Commentary Magazine


Topic: Michael Hayden

What Bushehr Tells Us

Jamie Fly has an important analysis of the Bushehr reactor. He contends that the reactor in and of itself is less important (“The real key to Iran’s nuclear program lies at its facilities at Natanz, Esfahan, at the factories where its centrifuges are being built, and the labs and campuses of its nuclear scientists”) than what it tells us about the general state of our Iran policy:

First, it serves as another reminder of the bipartisan failure of U.S. Iran policy. The Iran saga is not solely about failed engagement by President Obama. The Bush administration tried various tactics with Iran and also failed to halt its progress toward a nuclear capability. A serious exploration of new options, including the military option, is thus in order if the United States remains unwilling to accept a nuclear Iran. …

Second, the actual startup of Bushehr says something about Russia’s perceptions of the Iranian threat. . .Jay Solomon of the Wall Street Journal reported that the administration “consented in recent months to Russia pushing forward with Bushehr in order to gain Moscow’s support for a fourth round of United Nations sanctions against Iran, which passed in June.” That adds Bushehr to a long list of concessions granted by this administration to Moscow as part of its “reset” of U.S.-Russian relations. . .

Finally, the brouhaha over Bushehr obscures the real troubling aspect of the current crisis — the ongoing nuclear weapons program’s timeline.

As to the timeline, Obama’s Gray Lady PR gambit to dissuade Israel from acting unilaterally highlights the difficulty, as Fly puts it, in determining “how close Iran should be allowed to get to a nuclear capability before military action is taken to stop the program.” Fly echoes former CIA director Michael Hayden’s worry that Iran may “loiter at the nuclear threshold and not make the decision to immediately build a weapon, knowing that it would be a green light for preemptive action. If it chooses this route, Iran could keep Western intelligence agencies guessing for years, trying to discern whether the ‘go’ order had actually been given by the Supreme Leader.”

In sum, Bushehr illuminates the faulty judgment and flawed assumptions that undergird Obama’s foreign policy. It turns out that sanctions are too late in coming and totally ineffective, that the Russians can’t be enlisted to disarm Iran, that “reset” is nothing more than frantic appeasement, that Iran isn’t more “isolated” thanks to the Obami’s policy, that time is on the mullah’s side (Obama squandered a critical 18 months on engagement/scrawny sanctions), and that it wasn’t so smart to put the mullahs at ease about the prospects for U.S. military action.

We can’t get the 18 months back. We can’t reset the calendar to June 12 and lend critical, timely aid to the Green movement. But we can prepare, threaten, and, if need be, conduct a military action that would rescue Obama’s credibility, maintain America’s superpower status, prevent an existential danger to Israel, remove a threat to the American homeland and to our allies, and disrupt  Iran’s hegemonic ambitions and growing alliances in the region. Or we could sit idly by as the worst national security disaster in our lifetime plays out before our eyes. We should pray that Obama – for good reasons or not – chooses action rather than passivity.

Jamie Fly has an important analysis of the Bushehr reactor. He contends that the reactor in and of itself is less important (“The real key to Iran’s nuclear program lies at its facilities at Natanz, Esfahan, at the factories where its centrifuges are being built, and the labs and campuses of its nuclear scientists”) than what it tells us about the general state of our Iran policy:

First, it serves as another reminder of the bipartisan failure of U.S. Iran policy. The Iran saga is not solely about failed engagement by President Obama. The Bush administration tried various tactics with Iran and also failed to halt its progress toward a nuclear capability. A serious exploration of new options, including the military option, is thus in order if the United States remains unwilling to accept a nuclear Iran. …

Second, the actual startup of Bushehr says something about Russia’s perceptions of the Iranian threat. . .Jay Solomon of the Wall Street Journal reported that the administration “consented in recent months to Russia pushing forward with Bushehr in order to gain Moscow’s support for a fourth round of United Nations sanctions against Iran, which passed in June.” That adds Bushehr to a long list of concessions granted by this administration to Moscow as part of its “reset” of U.S.-Russian relations. . .

Finally, the brouhaha over Bushehr obscures the real troubling aspect of the current crisis — the ongoing nuclear weapons program’s timeline.

As to the timeline, Obama’s Gray Lady PR gambit to dissuade Israel from acting unilaterally highlights the difficulty, as Fly puts it, in determining “how close Iran should be allowed to get to a nuclear capability before military action is taken to stop the program.” Fly echoes former CIA director Michael Hayden’s worry that Iran may “loiter at the nuclear threshold and not make the decision to immediately build a weapon, knowing that it would be a green light for preemptive action. If it chooses this route, Iran could keep Western intelligence agencies guessing for years, trying to discern whether the ‘go’ order had actually been given by the Supreme Leader.”

In sum, Bushehr illuminates the faulty judgment and flawed assumptions that undergird Obama’s foreign policy. It turns out that sanctions are too late in coming and totally ineffective, that the Russians can’t be enlisted to disarm Iran, that “reset” is nothing more than frantic appeasement, that Iran isn’t more “isolated” thanks to the Obami’s policy, that time is on the mullah’s side (Obama squandered a critical 18 months on engagement/scrawny sanctions), and that it wasn’t so smart to put the mullahs at ease about the prospects for U.S. military action.

We can’t get the 18 months back. We can’t reset the calendar to June 12 and lend critical, timely aid to the Green movement. But we can prepare, threaten, and, if need be, conduct a military action that would rescue Obama’s credibility, maintain America’s superpower status, prevent an existential danger to Israel, remove a threat to the American homeland and to our allies, and disrupt  Iran’s hegemonic ambitions and growing alliances in the region. Or we could sit idly by as the worst national security disaster in our lifetime plays out before our eyes. We should pray that Obama – for good reasons or not – chooses action rather than passivity.

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Really, Is There Any Alternative?

Candy Crowley on State of the Union had this exchange with former CIA director Michael Hayden:

COWLEY: … I mean, Iran doesn’t seem to be paying much attention to the sanctions. As far as we know, they are still trying to get nuclear capability. If it should, is there any alternative to taking out their facilities?

HAYDEN: It seems inexorable, doesn’t it?

We engage. They continue to move forward. We vote for sanctions. They continue to move forward. We try to deter, to dissuade. They continue to move forward.

My personal view is that Iran, left to its own devices, will get itself to that step right below a nuclear weapon, that permanent breakout stage, so the needle isn’t quite in the red for the international community. And, frankly, that will be as destabilizing as their actually having a weapon.

When I was in government, what we would used to mystically call “the kinetic option” was way down on our list. In my personal thinking — in my personal thinking; I need to emphasize that — I have begun to consider that that may not be the worst of all possible outcomes.

To put it differently, the most destabilizing event would be a nuclear-armed Iran, not a military strike on Iran. Hayden was not predicting what Obama would do, merely what should be done if all other options fail. It remains far from clear that the Obama team — which has been insistent on playing out engagement and then sanctions long after their utility was widely called into doubt — will act to prevent the worst of all possible outcomes.

What remains inexplicable is that the administration has openly and repeatedly pooh-poohed the idea of military action. You would think a team so desperate to avoid military conflict would recognize that a credible threat of force would be useful. But the administration can’t even bring itself to bluff. How likely is it, then, that it will deploy military force?

It is an election year, so voters have maximum leverage to extract answers and commitments from candidates. It would seem there is no more important question to ask than this: if force is needed, would you urge military action to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran? For those incumbents who answer yes, the next question should be: so what are you doing to persuade the administration to do just that?

Come to think of it, that is the most telling pair of questions to pose for those lawmakers, pundits, and groups advertising themselves as pro-Israel. If the answer to the first is “no,” the respondent can’t, in any meaningful sense, be considered pro-Israel. If the answer to the second is “nothing,” then we know the respondent is too timid, too ineffective, or too shortsighted to be of any help to Israel in the Jewish state’s hour of need.

Candy Crowley on State of the Union had this exchange with former CIA director Michael Hayden:

COWLEY: … I mean, Iran doesn’t seem to be paying much attention to the sanctions. As far as we know, they are still trying to get nuclear capability. If it should, is there any alternative to taking out their facilities?

HAYDEN: It seems inexorable, doesn’t it?

We engage. They continue to move forward. We vote for sanctions. They continue to move forward. We try to deter, to dissuade. They continue to move forward.

My personal view is that Iran, left to its own devices, will get itself to that step right below a nuclear weapon, that permanent breakout stage, so the needle isn’t quite in the red for the international community. And, frankly, that will be as destabilizing as their actually having a weapon.

When I was in government, what we would used to mystically call “the kinetic option” was way down on our list. In my personal thinking — in my personal thinking; I need to emphasize that — I have begun to consider that that may not be the worst of all possible outcomes.

To put it differently, the most destabilizing event would be a nuclear-armed Iran, not a military strike on Iran. Hayden was not predicting what Obama would do, merely what should be done if all other options fail. It remains far from clear that the Obama team — which has been insistent on playing out engagement and then sanctions long after their utility was widely called into doubt — will act to prevent the worst of all possible outcomes.

What remains inexplicable is that the administration has openly and repeatedly pooh-poohed the idea of military action. You would think a team so desperate to avoid military conflict would recognize that a credible threat of force would be useful. But the administration can’t even bring itself to bluff. How likely is it, then, that it will deploy military force?

