Government Changes View on Intelligence Reports

Senior news analyst Daniel Schorr comments on the recently leaked National Intelligence Estimate, and remembers earlier times when the government manipulated intelligence reports.

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DANIEL SCHORR: This is not the first time that intelligence was harnessed to political requirements.

ANDREA SEABROOK, host:

NPR senior news analyst Daniel Schorr.

SCHORR: In 1975, the Cold Warriors in the Ford administration were unhappy with an estimate commissioned by CIA director George H. W. Bush which discounted the Soviet threat and underlined the basic economic weakness of the communist state. Whereupon President Ford commissioned a separate inquiry by a separate panel called Team B. Team B took a much scarier view of the Soviet Union, complete with hidden weapons of mass destruction. Team B included such hawks as Richard Pipes, Paul Nitze and Paul Wolfowitz. Eventually the Team B report was dismissed as fanciful. And CIA director Bush criticized the process that lends itself to manipulation.

Something like that may be happening now. A National Intelligence Estimate, as its called, representing the consensus view of 16 intelligence agencies was completed last April. A week ago some of it leaked, including passages citing the centrality of the Iraq war to motivating a whole new generation of potential terrorists around the world. Unhappy with what was leaked, the White House declassified other passages of the report discussing successful counterintelligence efforts in the past five years.

The battle of the intelligence estimates isn't over. As the election campaign gets underway, there's word of another document. In mid-August intelligence czar John Negroponte ordered the compilation of a report on some sensitive matters like the potential for civil war in Iraq. Depending on what it says, the report could be dynamite in the election campaign. So you can image the Democrats are eager to have that document see the light of day. But don't hold your breath.

Jane Harman, ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, says a draft is ready and it's grim. But the White House says the study is in its early stages and a report won't be available until next year. What is clear is that intelligence reports have become weapons of mass distraction.

This is Daniel Schorr.

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