Commentary Magazine


Posts For: December 8, 2007

The C.I.A. Tapes and The NIE

Why is it that when a copiously decorated general offers his firsthand account of a current war, he’s treated with a mixture of resentment and cynicism so profound as to lead Senator Hillary Clinton to all but call him a liar, but when the U.S. intelligence community releases an assessment of Iranian nuclear capabilities, the mysteriously synthesized report is accepted as the last word?

And will such willful gullibility undergo revision in light of the latest C.I.A. catastrophe?

On Thursday we learned that the C.I.A. took it upon themselves to destroy videos showing the severe interrogation of al Qaeda suspects. Today, we find out they did so despite warnings from the Justice Department, the White House, and Congress. This roguish maneuver casts long and dark shadows on the NIE made public only days earlier. The New York Times reports: “The disclosures provide new details about what Gen. Michael V. Hayden, the C.I.A. director, has said was a decision ‘made within C.I.A. itself’ to destroy the videotapes.” One wonders what other decisions have been “made within the C.I.A. itself,” and how we’d find out.

It’s obvious why full transparency is impossible in matters of intelligence gathering, but given this latest example of both the incompetence and politicization of the C.I.A., it would be unwise to give them the benefit of the doubt on matters of global security—particularly when they’re urging us to give that same benefit to the regime in Tehran.

Why is it that when a copiously decorated general offers his firsthand account of a current war, he’s treated with a mixture of resentment and cynicism so profound as to lead Senator Hillary Clinton to all but call him a liar, but when the U.S. intelligence community releases an assessment of Iranian nuclear capabilities, the mysteriously synthesized report is accepted as the last word?

And will such willful gullibility undergo revision in light of the latest C.I.A. catastrophe?

On Thursday we learned that the C.I.A. took it upon themselves to destroy videos showing the severe interrogation of al Qaeda suspects. Today, we find out they did so despite warnings from the Justice Department, the White House, and Congress. This roguish maneuver casts long and dark shadows on the NIE made public only days earlier. The New York Times reports: “The disclosures provide new details about what Gen. Michael V. Hayden, the C.I.A. director, has said was a decision ‘made within C.I.A. itself’ to destroy the videotapes.” One wonders what other decisions have been “made within the C.I.A. itself,” and how we’d find out.

It’s obvious why full transparency is impossible in matters of intelligence gathering, but given this latest example of both the incompetence and politicization of the C.I.A., it would be unwise to give them the benefit of the doubt on matters of global security—particularly when they’re urging us to give that same benefit to the regime in Tehran.

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China and Climate Change

Yesterday, at the 190-nation UN Climate Change Conference in Bali, China suggested that Americans live more modestly. “I just wonder whether it’s fair to ask developing countries like China to take on binding targets,” said Su Wei, a member of Beijing’s delegation, referring to mandatory caps on emissions of greenhouse gases. “I think there is much room for the United States to think whether it’s possible to change lifestyle and consumption patterns in order to contribute to the protection of the global climate.”

Isn’t the global climate everyone’s responsibility? This year, China, which contains twenty of the world’s thirty dirtiest cities, has probably emitted more carbon and other heat-trapping gases than any other country. Yet the Chinese argue that their per-capita emissions are only a sixth of America’s and that they have been poisoning the atmosphere for only two decades while the United States and Europe have been at it for two centuries.

Whatever one thinks of the concept of global warming or the Kyoto Protocol—the conference seeks a replacement for this failing agreement—Beijing’s arguments fall flat for many reasons. Most importantly, China’s Communist Party is hell-bent on economic growth and will not take any meaningful measures to limit ecological harm. To their credit, the country’s leaders talk about renewable energy and energy efficiency, but they’re not doing much to further their initiatives. They adopted a “Green GDP” index to measure the effect of environmental degradation, but dropped the effort when it revealed embarrassing results: some areas, for instance, showed negative growth after subtracting out the effect of environmental damage.

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Yesterday, at the 190-nation UN Climate Change Conference in Bali, China suggested that Americans live more modestly. “I just wonder whether it’s fair to ask developing countries like China to take on binding targets,” said Su Wei, a member of Beijing’s delegation, referring to mandatory caps on emissions of greenhouse gases. “I think there is much room for the United States to think whether it’s possible to change lifestyle and consumption patterns in order to contribute to the protection of the global climate.”

Isn’t the global climate everyone’s responsibility? This year, China, which contains twenty of the world’s thirty dirtiest cities, has probably emitted more carbon and other heat-trapping gases than any other country. Yet the Chinese argue that their per-capita emissions are only a sixth of America’s and that they have been poisoning the atmosphere for only two decades while the United States and Europe have been at it for two centuries.

Whatever one thinks of the concept of global warming or the Kyoto Protocol—the conference seeks a replacement for this failing agreement—Beijing’s arguments fall flat for many reasons. Most importantly, China’s Communist Party is hell-bent on economic growth and will not take any meaningful measures to limit ecological harm. To their credit, the country’s leaders talk about renewable energy and energy efficiency, but they’re not doing much to further their initiatives. They adopted a “Green GDP” index to measure the effect of environmental degradation, but dropped the effort when it revealed embarrassing results: some areas, for instance, showed negative growth after subtracting out the effect of environmental damage.

