Friday, July 9, 2004

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Why Capturing the Friedmans freaked me out

Like David Bernstein, I watched Capturing the Friedmans last night and have not been able to not shake the heebie-jeebies since then. The reason?


The movie is about the bizarre case of Arnold Friedman, an award-winning teacher who lived with his wife and three children in Great Neck, NY. He tutored children in piano and computers on the side. In the late eighties, Friedman was arrested for solicitation of child pornography. Nassau County police started to investigate, and eventually charged Friedman and his 19-year old sone Jesse with sodomy and sexual abuse of minors. Eerily, during this entire episode, the family videoaped a lot of their deliberations about what to do. The documentary consists mostly of those videotapes plus contemporary interviews of the principals involved in the case.

After watching the movie, you come away convinced of two things:

1) Arnold Friedman is a pedophile who has sexually abused young children;

2) Arnold Friedman was, in all likelihood, innocent of the charges he faced.

For more on why I think this, read more from Debbie Nathan's Village Voice story (she appeared in Capturing the Friedmans as a talking head) and Harvey A. Silverglate and Carl Takei's discussion of the extras in the DVD version of the film.

What's so disturbing about the film is that watching it, I found myself desperately wanting Friedman to be guilty. However, it becomes clear that the dearth of physical evidence, combined with the questionable techniques employed in extracting information from alleged victims, raises a reasonable doubt about the Friedmans' guilt. Maybe something untoward happened, maybe not -- one has to think there's a high likelihood that Friedman would have molested a child in the future. All that said, the prosecution's version of events seems to stretch credulity. However, just because I want something to be true doesn't mean it is true.

Another reason I can't get the movie out of my head is the release of the Senate report on pre-war intelligence about Iraq. Here's a summary from the Financial Times.

The report blasts the intelligence community because it "ignored evidence that did not fit their preconceived notion that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction." However, the report finds that "no evidence that intelligence analysts were subjected to overt political pressure to tailor their findings," according to the New York Times.

Conservatives are outraged that the intel community suffered from such groupthink. Liberals like Josh Marshall are outraged because their groupthink that the Bush team browbeat the intelligence analysts found no support in the report.

In other words, a lot of people are disturbed because their preconceived notions of the turth did not find any empirical support.

Those outraged on both sides of the aisle should rent Capturing the Friedmans, and then take a good hard look at the evidence they've got to back up their assumptions.

UPDATE: the following paragraphs jumped out in Mike Dorning's story on the Senae report in the Chicago Tribune:

The U.S. was handicapped in accurately assessing Iraqi weapons programs, the committee found, because intelligence agencies had not made development of Iraqi sources a top priority. Instead, spy agencies depended on UN weapons inspectors to collect information for them until the inspectors were thrown out in 1998.

Consequently, after that the U.S. did not have a single human intelligence source of its own inside Iraq collecting information about its weapons programs, according to the report.

The report said intelligence officials attributed the difficulty in developing sources to the lack of an official U.S government presence such as an embassy to provide cover for clandestine intelligence case officers. The panel said the spy agencies appeared to have concluded it was too risky to send in an intelligence officer without official cover.

An idle question: if the CIA thought sending an intelligence agent to Iraq without official cover was too risky, is there anywhere the CIA would be willing to take this risk? What is the cost of this risk-aversion?

ANOTHER UPDATE: Matt Yglesias thinks I should know better:

This makes it sound like the political pressure theory is just something Josh cooked up sitting in his armchair at the R Street Starbucks but there are some serious issues to grapple with here.

The political pressure meme is supported by original reporting in anti-war liberal magazines like The American Prospect, The Nation, and Mother Jones by Jason Vest, Bob Dreyfuss, Laura Rozen and others, while pro-war liberal magazines like The New Yorker and The New Republic have printed original reporting on this subject by Seymor Hersh, John Judis, Spencer Ackerman and others. Perhaps these people are all wrong -- being misled by their sources, say -- but it's not some crazy idea they made up one morning.

