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

 

 

 

 

 

 


THE BLUE WALL IN WASHINGTON

January 5, 2017

“Truth is treason in an empire of lies.” – Orwell

Much of what Donald Trump said during the 2016 campaign seemed to be braggadocio, bombast, and on occasion, a kind of non-specific cranial buzz. Still, if you listened carefully, and ignored the ambient noise, there was always a message in most of his rhetoric; signals that were usually lost or ignored by a smug and hostile Fourth Estate.

Trump’s Signals

Immigration is a problem. Neither Mexicans nor Muslims are ideal immigrants, yet the former are to be preferred over the latter. The left coast and Hollywood, ironically, might fall into the sea without cheap labor and drugs from Mexico.

The East Coast is little better. Washington, DC is corrupt, a haven for patronizing, condescending, elite apparatchiks, right and left.

The DNC was trying to cook the Democrat Party primaries and general election. The press, broadcast networks, CPB, and the Intelligence Community get honorable mention as sous chefs.

The gruesome foursome now rationalizes defeat as a Russian conspiracy. Vladimir Putin put it best, “The American party that calls itself ‘democratic’ seems to have forgotten what democracy means.”

The Clintons are shameless frauds. Hillary is the most corrupt person ever to run for high office. Her loss is the country’s gain.

The Pentagon along with the Intelligence Community are not sacred cows; bovine, expensive, and proliferate maybe, but not sacred.

The EU and NATO, like Swedish hippy communes, might be globalist or Utopian experiments gone horribly wrong. Allies who will not pay or play should not stay. All coalitions, like sausage, have a sell-by date.

America needs to rethink foreign policy; towards Israel, towards Europe, towards Russia, and towards an irredentist Muslim world. Ideology and culture matter.

Russian alarm about NATO expansion is justified. Demonizing Russia, or isolating it from Europe, is strategic madness.

Recent trade deals favor foreigners. America has swapped jobs, core industrial skills, agricultural and industrial safety for a pocket full of domestic mumbles.

Obama’s only real claims to legacy are a failed health care boondoggle, a Muslim world in flames, and a touch of melanin, the latter a glass half-full at best.

American media, and the Intelligence Community, are not objective reporters anymore, if they ever were. Fake partisan news and propaganda are now joint ventures. The US State Department, for example, is now, by law, the official host to an American “Ministry of Truth” funded by defense appropriations.

Trump is correct also about the Washington, DC swamp. It needs to be drained.

Sooner is better.

Signals and Noise

During the 2016 primaries and election campaign, party elites and a sycophantic media engineered a gauntlet for Trump that ran from ridicule, to contempt, to hostility, to vindictiveness. All of which are now reduced to childish tantrums. Ironically, Michelle Obama claims that the White House needs “adult” (sic) leadership. Surely, given the post-election behavior of camp Clinton/Obama and the American left, she cannot be thinking of her husband, his spokesmen, his cabinet, or the Democrat Party.

How is the eleventh hour vote against Israel at the UN anything but juvenile or petulant rage? How is the 11th hour expulsion of Russian diplomats anything but adolescent sour grapes?

In any campaign, data and statistics are manipulated for advantage. The 2016 election might be a case study. Hard to believe that all that polling and all those statistical forecasts could have been so universally wrong without someone cooking the books.

Feint signals from the real world since the Trump victory provide anecdotal hints of a cultural sea change. Disparate icons such as Clint Eastwood and Henry Kissinger may not have been all in for Trump but both have made sober, if not optimistic, assessments of the next administration.

We know what Eastwood thinks after decades of millennial political correctness. And Dr. Kissinger says that Donald Trump represents an “extraordinary opportunity.”

Indeed!

The great failing of statistical analysis is that it seldom accommodates relevant factors which cannot be conveniently quantified. Such analysis will often ignore inconvenient truths too, arithmetic that might not support expected outcomes.

Trump campaign rallies were an example. Big Trump numbers were largely ignored whilst Mrs. Clinton’s often anemic attendance figures were seldom revealed. One day in Florida, a couple of Tim Kaine rallies had to be cancelled due to an interest deficit while a Trump rally a few miles away was drawing thousands.

The national TV networks could not believe their lying eyes. Minor anti-Trump protests might make the evening news, but huge enthusiasm gaps were seldom covered in any detail. Every good spin master knows that books are cooked with two sets of numbers, select facts and facts that are ignored altogether.

The old saw that claims “figures don’t lie, but liars still figure” comes to mind. Just as the Fourth Estate missed or misconstrued numbers and facts in the campaign, there are now some significant signals in post-election statistics, numbers that team Trump ignore at their peril.

Blue Wall Moves To Washington

The District of Columbia and surrounding bedroom communities in Virginia and Maryland supported Hillary Clinton in 2016 by wide margins. This is the federal government demographic; bureaucrats, contractors, and a host of camp followers living off the taxpayer dime.

The socialist heart of the left is still beating in Big Brother’s crib. Neither Pennsylvania Avenue nor the District of Columbia and suburbs is Trump country.

Mythology runs neck-to-neck with fake news in Washington. The non-partisan myth is the most pervasive, the shibboleth that suggests that the civil service, Foreign Service, the Intelligence Community, or defense officials are impartial, political eunuchs. In fact, the size of the federal behemoth, deficit spending and debt, is a function of entrenched socialist illusions, a bond that unites both political parties.

Bigger is always better inside the Beltway. Few souls get to, or thrive in, any federal office by arguing for less of anything.

District of Columbia voting habits are probative. Over 90 percent of the presidential vote in 2016 went to Democrats. Less than one in ten supported Trump. The District is half white and half black, yet both liberal demographics preferred Hillary Clinton. When Trump comes to town, the Beltway will be the new blue wall of active/passive political aggressors; a blue wall of press, politicians, apparatchiks, non-profits, lobbies, and associated contractors.

The DC civil service cohort and associated camp followers are many things. Good loser isn’t one of them. Trump has his work cut out in the capital and it begins with bureaucratic hostility and inertia.

Still, the president elect has the edge coming in. His critics continue to underestimate or misconstrue Trump and his game. Trump plays politics like the Patriots play football.

The best defense is good offensive – and stout leadership.

Trump’s early appointments are significantly offensive! The generals have landed. No accident that Marines are leading the charge. Battles to breach the new blue wall, the DC Beltway, and “make America great again,” will require more than a little hand-to-hand street fighting.

A new year indeed! Whether or not 2017 is “happy,” remains to be seen.

Nevertheless, America says God speed to the Trump beach head and Semper Fidelis to those valiant centurions on point in DC.

Take no prisoners!


Previously published in the American Thinker

Image: 

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Tags: the blue wall, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Michelle Obama, 2016 election, Politics,  Civil Service, Democratic Party, fake news.


