July 01, 2004

Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? (Two-Faced Jim Hoagland Edition)

Joshua Micah Marshall reminds us of the Washington Post's two-faced Jim Hoagland. But even I had failed to grasp exactly how two-faced he is. In October 2002 it was finally the case that some in the CIA were willing to buck careerism, recognize the obvious danger of Saddam Hussein, and no longer bury evidence. In February of 2004 it is incompetent alarmists at the CIA who exaggerate the Iraqi threat--and poor naive George W. Bush who believes them:

washingtonpost.com: Jim Hoagland: CIA's New Old Iraq File: Sunday, October 20, 2002; Page B07

washingtonpost.com: Jim Hoagland: Failing Grade for Spies:Sunday, February 1, 2004; Page B07

Imagine that Saddam Hussein has been offering terrorist training and other lethal support to Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda for years. You can't imagine that? Sign up over there. You can be a Middle East analyst for the Central Intelligence Agency. Or at least you could have been until recently. As President Bush's determination to overthrow the Iraqi dictator has become evident to all, a cultural change has come over the world's most expensive intelligence agency: Some analysts out at Langley are now willing to evaluate incriminating evidence against the Iraqis and call it just that.

George W. Bush and Tony Blair are momentarily in the clear. But their intelligence services are left stuck in deep doo-doo, as a former CIA chief and ex-president named George H.W. Bush might well put it. Neither outcome is good for the seven Democrats seeking a chance to defeat Bush in November, or for the Tories who hoped finally to break Blair's political mastery on the rocks of an "intelligence hoax" in Iraq. Having to campaign against the ineffectiveness of your nation's spies -- rather than running against your political opponents' vile lies -- is no easy task.

That development has triggered a fierce internal agency struggle pitting officials whose careers and reputations were built on the old analysis of the Iraqis as a feckless, inert and inward-looking bunch of thugs against those willing to take a fresh, untilted look at all the evidence.

In credible, authoritative and at times painfully exacting testimony before a Senate committee last week, David Kay revived the Washington practice of making a sensational discovery out of a known but obscured truth: Saddam Hussein's police state was a very difficult and dangerous place for the U.S. and British intelligence services to try to uncover secrets, and they were usually unsuccessful in their attempts over two decades.

One breeze of change came in President Bush's Oct. 7 speech in Cincinnati. Among the terror-related items that were declassified for the speech was an agency finding that Iraq is developing "a growing fleet of manned and unmanned aerial vehicles" to deliver chemical and biological weapons on U.S. targets.

What was new and most helpful was the clear description by Kay of the non-secrets about Iraq's disintegrating society that the agency apparently also missed. As the United States prepared to invade, the agency did not have human resources inside Iraq able to communicate the existing chaos, corruption and social decomposition that was to explode under the pressure of invasion.

That was new stuff, delivered by a determined and effective CIA collection effort earlier this year. Agency information also allowed the president to assert (accurately) that "Iraq has trained al-Qaeda members in bomb-making and poisons and deadly gases." That's actually old new stuff, stored in CIA files since the mid-1990s. But that intelligence was quietly buried during the Clinton years, when the need not to know very much about Iraq and terrorism was very strong.

"The glue that holds people together in a relationship that allows cooperation was destroyed by Saddam Hussein, just as the infrastructure was destroyed," said Kay, the former weapons inspector employed by the CIA to head up the search for Iraq's still-missing chemical and biological weapons and military nuclear program.

This is how war is waged inside the CIA: The upstarts who are challenging the agency's long-standing and deeply flawed analysis of Iraq are being accused of "politicizing intelligence," a label that is a reputation-killer in the intelligence world. It is also a protective shield for analysts who do not want, any more than the rest of us, to acknowledge that they have been profoundly and damagingly mistaken.

Kay correctly cast the huge intelligence failure in Iraq in historic terms: This was on a par with the agency's misreading of the strength of the Soviet Union's economy as it stumbled toward collapse. "What had looked like a 10-foot power turned out to be an economy that barely existed. . . . We are particularly bad about understanding societal trends" because intelligence agencies invest in satellites and other technological means and neglect "our human intelligence capability," Kay added bluntly.

The "politicization" accusation suggests that those who find Iraqi links to al Qaeda are primarily interested in currying favor with the Bush White House. It comes primarily from those who won favor in the Clinton years with an analysis based on the proposition that an Arab nationalist such as Saddam Hussein would never cooperate with the Islamic fanatics of al Qaeda. They are now out in the cold in the Bush-Rumsfeld-Wolfowitz era.

