Leading Senator Assails Bush Over Iran Stance – New York Times
Senator John D. Rockefeller IV, the West Virginia Democrat who took control of the committee this month, said that the administration was building a case against Tehran even as American intelligence agencies still know little about either Iran’s internal dynamics or its intentions in the Middle East.
This is the same John D Rockefeller IV who famously said during the Hillarycare debate that the American public would get socialized medicine if they “had to stuff it down their throats”. A Democrat leader who earned his position the old fashioned way, by liberal applications of his inherited wealth.
The fact that he can routinely complain about “the rich” with a straight face should tell you everything you need to know about him.
The Senator is right about one thing. Our intelligence agencies cannot tell us with any certainty what is happening in Iran or anywhere else for that matter.
And if they can’t tell us when we are in danger, they can’t tell us when we’re not.
So when Senator Rockefeller says that we don’t know what’s happening in Iran, he’s right. But that doesn’t mean that they are not developing nuclear weapons and it doesn’t mean that they don’t have the intentions of using them. It only means that we don’t know. Intelligence is always ambiguous at best and in this case it means that we are in the Sept 10 as far as Iran goes and in Senator Rockefeller’s book that’s just fine.
Since the Church hearings in 1975 there has been a constant push to emasculate our intelligence gathering capability. Not that we had an effective capability anyhow. The Intelligence services have not given us warning on any of the major occurrences of the last 40 years. They could not tell us how badly China was hurt by the “Cultural Revolution” in the 60’s, they were completely outmatched by the North Vietnamese. They knew our plans within hours while we knew nothing of theirs. The Cambodian Holocaust, the Iranian Revolution and the collapse of the Soviet Union all came as a complete shock to them.
The CIA thought that Saddam was years away from developing a nuclear capability and were flabbergasted to discover after the Gulf War that Iraq had a weapon that only needed the fissile material to be operational. Even though we took that one the knowledge of how to do it is not something that can be undone. Doing something for the first time is always the hardest. It becomes progressively easier after that, and they had done the hard part.
Americans have never been good at the spying game. It’s just not something we do well. We excel at technology. We can develop satellites that are capable of reading a license plate from space, but we are not able to develop the on-the-ground knowledge of politics and culture in various places to tell us what those license plates mean.
And things have steadily gotten worse. It would seem that some politicians see the intelligence services as something to score points on. A way to get sound bites on the TV news by criticizing their performance. A way to get one up by leaking classified intelligence that damages their opposition.
I think the final gasp of the professional intelligence agent came during the Clinton administration. Although we had troops in the Middle East and were conducting a low level war against Iraq, President Clinton made it a priority for the intelligence agencies to hire gays and women. Not gays and women with needed skills like fluency in Arabic or knowledge of the culture, just gays and women. They’re probably nice people, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into their having the critical skills needed.
The other thing, which was the event that I think gave the coup de grace to the professional intelligence agent, was the ill-considered Executive Order that intelligence agents should not use people that may have “human rights” problems. In other words, they were to collect intelligence about bad people without using bad people.
True, there were caveats in the order that allowed them to use such people if it was vital to the mission, but the intelligence services are bureaucracies, staffed by bureaucrats. Even though using these people might be acceptable today, things might change down the road. What is acceptable today may be a black mark against you down the road when you’re a candidate for advancement. Bureaucrats are cautious creatures. The Executive Order, even with exceptions, was as good as a complete ban.
The professionals that were left by that time saw the way things were going and either headed for the door or donned their bureaucratic sheep’s clothing and set their eyes on the brass ring. Retirement.
The transformation is complete. The intelligence agencies have morphed from the “cowboy” Cold War days of the 50’s and early 60’s to huge bureaucracies that concentrate on passing memos and analysis back and forth and giving intelligence estimates that are mostly ambiguous rehashes of common knowledge.
So Senator Rockefeller is right, but to paraphrase the North Vietnamese Colonel’s remark to Harry Summers, it is also irrelevant.