Intelligence guidelines aren’t sure-fire solution

By Freedom Newspapers

John Negroponte, who is leaving as national director of intelligence to return to a State Department position, may have performed a signal service to his country in an unusually detailed policy directive for intelligence analysis. However, as constructive as his guidelines are, they do not provide a foolproof protection against misuse of intelligence by a future administration.

It is hardly a secret that the U.S. intelligence community failed both to identify dramatically enough the kind of threat that materialized Sept. 11, 2001, and to know for certain whether Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction before the 2003 attack on Iraq. It was almost certainly the case, as a presidential commission on intelligence gathering noted, that intelligence analysts believed that repeated leading questions from Vice President Dick Cheney and others seeking evidence of a Saddam-al-Qaida connection may have skewed intelligence work during the run-up to the war.

Negroponte’s eight-page directive states that analysis “must be objective and independent of political considerations,” that “the analytic process must be as transparent as possible,” and that analysts should “identify intelligence gaps and provide precise guidance to collectors.” These objectives can be tied to the intelligence shortcomings that led up to the Iraq war.

There is evidence that people in the administration pressured the CIA and other intelligence agencies to come up with intelligence to justify the decision to go to war with Iraq. A major source for allegations that Iraq had mobile biological-weapons plants came from an informant for German intelligence nicknamed “Curveball,” whose reliability was suspect. A more transparent process might have identified doubts about this and other sources earlier. And gaps in information about aluminum tubes, which turned out to be for anti-aircraft rockets rather than nuclear centrifuges, were not widely shared among analysts, leading some to faulty conclusions.

Negroponte’s directive indicates that the intelligence community has learned from the mistakes before Iraq, said former CIA acting director John McLaughlin, now at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. “It’s the way intelligence should be done, but it is not unimportant that the leader of the intelligence community set it down in black and white,” he said.

Whether the community has become agile enough to deal with self-directed stateless terrorism, a challenge not confronted before the late 1990s, is another question.