Friday, November 18, 2005

Lies, and Damn Lies

Did Bush Lie?
(about the reasons to invade Iraq?)

I doubt it. He didn't have to.

Was the administration looking for a reason to invade Iraq, even before 911?
The evidence would appear to support this.

Did the administration fabricate intelligence to justify the invasion of Irag?
Probably not. Fortunately for the administration, the intelligence business is messier than a 1-year old's diaper. Now mind you, I only worked in the intelligence community for about 5 years, but here is what I learned.

Pieces of data come in all the time - in fact, one of the largest problems in intelligence analysis is sorting through the massive pile of data to identify the essential indicators. (Kind of like browsing the internet - there's no end to the information, but picking out the useful bits can be tough).

While a "purist" approach would be bottoms up, most often intelligence analysis is done somewhat like scientific investigation. An analyst has a theory, then looks through the evidence for supporing information. A good analyst will also look through the information for evidence which refutes the theory. Given some amount of both, the next job is to "vet" the data sources for their likely veracity and reliability. To cut to the chase, if there appears to be multiple, separate, and vetted sources of information supporting a theory, the analyst will put forth the assessment.

This assessment will be combined with assessments from other analysts, and various compilations are put together (a given assessment can make its way into multiple reports, each of which has its own "editor" who determines what makes the cut).

One of these compilations is the daily presidential brief. The bad news about the daily presidential brief is that the "editor-in-chief" is the DCI (Director of Central Intelligence), which is a politically appointed position.

My theory of the failures in intelligence analysis that caused Colin Powell to make his case before the U.N. and George Tenet to declare a "slam dunk" is simply a case of group think.

It's been stated in grand jury depositions that on multiple occasions senior administration officials would go to the CIA to directly question analysts about whether or not they could find evidence of WMD (biological, nuclear). This "focused analysis" inevitably results in the finding of some supporting information, and a likely disinclination to counterbalance this with information which conflicts with the group assumptions. In intelligence, if you believe something is happening, you can almost always find information to support that belief. Ignoring the conflicting information is the sin here.

So...while some analysts clearly stated that there was conflicting information, some also stated that there were some indicators that Iraq may have active WMD programs. the editors, realizing what their bosses were looking for, would tend to reinforce the supporting information, and deprecate the conflicting. By the time you get to Tenet, the evidence looks pretty solid. And by the time you get to Bush, it's a "slam dunk."

I do blame the leadership for establishing the environment that leads to insular decision making and group think. I do the same against the corporations in which I work, where the strong desire by senior leadership to believe something leads to similar behaviors. Except that in the corporations where I work, these decisions don't usually end in the deaths of thousands of American soldiers, tens of thousands of civilians, and the permanently diabling injuries of tens of thousands of others.

Did Bush lie?

I don't think so.

He just didn't live up to his responsibilities of good leadership.

And it is terribly disappointing to see the deep fear against reflecting on these decisions, and the strong compulsion to cut off discussion and debate about what to do about the war right now, a war which most agree has no criteria for "success", and no milestones for withdrawal.

(And it sickens me to see politicians who never served in combat, who in fact clearly used influence to avoid serving, calling those who did serve such as Rep. Murtha "cowardly" for wanting to withdraw from a failing military strategy and move on to a political solution. But I'm almost used to it - you rarely see veterans call other veterans cowards. It's almost always those intolerant jingoist hypocrites who never served who do so.)


At Tuesday, November 29, 2005, Blogger Rick Fisk said...

Bush most definitely lied. Ron Paul busted his lies even before the war started.

The fact that Iraq has its own uranium and yellow cake processing facility at Al Qaim sheds light on why the Niger issue is so obviously faked.

Of course CNN and other newsmedia weren't telling people that Iraq could make its own yellow cake if hey wanted.

At Tuesday, November 29, 2005, Blogger A Muser said...

Possibly. Without having first hand testimony from a credible source that they themselves told Bush one thing, and then he said another, it will be hard to tell.

With Clinton, we had this. Lewinsky said she had sex with the him, others said they were often alone together - this was credible. Clinton was on tape as saying he didn't have sex with "that woman."

We don't have this with Bush (or at least I'm not aware of it - please post a link if you think there's something available).

And the only point I was trying to make was that it's possible to reconcile Bush's on record statements and the facts of no WMD, no Al-Queda support, etc, without having to believe he explicitly lied.

The way our system works, if a leader really wants to insulate himself and only hear what he wants to hear, he can. A leader really has to care about getting good "ground truth" for his decisions, and take active measures to get past the filters, group think, and spin meisters.


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