Thursday, July 15, 2004

The Real Intelligence failure

What is the irony of the Senate’s report castigating the CIA for a “global intelligence failure”? It is that the conclusion that there was a “global intelligence failure” is based on a real, and singular intelligence failure: the work of Iraq Survey Group [ISG] run by David Kay.

The ISG investigation Dr. Kay ran is the “proof”, the sole pivot on which the “no WMDs in Iraq” argument rests. It was Dr. Kay’s interim report, distorted by the press, that created the “no WMDs” canard, fueled by Katy’s foolish statement that he believed that no WMD stockpiles [he didn’t say what a “stockpile” was] in fact existed. It now seems almost everyone, on whichever side of the war debate, believes it. But the startling fact — though it should not be — is that the failings the senators accuse the CIA of in reaching its pre-war WMD assessment were actually committed by the ISG during the botched post-war investigation.

According to an article by Frank J. Gaffney Jr., “Failures”, in The Washington Times []:
“The senators attributed these [the CIA’s pre-war] failings to "a combination of systemic weaknesses, primarily in analytic trade craft, compounded by a lack of information-sharing, poor management and inadequate intelligence collection.”
While I shall demonstrate in a future that to the extent these failings did [and do] apply to the CIA, they were imposed from outside: by the Clinton administration and by congress; they all apply to the ISG investigation to such a degree as to render its conclusion that no WMD stockpiles existed baseless and without merit. [To clarify: that is not to say that intelligence failures of the ISG prove they did exist, only that the ISG conclusions are useless in arguing that they didn’t.]

The ISG investigation was ill-conceived, poorly planned, and incompetently conducted. Other authors have described this in some detail [see here, here, and here]; I will merely touch on the salient points:

The ISG had no sound methodology established when they went in Iraq. They didn’t have the time or the resources for a systematic search of suspected or possible weapon sites; nor could they translate and analyze all the thousands of Iraqi documents they had access to. So they decided to interview Iraqi scientists in hopes of getting quick results. For whatever reason — naivete, ignorance, incompetence, arrogance; it hardly matters — the ISG, and Dr Kay, decided the Iraqis they were talking to were telling the truth, even when their statements did not jibe with what they’d told other investigators. The ISG should have been — must have been? — aware of this; it should have been a red flag. But to the extent they noticed these discrepancies, they appear to have assumed they were getting the truth and the other guys were not. This was a colossal blunder, especially as it has been documented that the ISG got less information in many from these scientists then UNSCOM did. ISG interviews were neither as long nor as detailed as UNSCOM interviews, and the interviewers were not as expert. If this is the way the ISG worked, I’m surprised if they don’t now own a lot of Florida swamp land.
The ISG did not have the proper skills for the task. The ISG didn’t correctly understand the scope of the task, and reportedly sent managers to Iraq instead of their analysts, who knew much more about Iraq's weapons. So there was, in the senate’s words, a basic failure in analytic trade craft.

There was mismanagement and a lack of effective cooperation in the ISG effort. The ISG refused to get help or include the real experts on WMDs in Iraq; the UNSCOM inspectors. The ISG spent far less time on the WMD issue than UNSCOM; its personnel were far less knowledgeable. It was reported that David Kay tried to include UNSCOM people in the ISG, but he wasn't that successful. This was a critical of failure of David Kay’s leadership that compromised his whole mission.

There has been a lack of effective review or oversight of the ISG findings. UNSCOM’s work was reviewed and vetted by a host of experts; so far ISG has not opened its findings to outside vetting. ISG has not appropriately shared data or explained why or how it’s conclusions can fly in the face of years of work by vastly better qualified inspectors, to say nothing of the considered assessment of the entire intelligence community.
Of course, the ISG was made up of elements of that same intelligence community. The CIA was involved with ISG, but not just the CIA certainly, and David Kay, who was from the CIA, must bear the brunt of the responsibility for the overall failure of the ISG. Certainly, the ISG did get some things right and did make positive contributions [mostly ignored or buried by the press], and the ISG did support important conclusions of the pre-war assessment. The ISG also supported the assessment that important WMD components, if not whole stock piles, were shipped to Syria.

But overall, the ISG investigation is an excellent example of the kind of intelligence failure that the CIA and the intelligence community as a whole has been and is being persecuted for. However, the ISG investigation was an isolated incident, involving a host of US, British, and Australian organizations that came together in a hasty and ultimately dysfunctional way. It was not typical of the pre-war intelligence situation, or of the CIA, nor of the US intelligence community as a whole.

So the central myth of our time — the global pre-war assessment of Saddam’s WMDs was based on a “global intelligence failure” — is in fact the product of a genuine multinational intelligence failure. The ISG’s intelligence failure is accepted only because it suits the political or ideological aims, or the malice, of the Bush administration’s critics. If allowed to grow unchecked, this myth could spawn a catastrophe that will dwarf 9/11 in its proportions.


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