I got an interesting story suggestion from Sam Pender the other day. Sam Pender, it turns out, is a guy who has self-published (using the virtualbookworm print-on-demand vanity press) at least five books with titles like Iraq’s Smoking Gun, America’s War with Saddam, and Saddam’s Ties To Al Queda. His books feature “editorial descriptions” like the following:
WARNING: This book is not conservative, liberal, or even bi-partisan in its perspective methods, or conclusions. It is an ANTI-PARTISAN examination of the cold, hard facts provided by history, the documented results of the UN inspection program, and more. Baseless rhetoric and lies have been left to other books written for politically-partisan proponents and not readers who are: interested in finding the truth, and willing to accept the facts even when they are difficult or too uncomfortable for people of either political party to accept. People who are interested in rhetoric instead of such facts should buy a different book!
Protestations of objectivity and anti-partisanship aside, Mr. Pender seems to have a collection of opinions that fall pretty close to those of a standard-issue Bush supporter, at least as far as the Iraq war is concerned. But he’s been consistently polite in his email correspondence with me, and when I focused on one particular part of his initial story suggestion, asking if he could provide more detail on just what it was he was alleging, he complied quickly and graciously. And while I don’t agree with his conclusions, common courtesy (and my own promise early in the correspondence), require me to publish the following. It’s kind of long, so I’m going to put the rest of it “below the fold,” but I heartily encourage you to click the link below (or scroll down) and see what you think.
Pender’s original email to me suggested that I should run a piece questioning the authenticity of the Downing Street memo (which I’ve been referring to as the “Tony Blair memo” in previous postings, but I guess it’s time I got with the program).
Subject: lies.com story suggestion IS THE BLAIR MEMO HISTORICALLY ACCURATE?
Date: May 23, 2005 8:51:16 AM PDT
The secret Downing Street memo
SECRET AND STRICTLY PERSONAL – UK EYES ONLY
From: Matthew Rycroft
Date: 23 July 2002
S 195 /02
cc: Defence Secretary, Foreign Secretary, Attorney-General, Sir Richard Wilson, John Scarlett, Francis Richards, CDS, C, Jonathan Powell, Sally Morgan, Alastair Campbell
IRAQ: PRIME MINISTER’S MEETING, 23 JULY
Copy addressees and you met the Prime Minister on 23 July to discuss Iraq.
This record is extremely sensitive. No further copies should be made. It should be shown only to those with a genuine need to know its contents…
As you may be gathering, Mr. Pender likes to quote things. And he likes to quote extensively. I speculate that this may be a factor in his being able to author five books in just over a year. But skipping several pages down through his initial email to me, I was struck by the following:
. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.
Nine international, independent, and bi-partisan investigations have found this not to have been the case-though there were many who accused it of being so.
So I sent back the following:
What investigations, specifically, are you referring to? If you can back this up, I’d be happy to run your critique on lies.com.
After a couple of back-and-forths, he supplied the following:
The Sen Intel Com investigation
Independent WMD Commission
(see also conclusion 26 which specifically looked into
pressure/manipulation/etc, and found none)
British Butler Report
(Independent and bi-partisan investigators)
Australian inevstigation into their intelligence agencies
(independent and bi-partisan investigators)
British WMD claims about Iraq inquiry
Australian investigation into WMD claims about Iraq
(independent and bi-partisan investigators)
The Iraqi Survey Group Duelfer Report
(I include this one because of the associated testimony from Dr Kay and Dr
Duelfer explaining that that their analysts were not pressured-links to the
testimony and quotes included below)
The Duelfer Report itself:
Dr Kay testimony:
Dr Duelfer’s testimony re manipulation of intel:
CIA’s investigation into the mobile bio labs claims
Now, evaluated cursorily and uncritically, that looks like a pretty huge mountain of evidence contradicting the Downing Street memo’s statement.
But wait a second. On closer examination, the large majority of the cited evidence doesn’t have anything to do with the question of whether or not Bush manipulated intelligence before the war. Item #3 (the British Butler report) only looks at the actions of British intelligence. Item #4 is an Australian investigation of their intelligence agencies. Item #5 (again) looks at the British agencies. Item #6 (again) looks at Australia. (It’s also mislinked in Pender’s email to the same item that was linked to in item #3, but that’s a side issue.)
Item #7 is the British inquiry into the death of David Kelly, a British weapons inspector who had been outed as the source of a news story alleging manipulation of British intelligence on Iraqi WMD. The inquiry found that Kelly had committed suicide; that finding has been disputed by some, but either way it’s hard to see any direct connection between the report and the question of whether or not Bush fiddled with Iraqi WMD intelligence before the war.
