Monday, July 18, 2005

Armageddon outta here!

While we're on that topic, John Prados, writing in the Bulletin, weighs in on the report of the WMD Commission.
Despite flaws, the report is essential reading for anyone seriously interested not only in the Iraq intelligence issue but also in broader questions of proliferation. In nearly 600 pages of history and prescription, the commission report delves into five major cases (Iraq, Libya, Al Qaeda, Iran, and North Korea) and provides nine chapters of analysis, with suggestions on intelligence organization and proliferation management. About 100 additional pages--the chapters "Iran and North Korea: Monitoring Development in Nuclear Capabilities" and "Covert Action"--are classified and therefore unavailable to the public.
The good news: "The final report is surprisingly good, given the commission's starting point" (many of the appointees were intelligence neophytes—hmm).

The bad news, well....
  • The report studiously avoids whether the Bush administration misused its intelligence and reaches the misleading conclusion that no politicization of the intelligence process ever occurred. (Interestingly, the commission's Libya investigation--no doubt conceived by the Bush White House as a helpful counterweight to Iraq, since it presents a success--actually shows that on an issue with less political salience, intelligence performance was better, even though the same limitations of evidence applied.)

  • the Al Qaeda chapter, which consists entirely of a series of snapshots of what intelligence thought before the October 2001 Afghan campaign compared with what was found there afterward. In doing so, the commission overstates what was found, evaluating the Al Qaeda effort as having "fast-growing unconventional weapons capabilities and aggressive intentions." The report acknowledges no such weapons--chemical, biological, or nuclear--or capabilities were found, and coalition forces encountered nothing more than scattered bits of lab equipment and some technical papers on computer hard drives. Clearly, Osama bin Laden was interested in such weapons, but there is little evidence of a coherent program, much less an aggressive one. Despite this, the commission tars U.S. intelligence with underestimating Al Qaeda's weapons capability--a judgment that smacks of post hoc justification for the war on terrorism.

  • the WMD Commission raises chilling possibilities for even greater secrecy. The authors advocate more use of secret wiretaps and "pen registers" (devices that record incoming and outgoing phone numbers). Alleging a "well-documented" plethora of damage to U.S. intelligence collection supposedly caused by media disclosures, the commissioners support coordinated leak investigations and focusing the DNI's [director of national intelligence] inspector general on such investigations; paying more attention to making open information secret (while simultaneously proposing greater use of "open source" information for intelligence purposes); and starting a latter-day "Loose Lips Sink Ships" campaign. The commission discussed but could not close ranks on creating a "qualified privilege for reporters," which could have restricted journalists' ability to protect their sources. Reporters, not leakers, could become targets of investigation, as is already happening in the Valerie Plame affair.

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