CONDI’S IMAGE TAKES HIT
WaPo’s Dana Milbank and Mike Allen have an interesting piece on the internal politics of the Niger-yellowcake flap that begins:
Just weeks ago, Condoleezza Rice, President Bush’s national security adviser, made a trip to the Middle East that was widely seen as advancing the peace process. There was speculation that she would be a likely choice for secretary of state, and hopes among Republicans that she could become governor of California and even, someday, president.
But she has since become enmeshed in the controversy over the administration’s use of intelligence about Iraq’s weapons in the run-up to war. She has been made to appear out of the loop by colleagues’ claims that she did not read or recall vital pieces of intelligence. And she has made statements about U.S. intelligence on Iraq that have been contradicted by facts that later emerged.
The remarks by Rice and her associates raise two uncomfortable possibilities for the national security adviser. Either she missed or overlooked numerous warnings from intelligence agencies seeking to put caveats on claims about Iraq’s nuclear weapons program, or she made public claims that she knew to be false.
While this is true as far as it goes, it is based on a common fallacy that one would think Milbank, a highly respected veteran journalist, wouldn’t fall for: confusing the job of a manager with that of their subordinates. While true that Rice is the president’s chief advisor on security matters, she is not a professional intelligence analyst. She’s an academic with a sharp mind, an expertise in the former Soviet Union, and some Washington experience. Her job is to coordinate the NSC staff, not to read every last report that comes in down to the footnotes. The National Intelligence Estimate highlighted the Niger story; a dissenting view was noted in an annex. It’s not that surprising that she missed it.
(Hat tip: Ogged)
Update (1331): A bit of clarification/extension: The NSA is a coordinator whose function is to manage the interagency process with respect to security matters; to this extent, Rice indeed failed. But the National Security Council is merely a staff. The so-called Principals Committee, in which the key decisions are made, consists of the President, Vice President, NSA, Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, CIA Director, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. So, both DCI Tenent and SecState Powell had the opportunity to voice any objections to the reports. Indeed, Powell, who heads the agency which most strenuously objected to the Niger intelligence, seems to be getting no criticism.