Paul R. Pillar's twenty-eight-year career with the CIA and the National Intelligence Council showed him that intelligence reforms, especially measures enacted since 9/11, can be deeply misguided. They often miss the sources underwriting failed policy and misperceive our ability to read outside forces. They misconceive the intelligence-policy relationship and promote changes that weaken intelligence-gathering operations.
In this book, Pillar confronts the intelligence myths Americans have come to rely on to explain national tragedies, including the belief that intelligence drives major national security decisions and can be fixed to avoid future failures. These assumptions waste critical resources and create harmful policies, he claims, diverting attention away from smarter reform. They also refuse to recognize the limits of our knowledge. Pillar revisits U.S. foreign policy during the Cold War and highlights the small role intelligence played in those decisions, and he demonstrates the negligible effect America's most notorious intelligence failures had on U.S. policy and interests. He also reviews in detail the events of 9/11 and the 2003 invasion of Iraq, condemning the 9/11 commission and the George W. Bush administration for their portrayals of the role of intelligence. He offers an original approach to better informing U.S. policy, which involves insulating intelligence management from politicization and reducing the politically appointed layer in the executive branch that interjects slanted perceptions of foreign threats. Pillar concludes with principles for adapting foreign policy to inevitable uncertainty.