Friday, January 23, 2004
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The need for intelligence reform
David Kay, the chief U.S. arms hunter in Iraq, has resigned, saying in a Reuters interview (link via Calpundit) that, "I think we have found probably 85 percent of what we're going to find." As to the question of large-scale WMD stockpiles, Kay said:
In the battles over intelligence about Iraq's WMD capabilities, it seems clear that the professionals were closer to the truth on Iraq's actual capabilities than the Bush team. However, it's also worth noting that even the professionals overestimated Iraq's WMD capabilities -- which is one reason why the Clinton foreign policy team has been relatively muted in its criticisms of the Bush team on this issue.
The blogging over this Washington Post article from early this week on not finding WMD has been about whether the story stacked the deck against the Bush team. However, since the intelligence community was also off the mark, the key point is that the U.S. was going to be wrong about Iraq no matter what. The important point in the Post story is the bipartisan consensus that intelligence errors -- regardless of the cause -- can damage America's reputation:
Some might conclude that this is merely a case of the Bush team distorting reliable intel. However, other revelations this week suggest that the intelligence community can be wrong about important matters without any help whatsoever from the Bush team.
Consider Jack Pritchard's New York Times op-ed on how what's happening in North Korea is at variance with intelligence estimates:
Let me be clear -- I haven't the faintest idea how these problems can be fixed. I trust my loyal readers can come up with a few thoughts of their own.
UPDATE: Kevin Drum voices a similar concern from the opposite side of the political fence:
It's very, very difficult. There is unlikely to be a consensus on what needs to be done and many of the frequently forwarded ideas are easier said than done - eg. expanding humint (human intelligence) capabilities and increasing analysis capabilities.
As for serious structural reform, I don't doubt that it is needed but it's hard to come up with specific prescriptions and from what I can tell there's no real sign that the current administration has any more inclination to really get down to it and change the system than earlier presidents have done over a period of decades.
There's a very good compilation of essays on the post September 11th world edited by Ken Booth and Tim Dunne, called "Worlds in Collision" which is worth a read anyway but which contains an essay on intelligence by Desmond Ball (top notch strategic studies wonk at Australian National University) that's well worth a look. Good stuff - though pessimistic reading.posted by: Anthony C on 01.23.04 at 05:17 PM [permalink]
“Let me be clear -- I haven't the faintest idea how these problems can be fixed.”
Of course you don’t. Did you ever claim to have God like powers?---because that is essentially what it would take! These problems inherently cannot be entirely fixed. It is virtually impossible to completely monitor the activities of a country as large as Iraq. Even high placed secret agents and collaborators are often unable to learn the full truth. This is especially true in a Stalinist style dictatorship. A viable WMD chemical program can be carried out in a relatively small house.
The reality is this: Saddam Hussein was playing fast and lose with the demands of his United Nations’ agreement. This is the only reason necessary to justify the invasion. End of story.posted by: David Thomson on 01.23.04 at 05:17 PM [permalink]
There is no question that the intelligence communities did not have accurate information on the pre-war status of weapons, programs and intentions of Mr. Hussein.
There is no question that the administration had strong views regarding the capabilities and intentions and of Mr. Hussein that differed from the stated views of the intelligence communities.
There is no question that Mr. Hussein's capabilities were less than either the administration or the intelligence community believed at the time of invasion.
There is no question that the rationale for war was based on the administration beliefs and the intelligence communities' view of Mr. Hussein's threat.
We know this, and it is only 10 months since the start of the war.
An administration and an intelligence community should be held to a higher standard of accountability before War is initiated, or face pre-defined punitive measures once the engagement commences.
Starting a War should have different consequences for the decision makers.posted by: canucklehead on 01.23.04 at 05:17 PM [permalink]
I have yet to read John Keegan’s new book, -Intelligence in War: Knowledge of the Enemy from Napoleon to Al-Qaeda.-
I know where to start - get the FBI out of the loop. Create a new domestic counter-terrorism/counter-intelligence agency. Nothing else we do can possibly work while the FBI is involved. It is a classic failed bureaucracy.
Check out William Odom's June 12, 2002 op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, and his book _Fixing Intelligence _ (Odom was both chief of Army Intelligence and director of the NSA) plus Laurie Mylroie's book, _Bush vs. the Beltway_, on this. When two such different people agree, and use almost identical arguments, their opinions should be considered.
There are a lot of good people in FBI counter-intelligence, but they are crippled by the FBI's bureacracy. They'd be a good nucleus for a new, independent, counterintelligence organization.
IMO this new agency should be part of the Department of Homeland Security. Odom vociferously disagrees, but politically there is no way it would be grouped with foreign intelligence as he wants. I also agree with Odom that the Director of Central Intelligence should not have a dual hat as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
Next I would flat out change existing law concerning resident aliens, illegal as well as legal. With rare exceptions, citizens aren't the domestic threat. Resident aliens are.
The Supreme Court long ago ruled that resident aliens are entitled to the same constitutional protections as citizens. This was done for expedient reasons - letting police and prosecutors deny constitutional protections to aliens imperiled the same protections for citizens. But "[t]he Constitution is not a suicide pact." The lives of citizens are now directly threatened by resident aliens, while the constitutional rights of citizens are imperiled by security measures created to protect against resident aliens. The law must change to reflect these developments.
