Mar 26 2008

Precision Without Purpose Leads To Confusion

Published by at 12:19 pm under All General Discussions,Iraq

I have worked on Federal programs most of my life. And while the people in the federal government are nice, normal people just like the rest of us – the environment of government creates bad habits. We all know it burns out creativity and initiative (which are punished for being disruptive and disrespectful of others) and can create a lost of waste (as some people just sit and hold their spot so they can pull in a paycheck).

In the 20+ years I have worked for the federal government either things got worse or I rose high enough to get good view of how things don’t function well. But one thing is for sure, the government can make simple things very complex, and slice things so fine with ‘precision’ that the result is complete confusion. It is like trying to measure a football field to within a micrometer – it is precision without purpose.

So when I ran across this great article in the Weekly Standard on how a bureaucracy can create a report that claims Saddam had not ties to AQ but ties to AQ’s second in command I just had to shake my head in sad understanding.

THERE IS PERHAPS NO clearer example of why the U.S. intelligence community has such a serious credibility problem than the recently released report on the relationship between Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and terrorist groups.

Anyone with a basic knowledge of Islamic terrorism who read the early headlines and then read the report cannot help but come away with a severe case of cognitive dissonance. Iraq was a state sponsor of terrorism and had we not gone to war with Iraq after 9/11, it would still be a focal point in our fight against Islamic terror.

Nothing illustrates this more clearly than documents from Saddam’s own intelligence service, which confirm that the regime was funding the group Egyptian Islamic Jihad in the early 1990s. Led by Ayman al Zawahiri, the EIJ eventually morphed into what most observers call “core” al Qaeda. Zawahiri became al Qaeda’s second in command when

al Qaeda was formed in the late 1980s. Saying Iraq was not supporting al Qaeda, when there was no meaningful distinction between the EIJ and al Qaeda, strains credulity.

Therein lies the problem: this report–and every assessment dealing with intelligence or national security matters–is crafted with such extreme precision in an impossible quest to be “right” that they end up being absurdly wrong. This quest for false precision skews our understanding of very clear and simple truths. This is part of the reason why so many policymakers of all political persuasions hold intelligence in such disdain.

This is a problem that is endemic in the intelligence community and particularly bad in agencies that have taken a beating in recent years for providing incomplete information about the threat posed by Iraq’s WMD programs. To compensate, agencies caveat their work to the point that ten different people reading the same report will come away with at least nine different interpretations of the report’s findings. By not making unambiguous calls about what is known and more importantly what is unknown, intelligence agencies don’t serve their consumers; they confuse and infuriate them.

This is a great insight into why our intelligence is broken and misleading – read the whole thing and bookmark it. But I would go further – it is tentative precision. It has to be so bullet proof that no crack of doubt can be allowed to exist. I still see a fairly decent (not great) study of the paper trail supporting what was well known about Saddam’s ties to terrorists and his threat for future 9-11s. What I also see is a political hack adding in the ‘smoking gun’ line and then leaking it to a well established liberal mouthpiece in the so called news media.

But it is the precision without purpose (or value) that gave the political hack his or her opening. It was the inability to have enough confidence to put 2+2 together and say Saddam supported Zawahiri’s group, so there is little doubt (and no evidence) that those connections disappeared when Zawahiri integrates his group with al-Qaeda. It doesn’t sound like a big leap of logic, but to some in the government that kind of bold statement, since it has ramifications, is a horror to utter.

So what you get, instead, is all the non-controversial conclusions – like Saddam support Egyptian Islamic Jihad for over a decade. The problem is it is the controversial, disturbing news that is typically what leaders need to know to avoid a problem. No one likes to be accused of crying ‘wolf’, so they just keep to the easy and obvious. Sadly, dealing with terrorists like AQ is not going to be easy or obvious.

25 responses so far

25 Responses to “Precision Without Purpose Leads To Confusion”

  1. BarbaraS says:

    This is a great insight into why our intelligence is broken and misleading

    The reason our intelligence is broken is because of Bill Clinton and Torricelli. One would almost think they planned our downfall if we didn’t know just how stupid they are. The idea of this grifter getting house room in the WH again makes my stomach churn. Everything Bush and Rumsfeild have accomplished with military will be destroyed again and we will be left vulnerable again to the terrorists. Neither Bill Clinton nor his wife have any passing acqaintance with the truth and are mired so deep in liberal agendas that they have no clue the danger we are in. All that woman and her opponent can talk about is national health care when our survival is at risk. And they have the brass bound nerve to declare that there is no war on terror.

  2. VinceP1974 says:

    whippet: i was behind Bush 100% at first. he made some great decisions in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.

    However, he’s been coasting on the consequences of those good decisions because he’s made a string of bad decisions afterward that threaten to negate all the good that was done.

    If it comes to expiring tax cuts
    Demanding the Palestinians fullfill thier obligations
    Not allowing Iran to become nuclear
    Getting NK to denuclearize

    all the good is being undone… and the good is preventing a lot of death in the world… and its undoing will unleash it.

    That’s why I’m upset , the stakes are too high to allow all these things to unravel.

  3. truthhard2take says:

    Don’t get too angry too soon, Vince. Israel has never firmly declared its borders-while expanding. Let it go first, Pals. Then again it hasn’t signed the apropos nuke treaties–oops, hasn’t even admitted, formally, possessing them. I take it, the silence on this site about the subject equals sanction of same, equated with part of the “good” that needs preserving.

    According to the Joint Cheifs, Bush has not “accomplished” much ,but worn down the military, Barb, which will soon be pressured in part to divert back to Afghanistan. Rumsfeld sure cost-cut his way gracefully into a quagmire while Shisheski was ousted. Nice job, Rummy.

  4. Whippet1 says:

    That’s why I said that I understand. There are many issues like the ones you mention that have been frustrating for me. And I agree that a lot of good can be undone…

  5. VinceP1974 says:

    Did you see the news today? 77 pounds of Uranium found with Hugo Chavez-backed FARC.

    I told you something is going on down there.