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The ambitious Petraeus's own words have shown him groveling before the Israel Lobby -- to the point of backing away from his own congressional testimony of March 2010, a small segment of which was implicitly critical of Israeli intransigence on the issue of Palestine.
E-mails revealed Petraeus begging neocon pundit Max Boot to help him withstand criticism from neocon circles over the rare burst of honesty that had slipped into Petraeus's prepared testimony. Petraeus then mistakenly shared the e-mail train with blogger James Morris, who made them public.
On Tuesday, Petraeus was pandering again in his gratuitous repetition of the neocons' characterizations of the IAEA report. Petraeus said: "The IAEA ... report was a very accurate reflection of reality, of the situation on the ground. I think that is the authoritative document when it comes to informing the public of all the countries of the world of the situation there."
This is a remarkable statement coming from the head of the CIA, an agency that was one of the principal drafters of the NIE in 2007, which stands at variance with the politically tinged IAEA report, which labored to make the case that Iran was gaining expertise needed to build a nuclear bomb.
However, there were, in fact, significant overlaps in the IAEA's description of Iran's nuclear program and the key judgments of the NIE, but you would hardly know that from reporting in the FCM. The IAEA report contains no smoking gun regarding Iran's intentions about building nuclear weapons, but notes that much of Iran's progress occurred prior to fall 2003 -- when the NIE reported that Iran abandoned its weapons program.
Still, many pundits and politicians walked away with two misleading messages from the IAEA report: that it refuted the NIE and that Iran is now making a break for the bomb. Both representations are false, yet the assertions have been repeated often enough to give them traction with the public and Congress, which was evident in Petraeus' remarks.
As Petraeus knows better than most, the National Intelligence Estimate is the genre of intelligence assessment that the U.S. government considers "authoritative." I found it shameful, but not surprising, that he would identify himself with the IAEA rather than with the U.S. intelligence community. Shameful pandering, which Clapper -- to his credit -- would have none of.
The way the wind seems to be blowing from the White House and Capitol Hill, however, I think it a good bet that, before many months go by, Petraeus will be taking over the job of his current nominal boss, and Clapper will be set out to pasture for special services not rendered.
The Media on the Briefing
True to form, the FCM offered little truth in its reports on the Tuesday briefing -- and quite a lot of distortion. Very little mention was made of Clapper's key assertion that Iran is not building nuclear weapons, just as the FCM discreetly averted its eyes and ears from Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's definitive statement to that effect on Jan. 8.
The Washington Post initially ran an article by Greg Miller titled, "Iran, perceiving threat from West, willing to attack on U.S. soil, U.S. intelligence report finds." That title was then squished to fit at the top of page one, right next to a smiling photo of Mr. and Mrs. Romney, and reads "U.S. spy agencies see new Iran risk: Tehran more willing to launch attacks on American soil, they say."
For his story, Miller selects the two short paragraphs in which Clapper claims that some Iranian officials -- probably including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei -- "are now more willing to conduct an attack in the United States in response to real or perceived U.S. actions that threaten the regime." (I can readily imagine the word-smithing by senior officials that yielded that profound observation.)
In an instant commentary, Salon blogger Glen Greenwald described Miller's article -- correctly -- as a "monument to mindless stenographic journalism" and asks if anyone is still "doubting that there is a concerted media-aided fear-mongering campaign aimed at Iran."
For the record, the New York Times' Eric Schmitt led off his report in a similar vein: "Some senior Iranian leaders are now more willing to carry out attacks inside the U.S. in response to perceived American threats against their country," citing senior intelligence officials.
It is not at all picayune to note that the Times dropped the "real or" from Clapper's "in response to real or perceived U.S. actions that threaten the regime," thus removing the point that Iran might actually encounter "real" threats from the United States. All that high-priced word-smithing for nothing!
As if further proof were needed about the bias of the FCM, blogger Michael Rozeff took the Boston Globe to task for piecing together two unconnected parts of Clapper's testimony to leave the impression that Iran is making enriched uranium in order to conduct an attack on the U.S.