The NIO Speaks

Paul Pillar was the National Intelligence Officer for the Middle East during the period when the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq was written, staffed across the Intelligence Community and approved as the ground truth of the US government.  That was in October, 2002.  He was supposedly in charge of that process as the member of the National Intelligence Council responsible.

He is now retired and has written an article for "Foreign Affairs" in which he says 1- that there was no evidence that Iraq had nuclear weapons and that Iraq was in no way close to possessing a nuclear weapon at the time the NIE was written.  2- That the supposed Iraq-Al-Qaida connection was fabricated and non-existing. 3- That the Bush administration was not informed by the work of the Intelligence Community.  Rather they used products of the IC to justify strategic decisions already taken.  4- That contrary to the conclusions of the Senator Roberts led Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, analyst were pressured subtly but strongly to produce desired conclusions with regard to this subject.

You can access his article below, and if you wish you can access my article on much the same subject which was written in early 2004 and published in Middle East Policy in Autumn of that same year.

Pat Lang

Summary:  During the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, writes the intelligence community’s former senior analyst for the Middle East, the Bush administration disregarded the community’s expertise, politicized the intelligence process, and selected unrepresentative raw intelligence to make its public case.

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25 Responses to The NIO Speaks

  1. Patrick Henry says:

    Pat…Thanks for this interesting Post and the Reference~Detail links..
    Also for sharing your Straight Forward/Insightful Article Published in the 2004 Middle East Policy Journal..You had a good read of the Events taking place…and Posted them..
    Paul was on National News today..His Main Point was that everyone at the Agency became eventually resigned to the fact that this Administration came to them with an pred~etermination to go to War with iraq…and they wanted the Intel~Information Available so they could just cherry pick it to make thier Case for has been alledged..
    If so..then as you point out..people should have been willing to fall on thier Sword..and tell the Truth about such a Grave Matter..that affected National Security and Policy on a large Scale..
    I think that Responsibility to tell the Truth
    Belonged Primarily to
    George Tenent.. the Guardian of the Agency..he was the Chief Represenative of its
    Men and Women and the Integrity of the CIA..and
    its Community..
    He had a chance to do the Honorable thing and tell the truth while Testifying at the 9/11 Hearings..I was Hoping at the time that He would..
    Instead..He is the One who played the Political Game..Ignored all the rules of Providing Reliable Data..and gave the Assurance that all the Intel/Information this Aministration Relied on Was “SLAM DUNK” reliable..
    It was all Misleading and Based on HOPING they were Right..and that they could Prove It..AFTER the Invasion of Iraq..They GAMBLED and Lost..
    George Tenent did not tell the Truth..He Ignored his own Best People..He Played the Game like with the Bush League..
    He did not Deserve
    the Medal of Freedom for playing his Role..
    The Medal is one of Our Nations Higest Honors..and should be earned honorably..
    Now we can Have a Replay..We Can see the Penaltys..The Fumbles..The Mistakes..
    and the Truth is Coming Out..and Will Prevail…as She Should..
    Justice will walk with Her…as will Honor and Integrity..
    Perhaps something BETTER..This Way Comes..
    We can HOPE so..
    Perhaps Indeed..

  2. Geoff says:

    Col. Lang,
    Your “Drinking the Kool-Aid” article has been the best weapon against those who want to ignore everything and pretend that it’s all OK.
    I’m pretty liberal(but not ‘pull ‘em out now’) but my parents are not (you know $$$). However, neither of them voted for Bush last round. This shift was a direct result from reading this work; possibly along with a book by Johnson Chalmers (I think??) called “Blowback” that I pushed on them.
    note: I know they didn’t vote for Bush. And I am quite sure they didn’t vote for Kerry, so… well I don’t know where you stand so that may not be great news for you, but it is a miracle to me.