I certainly wasn't trying to give the impression that Matt got, and I agree on the extent of the reportage here. However, the point of connecting this post to Capturing the Friedmans was that -- as in that movie -- a massive amount of circumstantial evidence can still lead to an incorrect conclusion. It was logical to assume that, since Saddam Hussein had attempted multiple times to acquire WMD, he'd be doing so post-9/11. The exile reports merely buttressed the preconception. Among those who believe the Bush administration to be a bullying, illiberal, overly power-maximizing bunch, I can easily see this meme being the logical conclusion as well. That doesn't guarantee that it' true, however.

posted by Dan on 07.09.04 at 03:38 PM


Liberals like Josh Marshall are outraged because their groupthink that Bush team browbeat the intelligence analysts found no support in the report.

Correct me if I am wrong, but I thought that the portion of the investigation that examines the use and/or possible misuse of the intelligence by Bush and senior White House aides is not expected to be completed until next year.

posted by: JAL on 07.09.04 at 03:38 PM [permalink]

You are not wrong, JAL, but the charge that administration officials pressured intelligence analysts to produce evidence of Iraqi WMD is one (fairly small) part of the larger issue involving administration misuse of the intelligence it did have. On this one point, the commission appears to have concluded that analysts were not pressured -- and it's a point it had to examine, as the report released this week dealt with the quality of our intelligence on Iraqi WMDs, how we got it, etc.

I think people ought to read and think about the Senate Intelligence Committee report carefully. A lot of people are using it to draw conclusions with implications for this election: did Bush misuse intelligence, did the administration lie to take us to war, and so forth. But the central division before the war was not between people and governments who believed Iraq had WMD and those who did not, but between those who believed Iraqi WMD represented a threat requiring action and those who did not.

In fact the intelligence appears to have been not only wrong, but badly wrong, not just since 2001 but going back a number of years. What else has CIA been wrong about? Were there failures in this case a result of conditions unique to Saddam's Iraq or a product of shortcomings in American personnel or procedures? If the latter, how to we fix the problem(s)? There are many questions along this line the answers to which cannot possibly swing more than a few dozen votes in a national election, but that from the standpoint of national interest are nonetheless very important.

posted by: Zathras on 07.09.04 at 03:38 PM [permalink]

On the question of "what else did they get wrong", the CIA website is fascinating. By law, the CIA puts out a semi-annual report on the atempted acquisition of WMDs by various countries, including the usual suspects.

So, you can see what the CIA was saying about Iraq back under Clinton, or just before 9/11, and see how it changed.

For example, here is ,a href="">Iraq, June 2000, and Iraq, June 2002. There is a big change in the emphasis on nuclear weapons, but not much new intel in 2002.

Or, you could look at Iran, and see if there has been some progression in the evaluations.

All in your copious free time, of course.

posted by: Tom Maguire on 07.09.04 at 03:38 PM [permalink]

Dan, This is a truly dissappointing post -- something that I'd expect from Sullivan or InstaIdiot, but not you. "Liberals like Josh Marshall are outraged because their groupthink that Bush team browbeat the intelligence analysts found no support in the report." The report specifically side-stepped this issue for the most part so it could be adopted unanimously. The decision to go to war was made early 02. Cheney visited Langely several times. The Pentagon set up its own Intel shop to side-step the traditional ones. Cheney *STILL -- TODAY!@$* makes absolutely absurd claims about Iraq. I mean come ON. The list keeps going.... We'll see when they release the report after the election the extent of it all.

posted by: Jor on 07.09.04 at 03:38 PM [permalink]

Actually, here, this
hits the spot. This is also decent

posted by: Jor on 07.09.04 at 03:38 PM [permalink]

WaPo also has some great stuff on A1. I swear to god Cheney is priceless. Republicans really should never be able to utter the phrase "personal responsibility/accountability" for the next decade or so. Its surreal.

posted by: Jor on 07.09.04 at 03:38 PM [permalink]

As Clausewiz pointed out, "Intelligence is always wrong." Anyone even moderately familiar with military history knows just how wrong it often is -- necessarily. The other side is, after all, trying to fool you.

