On the basis of an interview with CIA director Michael V. Hayden, the Washington Post reports that “The CIA has concluded that members of al-Qaeda and allies of Pakistani tribal leader Baitullah Mehsud were responsible for last month’s assassination of former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto, and that they also stand behind a new wave of violence threatening that country’s stability.” Describing this as the “most definitive public assessment by a U.S. intelligence official,” the Post says that Hayden’s “view mirrors the Pakistani government’s assertions.” The New York Times cites an anonymous American intelligence official who “said that ‘different pieces of information‘ had pointed toward Mr. Mehsud’s responsibility, but he would not provide any details.” The Los Angeles Times says that, “The CIA assessment concurred with that of Pakistani officials.” Washington and Musharraf see eye to eye when it comes to the Bhutto assassination.
What the leading American newspaper’s have done is to gently massage a story in such a way that they avoid pointing out that either the director of the CIA is a fool or that he regards the reporters he talks to as suckers. Hayden told the Post that the assassination “was done by that network around Baitullah Mehsud. We have no reason to question that.” An intelligence official told the New York Times that there were “powerful reasons” for believing this, and the Los Angeles Times was told that “There is certainly no reason to doubt that Mahsud was behind this.”
This is the epitome of faith-based intelligence. It is no more conclusive than any other expression of faith. To report Hayden’s statement as a “definitive public assessment,” is to dress up an opinion with the trappings of authority for no other reason than that it came out of the mouth of the director of the CIA. Hayden said it. It is therefore a definitive statement. He’s bald and appears to have a big brain. It must be true.
In response to demands for an international inquiry into Bhutto’s assassination, President Musharraf acquiesed by allowing investigators from Scotland Yard to visit Pakistan. In the parts of the Hayden interview that were reported, he made no reference to that inquiry. That should perhaps come as no surprise, since according to Raw Story‘s Larisa Alexandrovna, “British investigators are not examining the question of who killed Benazir Bhutto. They were only charged with identifying the cause of her death.” She cites both Scotland Yard and an MI6 spokesman as her sources.
There seems little reason to doubt that the CIA and the White House think that their interests are not going to be served by efforts to unravel the mystery around this event. But even if that is the case, General Hayden could boost his own credibility and that of the Agency by avoiding treating conjecture as conclusive. Intelligence might be described as a craft of informed conjecture, but speculation is only as good as the information on which it is based. If Hayden can only say that he has no reason to doubt that Meshud was behind the killing, it seems reasonable to infer that he has yet to be shown any compelling evidence for reaching that conclusion.