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Wednesday, January 28, 2004

David Kay Visits Congress

Today, the former head of the Iraq Survey Group, David Kay, called for an independent investigation of the the intelligence failure. He was testifying to the Senate Armed Services Committee (which has not yet posted his testimony). Wait, I found it on CNN.

The Bush White House immediately rejected that idea.

Meanwhile, the Democrats on the Committee kept accusing the White House of inflating intelligence -- even as the Republicans kept repeating that everyone thought Iraq had WMD and all the failures were by the intelligence agencies.

Kay sort of sides with the Republicans (as he did before the war), since he too blames the intell. Kay also rejects the idea that analysts were pressured:
And let me take one of the explanations most commonly given: Analysts were pressured to reach conclusions that would fit the political agenda of one or another administration. I deeply think that is a wrong explanation.

As leader of the effort of the Iraqi Survey Group, I spent most of my days not out in the field leading inspections. It's typically what you do at that level. I was trying to motivate, direct, find strategies.

In the course of doing that, I had innumerable analysts who came to me in apology that the world that we were finding was not the world that they had thought existed and that they had estimated. Reality on the ground differed in advance.

And never -- not in a single case -- was the explanation, "I was pressured to do this." The explanation was very often, "The limited data we had led one to reasonably conclude this. I now see that there's another explanation for it."

And each case was different, but the conversations were sufficiently in depth and our relationship was sufficiently frank that I'm convinced that, at least to the analysts I dealt with, I did not come across a single one that felt it had been, in the military term, "inappropriate command influence" that led them to take that position.

It was not that. It was the honest difficulty based on the intelligence that had -- the information that had been collected that led the analysts to that conclusion.
I reject Kay's latest spin.

Consider the remarks of Greg Thielmann, career foreign service officer from 1977-2002 (he retired in September) whose last post was head of the State Department's Office of Strategic Proliferation and Military Affairs. In his own words, after 7 years in intelligence and serving in his final post, Thielmann had "full access to the whole range of classified information on those subjects." CBS News, in regard to his appearance on "60 Minutes II," said (dated October 15, 2003 on the web), "He and his staff had the highest security clearances, and everything – whether it came into the CIA or the Defense Department – came through his office."

One of the things Thielmann investigated was the claim that Iraq sought uranium from Africa.
"We found that this was not a credible report. And so advised the senior leadership at the State Department.

You can't quite accurately describe this as somewhere in the bowels of the intelligence bureaucracy. I mean, this was not very many layers from the Secretary of State. And this was information that I had to assume Secretary of State brought with him to meetings with other Cabinet officials and the President.

"I find it hard to believe that no one at that level knew that there were serious questions raised about this information.
Thielmann was also unhappy with the way the administration referred to the aluminum tubes that the Bush administration claimed was necessary for centrifuges:
Well, this made me both disappointed and angry at the time when the most knowledgeable experts in the U.S. government believed that this was not the kind of aluminum that the Iraqis would have been seeking to use in centrifuges for uranium enrichment.
60 Minutes debunked this too:
Thielmann’s office was working on another explanation. It turned out the tubes' dimensions perfectly matched an Iraqi conventional rocket.

“The aluminum was exactly, I think, what the Iraqis wanted for artillery,” recalls Thielmann, who says he sent that word up to the Secretary of State months before.

Houston Wood was a consultant who worked on the Oak Ridge analysis of the tubes. He watched Powell’s speech, too.

“I guess I was angry, that’s the best way to describe my emotions. I was angry at that,” says Wood, who is among the world’s authorities on uranium enrichment by centrifuge. He found the tubes couldn’t be what the CIA thought they were. They were too heavy, three times too thick and certain to leak....

“I thought when I read that [NY Times story about the tubes] there must be some other tubes that people were talking about. I just was flabbergasted that people were still pushing that those might be centrifuges,” says Wood, who reached his conclusion back in 2001. “It didn’t make any sense to me.”

The New York Times reported that senior administration officials insisted the tubes were for an atom-bomb program.

“Science was not pushing this forward. Scientists had made their determination their evaluation and now we didn’t know what was happening,” says Wood.

In his U.N. speech, Secretary Powell acknowledged there was disagreement about the tubes, but he said most experts agreed with the nuclear theory.

“There is controversy about what these tubes are for. Most U.S. experts think they are intended to serve as rotors in centrifuges used to enrich uranium,” said Powell.

“Most experts are located at Oak Ridge and that was not the position there,” says Wood, who claims he doesn’t know anyone in academia or foreign government who would disagree with his appraisal. “I don’t know a single one anywhere.”
The Frontline program last week addressed the tubes too -- and I've noted that many experts dismissed the Iraqi nuclear threat before the war.

