Monday, February 12, 2007

Office of Special Plans, revisited

Since making my original post on the intelligence work of Douglas Feith and the Office of Special Plans, the Washington Post has come out with a fairly spectacular correction to the original article. Here it is in full:

A Feb. 9 front-page article about the Pentagon inspector general's report regarding the office of former undersecretary of defense Douglas J. Feith incorrectly attributed quotations to that report. References to Feith's office producing "reporting of dubious quality or reliability" and that the office "was predisposed to finding a significant relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda" were from a report issued by Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) in Oct. 2004. Similarly, the quotes stating that Feith's office drew on "both reliable and unreliable reporting" to produce a link between al-Qaeda and Iraq "that was much stronger than that assessed by the IC [Intelligence Community] and more in accord with the policy views of senior officials in the Administration" were also from Levin's report. The article also stated that the intelligence provided by Feith's office supported the political views of senior administration officials, a conclusion that the inspector general's report did not draw.The two reports employ similar language to characterize the activities of Feith's office: Levin's report refers to an "alternative intelligence assessment process" developed in that office, while the inspector general's report states that the office "developed, produced, and then disseminated alternative intelligence assessments on the Iraq and al Qaida relationship, which included some conclusions that were inconsistent with the consensus of the Intelligence Community, to senior decision-makers." The inspector general's report further states that Feith's briefing to the White House in 2002 "undercuts the Intelligence Community" and "did draw conclusions that were not fully supported by the available intelligence."

Ouch; they got their reports mixed up. Somebody ought to be missing part of their posterior over at the Post.

But does that change the underlying point of the article or my post? IMO, no.

For example, the Levin report used the language "Reporting of dubious quality or reliability," and said Feith drew on "both reliable and unreliable reporting" to reach a conclusion "that was much stronger than that assessed by the IC [Intelligence Community] and more in accord with the policy views of senior officials in the Administration".

The IG report notes that Feith's reports drew on sources that were described by the Director of Central Intelligence as "of varying reliability," a fact that (while arguably obvious) Feith left out of his briefings. As for the conclusion Feith reached, the IG report described it as "not fully supported by underlying intelligence." The IG report specifically said that the available data "does not support (Feith's) position of a 'mature symbiotic relationship (between Iraq and al-Qaeda) in all areas.' "

The IG report does not comment on whether such a position was in line with senior administration officials' views, but we know from other sources that it was.

So while an embarassing gaffe for the WaPo (and one that costs us some of the more compelling quotes in the original article), the conclusions remain valid.

One can say that any misrepresentation of intelligence was Feith's fault, not the administration's. But Feith's office was deliberately set up to provide an alternative interpretation of intelligence because the White House didn't like or trust what the actual intelligence folks were telling it. And when Feith's reports began to diverge from what the intelligence agencies were telling it, what did the White House do? Embrace Feith's version. If they were misled, it was because they wanted to be misled.

Is this proof that Bush et al lied us into Iraq? Nope. But it is evidence that the administration, in the person of Feith, was working hard to make the intelligence tell it what it wanted to hear. It remains to be seen to what extent Bush or Cheney were involved in the spin. Did they actively participate in it, or did they simply set up a biased process and let it deceive them? As with so many things involving the Bush administration, it once again boils down to two basic choices: corrupt or incompetent.

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