The new Department of Homeland Security would be more effective, without harming citizen rights, if aliens lack full constitutional protection, for offenses committable only by aliens, which it has exclusive jurisdiction to prosecute. State and local police, the FBI, and state and Justice Department prosecutors, would have to give aliens full constitutional rights during investigation and prosecution of ordinary offenses (drunk driving, robbery, murder, etc.), as citizens can be charged with those too. But Homeland Security law enforcement officers and prosecutors wouldn't have to do so for offenses under laws which apply only to aliens.
The concept would require enactment of new criminal legislation which applies only to resident AND non-resident aliens (i.e., extra-territorial jurisdiction could be asserted), and need not be confined to terrorism. There could be a Foreign Terrorist Act, a Foreign Contraband Act (drug-smuggling), etc., all part of a new federal code with its own rules of evidence, procedure, etc. Which would include trial only by a court, not by a jury.
While there would be complications when a given investigation turns up citizen involvement, those would be much easier to deal with once the major part of the problem - full constitutional protection for resident aliens - is adddressed.
We wouldn't need new courts. Existing administrative law judges would handle ordinary immigration problems. Existing federal judges would hear most charges brought by Department of Homeland Security prosecutors. The proposed special military tribunals would try extraordinary cases involving resident aliens, and most non-resident aliens charged with terrorism-related offenses. See the article by Major Timothy C. MacDonnell in the March 2002 _Army Lawyer_.
Note that non-resident aliens charged with conspiracy to smuggle illegal drugs, illegal immigrants, etc., into America, would be subject to prosecution in this fashion. They would be tried by existing federal judges but not juries, might not have the right to exclude evidence or assert self-incrimination privileges, etc.
I emphasize again that my proposal would not be limited to suspected terrorists. It would apply to all aliens, including non-residents, and is an attempt to create a "seamless web" between domestic and extra-territorial jurisdiction concerning them.
Many other issues would have to be resolved (such as getting the Supreme Court to overturn 100+ year-old precedents), but IMO it's legally doable without amending the Constitution.
IMO we need a new legal framework creating a "bright line" distinction between citizens and non-citizens as part of any successful intelligence reorganization. Then fix domestic counterintelligence, and finally foreign intelligence. This is a start on the first two.posted by: Tom Holsinger on 01.23.04 at 05:17 PM [permalink]
It's more than a little interesting that this post comes right after the post about Ms. Plame. Is it any wonder why the intel services are dropping the ball when they have such employees who are placing their own political objectives above that of the nation? A serious house cleaning, a purge if you will, of the intel agencies is in order.posted by: Norton on 01.23.04 at 05:17 PM [permalink]
The issue is very simple. The Administration misused intelligence and exerted pressure to obtain findings supporting their pre-determined conclusions. However, as the aftermath of Iraq and 911 showed the Intelligence agencies are almost completely dysfunctional. Every colored alert rise is just some Alqueda probing our compromising of their network and jerking our chain.
The synchopant heavy bloated bureacracies of "intelligence" officials who have never had a successful field operation or a track record of successful analysis is woefully familiar to long time Intelligence observers.
There are those who would suck up to power, seeking patronage. All too often unfortunately, officials are appointed who know nothing of true Intelligence work and then they are taken in by these smooth salesman. Those doing to real work are often too busy to say near the centers of power courting approval and appointments.
So Intelligence is far from a monolithic entity, and even within the community there are those that sound good and those who can deliver the results. Relying on the wrong messenger can cost one intensely.posted by: Oldman on 01.23.04 at 05:17 PM [permalink]
It shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone that the same breed of bureaucrats that run HHS and the Department of Education run the CIA and NSA. It's a shame that the lunatic conspiracy fringe and Hollywood have so trumped up the magical capabilities of those organizations, you can't have a reasonable discussion with anyone.posted by: Norton on 01.23.04 at 05:17 PM [permalink]
Your post was well written and did not strike me as irrational or jingoistic in tone, but it nevertheless greatly saddens me, and frankly, scares me just a little bit. You see, until about 10 years ago, I was a resident alien, as was my whole family. My sister still has not gone through the process of becoming a naturalized US citizen. We've spent our whole lives working and living here, paying our taxes, volunteering in our community and raising our kids (well, my siblings' kids anyway, as I'm still single) to respect and honor the principles of the United States. The idea that those principles are not meant to apply to me and my loved ones is appalling and, as I said, more than a little frightening.
Slippery slope arguments are always inherently weak, but what you are suggesting is a perfect example of the slippery slope in effect. We already subject both visiting and resident aliens to administrative law proceedings (which do not include the full protection of the Constitution) when immigration questions are at issue, and you are now suggesting that we slide even further down the slope and apply not only administrative, but military standards of justice and that those standards be used in actual criminal proceedings that could result in far harsher punishments than mere deportation. What's next - retroactively stripping naturalized citizens such as myself of our status to make it easier to prosecute us? Is the geographic location of one's birth really to become the one and only guarantor of equality under the law?
For my part, I was born in Canada, but raised here from the time I was an infant. When I reached 18, I chose to become a US citizen because I believed in the justice and nobility of American principles, and since that time, as I said, I have strived to be a productive, positive member of the only society I have ever known. I am acquainted with people who were born here, but then spent the bulk of their lives living overseas. Does the location of their birth mean they are more American than I am, or less of a potential threat? I don't think so.
So, shall we then add a duration of residence requirement to the native-born standard before Constitutional protections apply? How long should that be? Do we have longer terms for people from particular countries, or of particular ethnic and/or religious backgrounds? After all, the terrorist threat generally doesn't come from white, Christian Canadians, but it may come from arabic, Muslim Canadians. Moreover, even American citizens who are actually born here can become terrorist sympathizers. Witness John Walker Lindh and the would-be dirty bomber (who's name I can't remember now.) Where, then, shall we stop? Do we simply throw our hands up and surrender our liberties wholesale, because anything less will inevitably leave a gap through which terrorists may slip?
