Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Alternative Views and Concerns About Politicization in Intelligence Matters

On many topics, there are inevitably different perspectives, and according to many
observers, policymakers are best served by rigorous presentations of alternative
positions.15 At the same time, however, some NIEs reflect an effort to craft language that
all agencies can agree on and thus to avoid airing differences that might draw agencies
into policy arguments between and among government departments. Agency managers
understand that too close involvement in a policy argument by intelligence analysts can
make their analyses unwelcome across the board. In addition, they well understand that
analysis is an uncertain science and art and that even the best analysts can miss
developments that loom large in retrospect and leave their agencies open to harsh
criticism or retribution.

Concern is often expressed about the extent to which intelligence products can
become “politicized,” i.e., be drafted to support or undermine certain policy options. A
charge of politicization is difficult to prove and is often dependent upon a reader’s
subjective viewpoint. Most observers believe that analysts make a conscientious effort
to avoid policy advocacy, but note that they are fully aware of policy disputes and may
have their own views that may, subconsciously or otherwise, influence their products.
There is, according to some observers, a tendency to avoid making intelligence judgments
that directly conflict with policy options that have been chosen. Observers caution that
placing intelligence analysis at the center of policy disputes can undermine the
effectiveness of the analytical contribution; they suggest that intelligence can best serve
by informing policy debates, but analysts cannot be expected to provide definitive
judgments that will resolve disputes that may involve a myriad of different factors, some
far removed from intelligence questions. In addition, observers note that it should be
recognized that policymaking sometimes involves making judgments based on incomplete
intelligence or on a willingness to accept risks and uncertainties beyond the ken of
analysts. Analysis can have a subjective quality to some degree and can be undermined
by unreasonable expectations.

The Intelligence Reform Act provides several provisions designed to ensure that
analysis is well-prepared and not politicized. In addition to having authority to establish
an Office of Inspector General, the DNI is to assign an individual or entity to ensure that
agencies conduct alternative analyses of information and conclusions in intelligence
products (section 1017). The DNI is also to assign an individual or entity to ensure that
intelligence products are “timely, objective, independent of political considerations, based
on all sources of available intelligence, and employ the standards of proper analytic
tradecraft” (section 1019). Another section requires that the DNI assign an individual to
address analysts’ concerns about “real or perceived problems of analytic tradecraft or
politicization, biased reporting, or lack of objectivity in intelligence analysis” (section
1020).

Endnotes

15 The views of different agencies as reflected in the October 2002 NIE, Iraq’s Continuing
Programs for Weapons of Mass Destruction, are discussed in U.S., Senate, Select Committee on
Intelligence, U.S. Intelligence Community’s Prewar Intelligence Assessments on Iraq, S.Rept.
108-301, July 9, 2004. The report also contains a description of the NIE drafting process; see pp.
9-11.

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