Friday, July 16, 2004

A One Page Summary Of A Ninety Page Report?

Dear Colleagues:

A few days ago there was a flap in Washington about a one page document. It seems that, prior to our latest war, the President was given a one page CIA summary of a 90 page report about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. The 90 page report is called a National Intelligence Estimate. The one page summary is called a President’s Summary. Both the CIA and the White House, claiming the one page is protected by executive privilege, have refused to allow the President’s Summary to be released by the Senate Intelligence Committee. However, Senate staffers were allowed to read and take notes on it, which of course is inconsistent with a claim of executive privilege, and it is said that 80 copies of the Summary were delivered to the White House, which indicates a degree of distribution which can only technically be considered consistent with executive privilege -- distributing 80 copies is not a good way to keep something confidential, after all.

It seems that the Washington flap arose because the 90 page National Intelligence Estimate contained various caveats and qualifiers about the possibility that Iraq possessed WMDs, but the one page summary did not contain the caveats and qualifiers, according to notes of the Senate staffers who read it. Democrats therefore want the President’s Summary released to show what bad intelligence was being received by the President, who has the very same problem personally, if you see what I mean. The Democrats think, in other words, that the PS was BS. On the other hand, the Republicans say that there is nothing unusual in giving Bush -- and I think they really mean all presidents -- a one page summary, and these should remain confidential. And the intelligence community -- which provides the longer National Intelligence Estimate, which includes its own internal summary -- apparently holds the view, as one so called "senior intelligence official" expressed it, that "‘We expect people to read beyond one page.’" This view should probably disqualify the intelligence community from being called that.

All of this is somewhat peculiar. It sounds as if the Democrats and the Republicans have it backwards. The Democrats want the one page PS released to show that Bush got bad intelligence? This would seem to help exonerate him for his mistake in Iraq, yet the Democrats want it released? On the other hand, the Republicans want it kept secret when it would help his case for saying that he acted in good faith but was given bad intelligence? (By the CIA as well as by God.) None of this seems right. It seems, as I say, backwards.

But maybe the Democrats have something else in mind, something apparently unexpressed. This is entirely a guess, but maybe they want to show that the one page is so simplemindedly one-sided that it is incredible that somebody went to war on the basis of such a document. Maybe they want to show that anyone intelligent would have pushed for more information and would have read the 90 page National Intelligence Estimate, with its caveats from such groups as Air Force intelligence and State Department intelligence. Why shouldn’t Bush and his cronies have read the full NIE? -- This is war we are talking about. (Of course, we know that Bush, Cheney, and their Pentagon group did not want to learn anything contrary to their desire to invade Iraq.) And maybe the Democrats want to be able to blast Bush’s own intelligence, and his professed failure to read, by showing that all he would look at is one page.

The Democrats’ possible foregoing reasons for taking the position they did are speculation, but maybe not wholly stupid speculation. There is one point about this fracas, however, that is not speculation and that shows what bad shape this country is in. The President is given a one page summary of important matters detailed in a 90 page report? He is often given one page summaries of important matters? -- I gather the Republicans are right in saying this happens all the time, and it is not, I suspect, confined to Bush. When decisionmakers are given one page summaries of important and detailed matters, government by imbecility is inevitably going to be the result.

Now, I have read a lot of significant reports in my life that were prefaced by eight or ten page so-called Executive Summaries that pretty much told you everything that was in the reports. And I have also read a lot of academic-type books that in fifteen or twenty page Prefaces or Introductions pretty much told you everything that the books said. But I have never read an Executive Summary or a Preface or Introduction that did this or even tried to do this in one page. The idea is simply crazy. It is lunatic. It can’t be done. Yet a one page summary is the basis for a war? Wow!

Making a one page Presidential Summary even crazier than it already is, the PS’s are supposedly signed off on by 15 different intelligence bodies, which have a variety of often conflicting views. Yet all of this is taken account of in one page? Gimme a break, man.
When you get right down to it, the whole idea of a one page Presidential Summary is symptomatic of a major problem that exists at every level of business and politics in this country. Everywhere we have leaders who don’t read. George Bush is not alone in this truly grave failing. The non readers are rising to the top everywhere. Maybe this is a byproduct of the television age and/or the computer age. Lots of people would say so probably. But whatever the reason, the result is disastrous because, to put it in the blunt vernacular, these people don’t know shit. Everywhere we have political and business leaders who don’t know shit, and in politics we actually elect these non-reading boobs at every level. What a disaster for the country!

As has been said here before, Harry Truman -- a great reader -- once said that not everybody who reads can be a leader, but that all leaders must read. Harry Truman was so right. Would that we had more Trumans and fewer Bushes. Would that the non-eponymously named intelligence community would stop writing one page summaries that only a third grade intelligence is needed to understand. And would that voters at every level would start asking of every candidate, "Is he or she a reader?"* 

    *If you wish to respond to this email/blog, please email your response to me at Your response may be posted on the blog if you have no objection; please tell me if you do object.

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