Intelligence and U.S. Foreign Policy: Iraq, 9/11, and Misguided Reform; Fixing the Facts: National Security and the Politics of Intelligence; Germ Gambits: The Bioweapons Dilemma, Iraq and Beyond

In This Review

Intelligence and U.S. Foreign Policy: Iraq, 9/11, and Misguided Reform
by Paul R. Pillar
Columbia University Press, 2011
432 pp. $29.50
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Fixing the Facts: National Security and the Politics of Intelligence (Cornell Studies in Security Affairs)
by Joshua Rovner
Cornell Univ Pr, 2011
280 pp. $35.00
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Germ Gambits: The Bioweapons Dilemma, Iraq and Beyond (Stanford Security Studies)
by Amy Smithson
Stanford Security Studies, 2011
384 pp. $29.95
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What intelligence analysts loathe more than anything is when policymakers misrepresent intelligence reports or put analysts under pressure to change inconven­ient assessments. The most egregious contemporary examples of both phenomena took place during the Bush administration’s push for an invasion of Iraq in 2002 and 2003. As a member of the U.S. National Intelligence Council, Pillar was responsible for some of the estimates the administration used to justify the war. He provides a vigorous and hard-hitting insider’s account, drawing particular attention to prescient prewar assessments of what postconflict Iraq would look like and the likely regional consequences of war. As information is always incomplete and has to be supplemented by broader judgments, Pillar is wary of the concept of intelligence “failures” and offers some trenchant observations on inquiries into them, such as the 9/11 Commission, which he suggests lead to misguided reforms that do little to prevent the politicization of intelligence.

This issue is addressed in a neat and systematic manner by Rovner, who considers, in addition to the Iraq case, other notorious examples of politicization: the assessments based on body counts that supported spurious claims of progress during the Vietnam War, the dubious assertions regarding Soviet missile developments that the Nixon administration used to justify its antiballistic missile program, and the Team B exercise of 1976, in which the Ford administration asked a group of Cold War hawks to develop an alternative analysis of the Soviet threat. Team B took a much grimmer view than the CIA; more important, however, its directly ideological challenge missed an opportunity to demonstrate how raw information alone can support different interpretations of a threat. Somewhat against contemporary trends, Rovner argues that intelligence assessments would be more likely to remain politically uncontaminated and therefore more useful to policymakers if they were kept completely secret. But that particular genie might now be out of the bottle, a victim of the politicization of all policy advice -- not just intelligence -- that is characteristic of an increasingly transparent system.

Those who wonder why veteran Iraq hands wrongly believed that Saddam Hussein was concealing weapons of mass destruction in 2003 should read Smithson’s riveting account of UN weapons inspectors struggling to find out the truth after the 1990–91 Persian Gulf War. The book reveals how the inspectors became sleuths, combining forensic skills with scientific expertise to outfox Iraqi authorities who pretended that there was nothing to be found. Of particular value is the story of the 1995 defection of Saddam’s son-in-law Hussein Kamel al-Majid, whose revelations turned out to be of scant value compared with the information the Iraqis willingly made available on the mistaken assumption that the defector was telling all. Smithson reveals just how much work it takes to verify disarmament in the face of lying regimes and stresses the need for individual scientists to accept full responsibility when dealing with deadly materials and processes.