Why Call It Intelligence?

July 18, 2013

“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.

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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.


The American Animal Farm

January 17, 2012

“Socialism is a philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance, and the gospel of envy. Its inherent virtue is the equal sharing of misery.” – Winston Churchill 

George Orwell wrote his famous Animal Farm allegory about the corrupting potential of socialism in 1943. The novel was not published for two years because the liberal Bloomsbury establishment did not want to offend the new Labor Party majority inLondon or Stalinists allies inMoscow. After WWII, Orwell defended his fable, saying that his intention was to illustrate how easily otherwise intelligent people could be “misled by propaganda in a democracy.”

Political ideology in America has devolved to forms that would make Orwell cringe today: socialists (nee Marxists) and democratic socialists (nee Keynesians). The former views government as an all-purpose solution and the latter views government as a “stimulator,” a kind of economic and social Wizard of Oz. The two are more alike than they are different. The fatal flaw of both is the chronic inability of voters and their elected representatives to distinguish between wants and needs. Elections are now confused with democracy; and the majority seldom votes for the common good – or their own best interests.

Neither debt nor deficits are national security crises. Both are just two symptoms of civic decline, a bloodless coup in slow motion. The end may come slowly or catastrophically, but collapse seems inevitable. And the solution isn’t Democrats or Republicans; both parties are now “democratic” in name only.  Neither major party represents the will nor the best interests of the people.

Before the turn of the 21st Century, Francis Fukuyama wrote a provocative essay for National Interest where he argued that the fall of the Soviet Union represented the “end of (authoritarian) history” as we knew it and a triumph of “liberal democracy.” Fukuyama didn’t have much to say about the advent of totalitarian Islamism or the spread of virulent socialism in the West. Indeed, Frank might have been more candid had he called the 20th Century a triumph of “social” not liberal democracy. Fascists and old school Communists may be gone, but socialism has metastasized in every Western democracy under the tutelage of “progressives.”

Socialism, with the able assistance of Islamism, is now poised to do to Europe, the British Commonwealth, and America what Nazis, Fascists, and Communists could not. The threat from social democrats may be more subtle than the naked aggression of Islamists, but the end game might be the same. The illusions of socialism and the worst instincts of democracy are now joined in a death spiral.

The fatal flaws of social democracy include but are not limited to promises that can not possibly be kept; outlays that might always exceed income; the necessity for Orwellian mendacity; the absence of all moral hazards; and ultimately, a terminal erosion of the electoral process and democracy itself.

Promissory Default

Social Democracy is a kind of piñata politics, a system where special interests seek like-minded politicians who will cater to a host of creative dependencies. Few distinctions are made between real needs and simple cupidity. Once established, mmany federal programs quickly outlive their usefulness. Results become immaterial.

Once funded, the legislature might be lobbied by bureaucrats from within and beneficiaries from without.  Social democracy is a perpetual motion machine where the prime function of government is spare parts – spare parts for itself.Mission statements for most social agencies are adorned with adjectival admonitions like “better” or “improved,” yet few if any measures of effectiveness are ever established or enforced. The “wars” on poverty, illiteracy, drugs, and terrorism and their associated federal departments are all examples of dismal, yet expensive failures. The only function that most federal agencies do well is write checks – checks against funds which must be borrowed from folks that may not have our best interests at heart.

The liberal or progressive proposal for solving the deficit/debt dilemma is “more of the same;” tax and spend. The strategy is aptly defined as “leading from behind.” Four in ten spending dollars must be borrowed today to keep America afloat. Paul Krugman tells us we must spend now, cut later. Later, unfortunately, never comes.

Double “D” Economics

For the first time in history, the specter of sovereign default stalks the wealthiest nation on Earth. The wealthiest was also, heretofore, the most successful democracy. Democratic capitalism, once thought to be the engine of post agrarian American success, has been undone by a socialist revolution without guns.

Debt and deficit, or double “D” economics, assumes that growth and proportionate tax receipts will always compensate for imprudent spending. Like Fitzgerald’s green light, this elusive future is always visible but never near. Spending your way out of debt is an oxymoron, a kind of logic that only thrives among civic knaves, politicians, and public employees. No prudent banker will raise the credit limit for an insolvent card holder. Assumptions about ever growing revenues are similar to public employee expectations about pay and raises. Apparatchiks and dependents see the public trough as a bottomless pit.

In a rare bit of candor, journalists have christened European insolvents as “PIGS” (Portugal,Ireland,Italy,Greece, and Spain). The acronym does not yet include America, but well it might. Some pigs are more equal than others. The Yankee boar, like Orwell’s Napoleon, has the power to wreck the international barnyard.

Mandated Mendacity

The proper Orwellian state requires a language of euphemisms. Discretionary and non-discretionary spending are two of the best. The latter term is designed to protect sacred cows; as if any spending is ever “mandatory.” Taxes are never taxes; words like “investments,” investments that never pay, mask the pain. Keynesian deficit spending masquerades as “stimulus.” If a stimulus package doesn’t work, clearly it wasn’t big enough. A corruption of language is necessary for any successful fraud. Mendacity is a standard kit for grifters and social democrats.

The most egregious deception turns rhetoric and logic on their heads. Those who argue that spending should not exceed income are libeled as immature, radical, insensitive, and dangerous. Those who would end the spending bender are labeled as right wing “nuts.” Somehow a balanced budget threatens the future, full faith, and credit of  America. In the bizarre world of social democracy, all facts and logic are subverted by compulsive spending and fiscal deficit disorders. Blaming the thrifty for impending default is a little like blaming fire on the alarm.

Moral hazards

There are no moral hazards in the world of social democrats. Indeed, Government is not required to produce goods, nor does it necessarily deliver services. In spite of decades of Keynesian stimulus, government at all levels has become a net consumer, not a creator of wealth.  And most programs and departments are vampires, they can not be killed. Failure always looms, yet there are no penalties for poor performance.  No-fault politics is a value that crosses party lines. Of 15 cabinet departments, six have been in default for decades. All are immune to reform or the axe.

Consider just three: Defense, Welfare, and Education.  America has waged a host of wars since WWII. Few have been unambiguous successes. Indeed, among four ongoing wars in the Muslim world, the word “victory” is the most notable casualty. At home, two cabinet departments now service the welfare state. Even progressives argue that misguided federal largess has created a host of pathologies and dependencies that never existed before the advent of the “nanny” state. And American education is a domestic and international joke. The technology sector, that is supposed to be America’s economic salvation, must go abroad to India and China to find qualified employees.

Default democracy

In the 18th Century, the founding fathers restricted the voting franchise to the landed gentry. The idea was to restrict governance to the successful and accomplished citizens. If nothing else, successful and enterprising men were thought to serve as role models. No one anticipated a 20th Century oligarchy of venal lawyer/politicians without term limits.

Like the wise men of 5th Century Athens, early American political philosophers were aware that even a representative republic could be hijacked – where cupidity and self-interest could thrive at the expense of the common good. It’s no accident that the word “democracy” does not appear in the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution.

The original vision of an entrepreneurial, capitalist republic has devolved now to a social democratic nightmare where government programs actually suffocate initiative and enterprise. Literal, and figurative, industry is now vilified from the Oval Office. At the local level, especially in urban areas, social democrats thrive in dysfunctional, one party towns. These urban blights can not afford incompetence even; it must be subsidized.

Fifty per cent of the population pays no taxes, but they do have the vote. This constituency has no skin in the game except, maybe, to collect a government check. There‘s no incentive for fiscal prudence when deadbeats can be bought with other people’s money.

The American crisis was not created by reformers or conservatives. It was created by a bovine electorate and a porcine federal government – a horrible model that actually cultivates social pathologies for political purposes. More than four out of ten dollars spent by Washington must be borrowed to finance what now amounts to an American “Animal Farm.” Indeed, George! The pigs have taken over again. Napoleon and Squealer are back.

 

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No Exits?

April 12, 2011

 

l’enfer, c’est les autres.” – Jean Paul Sartre

 

The American war, against an enemy whose name we dare not speak, has yet another front in Libya. We are not at war with Islam, according to the White House. Still, we now kill Islamists or Muslims on four fronts within dar al Islam; Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and now North Africa. The American predicament has been described as Kafkaesque. A more appropriate analogy might be Sartre.

Jean Paul Sartre is the existentialist who defined hell as “other people.” For Americans and Europeans, the “others” all seem to be Muslims these days. In his signature play, No Exit, written during WWII, Sartre put the condemned in a windowless room. There, the guilty must endure the tedious company of other sinners. No hellfire, no brimstone; just the damned; sharing the worst transgressions of their venal lives, torturing each other for eternity.

There are four characters in No Exit: Joseph, Ines, Estelle, and Valet. Joe is an arrogant coward, a military deserter. Ines is a vicious lesbian, a wrecker of homes who relishes cruelty. Estelle is a society girl who marries for money, cheats on her husband, and kills her illegitimate child. The infanticide precipitates the suicide of her lover. Valet is the doorkeeper, a kind of concierge for the doomed.

