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Call the leakers’ bluff; update: Bush to release NIE

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By Michelle Malkin  •  September 26, 2006 11:00 AM

***originally posted 752am…bumping this back to the top…11am Eastern – White House says it is considering declassifying the NIE1210pm new update: Bush will release parts of the reportvideo…***

President Bush on Tuesday said it is naive and a mistake to think that the war with Iraq has worsened terrorism, disputing a national intelligence assessment by his own administration. He said he was declassifying part of the report.

“Some people have guessed what’s in the report and concluded that going into Iraq was a mistake. I strongly disagree,” Bush said.

He asserted that portions of the classified report that had been leaked were done so for political purposes, referring to the Nov. 7 midterm elections.

Bush announced that he was ordering parts of the report declassified during a White House news conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai…

… Bush said he had directed National Intelligence Director John Negroponte to declassify those parts of the report that don’t compromise national security. The National Intelligence Estimate was written in April.

“You read it for yourself. Stop all this speculation,” Bush said.

He complained that “somebody leaked classified information for political purposes,” Bush said, criticizing both the news media and people in government who talked to them about classified material.

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The Wall Street Journal calls on the Bush Administration to declassify the National Intelligence Estimate, which leakers blabbed about to the NYTimes and Washington Post. I think it’s a good idea:

As media scoops go, those based on “classified” information seem to have a special cachet. But judging from the latest, selective intelligence leak about terrorism, we wonder if anyone would bother to read this stuff if it didn’t have the word “secret” slapped on it.

That’s our reaction to Sunday’s New York Times report claiming that a 2006 national intelligence estimate, or NIE, concludes that “the Iraq war has made the overall terrorism problem worse,” according to one of the unidentified “intelligence officials” cited in the article. This is supposedly because the war has provoked radical Islamists to hate America even more than they already did before they hijacked airplanes and flew them into buildings. If this is the kind of insight we pay our spooks to generate, we’re in more trouble than we thought.

It’s impossible to know how true this report is, of course, since the NIE itself hasn’t been leaked. The reports are based on what sources claim the NIE says, but we don’t know who those sources are and what motivations they might have. Since their spin coincides rather conveniently with the argument made by Democratic critics of the war, and since this leak has also conveniently sprung in high campaign season, wise readers will be skeptical.

The White House responded yesterday by saying the full NIE on “Trends in Global Terrorism” is far more nuanced and complex than the press reports claim. Spokesman Tony Snow added that one “thing the reports do not say is that war in Iraq has made terrorism worse.” So here’s our suggestion for President Bush: Declassify the entire NIE.

It’s not as if NIEs usually contain sensitive raw intelligence. They’re more like Council on Foreign Relations reports, full of consensus analysis and glorified by the mere fact of being “secret.” To the extent that any passages might compromise sources and methods, those parts could be redacted or summarized. Meanwhile, disclosure would give the American public a valuable window into the thinking that goes on at places like the CIA. Since some of our spooks are leaking selectively to make the President look bad, Mr. Bush should return the favor by letting the public inspect the quality of analysis that their tax dollars are buying.

Meanwhile, Robert Kagan rips the quality of the leakers’ leaks and drives home a point I made yesterday about what motivates the jihadists:

Based on the press coverage alone, the NIE’s judgment seems both impressionistic and imprecise. On such an important topic, it would be nice to have answers to a few questions.

For instance, what specifically does it mean to say that the Iraq war has worsened the “terrorism threat”? Presumably, the NIE’s authors would admit that this is speculation rather than a statement of fact, since the facts suggest otherwise. Before the Iraq war, the United States suffered a series of terrorist attacks: the bombing and destruction of two American embassies in East Africa in 1998, the terrorist attack on the USS Cole in 2000, and the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Since the Iraq war started, there have not been any successful terrorist attacks against the United States. That doesn’t mean the threat has diminished because of the Iraq war, but it does place the burden of proof on those who argue that it has increased.

Probably what the NIE’s authors mean is not that the Iraq war has increased the actual threat. According to the Times, the report is agnostic on whether another terrorist attack is more or less likely. Rather, its authors claim that the war has increased the number of potential terrorists. Unfortunately, neither The Post nor the Times provides any figures to support this. Does the NIE? Or are its authors simply assuming that because Muslims have been angered by the war, some percentage of them must be joining the ranks of terrorists?

