REPEATING INTEL BLUNDERS

It's bad enough that the Bush White House totally misgauged Saddam's nuclear weapons program. But now they're making matters worse, by turning their method for reaching such cockeyed conclusions into a template for future intelligence operations.The reason the Bushies got so hysterical about a nuclear Iraq, explains the New Yorker's Seymour Hersh, is that they insisted on "direct access to sensitive intelligence, such as foreign agent reports."In the past, professional spooks analyzed information before passing it on, "to prevent raw intelligence from getting to people who would be misled." But under Dubya, that all changed.Hersh shows in his story how one piece of unscrubbed data the now- infamously forged "Yellowcake" documents from Niger bypassed the normal vetting process, and was tapped directly by administration bigwigs, who misused the papers utterly.But that's in the past. Having learned their lesson with the Niger debacle, the administration must have changed its mind. It trusts its professional analysts now, right?Wrong. Last week, at the Geo-Intel conference in New Orleans, Thomas Behling, the Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence, told an audience of spooks and geeks that the America's future intelligence architecture will rely on giving policy-makers "direct access to the data.""Disintermediation is going to happen to the intelligence business," he added.In the Internet world, that's a buzzword for a good thing: getting needless middlemen out of the way.In the intelligence world, however, disintermediation increasingly sounds like something very bad.

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