31 March 2005

One Day Early

It's a good thing that the WMD–intelligence report (PDF, 3.3mb) was released today. If it were to be released tomorrow, everybody would think it was just another April Fool's joke. Those silly committee members! What a sense of humor! I mean, really:

After a thorough review, the Commission found no indication that the Intelligence Community distorted the evidence regarding Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. What the intelligence professionals told you about Saddam Hussein's programs was what they believed. They were simply wrong.

What a bunch of funny guys!

I'm not laughing.

Unfortunately, it appears that the media has largely read the three-page cover letter to prepare its own analysis. The Washington Post's summary is unusually complete and detailed. And it's still inadequate, because it misses this particular nugget that wasn't mentioned in the cover letter (I was looking for it because, well, I was looking for it):

But a new strategy alone will not do the job. As in the old and clearly unsuccessful approach to homeland security, U.S. counterintelligence is bureaucratically fractured, passive (i.e., focusing on the defense rather than going on the offense), and too often simply ineffective. But unlike homeland security, counterintelligence is still largely neglected by policymakers and the Intelligence Community. In fact, counterintelligence has generally lost stature since September 11, eclipsed by more immediate counterterrorism needs. While not denigrating it outright, our top policymakers and Intelligence Community management have traditionally paid lip service to counterintelligence. Until, that is, a major spy case breaks. Even then, bureaucratic defensiveness tends to win out. Senior officials have largely addressed counterintelligence issues ad hoc, reacting to specific intelligence losses by replacing them with new technologies or collection methods, without addressing the underlying counterintelligence problems.

Report at 487 (footnote omitted). If anything, this is a vast understatement. What it fails to note, though, is the synergy between intelligence gathering on the one hand and counterintelligence and counterterrorism on the other. Although they are distinct functions, with distinct required mindsets—I doubt there are as many as a dozen people who are both highly and equally effective at both—the logistical aspects are cross-reinforcing. In other words, by deemphasizing what the committee calls "offensive counterintelligence" outside the US we are also handicapping our intelligence-gathering efforts.

This may be the price we pay for having political appointees in so many leadership positions in the intelligence community. Clemenceau told only part of the story. War is too important to be entrusted to the generals. It's also too important to be entrusted to the politicians. It must be a team effort; and, if the Reagan Revolution did nothing else, it so severely politicized the top-level appointments, both of political appointees and nominally civil-service promotees, that the community cannot recover without a massive, zero-based reorganization. My greatest fear is that the Report will be viewed as an endpoint, a goal in itself, and not an imperative for continued progress.