Donald Trump Needs a Dog

March 13, 2017

Barack Obama era national security acolytes, now serving under Donald Trump, are not doing much to help with or clarify American foreign policy or national security futures.

The Ummah provides the best example.

Just days after the Trump inauguration, the newly minted CIA director, Michael Pompeo, flew off to Saudi Arabia to present Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, with a medal for “counterterrorism” efforts (sic). Saudi Arabia is America’s most generous arms customer, indeed the largest buyer worldwide.

The ties that bind America to Arabia are first pecuniary and then political.

Yes, the same Saudi Arabia that produced the 9/11 terrorists, the same House of Saud that finances and arms global Sunni jihad and terror in the Levant and North Africa, and the same Arabia that exports the worst kind of Islamic irredentist theology to the rest of the world gets another azimuth kiss from an American Intelligence nabob.

Irony here is beyond satire. The medal in question is named after George Tenet. Tenet is the CIA director who, with Colin Powell’s help, fabricated the fake intelligence that gave America the ongoing 30 year religious war in Iraq; a war we might add, that reversed the sectarian power poles in Iraq from Sunni to Shia.

A White House that claims that America is not at war with Isalm, now doubles down with Saudi Sunnis against Shia Yeminis in another proxy religious war in Yemen.

Saudi Arabia has long denied complicity with Islamism, Sunni terrorism, or wars motivated by a 1400 year old religious schism. Now Riyadh has a CIA medal provided by team Trump to prove it.

Meanwhile over at the National Security Council, newly christened director, H.R McMaster, is apparently laying down a companion party line about Islam with White House staff. General McMaster cautions that terms like “radical Islamic terror” are not helpful. According to the General, “terror is not Islamic.”

Like many millennial era flags, the new national security advisor seems to have succumbed to the Obama thought police. Surely not all Islamists are terrorists, but virtually all terrorists these days are Muslims, Mohammedans who kill in the name of their god, their prophet, and Islam – the “religion of peace.”

“Allah hu akbar” is what an Islamist chants at a beheading, bombing, and other sanguinary rituals. Links between terror and Islam are more real than any links between US Army generals and analytical theology.

Who is McMaster to pontificate on what is or is not Islamic? The national security advisor is not an imam, ayatollah, prophet, priest, or religious scholar. Based on recent sermons, he’s not much of a historian either.

Over at the Department of Defense, another scholarly warrior seems to be confused about real threats too. The new Secretary of Defense, like Obama era staffers, shoots from the hip at the “Russian” chimera and personalizes the assessment with trash talk about Vladimir Putin.

At confirmation, General James Mattis rose to every leading question from John McCain, the Senate’s most notorious Kremlin baiter. Mattis swallowed McCain’s practiced political demagoguery hook, line, and sinker.

Mattis also failed to distinguish between a threat that actually kills Americans today and a threat that might. Worse still, General Mattis’ sweeping indictments of “Russians” fails to distinguish between a proud nation and a regime that doesn’t fit the globalist EU/imperial NATO business plan.

NATO began as an allied mutual security pact and the EU began as a modest economic condominium. Both institutions have strayed far from original designs and the world is not safer place because of it. Brussels is now populated by political autocrats and imperial janissaries. Hat tip to a Turk or Ottoman model.

If sweeping vile assessments of Muslims are unacceptable, why is sweeping slander about Israelis or Russians allowed?  Is selective bigotry at the Pentagon now a military virtue?

Indeed, after leaving the military, Mattis claimed that Israeli “settlements” and “apartheid” made his job at CENTCOM more difficult. The general’s also says that there was “a price to be paid” for backing Israel, a sneer that is vintage David Petraeus.

General Mattis claims that “Russia needs to prove itself.” In contrast, apparently, no Islamic country, especially Palestinians and allied Arabs, need to prove anything to America, the world, or the new Secretary of Defense.

The sad truth of the European Union and NATO today is a tragic combination official Islamic tolerance and official indifference to parallel anti-Semitism. The western migration of fascist Islam comes again at the expense of European Jews. The worst history is often invisible to historians.

