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Who is Paul Pillar?

By Michelle Malkin  •  September 27, 2006 11:14 AM

Drip, drip, drip?

In its original report leaking details of the National Intelligence Estimate on the Iraq war, the New York Times relied on anonymous, unnamed leakers to spin its contents and embarrass the White House.

Today, the Times includes comments from some named sources. Pay attention to this one:

What was most remarkable about the intelligence estimate, several experts said, was the unremarkable nature of its conclusions.

“At one level it is unsurprising stuff,’’ said Paul Pillar, who was the national intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asia on the intelligence council until last year. “But there is definitely much there that you haven’t heard the president say,’’ he added, “including the role that Iraq has played’’ in inspiring disaffected Muslims to join an anti-American jihadist movement.

Tim Sumner at Stop the NYTimes has some pointed questions about Pillar:

How does Paul Pillar know “there is definitely much there [in the NIE] that you haven’t heard the president say” unless he has seen the entire NIE or the parts of it that where not declassified and published yesterday? Which leads us back to what the Times’ Mark Mazzetti wrote (or his editors inserted) in the last paragraph of their original report this past Sunday:

More recently, the Council on Global Terrorism, an independent research group of respected terrorism experts, assigned a grade of “D+” to United States efforts over the past five years to combat Islamic extremism. The council concluded that “there is every sign that radicalization in the Muslim world is spreading rather than shrinking.”

Paul Pillar is one of eight members of the Council on Global Terrorism.

Was Paul Pillar one of those who officials or experts who “had either seen the final version of the document or participated in the creation of earlier drafts” and one of the unnamed sources for the Times’ Spy Agencies Say Iraq War Worsens Terrorism Threat? We do not know the answer to that question yet we think the New York Times has provided the FBI with good reason to start their investigation of who leaked the classified NIE with him.

The blogosphere has some interesting background on Pillar.

Dinocrat had a useful overview of Pillar’s writings in 2004 and concludes:

Paul Pillar has a career interest and preference for negotiations as the way to solve conflicts. From his earliest book, he focused on situations where the outcome was not victory. Time and again, he has said that military solutions are not solutions. With regard to Iraq, whether it goes well or poorly, it goes poorly — if terrorism is the question. Clearly Mr. Pillar is not on board with George Bush’s fundamental premises in the Global War on Terror, so it should be no surprise that he is having secret meetings around the country criticizing US policy. Why does this fellow have a job at the CIA?

Dinocrat followed up with this on Sept. 28, 2004: “Is CIA employee Paul Pillar Leaking Elements of a Secret Report on Iraq to the New York Times?”

Paul Pillar is a CIA employee, and member of the National Intelligence Council. He is opposed to major elements of President Bush’s strategy in the Global War on Terror, as we have previously detailed.

Two days ago, Robert Novak had a column about Pillar’s disclosure of the secret material to a West Coast dinner of private citizens:

[T]he analyst who identified himself as its author told a private dinner last week of secret, unheeded warnings years ago about going to war in Iraq. This exchange leads to the unavoidable conclusion that the president of the United States and the Central Intelligence Agency are at war with each other.

Paul R. Pillar, the CIA’s national intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asia, sat down Tuesday night in a large West Coast city with a select group of private citizens. He was not talking off the cuff. Relying on a multi-paged, single-spaced memorandum, Pillar said he and his colleagues concluded early in the Bush administration that military intervention in Iraq would intensify anti-American hostility throughout Islam.

The reporting in the New York Times is based on the same report as the material disclosed by Mr. Pillar previously:

A classified National Intelligence Estimate prepared for President Bush in late July spells out a dark assessment of prospects for Iraq, government officials said Wednesday.

The estimate outlines three possibilities for Iraq through the end of 2005, with the worst case being developments that could lead to civil war, the officials said. The most favorable outcome described is an Iraq whose stability would remain tenuous in political, economic and security terms.

“There’s a significant amount of pessimism,” said one government official who has read the document, which runs about 50 pages. The officials declined to discuss the key judgments – concise, carefully written statements of intelligence analysts’ conclusions – included in the document. The intelligence estimate, the first on Iraq since October 2002, was prepared by the National Intelligence Council and was approved by the National Foreign Intelligence Board.

The Times article carefully skirts the issue of whether the Times has a copy of the report, though the Times does not deny that it had been given a copy, nor does it disclose whether it has been allowed to review the memorandum by Pillar and the National Intelligence Council.

Maybe I missed something along the way, but isn’t leaking secret information illegal? If Pillar is the leaker, here are a couple of questions: Why is this behavior tolerated among active CIA employees? How come this fellow is not being prosecuted? Why does he still have a job handling secrets at the CIA?

This sounds like an awfully familiar M.O., don’t you think?

Earlier this year, Pillar made a splash with this Foreign Affairs article, which argued:

During the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, writes the intelligence community’s former senior analyst for the Middle East, the Bush administration disregarded the community’s expertise, politicized the intelligence process, and selected unrepresentative raw intelligence to make its public case.

