Intelligence Is No Place for Politics

James Adams is defense correspondent for the Times of London.

Last week the Pentagon published "Soviet Military Power," its annual intelligence assessment of developments in the Soviet armed forces. The 160-page book is complete with glossy photographs of weapons, shadowy images of aircraft taken by satellite and detailed drawings of space weapons.

Although presented as an impartial analysis of the Soviet military, the annual is also a valuable tool to develop a frightening and convincing case of a Soviet machine on the march, threatening an out-gunned and underfunded West.

Close examination of this year's annual, however, reveals a less clear picture. For example, nuclear weapons such as the SS-X-4 missiles, predicted to be deployed two years ago, have yet to enter service; a similar fate has befallen the railway-transported ballistic missile, the SS-X-24. And, despite Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger's argument that the report shows a continued massive Soviet buildup of armed forces, the annual actually lists fewer maneuver and reserve divisions than in 1986 and a slowing down of several strategic programs.

While presenting the Soviet case in the most mobilized light, U.S. forces, by contrast, look to be in real trouble. In every area, from ballistic missiles to tanks, America is shown to be lagging behind, both qualitatively and quantitatively. The impression is that the battle is lost almost before it has been fought, unless, of course, a bigger defense budget can be funded to develop newer and better weapons.

The report was prepared by the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Pentagon's intelligence-gathering tool, and is a useful illustration of the way analysis has been compromised for political purposes by all the different agencies in recent years.

Although there are 32 major U.S. intelligence organizations, four form the core of American capability: the Central Intelligence Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency and the National Reconnaissance Office. NSA--which gathers signals intelligence--and NRO--largely responsible for satellite surveillance--are essentially producers of raw data to be passed on to DIA and CIA.

Both the CIA, through its own network of agents, and the DIA, through its team of 1,000 defense attaches at U.S. embassies abroad, are able to collect their own intelligence. There has always been a strong rivalry between the two agencies; the State Department's own analysis division, the Bureau of Intelligence and Research, acts as umpire and adds political sophistication to intelligence interpretation. Tensions among agencies have proved healthy in the past, offering different perspectives on a given issue.

If competing analysis was the extent of the agencies' involvement in the political process, then the credibility of reports might have remained intact. Under the current Administration, however, there has been an accelerating decline in objective analysis; agencies have produced flawed analyses to curry favor with their political masters.

For example, before the April, 1986, strike against Libya, the CIA was asked to prepare a detailed list of Col. Moammar Kadafi's terrorist adventures. The White House was furious when the CIA found little such evidence and said so. The report was rejected and rewritten twice before being accepted.

More recently there has been compromise over reports of instability in Mexico (the CIA rewrote them to make Mexico appear more stable); reports from both the CIA and the DIA on the Soviet space defense program have been given to European allies and dismissed as exaggerated; analyses of the wars in both Nicaragua and El Salvador have proved overoptimistic.

The CIA has long argued that its performance is both more responsible and more accurate than DIA's. But over the past three years the quality of analysis prepared by the DIA has improved--in part because DIA has recruited many of the best analysts from CIA. This exodus happened during the increasing politicizing of CIA under former Director William J. Casey; many serious professionals voted with their feet.

Original data produced by the intelligence community may be excellent; the problem comes as papers progress through the system, where each level of the bureaucracy may add political shadings that pander to the next level up the ladder. The result is often a finished product bearing little resemblance to the available facts.

Accurate and timely intelligence, using the most sophisticated technology, is available to the United States. For it to be used to best advantage, it must be free of preformed opinion.

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