Thursday, March 02, 2006

Self-censorship, democracy style

Whatever your views on the rights and wrongs of the war on Iraq, one thing seems to be clear: people within the intelligence community (both the US and UK) had serious misgivings about the war and the aftermath.

Why didn't this information percolate upwards?

It's ironic, but today's Guardian newspaper carries two separate articles with quotes involving self-censorship - one in a dictatorship, the other in a democracy. I've already posted (prior to this one) the first quote, and here's the second:

"Wayne White, who coordinated Iraq intelligence for the state department until last year, said he helped put together a National Intelligence Estimate in 2003 warning that "prospects for tamping down the insurgency were unexpectedly grim". Mr White wrote that "the senior official chairing the meeting looked around at his fellow intelligence analysts and exclaimed rhetorically, 'How can I take this upstairs'?" to then-CIA director George Tenet. He argued the resistance to bad news in the White House led to the "temptation among subordinates within the intelligence community to engage in self-censorship". [emphasis mine]

The US is a free system. Why is self-censorship taking place? The answer is quite simply: the CIA organization system is that of a dictatorship, with the usual bosses and hierarchies.

If a head of state wants accurate information, the system that he's getting information from must be a free system. Otherwise, he will only be told what he wants to hear.

It should be the job of an organization like the CIA to provide the head of state with accurate information. Once they provide that information to the head of state, it's up to that person do do what he wants with it, even perhaps ignore it.

But the problem with a dictatorship system at the workplace is that it actively prevents accurate information from travelling upwards. The results, as we've seen in the shuttle disasters, and now the Iraq war, can be disastrous.

(email me your comments at