Monday, December 10, 2007

Hoodwinked

Tigerhawk points out an article in the Telegraph quoting British government sources who think that American intelligence agencies have been fooled by Iran into thinking their nuclear program has been suspended.



British spy chiefs have grave doubts that Iran has mothballed its nuclear weapons programme, as a US intelligence report claimed last week, and believe the CIA has been hoodwinked by Teheran.

The timing of the CIA report has also provoked fury in the British Government, where officials believe it has undermined efforts to impose tough new sanctions on Iran and made an Israeli attack on its nuclear facilities more likely.

'Undermined sanctions' undermined by the NIE? As I wrote in Good cop, good cop, the liberals were congratulating themselves too soon about getting their point of view endorsed by the Intelligence Community. "Iran had an incentive to meet with the European and UN "good cops" only for as long as it feared the "bad cop". Once the "bad cop" sits it out the "good cop" will be laughed at to his face.". Another interesting facet of the Telegraph article is that it offers a different perspective on the "politicization of the intelligence process".

The report used new evidence - including human sources, wireless intercepts and evidence from an Iranian defector - to conclude that Teheran suspended the bomb-making side of its nuclear programme in 2003. But British intelligence is concerned that US spy chiefs were so determined to avoid giving President Bush a reason to go to war - as their reports on Saddam Hussein's weapons programmes did in Iraq - that they got it wrong this time.

Corrupting the intelligence process has become a bipartisan process. As I wrote in Now You See It, Now You Don't a week ago the relentless partisanship in Washington means that any change to an intelligence estimate is a prima facie scandal, even though it is nature of estimates to change. This means analysts must worry about how politicians will react to their assessments rather than worrying about what is true.

Leaving aside questions of intelligence corruption, failure etc, partisan politics by looking for consistency in estimates has damaged the way the public should look at intelligence. The intelligence picture changes all the time. Any student of military history knows that grease pencils are used on map overlays because information is constantly updated. Initial reports are often inaccurate. Corrections are messaged in. If battle maps were treated like NIEs they would be inked into the map itself instead of marked in grease pencil on plastic overlays. A politician's idea of a battlefield situation map would be one with enemy formations already typeset into the printing plates before being issued to the troops.

The Telegraph describes how "new" sources of intelligence might also be new sources of disinformation.

The source said British analysts believed that Iranian nuclear staff, knowing their phones were tapped, deliberately gave misinformation. "We are sceptical. We want to know what the basis of it is, where did it come from? Was it on the basis of the defector? Was it on the basis of the intercept material? They say things on the phone because they know we are up on the phones. They say black is white. They will say anything to throw us off.

Even before the source of the new information was identified, it was obvious that the estimate was based on changes to a very few key indicators. Otherwise the reversals would not be so extreme. I wrote in the comments section of "Now You See It, Now You Don't" that the changes implied that a small number of new intel sources had come online and that meant the conclusions were bound to be narrowly based:

I'll deduce from the structure of the result that the NIE estimate was sensitive to a very few variables, none of them easily observable. If the estimate were founded on a large number of relevant datapoints you could never have a 180 flip unless the universe changed. ... So I'm guessing that a big swing like this means they now have a source they didn't have on certain subjects that are absolutely critical to making the estimate. Read it one way and the Iranians "are go" read it another way and the Iranians are "no go". I don't want to make too much of it, but following that line of reasoning you would really start to worry because your intel is therefore narrowly based. What you want right away is collateral. But what if you can't get collateral because of the data depends on one or two things, like what the leadership decided or didn't decide in secret? Then you are at the mercy of the accuracy of your narrow source.

The reason I'm reminding readers of the points of similarity between "British intelligence" and the points made on this blog is not to toot my own horn. On the contrary, all of these are elementary observations which anybody with half a brain could anticipate. It doesn't take James Bond to figure it out.

So the question is why the real life James Bonds have been "hoodwinked", as the British now claim. Or have they? Is there some deep game?

15 Comments:

Blogger Teresita said...

Wretchard: So the question is why the real life James Bonds have been "hoodwinked", as the British now claim. Or have they? Is there some deep game?

All we can see is a declassified extract from the National Intelligence Estimate. The classified portion contains clues to methods and sources. But if there were any questionable parts to the NIE, we would see Dick Cheney raising holy hell right now, because as it stands right now, he isn't going to conquer a second four-letter country starting with the letter "I" that sits on a bunch of oil.

12/10/2007 05:47:00 PM  
Blogger Wretchard said...

we would see Dick Cheney raising holy hell right now, because as it stands right now, he isn't going to conquer a second four-letter country starting with the letter "I" that sits on a bunch of oil.

