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WSJ: NIE Authors Have Partisan Histories

From the Wall Street Journal’s Opinion Journal:

‘High Confidence’ Games

The CIA’s flip-flop on Iran is hardly reassuring.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

In his press conference yesterday, President Bush went out of his way to praise the “good work” of the intelligence community, whose latest National Intelligence Estimate claims the mullahs of Iran abandoned their nuclear weapons program in 2003. “This is heartening news,” Mr. Bush said. “To me, it’s a way for us to rally our partners.”

We wish we could be as sanguine, both about the quality of U.S. intelligence and its implications for U.S. diplomacy…

Our own “confidence” is not heightened by the fact that the NIE’s main authors include three former State Department officials with previous reputations as “hyper-partisan anti-Bush officials,” according to an intelligence source. They are Tom Fingar, formerly of the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research; Vann Van Diepen, the National Intelligence Officer for WMD; and Kenneth Brill, the former U.S. Ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

For a flavor of their political outlook, former Bush Administration antiproliferation official John Bolton recalls in his recent memoir that then-Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage “described Brill’s efforts in Vienna, or lack thereof, as ‘bull–.'” Mr. Brill was “retired” from the State Department by Colin Powell before being rehired, over considerable internal and public protest, as head of the National Counter-Proliferation Center by then-National Intelligence Director John Negroponte

Mr. Bush implied yesterday that the new estimate was based on “some new information,” which remains classified. We can only hope so. But the indications that the Bush Administration was surprised by this NIE, and the way it scrambled yesterday to contain its diplomatic consequences, hardly inspire even “medium confidence” that our spooks have achieved some epic breakthrough. The truth could as easily be that the Administration in its waning days has simply lost any control of its bureaucracy–not that it ever had much…

Mr. Bush’s efforts to further sanction Iran at the U.N. were stalled even before the NIE’s release. Those efforts will now be on life support. The NIE’s judgments also complicate Treasury’s efforts to persuade foreign companies to divest from Iran. Why should they lose out on lucrative business opportunities when even U.S. intelligence absolves the Iranians of evil intent? Calls by Democrats and their media friends to negotiate with Tehran “without preconditions” will surely grow louder.

The larger worry here is how little we seem to have learned from our previous intelligence failures. Over the course of a decade, our intelligence services badly underestimated Saddam’s nuclear ambitions, then overestimated them. Now they have done a 180-degree turn on Iran, and in such a way that will contribute to a complacency that will make it easier for Iran to build a weapon. Our intelligence services are supposed to inform the policies of elected officials, but increasingly their judgments seem to be setting policy. This is dangerous.

It would be nice to hear directly from Mr. Bolton on all of this.

For lest we forget, we have this from the archives of the New York Times:

Released E-Mail Exchanges Reveal More Bolton Battles


Published: April 24, 2005

WASHINGTON, April 23 – Recently declassified e-mail messages provide new details of the bruising battle that John R. Bolton, then an under secretary of state, waged with analysts at the State Department and the Central Intelligence Agency in 2002 as he sought to deliver a speech reflecting a hard-line view of Cuba and its possible efforts to acquire biological weapons

The messages included a Sept. 25, 2002 note in which Thomas Fingar, the No. 2 official in the State Department intelligence branch, deplored what he said had been the toll inflicted on Mr. Westermann by Mr. Bolton and Mr. Fleitz.

“I am dismayed and disgusted that unwarranted personal attacks are affecting you in this way,” Mr. Fingar said in a message sent to Mr. Westermann. Two days earlier, in another message, Mr. Westermann wrote to Mr. Fingar to say that “personal attacks, harassment and impugning of my integrity” by Mr. Bolton and Mr. Fleitz were “now affecting my work, my health and dedication to public service.”

The correspondence provided to the Senate committee also includes a Feb. 12 message sent to Mr. Bolton by Mr. Fleitz, who disparages what he calls the “already cleared (wimpy) language on Cuba” that Mr. Westermann had recommended be used by Mr. Bolton in his planned speech. It made clear that Mr. Westermann had proposed language that reiterated existing, consensus assessments by American intelligence agencies, rather than the stronger assertions that Mr. Bolton had been pressing to make about possible efforts by Cuba to obtain biological weapons, which Mr. Bolton contended were borne out by some highly classified intelligence reports.

“I explained to Christian that it was a political judgment as to how to interpret this data, and the I.C. should do as we asked and sanitize my language as long as sources and methods are not compromised,” Mr. Fleitz wrote to Mr. Bolton, referring to the intelligence community. Mr. Fleitz said of Mr. Westermann, “He strongly disagrees with us.”

The e-mail messages also make clear that Mr. Westermann and others within the State Department’s bureau of intelligence and research, known as I.N.R., were not the only intelligence officials to resist Mr. Bolton’s request, and that objections also came from the National Security Agency, Defense Intelligence Agency and others.

One message sent by Mr. Westermann to Mr. Fleitz on Feb. 20, 2002, told him: “As you are probably aware, C.I.A. is not able to complete the cleared-language request on Cuba B.W. for use in Mr. Bolton’s upcoming speech. The demarche coordinator told me this evening that C.I.A., N.S.A., I.N.R, and D.I.A. had several difficulties with the proposed language and that C.I.A. is trying to craft an answer to you.”

But after the agencies sent approved language to Mr. Bolton’s office, other e-mail messages contained complaints that further changes had been made. An April 30, 2002 message sent to Mr. Fleitz from a State Department intelligence official whose name was removed complained that “it appears that in some areas some tweaking was done to the text we provided.”

“As a general principle, we’d like to have the opportunity to review such documents once they have been prepared and circulated for clearance, particularly in cases where we’ve provided input for use in the draft,” the State Department intelligence official wrote.

Does anybody see a pattern here?

This article was posted by Steve on Wednesday, December 5th, 2007. Comments are currently closed.

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