A dangerous fallacy

When Judge Richard Posner applies his powerful analytical skills to that new genre, the “beautifully written intelligence critique,” the result is a mismatch. Posner points out that both the 9/11 commission report and the recent report by the Robb-Silberman panel

feed[] the dangerous fallacy that all intelligence failures are the product of culpable, and therefore remediable, blunders. Actually, most such failures are the inevitable result of the inherent limitations of intelligence.

Judge Posner has his own recommendations regarding “process” — in particular the creation of an agency 100 percent devoted to domestic intelligence. However, I take his central point to be that intelligence is an imperfect science and that every competent observer and intelligence service (no matter how organized) “believed that Saddam Hussein had a stockpile of chemical and biological weapons and was trying to build nuclear bombs as well.”
The war against terrorism forces us to make difficult decisions about how intrusive our government should be, and what unsavory tactics, if any, it should employ to learn what the enemy is planning. Those who wish not to give the government much new authority, but who don’t want to seem unconcerned about terrorism, offer process-based solutions, as if creating new bureaucracies and drawing the lines that connect agencies in new ways will be enough to protect us. Commissions headed by individuals who should know better have, as Judge Posner says, fed this dangerous fallacy.


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