Compare and Contrast

In one corner, William Safire, being tactical. In the other corner Joshua Marshall being reasonable. (And, in the background, the Defence Dept. disowning the report Safire is relying on.) You gotta wonder about prundits when they rely on stuff that's already been disowned and refuted. Or just turn to your Daily Howler for a very jaundiced view of the pundit class.

The Safire article is a list of those who he thinks should confess error. Among them,

Former spooks who convinced reporters that there was never any connection between Saddam's Iraqi regime and Osama bin Laden's terror network would forthrightly assert they were uninformed about the decade-long links that were revealed in the classified memo the Senate Intelligence Committee requested from Under Secretary of Defense Douglas Feith. (The secret memo detailing 50 instances has gone relatively uncovered by major media because it surfaced in the current Weekly Standard, but is the subject of an automatic leak investigation — yet another time-wasting mistake.)

It's an especially strange comment to make since the Dept. of Defense — no stranger to the neo-con world view, basically disowned the memo's conclusions, saying “News reports that the Defense Department recently confirmed new information with respect to contacts between al Qaeda and Iraq in a letter to the Senate Intelligence Committee are inaccurate.”

Joshua Marshall has already been there, weighed it, and found it wanting

…is it “case closed”? Not quite. More like, case restated.

What do we already know about the intelligence wars over the Iraq-al Qaida link?

We know that most of the Intelligence Community didn't think there was much there. Some contacts, but nothing substantial. We also know that Doug Feith — along with other administration appointees — didn't agree. And Feith set up his own intelligence shop at the Pentagon to review all the raw data and find what the CIA and others had missed, misinterpreted or buried.

They came up with a raft of purported connections between Saddam and al Qaida. But when they presented their findings to professional analysts in the rest of the Intelligence Community, most notably at the CIA, the consensus was that those findings didn't pass the laugh-test.

And who put together this new memo, the one the Standard article is based on? “The U.S. Government,” as the headline of the article says?

Not exactly. …. This memo is what Doug Feith sent them representing their side of the story. With the exception of some tidbits from interviews with Iraqis now in custody, this is, to all appearances, the same bill of particulars that Feith's shop put together in 2002 and which was panned by the analysts in the rest of the Intel community.

So, the first point to make is that there seems to be little if anything here that the folks in the rest of the Intel Community — outside of Special Plans — did not see before concluding that there were no significant links between Iraq and al Qaida.

Point two is that Feith's shop, the Office of Special Plans, the original source of this memo, gained an apparently richly-deserved reputation for what intel analysts call cherry-picking. That is, culling raw intel data to find all the information that supports the conclusion you want to find and then ignoring all the rest.

Now, of course, Feith's advocates say that everyone else was just doing their own sort of cherry-picking, picking the evidence that supported their preconceived notions, etc. But this is simply another example of a pattern which we see widely in this administration: the inability to recognize that there is such a thing as expertise which is anything more than a cover for ideological predilection (for more on this, see this article.)

More to the point, there's now a record. These are the folks, remember, who had the most outlandish reads on the extent of Iraq's WMD capacities and the most roseate predictions about the ease of the post-war reconstruction. So their record of interpreting raw intelligence is, shall we say, objectively poor.

Spot the dinosaur.

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