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The politics of the NIE
Posted by: McQ on Thursday, September 28, 2006

As discussion of the NIE continues, the political fallout from the NYT story which first broke it also continues. Some observations:

A) Leaks have become a serious problem and one which this administration (and I'd say this about any administration) must do something about. There is a lot of speculation about who might be the source, but regardless, leaking classified documents is unacceptable. Leaking them for political purposes is equally unacceptable. The problem has continued mostly because to this point, there's been no penalty for leaking classified info. That should change.

B) Democrats siezed on the story to point an "I told you so" finger at the administration. Politically you can't fault them for that. Seemed pretty sweet at the time. However, the administration then declassified the executive summary to counter the story (and, as most of us have wondered, why in the world was it classified in the first place, given that most of the conclusions were hardly earth-shaking or something which would provide the enemy with aid, valuable information or actionable intelligence). That seems to have had a salutary effect for them.

C) the spin on both sides continues.

Result?

On the right:
"The Administration is smartly pointing out that there has not been another major attack in five years," Lowenthal said. "You can argue whether that's an accurate portrayal of how much progress we've made. But it's more likely to resonate with people than something in the sixth paragraph of an NIE."
On the left:
In their eagerness to knock down Bush’s war in Iraq by using reports about the NIE, the Democrats risk giving another boost to the president in the “other” war, namely, the so-called war on terrorism. By embracing the NIE’s reported conclusion that the war in Iraq has made the threat of terrorism worse, the Democrats play into Bush’s strong suit. While most Americans think that the war in Iraq is wrong and not worth fighting, polls continue to show that support for President Bush as the commander in chief of the Global War on Terror. Ironically, by endorsing the idea that radical Islamist terrorism is a major threat to the United States, the Democrats could end up driving U.S. voters into the arms of the president once again.
Interestingly the last cite was written by Robert Dreyfuss who writes for both the Nation and Mother Jones. In fact, I got a huge chuckle out of his conclusion:
Rather than joining in, the Democrats need to stop talking about terrorism at every turn and refuse to join the Republicans in their facile use of the demon-word, terrorism. It’s time to change the subject.
Heh ... that's now two subjects they're being advised to change.

Anyway, the two paragraphs cited pretty much sum up for me the likely political result that will come out of all of this. And, as usual, what began as a hopeful political issue for Democrats in the national security areas ends up backfiring on them. As Dreyfuss advises, maybe it's time to change the subject ... again.
 
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(and, as most of us have wondered, why in the world was it classified in the first place, given that most of the conclusions were hardly earth-shaking
Keep in mind we’re talking about the same administration that has classified the weather.
 
Written By: Davebo
URL: http://
It isn’t the conclusions, but the discussion of sources and methods that led to them which are being protected. That’s why they haven’t released the whole report.
 
Written By: Pablo
URL: http://
It isn’t the conclusions, but the discussion of sources and methods that led to them which are being protected. That’s why they haven’t released the whole report.
Understood and acknowledged, but the exec summary is 4 pages of pure opinion which doesn’t at all endanger methods and sources.
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/blog
In addition to Pablo’s rationale for keeping it classified is that an assessment such as this is already under huge political pressure within any administration. Once those putting them together feel they will be released for the political grist mill various factions within the various communities and the administration will have an even greater incentive to use the document to make political points.

It is supposed to be an aid in determining policy, and the administration (any administration) needs to be able to question it or accept its conclusions as they see fit. If it will be presented in the media as gospel truth (or as something to be ridiculed) then it will cease being desired or useful. It will cease being an aid to policy and become just another weapon for politics. I think that has been shown to be true this time, I don’t see any reason it won’t prove true in the future. We have all kinds of sources for those battles, our intelligence services should be kept out of that as much as possible. We can get opinions from a number of places, including this blog. Obviously many in the intelligence community disagree, hence the leaks.
 
Written By: Lance
URL: http://www.asecondhandconjecture.com
Understood and acknowledged, but the exec summary is 4 pages of pure opinion which doesn’t at all endanger methods and sources.
True, but it’s rightful place in the world is as just that; an Executive Summary of a classified document, generally considered a component of the document.

Keeping in mind that we wouldn’t (and shouldn’t) be talking about it at all if not for the criminal that decided to spill the parts they liked, prompting the release of the summary, the whole thing would still be classified. It was never intended for public consumption, and I’m uncomfortable with the declassification of intelligence info as political swordsmanship. This is a really stupid game to be playing while we’re at war.

Lance’s point is excellent as well.
 
Written By: Pablo
URL: http://
Keep in mind we’re talking about the same administration that has classified the weather.
Link, please. Surely you have a link.
 
Written By: Mark A. Flacy
URL: http://
Understood and acknowledged, but the exec summary is 4 pages of pure opinion which doesn’t at all endanger methods and sources.
Now we come to the real elephant in the room.

The leaks exist right now as an informal counterweight to the executive branch’s ability to literally classify anything it wants, whether there’s an objective national security interest, or whether there’s only the broadest sort of

"national security interest"

like, "if the opposition party found out we were planning to make this policy move, they might raise arguments against it, and since this policy move is good for our security (thinks the executive branch) than it’s a vital NS interest to keep it quiet."

The extreme outcome of this is an executive branch immune from public pressure over the content of his foreign policy due to the total secrecy involved. You might like the sound of that now, but you won’t like it when the next Democratic adminstration signs a leak-proof secret treaty of cooperation with Iran.

I don’t support punishing leakers by law. I think what’s best done is best done in public knowledge. Situations that genuinely put lives in immediate danger tend not to get leaked, because the leakers don’t want Americans to die. Everything else - the public wants to know. Bring it.



