Saturday, May 06, 2006

No Intelligence? No Problem

Since when have critical gaps in intelligence about an adversary prevented the United States from making the judgment that a foreign nation is an imminent threat?

Today's New York Times reports that "legislators and former intelligence officials say that serious gaps in the United States' knowledge of Iran are among the most critical problems facing a new director of the spy agency."

The Grey Lady doth protest too much, methinks. President Bush and his crew do not care what the intelligence says about Iran, especially if the data points to no imminent threat from the Islamic Republic.

The administration will do what they wish to do, and the rest of us can lump it.

But, according to the Times, there is indeed a paucity of good info.

A year after a presidential commission gave a scathing assessment of intelligence on Iran, they say, American spy agencies remain severely handicapped in their efforts to assess its weapons programs and its leaders' intentions. Whoever takes the helm of the C.I.A., after the resignation on Friday of Porter J. Goss, will confront a crucial target with few, if any, American spies on the ground, sketchy communications intercepts and ambiguous satellite images, the experts say.

The next line is a hoot:

When Mr. Goss took the job 19 months ago, part of his mandate was to make certain that the wildly mistaken prewar assessments about Iraq's weapons would not repeated.

Is this the New York Times or the Weekly Reader? Whose fault do they think the "intelligence failure" on Iraq was? The most "wildly mistaken prewar assessments about Iraq's weapons" were the cherry-picked items that clearly indicated that Iraq had WMD.

Who did the cherry-picking? The National Intelligence Officer responsible for assessing Iraq's weapons?

No, it was the White House Iraq Group (WHIG) centered around Vice President Cheney's office.

The Times' agenda is clear:

Some experts say they have confidence in official American estimates that Iran is unlikely to have a nuclear weapon until the next decade. But an array of former intelligence officials have doubts about that estimation.

"Whenever the C.I.A. says 5 to 10 years, that means they don't know," said Reuel Marc Gerecht, a former Iran specialist in the clandestine service of the C.I.A. He said French and Israeli experts believe that an Iranian bomb may be as little as one to three years away.

Gerecht made his mark outside the Agency with an excellent piece on CIA counter-terrorism weaknesses in the Atlantic Monthly (published anonymously before 9-11) that briefly shook up Langley. Since becoming a public figure, his published work (he's a senior fellow at PNAC, too) has not lived up to his earlier promise.

C.I.A. officers based in Frankfurt managed to build a network of agents inside Iran. But Iranian counterintelligence broke up the ring in 1989, former intelligence officers say. The Frankfurt base was disbanded in the early 1990's, and operations have since been directed from C.I.A. headquarters in Langley, Va., focusing on areas where there are large numbers of Iranian immigrants, including Los Angeles.

The idea of any intelligence agency--much less the CIA--having to rely on the suspect motivations of the Iranian exile community for the bulk of their HUMINT collection on Iran opens one to a situation fraught with potential disasters.

Sort of like when blind musician addicts such as Ray Charles had to rely on street dealers for their junk.

Case in point: the helpful Iraqi exiles of Chalabi's organization pre-2003.

You never know what you will get. But it is bound to be of less than prime quality.


Blogger Meatball One said...

Wow, a tour de sardonic force. You tell 'em, man.

5/07/2006 5:25 PM  
Blogger Effwit said...



Not quite as acerbic as Ambrose Bierce, but ya gotta work with what ya got.

5/07/2006 6:14 PM  
Anonymous Bitter Bob said...

Well I guess a cowboy has to take what he can steal and let his wife pay for the rest.

5/07/2006 8:21 PM  
Blogger Effwit said...

Bitter Bob:

Very apropos given the freespending ways of certain "Western" intelligence agencies.

5/07/2006 9:05 PM  
Blogger DrewL said...

I'd give about as much credence to Gerecht's self-serving, PNAC-driven comments as I would to a used car salesman trying to deal that puke green Gremlin on the lot.

And I suspect the intelligence on Iran's alleged WMDs would be a helluva lot better if Valerie Plame hadn't been outed by the administration in 2003. Of course, that opens up another can of worms...namely, was that part of the disrupt any credible information that may have refuted claims of weapons development? Kill the pipeline and you bury the dissent. The less we know, the more we can spin it the way we want.

The American public is being played like a long-lost Stradivarius. And it's music to the ears of the neo-cons.

5/07/2006 10:58 PM  
Blogger Effwit said...


Gerecht is a tool no question about it. His controversial (at the time) Atlantic Monthly article of mid-2001 was extremely Bin Laden-centric, in hindsight it was almost as if he was preparing the American people for what was to come.

His hyping now of the Iranian nuclear threat--and claiming that they are much closer to having the bomb than is community consensus--fits right in with the PNAC agenda. No surprise there, he works for them.

Re: The Valerie Plame outing vis-a-vis the Iranian nuclear program. I just don't think that Iran was the motive--it seems to me to be Iraq centered--just like the public narrative indicates.

I say this for one reason. Brewster-Jennings (had it not been shut down due to Plame's outing) could be providing the best intel from the best possible sources--agents inside the Iranian government saying that there is no weapons program--and it would make little difference to anyone in the administration or intelligence community who believed otherwise.

This is because it is logically impossible to "disprove a negative" (commonly used shorthand in intelligence analysis which actually refers to the impossibility of proving a large-scope, unverifiable negative). This means no matter how much good intel one can have on a topic, say a country's possession of a banned weapon--nobody can say with certainty that the country does not have that banned weapon. There is always room for a surprise.

This is entirely different from positively affirming that a country has a banned weapon. If your agent or intelligence officer gets a picture or other good proof that a country does have that weapon--then the question is considered settled.

On your main point, however, you are most definitely correct that the American public being played by parties favoring an attack upon Iran.

5/08/2006 8:23 AM  

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