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Bush, Cheney Distorted Intelligence Data

I know, it’s hardly a revelation that the Bush administration, especially Dick Cheney, distorted the assessments of the intelligence community in order to build a dishonest case for war in Iraq. But one of the members of the CIA team that briefed Cheney on the subject just wrote an article for Wired about her experiences. Notice how completely reversed the process was:

Specifically, I was a CIA analyst working in the Counterterrorism Center in the overburdened days after 9/11. As analysts, we spend most of our time identifying burgeoning issues based on communications intercepts, reports from CIA case officers, imagery from satellites, accounts from other governments, and piecing together a story.

What we don’t do routinely is tie one catastrophe to another. But that was exactly what I was asked to do in November 2002, shortly after Congress voted to authorize war with Iraq. That war was predicated on Saddam Hussein’s (ultimately nonexistent) stockpiles of deadly weapons, but lurking in the background was the assertion that he’d pass them on to al-Qaida. At the CIA’s Iraq Branch in the Counterterrorism Center, we didn’t think Saddam had any substantial ties to al-Qaida. But soon we found ourselves fielding questions from determined Bush administration officials about whether Saddam was tied to 9/11.

That’s how my team ended up in a windowless room with my branch chief, “Karen,” who was pretending to be Dick Cheney or his chief of staff, Scooter Libby.

That month, Vice President Cheney scheduled a meeting with our Branch to discuss our assessment of Iraq’s relationship with al-Qaida and 9/11. It was his second visit to the Branch; there always seemed to be more questions. The Branch Chief called us together for a practice session in a bland conference room a few days before their arrival. At this so-called “murderboard” session, we weren’t stripping down our analysis to find data we’d missed. We were practicing how to defend our perspective when questioned by the Vice President of the United States.

Cheney didn’t go to the CIA to find out what the evidence said, he went there to find a way to make it say something it did not to the professionals who actually gathered and analyzed it. The result was inevitable:

In the abstract, challenging CIA’s analysis is a good thing: agency analysts get stuff wrong, as evidenced by Saddam’s non-WMD. But in this case, it was problematic. The nature of intelligence analysis is to gather as much information as possible to assist a policymaker in making difficult choices. If a policymaker has a preference for what the intelligence product should say, that pollutes the objectivity of the intelligence — and diminishes its value.

On Sunday, March 16, 2003, I watched Cheney on “Meet The Press” contradict our assessment publicly. “We know that he [Saddam] has a long-standing relationship with various terrorist groups,” Cheney said, “including the al-Qaeda organization.” I was basically watching Cheney field-test arguments that we would have to anticipate — and rebut — at CIA. Except instead of asking us questions behind closed doors, Cheney was asserting to the public as fact something that we found to be anything but. I found myself yelling at the TV like I was contesting a ref’s blown call in a football game.

The agency’s intelligence collection on Iraq’s relationship with al-Qaida was thin — Iraq’s connections to terrorist organizations were so minute it wasn’t a priority for us — so it was difficult to even construct a chart showing connections, as if we were mapping the Barksdale crew on The Wire.

Ironically, it was Cheney himself who provided a cogent argument for why the first President Bush chose not to push into Baghdad and depose Hussein after we ejected them from Kuwait in the early 90s. Bush 41 was right to make that decision, Cheney argued, because “we were not going to go get bogged down in the problems of trying to take over and govern Iraq.” And guess what? He was right about that. But somewhere along the line he flipped positions so vehemently that he thought it was worth lying about repeatedly. Of course, that’s an easy decision to make when it’s only someone else’s children in the line of fire as neither Cheney nor his children ever were.

Comments

  1. says

    Ironically, it was Cheney himself who provided a cogent argument for why the first President Bush chose not to push into Baghdad and depose Hussein after we ejected them from Kuwait in the early 90s. Bush 41 was right to make that decision, Cheney argued, because “we were not going to go get bogged down in the problems of trying to take over and govern Iraq.”

