This morning we attended a lecture given by Sir Richard Dearlove, current Master of Pembroke College, Cambridge and former head of the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS). His lecture was free flowing and anecdotal, but several interesting points stood out.
On the intelligence community in general, he said that “it [intelligence services] change to fit the enemy.” He applied this specifically to the British and American experience with KGB infiltration during the Cold War. They feared that double agents would gain access to high level information and convey it to their operators in Moscow. He further explained that this fear caused the SIS and the CIA to compartmentalize themselves. That is to say, they established “need to know” protocol that kept secrets separate. In this way, the body (our metaphor, not his) did not consist of legs, arms, hands, and feet with a single head, but that they often operated independently and without access to information held by the other departments.
He believes that it was this “compartmentalization” that stopped the SIS and CIA from discovering 9/11 before it happened. We wonder if he would also blame the same cause for their (the CIA and SIS) collective failure to predict the fall of the Soviet Union, the rise of radical islamic terrorism, or the post-war insurgency.
Regarding the war in Iraq, he failed to understand why the public and media were so intent on casting the blame on the governments and intelligence services of Britain and the US. He argued, quite persuasively, that the Iraqi regime had every opportunity to avoid conflict and yet did nothing. Thus, in his view, the bulk of the blame for the Iraqi war lay with Saddam and Co.
When asked about intelligence leading up to the war in Iraq and the failure to find WMD (at least until a couple of weeks ago, subscription required) he referred to the findings of the Iraqi Survey Group, commonly known as the Duelfer Report. Though they failed to find WMD, the report contains evidence of an expansive WMD program. Furthermore, Mr. Dearlove pointed out that Iraq is a large country and he also noted its proximity to Syria and the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon. Sattelite photos showed abnormal amounts of traffic out of Iraq and into these regions in the days leading up to the invasion of Iraq. Mr. Dearlove believes this increased traffic was WMD in transport.
He insists that debate about pre-war intelligence is still open, despite the desire of politicians to end it. Mr. Dearlove seems to agree with the opinion of Senators Hoekstra and Santorum (cited above) that one of the reasons we don’t know about the true findings of the ISG and other reports which show evidence of WMD is because it does not fit what he calls the “orthodoxy of the press.” In other words, it doesn’t fit the ‘approved theme’ of mainstream media that “bush lied, people died.”
On one point, Mr. Dearlove affirmed, “there can be no equivocation.” The intelligence was not a lie. “In fact,” he said, “every member of the Iraqi regime believed that they had WMD.” His statements would seem to agree with our series on pre-war intelligence (Part I, II, III, IV, V, Conclusion) and like us, disagree with Joe Wilson’s assertion that the Bush administration pressured the CIA to produce intel that fit their agenda. In what seemed like a desire to exculpate the CIA and SIS, he suggested that there was “no failing in the intelligence, just a failure in how it was used.” Of course, that’s a policy decision best left to elected officials.