Mattis also gave the Senate a selective recap of Russia/American relations as a closer to his testimony. The self- described student of military history failed to mention the last world war where, without Russian sacrifice, the battle with secular fascism would not have been won. The United States lost less than half a million casualties in WWII. Russia lost more than 20 million souls.

Witty caricature accepting that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it but suggesting that those who do learn must submit to others repeating history

Now that Europe and America are confronted with fascism again, this time religious, General Mattis and other Obama holdovers are still confused or mute about who or what is a genuine threat in the 21st Century.

The best guarantors of civil and human rights are independent, democratic nation states with common cultural and civic values. Monoculture anywhere has always been the enemy of liberty and true diversity everywhere.

All globalist or utopian schemes, now including the EU, have been failures. General Mattis is wrong about NATO too. Sort of nuclear Armageddon, NATO provides little stability for the Mideast, Africa, or anyplace beyond Europe for that matter.

Mattis seems to have misread the Brexit and Frexit graffiti now defacing the walls of the European Union.

Candidate Trump ran on a tougher line with Islamists and a softer line with the Kremlin. Such policies are heresy for the establishment, right and left, in Washington. Any diminution of the Russian threat is a clear and present danger to the DOD budget and legions of Intelligence and defense industry federal contractors.

No big Russian threat, no big funding.

Obama era rear echelon warriors have yet to get the message from Trump or appreciate the angst of “deplorables” in the heartland. Maybe the new commander-in-chief needs to speak louder – or carry a bigger stick

President Trump has few friends in the media, few friends among Obama holdovers, and fewer friends or loyalists midst permanent or deep state government bureaucrats inside the Beltway. Washington D.C. and the surrounding suburbs voted for Hillary Clinton by a margin of nine to one. Those votes, like California, were votes for a deep state where change is either “progressive” – or anathema.

And those who claim that establishment apparatchiks, including the Pentagon, are “non-partisan” are delusional. The only currency in the nation’s capital is politics. The most lucrative politics are found now in the defense and Intelligence bowels of the permanent state.

Obama era military relics are no exceptions to partisanship. Outsiders, critics, and reformers are not welcome in Washington, especially at the Pentagon. National security and Intelligence Community leaks now underwrite the anti-democratic, anti-Trump resistance on a daily basis.

Donald Trump is trying to reform or change a federal autocracy that is populated with Clinton and Obama loyalists. For those weaned on the nanny state, reform is just a turd in the establishment punchbowl.

Willingness to serve in government should never be confused with loyalty, especially inside the Beltway. Harry Truman said it best. If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.

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Images:

https://pbs.twimg.com/media/C6PK36yXMAA-VYQ.jpg

http://www.zerohedge.com/sites/default/files/images/user5/imageroot/2017/02/08/Pompeo%20Saudi.jpg

http://www.age-of-the-sage.org/philosophy/history/learning_from_history.html

 

 

 

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FIRST BLOOD; MIKE FLYNN

February 16, 2017

“…never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.” – John Donne

Trump haters have drawn first blood. Michael Flynn was the first casualty. General Flynn could come back into the fold at some later date. Exile, followed by reprieve might be something Donald Trump would do.

Alas, for the moment, the President doesn’t look like he can take a punch. The entire “sanctions” kerfuffle, conversations with the Russian ambassador, is inside baseball stuff.  Nobody cares much about sanctions, Beltway candor or character anyway.

If every lawyer/politician in DC was fired for mendacity, Washington would be a ghost town.

Flynn was outed by a rabid press corps with a seditious agenda. Trump has been blooded. Sadly, Trump didn’t cut his losses. Like the man he replaced, the President simply folded like a cheap tent.

Adding insult to injury, Flynn, like Steve Bannon, is probably anathema to every Obama era hack hired by Trump to date. The establishment has no taste for parvenus.

Mike Flynn, of course, had his share of baggage, but if the truth be told, he was low hanging fruit, an exposed position that the new Commander-in-Chief chose not to defend. The tone is set at the top.

You can fib to anyone in D.C., but the home office. Being called to account for candor by the Washington Post or CNN is a little like getting a chastity pitch from one of Marion Barry’s hookers.