    Because, at that time, they were expecting Saddam’s Iraq to collapse and then they were going to put in someone like Chalabi to rule and turn the cheap oil on. They gave it a while to work and eventually got impatient.

  2. wscott says

    Bush 41 was right to make that decision, Cheney argued, because “we were not going to go get bogged down in the problems of trying to take over and govern Iraq.” And guess what? He was right about that. But somewhere along the line he flipped positions so vehemently that he thought it was worth lying about repeatedly.

    I’ve never understood how Cheny changed so completely between 1992 and 2000. His reputation as Sec Def was nearly 360 degrees out from the Veep we came to know and loathe. It’s tempting to blame it all on post-9/11 stress, but it wounds like he was already heading that way before 9/11. Sudden change in brain chemistry.

  3. naturalcynic says

    I’ve never understood how Cheny changed so completely between 1992 and 2000. His reputation as Sec Def was nearly 360 degrees out from the Veep we came to know and loathe. It’s tempting to blame it all on post-9/11 stress, but it wounds like he was already heading that way before 9/11. Sudden change in brain chemistry.
    PNAC [Project for a New American Century] came between Gulf War I and y2k. Old buddy Rummy was a part of the cabal that planned a super aggressive foreign policy and target #1 was Saddam and Iraq’s oil. A 180 was easy after all the neocons lined up behind an Iraqi invasion

  4. naturalcynic says

    I’ve never understood how Cheny changed so completely between 1992 and 2000. His reputation as Sec Def was nearly 360 degrees out from the Veep we came to know and loathe. It’s tempting to blame it all on post-9/11 stress, but it wounds like he was already heading that way before 9/11. Sudden change in brain chemistry.

    PNAC [Project for a New American Century] came between Gulf War I and y2k. Old buddy Rummy was a part of the cabal that planned a super aggressive foreign policy and target #1 was Saddam and Iraq’s oil. A 180 was easy after all the neocons lined up behind an Iraqi invasion

    bq fail

  5. Chris A says

    @4
    You totally ignore the degree to which these are political animals. Truth, right, and wrong matters nothing. Winning elections matters. Sponsors matter. If you imagine the pettiest, basest, most horrible possible place for these people, you will still fall short of how evil they are. It is very sad.

  6. Reginald Selkirk says

    “Bush” and “intelligence” do not belong together in the same sentence.

  7. fastlane says

    Well, you go to war with the intelligence you can manufacture, not necessarily the intelligence you want….

    I think Cheney said something like that. It might not be a direct quote, but it’s something he would have said.

    Meta: wow, I tied several memes together there, didn’t I?

  8. says

    Even ten years later, the utter shamelessness of the way Cheney continues to lie astounds me. I really do believe that he is a sociopath.

  9. says

    “I really do believe that he is a sociopath.”

    Dr. X appears to be the one who is best qualified to make that diagnosis but I’ll second it. I think that they are all sociopaths or pathalogical narcissists.

  10. says

    @1
    No, I think the difference came down to a fundamental difference between Bush Sr. and Bush Jr.

    I don’t think Bush Sr. was looking to dominate the entire Middle East. He wanted an easy war to win for the benefits of domestic popularity. Bush Sr. had actually fought in a war (unlike any of the decision-makers for his son’s administration) and was aware of how wars can get out of control.

    I take Cheney’s earlier statement as something he made because it was Bush’s opinion. Not necessarily his own. But perhaps it was – many have said that they noticed a large change in Cheney’s temperament between 1992 and 2000. Perhaps one of his many heart attacks led to a change in his personality.

  11. abusedbypenguins says

    In ancient Ireland it was customary to honor your enemy by making a drinking cup out of one of their skulls. I wish to honor the bush administration by the enjoyment of a drinking cup made from the skull of Richard “The Dick” Cheney.

  12. Ichthyic says

    It never ceases to amaze me.

