Last week, the US bipartisan Senate panel released its damning report on the failure of the US intelligence community, specifically the CIAs analysis of intelligence used to justify the invasion of Iraq.

The Senate panel felt that many of the conclusions were either overreached based upon flimsy data or simply concluded without any data at all, and many contradicting data were ignored. Whether the Bush administration has any direct responsibility for all this is another matter entirely. I certainly have my theory, but that's another matter.

First and foremost, lets make this clear: this was a failure of the "US intelligence community" on the whole, NOT merely the failure of the CIA or the NSA or the FBI. Though the report damned the specific instances of the CIA analysis, much of the "pre-work" was not done by the CIA directly.

The much bigger problem of the "US intelligence community" is outside of the CIA or any of the US government organizations. And by this, I mean the self-proclaimed "think tanks" in Washington. Contrary to popular perception, US "Intelligence" is not merely a government owned venture any more. And like the US occupation of Iraq, US "Intelligence" has been proverbially "privatized," "outsourced," and "sub-contracted" into a million little pieces, except this "privatization" is far more extensive and far less visible.

We've all heard about the "privatization" of US Social Security or US Education systems, but hardly any of us have heard of the "privatizing" of US Intelligence Services. Yet, this is precisely what has happened, particularly in the last 40 years or so.

What exactly happened in the last 40 years? About 55 years ago, WW II was still going on, and the OSS (Office of Strategic Services) was run by the US military. OSS was established in 1942, abolished in 1945, and reestablished as the CIG (Central Intelligence Group) in 1946, still under the US military command. And in 1947, the CIG became officially known as the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency).

Around that same time period, in 1948, the Rand Corporation came into existence as an off shoot of the Douglas Aircraft Company of Santa Monica, as a "non-profit" organization, with a primary mission of providing "objective nonpartisan analysis" on a number of issues: economics, poverty, environment, and particularly "National Security issues." Rand Corp became the oldest private "think tank" that specialized in "national security" as one of its main areas of interest.

Now, keep in mind, the CIA also has the mission statement of "objective nonpartisan analysis" on "national security issues," YET, immediately after WW II and around the beginning of the Cold War, private "think tanks" like the Rand Corporation became more and more involved in "analysis" and "national security."

Daniel Ellsberg, famed for the Pentagon Papers, which exposed politically motivated Vietnam era intelligence analysis, was working for the Rand Corporation at the time of authoring those papers. Aside from the Rand Corporation, other similar private "think tanks" sprouted out like mushrooms. Among them,

American Enterprise Institute    (AEI) Missile defense) American Foreign Policy Council    (AFPC) (missile defense, chemical weapons) Atlantic Council of the United States    (ACUS) (nuclear weapons, proliferation, ABM Treaty) Brookings Institution    (Missile Defense) Carnegie Endowment: Non-Proliferation Project    (Nuclear, Proliferation) CATO Institute    (WMD, Missile Defense) Center for Bio-Defense Studies    (Biological) Center for Defense Information    (CDI) (Chemical, Biological, Nuclear) Center for International Policy    Center for Strategic and International Studies    (Homeland Defense, CBRN, information security, regional terrorism, transnational crime, arms control) Council on Foreign Relations    (Terrorism, Nuclear) Federation of American Scientists    (FAS) (proliferation, terrorism, biological, chemical) Heritage Foundation    ABM Treaty, Nuclear,Terrorism) Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis    (IFPA) (Missile Defense) Institute for the Advanced Study of Information Warfare    (Cyber Warfare, Information Warfare) International Policy Institute for Counter Terrorism    (ICT) (Terrorism) Monterey Institute    (Chemical, biological weapons, cyber, nuclear, terrorism) National Military Intelligence Association    Oklahoma City National Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism    Potomac Institute for Policy Studies    (Terrorism, biological weapons, cyber warfare) RAND    (Missile defense, cyber warfare, proliferation) World Policy Institute    (Missile defense, arms control) and more recently established Project for the New American Century

In various fashions and facing specific issues, these "think tanks" have come into existence in the last 40 or so years, all private, all "non-profit." But these are only the "analysis think tanks," there are also several "operation think tanks and foundations," such as National Endowment for Democracy (NED), which not only "analyze," but also turns national and international security issues into "privatized" action and activism issues.

