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Lack of “Coordination” at CIA Leads to Shaky Intelligence

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Former CIA agent Larry Johnson provides some context for the lack of solid intelligence from the CIA.

More than six years since the terrorist attacks on 9-11 the intelligence community continues to employ a substandard analytical practice that virtually guarantees shoddy and inaccurate analysis. What am I talking about? An analyst within the CIA (or DIA or INR) who writes an article for the Presidential Daily Brief or other community wide daily intelligence brief is not currently required to coordinate with analysts outside of their organization. What’s so bad about that? The failure to coordinate and obtain the clearance of other analysts prevents policymakers from getting the best analysis and information available. Perhaps this helps explain the mess we encountered with the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq.

According to Johnson, the CIA is no longer required to coordinate its reports with other related agencies, leading to uncorroborated reports passing without any dissent.

If I wrote about the threat of Cuban backed terrorism from Nicaragua, I first had to share what I wrote with the analysts at CIA who worked on Nicaragua, Cuba, or terrorism. That meant I took my draft to three different offices (remember, this was before email). Why? My bosses wanted to make sure that the CIA spoke with one voice. They did not want Larry Johnson’s personal views being shared with the President. My supervisors demanded that the information in my intelligence articles was accurate and reflected everything we knew about the current state of intelligence. This part of the coordination process covered only inside the CIA.

Once we had an agreed upon CIA version, I was then required to send the draft to the Honduran analyst at INR and the analyst at DIA who covered Honduras. (Both women by the way.) S ometimes they drove me nuts. They did not agree with how I worded a paragraph or with a particular conclusion. I had a choice. Either I accepted their changes or we escalated the dispute to a branch chief. If the INR or DIA analyst was not satisfied with our proposed fixes they were allowed to write a “dissent”.

A dissent is shorthand for a different point of view. For example, I could say “Iraq is trying to buy uranium yellowcake from Niger”. While INR would write, “No, Iraq is not trying to buy uranium yellowcake from Niger and cannot process the yellowcake currently in its possession”. This ensures the policymaker will understand there may be a dispute about particular matters. If there is not dispute then they have a reasonable expectation that they are reading a consensus view of the intelligence community.

Irancove @ October 31, 2007

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