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Bloggers to the forefront of misinformation campaign

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The public should note with alarm a recent tactic by the Bush administration to distort the conclusion by American intelligence agencies that Saddam Hussein had no unconventional weapons of mass destruction and no substantive ties to Al Qaeda before the March 2003 invasion.

The method chosen by the Bush team, and conservative Republican colleagues in Congress, was to push for putting 48,000 boxes of Arabic-language Iraqi documents on the Web so anyone and everyone can play “intelligence analyst� and second-guess American intelligence officials.

We’re certainly supportive of this administration putting pertinent government information on the Web for all to review. Critics of the administration’s energy policy would love to see the volumes of information that came out of the closed-door meetings with oil executives and Vice-President Dick Cheney. We’d also like to see the complete file on the Valerie Plume case, not to mention more complete documentation of corporate corruption that has plagued private contractors in Iraq as well as during the Hurricane Katrina clean-up; and hundreds of other instances. We’re all for such openness.

But that’s not what’s going on here. The Bush team has suddenly decided to put this information on-line for one specific reason: They know bloggers will latch on to snippets of information and cite such comments as “proof� there really were weapons of mass of destruction in Iraq and ties to Al Qaeda. It’s already happening, and intelligence analysts have been told to avoid public debates over the documents by the director of national intelligence, John D. Negroponte, so the inaccuracies can’t be officially disputed. The documents, by the way, include hearsay, disinformation and forgery, prompting the government to say it won’t vouch for their authenticity.

Former CIA specialist on terrorism Michael Scheuer presented his assessment of the problem with the New York Times last week. “There’s no quality control,� Scheuer said. “You’ll have guys out there with a smattering of Arabic drawing all kinds of crazy conclusions. Rush Limbaugh will cherry-pick from the right, and Al Franken will cherry-pick from the left.�

In the meantime, the public might want to consider the comment by an anonymous administration official who noted: “If anyone in the intelligence community thought there was valid information in those documents that supported either of those questions — WMDs or Al Qaeda — they would have shouted them from the rooftops.�

Even with such logic, you can bet the bloggers will be casting doubt on what is indisputable to most reasonable people. What’s unseemly is that Bush and company know that’s the world we live in today, and they’re willing to release these specific materials for any possible benefit — the truth be darned.

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