Intelligence and U.S. Foreign Policy

Iraq, 9/11, and Misguided Reform

Paul R. Pillar

Columbia University Press

Intelligence and U.S. Foreign Policy

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Pub Date: March 2014

ISBN: 9780231157933

432 Pages

Format: Paperback

List Price: $29.00£25.00

Pub Date: September 2011

ISBN: 9780231157926

432 Pages

Format: Hardcover

List Price: $85.00£71.00

Pub Date: September 2011

ISBN: 9780231527804

432 Pages

Format: E-book

List Price: $28.99£25.00

Intelligence and U.S. Foreign Policy

Iraq, 9/11, and Misguided Reform

Paul R. Pillar

Columbia University Press

A career of nearly three decades with the CIA and the National Intelligence Council showed Paul R. Pillar that intelligence reforms, especially measures enacted since 9/11, can be deeply misguided. They often miss the sources that underwrite failed policy and misperceive our ability to read outside influences. They also 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. Pillar believes these assumptions waste critical resources and create harmful policies, diverting attention away from smarter reform, and they keep Americans from recognizing the limits of obtainable 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 that America's most notorious intelligence failures had on U.S. policy and interests. He then 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. Pillar 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 to combat slanted perceptions of foreign threats. Pillar concludes with principles for adapting foreign policy to inevitable uncertainties.

Pillar's combination of qualifications as a high-level practitioner and careful scholar is unmatched. He weaves together general analysis of the role of intelligence with insights from his own involvement in the most important foreign policy issues over many years.

Richard K. Betts, Columbia University

The 9/11 attacks and the Iraq WMD estimate are both encumbered by erroneous legends. Paul R. Pillar, a senior intelligence analyst deeply involved in both issues, offers crucial correctives, also applicable to the overly-esteemed 9/11 Commission Report. These alone make this an important book. Pillar goes further, offering a unique history of U.S. intelligence and the issue of 'intelligence reform.' Not all will agree with his observations, but they come from substantial experience and deep thought and need to be seriously considered.

Mark M. Lowenthal, president, The Intelligence and Security Academy, and former Assistant Director of Central Intelligence for Analysis and Production

Paul R. Pillar brings to his study of intelligence and foreign policy the skills of an accomplished scholar and a wealth of experience as an intelligence officer. A brief endorsement cannot do justice to the richness and power of his arguments, which are essential reading for anyone who wants to understand what intelligence can and cannot do; why the appeal of reforms is often greater than their value; and how we can avoid repeating our past mistakes.

Robert Jervis, author of Why Intelligence Fails: Lessons from the Fall of the Shah and the Iraq War

Writing with the authority of a distinguished practitioner and scholar, Paul R. Pillar presents a blunt and candid assessment of the profound disconnect between intelligence and American national security policy. His pointed reflections expose the reality of the politicization and misuse of intelligence as well as the importance of the images of the world that policy makers bring to the table. His book is an invaluable corrective to the assumption that policy blunders and the inability to predict can be blamed simply on 'intelligence failure.'

Martha Crenshaw, Center for International Security and Cooperation, Stanford University

Paul R. Pillar has written a brilliant, lucid analysis of the evolution of U.S. national security intelligence in the decade since the 9/11 attacks. He shows how the intelligence agencies have been made scapegoats for the failures of our political leaders, how intelligence reform has become confused with bureaucratic reorganization, and how our foreign policy is driven by a psychological as well as political incapacity to accept the limitations of our knowledge about the plans and motivations of actual and potential adversaries. Pillar's book is erudite, thorough, and authoritative, yet accessible to anyone concerned with the gravest issues of national and global security.

Richard A. Posner, author of Countering Terrorism: Blurred Focus, Halting Steps

[A] rich, useful, and important book.

Thomas Powers, New York Times Book Review

A thoroughly documented, cogently argued work by an author with vast personal experience of his topic.

Kirkus Reviews

A vigorous and hard-hitting insider's account,

Lawrence D. Freedman, Foreign Affairs

Pillar provides a telling and comprehensive new perspective from the inside.

Steve Coll, New York Review of Books

This is a well-written effort by a former intelligence offer and academician. Hopefully, members of the national security community and their staffs will read and benefit from it.


Pillar's book is extremely detailed and informative, providing a better understanding of just how hard it is to be an intelligence professional in a world where all that matters is being wrong... once.

James M. Burcalow, Military Review

Important and highly readable.... This is a book that should be widely read by both the public and policymakers.

Richard Harris, The Manhattan Mercury
List of Abbreviations
1. Introduction: A Comforting Explanation for Calamity
2. Weapons of Mass Destruction and the Iraq War
3. Alternative Visions of the Iraq War
4. Congress and the Politics of the Iraq War
5. Great Decisions and the Irrelevance of Intelligence
6. Politicization
7. Scapegoats and Spectator Sport
8. The Never-Ending Issue
9. Catharsis and 9/11
10. Responses to Catharsis
11. The Illusion of Reform
12. Real Reform
13. Adapting Policy to Uncertainty
Web Features:

Finalist - The St. Ermin's Intelligence Book of the Year Award 2012

About the Author

Paul R. Pillar is a Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Center for Security Studies of Georgetown University and at the Brookings Institution. He served in several senior positions with the CIA and the National Intelligence Council and is a retired army reserve officer. He is the author of Terrorism and U.S. Foreign Policy and Negotiating Peace: War Termination as a Bargaining Process.