Fat Steve's Blatherings

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Yet another MSM screwup.

      (I'll be experimenting with a new format for my post content, preceding posts with a summary and bullet points.  Please let me know what you think of it, by e-mail or comment.)


      Andrew Sullivan has his knickers in a twist over this Washington Post story, which says that analysts who made a mistake about Saddam's nuclear program were rewarded for their performance.  The only problem is, it's not at all clear they made a mistake.  Instead, it looks like a combination of bureaucratic turf fight, and covert sabotage of the war effort.

  • The Silberman-Robb 9/11 Commission's conclusion that the analysts were wrong is not supported by the information in the article, and possibly not by the information they received at the hearings.

  • The information the analysts weren't aware of was ambiguous in its meaning.

  • There was a lot of evidence to support the analyst's conclusions, even with the new information factored in.  Thus any error, if there was one, which is by no means certain was a defensible error of judgment.

  • Even if an error was made, Saddam was still in violation of agreements with the UN.

  • The Post article is inacurate, and displays ignorance at best, and biased at worst.  Possibly both.

  • Sully shows that his rage at the the Bush administration has paralyzed his once fine mind.
(Hat Tip: Kaus).

In detail:

      Saturday, this story appeared in The Washington Post:

Analysts Behind Iraq Intelligence Were Rewarded

By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 28, 2005; Page A01

      Two Army analysts whose work has been cited as part of a key intelligence failure on Iraq -- the claim that aluminum tubes sought by the Baghdad government were most likely meant for a nuclear weapons program rather than for rockets -- have received job performance awards in each of the past three years, officials said. . . .

      The problem, according to the commission, which cited the two analysts' work, is that they did not seek or obtain information available from the Energy Department and elsewhere showing that the tubes were indeed the type used for years as rocket-motor cases by Iraq's military. The panel said the finding represented a "serious lapse in analytic tradecraft" because the center's personnel "could and should have conducted a more exhaustive examination of the question."

      The article goes on to say that various people suggested disciplining the agencies and analysts, and perhaps reorganizing to allow "detailed oversight" by someone or another.  Just whom would provide the oversight, and how, is not given to us.  Later, we read:
"The NGIC assessment of the aluminum tubes was described by the president's intelligence commission as a "gross failure."  The agency was "completely wrong," said the panel, when it judged in September 2002 that the tubes Iraq was purchasing were "highly unlikely" to be used for rocket-motor cases because of their "material and tolerances."

      The commission found that aluminum tubes with similar tolerances were used in a previous Iraqi rocket, called the Nasser 81, and that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had published details about that system in 1996, as had the U.S. Department of Energy in 2001.  The commission's report said "the two primary NGIC rocket analysts said they did not know the dimensions" of the older Nasser 81 rocket and were unaware of the IAEA and Energy Department reports.

      And suppose they had "conducted a more exhaustive examination of the question"?  Let's go to the UN, where Secretary Powell said:
      To fully appreciate the challenge that we face today, remember that, in 1991, the inspectors searched Iraq's primary nuclear weapons facilities for the first time. And they found nothing to conclude that Iraq had a nuclear weapons program.

      But based on defector information in May of 1991, Saddam Hussein's lie was exposed. In truth, Saddam Hussein had a massive clandestine nuclear weapons program that covered several different techniques to enrich uranium, including electromagnetic isotope separation, gas centrifuge, and gas diffusion. . . .

      Saddam Hussein is determined to get his hands on a nuclear bomb. He is so determined that he has made repeated covert attempts to acquire high-specification aluminum tubes from 11 different countries, even after inspections resumed.

      These tubes are controlled by the Nuclear Suppliers Group precisely because they can be used as centrifuges for enriching uranium. By now, just about everyone has heard of these tubes, and we all know that there are differences of opinion. There is controversy about what these tubes are for.

      Most U.S. experts think they are intended to serve as rotors in centrifuges used to enrich uranium. Other experts, and the Iraqis themselves, argue that they are really to produce the rocket bodies for a conventional weapon, a multiple rocket launcher.

      Let me tell you what is not controversial about these tubes. First, all the experts who have analyzed the tubes in our possession agree that they can be adapted for centrifuge use. Second, Iraq had no business buying them for any purpose. They are banned for Iraq.

      I am no expert on centrifuge tubes, but just as an old Army trooper, I can tell you a couple of things: First, it strikes me as quite odd that these tubes are manufactured to a tolerance that far exceeds U.S. requirements for comparable rockets.

      Maybe Iraqis just manufacture their conventional weapons to a higher standard than we do, but I don't think so.

