Review: Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace – How We Got to Be So Hated

5 Star, America (Founders, Current Situation), Asymmetric, Cyber, Hacking, Odd War, Atrocities & Genocide, Complexity & Catastrophe, Congress (Failure, Reform), Crime (Corporate), Crime (Government), Culture, Research, