As an aside, what do I think? I have no clue who to believe… I am forever skeptical when it comes to intelligence collection and motives. I listen, I read….but I am forever skeptical of everyone when it comes to that mysterious ‘intelligence’ which, incidentally, is almost always sourced ‘anonymous.’ I am skeptical of what journalists report and what politicians say. It doesn’t mean they are wrong – it is just that I am skeptical since we have been burned by them both over decades and decades.
Everyday I read conflicting things (consider the very different views of what is going on in Iran between what President Obama says and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu says….PM Netanyahu paints a much more urgent and ominous scenario that President Obama…who is right? Or how about the WMD that led to our military action in Iraq! President Bush himself now admits that was wrong. No one wanted to get it wrong…but it turned out wrong.)
It is just impossible to be on the outside of all this intelligence collection (where you and I are) to know who is telling the truth, who is embellishing, who has a motive to spin, etc. – and who might be lying. Those outside the intelligence community who claim to know – many of them appearing on TV – I think are often just picking sides, the team to play on. How could they know any better than the rest of us?
But even if we were on the inside of all the intelligence collection, could we trust anything? Our so called assets lie to us. And, even if the so called assests did not lie to us, can we really trust even our own intelligence collectors to do a fully competent job and complete job? The truth is that they have been wrong- and even with good heart – before – dead wrong. They have also failed us (9-11 is a good example.)
But…I post Seymour Hersh’s article below….read it..tell me what you think.
PS – I even suspect that our Presidents can get too cozy with the intelligence community – the intelligence community has that powerful weapon of fear to inflict – and thus Presidents don’t challenge enough what they are told.
And no, I don’t have any solutions….I merely point out the issue.
One other thing…..I do think the intelligence community gets LOTS OF CREDIT that we have not had a big attack since 9-11. They can’t promote their successes ….but it is noteworthy that we have not been attacked.
Seymour M. Hersh
Barack Obama did not tell the whole story this autumn when he tried to make the case that Bashar al-Assad was responsible for the chemical weapons attack near Damascus on 21 August. In some instances, he omitted important intelligence, and in others he presented assumptions as facts. Most significant, he failed to acknowledge something known to the US intelligence community: that the Syrian army is not the only party in the country’s civil war with access to sarin, the nerve agent that a UN study concluded – without assessing responsibility – had been used in the rocket attack. In the months before the attack, the American intelligence agencies produced a series of highly classified reports, culminating in a formal Operations Order – a planning document that precedes a ground invasion – citing evidence that the al-Nusra Front, a jihadi group affiliated with al-Qaida, had mastered the mechanics of creating sarin and was capable of manufacturing it in quantity. When the attack occurred al-Nusra should have been a suspect, but the administration cherry-picked intelligence to justify a strike against Assad.
In his nationally televised speech about Syria on 10 September, Obama laid the blame for the nerve gas attack on the rebel-held suburb of Eastern Ghouta firmly on Assad’s government, and made it clear he was prepared to back up his earlier public warnings that any use of chemical weapons would cross a ‘red line’: ‘Assad’s government gassed to death over a thousand people,’ he said. ‘We know the Assad regime was responsible … And that is why, after careful deliberation, I determined that it is in the national security interests of the United States to respond to the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons through a targeted military strike.’ Obama was going to war to back up a public threat, but he was doing so without knowing for sure who did what in the early morning of 21 August.
He cited a list of what appeared to be hard-won evidence of Assad’s culpability: ‘In the days leading up to August 21st, we know that Assad’s chemical weapons personnel prepared for an attack near an area where they mix sarin gas. They distributed gas masks to their troops. Then they fired rockets from a regime-controlled area into 11 neighbourhoods that the regime has been trying to wipe clear of opposition forces.’ Obama’s certainty was echoed at the time by Denis McDonough, his chief of staff, who told the New York Times: ‘No one with whom I’ve spoken doubts the intelligence’ directly linking Assad and his regime to the sarin attacks.
But in recent interviews with intelligence and military officers and consultants past and present, I found intense concern, and on occasion anger, over what was repeatedly seen as the deliberate manipulation of intelligence. One high-level intelligence officer, in an email to a colleague, called the administration’s assurances of Assad’s responsibility a ‘ruse’. The attack ‘was not the result of the current regime’, he wrote. A former senior intelligence official told me me that the Obama administration had altered the available information – in terms of its timing and sequence – to enable the president and his advisers to make intelligence retrieved days after the attack look as if it had been picked up and analysed in real time, as the attack was happening. The distortion, he said, reminded him of the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident, when the Johnson administration reversed the sequence of National Security Agency intercepts to justify one of the early bombings of North Vietnam. The same official said there was immense frustration inside the military and intelligence bureaucracy: ‘The guys are throwing their hands in the air and saying, “How can we help this guy” – Obama – “when he and his cronies in the White House make up the intelligence as they go along?”’
The complaints focus