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Politicization of Intelligence: Lessons from a Long, Dishonorable History

August 31, 2015 in Economics

By Patrick G. Eddington

Patrick G. Eddington

The Daily Beast and the New York Times have reported allegations that senior (but thus far unidentified) Defense Department and United States Central Command (CENTCOM) officials have pressured intelligence analysts working ISIS to alter their conclusions to make their products more palatable to the Obama administration.

The Times story indicates that a DOD Inspector General (IG) investigation into the allegations is underway “after at least one civilian Defense Intelligence Agency analyst told the authorities that he had evidence that officials at United States Central Command — the military headquarters overseeing the American bombing campaign and other efforts against the Islamic State — were improperly reworking the conclusions of intelligence assessments prepared for policy makers, including President Obama.”

This current episode of alleged politicized intelligence estimates sounds eerily familiar to students of the history of the US Intelligence Community in wartime.”

This current episode of alleged politicized intelligence estimates sounds eerily familiar to students of the history of the US Intelligence Community in wartime, particularly the top-down pressure to “only give us the good news.”

One paragraph in the Times story particularly caught my eye. In explaining the Defense Intelligence Agency’s conduct on a pivotal National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) during the Vietnam War, the Times pointed out that analysts’ conclusions that the US would unlikely ever defeat North Vietnamese forces “were repeatedly overruled by commanders who were certain that the United States was winning, and that victory was just a matter of applying more force.” There is a complex history behind how the NIE numbers were established, and it is one that may provide some lessons for looking at the current stories about politicized intelligence reports.

During the writing of the NIE, DIA personnel and several senior intelligence and command staff officers at the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV), including America’s supreme commander in Vietnam, Gen. William Westmoreland, actively engaged in a successful effort to artificially lower the number of assessed Viet Cong (VC) guerillas facing US forces in Vietnam in NIE 14.3-67. That manipulation of intelligence data came after Westmoreland addressed a joint session of Congress on April 29, 1967, in which he said:

While [the enemy] is obviously is far from quitting, there are signs that his morale and his military structure are beginning to deteriorate. Their rate of decline will be in proportion to the pressure directed against him.

But at the very time Westmoreland made that statement, the available intelligence suggested the opposite the view of …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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