Review: Secrets–A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers

6 Star Top 10%, Censorship & Denial of Access, Crime (Government), Culture, Research, Empire, Sorrows, Hubris, Blowback, Executive (Partisan Failure, Reform), Impeachment & Treason, Information Operations, Intelligence (Government/Secret), Justice (Failure, Reform), Military & Pentagon Power, Misinformation & Propaganda, Politics, Power (Pathologies & Utilization), Secrecy & Politics of Secrecy, Strategy, Threats (Emerging & Perennial), True Cost & Toxicity, Truth & Reconciliation, Values, Ethics, Sustainable Evolution, Voices Lost (Indigenous, Gender, Poor, Marginalized), War & Face of Battle

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5.0 out of 5 stars History Matters, Secrecy Permits War Crimes by Presidents,

November 2, 2002
Daniel Ellsberg
This extraordinary work comes at the perfect time, as an Administration is seeking to create new forms of secret operations invisible to Congress and the public, in pursuit of its war on Iraq and-one speculates-other targets of ideological but not public priority. The book covers seven areas I categorize as Background, History, Information Strategy, Pathology of Secrecy, Ethics, War Crimes, and Administrative.By way of background, the book establishes that the author was not a peacenik per se, as some might perceive him, but rather a warrior, both in terms of Cold War ideology and from actual experience as a USMC infantry company commander and an on-the-ground observer traveling across Viet-Nam by jeep instead of helicopter, generally in the company of the top U.S. ground expert in Viet-Nam, John Paul Vann. The book establishes-as George Allen has also told us in NONE SO BLIND, that intelligence did not fail in Viet-Nam, that Presidents do get good advice from good men, but that the position of President, combined with executive secrecy as an enabling condition, permits very irrational and ineffective policies, conceived in private without public debate, to go forward at taxpayer expense and without Congressional oversight. The author is timely in emphasizing that the “spell of unanimity” is very dangerous and provides a very false image to the public-the stifling of dissent and debate at all levels leads to bad policy.

The author does an effective job of bringing forward the lessons of history, not only from Truman and Eisenhower forward, but from the Japanese and French occupations of Indochina. We failed to learn from history, and even our own experts, such as Lansdale showing McNamara the rough equipment that the Vietnamese would defeat us with because of their “will to win,” were sidelined.

As a public administration and public policy text this book offers real value as a primary source. The author provides valuable insights into how quickly “ground truth” can be established; on how the U.S. Government is not structured to learn; on how the best answers emerge when there is not a lead agency and multiple inputs are solicited simultaneously; and most importantly, on how private truths spoken in secrecy are not effective within any Administration. The author stresses that Americans must understand what Presidents are doing in their name, and not be accomplices to war crimes or other misdeeds. He does a brilliant job of demonstrating why we cannot let the Executive Branch dictate what we need to know.

Interwoven with the author’s balanced discussion of how to get ground truth right is his searing and intimate discussion of the pathology of secrecy as an enabler for bad and sometimes criminal foreign policy, carried out without public debate or Congressional oversight. The author adds new insights, beyond those in Morton Halperin’s superb primer on Bureaucracy and Foreign Policy, regarding the multiple levels of understanding created by multiple levels of classification; the falseness of many written records in an environment where truth may often only be spoken verbally, without witnesses; the fact that the Department of Defense created false records to conceal its illegal bombings in Laos and Cambodia, at the same time that the White House created false secret cables, used Acting Director of the FBI Patrick Gray to destroy evidence, and sought to bribe a judge with the offer of the FBI directorship. The author presents a compelling portrait of an Executive Branch-regardless of incumbent party-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. He is especially strong on the weakness of secret information. As he lectured to 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. P. 236]

On such a foundation, the author discusses the ethics of Presidential leadership. He is especially strong-and relevant today-in discussing how Presidential appointees regard loyalty to the President as a mandate for lying to Congress and the media and the public. The author excels at bringing forward how our corruption in permitting corruption is easily recognized and interpreted by indigenous personnel-just as how whom we support is quick evidence of how little we know about local politics.

From here the author segues into the ethics of collateral damage and the liability of the American people for war crimes and naked aggression against the Vietnamese because of our deliberate violation of the Geneva accords and our support for a corrupt series of dictatorships in South Viet-Nam. Much of what we did in Viet-Nam would appear to qualify for prosecution under the International Tribunal, and it may be that our bi-partisan history of war crimes in Viet-Nam is what keeps us from acknowledging the inherent wisdom of accepting the jurisdiction of the International Tribunal in future wars. Tellingly, at one point his wife reads the Pentagon Papers and her tearful reaction is: “this is the language of torturers.”

Administratively we are reminded that the Pentagon Papers were 7,000 pages in total; that Neil Sheehan from The New York Times actually stole a set of the papers from Ellsberg before being given a set; that character assassination by the U.S. Government is a routine tactic in dealing with informed dissent; and that it is not illegal to leak classified information-only administrative sanctions apply, outside a narrow set of Congressionally-mandated exceptions.

This book is a “must read” for any American that thinks and votes.

