Paul Pillar is Paul Mirengoff’s former Dartmouth roommate. Following his service as an Army officer including a tour in Vietnam, Pillar earned a Princeton Ph.D. He spent a long career in the CIA, rising to the level of deputy director of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center and National Intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asia at the CIA from 2000 until his retirment from the agency in 2005. Shortly before 9/11 Pillar took a leave from the CIA to write Terrorism and U.S. Foreign Policy. Gabriel Schoenfeld took a detailed look at the book in “Could September 11 have been averted?” (subscribers only, I think).
In the book Pillar argued most famously that counterterrorism efforts were properly to be likened, not to a “war,” but rather to “the effort by public-health authorities to control communicable diseases” or the effort to improve “highway safety,” where regulators “can reduce deaths and injuries somewhat” by taking action on a variety of fronts but without any false idea of “defeating” the problem. Although Schoenfeld found the book “both authoritative and exceedingly well-informed,” he observed in the light of September 11 that the book’s conclusions “seemed not just wide of the mark but almost risible.”
Returning to the CIA after writing the book, Pillar became a protagonist in the bureaucratic war against the Bush administration. Robert Novak blew Pillar’s cover in his September 2004 column “CIA vs. Bush,” reporting that Pillar had carried his campaign against the Bush administration to an off-the-record gathering in California:
Paul R. Pillar, the CIA’s national intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asia, sat down Tuesday night in a large West Coast city with a select group of private citizens. He was not talking off the cuff. Relying on a multi-paged, single-spaced memorandum, Pillar said he and his colleagues concluded early in the Bush administration that military intervention in Iraq would intensify anti-American hostility throughout Islam. This was not from a CIA retiree but an active senior official. (Pillar, no covert operative, is listed openly in the Federal Staff Directory.)
Pillar’s public commentary criticizing the Bush administration has been ably dissected by Stephen Hayes and Thomas Joscelyn.
This past week Pillar was back rehearsing some old themes in a column previewing a longer National Interest article. Pillar’s column reminded me of the dialogue Woody Allen wrote for his voiceover spy parody “What’s Up, Tiger Lilly?” when one character shows spy hero Phil Moscowitz a printed floor plan and explains: “This is Shepherd Wong’s home.” Moscowitz asks: “He lives in that piece of paper?”
In his column Pillar discusses the famous October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq’s continuing programs for weapons of mass destruction. Among the NIE’s “key judgments” were the following:
We judge that Iraq has continued its weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs in defiance of UN resolutions and restrictions. Baghdad has chemical and biological weapons as well as missiles with ranges in excess of UN restrictions; if left unchecked, it probably will have a nuclear weapon during this decade. (See INR alternative view at the end of these Key Judgments.)
We judge that we are seeing only a portion of Iraq’s WMD efforts, owing to Baghdad’s vigorous denial and deception efforts. Revelations after the Gulf war starkly demonstrate the extensive efforts undertaken by Iraq to deny information. We lack specific information on many key aspects of Iraq’s WMD programs.
Since inspections ended in 1998, Iraq has maintained its chemical weapons effort, energized its missile program, and invested more heavily in biological weapons; in the view of most agencies, Baghdad is reconstituting its nuclear weapons program.
In his column, Pillar argues that the NIE document (“He lives in that piece of paper?”) did not influence the Bush administration’s decision to depose Saddam Hussein:
The tremendous notoriety the estimate on weapons programs achieved has been all out of proportion to any role it played, or should have played, in the decision to launch the war. The administration never requested it (Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee did), its public line about Iraqi weapons programs was well-established before it was written, and as the White House later admitted, the president (and the then national security adviser) did not even read it