Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Secret Intelligence and the 'War on Terror'

This is a fantastic article by Thomas Powers laying out the case that the current problems at the CIA are a symptom of a what he calls a "sea change" in world affairs. He deftly describes the nature (and changing nature) of the Agency's dual responsibilities to the President and the nation, and how the current administration has subverted this relationship. He describes exactly how dangerous a flunky-ridden CIA could be - and in fact has been in Iraq:

Think about this for a moment. Before the war, working with the barest smattering of fragmentary information, the CIA could conclude with high confidence that these stockpiles existed. But now we are asked to believe that after the war, with unimpeded access to every file, every person, and every street address in Iraq, the CIA could not, over the course of a year, decide whether the stockpiles were there or not?

The obvious answer to this question compels us to register a fact which everyone who pays attention to American intelligence has grown far too accustomed to accepting without comment. By that I mean our reluctance to criticize, or even to note in any audible way, the obvious explanation for Tenet's faithful echoing of the President's tactics of delay. Tenet was protecting the President—not from foreign enemies abroad, but from political opponents at home. Why did Tenet do this? Because he was part of the President's team. What does this tell us about the integrity of American intelligence? What should Congress and the people do about an intelligence service they cannot trust?

I haven't read a more concise explication of the intelligence failures behind 9/11 and the Iraqi invasion, nor have I encountered plausible an assessment of what this means for the future. A must read.


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