Jean-Dominique Merchet / Libération – 2004-07-21 16:57:13
PARIS (July 16, 2004) — In Washington as in London, two official reports have just called the secret services into question over the weapons of mass destruction (WMD) affair in Iraq. In the United States, a Senate report accuses the CIA of having exaggerated the threat; while in the United Kingdom, Lord Butler deems that MI6 has committed serious mistakes. In both cases, political responsibilities have been spared. Are the secret services “scapegoats” to protect George W. Bush and Tony Blair? Eric Denécé, Director of the French Center for Intelligence Research (CF2R), provides his analysis.
Were the American and British secret services really fooled about the Iraqi threat?
Less than is believed. Before the summer of 2002, they had never been caught in any flagrant mistake and had not stopped telling political officials that they had no proof of the existence of WMD. However, from the moment the White house decided to go to war against Iraq, pressure on the CIA became intense because what the agency was saying did not suit the neoconservative team. Something very similar happened in Great Britain with Tony Blair’s spin doctors’ team.
How did that happen?
In two ways. First, there was the establishment of new tightly controlled offices outside of the CIA, such as the Office of Strategic Plans and the Office of Strategic Influence. They produced syntheses that went in the direction the powers-that-be wanted.
In the heart of the CIA, some young guys took advantage of the windfall to draw up their reports to match what they thought the powers-that-be wanted to read! It’s a company where the internal quarrels are very intense and which has evolved profoundly since the end of the Cold War. The former generation had a very European culture, very New England. Now you meet more boorish people, often from the South or from Texas, whose world view is, let us say, more limited.
How do these intelligence services work?
There are numerous filters between the agent who collects the intelligence on the ground and the memo that arrives on the President’s desk. At the core of the CIA, intelligence is given form by Operations Management, which transmits it to Intelligence Management, where the analysts in their turn draw up syntheses they transmit to the Director, who assumes political responsibility. Afterwards, all that is milled again with what comes from the other agencies, such as electronic surveillance (NSA) or military intelligence (DIA). The conditional phrases and the cautions that you find at the beginning of the chain get transformed into assertions that point in the direction desired by the powers-that-be.
When you look for one thing, you don’t find something else! The way a question is asked partially induces the answer. They were looking for wmd; they found clues to their existence. In an ideal world and to have a more balanced view, two teams should have been set to work simultaneously; the one looking for wmd, the other playing devil’s advocate, looking for proof of their disappearance.
Will this affair leave its mark on the relationship between political power and the intelligence services?
Undoubtedly, and especially in England where they enjoyed a high level of trust. The secret services run the risk of losing a part of their soul in all this because they feel they have been totally used. This is even the first time ever that democracies justify a war with the argument: “Our intelligence services told us…”
Translation: t r u t h o u t French language correspondent Leslie Thatcher.
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