Sunday, March 18, 2007

Collapse of Intelligence

What we don't know is sometimes as scary as what we do know.

The American Thinker:

The PBS show Frontline has a number of its past programs available for viewing online at its website. Yes, Frontline does lean left - it takes Joe Wilson's narrative at face value, for instance - but it is that rare media creature: left-leaning but remaining honest. It is a very good source on, for instance, pre-Iraq War controversies in planning and intelligence.

One of the shows that focuses on pre-war intelligence is called "The Dark Side" from an infelicitous quote by Dick Cheney that "we will have to spend time on the dark side." Don't be put off by that; it is an excellent, if not entirely neutral, program. It is available here.

Cheney is a central figure in the program, as, indeed, he was in the build-up to the Iraq War. In the course of the program, there is this most interesting segment of clips from interviews with David Kay, the former weapons inspector, and Richard Clarke, the former White House anti-terrorism advisor. Neither man is regarded as an acolyte of the Administration.

Narrator voiceover

"...but Cheney had no faith in the CIA."

David Kay

"I think there is one thing that influences him [Cheney], at least in our conversations. He remembered as clearly as I remembered how wrong intelligence had been in 1991." [emphasis added]

Narrator voiceover

"They had been wrong about the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Iranian revolution, Saddam's invasion of Kuwait, and more."

Richard Clarke

"There was a massive nuclear program in Iraq [in 1991], nuclear weapons development program, that was probably 9 - 18 months away from having its first nuclear weapon detonation. And that CIA had totally missed it. We had bombed everything we could bomb in Iraq, but missed an enormous nuclear weapons development facility; didn't know it was there; never dropped one bomb on it." {emphasis added]

David Kay

"That's at the forefront, at least in my conversations with him [Cheney], about Iraq. ‘They were wrong before; they didn't get the evidence; how do we know what they know now?'"

Richard Clarke

"There's no doubt that the Dick Cheney that comes back into office eight years later - nine years later - has that as one of the things burned into his memory: that Iraq wants a nuclear weapon; Iraq was ‘that close' (holding up thumb and forefinger) to getting a nuclear weapon; and CIA hadn't a clue." [emphasis added]

The problem that the Administration faced after 9/11 was that intelligence was not providing an early-warning system for the nation on issues of weapons and attacks. This left the Administration essentially blind to what to expect next from the bad guys, particularly al-Qaeda, but by extension, any opponent that wished us ill.

The significance of 9/11 from a strategic standpoint was that deterrence failed. Deterrence was the cork that kept the nuclear genie in the bottle during the Cold War. There were rules, and both we and the Soviet Union followed them - most especially, we didn't attack each other. The Russians didn't cross our quarantine of Cuba; we didn't bomb their ships in Haiphong harbor.

But that arrangement with our enemies was nullified by the radical Islamic attack on the U.S. mainland on 9/11. And it is worthwhile reminding ourselves that the Capitol would also have been destroyed if the passengers on Flight 93 had not risen to heroic heights and brought the plane down.

Once deterrence failed, Pandora's Box was opened from a strategic standpoint. Which brought back the primacy of intelligence - the necessity of knowing beforehand what the bad guys were planning. And we didn't know that.

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