Twerking at the Pentagon

December 11, 2016

Call it karma, but the 2015 Super Bowl was a tribute to the virtues of modesty, experience, and ultimately, poetic justice.  The Carolina Panthers were led by an obnoxious bore that never missed an opportunity all season to twerk like a teen on the playing field or gloat like a fool at interviews.

The Denver Broncos, in contrast, were led by a mature and modest adult on the cusp of retirement. On Super Bowl Sunday, the old man from Colorado wiped the gridiron with Carolina. Lessons in humility continue today, the Panthers are last in their division in the 2016 season.

Presumption comes before the fall in sport and war. Trash talking never won a real fight in the real world. Adult leadership always matters.

Success in sports, business, statecraft, and war is a function of quiet confidence. Gloating motivates the competition. An overestimate is a no-lose hedge. An underestimate is a fatal flaw. And if you’re in it to spin it, you are probably not going to win it.

At the moment, team America is losing five hot wars and one cold war, all in slow motion.

Somehow, such ground truth is lost on the virtual generation of politicians, diplomats, and generals. Indeed, if you follow the national security monologue today, you would be led to believe that spin, propaganda, public relations, and bombast are substitutes for actual success.

Resume and political twerking seem to be the new measures of accomplishment for national security professionals.

America might be bleeding, yet generals, for example, wear so much fruit salad camouflage than no one notices the hemorrhaging. Indeed, ignoring deficits and defeat is now a DOD meme. The Pentagon is a bull pen for oft promoted and often decorated underachievers.

Contemporary operational art, if it can be called that, is to do just enough to keep Muslim small wars going but never enough to win.

The only true victors in the matrix of military mediocracy seem to be Beltway bandits and the chaps who make and sell gadgets, bombs, and bullets to DOD.  Dwight Eisenhower is probably spinning in his grave today. Hot “long wars” and long cold wars are good news for the military/industrial complex. Not so much for the taxpayer or true security.

Few, at this point, can argue that Eastern Europe, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, or Yemen are better off after American meddling. Let’s review the bidding.

Eastern Europe

The Clinton era campaign to dismantle Yugoslavia is still playing out. Civil war in the Balkans began with agitation in Muslim Kosovo which quickly escalated to other Yugoslav provinces. Pushback from Christian Serbs degenerated into a sectarian blood bath. The EU and America sided with Muslim factions, bombed Serbia into a cease fire, and the rest is history. EU and NATO helped to create two radical Islamic sanctuaries in the heart of Europe, ignoring the toxic record of Muslim fascism in Kosovo and Bosnia Herzegovina.

When an objective history of 20th Century Balkans is written, Kosovo and Bosnia Herzegovina will not be in the win column.

It’s probably no accident that the EU sought to dismember a former Soviet client state whilst the USSR itself was racked by political revolution.  NATO and the EU filled the Warsaw Pact vacuum by pulling former Moscow satellites into the Brussels orbit. Absent the Warsaw Pact buffer, Russia found itself with both the EU and NATO as hostile neighbors.

The Cold War with the Soviet Union, and now Russia, was never far removed the turmoil in the Balkans. Say what you will about Vladimir Putin, but he has stabilized Rodina within. His pushback in Georgia and Ukraine is understandable too from a Russian security perspective. Surely, no rational Kremlin leader could let the naval and nuclear weapons at Sevastopol fall into the hands of neo-Nazi crazies in Kiev.

These days, it’s probably not difficult for the average Russian to believe that the Kremlin is the ultimate regime change target for Brussels and Washington.

Afghanistan

Afghanistan began as another proxy war with the Soviets; an early clandestine success that morphed into a nasty guerilla war with the locals. The Kremlin was prudent enough to cut its losses in 1989. When the Russians departed, the Americans stepped in for a quarter century of humiliations. The Taliban (nee Mujahedeen ) now have a secure theocratic naro-state in most of the countryside. Sovereign Afghanistan barely exists outside of Kabul.

The Afghan War used to be known as the “war of necessity’ when bin Laden was alive. The 9/11 mastermind is dead now for five years, but al Qaeda, the Taliban, and ISIS still flourish and one of the three is likely to eventually seize Afghanistan.

When Afghanistan succumbs, whither nuclear Pakistan?

Iraq

At the beginning of the Obama administration, Iraq was known as the “war of choice,” implying that America didn’t need to be there. After the initial Schwarzkopf  blitz of 2003, America is still in Iraq, albeit with fewer allies. Indeed, America, a “coalition of one,” is currently fighting its third Iraq war in 13 years. Iraq is now the DOD poster child for battle fatigue and mission creep. No end in sight for either.

Having reversed the sectarian poles, Sunni to Shia, and cashiered Sadam Hussein’s army; America now finds itself as a proxy ally to Shia Iran, mired in a ground war with a growing Sunni Islamic State.

Former Bath Party soldiers fight for the Levant jihad. After rearming Shia Iran by “deal”, America now sides with a Persian client state that one day may be the Shia counterpart of Sunni ISIS. Yes, Iraq and Iran used to be irreconcilable enemies. Naive American policy blunders gifted Baghdad to the ayatollahs.

The rise of the Islamic State in Iraq provided an opportunity for the kind of executive twerking that minimizes Muslim imperialism to this day. Team Obama mocked ISIS as the “junior varsity.” What the president failed to say was more telling.

Presumably, the Muslim “varsity” is the larger global jihad. According to intelligence estimates, ISIS alone now has a presence in 40 states and attracts recruits from 90 countries, including America.  And ISIS is just one of dozens of global jihadist armies, Sunni and Shia, with similar religious/political agendas. Islamist foot soldiers are supported directly or indirectly by both Arabs and Persians.

The blow back from three American campaigns in Iraq is now threefold:  ISIS, a Shite Iraq, and a new vassal state for Iran.

The quagmire in Baghdad is starting to make ten years in Saigon look like money well spent.

Syria

Hard as it is to imagine, Syria is a bigger mess than Iraq, although it’s difficult to believe that either state will survive in its present configuration. Syria is the exemplar of “humanitarian” folly, although Libya might be close second.

The Syrian campaign began as another anti- regime fiasco, underwritten by the simplistic belief that democracy is the default setting for failed Muslim states. Sovereign failure and collapse, alas, is engineered by sponsored assassinations, coups, civil wars, or “humanitarian” interventions.

The decades old campaign to unseat Bashir Assad has now degenerated into another proxy war with the Kremlin. In this case, Moscow has the moral high ground. Unlike American, the Russian intervention in Syria is at the request of the host. The Kremlin is actually defending, not destroying, Syrian sovereignty.

Indeed, the Russian Air Force, Kurd, and Persian militias seem to be winning in the north. If Aleppo falls, Russia and Iran will have scored a major victory over the Sunni jihad in Syria. If and when the Russian led coalition drives ISIS back into Turkey, expect John Kerry and Ash Carter to be the first to take a bow.

