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Paul Pillar Speaks, Again

The latest CIA attack on the Bush administration is nothing new.

3:15 PM, Feb 10, 2006 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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IN A BREATHLESS front-page, above-the-fold article in today's Washington Post, Walter Pincus reports that a former senior CIA official named Paul Pillar accuses the Bush administration of "misusing" intelligence to take the country to war in Iraq. According to the Post account, Pillar uses a forthcoming article in Foreign Affairs to claim that the Bush administration "politicized" the intelligence on Iraq.

Bush administration policymakers did this subtly, Pillar says, by repeatedly asking the CIA questions about Iraq, its weapons programs, and its support for terrorism. This "politicization" was apparently so subtle that it escaped the notice of both the Robb/Silberman Commission and the bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee report, which both found that no such politicization took place. If Pillar entertains the possibility that Bush administration officials asked tough questions because after September 11 they were genuinely concerned about the threat from Iraq, the Post article nowhere mentions it.

Pillar making claims about politicized intelligence is rich. In a column published September 27, 2004, Robert Novak identified Pillar as a speaker at a private dinner in California. Pillar's "management team" at the CIA, where he was employed as the national intelligence officer on the Near East/South Asia desk, approved the appearance. According to Novak, the ground rules for the speech were based on the "Lindley Rule," which holds that the speaker, his audience and the event are not to be disclosed, "but the substance of what he said can be reported." That substance, apparently, was a harsh assessment of the Bush administration's handling of Iraq.

Think about that: A senior, unelected CIA official--Paul Pillar--was given agency approval to anonymously attack Bush administration policies less than two months before the November 2, 2004, presidential election. That Pillar was among the most strident of these frequent critics--usually in off-the-record speeches to gatherings of foreign policy experts and business leaders--was well known to his colleagues in the intelligence community and to Bush administration policymakers. His was not an isolated case; CIA officials routinely trashed Bush administration policy decisions, often with official approval, in the months leading up to the Iraq War and again before the election. Pillar, who had complained to a CIA spokesman that someone had violated the ground rules by providing his name to Novak, simply got caught.

According to the Washington Post, Pillar's forthcoming critique will be "the first time that such a senior intelligence officer has so directly and publicly condemned the administration's handling of intelligence." Nonsense. In recent weeks, Pillar has trashed Bush administration policies to the Los Angeles Times and reporters for the Knight-Ridder newspaper chain. And before that, Pillar put many of these condemnations in a book. The relevant sections were published more than two years ago. Not exactly breaking news.

The book is called Terrorism and U.S. Foreign Policy, and it was originally published in 1999 by the Brookings Institution. A new edition, with an updated introduction, was published on January 1, 2004. Pillar uses the new introduction to accuse the Bush administration of misleading the U.S. public by dishonestly conflating the war in Iraq and the broader war on terror. It is exactly the kind of critique one might expect from an analyst who had long sought to downplay the role of states in terrorism. Terrorism, in Pillar's view, is something to be managed, not something to be fought and certainly not something to be defeated. From this follows Pillar's conclusion that military force is usually a counterproductive in managing terrorism. Reasonable people can agree or disagree with these views, but even as he articulated them in 1999, they are plainly odds with Bush administration policies and the global war on terror.