The New York Times published some more classified information Sunday, this time a
leak of a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) prepared in April. The NIE
represents the collective judgment of the 16 agencies in the U.S. intelligence
The headline said: "Spy Agencies Say Iraq War Worsens Terrorism Threat," but that's
not exactly what reporter Mark Mazzetti said in his story. Here's his lead
"A stark assessment of terrorism trends by American intelligence agencies has found
that the American invasion and occupation of Iraq has helped spawn a new generation
of Islamic radicalism and that the overall terrorist threat has grown since the
Sept. 11 attacks."
Mr. Mazzetti indicated he hasn't seen the NIE himself, but is reporting on what his
sources have told him is in it. But people who leak classified information have
agendas, and that agenda rarely is to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing
but the truth. Alas, that rarely is the agenda of New York Times reporters either,
when they have a story they think will embarrass the Bush administration.
"The New York Times characterization of the NIE is not representative of the
complete document," said Peter Watkins, a White House spokesman.
"Several officials I've spoken with who worked on...the final assessment actually
reached a different conclusion than what is being reported," said "Mac Ranger," a
former Army intelligence officer.
Mr. Mazzetti said he got his lead from the opening section of the report, which
"cites the Iraq war as a reason for the diffusion of jihad ideology."
While no reasonable person can deny that the Iraq war is "a reason" for the
diffusion of Islamist ideology, there is nothing in the language of the report
itself that Mr. Mazzetti quotes that indicates the intelligence chiefs consider the
war in Iraq to be the primary reason for the spread of Islamist ideology, as the
Mr. Mazzetti quotes "one American intelligence official" as saying the report "says
that the Iraq war has made the overall terrorism problem worse." But that official
was apparently unable to supply Mr. Mazzetti with specific language from the report
that draws that conclusion.
One can believe (as I do) that Iraq "has helped spawn a new generation of Islamic
radicalism" without believing the Iraq war has been, on balance, a liability in the
war on terror. Those foreign jihadists who go to Iraq, survive and return home pose
a greater threat than they otherwise would have. But Iraq also has been the
graveyard of thousands of jihadists, among them some of al Qaida's best.
And the "overall threat of terrorist attacks" likely would have grown after Sept. 11
even if there had been no war in Iraq; arguably more so, because the jihadists
engaged in Baghdad and Ramadi could not simultaneously be in New York or Chicago.
Attacking our enemies does tend to make them angrier. But they were angry enough to
start with, and failing to respond to their attacks can have worse consequences than
defeating them in battle.
Anyway, all we know about the NIE is what the leaker and the New York Times want us
to know. That's not enough.
"The American people deserve to know, to the maximum extent possible, the actual
findings and conclusions in this NIE and not depend on partial reports and leaks,
which could be driven by all sorts of hidden agendas," said Andrew Cochran of the
Mr. Cochran proposed that President Bush authorize the 9/11 Commission to review the
NIE and release an unclassified version "as soon as possible."
I'm for declassifying as much of the NIE as can be done without breaching security.
But the Bush administration should not be put in the position of having to choose
between protecting itself (by declassifying the report and exposing distortions) or
protecting our nation's secrets.
What should trouble us most about the New York Times story is not the dubious
proposition it advances that the war in Iraq has made the struggle against Islamic
radicalism more difficult. It is that there are people in the intelligence
community who use secret intelligence for partisan political purposes.
Even in the unlikely event that the judgments of the NIE were accurately reported,
we should not treat them as Holy Writ. It was essentially the same fellows,
remember, who missed the warning signs of 9/11, and who concluded that Saddam's
possession of WMD was a "slam dunk." Mr. Cochran noted that the 1997 NIE on the
terrorist threat the last before 9/11 mentions Osama bin Laden only as a
"terrorist financier," and mentions al Qaida not at all.