The so called “trust” issue is a hoot too. No soldier was more loyal to Trump in 2016. Indeed, Flynn was one of a precious few prominent Intelligence officials or flag officers, active or retired, to make Trump possible.

Fibbing is a venial sin. Support for Donald Trump is literally a mortal sin.

Flynn knows that the real threat isn’t Russia. Flynn knows that Islamism is the real danger. Flynn knows that Israel is our only reliable ally in a very nasty neighborhood. Flynn knows where the bodies are buried in a bloated and hostile US national security establishment, DOD and the Intelligence Community in particular.

Flynn knows too that the national security community has unsheathed the long knives. Leaked intelligence is a two way street. Oddly enough, Trump doesn’t seem to realize that he too, like Flynn, is on the regime change hit list after just a few weeks in office.

Political pathology at Intelligence agencies like CIA is not confined to domestic machinations.

Shortly after his anointment, Mike Pompeo rushed off to Saudi Arabia to give Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, an award for “counter terrorism.”  Ironically, the award is named after former CIA director George Tennent who you may recall was the author of the fake intelligence that underwrote two fake wars in Iraq.

If CIA can honor the ideological authors of 9/11 with a medal, the revised edition of Mein Kampf should be in the mix for a 2017 Pulitzer Prize.

Clinton, Bush, and Obama have had a quarter century to pack Washington sinecures with like-minded drones. Politically correct, largely liberal, District of Columbia zombies and media partisans will not go quietly into the night.

To such, Flynn was as dangerous as he was expendable. Indeed, the general is now an ugly precedent too, a loyal chump hung out to dry by Trump era Intelligence leakers.

Adding insult to bizarre injury, we now hear that David Petraeus is a candidate to replace Flynn. You might recall that Petraeus was the Obama flag who had a yen for bimbo subordinates. Before that, he was the intellectual godfather of three decades of losing strategy in the Ummah. Petraeus still believes that the global Muslim jihad is a basket of unrelated local insurgencies.

If any name says more of the same, it is General David Petraeus.

Back on team Trump, Steve Bannon is probably next on the hit list. If the new President is naive enough to expect a partisan CIA or FBI to be honest brokers in any leak investigations, he needs to go back to selling condos.

By any measure Donald Trump is an odd duck; not a lawyer, not a politician, and, apparently, not very savvy about the flora and fauna that breeds in the Washington swamp.

The General Flynn fiasco was never about Putin, Russians, sanctions, trust, or candor. The Flynn hit is merely the specter of Trump’s future.

Flynn, like Trump, was in the crosshairs from the very beginning because neither one of them wears a fuchsia pantsuit. The President won a hard election and now loses an easy round one to seditious Beltway louts who know how to hit below the belt. Hard to believe that even a novice CEO can be that naïve.

If any moron at NSA or CIA can drop a dime to the Washington Post and get someone fired, team Trump is in for a thrashing.

Looming hazards to Trump are not so much his rubber knees or glass jaw as it is his future as a populist. The people are a fickle bunch. Early events suggest that Trump might not have anybody’s back but his own.

If loyalty is not a two-way street, then all bets on Donald Trump, or real change in the nation’s capital, are off

*

For a more detailed analysis of the Flynn affair see Eli Hunt at https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2017-02-14/the-political-assassination-of-michael-flynn

 

 

 

 

 

 


A TALE OF TWO COUPS

January 27, 2017

Moscow 1991 and Washington 2017

The other day I received an email from a schoolgirl in Moscow; New Year’s salutations, thanks for a gift, and a request that read:

“Get your troops out of Poland; love, your Russky niece.”

I laughed about her presumption about my influence on US troop movements. At the same time, I couldn’t help but think of her mother, Tatyana Arkadyevna Malkina, “the girlfriend of Russian democracy.” Apparently, true grit is genetic, that rare courage of a few to speak truth to power.

