Why is the NIC still standing?


After reading through the WMD Commission’s recent report on intelligence failures in Iraq, Larry Johnson of the Counterterrorism Blog asks a good question: Why haven’t more administration officials been held accountable for their screw-ups?

It is astonishing at this juncture that there has not been a major shake up at the [National Intelligence Council]. In fact, those responsible for the sections with the most errors are still on the job and, in one instance, given more authority. The principal drafters of the October 2002 NIE were Robert Walpole, National Intelligence Officer for Weapons of Mass Destruction and Proliferation; Lawrence K. Gershwin, the National Intelligence Officer for Science and Technology; retired Army Maj. Gen. John R. Landry, National Intelligence Officer for Conventional Military Issues, and Paul R. Pillar, NIO for the Near East and South Asia. Walpole oversaw the entire effort but had specific responsibility for nuclear issues. Gershwin handled issues related to biological weapons, Gordon focused on chemical weapons, and Pillar dealt with the issues pertaining to international terrorism.

Of the four, the one who got it right in the estimate was Paul Pillar. Yet, both President Bush and Vice President Cheney have continued to insist that Pillar’s judgments on terrorism were wrong.

Ah yes, the old “promote the folks who screwed up” trick. How familiar this is all becoming.

One other note: The commission’s report lay blame almost entirely at the CIA’s feet; quite predictably, given that the commission wasn’t authorized to look at how the Bush administration handled those intelligence reports. Now on the one hand, yes, the CIA screwed up and overestimated the threat posed by Saddam Hussein. But on the other hand, at the time the CIA had been far more reluctant to push this line than many in the administration, as neoconservatives like Jim Hoagland were whining back in October 2002. Paul Wolfowitz and Doug Feith set up their own intelligence shop, the Office of Special Plans, because they thought the CIA was downplaying the Iraqi threat. As Josh Marshall wrote last fall: “Sometimes the intel folks were wrong… but when that was so, the appointees were always more wrong.”

Nevertheless, if the administration is going to foist the blame on intelligence officials, it would be nice if they actually held those intelligence officials responsible.

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