Commentary Magazine


Topic: American intelligence

Spy Talk Illustrates Unreality of Mideast Talks

The debate over how the Israeli government will deal with the expiration of its six-month settlement freeze in the West Bank got stranger yesterday when both the New York Times and Politico published stories alleging that Jerusalem had asked the United States whether it would free convicted spy Jonathan Pollard in exchange for a freeze in settlements. According to the Times’s Isabel Kershner, such a deal would help Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sell a renewal of the freeze to his coalition partners. Pollard’s fate was discussed in 1998 during the negotiations between Netanyahu and Bill Clinton over the Wye Plantation Agreement, one of the many interim agreements that stemmed from the failed Oslo peace process. At that time, the U.S. intelligence community revolted at the idea of freeing Pollard and wound up spiking the proposal.

The anonymous sources for the current reports don’t seem to be based on anything more than rumination inside the prime minister’s bureau, but Israel’s interest in springing Pollard, an American Jew who has spent the last 25 years in prison for spying for the Israelis while he served as a U.S. Navy analyst, is a longstanding issue. While Pollard was guilty of a very serious crime and deserved punishment, his sentence was extremely harsh when compared with the treatment of others who spied here on behalf of allies. Some American Jews have foolishly lionized Pollard’s espionage, which did great harm to Israel and its alliance with the United States. It’s not entirely clear whether the reason Pollard is still in jail is due to his own refusal to express contrition for his actions or the continued intransigence of the American intelligence community. Either way, Pollard’s chances for clemency have long been considered remote. Yet, despite the fact that the heavy-handed tactics of some of his supporters alienated many who might otherwise have been sympathetic to Pollard’s plight and further undermined the chances of successful appeals for his release, there is still considerable sympathy for Pollard in Israel, where he is seen as a man who was exploited and then abandoned by his handlers.

But injecting Pollard into the delicate negotiations with the Obama administration and the Palestinian Authority is a tactic of questionable utility for Netanyahu. Though the idea that Pollard appears to be destined to rot in jail forever while those who spied here for hostile nations receive light sentences or are exchanged after virtually no time in prison strikes many Israelis as unjust, buying his freedom with a costly policy concession cannot be considered wise statecraft. Nor is it clear that Pollard’s release would do much to comfort Israeli right-wingers who are upset about a settlement freeze.

If anything, the floating of Pollard’s name in connection with the peace talks illustrates the lack of seriousness of these negotiations. The reality of Palestinian politics and the strength of Hamas mean there is no chance that the Palestinian Authority will sign any peace agreement, and both Abbas and Netanyahu are merely trying to act in such a manner as to evade blame for the eventual failure of the talks. So instead of serious give and take about final-status issues, we are hearing about tangential topics such as Pollard or Palestinian threats to walk out over the failure of Israeli to concede its position in the territories even before the talks begin. Whether or not the spy-exchange proposal is genuine, the discussion of such an eventuality says a lot more about the futility of President Obama’s ill-considered push for talks at a time when progress is virtually impossible than it does about Pollard’s fate.

The debate over how the Israeli government will deal with the expiration of its six-month settlement freeze in the West Bank got stranger yesterday when both the New York Times and Politico published stories alleging that Jerusalem had asked the United States whether it would free convicted spy Jonathan Pollard in exchange for a freeze in settlements. According to the Times’s Isabel Kershner, such a deal would help Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sell a renewal of the freeze to his coalition partners. Pollard’s fate was discussed in 1998 during the negotiations between Netanyahu and Bill Clinton over the Wye Plantation Agreement, one of the many interim agreements that stemmed from the failed Oslo peace process. At that time, the U.S. intelligence community revolted at the idea of freeing Pollard and wound up spiking the proposal.

The anonymous sources for the current reports don’t seem to be based on anything more than rumination inside the prime minister’s bureau, but Israel’s interest in springing Pollard, an American Jew who has spent the last 25 years in prison for spying for the Israelis while he served as a U.S. Navy analyst, is a longstanding issue. While Pollard was guilty of a very serious crime and deserved punishment, his sentence was extremely harsh when compared with the treatment of others who spied here on behalf of allies. Some American Jews have foolishly lionized Pollard’s espionage, which did great harm to Israel and its alliance with the United States. It’s not entirely clear whether the reason Pollard is still in jail is due to his own refusal to express contrition for his actions or the continued intransigence of the American intelligence community. Either way, Pollard’s chances for clemency have long been considered remote. Yet, despite the fact that the heavy-handed tactics of some of his supporters alienated many who might otherwise have been sympathetic to Pollard’s plight and further undermined the chances of successful appeals for his release, there is still considerable sympathy for Pollard in Israel, where he is seen as a man who was exploited and then abandoned by his handlers.

But injecting Pollard into the delicate negotiations with the Obama administration and the Palestinian Authority is a tactic of questionable utility for Netanyahu. Though the idea that Pollard appears to be destined to rot in jail forever while those who spied here for hostile nations receive light sentences or are exchanged after virtually no time in prison strikes many Israelis as unjust, buying his freedom with a costly policy concession cannot be considered wise statecraft. Nor is it clear that Pollard’s release would do much to comfort Israeli right-wingers who are upset about a settlement freeze.

If anything, the floating of Pollard’s name in connection with the peace talks illustrates the lack of seriousness of these negotiations. The reality of Palestinian politics and the strength of Hamas mean there is no chance that the Palestinian Authority will sign any peace agreement, and both Abbas and Netanyahu are merely trying to act in such a manner as to evade blame for the eventual failure of the talks. So instead of serious give and take about final-status issues, we are hearing about tangential topics such as Pollard or Palestinian threats to walk out over the failure of Israeli to concede its position in the territories even before the talks begin. Whether or not the spy-exchange proposal is genuine, the discussion of such an eventuality says a lot more about the futility of President Obama’s ill-considered push for talks at a time when progress is virtually impossible than it does about Pollard’s fate.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Senate candidate Dan Coats thinks Obama is getting ready for a containment strategy for Iran, and he doesn’t like it: “Coats said the ‘only option’ left to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons is the threat of military action. Coats said most Americans agree that Iran must not be allowed to have such weapons, even though Iranian leaders continue to press forward with their nuclear program. … ‘If it’s unacceptable, what are we going to do? … And now it seems we’re being asked to accept the unacceptable.’”

Democrats tried going after the CIA again, determined to criminalize interrogation techniques: “If this Act becomes law (it may have already been killed in Congress at the time of this writing), it will surely cause confusion for interrogators who want to know where the line is, precisely, lest they be thrown in jail. This creates risk aversion among interrogators where none is warranted.”

Liz Cheney objected: “American intelligence officers do not deserve this kind of treatment from the government they honorably serve. Day in and day out, they protect our country and make difficult decisions–at times in matters of life and death. In return for their service the government rewards them with little pay and no acknowledgement of their heroic actions. Democrats in Congress now want to threaten them with criminal prosecutions and deprive them of valuable tactics that protect America.”

And Democrats pulled the bill.

Larry Sabato (h/t Jim Geraghty): “The Crystal Ball moves five Democratic seats from a “safe” rating onto our list of competitive races: KY-6 (Ben Chandler), MA-10 (Bill Delahunt), OH-13 (Betty Sutton), SC-5 (John Spratt), and VA-9 (Rick Boucher). In addition, two already competitive races for Democrats look even worse than before—IA-3 (Leonard Boswell) and IN-8 (OPEN, Brad Ellsworth)—and two Republican incumbents have improved their reelection prospects—AL-3 (Mike Rogers) and CA-44 (Ken Calvert).”

The Orthodox Union is upset with the Obama administration for criticizing the Heritage Plan, under which Israel will invest $100 million in rehabilitating historic and religious sites throughout Israel. Netanyahu included among the sites the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron and Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem. Palestinians objected, and then the State Department chimed in and called the inclusion of such sites “provocative.” The OU responded: “It is not ‘provocative’ to invest in and rehabilitate holy/historic sites — that are open to both Jews and Muslims. Nothing PM Netanyahu has proposed precludes a peace agreement. It is provocative for the Palestinians to assert that there is no Jewish connection to these sites and for them to use this as yet another false basis for refusal to engage in peace negotiations.”

Peter Kirsanow of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights: “In equating high-risk pools to racial segregation, Senator Harkin not only betrays his ignorance of history and his tone-deafness, but a disconcerting obliviousness to the contents of the Democrats’ own health-care plan. In fact, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has sent two letters to Congress and the president detailing the various discriminatory provisions in the Democrats’ health-care plan. It’s often said that the party who first invokes Hitler has lost the argument. In this case, the party who first invoked racial discrimination has lost perspective, if not his senses.”

Part of Obama’s problem: “At the very same hour as Obama is talking about his beloved healthcare plan, out come surprising new federal numbers showing that last week new J-O-B-L-E-S-S claims unexpectedly went up — as in more of them — to nearly a half-million, 22,000 more than the previous week. And nearly 8% higher than the expected 460,000 new claims.”

Politico on Tom Campbell’s Sami Al-Arian problem: “A bespectacled former college professor who has pleaded guilty to aiding the group Palestinian Islamic Jihad helped tip the balance in a 2004 Senate contest in Florida. Now, six years later, Sami Al-Arian could be on the verge of doing it again, this time in California. Republican Senate hopeful Tom Campbell, a former congressman, has come under sustained attack on conservative websites and from his rivals in recent days for taking a campaign donation from Al-Arian in 2000, for backing legislation Al-Arian was lobbying for at the time and for allegedly being a less-than-steadfast supporter of Israel.”

JTA is into it too, noting how inappropriate it is for Campbell to use a selective quote from a letter of the late and very great friend of Israel Tom Lantos: “Using Lantos’ letter to bolster Campbell’s case is really icky.”

Senate candidate Dan Coats thinks Obama is getting ready for a containment strategy for Iran, and he doesn’t like it: “Coats said the ‘only option’ left to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons is the threat of military action. Coats said most Americans agree that Iran must not be allowed to have such weapons, even though Iranian leaders continue to press forward with their nuclear program. … ‘If it’s unacceptable, what are we going to do? … And now it seems we’re being asked to accept the unacceptable.’”

Democrats tried going after the CIA again, determined to criminalize interrogation techniques: “If this Act becomes law (it may have already been killed in Congress at the time of this writing), it will surely cause confusion for interrogators who want to know where the line is, precisely, lest they be thrown in jail. This creates risk aversion among interrogators where none is warranted.”

Liz Cheney objected: “American intelligence officers do not deserve this kind of treatment from the government they honorably serve. Day in and day out, they protect our country and make difficult decisions–at times in matters of life and death. In return for their service the government rewards them with little pay and no acknowledgement of their heroic actions. Democrats in Congress now want to threaten them with criminal prosecutions and deprive them of valuable tactics that protect America.”

And Democrats pulled the bill.

Larry Sabato (h/t Jim Geraghty): “The Crystal Ball moves five Democratic seats from a “safe” rating onto our list of competitive races: KY-6 (Ben Chandler), MA-10 (Bill Delahunt), OH-13 (Betty Sutton), SC-5 (John Spratt), and VA-9 (Rick Boucher). In addition, two already competitive races for Democrats look even worse than before—IA-3 (Leonard Boswell) and IN-8 (OPEN, Brad Ellsworth)—and two Republican incumbents have improved their reelection prospects—AL-3 (Mike Rogers) and CA-44 (Ken Calvert).”

The Orthodox Union is upset with the Obama administration for criticizing the Heritage Plan, under which Israel will invest $100 million in rehabilitating historic and religious sites throughout Israel. Netanyahu included among the sites the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron and Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem. Palestinians objected, and then the State Department chimed in and called the inclusion of such sites “provocative.” The OU responded: “It is not ‘provocative’ to invest in and rehabilitate holy/historic sites — that are open to both Jews and Muslims. Nothing PM Netanyahu has proposed precludes a peace agreement. It is provocative for the Palestinians to assert that there is no Jewish connection to these sites and for them to use this as yet another false basis for refusal to engage in peace negotiations.”

