Who is he?
Does he rue the day
when he picked up the phone, dialed the number, waited a ring
or two -- and then quickly hung up. He called later that same
day, this time getting a voice, and in panic hung up again. He
had stuff to tell a reporter about how the Bush administration
was distorting intelligence about Iraq, but he worried: Could
the reporter protect his identity?
This person of my
fervid imagination surely exists. In this country's vast intelligence
bureaucracy, there had to be more than one person who knew the
data was being cherry-picked, that conclusions were reached ahead
of the facts, that the politically dexterous were being praised
and the honestly skeptical were being ignored. But they kept their
mouths shut and if they reached for anything, it was for the next
file, not the phone.
In the latest
issue of Foreign Affairs, Paul R. Pillar, the CIA's top
guy for the Middle East during the run-up to the war in Iraq,
speaks from retirement to show how the Bush administration selectively
used intelligence. Among other things, the consensus at the CIA
was that there was no link between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda.
And while the spooks of Langley more or less concurred that Saddam
had weapons of mass destruction, they also thought his nuclear
program was years away from fruition. In short, there was no urgent
reason to go to war.
I wish I had known
that. I wish, also, that I had known that the CIA had sent about
30 Iraqi emigres back to their homeland in the months before the
war to ask close friends and relatives about Saddam's WMD programs.
The emigres interviewed weapons scientists. They learned that
the WMD programs had been abandoned. I know this now from James
Risen's book, ``State of War.'' I wish I had known it when it
has a right to its secrets. But the government does not have a
right to use its secrets to construct a false case for war. That,
though, is precisely what the Bush administration did. And now,
the administration is pursuing a policy of chasing down leaks
by chasing down the reporters who get those leaks. The most famous
of these cases involved Judith Miller of The New York Times
-- and leftist critics of the war mindlessly cheered on the special
prosecutor, thinking (if that's the right word) that his investigation
would somehow bring down the administration. All it did was bring
government is looking into other leaks to the Times,
as well as to The Washington Post. This time, it's conservatives
who are cheering. Who told the Times about those NSA
intercepts? Who told the Post about secret CIA prisons?
Why is it that the administration can leak classified stuff --
Dick Cheney's former aide, ``Scooter" Libby, now confirms
this was the practice -- and yet the critics cannot? What's secret?
Just what embarrasses?
It used to be that
the government went to some pains to avoid asking a journalist
about his sources. No more. Now it's the first stop in an investigation,
a short cut. The result can only be a further sense of intimidation
-- a message to potential sources that they had better keep their
mouths shut. Depending on what they have to say, they will get
no support from the public. The anonymous source, so essential
to the workings of our wonderfully chaotic democracy, has now
taken on the odor of the snitch. Conservatives and liberals can
now agree on one thing: a press that does not tell them what they
want to hear is not deserving of support.
the White House got Congress and the public to support the war
in Iraq was by monopolizing information. Cheney talked of Iraq's
``reconstituted'' nuclear weapons program. Condi Rice opened her
mouth and a ``mushroom cloud'' came out. Such nonsense largely
went unrebutted. The contrary facts -- no, the real facts
-- were known, but the knowers were mute. In his Foreign Affairs
article, Pillar mentions ``varying degrees of private
protest'' (my emphasis) by CIA analysts and others to the administration's
manipulation of intelligence, but this was clearly not enough.
What was needed - what was urgently required -- was a public
protest: a leak.
On ``Meet the Press''
recently, Pillar's article was a topic and Chairman Peter Hoekstra,
R-Mich., of the House Intelligence Committee asked, ``Where was
he before we went to war?'' Good question, but a better one is,
``What was he doing before the war?''
Maybe picking up
the phone and putting it down.
2006, Washington Post Writers Group