Today's Papers

Artificial Intelligence

Everyone leads with the bipartisan Senate report released yesterday, which concludes that the U.S. intelligence community systematically exaggerated the WMD threat posed by Saddam Hussein. According to the 511-page analysis, which distills interviews with more than 200 witnesses and thousands of intelligence records, “Most of the major key judgments” in an October 2002 intelligence estimate on Iraq’s WMD—a keystone in the case for war—were “either overstated, or were not supported by, the underlying intelligence reporting.” To wit: Iraq did not have unmanned aircraft to disperse WMD; there is no collaborative relationship between Iraq and al-Qaida; and Iraq did not, in fact, reconstitute its nuclear weapons program. President Bush’s response? “We removed a declared enemy of America, who had the capability of producing weapons of mass destruction.”

Some of the report’s findings—which were endorsed by all nine Republicans and eight Dems on the committee—would be laughable if the stakes weren’t so high. For example, the CIA’s leading Saddam nuke-monger withheld evidence from analysts who disagreed with him, misrepresented his colleagues’ assessments, and distributed info inside and outside the agency that was “at minimum, misleading.” Then there’s the fact that the 2002 intelligence estimate gave a one in two chance that Iraq had the smallpox virus, even though the only fresh intelligence came from a single defector in 2000. What’s more, the CIA made a pattern of excising qualifiers and caveats from its dossiers. Worse, the 2002 assessment of Iraq’s biological threat was upgraded almost exclusively on information provided by one individual—who has since been exposed as a fraud—bent on hyping mobile bioweapons labs. Apparently the one U.S. official who met this individual thought he was an alcoholic, and, no, TP isn’t joking when it says the individual’s code name was “Curve Ball.”

Leading committee Democrat Sen. Jay Rockefeller seemed to be leading the rhetorical backpedaling. “We in Congress would not have authorized that war, in 75 votes, if we knew what we know now,” he said. Committee chair Pat Roberts said he still would have supported the war, but only on humanitarian grounds, a la Bosnia and Kosovo.

The NYT paints the best historical context by noting that the investigation was the harshest congressional indictment of U.S. intelligence agencies since the Church Committee report of the mid-1970s on CIA abuses of power.

In its off-lead analysis of the report’s political fallout for the White House, the Post wonders whether voters will hold Bush responsible for misstating the rationale for war. Conveniently, Congress won’t issue its report on the administration’s role in using the apocryphal Iraq intelligence until after the election. Indeed, says the NYT, “The lingering question, not directly addressed by the committee, is whether the White House and Pentagon generated a climate that induced the agency and its director, George J. Tenet, to emphasize the Iraqi threat even though the intelligence data was ambiguous.” What is clear at this point, however, as the NYT highlights, is that five classified intelligence summaries prepared within the CIA and then distributed outside the agency after 9/11 note that if there was indeed a Saddam/al-Qaida connection, it was a tenuous one.

In the editorial pages, the WP suggests that the CIA learn from its failings, restructure, and hit the ground running in order to get better intelligence, stat. The NYT seems less fussed with fixing the agency and more concerned with simply frying the administration.

John Kerry and President Bush spent yesterday trading increasingly personal barbs about one another’s values, which the WP runs above the fold, the NYT fronts low, and the LAT stuffs. “Values are putting the full force of the Justice Department on day one in an effort not to take three years and a few months before the election before you bring Ken Lay to justice,” said Kerry. The Bush camp countered with criticism of Thursday night’s celeb-encrusted Dem fund-raiser at Radio City Music Hall and also took out full-page newspaper ads in the cities Kerry’s visiting that read, “Got Conservative Values?” The NYTs blow-by-blow points out that Kerry seems to have rendered a verdict on Lay before he has gone to trial.

The U.N. high court ruled against Israel’s nascent 450-mile security barrier in the West Bank and declared it a violation of Palestinians’ human rights, which gets prime Page One real estate in the WP and NYT but only reefered by the LAT. Of the 15 judges, only the American voted in favor of Israel, which said the fence would not be removed. “It’s certainly unpleasant to have the ruling,” said Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. “But it’s more unpleasant to have suicide attacks from territories not defended by the fence.”

Once a sterling model of anti-AIDS treatment and one of just a few nations to actually reverse the rate of HIV infection in the 1990s, Thailand has regressed in its efforts to combat the disease. HIV/AIDS is now the leading cause of death among Thais ages 15 to 44 and is spreading among the general population in the south, especially among pregnant women. One reason, it seems, is that the country’s prevention budget was recently gutted by 62 percent, to just $2 million. There is “no top-level political commitment,” observed the former prime minister.

The NYT goes high with a grim postcard from Najaf, the holy Shiite city that fanatic cleric Muqtada Sadr has rendered a no-man’s land for both U.S. troops and Iraqi police alike. According to the piece, which is strangely datelined July 6, “It is clear that the key to disarming the Mahdi Army is to offer Mr. Sadr an exit strategy from the arrest warrant hanging over his head.” Yet in the days since the story was written, the Iraqi justice minister did just that; i.e., he proposed to suspend Sadr’s warrant for three years, and it yielded little result other than to add a little moss to the NYT’s fronter.

Different strokes: From a NYT profile of the United Nations’ emergency relief coordinator Jan Egeland * … :

On Wednesday, [Egeland] told the members of the Security Council that financing for his plan to feed and shelter 1.2 million displaced people in Darfur was only at 40 percent, and he warned them of the stark consequences of failing to raise the full amount. “We will not have enough food, and people will starve,” he said. “Now is the moment of truth.” He also unapologetically deals with the groups considered responsible for these attacks, trekking through jungles to meet guerrilla leaders and paramilitary gunmen in places like Colombia and Sri Lanka. “As a humanitarian worker and especially as a peace broker, you learn that if you are there to help the victims from the depths of hell, you have to speak to the devil.”

… And Howard Kurtz’s WP op/ed on, um, customer service:

When I had to cancel a hotel reservation because I couldn’t make the trip, I was told a refund would be no problem. When I called again to ask about the refund, there was supposedly no record of my earlier call. … And don’t even get me started on online banking. It works great, until it doesn’t—and when my bank admitted having failed to send out the monthly check for one bill and I asked for help in reversing the late fee, I was told I could not get a record showing it was the bank’s screw-up. I didn’t care that much about the $15 fee, I just felt on principle that I shouldn’t be stuck with it.

Correction, July 12, 2004: This article originally misidentified the subject of a New York Times story. The man profiled was the United Nations’ relief coordinator Jan Egeland, and not Paul Volcker, who is heading the investigation of the U.N. oil-for-food scandal. Return to the corrected item.