United States needs a brave independent Director of National Intelligence to speak truth to power!

May 17, 2020 - 11:50

Appointing a new Director of the National Intelligence (DNI), who should supervise a sum of 16 American intelligence agencies, seems to be one of the main concerns of the anti-war activists in the United States as the country once declared a bloody war against Iraq only based on intelligence whose producers later failed to provide reliable documents.   

"Republican Representative John Ratcliffe of Texas put on an Academy Award level performance at his Senate hearing this month to be the next director of national intelligence. I do not know him personally, but from the looks of it, he said most of the right things without directly disavowing the president," Jane Harman, the president of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, a Democratic representative from California and a ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, explained in her article published by The Hill.

 “If confirmed as DNI, one of the things that I’ve made clear to everyone is that I will deliver the unvarnished truth,” Ratcliffe said. “Whether you are talking about the president, whether you are talking about Nancy Pelosi, Mitch McConnell, anyone’s views on what they want the intelligence to be will never impact the intelligence that I deliver. Never.”

"Sounds about right. After all, the job of director of national intelligence is exactly what he described. I was a principal coauthor of the bill that created the position, which is akin to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The director of national intelligence oversees 16 intelligence agencies to make sure their analysis is accurate, reliable, and apolitical. It is a role that came out of the disastrous intelligence failures that led to 9/11 and the United States invasion of Iraq, and it is meant to prevent another one," Harman went on to say.

Ratcliffe’s record of sponsoring bipartisan bills to address cyber threats, including one that expands the federal government’s cyber threat detection and response capabilities and another that supports cybersecurity education for local law enforcement officials, cannot be overlooked. It is a promising indication that he is wise to the dangers of miscalculation that often follow an unforeseen cyberattack, and that are only rising as our adversaries become more competent.

But nor can his close alliance with President Trump during the impeachment hearings be ignored. That is why two essential questions loom large over his testimony. First, does Ratcliffe mean what he said? Second, even if he does, can he really speak truth to power and survive in his job?

There is also a third sleeper question. If Ratcliffe cannot speak truth to power and the intelligence community is forced to reach the wrong conclusion about the existence of a bioweapon in a lab in Wuhan, will our country be put at further risk because we lose our capacity to work with China to curb further spread of this pandemic or a future one? Might we needlessly provoke a new trade war, not to mention a hot or cold war?

No one excuses China's abnormal behaviors in various situations which have all made it much harder to put relations back on the right path. But two wrongs do not make a right, and our goal must be to solve problems instead of creating new ones.

Sadly this feels like deja vu all over again. I was in Congress when we were presented with conclusive proof, or so we thought, that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and was ready to use them. I voted for the war because I believed the intelligence at the time. But as we found out, the Bush administration oversold the findings of a 2002 national intelligence estimate (NIE) that was flawed to begin with. Ultimately, a 93 page document that concluded it lacked “specific information” on “many key aspects” of Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction programs was used to justify a war with untold costs in blood and treasure.

When intelligence is produced in a hurry, especially to support conclusions lawmakers have already reached, you get a bad product. As Rand Corporation found from the Iraq weapons of mass destruction tasking, “human intelligence was scarce and unreliable” and “the magnitude of the questionable evidence had the effect of making the NIE more convincing and ominous. The basic case that Saddam Hussein had WMDs seemed more plausible to analysts than the alternative that he had destroyed them. And analysts knew that Saddam had a history of deception, so evidence against Saddam’s possession of WMDs was often seen as deception.”

In other words, just because we believed Saddam had the ability and the will to produce weapons of mass destruction, does not mean that he did. The logic is no different in the case of China, and we risk overselling intelligence at our peril.

Perhaps that is why Secretary of State and former CIA Director Mike Pompeo recently hedged his claim that there is “enormous evidence” the coronavirus originated in a lab in Wuhan. General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, have both cited evidence that the coronavirus was not man-made, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a rare public statement saying the same. Meanwhile, our Five Eyes allies of Canada, Australia, United Kingdom, and New Zealand have fully discredited the bioweapon theory.

Originating in a lab and dispersed by accident is a far different claim than deliberately releasing a bioweapon. As news surfaces about the timing of infections — France is now reporting an infection in December involving a patient with no known connections to China — the Wuhan lab origination theory becomes even less significant. The interconnected way in which we live and work may hold the key.

"There is no doubt that Beijing covered up the extent of its outbreak and how it began. But there is a difference between believing what China might do, and making dubious claims about what it did do. Understanding this difference, regardless of political considerations, is the job of our next director of national intelligence. Should we believe Ratcliffe?" the author concluded. 

MJ

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