CIA PRANKS….I just got around to reading Seymour Hersh’s article in the New Yorker about faulty prewar intelligence. The basic story about how the intelligence was spun by Cheney/Rumsfeld/etc. to validate their preconceived notions is pretty familiar by now, but there was one interesting little nugget that caught my eye.

Remember those forged documents showing that Iraq had tried to buy uranium from Niger? Well, who forged them? Hersh tells us that while no one knows for sure, the scuttlebutt around the CIA is that it was just a prank that went too far:

[A former senior C.I.A. officer] had begun talking to me about the Niger papers in March, when I first wrote about the forgery, and said, ?Somebody deliberately let something false get in there.? He became more forthcoming in subsequent months, eventually saying that a small group of disgruntled retired C.I.A. clandestine operators had banded together in the late summer of last year and drafted the fraudulent documents themselves.

?The agency guys were so pissed at Cheney,? the former officer said. ?They said, ?O.K, we?re going to put the bite on these guys.?? My source said that he was first told of the fabrication late last year, at one of the many holiday gatherings in the Washington area of past and present C.I.A. officials. ?Everyone was bragging about it??Here?s what we did. It was cool, cool, cool.??

….?They thought that, with this crowd, it was the only way to go?to nail these guys who were not practicing good tradecraft and vetting intelligence,? my source said. ?They thought it?d be bought at lower levels?a big bluff.? The thinking, he said, was that the documents would be endorsed by Iraq hawks at the top of the Bush Administration, who would be unable to resist flaunting them at a press conference or an interagency government meeting. They would then look foolish when intelligence officials pointed out that they were obvious fakes. But the tactic backfired, he said, when the papers won widespread acceptance within the Administration. ?It got out of control.?

The idea is that CIA analysts were finally fed up with White House hawks glomming onto primary data and then drawing unwarranted conclusions because they were unfamiliar with serious intelligence analysis. The pranksters figured the same thing would happen this time, and when the obvious forgery was exposed it would demonstrate the value of sending intelligence through channels instead of having unfiltered raw data sent directly to the White House. But then things got out of hand when it turned out that everyone was fooled.

Is this true? Who knows. But as Hersh says, just the fact that it’s believed is “an extraordinary commentary on the level of mistrust, bitterness, and demoralization within the C.I.A. under the Bush Administration.”

It’s quite a fight we have brewing here.