Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Thursday, June 22, 2006

  Pat Roberts ties "Phase Two" up in knots

Today there's a slight break in the virtual news blackout about the state of the notorious "Phase Two" investigation into the White House's use and abuse of intelligence before the invasion of Iraq. Since 2004 the Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, the notorious shill Pat Roberts, has been promising to let this thing be completed. All the while, he's been throwing up obstacles, though what exactly these were hasn't always been clear.


I see via Greg Sargent that Byron York has a piece up at NRO that reveals a fair amount about the Committee's work. His pen is dipped in poison for a Committee staffer, but once you get beyond that there's real news about what has been done on the five parts of the investigation.


It looks like the two most politically sensitive parts could be tied up indefinitely, and one could well be mangled by the Pentagon.

The first three parts, York reports, are nearly completed. The facts are pretty cut and dried, and already known, so there's little to be gained by stonewalling here.


Part One is a survey of the pre-war intelligence. What intelligence agencies eventually came up with was a crock, as Republicans too are happy to report.


Part Two examines how much credence was given to the junk being fed to the administration by the Iraqi National Congress. Partisan Republicans have wanted to downplay the influence of these rascals (see Robb-Silverman). Sensible Republicans and Democrats recognize that Bush was going to welcome support for an invasion of Iraq from any quarter, so it comes as no surprise that there's said to be agreement here as well.


Part Three looks at pre-war planning for the occupation of Iraq. Nobody can dispute that the rosy scenarios were somewhat off the mark; again, most of the work is completed.


Part Four, on the Office of Special Plans, is where things begin to get messy. This unit located in the White House existed to stovepipe questionable intelligence directly to Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. Of Part Four, York states:


This area is virtually the sole project of Sen. Levin, who has been acutely interested in the work of the office's former chief, Douglas Feith. Levin has accused Feith of distorting, exaggerating, inventing, or manipulating intelligence about the connections between Iraq and al Qaeda and about Saddam Hussein's weapons capabilities -- and then deceiving Congress about it. Committee chairman Pat Roberts has said his panel found no credible evidence to support Levin's charges and referred the matter to the Pentagon's inspector general for review. Now, nothing will be done in this area until the Pentagon gives its findings to the committee -- which could take months.


It's highly likely that the Pentagon Inspector General will put the kabosh on this part of "Phase Two". Three weeks ago the White House nominated David Laufman to become the next Inspector General of the DoD. As I reported at the time, it was a curious choice. Laufman has no background that would truly qualify him for such a job. I surmised that Bush chose him because Laufman appears to be a loyalist, even an extremist, in carrying out administration policies in the war on terror. I speculated that his appointment might serve to keep a lid on any potential investigations into scandals like the NSA warrantless spying.


By good luck, one of the few bloggers who paid any attention whatever to my post was Cernig at NewsHog. He did some further digging on Laufman and found a piece I had missed, written by Robert Parry. Here, Parry mentions that a group of Republican lawyers including Laufman were considered to be partisan hacks. They served on the 'October Surprise' commission, downplaying all the evidence of wrongdoing by the Reagan/Bush team. Then as soon as that whitewash was wrapped up, they were hired to do the same on the Clinton-passport investigation.


Later, one senior Clinton administration official reviewed the whitewashing of the October Surprise issue and similar handling of the passport case. The official shook his head in disgust. "They're the cleaners," he said about the investigative team, a reference to ruthless intelligence experts who are brought onto the scene of a botched operation to clean up the incriminating evidence.


I think Cernig has it right. Laufman was nominated to be the Inspector General at DoD precisely because he has a record of reliably whitewashing scandals associated with the Bush family. I believe that any investigation dropped on Laufman's desk at DoD regarding the Office of Special Plans will be dry cleaned and starched.


Part Five of "Phase Two" is the section that Sargent focuses on. It concerns the public pronouncements about intelligence by Bush Co. before the invasion of Iraq. Here is York again:


This area is said to be a matter of such deep division and contention that it might never be completed. Originally, committee Democrats wanted to examine only the statements made by White House and administration officials, comparing those statements to available intelligence to determine whether they were exaggerated. But Roberts pointed out that many lawmakers, Republican and Democrat, had made statements before the war, too. For example, Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy said, in September 2002, that "We have known for many years that Saddam Hussein is seeking and developing weapons of mass destruction." Why not examine statements like Kennedy's, too? Roberts asked. Democrats resisted, especially when Roberts proposed that senators evaluate each statement on its substance without knowing the identity of the speaker. That course would have been fraught with danger for Democrats: What if they condemned one of their own? A standoff ensued, and it is not clear when, or if, it will be resolved.


York seems to take pleasure in Roberts' gamesmanship, and characteristically does not notice, or care, that the result may be to delay or block the completion of an already long overdue report.


Roberts' position is of course nasty and ridiculous. It doesn't matter whether members of Congress believed that Hussein still had WMD. They had only as much accurate intelligence as Bush Co. was willing to give them. Likewise, Roberts' proposal to investigate as well the statements made by Clinton administration officials in the 1990s demonstrates what a partisan hack he is. Clinton did not order an invasion of Iraq based upon what they thought they knew.


The issue in question is whether Bush and his "people" represented the state of intelligence accurately and completely, or cherry-picked intel to make a case for war. If Senators like Kennedy were mistaken in over-estimating the amount of chemical and biological weapons that Hussein retained, they were not President and did not drag the country to war. In fact, Kennedy opposed the war.


Furthermore, the existence of stocks of chemical and biological weapons did not per se threaten the United States. Bush built his case for war not primarily on the notion that Hussein still possessed mustard gas shells, but rather on the basis of an alleged nuclear weapons program; an alleged ability to deliver those weapons in the United States; an alleged intent to do so; and alleged ties to al Qaeda. Props to ALevin and Bob Somerby for making those points over at American Prospect.


Also worth noting is this: Bush was told that all American intelligence agencies agreed that Hussein posed no threat to attack the United States. As Murray Waas reported in March, Bush received a one-page summary of intelligence in January 2003:


According to interviews and records, Bush personally read the one-page summary in Tenet's presence during the morning intelligence briefing, and the two spoke about it at some length. Sources familiar with the summary said it was highly significant that the president was informed that it was the unanimous conclusion of the intelligence agencies participating in the production of the January 2003 NIE that Saddam was unlikely to consider attacking the U.S. unless Iraq was attacked first.


This is the kind of thing that matters, Mr. York, not whether Democrats can be discombobulated by outrageous demands from Chairman Roberts.


Crossposted at DowningStreetMemo.Com

1 Comments:

  • Excellent and interesting facts on yet another member of Team Neo-con. Your recognition of the importance of this appointment is important, but will go mostly unnoted by our snoozing press and Democrat-electoral fetishistic "leftist" blogs.

    From a talk recently by the Acting Inspector General, speaking of Laufman [PDF]:

    "His biography states that he received a Bachelor of Arts in 1979 from the University of Pennsylvania and a Juris Doctor in 1987 fromGeorgetown University Law Center. Mr. Laufman has served as:

    • Chief of Staff, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of the Deputy Attorney General

    • Assistant Counsel, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Professional Responsibility

    • Staff Director and Deputy Chief Counsel, Judicial Review Commission on Foreign Asset Control

    • Investigative Counsel, Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, U.S. House of Representatives

    • Assistant to the Special Counsel, Ethics Reform Task Force, U.S. House of Representatives."

    -- Valtin

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:55 AM  

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