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It's Academic!

Why the new Senate report on Iraq fails to take the intelligence situation seriously.

1:10 PM, Sep 13, 2006 • By MICHAEL TANJI
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Prior to the war, Iraq fell into the intelligence bin labeled "hard target," which is a euphemism for countries where we are essentially unable to recruit agents and that have the ability to hide from our satellites. The SSCI report notes that the CIA apparently had only one highly-placed source in Iraq's government. Our dominance in technical collection capabilities was also no great help. As a Pentagon briefing pointed out in 2002, Iraq had a highly capable denial and deception program that made technical intelligence virtually useless.

These shortcomings in Iraq should be object lessons for current intelligence reform. Our approach to hard targets in the past was clearly inadequate. It is time for original thinking--or perhaps the adoption of some more risky practices--to avoid future intelligence gaps.

IN COMPUTER SCIENCE the phrase "garbage in, garbage out" is a reference to the fact that if you enter bad data into a computer program, it will dutifully return bad results. The initial response upon seeing an unexpected answer is to mutter "stupid computer," until you go back and realize you fed the machine rubbish (computers cannot yet mutter back to the stupid human). In a sense the process followed by the SSCI staff is similar to a focused and well-meaning computer; they had specific directions and specific sets of data to process.

As long as our efforts to address outstanding issues related to the war are reduced to hand-waving arguments intentionally based on incomplete sets of data, a comprehensive and accurate truth about pre-war Iraq will never be known.

Michael Tanji is a former senior U.S. intelligence officer and an associate of the Terrorism Research Center. He opines at