Intelligence and Politics Origins and Book Review

Excerpt from Book Review :

Franks (along with the Bush war cabinet, including Vice President Dick Chaney) "met repeatedly" to plan the attack on Iraq. It was groupthink through and through. At the same time Bush was saying publicly he was "pursuing a diplomatic solution" (Hamilton, 2004), "intensive war planning" was going on during the whole year 2002. It "created its own momentum" in the administration, Hamilton wrote.

In Woodward's book, which was recognized as conveying authentic details about the Bush war planning and strategies, he covers much of the pre-war discussions Bush had with top members of his administration, along with decisions Bush made on his own and with help from people like his Foreign Policy Advisor, Condoleezza Rice. But according to an excerpt from Woodward's book, Bush waited until the last minute (among his top staff) to brief Secretary of State Colin Powell, who had not been an advocate of going to war, and that particular dynamic fits well into the definition of groupthink: ignoring any information that runs "contrary to collective belief" within the group.

In this case the dissenter was Powell. "[Bush] decided not to ask Secretary of State Colin L. Powell" what he thought about the planned invasion because he knew Powell had doubts about the invasion (Woodward, April 18, 2004). Some time later Rice told Bush since Bush had already briefed the Saudi ambassador that he was going to war for sure, he should also tell Powell: "You need to call Colin in and talk to him" (Woodward, April 18) Rice said. When Powell was called in, he warned Bush that an invasion "would mean assuming the hopes, aspirations and all the troubles of Iraq"; moreover, Powell emphasized that the U.S. would risk alienating Muslim countries. Everything Powell warned Bush about eventually came to pass.

The president had never "once asked Powell" during the policy meetings leading up to the war, "Would you do this? What's your overall advice?" (Woodward, April 18). Why not ask Powell? "Perhaps Bush feared the answer," Woodward explained. So Bush put pressure on the dissenter (Powell) -- vis-a-vis groupthink -- by telling him the decision had already been made and basically ordering him to acquiesce to a policy already in place.

Meanwhile, former CIA intelligence analyst John a. Gentry argues in Political Science Quarterly that "Intelligence fails if a state does not adequately collect and interpret" the information its intelligence services have gathered. That's not a very poignant or original idea. But Gentry goes on to identify six general types of intelligence failures, taking what Bar-Joseph laid out and zooming in with a microscope on causes for failure in intelligence gathering. Those six are: a) the failure of the executive leader to "respond effectively to threat warnings"; b) leaders' failure to respond effectively to threat warnings; c) intelligence agencies' failure to seize an opportunity to warn the executive branch; d) "leaders' failure to effectively exploit opportunities; e) failure to recognize "one's own vulnerabilities in the context of other actors' intelligence and operational capabilities, thereby giving other parties intelligence-related opportunities"; and f) failure to "ameliorate one's self-known vulnerabilities to physical attack and nonviolent manipulation (Gentry, 2008, p. 249).

Gentry insists that an example of failure "e" would be the United States civil air transport system vulnerabilities prior to the terrorists strikes on September 11, 2001. Those vulnerabilities could not have been known prior to being tested in such a fearful and shocking way. While criticizing the lack of intelligence in the U.S. -- failures that basically gave al Qaeda the green light to attack with commercial jetliners -- Gentry offers suggestions for a more effective "Intelligence Warning Process." These steps Gentry offers portray a good balance between intelligence agencies and executive leadership. Bush and his groupthink colleagues in the White House should have embraced these steps, albeit it's a bit late, the damage has been done, and 4,300 American soldiers' families wonder if the Iraq war was worth the life of their loved one.

Strategic planning, Gentry asserts, means that the intelligence agency should "look over the horizon" for any threats that may exist prior to policymakers identifying intelligence needs (Gentry, p. 251). Collection: the intelligence professionals should be identifying "information gaps" -- collection requirements -- and coming up with strategies to fill those gaps. However, if the intelligence agencies "political masters" decide to place restrictions on who the intelligence professional may contact in the effort to fill information gaps, it renders intelligence moot. Analysis: Intelligence agencies must be smart about interpreting information they gather; although it is not possible to always be correct, forecasts need to be reliable otherwise policymakers won't trust the intelligence the next time around. Dissemination: Clear, cogent messages must be shared with political leaders; and those messages must be objective, not based on what the intelligence agency believes the political leaders want to hear.

These ideas of Gentry actually dovetail with Bar-Joseph, but they take his narrative to a more hands-on, factual place in the discussion. After all, Gentry was a CIA insider, and basically Bar-Joseph is brilliant and noted for scholarship but hasn't been out in the field -- or in meetings -- as a CIA operative Sounding like Bar-Joseph, Gentry notes that presidents see the world through "politicization" glasses when intelligence talent refuse to back up their executive policy. Lyndon Johnson, according to Gentry, took Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) John McCone's "skeptical assessment of prospects for winning the Vietnam War as a lack of personal loyalty" (Gentry, p. 253).

Think about that for a moment. You hire a bright, educated, experienced professional to handle the country's safety in terms of foreign enemies, and he tells you the truth about your wrongheaded policy in Vietnam. You consider him disloyal because he is a straight shooter and that's what you said you wanted when he was hired.

This is where politics and intelligence agencies can go wrong simply because the executive is looking for an ego boost and not the truth. Looking at Cheney's role in the groupthink crew that built justification for attacking Iraq, Gentry writes that Cheney was "miffed by CIA reluctance to provide selective intelligence to justify war against Iraq…" (p. 253). Cheney, in other words, wanted his own political agenda met, and the hell with those who didn't see it his way.

Conclusion #1

As to the question ("yes" or "no") -- did Bush received faulty intelligence? There will be evidence in time as those close to the groupthink planning dynamic publish "tell-all" books. Respected journalist Bob Woodward, who has won Pulitzer Prizes for his journalism, suggests that it wasn't faulty intelligence at all. We agree. It wasn't the intelligence, it was Bush, Cheney, and the groupthink colleagues that manipulated intelligence and it was Cheney who made several visits to the CIA to get the "evidence" of WMD that he needed for his political purposes.

Conclusion #2

Regarding the question -- did Bush, Cheney, et al., invent intelligence to justify the invasion and occupation of Iraq? Yes. Plain and simple. They manipulated -- "politicized," in Bar-Joseph's terminology -- the data and used it for their own selfish, arrogant ends.

Conclusion #3

The third possibility in this paper is that Bush is a simple man, lacking the intelligence and the perspective on the world that an international leader should have. Is Bush just basically ignorant? The answer is yes. J. Peter Scoblic writes in his book U.S. Vs. Them: even after the Iraq Survey Group (that he established) concluded that "Iraq did not possess a nuclear device, nor had it tried to reconstitute a capability to produce nuclear weapons after 1991," the president told Diane Sawyer that "there was no difference between Saddam's actually having weapons of mass destruction and there being a possibility that he might try to acquire the at some point…"

Works Cited

Bar-Joseph, Uri, and Levy, Jack S. 2009, 'Conscious Action and Intelligence Failure', Political Science Quarterly, vol. 124, no. 3, pp. 461-489.

Bar-Joseph, Uri. 1995, Intelligence Intervention in the Politics of Democratic States: The United States, Israel, and Britain. The Pennsylvania State University Press, University Park, Pennsylvania.

Gentry, John a. 2008, 'Intelligence Failure Reframed', Political Science Quarterly, vol. 123, no. 2, pp. 247-260.

Hamilton, William. 2004. 'Bush Began to Plan War Three Months After 9/11.' Washington Post, April 17, 2004, p. A01.

Scoblic, Peter J. 2008. U.S. Vs. Them: How a Half…

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