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Butler mimics Senate: US and UK weakened


My first thought on the UK Butler report on Iraqi WMD is how similar its findings were to the earlier Senate report. BBC properly summarized Butler's five principal findings as:

  • Claim that Iraq could use WMD within 45 minutes was "unsubstantiated"
  • No individuals were to blame for failures but rather a "collective" failure
  • Intel had been pushed to the "outer limits but not beyond"
  • No deliberate distortion of intel by politicians and the prime minister "acted in good faith"
  • Limits of intelligence not "made sufficiently clear" in September 2002 dossier

Butler's comments on the scrubbing of the unclass September dossier, also shorn of all "warnings and caveats," mimic Senate criticism of the US 2002 NIE, but having lived in the UK, I wonder if Butler went a bit further in telegraphing his incredulity as "outer limits" struck me as rather stark by UK standards.

The report reproves MI6 for not sufficiently validating its sources and relying on "third hand" reports. The question I have is "third hand" from whom. I wonder if the US is one of those sources based on my understanding of intel sharing between US/UK intel groups. Clearly the US has the preponderance of satellite-borne resources for photo and ELINT collection while in other areas, such as Afghanistan, the UK had better HUMINT and diplomatic penetration. Overall US resources dwarf that of the UK so, at some level, one must wonder where the UK must draw the line in protecting sources and annoying a principal asset provider.

Listening to acting DCI John McLaughlin this morning, he again pointed out that the Senate's 'group think' on Iraqi WMD was widespread, including the UK, France, Germany, and Russia. (I have been on that point for some time and felt that the administration was late in picking it up as a shield). He went further, citing Sherman Kent, that a policy analyst (as opposed to an intel analyst) evaluates some twelve criteria in making their assessment -- the implication being that US policy analysts were listening to foreign services and diplomats that were more forward leaning that the CIA. Point taken, but I must ask to that defense: Why are we no better than the pack? And if we are not, how do we make amends for future estimates? How is such a cry of 'Wolf' to be overlooked in future, genuine situations?

McLaughlin echoed then DCI George Tenet's comments in the 9/11 Commission hearings that it was the CIA that was offering many of the points that were included in the 9/11 and Senate intel committees' reports. OK, but why could the agency not create a valid AAR (After Action Report) and absorb those lessons as part of normal operation. The US military does a creditable job of this in its AARs. (For those in organizational learning, I do hasten to note that military AARs are single-loop learning, e.g., asking what could we do better, as opposed to double-loop learning, e.g., asking if we are asking the right questions and then asking about better or worse, but it far exceeds what almost every US corporation does.)

Even if and when we find chemical weapons in Iraq, I agree that US/UK credibility will be weakened in the short to medium term that will extend beyond elections in either nation. Alex Standish, editor of the UK journal Jane's Intelligence Digest, remains a fierce critic of the US/UK approach to the Mideast and, it should be noted, early on felt that Iraqi and al Qaeda goals were "diametrically opposed" and that the US and UK were seeking to assign "good Muslim" and "bad Muslim" labels instead of trying to see the regional states as actors with overlapping and contradictory needs.

In the wake of the Butler report, Standish now speaks of a "dereliction of duty" and that charges against Iraq were "politically driven," a feeling echoed by Lord Charles Powell, once Margaret Thatcher's private secretary for foreign affairs, who said of the dossier that it "sounds as if the publication of the dossier was politically driven and was not initiated by the intelligence community." It makes one wonder how the US NIE was shaped.

I think that is fair to generalize comments of the Senate and Butler reports that US/UK intel shortfalls will make it hard to marshal public support in either country for action on future assessments such as the DPRK (North Korea), Pakistan, Iran, and Syria. Of four cases for war, only human rights abuses remains, and we regularly treat with nations that act equally nasty to their citizens.

Adding to my earlier note, "Failing to connect dots versus having no dots at all," I do feel that there is some burden for administrations on both sides of the pond as unlike ourselves who were reading the unclass, scrubbed, ambiguity-stripped 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) and the Dossier, each administration was reading the classified versions and still leaped far past its intel services in positing calumny to Iraq. As those administrations had access to far more resources that we, I will be interested in seeing how they came to their conclusions. That leap is a subject to be addressed in the second phase of the Senate intelligence committee but it will not complete until after the election.

Blair echoed Bush in telling parliament earlier this morning that, "I cannot honestly say I believe getting rid of Saddam was a mistake at all. Iraq, the region, the wider world is a better and safer place without Saddam."

I respectively submit that any thoughtful reading of counterintelligence and counter-terrorist practices, the reality of conflict on the ground in the Middle East/SW Asian region, the rise in jihadist volunteerism across the Muslim world, and the utter write-down of US motives by virtual all Arabs, if not most Muslims, puts the lie to that claim.

Review of Intelligence on Weapons of Mass Destruction
Report of a Committee of Privy Counsellors
Chairman: The Rt Hon The Lord Butler of Brockwell KG GCB CVO
14 July, 2004

'Serious flaws' in Iraq intelligence
Published: 2004/07/14 13:20:04 GMT

Can we trust the intelligence services?
By Paul Reynolds
BBC News Online world affairs correspondent
Published: 2003/04/24 16:16:53 GMT

Gordon Housworth

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