One was the fact that all sources in the story were anonymous. Maybe it's too much to expect named sources in such a story, because anyone leaking classified material is committing a big no-no. But the fact that the sources were all anonymous raised questions that they may be leaking -- and giving a slanted view of the report -- for political reasons. So did the fact that the leaks are coming a half-year after the report's completion -- and a half-year closer to November's election.
Another red flag was the lack of any actual quotations from the NIE. The paper just used characterizations by people who had either seen the final draft or helped produce earlier drafts.
Then there was the Bush administration's immediate reaction to the NIE stories. The articles in The Times and other papers, the White House said, were "not representative of the complete document."
How to judge? A few days later the White House did something that's regrettable but critical when leakers and media outlets take it upon themselves to declassify classified material to undercut the Bush administration and the war effort. It declassified the NIE's findings. It provided the public with actual words from the report (dni.gov/press_releases/Declassified_NIE_Key_Judgments.pdf). Anyone interested could read the findings rather than a news story characterizing (or mischaracterizing) the report. Readers could decide for themselves if the U.S. intelligence agencies had found our presence in Iraq was making us less safe against terrorists.
Yes, the report says the Iraqi jihad is "shaping a new generation of terrorist leaders" and is now a " 'cause celebre' for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of U.S. involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement." But it's only one of four factors fueling the movement's spread. Others are "entrenched grievances such as corruption, injustice and fear of Western domination . . . the slow pace of real and sustained economic, social and political reforms in many Muslim majority nations and pervasive anti-U.S. sentiment among most Muslims."