Some examples for those who think this is unusual: Pearl Harbor (US fooled), Midway (Japan fooled), German WW II network in Britain (taken over completely by the British), the "Trust" (a fake resistance organization in the Soviet Union which was financed by the British and French). Experts can cite many more.

Then there is the question about what difference better intelligence would have made in this case. Suppose we knew in January 2003 what many believe to be true now, that Saddam had programs but not stockpiles. (I now think this the most likely answer, but do not exclude the possiblity that there are hidden stockpiles.) How would that change the arguments for war?

(Or, I should say, and this is a crucial point, for winning the war that had been going on since 1991. Saddam shot at our planes. We shot back. That's a war. Those who oppose Bush almost never propose a plausible alternative for resolving this, especially as the sanctions regime was crumbling.)

My answer: Mainly, it would reduce the risks of overthrowing Saddam. Especially for Iraqi civilians. One worry I had before the war is that Saddam would use his chemical and biological weapons and that hundreds of thousands might die. Knocking Saddma off before he could convert his programs into stockpiles seems like a good move to me.

Of course, I begin by thinking that most American leaders, Republicans and Democrats alike, want the best for the country. If you begin, as some do, by believing that either group is evil, then almost any information will simply be more evidence for that theory.

(Some might think that a theory that is not falsifiable is defective, by that very fact, but that is something I will leave to the philosophers of science.)

posted by: Jim Miller on 07.09.04 at 03:38 PM [permalink]

Jim -- Midway is not a great example for you. The only reason a battle was even fought there was because U.S. codebreakers figured out the Japanese battle plan well in advance.

posted by: Dan on 07.09.04 at 03:38 PM [permalink]

Dan - What I meant was that the Japanese were fooled, that, for example, until our carrier planes attacked, they did not know our fleet was there. That's why I wrote "Midway (Japan fooled)".

There is an interesting symmetry, in my opinion between the Pearl Harbor and Midway intelligence failures, with the Japanese making many of the mistakes before Midway that we did before Pearl Harbor.

posted by: Jim Miller on 07.09.04 at 03:38 PM [permalink]

I can believe that no one specifically pressured the CIA on WMD. But I don't think that lets the administration off the hook.

A number of studies have shown that even experts subconciously alter their answers towards what they believe their listeners want to hear. And the Bush administration had certainly made it clear what they wanted to hear.

In this case, of course, there may have been concious changes as well. On Washington Week in Review last night, there was even a quote of one CIA superior telling an analyst to forget about his doubts about the mobile labs intelligence because that was not what the adminstration wanted to hear.

posted by: Tom on 07.09.04 at 03:38 PM [permalink]

The problem isnt the WMD per se. But the nature of regime. UN got out of Iraq in end of 90´s (98 if i am not mistaken) in 3-4 yrs time Saddam was able to build some crude cruise missiles that could only be efficient with WMD... since the sanctions werent working simple because they are impossible to work unless a couple of thousand inspectors were there inspecting every chemical/biological place for next 15 years . There was just 2 options: regime change or let saddam free ride.

I doubt that people in field would have helped much: the Irak military are still saying they were convinced of WMD existence. Scientists say programs were stopped but has been found hidden components.

And about Wilson weird Niger trip...

posted by: lucklucky on 07.09.04 at 03:38 PM [permalink]

From the LA Times, Question of Pressure Splits Panel

By T.Christian Miller and Maura Reynolds, Times Staff Writers

WASHINGTON — Friday's Senate report on prewar intelligence drew a new battle line in the presidential campaign by failing to settle a politically volatile question: Did the White House pressure the CIA to concoct reasons to invade Iraq?

