[FOUNTAIN]The dangers posed by ‘group think’Even when freedom of expression is in full bloom, oppression still exists in a society. The oppression might not be visible or tangible, but people can sense it. Most commonly, people feel the psychological stress of self-pressure.
In an agency dealing with intelligence, pressure can produce frequent intelligence failures. The case in point is the series of blunders by the Central Intelligence Agency that resulted in the war against Iraq. Investigated and exposed by the U.S. Senate Committee on Intelligence, the agency’s intelligence failures significantly undermined President George W. Bush’s justification for war.
According to the committee’s report, what pressured the specialists at the Central Intelligence Agency was “group think.” In the CIA culture, members are averse to making new discoveries or interpretations that go against the opinion of the organization as a group.
“Let’s keep in mind, the war’s going to happen regardless of what Curveball said or didn’t say,” a CIA official was quoted as saying. Curveball was a code name for an Iraqi defector who had been helping the agency with less-than-reliable intelligence. He had been the sole source for the information that Saddam Hussein had mobile biological weapons laboratories, but no evidence has been found to support or crosscheck the claim. But the CIA reported to the White House Iraq’s possession of weapons of mass destruction. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell then gave a speech to the U.N. Security Council defending Washington’s reasons to strike Iraq based on this information.
The problem is that agency insiders acknowledged at the time that Curveball was an unreliable source. So before Mr. Powell’s U.N. speech, an intelligence analyst attempted to contact the secretary and let him know the true nature of the information. The CIA official interfered with the analyst’s efforts to inform the secretary. He testified later, “The war was destined to break out regardless of Curveball’s credibility, and I suggested he not go against the flow.”
An individual effort to reveal the truth was stopped by the “group think” that the reason for the CIA’s existence was to help the administration start a war against Iraq. As the world is shocked by the failure of the CIA, we should look back on whether we are oppressed by “group think.”
by Chun Young-gi
The writer is deputy political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.