The National Intelligence Estimate

Jay Tea at Wizbang summarizes the cast of characters in the National Intelligence Estimate leak/release story:

Government officials who cherry-pick the summary portion of an intelligence report and release only the elements that support one political position: heroic whistle-blowers.

Government officials who declassify the entire summary to counter the partisan allegations and attacks based on the prior, partial leak: opportunists and crass political manipulators.

Government officials who demand that the entire report — even the parts that reveal “sources and methods” — be released, in addition to the summary: noble leaders.

Government officials who say that the summary is sufficient, that it was written by the same people who put together the entire document, and people on both sides agree that the summary is a fair representation of the details outlined within the body of the report: secret-mongering, conspiratorial villains.

This whole thing sort of reminds me of the sloppy attempt by Richard Ben-Veniste to use the title of the infamous 8/6/01 Presidential Daily Brief against Condeleeza Rice (and, by extension, the Bush administration) during the 9/11 Commission hearings. Here’s what I wrote about it in April of 2004:

Why did Ben-Veniste go after Rice so hard on the 8/6 PDB? In case you have missed it, or at least missed the unedited version, here it is again:

BEN-VENISTE: Isn’t it a fact, Dr. Rice, that the August 6 PDB warned against possible attacks in this country? And I ask you whether you recall the title of that PDB?

RICE: I believe the title was, “Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States.”

Now, the…

BEN-VENISTE: Thank you.

RICE: No, Mr. Ben-Veniste…

BEN-VENISTE: I will get into the…

RICE: I would like to finish my point here.

BEN-VENISTE: I didn’t know there was a point.

RICE: Given that — you asked me whether or not it warned of attacks.

BEN-VENISTE: I asked you what the title was.

RICE: You said, did it not warn of attacks. It did not warn of attacks inside the United States. It was historical information based on old reporting. There was no new threat information. And it did not, in fact, warn of any coming attacks inside the United States.

Ben-Veniste certainly wanted the title out, and he got it. However, as has been extensively discussed elsewhere, he apparently screwed up by accidentally asking if the PDB warned of attacks. Rice caught him, and he paid dearly.

Now, Ben-Veniste had seen the PDB, so he knew exactly what it said. And, even though some will choose to interpret it more harshly than others, he must have known that it certainly wasn’t a smoking gun, or even a loaded gun. It wasn’t even a gun, really. It just noted that a gun may, in fact, exist somewhere.

The PDB, as Rice clearly stated, contained no actionable information. It was not what the press and critics of the Bush administration said that it was. When the PDB was released a couple of days after the exchange between Rice and Ben-Veniste, Ben-Veniste’s maneuvering was revealed to be a total sham.

One might point out that the entire PDB (all two pages of it) was released, and only the summary of this NIE has been released so far. However, it should be clear that releasing the entire PDB is a bit different than releasing the entire NIE. If you want to compare the two situations, compare releasing the entire NIE with releasing details about how the PDB information was gathered and analyzed. Which would be silly.

We are at war. I know a lot of people like to pretend otherwise, but we are. Even if we weren’t “fighting a war” and were instead sticking with the law enforcement and intelligence strategy, we probably wouldn’t want to declassify something like this.

It’s important to understand that what’s going on with the NIE is nothing more than a political grandstanding game. Releasing (or leaking) sensitive information simply to score a headline or soundbite would be dangerous. Which means it probably won’t happen until Monday or Tuesday.

For more on the NIE, see James Joyner at TCS Daily. For the declassified Key Judgements summary, see this 4-page PDF.