It is an election year, so voters have maximum leverage to extract answers and commitments from candidates. It would seem there is no more important question to ask than this: if force is needed, would you urge military action to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran? For those incumbents who answer yes, the next question should be: so what are you doing to persuade the administration to do just that?

Come to think of it, that is the most telling pair of questions to pose for those lawmakers, pundits, and groups advertising themselves as pro-Israel. If the answer to the first is “no,” the respondent can’t, in any meaningful sense, be considered pro-Israel. If the answer to the second is “nothing,” then we know the respondent is too timid, too ineffective, or too shortsighted to be of any help to Israel in the Jewish state’s hour of need.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Not content to lose just Massachusetts, key Democrats want to keep at ObamaCare negotiations: “There is a still sizable contingent of Democrats who continue to believe failure is not an option, even though their voices have been softer since the Senate loss in Massachusetts. Obama, Pelosi and Reid, by all accounts, still agree with this thinking and remain sincerely committed to pushing ahead. Most Democrats have already voted for the bill, making them more invested in finishing the job than their counterparts were in 1994.”

No, honest: “President Obama’s campaign to overhaul the nation’s healthcare system is officially on the back burner as Democrats turn to the task of stimulating job growth, but behind the scenes party leaders have nearly settled on a strategy to salvage the massive legislation. They are meeting almost daily to plot legislative moves while gently persuading skittish rank-and-file lawmakers to back a sweeping bill.” They would be skittish, of course, because  two-thirds of the country hates the legislation.

But you can understand that Democrats want to run on something other than failure: “The $700 billion bailout program for the financial industry has so far done little to boost bank lending, aid small businesses or reduce home foreclosures, a top government watchdog said in a report. Neil Barofsky, the special inspector general over the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), said in a report that while the bailout has helped stabilize the financial system, many of the program’s original goals have not been met.”

And they probably don’t want to run on their fiscal management because: “the White House expects the annual gap between spending and revenue to approach a record $1.6 trillion this year as the government continues to dig out from the worst recession in more than a generation, according to congressional sources. The red ink would recede to $1.3 trillion in 2011, but remain persistently high for years to come under Obama’s policies.” Yes, the spending “freeze” is really just for show.

And their good-government pledges are nothing to brag about: “The recent awarding of a lucrative federal contract to a company owned by a financial contributor to the Obama presidential campaign — without competitive bidding — ‘violated’ President Obama’s many campaign pledges to crack down on the practice, a top State Department official told Fox News.”

Seems the voters don’t think Obama gets a B+: “Just 19% of voters nationwide believe that President Obama achieved most of his goals during his first year in office. A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 70% hold the opposite view and say he did not accomplish those goals.”

Former CIA director Michael Hayden has convinced Diane Ravitch of Brookings: “I realized that Eric Holder has misplaced priorities. He Mirandizes suspected terrorists (alleged terrorists, that is), and vigorously pursues CIA agents. Holder should go.”

Conservatives should give the president some credit: “It took a year, but one bright spot in President Obama’s State of the Union was that he bothered to say nice things about trade. ‘We have to seek new markets aggressively, just as our competitors are,’ he said. ‘If America sits on the sidelines while other nations sign trade deals, we will lose the chance to create jobs on our shores.'” Now let’s see if Obama’s party will move trade deals through Congress.

Not content to lose just Massachusetts, key Democrats want to keep at ObamaCare negotiations: “There is a still sizable contingent of Democrats who continue to believe failure is not an option, even though their voices have been softer since the Senate loss in Massachusetts. Obama, Pelosi and Reid, by all accounts, still agree with this thinking and remain sincerely committed to pushing ahead. Most Democrats have already voted for the bill, making them more invested in finishing the job than their counterparts were in 1994.”

No, honest: “President Obama’s campaign to overhaul the nation’s healthcare system is officially on the back burner as Democrats turn to the task of stimulating job growth, but behind the scenes party leaders have nearly settled on a strategy to salvage the massive legislation. They are meeting almost daily to plot legislative moves while gently persuading skittish rank-and-file lawmakers to back a sweeping bill.” They would be skittish, of course, because  two-thirds of the country hates the legislation.

But you can understand that Democrats want to run on something other than failure: “The $700 billion bailout program for the financial industry has so far done little to boost bank lending, aid small businesses or reduce home foreclosures, a top government watchdog said in a report. Neil Barofsky, the special inspector general over the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), said in a report that while the bailout has helped stabilize the financial system, many of the program’s original goals have not been met.”

And they probably don’t want to run on their fiscal management because: “the White House expects the annual gap between spending and revenue to approach a record $1.6 trillion this year as the government continues to dig out from the worst recession in more than a generation, according to congressional sources. The red ink would recede to $1.3 trillion in 2011, but remain persistently high for years to come under Obama’s policies.” Yes, the spending “freeze” is really just for show.

And their good-government pledges are nothing to brag about: “The recent awarding of a lucrative federal contract to a company owned by a financial contributor to the Obama presidential campaign — without competitive bidding — ‘violated’ President Obama’s many campaign pledges to crack down on the practice, a top State Department official told Fox News.”

Seems the voters don’t think Obama gets a B+: “Just 19% of voters nationwide believe that President Obama achieved most of his goals during his first year in office. A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 70% hold the opposite view and say he did not accomplish those goals.”

Former CIA director Michael Hayden has convinced Diane Ravitch of Brookings: “I realized that Eric Holder has misplaced priorities. He Mirandizes suspected terrorists (alleged terrorists, that is), and vigorously pursues CIA agents. Holder should go.”

Conservatives should give the president some credit: “It took a year, but one bright spot in President Obama’s State of the Union was that he bothered to say nice things about trade. ‘We have to seek new markets aggressively, just as our competitors are,’ he said. ‘If America sits on the sidelines while other nations sign trade deals, we will lose the chance to create jobs on our shores.'” Now let’s see if Obama’s party will move trade deals through Congress.

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Michael Hayden vs. Obami’s Folly

Former CIA Director Michael Hayden is the latest and among the most credible critics of the administration’s handling of the Christmas Day bombing. He writes:

We got it wrong in Detroit on Christmas Day. We allowed an enemy combatant the protections of our Constitution before we had adequately interrogated him. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab is not “an isolated extremist.” He is the tip of the spear of a complex al-Qaeda plot to kill Americans in our homeland.

In the 50 minutes the FBI had to question him, agents reportedly got actionable intelligence. Good. But were there any experts on al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in the room (other than Abdulmutallab)? Was there anyone intimately familiar with any National Security Agency raw traffic to, from or about the captured terrorist? Did they have a list or photos of suspected recruits?

This is, as Hayden points out, one in a long list of misjudgments that began when we limited our interrogations to the Army Field Manual, stripped the CIA of its interrogation responsibilities (and then failed to implement the high-value detainee interrogation team), released the interrogation memos, began the re-investigation of CIA operatives, decided to try KSM, and, of course, determined to close Guantanamo without a reasonable alternative. Our anti-terror policies now have an entirely legalistic cast, and our intelligence-gathering has been subsumed to a new priority: the extension of constitutional protections to terrorists. As Hadyen dryly concludes:

In August, the government unveiled the [ High Value Interrogation Group] for questioning al-Qaeda and announced that the FBI would begin questioning CIA officers about the alleged abuses in the 2004 inspector general’s report. They are apparently still getting organized for the al-Qaeda interrogations. But the interrogations of CIA personnel are well underway.

Aside from the political controversy this has created and the lack of confidence it has inspired among the American people, the question remains whether we are now safer, and our intelligence agencies, more focused. Almost certainly, we are neither. This has been a grand experiment — allowing leftist lawyers to run our national-security policy. Perhaps after a year, we can now see how foolhardy the endeavor was. If the president cannot pivot (just as on domestic policy), it is time for Congress to step forward, use the power of the purse, and exercise its authority over the federal courts’ jurisdiction. Members of Congress, too, have an obligation to attend to the national security of the country. They would be well advised to review, assess, and then depart from the Obami’s ill-fated escapade.

Former CIA Director Michael Hayden is the latest and among the most credible critics of the administration’s handling of the Christmas Day bombing. He writes:

We got it wrong in Detroit on Christmas Day. We allowed an enemy combatant the protections of our Constitution before we had adequately interrogated him. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab is not “an isolated extremist.” He is the tip of the spear of a complex al-Qaeda plot to kill Americans in our homeland.

In the 50 minutes the FBI had to question him, agents reportedly got actionable intelligence. Good. But were there any experts on al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in the room (other than Abdulmutallab)? Was there anyone intimately familiar with any National Security Agency raw traffic to, from or about the captured terrorist? Did they have a list or photos of suspected recruits?

This is, as Hayden points out, one in a long list of misjudgments that began when we limited our interrogations to the Army Field Manual, stripped the CIA of its interrogation responsibilities (and then failed to implement the high-value detainee interrogation team), released the interrogation memos, began the re-investigation of CIA operatives, decided to try KSM, and, of course, determined to close Guantanamo without a reasonable alternative. Our anti-terror policies now have an entirely legalistic cast, and our intelligence-gathering has been subsumed to a new priority: the extension of constitutional protections to terrorists. As Hadyen dryly concludes:

In August, the government unveiled the [ High Value Interrogation Group] for questioning al-Qaeda and announced that the FBI would begin questioning CIA officers about the alleged abuses in the 2004 inspector general’s report. They are apparently still getting organized for the al-Qaeda interrogations. But the interrogations of CIA personnel are well underway.

