Preventing Catastrophe: The Use and Misuse of Intelligence in Efforts to Halt the Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction

By Thomas Graham Jr.; Keith A. Hansen | Go to book overview

Appendix K
History of Presidential Influence on US Intelligence

Note: The best comprehensive history of how the US Intelligence Community became what it is today is Christopher Andrew's For the President's Eyes Only: Secret Intelligence and the American Presidency from Washington to Bush. All historical facts in this appendix, except for the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations, are drawn from this source, unless otherwise noted.

All presidents and their administrations, particularly since World War II, have made decisions that have shaped the scope and capabilities of US intelligence. Most presidential administrations have had a mixed record (both positive and negative impact on the capabilities and effectiveness of the Intelligence Community), due in part to their strong biases or reactions to events that occurred during their time in office. And all have been guilty to one degree or another of attempting to politicize intelligence to support their policy objectives. Moreover, all have had to deal with imperfect intelligence and even intelligence failures, and some have ignored the intelligence provided even when it was accurate. A few administrations have blamed the Intelligence Community, especially the CIA, for national security failures that were in fact failures of policy, not intelligence. Thus, the dynamic and difficult relationship between policy and intelligence is a consistent part of the political and bureaucratic landscape in Washington, no matter which party is in the White House. And since the mid-1970s, Congress has compounded the complexity of that relationship through its increased influence on Intelligence Community activities.

The United States was late in recognizing the need for any type of peacetime intelligence efforts against other countries. Only during times of military conflict did the United States resort to intelligence activities, in order to win the war. The sense of being an “island state” separated from the “old world” by the Atlantic Ocean certainly contributed to the belief that the United States could exist apart from the rest of the world. However, the nation ultimately discovered not once but twice that conflicts in Europe, and subsequently in Asia, would affect its own security interests. It was only following World War II when its commercial and political interests had become global and were threatened by communist expansion that the United States reluctantly understood that it had to be better informed about what the rest

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