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Update on Gaming Intelligence to Justify War

I wasn’t so disturbed by the news that DNI Mike McConnell had decided to reverse the recent practice of producing unclassified Key Judgments from an NIE … until I read Scott Horton’s take on it.

Michael McConnell started his first two months on the job with asolid record for candor and accuracy. He avoided political doublespeak.And then something strange happened. He became a shameless andirresponsible political propagandist.

[snip]

With that background, it should come as no surprise that McConnell now plans to keep America in the dark as to the national intelligence estimate (NIE) on Iranian nuclear programs. Pam Hess of AP reports:

NationalIntelligence Director Mike McConnell has reversed the recent practiceof declassifying and releasing summaries of national intelligenceestimates, a top intelligence official said Friday. Knowing their wordsmay be scrutinized outside the U.S. government chills analysts’willingness to provide unvarnished opinions and information, said DavidShedd, a deputy to McConnell.

Hetold congressional aides and reporters that McConnell recently issued adirective making it more difficult to declassify the key judgments ofnational intelligence estimates, which are forward-looking analysesprepared for the White House and Congress that represent the consensusof the nation’s 16 spy agencies on a single issue. The analysis comesfrom various sources including the CIA, the military and intelligenceagencies inside federal departments.

Nowwe know that the NIE has been done and gathering dust for more thanthree months. We also know that Vice President Cheney’s office, whichpromptly leaks NIEs when it finds them useful, absolutely hates thisNIE and has been doing everything it can think to do to put it off. Whymight that be?

Sourcesclose to the NIE tell me that it would work at cross-purposes with theAdministration’s fall roll-out of its new war effort against Iran. TheNIE will apparently conclude that Iran is diligently pursuing a nuclearweapons program, and that Iran is pursuing a delivery system. It willalso conclude that even on the fastest possible track it is still acouple of years away from having anything meaningful. Which means thisthreat does not become an acute one until some time after Bush andCheney leave office. In other words, it’s an NIE that the VicePresident badly wants to drop somewhere behind a filing cabinet. Andthe best way to do that is to declare it’s so super secret that no onecan have a copy of that particular decoder ring.

Honestly, the last two NIEs did seem shaded for political reasons, so I suspect unclassified Key Judgments would be in any case. But the last several NIEs on the subject have shown that Iran is nowhere near getting nukes. And if Cheney wants to bury the latest version of "not yet," then it begins to piss me off.

Meanwhile, there are two new additions to the discussion about the scary satellite pictures that may–or may not–prove that Syria was trying to build nukes. First, via Noah Shachtman, the news from the NYT that the Syria location is at least four years old.

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