Monday, April 24, 2006

The Dreyfuss Affair

Josh Marshall has an interesting post on the recent 60 Minutes appearance of retired CIA officer Tyler Drumheller - who was head of covert operations in Europe during a span of time that included the run up to the Iraq War. As Marshall indicates, there are two big points to take away from Drumheller's interview. The first has to do with the Niger-yellow cake uranium story.

According to Drumheller (a man who, given his position atop Europe's operations, was in a position to know), most of the intelligence community was well aware that the Niger-uranium story was highly implausible, and that the purported "smoking gun" documents that were brought forth from the Italian intelligence community were forgeries. More importantly, however, the Bush administration was made aware of this consensus on numerous occasions both before Bush's infamous State of the Union address as well as prior to the authorization of selective leaks, and other efforts, to attack Joe Wilson for his recounting of this conventional wisdom in his controversial op-ed. So the White House authorized selective leaks of the NIE to discredit Wilson's account of the story even though the White House was well aware that Wilson was right. But it wasn't just politics. And the president just wanted the American people to hear the whole story. Riiiiiight.

The second revelation from Drumheller concerned the existence of a high ranking Iraqi official named Naji Sabri whom the CIA managed to turn prior to the invasion. According to Drumheller, the White House was eager to hear what Sabri - who served as Iraq's foreign minister - had to say about Iraq's WMD and other potential casus belli - especially given Sabri's high level access to sensitive information. But that eagerness quickly evaporated when the White House learned that Sabri told (quite accurately) how Iraq had no active WMD programs at the time. After that inconvenient development, the White House completely ignored this potential gold mine of intelligence.

They hid behind the flimsy excuse that the value of Sabri's intelligence was dubious because it was single sourced. But as anyone familiar with the story knows, the White House was more than willing to use single sourced intelligence when it fit the script - including the single sourced intel gleaned from a man who carried the unintentionally descriptive moniker "Curveball."

But Marshall also makes a very good point about the official narrative from Washington and how Drumheller's version of events stands in contradiction to what we have been told from these sources. From Marshall [emph. mine throughout]:

Drumheller's account is pretty probative evidence on the question of whether the White House politicized and cherry-picked the Iraq intelligence.

So why didn't we hear about any of this in the reports of those Iraq intel commissions that have given the White House a clean bill of health on distorting the intel and misleading the country about what we knew about Iraq's alleged WMD programs?

Think about it. It's devastating evidence against their credibility on a slew of levels.

Did you read in any of those reports -- even in a way that would protect sources and methods -- that the CIA had turned a key member of the Iraqi regime, that that guy had said there weren't any active weapons programs, and that the White House lost interest in what he was saying as soon as they realized it didn't help the case for war? What about what he said about the Niger story?

Did the Robb-Silbermann Commission not hear about what Drumheller had to say? What about the Roberts Committee?

I asked Drumheller just those questions when I spoke to him early this evening. He was quite clear. He was interviewed by the Robb-Silbermann Commission. Three times apparently.

Did he tell them everything he revealed on tonight's 60 Minutes segment. Absolutely.

Drumheller was also interviewed twice by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (the Roberts Committee) but apparently only after they released their summer 2004 report.

Now, quite a few of us have been arguing for almost two years now that those reports were fundamentally dishonest in the story they told about why we were so badly misled in the lead up to war. The fact that none of Drumheller's story managed to find its way into those reports, I think, speaks volumes about the agenda that the writers of those reports were pursuing.

"I was stunned," Drumheller told me, when so little of the stuff he had told the commission's and the committee's investigators ended up in their reports. His colleagues, he said, were equally "in shock" that so little of what they related ended up in the reports either.

What Drumheller has to say adds quite a lot to our knowledge of what happened in the lead up to war. But what it shows even more clearly is that none of this stuff has yet been investigated by anyone whose principal goal is not covering for the White House.
This account triggered my memory of some aspects of an article that Robert Dreyfuss wrote a couple months back for the American Prospect. In it, Dreyfuss told of an internal CIA investigation that yielded vastly different results than other "official" inquiries. The internal CIA probe's account seems to track with the story Drumheller gave in this interview, and in subsequent answers to questions posed by Marshall. From Dreyfuss:

From 9-11 through the start of the Iraq War in March 2003, the neoconservative nexus in the administration, led by Vice President Dick Cheney, leaned heavily on the CIA to come up with intelligence to support the White House's preordained determination to go to war against Iraq. The pressure directed at Tenet, McLaughlin, and scores of other CIA managers, analysts, and field officers was intense. Subsequent official investigations, by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and by the commission co-chaired by Lawrence Silberman and Charles Robb, blithely passed over the question of whether intelligence analysts were pressured by the administration. Both studies determined that analysts were not pressured, a conclusion that CIA and other U.S. intelligence professionals find laughable -- especially the idea that analysts would answer in the affirmative when asked by commissioners or senators if they had been pressured....

