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The nexus between intelligence and policy making can be drawn from the need for actionable intelligence in which the intelligence network is mandated to carry out analysis that are geared towards the fulfillment of specific requirements of the administrative regime. The core assumption behind the concept of actionable intelligence is that the intelligence network have to be supremely aware of the specific policy demands of the time. Through such an arrangement, intelligence managers are responsible for the furnishing of relevant and timely analysis for the policy makers. This whole scenario implies that before intelligence managers are tasked with the responsibility of providing certain information, the policy makers usually have an idea of the nature of the policy in question hence the additional information from the intelligence framework only serves as a stimulus for the implementation of the policy.
The United States intelligence community has a responsibility to provide technical demographic, political, geographic, economic and military data on specific issues in question as well as the nature of the response both from allies perspective and the adversaries perspective(Richelson 1999; Johnson 2007). In certain circumstances, policy makers are forced to communicate directly to the intelligence analysts. In such cases, analytic debates can be counterproductive policy makers may use intelligence information that has not been taken through critical analysis in solving present problems while in essence policy making should be guided by a competitive analysis that takes into account various methodological and theoretical approaches(Johnson 2007). With the problem of politicization of policy making, the intelligence community has been forced to strive to provide answers to the existing political and policy reality which is usually drawn from political leaders policy agenda(Shulsky & Schmitt 2002). Therefore, even though the administrative system may look up to the intelligence community to provide a basis of policy implementation, their questions to the intelligence are always biased and tinged with self interests. Without freedom of intelligence analysis of information, the need to satisfy current the policy agendas prevent the intelligence community from carrying out an in depth and independent research.
Politicization usually occurs when policy makers increasingly attempt to shape intelligence reports to conform to their own political or policy preferences(Betts 2009; Sharkansky 2002). In other cases, intelligence managers can influence the trend of policy by shaping estimates and reports that support their own view of politics and policy. Overt politicization describes a scenario where there is deliberate pressure to shape the intelligence cycle such that the reports produced thereof, confirms the already laid down policy or political preference.
There has been a growing controversy both in the Congress and the public domain on whether the intelligence community in the United States failed to provide adequate and accurate information on the Iraqi regime’s capability to develop and employ weapons of mass destruction(WMD), specifically on US interests or whether the Bush administration deliberately and systematically misused the intelligence gathered to support a predetermined launch of Operation Iraqi Freedom(Best 2005). It is also important that while intelligence is important, it does not serve a conclusive role in policy making(Wittkopf & McCormick 2007). Intelligence reports are routinely disseminated to relevant officials in various capacities in the federal government. Such reports provide the factual data needed in policy making. On the other hand, policy makers depend on available intelligence only partially because they have to draw their conclusions from other factors such as their own independent assessments of benefits or costs or action or inaction, ideology. geopolitical objectives, diplomatic and domestic political risks, available resources as well as a myriad of other factors that are normally out of the scope of the purview of intelligence framework(Best 2005).
Nothing explains the kind of control the intelligence community is put through like the assertions of the former Director of Central Intelligence, Robert M, Gates. In his own words he said that,
“…is that the CIA today finds itself in a remarkable position, involuntarily poised nearly equidistant between the executive and legislative branches. The administration knows that the CIA is in no position to withhold much information from Congress and is extremely sensitive to congressional demands; the Congress has enormous influence and information yet remains suspicious and mistrustful”(Shulsky & Schmitt 2002, p. 133)
Just before the Persian gulf war, the United States Intelligence Community had consistently supplied vast quantities of data and analysis on Iraq. Much of these intelligence information originated from the national collection systems while some were derived from liaison relationships. However, despite the huge quantity of information and analysis supplied, there was criticism that there was no direct reporting on the activities of the inner Saddam regimes circle, hence the inadequacies pertaining to Iraq capacity to produce and deliver weapons of mass destruction(Best 2005). Therefore, despite the absence of accurate information on WMD, politics played a key role in designing foreign policy towards Iraq and the Middle East as a whole.
