WHY INTELLIGENCE FAILED
Ralph Peters, who spent 20 years as an Army intel analyst in his pre-columnist days, gives the standard answers to this question–over-reliance on technology, not enough human intel, etc. His conclusion, though, is worth reading:
Intel professionals–many of whom are far better than their sullied reputation–will respond that there was a great deal of internal debate on the issue of Iraq’s WMDs. But it’s the terms of the debate that matter: Once the system concluded, as it had done over a decade before, that Saddam had WMDs and wanted more, the internal discussions declined a fatal notch. It was no longer a matter of if, but of how much and where.
“Serious” questions could only be asked within the accepted paradigm. We had only the illusion of a debate.
Certainly, the evidence of WMDs was plentiful: Saddam had used chemical weapons in the past; inspections after Desert Storm found a vigorous WMD program, which the United Nations demanded must be dismantled; and Saddam, suicidally foolish, played cat-and-mouse games to the end–even though his stockpiles were gone.
Now we learn that even Saddam didn’t have a grip on the situation–lied to by his subordinates, he, too, believed he had more advanced programs than actually existed.
All the while, craven Iraqi exiles told us what they knew we wanted to hear.
It would have taken brilliant “out of the box” analysis to get it right. But our intelligence system is, above all, a bureaucracy. And bureaucracies cherish consistency, while shunning the risks of excellence. Bureaucracies only deliver what executives demand. Left to their own devices, they plod along in a defensive crouch.
Administrations come and go. If we truly want to improve our intelligence system, only sustained, bipartisan congressional action can force the critical changes.
We all know that members of Congress have a genius for criticism. But can they summon the will to fix a system that their own neglect and rhetoric has crippled?
My guess is no. It’s been over two years since 9/11 and they haven’t don’t it yet. Aside from legitimate concerns that too much consolidation and efficiency in the intel apparatus weakens the checks and balances necessary to protect civil liberties, institutional pressures mitigate against rapid change. Bureaucracies build strong relationships with Congress over time and make changing the status quo more difficult. More importantly, streamlining the intelligence community shifts more power to the executive branch at the expense of Congress.