In the U.S., the relationship between strategic intelligence and the formulation of national security policies has been to say the least complex and often confusing. This book provides what has long been needed, an objective and scholarly review of this relationship.
Rovner provides an excellent theoretical background to guide his examination of specific case histories that he has chosen to illustrate the relationships between strategic intelligence and policy. Ideally intelligence analysts should be able to operate without interference to produce strategic intelligence reports that are honest, objective, and supported by the best information available. Again ideally policy makers should be free to challenge such reports. Finally both analysts and policymakers should be able to hold rational discussions over differences in interpretation and conclusions in which the supporting evidence is considered objectively. Unfortunately this ideal is often thwarted by what Rovner calls "the pathologies of intelligence-policy relations." He has identified three such `pathologies': 1) neglect-policy makers ignore intelligence that does not fit their assumptions; 2) politicalization-the most egregious of the pathologies and one that has several different forms; and 3) excessive harmonization - intelligence analysts and policymakers are in such close agreement that they fail to critically scrutinize their conclusions. In the course of his discussion, Rovner also makes an interesting observation about secrecy. Secrecy he notes can be used by intelligence agencies as a source of power and as a means to support dubious analysis. Policymakers can use secrecy to support dubious policy decisions by implying that there classified evidence supporting their conclusions.
In any event Rovner provides case studies from the Vietnam War, the ongoing controversy of Soviet Military capability and intentions, and Operation Iraqi Freedom. These case studies accurately illustrate the pathologies hampering of productive intelligence-policymaker relations. Rovner does not assign blame but explains how this relationship got off track.
Originally, U.S. Strategic intelligence was largely produced by the Office of National Estimates (ONE) of CIA from 1947 through 1972. ONE was an in house CIA operation whose main analytic arm was the powerful Board of National Estimates (BNE) under the legendary Sherman Kent. BNE actually produced very good strategic intelligence which was often ignored by policymakers. For example as the U.S. moved toward ever greater commitments in South Vietnam based on the so-called "domino theory", it BNE that produced two estimates pointing out that this theory was hopelessly flawed. They were ignored, but were nonetheless presented good intelligence. President Nixon decided that ONE was too independent and ordered it disbanded and replaced with the more politically pliable National Intelligence Council (NIC) and a system of National Intelligence Officers who could be political appointees. This began the long process of decline of the U.S. ability to produce accurate strategic intelligence.