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"A culture of dissent must be nurtured and protected if it is to thrive"
June 26, 2013 2:36 PM   Subscribe

The United States' National Security organization has many parts, from the famous (NSA, CIA) to the mundane (OCI, NGA) to the more esoteric (NRO, CSS). But even the most dedicated Washington insider may not have heard of INR.

The State Department's Bureau Of Intelligence And Reasearch "Provides intelligence support for the Secretary of State, other Department principals and policy bureaus and directs the Department's program of research and analysis."

INR has a pretty good track record:
Intelligence and Vietnam: The Top Secret 1969 State Department Study
INR's Vietnam Study In Context
Whatever we may think of this public hawk/private dove phenomenon, there was at the time at least one major exception to it among claimants on the policymakers' attention. That exception was the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research. INR's products were signed, dated, published, and widely distributed in official circles at home and abroad. They were readily available to any government official cleared to read them. Those responsible for writing and issuing them were not anonymous, but identifiable and accountable.

As this study of its research memoranda shows, INR's analysis on Vietnam stood out as tenaciously pessimistic from 1963 on, whether the question was the viability of the successive Saigon regimes, the Pentagon's statistical underestimation of enemy strength, the ultimate ineffectiveness of bombing the North, the persistence of the North Vietnamese and the Vietcong, or the danger of Chinese intervention. Indeed INR consistently saw no realistic escape from a policy trapped inside an iron triangle; (1) the chronic instability in the South, (2) Chinese intervention if US provocation overstepped a threshold in the North, and (3) the North's determination to persevere despite escalating punishment from the air. While INR respected the proprieties separating intelligence from policy and therefore stopped short of explicit policy advice, the policy implications of INR's analysis were obvious.
The Mouse That Roared - State Department Intelligence in the Vietnam War
The INR Study covers much more ground than can be covered here. It is clear from that study, as well as this examination, that INR was quite prolific at its work. Analyst for analyst, and dollar for dollar, INR was possibly the most effective agency in the intelligence community. One of the greats of U.S. intelligence in the Vietnam era, George V. Allen, who served with Army intelligence, the Defense Intelligence Agency, and the Central Intelligence Agency, years later accosted Lou Sarris to tell him, "I just want you to know, you guys were great!"
State Department Intelligence and Research Predicted 1973 Arab-Israeli War
A Clear View from Foggy Bottom - How State Department analysts -- and no one else -- foresaw the 1973 Arab-Israeli war.
When the war broke out on October 6, it surprised high-level officials in the Nixon administration. Yet, in a paper written the previous May, the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) had estimated that there was a "better than even bet" that war would occur "by autumn." Not one other office in the U.S. government had made such an estimate, and the Israelis themselves had dismissed the possibility of war. Although this example of INR's acuity has been known about for years, the document itself was surprisingly elusive and is being published for the first time here and on the National Security Archive website.
Tiny Agency's Iraq Analysis Is Better Than Big Rivals'
Spy World Success Story
But INR's success story suggests that small is sometimes beautiful. Because it is little, INR tries to maintain an elite reputation. And because it is intimately connected with State Department policymakers, it never loses sight of what the consumers of intelligence actually want: sound judgment.