As a poor substitute for actual figures, The Post notes that, according to the NIE, members of terrorist cells post messages on their Web sites depicting the Iraq war as “a Western attempt to conquer Islam.” No doubt they do. But to move from that observation to the conclusion that the Iraq war has increased the terrorist threat requires answering a few additional questions: How many new terrorists are there? How many of the new terrorists became terrorists because they read the messages on the Web sites? And of those, how many were motivated by the Iraq war as opposed to, say, the war in Afghanistan, or the Danish cartoons, or the Israel-Palestine conflict, or their dislike for the Saudi royal family or Hosni Mubarak, or, more recently, the comments of the pope? Perhaps our intelligence agencies have discovered a way to examine, measure and then rank the motives that drive people to become terrorists, though I tend to doubt it. But any serious and useful assessment of the effect of the Iraq war would, at a minimum, try to isolate the effect of the war from everything else that is and has been going on to stir Muslim anger. Did the NIE attempt to make that calculation?

Such an assessment would also require some estimate of what the terrorist threat would look like today if the war had not happened. For instance, did the authors of the NIE calculate the effect of the Sept. 11 attacks on the recruitment of terrorists or the effect of the bombings in Madrid and London? It is certainly possible that these events produced an increase in would-be terrorists by showing the possibility of sensational success. So if there is an overall increase, how much of it was the result of Iraq or the Danish cartoons or other perceived Western offenses against Islam, and how much of it is a continuing response to al-Qaeda’s own terrorist successes before, on and after Sept. 11?

Spook86 at Former Spook, via Power Line, has details of the actual NIE:

In one of its early paragraphs, the estimate notes progress in the struggle against terrorism, stating the U.S.-led efforts have “seriously damaged Al Qaida leadership and disrupted its operations.” Didn’t see that in the NYT article.

Or how about this statement, which–in part–reflects the impact of increased pressure on the terrorists: “A large body of reporting indicates that people identifying themselves as jihadists is increasing…however, they are largely decentralized, lack a coherent strategy and are becoming more diffuse.” Hmm…doesn’t sound much like Al Qaida’s pre-9-11 game plan.

The report also notes the importance of the War in Iraq as a make or break point for the terrorists: “Should jihadists leaving Iraq perceive themselves to have failed, we judge that fewer will carry on the fight.” It’s called a ripple effect.

More support for the defeating the enemy on his home turf: “Threats to the U.S. are intrinsically linked to U.S. success or failure in Iraq.” President Bush and senior administration officials have made this argument many times–and it’s been consistently dismissed by the “experts” at the WaPo and Times.

And, some indication that the “growing” jihad may be pursuing the wrong course: “There is evidence that violent tactics are backfiring…their greatest vulnerability is that their ultimate political solution (shar’a law) is unpopular with the vast majority of Muslims.” Seems to contradict MSM accounts of a jihadist tsunami with ever-increasing support in the global Islamic community.

The estimate also affirms the wisdom of sowing democracy in the Middle East: “Progress toward pluralism and more responsive political systems in the Muslim world will eliminate many of the grievances jihadists exploit.” As I recall, this the core of our strategy in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Ed Morrissey weighs in: Time To Release The NIE

Obviously, the Times has not played this straight. They have taken selected quotes from the NIE to build a political case against the war. Spook86 may have done the same for the other side, but then again, Spook86 does not pretend to be objectively reporting the facts. Clearly the report has more nuance than the Times presentation indicated.

The only solution to the problem is to declassify the NIE after redacting information about sources and methodology. We need to know the full context of all these remarks in order to know and understand the real conclusions of the intelligence community, not just a handful of disgruntled bureaucrats with Bill Keller on their speed-dial. Let’s see the entire report and then debate its contents. Democrats and Republicans should both call for that kind of openness.

The NYPost blasts sabotage-by-leak by the NYTimes, WaPo, and LATimes:

Let’s be clear here. Each in their own way, all three papers have been working as hard as possible to undermine the prosecution of the War on Terror almost since it began.

There’s a word for that, and it ain’t pretty.

But what of the substance of the latest leaks?

Terrorists, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told The Post yesterday, are “going to find a reason” to wage jihad, no matter what happens.

Just as they did before the Iraq war.

But that isn’t stopping Democrats from trying to make hay of the report. Typically reckless, Sen. Ted Kennedy called it “the final nail in the coffin for President Bush’s phony argument about the Iraq war.” (Maybe Teddy, his fellow Dems and al Qaeda can all get together for some hearty high-fives this week.)

Again, this kind of wartime sabotage-by-leak is dangerous.

So leakers need to be punished.

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