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Unfinished Intelligence By: Garrett Jones
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, February 27, 2006


Paul  Pillar's  article  in  the  March/April  2006  Foreign Affairs,  "Intelligence,   Policy,  and  the  War  in  Iraq" makes  sad   reading.  Pillar,  who  left  the  intelligence community last  year, would  have us  believe that  from his low-level  position  therein, he  watched  while  the  Bush administration  perverted the  intelligence  process  and charged off into a war that was known to everyone to be both unneeded and  unjustified. Had they only asked him, he could have set  them straight.  Shame on  them and  let  it  be  a warning to  anyone else  that slights  the analysts  in  the intelligence community.

From 2000 until 2005, Pillar was the National Intelligence Officer (NIO) for the Near East and South Asia. The NIO is the individual in the intelligence community responsible for coordinating all finished intelligence products on his or her particular subject matter--in this case, the Near East, which includes Iraq. Finished intelligence products are all- source reports or assessments of a subject or situation. They are the best estimate of what the U.S. intelligence community believes to be the truth at a given point in time.

The bottom  line is  that if  Pillar did  not sign  off on a finished intelligence report, it was not published until the report was  changed or  an official  note in the text of the document was  made that  Pillar disagreed with its judgments in some  manner. Officially, Pillar was the go-to  guy for Iraq. Seemingly, one of his main complaints is that no one went to him.

 

This is  passing strange,  because normally, the Directorate of  Intelligence  (DI)  creates  the  draft  of  a  national intelligence estimate  about an individual country, and then the NIO  with area  responsibility  (Pillar  in  this  case) ensures that its final wording is agreed on by all the other involved parts  of the  intelligence community. I understand this was not the case with the Iraq National Intelligence Estimate (NIE).  Despite another  office's being the lead on this report,  Pillar's senior  and central  position on  all things Iraqi  gave  him  wide  latitude  to  make  sure  any misgivings he may have had about the content of the NIE were effectively included  in the final draft of the document. It appears that either Pillar was taken out of the process, or he was in the middle of a process he knew was flawed and failed to  say anything. Either case would be an interesting insight into  a historic  debacle, but  neither is the story Pillar is telling.

 

Pillar also fails to mention that as the NIO, he did not need to wait for anyone to ask him for any report. Normally, NIEs are issued at the request of high-level policymakers, but an NIO can order up an assessment or report any time he thinks it is necessary.  It is indeed the point of his job.

 

If something is developing in his area of responsibility and the policymakers are not focused on it, the NIO is supposed to order up an assessment to give them a warning  of  a developing problem.  NIOs also regularly write less formal memos to policymakers if they feel there is a problem with U.S. policy or practice, without waiting to be asked.

 

Pillar also asserts that  it was  a broadly  held view that Saddam was  being kept  "in his  box" by  the then policy on Iraq. I  was not  in the intelligence community at the time, but as  I recall,  Saddam was handing out $25,000 bonuses to suicide bombers  in  the  Gaza  Strip;  all  internal  Iraqi dissent had  been crushed, so that no reform of any kind was on the  horizon; the  oil-for-food program  was  a  complete failure and  a vehicle for widespread corruption; Saddam had already tried  at least once to have his intelligence agents assassinate  former   president  George  H.  W.  Bush  in  a neighboring country;  and Iraq's  air defense were improving on a  daily basis,  making the no-fly policy a daily lottery on whether  Saddam would  have U.S.  or  British  pilots  as hostages. While going to  war with Iraq might not have been Pillar's personal  choice as a new policy, I can hardly call what we  were doing  before the invasion a successful policy with a  rosy outlook.  We were going to have to do something else, and soon.

 

Pillar further laments the political pressure exerted on the hapless intelligence  analysts, despite  the fact  that  the subsequent  fact-finding  commissions  who  looked  for  the pressure on analysts could not, as Pillar acknowledges, find it. Perhaps  it was,  as he  says, "unacknowledged"  by  the analysts. (They  did not know it was happening but it really was.) It may be true that  brand-new, GS-9  analysts, on their first  month at work, are going to be awed by the vice president of  the United  States' coming  out to the CIA and asking them  if they  are certain about their judgments. (It was in fact unprecedented for the vice president to come out to the HQS building and meet the analysts as a group, in the past, a  vice president  would usually call analysts down to his private  White House  office one  at a  time to put each through the  wringer.) That  said, senior  analysts  such  as those putting together the Iraqi NIE who back down because a consumer  does  not  like  their  judgments  deserve  to  be cashiered  from  the  intelligence  community  and  publicly disgraced. Having  the consumer  dislike the information you are bringing him is not only part of the job, it happens all the time, with every administration, at every level, whether you are  an analyst  or a case officer. What you have to say as an  intelligence officer  is  usually  at  variance  with something the consumer wants to believe.

 

Pillar goes  to some  length to  point out that analysts and intelligence officers  do not  make  policy.  He  is  right. Sometimes  policymakers   do  stupid   things   even   after

intelligence officers  give them  better alternatives. He is also correct  that policymakers  will come  back time  after time and  ask intelligence  officers the  same  question  in different ways  to see  if the  answer changes.  This is  an annoying quirk  of human nature, but usually it only happens with important  questions, like  going to war. As a citizen, Pillar has  every right  to these  views. But  it was  as  a serving intelligence  officer that  he  spoke  at  a  dinner reported on by Robert Novak in September 2004, in the middle of a  presidential election, to express his dissenting views to a partisan audience.

 

The NIE  on Iraq was not a product that was "flawed." It was dead wrong,  180 degrees  away from  the truth. Secretary of State Powell  relied on  its veracity,  and he had Mr. Tenet sit behind him at the UN when he appeared there to highlight that point.  I certainly  believed the public version of the Iraqi NIE  when I  first read it in the media. It was my own fault; I  simply did not believe the analyst community could get it that wrong. Shame on me for my lack of imagination. I have read  more than  a few  NIEs in  my time at the CIA and they are  usually a  model of  hedging words. For its genre, the Iraqi  NIE  was  forthright  and  explicit.  It  was  an appalling mistake,  made on    Pillar's  watch;  revisionist history does no one any credit.

 

In the  final part  of his  article, Pillar  discusses a new relationship  he  believes  should  be  established  between Congress and  the intelligence  community. I do not claim to fully understand  his recommendation, but as best I can make out, "if  foolish presidents  are going to ignore the advice of wise intelligence analysts, then there should be a formal procedure to  correct this."  It also  seems to  include  an independent intelligence panel not immediately answerable to Congress or  the executive  branch, which  could hold  these branches   of   government   to   account   for   "misusing" intelligence.  I think the chances   of   creating   an intelligence czar or panel with such powers in the current climate are effectively nil.

 

Other than  observing that  there is  in  fact  a  political process going on in Washington D.C. and that it occasionally involves foreign  policy matters,  I am  not sure what other useful points  Pillar makes.  If he is trying to make a case that he was not involved or responsible for the intelligence reporting leading  up to  Iraq war, I am afraid the facts as we currently  know them  are against him. Perhaps when other players in  the process  come forward with their stories, we will obtain  a clearer  view of  Pillar's role in the events leading up to the Iraq war. Unfortunately, this article only further muddies the water.

CIA Statement: "This material has been reviewed by the CIA. That review neither constitutes CIA authentication of information nor implies CIA endorsement of the author's views."


Garrett Jones is a 1993 graduate of the U.S. Army War College. He served as a case officer with the CIA in Africa, Europe, and the Middle East. He retired in 1997 and now lives in the northwestern United States.


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