The Stone City

Words Made to Last

Monday, November 14, 2005


Many people are discovering, with sudden horror, that the CIA has made many imperfect estimates of foreign threats over the years. In a recent press release, the White House asserts that CIA reports to the executive branch were "if anything, more alarmist" than those to the legislative.

Let us suppose, for the sake of argument, that leaders within the CIA have been aware -- to a greater extent than their clients -- of the low quality of the intelligence they were producing. What would we expect them to do about it?

During the Clinton presidency, self-interest dictated a clear answer to this question. Loud and frequent warnings of sundry threats gained good publicity for the CIA and for the administration, which could show its concern and publicly feel the pain. A steady display of such threats would demonstrate to the executive the CIA's productivity. The threat of controversial or far-reaching action, which would have exposed the low quality of this intelligence and the systemic flaws of the agency, was rightly discounted.

President Bush, by acting and by using CIA intelligence to defend his actions, violated this cozy gentlemen's agreement. Whether the CIA has acted against the Bush administration is open to debate, but certainly they have a motive. They can't exactly look us in the eye and admit they were faking it all along.