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Stovepiping is a metaphorical term which recalls a stovepipe's function as an isolated vertical conduit, and has been used, in the context of intelligence, to describe several ways in which raw intelligence information may be presented without proper context. The lack of context may be due to the specialized nature, or security requirements, of a particular intelligence collection technology. Alternatively, the lack of context may come from a particular group, in the national policy structure, selectively presenting only that information that supports certain conclusions.

Collection technologies[edit | edit source]

According to a staff study for the House Permanent Subcommittee on Intelligence, in the 104th Congress, "The most common criticism of the current collection management process, and one in which we concur, is that it is dominated by 'stovepipes,' i.e., types of collection that are managed so as to be largely distinct from one another."[1]

The most common types of intelligence collection, and to some extent processing, which are commonly found in "stovepipes", include signal intelligence (SIGINT), imagery intelligence (IMINT), and human intelligence (HUMINT). While there are other forms of sensitive intelligence collection, these "big three", in a proper use, complement one another. A SIGINT communications intercept, for example, may suggest the presence of a particular military unit in a given location. For example, as part of the Operation Quicksilver deception plan during WWII, dummy communications were generated for the fictitious First United States Army Group (FUSAG), ostensibly commanded by George Patton, in order to convince the Germans that the main attack would come at the Pas de Calais, rather than the real target of Normandy. Dummy equipment was positioned in the places consistent with the communications, and a very few German high-altitude photographic aircraft brought back evidence apparently confirming IMINT. The British, however, had jailed or turned all German HUMINT spies, through the Double Cross System. Had a real spy been able to get to a FUSAG location, he would have seen the tanks were inflatable rubber decoys. The British, however, allowed only false confirmations of real tanks to be sent.

Stovepiping by the Bush Administration[edit | edit source]

Another meaning of stovepiping is "piping" of raw intelligence data directly to decision makers, bypassing established procedures for review by professional intelligence analysts for validity (a process known as vetting), an important concern since the information may have been presented by a dishonest source with ulterior motives, or may be invalid for myriad other reasons.[2] The risk inherent with stovepiping is that government policy will have been based on faulty intelligence, and thus will be without rational basis (a garbage in, garbage out scenario).

The Office of Special Plans (OSP), created by the Bush administration, stovepiped raw intelligence related to Saddam Hussein's government in Iraq to high level Bush administration officials. Professional analysts from other departments determined that many of these reports originated with dishonest sources or were untrue for other reasons (see e.g. Curveball), and the process of vetting would have prevented their reaching decision makers through normal channels. This stovepiping by the OSP had the effect of providing a substantial portion of the untrue allegations that formed the publicly declared justifications for the 2003 Invasion of Iraq, such as allegations of collaboration with Al Qaeda and an ongoing program of weapons of mass destruction.[2]

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

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