Revolt of the Spooks


There's a fair amount of rehashing of old stuff in here, but this article from the Brit Independent is a decent summation of the conflicts between the political demands of the U.S. and Britain re: war with Iraq and intelligence agency assessments of its actual threat. Excerpt: Britain and America's spies believe that they are being politicised: that the intelligence they provide is being selectively applied to lead to the opposite conclusion from the one they have drawn, which is that Iraq is much less of a threat than their political masters claim. Worse, when the intelligence agencies fail to do the job, the politicians will not stop at plagiarism to make their case, even "tweaking" the plagiarised material to ensure a better fit.

"You cannot just cherry-pick evidence that suits your case and ignore the rest. It is a cardinal rule of intelligence," said one aggrieved officer. "Yet that is what the PM is doing." Not since Harold Wilson has a Prime Minister been so unpopular with his top spies.

The mounting tension is mirrored in Washington. "We've gone from a zero position, where presidents refused to cite detailed intel as a source, to the point now where partisan material is being officially attributed to these agencies," said one US intelligence source.

NEXT: Will Dentists and Orthodontists Ever Learn to Get Along?

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  1. The question I have is, how is this new? I remember in the late 1990’s where Congressional Republicans felt the CIA under Bill Clinton was not giving them an accurate assesment on the threat of Ballistic Missiles. Congress got an independent commission set up (led by Rumsfield) and if I remember right said North Korea was capable of producing a missile of hitting the US within I think ten years. Te official CIA position was North Korea would not do this for several more years. And just the other day the CIA said North Korea did.

    I also remember reading about an intelligence community dispute about China. The China “doves” thought China was a nice country without any intentions of competing with the US, while the “hawks” thought otherwise. The doves were in control and I seem to remember the doves were very dismissal of the hawks. The jury is still out as to who was right.

    The argument can go both way. The job of an intelligence analyst is to review the data and make an assessment of the reliability of that data and to make conclusions based on that data. To do this they have to make informed judgements on the data and it is very hard to make judgements without bringing your own biases to the table. If their governments judge the data differently why can’t they choose the information they want to emphasize. A wholesale revision of the intelligence community is difficult to do in peacetime let alone with the present international situations. In particular, the Bush administration has to deal with an intelligence community that has had to support another administration very recently with a different world viewpoint. I can easily understand how an analyst could have problems with his/her intelligence assessment being dismissed. It doesn’t necessarily mean the administration is wrong or the analyst is either. It could be as simple as one person seeing a glass has half full and another as half empty.

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