Peter Kirsanow of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights: “In equating high-risk pools to racial segregation, Senator Harkin not only betrays his ignorance of history and his tone-deafness, but a disconcerting obliviousness to the contents of the Democrats’ own health-care plan. In fact, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has sent two letters to Congress and the president detailing the various discriminatory provisions in the Democrats’ health-care plan. It’s often said that the party who first invokes Hitler has lost the argument. In this case, the party who first invoked racial discrimination has lost perspective, if not his senses.”

Part of Obama’s problem: “At the very same hour as Obama is talking about his beloved healthcare plan, out come surprising new federal numbers showing that last week new J-O-B-L-E-S-S claims unexpectedly went up — as in more of them — to nearly a half-million, 22,000 more than the previous week. And nearly 8% higher than the expected 460,000 new claims.”

Politico on Tom Campbell’s Sami Al-Arian problem: “A bespectacled former college professor who has pleaded guilty to aiding the group Palestinian Islamic Jihad helped tip the balance in a 2004 Senate contest in Florida. Now, six years later, Sami Al-Arian could be on the verge of doing it again, this time in California. Republican Senate hopeful Tom Campbell, a former congressman, has come under sustained attack on conservative websites and from his rivals in recent days for taking a campaign donation from Al-Arian in 2000, for backing legislation Al-Arian was lobbying for at the time and for allegedly being a less-than-steadfast supporter of Israel.”

JTA is into it too, noting how inappropriate it is for Campbell to use a selective quote from a letter of the late and very great friend of Israel Tom Lantos: “Using Lantos’ letter to bolster Campbell’s case is really icky.”

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Cliff May tries to explain satire to the Beagle Blogger. And it doesn’t even involve Sarah Palin.

COMMENTARY contributor Jamie Kirchick, on designating the Christmas Day bomber as a criminal defendant rather than an enemy combatant: “The question of what type of legal status we ought to grant Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab remains a live question with serious implications for the national security of the United States. As the situation now stands, with an untold number of plots in the works, treating this man as a criminal defendant requires us to count upon the discretion and good will of a would-be mass murderer.”

Former CIA Director James Woolsey doesn’t think Flight 253 was “a problem of coordination”: “It was about people within the agencies pulling in their horns. The only person who can turn this around is the president. Not much will change unless he speaks up. He needs to tell people that this is a long struggle against radical Islam and its manifestations.” I hope I am wrong but somehow I don’t think Obama is the one to “smash political correctness upside the head.”

A top-tier GOP contender shows interest in a Blue state senate race: “Republican Rep. Pete King (N.Y.) signaled Monday that he is reconsidering his decision not to run for Senate in 2010 .King said he’s actively looking at a run for statewide office this year after he’d ruled out such a campaign last summer.” If they suspect it will be a wave election, many more well-known challengers may want to jump into races that in ordinary years would be considered out of reach.

Benny Avni explains why “targeted” sanctions on Iran are a dumb idea: “No one in last week’s well-organized pro-regime mass demonstrations carried a sign advocating diplomacy to defuse tensions with America (and anti-government demonstrators aren’t itching for it either). A diplomatic solution exists only in our head. Some (like [John] Kerry) cling to last year’s foolishness, but for others it’s replaced by a new ‘boomerang’ theory: If we sanction the Iranian people too heavily, they ‘will be fooled into thinking we are to blame,’ as an unnamed administration official told the Washington Post. Nonsense, says Israel Radio’s Farsi Service veteran Menashe Amir, whose broadcasts are often cited by Iranian media as instigating the antigovernment protesters. . . Once again, the ideas underlying Washington’s new policy miss the target. At this late date, sanctions can only be helpful if they facilitate regime change, which should be the top objective of the new strategy. Targeting for sanctions only a handful of evil regime operators would hardly impress the Iranian masses (although it will be widely applauded in Washington and the United Nations).”

The State Department goes rushing to the defense of Hannah Rosenthal (who is supposed to be working on anti-Semitism but took some time out to lash out at Israel’s Ambassador Michael Oren for not being nice to her J Street pals). “Separately, Rosenthal’s predecessor, Gregg Rickman, has slammed her for her remarks about Oren. ‘Ms. Rosenthal’s criticisms of Ambassador Oren strike a chord particularly because this is not her policy portfolio to advocate . . . She is supposed to fight anti-Semitism, not defend J-Street, an organization on whose Advisory Board she formally sat before her appointment to the State Department.”

If “Big is bad” is catching on as a political message, how long before voters exact revenge once they figure out that the Democrats have struck a health-care deal with big and bad insurance companies?

James Taranto goes on a roll: “We suppose Napolitano is a glass-is-half-full kind of gal. And it’s true that, apart from allowing a known extremist to board a plane while carrying a bomb, the system worked. . . ABC News reports that ‘one of the four leaders allegedly behind the al Qaeda plot to blow up a Northwest Airlines passenger jet over Detroit was released by the U.S. from the Guantanamo prison in November 2007.’ Said Ali Shari, a Saudi national, was released into the custody of our friends the Saudis and “has since emerged in leadership roles in Yemen,” says ABC. Heckuva job, Nayef. In fairness, we should note that in November 2007, Barack Obama was only the junior senator from Illinois. This is a problem he inherited from the Bush administration. And he has responded by putting a stop to the release of terrorists from Guantanamo. Just kidding!” Looks like the joke is on us.

Worse than returning the Churchill bust: “The name of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was included in a dossier of people believed to have made attempts to deal with known extremists that was shared with American intelligence. . . Abdulmutallab came to the attention of intelligence agencies because of ‘multiple communications’ he had with Islamic extremists in Britain while a student between 2006 and 2008. However, denying reports that the information had not been divulged, the Prime Minister’s spokesman said: ‘Clearly there was security information about this individual’s activities and that was information that was shared with the US authorities. That is the key point.’”

Cliff May tries to explain satire to the Beagle Blogger. And it doesn’t even involve Sarah Palin.

COMMENTARY contributor Jamie Kirchick, on designating the Christmas Day bomber as a criminal defendant rather than an enemy combatant: “The question of what type of legal status we ought to grant Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab remains a live question with serious implications for the national security of the United States. As the situation now stands, with an untold number of plots in the works, treating this man as a criminal defendant requires us to count upon the discretion and good will of a would-be mass murderer.”

Former CIA Director James Woolsey doesn’t think Flight 253 was “a problem of coordination”: “It was about people within the agencies pulling in their horns. The only person who can turn this around is the president. Not much will change unless he speaks up. He needs to tell people that this is a long struggle against radical Islam and its manifestations.” I hope I am wrong but somehow I don’t think Obama is the one to “smash political correctness upside the head.”

A top-tier GOP contender shows interest in a Blue state senate race: “Republican Rep. Pete King (N.Y.) signaled Monday that he is reconsidering his decision not to run for Senate in 2010 .King said he’s actively looking at a run for statewide office this year after he’d ruled out such a campaign last summer.” If they suspect it will be a wave election, many more well-known challengers may want to jump into races that in ordinary years would be considered out of reach.

Benny Avni explains why “targeted” sanctions on Iran are a dumb idea: “No one in last week’s well-organized pro-regime mass demonstrations carried a sign advocating diplomacy to defuse tensions with America (and anti-government demonstrators aren’t itching for it either). A diplomatic solution exists only in our head. Some (like [John] Kerry) cling to last year’s foolishness, but for others it’s replaced by a new ‘boomerang’ theory: If we sanction the Iranian people too heavily, they ‘will be fooled into thinking we are to blame,’ as an unnamed administration official told the Washington Post. Nonsense, says Israel Radio’s Farsi Service veteran Menashe Amir, whose broadcasts are often cited by Iranian media as instigating the antigovernment protesters. . . Once again, the ideas underlying Washington’s new policy miss the target. At this late date, sanctions can only be helpful if they facilitate regime change, which should be the top objective of the new strategy. Targeting for sanctions only a handful of evil regime operators would hardly impress the Iranian masses (although it will be widely applauded in Washington and the United Nations).”

The State Department goes rushing to the defense of Hannah Rosenthal (who is supposed to be working on anti-Semitism but took some time out to lash out at Israel’s Ambassador Michael Oren for not being nice to her J Street pals). “Separately, Rosenthal’s predecessor, Gregg Rickman, has slammed her for her remarks about Oren. ‘Ms. Rosenthal’s criticisms of Ambassador Oren strike a chord particularly because this is not her policy portfolio to advocate . . . She is supposed to fight anti-Semitism, not defend J-Street, an organization on whose Advisory Board she formally sat before her appointment to the State Department.”

If “Big is bad” is catching on as a political message, how long before voters exact revenge once they figure out that the Democrats have struck a health-care deal with big and bad insurance companies?

James Taranto goes on a roll: “We suppose Napolitano is a glass-is-half-full kind of gal. And it’s true that, apart from allowing a known extremist to board a plane while carrying a bomb, the system worked. . . ABC News reports that ‘one of the four leaders allegedly behind the al Qaeda plot to blow up a Northwest Airlines passenger jet over Detroit was released by the U.S. from the Guantanamo prison in November 2007.’ Said Ali Shari, a Saudi national, was released into the custody of our friends the Saudis and “has since emerged in leadership roles in Yemen,” says ABC. Heckuva job, Nayef. In fairness, we should note that in November 2007, Barack Obama was only the junior senator from Illinois. This is a problem he inherited from the Bush administration. And he has responded by putting a stop to the release of terrorists from Guantanamo. Just kidding!” Looks like the joke is on us.

Worse than returning the Churchill bust: “The name of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was included in a dossier of people believed to have made attempts to deal with known extremists that was shared with American intelligence. . . Abdulmutallab came to the attention of intelligence agencies because of ‘multiple communications’ he had with Islamic extremists in Britain while a student between 2006 and 2008. However, denying reports that the information had not been divulged, the Prime Minister’s spokesman said: ‘Clearly there was security information about this individual’s activities and that was information that was shared with the US authorities. That is the key point.’”

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Is Reconciliation “Soft”?

Conservative bloggers such as Bill Roggio, Andrew McCarthy, and our own Jennifer Rubin, are understandably irate over news that U.S. forces have released imprisoned terrorist leader Qais Qazali (also spelled Khazali) at the same time that his group, the Asaib al-Haq (AAH), has released British hostage Peter Moore. They see this as another sign of the Obama administration’s weakness in the face of terrorism. “No conceivable justification for this one” reads the headline over Jen’s blog item.

Whether this deal is justified or not remains to be seen, but I do think there is a reasonable justification for it and I don’t see this as evidence of Obama’s supineness in dealing with Iran. (There’s plenty of other evidence to make that case.) The fact is that under the U.S.-Iraq security accord brokered by the Bush administration, our forces’ legal right to hold detainees in Iraq has essentially expired. We have released most of our detainees. We are still holding a few hard-core terrorists at the sufferance of the Iraqi government but even that arrangement will not last long, with U.S. forces drawing down to 50,000 in September and to zero (or close to it) by the end of 2011. While U.S. forces have been moving into an “over-watch” role, Iraqis have stepped forward with a fair extent of success, notwithstanding some high-profile bombings in Baghdad. As General David Petraeus noted at a ceremony in Baghdad marking the inauguration of a new U.S. command, U.S. Forces-Iraq, “insurgent attacks have dropped from more than 200 a day two years ago to approximately 15 a day,” and no U.S. troops were killed in combat in December.

Part of this improvement is attributable to better security operations. But part is also due to a process of reconciliation that has been happening behind the scenes. We all know about the former Sunni insurgents who, as part of the Sons of Iraq, have joined the governmental side in fighting against al-Qaeda in Iraq. They have received amnesty for attacks carried out when they were on the other side. (Some have subsequently been arrested on charges of breaking the law after joining the Sons of Iraq.)

Less well known is the fact that most Shiite insurgents have also laid down their arms, including most of the former Mahdist movement. Moqtada al-Sadr’s decline has led to the establishment of various breakaway factions, including the AAH, which is led by the Qazali brothers, supported by Iran’s Quds Force, and responsible for some gruesome attacks on U.S. forces in the past. The most notorious of them was a well-organized raid on the government center in Karbala in January 2007, which killed five American service members. In the spring of 2009, Laith Qazali was released from custody as part of a provisional arrangement whereby AAH agreed to stop mounting violent attacks. When I was in Iraq in October, I was told by American intelligence analysts that they believed AAH has largely stuck by its word. Hence the turnover of Qais to the Iraqis and his probable release.