    Nixon gets caught bugging a congressional office, and lies about it.

    Deaths resulting from that: 0

    results: Impeachment proceedings, forced resignation.

    W and C get caught lying about… well… EVERYTHING, deliberately work to sabotage governtment intelligence, economic policy, and military policy. Frankly, looking very much in action like the worst of the fascist regimes, short of calling for active roundups of their own citizens.

    Deaths resulting from that: hundreds of THOUSANDS, and an economy in shambles, and a complete loss of respect from the entire fucking world.

    result: profit. Cheney’s income portfolio increased 300% while in office.

    no impeachment proceedings, no investigations, no charges, no responsibility.

    I’m sorry, but ANYONE who can look at that objectively, and conclude that democracy is anywhere near still sound in the US is delusional.

    A thoughtful citizen should either be actively trying to remove such a government by force, replacing it from the ground up via massive groundroots movements, or leaving.

    the fact that none of those 3 things is happening in any significant fashion tells me that the US has already failed.

    it’s sad, really, because it really was a grand experiment.

  13. left0ver1under says

    This is not news. Several times since 2003, it has been shown that the Bu**sh** regime put pressure on the CIA to fudge, distort, lie, imagine, manufacture and heavily overestimate the “intelligence” used to justify the illegal invasion.

    Here’s one from 2008, one of many that exist:

    We shall offer only a few examples here. First is the case of the CIA white paper, “Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Programs.” That document is dated October 2002 [Document 1] and was issued on October 4. It has been represented as a distillation of the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq published two days earlier, with the most sensitive, secret information stripped out. […]

    This point is made even sharper by recently declassified Department of Defense documents, including a memorandum from the OUSDP that details the kinds of information seen as desirable to obtain from intelligence in order to strengthen the case for war against Iraq [Document 3]. The timing of this document suggests that this text was a response to the draft CIA white paper, created at a point when Pentagon critics of CIA reporting were actively pressing their case against the agency’s refusal to accept arguments that Saddam Hussein was allied with Al Qaeda. Changes in the CIA white paper between its July draft and the final document track closely with the OUSDP comments. The net impression is that the CIA white paper was rewritten to conform to administration preferences. If so, U.S. intelligence a priori made itself a tool of a political effort, vitiating the intelligence function and confirming the presence of a politicized process. The specific analytic failures on Iraq intelligence become much less significant in such a climate, especially in that they all yielded intelligence predictions of exactly the kind the Bush administration wanted to hear.

    The site linked to has links to each “[Document #]” mentioned.

    The only difference now is that some of those who participated in the propaganda war are speaking out. But in the case of “journalists” admitting error, it reeks of damage control and people trying to protect their careers. War cheerleaders like Amanpour are trying to rewrite history, pretending that no one was against the wars before they happened. They’re trying to claim that “no one is innocent or blameless” and thus prevent fingers from being pointed at themselves.

  14. slc1 says

    According to Colin Powell’s former deputy, Lawrence Wilkerson, the change in Cheney occurred subsequent to the 9/11 attacks. He says that Cheney was terrified by them and the subsequent Iraq war was the reaction of a man who was lashing out in fear at a convenient target, even though there was no evidence that Saddam was in cahoots with Al Qaeda.

  15. Matt G says

    This so clearly highlights the difference between reasoning and rationalizing. Is it any wonder that people of their ilk are creationists?

  16. karmacat says

    During the gulf war, Bush Sr often bypassed Cheney who was sec of defense and talked to Colin Powell who was head of the joint chiefs of staff. I have to wonder what was going on behind closed doors and if Cheney resented Powell

  17. Tualha says

    Um…how is it that Ms. Bakos can publish this? Don’t CIA employees have to sign papers stating they’ll keep the secrets? Is it that the CIA (under Obama) gave permission for her to tell this story? That would be surprising, considering Obama’s record of non-transparency and unwillingness to address the crimes of the Bush Administration.

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