 
Written By: glasnost
URL: http://
=Great that you quoted the left and all, but man, the leftist you quoted is dumb. Democrats running races in the field aren’t "changing the subject" on the Iraq war or terrorism, that much I’ve seen plenty of evidence. No matter how much certain depressed "can’t we all just get along" centrists simperingly ask us to let the president have his clusterf*ck in peace and quiet.
 
Written By: glasnost
URL: http://
The leaks exist right now as an informal counterweight to the executive branch’s ability to literally classify anything it wants, whether there’s an objective national security interest, or whether there’s only the broadest sort of

"national security interest"

like, "if the opposition party found out we were planning to make this policy move, they might raise arguments against it, and since this policy move is good for our security (thinks the executive branch) than it’s a vital NS interest to keep it quiet."
Then change the law. Make the requirements for classification more stringent by law. But as the law exists right now, that is the executive’s prerogative.
I don’t support punishing leakers by law. I think what’s best done is best done in public knowledge. Situations that genuinely put lives in immediate danger tend not to get leaked, because the leakers don’t want Americans to die. Everything else - the public wants to know. Bring it.
Well that’s wonderful theoretically until somoene leaks something which gets Americans killed. Then what?

You can certainly bring up mitigating circumstances at a trial, but to throw out a blanket "we shouldn’t punish leakers by law" seems not to appreciate the fact that in all likelihood, not all leaks would fit your category of ’good’.
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/blog
=Great that you quoted the left and all, but man, the leftist you quoted is dumb.
Why is that necessarily dumb? Unless I’ve missed it, this bit with the NIE hasn’t particularly helped the Dems.
Democrats running races in the field aren’t "changing the subject" on the Iraq war or terrorism, that much I’ve seen plenty of evidence.


While I understand your objections, I’d point out that the article is specifically about about the NIE. His use of the word "terrorism" in the last few sentences may have been ill chosen, but he’s mostly saying Dems should drop the NIE argument bit like a hot rock.

 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/blog
Can anyone answer, when in the past has the NIE reports been declassified, absent outside pressure to do so?
 
Written By: Keith_Indy
URL: http://
glasnost, do you think we should have such a thing as classified information, or should everything we bother to record be open to inspection?
The leaks exist right now as an informal counterweight to the executive branch’s ability to literally classify anything it wants, whether there’s an objective national security interest, or whether there’s only the broadest sort of
It that your assessment of the leak of the NIE? That it is a counterweight to Presidential abuse of classification power?
 
Written By: Pablo
URL: http://

glasnost : but you won’t like it when the next Democratic adminstration signs a leak-proof secret treaty of cooperation with Iran.


Can a president enter into a treaty without approval from Congress? I would assume not, but the real issue is can an administration formulate policy from inteligence without all the "ears in the cornfield" being party to the discussion?
 
Written By: doubled
URL: http://
glasnost, there are members of Congress on both sides of the aisle who have the clearances to know about this type of thing.

Congress can, any time that it wishes, take over or override classification rules.

If an elected representative wants to discuss classified information to the US public (by extension, of course, the world public), then so be it.

I have a really, really hard time allowing those decisions to be made by some civil service weasel. Or uniformed weasel, for that matter.
 
Written By: Mark A. Flacy
URL: http://
I have a really, really hard time allowing those decisions to be made by some civil service weasel.
Well, I get the idea here.
Then change the law. Make the requirements for classification more stringent by law. But as the law exists right now, that is the executive’s prerogative.
It seems right now that, contrary to the spirit of what I assume is a law, or at least government policy in this area, leaks don’t get punished, and correspondingly, out of the spirit of, either a law or at least the spirit of government classification guidelines, other-than-genuine-national-security-in-the-narrow-sense reasons are used for classifying documents.

I don’t think I’d so much say that I’m blanketly against the punishing of leaks - perhaps - as much as that some leaks clearly serve the overall public good, when, let’s leave this theoretical, the executive is pursuing policies that public pressure would usually force mitigation of, beyond the public eye.

Although I have concerns about how well it would work in practice, I’d have less of a problem going after leakers - as a general rule - in combination with a classification reform.

But the truth is, even the Bush Administration, itself the ’target’ of these leaks, if that’s how you want to frame it, doesn’t seem to have much of an appetite for leak-punishing. Perhaps they’re tired of the blowback, or have found the job too difficult. I wish I could say I felt bad about it, but I don’t.

If an elected representative wants to discuss classified information to the US public (by extension, of course, the world public), then so be it.I seem to remember that part of the scandal about the circumstances surrounding the NSA leak was that the representatives in question were told that they were unable to take notes, discuss the matter with their staffs, with non-classified lawmakers, and certainly *not* with the public. I don’t know what the threatened consequences were - prosecution comes to mind, but I’m not definitively asserting that prosecution was threatened - but the lawmakers certainly implied after the fact that they couldn’t talk about it without breaking the law.

Clearly, if Congress was able to take classified info to the public instead of civil servants, that would be one form of reform that I would look favorably on. I’m not sure that the facts are as you say they are.
 
Written By: glasnost
URL: http://
If an elected representative wants to discuss classified information to the US public (by extension, of course, the world public), then so be it.
This blockquote goes with the last half of above comment.
 
Written By: glasnost
URL: http://
Hey ’nost. For the record, I considered using this quote for the "left" from Nancy Pelosi after the NYT story broke, but I figure she’s probably trying to forget she said it:
"With such a devastating and authoritative analysis of the Bush administration’s failures in Iraq, the president and the Republican-controlled Congress now have a choice to make. Will they stubbornly follow a failed stay-the-course strategy that America’s intelligence community has concluded makes America less safe, or will they finally admit their mistakes and change course?"
I think that’s what Dreyfuss was hinting at.
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/blog

 
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