A fully partisan, less than fully honest report

The U.S. Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence has issued its report on “whether public statements regarding Iraq by U.S. government officials were substantiated by intelligence.” The committee majority concludes that while most of the administration’s prewar claims were substantiated, the White House exaggerated the extent to which intelligence supported its claims about the threat posed by Iraq.

Ironically, the Committee’s report itself consists of serious distortions and misrepresentations. In addition, leading Senate Democrats, with access to the same intelligence information the administration relied on, made the same kind of claims (or more sweeping ones) that the Committee now deems “exaggerated.” One of those Democrats is the chairman of the Committee, Senator Rockefeller. Not surprisingly, the Committee majority declined to include in its report the prewar statements of Senate Dems.

I’ll be writing about various misrepresentations and distortions contained in the majority’s report over the next few days. I’ll begin with the following:

The majority concedes that the administration’s statements about Iraq’s nuclear activities were substantiated by intelligence, but notes that some statements did not convey disagreements that existed within the intelligence community, which were revealed in the National Intelligence Assessment (NIE). But Democratic Senators, including Chairman Rockefeller, also made forceful statements about Iraq’s nuclear activity without mentioning dissents that were contained in the NIE.

Moreover, some Democrats stated, incorrectly, that there was no dissent. For example, Chris Dodd stated: “There is no question that Iraq possesses biological and chemical weapons and that [it] seeks to acquire additional weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons; that is not in debate.” And John Kerry stated, falsely, that “all U.S. intelligence experts agree that Iraq is seeking nuclear weapons.” Finally, Dick Durbin stated that Saddam Hussein “perhaps [has] nuclear weapons at his disposal.” Durbin’s statement (but not those of Dodd and Kerry) preceded the publication of the NIE. However, no intelligence agency ever assessed that Iraq had nuclear weapons, and no administration official ever made that claim.

In my view, it was reasonable for both the administration and congressional Democrats to not refer to dissenting views, since both believed the majority view, not the dissents. But if there is now some standard under which the views of dissenters within the bureaucracy must be publicized regardless of whether one credits them, the Democrats violated that standard. And Senators Dodd and Kerry affirmatively misrepresented that there was no debate, something the administration did not do.

Ironically, moreover, the Democrats blame some administration officials for failing to refer to the alternative views contained in the WMD NIE even though that dissent had not yet been published when they made the statements in question. By contrast except for Durbin’s patently unsubstantiated comment, all of the unequivocal statements by Senate Democrats cited above, and many more, were made following publication of the NIE.

In short, administration officials are expected to read minds, while Senate Dems grant themselves the freedom to ignore published dissents.

Committee Democrats attempt to finesse the fact that Democratic Senators as a group gave shorter shrift than the administration to the dissents contained in the NIE not only by limiting the report to statements by administration officials, but also by making misleading claims about congressional access to intelligence. They assert that members of Congress did not have the same ready access to intelligence as did senior executive branch policymakers. In fact, however, all of the intelligence analyzed in the Committee report was fully and readily available to members of Congress. Some of it was actually provided to members of Congress in closed hearings. Much of the remainder, including the NIEs, was widely disseminated to members.

Committee Democrats claim, though, that the NIE on Iraqi WMD was published “mere days” before Congress was scheduled to vote on the war resolution. Again, the Dems are attempting to mislead. The NIE in question was published nearly two weeks before the vote. Moreover, its key assessments had been presented to members of the Intelligence and Armed Services committees a month before the vote. Nor were these judgments new – numerous intelligence assessments had reached identical or similar judgments months earlier.

In any case, Senators Rockefeller, Dodd, Kerry, and the others (including Senators Clinton and Edwards) cannot defend statements they made about WMD following publication of the NIE on the grounds that they didn’t have enough time to study the document. If that were true, and it is not, they shouldn’t have opined on the issue, much less affirmatively claimed that there was no debate, as Dodd and Kerry (but not the administration) did.

JOHN adds: National Intelligence Estimates are intended to represent the consensus of our intelligence agencies. The NIE that was produced in the fall of 2002 said with a “high level of confidence”–which is a defined term, expressing the greatest degree of confidence that the intelligence agencies ever express–that Iraq possessed chemical weapons; possessed biological weapons; and was pursuing nuclear weapons. It said, with a “moderate degree of confidence,” that Iraq did not yet possess nuclear weapons. In other words, the CIA and other intelligence agencies told President Bush and Congressional leaders that the possibility that Iraq already had nuclear weapons was greater than the possibility that it did not have either biological or chemical weapons.

The idea that it was somehow incumbent on President Bush (but not, of course, Democrats in Congress) to cherry-pick the intelligence on Iraq by publicizing minority views, rather than acting on the consensus presented to the administration by the agencies, is ludicrous.

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