INR is that rare agency that has been shrinking over time. Its workforce has dropped from more than 1,600 people in 1945, when it inherited the responsibilities of the wartime Office of Strategic Services, to a bit over 300 by 1961. It has stayed at roughly that level ever since -- a bureaucratic "steady state" that is almost unheard of in the nation's capital.
Analyze This
Inside the one spy agency that got pre-war intelligence on Iraq--and much else--right.
Indeed, on the whole question of Iraq's nuclear capabilities, INR came consistently closer to the truth than did other agencies. The intelligence community's collective analysis on this issue was assembled by CIA Director Tenet in a 2002 National Intelligence Estimate, a document that contains the consensus of all the government's intelligence agencies: the CIA, FBI, NSA, and intelligence groups at State, Energy, and Defense, among others. The 2002 estimate included the crux of the case that the Bush administration would present to the American public and the world in arguing for war. And the document's conclusion--that Iraq was three to five years away from being capable of building nuclear weapons--convinced many Democrats and other skeptics that a war in Iraq might be justified. But when INR received a draft of the estimate, it balked, believing that other intelligence agencies had vastly overestimated the status and capability of Iraq's nuclear program. INR thought the whole report was flawed; rather than including minor objections to specific statements, it took its name off of the estimate and detailed its objections in one long endnote. Of course, when American soldiers and U.N. inspectors combed through Iraq in the wake of the U.S. military conquest, what they found--and didn't find--confirmed INR's suspicions. The rest of the intelligence community had gotten it wrong again.
posted by the man of twists and turns (21 comments total) 96 users marked this as a favorite

 
There's a lot to be said for leaving agencies alone to do their job without putting political pressure on them. If you know that your job security is not dependant on pleasing a political appointee, you're more likely to give a balanced judgement.
posted by arcticseal at 2:49 PM on June 26, 2013 [3 favorites]


Damn fine post, the man of twists and turns.

The bureau was still apparently wrong, along with other intelligence agencies, in asserting that Iraq possessed chemical and biological weapons.

If the best of the best make such an critical error is says just how bad the overall work of the intelligence agencies really is. With all that sigint, data, spies and what not, you would think that they had all the resources required for an accurate analysis.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 3:12 PM on June 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


Sorry to nitpick, but INR is well known to DC folks who have anything to do with foreign policy, as well as most everyone who works at the State Department, which is a pretty big place. Otherwise, great post.
posted by oneironaut at 3:23 PM on June 26, 2013 [4 favorites]


So the acronym INR - what does the 'N' stand for? Is it like "Bureau Of Intelligence'N'Research"? Like the R in Toys'R'Us, I suppose.
posted by FatherDagon at 4:08 PM on June 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


INtelligence and Research, I think.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 4:12 PM on June 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Very interesting post! Flagged as fantastic
posted by spiderskull at 4:52 PM on June 26, 2013


If the best of the best make such an critical error is says just how bad the overall work of the intelligence agencies really is. With all that sigint, data, spies and what not, you would think that they had all the resources required for an accurate analysis.

Or the other way around... just how difficult intelligence work can be. I've seen a lot of random people say that they knew all along Iraq did not possess chemical and biological weapons. Well, sure, turns out these random people are correct. But who's judgment are we going to trust?

Scientists have gotten things wrong in the past, but at least it is their job to think through these things in systematic ways in light of the greatest amount of data. I'll defer to such workers 100% of the time.
posted by SollosQ at 5:49 PM on June 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Excellent post. Thanks, the man of twists and turns.
posted by homunculus at 6:12 PM on June 26, 2013


Or the other way around... just how difficult intelligence work can be. I've seen a lot of random people say that they knew all along Iraq did not possess chemical and biological weapons. Well, sure, turns out these random people are correct. But who's judgment are we going to trust?

Experienced and internationally recognized weapons inspection experts are not random people. And when you're asking the question, "How can the worldwide community determine if someone has WMDs?" the answer is, "Get multiple opinions from experienced and internationally recognized weapons inspection experts." It's actually not that difficult.

So, why did the CIA get their intelligence so wrong? Why did the White House, and the State Department get the timing, the cost, and the result so wrong? Well, the truth wasn't important. The CIA is the mafia branch of America's military apparatus. Their job is to commit illegal acts at the direction of powerful interests inside the United States that can be plausibly denied until it's too late to prosecute the people running the show. The organization has little to do with intelligence. That's why they are wrong pretty much all of the time. The facts in any given situation are irrelevant compared to their orders.

