THE BLOG

The Facts Behind the NIE

09/26/2006 07:49 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Although the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) regarding Iraq and terrorism is still classified (UPDATE:  The Key Judgments are now declassified and can be found at this link), the data behind the findings is not and has been publicly available for three years.  I have written repeatedly on this fact and it has been, I am told, the judgment of the intelligence community for at least two years.  The statistics on terrorist activity, until this year, were published in the State Department's annual report on terrorism (Patterns of Global Terrorism).  The Bush Administration tried to not publish the report last year because the data showed an unprecedented surge in international terrorist attacks.  The following chart shows the bad news (it is based on the statistics collected by the CIA and supplied to the Department of State):

comparison_of_significant_attacks_2.jpg

A "Significant" terrorist incident is one in which a person was killed, wounded or kidnapped (or there was property damage in excess of $10,000).  The statistics tell a very clear and simple story (I bet someone who can read My Pet Goat can figure it out).

  • The total number of international terrorist incidents, both significant and non-significant, declined until 2002.

  • The number of significant incidents increased steadily starting in 1992.
  • Most of the significant incidents were caused by radical Islamic extremists.
  • 2004 marked the single, largest increase in terrorist activity ever recorded since the CIA started keeping records dating back to 1968.
  • The four fold increase in significant terrorist incidents (attacks in which people were killed and wounded) was a direct consequence of the war in Iraq.  All you have to do is look at the attacks recorded and the people killed and wounded in those attacks.  Iraq and India were the big targets in 2004.
  • According to information provided at the U.S. State Department in 2005, there were approximately 198 significant terrorist attacks in Iraq in 2004. This was nine times more than the 22 significant terrorist
    attacks in Iraq identified in the State Department's 2003 report.  Indeed, the number of
    significant terrorist attacks in Iraq in 2004 exceeded the 175 significant terrorist attacks that occurred throughout the entire world in 2003.
  • Ray Close, who served as the top CIA official in Saudi Arabia, has offered the following on the importance of the current NIE:

    No reasonable person can possibly deny that our intervention
    in Iraq has
    been an enormous stimulus to terrorist activity worldwide. Efforts by John McCain and others to discount
    the significance of that factor by pointing out that the attacks on 9/11 occurred
    before our overthrow of Saddam Hussein is as trivial and irrelevant as they are
    disingenuous.

    As someone who devoted his entire career to the intelligence profession, I was shocked and angered to read this in the NY Times this morning: 

    "Several of the lawmakers who appeared on Sunday talk shows said they had not seen the classified document . . [the National Intelligence Estimate]. Intelligence reports from American spy agencies are not circulated widely on Capitol Hill, and Congressional officials said neither the House nor the Senate intelligence committees had been formally briefed on the report." 

    A National Intelligence Estimate is just exactly what the title says it is. An NIE isn't issued every day. It sometimes takes weeks to write and coordinate. Even the decision to prepare an NIE in the first place is a painstaking one. It is a BIG DEAL, in other words. An NIE is not a single report from a single agency, but represents the considered judgment of the entire intelligence community (16 different agencies, in theory) on a subject deemed to be of vital significance to makers of national security and foreign policy.  

    If key members of Congress (like Majority Leader Bill Frist, who claimed ignorance of this report), and neither the House nor the Senate intelligence committees, have seen the document since it was produced in April, then we have to ask ourselves whether the White House and Congress take any serious interest in the most important products of America's enormous (and extremely expensive) intelligence empire. Are we to conclude that the "brains" of the United States Government (presumably those who formulate and carry out national policy) are simply not interested in making use of the best information and advice available to them? That seems to confirm the growing impression that policy is influenced today more by considerations of ideology and political expediency than by painstaking and objective study of the world situation.

    Once again we are witnessing the Bush Administration trying to ignore the bad news the intelligence community is obligated to tell the President.  The willful ignorance of President Bush, his advisors, and his Congressional enablers is creating a more dangerous world.  Instead of taking the bull by the horns and confronting the issue, Bush and company are burying their heads in the sand.  Just remember that when we are hit again by a mass casualty attack.