Columnist Robert Novak is hardly a neoconservative.
He has often been harshly critical of Israel, which would automatically disqualify
him from joining that elite group, but he apparently shares the neocon view
of the U.S. intelligence community. In a Christmas Eve column called "Subverting
Bush at Langley," Novak, sometimes referred to by his critics as "Robert
No-facts," has hit his journalistic lowest point since he deliberately
outed CIA officer Valerie Plame in July 2003. Novak argues that the CIA has
been systematically seeking to destroy the Bush presidency, a neocon theme favored
by the likes of John Bolton and Norman Podhoretz, among others.
Basic neocon doctrine posits that the U.S. policy in the Middle East that seeks
to replace corrupt Arab states with democracies that will be friendly to Israel
must be right, so therefore the failure of those policies must be the result
of a stab in the back by traitors within the system. To complete the circle,
neocons note that the intelligence community has long been lukewarm on the Iraq
war and other ventures, so it must be sheltering the traitors in question. The
neocon syllogism deliberately ignores the fact that the CIA was created in 1947
to provide objective information to policymakers, not to support a particular
position or agenda, meaning that if the CIA is doing its job properly it will often
find itself at odds with politicians. It also ignores the possibility that the
Iraq war and the tight circle of neocons who promoted it might have been wrong
both in their basic assumptions about the nature of the Middle East and also
in terms of their prescriptions for making it a more congenial place. Neocons
have never admitted to being wrong, even with Iraq and Afghanistan tumbling
down around their ears. The lesser mortals who get their hands dirty attempting
to carry out neocon policies must also take the blame for the mistakes.
Novak gathers many of the neocon critiques of the intelligence community into
one broad indictment, claiming that he can discern a "defiant undermining
of President Bush." His article claims that the CIA deliberately destroyed
the tapes of the "enhanced" interrogations of several key terrorism
suspects "in the face of the administration's resistance," that the
CIA produced a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran that does not examine
contradictions with an earlier NIE written in 2005, and that the CIA has refused
to share information on the Israeli attack on Syria that took place in early
Novak's claims are themselves agenda-driven, and he seems not to know how the
intelligence community is currently structured. He also tends to forget that
both the CIA and the director of national intelligence work for the president
and are completely responsive to his orders – they do not and cannot issue "rogue"
intelligence assessments to embarrass the White House. Nor does the U.S. intelligence
community decide "on its own what information the public shall learn,"
as Novak avers. The release of classified information is up to the president.
No experienced intelligence officer or anyone who even knows how the system
works would claim that the interrogation tapes were destroyed without White
House consent. The director of operations who ordered the destruction of the
tapes, Jose Rodriguez, is an extremely cautious man who is himself a lawyer.
When he acted, he acted under orders.
Regarding the NIE, which Novak describes as "flying solo" by the CIA,
even the president and vice president have reluctantly agreed that it is the
best possible analysis based on all the information available to the United
States government at the present time. That does not make the document infallible,
and it does not mean that parts of it might well be rewritten as new information
is acquired. The White House has avoided criticizing the report per se,
and it has not allowed the conclusions to shift the administration's preferred
policy options, which continue to consist of asserting a hard line against Iran.
In addition, Novak seems unaware that the NIE is a consensus document that was
issued by Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell, not by the CIA,
nor that it was reviewed and tested both by 16 separate intelligence agencies
and the White House before it was issued. It was only released in an unclassified
summary form because it was feared that either Congress or the Israelis, both
of whom received full classified copies, would selectively leak it to suit their
Novak's claim that intelligence on the Israeli attack on Syria is being deliberately
withheld by the CIA is also nonsensical, particularly as the CIA does not control
either the National Security Agency or the National Geospatial Intelligence
Agency, where electronic intercepts and satellite photo surveillance are now
located. Presumably, those are the two government components that would have
information on the Israeli attack, if such intelligence even exists.
The really pathetic part of the Novak story is that his apparent source for
the allegations about the CIA is Congressman Peter Hoekstra of Michigan, who
is the ranking Republican on the House Select Intelligence Committee. If one
were to assume that Hoekstra's years of experience on the committee, which he
once headed, means that he is a reliable source with a firm grasp of the difference
between politically contrived fiction and reality, one would be wrong. Army
intelligence once had a source description referred to as an F-6. An F-6 reported
unverifiable information and was himself of uncertain reliability. Hoekstra
is an F-6.
Hoekstra is, in fact, one of the propagators of the school of thought that
relies on the intelligence "stab in the back" as the principal reason
for the Republican Party's complete failure in Iraq and the so-called global
war on terrorism. When a politician finds himself in an untenable position of
his own making, he instinctively tries to find a scapegoat. In July 2006, Hoekstra
stated, "In fact, I have long been convinced that a strong and well-positioned
group within the Agency intentionally undermined the Administration and its
policies." He has called for a major shakeup at the CIA not because it
has been wrong about issues, but because it is not, in his opinion, loyal enough
to the president. And it is so much easier to blame faceless intelligence analysts
than to admit that the White House has been catastrophically wrong about Iraq,
at a cost of 4,000 American lives and trillions of dollars.
In Novak's column, Hoekstra describes the CIA as "incompetent, arrogant,
and political," which is a trenchant description of the congressman himself.
Hoekstra has had his share of foot-in-mouth moments. On June 22, 2006, he and
Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum announced at a press conference in the Capitol
of mass destruction consisting of 500 chemical devices had been located
in Iraq, vindicating the
presidential decision to go to war. The weapons turned out to be discarded artillery
shells, and the Hoekstra-Santorum claims were quickly disputed by both the Pentagon
and the intelligence community. The Iraq Study Group also reexamined the report
and determined that Saddam's chemical weapons had been destroyed in 1991.
Hoekstra is also eager to come to grips with axis-of-evil Iran. In September
2006, the BBC, CBS News, and the Associated Press all reported how Hoekstra's
House Intelligence Committee received an unusual rebuke in the form of a letter
from the International Atomic Energy Association for what it described as "serious
distortions of the agency's own findings on Iran's nuclear activity." The
letter raised objections over the committee's report of Aug. 23,
which stated incorrectly that Iran had enriched uranium to weapons-grade level.
The IAEA had in fact only found small quantities of enrichment at far lower
levels, 3.5 percent versus the 90 percent that Hoekstra's committee was claiming.
The letter also took "strong exception to the incorrect and misleading assertion"
that the IAEA removed senior safeguards inspector Chris Charlier for "allegedly
raising concerns about Iranian deception" over its program. Charlier had been
removed at the request of Tehran, which has the right to make such an objection
under agreed rules between the agency and all states, but he remained head of
a section investigating Iran. The IAEA added that it was "outrageous and dishonest"
to suggest in the report that Charlier was removed for not adhering to a completely
fictitious "unstated IAEA policy barring IAEA officials from telling the
whole truth" about Iran.
Robert Novak's rearranging of facts that have already been contorted by Congressman
Hoekstra makes for an interesting read, but the defamation of thousands of professional
intelligence officers to shield a wholly incompetent Bush administration from
its manifold failures is little more than a cheap shot. It does not deserve
to be on the editorial page of one of America's leading newspapers.