A key part of any intelligence job is sifting through the data to figure out what the real picture looks like. Many critics have accused the administration of latching on to any intell that supported their worldview and ignoring dissent.
Nonetheless, the comedian who follows Jon Stewart stared into the camera on Monday night and declared that war opponents were obviously wrong and should apologize for saying there was no justification for war in Iraq. Fox News apparently ran with the story all weekend and at least one right-tilting major blog declared "case closed." Actually, that was also the name of the Weekly Standard's article.
What people may have missed was the very important same-day denunciation of the reports from the Department of Defense.
I'm going to reprint the entire press release (since it's a government document, that's perfectly legal!). You can find it at DoD News: DoD Statement on News Reports of Al Qaeda and Iraq Connections; DefenseLINK Template.
News reports that the Defense Department recently confirmed new information with respect to contacts between al Qaeda and Iraq in a letter to the Senate Intelligence Committee are inaccurate.As anyone can see from this last paragraph, the DoD probably isn't happy with Doug Feith (or whoever leaked his memo).
A letter was sent to the Senate Intelligence Committee on Oct. 27, 2003, from Douglas J. Feith, under secretary of defense for policy, in response to follow-up questions from his July 10 testimony. One of the questions posed by the committee asked the department to provide the reports from the intelligence community to which he referred in his testimony before the committee. These reports dealt with the relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda.
The letter to the committee included a classified annex containing a list and description of the requested reports, so that the committee could obtain the reports from the relevant members of the intelligence community.
The items listed in the classified annex were either raw reports or products of the CIA, the National Security Agency or, in one case, the Defense Intelligence Agency. The provision of the classified annex to the Intelligence Committee was cleared by other agencies and done with the permission of the intelligence community. The selection of the documents was made by DoD to respond to the committee’s question. The classified annex was not an analysis of the substantive issue of the relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda, and it drew no conclusions.
Individuals who leak or purport to leak classified information are doing serious harm to national security; such activity is deplorable and may be illegal.
And while Stephen Hayes, the author of the Weekly Standard piece, isn't really backing down much in light of the new memo, he does say that his story "never claimed knowledge of the authenticity of all 50 enumerated intelligence data points." Typically, Hayes attributes the wilder claims to Feith.
Should we have faith in Feith? I remain skeptical. There are some really strong claims coming from intelligence people coming to light saying there was no substantial link between Iraq and al Qaeda.