Intelligence and the Iraq War

From Bob Woodward’s Obama’s Wars:

Hayden [the out going CIA director] met Panetta [the new one for the Obama administration] for a last heart to heart. He wanted to clear the air, correct the record as he understood it. “Leon,” Hayden said, “I’ve been reading some of your writings while out of government. You claim the Bush administration cherry picked the intelligence for Iraqi WMD.”

Panetta had blamed a special unit setup by Rumsfeld at the Pentagon.

“That’s not true. We got it wrong, okay? It was a clear swing and a miss. It’s our fault.”

Panetta said he got it. There had been a catastrophic intelligence failure at the agency he was taking over.

9 thoughts on “Intelligence and the Iraq War

  1. The incompetence of the CIA has only increased since then as good people have left and criminals have been promoted:

    http://www.harpers.org/media/image/blogs/misc/americaarabrevolution3.pdf

    Today the CIA and its sister agencies are so absorbed with covering the tracks
    of their torture handiwork–and insisting that they made no mistakes in the
    past–that they seem to have forgotten that their mission is actually to provide
    current intelligence and analysis that serves the nation. There is no clearer
    demonstration of that fact than in the current crisis in the Middle East. With
    a total intelligence community annual budget in the vicinity of $80 billion, the
    expenditure of funds has mushroomed and vast resources have been lavished
    on the Middle East. But for all of that, American intelligence has been lobotomized.
    A Washington decision-maker would do better investing a few hours a
    day watching the news on Al Jazeera than getting a stream of highly classified
    intelligence community briefings. Al Jazeera has to account for mistakes and
    slanted reporting in a public forum, whereas the myriad imbecilities of U.S. intelligence
    reports are allowed to hide unchallenged behind poorly justified security
    classifications. The results for the United States are ominous. In a time of
    tectonic shifts in the region, American leaders are essentially blind to new opportunities
    and uninformed about challenges–and particularly the challenges
    that can be traced directly back to the agency’s own crimes and blunders. The
    legacy of torture is an intelligence community wedded to the dark side. This is
    producing an America which is less smart, less safe and less faithful to its own
    principles.

  2. Our intelligence agencies have never been particularly competent or effective and much of this has been reported on and discussed but too many people simply aren’t interested.

  3. I believe that the Hayden quote is contradicted by too much other information that has come out since the war started. The fiasco involving “Curveball” and the machinations of the cabal of neo cons around Cheney is jus too damning to simply label it “a clear swing and a miss.”

    Samuel Flagg Bemis, the noted Diplomatic Historian at a presentation shorly after the Bay of Pigs stated ther are three parts in the process from intelligence collectio to Presidential action. First is the accumulation of raw data, whether it be human or technologically based. Second is the analysis of that data and third is how the people making decisions use it. When you look at in this way, you can see a comparison of Iraq to what happened in Cuba.

    In Cuba we depended on people who fled Cuba and anti revolutionary Cubans who stayed behind. In Iraq we used essentially the people who left Iraq. In both cases we depended on very biased people who had agendas calling for military action (along with a little personal gain).

    The analysis of data was flawed in both situations by mind sets that totally prejudiced what was produced. In the case of Castro, our intense anti-communism and the belief that no one in their right mind would choose communism led us to assume that the invasion would be a cakewalk, We thought the effort would be as easy as our toppling of Arbenz Guzman in Guatamala in 1954 and Mossadegh in Iran the same year.

    In Iraq, we had a Presidency and a cadre of neo cons who interfered with the anysis of data to get the conclusions they wanted. Curveball was not vetted, but simply believed because what he said fit the answer wanted. The defense o a war based on alluminum tubes and the purchase of yellow cake from Niger were easily dismissed as false by other parts of the intelligence establishment, again to fit the goal of justifying war.

    Finally, we had two Presidents commit two blunders. Kennedy’s led to the humiliation of the United States and possibly the encouragement of Khrushev’s belief that Kennedy was weak and thus he could put missles in Cuba. Bush’s led to war with over 4400 Americans losing their lives and all the ancillary losses that have gone with it.

    Simply put, we need better intelligence sources, a commitment to independent and full analysis and the selection of leaders that will use intelligence wisely. In the case of leaders I am not trying to be a snarky Democrat, but the Tea Party types and the current batch of Republican Presidential hopefulls just scare the bejabbers out of me Though I have some hope for Huntsman and Romney, I believe each has about as much chance as a snowball in hades. I am afraid the others will be as dangerous as Bush was and McGovern would have been.

  4. Stan, good analysis. About half of the potential Republican field is unacceptable to me and many other tea party supporters. Huckabee, Gingrich, Palin, Barbour and a few others are just not acceptable. Romney wants to increase Defense expenditures, which is just not acceptable under any scenario. I am hoping for a new face who will completely change our foreign policy focus toward defense of the country rather than militarism. We can’t afford to be the world’s policemen anymore.

  5. Geoff, I assume there will be a post up about the 2012 race when more candidates officially enter the field? I’d love to hear your thoughts, you are one of the few Conservatives I know that can still surprise me.

  6. Stan B, I believe you are confusing two different issues. One is why the intelligence was wrong. The other is the totality of issues that lead to the invasion.

    The “intelligence failure” refers to the former – there is no evidence to suggest that the CIA purposely falsified the intelligence.

    But certainly, there were many in favor of deposing Saddam Hussein for a wide variety of reasons that have nothing to do with intelligence reports, but rather more to do with an interventionist foreign policy in general.

  7. Mark D,
    Thanks for a little sanity on this. You are correct. This really was an intelligence failure.

    I also note that people seem to agree that the CIA was ‘incompetent.’ In other words, it’s a personal failure.

    Normally, I would not use the word ‘incompetent’ in this way because it implies that they are worse then average, which isn’t the case.

    I think the real failure is the very concept of intelligence at all. It’s plagued with the same narrative fallacy problems that hurt the financial industry or piecing together history. They sometimes find real knowledge, bug sometimes only create the illusion of it. We don’t normally get to see how often intelligene is this wrong, but it’s often this bad. Of couse normally, being this wrong doesn’t lead to such a huge impact.

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