All of these deals have been brokered by Prime Minister Maliki with the close oversight of General Ray Odierno, now the U.S. Forces-Iraq commander, and his boss, General Petraeus. They can hardly be accused of being “soft” on terrorism, yet they know that in the end warfare alone will not suffice to end an insurgency. There must be a process of political reconciliation, which involves accommodating even vile figures such as the Qazali brothers, who have American blood on their hands. It is the same realization reached by Lincoln, Churchill, and other great wartime commanders who understood that after the guns fell silent they would have to learn to live with former enemies.

Conservative bloggers such as Bill Roggio, Andrew McCarthy, and our own Jennifer Rubin, are understandably irate over news that U.S. forces have released imprisoned terrorist leader Qais Qazali (also spelled Khazali) at the same time that his group, the Asaib al-Haq (AAH), has released British hostage Peter Moore. They see this as another sign of the Obama administration’s weakness in the face of terrorism. “No conceivable justification for this one” reads the headline over Jen’s blog item.

Whether this deal is justified or not remains to be seen, but I do think there is a reasonable justification for it and I don’t see this as evidence of Obama’s supineness in dealing with Iran. (There’s plenty of other evidence to make that case.) The fact is that under the U.S.-Iraq security accord brokered by the Bush administration, our forces’ legal right to hold detainees in Iraq has essentially expired. We have released most of our detainees. We are still holding a few hard-core terrorists at the sufferance of the Iraqi government but even that arrangement will not last long, with U.S. forces drawing down to 50,000 in September and to zero (or close to it) by the end of 2011. While U.S. forces have been moving into an “over-watch” role, Iraqis have stepped forward with a fair extent of success, notwithstanding some high-profile bombings in Baghdad. As General David Petraeus noted at a ceremony in Baghdad marking the inauguration of a new U.S. command, U.S. Forces-Iraq, “insurgent attacks have dropped from more than 200 a day two years ago to approximately 15 a day,” and no U.S. troops were killed in combat in December.

Part of this improvement is attributable to better security operations. But part is also due to a process of reconciliation that has been happening behind the scenes. We all know about the former Sunni insurgents who, as part of the Sons of Iraq, have joined the governmental side in fighting against al-Qaeda in Iraq. They have received amnesty for attacks carried out when they were on the other side. (Some have subsequently been arrested on charges of breaking the law after joining the Sons of Iraq.)

Less well known is the fact that most Shiite insurgents have also laid down their arms, including most of the former Mahdist movement. Moqtada al-Sadr’s decline has led to the establishment of various breakaway factions, including the AAH, which is led by the Qazali brothers, supported by Iran’s Quds Force, and responsible for some gruesome attacks on U.S. forces in the past. The most notorious of them was a well-organized raid on the government center in Karbala in January 2007, which killed five American service members. In the spring of 2009, Laith Qazali was released from custody as part of a provisional arrangement whereby AAH agreed to stop mounting violent attacks. When I was in Iraq in October, I was told by American intelligence analysts that they believed AAH has largely stuck by its word. Hence the turnover of Qais to the Iraqis and his probable release.

All of these deals have been brokered by Prime Minister Maliki with the close oversight of General Ray Odierno, now the U.S. Forces-Iraq commander, and his boss, General Petraeus. They can hardly be accused of being “soft” on terrorism, yet they know that in the end warfare alone will not suffice to end an insurgency. There must be a process of political reconciliation, which involves accommodating even vile figures such as the Qazali brothers, who have American blood on their hands. It is the same realization reached by Lincoln, Churchill, and other great wartime commanders who understood that after the guns fell silent they would have to learn to live with former enemies.

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China Turns Our Lights Out

Chinese hackers caused two power blackouts in the United States in the last half decade, according to the cover story in tomorrow’s National Journal. American intelligence sources confirm that the People’s Liberation Army was responsible for intrusions in 2003 that likely caused North America’s largest blackout, which affected three states, parts of Canada, and 50 million people. More than a hundred generating stations were shut down. To this day the Chinese activity that precipitated the cascading failure is not fully understood.

Then, this February, three million customers were hit by a blackout that appears to have been inadvertently caused by the People’s Liberation Army as it mapped the network of Florida Power & Light. “I suspect, as the system went down, the PLA hacker said something like, ‘Oops, my bad,’ in Chinese,” said an unnamed information-security expert quoted in the story.

As they say, the Chinese are at war with us every day over the phone lines. Washington is squeamish about publicly naming China as the source of hostile attacks, so we almost never push back.

Whatever happened to the don’t-tread-on-me spirit in this country? We ignored al Qaeda’s attacks until September 11. Now we’re adopting the same passive approach to Chinese assaults on our critical infrastructure. Last August, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, while in Beijing, publicly told off Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao about Chinese hacking. Why can’t Robert Gates muster the courage to say anything in front of the microphones when he travels to the Chinese capital? Beijing has rewarded our secretary of defense for his discretion by hacking into the computer network serving his office last June.

We need a better China policy. So here’s a proposal. The next time the Chinese cause a blackout in this country, let’s take down all their grids. The communists in Beijing will be angry, but I suspect they’ll get the message.

Chinese hackers caused two power blackouts in the United States in the last half decade, according to the cover story in tomorrow’s National Journal. American intelligence sources confirm that the People’s Liberation Army was responsible for intrusions in 2003 that likely caused North America’s largest blackout, which affected three states, parts of Canada, and 50 million people. More than a hundred generating stations were shut down. To this day the Chinese activity that precipitated the cascading failure is not fully understood.

Then, this February, three million customers were hit by a blackout that appears to have been inadvertently caused by the People’s Liberation Army as it mapped the network of Florida Power & Light. “I suspect, as the system went down, the PLA hacker said something like, ‘Oops, my bad,’ in Chinese,” said an unnamed information-security expert quoted in the story.

As they say, the Chinese are at war with us every day over the phone lines. Washington is squeamish about publicly naming China as the source of hostile attacks, so we almost never push back.

Whatever happened to the don’t-tread-on-me spirit in this country? We ignored al Qaeda’s attacks until September 11. Now we’re adopting the same passive approach to Chinese assaults on our critical infrastructure. Last August, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, while in Beijing, publicly told off Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao about Chinese hacking. Why can’t Robert Gates muster the courage to say anything in front of the microphones when he travels to the Chinese capital? Beijing has rewarded our secretary of defense for his discretion by hacking into the computer network serving his office last June.

We need a better China policy. So here’s a proposal. The next time the Chinese cause a blackout in this country, let’s take down all their grids. The communists in Beijing will be angry, but I suspect they’ll get the message.

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Rhetoric and Action on Iran

In recent days, senior American military leaders have been ratcheting up their criticism of Iranian interference in Iraq, spurred on by finds of recently manufactured Iranian weapons in Basra. (Just one more benefit of Prime Minister Maliki’s much-maligned offensive.)

On Friday, for instance, Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, gave a press conference in which he declared that he is “increasingly concerned about Iran’s activity.” While emphasizing that “we are not taking any military elements off the table,” he said that he is “convinced the solution right now still lies in using other levers of national power, including diplomatic, financial and international pressure.”

The problem is that we have spent years using those very “levers” and have not budged Iran an inch. Iran has repeatedly promised to cut off arms shipments to Iraq–arms that are killing American and Iraqi soldiers–and earlier this year some credulous American intelligence officials thought that the Iranians were as good as their word. But, as Mullen noted, “It’s plainly obvious they have not [kept their word]. Indeed, they seem to have gone the other way.”

Is more jawboning from American officials going to convince the Iranians to mend their ways? Or will it only reveal once again American ineffectuality and weakness? I rather think the latter.

The New York Times notes that sterner steps have been contemplated–and rejected:

The administration has, in fact, discussed whether to attack training
camps, safe houses and weapons storehouses inside Iran that intelligence reports say are being used by the Quds Force to train fighters, according to two senior administration officials… For now, however, the United States has decided that military strikes in Iran would be untenable and has concentrated on trying to disrupt the routes used to smuggle weapons and fighters across the border, and on diplomatic and financial pressure, those and other officials said.

It is understandable that the administration shies away from open hostilities with Iran-even if Iran is waging a semi-covert war against us (as it has been doing since 1979). But policymakers should not fool themselves that tough-sounding press statements can substitute for genuinely tough actions, such as targeting those “training camps, safe houses and weapons storehouses inside Iran.”

The president needs to make a decision about how far he is willing to go to
confront Iranian aggression, and if the answer is (as I suspect) “not very
far”, I would advise the administration to tone down its rhetoric. As I’ve
warned in the past, the disconnect between the administration’s harsh talk
and its weak actions-a feature of the second Bush term–is doing serious
damage to American credibility.

Admiral Mullen’s words about Iran apply equal well to the United States: “I
think actions, certainly here, must speak louder than words. And the
actions just don’t meet the commitments on the part of their leadership.”

In recent days, senior American military leaders have been ratcheting up their criticism of Iranian interference in Iraq, spurred on by finds of recently manufactured Iranian weapons in Basra. (Just one more benefit of Prime Minister Maliki’s much-maligned offensive.)

On Friday, for instance, Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, gave a press conference in which he declared that he is “increasingly concerned about Iran’s activity.” While emphasizing that “we are not taking any military elements off the table,” he said that he is “convinced the solution right now still lies in using other levers of national power, including diplomatic, financial and international pressure.”

The problem is that we have spent years using those very “levers” and have not budged Iran an inch. Iran has repeatedly promised to cut off arms shipments to Iraq–arms that are killing American and Iraqi soldiers–and earlier this year some credulous American intelligence officials thought that the Iranians were as good as their word. But, as Mullen noted, “It’s plainly obvious they have not [kept their word]. Indeed, they seem to have gone the other way.”

Is more jawboning from American officials going to convince the Iranians to mend their ways? Or will it only reveal once again American ineffectuality and weakness? I rather think the latter.

The New York Times notes that sterner steps have been contemplated–and rejected:

The administration has, in fact, discussed whether to attack training
camps, safe houses and weapons storehouses inside Iran that intelligence reports say are being used by the Quds Force to train fighters, according to two senior administration officials… For now, however, the United States has decided that military strikes in Iran would be untenable and has concentrated on trying to disrupt the routes used to smuggle weapons and fighters across the border, and on diplomatic and financial pressure, those and other officials said.

It is understandable that the administration shies away from open hostilities with Iran-even if Iran is waging a semi-covert war against us (as it has been doing since 1979). But policymakers should not fool themselves that tough-sounding press statements can substitute for genuinely tough actions, such as targeting those “training camps, safe houses and weapons storehouses inside Iran.”

The president needs to make a decision about how far he is willing to go to
confront Iranian aggression, and if the answer is (as I suspect) “not very
far”, I would advise the administration to tone down its rhetoric. As I’ve
warned in the past, the disconnect between the administration’s harsh talk
and its weak actions-a feature of the second Bush term–is doing serious
damage to American credibility.

Admiral Mullen’s words about Iran apply equal well to the United States: “I
think actions, certainly here, must speak louder than words. And the
actions just don’t meet the commitments on the part of their leadership.”

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“We’ve Worked Very Well with China”

Yesterday, the Associated Press reported that Chinese officials gave the International Atomic Energy Agency “intelligence” on the Iranian nuclear program. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack refused to confirm the story but had praise for Beijing: “We’ve worked very well with China on the issue of Iran.”

We have? China has done almost everything it could have to block American efforts to stop Iran. First, Beijing–along with co-conspirator Russia–prolonged discussion within the IAEA Board of Governors and then objected to referral of the matter to the Security Council. When the United States finally managed to get Iran’s case to New York, China and Russia refused to consider sanctions. As a result, the July 2006 Security Council resolution contained no enforcement measures. And when it came time to respond to Tehran’s intransigence, the pair diluted proposal after proposal as they worked their way through the Council. The sanctions that emerged from this process-contained in three sets of resolutions-are essentially meaningless.

