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Editorial: Was intelligence 'fixed'?


From the Journal Sentinel
Posted: June 9, 2005
Among the anti-war, anti-Bush crowd, at least, a lot of agitation is being conducted on behalf of what's being called the Downing Street memo, a document that was first brought to light by the Sunday Times of London on May 1, just days before an election in Britain. But the memo raises questions for everyone on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, which deserve more than the brushoff they have received.

The document describes a meeting British Prime Minister Tony Blair held in July 2002 with some of his top military and intelligence advisers, and it reports on a recent visit to Washington by Richard Dearlove, then chief of MI6, Britain's intelligence service.

"There was a perceptible shift in attitude," Dearlove reported to Blair and the others. "Military action was now seen as inevitable. (President) Bush wanted to remove Saddam (Hussein) through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and (weapons of mass destruction). But the intelligence and the facts were being fixed around the policy."

The document created a stir in Britain but not much of a fuss in this country, chiefly, we suspect, because parts of the story were old news. That is, others in a position to know had already disclosed that, for many months, even as Bush was telling the nation and the world that he had made no decision on going to war in Iraq, and in fact often claimed that war was his "least favorite option," he had in fact already decided to overthrow Hussein through military action.

Paul O'Neill, for example, Bush's first Treasury secretary and a permanent member of the National Security Council, told a book author and repeated in media interviews in early 2004 that Bush began planning to use U.S. troops to invade Iraq within days after he entered the White House. Later in 2004, Bob Woodward reported in his book "Plan of Attack" that in November 2001, Bush asked Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to start a war plan for Iraq and to do so in secret.

Dearlove's report that "the facts were being fixed around the policy" - that the U.S. intelligence community's assessments of Iraq were distorted by advocates of the war - reflects allegations that have been made by many others. But the truth behind that claim is not obvious; former CIA Director George Tenet told Bush it was a "slam dunk" case that Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, and Tenet has said he was never pressured to slant the facts.

At a White House photo op on Tuesday, Bush continued to maintain that war was his "last option." But a more detailed response to the questions raised by the memo is needed. Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) and 88 other House Democrats have asked Bush to answer five questions relating to the Downing Street memo. Scott McClellan, the White House press secretary, says there is "no need" to reply to that letter. We think there is great need.

From the June 10, 2005, editions of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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