Slowly the trio of sinners realizes that their personal hell is the companionship of other miscreants. Towards the end of the play Joe screams to be set free – and the one door in the room flies open. No one moves. None have the courage to leave the hell that they have created for themselves.

Such is the predicament of Europeans and Americans, trapped in four acrid corners of the Muslim world surrounded by insufferable companions. We all know how we got there and we torture ourselves daily with the ugly historical details. We remonstrate endlessly about who made the worst mistakes, yet none of us seems to have a clue about the end game or an exit strategy. In short, the two most advanced cultures on the planet are locked in a cage with the most backward; all trapped in hell of their own making. And like the cowards in Sartre’s play, no one has the courage to bolt for the exit.

There are several keys to the door of Islamist hell. The first is candor, some honest acknowledgement of the problem. No drunk ever gets well without recognizing the ailment. At some point, the West must realize that Islamism is a global strategic problem, not some aggregate of local crimes or series of isolated atrocities.

If the threat were recognized, a next step would be reality therapy. Europe and America have little or nothing in common with Arab, Persian, or Muslim cultures – and the gap is getting wider. The culture of which we speak includes law, politics, religion, and history. Call it a “clash of civilizations,” but the bottom line is basic cultural incompatibility.  Europe and America can not show a way forward for a Muslim culture that looks backwards.

The nut of the dilemma is captured in a word, Islam – literal and figurative submission. All notions of “peace” or co-existence are derivatives of submission. And the coin of compromise is Western values and law, not Islamic dogma or doctrine. The conflict between the West and Islam is a strategic zero-sum game. If we continue to delude ourselves about the nature of this struggle, we do so at our peril.

Relinquishing the “white man’s burden” is another key to the gates of Islamist hell. In their own ways, maybe Idward Wadi Said, Tariq Ramadan, Tayyip Erdogan, and Yusuf al Qaradawi are correct. Maybe Europeans and Americans need to stop corrupting, patronizing, and exploiting the Arab and Muslim worlds. Maybe the West needs to step back and allow the Ummah to solve its own problems, do its own nation building, and suppress their own insurrections.

If we can believe what they say about themselves, the goal of Islamist sects, Shia and Sunni in particular, is some sort of theocratic utopia. The ambiguous homophone, “eutopia,” is closer to the mark: good place and no place at the same time.  Surely the West can not save Islam from itself or the inevitable implosion. We probably shouldn’t try.

The nexus of the struggle within the Arab and Muslim worlds is the battle between secular and religious tyranny. The resolution of such dialectics might best be left to history and the natives. Who knows what form of government Muslims will choose after the blood dries? Many on the religious right and secular left seek martyrdom. If the West relinquishes its role as referee, surely the path to the hereafter can be paved with the bones of zealots of both political stripes. In either case, Europe and America do not have any dogs in that fight.

The West can not judge Muslims, nor should the West submit either. If Islamists prevail in ongoing, and likely, viral civil wars; so be it. The “Arab awakening” binds the suicidal impulses of the Muslim right and the liberal Christian left. We are assured almost daily, by pressmen and politician alike, that the children of this odd couple will be on the “right side of history.” So be it.

If conflict between the civil world and the Ummah then becomes inevitable; so be that too. A targeting problem is thus simplified. State actors, especially utopian theocrats, are much easier to dispense with than sub-national terrorists.

Whenever the specter of war with Islam is raised, we are reminded that Muslims are a fourth of the world’s population; surely we “can’t kill them all” say the appeasers. Instead of worrying about how many assassins need to be killed, we might remind the Islamic Conference, the Arab League, and the Gulf Cooperation Council that the other three fourths of the world’s citizens (Russians, Asians, and Indians for example) might not be as squeamish about Muslim casualties as Europe and America have been. In any state-to-state conflagration, the Ummah has every military vulnerability and precious little capability.

The civil war in Libya provides an illustration. In spite of all their lavish expenditures, the Arab League has neither the will nor capability to mount offensive or defensive military operations – even when genocide looms. Arab military hardware and infrastructure comes from abroad. Their best air force is a static display and their best land campaign is a parade. Muslim armies, especially those of the Arab League, have two missions; regime support and repression. Few Arab armies could fight their way out of a harem.

So what is to be done?

Maybe it’s time to let Muslims resolve their own problems and let the Arabs, especially, redirect their wealth to positive change instead of horse races, soccer matches, golf tournaments, yachts, and Riviera palaces. Western intervention creates the worst of two worlds in dar al Islam; the ayatollahs, Imams, and autocrats have a convenient goat for any failures – and the social maturity of Islam is put off for yet another generation.

The only culture in the Levant worth European or American blood or treasure is Israel. Our commitment to the strategic defense of that one model of progress in the Middle East ought to be etched in stone.

For the moment, European and American politicians are frozen like the cowards in Sartre’s hell. The excuses of poltroons are real enough; fear, oil, and debt.  Nonetheless, it’s hard to believe that inertia will solve any of those problems. In the military arena, political temporizing has infected generals who have lost their nose for success. “What does victory look like?” is a universal refrain. Soldiers who can’t smell victory are likely to become experts on defeat.

The choices are clear. We can torture ourselves indefinitely over a past we can not change and pretend that there are no alternatives or exits – or we can leave Islam to the fate that all utopian illusions must suffer. Insha’ allah !

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G. Murphy Donovan is a former USAF Intelligence officer who writes frequently about national security issues. This essay originally appeared in American Thinker

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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G. Murphy Donovan, check6dc@gmail.com

No Exit?

l’enfer, c’est les autres.” – Jean Paul Sartre

 

The American war, against an enemy whose name we dare not speak, has yet another front in Libya. We are not at war with Islam, according to the White House. Still, we now kill Islamists or Muslims on four fronts within dar al Islam; Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and now North Africa. The American predicament has been described as Kafkaesque. A more appropriate analogy might be Sartre.

 

Jean Paul Sartre is the existentialist who defined hell as “other people.” For Americans and Europeans, the “others” all seem to be Muslims these days. In his signature play, No Exit, written during WWII, Sartre put the condemned in a windowless room. There, the guilty must endure the tedious company of other sinners. No hellfire, no brimstone; just the damned; sharing the worst transgressions of their venal lives, torturing each other for eternity.

 

There are four characters in No Exit: Joseph, Ines, Estelle, and Valet. Joe is an arrogant coward, a military deserter. Ines is a vicious lesbian, a wrecker of homes who relishes cruelty. Estelle is a society girl who marries for money, cheats on her husband, and kills her illegitimate child. The infanticide precipitates the suicide of her lover. Valet is the doorkeeper, a kind of concierge for the doomed.

 

Slowly the trio of sinners realizes that their personal hell is the companionship of other miscreants. Towards the end of the play Joe screams to be set free – and the one door in the room flies open. No one moves. None have the courage to leave the hell that they have created for themselves.

 

Such is the predicament of Europeans and Americans, trapped in four acrid corners of the Muslim world surrounded by insufferable companions. We all know how we got there and we torture ourselves daily with the ugly historical details. We remonstrate endlessly about who made the worst mistakes, yet none of us seems to have a clue about the end game or an exit strategy. In short, the two most advanced cultures on the planet are locked in a cage with the most backward; all trapped in hell of their own making. And like the cowards in Sartre’s play, no one has the courage to bolt for the exit.

 

There are several keys to the door of Islamist hell. The first is candor, some honest acknowledgement of the problem. No drunk ever gets well without recognizing the ailment. At some point, the West must realize that Islamism is a global strategic problem, not some aggregate of local crimes or series of isolated atrocities.

 

If the threat were recognized, a next step would be reality therapy. Europe and America have little or nothing in common with Arab, Persian, or Muslim cultures – and the gap is getting wider. The culture of which we speak includes law, politics, religion, and history. Call it a “clash of civilizations,” but the bottom line is basic cultural incompatibility.  Europe and America can not show a way forward for a Muslim culture that looks backwards.

 

The nut of the dilemma is captured in a word, Islam – literal and figurative submission. All notions of “peace” or co-existence are derivatives of submission. And the coin of compromise is Western values and law, not Islamic dogma or doctrine. The conflict between the West and Islam is a strategic zero-sum game. If we continue to delude ourselves about the nature of this struggle, we do so at our peril.

 

Relinquishing the “white man’s burden” is another key to the gates of Islamist hell. In their own ways, maybe Idward Wadi Said, Tariq Ramadan, Tayyip Erdogan, and Yusuf al Qaradawi are correct. Maybe Europeans and Americans need to stop corrupting, patronizing, and exploiting the Arab and Muslim worlds. Maybe the West needs to step back and allow the Ummah to solve its own problems, do its own nation building, and suppress their own insurrections.

