Hershing the Buzz


It's always difficult to assess the validity of anonymous sourcing and institutional ax-grinding in Seymour Hersh's reporting on intelligence agencies, but this latest New Yorker piece, on the gap between what we thought we knew about Iraq's WMDs and what's actually turned up, has much interesting food for thought. For instance, this quote from, an "intelligence official":

"If you look at them side by side, C.I.A. versus United Nations, the U.N. agencies come out ahead across the board."

Doh! Then this worrying bit about the classic mistake of politicizing intelligence:

Kenneth Pollack, a former National Security Council expert on Iraq, whose book The Threatening Storm generally supported the use of force to remove Saddam Hussein, told me that what the Bush people did was "dismantle the existing filtering process that for fifty years had been preventing the policymakers from getting bad information. They created stovepipes to get the information they wanted directly to the top leadership. Their position is that the professional bureaucracy is deliberately and maliciously keeping information from them.

"They always had information to back up their public claims, but it was often very bad information," Pollack continued. "They were forcing the intelligence community to defend its good information and good analysis so aggressively that the intelligence analysts didn't have the time or the energy to go after the bad information."

Link via TAPped's Matthew Yglesias.

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  1. Well, Kenneth Pollack is wrong when he implies that somehow this a new phenomenon. A lot of the information about the USSR and its military and other strengths was hyped up during the Reagan administration, even though operatives were telling CIA, etc. that the USSR was in a bad way from the mid-1970s onward.

  2. Wasn’t it hyped even before then with race between the US and the Russians for ICBM’s in the late 50’s / early 60’s?

  3. A really good article. Make sure to read the whole thing!

    Although there may be some similarities to previous administrations’ cooking of intelligence, I think the details of how the Bush administration has done it are worth reading about and thinking about.

  4. Jean and Anon,

    I recall a Paris airshow (I think it was in Paris) where the Soviets flew a squadron of backfire bombers by the reviewing stand, and it was passed on that they had twice as many supersonic bombers than they really had.




  5. oops, I meant to say they flew over the viewing stands TWICE…

  6. Steve, I think that actually happened at a Moscow May Day parade circa 1955, and led to the phrase “bomber gap.”

  7. I am not saying that the USSR was never a threat, simply that a lot of menace of the USSR was hyped.

    Yes the “bomber” and “missile” gap arguments are a perfect example of this; Kennedy harped on these things, when they in fact were illusions, and the US had a significant lead in both areas. It was only after it was revealed that the Soviets were bluffing that the USSR started to spend a great deal on nuclear weapons; there is some irony there somewhere.

  8. Seymour Hersh – strike one.

    Anonymous sourcing – strike two.

    Transparent intra- and inter-agency backstabbing and positioning – strike three.

  9. So, R.C., other than Seymour Hersh, how is that count any different for the administration’s WMD claims?

  10. It is painfully obvious that the administration wanted a reason, backed by Intel, any Intel, to attack Iraq. They did not seem to care how, or from whom, they got that Intel. Their wonder boy is / was Ahmad Chalabi of the INC. He told the administration what they wanted to hear and he got millions of US taxpayer dollars.
    Ahmad Chalabi, is a convicted bank robber, as I am sure the administration knew, yet being a thief did not cause them to question his honesty when it came to a decision to put out troops in harms way.
    No, this administration wanted to go to war in Iraq since before they were even elected. All one has to do is read the position papers written by this administration?s biggest hawks to know that war in Iraq was what you would get as soon as they got into power.
    So yes, they hyped the Intel, and they got this country into a war of aggression on false Intel. Now the American taxpayer is going to have to pay the bill. And lots of American Soldiers are going to pay the bill with their lives so these people could have their war.
    With the exception of one, these people did all they could to avoid going to an actual war as a regular troop. Hell they might have gotten hurt, or even killed , and my God, then where would this country be without their wise minds to guide us in all the other wars they want us to fight. In the mean time, the administration?s friends in high places are going to make lots and lots of money off of war death and destruction, as usual.

