No DC Wasta
Well folks, your humble narrator is having some issues here in the Capitol. Namely a profound lack of wasta- specifically DC wasta.

In my battle against the rationality of ignorance, I've taken on a project regarding the second phase of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence's review of pre-war intelligence in Iraq. The first phase of the report [.pdf] has already been completed and released.

The SSCI originally had five types of things, terms of reference, that they were going to examine to make their report. The first four were:

1.the quantity and quality of U.S. intelligence on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction programs, ties to terrorist groups, Saddam Hussein’s threat to stability and security in the region, and his repression of his own people;
2.the objectivity, reasonableness, independence, and accuracy of the judgments reached by the Intelligence Community;
3.whether those judgments were properly disseminated to policy makers in the Executive Branch and Congress;
4.whether any influence was brought to bear on anyone to shape their analysis to support policy objectives.


But, the fifth one turned out to be the most interesting one:

5.other issues we mutually identify in the course of the Committee’s review.

The committee "unanimously agreed to refine the terms of reference." Everyone on the committee agreed that they needed to look into these additional areas:

B. the collection of intelligence on Iraq from the end of the Gulf War to the commencement of Operation Iraqi Freedom;
C. whether public statements and reports and testimony regarding Iraq by U.S. Government officials made between the Gulf War period and the commencement of Operation Iraqi Freedom were substantiated by intelligence information;
D. the postwar findings about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and weapons programs and links to terrorism and how they compare with prewar assessments;
E. prewar intelligence assessments about postwar Iraq;
F. any intelligence activities relating to Iraq conducted by the Policy Counterterrorism Evaluation Group (PCTEG) and the Office of Special Plans within the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy; and
G. the use by the Intelligence Community of information provided by the Iraqi National Congress (INC).


This second phase of the report was a "top priority" for both the chairman and vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee.

We had unanimous agreement in a bipartisan committee on an issue that was a top priority for both the chair and vice chair of that committee. Moreover, we had a resolute commitment from the committee chair, Senator Roberts, "I made my commitment, and it will be done."
Sounds like the kind of thing that'd definitely get done, and get done posthaste at that, don't it?

Apparently, they were just joshin us.
Here it is, a year and a half later and the "top priority" and the firm "it will be done" have decayed into something that may never come to pass. Senator Roberts acts as if he doesn't know what to do with it. "So what do you do with that?" he asks.

So, I gave a hearty "Eff you!" to Rational Ignorance, put my money where my mouth is and decided to take my battle against the rationality of ignorance on the road to DC.

After my first contacts with Senator Levin's office and Senator Rockefeller's office I decided that having an "outlet" behind me might help get me in. So I wrote to Antiwar.com's editor, Matt Bargainer, with the list of questions I had for the SSCI. I asked if I could say I was working on a piece for Antiwar. Mr. Bargainer said, "That's fine by me."
As some of you may remember, I previously was able to use Antiwar's wasta, such as it is, to get press credentials for a PMOI rally

I spoke w/ Melissa Schwartz, Senator Mikulski's press secretary. She sounded fairly positive. I sent her my original list of seventeen questions. However, the next day I received this emailed response:

Senator Mikulski cannot answer these questions in accordance with the rules of the committee.
Thanks,
Melissa Schwartz
Press Secretary
Office of Senator Barbara Mikulski



As I didn't think that the questions called for any classified information to be exposed, I figured that the Committee had some rules I wasn't aware of.
Wed, 27 Jul 2005, I emailed Ms. Schwartz the following:

Dear Ms. Schwartz,

Are all questions about the report off-limits, or is it just particular types of questions? If it's just particular questions, what kinds of questions are off limits? I'll avoid asking anything that the Senator would have to violate rules to answer.



So far, I have not received a reply to this inquiry.

I then consulted a handful of people I thought might know. I emailed Rick Klein of the Boston Globe who had just written this timely piece Senate probe of prewar intelligence stalls. I realized that here was a pro with the wasta of the Boston Globe behind him. I figured he would be able to provide some insight. He offered these comments:

"...I don't think members are prohibited from discussing policy differences, like what's going on with an investigation. They couldn't talk about intelligence they've reviewed, but I think they could talk about whether they will review intelligence..."

Which is pretty much how I thought things were.

I emailed Laura Rozen of War and Piece.
I had contacted her previously about her research into the 2nd SSCI report re Iraq. She knows that I had moved my wife and dogs from down home to DC to deal first-hand with issues like this second SSCI report that weren't getting as much attention as I'd like.

While she didn't offer any particular insight to my question quandaries, she made some heartening comments:

"... this is fascinating, exactly what I'd like to know from the committee too. I think you are doing noble and important work."


At this stage I'll take what I can get- kind words or helpful insights. I've made up my mind to take it as a sign I'm on the right track.

I contacted an acquaintance of mine who used to be a DC correspondent. He offered practical advice on a question by question basis as well as this more general guidance:

"Going over the questions I see several that any member of the press corps wouldn't be ashamed to bring up. Again, unless the SSCI has specific rules against the disclosure of any information by members I don't see any legal reason for not answering. Bear in mind, however, that they may simply not answer because they don't have to or consider your questions a pain in the butt."

Then I went through and revamped my question list. It was harder than I expected. If, in order to help secure a response, I removed every question that could be problematic, then the interview would be much blander and much less useful than I could tolerate. I didn't move across the country to ask only namby-pamby questions. Yet, I didn't think I was likely to get any response if I left the question list intact.

After further consultation with one of this site's silent partners, I finally settled on this list of ten questions for the SSCI. As you can see, there's still at least one question that's, "Politically sensitive as hell."

Even though it goes without saying, I'd like to say that I'd be more satisfied by asking each of the Senators at least all of the original questions.

I also have a few questions for some of the individual Senators that aren't really applicable to the entire lot of them. ["Senator Roberts, how did this report's priority level come to drop so rapidly?"]

Anyway, last week right before their recess, I attempted to contact the rest of the Senators (their press secretaries anyway) with the new more Senator-friendly list of questions. This is a typical cover letter I used.

I received a brief response from Tara Adringa from Senator Levin's office and a slightly more lengthy response from Jeff Sadosky with Senator DeWine's office. While I thought I had made it clear in my interview request letter that I was working on spec for Antiwar, it turns out that I was not clear enough. Both Ms. Adringa and Mr Sadosky asked me, "Who are you with, or who do you work for, etc?"

Mikulski's Schwartz had previously asked me for some info about Antiwar. I pointed her to Antiwar's Who We Are page.

After the recess, I'll begin again with the phone calls.

Yet, I'm still faced with a profound lack of DC wasta. To get answers, (or even better yet, the second report published) there has to be sufficient pressure on the senators to respond. Reporters from major news outlets have their own pressure to bring to bear via the reach of their news outlets.

If I could somehow turn the sentiments and concerns of the majority of the US populace who think we were deliberately misled re Iraq, into pressure perhaps there'd be enough to apply to the right spots to get answers to at least my few, humble questions that it wouldn't shame the press corps to ask (or, if the stars are aligned, to get the 2nd report completed and published).


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04 Aug 2005 by Simon W. Moon
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