Friday, January 19, 2007

Intelligence integrity from a surprising source

Former CIA analysts Ray McGovern is not given to easy praise for any of the players on the Cheney-Bush team.

But in Show Me the Intelligence, 01/19/07, he gives what to me was a surprising compliment to outgoing Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte and his deputy Tom Fingar. The subject is the fact that Cheney and Bush didn't see the need to go to the hassle of getting a new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq done before committing themselves to the McCain escalation. The NIE has supposedly been under preparation for a while:

The NIE [of 2002 on Iraq's "weapons of mass destruction"], which leaned so far forward to support the White House’s warnings of a made-in-Iraq “mushroom cloud,” remains the negative example par excellence of corrupted intelligence. The good news is that Tenet and his lackeys were replaced by officers who, by all indications, take their job of speaking truth to power seriously. Deputy Director of National Intelligence for Analysis, Tom Fingar, is a State Department professional not given to professionally selling out. And his boss, John Negroponte, is too smart to end his government career by following the example of his servile predecessors in conjuring up "intelligence" to please the president — not even for a Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Unvarnished NIEs sent to the White House by the Negroponte/Fingar team have not shied away from unwelcome conclusions undercutting administration claims, and have gone over like proverbial lead balloons. An estimate on Iran completed in early 2005, for example, concluded that the Iranians will not be able to produce a nuclear weapon before "early to mid-next decade," exposing Cheney’s fanciful claims of more proximate danger. And an NIE produced in April ‘06 on global terrorism concluded that the invasion of Iraq led to a marked increase in terrorism, belying administration claims that the invasion and occupation had made us "safer."
Negroponte is one of a number of shady characters in the Cheney-Bush administration who are associated in some way with the Iran-Contra mess during the 1980s, in his case as the US Ambassador to Honduras who facilitated the not-very-secret war of the Contras against the Nicaraguan Sandinista regime.

So I'm somewhat surprised to see McGovern's evaluation that he was willing to resist administration pressure to phony up intelligence, although it was clear from the report on Iran's nuke program which McGovern mentions that it didn't fit neatly with some of the more alarmist claims on that topic.

Just to be clear, this doesn't mean that Negroponte has become some all-around good guy. It would be interesting to know, for example, what role if any he played as US Ambassador to Iraq in the establishment of Iraqi-government-connected death squads. Given the role of death squads in the Central American governments the Reagan administration favored, that's not a gratuitous association.

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