Friday, April 01, 2005

Slate dissects the report on intelligence failures

Fred Kaplan writes what we all know to be true:
Reading beyond the executive summary reveals that the intelligence failure on Iraq had little to do with management, interagency disputes, or sloppy organizational charts. Rather, the main causes were twofold. First, on many points, well-placed intelligence analysts were simply wrong; it's as plain as that, and it's hard to see how any reshufflings or new directives might have overwhelmed human fallacy. Second, everyone knew President Bush was gearing up for war; he, therefore, wanted, needed, to find Iraq worthy of invasion; and the heads of intelligence, doubling as administration appointees, accommodated that disposition.

The commissioners try to skirt this political dimension of the intelligence analysts' findings. "In no instance," the report states up front, "did political pressure cause them to skew or alter any of their analytical judgment." However, it goes on, "That said, it is hard to deny the conclusion that intelligence agencies worked in an environment that did not encourage skepticism about the conventional wisdom."

Apparently the commission didn't want to get into the politics of skewed intelligence, saying only that agency bureaucrats may risk a "loss of objectivity" when they try to maintain influence over policy decisions by cozying up to the administration.
One reason the commissioners address this point so briefly, and obliquely, is that President Bush didn't want them to bring it up at all. As Lawrence Silberman, the panel's co-chairman, explained at the press conference this morning, "Our executive order did not direct us to deal with the use of intelligence by policymakers, and all of us agreed that this was not part of our inquiry."

The panel didn't interview the president or vice president. The report doesn't even mention the special five-man team that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld set up in his Pentagon office in the fall of 2002 to scour raw reports for the slightest suggestion of evidence, which the CIA might have missed, that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction or links to al-Qaida. An executive order is an executive order. But for a report about intelligence errors to avoid such matters is like viewing Hamlet through Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (but, unlike Tom Stoppard, not for laughs).



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