and may be illegal."
Closed," is a summary of a lengthy memo sent to the committee
Oct. 27 by Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith.
had been asked by the senators to provide support for his assertion
in a closed hearing last July that US intelligence agencies had
established a long-standing operational link between the al-Qaeda
terrorist group and Baghdad.
and similar assertions by senior Bush officials before the war,
have long been considered questionable, more so after the war when
the administration as with its prewar contentions about Iraq's
weapons of mass destruction (WMD) failed to come up with
evidence to back its case.
reporters and Iraq war critics have accused Feith's office of having
manipulated or "cherry-picked" the intelligence on Iraq's
purported ties to al-Qaeda and WMD programs before the war to persuade
Bush and the public that Saddam posed a serious threat to the United
leaked memo consists mainly of 50 excerpts culled from raw intelligence
reports by four US intelligence agencies about alleged al-Qaeda-Iraqi
contacts from 1990 to 2003.
of the reports include brief analysis, but most cite accounts by
unnamed sources, such as "a contact with good access," "a well
placed source," "a former senior Iraqi intelligence officer,"
a "regular and reliable source," "sensitive CIA reporting,"
and "a foreign government service."
the article's author, Weekly Standard correspondent Stephen
Hayes, concludes that much of the evidence is "detailed, conclusive,
and corroborated by multiple sources," the only example of
real corroboration is with respect to several reports regarding
contacts between al-Qaeda and Iraqi agents in Afghanistan in 1999.
of the excerpts deal instead with alleged meetings or less direct
contacts in which sources claim that al-Qaeda agents are requesting
certain kinds of assistance, such as a safe haven, training or,
in one case, WMD.
supporters of the war in Iraq, such as the New York Times'
William Safire, have jumped on the Hayes' article as proof of what
the administration had alleged, retired intelligence officers have
criticized it, both because of the security breach of the leak itself
and because its contents are anything but "conclusive"
of an operational relationship.
Patrick Lang, former head of the Middle East section of the Defense
Intelligence Agency, told
the Washington Post the article amounted to a "listing
of a mass of unconfirmed reports, many of which themselves indicate
that the two groups continued to try to establish some sort of relationship."
the same time, he added, it raises the question: "If they had such
a productive relationship, why did they have to keep trying?"
retired officers stressed that, to the extent that virtually all
of the excerpts consist of raw intelligence unvetted by professional
analysts, the article appeared to prove precisely what critics had
been saying: Feith's office simply picked those items in raw intelligence
that tended to confirm their preexisting views that a relationship
must have existed, without subjecting the evidence to the kind of
rigorous analysis that intelligence agencies would apply.
is made to dazzle the eyes of the not terribly educated," Greg
Thielmann, a veteran of the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence
and Research (INR) who retired in 2002, told IPS.
begs the question, 'Is this the best they can do'? If you're going
to expose this stuff, you'd better have something more than this,"
he said, adding, "My inclination is to interpret this as probably
a very good example of cherry-picking and the selective use of intelligence
that was so obvious in the lead-up to the war."
Goodman, a former top CIA analyst, said the leak is a sign of desperation.
"To me, they had to leak something like this, because the neo-conservatives
(in the administration) have nothing to stand on."
trying to get the idea out there that, 'Hey, there was a case for
war', and they have 'useful idiots' like Safire who say they're
notion that the leak was "friendly" or "authorized"
by hawks in the Pentagon or their allies in Vice President Dick
Cheney's office as opposed to an unauthorized leak designed
to embarrass the author is widely accepted here.
Standard, particularly Hayes and executive editor William Kristol,
have acted as a mouthpiece for administration hawks like Feith,
his immediate boss, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, and
their friends in Cheney's office, particularly his powerful chief
of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, since even before
the administration's "war on terror," declared after the
attacks on New York and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.
at the same time it raises serious questions about the judgment
of those responsible for the leak. Not only does the intelligence
contained in the article fall embarrassingly short of "closing
the case" on Iraq-al-Qaeda links, the leak itself of such highly
classified material might fuel the impression that the neo-conservatives,
if they were indeed the source, are willing to sacrifice the country's
secrets to retain power.
shows a cavalier and almost contemptuous regard for the national
security rationale for keeping information classified," according
to Thielmann. "The objective of silencing the critics is so overwhelming
that you have to throw national security secrets to the wind."
he and Goodman noted striking similarities between this latest case
and the leak last July of the identity of retired Ambassador Joseph
Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, a covert CIA officer.
had just embarrassed the administration by disclosing his trip on
behalf of the CIA to Niger to check out a report that Iraq had bought
uranium "yellowcake." He charged that Bush's assertion about the
yellowcake in his 2003 State of the Union address was false and
that the White House knew it or should have known it at the time.
evident purpose of the leak to columnist Robert Novak was to discredit
Wilson by suggesting that his mission to Niger was suggested by
fact, the leak provoked enormous anger in the intelligence community
as a major security breach that effectively ended Plame's career
as a covert officer, and potentially endangered her life and those
of people who had worked with her abroad.
FBI is currently running a criminal investigation on the matter.
obvious that if you cared about the real national security interests
of this country, you wouldn't reveal an asset," said Goodman. "That
shows this is a venal and desperate group who are not considering
the real national-security interests of this country."
Lobe is Inter Press Service's correspondent in Washington, DC.
© 2003 Inter Press Service