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Archive for June, 2003

[Originally published in the Valley News.]

During the period between the Second World War and 9/11, the United States pursued a policy of containment toward unfriendly governments. That worked remarkably well in the bipolar world of the Cold War. Now, in the absence of the practical constraints imposed by the Cold War, the Bush administration has moved completely away from containment to a unilateral, pre-emptive policy toward governments it sees as unfriendly. That changes everything in the provision and use of intelligence.

There are two kinds of intelligence. There is raw, unevaluated intelligence that comes from spies, technical intercepts or overhead collection systems. Raw intelligence is provided to analysts with only a source description and evaluation. Second, there is finished intelligence, or raw intelligence that has been analyzed, compared to all other like information available from all sources and evaluated for its accuracy. This analysis is conducted in the intelligence community by analysts, many of whom have spent entire careers focused on one country and who are truly experts in their fields. It is their finished intelligence that is provided to policy makers.

The purpose of providing intelligence to policy makers is to give them a basis for the formulation of foreign policy. If the intelligence is accurate, it can give indications of policies that might be valid for any given situation. It is important to note here that intelligence is not always acted upon or even accepted by administrations. On many occasions, administrations have formulated their policies not on the basis of objective facts and professional analyses, but on the basis of their own internal political needs. A perfect example of this has been the policy of virtually every post-war American administration toward the Israeli-Palestinian situation, which has ignored analysts’ warnings that the Arab and Muslim perception of U.S. policy as one-sided could create problems.

In the past, when an administration chose not to act on intelligence analysis, more often that not it simply ignored what had been provided. There are relatively few instances where an administration has gone to its own analysis to support a policy or policy change. The Tonkin Gulf incident during the Vietnam War has some elements of that.

Now, however, in the face of growing criticism, the Bush administration finds itself in the position of having to defend itself against the allegation that it has provided itself with its own analysis of raw intelligence in support of the policy it presumably had already decided to undertake, but needed to justify. At issue are the claims that the Bush administration used to justify the war. The Iraqi government’s possession of weapons of mass destruction and its connections with the al-Qaida terrorist network were the rationales used, and at this moment it appears that both were and still are lacking substance.

If this is true, it would be a clear-cut example of the politicization of foreign policy. That happens when a policy maker rejects analysis from the apolitical, professional intelligence community and sets up his own unit to “re-look” the raw intelligence and find “other meanings” for it. One has to look only to the Defense Department’s recently created Office of Special Plans to see the likely embodiment of that approach. Various administration officials, including Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz have acknowledged that OSP has done precisely that, “re-looked” the raw intelligence prior to the invasion.

The administration clearly did not like the analyses it was getting from the intelligence community. Those analyses did not support their allegations of substantive Iraqi-al-Qaida ties and was lukewarm on the weapons of mass destruction threat. “Regime change” was not an acceptable rationale during the run-up to the war. OSP “re-looked” the old raw data and said the professional analysts were wrong. In doing so, it appears to have relied in a large measure on information provided by emigres and defectors.

The CIA learned about such sources the hard way during the Soviet takeover of Eastern Europe after the Second World War. Such sources, more often than not, have axes to grind and self-serving agendas. They are not above fabricating when it suits their interests. It takes a great deal of patience to sort them out, unless you are a policy maker looking for “information” to support or justify a policy you have already decided to undertake. Then you might be inclined to accept the information at face value. We have always called that French reasoning, or the act of making existing facts fit a predetermined conclusion.

The Pentagon, including OSP, bought Ahmed Chalabi, the head of the Iraqi National Congress, hook, line and sinker, even though the CIA and the State Department had long gravely mistrusted him. He is the “Pentagon’s boy” (read OSP) and is presumably one of those who told us that we would be welcomed by the population, that the Iraqis would throw down their arms without a fight and dozens of other truth-mitigating tidbits that in the aggregate would persuade us to go ahead with our invasion. That’s what the Iraqi National Congress wanted, but could never accomplish on its own – the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and the subsequent opportunity for the INC to gain power in Iraq.

With luck we may be able to sort out the issues in Iraq as well as those in the world brought on by our unilateralism and bring some sort of stability there. If we do, it will not be because we had good intelligence, analysis or policy. If nothing else, the events surrounding the run-up to Iraq as well as the war and the aftermath may give good, pragmatic reason to rely on facts and professional analysis for the intelligence input on future, significant foreign policy decisions. This is particularly important in an era of unilateralist intervention in which all the external constraints that would be placed on an administration by internationalist coordination, cooperation and containment have been removed. French reasoning is trouble all the way.

Haviland Smith is a retired CIA station chief who served in Lebanon and Iran among other places and was at one time the agency’s chief of counterterrorism. He lives in Williston.

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