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Friday, July 25, 2003

We Don't Need No Stinking NIE

It's very interesting to see the administration quoting at length from the vaunted NIE as if it were a sacred rune. On September 12, 2002, the president went to the UN and proclaimed:

Today, Iraq continues to withhold important information about its nuclear program -- weapons design, procurement logs, experiment data, an accounting of nuclear materials and documentation of foreign assistance. Iraq employs capable nuclear scientists and technicians. It retains physical infrastructure needed to build a nuclear weapon. Iraq has made several attempts to buy high-strength aluminum tubes used to enrich uranium for a nuclear weapon. Should Iraq acquire fissile material, it would be able to build a nuclear weapon within a year. And Iraq's state-controlled media has reported numerous meetings between Saddam Hussein and his nuclear scientists, leaving little doubt about his continued appetite for these weapons


Delegates to the General Assembly, we have been more than patient. We've tried sanctions. We've tried the carrot of oil for food, and the stick of coalition military strikes. But Saddam Hussein has defied all these efforts and continues to develop weapons of mass destruction. The first time we may be completely certain he has a -- nuclear weapons is when, God forbids, he uses one. We owe it to all our citizens to do everything in our power to prevent that day from coming.

Just 2 days before, however, on the Senate floor, Dick Durbin said:

As a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, I am deeply concerned that the intelligence community has not completed the most basic document which is asked of them before the United States makes such a critical life-or-death decision.

It is within the power of the Director of the CIA, George Tenet, to order a national intelligence estimate, known as an NIE. National intelligence estimates bring together all the agencies of the Federal Government involved in intelligence, sits them down, and collects and coordinate all of their information to reach the best possible conclusion he can come up with.

I was stunned to learn last week that we have not produced a national intelligence estimate showing the current state of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. What is incredible, with all of the statements made by members of this administration about those weapons, is the fact that the intelligence community has not been brought together...

Time and again since then as we looked back on last year, we have said we have to be better prepared, with better communications and better coordination of information from outside the country and inside, and bring it all together so we can make the best decision.When we are talking about a possible invasion of Iraq and a war against Iraq, why haven't we really created the most basic document that we have the power to create in this Government--the national intelligence estimate--so we know exactly what we may be up against in Iraq? It has not been done.

So one was prepared. Apparently, only because Dick Durbin explicitly asked for it:

This morning, I handed a letter to the deputy to Director Tenet asking that he give it to the Director personally, asking that they move as quickly as possible to establish and create this national intelligence estimate. Once it is established, Ithink we should meet on Capitol Hill--the Senate and the House Intelligence Committees. We should have classified hearing on things that can't be discussed publicly about this NIE, and then a public hearing as well to share with the American people, without compromising in any way the safety and security of the United States, as much information as we possibly can about the current state of affairs in Iraq.

Two days later, Bush was proclaiming to the UN, quite without reservation, that (amongst other things) Saddam would be able to make a bomb within a year if he could obtain fissile material.

So, the NIE is not exactly the best evidence for why the administration believed that Iraq was a serious threat because the NIE didn't exist until a Democrat specifically requested it. The administration was quite "convinced" of Iraq's WMD threat long before it was produced. So convinced, apparently, that they didn't feel the need to produce one themselves before they launched their Iraq invasion marketing plan last September.

Durbin said they needed to show their evidence before the congress voted. It would appear that this NIE was designed specifically for the purpose of convincing wavering Senators and may explain why they included such absurdities as the Niger yellowcake nonsense as well as why Condi didn't bother to read it. Clearly, it was not a document the administration believed was important for their own purposes.