Intelligence as Moonlighting

The Steinitz Report, which investigated the intelligence services in the wake of the war in Iraq, is one of the gravest and most worrisome documents ever written about the process of decision making in Israel's top political and security echelons.

The Steinitz Report, which investigated the intelligence services in the wake of the war in Iraq, is one of the gravest and most worrisome documents ever written about the process of decision making in Israel's top political and security echelons. If its descriptions are correct, the report should arouse concern in the heart of every Israeli, whose government and newspapers receive their information from the chiefs of intelligence, and are strongly influenced by them in formulating their position in the Israeli-Arab conflict.

The intelligence community described in the report is run as a moonlighting operation, in the best Israeli organizational tradition of improvisation and conservatism. Military Intelligence (MI) has designated itself the "national assessor," without this role having been anchored in law and in procedures. MI and the chief of staff decide on the targets of intelligence gathering and research on their own, without political instruction. The consumers of intelligence are flooded with "an ocean of material and paperwork of doubtful value, to put it mildly," with trivial analysis and ambiguous assessments of known facts, and pretentious, and worthless, psychological portraits of the Arab leaders and their intentions.

The chair of the committee, MK Yuval Steinitz (Likud), promised to refrain from personal conclusions, but it's clear who his bad guys are: chief of MI, Major General Aluf Aharon Ze'evi-Farkash, and the head of the MI research division, Brigadier General Yossi Kuperwasser. The members of MI are accused of exaggerated self-confidence on the eve of the war, when they spoke of "a very high probability" that there were nonconventional weapons in Iraq, and when they attempted to amend their assessments after the fact, when the war was over. Steinitz believes the problem lies not with the assessments themselves, but with the fact that they weren't based on real information, and the heads of MI concealed that fact. It is no coincidence that the major recommendation is to dismantle MI in its present form, and to let most of its tasks be transferred to civilians.

The report pointed out other shortcomings. Cooperation with the foreign security services is essential, but it carries with it the risk of recycling assessments and of convincing one another about the accuracy of doubtful information, as happened in Iraq; or of concealing important information from Israel, as the United States and Great Britain did in the case of Libya. Another failure relates to the broad use of intelligence for public relations purposes with regards to the local and foreign media, a phenomenon that has increased in recent years. It's hard to understand, for example, why American journalist Seymour Hirsch was invited to meet with "members of Israeli intelligence" a few weeks ago, so that they could boast to him about the cracking of the Iranian code. For whom is this PR designed, and for what purpose?

Steinitz showed courage in embarking on an investigation of intelligence, which led to a confrontation with the security services. By doing so he introduced content to the parliamentary task of the committee for secret services. However, his work suffered from the same superficiality of which he accused the targets of his criticism. The mandate was broadened during the course of the investigation, witnesses were not properly debriefed, previous reports were not properly examined, and the conclusions struck out in too many directions. Steinitz accepts the criticism in part, and defends himself by claiming that the tools at his disposal are limited, and that the very fact that the investigation took place is of great importance.

One can assume that most of the recommendations will not be implemented. Turning over signal-intelligence Unit 8200 to civilians is an old idea raised by the historic commander of the unit, Yoel Ben Porat, a generation ago. Nor will the research division be dismantled and reestablished in the Mossad (the Institute for Intelligence and Special Tasks), as Steinitz recommends. Now is a time of war, and nobody will deal with such major changes. There should be a focus on more modest recommendations, such as determining the areas of responsibility and authority of the various security services, and increasing intelligence cooperation with the prime minister.

And it should be remembered that organizational changes, daring and comprehensive as they may be, will not solve the main problem exposed by the report: the difficulty of gathering reliable intelligence regarding the distribution, development and manufacture of nonconventional weapons. That's the real challenge facing MI, the Mossad and all the Western intelligence services.