News outlets failed to note recent prewar intel revelations in coverage of Hadley press conference


The Washington Post, The New York Times, and CNN highlighted national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley's public defense of the Bush administration's use of prewar intelligence and his criticism of Democratic efforts to ensure full investigation of this matter. But in their coverage of his November 10 press conference, these outlets omitted mention of recent reports that undermine administration claims that Congress had access to the same intelligence as the administration and further support allegations that White House officials ignored dissenting views within the intelligence community in the build-up to war.

On November 6, both the Post and the Times reported on a newly declassified document proving that the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) had voiced strong doubts about the credibility of an Al Qaeda operative whose statements provided the basis for many of the administration's prewar claims regarding Iraqi training of terrorists. The DIA report -- produced and distributed in February 2002 -- raised serious questions about the first interrogation report on the operative and determined that "it is more likely this individual is intentionally misleading the debriefers." Both newspapers noted that administration officials, in late 2002 and early 2003, repeatedly cited the alleged chemical and biological training as proof of an Iraq-Al Qaeda connection but never noted that the DIA considered this intelligence suspect. Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), who released the new materials, stated "that he could not be certain that White House officials read the DIA report, but his 'presumption' was that someone at the National Security Council saw it because it was sent there," according to the Post.

Four days after these revelations, Hadley held a press conference during which he responded to Democrats' ongoing calls for the completion of a congressional investigation into government officials' use of prewar intelligence. A November 11 Post article, a November 11 Times article, and the November 10 edition of CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight all focused on Hadley's response to the Democrats' efforts:

HADLEY: I point out that some of the critics today believed themselves in 2002 that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. They stated that belief, and they voted to authorize the use of force in Iraq because they believed Saddam Hussein posed a dangerous threat to the American people.

The Post devoted an entire article to Hadley's remarks; the article also included coverage of the Democratic response. The Times noted Hadley's defense at the end of an article on President Bush's current efforts to "to shore up his credibility and cast his critics as hypocrites." Dobbs gave only a brief report regarding his comments. But despite the Post and the Times' recent coverage of the declassified DIA report -- and despite the fact that Hadley was deputy national security adviser at the time that report was disseminated -- none of these news outlets mentioned the report.

That Hadley had directly addressed the matter of dissenting opinions compounded the severity of these news outlets' failure to note the DIA report. In response to a question regarding what lessons he had learned from the handling of Iraqi intelligence, Hadley suggested that the president may not have received an adequate assessment of the intelligence community's divided opinions on certain aspects of the Iraq intelligence:

HADLEY: Obviously, what comes into the Oval Office, again, is an effort to provide a consensus judgment. But I think one of the things we've all learned from that is that it is important, also, to be clear about dissenting opinions and make sure that dissenting opinions also are given visibility; that we need more competitive analysis and to have products that come to the president. This is one view; this is another view. ... And you're beginning to see that happen in terms of how intelligence is coming to the president.

Moreover, the Post quoted Hadley as stating that the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) was "clear in terms of weapons of mass destruction":

Hadley yesterday offered no direct critique of the prewar intelligence and instead said that at the time it was compelling evidence that also convinced the Clinton administration and other governments.

"The intelligence was clear in terms of the weapons of mass destruction," Hadley said, citing a National Intelligence Estimate provided to Bush. "The case that was brought to him, in terms of the NIE, and parts of which have been made public, was a very strong case."

But the Post failed to mention that the NIE "key judgments" had included a lengthy dissent on behalf of the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) regarding the claim that Iraq had reconstituted its nuclear weapons program. Further, the Post's characterization of the NIE as simply "provided to Bush" ignored the fact that the document was produced only after Democratic members of the Senate Intelligence Committee requested it in September 2002. In fact, the White House reportedly objected to the production of such an assessment at the time. An article in the September 22, 2003, edition of The New Republic described how the then-chairman of the committee, Sen. Bob Graham (D-FL), and Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-IL) pushed for the NIE after reviewing a classified CIA assessment of the Iraqi threat that reportedly took "the most aggressive view of all available information":

Stunned by what they read, Graham, Durbin and others on the committee intensified their demands for [then-director of central intelligence George J.] Tenet to produce an NIE on the Iraq threat. It was not a request that Tenet could easily fulfill. "The White House didn't want it," says a source with direct knowledge of the effort. "They wanted to draw their own analytical conclusions."

Posted In
National Security & Foreign Policy, Intelligence, War in Iraq
Prewar Intelligence/WMD
We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.