  3. Herb Ely says:

    Col. Lang
    I spent my career analyzing weapons programms at the National Ground Intelligence center and retired in 1996. As soon as I looked at the unclassified 2002 NIE, I realized that it showed the existence of programs – but not weapons ready to be used. Our Senators could have realized the same thing.
    There were good reasons to be suspicious of Saddam, he had used WMD and had attempted to develop delivery systems and had decieved us in the past.
    That said, Congress should also have been suspicious of the administration, particularly since the intelligence community was signalling its skepticism in the NIE.
    Bush himself, if we believe Woodward, was skeptical of the case, only to be reassured that it was a slam dunk.
    What we had was a moral failure by those who “drank kool aid” and by those who should have been more skeptical of the case put forth by administration officials.
    The Robb silberman Commission concluded that there was no political pressure on intelligence analysts but acknowledged “it is hard to deny the conclusion that intelligence analysts worked in an environment that did not encourage skepticism about the conventional wisdom.”
    Your paper describes that environment. Thank you.

  4. W. Patrick Lang says:

    Thanks. pl

  5. jonst says:

    Hey, my take on it all is if WAPO can run a story informing we citizens that President Bush’s time in the Texas Air National Guard has been immortalized in bronze by the The National Guard Association of the United States….Tenant can certainly be given the Medal of Freedom…they deserve each other. And, I am sad to say, I am beginning to think that we (the people of the nation) deserve them both.

  6. searp says:

    The NIO had an obligation to ensure that alternate views were fully reflected in the NIE:
    Description of Duties:
    To oversee analysis of intelligence from all sources which might provide warning. In particular, he should be alert to alternate interpretations within the community and assess these with a view to the need for issuance of warning. He should encourage consultation and substantive discussion at all levels in the Community.

  7. John Howley says:

    Col. Lang:
    I read “Kool-Aid” with great interest. You describe in some detail ways that the policy-making process was distorted and manipulated in the years preceeding the invasion of Iraq. Today, Iran policy is much on our minds. Are you satisfied that the twisting of fact and procedure that impacted our Iraq policy is not also occurring in the present case of Iran? VP Cheney is making very similar rumbling noises about Iran as he did about Iraq. Should the American people heed these warnings about Iran — or are they concocted as you document was the case with Saddam Hussein?

  8. W. Patrick Lang says:

    Iran is the threat that Iraq never was. pl

  9. searp says:

    PL: Iran is a threat, but how serious a threat?
    Iran is not an existential threat.
    Iran may, and I emphasize may, go to the extent of trying to use a nuke against us covertly at some point in the future.
    Iran is ideologically opposed to the West, and acts on that by supporting like minded groups in the Middle East.
    Iran may garner some support among Sunni islamicists, but there is a fundamental conflict there.
    I’d say that right now Iran is less of a threat than Pakistan, since the issue of nukes is the most worrisome. Pakistan has abetted the training of jihadis for decades. Pakistan actually has nukes. Pakistan is politically unstable.

  10. RJJ says:

    How serious – but also how urgent is this threat.

  11. W. Patrick Lang says:

    There are too many countries in the world which possess nuclear weapons. If Pakistan loses its present leadership and an Islamist and probably military government comes to power, then Pakistan will become a greater and more immediate threat than Iran.
    Nevertheless, Iran has been and remains a self actuating adversary of the US, uninterested in reconciliation with the USA. Since the creation of the Islamic Republic, diplomats have wandered the halls of the UN seeking an Iranian who would let them give them a hug. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. They are not interested and they persist in fundung and supporting Islamist mischief everywhere.
    Is Iran an immediate threat? No, not an unmanageable threat as yet. Do we only deal with immediate threats?
    Would the Iranians use nuclear weapons if they had them? Maybe not, but that misses the point that mere posession of nuclear weapons changes the calculus of power in the region. When combined with the ballistic missiles the Iranians are developing, the net effect would be to considerably level the playing field in the region.
    World politics is not about being “fair.” pl

  12. RJJ says:

    “Is Iran an immediate threat? No, not an unmanageable threat as yet. Do we only deal with immediate threats?”
    Patient has angina, the only guy on call is a quack podiatrist with thrice as many malpractice settlements as diplomas. How much do you want him to do for you?

  13. W. Patrick Lang says:

    Yes. This loss of credibility is yet another “gift” we have from this government. pl

  14. jonst says:

    It’s my opinion that if Iran, as it is presently constituted, attains, or comes close to attaining, a nuclear weapon and the ability to deliver it; other nations in the Gulf will be forced to respond in kind. i.e. Saudi Arabia, and, ironically enough, perhaps Iraq. That question will depend on who is in power in Iraq at the relevant moment. I assume Egypt, and Syria, would not be far behind. And this would be recipe for disaster.
    Your take?

