Wednesday, August 18, 2004

hyping intelligence

Juan Cole has an excellent interim summary in the Khan story, acknowledging the errors in the original reports (supported by Condi Rice's initial confirmation) yet still managing to make it Bush's fault.

While I'm not sure I completely agree with his premise, it certainly does look like the administration plays pretty close to the line whenever releasing sensitive or classified material is politically expedient. Toward the end of Cole's column he mentions that the Brits are ticked at us not only for our role in outing Khan, but also for publicizing the name of one of the suspects they did manage to catch in the botched sting operation.

In addition, it's becoming very clear that the forces of counter-terrorism would be in a far stronger position had Ridge not made his big announcement. According to Cole, "after the Ridge announcement, the level of 'chatter' among radical Islamists fell off dramatically." If Al Qaeda were still chattering unaware of our listening ears, if Khan was still in place helping to track communications, if the operatives in England were going about their business, making contacts, etc., all under surveillance, it's possible our side could have had a major victory. As it is, the Brits were able to capture and charge fewer than half of the cell they knew about, and find themselves with a much more limited scope for further investigation.

(Cole does not mention yesterday's Salon column that suggests Pakistan officials had a vested interest in exposing Khan's arrest and blaming it on the US. Hopefully his comments are forthcoming.)