Moreover, China’s environmental sinning has affected other nations, both near and far. As Elizabeth Economy of the Council on Foreign Relations has graphically noted, Chinese rivers run black. Black rivers flow into the bays and oceans, and the discharge washes up onto others’ shores, especially South Korea’s and Taiwan’s. The Chinese airmail mercury to Hawaii and even Massachusetts.

It is in everyone’s interest that humankind does not accelerate natural climate change, of course. Yet, as a practical matter, there can be no collective action until all nations agree to accept the pain of solutions. The Chinese, more than any other people, suffer from a polluted environment. Each year bad air and water cause 750,000 premature deaths in China. So they should want to be the first to take action.

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Am I Missing Something?

The Washington Post offers a lengthy recounting this morning of how the intelligence community went about gathering the intelligence behind its new estimate that Iran shut down its nuclear-weapons program in 2003. The story is particularly notable for three details.

First, it confirms what Dick Cheney has already said about the decision to make a summary of the NIE public. Initially, reports the Post, “Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, [had] decided to keep the new findings secret, but reluctantly reversed course in a flurry of discussions last weekend out of fear of leaks and charges of a cover-up.”

Second, with the decision to make the NIE public taken only last weekend, the story makes plain that the summary of the document, as opposed to the NIE itself, was produced in a mad rush: “analysts scrambled over the weekend,” the Post reports, “to draft a declassified version.”

This is crucial, because it leaves unclear whether the White House was ever shown or ever had a chance to sign off on the unclassified summary as opposed to the NIE itself. Perhaps the full NIE is a well-drafted and well-qualified document that makes it clear that, because of the “civilian” uranium-enrichment project at Natanz, the time-line on which Iran might obtain enough fuel to build a bomb is virtually unchanged from the supposedly discredited 2005 NIE.

But the declassified summary itself is anything but well-drafted and well-qualified. It leaves the misleading impression that all Iranian efforts to build nuclear weapons came to a halt in 2003. The differences between the summary and the full document on this score might explain why the White House was so blindsided by its own decision to make the NIE public.

Third, the Washington Post story takes note of the controversy within the government about whether the intelligence underpinning the new NIE is accurate. But it nowhere mentions the more crucial fact that Iran has an ongoing “civilian” nuclear program that was downplayed in the NIE summary, relegated to a footnote. Failing to mention this is deeply disingenuous, even mendacious. The Post is complicit with the drafters of the NIE summary in promoting the false impression that Iran has completely changed course and there is nothing to worry about.

What is behind this striking omission? The Post story was written by Peter Baker and Dafna Linzer. Walter Pincus, Joby Warrick, and Robin Wright contributed to it. A team of editors undoubtedly also read it and made changes and suggestions as editors do. What are we dealing with here? Laziness, deliberate deception, a desire to please sources within the intelligence world, a blinding world-view? Connecting the Dots would like to know.

The Washington Post offers a lengthy recounting this morning of how the intelligence community went about gathering the intelligence behind its new estimate that Iran shut down its nuclear-weapons program in 2003. The story is particularly notable for three details.

First, it confirms what Dick Cheney has already said about the decision to make a summary of the NIE public. Initially, reports the Post, “Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, [had] decided to keep the new findings secret, but reluctantly reversed course in a flurry of discussions last weekend out of fear of leaks and charges of a cover-up.”

Second, with the decision to make the NIE public taken only last weekend, the story makes plain that the summary of the document, as opposed to the NIE itself, was produced in a mad rush: “analysts scrambled over the weekend,” the Post reports, “to draft a declassified version.”

This is crucial, because it leaves unclear whether the White House was ever shown or ever had a chance to sign off on the unclassified summary as opposed to the NIE itself. Perhaps the full NIE is a well-drafted and well-qualified document that makes it clear that, because of the “civilian” uranium-enrichment project at Natanz, the time-line on which Iran might obtain enough fuel to build a bomb is virtually unchanged from the supposedly discredited 2005 NIE.

But the declassified summary itself is anything but well-drafted and well-qualified. It leaves the misleading impression that all Iranian efforts to build nuclear weapons came to a halt in 2003. The differences between the summary and the full document on this score might explain why the White House was so blindsided by its own decision to make the NIE public.

Third, the Washington Post story takes note of the controversy within the government about whether the intelligence underpinning the new NIE is accurate. But it nowhere mentions the more crucial fact that Iran has an ongoing “civilian” nuclear program that was downplayed in the NIE summary, relegated to a footnote. Failing to mention this is deeply disingenuous, even mendacious. The Post is complicit with the drafters of the NIE summary in promoting the false impression that Iran has completely changed course and there is nothing to worry about.

What is behind this striking omission? The Post story was written by Peter Baker and Dafna Linzer. Walter Pincus, Joby Warrick, and Robin Wright contributed to it. A team of editors undoubtedly also read it and made changes and suggestions as editors do. What are we dealing with here? Laziness, deliberate deception, a desire to please sources within the intelligence world, a blinding world-view? Connecting the Dots would like to know.

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