The question split the Senate Intelligence Committee's otherwise bipartisan unanimity on the intelligence failures in Iraq, with Democrats saying they had a "major disagreement" with Republicans over the issue.

Republicans noted in the report's conclusion that no intelligence analysts had said they were pressured. But Democrats objected, saying there was ample evidence that top Bush administration officials had intimidated analysts to twist their judgments about whether Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction.

In the end, the committee decided to put off consideration of the Bush administration's use of intelligence, all but guaranteeing the issue a prominent role in the campaign.

"The committee's report fails to fully explain the environment of intense pressure in which the intelligence community officials were asked to render judgments on matters relating to Iraq when the most senior officials in the Bush administration had already forcefully and repeatedly stated their conclusions publicly," said Sen. John D. "Jay" Rockefeller IV (D-W. Va.), the committee's ranking minority member.

. . .

posted by: jerry on 07.09.04 at 03:38 PM [permalink]

While being a critic of the intel agencies, I think that it was pretty clear that anytime anyone told the Bush Administration something it didn't want to hear that it signaled that that answer was unacceptable. So of course a weak intel bureaucracy cooked the books in order to serve up what the bosses demanded.

That having been said, I hated the whinging of McLaughlin. This is intelligence work, not baking cookies with Auntie Margeret. It is supposed to be tough. Was it any easier when the Soviet Union and KGB were at their height? How about dealing with the Nazi's during WWII?

If it was easy we could hire some illegal alien to do it for less than minimum wage for us. Hearing the complaints of the to-be CIA chief did not impress me with confidence. It was like hearing a doctor complaining about how he couldn't save lives because the people they kept on sending him were so sick. Dealing with life and death situations is the provence of a doctor. We don't expect miracles, but we expect the best money can buy.

The same thing with the intel agencies. Yes, their job is tough and fraught with danger to life and limb. But that's the job. Deal with it McLaughlin! Be a man and stop whinging, is what I say.

posted by: oldman on 07.09.04 at 03:38 PM [permalink]

You also have to wonder about Bush's decision making process. In Woodward's first Bush book, he describes the now familiar scene where Bush is questioning Tenet about WMD evidence. Bush states that that the evidence seems weak, and Tenet responds that it's a slam dunk. It doesn't appear that further evidence was provided. Yet, Bush and his administration went on the offensive with this weak information as if it were solid.

posted by: pedro on 07.09.04 at 03:38 PM [permalink]

Pedro the President allowed his judgement garnered over the years as a politician, and businessman to be over ridden by his DCI and you find fault in this? President Bush is a politician whose only expertise is in getting elected (in common with almost all politicians)his job requires him to be a generalist and to rely on his advisors or to become hopelessly bogged down in detail that no human could hope to master.

There is plenty to find fault with GWB's presidency but I don't think this case is one of them.

posted by: BillB on 07.09.04 at 03:38 PM [permalink]

Jim Miller points out that a theory that isn't falsifiable may have some problems. Claims that Saddam had WMDs appears not to be falsifiable. We thought we knew where the WMDs were, they weren't there. We expected to find them right away, we did not. OK, maybe we gave them to syria or to the Easter Bunny or something. No way to prove it isn't true. If we invade syria and don't find them, syria had plenty of time to ship them to morocco or chad. Unfalsifiable.

Lucklucky further points out that no amount of inspecting can reliably find WMDs if they are there.

Given these, the only reliable approach is to invade anybody we don't trust to use WMDs responsibly. Once we suspect they want them, there is nothing they can do to show us they aren't actually about to get them. Everybody we don't trust must be overthrown at our earliest convenience. Evidence doesn't matter. Positive evidence might send one candidate to the head of the line, but lack of evidence cannot excuse them.

I hate the direction this is going.

