Monday, December 17, 2007


Producers and Consumers

Last week, foreign policy luminary Henry Kissinger issued a cautionary rebuttal to the recent National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran, writing at the Washington Post.

Kissinger, who’s first hand experience with both Intelligence and US foreign policy could be accounted as unrivaled, warns against Intelligence producers increasingly “tempted into the roles of surrogate policymakers and advocates,” and serving as “a kind of check on, instead of a part of, the executive branch.”

Since publication, Kissinger created something of a stir among Intelligence professionals and educators, who object to some of Kissinger’s conclusions. Several suggest that as a key architect of Nixonian foreign policy, Kissinger would of course object to public disclosure of Intelligence as a means of confronting or confounding an “ill-advised” foreign policy.

Perhaps, but I think he hits on a maxim vital for both the Intelligence Community, and policy-makers, that should be embraced by partisans and non-partisans alike: Intelligence should not be politicized, and Intelligence producers should not make or drive policy.

That’s Kissinger’s take-away on the externals of the release of the NIE on Iran, but he also takes issue with how the NIE assesses the Iranian nuclear threat:

The "Key Judgments" released by the intelligence community last week begin with a dramatic assertion: "We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program." This sentence was widely interpreted as a challenge to the Bush administration policy of mobilizing international pressure against alleged Iranian nuclear programs. It was, in fact, qualified by a footnote whose complex phraseology obfuscated that the suspension really applied to only one aspect of the Iranian nuclear weapons program (and not even the most significant one): the construction of warheads. That qualification was not restated in the rest of the document, which continued to refer to the "halt of the weapons program" repeatedly and without qualification.

The reality is that the concern about Iranian nuclear weapons has had three components: the production of fissile material, the development of missiles and the building of warheads. Heretofore, production of fissile material has been treated as by far the greatest danger, and the pace of Iranian production of fissile material has accelerated since 2006. So has the development of missiles of increasing range. What appears to have been suspended is the engineering aimed at the production of warheads.

Kissinger goes on to conclude:

It is therefore doubtful that the evidence supports the dramatic language of the summary and, even less so, the broad conclusions drawn in much of the public commentary.

Whatever this NIE is, then it most surely is not a fact based, analytically sound and data supported intelligence conclusion. If what its trying to establish is how close Iran is to acquiring nuclear weapons capability, the NIE skirts the essence of the question, according to Kissinger.

Kissinger sums up his warning on intelligence as policy maker with this admonition:

I am extremely concerned about the tendency of the intelligence community to turn itself into a kind of check on, instead of a part of, the executive branch. When intelligence personnel expect their work to become the subject of public debate, they are tempted into the roles of surrogate policymakers and advocates. Thus the deputy director for intelligence estimates explained the release of the NIE as follows: Publication was chosen because the estimate conflicted with public statements by top U.S. officials about Iran, and "we felt it was important to release this information to ensure that an accurate presentation is available." That may explain releasing the facts but not the sources and methods that have been flooding the media. The paradoxical result of the trend toward public advocacy is to draw intelligence personnel more deeply than ever into the public maelstrom.

The executive branch and the intelligence community have gone through a rough period. The White House has been accused of politicizing intelligence; the intelligence community has been charged with promoting institutional policy biases. The Key Judgments document accelerates that controversy, dismaying friends and confusing adversaries.

Intelligence personnel need to return to their traditional anonymity. Policymakers and Congress should once again assume responsibility for their judgments without involving intelligence in their public justifications.

(Via Memeorandum)

Scott Johnson, writing at Powerline, notes how tactfully Kissinger describes “the subversive role taken by the intelligence agencies,” and how significant it is that someone like Kissinger in effect places such an indictment, however diplomatically.

Johnson also observes:

Once upon a time, liberals worried about the takeover of the executive branch by intelligence or military operatives. Think back to 1962's Seven Days In May. The novel and the movie that was made of it pioneered what has become a genre unto itself. "Three Days of the Condor," for example, extended the concerns of "Seven Days In May" to the CIA. Of course, the operatives in these novels and films were always depicted as right-wing or "fascist."

But the permanent bureaucracy that mans the intelligence community and the State Department is a virtual preserve of the left. The visible role undertaken by the CIA in undermining administration foreign policy should be a concern to Americans of all stripes. Yet the progressive love of power has undermined the left's concern about democratic niceties.

That’s my take exactly.

Partisans on both sides, seeking short term political gain, treat each disclosure, leak of classified information, each policy parry from Intelligence producers as good and justified when it gores the other guy’s ox, and treason when it gores ones own.

That’s not just short-sighted; it’s disastrous for our democracy. I don’t want my Intelligence producers to take over the jobs of the Intelligence consumers. For one, we’re not qualified. We were not elected, appointed or charged to make policy.

But more importantly, by doing so we enable those who have the responsibility and public trust in making policy to neglect their trust and fail their responsibilities.

Not that this doesn’t happen all the time, in all manner of ways and means.

But I don’t think our nation’s Intelligence analysts should enable the neglect and malpractice of policy-makers, by doing their jobs for them.

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