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Where's the Accountability?

After that, it's quite obvious that neither the briefing -- nor its suspiciously secretive, entirely anonymous format -- would have gone forward without explicit White House approval.

2) And far from being a creature of this briefing, the allegation that Tehran is supplying the explosives was actually first made days earlier, by a slew of administration officials who spoke in what had all the appearances of a coordinated leak to New York Times reporter Michael R. Gordon.

Gordon's story, which came out the day before the briefing, credulously quoted "civilian and military officials from a broad range of government agencies provided specific details. . . .

"An American intelligence assessment described to The New York Times said that 'as part of its strategy in Iraq, Iran is implementing a deliberate, calibrated policy -- approved by Supreme Leader Khamenei and carried out by the Quds Force -- to provide explosives support and training to select Iraqi Shia militant groups to conduct attacks against coalition targets.'"

That assessment doesn't sound like the work of one rogue briefer, does it?

3) Until Bush officially backed off the specific charge of involvement by Tehran, what the briefer said was being espoused as the White House position by press secretary Tony Snow.

"Let me put it this way," Snow said on Monday. "There's not a whole lot of freelancing in the Iranian government, especially when it comes to something like that. So what you would have to do, if you're trying to do the -- to counter that position, you would have to assume that people were able of putting together sophisticated weaponry, moving it across a border into a theater of war and doing so unbeknownst and unbidden."

4) Furthermore, CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr was apparently being told by her sources as recently as Wednesday that the briefer actually understated things.

"[T]he US certainly does have intelligence tying these Iranian weapons shipments to Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah ali Khamenei," Starr said. "It's not something that the Bush White House wants to talk about in public too much because they really do not want to ratchet up tensions with Iran, the facts aside."

5) Bush's big backtrack, of course, wasn't really a backtrack. His basic argument: What's the difference? (See yesterday's column.)

So at a point where the Bush administration needs to be taking extraordinary steps to reestablish its credibility when citing intelligence against a potential enemy, the rollout of this specious claim simply adds to the belief that they can't be trusted.

What Can You Believe?

Can any part of what the administration says about Iran's involvement in Iraq be taken at face value? Given recent history, certainly not without independent verification.

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