It goes further. If somebody attacks us with a WMD missile, we can tell where the missile came from. If they don't use a missile but we just get, say, antrax epidemics in New York and DC and SF etc, there isn't much for us to do about it but retaliate against all the usual suspects. Intelligence work might eventually turn up positive evidence against one of them (which might have been planted by another of them or some fifth party) but there is no way to clear any of them.

I hate this. We desperately need some new way to think about it. This way doesn't work.

posted by: J Thomas on 07.09.04 at 03:38 PM [permalink]

Pedro, the story about Tenet saying it was a slam dunk -- who told that story? How many people were supposed to be there, and who were they? Was there a videotape? Did the tape look like it was staged?

There's so much suspicion of untruth about all this, I'd feel a lot more confident if all the people involved spoke under oath and were then interrogated under polygraph.

Here's something else. About this Senate investigation -- doesn't it seem kind of odd that we wanted to get to the bottom of a problem and we depended [b]politicians[/b] to figure it out and tell the truth?

Wouldn't it be better to have a commission composed of physicists, or psychiatrists, or physicists [b]and[/b]
psychiatrists? Or engineers. Somebody who doesn't already have a reputation for lying....

posted by: J Thomas on 07.09.04 at 03:38 PM [permalink]

Cherry Picking intel analysis doesn't take any "pressure" at all.

posted by: Waffle on 07.09.04 at 03:38 PM [permalink]

Pre war everyone's (including other nations) intelligence indicated Iraq had WMD. For an analyst to stand up and say the consensus was wrong would have required an immense amount of brass. The situation was further complicated by the lack of on the ground resources to get information about the situation in Iraq and Iraq's pre war actions that made it look like they were concealing WMD. The intrinsic pressure to not disagree (absence any data to the contrary) with the consensus of all intelligence agencies would far exceed whatever pressure the administration could apply to the analysts. With the knowledge that Iraq had WMD in the past and with no information gathering in Iraq the tendency of any prudent, cautious, analyst would be to conclude they had WMD.

A conclusion that appears to have been incorrect.

posted by: TJIT on 07.09.04 at 03:38 PM [permalink]

The intelligence system is broken and it needs to be fixed. But everybody should remember hind sight is always 20/20. What seems perfectly clear after having 100,000 troops on the ground for months would have been very murky before the troops got there.

What I would like to hear is some thoughts on how group think in analysis can be avoided at an institutional level. The first thing would obviously be to get more data (hopefully not contradictory). Beyond that it is not an easy problem to solve because all groups tend to reach a consensus eventually. If consensus is not reached how do you tell who is right and who is wrong? I think it may require some sort of in house intelligence or terrorist futures market across a number of agencies.

A question I have not seen discussed is how do you balance the risk of being wrong about seeing a threat that does not exist (Iraq has WMD, but actually does not). Versus being wrong about not seeing a threat that does exist (Country x does not have WMD but actually does, and it transfers it to terror groups for use against the US).

And as a final entertaining point illustrating the difficulty of the problem we have Iran and their nuclear program.....

posted by: TJIT on 07.09.04 at 03:38 PM [permalink]

David Corn is money on this. Dan I know you acompletely support finding out all of this BEFORE the election right?

I asked Roberts the following question: Since 800 Americans lost the lives because of a phony threat assessment--and thousands of GIs lost limbs and the American taxpayers are out up to $200 billion--don't the relatives of the dead and injured and the rest of us have a right to know, before the election, whether the Bush Administration mishandled or misrepresented the intelligence?

The committee, he replied, "couldn't get it done" by now. This was, Roberts claimed, "a top priority," but he added that there were only twenty "legislative days" left in the Senate session, implying that was not enough time. "It is a priority," he repeated. But when another reporter asked, "In time for the election?" Roberts did not respond. Rockefeller then remarked that committee staff was not limited by the amount of days the Senate would be in session and could work on this matter through August and September. "The thought that we cannot get this done by the end of the year escapes me," he said. And a senior committee aide told me that this sort of project could be completed within months. "It is not hard work," he commented.

