Saturday, February 10, 2007

No Faith in Feith

An Article by Spencer Ackerman of The Guardian:

No Faith in Feith

An official report has found that Douglas J Feith, a key neoconservative intellectual, cooked the intelligence linking Saddam Hussein to al-Qaida.

Unless he had a dentist's appointment late this afternoon, it would be hard for Douglas J Feith to have had a worse Friday. Already, one of the first neoconservative officials to have been jettisoned in the second Bush administration, the former undersecretary of defense for policy - the number three position in the Pentagon - just had his legacy torn apart by an official investigation by the Defense Department's inspector general. The long-awaited report, released Friday morning, found that a unit set up in Feith's bureau known as the Office of Special Plans engaged in "inappropriate" intelligence work on the case for war with Iraq.

The Office of Special Plans (OSP) is a murky thing, and, in Washington as well as on the internet, it's taken on a life of its own. Feith has been right to complain that entire conspiracy theories have sprung up around it - like, according to some perfervid views, the claim that the OSP's work was an effort to invade Iraq on behalf of Israel. The inspector general's office didn't dignify that with a response, but it did confirm, in broad outline, much of what has appeared in investigative reports: that Feith's office "developed, produced, and then disseminated alternative intelligence assessments on the Iraq and al-Qaida relationship, which included some conclusions that were inconsistent with the consensus of the intelligence community, to senior decision-makers."

These alternative assessments, developed in late 2001 and 2002, went far beyond the available evidence to assert a connection between Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. Feith's office further suggested that the intelligence community - which, by and large, didn't put much stock in the idea of cooperation between Iraq and al-Qaida - was hopelessly myopic. And that, in turn, served an important bureaucratic purpose: crowding out competitors. For instance, Feith's intelligence analysts presented a briefing on their exaggerated findings to then CIA director George Tenet in August of 2002, in order to delay a CIA assessment on the issue that they considered insufficiently hawkish. Tenet later told a Senate panel that he "didn't see anything that broke any new ground for me" in Feith's briefing. But the next month, the OSP analysts took their findings to the White House, and included in their briefing a section that contended there were "Fundamental Problems With How (the Intelligence Community) Is Assessing Information." The OSP's analysis was established as the one worth trusting.

The inspector general found that the OSP "inappropriately" pressed a case to senior Bush administration officials - a case that purported to be an intelligence assessment, yet "did not clearly show the variance with the consensus of the intelligence community". In what is quite a significant understatement, the report says the result was that the OSP "did not provide 'the most accurate analysis of intelligence' to senior decision-makers". And how: in September of 2002, President Bush boldly stated that "you can't distinguish between al-Qaida and Saddam when you talk about the war on terror." When the Downing Street Memo warned of "intelligence and facts" being "fixed around the policy" to invade Iraq, it had this sort of thing in mind.

Neither Feith nor the Pentagon took inspector general's report lying down. Feith put out a statement calling the charges of impropriety "absurd", and tried to turn the issue into a question of whether or not policymakers are to be forced to blindly accept shoddy intelligence work. His successor at the Pentagon prepared a 50-plus page rebuttal to the inspector general that challenged nearly everything that could be challenged in the report - including the inspector general's fitness to evaluate the question. Bizarre as the rebuttal may appear, it serves an obvious purpose: to let conservatives pretend that the propriety of the OSP is still an open question. If this is Feith's best defense, things don't look good for his reputation.

Perhaps the only promising note the inspector general offered is that the OSP didn't do anything illegal. Yet the Democratic chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, Jay Rockefeller, has vowed to investigate whether the OSP in fact broke the law by performing intelligence work without Senate notification. Indeed, the report won't be the last word on Feith's office and prewar intelligence: Rockefeller had been waiting on the inspector general before moving forward with a long-delayed inquiry as to how the Bush administration used Iraq intelligence in presenting its case for war. For Feith, it's enough to make a root canal seem pleasant by comparison.

I think this would be bigger news, but Anna Nicole Smith died, and apparently in the media she is more important than the reason 3100+ Americans died.


libhom said...

This report is too kind in its wording. British intelligence in the Downing Street Memo was correct in saying that the intelligence was "fixed."

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