Dec 09 2007
While the latest NIE on Iran tries to come to determine the motivation and goals of Iran, Americans are trying to discern the same about authors of the NIE. We know some of them were very much against the Bush policy and were hang overs from the pre 9-11 days under Clinton, when a lot of erroneous assumptions led us to the worst attack on our soil in history.
But one recent defender, and I am predicting driving force, behind the NIE is something very different. Here is his comment defending the NIE.
A top US intelligence official on Saturday issued an unusual statement responding to the critics.
“The task of the Intelligence Community is to produce objective, ground truth analysis,” said Donald Kerr, the principal deputy director of national intelligence.
“We feel confident in our analytic tradecraft and resulting analysis in this estimate,” Kerr said in a brief written statement.
This is quite odd. First off there is very little ‘ground truth’ in the NIE outside the claim Iran suspended in 2003 their illegal weapons program to design nuclear warheads to fit on missiles. All other matters of import (did Iran restart the program, is the civilian program progressing them towards nuclear weapons, did Syria pick up some of the weapons production work, is Iran still smuggling parts and material for weapons) are unknown – and I say that with high confidence.
I did some looking into Kerr and was surprised to find someone I would probably admire and call a kindred spirit. Here is one of his many bios demonstrating a successful career and deep science background. From many articles, like this one, I can easily see the man has been pushing new technologies on a lumbering and change-adverse federal government. Since this is what I do too I ma very hesitant to find adverse political intentions or biases with Kerr. But this defensive posture is telling.
Kerr may be good intentioned and applying new technology and methods to intelligence. He is the kind of person who would take the data mining concept demonstrated on Able Danger and integrate it operationally into the backbone of US intelligence sources. But his intentions could have blinded him to the motives of others. I still think this was a blunder by the way it caught the White House off guard. And it may be a blunder of multiple dimensions.
Many of us have asked how could the intel that has been leaked to shore this NIE up (which of course is another sign this was a blunder and maybe something more) could overturn all the other evidence seen over the years. And now maybe I can envision what happened.
If the Intel is based on a new technology or new synthesis method (like data mining used on Able Danger) then it could have produced a result that would be totally at odds with previous assessments. And it could produce that surprise result one of three ways:
(1) The new processes actually discovered something new that also imparts high confidence.
(2) The new processes has a hidden flaw in it that caused an innocently arrived at mistaken conclusion.
(3) The new processes was manipulated by some to generate a result that met the desires of a few to influence the policy and politics of this country (which is not something intel is allowed to do, for good reasons).
OK, all this supposes Kerr is stilling doing what he has done for years, apply new technology or technology in news ways to increase the productivity and quality of whatever mission he is working on. I think this is a safe assumption. We keep reading different pieces of the intel, but they are all suspect or potentially suspect (defectors are especially dicey since what happened with Iraq). So what could be so different now – especially when the NIE doesn’t say much different from the one in 2005, except it has literally been spun to present a different initial impression.
Here is one more reason why I think there is a rogue element behind this – and that is because the NIE was made public through blackmail:
The â€œjungle telegraphâ€ in Washington is booming with news of the Iran NIE. I am told that the reason the conclusions of the NIE were released is that it was communicated to the White House that â€œintelligence career seniors were lined up to go to jail if necessaryâ€ if the documentâ€™s gist were not given to the public. Translation? Someone in that group would have gone to the media â€œon the recordâ€ to disclose its contents.
Kerr’s defensiveness is interesting. He is an engineer/scientist – not a political animal. But he is also adept at getting along with the careerists, building bridges. That is the only way he could lead these various organizations and succeed in his goal to infuse new technology and processes into their missions. Was he duped? Or was this all an effort to push Iran to come clean (which they still haven’t done!). Did the NIE open Iran to pressure to show it is benign?
Elaborate trick on Iran or on the American people? The concept of this being ‘ground truth’ is ludicrous beyond the headline finding, but I guess it is a possibility. What is clear is Kerr is not an intelligence analyst as much as a technologists. And I would gather he is not a political animal. Which means he could have been suckered by some with less than pure intentions. Kerr could be the key here. His sense of responsibility and frankness (another characteristic of someone with his gifts and history) might be where we finally get our answers. I would keep and eye (and a microphone) on Kerr in the coming days.