Is CIA at War with President Bush?

Bob Novak asks, “Is CIA at war with Bush?”

A few hours after George W. Bush dismissed a pessimistic CIA report on Iraq as ”just guessing,” the analyst who identified himself as its author told a private dinner last week of secret, unheeded warnings years ago about going to war in Iraq. This exchange leads to the unavoidable conclusion that the president of the United States and the Central Intelligence Agency are at war with each other. Paul R. Pillar, the CIA’s national intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asia, sat down Tuesday night in a large West Coast city with a select group of private citizens. He was not talking off the cuff. Relying on a multi-paged, single-spaced memorandum, Pillar said he and his colleagues concluded early in the Bush administration that military intervention in Iraq would intensify anti-American hostility throughout Islam. This was not from a CIA retiree but an active senior official. (Pillar, no covert operative, is listed openly in the Federal Staff Directory.)

For President Bush to publicly write off a CIA paper as just guessing is without precedent. For the agency to go semi-public is not only unprecedented but shocking. George Tenet’s retirement as director of Central Intelligence removed the buffer between president and agency. As the new DCI, Porter Goss inherits an extraordinarily sensitive situation.

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Through most of the Bush administration, the CIA high command has been engaged in a bitter struggle with the Pentagon. CIA officials refer to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Undersecretary Douglas Feith as ”ideologues.” Nevertheless, it is clear the CIA’s wrath has now extended to the White House. Bush reduced the tensions a little on Thursday, this time in a joint Washington press conference with Allawi, by saying his use of the word ”guess” was ”unfortunate.”

Modern history is filled with intelligence bureaus turning against their own governments, for good or ill. In the final days of World War II, the German Abwehr conspired against Hitler. More recently, Pakistani intelligence was plotting with Muslim terrorists. The CIA is a long way from those extremes, but it is supposed to be a resource — not a critic — for the president.

No kidding. The politicization of intelligence is inevitable in a tight presidential race where foreign policy is atop the agenda. President Bush’s characterization of the NIE as “a guess” was indeed unfortunate, although it was likely apt. The CIA clearly botched the estimate of what we faced on the ground in Iraq even though it had the advantage of information gathered from UN inspections teams of the ground. The reliability of its predictions months down the line of what might happen in Iraq is dubious at best.

The practice of current CIA employees, especially senior ones, writing books or otherwise going public with their public policy analyses and criticism of political leaders is simply unprofessional and counterproductive for the Agency. It astounds me that there aren’t rules precluding that, as there are for military officers. If intelligence analysis is presumed to have a political agenda, it will be ignored. We long ago reached that point with the State Department, so much so that Republican presidents routinely ignore the advice of career diplomats because they are presumed to be Wilsonian Democrats, preferring to rely on their hand-picked National Security Council staff instead. Given the complexity of intelligence analysis and the sheer size of the apparatus required to conduct it, having that trend repeat itself would be catastrophic.

FILED UNDER: Intelligence
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Kathy K says:

    I’m hoping Goss will successfully put a stop to that nonsense in fairly short order. I know he’ll try.

  2. ken says:

    I am sure that the reason we see so much antagonism towards GW Bush by both active and retired members of the CIA is because of the way he has used them for his partisan purposes.