2013/04/16

The CIA “Hollowed Out”


Bill Keller writes about the CIA and covert ops people versus intel people and the following passage jumped out at me:

"The C.I.A., having been hollowed out in the ’90s after the end of the cold war, failed to see the signs of what would be 9/11. Then the C.I.A. got the ostensible Iraqi weapons threat terribly wrong, drowning out more skeptical voices..."

There are three charges here: 1. That Bill Clinton permitted the CIA to be so underfunded and understaffed that it couldn't do its job while under George W. Bush, 2. that the CIA missed the signs that 9/11 was about to occur and 3. that the CIA thought there were WMD in Iraq when there weren't. The first charge is proven or disproven by the second and third charges. If those other two charges stand up, then we may presume that the first charge is true and vice-versa, if the two charges are not true, then the first is not true, either.

So how do the two charges stack up against the evidence? Not very well. Ron Suskind relates in his book “The One Percent Doctrine” that “Bush listened to the briefing, Suskind says, then told the CIA briefer: 'All right. You’ve covered your ass, now.'” And from The National Interest:

Kurt Eichenwald, former New York Times reporter and Vanity Fair contributing editor...”the administration’s reaction to what Mr. Bush was told in the weeks before that infamous briefing reflected significantly more negligence than has been disclosed.”

As to the third charge, that the CIA failed to see that there were no WMD in Iraq, the movie “Fair Game” tells the story of Joe and Valerie Plame Wilson, drawing heavily on the book by Valerie Wilson and shows that, yes indeed, the CIA did do its assigned job by presenting the President with all of the information that was available to them and that, in fact, there was significant doubt that Iraq had WMDs. The CIA and their buddies across the pond, MI6, were both informed that Tahir Habbush al-Tikriti, who was Iraq's head of intelligence, told them that Iraq had no WMD. Naji Sabri, Saddam Hussein's foreign minister, is also said to have claimed this, although Sabri has denied saying so.

Now these claims of Bill Keller's really bother me as Keller joined the NY Times in 1984 and was the Executive Editor from 2003 to 2011, so this is no amateur, wet-behind-the-ears, fresh-outta-J-school, eager beaver cub reporter. This guy's been around and knows full well what he's saying.

To be fair, there were indeed people in both MI6 and the CIA who credited claims of WMD “even after they were exposed as fabricated including claims, notably about alleged mobile biological warfare containers, made by Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi, a German source codenamed Curveball,” so it's incorrect to say that the CIA was united in casting doubt upon the Bush Administration's justifications for going to war, but there's certainly no justification for claiming that the CIA as an agency failed either before 9/11 or before the Iraq War.

By the way, neither former President George W. Bush nor former Vice President Dick Cheney have any regrets or second thoughts about having plunged the nation into an unnecessary war.

[Bush] reflected on the “realities of the situation 10 years ago”: that the Iraq invasion had bipartisan support and that seeking regime change in Iraq had also been the policy under Clinton.
“It’s easy to forget what life was like when the decision was made,” Bush said.
Yes, the invasion had bipartisan support, but that was because Bush was manipulating the intel. And as I pointed out here, Clinton did indeed send Madelaine Albright to get a read on how motivated Americans were to fight a war against Iraq, but found that there simply wasn't anywhere near enough enthusiasm to even attempt to launch such a war.

As to Cheney, his old company Halliburton made $39.5 billion from the war, so he obviously has no regrets.

As to Keller's larger thesis, that the “cowboys” of the CIA were an undue influence on the “eggheads” (i.e., that the covert ops people had too much influence on the gathering-of-intel people), I doubt that. I read a few books on the CIA during the 1980s and got the impression that, despite the CIA being a single agency with a single Director, that the intel and ops people perform different tasks in different places and don't interact much.

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