Pre – 9/11 Intelligence Documents Will
By William Finucane
Finally, President George Bush has reversed himself and promised Congress full access to the intelligence that got us into war with Iraq.
The information will go to the Senate Intelligence Committee, at least if the promise was not premature. That may be the case.
Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas, a Republican, asked for the list of the intelligence findings that led to the war. He is the majority party’s leader on the Senate Intelligence Committee. Once the information is provided, senators will try to piece together how the Bush Administration came to the decision that attacking Iraq with just a few friends was the only way possible.
Democrats on the committee will, of course, look for stones to throw at Bush. There are likely to be many.
Some Republicans made a fuss about a Democratic memo that said the Democrats can go after the president’s intelligence analysis with both barrels. What’s the surprise here? Democrats do that to Republicans and vice versa regularly.
Besides, who really believes Bush is going to let anything incriminating get to the senators? He can turn any piece of information he wants to into a classified document.
What the senators want to do is determine one bare fact: did Bush really have the drums of war ringing in his ears, or did he let himself follow the thinking of others? Specifically, did Bush let Vice President Richard Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld steer him into conflict.
Of course they did.
One does not need sheets of documentary proof to come to that conclusion.
Cheney and Rumsfeld are mega-powerful. Cheney may in fact be more powerful than Bush; he certainly seems much more intelligent. And both officials had business relationships with Iraq’s now deposed President Saddam Hussein, and they might well have developed an analysis of Hussein that was too narrow.
Cheney’s old oil company, Halliburton, is now controlling Iraqi oil production, under the special protection of American policy and troops. So his slant on the ex- president of the country is, to say the least, suspect.
Of course Bush is an oil industry man to begin with, so he would naturally read the signs in the same manner as Cheney: win war, get oil.
Maybe Sen. Ted Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat, was right – essentially – in saying the Iraq war was cooked up around a table in Texas, Bush’s home state. This new, open season on executive documents might show that this is what took place. Or maybe it won’t. Everything will hang on what, exactly, the White House decides to hand over.
There has been a typical battle over jurisdiction here between the legislative and executive branches of government, and as usual the prize is information.
Still, White House spokesperson Scott McClellan has stated the executive branch will cooperate with the Senate committee, despite the fact the legislature lacked jurisdiction. So it is naïve to assume that Bush will do anything other than pick and choose the documents he allows to go public and hold off on others as too sensitive to release. Senators can then gripe they need more documents and Bush can decide how to react, perhaps dramatically unveiling a piece of paper that proves a point in his favor.
The top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee is, interestingly, John D. Rockefeller IV. He’ll make an assessment of just what the committee has received when he sees what the White House offers. According to Rockefeller, the committee’s job is to perform "rigorous oversight of the collection and analysis of intelligence, but also to oversee the use of intelligence. And that includes all of the government. That includes policy making, defense and national security."
In other words, he wants the whole picture.
As Americans, our natural hope must be that Rockefeller will avoid the pitfalls along the road to disclosure; that is, he should not nitpick every informational item as though it is potential ammunition for a Democratic test firing range in preparation for the 2004 presidential race.
Reasonably, most Americans would genuinely like to know if there is some vital piece or pieces of information that will illustrate what led to the actions taken by the Bush Administration.
First of all, just how flabby had American intelligence become when 18 Muslim men hijacked four jets and succeeded in hitting the twin towers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon?
That cost us 3,018 lives and our innocence.
Did we have any inkling that such an attack could happen?
If so, why did we ignore it?
Was there any administrative fallout? If so, whose heads rolled?
What people have been kept in place, and why didn’t their heads roll?
How many people in the Federal Bureau of Investigation or the Central Intelligence Agency, at the time of the attack, actually were able to speak any of the Arabic languages, or other tongues used by radical Islamo-fascists?
Out of desperation did we recruit Muslims with very little background screening and later found that they actually served as double agents?
How did we get to the point where we publicly sought to convince the United Nations that we had pictures of atom bomb sites and chemical trailers and then were unable to find anything of the sort when we got into Iraqi territory?
On the world stage, the Bush Administration – representing all Americans – was particularly arrogant because of what was described as hard-core intelligence. Now all Americans have been tarred by the aftermath; Americans look stupid because all the points that were stressed in the gearing up for war were obviously wrong. There were no nuclear weapons, no chemical weapons, and no biological bombs.
So perhaps the only thing the president can do is wag a finger at Central Intelligence, claiming that what he received for information was, after all, what the Democrats gave him to work with; that is, his predecessor, Democrat Bill Clinton, becomes, once again, the scapegoat for the GOP, and he and his administration can be blamed for all those intelligence flaws. ‘This is what we inherited,’ has already become something of a mantra among White House officials and is happily spread by right-wing talk show hosts and other propagandists.
All of that may lead to a new opportunity for the White House. Bush may call, for example, for the creation of a committee to study new ways of using the intelligence arm of American power. This could be disastrous.
Instead of building American intelligence forces with better people and increasing the high technology needed to detect real threats of war, Bush could be looking for another way to make the agencies even more clandestine, more secretive. And who could do that better? This president is the son of George Bush the elder, who served as the head of the Central Intelligence Agency before becoming president.
A stronger intelligence arm would help Bush and company.
Today’s Bush can get all the tips he needs to firm up the spies and intelligence operatives, making them the top people in enforcement of the Patriot Act, which strips away so many American rights under the guide of replacing them with safety and security. In the end, of course, the Patriot Act will deliver neither safety nor security.
But it’s now clear Bush will deliver something to the Senate Intelligence Committee, and it will be extremely interesting to learn just what that will be. He did not strain against the Intelligence Committee for months and then suddenly change his mind without a reason.
Perhaps he’s found a way to provide a scapegoat for America’s almost single-handed leap into the Iraqi war, an explanation that would justify the sudden need for United Nations help, or perhaps he simply needs a demonstrable whipping boy in preparation for his 2004 presidential race.
And there is the possibility that he can work the process so that the Senate does the dirty work, tossing out some poor performers and giving George Bush exactly the FBI and CIA he wants at his disposal.
There is a considerable amount of truth to the assertion that it doesn’t matter how dumb or smart a person is, it depends where the person is sitting, and this seems particularly apt in terms of someone sitting at the desk in the Oval Office, where all the help imaginable is available instantly. The occupant of the Oval Office can rely on access to the smartest people when pushing through political programs, and where necessary can employ such brainy talent to come up with the programs in the first place.