Balking recent trends of demanding transparency, Joshua Rovner, an associate professor of strategy and policy at the U.S. Naval War College, said intelligence entities should restrict access to secret national security information to prevent exploitation of insider knowledge by politicians.
The political use of security intelligence to sway voters was a misuse of the intelligence community, Rovner said at a talk Thursday hosted by the Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law.
“Intelligence is there to help policymakers make sense of ambiguous situations,” Rovner said. “It’s not there for public information. The media is there for public information.”
Rovner cited the inappropriate use of intelligence by the Lyndon B. Johnson administration in the Vietnam War and the George W. Bush administration in the 2003 invasion of Iraq as key eras of intelligence turmoil. In the case of Iraq, a very interesting set of data emerged as a result of political pressure on the intelligence community, Rovner said.
“By 2003, [Americans] were convinced that Iraq had an unconventional weapons program,” Rovner said. “This is weird because from 1998 until 2002, we didn’t have any information on Iraq.”
The intelligence community should have reassessed the situation once information about Iraq’s nuclear capabilities became evident in 2003, Rovner said.
“Inspectors start arriving back in 2003,” Rovner said. “They were scouring the country. Iraq had no way of stopping them, and [the inspectors] had advanced technology. They came up with nothing.”
But political pundits had already begun to take advantage of the erroneous allegations that Iraq was armed with weapons with mass destruction by this time, Rovner said.
“They were rushing to sell us this war,” Rovner said. “No serious reassessment took place. The march to war was on.”
Rovner said “the intelligence community would have never provided those estimates of Iraq’s weapon of mass destruction program without feeling the political push of the Bush administration after questions arose suggesting invading Iraq was not a good idea. He said limiting political access in the future to security intelligence can prevent it from being politicized.
Robert Hutchings, dean of the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs and former chairman of the National Intelligence Council, said he disagreed with Rovner about the need to increase secrecy.
“I think the solution may be to open up the process a little bit with greater legislative participation,” Hutchings said. “The [weapons of mass destruction] report was viewed by six senators. There were not hearings. Essentially, we went to war without Congress reviewing the facts.”
Graduate public affairs student Brooke Russell said she agreed with Rovner‘s views on intelligence security.
“I think it’s easy for intelligence to politicized,” Russell said.
To keep intelligence from being misused by politicians, Rovner said it should not be released widely to the public where it can be manipulated.
“Take intelligence out of the public sphere,” Rovner said. “I think broadening access to intelligence increases the chances of leaks. It decreases the chances of talking about what we’re looking at objectively, and instead, it becomes political football.”