Edge of Dark: Book Review By Dave Truesdale

Shaded Intelligence? Shocked, Shocked I Am

News feeds are blowing up with the story about intelligence reports about Daesh (ISIL) being altered by senior leaders before presentation.  I'm shocked, shocked, to find gambling in this establishment.  

For me, the real news is about how many analysts are willing to go on record in this case.  To have fifty (or more) willing to do so on the record is truly unprecedented.  There have been a number of quiet insurrections at various agencies and organizations in the past, but never anything in public like this.  The closest I can remember involved Soviet analysis in the Carter years, and even then most of it was not done in the public, even when reporters came calling.  The most that went public were a small series of leaks and off-the-record interviews.  I will simply note that Reagan was not satisfied with what he was being presented, and took some unofficial steps to get other assessments to use for comparison and evaluation.  Then again, Boss was smart enough to have a "kitchen cabinet" on a variety of topics where he needed expert advice.  

As I've written here (and elsewhere) before, the fact is, there has and is always a tendency to "shape" intelligence and analysis.  Some of this is inherent in the system, and reflects an unconscious effort that is a result of the beliefs of those involved.  There can even be an unconscious tendency to shape things towards the belief of those higher in the chain, and the known biases of the ultimate recipients. 

Where problems arise is when there is a conscious effort to alter or distort the actual intelligence and recommendations of the analysts (who are or should be experts in the area).  At the best, such is because "the boss won't like this" and things are changed so as to present something that won't be rejected out of hand.  At worst, it is a pandering to the beliefs and goals of the prime recipient so as to curry favor, power, and other delights.  If you look at the worst failures of military and diplomatic efforts throughout history, they almost all come back to failures of intelligence and the lack of presentation of accurate intel and analysis to the leaders involved.  

The administrations response to Daesh/ISIL is a best inconsistent, and I personally feel that incoherent may be a better descriptor.  Daesh has gone from being a fringe group to a major power (and I use that term advisedly) largely as a result of a variety of policy blunders going back to our premature departure from Iraq and the response to Libya.  

It is damning that fifty (or more) analysts are going on record.  A small group might have political reasons of their own to cause a problem (and that has happened before).  For such a large group to be willing to go public raises serious questions of competence and intent on those higher in the chain.  At this point, whether any "shading" that may or may not have been done was done to make things more palatable for the President, or more, needs a full and thorough investigation.  My opinion of Congressional investigations is decidedly mixed, with partisan circus a top descriptor.  However, given what is coming out, I think Congressional and other investigations are clearly needed.  

While I've written on intel before, I think that a small series of posts may be needed on the topic, especially in terms of how those impact our intel and planning in regards this and other terrorist groups.  Meantime, sound off in the comments with your thoughts.