Dianne Feinstein Calls James Clapper a Polyanna on Afghanistan

The takeaway the stenographers have gotten from yesterday’s intelligence threat assessment is that the Scary Iran Plot means Iran wants to target us in this country.

They reported that even as Dianne Feinstein made it clear James Clapper was bullshitting us on another front.

In her statement, she  noted that James Clapper’s assessment of our Afghanistan war is more optimistic than what the still-classified NIE says. (starting after 7:50)

I’m also concerned by what appears to the the disparity between the discussion of Afghanistan in Director Clapper’s statement for the record and the bleaker description in the December 2011 NIE. The Director’s statement notes modest improvements in the challenges that remain. While I’m unable to describe the NIE, as it remains a classified document, news reports of the NIE describe it as “sobering” and “dire” (those words in quotes, include phrases like, “mired in stalemate” (end quote). So I would like to ask the witnesses how they assess how stable Afghanistan will be in 2012 as well as in 2014 and beyond.

Here’s some of the public reporting on the NIE she’s talking about:

The U.S. intelligence community says in a secret new assessment that the war in Afghanistan is mired in stalemate, and warns that security gains from an increase in American troops have been undercut by pervasive corruption, incompetent governance and Taliban fighters operating from neighboring Pakistan, according to U.S. officials.


In a section looking at future scenarios, the NIE also asserts that the Afghan government in Kabul may not be able to survive as the U.S. steadily pulls out its troops and reduces military and civilian assistance.
“Its viability is tenuous,” said one official, citing the report.

Clapper’s statement, however, says the following:

In terms of security, we judge that the Afghan police and Army will continue to depend on ISAF support. ISAF partnering and mentoring have begun to show signs of sustainable progress at the tactical and ministerial levels; however, corruption as well as poor leadership and management will threaten Afghan National Security Forces’ (ANSF) operational effectiveness.


The Karzai government did achieve some success in 2011. The first phase of the process to transition security to Afghan leadership proceeded smoothly, and the second tranche of the transition is progressing as scheduled. The Karzai administration successfully convened a Loya Jirga in November to socialize the strategic partnership with the United States. Now that the fall 2010 electoral crisis is resolved, the Wolesi Jirga will likely regroup during the current winter recess and return its focus to limiting President Karzai’s authority, likely using the parliamentary approval process for ministerial appointees as a way to highlight the Parliament’s independence.

I find several things interesting about this: first, Clapper’s statement does admit that the ANSF isn’t ready to defend the country. The area where Clapper seems to most deviate from the reported details of the NIE is on Karzai’s government. Clapper would have us think it is improving, the NIE doesn’t agree.

But I’m also amused. After DiFi made it clear that Clapper’s statement had been spun, why did reporters (note, an exception is Josh Gerstein, who pointed out these comments as well) believe the other things he said, notably about Scary Iran?


Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

4 replies
  1. MadDog says:

    Couple the disparities found in yesterday’s hearing with this BBC report today:

    “Pakistan helping Afghan Taliban – Nato

    The Taliban in Afghanistan are being directly assisted by Pakistani security services, according to a secret Nato report seen by the BBC.

    The leaked report, derived from thousands of interrogations, claims the Taliban remain defiant and have wide support among the Afghan people…


    …It notes: “Pakistan’s manipulation of the Taliban senior leadership continues unabatedly”.

    It says that Pakistan is aware of the locations of senior Taliban leaders.

    “Senior Taliban representatives, such as Nasiruddin Haqqani, maintain residences in the immediate vicinity of ISI headquarters in Islamabad,” it said.

    It quotes a senior al-Qaeda detainee as saying: “Pakistan knows everything. They control everything. I can’t [expletive] on a tree in Kunar without them watching.”

    “The Taliban are not Islam. The Taliban are Islamabad…”

  2. MadDog says:

    @MadDog: And the spin delivered by the NYT:

    “NATO Plays Down Report of Collaboration Between Taliban and Pakistan

    A spokesman for the NATO-led coalition on Wednesday confirmed the existence of a report that summarizes the views of Taliban detainees, who claim that they are winning the war thanks to cooperation from some Afghan government officials and soldiers and who say their movement is controlled by Pakistan’s intelligence service.

    But the official, Lt. Col. Jimmie E. Cummings of the International Security Assistance Force, disputed accounts of the NATO report that suggested the alliance’s analysts accepted the Taliban views as valid…”

    And then the spin via the WaPo:

    “NATO official: Military report shows Taliban POWs convinced of victory in Afghanistan

    The Taliban believe they will return to power after the U.S.-led coalition ends its combat role in Afghanistan in 2014, NATO officials said Wednesday, based on a classified report on the interrogation of thousands of insurgent prisoners.

    The captured Taliban fighters also believed they were receiving support from Pakistan and that they were doing well on the battlefield, the officials said…


    …“Obviously they are telling us what their idea is about the goings on of their campaign,” said Brig. Gen. Carsten Jacobson, a spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF. “It is what they either do believe or what they want us to believe.”

    He said most of the captured fighters think that “they are still having a successful role” on the ground but that perception was wrong and NATO was not planning to change its strategy because of it in any way…”

  3. MadDog says:

    “The takeaway the stenographers have gotten from yesterday’s intelligence threat assessment is that the Scary Iran Plot means Iran wants to target us in this country…”

    Senator Feinstein is up to her nose in this aspect as well – via Haaretz:

    “Mossad chief holds secret U.S. meetings on Iran nuclear threat, Senate panel reveals

    …Mossad chief Tamir Pardo held secret talks with top U.S. officials in recent days, cursory comments made during a public Senate hearing indicated on Tuesday.

    The clandestine Washington visit was exposed during a hearing of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, which was participated by CIA Director David Petraeus, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and Dianne Feinstein, who chairs the Senate panel.

    During the meeting, Feinstein asked Clapper whether or not Israel intended to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities, with the top U.S. intelligence official answering that he would rather discuss the issue behind closed doors.

    Feinstein then indicated that she had met Mossad chief Pardo earlier in the week in Washington, with Petraeus adding that he too met Pardo and cited what he called Israel’s growing concern over Iran’s nuclear ambitions…”

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