Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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April 26, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

WAAS ON ROBERTS....Did Pat Roberts, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, tip off Saddam Hussein at the beginning of the Iraq war that we had infiltrated his inner circle? Murray Waas says yes:

On March 20, 2003, at the onset of military hostilities between U.S. and Iraqi forces, Roberts said in a speech to the National Newspaper Association that he had "been in touch with our intelligence community" and that the CIA had informed President Bush and the National Security Council "of intelligence information from what we call human intelligence that indicated the location of Saddam Hussein and his leadership in a bunker in the suburbs of Baghdad."

....At the time, it was one of the most sensitive secrets in government that the CIA had recruited Iraqi nationals who claimed to have infiltrated Hussein's inner circle to be able to follow his movements at the onset of war....Whether or not Roberts' comments were inadvertent, former intelligence officials said, they almost certainly tipped off the Iraqi dictator that there were spies close to him. "He [Roberts] had given up that we had a penetration of [Saddam's] inner circle," says a former senior intelligence official. "It was the worst thing you could ever do."

But it doesn't look that way to me. Via Nexis, here are some quotes from various news accounts about the strike on Saddam's bunker, all from March 20-22:

  • Washington Post: Other officials said the CIA had gathered highly sensitive and reliable electronic and other information, using a wide range of assets from humans in some proximity to the compound to image-snapping satellites miles above.

  • Associated Press: Officials said the surprise attack was the product of a complex operation that benefited from human intelligence....

  • Toronto Globe and Mail: Sources said the strike, which destroyed a home in Baghdad, was targeted using information from "highly placed Iraqis," who knew the movements of Saddam. Military sources said the site was pinpointed using "human intelligence" and electronic wizardry.

  • Los Angeles Times: Hussein "has to start thinking, 'How did they know this and who is telling them?' " said one military intelligence official. The objective, the official said, is to make Hussein "even more paranoid than he has already been."

  • Boston Herald: U.S. officials said they hoped the surprise attack, if it didn't kill Hussein, at least would leave him distrustful of his inner circle and suspecting betrayal by one of his advisers.

Waas quotes an unnamed Republican congressional aide who says that Roberts' remark was a "dumb act," and that might be true. At the same time, it looks like (a) an awful lot of other people were saying the same thing and (b) intelligence officials were hoping that Saddam would conclude we had a mole in high places. I'm no fan of Roberts, but this seems like a pretty weak indictment.

Kevin Drum 11:22 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (24)

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Good post Kevin. Still waiting for you to apologize to Pat Roberts for saying

"But let's face it: the dots are all pointing in the same direction here. Roberts is a loyal water carrier for the Bush administration and that's what he's doing here: carrying their water. His goal is to protect the White House, not to mount serious hearings about protecting the CIA's covert agents."

when Roberts was just telling the truth. But since you're a liberal I don't expect you to admit you're wrong.

Posted by: Al on April 26, 2006 at 11:33 AM | PERMALINK

Pat Roberts is an odious troll and deserves not the least bit of respect.

He has covered up for this administration's criminality and incompetence and abdicated his responsibility under the checks and balances principles of the Constitution.

He should be removed from Congress for dereliction of those constitutional duties and violation of the public trust.

And it is not up to members of Congress to disseminate disinformation - that is the role of the Executive, something even conservatives admit.

Why do conservatives let Roberts get away with it?

Posted by: Advocate for God on April 26, 2006 at 11:35 AM | PERMALINK

Al: Roberts was just telling the truth . . .

Uh, wrong again, Al.

Posted by: Advocate for God on April 26, 2006 at 11:37 AM | PERMALINK

Is it "desperately scramble to find some Republican leakers" time, now? Going to have a hard time catching up. I personally think there's still some surprises left in Rockefeller's closet.

Posted by: tbrosz on April 26, 2006 at 11:39 AM | PERMALINK

Amusing but very sad: if the situation were reversed, the Radicals would be trumpeting the "treason" of the hapless Democrat from the housetops (and on the Rushbo show) whether or not it turned out to be actually, you know, true. Evil leftists like Kevin actually rexamine things and try to set the story straight if they made a mistake. Guess which tactic works better in November?


Posted by: Cranky Observer on April 26, 2006 at 11:40 AM | PERMALINK

There are two issues at work here.

(1) Did Roberts leak classified information? The answer to that question appears to be a definitive yes.

(2) Did Roberts' leak tip off Saddam Hussein to anything of value? The answer to that question likely will never be definitely determined unless Hussein or one of his advisors was to shed light on the matter - and even then IMO he would have a major credibility issue.

And Al, if there was a serious concern about protecting CIA covert agents, why don't we know definitely who "outed" Plame and why weren't there a series of lie detector tests administered to get to the bottom of that issue?

Posted by: Rich S on April 26, 2006 at 11:46 AM | PERMALINK

Al is going to complain either way. God, I can just imagine what a whiney little kid he was. I bet he got beat up at recess everyday.

Posted by: merlallen on April 26, 2006 at 11:50 AM | PERMALINK

Al, honey, it's old. it's boring. spare yourself the continued embarassment.

Posted by: cleek on April 26, 2006 at 11:59 AM | PERMALINK

Well just like school yard bullies at recess, War can be as much psychological as physical. Of course I believe this was just a stupid slip, but I do like the spin to make it look like it was purposeful.

Posted by: Jimmy on April 26, 2006 at 12:00 PM | PERMALINK

tbrosz: I personally think there's still some surprises left in Rockefeller's closet.

