Another Bush Intelligence Failure

to the list of President George W. Bush's failures his inability to
straighten out what he regarded as one of the top national security
needs, a more effective U.S. intelligence community.

Despite upping the U.S. intelligence
budget to $45 billion from about $30 billion - and signing legislation
in 2005 meant to end "turf" battles - Bush left behind an intelligence
community suffering from poor communications among agencies and a
flawed management structure, according to an inspector general's report finished in November and released last week.

Instead of creating a streamlined and
efficient intelligence community, the changes that Bush oversaw appear
simply to have added a new layer of bureaucracy - the Director of
National Intelligence - on top of the earlier system whose shortcomings
contributed to intelligence failures around the 9/11 attacks and the
bogus assessments on Iraq's WMD stockpiles.

The findings of the DNI's inspector
general also undercut former Vice President Dick Cheney's assertions
that the Bush administration made great strides in keeping the country
safe from terrorist attacks and that President Barack Obama's reversal
of some key policies has put the nation at risk.

In a March 15 interview
with CNN's John King, Cheney said Obama had made the country less safe
by moving to close the Guantanamo prison, shuttering CIA "black sites"
where detainees were interrogated, limiting CIA interrogators to
tactics from the Army Field Manual, defining waterboarding as torture,
suspending the military commissions, and junking the "war on terror"

"I think those programs were absolutely
essential to the success we enjoyed of being able to collect the
intelligence that let us defeat all further attempts to launch attacks
against the United States since 9/11," Cheney said. "President Obama
campaigned against it all across the country. And now he is making some
choices that, in my mind, will, in fact, raise the risk to the American
people of another attack."

Cheney also criticized Obama for shifting
back to the law-enforcement paradigm from the framework of waging a
global "war," which President Bush embraced after 9/11.

"I think part of the difficulty here as I
look at what the Obama administration is doing, we made a decision
after 9/11 that I think was crucial. We said this is a war. It's not a
law-enforcement problem. Up until 9/11, it was treated as a
law-enforcement problem. ...

"Once you go into a wartime situation and
it's a strategic threat, then you use all of your assets to go after
the enemy. You go after the state sponsors of terror, places where
they've got sanctuary. You use your intelligence resources, your
military resources, your financial resources, everything you can in
order to shut down that terrorist threat against you.

"When you go back to the law-enforcement
mode, which I sense is what they're doing, closing Guantanamo and so
forth, that they are very much giving up that center of attention and
focus that's required, and that concept of military threat that is
essential if you're going to successfully defend the nation against
further attacks."

Cheney also insisted that there exists a
classified report listing all the planned terrorist attacks that were
supposedly thwarted by extracting information from al-Qaeda and other
"war on terror" suspects through "enhanced interrogation techniques"
and from other intelligence gathering.

"John, I've seen a report that was written
based upon the intelligence that we collected then that itemizes the
specific attacks that were stopped by virtue of what we learned through
those programs." Cheney said. "It's still classified. I can't give you
the details of it without violating classification, but I can say there
were a great many of them."

Nuts and Bolts

However, the November 2008 inspector
general's report to the Director of National Intelligence indicates
that while the Bush-Cheney administration pursued its aggressive
tactics - torturing suspects, putting warrantless wiretaps on
Americans, invading Iraq and creating an imperial presidency - it was
ignoring the nuts and bolts of improving U.S. intelligence.

For instance, the IG report found that
computer systems supposedly connecting the 16 U.S. intelligence
agencies remain "largely disconnected and incompatible." The "turf"
battles also continue, with "few, if any, consequences for failure to
collaborate," the report said.

The IG also concluded that the DNI spends
too much time briefing the President rather than managing the
intelligence bureaucracy - and that officials inside the DNI still
grapple with what their role is supposed to be.

Also implicit in the report is
vindication for critics of the 9/11 Commission who questioned whether
the creation of the new DNI post - as the commission recommended -
would do much to address the politicization of the U.S. intelligence
community, which lost its old commitment to objective analysis under
the ideological and political pressures of the 1980s and 1990s.

In earlier days, the U.S. intelligence
ethos was to provide objective information to the policymakers with
"the bark on." However, during Ronald Reagan's presidency - and
especially under the reign of CIA Director Bill Casey and his deputy
Robert Gates - that traditional ethos was broken down, replaced by a
more compliant, finger-to-the-wind style of analysis.

For instance, when the Reagan
administration wanted to justify major increases in military spending
in the 1980s, Casey and Gates purged the CIA's Moscow specialists who
were detecting dramatic signs of Soviet decline and promoted more
malleable analysts who were willing to issue alarmist projections about
Soviet capabilities and intent.

The politicization worked so well that
the CIA's Soviet division largely "missed" the collapse of the Soviet
Union in 1991. [For details, see Robert Parry's Secrecy & Privilege.]

A New Culture

In 1993, when President Bill Clinton
ignored this cultural change at the CIA - indeed he deepened it by
treating the CIA directorship as something of a patronage plum to be
awarded to Democratic neoconservatives who wanted the job for their
favorite James Woolsey - the Casey-Gates politicization became

So, it was not surprising that when
Clinton left office in 2001, George W. Bush inherited as CIA director
George Tenet, a back-slapping former congressional aide who had risen
through the ranks on Capitol Hill by serving the needs of his political

Though Tenet did press on President Bush
the growing threat from al-Qaeda - especially in the President's Daily
Brief entitled "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US" - the CIA
director also was careful not to wear out his welcome by confronting
Bush too directly.

After failing to thwart the 9/11 attacks,
Tenet was so thankful to Bush for not firing him that Tenet helpfully
promoted false and dubious intelligence to justify Bush's desire to
invade Iraq, famously telling Bush that the Iraq-WMD case was a "slam

Despite these two intelligence disasters,
the bipartisan 9/11 Commission operated within its own narrow concept
of what was politically acceptable, meaning that it couldn't very
easily decry the politicization that Ronald Reagan molded and Bill
Clinton hardened.

Instead, the commission recommended
putting a new bureaucratic box on top of the old flow chart. After all,
addressing an institutional culture - in this case, politicization - is
much tougher. It would have required rehabilitating many old CIA hands
who refused to go with the flow and removing the younger generation
which had learned how to play ball.

So, the post of DNI was born, essentially
replacing the CIA director as the head of the U.S. intelligence
community. But the quality of U.S. intelligence will improve only if
analysts are committed to telling the truth rather than saying what
politicians want to hear.

And the first major attempt by President
Obama's DNI, Dennis Blair, to select a top analyst who didn't fear
speaking truth to power ended up with that choice, former U.S.
Ambassador Charles "Chas" Freeman, effectively being blackballed by the Israel Lobby and its many supporters in the Washington press corps and on Capitol Hill.

However, as the inspector general's
report makes clear, the U.S. intelligence community needs more than
just a bureaucratic reshuffling - or reliance on dubious Bush-Cheney
methods - to protect the nation. There must be a serious commitment to
doing the job right.

© 2023 Consortium News