Real Threats, Real Candor
By Kenneth R. Timmerman
FrontPageMagazine.com | March 2, 2007
The Democrats’ script on national security, as it is being written for the 2008 elections, goes something like this.
Before Bush, the world was a stable place. The Cold War was over.
America was at peace. No nation on earth could rival America’s might.
There was no terrorist threat on the horizon. Even North Korea and Iran
were under wraps.
But because of Bush’s obsession with Saddam Hussein, and his
single-minded determination to finish the war his father started in
1991 and willingness to cherry-pick and falsify intelligence, we now
face threats that no one could imagine just seven years ago. Bush lied,
The Iraq war has become a breeding ground for al-Qaeda. Without the war in Iraq, no terrorists.
Many Americans have fallen for this facile misrepresentation of the
facts. Until very recently, they have received tacit succor from an
unusual source: America’s top intelligence officials.
But with the appointment of retired Vice Admiral Michael McConnell, who
replaced John Negroponte as Director of National Intelligence in
January, that appears to be changing.
During his remarkable “World threats” briefing before the Senate Armed
Services committee on Tuesday, McConnell described a difficult world,
full of threats to U.S. and world security. Despite repeated proddings,
he held out no hope that changes of U.S. policy would significantly
change the historic developments that have been set in motion over the
past thirty years and that now confront us.
Yes, Iraq, has become a “cause célèbre” for terrorists,
he acknowledged to the pleasure of the Senate Democrats. But no, if
that war were resolved tomorrow, the threat from al Qaeda would not
dissipate, let alone disappear.
“If we withdraw from Iraq, whether it’s a year, six months, two years,
whatever number you want to pick,” asked South Carolina Republican
Lindsay Graham, “they’re coming after us. Am I wrong?”
“They have already attacked inside Saudi Arabia, as an example,” Adm. McConnell said “So yes, they will come wherever we are.”
“Is there any safe place for us to go in the Mideast without being attacked?” Graham asked.
McConnell answered without hesitation, “No.”
The Democrats tried repeatedly to get McConnell to say that al Qaeda
was more powerful today than it had been before 9/11. Unfortunately for
their 2008 game plan, the facts just don’t line up that way.
“First of all, just let me say that al Qaeda leadership, as it existed
prior to 9/11 or prior to going into Afghanistan -- somewhere in the
neighborhood of three-quarters of the leadership have been killed or
captured,” McConnell said.
And then, there’s the little detail about the Afghan training camps
that flourished under Taliban rule. “Now, when I looked at prior to
going into Afghanistan, there were literally thousands of those forces
in training with multiple camps. That's gone,” McConnell said.
Sure, al Qaeda is recruiting. And yes, Senator: they are a danger.
“They are attempting to rebuild in the North-West Frontier of
Pakistan,” he said. “But the numbers are not the same.”
An aide to McConnell was careful to stress that his testimony was
virtually identical to that presented just a few weeks earlier to the
Senate and House intelligence committees by his predecessor, John
Negroponte. But he conceded that McConnell’s manner in answering
questions was “possibly more direct.”
It was also substantively different in several key areas.
When asked about his views on whether Iran wanted to see a full blown
civil war in Iraq, Negroponte had taken the State Department line.
“We – the judgment of the [intelligence] community in the past has been
that Iran wants an Iraq that is not a threat to it; they want to
support a Shi’a-dominated Iraq, and that they want a stable Iraq. They
don’t want it to fall apart. They don’t want to a country to collapse
by – that’s on its borders just to fall apart into various parts.”
Iran’s recent delivery of explosively-formed projectiles (EFP) had
raised questions, Negroponte acknowledged. “And one wonders if their
policy toward Iraq may not have shifted to a more aggressive posture
than it has been in the past.” But that was as far as Negroponte would
go, despite the fact that U.S. military commanders had seized
Iranian-supplied weapons and Iranian intelligence officers, and were
continuing to interrogate them in Baghdad.
But when Sen. Graham asked McConnell for his view of Iran’s goals in
Iraq, he acknowledged that it was “absolutely not their goal to have a
functioning democracy” in Iraq, because it would be a threat to their
own theocratic government.
Then McConnell was asked whether Iran’s government was aware of the
activities of the Qods force in Iraq. It was his “assessment” that they
That was too much for Michican Democrat Carl Levin, the committee
chairman. “[T]hat’s very different from what the White House was saying
the other day,” he sputtered.
This has become a key “gotcha!” moment for the Dems and the elite
media. Even since Joint Chiefs chairman Gen. Peter Pace said there was
“no evidence” that the Iranian government knew about the arms shipments
to Iraq, the weasels have been accusing the Bush White House of hyping
intelligence – “again.”
Even the President and White House spokesman Tony Snow were forced to
back off from accusing the Iranian government of doing what everyone
knows they were doing. To his credit, Adm. McConnell resisted that
Another key area where McConnell’s assessment different from that of Negroponte was North Korea.
Negroponte just skimmed over North Korea’s nuclear developments in his
Senate and House testimony in January. McConnell, by contrast, called
on his detail man – former CIA case officer Joseph DeTrani, now the
North Korea mission manager under the DNI – to present a much-needed
update on North Korea’s uranium enrichment program in an open forum.
DeTrani revealed that in October 2002, the United States “confronted
the North Koreans in Pyongyang with information they were acquiring
material sufficient for a production-scale capability of enrichment
uranium,” in violation of the NPT as well as the 1994 Agreed.
Framework. “We still see elements of that program,” he said.
In the Democrats’ playbook, the Agreed Framework – negotiated by
Clinton – was a great success, whereas the Bush administration
destroyed it by pushing the North Koreans too hard. In a front page
story yesterday, the Washington Post misconstrued DeTrani’s testimony
to make it appear he supported that view. “New Doubts on Nuclear
Efforts by North Korea,” the headline claimed.
McConnell will have to make a number of politically-sensitive judgment
calls in the coming months. Several of them were hinted at during this
long but important hearing.
• He will have to provide the president with updated assessments of the
insurgency in Iraq, and U.S. counter-insurgency strategies, to help
determine if we are starting to turn the tide in Iraq.
• He will have to provide new assessments on Iran’s long-range
ballistic missile programs and Iran’s nuclear weapons program, since
the current assessments that Iran will be incapable of producing either
a nuclear weapon or a missile to deliver it before 2015 are patently
• He will have to provide ongoing assessments of North Korea’s
compliance with the latest nuclear agreement, which requires North
Korea to take verifiable steps to shut down all its nuclear weapons
programs, including a uranium enrichment program the Democrats and
their surrogates in the elite media claim does not exist.
So far, McConnell has displayed a refreshing candor as he enters these
political minefields. Let’s see how he does in a few months, once the
weasels start working him over.