Intelligence Failure: The Iraq War
Failure in a country’s Intelligence system often leads to devastating outcomes. The Americans and the British experienced Intelligence failure concerning the issue of Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). This failure came up in diverse forms that would have made it difficult to realize that there was a problem within the Intelligence system. Even so, several lessons were learnt from the intelligence failure thus prompting the US government to make certain changes that would be beneficial to the country in the long run.
According to Mockaitis (2012), the intelligence shortcomings mainly arose from the fact that there were analytical shortcomings amongst the intelligence personnel. As such, the whole system provided wrong assessments causing the US and even the British to rely on the wrong information concerning the Iraq war. The policymakers influenced the activities of the intelligence system so that they could get support from the public to indulge in the Iraq war. This aim was achieved by overstating the facts provided by intelligence to make it appear that the war was the only solution. Actually, organizations, politicians, and even individuals influenced the bias in the official reports. However, it later came to THE UK’s attention that there was in fact, no WMDs in Iraq as none were found during the war. Politicians even claimed that they would not have opted to go to war if they were not misled by the faulty intelligence (Clark, 2012). The first way in which there was an overstatement was from the words uttered by Bush and Blair, which caused anxiety. In 2002, President Bush said that, “Should Saddam’s regime acquire fissile material it would be able to build a nuclear weapon within a year.” Tony Blair, the British Prime further exaggerated by saying that “Saddam could use chemical weapons within 45 minutes of deciding to do so” (Mockaitis, 2012). The National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) reported that even though American intelligence communities had little confidence in predicting whether Saddam was able to use WMD, they felt that there was a high likelihood that he could partner with a terrorist group like Al-Qaeda in order to attack America. This shows that the actions of Blair and Bush’s administrations contributed in influencing the conclusion made by the intelligence community.
Secondly, the reports from the intelligence community were fast-tracked thus creating room for failure. On October 2002, the NIE was published even though intelligence officials did not analyze it properly since key stages had been bypassed when it was being drafted (Mockaitis, 2012). The document was not analyzed properly because Bush’s administration had not given the intelligence adequate time for its publication. Therefore, the intelligence failure can be attributed to conducting a rush job as seen when some stages of the analysis were skipped. The US government played a major role for the insufficient information provided as they gave the intelligence community inadequate time to carry out their work. Another aspect that enhanced intelligence failure was the belief that the Iraq war was inevitable. From the onset, the intelligence had been drafted with the knowledge and belief that the Iraq war was inevitable. As such, the environment was not conducive for carrying out an independent analysis. In fact, the NIE was written with war in mind such that even the policies created were in support of the same. Moreover, the political administrations had asked to be given more evidence and this meant that their suspicions had to be confirmed. The pressure prompted the intelligence community to seek for evidence that would confirm these suspicions even when it was not reliable.
Finally, the actions of Saddam Hussein were misleading thus creating room for misinterpretation. During the Gulf War that had occurred in 1991, it was established that Iraq has a WMD program (Diamond, 2008). Saddam’s government has used the weapons during a Kurdish uprising sometime in the late 1980s. Consequently, the United Nations Special Committee (UNSCOM) was established to ensure that the program was completely dismantled. Iraq continued to engage in other violent wars thus causing the intelligence community to believe that they were actually in possession of WMD. Diamond (2008) argues that it was not until the 2003 war with Iraq that the intelligence personnel realized that they had cooperated with the UN restrictions thus they were no longer in possession of WMD. Generally, intelligence failures arose from certain aspects like misinterpretation, overstatement, analytical failures and so much reliance on previous knowledge.
The result of the intelligence failure was that, on 20th March 2003, the U.S armed forces ended up invading Iraq. The invasion aimed at disarming Saddam Hussein who was Iraq’s dictator of any WMD (Diamond, 2008). However, it became apparent that Iraq was not in possession of such weapons thus a failure on the intelligence’s part. Saddam Hussein did not use any weapons when the US coalition forces invaded the country and even none was found afterwards. George W. Bush, the US president at the time and Tony Blair, who was the British Prime Minister also played a great role in the war as they overstated the potential danger Iraqi posed to the public. Even so, it seems that the intelligence failure was also caused by the need to find certain vital information and the requests made so that the intelligence reports could be able to bypass some crucial review stages. The requests led to the creation of an environment that was not conducive for the intelligence community to carry out their work effectively (Clark, 2012).
Chronological Overview of the events that caused Intelligence Failure
Several events caused the failure of the intelligence community. The first in the chronology of events were the actions of the Iraq government from the early 1990s. The Gulf War that occurred in 1991 caused intelligence failure because Iraq made use of WMD in its operations against the Kurdish uprising. Although UNSCOM successful dismantled the WMD program, the intelligence community retained the ideology that it was possible that Iraq could still be in possession of the said weapons (Onea, 2013). Secondly is the 1995 event where Iraqis were caught with an estimated 115 missile gyroscopes, which they had attempted to smuggle through Jordan. This gave the impression that Saddam was bent on continuing to run a WMD program secretly. In fact, the Iraq government did everything possible to thwart the efforts put in by the UN inspectors. This reaction caused the intelligence personnel to conclude that Iraq was actually in possession of WMDs and they only had knowledge about a small portion of it.
The intelligence community strongly believed that Iraq had WMD and were only being deceptive. To them the lack of evidence that Iraq were dealing in WMD did not mean dismantlement but rather deception. In 2000, the Iraq government announced that they would not allow the weapons inspectors from the UN to come back to Iraq and continue with the disarmament program, which had been halted December 1998 prior to the British and American air strikes (Onea, 2013). As such, the refusal of the Iraqi government to allow UN inspectors to carry out their work conclusively left room for suspicion on the possibility of the country being in possession of WMD.
