Wednesday, January 4, 2006
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Time keeps on slipping, slipping, slipping....
In Newsweek, Mark Hosenball has obtained copies of the sildeshow senior White House officials saw connecting Al Qaeda with Saddam Hussein:
The White House slide, dated September 2002, cites publicized allegations from a post-9/11 Czech intel report that Atta met the April before 9/11 with Iraqi spy Ahmed al-Ani, and asserts the United States had "no other" intel contradicting the report. The slide offers purported details about Atta's activities in Prague (including two earlier, confirmed visits). It says that during one visit al-Ani ordered an Iraqi intelligence officer to "issue funds to Atta." The slide also includes previous unpublished allegations that Atta met the Iraqi Embassy charge d'affaires and that "several workers at Prague airport identified Atta following 9/11 and remember him traveling with his brother Farhan Atta."Here's a link to the actual slides.
After reading the report, Mickey Kaus is puzzled:
It's always hard to believe top government officials actually make big war/no war decisions based on these simplified slide show briefings, as opposed to drilling down and assessing the veracity of the underlying raw intelligence. Did Cheney (who stuck with the Atta-in-Prague story) really not want to learn of any possibly-inconvenient doubts about what the briefings told him? Or are briefings less important than reporters tend to think they are?My hunch is that there were two things going on. The first thing is that Kaus is partially correct: Cheney really, really wanted to believe that there was a connection, and the slide provided it.
The second thing is more mundane but nevertheless true -- the higher you go up the policy food chain, the less detail in the memos. The reason is that the most precious commodity of cabinet-level officials is time. They're scheduled to within an inch of their lives -- the last thing they have time for is "assessing the veracity of the underlying raw intelligence."
This is why stovepiping is so dangerous. Even with a decision as momentous as going to war, a president is rarely going to devote the time to assessing the accuracy rate of intelligence briefings. More likely, they'll assume that if it gets to their desk there must be something there there.
I'm not saying that there wasn't a willful blindness in parts of the White House about this intelligence. But never underestimate the cognitive limitations of policy principals that time crunches create.posted by Dan on 01.04.06 at 10:55 AM
Everything Dan says here is true, and relevant. But so is one other thing.
This is that once a President has made a decision -- or even once word has filtered down that he will make a decision -- the imperative in any administration is to implement it, not to question whether it is based on sound intelligence or not. In some administrations (Reagan's, for example) important decisions usually got made after "the fellows" -- Cabinet officers and other relevant officials -- had reached something close to a consensus that the President sometimes modified but rarely supplanted entirely with his own views. In others, issues got fought through the bureaucracy and were sent up the chain for the President to decide (Nixon's administration worked in this way). If circumstances changed or new intelligence became available either system provided multiple opportunities for decisions once made to be reversed or modified, sometimes very quickly.
Because Bush lacks Reagan's self-confidence and Nixon's interest in the details of policy, he is severely inhibited from changing decisions and liable to make them in the first place based on very limited information. Because the people who work for him know their standing in his White House depends not on being right but on appearing loyal, a decision made hastily -- as the decision to invade Iraq appears to have been -- is much less open for reconsideration after it has been made, or even after administration officials perceive that it has been made.
This looks like an institutional problem, but this doesn't mean it has an institutional solution. "Stovepiping" in the intelligence community can compromise a sound decision making process, but if such a process does not exist in the first place eliminating stovepiping will not fix the problem.posted by: Zathras on 01.04.06 at 10:55 AM [permalink]
"This is why stovepiping is so dangerous. Even with a decision as momentous as going to war, a president is rarely going to devote the time to assessing the accuracy rate of intelligence briefings. More likely, they'll assume that if it gets to their desk there must be something there there.
I'm not saying that there wasn't a willful blindness in parts of the White House about this intelligence. But never underestimate the cognitive limitations of policy principals that time crunches create."
Dan is right on the mark with this comment. On a more mundane level, many of us know how this psychology works on the simple level of a boardroom committee. Once the game plan has been seized upon, strategies and action plans fall into place. Underlings who raise a hand to offer this or that reservation are shunted aside, or politely patronized.
However human and understandable ... this "mistake" has nonetheless resulted in negative consequences of monumental proportions. Up until recently Bush has persisted in his myopic perversity, maintaining a steadfast posture of denial in the face of indisputable facts.
The recent "victory" rhetoric shows how far this administration has drifted from a grip on reality. Short of intervention by the heavenly host, there is no way the U.S. military can secure the type of "victory" Bush has been peddling for domestic consumption. A standing army, no matter how professional and equipped, can never hope to achieve total victory against a faceless foe that blends with the local population and strikes from the shadows at will. In all the years of the Northern Irish troubles, the British army was unable to secure a final miltary victory against Provisional I.R.A. volunteers - and Ulster is miniscule compared to Iraq.
The best the Americans can hope for now is an orderly transfer of authority, and a phased withdrawal with a relative degree of honor. This continued cant about "victory" bears little relation to the type of fight the U.S. and its allies are engaged in.
What really astounds me even more than these intelligence screw ups, is that the administration NEVER appeared to understand the type of fight they were walking into - and that hardline "dead enders" (irony intended)in the Republican ranks - continue to cling to the illusion of victory with flags-a-flying.
Well, at least in the technology management world a high-level manager who can't smell the bullshit on the Powerpoint slide from the other end of the conference room, and _demand_ that the details be drilled down upon BEFORE the decision is committed, doesn't make it very far. Or at least his company doesn't; he himself might glide from CTO to CIO to CTO position for many a year.
This was also said to be the much-maligned Bill Clinton's strength btw: to be able to sense when he had to drill down, and to have enough fact at his braintips to force the presenter to be honest. Guess he doesn't hold a candle to those experienced ex-CEOs such as Rumsfeld and Bush though.
Crankyposted by: Cranky Observer on 01.04.06 at 10:55 AM [permalink]
Scheduled to within an inch of their lives for brush clearings and mountain bike rides?posted by: Snark on 01.04.06 at 10:55 AM [permalink]
"did not know much of the world...didnt much care" just enough to make the sale.posted by: centrist on 01.04.06 at 10:55 AM [permalink]
The 911/iraq link was key to making the sale!posted by: centrist on 01.04.06 at 10:55 AM [permalink]
Now 3 years on, the oil production that we were told would pay for the entire operation, is still well below prewar levels..."Progress"!posted by: centrist on 01.04.06 at 10:55 AM [permalink]
Kaus isn't puzzled, IMHO; he's 'puzzled'. It's pretty clear by now that the desire to invade and conquer Iraq was strong in Bush, Cheney and Rumsfield on Inauguration Day. 9/11 simply cleared all obstacles. All that remained was spreading a thick layer of BS and lies. If any PowerPoint presentation *didn't* carry the 'correct' intelligence results, that staffer was probably sacked, and the desired lies put in.
But Kaus will never admit it; he'll blather and BS about how this whole thing happened, while desperately dodging the truth.posted by: Barry on 01.04.06 at 10:55 AM [permalink]
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