New Yorker on WMD in Iraq

Here is a long piece from the New Yorker about how the Bush Administration has dismantled the mechanisms that vet intelligence. This article states that the step in the intelligence gathering process where information is verified – by looking at the track record of the source, the plausibility that this source might have the proper access to acquire this information and so on – has been circumvented by the current administration. According to this article, there were multiple steps at which it was known that the Niger “yellowcake” documents were forgeries, including the Italian reporter who turned them over the US officials by telling them “We have come into possession of these, but we checked them out and know they are fakes.”

According to the article, this is what is allowing for bad intelligence getting to the top and into speeches, that all raw data goes straight to the top, where they choose what most closely matches what they want to believe. I’m not sure which I find a more disturbing possibility – that the administration has lied, or that they sincerely believe these bad facts. I’ve been assuming that it was all deliberate lies, but this article suggests that rather than lying, they have corrupted the intelligence process such that they can say whatever they want without lying, by propping up their beliefs with any evidence that comes through. An excerpt from a bit about interviewing on of the Iraqi weapons scientists:

The first meeting, on April 11th, began with an urgent question from a C.I.A. officer: “Does Iraq have a nuclear device? The military really want to know. They are extremely worried.” Jafar’s response, according to the notes of an eyewitness, was to laugh. The notes continued:

Jafar insisted that there was not only no bomb, but no W.M.D., period. “The answer was none.” . . . Jafar explained that the Iraqi leadership had set up a new committee after the 91 Gulf war, and after the unscom [United Nations] inspection process was set up. . . and the following instructions [were sent] from the Top Man [Saddam]Žâ€””give them everything.”

The notes said that Jafar was then asked, “But this doesnŽâ€™t mean all W.M.D.? How can you be certain?” His answer was clear: “I know all the scientists involved, and they chat. There is no W.M.D.”

Jafar explained why Saddam had decided to give up his valued weapons:

Up until the 91 Gulf war, our adversaries were regional. . . . But after the war, when it was clear that we were up against the United States, Saddam understood that these “eapons were redundant. “No way we could escape the United States.Žâ€ Therefore, the W.M.D. warheads did Iraq little strategic good.