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December 22, 2006
Trusting Jezebel

The New York Times takes the extraordinary step today of offering its readers an op-ed column about an op-ed column. Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann wrote the original column about the Bush administration's failure to engage Iran after 9/11 when it appeared that the mullahcracy might be open to a general improvement in relations. However, when the two submitted the column to the CIA for national-security review, it came back with a heavy treatment of black ink:

HERE is the redacted version of a draft Op-Ed article we wrote for The Times, as blacked out by the Central Intelligence Agency’s Publication Review Board after the White House intervened in the normal prepublication review process and demanded substantial deletions. Agency officials told us that they had concluded on their own that the original draft included no classified material, but that they had to bow to the White House.

Indeed, the deleted portions of the original draft reveal no classified material. These passages go into aspects of American-Iranian relations during the Bush administration’s first term that have been publicly discussed by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice; former Secretary of State Colin Powell; former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage; a former State Department policy planning director, Richard Haass; and a former special envoy to Afghanistan, James Dobbins.

These aspects have been extensively reported in the news media, and one of us, Mr. Leverett, has written about them in The Times and other publications with the explicit permission of the review board. We provided the following citations to the board to demonstrate that all of the material the White House objected to is already in the public domain. Unfortunately, to make sense of much of our Op-Ed article, readers will have to read the citations for themselves.

Leverett provides a number of citations for the redactions for his argument that the actions taken by the CIA represent an attempt to block information purely for political protection. I agree with Leverett that classification of material should only be made for the purposes of national security, and that if the CIA did what he claims, those officials should be held accountable for abusing the process.

However, I cannot help but be skeptical of any protest lodged by the New York Times on matters of classified material. They have spent most of the last two years leaking protected material, during which they showed much less concern for national security than they do in Leverett's pious essay here. The programs they revealed still have been shown to break no laws and all of them had Congressional oversight, including the ranking Democrats on the appropriate committees in both the Senate and the House. In the case of the SWIFT program, they even reported that the program had broken no laws, had no apparent abuses, and had been instrumental in catching an Al-Qaeda mastermind -- but they effectively torpedoed it anyway.

Jezebel may have spent some time as a truth-teller, too, but who would have trusted her? The Gray Lady has earned the same emnity on this point, and the same amount of trust.

As far as Leverett's original point goes, it has been known for some time that Iran wanted to improve relations with the US after 9/11. However, even his citations show why it didn't work. The Washington Post essay by James Dobbins, here in abstract form, points it out clearly:

Of course, even as Iranian diplomats and military officers were supporting U.S. efforts to install and sustain a successor government to the Taliban, other Iranians with official connections were, and are, rendering support to radical Palestinian groups such as the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas). It was this Iranian support of terrorism directed against Israel, along with the Iranian nuclear program and the refusal of Iran to turn over senior al Qaeda operatives in its custody, that caused Washington to limit and eventually curtail dialogue with Tehran on Afghanistan and Iraq.

Leverett's column asks us to believe that the Iranians only started developing their nuclear program in earnest after getting the Bush brush-off in 2003, when in fact the brush-off came in large part because of the Iranian nuclear program and their refusal to end it. This program had been growing clandestinely throughout the 1990s, a fact finally admitted by Iran when the IAEA caught them at it a few years ago. Their insistence on becoming a "nuclear power", as they put it this week, transcended anything they desired from a relationship with the US.

And why is that? They need the bomb to destroy Israel. The other part that Leverett doesn't mention is Iran's funding and support of both Hamas and Hezbollah in the proxy war against our ally in the Middle East. The Iranians would never have traded that away for diplomatic relations with the US, and in fact have spent several years increasing the violence from both groups against Israel. We can hardly fight a war on terror while caving into terror's leading sponsor, a fact that the ISG also conveniently overlooks.

Perhaps the CIA redacted part of the article to help convince Leverett of his folly in criticizing the Bush administration over its failure to surrender to Iranian demands while they fund terrorists around the world. That's not their role either, but it's too bad someone didn't convince Leverett of that before these two articles hit the stands today. (via Memeorandum)

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at December 22, 2006 5:29 AM

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