Three years ago I was one of the few people writing about Doug Feith’s role in cooking the intel used to justify the Iraq war. I wrote about him a lot. And the OSP, which got a lot of attention, and C-TEG, which didn’t but should have. Carl Levin, Chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, released a report yesterday that details Feith’s “cherry-picking” (highlighting raw intel that seems to support a particular position and ignoring everything that doesn’t) and “stovepiping” (Sy Hersh’s word for sending the cherry-picked intel straight to the top – in this case, Cheney’s office – without bothering with verification or corroboration) as the Bush Administration, in particular Cheney, forged a case for our first-ever pre-emptive invasion on the basis of what they knew to be bogus information.
Intelligence provided by former undersecretary of defense Douglas J. Feith to buttress the White House case for invading Iraq included “reporting of dubious quality or reliability” that supported the political views of senior administration officials rather than the conclusions of the intelligence community, according to a report by the Pentagon’s inspector general.
Feith’s office “was predisposed to finding a significant relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda,” according to portions of the report, released yesterday by Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.). The inspector general described Feith’s activities as “an alternative intelligence assessment process.”
At the time I gave George Tenet a deal of credit for trying to tell first Cheney and then Bush that the CIA’s information was running counter to administration assertions of WMD’s and yellowcake and the existence of a nuclear program that was at best unconfirmed and at worst a fantasy. I gave him that credit right up to the moment he surrendered to Bush’s insistence on being told what he wanted to hear, that infamous moment when Tenet threw up his hands and made his slam-dunk remark in exasperation.
I argued even more strongly after the truth became known that it was NOT the CIA analysts who were wrong even as the country – including a good-sized chunk of the blogosphere – was blaming them for providing politicized intel before the war. According to Levin’s report, CIA analysts were in fact warning that –
– Feith’s assessment in 2002 that Iraq and al-Qaeda had a “mature symbiotic relationship” was not fully supported by available intelligence but was nonetheless used by policymakers.At the time of Feith’s reporting, the CIA had concluded only that there was an “evolving” association, “based on sources of varying reliability.”
For a long time Tenet tried to convince Cheney, Rice (then National Security Advisor) and Bush that Feith’s key source, known as “Curveball”, wasn’t reliable, that much of the information he was providing not only couldn’t be confirmed but could actually be shown to be false. None of them wanted to hear it.
I think it’s important to remember as the hearings go on that Feith was a Gingrich acolyte, a believer in Newt’s contention that the CIA’s analysts were “politicized” and that their information couldn’t be trusted because it often conflicted with what Gingrich “knew”. Between 1994 and 2000, Gingrich made a number of speeches at the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation forging a case for stovepiping raw data, by-passing the CIA’s verification process. Feith and the other members of what later became the OSP and C-TEG attended a seminar in the late 90’s that Gingrich gave on the topic of the CIA’s untrustworthiness and “politicization” – ironic considering that’s precisely what Gingrich was promoting.
Those speeches laid out the framework and the structures that would replace standard intelligence procedures with faith-based ones by reversing the usual process – “gather the information, then form your conclusions from it” – to “reach your conclusions first, then find the information that will support them”. It was a pattern the entire Bush Administration was to adopt about everything from Iraq to global warming to Social Security privatization, a pattern that has done untold damage in so many different areas it’s hard to keep track of them all. Wolfowitz, Perle, and the rest of the PNAC neocons may have told Cheney and Bush what they needed to do, but it was Gingrich who showed them how to sell it to the American people: lie.
Feith’s response to the report’s summary when WaPo reporter Walter Pinkus (one of the few mainstream hournalists who was doing creditable work at the time) reached him by phone is indicative of where the administration and its enablers now find themselves. Instead of defending or explaining his actions, Feith’s first instinct was to insist that what he did wasn’t actually illegal.
In a telephone interview yesterday, Feith emphasized the inspector general’s conclusion that his actions, described in the report as “inappropriate,” were not unlawful. “This was not ‘alternative intelligence assessment,’ ” he said. “It was from the start a criticism of the consensus of the intelligence community, and in presenting it I was not endorsing its substance.”
Yeah. Right. That statement could stand as the very definition of “weaselly”. It’s also a lie: that’s exactly what Feith was doing, “endorsing its substance”. That was his job. That’s why the OSP and C-TEG were created, and pretending he doesn’t know it is at best disingenuous and at worst ass-covering, unscrupulous, flat-out dishonesty.
But Feith, as might be expected for a neocon weasel, doesn’t stop with covering his own ass. He goes on to blame Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz, claiming – quite accurately and with the same conviction with which it was said by many Nazi officers at Nuremburg – that he was just doing what he was told.
Feith, who was defense policy chief before leaving the government in 2005, was one of the key contributors to the administration’s rationale for war. His intelligence activities, authorized by then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul D. Wolfowitz, and coordinated with Vice President Cheney’s office, stemmed from an administration belief that the CIA was underplaying evidence of then-Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s ties with al-Qaeda.
In interviews with Pentagon investigators, the summary document said, Feith insisted that his activities did not constitute intelligence and that “even if they were, [they] would be appropriate given that they were responding to direction from the Deputy Secretary of Defense.”
See? It wasn’t his fault.
There is a depth of depravity, back-stabbing, ass-covering, weaselling, responsibility-avoidance, and finger-pointing in the Bush Admin that is breath-taking in the amount of ground it covers. From Libby to Feith to Gonzales and on through and around, every BA official who has ever been challenged has been only too happy to target somebody else. Just a couple of days ago, testimony at Libby’s trial had him shivering in his loafers about being set up to take the blame for Rove’s outing of Valerie Plame. There seems to be something in the neocon character – if I can use that word in relation to people who basically don’t have any – that, like the bully caught being one, instantly turns to cowardice and cavilling when the chickens start coming home to roost.
I admit that it’s fun to watch and even more fun to be validated even if it is years after the fact, but then I remember what these bastards did to the country and it’s not so much fun any more. I don’t think Gingrich will ever have to face a Senate Committee or a court for his role in this mess, but that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t.