Aside from the political controversy this has created and the lack of confidence it has inspired among the American people, the question remains whether we are now safer, and our intelligence agencies, more focused. Almost certainly, we are neither. This has been a grand experiment — allowing leftist lawyers to run our national-security policy. Perhaps after a year, we can now see how foolhardy the endeavor was. If the president cannot pivot (just as on domestic policy), it is time for Congress to step forward, use the power of the purse, and exercise its authority over the federal courts’ jurisdiction. Members of Congress, too, have an obligation to attend to the national security of the country. They would be well advised to review, assess, and then depart from the Obami’s ill-fated escapade.

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U.S. Success and Democratic Woe

Doubtless there is reason to be sober about CIA Director Michael Hayden’s sunny new assessment of the fight against al Qaeda. In addition to its countless pre-9/11 fiascos, the agency seems–in its supposedly revamped state–still to suffer from a culture of political bias and unaccountability. One need only look at the absurd NIE on Iran’s nuclear weapons to note that the intelligence community is more than happy to, in Gabriel Schoenfeld’s well-chosen phrase, “cry sheep.”

However, someone’s crying sheep does not establish that there is no sheep. As my CONTENTIONS colleague Peter Wehner has noted, Hayden’s recognition comes amid a cluster of acknowledgments that Bush’s conception of the war on terror may not have been so disastrous after all.

So, where does this leave the Democrats who’ve been up-in-arms about George Bush’s “dropping the ball” in the fight against al Qaeda?

This week, Hayden’s said

On balance, we are doing pretty well. . . Near strategic defeat of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Near strategic defeat for al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia. Significant setbacks for al-Qaeda globally — and here I’m going to use the word ‘ideologically’ — as a lot of the Islamic world pushes back on their form of Islam.

On the fifth anniversary of the Iraq invasion, Barack Obama said

Above all, the war in Iraq has emboldened al Qaeda, whose recruitment has jumped and whose leadership enjoys a safe-haven in Pakistan – a thousand miles from Iraq.

The central front in the war against terror is not Iraq, and it never was. What more could America’s enemies ask for than an endless war where they recruit new followers and try out new tactics on a battlefield so far from their base of operations? That is why my presidency will shift our focus. Rather than fight a war that does not need to be fought, we need to start fighting the battles that need to be won on the central front of the war against al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

There is going to have to be some reconciliation of realities here. Of course we need to keep up the fight against al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan. But considering the growing acceptance of George W. Bush’s successes, Obama is going to have a hard time proposing a “shift” as such. If the acknowledgment of U.S. accomplishments continue, John McCain may yet stop worrying about keeping that perceived space between himself and the President.

Doubtless there is reason to be sober about CIA Director Michael Hayden’s sunny new assessment of the fight against al Qaeda. In addition to its countless pre-9/11 fiascos, the agency seems–in its supposedly revamped state–still to suffer from a culture of political bias and unaccountability. One need only look at the absurd NIE on Iran’s nuclear weapons to note that the intelligence community is more than happy to, in Gabriel Schoenfeld’s well-chosen phrase, “cry sheep.”

However, someone’s crying sheep does not establish that there is no sheep. As my CONTENTIONS colleague Peter Wehner has noted, Hayden’s recognition comes amid a cluster of acknowledgments that Bush’s conception of the war on terror may not have been so disastrous after all.

So, where does this leave the Democrats who’ve been up-in-arms about George Bush’s “dropping the ball” in the fight against al Qaeda?

This week, Hayden’s said

On balance, we are doing pretty well. . . Near strategic defeat of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Near strategic defeat for al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia. Significant setbacks for al-Qaeda globally — and here I’m going to use the word ‘ideologically’ — as a lot of the Islamic world pushes back on their form of Islam.

On the fifth anniversary of the Iraq invasion, Barack Obama said

Above all, the war in Iraq has emboldened al Qaeda, whose recruitment has jumped and whose leadership enjoys a safe-haven in Pakistan – a thousand miles from Iraq.

The central front in the war against terror is not Iraq, and it never was. What more could America’s enemies ask for than an endless war where they recruit new followers and try out new tactics on a battlefield so far from their base of operations? That is why my presidency will shift our focus. Rather than fight a war that does not need to be fought, we need to start fighting the battles that need to be won on the central front of the war against al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

There is going to have to be some reconciliation of realities here. Of course we need to keep up the fight against al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan. But considering the growing acceptance of George W. Bush’s successes, Obama is going to have a hard time proposing a “shift” as such. If the acknowledgment of U.S. accomplishments continue, John McCain may yet stop worrying about keeping that perceived space between himself and the President.

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Crying Sheep

When you cry wolf once too often, you lose credibility. The same thing happens when you cry sheep.

Is the CIA now crying sheep about al Qaeda? In an interview with the Washington Post, CIA Director Michael Hayden sketches a series of triumphs in the global war on terrorism:

Near strategic defeat of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Near strategic defeat for al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia. Significant setbacks for al-Qaeda globally — and here I’m going to use the word “ideologically” — as a lot of the Islamic world pushes back on their form of Islam.

Before we uncork the champagne, let’s recall that it was less than a year ago that U.S. intelligence estimated that al Qaeda

is and will remain the most serious terrorist threat to the Homeland, as its central leadership continues to plan high-impact plots, while pushing others in extremist Sunni communities to mimic its efforts and to supplement its capabilities. We assess the group has protected or regenerated key elements of its Homeland attack capability, including: a safehaven in the Pakistan Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), operational lieutenants, and its top leadership. Although we have discovered only a handful of individuals in the United States with ties to al-Qaeda senior leadership since 9/11, we judge that al-Qaeda will intensify its efforts to put operatives here.

As a result, we judge that the United States currently is in a heightened threat environment.

Let’s also recall that in January 2007, John Negroponte, then Director of National Intelligence, offered a wolf-like assessment of Iran:

Our assessment is that Tehran is determined to develop nuclear weapons. It is continuing to pursue uranium enrichment and has shown more interest in protracting negotiations than reaching an acceptable diplomatic solution.

In December of that year, the same office, now led by Mike McConnell, issued a National Intelligence Estimate was crying sheep:

We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program; we also assess with moderate-to-high confidence that Tehran at a minimum is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons.

And of course, the shadow hanging over all U.S. intelligence assessments is the botched 2003 estimate that Iraq had an active WMD program. But in this instance the wolf turned out to be a sheep.

Restoring the credibility of U.S. intelligence is an urgent task. What is the point of having intelligence agencies if we cannot even place a modicum of trust in their words?

But how should they go about the task? Ultimately, there is only one approach that will work: get rid of the clowns and start getting things right.

When you cry wolf once too often, you lose credibility. The same thing happens when you cry sheep.

Is the CIA now crying sheep about al Qaeda? In an interview with the Washington Post, CIA Director Michael Hayden sketches a series of triumphs in the global war on terrorism:

Near strategic defeat of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Near strategic defeat for al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia. Significant setbacks for al-Qaeda globally — and here I’m going to use the word “ideologically” — as a lot of the Islamic world pushes back on their form of Islam.

Before we uncork the champagne, let’s recall that it was less than a year ago that U.S. intelligence estimated that al Qaeda

is and will remain the most serious terrorist threat to the Homeland, as its central leadership continues to plan high-impact plots, while pushing others in extremist Sunni communities to mimic its efforts and to supplement its capabilities. We assess the group has protected or regenerated key elements of its Homeland attack capability, including: a safehaven in the Pakistan Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), operational lieutenants, and its top leadership. Although we have discovered only a handful of individuals in the United States with ties to al-Qaeda senior leadership since 9/11, we judge that al-Qaeda will intensify its efforts to put operatives here.

As a result, we judge that the United States currently is in a heightened threat environment.

Let’s also recall that in January 2007, John Negroponte, then Director of National Intelligence, offered a wolf-like assessment of Iran:

Our assessment is that Tehran is determined to develop nuclear weapons. It is continuing to pursue uranium enrichment and has shown more interest in protracting negotiations than reaching an acceptable diplomatic solution.

In December of that year, the same office, now led by Mike McConnell, issued a National Intelligence Estimate was crying sheep:

We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program; we also assess with moderate-to-high confidence that Tehran at a minimum is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons.

And of course, the shadow hanging over all U.S. intelligence assessments is the botched 2003 estimate that Iraq had an active WMD program. But in this instance the wolf turned out to be a sheep.

Restoring the credibility of U.S. intelligence is an urgent task. What is the point of having intelligence agencies if we cannot even place a modicum of trust in their words?

But how should they go about the task? Ultimately, there is only one approach that will work: get rid of the clowns and start getting things right.

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“The Killing of Americans”

“It is my opinion, it is the policy of the Iranian government, approved to highest level of that government, to facilitate the killing of Americans in Iraq,” said CIA Director Michael Hayden on Wednesday.

