Friday, September 17, 2004


A Must-Read "Countercolumn"

Complementing my Iraq posts below is a posting over on Jason Van Steenwyk's (that would be 1Lt Van Steenwyk's) Countercolumn site.


A major on the general staff in Baghdad weighs in with Captain's Quarters, and he's pretty much of the same mind I am: things are not as bad as they seem in the media.

The short version: the much ballyhooed National Intelligence Estimate being touted by the chicken little press corps is hopelessly out of date.
I declined to explicitly address the NIE in my posts below for two reasons:

First, I haven't read it, because it's classified above my pay grade. Oh, parts of it have been leaked, and discussed on background, but why do I suspect that only the juicy parts (i.e., the ones "embarrassing" to President Bush) were the parts revealed to the New York Times?

Second, if it's anything like the declassified NIE's I've read, it's a useless mix of "Duh!"-style observations and aimless hyperbole.

Oh, and like Jason says, the NIE is also likely out-of-date. If it reached the President in July, that means the intelligence contained therein must be at least weeks but much more likely months old. Bureaucracies, especially those of the Potomac variety, take their time to coordinate everything with everybody before it goes to anybody. I doubt this NIE was any different.

That said, are the conclusions reported to be in the NIE accurate? I don't know; again, see my comments above. However, one thing I would be concerned about was who supplied the raw data, and who wrote the conclusions. If the raw data came from CIA or even DIA sources, I'd be skeptical about that data's accuracy. If the raw data is based on field reports from deployed military intelligence and combat units, then I'd put more trust in its accuracy.

Why? Simple. If you want to know the bad sections of town, who do you trust to give you the most detailed picture: the city prosecutor, or the beat cop? The CIA is not fighting the war in Iraq; soldiers and Marines are. They're the best source for knowing "the word on the street."

That said, even if based on good source material the NIE's conclusions could still be flawed if they're based upon flawed analysis of that material. That's always a danger, and one reason why "red teaming" intelligence conclusions is a common strategy to defeat institutional bias. A second pair of eyes is of great use in providing perspective.

Then again, I'm unfamiliar with the details of the NIE, so I don't know the extent of the "bullshit detection" that went into it. I also do not know if events in Iraq have changed so rapidly as to make the July NIE obsolete-- in either a positive or negative sense. We could be doing worse, the same, or better today, and the July NIE based on spring 2004 data may be of little value in telling which is true.

What I do know is that the New York Times and Reuters and all the rest love to report bad news from Iraq. They also love to highlight the incompetence and failures of our intelligence agencies-- that is, unless, those same agencies happen to reach conclusions that satisfy their love of reporting bad news from Iraq. This could be a case of the media hearing exactly what they want to hear, and passing on their hopes to us as news.

Caveat emptor.

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