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July 27, 2004



Just a casual observer of intelligence, but INR was right on Iraqi WMD in the same way a broken clock is right twice a day. They just kept saying no, no, no, not possible, they wouldn't do it, let's not rock the boat here. (Remember INR is still part of State, where stability in world affairs is pursued at all costs.)

They got lucky, that's all. Doesn't mean they're right.



Why not create a Congressional intelligence agency? Let me count the ways:

1. It would be incredibly partisan. Doesn't matter who'd be in power. I suppose you're thinking that it could be like the SSCI. But remember that Dem memo that surfaced a few months back? Sure it wouldn't happen (w/ worse repercussions) if SSCI had its own agency?

Look at GAO. Nominally non-partisan, used as a "hit" agency by BOTH sides in Congress to prove that pet projects are (not) within budget or will (not) benefit the national interest.

2. Where would the data come from? Would it simply be working off CIA/DIA/satellite data? Or would it now have its own collection methods?

3. It would be a nasty political competition with the executive branch. Again, it wouldn't matter which party ran Congress, although gridlock would probably make it worse. You think leaking is bad now?! Wait'll both sides are leaking that China/North Korea/Iran/Sudan is (not) a threat!

Judging from pissing matches that already occur among the various intelligence agencies, adding one (especially to another branch) would probably only make things worse.

4. What are the staffers who currently support SSCI (and its House counterpart), but the basic equivalent? They get the intel briefs, they supposedly work together, they can question the analysts, they see a lot of the stuff. I don't recall any of these folks doing any better a job.

Just a few thoughts....


You think leaking is bad now?!

I like leaking.

Seriously, good points. (4) puzzled me, too - are the Congressional oversight staffs too small, or just not set up to do this, and could/should they be?

INR = stopped clock -- OK, maybe. I suppose it is like the problem of figuring out whether a mony manager is lucky or smart, but with less data.


Couple suggestions:

Read John Keegan's "Intelligence in War." It seems the idea that intelligence could be bad or wrong is novel (See 9/11 Commission, SSCI Report, et.al.). Keegan should set you straight with some helpful and thoughtful background.

Also, I think this comes from Ralph Peters, but the idea is to integrate the command structure vis-a-vis Goldwater-Nichols Act and the Defense Dept., where geographic and strategic commands are integrated across the military services, rather than running independent operations, to prevent e.g. offshore naval forces couldn't communicate with troops on the ground in Grenada operation.

In the same way as the military services, your main agency/dept. function remains, DIA-tactical battlefield, NSA-signals, CIA-foreign intel/counter-intel, FBI-domestic intel & counter-terror, et.al., but commands are intergrated with personnel from various agencies so as to share the information and create a knowledge base, helping to prioritize intelligence needs, while still competing for resources and priorities.

What were the problems with the lack of intelligence re: WTC I and Ramzi Yousef, Black Hawk/Somalia, NYC tunnel bomb plot, Afghanistan/Tabiban takeover, Philippine airline bomb plot, African embassy bombing, USS Cole, WTC II and bin Laden, and Saddam/Iraq War? I think the answer is (lack of) language/ethnic efficient operators on the ground and (lack of) ability to recruit locals for the same purpose, and the inability to connect the dots of these incidents over time--because nobody was looking, i.e. groupthink.

To have a competitive environment for intelligence, the users of intelligence data--the demand side--must be vibrant (that would include congressional oversight committees and their staffs). If the CIA has failed, it's because they're a supplier and demander (user) of intelligence, and it resulted in one view.

Also, I think there's a danger of a cabinet level intelligence tsar--it brings that person into the politics and policymaking end of the world. The people at the table--State, Defense, Justice (FBI), National Security Advisor, Joint Chiefs Chairman, and now Homeland Security--are on the demand side (along w/Congress), and are users of the intelligence in policy. If the tsar is brought to the table, he then becomes the de facto expert, and sovereign over that turf, and also elevates the importance and the expectations of the intelligence product. I think that makes for bad institutional decision making. Intelligence agencies shouldn’t be making policy, their product should be inputs, as a part of, the decision process. (Splitting hairs, I suppose, but I think an important distinction.)

Cecil Turner

I think the CIA is getting a bit of a bad rap on pre-war intel. The conventional wisdom is that it was badly flawed (and certainly some specific Administration claims were faulty), but for all the dumping on Iraq intelligence, the declassified NIE is not terribly far off the mark. They proffered several "key judgments" and rated them by confidence:

High Confidence:

Iraq is continuing, and in some areas expanding, its chemical, biological, nuclear and missile programs contrary to UN resolutions.

We are not detecting portions of these weapons programs.

Iraq possesses proscribed chemical and biological weapons and missiles.

Iraq could make a nuclear weapon in months to a year once it acquires sufficient weapons-grade fissile material.

Moderate Confidence:

Iraq does not yet have a nuclear weapon or sufficient material to make one but is likely to have a weapon by 2007 to 2009. (see INR alternative view, page 84).

Obviously they thought there were more proscribed weapons, but it appears they were substantially correct on every count. It's also worth noting the size of the Iraqi WMD arsenal had little or no impact on the threat they posed to American interests.

Finally, many have unrealistic expectations of an intelligence service's inherent limitations. If a potential enemy is taking appropriate national security measures, it simply isn't feasible to determine capabilities as precisely as we'd wish. We can pretend we know what's going on in dispersed or underground facilities (e.g., in the DPRK)--but their exact function is largely a matter of guesswork--and dependent on human intelligence from people who all have individual motives and viewpoints. Coronating an intelligence czar isn't going to change that.

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