China’s “assistance” has not only been diplomatic. The Iranians, many suspect, are in possession of the blueprints of one of the first Chinese nuclear warheads. In 2003, reports surfaced that the IAEA had identified China as one of the sources for enrichment equipment in Tehran’s suspected nuclear weapons program. In 2004, China sent Iran beryllium, which is used to trigger nukes. In 2004 and 2005, both Chinese dissidents and those inside the American intelligence community reported that China had sold either centrifuges or centrifuge parts to Iran. And Chinese nuclear-weapons specialists were working in Iran at least as late as the end of 2003. Tehran has also obtained substantial help from Pakistan and North Korea–both of whom have obtained Chinese technical assistance for their nuclear weapons programs. (Many consider them Beijing’s proxies for proliferating dangerous technologies.) Try to square all this with the following, again from McCormack: “[China doesn't] want Iran to be able to obtain a nuclear weapon.”

“A Chinese decision to provide information for a probe into Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program could be a sign of growing international unease about the Islamic republic’s denials that it never tried to make nuclear weapons,” writes the AP’s George Jahn. Maybe Beijing realizes that IAEA or American sleuths either have or are about to obtain the information that China just turned over. Perhaps the Chinese are providing disinformation to throw everyone off the track. And it’s possible that China has finally come to the conclusion that Tehran’s weaponization of the atom is not in its interests. Whatever the case, this is no time to let the Chinese off the hook.

Yesterday, the Associated Press reported that Chinese officials gave the International Atomic Energy Agency “intelligence” on the Iranian nuclear program. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack refused to confirm the story but had praise for Beijing: “We’ve worked very well with China on the issue of Iran.”

We have? China has done almost everything it could have to block American efforts to stop Iran. First, Beijing–along with co-conspirator Russia–prolonged discussion within the IAEA Board of Governors and then objected to referral of the matter to the Security Council. When the United States finally managed to get Iran’s case to New York, China and Russia refused to consider sanctions. As a result, the July 2006 Security Council resolution contained no enforcement measures. And when it came time to respond to Tehran’s intransigence, the pair diluted proposal after proposal as they worked their way through the Council. The sanctions that emerged from this process-contained in three sets of resolutions-are essentially meaningless.

China’s “assistance” has not only been diplomatic. The Iranians, many suspect, are in possession of the blueprints of one of the first Chinese nuclear warheads. In 2003, reports surfaced that the IAEA had identified China as one of the sources for enrichment equipment in Tehran’s suspected nuclear weapons program. In 2004, China sent Iran beryllium, which is used to trigger nukes. In 2004 and 2005, both Chinese dissidents and those inside the American intelligence community reported that China had sold either centrifuges or centrifuge parts to Iran. And Chinese nuclear-weapons specialists were working in Iran at least as late as the end of 2003. Tehran has also obtained substantial help from Pakistan and North Korea–both of whom have obtained Chinese technical assistance for their nuclear weapons programs. (Many consider them Beijing’s proxies for proliferating dangerous technologies.) Try to square all this with the following, again from McCormack: “[China doesn't] want Iran to be able to obtain a nuclear weapon.”

“A Chinese decision to provide information for a probe into Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program could be a sign of growing international unease about the Islamic republic’s denials that it never tried to make nuclear weapons,” writes the AP’s George Jahn. Maybe Beijing realizes that IAEA or American sleuths either have or are about to obtain the information that China just turned over. Perhaps the Chinese are providing disinformation to throw everyone off the track. And it’s possible that China has finally come to the conclusion that Tehran’s weaponization of the atom is not in its interests. Whatever the case, this is no time to let the Chinese off the hook.

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The Real Bush Intelligence Failure

On Sunday, CIA director Michael Hayden warned on Meet the Press that a reconstituting al Qaeda was preparing operatives in Afghanistan who would draw no attention while passing through U.S. airport checkpoints.

Exactly how vulnerable are we right now to a significant terrorist attack? No one can answer that question with any certainty. What we can say with assurance is that even as George W. Bush has overseen the single most far-reaching reorganization of the U.S. intelligence community (IC) since the CIA was created in 1947, his single greatest failure as a president might well be that American intelligence remains mired in bureaucratic mediocrity.

That bureaucratic mediocrity has already exacted a high price. A major installment came due when the CIA and FBI missed the Sept. 11 plot. A second came a year later with the CIA’s “slam-dunk” assessment that Saddam Hussein was acquiring weapons of mass destruction. In 2004, Congress radically reshuffled U.S. intelligence, creating a new intelligence “czar” — the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) — whose office, the ODNI, would assume many of the coordinating functions that had formerly been in the hands of the CIA.

This shift was intensely controversial. One of the most frequent criticisms was that grafting a new bureaucracy on top of an already dysfunctional system would only compound existing problems. Four years later, how is the ODNI faring?

I offer a partial answer to that question in The Real Bush Intelligence Failure in today’s Wall Street Journal.

On Sunday, CIA director Michael Hayden warned on Meet the Press that a reconstituting al Qaeda was preparing operatives in Afghanistan who would draw no attention while passing through U.S. airport checkpoints.

Exactly how vulnerable are we right now to a significant terrorist attack? No one can answer that question with any certainty. What we can say with assurance is that even as George W. Bush has overseen the single most far-reaching reorganization of the U.S. intelligence community (IC) since the CIA was created in 1947, his single greatest failure as a president might well be that American intelligence remains mired in bureaucratic mediocrity.

That bureaucratic mediocrity has already exacted a high price. A major installment came due when the CIA and FBI missed the Sept. 11 plot. A second came a year later with the CIA’s “slam-dunk” assessment that Saddam Hussein was acquiring weapons of mass destruction. In 2004, Congress radically reshuffled U.S. intelligence, creating a new intelligence “czar” — the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) — whose office, the ODNI, would assume many of the coordinating functions that had formerly been in the hands of the CIA.

This shift was intensely controversial. One of the most frequent criticisms was that grafting a new bureaucracy on top of an already dysfunctional system would only compound existing problems. Four years later, how is the ODNI faring?

I offer a partial answer to that question in The Real Bush Intelligence Failure in today’s Wall Street Journal.

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An Anti-War “Teach-In” at the CIA?

Historians Against the War was formally founded at the 2003 annual meeting of the American Historical Association. Its statement of purpose can be found on its website:

As historians, teachers, and scholars, we oppose the expansion of United States empire and the doctrine of pre-emptive war that have led to the occupation of Iraq. We deplore the secrecy, deception, and distortion of history involved in the administration’s conduct of a war that violates international law, intensifies attacks on civil liberties, and reaches toward domination of the Middle East and its resources.

Taking a leaf from the anti-Vietnam war movement, Historians Against the War sponsors “teach-ins” on college campuses across the United States in which radical professors offer their view on such subjects as U.S. imperialism and the Bush administration’s “assault on the U.S. Constitution and civil liberties.”

On April 9, 2003, one such teach-in was held at Temple University in Pennsylvania, where one such radical professor, Richard Immerman, took part. As I have noted in the Weekly Standard, in a recently “scholarly” article in Diplomatic History, the journal of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations, Immerman recounts how the Bush administration, in leading the United States into the war in Iraq, made “every effort to ‘cook the books,’ . . . ‘hyped’ the need to go to war, and . . . lied too often to count.” He calls Bush and his cabinet members “cognitively impaired and politically possessed.”

Such views would all be completely unremarkable if Immerman were just a mere–and all too typical–professor at a second-tier university. But he is not. He has gone on to greater glory. Last September, he was appointed to the position of “assistant deputy director of national intelligence for analytic integrity and standards” and “ombudsman” inside the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the top intelligence body in the United States. In that slot he is in charge of ensuring the “analytic integrity” of American intelligence reports.

One question I have about this whole affair is whether Immerman has been taking part in or organizing “teach-ins” against the war inside the intelligence community in institutions like the CIA. Another question is what his colleagues and superiors think. To answer that second one, I’ve been contacting various top spies and seeking their comments. Here is what one senior intelligence official, who did want his name used, told me:

His assertions are way off base. His statements are not only biased, they are baffling. It’s troubling and it raises all sorts of questions. If someone who holds these views was selected for that particular position, it makes you wonder what the other candidates looked like.

It is mildly heartening that not everyone within the intelligence world thinks like Immerman, although at the same time the failure of anyone, including Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, to speak out publicly is profoundly discouraging.

We are in the middle of a war in which intelligence is the most critical front. The elevation of an obscure, radical, anti-war professor to be responsible for the “analytic integrity” of U.S. intelligence reports raises a question that after September 11, 2001, we should not be having to ask: is this country serious about intelligence or not?

Historians Against the War was formally founded at the 2003 annual meeting of the American Historical Association. Its statement of purpose can be found on its website:

As historians, teachers, and scholars, we oppose the expansion of United States empire and the doctrine of pre-emptive war that have led to the occupation of Iraq. We deplore the secrecy, deception, and distortion of history involved in the administration’s conduct of a war that violates international law, intensifies attacks on civil liberties, and reaches toward domination of the Middle East and its resources.

Taking a leaf from the anti-Vietnam war movement, Historians Against the War sponsors “teach-ins” on college campuses across the United States in which radical professors offer their view on such subjects as U.S. imperialism and the Bush administration’s “assault on the U.S. Constitution and civil liberties.”

On April 9, 2003, one such teach-in was held at Temple University in Pennsylvania, where one such radical professor, Richard Immerman, took part. As I have noted in the Weekly Standard, in a recently “scholarly” article in Diplomatic History, the journal of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations, Immerman recounts how the Bush administration, in leading the United States into the war in Iraq, made “every effort to ‘cook the books,’ . . . ‘hyped’ the need to go to war, and . . . lied too often to count.” He calls Bush and his cabinet members “cognitively impaired and politically possessed.”

Such views would all be completely unremarkable if Immerman were just a mere–and all too typical–professor at a second-tier university. But he is not. He has gone on to greater glory. Last September, he was appointed to the position of “assistant deputy director of national intelligence for analytic integrity and standards” and “ombudsman” inside the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the top intelligence body in the United States. In that slot he is in charge of ensuring the “analytic integrity” of American intelligence reports.

One question I have about this whole affair is whether Immerman has been taking part in or organizing “teach-ins” against the war inside the intelligence community in institutions like the CIA. Another question is what his colleagues and superiors think. To answer that second one, I’ve been contacting various top spies and seeking their comments. Here is what one senior intelligence official, who did want his name used, told me:

His assertions are way off base. His statements are not only biased, they are baffling. It’s troubling and it raises all sorts of questions. If someone who holds these views was selected for that particular position, it makes you wonder what the other candidates looked like.

It is mildly heartening that not everyone within the intelligence world thinks like Immerman, although at the same time the failure of anyone, including Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, to speak out publicly is profoundly discouraging.

We are in the middle of a war in which intelligence is the most critical front. The elevation of an obscure, radical, anti-war professor to be responsible for the “analytic integrity” of U.S. intelligence reports raises a question that after September 11, 2001, we should not be having to ask: is this country serious about intelligence or not?

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Let’s Just Hire Der Spiegel

The always interesting Claudia Rosett has come up with this year’s best suggestion for President Bush: buy a subscription to Der Spiegel—and get rid of the bureaucracy that produces U.S. National Intelligence Estimates.

As CONTENTIONS readers know, the American intelligence community, in an NIE released last December, stated that it had “high confidence” that Iran shelved its nuclear weapons program in fall 2003. As Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell testified at the Senate Intelligence Committee this month, weapons design is “the least significant” portion of a nuclear weapons program. The most important is obtaining fissile material. In Iran’s case that would be enriched uranium.

The NIE talked about that issue too. It said that Tehran would probably be able to produce enough uranium for a single bomb sometime “during the 2010-2015 time frame.” Yet not everyone agrees with this view. “New simulations carried out by European Union experts come to an alarming conclusion: Iran could have enough highly enriched uranium to build an atomic bomb by the end of this year,” reports Spiegel Online.

The end-2008 prediction is based on an assumption that Tehran’s technicians have figured out all they need to know about their centrifuges. That appears unlikely. Yet as the International Atomic Energy Agency reported in November, Iran has made substantial progress recently. Even if the European Union has overestimated Iran’s technical capabilities, it would seem that Tehran will be in a position to build a bomb before the end of this decade, not the middle of the next one. That conclusion fits in with Israel’s estimate of 2010.

