Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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November 8, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

POLITICIZING INTELLIGENCE....Given what we've learned since the war ended, it's now pretty obvious even to hardened partisans that the administration politicized intelligence about Iraq before the war. They exaggerated the threat of nuclear weapons and other WMD, they insisted on al-Qaeda connections that never existed, and they attacked the patriotism and moral purpose of anyone who questioned what they were doing.

Even the traditionally bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee has gotten in on the politicization act, desperately trying to blame intelligence failures solely on the CIA in order to prevent any investigation into the president or his administration. "The executive was ill-served by the intelligence community," said Pat Roberts, chairman of the committee, explaining his point of view a couple of weeks ago while trying to keep a straight face.

Unsurprisingly, Democrats on the committee are unhappy about this and want a wider ranging inquiry that actually tries to get to the truth of what happened. What's more, it turns out they actually have a plan to force this to happen, a plan that some Republican staffer seems to have came across while rooting through Capitol Hill trash cans.

Republicans are pretending to be outraged. But I read the memo, and while it's always a bit embarrassing to have internal strategy discussions made public, there's really nothing even remotely to be ashamed of in this one. If you don't believe me, just go ahead and read the memo itself. Here it is, along with a translation:

The Memo

What It Means

We have carefully reviewed our options under the rules and believe we have identified the best approach. Our plan is as follows:

1) Pull the majority along as far as we can on issues that may lead to major new disclosures regarding improper or questionable conduct by administration officials. We are having some success in that regard. For example, in addition to the president's State of the Union speech, the chairman has agreed to look at the activities of the Office of the Secretary of Defense as well as Secretary Bolton's office at the State Department. The fact that the chairman supports our investigations into these offices and co-signs our requests for information is helpful and potentially crucial. We don't know what we will find but our prospects for getting the access we seek is far greater when we have the backing of the majority. (Note: we can verbally mention some of the intriguing leads we are pursuing.)

We should work with the majority whenever we can. We've had a bit of success doing that already.

2) Assiduously prepare Democratic "additional views" to attach to any interim or final reports the committee may release. Committee rules provide this opportunity and we intend to take full advantage of it. In that regard, we have already compiled all the public statements on Iraq made by senior administration officials. We will identify the most exaggerated claims and contrast them with the intelligence estimates that have since been declassified. Our additional views will also, among other things, castigate the majority for seeking to limit the scope of the inquiry. The Democrats will then be in a strong position to reopen the question of establishing an independent commission (i.e. the Corzine amendment).

However, we've also run into quite a bit of stonewalling in order to protect the president, so we should be prepared to release a minority report showing how and where the administration exaggerated pre-war intelligence.

3) Prepare to launch an independent investigation when it becomes clear we have exhausted the opportunity to usefully collaborate with the majority. We can pull the trigger on an independent investigation at any time -- but we can only do so once. The best time to do so will probably be next year either:

In addition, while we should give the Republicans every possible chance to do a fair job, in the end we should be prepared to call for an independent investigation if they refuse.

A) After we have already released our additional views on an interim report -- thereby providing as many as three opportunities to make our case to the public: 1) additional views on the interim report; 2) announcement of our independent investigation; and 3) additional views on the final investigation; or

We can either do this after the interim report is released....

B) Once we identify solid leads the majority does not want to pursue. We could attract more coverage and have greater credibility in that context than one in which we simply launch an independent investigation based on principled but vague notions regarding the "use" of intelligence.

....Or we can do it once we've got some especially solid evidence to pursue.

In the meantime, even without a specifically authorized independent investigation, we continue to act independently when we encounter foot-dragging on the part of the majority. For example, the FBI Niger investigation was done solely at the request of the vice chairman; we have independently submitted written questions to DoD; and we are preparing further independent requests for information.

Of course, in the meantime we should continue to fight Republican stonewalling whenever it crops up.

Summary
Intelligence issues are clearly secondary to the public's concern regarding the insurgency in Iraq. Yet, we have an important role to play in the revealing the misleading -- if not flagrantly dishonest methods and motives -- of the senior administration officials who made the case for a unilateral, preemptive war. The approach outline above seems to offer the best prospect for exposing the administration's dubious motives and methods.

Summary
These issues aren't the biggest thing on the public's mind, but revealing the way that Republicans politicized intelligence before the war is still an important thing to do.


Bottom line: Republicans want to limit the investigation in order to protect the president. Democrats are fighting this because they think the president had a lot to do with the misuse of prewar intelligence.

There's nothing wrong with this, and it wouldn't have happened if Republicans had been willing to conduct a fair and thorough investigation in the first place. So let's save the mock outrage, OK?

Kevin Drum 2:03 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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