The secret WMD commission

Published December 6, 2004 4:47PM (EST)

The New York Times reports today that a nine-member panel appointed by President Bush to study intelligence failures has said very little publicly about its work during the past 10 months. Bush officials cite the sensitivity of information involved as the primary reason for the secrecy.

But the Bush White House, which has practically made an art of drawing the window shades on the public, can't be unhappy about the panel keeping its work quiet (some of it long-term, if not permanently) in light of the contentious process that surrounded the 9/11 Commission hearings.

"The secrecy is very different from the practice adopted by the Sept. 11 commission, which had held 12 public hearings and issued 17 staff statements by the time it released its final report in July," writes the Times' Douglas Jehl. "The practice of the intelligence commission has provided little public indication of the depth of any problems it has found. Its focus, the proliferation of unconventional weapons, covers the arena that Mr. Bush has described as the most important threat to the country's national security. The commission has created 12 working groups among its staff, but officials will not disclose their assignments. A spokesman defended the closed-door approach, saying that the subjects being reviewed are too delicate for public discussion."

That spokesman, Larry McQuillan, told the Times that "at least part of its final report," would be made public when it is issued next March.

Amid the hush, Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, one of the commission's members, painted a troubling picture of the CIA.

"'The president appointed me to the weapons of mass destruction commission, and one thing that has become abundantly clear, if it wasn't already, is that this is a dysfunctional agency,' Mr. McCain said recently in a telephone interview. 'This is the agency that said it's a slam dunk when the president asked for information about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. We know very little more about North Korea and Iran than we did 10 years ago. This agency needs to be reformed.'

Over the weekend McCain also talked about reforming the administration's military strategy in Iraq. On Fox News Sunday, Chris Wallace asked McCain if pumping up U.S. force levels in Iraq to 150,000 troops in time for Jan. 30 elections would be enough to secure the country,

"It's probably not enough," McCain replied. "We need more troops."

By Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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