The Magazine

The New Republic strikes back.

Jul 7, 2003, Vol. 8, No. 42
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While Hayes accuses us of "limitless credulousness," he himself stretches credulity when he asserts that Vice President Cheney's highly unusual prewar visits to the CIA occurred merely because Cheney "might want to be briefed as thoroughly as possible." After all, we are not the only journalists who have reported that the visits were perceived by many at Langley as an effort to pressure intelligence analysts. On June 5, the Washington Post, drawing on interviews with senior intelligence officials, wrote that "some analysts felt they were being pressured to make their assessments fit with the Bush administration's policy objectives." Evidently the Post is displaying "limitless credulousness," too.

More broadly, Hayes tries to exonerate the Bush team's inaccuracies by noting that "intelligence is an art, of course, not a science." Perfectly true, and perfectly irrelevant. The issue is how the Bush administration represented the qualified, imperfectly sourced, inconclusive, disputed, and, in some cases, discredited evidence the intelligence community had about Iraq's nuclear program and al Qaeda links. Again and again, the administration asserted what "we know" on the basis of "the evidence," when the intelligence agencies knew no such thing. Hayes commends the administration for "emphasizing the most alarming evidence, considering the most dangerous possibilities, and outlining the most terrifying threats." But, by knowingly failing to communicate the less alarming, dangerous, and terrifying possibilities, the administration prevented the public and Congress from making an informed choice about whether or not to go to war.

John B. Judis, Spencer Ackerman

THE NEW REPUBLIC

Washington, DC

STEPHEN F. HAYES RESPONDS: There can hardly be a better example of the problems with Judis and Ackerman's article than the second paragraph of their letter. The words of FBI Director Robert Mueller that they quote--"from flight reservations to car rentals to bank accounts"--are from a speech he gave to the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, California, on April 19, 2002. The speech had nothing whatsoever to do with Iraq-al Qaeda links. He did not mention Mohamed Atta. He never referred to Iraq. Here is the relevant section, which came in the midst of Mueller's recollection of the September 11 attacks:

The FBI began working in concert with its many partners to find out everything we could about the hijackers and how they pulled off their attacks. We ran down literally hundreds of thousands of leads and checked every record we could get our hands on, from flight reservations to car rentals to bank accounts. What emerged from our massive investigation was a sobering portrait of 19 hijackers who carried out their attacks with meticulous planning, extraordinary secrecy, and extensive knowledge of how America works. (You can read the full speech at www.fbi.gov/pressrel/speeches/speech041902.htm.)

Judis and Ackerman continue: "American intelligence concluded Atta was in Virginia Beach at the time," which is "also the position of the Czech government."

Both of those claims are wrong. "American intelligence" has come to no such conclusion. Numerous high-ranking intelligence officials believe to this day that a meeting between Atta and Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani took place. Others disagree. (Those who believe the meeting took place cite two reasons: the intelligence provided by the Czechs and Atta's bizarre travel the previous spring en route to the United States. Atta flew to Prague from Germany on May 30, 2000, but was initially denied entry because he did not have a valid visa. He returned to Germany, obtained the proper paperwork, and hopped a bus back to Prague. He left for the United States the day after arriving in Prague for the second time.)

As for the Czech government, no fewer than five Czech officials believe the meeting took place: Milos Zeman, prime minister; Stanislav Gross, interior minister; Martin Palous, Czech ambassador to the United States; Hynek Kmonicek, Czech ambassador to the U.N.; and Jiri Ruzek, Czech intelligence chief. (Former President Vaclav Havel has cast doubt on the meeting, at one point suggesting only a 70 percent chance that it took place.)

Ackerman and Judis continue: "The Bush administration's public statements were still dishonest. In September 2002, Vice President Dick Cheney said accounts of the meeting were 'credible.'"