Jeffrey LewisHis Own Private Idaho

I was really puzzled by this remark in Dafna Linzer’s WaPo story linking enriched uranium on Iranian centrifuges to contaminated Pakistani equipment, not a clandestine nuclear weapons program:

“The biggest smoking gun that everyone was waving is now eliminated with these conclusions,” said a senior official who discussed the still-confidential findings on the condition of anonymity.

This just has not been part of the Administration’s public case against Iran, as demonstrated by speeches that Jackie Sanders gave to the CD in November 2004 and May 2005. Only John Bolton suggested the contamination was damning evidence of Iranian deceit.

Then I had a really disturbing thought.

Remember that bogus reviewing stand that featured so prominently in fears that North Korea would conduct a nuclear test? David Sanger and Doug Jehl reported suspicion of an impending North Korea test “was bolstered by the talk of the reviewing stand, which one American official acknowledged was ‘all over the place,’ even if it was not part of any official briefing.”

Everyone waving around. All over the place.

Not part of any official briefing.

That sounds like “the gouge” to me. “The gouge” is the inside information, the real scoop you don’t get from the official story.

Gouge and other forms of informal information are essential for everyday life. But when they replace carefully collected and analyzed intelligence, tread carefully.

The Bush Administration—staffed with veterans of a long-running fight with the intelligence community during the Clinton years—may be particulary willing to rely on informal information to promote a preferred policy.

I can imagine Bolton, discussing signs that North Korea might be preparing a nuclear test with Scooter Libby, saying “Look, some midlevel INR munchkin analyst is holding this up, but the North Koreans are building a reviewing stand.” The claim never makes it into the NIE or any other document because it’s bogus. Exclusion, perversely, transforms the bum dope into solid gold by granting it status as inside information, shielding it from formal scrutiny and allowing the story to improve with each retelling.

By the time our allies hear about it, the nonexistent reviewing stand is described as “luxurious.”

Informal information can shape policy—perhaps decisively—while leaving virtually no paper trail for any pesky Senate Select Committee or outside Commission.

An Administration staffed with folks less enamored of the gouge might have made a different decision in Iraq. As the editors at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune observed:

The Clinton administration was getting the same intelligence, yet it, reasonably, did not head off to the United Nations to warn that Iraq needed to be invaded yesterday.


  1. Josh Narins (History)

    This is hard for me to google.

    Here is one article on it, from March 2005.

    This from the BBC. It can easily be used as ammunition for the Iran-bashers.

    Arms Control Today, Sept 2004, said

    However, the Vienna diplomatic source stated that, despite these earlier reports, the imported components can probably account for all of the particles in question, but cautioned that this will not be confirmed for some time.”

    This, like many of the statements of Blix and Baradei before the Iraq war, are technically accurate, but leave a lot of wiggle room for those who want to assert that the weapons exist.

    I heard a lot of this type of talk before the Iraq war. It was physically impossible for Saddam to 100% prove that there were no WMD in Iraq, so the possibility always existed.

    Perhaps I’m overemphasizing it, or misremembering quite how widespread the story was, but to me, this was one of the few peices of hard evidence that has ever been offered.

    Skip to the very end of this story to see how the Washington Post helped spread this story.

    Googling “iran traces highly enriched” yields the following list of news sources that repeated the story: NY Times, Fox, and CNN.

  2. Jeffrey Lewis (History)

    That Arms Control Today story was written by Paul and referenced in my original post.

    The stories simply use the unresolved issue to air concerns about Iran’s program. The Administration — at least Boucher and Sanders — didn’t use the issue. Presumably, the IC warned them off it.

  3. Josh Narins (History)

    I don’t know Paul, and am sure you have an physical library of ACT in your home, but that’s beside the point.

    We live in an, well, Aristocratic Republic, commonly called a “representative democracy”, i.e. The people elect their leaders.

    There was widespread (WaPo, CNN, Fox, etc.) coverage of this story in the first place. The “retraction” is appearing years later. You’ll note that coverage of the story this_time doesn’t include, on the part of any major press establishments, a link to their proved-false stories.

    People who want to run for office are dealing with a _mis_informed electorate.

    If everyone thinks the sky is falling, there will be no winning candidates on the “let’s go sunbathing” platform.