According to James J. Drylie’s Intelligence document, there are three ways in which intelligence can be corrupted: “intelligence analysts can be pressured to emphasize findings that support policies and preferences, or ignore issues that don’t support these policies; policymakers clearly express what they want to hear and what they don’t want to hear; [or] estimates can be skewed for personal advancement.” Thus, politicizing intelligence works towards supporting or emphasizing the results a politician desires for policy making.
Politics are inherent throughout the intelligence cycle. During the planning and direction step, for example, the political decision-makers determine a need for intelligence and data in a certain area, thus guiding the intelligence community one way or the other. Throughout the rest of the intelligence cycle, however, it is beneficial for the intelligence community and the political community alike for intelligence gathering to stray away from political sways and interferences. For example, during the collection period, the intelligence gatherer should avoid political biases to avoid missing any critical pieces of information. Likewise, politics can muddy the processing and production steps if the intelligence analyst overlooks a piece of information due to a political confirmation bias swaying him towards a different, and possibly less strategic, avenue. Lastly, intelligence analysts should remain unbiased when they deliver their intelligence reports to decision makers during the dissemination process, as the decision makers will perhaps interject political needs when they create policy based upon the reports.
The intelligence community has recently seen multiple politicized intelligence instances under the past few administrations. For instance, politicized intelligence affected policymakers’ decisions to invade Iraq in 2003 and begin the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). In the early Iraq campaigns, policy drove intelligence demands, leading in some instances to policy and intelligence failures. Senior military commanders allegedly “were accused of persuading intelligence analysts to soften their estimates to make it appear that their campaigns [against ISIS] were more effective than they actually were” (McDermott 2018).
Under the current administration, reports have alleged that President Donald Trump “may have influenced intelligence by predicting Iran would be in violation of the nuclear agreement vice coming to this conclusion based on intelligence analyses” (McDermott 2018). Others argue that the Trump administration has “attempted to influence analyses to justify their policies and the policies of the Republican Party”, which additionally undermines what is meant to be an apolitical intelligence community (McDermott 2018). Additionally, the bipartisan political sphere has influenced intelligence report demands, such as during the Mueller Report. Politicians may seek out intelligence reports that support the administration that supports them, as well as their constituents.
Thus, politicized intelligence is dangerous because it can “misrepresent the intelligence and cause intelligence failures”; undermine “the principal foundation of the IC’s [intelligence community’s] apolitical nature”; be a result of an “inherent obligation of those appointed to leadership positions to serve the administration that appointed them”; and can create an interconnected atmosphere between the producers and consumers of intelligence, leading “consumers to dictate what the producers should infer through their analysis, vice the producers generating the intelligence for consumers to better inform policymakers in their decision making” (McDermott 2018).
It is important to remember that some experts believe there can be positives in interjecting politics into intelligence. Some argue that politicized intelligence can spark the interest of policymakers, and thus be more strategic in persuading the decision makers to actually use the intelligence. McDermott poses this dilemma well in his study Do Political Appointments Create Politicized Intelligence? when he stated that “intelligence is just information if it is not policy relevant, and information is useless in making policy decisions” (McDermott 2018).