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April 14, 2005

Bad Intel, Bad Policy
Posted by Derek Chollet

We should all pay more attention to the recent report of the bipartisan presidential commission chaired by Laurence Silberman and Chuck Robb regarding U.S. intelligence and WMD threats.  It got a couple of days of buzz when it was released a few weeks ago -- especially for its no-nonsense conclusion that all the pre-war judgments about Iraq's WMD were "dead wrong" – but has pretty much dropped out of sight since.  At over 600 pages, it’s not exactly bedtime reading.

But like the 9-11 commission, this group has produced a rare kind of government report: compelling, hard-hitting, clear, provocative, and actually pretty entertaining.  But it is also really scary.  The commissioners conclude that there is no greater threat than the spread of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons (placing special emphasis on the threat from biological weapons, which they describe as the “greatest intelligence challenge”).  Yet they show with great detail that our intelligence community is not sufficiently trained, motivated, equipped, or organized to deal with these threats.  Even if we had an Administration intensely focused on the WMD threat, the limits of our intelligence capabilities would leave still leave us fighting with one hand tied behind our backs. 

Right now, we have the worst of both worlds: an intelligence community that is not up to the challenge, and an Administration that talks a good game but is still not making counter-proliferation the priority it needs to be.  As Ash Carter points out, until we get the policy right, it really doesn’t matter if intelligence is imperfect.   Folks, I gotta tell you, we should be genuinely worried about getting hit with some sort of WMD device (for a very scary illustration of what this might be like, everyone should watch the recent HBO/BBC film “Dirty War”).  The American people understand the problem – according to the recent SPI/Marttila poll, 3 of the top 5 concerns most American have about the world have something to do with the spread of nuclear weapons.  So where's the outrage?  There’s a lot I really don’t understand about the Bush Administration, but not doing more to address the WMD threat – especially when we know what to do about it – is the most perplexing, and I think its greatest long-term failure. 


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