As I said, slippery slope arguments are generally weak ones, but I think it is an appropriate technique in this case. The truth is that if the Constitution does't protect all of us, it doesn't really protect any of us. There will always be situations where evil people, intent on doing harm, will use the Constitution as a shield to hide behind, and that is the price we pay for an open, free society. Stripping immigrants of their rights may help protect us from terrorism in the short run, but in the long run, our determination to protect and preseve those rights, even in the face of potential danger, is the only thing that ensures our continued freedom.
- Daveposted by: Dave on 01.23.04 at 05:17 PM [permalink]
I can play what-if games too.
What if you turn inside out and explode?
Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes was the one who said, in a Supreme Court opinion, "The Constitution is not a suicide pact."
The guarantor here is the democratic virtue and good sense of the American people. If that fails, nothing on paper will matter.
The real Constitution is _us_. The paper one is a symbol of an agreement we made between, and for, ourselves, not for others.
You voluntarily made yourself into one of us. We don't exclude people.
But those who live here and choose not to join us are not Americans by their own choice. They are not any less free. Freedom includes the freedom to fail. It does not include freedom to injure us while residing here.posted by: Tom Holsinger on 01.23.04 at 05:17 PM [permalink]
“I also agree with Odom that the Director of Central Intelligence should not have a dual hat as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency.”
I have no difficulty with your suggestions on how best to reform our intelligence agencies. Nonetheless, we would still have had to invade Iraq. Only on the ground verification could have put our minds at rest.posted by: David Thomson on 01.23.04 at 05:17 PM [permalink]
Or, we could defend against terrorism in North America by not changing policy toward aliens at all. Except for Arabs and people from certain other countries where extremist Muslim groups are known to be active; the former would be barred from entering the United States entirely, while the latter would be subject to intensive screening.
I'm not advocating this. I only want to make the point that the terrorism threat against us, while certainly serious, is not of unlimited scope. It is highly unlikely that greatly increased security precautions against, say Canadian or Australian nationals will reap any return remotely commensurate with their cost.
As with immigration, so with intelligence. A sweeping overhaul of our entire intelligence community would be an overreaction to the admittedly serious problems revealed by the absence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. I understand the problem of public perceptions (more outside the US than among the American public), but in fact being almost completely wrong about the weapons programs of a totalitarian dictatorship is not a symptom of an fatally flawed intelligence program. Most of what we got wrong about Iraqi WMDs, remember, every other major intelligence service got wrong too.
We know enough to have a pretty good idea of where the threats against us will come from in the next few years, and should therefore know enough to focus our intelligence gathering and operations efforts.posted by: Zathras on 01.23.04 at 05:17 PM [permalink]
"I can play what-if games too. What if you turn inside out and explode?"
Hey, you never know, man, it could happen! ;)
Look, I'm not saying that your suggestion is one quick and easy step away from an arbitrary police-state, but I hope you'll agree that the chance of going from limiting the rights of immigrants to limiting the rights of former immigrants is alot greater than the chance of a person spontaneously exploding.
It's perfectly logical (and accurate) to say that immigrants are more likely than citizens to be terrorists. Hence, your suggestion to curtail their rights. My point is that it's also perfectly logical and accurate to say that naturalized citizens, as former/recent immigrants, are also more likely to be terrorists, as are native-born citizens of particular ethnic and religious backgrounds. In fact, a person of Arab descent and Islamic faith, even if born in the US, most likely poses a greater risk of becoming a terrorist than a white, Christian, resident alien from Denmark, so if it makes sense to curtail the rights of immigrants for security reasons, it makes even more sense to curtail the rights of certain citizens. This isn't some whacky "what-if" game I'm playing here. This is your own logic being applied.
I agree, which is why I worry whenever I hear people talking about curtailing civil liberties for the sake of short-term security.
This is simply not true, at least not insofar as the Bill of Rights is concerned. The whole concept of "Rights" is that they are not a simple matter of an agreement between people or something granted by a government, but are instead inalienable, derived from and inherent to the very nature of human beings. As such, they are necessarily present in, and apply to, everyone. So, if you say an immigrant doesn't have the Right to due process, you're actually saying that no one has the "Right" to due process, that it is merely a clause in some contract and can thus be repealed. That may be your view of things, but it certainly is NOT what the Bill of Rights was intended to represent.
posted by: Dave on 01.23.04 at 05:17 PM [permalink]
“...but I hope you'll agree that the chance of going from limiting the rights of immigrants to limiting the rights of former immigrants is alot greater than the chance of a person spontaneously exploding.”
And what is your point? Everyone concedes that any state action whatsoever risks the right of the citizenry and others living within its borders. This is why we enact check and balance measures to minimize the risk. The system is indeed not fool proof. Nobody ever claimed otherwise. Are you concerned about possible abuses? I am too. Welcome to the real world.
My point is that I think Tom's suggestion that we strip resident aliens of due process protections is an incredibly dangerous step and in fact sets such a terrible precedent that it could easily lead to even more widespread infringement of people's rights. Further, my point is that his justification for such a move was based on logic that's actually more applicable to particular groups of citizens than to resident aliens in general as well as a mistaken understanding of the concepts underlying the Bill of Rights.
