Reflections on the Inability of Washington to Think with Integrity

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Robert David Steele Vivas
Robert David Steele Vivas

Power corrupts, no doubt about it.  What most people miss is that it is not just about financial corruption that explicitly mis-directs scarce resources to benefit the few over the many (with Congress taking its standard 5% kick-back for delivering earmarks).  Power also corrupts intellect.  People forget how to think.  They begin talking among themselves, shutting out external views, creating an incestuous cycle of circular citation.  Col Mike Pheneger, then J-2 at the US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) discovered this with respect to the Cuban Order of Battle (OOB), and I have found this myself on many occasions over the years.

Recently I have observed two deeply dysfunctional conversations in Washington.  The first deals with intelligence and information overload, the second with the force structure requirements for the U.S. military beyond 2014.

Blithering Blobs of Blogdom

The intelligence discussion is best represented by SASA/INSA and The New America Foundation.  The first fronts for the intelligence-industrial complex and the second for a mix of benefactors, none of whom appear actually interested in creating a government that works for all.  Indeed, it can be said that the secret intelligence world and the “non-profit” think tank world share the same motivation: do whatever it takes to keep the money (inputs) moving, never mind the outputs or the outcomes.

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I addressed the SASA/INSA shortfalls in Reference: Expectations of Intelligence in the Information Age, Review by Steele, Wright, Anon & New Link 3.0.  The New America Foundation's “contribution” is yet another lightweight (you get what you pay for) paper, this one by Lorelei Kelly's, “Congress' Wicked Problem: Seeking Knowledge Inside the Information Tsunami.”  I should not be astonished, but I confess to being continually amazed at the decrepitude of all of America's “information professionals,” including the Washington Post and the New York Times.

Where SASA/INSA and the New America Foundation both go wrong is with their shared mix of jejune puffery and the intellectually vacuous assumption that technology will provide an answer.  “If only we invest more in tools.”  As Paul Strassman, one of the few in 1992 to actually understand where we were going (I was another), has said so ably, “Information Technology makes bad management worse.”  Integrity, and being willing to listen without having to be “incentivized,”, is all it takes to get it right.

I have said it before and I will say it again: technology is not a substitute for thinking, and neither is spending.  If they were, the trillion dollars we have spent on secret intelligence the past fifteen years would have made us very smart indeed.  Instead, as General Tony Zinni, USMC (Ret) has so ably pointed out, he got, as Commander in Chief of the US Central Command (CENTCOM), “at best” 4% of what he needed from the secret world.  Recently I confirmed this in the course of fact checking for my new book, and got the story behind the number:

Zinni asked his J-2 at CENTCOM how much of their usable intell was open source. His J-2 said 80%. Zinni asked his J-2 how much of the 20% classified could be found or expanded in OSINT after it was initially indicated by classified sources. It was determined to be 80% of that.

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20% divided by 5 is 4%.  I myself, as co-founder of the Marine Corps Intelligence Center (MCIC) was moved to champion open sources after learning that our analysts had discovered in 1988 that there was nothing in the classified databases for Haiti, Somalia, or any of the other low-intensity high-probability targets.  Today the secret world continues to obsess on “hard targets” and spending money in ways that do not lead to useful decision support for the President, for Whole of Government Cabinet officials, or for the many subordinates down through the ranks from Assistant Secretaries to desk officers to acquisition program managers.  Sadly, this situation persists because power has corrupted the “deciders” by eliminating all accountability.  As long as Congress gets its 5% standard kick-back, they are fine with discounting the Treasury by 95% (the “bridge to nowhere” has its counterparts across all boundaries — the F-22 to nowhere, the 197 ton artillery system to nowhere, etcetera).  On the Executive side, as Paul Pillar has documented, and before him Greg Treverton and Jack Davis, intelligence is both non-existent and irrelevant.  There is no constituency in Washington for ethical evidence-based decision-support  –  one among many reasons I have been marginalized for so long.  Like Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, all these people keep doing that they are doing “because they can.”  I have proposed very specific, very inexpensive solutions that have been ignored precisely because they restore intelligence and integrity — these are profitable for the many, not the few  that now use Washington as a means of hollowing out the Republic and looting the Treasury.

