A TALE OF TWO ESTIMATES
THE ERROR-PLAGUED 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction programs has joined, and for many displaced, failure to predict the fall of the Soviet Union as the quintessential example of Intelligence Community (IC) incompetence.1 The Iraq estimate was badly flawed, but so was the “system” or “process” through which intelligence was collected, interpreted, and presented to decision makers.2 Although, as will be argued in the following pages, the estimate per se had no impact on the decision to invade Iraq, it had a profound effect on the scope and shape of efforts to transform the intelligence enterprise made possible by the 9/11 Commission.3
Deficient as it was, the Iraq WMD estimate might have remained unread and without impact if rapidly escalating disillusion with the war in Iraq had not triggered the search for scapegoats in Washington’s increasingly partisan blame game. The Intelligence Community probably would have explained away the obvious deficiencies of the NIE as the inevitable result of rushing to meet a very short deadline (the ninety-two-page paper was produced in less than three weeks).4 The fact that the IC could not simply bury the corpse and move on as if it were simply an anomaly was extremely fortunate because much about the intelligence enterprise, especially analytic tradecraft, is much better today than it would have been without the mandate for change catalyzed by the Iraq WMD estimate.5
As I argued in the previous chapter, NIEs are diligent and disciplined efforts by the Intelligence Community to assess and interpret fragmentary information on complex issues. Nevertheless, in the run-up to the Iraq war and
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Publication information: Book title: Reducing Uncertainty: Intelligence Analysis and National Security. Contributors: Thomas Fingar - Author. Publisher: Stanford Security Series. Place of publication: Stanford, CA. Publication year: 2011. Page number: 89.
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