Seems unlikely since you don't think clearly.

Is it "desperately scramble to find some Republican leakers" time, now?

Not a very "desperate" search, since the administration and GOP congressional membership is rife with them.

Since the GOP leakers have far outnumbered even putative "Democrat" leakers, you are standing on very, very thin ice over a very, very deep abyss.

Posted by: Advocate for God on April 26, 2006 at 12:08 PM | PERMALINK

Lest we forget that Saddam Hussein is and has been bat-sh*t crazy long before he took the Iraqi Premiership. He was constantly, if not pathologically, in fear of spies/assassins/traitors in his midst. He didn't need anyone to tell him that people were out to get him.

Posted by: Jon Karak on April 26, 2006 at 12:15 PM | PERMALINK

2012: Roberts issues the 10th Intelligence Committe Report on Administration's (ab)use of intelligence leading upto the Iraq fiasco but defers the part dealing with the White House involvement to a later date.

Posted by: lib on April 26, 2006 at 12:15 PM | PERMALINK

Somehow it seems to me that what the Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee says carries for more weight than unnamed sources in the media.

Consequently, I agree with Waas.

Posted by: Rich on April 26, 2006 at 12:22 PM | PERMALINK


Can we have your address & phone number so as to investigate whether you're really a person or not?


Posted by: obscure on April 26, 2006 at 12:28 PM | PERMALINK

When the Wheat State of Kansas was a dry state, no alcohol could be served in either planes flying over or trains passing through the 400 miles by 200 miles area. It was a dry zone.

With Roberts and Brownback and the majority on the State Board of Education, Kansas has become a No Intelligent Thought Fly Zone - No intelligent thought allowed on planes flying over or AmTrak passing through.

Posted by: thethirdPaul on April 26, 2006 at 12:34 PM | PERMALINK

I don't understand. We did have a mole in high places, Iraq's Foreign Minister, Naji Sabri.

So, not only did Roberts' comment allow Saddam to escape a strike that could have finished the war even more quickly (always a good thing, even for someone who was against the war from the very beginning like myself), it tipped him off to the fact that we had turned a high-level official.

It looks like all of the news reports you cite were from after the strike. So assuming Roberts made his comment before the strike and that it did tip of Saddam, it was a colossal mistake. Either way, it was a stupid thing for the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee to say.

Posted by: Nathan on April 26, 2006 at 12:56 PM | PERMALINK

I don't see your point Kevin. Not only was Roberts leaking, but the Admin. was leaking it's ass off to everybody who would listen. So, the admin. thought leaking classified info about their intelligence sources was a good thing when it kept up the PR about Saddam, and Roberts gets a pass because he joined the chorus? It's just the same damned hypocrisy, it's just that this particular instance was on such a grand audacious scale for PR that no one really said, "Hey, why are we leaking info about our inside sources". Dude, don't get suckered by the old, everybody else did it so it's not that bad.

Posted by: Dick (no, not that one) on April 26, 2006 at 1:13 PM | PERMALINK

Well one could argue that a gang leak of secrets is no less treason than a solo act. But I am happy to leave it with "Sen. Pat Roberts is a dumb hypocrit." At this point that seems undeniable.

Posted by: chad on April 26, 2006 at 1:31 PM | PERMALINK

I'm I reading this right?

Kevin is relying on a slew of anonymous sources spinning to the traditional media Bush administration success during the initialk stages of the war.

Setting aside the WMD spin, has Kevin forgotten the "we killed Chemical Ali," "Jessica Lynch battled ferociously against her attackers," and "Pat Tillman was killed by enemy fire stories"?

How can one ascribe any veracity to anonymous pro-Bush spinners given their history of deceit?

Now if Kevin has evidence that Waas has been taken or is being taken by his anonymous sources, I'm willing to listen. But the angle he takes here is befuddling especially given his usual insights.

Posted by: Macswain on April 26, 2006 at 1:44 PM | PERMALINK

Rich: . . . it seems to me that what the Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee says carries for more weight . . .

That's the way it's supposed to be.

Unfortunately, Roberts has such a history of lying and withholding information or selectively disclosing it that he has far less credibility than virtually any other source - except perhaps Shrub or Dickless or Dumbsfeld . . .

Posted by: Advocate for God on April 26, 2006 at 1:47 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, in your effort to bend over backwards to be fair, you seem to be missing a key distinction: something said on March 20, the day after the war started, is something quite different from something said on March 22, by which time Saddam's people could deduce a lot about what the US side knew. And some of your quotes are so general (what, the US had "human intelligence" in Iraq? No kidding!) as to be meaningless; anyone could have told you that. So which items are from March 20? Don't mix in statements from after three days of attacks (March 22).

I don't know for a fact whether Sen. Roberts' statements were harmful, but evidently someone at the CIA thought they were. The assessment might be based on other details of Roberts' speech.

Posted by: Joe Buck on April 26, 2006 at 1:50 PM | PERMALINK

Nexis... must be nice. Wish I had that.

Good post though.

Posted by: Chris on April 26, 2006 at 2:18 PM | PERMALINK


You seem to be arguing that the whole lot of these "officials" is guilty of leaking sensitive information. That would be ok if the CIA had intentionally disclosed this information to these "officials" for the purposes that they, the officials, state. But it is clear from subsequent statements by the CIA that this was not the CIA's intent in disclosing the information. In fact, the CIA considers the leaks highly damaging. I wonder who these officials were? Probably the usual suspects.

Posted by: bblog on April 26, 2006 at 3:12 PM | PERMALINK



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