Jeffrey LewisKerr Report

The National Security Archive has obtained (through FOIA) Intelligence and Analysis on Iraq: Issues for the Intelligence Community, the third of the three reviews into the Iraq WMD debacle led by former CIA Deputy Director Richard Kerr:

The report, from July 2004, is the third of three prepared by a group of intelligence experts led by Richard J. Kerr, a former deputy director of central intelligence, to examine the U.S. Intelligence Community’s assessments in the months before the U.S. invasion. The first two reports remain classified despite the fact that many of their key findings are summarized in the July report and in unclassified reports produced by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction.

The Kerr report also identifies a number of weaknesses in the Intelligence Community’s analytical products, particularly the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraqi weapons programs, which the report says was prepared “under an unusually tight time constraint” and was “the product of three separate drafters, drawing from a mixed bag of analytic product.” The October 2002 NIE was at the center of Bush administration claims about Iraq’s weapons programs in the prewar period.

In addition to suggesting the the NIE process is deeply flawed, the Kerr report warns that “close and continuing personal contact, unfettered by the formal caveats that usually accompany witten production, probably imparted a greater sense of certainty to analytic conclusions than the facts would bear.”

Regular readers may remember my speculation that such contact may allow informal information—“the gouge”—to reinforce Administration biases not just about Iraq, but also Iran and North Korean.

Looking back at false claims that North Korea had constructed a “reviewing stand” for a nuclear test that never came, I observed the Bush Administration may be particularly vulnerable to this effect:

The Bush Administration—staffed with veterans of a long-running fight with the intelligence community during the Clinton years—may be particulary willing to rely on informal information to promote a preferred policy.

I can imagine Bolton, discussing signs that North Korea might be preparing a nuclear test with Scooter Libby, saying “Look, some midlevel INR munchkin analyst is holding this up, but the North Koreans are building a reviewing stand.” The claim never makes it into the NIE or any other document because it’s bogus. Exclusion, perversely, transforms the bum dope into solid gold by granting it status as inside information, shielding it from formal scrutiny and allowing the story to improve with each retelling.

By the time our allies hear about it, the nonexistent reviewing stand is described as “luxurious.”

Informal information can shape policy—perhaps decisively—while leaving virtually no paper trail for any pesky Senate Select Committee or outside Commission.

On a related note, the 2005 Eisenhower National Security Conference had a panel on the intelligence community —with David Kay, Carl Ford, William Crowe and Dennis Gormley—that was sufficiently pessimistic about the IC for several panel members to call the IC product “crap.” You can watch the panel on-line

I thought, however, the majority of recommendations were rather facile, largely of the “one way to produce better intelligence is to improve the quality of the product” variety. I do, however, plan to take one panelist’s reading suggestion:

Rob Johnston, Analytic Culture in the United States Intelligence Community An Ethnographic Study (Central Intelligence Agency, Center for the Study of Intelligence, 2005).

Anybody read it already?

Note: I often get suggestions from readers about story ideas. This is one such case. I don’t say this enough, so … I do appreciate all the tips, thoughts, suggestions—even if they don’t always show up on the blog.


  1. Simon W. Moon (History)

    A pdf version w/ c&p-able text is available here for the sorts of folks who’d be interested in it:
    Intelligence and Analysis on Iraq: Issues for the Intelligence Community