Iraqi Defectors Exaggerated

What a shock.

The way intelligence works–not that any of these guys would know…in either sense of the word–is with a healthy dose of skepticism laced with suspicion. The reason they are healthy is contained in a little story–the kind Judith Miller should have written two years ago–about one of Ahmad Chalabi’s chief information collectors noticing how greatly the defectors’ stories had changed between the time he first heard them and the time they hit Washington.

Mr. Zubaidi said in interviews last week in Lebanon, the ominous claims by the defectors differed significantly from the versions that they had first related to him and his associates. Mr. Zubaidi provided his handwritten diaries from 2001 and 2002, and his existing reports on the statements originally made by the defectors.According to the documents, the defectors, while speaking with precision about aspects of Iraqi military facilities like its stock of missiles, did not initially make some of the most provocative claims about weapons production or that an Iraqi official had met with Mr. bin Laden.

The precise circumstances under which the stories apparently changed remains unclear. The defectors themselves could not be reached for comment.

Mr. Zubaidi contends that the men altered their stories after they met with senior figures in the Iraqi National Congress. Mr. Zubaidi, who acknowledged that he had a bitter split with the I.N.C. in April 2003, said officials of the group prepped the defectors before allowing them to meet with the American intelligence agents and journalists.

“They intentionally exaggerated all the information so they would drag the United States into war,” Mr. Zubaidi said. “We all know the defectors had a little information on which they built big stories.”

As a primer for Doug Feith and his merry band of novitiate intelligence gatherers at OSP and C-TEG, here are a couple of the basic rules of intelligence-gathering.

Intel 101

Defectors, all defectors, no matter where they come from, have a reason for defecting. You may or may not know what that reason is. For instance:

#1: Could they be double agents throwing you chickenfeed and disinformation because they actually work for the opposition?

#2: Could they be free-lance doubles who are selling you information about the opposition and then turning around and selling the opposition information about you, thus working both sides of the street for the greater glory of their expense accounts? (This is extremely common in the Middle East.)

#3: Remember at all times that defectors, whether #1’s, #2’s or relatively honest, have an interest in telling you what they think you want to hear in order to keep you interested in them. They almost always exaggerate or outright lie to make themselves and their information seem more important than it is. This is common. Assume it and verify their stories before you act on them.

#4: When you interrogate/de-brief them, DO NOT LEAD THEM IN ANY PARTICULAR DIRECTION unless you are deliberately testing them (which none of you are competent to do, so leave it to the pros). If you lead, they will follow and their stories will get more and more exaggerated as a result.

Follow these four simple rules and they should keep you from falling into any of the more obvious traps when questioning a defector.

Of course I realize this is like giving you a lecture on how to lock the barn when the horses have already escaped, but, you know, for next time. Real intelligence analysts and interrogators learn these rules their first few days in Spy School but you, of course, came in way late and unprepared, jumped ahead of the rest of the class because your Daddy knows the school’s owner. Influence-peddling and nepotism may be good for your career but they don’t make you smart. In fact, they tend to make you suckers, so beware.

That’s it for today. Now go outside and play nice with the other kids. Try to remember, you don’t know everything and don’t brag too much about how the owner let you skip a grade because your Dad plays golf with him at the Country Club. The other kids may decide you look like a fish and try to drown you in the wading pool.

One response to “Iraqi Defectors Exaggerated

  1. Pingback: Bush and WMDs « Mick Arran

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