Review: Human Intelligence, Counterterrorism, and National Leadership–A Practical Guide

3 Star, Intelligence (Government/Secret)

Human IntelligencePrimer for the Non-Professional, October 24, 2008

Gary Berntsen

This is a publisher’s idea of a quick buck. The author did what he could within the constipated formula. It is recommended for anyone who knows very little about intelligence and wants a useful overview that avoids the nitty-gritty. Indeed, this is a very fine companion to Intelligence: From Secrets to Policy(3rd Edition), which is deficient in the very areas where this book offers a rather gross-level overview to the student new to the intelligence discipline. The price is reasonable, one reason I was tempted.

I tried hard to justify four stars but I just cannot do it. There is nothing wrong with this book, if you want a Middle School reader with a handful of ideas that are good but not unique, while avoiding anything that could have held the book up when being reviewed by the CIA, this is it. It is a small book with 19 brilliantly selected chapter titles each receiving as many as six or as few as two (small) pages.

I tried reading each “chapter’s” Core Points a second time, and found little to arrest my attention (or that of a future President). Support Colombia. Spray crops in Afghanistan. Special Ops is under-represented. Hmmm.

The eleven recommended books are an afterthought. Obviously the author is an experienced case officer but he is not broadly read and none of the books deal with the profession of intelligence–a couple by bubbas, a couple on counter-insurgency, a couple on the Islamic mind–you get the idea. In this instance, “practical guide” appears to mean “my personal view, without bothering to look into anything anyone else has recommended…)

All of my books are free online, and of course here on Amazon, so I won’t flog them. The core chapters can also be found online, notably “Presidential Leadership” from the first book, “New Rules for the New Craft of Intelligence” from the second, and so on.

I cannot do justice to all the deep books, including the author’s own, Jawbreaker: The Attack on bin Laden and al-Qaeda: A Personal Account by the CIA’s Key Field Commander which I strongly recommend instead of this book, as well as First In: An Insider’s Account of How the CIA Spearheaded the War on Terror in Afghanistan. See my varied lists, especially the early ones before I started focusing on Earth Intelligence across the board.

Here are the aspects of intelligence as it pertains to national security, and a single recommended book for each, among many others I have read and reviewed here at Amazon:

1) Does it inform policy?
Informing Statecraft

2) Does it avoid doing harm?
Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA

3) Do policymakers abuse it for their own ends?
A Pretext for War: 9/11, Iraq, and the Abuse of America’s Intelligence Agencies

4) Do we tell ourselves and the public the truth?
None So Blind: A Personal Account of the Intelligence Failure in Vietnam

5) Can intelligence make a difference?
Intelligence Power in Peace and War

6) Can intelligence see the invisible?
Seeing the Invisible: National Security Intelligence in an Uncertain Age

7) Do we do as well as we can analyzing what we collect?
Lost Promise

The author is a good, brave, and talented man in the field. We are losing too many like him now, before their retirement age, because we are allowing contractors to steal them and rent them back to us at twice the price. If anyone were listening to me, which they are not, I would have two policies:

1) Pay for performance at commercial rates

2) Lose your clearances for two years if you leave before retirement age, and start the clearance process over when you come back, but if you get to retirement, we hold your clearances for five to ten years without your having to commit to a vendor (or any single vendor) right away and to allow you to free lance while still having your original agency as “home base.”

The US Intelligence Community consists of incredibly good and earnest people trapped in a very bad system with multiple sucking chest wounds from security to acquisition to leadership (no middle, losing the seniors at the directorate levels) to you name it. Nothing in this book is going to fix that, I am sorry to say. We need a firehose, not another Happy Hour menu to throw on the fire.