Kay's unequivocal denials that agency analysts had given in to political pressure or had the intelligence they supplied falsified or manipulated were echoed in London by Lord Brian Hutton in his report on the Blair government's handling of intelligence. These twin denials put a big dent in the overblown charges from congressional Democrats that Bush (and by implication Blair) perpetrated an "intelligence hoax" on their national legislatures and publics.

Their work is only one part of a monumental record of failure on Iraq by the CIA, which has at different moments sought to understand, support, co-opt and then overthrow Hussein. The agency succeeded in none. Considering the extent of that failure, it is no surprise that Bush has until now relied little on the Langley agency for his information on Iraq. There is simply no way to reconcile what the CIA has said on the record and in leaks with the positions Bush has taken on Iraq.

The truth in Machiavellian terms is worse: Bush and Blair accepted and actually believed the flawed intelligence that their spy bosses and senior aides provided, and then inflated it in their public speeches. Credulity, not chicanery, would be the plea, your honor.

One year before Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990, the agency produced a National Intelligence Estimate saying that Iraq was too exhausted and internally occupied to think about war. A supervisor's request to analysts to take a second look at those findings triggered accusations of "politicizing intelligence," says a former CIA official involved in that debate. The mistaken view prevailed and guided the CIA's assessment in July 1990 that no invasion of Kuwait was about to occur.

The CIA's failure on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction is only one strand, and a somewhat understandable one. Analysts are rewarded for gravitating toward worst-case scenarios. Predicting what could go right -- that U.S. forces would not need chemical protection suits in the desert, or that Saddam might have been fooled by his scientists, who were stealing money for nonexistent programs, as Kay speculates happened -- is an art that does not flourish in Langley or at the Pentagon.

Such misjudgments have continued until today. After four months of inconclusive debate following Sept. 11, the agency produced a new analysis last spring titled: "Iraq and al Qaeda: A Murky Relationship." It fails to make much of a case for anything, I am told. It echoes the views of Paul Pillar, the national intelligence officer for the Middle East and South Asia, and other analysts who have consistently expressed doubts that Iraq has engaged in international terrorism or trained others to do so since 1993.

If yet another investigation of the CIA is needed, it must be broad and not limited to weapons of mass destruction. Why did the agency fail to predict before the war the deadly insurgency that American troops now face? That will lead to examination of the fruitless "decapitation" strategy the agency pursued in Iraq for 15 years, to the detriment of other, more promising approaches.

More damaging to their case than the accumulating new evidence to the contrary is "old" information long available in CIA files: Iraqi intelligence officers meeting in Khartoum and Kandahar with Osama bin Laden, the nonaggression pact Saddam and Osama reached in 1993, training in Baghdad for international terrorism and the multiple trips to Prague made by Mohamed Atta, the head of the Sept. 11 suicide squads, are all there. These specific reports and much more have been explained away and minimized rather than thoroughly investigated.

But trying to conduct such an inquiry in the middle of a war and a presidential campaign is a shaky proposition. It is probably a task best left to an independent commission appointed after the November elections.

Congress should not expect the CIA "to be 100 percent flawless all the time," Director George Tenet complained defensively on Thursday as he was buffeted by questions about the agency's failure to anticipate Sept. 11. The problem is broader, he said: "The country's mind-set has to be changed fundamentally."

The focus for Democrats should be on Bush's competence, not on the sinister but sketchy presentations of his motives that have formed the debate thus far. The most deft Democrat on this issue is Hillary Clinton, who has been forthright in describing Iraq as a justified war that has been subsequently mishandled at the White House and Pentagon.

The man has a point. But Congress can reasonably expect the agency not to be wrong close to 100 percent all the time on such an important subject as Iraq. And the place for Tenet to start changing mind-sets is right there at Langley. Unless, of course, he agrees with that mind-set.

Posted by DeLong at July 1, 2004 05:57 PM | TrackBack | | Other weblogs commenting on this post

Wow. Nothing that I hadn't figured, of course, but it's shocking to see it laid out together. Like Pravda.

Posted by: Barry on July 1, 2004 06:52 PM


Is this a blog first? Self-fisking!

Posted by: Matt Newman on July 1, 2004 07:12 PM


Do the pretty colors make the wholesale theft of intellectual property easier on the conscience?

Posted by: Larry Jones on July 1, 2004 07:23 PM


If Hoagland knew how to find his way to a blog like this -- and you can be sure he doesn't -- and if he had any self-respect at all -- and you can be sure he doesn't -- you could have a suicide on your conscience.

As it is, you've got nothing to worry about. The next step up for a guy like Hoagland is to be promoted to child-molester.