Malkina was the sole journalist who, at age 24, had the courage to defy the Kremlin establishment, recidivist coup plotters who would have undone the Russian elections, that “revolution without guns” in 1991; those Gorbachev, then Yeltsin, reforms. The ancien regime, totalitarian Communists, were humiliated by a girl who had the courage to face down the old guard and ask:  “Could you please say whether or not you understand that last night you carried out a coup d’etat?”

Faced with an accusation of sedition and treason, the coup plotters slunk back into the dustbin of history. The long dark night of totalitarian Communism was over in Russia.

Since 1991, Tanya Malkina pursued a distinguished career in Russian arts and letters, reporting on social issues, editing a culture magazine, and hosting a thoughtful TV weekly.

Tanya later married an American. She now has two children, two cats, and a vintage tortoise. Although Malkina was once a fixture of the Yeltsin, then Putin, press entourage; she has never been a knee-jerk echo of Kremlin cant nor any party line.

Hot flashes of deja vu

The events of 1991 and Malkina’s brass got me to thinking about American coup plotting in Washington circa 2016; the efforts of Beltway establishment totalitarians to cook the primaries, undo an election, and discredit a new president; all under a smoke screen of dissent and fake news.

The parallels between Moscow in 1991 and Washington in 2016 are a tale of two coups, the first a clear failure and the latter still playing out.

Alas, the Trump revolution has no “girl friend of American democracy.” Not yet anyway.

The feminist American left now whines and protests in Washington, captive to a bimbo’s tantrum over a flawed heroine who lost badly in November. Sexist hysteria, hypocrisy, childish pique, misandry, and sour grapes are now regularly conflated with principled dissent. Geriatric Hollywood matrons like Madonna Ciccone say they are thinking about “blowing up the White House.”

Secret Service supervisor Kerry O’Grady says that she will “not take a bullet” for President Trump. Apparently no one at CIA and the Secret Service has heard of the Hatch Act.

Hysteria indeed! American feminists have few adult profiles in courage like Malkina today.

And the CIA, unlike the late KGB, also stages public rebukes to the new POTUS and erstwhile notions of American democracy. For good or ill, Russian intelligence operatives at home, unlike their American counterparts, seem to be under civilian control.

Ironically, some of the best political analysis on these matters comes out of the Kremlin these days. Sergei Lavrov, contrasted with John Kerry, seems to know the difference between an Islamic terrorist and a freedom fighter. And Vladimir Putin is perceptive enough to observe that Obama’s political party, and an American press corps that calls itself “democratic,” is giving democracy a bad name.

And when Obama’s intelligence sycophants are called out by Donald Trump for partisanship during the recent primaries and the election, CIA Director John Brennan plays the victim, openly attacking the president-elect before and after the inauguration. Prior to the election, Brennan’s colleagues, James Clapper (DCI), Michael Morrel (CIA), and Michael Hayden (NSA) were all on the hustings for Hillary Clinton right up to her November defeat.

Clearly, CIA is signaling the 15 other intelligence satraps, that the “dump Trump” campaign should continue into 2017. Brennan has cooked the books on the Islamic threat for eight years. Small wonder that he seeks to torpedo the realpolitik of Mike Flynn and Donald Trump.

CIA partisans, unlike Caesar’s wife, are not above reproach.

Washington, DC voted for Clinton in November by wide margins. A demographic of hostile federal apparatchiks, including intelligence officers and FBI agents, are digging in as Donald Trump takes office.

Beltway national security nabobs, inveterate regime change aficionados, are now on the wrong side of world history. With any luck, the coup plotters are also on the wrong side of Donald Trump – and in the crosshairs.

If the president intends to drain the swamp, he could do worse than start with sedition in the intelligence community and the Justice Department. The first great political struggle of 2017 may be with a partisan, DC based 5th column inside the Beltway.

The loser’s revolt is not confined to the intelligence community. State Department and Department of Defense fixers have done their level best to paint Trump into a corner at the UN and in Eastern Europe. That UN vote against Israel and those 11th hour tank deployments to Poland come to mind.

I do not have an answer for Malkina’s daughter, Agatha in Moscow, or her prescient observation about the stupidity of US tanks in Poland. Was it my choice to make, I would send troops to Chicago, Illinois or Langley, Virginia sooner than send them to the Russian frontier.

