Tuesday, November 18, 2003
Al Qaeda and Iraq II: In response to The Weekly Standard's piece by Stephen F. Hayes regarding the connections between the Al Qaeda terrorist organization and Saddam Hussein's Iraq.
Shortly after Hayes' piece was published on the Web, the Department of Defense came out with a press release which, to appropriate a statement from The Washington Post's Ben Bradlee, amounts to a "non-denial denial." A few media outlets have characterized the press release as a "debunking" of Hayes' piece -- it is not.
The press release, which never identifies Hayes report specifically, states in full:
News reports that the Defense Department recently confirmed new information with respect to contacts between al Qaeda and Iraq in a letter to the Senate Intelligence Committee are inaccurate.
A letter was sent to the Senate Intelligence Committee on Oct. 27, 2003, from Douglas J. Feith, under secretary of defense for policy, in response to follow-up questions from his July 10 testimony. One of the questions posed by the committee asked the department to provide the reports from the intelligence community to which he referred in his testimony before the committee. These reports dealt with the relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda.
The letter to the committee included a classified annex containing a list and description of the requested reports, so that the committee could obtain the reports from the relevant members of the intelligence community.
The items listed in the classified annex were either raw reports or products of the CIA, the National Security Agency or, in one case, the Defense Intelligence Agency. The provision of the classified annex to the Intelligence Committee was cleared by other agencies and done with the permission of the intelligence community. The selection of the documents was made by DoD to respond to the committee’s question. The classified annex was not an analysis of the substantive issue of the relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda, and it drew no conclusions.
Individuals who leak or purport to leak classified information are doing serious harm to national security; such activity is deplorable and may be illegal.
Note first that the memo's authenticity is not questioned.
Second, observe the weasel word "new" in the first paragraph. That's accurate, this is nothing new -- except to the American public. This information was presented to the Senate Intelligence Committee back in July verbally.
The DoD's main contention appears to be that Hayes used the information in the memo in a way that the government didn't intend for it to be used.
The classified annex was not an analysis of the substantive issue of the relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda, and it drew no conclusions.
Just because the government didn't want to draw any conclusions from the document doesn't mean that we cannot. We can read the document. We can think for ourselves, thanks.
This "argument," if it can be called that, by the government about how this document was supposed to be used reminded me of an encounter I had a few years back at the local DMV office.
I had just moved back to California from Washington State and was waiting in line to get my license. The cheerless bureaucrat behind the counter asked to see my Washington State license -- and then confiscated it. I asked to keep it so I would have a photo ID. She then lectured me that a "drivers license entitles you to drive a car. It is not valid identification." My jaw dropped. "What do you mean?" I asked. And she repeated her obviously well-rehearsed and oft-repeated lecture. I saw it was pointless to argue. She was undoubtedly right -- except for the fact that in the real world, a drivers license is used as identification daily.
So, the DoD doesn't think their memo should be used in the way Hayes used it. Fine. That doesn't make his story inaccurate or wrong.
*UPDATE* For a similar take on this issue, check out Slate's Jack Shafer.