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Review: Strategic Denial and Deception–The Twenty-First Century Challenge

5 Star, Censorship & Denial of Access, Intelligence (Government/Secret), Misinformation & Propaganda, Strategy

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5.0 out of 5 stars Advanced Reading for National Security Practitioner-Students,

July 25, 2002
Roy Godson
This is a really excellent collection of advanced reading on strategic denial and deception, and it makes the vital point that denial and deception are at the core of 4th generation warfare and asymmetric offense and defense strategy.The two contributing editors are the best-qualified experts possible. Roy Godson’s work in the 1980’s and 1990’s on intelligence requirements, carrying on today with his advanced thinking on restoring covert action and counterintelligence as well as the synergy among these and collection with analysis, makes him the premier policy-scholar in this arena. Jim Wirtz, author of the very insightful “The Tet Offensive: Intelligence Failure in War,” and now chairman of the Department of National Security Affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School where very advanced work is being done on the new craft of intelligence (both human and technical, both secret and open), adds a combat practitioners perspective.

While there are some similarities among a few of the contributions, on balance each one is sufficiently unique. Two key thoughts that jumped out:

1) Most of the lessons learned come from World War II. The authors were hard-pressed to find modern examples. The one used from the Gulf War (an amphibious feint) is in my recollection false–we were planning an amphibious attack, and it was only at the last minute that CINCCENT was persuaded to do a Hail Mary end run, prompted in part by some exceptional work from the Navy’s intelligence center that showed the beach obstacles in great detail.

2) Two perennial lessons learned are that policy makers do not want to hear about possible hostile denial and deception–they want to stick with their own preconceptions (which of course make denial and deception easier to accomplish against us); and second, that intelligence experts tend to be under great pressure to cook the books in favor of policy preconceptions, while also being generally unwilling to believe the enemy can deceive them or accomplish slights of hand that are undetectable.

All of the chapters are good, but two struck me as especially helpful today: J. Bowyer Bell’s “Conditions Making for Success and Failure of Denial and Deception: Nonstate and Illicit Actors,” and Bart Whaley & Jeffrey Busby, “Detecting Deception: Practice, Practitioners, and Theory.” The latter, building on a lifetime of study that included a review of eight strategic cultures as well as the cost of major deceptions (D-Day deceptions that fixed German forces cost less than 1% of the assets and could have saved the entire force), examined 47 seven different kind of “detectives” from scientists and bank tellers to biographers and private eyes, and creates nine categories of “detectibles”, concluding with the Law of Multiple Sensors, something that most stove-piped intelligence communities simply will not grasp for at least another decade.

This is both a serious work of scholarship, and a very valuable policy reader.

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Review: Those Who Trespass

5 Star, Biography & Memoirs, Censorship & Denial of Access, Culture, Research, Media

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5.0 out of 5 stars Insights into Workplace Terrorism and Network Corruption,

December 1, 2001
Bill O’Reilly
Novels by authoritative figures are a proven way of telling shocking truths without having to deal with lawyers. Richard Marcenko did this to U.S. Navy Special Operations with “Rogue Warrior”, Winn Schwartau did this for American’s vulnerability to anonymous electronic terrorism with “Terminal Compromise.”O’Reilly was written a fascinating novel, one that is not only a first-rate thriller in its own right, but that also lays out some of the really outrageous manipulative and corrupt behavior that is common among senior network managers. He introduces the concept of workplace terrorism (by managers), of “bigfooting” (the theft–plagarism–of good work by field reporters so that the pretty face names (both male and female) can be reinforced); and the falsification of market surveys for the purpose of slandering and firing really good people who refuse to be cowed by bad and unethical network managers.
This novel has it all–engaging truths, a solid plot, a sentimental love story, good police thread, and a dramatic climax. I ended up buying a used copy and am glad I took the trouble. If you ever wondered what traitors to our national intelligence community and some senior network managers have in common, read this book–O’Reilly has put a stake through their hearts.
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Review: The Age of Missing Information

5 Star, Censorship & Denial of Access, Consciousness & Social IQ, Culture, Research, Information Society

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5.0 out of 5 stars Information is not a substitute for nature–or for thinking,

April 7, 2000
Bill McKibben
The author taped all the TV shows being broadcast for 24 hours, then watched all of the shows over the necessary time period, and then spend 24 hours alone with nature. There are some well-thought and well-articulated insights in this book. Information is not a substitute for nature. The information explosion is drowning our senses and cutting us off from more fundamental information about our limitations and the limitations of the world around us. Television really did kill history, in that it continually celebrates and rehashes the 40 years of time for which there is television film on background, and overlooks the 4000 years behind that. The worst disasters move slowly, and the TV cameras don’t see them.
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Review: Forbidden Knowledge–From Prometheus to Pornography

5 Star, Censorship & Denial of Access, Consciousness & Social IQ, Education (General), Information Society

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5.0 out of 5 stars From Scary to Sacred to Secret–Essential Insights,

April 7, 2000
Roger Shattuck
Beyond the mundane discussions about secrecy versus openness, or privacy versus transparency, there is a much higher level of discussion, one about the nature, limits, and morality of knowledge. As I read this book, originally obtained to put secrecy into perspective, I suddenly grasped and appreciated two of the author’s central thoughts: knowing too much too fast can be dangerous; and yes, there are things we should not know or be exposed to. Who decides? Or How do we the people decide? are questions that must be factored into any national knowledge policy or any national information strategy. This book left me with a sense of both the sacred and the scary sides of unfettered knowledge. This is less about morality and more about focus, intention, and social outcomes. It is about the convergence of power, knowledge, and love to achieve an enlightened intelligence network of self-governing moral people who are able to defend themselves against evil knowledge and prosper by sharing good knowledge.
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