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DNI appoints ombudsman to guard analysis

By
SHAUN WATERMAN, UPI Homeland and National Security Editor

WASHINGTON, July 3 (UPI) -- The director of national intelligence has appointed an analytic ombudsman so intelligence analysts who feel under political pressure to tilt their work, or who feel their reports are being misrepresented, have someone to turn to outside their own agency.

Nancy Bernkopf Tucker took a leave of absence from her position as a history professor at Georgetown University to become the assistant deputy director of national intelligence for analytic integrity and standards in January, according to a statement from her office.

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She told United Press International in a recent interview that she was appointed to the additional post of analytic ombudsman May 1. Both posts were created by the 2004 Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act, and neither appointment has been previously reported.

The ombudsman position, Tucker told UPI, was "one of the things that (the director of national intelligence) has created, in part in response to concerns" about analytic standards in general, and politicization in particular.

The president's commission on intelligence about alleged Iraqi weapons of mass destruction found that U.S. intelligence analysts were "dead wrong" on the issue, but reported that this was not due to politicization or pressures on analysts from policy makers, but rather the result of poor analytic technique -- known in intelligence jargon as tradecraft.

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But the commission specifically did not address the question of the use made of intelligence products in public statements by officials -- a key issue for critics of the administration's drumbeat for war during 2002.

Administration officials tend to highlight the commission's findings of "groupthink" or an "assumption train" -- and blame poor analytic tradecraft, rather than political pressure for the flawed conclusions.

Tucker said that her dual role reflected the need to address issues of tradecraft at a systemic level, as well as to provide what she called "a release mechanism" for individuals who felt under pressure to reach a certain conclusion in their work.

"By doing this better," she said of analysis, "you provide the customer a better product."

She told UPI that she was working with the newly-appointed chancellor of the national intelligence university on the development of community-wide analytic professional standards.

She revealed that this summer for the first time, in a small pilot project, newly recruited analysts from different intelligence agencies would be trained together in a kind of analytic boot camp, to impart what she called "basic critical skills."

She said the project would involve 20-30 people "the first go around, to try out methods and methodology" for joint training.

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On the ombudsman side, she said that since May 1 she had been approached by two individuals, each of whom had eventually decided not to take the matter any further after talking with her. "It is not a short process," she said of deciding how to proceed.

Between January and May, she had researched the role of ombudsmen in the sprawling and sometime fractious collection of intelligence agencies called the U.S. intelligence community. "Most have a much broader role" than she does, she said, adding that the CIA was more or less the only agency with an ombudsman specifically for analysts.

Nonetheless, given that most intelligence agencies had procedures of their own for aggrieved individuals, she was essentially a backstop for complainants who had exhausted the channels available within their own agency, or who feared that those channels would not protect their confidentiality.

But Paul Pillar, a former senior intelligence official responsible for overseeing the production of intelligence analyses about Iraq, told UPI that in most agencies the ombudsmen were part-time retired analysts, able to "lend an ear to individual officers," but basically toothless.

"The word sanctions doesn't come up at all," he said. "Basically what (the ombudsman) can do is write reports to senior management, summarizing what he hears ... He has absolutely no power, except to highlight his findings (internally)."

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If Tucker were to be successful, he added, she would need to be very aggressive.

"A proactive role would be appropriate," said Pillar, who both before and since his retirement was a trenchant critic of the administration's push for war with Iraq.

"Rather than just sitting and waiting for people to get in touch," Pillar said, Tucker needed to be critically reviewing intelligence products and the processes that produced them.

He said that politicization did not necessarily imply pressure on individual analysts, but could be the result of "patterns of behavior." He instanced as an example what he said was "the differential treatment in the process of (inter-agency) coordination and review" that various intelligence products got, depending on whether they were "in conformity with the administration's desire to bolster its case for war."

Those documents that supported the White House case for war were fast-tracked through the approval process, those that did not, were not, he said.

Rather than simply waiting for individuals to complain, Pillar said, Tucker needed to be ensuring that the intelligence community was doing the "unpleasant but necessary task of placing unwelcome (intelligence) products on the desks of senior policy-makers."

Lawrence Korb, a former senior defense official with the Reagan administration and now a senior fellow at the liberal-leaning think tank, the Center for American Progress, told UPI that the key performance predictor would be Tucker's ability to get her boss' ear.

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"The real issue is, is Negroponte going to pay attention to her?" he said. "Will she be able to walk into his office and say 'look, you're being sold a bill of goods here,' and get something done about it?"

Tucker arrived at Georgetown University having worked for the State Department in its Chinese affairs office in Washington and the U.S. Embassy in Beijing and having previously taught at Colgate University and New York University, according to a brief biography provided by her office.

She is a diplomatic historian and author of several studies of U.S-China relations.

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