Posted by: Karlsfini on July 1, 2004 07:27 PM


What's fabulous about the comparison of the two columns is that they match point for point. Each paragraph is the inverse of its pair. Hoagland is obviously capable of a beautiful symmetry of design. No wonder he has obtained so high a position in punditry. Hats off to him! Only the small-minded would note an inconsistency of argument.

Posted by: Julia on July 1, 2004 07:34 PM


[Club Journalist voice {snooty and whiny, like Aaron Brown's}:]

Well, gee, you see incoherent screaming by rightist bloggers, and you see proof of incompetence posted at leftist bloggers, so it just goes to show you can't please everyone. Established Journalism is stil right. Hoagland is no more wrong than Jonathan Alter was when he advocated torture-it is you who are shrill by not being satisfied with his self-contradictory concessions to near whatever you believe (just wait, it's in rotation and will cue shortly).

Posted by: k&y on July 1, 2004 07:35 PM


Hey Larry,

It ain't theft of IP. I suggest you look up the fair use doctrine in copyright law. You might learn something.

Posted by: ralph graham on July 1, 2004 07:36 PM


Hey Larry,

It ain't theft of IP. I suggest you look up the fair use doctrine in copyright law. You might learn something.

Posted by: ralph graham on July 1, 2004 07:36 PM


Hey Larry,

It ain't theft of IP. I suggest you look up the fair use doctrine in copyright law. You might learn something.

Posted by: ralph graham on July 1, 2004 07:37 PM


[I]Do the pretty colors make the wholesale theft of intellectual property easier on the conscience?
Posted by: Larry Jones [/I]

Yes, it does!!!!

Posted by: Nads on July 1, 2004 07:40 PM


How in a frozen hellsicle is Prof DeLong stealing anything?
Is this not a review or critique?
Is he making money off it?
Are you hoping it will look less disgusting if he just quotes a paragraph?
Did you seriously think you were going to intimidate him?

Posted by: k&y on July 1, 2004 07:50 PM


Consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds.

Besides, why should the soaring imaginations of wingnut media mouthpieces--- a natural resource of incalculable value--- be tethered down by trivial things like 'facts'?

Posted by: glenstonecottage on July 1, 2004 07:57 PM


as karlsfini suggests, there is zero chance that jim hoagland is even aware of what he has done, much less that his standing in georgetown or around the WaPo editorial page will be harmed at all by this.

Nonetheless, i do expect it to become a classic argument for why the op-ed pundit as we know him or her has no economic value in the age of blogging. Why pay Hoagland the big bucks to make a blithering ass of himself when, for free, someone makes much more sense?

Posted by: howard on July 1, 2004 07:59 PM


Well, Larry, it's not theft, since Hoagland stole from himself, then altered it enough to make it a "new work". Self-parody is protected.

Posted by: QC on July 1, 2004 08:21 PM


worthy of Somerby

Posted by: Alice Marshall on July 1, 2004 08:24 PM


All these years you have been warned that "1984" was coming, and you listened instead to those who discounted the predictions.

There are no two-way televisions, they said; we are not at constant low-level warfare with a constantly shifting set of enemies and reasons for fighting. No one is ever warned of the danger of 'thoughtcrime', they said; the government is interested, not in depriving the masses of wealth, but in increasing their wealth.

Well, here you have it: Doublethink has arrived. It is not furtive or marginal: it is right there in the most prominent part of one of the largest-circulation newspapers of the world, perhaps the most prestigious newspaper in the U.S.

What I said yesterday is true. What I say today is true. The two contradict one another absolutely. No matter. Truth is what the Ministry of Truth says, by definition.

You may not be sure whether Big Brother actually exists, or whether the Osama bin Laden whom you must curse in public during the weekly Two-Minute hate actually is alive; but you must, right down to your soul, love Big Brother.

Welcome, friends, to the United States, the last, best hope of humanity.

Posted by: M. Meo on July 1, 2004 08:38 PM



There's no legal issue here-- Hoagland's drivel doesn't qualify as intellectual property.

Posted by: Peter Jung on July 1, 2004 08:39 PM


I am often the person that posts asking Brad to knock it off when he copies, whole cloth, an article.

But I can't find this at TPM, and the juxtaposition of two Hoagland articles is clearly a new work, and a work of criticism, and so definitely fair use.

Posted by: haasalum on July 1, 2004 08:55 PM


If you want to write to him, both faces, same id:


Posted by: ecoast on July 1, 2004 09:19 PM


The color scheme reminds me of the old Hartford Whalers. I'm pretty sure Hoagland didn't intend *that*.

Posted by: Chris Marcil on July 1, 2004 09:24 PM


Is Hoagland secretly getting a supplemental check in the mail every month from Minitrue?

