Friday, September 29, 2006

It's hard to identify the most disheartening thing about the current mess in Iraq: the tragic deaths and horrific injuries of thousands of American soldiers and Iraqi civilians, the vast cost of the war compared to the degree to which desired outcomes have been realized, or the utter refusal of those responsible to admit that the situation is worse than they claim.

Now we have a source that appears to confirm what everyone already knew: that the war in Iraq has made us less, rather than more safe. This is, of course, the leaked National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) titled Trends in Global Terrorism. You can read the declassified "Key Judgments" of the NIE at the website of the Director of National Intelligence at

There's a critical point to be made here.

After the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, the howls of outrage from the press over the failures of our intelligence community were predictable. How could you morons possibly not have known this was coming? What's wrong with you? Why aren't you out there collecting intelligence to protect us?

Unfortunately, we have created a culture in this country in which the media automatically assumes that anything classified is classified for some malign reason: to cover up government malfeasance, to hide things that the American people have a right to know, etc, etc. The concept that there may be a legitimate reason to protect some secrets seems to be anathema to the media...unless, of course, the secret to be protected deals with how they collect and report their information. At this point, freedom of the press trumps any other moral or ethical considerations.

My personal opinion - not shared by many who will read these words, I'm sure - is that there are legitimate reasons for some information to be classified and protected. The catchall phrase "national security" doesn't explain those reasons to the American people, nor does the bland phrase "sources and methods." Here's the ground truth: "sources and methods" means that:

1. It's difficult to collect intelligence, because the people you're collecting against try very hard to keep you from collecting it.

2. When you find a good source of intelligence, it generally means that the people you're collecting against don't realize what you're doing. If they find out, they can take steps to keep you from collecting. This is what happens when classified information is leaked: the bad guys learn what we know, figure out how we learned it, and plug the leak...often by killing or imprisoning the person who gave us the information, or fixing the technical weakness that was exploited to collect it. And then the intelligence community has to start over, and wait for the next beating from the media.

It's time to be realistic. The key judgments of the NIE don't need to be classified. They only tell us what everyone with eyes, ears, and a brain already knew. The data on which those judgments were based may need to be classified, and I'm willing to give Mr Negroponte the benefit of the doubt.


Instead of worrying about whether the rest of the NIE ought to be released, worry about what the key judgments say - they are the end result of the analysis. Read the judgments, think about them, and then use your own analysis to inform your decisions in the upcoming elections.

Have a good day and a good weekend. More thoughts coming.


1 comment:

Bernie said...

And then there is this one, and he is at least 12 months now... Time for an updated pic I think!!!

burntofferings and more at bernies fotoblog