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Wednesday, July 14, 2004
With all the talk we've had to deal with over the last year concerning intelligence failures or distortions of the truth I've found one aspect of this debate truly amusing. What I find so amusing is that the media seems to take as fact whatever is spoken by those investigating these failures.
Intelligence gathering due to it's very nature is a very unreliable art. It is subject to conjecture and plane guesswork. In fact piecing together a reasonable picture often relies on using past experience to try and separate fact from fiction. In regards to Iraq and WMD, or the events of 9/11, all of the expected flaws of intelligence gathering can be seen. A lack of specific details (which are rarely if ever available) required that assumptions be made. Any work on this topic by John Keegan can be particularly enlightening when it comes to how rare good intelligence actually is. Intelligence In War is particularly relevant.
In general though the media will present anyone as an 'intelligence expect' when in fact there is no such thing. There are only men and women who are exceptionally good at 'making puzzles'. Whether the story involves Joe Wilson or Robin Butler we must accept that these men are doing no more than what the actual intelligence gatherers did in the first place. They are trying to put together an complete picture with conflicting and contradictory pieces of information.
Now I'm not saying that investigating how intelligence decisions were made is a bad idea. Far from it. Investigating past results is the only way that an intelligence gathering organization can be measured. It cannot be done in real-time since that would affect the quality of it's work. So that leaves us with political hacks and appointees telling us about the quality of the intelligence and/or the motivation behind those producing it.
And I understand quite well that 95% of the media coverage of intelligence activities is purely politically motivated. Because lets be realistic... who wants to read about the 20000 documents, the 4000 intercepted phone calls, or the 1000 meetings with shady and unknown individuals, that are required to paint an intelligence picture about a country such as Hussein's Iraq?
I guess what saddens me most about the constant coverage of the intelligence activites is not that mistakes were made by the community. It doesn't bother me for the simple fact that I've read enough to know that intelligence is more often wrong than it is right. What really bothers me is that one side of the debate has used this opportunity to score political points and to deflect criticism from themselves. The Democratic Party in the US, and most other anti-US groups around the world, know that they cannot possibly present a morally coherent argument against US actions. So instead of presenting their morals to the scrutiny of others they try to change the debate.
That is the real loss in all of this. One side of political spectrum has lost its morals. They know it but can't quite come to terms with it.
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