After the Bay of Pigs fiasco, John Kennedy is alleged to have expressed a desire to “splinter the CIA into a thousand pieces.” After Kennedy was assassinated, such sentiments were seconded by Harry Truman. Indeed, Truman expressed profound regret about the rogue agency he had created. The Truman warning, like later Eisenhower cautions, were early symptoms of national “security” corruption, clandestine cowboys, and regime change fiascos.

The Chicago threat is existential, especially to black Americans. Pervasive sedition in the American intelligence community may be existential too, especially to democracy in America.  The Russian threat, at best, is a ploy to ignore the Islamist threat; Putin, on his worst day, is a US DOD budget emolument.

Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Truman must be rolling in their graves today. Trump haters, coup vultures, have come home to roost inside the Beltway.

As new American policy unfolds in 2017, let’s hope that Trump has adults calling domestic and foreign policy shots. Withal, we might hope that America finds its own girlfriend of democracy too.

Sooner is better.

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The “girlfriend of Russian democracy,” circa 1991, can be seen in action at:

http://www.politforums.net/eng/other/1375981611_0.html

 

Tags: Donald trump, CIA, Intelligence Community, coup plots, Hatch Act, Secret Service, Madonna Ciccone,

 

 

 

 

 

 


Checkmate in Baghdad and Geneva

October 4, 2013

“Domestic policy can only defeat us; foreign policy can kill us.” – JFK

War is a messy business. Serial wars get even more untidy over time. Often, it’s hard to know where one begins and another ends. Such is the case today as the Arab spring looks like another Muslim winter. America and Europe stumble from one conflict venue to another wondering what happened to all those rosy assertions about jasmine, justice, moderation, and modernity. The Islamic world is a mess and no one has a clue as to where or how the sequential mayhem ends. In Syria, the nanny states of the West are again perched on the brink of another sectarian and/or tribal abyss.

Nonetheless, the optimism of intervention still prevails. Today you hear argument after argument about the responsibilities of power and success – or preaching about very selective humanitarian concerns.  If you read enough foreign policy analysis you might come to believe that someone has the answer, or that somehow Europe and America have the “responsibility” to make the Third World well. Never mind that the very words “developing” and “emerging” have become geo-political oxymorons, triumphs of hope over experience.

Ironically, the grand strategy, if there is one, when you strip away the boilerplate, can be summarized with a single word – that word is “more.” More is the mantra of imprudent expectations; bailouts at home and flailouts abroad. If one “investment” doesn’t work, surely the original sacrifice wasn’t big enough. No thought seems to be given to developing a new game plan. More aid, more pandering, more troops, more drones, or more missile strikes; but never more common sense. It’s always more, and more is never enough.

And now ‘more’ is accompanied by “red line” moralizing, the color coded version of chicken. Alas, the no-fault/default cultures of Europe and America are unlikely enforcers of any kind of norms and standards in the less civilized world. The West insists, ironically, on measures of accountability and restraint that have been abandoned in Europe and America. Political decay, especially in the First World, has consequences.

All the rhetoric about global responsibility is a rehash of the “white man’s burden” trope. Worse still, the hand-wringing and preaching seems to validate “orientalism,” guilt driven theories that excuse and forgive Muslim pathology because the chaos is thought to be the results of European racism, colonialism, or exploitation.

Ironically, much of the confused strategic rhetoric originates with senior military officers and the Intelligence Community.

Since Vietnam, the Pentagon has sought to redefine most wars as either guerilla, insurgent, or conventional conflicts. Conventional conflict is a distant third in most deliberations. Real wars might have to be declared and put to a vote. Unfortunately, the accepted taxonomy ignores ground truth and the worldview of likely opponents.

Most wars in the troublesome Muslim world are in fact religious wars, conflicts where the nexus is a clash between religious and secular values. The most obvious evidence of religious war, external to the Muslim world, occurs at the tectonic plates of religion, those borders where Muslim and non-Muslim polities meet. South Asia, North Africa, the Balkans, the Caucasus region, Thailand, and the Philippines are obvious examples. Even China has pockets of Muslim irredentism.

