Along the Tracks

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Intelligence reactions

The fame bubble caused by an Instapundit link can be fun for one’s ego, but more importantly, it often starts fascinating threads of thought across the blogosphere.

Right now, debate is heating up over whether or not to “throw in the towel” on the Iraqi WMDs. Most war bloggers rightly say “No!” Yet quite a few are taking things even further, questioning the intestinal fortitude of those of us who judge certain facts - i.e., no weapons found - as indicating an intelligence failure.

To be defensive for a moment, I think my hundreds of blog posts, newspaper columns and debate appearances make it abundantly clear that I believe THIS WAR WAS JUSTIFIED, NECESSARY AND LONG OVERDUE. Opponents kept saying Bush was “changing his reasons” for military action against Iraq, when in fact, he was merely citing the many justifications for war, any of which might well have stood on its own. The idea that no weaponized chems or bios somehow makes this war “illegitimate” is ridiculous.

Even so, the fact remains that after seven months of searching by David Kay, on top of three months of searching by Hans Blix (with a three-month interval of war and looting), no weapons have been found. The CIA said they were there. A year ago, George Tenet sat behind Colin Powell as he pointed to photos of facilities and trucks and testing sites and buried storage areas. When Blix looked into sites suggested by the CIA, he found nothing. When Kay and his team searched the hundreds of most likely locations according to the intelligence, he found nothing. The CIA was wrong in specifics, perhaps wrong in generalities.

Yes, yes, it was never America’s responsibility to find the “smoking gun,” it was Saddam’s to prove he didn’t have one. I know, I’ve made that argument numerous times, and stand by it. That procedural logic does nothing to let the American and Western intelligence community off the hook. A for instance: What if Saddam had already handed off substantial amounts of bioweapons to terrorists, who are now sitting somewhere in New Jersey with anthrax in their fridge, trying to decide the best way to spread the spores? The CIA’s failure to determine what Iraq has been doing with its stockpiles would seem pretty important then, eh?

Or suppose that some Iranian defectors tell the CIA that Iran is indeed harboring Osama bin Laden, and what’s more, fanatical clerics who are worried they may lose control of the country in the next few years have authorized passing chemical weapons and radioactive material to al Qaeda for a major attack against the West. American outposts in Afghanistan pick up some “chatter” in Iran that indicates the plan may be going into motion. Detectors note a surge in wind-borne radioactive material from Iran. What do we do?

Well, the margin of error in such a dilemma is slim, due to the incredible costs such an attack would incur, both in lives and dollars. Yet the margin of error in our intelligence has widened drastically due to what we have found - or not found - in Iraq, where we were so certain of stockpiles that we were marking them on maps. If we were to take military action to stop the threat, we really would be alone this time. Nobody’s going to march along side us into Tehran based on a report with George Tenet’s stamp of approval.

Sometimes we need to do things alone. So we march into Iran and fail to find al Qaeda, fail to find weapons and learn that the radioactivity spike was due to Iran doing a poor job of disposing of its illegal nuke program before U.N. inspectors came in country. Oops.

Then, a chemical bomb goes off in New York anyway.

We don’t need good intelligence information to pass U.N. resolutions or thump Democrats in election years. We need good intelligence information TO PROTECT AMERICA. We’re not getting it now, and we should demand a better Central Intelligence Agency, led by a better director.

P.S. - I’d like to point out that most war bloggers were singing David Kay’s praises a year ago, when he was on every news program which would have him describing the threat Saddam posed, including regular recitations of Iraq’s WMDs. Now, I see him getting trashed as another Scott Ritter. Please.

Furthermore, while I have been a strong supporter of George W. Bush and the War on Terror, I don’t think we are doing the president any favors by obstinately defending his administration’s mistakes (honest mistakes though they may be) without any accountability. We certainly aren’t doing America any favors when we don’t demand the best.

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Monday, January 26, 2004

Parallels between Afghanistan and Iraq

Now that David Kay has given his analysis of the lack of chemical and biological weapons stockpiles in Iraq, we can start to see where the CIA and other intelligence agencies went wrong - going back through the ‘90s to the end of the first Gulf War.

They didn’t have any spies in-country.

You may recall, the very same criticism was made in the months following 9/11 over the lack of good intelligence on al Qaeda plots and the facilities being harbored inside Afghanistan. When John Walker Lindh was captured fighting for the Taliban, it provided fodder for dark humor, that some hippy-dippy Marin County jihadist could infiltrate al Qaeda where the devious machinations of the Central Intelligence Agency failed.

