Andrew Greeley August 15, 2007 Chicago Suns-Times The president's comment that the CIA was just guessing is spinless truth, for a change. In fact, the agency knew virtually nothing about what was happening inside of Iraq, and hence described the worst possible case, just as it was unaware that the Soviet Union was falling apart at the end of the Stalinist era. The best intelligence about the Soviets was contained in the books written at the time by the reporters from the Washington Post and the New York Times. On the basis of these books, I predicted in the early '80s the Soviet Union would fall apart. The social scientist in me could not believe that the corrupt, incompetent society described by Robert Kaiser and Hedrick Smith could survive. In the meantime, the CIA was warning of the increasing power and threat of the Soviets. They could not have been more wrong. They could have hired the reporters or just read their books. But that would not have helped because the White House in that era wouldn't have believed them. Tim Weiner in his new history of the CIA, Legacy of Ashes, argues that the agency's mistakes on Iraq are like its other major failures -- they have never had good data on societies about which they are supposed to be advising the government. In recent years, they knew nothing about Iraq. They had to rely on Iraqi defectors (many produced by Vice President Dick Cheney), foreign intelligence units (French and English), and the occasional sociopath like the notorious "Curveball." The CIA had no hard evidence about weapons of mass destruction. It did not report that uncertainty. But internal and external pressure (from the head of the CIA) forced them to selectively choose evidence. Thus the various CIA reports confirmed what the president and the vice president wanted to do -- protect the United States from terrorists by invading Iraq. It did not report that there wasn't much reason to believe that Iraq had the fearsome weapons. Similarly, when Colin Powell went to the U.N., his arguments, shaped by the CIA, were formed to provide a rationale for war. Weiner contends that the CIA was not actually lying to the president, not actually telling him that he had a slam dunk. Alas, thousands of Americans and tens of thousands of Iraqis would die. The CIA is an agent of the American government. In the past it has been forced into projects by presidents and highly placed presidential advisers -- Robert Kennedy, Henry Kissinger, Oliver North. Presidents have used the CIA to try to kill many foreign leaders the presidents didn't like. Presidents generally do not want to be bothered by espionage that is hard to gather and by reports that are almost always hedged in uncertainties. The structures of American government make it impossible for the CIA to flatly tell the president that he was wrong. The vice president had his own information that he thought was better than that of the CIA. No one, not even the hapless Powell, was in a position to say, "we don't have hard evidence to go to war." So now the president is spinning phony success on the road to phony victory. Dead humans have piled up by the thousands. The nation needs to have a competent and independent intelligence agency, something like the Federal Reserve, which can protect itself from punishment for telling the truth, from telling the president that he is wrong. The Iraq war is the Bay of Pigs fiasco writ large.