Marc Carlisle: Intelligence oozes along the path to war
On the Marc
Last week, the ick, what comes out of your mouth when you refer to the IC, shorthand for the Intelligence Community, those folks in the U.S. government who completely missed the dissolution of the Soviet Union and still don’t know where bin Laden is or what he’s planning, made available on the worldwide web in a convenient pdf format a portion of its latest National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear capabilities.
There was a time when Uncle Sam classified such reports as “Top Secret,” “Roger channel” (spook stuff) and “Q clearance” (nuclear secrets), preferring not to unzip his fly in front of the whole world.
There was also a time when these reports were highly classified to protect our allies and their sources with whom we shared intelligence. Despite the urgency of the war on terror, the U.S. still has few flesh and blood sources in Tehran, and we need those countries that do to add depth and dimension to the fragments of information we’ve been able to extract from the tens of thousands of phone calls, e-mails, and recorded conversations we’ve intercepted at Fort Meade, Md.
But when the Vice President’s chief of staff was exposed as a blabber-mouth, people stopped talking to us and so perversely, our secretive second in command, who will keep as secret discussions in his office about domestic energy policy, has made it possible for our government to post documents that will help decide whether we go to war.
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The folks that write these estimates ” there’s been one every two years on Iranian nuclear weapons capability for quite awhile ” are sharp, knowledgeable and egotistical.
The fate of nations can turn on what they do, but because of what they do, they can’t talk to anyone outside the ick about what they do. Within the ick, they are discouraged from talking to anyone, especially at any of the many other government agencies that collect intelligence, because information is power.
So when they’re forced to share, in preparing estimates, for example, imagine Bach, Beethoven and Mozart thrown together to write a symphony. The results are sometimes a mess, sometimes greater than the sum of their individual contributions.
Whatever they write, however, goes to the American Idol judges, their political appointee bosses, for a rewrite, and there it gets personal. Some agency heads are influential because they’re rude and others fear them. Some have unusual influence because they’re hooking up on the side with one of the composers; minority voices are noted then ignored.
At the end of the day, NIEs tend to be the analytical equivalent of Muzak, and even then, if the big boss is known to favor the Cotton Eye Joe, the NIE will be written for jug and six string and not an orchestra.
The conclusion that Iran doesn’t have weapons and can’t before 2015 is definitive and specific, and discordant. The report could have said that while we cannot confirm that Iran does not have a weapon, we conclude that it does have the capability to produce one in the near term ” that’s music to Presidential ears.
To be so specific and unwelcome, there must be a guy, a source, a defector or someone obtained by rendition (spook talk for kidnap) to Guantanamo Bay, and who was in a position to know.
The ick certainly couldn’t come to a conclusion of no Iranian nukes before 2015 because of a preponderance of evidence, since the U.S. has so few sources, to say nothing of so very, very few English/Farsi speakers on payroll.
There’s a guy, or a big leak somewhere, and we believe him. Of course, now that the Iranians know there’s a guy or a leak, they will act to stop the intelligence flow. And good source or no, this President won’t hear it, although he will change the lyrics of the song he’s been singing.
Maybe Iran doesn’t have a nuke (much less a way to deliver it), but the ick accepts as a foregone conclusion that the Iranians have weapons of mass destruction, chemical and biological weapons, and there’s a clear link between al-qaeda and Tehran.
We went to war in Iraq mumbling and humming about terror and WMD; the President won’t make that mistake again. OK, forget the nukes ” terror and WMD will be the call to arms, and if past is prologue, that’s a tune we’ll hear to ring in 2008.
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