For most of the 2004 campaign, Sen. John Kerry has been trying to obscure the true nature of his proclivities on defense and foreign policy matters. Voters have been given a timely reminder, however, by one of the Democratic candidate’s colleagues and ideological soul-mates: Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee.
After all, Mr. Kerry has, according to the Wall Street Journal, indicated that Mr. Levin might be his choice for secretary of defense should he gain the White House. In this light, the virulently partisan attack launched last Thursday by the Michigan Democrat on President Bush and his administration — in the form of a preposterous screed against Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith — should be seen not only as a disqualifier for Mr. Levin’s candidacy as a successor to Donald Rumsfeld. It also speaks volumes about Mr. Kerry’s judgment that he would contemplate entrusting the Pentagon to such a left-wing ideologue.
The essence of a report issued by Mr. Levin on Oct. 21 is that the Bush administration engaged in the “politicization of intelligence, or, stated another way, the shaping of intelligence to support administration policy.” It purports to “show that in the case of Iraq’s relationship with al Qaeda, intelligence was exaggerated to support administration policy aims primarily by the Feith policy office, which was determined to find a strong connection between Iraq and al Qaeda, rather than by the IC [intelligence community], which was consistently dubious of such a connection.”
Lest the partisan purpose of this slander be lost on anyone, the New York Times hyperventilated in an editorial on Saturday: “The Levin report is a primer on how intelligence can be cooked to fit a political agenda. … Together with the 9/11 panel’s findings and the Senate intelligence report, [it] show that those claims were all cooked up by Mr. Feith’s shop, which knew that the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency had already shown them to be false.”
As it happens, the aforementioned Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) report issued earlier this year arrived at a strikingly different conclusion. After investigating whether pre-war intelligence had been “cooked” by “Mr. Feith’s shop” when it raised questions with the intelligence community about evidence of ties between Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and al Qaeda, the committee unanimously declared: “The committee found that none of the analysts or other people interviewed by the committee said that they were pressured to change their conclusions related to Iraq’s links to terrorism.”
Elsewhere, the SSCI went so far as to note, “In some cases, those [intelligence community] analysts interviewed stated that the questions had forced them to go back and review intelligence reporting, and that during this exercise they came across information they had overlooked in initial readings. The committee found that this process — the policy-makers probing questions — actually improve the Central Intelligence Agency’s products.”
Interestingly, Mr. Levin joined every other member of the intelligence committee in endorsing this report.
Equally peculiar is the Levin charge that “the intelligence community was consistently dubious” about a connection between Iraq under Saddam and al Qaeda. In a letter sent on Oct. 7, 2002, by the CIA’s director to the then-chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Bob Graham, George Tenet wrote:
“We have solid reporting of senior level contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda going back a decade. Credible information indicates that Iraq and al Qaeda have discussed safe haven and reciprocal nonaggression. We have credible reporting that al Qaeda leaders sought contacts in Iraq who could help them acquire weapons of mass destruction capabilities. The reporting also stated that Iraq has provided training to al Qaeda members in the areas of poisons and gases and making conventional bombs.”
In short, Mr. Feith’s staff did in the run-up to war precisely what one would expect a policy organization to do: Evaluate and, where appropriate, challenge available intelligence about the threat that might make military operations necessary. And, having done so — as the SSCI found, through established channels — the Feith organization contributed accordingly to the development of policy.
If anything, information that has emerged from liberated Iraq has made the Levin critique even more untenable. In the Oct. 19 edition of the New York Sun, Laurie Mylroie noted, for example, that “an 11-page document [found in Iraq and] dated Jan. 25, 1993, lists various organizations with which Iraqi intelligence maintained contacts. It recommends ‘the use of Arab Islamic elements which were fighting in Afghanistan and now have no place to go and who are currently in Somalia, Sudan and Egypt.’ Saddam approved the suggestion, with the order to ‘concentrate on Somalia.’” At the time, the network that would become known as al Qaeda was among the “Arab Islamic elements” operating in these countries.
The danger associated with allowing Saddam’s ties to such terrorist organizations to metastasize further is now clear as well. In the Wall Street Journal on Oct. 14, Richard Spertzel, a former U.N. weapons inspector and member of the Iraq Survey Group (ISG), noted that the ISG uncovered a plan concocted by Iraqi intelligence’s M16 directorate “to bottle sarin [a lethal nerve agent] and sulfur mustard in perfume sprayers and medicine bottles which they would ship to the United States and Europe.”
The effort to smear conscientious public servants who, thankfully, did their jobs to protect this country may fit with Mr. Kerry’s anything-goes campaign for the White House. It does not inspire confidence, however, about either his ability to prosecute the war on terror or to select competent people to help him do it.
Frank J. Gaffney Jr. is president of the Center for Security Policy and a columnist for The Washington Times.