than half of the U.S. Army's combat strength
is now bogged down in Iraq, which didn't have
significant weapons of mass destruction and
wasn't supporting Al Qaeda. We have lost all
credibility with allies who might have provided
meaningful support; Tony Blair is still with
us, but has lost the trust of his public.
All this puts us in a very weak position for
dealing with real threats. Did I mention that
North Korea has been extracting fissionable
material from its fuel rods?
How did we get into this mess? The case of
the bogus uranium purchases wasn't an isolated
instance. It was part of a broad pattern of
politicized, corrupted intelligence.
Literally before the dust had settled, Bush
administration officials began trying to use
9/11 to justify an attack on Iraq. Gen. Wesley
Clark says that he received calls on Sept.
11 from "people around the White House" urging
him to link that assault to Saddam Hussein.
His account seems to back up a CBS.com report
last September, headlined "Plans for Iraq
Attack Began on 9/11," which quoted notes
taken by aides to Donald Rumsfeld on the day
of the attack: "Go massive. Sweep it all up.
Things related and not."
But an honest intelligence assessment would
have raised questions about why we were going
after a country that hadn't attacked us. It
would also have suggested the strong possibility
that an invasion of Iraq would hurt, not help,
So the Iraq hawks set out to corrupt the process
of intelligence assessment. On one side, nobody
was held accountable for the failure to predict
or prevent 9/11; on the other side, top intelligence
officials were expected to support the case
for an Iraq war.
The story of how the threat from Iraq's alleged
W.M.D.'s was hyped is now, finally, coming
out. But let's not forget the persistent claim
that Saddam was allied with Al Qaeda, which
allowed the hawks to pretend that the Iraq
war had something to do with fighting terrorism.
As Greg Thielmann, a former State Department
intelligence official, said last week, U.S.
intelligence analysts have consistently agreed
that Saddam did not have a "meaningful connection"
to Al Qaeda. Yet administration officials
continually asserted such a connection, even
as they suppressed evidence showing real links
between Al Qaeda and Saudi Arabia.
And during the run-up to war, George Tenet,
the C.I.A. director, was willing to provide
cover for his bosses ó just as he did last
weekend. In an October 2002 letter to the
Senate Intelligence Committee, he made what
looked like an assertion that there really
were meaningful connections between Saddam
and Osama. Read closely, the letter is evasive,
but it served the administration's purpose.
What about the risk that an invasion of Iraq
would weaken America's security? Warnings
from military experts that an extended postwar
occupation might severely strain U.S. forces
have proved precisely on the mark. But the
hawks prevented any consideration of this
possibility. Before the war, one official
told Newsweek that the occupation might last
no more than 30 to 60 days.
It gets worse. Knight Ridder newspapers report
that a "small circle of senior civilians in
the Defense Department" were sure that their
favorite, Ahmad Chalabi, could easily be installed
in power. They were able to prevent skeptics
from getting a hearing ó and they had no backup
plan when efforts to anoint Mr. Chalabi, a
millionaire businessman, degenerated into
So who will be held accountable? Mr. Tenet
betrayed his office by tailoring statements
to reflect the interests of his political
masters, rather than the assessments of his
staff ó but that's not why he may soon be
fired. Yesterday USA Today reported that "some
in the Bush administration are arguing privately
for a C.I.A. director who will be unquestioningly
loyal to the White House as committees demand
documents and call witnesses."
Not that the committees are likely to press
very hard: Senator Pat Roberts, the chairman
of the Senate Intelligence Committee, seems
more concerned about protecting his party's
leader than protecting the country. "What
concerns me most," he says, is "what appears
to be a campaign of press leaks by the C.I.A.
in an effort to discredit the president."
In short, those who politicized intelligence
in order to lead us into war, at the expense
of national security, hope to cover their
tracks by corrupting the system even further.
2003 The New York Times
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