Thursday, February 04, 2010

The Washington Times: Fox News, if Fox News viewers could read

In my last post, I criticized The Washington Times' Eli Lake for what I alleged was inaccurate reporting, as a piece he wrote claimed that U.S. intelligence agencies were now claiming that Iran never halted work on its nuclear program in 2003, contrary to the official view conveyed in the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate. Notably, Lake then wrote:
Differences among analysts now focus on whether the country's supreme leader has given or will soon give orders for full-scale production of nuclear weapons.
Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair, on the other hand, delivering the 2010 Annual Threat Estimate to the Senate Intelligence Committee -- and representing the consensus view of all 16 intelligence agencies -- states: "We do not know, however, if Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons." That is, the differences among intelligence analysts don't focus on whether Iran's supreme leader "has given or will soon give orders for full-scale production of nuclear weapons," the debate remains whether Iran would ever decide to do so -- in violation of Ayatollah Khomeini's own fatwa against nukes; the debate is not over when Iran will begin building nukes, but if.

That isn't a contradiction to Lake, though. Responding to my post on Twitter, he wrote that "the threats testimony is not an NIE. And it is consistent with my earlier and newsweek's earlier scoop. #nicetry". While correct that the testimony is not an NIE, it's a rather pedantic point as there's zero chance the official intelligence estimate on Iran is going to directly contradict the testimony in the threat assessment delivered by the very same man. As to the glaring contradiction between his piece and the official view of the intelligence community, as stated by Dennis Blair, Lake declared "it's not a contradiction", which is, well, confounding.

Until you realize Lake's done this before, as in a ludicrous 2007 article he wrote for the now-defunct neconservative rag The New York Sun, "Iran Is Found To Be a Lair of Al Qaeda." As the Cato Institute's Justin Logan writes:
In that story, Lake published a claim purportedly leaked to him that the National Intelligence Estimate judged that one of two senior al Qaeda leadership councils “meets regularly in eastern Iran.” Lake wrote that “there is little disagreement that a branch of al Qaeda's leadership operates in Iran, [but] the intelligence community diverges on the extent to which the hosting of the senior leaders represents a policy of the regime in Tehran or the rogue actions of Iran’s Quds Force, the terrorist support units that report directly to Iran’s supreme leader.”

Unfortunately for Mr. Lake, the story was tersely refuted later that day by the National Intelligence Officer for Transnational Threats, Edward Gistaro. Asked at a National Press Club briefing whether the judgment Lake described was in the final draft report, Gistaro replied “No, it is not. I don’t think it was ever in the draft…. I read [the Sun article] this morning, and I thought, ‘I don’t know where this comes from.’” The transcript of the conference describes “laughter” in the briefing room after this revelation.
Seeing a pattern?

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