The reputation of the Iraqi regime had never been in question. Saddam Husein had employed weapons of mass destruction on his own people and on Iran, he had completely failed to comply with the United Nations demands with regard to restrictions on weapons of mass destruction, and he continued to pursue aggressive attacks on her neighbors. With such a reputation, the Bush administration viewed Saddam Hussein as a real threat to the United States interests in the Middle East region. Given that the 1980s reports on Saddam’s nuclear ambitions and programs had been one of a surprise to the intelligence community, subsequent reports directed towards the validation of Iraqis possession of WMD played a central role in guiding the Bush administrations policy towards Iraq. The US intelligence judgments on Saddam’s capacity to develop weapons of mass destruction as well as the nuclear programs have been largely discredited(Norton-Taylor 2005). Moreover, the absence of any operational or pervasive ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda has placed the accuracy of pre-war intelligence judgments in question. It can argued that the United States policy making framework based their assessments of a historical comprehensive analysis of the regimes reputation even in the absence of fresh intelligence leads(Best 2005; Betts 2009). It is upon these predetermined assessments that the need for a regime change was built and intelligence was just used to support the Bush administrations motive.
The problem of the concept of politicization is that it promotes the top-down dictation of the nature of analytical conclusions which are then used to support a preferred policy(Betts 2009). In circumstances where the political preferences are incompatible and inconsistent with the intelligence analysis, there is bound to be a deliberate push for intelligence to support the implied policy.
For intelligence to be useful, analysis must engage all policymakers’ concerns which require studies that are relevant to the objectives that should be achieved. In this sense, analysis must be sensitive and relevant to the context of policy. To achieve this responsibility, intelligence analysts must intrude into the process of policy making to enable them organize available data and assumptions on policymaking concerns and provide solutions. In essence, they assist in policy implementation. This approach of contextualization depicts the Gates model or rather actionable intelligence. However, it is important that policy making and intelligence analysis be keep entirely separate and distinct to maintain not only the honesty but also the preservation of utility(Betts 2009).
The top-down form of politicization evokes protests because it allows policy makers to dictate their preferred intelligence conclusions. Politicization leads to loss of objectivity in intelligence processing because opinions are passed on as facts to a point where the original information which represented the situation on the ground is edited to be in tune with the demands of politics. Heavy editorial management of intelligence reports is akin to pandering. In principle, the question is whether we should maximize on credibility or support utility.
The reality of actionable intelligence today is almost a direct opposition to the sacred understanding that intelligence should be scrupulously separated from politicization. As Betts(2009) puts it,
“ The traditional concept of an intelligence cycle assumes a sequence in which; policymakers determine what information they need, and intelligence managers translate these needs into requirements for collection; ‘tasking’ assigns collectors responsibility for seeking the needed data; collectors collect and report the raw data; analysts assess the data in the context of other information and their own broader expertise; production converts the analysis into finished reports; products are disseminated to consumers; and the consumers make a policy decision and levy another round of requirements”(Betts 2009, p. 15).
In the current scenario, with its messy bureaucratic and political governance structures, that sequential relationship is nonexistent because these specific functions usually proceed autonomously and sometimes autonomously. This explains, why the politics of the day forges ahead with what policymakers have drafted and seek the services of the intelligence community only in cases where the information to be provided by the intelligence can help the policymakers advance and implement an already drafted policy. Given the independence of the intelligence network, it is arguable that by and large, they operate independently but for the information collected to be useful to the nation, they have to work in close ties with the policy making mechanism.
The current nature of the intelligence-policy making relationship can also be attributed to the clash between expertise and policy. While intelligence carries out its analysis using individuals with highly specialized knowledge about the issues in question, the policymakers who possess the power to implement policy that concerns the information in question are not experts in information gathering nor analysis. At the center of these controversies lies the role of expertise in policy making. Where does the functions and responsibilities of intelligence experts end? and where does that of policy makers begin and end? It is instrumental that for policy to be appropriate it has to be guided by accurate information. However, a problem arises when policymakers deliberately ignore all the facts and relevant analyses and draft policies that are not supported by facts.
At the same time policymakers should not be at a position where they are consistently driven by the motive of preventing the intelligence community from reporting the correct nature of events even if such news are unwelcome. This is important because in a democratic bureaucratic state all officials should be able to receive all relevant briefings and assessments on different policy points without disruption of corruption of the information therein. It can therefore be argued that the ruling political class only sees it appropriate to control the flow and content of intelligence information to all officials because such information may be against the desires of the ruling regime. This irrational motive is always exacerbated by the the desire to shield intelligence from getting into the hands of political opponents or even bureaucratic rivals. This complicates the matter because policy makers will always strive to make intelligence reports conform to their own interests rather than the nations interest.