Is this another case of incorrect intelligence?  On Friday, Mohammad Khatami, Iran’s former president, criticized those who were causing trouble abroad.  Specifically, he singled out “taking up arms,” “causing explosions,” and “establishing groups to carry out sabotage.”  “This is the biggest treason to Islam and the revolution,” he said to students in northern Iran.

Khatami did not name names, but he didn’t have to.  Coalition forces are finding more and more Iranian-made mortars, rockets, small arms, and roadside bombs in Iraq, and it’s clear from the date stamps that they were manufactured this year.  Tehran has also been funding and training militants.

We don’t need Hayden or even Khatami to tell us what’s going on.  Iran is killing Americans.  We have tried to work things out with its leaders, but even after three rounds of discussions, they have stepped up their military meddling in Iraq.  And yesterday, Tehran said it will no longer talk to the United States about the Iraqi insurgency.

So now that diplomacy with Tehran has failed, what is Washington going to do?  We only have two viable choices.  We can leave Iraq, or we can do all within our power to stop Iran from killing even more Americans.  In my book, no other choice is acceptable.  It is simply wrong for our country to send young men and women into battle knowing that some of them will die because we are unwilling to take action against a hostile nation that, as a matter of policy, is killing them.

“It is my opinion, it is the policy of the Iranian government, approved to highest level of that government, to facilitate the killing of Americans in Iraq,” said CIA Director Michael Hayden on Wednesday.

Is this another case of incorrect intelligence?  On Friday, Mohammad Khatami, Iran’s former president, criticized those who were causing trouble abroad.  Specifically, he singled out “taking up arms,” “causing explosions,” and “establishing groups to carry out sabotage.”  “This is the biggest treason to Islam and the revolution,” he said to students in northern Iran.

Khatami did not name names, but he didn’t have to.  Coalition forces are finding more and more Iranian-made mortars, rockets, small arms, and roadside bombs in Iraq, and it’s clear from the date stamps that they were manufactured this year.  Tehran has also been funding and training militants.

We don’t need Hayden or even Khatami to tell us what’s going on.  Iran is killing Americans.  We have tried to work things out with its leaders, but even after three rounds of discussions, they have stepped up their military meddling in Iraq.  And yesterday, Tehran said it will no longer talk to the United States about the Iraqi insurgency.

So now that diplomacy with Tehran has failed, what is Washington going to do?  We only have two viable choices.  We can leave Iraq, or we can do all within our power to stop Iran from killing even more Americans.  In my book, no other choice is acceptable.  It is simply wrong for our country to send young men and women into battle knowing that some of them will die because we are unwilling to take action against a hostile nation that, as a matter of policy, is killing them.

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Is China Our Enemy?

CIA Director Michael Hayden says no. “China is a competitor–certainly in the economic realm, and, increasingly, on the geopolitical stage,” he said in a speech delivered yesterday at Kansas State University. “But China is not an inevitable enemy.”

No, it is not. The Chinese state-and its increasingly restive people-all have consequential choices to make. So, in both a technical and practical sense, Beijing is not inevitably anything: friend, enemy, or Stephen Colbert’s clever term, frenemy. We can study the history of other rising powers or even look into China’s past for guidance, but we will of course find no answers about the future.

With regard to that future, Hayden says, “There are good policy choices available to both Washington and Beijing that can keep us on the largely peaceful, constructive path we’ve been on for almost 40 years now.” If we ignore the second part of the sentence–which some might want to debate–it is of course true that both the United States and China will influence the future of their bilateral relationship, which some call the most important in the world. There is, however, an assumption, on this side of the Pacific, that the United States, as the sole superpower, can make China a “responsible stakeholder” in the international community, to borrow the State Department’s hopeful formulation.

Yet China’s future direction is largely out of our hands. China is too large, proud, and brittle for outsiders to have much of a say. Moreover, the leaders in Beijing have difficulty reconciling and controlling the various factions that end up shaping the country’s policy, and so it is wrong for outsiders to believe they can have much of a hand in guiding the Chinese state. Finally, there is the influence of the Chinese people on their nation’s foreign policies, a factor that became evident last month as nationalist Chinese protested in their own country as well as in Asia, Europe, and the United States.

This leads us to perhaps the most important point about Sino-American relations. Because we have only limited influence over Beijing, we cannot base our policy on what we believe Chinese intentions may be. Our touchstone should be Chinese capabilities. Whether Beijing appears to be friend or enemy, we have to recognize that China is one nation far beyond our control. In short, we should not let optimism prevent us from preparing for the worst.

CIA Director Michael Hayden says no. “China is a competitor–certainly in the economic realm, and, increasingly, on the geopolitical stage,” he said in a speech delivered yesterday at Kansas State University. “But China is not an inevitable enemy.”

No, it is not. The Chinese state-and its increasingly restive people-all have consequential choices to make. So, in both a technical and practical sense, Beijing is not inevitably anything: friend, enemy, or Stephen Colbert’s clever term, frenemy. We can study the history of other rising powers or even look into China’s past for guidance, but we will of course find no answers about the future.

With regard to that future, Hayden says, “There are good policy choices available to both Washington and Beijing that can keep us on the largely peaceful, constructive path we’ve been on for almost 40 years now.” If we ignore the second part of the sentence–which some might want to debate–it is of course true that both the United States and China will influence the future of their bilateral relationship, which some call the most important in the world. There is, however, an assumption, on this side of the Pacific, that the United States, as the sole superpower, can make China a “responsible stakeholder” in the international community, to borrow the State Department’s hopeful formulation.

Yet China’s future direction is largely out of our hands. China is too large, proud, and brittle for outsiders to have much of a say. Moreover, the leaders in Beijing have difficulty reconciling and controlling the various factions that end up shaping the country’s policy, and so it is wrong for outsiders to believe they can have much of a hand in guiding the Chinese state. Finally, there is the influence of the Chinese people on their nation’s foreign policies, a factor that became evident last month as nationalist Chinese protested in their own country as well as in Asia, Europe, and the United States.

This leads us to perhaps the most important point about Sino-American relations. Because we have only limited influence over Beijing, we cannot base our policy on what we believe Chinese intentions may be. Our touchstone should be Chinese capabilities. Whether Beijing appears to be friend or enemy, we have to recognize that China is one nation far beyond our control. In short, we should not let optimism prevent us from preparing for the worst.

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Every Which Way on the NIE

The November National Intelligence Estimate on Iran declared flatly in its opening sentence that ‘We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program; we also assess with moderate-to-high confidence that Tehran at a minimum is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons.”

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, speaking at West Point last night, said that Iran remains “hell-bent” on acquiring nuclear weapons.

Does Michael Hayden, CIA director, agree? Speaking with Tim Russert  on Meet the Press on March 30, he said that “we stand by the judgment” in the NIE. That seems unequivocal.

But Hayden then began to equivocate. Russert asked him point blank: “Do you believe the Iranians are trying to develop a nuclear program?” Here is the transcript:

GEN. HAYDEN:  I–personal…

MR. RUSSERT: Yes.

GEN. HAYDEN: Personal belief? Yes. It’s hard for me to explain. And, you know, this is not court of law stuff. This is, this is, you know, in terms of beyond all reasonable doubt, this is, this is Mike Hayden looking at the body of evidence. OK. Why would the Iranians be willing to pay the international tariff they appear willing to pay for what they’re doing now if they did not have, at a minimum, at a minimum, if they did not have the desire to keep the option open to, to develop a nuclear weapon and perhaps even more so, that they’ve already decided to do that? It’s very difficult for us to judge intent, and so we have to work back from actions. Why the continuing production of fissile material, and Natanz? They say it’s for civilian purposes, and yet the, the planet, the globe, states around the world have offered them fissile material under controls so they can have their, their, their civilian nuclear program. But the Iranians have rejected that. I mean, when you start looking at that, and you get, not just the United States, but you get the U.N. Security Council imposing sanctions on them, why would they go through that if it were not to develop the technology that would allow them to create fissile material not under international control?

What about Mike McConnell, director of National Intelligence? Here he is defending the NIE in congressional testimony on February 5:

I’d start by saying that the integrity and the professionalism in this NIE is probably the highest in our history in terms of objectivity, and quality of the analysis, and challenging the assumptions, and conducting red teams on the process, conducting a counterintelligence assessment about were we being misled or so on.

That sounds unequivocal. But then McConnell, too, begins to equivocate:

The only thing that they’ve halted was nuclear weapons design, which is probably the least significant part of the program. So if I’d had until now to think about it, I probably would have changed a thing or two.

So, with Secretary Gates joining in, we now have a trifecta of confusion. The top three intelligence and defense officials of the Bush administration are disavowing the NIE even as the adminstration stands by it.

The November National Intelligence Estimate on Iran declared flatly in its opening sentence that ‘We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program; we also assess with moderate-to-high confidence that Tehran at a minimum is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons.”

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, speaking at West Point last night, said that Iran remains “hell-bent” on acquiring nuclear weapons.

Does Michael Hayden, CIA director, agree? Speaking with Tim Russert  on Meet the Press on March 30, he said that “we stand by the judgment” in the NIE. That seems unequivocal.

But Hayden then began to equivocate. Russert asked him point blank: “Do you believe the Iranians are trying to develop a nuclear program?” Here is the transcript:

GEN. HAYDEN:  I–personal…

MR. RUSSERT: Yes.