On January 2002, President Bush described countries like Iran, Iraq and North Korea as the “axis of evil.” These utterances planted a seed of doubt in the minds of the intelligence personnel. It was as though it was impossible for Iraq to free themselves of the weapons of mass destruction. Consequently, the investigations carried out by intelligence were geared towards asserting this claim. Furthermore, on April 2003, Blair told Bush that he was very prepared to overthrow Iraqi’s ruler, Saddam Hussein even if the UN failed to mandate the same (Clark, 2012). On May of the same year, the UN revamped the 11 year old sanction imposed on Iraq and instead replaced it with what was called “smart sanctions” aimed at military equipment. On September 24th, the British government published a document that showed the threat that Iraq posed including the “45 minute claim” stated by Tony Blair (Onea, 2013). This goes to show that there was already a formed opinion and thus even though intelligence was doing their own investigations they already had the opinion that the war was inevitable. On 18th November 2002, Dr. Blix carried out a search for weapons in Baghdad but failed to comment on his findings hence creating room for the intelligence community to draw the wrong conclusions thus their failure.
Lessons learnt from the post-incident investigation
The first lesson learnt was the need to have concrete evidence before acting on mere suspicion. The US intelligence came up with the conclusion that Iraq was in possession of weapons even when they did not find evidence. This caused them to use so much of their resources on warfare only to discover that they were wrong. Even worse, is that more than 100,000 lives were lost during the war yet it was not worthwhile (Jervis, 2012). Secondly, the US and UK government learnt the necessity of undergoing a rigorous procedure before conclusions could be made about a given situation. The government was responsible for causing the fast tracking of the report because they had issued strict timelines. It is necessary to provide adequate time and to go through the analysis procedure carefully without skipping any step as this could help to identify potential problems and inconsistencies in an intelligence report.
Going through proper procedures increases the accuracy of an intelligence report thereby making it more reliable. The other lesson learnt is that a conducive environment is vital for the intelligence personnel so that they can conduct their work independently without any undue interference especially from politicians (Jervis, 2012). As such, politicians and members of the public, should avoid making suggestive remarks that could negatively influence the results of the work done by the intelligence community. If these lessons are put into consideration then cases of intelligence failure will be minimized and the public will have more confidence on intelligence reports.
Changes made as a result of the intelligence failure
The first change was that of trying to ensure that the top officials changed their approach towards addressing potential threats facing the nation. In this regard, politicians were not allowed to make suggestive utterances when they had no concrete proof. Even when such utterances are made, the media refrain from publishing the same information especially when there is no proof. Secondly, the institutional capacity to combat terrorist threat was handed over to the congress (Fingar, 2011). This means that unlike before, the president would have to mobilize support from the congress before he could take any step. The issue of homeland security is very sensitive and requires that US force to act on well-informed decisions. As such, the involvement of the Congress has reduced cases of launching attacks on countries without sufficient evidence that such countries are indeed a threat. Additionally, there has been a creation of an intelligence analysis unit as well as an improvement of the training and hiring procedures. For instance, the FBI has come up with an Office of Intelligence together with a training program that lasts for six weeks for all the analysts (Clark, 2012). Consequently, there will be fewer incidences of intelligence failure as they are trained to carry out investigations without independently giving room for undue interference. Furthermore, the training makes it possible for them to conduct a thorough analysis without skipping any procedure. These changes have increased incidences of intelligence failure especially because they enhance the integrity of the intelligence reports.
Reason for intelligence failure
The failure mainly emanated from the fact that the intelligence community did not analyze all the collected material objectively. Instead, they were more concerned about adhering to the strict deadlines given to them. Fast tracking the report means that certain crucial stages were skipped thereby making the report unreliable. For instance, the investigative report indicated that there were “deep rooted” suspicions thus showing that they had not conducted a thorough analysis of all the information, which had been collected. They merely relied on suspicions instead of conducting a thorough analysis to find out what was wrong. In fact, the investigations conducted after the Iraq war showed that additional claims had been inserted in the report to make the situation alarming. Even the draft and the final papers clearly showed that intelligence analysis was not conducted properly otherwise they would have been able to identify the false claims that had been inserted. If the US government would have given adequate time for the data to be collected then the intelligence failure would have been avoided.
Things like overstatement, misinterpretation, and improper analysis of the data collected often cause intelligence failure, as was the case with in the Iraq war. Moreover, certain events like the utterances of President Bush and Blair misled the intelligence community in the course of their investigations. As such, changes like proper training and recruitment of staff increases the efficiency of the intelligence personnel thus preventing future occurrences of intelligence failure.
Clark, R. M. (2012). Intelligence analysis: A target-centric approach 4th edition. Washington, D.C: CQ.
Diamond, J. (2008).The CIA and the culture of failure: U.S. intelligence from the end of the Cold War to the invasion of Iraq.Stanford, Calif: Stanford Security Series.
Fingar, T. (2011).Reducing uncertainty: Intelligence analysis and national security.Stanford, Calif: Stanford Security Studies.
Jervis, R. (2012). Why intelligence fails: Lessons from the Iranian Revolution and the Iraq War. Ithaca: Cornell Paperbacks.
Mockaitis, T. R. (2012). The Iraq War: A documentary and reference guide. Santa Barbara, Calif: Greenwood.
Onea, T. A. (2013). US foreign policy in the post-cold war era: Restraint versus assertiveness from George H.W. Bush to Barack Obama.