The rest of it is here


Corn apparently was able to find some of that non-existant evidence you were talking about and some other very interesting tidbits.
posted by: Jor on 07.09.04 at 03:38 PM [permalink]

It keeps getting better (from newsweek)...

But nobody inside the U.S. government had ever actually spoken to the informant—except the Pentagon analyst, who concluded the man was an alcoholic and utterly useless as a source. He recalled that Curve Ball had shown up for their only meeting nursing a "terrible hangover."

After reading Powell's speech, the analyst decided he had to speak up, according to a devastating report from the Senate intelligence committee, released last week, on intelligence failures leading up to the Iraq war. He wrote an urgent e-mail to a top CIA official warning that there were even questions about whether Curve Ball "was who he said he was." Could Powell really rely on such an informant as the "backbone" for the U.S. government's claims that Iraq had a continuing biological-weapons program? The CIA official quickly responded: "Let's keep in mind the fact that this war's going to happen regardless of what Curve Ball said or didn't say," he wrote. "The Powers That Be probably aren't terribly interested in whether Curve Ball knows what he's talking about."

posted by: Jor on 07.09.04 at 03:38 PM [permalink]

Zathras writes: "In fact the intelligence appears to have been not only wrong, but badly wrong, not just since 2001 but going back a number of years"

This just raises the question, though - why did uber-hawk Laurie Mylroie of the AEI write a book, released in early 2003, based on the theory that the CIA "systematically discredited vital intelligence about the threat of violence from Iraq and, in particular, about Saddam Hussein's own intentions"

So 18 months ago, the Iraq hawks were saying that CIA wasn't playing along, and was dismissing Iraq's threat. Thus Mylroie's title : "Bush vs. the Beltway: How the CIA and the State Department Tried to Stop the War on Terror".

Now, the hawks say the CIA was *over*estimating the threat, and that's why poor widdle Bush got hornswoggled into launching that war. It's not just Mylroie; Hoagland at the Washington Post did a similar flip flop.

So which is it?

posted by: Jon H on 07.09.04 at 03:38 PM [permalink]

"So 18 months ago, the Iraq hawks were saying that CIA wasn't playing along, and was dismissing Iraq's threat. Thus Mylroie's title : "Bush vs. the Beltway: How the CIA and the State Department Tried to Stop the War on Terror".

"Now, the hawks say the CIA was *over*estimating the threat, and that's why poor widdle Bush got hornswoggled into launching that war. It's not just Mylroie; Hoagland at the Washington Post did a similar flip flop.

"So which is it?"

It doesn't matter.

First, there was no possible way to prove that Saddam didn't have a nuclear program that was about to produce nuclear weapons, and for that matter there was no way to prove he didn't already have nukes. We still haven't proven that even now.

To argue that it definitely wasn't so, one approach would have been to track every iraqi who had the expertise to assist a nuclear progran and show that they were doing something else. But that wouldn't prove it, Saddam could have hired or kidnapped foreign experts to do the program. So track every nuclear expert in the world and show that not enough of them are missing. Then Saddam could have secretly had other iraqis trained well enough to do a bomb project. The claim that Saddam was ready to test nukes is not falsifiable.

So it doesn't matter how little evidence there was, if it was unacceptable for him to have nukes then the only possible response was to invade. That is the only possible response for any nation in the world that we can't accept having nukes. The evidence was only good for persuading the american public.

Second, the Bush administration clearly intended to invade iraq from the time they first learned that Bush was president, or before. Suppose there had somehow (as was impossible) been proof that iraq didn't have nukes. Would that have stopped them? Of course not. It would onliy have required a different approach to get the Senate and the public to go along. The WMD argument was chosen only because it was the one that looked easiest to push in public.

So it doesn't really matter what the CIA thought about the actual facts on the ground. That was irrelevant to the goals, the only way it mattered was that the CIA wasn't providing the propaganda that was needed.