GEN. HAYDEN: Personal belief? Yes. It’s hard for me to explain. And, you know, this is not court of law stuff. This is, this is, you know, in terms of beyond all reasonable doubt, this is, this is Mike Hayden looking at the body of evidence. OK. Why would the Iranians be willing to pay the international tariff they appear willing to pay for what they’re doing now if they did not have, at a minimum, at a minimum, if they did not have the desire to keep the option open to, to develop a nuclear weapon and perhaps even more so, that they’ve already decided to do that? It’s very difficult for us to judge intent, and so we have to work back from actions. Why the continuing production of fissile material, and Natanz? They say it’s for civilian purposes, and yet the, the planet, the globe, states around the world have offered them fissile material under controls so they can have their, their, their civilian nuclear program. But the Iranians have rejected that. I mean, when you start looking at that, and you get, not just the United States, but you get the U.N. Security Council imposing sanctions on them, why would they go through that if it were not to develop the technology that would allow them to create fissile material not under international control?

What about Mike McConnell, director of National Intelligence? Here he is defending the NIE in congressional testimony on February 5:

I’d start by saying that the integrity and the professionalism in this NIE is probably the highest in our history in terms of objectivity, and quality of the analysis, and challenging the assumptions, and conducting red teams on the process, conducting a counterintelligence assessment about were we being misled or so on.

That sounds unequivocal. But then McConnell, too, begins to equivocate:

The only thing that they’ve halted was nuclear weapons design, which is probably the least significant part of the program. So if I’d had until now to think about it, I probably would have changed a thing or two.

So, with Secretary Gates joining in, we now have a trifecta of confusion. The top three intelligence and defense officials of the Bush administration are disavowing the NIE even as the adminstration stands by it.

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Iran, Running Free

Yesterday, an Iranian nuclear official announced that his country will inaugurate a uranium ore processing facility in Ardakan, in the central part of the country, within a year. On Tuesday, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said that Iran had begun to install 6,000 centrifuges at its enrichment plant at Natanz. These machines are in addition to the 3,000 centrifuges that are already operating there. While in Natanz, he also commemorated the National Day of Nuclear Technology and inspected the country’s “new generation” centrifuges at a research facility.

So what is the world doing to stop Iran? The five permanent members of the Security Council and Germany will meet sometime this month, possibly next week in Shanghai, to discuss sweetening incentives to Iran to stop enrichment. The international community offered a package of benefits in June 2006, but Iran has refused to discuss it. In short, the world, by sweetening its last offer, is negotiating with itself while Tehran continues its efforts to enrich uranium. “The Iranians have not been negotiating since at least the summer of 2005 and they don’t feel like they have to start now,” says George Perkovich of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Why should Ahmadinejad even talk to us when we are, as Perkovich notes, still in the process of outbidding ourselves?

While the members of the international community talk to each other, Ahmadinejad feels safe threatening the West with a “bloody nose,” as he did yesterday. And as a crowd chanted “Death to America,” the Iranian president said “The nation will slap you in the mouth.”

Where is the Bush administration while Iran is running free? I can understand why the President does not want to answer Ahmadinejad’s insulting comments, but he has an obligation to respond to the Iranian’s accelerated efforts to build an atomic device. And that’s exactly what Michael Hayden believes Iran is trying to do, as he told NBC’s Meet the Press at the end of last month. The CIA director reasons that, whether or not Iran dropped its bomb-building plans in the past, it looks like it is pursuing them now because it is willing “to pay the international tariff” to develop the capability to develop a nuclear weapon.

If Hayden is correct—and common sense says he is—then Bush administration inaction is especially troubling. Is the President staying quiet about the Iranians’ nuclear program so they will cooperate on Iraq? Has the White House given up and passed the Iran portfolio to Russia and China? Is Bush simply too tired to lead? The President at least owes the American public—and those who look to America for leadership—some answers.

Yesterday, an Iranian nuclear official announced that his country will inaugurate a uranium ore processing facility in Ardakan, in the central part of the country, within a year. On Tuesday, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said that Iran had begun to install 6,000 centrifuges at its enrichment plant at Natanz. These machines are in addition to the 3,000 centrifuges that are already operating there. While in Natanz, he also commemorated the National Day of Nuclear Technology and inspected the country’s “new generation” centrifuges at a research facility.

So what is the world doing to stop Iran? The five permanent members of the Security Council and Germany will meet sometime this month, possibly next week in Shanghai, to discuss sweetening incentives to Iran to stop enrichment. The international community offered a package of benefits in June 2006, but Iran has refused to discuss it. In short, the world, by sweetening its last offer, is negotiating with itself while Tehran continues its efforts to enrich uranium. “The Iranians have not been negotiating since at least the summer of 2005 and they don’t feel like they have to start now,” says George Perkovich of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Why should Ahmadinejad even talk to us when we are, as Perkovich notes, still in the process of outbidding ourselves?

While the members of the international community talk to each other, Ahmadinejad feels safe threatening the West with a “bloody nose,” as he did yesterday. And as a crowd chanted “Death to America,” the Iranian president said “The nation will slap you in the mouth.”

Where is the Bush administration while Iran is running free? I can understand why the President does not want to answer Ahmadinejad’s insulting comments, but he has an obligation to respond to the Iranian’s accelerated efforts to build an atomic device. And that’s exactly what Michael Hayden believes Iran is trying to do, as he told NBC’s Meet the Press at the end of last month. The CIA director reasons that, whether or not Iran dropped its bomb-building plans in the past, it looks like it is pursuing them now because it is willing “to pay the international tariff” to develop the capability to develop a nuclear weapon.

If Hayden is correct—and common sense says he is—then Bush administration inaction is especially troubling. Is the President staying quiet about the Iranians’ nuclear program so they will cooperate on Iraq? Has the White House given up and passed the Iran portfolio to Russia and China? Is Bush simply too tired to lead? The President at least owes the American public—and those who look to America for leadership—some answers.

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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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The CIA Goes On a War-Footing

Culinary Delights Soar to New Heights at CIA Thanks to Head Chef” — is the headline of a new CIA press release.

The head chef in question is Fred DeFilippo, a 1992 graduate of the other CIA, the Culinary Institute of America. At Langley, DeFillippo works with a special intelligence unit:

Four other chefs assist DeFilippo and spread out the work between the sauté, grill, and pantry stations. The sauté chef handles pasta and vegetable dishes, the grill chef prepares meat dishes, and the pantry chef crafts delicious salads and sandwiches. 

This is all very interesting and important, but there is still a question about it: Why is the agency circulating old news? The same press release acknowledges that DeFilippo “has been making a splash with dishes like his Chocolate Tiramisu since he began cooking for the agency in 2004.” 

The timing of this announcement is thus curious. DeFillippo was appointed in the George Tenet era. Tenet’s parents owned a Greek diner in Queens, New York. Is there some sort of one-upsmanship going on between the current CIA director, Michael Hayden, and his failure of a predecessor?

Whatever the answer, life in Langley sure beats searching for terrorists and/or a meal of curried goat in the backstreets of places like Peshawar.

 

Culinary Delights Soar to New Heights at CIA Thanks to Head Chef” — is the headline of a new CIA press release.

The head chef in question is Fred DeFilippo, a 1992 graduate of the other CIA, the Culinary Institute of America. At Langley, DeFillippo works with a special intelligence unit:

Four other chefs assist DeFilippo and spread out the work between the sauté, grill, and pantry stations. The sauté chef handles pasta and vegetable dishes, the grill chef prepares meat dishes, and the pantry chef crafts delicious salads and sandwiches. 

This is all very interesting and important, but there is still a question about it: Why is the agency circulating old news? The same press release acknowledges that DeFilippo “has been making a splash with dishes like his Chocolate Tiramisu since he began cooking for the agency in 2004.” 

The timing of this announcement is thus curious. DeFillippo was appointed in the George Tenet era. Tenet’s parents owned a Greek diner in Queens, New York. Is there some sort of one-upsmanship going on between the current CIA director, Michael Hayden, and his failure of a predecessor?

Whatever the answer, life in Langley sure beats searching for terrorists and/or a meal of curried goat in the backstreets of places like Peshawar.

 

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Martin Luther King Day at the CIA

Back in April, CIA director Michael Hayden declared racial and ethnic diversity to be a “a mission-critical objective.” The agency is evidently making significant progress toward that end. “[O]ne-third of the officers who have joined CIA since the beginning of this fiscal year identify themselves as racial or ethnic minorities, a significant increase over the figures for the past two fiscal years,” reported CIA Deputy Director Stephen R. Kappes to a standing-room-only crowd at the agency’s celebration of Martin Luther King day.

But is the affirmative action program truly proceeding smoothly? There are hints that it is not. As the CIA becomes more diverse, it evidently has had to work harder to build “diversity awareness.” Among other initiatives, the agency’s Office of Diversity Plans and Programs has been compelled to enhance its efforts at “engendering an environment based on trust and wedded to inclusion.”

How does it accomplish that? It sponsors “’Love ‘em or Lose ‘em’ and ‘SatisfACTION Power’ workshops,” which it then follows up with intensive “reinforcement activities.” In other words, the CIA has had to invest a great deal of energy in establishing a reign of political correctness among its spies.