 

If we can believe what they say about themselves, the goal of Islamist sects, Shia and Sunni in particular, is some sort of theocratic utopia. The ambiguous homophone, “eutopia,” is closer to the mark: good place and no place at the same time.  Surely the West can not save Islam from itself or the inevitable implosion. We probably shouldn’t try.

 

The nexus of the struggle within the Arab and Muslim worlds is the battle between secular and religious tyranny. The resolution of such dialectics might best be left to history and the natives. Who knows what form of government Muslims will choose after the blood dries? Many on the religious right and secular left seek martyrdom. If the West relinquishes its role as referee, surely the path to the hereafter can be paved with the bones of zealots of both political stripes. In either case, Europe and America do not have any dogs in that fight.

 

The West can not judge Muslims, nor should the West submit either. If Islamists prevail in ongoing, and likely, viral civil wars; so be it. The “Arab awakening” binds the suicidal impulses of the Muslim right and the liberal Christian left. We are assured almost daily, by pressmen and politician alike, that the children of this odd couple will be on the “right side of history.” So be it.

 

If conflict between the civil world and the Ummah then becomes inevitable; so be that too. A targeting problem is thus simplified. State actors, especially utopian theocrats, are much easier to dispense with than sub-national terrorists.

 

 

Whenever the specter of war with Islam is raised, we are reminded that Muslims are a fourth of the world’s population; surely we “can’t kill them all” say the appeasers. Instead of worrying about how many assassins need to be killed, we might remind the Islamic Conference, the Arab League, and the Gulf Cooperation Council that the other three fourths of the world’s citizens (Russians, Asians, and Indians for example) might not be as squeamish about Muslim casualties as Europe and America have been. In any state-to-state conflagration, the Ummah has every military vulnerability and precious little capability.

 

The civil war in Libya provides an illustration. In spite of all their lavish expenditures, the Arab League has neither the will nor capability to mount offensive or defensive military operations – even when genocide looms. Arab military hardware and infrastructure comes from abroad. Their best air force is a static display and their best land campaign is a parade. Muslim armies, especially those of the Arab League, have two missions; regime support and repression. Few Arab armies could fight their way out of a harem.

 

So what is to be done?

 

Maybe it’s time to let Muslims resolve their own problems and let the Arabs, especially, redirect their wealth to positive change instead of horse races, soccer matches, golf tournaments, yachts, and Riviera palaces. Western intervention creates the worst of two worlds in dar al Islam; the ayatollahs, Imams, and autocrats have a convenient goat for any failures – and the social maturity of Islam is put off for yet another generation.

 

The only culture in the Levant worth European or American blood or treasure is Israel. Our commitment to the strategic defense of that one model of progress in the Middle East ought to be etched in stone.

 

For the moment, European and American politicians are frozen like the cowards in Sartre’s hell. The excuses of poltroons are real enough; fear, oil, and debt.  Nonetheless, it’s hard to believe that inertia will solve any of those problems. In the military arena, political temporizing has infected generals who have lost their nose for success. “What does victory look like?” is a universal refrain. Soldiers who can’t smell victory are likely to become experts on defeat.

 

The choices are clear. We can torture ourselves indefinitely over a past we can not change and pretend that there are no alternatives or exits – or we can leave Islam to the fate that all utopian illusions must suffer. Insha’ allah !

 

 

G. Murphy Donovan is a former USAF Intelligence officer who writes frequently about national security issues.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Signals and Noise in Intelligence

August 30, 2010

“Freedom is the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” – George Orwell

Media pundits have reduced the complex problems of tactical and strategic Intelligence to a kind of running joke. Failure to “connect the dots” is the common taunt. Such mindless euphemisms, when applied to national security analysis, reduce the signal/noise dilemma to a child’s game. As a practical matter, conveying the correct signal to the correct receiver is the most difficult challenge in art, science, and especially, government. A signal is not singular. Indeed, signals are irrelevant without receivers. In similar veins; speakers require listeners, writers require readers, warnings require recognition, and analysis requires acceptance.

Many of the impediments to signals are internal to the Intelligence Community: this includes time honored vehicles like briefings and reports and less obvious barriers like structure, size, and politics. Intelligence collection and targeting systems operate efficiently today in real time. The strategic analysis process, however, does not provide a comparable return on investment.

Briefings

Rhetorical skills, in a briefing for example, might not convince any listener. The best facts, logic, and analysis often fall on deaf ears. Titans of industry and government are people with strong convictions. They know what they believe; and they believe what they know got them to where they are. There are no objective listeners any more than there are objective speakers. We all filter what we say and hear through the sieve of what we think we know. And too many of us think we know more than we do.

Truth is what we believe; unfortunately, what we believe is not necessarily true. Strongly held beliefs will always trump facts, logic, and analysis. Any speaker who seeks to change a paradigm needs to know what his audience already believes.

Testing some policymaker’s suite of beliefs, especially in any public way, is hazardous duty. Messengers get shot for less on a regular basis.  Speaking truth to power is dangerous; and those who raise too many problems often become the problem. Inertia is often the most persuasive argument in the room.

Briefings slides are both inevitable and ubiquitous. This modern petroglyph is where the figurative dots are literally connected. The power point presentation (PPT) has become part of the national security culture, although it’s not clear that these tools have improved communications. Even the junior officers who prepare briefing slides, aka power point rangers, are skeptical. “Hypnotizing chickens” is a common euphemism for PPT sessions.

Reports

All of what might be said about the spoken signal is also true about the written word – and worse still. At first glance, a document might seem more concrete and credible than a briefing. This is an illusion.

With a briefing, there is at least a specific audience for the message; the written word provides no such assurances. All you can ever say about the written word is who received it, not who read it. The fact that any document was delivered to ‘such and such’ a policymaker’s office is often meaningless. Titans are buried in paper and electronic mail every day. There are few, if any, feedback mechanisms that allow us to know who read, understood, or might have agreed with a written report. Even legislators seldom read the laws to which they contribute and for which they vote.

An ‘after action’ report might be an exception, though not necessarily a good one. With these, the signal is clearly separated from the noise. Here specific actions are recommended to specific policymakers; and some up or down judgment usually follows – usually after the damage has been done. The 9/11 Commission Report (2004) is an example.

Yet the clarity of post facto deliberations is often undermined by hasty judgments, added complexity, and more ambient noise. The Homeland Security Act (2002) and the Intelligence Reform and Prevention of Terrorism Act (2004) are examples.  The net result of these well intended fixes was the creation of three new stovepipes; the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), and the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC). How more layers in a 16 agency Intelligence Community (IC) reduce the signal to noise ratio remains a cipher to most observers. And burying the most economical military service, the Coast Guard, under a non-military bureaucracy (DHS) beggars any notions of operational prudence – offensive or defensive.

Special commissions and ad hoc committees may be inevitable and their recommendations may be significant. Unfortunately, their deliberations are not remotely connected to any known science.

When the diverse fail to converse, post facto commissions or study groups usually come to the same two conclusions; expand and reorganize. The ‘usual suspects’ seldom suggest that less might be more. Arguing for fewer boats is not the way sailors become admirals. Unfortunately, increasing size, complexity, and cost (or shuffling the deck chairs) does little to coordinate the uncoordinated or reduce the noise level in warning systems.

Warnings

The nexus of Intelligence is warning. All other national security functions might be irrelevant if warning fails. The attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were catastrophic warning failures. Four targets were selected by al Qaeda and four targets were destroyed. The Islamist offense was as efficient as our defense was deficient. Warning signals get lost or unrecognized in the noise of everyday bureaucratic traffic. After action reports often isolate those lost signals, yet those same reports (aka ‘shots from the grave’) seldom make serious recommendations about eliminating the noise.

Roberta Wohlstetter’s  (1912-2007) military intelligence study, Pearl Harbor; Warning and Decision (1962), is required reading for most entry level Intelligence professionals, yet there is little evidence that her cautionary classic has had a lasting impact on Intelligence praxis. The proliferation of Intelligence agencies since Mrs. Wohlstetter’s day may have increased the ambient noise within the IC by orders of magnitude. If spending is a measure of complexity, the Intelligence budget has trebled in less than a decade. The IC now employs nearly a quarter million souls at a cost of 75 billion dollars per annum. The Director on National Intelligence (DNI) claims that ten thousand analysts are working the terror problem alone. Indeed, terrorism has become a cash cow for academics, think tanks, and government agencies.

Analyses

Warning signals might be likened to tripwires, while formal analyses might be compared to the prepared defenses behind the wires. All the right signals might be detected, yet the message might still be undone by; existing analysis, the conventional wisdom, or expectations. Outdated analyses and estimates create ambient noises of their own and they often taint perceptions. Several recent studies suggest that “experts” too close to any subject often develop blind spots, an unwillingness or inability to see new or contradictory evidence. Believers do not suffer apostates gladly.