When intelligence is analyzed with reference to the nations interests, all these conflicting interests can be resolved to a point where the policy making involves virtually anyone with differing views. The end result will be a policy which avoids being a servant of cheap and shallow political interests and instead use the factual data provided by intelligence agencies as a foundational framework. When certain quarters of the administration regime succeeds in keeping certain individuals from the policy making framework or suppresses some pieces of data or analysis, the process of decision making becomes principally biased and the likelihood of producing the best possible policy product is greatly diminished.
To the officials in charge of policymaking, the dissemination of intelligence data that is largely contradictory to the assumptions that formed the basis of the policy can indeed be prickly or even seen as an evil motive. To quote the words of President Lyndon Johnson, “Policy making is like milking a fat cow. You see the milk coming out, you press and the milk bubbles and flows, and just as the bucket is full, the cow with its tail whips the bucket and all is spilled. That’s what the CIA does to policy making”(Schulsky & Schmitt 2002, p. 136). What this means is that information from intelligence sources is of much greater authority intelligence judgment is more often objective and unbiased as opposed to analysis done by policymakers.
While this argument emphasizes on the need to maintain the independence of the intelligence agencies, it does not in any way refute the need for intelligence to be relevant. Records and analysis of data and events are a highly diffuse body that can only be translated into judgment when policy makers analyze these factual sources with regard to a much more coherent view of global politics.
With specificity to the Iraqi case, there were some very unique circumstances that caused either the misunderstanding or the misinterpretation of intelligence information. While it is extremely difficult to evidently point out specific cases of political pressure on the intelligence community, it is a reality that intelligence analysts working on finding information on the presence of WMD and nuclear programs were put under extreme pressure. For an a very short period of time, they were required to furnish both the legislative and administrative structures with enormous formal; and informal reporting. What was even more catastrophic was the complete breakdown of hierarchy. Analysts in the field were required to report directly to the highest officials. At the same time they were subjected to numerous interviews, presentations and questioning by policymakers. This created a scenario where assumption without backing data were taken as facts and used directly for policy making without the calm contemplation and analysis of complicated intelligence issues.(Johnson 2007)
A recurrence of the type of pressure analysts faced before the Iraq war can only prevented when the intelligence chiefs act decisively to safeguard the analysts from any form of outside pressure. This calls for a reaffirmation of the need to hierarchy in analysis. Independence is also important because it is only through such a working relationship that the intelligence agency can provide data supporting the abandoning of obsolete and or counterproductive policies due to changes in circumstances. Policymakers must also strive to pursue implementation with the highest degree of consistency irrespective of the constant doubts, crosscurrents or even political attacks. In fact when policymakers are under political pressure and its seems unlikely that an open minded policy review may be achieved, the intelligence community must counteract the political pressure with factual analyses.
In addition to these, the intelligence community must be able to independently take sufficient initiatives at looking at possible areas of national concern without waiting for dictates from policy makers. Intelligence agencies should have the capacity to scan the horizon for any possible issues and problems which have not attracted the attention of policymakers. As a warning, they should keep the policymakers informed on potential issues and problems even when such information has not been requested. Moreover, instead of refusing to cooperate with policymakers in implementing certain policies, the assertions made by policymakers should form a basis for a thorough collection of information and analysis.
The relationship between intelligence and policy making cannot be broken. Moreover, intelligence reforms are cyclical in nature. There have been situations where observers and scholars have questioned the relevance of intelligence reports to the overriding political situation. In an opposite scenario, the often too close relationship between policy makers and intelligence analysts have been criticized on the basis of the understanding that such a relationship does not serve the need of the intelligence network acting an an independent source of information not only for tackling present issues and threats but also acting as a foundational base through which future threats or issues can be solved(Born & Caparini 2007). Ever since the September 11 attacks where policy makers were accused on not taking serious heed to the intelligence reports, the push for actionable intelligence has been extremely dominant in intelligence and policy debates(Bolton 2007). With the controversy over the supposed ability of the Iraqi regime to acquire and use WMD still raging on, the performance of the intelligence community is likely to come into sharp focus with the present controversies over the same issue in North Korea, Iraq and other terrorist groups. While it is extremely difficult to strike a balance in the intelligence-policy nexus, both facets must be able to create and act on information on the basis of accuracy, independence and relevance with respect to the external and internal factors that shape the U.S intelligence and foreign policy status.