THE CIA IN IRAQ….James Joyner points to an article in this week’s issue of Time magazine about our intelligence operations in Iraq before the war. The timing of the article suggests to me that it’s primarily an effort by the CIA to hit back against critics who claim they lacked sufficient human intelligence in Iraq, but even so it contains some interesting nuggets.

However, I have a feeling the article prompted a different question in me than it did in James. Before we get to that, though, here are a few excerpts:

Before the war last spring, says a former colonel in the Iraqi intelligence service, Saddam’s analysts presented him with classified reports predicting a decisive U.S. victory. The documents described how the Iraqi security forces, already outmatched, had been undermined by Washington’s success in recruiting Iraqi spies and double agents.

….Before a shot was fired, the U.S. recruited and dispatched Iraqi collaborators to uncover Saddam’s plans and capabilities, and hobble them. Deals were done; psychological warfare was waged; money was paid; and even blackmail was used.

….Faced with the task of scouting the locations Ahmed had listed, al-Jaburi turned to an old friend and contact, A. Mashadani. Al-Jaburi had recruited Mashadani, a major in the mukhabarat, Iraq’s main intelligence agency, soon after joining the I.N.A. For two years Mashadani, who had access to some of the mukhabarat’s best secrets, had been feeding the CIA?through al-Jaburi?information on Iraqi missiles, antiaircraft systems and troop movements.

….The operations chief for the I.N.C. goes by the name of Abu Ranin. His job before the war was to crack the mukhabarat. His tactics were hardball. The I.N.C. had done surveillance on Iraqi missions around the world, making educated guesses about who was an intelligence agent.

….Over ensuing weeks, Abu Ranin called the names in the address book and concluded that he had the identities of 65 agents?either Iraqis based abroad or their contacts in foreign intelligence services, particularly Syrian and Palestinian. He then traipsed around the Middle East, arranging meetings with the Iraqi agents on various pretenses.

As you can see, lots of cloak and dagger stuff, and while you need to read the Time article to get all the context, the basic message is that we had seriously infiltrated the Iraqi army, the Republican Guard, the Special Security Organization, and the Mukhabarat, Iraq’s intelligence service.

So here’s my question: if all this stuff is actually true, it seems hardly believable that we didn’t know the true extent of Iraq’s WMD programs and stockpiles, does it? Which means that we’re left with an unappealing menu of choices:

  • The CIA is blowing smoke. Their infiltration was actually pretty ineffective.

  • Their infiltration was as good as they say it was. This implies that they knew perfectly well that the administration’s WMD claims were vastly overblown, but didn’t say anything.

  • Their infiltration was good, they had solid intelligence about the existence of WMD, but despite all this the WMD somehow got moved out of Iraq without them knowing about it.

I’m not sure which of these choices scares me more.

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