And with new analysis, bridging the gap between analysis and acceptance is a crucial step seldom taken. Few analysts make good salesmen; and managers of analytical processes are not inclined to rock the boat.

The space between analyst and process manager is often filled by “talking dogs.” The talking dog is usually an articulate soul who does justice to a suit or military uniform. A briefer may not have any relevant expertise, but they can usually be trusted to stay on message.

The 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq might represent a case study of these phenomena. This assessment provided the ‘substance’ for Secretary of State Colin Powell’s presentation before the UN (6 February 2003) in the run up to the second Iraq war. Unfortunately, like many bureaucratic products, this estimate was a “wet finger;” an estimate that catered to expectations, not facts or reasonable analysis. Such reports are common to all bureaucracies, yet they are much more consequential in the national security arena. The fruit of that 2002 poisoned tree is yet to ripen. How the IC treats the genuine nuclear threat next door in Iran is a story yet to be told.

Beyond the inherent difficulties of oral, written, or analytical mediums; the noise problem in the IC is also structural and political. Technological band aids, additional personnel, and bigger budgets are unlikely remedies for these man-made, self inflicted aliments.

Structural Noise

The structural problem, simply stated, is size; 16 agencies, 18 layers if the penultimates are counted. The “stovepipe” problem is compounded by internal layering within each agency and complicated by the various agency specific; information systems, clearance levels, and classification types.

A “secret” world will always be at odds with the free flow of information. In this respect, Intelligence reports and studies labor under a unique handicap. The gauntlet that signals and analysis must run in such a maze is formidable.

Part of the problem is historical; Intelligence is a complex of institutions built by events not design. DHS is the latest example of Lincoln Log engineering. Much of what flourishes year to year in the IC is redundant, superfluous, and dangerously opaque. Signals attempting to navigate obdurate bureaucracies encounter obstacles at every level; and the ambient noise is deafening.

These vertical structures often become institutional cultures for all manner of human foibles. Each layer inevitably creates its own gatekeepers and apparatchiks; ‘not on my watch,’ ‘not invented here,’ ‘not my job,’ and ‘not without our chop’ are just some of the examples of attitudinal barricades. Such culture infests every large bureaucracy and the IC is no exception.

No doubt every agency is born of good intentions, but over time the institution often becomes the enemy of the idea. Tenure and survival too often become the dominant idioms of large enterprises, especially governmental departments. Intelligence has not defined the IC today so much as the IC has defined what passes for “intelligence.”

The modern enemy is nimble, mobile, decentralized, economical, lean, mean, and effective. For the moment, the national security community that seeks to track this quarry is none of these.

Political Noise

And all of what the IC does is colored by politics. To argue otherwise is dishonest or naïve. The question is not whether, but how much. It is no accident that every Intelligence agency falls under the Executive Branch. Intelligence is a traditional servant of policy.

In the wake of WW11, the father of modern national estimates, Sherman Kent (1903-1996), sought to sustain the integrity of analysis by keeping a discrete distance between policy and Intelligence. Situating CIA in the Virginia woods may have been part of that stratagem. Today there are few measures for how well the barrier between Intelligence and policy has been maintained.

We like to think that analyses or research is driven by scientific method; a rigorous consideration of facts, logic, and research – untainted by bias or subjectivity. Unfortunately, original research requires resources, special talents, and time. Policymakers, driven by events, rarely have the patience or time for rigor. As a consequence, most of what we call research or study, in or outside of government, is actually “derivative,” a polite euphemism for junk science. The “hot wash-up” is the rule, not the exception, in the worlds of Intelligence and politics.

And politics is the most persistent noise surrounding Intelligence analysis and reporting.  Clearly, policymakers have bigger fish to fry than Intelligence, but no policy is well served by flaccid or cautious analysis. Fear is a very loud ambient noise. The blizzard of euphemisms coming from the policy community today looks a lot like fear.

Euphemisms usually have two purposes; masking a painful truth or attempting to change the subject. Rhetorical contortions are commonly used to avoid naming two combat fronts a “war.” This distortion is compounded by efforts to separate these wars and the world-wide anti-terror campaign from Islam and Islamists.  Such mixed signals are sending cautionary ripples through the analytical community. Trying to speak or write about the struggle with Islamists without mentioning Islam or Muslims is a little like attempting to eradicate malaria by ignoring mosquitoes.

Obscuring the threat is not without opportunity costs. As the chief of USAF Intelligence put it, in an email, to an editor of WIRED Magazine on 9 December 2009:

“The number one cause of civilian casualties in Afghanistan is the Taliban — not air power. Human Rights Watch has verified that the Taliban kills three to four times more civilians than ISAF air and ground forces combined. More often than not, these deaths are deliberate….It is curious that it appears there is more ink spent on casualties from air attacks than there is on the criminality and violation of the ethical tenets of ‘Islam’ (sic) that occurs daily as a result of Taliban actions.”

Lt. Gen. Dave Deptula’s concerns were underscored by a more formal, but equally candid, report from Afghanistan written by Maj. Gen. Mike Flynn, chief of ISAF Intelligence, and published by The Center for a New American Security on 4 January 2010:

“Our senior leaders – the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Secretary of Defense, Congress, the President of the United States – are not getting the right information to make decisions with … The media is driving the issues.  We need to build a process from the sensor all the way to the political decision makers.”

A casual reading of these two reports from senior Military Intelligence officers reveals two clear signals. Instead of defining the enemy; we are at risk of being defined by our opponents. The second signal is even more ominous; the Media, not good Intelligence, appears to be driving the policy process.

The differences between the generals in the field and the politicians became an open wound with the recent resignation of the ISAF commander in Afghanistan. What soldiers like Stanley McChrystal lack in tact is seldom redeemed by candor.

Nonetheless, these alarms are symptoms of a crisis of confidence, a growing sense among taxpayers that many very expensive public institutions simply do not work. The Intelligence Community is one of those institutions.

Great research is done in small batches; usually a small group of sharply focused world class experts. And great writing is usually done by a single hand; a hand unencumbered by layers of second guessers. Such requirements are seldom satisfied in the national estimative process. With Intelligence, peer review is too often confused with institutional consensus.

And even those ‘hot washups” will always be surrounded by some level of ambient noise. But, introduced uncertainty is another matter. No decision is well served by ambiguity or doubt. Policy pronouncements masked in a veil of euphemisms may placate real or imagined foes, but such uncertainty tends to confuse the home team

Epilogue

Vacuums of ignorance are often filled by beliefs; beliefs that might not be true. The purpose of Intelligence is to warn, define the threat, and challenge false paradigms. If policymakers prefer wishful thinking, Intelligence must persist to undo these illusions. Indeed, Intelligence must take the final step – bridge that gap between analysis and acceptance. Trivial euphemisms like “connect the dots” undermine both the difficulties and seriousness of the problem. Words matter.

Reason and religion are unique tests for contemporary warning and analysis. The rational actor models that served us so well during the Cold War no longer apply. The threat spectrum is now dominated by theocratic irredentism, a mix of fanaticism driven by an unreasonable quest for political, religious, and cultural monoculture. The spectrum of mayhem now runs from lone wolves to totalitarian theocratic states, from suicide bombers to nuclear weapons.

National security analysis does not just support the policy process; it also sets the tone for the entire Intelligence Community. A “gold standard” collection and targeting system will be impotent if the analytical side of the equation can’t produce a clear picture of the threat. The national estimative process might benefit from better people, fewer people, and more independence. Over-coordination and consensus are often the most pernicious kinds of ambient noise.

Once the threat has been defined, clarity from the policy community would also be a deficit neutral improvement to the noise problem in the Intelligence Community. Citizens and soldiers must know what and who they are fighting. If the war of ideas is lost in the ambient noise of political correctness or politics, shooting wars may not matter.

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This essay appeared in the 27 Aug 10 edition of Small Wars Journal.


Turkey, a fourth front against Israel?

June 7, 2010

“By gnawing through a dike, even a rat may drown a nation.” – Edmund Burke

Turkey has long been held up as an exemplar of a model Islamic state; secular, moderate, democratic, and collegial. Nonetheless, the inherent contradictions of an “Islamic republic” may be coming home to roost in Anatolia – putting the lie to secular, moderate, and collegial.

Ankara, a NATO “partner”, has been backsliding for some time now; indeed, ever since the Islamists achieved power in democratic elections. The so-called “freedom flotilla” which attempted to run the blockade to Gaza a few days ago is the latest symptom of the march backwards. The convoy, masquerading as humanitarian relief, originated in Turkey with a political cargo of 700 pro-Hamas activists – spoiling for confrontation. The agitators got the fight they were looking for, and predictably, Israel is now vilified for defending its borders against hard core Islamist Turks and a small mixed bag of “progressive” nitwits.

