A Cautious Man
January 13, 2004
You've Been Fooled This Time, That's a Fact
From perusing Sursum Corda, I learned about Kenneth Pollock's new article in the Atlantic Monthly. That's right, Mr. "Gathering Storm" writes on how we were fooled. Excerpts:
The intelligence community's overestimation of Iraq's WMD capability is only part of the story of why we went to war last year. The other part involves how the Bush Administration handled the intelligence. Throughout the spring and fall of 2002 and well into 2003 I received numerous complaints from friends and colleagues in the intelligence community, and from people in the policy community, about precisely that. According to them, many Administration officials reacted strongly, negatively, and aggressively when presented with information or analysis that contradicted what they already believed about Iraq. Many of these officials believed that Saddam Hussein was the source of virtually all the problems in the Middle East and was an imminent danger to the United States because of his perceived possession of weapons of mass destruction and support of terrorism. Many also believed that CIA analysts tended to be left-leaning cultural relativists who consistently downplayed threats to the United States. They believed that the Agency, not the Administration, was biased, and that they were acting simply to correct that bias.And that, boys and girls, is where "preemptive" wars come from.
Intelligence officers who presented analyses that were at odds with the pre-existing views of senior Administration officials were subjected to barrages of questions and requests for additional information. They were asked to justify their work sentence by sentence: "Why did you rely on this source and not this other piece of information?" "How does this conclusion square with this other point?" "Please explain the history of Iraq's association with the organization you mention in this sentence." Reportedly, the worst fights were those over sources. The Administration gave greatest credence to accounts that presented the most lurid picture of Iraqi activities. In many cases intelligence analysts were distrustful of those sources, or knew unequivocally that they were wrong. But when they said so, they were not heeded; instead they were beset with further questions about their own sources.
On many occasions Administration officials' requests for additional information struck the analysts as being made merely to distract them from their primary mission. Some officials asked for extensive historical analyses—a hugely time-consuming undertaking, for which most intelligence analysts are not trained. Requests were constantly made for detailed analyses of newspaper articles that conformed to the views of Administration officials—pieces by conservative newspaper columnists such as Jim Hoagland, William Safire, and George F. Will. These columnists may be highly intelligent men, but they have no claim to superior insight into the workings of Iraq, or to any independent intelligence-collection capabilities.