Misinformation vs. missed information

Posted: Sep 12, 2006 12:01 AM
Misinformation vs. missed information

Sen. Jay Rockefeller sent out a press release Friday as the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released a report on pre-war Iraqi intelligence. According to the press statement, the intelligence committee found "that the Bush administration's case for war in Iraq was fundamentally misleading."

As senators never use a one-syllable word when they can use a three- or four-syllable word, that's Senate-ese for: Bush lied.

The thing is, if you read the "Accuracy Report" -- as Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., calls it -- then you see that, if the Bushies were wrong to read too much into intelligence reports that suggested Saddam Hussein had WMD and links with al-Qaida, Bush haters are wrong to argue that there was no reason to think those links existed.

News stories dutifully reported that the intelligence committee found that Hussein did not harbor al-Qaida operative Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and that Hussein had no known organizational ties to al-Qaida. It also found that some intelligence sources were complete frauds.

But the committee also noted that before the war in Iraq began, the CIA reported learning from credible sources of "at least eight direct meetings between senior Iraqi representatives and top al-Qaida operatives." In 2004, the Iraq Survey Group -- the group that reported that there were no WMD in Iraq -- found a document that showed, in 1992, Iraqi intelligence wanted to establish ties with bin Laden.

A top Iraqi intelligence official met with bin Laden in Sudan in 1995, although the report found that Hussein later directed the official not to give bin Laden the office, land mines and military training bin Laden sought -- which the West Virginian Democrat noted.

The press release did not report on a document on the bin Laden meeting found by the Iraq Survey Group that stated that Hussein wanted to "leave the door open to further develop the relationship and cooperation between both sides."

Rockefeller was right to point out that Hussein saw al-Zarqawi as "an outlaw," whom he ordered apprehended. President Bush was wrong last month to say in a press conference that Hussein "had relations with Zarqawi."

If Hussein's attempts to detain Zarqawi are important, then it is also important that Hussein's regime released the one Zarqawi associate it arrested. Hussein ordered his agents to round up five individuals suspected in helping Zarqawi assassinate USAID official Laurence Foley in Jordan in 2002. Then Hussein apparently ordered the man's release because, a former intelligence officer said, Hussein thought he would fight U.S. troops. That's not in the Democrats' talking points.

On another note, Hussein's miscalculations proved disastrous. After the Persian Gulf War, Hussein figured he would not have to comply seriously with U.N. weapons inspections. When Hussein realized he was wrong, he had weapons destroyed secretly -- without documentation.

In 1995, after a top official defected, Iraq released information on more weapons caches -- the intelligence committee noted that the regime believed the new information "would gain favor with the U.N. as a measure of goodwill and cooperation. Instead, the U.N. and U.S. intelligence community interpreted the new information as validation of their suspicions about Iraq's deception."

For good reason, too: Hussein wanted to end the U.N. sanctions so that he could resume making lethal WMD. In time, he would have become a danger to the world.

Or, as Rockefeller said before he voted for the war resolution, "We also should remember we have always underestimated the progress Saddam has made in development of weapons of mass destruction." Rockefeller also said there was "unmistakable evidence" Hussein was working on nukes -- a statement the intelligence report does not back up.

Was Rockefeller trying to mislead people? Of course not. Like others in Washington -- including the Bushies and intelligence officials -- he lived in mortal dread that the government would miss information that could cost American lives.