Research: Commentary

Restoring Faith in Intelligence

The Baltimore Sun, February 9, 2004 | Article

By Melvin A. Goodman

THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION is unable to grasp that it has presided over the worst intelligence scandal in the history of the United States and that the credibility of the administration is at stake.

Virtually all of the evidence is in - and it is compelling - that the administration made a decision to go to war and then hunted for the intelligence to justify the decision. This led to key Cabinet officials using specious information in congressional and international settings to make a case for war.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld created his own intelligence shop in the Pentagon's Office of Special Plans to provide inflammatory intelligence to the White House to bolster the decision to go to war and put pressure on the CIA to follow suit. The postwar deterioration in Iraq could lead to a civil war that would demand a decision to cut and run or to endanger even more U.S. lives.

An inquiry by a bipartisan commission to be appointed by President Bush will examine CIA misjudgments about weapons programs in Iran, Libya, North Korea and Pakistan, an intelligence target that has become more difficult because of the "outing" of Valerie Plame, a highly trained CIA operative.

It takes years of training and planning to develop such operatives, and she was skilled in counterproliferation, the most threatening of international security issues. Her cover as the wife of a U.S. diplomat was working perfectly, and her "outing" compromised her career and jeopardized the lives of her operatives abroad.

It was Ms. Plame's husband who publicized the White House use of fabricated documents to make the case that Iraq was trying to reconstitute its nuclear capability. A federal law calls for prison terms for individuals who compromise operatives; that White House sources were involved is almost implausible.

At the same time, the White House is stonewalling the independent Kean Commission, which the Bush administration reluctantly created to study the reasons for the 9/11 intelligence failure. The commission is being denied full access to witnesses and documents and, until recently, has been rebuffed in its efforts to get more time and money to conduct a rigorous investigation.

The commission on Iraq is a reasonably strong and even-handed one, including such independent Democrats as former Sen. Charles S. Robb of Virginia and White House confidant Lloyd N. Cutler and, on the Republican side, Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Lawrence H. Silberman. Nevertheless, there will be no findings until next year, and the White House is unlikely to share CIA intelligence briefings with the commission.

With or without a commission, the administration must learn that the best intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction came from professional U.N. inspectors who were left alone to do their job.

The serious national security concerns of the nation demand immediate changes at the Central Intelligence Agency before these investigative bodies report to the American people.

President Bush must ask for the resignation of CIA Director George J. Tenet, who was never qualified for this difficult position and whose appointment marked an error in judgment by President Bill Clinton. Mr. Tenet should have been replaced after the 9/11 intelligence failure, or he should have resigned over the "outing" of a CIA operative, or over Vice President Dick Cheney's efforts to politicize CIA analysis.

A new CIA director must meet immediately with the chairmen and ranking minority members of the Senate and House intelligence committees to call for the restoration of bipartisan oversight of the intelligence community, greater civilian control over the intelligence process and independent and balanced intelligence judgments in the future.

Mr. Rumsfeld must abolish the relatively new position of undersecretary of defense for intelligence, investigate the role of the former Office of Special Plans and defer to civilian leaders of the intelligence community on strategic intelligence matters. The president must ensure that policy interference in the intelligence process will never be tolerated, and he must guarantee to the American people that American blood and treasure will never be squandered in situations that do not threaten vital interests.

American national security is facing a situation comparable to that of 57 years ago, when President Harry Truman created the National Security Council, the Defense Department and the CIA to address the Cold War demands of threatening Soviet policies.

Now, President Bush must address the integrity and credibility of those very institutions in an era when the international environment has been recast, the threats have been altered and the role of intelligence has never been more important.

If immediate steps are not taken to buttress the personnel and institutions of the national security community, this country will face more pre-emptive war and greater terrorist threats to U.S. interests.

Original article available here.

Copyright 2004 The Baltimore Sun. 

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