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January 26, 2004


Paul A. Miller

Can we all agree it's past time for Bush to fire George Tenet? The intelligence failures of 9/11 were terrible; the intelligence failures in Iraq were of a different scope, but caused by the same shoddy strategy: little or no humintel, and a failure to connect the pieces of information the CIA did manage to collect.

I don't want to wait for Tenet's next mistake.

Cecil Turner

I'm not a Tenet fan, but this seems a bit harsh. The CIA screwed up 9/11 . . . but not as bad as the FBI did. Besides, the hijackers spent months inside the US, and were clearly the FBI's bailiwick.

Iraq intel analysis wasn't good, and clearly looks to be wrong on the stockpile issue. But they appear to have gotten the central question (the presence of WMD programs) correct. And I think the "just in time" theory (a conscious decision by Saddam to maintain a capability and resume production when it was safe to do so) makes more sense than a calculated skimming scheme that would certainly have led, if discovered, to grotesque deaths for the perpetrtors and their families.


Tenet, gets a bad rap. Realistically, who was going to replace him. Woolsey, would have been
great, but imagine what the Iraq-Halliburton
neocon delusionists (that's you Swopa, Jade
Gold & A Parker) would have done with that.
Rudman, Guiliani, Keating, would have been
interesting. The ideal would be someone with actual Middle East field experience, Devine,
Bearden, Andersen, et al. However, if you think
Senate nonconfirmation hearings of judges are
bad, imagine the witchhunt they would have put
for Tenet's replacement


Lack of humint in Iraq (or in other "hard" target authoritarian regimes) was not a "strategy," but an understandable limitation confronting us in every closed society.

The public and diplomatic mechanics of confronting Iraq have confused many people, who think that the existence of WMD stockpiles was the main or only justification -- legally or strategically -- for regime change. It was not.

Iraq under Saddam was an intolerable mid/long-term menace in the post-9/11 context, and as such was pre-emptively eliminated. Legally and substantively, the burden was entirely on Iraq to comply with mandatory Chapter 6 UNSC resolutions, not on the CIA to prove their non-compliance. The instantaneous erroneous inversion of this reality by the media and some UNSC members was never corrected by the administration, but is indefensible nonetheless.

The reasons that pre-emption was prudent have nothing to do with detailed intelligence analysis about some particular aspect of Iraq's WMD stockpiles or programs as of March 2003. Iraq had the demonstrated capacity and will to produce and use unconventional weapons technologies, decades of deep involvement in international terrorism, and a record of reckless behavior unmatched by any government since WWII. And it was vulnerable.

Notwithstanding all this, of course we all want our intel assessments to be perfect and even clairvoyant. And the intel community is distressed by any gaps between estimates and confirmed reality. But there's a breezy perfectionism pervading this discussion that's either illiterate or disingenuous.

We're not talking here about the CIA mis-identifying Uruguay as a potential WMD proliferator or terror sponsor, after all. We're talking about divining the reality in a closed totalitarian society that was clearly a bitter enemy in every respect.

I question whether "failure" is even an appropriate term for the inability to successfully penetrate the opacity and deception of Saddams' Iraq. If -- as David Kay has suggested is one possibility -- Saddam and his top henchmen themselves were being deceived about the status of WMD programs, how reasonable is it to expect that people sitting in Langley will figure out the underlying truth?

So long as the US is aggressive and its threats (not its intel) credible, the burden of so-called intelligence "failures" falls on our adversaries -- where it belongs. While review, correction (and yes, possibly firings or resignations) are proper in the intel community, the US interest remains in keeping maximum pressure on our adversaries.


I'm not very convinced by Kay's scenario. I suppose that Saddam's scientists could have reached the point of existential angst where they were willing to gamble their own and their families' lives for money. I suppose that they might do the bidding of a general who was scamming Saddam, but I would think the image of themselves being slowly lowered into one of his plastic shredders would exert some restraint on them.

I'm wondering if we'll ever know the real truth about what was going on in Iraq. Everybody there seems to have lost the ability to recognize truth from the lie required at the moment. Kay hasn't found any WMD, but he has come back with a good story. Maybe he's turning Iraqi.


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