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Leaks Likely On Iraq National Intelligence Estimate

Some argue that the National Intelligence Estimate helps the enemies of the United States just to know what conclusions U.S. intelligence is coming to about a subject.
by Shaun Waterman
UPI Homeland and National Security Editor
Washington (UPI) Aug 16, 2006
The secret National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, coming as it may just before November's election, will be the focus of such public interest that some senators have called for an unclassified summary to be issued.

The estimate will represent the consensus verdict of the United States' 16 intelligence agencies about the state of Iraq and the prospects for the U.S. project there. The election is widely predicted to be, in part, the rendering of the voters' own verdict on those questions, and as a result, there is liable to be enormous interest in the estimate.

And, if history is any guide, there are likely to be leaks, including from those seeking to influence the debate by selectively releasing portions of the estimate to bolster their arguments, or their account of the ground-truth in Iraq.

"Leaks are always a problem," with a major intelligence document like the estimate, said Paul Pillar, who was in charge of producing the last one on Iraq.

Legislative language drafted by Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., and included in a must-pass defense bill currently before the Senate, calls for Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte to issue an unclassified summary of the secret-but-widely-circulated-among-officials estimate.

Democrats say that, while they have not asked for the estimate for political reasons, it is important that Americans do see whether the nation's intelligence agencies agree with the upbeat assessments offered by senior officials.

"President Bush, Vice President (Richard) Cheney, Secretary (of Defense Donald) Rumsfeld, and Secretary (of State Condoleezza) Rice deny that Iraq is in a civil war," said Kennedy in a statement to United Press International. But he said rising sectarian violence by death squads and militias, and the need to send thousands more U.S. troops to Baghdad to try and quell it, "tell a very different story."

"Rather than continued denials, the American people deserve an honest assessment of the ominous sectarian violence on the ground in Iraq," concluded Kennedy.

Negroponte's office declined to comment on whether there would be an unclassified version of the estimate, but it was clear there would be some resistance to the idea in several quarters.

National Intelligence Estimates are distillations of U.S. intelligence reporting that generally do not contain direct reference to sources or methods, intelligence professionals say. But the full version will nonetheless contain a great deal of data that could reveal U.S. capabilities -- for instance to intercept a particular channel of communications.

Moreover, some argue that it helps the enemies of the United States just to know what conclusions U.S. intelligence is coming to about a subject, even if the assessments themselves are scrubbed to remove anything that might reveal the underlying information or how it was acquired.

A congressional staffer with knowledge of intelligence matters told UPI that Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., "recognizes that a clear enunciation of our intelligence assessments could be useful to our adversaries."

The staffer said Roberts believed that it should be up to Negroponte's office "to make that judgment of public interest versus the need to protect intelligence sources and methods. That is their call."

The 2002 estimate on Iraq -- which wrongly assessed that Saddam Hussein had a chemical and biological weapons capability -- was eventually declassified.

But Pillar pointed out that many of the assessments in it were expressed in public statements, like congressional testimony. Because an estimate represents the best judgment of the intelligence community, most of its findings eventually become public, he said.

Pillar, who was formerly the national intelligence officer for the Near East, said an unclassified version of the estimate might "defuse some of the pressure" to discover what was in the full version, but it could also "cut both ways" by fuelling attention to specific questions.

"It could also arouse interest in what was behind a particular assessment," he said.

Pillar said the National Intelligence Council, which produces the estimates, had fought off Freedom of Information Act requests for the underlying documents for previous estimates. "If you want the most honest, the most frank assessments," he said, you have to protect the people writing them from "the specter of it all becoming public hanging over their heads."

In the end, he said, "This is a no-win situation" for the director of national intelligence.

"No matter how much or how little you declassify, it will always be too much for some and too little for others. You are always going to make enemies."

Source: United Press International

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Gen. John Abizaid has told the U.S. Senate Armed Services' Committee that sectarian violence could plunge Iraq into a civil war. Gen. Abizaid's statement Aug 3 was like the commander of the French army telling the French people ten days after the German invasion of France began in 1940 that the Germans were coming through Belgium.







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