Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Isikoff Delivers The New Script

The New Script, shorter version: "We now admit a Baghdad briefer strayed from the script, but what he said was true anyway. And we're anonymous intelligence officials, so you should believe us."

This just out from Newsweek's gallant stenography reporting duo, Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball (all bold emphasis is mine):
Feb. 21, 2007 - An anonymous U.S. official, assigned to provide a recent “background” briefing to the news media in Baghdad, strayed from his script and overstated evidence linking Iranian leaders to weapons found in Iraq, according to four U.S. intelligence officials familiar with the matter.

The White House is still trying to recover from the stumble, which happened during a much- anticipated Feb. 11 briefing. U.S. officials had hoped to use the event to ratchet up pressure on the Tehran regime. But instead of focusing public and congressional attention on the role of Iranian government agents in stoking violence in Iraq, the briefing wound up raising new questions about whether the Bush administration is hyping intelligence about Iran in much the same way it did about Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq four years ago.

The briefing, which took place at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, was billed in advance as the forum in which the Bush administration would finally lay out its most disturbing findings about Iran's role in Iraq. It was originally scheduled to take place before Feb. 11, but was delayed—which increased anticipation about what would be revealed. Three briefers—one described as a “senior defense official,” another as a U.S. military “analyst” and the third as a U.S. military “explosives expert“—were assigned to conduct the session. But their full names and titles were not provided to the attending journalists (an unusual step even for “background” briefings), in order to protect their anonymity. In addition, cameras and tape recorders were banned from the session and no transcript was made, leading administration critics to charge that the White House was afraid to expose its evidence to full public scrutiny.

According to several Washington intelligence officials involved in monitoring fallout from the presentation, the Baghdad briefers were supposed to stick closely to a script and slide show about Iranian weapons shipments into Iraq that had been carefully vetted by the National Security Council in Washington. The slide show's contents also had been approved by U.S. intelligence agencies, including the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the CIA.

...At some point during the Baghdad presentation, however, one of the briefers apparently went beyond the text of the slide show. The briefer claimed that senior Iranian government officials had authorized the Quds Force to supply insurgents with weapons designed to kill Americans. If true, it would be powerful evidence that high-level elements of the Iranian regime were directly involved in the targeting of U.S. soldiers—arguably an act of war.

In the absence of an official transcript, the briefer’s precise words are unclear. Most news accounts quoted the briefer as saying that the "highest levels" of the Iranian government had authorized the weapons shipments. The BBC Web site quoted the anonymous U.S. official saying: "We assess that these activities are coming from the senior levels of the Iranian government."

According to the four U.S. intelligence officials (who, like all government sources in this story, would not be named talking about intelligence matters), the BBC account is an accurate reflection of the view of most U.S. intelligence analysts. Based on the way analysts understand the historical and day-to-day relationship between the Iranian government and the Quds Force, U.S. agencies believe that someone at the top of the Iranian government had to know about and probably authorized the Quds Force to ship anti-U.S. weaponry to Shia militias in Iraq.

The U.S. officials said this deduction is based on the U.S. understanding that the Quds Force is tightly controlled by top Iraqi leaders—as is its parent organization, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, one of Iran's principal internal security forces.

"The Quds Force is like a special unit that reports to the leadership. They take direction from the leadership," said one Defense official in Washington who is familiar with intelligence reporting and analysis on the subject. But, the official added: "Who gives the order, we don't know."
Even the intrepid duo and their anonymous sources cannot but help put their foots in the narrative again! With one breath, their sources say that Quds is under tight control...but they've no idea who it is that actually has that tight control.

Moreover, if the briefing was so carefully vetted for accuracy yet had a slide that clearly stated "Iran is a significant contributor to attacks on Coalition forces and also supports violence against the Iraqi security Force and innocent Iraqis," then presumably the current spin that a briefer overstated and strayed from the script rests on the rather implausible idea that the word "Iran" in that statement means "some Iranians, we aren't actually sure who" rather than "the government of Iran". For a "carefully vetted" script, that surely does mangle conventional useage of the English language.

Is it just me, or does the Bush administration's attempts to square this particular circle (all of which stem directly from General Pace's upsetting the apple cart by refusing to toe the rhetorical line) sound like the splutterings of fifth graders trying to explain why they didn't finish their maths homework?

And do you think the gallant duo at Newsweek actually read over their stenography before publishing it?

Update The Washington DC Examiner yesterday had Michael Maloof, who they describe as "a former Pentagon official who tracked global weapons proliferation, including shipments to and from Iran," tell them that he knows who controls the Quds forces.
according to Maloof, the Revolutionary Guard would never freelance. Any place al–Quds forces go is approved by Khamenei himself.

“They don’t take their orders from the president. They take it from Khamenei,” he said. “We had information for years that al-Quds are under the influence and control of the supreme leader.”
So that settles that, then? Isikoff and his faceless informers from the Pentagon, along with General Pace and even George Bush, don't know as much as Michael Maloof. Who is this guru of foreign intelligence?

This from Robert Dreyfuss and Jason Vest in their 2004 article "The Lie Factory".
"Maloof, a former aide to Richard N. Perle in the 1980s Pentagon, was twice stripped of his high-level security clearances--once in late 2001 and again last spring, for various infractions. Maloof was also reportedly involved in a bizarre scheme to broker contacts between Iraqi officials and the Pentagon, channeled through Perle, in what one report called a 'rogue [intelligence] operation' outside official CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency channels."(via Source Watch)
This is the kind of source trusted by the DC Examiner's reporter. Shouldn't he have known better? Wait...he's Rowan Scarborough, a neocon and intrepid Pentagon reporter for the Washington Times! So yes, he should - and that he doesn't see fit to question Maloof's credentials even the tiniest bit speaks volumes about how the neocon circle-jerk accomplishes its aim of pushing the narrative for war against Iran.

Update Cheryl Rofer at Whirled View connects this to the White House's usual tactic of Implausible Deniability.
The distancing playbook says find someone who can’t fight back. So it was a highly blameable low-ranking briefer who messed up, just as it was those folks in the photos at Abu Ghraib and Walter Reed’s “lower-ranking officers and noncommissioned officers lacking ‘the right experience and the authority to be able to execute some of the missions!’” Further up the chain of command, responsibility is formulaically accepted, but no, nobody is fired.
There used to be a sign on the desk in the Oval Office that said "The buck stops here". Now it reads "Buck? What buck?".

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