In any event, the EU simulations inject some urgency into the efforts to disarm the mullahs. European Union nations are planning in May at the earliest to offer a package of economic incentives to Iran if it gives up enrichment. The United States for its part looks as if it will succeed in persuading a sufficient number of other members of the Security Council to pass a third set of sanctions. Yet nobody expects the new measures, if they are in fact adopted, will actually stop the Iranians. As President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Saturday about the Western efforts at the U.N., “They could spend 100 years passing resolutions but it wouldn’t change anything.

What is changing at this moment is Iran’s technical capability to enrich uranium. Yet, outside Israel and the offices of Der Spiegel, there seems to be an insufficient sense of urgency in stopping Tehran.

The always interesting Claudia Rosett has come up with this year’s best suggestion for President Bush: buy a subscription to Der Spiegel—and get rid of the bureaucracy that produces U.S. National Intelligence Estimates.

As CONTENTIONS readers know, the American intelligence community, in an NIE released last December, stated that it had “high confidence” that Iran shelved its nuclear weapons program in fall 2003. As Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell testified at the Senate Intelligence Committee this month, weapons design is “the least significant” portion of a nuclear weapons program. The most important is obtaining fissile material. In Iran’s case that would be enriched uranium.

The NIE talked about that issue too. It said that Tehran would probably be able to produce enough uranium for a single bomb sometime “during the 2010-2015 time frame.” Yet not everyone agrees with this view. “New simulations carried out by European Union experts come to an alarming conclusion: Iran could have enough highly enriched uranium to build an atomic bomb by the end of this year,” reports Spiegel Online.

The end-2008 prediction is based on an assumption that Tehran’s technicians have figured out all they need to know about their centrifuges. That appears unlikely. Yet as the International Atomic Energy Agency reported in November, Iran has made substantial progress recently. Even if the European Union has overestimated Iran’s technical capabilities, it would seem that Tehran will be in a position to build a bomb before the end of this decade, not the middle of the next one. That conclusion fits in with Israel’s estimate of 2010.

In any event, the EU simulations inject some urgency into the efforts to disarm the mullahs. European Union nations are planning in May at the earliest to offer a package of economic incentives to Iran if it gives up enrichment. The United States for its part looks as if it will succeed in persuading a sufficient number of other members of the Security Council to pass a third set of sanctions. Yet nobody expects the new measures, if they are in fact adopted, will actually stop the Iranians. As President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Saturday about the Western efforts at the U.N., “They could spend 100 years passing resolutions but it wouldn’t change anything.

What is changing at this moment is Iran’s technical capability to enrich uranium. Yet, outside Israel and the offices of Der Spiegel, there seems to be an insufficient sense of urgency in stopping Tehran.

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Bluffing Iran

Yesterday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said he expected his country to be producing electricity from the atom within a year. “On the nuclear path we are moving towards the peak,” he told a crowd in Bushehr, the city where Tehran has located its Russian-built reactor. On Monday, Russia delivered the eighth and final shipment of enriched uranium to fuel the plant.

After failing to stop Moscow, President Bush last month said he supported Russia’s supplying nuclear fuel for Bushehr. “If the Iranians accept that uranium for a civilian nuclear power plant, then there’s no need for them to learn how to enrich,” he noted. Tehran, not surprisingly, was not buying the argument. Nor would it accept purchasing enriched uranium from an international nuclear-fuel bank. “Having this nuclear-fuel cycle is part of our right,” said Hashemi Samareh, Ahmadinejad’s chief advisor, in Davos earlier this week. “There is no reason—when we can produce something—to get it from other people.”

No reason at all, Hashemi? Suppose Washington, Brussels, Moscow, and Beijing jointly guaranteed the supply of enriched uranium indefinitely and without cost. If you insisted on spending billions of dollars to produce something that you could have for free, we might conclude that you were enriching uranium for other purposes, such as building the core of a nuclear weapon. If you replied that your nation wanted to be self-sufficient, I would ask why you are concerned that the world would cut off supply. Are you planning some abhorrent act?

At the beginning of last month, we learned that the American intelligence community had “high confidence” that Iran, in the fall of 2003, had abandoned its program to build a bomb. Whatever one may think of the National Intelligence Estimate, let’s put the Iranians to the test. Let’s see if the ayatollahs and Ahmadinejad will accept the most generous offer that the international community could ever make. If the Iranians reject it, we will have obtained the best evidence of their actual plans.

What plans? Yesterday, while speaking about scaling nuclear peaks, Ahmadinejad managed to slip in this message to the West: “I warn you to abandon the filthy Zionist entity, which has reached the end of the line.”

Yesterday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said he expected his country to be producing electricity from the atom within a year. “On the nuclear path we are moving towards the peak,” he told a crowd in Bushehr, the city where Tehran has located its Russian-built reactor. On Monday, Russia delivered the eighth and final shipment of enriched uranium to fuel the plant.

After failing to stop Moscow, President Bush last month said he supported Russia’s supplying nuclear fuel for Bushehr. “If the Iranians accept that uranium for a civilian nuclear power plant, then there’s no need for them to learn how to enrich,” he noted. Tehran, not surprisingly, was not buying the argument. Nor would it accept purchasing enriched uranium from an international nuclear-fuel bank. “Having this nuclear-fuel cycle is part of our right,” said Hashemi Samareh, Ahmadinejad’s chief advisor, in Davos earlier this week. “There is no reason—when we can produce something—to get it from other people.”

No reason at all, Hashemi? Suppose Washington, Brussels, Moscow, and Beijing jointly guaranteed the supply of enriched uranium indefinitely and without cost. If you insisted on spending billions of dollars to produce something that you could have for free, we might conclude that you were enriching uranium for other purposes, such as building the core of a nuclear weapon. If you replied that your nation wanted to be self-sufficient, I would ask why you are concerned that the world would cut off supply. Are you planning some abhorrent act?

At the beginning of last month, we learned that the American intelligence community had “high confidence” that Iran, in the fall of 2003, had abandoned its program to build a bomb. Whatever one may think of the National Intelligence Estimate, let’s put the Iranians to the test. Let’s see if the ayatollahs and Ahmadinejad will accept the most generous offer that the international community could ever make. If the Iranians reject it, we will have obtained the best evidence of their actual plans.

What plans? Yesterday, while speaking about scaling nuclear peaks, Ahmadinejad managed to slip in this message to the West: “I warn you to abandon the filthy Zionist entity, which has reached the end of the line.”

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Extreme Prejudice

“I am extremely concerned about the tendency of the intelligence community to turn itself into a kind of check on, instead of a part of, the executive branch,” Henry Kissinger writes in today’s Washington Post. “When intelligence personnel expect their work to become the subject of public debate, they are tempted into the roles of surrogate policymakers and advocates.” In this instance, they created the “extraordinary spectacle of the president’s national security adviser obliged to defend the president’s Iran policy against a National Intelligence Estimate.”

Scott Johnson over at powerline is absolutely right: when someone of Henry Kissinger’s stature joins in in denouncing the intelligence community for its handling of the Iran NIE something significant is going on.

What exactly is it? Perhaps it is the fact that the intelligence failures of the last seven years have impressed upon all Americans the price of lapses in this vital area. This explains why voices on both the Right and the Left — even the New York Times has tepidly joined in — are criticizing the intelligence community for its handling of the Iran NIE. All this gives rise to the hope that after the presidential elections a bipartisan coalition will emerge that could find some radical way to address a problem that has become apparent to all.

But I am not holding my breath. American intelligence agencies, the CIA foremost among them, have proved themselves to be extraordinarily recalcitrant to reform. And the agencies are not the only problem. In today’s Washington Post, David Ignatius, a long-time observer of the intelligence world, takes a look at the other end of the snake.

Intelligence oversight by Congress is in a “free fall,” Ignatius writes. And the problem is not the standard liberal complaint that the CIA is withholding vital information from congressional oversight panels. Rather, right now

we are getting the worst possible mix — a dearth of adequate congressional scrutiny on the front end that could improve performance and check abuses, and a flood of second-guessing at the back end, after each flap, that further demoralizes and enfeebles the spies. Congress silently blesses the CIA’s harsh interrogation tactics, for example, and then denounces the practices when they become public.

Ignatius’s column opens the door to some thoughts that have hitherto been unthinkable in Washington D.C.. Perhaps the time has come to ask whether an experiment embarked upon in 1975 in response to genuine abuses of intelligence is appropriate for our own time. To judge by the picture painted by Ignatius, the experiment clearly has failed:

The intelligence committees have become politicized. Members and staffers encourage political vendettas against intelligence officers they don’t like, as happened when [CIA Director Porter] Goss brought his congressional aides with him to the CIA. The new National Intelligence Estimate on Iran has become a political football; so has negotiation over legal rules on intercepting foreign communications, one of the nation’s most sensitive activities. The bickering has turned the intelligence world into a nonstop political circus, to the point that foreign governments have become increasingly wary of sharing secrets.

Congressional oversight was a “radical idea” when it was introduced in response to the abuses of the Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon years. Back then, Ignatius notes, “[s]ome experts questioned whether it was realistic to ask elected officials to sign off on the work of intelligence agencies — which, when you strip away all the high-minded language, basically involves the systematic violation of other countries’ laws. Intelligence agencies steal other nations’ secrets, bribe their officials into committing treason, intercept their most private conversations.”

Those skeptics seem to have been proved right. At a time when our intelligence agencies are the crucial front in the war we are facing, we cannot afford to have it managed by a “political circus.” The time has come to bring an end this state of affairs — with extreme prejudice.

“I am extremely concerned about the tendency of the intelligence community to turn itself into a kind of check on, instead of a part of, the executive branch,” Henry Kissinger writes in today’s Washington Post. “When intelligence personnel expect their work to become the subject of public debate, they are tempted into the roles of surrogate policymakers and advocates.” In this instance, they created the “extraordinary spectacle of the president’s national security adviser obliged to defend the president’s Iran policy against a National Intelligence Estimate.”

Scott Johnson over at powerline is absolutely right: when someone of Henry Kissinger’s stature joins in in denouncing the intelligence community for its handling of the Iran NIE something significant is going on.

What exactly is it? Perhaps it is the fact that the intelligence failures of the last seven years have impressed upon all Americans the price of lapses in this vital area. This explains why voices on both the Right and the Left — even the New York Times has tepidly joined in — are criticizing the intelligence community for its handling of the Iran NIE. All this gives rise to the hope that after the presidential elections a bipartisan coalition will emerge that could find some radical way to address a problem that has become apparent to all.

But I am not holding my breath. American intelligence agencies, the CIA foremost among them, have proved themselves to be extraordinarily recalcitrant to reform. And the agencies are not the only problem. In today’s Washington Post, David Ignatius, a long-time observer of the intelligence world, takes a look at the other end of the snake.

Intelligence oversight by Congress is in a “free fall,” Ignatius writes. And the problem is not the standard liberal complaint that the CIA is withholding vital information from congressional oversight panels. Rather, right now

we are getting the worst possible mix — a dearth of adequate congressional scrutiny on the front end that could improve performance and check abuses, and a flood of second-guessing at the back end, after each flap, that further demoralizes and enfeebles the spies. Congress silently blesses the CIA’s harsh interrogation tactics, for example, and then denounces the practices when they become public.

Ignatius’s column opens the door to some thoughts that have hitherto been unthinkable in Washington D.C.. Perhaps the time has come to ask whether an experiment embarked upon in 1975 in response to genuine abuses of intelligence is appropriate for our own time. To judge by the picture painted by Ignatius, the experiment clearly has failed:

The intelligence committees have become politicized. Members and staffers encourage political vendettas against intelligence officers they don’t like, as happened when [CIA Director Porter] Goss brought his congressional aides with him to the CIA. The new National Intelligence Estimate on Iran has become a political football; so has negotiation over legal rules on intercepting foreign communications, one of the nation’s most sensitive activities. The bickering has turned the intelligence world into a nonstop political circus, to the point that foreign governments have become increasingly wary of sharing secrets.

