Review: Bombs, Bugs, Drugs, and Thugs–Intelligence and America’s Quest for Security

5 Star, Asymmetric, Cyber, Hacking, Odd War, Crime (Corporate), Crime (Government), Crime (Organized, Transnational), Intelligence (Government/Secret)

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5.0 out of 5 stars Rare and Deep Insights into Intelligence Grid-Lock,

December 19, 2000
Loch Johnson

The opening quotation from Harry Howe Ransom says it all-“Certainly nothing is more rational and logical than the idea that national security policies be based upon the fullest and most accurate information available; but the cold war spawned an intelligence Frankenstein monster that now needs to be dissected, remodeled, rationalized and made fully accountable to responsible representatives of the people.”

Professor Johnson is one of only two people(the other being Britt Snider) to have served on both the Church Commission in the 1970’s and the Aspin-Brown Commission in the 1990’s, and is in my view one of the most competent observer and commentator on the so-called U.S. Intelligence Community. The book is a tour d’horizon on both the deficiencies of today’s highly fragmented and bureaucratized archipelago of independent fiefdoms, as well as the “new intelligence agenda” that places public health and the environment near the top of the list of topics to be covered by spies and satellites.

Highlights of this excellent work, a new standard in terms of currency and breadth, include his informed judgment that most of what is in the “base” budget of the community should be resurrected for reexamination, and that at least 20% of the budget (roughly $6 billion per year) could be done away with-and one speculates that this would be good news to an Administration actively seeking trade-offs permitting its promised tax cut program. His overviews of the various cultures within the Central Intelligence Agency, of the myths of intelligence, and of the possibilities for burden sharing all merit close review.

He does, however, go a bridge too far while simultaneously rendering a great service to the incoming Administration. He properly identifies the dramatic shortfalls in the open source information gathering and processing capabilities of the various Departments of the Federal government-notably the Department of State as well as the Department of Commerce and the various agencies associated with public health-but then he goes on to suggest that these very incapacities should give rise to an extension of the U.S. Intelligence Community’s mission and mandate-that it is the U.S. Intelligence Community, including clandestine case officers in the field and even FBI special agents, who should be tasked with collecting open sources of information and with reporting on everything from disease to pollution. This will never work, but it does highlight the fact that all is not well with *both* the U.S. Intelligence Community *and* the rest of the government that is purportedly responsible for collecting and understanding open sources of information.

On balance I found this book to be a very competent, insightful, and well-documented survey of the current stresses and strains facing the U.S. national intelligence community. The conclusion that I drew from the book, one that might not be shared by the author, was that the U.S. Government as a whole has completely missed the dawn of the Information Age. From the National Security Agency, where too many people on payroll keep that organization mired in the technologies of the 1970’s, to the U.S. State Department, which has lost control of its Embassies and no longer collects significant amounts of open source information, to the White House, where no one has time to read-we have completely blown it-we simply have not adapted the cheap and responsive tools of the Internet to our needs, nor have we employed the Internet to share the financial as well as the intellectual and time burdens of achieving “Global Coverage.” More profoundly, what this book does in a way I have not been able to do myself, is very pointedly call into question the entire structure of government, a government attempting to channel small streams of fragmented electronic information through a physical infrastructure of buildings and people that share no electronic connectivity what-so-ever, while abdicating its responsibility to absorb and appreciate the vast volumes of relevant information from around the globe that is not online, not in English, and not free.

