POLITICS FEBRUARY 2, 2004
The New Republic's December 1 & 8 cover article seeks to paint as "radical" the vice president's conclusion that Saddam Hussein's Iraq posed a gathering threat ("The Radical," Spencer Ackerman and Franklin Foer). Far from radical, that conclusion had been widely held for years by the U.S. intelligence community, other departments in our federal government, and even the United Nations. For example:
• The American intelligence community found with "high confidence" that "Iraq is continuing, and in some areas expanding, its chemical, biological, nuclear, and missile programs contrary to U.N. resolutions" (National Intelligence Estimate [NIE], October 2002).
• CIA Director George Tenet stated, "We have solid reporting of senior level contacts between Iraq and Al Qaeda going back a decade" and "credible reporting that Al Qaeda leaders sought contacts in Iraq who could help them acquire WMD [weapons of mass destruction] capabilities. The reporting also stated that Iraq has provided training to Al Qaeda members in the areas of poisons and gases and making conventional bombs" (letter to the Senate Intelligence Committee, October 7, 2002).
• Secretary of State Colin Powell told the U.N. Security Council, "When we confront a regime that harbors ambitions for regional domination, hides weapons of mass destruction, and provides haven and active support for terrorists, we are not confronting the past; we are confronting the present" (February 5, 2003).
• By a 15-to-zero vote, the United Nations found Iraq in material breach of its resolutions, including those on WMD.
• The Clinton administration, too, had attacked Saddam's regime based on similar evidence.
With this in mind, Vice President Cheney concluded, "Those charged with the security of this nation could not read such an assessment and pretend that it did not exist. Ignoring such information, or trying to wish it away, would be irresponsible in the extreme" (July 24, 2003).
To make this common wisdom seem "radical," Ackerman and Foer ignore the overwhelming public record. Instead, they create a fantasy world in which evidence is supposedly passed improperly and intelligence analysts are purportedly pressured to reach conclusions our intelligence community openly held for years. Ackerman and Foer rely on inaccurate second- or thirdhand information from a handful of anonymous, retired "ex-analysts"—none of whom appear to have been directly involved in the events they attempt to describe. (One unidentified "retired analyst" even claims that some unnamed intelligence analysts were treated like a "bunch of pinkos." Pinkos? When did this analyst retire? 1955?)
How inconvenient, then, that the senior career official who published the intelligence community consensus, Stuart Cohen, writes in The Washington Post on November 28, 2003, "The judgments presented in the October 2002 NIE were based on data acquired and analyzed over 15 years. Our judgments were presented to three different administrations and routinely to six congressional committees. And the principal participants in the production of the NIE from across the entire U.S. intelligence community have sworn to Congress, under oath, that they were not pressured to change their views or to conform to administration positions."
Furthermore, Ackerman and Foer write ominously that the vice president "paid calls to analysts at the DIA [Defense Intelligence Agency], the National Security Agency [NSA], and even the National Intelligence Mapping Agency [NIMA]." But the vice president visited them only once each, in the spring of 2001—to meet management and address Agency employees in auditoriums to thank them for their vital efforts. Contrary to Ackerman and Foer's assertion, these visits had nothing to do with Iraq. Similarly, the public record—long available to TNR—clearly shows that the statements from the vice president quoted in the article were in accord with the public assertions of Tenet, Powell, and the intelligence community.
In short, these and other misstatements in the article could have been avoided if the reporters had checked their facts. Ackerman and Foer ignored evidence that would have undercut their preconceived thesis. Or, to borrow their own language, the authors seem to have been cherry-picking, "trying to stifle information that [they] considered counterproductive to [their] case."
In so doing, they do a disservice to Vice President Cheney, I. Lewis Libby, John Hannah, and others. Topics of such gravity merit the kind of balanced and thoughtful treatment of which TNR and its talented writers and editors are more than capable.
Office of the Vice President
Spencer Ackerman and Franklin Foer Reply:
Kevin Kellems suggests that we should have checked our facts. In fact, we did, as evidenced by, among other things, our lengthy pre-publication phone conversation with him for this purpose. Though Kellems alleges many misstatements, he can cite only one in a 7,000-word article. He says Vice President Dick Cheney's visits to DIA, NSA, and NIMA had no relationship to the Iraq intelligence. While we concede mistakenly linking these visits to Iraq, that point was a one-sentence aside in a section about how many visits the vice president made to the CIA that have been widely criticized—outside the Agency and within it—as efforts to pressure analysts into producing intelligence more in line with administration policy. About this larger point, Kellems says nothing—except when he quotes the National Intelligence Council's Stuart Cohen, in a statement issued after our piece went to press, that analysts have testified they felt no pressure from the Bush administration. It is worth noting, however, that The Washington Post reported in October 2003 that many of these analysts delivered their testimony in the presence of superiors—not exactly a climate conducive to candor.
