Friday, February 6, 2009

Part 7 -- The Iraq WMD Estimate And Other Iraq Pre-War Assessments (Evaluating Intelligence)

Part 1 -- Introduction
Part 2 -- A Tale Of Two Weathermen
Part 3 -- A Model For Evaluating Intelligence
Part 4 -- The Problems With Evaluating Intelligence Products
Part 5 -- The Problems With Evaluating Intelligence Processes
Part 6 -- The Decisionmaker's Perspective

Perhaps the most famous document leading up to the war in Iraq is the much-maligned National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) titled Iraq's Continuing Programs for Weapons Of Mass Destruction completed in October, 2002 and made public (in part) in April, 2004. Subjected to extensive scrutiny by the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction, this NIE was judged "dead wrong" in almost all of its major estimates.

Far less well known are the two Intelligence Community Assessments (ICA) both completed in January, 2003. The first, Regional Consequences of Regime Change in Iraq, was made public in April, 2007 as was the second ICA, Principal Changes in Post-Saddam Iraq. Both documents were part of the US Senate's Select Subcommittee on Intelligence report on Pre-War Intelligence Assessments About Post War Iraq and both (heavily redacted) documents are available as appendices to the subcommittee's final report.

The difference between an NIE and an ICA seems modest to an outsider. Both types of documents are produced by the National Intelligence Council and both are coordinated within the US national security intelligence community and, if appropriate, with cleared experts outside the community. The principal differences appear to be the degree of high level approval (NIEs are approved at a higher level than ICAs) and the intended audiences (NIEs are aimed at high level policy makers while ICAs are geared more to the desk-analyst policy level (Thanks, Elizabeth!).

In this case, there appears to be at least some overlap in the actual drafters of the three documents. Paul Pillar, National Intelligence Officer (NIO) for the Near East and South Asia at the time was primarily responsible for coordinating (and, presumably drafting) both of the ICAs. Pillar also assisted Robert D. Walpole, NIO for Strategic and Nuclear Programs in the preparation of the NIE (along with Lawrence K. Gershwin, NIO for Science and Technology and Major General John R. Landry, NIO for Conventional Military Issues).

Despite the differences in the purposes of these documents, it is likely safe to say that the fundamental analytic processes -- the tradecraft and evaluative norms -- were largely the same. It is highly unlikely, for example, that standards such as "timeliness" and "objectivity" were maintained in NIEs but abandoned in ICAs.

Why is this important? As discussed in detail in Part 3 of this series, it is important, in evaluating intelligence, to cast as broad a net as possible, to not only look at examples where the intelligence product was false but also cases where the intelligence product was true and, in turn, examine the process in both cases to determine if the analysts were good or just lucky or bad or just unlucky. These three documents, prepared at roughly the same time, under roughly the same conditions, with roughly the same resources on roughly the same target allows the accuracy of the estimative conclusions in the documents to be compared with some assurance that doing so may help get at any underlying flaws or successes in the analytic process.

Monday: The Score

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