The way this sort of thing might matter in later invasions is if the CIA thinks a nation doesn't have nukes yet, and we invade, and then they use them. But if Bush does win the election and invades some nation that uses nukes on our troops or something, that will only show the american public that Bush was right all along and these nations are very dangerous. The original claim is not falsifiable in any sense. Any nation that can't be trusted with nuclear weapons must be invaded, and the only question is which order to invade them.

Unless for logistic reasons we can't invade them all....

posted by: J Thomas on 07.09.04 at 03:38 PM [permalink]

How about this nugget:
>>Instead, spy agencies depended on UN weapons >>inspectors to collect information for them until >>the inspectors were thrown out in 1998.

This vindicates Scott Ritter's claim that the U.S. undermined the U.N. mission by infiltrating it with spies. Something Saddam used to justify throwing the inspectors out of the country. All in all it seems to me that everything Scott Ritter said proved to be right on.

posted by: Carl L on 07.09.04 at 03:38 PM [permalink]

Anyone else find it ironic that the CIA lost it's only intel sources in Iraq when the inspectors were thrown out? Wasn't that Saddam's claim from the start that the inspectors were American spies?

posted by: Tollhouse on 07.09.04 at 03:38 PM [permalink]

JThomas makes the perfect argument for why we don't ever want to put a neo-nut in power again.

posted by: Jor on 07.09.04 at 03:38 PM [permalink]


What has been interesting about the comments is just how fast it has formed into the usual partisan sniping.

The fact that we have an intelligence problem and need to fix it is completely ignored in the mad dash to score partisan points as quickly as possible.

Also ignored is the fact that a broken intelligence system has some nasty implications for decision makers as J. Thomas has pointed out.

posted by: TJIT on 07.09.04 at 03:38 PM [permalink]

TJIT wrote, "What I would like to hear is some thoughts on how group think in analysis can be avoided at an institutional level. The first thing would obviously be to get more data (hopefully not contradictory). Beyond that it is not an easy problem to solve because all groups tend to reach a consensus eventually. If consensus is not reached how do you tell who is right and who is wrong?"

One approach is to filter everything through at least two different teams who are given alternate assignments. Get a positive report and a negative report. Notice which data has to be discarded for each of them. When the stories start to converge then maybe you're onto something.

In all cases guess who has what incentives to make us believe things. When considering whether to discard data, consider how likely that data may have been fabricated by someone who wants to fool us.

We offered asylum and money to iraqi technicians etc who gave us WMD stories we could believe, and much less to those who didn't. There's reason to believe that the networks that got those people out helped them coordinate their stories. The defectors got rewarded personally and the networks got their country liberated. This is the other side of the torture problem. People who will say whatever you want to hear so you'll pay them aren't that different from people who'll say whatever you want to hear so you'll stop torturing them.

Better to question defectors under polygraph, and give them reasonable rewards for continuing to talk to you without a lot of stress or creative thinking. $20-$50 an hour, you decide how long you want to talk, they have no big incentive to make things up rather than get on with their lives.

Data from foreign intelligence services is always suspect. The israeli Mossad had the public reputation of providing great information about arabs, but in practice they have only told us what they wanted us to hear, and sometimes they've made things up. It seems like each new administration in Washington has to find that out for themselves, while the CIA has a longer memory. A classic example was Iran/Contra, where the israelis got money from iran for high-tech weapons that didn't work, and publicised it to make the iranian government look bad to its own people (for trying and failing to make a deal with the USA and israel) and also show the iraqis that the USA was double-crossing them. But if israel tells us something we can't just ignore it -- what if it comes true? What if they can make it come true?

There's no general solution. Various of our enemies and our friends (and we can't always tell the difference) try to fake data to make us do what they want. Individuals try to sell us stuff, and like used car salesmen it may not matter to them whether they're selling us lemons, all they care about is making sales and getting paid. We can try to get independent sources that match up, and they can try to make their lies look like multiple independent sources.

