Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The Bush Administration's Legacy:
Militarizing American Intelligence

Late last year, the New York Times broke one of the most important national security stories in many years: the news that the Bush White House had chosen to unilaterally circumvent a law which obligated it to seek court approval to secretly spy on Americans. Since then, we've heard endless debate about whether the newspaper was or was not right to have held the story (either for additional reporting or to assess the danger of ignoring the government's request to suppress it) for a year. We saw endless debate about whether the impending publication of a book (State of War--The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration) by the same author was what really got the paper off the fence. What we haven't heard enough about, I think, is what, precisely, is contained in the book. And so, gentle reader, I purchased it, read it, marked it up and will now tell you about what I consider the high points.

To his credit, author James Risen makes a number of unequivocal statements that helps readers understand what happened. He argues that "the CIA has been so deeply politicized by the Bush Administration that its credibiility has vanished." He nicely describes how, time and time again, Secretary of Defense Donald "Rumsfeld simply ignored decisions made by the president in front of his war cabinet," so that "the president of the United States did not always have the last word in the Bush Administration." He writes that "officials at the White House and the Pentagon convinced themselves that the lack of planning (for post-invasion Iraq scenarios) was in reality a visionary approach."

He tells the unbelievable story of a Cleveland physician of Iraqi descent, Dr. Sawsan Alhaddad (as it happens, a first cousin of my friend, the writer Ayad Rahim), who was recruited by the CIA to go to Iraq before the war to gather intelligence on the country's nuclear program from her brother, who worked as an engineer in Sadaam's system. He explained to her that there was no weapons program: the UN embargo had worked only too well, choking off the country's access to all the ingredients needed for a bomb. There was only one problem: all the 30 or so such first-hand eyewitness reports gathered by the CIA were later ignored.

All of them--some thirty--had said the same thing. They all reported to the CIA that the scientists had said that Iraq's programs to develop nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons had long since been abandoned. Charlie Allen's program to use family members to contact dozens of Iraqi scientists had garnered remarkable results and given the CIA an accurate assessment of the abandoned state of Iraq's weapons programs months before the U.S. invasion in March 2003. CIA officials ignored the evidence and refused to even disseminate the reports from the family members to senior policy makers in the Bush Adminstration. Sources say that the CIA's Directorate of Operations, which was supposed to be in charge of all of the agency's clandestine intelligence operations, was jealous of Allen's incursions into its operational turf and shut down his program and denigrated its results. President Bush never heard about the visits or the interviews.

Not that that would have necessarily changed anything. The upshot of all of this bungling and bullying: an historic perversion of how the country is supposed to (and has since the dawn of the Cold War) separate its foreign intelligence capabilities from its military power.

Risen writes: "The dominant power relationship was between Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney, who in effect was the president's real national security advisor. Rumsfeld had been Dick Cheney's mentor and boss long before the younger man became v.p. To others in the administration, mystified by the process--or lack of a process--it eventually became evident that Cheney and Rumsfeld had a back channel where the real decision making was taking place, and that larger meetings were often irrelevant. The result was that the Bush Administration was the first presidency in modern history in which the Pentagon served as the overwhelming center of gravity for U.S. foreign policy."

UPDATE: A former senior CIA policy analyst says much the same thing in this article in the current issue of Foreign Affairs.


At 6:21 PM, Blogger WestEnder said...

Did you change your post title? I linked to this post but when I checked it later, the link didn't work. It works now, but I had to change the link address.

Anyway, I saw Risen on CSPAN a several weeks ago and it was quite provocative. I suspected this might be a good read.

At 8:10 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Sorry, I did change the title slightly in order to better accomodate the photo of the book jacket that I added today. And yes, I guarantee you it will be worth your time to read this book.


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