Congressional oversight was a “radical idea” when it was introduced in response to the abuses of the Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon years. Back then, Ignatius notes, “[s]ome experts questioned whether it was realistic to ask elected officials to sign off on the work of intelligence agencies — which, when you strip away all the high-minded language, basically involves the systematic violation of other countries’ laws. Intelligence agencies steal other nations’ secrets, bribe their officials into committing treason, intercept their most private conversations.”

Those skeptics seem to have been proved right. At a time when our intelligence agencies are the crucial front in the war we are facing, we cannot afford to have it managed by a “political circus.” The time has come to bring an end this state of affairs — with extreme prejudice.

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A Victory for Ahamdinejad?

The more we learn about the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran, the less “confidence” we can have in its sanguine findings about the state of Iran’s nuclear program.

Today comes news that Israel, one of America’s closest collaborators in intelligence-gathering in the Middle East, has reached very different conclusions. Haaretz quotes Ehud Barak, Israel’s former prime minister and now defense minister (and hardly a hawk), as follows:

“It seems Iran in 2003 halted for a certain period of time its military nuclear program but as far as we know it has probably since revived it.”

His comments go to one of the key weaknesses of the NIE. While it claims with “high confidence” that Iran suspended its nuclear-weapons work in 2003, the report offers only “moderate confidence” that this program has not been resumed.

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The more we learn about the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran, the less “confidence” we can have in its sanguine findings about the state of Iran’s nuclear program.

Today comes news that Israel, one of America’s closest collaborators in intelligence-gathering in the Middle East, has reached very different conclusions. Haaretz quotes Ehud Barak, Israel’s former prime minister and now defense minister (and hardly a hawk), as follows:

“It seems Iran in 2003 halted for a certain period of time its military nuclear program but as far as we know it has probably since revived it.”

His comments go to one of the key weaknesses of the NIE. While it claims with “high confidence” that Iran suspended its nuclear-weapons work in 2003, the report offers only “moderate confidence” that this program has not been resumed.

Some will no doubt dismiss Israeli officials as being alarmist, although they have a larger stake—a life and death stake—than do American intelligence analysts in figuring out the state of Iran’s nuclear program.

Harder to dismiss are concerns from the International Atomic Energy Agency, which has long been criticized for being relatively soft on Iran and other proliferators. While Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the IAEA, greeted the release of the NIE with a “sigh of relief,” others who are involved in his agency’s work are apparently taking a more cautious attitude. The New York Times reports:

“To be frank, we are more skeptical,” a senior official close to the agency said. “We don’t buy the American analysis 100 percent. We are not that generous with Iran.” The official called the American assertion that Iran had “halted” its weapons program in 2003 “somewhat surprising.”

When even some at the IAEA think the U.S. intelligence community is being too generous in its assessment of Iran, that should be cause for serious concern.

And, indeed, whether Iran has restarted its “nuclear weapons program” since 2003 or not, the fact remains that its supposedly “civilian” enrichment work could easily produce a bomb. Indeed, as this New York Times article notes,

After the United States, the Soviet Union, and Britain became the first three countries with atom bombs, all the rest hid their military programs to one extent or another behind the mask of peaceful nuclear power. That includes France, China, Israel, India, South Africa, and Pakistan.

A number of experts have even raised the possibility that Iran may have suspended its “nuclear weapons” work in 2003 because it had already come up with a working bomb design, and now only needs to produce enough highly enriched uranium to create a working bomb. The hardest part of making a nuclear weapon is not the design and production of the warhead; it is the production or procurement of the fissile material. It is quite possible that A.Q. Khan, the rogue Pakistani nuclear scientist, may have provided Iran with a working bomb design. Or perhaps the Iranians have gotten what they need from their friends in North Korea, who were also beneficiaries of the A.Q. Khan network.

Whatever the case, the news, even if accurate, that Iran suspended its “nuclear weapon” work in 2003 is hardly cause for celebration. Unfortunately the NIE’s political impact is out of all proportion to its analytical rigor. It will now be harder than ever to get tough international sanctions on Iran.

As noted by CNN, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is claiming “victory,” declaring that “the report said clearly that the Iranian people were on the right course” and that “Iran has turned to a nuclear country and all world countries have accepted this fact.” Much as I would like to think that Ahmadinejad is wrong, in this case I think he has a point.

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Behind the Barn at the CIA

Whom should the CIA hire? With the United States engaged in a war in which intelligence is the critical front, finding the best and brightest and putting them in charge of counterterrorism and related black arts is an essential task.

The good news is that the CIA is being flooded with applicants at the staggering rate of 10,000 a month. The bad news is that the process of sifting and screening these aspiring spies remains distorted.

One problem is an affirmative-action program that seeks to replicate the ethnic balance in the United States rather than focus singlemindedly on hiring men and women steeped in knowledge of our adversaries. Another is a security-screening program that remains ferociously suspicious of applicants with foreign roots. A third is an organizational culture that in some measure remains, despite radical changes introduced after September 11, risk averse.

How can we do better? One place to begin is by looking at what has worked, and/or failed to work, in the past.

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Whom should the CIA hire? With the United States engaged in a war in which intelligence is the critical front, finding the best and brightest and putting them in charge of counterterrorism and related black arts is an essential task.

The good news is that the CIA is being flooded with applicants at the staggering rate of 10,000 a month. The bad news is that the process of sifting and screening these aspiring spies remains distorted.

One problem is an affirmative-action program that seeks to replicate the ethnic balance in the United States rather than focus singlemindedly on hiring men and women steeped in knowledge of our adversaries. Another is a security-screening program that remains ferociously suspicious of applicants with foreign roots. A third is an organizational culture that in some measure remains, despite radical changes introduced after September 11, risk averse.

How can we do better? One place to begin is by looking at what has worked, and/or failed to work, in the past.

Five months before Pearl Harbor, Franklin D. Roosevelt established an office called the Coordinator of Information, a precursor to the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). When Japanese bombs fell on American territory on December 7, 1941, the U.S. had a fledgling intelligence service to ramp up.

One of the more fascinating documents in the history of American intelligence has been published under the bland title of How Assessment Centers Were Started in the United States: The OSS Assessment Program. Written by Donald W. MacKinnon, the man in charge of screening personnel at the time, it tells the story of our first efforts to screen candidates for an espionage agency in the midst of wartime.

At the very beginning, some disastrous mistakes were made. It seemed logical to some that “it takes dirty men to do dirty works.” A number of initial recruits were thus drawn from the ranks of organized crime, including Murder Inc., and the Philadelphia Purple Gang. But several clandestine operations in operations employing such underworld types ended in catastrophe. By 1943, a professional screening program at a secret installation known as Station S was put in place.

Applicants to the OSS were soon being subjected to an extended set of tests. These were not designed to measure specific skills but to assess “the man as a whole” across eight dimensions: motivation, practical intelligence, emotional stability, social relations, leadership, physical ability, observation and reporting, propaganda skills, and maintaining cover.

Many of the tests were exceptionally grueling, including especially the one designed to measure one component of emotional stability, “resistance to stress and frustration tolerance,” and which came to be known as Behind the Barn.

Candidates were required to direct two helpers in the task of building a five-foot cube structure with seven-foot diagonals on its four sides, using an immense “tinker-toy” set of materials:

The candidate had 10 minutes in which to accomplish the task. All the physical work was to be done by the helpers, junior staff members who played the role of Kippy (passive, sluggish, and something of a stumblebum) and Buster (aggressive, critical, constantly making impractical suggestions). Both were insulting, faultfinding characters.

In the history of the assessment center, the construction task was never completed in the allotted time, but that was not the point. Rather, the point was to evaluate how the applicants behaved:

Some candidates gained insight into the problem, but more often they became so involved and so frustrated that they had difficulty in handling their frustration and controlling their anger. A few physically attacked their helpers, and some asked to be relieved from the program after this exercise.

Did the men who made it through this and the many other rigorous challenges at Station S make for good spies? The answer to that questions is by no means uncomplicated, as Mackinnon shows. All told, it remains doubtful that the initial OSS approach is the right one for the challenges before us today.

But there is no question that in the years running up to September 11, too many mediocrities and dangerous misfits came to occupy pivotal positions in the CIA. Preventing a recurrence of such organizational decay is a critical task.

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Al Qaeda in . . . Mesopotamia?

In today’s New York Times we read this:

The recent drop in violence against noncombatants in Iraq occurred during a time when al Qaeda in Mesopotamia had promised to inflict more. Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia is a homegrown Sunni Arab extremist group that American intelligence has concluded is led by foreigners.

This is of course good news. And yet this paragraph highlights, as if we needed more evidence, the political bias of the editors of the Times (it is important to note that some of their reporters, like John Burns and Michael Gordon, are first-rate). Instead of referring to al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) as, say, al Qaeda-Iraq—which is how our commanding general in Iraq, David Petraeus, describes it—the Times refers to the organization as al Qaeda in Mesopotamia. And this phrase is always followed up with this formulation: “Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia is a homegrown Sunni Arab extremist group that American intelligence has concluded is led by foreigners.”

The indispensable James Taranto, who writes the daily online column “Best of the Web,” has made merciless fun of the Times for doing this (playing off the Times, he refers to AQI as “al Qaeda Which Has Nothing to Do With Iraq in Iraq Which Has Nothing to Do With al Qaeda”). At the risk of taking the editors of the Times too seriously, it’s worth considering what the Times is trying to achieve.

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In today’s New York Times we read this:

The recent drop in violence against noncombatants in Iraq occurred during a time when al Qaeda in Mesopotamia had promised to inflict more. Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia is a homegrown Sunni Arab extremist group that American intelligence has concluded is led by foreigners.

This is of course good news. And yet this paragraph highlights, as if we needed more evidence, the political bias of the editors of the Times (it is important to note that some of their reporters, like John Burns and Michael Gordon, are first-rate). Instead of referring to al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) as, say, al Qaeda-Iraq—which is how our commanding general in Iraq, David Petraeus, describes it—the Times refers to the organization as al Qaeda in Mesopotamia. And this phrase is always followed up with this formulation: “Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia is a homegrown Sunni Arab extremist group that American intelligence has concluded is led by foreigners.”

The indispensable James Taranto, who writes the daily online column “Best of the Web,” has made merciless fun of the Times for doing this (playing off the Times, he refers to AQI as “al Qaeda Which Has Nothing to Do With Iraq in Iraq Which Has Nothing to Do With al Qaeda”). At the risk of taking the editors of the Times too seriously, it’s worth considering what the Times is trying to achieve.

In a single sentence, the Times does three things. First, it refers to Iraq as Mesopotamia, thereby using a more obscure term in an effort to disconnect al Qaeda from Iraq. Second, it goes out of its way to say that “homegrown Sunni Arab extremists” constitute the group, thereby emphasizing the indigenous rather than foreign element of al Qaeda in Iraq. And third, it attempts to put a question mark around the foreign involvement of AQI by saying that “American intelligence” has concluded it’s being run by foreigners.

The problem is that while the Times wants to separate the Iraq war from al Qaeda, al Qaeda itself does not. Osama bin Laden has declared:

The most important and serious issue today for the whole world is this Third World War, which the Crusader-Zionist coalition began against the Islamic nation. It is raging in the land of the two rivers. The world’s millstone and pillar is in Baghdad, the capital of the caliphate.

As for the homegrown aspect of AQI: it’s true (as you would expect) that many members of AQI are Iraq Sunnis—and it’s also true that our military estimates that between 80 and 90 percent of suicide attacks in Iraq are carried out by foreign-born al Qaeda terrorists brought into Iraq for a single purpose: to blow themselves up in the cause of killing innocent Iraqis, which in turn will push Iraq closer to civil war.

As for the foreign composition of AQI: it’s not incidental. Al Qaeda in Iraq was in fact (not alleged to have been) founded by foreign terrorists linked to senior al Qaeda leadership. The Jordanian-born Abu Musab al-Zarqawi founded AQI—and his successor (Zarqawi was killed in June 2006) is Abu Ayyub al-Masri, who is Egyptian. Zarqawi, who ran a terrorist camp in Afghanistan before the September 11 attacks, had long-standing relations with senior al Qaeda leaders and had met with bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, the ideological leader of al Qaeda. In 2004, Zarqawi and his jihadist organization formally joined al Qaeda and pledged allegiance to bin Laden, promising to “follow his orders in jihad.” And bin Laden publicly declared Zarqawi the “prince of al Qaeda in Iraq” and instructed terrorists in Iraq to “listen to him and obey him.”

