Sunday, January 29, 2006

In the NY Observer, a segment from Fred Kaplan's review of James Risen's book, State of War:
Maybe the biggest jaw-dropper comes in Chapter 4, “The Hunt for WMD.” It’s about Dr. Sawsan Alhaddad, a woman in her 50’s, now living in Cleveland, Ohio, who escaped Saddam’s Iraq 27 years ago. In May 2002, a C.I.A. agent tracked her down and asked her to go back to Baghdad and do a little espionage. Her brother, who still lived there, had worked in Saddam’s nuclear-weapons program in the 1980’s and early 90’s. The C.I.A. wanted her to ask him a series of questions about the program’s current status and to offer him refuge in the United States. Bravely, she made the trip, asked the questions (usually on long walks, at night) and learned that the program had been dead for a decade. She went back to the States and told her case officers the news. But the C.I.A. waved it off; her brother, they said, was obviously lying.

Then Mr. Risen adds the kicker. The C.I.A. had persuaded the exiled relatives of 30 Iraqi weapons scientists to make the risky trip back to their homeland. All of them came back with the same story: Iraq had no nuclear program. This was an amazing treasure trove of intelligence at a time when the C.I.A., which had no spies on the ground, was straining to learn all it could about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. And yet the information was dismissed, ignored. Nothing about the 30 relatives was ever passed on to the State Department, the Pentagon or the White House. Nor were their findings incorporated into the C.I.A.’s own National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq’s W.M.D., written a mere month later, which concluded, on nothing particularly solid, that Iraq “is reconstituting its nuclear program.”

Mr. Risen lays out a dozen similar instances of reality slamming into Team Bush’s assumptions—and the assumptions emerging unruffled. Time and again, officials who raised doubts were flung to the sidelines, while those who got with the program and clamped on their blinders won promotions.

Another amazing story along these lines dates from June 2003, after U.S. forces in Iraq captured Abid Hamid Mahmud al-Tikriti, Saddam Hussein’s personal secretary. This was such a huge find—Mr. Hamid had been designated the “Ace of Diamonds” in U.S. Central Command’s deck of 52 most-wanted Saddamites—that the C.I.A. assigned its best Arabic speaker to conduct the interrogation. Mr. Hamid revealed two key things: First, Saddam had not been at Dora Farms the night that President Bush, acting on Mr. Tenet’s urgings, launched a cruise-missile strike on the farm, starting the war a bit earlier than planned, in hopes of decapitating the regime from the get-go. Second, there was no W.M.D. program. The C.I.A. bosses concluded that Mr. Hamid was lying, blamed their top-notch interrogator for going too easy on him and replaced her.
Just incredible. For the millionth time, if it was Clinton....

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