Back then, CIA Director Tenet was afforded a measure of job security due to circumstances: He had largely provided the war plan in Afghanistan, along with the larger “shadow” war against terrorists around the world. He couldn’t be held accountable (at least the excuse goes) because he was crucially needed at that pivotal moment.

Now, it looks increasingly likely that Tenet’s agency failed America again with a poor strategy of intelligence gathering and analysis toward Iraq. Tenet had a year-and-a-half to restructure his agency to avoid the failures that led to 9/11, and while the Iraq situation is different - the WMD issue was always just one piece of the argument, and a “better safe than sorry” stance required action even with what has been found by Kay’s team - the failures in intelligence it exposes are precisely the same: Lack of human infiltration into the enemy’s leadership and planning; and a failure by analysts to gather all the pieces and connect the dots.

A prediction: Much of the illegal oil money Saddam thought he was spending on weapons production is sitting in Swiss, Syrian, Jordanian, Saudi and other banks under the pseudonyms of various generals, scientists and Baath Party members. Some of them may well be tapping into those accounts now to fight the insurgency. Others are kicking back on the east shore of the Red Sea, confident they duped both Saddam and the U.S. CIA.

Meanwhile, Tenet remains director at CIA. Why?

And will the next major failure under his watch cost another thousand-plus American lives?

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Sunday, January 25, 2004

The Sunday Marilounacy

It's Sunday, meaning the Toledo Blade has once again provided a forum for the senseless drivel of Marilou Johanek. You remember Marilou, don't you? News reader at Channel 11 for a few years, signed on by The Blade to provide "commentary," apparently because Blade bigwigs think somebody who sits on their duff reading the news out loud for 26 minutes a day is more qualified to provide perspective than real journalists out interviewing people, doing research and writing stories. I'm sure all the many hard-working Blade staff writers appreciated the snub.

Anyway, Marilou's occasional fits of malice are entertaining. Sometimes she attacks drug addicts. Sometimes she attacks oppressed people. Sometimes she just calls everybody stupid. Invariably, she finds conservatism to be the root cause of all evil.

Today's rant is typical. Marilou has finally gotten around to write on the concealed-carry law passed and signed in Ohio last month. It's impossible to argue against her position - that the law is horrible - because she doesn't argue. She just tells us so.

First, she says Ohioans are against the law by "a healthy majority." Really? She fails to provide any recitation of poll numbers or other measures of opinion. She just says so. The last poll I've seen on the issue was from last summer (with 69% against concealed carry), before the public debate was really in the news - in other words, before voters were able to make informed decisions. I'd be interested to see a poll now, especially considering the lack of interest in any kind of ballot initiative to rescind the law.

Second, Marilou claims the ban on concealed weapons "had served Ohioans well for 145 years." Tell that to all the victims of muggings, robberies and burglaries, who were restricted in the ways they could defend themselves. Here's a news bulletin for Marilou: Crime has gone up drastically in the past century and a half. How can you possibly claim people are safer? Of course, those who most need to protect themselves - night clerks at carryouts and gas stations, men and women who live in inner cities and are forced to use public transportation, etc. - do not run in Marilou's circles, and their needs are inconsequential to her.

Third, the news reader insists on displaying her ignorance to all by continually bashing democracy. "[T]he fortunate few wielding the gavel reward the fortunate few because they can" is her description of Ohio government, overwhelmingly controlled by Republicans. My readers know very well that I have my own qualms about the leadership the GOP has demonstrated, but who in their right mind can claim the power they wield is illegitimate? They were all duly elected, most of them by huge margins in the last election. The Ohio Democrats have been in utter disarray precisely because they offer no appealing alternative. Appealing to who? Appealing to voters!

Marilou, your confidence in knowing the best way to run the state or the nation or the world has no more weight in the democratic system than mine, or my neighbor Dean's, or a college student's or a press operator's or a senior in an assisted living home. Democracy requires convincing independent agents to join behind a single issue or candidate. For all their faults, the Ohio Republicans have done a spectacular job of attracting votes. I can consider and appreciate - sometimes even agree with - criticisms of policy. Unfortunately, Marilou consistently makes criticisms of process - the democratic process. If she believes that the people should not have the right to choose their representatives in government, then she really is a member of the hard, totalitarian left.

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