The US intelligence community has long claimed that integrity in the search for truth was its core value. In March 1992, Robert Gates, who at that time was serving as director of Central Intelligence, addressed the CIA’s analytical community on the issue of politicized intelligence.
“Bourne Cockran [note: an Irish-American politician known for his oratory skills who mentored Winston Churchill],” Gates noted, “wrote to Winston Churchill in 1895 that, ‘What the people really want to hear is the truth – it is the exciting thing – speak the simple truth. Twenty years later, Churchill himself wrote, ‘The truth is incontrovertible; panic may resent it; ignorance may deride it; malice may destroy it, but there it is.’ Truth, insofar as we can determine it, is what our [i.e., the CIA’s] work is all about.”
Moreover, Gates pointed out, “because seeking truth is what we [the CIA] are all about as an institution, as professionals, and as individuals, the possibility – even the perception – that that quest may be tainted deeply troubles us, as it long has and as it should.”
The “taint” Gates was speaking of was the politicization of intelligence. When defining this taint, Gates noted that “it involves deliberately distorting analysis or judgments to favor a preferred line of thinking irrespective of evidence.”
The recent acknowledgement to NBC News by unnamed sources that the US government was declassifying intelligence to share with allies and the public to pre-empt and disrupt Russian planning, “undermine Moscow’s propaganda and prevent Russia from defining how the war is perceived in the world,” on the surface appears to avoid the pitfalls of politicization laid out by Gates 30 years ago. After all, according to these unnamed officials, this process of public disclosure was “underpinned by a rigorous review process by the National Security Council and the Intelligence Community to validate the quality of the information and protect sources and methods.” They added that “we only approve the release of intelligence if we are confident those two requirements are met.”
Not so fast.
According to the same NBC News report: “Multiple US officials acknowledged that the US has used information as a weapon even when confidence in the accuracy of the information wasn’t high. Sometimes,” the report noted, “it has used low-confidence intelligence.” The purpose for using intelligence which, to quote NBC News, “wasn’t rock solid”, was to deter Russian actions by keeping Russian President Vladimir Putin “off balance.”