When ayatollahs and imams rant about “jihad,” or holy war, they have few illusions about the nature of contemporary conflict. Indeed, most Muslim clerics seem to grasp global strategic reality better than American generals who insist on parsing various Muslim wars into local insurgencies with local motives. Religion has become the invisible camel in the infidel tent.

The most celebrated version of the official US military view in these matters is contained in Army Field Manual 3-24; Counterinsurgency, the doctrinal bible that David Patraeus helped write and subsequently rode to four star notoriety. Unfortunately, like too many of his over-schooled peers, General Patraeus is more likely to be remembered for his social life than his military insights or battlefield achievements. Equally misguided was the US Marine Corps decision to adopt the Army manual in the interests of tactical ecumenism.

Religious war is now a global phenomenon, thanks in part to the failure of flag officers to acknowledge that threat. The Pentagon doesn’t have any official guidance for religious war beyond political correctness.

Within the Ummah, modern wars are of two types; civil and proxy. Contemporary revolutions in Iran, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, the Sudan, Somalia, Mali, and Egypt are religious civil wars. These in turn are of two classes; sectarian (i.e. Shia vs Sunni) or secular/sectarian. Secular military dictatorships, Egypt today for example, have been in the clerical crosshairs since Mohammed’s time. Libya and Syria are examples of secular oligarchies where tribal rivalries created opportunities for Islamists.

Syria is a prominent example of modern proxy war, where principals (Russia and the US or Iran and Israel), once removed, are attempting to settle old scores or exploit a regional opportunity. Any notion of moral “red lines” or WMD thresholds in Syria is just another flight from reality, a veil for political egos and hidden agendas.

The American Ranch Hand campaign (1962-71), which poisoned Southeast Asia for nearly a decade, was the most egregious, sustained modern use of chemical warfare. Granted, the putative aim of the Agent Orange campaign was defoliation; still, the net effect was to poison civilians and water sources under the canopy. No American administration is well-positioned to point fingers at Syria when the US Air Force, the Pentagon, and the White House have yet to acknowledge or accept responsibility for the mutilation of a generation of American GIs and several generations of Vietnamese children.

We might also recall those gassed Kurds and Persians (1988) of recent memory who perished from indifference if not complicity. Or we could mention the million or so Rwandans (1994) who fell to tribal clubs and cutlery. Such events barely make the evening news in the West. With these and Vietnam, ‘moral’ superiority about chemical warfare or genocide, if it ever existed, is a void not a high ground.

The recent gas attack in Syria is not an exception, nor is it a rule. Identifying culprits is probably irrelevant.  Nations adhere to international conventions or “norms” as it suits their interests. Credible force is the only reliable sheriff or deterrent. And a false flag prologue is often the pretense for the use of force.

Clearly there is more than a little overlap in any conflict taxonomy. Nonetheless, the need for a new vocabulary for the age of intervention is underwritten by two indisputable facts: religion underwrites much of the typology and too many conflicts are misrepresented as insurgencies when they are in fact civil wars. If Libya or Syria were true insurgencies, America should have sent guns to Gaddafi and Assad.

The ‘insurgent’ paradigm suits the politics, not the reality, of modern war. Terms like Islamic, religious, or “civil” war are avoided because the US military has no charter, doctrine, or legal authority for intervention in overseas internal disputes; and surely no moral authority for taking sides in religious rivalries. The Sunni tilt in American foreign policy since 1979 speaks for itself, a grim litany of blowback and failure.

At a minimum, you could argue that American intervention has made Shia fanatics, Hezb’allah, the Taliban, and now a global al Qaeda possible. Recall that America helped create a vacuum in southern Lebanon for Hezb’allah to fill. Recall also that clandestine support to the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan in the Soviet era made the Taliban possible. Imprudent signals to Islamists made the recent Muslim Brotherhood electoral success possible in Egypt too. In the geo-political arena, unqualified support for Saudi and Emirate oil oligarchs makes Salifism and related religious fascism possible worldwide.