Lest there be any doubt about Turkey/Hamas nexus in this contrived confrontation at sea, it should be noted that the unrealized port of debarkation in Gaza was festooned with Turkish flags and a gargantuan portrait of Recep Tuyyip Erdogan, Turkish Prime Minister. The Turkish sponsor of the Gaza flotilla is the IHH (Isani Yardim Vakfi), a radical Islamist organization registered In Istanbul with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood (al Ikhwan) and the Union of Good (Itilaf al-kahayr), a collective of Islamist funds which supports Hamas.

We might also note that Hamas itself is a militant step-child of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, a network now operating in over 40 countries. The Brotherhood is illegal in Egypt where it has been responsible for countless assassination attempts and gratuitous acts of terror for nearly a century. Nonetheless, Hamas is held up as the people’s representative in Gaza. Never mind that the Hamas insurgency split the Palestinians into two irreconcilable factions. Yet, somehow Israel is supposed negotiate a two state solution with two groups of Arab fanatics, who can’t share the same tent, no less a country.

Caroline Glick’s 15 Oct piece in the Jerusalem Post ”How Turkey was Lost”, sounded an early alarm about the Turkish malignancy, a cautionary tale about confusing elections with democracy. She described Ankara’s back sliding since the election of Erdogan, head of the formerly outlawed Islamist AKP. Since Erdogan came to power in 2002, Turkey has given Hamas a reception usually reserved for heads of state, eliminated the visa requirements for Syrian travelers to Turkey, and now cancelled air exercises with Israel and begun joint military maneuvers with Syria. Glick seems to believe that the Turks have cast their lot with the Shiite Crescent. If what she suggests is true; we now have an Islamist fox in the NATO henhouse – and Turkey’s campaign for membership in the European Union has hit the hard rocks of reality.

The irony of elections in a country with a Muslim majority is that it often represents the camel’s nose under the tent; opening the door for religious opportunists to hold the one election that could be the last. On this score, Algeria evokes hot flashes of déjà vu. Islamists might be fanatics, but they’re not morons; they will use Western institutions to undo apostates and infidels. Such are the vicissitudes of democracy. And such is the dilemma also in Afghanistan; where the choice is between the corruptible Karzai and the incorruptible Taliban, Mullah Omar. Not too many good options in this neighborhood. If Omar ever ran in a UN supervised election; he might win in a landslide.

The big problem with Afghanistan, like Iraq before, is its potential for distraction. The only accomplishment of elections in Iraq was to reverse the sectarian poles – and assist Iraq in becoming the second Shiite nation in the Crescent, another potential ally for theocratic Tehran. Over time, American good intentions have managed to do to Iraq what the ayatollahs could not.

Land-locked Afghanistan is not an immediate, or should we say proximate, threat to America or Israel. Afghanistan has six neighbors; five of which are Muslim states, all with a vested interest in neutering the Taliban and al Qaeda.  As Bernard Lewis has reminded us so many times; Islamic fundamentalism is more of a threat to dar al Islam (the Muslim world) than it is to the West.

Elections in Turkey, Iraq, and Afghanistan could be meaningless. And another UN supervised circus proves nothing. Nation building might better be done by the natives. If we can’t influence electoral probity in Egypt, Jordan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, or the Emirates; why do we think we can do it in Kabul?   With Turkey now backsliding, the European Union pandering, and the White House apologizing; someone might ask why another American kid should die in any Muslim backwater to underwrite another election.  Indeed, the larger question should be: why does the West need to save Islam from itself?

The difference between the Bush and Obama brands of Islamic illusions are negligible. The Turkish slide to the theocratic side drops one of the last veils covering the “moderation” myth. Turkey, on a larger scale, is similar to Algeria; Islamists will use elections to come to power, but their objective is not pluralism, moderation, or any notion of democracy as we know it.

The exposure of Islamic irredentism in Turkey may be a blessing. Turkey was long thought to be a progressive influence in the Muslim world, a bulwark against the worst instincts of Islam. Indeed, Turkey was thought also to be a friend and ally of Israel. The Turkish attempt to break the Gaza blockade is a signal event; non-state Sunni actors in the terror campaign against Israel are giving way to Turk and Persian state sponsors. Ankara and Tehran may now take the lead in the jihad against Israel and the West.

Indeed, the Turkish flotilla fiasco opens a fourth front against Israel. Shiite and Sunni terror groups torment Israel from three directions on land; and now an unapologetic Muslim state sponsor agitates on the high seas. Arabs and Persians make common cause when it comes to Israel and now the Turks have joined the anti-Semitic axis on a sea-going front. These “freedom” flotillas have a lot more to do with intimidating Israel than they have to do with assisting Gaza.

The seismic signals from Turkey may provide some incentive for America and its allies to reexamine alliance membership and strategy – in the war “we are not having with Islam.” Ankara’s NATO participation was long thought to be a reward for modern democratic institutions. Now, other questions need to be answered; did we let a Muslim democracy into NATO or has the Western alliance been suborned by a theocratic 5th column? More importantly, if and when the Israeli navy meets another “freedom” flotilla off Gaza, this time with a Turkish naval escort; what’s the NATO battle plan?


Whistling in the Dark

May 22, 2010

“Courage is the resistance to fear, the mastery of fear – not the absence of fear.” – Mark Twain

Dennis Blair’s commentary for the opinion pages of the Washington Post on 18 December is a world class contribution to the literature of denial. His assessment of American national security since 9/11 is notable only for what it ignores. The Director of National Intelligence uses the fifth anniversary of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Act of 2004 to celebrate a 16 agency US Intelligence Community that is not lean, mean, agile, or effective.

Let’s deal with denial first. Mr. Blair wastes an opportunity by writing about Intelligence reform without once mentioning “Islamic” terrorists or two costly wars in progress in two “Muslim” theaters. Reading his assessment, you could be led to believe he can not or will not identify the threat or the enemy. It is as if the words Islam and Muslim had been stricken from the strategic vocabulary. In this he is not alone.

The President, speaking in Cairo and Istanbul, exhibited the same reticence. Reading the Cairo transcript one might conclude that the sources of genocidal Islamic rage are things like French dress codes. In a similar vein, the Secretary of State, more recently, in Berlin described bin Laden and al Qaeda as the “core” of the administration’s national security concerns. Mrs. Clinton’s false narrative seeks to narrow the threat to one man and one terror group. Clinton also repeats a chestnut often offered by her husband, former President Bill Clinton:

“And we do bear some of the responsibility, frankly, for helping to create (sic) the very terrorists that we’re now all threatened by.”

Mr. an Mrs. Clinton are fond of arguing that the United States, and Israel by implication, are at the heart of Islamist angst. Ironically, this is the same rationale that has been provided by ayatollahs, imans, and mullahs for the past half century.

A clear picture of the Obama national security doctrine is emerging as we sift the specifics from the President, from Secretary of State Clinton, and now from the Director of National Intelligence. For the moment, this doctrine appears to have three components; denial, threat minimization, and guilt. We should first believe that Muslims and Islamists do not share what they so obviously have in common; we should also accept bin Laden and al Qaeda as the only “core” issues; and, adding insult to injury, we must recognize that we Americans (and Jews) are two of the sources of Islamic jihad, terrorism, and the quest for kalifa.  Corollaries to this doctrine are provided by the policies for Iraq and Afghanistan; both of which could charitably be described as exit strategies with expiration dates.

This policy of denial, if not appeasement, should be a winner in Europe and at the United Nations, but it leaves a lot to be desired if the safety of America (or Israel) is a concern. Indeed, if the Sunni threat can be reduced to a bearded man and forty thieves in a cave somewhere in Pashtunistan, then surely the nuclear menace from Shiites and Iran is a kind of strategic chopped liver.

Mr. Blair’s holiday manifesto, after ignoring the Islamist menace, provides a definition of Intelligence strategy with a bizarre wish list of primary concerns:

“The new (US) National Intelligence Strategy provides the blueprint …  for effectiveness…  and a focus on cyber security, counterintelligence and … problems such as pandemic disease, climate events, failed states … scarce natural resources…(and) such issues as energy, trade, drug interdiction and public health… Continued commitment and investment in this reform are vital.”

Does cyber security include those unsecured downlinks from reconnaissance drones in Iraq and Afghanistan which are being hacked? Does counterintelligence effectiveness include that Muslim Army major who shot up Fort Hood? And what do disease, climate, natural resources, and public health have to do with an enemy that might make all those other concerns irrelevant. What Mr. Blair’s intelligence “strategy” seems to lack most is focus.

The Director of National Intelligence goes on to tell us:

“It has been famously argued that information is power and, therefore, should never be shared. The Sept. 11 attacks showed the fatal flaws in that logic. Our nation is becoming safer every day…..”

Who is it that says information shouldn’t be shared? And speaking of 9/11, how are we doing with bin Laden and Mullah Omar after a decade of looking? And who among us feels safer every day?

