Bad Intelligence

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OPEN UNIVERSITY SEPTEMBER 9, 2006

Bad Intelligence

by David A. BellI can't agree enough with David's excellent point about second-guessing the actions of both the Clinton and Bush administrations before 9/11. It is certainly bad history to project our own hyper-sensitivity to threats of terrorism back into the pre-9/11 era. I would add that the ABC docudrama, like so much commentary on the subject of terrorist threats, also seems to rest on a basic misunderstanding of how intelligence gathering works. I'm no expert, but everything I have read on the subject suggests to me that intelligence gathering generally involves sifting through huge masses of material, most of which is of highly uncertain provenance and reliability, and figuring out which of it looks dangerous enough to commit valuable time and resources to. I wonder how many times a week the NSA picks up someone with vague ties to suspected terrorists saying that he would like to blow up New York City. Some day, one of those people may actually drive a truck loaded with explosives into the Lincoln Tunnel, and afterwards, critics will ask why more wasn't done to stop him. It still doesn't mean we can send a Jack Bauer into action to track down every vague lead. Of course, the prize for most egregious misrepresentation of intelligence along these lines goes not to critics of either Clinton or Bush, but to Bush and Colin Powell, for the way they treated one piece of questionable intelligence after another as certain proof of WMD's, in order to justify the war.

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