Friday, July 16, 2004

The State's Right

An article appearing in yesterday's Los Angeles Times details how State Department officials were busily trying to correct the numerous misleading and factually inaccurate statements that were in the speech prepared by the intelligence community that Colin Powell was set to deliver to the United Nations.  

Days before Secretary of State Colin L. Powell was to present the case for war with Iraq to the United Nations, State Department analysts found dozens of factual problems in drafts of his speech, according to new documents contained in the Senate report on intelligence failures released last week.

Two memos included with the Senate report listed objections that State Department experts lodged as they reviewed successive drafts of the Powell speech. Although many of the claims considered inflated or unsupported were removed through painstaking debate by Powell and intelligence officials, the speech he ultimately presented contained material that was in dispute among State Department experts.

Of course, the now infamous speech by Powell has been criticized by the world community for the many errors, miscalculations and exaggerations that were expressed, most notably the claim that Iraq had mobile weapons laboratories, chemical weapons stockpiles, was pursuing nuclear weapons and the claim that "there can be no doubt that Saddam Hussein has biological weapons and the capability to rapidly produce more, many more."  This speech has become, in many respects, the most public example of how the U.S. misrepresented intelligence on Iraqi unconventional weapons programs.
That being said, it appears that Powell and his staff harbored grave concerns about the veracity of many of the claims that made it into initial drafts of the speech.  
Offering the first detailed look at claims that were stripped from the case for war advanced by Powell, a Jan. 31, 2003, memo cataloged 38 claims to which State Department analysts objected.
In response, 28 were either removed from the draft or altered, according to the Senate report, which was released Friday and included scathing criticism of the CIA and other U.S. intelligence services.
The analysts, describing many of the claims as "weak" and assigning grades to arguments on a 5-star scale, warned Powell against making an array of allegations they deemed implausible. They also warned against including Iraqi communications intercepts they deemed ambiguous and against speculating that terrorists might "come through Baghdad and pick-up biological weapons" as if they were stocked on store shelves.
In their critique, State Department analysts repeatedly warned that Powell was being put in the position of drawing the most sinister conclusions from satellite images, communications intercepts and human intelligence reports that had alternative, less-incriminating explanations.

Despite the efforts and critiques by members of the State Department, Powell delivered a speech rife with errors that has now seriously weakened the credibility of the U.S. intelligence community internationally.  Considering the magnitude of the problems we are now facing, nuclear non-proliferation and the spread of radical Islamist terrorism, this loss of credibility could not have come at a less opportune time.

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