I wasn't making some generalized comment on the security vs. liberty debate, but rather was trying to address the specific dangers and shortcomings of Tom's proposal.posted by: Dave on 01.23.04 at 05:17 PM [permalink]
Exactly what do you propose this higher standard to be? Is anyone capable of enforcing any standard anyway?posted by: David V on 01.23.04 at 05:17 PM [permalink]
It seems to me that there are really two issues to this:
1) The failures of the intel community to gather quality intel and more importantly to provide effective analysis of that intel.
2) The willingness of leadership to construct a policy using what they may know to be weak intel, and then actively shape and cherry pick said intel to better fit their course of action.
Point 1 is a question of improving systems, and given the nature of the systems in question I would imagine that very few of us possess enough insight as to what to do better, save the "more Humint resources" common call.
Point 2 is a leadership and an ethics question which I think is quite obviously a point of subjective opinion judging by the constant debate over justification of Iraq.
My worry is that no matter how good our systems may become, the leadership question still maintains the ability to subvert that process. I understand that leadership is often about making the "hard" choices when faced with 50/50 intel. However it's another thing altogether to take that intel and sell it as something other than what it is to support the policy.posted by: Waffle on 01.23.04 at 05:17 PM [permalink]
“My point is that I think Tom's suggestion that we strip resident aliens of due process protections is an incredibly dangerous step and in fact sets such a terrible precedent that it could easily lead to even more widespread infringement of people's rights.”
Get real. Life is a bitch, and then you die. The Constitution is not a suicide pact. We do what we have to do. It’s better than our families being murdered by terrorists. Are you still worried? Good, because so am I. It is our duty to think how best to respond to this challenge. An ultra-liberatarian response is merely a cop out, and not prudent behavior. We are not ultimately engaging in an abstract debate---but in a life and death struggle.
“The failures of the intel community to gather quality intel and more importantly to provide effective analysis of that intel.”
Once again, this is an inherent problem that will never be perfectly resolved. “Super Spooks” who know everything is a myth. You may have seen too many James Bond movies in your youth. We could only do a thorough search of Iraq by invading the country. Nobody told Saddam Hussein to play coy with the United Nation’s resolutions.
“My worry is that no matter how good our systems may become, the leadership question still maintains the ability to subvert that process.”
That’s why we have a check and balance system called a presidential election. You have every right to vote for the candidate of your choice.posted by: David Thomson on 01.23.04 at 05:17 PM [permalink]
1.Fire Tenet (he's a political hack)
2.Stop the rather rediculous pratice of sending most CIA people overseas under diplomatic cover. They are not fooling anyone least of all the terrorists.
3.The CIA should recruit a cadre of agents who can go into countries without diplomatic protection and who can actually speak arabic, persian etc..posted by: Ron on 01.23.04 at 05:17 PM [permalink]
If anyone paid attention to the situation between the Israelis and the Palestinians they would have noted that Tenet and his CIA has been "working" with the PA, from the 90's (when Clinton got him involved) until now. GWB's Aqaba agreement got them more invloved with training the security crowd under Mazen during the "Hudna".
Getting back to Dan's original premise:
"The apparant absence of stockpiles of chemical, biological, or atomic weapons -- and ongoing, LARGE-SCALE development programs for same is proof of an "intelligence failure"
PULEEZE! It is established fact that all of the above were extant in Iraq at times certain in the past. The only question that remains is what happened to them in the run-up to the war. There has been an abundance of evidence that Saddam shipped hundreds of tons of material to Syria in early '03. And, Saddam continued his cat-and-mouse game with Blix -- thwarting his efforts to get hard answers to his questions.
If Saddam had no weapons -- and no active development programs, then why was he not more cooperative with Blix?
The other problem with Dan's line of argument is that it's often conflated with real DOMESTIC intelligence failures -- like the FBI's inability to investigate terrorist threats prior to 9/11. Here there's no question of effectiveness -- only evidence of incompetence.posted by: Norman Rogers on 01.23.04 at 05:17 PM [permalink]
People are the problem and people are the solution. If Intelligence people were promoted or hired on the basis of competency and track record, instead of political correctness or bureacratic infighting skills things would get better. There have always been some who warned of the truth. There have always been others willing to sell out the national security of their country to make themselves look better and get ahead. It's a crime that Tenet is still in charge, and that the bureacracies of the CIA and FBI remain firmly entrenched.
If every report that hit the disk of some pol had an attached "percentage (%) correct" track record of the associated analyst we'd be able to cut through allot of bullshit. If every field officer had a lifetime record of successes attached to his dossier that was used for promotion, we'd get considerably better human int.
For instance the key to breaking the North Korean intel mystery is so bleeding obvious to anyone with any real experience. It's China. You bet your bottom dollar that China has the inside scoop on how advanced the Korean nuclear program is. And breaking into China's massive intel operations, with its more materialistic and open (relatively) society that has a history of bureacratic bribery is going to be allot easier than sending some poor guy on foot to take pictures at Yong Bon. You may even be able to flip an inside agent or two on idealistic grounds that they disagree that backing North Korea is in China's best interests. Conflict of interest and all, and maybe you can even sell them that giving you the documents isn't even betraying China.
