Paul Pillar

Misusing Intelligence to Sell Conflict with Iran

Lynch and De Luce report that the effort by the Trump White House to make public cherry-picked intelligence about Houthi-fired missiles is intended to influence not just a domestic audience but also opinion at the United Nations.  Here is yet another parallel with the selling of the Iraq War.  Specifically, it evokes the presentation to the Security Council in February 2003 by Secretary of State Colin Powell, who—against Powell’s own better judgment and contrary to the judgment of the U.S. intelligence community—laid out some scraps intended to persuade people that the non-existent alliance between Iraq and al-Qaeda really existed.

Such misuse of intelligence means foreign policy is being made on the basis of badly mistaken premises.  The public sales job makes the misunderstanding all the worse, both because misperceptions are infused into a larger audience and because salesmen who are strongly committed to their cause—as was the case with the chief promoters of the Iraq War—come to believe their own propaganda.

The misuse also represents a subversion of the proper function of the intelligence agencies.  Intelligence is supposed to inform policymakers to help them in making decisions they have not yet made.  The agencies do not exist to be tools to sell publicly policy that already has been made.

The Trump administration is not the first to commit such misuse, but the misuse fits a pattern of how Trump has handled other government departments and agencies.   That pattern, featuring many fox-running-the-henhouse senior appointments, has been one of subverting rather than executing the mission of agencies.

Image: Reuters