Review: Reducing Uncertainty: Intelligence Analysis and National Security

5 Star, Intelligence (Government/Secret)
Amazon Page
Amazon Page

Thomas Fingar

5.0 out of 5 stars World Class on Iran — And Sad Summary of Shallowness Everywhere Else, December 21, 2012

UPDATED 12 OCT 2015 to elevate to five stars in recognition of the author's extraordinary professionalism and honesty in assuring that the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) for Iran done in 2007 documented its destruction of its nuclear weapons program and resisted all political pressures — both domestic and international — to lie (which is what George Tenet did to enable the elective war on Iraq).

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The book is a fast read with a poor index, and the best thing I can say about it is that the author is as good as it gets inside the secret analytic world, and his account is therefore the best available encapsulation of the US analyst in the secret world as virtual eunuch. Normally I do not review books that annoy me, but I make two exceptions, and this book qualifies on both counts: they are in the field to which I have dedicated my life; and there are ten other books that I feel merit being read with or instead of this book.

The substance first. I was a member of the national-level Foreign Intelligence Requirements and Capabilities (FIRCAP) committee for several years,and I truly appreciated the following quote at multiple levels:

QUOTE (51): Requests and requirements have to be prioritized, and the IC has a rather elaborate process to review and rank order the approximately 9,100 cells in the matrix created by arraying roughly 280 international actors against thirty-two intelligence topics that have been grouped into three categories by the National Security Council.

What the author is saying is that it is impossible for a finite number of analysts to cover everything (that's why we call it Global Coverage). What he is not saying is that the US secret world is incapable of harnessing the distributed intelligence of the Whole Earth, in part because it's insane security parameters prevent it from talking to anyone remotely close to ground truth. I note with fascination that the index of this book shows a reference to outside experts on two pages. The fact is that the secret world analysts (mostly children these days, there are no more Dan L's on Cuba or Jack Davis' for that matter) are locked in a bunker and spoon fed generally rotten secrets that in turn represent perhaps 10% of what has been collected, and nothing from the 90% or more that is not secret, not in English, and not online.

The author is also saying that with the finite number of analysts and the security-delimited scope of their work, they can, at best, deal with the “Hard Targets” that are alleged to be very grave threats to the security of the USA — as if they might nuke us at any moment — China, Russia, North Korea, Libya was even in this number and one point, and — wait for it — Cuba. [To paraphrase a Mexican minister telling us why Mexico could never join us in sanctioning Cuba, “if I did this, 40 million Mexicans would die laughing”).

Here is the quote from Daniel Ellsberg lecturing Kissinger (as found on page 236 of Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers), that resonates with me as I go over this book:

Daniel Ellsberg speaking to Henry Kissinger: The danger is, you'll become like a moron. You'll become incapable of learning from most people in the world, no matter how much experience they have in their particular areas that may be much greater than yours” [because of your blind faith in the value of your narrow and often incorrect secret information].

Ellsberg goes on in that book, which is certainly the perfect counterpart to this one, to document how the US fails to learn from history, how presidential appointees consider loyalty a mandate to lie to Congress and the public, and how an Executive Branch-regardless of incumbent party-is likely to make major foreign policy miscalculations because of the pathology of secret compartmentation, while also being able to conceal those miscalculations, and the cost to the public, because of Executive secrecy.

What this book does not communicate is that the US Government does not “do” decision-support; that with an Open Source Agency (OSA) — Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) is not part of this author's writ — we CAN do Global Coverage, do it well, and do it for EVERYBODY (see my CounterPunch article, “Intelligence for the President–AND Everybody Else“). When I say everybody I mean all the desk and action officers, and even the Embassy sections in every country.

The sad reality is, as Paul Pillar documents so well in his recent book, Intelligence and U.S. Foreign Policy: Iraq, 9/11, and Misguided Reform, US intelligence is a joke — the policy world ignores it or abuses it, and because it is secret, can claim it says one thing when it actually says another (contrast the 935 now-documented lies on Iraq, and George Tenet's protitutional “slam-dunk” with what we actually knew from the son in law defector (kept the cook books, dumped the stocks, bluffing for regional influence sake) and the line crosses that Charlie Allen and others orchestrated. US intelligence lacks both intelligence AND integrity and that is something I want to change.

Read this book in the same spirit as The Very Best Men: The Daring Early Years of the CIA — or BLOND GHOST — honorable men and women, competent to the fullest extent demanded of them — and totally lost in the real world when information costs money and intelligence makes money. $70-80 billion a year, and General Tony Zinni, USMC (Ret), then commanding general of the US Central Command with two wars and another dozen JTFs, was saying that he got, “at best” 4% of what he needed from the secret world.

Enough. The primary purpose of my taking the time to post this review is to point to another six books, and my master lists of reviews.

On Analysis & Its Corruption
Informing Statecraft
None So Blind: A Personal Account of the Intelligence Failure in Vietnam
Who the Hell Are We Fighting?: The Story of Sam Adams and the Vietnam Intelligence Wars

and look up Jack Davis, search for “analytic tradecraft” and look up Boyd Sutton, search for “Global Coverage” source=phibetaiota

Here are three books that I consider best in class; the last two precisely because all that they discuss is not to be found here.
Strategic Intelligence and Statecraft: Selected Essays (Brassey's Intelligence & National Security Library)
Open Source Intelligence in a Networked World (Continuum Intelligence Studies)
No More Secrets: Open Source Information and the Reshaping of U.S. Intelligence (Praeger Security International)

My three master lists, all leading back to each book's Amazon page, are an alternative to the prevailing narrative that is costing the US taxpayer $70 billion or more a year for largely worthless corporate vapor-ware and child analysts easily ignored.

Worth a Look: Book Reviews on Intelligence (Most)

Worth a Look: Book Review Lists (Positive)

Worth a Look: Book Review Lists (Negative)

With best wishes to all,
Robert David STEELE Vivas
INTELLIGENCE FOR EARTH: Clarity, Diversity, Integrity & Sustainability

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