John LeCarre on Iraq Intelligence Failure
From Laura Miller’s recent interview in Salon.com with the famed spy novelist David Cornwell and former British foreign service officer:
“I think it’s perfectly true that after the Cold War ended and the secret war against terror and the business of spying on terror got going, as always the new war was being fought with the weapons of the old one and it didn’t work. It’s terribly difficult to spy on a multinational organization that doesn’t oblige you by using all the toys you can catch them out with: telephones, cellphones, radio, codes that you can break. It doesn’t have a command and control structure that you can penetrate . . .
That’s one side of it. The technological revolution in intelligence left people with the notion that the human side of intelligence was of secondary importance. I think that’s always been a great nonsense. It was a great nonsense in the Cold War too, even if we did manage to break their codes. I think the CIA and the Brits or whoever else would much rather have had access to Gorbachev’s private secretary than to Gorbachev’s telegrams. Human sources — you can ask them questions, they can reply . . .
Your intelligence budget for the CIA alone is, I think, $30 billion a year. The result is a huge proliferation of junk. The art of refining that and turning it into a lucid statement you can write on a postcard and put in front of a busy politician really is very, very difficult stuff. The intelligence business is threatened by exactly the same bad people that your business is threatened by . . . In the intelligence world, with so much money around, there are tremendously sophisticated peddlers who are just making stuff up, feeding information to the empty areas of your head and taking huge sums of money for it and disappearing into the smoke. And I think some of the intelligence services fell for some of that stuff.”