The Public Interest

Spies and bureaucrats getting intel right

Thomas G. Mahnken

Spring 2005

THE American intelligence community has suffered two blows to its credibility in the past three and a half years. First, intelligence agencies failed to detect al Qaeda’s terrorist plans for September 11, 2001. Then, estimates of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction programs proved to be wildly off the mark. These failures have damaged decision makers’ trust in the intelligence community. Faulty intelligence on Iraq has also hurt American credibility abroad, making it more difficult for the Bush administration to speak with authority regarding North Korean and Iranian nuclear programs, at least before North Korea made its startling announcement about having the bomb. Such intelligence failures have justifiably prompted investigations of the performance of intelligence organizations and calls for reform. They have also exposed the Bush administration to both domestic and international criticism--in the case of September 11, for not acting on poor intelligence, and, in the case of Iraq, for acting on poor intelligence.

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