Review: See No Evil–The True Story of a Ground Soldier in the CIA’s War on Terrorism

5 Star, Asymmetric, Cyber, Hacking, Odd War, Biography & Memoirs, Congress (Failure, Reform), Corruption, Culture, Research, Diplomacy, Empire, Sorrows, Hubris, Blowback, Executive (Partisan Failure, Reform), Intelligence (Government/Secret), Misinformation & Propaganda, Power (Pathologies & Utilization), Secrecy & Politics of Secrecy

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5.0 out of 5 stars Straight Talk from Patriot–Should Testify at 9-11 Hearings,

January 31, 2002
Robert Baer
As a former clandestine case officer, leaving the Agency in 1988 after unsuccessfully chasing terrorists for a few years, I knew we were in bad shape but I did not realize just how bad until I read this book. The author, working mostly in the Near East (NE) Division of the Directorate of Operations, and then in the Counter-Terrorism Center when it was just starting out, has an extremely important story to tell and every American needs to pay attention. Why? Because his account of how we have no assets useful against terrorism is in contradiction to what the Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) told the President and his top advisors at Camp David on Saturday 15 September. According to the Washington Post of 31 January 2002, page A13, on the 15th the DCI laid out an ambitious “Worldwide Attack Matrix” and told the President that the United States had a “large asset base” from its years of working the terrorism target. One of these two men one is closer to the truth than the other. In my judgement, I believe Baer has three-quarters of the weight on his side. This discrepancy warrants investigation, for no President can be successful if he does not have accurate information about our actual capabilities.There are four other stories within this excellent book, all dealing with infirm bureaucracies. At one level, the author's accounting of how the Directorate of Operations has declined under the last three leaders (as the author describes them: a recalled retiree, an analyst, and a “political” (pal)) is both clearly based on ground truth, and extremely troubling. The extraordinary detail on the decline and fall of the clandestine service is one that every voter should be thinking about, because it was the failure of the clandestine service, as well as the counterintelligence service (the Federal Bureau of Investigation) that allowed 9-11 to happen…at the same time, we must note that it was a policy failure to not have investigated similar incompetencies when a military barracks in Saudi Arabia, two Embassies, and a naval destroyer were attacked, and it was clearly known in open sources that bin Laden had declared war on America and had within America numerous Islamic clerics calling for the murder of Americans–all as documented in an excellent Public Broadcast Service documentary.

At a technical level, the author provides some really excellent real-world, real-war annecdotes about situations where clandestine reporting from trusted operations officers has not been accepted by their own superiors in the absence of technical confirmation (imagery or signals). As he says, in the middle of a major artillery battle and break-out of insurgent elements, screaming over the secure phone, “its the middle of night here”. We've all known since at least the 1970's that the technical intelligence side of things has been crushing human sensibility, both operational and analytical, but this book really brings the problems into the public eye in a compelling and useful manner.

At another level, the author uses his own investigation for murder (he was completely cleared, it was a set-up) by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and at one point by the Secret Service, to shed new light on the complete break-down of internal security processes within the CIA. At its lowest point, he is pressured by DO management with a psychological evaluation to determine his fitness for duty–shades of Stalinism! I know this technique, of declaring officers unfit for duty based on psychological hatchet jobs, to be a common practice over the past two decades, and when Britt Snider was appointed Inspector General at CIA, I told him this was a “smoking gun” in the 7th floor closet. That it remains a practice today is grounds for evaluating the entire management culture at CIA.

There is a fourth story in the book, a truly interesting account of how big energy companies, their “ambassadors” serving as Presidential appointees within the National Security Council, and corrupt foreign elements, all come together. In this the spies are not central, so I leave it as a sidenote.

In my capacity as a reviewer of most intelligence-related books within these offerings, I want to make it clear to potential buyers of this book that the author is not alone. His is the best, most detailed, and most current accounting of the decrepit dysfunctionality of the clandestine service (as I put it in my own book's second edition), but I would refer the reader to two other books in particular: David Corn's “Blond Ghost: Ted Shackley and the CIA's Crusades”–its most memorable quote, on covert action in Laos, being “We spent a lot of money and got a lot of people killed, and we didn't get much for it.”–and Evan Thomas' “The Very Best Men–Four Who Dared: The Early Years of the CIA”–its best quote: “Patriotic, decent, well-meaning, they were also uniquely unsuited to the grubby, necessarily devious world of intelligence.” There are many other books, including twelve (12!) focused on reform and recommended by the Council on Intelligence.

