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Cherry-Filled NIE on Terrorism (Update)

Wow, the (still classified) NIE on terrorism reportedly points out that the war in Iraq has sown a new crop of Jihadists and ratcheted up the terrorist threat since 9/11/01.

The intelligence estimate, completed in April, is the first formal appraisal of global terrorism by United States intelligence agencies since the Iraq war began, and represents a consensus view of the 16 disparate spy services inside government. Titled “Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States,’’ it asserts that Islamic radicalism, rather than being in retreat, has metastasized and spread across the globe.

An opening section of the report, “Indicators of the Spread of the Global Jihadist Movement,” cites the Iraq war as a reason for the diffusion of jihad ideology.

First, I helped put together one or two NIEs and other NIC documents in my day but even without my insights it should strike everyone as fairly obvious that this assessment likely says a whole lot more than just this heavily flogged and hyped data point. If I had to guess I’d say you’re talking at least 15 pages of material that runs across a wide spectrum of terrorism-related issues, so either that’s 15 pages of variations on the “Iraq is the source of all our woes” theme or there is a certain element at work that would like you to believe that is true by leaving out what the other 14 pages says. I’ll let you guess which is more likely.

Secondly, NIEs are for the most part statements of the obvious. Why? Because an NIE is 99% of what everyone in the IC can agree on. If there is a dissenting view such as:

“Um, guys, radical Islam was in existence, spreading, and targeting US interests well before Iraq”

… it might make a footnote if the will to say so isn’t brow-beaten out of the objector. And as has happened on a number of occasions, what everyone agrees to in person doesn’t always get translated into the text that is passed around for approval. Pointing out that someone has reneged is met with “well, we’re too far along in the process.” So much for that sense of community.

The fact of the matter is that while we hunted for a “worthy” enemy after the Soviet Union fell we did everything we could to avoid picking the right enemy and instead chose the obvious yet questionable one (China). There is a reason why prior to 9/11 guys who talked 4GW were relegated to backwaters; we build tanks and planes and ships really well, and we know how to fight big, fat hierarchies really well, we were never going to pick anything but another nation on which to focus our attention so why bother with this “asymmetric” stuff that doesn’t translate into big hardware and protect a lot of phoney-baloney jobs? All this while we were getting bombed and shot around the world and in our own country. We needed someone big and bad to fight, while the real opposition always had a big, bad enemy to focus on: us. We’ve been “the great satan” since when, the 70s? How ****ing obvious does it get?

My bet is that over the next few days we’ll see a lot more revealed about this NIE, most of it just as obvious and pedestrian as what has been leaked so far, but when taken as a whole is a lot less a statement of “Iraq is a distraction/mistake” as some early leakers would have you believe.

Update: Shocker, it wasn’t 15 pages of the same thing. Similar thought’s at CQ, Strata-Sphere,In from the Cold, SOI, etc.

Michael Tanji

Michael Tanji

Michael Tanji spent nearly 20 years in the US intelligence community. Trained in both SIGINT and HUMINT disciplines he has worked at the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, and the National Reconnaissance Office. At various points in his career he served as an expert in information warfare, computer network operations, computer forensics, and indications and warning. A veteran of the US Army, Michael has served in both strategic and tactical assignments in the Pacific Theater, the Balkans, and the Middle East.