Friday, December 07, 2007

Sometimes it Takes a Failure to Prevent Future Failures.

It was shocking and disappointing to learn that the intelligence on Iraq’s possession of nuclear weapons was incorrect. Plenty of negative consequences resulted from this intelligence failure, however, there is also something positive that has resulted. Of course, a few months after we learned that the Iraq intelligence was wrong, the intelligence agencies released a 2005 report on Iran that we now know to also be false. But this was the last product under the old regime, says New York Times national security correspondent Mark Mazzetti. Because of the Iraq intelligence failure, about a year and a half ago senior intelligence analysts put into place new procedures designed to improve the way in which intelligence is analyzed. For example, while agencies used to emphasis reaching a consensus and put dissenting views at the bottom of the report, they now encourage alternate views, mentioning them on the top of the report. Another change is that they now accept holes within the intelligence. Analysts are expected to be up front about what they do not know and are not expected to fill in intelligence holes with assumptions. Intelligence agencies also put a focus on red teams—groups of people who play devil’s advocate—forcing the analysts to pore over their findings. The agencies spent the summer dissecting the Iran estimate with these red teams.

Obviously Intelligence agencies will continue to make mistakes, but hopefully the big Iraq failure forced them to examine and improve their methods so that they will not make another big mistake in the future.

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