Letter to the Editor: Trolling for intelligence
There is a priceless scene in the old (1950s) movie "See Here Private Hargrove" that recent events bring to mind. The film follows the adventures of a hapless draftee as he attempts to become a soldier.
In the scene I'm talking about he is commanding a truck full of troops on military maneuvers during basic training and finds himself hopelessly lost in a forest. Hargrove spreads his map on the roof of the truck, looks at the emptiness around him and says:
"According to this map and my calculations, we are in downtown Toronto."
At the exclamations of shock and outrage by his colleagues, he fixes them with an indignant stare and says:
"Do you want to check my figures?"
That, basically, is the position the Bush administration finds itself in these days.
He and his collegues made their case for the invasion of Iraq and sold it to the American people (if not the United Nations), then proceeded to go through with it, only to find that they were wrong about everything---weapons of mass destruction, ties to the 9/11 bombings, a Welcome Wagon waiting for them---everything.
They're trying to lie their way out of it of course (wouldn't you?) but their efforts to show that Saddam Hussein was an imminent threat to us or that he participated in any substantial way in the 9/11 attacks are pathetic. Mainly what they and their defenders are arguing is the fallback position: that they were victimized by "bad intelligence." In effect, President Bush is asking us if we want to check his figures.
As it happens, we do. Admittedly a lot of the intelligence that came into the White House was bad---some of it even fraudulent---but there was good intelligence too.
Word comes now, via the Washington Post and the New York Times, of a small intelligence agency in the State Department---165 analysts, a tenth of the CIA's complement---that more or less got it right.
The Bureau of Intelligence and Research at State was critical of the stated reasons for going to war from the very first. It challenged as unsubstantiated the views of other intelligence agencies that Saddam was rebuilding his nuclear weapons program. Nor would it go along with the theory that Iraq could develop a weapon in the next 10 years, given that it didn't see any movement in that direction at present.
In addition, it was skeptical of the idea that the conquest of Iraq would help spread democracy across the Arab world and it predicted, correctly, that Turkey would not allow American troops to cross its territory to invade Iraq.
The reason this intelligence was given so little weight (none, actually) was that the ruling cabal---Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz---didn't want to hear it.
Perhaps the saddest aspect of the farce is that not even Secretary of State Colin Powell paid any attention to the analysis of what were, after all, his own people. Instead he went before the UN and made a bogus case for the invasion using bogus evidence.
That's not an intelligence failure, that's a failure of intelligence.
They're now talking about overhauling and reorganizing our intelligence agencies and I'm sure they will. And it's a 50-50 shot that they'll make things worse---bigger, more expensive, worse.
Our problem is not that we don't have enough intelligence, it's that we don't have anyone to properly sort out what we've got. At present we have 10 or 12 intelligence agencies, none of whom talk much to each other, feeding information to our policy makers who pick and choose among the facts and theories presented to them.
What we need at the top is an agency like the Bureau of Intelligence and Research to separate the wheat from the chaff and to pass the wheat along to the president and his people.
What we've got now is the White House gang sifting through the wheat and chaff---and feeding us the chaff.
Donald Kaul, recently retired as Washington columnist for the Des Moines Register.