Tuesday, March 29, 2005

The Times says "Panel's Report Assails C.I.A. for Failure . . ." the Times could use a little assailing as well

Let's start out this morning by noting David E. Sanger & Scott Shane's "Panel's Report Assails C.I.A. for Failure on Iraq Weapons."

The final report of a presidential commission studying American intelligence failures regarding illicit weapons includes a searing critique of how the C.I.A. and other agencies never properly assessed Saddam Hussein's political maneuverings or the possibility that he no longer had weapon stockpiles, according to officials who have seen the report's executive summary.

As talk of "new powers" invade the report (verb chosen intentionally) it might be a good time to note The Nation's recent editorial, "Captive Mind."

Since September 11, we've heard a lot about the "intelligence failures" that left the United States unprepared for the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. These failures were not simply the result of poor espionage or of bureaucratic incompetence. They reflected a deeper failure to understand a region and its historical wounds, a number of which--though not all--were inflicted by the Western powers. The future of America's profoundly strained relations with the Arab and Muslim world depends, to a great extent, on educating the public. Yet the very people who are in a position to perform this vital task have instead found themselves under siege from extremist pressure groups and craven politicians. Their crime? Challenging the nostrums of those formidable authorities on the Arab world, George W. Bush and Ariel Sharon.

Remember that paragraph above (editorial from The Nation) as we return to Sanger & Shane's article:

But in retrospect, those assumptions by American and other intelligence analysts turned out to be deeply flawed, even though some of Mr. Hussein's own commanders said after they were captured in 2003 that they also believed the government held some unconventional weapons. It was a myth Mr. Hussein apparently fostered to retain an air of power.

It was a myth? It was all just some sort of "deeply flawed" myth? Well how did it happen?

We learn that the study "ridicules" a claim (repeated as fact) made by Bully Boy, Cheney and others (Condi Rice is left unnamed by the paper) of Iraq's "unmanned aerial vehicles" being "a major threat." Though Condi is left unnamed, the reporters do note that Cheney "has never backed away from" this charge and that he "repeated [it again] last year."

Did the communities not grasp "what was happening inside Iraq" post 1998 when we pulled out the inspectors (we did pull out the inspectors, something the press has done a very poor job addressing -- the Times today refers to that period as when "the inspectors left")? That's what this commission was supposed to be addressing. There's no strong indication that the study answers that question.

From the article:

One defense official who had been briefed on an early draft of the report said Monday that one of its conclusions was that "human intelligence left a lot to be desired" in the global war against terror.

There's only reply to that -- no sh*t? Is the study that poor or is it the reporting of it? In fairness -- sorry Yazz -- it should be noted the reporters have apparently only seen the declassified version of the report. In fairness to the truth and the public, that really doesn't cut it as the be-all-cover-all excuse at this late date.

The paper mentions George Tenent by name. Well, he's left his post, he's no longer with the government. As noted, however, Condi Rice gets no "shout out." Maybe that's how it plays out in the report (though I find that hard to believe, even for the declassified version -- as always, I could be wrong), but the reporters know what they're dealing with.

And they do include the following paragraph:

The report particularly singles out the Central Intelligence Agency under its former director, George J. Tenet, but also includes what one senior official called "a hearty condemnation" of the Defense Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency.

Who was heading the NSA? Why is that person left unnamed? What did Rebecca, call it -- the stink of Condi? ("la puanteur de condi") Yeah and it's still wafting down the halls. Look, few expected an investigation overseen by Laurence H. Silberman (and Charles Robb) to get down to the heart of the matter,
but if we're not going to learn anything, why was money wasted on this investigation?

(Possibly to create new powers for incoming John Negroponte? Shane & Sanger tell us that the report makes recommendations for new powers that go beyond what Congress recently approved.)

"Intelligence" was misjudged? Okay, you're average person not enthralled with "Faux" News got that point a long time ago. And while no few expected that the study itself would blatantly state the increasingly unmistakeable truth, I think we're right to expect that the reporting on the study might.

Let's note, as many e-mails to this site from reporters whose work has been criticized or examined have noted, that just because Sanger & Shane's names appear on the printed article doesn't mean that what they wrote, word for word, has appeared in today's paper. Their reporting, originally, might have been much stronger. While it's true that outside of Elisabeth Bumiller, no one's served more time on the Elite Fluff Patrol Squad than Sanger, it's equally true that Shane is usually stuck doing mop-ups (where he trails the big reporting a day or two later to note important details that were left out of the front page reporting -- Shane's mop-ups usually appear inside the paper) and that anyone can change. Look at Wilgoren's transformation into a serious journalist.

So maybe Sanger & Shane aren't responsible for this reporting which is embarrassing and superficial on a topic that demands the writers add perspective and, since they've apparently not seen the classified version of the study, pull from what is public record. We're not seeing that being done in today's story. We're seeing official sources (unnamed) give the Times cover to hide behind when a doubt needs to be expressed (rarely) but it's apparently too much to ask that Sanger & Shane (or "Sanger & Shane") actually go to the public record to round out the reporting on this story.

So it was all a myth? Well then, let's recall the Vanity Fair report on Paul Wolfowtiz. As reported by USA Today in an Associated Press article (the Vanity Fair article itself isn't available online):

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz cited bureaucratic reasons for focusing on Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction, and said a "huge" result of the war was to enable Washington to withdraw its troops from Saudi Arabia.
"The truth is that for reasons that have a lot to do with the U.S. government bureaucracy, we settled on the one issue that everyone could agree on which was weapons of mass destruction as the core reason," Wolfowitz was quoted as saying in a Pentagon transcript of an interview with Vanity Fair.
The magazine's reporter did not tape the telephone interview and provided a slightly different version of the quote in the article: "For bureaucratic reasons we settled on one issue, weapons of mass destruction, because it was the one reason everyone could agree on."

And now the "one issue" that "everyone could agree on" is seen as myth -- even by the study.
Again, I doubt anyone was expecting that the investigation (which was shoved back until after the election) would produce a study that got to the heart of the matter. But where it tip-toed, I think many may have expected that the press would fill in the blanks by pulling from public record. (I could be wrong, as always.) That doesn't happen today in the article by Sanger & Shane or by "Sanger & Shane."

What's avaible as part of the public record is this huge resource that "Sanger & Shane" don't tap into. Instead we get teasing details of a report that either has something to say (in which case, we're not told what it has to say) or has nothing to say (no surprise). In the case of the latter, that's where it becomes the responsibility of the press to fill in the details (from the public record if nothing else) to provide the perspective that will otherwise being missing. That's not done today.

[Note: This entry has been posted piecemeal due to continued problems with blogger. This is the final draft. E-mails can be sent to common_ills@yahoo.com and I'll toss in here that last night on The Majority Report, Janeane Garofalo stated that she did not own or wear a hat with a pom-pom and "Japan" across it as the Times reported on Sunday in their profile on her.]