Thursday, June 13, 2013

Intel Is Not Used To Shape Policy, But To Justify It

The primary purpose of intelligence -- accurate or distorted, real or fake -- isn't to shape policy.  It is to *justify* policy.  The way politicians use intelligence -- what they leak, what they suppress, what they demand collected and how they insist it be understood -- is almost entirely driven by their desire to justify policies upon which they have already decided.  Remember that, as we increasingly intervene in Syria.


Bob Tinsley said...

The Atlantic has resurrected Daniel Ellsberg, rather appropriately, I thought.

One of the reasons Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers (I remember this and bought the book as soon as it was released in paperback) was the he felt that the Executive Branch had used secrecy to steal power over foreign policy from Congress. Looks like this is one of those lessons that we need to learn again.

politicwatcher said...

Yes, that is a problem. The intelligence on Syria concerning the use of chemical weapons seems to be too convenient - just when the rebels have lost a couple of provincial cities and Hezbollah are involved, suddenly Obama's red line has been crossed. I remember reading Legacy of Ashes, a book that took a critical view of the CIA, and thinking, why was the CIA even created if the intelligence was so bad on almost every conceivable issue from the Cold War to present times.


Bob Tinsley said...

Now he is considering sending small arms to the rebels. I wonder if he is going to require background checks on each rebel who receives a weapon. Will he insist on recording each serial number and link it to the rebel who receives it so it can be traced back to the evildoer when it is (inevitably) used against the Americans he will probably send over later?

Ambon Pereira said...

depressing but true-- i suppose one of the things we are gleaning from the Snowden/Guardian reports, is that intelligence agencies now think of themselves as providing a "service" to a "client" (in the context of the G20 surveillance scandal).

if intelligence is just another service, to be evaluated against the "met expectations" of a political client, then i suppose it was always a foregone conclusion that the name of the game would be: spin, baby, spin.

not sure why anybody would think that stoking sunni/shia violence in the ME is a good idea-- that's the sort of thing that might really bite us in the backside, if/when the methods and means of the conflict become "normalized" for our saudi allies-- the state department DOES realize that saudi arabia contains a substantial shia population, heavily concentrated in the oil producing region, and that most of the engineers and technicians who keep the oil and gas pumping are in fact shia? don't they realize that a sunni/shia conflict within saudi arabia could disrupt the entire sector, and quite possibly break apart the kingdom?
when the state department plays chess, does it ever think more than one or two moves ahead? or do the state department directors and secretaries always only have one move on their mind: their next promotion? (my apologies, mr. eisler, if i am straying too far into the realm of insult, rather than persuasion).

i guess it all comes back to servicing the client again, eh? executive branch always needs to be seen as being tough (regardless of administration) and so intelligence provides the props: much easier to walk softly and carry a big stick, when you are always just squaring-off against the latest pinata, pre-packaged with soundbites and talking-points. (intelligence service: stuffing the pinata.)