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Jewish World Review Jan. 24, 2005 / 14 Shevat, 5765

Michael Ledeen

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The Hersh File | Tony Blankley thinks that Sy Hersh probably committed espionage with his latest article in The New Yorker, in which he breathlessly speaks of secret commando teams and joint American-Israeli efforts to target Iranian nuclear facilities. My pal Roger Simon rather suspects that Hersh was simply used by the Bush administration to make the mullahs even more nervous than usual. Hersh himself seems to think of himself as a seer, a prophet of upcoming military actions by the United States against a collection of terror-supporting enemies, starting with Iran. This is clear enough from his title, "The Coming Wars."

I have usually ignored Hersh's articles and books over the years, because there were so many errors in them that I could never figure out what, if anything was true. Better to ignore him altogether than get sucked into a morass of confusion. And of course, Hersh has long specialized in stories that are severely damaging to the American mission. He almost never seems to think we have real enemies, he invariably takes the side of anti-American critics, and it never seems to occur to him that there are people in the government who are desperately trying to do the right thing. Real life is full of paradox, indecision, and error, with rare moments of decisiveness and coherence. But Hersh's world is black and white, there are clear winners and losers, and policy is driven by a handful of willful men and women who know where they want to go and how they want to get there.

I think that's plain crazy.

Still, "The Coming Wars" is ostensibly about Iran, so I thought it behooved me to take a look. But it was classic Hersh incoherence, almost from the beginning. Early on he says that he spoke to current and past defense and intelligence officials, but shortly thereafter he says, "The Defense Department and the White House did not respond to requests for comment on this story."

There was apparently no editor at The New Yorker who noticed that you can't have it both ways. For if "the Defense Department" wouldn't comment, then how could Hersh have spoken to current Defense officials? In fact, Hersh's claim - "they wouldn't talk to me" - is not true. Prior to publication, senior Defense Department officials told Hersh that he was dead wrong on several counts - something he might have mentioned, unpleasant though it is.

Internal inconsistency has always been one of Hersh's trademarks, and "The Coming Wars" abounds with other examples. The most hilarious comes when his sources fess up that "the core problem is that Iran has successfully hidden the extent of its nuclear program, and its progress." I think that's right, and it follows that we'd have to be very careful about planning any operation against the Iranian nuclear program. But Hersh doesn't think in straight lines, because he somehow manages to claim, with a tone of utter confidence, that "(Hersh's intelligence sources) believe that about three-quarters of the potential targets can be destroyed from the air, and a quarter are too close to population centers, or buried too deep, to be targeted." Once again, you really can't have it both ways: If the Iranians have hidden the program from us, we can't possibly know which ones can be hit from the air, because we just don't know. That's what "successfully hidden" means.

I entirely agree with Roger that of course any rational administration would be going all-out to get all the information about the Iranian nuclear program. And I entirely agree with Tony Blankley that any journalist who reveals details of our quest for that information should be relegated to the lowest levels of Hell, whether the real thing or the legalistic equivalent. Guantanamo, maybe? No, no, only kidding, hoHo. But I don't think we need worry too much about Hersh's revealing the darkest secrets of American intelligence, because he doesn't have them. He can't even write a logically consistent paragraph.

Anyway, if you actually indulge your masochistic strain and read the whole thing, you will discover that this isn't really an article about American foreign policy. It's an overwritten and hyperventilated assault on Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, for, according to Hersh, crushing the CIA in the interagency battles over control of certain kinds of intelligence operations. The big quote (from "a former senior C.I.A. officer"): "For years, the agency bent over backward to integrate and coordinate with the Pentagon," the former officer said. "We just caved and caved and got what we deserved. It is a fact of life today that the Pentagon is a five-hundred-pound gorilla and the C.I.A. director is a chimpanzee."

Anyone familiar with Washington knows what that quote is all about. It's a classic "cover your a**" line, combined with a touch of "apres nous, la deluge." The guy is saying that things were manageable, but just barely, when he was there, but then he and his cohorts made the terrible mistake of cooperating with the Defense Department, and they got the shaft. So if anything goes wrong henceforth, the CIA is blameless; it's all Rumsfeld's fault.

