Jeffrey LewisPoliticizing Intel

I’ve long complained the definition of “politicizing” intelligence is too narrow—“whether any analysts had been pressured to change their analysis or assessments” in the phrase of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee and “make or change any analytic judgments in response to political pressure” in the phrase of Robb-Silberman report.

Those definitions cleary exclude “cherry picking”— “how the White House promoted intelligence it liked and ignored intelligence it didn’t” as CBS described the phenomenon outlined by Tyler Drumheller in his interview with 60 Minutes.

No one has to change their mind if you just select the judgements of and then reward sycophants, while sh*tcanning anyone who disagrees.

So, imagine my surprise when a former SSCI staffer basically confirmed said modus operandi to Bill Gertz and Rowan Scarborough:

CIA and State

We asked Dan Gallington, who once was chief counsel to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, to discuss whether the CIA’s bureaucracy is working against President Bush’s policies in the war on al Qaeda.

“I wouldn’t say they are anti-Bush as much as to say they generally support the more conciliatory policy positions of the State Department bureaucracy,” Mr. Gallington said. “Even though CIA is not a policy organization, they actively participate in influencing national security policy.

“I would say it seems clear that the leaks out of the CIA in recent years are both substantively, and in timing, seem intended to embarrass the president.”

He said a “purge” is the answer for a leak-weary Bush administration. “It’s already under way,” he said.

I guess that purge won’t include those who leak to Bill Gertz.


  1. Max Postman (History)

    Jeffrey, have you read “Intelligence, Policy, and the War in Iraq”? Short article in Foreign Affairs by Paul Pillar, a former senior CIA officer. He has the same problem with the definition of “politicizing” that you do, and discusses cherry picking extensively.

    I wrote a brief paper for class arguing that Pillar’s article shows that the decision to go to war in Iraq is substantially attributable to the grossly uneven relationship between policymakers and the intelligence community coupled with the cognitive acrobatics that policymakers performed in order to dismiss any information that ran counter to their pre-existing convictions on Iraq.

  2. Russell (History)

    I’m an Australian so maybe I am just missing local US nuance, but isn’t it entirely appropriate for a government to sack people who are actively working against government policy (especially in time of war).

    In our context, the CIA leakers would be seen as grossly unprofessional – why would you keep analysts that have lost their objectivity on the payroll.

  3. Jeffrey Lewis

    The campaign against leaks is an excuse, rather than a principled stand.

    See Plame, Valerie.

    Also, “actively working against government policy” is defined to include things like pointing out, correctly, that Cuba is not known to have an offensive biological weapons program.

    See Armstrong, Fulton.

  4. Chuck Thornton

    One other problem with “politicization” is that it works both ways: you want to broaden the definition to include “cherry picking;” why not further broaden the definition to include the IC using its product in deliberate ways to influence policy (as noted in the Gertz article you cite)? I’d guess that “reverse politicization” is a far more frequent occurance than the standard concept. Can one direction of politicization be OK, while the other direction is not?

  5. Russell (History)


    I know that quite a lot people with affection for the liberal side of politics have a lot invested in the Plame case and waiting for Fitzmas – but the case is awfully thin.

    The British stand by their assessment that Iraq sought uranium in Africa and the only US testimony delivered under oath about what Wilson reported on return from Niger indicates that he actually reported Iraqi attempts to purchase uranium in Niger.

    The Fitzgerald inquiry (sorry if the terminology is wrong for the US) is not asserting that Rove outed Plame or even that Plame was covert. Fitzgerald seems to have taken the position that issues are irrelevant to his case against Rove of lying to a grand jury.

    From a distance the Plame case looks similar to our Andrew Wilkie case. Wilkie was an ONA analyst who went public with his concerns about the Iraq war and claimed loudly that he was being persecuted, but the only actually sign of persecution were press reports quoting him. He basically seemed to want to raise his profile with the leftist side of politics in Australia (remembering that I can’t call leftists “liberals” in an Australian context because the Australian Liberal Party would be considered a conservative party by US observers).

  6. Jeffrey Lewis


    I think the Australian thing is hurting you here—most of my friends on the left of wonkdom side with the Bush Administration on Plame, since classification rules are so broad that enforcement is necessarily arbitrary and one-sided.

    That is the point here—the firings are not about leaks.

  7. Yale Simkin (History)

    “In the minds of many honorable government employees, the expansion of presidential power in the post-9/11 era lacks basic legitimacy, making it vulnerable to leaks.”

  8. Russell (History)


    Sorry if I am being thick here, but I simply don’t understand your answer.

    Are you talking about Plame being fired or McCarthy?

    I thought you were coming out on the pro-Plame side of this – I haven’t seen any body on the leftish side of this come out in favour of any administration position on anything let alone Plame. From a distance I get the impression that if Bush said he liked ice-cream they would launch a campaign to have it banned.

    As to the breadth of classification rules, I thought yours were very simple (like ours). There are a whole pile of them but they can be summarised as:
    1. Do not release classified information!!!!
    2. Provide classified information with a level of protection appropriate to its importance.