The NIE report.
Posted by Exile on October 1, 2006
When is a leak not a leak? When it’s common knowledge.
There has been a whole lot of political discussion going on, especially in the States, over this leaked NIE (National Intelligence Estimate) that defines Iraq as being the “Cause celebre” for would-be Jihadists. It has also been the subject of ridicule and celebration by both sides of that debate. I decided, it may be a good idea to actualy read the damn thing before I commented on it and the subsequent discussion.
You can find it here, in all it’s pulchritude. One of the first things that struck me is the date. April 2006. Which means that this crucial leaked document is five to six months old. Whatever it’s conclusions were then, have been surpassed and superceeded by events now, which already renders it useless. For instance, this little gem:
The loss of key leaders, particularly Usama Bin Ladin, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and al-Zarqawi, in rapid succession, probably would cause the group to fracture into smaller groups. Although like-minded individuals would endeavor to carry on the mission, the loss of these key leaders would exacerbate strains and disagreements.
OK, Zarqawi is dead. There is a new guy in Iraq taking his place but has it helped the effort in Iraq or not? I say yes, it has. But not because of this report. In fact this NIE has no military value at all from an operational point of view. And damned little from a strategic one either. It is a statement of what might be. A look into the crystal ball, if you will. One could even wonder why this was “classified” information. Intelligence agencies are not super-endowed with clairvoyant powers. They merely assess what they know now, and then project their thoughts as to how things may, or may not, develop. Anyone can do it. I have been involved in the process myself.
Take this little snippet of classified information direct from the report:
We judge that most jihadist groups, both well-known and newly formed, will use improvised explosive devices and suicide attacks focused primarily on soft targets to implement their asymmetric warfare strategy, and that they will attempt to conduct sustained terrorist attacks in urban environments. Fighters with experience in Iraq are a potential source of leadership for jihadists pursuing these tactics.
Anyone could have written that. And it would have been just as correct. Hardly earth-shattering intelligence. More a simple statement of fact. Here’s another “key judgement”
Anti-US and anti-globalization sentiment is on the rise and fueling other radical ideologies. This could prompt some leftist, nationalist, or separatist groups to adopt terrorist methods to attack US interests. The radicalization process is occurring more quickly, more widely, and more anonymously in the Internet age, raising the likelihood of surprise attacks by unknown groups whose members and supporters may be difficult to pinpoint.
We judge that groups of all stripes will increasingly use the Internet to communicate, propagandize, recruit, train, and obtain logistical and financial support.
Well, duh? What’s new? I’m not surprised that this report was so quickly “declassified”. I wonder why it was ever classified to begin with. Ten minutes of browsing in the right wing blogosphere will leave you just as informed.
This is not my attempt to trash the discussion as useless or unnecessary. My worries go a lot deeper that that. If this really is a National Intelligence Estimate, and is really the boiled down essence of the collective efforts of sixteen intelligence agencies, then something is seriously wrong. A second year high school student could have written this report based on the evening news and whatever one can find in Time magazine. Whether it has any political value in the coming elections in the USA is of marginal interest.
What should be of interest, is this. That the agencies that supplied their conclusions to the man who ultimately compiled the report, have seemingly failed to inform the President or his staff on anything of what may be of strategic value in the near future after April 2006. It seems to me, that they had nothing to disclose.
And isn’t that what intelligence agencies are for? To, at least attempt, to predict what the enemy is planning to do, based on what you have been able to find out about him and his movements. To identify new malicious intent? To asess his possibilties and then suggest the means to thwart him?
It feels like they hadn’t made any effort so to do.
If I was Mr. Bush, I would be kicking someone’s ass very hard.
If this was the best intelligence prediction they could supply back in April, then they don’t deserve their salary.
And that, precisely that, is what I find worrying.