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President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney receive an Oval Office briefing from CIA Director George Tenet. Also present is Chief of Staff Andy Card (on right).
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On a recent TV appearance, I was asked about whistleblowing, but the experience brought back to mind a crystal-clear example of how, before the Iraq War, CIA careerists were assigned "two bosses" -- CIA Director George Tenet and John Bolton, the Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, the arch-neocon who had been thrust on an obedient Secretary of State Colin Powell.
CIA "analyst" Frederick Fleitz took the instructions quite literally, bragging about being allowed to serve, simultaneously, "two bosses" -- and becoming Bolton's "enforcer." Fleitz famously chided a senior intelligence analyst at State for not understanding that it was the prerogative of policymakers like Bolton -- not intelligence analysts -- to "interpret" intelligence data.
In an email from Fleitz in early 2002, at the time when one of his bosses, the pliable George Tenet, was "fixing" the intelligence to "justify" war on Iraq, Fleitz outlined the remarkable new intelligence ethos imposed by President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and their subordinates who were reshaping the U.S. Intelligence Community.
Apparently, senior State Department intelligence analyst, Christian Westermann, "had not gotten the memo" on how things had changed. Rather, he was performing his duties like a professional analyst under the old rules. Westermann had the temerity to block coordination on a speech in which Bolton wanted to make the spurious assertion that Cuba had a developing biological weapons program.
On Feb. 12, 2002, after a personal run-in with Westermann, Fleitz sent Bolton this email: "I explained to Christian [Westermann] that it was a political judgment as to how to interpret this data and the I.C. [Intelligence Community] should do as we asked." Fleitz informed Bolton that Westermann still "strongly disagrees with us."
At this point, Bolton became so dyspeptic that he summoned Westermann to his office for a tongue-lashing and then asked top officials of the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) to fire him. Instead, they defended him, and this was not the only time intelligence managers at State -- virtually alone in the Intelligence Community -- gave the Bush-43 White House and political hacks like Bolton the clear message not to count on managers and analysts at INR to acquiesce in the politicization of intelligence.
Exaggerating Iran Threat
Later, Fleitz went on to bigger and better things. In 2006, he became "senior adviser" to House Intelligence Committee chair Pete Hoekstra, R-Michigan. Bowing to desires of the White House to portray Iran as a strategic threat, Hoekstra had Fleitz draft an almost comically alarmist paper titled "Recognizing Iran as Strategic Threat: An Intelligence Challenge for the United States." Fleitz was told not to coordinate his paper with the Intelligence Community.
The objective was to pre-empt a formal National Intelligence Estimate on Iran's nuclear weapons program -- an NIE that the Senate had just commissioned. Fleitz and Hoekstra feared the NIE might come to unwelcome conclusions, contradicting the kinds of stark warnings about Iran's nuclear program that the White House wanted to use to stir up fear and justify action against Iran. Iraq deja vu.
The Fleitz-Hoekstra gambit failed. Their over-the-top paper made them the subject of ridicule in professional intelligence circles.
Meanwhile, Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence Thomas Fingar was named to manage the formal NIE on Iran, and, mirable dictu, he was not only a seasoned professional but also a practitioner of the old-time ethos of objective, non-politicized intelligence.
Worse still for Bush, Cheney and their sycophants, the NIE of November 2007, endorsed by all 16 agencies of the Intelligence Community began: "We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program."
Former President George W. Bush prepares to celebrate the dedication of his presidential library, which opens to the public on May 1, 2013.
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That Estimate holds the distinction of being the only NIE of which I am aware that demonstrably played a key role in preventing an unnecessary war -- the war on Iran that Cheney and Bush were planning for 2008. Bush pretty much admits this in his memoir Decision Points, which includes a highly instructive section that he must have written himself.
Indeed, nowhere in his memoir is Bush's bizarre relationship to truth so manifest as when he describes his dismay at learning that the Intelligence Community had redeemed itself for its lies about Iraq by preparing an honest NIE that stuck a rod in the wheels of the juggernaut rolling toward war with Iran.
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