But of course the oldman has always been far too intelligent and experienced to be considered for such a position - overqualified and all. You need a certain level of unimaginative stupidity most of the time to be considered an intel officer. They won't trust you if you can think for yourself ;-) And no, I'm not joking. I wish I were.posted by: Oldman on 01.23.04 at 05:17 PM [permalink]
It isn't strictly speaking true that resident aliens are more likely to be terrorists than natives or naturalized citizens. True, the 9/11 and the first WTC group were foreigners. Tim McVey wasn't, however. The various "liberation armies" and "movements" and "fronts" of the late 60's/early 70's were mostly citizens. The Klan and allied groups are mostly citizens. Your average Chinese, Indian, or Mexican immigrant is less likely to be a terrorist than I am. It is really one class of immigrant who creates a higher risk, and our best bet for dealing with them is by being very careful who we let in, not by stripping them of rights while they are here. Besides, the constitution doesn't establish citizenship as a precursor for rights - mostly it says "Congress shall make no law...",period. If you need to change that, amend it.posted by: rvman on 01.23.04 at 05:17 PM [permalink]
I kinda suspect the world's intelligence services were playing a game of telephone, helped along by Iraqis seeking to present an image of being better armed than they truly were.
Britain hears something from the Saudis, passes it along, slightly modified, to the US. The US hears it from the Saudis also, and now thinks there are two reports of the same piece of information, when there's really one.
Later, maybe it works its way back to Britain, modified slightly again. And then back to the US.
"If every report that hit the disk of some pol had an attached "percentage (%) correct" track record of the associated analyst we'd be able to cut through allot of bullshit. If every field officer had a lifetime record of successes attached to his dossier that was used for promotion, we'd get considerably better human int."
The stuff I've read suggests this kind of "grading" would actually make things worse.
In any bureaucracy, especially one with "job protections" like you see in any government agency these days, the greatest threat to continued employment is the spectacular mistake. Avoid it & you'll get promotions, more pay, retirement benes, etc., etc., etc.
Well, how do you avoid the "spectacular mistake" in the intelligence field?
You hedge your bets - maybe you won't call the shot, but you won't have the spectacular miss which gets you canned, either. I've heard it described as "I may not be 'right', but I'm never wrong."
When a situation presents both opportunity and peril & the likelihood of either result is thought to be the same, human nature is to protect what you have.
You'd have to get to where the benefit of being right significantly outweighed the penalty of being wrong before you'd overcome the "bet-hedging".
Fail to do it & your emphasis on being right will just lead to pablum intelligence - stuff which is so generic that it's hard to say it's "wrong".posted by: BradDad on 01.23.04 at 05:17 PM [permalink]
The administration never believed any such thing. If you do, you are a idiot.posted by: JoJo on 01.23.04 at 05:17 PM [permalink]
This whole mess shows a virtue of Mutually Assured Destruction.
When both parties are fully aware that they'll be annihilated if they try an attack, it removes the importance of dealing with the specific details. Vagueness can actually be a boon, in that it justifies boosting defense spending, without carrying the risks of turning vague intelligence into operational plans.
But when Destruction is no longer mutually assured, the iffy intelligence becomes a problem when it is used to justify a war, then turns out to have been wrong.posted by: Jon H on 01.23.04 at 05:17 PM [permalink]
Norman Rogers writes: " It is established fact that all of the above were extant in Iraq at times certain in the past."
By this standard, we probably could have invaded Iraq for Saddam's posession of carnivorous dinosaurs.
For that matter, there were chemical weapons "extant in Iraq at times certain in the past" which were brought there and used by the British. (Gas used to quell an uprising in the early 1900s)
“"If every report that hit the disk of some pol had an attached "percentage (%) correct" track record of the associated analyst we'd be able to cut through allot of bullshit. If every field officer had a lifetime record of successes attached to his dossier that was used for promotion, we'd get considerably better human int."
The stuff I've read suggests this kind of "grading" would actually make things worse.”
BradDad obviously has been reading Ludwig Von Mises. The Oldman is naive to put it mildly. He would probably make things far worse. Please try to imagine what such grading would mean in the real world. CIA analysts are first, last, and foremost, career bureaucrats who desire to always cover their own rear ends. The late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan and others often became exasperated by their instinctual tendency to stamp “top secret” on the most banal of documents. These people are not inclined to be risk takers.
Why do so many people exaggerate the importance of the CIA and other spy agencies? Have we already forgotten that the CIA reported the Soviet economy as booming just before its collapse? This is why we had to ultimately invade Iraq to verify the status of Saddam’s weapons programs. The art of spying is inherently limited in what it can accomplish. Why do so many people have a hard time facing this fact?posted by: David Thomson on 01.23.04 at 05:17 PM [permalink]
“It's China. You bet your bottom dollar that China has the inside scoop on how advanced the Korean nuclear program is.”
Nope, that’s not necessarily accurate. The Chinese may have a better guess, but it is extremely difficult to verify intelligence in even the best of circumstances. In a totalitarian society, it is usually near impossible. I am amazed by the niavetee of the Oldman. One can only hope that he immediately ceases watching the reruns of the James Bond movies.posted by: David Thomson on 01.23.04 at 05:17 PM [permalink]
The arguments here regarding Intelligence Community reform are quite interesting, and portray vividly the challenge inherant in making assessments of covert/clandestine activities in closed societies. Yes, yes, the platitudes about obtaining better HUMINT are valid--but obtaining and preserving well-connected sources is difficult and requires luck as well as skill (for example, some of the CIA's most productive sources in the Soviet Union were rolled up by chance rather than being betrayed by Americans within the Intelligence Community).
The crux of the matter is that intelligence is always incomplete and based in part on supposition. The decision-maker knows this, if he/she has a brain in his/her head; therefore, every decision is (in part) a shot in the dark. No reform can remove that inconvenient fact, and I can testify from personal experience that analysts are trained to "hedge their bets" as a means to remind decision-makers that the information is incomplete and/or inconclusive.