Most of the previous information from Thielmann I've been quoting is from a PBS program, "NOW," broadcast on June 13, 2003. Thielmann was interviewed by Bill Moyers. Look at this exchange:
MOYERS: So although no hard and reliable evidence had been offered to support the claim, by the time the President spoke to the nation on the eve of war, the term "weapons of mass destruction" had come to include nuclear weapons.

BUSH [3/17/03]: Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq Regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised.

MOYERS: I remember watching him say that on television. And I thought nuclear weapons.

THIELMANN: I think that's exactly the reaction that anyone would have hearing that statement. I mean, the most lethal weapons ever devised ever by far are nuclear weapons. It's not a good way to inform the public if, in fact, he was talking about biological and chemical weapons.
I'm quoting all this because this stuff needs to be recalled:
THIELMANN: If one assumed that the threat was that imminent. The intelligence community as a whole in our considered wording and advice did not give the President the impression that there was an imminent threat.

THIELMANN: Our judgment was that Iraq had not reconstituted its nuclear weapons program in the sense that that's generally understood. And that it was a long way from posing an imminent security threat. It was not on the verge of acquiring enough fissile material to use in weapons. It was not… it did not have long range weapons of mass destruction that could pose even a threat to our allies in Europe or to the United States.

MOYERS: So you concluded that there was no immediate or imminent threat from Iraq?

THIELMANN: From Iraq. Across the board, that's right.

MOYERS: No imminent nuclear threat.

THIELMANN: No imminent nuclear threat. But in terms of biological and chemical weapons threats, these were not what I would call an imminent security threat to the United States.

MOYERS: So, when the Vice President of the United States says, "There's no doubt Saddam has weapons of mass destruction," he is lumping together nuclear weapons, which are clearly…


MOYERS: …weapons of mass destruction. And chemical and biological weapons, which may not be.

THIELMANN: Well, that's my view of it. And in fact, the one thing that we should have made clear to the American people was that Saddam had no nuclear weapons.
60 Minutes also interviewed a former UN weapons inspector named Steven Allinson:
Allinson watched Powell’s speech in Iraq with a dozen U.N. inspectors. There was great anticipation in the room. Like waiting for the Super Bowl, they always suspected the U.S. was holding back its most damning evidence for this moment.

What was the reaction among the inspectors as they watched the speech?

“Various people would laugh at various times because the information he was presenting was just, you know, didn't mean anything, had no meaning,” says Allinson.

And what did he and the other inspectors say when Secretary Powell finished the speech?

“They have nothing,” says Allinson.
And here's the 60 Minutes wrapup on Thielmann:
As for Greg Thielmann, he told 60 Minutes II that he’s a reluctant witness. His decision to speak developed over time, and he says the president’s address worried him because he knew the African uranium story was false. He said he watched Secretary Powell’s speech with disappointment because, up until then, he had seen Powell bringing what he called “reason” to the administration’s inner circle.

Today, Thielmann believes the decision to go to war was made -- and the intelligence was interpreted to fit that conclusion.

“There’s plenty of blame to go around. The main problem was that the senior administration officials have what I call faith-based intelligence. They knew what they wanted the intelligence to show,” says Thielmann.

“They were really blind and deaf to any kind of countervailing information the intelligence community would produce. I would assign some blame to the intelligence community, and most of the blame to the senior administration officials.”
Thielmann said much the same thing in a Frontline interview posted October 9, 2003:
They were sure that Saddam was rejuvenating his nuclear program, and so they were looking for evidence to support what they already knew was the case, or they thought they knew was the case....

The conclusion that I ultimately came to was that this was a matter of, as I've called it, faith-based intelligence. Instead of our leadership forming conclusions based on a careful reading of the intelligence we provided them, they already had their conclusion to start out with, and they were cherry-picking the information that we provided to use whatever pieces of it that fit their overall interpretation. Worse than that, they were dropping qualifiers and distorting some of the information that we provided to make it seem more alarmist and more dangerous than the information that we were giving them.
Thielmann goes on in this interview to place blame on the Office of Special Plans, which didn't share their views, operated in secret from other intell people and pushed their data straight to high level officials.

Here's the bottom line
As reluctant as I am to try to understand the motives of people using the intelligence, my bottom line on this subject is that while the intelligence community did not do a good job, in my view, in being very careful to be precise for both decision makers and for the American public, the primary blame is in the way that senior officials of the administration made statements -- which I can only describe as dishonest statements -- about the nature of what the intelligence was saying.

I would, very reluctantly, have to include the secretary of state in that judgment. I've always said that the secretary of state is much more careful at not exaggerating than his Cabinet colleagues, as well as the vice president and the president.

So there was considerable unhappiness in the intelligence community of a number of states in the way that the war parties in those countries were using the information. I'm not a lone voice in that respect. I'm only unusual in that I was serving in the government at a time when the information was coming across my desk, and I then retired and am now not serving in government. That's what really makes me unusual, rather than the specific views that I have...
Gotta stop -- but this is obviously a followup to the "Lie Factory" entry.

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