Thursday, October 02, 2003

Proper Dosage

Ever 6 months or so they get Richard Cohen's medication just right and he hits one out of the park.

That hypocrisy was on display Tuesday when President Bush indignantly declared war on leaking, asserting that there are "just too many leaks." The president, as is his wont, misspoke. What he meant to condemn are leaks that do damage to his administration. Up to now, he has said nothing about leaks that favor his cause.

The leak now under investigation is of a particularly pernicious kind. The identity of the CIA employee was disclosed not really to inform the public of something it should know, but as a way to send a dead fish to anyone in the administration who might question that Iraq was a major and imminent menace. Saddam Hussein, we were once told, not only had chemical and biological weapons but was rushing to build an atomic bomb. "We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud," said Condi Rice.

Within the intelligence community, remarks such as Rice's caused a certain amount of head-snapping. The president's national security adviser waxed mushroomish the same day in September 2002 that the New York Times reported Iraq had "sought to buy thousands of specially designed aluminum tubes" for its nuclear weapons program. The Times story cited "administration officials," "American officials" and the conclusions of "American intelligence experts."

The Times story was clearly based on a lot of reporting -- and just as clearly, government officials cooperated. They did so because the story suited the purposes of the Bush administration -- never mind that they led the Times astray. The tubes are now thought to have been designed for a conventional weapons program -- missiles.

For some reason the Bush administration did not denounce that sort of leak. On the contrary, Rice, Cheney and others used the story in their Sunday talk show appearances. This was typical. The administration has leaked or used intelligence over and over again to make the case for a war in Iraq. However, it would not permit dissenting views to surface.