Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Thursday, September 06, 2007

  “Information is systematically collected in a way that minimizes its discrepancy with policy goals”

That remarkable statement finally made its way today onto the pages of the Washington Post, buried though the article was on page A 16. The statement comes from last December’s Iraq Study Group Report, and presented such a damning indictment of the administration that the ISG held it back until the final page of its report. The Associated Press’ military analyst Robert Burns wrote an article highlighting the ISG allegation that the Bush administration deliberately under-reports violence in Iraq. Yet few papers printed his story. Most large newspapers, like the Post, ignored it.

Nines months later, the allegation finally merits attention.

I won’t complain about today’s article by Karen DeYoung, Experts Doubt Drop In Violence in Iraq. Those doubts have been widely discussed here and elsewhere for months, of course, but DeYoung’s report brings together plenty of material and is well worth a read. However her treatment of the ISG information is somewhat lacking in critical detail and context.

Challenges to how military and intelligence statistics are tallied and used have been a staple of the Iraq war. In its December 2006 report, the bipartisan Iraq Study Group identified "significant underreporting of violence," noting that "a murder of an Iraqi is not necessarily counted as an attack. If we cannot determine the sources of a sectarian attack, that assault does not make it into the data base." The report concluded that "good policy is difficult to make when information is systematically collected in a way that minimizes its discrepancy with policy goals."

All well and good, except that the ISG was much more damning than DeYoung lets on. The ISG report provides a devastating example: On a certain day in July 2006, the Pentagon reported a total of 93 attacks on coalition and Iraqi forces. US Intelligence Agencies, however, had information about more than 1100 such reports on that day. In other words, the administration was attesting to only about 8% of the known attacks.

Why has the Post seen fit to report this decisive information only today? Isn’t the problem (proven, one supposes, beyond any reasonable doubt) that the Pentagon cannot be trusted about basic questions of fact, of some consequence to the national debate about what to do about the debacle in Iraq?

Incidentally, DeYoung has another article today on the Jones’ report to Congress, which I picked apart yesterday. Like some earlier articles on their findings, she paints it as uniformly bleak for the Bush administration’s point of view. No mention, regrettably, that the Jones report tries in its own way to please both the administration and its critics with a dash of squishy optimism.

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