/ Published October 13, 2010
Intelligence Matters: The CIA, the FBI, Saudi Arabia, and the Failure of America’s War on Terror, 2nd ed., by Senator Bob Graham with Jeff Nussbaum. University Press of Kansas, 2008, 350 pp.
Senator Robert “Bob” Graham is a US politician and Democrat who served as governor and then senator from Florida (1987–2005). His political affiliation is mentioned because of its potential effect on the objectivity of the volume. Graham retired from the Senate and now heads the Bob Graham Center for Public Service at the University of Florida. During his senatorial tenure, he served as chair of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee (2001–2002) and was a strident opponent of the Iraq War. Jeff Nussbaum, his coauthor, was a speechwriter for Vice President Al Gore and Senator Tom Daschle.
A reviewer is required to answer the question, “Should this book be read?” The book in question clearly has great potential. Whether it delivers is another matter. Senator Graham actually has an important message, and whether it ultimately succeeds might depend upon the political persuasion of the reader. That element in itself is troubling if stringent objectivity is the goal.
Graham presents a personalized and often very approachable account of his experiences before and after 9/11. Unfortunately, he occasionally spends far too much time reminiscing about minutiae, thus diluting the important message of failed intelligence and the possible involvement of Saudi Arabia in terrorism. For many readers, this approach is likely to cause confusion, particularly for those not familiar with the names of those involved. From his unique perspective, Graham provides some real potential for fascinating and insightful reading. His “Introduction” claims “to offer an inside of the investigation of the events that led up to September 11, 2001, including new information on the role of foreign governments in aiding the terrorists within the United States and the extent of the failures among and between American and international intelligence agencies” (p. xxiv). He delivers disappointedly, particularly when he resorts to such partisan polemics as “I also intend to outline the disgraceful manner in which the administration of President George W. Bush . . . had repeatedly hindered the full investigation of September 11, and then turned its attention and resources to Iraq—an act that has served to make Americans less secure than they were before that fateful Tuesday morning in September 2001” (p. xxiv). Criticism is good, and different perspectives can help provide better insight, but with criticism also comes the responsibility for evidence. Presenting anything less only results in offering just another opinion, of which there are plenty already.
A declarative statement is only as effective as the evidence presented in its support. Every statement must be presented unambiguously so that the fullest context of the facts and their meanings are made clear to the reader. It is here that the problems with the book become apparent. The author’s personal opinion abounds throughout, while documented evidence, including primary sources and context of quoted material, are often absent or severely lacking. Any time an author takes an approach that could be labeled as potentially partisan, that author must present real evidence to confirm his or her objectivity and the accuracy of the facts. These requirements do not imply that all of the senator’s conclusions are incorrect. Many appear spot on. There remains much to be criticized in the way the pre–9/11 intelligence was handled. The problem with this book is that an oppositely polarized reader to Senator Graham might dismiss large sections as partisan screed while ignoring some of the fascinating perspectives scattered throughout. There is value here, but it just has to be found, which may be asking a lot from the busy military officer reader.
The subject matter is complex and has footnotes and references ad nauseum from other authors. Even where provided, many sources can be criticized as less than adequate, for example, CNN, Newsweek, or USA Today citations. Where are the primary sources? This author had access to original documents and could have arranged for many of them to be presented if not in full, then in redacted form. He does not do this. Oddly, the updated postscript to the second edition is better footnoted to the level of expectation. The index is also found lacking and perhaps could be considered overly indulgent when listing references to the author himself, evidenced by 36 lines listed for Osama bin Laden and 43 lines for Senator Graham, including one reference to his “calmness” (p. 208). Things do improve in the postscript, where higher-quality references (Senate hearing and FBI and ODNI documents) are used and listed.
Some subtle things happened throughout this volume, and the reader should be cautioned to read critically. Unfortunately, one must know the facts to pick up some of the nuances of the arguments and what might be argued by some as selective interpretation of the facts. Knowing the facts, the reader is likely to be disappointed with the book as a whole. For example, when comparing intelligence practices presumably employed in the wake of 9/11 by the Bush administration to those that occurred later, Graham lauds the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on the Iranian nuclear program as an example of “real progress . . . because this new estimate was the result of a more rigorous evaluation of the strengths, weaknesses, access and credibility of the sources” (p. xiv).
Graham also commends the actions of Thomas Fingar (not listed in the index), who at the time was deputy director of national intelligence for analysis. Although, Graham does not impugn the motives or analytical abilities of Dr. Fingar, I was familiar with some of the subject matter associated with the 2007 NIE and was frankly shocked at some of its conclusions. Ultimately, it will be left to historians and war fighters (perhaps in the not-too-distant future) to decide the accuracy of those conclusions. Regardless of the results, the objectivity of this NIE or its primary author (Dr. Fingar) remains as critical questions to the volume because Senator Graham chooses to endorse them. He claims them as evidence of progress or at least as a repudiation of the way President Bush utilized intelligence. Others, like Bill Gertz, author of The Failure Factory and Treachery—How America’s Friends and Foes are Secretly Arming our Enemies, have viewed the NIE far more skeptically and would perhaps argue that the way the intelligence community continues to conduct business remains flawed and influenced by politics. Gertz, in fact, roundly and directly criticizes Fingar himself, claiming he possessed an inherent bias toward believing that Iran and China were not significant national security threats to the United States. If that is true, then the more recent NIE could be considered as political in its inception and conclusions as any intelligence that was used to justify the invasion of Iraq.
The best section of the book is the updated portion, including the postscript and the appendix. There is certain value here, and much appears to try to transcend partisanship. If a potential reader were to be advised, it would be to skip directly to the postscript. It is clearly evident here that much regarding intelligence has indeed not changed, whether it is within the FBI or within the larger intelligence community. Special agent friends in the FBI are likely to understand the delineation in the previous statement and not take offense. FBI administrators will likely continue to take offense, for they have heard this before. To compromise, it is perhaps fairer to say much improvement is needed and, unfortunately, little time in which to do it. The threat remains real.
The book in question could have been done so much better. Senator Graham would best be advised to go back, start again from scratch, and provide a separate volume with all the needed insight and the supporting evidence to pen a volume that would warrant close attention.
Intelligence Matters: The CIA, the FBI, Saudi Arabia, and the Failure of America’s War on Terror by Senator Bob Graham with Jeff Nussbaum, 2nd ed. University Press of Kansas, 2008, 350 pp., $17.95.
Robert A. Norton, PhD
"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."