The valiant Kurds, unfortunately, are unlikely to benefit from any al Nusra/ISIS defeat in Syria.

The Kurds are the largest, if not only, demographic of genuine Muslim “moderates” in the world. Caught between duplicitous Turks and feckless Americans, the Kurdish quest for a national sovereignty is likely to be kicked to the curb by a US defense establishment that prefers to pander to Ottoman theocrats in Ankara.

The Kurd quandary is just a facet of the larger dilemma that dogs US foreign/military policy in the Ummah. Few if any Arab, Persian, or Muslim factions trust the White House or the Pentagon after decades of spastic policy.

Libya

Libya is another tragic case of regime change folly embellished with callous adolescent taunts. Once the most affluent nation in North Africa, Libya is now reduced to barbaric free fall and religious civil war. The ISIS “junior varsity” has more than a toehold in yet another failed Muslim state with oil wealth. Mission creep proceeds apace in North Africa too. US air strikes have begun in Libya – again.

With Libya, gloating reaches new juvenile lows. Mrs. Clinton twerked: “We came, we saw, he died,” after the sponsored Gadhafi kill. Clearly, the US State Department was driving the Libya putsch.

Mrs. Clinton was cackling an artless replay of Julius Ceasar’s cryptic report (47 BC) to the Roman senate: “Veni, vidi, vinci; I came, I saw, I conquered. The very phrase has come to mean quick, successful victory. The American sponsored implosion in Libya is neither.

Subsequent to the Libyan collapse, which included the assassination of the US ambassador, the then Secretary of State concluded: “What difference, at this point, does it make?” Assessing the post-Gadhafi meltdown in North Africa; President Obama trash-talked the misadventure as North African “tribalism;” indeed calling erstwhile prosperous Libya, another “shit show.”

Vulgarity is often the lingua fanca for national security amateurs, as when State Department official Victoria Nuland chortled “fuck NATO” because some Europeans failed to endorse the US sponsored coup in Ukraine fast enough.

Yemen

The war in Yemen is another proxy fight, Saudi Arabia against Iran, Persian against Arab, and Sunni against Shia. In this case, America and England side with the Sunni. The wealthiest Muslim nation in Africa is trying to bomb the poorest Muslim nation back to the Stone Age.

Unaided, it would be impossible for the corrupt Emirates or a theocratic Saudi Arabia to fight their way out of a harem. The Saudi free-fire zone in Yemen is impossible without British and American weapons and munitions. Any moral argument about “indiscriminate” Russian bombing in Syria is undermined by the Saudi/American/British aerial blitz in Yemen.

A casual observer would be hard pressed not to see the Yemen and Mosul, Iraq fronts as distractions, if not diversions, from humiliations in Syria and Libya.  Lame ducks, seeking legacy, often morph into black swans.

As we speak, the American navy is exchanging missiles with Shia gunners in Yemen. American and Iranian flotillas are doing a martial pas de deux at Bab al Mandeb, a maritime standoff that could go hot with a single stray round.

Cold War with Russia

Just as the Shia/Sunni rift underwrites much of the mayhem in Muslim small wars, civil and sectarian; the proxy war between America and Russia compounds Ummah instability. Kremlin bashing now seems to be a staple for both American political parties. Even Hillary Clinton was fond of Anti-Putin twerking with Pussy Riot

Much Russophobia is also a diversion too – or whistling in the dark. Picking a fight with Moscow, whilst Muslim small wars abide, is a just twitch short of strategic insanity. Making matters worse, the trash talkers now accuse the Kremlin of meddling in American elections.

If the Russian FSB is capable of tampering with American elections, then the problem is the FBI and the National Security Agency, not Vladimir Putin. Russian and American Intelligence operatives do pretty much the same things, all of which are probably illegal somewhere. The difference between the two is that the Kremlin doesn’t seem to confuse effective tradecraft with adolescent loose talk.

If there’s a legitimate threat to the integrity of American elections from Intelligence operatives, the immediate danger comes from partisan American, not Russian, officials. Michael Morrel, former deputy at CIA, and Michael Hayden, former director at NSA, take a bow here.

And if America is as weak and vulnerable as officials like Morrel and DNI Jim Clapper claim; what does that say about the 17 plus Intelligence agencies and the myriad of DOD agencies that are supposed to provide security?  The problem with national defense may be the same as the problem with domestic social programs. Spending has been divorced from results – and solutions.

The only defense thread with a plus vector is funding, especially in the “wilderness of mirrors,” the Intelligence Community. National security today, for both political parties, is more business than security.

The more America spends on Intelligence, the less the White House seems to know about threats. Bigger Intelligence has never been better, especially if the need is objective analysis. The best technical Intelligence collection in the world is now undone by cooked books and asserted conclusions, especially specious analysis about Russia or Islam.

Much of the associated political twerking is a toxic remix mandated by Beltway thought police.  The worst invective is now reserved for “Russians,” when we actually mean the Putin administration. No such blanket bias is permissible for Arabs, Persians, or Muslims where the preferred terms for culprits are undifferentiated euphemisms such as “criminals, radicals, or extremists”.

Or to borrow a gem from DNI James Clapper, Muslim shock troops and terrorists are called “nefarious characters.”  If you listen to the Orwellian verbiage approved by fiat for America’s Muslim wars, you might believe that race, country of origin, and political theology had nothing to do with the ongoing Muslim jihad or the larger “clash of civilizations.”

The Russian Shibboleth

The specter of the Russian bear haunts those many inconclusive Muslim wars. From Afghanistan in 1978 to Syria today, the perception of the Kremlin as a manipulator of dark forces continues to haunt the American foreign/military policy establishment. It’s as if all the baggage of the Comintern , the Soviet Union, Warsaw Pact, and the Cold War were still with us.

Blatant contradictions abound. American foreign policy assumes that Putin’s Russia is Stalin’s Soviet Union. With Islam, a culture barely altered in 1400 years, we assume democracy follows autocracy. In fact, theocracy is the default setting for a metastasizing Ummah. And Russians, since Yeltsin, are models of tolerance and democracy when compared to recidivist Persians and Arabs.

After the Ayatollah’s revolution in 1979, the vector of Shia and Sunni political cultures is race to the barbaric bottom, or the 7th Century, whichever comes first.

Russophobia is now aggravated by Pentagon generals with political agendas. NATO and CJCS brass provide two recent examples.

Former NATO Supreme Allied commander, Philip Breedlove, USAF, was exposed, thru hacked emails, beating the drums for confrontation with Russia. At the JCS, Army Chief of Staff, Mark Milley engaged in similar chest thumping, claiming that Russia was “an existential threat,” a menace that the US Army would “destroy.”