Those “stovepipes” which Mr. Blair celebrates are part of the problem also, not the solution. He fails to mention that the major element of the “reform” he celebrates was the addition of two new stovepipes; the Department of Homeland Security and the National Counterterrorism Center. The 16 separate Intelligence agencies are still defended in the name of analytical diversity; yet when the diverse fail to converse, we are led to believe that “sharing” solves the problem.

Mr. Blair’s celebration of sharing didn’t anticipate the catastrophic failure to communicate a week later; precisely the flaw that allowed the “underwear” bomber, Mr. Abdulmutallab, to board a Detroit bound Northwest Airbus with nearly 300 souls on board on 25 December. Tragedy was averted by a few courageous passengers and crew, not an alert Intelligence Community.

Other than “sharing”, the key word in Mr. Blair’s 18 Dec argument may be “investment,” a shop worn euphemism for bigger is better. In this arena, Blair seems to be oblivious to the “tumescent threat” a bloom that sinks many an enterprise. Institutions may be the product of good ideas, but when size becomes unmanageable, the institution often becomes the enemy of the idea. If Mr. Blair’s analysis provides any clues, the bloated US Intelligence Community may have reached a tipping point.

In his analysis, Mr. Blair also fails to mention Israel, America’s lone democratic ally in theater. This omission is becoming part of a pattern. President Obama has visited two major Muslim capitals since coming to office. He has yet to go to Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. One of the lessons that Mr. Obama might take away from a visit to Israel would be an appreciation of virtues of compact, focused Intelligence efforts.

Israel is often characterized as the “canary in the coal mine.” If we read the signals coming from the Oval Office, we might think about changing the metaphor from canary to sacrificial lamb.

And if Dennis Blair’s analysis of the national security threat and associated Intelligence requirements on 18 December represents the best thinking of the American 16 agency consortium, he and his colleagues, like the White House, are whistling in the dark.

(This article appeared in the 18 Dec 09 edition of American Thinker)

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G. Murphy Donovan is a former USAF Intelligence officer and author of “Escaping the Wilderness of Mirrors,” an argument to privatize national estimates, which appears in the December edition of the International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence.


The Wilderness of Mirrors

May 18, 2010

“It is not certain that everything is uncertain.” – Blaise Pascal

There was a time when most National Intelligence Estimates (NIEs) were classified, restricted and rarely read. Recurring estimates were dusted off periodically and circulated in the Intelligence Community for coordination.  “Happy” might be changed to “glad” and the cycle would begin anew. Indeed, the NIE was formatted not to be read, they all began with the punch lines, “Key Judgments”. Most readers stopped there.

All of this changed in the wake of the 2002 NIE on Iraq. The subsequent estimate on Iraq was sifted above the fold like the ashes of Herculaneum. We have come full circle on analysis, from cooking to opening the books. CIA, especially, is clearly trying to address a credibility problem. Unfortunately, the recent publications relations blitz opens select products not the process; the effort does not speak to the two faults at the heart of the analysis problem; competence and integrity.

Off the Gold Standard

As far as anyone knows, any given estimate might be drafted by some unknown staffer at the National Intelligence Council (NIC) and amended by one or sixteen nameless intelligence agency hands. Dissenters appear in footnotes. In most cases, the point men represent agency politics not expertise. Few experts of national repute work at the NIC or in the bowels of Intelligence agencies. Believing that our intelligence agencies still hire the best analysts is a little like believing that our best lawyers work on Capitol Hill. Most national estimates are not just group-think, worse still; they are bureaucratic group-think. They don’t represent good analysis so much as they represent consensus, however brief.

The sixteen agency “community” is defended in the name of analytical diversity. Yet, these same agencies are then condemned as “stovepipes” when the diverse fail to converse; a classic ‘cake and eat it’ argument.

Boosters regularly insist that the NIE is the “gold standard” in the Intelligence Community. This is a classic example where hope and optimism seems to have overcome recent historical experience.

Conversely, uninformed critics often sneer at Military Intelligence (aka Tactical Intelligence) as an oxymoron. In fact, our seamless web of strategic and tactical collection, processing, identification, targeting and weapons applications is the real Intelligence Community gold standard. (Thanks to General James Clapper). This is not to say that the tactical folks never get it wrong. But when they do, their systems are self medicating. National security estimates, on the other hand, have been a basket case for decades.

Integrity is the predictable victim when the key dynamic of the process is bureaucratic log-rolling. The closet battle between Air Force Intelligence and all other agencies during the Cold War is a classic example. In that period, Air Force footnotes to strategic force NIEs would exceed the word count in the body of estimates. Those infamous bomber and missile “gaps” were products of this struggle.

Maxwell Taylor’s, Uncertain Trumpet (1960), documents some of the blow back from this era. Strategic force assessments are unique insomuch as the threat is tied directly to budgets. The math is simple, bigger threats equal bigger budgets. The late Kevin Lewis of the RAND Corporation tagged this phenomenon as the “tumescent threat’.

In those days the Air Force was a young divorcee. Separated from the Army; she was determined to spread her wings. With the help of Intelligence, a ‘ten foot’ Soviet foil was fashioned.

Reform and Controversy

The Soviet threat was embellished again by the “B Team” controversies of the 1970s. A 1974 Foreign Policy article, by Albert Wohlstetter, then at the University of Chicago, suggested that our strategic NIE might be underestimating the threat. The President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (PFIAB) requested that then CIA director William Colby host a competitive analysis with outside experts. Colby refused; believing that no outside group could do better than his intelligence officers. The issue resurfaced in 1976 when Colby was fired and replaced by George H.W. Bush; and the B Team project went forward.

The B Team was staffed by 16 mostly hard line civilian intellectuals and they predictably reported that the national assessment of the Soviet military capabilities and intentions was seriously flawed. In retrospect, it’s fair to say that the B Team report was half right on capabilities and justifiably prudent in their assessment of doctrine or intentions.

Three years earlier, William Colby had abandoned the founding analytical paradigm; one created and nourished by Sherman Kent. The small and centralized Office of National Estimates (ONE) and the Board of National Estimates (BNE) was cashiered. It was replaced by a larger and more ecumenical system of National Intelligence Officers (NIOs) in 1973; latter to be incorporated into today’s even more complex National Intelligence Council (NIC) et al. In a decade, the analytical paradigm shifted from small and focused to large and decentralized – all intelligence agencies became NIE players. To date, there is little evidence to suggest that estimates have improved and considerable evidence to suggest that they have become easier to manipulate or taint with politics.

Abandoning Kent’s Wise Council

Sherman Kent, legendary second chair of the original BNE (1952-1967), at his introspective best, catalogued many cases where national estimates missed the mark, including the Soviet missile deployment to Cuba.  Any human institution gets it wrong from time to time. And critics who do not expect mistakes are naïve; Intelligence assessments and estimates are not prophesies. The contemporary problem is much more troubling; truth now seems to serve power.

Kent formalized early analytical tradecraft. He created and preserved the first paradigm for national intelligence analysis; one which insisted on a prudent space between analysis and policy. Today’s analytical superstructure and its products have become something he would not recognize. The spectrum of fakery includes feigned ignorance, data manipulation and outright invention – probably motivated by politics.

Cases of  historical premeditated ignorance would include the Israeli nuclear weapons program, the August 1964 Tonkin Gulf incident and the KAL 007 shoot down of September 1983, just to name a few. Blatant statistical manipulation was part of the heady brew during the McNamara years of the Vietnam War. Bomb damage, infiltration, strategic hamlet, pacification and Vietnamization statistics, masquerading as measures of effectiveness, were all used to obscure an unpalatable ground truth. More recently, since 9/11 and in the run-up to the second Iraq War, evidence seems to have been manipulated wholesale to support foregone conclusions.

The most egregious recent example of cooked Intelligence was Colin Powell’s presentation to the United Nations on 05 February 2003 just prior to the second Iraq expedition. On that occasion, a former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and sitting Secretary of State, with the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency posing behind him, delivered an assessment to the world that was an embarrassment to General Powell and Director George Tenant and the institutions they represented. The briefing to the UN, presumably based on NIC estimates, was fatally flawed as fact and analysis.

Blatant exaggeration was the most bizarre part of the Powell address. Did someone think the threat in this part of the world needed to be embellished? Unfortunately, the final paragraph in the 2002 Iraq NIE is yet to be written. Crying wolf on Iraqi weapons may make analysts wary of making the tough calls on Iran’s missile and nuclear weapons capabilities. Once bitten; twice shy!

After any real or imagined intelligence failure, the inevitable ad hoc commission comes to tell us how to fix the beast. Invariably, the answer is more money and more bureaucracy. Bigger is always better. The 9/11 Commission and the more recent Iraq Study Group (March 2006) are illustrations. The Intelligence Community is now larger and deeper and, of course, more expensive. In short, it’s business as usual.