As to the issue of creating a second class of "US person" under the law, one of the undesirable effects of the proposal is that it is likely to reduce or cut off potentially the best source of information about cells of people who would do America harm--the other members of the immigrant communities who interact with the people our security forces want to find. How do you think the government penetrate these groups?
Poor, moronic John Walker Lindh may have met Bin Laden once or twice, but as a recent convert and Westerner he would AT LEAST have had to spend many more years with Al Qaeda before he would have become privy to its inner workings. Indeed, he probably could never earn his way into the inner circle. The core of clandestine organizations like AQ are almost inevitably formed through familial and tribal ties (or, as with Bin Laden and al Zawahiri, through merger of existing groups, with each "leading man" contributing a couple of "most-trusted" allies to form the core group of the joint organization). Prospective new members are "sponsored" by existing members, and can gradually move toward the inner circle, "earning their bones" by leading successful efforts. In other words, penetrating these groups requires "turning" someone who, through existing personal/familial/tribal connections, has access to the group--an outsider will never get closer than the periphery and will therefore never provide meaningful intelligence.posted by: Jem on 01.23.04 at 05:17 PM [permalink]
When you consider the US spends 30 billion a year on intelligence it's clear we are being ripped off. It would be interesting to know how many millions the NSA for example pisses away on recording the conversations of low level UN diplomats.
The Israelis probably spend 1/100 yet their intelligence is usually as good as or better then ours.posted by: Reno on 01.23.04 at 05:17 PM [permalink]
I wonder why Norman Rodgers thinks whatever shaky "evidence" Iraq shipped CW to Syria, who don't want it, is more reliable than the "evidence" Saddam retained WMD in Iraq!
This one nugget explains very well the #1 reason our intel blew the WMD issue (so, BTW, did Israeli intel, but unlike here, there a failure investigation is quietly proceeding). Our intel agencies, under pressure to tell their masters what they wanted to hear, and under pressure to err on the side of caution, gave credence to a number of defector reports we now know were fiction. It would probably not go too far to say that the defectors produced by Ahmed Chalabi and the INC, and their information on WMD which has every last syllable failed to come true, were elements of one big con-game. The short term goal was to live high on the hog with US Government payouts (plus entree to AEI and other corridors of power), and the long term goal was installation of a Chalabi regime in Iraq at American expense. Once we started with their mistaken information, it's more obvious why satellite photos got misinterpretated. And when established agencies still weren't paranoiac enough, under the doctrine of "9/11 changed everything" the White House allowed (ordered?) Doug Feith's Office of Special Plans to hype the threat beyond all credibility.
You can tell how unininterested the White House was with correct intel from their reaction to the UN inspections that took place right before the war. Even though we were supplying info on WMD sites down to the GPS coordinates, the inspectors turned nothing up (of course). They called our info "shit". Rather than reconsider our own intel, we derided them as incompetent. (If we have apologized, I haven't noticed.)
I'm also wondering how we can reconcile the comments above
It's more than a little interesting that this post comes right after the post about Ms. Plame. Is it any wonder why the intel services are dropping the ball when they have such employees who are placing their own political objectives above that of the nation?and
The CIA should recruit a cadre of agents who can go into countries without diplomatic protection and who can actually speak arabic, persian etc..
You see, Valerie Plame was such an agent. But somehow, when her husband came public with the correct intelligence on Niger and Iraq, the White House burned her. Do you think that's going to help our deep-cover agent recruitment process? And, by the way, just because George Bush told lies about yellowcake to further his political agenda doesn't mean that Joe Wilson told truth about yellowcake in order to further his. That's a rather elementary point of logic, and the Bush Administration's success in making reasonably intelligent people ascribe worse motives to people who told the truth than to people who lied is really quite distressing. posted by: Andrew J. Lazarus on 01.23.04 at 05:17 PM [permalink]
Excuse me, Jon. I should have said VERY RECENT PAST! Good catch!
Doncha think you should have enclosed shaky in scare quotes -- rather than evidence? I mean, David Kay just came out with a FINDING that indeed Saddam did ship THOUSANDS of tons of this material to Syria. Of course, if you are of a mindset to find fault with "your" country, no matter what, you'd behave as you do. Witness your claim that only Plame's husband produced the correct evidence (your emphasis).posted by: Norman Rogers on 01.23.04 at 05:17 PM [permalink]
Lazarus's comments demonstrate why intelligence analysis is sooooo difficult: in the absence of 100% accurate information, personal biases and prejudices can, and (when there's an axe to grind) do run wild in the gaps.
I won't cite him for myself, but as someone the "Bush lied" crew used to (it appears) believe was credible & honorable:
Bill Clinton hasn't gone near the "Bush lied" line.
Wonder why that is?posted by: BradDad on 01.23.04 at 05:17 PM [permalink]
It seems to me that the idea of "de-politicized" intelligence is laughable. The only reason intelligence is gathered is to be the basis of political decisions--decisions that, quite rightly, are made by elected officials and their political appointees, not field agents. And politicians are ultimately accountable to us.
So in the end, the accountability question is settled in November. Do we accept that Bush made the right decision based on incomplete evidence, or do we believe that J. Random Democrat would have made a different, "better" decision (bearing in mind that every instance of JRD not named Sharpton or Kucinich says he would have made the same decision as Bush if France had agreed with it, and if a Democrat had been in the White House there's a very good chance France would have agreed)?posted by: Chris Lawrence on 01.23.04 at 05:17 PM [permalink]
So what a second, according to you we shouldn't judge intelligence analysts or operatives on a track record of success because this might lead to them hedging their bets?
