LETTER FROM WELDON TO GATES
Dear Mr. Gates:
Now that I have had the opportunity to review your testimony on the 1995 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE 95-19) before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, I would like to share some of my thoughts with you. While I think we agree on many of the flaws in the analysis, I was disturbed by your assertion that it was congressional pressure which caused the premature release of the NIE and disappointed by your comments which absolve the intelligence community for its role in producing a defective assessment.
While you acknowledge the 1995 NIE is in many ways flawed, you criticize others who raised questions about the quality and objectivity. As a consumer of intelligence, Congress has a right to raise criticisms and it has an oversight responsibility to ensure that the intelligence community is delivering a quality product. It would be remiss to remain silent when incompetence or bias is suspected. That is precisely why Congress established the Gates panel over the objections of the DCI.
Not once did your panel provide an opportunity for Members who charged politicization to be heard. Given your harsh condemnation, I believe you had a responsibility to explore those allegations and to offer a detailed rebuttal of them. Instead, your merely exonerate the intelligence community of politicization, suggesting the report became victim to "political naivete." It is far more injurious to ignore or whitewash politicization when it exists than it is to suggest that possibility.
Ironically, NE 95- 19 failed to adhere to the criteria that you laid out in a March 1992 memo for avoiding politicization. For example, you stated that analysts must clearly distinguish between fact, inference, and judgment. As noted by GAO, this N1E presents judgments and assumptions as facts. You also warned against the dismissal of alternatives and the exaggeration of certainty. GAO found that NIE 95-19 exaggerated the certainty of its key judgments that no new ICBM threats to CONUS would arise in 15 years -- and that no evidence was presented to support that conclusion. Notably, the 1993 NIEs did not make these mistakes.
I completely agree with your statement that the exclusion of Alaska and Hawaii from the assessment of the ballistic missile threat to the United States was "foolish from every perspective." If these estimates are to be of any use to policy makers, they should be framed in such a way that they can form the basis for national security decisions, not CONUS security decisions.
As you know, earlier NIEs warned of a potential missile threat to the United States shortly after the turn of the century. Had the threat to Alaska and Hawaii been considered in the 1995 NIE, there is little doubt that the outcome would have been, at best, much less optimistic. Indeed, the faulty framework of the 1995 NIE itself suggests politicization. The analysis also dismisses the remaining threat from Russia, exaggerates the efficacy of the MTCR and ignores critical developments which suggest the potential for accelerated maturation of a missile threat. It also conflicts with the 1993 assessment in terms of future missile threats to the United States without any attempt to justify such a major departure. I wholeheartedly agree with you that the estimate understated the risk of an unauthorized or accidental Russian missile launch, particularly in light of military and civil instability there.
You told the Senate Committee that the analysis was rushed to completion, and subsequent press reports quote you as attributing that to congressional pressure. Mr. Osias testified to the same effect. That is patently false, and events surrounding the release confirm that.
In January 1995, General Malcolm O'Neill requested from the intelligence community an assessment of the ballistic missile threat to the entire United States. He stated in congressional testimony that the intelligence community pledged to deliver it to him before the summer, in the May timeframe. Four months after the due date, I wrote to Secretary Perry expressing concern about the delay and asked him to ensure its timely delivery. General O'Neill had not received a copy of the NIE nor had he been informed of its completion, and I had not received a response to my letter when the unclassified findings on the 1995 NIE were released to Senators Bumpers and Levin during Senate debate on the National Defense Authorization bill. Interestingly, that release came in the form of a letter from CIA's congressional affairs office.
One would think that the primary customer, General O'Neill, would have been informed of the NIE's completion before the findings were released. But more to the point, if it was my letter which pressured the intelligence community to rush the NIE to completion, then why was I not informed of its
release et the same time as the Senators, if not before? Even after the findings were released to the Senators, I did not receive any information on the NIE until one week later after I personally requested a CIA brief on it.
Some have suggested that it was politically naive for the intelligence community to have released the NIE during the Senate debate. From my perspective, it was not political naivete which prompted the release, but political calculation. The intelligence community never publicly stated that it needed more time before the release, and it would not likely have jeopardized its work to meet any political deadline -- from Capitol Hill, the Administration or anywhere else.
Given that the NIE was already seven months past its due date, the notion that congressional pressure caused a premature report release is a foolish assertion on its face; so is the suggestion that it was a mere coincidence that the NIE was released during Senate debate. It is clear that the Administration recognized that the NIE could be used to advantage during debate on national missile defense policy; its congressional affairs representatives ensured that happened.
While I agree with many of your criticisms of the NIE, I believe that defects which so significantly impact the outcome are suggestive of politicization deserve much harsher criticism. The mishandling of the 1995 NIE not only sullied the assessment process, but the community itself. Regardless of the cause for a flawed analysis, the community in my mind did an inadequate job and should not escape responsibility for shoddy workmanship. Nonetheless, I would still welcome the opportunity to meet with you if you have any evidence to support your claim in that regard.
Member of Congress