The author is a brave man–he was brave on the fields of war and clandestinity, and he is braver still for having brought this story to the public. We owe him a hearing.
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Review: Inside Sudan–Political Islam, Conflict, and Catastrophe

2 Star, Country/Regional, Diplomacy, Threats (Emerging & Perennial)

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2.0 out of 5 stars Strong on Travel and Chit-Chat, Weak on History and Reality,

December 10, 2001
Donald Petterson
When compared to the other book on Sudan that I read at the same time, “White Nile, Black Blood: War, Leadership, and Ethnicity from Khartoum to Kampala”, this book, while worth reviewing, is extremely disappointing. If this is the best our Department of State can do–if this bland account of endless repetitive meetings and meaningless demarches is the best that America can do in addressing the deep challenges of Sudan–then we need a whole new State Department.It struck me immediately, as I worked through the book, that it is the diary of someone who means well, but has only his personal experience from which to judge the situation. Not only are there no references to learned studies, but the short-sighted thesis of the author is summed up on page 136: “The cumulative combination of factors putting Sudan in such a bad light (with the U.S. Government) began with the military takeover in July 1989.” When one contrasts this statement with the rich 200-year survey provided by “White Nile, Black Blood”, one can only feel a deep sadness for the lower depths of our foreign service.

Early on in the book the author-ambassador confesses to not knowing Arabic and to having had six months training in Arabic before reporting. This demonstrates two things clearly: first, that the Department of State is incompetent in Arabic affairs if it does not have legions of qualified officers fluent in Arabic from whom it can select an Ambassador and second, that obviously the language is not considered critical to the job if six months will suffice–just enough to get to the toilet, not enough to accept directions across town.

This book is a travel diary. I have annotated page 148 with the note: “substitutes travel for thinking.” There is no analysis in this book, no grasp of history, no real grip on the regional realities (other than a passing reference to the fact that water is going to be a cause of war in the future–something well covered in Marq de Villiers “WATER: The Fate of Our Most Precious Resource”. Neither de Villiers nor Michael Klare's “RESOURCE WARS: The New Landscape of Global Conflict” are cited by this book.)

At the very end there was a tiny glimmer of hope as the author began a chapter on working with the United Nations, and made it clear that the UN practice of allowing each of its agencies to appoint independent ambassadors to the same country, rather than subordinating all UN agencies to a single UN ambassador, was a big part of their problem. After three paragraphs, it became clear there was nothing else to be had from this chapter. I have the note “This is not a serious book.”

At one point in the book the author observes that neither Congress nor the U.S. public would allow the Administration to be more pro-active in Sudan. It immediately occurred to me that if this is true, then the Department of State has failed miserably, ignominiously, at informing the U.S. public of the true situation in Sudan, for any informed citizen would be sure to support extremely aggressive action against the (northern) Sudan despots and supporters of terrorism and genocide.

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Review: Does America Need a Foreign Policy? Toward a Diplomacy for the 21st Century

5 Star, Diplomacy

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5.0 out of 5 stars History, Politics, Vacuums, and Discretion,

November 12, 2001
Henry Kissinger
Edit to revisit Kissinger's role and add book links.

Revisitation: We've always known Kissinger is brilliant, and there is no reason to revise that view. However, in light of what is now known about Viet-Nam, we must find Kissinger guilty as a war criminal (first link below).

The book begins with a lamentation that foreign policy has been neglected in the last three Presidential campaigns; that the American public is terribly apathetic about foreign affairs; and that Congress is overly interventionist–he refrains from adding the obvious caveat regarding most Members lack of knowledge of the world. In brief, we have a long way to go as a Nation before we can devise and sustain a credible foreign policy.

The core point in this entire work is that both economics and technologies, including Internet and communications technologies, have so out-paced politics that the world is at risk. Globalization, terrorism, and other threats cannot be addressed with our existing international, regional, and national political constructs, and new means must be found–new political solutions must be found–if we are to foster security and prosperity in the age of complexity, discontinuity, and fragmentation.

There are some useful sub-themes:

1) Each region must be understood in its full complexity, with special attention to both emerging powers and to the subtleties of relations between regional actors–we should not confine ourselves to simply addressing each actor's relationship to the United States.

