13 January 2004

Spies, Lies, and Weapons: What Went Wrong

Another step worth considering is forbidding the CIA or anyone else in government from making any intelligence estimates public for five or ten years. As someone firmly committed to the concept of open government, who believes that the CIA has benefited from its efforts in the past decade to be more open to the public, I dislike the idea of greater secrecy. However, when intelligence estimates become public, they have a huge impact on the course of foreign-policy debates, and administrations therefore find themselves with a great incentive to make sure the Agency's estimates support the Administration's preferred policy. If such estimates were not made public, an administration would have little reason to try to influence them. The government could still produce white papers, but they should come from the State Department - the agency that is, after all, officially charged with public diplomacy.

Finally, the U.S. government must admit to the world that it was wrong about Iraq's WMD and show that it is taking far-reaching action to correct the problems that led to this error. Iraq is not going to be the last foreign-policy challenge in which we must make choices based on ambiguous evidence. When the United States confronts future challenges, the exaggerated estimates of Iraq's WMD will loom like an ugly shadow over the diplomatic discussions. Fairly or not, no foreigner trusts U.S. intelligence to get it right anymore, or trusts the Bush Administration to tell the truth. The only way that we can regain the world's trust is to demonstrate that we understand our mistakes and have changed our ways.



Much of Pollack's article is self-serving and excuses his own advocacy for removing Saddam before the war. These last 2 paragraphs do raise some useful ideas. Intelligence was published, in Britain, America and Australia, as a way of authorising political judgements already made by those governments. Questioning the intelligence was impossible without access to the raw intelligence and that just made the war drums louder. A public admisison that the intelligence was wrong might be costly in political terms but it is inescapable if the US is ever to restore its diplomatic position.

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