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Rand Beers Op-Ed: Don't need faked letter to indict Bush team

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Press Release Washington, D.C. 13 August 2008

Terrorism & National Security Terrorism & National Security intelligence President Bush rand beers

Thought you might be interested the following Op-Ed by Rand Beers-President and founder of NSN-from today's Philadelphia Inquirer examining the Bush administration's failed record on intelligence:

Don't need faked letter to indict Bush team
U.S. intelligence has a credibility gap, thanks to 8 years of failed leadership.

By Rand Beers

In his new book, The Way of the World, Ron Suskind levels some very troubling allegations of a forged letter with White House origins linking al-Qaeda and 9/11 to Iraq.

If true, the letter would be a smoking gun confirming the Bush administration's contempt for both the country's constitutional foundation and the American people themselves. In the end, though, we don't need this forged letter to indict this administration for negligence when it comes to its record on intelligence.

After eight years of failed leadership, our once vaunted intelligence community (IC) remains silhouetted by an uncertain credibility at a time where we need a robust, not depleted, intelligence apparatus.

Independent of Suskind's forged letter claim, it is clear that the White House had a pervasive desire to link al-Qaeda and 9/11 to Iraq despite what the IC believed. Multiple CIA and FBI reports rejected the claim of any relationship between the two.

Nonetheless, as Paul Pillar, the intelligence officer responsible for the Middle East from 2000 to 2005, made clear, it was standard operating procedure both immediately after 9/11 and beyond for the Bush administration to discount these assertions. Eventually, according to Pillar, the administration's rejection of this intelligence led to the creation of an insular Pentagon unit whose sole purpose was to "expose" every possible link between al-Qaeda and Iraq, regardless of what previous contradicting analyses stated.

The Bush administration's effort to neuter the IC didn't stop there. From exaggerating Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program to false claims that Iraq had pursued nuclear material from Niger to ignoring IC concerns about unfinished business and shifting intelligence resources from Afghanistan and Pakistan to Iraq, the White House did all it could to use the IC as a doormat in its march to war.

Coupled with the politicization of known intelligence, the pursuit of faulty intelligence and the cherry-picking of dubious intelligence, this led to the dangerous degradation of our intelligence community at a perilous time. Even now, with reform legislation and new leadership, problems persist.

When the 9/11 Commission recommended, and Congress approved, the reorganization of the IC in 2004, including the creation of the director of national intelligence (DNI), then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld shamelessly schemed to have the Pentagon retain control of nearly 80 percent of the intelligence budget. In an institutional setting where resource control is paramount, this lack of authority made the position of DNI more ceremonial than operational, defying the desires of both the 9/11 Commission and Congress for greater top-down, integrated and vigorous management of our nation's intelligence.

All this was desperately needed to end the culture of independent fiefdoms that had plagued the IC in the past. But, as recent history suggests, the Bush administration's tolerance of a half-baked reform package resulted in limited change. Moreover, the administration continued to ignore IC analysis in two areas critical to America's security: Iran and Pakistan/Afghanistan.

On Iran, with the December 2007 National Intelligence Estimate stating that Tehran had halted its nuclear program and was open to international pressure, the administration continued its bellicose rhetoric and dismissal of diplomacy as appeasement. Along the Afghan-Pakistani frontier, the White House ignored repeated judgments by the IC and numerous other experts that a reconstituted al-Qaeda was the greatest immediate threat to America's security.

Instead of listening to the nation's 16 intelligence agencies and refocusing resources to where they were most needed, the administration clung to Iraq as the central front in the fight against terrorism. As a result, the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan deteriorated further, with a resurgent al-Qaeda and resurrected Taliban now threatening both the region and American homeland itself.

Today, we find ourselves facing serious threats from enemies the Bush administration promised to vanquish, and allegations it fabricated intelligence to justify war against an enemy that wasn't an imminent threat. More fundamentally, Suskind's book underscores a larger problem with this White House's failed record on intelligence: a history of manipulating and possibly manufacturing intelligence to justify a political agenda at any cost.

While optimism can be found in new leadership at the DNI, CIA and Defense Department as well as the evolving implementation of certain recommendations by the 9/11 Commission and Congress, it doesn't mitigate the White House's dangerous pursuit of political goals instead of America's true national security.

Rand Beers was National Security Council staff director for counter-terrorism from 1988-1998. He is president of the National Security Network, a nonprofit foreign policy organization. E-mail him at info@nsnetwork.org.