Monday, November 21, 2005

What Did They Know and When Did They Know It?

Former Senator Bob Graham, who was chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has disputed the Bush Administration's claim that over 100 senators had the same intelligence as Bush did when the Senate voted to authorize him to go to war with Iraq.

Basically, Senator Graham calls Bush a liar in this essay from Sunday's Washington Post "Outlook" section.

Here's the money quote:

"As chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence during the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001, and the run-up to the Iraq war, I probably had as much access to the intelligence on which the war was predicated as any other member of Congress.
I, too, presumed the president was being truthful -- until a series of events undercut that confidence.

In February 2002, after a briefing on the status of the war in Afghanistan, the commanding officer, Gen. Tommy Franks, told me the war was being compromised as specialized personnel and equipment were being shifted from Afghanistan to prepare for the war in Iraq -- a war more than a year away. Even at this early date, the White House was signaling that the threat posed by Saddam Hussein was of such urgency that it had priority over the crushing of al Qaeda.

In the early fall of 2002, a joint House-Senate intelligence inquiry committee, which I co-chaired, was in the final stages of its investigation of what happened before Sept. 11. As the unclassified final report of the inquiry documented, several failures of intelligence contributed to the tragedy. But as of October 2002, 13 months later, the administration was resisting initiating any substantial action to understand, much less fix, those problems.

At a meeting of the Senate intelligence committee on Sept. 5, 2002, CIA Director George Tenet was asked what the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) provided as the rationale for a preemptive war in Iraq. An NIE is the product of the entire intelligence community, and its most comprehensive assessment. I was stunned when Tenet said that no NIE had been requested by the White House and none had been prepared. Invoking our rarely used senatorial authority, I directed the completion of an NIE.

Tenet objected, saying that his people were too committed to other assignments to analyze Saddam Hussein's capabilities and will to use chemical, biological and possibly nuclear weapons. We insisted, and three weeks later the community produced a classified NIE.

There were troubling aspects to this 90-page document. While slanted toward the conclusion that Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction stored or produced at 550 sites, it contained vigorous dissents on key parts of the information, especially by the departments of State and Energy. Particular skepticism was raised about aluminum tubes that were offered as evidence Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear program. As to Hussein's will to use whatever weapons he might have, the estimate indicated he would not do so unless he was first attacked.

Under questioning, Tenet added that the information in the NIE had not been independently verified by an operative responsible to the United States. In fact, no such person was inside Iraq. Most of the alleged intelligence came from Iraqi exiles or third countries, all of which had an interest in the United States' removing Hussein, by force if necessary."

The thing about Bob Graham is that he once considered a run for president back in the 90s and was mentioned for vice president in 2000. The press at the time, and many voters, thought there was something strange and obsessive about the fact that he kept these extremely detailed diaries. I mean, he'd record what he ate for breakfast, what he said to his wife, Adele, and when. It made the public sort of queasy, became the object of jokes, and pretty much killed off Graham's presidential and vice presidential aspirations.

But the thing about those diaries and Bob Graham's obsessive nature is that if he claimed he had a conversation with Tommy Franks or asked George Tenet about something, it's bound to be absolutely accurate. Unless you're prepared to call him a liar, and Graham also has a spotless record of honesty. But you cannot accuse him of not remembering what happened. Because, everything Bob Graham ever did he recorded in those weird little diaries of his. And he's known for it. If Bob Graham said that Tommy Franks said the war effort in Afghanistan was being compromised back in February 2002, by God, he told it to Sen. Graham in February 2002. You can take that to the bank.

Bob Graham was also one of the few senators who did not vote to invade Iraq. In fact, he made a second brief run for the presidency largely just to oppose Bush's war effort. Although he doesn't go into this in the above article, he implied, during that brief run in 2004, that Iraq was not only not a security threat to us, but another country likely was. Citing the fact that he had access to classified material and therefore couldn't discuss it without compromising his security clearance and possibily going to jail, he refused to discuss the details or to name the country. But it was generally believed that he was referring to Saudi Arabia.

Given that several prominent Saudis, including the wife of Prince Bandahar, were caught red handed donating money to charities that were known as fronts for terrorist organizations and that so many of the hijackers and members of al Qaeda were Saudi citizens, this was not a leap. Also, much of the money that funded the Islamic religious schools around the world that served as recruitment centers for the terrorists came from Saudis as did the clerics who taught in those schools. In fact, even the religious ideology that fuels the terrorist cause comes from Wahhabiism, an extreme and puritanical brand of Islam founded and practiced almost exclusively in Saudi Arabia.

Yet in a breathtaking game of political three card monte, the Bush administration managed to divert us from going after Osama bin Laden or the Taliban in Afghanistan and kept our attention off the genuine threat of extremism and terrorism coming from Saudi Arabia. The truth is we will never win the war against terrorism until we go to its spiritual home, which is precisely Saudi Arabia. Something Bob Graham can't come out and say, but which he tried so hard make us aware of indirectly in the 2004 primaries. And something that we will never be able to do as long as all of our money, our men and women and our resources are going into Iraq, which was never a threat until we got there. Now it is one more danger. If we pull out now, yes it could well be overrun by terrorists who will launch attacks from there. But that wasn't the situation we went in there to fix. It's the one we created when there was no threat.

This is not the blame game. Many defenders of the Bush administration want you to think that rehashing the past is useless and that we've got to concentrate on what to do now. But that's bogus.

As has been quoted before, those who don't remember the past are doomed to recreate it. It is important to know what went wrong. And the main reason this administration doesn't want us to examine it is because if we do, we'll discover that it wasn't entirely an accidental misreading of botched intelligence but a concerted effort to go after Iraq and to make the facts fit. Paul O'Neill and Richard Clark both told us so in their books in 2004.

We've got to do more than just find a solution to the present problem in Iraq. We do have to know why it happened and who is culpable so that there will be no more Iraqs, just as for many years there were no new Vietnams. We didn't dare bungle into a country and a ten year commitment with no exit strategy because for years we had learned not to. We have to relearn that hard lesson again. So, yes we do need to examine what happened, how it happened and who knew what before it happened. It's called history. It can teach you something.

No comments: