Introduction

After fifteen years, with over a trillion dollars spent, and the loss of
thousands of lives, there appears to be overwhelming evidence that the decision
to go to war in Iraq was the wrong one. Public support declined rapidly in the
years following the invasion and the manipulation by the administration became
startlingly apparent. Intelligence that was presented as justifications for
military intervention was retrospectively found to be erroneous, confused, and dubious.
It was a significant failure by the agencies and highlighted flaws that needed
to be addressed. A lack of sophisticated analysis and impulse reactions to a
heightened sense of fear, coupled with hyper politicisation, provided the
administration with the warrant to go to war.1
Taylor referred to it as the ‘greatest intelligence failure in living memory.’2
However, whilst failures by the intelligence agencies played a role in
providing the stimulus to go to war, politicisation permeated its functioning and
skewed preconceptions demonstrate how the agencies were manipulated by their own
government.3 Intelligence
was influenced by a neoconservative agenda which drove the decision to go to
war. Betts states that the ‘lust for intelligence can cause disaster.’4
In this case the lust for intelligence to support a pre-existing bias led to assumptions
and fatal errors. This essay will argue that errors by the intelligence
community played a significant role in the decision to go to war in Iraq,
however, politicisation and manipulation by the administration was the
dominating factor. The significance of the role of intelligence was that its
own failures in analysis and dissemination were consequently used as opportunities
by the government who cherry picked information and used it as a means of
promoting war to the American public. This demonstrates how politicisation of
intelligence agencies was the driving factor behind justifying military
intervention in Iraq.

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Intelligence and September 11

Intelligence agencies across the world are ‘expected to emulate the perceptions
shaped by movies, television and novels.’5
This results in little understanding of its true role.6
Policy makers rely on carefully analysed data which is gathered from raw, human,
imagery and signal intelligence. The structure is complex, made up of numerous
agencies which are responsible for the collection, analysis, and distribution
of intelligence. It is a federation of units which each have a degree of
institutional autonomy.7
The CIA in particular was created in response to Pearl Harbour in 1947 with the
main responsibilities of; advising the national Security Council on matters
relating to national security, coordinating and evaluating intelligence and
providing for its dissemination.8
The intelligence cycle is the process of activities that guides intelligence
agencies. The steps in the cycle include planning, direction and requirements,
collection, analysis and dissemination. An interconnectedness between each step
in the cycle means that failure in one can have negative consequences for the
other.9

In the decision to go to war in Iraq the intelligence agencies failed
significantly in the planning and collection of information. This therefore
resulted in failures in analysis and dissemination. Breakspear highlights that
the intelligence cycle concept is flawed as policy officials rarely give
guidance and ‘the idea that decision makers wait for the delivery of good
intelligence before making decisions is incorrect.’10
This demonstrates the impact of politicisation as policy makers have usually already
made a decision and therefore look for data that will support it. The failures
in the intelligence cycle in Iraq echoed failures in the intelligence cycle
before the attacks of September 11. The failure in collection of intelligence
led to the failure to predict an attack on the homeland and the intelligence
community was heavily criticised for its inaction.

September 11 ‘was a day of unprecedented
shock in the US.’11
Black stated that ‘there was a before 9/11, and there was an after 9/11’12
and the events caused a dramatic shift in international politics. Before September
11 there already existed a shared apprehension about the Middle East. The
attack on the World Trade Centre however was a trigger event that kicked into
motion the actions that would lead to the invasion of Iraq. It created an overwhelming
sense of fear and drew attention towards the seriousness of the threat of
Islamic extremism. The American people ‘looked towards the White House as a
focal point of national consciousness and collective solidarity’13
and looked towards the intelligence community for accountability and an
explanation. Performance by the intelligence community had failed at all stages
in the intelligence cycle.14
The 9/11 Commission Report stated that ‘it was a shock but not a surprise’15
as there had been many warnings in the prelude of an attack on US soil. Intelligence
however did not pay these warnings enough attention. The report highlights
specific points of vulnerability and emphasises the failure within the
intelligence community to ‘overcome overwhelming expectations, inadequate
resources, and bureaucratic rivalries.’16

In an address to the country after September 11, Bush stated that ‘Americans
should not expect one battle, but a lengthy campaign, unlike any other we have
ever seen.’17 Public endorsement
for such action was initially high as a campaign against the terrorist threat
was a way of suppressing fears and anxieties in America. In 2002 Bush also
affirmed that action was to be taken in Iraq as ‘a tyrant has close ties to
terrorist organisations.’18
This would arouse insecurities in the US after 9/11 and, therefore, initially
gained a momentum of support. This declined when the war failed to achieve its
objectives and diverted from the aim the Americans were led to believe. The
portrayed image was one of a dangerous linkage between 9/11, weapons of mass destruction,
and Iraq. After 9/11 the intelligence community was criticised for its powers
of prediction, often referred to as a failure to connect the dots. They had
detected an upsurge in chatter amongst terrorists, suspicious travel records of
future hijackers, and knew that a threat was imminent, but failed to piece
together the information.19
Cautions like The Phoenix Memo which warned that Al Qaeda was planning an
attack and recommended closer inspection of increased interest in a flight
school in Arizona, were not prioritised.20
Intelligence agencies failed due to insufficient collection of unambiguous
information. However the opposite mistake was made before the invasion of Iraq,
as it ‘joined the dots too well.’21
9/11 raised the cost of inaction and intelligence agencies did not want to be
seen to be making the same mistake again.22
However this resulted in erroneous overestimation by paying too much attention
to warnings that were trivial, exaggerated and fabricated all together.

