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Negroponte Muddies NIE Waters

By Ivan Eland
September 27, 2006

Editor's Note: This week, when George W. Bush found himself on the defensive over a U.S. intelligence estimate that recognized the obvious -- that the Iraq War had enflamed anti-Americanism and made the terrorist threat worse -- his intelligence czar John Negroponte tried to soften the political impact. In this guest essay, the Independent Institute's Ivan Eland looks behind the battle over the Iraq War intelligence estimate:

John D. Negroponte, President Bush’s Director of National Intelligence, is now busy undermining a National Intelligence Estimate which concluded that the U.S. invasion of Iraq has worsened radical Islamic terrorism around the world. He previously had approved the document.

According to the New York Times, the highly classified estimate, a consensus view of the 16 spy agencies of the U.S. intelligence community, finds that the U.S. invasion of a Muslim land has motivated the radical Islamic jihadist movement to metastasize and spread around the world.

Yet, Negroponte, the President’s political appointee who is in charge, nominally at least, of the 16 agencies, came up with the usual twisted Bush administration phraseology to undercut his own estimate.

Negroponte, in what can only be termed Washington gobbledygook, said of the estimate, “The conclusions of the intelligence community are designed to be comprehensive, and viewing them through the narrow prism of a fraction of judgments distorts the broad framework they create.” That fraction of judgments appears to be 100 percent of the 16 intelligence agencies, because the National Intelligence Estimate represents the consensus view of that community

If instead Negroponte means that leaks of the report by intelligence officials misrepresent the actual classified report, such distortion is unlikely, because the New York Times interviewed more than a dozen officials from various government agencies and outside experts, a sampling of both supporters and critics of the Bush administration.

In reality, Negroponte, without much of a defense for the colossally horrendous ill–effects of the Iraq invasion, is attempting the age–old Washington trick of throwing out arguments, no matter how lame or twisted, to muddy the waters when really bad news has hit the media.

A good intelligence professional would stand by and defend the best judgment of his trained intelligence analysts and himself, but alas, Negroponte is also one of the President’s political appointees. So by clouding the matter, he is attempting to lessen the erosion of public confidence on the one issue on which Republicans and the President outpoll the Democrats: effectiveness in fighting the war on terror.

Unfortunately, for the Republicans, the intelligence estimate ties together the Democrats’ favorite issue, Iraq, with the war on terror, in a way that’s unfavorable for the GOP.

Although the intelligence estimate is nonpolitical, those in the intelligence community who leaked were not behaving as such. The estimate was completed last April, but was leaked, strategically, just before an important mid–term election that will decide who’s in charge of the House of Representatives, and maybe even the Senate.

Most of the U.S. intelligence community has an intense distaste for the Bush administration—arising from pressure on spy agencies by Vice President Dick Cheney and other administration officials before the war, to make the Iraqi threat “larger than life,” and from the administration’s leaking of the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame.

Also, when deciding whether to invade Iraq, the administration refused to pay attention to an analysis from intelligence agencies, which concluded that even if Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, he was unlikely to use them or give them to terrorists, unless the United States were to back him into a corner by threatening the existence of his regime.

Finally, the administration did not heed the intelligence community warning made in January 2003, before the war, that a U.S. invasion could cause internal strife in Iraq for a long time. Now the administration is learning that paybacks from spy agencies are hell, especially during an important election year.

Given Bush’s Iraq invasion and his inflammatory rhetoric in the war on terror designed for domestic voters, using words such as “crusade” and “the struggle for civilization”—when combined with the Pope’s veiled attack on Islam—it’s no wonder the U.S. intelligence community has confirmed that the wildfire of radical Islamic terrorism is being intensified worldwide.

It’s a shame that our governmental and religious leaders cannot behave more responsibly and make the world a safer place, instead of endangering us all by generating more hatred.

Ivan Eland is a Senior Fellow at The Independent Institute, Director of the Institute’s Center on Peace & Liberty, and author of the books The Empire Has No Clothes, and Putting “Defense” Back into U.S. Defense Policy.

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