“Intelligence Failures”

The press during the past few days has been reporting on disbelief on the part of Ukraine and other U.S. allies of U.S. intelligence warnings that the Russians were about to invade Ukraine. The implication was that U.S. intelligence was suspect. My reading is that the distrust didn’t apply to intelligence but to U.S. dishonesty.

The U.S. has a history of being less than forthcoming with allies about what its intelligence said. The worst example was George W. Bush in 2002 declaring that Saddam Hussein had a “massive stockpile” of biological weapons. But as CIA Director George Tenet noted in early 2004, the CIA had informed policymakers it had “no specific information on the types or quantities of weapons agent or stockpiles at Baghdad’s disposal.” The “massive stockpile” was literally made up as an excuse to invade Iraq in 2003. The result was the death of more than 250,000 people.

I spent thirty-five years working in U.S. intelligence and observed repeatedly how politicians blamed intelligence for their own failures. Because intelligence depends on secrecy for its effectiveness, no one “in the business,” as we used to say, publicly contradicted the falsehood.

If politicians listened to and acted upon intelligence findings instead of criticizing intelligence experts, the country would be a lot better off.

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