BULLSH#T. This is exact kind of "double-think" that has plagued the Intel agencies for years. Hedging the bets doesn't lead to less mistakes but more. The very heart of the scientific process is forcing people to take a testable stand on issues. In the long run, it winnows out the wheat from the chaff.
In addition, what you fail to understand is that in Intelligence there is a marked difference between the competent and the semi-competent. Any officer or analyst that takes more risks will have more major failures - but will also have a much larger track record of successes to put it in perspective.
Meanwhile the "hedgers" get stuff wrong *all* the time. They got it wrong when they hedged about Hussein having WMD because we couldn't be sure he didn't. They were wrong about the imminent downfall of North Korea because well they'd been starving for the last few years and they "had" to be close to collapse. Wolfowitz and his "B-Team" were wrong about how much of a danger the latter day Soviet Union was, over-estimating its threat by several orders of magnitude because it was seemingly a "safe-bet".
What you're defending is bound to produce a bureacracy of timid, gutless, unaccountable people who are prone to say the "popular" or "plausible" thing because they know they can't be blamed for saying something that agreed with the prejudices of most people.
Or in other words, exactly what we have today. If scientists had the same attitude, that they weren't willing to take a position and were wishy-washy guessers all the time then we'd never get any new breakthroughs. Of course, I wouldn't be surprised that you think this because it's exactly the kind of disinformation that the gutless wonders in charge of our agencies. You just don't get it because you've never seen it. An operative or analyst at the top of their game is way more likely to be correct than someone just shuffling paperwork, and it'll show on a lifetime track-record. Trying to imagine we can compare the conclusions of the top people to bureaucratic mediocre bandwagon jumpers is part of how we got into this mess that we don't know left from right in our intel anymore!!!
posted by: Oldman on 01.23.04 at 05:17 PM [permalink]
Naive? Why is it naive that the same process of tracking, accountability, and performance testing that is used for decisions as complex as car design performance to deciding which mutual fund to invest in would suddenly become bankrupt when it came to assessing Intelligence? You speak of CIA bureacracies but those same bureacracies were created by the gutless lack of accountability and lack of performance driven promotion that you suggest is inevitable. What is your alternative? To stop espionage and rely wholly on the prejudicial guesses of politicians? We've seen where that takes us already. Even among pure guesses, some people simple guess better and more correctly more often than others. Espionage is not an option in the modern world no matter what rock you crawled out from under Dave, it's just a question of how one does it and how far one takes it. Is it perfect? No. But it could be a sight better than it is now.posted by: Oldman on 01.23.04 at 05:17 PM [permalink]
Describing Kay's claim about Syria as a "finding" is something of a joke. Let's see: no figures, no statement what moved, no explanation of how this was accomplished with international sureveillance, not statement of what the finding finds. I suppose some small quantity of something could have moved, but a huge convoy would have been needed for anything on the scale we claimed to know all about before the war.
As far as the Clinton excuse, we'll never know (1) what sort of different intel the agencies would have delivered to Clinton nor (2) whether Clinton would have re-evaluated the intelligence as the facts on the ground didn't agree with the preconceptions in the mind.posted by: Andrew J. Lazarus on 01.23.04 at 05:17 PM [permalink]
People here really don't know how to read or reason about evidence/causality. Read the times article, Kay states himself that caveats are NOT THE PROBLEM. Guess what the problem was? People removed the caveats as you went further up the food chain. If the caveats stayed in place, the types absurd of conclusions regarding WMD would have never happened. This happened during the Clinton administration too, but was exacerbated by the even more gratutitios cherry-picking of the Bush administartion.
You have to keep the caveats, you have to keep track of how you gathered information. If you don't understand this, you don't understand basic conditional prbabilities, bayesian reasoning, or the scientific process at all. You should not be making any descions whatsoever.
The fact that mulitple agencies all concluded the same thing doesn't neccessarily mean that we should be certain Iraq had WMDs. For example, suppose I hear from the TV, radio, and a friend that there was an earthquake in california. If all of these people go their informmation from a signle eye-witness, this eliminates any reassurance from the consensus. (something like this happened w/Chernobyl details).
Now, I wouldn't be surprised if the British, American, and other Intel agencies got almost all their information from the same set of bad apples. So surprise, surprise, tehy all conclude the same thing! Hence, we shoudl all be more confident that Iraq has WMD! WRONG! I dont think we'll ever know for sure, but I wouldn't be surprised if sometihng like this turns out to be the case.
There is a difference between rating/ranking things and rating/ranking people. Rating people for performance directly is usually bad. If you don't believe this see the FAA, or how medical quality of care is being done. the FAA system is pretty good and don't do what you are suggesting.
AJL: You are in fantansy land. Kay spent months in Iraq, don't you think he looked into that convoy thing? Its been obvious for months there were no weapons in Iraq. What was it, come back in 6 months? It's coming up on a year. Kay's saying the Bushies didn't exagerate. This is almost laughable. Soo many of the NIE claims are caveated. Cheney, Bush, Rumsfeld never caveated late 2002.posted by: N R on 01.23.04 at 05:17 PM [permalink]
Caveated or not, the NIE claimed Iraq possessed substantial WMD stocks and was reconstituting its nuclear weapons program. (Though it appears to have been correct on the central question of program existence.) The idea that the intelligence was fine, but Bush cherry-picked, is bunkum.