Daniel Ellsbergs own career is indicative of the path of creation for many of these think tanks and foundations. He was first a marine, then he worked for the Pentagon, and then he became a contractor working for the Rand Corporation, writing a report for the US government analyzing US policies and intelligence. So it is not all that surprising, that the NED has a board of directors filled with people who either came from the US intelligence agencies or are still involved with those agencies. Indeed, a great many conspiracy theorists (including ex-CIA agents) have accused the NED of being a front for the CIA.

But this is NOT a conspiracy theory; it is merely a tendency of natural progression, i.e., when a former CIA agent retires and wishes to still be involved in intelligence analysis or operations, he would most likely join one of these "think tanks" to stay involved. And in turn, these "think tanks" would naturally gain "contracts" from the US government as "private intelligence consulting groups."  I mean, think about it this way, if you are managing a "think tank" working on national security analysis, who else would you hire but these ex-CIA types?

Privatizing the military services is one thing, afterall, most US weapon makers are private organizations. Privatizing the Intelligence Service is another matter entirely, and we are now seeing the downside.

What do we need these "think tanks" for? Whats wrong with having just the CIA on intelligence, when most of the items of interests are classified to the layman? Is the CIA not objective enough? Is the CIA too partisan? If the CIA doesnt have enough money or manpower, why are we spending money on the "think tanks" to do "analysis"? Are these "think tanks" somehow getting BETTER analysis or BETTER information?

Regardless, the reality of the situation is that US "intelligence" is no longer in the hand of the US government, any more than the Abu Ghraib prison was in the hand of the US Military Police. The Private Contractors are zipping through the prisons, collecting intelligence, interrogating prisoners, making reports, NOT the CIA.

Pre-invasion of Iraq, it was the same. Since 1997, the Project for the New American Century has repeatedly urged politicians with going ahead with invading Iraq and removing Saddam from power. In October 2001, PNAC echoed neo-Conservative publication the Weekly Standard in linking Saddam to Al-Qaeda, and called on the Bush administration to invade Iraq. In December 2001, 9 leading US senators and congressmen (including Joe Lieberman) sent a letter to the White House urging the invasion of Iraq as part of War on Terrorism. Note - this was all while the US was still engaged in the invasion of Afghanistan to remove the Taliban and hunt down Osama bin Laden.

At that point, the CIA had not made any extraordinary reports of WMDs in Iraq, or Saddams connection to Al-Qaeda. Neither did the CIA urge the President to invade Iraq in any fashion. So how did a private "think tank" like the PNAC reach its "analytical" conclusions? Short answer, it was a case of neo-conservative political lobbying, NOT an ""objective intelligence analysis. Further research will demonstrate that the PNAC is not a government contracted "think tank", but more like a neo-conservative lobbying group.

Hence, this is a problem with private "think tanks" on intelligence: they are prone to be infiltrated by political lobbyists, given that they inherently do not have the kind of access of information as the CIA. When Ahmed Chalabi goes to give his secret intelligence information, he goes first to the PNAC/NED, who then presents his words to the CIA. The CIA had dismissed Chalabis information for years.

When a group like the Rand Corporation or the PNAC or the NED is putting out "analysis" reports, the objectivity of such reports are highly suspect, especially when such groups are not prohibited by laws to take money from political lobbying groups. The CIA, at the very least, is overseen by a relatively bipartisan US Congress.

And yet, when you have all the private "think tanks" preempting the CIA from reaching any conclusions regarding intelligence; it fundamentally destroys the CIAs objectivity completely. It puts social and political pressure on the CIA to reach the same conclusions as the "think tanks."