Intelligence failures

The yellowcake forgery papers were reports that were key to gathering public
support for the war in Iraq. It alleged that Saddam Hussein had been secretly
buying material to build nuclear weapons and became a persuasive selling point
for an invasion.23 These
documents were found to be fake which posed a serious problem for the
intelligence agencies as it left them embarrassed. The intelligence community
in America is one of the most sophisticated in the world yet the letters were
said to have been so obviously forged that ‘the CIA must be mortified for
failing to spot it.’24
Many intelligence officials and members of the administration raised questions
about the validity of the documents. However these concerns were ignored. This
shows politicisation of the intelligence agencies as the reports fit the pro
war agenda and could be used for promoting the administrations goals, so
concerns about the illegitimacy of the documents were side-lined.

Politicians and analysts awareness of potentially unreliable
intelligence sources was also demonstrated through the controversial case of ‘Curveball.’
The CIA was criticised for its lack of human intelligence before the war.
Middle Eastern military experts were said to have not been consulted and ‘limitations
in the availability of high quality human intelligence made assessments of
Iraq’s WMD holdings more susceptible to institutional pathologies.’25
Curveball reported to German intelligence on suspicious behaviour concerning WMD.
However after the invasion the information was found to be completely
fabricated. By this point it had already been cited by the administration as
irrefutable evidence despite being warned by German intelligence analysts of
the unreliability of the source. The politicisation of the intelligence
community is highlighted by reports that state the intelligence community
ignored evidence provided by the United Nations weapons inspectors before the
war ‘that disproved curveballs account.’26
As a sophisticated establishment the intelligence agencies should not have
depended heavily on unreliable evidence and instead admitted that they were
still unsure as to whether Saddam Hussein was holding weapons of mass
destruction or not. Curveball fit the agenda and the result was prioritising
and disseminating ambiguous information and shunning warnings that dissented
from their findings in order to support a pre-existing bias. The dissemination
of information allowed the administration to establish a perception that Iraq
was involved with terrorist groups like Al Qaeda and was concealing weapons of
mass destruction. The significance of the intelligence agencies in the decision
to go to war in Iraq is highlighted by the way in which information that was
sporadic was presented by analysts to policy makers, who then presented it to
the public as facts to justify a case to go to war.

Politicisation of the intelligence community demonstrated a campaign to
build support for the war.27
In February 2003 Bush stated that ‘intelligence gathered leaves no doubt that
the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal
weapons ever devised.’28
However this was taken out of context and overstated. The government made
reference to attempts by Iraq to buy high strength aluminium tubes that could
be used for a nuclear weapon and they publicised this with a theme of
certainty.29 Government
nuclear experts doubted that the tubes were for nuclear weapons and suggested
they were possibly to be used for small artillery rockets.30
The intelligence communities however failed to disclose alternative models and presented
the issue to the administration who promoted the theory.31
They overstated intelligence assessments and rejected doubts. This shows
politicisation of the intelligence community as there is evidence the
administration knew the intelligence was weak however wanted to use it in a one
sided presentation to justify the war in Iraq. These failures were significant
as they were fabricated and exaggerated yet used as the main justifications for
war by the administration.

Bureaucratic politics and politicisation

So far this essay has analysed how significant intelligence failures
provided the administration with a warrant to go to war. The agencies were
ineffective in their role due committing fundamental errors in analysis and
dissemination as a result of ignorance and political bias. The purpose of
intelligence is to provide policy makers ‘with enough warning to allow them to
act in the face of a challenge of national security.’32
The process can be distorted by politicisation, where intelligence fits around
policy and premeditated agendas. The intelligence community should be
politically neutral, however the Bush administration ‘not only blurred this
distinction but turned the model upside down.’33
Intelligence is often used as a political resource. The intelligence community is
not immune from bureaucratic politics, where competition can lead to manipulation
in order to maximize the chances of achieving policy preferences.34
Allison presents different models that explain how politicisation and bureaucratic
politics can influence a decision. The rational decision making model explains
how American foreign policy ‘results from a deliberate intellectual process in
which central figures carefully select tactics appropriately designed to
promote its interest.’35
This is seen in the actions of the intelligence community in the case of Iraq,
where manipulated tactics were used as a way of pursuing their own agenda. Johnson
emphasises that ‘personal passions can lead those in the agencies to confuse
their own goals with the needs of the nation.’36
Governmental departments often develop a shared mind-set that becomes entrenched.
This includes the intelligence community, which exhibits bias that affects
behaviour. This is demonstrated prior to the invasion of Iraq where pro-war
bias influenced outcomes.

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