Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Pre-War Intelligence and Ex Post Facto Stupidity

Andy McCarthy at The Corner discusses and article in the WSJ (registration required) about an ongoing investigation of the possibility that Muhammed Atta was in Prague prior to 9/11 and the entire Iraq-9/11 connection. He concludes with:

This is Able Danger all over again. The "Atta in Prague" possibility never fit the 9/11 Commission’s narrative, so it was buried with a shoddy, slap-dash investigation -- the same treatment Able Danger got; the same treatment the Clinton Justice Department's dramatic heightening of "the wall" between criminal investigators and intelligence agents got; the same treatment the internal assessment of the Clinton administration's performance in the run-up to the Millennium bombing plot got, and so on.

Meanwhile, in 1998 alone, we have $300K going from Iraq to Zawahiri (al Qaeda’s number 2); bin Laden’s famous February fatwa calling for the murder of all Americans and prominently featuring, as part of the justification, U.S. actions against Iraq; meetings in Iraq between Qaeda members and Iraqi officials in March; meetings in Afghanistan between Iraqi officials and al Qaeda leaders in July; the embassy bombings in August, after which, of all potential targets, the Clinton administration chose to retaliate against al Shifa, believed to be an Iraq/Qaeda joint weapons venture; an Iraqi member of al Qaeda (now held in Guantanamo Bay) traveling with Iraqi Intelligence to Pakistan to plot chemical mortar attacks on the American and British embassies there; and Iraq seeking to recruit Arab terrorists to blow up Radio Free Europe. Oh, and in February 1999, Richard Clarke objected to a suggestion that U-2 flights be used to try to find bin Laden because, if bin Laden learned the walls were closing in, Clarke wrote to Sandy Berger that “old wiley Usama will likely boogie to Baghdad.”

But the anti-war left is probably right. There was no connection between Iraq and terrorism. None at all. I don’t know why the right-wing nuts keep insisting there was.

Read both the WSJ article and McCarthy's discussion, which is right on target.

McCarthy's sarcasm notwithstanding, the "rightwing nuts" keep insisting that there was a likely connection for a very simple reason. In a case like this (i.e., Saddam, WMD, and possible connections to 9/11) it is better to err on the side of protecting and defending the U.S. and its citizens, since the evidence, while circumstantial, is (and was) both suggestive and compelling.

Intelligence data and analysis-- and the frequent need to make critical decisions based on less than perfect information-- is not at all similar to a jury's deliberations in a court of law. In the latter case, information and the criteria with which to assess evidence and connect dots is held to a higher standard, because the crime has already been committed. You are not, after all, trying to "prove" Saddam guilty of having weapons of mass destruction in a court of law; you are trying to assess the potential risk posed by his megalomaniacal behavior and technical capability based on whatever information is available and prevent him from using them.

Think of the consequences if you dismiss intelligence that overwhelmingly suggests one thing because there are a few dissenters in the intelligence community who disagree with the findings. If those findings relate to WMD or other serious threats to your country, which side would a competent leader want to err on?

Better yet, ask yourself which side would you like the President to err on if it was your life--or your family's-- that was at risk?

This is not a "theoretical" discussion. It is exactly what the current adminsitration had to grapple with after 9/11 and the death of 3000 Americans in an act of war. The choices and decisions that were made at that time were the best that could be made based on what we knew then--and I believe what we know now only further confirms the appropriateness of the decisions that were made.

And footnotes in intelligence report summaries; or commissions that ignore what doesn't fit their predetermined template; or revisionists from previous adminstrations will not change that fundamental point.

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