Michael Goldfarb, the “_Weekly Standard_ dude” I mentioned “here,”:http://www.totalwonkerr.net/1392/rok-intel-on-yongbyon-reactor “commented”:http://www.weeklystandard.com/weblogs/TWSFP/2007/04/absence_of_evidence.asp on my “post”:http://www.totalwonkerr.net/1392/rok-intel-on-yongbyon-reactor about the US IC’s assessment that Iran and North Korea are not collaborating on nuclear weapons.
According to Goldfarb, the US IC and I believe that
bq. an absence of evidence that the North Korean and Iranian nuclear programs are collaborating is, in fact, evidence of absence.
I’ve actually emailed with Goldfarb a bit in the past and he seems like a pretty nice guy. But this is really a bit silly. As I “previously wrote”:http://www.totalwonkerr.net/1337/_weekly-standard_-wankathon about a similar Goldfarb post:
bq. Absence of evidence is absence of evidence. “Some guy wrote it in the paper [or on the internets]” is not evidence.
I find the prevalence of this sort of “we should assume the worst” nonsense in wingnutistan to be an interesting phenomenon. I’d like to find time to write more about it, but I will note two things here.
*First,* Goldfarb’s post contains an example of a weird moral component that is frequently found in his ilk’s evaluations of potential threats from unsavory governments:
bq. I mean, we haven’t actually seen Kim Jong-Il handing plutonium to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, so I’m sure they’ve confined their collaboration to the development of missile systems.
He then implies that I and the US IC are giving “these rogue regimes the benefit of the doubt.”
To me, this sort of sneering rhetoric implies that one is a bad person if one doesn’t believe the worst about bad governments. Remember that Goldfarb doesn’t have an actual argument, just a label for the governments in Tehran and Pyongyang.
*Second,* examining evidence through such a lens conveniently excuses ignorance – why know anything about Iran and North Korea when you think you should believe “even discredited reports”:http://www.armscontrolwonk.com/1375/super-villain-team-up of nuclear collaboration between the two?
Elevated from the comments…
I should have pointed out “this post”:http://roboteconomist.blogspot.com/2007/03/what-nonproliferation-means-to-them.html by the Robot Economist, as well as “this article”:http://www.democracyjournal.org/article.php?ID=6517 by Jofi Joseph.
Sadly, the kind of flawed thinking exemplified by Goldfarb is all too common.
Taking a “worst case scenario” is a policy decision, not an intel assessment. Intelligence professionals are in the business of analyzing and reporting evidence. When there is a lack of definitive evidence, as there often is, it is the responsibility of the intel person to give an assessment based on what evidence there is while providing caveats for unknowns. If there’s no evidence to support the worst-case-scenario that is not intel’s problem, nor is it intel’s job to speculate.
Goldfarb and others like him don’t understand the fundamental role intelligence plays – intelligence is for informing based on analysis of evidence – not speculation. Period.
To springboard off of Andy, the traditional role of intelligence in the policy-making process has been to inform policy-makers, not decide policy.
As I’ve written before, Goldfarb and his ilk at the National Security Council have the right to be proliferation pessimists in the absence of evidence. They just can’t pretend like their pessimistic policies are an accurate reflection of the realities of proliferation.
One might add that the collaboration between the UK and the US on the replacement for the W76 warhead sets a nice precedent on international nuclear weapons collaboration. Both NK and Iran were listed as potential targets in Team Bush’s Nuclear Posture Review. If the US and UK can do it why not NK and Iran?