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Like so much in the Hersh piece, this claim is ridiculous. If anything, Rumsfeld has been irresponsibly timorous in this, as in all other interagency battles. He famously refused to let DoD employees go work on the National Security Council Staff, thereby guaranteeing that the NSC would be manned by State Department and CIA professionals whose instincts would be different from those of Defense professionals. Rumsfeld meekly ceded total control over all investigations of WMDs in Iraq to the CIA. His intelligence czar, Stephen Cambone, has a hard-earned reputation as the CIA's Pentagon poodle. Nobody thinks Cambone is a threat to CIA's influence. There is indeed a battle of sorts going on over how much latitude our military forces should have in wartime, and it's a serious question, far removed from the sort of drivel Hersh presents. The actual discussion stems from several cases in which the Pentagon had to get approval from the CIA - and from State as well - before proceeding with intelligence operations, even though time was of the essence. In some of those cases, approval either did not come, or it came too late. Those who want our commanders to have greater autonomy are not - contrary to Hersh's brief - trying to circumvent congressional oversight or well-defined legal parameters. They are, rather, requesting clearer definition and a more efficient system.

But the funniest of all of Hersh's little gags is the suggestion that aggressive self-assertion by the Pentagon - which he perceives behind DoD and White House concerns about some aspects of the sweeping intelligence reform just passed by Congress - will somehow diminish "competitive intelligence." It is precisely the opposite. The misconceived "reform" provides for greater centralization, and thus much less competition among the elements of the intelligence community. For CIA officials, past or present, to whisper the opposite is simply one more example of the deceptive character of those officials.

And of S. Hersh, their unconvincing mouthpiece.

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JWR contributor Michael Ledeen is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and author of, most recently, ""The War Against the Terror Masters," Comment by clicking here.


01/11/05: Circle Squared: Iran, Iraq, Syria
01/07/05: Not-So Great Debate: Torture and the war
12/31/04: Journalists at war
12/24/04: Values and Interests: The “insurgency” and the future of the Middle East
12/03/04: The End of the Left’s History: The world has moved on
11/30/04: Europe’s Ritual Dance: The Western counterpart of Iran’s deception
11/18/04: Porter’s Purge: What spymasters? 10/10/04: The War Cabinet: President Bush needs to reshape his top structure
10/08/04: Guardian Angels: Once again, our enemies save America
10/06/04: Iran, when? The war on terror cannot be won without addressing Iran
09/28/04: Know Thine Enemy: The beheadings are about them, not us

