Intelligence Without Agenda
April 17, 2005
is more art than science, a craft in which information about potential enemies' intentions and abilities is nearly always
iffy. Analysts looking at the same facts can reach different conclusions. Does Iraq have weapons of mass destruction? Does
Cuba have biological weapons? The answers can prompt presidents to send soldiers to fight and die.
Hearings in Washington
last week on the proposed U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John R. Bolton, and the nominee for the country's first director
of national intelligence, John D. Negroponte, illustrate the political struggles that can blur the spies' work, and the difficulty
of controlling battles for influence among intelligence agencies.
The State Department's former intelligence chief,
Carl W. Ford Jr., last week described Bolton as a "bully" who kicked those beneath him on the organizational chart. Still
more damning was Ford's description of Bolton's treatment of an analyst who felt Bolton's language about an alleged Cuban
biological weapons program was not supported by facts. Bolton, since 2001 the undersecretary of State for arms control and
international security, reacted by screaming at the man and throwing him out of his office. Bolton has denied charges that
he tried to get the analyst fired, saying he merely wanted to have him reassigned because he'd lost confidence in him. That
still sounds like attempted punishment for not shaping facts to the desired conclusions.
Negroponte, who was the U.S.
ambassador to the U.N. when Iraq's dangers were debated before the invasion, has his own experience with uncertain intelligence
presented as certainty. He saw former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell make the United States' most persuasive case that
Saddam Hussein's Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. Powell confidently used photographs and eavesdropped conversations
to bolster his argument, yet it turned out the weapons were not there.
The latest investigation of the state of U.S.
intelligence found no evidence of pressure to shape intelligence on Iraq's capabilities. Even Bolton aside, the definition
of pressure must be changing. CIA analysts had periodically complained in the months prior to war that they were being pressured
by superiors to support the thesis ultimately reflected in Powell's U.N. speech.
Negroponte, a career diplomat whose
role as ambassador to Honduras during the Iran-Contra scandal continues to trouble many, was vague about his plans for the
intelligence agencies. As some Capitol observers noted, he may be trying not to telegraph his intentions to internal antagonists.
Negroponte's appointment, depending on his authority and skill, could help quell the agencies' dogfight for power,
money and access. But those efforts would be undercut by Bolton-like behavior, which feeds the impression that politically
acceptable intelligence gets access and the rest gets exile.
Negroponte will need strong support from President Bush
as he supervises 15 spy agencies, many of them in the Defense Department's bailiwick. It is Bush, not Negroponte, who can
ensure that his Cabinet officials do not demand political tidiness from spies.
Copyright 2005 Los Angeles Times