Key Figure: Intelligence Downplayed in Iraq Policy The former national intelligence officer for the Middle East says the Bush administration has used remarkably little intelligence analysis in making its policy decisions. Paul Pillar writes in Foreign Affairs about the relationship between the intelligence community and policymakers in the run-up to the Iraq war.
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Key Figure: Intelligence Downplayed in Iraq Policy

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Key Figure: Intelligence Downplayed in Iraq Policy

Key Figure: Intelligence Downplayed in Iraq Policy

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: "What is most remarkable about pre-war U.S. intelligence on Iraq is not that it got things wrong and thereby misled policymakers. It is that it played so small a role in one of the most important U.S. policy decisions in recent decades."

The author of the article would be in a position to know that. Paul Pillar spent a career in the CIA, and from 2000 to 2005 he was national intelligence officer for the Middle East. He's now at Georgetown University. Welcome to the program, Paul Pillar.

PAUL PILLAR: Thank you.

: If in 2002 or 2003, say, I had seen the CIA's intelligence about Iraq and the prospect for war in Iraq, what would I have learned?

PILLAR: You would have learned about the challenges that we were going to face once Saddam Hussein was overthrown, about the length and turbulence of the process of trying to turn Iraq into something we could call at least a halfway stable democracy, about the expense involved in trying to put the Iraqi economy on its feet, and about some of the other things with regard to the likely consequences or lack of consequences of our operation elsewhere in the region.

: You're saying I would have gotten a pretty good picture of what 2004, 2005, 2006 were going to be like.

PILLAR: I think in retrospect that's fair to say, yes.

: Now, you write that, while intelligence agencies should not be advocating policies, I'm quoting now, "the Bush administration use of intelligence did not just blur this distinction, it turned the entire model upside down. The administration used intelligence to justify a decision already made."

PILLAR: It was pretty clear from well before March 2003, when coalition forces entered Iraq, that that was the direction in which the administration was headed. So most of what we've heard about and read about with regard to intelligence really wasn't playing into a decision yet to be made. It was part of the effort to build support for the operation.

: The Silberman-Robb commission that investigated the intelligence prior to the war in Iraq did not find that intelligence analysts had been pressured to produce analyses favorable to the war. Were they right or were they missing what was going on?

PILLAR: I think the Silberman-Robb commission, overall, in my judgment, did an excellent job. On the issue of policy influence or political influence, though, basically their inquiry was limited to asking analysts whether their arms had been twisted, which really can catch only the most blatant and obvious forms of politicization, which are very rare, and when they do occur they almost always fail.

To the extent that policy influence was felt in the Iraq case, it was something far more subtle, taking other forms, such as analysts being aware that there was always a strong policy wind blowing in one direction, and it's very hard to resist bending to that, at least in subtle ways, and also just with regard to where the intelligence community was directing its attention and resources. And, in particular, it had directed a lot of things to this whole issue of was there a relationship between Saddam Hussein's Iraq and al Qaeda. That was not something the community was looking at because in its judgment there was really an alliance there. It was looking at it because this was a major tenet in the case that the administration was making to go to war.

: Part of what you're up against was the intelligence community having gotten it wrong about the Iraqi nuclear program back in 1991. And, as it turned out, the agencies also got it wrong in the other direction in 2003.

PILLAR: Right.

: So there was skepticism about the quality of CIA analysis. Justified skepticism?

PILLAR: Certainly justified skepticism, and some of our leaders, such as the vice president, have expressed that skepticism quite openly. I think what we had a situation here, was one in which perhaps there was overcompensation for the 1991 experience, and a need to challenge, in a zero-based sort of way, what became a very broad assumption, almost worldwide, not just among American analysts and commentators, that there were weapons of mass destruction under Saddam Hussein's Iraq. And the question then becomes what kind of environment do you have for intelligence analysts that make them more likely or less likely to do precisely that kind of challenging against what is a broad consensus?

: Mr. Pillar, thank you very much for talking with us.

PILLAR: My pleasure, Robert.

: Paul Pillar is a former career CIA officer and chief intelligence officer for the Middle East. He's now at Georgetown University, in Washington, D.C.

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