Bush Administration Keeps Secret Damaging NIE on Afghanistan

The Bush administration is refusing to declassify a damaging National Intelligence Estimate on Afghanistan. Compare that to the White House’s efforts to declassify the erroneous NIE saying that Iraq had WMD during the run-up to the war with Iraq. Brian Ross, of ABC has the story. [Disclosure note: Brian is my sometime boss, in that I have worked on three broadcast stories with him and have written stories with ABC.com with him from time to time. My only involvement with this particular story is that I was slightly jealous of Brian after I read it. ] Anyways, here is the lede to the story:

US intelligence analysts are putting the final touches on a secret National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Afghanistan that reportedly describes the situation as “grim”, but there are “no plans to declassify” any of it before the election, according to one US official familiar with the process.

Officials say a draft of the classified NIE, representing the key judgments of the US intelligence community’s 17 agencies and departments, is being circulated in Washington and a final “coordination meeting” of the agencies involved, under the direction of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, is scheduled in the next few weeks.

According to people who have been briefed, the NIE will paint a “grim” picture of the situation in Afghanistan, seven years after the US invaded in an effort to dismantle the al Qaeda network and its Taliban protectors.

A spokesperson for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Vanee Vines, said “it is not the ODNI’s policy to publicly comment on national intelligence products that may or may not be in production.”

The finished secret NIE would be sent to the White House and other policy makers.

Mike McConnell, the director of National Intelligence, has made it his policy that such key judgments “should not be declassified”, although several have recently, including a report on Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

“That does not portend that this is going to become a standard practice,” McConnell said it a guidance memo last year.

Seth Jones, an expert on Afghanistan at the Rand Corporation think tank, called the situation in Afghanistan “dire.”

“We are now at a tipping point, with about half of the country now penetrated by a range of Sunni militant groups including the Taliban and al Queida,” Jones said. Jones said there is growing concern that Dutch and Canadian forces in Afghanistan would “call it quits.”

“The US military would then need six, eight, maybe ten brigades but we just don’t have that money,” Jones said.

Last week, Admiral Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Congress “we’re running out of time” in Afghanistan. “I’m not convinced we’re winning it in Afghanistan,” Adm. Mullen testified.

Perhaps foreshadowing the NIE assessment on Afghanistan, Adm. Mullen told Congress, “absent a broader international and interagency approach to the problems there, it is my professional opinion that no amount of troops in no amount of time can ever achieve all the objectives we seek in Afghanistan.”

To read more click here. I doubt we are going to be knowing much about what else in the NIE until after the election. And compare the administration’s refusal to declassify the NIE on Afghanistan to when they want to get other information out.

Update: Meanwhile, the U.S. commanders on the ground are making the same dire predictions that the classified NIE does, according to this story in the WSJ.

Second Update: Sarah Palin is on the case. Actively engaged. Perhaps less to fear after all!

Third Update: Maureen Dowd claims that Sarah is not so much actively engaged on the Afghan issue as speed dating through it:

Sarah speed-dated diplomacy on Tuesday. She had her very first national security briefing from the director of national intelligence and then went to a meeting with the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai. He thanked her for the help of the Alaskan National Guard in Afghanistan and told her about his young son, Mirwais, which means “the Light of the House.” Then she met with President Álvaro Uribe of Colombia.

So is that a good thing or bad thing?

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