2) We must take great care to never interpose ourself or allow ourselves to become a substitute for a regional power, e.g. in the dialog between North and South Korea, or India and Pakistan.

3) We must strive at all times to ensure that the historic context is clearly appreciated and underlying every policy formulation, at the same time that we must recognize and define the vast cultural differences between US approaches to foreign policy, and the approaches of others, such as China.

4) Military compromise, whether in the Gulf War, Bosnia, or Kosovo, leaves a strategic vacuum that will inevitably require attention.

5) Africa is the true test for whether a world community can be devised and new solutions found for addressing the severe conditions in Africa that ultimately threaten the well-being of the rest of the world.

6) Our foreign service officers and the political leaders they serve must have history and philosophy restored to their diets, or they will fail to devise long-range concepts, global strategies, and sustainable policies.

Dr. Kissinger ends with what some might overlook and what I found to be absolutely core: no economic system can be sustained without a political basis. However much major multinational corporations may care to buy their comforts and their arrangements of convenience, at root, they prosper only because some set of political arrangements among great nations is providing a safety net, including the financial system with one major node in New York.

The books ends with an appeal for American humility and discretion as it makes it way forward–we must act as if we are one of many co-equal nation-states, while recognizing that our pre-eminence demands more of us than might be expected from others.

There is one major gap in this book, and I suspect it was deliberate: there is no discussion at all of the means by which American foreign policy is to be devised. As America moves into the early months of the “war on terrorism”, it would have been helpful to have a really well-qualified rant on how it is impossible for this great Nation to have a foreign policy when we have gutted almost into extinction what passes for a Department of State today. Our Foreign Service, our Embassies, our foreign assistance programs, our Peace Corps, our external research, our sponsorship of international conferences on topics of vital importance to the US, have all faded into decrepitude. If ever there was a time when Kissinger, Brzezinski, and Powell should come together and champion a major restoration–at least a $10 billion a year increase–in Program 150 (our soft power), this is that time. That they have all failed to do so troubles me–that Senator Biden was castigated publicly for speaking the plain truth about how the world perceives us–troubles me. The attacks of 11 September represent, primarily, a failure of our ability to monitor and understand the world. That failure must lie heavily–and equally–on the shoulders of the foreign service (State), the clandestine service (CIA), and the counterintelligence service (FBI).

See also:
The Trial of Henry Kissinger
The Fifty-Year Wound: How America's Cold War Victory Has Shaped Our World
Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy
The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic (The American Empire Project)
Breaking the Real Axis of Evil: How to Oust the World's Last Dictators by 2025
Web of Deceit: The History of Western Complicity in Iraq, from Churchill to Kennedy to George W. Bush
Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA
None So Blind: A Personal Account of the Intelligence Failure in Vietnam

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Review: Wilson’s Ghost–Reducing the Risk of Conflict, Killing, and Catastrophe in the 21st Century

5 Star, Consciousness & Social IQ, Diplomacy, Empire, Sorrows, Hubris, Blowback, Peace, Poverty, & Middle Class, Truth & Reconciliation

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5.0 out of 5 stars Strategic Context for Understanding 11 Sep Attack on America,

September 15, 2001
Robert S. McNamara
Of all the books I have read or reviewed in the past two years, this is the only one that comes close to addressing the bitter truth about the fundamental disconnect between our perception of ourselves as “the beacon of truth”, and the rest of the world's perception of us as “interventionist, exploitative, unilateralist, hegemonic, and hypocritical.” Those that would seek to understand just how long our Dark Ages will last would do well to start with this book while also buying a copy of the map of “World Conflict and Human Rights Map 2000” available from the PIOOM Project at Leiden University. Beyond that, selected portions of the Shultz et al book on “Security Studies for the 21st Century”, where detailed comments are made about both knowledge gaps among our policymakers and non-traditional threats, are recommended.