Obvious Solutions

No recent task force or congressional bromide addresses the obvious solution to better national security analysis; ending the Executive Branch monopoly and removing national estimates from the Intelligence cloister. There is no good reason for national security analysis to be the exclusive purview of any branch of government or worse still, a cabal of agencies with vested interests in outcomes. Privatization may be the only answer for analytical competence, transparency and product integrity.

A small group of independent experts could convene as required to prepare assessments. The membership might vary as the subject requires; rotating diversity if you will. Experts might be compensated on a per diem basis. Politicians, lobbyists and obvious partisans need not apply. Intelligence agency functions could then be restricted to what they do best; all source collection, tactical and strategic warning, and intelligence support to deployed or engaged forces. The resources now devoted to assessments, estimates and forecasts should be reallocated to an independent analytical body.

Transparency might also eliminate special interest ad hoc analysis within the Intelligence Community. The Douglas Feith cowboys that recently freelanced from the Pentagon come to mind.

Assessments from an independent group of experts might also benefit from single hand and named authorship, much like Supreme Court decisions. Dissenters would write minority opinions. Court analysis is attributable and transparent. Should national security arguments have lesser standards? Indeed, the current practice of giving the Executive Branch an exclusive on national security analysis is a little like giving the power of  judicial review to Congress.

Calling our national assessments “intelligence” estimates is also a perennial source of confusion. The issue is national security not Intelligence. Intelligence is merely one of the ingredients of analysis. Most data, method and even thinking that go into analysis are unclassified. Surely sources and methods of intelligence collection need to be protected by classification. So be it. Nonetheless, classification should not be used as an excuse to obscure the process and product of national security deliberations.

The Case for a  New Paradigm

The advantages of government sponsored privatized national security analysis seem to be self-evident: The analysis could be done by acknowledged experts with known credentials; Intelligence would be subordinated to national security analysis; secrecy could not be used to mask weak evidence or shabby method; transparency would boost public trust; and all branches of government and the taxpayer would be exposed to available evidence, rigorous reasoning and the arguments of dissenters.

Limiting the influence of politics on Intelligence and analysis would be the most important advantage of an independent and transparent process. There is no government activity that does not benefit from sunshine and the “wisdom of crowds”.

Any argument against a more open system would surely raise security and secrecy questions. Indeed, secrecy and compartmentalization is the favorite post mortem finding that no one ever cares to do anything about.

Secrecy has always been a self-inflicted wound within the Intelligence cloister. Those with SECRET clearances do not have access to TOP SECRET material; those with TS clearances do not have access to CODE WORD material; and those with CW clearance do not see EYES ONLY product. Analysis takes place at all these levels, yet the very system of compartments restricts the flow of relevant information. New categories of restriction are invented on a regular basis because of parochial or real security concerns. The Intelligence Community is now so big that it is impossible, if not imprudent, to give all analysts access to all relevant data from every security compartment. Yet, we expect them to perform.

The blind alleys of security are crafted with precious little regard for the burdens placed on analysis. Even a hypothetical super analyst at the Pentagon or at the NIC with every Intelligence clearance may be half blind because he or she will not have operational clearances. Rear echelon observers seldom know what friendly Intelligence or military operations are ongoing at the flashpoints. This is less of a problem at the tactical level where the military has attacked cognitive dissonance with a vengeance. There is little public evidence to suggest that this issue has been addressed at the top of the analytical food chain.

In theory, all data from all categories of Intelligence and all levels of classification are joined in a mystical fusion process at the top of the national security pyramid. In reality, the pyramid is more like a prism or as James Angleton might have put it; “a wilderness of mirrors”. Nobody seems to know where the “fusion” takes place, if it happens at all. Angleton coined his metaphor to describe the agent business. Had he been an analyst, the metaphor would have been even more colorful – and probably unprintable.

An Analytical Star Chamber

The argument here is to create a national security star chamber; a specific place with specific analysts for a single purpose – national estimates untainted by log rollers or politicians. A key assumption would be that America’s best and brightest would possess enough civic virtue to participate.

The process of selecting a panel would not be without its own problems. Finding a good cadre to serve and winnowing the ideologues would be difficult but not impossible. Surely no more difficult than selecting and confirming federal judges. The likes of Paul Johnson, historian, and Bernard Lewis, Islamic expert, analysts of proven talent with an expansive world view, would be ideal. Indeed, the paper trail for civilian experts is explicit and relatively easy to audit.

Such an analytical star chamber would of course be interdisciplinary with a rotating chair depending on the subject at hand. This rarified air should not be limited to academics; institutions like the military, Intelligence, the science laboratories or even the Press might participate. In the latter category, a stellar analytical mind with a sharp quill could make significant contributions to the form and logic of national estimates. There is no reason why national security findings should not be good literature. Here someone of Claudia Rosett’s (Wall Street Journal) stature comes to mind.

The Consequences of  Inaction

A final and paramount consideration is the potential cost of not changing the existing analytical paradigm. An observer outside of the classified cloisters might be led to believe that the only change afoot today in the national security arena is a shift in political winds. Reading the tea leaves of public statements, the threat is being repackaged with charm and sanitized with soft soap. Whether this represents new analysis or new policy is difficult to determine.

Rational actor models informed most of our strategic analysis during the Cold War. A theocratic threat hardly fits that paradigm. There are no Herman Khans, Bernard Brodies or Albert Wohlstetters discussing mutual deterrence in Sunni or Shiite seminars.

When policy colors analysis, the only relevant tool in play maybe a wet finger in the wind. The predictable result will be more confusion and risk, not stability.

We seem to have a good war and a bad war at the moment; the latter hostage to a campaign promise. And we are admonished to see both as mere “contingencies”. We are not to associate enemy combatants with the culture or religion they share; in short, “we are not at war” – with a world-wide growth business. On the flanks of actual combat, one sect already has a nuclear weapon and the other sect is an aspirant. Indeed, Pakistan has a weapon and is one bullet removed from theocracy and Iran already has the theocracy and may be a few tests away from a nuclear weapon. If we were to use a Sherman Kent set of weighted adjectives to describe this dilemma, we would have to say that a dark future is not merely probable; it is very likely.

Kent formalized our “words of estimative probability”. Yet, thinking about futures in terms of probabilities began with Blaise Pascal (1623-1662). Today, all national estimates or forecasts still need to pass a Blaisean test. The potential benefits of belief should always outweigh the likely return on skepticism.

An overestimate is a no-lose hedge. If the threat fails to materialize, what is lost? On the other hand, an underestimate is always dangerous and often fatal. Weakness is more provocative than strength; any thug understands this. Trying to sugar coat a clear and present danger is not simply a poor tactic; it is a reckless strategy.

The two most important values for any human institution are trust and regret. Without trust, no relationship is possible; neither with colleagues, policymakers nor the public. Without regret no progress is possible. For those who can not or will not recognize error and change their behavior, the future is forever a receding green light.

One Key Question

A host of difficult questions are always associated with any suggested change; especially a radical change to the apex of a complex Intelligence and national security analytical apparatus. Yet, only one question is relevant here: Do we want to limit the corrosive influence of politics on national security analysis? Or put another way, do we want power to serve truth? If the answer to this question is yes, then all other questions are subordinate and solvable.

The National Security Council has always been a political hothouse; and now the National Intelligence Council has become a sauna. The solution is not a return to the BNE. That institution was flawed because it was part of the Intelligence cloister and operated at the whim of a political appointee. We should not return to the B Team either because that group was cherry picked for its politics. Nonetheless, they made their point; competing views should be included in all national security analysis. And the personalities of a star chamber shouldn’t matter either; at least not as much as their credentials, talent, and demonstrated independence.

If we are to address the persistent competence and integrity problems that plague the national security process, “top tier” national security analysis needs to be isolated from the vexations of secrecy and the venom of politics. And we could do worse than heed Sherman Kent’s wise counsel; “…great discoveries are not made by second rate minds.”

[The following source material is arranged by relevant subject starting with early trade craft; followed by reforms, controversies and a sampler of contemporary thoughts about national security analysis.]

Jean Mesnard, Pascal: His Life and Works (translated by G.S. Fraser), Harvill Press, 1952.

Blaise Pascal was a late Renaissance physicist and mathematician who had a unique influence on modern analysis. He introduced notions of probability and risk/benefit analysis; not just as ways of calculating odds, but more importantly, as ways of looking at the world – ways of estimating the costs of everyday choices. His most important contribution may have been humility; we ignore his frequent cautions about the limits of reason, technology and “scientific method” at our peril.  If Pascal and Sherman Kent had been contemporaries, they would have been soul mates. Both had a profound understanding of human frailty and the limits of our “key judgments”.

Sherman Kent, Strategic Intelligence for American World Policy, Archon Books, 1978 (revised edition).

“Words of Estimative Probability”, Studies in Intelligence, Fall, 1964.

