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Correcting the Rewritten Record

7:10 PM, Sep 23, 2011 • By MICHAEL ANTON
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It’s also worth noting that even the judgment that Iran halted weaponization in 2003 was later called into question. The IAEA found evidence that Iran was working on “two-point implosion” technology, which is weaponization pure and simple.

Hayden then turns to Syria. It’s worth recalling the four key judgments he presented to the president: “That’s a reactor. I have high confidence. That Syria and North Korea have been cooperating for 10 years on a nuclear reactor program, I have high confidence. North Korea built that reactor? I have medium confidence. On [the question whether] it is part of a nuclear weapons program, I have low confidence.”

That is word-for-word from the Woodward account and restated in Hayden’s new piece, where he adds: “To be clear about the last point: I told the president that al-Kibar was part of a nuclear weapons program. Why else would the Syrians take such a risk if they were not gambling on such a game-changer? And, besides, we could conceive of no alternative uses for the facility.” Persuasive. So why only “low confidence” that it was part of a weapons program? Because “we could not identify the other essentials of a weapons program (a reprocessing plant, work on a warhead, etc.).”

This is curious. Imagine, say, living next door to man who has in his garage a chassis, an engine block, some rims, a gas tank, a transmission, and a variety of tools. Many of these parts are coming together in a way that suggests he is building a car. In addition, he is a client of longstanding with a well-known auto parts dealer. But there are things you don’t see: seats, spark plugs, a fan belt, and gasoline. Would you derive simply from their apparent absence “low confidence” that he is building a car? Those parts might just be somewhere else. Or perhaps he has not yet procured them. Aren’t these explanations far more plausible than to doubt his purpose in building a car?

Hayden continues: “Woodward describes the intelligence as fact-based but then says it was shaped to discourage a preemptive U.S. strike.” Not exactly. What Woodward actually reports is that Hayden himself “later told others that he stuck to the intelligence facts and intentionally shaped his presentation that way to discourage a preemptive strike because the intelligence was weak” (emphasis added). Hayden does not deny saying what Woodward attributes to him.

The most important bit of news in Woodward’s piece had nothing to do with the reactor itself or the intelligence on it but with the behavior of the intelligence community. It bears repeating: “At the CIA afterward, the group of specialists who had worked for months on the Syrian reactor issue were pleased they had succeeded in avoiding the overreaching so evident in the Iraq WMD case. So they issued a very limited-circulation memorial coin. One side showed a map of Syria with a star at the site of the former reactor. On the other side the coin said, ‘No core/No war.’

Hayden acknowledges that this detail might have generated “confusion” on how the intelligence community sees its role. Shaping presentations to influence policy is “not what intelligence does,” he insists. The coin was misunderstood. “‘[N]o war’ was never taken to mean no kinetic option against al-Kibar. Rather, it referred to the overall policy direction we were following: Whatever we did to make this reactor go away (‘no core’), it could not lead to a generalized conflict in the Eastern Mediterranean (‘no war’).”

This passage is especially puzzling. If the intelligence community is just supposed to present facts, then what policy role could it possibly have? What “policy direction” could it have been following and from whom? Also, who is the “we” here? Certainly not the intelligence community, which properly would have no role whatsoever in “mak[ing] this reactor go away.” That would be the job of the U.S. Air Force and Navy, if called upon. Similarly, while those who opposed a strike on the reactor were concerned that such a strike might lead to a wider war, the intelligence community would probably have had no role in preventing such a war. Unless, that is, it saw itself not as a presenter of facts but as an active shaper of policy.

Beyond this, the phrase, “Whatever we did to make this reactor go away,” is especially curious because “we”—whether defined as the intelligence community or the United States government—did nothing. This is not necessarily to criticize the decision made by President Bush. He has been widely derided for once describing his role as “the decider” but the phrase is exactly right. The call was his to make, for whatever mix of reasons that led him to the decision.

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