      POWELL: Second, we actually have examined tubes from several different batches that were seized clandestinely before they reached Baghdad. What we notice in these different batches is a progression to higher and higher levels of specification, including, in the latest batch, an anodized coating on extremely smooth inner and outer surfaces. Why would they continue refining the specifications, go to all that trouble for something that, if it was a rocket, would soon be blown into shrapnel when it went off?

      This nicely illustrates some of the problems with intelligence evaluation, and shows that the Post story, and the Silberman-Robb report, miss the point in several ways.

      1) First, note them weasel words "similar tolerences."  We don't know what it means.  Were the old tubes better for rocket bodies?  Worse?  Were the old tubes usable for centrifuges?  Would the new tubes be?  Powell said everyone agreed they would be, and the Post doesn't dispute that.  If the old tubes worked for rockets, why change the specification?  Just how "similar" were the old and new tubes anyway?  Without exploring such questions, we don't know what to make of the contention that the tubes were "the type used for years as rocket-motor cases by Iraq's military."

      2) Being dual use material, even if the tubes were intended for rocket motors, Iraq was forbidden to have them.

      3) Even if used exclusively for rocket motors now, later purchases could be used for centrifuges.

      4) If they were only for rockets, why the higher tolerances, (and presumably higher expense) for these tubes?  As Powell said, they exceed the requirements for similar U.S. Army rocket tubes.

      5) The fact that Iraq was importing them from multiple sources, thus making it hard to check numbers obtained, thus also arguing for use as centrifuge tubes (note that none of Powell's points is challenged in the article, or even mentioned; it's editing-as-lying time again -- though to be fair to author Pincus and the Post, it may just be incompetence).

      6) And in another case of editing-as-lying, the story mentions criticism by:
Washington lawyer Richard Ben-Veniste, who was a member of the Sept. 11 commission and whose government experience goes back to service as a Watergate prosecutor,
without telling you that Ben-Veniste is a partisan Democrat.

      7) Finally, in a third bit of editing-as-lying, there's nothing there about whether Saddam was in compliance ever, at any time with UN resolutions on weapons inspection.

      The Duelfer report said that Saddam didn't have weapons of mass destruction when the invasion took place, but he intended to acquire them when the sanctions were lifted.  Here's a few quotes from a sometimes reliable source:
      One of the key findings of the report is that "Saddam never abandoned his intentions to resume a chemical weapons effort when sanctions were lifted." . . .

      After 17 months of investigation, the U.S. team was able to find only 30 of 130 scientists identified with Iraq's pre-1991 chemical weapons programs. . . .

      Iraq's secret quest to develop a more powerful missile was discovered and disrupted by U.N. weapons inspectors in the weeks before the U.S.-led invasion [my emphasis - St. O.].  In the 19 months since then, the survey team has uncovered more evidence suggesting that Hussein intended to use the Al Samoud 2 and other proposed missiles to extend the reach of his military beyond the country's borders. . . .

      The team "uncovered Iraqi plans or designs for three long-range ballistic missiles with ranges from 400 to 1,000 kilometers (250 to 621 miles), and for a 1,000-km-range (932-mile)[sic! should be "1500-km-range" or "621-mile-range"] cruise missile," the report says. . . .

      The report concludes that Iraq "clearly intended to reconstitute long-range delivery systems," and maintains that the missiles, if built, could potentially have been combined with biological, chemical or nuclear warheads, if Hussein acquired them.

      The source is The Washington Post.  But, since writers for the Post apparently don't take their own paper's news content seriously (and who can blame them?), you could look here, here, or here, or here, or here, or especially here.

      The Silberman-Robb Commission was right to criticize the two analysts for not seeking more information on the Iraqi rockets, but given the way Saddam evaded UN detection of his weapons program pre-Gulf War, threw out inspectors in 1998, refused to deal with inspectors honestly when he let them back in, and the details of the dual use materials themselves, I can easily conceive of the inspectors possessing that information, and coming to the identical conclusion: Saddam sought the tubes for gas centrifuges.  And even with the information we have now, its uncertain whether he was seeking only rocket motor bodies, or centrifuge tubes, or both, or tubes that would be used for rockets and inventory till the sanctions were lifted, and then employed in centrifuges.

      The MSM gets it wrong again, and all mistakes and slanting are such as to whack W and undercut the war effort.  Why does that not surprise me?

      What I find sad, though, is that once upon a time, Andrew Sullivan would have seen through this in a second.  Today, he takes it at face value, because it bashes Bush.  What a pity.



Post a Comment

<< Home