As much as I hate to say it, the Mass media participated in that pressuring of the CIA, when they helped make popular the ""conclusions"" of the PNAC. This trend began with the advent of "Journalist Commentators" in American Mass Media. There was always a fine line between "fact reporting" and "news commentating". Yet, modern US mass media has gone into business of ""news commentating,"" billed as "analysis." Fox News, not surprisingly, does this more than most other networks. It has a full crew of its own "analysts" who spin speculation and wild theories more than they mention names, places, and events.

An infamous member of these "analysts" was a Mr. Jonathan Keith Idema, an ex-green beret who appeared at least once on Fox as a pundit/expert on security matters. Mr. Idema was recently arrested along with two other American citizens by the Afghanistan authorities for running their own private interrogation camp in a house in Kabul. Most of their prisoners were arrested solely based upon their outward resemblance to known wanted terrorists. The US government quickly disavowed any connection with Mr. Idema, saying, "The public should be aware that Idema does not represent the American government and we do not employ him".

With such mercenaries and think tanks running amok in the world in the name of USA, the intelligence community has never had a more tarnished reputation. The senate report makes no connections between the Bush administration and the pressuring of the CIA to reach certain "conclusions," but that does NOT mean there was "no pressure." We have all seen the "pressure" on the CIA analysts to reach the same conclusions as the PNAC and other neo-conservative "think tanks." The "pressure" was clear when every neo-conservative "private consultant" went on Fox News and told a story of WMD in Iraq, reporting it as a matter of fact.

The failure of the US intelligence community is a failure of the CIA, but ultimately, it is a failure on the part of the "community" which has now become corrupted by neo-conservative political lobbying. And lets state it plainly - there are almost NO "liberal think tanks" in the "national security" analysis business.

The decision to invade Iraq was based upon faulty intelligence analysis, brought on by the constant lobbying of the neo-conservative interest groups bent on tilting the balance of truth in their favor. A CIA analyst is bound by chain of command and government secrecy, forbidden to lobby for any one specific view point. And yet, a Neo-Conservative PNAC "analyst" is bound by nothing, free to lobby his agenda as he chooses. Granted, there are many intellectually honest true "analysts" in the Rand Corporation and other "think tanks", such as Daniel Ellsberg, who dared to speak the truth even in the face of being threatened by the Government itself, who was willing to back up their view with facts and data. But, as we now know, the ""analysis"" passed around by PNAC and some neo-conservative "think tanks" are anything but based upon facts - or their factual basis is shaky at best. They are, for all intents and purposes, more representative of political rhetoric.

The CIA was at fault in part. Their employees are only human, reflecting the erroneous perceptions of their fellow human beings, when all around them, they see no one caring for the truth. This nations "intelligence" and its intellectual honesty have been tainted largely by the politicizing of the "intelligence" business, muddled by the singular agendas of one kind of world view, a neo-conservative world view.

And more fundamentally, the Bush administration never listened to the CIA. Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Rice converted to the neo-conservative "analysis" long before the CIA said anything, and they really didnt care what the CIA might have said. So yes, the CIA is broken, frankly because the CIA is no longer in charge of the US "intelligence" business. It is no longer the single trusted voice of Truth in national security issues. It has been sidelined by the likes of PNAC, the private contractors, who are apparently running their own shows, hiring their own agents, and creating their own version of the truth.

To speak truthfully, I do not think we can solve the problem of the CIA merely through reforming the CIA. The deeper root cause of the problem lies outside of the CIA. Fundamentally, we the people must separate the lobbyists from the analysts. We must demand change in the government. It is clear now, that neo-conservative radicals have polluted the honesty and the integrity of the US intelligence community. It is clear now, though free speech is a right, not everyone belongs in the "analyst" business. Its time to clear this swamp of "think tanks" and let the CIA do its job. If the CIA cant do its job, then we should reform it. But how can it do its job, when there are so many "backseat drivers"?