  15. W. Patrick Lang says:

    It would seem inevitable that S. Arabia would pursue a nuclear program in the circumstance you mention. Egypt would not be far behind. pl

  16. jonst says:

    I agree with T.Friedman (a rare thing for me)that we are a crossroads here. And the key players are China, India, and Russia. We know where the US, and to lessor extent, the EU will line up on this. Its China, India and Russia that will decide how this issue is ‘settled’. But if the Gulf, and the ME in general, get into a nuke arms race, we all can stand the (heck) by because anyone with a brain and a wee bit of knowledge about history, knows what’s coming.
    Personally, I see any strike on Iran as being counter productive to our interests. Sucessful strike or not. It will not be good for us. For anyone, least of the all the our people in Iraq. Perhaps before Iraq…..but that moment is gone now. And it won’t be coming back. And that leaves aside the issues of competence on the part of the Admin. A large and ominous issue to leave aside. Either the UN, with all its faults, solves this…or it will be big trouble. To say the least.

  17. Eric says:

    Good analyses over at Salon on “Iran Options”:

  18. W. Patrick Lang says:

    Sometimes “big trouble” seeks us out. I do not agree with TF when he says that the “world has become flat.” I think that is short sighted. If anything the world appears to be becoming hillier to me. pl

  19. jonst says:

    PL, as I wrote above, I rarely agree with Friedman on anything. In the example I used above I simply assumed that Friedman, in this case, blindly stumbled into a ‘truth’.

  20. jonst says:

    And least of all, LEAST of all, do I agree with any of his simplistic economic views. i.e “the world is flat”, which by the way, is not what guy said to Friedman in the first place. The Indian CEO said the “”Tom, the playing field is being leveled.” And that is nonsense.

  21. taters says:

    How the hell did Ahmed Chalabi reveal to the Iranians that we had cracked their code and still be persona gratis (despite the brief respite of that status)and end up as the oil guy in Iraq?
    Pat, has your buddy Larry said anything about Valerie Plame’s assignment was (to be?) Iran and nuclear proliferation? This lay person has seen a few rumblings of the sort…So much of what’s been happening with this admin truly reads like a bad novel. Or bumblers like The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight. However the consequences and stakes are of a far more serious nature… It is indeed a pleasure, however, gentlemen, to be in such great company, I enjoyed all the thoughful reads, and of course our gracious host, Col. Pat Lang. God Bless America.
    PS If John Yoo and Alberto Gonzales would have been at Yorktown, they would have begged to have had Banastre”Bloody Ban” Tarleton as a guest of honor at the post surrender dinner feast/dinner.
    What manner of men are these?

  22. taters says:

    Pat, I was remiss. Thank you for a great thread and the Paul Pillar piece.

  23. W. Patrick Lang says:

    Yes, “all the world wonders.”
    About Sluggo – White says that Sluggo (a giant English bulldog) hangs out in the back yard a lot, and is socially challenged for that reason. He said he hires Sluggo out at stud once in a while, both for the money and because he thinks Sluggo could use a break from the back yard. A few months back he had to make Sluggo’s “product” available for artificial insemination and took him down to the vet for the “action.” He said that it is real easy now to get Sluggo to get in the car to go to the vet, or anywhere. He said that the last time he took him to the vet for this service the vet said, “Mr. White” why don’t you come in the back room here and we will show you how to do this yourself and then you can just bring the semen without the dog.” He claims to have told the doc, “No, no, you go ahead without me. He follows me around too much as it is…”

  24. taters says:

    Pat – LOL! The Saga of Sluggo made my day already.
    When we were stationed in Japan, my dad got me a pup -which was named Sluggo. Shortly after, we also got Butch. Never named one Nancy…I was looking at some pix of the old man in Korea, ’51, ’52 and one with him outside of his pup tent in the snow, smiling, holding his dog and his carbine. One of my faves.

  25. taters says:

    I saw Ron White’s Tater Salad – hilarious!! The “coupons” bit is a riot, too – a gentle but dead on take of Kalamazoo, MI.

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