May 21, 2009

That House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has badly bungled the imbroglio over what she knew and when about the Bush administration's regime of detainee torture is hard to dispute. Seemingly snatching PR defeat from the jaws of victory, Pelosi should have instead simply called the Republicans' bluff and insisted on investigations of torture architects, perpetrators and "accomplices" alike, letting the bipartisan chips fall where they may. But by savaging Pelosi for her statement that the CIA "misled" Congress, Bush's Republican water carriers are again exhibiting selective amnesia. After all, just two years ago it was the same raging right which insisted the CIA was an "anti-Bush cabal" behind a "bureaucratic coup d’état" seeking to "undermine" the President.

To be sure, the outing of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame in retaliation for her husband's revelations regarding President Bush's bogus claims that Iraq sought uranium in Niger prompted right-wing calls of betrayal by the agency. In March 2007, California Republican Darrell Issa accused Plame of perjury, insisting "She has not been genuine in her testimony before Congress." For his part, former Fox News host John Gibson argued that ending the classified career of CIA agent deeply involved in critical nuclear proliferation work and compromising her global network was essential because "this was about an anti-Bush cabal at the CIA" that needed to be "rooted out."

"I'm the guy who said a long, long time ago that whoever outed Valerie Plame should get a medal. And if it was Karl Rove, I'd pin it on him myself."

But it was the release of the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on the Iranian nuclear program which produced the conservative outcry over CIA lies, treason and worse.

Among Speaker Pelosi's interlocutors now is former Intelligence Committee chairman, Republican Pete Hoekstra (R-MI). But as ThinkProgress detailed, years before he claimed Pelosi was "blaming the CIA," Hoekstra blasted "an intelligence community that covers up what it does and then lies to Congress." And when it came to the 2007 NIE which asserted Tehran halted its nuclear program in 2003, Hoekstra insisted the agency was holding back:

Similarly, in 2007, Hoekstra described a closed-door briefing by representatives from the intelligence community (including CIA) on the National Intelligence Estimate of Iran's nuclear capability, saying that the members "didn't find [the briefers] forthcoming."

For his part, Newt Gingrich, who claimed that Nancy Pelosi had "disqualified herself" from the same Speaker's position he once held, took to the op-ed pages to make his case for her to "step down" and to the airwaves to defend Hoekstra. But while Gingrich today redefined what the meaning of "is" is by claiming Hoekstra "did not say the CIA routinely lies," back in December 2007 he accused the CIA of precisely that over the Iran NIE:

"[The NIE] is so professionally unworthy, so intellectually indefensible and so fundamentally misleading that it is damaging to our national security.

[The NIE appears to be a deliberate attempt to undermine the policies of President Bush by members of his own government by suggesting that Iran no longer poses a serious threat to U.S. national security because we apparently have credible reports that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003."

At the CPAC conference in February 2008, Ginggrich ratched up the inflammatory rhetoric. The Benedict Arnolds in the American intelligence community, he insisted to applause from the assembled, had essentially committed treason:

"The National Intelligence Estimate on Iran can only be understood as a bureaucratic coup d’état, deliberately designed to undermine the policies of the United States, on behalf of some weird goal." (Applause)

As it turns out, in attacking the CIA over its Iran assessment, Gingrich and Hoekstra enjoyed the backing of the same conservative commentariat attacking Nancy Pelosi now. And as you'd expect, it was many of the same people who helped bring you the war in Iraq.

At the head of the list of the usual suspects, of course, is Norman Podhoretz. The neo-conservative icon made the case that the new NIE was part of that ongoing anti-Bush cabal at the CIA. Previously, Podhoretz led the cheerleading for a U.S. attack on Tehran's nuclear facilities in a column titled, "The Case for Bombing Iran." (In his book World War IV: The Long Struggle Against Islamofascism, Podhoretz argued that with the conflict against Al Qaeda, Iraq and Iran, Sunni and Shiite, and other Islamic foes real or imagined, the next world war is already underway.) In his piece "Dark Suspicions About the NIE," Podhoretz summarized the significance of the report's findings and leveled an accusation about the motivations behind them:

"[The NIE] has just dealt a serious blow to the argument some of us have been making that Iran is intent on building nuclear weapons and that neither diplomacy nor sanctions can prevent it from succeeding...

...I entertain an even darker suspicion. It is that the intelligence community, which has for some years now been leaking material calculated to undermine George W. Bush, is doing it again. This time the purpose is to head off the possibility that the President may order air strikes on the Iranian nuclear installations."

Podhoretz had plenty of company among the skeptics on the right. Michael Ledeen of the American Enterprise Institute, who denied his role in the Iraq war chorus he helped lead, scoffed at the "intelligence professionals" who produced the NIE document for the CIA. In his ragefest on the topic, "The Great Intelligence Scam," Ledeen lambasted the Agency for offering conclusions about Iran's nuclear ambitions unhappily different (for him) from its earlier 2005 assessment:

"Indeed, those 'intelligence professionals' were very happy to take off their analytical caps and gowns and put on their policy wigs...This sort of blatant unprofessionalism is as common in today's Washington as it is unworthy of a serious intel type, and I think it tells us a lot about the document itself."

Ledeen's friends at the National Review join him in the ranks of the "unbelievers." Michael Rubin played the "blame Clinton" card, asking "If Iran was working on a nuclear weapons program until 2003, what does this say about U.S. policy in the late Clinton period and European engagement?" Victor Davis Hanson incredibly argued that the NIE presented a major quandary for Democrats, who must now acknowledge the wisdom of George W. Bush's Iraq war and its supposed elimination of two nuclear threats.

And so it goes. While Nancy Pelosi gave Republican torture enthusiasts a welcome if tortured distraction from the debate over potential war crimes by the Bush administration, new revelations about briefing timelines and terminology from Rep. David Obey, Senator Bob Graham and a former intelligence officer suggest Pelosi's defense may at least have some merit. As for her Republican inquisitors, the same ones who just months ago charged the CIA with lying, manipulation and political bias over the Iran NIE, they still insist she must apologize to Langley.

UPDATES: TPM has more on the staggering track record of Republican hypocrisy when it comes to what former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson deemed "a series of blows to the pride and morale of the Central Intelligence Agency" from Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats. Meanwhile, appearing on CNN, House Minority Leader John Boehner supported Pete Hoekstra's past claims that the CIA had lied to Congress.

(This piece is updated from an earlier version which appeared at Perrspectives.)

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