Sunday, February 11, 2007

Translating Info-Speak

Today's WaPo features a guide to reading a National Intelligence Estimate. In particular, the recent NIE on Iraq. Editors asked Mark Lowenthal, a professional NIE evaluator, to translate intelligence-speak for the lay audience. It is worth exploring. Unfortunately for bloggers, it isn't available on the Post website. We'll share some for those who don't get the Post at their front door.

NIE: Iraqi society's growing polorization, the persistent weakness of the security forces and the state in general, and all sides' ready recourse to violence are collectively . . .
NIE Translated: There's no single issue to be addressed to solve the Iraqi problem.

NIE: . . . Unless effots to reverse these conditions show measurable progress during the term of this Estimate, the coming 12 to 18 months . . .
NIE Translated: No measurements are offered; in other words, there has to be a great deal of progress, so much that it's incontrovertible.

NIE: . . . overall security situation will continue to deteriorate at rates comparable to the latter part of 2006. . . .
NIE Translated: That is, the worst insurgency period.

NIE: . . . Many Sunni Arabs remain unwilling to accept their minority status . . .
NIE Translated: How many? Some, most, almost all? An estimative generality that tends to frustrate policy makers. How severe is this problem?

NIE: . . . The absence of unifying leaders among the Arab Sunni or Shia . . .
NIE Translated: More NIE-speak indirection; as opposed to the more direction, There are no.

NIE: . . . for what has become a self-sustaining inter-sectarian struggle between Shia and Sunnis.
NIE Translated: This "self-sustaining...struggle" is a major judgment, but it is buried this deep. In other words, the violence is now feeding on itself, which suggests that there is very little that outsiders can do about it.

NIE: . . . the term "civil war" does not adequately capture the complexity of the conflict in Iraq.
NIE Translated: It's worse than a civil war; it's close to anarchy.

In other words - things are worse than they think. Something that is of no surprise to most of us.

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