Prewar Intelligence Either ‘Not Illegal’ or ‘Very Damning’ Depending on Source

February 9th, 2007 10:29 AM

The highly anticipated report from the Pentagon’s acting inspector general concerning prewar intelligence was released on Thursday, and depending on the media outlet you rely on for information, the determination was either that “officials did nothing illegal,” or their reporting was of “dubious quality and reliability.”

As a result, it appears that if a media outlet wanted to present a negative picture of what the Bush administration did with intelligence before the war, it could. Conversely, if another organization wanted to depict the opposite, that was possible, too.

For instance, one of the most consistently antiwar writers has been Walter Pincus of the Washington Post who actually wrote about bad intelligence information days before the war began. On Friday, he wrote this in the first paragraph of an article on the Pentagon report published on WaPo’s front page (emphasis mine throughout):

Intelligence provided by former undersecretary of defense Douglas J. Feith to buttress the White House case for invading Iraq included "reporting of dubious quality or reliability" that supported the political views of senior administration officials rather than the conclusions of the intelligence community, according to a report by the Pentagon's inspector general.

Nice lead for the front page, don’t you agree?

Shockingly, the New York Times piece on this issue was far less damning:

A Pentagon investigation into the handling of prewar intelligence has criticized civilian Pentagon officials for conducting their own intelligence analysis to find links between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda, but said the officials did not violate any laws or mislead Congress, according to Congressional officials who have read the report.

Quite a different take on exactly the same report, no?

Moving forward, as the Associated Press often releases many different versions of the same story during a given day, those disparities in this case appear to give publishers a wonderful display case of options concerning the slant on this issue they can present to their readers. For instance, this is an AP piece by Robert Burns published in USA Today:

Some of the Pentagon's pre-war intelligence work, including a contention that the CIA had underplayed the likelihood of significant al-Qaeda connections to Saddam Hussein, was inappropriate but not illegal, a Pentagon investigation has concluded.

In a report to be presented to Congress on Friday, the Pentagon inspector general clears former Pentagon policy chief Douglas J. Feith of allegations by some Democrats of illegal activities — specifically, that he misled Congress about the basis of the administration's assertions on the threat posed by Iraq.

Compare and contrast that to this AP piece by Burns published in the Houston Chronicle:

A "very damning" report by the Defense Department's inspector general depicts a Pentagon that purposely manipulated intelligence in an effort to link Saddam Hussein to al-Qaida in the runup to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, says the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Some difference, wouldn’t you agree?