  11. Jack,

    R.C. Dean would give Bush a blow-job if he thought it would him.

  12. Intelligence wasn’t perfect! It must have been a conspiracy! Sorry, Dan, you’ve fallen for a line of blather. There were many good reasons to atttack Iraq, from violating the ’91 ceasefire agreement to shooting at aircraft enforcing the no-fly zones to violating numerous UN resolutions. The WMD were just one argument. Everyone knew Iraq had them (including anti-war types).

    So now we are there, and can’t find the weapons. Perhaps not a surprise, because they had months to hide or destroy them while the UN dithered. However, we did find plenty of evidence of the WMD programs, as shown in the recent Kay report.

    Look at it this way: after Pearl Harbor, the first major US offensive was to invade French North Africa and fight Germans and Italians. Did any of them have anything to do with Pearl Harbor? No, but they were all part of the problem of worldwide fascism, and for strategic reasons we needed to defeat Italy and Germany before Japan. Similarly, defeating Iraq is just one step in defeating the Islamofascists.

  13. PapayaSF – Why did you come in here and blow a perfectly good arguement out of the water with facts and reason?

  14. Ahmed Chalabi is, at a minimum, a playa.

    Love the suits. Nice.

  15. PapayaSF,

    America went to war with Nazi Germany because the Germans declared war on the US, not vice versa. As I recall, the date of the declaration was December 11, 1941.

    The US/Britain/Free French invaded North Africa because the US insisted on doing so; Churchill wanted an invasion of France in 1942. The US claimed that was not possible at that time (not enough troops and material mustered, etc.), so they settled for North Africa in 1942, and then Italy in 1943 (the so-called “soft underbelly” theory).

    Why do I have to keep on explaining American history to Americans?

    Of course the problem with the entire “Let’s invade Iraq to defeat the Islamicists” (they aren’t fascists, and anyone who knows anything about fascism knows this) trope is that Saddam’s regime was secular. Saddam was a tyrant certainly, but a secular one. If you want to go after Islamicists, go after Saudi Arabia.

    As to the theory that they destroyed in the months prior to the invasion, as far as I can tell, there is no evidence of such, and to be frank, if they did do this, it only undermines even more the need for war – that is, if they were willing to destroy their weapons at a mere hint of war, well, a hint was all that was needed.

  16. joe,

    Chalabi looks like that short, squat actor from Saturday Night Live – the one with a triple chin. When first airlifted to Iraq, no one knew who the fuck he was.

  17. joe,

    I think he tries to style himself as an Iraqi de Gaulle; but he has nothing like the moral or martial fibre to do so.

  18. PapayaSF,

    BTW, the issue is not whether the intelligence was perfect; the issue is whether it was sculpted so as to ignore the caveats and counter-evidence that argued against said invasion.

    And one more thing, with regard to Pearl Harbor, it was recognized that the Germans were a graver threat to the US than the Japanese, ergo, seventy-five percent of America’s material production went toward the war in Europe. America’s invasion of Iraq is more like it focusing its primary attention on re-taking the Aleutian islands that Japan seized – Attu and Kiska – than it is invading North Africa, if the former had occurred.

  19. Jean Bart,
    “Why do I have to keep on explaining American history to Americans?”

    Because were all too busy studying the role of the Jacobins played in the French Revolution!
    See: “The French Revolution” by Nesta Webster

  20. Jean Bart, you have many details and a nice sneer at your command, but they don’t change the essential facts. If Saddam destroyed his weapons before the war but didn’t admit it, he was still in violation of UN resolutions and ceasefire agreements, so the war was still justified.

    Saddam’s Iraq was supposedly secular, but was allied with the Islamofascists, so it makes no difference.

    “Islamofascism” may not be precisely fascism according to some some definitions, but it’s a handy and descriptive shorthand that fits close enough. The Ba’ath Party has roots in ’40s fascism, as I’m sure you know.

    (About 20 years ago, you weren’t one of those distinction-without-a-difference folks who argued that the USSR and China and etc. “weren’t really communist,” were you?)