Item #8 concerns the work of the Iraq Survey Group, which searched (unsuccessfully) for any evidence of WMD in Iraq after the initial phase of the war was over. Pender helpfully (and extensively) quotes testimony by head WMD searchers David Kay and Charles Duelfer to the effect that they very specifically were not pressured to alter their findings, which is great, but again, hardly bears on the question of whether people in the US intelligence community were pressured on Iraqi WMD evidence before the war.
Item #9 is a CIA memo from May, 2003, that briefly outlines the source of the intelligence on the mobile Iraqi “biological weapons labs” that played a prominent role in Colin Powell’s February, 2003, speech to the UN. (Those “labs” also failed to pan out after the invasion.) It says nothing about the question of whether or not there was pressure applied to the CIA to evaluate that intelligence less skeptically than it otherwise might have done. Nor is it in any sense a document that was produced through an open process, or even by a known author or authors, such that the biases that went into its creation might be evaluated.
So, a quick examination shows that of the “nine international, independent, and bi-partisan investigations” that Pender describes as refuting the Downing Street memo’s statement about the intelligence being “fixed around the policy” by the Bush administration, seven of those investigations don’t touch on that question at all.
What of the remaining two?
Item #2 was the report of the “Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction,” more briefly known as the “Iraq Intelligence Commission.” This commission was established by Bush in February, 2004, as he headed into the tough part of his re-election campaign, and was fending off criticism based on the by-then-embarrassing failure of WMD to turn up in Iraq.
Since this commission was established by Bush, and had its membership, scope, and powers specified by Bush, in response to an issue that was threatening to become a major scandal for his campaign, it wouldn’t be surprising if Bush stacked the deck to try to produce the best outcome possible. And, at least according to his critics, that’s exactly what he did.
Quoting from Josh Marshall’s posting on the day Bush issued the executive order forming the Commission:
Well, the fix, as they say, is in.
Here’s the executive order the president just signed authorizing his commission which he “established for the purpose of advising the President in the discharge of his constitutional authority under Article II of the Constitution to conduct foreign relations, protect national security, and command the Armed Forces of the United States, in order to ensure the most effective counter-proliferation capabilities of the United States and response to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the ongoing threat of terrorist activity.”
The commission doesn’t appear to have any subpoena power, only the right to “full and complete access to information relevant to its mission as described in section 2 of this order.”
If I read this right — and needless to say I’m no lawyer, notwithstanding that summer in grad school I wasted prepping for the LSAT — what’s ‘relevant’ is at the discretion of the department heads of the various executive branch agencies.
And if you read the “mission” as defined in the order it seems narrowly framed as looking at pre-war CIA analyses (actually the whole Intelligence Community) and how they stack up against what Kay’s guys found on the ground after the war.
Anything the White House did with those CIA analyses, any fisticuffs between the Veep’s office and the CIA, anything stovepiped through Doug Feith’s operation at the Pentagon, anything that made its way from Chalabi’s mumbo-jumbocrats to the the president’s speechwriters — that’s all beyond their brief.
Another key factor in the objectivity of the Commission’s output was the political affiliation and integrity of the people appointed to it, in particular the co-chairs who headed it. The Republican co-chair was Lawrence Silberman, about whom Wikipedia has this to say:
Laurence Silberman is an American judge, formerly a member of the U.S. Court of Appeals.
A long-time supporter of the Republican Party, served in the presidential administrations of Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. As a judge, he issued controversial rulings during the Iran-Contra Affair and the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
His resume doesn’t exactly ooze impartiality, does it? But what of the other co-chair, the Democrat Bush was more or less compelled to appoint for appearance’s sake, Charles Robb? Again from Wikipedia:
Charles Spittal “Chuck” Robb (born June 26, 1939) is an American politician. Robb, a Democrat, served as governor of Virginia from 1982 to 1986 and later as a member of the U.S. Senate from 1989 until 2001. Robb’s wife, Lynda Robb, also known as Lynda Bird Johnson, is the daughter of former U.S. President, and fellow southern Democrat, Lyndon B. Johnson.
On April 25, 1991, Robb preempted NBC’s plans to break a sex scandal story by publicly admitting that he had spent time with former Miss Virginia Tai Collins alone in a hotel room. Robb claimed that the two had merely shared a bottle of wine and a massage. However, Collins later told Playboy magazine that the two had been having an affair since 1983.
In addition, Robb was dogged by allegations of cocaine abuse and illegally listening to Virgina Governor (and possible Senate primary opponent) Doug Wilder’s cell phone conversations.
