Pt 1: Gareth Porter: US Intelligence on Syria “cherry-picked” by proponents of proposed strike
JAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jaisal Noor in Baltimore. And welcome to this latest edition of The Porter Report.
As the Obama administration continues to outline its case for attacking Syria, new revelations have come to light that call into question the very intelligence the White House is using to justify its actions.
Now joining us to discuss this is Gareth Porter. He’s a historian and investigative journalist on U.S. foreign and military policy. He writes regularly for the Inter Press Service, and he received the U.K.-based Gellhorn Prize for Journalism in 2011 for his articles on the U.S. war in Afghanistan. His new piece published today in IPS is “Obama’s Case for Syria Didn’t Reflect Intel Consensus”.
Thank you so much for joining us, Gareth.
GARETH PORTER, INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST: Thank you, Jaisal.
NOOR: So, Gareth, what do you know and how do you know it?
PORTER: Well, we know that there’s a problem with the way in which the intelligence paper that the White House issued August 30 has been described, for a number of reasons. The thing that–the tipoff that should have alerted me and many others but which I and others missed is the fact that this paper about the intelligence on the Syrian chemical weapons attack or alleged attack of August 21 has been called by the White House, labeled a U.S. government assessment.
Now, that raises very fundamental question: why would the White House call a paper that’s supposed to represent the intelligence community’s perspective or their analysis of this intelligence a U.S. government assessment? And that is a tipoff that in fact this was not a paper that was put forward by the intelligence community itself and then simply released by the White House. It was a paper that went through a process which did involve the intelligence community, no doubt about that. They undoubtedly submitted their analyses, various intelligence agencies, the CIA, the DIA, and the 14 others, to the office of the director of national intelligence, James Clapper. There was a press report a couple of days, I think three days before the release of this paper indicating that the plan was that Clapper would be the person who would be the alleged author or the person whose name would be on this paper. But in fact his name is nowhere to be found. And I found from a very careful search of the website of the office of the director of national intelligence that it’s nowhere to be found there either. It’s only found on the White House website itself.
And incidentally, when I called the office of the director of national intelligence for this story on three successive days, a number of phone calls as well as an email, I could get no response whatsoever from them, and it’s very clear they were refusing to talk to me about this. So this is the first clue that this was in fact a White House product in the end. But the White House had the final say over what was included in the product and not the director of national intelligence, not the CIA director or any of the other top officials of the intelligence community.
NOOR: So, Gareth, you talked to many former intelligence and government officials. One unnamed official you quote said this demonstrates the cherry picking of intelligence in this lead up to the possible attack on Syria. And you also talked to Greg Thielmann, who was involved in the government in the lead up to the war in Iraq. Can you talk about his significance and what it means that he’s speaking out about this lead-up to the attack on Syria?
PORTER: Right. Well, first of all, just to be clear, the former senior intelligence official who I quoted saying that what was going on here was that the administration had put together something which allowed them to cherry pick the intelligence that they wanted to cite in support of their policy, the significance of that, of course, is that this was the charge against the Bush administration in 2002. And this senior intelligence official, who has decades of experience, has had dozens of security classifications, told me that he had never heard of the idea of a government assessment. He’d never seen that term used for any kind of document related to an international crisis, let alone a intelligence document, supposedly an intelligence assessment.
And what–when I asked Greg Thielmann about this, he said he agreed that there was something that was quite puzzling about this. He did not understand. He’d never himself seen the use of such a term and thought that it was a strange. And therefore he confirmed what the unnamed former senior intelligence official had said to me.
But I do want to make it clear that Greg Thielmann has said publicly and confirmed to me that he believes that the intelligence itself is more sound or firmer than it was in 2002. He’s more satisfied with it. I disagree with that based on a very detailed analysis of what the White House did in fact cte in support of its plan to attack Syria in that August 30 paper. But he, on one hand, admits that there’s something not quite right about it. But he’s not ready to say the same thing, that this means that the White House has cherry picked the intelligence.
NOOR: And can you just give us a little background on Thielmann and his involvement in the State Department in the lead-up to the war in Iraq?
PORTER: Well, he was the State Department specialist on Iraq who was the person who had to deal with the issues relating to the national intelligence estimate that was being prepared in October–well, is being prepared in September and early October 2002 and had dissented from the point of view that predominated in the CIA, and which essentially was the one that was carried in the national intelligence estimate of October 2002, on the issues of aluminum tubes, the famous aluminum tubes that were claimed to be evidence of a very advanced program of nuclear weapons on the part of Saddam and the question of the mobile bio weapons labs. So he was the State Department person who was entering in dissent on that set of issues.
NOOR: So, Gareth, thank you so much for joining us for part one of this discussion. We’re going to continue this discussion and air part two of it tomorrow.
PORTER: Thank you, Jaisal.
NOOR: Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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