Breedlove and Milley should be careful about what they wish for. Some sense of history might help. The Soviet’s did most of the fighting and took most of the casualties in the last European war. Today, Russians are no longer dependent on the largesse of Lend-Lease. And the Kremlin still has the home field advantage.

Russia isn’t Panama and the Russian Army isn’t anybody’s “junior varsity.” A cynic might conclude that the Kremlin shibboleth is not as critical to US national security as it is for DOD budgets and federal spending.

Efforts to separate Russia from Europe are not in the best interests of Europe or America in any future. Playing a highly personalized version of nuclear “chicken” with Vladimir Putin is not much of a game plan either.

Russians were an indispensable ally for the defeat of 20th Century secular fascism in WW II. Russia may have to play a similar role if 21st Century Islamofascism is ever to be beaten. Unfortunately, the kind of spin and twerking that characterizes State Department rhetoric has migrated to the Department of Defense.

Alas, trash talk and adolescent posturing doesn’t win cold or hot wars. American politicians and generals who can’t acknowledge failure are unlikely to recognize success in any case.

Martial malarkey is especially ironic because DOD is clearly subordinate to the cookie pushers at Foggy Bottom these days. Recall that the former CJCS, another Army general, Martin Dempsey, testified that he didn’t send help to Benghazi because Hillary Clinton at the State Department didn’t ask him for help.

Girls and gays with guns in the ranks is one thing. Girly men on the E Ring is another problem altogether. The mufti militia at the Pentagon needs to think long and hard about getting back to what real warriors do best.

        

                                                                            What Is To Be Done?

 

Stand Up or Stand Down

The bell whether event of the 20th Century was the 1979 religious coup in Iran, the significance of which was largely lost or ignored by most observers under the smoke screen of the hostage crisis and Carter/Reagan era bumbling. The truth about the ayatollahs is that they played America then as well as they played team Obama more recently in 2016.

The advent of Persian theocracy was seismic for two reasons. Religious rule was legitimized in an erstwhile secular state and theocracy in Tehran, rule by clerics, provided both a role model and spark to the fire that still rages in the Sunni world today. Indeed, if you consult narratives for the period, theocracy and the Shia /Sunni rift are largely ignored. The headlong civic plunge backwards is still called, ironically, a “Jasmine Revolution” or an “Arab Spring.”

Alas, the subtext of the global jihad is religious war, an imperial campaign that targets non-Muslim infidels and apostate secular Muslims alike. Now that Shia and Sunni nuclear weapons are part of the equation, Koranic prophesy about Armageddon becomes more relevant to true believers.

Indeed, the “great game” in the Mideast and North Africa is not between East and West; the true nexus of jihad is the antipathy between Arabs and Persians, Saudi Arabia and Iran. Washington has inserted itself on the median strip between these 1400 year old religious road warriors. Before the Shia/Sunni rift is resolved, something more than American naiveté might become road kill.

The rationale for war is often the same as the rationale for the death penalty. Some miscreants are so evil; killing is the only sensible solution. America needs to acknowledge the primal threat of Shia and Sunni Islamism or stand down.  Half-measures and futile appeasements are variants of a death wish actualized in slow motion.

America will not defeat Islamism alone either. A bloated NATO has done little or nothing to restrain the jihad. Indeed, the one unique European policy response to the Ummah hemorrhage is “open borders.” Who in their right mind believes that the answer to jihad and terror in Europe, or America, is more Muslims?

Non-contiguous Islamic nations do not accept Muslim refugees or migrants for good and prudent reasons. Only infidel morons invite ideological, religious, or kinetic threats into the homeland?

Pay and Play

America must insist that Muslims fight and finance their own wars, rescue their own refugees/migrants, and reform a toxic religio/political ideology tomorrow, if not sooner. If the Ummah is content to succumb to Shia and Sunni fundamentalist theocracy, so be it. A unified Muslim threat simplifies the targeting problem for any future “coalitions” that will have to deal with Islamism.

NATO “partners” too must pay their own way and fight as required or resign themselves to the tender mercies of a European caliphate. The EU is already on a slippery slope if Brexit is any clue. Crash Islamization just accelerates the slide.

Humanitarian Intervention?

Social democratic imperialism, or globalism, is the single political canard that underwrites most recent American and European foreign/military policy disasters. Alas, justifying violations of national sovereignty with good intentions is a little like trying to rationalize rape as speed dating.

Unsolicited intervention is usually propelled by special interests, hidden agendas, or colossal arrogance. Armed assault is a hermaphrodite too; an “intervention” for the aggressor is an invasion for the victim. Worst of all, “humanitarian” intervention, as justified by globalist polemicists like Samantha Powers at the UN, is often a euphemism for coercive “regime change.” There’s nothing legal, democratic, moral, or “humanitarian” about any sponsored coup, insurrection, sectarian or civil war.

Nations are sovereign or they are not.

Recent evidence is conclusive.  Regime change is an act of war sponsored by naive nitwits who have no intention of winning the fight or dealing with consequences of predictable chaos.

The Virtual Illusion

If the policy, plan, or strategy is hair brained, tactics and operational arts are unlikely to compensate. So it is with fifty years of Muslim small wars where much American “combat” is fought by arm chair warriors in air conditioned aircraft, “situation” rooms, Pentagon suites, or mobile trailers. We are told that the American President personally selects drone or cruise missile targets. Small wonder then that American tactics echo round the world before strategy can find its big boy pants.

Virtual warriors are not unlike video gamers, nerds far removed from the blood and guts, but dangerous nonetheless. There’s little evidence to date to suggest that air power alone wins any war, large or small.

Indeed, precision guided weapons had little to do with big kills. Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, and Muamar Gadhafi were all killed the old fashioned way, with boots on the ground.  An airstrike, unfortunately, seldom provides an opportunity for gloating or twerking.

Body count is never as important as bodies that count.

The bin Laden execution has become such a staple for political demagogues that a generation of children might come to believe that the Saudi villain was shot by Foggy Bottom fairies, not a SEAL team. The American State Department is fond of taking bows for the achievements of others and equally adverse to accepting responsibilities for any failures.

New Alliances

If you compare religion, politics, culture, and praxis; there’s not much of a difference between the Islamic State, Saudi Arabia, and Iran. All lope off limbs or heads as public spectacle, each is the leg of a backward triumvirate metastasizing into the past in a quest for monolithic Islamic theocracy. Turkey is now a prime candidate to make the irredentist trio into a quartet.

When democratic socialists pander to clerical thugs; theocracy is validated. Freedom and democracy are suborned.

After 50 years of humiliations, if not defeat, the much vaunted NATO and the EU condominiums have proven to be paper tigers. Europeans, again taking cues from Berlin, believe that Islam will be appeased if Muslim migrants are pacified with open borders, subsidized hots, cots, and unlimited blond girl friends. Most Muslim immigrants and refugees are single males.