In fact, analysts were pressured, and heavily so, according to Richard Kerr. A 32-year CIA veteran, Kerr led an internal investigation of the agency's failure to correctly analyze Iraqi weapons-of-mass-destruction capabilities, preparing a series of four reports that have not been released publicly. Kerr joined the CIA in 1960, serving in a series of senior analytic posts, including director of East Asian analysis, the unit that prepared the president's daily intelligence brief, and finally as chief of the Directorate of Intelligence. For several months in 1991, Kerr was the acting CIA director; he retired in 1992. A highly respected analyst, Kerr received four Distinguished Intelligence Medals; in 1992, President George Bush Senior gave him the Citizen's Medal for his work during Operation Desert Storm.

Two years ago, Kerr was summoned out of retirement to lead a four-member task force to conduct the investigation of the weapons-of-mass-destruction fiasco. His team, which included a former Near East Division chief, a former CIA deputy inspector general, and a former CIA chief Soviet analyst, spent months sorting through everything that the CIA produced on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction prior to the invasion, as well as interviewing virtually everyone at the agency who had anything to do with producing the faulty intelligence estimates. The Kerr team's first report was an overview of what the CIA said about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction before the war compared with what Kerr calls the postwar "ground truth." The second looked specifically at a classified version of the important October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate, which the administration used to build its case for war. The third looked at the overall intelligence process, and the fourth was a think piece that considered how to reorganize the management of intelligence analysis "if you could start all over again."

Kerr's four reports, with a fifth now under way, were viewed as the definitive works of self-criticism inside the agency and were shared with the oversight committees in Congress, outside commissions, and the office of the secretary of defense. Unlike the outside reports that looked at the same issues, however, Kerr's concluded that CIA analysts felt squeezed -- and hard -- by the administration. "Everybody felt pressure," Kerr told me. "A lot of analysts believed that they were being pressured to come to certain conclusions.... I talked to a lot of people who said, 'There was a lot of repetitive questioning. We were being asked to justify what we were saying again and again.' There were certainly people who felt they were being pushed beyond the evidence they had."

In particular, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other administration officials hammered at the CIA to go back time and time again to look at intelligence that had already been sifted and resifted. "It was a continuing drumbeat: 'How do you know this? How do you know that? What about this or that report in the newspaper?'" says Kerr. Many of those questions, which began to cascade onto the CIA in 2001, were generated by the Office of Special Plans and by discredited fabricators such as Ahmad Chalabi of the Iraqi National Congress and a secret source code-named "Curveball." As a result, says Kerr, the CIA reached back to old data, relied on several sources of questionable veracity, and made assumptions about current data that were unwarranted. In particular, intelligence on Iraq's biological and chemical weapons program, much of which was based on data collected in the 1980s, early '90s, and more spottily until the end of the United Nations inspection regime in 1998, was parsed -- and, some would argue, cherry-picked -- in order to reinforce the administration's case.

On and off the record, other former CIA officials say that despite the pressure, dissent against the White House was rife within the agency...."The Near East Division people didn't buy into what the Bush administration wanted to do in regard to Iraq, but much of WINPAC did," says Larry Johnson..."There were people in the agency who tried to speak out or disagree...who got fired, got transferred, got outed, or criticized. Others decided to play ball."

Michael Scheuer -- who gained fame in 2004 as Anonymous, the author of Imperial Hubris, and who exited the CIA as Goss came in -- headed the CIA's Osama bin Laden unit and saw the confrontation up close. "I know a lot of people in the Iraq shop who were dissenting," he says. "There were people who were disciplined or taken off accounts." Opposition flared, particularly when the controversial 2002 National Intelligence Estimate was being cooked. "There was a great deal of dissent about that [estimate]," says Scheuer. "No one thought it was conclusive. One gentleman that I talked to, a senior Iraq analyst, regrets to this day that he did not go public."

According to another former CIA official, as the war loomed, the CIA's Iraq task force ballooned in size, from fewer than 10 analysts to 500. But some of the CIA's best and brightest on Iraq asked to be given other assignments rather than play ball with an administration already set on war. "A lot of people from the Iraq shop asked to be transferred away from Iraq," the former officer said. "You had all these people being transferred in, and the people who didn't like the direction it was going transferred out."
The remainder of Dreyfuss' article has to do with the ideological bent of Porter Goss's recent "makeover" efforts within the CIA - purging dissenters and creating more uniformity in ideological outlook. Kevin Drum follows the bouncing ball along to a story in the Washington Post about fired CIA leaker Mary McCarthy:

David Corn points out this sentence in today's Washington Post story about the firing of CIA officer Mary McCarthy as part of the agency's stepped up effort to fight leaks:
The White House also has recently barraged the agency with questions about the political affiliations of some of its senior intelligence officers, according to intelligence officials.
That sure deserves a followup, doesn't it? And a note to the White House: if you stop breaking the law, that would be a pretty good way to stop leaks too.
I must admit that I still find this recent storyline about the CIA being a rogue agency over-run by bleeding heart liberals and other assorted peaceniks to be beyond bizarre. Yet so many on the Right are willing to pick it up and run a marathon with it at the slightest provocation. More disconcerting, though, is what does that mean about the Bush administration, and its supporters, when they attempt to define the CIA this way? How far out do you have to be in order to try to color the CIA with the hues of flower power and the like? Strange days indeed.

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?