Review: The Threat on the Horizon

5 Star, Budget Process & Politics, Congress (Failure, Reform), Corruption, Culture, Research, Executive (Partisan Failure, Reform), Information Operations, Intelligence (Government/Secret), Military & Pentagon Power, Politics, Power (Pathologies & Utilization), Priorities, Public Administration, Science & Politics of Science, Secrecy & Politics of Secrecy, True Cost & Toxicity
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Loch Johnson

5.0 out of 5 stars Scholarly Reference–Does Not Add Weight to Reform, June 10, 2011

By Robert D. Steele (Oakton, VA United States) – See all my reviews

The author of this book, Loch Johnson, is one of two people who also served on the Church Commission-Brit Snider is the other, and he was, at the recommendation of Loch, joined to the Commission by Les Aspin and then appointed Staff Director on his merits. For this reason, what the book does not do is deliberate. The focus on the book is on rendering a historical account of a major endeavor to study the need for reform of the US Intelligence Community.

What the author misses up front is the reality that the Commission was the way in which Senator John Warner (R-VA) and then Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney blew up the rather well-crafted efforts of Senator Dave Boren (D-OK) and Representative Dave McCurdy (D-OK-04), each the chairman of their respective Senate and House Intelligence Communities. The National Security Act of 1992 (I summarized the Act for the American Intelligence Journal) was a well-crafted endeavor. It was destroyed because Senator John Warner refused to consider anything that might reduce intelligence budget and personnel in Virginia (both a bloated at all locations), and Secretary Cheney was willing to tell any lie, oppose any good idea, that might reduce the military's growing ownership of secret intelligence. Today, under DNI James Clapper, we have the most expensive and most ineffective intelligence community on the planet-only the vendors of vaporware get rich-the deal is that all retired IC leaders and most IC retirees get to double-dip with their clearances intact-good for them, very bad for the public.

The book should of course be read with the actual report of the Commission, available free online, and I also recommend the IC21 Staff Study done by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI), Mark Lowenthal then the Staff Director, one of the few really useful documents to come out of that body in the public interest.

To set the tone, the author begins by describing the membership of the Commission, the role played by Senator Warner as a member of the commission (see Senator Warner's short note at the end of the actual Report to understand why this Commission was dead on arrival). Interestingly to me, he defines Les Aspin's intent as chairman being to STUDY the intelligence community, while Senator Warner's intent from day one was to SELL the community and certainly not cut it.

Goldman Sachs was represented by Stephen Friedman, the neo-conservatives by Paul Wolfowitz, and the military-industrial complex by Bob Hermann of United Technologies. Leaping forward to the end of the book, I bring forward a marvelous quote of David Wise by the author of this book:

QUOTE (355, David Wise): “a Commission make up of members of the establishment is not likely to clobber the establishment, or step on many toes-and it didn't.

My own eight books mature the ideal of intelligence with integrity, and all of them are, as one might imagine, in direct opposition to the status quo. What I do find heartening is that “integrity” is the single most searched for term at Phi Beta Iota the Public Intelligence Blog, and in the words on one Colonel serving in Afghanistan, “The mendacity is getting so egregious that I am fast losing the ability to remain quiet.” I sense that the more mature and responsible practitioners of secret intelligence are increasingly aware that they have given up their soul and their integrity, and are not practicing the craft of intelligence as it could and should be practiced.

Early points that were of interest to me:

CORE FINDING: Technical Collection is the elephant in the room, over-funded, under-productive, all else suffers (e.g. human hires, processing, dissemination, multinational outreach).

ASPIN's TOP PRIORITY: Consumer-Producer Relations.

A few other highlights:

01 Discussion of what specific individuals said was very interesting. Even more useful would have been a matrix sorting out individual views in relation to each of the key topics (there is list of key topics and single recommendation summaries at the end of the book).

02 The CIA's Directorate of Operations (DO) takes hits throughout this book. Although the Commission was manipulated to do them no harm, the underlying theme including critical commentary from Richard Helms, is damning: too clubby, can be cut by 25% (or more), too noisy to do real secrets, don't do what they are told (the latter from Stansfield Turner). On page 245 Schlesinger is quoted as saying that human intelligence has to understand a society and the nuances, not just sit in a coffee shop and take what is offered. John McMahon, whom I interviewed in 1979 for my Career Trainee (CT) class, says the DO is bloated and needs oversight. For sure!

03 The author carried out a review of selected copies of the President's Daily Brief (PDB) that may be unprecedented. It found nuggets in the PDBs and it found many occasions where open sources were better or secret sources were simply not available (generally in the Third World-see Boyd Sutton's Global Coverage Report from June 1997 to understand why we need an Open Source Agency funded at no less than $1.5 billion ($10 million a year for each of 150 “lesser” threats that the secret world ignores because they are “not an expensive enough problem.”)

04 Economic intelligence gets some good play in this book, and I am very interested in the testimony of Ron Brown (Commerce) and Michael Kantor (Trade) are reported on page 232. Brown is reported to have been pleased with signals intercepts on economic negotiations, and to have said: “The quality [of written intelligence reports] is spotty. What people say on the telephone: that's what I find important.” See my free online monograph at Strategic Studies Institute, Human Intelligence: All Humans, All Minds, All the Time, which includes my “full-spectrum human intelligence” reflections and graphics.

