Returning the Favor

We’ve reported many times on the four-year-long war the CIA has carried on against the Bush administration. Today the administration returned the favor by telling Bill Gertz of the Washington Times that the intelligence community failed to foresee the recent North Korean nuclear test:

Recent U.S. intelligence analyses of North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs were flawed and the lack of clarity on the issue hampered U.S. diplomatic efforts to avert the underground blast detected Sunday, according to Bush administration officials.
Some recent secret reports stated that Pyongyang did not have nuclear arms and until recently was bluffing about plans for a test, according to officials who have read the classified assessments.
The officials said there were as many as 10 failures related to intelligence reporting on North Korean missile tests and the suspected nuclear test that harmed administration efforts to deal with the issue.
According to officials familiar with the reports, the failures included judgments that cast doubt about whether North Korea’s nuclear program posed an immediate threat, whether North Korea could produce a militarily useful nuclear bomb, whether North Korea was capable of conducting an underground nuclear test and whether Pyongyang was bluffing by claiming it could carry one out.

This, too, is very interesting:

According to officials familiar with the reports, the weak analysis on North Korea is being blamed on Thomas Fingar, the most senior U.S. intelligence analyst within the office of the Director of National Intelligence.
Mr. Fingar, now deputy Director of National Intelligence for analysis, was the lone dissenter in a 2002 national intelligence assessment that stated Iraq had large stockpiles of chemical weapons and carried over the skeptical viewpoint to North Korea’s arms programs.

Before the first Gulf War, the intelligence agencies vastly underestimated Iraq’s nuclear capability. After the war, they were shocked to learn that Saddam had been close to having nuclear weapons. As a result, the CIA and other agencies were determined not to underestimate Saddam again, and consequently, they over-estimated his WMD capabilities. Now they are evidently determined not to repeat that mistake.
The fact is, of course, that getting reliable intelligence on the activities of dictatorships that rule over closed societies is inherently difficult and uncertain. The real issue always is, how to assess risks and make prudent decisions in the context of that uncertainty.

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