ANOTHER LOOK AT THE INTELLIGENCE PROBLEM
AND THE MIDDLE EAST
Syria claimed to accept the cease-fire agreement proposed by U.N. envoy Kofi Annan, but the guns never stopped roaring. Assad said one thing to Kofi Annan, and another to his troops. “Okay,” to Kofi. “Sick ‘em” to the army. In response, Prince Saud al-Faisal called for the arming of the rebels and saw doing so to be “a duty.” Speaking for the opposition, Lt. Col. Qassim Saad al-Din indicated he wanted the truce, but the government continued to keep tanks and troops in the villages. For the freedom fighters to stop under these conditions would be a slaughter. Shouldn’t the world have known that Assad would not stop? Well, yes and no. No, if we base decisions on his previous behavior. Possibly yes, if we were aiming at insider information for his defense leaders. In an earlier blog, I noted that spying on Iran is tougher than ferreting information out of North Korea. Spying hasn’t proved easy in Syria. Why hasn’t the intelligence gathering been better? There are larger reasons for American reluctance.
A recent front page story from The New York Times noted that the ghosts of Iraq hang heavy around the CIA. Months after the war began, one of the CIA analysts had an emotional breakdown because he realized that he had misguided the Bush administration. There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq! The fear that the intelligence community might get it wrong again continues to spook current analysts and advisers. As shouts for military intervention increase, the Central Intelligence Agency knows that its credibility is on the line. They can not afford to be wrong again.
Charges are being made against the American spy system that range from sloppy work to reluctance to being blamed for sending the country down a dead end street again. Former agents point to murky information that is difficult to always understand. Paul Pillar, a former CIA analyst on the Middle East, warns of overcompensation for past errors. At the same time, other authorities recognize that there are gaps in what we know. One of the previous problems was former Vice-President Dick Cheney’s frequent visits to CIA headquarters pressuring officials to document his concerns just before the Iraq war began. On the other hand, conversatives now claim the Obama administration may be doing the same thing. When there is top down pressure on intelligence gathering, the results have to become warped. One conservative critque accused the CIA of superficial information gathering in order to influence the coming election and political Thomas Fingar, former chairman of the National Ingelligence Council, added a thoughtful note. “Learning from past mistakes is imperative. Worrying about them is
As I try to pull together past mistakes and current concerns, I conclude its imperative to keep politics out of intelligence gathering. Keep the politicians of both parties up on Capital Hill and let the spies do their work in the dark. We don’t need politicians in the kitchen stirring the soup. As we attempt to discover what Assad’s next moves will be in this bloody campaign, let’s hope poor judgments about Iraq aren’t contaminating precise insights about the current Middle East situation.
Question: Can Americans trust the CIA if politicans continue to influence decisions? Do
we need a new approach to intelligence gathering?