SEATTLE -- What a gully-washer. What a frog-strangler. You ain't seen rain until you've seen record rain in Seattle. My wetness awareness has shot up thanks to this town. But next day, the sun came out -- and you could hardly tell the deluge had occurred.

            And so it is in our public life -- the finger of fate writes, and having writ, moves on, leaving today's horrendous scandal back there with the snows of yesteryear, while we all focus on The Latest.

            But there is one deception that will not go away. What happened to the weapons of mass destruction? "The intolerable reality is that they blatantly twisted intelligence information to fit preconceived policies," said Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif. "They lied to promote public relations, from the Jessica Lynch ordeal to the president's campaign landing on the USS Abraham Lincoln --- and about what war would cost our country."

            "Before the war, week after week after week, we were told lie after lie after lie," said Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass.

            "The point is not that the president and his senior aides were consciously lying. What was taking place was much more systematic -- and potentially just as troublesome," writes Seymour Hersh in the current issue of The New Yorker, in a long, detailed account about our intelligence failures and the politically motivated "stovepiping" -- shooting unconfirmed intelligence reports, without analysis -- up to decision-makers.

            Among the horrific results, reports Hersh: "By March 2002, a former White House official told me, it was understood by many in the White House that the president had decided, in his own mind, to go to war. The undeclared decision had a devastating impact on the continuing war against terrorism. The Bush administration took many intelligence operations that had been aimed at Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups around the world and redirected them to the Persian Gulf. Linguists and special operatives were reassigned, and several ongoing antiterrorism intelligence programs were curtailed."

            While it is certainly not in the same category as the deceptions described above, there was something so sad about the episode last week in which it was discovered that 500 letters had been sent to American newspapers in the names of serving soldiers without their knowledge or permission. That's not so much horrific as it is low.

            The faked letters said in identical language that everything was hunky-dory over there in Iraq -- we are doing much good and are greatly appreciated. According to a survey published in Stars and Stripes, not an antiwar rag, about a third of Americans serving in Iraq have already concluded the war had little or no value. If administration officials want to lie, they should at least lie under their own names.

            But with this administration, one cannot spend much time fretting over past deceptions, because fresh horrors keep looming. On Oct. 21, the foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany persuaded Iran to accept stricter international inspections of its nuclear sites and to stop production of enriched uranium. This might seem, to the simple-minded, to be good news indeed. But according to The New York Times: "In Washington, the State Department reacted skeptically to the agreement, with officials privately voicing concerns that Teheran would not fully comply. Officials there only grudgingly praised the work of their European colleagues. ... Bush administration officials dismissed the notion that a less confrontational approach by the Europeans had yielded more tangible results than the administration's policy of ultimatums."

            Now, some might consider that petty, small-minded or just bad manners on the part of the administration, but the more serious question is whether it's the beginning of another intelligence gap.

            The Senate Intelligence Committee has been working since midsummer to figure out how the Bush administration's pre-war assessment of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction tuned out to be so wildly at variance with what has been found. According to Hersh's report: "One finding ... was that the intelligence reports about Iraq provided by the United Nations inspection teams and the International Atomic Energy Agency, which monitored Iraq's nuclear programs, were far more accurate than the CIA estimates. ... One official said, 'If you look at them side-by-side, CIA versus United Nations, the U.N. agencies come out ahead across the board.'"

            Iran now agrees to U.N. inspections and, according to the Times, "The U.S. reluctantly endorsed the European initiative, with Secretary of State Colin Powell telling his European counterparts what the U.S. wanted was an unambiguous document that left no room for negotiation or second-guessing."

            Iran has yet to ratify an additional agreement under the U.N. Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty of 1968 that would allow surprise inspections of its nuclear installations. (Remember when right-wingers used to sneer at the "liberal wusses" who favored nonproliferation?)

            Those who consider this the beginning of the Same Song, Second Verse would do well to ponder the track records of American versus U.N. intelligence. As you recall during the lead-up to Iraq War II, anyone who cited the U.N.'s findings on Iraq was stigmatized as "unpatriotic." Who would believe the sorry old United Nations, as opposed to our very own Bush administration?

            It's not going to be easy to run that play again.

            To find out more about Molly Ivins, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at COPYRIGHT 2003 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.