Intelligence failures lead to cover-ups
by Robert Weiner
The media is abuzz over the recent tape suggesting that Saddam Hussein (possibly?) is alive and directing attacks against coalition forces. U.S. military and intelligence agencies' attempts to locate the dictator and his sons have been fruitless so far.
Hot on their heels, the CIA and now the White House are suddenly admitting that they knew that President George W. Bush's claims about Iraq trying to purchase uranium from Niger were false and based on forged documents. Even with this admission, the administration is still trying to save face by blocking full public disclosure of exactly who knew that the information the president had was false.
Almost forgotten today in these hot new individual intelligence failures is that many are angry at the intelligence apparatus and the Bush administration (and Britons are similarly fuming at Tony Blair) because of their inability to produce credible evidence of biological, chemical or nuclear weapons in Iraq. A major reason used by the administration for our initiation of war with Iraq, this information was based on ostensible evidence from the DIA, CIA and other intelligence agencies now scrambling to claim they were equivocating early on. Yet aside from two trailers supposedly used for some kind of chemicals - now thought by the State Department to be simply missile refueling trucks - still no concrete examples of these "weapons of mass destruction" have been found.
These developments are only the latest failures of the intelligence community. After 9/11, the FBI and the CIA came under attack for supposedly withholding information that could have possibly stopped the hijackings; Congress and a federal commission are properly investigating. Although we went into Afghanistan saying we would get Osama bin Laden "dead or alive," intelligence and planning failures allowed him to escape, possibly in the Tora Bora cave battle in Afghanistan.
In 2001, the FBI was rocked by the revelation that its agent, Richard Hanssen, had been spying for the Soviets for the last 15 years, leaking thousands of highly classified documents and the locations of embedded agents who were murdered. Hanssen had protected and tipped off another alleged spy, Felix Bloch, the head of the State Department's Europe section. Last year, Ana Belen Montes, the Defense Intelligence Agency's senior Cuban issues analyst, pleaded guilty to spying for Castro. Aldrich Ames sold CIA secrets to the KGB and betrayed at least 15 fellow agents between 1985 and 1994 for more than $4 million. Jonathan Pollard is an American doing life in prison for leading an Israeli spy ring in the United States. Even in the area of fighting the drug war, we learned and confirmed last year that CIA numbers for Colombian cocaine production were faked since cloud cover blocked the photographs they used as a basis.
Many people have lost confidence in our intelligence agencies and feel that these agencies need to be overhauled. But there have been intelligence failures and spies in America since George Washington mistakenly trusted Benedict Arnold. America didn't know the Pearl Harbor attack was coming. The reason for these failures is simple, and we should understand it above all in the world's greatest democracy: Human beings run the place. No matter how advanced the technology or how big the budget given to the CIA, the NSA or the FBI, the reality is that they are staffed by real people. The mistake that we make in analyzing the intelligence community is assuming that its members are superhuman. Human error is one thing, but hypocrisy and cover-up are quite another.
The intelligence agencies produce numerous contingency plans to cover every side of issues in which they are involved - and later disingenuously bring out the one that fits what finally happens, so the agency looks smart. We should demand the memos on both sides of the issue - but of course, those will never be produced because of "national security" - we will see only the ones that fit.
It is not only the terrorists who succeed in keeping us off balance - our own political leaders also do, regardless of patriotism or intentions. Selective information and especially disinformation is a disservice to the nation. The prize we have won is that Saddam and bin Laden are still at large, and heroin production in Afghanistan is now higher than during the Taliban regime.
The terrorists are just sitting back and waiting until they can strike again. We may in fact be doing just what the terrorists and America-haters want. We are playing into their hands with color-coded paranoia at home and a misdirected fall-guy military frenzy abroad, all to make our people "feel" safer. Instead, more time should be spent actually finding Saddam, bin Laden and other terrorists and rebuilding our economy and our first-responders' capabilities. Perhaps the embarrassment of continuing failures will be a wedge to encourage the intelligence community to get it right - and to our political leaders to tell it straight.
Weiner was director of public affairs for the White House National Drug Policy Office from 1995 to 2001, and director of communications for the U.S. House of Representatives Government Operations Committee from 1990 to 1995.
Contact: Bob Weiner / Colin Miller 301-283-0821 or 202-329-1700
INTELLIGENCE FAILURES SHOULD NOT LEAD TO COVERUPS:
Bob Weiner, Ex-White House and Hill Aide, Op-ed Today in Cleveland Plain Dealer Asserts "Intelligence Failures are Human But Politicians must Tell it Straight"; Assails Bush Hyperbole and Spin on Iraq Information
(Washington, DC) - Bob Weiner, a former Clinton White House senior public affairs director and communications director of the House Government Operations Committee, is asserting that "Intelligence failures should not lead to cover-ups." In an op-ed column in today's Cleveland Plain Dealer, Weiner contends, "Intelligence failures are human but politicians must tell it straight." Weiner assailed the Bush "hyperbole and spin" on information leading up to the war on Iraq.
Says Weiner, "The CIA is suddenly admitting that they knew that President Bush's claims about Iraq trying to purchase uranium from Niger were false and based on forged documents. Even with this admission, the administration is still trying to save face by blocking full public disclosure of exactly who knew that the information the President had was false."
Weiner tracked prior intelligence failures - how 9/11 happened, Osama Bin Laden's whereabouts, Richard Hanssen, Felix Bloch, Aldrich Ames, Jonathan Pollard, Colombian cocaine numbers, right down to historically renowned cases: George Washington trusting Benedict Arnold; and our information failure to know Pearl Harbor would occur until the planes bombed. Weiner says, "The reason for these failures is simple, and we should understand it above all in the world's greatest democracy: Human beings run the place. No matter how advanced the technology or how big the budget given to the CIA, the NSA, or the FBI, the reality is that they are staffed by real people."
"The mistake that we make in analyzing the intelligence community is assuming that its members are superhuman."
Weiner's key point: "Human error is one thing, but hypocrisy and cover-up are quite another."
Weiner concludes, "Perhaps the embarrassment of continuing failures will be a wedge to encourage the intelligence community to get it right - and to our political leaders to tell it straight."
Source: Robert Weiner Associates 301-283-0821 or 202-329-1700.