February 05, 2004
WAR/POLITICS: Defending the CIA
CIA Director George Tenet gave a very forceful, feisty defense of his agency over at Georgetown University this morning. I watched the lengthy speech, which focused on pre-war intelligence on Iraq, in its entirety. You can read the whole thing here. A few highlights:
On intelligence in general:
[C]ontext is completely missing from the current debate. By definition, intelligence deals with the unclear, the unknown, the deliberately hidden. What the enemies of the United States hope to deny we work to reveal. The question being asked about Iraq in the starkest terms is, were we right or were we wrong? In the intelligence business, you are almost never completely wrong or completely right.
On the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) of October 2002:
Analysts differed on several important aspects of these programs and those debates were spelled out in the estimate. They never said there was an imminent threat. Rather, they painted an objective assessment for our policy-makers of a brutal dictator who was continuing his efforts to deceive and build programs that might constantly surprise us and threaten our interests. No one told us what to say or how to say it. [Emphasis added].
On the continuing hunt for weapons of mass destruction:
[L]et me be direct about an important fact. As we meet here today, the Iraq Survey Group is continuing its important search for people and data. And despite some public statements, we are nowhere near 85 percent finished. The men and women who work in that dangerous environment are adamant about that fact…[W]e need more time and we need more data.
On questions which need to be answered:
Among the questions that we as a community must ask are: Did the history of our work, Saddam's deception and denial, his lack of compliance with the international community and all that we know about this regime cause us to minimize or ignore alternative scenarios? Did the fact that we missed how close Saddam came to acquiring a nuclear weapon in the early 1990s cause us to overestimate his nuclear or other programs in 2002? Did we carefully consider the absence of information flowing from a repressive and intimidating regime, and would it have made any difference in our bottom-line judgments? Did we clearly tell policy makers what we knew, what we didn't know, what was not clear and identify the gaps in our knowledge?
We are in the process of evaluating just such questions. And while others will express the views on these issues sooner, we ourselves must come to our own bottom lines patiently.
On the CIA’s human intelligence capabilities:
I want to be very clear about something: A blanket indictment of our human intelligence around the world is dead wrong. We have spent the last seven years rebuilding our clandestine service. As director of central intelligence, this has been my highest priority.
When I came to the CIA in the mid-'90s, our graduating class of case officers was unbelievably low. Now, after years of rebuilding, our training programs and putting our best efforts to recruit the most talented men and women, we are graduating more clandestine officers than at any time in the history of the Central Intelligence Agency.
It will take an additional five years to finish the job of rebuilding our clandestine service, but the results so far have been obvious. A CIA spy led us to Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the mastermind of the September 11th attacks. Al Qaida's operational chief Nashiri, the man who planned and executed the bombing of the USS Cole, was located and arrested because of our human reporting. Human sources were critical to the capture of Hambali, the chief terrorist in southeast Asia, who organized and killed hundreds of people when they bombed a nightclub in Bali.
So when you hear pundits say that we have no human intelligence capability, they don't know what they're talking about. [Emphasis added].
[A] sitting regime has volunteered to dismantle its WMD program. Somebody on television said we completely missed it. Well, he completely missed it. This was an intelligence success. Why? Because American and British intelligence officers understood the Libyan programs… [I]ntelligence was the key that opened the door to Libya's clandestine programs.
I will not go into detail. I want to assure you of one thing: that recent Iranian admissions about their nuclear programs validate our intelligence assessments. It is flat wrong to say that we were surprised by reports from the Iranian opposition last year.
On North Korea:
[I]t was patient analysis of difficult-to-obtain information that allowed our diplomats to confront the North Korean regime about their pursuit of a different route to a nuclear weapon that violated international agreements.
On examining the CIA:
I welcome the president's commission on proliferation. We have a record and a story to tell and we want to tell it to those willing to listen.
On the value of the CIA:
We cannot afford an environment to develop where analysts are afraid to make a call, where judgments are held back because analysts fear they will be wrong. Their work and these judgments make vital contributions to the country's security. I came here today to also tell the American people that they must know that they are served by dedicated, courageous professionals. It is evident on the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq. It is evident by their work against proliferators. It is evident by the fact that well over two-thirds of Al Qaida's leaders can no longer hurt the American people. We are a community that some thought would not be needed at the end of the Cold War. We have systematically been rebuilding all of our disciplines with a focused strategy and care.
UPDATE: In its first sentence, this AP story reveals its spin of the speech:
In his first public defense of prewar intelligence, CIA Director George Tenet said Thursday that U.S. analysts had never claimed Iraq was an imminent threat, the main argument used by President Bush for going to war.
This is, of course, a distortion of Bush's argument (see here and here).