The failure of US intelligence in Iraq

Essay, 2008

8 Seiten


The failure of US intelligence in Iraq

United States (US) intelligence efforts are massive by any standards. More than 20.000 employees work for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), another 21.000 for the National Security Agency (NSA) and another 8500 for the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA). In 2004, the US government invested more than US$ 35 billion into intelligence and additionally numerous analysts work on intelligence in other governmental agencies with an associated intelligence function as well as in non-governmental institutions. Therefore, one might say that the US intelligence community (IC) is one of the most professionalized and effective intelligence frameworks worldwide. Hence, it is not surprisingly that reams of successes were achieved, even though many of them will remain unknown since the IC will keep operations and methods classified. Yet, despite outstanding financial and human resources, the IC produced many serious intelligence failures. Beginning with the German attack on the Soviet Union and Pear Harbour in 1941 until the failure to foresee the devastating terrorist acts of 9/11 failures are an element of intelligence work in the United States. However, one of the most serious failure of intelligence has been the preparation to the coalition led invasion in Iraq in 2003. The US intelligence community faces severe criticism and accusations of intended wrong information on the case of Iraq. However, in the following this paper will argue that the failure of intelligence resulted from a combination of bureaucratic obscurities and political intended production of customized intelligence. Furthermore, the reliance on doubtful information and the demotion of traditional intelligence processes led to the failure of intelligence in the advance of the Iraq war.

Regime change and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein has been a key element on the political agenda since George Bush became president (Hersh, 27.10.2003). The devastating terrorist attacks of 9/11 disclosed an opportunity for the US administration as “the public mood made an invasion of Iraq possible in a way that had been the case in the past. You could suggest that some people decided to hijack the 9/11 issue to deal with Saddam Hussein for reasons that they may have recognized had little to do with terrorism” (Pollack, 2003). In the aftermath of 9/11, the US administration argued in favour of an invasion into Iraq in order to prevent Saddam Hussein from distributing unconventional weapons to terrorist groups or, in a worst-case scenario from attacking the United States with nuclear weapons (Hersh, 27.10.2003). However, this argumentation was contradicted by the IC. Rather, the CIA had “no evidence that Iraq has engaged in terrorist operations against the United States in nearly a decade and [was] also convinced that President Saddam Hussein has not provided chemical or biological weapons to Al Qaeda or related terrorist groups” (Risen, 06.02.2002). Furthermore, the DIA concluded that “there was o reliable information on whether Iraq is producing and stockpiling chemical weapons or where Iraq has – or will – establish warfare agent production facilities” (Judis & Ackerman, 30.06.2003). Concerning the nuclear programme, CIA, DIA and INR followed the position of the International Atomic Energy Agency that “there are no indications that there remains in Iraq any physical capability for the production of weapon usable nuclear material of any practical significance” (International Atomic Energy Agency, 1998). In other words, within the IC prevailed the position that there was no concrete threat emanating from Iraq in either case.

However, after failing to foresee and prevent 9/11, the IC and the Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) George Tenet were confronted with severe critique, especially from the US administration. Referring to this critique and having their political agendie in the background, the US government started to exert significant influence on the IC and the weakened DCI in an extent that according to senior CIA analysts never has been “so pervasive and so insistent” (Hersh, 27.10.2003). As a consequence of the constant pressure, the unclassified assessments of the IC exaggerated the Iraq-Al Qaeda nexus and the Iraqi nuclear programme, even though classified reports still were not convinced in either case (Judis & Ackerman, 30.06.2003). Moreover, “Senior CIA analysts, dealing with Iraq were constantly urged by the Vice-Presidents office to provide worst-case assessments on Iraqi weapons issues […] they began to provide intelligence that was wanted” (Hersh, 27.10.2003). This internal-external antagonism was made possible by the DCI’s relatively weak position within the IC and the US administration aroused by a lack of discretionary power, inadequate budget control and the fact that he is not a assigned member of the National Security Council (NSC). Therefore, the influence of the DCI as the “primary adviser to the President and the NSC on national foreign intelligence” (Executive Order 12333 - United States intelligence activities, 04.12.1981) is related to his liason with the president. However, under the pressure of 9/11, George Tenet was eager to consolidate his position and therefore was not able or willing to resist the influence of the administration. Hence, a more independent and assertive DCI could have resisted the pressure and influence of the administration (Hersh, 27.10.2003). However, the weak resistance to external pressure is only one reason for the failure of intelligence in the Iraq case. Intelligence collection and assessment is another one.


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The failure of US intelligence in Iraq
Macquarie University
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MSc. M.A. Robert Fiedler (Autor), 2008, The failure of US intelligence in Iraq, München, GRIN Verlag,


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