    Yes, of course the Germans were the greater threat. That’s my point: you sometimes have to fight a many-sided threat in an order that doesn’t make sense in some ways. For reasons too numerous for here, taking out Saddam was an important step early toward toward winning this war, like invading Italy before Germany or the Phillipines before Japan.

    As for going after Saudi Arabia, that’s also my point. They are, in many ways, the Germany and/or Japan of this war, and so they are last on our list.

  21. PapayaSF,

    When American conservatives start using UN resolutions as a means to justify war, I can only laugh. In any other circumstance, you would be lambasting the institution. Its blantant hypocrisy in other words.

    The observation about the Ba’ath party, even if its true, is undermined by the fact that the Ba’ath party is secular. Islamofascist is nice little cute phrase Americans have dreamt up to connect radical Islamicists with Nazi Germany because they have no other way of thinkging about political institutions. These Islamicists have very little in common with Nazis, except their barbarism. Hannah Arendt long ago pointed out the problem of confusing ideologies – it makes you very susceptible to all kinds of propaganda and manipulation.

    I don’t know what you mean by “weren’t really communists.”

    As to going after Iraq, the point is that the allies did go after Germany, not after the Aleutian islands. In this scenario Iraq is at best the Aleutians, not the soft-underbelly of the Reich. And to be frank, America’s forces are so stretched thin at this point, it couldn’t go after anyone else if it wanted to – it can barely fund its operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and there is no political will in the US or abroad to invade Syria, Saudi Arabia, or any other country. America blew its load on Iraq.

  22. So if we ignore the UN, we’re unilateralists, but if we enforce UN resolutions, we’re hypocrites? Just can’t win, it seems.

    The fact that the Ba’ath Party is supposedly secular means nothing when it comes to the terrorist war on the US. The Nazis were racists, but it didn’t stop them from collaborating with lots of non-Aryans.

    Bernard Lewis on the origins of the Ba’ath Party:


    In 1940, the French government accepted defeat and signed a separate peace with the Third Reich. The French colonies in Syria and Lebanon remained under Vichy control, and were therefore open to the Nazis to do what they wished. They became major bases for Nazi propaganda and activity in the Middle East. The Nazis extended their operations from Syria and Lebanon, with some success, to Iraq and other places. That was the time when the Baath Party was founded, as a kind of clone of the Nazi and Fascist parties, using very similar methods and adapting a very similar ideology, and operating in the same way — as part of an apparatus of surveillance that exists under a one-party state, where a party is not a party in the Western democratic sense, but part of the apparatus of a government. That was the origin of the Baath Party.

    My point about people who said the USSR wasn’t really communist was about hair-splitting definitions of ideological terms that only muddy the issues at hand. The real issue is: the US (and Western civilization in general) is under attack by Islamic radicals, so what do we do about it? Applying 20/20 hindsight to the tricky business of spying doesn’t really help much. And like all the rest of the post-9/11 anti-war blather, I see lots of critticism (easy) but no actual, workable, alternative plans (hard).

  23. T”hese Islamicists have very little in common with Nazis, except their barbarism.”

    Well, there’s the antisemitism, the reaction to capitalist decadence, the foundation in national (cultural) humiliation, the ultra-traditional gender relations, the conflation of political ideology and state religion, and the assumption of divinely ordained historical purpose.

  24. The problem is that lots of ideological systems have the same markers; yet they are distinct ideologies. The othe isssue is course that fascism was never codified in the way communism was; they didn’t have the time.

  25. ..and don’t forget the devotion to violent struggle as purifying force, the cult of the martyr, and the eschatology.

  26. “America blew its load on Iraq”

    JB-Is that why you’re upset? We didn’t save our load for you?

  27. Richard Perle called Seymour Hersh a “Terrorist”. We should give careful attention to any thing Mr. Hersh writes, as that sort of name calling, coming from Perle, constitutes is a very fine recommendation. I’m serious.

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