09/27/04: Iran, Impossible? Nope. The mullahs will go the way of the Evil Empire
09/21/04: Iranian Tales: An evil regime
09/01/04: An improbable molehunt
08/17/04: The Terror Masters Revisited: Let’s go to the videotape
08/16/04: The Iran-Iraq War, Again: Listen to the Iraqis (And, faster please)
08/11/04: Intelligence and Imagination: The only real 'fix' is good leadership and accountability
07/27/04: The Nature of the Enemy: Win first. Hearts and minds will come
07/26/04: The 9/11 Vision: Better, but not there yet
07/20/04: Are you sitting down? Iran is a terrorist state
07/13/04: The Great Intelligence Committee Report: Some mysteries remain unsolved
06/30/04: The Fears of the Terror Masters: If we want a peaceful Iraq we will have to confront the mullahs
06/29/04: The Iraqis and the Neocons: Arab democracy is a work in progress
06/23/04: Ready for $60-a-Barrel Oil?: The Iranian election strategy at work
06/15/04: Iran is making trouble, and finessing it is a dangerous strategy
06/02/04: Reagan Seen Plain: He changed the world 06/02/04: Quattrocchi's Killers: We are dealing with a truly international terror network
05/25/04: The Agency Rides Again: Angleton on Chalabi
05/24/04: Lying into the mirror: Misunderstaning the war on terror
05/18/04: Kristof’s Iran
04/19/04: The Iranian Hand: Regime change in Tehran is necessary for peace in Iraq
04/15/04: Dealing with the Libyans: Is Khaddafi about to cash out?
04/08/04: From Tyranny to Freedom: Democracy in Iraq has precedent
03/18/04: Drifting, Dangerously: We must support freedom
03/02/04: Once Upon a Spymaster, Part II: Returning to a conversation
02/24/04: The Great Iranian Election Fiasco: What actually happened; what we must do
02/20/04: Stalinist Mullahs: The Iranian regime is in open battle with its own people
02/11/04: The Jihadis' Primal Scream: Zarkawi's "Yaarrrhhh!"
02/04/04: Inelegant Lies: Making sense out of mullahs
02/03/04: Potemkin WMDs? Really?
01/27/04: The Jihad on Iraq: Bad analysis and bad policy
01/20/04: Our Moment of Vainglory: A p.c. mess
01/06/04: Aftershocks: The West must read the meter in Bam and Tehran
12/02/03: Managing Iraq: We can't continue this way
11/26/03: Back to the Angleton Files
11/25/03: The Turks, Italians & us — never again
11/06/03: Regional Struggle: Fighting narrow vision in Iraq
11/04/03: Unpunished Failure: What are we waiting for?
10/21/03: Curses: Diamonds and Naples
10/15/03: Into the Quagmire: Important days ahead for Iran
09/18/03: The Ayatollahs’ bomb: An invulnerability strategy
09/12/03: You can't make peace until the war is won
09/11/03: Ron Paul, dishonorable congressman
09/03/03: The Latest Horrors: Still organized
08/29/03: The Peace Trap: Back to the war, please
08/27/03: Angrier and Angrier: Self-deception, big-time
08/25/03: Iraq's terrorists have friends in high places
07/10/03: The Future of Iran: Armitage might want to rethink that "democracy" line
07/02/03: Looking Toward July 9: Independence Day in Iran?
06/24/03: Iran: Back the freedom fighters
06/17/03: The Iranian Revolution, 2003: Regime change in the air
06/05/03: Academic Standards: A Middle East scholar has his way with the truth.
05/28/03: The Moment of Truth? U.S. policy could determine Iran's destiny
05/15/03: Iran's Path: Stopping the mullahs in their tracks
05/13/03: The Nuclear Axis of Evil: The people solution
05/08/03: Inside the Dark: Applebaum's ‘Gulag’
05/06/03: Tough Guy: Powell's curious priority list
05/01/03: Desert Shame Redux: Want a free Iran and a free Syria? We have to fight for it
04/25/03: Timing Is Everything: We have a narrow window in Iraq to win Shiite support
04/15/03: Political war can remove terror masters in Syria and Iran
04/07/03: The Others: We have miles to go in eliminating the Axis
04/02/03: French Lies: Take the foreign minister at his word
03/31/03: Why muzzle Saddam's foes?
03/28/03: The post-war terror threat
03/26/03: All Fronts: Military war, political war, psychological war
03/24/03: More Bad News for Daschle: Taking out terror of all nationalities
03/21/03: The Killer Pneu: Virus terror from China
03/13/03: Iran: Nuclear suicide bombers?
03/11/03: A Theory: What if there's method to the Franco-German madness?
03/05/03: The Iranian-Election Revolt: The people speak. The West won't listen
02/19/03: The willful blindness of those who will not see
02/12/03: The Europeans Know More Than They Now Pretend? They choose to dawdle and obstruct
02/03/03: Monumental failure: Nelson Mandela had promise
01/30/03: Elevation: The president knows what it's all about
01/29/03: No Leader: France's Chirac is all about personal interest