Posted by: libdevil on July 1, 2004 09:30 PM


The Columbia Journalism Review just did an article about all those stories that the Iraqi National Congress and its defectors placed in US and World newspapers. Hoagland shows up there too.
"How Chalabi Played the Press"

Posted by: KevinNYC on July 1, 2004 11:12 PM


I had the fortune of studying with a professor who presented a good ten or fifteen years' worth of newspaper articles and other items on a particular foreign policy issue in the eighties. I remember reading Hoagland's pieces from that time and realizing that he really had no clue what was going on -- it was painfully obvious in hindsight. I've never trusted anything he's said since then. While I agree the Dems have a case against Bush on his competence for the job, it's also true that the White House got exactly the poor intelligence it requested from the CIA and other agencies. They did the bending, the rethinking, the "fresh analysis", and it was all nothing but crap. Garbage in, garbage out. It's just too bad that more than one entire country is the receptacle for the garbage out.

Posted by: Node of Evil on July 1, 2004 11:25 PM


Couldn't MoveOn or someone print this up as an insert and get co-operative newstand vendors in D.C. to give it away with copies of the Post?

Better still couldn't they put an ad in the Post with both the columns it Brads format? Too expensive I guess

Shit I have to click on "Post" now

Posted by: venky on July 2, 2004 02:46 AM


....in Brads format...not it Brads format

Posted by: venky on July 2, 2004 02:48 AM


From Douglas McCollam's article in CJR on
"How Chalabi played the press":

In all, I called or wrote to about forty reporters whose names appear on the list to ask about their contacts with the INC in general and their knowledge of the Information Collection Program in particular. Some, like The New York Timesís Judith Miller, who has become the poster child (somewhat unfairly, in my view) for all that was wrong with the press in the run-up to the Iraq war, did not call back. Most others were willing to talk about the list either on the record or on background. Some spoke at length ó Hitchens treated me to a two-hour dissertation on Iraq, which covered everything from the importance of Ataturk to why radical Jihad was more like Nazism than Stalinism. Others were more terse and tetchy. Jim Hoagland at The Washington Post, who has championed the INC for years, abruptly hung up on me before calling back to apologize graciously. Almost all played down the INCís role in influencing their stories and said they were aware of the groupís agenda of regime change, and included disclaimers to that effect in their work.

Posted by: ecoast on July 2, 2004 04:34 AM


You're absolutely right about Hoagland, whose record for being consistently wrong about almost everything he writes about is, well, amazingly consistent.

For example:

"If yet another investigation of the CIA is needed, it must be broad and not limited to weapons of mass destruction. Why did the agency fail to predict before the war the deadly insurgency that American troops now face? "

Agency analysts did write about this, in detail, as well documented elsewhere, including in stories published by the Washington Post.

Posted by: Jim Harris on July 2, 2004 04:37 AM


>Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps?

Well, the fact is that the American press corps works for American media companies, which, in turn are regulated by the American government. Why would you expect someone who works for a company that is regulated by the government with an iron fist, to question the government? Don't be silly.

Posted by: raj on July 2, 2004 06:07 AM


Brad, please stop defaming examples of more advanced thinking:


Posted by: Adrian Spidle on July 2, 2004 06:50 AM


Heh. Poor Larry -- he knows he can't disprove what Brad's showing us, so he resorts to nitpicking and distraction techniques.

Please note, everyone: Larry's MO is the MO of wingnuts everywhere. Since the facts in context are NOT their friends, they must do everything in their power to distract from them. (Short Johnnie Cochran Version: "If you don't have the facts, you must distract!")

In this case, Brad DeLong shows conclusively what a two-faced creep Jim Hoagland is, using Hoagland's own words. Larry wants us to avoid looking at that, so he immediately goes into Distraction/Slur Mode.

Posted by: Diogenes' Lantern on July 2, 2004 06:51 AM


Wow. And they call Kerry a flip-flopper.

Posted by: cc on July 2, 2004 07:15 AM


as karlsfini suggests, there is zero chance that jim hoagland is even aware of what he has done, much less that his standing in georgetown or around the WaPo editorial page will be harmed at all by this.

Howard, I beg to suggest that this is only half true. I'm sure that Hoagland probably is so shallow and in-the-moment that he doesn't realize it - a perfect New Man of Oceania, he. But his colleague Froomkin certainly is aware of - and links frequently to - the blogosphere in his WaPo columns.

It's only a matter of hours, if it hasn't happened already, before this link is forwarded around the offices there.

Posted by: bellatrys on July 2, 2004 07:55 AM


Assspindle? Cute. How's that for advanced thinking? Making up names! That impugn his own self! Wowsers!

