Accuracy in Media

Like sharks in the water, the media think they smell blood over the Bush administration’s handling of pre-war intelligence. But Fox News commentators such as Fred Barnes have declared, “There is no scandal here.” Bill Kristol called it a “phony scandal.” They note that while weapons of mass destruction have yet to be found, the administration’s statements have been based on or attributed to U.S. or British intelligence.

One of the most ridiculous stories appeared in the Washington Post, which charged that the White House, “in the run-up to war in Iraq, did not seek CIA approval before charging that Saddam Hussein could launch a biological or chemical attack within 45 minutes?” The Post asserted that the charge had been “discredited.”

The story assumes that the White House is required to seek approval for statements from the CIA. This statement, like the one about Iraq seeking uranium from Africa, came from the British. The Post indicates the charge was discredited by a British Parliamentary inquiry which found that it came from one source, and it quotes the panel as saying that “it appears that no evidence was found which corroborated the information supplied by the source, although it was consistent with a pattern of evidence of Iraq’s military capability over time.”

This is only a partial quote. The inquiry also stated that the British government believed the claim came from “an established, reliable and longstanding line of reporting.” In any case, the inquiry found that that it was rather non-controversial, and was a re-statement of the basic fact that chemical or biological weapons, like conventional weapons, could be fired within 45 minutes. So while the threat may have been dramatized, it was not discredited.

The Post assumes that the agency has an excellent record of accuracy in such matters. But Bill Gertz of the Washington Times has written an article noting that there has been “a string of intelligence lapses” under CIA Director George Tenet. Gertz noted that Tenet “is a former Democratic Senate staffer who worked in the White House as intelligence director for the National Security Council staff during the Clinton administration from 1993 to 1995. He moved to CIA as deputy director in 1995 and took the top position in July 1997.” The most glaring failure was the inability to help stop the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Gertz said the CIA had no permanent officers based in Afghanistan before 9/11, a base for al Qaeda terrorists. Gertz noted that U.S. intelligence failed to identify Indian preparations for an underground nuclear test in May 1998, and the agency missed North Korea’s reprocessing of nuclear fuel-rods, until the North Koreans admitted it.

During the Kosovo war, Gertz noted, information supplied by the CIA identified a building as a weapons agency that turned out to be the Chinese Embassy. It was mistakenly bombed. Tenet was personally accused of mishandling a security investigation of former CIA Director John Deutch, who had compromised highly classified intelligence on a laptop computer. But Tenet is held in high esteem by the Washington Post.

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