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April 6, 2005

Another Liberal Myth Destroyed

The left can't make up their mind about President Bush. On the one hand he's a moron, on the other an evil genius. It doesn't make sense, but that never seems to matter.

One of their favorite myths is that Bush is controlled by the evil neo-cons, primary among them Vice-President Cheney. People who are in the know, like General Tommy Franks, have said otherwise, but myths die hard.

The Wall Street Journal describes how this myth has been totally destroyed;

The Robb-Silberman panel does the enormous service of exposing all of this as both false regarding Iraq, and dangerous if it colors the future. The problem in Iraq wasn't some rogue Pentagon intelligence operation that ran roughshod over the CIA and DIA. Far from it, the problem was a "climate of conformity" across the entire intelligence community that firmly believed that Saddam still had WMD. Instead of disagreement, there was almost no internal intelligence debate at all. Everybody believed Saddam had WMD.
Including, of course, Secretary of State Colin Powell. Before he made his famous presentation to the UN in February of 2003 he demanded that the CIA "scrub" it's intelligence findings so that he could be absolutely sure that what he was telling the world was the unvarnished truth. Unfortunately, doubts about that intelligence never made it to the secretary.

This and other errors "stem from poor tradecraft and poor management" within the CIA and the rest of the intelligence community, the report adds. But "the Commission found no evidence of political pressure" to alter intelligence findings. "Analysts universally asserted that in no instance did political pressure cause them to skew or alter their analytical judgments," the panelists unanimously say.

These conclusions are all terribly inconvenient to those antiwar critics who are still promoting the Dick-Cheney-as-Rasputin fable of Iraq. And, incredibly, their response has been to imply that the Robb-Silberman panel is also in on this Big Con. A few open-minded liberals are even suggesting that no one should bother to read the report, which we suppose makes it easier to keep believing in the Grassy Knoll.

Chuck Robb is a former United States Senator from Virginia, and the left will have a hard time portraying him as a dupe. Those who insist on seeing the panel's report as a con simply expose themselves as farther and farther divorced from reality.

How did we get the intelligence so wrong?

One reason it overestimated Saddam's WMD capability in 2002-03 is because its analysts recalled how they had underestimated how far along his nuclear-weapons program had been in 1991. The agency was also surprised to discover, after the fall of the Taliban, how much progress al Qaeda had made toward gaining biological weapons in Afghanistan. Regarding both Iran and North Korea, it still knows disturbingly little.
From what I understand, the reason why our intelligence is so poor in these areas is that for the past thirty or forty years we have stressed technical methods of gathering information over human means. There were several reasons for this.

One is simply that we are very good at technology. Putting our resources into technology plays to our strength. One of the tenants of warfare is that you don't hit the enemy where they are strong (preventing infiltration) but where they are weak (technology). Asymetrical warfare works both ways.

A second reason is that much of what we needed to know during the Cold War years could be gathered more easily by technical means than with human means. We needed to count "things" like missiles, ships, tanks, and the like, and keep track of where they were. The Soviets used the same type of communications systems we did (radio and cable) so in a sense we were intercepting what we did ourselves.

A third reason is that the CIA abused their trust during the 1950s and 60s. They engaged in many practices that were questionable at best, seeming to think they were a law unto themselves. During 1975 and 1976 Senator Frank Church led the investigations that exposed wrongdoing by the CIA and FBI. Unfortunately, his recommendations went too far, and the agency ended up hobbled in it's ability to collect needed information. It was a classic case of the pendulum swinging too far in either direction.

The fourth reason is that no administration since has had the fortitude or foresight to challenge our reliance on technology and to insist that better human intelligence was needed. Hindsight is 20/20, and one can easily understand that for a president to try and change things would have led to a great outcry from the left.

The WSJ editorial sums up by saying that "The lesson of the Robb-Silberman report is that, in a world of terrorists eager to acquire WMD, political leaders have a duty to second-guess intellitgence". True enough, but they don't go far enough. We need to change our attitudes toward intelligence gathering, and emphasise human means. This has been the recommendation of other reports and investigations, and needs to be given priority.

Posted by Tom at April 6, 2005 1:37 PM

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