Foregone Conclusions: Vested Interests and Intelligence Analysis
Remarks to Diplomatic and Consular Officers Retired (DACOR)
12 June 2009, Washington, DC
Ambassador Chas W. Freeman, Jr. (USFS, Ret.)
Not so long ago – before I was sprayed by political skunks and had to excuse myself to avoid subjecting others to the stench of political vilification – I had occasion to spend some time thinking about intelligence, in the sense of the analysis of information relevant to statecraft. This is an important topic under any circumstance. It is all the more so in the wake of the string of disasters that persistent inattentiveness to foreign trends and events, occasional analytical misjudgments, and frequent policy miscalculations have brought us in recent years.
In broad terms, the intelligence community provides the sensory apparatus of the state, without which the inner reaches of our government are blind, deaf, numb, and heedless of threats and opportunities alike. Intelligence agencies assure situational awareness and alertness to trends. Our executive branch relies on the analytical product of the intelligence community – how it understands and communicates the information it notices – to ensure that policymaking is on sound factual and psychological ground. Once in a great while, Congress does the same. At its best, analysis can correct the conventional wisdom and the preconceptions by which we misconstrue, misperceive, or fail to notice foreign trends and events of import. At its worst, it can fortify national denial and complacency, perpetuate blind spots, attribute our own hopes, fears, and motivations to foreigners who do not share them, or reinforce ill-founded self-congratulation. It can alert us to the dangers and opportunities change brings or it can sedate us with comforting affirmations that assume the durability of the status quo. It can protect us from harm and enable us to position ourselves to national advantage or it can make us vulnerable and prone to policy pratfalls.
Intelligence analysis, of which diplomatic analysis is a subset and to which some here have contributed much, is, in short, central to our republic’s formulation and conduct of successful policy. In my experience, the analysts in our intelligence community are, by and large, exceptionally able people who are dedicated to providing us with essential insights into foreign realities and capable of doing so. But, for our leaders to be able correctly to judge what we should do and how they should adjust those moral compasses and approaches they inherit from predecessors, our best informed and most free-thinking analysts must be free to reach considered judgments without censorship and without compulsion. The analytical process must strive to understand and portray reality as dispassionate examination finds it to be, not as ideology or interested parties stipulate it should or must be. It matters greatly whether our executive branch and Congress demand analysts’ honest inferences or insist that they be told only what they or powerful constituencies in our body politic want to hear. ( Collapse )