MOVIE MYTH #1: Scooter Libby and other members of the Bush administration pressured CIA analysts into providing cherry-picked intelligence to justify the Iraq War
The movie treats Scooter Libby as a bogeyman, who ruthlessly interrogated CIA analysts to supposedly pressure them into providing cherry-picked intelligence that Iraq had reconstituted its nuclear weapons program. Libby is shown in the film holding interrogation sessions at the CIA’s headquarters in Langley, Va., where CIA analysts are frightened by the mere presence of the vice president’s chief of staff. One analyst is even depicted throwing up in the bathroom because he was so intimidated by Libby.
The point of these scenes, of course, is to paint the picture that the vice president was itching to go to war and that he and his staff were pressuring CIA analysts into giving them the intelligence they needed to justify the war to the American public.
The problem is that this is directly contradicted by the bipartisan Robb-Silberman Commission report that looked into how the intelligence community got Iraq so wrong. The authoritative report found absolutely no evidence that pressure from the White House or vice-president’s office altered intelligence analysis before the war — and the intelligence community clearly expressed its belief in reports to the administration that Saddam had reconstituted his nuclear weapons program, as well as his biological and chemical weapons programs. The Robb-Silberman report is especially explicit on the point that analysts did not alter their reports as a result of political pressure.
“[W]e closely examined the possibility that intelligence analysts were pressured by policymakers to change their judgments about Iraq’s nuclear, biological, chemical weapons programs,” the report reads. “The analysts who worked Iraqi weapons issues universally agreed that in no instance did political pressure cause them to skew or alter any of their analytical judgments.”
In fact, the report suggests that it is vital that policymakers strenuously challenge and question analysts to ensure that they are providing policymakers with the best information possible.
“We urge that policymakers actively probe and question analysts,” the report recommends in order to avoid future intelligence failures like what occurred in Iraq. “In our view, such interaction is not ‘politicization.’ Analysts should expect such demanding and aggressive testing without — as a matter of principle and professionalism — allowing it to subvert their judgment.”
When asked by TheDC whether policymakers should be rigorously challenging CIA analysts, former CIA Director General Michael Hayden echoed the Robb-Silberman Commission report’s recommendation on the matter.
“They should absolutely be asking tough questions. That comes with the job description. No analyst worth his salt would be intimidated by a policymaker asking tough questions,” he said. “That is just fine. And there is no sin in that at all. That is what we do. And a policymaker should have the right to challenge our analysts.”
Yet, “Fair Game” employs all the cinematic techniques to paint this process as a sordid affair.
As the film accurately depicts Libby noting during one of these supposedly nefarious sessions with a CIA analyst, before Gulf War I, the CIA predicted Saddam Hussein as being far away from obtaining nuclear weapons capability. After the war, however, it was discovered that he was much closer to building a nuclear weapon than the intelligence community had believed.
This failure to predict the extent of Saddam’s nuclear program before the first Gulf War, according to the Robb-Silberman Commission report, is one of the reasons that CIA analysts got it wrong in Iraq again. Knowing how much in error their analysis was before the first Gulf War, CIA analysts didn’t want to make the same mistakes again by underestimating Iraq’s nuclear sophistication and drive.