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  xTuesday, January 14, 2003

intelligence game


I've been giving some thought to the problem of sharing US intelligence data with the weapons inspectors in Iraq. Since the administrations seems to have--finally!--settled on weapons of mass destruction as the rational for the impending war with Iraq, it follows that evidence of their existence might strongly bolster the Administration's case (conversely, of course, conspicuous absence of evidence is a strong credibility-killer).

The problem is, as much as I'm not at all inclined to give this Administration the benefit of the doubt, the notion of protecting intelligence sources is a genuine one. The more specific the information you release, the better the likelihood that its source will be rumbled. Even among allies, intelligence agencies often carefully launder information, passing data along through a series of third parties in a kind of "telephone" game; by the time the info reaches its intended recipient, there's been enough distortion that the source can be obscured.

Of course, this genuine concern doesn't excuse the Administration from keeping the evidence it claims it has a total secret form everyone. Fortunately, I'm here to help.

I propose that the Administration give the international weapons inspectors a list of, say, two dozen sites to visit. Some ought to be obvious choices--chemical factories, previously inspected plants, what have you. A couple ought to be goodprospects from failty safe intelligence sources--satellite flybys, Predator drones, cargo manifests and the like. A few should be totally random and puzzling--maybe a candy factory, the Baghdad TV station, or an apartment building (the latter two carrying a bonus opportunity for a little PR along the way, if they play it right). And then one, just one, would be the jewel--the one site where the Administration knows Iraq has its WMDs (assuming, of course, such a site truly exists).

But before hitting that one, the inspectors operating from the US data would establish a camoflaguing pattern--even a few complete misses would leave the Iraquis guessing what the US knows, or thinks it knows.

Sure, turning the inspectors loose on one or two sure-fire sites would carry the risk of blowing a source. But porfessional intelligence agencies are accustomed to disguising the source of information. If we gave the UN inspectors a list of 24 sites, knowing that we really only care about one, it's hard to see where the Iraquis could draw any meaningful conclusion from the presence of any particular site on the list.





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