Review: Sharpening Strategic Intelligence–Why the CIA Gets It Wrong and What Needs to Be Done to Get It Right

3 Star, Intelligence (Government/Secret)
Sharpening Strategic
Amazon Page

June 25, 2007

Richard L. Russell

I might have leaned toward four stars on this book, which is certainly a useful contribution, but it falls into the second tier for being a clear hit job—and shallow to boot. Gaps in the author’s reading (or writing) appeared from the very beginning. Lost first star there.

He defines strategic intelligence as focused on threats and the use of force. Despite his mention of Adda Bozeman, he does not seem to have understood that the heart of strategic intelligence is deep and sustained study and understanding of foreign cultures, histories, languages, genealogies, and ties that bind–financial, religious, tribal, ethnic, etc. Lost second star here.

There are ten high-level threats, twelve remediation policies, and eight global challengers, and all 30 of these factors must be studied as a whole and in relation, in the present, near, and far term. Anything less is not strategic intelligence.

I am troubled by the author’s rather black and white bias in tarring CIA with all the wrongs and exempting the policy-makers, and especially Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and Feith, for their many errors and omissions as well as 25 specific high crimes and misdemeanors committed by Cheney alone as detailed in The One Percent Doctrine: Deep Inside America’s Pursuit of Its Enemies Since 9/11 and Vice: Dick Cheney and the Hijacking of the American Presidency.

The author has read (or written) selectively. His examples of failure on Korea do not include reference of the Secretary of State’s Press Club appearance in which South Korea was explicitly left out of the American orbit. His shallow coverage of Viet-Nam does not benefit from a lack of reference to None So Blind: A Personal Account of the Intelligence Failure in Vietnam, War Without Windows: A True Account of a Young Army Officer Trapped in an Intelligence Cover-Up in Vietnam, or Who the Hell Are We Fighting?: The Story of Sam Adams and the Vietnam Intelligence Wars, among others.

His coverage of 9-11 is also deficient. While he properly criticizes CIA for failing to actually ramp up both clandestine penetrations and analytic talent, and he faults the FBI for not sharing with CIA, he fails to mention the 9 specific warnings from foreign governments that the White House chose to exploit to achieve “our Pearl Harbor”–the Israeli’s even sent a video crew to capture the known-in-advance event for their archives, while Dick Cheney organized an “exercise” with a command center NOT in the target building where the command center was originally built at great expense.

On Iraq, I found the author irritating–almost whining–in his never-flagging effort to tar the CIA. Evidently he is not aware of, or does not wish to credit, the defection of Salaam Hussein’s son in law and the 25+ line crossers Charlie Allen is said to have sent in, as recounted in Bob Woodward’s State of Denial: Bush at War, Part III all of whom came back with the same story: kept the cookbooks, destroyed the stocks, bluffing for regional influence’s sake.

I agree with the author on some key points:

1) DNI should not have been created, this just created another layer of bureaucracy so we could promote the losers who got us here one more time.

2) CIA is out of touch with reality. While the author glosses over the importance of open sources of information, he is evidently completely unfamiliar with what properly done OSINT can do, to include tribal genealogies and orders of battle, financial-family ties and asset mapping, and so on.

3) The author is certainly correct to whale away at CIA security. On the one hand, they did not want my wife’s report on the 300 foreign intelligence officers she met at one of my conferences, including the LtGen from the KGB (“did you sleep with any of them? No? Forget about it.”) and on the other these are the morons who harassed a GS-15 who dared to call Kazhikistan to solicit local views, to the point that she quit CIA and is now very happy as the Chief of the Intelligence Analysis Division at one of the Combatant Commands. I was barred from the campus by these fools for properly returning a classified document from USMC to CIA, taken with permission and transported both ways via authorized couriers.

4) The author is correct on the fossilized layers of “management” and bureaucracy, and he does provide a good review of shortcomings, but I for one, with experience across three of the four Directorates back in the day, consider this book to be a case of “several hundred bleats too many.” Yes, CIA is a mess. Yes, CIA should not have 800 SES positions and 200-400 compartments that do not share with another. It is all that bad? No. I could turn CIA around in 90 days just by recruiting Amazon to mobilize all the top authors and readers on every topic; by creating external non-secret multinational intelligence-policy councils on every topic of importance as I am doing now with the Earth Intelligence Network; by asking DoD to make the Coalition Coordination Center into a Multinational Information Sharing Hub that does OSINT as well as multinational HUMINT and close-in emplacement of US-provided technical devices. Somewhere in there I would fire two thirds of the contractors, half of the security people, two thirds of the lawyers, and most of FBIS. This is not rocket science.

The book ends weakly, with a mention of horizon scanning, which Singapore has turned into a 21st century new craft of intelligence, but the author evidently has not read Tom Quiggin’s Seeing the Invisible: National Security Intelligence in an Uncertain Age, and is unfamiliar as well with the broader literatures on information society, modern intelligence, strategy & force structure, emerging non-traditional as well as catastrophic and disruptive threats, anti-Americanism and blow-back, and the negative impact of domestic politics on sound foreign and national security policy.

This is not suitable as a textbook.

On Intelligence: Spies and Secrecy in an Open World
The New Craft of Intelligence: Personal, Public, & Political–Citizen’s Action Handbook for Fighting Terrorism, Genocide, Disease, Toxic Bombs, & Corruption
Information Operations: All Information, All Languages, All the Time

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