In order to justify its invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration cooked the intelligence about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. That is the allegation tirelessly hurled about by opponents of the war. Norman Podhoretz put paid to it in his Who is Lying About Iraq.
If turns out that if anyone has been doing the cooking, it has been the CIA and the broader intelligence community itself. The most recent glaring instance came with the recent National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran that opened with the flat — and flatly false — assertion “that in fall, 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program.”
How did this come about? Are the institutions that produced this flawed estimate out of control? Michael McConnell, the Director of National Intelligence, has been testifying today on Capitol Hill today about the threats facing the United States. Just in time, John Bolton has a piece in today’s Wall Street Journal raising the key questions about the NIE that McConnell should be asked.
Was the NIE’s opening salvo intended to produce policy consequences congenial to Mr. McConnell’s own sentiments? If not, how did he miss the obvious consequences that flowed from the NIE within minutes of its public release?
This was a sin of either commission or omission. If the intelligence community intended the NIE’s first judgment to have policy ramifications — in particular to dissuade the Bush administration from a more forceful policy against Iran — then it was out of line, a sin of commission.
If, on the other hand, Mr. McConnell and others missed the NIE’s explosive nature, then this is at best a sin of omission, and perhaps far worse. Will Mr. McConnell say he saw nothing significant in how the NIE was written?
Does he believe in fact that the first sentence is the NIE’s single most important point? If not, why was it the first sentence?
These are excellent questions all. When Bolton was named United Nations ambassador by President Bush, the New York Times called it a “terrible choice at a critical time.” As I noted in my review of Bolton’s UN memoir, let us hope that more such terrible choices lie ahead. The nation needs an intelligence director who, in Bolton’s words, can “commit the intelligence community to stick to its knitting — intelligence — and return its policy enthusiasts to agencies where policy is made.” Come to think of it, John Bolton would be an excellent candidate for the job.