They may have different rationalizations and protect nations with different value systems, but whatever illegal arms dealing murder squad you care to mention -- CIA, KGB, al Quds, MI5 -- they all serve the same institutional function. And of course, each one of them claims to be breaking the law for good to fight evil. Same as it ever was.
posted by tripping daisy at 6:45 PM on June 26, 2013 [6 favorites]


Experienced and internationally recognized weapons inspection experts are not random people. And when you're asking the question, "How can the worldwide community determine if someone has WMDs?" the answer is, "Get multiple opinions from experienced and internationally recognized weapons inspection experts." It's actually not that difficult.

It sort of is, when you look at the big picture. You have evidence claims coming from individuals such as al-Janabi which points to the contrary. It is interesting to note that British intelligence expressed skepticism of his veracity. This complicates the simplistic picture that MI5 and the CIA are "illegal arms dealing murder squads." Furthermore, other countries such as France and Russia who did not want war, still expressed skepticism that Iraq did not possess nuclear, chemical, biological weapons. They received this skepticism from U.N. testimony which was nuanced and not blanketed. U.N. inspectors indicated that their position was not one of an assurance that Iraq without a doubt did not have these weapons or was not developing more due to a variety of reasons, such as doubts about Iraq's genuine cooperability with inspectors.

We can also look at the WMD Commission which was tasked into looking why the intelligence community made such a huge blunder. Well, things such as: "inadequate Intelligence Community collaboration and cooperation, analysts who do not understand collection, too much focus on current intelligence, inadequate systematic use of outside experts and open source information, . . . and poor capabilities to exploit fully the available data. Perhaps most troubling, we found an Intelligence Community in which analysts had a difficult time stating their assumptions up front, explicitly explaining their logic, and, in the end, identifying unambiguously for policymakers what they do not know. In sum, we found that many of the most basic processes and functions for producing accurate and reliable intelligence
are broken and underutilized.
"

It's your prerogative if you want to just deepen your conspiracy and claim that the WMD Commission was just a fraud to placate the American people from the realization that the whole institution of the United States government is corrupt.

The CIA is the mafia branch of America's military apparatus. Their job is to commit illegal acts at the direction of powerful interests inside the United States that can be plausibly denied until it's too late to prosecute the people running the show. The organization has little to do with intelligence.

Well, now I feel like I wasted my time with someone who has no first hand experience in working within the intelligence community and nevertheless feels comfortable in asserting such remarks. Probably because it's easier to believe in such a simple black-and-white world where there's no nuance.

BTW: How does this post about the INR fit into your governmental conspiracy picture?
posted by SollosQ at 7:28 PM on June 26, 2013 [3 favorites]


from U.N. testimony which was nuanced and not blanketed.

You misread the nuance. The inspectors were satisfied there was not a WMD program, but it was politically impossible to say that (and that was clear at the time), meanwhile the USA was also bringing immense pressure on them (not to mention security council members) to pronounce Iraq in violation. They were between a rock and a hard place in what they could say and how they could say it, but their reporting of the absence of a WMD program was clear to those who were paying attention and not operating under ideological blinders, fearfulness, or an agenda, or solidarity.
posted by anonymisc at 7:57 PM on June 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, IIRC, while many thought sanctions should be eased, I don't think anyone saw much benefit in allowing Iraq to escape the inspections, or trusted that a future WMD program was completely off the cards. So the easiest and surest way to require Iraq stay under the inspection system (as everyone wanted) was simply to keep the status quo - requiring a high standard of proof just out of reach, while officially remaining unconvinced.
posted by anonymisc at 8:12 PM on June 26, 2013


Hate to be a spoilsport, especially because I consider dissent the highest and best tool for group decisionmaking, but the list of examples strikes me as a bit of cherrypicking. There are a large number of huge foreign policy events in the past five decades that are not listed. I'd like to know, for instance, what INR was telling the State Department about the Soviet Union in the 70s and 80s, about Iraq in the leadup to its invasion of Kuwait, about North Korea (especially when State Dept. types have been confidently predicting the end of the dynasty for almost 20 years), etc. Again, even this is cherrypicking.

