- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 28, 2006

When the reflexively snarky New York Times book critic Michiko Kakutani sheathes her poisonous quill — as she did this week in reviewing “The One Percent Doctrine”— beware. Both Ron Suskind’s book and Miss Kakutani’s review, which consists of little more than book excerpts, could have benefited from critical analysis.

Let’s start with the book, which promises to take the reader “deep inside” the war on terrorism. Astoundingly, it contains no reference whatsoever to the CIA’s covert action program against an active al Qaeda cell in Somalia, although the program was entering its third year when the book was published.

The Somali operation embodies all that is difficult about covert counterterrorism and the complexities of reforming the CIA after a decade of “peace dividend”complacency.

The proxies we need to work with in rough neighborhoods and dysfunctional societies around the globe, like Somali warlords, have checkered human-rights records and their own agendas. So do the foreign intelligence services the United States still depends on too heavily. Bureaucratic rivalry between competing U.S. government agencies still undermines the CIA’s effectiveness. Because the alternatives to covert action are blunt, messy military interventions like the one in Iraq, the cost of failure is high.

Yet Mr. Suskind says nothing about the Somali operation. The omission makes clear that politics, not the covert war on terrorism, is his real subject. Take Mr. Suskind’s use of the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq. From the fact that President Bush did not read the entire document, he concludes that there was a deliberate White House policy to shield the president so that he could deploy exaggerated rhetoric (like the infamous 16 words in the State of the Union) and lay the blame on others when convenient.

This is pure fantasy. It reveals Mr. Suskind’s deep ignorance of intelligence. Presidents don’t read NIEs; they get their intelligence from face-to-face briefings and the President’s Daily Brief, which summarizes the intelligence community’s information on the most critical issues.

Most presidents, including Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, prefer their briefings directly from their CIA directors. Others, like Bill Clinton, hold the CIA at arm’s length and deal instead with the national security adviser. George Tenet rarely met with Mr. Clinton to brief him. Yet it is Mr. Bush who is criticized by Miss Kakutani, based on Mr. Suskind’s book, for being “incurious and curiously uninformed.”

Miss Kakutani’s agenda becomes clear when she writes that the Bush administration’s handling of the war on terrorism and Iraq is “just as disturbing”as al Qaeda’s plans to attack New York’s subway system with lethal gas. Her assertion of moral equivalence is absurd, and most New Yorkers, especially those who ride the subway, would see it differently. Presumably, Miss Kakutani is rarely among them.

The CIA has long known of the disconnect between policymakers and its analytical products, especially NIEs. The CIA’s Center for Intelligence Studies published an excellent study on the problem, “A Policymaker’s Perspective on Intelligence” by Jack Davis. Based on interviews in 1991-1993 with Ambassador Robert Blackwill, who until recently was deputy national security adviser, the article focuses on how to bridge the gap between analysts and policymakers.

Here is what Mr. Blackwill said about NIEs: “During my 1989-1990 NSC tour, the Agency was still putting out gobs of analytic products that I never read. During the two years I did not read a single [National Intelligence] Estimate. Not one. And except for [Deputy National Security Adviser Robert] Gates, I do not know of anyone at the NSC who did.”

To overcome the disconnect between CIA analysts and senior policymakers, Mr. Blackwill offered seven key recommendations. His first reccomendation was for CIA analysts to identify a “list of policy notables” and offer to “customize intelligence papers and briefings.” In exchange, Mr. Blackwill said CIA analysts would gain “access to the real policy agenda.” Taken collectively, the seven recommendations in Mr. Davis’ CIA study were implemented — by Douglas Feith at the Pentagon. His effort to make analysis germane to the policy agenda has been misconstrued as skewing the intelligence.

Don’t mistake what I am saying as a defense of the many intelligence errors preceding the Iraq war. Department of Defense experts were certain that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and befuddled when none were found. The Pentagon fell for bad intelligence peddled by self-serving informants whose agenda was to gain control of Iraq’s resources. But the myth now being perpetrated — that the CIA had it right but was ignored by Pentagon and White House hardliners — is simply untrue.

“The One Percent Doctrine” gives us a glimpse of just about that much of the real war on terrorism — and leaves the other 99 percent out.

John B. Roberts II served in the Reagan White House. He writes often on intelligence and national security.

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