The first thing you might not know about the State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) is that it even exists. It is among the smallest offices of the intelligence community, and its work is considered some of the finest. Unlike the CIA, the INR is strictly an analytical bureau, and its employees are encouraged to focus on individual issues and places. Their analyses keep diplomats and officials well informed and, hopefully, honest in foreign affairs. Here are a few things you might not know about the Bureau of Intelligence and Research.
It was born in World War II
When General William “Wild Bill” Donovan founded the Office of Strategic Services, he knew he was doing something unique, but it’s hard to say if he knew how decisively he would change the course of history. The OSS would lay the foundations for U.S. Army Special Forces, the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Clandestine Service of the CIA, and the CIA Special Activities Division. (When the OSS was dismantled, its various arms materialized and dematerialized as any number of offices. It took a long time for these offices to coalesce into the CIA we have today.) One department of the OSS—the Research and Analysis Branch, which was considered “the best and brightest”—would later move to the State Department and become the Bureau of Intelligence and Research.
Its analysts are the brainiac equivalent of the movie 300.
I want to believe that at the start of an INR workday, the Assistant Secretary for Intelligence and Research stands on a desk and shouts to his team of 300 analysts, “Prepare your breakfast and eat hearty, for tonight, we dine in hell!” If that isn’t the case, maybe it should be. For such a small bureau, the INR has a vast portfolio, with responsibilities ranging from WMD proliferation and cyber warfare to illegal drugs and human trafficking. Their work covers every inch of the map, and through desktop access, goes to policymakers instantly. When they’re wrong, terrible things happen—so they make sure they’re never wrong.
Curious who hates us today? The INR knows.
Policymakers and planners are helped when they know the world’s opinions, not only in a general sense (e.g. Pakistan doesn’t like us) but also at a very granular level. In Iraq, for example, the U.S. cause was greatly aided by information detailing shifting Iraqi political alignments. The vast majority of such polling is conducted by the INR. Just after the fall of Baghdad, they were conducting multi-city surveys of Iraq every three weeks to gauge progress on security and internal political matters. [PDF] Elsewhere in the world, careful polling helped explain why free trade agreements stalled in South America, and how effectively were former Soviet republics moving toward democracy. INR data is collected, analyzed, and handed off to policymakers and the wider intelligence community, so that they might make more nuanced decisions about foreign policy.
Their analysts were the “least wrong” about Iraq.
As The New York Times wrote in 2004, “On Iraq and illicit weapons, the intelligence agency that got it least wrong, it now turns out, was one of the smallest—a State Department bureau with no spies, no satellites and a reputation for contrariness.” Because the INR is removed from politics, its analysts are often able to take a hard look at thorny issues and report back with insight that is unsullied by short-term political considerations. Former CIA official Carl W. Ford Jr. told the Times, “The analysts at INR are a curmudgeon-like group who delight in being different and getting to the body of something and not caring what other people think.”
Before the war in Iraq, while other agencies were predicting a nuclear regime in ten-years’-time, the INR and its top man, Dr. Thomas Fingar, refused to “project a timeline for the completion of activities it does not now see happening.” But as my coauthor and I wrote in our latest book, Deep State, “Others in the intelligence community fiercely resisted [Fingar’s] conclusions. His expertise, and the expertise of Department of Energy (DOE) specialists who actually build centrifuges, was simply disregarded. Fingar and the DOE analysts had contacted the company that made the centrifuge Iraq had been found with, and they told him in no uncertain terms that the centrifuges could not be used to enrich uranium at a rate that would produce weapons-grade material. There were ring magnets too, which the Office of the Vice President was obsessed with—magnets that might be part of a centrifuge assembly. They had many applications. ‘If you didn’t assume they were for centrifuges, you could have judged them to be used in many other places. In fact, we know now, they were used for their missile program.’”
They had a little issue with their laptops a while back.
In early 2000, an INR laptop computer disappeared from the sixth floor of the bureau. This might not have been so bad, but the computer contained sensitive information about sources and methods. Worse yet, the data related to weapons proliferation. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was none too pleased with all of this—“inexcusable and intolerable” were her words—and to really drive the point home, she stripped the INR of its security-related autonomy and placed the Bureau of Diplomatic Security in charge. In the end, six employees of the INR were disciplined, including two senior officials at the China desk. So I guess we know which country found the laptop.
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