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A Tale of Two NIE's

The conveniently timed National Intelligence Estimate that was seized on by the Bush administration and their allies in Congress had many in the blogs befuddled. For rather than being a clear cut justification for staying in Iraq, the unclassified portion seemed to be more of a veiled acknowledgment that doing so has allowed Al-Qaeda to become stronger.

But something very few have noted is the seeming disparity with last year's NIE. Below is brief excerpt from an op-ed by Richard Clarke.
First, it fails to note that the intelligence community’s judgment has changed significantly since its last report in 2006. Back then, they were saying that Al Qaeda was suffering. Not any more. “[W]e judge that Al Qaeda will intensify its efforts to put operatives here,” says the report.

Now this got me thinking. According to the Bush administration, in less than a year, Al-Qaeda went from an organization that was "seriously damaged" and "disrupted" (pdf) to one whose capabilities are now at the same level they were when they struck the US nearly six years ago. I know a lot of emphasis (or should I say blame) is being placed on Pakistan and the lawless region established in last year's peace accord as the excuse for why this has occurred but isn't it also entirely possible that one or both of the NIE's themselves are misleading in their assessments?

Having the bit of conspiracy theorist streak that I do, one has to consider the timing of the release of reports like these. During last year's election season, the GOP was running just about all of their campaigns on a platform of combating terrorism. Lo and behold when the NIE comes out, it reports significant gains in that area.

Fast forward to 2007 and the all-nighter debate and we find the NIE has drastically changed to warning of Al-Qaeda's recouped capabilities and the possibility they could cultivate ties with affiliates in Iraq.

Now I'm not saying that these reports have been twisted or manipulated in some fashion. They may very well be accurate in their assessments regardless of their dichotomy. But the fact that such a radical change in status happened in a relatively short amount of time just raises the question of whether such reports have become little more than political fluff to advance whatever talking points the Republicans happen to be pushing at the time.

The bigger question: Were they lying then or are they lying now?

See also Sidney Blumenthal.

(Filed at State of the Day)

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