Sunday, March 02, 2008
i'm so lazy i can't even be bothered:
Tom Fingar, chief analyst for the Director of National Intelligence, gave a speech in San Francisco a few weeks ago that Ross Feinstein -- hey, speaking of, read Jeff Stein's profile of Young Ross -- emailed me on Friday. I didn't read it. Sure, it's my beat, but whatevers, right? How important could it be?

Another sensible decision on my part. Look what Sharon Weinberger did with the speech at Danger Room. The wittiest part:
Let me shift back into what got us here. It’s the Iraq WMD estimate. I think of this as having your year-book photo taken on the worst bad hair day ever. The community was never as bad as that estimate. The percentage of analysts who participated in the production of that hurry-up, get-it-out-the-door-in-two-weeks product was tiny compared to the larger set, all of whom were tarred with the same brush of incompetence.
OK, funny ha-ha. But it would have been preferable for Fingar to address why the Iraq NIE was as bad as it was. He only really does that in a roundabout way:
It was a case of, you want it real bad, you sometimes get it real bad. And the Iraq WMD estimate falls in that category. It was requested. We were given a two-week period in which to produce it. And it was bad. It was really bad.
To quote Joe Biden: Whoa, whoa, whoa, yo, Richie! That's not even half the story. In the summer of 2002, George Tenet starts sending Bob Graham, then the chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, privileged communications about Iraq that paint a much more complicated picture of Iraq's weapons capabilities and regional ambitions. Graham notes the, um, discrepancy between what Bush said and what Tenet said. So he asks if there's a National Intelligence Estimate that Bush was basing his statements on, as best practices dictate. Nope.

So Graham, with the summer recess in full swing and the probability of war increasing, requests one. It's an unusual step for Congress, and not the executive, to ask for an NIE. But Bush is who he is, and quickly announces that he's going to ask Congress for the authority to invade Iraq -- meaning Congress will be asked to vote for war without access to dispositive information that Graham is hearing from Tenet. Tenet agrees to an NIE, but only one on WMD: not about Saddam's nonexistent ties to Iraqal-Qaeda or about how weak his regime truly is, or about what could happen in Iraq, and regionally, in the aftermath of an invasion. Tenet gives the NIE to a hack named Robert Walpole, who takes three weeks, plays up all the scary-but-baseless stuff, consigns dissent to footnotes buried in the back of a secret 90-page document, and releases a public version (Graham's pressure again) that's even more egregious and dissent-free. Bad as the classified NIE is, Graham implores every Senator to read it, since it clashes at least somewhat with the picture Bush presents, and announces that he, chairman of the intelligence committee, won't support the war. Six Senators read the goddamn document. You know the rest of the story.

Yet the analytic community, especially at CIA, tells a story like Fingar's. Waaaaaaah Congress made us write a slapdash NIE and now we're to blame for Iraq! 'Snot faaaiiir! Look, at least tell the story of why you had to write the fucking thing. Not to cannibalize a forthcoming essay, but Tim Weiner's excellent history of the CIA documents in painstaking detail how, throughout its entire history, the agency has found a way to believe that its failures are always someone else's fault. That's not a bad hair day, it's bad hair.
--Spencer Ackerman
Oy. Yes. thank you.
Blogger Spencer Ackerman | 9:29 PM