The Washington Post profiled Pillar here. See this excellent response from Bruised Orange.

Guillermo Christensen, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations who served for 15 years as a CIA intelligence officer, responded to Pillar in the WSJ:

CIA officers on the cusp of retirement often enroll in a seminar that is supposed to help them adjust to life after the agency–teaching them, for example, how to write a resumé. I’ve begun to wonder if part of that program now includes a writing seminar on how to beat up on the Bush administration. The latest such blast comes from Paul Pillar, who, over the course of his long career, was arguably a central player in the CIA’s analysis of the Middle East, in particular Iraq. But now Mr. Pillar has decided to disclose to the world, in a recent article in Foreign Affairs, that he thought all along that the war was a bad idea, and that the president and his advisers ignored his intelligence.

Why Mr. Pillar would even attempt to argue that the White House ignored the CIA’s intelligence is beyond me–as innumerable investigations have demonstrated, all of the “intelligence” within his responsibility was 100% in agreement that Iraq posed a serious danger and that it had an active program for acquiring WMD. Over the course of a decade and a half, and thousands of pages of intelligence analysis, it is hard to think of anyone in the government who was more directly involved in reaching the wrong conclusions about what was going on in Iraq than Mr. Pillar himself.

And note this:

Paul Pillar was right in the thick of the process and substance that reached those conclusions. Had he actually written a warning to the administration against going to war before the war, his conclusions could not have rested on any of the CIA’s intelligence analysis, but instead on his own political views against the administration–something which he has made no bones about in discussions with think-tank audiences long before he left the agency. This, incidentally, is prohibited behavior according to the professional practices of the CIA, the equivalent of betraying attorney-client confidentiality.

Not merely content to have played a leading role in the Iraq intelligence failure, Mr. Pillar is now following in the footsteps of others like Michael Scheuer, in undermining whatever credibility and access the CIA still may have with policymakers. By violating his confidences, Mr. Pillar is ensuring that those who succeed him–those who are, I hope, trying to fix the many problems facing the CIA–will be even less likely to see any real impact from their work because the president and his advisers will be loath to trust them.

For decades, there has been a common understanding that CIA analysts play a role roughly analogous, for policymakers, to experts whose opinions are sought in confidence, such as lawyers or accountants. Presidents and their advisers have felt comfortable in relying on analysts, in theory at least, for unbiased information and conclusions–and for keeping their mouths shut about what they learn. Presidents, secretaries of state, and others have given the CIA access into the inner sanctum of policymaking in the belief that the CIA would not use the media or leaks to influence the outcome.

For a CIA officer to discard this neutral role and to inject himself in the political realm is plain wrong. It will end up making the CIA even less relevant than it is today–if that is possible.

Paul Mirengoff at Power Line was a college roommate of Pillar’s.

Thomas Joscelyn eviscerates Pillar’s terrorism credentials in a piece highlighting the MSM’s unquestioning treatment of Pillar.

See also Stephen Hayes: Paul Pillar speaks again.

And Robert Novak: Is the CIA at war with Bush?

And: White House-CIA breach

And from 9/29/04: WSJ on the CIA’s insurgency

Note especially this paragraph, which applies as much today as it did almost exactly two years ago:

Keep in mind that none of these CIA officials were ever elected to anything, and that they are employed to provide accurate information to officials who present their policy choices for voter judgment. Yet what the CIA insurgents are essentially doing here, with their leaks and insubordination, is engaging in a policy debate. Given the timing of the latest leaks so close to an election, they are now clearly trying to defeat President Bush and elect John Kerry. Yet somehow the White House stands accused of “politicizing” intelligence?

Old habits die hard, methinks.


Watch: Today’s related Vent on Democrat monkey business.

More background from Clarice Feldman posted 2/10/06 at The American Thinker:

Pillar was the top analyst at the CounterTerrorismCenter for most of the 1990s. In April 2001, he published a book, Terrorism and U.S. Foreign Policy (published by the Brookings Institution). In this book he argued that weapons of mass destruction were less likely to pose a threat than more conventional threats, that terrorism would not ever go away, and that we should work instead to contain it.

He opposed tough approaches to terrorism as too simplistic, arguing for international cooperation and diplomacy. He obviously would be a man more comfortable with John Kerry or any other Democrat in the White House than he would be with the President America twice elected.

Pillar has long been a front line warrior in the CIA’s war on President Bush.

Thomas Lifson at AT
weighs in today:

We have long known that a cadre of professionals in the CIA opposes the President’s policies, and we have seen that they are willing to leak cherrypicked intelligence to undermine support for President Bush.

So far there is no conclusive evidence of Pillar’s personal culpability in the disposition of top secret information, which is a crime I must assume. But he puts a human face on the sort of CIA official who might well strongly oppose the President.

Peter Mulhern in an AT article today laments the sorry history of our elite experts getting it wrong. The CIA mandarinate thought there was no winning the Cold War, and focused on getting the best deal out of detente. Pillar worked his way up through this organization.

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