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Rogue Bureaucrat

The problem with Paul Pillar's Foreign Affairs piece.

7:20 AM, Feb 23, 2006 • By THOMAS JOSCELYN
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IT IS NO SECRET that the Bush administration and the old guard at the CIA have not, in many instances, seen eye to eye over the last several years. Leaks and anonymously-sourced complaints from agency officials have dominated above-the-fold news stories. The rancorous bureaucrats at the agency have been so hostile to the administration, in fact, that Senator John McCain warned, on ABC's This Week, in November 2004, that "This is a dysfunctional agency and in some ways a rogue agency."

Porter Goss, who became the director of Central Intelligence in April 2005, has confronted this highly-politicized bureaucracy. The result has been a staggering amount house cleaning. Various press accounts have discussed the ongoing purge of senior-level officials from Langley. But the bureaucrats who once ran the nation's supposedly super-secret spook organization aren't going down without a fight. Bureaucracies die hard.

Enter Paul Pillar.

Few, if any, old guard bureaucrats have been more vocal in their opposition to the Bush administration than the man who was the former National Intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asia at the CIA from 2000 to 2005.

We still don't know who leaked Pillar's own National Intelligence Estimate, which painted "a dark assessment of Iraq," to the New York Times in September 2004. That leak, which was disclosed just several weeks prior to the presidential election, seemed perfectly timed to discredit the Bush administration and its policies. But it is clear that Pillar long ago discarded his "neutral role" as an intelligence analyst and "inject[ed] himself in the political realm," as Guillermo Christensen, himself a 15-year veteran of the CIA, recently explained in the Wall Street Journal.

It is no surprise, then, that upon departing Langley we find Pillar continuing his career as a critic of the Bush administration in the pages of Foreign Affairs Magazine. With more than a dab of irony, Pillar claims to expose the ways in which the administration "disregarded the community's expertise, politicized the intelligence process, and selected unrepresentative raw intelligence to make its public case."

But while there are certainly legitimate, rational criticisms to be made of the Bush administration's prosecution of the war on terror, the war in Iraq, and the intelligence that informs its handling of both, you will not find any of them in Pillar's piece. Instead, Pillar demonstrates that he himself is a master of the art of politicizing intelligence. Far from being a dispassionate analyst, Pillar practices the very same "manipulations and misuse[s]" he claims to expose.

CONSIDER, for example, Pillar's discussion of the prewar investigation into Iraq's relationship with al Qaeda. The "greatest discrepancy," Pillar claims, "between the administration's public statements and the intelligence community's judgments concerned not WMD (there was indeed a broad consensus that such programs existed), but the relationship between Saddam and al Qaeda. The enormous attention devoted to this subject did not reflect any judgment by intelligence officials that there was or was likely to be anything like the 'alliance' the administration said existed." Moreover, "The intelligence community never offered any analysis that supported the notion of an alliance between Saddam and al Qaeda."

The only reason analysts investigated the relationship, according to Pillar, was because they were continually peppered with pointed questions by the administration, which was on a pre-determined path to war. And the administration's fixation on this non-existent relationship diverted the CIA's preciously scarce resources. So much so that "It is fair to ask how much other counterterrorism work was left undone as a result."

It would be difficult to construct a more skewed history of events.

TO UNDERSTAND how out-of-step with reality Pillar's narrative is, consider what the Senate's bipartisan investigation into the uses of prewar intelligence had to say about the CIA's investigation into Iraq's al Qaeda ties. Far from being an unjustified concern of the Bush administration alone, Pillar's own division at the CIA was independently investigating the issue as the war approached.

The Senate Intelligence Committee's Report on the U.S. Intelligence Community's Prewar Intelligence Assessments On Iraq, released July 7, 2004, discusses "five primary finished intelligence products on Iraq's links to terrorism" produced by the CIA. The last two of these, versions of a document called Iraqi Support for Terrorism, are of paramount importance since they were produced in the months leading up to the war.