As for the rest of Kellems's letter, he's arguing against a straw man. We never disputed that Saddam posed a threat to U.S. national security. What we demonstrated was how Cheney's ideological preconceptions led him and his staffers to ignore and suppress contrary evidence about the scope of that threat and to inflate evidence--some of it considered dubious by the intelligence community--that supported their preferred policy. In fact, with the evidence Kellems cites, he unwittingly makes our point: The October 2002 NIE on Iraq, Tenet's statement on Iraq-Al Qaeda ties that month, and Powell's February 2003 U.N. testimony were not pieces of objective evidence that the administration relied on to formulate its Iraq policy. Rather, they were products of an intelligence process that the administration--and the Office of the Vice President in particular--had already politicized in order to justify its Iraq policy. To take one particularly egregious example, much of Powell's testimony was first drafted by Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby. For a more thorough examination of how the administration exerted a heavy hand on the intelligence services, we refer our readers to Spencer Ackerman and John B. Judis's earlier stories--"The First Casualty" (June 30, 2003) and "The Operator" (September 22, 2003)--as well as careful reporting in The Washington Post throughout last year by Barton Gellman, Dana Priest, and Walter Pincus.
Finally, Kellems questions the credibility of our intelligence sources, all of whom maintain close ties to the intelligence services. We independently verified their accounts whenever possible, and we stand by the information they provided to us.
The editorial "Mass Appeal," about the Massachusetts samesex marriage decision, asserted that "the key question is not about judicial overreach but whether there is any justification for refusing homosexuals the right to marry" (December 1 & 8). However, the Massachusetts constitution, which the court used to justify changing state marriage law, says otherwise.
Article 30 of the Massachusetts constitution states categorically, "In the government of this commonwealth … the judicial [branch] shall never exercise the legislative and executive powers, or either of them." This explicitly prohibits the very "judicial overreach" that The New Republic appears to condone. And it directly conflicts with the editors' statement that "the proper role of the courts" is "not a matter to be dismissed lightly." The proper role--that is, the power of courts in a constitutional democracy--cannot be dismissed at all.
TNR further contends that judicial overreaching can be ignored when "at least half" of the population likes the result. Whether the issue is same-sex marriage or application of health regulations to green onions, an opinion poll cannot confer upon judges power the Constitution explicitly forbids.Policy preferences and public opinion are matters for legislatures, not for courts.
Bristling at the idea of a marriage-protective amendment to the Constitution, the editors insist that making marriage law "is a matter for states and states alone." TNR should also insist that it is a matter for legislatures and legislatures alone.
Orrin G. Hatch
Lost in Translation
I read with great interest Anne O'Donnell's article on the startling shortage of translators in our military and intelligence agencies ("Speechless," December 22). However, while I agree that we should be hiring more native speakers of Arabic and other difficult languages here in the United States, there is simply not a large enough pool of qualified applicants. The only way we're going to solve the translator problem is by creating a new domestic pool of foreign-language experts, and we can only do that if we invest in the classroom.
Consider the following disturbing facts. Al Qaeda operates in over 75 countries, where hundreds of languages and dialects are spoken. However, 99 percent of U.S. high school and university programs concentrate on roughly a dozen (mostly European) languages. More college students currently study Ancient Greek (20,858) than Arabic (10,596), Korean (5,211), Persian (1,117), and Pashto (14) put together.
That's why I have introduced legislation, the National Security Language Act, which would expand federal investment for education in foreign languages of critical need, such as Arabic, Persian, Korean, Pashto, and Chinese. Specifically, my bill would provide loan forgiveness of up to $10,000 for university students who major in a critical-need foreign language and then take a job either in the federal workforce or as a language teacher. It would also provide new grants to U.S. universities to establish intensive in-country language-study programs and to develop programs that would encourage students to pursue advanced science and technology studies in a foreign language.
Just as the National Defense Education Act of 1958 created a generation of scientists, engineers, and Russian linguists to confront the enemy of that time, the National Security Language Act will give us a generation of Americans able to confront the new threats we face today.