There is no question but that the Attack on America of 11 September 2001 has awakened and even frightened the American public. It has elicited conventional assurances from other nation states. What most Americans do not understand, what this book makes brilliantly clear, is that two thirds of the rest of the world is glad it happened. I quote from page 52: “…at least two-thirds of the world's people–Chinese, Russians, Indians, Arabs, Muslims, and Africans–see the United States as the single greatest threat to their societies. They do not regard America as a military threat but as a menace to their integrity, autonomy, prosperity and freedom of action.”
Whether one agrees with their depiction of two-thirds or not (or whether they see the Attack as a well-deserved bloody nose or an atrocity beyond the pale), the fact is that the authors paint–together with the PIOOM map–a compelling picture of billions–not millions but billions–of impoverished dispossessed people suffering from failed states, crime, slavery, starvation, water shortages–and an abundance of media as well as propaganda showing the US fat and happy and living the consumer society dream on the backs of these billions.
Of all the policy people I have followed over the years, Robert McNamara and Bill Colby are the two that have in my view matured and broadened the most after leaving the halls of power. The deep insights that I find throughout this book-a partnership expert between McNamara with the global reality and power game insights, James Blight with the scholarly underpinnings-are extraordinarily applicable to the challenges that we face in the aftermath of the 11 September 2001 Attack on America. In particular, their dissection of the United Nations-what works and what does not-and their recommendations for future initiatives that are multilateralist and focused on the prevention and amelioration of the root conditions that are spawning our terrorist challenges, are vital reading for policymakers, diplomats, warriors, and financial magnates.

I am very concerned by any effort to militarize our response to the terrorist challenge-this is a long war that requires a fundamental restructuring of national intelligence and counterintelligence; a $100 billion a year effort to address the root causes of instability worldwide and a redirection of US foreign and defense policy away from unilateralism (for instance, we must now support the International Tribunal and an international island prison for those convicted of war crimes as well as acts of terror). Our military is still needed, but it too must be restructured to provide for four major capabilities all equally capable: CINCWAR, CINCSOLIC, CINCPEACE, and CINCHOME. I can only hope that this book, which I recommend highly, is read and understood before we start to throw money at the problem in counterproductive ways.
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Review: Intelligence Power in Peace and War

5 Star, Diplomacy, Information Society, Intelligence (Government/Secret), War & Face of Battle

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5.0 out of 5 stars The Ultimate Graduate/Policy Text on Intelligence,

January 10, 2001
Michael Herman
This is the textbook for the best and the brightest of both the academic world and the policy world. It is not an easy read, between the British language form and the deep thinking, but it is, as Christopher Andrew says, “the best overview” and “surely destined to become a standard work”. I especially liked its attention to components and boundaries, effects, accuracy, and evaluation. Perhaps most usefully within the book is the distinction between long-term intelligence endeavors that rely primarily on open sources and serve to improve state understanding and state behavior, and short-term espionage that tends to be intrusive and heighten the target state's feelings of vulnerability and hostility. No intelligence library is complete without this book–it provides a rock-solid foundation for serious thinking about the intelligence in the 21st Century.
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Review: The American Encounter–The United States And The Making Of The Modern World: Essays From 75 Years Of Foreign Affairs

5 Star, Diplomacy

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5.0 out of 5 stars A Gem of Lasting Value, Especially Relevant Today,

November 11, 2000
James F. Jr. Hoge
This compilation of the “best of the best” articles from the journal Foreign Affairs is a real gem that is especially relevant today as America continues to neglect its international responsibilities and certain Senators and Congressman have the ignorant temerity to brag that they don't own nor need an American passport. The conclusion of the July 1932 article by Edwin F. Gay, “The Great Depression”, is instructive: “The world war affirmed the international political responsibilities of the United States; the world depression demonstrates the economic interdependence of the United States with other states. It cannot be a hermit nation.” With four seminal articles from each decade (1920's forward), including just about every great name in the international discussions of the century, this book is a fundamental reference point for those who would dare to craft a vibrant foreign policy for the United States in the 21st Century. The book ends with several thoughtful pieces including, most fittingly, an interview with Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore on culture as destiny, an article whose subtitle might have been “How extended families and the collective good still matter.”
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Review: Preparing America’s Foreign Policy for the 21st Century

5 Star, Diplomacy

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5.0 out of 5 stars Starting Point for 21st Century Security Strategy Dialog,

October 2, 2000
David L. Boren
I know of no finer collection of relevant views on our current and prospective foreign policy challenges. In the foreword to the book, William Crowe, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and then Ambassador to the Court of Saint James, observes that “A reappreciation of government is also in order.” He clearly articulates both the range of challenges facing us (most of them non-military in nature), and the disconnect between how we organize our government and how we need to successfully engage.His bottom line is clear: we are not spending enough on the varied elements of national security, with special emphasis on a severely under-funded and under-manned diplomatic service.