Sherman Kent is the godfather of modern Intelligence analysis. He was the second director of the Office of National Estimates. The original staff was no more than three dozen and for the 16 years of Kent’s tenure it never exceeded 75. He began his analytical career on the Yale faculty and served with the OSS before coming to CIA in the early 50s.

His essay on probability is a classic of its kind. Kent was not trying to assign numerical precision to the language of estimates so much as force analysts to think about their judgments in precise orders of probability – or improbability. Indeed, all things are possible yet few are certain.

Kent believed that good analysis required a small, centralized, critical mass of expertise; insulated from politics. The standards that Kent set for rigor and integrity seem to be honored in breach today.

Harold P. Ford, Estimative Intelligence, University Press of America, 1993

This is an update of Sherman Kent’s 1978 classic on the subject. Ford and Kent were colleagues at the original Board of National Estimates. In Ford’s recent testimonial for William Colby in Studies, he doesn’t mention that Colby changed Intelligence analysis in ways that have yet to prove themselves. This omission is true of many contemporary accounts of Colby’s tenure. Perhaps the “family jewels” crisis, the Pike/Church Committee investigations, the 1773 Middle East war, and the B Team flap all conspired to obscure Mr. Colby’s most lasting mark on Intelligence process: turning national security analysis into a bureaucratic goat rope.

P. Gill, S. Marrin and M. Phythian (editors), Intelligence Theory: Key Questions and Debates, Routledge, 2008.

This is a good anthology of essays on intelligence trade craft and the current state of play in strategic analysis. The Richard Betts piece is notable for seeing the “dominance of operational authorities over intelligence specialists”. Betts is way too polite; the politicization of national security analysis is too serious a problem to obscure.

The Center for the Study of Intelligence does credit to the memory of Sherman Kent by sustaining a literature of Intelligence; unfortunately, their journal, Studies, is still classified. Classifying professional literature is a little like talking to yourself.

Albert Wohlstetter, “Is There a Strategic Arms Race?” Foreign Policy, Summer 1974.

The national estimates debate was well under way when this essay fanned quality of analysis smoke into a house fire. Wohlstetter may not be the father of the B Team but his arguments had the gravitas to launch a thousand lips – and many haven’t stopped moving since. He attacked the “arms race” myth and argued that our relationship with the Soviet Union was more like a managed competition. So far so good.  After living with the bomb for half a century, the principal players are still “rational actors”.

Wolstetter’s wife, Roberta, was the true Intelligence scholar in the family; her contributions to the study of strategic warning are unique.

Richard Pipes, “Team B; the Reality Behind the Myth,” Commentary Magazine, October 1986.

This is a defense of the Team B analytical model by one of its distinguished members. The eminent and always articulate Dr. Pipes makes his case for dueling analysts and robust threats, erring always on the side of international cynicism and domestic prudence. The B Team analysis of Soviet capabilities might have been off on the high side; yet their take on Soviet doctrine was probably spot on, given what we knew at the time. In threat analysis, inflation is only a venial sin.

Anne H. Cahn, “Team B: The Trillion Dollar Experiment,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, April 1993.

Here we have what’s known in the business as a shot from the grave. A quarter century after the fact, the B Team still annoys people. Ms Cahn, and like minded disarmament advocates, has made the “B Team” a Nicole Kidman; an issue with great legs. If hyperbole were an argument, Ms. Cahn might have a better case against competitive analysis. And there is something more than a little off key when she writes complains about “excess” in a journal for the  wizards who brought us the hydrogen bomb.

Ms. Cahn expanded her arguments to book length in 1998; Killing Détente: The Right Attacks CIA. The “Right” didn’t kill Détente, but Wolhstetter and Pipes did help to kill the Soviet union, the major Communist exemplar. They spent, we spent and the wheels came off their bus; a good investment, considering the alternatives.

Ms. Cahn seems only to understand part of the logic of threat assessment. Yes, bigger threats are a rationale for bigger budgets; but, threat inflation is also a hedge against an underestimate, which could be fatal – and intentions which can change overnight. The price of freedom isn’t just “eternal vigilance;” it is analytical prudence. If there is a very high degree of uncertainty about the threat; there needs to be some corresponding rise in vigilance – and capability to respond.

Colin Powell, “Transcript of the Presentation to the UN Security Council on US Case Against Iraq,” posted at CNN.com on 6 February 2003.

This might be the best example of the worst analysis in the history of recent history. This briefing, and the NIE that proceed it, is a case study of much that ails the Intelligence Community. Just the mobile biological weapons allegations made by Secretary Powell serve as an example. The only potential gain of putting a weapons lab on the functional equivalent of a Good Humor truck would be mobility. On the other hand, the potential risk is enormous. A minor fender bender might lead to a national disaster. A little back of the envelope Blaisean analysis, or better still common sense, should have killed Powell’s agnotology.

Greg Bruno, “National Intelligence Estimates”, Council on Foreign Relations (backgrounder), 14 May 2008.

Bruno’s essay is an excellent unclassified summary of the current NIE process. It is also a good critique of the notorious pre-war estimate on Iraq. Beyond the obvious problems with facts and analysis, there were two footnotes (dissents) to the 2002 estimate. To its credit, Air Force Intelligence questioned the logic of putting biological weapons on RPV’s; State Department intelligence officers questioned the evidence for nuclear weapons in Iraq.

While State analysts were officially skeptical about the NIE, Secretary Powell reflected none of this uncertainty in his Security Council presentation in early 2003. Indeed, if Powell was provided five days of personal preparation by DCI George Tenant before his UN speech, we are left to wonder what happened to make Powell contradict his own Intelligence officers?

“Report on the US Intelligence Community Prewar Intelligence Assessment on Iraq,” US Select Committee on Intelligence, 9 July 2004.

Unfortunately, most Congressional reports are too little and too late. This official critique of the now famous 2002 assessment on Iraq is an example. Had such analysis been available a year and a half earlier, Messrs Powell and Tenant might have been able to salvage their reputations before the UN Security Council. Congressional committees may never get the hang of oversight, but they are the best Monday morning quarterbacks inside the beltway.

Maxwell Taylor, The Uncertain Trumpet, Harper and Brothers, 1960.

General Taylor was probably the most important military figure in the last 60 years. Scholars like Wohlstetter may have made the intellectual case, but it was Taylor’s influence with the Kennedy/Johnson administrations that made things happen. He argued for flexible military capabilities, forces that could respond short of a nuclear exchange, at a time when strategic forces held center stage. His influence laid the groundwork for the Special Forces that now play such an important role in asymmetric warfare. Ironically, three of the four major recommendations in Uncertain Trumpet concerned strategic capabilities – including fallout shelters. Yet, Taylor is best remembered for the doctrine of Flexible Response and the capabilities that followed.

[The next two reports are samples of current thinking about Intelligence analytical tradecraft. Their banality is underscored by comparing them with the proceeding entries in the bibliography above.]

Deborah Barger, “Toward a Revolution in Intelligence Affairs”, RAND Corporation, 2005.

This paper, written by an assistant deputy director of national Intelligence, calls for a revolution in Intelligence and then fails to say what such a “revolution” might look like; no plan, tactics, strategy or  objectives. It goes on with a clarion call for “bold and unique solutions” and then recommends none. In short, this report is 150 pages of govenrnment sponsored twaddle; a polemic telling us how we might think about thinking.

G. Treverton, S. Jones, S. Boraz and P. Lipscy, “Towards a Theory of Intelligence,” 15 June 2005 Conference Proceedings, RAND Corporation, 2006.

These proceedings are a group version of the Barger paper. One speaker suggests that Intelligence has two “unsolvable” (sic) problems; “predicting the future and changing minds.”

In fact, these problems are not only solvable, but they are what Intelligence does. Every estimate is a forecast of some sort and every analytical argument is an attempt to confirm the conventional wisdom or change it. Any analyst who believes that he can not bridge the gap between analysis and acceptance might just as well stay in bed in the morning.

The RAND report goes on to wonder; “what should Intelligence do?” and their answers do not include recommendations about collection, warning, or national estimates – primary Intelligence functions. If  national security analysts are still wondering what to do some sixty years on, then to use Sherman Kent’s Words: “… Intelligence is through”.

In Memoriam

Kevin Lewis (1955-2008), “The Tumescent Threat,” unpublished RAND Corporation paper, (author’s library), circa 1981.

Nearly thirty years ago Kevin Lewis, then a young analyst at RAND Corp in Santa Monica, wrote a satirical research report that was a hilarious send up of missile envy, bomber gaps and ever growing budgets. It became an instant underground success on the beach and on the E-Ring. Lewis, like his colleagues Alex Alexiev, Ben Lambeth. Bob Nurick, Gordon McCormick, Lee Marvin and others were regulars at the Chez Jay seminars on Ocean Boulevard. Lewis thought outside the box on his way to breakfast every day; his wit and wisdom will be missed.

(A version of this essay appeared in the Winter 2009 edition of the Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence.)