Thursday, December 06, 2007

John Bolton vs. the CIA

So John Bolton isn't happy with the new Iran NIE. Knock me over with a feather.

Bolton's response is more temperate than some--he merely hints that the whole thing is the product of some dark conspiracy, rather than saying it outright--but it's certainly no more honest than you'd expect. He makes five points, each one with a different kind of dodgy reasoning:

  • The 'uranium is uranium' dodge: "the enrichment of uranium, which all agree Iran is continuing, is critical to civilian and military uses." As, of course, is any material used in any military capacity. Ammonia can be used in fertilizer, and it can be used in truck bombs. The real question is: does Iran have ammonia?

  • The 'they don't explain the reasons' dodge: "the NIE....implies that Iran is susceptible to diplomatic persuasion and pressure, yet the only event in 2003 that might have affected Iran was our invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein....Nowhere does the NIE explain its logic on this critical point." But if the evidence is overwhelming that something happened, does the fact that we don't understand it mean it didn't happen?

  • The 'Iran lies' dodge: "the risks of disinformation by Iran are real....The sudden appearance of new sources should be taken with more than a little skepticism." Or maybe not:
    ...the Central Intelligence Agency and other agencies had organized a “red team” to determine if the new information might have been part of an elaborate disinformation campaign mounted by Iran to derail the effort to impose sanctions against it.

    In the end, American intelligence officials rejected that theory, though they were challenged to defend that conclusion in a meeting two weeks ago in the White House situation room, in which the notes and deliberations were described to the most senior members of President Bush’s national security team, including Vice President Dick Cheney.
    This was described as "a lively exchange". I'll bet it was.

  • The 'overvaluing new intelligence' dodge: "It is a rare piece of intelligence that is so important it can conclusively or even significantly alter the body of already known information. Yet the bias toward the new appears to have exerted a disproportionate effect on intelligence analysis." Except that it isn't a single piece of evidence:
    The secret intelligence that produced this reversal came from multiple channels -- human sources as well as intercepted communications -- that arrived in June and July. At that time, a quite different draft of the Iran NIE was nearly finished. But the "volume and character" of the new information was so striking, says a senior official, that "we decided we've got to go back"....A senior official describes the summer's windfall as "a variety of reporting that unlocked stuff we had, which we didn't understand fully before."

  • The 'State Department geeks were behind this' dodge: "many involved in drafting and approving the NIE were not intelligence professionals but refugees from the State Department". Mister Ad, meet Mister Hominem. Seems to me Bolton's real gripe is not that policy people were involved, but that the 'right' kind of policy people weren't:
    "Back in 2002, one of the knocks on the process at the time was that information was not vetted by analysts and was being rushed into the Oval Office," said the senior U.S. intelligence official.

    That experience showed, the official said, that bringing unvetted intelligence to senior officials could backfire.

    This time, even as they vetted the new intelligence and launched into major revisions of the estimate on Iran's nuclear program, intelligence officials said, they deliberately shielded analysts from administration officials and policymakers.
    Shorter Bolton: you can't get reliable intel without a little stovepiping.
[Hat tip: Tbogg]

Update: Commenter DennisSGMM at (new) Tbogg's gets it just right:
Bolton exemplifies that old quote:
“If the facts are against you, argue the law. If the law is against you, argue the facts. If the law and the facts are against you, pound the table and yell like hell.”
Other Update: K-Lo had a different response:
From a friend: "You should tell Romney's people to announce that Bolton will be SecState and it will be game over as far as a lot of conservatives are concerned."
Oh, please please please please let Bolton feature prominently in the Republican nominee's campaign. Please?