Sunday, February 06, 2005

North Korea Nukes

In matching a New York Times story last week disclosing that "American intelligence agencies and government officials [have] come to conclude with a near certainty that North Korea sold processed uranium to Libya," the Washington Post reported:

"The determination that North Korea provided the uranium hexafluoride was made by a technical group within the Energy Department. It examined containers obtained from Libya-- which gave up its nuclear programs in a deal with the United States and Britain-- and picked up signatures of plutonium produced at Yongbyon, where North Korea has its nuclear facilities...

"`This was not a conclusion reached by the CIA" or the intelligence bureau at the State Department, said the official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the intelligence matter, "`This was the lab technicians from DOE.'

"He said this gave added credence to the report because it was based not on a murky intelligence assessment but on hard data."

The point that the unnamed administration official was perhaps none too unsubtly trying to make was that the information could be trusted because came from somewhere other than the CIA. The agency's credibility has been so severely damaged that its intelligence can not only no longer be taken on face value, but perhaps not trusted at all.

In the short term, the Bush administration was able to use the CIA's skewed and faulty intelligence to convince Congress to authorize war with Iraq, but over the long term it may very well be a generation or longer before Congress, the international community-- and now apparently regular newspaper readers-- are likely to believe anything the CIA says. The President got his war with Iraq, but the CIA's credibility will be undermined long after George W. Bush leaves the White House.

What the Post account was saying between the lines-- the degree to which the CIA's intelligence are no longer trusted inside and outside government-- is perhaps an important news story in and of itself. Will the CIA's analyses be taken on face value on Capitol Hill? Are they trusted by policymakers anymore? That is an important story begging to be told.

Just how bad has been the damage already done? Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), the vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has said he does not believe the Senate would have authorized war with Iraq if it knew the CIA intelligence on Iraq was skewed: "We in Congress would not have authorized that war... If we know what we know know." Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Ka.), the chairman of the committee has similarly asserted that had the Senate been provided with accurate intelligence information as to whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, "I doubt that the votes would have been there."

For an account as to how wrong the CIA's intelligence was on Iraq, here is a piece I wrote for the American Prospect. The Senate Intelligence Committee's report on its investigation of the CIA's bungling of its intelligence on Iraq can be found here.

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