January 31, 2004


Congressional and CIA investigations into the prewar intelligence on Iraq’s weapons and links to terrorism have found no evidence that CIA analysts colored their judgment because of perceived or actual political pressure from White House officials, according to intelligence officials and congressional officials from both parties.

I wonder if it’ll silence the “Bush Lied” claims? Probably not, as they’re fundamentally religious in nature. It’s true, of course, that there appears to have been some sort of intelligence failure with regard to Iraq’s WMD — at best, the intelligence community missed how well it was hidden, at worst, it was vaporware all along (er, except for those tons of anthrax UN inspectors found, etc.). But that’s not such a shock: the CIA missed the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the Pakistani nuclear bomb, after all. And, by all accounts, was in the dark about just how far along Libya’s program was before Qaddafi decided to give it up.

Ed Morissey has more thoughts on what this means for intelligence policy, and some suggestions for the Democrats.

UPDATE: More here.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Reader John Wixted emails:

The implicit assumption here is that anytime an intelligence assessment is wrong, it must be flawed. People need to think through that assumption. It’s flawed if the error is a false negative (e.g., we conclude that WMDs are not there even though they are, or we conclude that the Soviet missiles are not in Cuba even though they are). It’s not necessarily flawed if it’s a false positive.

We are going to make errors in the future. Everyone already agrees that we should try to minimize those errors. But given that errors are going to made, you have to decide which kind of error is the one to be avoided. It’s a tradeoff: as false positive go up, false negatives go down. My fear is that all of this post-war intelligence hand-wringing will cause us to shift the criterion (causing false negatives to increase for fear of another false positive) without ever stopping to consider the possibility that the available evidence might be as good as we could have hoped for and that the conclusions drawn in light of the available evidence were the right ones.

Good point.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Tacitus has some thoughts about imminence.