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Issue Date:  November 23, 2007

Intelligence agency lessons

For months the Bush administration has shown continuing interest in establishing the location of potential military strikes within Iran. As outlandish as the possibility of another military action might seem to some, given the tragic war in Iraq and the ongoing military presence in Afghanistan, reasonableness and logic seem not to be hallmarks of the current powers in Washington.

So it was disturbing to note in recent days that a National Intelligence Estimate assessing Iran’s nuclear program had been held up for a year. The report will be issued, though not released publicly, in the next few weeks. One reason floated for the delay in at least one news source, though not confirmed by any of the principals involved, was that the administration had purposely held up the report because it didn’t conform to the administration’s presumptions and rhetoric about Iran.

Mike McConnell, director of National Intelligence, addressing the delay in the report, said Nov. 14 that he would resign if he found out that administration officials had “cherry picked in an inappropriate way” information to support a political or military agenda.

The intelligence report, of course, takes on significant meaning because it was a similar report, manipulated to serve the administration’s predetermined ends, that paved the way to the debacle in Iraq.

If there ever was any doubt that previous report was manipulated or that the administration has the capability to interfere in such a way with intelligence material, it was laid to rest by McConnell’s explanation for his caution in dealing with the current assessment.

According to an Associated Press report, McConnell said the intelligence community had learned from its experience with the 2002 intelligence assessment of Iraq and its never-found weapons of mass destruction.

“When I go back and look at it, I think we the community, the nation and the nation’s leadership probably would have been better served if we had been insistent, absolutely insistent upon a higher level of integrity with regard to what does the clinical evidence say, long before we get to what we think about it.”

He claims the agency learned the lessons of 2002 “very, very well.” We hope so, and we also hope some in the administration have learned them as well.

National Catholic Reporter, November 23, 2007

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