Friday, June 10, 2005

On Intelligence, threats, and Constitutional Duties

Kennedy's solutions to insufficient intelligence in the midst of an apparent crisis was not to guess - not to take aggresive military action in the absence of any justifying intelligence, nor to exaggerate, distort, embellish, massage, mine, or suppress existing intelligence to get the answer that he had already pre-determined, but to gather more intelligence, and assess that intelligence objectively. Kennedy did not use the very alarming intelligence thus gathered to rally the nation into war, rather he used it to avoid war. He set a very fine example to the world of how to stay cool under pressure, and not start a war over a threat that was, though overwhelming, not instant, and still provided a choice of means and a moment - if but only an hour - for deliberation. America still has much to learn from this.

In a lecture at the John F. Kennedy Center in Washington, David Kay responded to a question as to whether, in light of what most of the public now knows about pre-war Iraq (through sources other than this Administration, mind you), he thinks it is more prudent to understimate or to overestimate a threat. He responded that he would be disappointed if after 9/11 a person did not assess threats as greater. If he would have looked at the bigger picture, he could have given a more reasoned answer:

Namely, that well in advance of 9/11, the president was given intelligence alerting him, in no uncertain terms, of the impending threat. As one agent said, "the light was flashing red". But the president ignored the intelligence. He did not take any action to meet this clear and present danger, he did not propose any policies to undermine it, he gave no orders to the executive, and communicated no intelligence to the legislature. He did nothing, and 9/11 happened.

We know now, all too well, that the intelligence was correct. The failure lies not with the intelligence, but with the failure of the president to listen to it. Had he, in both cases, simply acted in good faith on the intelligence that he recieved, America would be a safer place than it is today.

That was the lesson to be learned from 9/11. That it is not a matter of underestimating or overestimating a threat, but one of using the intelligence that you are given. A lesson that George W. Bush has failed to apply.

The essential question here is the president's handling and presentation of the intelligence that was given to him, in the context of his constitutional duty to disclose the true state of things to the Senate.

(Oh, and btw, downing street memo, Awaken the Media, Big Brass Alliance.)


Blogger Marie said...

Great Post! Thanks!

10/6/05 19:06  

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