Yesterday I linked to Armchair Generalist’s faint praise for the recent House Intelligence Committee report on intelligence and the strategic threat posed by Iran. This morning I woke to find that the New York Times was upset to find that someone might complain that our intelligence agencies weren’t providing enough of the product they’re supposed to be producing for policy makers to make informed conclusions:
The last thing this country needs as it heads into this election season is another attempt to push the intelligence agencies to hype their conclusions about the threat from a Middle Eastern state.
That’s what happened in 2002, when the administration engineered a deeply flawed document on Iraq that reshaped intelligence to fit President Bush’s policy. And history appeared to be repeating itself this week, when the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Peter Hoekstra of Michigan, released a garishly illustrated and luridly written document that is ostensibly dedicated to “helping the American people understand” that Iran’s fundamentalist regime and its nuclear ambitions pose a strategic threat to the United States.
It’s hard to imagine that Mr. Hoekstra believes there is someone left in this country who does not already know that. But the report obviously has different aims. It is partly a campaign document, a product of the Republican strategy of scaring Americans into allowing the G.O.P. to retain control of Congress this fall. It fits with the fearmongering we’ve heard lately — like President Bush’s attempt the other day to link the Iraq war to the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
But even more worrisome, the report seems intended to signal the intelligence community that the Republican leadership wants scarier assessments that would justify a more confrontational approach to Tehran. It was not the work of any intelligence agency, or the full intelligence panel, or even the subcommittee that ostensibly drafted it. The Washington Post reported that it was written primarily by a former C.I.A. official known for his view that the assessments on Iran are not sufficiently dire.
Here’s the report. Read it for yourself and come to your own conclusions.
There are a number of good things about this report. First, using open source resources it summarizes why reasonable people might have some concern about Iran and its intentions. One might think this was unnecessary but judging by the NYT’s reaction and those of some of the commenters on the report (most of whom seem never to have read it) it obviously still is. Second, it demonstrates that the House IC is doing its job.
I think the critics are missing the point. The role of the House Intelligence Committee isn’t to assemble actionable intelligence it’s to provide Congressional oversight for the government agencies that do. That’s what this report does and it’s giving the CIA a failing grade: the agency isn’t doing its job i.e. providing intelligence.
The point of perserverating on the threat posed by Iran is less to make the case for military action against Iran than to make the case that the CIA (and other intelligence agencies) should be paying closer attention and exerting greater effort.
The CIA is not a policy-making agency (neither is State). The second letter of the acronym stands for “Intelligence” and that’s what they’re supposed to be providing; they haven’t done it.
The Committee is providing oversight; that’s one of it’s jobs. The progress is glacial but at least it’s a step forward from five years ago.