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The Open Source Agency (OSA), first called for in in 1969 within CIA's own Studies in Intelligence, is the well-documented need.  However, absent some semblance of actualized public integrity between the incoming Secretaries of State and Defense, it will not happen in the USA and may have to find a home in China or elsewhere….Cuba, for example, funded by Venezuela.  Washington lacks intelligence and Washington lacks integrity.  The nomination of John Kerry and Chuck Hagel will probably not result in any substantive change, but they are as good as it gets in terms of possibilities, and Kerry, having confronted Satanic evil both at Skull and Bones and during the Iran-Contra and CIA drug smuggling investigations that he was forced to back down on, could, with Hagel, lead a strategic cleansing of the streets in Washington's empty mind.  I pray this be so.

Dithering Dumbos of Defense

I happen to like Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) but I see no immediate prospects of intelligence with integrity within Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) hearings or investigations.   Over the years, despite the relative maturity of some staff, especially within the SASC, I have come to the conclusion that Hill staff are ants that push paper, not thinkers, and there is not a single Senate staffer I know of that can put the following words in one sentence without a day of preparation and even then they will probably get it wrong:

America needs a 450-ship Navy, a long-haul Air Force, and an air-liftable Army that over time will allow us to close most of our bases (targets) overseas, and bring our troops — and their purchasing power, home.

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I certainly hope Carl Levin or even Chuck Hagel has the wit to ask the Congressional Research Service (CRS) to prepare, prior to 31 January, a concise report of what this force structure might look like, how much it would cost, and how fast it could be accomplished.  I am certain most of it could be done within four years by flushing the entire DoD acquisition corps and focusing on commercial mass production.  I've already done the homework for the Navy, and partially for the Air Force (Peace from Above), the Army is not that hard — just sideline everything that weighs more than 30 tons (the bridge-loading limit in the Third World) and go from there.  I know for a fact that CRS has service specialists able to devise such an integrated concept in time for the 31st, but they have to be tasked by a Member, ideally Chairman Levin himself.

I am constantly being asked for a bottom-line defense number.  I don’t know of any logical way to arrive at such a figure without analyzing the threat,; without determining  what changes in our strategy should be made in light of the changes in the threat; and then determining what force structure and weapons programs we need to carry out this revised strategy.  Senator Sam Nunn, then Chairman, SASC  Source (p. 3)

There are four threat classes.  We need four forces after next.  This is not rocket science, it just takes intelligence with integrity.  Staying in Afghanistan is not an option — nor is the recovery of all our equipment, I recommend we offer it to the highest bidder and abandon it.  Bring back only what we can fly back, leveraging conscripted air, and let that be a lesson for the future — don't fight a war on the Asian land mass, and don't go where you cannot enter and exit via air lift with amphibious shipping in support.

Reform can be job and revenue neutral from district to district and state to state.  I would be glad to testify to this point.

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Now that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has pulled the idiot machines showing naked people — procured at a cost of billions of dollars — the time is right for citizens, legislators, the few investigative reporters we have –and those good people trapped in the very bad corrupt executive and legislative systems — to ask: can we afford four more years without intelligence or integrity in Washington?  If the truth at any cost lowers all other costs — I would would be happy to debate this publicly with anyone anywhere — can we afford to continue doing the wrong things “righter” (more expensively) instead of the right things (Whole of Government planning, programming and budgeting based on ethical evidence-based decision-support)?

“The righter we do the wrong thing, the wronger we become. When we make a mistake doing the wrong thing and correct it, we become wronger. When we make a mistake doing the right thing and correct it, we become righter. Therefore, it is better to do the right thing wrong than the wrong thing right. This is very significant because almost every problem confronting our society is a result of the fact that our public policy makers are doing the wrong things and are trying to do them righter.” (Ackoff 2004)

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I've known  the answer since 1988, refined in 1992, 1996, 2000, 2006, and most recently, in 2010, 2011, and 2012.  Is there anyone in Washington that has the brains and the balls to take on the need for an Open Source Agency (OSA) and make it happen?   Until then, criminal insanity rules, and we are all shamed and derelict in our duty to the Republic.

Semper Fidelis,
Robert David STEELE Vivas

See Also:

2013 Robert Steele: Reflections on Reform 2.2 Numbers for 30% DoD Cut over 2-4 Years

2012 Robert Steele: Reflections on the US Military — Redirection Essential — and a Prerequisite to Creating a 450-Ship Navy, a Long-Haul Air Force, and an Air-Liftable Army

2012 Robert Steele: Addressing the Seven Sins of Foreign Policy — Why Defense, Not State, Is the Linch Pin for Global Engagement

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