Wednesday, June 08, 2005

My conversation w/an editor of the National Review Online

Earlier this week, I emailed Mr. Robbins regarding his infamous story about the downing street memo in the National Review Online: "Causing a commotion", in which he incorrectly used the word "exhaustive", among other semantic and informational errors. What follows is our correspondance:


Mr. Robbins,

I recently encountered your article in the National Review Online, "Causing a commotion" In this column, you wrote: "But if Dearlove meant the former, he should be called upon to substantiate his charge. It can be weighed against the exhaustive investigation by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on prewar intelligence assessments in Iraq. The committee examined this very question, whether the White House had pressured the intelligence community to reach predetermined conclusions supporting the case for war."

Actually, the committee had, in a comprimise, decided to split the investigation into two parts, the first part was to examine just the intelligence department, whereas the second part was to examine the question you speak of, namely, how policymakers handled and presented intelligence that was given to them by the intelligence department. But the committee never took up the second part of the investigation; they never examined this question, irrespective of what any politican says or has written, they simply did not investigate this issue.

I remember it clearly. The investigation was big news, but noone ever heard anything about the second part, it was (predictably) forgotten by the public in the aftermath of the election and the findings of the first part. But recently, the fact that it never occured was reported in the washington post: British
Intelligence warned of Iraq War

"The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has dropped its previous plan to review how U.S. policymakers used Iraq intelligence, and the president's commission on intelligence did not look into the subject because it was not authorized to do so by its charter, Laurence H. Silberman, the co-chairman, told reporters last month."

-Kevin Baas


Kevin, check out the full report: esp. pp. 272-284.
They did address the question, they had witnesses and everything.

Regards, Jim


Jim, check out these reports:
washington post article, 2003;
houston chronicle article, 2002;
american prospect article, 2002

They did address the question, they had witnesses and everything.

Regards, Kevin


Well sure, but my contention was that the Senate looked into this and didn't find anything. I think a Senate investigation trumps news reports. At least we can see the way the investigation was conducted, and not have to rely on the sources a reporter happens to find.

Regards, Jim


There are multiple problems here:

First, the first part of the investigation was not even _authorized_ to look into the question at hand.
Second, the Senate clearly did not look into this, for if they did, they would at least have found what the news reporters, who have less powers of investigation, found.
Third, you are using either appeal to authority logical fallacy or letting semantics trump formal operational thinking. The calling of something an "investigation" by no means affects the process that was undergone.
Fourth, the "investigation into whether the intelligence was just bad" did not even question the CIA agents who went to the reporters with information, so if it did "happen to find" (stumble outside of its authority) any information regarding this question, it was cursory, at best.
Fifth, in any case, by not even examining the specific circumstances of those specific agents, the report on whether intelligence was bad cannot invalidate or in any way speak to the veracity of those reports.
Sixth, members of the commitee have alleged that dissenting opinions in the report were stifled and censored.

Now to the specific matter of intelligence, here's something else that the investigation into if the intelligence was bad missed, that it doesn't take a rocket-scientist, or a Senator, for that matter, to see:

INTEL: In 1997, the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released a report saying there was no indication Iraq ever achieved nuclear capability or had any physical capacity for producing weapons-grade nuclear material in the near future. In February 2001, the CIA delivered a report to the White House that said: “We do not have any direct evidence that Iraq has used the period since Desert Fox to reconstitute its weapons of mass destruction programs.”
HOW IT WAS USED: In March 2003, Cheney definitively claimed on Meet the Press that Iraq “has reconstituted nuclear weapons.”

INTEL: In April 2001, the the Energy Department told the White House the aluminum tubes Iraq bought couldn’t be used for nuclear weapons production. In late 2001, the State Department also sent word they were ill-suited for that use.
HOW IT WAS USED: On Sept. 8, 2002, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice told CNN the tubes were “only really suited for nuclear weapons programs.” Bush in his 1/03 State of the Union said the tubes which were “suitable for nuclear weapons production.”

INTEL: In the fall of 2002, the CIA told white house officials not to include the uranium-from-Niger assertion in speeches.
HOW IT WAS USED: Bush included it in his 2003 State of the Union.

INTEL: A September 2002 DOD intel report found “”no reliable information on whether Iraq is producing and stockpiling chemical weapons, or where Iraq has – or will – establish its chemical warfare agent production facilities.”
HOW IT WAS USED: In October 2002, Bush claimed, without doubt, that Iraq “possesses and produces chemical and biological weapons.”

Average Joe,


Those emails were exchanged in the matter of a day. It's been almost a week since my last response, and I have heard nothing back from him. I've learned from experience that, in a debate, silence is the surest sign of victory. I believe that this example demonstrates that one can silence lies by vocalizing truths.


Anonymous Matt said...

Great job, Kevin, and thanks for sharing these emails.

8/6/05 22:46  
Blogger robwestcott said...

kevin - i took a look at your correspondence and i do respect your efforts. however, the conclusion you draw doesn't necessarily follow, you concluded:

I've learned from experience that, in a debate, silence is the surest sign of victory. I believe that this example demonstrates that one can silence lies by vocalizing truths.

mr. robbins could also just as likely have thrown his hands up after your exchanges and concluded that he was aware of your position and you were aware of his and it was both folly, and time consuming to continue the banter. your email exchanges were not debate, they were email exchanges.

you have looked at reporting and come to a conclusion, mr robbins has looked at (likely the very same) reporting and come to a conclusion. those conclusions to do jive with each other, nor will they ever for a variety of reasons - not the least of which being that robbins likely supports the president and his efforts and you may well not.

in my experience, i have found that silence in an exchange often indicates that one of the parties has recognized futility and has turned their efforts elsewhere.

i have this neighbor that lives behind me. he has a fenced in yard. they've lived there for over 3 years. they have one of those little loud yipping dogs. for the first 6 or 8 months they lived there, they'd let that little dog out and it would do its business and then proceed to bark at me or anyone else closeby until he was let inside. for those first 6 or 8 months we'd all try to be nice to harley (the dog). we'd speak nice to him, we'd tell him we were his neighbor. we stayed on our side of the fence. we'd give him bones. we'd talk to his owner while he was present... but, he never stopped barking. harley still lives behind us and he still barks until he's let in. after those 6 or 8 months, we stopped trying to interact with him every time. now we'll sometimes look up and say "hi harley", or if we've got one, we might throw him a bone. but our efforts at this point are cursory. sometimes we're silent, we've got other things to do.

9/6/05 07:10  
Blogger robwestcott said...

i should clarify... i don't mean to imply that you are a barking dog. on the contrary, you're a guy, with an opposing viewpoint, that engaged in a polite back and forth. and robbins engaged also -- until he was done.

9/6/05 08:09  
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