We documented yesterday that the U.S. is “fixing the intelligence around the policy” of justifying war in Syria, just as it did with the Iraq war.
Raymond McGovern – 27-year CIA veteran, who chaired National Intelligence Estimates and personally delivered intelligence briefings to Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, their Vice Presidents, Secretaries of State, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and many other senior government officials – forcefully drives this point home today:
My former CIA analyst colleague, Paul R. Pillar [a 28-year CIA veteran, and deputy director for the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center], who, as National Intelligence Officer for the Middle East before the attack on Iraq, experienced up-front and personal the extreme pressure that intelligence analysts feel when a president has decided to make war, addressed this problem recently in “The Risk of Distorting Intelligence.” Pillar pointed out that an Associated Press story on the Obama administration’s preparation of the public for a military strike on Syria included these statements:
“The White House ideally wants intelligence that links the attack [with chemical weapons] directly to Assad or someone in his inner circle, to rule out the possibility that a rogue element of the military act[ed] without Assad’s authorization. That quest for added intelligence has delayed the release of the report by the Office of the Director for National Intelligence laying out evidence against Assad. … The CIA and the Pentagon have been working to gather more human intelligence tying Assad to the attack.”
Pillar adds, “When one hears that policy-makers want not just intelligence on a particular subject but intelligence that supports a particular conclusion about that subject, antennae ought to go up. A ‘quest’ for conclusion-bolstering material is fundamentally different from an open-minded use of intelligence to inform policy decisions yet to be made. It is instead a matter of making a public (and Congressional) case to support a decision already made.”
This was the kind of highly politicized “policy kitchen” in which intelligence analysts and other officials were pressured to serve as cooks whipping up the frothy broth labeled “Government Assessment of the Syrian Government’s Use of Chemical Weapons,” lauded by Secretary of State Kerry on Friday. The manner in which it was issued shows it to be a“policy statement,” NOT an “intelligence summary,” as widely described in the media. And, clearly, there were too many cooks involved.
In contrast to key past issuances of similarly high political sensitivity, the “Government Assessment” released on Friday does not appear under the letterhead of the Director of National Intelligence as was the case, for example, with the official statement issued on Sept. 28, 2012, “on the intelligence related to the terrorist attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.”
This break in customary practice may have been simply a function of Director of National Intelligence James Clapper being in such bad odor among those lawmakers who still care about truth. Clapper has confessed to telling Congress, under oath, “clearly erroneous” things about the National Security Agency’s surveillance abuses.
Thus, the administration runs some risk in trotting out Clapper this week to testify before the intelligence and national security committees of Congress. Perhaps the White House has decided it has to rely on Clapper’s demonstrated gift for lying with a straight face (though sweaty pate); or it may be counting on short-term memory loss on the part of the many superannuated and/or distracted members of Congress.
Well before Obama appointed him Director of National Intelligence three years ago, retired Air Force Lt. Gen. James Clapper showed himself to be a subscriber to the George Tenet doctrine of compliant malleability, having helped Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld falsify the intelligence on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Did no one tell Obama about Clapper’s key role in the cooking of intelligence before the Iraq War?
Rumsfeld handpicked Clapper to be the first civilian director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), where he served during the crucial period of September 2001 to June 2006. NGA’s responsibilities included analysis of satellite imagery – the most capable and likely collection resource to discover weapons of mass destruction facilities in Iraq or to verify Iraqi “defector” reports of hidden WMD caches.
So why didn’t NGA point out the absence of WMD evidence or note the many discrepancies in the stories being told by the “defectors” – many of whom were coached by the pro-invasion Iraqi National Congress? The answer: Clapper knew which side his bread was buttered on. Instead of speaking truth to power, he not only fell in with the Tenet school of obeisance, but also glommed onto Donald Rumsfeld’s aphorism: “The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”
Working for Rumsfeld, Clapper’s job, pure and simple, was to stifle any untutored-to-the-ways-of-Washington analyst who might ask unwelcome questions like: Could the reason there is not a trace of Iraqi WMD in any of the satellite imagery be that there is none there – and that the Pentagon’s favorite “defectors” are lying through their teeth?
When no WMD caches were found, it was Clapper who suggested, without a shred of evidence, that Saddam Hussein had sent the phantom WMD to Syria, a theory that also was pushed by neocons both to deflect criticism of their false assurances about Iraq’s WMD and to open a new military front against another Israeli nemesis, Syria. (It appears that time may have finally come.)
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