Connecting the Dots is left wondering if time and resources would be better spent teaching agents the languages that terrorists speak, like Farsi, Urdu, and Arabic, where it continues to have critical shortages.

Connecting the Dots also wants to know if the politically-correct “reinforcement activities” the CIA inflicts on its own agents are more painful than the interrogation techniques its employs against America’s adversaries.

Another questions might also be posed: does any or all of this CIA affirmative-action activity make the United States safer today than we were on September 12, 2001?

Back in April, CIA director Michael Hayden declared racial and ethnic diversity to be a “a mission-critical objective.” The agency is evidently making significant progress toward that end. “[O]ne-third of the officers who have joined CIA since the beginning of this fiscal year identify themselves as racial or ethnic minorities, a significant increase over the figures for the past two fiscal years,” reported CIA Deputy Director Stephen R. Kappes to a standing-room-only crowd at the agency’s celebration of Martin Luther King day.

But is the affirmative action program truly proceeding smoothly? There are hints that it is not. As the CIA becomes more diverse, it evidently has had to work harder to build “diversity awareness.” Among other initiatives, the agency’s Office of Diversity Plans and Programs has been compelled to enhance its efforts at “engendering an environment based on trust and wedded to inclusion.”

How does it accomplish that? It sponsors “’Love ‘em or Lose ‘em’ and ‘SatisfACTION Power’ workshops,” which it then follows up with intensive “reinforcement activities.” In other words, the CIA has had to invest a great deal of energy in establishing a reign of political correctness among its spies.

Connecting the Dots is left wondering if time and resources would be better spent teaching agents the languages that terrorists speak, like Farsi, Urdu, and Arabic, where it continues to have critical shortages.

Connecting the Dots also wants to know if the politically-correct “reinforcement activities” the CIA inflicts on its own agents are more painful than the interrogation techniques its employs against America’s adversaries.

Another questions might also be posed: does any or all of this CIA affirmative-action activity make the United States safer today than we were on September 12, 2001?

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George Washington on the CIA’s Torture Tapes

First came the deeply flawed summary of the Iran NIE. The more we learn about this document, the more it is becoming apparent that leaks and the fear of leaks are what drove the decision to make it public.

Then came news of the destruction of the CIA “torture videos,” showing the interrogations of ranking members of al Qaeda. CIA director Michael Hayden made public the information that the videos had been destroyed because he expected possible “misinterpretations of the facts in the days ahead.” In other words, he expected that news of the destruction of the videos was on the verge of being leaked.

Now that the information is on the public record, the CIA is under investigation, its leading counterterrorism operatives may face criminal charges, and the agency’s efforts to apprehend and interrogate determined enemies of the United have been thrust into disarray.

We are in the midst of a war in which intelligence is the crucial front. But much of what the U.S. government tries to do in the realm of secret intelligence is rapidly made un-secret. And much of what it contemplates doing it cannot do because of fear that its plans will be leaked.

Does it make sense to have what is supposed to be a clandestine intelligence agency like the CIA operating transparently, its sources and methods and secrets bare to the world? “Upon secrecy, success depends in most enterprises,” George Washington said two-hundred some years ago, “and for want of it, they are generally defeated.”

Are we setting ourselves up for defeat? What can be done about damaging leaks? Connecting the Dots has made some suggestions, but they have not been acted upon and there is no sign that they will be — or that anything (aside from the spectacles of the AIPAC and Scooter Libby prosecutions) is even being contemplated. When disaster strikes next, it will be too late.

First came the deeply flawed summary of the Iran NIE. The more we learn about this document, the more it is becoming apparent that leaks and the fear of leaks are what drove the decision to make it public.

Then came news of the destruction of the CIA “torture videos,” showing the interrogations of ranking members of al Qaeda. CIA director Michael Hayden made public the information that the videos had been destroyed because he expected possible “misinterpretations of the facts in the days ahead.” In other words, he expected that news of the destruction of the videos was on the verge of being leaked.

Now that the information is on the public record, the CIA is under investigation, its leading counterterrorism operatives may face criminal charges, and the agency’s efforts to apprehend and interrogate determined enemies of the United have been thrust into disarray.

We are in the midst of a war in which intelligence is the crucial front. But much of what the U.S. government tries to do in the realm of secret intelligence is rapidly made un-secret. And much of what it contemplates doing it cannot do because of fear that its plans will be leaked.

Does it make sense to have what is supposed to be a clandestine intelligence agency like the CIA operating transparently, its sources and methods and secrets bare to the world? “Upon secrecy, success depends in most enterprises,” George Washington said two-hundred some years ago, “and for want of it, they are generally defeated.”

Are we setting ourselves up for defeat? What can be done about damaging leaks? Connecting the Dots has made some suggestions, but they have not been acted upon and there is no sign that they will be — or that anything (aside from the spectacles of the AIPAC and Scooter Libby prosecutions) is even being contemplated. When disaster strikes next, it will be too late.

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Deconstructing the NIE

Like other contentions readers, I have been interested in the exchange between Norman Podhoretz and Gabriel Schoenfeld over whether the new National Intelligence Estimate was driven by a political agenda designed to block military action against Iran. Norman suggested that it was; Gabe argued that his suspicions were unjustified; Norman retracted* his earlier post; Gabe basically said maybe there is something to Norman’s “dark suspicions” after all.

I agree with the conclusion reached in Gabe’s second post that there probably was political calculation behind the NIE, and if so it comes out in the language chosen by its authors. As pointed out by reader Ben Orlanski, and quoted by Gabe, the wording of the NIE is hardly neutral. The lead sentence—“We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program”—is designed to convey an impression that we don’t have to worry much about Iranian nukes.

The second sentence, claiming that Tehran’s decision was “directed primarily in response to increasing international scrutiny and pressure” is designed to convey the impression that diplomacy is sufficient to keep Iranian ambitions in check and that no bombing is needed—even though, if Iran really did halt its weapons program in 2003, it must surely have done so in response to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, not to any diplomatic gambit on our part.

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Like other contentions readers, I have been interested in the exchange between Norman Podhoretz and Gabriel Schoenfeld over whether the new National Intelligence Estimate was driven by a political agenda designed to block military action against Iran. Norman suggested that it was; Gabe argued that his suspicions were unjustified; Norman retracted* his earlier post; Gabe basically said maybe there is something to Norman’s “dark suspicions” after all.

I agree with the conclusion reached in Gabe’s second post that there probably was political calculation behind the NIE, and if so it comes out in the language chosen by its authors. As pointed out by reader Ben Orlanski, and quoted by Gabe, the wording of the NIE is hardly neutral. The lead sentence—“We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program”—is designed to convey an impression that we don’t have to worry much about Iranian nukes.

The second sentence, claiming that Tehran’s decision was “directed primarily in response to increasing international scrutiny and pressure” is designed to convey the impression that diplomacy is sufficient to keep Iranian ambitions in check and that no bombing is needed—even though, if Iran really did halt its weapons program in 2003, it must surely have done so in response to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, not to any diplomatic gambit on our part.

A more neutral and accurate summary of the NIE would have read something like this: “We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program, but we have only moderate confidence that it has not resumed the program since then. In any case, we assess with high confidence that Iran continues to enrich uranium in violation of United Nations sanctions. Although Tehran claims that this enrichment is part of a civilian nuclear-power program, it could produce enough fissile material within a minimum of two years to make a nuclear weapon. We assess with high confidence that Iran has the scientific, technical, and industrial capacity eventually to produce nuclear weapons if it decides do so, but we have no idea if that decision has been made.”

That would still convey the same information contained in the rest of the NIE, but it would give a very different impression up front, which is the only part most people notice.

I am not privy to any inside information about administration deliberations, but I am guessing that the wording of this NIE was criticized by Vice President Cheney and his aides, the keepers of the conservative flame in the administration’s waning days. I am guessing, again with no real basis, that they pressed for a more neutral write-up and won a few cosmetic concessions from the intelligence community, but that they were prevented from doing more because they feared that if the intelligence agencies lost a bruising interagency battle over the NIE, disgruntled officials would leak word that intelligence was being “politicized” and that the “books were cooked” to conform with the administration’s ideological agenda.

The threat of leaks also must have compelled the President and Vice President, whatever their misgivings, to approve the release of the NIE. They would know that if they didn’t release the NIE, intelligence officials opposed to their policies (and that’s most of them) would leak selective tidbits to make the President look bad the next time he warned of the dangers from Iran.

It would be nice if high-level deliberations like this could be conducted without the constant threats of leaks from our oh-so-secret intelligence agencies, but that’s not the way Washington works these days. The power to go public gives intelligence officials great pull that they can exercise if they disagree with the views of senior policymakers, and they have not been shy about using this gambit, no matter how illegal or destructive their leaks might be.

I hasten to add that I do not suspect the director of National Intelligence, retired Vice Admiral Mike McConnell, or the director of the CIA, Air Force General Michael Hayden, of participating in this political campaign. Both strike me as mild-mannered, straight-down-the-middle technocrats, but it is precisely that neutrality on their part that can leave them open to a partisan agenda pushed by senior subordinates such as the “hyper-partisan anti-Bush officials” said by the Wall Street Journal editorial page to be the primary authors of the NIE.

