The Associated Press and NBC's Nightly News uncritically reported Tony Snow's dismissal of the National Intelligence Estimate's findings that the Iraq war has fueled terrorism. Snow claimed that the NIE is "a snapshot ... of what's going on in the region." However, work on the NIE reportedly began in 2004, and, as CBS reported, the NIE "is really a forecast" that "analyzes the nature of the threat terrorist groups will pose during the next five years."
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In reporting on the Bush administration's reaction to the recently declassified National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), which concluded that the Iraq war has stoked terrorism worldwide, the Associated Press and NBC's Nightly News uncritically reported White House press secretary Tony Snow's dismissal of the NIE's findings, claiming that "it's a snapshot ... of what's going on in the region." In fact, work on the NIE reportedly began in 2004, and, as CBS national security correspondent David Martin reported on September 27, the NIE "is really a forecast" that "analyzes the nature of the threat terrorist groups will pose during the next five years."
At a September 27 press briefing, Snow repeatedly dismissed the NIE's findings as a "snapshot":
SNOW: I'm not sure I agree. I'm not sure I agree. For instance, I know it's been characterized as being bleak. What it is, is it's a snapshot, as of February 28th, of what was going on in the region.
SNOW: But there's also no question -- and this gets back to the fundamental issue -- are you going to go on the offensive against them or not? What this is, is a snapshot of the people the president has been describing for the last month. They're committed, they're violent, they're dispersed, and we can beat them.
SNOW: No, the NIE -- the NIE is not designed to draw judgments about success or failure. It's an intelligence document.
REPORTER: But as you read it, it's a success story?
SNOW: No, I think it's a snapshot.
Martin, in a report for the September 27 broadcast of the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric, said that Snow's characterization of the NIE was inaccurate. To support this assertion, he reported that "[i]n the words of the document, it 'analyzes the nature of the threat terrorist groups will pose during the next five years.'" Although the declassified portions of the document do not, in fact, contain those words, a similar description can be found on the website of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which released the NIE. Martin also aired footage of former CIA counterterrorism officer Paul Pillar saying the NIE "lays out the direction we're heading and the direction we can expect to see continue to evolve over the next five years if we don't change course." From the September 27 CBS Evening News:
MARTIN: Although the White House today called the National Intelligence Estimate on terrorism "a snapshot," it is really a forecast. In the words of the document, it "analyzes the nature of the threat terrorist groups will pose during the next five years."
PILLAR: It lays out the direction we're heading and the direction we can expect to see continually evolve over the next five years if we don't change course.
MARTIN: To Paul Pillar, who produced National Intelligence Estimates on terrorism during his years with the CIA, this latest estimate answers a question [Defense Secretary] Donald Rumsfeld asked in an internal memo nearly three years ago: Is the Muslim world turning out terrorists faster than we can kill or capture them?
Does this answer that question?
PILLAR: I think it does. And with particular reference to the impact of the Iraq war, the unfortunate answer is yes, we are creating them faster than we capture and kill them.
Also, The New York Times reported on September 24 that "[a]nalysts began working on the estimate in 2004, but it was not finalized until this year" -- belying Snow's claim that the NIE is "a snapshot, as of February 28th."
However, in a September 27 article, AP reporter Katherine Shrader simply repeated Snow's dismissal of the NIE:
In the bleak National Intelligence Estimate, the government's top analysts concluded Iraq has become a "cause celebre" for jihadists, who are growing in number and geographic reach. If the trend continues, the analysts found, the risks to the U.S. interests at home and abroad will grow.
Peppered with questions Wednesday about the report, he [Snow] said the NIE report was "not designed to draw judgments about success or failure, it's an intelligence document, it's a snapshot."
Snow said the report confirms the importance of the war in Iraq as a bulwark against terrorists. "Iraq has become, for them, the battleground," he said. "If they lose, they lose their bragging rights. They lose their ability to recruit."
NBC chief White House correspondent David Gregory also uncritically repeated Snow's comments on the September 27 broadcast of NBC's Nightly News:
GREGORY: The war has overshadowed U.S. efforts to win hearts and minds in the Muslim world, its efforts failing to reach the roots of anti-U.S. rage. Fending off criticism today, the White House argued the NIE is a snapshot, not a judgment about success or failure.
SNOW: The critical judgment here is Iraq has become for them the battleground. If they lose, they lose their bragging rights.