Here again, history is instructive. When secular fascism threatened the world in the 20th Century, most of Europe rolled over, north to south, like cheap tricks. There were a few noble exceptions at the margins in London and Moscow that made a difference. Now that religious fascism again stalks the continent, the usual European suspects again play the catamite.

There’s no chance that America alone saves Europe or the Ummah from their worst instincts. Defeating Islamofascism will require stout partners. Few social democracies in continental Europe are up for that challenge today. For too many Europeans, losing a war is the fastest way to end a war. Hat tip to Orwell.

If the conflict with Islamism is to be won, new thinking, less twerking, and new alliances are crucial. Any secular autocrat is a better ally than any Muslim theocrat. Russia and China are ruthless with home-grown Islamists. Moscow and Beijing have no illusions about the meaning of jihad and the threat posed by fascism, secular or religious, abroad or at home.

“Cowards die many times before their actual deaths.”

Julius Caesar

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The Age of Musterbation

February 3, 2015

                                               

“A nation of sheep will beget a government of wolves.”  – E. R. Morrow

Media icons are often given credit for thoughts that originated with their betters. The “nation of sheep” metaphor is an example. Thomas Jefferson addressed the subject in the Federalist Papers, long before Edward R. Morrow. And before that, herd similes might be traced to the Old and New Testaments. William J. Lederer wrote a book on the subject in 1961, a follow up to the best-selling Ugly American (1958).

Lederer’s lament focused on a passive electorate, arrogant foreign policy apparatchiks, and myopic politicians;  the tendency of Americans to fail to educate themselves about issues and then throw good money after bad at home and abroad. In short, Lederer despaired of passive voters and venal politicians, a nation where profligate spending sustained failed institutions.

Much has changed in the last 50 years, including language and internet culture. Neologisms abound, the most telling of which is “musterbation.” Albert Ellis (1913-2007) coined the term to describe clients who felt that they “must, should, or ought” to do things that had no rational basis. Much online activity could be described as grazing, peeping, or musterbation. Just one vowel away from onanism, the musterbater is compelled to join, mimic, exhibit, and conform. In such culture, the poorly read are easily led.

Former Congressman Anthony Wiener (D/NY) might be a chronic musterbator, compelled to use the internet in ways that defy reason, reputation, and common sense.

The modern tax dollar still buys votes but few solutions. Indeed, popular music has escalated the zoological hyperbole in a bit of telling doggerel by Otep Shamaya:

We’ve become a nation of wolves, ruled by sheep.
Owned by swine, overfed, and put to sleep.
While the media elite declare what to think,
I’ll be wide awake, on the edge, and on the brink.

On the brink of what is the question? Clearly a herd culture is the dominant social artifact of the early 21st Century. The most obvious symptoms are the internet and associated “social” networks.

So who are the wolves today? Here we could borrow an analogy from the “Occupy” movement, that 99 percent majority alleged to be victimized by the wealthy one percent. Such comparisons are true to the extent that all politics, right or left, are dominated by a small elite, a “vanguard” of one sort or another: commercial, political, or military mandarins. Art, too, is fashioned by elites for the herd.

On occasion, a sacred cow is trashed and the herd is spooked. Salman Rushdie, the Danish cartoon Press, Sony Pictures, and Charlie Hebdo might take a bow here.

The Occupy model is, however, poor arithmetic. Surely wealth is a consideration, but the middle class is as big today as it has ever been and America’s “poor” would be rich by any Third World metric.  Nonetheless, the Occupy lament does help to distinguish between wolves and sheep.

Alas, the real difference is power not wealth.  All wealth is power, but power is not necessarily wealth.  The Clintons, for example, left the Oval Office claiming to be broke. And we may not have seen the last of that poverty- stricken power pair either.

Autocratic, inherited, or democratic power is difficult to parse today. The despotism of dictators seems to have been supplanted by a tyranny of democratic tenure. Here, again, the Clintons come to mind. The reality of all politics, in the end, is consumption. Neither wolves nor shepherds care much about the venue as long as there’s something or somebody to eat.

Apex predators breed and feed in industry and government. The National Security Agency (NSA) and Facebook are examples. Indeed, there’s a chicken or egg conundrum between the two. No matter, both operate with the same business model; a one-way mirror that monitors, collects, and exploits “meta data” for different ends.

The social network/sheep herding meme is not just another simile. Numbers matter to both every day. The digital and grazing worlds only make sense when the numbers are large enough. Facebook has a billion members and makes billions in advertising revenues on those numbers. Mark Zukerberg says he wants the world on the internet – and by implication, in the Facebook pasture too.

Facebook is just one example here, but most telecoms, internet providers, social networks, or financial service companies are operating varieties of the same model, recruiting a large “voluntary” membership and then exploiting “metadata” (the antiseptic euphemism for behavior) for profit. Chaps like Zuckerberg are not your “friend” and he is not in your “circle.” Mark and his dot.com colleagues are the new elite, wolves, one percenter’s who have developed clever schemes to monetize your behavior – and your privacy.

Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook and General Keith Alexander’s NSA are both fond of uniforms too. Zuckerberg‘s tee shirt, jeans, and hoodie are as symbolic as Alexander’s Class A bemedaled greens. Zuckerberg is suited to look like a hip populist just as surely as Alexander is dressed to look like a guardian, Big Brother’s goal keeper.

The infamous “back doors” of the telecoms, internet providers, and social networks are both collaborative and invasive. Hard to know whether industry or government is the worse offender. There’s no mystery, however, about who is getting buggered.

The Lavabit story is illustrative. Lavabit was one of the few secure internet companies that tried to provide email services free of snoops and data miners. Their motto was “privacy before profit.” When Lavabit’s owner/operator, Ladar Levison, refused to play catamite for FBI/NSA agents, Lavabit was forced out of business with an avalanche of subpoenas, court orders, gag orders, fines, and threats of prison time. After l’affaire Snowden, official Washington, including the judicary, fell on Levison like a ton of bricks.

Ironically, chaps like Edward Snowden are made possible by such federal excess. Contemporary whistle blowers and disloyalty are created problems. Federal mandarins, with NSA and FBI on point, are the top dogs on the internet, the most voracious wolves. Alas, their appetites and capacity for abuse are funded with federal tax dollars.

Predator and prey are separated by perspective, scopophiliacs and exhibitionists joined by uncommon interests. Self-consciously Orwellian language defines cyber space. Sheep are corralled as members, followers, or friends. ‘Search’ on the net is often described as “surfing” as if stroking a laptop or smart phone required skill or exertion.

Measures of merit in cyberspace are mostly about affirmation: membership, pseudonyms, likes, tweets, retweets, page views, site visits, or comments. Belonging and ego are the weft and warp of cyberspace. Joining the flock, growing the flock, controlling the flock, and exploiting the flock are the shared interests of the needy, seedy, and greedy alike.