Posted by: pendergast on July 2, 2004 07:58 AM


bellatrays - If Hoagland doesn't come to this blog, take this blog posting over to him and ask him to write a column explaining the discrepancies.
His email id:

Posted by: ecoast on July 2, 2004 08:02 AM


Great post. And a big catch.

Posted by: 2fair on July 2, 2004 08:03 AM


bellatrys, i'm sure there are people around the wapo editorial office who have, by now, read this. The question is whether this will effect jim hoagland's standing, about which i remain completely dubious. Long-time op-ed writers have a form of tenure.

However, i will take your implicit advice and hope that hoagland is, at least, embarassed in front of his colleagues....

Posted by: howard on July 2, 2004 08:21 AM


> Do the pretty colors make the wholesale theft of intellectual property easier on the conscience?

Are the neocons now employing the same legal team as the Church of Scientology?


I.e., when your absurdity is revealed by your own words published verbatim, scream copyright theft.

It's an effective tactic, by the way.

Posted by: Paul Callahan on July 2, 2004 09:35 AM


Some time ago (maybe last Fall or Summer) I was doing a google search for Fall 2002 articles that claimed Bush was cooking the intel on Iraq. There were some (see below). I also found Hoagland's original article in the same search. At a skim, I thought his point was the cooked intel. Then on re-reading, I saw that he thought the Bush administration was right to bully the CIA into publishing only incriminating reports about Iraq.

In the first few paragraphs, he says that no one committed to taking an objective view is allowed anymore (allowing for his exaggeration--everyone is "capable of imagining" any horrible thing about Saddam, but the CIA position was that the evidence was lacking). It's the same story, just a different perspective. Of course, the fact that he contradicts himself now eliminates any remaining credibility.

Guardian story:


Guardian, October 2002

Officials in the CIA, FBI and energy department are being put under intense pressure to produce reports which back the administration's line, the Guardian has learned. In response, some are complying, some are resisting and some are choosing to remain silent.

"Basically, cooked information is working its way into high-level pronouncements and there's a lot of unhappiness about it in intelligence, especially among analysts at the CIA," said Vincent Cannistraro, the CIA's former head of counter-intelligence.
---end quote---

Posted by: Paul Callahan on July 2, 2004 09:47 AM


I, like I'm sure many othere here, wrote an email not only to Hoagland, but also cc'd Michael Getler (the omsbudman) AND I also cc'd 5 other main writers/editorialists. Even if Hoagland doesn't care about one email, he might care about the respect of his co-workers - at least a little bit...

Posted by: JC on July 2, 2004 10:18 AM


I sent Mr. Hoagland the contrast/comparison in technicolor, so he won't have the excuse that he hasn't been informed about his flip-flop.

Posted by: tom on July 2, 2004 10:54 AM


Rainbow Brite has nothin' on you, Brad. Keep up the pretty colors!

Posted by: Julian Elson on July 2, 2004 11:28 AM


Ignore the lies!

Look at the colors!

Posted by: MattB on July 2, 2004 11:35 AM


Just joining in the chorus: it's remarkable how beautiful the juxtaposition is. Great post.

Posted by: ArC on July 2, 2004 02:55 PM



Posted by: rone on July 2, 2004 05:40 PM


What is truly shocking about Hoaglund's coverage of the CIA is that he is totally silent on what has to be the biggest story about the agency in this millenium-- the mass resignation of Middle East operatives and analysts in the face of Cheney's interference and George Tenet's spinelessness. This is worse that the bombing of the Beirut embassy in its impact, in terms of knowledge and experience, on the future effectiveness of the Agency.
Until Hoagland can bring himself to say "I'm sorry. I was mistaken, and I misled you," readers should treat him with the contempt reserved for frivlous wasters of time and trees.

Posted by: Mike Barnas on July 2, 2004 06:07 PM


Does anyone know exactly how op-ed writers are hired and/or promoted? Do they transfer over from the news desks or are they hatched, fully-formed, in college newspaper columns and debating clubs? I'm just curious, because they seem to have absolutely no accountability or expertise.

Posted by: kokblok on July 2, 2004 09:58 PM


I'm a little late here, but isn't wholesale theft an oxymoron?

Posted by: Backword Dave on July 3, 2004 04:47 AM


"Does anyone know exactly how op-ed writers are hired and/or promoted? Do they transfer over from the news desks or are they hatched, fully-formed, in college newspaper columns and debating clubs? I'm just curious, because they seem to have absolutely no accountability or expertise."

Good point! I also would like to find out how to get paid to do that.

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