Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Pillar again... Wake up call for the Press !!!

Pillar to press: Don't get fooled again

Original article and active links here:
http://www.niemanwatchdog.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=ask_this.view&askthisid=00181

February 27, 2006

Paul R. Pillar, the former CIA official who coordinated U.S. intelligence on the Middle East until last year, writes that the press was insufficiently questioning both in the run-up to war and in its coverage of the 9/11 Commission. He proposes questions reporters should ask -- retrospectively and prospectively -- about the use and abuse of intelligence by policymakers.

By Paul R. Pillar
prp8@georgetown.edu

Q. Why was more not done before 9/11 to counter the terrorist threat from Al Qaeda in response to the intelligence community's highlighting of that threat -- as reflected in DCI George Tenet's public statements?

Q. How exactly is the reorganization of the intelligence community under the legislation of December 2004 supposed to correct what the 9/11 Commission stated were problems in counterterrorism? What effect, if any, does the reorganization have on the problem of insufficient or improper use of intelligence by the policymaker?

Q. When was the decision to go to war in Iraq made, what beliefs and analysis led to that decision (as distinct from arguments used to muster support for the decision), and where did those beliefs and analysis come from?

Q. On any future matter major national security decision:

What beliefs and analysis underlie the decision?
Where do those beliefs and analysis come from?
How do those beliefs and analysis compare with public arguments used to justify the decision?
What questions about the issue have policymakers posed to the intelligence community?
Q. When an intelligence assessment becomes a matter of public knowledge: Who asked for the assessment, why was it requested, and what determined how the questions were framed?

Q. When intelligence officials speak or testify, to what extent are their statements constrained by policy preferences?

Much effort and expense have been devoted to inquiries that one might hope would shed light on deficiencies in the intelligence-policy relationship. But they have failed to do so, because of the agendas or political constraints that have afflicted the inquiring bodies themselves.

The 9/11 Commission established as its goal the generation of enough public support to enact a reorganization of the intelligence community. Pursuit of that goal led it to produce a selective and misleading account of strategic intelligence on terrorism, obscuring the actual reasons US counterterrorist policy took the course it did prior to 9/11. The press was remarkably acquiescent in this; as Judge Richard Posner noted in his critique of the commission's work, a combination of political circumstances paralyzed criticism of the commission and led its report to be accepted unquestioningly as "holy writ." The politics of the Congressional intelligence committees have led them to delay repeatedly any public appraisal of how the administration used intelligence on Iraq (in the case of the Senate committee) or not even to attempt to address the subject (in the case of its House counterpart). The commission investigating intelligence on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction produced an otherwise useful report, but its White House provenance constrained it from exploring all the ways in which policy preferences affected the intelligence.

Vigorous and illuminating treatment by the press of similar situations in the future will require it to dig below the public rhetoric and explore the actual bases for policy decisions, which may or may not match the rhetoric and may or may not come from intelligence. It also will require going beyond the issue of "flagrant fouls" in the intelligence-policy relationship and considering the more numerous and more subtle ways in which intelligence can be politicized, both publicly and privately.


Paul R. Pillar is on the faculty of the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University. He capped a long career in the Central Intelligence Agency by serving as National Intelligence Officer for the Near East and South Asia from 2000 to 2005.
E-mail: prp8@georgetown.edu

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