Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Bush Intelligence and Policy Strategy: Close Your Eyes and Plug Your Nose

I just finished reading Ron Suskind's book, The Price of Loyalty, and I found it to be a very worthwhile read (and Dave clued me in that today, Terry Gross interviewed Suskind and O'Neill on Fresh Air--the show is available online). Unfortunately, I think the media has seized on a few glib comments that O'Neill made (and regrets ever uttering) and all but ignores what I find the most disturbing yet unsurprising charge--the theme throughout the Bush administration that policy controls politics, not the other way around. O'Neill states that he had grown accustomed to a deliberative process in the other presidential administrations in which he served, and was shocked and dismayed to learn that the current White House took an entirely different tack. O'Neill claims that he, along with Colin Powell and Christie Todd Whitman, were stranded among a group of partisans who had no interest in advancing debate but rather sought only to advance political objectives. This modus operandi was applied in all areas of "policymaking," but the areas on which O'Neill provided the greatest detail are Iraq and Bush's monolithic budget strategy--cutting taxes.

An October 2003 New Yorker article that I stumbled across supports O'Neill's observations, at least with regard to Iraq. It describes a process known in the intelligence world as "stovepiping"--passing along sensitive intelligence or requests for action up the chain of command without first subjecting the information to rigorous scrutiny. The whole point of the intelligence structure was "to prevent raw intelligence from getting to people who would be misled," according to Greg Thielmann, formerly an expert with the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research. Yet the current administration entirely abandoned the process, according to Thielmann and confirmed by one of his colleagues, John Bolton, currently the Under-Secretary of State for Arms Control. The article quotes Bolton as stating, "I found that there was lots of stuff that I wasn't getting and that the INR analysts weren't including .... I didn't want it filtered. I wanted to see everything--to be fully informed. If that puts someone's nose out of joint, sorry about that." The article continues with a great exposition regarding Iraq's purported attempts to purchase of Nigerian uranium, and other intelligence failures. It also reminds readers of a few sobering quotes from Vice President Cheney that are a far cry from the message they are currently selling. For instance:

August 7, 2002--What we know now from various sources is that he has continued to improve, if you can put it in those terms, the capabilities of his chemical and biological agents, and he continues to pursue a nuclear weapon. He sits on top of 10 percent of the world's oil reserves. He has enormous wealth being generated by that. And left to his own devices, it's the judgment of many of us that in the not to distant future he will acquire nuclear weapons. And a nuclear armed Saddam Hussein is not a pleasant prospect, I don't think, for anyone in the region or anyone in the world, for that matter. (Online NewsHour has a transcript and video at this link.)

September 14, 2002--We do know with absolute certainty that he is using his procurement system to acquire the equipment he needs in order to enrich uranium to build a nuclear weapons.... (The Department of State provides this press release.)

I highly recommend you all take the time to read this article. (Bill Moyers interviewed Thielmann on NOW with Bill Moyers back in June 2003 on the same topic, and the transcript also makes for interesting reading.)

MSNBC/Newsweek provides some additional ammo on the "stovepiping" of information, in this article from December 15, 2003, discussing a memo sent by a member of the Iraqi National Congress to a Congressional Committee. The memo apparently confirms that raw data was sent from the INC directly to Cheney's staff--without any opportunity for the intelligence community to review and analyze the data for its veracity. As the Newsweek article observes (and the New Yorker article concurs), much of the information provided by the INC was highly unreliable and has since been proven false.

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