That's exactly the kind of criticism the "British intelligence" critics in the Telegraph are raising. What the Vice President thinks of the report should be irrelevant. The test of accuracy is not what a politician thinks. The question is whether the assessment is accurate or not.

Apparently both the British and the Israelis are having doubts about the NIE. This doesn't necessarily mean that the new NIE is wrong, but it definitely indicates the conclusion's "high degree of confidence" is not universally shared.

12/10/2007 06:10:00 PM  
Blogger Teresita said...

Wretchard, if the British don't believe the Iranians have suspended their nuclear weapons program, we would expect to see them leading the United Nations to exact punitive sanctions on the Iranian regime. As it is, it appears the Russians knew the Iranian nuke program was legal under the Non-proliferation Treaty all along, that's why they went ahead and helped build a reactor in a Muslim country on their own border.

12/10/2007 06:25:00 PM  
Blogger Kinuachdrach said...

it appears the Russians knew the Iranian nuke program was legal under the Non-proliferation Treaty all along

The Russians have been "helping" to build that reactor for what, 15? years now. And they have been offering to enrich the fuel on behalf of the Iranians to remove any doubts about the reactor's peaceful purpose. And the Iranians have been turning the Russians down.

There is so much we don't know. But Wrtechard's point stands -- don't have to be a James Bond to know that somethings is not adding up.

12/10/2007 06:35:00 PM  
Blogger Teresita said...

Those rambunctious "youths" are at it again...

MOSCOW (AFP) — A bomb exploded on a bus on Sunday in Russia's northern Caucasus region, killing two people and injuring up to 13 others, according to police and media reports.

12/10/2007 06:39:00 PM  
Blogger Wretchard said...

Christopher Hitchens comments on the CIA. FWIW.

12/10/2007 07:05:00 PM  
Blogger TmjUtah said...

"Hoodwinked" would presume the CIA was interested in presenting an accurate product to begin with.

I believe a mission clock was ticking and the NIE was an overt, hasty, and poorly thought out political act executed to derail National Command Authority.

A coup, as a matter of fact.

Agreed, we see only the declassified extract. Agreed, we don't have any basis for judging sources, methods, or analysis...

But two of the three signatories are out and out moonbats. One of those two was speaking publicly earlier this year about the ongoing Iranian weapon program.

I can think of several probable reasons why nobody in the executive is making undue noise about this NIE. None of them are very comforting, and the perspective put forward by Wretchard is ,to me, the least likely reason why Cheney (or anyone else in the executive) hasn't jumped into the news cycle on this.

CIA and the plethora of other bureaucracies that we spend billions of budgeted (and untold amounts of "black")dollars on annually tasked with keeping our nation informed and protected have finally arrived at a level of dilettantism rivaling that of the Congress.

We are running out of adults. When a congressman or senator has finally become such a clown that they cannot purchase reelection, the clock is at least reset with a new freshman. There is no such option with the entrenched cultures like State and Intelligence.

On an aside, I'll go on record here that we'll never see the former head of clandestine opertations testifying publicly about why he destroyed the tapes. If he is truly the "cold war pro" that he has been painted, the reason is obvious: he knew that those tapes would eventually be leaked as political fodder, and he acted to protect his people.

Simple.

I'll know if I'm right in the next seventy two hours; all that has to happen is that the Dems suddenly forget about the issue and the press shuts the f*ck up.

12/10/2007 08:11:00 PM  
Blogger Teresita said...

tmjutah: I'll know if I'm right in the next seventy two hours; all that has to happen is that the Dems suddenly forget about the issue and the press shuts the f*ck up.

Too late. The Dems are committed:

WASHINGTON (AP) — Congress summoned CIA Director Gen. Michael Hayden to Capitol Hill to explain his agency's destruction of interrogation videotapes, as multiple investigations began into who knew about and approved the decision.

Joe Biden has made this a pet cause, and he's running for President.

12/10/2007 08:19:00 PM  
Blogger TmjUtah said...

Joe Biden.

Is that an old yiddish phrase for "last man in the room to have a clue"?

Like I said, we are running out of adults.

12/10/2007 08:46:00 PM  
Blogger Zenster said...

They say things on the phone because they know we are up on the phones. They say black is white. They will say anything to throw us off.

I wonder what it will take for Western nations to finally abandon any hope of getting straight answers or reliable intelligence out of the MME (Muslim Middle East) and begin operating on a routine worst case basis.

Islam's use of taqiyya needs to be turned against them. Nothing they say or do should ever be taken at face value. They should never be shown any quarter or mercy and only unconditional surrender should ever be acceptable.

Just as Ahmadinejad should be taken at his word when he talks about so many thousands of centrifuges or wiping Israel off of the map, so should we automatically presume that any nuclear technology will be devoted to weapons development. Nothing else makes much sense.