Admiral Inman is featured at page 246 and I find all that he offered very much to the point. I love Inman's three rules as quoted there:

01 Don't go into civil wars-“They's like family feuds.”

02 Do stop invasions that cross national borders.

03 Do rescue Americans in peril overseas.

Admiral Inman was among the first to sound the alarm on the collection gorillas claiming ownership-he is reported to have told the Commission that the collection managers need to get over the concept of ownership; and he believed that collection should do precise collection responsive to specific needs of the consumers, not vacuuming.

Not really addressed in this book is the complete lack of M4IS2 across the entire US intelligence community-it does not “do” processing and it does not do multi-cultural analytics and its does not do multi-national clandestine (regional) field stations and it therefore is not even close to what I would do if I were DNI (after I converted it to Director of Global Intelligence): Multinational, Multiagency, Multidisciplinary, Multidomain Information-Sharing and Sense-Making across the eight tribes of intelligence (academic, civil society, commerce, government, law enforcement, media, military, and non-governmental/non-profit).

A few minor notes of interest:

Brown was interested in whether consumers should pay for intelligence, or have their own intelligence capabilities in-house (or both).

Woolsey talked about politicization (and was previously on record with Loch Johnson as saying the entire IC could be cut from $30 billion a year to $20 billion a year, this around 1990).

Tony Lake on record as saying that he wanted to be able to do covert action, but that leaks make covert action “useless and dangerous.”

David Wise gets high marks for warning the Commission that a military take-over of secret intelligence was underway, they did not realize that Jim Clapper had a plan then and is now finalizing that plan, to the enormous detriment of the American public.

Judge Webster on page 281 offers four guidelines on covert action that I accept as a starting point:

01 Is it legal with respect to US (not foreign) law?

02 Is it consistent with American foreign policy and if not, why not?

03 Is it consistent with American values? [This is important–Dick Cheney was amoral and Barack Obama appears to be also]

04 If it becomes public, will it make sense to the American people?

Over-all the book portrays the Commissioners as “scattered” and it does not portray the staff at all. I was seriously hoping for some credit to Phyllis Provost-McNeil, who single-handedly got Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) on the agenda, and scheduled four witnesses:

Tony Lake: I call my friends.

David Sarnoff Lab: We're not sure what OSINT is, but high-definition TV will make it better.

RAND: Everything is on the Internet (1995), we know how to get it.

OSS (Steele): Deep quick look at eight tribes and many methods, followed by the Burundi exercise.

The above is not in this book. OSINT is mentioned on page 115 and pages 229-231 with some PDB versus OSINT discussion on pages 231-233. The author, perhaps because he has not served in the military, mis-states the results of the Burundi exercise, remembering only the Jane's contribution of tribal orders of battle that as I recall were created by Joe Bermudez over the week-end, just before he and many Jane's analysts were “let go” as being too human, too expensive. In fact the Burundi exercise also produced a complete listing of immediately available Russian military 1:50,000 combat charts with contour lines; a list of the top academics from the Institute of Scientific Information, a list of the top journalists from LEXIS-NEXIS, 100% of Burundi imagery at the 10 meter (1:50 level) cloud free, less than four years old from SPOT Image, and Oxford-Analytica summaries similar to the PDB but shareable with anyone.

The book draws to a close with a Chapter 13 aptly titled “Reform Unraveled.” The truth is that the Commission was never about reform, it was a means of diverting Congress and the public, a mere bureaucratic maneuver. The chapter is fine for the book, but completely misses the 9/11 back-story, and on Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq, is unaware that while George Tenet was prostituting himself to Dick Cheney, Charlie Allen was running line crossers in that confirmed what the defecting son said: destroyed the stocks, kept the cookbooks, bluffing for regional influence's sake. I believe that story is in Jim Bamford's A Pretext for War: 9/11, Iraq, and the Abuse of America's Intelligence Agencies.

On 395 the author provides a reference to Harry Truman with respect to how the DNI issue would have been handled by Truman, and speculates that Truman, who liked centralization and clear lines of authority, would have gone with the DNI located at Langley. I disagree. Based on Truman's on the record statements and notes [search for < Harry Truman CIA never intended > I believe Truman would have said, without a moment's hesitation: “Shut the entire mess down.”

I personally pray for the day that we get a DNI with vision and integrity who is able to lead us out of the wilderness by sheer force of personality deeply rooted in a commitment to the values that made America great. Technocrats need not apply.

A handful of books other than my own (which have hundreds of intelligence books in the annotated bibliographies) that I recommend for the substance of changing intelligence so that it might be intelligent with integrity:
Fixing Intelligence: For a More Secure America, Second Edition (Yale Nota Bene)
Best Truth: Intelligence in the Information Age
Bombs, Bugs, Drugs, and Thugs: Intelligence and America's Quest for Security
Long Strange Journey: An Intelligence Memoir
Beyond Repair: The Decline and Fall of the CIA
Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA
Body of Secrets: Anatomy of the Ultra-Secret National Security Agency
The Shadow Factory: The Ultra-Secret NSA from 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America

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