Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Arrogance and Ignorance

David Ignatius of the Washington Post is at it again. In his most recent column, he manages to link Dick Cheney's hunting accident, the President's speech on a folied LA terror plot and "purges" at the CIA as examples of administration arrogance.

That's a lot of territory to cover in less than 1,000 words, but Ignatius certainly gives it the old college try. Regarding Cheney's hunting accident, the WaPo columnist is "disturbed" by the time lag between the accident (Saturday afternoon) and the time the MSM was informed (Sunday morning). It was an attempt to delay and perhaps suppress embarassing news, he decides, declaring the incident reminiscent of Chappaquiddick.

Not surprisingly, the facts don't support Ignatius's supposition. Ted Kennedy waited more than 12 hours to inform Massachusetts authorities of his accident, but found time to huddle with his attorney before going to the police. By that time, of course, Kennedy's passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne, had expired. When Cheney accidentally shot hunting partner Harry Whittington late Saturday, medical attention was promptly summoned, and local authorities notified. By the time the story broke on Sunday morning, the local sheriff had completed his initial investigation, and described the incident as an accident. Let's see....Whittington received medical attention immediately and the cops were called, while Ms. Kopechne was left to drown in Teddy's submerged Oldsmobile, quite a difference, wouldn't you say?

In fact, the only resemblance between the hunting incident and Teddy's ill-fated drive is that the MSM didn't get the story until hours later. Personally, I think Cheney and his staff should announced the incident more quickly, but there's no law that requires prompt notification of the White House Press Corps. In fact, I'm guessing that if the press office had summoned reporters on Saturday night, they would have grumbled about "being called in on a weekend over a minor hunting accident." And, BTW, if you want to see arrogance personified, check out the hissy fit staged by NBC's David Gregory during Monday's White House press briefing.

But Ignatius doesn't stop there. He remains concerned about the "politicization" of intelligence by the Bush Administration, a sure sign of presidential arrogance. He accuses Bush of over-stating the validity of intelligence information about a 2002 Al Qaida plot to crash a jetliner into the U.S. Bank tower in Los Angeles. He bases that assessment on comments by a foreign official (with "detailed" knowledge) of the information, and a former, high-level U.S. intelligence official.

Sound familiar? Criticism of Bush Administration policies by "former, high-ranking intelligence officials" has become a cottage industry in Washington. Naturally, this former official isn't named, nor do we know his position within the intelligence community. By some standards, I am a former, high-ranking intelligence official, but I never worked the U.S. Bank plot, and can't comment on the validity of the information. Outside the context of who this person was, where they worked, and what their job entailed, such observations are meaningless.

Ditto for the "foreign official." Did this "source" see the finished, fused intelligence product on the Al Qaida plot, or just the debriefing reports from Khalid Sheik Mohammed and the Indonesian operative, known as Hambali. In many cases, the U.S. is willing to share debriefing reports with other countries, particularly if those nations are detaining the suspect. But the sharing of finished, fused information with other countries is not automatic. Some information is even withheld from our closest allies (Britain, Australia and Canada) under the NOFORN caveat (Not Releasable to Foreign Nationals). Once again, without knowing who the official is, the country he represents, and his access to information, comments about the validity of information are nothing more than opinion, and (possibly) ill-informed opinion at that.

And that brings me to Ignatius's final concern, regarding administration "attempts" to undercut Paul Pillar and other former CIA officials who have been critical of Bush policies in Iraq. He claims that Bush went ballistic after Pillar made comments at a private dinner, warning of likely problems in post-war Iraq. Ignatius believes that Pillar was subsequently forced out at Langley, part of a Bush-directed purge by the new CIA Director, Porter Goss.

Let's active CIA officer publicly criticizes official government policies and (in turn) gets pushed out the door, pension intact. Sounds like Pillar got off easy. Ignatius (predictably) ignores the fact intelligence officers (like military personnel) do not have "free unfettered public speech." That right goes out the window when you sign your first non-disclosure agreement, something Pillar did many years ago. Mr. Pillar had no business making those comments, even at a private dinner. The fact that CIA management allowed active officers to make speeches and publish books critical of administration policies underscores the mess that Goss inherited at Langley. Saying a purge was in order would be an understatement.

Ignatius also bemoans the agency's loss of "some of its best intelligence officers, when we need them most." That's right, the same bunch that missed the collapse of communism, assessed that Saddam would not invade Kuwait, and largely ignored the rising threat of Islamofacism. So tell me again why these guys are, in Ignatius's view, virtually irreplacable. Is the columnist upset because some of his favorite leakers are now on the outside, unable to provide scoops to the WaPo?

Someone once told me that arrogance is in the eye of the beholder, but ignorance is plain for all to see. Reading Ignatius's column, it's hard to tell if his rants are the product of arrogance, ignorance, or both.

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