16 July 2003

America's Unintelligence Community

SO THE INTELLIGENCE community has provided faulty information to policy makers who then used it to justify disastrous decisions. When have I heard this story before?

Was it in 1944 when a savage Allied air war against cities was based on British intelligence assessments (disputed by some Americans) that bombing would destroy enemy ''morale''?

Or was it in 1945 when Manhattan Project intelligence, overseen by Brigadier General Leslie R. Groves, provided estimates (disputed by scientists) that the Soviet Union would not have the atomic bomb for up to 20 years?

Or was it in the 1950s when American intelligence so emphasized the monolithic character of world communism that it missed the obvious anti-Moscow nationalist fractures in Yugoslavia and China?

Or was it in 1960 when US Air Force intelligence, having seen a ''bomber gap,'' then discovered a ''missile gap,'' sparking major escalations in the arms race with the Soviet Union?

Or was it in 1968 when military intelligence, obsessed with ''body counts,'' had so exaggerated the progress of the war (counting dead women and old people as soldiers) that the Tet offensive took Washington by surprise?

Or was it in 1969 when Richard Nixon, to justify his anti-ballistic missile proposal, cited intelligence reports (disputed by the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency) that the Soviet Union was preparing to launch a first strike?

Or was it in the 1970s when US intelligence, propping up the shah of Iran, dismissed as irrelevant the tape-recorded rantings of an exiled mullah named Khomeini?

Or was it in the 1980s when, emphasizing the ''evil empire,'' American intelligence missed entirely both the internal collapse of the Soviet economy and the historic significance of the nonviolent democracy movements?

Actually, it's worse than this article suggests. Several of these intelligence failures were also dramatic policy failures such as supporting the shah, then Saddam, then anyone-but-Saddam, all in order to stabilise the Middle East. Or abandoning Afghanistan to the Taliban. Or arming the jihadis in Afghanistan with Stinger missiles. Presumably the Central Asian fiasco was a way of stabilising the Middle East as well. As was invading Iraq.

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