*CLARIFICATION: Norman Podhoretz informs me that I mischaracterized his views (see below) in my item on “Deconstructing the NIE.” He emails: “For the record…the only thing I retracted was the suspicion that the NIE was another one of those leaks that have regularly gushed out of the CIA and State to undermine Bush. But when I learned for a fact that the White House knew about it in advance and authorized publication (for fear that it would leak anyway and make it seem that they were suppressing unfavorable intelligence), I felt that I had to make a correction. What I didn’t retract is the charge that it’s a political document disguised as an intelligence report—especially in the way the conclusions are presented.” Mea culpa.

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What is That Strange Odor at Langley?

A day has passed since the release of the new intelligence-community estimate of the Iranian program and the smell of rotting fish is growing stronger. Even the editorial page of the New York Times is wondering if the NIE erred on the side of incaution. It reports that an official “close” to the International Atomic Energy Agency “told the Times yesterday that new American assessment might be too generous to Iran.”

Any careful reading of the NIE makes its obvious that this is true. The report’s stark opening declaration — made with “high confidence” — that Iran halted its nuclear-weapons program in 2003 is blatantly misleading. The only thing that was halted in 2003 was what the intelligence community calls the military side of Iran’s nuclear program.

Leaving the impression that the danger of a nuclear-armed Iran has receded, the NIE omits all mention of the fact that a civilian uranium-enrichment program remains as active as before at Natanz, where 3,000-plus centrifuges are whirring away. This critical point is only referred to obliquely in the single footnote in the declassified version of the NIE. In other words, it is buried. The footnote read: “For the purposes of this Estimate, by ‘nuclear weapons program’ we mean Iran’s nuclear weapon design and weaponization work and covert uranium conversion-related and uranium enrichment-related work; we do not mean Iran’s declared civil work related to uranium conversion and enrichment.”

But as William Broad writes in today’s Times, “[t]he open secret of the nuclear age is that the line between civilian and military programs is extraordinarily thin.” Indeed, in a country like Iran, when it comes to civil and military uranium-enrichment programs, we are dealing with a distinction without a difference. The enriched uranium produced at Natanz could be turned to military purposes tomorrow or the day after if that is what ayatollahs decree.

Even the new NIE implicitly acknowledges this fact. It judges with “moderate confidence” that “the earliest possible date Iran would be technically capable of producing enough HEU [highly enriched uranium] for a weapon is late 2009.” Although it says this is “very unlikely,” it adds that by the following year, i.e., in the 2010 to 2015 time frame, Iran “probably would be technically capable of producing enough HEU for a weapon.” These timelines differ only marginally from the timelines offered in the 2005 NIE that is now said by the intelligence community to be incorrect.

The overall impression created by the NIE is that the Iranian nuclear program came to a halt in 2003, and such is the interpretation it is being given all over the world. But we do not have to rely on leaks, or on the differing assessment of allied countries like Israel, to see that this is false. All the evidence we need is contained in the NIE itself, which is framed in a deeply slanted way.

There are so many dots in need of connecting here that we would need a pointillist painter to make sense of what is going on.

1. Why was the public version of the NIE written in this misleading way?

2. How did the two Bush appointees running the intelligence community, Mike McConnell, the Director of National Intelligence, and Michael Hayden, the director of the CIA, allow such a flawed product to make its way into the public domain? Is this a case of the fish rotting from the head? Should one or both of them be fired for incompetence, or worse?

3 Why did President Bush, who was only fully briefed on the new “findings” last week, also authorize the NIE’s release? Did he welcome the document as a way of taking the pressure off him to strike Iran? Or, as seems more likely, was he compelled to do so to avoid charges of suppressing intelligence?

Yesterday, I dismissed Norman Podhoretz’s expression of “dark suspicions” that

the intelligence community, which has for some years now been leaking material calculated to undermine George W. Bush, is doing it again. This time the purpose is to head off the possibility that the President may order air strikes on the Iranian nuclear installations.

I responded to him by noting that leaks were one thing, an NIE produced by a laborious inter-agency process is another, and that “the idea that intelligence officials engaged in a coordinated effort to cook the evidence seems impossible to credit.”

But in dismissing Norman’s dark suspicions, did I treat his claim “a bit too literally,” as Ben Orlanski has written in the comments section in response to my post? Orlanski goes on to explain: 

This isn’t a question of cooking the books to produce bogus information to defeat Bush. It is a question of how this was spun. The NIE report chose to lead with the made-for-headline finding about the halt to the program. But this isn’t really the most relevant part of the report, just the part that was pretty clearly intended to grab headlines. Is saying that a conspiracy? I don’t think so. I think the authors wanted to impact the political debate, and did so not by lying or creating bogus conclusions or reasoning, but simply by choosing to emphasize the part of their overall conclusions that played most pointedly into the political environment. [This] suggest[s] certain political canniness [on the part] of our intelligence agencies, and also suggests that they wanted to have an impact on ultimate policy. That is not their role, and there is something disconcerting about their assuming it.

With this I would entirely agree. If that is indeed what happened here, and the evidence that it did so is in front of our eyes, and if it is indeed what Norman was saying, then, like the intelligence-community’s disavowal of its 2005 NIE, I would have to disavow my previous “low confidence” estimate in Norman “dark suspicions” and join him in voicing equally dark suspicions of my own.

A day has passed since the release of the new intelligence-community estimate of the Iranian program and the smell of rotting fish is growing stronger. Even the editorial page of the New York Times is wondering if the NIE erred on the side of incaution. It reports that an official “close” to the International Atomic Energy Agency “told the Times yesterday that new American assessment might be too generous to Iran.”

Any careful reading of the NIE makes its obvious that this is true. The report’s stark opening declaration — made with “high confidence” — that Iran halted its nuclear-weapons program in 2003 is blatantly misleading. The only thing that was halted in 2003 was what the intelligence community calls the military side of Iran’s nuclear program.

Leaving the impression that the danger of a nuclear-armed Iran has receded, the NIE omits all mention of the fact that a civilian uranium-enrichment program remains as active as before at Natanz, where 3,000-plus centrifuges are whirring away. This critical point is only referred to obliquely in the single footnote in the declassified version of the NIE. In other words, it is buried. The footnote read: “For the purposes of this Estimate, by ‘nuclear weapons program’ we mean Iran’s nuclear weapon design and weaponization work and covert uranium conversion-related and uranium enrichment-related work; we do not mean Iran’s declared civil work related to uranium conversion and enrichment.”

But as William Broad writes in today’s Times, “[t]he open secret of the nuclear age is that the line between civilian and military programs is extraordinarily thin.” Indeed, in a country like Iran, when it comes to civil and military uranium-enrichment programs, we are dealing with a distinction without a difference. The enriched uranium produced at Natanz could be turned to military purposes tomorrow or the day after if that is what ayatollahs decree.

Even the new NIE implicitly acknowledges this fact. It judges with “moderate confidence” that “the earliest possible date Iran would be technically capable of producing enough HEU [highly enriched uranium] for a weapon is late 2009.” Although it says this is “very unlikely,” it adds that by the following year, i.e., in the 2010 to 2015 time frame, Iran “probably would be technically capable of producing enough HEU for a weapon.” These timelines differ only marginally from the timelines offered in the 2005 NIE that is now said by the intelligence community to be incorrect.

The overall impression created by the NIE is that the Iranian nuclear program came to a halt in 2003, and such is the interpretation it is being given all over the world. But we do not have to rely on leaks, or on the differing assessment of allied countries like Israel, to see that this is false. All the evidence we need is contained in the NIE itself, which is framed in a deeply slanted way.

There are so many dots in need of connecting here that we would need a pointillist painter to make sense of what is going on.

1. Why was the public version of the NIE written in this misleading way?

2. How did the two Bush appointees running the intelligence community, Mike McConnell, the Director of National Intelligence, and Michael Hayden, the director of the CIA, allow such a flawed product to make its way into the public domain? Is this a case of the fish rotting from the head? Should one or both of them be fired for incompetence, or worse?

3 Why did President Bush, who was only fully briefed on the new “findings” last week, also authorize the NIE’s release? Did he welcome the document as a way of taking the pressure off him to strike Iran? Or, as seems more likely, was he compelled to do so to avoid charges of suppressing intelligence?

Yesterday, I dismissed Norman Podhoretz’s expression of “dark suspicions” that

the intelligence community, which has for some years now been leaking material calculated to undermine George W. Bush, is doing it again. This time the purpose is to head off the possibility that the President may order air strikes on the Iranian nuclear installations.

I responded to him by noting that leaks were one thing, an NIE produced by a laborious inter-agency process is another, and that “the idea that intelligence officials engaged in a coordinated effort to cook the evidence seems impossible to credit.”

But in dismissing Norman’s dark suspicions, did I treat his claim “a bit too literally,” as Ben Orlanski has written in the comments section in response to my post? Orlanski goes on to explain: 

This isn’t a question of cooking the books to produce bogus information to defeat Bush. It is a question of how this was spun. The NIE report chose to lead with the made-for-headline finding about the halt to the program. But this isn’t really the most relevant part of the report, just the part that was pretty clearly intended to grab headlines. Is saying that a conspiracy? I don’t think so. I think the authors wanted to impact the political debate, and did so not by lying or creating bogus conclusions or reasoning, but simply by choosing to emphasize the part of their overall conclusions that played most pointedly into the political environment. [This] suggest[s] certain political canniness [on the part] of our intelligence agencies, and also suggests that they wanted to have an impact on ultimate policy. That is not their role, and there is something disconcerting about their assuming it.