Clearly the Times wants to disconnect the Iraq war from al Qaeda and the wider war against Islamic jihadists. The more they can pry the two apart, the more unpopular the Iraq war will be. And the Times, if it wants anything at all, wants America’s involvement in Iraq to end, regardless of the cost, including genocide, a victory and safe haven for jihadists, a victory for Iran, and a wider regional war. And as we have seen, they will go to ridiculous ends to play their part.

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A Mighty Heart

So respectfully does A Mighty Heart, Michael Winterbottom’s film about the death of the journalist Daniel Pearl, treat its subject that criticism seems indecent, like rebuking someone for their tears at a funeral. It depicts Pearl’s kidnapping in January 2002 and the anguish of his French wife Mariane—then six-months pregnant with their first child—waiting in torment for news of him. The outcome of this vigil is no secret: Pearl was beheaded a week after his kidnapping, although another three weeks would pass before the videotape of his murder was recovered. Mariane’s book about this experience, Un coeur invaincu (literally, “an undefeated heart”), serves as the basis for Winterbottom’s often poignant film.

One can see why the story appealed to Hollywood, or—to be precise—to Angelina Jolie. It is difficult to imagine a better role for an actress aspiring to real gravitas. Mariane Pearl has become, in the years since her husband’s death, a kind of secular saint. (Slate’s review aptly called the film “a hagiographic chronicle of the martyrdom of Mariane Pearl.”) In the wake of her husband’s murder, Mariane refused to stoop to public hatred or to become a shill for any political cause, devoting her energy instead to creating the Daniel Pearl Foundation, a philanthropic organization of deliberately ecumenical scope. But if Mariane Pearl eschews politics of any color, the film about her does not, to its ultimate detriment.

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So respectfully does A Mighty Heart, Michael Winterbottom’s film about the death of the journalist Daniel Pearl, treat its subject that criticism seems indecent, like rebuking someone for their tears at a funeral. It depicts Pearl’s kidnapping in January 2002 and the anguish of his French wife Mariane—then six-months pregnant with their first child—waiting in torment for news of him. The outcome of this vigil is no secret: Pearl was beheaded a week after his kidnapping, although another three weeks would pass before the videotape of his murder was recovered. Mariane’s book about this experience, Un coeur invaincu (literally, “an undefeated heart”), serves as the basis for Winterbottom’s often poignant film.

One can see why the story appealed to Hollywood, or—to be precise—to Angelina Jolie. It is difficult to imagine a better role for an actress aspiring to real gravitas. Mariane Pearl has become, in the years since her husband’s death, a kind of secular saint. (Slate’s review aptly called the film “a hagiographic chronicle of the martyrdom of Mariane Pearl.”) In the wake of her husband’s murder, Mariane refused to stoop to public hatred or to become a shill for any political cause, devoting her energy instead to creating the Daniel Pearl Foundation, a philanthropic organization of deliberately ecumenical scope. But if Mariane Pearl eschews politics of any color, the film about her does not, to its ultimate detriment.

A Mighty Heart begins on what was to have been Daniel Pearl’s last day in Pakistan, as he heads off for an interview with a certain Sheikh Gilani, who may know something about the shoe-bomber Richard Reid. The interview was a ruse; from this moment we never see Pearl again—just as Mariane never did—other than in flashbacks. We remain with her in her rented house in Karachi as the storm gathers around her. American and Pakistani intelligence officers descend, followed by colleagues from the Wall Street Journal.

Two of these unwanted guests come to loom large. One is the chief American intelligence officer, a creepy but genial presence played by Will Patton (whose geniality makes him all the creepier). The other is the Captain, a cryptic Pakistani security chief, at once an enormously sympathetic and shockingly brutal figure (we see him routinely slapping citizens who fail to answers his questions quickly enough). They alternately question Mariane and comfort her, making her house a kind of combination war room and support group.

Given Mariane’s essentially passive role, the principal challenge in playing her is convincingly to convey her emotional state. And this Jolie does exceptionally well, offering not so much an imitation of anguish as a simulacrum of it. She falters only once. When Mariane learns the fate of her husband, she withdraws into her room and gives up an agonized scream. It is a jarring, near-histrionic note in a film otherwise unfailingly low-key. It is not, however, the excesses of Jolie that mar this film, but those of its director.

In a sense, A Mighty Heart is two films. There is Mariane Pearl’s own story, the first-person account drawn from her memoirs. Although it is re-created with a large cast, the point of view is entirely solitary. Our perspective is identical to hers: we watch with her as her Karachi home fills with well-meaning strangers; we experience her remoteness and detachment. But this first-person story is embedded in another film, one that depicts the desperate police search for the sender of the e-mails that entrapped Pearl. Though the search takes up considerable screen time, it is no mere police procedural. Winterbottom’s framework consists of an impressionistic montage: we see shards of interrogation and vignettes of broken-down doors and midnight arrests, but not in such a way that we can follow the investigation’s track. Of course, we can hardly expect Mariane, who was not privy to police matters, and who in any event was in a state of shock, to provide a forensic account of the investigation. It is therefore not surprising that these scenes refuse to come into focus, and remain as dreamlike as the flashbacks of her husband.

From a dramaturgical point of view, these scenes are a necessary counterpoint to those with Mariane, which are bereft of explicit action; one can see why Winterbottom felt his film needed them. But in his treatment of the investigation, Winterbottom shows scenes and events that Mariane could not possibly have witnessed. Which raises a question: to what end did he interpolate them?

The fact that the most egregious of these scenes is one of torture may point toward an answer. A hapless low-level conspirator is suspended by his hands, while the enigmatic Captain quietly asks him questions, nodding his head slightly from time to time, requesting something that causes the captive to scream. The situation at this point is urgent—could information be extracted that might reveal Pearl’s whereabouts before he is killed?—but the Captain is unhurried, even ominously gentle. The scene is framed carefully so that we see neither the tormentor, nor precisely what he is doing, which is as it should be, from both a moral and an artistic point of view.

If any political moral is to be drawn from this film, it is to be found in this scene. What precisely is Winterbottom saying here? That such proceedings, appalling as they are, are a regrettable necessity? Far more accurate is Manohla Dargis’s observation, in the New York Times, that “Mr. Pearl would have probably been appalled that this outrage was committed on his behalf; the point is, we should be too.”

While Winterbottom feels free to show a scene of police torture, he refrains from even an oblique depiction of Pearl’s death. He doubly insulates the viewer from it, showing only the faces of Pearl’s friends as they watch his death on video. This omission may have been intended (partially, at least) as a kindness to Mariane Pearl. But its political overtones cannot be missed: Winterbottom assigned the film’s most disturbing images to the American and Pakistani investigators seeking to free Pearl. Pearl’s actual murderers are given no visual presence whatsoever. The most we see of them is a few of their cringing and pathetic flunkies, caught up unwittingly in the madness of contemporary global politics. We see them only, in other words, as victims themselves—as we see Mariane and Daniel Pearl.

In the end, A Mighty Heart belongs to the same moral universe as Oliver Stone’s 2006 film World Trade Center, which looked sympathetically at the victims of terrorism—but could not summon up the stamina to look honestly at the terrorists themselves. For Winterbottom, one of the most talented filmmakers alive, and one of the most concerned with moral complexity, this omission is all the more glaring.

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A Tale of Two “Doctors’ Plots”

What is the difference between an Islamic Doctors’ Plot and a Jewish Doctors’ Plot?

It sounds like the opening line of a joke, but it’s not.

So far, in the Islamic Doctors’ Plot now being unraveled by Scotland Yard, eight people have been arrested in connection with two failed car-bombings in London and a third at the Glasgow airport. Seven are doctors, and the eighth is a laboratory technician. They are all suspected of planning or participating in a mass casualty attack, using gas canisters, gasoline, and nails to inflict maximum carnage on innocents civilians, as part of a broader worldwide campaign of terror in the name of Islam.

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What is the difference between an Islamic Doctors’ Plot and a Jewish Doctors’ Plot?

It sounds like the opening line of a joke, but it’s not.

So far, in the Islamic Doctors’ Plot now being unraveled by Scotland Yard, eight people have been arrested in connection with two failed car-bombings in London and a third at the Glasgow airport. Seven are doctors, and the eighth is a laboratory technician. They are all suspected of planning or participating in a mass casualty attack, using gas canisters, gasoline, and nails to inflict maximum carnage on innocents civilians, as part of a broader worldwide campaign of terror in the name of Islam.

We do not yet know the nature of the evidence against all of those arrested, and presumably there is the possibility that some of them might be innocent of the charges on which they are being held. But, of course, the evidence against one of them, Dr. Khalid Ahmed, who was shouting “Allah, Allah” as he punched a British policeman and was burned over much of his body while attempting to pour gasoline on his burning Jeep Cherokee as it was lodged in the entranceway of Glasgow airport, would appear to be rather strong.

The Jewish Doctors’ Plot is another kettle of fish altogether. On January 13, 1953, the Soviet Communist party newspaper Pravda published an article under the headline “Vicious Spies and Killers under the Mask of Academic Physicians.” It told of a vast plot by a group of doctors who “deliberately and viciously undermined their patients’ health by making incorrect diagnoses, and then killed them with bad and incorrect treatments.”

The participants in the plot, continued Pravda,

were bought by American intelligence. They were recruited by a branch-office of American intelligence—the international Jewish bourgeois-nationalist organization called “Joint.” The filthy face of this Zionist spy organization, covering up their vicious actions under the mask of charity, is now completely revealed . . . .

Unmasking the gang of poisoner-doctors struck a blow against the international Jewish Zionist organization. . . . Now all can see what sort of philanthropists and “friends of peace” hid beneath the sign-board of “Joint.”

The victims of this alleged terrorist conspiracy were high-ranking Soviet officials. All but two of the nine doctors who were arrested for their part in the purported plot were Jewish.

The arrests were evidently the opening salvo of a vast new purge that was only interrupted by the death of Joseph Stalin on March 5, 1953. By April 1953, the charges against the doctors were retracted and a handful of mid- and low-level officials were arrested and executed for having fabricated them. The high-ranking associates of Stalin who had actually set the campaign in motion at his behest escaped unscathed. Seven of the doctors were released. Two had already perished while incarcerated. A fascinating “top-secret” CIA analysis of the episode, produced in the days when the CIA knew what it was doing, has just been declassified and made available on the web.

A notable sidelight is the reaction at the time—actually, the non-reaction—of the British medical establishment to the obviously trumped-up charges. As the Israeli scholar A. Mark Clarfield has pointed out, neither the British Medical Journal nor the Lancet, the country’s two leading medical journals, deigned to make any mention of the episode until after the doctors were already exonerated.

After the seven doctors finally were set free, the British Medical Journal issued an absurd statement, noting that as “doctors we felt disturbed by the assault upon the professional integrity of our Russian colleagues” and especially disturbed “by the probable effect of the accusation on the trust patients universally have in the doctor-patient relationship.”

Another notable sidelight is the contemporary reaction of CAIR, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, to the Islamic Doctors’ Plot. It has posted on its website a statement from the Association of Muslim Health Officials that juxtaposes the events in the United Kingdom with a number of other greater and lesser crimes, including “unethical research for profit”:

If found to be guilty, these men will not be the first doctors to plan or perform heinous acts. If British justice system finds them guilty of these crimes, we put them in a pantheon of heinous physicians performing acts that go against the grain of all we believe in as Muslim Health Professionals. Josef Mengele, Mike Swango, Harold Shipman, and in the UK, John B Adams are small list of psychopaths with medical degrees who have harmed countless numbers of people in defiance of their professional oaths. We make no difference between health professionals who use their skills contrary to the human rights of any individual. Whether it is serial murder or genocide, medical torture for the military, or unethical research for profit, these people are not from us and we are not from them.