01/28/03: The Axis of Evil Redux: Same place, a year later
01/27/03: The Return of the Ayatollah: Washington could afford a little more attention on Iran
01/13/03: How we could lose
01/09/03: Fish are Better than Women: Gauging U.S. priorities
01/07/03: The Shape of Things to Come: The terror masters are now waiting for us
12/20/02: A Prophecy for the New Year --- Faster, please!
12/16/02: Scud Surrender: The "W" factor
12/13/02: The Heart of Darkness: The mullahs make terror possible
12/12/02: The Real War
12/09/02: Tom Friedman's Reformation: His Iran
11/26/02: How Tyrannies Fall: Opportunity time in Iran
11/22/02: The Blind Leading the Blind: The New York Times and the Iranian crisis
11/13/02: The Temperature Rises: We should liberate Iran first --- now
11/05/02: End of the Road: Iran's Mohammed Khatami, on his way out
10/29/02: The Angleton Dialogues, Contnued: What George Tenet doesn’t know
10/24/02: The Iranian Comedy Hour: In the U.S., the silence continues
10/16/02: Sniper, Saboteur, or Sleeper? Channeling James Jesus Angleton
10/01/02: The real foe
09/27/02: The Iranian String Quartet: The mullahs get increasingly nervous
09/25/02: The Dubya Doctrine
09/23/02: Intelligence? What intelligence?
09/12/02: America's revenge: To turn tyrannies into democracies
09/10/02: Iran & Afghanistan & Us: We'll have to deal with the mullahcracy, sooner or later
09/04/02: Iran, according to the Times: All the nonsense that's fit to print
08/21/02: Life and death of Abu Nidal tells us a great deal about our enemies
08/08/02: Can You Keep a Secret?: The media silence on Iran
08/06/02: Fantasy Reporting: The latest disinformation from the Washington Post
08/02/02: Propping Up the Terror Masters: Europe's Solana on tour
07/16/02: Bush vs. the Mullahs: Getting on the side of the Iranian freedom fighters
07/12/02: The State Department Goes Mute: It's official: State has no message
07/09/02: History being made, but the West appears clueless
06/05/02: Is George Tenet endangering peace in Israel?
06/03/02: Ridiculous, even for a journalist
05/20/02: So how come nobody's been fired yet?
05/14/02: Open doors for thugs
04/20/02: Iran on the Brink … and the U.S. does nothing
04/16/02: It’s the war, stupid … someone remind Colin Powell
04/08/02: Gulled: In the Middle East, Arafat doesn't matter
04/02/02: Faster, Please: The war falters
03/26/02: The Revolution Continues: What's brewing in Iran
03/18/02: Iran simmers still: Where's the press?
03/05/02: We can't lose any more ground in Iran
02/14/02: The Great Iranian Hoax
02/12/02: Unnoticed Bombshell: Key information in a new book
01/31/02: The truth behind the Powell play
01/29/02: My past with "Johnny Jihad's" lawyer
01/21/02: It's Munich, all over again
01/08/02: What's the Holdup?: It's time for the next battles in the war against terrorism
12/11/01: We must be imperious, ruthless, and relentless
12/06/01: Remembering my family friend, Walt Disney
11/28/01: The Barbara Olson Bomb: Understanding the war
11/13/01: How We're Doing: The Angleton Files, IV
11/06/01: A great revolutionary war is coming
10/25/01: How to talk to a terrorist
10/23/01: Creative Reporting: Learning to appreciate press briefings
10/19/01: Not the Emmys: A Beltway award presentation
10/15/01: Rediscovering American character
10/11/01: Somehow, I've missed Arafat's praise of the first stage of our war on terrorism
10/04/01: What do we not know?
09/28/01: Machiavelli On Our War: Some advice for our leaders
09/25/01: No Room for the U.N.: Keeping Annan & co. out of the picture
09/21/01: Creative destruction
09/14/01: Who Killed Barbara Olson?
08/22/01: How Israel will win this war
08/15/01: Bracing for war
08/09/01: More Dithering Democrats
08/02/01: Delirious Dems
07/31/01: Consulting a legendary counterspy about Chandra and Condit, cont'd
07/19/01: Be careful what you wish for
07/17/01: Consulting a legendary counterspy about Chandra and Condit
07/05/01: Let Slobo Go
05/30/01: Anybody out there afraid of the Republicans?
05/09/01: The bad guys to the rescue
05/07/01: Bye-bye, Blumenthal
04/20/01: Handling China
04/11/01: EXAM TIME!
04/05/01: Chinese over-water torture
03/27/01: Fighting AIDS in Africa is a losing proposition
03/14/01: Big Bird, Oscar, and other threats
03/09/01: Time for a good, old-fashioned purge
03/06/01: Powell’s great (mis)adventure
02/26/01: The Clinton Sopranos
02/20/01: Unity Schmoonity: Sharon is defying the will of the people
01/30/01: The Rest of the Rich Story
01/22/01: Ashcroft the Jew
01/11/01: A fitting close to the Clinton years
12/26/00: Continuing Clinton's shameful legacy
12/21/00: Clinton’s gift for Bush

© 2001, Michael Ledeen