February 17, 2003

A Mirror of Wildernesses

How likely is it that the--weak--intelligence information that the Bush Administration thinks necessitates a conquest of Iraq is in fact correct? Jim Henley has some views:

Jim Henley, Unqualified Offerings: A key piece of the information leading to recent terror alerts was fabricated, according to two senior law enforcement officials in Washington and New York. The officials said that a claim made by a captured al Qaeda member that Washington, New York or Florida would be hit by a "dirty bomb" sometime this week had proven to be a product of his imagination.

Here comes the good part:

It was only after the threat level was elevated to orange -- meaning high -- last week, that the informant was subjected to a polygraph test by the FBI, officials told ABCNEWS. "This person did not pass," said Cannistraro.

Does that mean we can take the duct tape back if we kept the receipt? Not necessarily:

Despite the fabricated report, there are no plans to change the threat level. Officials said other intelligence has been validated and that the high level of precautions is fully warranted.

Still, there's a lesson here:

It's not the first time a captured al Qaeda operative has made up a huge story and scared a lot of people.

The FBI concluded the information that led to a nationwide hunt for five men suspected of infiltrating the United States on Christmas Eve was fabricated by an informant, and the agency called off the alert sparked by the information.

And Colin Powell's UN report relied heavily on intelligence from defector debriefings and captive interrogations. Hm.

Some people get offended at the notion that Colin Powell might, you know, lie. But actually, Powell has people for that. He doesn't even have to know he's lying. All that has to happen is that, under ferocious pressure from the White House, the intelligence agencies regrade selected interrogation reports from UNRELIABLE to RELIABLE. Bingo. You now have "intelligence" connecting Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. You had the same reports the day before. You just thought the detainees and defectors were full of shit, probably for good reason. But your bosses want results.

Anyway, be careful out there:

Officials said this one got so far because it coincided with other intelligence, that officials still believe points to a coming attack, timed to hostilities with Iraq.

And maybe they're right.

Posted by DeLong at February 17, 2003 07:55 AM | TrackBack

This is, I think, massively the most important reason why people don't want to get behind the Bush Administration plans; because the plans are being supported by lie after lie after damnable lie, and most people have experience from their every day lives (Stephen Pinker would probably tell you that it's an instinct put there by evolution), that when you follow the advice of a liar, things tend to turn out badly.

Posted by: dsquared on February 18, 2003 10:16 AM

But in point of fact Powell does lie, and did lie -- more than once -- in his heralded 2003-02-05 UN performance. Brad's right, too, on the main point -- tailor-made "solid intelligence" can be had by artfully twisting the knobs on our foraml intelligance apparatus.

Related discussion in past 3 posts on my blog.

Posted by: RonK, Seattle on February 18, 2003 12:21 PM

Mark Steyn has a piece up now that perfectly captures the above comments:


" The new Universal Theory, to which 99% of Saturday's [anti-war] speakers and placards enthusiastically subscribed, is that, whatever the problem, American imperialist cowboy aggression is to blame. In fact, it's not so different from the old Universal Theory, in that the international Zionist conspiracy is assumed to be behind the scenes controlling the cowboys: Bush is a "puppet of Jewry," just like Churchill was -- notwithstanding the fact that America's Jews voted overwhelmingly for Gore. But, if you believe that the first non-imperialist great power in modern history is the source of all the world's woes, then logic is irrelevant. "It's all about oil"? Yes, for the French, whose stake in Iraqi oil is far more of a determining factor than America's ever has been or will be. "America created Saddam"? No, not really, the French and Germans and Russians have sold him far more stuff, and Paris built him that reactor which would have made him a nuclear power by now, if the Israelis hadn't destroyed it in the Eighties.

" But, as Colin Powell and Jack Straw have surely learned by now, there's no real point doing the patient line-by-line rebuttal: Nobody's interested in French oil contracts or German arms sales or even Saddamite corpse tallies because it doesn't fit into the Universal Theory which insists that everything can be explained by the Evil of America. On the other hand, the indestructible belief that "over 4,000" civilians were killed by U.S. bombs in Afghanistan is impervious to scientific evidence because it accords perfectly with the Universal Theory."

Posted by: Patrick R. Sullivan on February 18, 2003 12:46 PM

Whoa, what was the leap of logic that lead this Steyn guy to go from the claim that 99% of Saturday's anti-war speakers and placards enthusiastically subscribe to the theory that "American imperialist cowboy aggression is to blame" to the claim that these people also believe that "Bush is a "puppet of Jewry,"??

I wouldn't be the least surprised that there were kooky people speaking and holding placards at these rallies, but 99% of them believe that Bush is a "puppet of Jewry"? That sounds like nonsense to me.

How do you take this guy seriously? Maybe I am not parsing his writing clearly, but that was a big leap of logic.

I am resigned to believing the following:

a) The U.S., France and Russia all covet Iraqi oil.

b) The U.S., France and Russia all covet Iraqi oil far more than their care about the plight of Iraqi citizens.

c) We will overthrow Saddam pretty easily.

d) The administration has not prepared us or even attempted to prepare us for what comes next. How the Turks deal with the Kurds, how the Sunnis and Shiites deal with each other, how the Iraqi people feel when $100 billion of oil revenue goes to the U.S. for reimbursement of war expenses, what we do if N. Korea fires their artillery in the direction of Seoul as the first bomb lands on Iraq? All these are unanswered questions.