A question that emerges from all of this: is the world better off facing an Islamic Doctors’ Plot or a Jewish Doctors’ Plot? I doubt CAIR will be holding a contest to answer this question anytime soon.

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Crazed Kaletsky

London Times columnist Anatole Kaletsky is a guru to the kind of people who are gullible enough to be impressed by a smattering of economics. His columns typically skate over the arguments, while always hinting at a vast body of evidence to back up his wilder assertions.

Now Kaletsky has launched a pre-emptive strike against those in the United States who believe that Iran must be prevented from acquiring nuclear weapons at all costs, and specifically Norman Podhoretz in COMMENTARY. (Kaletsky’s article can be read here.)

Kaletsky makes no attempt to answer Podhoretz’s arguments, which are detailed and cogent. True to form, he prefers to dismiss the Iranian nuclear threat in favor of ad hominem abuse. Echoing the U.N. nuclear inspector Mohamed ElBaradei, who slanders those who advocate a tough line with Iran as “crazies,” Kaletsky makes some crazy claims himself: “There is now strong evidence,” he writes, “that President Bush didn’t even know the difference between Shia and Sunni Muslims when he decided to attack Iraq.” Kaletsky produces no such evidence, for the simple reason that the claim is demonstrably untrue.

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London Times columnist Anatole Kaletsky is a guru to the kind of people who are gullible enough to be impressed by a smattering of economics. His columns typically skate over the arguments, while always hinting at a vast body of evidence to back up his wilder assertions.

Now Kaletsky has launched a pre-emptive strike against those in the United States who believe that Iran must be prevented from acquiring nuclear weapons at all costs, and specifically Norman Podhoretz in COMMENTARY. (Kaletsky’s article can be read here.)

Kaletsky makes no attempt to answer Podhoretz’s arguments, which are detailed and cogent. True to form, he prefers to dismiss the Iranian nuclear threat in favor of ad hominem abuse. Echoing the U.N. nuclear inspector Mohamed ElBaradei, who slanders those who advocate a tough line with Iran as “crazies,” Kaletsky makes some crazy claims himself: “There is now strong evidence,” he writes, “that President Bush didn’t even know the difference between Shia and Sunni Muslims when he decided to attack Iraq.” Kaletsky produces no such evidence, for the simple reason that the claim is demonstrably untrue.

Kalestsky has been trying to persuade Gordon Brown to break with Tony Blair’s policies for some time. Now Kaletsky urges Brown to choose what he calls the “genuinely courageous option”:

This is to positively forestall further disasters by breaking publicly with the Bush Administration and trying to develop a genuine European alternative to the suicidal American-led policies, not only in Iraq, but also in Israel, Palestine and Iran.

We shall soon see if Brown is foolish enough to listen to such voices. On an unannounced visit to Iraq a few days ago, Brown sought to reassure Iraqi officials that he has no intention of ordering a precipitous withdrawal of British forces. It is unlikely that Brown would have done this if he were on the point of breaking with the Bush Administration—or even with his predecessor’s foreign policy.

It would be fatal for a new British prime minister to try to exploit anti-Americanism just as Nicolas Sarkozy in France and Angela Merkel in Germany are both mending fences with Washington, while central and eastern Europeans are falling back on NATO in the face of bullying by Putin’s Russia.

If Brown were to distance his government from the United States or Israel, he would quickly discover exactly why Blair values these alliances so much. For when the war on Islamist terror widens into a direct confrontation with Iran, as it is very likely to do during the remainder of Bush’s and Brown’s terms of office, those European states that have failed the Iraqis so badly will suddenly require American protection against missile attack. They will also need American intelligence. If the Iranians were to carry out their threat to activate terrorist cells, possibly armed with WMD, in Europe, then U.S. assistance—logistical, medical, and military—could be needed on a large scale.

The “crazies” are not those who are now urging Americans to start behaving as if they were at war. America is at war. So is Europe. Thanks to the likes of Kaletsky, Europeans just don’t know it yet.

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The Ayatollahs, the CIA, and the LA Times Leak: Part II

Yesterday, I asked whether a leak published on the front page of the Los Angeles Times in 2002 might have had something to do with the recent arrests in Tehran of four Iranian-Americans on espionage charges. What direct evidence can I adduce on this score?

The answer is: none. The evidence is all circumstantial and indirect. But it is highly suggestive nonetheless.

To begin with, Iran has a significant diplomatic and intelligence presence in the United States. The same LA Times piece revealing the CIA program to recruit Iranian émigrés reported that Iranian intelligence was not only active here but that it paid careful attention to the émigré community. The LA Times story was thus, to a near certainty, picked up by Iranian officials; and it is inconceivable that a report detailing a CIA operation with such specificity would not then have been given wide notice inside the Iranian foreign-policy and intelligence establishment.

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Yesterday, I asked whether a leak published on the front page of the Los Angeles Times in 2002 might have had something to do with the recent arrests in Tehran of four Iranian-Americans on espionage charges. What direct evidence can I adduce on this score?

The answer is: none. The evidence is all circumstantial and indirect. But it is highly suggestive nonetheless.

To begin with, Iran has a significant diplomatic and intelligence presence in the United States. The same LA Times piece revealing the CIA program to recruit Iranian émigrés reported that Iranian intelligence was not only active here but that it paid careful attention to the émigré community. The LA Times story was thus, to a near certainty, picked up by Iranian officials; and it is inconceivable that a report detailing a CIA operation with such specificity would not then have been given wide notice inside the Iranian foreign-policy and intelligence establishment.

The Iranian Islamic regime, it is important to bear in mind, has a peculiar relationship to the CIA. One of its founding myths is that the American spy agency was a major force propping up the old regime. After the Shah’s fall, the Islamic revolutionaries were quick to find the hidden hand of the CIA everywhere, and held it responsible for every conceivable ill that befell Iran, from failed crops to the war with Iraq.

The irony, of course, is that the CIA presence in Iran at the time of the revolution was virtually non-existent, and the U.S. government had only the dimmest understanding of the society, including especially the Islamic opposition. It is widely believed that in the intervening years the agency has not succeeded in penetrating the Iranian government. Apart from what can be gleaned from reading Iranian newspapers, the CIA’s picture of the internal political situation is said to be close to blank.

But reality, at least with regard to the condition of American intelligence services, has never exactly been a strong suit of Iran’s theocrats. The arrest of four Iranian-Americans on trumped up charges of espionage is testimony to the ease with which their fantasies merge with their extortionate, hostage-seizing brand of realpolitik.

The two most significant questions that arise from this leak episode concern not them but us. The first concerns the sources in and around the CIA who disclosed the classified Iranian-émigré recruitment program to the LA Times. What could have possibly motivated them? The second concerns the editors of the LA Times. By putting out a story that would inevitably endanger an entire class of Americans already under intense suspicion in the eyes of the ayatollahs, were they subordinating their civic obligations to their journalistic ambitions?

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Our Fallible CIA

I just finished reading Mark Bowden’s gripping account of the Iranian hostage crisis, Guests of the Ayatollah. And just in time, it seems. The Washington Post is proclaiming “A New Iranian Hostage Crisis” caused by Tehran’s illegal detention of Iranian-American scholar Haleh Esfandiari.

Bowden’s book has been extensively reviewed (including by Gabriel Schoenfeld in COMMENTARY), and I won’t bother to go over the same ground here. But one point that emerged from his account and that bears emphasizing is the CIA’s long track record of incompetence.

The “students” who took over the U.S. embassy in 1979 were convinced it was a “Den of Spies” plotting to overthrow the Islamic revolution and to assassinate their beloved Ayatollah Khomeini. In reality, as Bowden notes, the entire CIA presence consisted of three newly arrived officers, none of whom spoke Farsi, and who had no useful agents in the entire country. (The agency’s level of perceptiveness is suggested by an August 1978 analysis which concluded that Iran “is not in a revolutionary or even a prerevolutionary situation.”)

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I just finished reading Mark Bowden’s gripping account of the Iranian hostage crisis, Guests of the Ayatollah. And just in time, it seems. The Washington Post is proclaiming “A New Iranian Hostage Crisis” caused by Tehran’s illegal detention of Iranian-American scholar Haleh Esfandiari.

Bowden’s book has been extensively reviewed (including by Gabriel Schoenfeld in COMMENTARY), and I won’t bother to go over the same ground here. But one point that emerged from his account and that bears emphasizing is the CIA’s long track record of incompetence.

The “students” who took over the U.S. embassy in 1979 were convinced it was a “Den of Spies” plotting to overthrow the Islamic revolution and to assassinate their beloved Ayatollah Khomeini. In reality, as Bowden notes, the entire CIA presence consisted of three newly arrived officers, none of whom spoke Farsi, and who had no useful agents in the entire country. (The agency’s level of perceptiveness is suggested by an August 1978 analysis which concluded that Iran “is not in a revolutionary or even a prerevolutionary situation.”)

It’s no wonder the agency was so deceived. The CIA had depended for its knowledge of Iran on the Shah’s intelligence service, and when the Shah was overthrown, America’s intelligence agencies were left dumb and blind.

Unfortunately, there is good cause to suspect that conditions have not improved substantially in the past 28 years. The CIA has never had much luck operating in countries where there is not even an American embassy, and it would be remarkable if Iran today were an exception.

In fact, the Robb-Silberman Commission’s 2005 report strongly suggested—with details omitted in its unclassified version—that the American intelligence community has scant knowledge of what’s happening behind the scenes in either the North Korean or Iranian nuclear programs:

We found an intelligence community that has had some significant successes, but that is, on balance, badly equipped and badly organized to confront today’s threats. We found human intelligence collectors who have struggled in vain to find sources with valuable information—and often failed to vet properly the sources they did find. We found technical intelligence collectors whose traditional techniques have declining utility against threats that are increasingly elusive and diffuse. And we found an analytical community too quick to rely upon assumptions or conjecture, and too slow to communicate gaps and uncertainties to policymakers.

But above all, we found an intelligence community that was too disorganized and fragmented to use its many talented people and sophisticated tools effectively.

Keep the above in mind if you happen to read David Samuels’s cover story in the current issue of the Atlantic. Called “Grand Illusions,” it is a veeeery long account of the author’s travels and interviews with Condi Rice during her Middle Eastern diplomatic efforts. Amid the stultifying litany of meetings and press conferences, Samuels nonchalantly passes along a rather startling claim. A claim, in fact, that suggests the CIA is having a lot more behind-the-scenes success in Iran than anyone suspects.

Citing “[s]ources in the United States and the Middle East familiar with the covert side of the American-led effort to push back Iran,” Samuels claims that American agents are responsible for a series of recent events in Iran:

a bomb in Zahedan, the economic center of the province of Baluchistan, that killed 11 soldiers in the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps on February 14; the mysterious death of the Iranian scientist Ardashir Hosseinpour, who worked on uranium enrichment at the Isfahan nuclear facility; and the defection of a high ranking Iranian general named Ali Asgari.

If true, this would be good news, indicating that the CIA is conducting an effective covert action against the Iranian regime currently making war on us in Iraq and other places. But a healthy measure of skepticism is warranted. I asked a friend, a former CIA clandestine-service officer, about the veracity of Samuels’s reporting. His response: “It’s all crap. The Atlantic should not have put that in. It couldn’t be further from the truth. The Atlantic should not descend to the level of the New Yorker.”

Of course my friend’s dismissal of these allegations will not convince hardcore conspiracy theorists. They will think that his words are part of an elaborate disinformation campaign. There is, apparently, no shortage of people, especially abroad, who watch movies like Spy Game (2001) and The Bourne Identity (2002) and think that they provide an accurate picture of CIA capabilities—that with a few words the CIA director can launch a commando mission to free a spy from a Chinese prison or send hit teams to Europe to hunt down a renegade agent. While Hollywood often depicts the CIA and other intelligence agencies such as the NSA (Enemy of the State, 1998) as malevolent entities, it inevitably presents them as nearly omnipotent.

Too bad the real world doesn’t bear much resemblance to the reel world. In fact, the upcoming film based on the classic TV series Get Smart might provide a more accurate picture of our intelligence capabilities.

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