WASHINGTON, D.C. -- So here we are with the next "intelligence problem." The Senate's much-awaited report is, if anything, more devastating than previous reports, tracing how the CIA blundered in leading us into a war with Iraq against imaginary weapons of mass destruction.
No words could have been stronger than those of Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., after the devastating report was released, when he soberly announced that, "We would not have authorized this war -- NOT -- if we had known then what we know now."
Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., then muddied the waters inexplicably when he insisted that, despite all the information on how false analysis was deliberately fed to the administration by Iraqi exile Ahmad Chalabi for the interests of special agendas, the mistakes were "not the result of politics." Really?
Well, one has the right to be confused here, because in fact, the real misjudgments of the CIA -- and, indeed, inside the entire Bush administration -- reveal problems quite different from those traditionally considered to be about "intelligence."
Start with the weapons of mass destruction. I don't think you can blame that misjudgment on the CIA or any of our agencies. In fact, every intelligence agency in the world believed it, as did I, having also been told so privately by a prominent Iraqi ambassador of their existence. (A few perspicacious analysts had their doubts. Zbigniew Brzezinski, for one, told me at the time, after seeing the main intelligence report, that he did not believe it.)
The fault here, as elsewhere, lies more in the fact that nobody along the way simply asked, "But what if ...?" Iraq, after all, lies in a particularly brutal, hate-filled part of the world, its psyche riddled with the deceptiveness that comes from learning to cope with continued invasions and occupiers.
The Shiites, both in Iran and Iraq, for instance, have as one of their major tenets the idea of dissimulation, or the duty to deceive those who attack the faith. Why, then, in a part of the world with these atavistic fears and suspicious adaptations of behavior, would not any number of our agents stop and say, "But what if he's just pretending to have these weapons in order to throw off his enemies?"
After all, this has been typical behavior of leaders in the Middle East. Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, for instance, repeatedly hid his troops' practice maneuvers across the Suez Canal, as though they were routine, in order to throw off the Israelis as to the 1973 invasion.
But there were innumerable other facts that our intelligence did not need to go to great lengths to get, and one of them was the state of Iraq's oil infrastructure. Contrary to the picture the administration has drawn up, it was no mystery. Foreign correspondents, foreign diplomats and U.N. inspectors went in and out of the country all the time and saw how dilapidated the oil industry was becoming.
Yet the White House continued to insist that Iraq's oil revenues would pay for the entire costs of the war --and the entire rebuilding of the country! These were not intelligence failures -- the "intelligence" was right there before people's eyes, and it was indeed political decisions taken in the hothouse war atmosphere of the White House and the civilian Pentagon that turned Iraq's dilapidated oil industry into the raison d'etre for getting away with such a war.
Two criticisms waged by members of Congress against the intelligence agencies do, however, bear scrutiny.
One is that the CIA, or "the agency," was guilty of a "group think" dynamic that led members of the intelligence community to take ambiguous information and, because no one wanted to be speak out against the norm (or because that was not encouraged), refused to put forward non-conforming ideas.
The second criticism is that the CIA is a "broken corporate culture" that isn't functioning coherently. That is far less true than the fact that many of our institutions have become so bureaucratized that there are precious few individuals around who have lived in the countries they are studying and who can analyze them using both psychology and common sense.
Bureaucratic culture is not "broken" corporate culture; it is ossified institutional culture, where the fear of not only losing your job but even of appearing to be out-of-step with the group is what kills originality -- and truth.
The most important part of the Senate study on intelligence -- Part II -- will not come out until after the election. It will deal with the part the president, the White House and the Pentagon civilians played in leading the country into war.
That is really a shame, because there is not the slightest doubt that it was those forces which, regardless of the intelligence, were already determined to go ahead with what they wanted to do. The CIA estimates unquestionably gave them a needed underpinning, but that was all.
We do well to remember that even had Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, that alone would not have been reason enough for America to go to war. There were already measures in place (U.N. inspectors, for one) to contain him.
This administration was determined to go to war -- that scenario had been laid down years before in order to "reconfigure" the Middle East -- and the CIA can only really be blamed for playing so gutlessly into the war party's obsessions.
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