INTELLIGENCE CHAMPS….In all the discussion recently about whether the CIA or the Pentagon produces better intelligence, there’s one answer that gets continually overlooked: neither. The real intelligence champ is the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), which you may recall as the agency that got it right about the aluminum tubes and then went on to write a lengthy (but ignored) dissent to the infamous 2002 NIE claiming that Saddam Hussein was mere years ? or maybe months! ? away from building a nuclear bomb.

Dumb luck? In the Washington Monthly this month, Justin Rood says not:

Not everyone in Washington is a fan of INR. Many neoconservatives especially see the agency as a threat to the more vigorous military project they advocate….But there’s a simple bottom-line test for intelligence: Who called it right most often? And on the big questions, INR has consistently gotten right what other agencies have gotten wrong.

What’s most remarkable about this track record is that it comes from an agency with 160 analysts and a budget of $50 million. “Decimal dust,” INR’s boss calls it. That compares to around 5,000 analysts at the CIA alone and a total U.S. intelligence budget of about $40 billion.

Fascinating stuff. Rood describes four reasons for INR’s success, and you’ll be unsurprised to learn that the most important is “a culture that tolerates dissent.” That’s something the CIA and the Pentagon could definitely use a bit more of.