The “tweet” is the ideal medium for sheep, hustlers, or underachievers – cryptic faceless bursts confined to 140 characters. Tweets are to literature what rap is to music.

Each social circle has different passwords as if privacy were really a consideration. In fact, social networks, the telecoms, police, and intelligence agencies are co-conspirators in the “meta data” roundup. The stealth of wolves is reinforced by anonymity of sheep.

Pseudonymous internet usage has little to do with privacy, or freer speech, and everything to do with mischief.

Hacking is an example. If there are no privacy standards for government or commercial voyeurs, why expect rogue sheep to worry about private or privileged commercial or classified information? Edward Snowden is not just the product of a culture of deception, but his revelations about NSA, like those about Sony Corporation, are a kind of poetic justice.

To mix some metaphors, a culture of wolves and sheep is sure to be a free fire zone. The age of musterbation is a target rich environment.

Mandarins like Zuckerberg might pay lip service to the privacy concerns of his Facebook flock, but in the real world ironies abound.  Zuckerberg just purchased four neighboring estates in California to assure his personal privacy. Would that he and the rest of the cyber moguls had as much concern for the privacy of computer users,

The difference between political and commercial wolves is profound. The Director of NSA is an appointed official who serves at White House whim. Social satraps like Zuckerberg at Facebook, in contrast, are elevated by acclamation, thousands of stockholders and billions of sheep voting with each equity purchase or each new membership.

If you believed the recent Zuckerberg interview in Time (15 Dec 14) you might think that Facebook is all about connectivity, compassion, education, democracy, and globalization. Compared to Zuckerberg, former Congressman Anthony Weiner (D-NY) is an honest man. Zuckerberg’s hip hop, photo shopped double talk makes Weiner’s junk shots look like tweet candor.

The Facebook czar would have us believe that connectivity is more important than other human needs, things like: employment, potable water, good nutrition, civil society, or flush toilets.

Really, Mark? Giving internet access to the poor and semi-literate is like feeding infants flip phones instead of strained bananas.

With Facebook you can “like” a post as much as you like, however, there is no button to click for disapproval, no way to dissent. On Facebook, the sentiment is yes or nothing, a virtual kindergarten for musterbaters. Internet culture is at once nurturing and infantile.

Cyber herding is a kind of electronic fascism in other ways. Try resigning from or removing a post from a social network, especially data that has been rebroadcast! Try restraining or identifying a bully or an obnoxious troll!  See how much help you get from providers, social forums, or the telecoms with civility complaints of any sort.

Indelible membership is aggravated by the spread of real world political fascism over the internet. Just a few examples would include al Qaeda, ISIS, the Taliban, Boko Haram – NPR or CNN.

The virtual world is not fertile ground for peace, civility, or democracy either. Online games are a pathological subculture where blowback can be measured with shell casings or body bags at schools, theaters, and on the back streets of  Newark or Washington, DC.

Indeed, cyberspace amplifies the science, reason, and morality debate. The internet has been weaponized. And like its nuclear, chemical, or biological cousins, another example of scientific and engineering vacuity, the moral void that asks what and how – but seldom asks should.

Zuckerberg’s world view is just another mutation of engineering arrogance refracted through a progressive lens, a view that confuses technology and the passage of time with progress. The ideological assumptions behind technical optimism are even more naïve. Democracy is not a default setting beyond the EU or the US. Zuckerberg may have been touched by the romance of Hegel and Marx, but he was never exposed to pragmatism of Huntington and Kissinger.

Kissinger argues that there are only two primal narratives in the political world: hegemony and balance of power. In short, the pragmatic politician either imposes his will or negotiates a modus vivendi. The first option is expensive, tenuous, and dangerous; the second requires patience, creativity, and mutual trust. Option one is a zero sum game and option two is a plus sum roll of the dice.

Like the political world, the internet is a clash of civilizations, a win/lose enterprise for guys like Zuckerberg, parsing the universe into firsts or thirds, developed or emerging, educated or ignorant, rich or poor. The “emerging” story is usually just another narrative, the marketing of wishful thinking at the expense of experience. Some social problems are insolvable.

The internet accelerates a binary tautology nonetheless, populated as it is by mustabators and manipulators, digital sheep and wolves.

Like the world of politics, the internet requires a narrative. The story line may have little to do with truth, fact, or reality. Like a fairy tale, acceptance is a function of skillful telling and guileless belief. Indeed, truth is a handicap in both worlds. No one wants to hear that they are being used or manipulated.

Alas, truth is a bitch. She doesn’t care whose feelings get hurt. Government and industry moguls, on the other hand, are more circumspect. Federal or industry mendacity is not a vice in the information age. Lying is necessary – and apparently sufficient.

If modern Media is a “wasteland,” the metaphorical lexicon might be too shallow to characterize social network or virtual culture. Exhibitionists, voyeurs, thugs, and manipulators litter the digital landscape. Sixty years ago, the ugly American was a clueless State Department drone. Today, Media curs and federal voyeurs are the top dogs – and just as ugly.

“Those who know the least obey the best.” – George Farquhar

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The author is an NSA alumnus. GMD does not belong to any social networks except LinkedIn where he has been a hostage for years. No amount of phone calls or emails have severed the link with LinkedIn. This essay was published in the February 2015 edition of the New English Review.

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Tags: Facebook, NSA, Mark Zuckerberg, Keith Alexander, Otep Shamaya, Albert Ellis, Garrett Hardin, Sony Pictures, back doors, self-censorship, hacking, social networks, musterbation, nation of sheep, and ugly Americans.


Edward Snowden; Digital Don Quixote

June 5, 2014

“Just because information is stolen, that doesn’t make it more useful.” – Mike Hayden

 

The National Security Agency (NSA) is the child of Pearl Harbor, the worst warning disaster, until recently, in American history.  The World Trade Center was the first homeland test of NSA. The Fort Meade complex and General Mike Hayden, USAF, failed that test.

Hayden discovered the terror threat on daytime television, as Saudi/Arab/Muslim terrorists crashed into Manhattan, Pennsylvania, and the Pentagon. After the worst strategic failure in American history, Hayden was promoted to the inner circle at the White House. Funding at NSA exploded exponentially. Catastrophe is opportunity.

Thus does operational failure become a fiscal stimulus! Withal; religious wars still rage, bombs still explode in too many public places, girls are kidnapped by the hundreds, and airliners disappear without a trace. Nonetheless, Maryland and Utah and a few other states wallow midst the biggest Communications Intelligence (COMINT) funding windfall in American history.

After the Arab attack, Hayden was summoned to the White House and asked what NSA might need to prevent another surprise attack. Apparently, NSA replied: “everything,” including universal surveillance of all the social media and the telecom monopolies (AT&T and Verizon). Initially, the gnomes at NSA engineered a program that incorporated privacy safeguards. Those safeguards were discarded, but not without a cat fight at the Puzzle Palace and the Justice Department.