What's even worse is that we used to only have to figure out foreign governments. Now it's terrorist cells. Not just any terrorist cells, they've put out *franchises*. Anybody can find out how to do it, how to make pipe bombs, how to make car bombs, etc. Al qaeda infantry tactics come straight from the US marine manuals downloaded from the internet. They cut out the uniforms and rituals and such and learned how to train infantrymen like Marines in 40% of the time. But luckily they lacked heavy artillery and air support and tanks.... And anybody can do it. We could get all-american groups that use al qaeda's methods, and likely nobody would hear much about them until they actually went into action.

posted by: J Thomas on 07.09.04 at 03:38 PM [permalink]

Tollhouse, of *course* some of the UN weapons inspectors were our spies. Why would anybody think otherwise? And why shouldn't we put our spies into the UN inspection teams, provided they do their jobs correctly and merely report back to us about the results. We need to make sure the UN inspection teams do their jobs right, don't we?

Where we were over the top was sending UN inspection teams to places that had no particular connection to WMDs and taking GPS readings. And then during the war we got upset that Saddam had GPS jammers that were making our cruise missiles miss! We accused the russians etc of providing them. But why wouldn't he have them, he knew all along we were taking the readings.

posted by: J Thomas on 07.09.04 at 03:38 PM [permalink]

Dan, there is just one gigantic gaping hole in your new story regarding circumstantial evidence, where is anything to the contrary? On Iraq, there was plenty of evidence BEFORE THE WAR, that we are making a gigantic mistake. Just think baout the number of shit stories we heard before the war that completely fell through -- centrifuges, UAV, etc. etc. Ritter had said the country was as disarrmed as accountably possible while sanctions were going on. Where is the evidnece Bush pressed hard on the Iraq WMD evidence? The fact that he forgot to read the NIE?

Roberts on Feith on the talkshowes,

posted by: Jor on 07.09.04 at 03:38 PM [permalink]

JThomas: "So it doesn't matter how little evidence there was; if it was unacceptable for [Saddam] to have nukes, then the only possible response was to invade. That is the only possible response for any nation in the world that we can't accept having nukes. The evidence was only good for persuading the American public."

OK, J: then why the hell weren't we invading -- or at least bombing -- Iran FIRST, since it was closer to acquiring the Bomb than Saddam? We already knew it was at least as close to doing so; relatively little inspection by the Bush Administration would have revealed that it was considerably closer. But thanks to our distraction by the Neocons' harebrained confidence that we could quickly turn Iraq into an America-tolerant democracy with a (cheap and brief) invasion, Iran is now teetering on the very brink of acquiring the Bomb -- and our military ability to prevent this (and also to respond to crises created by the fact that North Korea and Pakistan have already acquired the Bomb) has been very seriously weakened. There IS such a thing as priorities, you know.

posted by: Bruce Moomaw on 07.09.04 at 03:38 PM [permalink]

Bruce, you suggest invading iran first. But look at a map. Could we invade through afghanistan? Truck our supplies in through pakistan and then afghanistan into iran? Invade through pakistan directly? That sounds better, but would the paks agree? Attack through the little corridor from turkey? Would the turks agree? Land the marines on the beaches from kuwait? Go through turkmenistan? But we aren't settled in there yet. And those guys have a bad habit of waiting until you really desperately need something and then they demand a bigger bribe.

Besides, iraq was crippled by many years of sanctions, and iran wasn't. And we'd beaten iraq once before and they knew in their bones they couldn't beat us. Iraq is a very good place to invade iran from. Easy to stockpile supplies there, a nice long border, and you don't have to worry about what the iraqi government wants.

If the iraqis hadn't resisted we'd probably be ready to invade iran last march. The neocons said the iraqis wouldn't resist.

If we believe the neocons are for real and not just a nutty cover story for something more sinister, then it makes sense to blame it all on them.

posted by: J Thomas on 07.09.04 at 03:38 PM [permalink]

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