We seem to have reached a state of affairs where presidents can get better intelligence from reading tea leaves than from consulting the FBI and CIA, but Sen. Bob Graham argues that something else is at work in the botches that led to Sept. 11 and the rude awakening in Iraq: "the politicization of intelligence." In Intelligence Matters: The CIA, the FBI, Saudi Arabia, and the Failure of America's War on Terror (Random House, $24.95), written with Jeff Nussbaum, Graham expands upon his point: "Intelligence information must exist free from politics. It cannot be sought to validate positions or opinions, nor should it be used with the intent of debunking them. It is what it is -- a resource to be used to inform decision makers, nothing more, nothing less. Dictatorships use intelligence to validate opinions. Democracies do not."

Graham, who is about to retire from politics, writes from the perspective of his 10 years on the Senate Intelligence Committee, as well as his co-chairmanship of the joint House-Senate inquiry into intelligence failures leading up to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Not sparing himself, he expresses the wish that he had "done more in challenging the CIA's stale intelligence on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq."

Elsewhere in the book, Graham accuses the Bush administration of "incestuous amplification." "People with the same point of view are invited to the table. They reach a conclusion. Their views are then vetted by people who hold the same beliefs. As a result, the original conclusion is endorsed and amplified." He cites the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan as a savvy critic of U.S. intelligence (Moynihan liked to note that we knew how many telephones there were in the Kremlin but were astonished when the Soviet Union began to collapse) but rejects Moynihan's draconian solution: simply abolish all the intelligence agencies. Instead, Graham argues for the joint inquiry's recommendations for improved intelligence-gathering and makes a special plea for heeding the State Department, which "has gotten it right more times than any other security agency."

-- Dennis Drabelle