12th March 08:02
16 Words and Counting: The Bush Pattern of Lies
July 15, 2003
16 Words, and Counting
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
that there was more to the story that I didn't know.
Yup. And now it's coming out.
Based on conversations with people in the intelligence community, this
picture is emerging: the White House, eager to spice up the State of the
Union address, recklessly resurrected the discredited Niger tidbit. The
Central Intelligence Agency objected, and then it and the National Security
Council negotiated a new wording, attributing it all to the Brits. It felt
less dishonest pinning the falsehood on the cousins.
What troubles me is not that single episode, but the broader pattern of
dishonesty and delusion that helped get us into the Iraq mess - and that
created the false expectations undermining our occupation today. Some in the
administration are trying to make George Tenet the scapegoat for the affair.
But Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, a group of retired
spooks, issued an open letter to President Bush yesterday reflecting the
view of many in the intel community that the central culprit is Vice
President **** Cheney. The open letter called for Mr. Cheney's resignation.
Condi Rice says she first learned of former Ambassador Joseph Wilson's
fact-finding trip to Niger during a TV interview, presumably when George
Stephanopoulos asked her on "This Week" on June 8 about a column by me
describing the trip. (Condi, you're breaking my heart - you didn't read that
column itself? How about if I fax you copies of everything I write, so you
don't miss any, and you fax me everything you write?)
Actually, I have to agree with Ms. Rice that the focus on that single
sentence in the State of the Union address is a bit obsessive. It was only
16 words, attributed in a weaselly way that made it almost accurate, and as
any journalist knows well, mistakes do get into print.
So the problem is not those 16 words, by themselves, but the larger pattern
of abuse of intelligence. The silver lining is that the spooks are so upset
that they're speaking out.
The Defense Intelligence Agency has had town hall meetings in which everyone
was told not to talk to journalists (thanks, guys, for naming me in
particular). One insider complains: "In the most recent meeting, we also
were told that, as much as possible, we should avoid `caveat-ing' our
intelligence assessments. . . . Forget nuance, forget fine distinctions;
they only confuse these guys. If that isn't a downright scary dumbing-down
of our intelligence product, I don't know what is."
Intelligence isn't just being dumbed down, but is also being manipulated -
and it's continuing. Experts say the recent firefight on the Syrian-Iraq
border involved not Saddam Hussein or a family member, as we were led to
believe, but just some Iraqi petroleum smugglers. Moreover, Patrick Lang, a
former senior D.I.A. official, says that many in the government believe that
incursion was an effort by ideologues to disrupt cooperation between the
U.S. and Syria.
While the scandal has so far focused on Iraq, the manipulations appear to be
global. For example, one person from the intelligence community recalls an
administration hard-liner's urging the State Department Bureau of
Intelligence and Research to state that Cuba has a biological weapons
program. The spooks refused, and Colin Powell backed them.
Then there's North Korea. The C.I.A.'s assessments on North Korea's nuclear
weaponry were suddenly juiced up beginning in December 2001. The alarmist
assessments (based on no new evidence) continued until January of this year,
when the White House wanted to play down the Korean crisis. Then assessments
abruptly restored the less ominous language of the 1990's.
The latest issue of the Naval War College Review describes the ambiguities
of the North Korean uranium program and argues that U.S. officials "opted to
exploit the intelligence for political purposes."
"Is there a parallel with what is now going on, after the fact, in estimates
about Iraq?" asked the article's author, Jonathan Pollack, chairman of the
Strategic Research Department of the Naval War College, in an interview. "I
think there may be."
So that chiding White House official was right: there was more to the
picture. But I'm afraid the bigger the picture gets, the more it looks like
a pattern of dishonesty.
Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company
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"If this were a dictatorship, it'd be a heck of a lot easier, just so
long as I'm the dictator." - GW Bush 12/18/2000.
"To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that
we are to stand by the president right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic
and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public."
---George W. Bush on the Brink of Declaring War on Iraq.