In early 2002, Vice President Dick Cheney spoke to President George W. Bush from the heart. The war in Afghanistan had been an astonishing display of U.S. strength. Instead of the bloody quagmire many predicted, CIA paramilitary agents, Special Forces, and U.S. air power had teamed with Northern Alliance guerrillas to run the Taliban and Al Qaeda out of their strongholds.
Foreign policy is always difficult in a democracy. Democracy requires openness. Yet foreign policy requires a level of secrecy that frees it from oversight and exposes it to abuse. As a result, Republicans and Democrats have long held that the intelligence agencies--the most clandestine of foreign policy institutions--should be insulated from political interference in much the same way as the higher reaches of the judiciary. As the Tower Commission, established to investigate the Iran-Contra scandal, warned in November 1987, "The democratic processes ...
In the weeks leading up to the October 12 bombing in Bali, warnings of pending terror flooded U.S. intelligence channels. Analysts from the National Security Agency (NSA), the CIA, and the FBI combed through threats suggesting that car-bomb attacks, hijackings, and kidnappings were planned against Americans on three continents. The volume of electronic and telephonic communications--what intelligence professionals call "chatter"--between assumed Al Qaeda operatives spiked in late September.
So far America's war on terrorism has converged nicely with the regional interests of the world's leading sponsor of international terrorism: Iran. After September 11, 2001, the United States worked with Tehran's mullahs to help oust their Sunni rivals to the east in Afghanistan, the Taliban.
If the Bush administration's preparations for war with Saddam Hussein were proceeding appropriately, the president would probably be curling up right now with something called a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) for Iraq. An NIE is a document pooling all the information on a particular country that U.S. intelligence services have collected from overheard phone calls, satellite photos, decrypted e-mails, defectors, paid informants, foreign intelligence services, diplomat tipsters, newspaper articles, and official speeches.