Monday, December 10

More NIE fallout: Pundita mumbles an apology of sorts to Mike McConnell

In a December 7 post I grumbled:
McConnell showed bad judgment in deciding to declassify the NIE right away. He rushed to get the NIE to the public and the shaky grounds that "... we felt it was important to release this information to ensure that an accurate presentation is available," explained Donald Kerr, principal deputy director of national intelligence.
That was before Retired Col. W. Patrick Lang, a former official in the Defense Intelligence Agency, said that senior CIA analysts involved in the NIE threat assessment on Iran demanded of the White House that the "gist" of the NIE key judgments be released to the public -- or they would leak the findings, even if it meant they had to go to jail.

Col. Lang's statement has been published, although I don't have the link at this time. Of course Lang's statement, which does not reference his source, might be wrong. But it is plausible enough to prompt me to hold my fire until more is known about McConnell's decision.

I still think it was the wrong decision, but it was surely made in consultation with senior White House officials and probably even President Bush. Certainly, the White House would know that any hint from CIA analysts that they would leak the key judgements would have to be taken seriously, given the recent history of leaks in Washington.

This said, I stand by my Dec 7 comments:
... the public can't have 'accuracy' on the report because certain elements of it remain classified! And because the report is public, it would be hard for US intelligence officials who signed off on the NIE to back away from the key conclusion -- that Iran had abandoned their nuclear weapons program in 2003 -- no matter what evidence Israel brings to the contrary.
As David Kay noted during an interview with Campbell Brown this weekend for CNN, the portion of the NIE that has been released is basically "headlines;" no supporting data have been published. So the public is still feeling around in the dark when it comes to assessing the NIE conclusions.

Given the grave events spinning out from the NIE publication, it might have been better to risk dealing with a leak than to have gone ahead with publication at this time. But this would be a judgment call made under great time pressure. So, for now, I'm letting McConnell halfway off the hook.

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