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May 10, 2013

Politicizing the Intelligence

During the Bush administration, the rallying cry of the anti-war crowd was that the intelligence surrounding Saddam Hussein's WMD capability had been politicized after the fact to justify the invasion of Iraq. The 'evidence' was an uncorroborated, hearsay statement of opinion called the Downing Street memos:

Well, it would seem that in the case of the Downing Street Memos, the facts may have been fixed around the policy. (via Ed Morrissey)
The eight memos — all labeled "secret" or "confidential" — were first obtained by British reporter Michael Smith, who has written about them in The Daily Telegraph and The Sunday Times. Smith told AP he protected the identity of the source he had obtained the documents from by typing copies of them on plain paper and destroying the originals.

How convenient. So now, instead of thirdhand, uncorroborated hearsay regarding meetings with unnamed sources, quoting the speculation of other unnamed sources about what George Bush may or may not have been planning (the memos themselves contradict each other on this point), we have:

...unverifiable thirdhand, uncorroborated hearsay regarding meetings with unnamed sources, quoting the [contradictory in places] speculation of other unnamed sources about what George Bush may or may not have been planning, contained in retyped documents whose originals have been destroyed.

Flash forward to the present day, where a Democrat who campaigned on the premise that his predecessor's actions had shamefully tarnished America's relationships with our allies and enemies has not only embraced those policies, but expanded upon them. Where are the Democrats who argued that such actions were war crimes?

Inexplicably, accusations of "politicizing the intelligence" (supported by opinions expressed in a destroyed document) are considered definitive, while actual emails examined by the media that show repeated revisions and distortions of the intelligence will no doubt be dismissed as "nothing new":

White House emails reviewed by ABC News suggest the edits were made with extensive input from the State Department. The edits included requests from the State Department that references to the Al Qaeda-affiliated group Ansar al-Sharia be deleted as well references to CIA warnings about terrorist threats in Benghazi in the months preceding the attack.

That would appear to directly contradict what White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said about the talking points in November.

“Those talking points originated from the intelligence community. They reflect the IC’s best assessments of what they thought had happened,” Carney told reporters at the White House press briefing on November 28, 2012. “The White House and the State Department have made clear that the single adjustment that was made to those talking points by either of those two institutions were changing the word ‘consulate’ to ‘diplomatic facility’ because ‘consulate’ was inaccurate.”

State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland raised specific objections to this paragraph drafted by the CIA in its earlier versions of the talking points:

“The Agency has produced numerous pieces on the threat of extremists linked to al-Qa’ida in Benghazi and eastern Libya. These noted that, since April, there have been at least five other attacks against foreign interests in Benghazi by unidentified assailants, including the June attack against the British Ambassador’s convoy. We cannot rule out the individuals has previously surveilled the U.S. facilities, also contributing to the efficacy of the attacks.”

In an email to officials at the White House and the intelligence agencies, State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland took issue with including that information because it “could be abused by members [of Congress] to beat up the State Department for not paying attention to warnings, so why would we want to feed that either?

We are shocked.... shocked. But in the long run this is all utterly irrelevant. Certainly 4 men are dead, but they knew the risks. Yes, this President has repeatedly pledged to run the most transparent administration in history, but trying to hold him accountable to his own values is a shameless display of partisanship.

And politicizing intelligence has gone from a crime to a deft exercise of realpolitik.

Update: apparently, ignoring intel warnings is about to be added to the long list of things that were inexcusable under Bush but completely understandable under Obama:

Five days before two bombs tore through crowds at the Boston Marathon, an intelligence report identified the finish line of the race as an "area of increased vulnerability" and warned Boston police that extremists may use "small scale bombings" to attack spectators and runners at the event.

The 18-page report was written by the Boston Regional Intelligence Center, a command center funded in part by the Department of Homeland Security that helps disseminate intelligence information to local police and first responders.

The "joint special event assessment" is dated April 10. It notes that at the time there was "no credible, specific information indicating an imminent threat" to the race.

So on the one hand we have a report that identifies the time, place, and exact location of the threat. On the other, we have a vague warning that Osama Bin Laden was planning an attack "somewhere in the United States" at an unspecified time and location:

In the aftermath of 9/11, Bush officials attempted to deflect criticism that they had ignored C.I.A. warnings by saying they had not been told when and where the attack would occur. That is true, as far as it goes, but it misses the point. Throughout that summer, there were events that might have exposed the plans, had the government been on high alert. Indeed, even as the Aug. 6 brief was being prepared, Mohamed al-Kahtani, a Saudi believed to have been assigned a role in the 9/11 attacks, was stopped at an airport in Orlando, Fla., by a suspicious customs agent and sent back overseas on Aug. 4. Two weeks later, another co-conspirator, Zacarias Moussaoui, was arrested on immigration charges in Minnesota after arousing suspicions at a flight school. But the dots were not connected, and Washington did not react.

Imagine a world where these two presidents were held to the same standard! OK, you can stop laughing now.

Posted by Cassandra at May 10, 2013 12:45 PM

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Nothing so epitomizes indignation as the indignation of having been caught. Nevertheless, yours is a scandal, mine's a defense of the realm. Surely you're aware of the principle differences between the corrupt and incorruptible.

Posted by: George Pal at May 10, 2013 01:59 PM

"OK, you can stop laughing now."

I'm not laughing at you. I'm laughing with you. Because, shirley you were sitting there giggling, "I crack me up!" whilst you were typing that.

Posted by: DL Sly at May 10, 2013 08:12 PM

*Excellent* post!
BZ to George in follow up.
The hypocrisy is blinding.

Best Regards,

Posted by: CAPT Mike at May 11, 2013 12:30 AM

I'm not laughing, I'm weeping.

Posted by: CAPT Mongo at May 11, 2013 08:43 AM

It's also interesting how we're seeing philosophical discussions now about what the meaning of the word "know" is. If you tell the American people you can't express an opinion on something because the facts are incomplete and the investigation is ongoing, it's unattractive to complain eight months later that you gave them the straight scoop from the start eight months ago, even if you're caught red-handed editing your considerable knowledge out of all your official public pronouncements (and even response to fairly aggressive questions). "But I didn't 'know.' Although I did tell you, so you should have known . . . ." (in that other, old, discredited meaning of "know").

Similarly, the IRS can send senior representatives to Congress and say they didn't "know" about the targeting of conservative groups. That's "know" in the new sense of "having every conceivable fact at one's disposal after a full investigation is 100% complete and vetted." Oh, you mean did I know about it in the sense that I'd been alerted to it and totally knew about it? Well, sure . . . but that's not what I meant under oath.

Posted by: Texan99 at May 14, 2013 10:38 AM