Thursday, April 13, 2006

What I Wanna Know Is

We've probably all read by now yesterday's Wash Post article on the Defense Intelligence Agency's group of British and American volunteers that went to Baghdad in May of 2003 to check out the story about the "mobile biological weapons labs" the invaders thought they found.

Although the nine members of scientific experts quickly determined the "labs" lacked the essential instruments and capabilities for producing biological weapons, and faxed a report saying the same back to headquarters, the president nonetheless went out two days later and announced that "we found the WMD", meaning the mobile labs.

Well, the Post story created a ruckus at the White House briefing where Scotty responded to questions on it by going off like a banshee and demanding that the reporters apologize for mentioning it. Scotty gave a couple of evasive, non-answers to the juxtaposition between the report's submission and the president's contrary, and soon to be determined, totally wrong statement about what the mobile labs really were. First, he says we all know now how wrong the intelligence agencies were before the war, this is old business, waddya waddya waddya, and failing that, said, well, there were other teams that investigated the labs and thought they were legit WMD, and gee, that's what we went with.

The first point is naturally just bupkis, because what the Senate's "investigation" into the pre-war case for war said was "the intelligence agencies got it all wrong" before the war, and the WH was just objectively following their evidence and so really wasn't at fault for the war shenanigans, before the war. But the matter of the mobile biological labs was clearly after the war. And the implication is the WH was as equally mendacious after the war as before.

But it's the second point that intrigues me. The Post article suggested the labs had been examined by other investigators, but didn't specify how. Scotty says the WH ain't in the intelligence gathering business (ain't that the truth) and that we should all check with the CIA.

OK, where's the CIA document?

In today's Post it mentions that in the aftermath of yesterday's revelation, the WH sent out a blitz of Setting the Record Straight emails or faxes to the press providing what I think is crucial information.

In the statements, the White House does not deny the existence of the technical team's report but portrays it as a preliminary finding, contrasting that report with a public white paper put out by the CIA on May 28, 2003. The CIA paper described the trailers as the "strongest evidence to date that Iraq was hiding a biological warfare program."

The White House provided a "link" to a CIA Web site where the white paper is still posted, nearly 18 months after its conclusions were refuted by the Iraq Survey Group.

I've checked the CIA site but can't locate the document in question. It would be important to find this document and read it because even if the DIA document isn't declassified, we could tell what the basis was for the offsetting, but wrong, CIA report upon which the president stated that "we found the weapons of mass destruction", meaning the mobile labs.

What I Wanna Know Is, A, where is this document? Has anyone tracked it down? B, how did the CIA come to believe the labs were the real deal? Were they relying on pictures or Curveball's analysis? Or did they actually go out to Baghdad and look at the things? If they actually saw the things up close, how did they goof, and make something out of nothing? It sounds as if either the CIA and the intelligence apparatus is either more stunningly incompetent than we thought, that this incompetence extended beyond the start of the war, or that their analysis was flat out sloppy, and thus also, incompetent.

Where's the document and what's the story?

Update I: the document is here. I'll be back later with a summary, or something.

Update II: Well, I read the document. And I'm embarassed I made such a fuss over it. The total document is ten pages long, but one page is the title page, two pages are essentially blank, and two more pages are basically pictures or graphical depictions of the labs. Only five pages contain words that could be construed as explaining the nature of the items in question. And of those words, a good deal basically say "well, we showed these pics to our source (Curveball) and he said they looked like them." Towards the end of the White Paper the report says "we're now going to conduct a CSI-like examination of the trailer's materials, but we don't expect to find anything because Saddam had his goons pour bleach over everything...sure enough, we conducted a bio-chemical analysis of the trailers and nothing turned up...see, Saddam screwed us by destroying all the evidence."

So much for the document Scotty says the president, and later his vice-president used as the basis for declaring that the trailers we found were evidence of WMD or WMD related program activities.

And maybe everything would be fine if we just left it at that. I don't know why the DIA would send a team to Iraq to inspect the trailers and then a day after getting a report from the team, allow a CIA White Paper concluding the opposite to go out with the DIA logo on it. And I'm perfectly willing to believe that the president was poorly served by his subordinates in this case and was genuinely unaware of the DIA report. No harm, no foul.

But as they say, it's not the original misdeed that gets you, it's the cover-up.

On their webpage, the WH launches a diatribe against the Washington Post, ABC news, and seemingly anyone that would question the administration about the report or its motives. And then they include what seems to me a shockingly absurd statement about the DIA report:

But The Defense Department Field Report Was A "Preliminary Finding"

U.S. Intelligence Official: "You Don't Change A Report That Has Been Coordinated In The [Intelligence] Community Based On A Field Report.""A U.S. intelligence official, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, confirmed the existence of the field report cited by the Post, but said it was a preliminary finding that had to be evaluated. 'You don't change a report that has been coordinated in the [intelligence] community based on a field report,' the official said. 'It's a preliminary report. No matter how strongly the individual may feel about the subject matter.'" ("White House Hotly Denies Report On Iraq WMD," Reuters, 4/12/06)

You don't change a report based on a field report? Does anybody know what this is supposed to mean? Isn't a field report supposed to, you know, inform the people coordinating our intelligence reports? How else is an intelligence report supposed to be coordinated?

As I've mentioned, I can't imagine why the DIA would send a team out to Baghdad to clear up any confusion about what the trailers were or were not, and then go ahead a day after getting their report and sign on to a completely contradictory report that doesn't mention the DIA's special team report at all.

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