How Never To Be Wrong

Gabriel Schoenfeld’s take on the recently released National Intelligence Estimate:

…Here are some of [the NIE’s] “key judgments”:

“We judge the US Homeland will face a persistent and evolving terrorist threat over the next three years. The main threat comes from Islamic terrorist groups and cells, especially al Qaeda, driven by their undiminished intent to attack the Homeland and a continued effort by these terrorist groups to adapt and improve their capabilities.”

Is there anything in the above paragraph that could not be deduced by reading a leading newspaper, like the New York Times?

“We assess that greatly increased worldwide counterterrorism efforts over the past five years have constrained the ability of al Qaeda to attack the U.S. Homeland again and have led terrorist groups to perceive the Homeland as a harder target to strike than on 9/11. These measures have helped disrupt known plots against the United States since 9/11.”

Once again, is there anything in the above paragraph that could not be deduced by reading a leading newspaper, like the Wall Street Journal?

“We assess that al Qaeda’s Homeland plotting is likely to continue to focus on prominent political, economic, and infrastructure targets with the goal of producing mass casualties, visually dramatic destruction, significant economic aftershocks, and/or fear among the US population.”

Is there anything in the above paragraph that could not be deduced by watching television news, local channels included?

“We assess that al Qaeda will continue to try to acquire and employ chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear material in attacks and would not hesitate to use them if it develops what it deems is sufficient capability.”

Is there anything in the above paragraph that could not be deduced by reading the footnotes of the wikipedia entry on al Qaeda?

To be sure, there are some interesting nuggets in the NIE summary that suggest that the intelligence community might know one or two details that are not already known by the rest of us.

It is conceivable that its discussion of two subjects—the emerging importance of al Qaeda in Iraq, and developments in Pakistan’s tribal areas—might be backed by some highly specific intelligence, based upon interrogations, communications intercepts, and other forms of spycraft.

But on the whole, the NIE appears, at least in its unclassified form, to be a shining example of bureaucratic self-protection. The CIA and affiliated agencies do not want to be wrong again; and they have found a way never to be wrong: by stating the obvious and calling it a National Intelligence Estimate.

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