Journal editorial overlooked inconsistencies to claim Levin "spun" Hayden's testimony on Feith

››› ››› JOE BROWN

A June 27 Wall Street Journal editorial alleged that Sen. Carl Levin had "spun" the testimony given by CIA Director Gen. Michael V. Hayden at his Senate confirmation hearings "to claim support for the Democratic assertion that former Pentagon official [Undersecretary of Defense for Policy] Douglas Feith had 'distorted intelligence assessments on Iraq.' " In fact, when Levin asked Hayden during the hearing whether he was "comfortable with Mr. Feith's office's approach to intelligence analysis," Hayden responded directly: "No, sir, I wasn't."

A June 27 Wall Street Journal editorial (subscription only) alleged that Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) had "spun" the testimony given by CIA Director Gen. Michael V. Hayden at his Senate confirmation hearings "to claim support for the Democratic assertion that former Pentagon official [Undersecretary of Defense for Policy] Douglas Feith had 'distorted intelligence assessments on Iraq.' " As purported evidence, the Journal editorial board cited a letter from Hayden to Sen. John Kyl (R-AZ) in which Hayden stated that his remarks were "focused on broad questions of analytic tradecraft, not characterizing the work of Mr. Feith's office" and that his remarks were part of "a broader discussion of analytic challenges," not of "any specific activities, including those under Mr. Feith." In fact, during the hearing, Hayden had confirmed that he was not "comfortable with Mr. Feith's office's approach to intelligence analysis" and his discussion of the type of practices he found to be "wrong," "inaccurate," and "misleading" came in response to a follow-up question from Levin asking Hayden to detail what he was "uncomfortable about."

The June 27 Journal editorial praised Hayden for "publicly confirm[ing]" that "he did not intend" his remarks as a criticism of Feith. The editorial cited Hayden's letter to Kyl, in which Hayden claimed that he "did not have any significant personal contact with Mr. Feith or his office and only occasionally saw the product of their work" and that he was "not characterizing the work of Mr. Feith's office let alone attempting to address questions of lawfulness or even appropriateness." Hayden also claimed that his "comments about 'wrong,' 'inaccurate,' and 'misleading' were attached to a broader discussion of analytic challenges" and were not specifically directed at Feith.

But despite Hayden's denials, his confirmation testimony specifically addressed the activities of Feith's office in response to Levin's questions. When asked by Levin if he was "comfortable with Mr. Feith's office's approach to intelligence analysis," Hayden responded: "No, sir, I wasn't." When Levin followed up by asking Hayden what he was "uncomfortable about," Hayden responded with the following metaphor, "with regard to this particular case":

HAYDEN: I got three great kids, but if you tell me go out and find all the bad things they've done, Hayden, I can build you a pretty good dossier, and you'd think they were pretty bad people, because that was what I was looking for and that's what I'd build up.

That would be very wrong. That would be inaccurate. That would be misleading.

Hayden also acknowledged putting a disclaimer on National Security Agency (NSA) reports on purported links between former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda terrorists "following the repeated inquiries from the Feith office" (Levin's words). According to Hayden, the disclaimer stated that the NSA "neither confirms nor denies" any such links. As Media Matters for America has noted, Feith's assertions that Al Qaeda and Hussein had an operational relationship have been downplayed by the Department of Defense, discredited by the 9-11 Commission, and contradicted by various other sources as documented in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Newsweek.

From the June 27 Wall Street Journal editorial:

A couple of weeks ago, these columns reported that Michigan Senator Carl Levin had cited remarks by General Hayden at his confirmation hearing to claim support for the Democratic assertion that former Pentagon official Douglas Feith had "distorted intelligence assessments on Iraq." Mr. Levin even cited this to justify his vote to confirm the General.

Well, not so fast. General Hayden has now publicly confirmed what he had previously said in private conversations with Mr. Feith and with Arizona Senator Jon Kyl: To wit, that he did not intend those remarks as Senator Levin has spun them. In a letter to Mr. Kyl, General Hayden concedes that as former Director of the National Security Agency "I did not have any significant personal contact with Mr. Feith or his office and only occasionally saw the product of their work."

The CIA Director's letter adds that "the issues I attempted to address were focused on broad questions of analytic tradecraft, not characterizing the work of Mr. Feith's office let alone attempting to address questions of lawfulness or even appropriateness. My comments about 'wrong,' 'inaccurate,' and 'misleading' were attached to a broader discussion of analytic challenges and not to any specific activities, including those under Mr. Feith."

From Hayden's May 18 Senate confirmation hearings:

LEVIN: Now, prior to the war, the undersecretary of defense for policy, Mr. Feith, established an intelligence analysis cell within his policy office at the Defense Department.

While the intelligence community was consistently dubious about links between Iraq and Al Qaeda, Mr. Feith produced an alternative analysis, asserting that there was a strong connection.

Were you comfortable with Mr. Feith's office's approach to intelligence analysis?

HAYDEN: No, sir, I wasn't. I wasn't aware of a lot of the activity going on, you know, when it was contemporaneous with running up to the war. No, sir, I wasn't comfortable.

LEVIN: In our meeting in our office, you indicated -- well, what were you uncomfortable about? Let me --

HAYDEN: Well, there were a couple of things. And thank you for the opportunity to elaborate, because these aren't simple issues.

As I tried to say in my statement, there are a lot of things that animate and inform a policy-maker's judgment, and intelligence is one of them, and, you know, world view, and there are a whole bunch of other things that are very legitimate.

The role of intelligence, I try to say it here by metaphor because it's the best way I can describe it, is you've got to draw the left- and the right-hand boundaries. The tether to your analysis can't be so long, so stretched that it gets out of those left- and right-hand boundaries.

Now, with regard to this particular case, it is possible, Senator, if you want to drill down on an issue and just get laser-beam focused, and exhaust every possible -- every possible ounce of evidence, you can build up a pretty strong body of data, right? But you have to know what you're doing, all right?

I got three great kids, but if you tell me go out and find all the bad things they've done, Hayden, I can build you a pretty good dossier, and you'd think they were pretty bad people, because that was what I was looking for and that's what I'd build up.

That would be very wrong. That would be inaccurate. That would be misleading.

It's one thing to drill down, and it's legitimate to drill down. And that was a real big and real important question. But at the end of the day, when you draw your analysis, you have to recognize that you've really laser-beam focused on one particular data set. And you have to put that factor into the equation before you start drawing macro judgments.

[...]

LEVIN: Now, I believe that you actually placed a disclaimer on NSA reporting relative to any links between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. And it was apparently following the repeated inquiries from the Feith office. Would you just tell us what that disclaimer was?

HAYDEN: Yes, sir.

SIGINT [signals intelligence, which NSA conducted] neither confirms nor denies -- and let me stop at that point in the sentence so we can stay safely on the side of unclassified.

SIGINT neither confirms nor denies, and then we finished the sentence based upon the question that was asked. And then we provided the data, sir.

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