- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 17, 2006

The chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence says he has traveled to Iraq eight times to assess U.S. intelligence collection, and each time he returns to Washington struck by the lack of knowledge about the insurgency that is killing hundreds of American troops.

“When I come back from Iraq, or even a briefing here, you learn how tough intelligence is,” said Rep. Peter Hoekstra, Michigan Republican. “I don’t walk out of there believing that I’ve got a crystal-clear picture of what the insurgency is, what the scope of it is, what the magnitude is, what the capabilities are. How much is international? How much is external? How much is al Qaeda? How much is Iranian? How much is Syrian? I walk out with lots of unanswered questions.”

The fact that U.S. command lacks broad knowledge about the enemy in Iraq, in the opinion of Mr. Hoekstra and others, has brought a steady stream of criticism.

Most recently, the Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan commission led by former Secretary of State James A. Baker III and former Rep. Lee H. Hamilton, reported, “Our government still does not understand very well either the insurgency in Iraq or the role of the militias.”

The Iraq Study Group report said intelligence agencies “are not doing enough to map the insurgency, dissect it and understand it on a national and provincial level. The analytic community’s knowledge of the organization, leadership, financing and operations of militias, as well as their relationship to government security forces, also falls far short of what policy-makers need to know.”

Defense sources have told The Washington Times that when field commanders return to the U.S. from Iraq, one of their chief complaints is a lack on information about the enemy.

Michael Ledeen, a military analyst at the American Enterprise Institute, said the U.S. will never gain the full support of the Iraqi people, and thus better tips, until the locals are confident of a U.S. victory.

“For people to think we have a good chance to win, they have to see us beating Iran and Syria,” said Mr. Ledeen, referring to the two countries supporting the insurgency. “We will never have the full cooperation of the people of Iraq until people see we are waging war against Iran and Syria.”

He said the Bush administration, which is reviewing Iraq strategy, should start by helping foment insurrection against Iran’s hard-line Islamic leaders and provide support to dissidents in Syria.

The Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency labeled as “inaccurate” the Iraq Study Group’s assertion that the DIA had fewer than 10 analysts with more than two years of experience examining the insurgency. The agency said it has more than 300 analysts focused on Iraq, 49 of whom look exclusively at the insurgency.

“DIA is committed to providing the best possible military intelligence to the men and women in uniform and to the nation in its ongoing war against terrorism and extremism,” the agency said.

Mr. Hoekstra is sympathetic toward the intelligence community’s challenge in Iraq.

“I think you have to take a look at it two ways,” he said. “You have to take a look at it and say, ‘The intelligence may be terrible, but does that mean the intelligence capability is terrible?’ It just may be very, very hard.”

He added, “This is one of the things I do have an appreciation with the intelligence community on, is that the standard has been, the information you give us has to be as clear as ‘two plus two is four.’ Anything less than that gold standard of giving us perfect information means that the intelligence is terrible. … Sometimes I sense that policy-makers believe if they get perfect information from intelligence, it gives them the answer as to what to do. That is not going to happen. You’ll only have more or less information with which to make a decision.”

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