June 22, 2004


How America can win the intelligence war (Spengler, 6/15/04, Asia Times)

Every US intelligence assessment of Soviet military strength and morale available in 1981 was dead wrong. Washington learned better by putting Moscow under stress. How adaptable was Russian weapons technology? Start a high-tech arms race with the Strategic Defense Initiative and find out. How good were Russian avionics? Help the Israeli air force engage Syria's MiGs in the Bekaa Valley in 1982, and the destruction with impunity of Russian-built fighters and surface-to-air missile sites would provide a data point. How solid was Russian fighting morale? Instigate irregular warfare against the Russian army in Afghanistan and learn.

The United States lacks the aptitude and inclination to penetrate the mind of adversary cultures. In the so-called war on terror, it lacks the floating population of irredentist emigres who provided a window into Russian-occupied Eastern Europe back during the Cold War. But the best sort of intelligence stems not from scholarship but from decisiveness of command and clarity of mission. "War is not an intellectual activity but a brutally physical one," observes Sir John Keegan in Intelligence and War, published last year. President George W Bush might do well to read it carefully before choosing the next CIA director.

It was not the intellectuals but the bullyboys of the Reagan administration who shook loose the relevant intelligence. In 1981 the CIA enjoyed a surfeit of Russian speakers, in contrast to today's paucity of Arabic translators. But William Casey routinely ignored the legions of Russian-studies PhDs, reaching out instead to irregulars who could give him the insights he required.

Intelligence in warfare presents a different sort of intellectual challenge than academics are trained to address. President Reagan, no intellectual in the conventional sense, nonetheless formed a clear assessment of what the enemy was, what it wanted, and how it might be defeated. Without the courage to define and then engage the enemy, intelligence services will wander randomly in the dark. [...]

Bush might as well shut down the CIA and re-create something like the wartime Office of Strategic Services, for which Casey parachuted agents into occupied Europe. Most of the CIA amounts to a make-work project for second-rate academics, drawn from an academic environment generally hostile to US strategic interests. Even if US universities still produced strategic thinkers rather than multicultural mush-heads, and even if the CIA could recruit them, little would change. In spite of the academics, Bill Casey won his intelligence war because the US convinced enough players on the other side that it would win. To win to its side the best men and women of the Islamic world, the United States must make clear what it wants from them.

What the stupid Ronald Reagan understood was that Communism had to be more feeble than we could see clearly just because of the type of system it was. So while intelligence agencies well into the 90s still thought it viable economically and formidable militarily, he'd already destroted. His was the intelligence of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn:
Yes, yes, of course, we all know you cannot poke a stick through the walls of a concrete tower, but here's something to think about: what if the walls are only a painted backdrop?

Today the stupid president understands that Islamicism too is just a painted backdrop. Confronting the world with that fact will do more than all the resources squandered on intelligence ever could.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 22, 2004 9:40 PM

Regarding your last paragraph. How in the world will Mr. Bush perform that task? The predominately muslim countries I've worked in (mid-east/south Asia) certainly looked to be concrete and not a backdrop. Maybe I don't understand your meaning unless you refer to non-muslim countries.

Posted by: at June 22, 2004 11:17 PM

With regard to the article and in analogy to the American military tactic of reconnaissance-by-fire, the provoked conflict method might be called intelligence-by-fire.

Posted by: jd watson at June 23, 2004 12:48 AM

As small case intelligence is clearly no indication of political wisdom or rectitude, indeed is often an obstacle, why would anyone think large case Intelligence would be a help in setting political goals?

Think of the tens of thousands of research reports issued in all the sciences and social sciences that predict this or that development. How many were optimistic? How many were accurate? There is something in the mind of the modern expert that draws him to negative, fatalistic or alarmist conclusions like a bee to pollen.

Posted by: Peter B at June 23, 2004 6:33 AM

The OSS was not without critics and failures. The military refered to it as the office of society studies or something like that. One advantage it had was its staff, selected referentially from and by Ivy league academia, shared a commonality of purpose in supporting the efforts of the USSR in the war, which was then in our interests. Certainly not all of them but probably a disproportionate share of "useful idiots" were on board. The vaunted British intelligence had similar ... advantages? ... as revealed in the subsequent Cold War.

It's may be a successful intelligence agency requires an intelligent, well educated staff DRIVEN by a common ideology. A dangerous proposition indeed. One requiring another agency to surveil them.

Perhaps it's just not possible for a multicultural democracy to field a premier intelligence agency. The Islamofacists are in the best possible position to do so today worldwide. Frighteneing to us, but how about Europe.

Posted by: genecis at June 23, 2004 8:32 AM


"look to be" is the point.

Posted by: oj at June 23, 2004 9:07 AM


The idea that islamofascists can comprehend the society they're gathering intelligence about seems silly, as witness 9-11.

Posted by: oj at June 23, 2004 9:15 AM

The Islamofascists do not and never will understand. Their 'founding father' (Qutb) went psycho because he attended a dance in CO when visiting the US in 1949. That was his defining moment - go figure.

Posted by: jim hamlen at June 23, 2004 11:59 AM

Understanding society is not the mission. They did quite well preparing for 9/11. They have native speakers worldwide and at many levels they can co-opt. Sorry to say it's happening right now. We only get the dumbotzes and think we're safe.

Posted by: Genecis at June 23, 2004 1:46 PM


Quite well? As a result of it they lost their base of operations in Afghanistan, their free hands in Western Pakistan, Sudan, and Yemen, the support of regimes like Libya and Syria, the toleration of Saudi Arabia, and created a Kurdish Republic and a Shi'a state. Are you saying these were their goals?

Posted by: oj at June 23, 2004 2:01 PM