It was not until I had absorbed the book’s grand juxtaposition of the complementary incompetencies of both the producers of intelligence and the consumers of intelligence that I realized he has touched on what must be the core competency of government in the Information Age: how precisely do we go about collecting, analyzing, and disseminating information, and creating tailored intelligence, when we are all inter-dependent across national, legal bureaucratic, and cultural boundaries? This is not about secrecy versus openness, but rather about whether Government Operations as a whole are taking place with the sources, methods, and tools of this century, or the last. To bombs, bugs, drugs, and thugs one must add the perennial Pogo: “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”
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Review: Deliver Us from Evil–Peacekeepers, Warlords and a World of Endless Conflict

5 Star, Crime (Government), Crime (Organized, Transnational), Diplomacy, Empire, Sorrows, Hubris, Blowback, Executive (Partisan Failure, Reform), Force Structure (Military), Humanitarian Assistance, Insurgency & Revolution, Justice (Failure, Reform), Military & Pentagon Power, Security (Including Immigration), Stabilization & Reconstruction, Threats (Emerging & Perennial), Truth & Reconciliation, United Nations & NGOs, War & Face of Battle

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5.0 out of 5 stars Fundamental Primer on Real-World Security Challenges,

August 29, 2000
William Shawcross
EDIT of 23 Feb 08 to add links. This remains a priceless reference work.

This book is serious, scholarly yet down to earth, compassionate, insightful, terribly relevant and most useful to any citizen, overseas practitioner, or policymaker. By the books own rendering, “good will without strength can make things worse.” Most compellingly, the author demonstrates both the nuances and the complexities of “peace operations”, and the fact that they require at least as much forethought, commitment, and sustainment as combat operations. Food scarcity and dangerous public health are the root symptoms, not the core issues. The most dangerous element is not the competing sides, but the criminal gangs that emerge to “stoke the fires of nationalism and ethnicity in order to create an environment of fear and vulnerability” (and great profit). At the same time, humanitarianism has become a big part of the problem-we have not yet learned how to distinguish between those conflicts where intervention is warranted (e.g. massive genocide campaigns) and those where internal conflicts need to be settled internally. In feeding the competing parties, we are both prolonging the conflict, and giving rise to criminal organizations that learn to leverage both the on-going conflict and the incoming relief supplies. Perhaps more troubling, there appears to be a clear double-standard-whether deliberate or circumstantial-between attempts to bring order to the white western or Arab fringe countries and what appears to be callous indifference to black African and distant Asian turmoil that includes hundreds of thousands victim to genocide and tens of thousands victim to living amputation, mutilation, and rape. When all is said and done, and these are my conclusions from reading this excellent work, 1) there is no international intelligence system in place suitable to providing both the global coverage and public education needed to mobilize and sustain multi-national peacekeeping coalitions; 2) the United Nations is not structured, funded, nor capable of carrying out disciplined effective peacekeeping operations, and the contributing nations are unreliable in how and when they will provide incremental assistance; 3) we still have a long way to go in devising new concepts, doctrines, and technologies and programs for effectively integrating and applying preventive diplomacy, transformed defense, transnational law enforcement, and public services (water, food, health and education) in a manner that furthers regionally-based peace and prosperity instead of feeding the fires of local unrest.

See also:
The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can Be Done About It
The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time
The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: Eradicating Poverty Through Profits (Wharton School Publishing Paperbacks)
The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism
Confessions of an Economic Hit Man
Manufacture of Evil: Ethics, Evolution, and the Industrial System
Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization, Third Edition
The Future of Life
The leadership of civilization building: Administrative and civilization theory, symbolic dialogue, and citizen skills for the 21st century

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Review: Cuckoo’s Egg

5 Star, Asymmetric, Cyber, Hacking, Odd War, Communications, Crime (Government), Crime (Organized, Transnational), Information Operations, Information Technology

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5.0 out of 5 stars Riveting, Relevant Now, Deep Insights,

April 7, 2000
Clifford Stoll
This is an absolutely riveting story of how a brilliant physicist, assigned as an initiation rite to track down the reason for a 75 cent error in the computer accounts of the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, ultimately identified and nailed an East German electronic espionage specialist. In passing, he outlines with great preciseness the insecurity of the entire U.S. government, military, law enforcement, business, and academic electronic communications and computing network, and reveals the total fragmentation as well as the general ignorance of almost all of the US and international organizations associated with these networks.
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