Fixing the Facts

Fixing the Facts: National Security and the Politics of Intelligence

Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 280
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  • Book Info
    Fixing the Facts
    Book Description:

    What is the role of intelligence agencies in strategy and policy? How do policymakers use (or misuse) intelligence estimates? When do intelligence-policy relations work best? How do intelligence-policy failures influence threat assessment, military strategy, and foreign policy? These questions are at the heart of recent national security controversies, including the 9/11 attacks and the war in Iraq. In both cases the relationship between intelligence and policy broke down-with disastrous consequences. In Fixing the Facts, Joshua Rovner explores the complex interaction between intelligence and policy and shines a spotlight on the problem of politicization. Major episodes in the history of American foreign policy have been closely tied to the manipulation of intelligence estimates. Rovner describes how the Johnson administration dealt with the intelligence community during the Vietnam War; how President Nixon and President Ford politicized estimates on the Soviet Union; and how pressure from the George W. Bush administration contributed to flawed intelligence on Iraq. He also compares the U.S. case with the British experience between 1998 and 2003, and demonstrates that high-profile government inquiries in both countries were fundamentally wrong about what happened before the war.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6313-6
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-xii)
  4. [1] A BASIC PROBLEM: The Uncertain Role of Intelligence in National Security
    (pp. 1-17)

    AMERICAN INTELLIGENCE AGENCIES did not know much about Iraqʹs nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons before the war in 2003. Unable to penetrate Saddam Husseinʹs regime after the first Gulf War, they lacked reliable human sources on Iraqi capabilities. Satellite imagery and signals intelligence produced occasional hints about Iraqi activities, but most estimates relied on American beliefs about Iraqi intentions. The situation was worse after United Nations inspectors left the country on the eve of a four-day bombing campaign in 1998. UN inspectors had been the primary source of information on Iraqi unconventional weapons programs; now they were gone. In the...

    (pp. 18-35)

    THE EXISTING LITERATURE on intelligence-policy relations relies on ambiguous concepts that are alternately confusing, allencompassing, or contradictory. ʺPoliticizationʺ in particular seems to have as many definitions as there are authors using the term. Part of the problem is that the literature is still dominated by memoirs, which rest on anecdotes and personal impressions. In addition, while intelligence officials have been increasingly forthcoming, policymakersʹ memoirs are noticeably silent on their relations with intelligence agencies. A spate of recent volumes that touch on the subject are driven by the ongoing efforts to reform the U.S. intelligence community in the wake of the...

    (pp. 36-48)

    NOT ENOUGH HAS BEEN written about politicization for a conventional wisdom to emerge. Nonetheless, most existing treatments suggest that proximity and personality are critical. Politicization, we are told, happens when the intelligence community veers too close to policy world. In these cases policy biases will inevitably seep into intelligence estimates, whether consciously or otherwise. Politicization also happens when policymakers are temperamentally inclined to bully their intelligence advisors, and when intelligence officials are too timid to stand up to pressure from above.

    This chapter presents a very different model of politicization, one based on politics rather than bureaucratic design or personality...

    (pp. 49-88)

    LYNDON JOHNSON HAD a question for senior intelligence officials in May 1964. A longtime believer in the domino theory, Johnson feared that friendly states would fall to communism in quick succession if the United States failed to support them. As vice president in 1961, he had specifically warned that communist advances in Asia could make ʺthe vast Pacific . . . a Red Sea.ʺ¹ Now President Johnson was on the verge of escalating the war in Vietnam, and he wanted to make sure the theory was valid. The director of central intelligence passed the question to the Board of National...

    (pp. 89-112)

    RICHARD NIXON had little use for intelligence. He was especially dubious of the CIA, which he considered a bastion for northeastern liberals and detached intellectuals. To Nixon, the epitome of the establishment intelligence officer was the director of central intelligence, Richard Helms. Educated at elite European preparatory schools and Williams College, Helms had methodically moved up the ranks of the CIA during its tumultuous early years. While Helms had earned a reputation for professional integrity and nonpartisanship, Nixonʹs suspicion for the DCI was deep and abiding. He made no attempt to forge a productive working relationship with Helms, even telling...

    (pp. 113-136)

    IN MAY 1976, the Ford administration invited a panel of outside experts to evaluate classified intelligence on the Soviet Union. The stated purpose of the exercise was to stimulate competition among analysts by putting a fresh set of eyes on the same data. While the intelligence community was in the process of producing the annual National Intelligence Estimate on Soviet power, the ʺTeam Bʺ panel would produce its own separate assessment. This made sense in theory, because scrutiny from outsiders might force analysts to be more explicit about their assumptions and methods. Giving the panel an opportunity to present an...

    (pp. 137-184)

    ON MARCH 17, 2002, an American satellite captured images of a white tanker truck at the Al Musayyib Chemical Complex southeast of Baghdad. Some imagery analysts believed that the truck was a chemical decontamination vehicle and concluded that increased activity around Al Musayyib was a sign that Iraq was trying to move and hide chemical weapons (CW). Others were skeptical about drawing firm conclusions from data that were open to simpler explanations. As one dissenting analyst from the State Departmentʹs Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) pointed out, ʺSome of the same hazards exist with conventional munitions as they do...

    (pp. 185-204)

    THE LITERATURE ON INTELLIGENCE-POLICY relations is strikingly atheoretical. Unlike the vast scholarship on civil-military relations, there have been few attempts to describe the subject that go beyond axioms and anecdotes. While some new research addresses the question, most of what we know is still contained in memoirs, which tend toward exhortation rather than analysis.¹ Memoirs usually contain a narrative of the authorʹs professional experience and his or her beliefs about the appropriate behavior of intelligence and policy officials. This is useful as far as it goes, but it cannot provide the basis for theories about how intelligence informs strategy, and...

  12. APPENDIX A: Pathologies of Intelligence-Policy Relations
    (pp. 205-206)
  13. APPENDIX B: Varieties of Politicization
    (pp. 207-210)
  14. NOTES
    (pp. 211-254)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 255-263)