Updated: 5/16/2006; 3:51:54 PM.

Current events
Post-9-11 events and analyses

daily link  Saturday, February 04, 2006

'State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration':  Review of the Risen book by Walter Isaacson, that makes some larger points:  "Even those of us who like the idea of the intelligence agencies using data-mining and electronic surveillance to detect terrorist communications are uncomfortable with the possibility that future presidents, with murkier agendas, might secretly use such techniques, without any authorization, for any purpose they alone deem part of their war-making powers. In these cases, oversight is supposed to come from Congress, the special intelligence courts and the lawyers at the Justice Department, C.I.A. and White House. But in an administration that has little appreciation for Congressional authority or for meddling lawyers, and in a town where the president's party controls all branches of government, there were no such checks or balances.

Except the press. Whether on torture or wiretapping, the news media have become a de facto fourth branch that provides some small check on executive power. That is why so many concerned or disgruntled sources, especially from within the intelligence agencies, came forward to give Risen information. So what are we to believe in a book that relies heavily on leaks from disgruntled sources? We are in an age where the consumer of information has to make an educated guess about what percentage of assertions in books like this are true. My own guess is that Risen has earnest sources for everything he reports but that they don't all know the full story, thus resulting in a book that smells like it's 80 percent true. If that sounds deeply flawed, let me add that if he had relied on no anonymous sources and reported instead only the on-the-record line from official spinners, the result would very likely have been only half as true.

In fact, the new way we consume information provides a good argument for the role of an independent press that relies on leakers. Other journalists will and should build on, or debunk, the allegations reported by Risen. This will prompt many of the players to publish their own version of the facts. L. Paul Bremer, the American viceroy in Iraq after the invasion, has just come out with his book pointing fingers at the C.I.A. for giving him flawed intelligence and at Donald Rumsfeld for not giving him the troops he actually wanted. And Tenet, one hopes, will someday cash in on a hefty book contract by clamping cigar in mouth and pen in hand to give evidence that he was not the buffoonish toady Rumsfeld's aides portray him to be. Besides being fun to watch, this process is a boon for future historians.

So welcome to the new age of impressionistic history. Like an Impressionist painting, it relies on dots of varying hues and intensity. Some come from leakers like those who spoke to Risen. Other dots come from the memoirs and comments of the players. Eventually, a picture emerges, slowly getting clearer. It's up to us to connect the dots and find our own meanings in this landscape."
  10:25:28 AM  permalink  

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Copyright 2006 © Ken Novak.
Last update: 5/16/2006; 3:51:54 PM.