BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific Arabic Persian Pashto Turkish French
BBCi NEWS   SPORT   WEATHER   WORLD SERVICE   A-Z INDEX     

BBC News World Edition
 You are in: Middle East  
News Front Page
Africa
Americas
Asia-Pacific
Europe
Middle East
South Asia
UK
Business
Entertainment
Science/Nature
Technology
Health
-------------
Talking Point
-------------
Country Profiles
In Depth
-------------
Programmes
-------------
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
SERVICES
-------------
LANGUAGES
EDITIONS
Thursday, 6 February, 2003, 12:51 GMT
Finding the needle in the haystack
US Titan IV rocket launched October 2001, probably equipped with spy satellite
US satellites monitor reams of communications

The presentation by US Secretary of State Colin Powell at the United Nations Security Council did more than just provide evidence to back Washington's assertion that Iraq is systematically thwarting the weapons inspectors.

Detainees in Guantanamo Bay
Detainees in Guantanamo Bay may have provided intelligence
In an unprecedented way, it drew back the veil on the vast array of America's intelligence gathering activities.

It showed the types of information that can be collected, ranging from intercepted radio signals and telephone conversations to satellite photos.

It also showed the way it is mixed together with material from the de-briefing of defectors and the interrogation of al-Qaeda suspects.

Many sources

Much of this material, we are told, was released only after a serious struggle within the US administration and, in particular, between the US State Department and the wider intelligence community.

Satellite photograph from Mr Powell's UN presentation
All collected information is considered by intelligence analysts

Intelligence officers rarely like to reveal anything, fearing that publicity given to their product will inevitably compromise some of the sources from which they obtained their raw materials.

For intelligence is in this sense "a product"; it takes inputs from many sources.

US satellites and other technical means are probably monitoring hundreds of thousands of Iraqi communications.

These have to be filtered to sort the mundane from the useful.

But even mundane information - when put together with other fragments of the jigsaw - can suggest a particular picture.

Putting that picture together is the work of intelligence analysts.

No 'legal' evidence

Satellite photos can be scrutinised by experts, individuals' movements can be plotted from their communications; flows of money can be pursued.

It may seem paradoxical, but matters of war and peace are often determined on standards of evidence that fall far short of legal proof

But ultimately, as Mr Powell's presentation showed only too well, intelligence is not evidence in the legal sense.

Few intelligence cases would necessarily stand up in a court of law.

Intelligence gatherers are not like policemen who investigate after a crime has taken place.

They are constantly monitoring a whole variety of sources, searching often for that proverbial needle in a haystack.

They have to face active efforts by their target to obfuscate and conceal.

High stakes

What they eventually come up with is, inevitably, only part of the picture.

It may seem paradoxical, but matters of war and peace are often determined on standards of evidence that fall far short of legal proof.

The stakes in national security are high.

And often governments have to act on the intelligence evidence that they have, rather than on what they might like to have.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Ian Pannell
"Colin Powell made a tough multi media sales pitch"
US Secretary of State Colin Powell
Full statement on Iraq point by point

Key stories

Analysis

CLICKABLE GUIDE

BBC WORLD SERVICE

AUDIO VIDEO

TALKING POINT
See also:

06 Feb 03 | Middle East
08 Jun 02 | From Our Own Correspondent
30 Jan 03 | Middle East
12 Jan 03 | Africa
11 Dec 02 | Americas
06 Feb 03 | Politics
06 Feb 03 | Middle East
05 Feb 03 | Americas
05 Feb 03 | Middle East
Internet links:


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Middle East stories are at the foot of the page.


 E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Middle East stories

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East |
South Asia | UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature |
Technology | Health | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |
Programmes