Part of growing up is learning that that things don’t work the way that they do in your idealized mind. For example, it is simply impossible to avoid politics in the work world. People don’t really want to hear the truth they want their feathers stroked. Nothing is more political than the educational world. After twelve years of advocating for my children I learned that many teachers have a very thin skin and that having the entitlement of a job for life (tenure) make some people afraid to work hard, and if you don’t play the political game correctly your child is screwed. Perhaps the last bastion of my idealism was the spy world. I guess it was years of 007 fighting the bad guys that gave me a picture of the spy with a harsh violent manner but a pure heart, with an idealistic love of country. Growing up I learned that most spies were not the tuxedo laden Bond, enjoying their martinis shaken not stirred, most spies were analysts deciphering reports and turning them into intelligence. The problem is that intelligence is interpreted by humans, and with that comes a political agenda and sometimes that agenda goes against what is best for America. The recent NIE report about Iran’s nuclear program is a great example of that.On this “Tsunami Tuesday” which is all about politics I give you the man who should be Secretary of State, talking about our failed intelligence services, which have become all about politics.
Our Politicized Intelligence Services By JOHN R. BOLTON February 5, 2008; Page A17 Today, Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee (and Thursday on the House side) to give the intelligence community’s annual global threat analysis. These hearings are always significant, but the stakes are especially high now because of the recent National Intelligence Estimate on Iran. Criticism of the NIE’s politicized, policy-oriented “key judgments” has spanned the political spectrum and caused considerable turmoil in Congress. Few seriously doubt that the NIE gravely damaged the Bush administration’s diplomatic strategy. With the intelligence community’s credibility and impartiality on the line, Mr. McConnell has an excellent opportunity to correct the NIE’s manifold flaws, and repair some of the damage done to international efforts to stop Iran from obtaining deliverable nuclear weapons. There are (at least) three things he should do: – Explain how the NIE was distorted, and rewrite it objectively to reflect the status of Iran’s nuclear programs. The NIE’s first key judgment is “we judge with high confidence that in fall, 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program.” Most of the world, predictably, never got beyond that opinion. Only inveterate footnote hunters noticed the extraordinary accompanying footnote which redefined Iran’s “nuclear weapons program” to mean only its “nuclear weapon design and weaponization work,” and undeclared uranium conversion and enrichment activities. Card sharks — not intelligence professionals — could be proud of this sleight of hand, which grossly mischaracterizes what Iran actually needs for a weapons program. The NIE later makes clear that Iran’s nuclear efforts and capabilities are continuing and growing, that many activities are “dual use” (i.e., for either civil or military purposes), and that Iran’s real intentions are unknown. Substantively, therefore, the NIE is not far different from the 2005 NIE, but its first sentence gives a radically different impression. Here is the first question for Congress: Was the NIE’s opening salvo intended to produce policy consequences congenial to Mr. McConnell’s own sentiments? If not, how did he miss the obvious consequences that flowed from the NIE within minutes of its public release? This was a sin of either commission or omission. If the intelligence community intended the NIE’s first judgment to have policy ramifications — in particular to dissuade the Bush administration from a more forceful policy against Iran — then it was out of line, a sin of commission. If, on the other hand, Mr. McConnell and others missed the NIE’s explosive nature, then this is at best a sin of omission, and perhaps far worse. Will Mr. McConnell say he saw nothing significant in how the NIE was written? Does he believe in fact that the first sentence is the NIE’s single most important point? If not, why was it the first sentence? Why not start by using the NIE’s very last key judgment, “we assess with high confidence that Iran has the scientific, technical and industrial capacity eventually to produce nuclear weapons if it decides to do so.” Who decided which sentence should be first and which last? This is not an exercise in style, but a matter of critical importance for American national security. – Commit that NIEs will abjure policy bias. Policy makers and intelligence community analysts agree that assessing hard capabilities is typically easier than judging the murkier world of intentions. The NIE’s judgments on Iran’s intentions and sensitivities, however, often sound as though they were written by Supreme Leader Khamenei’s psychologist, albeit with precious little factual basis. While acknowledging that the 2003 halt was due to “pressure,” the NIE opines that a combination of pressures and “opportunities for Iran” might cause the halt to be extended, but only if those worthy mullahs in Tehran find the “opportunities” to be “credible.” One can only guess where that conclusion comes from, but the NIE’s next sentence says “it is difficult to specify what such a combination might be,” thus rendering the earlier conclusions not only unsupported, but incomprehensible. One key proof of the NIE’s policy-driven nature is the number of dogs that don’t bark. The 2003 halt could have been triggered by the invasion of Iraq and overthrow of Saddam Hussein, acts which certainly awakened Moammar Gadhafi and led to LibyaIraq war never makes it into the NIE. The 2003 halt is attributed merely to the “exposure of Iran’s previously undeclared work.” Moreover, the NIE says nothing about Iran’s aggressive ballistic missile development program, which bears directly on Iran’s intentions: Was it expending large sums only to deliver conventional weapons? renouncing its nuclear-weapons program. But somehow the Mr. McConnell should commit the intelligence community to stick to its knitting — intelligence — and return its policy enthusiasts to agencies where policy is made. – Reaffirm the existing policy that NIE key judgments should not be made public. Then, stick to it and enforce discipline against leaks. Press reports say that the White House agreed to make the key judgments public, contrary to a policy adopted only weeks earlier, because the intelligence community warned that the document would otherwise surely leak. Some might see this as blackmail, but at best it represents a failure of both the intelligence community’s leadership and rank and file. The only clear victor was Tehran, which might as well have received the NIE via e-mail directly from Mr. McConnell’s office. The intelligence community is not a think tank. It is a clandestine service to advise U.S. decision makers, proud and honorable work that its members once uniformly understood was to remain behind the scenes. This is where it should return. Whatever the intentions of the drafters of the NIE, it mortally wounded the administration’s diplomatic strategy, which was ineffective to begin with. Many applauded the outcome of this internecine bureaucratic warfare, but it is highly risky to allow such outcome-determinative opinions to prevail. Iran is a critical challenge for the U.S. — which Mr. McConnell should begin his testimony by stressing — but the implications of how this NIE was written are also serious. Several members of Congress have suggested an independent analysis of the data underlying the NIE. Mr. McConnell should agree to this, to resolve the disagreements and restore the intelligence community’s damaged credibility. Mr. Bolton, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, is the author of “Surrender Is Not an Option: Defending America at the United Nations” (Simon & Schuster/Threshold Editions, 2007).