Recalcitrant senior NSA technicians were read out of “the program,” some became leakers, but all were neutralized with retirement and several years of retaliatory FBI intimidation.  Raise a problem in the IC and apparently you become the problem.

Edward Snowden would later school himself on the post-9/11 NSA whistleblowers. Snowden recognized that commercial data miners and government snoops were after the same personal data; playing fast and loose with privacy, albeit for different reasons.

The Justice Department wasn’t as easy to intimidate or roll at first. Nonetheless, the Oval Office circumvented the Attorney General by writing a new TOP SECRET CODEWORD presidential directive for NSA operations. Apparently, the major social networks, with one exception, and telecom monopolies collaborated with NSA without a public murmur.

Think of NSA as a stovepipe, a conduit to very special audiences like the White House. Other Intelligence agencies create their own limited access programs too, smaller pipes within the IC stovepipes. Most traffic is vertical not horizontal, the left hand of the IC often does not know what the right is doing – by design. When an agency like Justice refuses to play ball, as was the case with warrantless wiretapping, NSA pulls program access from critics, as they did with post- 9/11 internal dissenters.

Apparently, the purpose of most classification in the IC is to cover somebody’s ass, not to protect “sources and methods.” A ‘world of mirrors’ is the way James Angleton characterized the Intelligence universe, now a digital jungle where friend and enemy wear the same saccharine smiles.

Glen Greenwald now calls the Intelligence and law enforcement communities “one-way mirrors.” They know all about us and we know little of them. Manipulation, not integrity, is the high card in a United States of Secrets.

Mike Hayden, while at NSA, ran Intelligence collection in a moral vacuum shadowed by legal twilight. And Mike Morell, while at CIA, altered Intelligence analyses (see Benghazi talking points) like the political flavor of the day. With the new FBI director, the IC consensus on the literal end of privacy is a done deal.

Recall that under George Bush, when James B. Comey was the deputy at Justice, he offered to resign over warrantless surveillance. Now as top cop at the FBI under a Democrat, Comey seems to have leased his integrity to the politics of the moment.

We are assured by all parties that individual privacy rights are protected by the mysterious FISCR court. If we believe recent revelations On Frontline and in Nowhere to Hide, the IC’s “secret court” will indict a bad burrito and issue a warrant for the predictable results.  A “secret” (sic) court, for secret warrants, where only the government’s secret argument is heard is a little like installing one of Greenwald’s mirrors in a public toilet.

Say what you will about rogues like Edward Snowden, the high-school dropout who blew the whistle on the NSA/social Media/ telecom surveillance peep show. Snowden exhibits more skill, judgment, and ethical grit than Hayden, Morell, and Comey or the dot.com oligarchs. NSA and the greedy internet elite created the problem that the Snowden revelations might have to solve.

Indeed, Snowden, with an ‘all access’ ticket seems to know more about  NSA surveillance  than Jim Clapper,  Barack Obama, or Congress. Withal, one thing is clear; clueless sycophants like Mike Hayden, make skeptical apostates like Snowden possible.

Truth is, NSA, like the rest of the ironically named ‘Defense’ Department, invests most assets in offense, indiscriminate collection for example; an indigestible glut it seems. This Hoover tactic may explain why a malcontent like Snowden can steal the family jewels with a few discrete keystrokes. If NSA strategic defense failed before 9/11 and then internal defenses failed to prevent the Snowden heist, why believe Hayden’s assurances about the future? Three catastrophic surprises will not be a charm.

Key Judgments

Governments that can give you everything, say universal health care, can take anything; to wit, civil rights or personal privacy. The ACA was a party line vote. Nobody got to vote on the NSA expansion and surely not the PRISM computer and universal federal/commercial snooping.

The great irony of collection excess is that there is no evidence that more data, more processing, or more funding has improved Intelligence analysis. The same people who redefine phone calls, Tweets, photographs, and emails as “metadata” can’t name our strategic enemies. State Department sissies refuse to designate Boko Haram as a Muslim terrorist group. IC estimates gag on words like “terrorist.” Terms like Islam, Muslim, Islamist, or religious fascism have been stricken from the strategic vocabulary by fiat.

What doesn’t happen – is now an achievement!

Trying to understand terror and all those Muslim wars, without Islamism, is a little like ignoring pork at a sausage seminar. Within the Intelligence Community, Muslim sensitivities seem to trump common sense and national security.

If warning or candid analysis is the strategic dividend, then the Intelligence investment should be downgraded to junk bond status. Like advertising, the purpose of the end product, analysis, now seems to be influence or social sensitivity, not information or warning. Orwell’s pig lives!

Democratic socialists didn’t win the Cold War; they merely cloned Animal Farm. In the arithmetic of communes, compound failure equals excess. Cultural wars are illustrative, where nation or alliance building is now code for false flags, coups, regime changes, or ‘democratic’ imperialism.

Despotism has three requirements: control, compliance, and secrecy. The ethos of social and political absolutism is alive and well in the West, where failure is never pretty. But it still pays pretty well.

Money and institutional self-interest eats hope and good intentions for lunch.  The intersection of government voyeurs and a so-called “open” Internet is the kind of unnatural act that can only be explained by a critical mass of official and commercial trolls. Crime pays indeed – and well too!

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The author is the former chief of the USAF Intelligence Research Division, NSA Friendship Annex, Fort Meade, Maryland

This essay was previously published by the American Thinker and the Iconoclast.

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Foxtrot Golf Whisky ?

October 9, 2013

The Decline and Fall of National Security

Two unlikely sets of institutions are playing key roles in the decline of American foreign policy effectiveness: Intelligence agencies and military commands. The CIA and DOD, agencies that were heretofore above politics have lost their objective moorings. Contemporary guardians of national security have been suborned by partisanship, in the process, fostering a kind of soft sedition; analytic and operational incompetence.

The Intelligence Colossus

If a casual observer were to attempt to find fault with Intelligence in the 21st Century, he might identify size, complexity, and politics. Since World War II the American Intelligence Community (IC) has grown exponentially, 17 agencies in the US alone today and an expensive host of intermediary managers and commercial contractors. Unfortunately, national Intelligence products, now a kind of communal inertia, do not justify the exorbitant investment in collection and processing of raw data.

The Colin Powell UN speech in the run-up to the Iraq War and the now infamous Benghazi talking points are recent egregious examples “Intelligence” products corrupted by politics. If the purpose of Intelligence is to support the political flavor of the day, why not just subcontract analysis to Madison Avenue?

“Big” was not always the best thing you might say about US Intelligence. Time was when warning or analytic failures had consequences. Pearl Harbor is an example. Ironically, the sub-rosa Office of Strategic Services (OSS) was cashiered by Harry Truman immediately after WWII. Truman was not fond of a large Intelligence establishment or large political egos. It probably didn’t help that OSS chief William “wild Bill” Donovan was a prominent Republican lawyer. Politics are ever-relevant.

