View Full Version : Duelfer on intel lessons from ISG

04-13-2009, 03:54 AM
May be of interest:


There are many lessons about both the collection and analysis of intelligence as well as the use or interpretation of intelligence by policy-makers, and even average citizens. For example, there was an understandable expectation that Saddam would have WMD. A harded mindset developed over the decades prior to the 2003 war. WMD saved Saddam in the war with Iran in the 1980’s (he used 101,000 chemical munitions to offset Iranian “human wave” attacks). Saddam believed that his possession of WMD deterred the US from going to Baghdad in 1991. And the years of cat and mouse with UN inspectors where Iraq actively interfered with inspections also added to the hypothesis that Saddam was hiding WMD and that he had every incentive to keep it. This mindset on the part of US analysts shaped the information that was collected and how it was interpreted. There was no competing hypothesis that was being tested. This bias produced the tendency to only collect and record data which supported the prevalent hypothesis. The intelligence community has responded to this massive failure of analytic tradecraft by mandating that competing hypotheses be maintained to test the rigor of analysis.

Hopefully, consumers of intelligence have also learned to be careful in interpreting what intelligence assessments say. I would recommend that policy-makers who receive intelligence assessments take a course in how intelligence is collected and assembled into judgments. If they had a better idea of how spies work, technical collection systems operate, and how all that stuff gets homogenized into an agreed report, they would have a better sense of how to evaluate such material.

One other lesson is perhaps that the US lost a lot by not having an embassy in Iraq. The US was almost entirely dependent upon the UN for information about Iraq WMD during the 1990’s. Washington did not have any contact with senior Iraqis and had no direct knowledge of what was going on in Baghdad. This produced a very costly gap in understanding.