Despite the sex scandal, Robb narrowly defeated former Iran-Contra figure Oliver North in a 1994 reelection bid after popular Republican Senator John Warner refused to support his fellow Republican and instead backed third-party candidate J. Marshall Coleman.
I find my faith in the Commission’s integrity fading by the moment.
In reading through the Commission’s actual report, I remain unimpressed. They focused on, and discussed at great length, the many ways in which the intelligence services had failed. They never said much about how the Administration’s political figures had made use of that intelligence, but by their detailed discussion of the failings of the analysts at the CIA and the Defense Department, created the impression that the Bush people were not to blame. Still, the following statement, which comes at the end of the report’s introduction, is intriguing:
Finally, we emphasize two points about the scope of this Commission’s charter, particularly with respect to the Iraq question. First, we were not asked to determine whether Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. That was the mandate of the Iraq Survey Group; our mission is to investigate the reasons why the Intelligence Community’s pre-war assessments were so different from what the Iraq Survey Group found after the war. Second, we were not authorized to investigate how policymakers used the intelligence assessments they received from the Intelligence Community. Accordingly, while we interviewed a host of current and former policymakers during the course of our investigation, the purpose of those interviews was to learn about how the Intelligence Community reached and communicated its judgments about Iraq’s weapons programs–not to review how policymakers subsequently used that information.
The truth is out there, and it wants to be free. When I read those last two sentences I can see it straining against its bonds.
For a Bush-critic’s comments on this report, see Jacob Weisberg’s article at Slate: No politics, please — we’re spies.
But let’s turn to item #1, Pender’s “favorite,” the report of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. This item actually came up in a comment thread between myself and Craig recently; Craig, like Pender, had cited the committee’s report, including its key finding that (in the words of Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS)), “Finally, the committee found no evidence that the intelligence community’s mischaracterization or exaggeration of intelligence on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction capabilities was the result of politics or pressure.”
Compare that, though, to the words of the ranking Democrat on the committee, John Rockefeller (D-WV), as given in his appendix to the report:
Phase one of the Committee’s report on U.S. pre-war intelligence on Iraq details how the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Intelligence Community as a whole ofien failed to produce accurate intelligence analysis on alleged Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and links to terrorist organizations.
Regrettably, the report paints an incomplete picture of what occurred during this period of time. The Committee set out to examine ten areas of investigation relating to pre-war intelligence on Iraq and we completed only five in this report. The scope of our investigation was divided in a way so as to prevent a complete examination of all the matters within the Committee’s jurisdiction at one time.
The central issue of how intelligence on Iraq was used or misused by Administration officials in public statements and reports was relegated to the second phase of the Committee’s investigation, along with other issues related to the intelligence activities of Pentagon policy officials, pre-war intelligence assessments about post-war Iraq, and the role played by the Iraqi National Congress, led by Ahmad Chalabi, which claims to have passed “raw intelligence” and defector infomation directly to the Pentagon and the Office of the Vice President.
As a result, the Committee’s phase one report fails to fully explain the environment of intense pressure in which Intelligence Community officials were asked to render judgments on matters relating to Iraq when policy officials had already forcefully stated their own conclusions in public.
Basically, my impression of the events surrounding the report’s release was that Roberts was able to successfully truncate the report’s scope so as to de-emphasize the evidence alluded to by Rockefeller on how the Bush administration pressured the intelligence agencies. The Democrats on the committee, faced with a choice of either 1) no report being released before the 2004 election, or 2) a truncated report being released, with the damning information available in the appendix, chose the second option, and signed off on the report in its truncated form.
So, of the nine reports cited by Pender in his original email, seven don’t address the question of the Bush administration’s pre-war manipulation of WMD intelligence at all. The remaining two show evidence of being substantially flawed in their approach to and statements about the issue. That’s the problem with “independent commissions” and “bipartisan committees” and their reports. Ostensibly intended to uncover the truth and expose it, they can just as easily work to bury the truth, erecting an impressive-loooking monument of official B.S. over it to keep it from clawing its way back to the surface.
The best thing I ever read on this subject was the late Richard Feynman’s account of his participation in the investigation of the Challenger disaster, as described in Feynman’s book, What Do You Care What Other People Think? It’s really a must-read.
Craig, here’s a reward if you’ve actually read this far: email me your address and I’ll buy you a copy of Feynman’s book and send it to you, as my personal token of gratitude for your efforts to keep me honest. Heck, Sam Pender, send me your address and I’ll throw in one for you, too, as one author to another. You’re an inspiration, dude. I’ve only published one book so far, but with people like you to keep me motivated I’ll have that second one written in no time.