To tailor the truth

December 28, 2004|By Wayne S. Smith

WASHINGTON -- The function of intelligence should be to provide as accurate an assessment as possible of a given situation to guide the formulation of policy.

But the Bush administration doesn't see it that way; rather, it sees intelligence as something it can cite to justify a policy or an initiative it has already decided upon, as happened with Iraq. And if the facts must be twisted, misstated or even invented to justify that decision, fine. There is no commitment to truth.

Selig S. Harrison, the chairman of the Task Force on U.S. Korea Policy at the Center for International Policy, notes in the forthcoming January edition of Foreign Affairs magazine that the administration deliberately distorted its intelligence on North Korea.

In October 2002, the administration suddenly accused Pyongyang of secretly developing a program to enrich uranium to weapons grade in violation of its 1994 agreement with Washington. It then suspended the oil shipments the United States had been making to North Korea under that accord. North Korea responded by expelling international inspectors and resuming the processing of plutonium, suspended under the 1994 agreement. We were back to a crisis situation.

But according to Mr. Harrison, a review of the available evidence suggests that the Bush administration exaggerated the intelligence and blurred the important distinction between weapons-grade uranium enrichment and lower levels of enrichment. The first would clearly have violated the 1994 agreement. The second, while technically prohibited by the agreement, was permitted under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and would not have resulted in uranium suitable for nuclear weapons.

It was something the United States probably should have questioned but not something over which we should have brought U.S.-North Korean relations back to a crisis. But that is exactly what the Bush administration did. The results could be dangerous. It is as if the administration preferred a military confrontation with North Korea to continued negotiations and inspections.

And we see the same pattern with Cuba.

The administration charges that Cuba endorses terrorism as a policy and represents a threat to U.S. security. But on the contrary, Cuba has condemned terrorism in all of its manifestations, signed all 12 U.N. anti-terrorist resolutions and offered to sign agreements with the United States to cooperate in combating terrorism, an offer the administration ignores.

Nor is Cuba "harboring" Basque and Colombian terrorists, as the administration alleges. Members of the Basque ETA and the Colombian groups Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN) are in Cuba, but with the full knowledge of their governments. Both Spain and Colombia stress that they have no evidence that Cuba is involved in terrorist activities against them.

There are a number of American fugitives from justice in Cuba, yes, but even under our own legislation that provides no grounds for declaring Cuba to be a terrorist state; it certainly poses no threat to the United States. Further, if Cuba does not regularly extradite U.S. fugitives, the United States has not in more than 45 years extradited a single Cuban, including known terrorists guilty of multiple murders.

But the most flagrant misrepresentations are those of Undersecretary of State John R. Bolton, who charged last spring that Cuba "is known to be developing a limited biological weapons [BW] effort ..." and "... remains a terrorist and BW threat to the U.S."

Mr. Bolton cannot produce evidence of that, of course. But various U.S. delegations led by the Center for Defense Information have gone to Cuba and seen no evidence to suggest that this is the case. As retired Marine Gen. Charles Wilhelm put it after one visit: "While Cuba certainly has the capability to develop and produce chemical and biological weapons, nothing that we saw or heard led us to the conclusion that they are proceeding on this path ..."

In short, the administration has not presented evidence that Cuba supports terrorism or has mounted a BW weapons effort. It simply alleges this to be true. But just as it did in Iraq, on the basis of alleged evidence, it is moving toward confrontation with Cuba. It has virtually cut off all dialogue, has drastically reduced travel, tightened sanctions and called for the ouster of Fidel Castro's government.

Under its policy of pre-emptive warfare, the Bush administration reserves the right to take military action against any state deemed to be a threat to the United States.

It has now said that Cuba poses such a threat. It probably has no intention of taking military action against Cuba, not with troops already in Iraq and Afghanistan. Still, Cuba should be prepared for the worst.

Nor is this pattern of intelligence-tailoring likely to be corrected by the intelligence reform law. Not with President Bush's newly appointed CIA director, J. Porter Goss, now cleaning out those at the CIA who dared to voice opinions contrary to those of the administration. Mr. Goss has insisted that all hands must unwaveringly "support the administration and its policies."

Wayne S. Smith, a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy, served with the State Department in Havana and Moscow.

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