Ray McGovern | Intelligence Shouldn't Exist Just to Serve Policy

Wednesday, 06 August 2003 01:01 by: Anonymous

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  Intelligence Shouldn't Exist Just to Serve 0aPolicy
  By Ray McGovern
  The Miami Herald

Tuesday 05 August 2003

  I could scarcely believe my ears listening to Vice President Dick 0aCheney on July 24 defending the decision to go to war in Iraq. In light of what 0ais now known, it was hard for me at first to tell whether he was applauding or 0ablaming the intelligence adduced to support that fateful decision.

  The centerpiece of Cheneys speech was a ''mis-overestimate'' -- 0athe National Intelligence Estimate issued on Oct. 1, 2002. Reciting some of its 0amain judgments, Cheney charged that it would have been ''irresponsible'' to shy 0aaway from using force to deal with the threat they depicted.

  But wait. Has no one told the vice president that the NIEs 0aconclusions, though described as ''high confidence'' judgments, have been thrown 0ainto serious doubt by more than four months of experience in Iraq? Where is the 0anuclear weapons program Iraq was said to be ''reconstituting''? Where are the 0achemical and biological weapons Iraq was purported to have?

  On the very day Cheney spoke, former CIA director John Deutch 0abranded the failure to find such weapons ''an intelligence failure of massive 0aproportions.'' How can such a thing be possible?

  The National Intelligence Estimate is the most authoritative 0agenre of intelligence analysis provided to the president and his senior 0aadvisors. CIA Director George Tenet signs them in his capacity as director of 0aCentral Intelligence -- that is, head of all the intelligence agencies, which 0aare involved in its preparation. Having chaired a number of NIEs during my 0a27-year career at the CIA, I am familiar with the intense care and effort that 0aused to go into working one up.

  My dismay over how the NIE on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq 0acould have gotten it so wrong prompted a hunt for the reasons. Start with the 0afact that there was no NIE before the decision for war last summer. Such 0adecisions are supposed to be based on the conclusions of NIEs, not the other way 0aaround. This time the process was reversed.

  It does not speak well for a director of Central Intelligence to 0ashy away from serving up the intelligence communitys best estimate anyway (''without fear or favor,'' the way we used to operate). But better no NIE, I 0asuppose, than one served up to suit the preconceived notions of policymakers. 0aBut the pressure became intense late last summer after the Bush administration 0adecided to make war.

  The marketing rollout for the war was keynoted by the vice 0apresident, who in a shrill speech on Aug. 26 charged, ''Saddam has resumed his 0aefforts to acquire nuclear weapons.'' An NIE was then ordered up, essentially to 0asupport the extreme judgments voiced by Cheney, and its various drafts were used 0aeffectively to frighten members of Congress into voting to authorize war.

  Adding insult to injury, the cockamamie story about Iraq seeking 0auranium in Niger was accorded three paragraphs in the estimate, prompting State 0aDepartment intelligence analysts to insist on a footnote branding the story ``highly dubious.''

  More important, State went on to insist that the evidence that 0aIraq had reconstituted its nuclear weapons program was ''inadequate.'' As for 0awhen Iraq might have a nuclear weapon, State explained that it was ``unwilling 0ato project a timeline for completion of activities it does not now see 0ahappening.''

  So courage, intelligence analysts! It is possible to stand up to 0apressure to manipulate and market intelligence to justify prior decisions by 0apolicymakers, and its a lot easier to look in the mirror the next morning.

  Many of my former colleagues at the CIA are still holding their 0anoses. One suggested, not wholly in jest, that the biblical verse at the 0aentrance to CIA headquarters -- ''You shall know the truth, and the truth shall 0aset you free'' -- be sent on rotation to the State Department, to be replaced by ``We cook estimates to go.''

  Ray McGovern, a CIA analyst for 27 years, is now on the steering 0agroup of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity.

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