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The politicization of Iraq intelligence


We got to fight the Powers That Be. - Public Enemy

When Bush Administration hardliners weren't accusing George Tenet's CIA of dragging its feet on Iraq, Bush allies accused the Agency of being too hard-line on Iraq. The likely truth is neither: when it came to Iraq, the CIA accommodated the White House, and did not lead but followed. This is what is meant by "politicization of intelligence."

That is what seems to emerge from the scathing new U.S. Senate report on the performance of the intelligence community. Glenn Kessler of the Washington Post has highlighted a revealing bit in an article entitled Analyst Questioned Sources' Reliability. (No relation.)

A few days before Secretary of State Colin L. Powell gave his 2003 presentation to the U.N. Security Council on Iraq's purported weapons of mass destruction -- with its startling allegation that four individuals had confirmed that Iraq had mobile biological weapons laboratories -- a government analyst who had read a draft of the speech sent an urgent e-mail to his boss.

All those sources are suspect or unreliable, especially the key one nicknamed "Curve Ball," warned the analyst, the only U.S. intelligence official who had met Curve Ball.

The analyst received a dismissive reply. "This war's going to happen regardless of what Curve Ball said or didn't say, and . . . the Powers That Be probably aren't terribly interested in whether Curve Ball knows what he's talking about," replied the deputy chief of the CIA's Iraq task force. The warning was never passed on to Powell or his top aides.


Anthony Cordesman, a national security spedeletedt at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, criticized the report for failing to investigate the question of pressure on analysts more deeply. "I know of DIA [Defense Intelligence Agency] senior officers pressured out of the Pentagon, and younger analysts who left the community over political pressure," he said in an e-mailed assessment. He said that the committee also failed "to examine the fact that the intelligence community almost always responds to the user's demands and perceptions."

It is perhaps difficult to get such individuals to step forward. Little honor is to be found in such complaints. But in light of the "Curve Ball" memorandum cited above, it is apparent how this pressure squelched dissent.

Not that we couldn't guess. As I wrote back in February,

the Intelligence Community that is supposed to provide top decision-makers with a more dispassionate view -- a reality check, as it were -- is instead mirroring their mis-cognition. (Consider this phenomenon when you next see a claim that intelligence analysts weren't influenced by what the Iraq fire-breathers insisted on seeing.)
And later that same month,
once again we see a [National Intelligence Council], and perhaps an entire Intelligence Community, committed to maneuvering between three poles: first, their best estimate of the situation; second, flattery and accomodation to the very different views of their political masters; and third, a very unfortunate reluctance to deviate too far from conventional wisdom.
In his farewell address to the CIA last week, George Tenet proclaimed,
And here is the most important thing I'm going to say to you. I want you to remember one thing: This institution is yours.

You, the men and women of CIA, are the owners. We who serve in leadership positions are stewards for limited periods of time.

Together we have rebuilt every aspect of our business. You've heard about it: how we train, educate, operate, reward. Our objective has been to ensure that every man and woman here who is committed to excellence in the performance of our mission is respected and given the opportunity to succeed.

And we need all of us to succeed. The security officer at the front gate, the men and women who clean our offices, install our computers, do the analysis, run the operations, and develop the technologies. This entire family must be cared for.

And if people or leaders want to take you back in a different direction -- then it is your voices that must be heard to say -- we know better and we're not going to put up with it.

That last sounds like a shot across the bow of would-be reformers in Congress. But if only the CIA had said "we know better" instead of deferring to "the Powers That Be" when the matter of Iraq was before it, intelligence reform probably wouldn't even be on the agenda.


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Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000279.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

by Analyst @ 08:04 AM CST [Link]


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