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Home > Debates Last Updated: 14:33 03/09/2007
Comment (July 30, 2004)

Non-Biased Intelligence? Comments on Gregory Clark's Article "Iraq: Myths of Intelligence Exposed"

Chadwick I. Smith (International University of Japan)

Gregory Clark's recent article "Iraq: Myths of Intelligence Exposed" poses an interesting solution to the problems of intelligence failures. Few could argue that these failures clearly demonstrate that the "myth" of intelligence is politically motivated. Information available to only a select few can easily be skewed; certain aspects emphasized while others played down to serve the purpose of the parties involved. This has always been done to some extent and Clark uses the examples of the Cold War and Vietnam to prove his point.

Clark suggests that intelligence should be handled in the same way as economic information. As he points out, mistakes are not tolerated in the economy and non-political experts are put in charge of this information to ensure that there is no bias. However, the solution to have a non-partisan group that will handle intelligence seems highly unlikely. With the economy, generally, all politicians and people of the state agree on one thing - economic growth is a good thing. True there are issues of contention such as how much growth is good, what the optimal level of inflation should be, how should growth be achieved, and so on. However,few politicians have campaigned on a platform that economic growth is a bad thing and instead advocated contracting the economy thus spreading fears that the quality of life would go down. It is then easy to appoint non-political experts to this task because a contracting economy will hurt all politicians and arouse resentment within the populace towards the political system.

The arena of foreign affairs presents a different picture. One could argue that the general goal of foreign affairs, like that of a growing economy, is to advance the interests of the state. But the similarity ends here. Whereas a growing economy will benefit most people, certain foreign policies benefit some over the rest, particularly those in political power. As Clark correctly points out foreign affairs research institutes are "too beholden to the foreign affairs/intelligence/military complex for funds and information." This fact, combined with the benefits and incentives of withholding intelligence to a small group, demonstrates the difficulties of establishing any non-partisan intelligence information center. This information is already biased by nature and it would be next to impossible to separate it from the political motives that inherently underlie its very existence. In addition, the system of rewards and punishment contribute to the "groupthink" problem and demonstrate that political interests are far too great to simply remove.

I agree that Clark's solution would be the best way to alleviate the blunders that have become apparent in the aftermath of the Iraq war. However, the very nature of foreign affairs makes the notion of non-biased intelligence seem idealistic and unattainable. An impartial group to monitor policy makers would be ideal, yet the problem stems from the free access to intelligence. The 9/11 commission report suggests that intelligence processing system should move from a "need to know" to a "need to share." The need to share more information is critical; however it also brings in the possibility of an increasing risk of compromise. How can we be sure that this impartial group is receiving intelligence that has not been skewed already, who would monitor that actual analysis? The clandestine nature of the work makes it difficult to monitor and present numerous difficulties in keeping the information non-biased. In order to be truly effective this organization must not only monitor policymakers but also provide a wide range of services such as analysis and dissemination. To simply monitor existing information would not fully alleviate the dilemma. Therein lies the problem, it must be a totally independent organization which is funded almost completely from scratch. In addition, even if this organization is founded with the notion that it will be independent and non-biased, it is working with information that is classified and may not be open to outside monitoring, so what is to stop them from becoming biased?

Unlike most economic information, intelligence is usually classified and circulated only within a close group for a reason, and this reason stems from the fact that the repercussions that result from its mishandling (espionage) would be far worse than a contracting economy; it has the potential to disintegrate and unravel the state itself, and that is a risk that both politicians and citizens alike are not willing to take. Unfortunately, the decisions that need to be made and the ability to misuse this information will always be a point of political contention, as evinced in the Iraq war.

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