The phe­nom­e­non of the un­pleas­ant fact

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - BY MICHAEL HAY­DEN

Politi­ciza­tion — the shad­ing of anal­y­sis to fit pre­vail­ing pol­icy or pol­i­tics — is the harsh­est crit­i­cism one can make of an in­tel­li­gence or­ga­ni­za­tion. It strikes be­yond ques­tions of com­pe­tence to the fun­da­men­tal ethic of the en­ter­prise, which is, or should be, truth telling. That’s why we had a per­ma­nent om­buds­man to ad­dress politi­ciza­tion at the CIA.

Now some are charg­ing U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand in Tampa, Florida, with politi­ciz­ing its anal­y­sis of the war in Iraq and Syria.

I need to make clear that I know noth­ing of the par­tic­u­lars of that sit­u­a­tion be­yond what has been re­ported (or al­leged) in pub­licly avail­able press ac­counts. But those ac­counts raise se­ri­ous ques­tions, so I wanted to share a few thoughts on how folks might want to think about this.

First of all, dis­sent­ing an­a­lysts pas­sion­ate about their po­si­tions are not un­usual in the Amer­i­can in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity. Their pres­ence — or even the rejection of their fa­vored po­si­tions — is not prima face ev­i­dence of politi­ciza­tion. In fact, their pres­ence is rather the norm — and that’s a good thing. I al­ways had a few dis­senters, no mat­ter where I worked. Some­times I agreed. Some­times I didn’t.

We have seen the same kind of icon­o­clas­tic views at high pol­icy lev­els. White House ad­viser Richard Clarke was fa­mously in­sis­tent about the loom­ing threat from al Qaeda in 2000-2001. Un­der­sec­re­tary of De­fense Doug Feith was equally in­sis­tent in 2002-2003 about an op­er­a­tional re­la­tion­ship be­tween al Qaeda and the Iraqi gov­ern­ment. Mr. Clarke was right, Mr. Feith was not.

Vice Pres­i­dent Dick Cheney was more con­vinced of nu­clear pro­grams in Iraq and Syria than were many in the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity. He was dead wrong about Iraq (as were many, my­self in­cluded). He was dead right about Syria, though.

All this is to say that dis­agree­ments are not usu­ally about in­tel­lect or moral worth. They’re more a re­flec­tion of just how tough some of these ques­tions re­ally are.

Be­yond the as­sess­ment, there is an equally chal­leng­ing dy­namic in re­lay­ing in­tel­li­gence judg­ments to pol­i­cy­mak­ers when those judg­ments cut across pre­ferred pol­icy or po­lit­i­cal po­si­tions, some­thing com­mon enough that I gave it a name while I was in gov­ern­ment: “the phe­nom­e­non of the un­pleas­ant fact.”

I saw it in the Ge­orge W. Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion as the anal­y­sis of what was go­ing on in post-in­va­sion Iraq moved from dead-en­ders, to in­sur­gency, to civil war, to some­thing even worse. Each change in an­a­lytic judg­ment prompted heart­felt, of­ten emo­tional, ses­sions with pol­i­cy­mak­ers, as we were no doubt mak­ing their days worse than they would oth­er­wise be. But the tough di­a­logue even­tu­ally led to a change in pol­icy and the de­ci­sion to surge five more U.S. brigades into the fight.

To­day’s chal­lenge ap­pears sim­i­lar, ex­cept that the ac­cu­sa­tion now is that se­niors in Cen­tral Com­mand’s in­tel­li­gence shop are over­rul­ing an­a­lysts and putting a happy face on the com­mand’s progress against the Is­lamic State. And that, the ar­gu­ment goes, is de­signed to spare the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion bad press and bad pol­i­tics, not to men­tion the bru­tal ne­ces­sity of re­assess­ing a failed Mid­dle East pol­icy.

My ex­pe­ri­ence has been that mil­i­tary assess­ments on “how goes the war” are con­sis­tently more op­ti­mistic than those made by the CIA and other agen­cies. That was cer­tainly the case in Iraq, and it ap­pears the Agency reprised the dy­namic when it briefed newly ar­rived Di­rec­tor David H. Pe­traeus (fresh from com­mand in Afghanistan) on its ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the Afghan bat­tle­field.

Most of the time when this hap­pens, no one is at­tempt­ing to mis­lead. It’s just an un­happy but pre­dictable byprod­uct of the mil­i­tary giv­ing it­self a grade.

Take this ex­am­ple. Dur­ing most of the war in Bos­nia, NATO con­ducted some­thing called Deny Flight, an al­liance ef­fort to keep the Bos­nian Serb air force grounded. Lots of NATO re­sources went into this, but in­tel­li­gence some­times in­di­cated that Serb air­craft had scooted from their bases for quick re­con­nais­sance or ground at­tack mis­sions. Of course, NATO op­er­a­tors were in­cred­i­bly skep­ti­cal of such re­port­ing when it popped up. They were be­ing told they had failed. It got so bad that one of­fi­cer told me that he had fi­nally fig­ured out what Deny Flight re­ally meant: “The Serbs fly, and we deny it.”

That’s an ar­gu­ment for why you want more than just the lo­cal com­mand as­sess­ing the sit­u­a­tion. But you still want the lo­cal com­mand’s view, too.

There have been charges that Di­rec­tor of Na­tional In­tel­li­gence James Clap­per has had an un­usual amount of con­tact with Cent­com’s in­tel­li­gence chief, sug­gest­ing to some that Pres­i­dent Obama’s se­nior in­tel­li­gence ad­viser was pres­sur­ing the com­mand to pretty up the an­a­lytic books. Know­ing Jim Clap­per, I se­ri­ously doubt that. And a claim that these “un­usual” con­tacts are ev­i­dence of such a con­spir­acy be­trays an ig­no­rance of how in­tel­li­gence works.

While at the CIA, I would rou­tinely call my Bagh­dad or Kabul sta­tion chief be­fore sprint­ing down­town for a meet­ing with the pres­i­dent or the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil. I wasn’t lean­ing on them. Quite the op­po­site. I wanted the latest and I wanted it with­out bu­reau­cratic fil­ters. I sus­pect that Jim Clap­per op­er­ates the same way.

So there may be less here than meets the eye … or per­haps not. Press ac­counts sug­gest that dis­sent was not con­fined to a few an­a­lysts but was wide­spread. If true, that’s re­ally trou­bling. Even when a chief of in­tel­li­gence might not agree with his an­a­lysts’ body of work, he has a re­spon­si­bil­ity to pass it on.

At more than one NSC meet­ing I pref­aced my re­marks with phrases like, “Mr. Pres­i­dent, my guys are a lit­tle more dark in their as­sess­ment on this than I am …” and I then pro­ceeded to brief their views be­fore I added my own. You owe that to a pol­i­cy­maker, and to your own peo­ple.

If the cur­rent in­ves­ti­ga­tion finds that darker views were in­deed sup­pressed and un­re­ported, the ham­mer should fall. And not just in Tampa. If charges are sub­stan­ti­ated, ev­ery­one in the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity will need to ex­am­ine their con­science to see what they did to cre­ate a cli­mate where some­one could think that such be­hav­ior was ac­cept­able.

And se­nior pol­i­cy­mak­ers could stand some of the same soul-search­ing them­selves.

Gen. Michael Hay­den is a for­mer di­rec­tor of the CIA and the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency. He can be reached at mhay­den@wash­ing­ton­

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