Dissent is valuable, even if it's wrong, so nothing above should be construed as being against INR. In fact, it's a good idea to have versions of them all across the government and companies, etc. Just want to make sure that we hold to higher standards of rigor.
posted by learnsome at 8:20 PM on June 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


learnsome: it looks like they were wrong on kuwait (they didn't think Sadam would invade). I'll leave the other questions you asked to other readers here.

great post, the man of twist and turns!
posted by el io at 11:43 PM on June 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Nixon Administration and the Indian Nuclear Program, 1972-1974
In early 1972, however—two years before the test—the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) had predicted that India could make preparations for an underground test without detection by U.S. intelligence. Published for the first time today, the INR report warned that the U.S. government had given a "relatively modest priority to … relevant intelligence collection activities" which meant that a "concerted effort by India to conceal such preparations … may well succeed."
posted by the man of twists and turns at 3:52 AM on June 27, 2013


It is interesting to note that British intelligence expressed skepticism of his veracity. This complicates the simplistic picture that MI5 and the CIA are "illegal arms dealing murder squads."

No it doesn't. They didn't express their skepticism publicly until years after the Iraq War, the UK still went to war in Iraq based on forged or flimsy intelligence, and the MI5 budget was doubled in 2003 during the Iraq War.

Furthermore, other countries such as France and Russia who did not want war, still expressed skepticism that Iraq did not possess nuclear, chemical, biological weapons. They received this skepticism from U.N. testimony which was nuanced and not blanketed. U.N. inspectors indicated that their position was not one of an assurance that Iraq without a doubt did not have these weapons or was not developing more due to a variety of reasons, such as doubts about Iraq's genuine cooperability with inspectors.

What UN testimony? Which inspectors? If you can't be specific you're probably talking shit.

We can also look at the WMD Commission which was tasked into looking why the intelligence community made such a huge blunder... It's your prerogative if you want to just deepen your conspiracy and claim that the WMD Commission was just a fraud to placate the American people from the realization that the whole institution of the United States government is corrupt.

Wow. First, I don't recall mentioning anything about the WMD commission. But here's a paragraph you missed for some reason from their report:
The Intelligence Community’s errors were not the result of simple bad luck, or a once-in-a-lifetime “perfect storm,” as some would have it. Rather, they were the product of poor intelligence collection, an analytical process that was driven by assumptions and inferences rather than data, inadequate validation and vetting of dubious intelligence sources, and numerous other breakdowns in the various processes that Intelligence Community professionals collectively describe as intelligence “tradecraft.” In many ways, the Intelligence Community simply did not do the job that it exists to do.
The phrase "driven by assumptions rather than data" is exactly what I'm talking about. The CIA's role in our government has little to do with gathering intelligence. Their role is to come up with rationalizations to excuse the desires of powerful US interests, and then to execute those desires illegally with zero oversight so there's no danger of anyone important going to prison.

How does this post about the INR fit into your governmental conspiracy picture?

The recognition of how parts of the government operates is not a conspiracy theory. If the INR had any sway, or if anyone had ever paid attention to them, you may have some point. To say that our intelligence community is an abject failure is not a conspiracy, either:
One intelligence failure after another has been linked to the lack of translators and interpreters in the U.S. intelligence community. Following the 1990 murder of Rabbi Meir Kahane in Manhattan, the FBI confiscated handwritten materials in Arabic from the assassin's apartment. No one translated them. The FBI also seized Arabic videotapes and bomb-making manuals from Ahmad Ajaj, a Palestinian serving time in federal prison for passport fraud. No one translated them. Prison officials made tapes of Ajaj as he described bomb-making techniques over the phone. No one translated them. After the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, all of these materials were at last reviewed. They pointed clearly to the impending attack.