The incompetence of intervention has more than a little to do with the caliber of American generals since Korea. Surely, David Patraeus was no guerilla fighter like Joe Stillwell and Martin Dempsey is no cavalry officer the equal of George Patton. At Benghazi, American military honor was compromised by timidity, if not bureaucratic cowardice. General Dempsey claims that he did not act because Mrs. Clinton didn’t give him a green light. Under Dempsey, the military ethos changed from “no man left behind” to “cover your behind.” Victory is no longer a staple of any flag officer’s resume or vocabulary.

The Intelligence Community is also part of the rhetorical decay. While at the White House, John Brennan literally scrubbed any reference to Islam, Islamists, jihad, or holy war from public and administration conversations about national security. He actually convinced most government departments, contractors, and the Press to delete any language that might suggest linkage between terror, religious war, and Islam. The Director of National Intelligence now refers to Islamic terrorists as “nefarious characters.” At CIA, Brennan is now well placed to police the language and analysis of National Intelligence Estimates.

And the chickens of strategic decline are home to roost as America again sides with the Sunni in Syria. Dithering in the West for two years has allowed Bashar al-Assad to regain the tactical advantage on the battlefield. And strategically, the Alawite regime now has a clear victory.  American gun sights have been lowered from regime change to “let’s make a deal.” Never mind that time is as good a gift to Assad as any aid from the Persians and Russians.

And the proxy war is a disaster. Vladimir Putin throws a ‘Hail Mary’ in Syria, and Foggy Bottom and the White House morph into cheer leaders. Worse still, the American administration embarrasses itself by trying to take credit for the Russian initiative. Say what you will about Putin, he is a better friend to Syria than Obama is to Israel. When the next “red line” is in the works, it might have to be drawn around Israel.

The Russian strategy may look a little like a deus ex machina, but compared to the Obama amateurs, Putin plays the great game like Winston Churchill. And putting John Kerry in  a diplomatic cage match with Sergei Lavrov is like watching  a bear  toy with a cocker spaniel. Checkmate in Baghdad and Geneva!

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The author provided intelligence support to Ranch Hand at Tan Son Nhut AB in 1968 and 1971. He writes occasionally about the politics of national security.

 

 


American Intelligence; Too Big to Succeed?

June 5, 2010

“Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.” – Abraham Lincoln

The top Intelligence job in the national security arena has claimed another victim. Dennis Blair, Director of National Intelligence (DNI), titular head of the Intelligence Community (IC), has announced plans to retire. Pundits suggest his departure was not voluntary. Blair is seen as the fall guy for a string of recent Intelligence “failures,” the most recent of which was an attempted bombing of Times Square on 1 May. Ironically, Blair has no line or budget authority over any of the 16 disparate intelligence agencies; and, as a former military officer, he doesn’t have any political cover either. More culpable line officials like Leon Panetta (CIA) and Janet Napolitano (DHS) are both well-connected Democrats and thus less likely to be called to account.

A number of potential successors for Blair have surfaced, the most prominent of which is James Clapper. A former Air Force officer, Clapper is the current Undersecretary for Intelligence at DOD. Like Robert Gates, General Capper is a holdover from the Bush years and as such may not be a slam dunk for the job.

If credentials and experience mean anything, Clapper is well prepared. He began his military career as a Marine Corps grunt, transferred to ROTC at the University of Maryland and received a commission in the Air Force. He began his career as a signals (SIGINT) officer and he has favored the technical side of Intelligence ever since. He served as a combat aviator in Vietnam and rose to command a wing at the National Security Agency (NSA). He went on to become the chief of Air Force Intelligence and director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA).

Clapper’s distinctive contribution to the Intelligence business is the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency. This little known technological wonder is the digital brains behind the American capability to locate, analyze, and target the enemy in real time. Indeed, this geo-strategic identification and strike capability is the new “gold standard” – a unique American intelligence capability.