Islam is an aggressive and hostile force with no compunctions about dissembling or reneging upon any oath, deal or promise made. We should expect such behavior and act accordingly. Doing anything less plays into their hands.

I find it more than a little ironic that this partisan tripe volcano known as the NIE is now regarded as pushing Israel even closer to making a first strike against Iran. All through history "peace at any price" has routinely been far too costly to ever be worth it. That anyone has persuaded themselves otherwise is testimony to badly we have forgotten the lessons of World War II.

12/10/2007 10:29:00 PM  
Blogger whiskey_199 said...

Ah but Zenster you forget the "enlightened" lessons of the Left:

*Human nature post 1945 "just changed" for the better. Except America which is the source of all evil.

*Violence never works, except against America when it always does.

*Warfare is obsolete, well, just because dammit!

*Every place on the planet resembles a Starbucks in Santa Monica.

12/11/2007 12:31:00 AM  
Blogger Kevin said...

the relentless partisanship in Washington means that any change to an intelligence estimate is a prima facie scandal

The OODA-loop concept works for common citizens too. In my opinion, anyone who believes in the myth of “relentless partisanship in Washington” has his OODA-loop completely corrupted. If anyone still believed in this myth the last nail in the coffin was this intelligence leak concerning senior Democrats' knowledge of CIA interrogation methods. The Iraq War has been supported by members of both parties. In 2004 Kerry ran not against the war; he only suggested minor modifications of strategy. When the Democrats won the House in 2006, one of Pelosi’s first statements was that they would never cut off funding for the war. All attempts in this direction since have been nothing but silly. Both Democrats and Republicans have been vocal in their hostility towards Iran as well.

What the Democrats do try to do is mouth weasel words that make it seem as if they do understand the views of the majority of Americans. Their job is to channel the flood current of American citizen discontent safely away from the seat of power they share with the Republicans. We have a single elite who engage in Kabuki theatre in order to corrupt the OODA-loops of the American people into believing there actually is a debate going on. The same is true for immigration, just wait until after the 2008 elections.

While I believe that President Bush’s statements after the release of the updated NIE demonstrate that he approved the public release of it, I certainly understand why he would want to leave the door open for his supporters to believe it was all a grand partisan conspiracy. Again this serves to channel the discontent of his supporters safely away from his direction. But who’s to say I’m right. If it really was a conspiracy, how does the leaking of the damaging information about Pelosi fit in? Let’s do a little thought experiment and suppose the conspiracy theory is true.

For what it is worth, to me there are two viable “leaking” conspiracy hypotheses. One would represent a continuation of the partisan divide by other means, in other words our military and intelligence agencies are politically split in a similar manner that our political elite supposedly is and are leaking to support their respective political positions. I obviously don’t buy this since I don’t’ accept the myth of a partisan division within our political elite in the first place. The other possibility is more in harmony with my views and is far more troubling than one based on a partisan divide. Since I am sure our military and intelligence officers are informed enough about the unitary nature our political elite--in other words the total lack of an opposition party--then these leaks can be read as the military and intelligence agencies filling the vacuum created by a loyal opposition and are taking on the job of providing political opposition themselves. In other words there is a serious tear in the political fabric of our country, not between the two political parties but instead between the politicians on one side and the military / intelligence agencies on the other. If the leaking theory ever did prove to be true then my money would be on the second of the above possibilities.

In any case, I tend to look to the Israeli media on these matters, and they seem sure that this is not a rogue leak but represents a major shift in policy by the unitary American political elite.

12/11/2007 02:51:00 AM  
Blogger Mətušélaḥ said...

And what does the super spy Valerie Plame have to say about all this?

12/11/2007 03:09:00 AM  
Blogger El Jefe Maximo said...

Has the CIA been hoodwinked, or is Iran even the real issue for them ? Are they hookwinked, or are there elements in the organization convinced that all else is subordinated to tripping up this administration ?

Like the sterotypical banana republic, complete with an army more concerned about who sits in the Presidential Palace than with what it at bottom considers hypothetical external threats, perhaps we have a banana republic intelligence agency, more concerned with making policy than it is information.

Or maybe not. Maybe the CIA is on the level. But we can't be sure any more, can we ?

12/11/2007 01:43:00 PM  
Blogger Fat Man said...

"I wonder what it will take for Western nations to finally abandon any hope of getting straight answers or reliable intelligence out of the MME (Muslim Middle East) ..."

More importantly for the American taxpayer, when are we going to figure out that the CIA has not been correct about anything for a lifetime.

I would allow the liberals to keep the Department of Education and NPR, if we could just dismantle the CIA.

12/11/2007 09:32:00 PM  

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