An inability to translate evidence impeded the investigation of the bombing of the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. The lack of translators hampered the investigation of the October 1999 downing off Nantucket of EgyptAir Flight 990. Policymakers were not warned of impending nuclear detonations in India and Pakistan, intelligence sources say, not because the evidence was unavailable, but because analysts could not understand it. According to a recent House Intelligence Committee study, countless data are never analyzed by the NSA and CIA because too few analysts possess language skills: "Written materials can sit for months, and sometimes years, before a linguist with proper security clearances and skills can begin a translation," the authors note. A mountain of similar testimony has been presented before the House and Senate intelligence oversight committees in the past decades; nothing has been done.
...
According to a senior CIA official, the agency, fearing embarrassment, exaggerates the linguistic strengths of its officers to Congress. "They list a bunch of people who they say speak Urdu, but they're talking about people who haven't used the language since 1985. So they say, 'we have 18 speakers of Urdu,' but none of these people are in any way capable of working on the street."

Does this skew intelligence collection efforts? "Absolutely. It's terrible," says the official. "It's a huge error. It has an enormous effect--if you can't speak the language, it's easy to deal with liaison" instead. Those foreign intelligence officers "probably speak English. But you're cut off from more than 90 percent of society. You can't spend time on the streets, in the marketplace. You're a prisoner in the embassy. So you spend your time with the elites, with westernized business people who are in denial about what's really going on in their countries. And you have no idea what's really going on."
This doesn't mean that there are people in the CIA purposefully undermining their own organization to further some secret plot. But what it does mean is that gathering, analyzing, and disseminating intelligence appears to be unimportant to the CIA, and that's because intelligence work has little to do with their institutional function. Their actual function is to destabilize or shore up foreign governments in a desperate attempt to direct world history in favor of US interests. Or, as I like to say, to illegally train, arm, and participate in murder squads across the globe.

I'd love to be proven wrong about these points, but as is common in our beautifully transparent democracy, I have no right to know what my government is doing with my money.
posted by tripping daisy at 5:48 AM on June 27, 2013


"A culture of dissent must be nurtured and protected if it is to thrive"

I read an anecdote about Israeli intelligence the other day. After getting caught with their pants down in 1973, they've tried to make dissent part of their regular intelligence analysis process. The anecdote went something like, "If 9 analysts agree, it's the job of the 10th to disagree." That seems like a really healthy attitude to me, and I wish it was embraced more.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 9:20 AM on June 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


%n: Hate to be a spoilsport, especially because I consider dissent the highest and best tool for group decisionmaking, but the list of examples strikes me as a bit of cherrypicking.
Only if you consider the list as evidence that the INR is more accurate in its analysis than other agencies.

If, as I do, you consider the list as evidence that the INR has proven itself to be free from political interference and propaganda, the list speaks for itself.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:22 AM on June 27, 2013


I'd love to be proven wrong about these points, but as is common in our beautifully transparent democracy, I have no right to know what my government is doing with my money.

The OP posited some good info on India circa 1972, very apt. But to give you an idea of the absurdity of the question is the fun that can be had by historical perspective. For example: "National Clean Up-Paint Up-Fix Up Bureau," in cooperation with the Federal Civil Defense Administration." sought to have citizens paint thier homes to help buffer a nuclear attack.

"As one may expect from such an absurd premise, the National Clean Up-Paint Up-Fix Up Bureau was actually created by the National Paint, Varnish and Lacquer Association, an organization that had a vested interest in seeing Americans continue to build single-family homes and to paint those homes with frequency."

Now what does have to do with your question stated above?
transparent democracy and the quest for truth no matter how it is painted can be easier to reach then percieved.
posted by clavdivs at 9:41 AM on June 27, 2013





"True, at the time The Invisible Government was published, the first two James Bond films were already hits and the Mission Imposible TV show was only two years from launch, but the way the invisible world has since emerged from the shadows to become a fixture of pop culture remains stunning. And don’t think this was just some cultural quirk."
(from link above)

I love the one were Eartha Kitt is brought in for the embassy job.
posted by clavdivs at 8:15 AM on June 29, 2013


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