Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Iraq, WMD and John Snagge

There's a fascinating Marbury post about Iraqi WMDs and those two lying liars Bush and Blair.
Woods was surprised to find that many of the Iraqi officials had drawn the same conclusions about Iraq's WMD as the West had done. Saddam constantly signalled that he was playing the West along when he denied he had WMD.
Woods asked the regime's head of research into WMD whether he had ever thought it possible there was a secret WMD programme that even he didn't know about. The official nodded. Yes, he had thought it a possibility. After all, he explained, the government was extremely compartmentalised and secretive, and everyone lied to everyone else. Only one man knew everything.
"Also", he continued, "Your president said it was so!". Iraqi officials had been impressed by Bush's certainty, and thought of the CIA as an intelligence service of legendary prowess which wouldn't make a mistake like this. (This raises the Heller-esque possibility that some Iraqis were telling Western intelligence that the WMDs existed because they believed Western intelligence when it said they existed).
This calls to mind another perfect illustration of the dangers on relying on intelligence from sources that are too in awe of you to be entirely objective. John Snagge was, for many years, the voice of the Boat Race on the BBC. In the days before swooping overhead television cameras, it could be hard for the launch following to tell precisely who was in the lead (perhaps most famously in 1949, when the launch broke down, and Snagge was reduced to shouting hoarsely "I can't see who's in the lead - it's either Oxford or Cambridge").

In Duke's Meadow, on the Middlesex bank, a chap used to run up a dark blue and a light blue flag - the gap between them being an approximation for the lead between the boats and John Snagge, who was usually quite a way behind at this stage, used to rely on this for his commentary. One year Snagge met the chap who used to do this, and asked him how he figured out the leads from that distance. "Oh," he said, "it's quite easy. I listen to John Snagge on the radio".

The perils of recursive intelligence.


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