Very Disapointing, Incomplete, Dated, and Annoying
September 19, 2007
Richard K. Betts
Retired Reader is as usual being kind. I agree that the book is useful as a sense of what the insider’s want us to think, but it is at best a superficial summary (easily read) that has so many errors (of perception) and omissions (of fact) as to hardly be worthy of the read.
I quickly realized the general shallowness, but out of respect for the author stopped reading and instead went and read every single footnote, every single index entry, and indeed confirmed that this is a mix of old work, draws only on “members of the club” work, and fills in the gaps with Op-Eds and newspaper stories written by people who generally have no clue. Then I read the whole book.
Anyone who cites Deborah Burger’s pabulum about “revolution in intelligence affairs” is kissing the institution’s ass (pun intended); and anyone who considers the Sims-Gerber book to be transformative (as opposed to useful if you want the status quo), is simply out of touch with reality, with the possibilities, and with the complex pathologies that plague both the intelligence community (see my five images) and our politicians, every one of them, but most especially Dick Cheney and Nancy Pelosi, impeachable for breach of trust. For additional background, see my IJCI commentary on “Intelligence Affairs: Evolution, Revolution, or Reactionary Collapse?”
This is in fact what annoyed me most about this book–it glosses over the high crimes and misdemeanors of the White House but also of the Cabinet, as well as the blatant errors and omissions of virtually every senior intelligence officer. The USS Liberty and USS Pueblo were outrageous acts of war that could have been defended against and also justified retaliation, but instead both Administrations covered up, as they covered up on 9/11 and the Kennedy Assassination. In the case of George Tenet, he screwed up three big things: the clandestine service; the hunt for Bin Laden; and his ignorance in refusing to follow the recommendations made by Boyd Sutton in “The Challenge of Global Coverage,” calling for 1.5B a year against the 95% of the world that we ignore at our peril.
This book gets three stars instead of the two I planned originally because the author is an original, has demonstrated he knows what the higher standard is, and I will simply assume that at this time in his life he too busy to read broadly. He could start with my reviews, which are free.
There are so many books over-looked by the author here that I just shake my head. I link to a few below.
I expected the author to be dismissive of open sources of information, and to ignore my own work despite the fact that he has been a speaker at one of my conferences and knows full well the contents of my varied books. What I was not expecting was what I consider to be an abject superficial apologia, almost a hearts and flowers farewell to the John McLaughlin’s of the past.
I was also not expecting the quickly evident lack of familiarity (or lack of time to properly integrate if known) with the wealth of information from many authors on both policy and intelligence failures, and the facts thereof. Nowhere in this book, for example, does the author properly credit Charlie Allen with sending 35 line crossers into Iraq to confirm what we already knew from the defecting son-in-law: keep the cook-books, destroyed the stocks, bluffing for regional sake.
Although acceptable in an academic book of this kind, the author’s lack of understanding of the magnitude of the budget (it is $60 to 70 billion, not the loose lips $44 billion that Mary Graham gave us) and his lack of understanding of how what we do now fails to address the ten high level threats to humanity that LtGen Dr. Brent Scowcroft, USAF (Ret) helped identify, fails to help us create the needed four forces after next including the White Hat Peace from the Sea and Peace from Above, relegates this book to the curiosity pile.
I was particularly annoyed by the disingenuous glibness in speaking of the value of an intelligence reserve, when the author knows full well that because of security blinders the secret puppies talk to just 14 of the 1400 Muslim experts in America; and either his obliviousness or naiveté in suggesting that dissent and multiple advocacy channels are worth anything when our young analysts are near idiots (the World Bank official I spoke to says their assumptions about Sudan and elsewhere are so ignorant as to be frightening); have no processing power, not even the analytic desktop that Diane Webb designed in 1985-1986, at which time I discovered we had no fewer than twenty “compartmented” projects to build the same all source fusion station, only each was a sweetheart deal with a different vendor; or access to the 96% of the information that the secret world does not have access to and will never have access to unless we first create a Multinational Information Sharing Activity outside the wire and able to share without restraint.
The book whimpers to an end. For a free and broader grasp of reality and pathology, see my reviews of other books on intelligence (especially the ones the author neglects to integrate), and sign up for the free weekly report, GLOBAL CHALLENGES: The Week in Review. See Earth Intelligence Network.
I won’t even touch the lack of serious coverage of education, commercial intelligence, policy-maker ignorance, and all the other small but important details left out of this book. This book comes nowhere near the reality that you cannot create and maintain smart spies in the context of a dumb nation. This is what we get from a community that spends $60B a year creating a President’s Daily Brief ($1.2B/week), largely ineffective at all else.
Below are the tip of the iceberg.
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
Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA
Who the Hell Are We Fighting?: The Story of Sam Adams and the Vietnam Intelligence Wars
Denial and Deception: An Insider’s View of the CIA
See No Evil: The True Story of a Ground Soldier in the CIA’s War on Terrorism
Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers
Wedge: From Pearl Harbor to 9/11–How the Secret War between the FBI and CIA Has Endangered National Security
Deep Cover: The Inside Story of How DEA Infighting, Incompetence and Subterfuge Lost Us the Biggest Battle of the Drug War
See my many lists for broader recommendations.