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Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Ex-chief of Mossad: Inquiries may have left the West less secure

In defence of the intelligence services - by Efraim Halevy
Some excerpts from The Economist:

For a considerable period of time, it has been known and clear that there have been grave deficiencies in the collection of information both on Islamic terrorism and on the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. However, to do the intelligence services justice, it is fair to mention the enormous difficulty that must have been encountered in trying to spot, recruit and run sources in Iraq throughout the years when a virtual siege was laid around the country by the world at large. Similarly, the task of penetrating international Islamic networks was, and is, a daunting challenge...

... to the best of my knowledge, nobody came up with any new ideas as to how to collect information from countries like Iraq, or from targets like al-Qaeda. If the collection efforts did not produce the desired results, how should they be carried out in the future? Ideas like these would have given the Senate report an aura of genuine professionalism, which it now sadly lacks.

I cannot avoid the comparison between these reports and that of the Agranat Commision in Israel which investigated the failure of Israel's intelligence services to predict the Arab attack in 1973. The Israeli commission recommended the appointment of a special adviser on intelligence who would go through all the intelligence estimates, and would advise the prime minister on them. It was not clear if the adviser would monitor the reports, and decide which should go on to the prime minister's desk, or if he would add evaluations of his own. Only two people filled this slot for relatively short periods, and both left office in frustration.

Now there is a recommendation to appoint an intelligence “tsar” in the United States. In my humble opinion no greater mistake could be made so far as the intelligence community is concerned. If the new tsar is to assume command responsibility for the intelligence community, then he will be de facto director of the CIA and the other intelligence agencies in the country. He, and he alone, will be responsible for the content and standard of the evaluation. The professional director of the CIA will be responsible to the tsar, and the president of the United States will be functioning through a “proxy” on matters of war and peace. In intelligence, there can be no sharing in responsibility; it is, and will always remain, indivisible.

There are no “legal” rules and regulations in the dense field of intelligence, espionage and collection. It is not by chance that the international statute book has neither a chapter nor a verse on espionage, although this has been a vital tool of war from time immemorial.

We are in the throes of a world war which is distinct and different from all the wars the world has hitherto experienced. There are no lines of combat; the enemy is often elusive and escapes identification.

The rules of war are incumbent on the defendant but not on he or she who attacks. International law, the Geneva conventions and the other well-known humanitarian provisions do not apply to the aggressor in this current confrontation. In circumstances like these, the future probably has in store crisis situations the like of which we have never experienced before.

Rather than seeking long-term overhauling and restructuring of the system, and the creation of new high-level slots, surely this is a moment in history when the body politic should swing behind those who are already in the trenches and give them encouragement and support in this fateful battle that has been thrust upon us.

Read it all.