Parts of the OSS were salvaged by the National Security Act of 1947 which created a then modest Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). But the Intelligence Community didn’t get a real boost until 1961 with the publication of Roberta Wohlstetter’s Pearl harbor: Warning and Decision, a volume that is still required reading for Intelligence acolytes. Wohlstetter’s encyclopedic study established several benchmarks for Intelligence still relevant today.

Foremost was the axiom that warning is usually an analytic or political, not a data failure. In today’s argot it would be “failure (or unwillingness) to connect the dots.” Sixty years later, on 11 September 2001, analytic failure, not available evidence, was still the weak link. The only difference between Pearl Harbor and the 9/11 Twin Towers warning debacle is cost and the size of the Intelligence legion; alas, still a toothless dog that doesn’t bark.

And the warning problem is complicated today by design. Analysis is hamstrung by the Brennan Doctrine, an a priori policy that rejects evidence which might link terrorism, sedition, and Islamist wars with Muslim ideology or politics.

“How you define a problem shapes how you address it.” – John O. Brennan

The very word “Islamism” has been struck from threat discussions. Where there is no distinction between church and state, religion is the center of gravity. Trying to analyze terrorism and contemporary small wars without mentioning Muslim political motives or Islamic doctrine is a little like studying WWII without mentioning Japanese Imperialism or German National Socialism.

Warning and Decision is still de rigueur for other reasons. A careful reading of official CIA reviews reveals that conclusions about the “under funding” of Intelligence functions are, for CIA, the attractive parts of the Wohlstetter narrative. Ironically, truly talented analysts like Wohlstetter still do not work for Intelligence agencies. The best minds do not work for Intelligence because such analysts would be difficult to manipulate, hence politically unreliable.

The Military Establishment

Senior soldiers, however, are exceptionally reliable. Wet fingers are standard issue on the Pentagon side of the national security equation these days. Political correctness has tarnished more than a few brass hats since Douglas MacArthur was fired. Admiral Mike Mullen’s recent social pandering and General Martin Dempsey’s Benghazi mendacity speaks volumes.

Military literature is equally disingenuous. Two subjects dominate military journals and training manuals today: counterinsurgency (COIN) and an excursion called Fourth Generation Warfare (4GW); foxtrot golf whiskey.

COIN

Counterinsurgency (COIN) is official US military doctrine, a lame legacy of Vietnam. Counterinsurgency is warfare or intervention on behalf an incumbent or allied regime. Yet COIN doctrine seldom accounts for the enemy view — phenomena like coups, revolution, or civil war. The Pentagon avoids such terms because the US military has no charter or doctrine for regime change. The rhetorical dishonesty over the recent “coup” in Egypt makes the point well enough. And at the expense of logic and clarity, any discussion of jihad is officially proscribed by the brass too; no matter how many GIs might get killed by jihadists. With the Brendan doctrine, Jihad, or holy war, is still ritual cleansing.
Since Vietnam, most small Muslim wars might properly be called civil, or better still, religious wars. If Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt, Libya, or Syria had anything to do with counterinsurgency, the West should have armed the Ayatollah Khomeini, Mullah Omar, Sadam Hussein, Hosni Mubarak, and Bashar Assad. On the E-Ring, COIN and regime change seem to be synonymous. Military analysis, such that it is, is trying to square this circle with some profound naval gazing. Strategists are calling for a ‘fourth generation’ model of warfare.

4GW

Unfortunately, the new doctrine keeps many of the inanities of Army and Marine Corps official guidance. Foremost is the inability, or unwillingness, to precisely describe the enemy by name, nation, associations of nations, or ideology. And calling 3rd generation warfare a “war on terror” is a little like calling WWII a war on blitzkrieg. Tactics and the enemy are different things: tactics are ephemeral; enemies are kinetic until they are defined and defeated in detail.

The 4GW crowd also talks of collapsing the enemy’s “center of gravity,” but the center for Islamists, and the broader Muslim base, is religion. A CJCS that has stricken Islam from the discussion is not likely to assault “one of the world’s great religions,” much less try to neutralize imams who might insist on Sharia law — or target clerics sponsoring holy war, lethal jihad.

4GW aficionados also support a Fabian strategy. Fabius Maximus Cunctator (280-203 BC) was a Roman general who used defensive delay and attrition tactics to bleed Hannibal’s expeditionary forces during the Punic Wars. Fabius is thought to be the father of guerilla war.

Fabian Defense?

Ironically, the Fabian fad is a page out of Osama bin Laden’s cookbook: extend the infidel armies and kill with a thousand cuts. War is curious politics; Islamists are defining our strategy? If so, 4GW is truly cunctative; too late for a flaccid flag corps that already offers “transition” and “stability” as passive strategic objectives.

Imagine a high school athletic coach who would use such banalities instead of words like victory! We remember Bolingbroke, not Hotspur, because Henry IV knew how to win. Douglas MacArthur struck the same cord: “There is no substitute for victory.” Life, war, and politics are zero-sum games — history is the tale of winners and losers.

American diplomatic and military operations are starting to look like T-Ball or scoreless soccer; no winners or losers, yet all participants get a medal or a promotion. John Brennan and Martin Dempsey might tale a bow here.

The Fabian debate is another nickel and dime argument. What’s required is a new global strategy, not another small war tactical salad where universal threats are ascribed to vague local grievances.

If diplomacy is the only answer, then new strategy is required there too. Here two attack vectors recommend themselves; abandon the “two-state” chimera in the Mideast and engage, dare we say confront, the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).
Israel needs to negotiate directly with the Arab League, not individual terror surrogates like Fatah. And America needs to confront the OIC, not individual Muslim states like Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, or Syria. If Fabian strategy is a good idea, then it is the Arab League and the OIC, not America, that needs to be put on the defensive.

The burden for killing autocrats or defeating Islamist “insurgency” needs to be shifted to the faithful, that celebrated “moderate” Muslim majority, the citizens of the Arab league and the OIC. God knows the US Department of Defense sells Muslim autocrats enough firepower to police zealots.

The question that futurists need to ask is; why are American and European infidels obliged to make the world safe for Islam when only Muslims can save the Ummah from itself? Answer that question; then worry about the reform of inert military doctrine and fanciful national strategy.

And as a practical matter, any policy reform would require regime change in America: at Intelligence, at Defense, and at the White House.

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Tags: CIA, DOD, the Intelligence Community, John Brennan, General Martin Dempsey, Islam, Islamism, Israel, the Arab league, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, 9/11, Roberta Wohlstetter, and Pearl Harbor.

This essay appeared in the 10/09/2013 edition of American Thinker


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!

…………………………………………

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.

 

 


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.


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.)


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.