The former CIA official who coordinated U.S. intelligence on the Middle East until last year has accused the Bush administration of "cherry-picking" intelligence on Iraq to justify a decision it had already reached to go to war, and of ignoring warnings that the country could easily fall into violence and chaos after an invasion to overthrow Saddam Hussein.
For an administration that refuses to accept responsibility or blame, increasing proportionately as you go up the chain, it seems (seemed) remarkable that shortly after the discovery that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the retired and some would say disgraced former head of the CIA, George Tenet, would receive the nation’s highest medal awarded to a civilian, the Medal of Freedom. Although President Bush spoke of Mr. Tenet in the most glowing terms, there was little doubt that Tenet had resigned to take the fall for the debacle that was the decision to invade Iraq.
Paul R. Pillar, who was the national intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asia from 2000 to 2005, acknowledges the U.S. intelligence agencies' mistakes in concluding that Hussein's government possessed weapons of mass destruction. But he said those misjudgments did not drive the administration's decision to invade.
"Official intelligence on Iraqi weapons programs was flawed, but even with its flaws, it was not what led to the war," Pillar wrote in the upcoming issue of the journal Foreign Affairs. Instead, he asserted, the administration "went to war without requesting -- and evidently without being influenced by -- any strategic-level intelligence assessments on any aspect of Iraq."
I try not to be too cynical, but it becomes harder and harder every day. In the Intelligence Community, the highest substantive authority on regional intelligence issues is the National Intelligence Officer (NIO) for a region. He or she is the person who coordinates all of the analysis from eight or ten separate organizations that independently produce strategic intelligence products (DIA, CIA, NSA, Army, Navy, State, Treasury, etc.) Far from a low-level player, he is the voice who informs the Director and, consequently, the President.
It’s great that the Washington Post featured this article prominently on page one today, because it is VERY important news, and one more (of many) damning pieces of evidence proving that the Bush administration duped the Congress and the American people into invading Iraq.
Sadly, my guess is that this, too, will be old news by tomorrow. So, a Medal of Freedom is the going price for staying quiet and allowing the buck to stop at one’s level, or so the Tenet example would imply. I hope he doesn’t have it mounted near a mirror, where at some point he’d be forced to look at that medal, and himself, at the same moment…