Jewish World Review April 1, 2005 / 21 Adar II, 5765
The press misses the point about WMDs and Intelligence
The President's Commission on (deep breath) Intelligence
Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction has
issued its report, and true to predictions, it indicts the CIA and other
intelligence agencies for giving the president and Congress information that
was "dead wrong" and accompanying this intelligence with a promise that the
agencies had 90 percent confidence in its accuracy. Here, at last, is the
accounting that has been wanting since our forces scoured the Iraqi
countryside and found not a single WMD.
Specialists at missing the point, some members of the White
House press corps demanded of the commission co-chairmen, former Sen. Chuck
Robb and Judge Larry Silberman, whether the Bush administration was not
really at fault for "pressuring" the intelligence agencies to produce
estimates consonant with the administration's preferred policies. There were
references to Vice President Cheney's famous ride to Langley to discuss the
Iraq situation a visit many antiwar types were convinced had the effect
of strong-arming the agency to tailor its intelligence to the
This the chairmen stoutly deny. As the transmittal letter makes
clear "... the commission found no indication that the intelligence
community distorted the evidence regarding Iraq's weapons of mass
destruction. What the intelligence professionals told (the president) about
Saddam Hussein's programs was what they believed. They were simply wrong."
Later, the report notes that "the intelligence community did not
make or change any analytic judgments in response to political pressure to
reach a particular conclusion, but the pervasive conventional wisdom that
Saddam retained WMD affected the analytic process."
The question that should be foremost in the minds of reporters
and everyone else is why the intelligence was so wrong. Simple-minded men
like Sen. Ted Kennedy and Michael Moore avoid the problem by asserting that
President Bush lied. Real grown-ups must grapple with the fact that our most
important weapon in the war on terror the intelligence agencies are
Admittedly, the intelligence business is difficult for outsiders
to judge because, of necessity, their triumphs are mostly kept secret, while
their failures make headlines. But even acknowledging that, the record of
the CIA and its siblings has been terrible for 25 years.
The agencies completely misjudged the economic output of the
Soviet Union, thus skewing analysis on what the USSR was spending on
defense. They failed to anticipate the Khomeini revolution in Iran. They
were caught by surprise when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. And they
completely botched the Osama bin Laden project, virtually inviting the worst
attack on American soil since the War of 1812.
The emasculation of the intelligence community began with the
Church committee hearings in the 1970s an orgy of military- and
intelligence-bashing by liberal Republicans and Democrats embarrassed that
the United States would stoop to defending itself. It continued through the
next several decades.
Reagan was pro-intelligence, but the Iran-Contra scandal served
to make the skittish agency even more risk-averse. Added to the risk of
being hauled before a congressional committee was a new fear of being
indicted by a special prosecutor.
Things reached a nadir during the presidency of Bill Clinton. As
Gabriel Schoenfeld notes in the March issue of Commentary, "When the Clinton
administration came into power, combating sexual harassment and the 'glass
ceiling' became part of a much broader campaign to reconstitute the agency
workforce." Under Director George Tenet, who knew how to please any boss,
the CIA initiated a thoroughgoing program to recruit more minorities and
women, and to make the agency friendlier to Pacific Islanders and Hispanics.
Such trivialities can lead to dangerous weakness in a world that contains
Zarqawis and bin Ladens.
The new report, like the 9-11 Commission report and others,
recommends better integration of the intelligence agencies and better
information sharing. All to the good. But more important than any structural
change would be a change of spirit in the world of intelligence an
injection of Úlan that can come only from a change in the political world
that oversees intelligence. The days of condemning the CIA for getting its
hands dirty must be truly behind us. Nor should we permit affirmative action
to take precedence over getting the best possible information to our
It's a matter of victory or defeat.
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