Posted by: achilles on February 18, 2003 01:27 PM

I've been getting a vague notion that the more or less reasonable people on both sides of the invade Iraq debate are getting different answers because they are answering different questions. The antis' version of the problem is to keep Iraq non-nuclear for the forseeable future, which seems to be about two years. The pros focus on the benefits to the Iraqi people and the region, and on the ability to install a regime that will stop trying to go nuclear (at least, that's how I read e.g. Thomas Friedman).
Note that the pro position, in my rendering, is not dependant on any specific intelligence; it's all common knowledge. The antis don't think these reasons are sufficient, given the costs and risks. I myself am completely confused; I wish someone would persuade me one way or the other so I could know which side I'm on.

Posted by: Jonathan Goldberg on February 18, 2003 01:34 PM

"perfectly captures the above comments"?

I may have missed something ... but I don't see that Steyn's rant relates in any way to Henley's comments, or Brad's comments, or DD's comments, or my comments. I don't see any reference to imperialist aggression, Zionism, oil, or bomb victims in Afghanistan, or even antiwar protests.

As I recall, we were pondering demonstrable instances of erroneous intelligence marshalled to support the pro-war argument. Invalid evidence does not invalidate the conclusion, merely the argument (possibly one of many leading to the same conclusion) ... but the recurrent presentation of invalid arguments does naturally raise doubts as to the strength of the undisclosed "real argument".

Posted by: RonK, Seattle on February 18, 2003 02:06 PM

Yes, RonK is spot on. As someone else said, it's the OJ Simpson question - why frame a guilty man? If in fact Saddam had a large WMD program we should see smoking guns all over the place by now, given the resources of the people looking for them. If the fudged 'evidence' Mr Powell put forward is the best they can do then its reasonable to conclude the White House has no case.

Posted by: derrida derider on February 18, 2003 02:30 PM

I've put out my own terror alert. At my URL.

Posted by: zizka on February 18, 2003 02:42 PM

The Mossad tried to warn the US of a misinformation campaign well before this alert was called. For what were probably political reasons relating to the impending war with Iraq, the administration chose to ignore the warnings.

More here:

Israeli intelligence professionals warned the United States that Osama bin Laden's al Qaida network lacked sufficient resources to mount a 9-11 type large-scale attack on American targets but would instead use misinformation to keep intelligence agencies guessing just when and where the next attack would come.
A report given to the Central Intelligence Agency by Mossad, Israel’s highly-regarded intelligence agency, concluded American attacks against al Qaida in Afghanistan, coupled with seizure of assets in banks around the world, had, for the time being, crippled bin Laden’s ability to mount any large-scale attacks against the United States.

However, the Israelis warned bin Laden would use “misinformation” planted through CIA assets and captured al Qaida operatives to keep America guessing on just when and where such attacks might come and force the United States to waste time and resources preparing for attacks that would not come.

“Misinformation has always been a primary weapon of the terrorist,” says a highly-placed source within the Israeli intelligence community. “When properly utilized, such misinformation can cause an enemy to forfeit important resources and energy.”


Posted by: Jon Stokes on February 18, 2003 03:03 PM

Mark Steyn has a piece up now


(I really should dig out the Eye's Hackwatch piece on Steyn. That the man -- like Victor Davis Hanson -- has a new audience of ingrates is one reason I'm not so certain about the power of the web.)

Posted by: nick sweeney on February 18, 2003 06:14 PM

derider -- The White House may or may not have a case, but they have not yet chosen a case and stuck to it. (Nor have they adopted a consistent objective.)

In any case, Saddam may or may not have WMD. "Signs point to YES", but his best strategy at this point would be NO, and I wouldn't totally exclude the possibility he will adopt his best strategy.

How long can we look for WMD and not find any before concluding there's nothing there? I'd venture "not yet" and "not indefinitely". (It's a much different question than "How long does it take to find everything?".)

The formative WH case seems to require that
(A) Our intelligence capability is superb, and
(B) Our intelligence effort is pointless.
I'm not ready to grant either premise yet ... much less both.

BTW let me know if you recall who the "someone else" is ... I'd like to give credit where due.

Posted by: RonK, Seattle on February 18, 2003 07:00 PM

I am pretty sure that, following the recent pattern, anything I attempt to post in reply to Sullivan will be replied to with an extract from the Black Book of Communism; he appears to have given up entirely on "relevance" as a rhetorical strategy.

Posted by: dsquared on February 18, 2003 11:09 PM

If Saddam Hussein is innocent of the charges of possessing chemical and biological weapons, and seeking to obtain nuclear weapons, why doesn't he come clean and comply with the UN resolutions? According to the unanimous vote of the Security Council, and to the testimony of Mr. Blix, he has not done that. Why doesn't he comply with all UN resolutions, get the sancions lifted, and start pumping oil?

Arguments about this or that piece of "evidence" are really beside the point. There is plenty in the public record to condemn the man of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and being a threat to the peace and security of the world. The US and its allies should invade Iraq immediately and remove Sadddam and his gang from power.

If France and Germany don't like it, we should tell what they can do.

Posted by: Joe Willingham on February 19, 2003 10:50 PM
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