“It takes something more than intelligence to act intelligently” – Dostoyevsky
The American Intelligence Community (IC) is starting to resemble a large cast of delinquents, a Faustian opera where bad behavior seeks constant rationalization and confirmation. And like most bad behavior, the real remedy might not be that complicated. Restraint is always an obvious solution; unfortunately, an obvious path seldom prescribed or taken by any branch of government these days, especially Intelligence agencies.
Ironically, the 9/11 attack in New York, the worst warning failure since Pearl Harbor, produced a knee-jerk windfall for American Intelligence. Like public school systems, failure became a kind of fiscal stimulus. Subsequently, government agencies that could imbed “terrorism” in their mission statements were showered with tax dollars.
The logic behind such largess is bigness, the assumption that more is the key to effectiveness: more personnel, more toys, more facilities, and more deficit spending. Unfortunately, these days, big Intelligence looks more like the problem than the solution. And the performance deficit did not begin with Benghazi or Boston.
It took ten years for the American IC to find bin Laden. Several of his thugs still serve today as propaganda martyrs at ‘ Gitmo,’ yet to be convicted of anything. Nonetheless, all are hosted at American taxpayer expense, indefinitely, with three hots, a cot, and a Koran.
The Israeli Mosad took out most of Black September, Palestinians responsible for the Munich massacre (1972), immediately after the atrocity. The Russian FSB took less than two years to find and kill Shamil Baysev, Chechen jihadist responsible for the children’s massacre at Beslan (2004). Rendition is seldom a measure of effectiveness for successful anti-terror doctrine.
The Twin Towers failure in New York was not a one off either. The slide may have begun with Vietnam era “systems analysis” where CIA and DOD cooked statistics to suggest there was “a light at the end of the tunnel.” And then there was the surprise loss of Shia Iran (1979) to theocracy four years after the fall of Saigon. Or maybe it was the ‘surprise’ advent of nuclear weapons in North Korea and Pakistan
The Islam bomb was a watershed. Surely the Shia in Iran could not let that Sunni advantage stand. Alas, American intelligence fudged the call on the first bomb in Pakistan, and is still too timid to make a call on the coming Muslim bomb in Iran.
The problem with truth is that it often makes action imperative. Alter truth and the need to act can always be deferred.
Or maybe it was the “shock and awe” of not finding any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq after being assured by national intelligence estimates (see George Tenant and Colin Powell at the UN, 2003) that Saddam Hussein was so armed. Were truths told; Iraq 1 was about oil and Iraq 2 was about regime change.
And let’s be candid, since the invasion of Kuwait (1990), regime change has been the leitmotif of American and European foreign policy. This sponsored change strategy is underwritten by an assertion that imperial Sunni Islam is a protected religion, not theocratic fascism or puerile imperial politics.
Regime change policies have two pillars. First, Islam is said to be “one of the world’s great religions,” thus entitled to moral equivalence and related immunities. A second axiom claims that the Sunni brand of irredentism is the “right side of history.” See almost any public statement on these matters by John Brennan, James Clapper, or Barack Hussein Obama.
Unfortunately, support to any Muslim faction in their millennial feuds is a little like, as Churchill might have said; “feeding crocodiles with the hope of being eaten last.” Negotiating with the Taliban is just the first course in the coming South Asia buffet.
The Arab, or Sunni, tilts in Intelligence and policy are expensive. Playing defense is always more costly – and often mistaken for appeasement. And surrender, no matter the rhetoric, always has a political cost. Such things are often managed with mendacity.
All intelligence operatives lie; it’s part of their job. Heretofore, the mendacity was reserved for the enemy. But now, if Jim Clapper can be believed, we need to lie to the folks who vote and pay the bills too. Peace (talks) with the Taliban is the big lie du jour. The only thing left to negotiate with south Asia Islamists is the terms of allied surrender and retreat.
The Stuxnet and Prism disclosures are just symptoms of decay too, signs that American Intelligence has lost its original moorings. All agencies begin with good ideas until the institution becomes the enemy of the original ideal. Big Intelligence is an example of such excess and decay.
And the failure of the IC to provide strategic warning is not the worst of it. American Intelligence is frontloaded; omnivorous collection undone by inadequate processing and tainted analysis.
Analysis is both the product and weakest link in the Intelligence chain. The most expensive technical collection systems on earth feed the worst amateur estimates. And this corrupt product sets the stage for all manner of national security folly.
Just two examples suffice; John Brennan and Susan Rice. Personalities, we might point out, promoted recently for being agenda merchants, accomplished liars, and not very modest about either skill. Loyalty, not achievement or professional integrity, seems to be the only bullet on Obama staff resumes.
Brennan is clearly the architect of the modern a priori paradigm, an analytic model which provides the “great religion” narrative for administration policy. Brennan is the Intelligence Svengali if you will. Decoupling Islamism from Islam at the White House is his great career achievement, even if has been a little like arguing that cheese and goats are unrelated.
The Brennan ad vericundium analysis of Islam and Islamism is now fixed policy. And with Brennan at CIA, any event or evidence that contradicts the “great religion” assertion is likely to be ignored, minimized, or spun. There may be 16 Intelligence agencies in the IC, but CIA is still the big dog in the National Intelligence Estimates pound.
The Susan Rice saga provides the lurid details of how these things are done, a sordid tale of how corrupt and malleable Intelligence analysis has become.
The immediate IC assessment of the Benghazi slaughter was revised 12 times after passing through some unknown number of layers of bureaucratic review in the IC, at the NSC, and over at the State Department. In the process, facts and conclusions about terror and Islamism were altered. All of which makes the collection of evidence, and any objective analysis of those facts, irrelevant.
After the Benghazi talking point memo was ‘scrubbed,’ it was released to Ms. Rice, then UN ambassador, as blessed Intelligence. Rice was subsequently launched at the Sunday chat shows to sell a blatant lie, a sanitized edition of yet another national humiliation.
The Sunni tilt or bias colors recent reports and analysis of Egypt too. The IC and CIA didn’t predict another military coup in Cairo because such speculation would contradict the “Arab Spring” charade.
If ground truth is bureaucratic revision or political spin, why call it an assessment or analysis, no less Intelligence? If national security analysis can be suborned by political hacks, the IC might be just another cabal of pricey beltway whores.
James Clapper is one of the most impressive chaps working in Washington. He began his military career as an enlisted Marine and rose to become an Air Force general. Eventually, he became the Director of National Intelligence. His technical achievements in Intelligence collection are impressive. Prism, speaks for itself. Somewhere along the way, however, Clapper also sold his soul.
American national security has devolved into a very expensive game of liar’s poker where the voting public needs to be kept in the dark too. Jim Clapper admits as much in Congressional testimony. In doing so, General Clapper tells us that truth and administration politics are mutually exclusive. Deception in the name of national security might be justified, but lying in the name of venal politics makes American Intelligence a very frivolous extravagance. Alas, democracy usually dies behind closed doors.
G. Murphy Donovan is a former USAF Intelligence officer.
Tags: John Brennan, Susan Rice, James Clapper, the Intelligence Community, Director of National Intelligence, Central intelligence agency, Barak Obama, Colin Powell, National Intelligence Estimates, national security, Islam, Islamism, Prism, Stuxnet.