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C.I.A. Plays It Safe by Accentuating the Negative

former intelligence officer once told me that when faced with a confusing mass of data the safest course of action was to emphasize the potential threat. If the danger turned out to be less grave than forecast, the policy makers would be relieved. But if a serious threat indeed emerged, no one could accuse the intelligence community of having let the nation down. The analysts would not be raked over the coals for yet another “intelligence failure.” Given the scrutiny the CIA has received in recent years, it is not surprising that some analysts would see this as a key to bureaucratic survival. U.S. intelligence analysts have been faulted for failing to anticipate India’s series of nuclear tests, underestimating the capability of North Korea to make a three-stage missile and failing to foresee the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States. In the case of Iraq, it seems, the agency’s analysts learned the lesson too well. Faced with a paucity of solid intelligence and confronting a regime schooled in the art of deception, the CIA filled in a sketchy picture in the darkest hues. As the recent Senate intelligence committee report makes abundantly clear, the CIA presented informed guesswork as established fact and drew far-reaching conclusions on the basis of a handful of unreliable sources. Rather than acknowledge how little firm information the American intelligence community had about Iraq’s weapons programs, the CIA seems to have told 110 percent of what it knew. What made this approach so contentious is that it occurred while the White House was asserting the right to pre-emptive war.Full Story

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