With this I would entirely agree. If that is indeed what happened here, and the evidence that it did so is in front of our eyes, and if it is indeed what Norman was saying, then, like the intelligence-community’s disavowal of its 2005 NIE, I would have to disavow my previous “low confidence” estimate in Norman “dark suspicions” and join him in voicing equally dark suspicions of my own.

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Who is Michael J. Sulick and Does al Qaeda Have a Mole Inside the CIA?

Michael J. Sulick is the man CIA Director General Michael Hayden has put in charge of gathering HUMINT, i.e., human intelligence, i.e., old fashioned man-on-man, man-on-woman, and woman-on-man espionage.

According to Newsweek, “Sulick learned his tradecraft—the James Bond side of spying—in the old Soviet Union. Like other Western spies, he learned to follow ‘Moscow Rules,’ the rigorous countersurveillance measures used to avoid detection by the ubiquitous KGB.”

Sulick quit the agency in September 2004 in a highly public row with Porter Goss, the CIA director who ended getting chewed up by the agency’s permanent bureaucracy, readily helped along in the chewing by his own staff, one member of whom had an old shoplifting charge on his résumé.

The CIA has been repeatedly castigated for weakness in collecting HUMINT. And one root cause of its perpetual weakness is undoubtedly our national fascination with technology, which has led us to invest in hugely expensive satellite-reconnaissance systems while neglecting the relatively cheap art of recruiting spies in enemy ranks.

In the war on terrorism, HUMINT is essential. Satellites are good for tracking tanks and other masses of mobile metal, but communications-interception aside, they are far less valuable for finding out the whereabouts of an Osama bin Laden or a Genghis Khan.

But at the same time, not all HUMINT targets are the same. Soviet diplomats and KGB agents were one kind of target–many of them liked to drink, have sex, and spend money, and some even admired America—all of which made them susceptible to recruitment. Al-Qaeda cell members are something else. They do not like to drink or to admire America; whatever they might do in private with their multiple wives, they are far more puritanical in their attitude toward sex, and among suicide bombers money is seen as having little value in the world to come.

All of this makes them a hard target. And all of this raises a question: if Sulick cut his teeth playing by the “Moscow Rules,” is he the best man for the job?

Read More

Michael J. Sulick is the man CIA Director General Michael Hayden has put in charge of gathering HUMINT, i.e., human intelligence, i.e., old fashioned man-on-man, man-on-woman, and woman-on-man espionage.

According to Newsweek, “Sulick learned his tradecraft—the James Bond side of spying—in the old Soviet Union. Like other Western spies, he learned to follow ‘Moscow Rules,’ the rigorous countersurveillance measures used to avoid detection by the ubiquitous KGB.”

Sulick quit the agency in September 2004 in a highly public row with Porter Goss, the CIA director who ended getting chewed up by the agency’s permanent bureaucracy, readily helped along in the chewing by his own staff, one member of whom had an old shoplifting charge on his résumé.

The CIA has been repeatedly castigated for weakness in collecting HUMINT. And one root cause of its perpetual weakness is undoubtedly our national fascination with technology, which has led us to invest in hugely expensive satellite-reconnaissance systems while neglecting the relatively cheap art of recruiting spies in enemy ranks.

In the war on terrorism, HUMINT is essential. Satellites are good for tracking tanks and other masses of mobile metal, but communications-interception aside, they are far less valuable for finding out the whereabouts of an Osama bin Laden or a Genghis Khan.

But at the same time, not all HUMINT targets are the same. Soviet diplomats and KGB agents were one kind of target–many of them liked to drink, have sex, and spend money, and some even admired America—all of which made them susceptible to recruitment. Al-Qaeda cell members are something else. They do not like to drink or to admire America; whatever they might do in private with their multiple wives, they are far more puritanical in their attitude toward sex, and among suicide bombers money is seen as having little value in the world to come.

All of this makes them a hard target. And all of this raises a question: if Sulick cut his teeth playing by the “Moscow Rules,” is he the best man for the job?

To Sulick’s credit, as evidenced by the talk he gave last month at the Harvard Seminar on Intelligence, Command, and Control, he has an acute understanding of what he is up against:

Unlike the Soviet Union—one large land mass—the terrorists operate in very small cells. They cross borders easily. They’re very compartmented. They screen their recruits probably better than the U.S. government does. They can work in a bank, in the real-estate industry, or for an Islamic relief organization. Basically they are less vulnerable as targets to all the other means of intelligence collection the United States has at its disposal. In the cold war, the satellites in the sky could see if Russian missiles were moving between silos or if troops were moving. The NSA was even able to intercept conversations between members of the Politburo as they traveled around Moscow in their cars. You can’t do that with terrorists. You don’t know where to point those eyes and ears in the sky unless you have a human agent—a spy—who tells you where to direct those things.

Unfortunately, though, Sulick didn’t offer much in the way of a solution beyond having the CIA and FBI work more closely with local police departments in tracking suspects in places like New York City. That’s a great idea, but it’s not the same thing as working to recruit operatives in Londonistan or Waziristan.

In part, the CIA, and Sulick himself, might be hamstrung, and traumatized, by our cold-war past. Key counterintelligence officials—Aldrich Ames in the CIA, Robert Hanssen in the FBI—were working for the other side. Could this happen again?

Sulick not only believes it’s a possibility, he’s actively troubled by it, and believes that the implications would be far graver than they were in the cold war:

What if you had somebody like Robert Hanssen working for al Qaeda? Try to imagine that! All the stuff that Hanssen and other spies gave away was in the cold war. Nobody was locked in combat. There was time to compensate, take countermeasures, for what those spies gave away. You’re not going to have that time in the war on terrorism. Imagine that you hire somebody, because you need a speaker of Farsi or Arabic, and that person is a spy. That allows the terrorists to launch attacks a lot more easily when they know what the intelligence community’s capabilities are and who their assets are. That’s my big bugaboo: the terrorist spy.

In short, we’re engaged in an intelligence war and we’re on the defensive, worried about an al-Qaeda mole in our ranks even as we are unable to place a mole in theirs.

This is not exactly an encouraging indicator of our progress in the war on terrorism. But it is difficult, for one simple reason, to be harshly critical of Sulick and the CIA: I know that I don’t know what I don’t know.

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This Just In: The CIA? Fallible.

On its front page yesterday, the Washington Post breathlessly touted a Bob Woodward scoop—namely that CIA Director Michael Hayden told the Iraq Study Group on November 13, 2006, that “the inability of the [Iraqi] government to govern seems irreversible.”

If you read deep into the article you find that there is some doubt about what Hayden actually said. Not surprising, since Woodward seems to be working from interviews with participants relying on their memories rather than from a transcript. He quotes a “senior intelligence official familiar with Hayden’s session with the Iraq Study Group” who qoates Hayden as saying “The current situation, with regard to governance in Iraq, was probably irreversible in the short term. . .” [emphasis added]

Whatever Hayden said, it’s hard to see why this is treated as front-page news. Is there anyone left in Washington who thinks that the CIA is an infallible oracle when it comes to the future of Iraq? (Or anyplace else, for that matter?) Its track record is spotty, to say the least. But then no intelligence analyst, no matter how astute, can predict all the twists in turns in a conflict that changes all the time.

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On its front page yesterday, the Washington Post breathlessly touted a Bob Woodward scoop—namely that CIA Director Michael Hayden told the Iraq Study Group on November 13, 2006, that “the inability of the [Iraqi] government to govern seems irreversible.”

If you read deep into the article you find that there is some doubt about what Hayden actually said. Not surprising, since Woodward seems to be working from interviews with participants relying on their memories rather than from a transcript. He quotes a “senior intelligence official familiar with Hayden’s session with the Iraq Study Group” who qoates Hayden as saying “The current situation, with regard to governance in Iraq, was probably irreversible in the short term. . .” [emphasis added]

Whatever Hayden said, it’s hard to see why this is treated as front-page news. Is there anyone left in Washington who thinks that the CIA is an infallible oracle when it comes to the future of Iraq? (Or anyplace else, for that matter?) Its track record is spotty, to say the least. But then no intelligence analyst, no matter how astute, can predict all the twists in turns in a conflict that changes all the time.

I am reminded by this of another Washington Post scoop, by Tom Ricks, that ran on September 11, 2006:

The chief of intelligence for the Marine Corps in Iraq recently filed an unusual secret report concluding that the prospects for securing that country’s western Anbar province are dim and that there is almost nothing the U.S. military can do to improve the political and social situation there, said several military officers and intelligence officials familiar with its contents.

Just as that dim assessment was being issued, the tribes in Anbar Province were turning against Al Qaeda. The result, almost a year later, is that violence in the province is down 80 percent and the political outlook is improving. In fact, the phenomenon of tribes turning against Al Qaeda is spreading from Anbar to neighboring provinces.

The CIA was undoubtedly right back in November that the short-term political outlook for Iraq was not good. It still isn’t. But as we have seen in Anbar, trends can change—dramatically.

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