OTOH, this is hardly the worst historic intelligence failure (compared to say, missing the fact India and Pakistan had nuke weapons programs until the test blasts.) They've also had a couple of nice successes recently (e.g., intercepting the centrifuges bound for Libya). It also isn't reasonable to expect the CIA to know specific contents of a totally closed regime's mountain hideaways, or to be able to predict the date on which the DPRK will make its first nuclear test. Uncertainty is inherent in intelligence work, and more yet because we're only seeing some of the product..posted by: Cecil Turner on 01.23.04 at 05:17 PM [permalink]
PULEEZE! It is established fact that all of the above were extant in Iraq at times certain in the past. The only question that remains is what happened to them in the run-up to the war.
It's not a question which remains. They were destroyed in full view of United Nations weapons inspectors.
People like Scott Ritter (remember him?)posted by: dsquared on 01.23.04 at 05:17 PM [permalink]
For Chris Lawrence:
Andrew J. Lazarus finds humor in David Kay's assessment of Syria's complicity in hiding parts of Saddams' WMD materials. Mr. Lazarus also demands that we believe that Assad only permitted one delivery. I find this really funny.
N R would have us believe that if Kay didn't find large stockpiles of chemical/biological weapons, then these NEVER existed. Inded, Kay has found evidence of active WMD programs. What does N R believe was to have been the payloads of the rockets Saddam bought from PRNK -- in blatant violation of the armistice agreement Saddam signed in '91 -- perhaps flowers?
Cecil Turner is spot on!
dsquared tells us that all of Saddam's WMD stockpiles and production and development equipment were destroyed in Scott Ritter's plain sight. So tell us, dsquared -- How is it that President Bush got a UNANIMOUS UN resolution demanding that Saddam fess up -- or else (unspecified). Indeed, Bush's speech to the UN was an admonishment to act to preserve their own relevancy, because Saddam had ignored sixteen (count 'em, sixteen) prior resolutions.posted by: Norman Rogers on 01.23.04 at 05:17 PM [permalink]
“It's not a question which remains. They were destroyed in full view of United Nations weapons inspectors.”
This has got to be one of the absurd things I’ve read in 2004. It may ultimately deserve a place on the top 10 dumbest assertions anyone will make during the year. There was simply no realistic way to adequately verify the destruction of Saddam’s WMD other than an invasion---if he continued to play games with the UN inspectors. For God’s sake, Iraq is about the size of California! It was also run as a Stalinist style state. Thus, only the top guy in charge would know the whole story.posted by: David Thomson on 01.23.04 at 05:17 PM [permalink]
"This has got to be one of the absurd things I’ve read in 2004." should read "This has got to be one of the most absurd things I’ve read in 2004.posted by: David Thomson on 01.23.04 at 05:17 PM [permalink]
“Why is it naive that the same process of tracking, accountability, and performance testing that is used for decisions as complex as car design performance to deciding which mutual fund to invest in would suddenly become bankrupt when it came to assessing Intelligence?”
An effective car design is verified by the very near future resulting sales figures. Alas, sometime we don’t know whether we have been successful in our spying endeavors until many years into the distant future, if ever. I’m all for “tracking, accountability, and performance testing” our spy agencies. However, I clearly realize how difficult this is. You are vastly oversimplifying everything.
posted by: David Thomson on 01.23.04 at 05:17 PM [permalink]
Not that this discounts any need for reform ... but isn't our view necessarily clouded when it comes to intelligence operations?
That is, it seems likely that there's a whole lot we aren't seeing, and won't see for a very long time - either because our intelligence entities don't want to spoil ongoing operations, or that revealing such operation might scare the absolute living crap out of the general populace.
Or is that being naive, and we're generally getting good intelligence about intelligence?posted by: Steve in Houston on 01.23.04 at 05:17 PM [permalink]
I agree DT that I am simplifying, but not as much as you are. As it turns out, successful car designs are built often years in advance of production and retail sales. Furthermore almost every single innovation - including hydrogen fuel systems, ABS, and aluminum frames is introduced often many years and sometimes is invented decades before it's widely introduced as a popular or even luxury feature. Every single facet of car design is based upon work that has been done many decades in the past, and sometimes it's a long time before anyone knows what will be popular or successful. ABS? Invented in the 80's. Aluminum frames? Further back. Hydrogen fuel cell cars? Germans did it a decade ago, already. And in fact, even then manufacturers sometimes need ongoing feedback and revaluation - that's why they have recalls.
So clearly you know absolutely nothing about car design and automobile history. Not surprising since you often comment on what you clearly have no knowledge of.
Yes, it would take a long time to reform the Intelligence bureacracies by tracking and rewarding performance. However A) no one has a better idea and B) as the Admin has admitted the War on Terrorism might go on indefinitely. The other alternatives are to 1) stop all espionage 2) throw up our hands and give up on trying to get better espionage and 3) trial and error. Not exactly a thrilling line up there, DT. So we've got nothing to lose by starting really. So much for your objections DT.posted by: Oldman on 01.23.04 at 05:17 PM [permalink]
In 1999, NRO openly solicited technical proposals. Convinced gov't was missing the point, I submitted a paper,"Primacy of Analysis," with suggestions to revive procedures needed for intel production. In closing, I said if improvements weren't made, there'd be a tendency for more and worse failures in the future. Two years later, my friend was killed at WTC. I keep distributing the paper, but it's not even acknowledged. It was based on 35 years experience. I was first in my Russian class, I belong to Mensa, and I care for my country. But I'm afraid the U.S. is going to go way down. And there's nothing being done about it. Effective analysis is dead. We have no first line of defense. It seems likely many more of us will be killed. I hope I'm wrong about this.posted by: Paul J. Price on 01.23.04 at 05:17 PM [permalink]
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