Officers like Clapper are known as “mustangs,” soldiers with pedestrian blood lines who rise through the ranks. He was a former enlisted man, he did not go to an elite university, and he did not graduate from one of the prestigious military academies. In short, he is not a “ring knocker,” not one of those military academy graduates with a sense of entitled promotions. Jim Clapper is a classic American success story; and unlike most of his contemporaries, a genuine Horatio Alger.

So why in the name of rationality would he want the worst job in Washington? The DNI has no real line authority and no budgetary means to control events in subordinate Intelligence agencies.

General Clapper’s motives will be examined in detail if he appears before Congress for confirmation. Beforehand, the long knives on the Hill and in the Press are already evident. Several politicians have already suggested that they would prefer the likes of Leon Panetta – or some other well-wired party loyalist. Those who argue for politicized managers seldom mention the fiasco cooked up by the ever sentient former CIA Director, George Tenent, for the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq; an “analysis” that was later used as the basis for Colin Powell’s disastrous and disingenuous presentation at the UN in 2003.

A faux controversy over DIA (1992-1995) is already evident.  In the early 90’s Clapper tried to reorient the analytical focus from area studies to more technical intelligence concerns, e.g., weapons systems. Consistent with his background, Clapper presumed to think that Intelligence ought to focus on the things it does well. If he believes that geo-strategic navel gazing and wishful thinking are better done elsewhere; he is probably right and politically incorrect at the same time. Recent NIE’s on Iraq and Iran provide more than ample evidence to support any skepticism about geo-political analysis that Clapper might have had. He may not have made poor decisions at DIA, but he did make enemies.

The analytical controversy is sure to accompany Clapper to his confirmation hearings if and when he is nominated. Critics hail from an agency that was formed from the detritus of the military intelligence agencies; four stovepipes that DIA was supposed to supersede. Yet, the Service intelligence agencies and DIA survive today – not without rancor. From the beginning, DIA was known within DOD as a “mushroom” factory, a moniker consistent with the original work space in the basement of the Pentagon. When most employees moved to Bolling AFB, cynics rechristened DIA as the “death star,” an  allusion to the fate of some careers and the black glass monolith which serves as the new workspace. Fools may be suffered gladly at DIA, then as now, but change was seldom among them.

If and when Clapper takes the hot seat on Capital Hill a host of challenges other than petty critics await: centralization of Intelligence authority, analytical competence, redundancy, duplication, community size, politicization, and the growing sense that the Intelligence Community just doesn’t work – a leviathan too big to succeed.

Jim Clapper is known to be an advocate of centralized line authority and an enemy of bureaucratic duplication. He favors focused analysis and the challenge of making heretofore disparate factions come together synergistically. Although he is known as a chap who plays well with others, Clapper’s ability to swim with political sharks like Panetta, Napolitano, and John Brennan (White House homeland security advisor) is still a cipher. Beyond loyalty, none of the latter three have shown any flair for national security performance other than party lines and political correctness.

In many ways the Intelligence Community is the product of Lincoln Log engineering, each crisis or failure seems to generate more spending, more bureaucracy. With no political axes to grind, Jim Clapper could deftly wield a stiletto and reshape a leaner and meaner national security community, where competence, not size or spending, becomes the dominant idiom.

The appointment of a new DNI is also a test for the administration, a test to see if the White House is serious about improved performance. The White House may offer line and budget authority as an incentive for the next candidate, knowing that only Congress can deliver on such a promise. Many on the Hill harbor reservations about Intelligence “czars” and more than a few opposed the idea of DNI to begin with.

If General Clapper is nominated, he will do so as a mustang, a scrapper who made the most of modest beginnings. He knows the business and he is not afraid to rock the boat. He has the street credentials, integrity, and independence to remold institutions sorely in need of diet and sharper focus. If he takes the job with no assurances of getting line and budget authority, he will, unfortunately, go down in history as just another gelding coursing through the Intelligence Community, an inscrutable “wilderness of mirrors.”

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The author is the former Director of Research and Russian Studies (aka Soviet Awareness), Bolling AFB; he served under General Clapper when Clapper was the Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence, HQ USAF. The author also served two tours with DIA.

(This essay was originally published in the 02 June 10 edition of American Thinker.)


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.)