From Gaddis Smith and Walter Mondale to Sam Nunn and Robert Oakley, from David Gergen to David Abshire to David Boren, from Kissinger to Brzezinski to Kirkpatrick, in combination with a whole host of lesser known but equally talented practitioners, capped off by comments from five Directors of Central Intelligence, this books sets a standard for organized high quality reflection on the future of U.S. foreign policy.

Most interestingly, there is general consensus with David Abshire's view that we are in a strategic interregnum, and still lacking for a policy paradigm within which to orchestrate our varied efforts to define and further our vital interests.

David Gergen clearly articulates the shortfalls in our national educational, media, and political patterns that leave the vast majority of Americans ignorant of our foreign interests and unsupportive of the need for proactive engagement abroad. Reading this book, I could not help but feel that our national educational system is in crisis, and we need both a wake-up call and a consequent national investment program such as occurred after the first Sputnik launch.

David Boren is clearly a decade or more ahead of most current commentators in his call for a new paradigm, for a new analytical framework, for the internationalization of American education across the board. I am reminded of the quotation from early America: “A Nation's best defense is an educated citizenry.” Interestingly, he cites Daniel Boorstein's caution that we must not confuse information with knowledge, and in the next sentence notes: “I watched during my term as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee while the CIA greatly increased its information, its raw data, but became overwhelmed and unable to separate the important from the unimportant.”

I would itemize just a few of the many, many useful insights that this book offers:

1) Diplomacy is the sum total of familiarity with the role, knowledge of the component parts of the overall national security policy, and the ability to design and implement comprehensive policies that achieve the national objectives;

2) Politicians and policy-makers are losing the ability to think objectively and act with conviction…they are too dependent on short-term domestic polling and opinion;

3) (Quoting Donald Kegan): Power without the willingness to use it does not contribute to world peace;

4) We must strengthen the domestic roots of national power if we are to have a sound strategy;

5) Future of U.S. education and strength of U.S. family unit will quite simply determine whether U.S. can meet the economic challenges of the 21st Century;

6) Our domestic insecurity and domestic violence-and resulting foreign perceptions and disrespect for our competence at home-reduce our effectiveness overseas;

7) U.S. is its own worst enemy, with declining attention to foreign policy matters;

8) Weapons of mass destruction are our only substantive vital interest today;

9) Hunger, pestilence, and refugees within Africa will affect all nations;

10) Corruption has replaced guerrilla movements as the principal threat to democratic governance;

11) Commerce rather than conflict will be the primary concern of 21st century foreign policy;

12) The environment joins trade and commerce as an essential objective for foreign policy;

13) Long-term non-military challenges, and especially global financial markets, require refocusing of our security perspectives;

14) Asia will edge out Europe as our primary trading partner;

15) China in Asia and Turkey in the West are linch-pin nations;

16) NATO will survive but we must take care not to threaten Russia;

17) The UN is not very effective at peacekeeping operations-it is best confined to idea exchanges;

18) Our military is over-extended and under-funded but still the best in the world;

19) For the cost of one battalion or one expensive piece of military equipment, one thousand new Foreign Service officers could be added toward preventive diplomacy;

20) Lessons from the Roman empire: its decline results in part from a loss of contact with its own heartlands, a progressive distancing of the elite from the populace, the elevation of the military machine to the summit of the power hierarchy, and blindness in perceiving the emergence of societies motivated by nationalism or new religious ideologies; and

21) We may need a new National Security Act.

If I had one small critical comment on the book is would be one of concern-concern that these great statesmen and scholars appear-even while noting that defense is under-capitalized-to take U.S. military competence at face value. I perceive a really surprising assumption across a number of otherwise brilliant contributions to the effect that we do indeed have all that we need in the way of information dominance, precision firepower, and global mobility (strategic lift plus forward presence)-we just need to use it with greater discretion. I do not believe this to be the case. I believe-and the Aspin-Brown Commission so stated-that we lack effective access to the vast range of global multi-lingual open sources; that our commitment to precision munitions is both unaffordable and ineffective (we ran out in 8 days in the Gulf, in 3 days in Kosovo); and that we fail terribly with respect to mobility-naval forces are generally 4-6 days from anywhere, rather than the necessary 24-48 hours. This book is a very fine starting point for the national dialogue that must take place in 2001 regarding our new national security strategy.

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