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January 29, 2004

I don't often find myself in agreement with the editorial board of the NYT

...and I understand the political risks involved, US intelligence has been too dicked up for too long to continue in the old way. And it's going to take outsiders to dig into it.

There's plenty of blame to go around. Sucessive Congresses meddling and hamstringing. Successive Presidents of both parties failing to act decisively with summary bureaucratic executions. The intel community protecting itself by using the fact that any investigation is going to jeopardize sources as a reason to forestall any objective examination of the problem at all.

It's time to poke in the nooks and crannies. And clean it up. And it would be a colossal example of leadership to do so. Mr. Truman was able to recognize that disestablishing the OSS was a bad idea - and he stood up the CIA. Maybe it's time to shake 'em up again. Mr. President - the ability to admit to failure and to fix the problem is a defining characteristic of leadership. Mr. Clinton wasn't up to it. Ms. Reno wasn't up to it - naming two people who 'took responsibility' but took no action.

Mr. President, we're waiting, are you up to it?

New York Times January 29, 2004

George Bush, In Denial


While Tony Blair was cooperating with a British investigation into his handling of the lead-up to the Iraqi invasion, the Bush White House continued to follow its strategy of spin and evade. Because Mr. Blair was compelled to take the risk that objective investigators would find that he had acted honorably and honestly, Britain is now able to move on to the next logical step — finding out why its intelligence was so completely wrong. Americans, however, are still stuck in stage one. President Bush needs to move things forward by starting — or allowing Congress to start — an independent investigation that goes beyond the British inquiry and looks into all aspects of the apparent intelligence failures on Iraq.

Mr. Bush, whose aides had been plotting a war against Iraq practically since Inauguration Day, has dodged questions about why the American intelligence about Iraq was just as wrong as Britain's intelligence. Vice President Dick Cheney continues to make outsized claims about Iraq's prewar weapons programs, and the administration's allies continue to grasp at straws. It was painful yesterday morning to watch John Warner, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, trying to drag some positive nuggets from David Kay, the former chief weapons inspector. After Dr. Kay said he had found no evidence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and concluded that none would be found, Mr. Warner pounced on the idea that Dr. Kay said he had accounted for "only" 85 percent of Iraq's military programs. So that, Mr. Warner said triumphantly, leaves 15 percent. Yes, and in a few months it will be 10 percent, and months after that 5 percent, and the answers will almost certainly be the same: Iraq destroyed its weapons and weapons programs long ago under the pressure of the same United Nations inspectors that Mr. Bush and his aides vilified in the months leading up to the war. American intelligence was wrong in concluding that weapons existed, and that robust programs to develop more were continuing.

Dr. Kay has repeatedly told the administration just that. It has responded by trying to edit the rhetoric. Rather than addressing the alarming failures of American intelligence, Mr. Bush and his aides have gone from talking about weapons to talking about weapons programs, and then, in the State of the Union address, "weapons of mass destruction-related program activities." It is time to stop refining the spin and make a serious attempt to find out where and how American intelligence went wrong. The public also needs to know, as authoritatively as possible, whether the administration made ambiguous intelligence seem certain for political reasons or, worse, whether analysts were pressured to exaggerate their intelligence.

It is easy to understand, tactically, why Mr. Bush is reluctant to do that in an election year. No matter how he and his aides try to change the subject to how tyrannical Saddam Hussein was, it was the presence of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons in Iraq that Mr. Bush gave as his justification for rushing into a war without real international backing. Dr. Kay said yesterday that he had seen no evidence of politically twisted intelligence reporting before the war. But he put it well when he said that "it's important to acknowledge failure." Only an independent panel can be trusted at this point to find out what went wrong in Iraq and give the public some hope that another big intelligence failure can be prevented in the future.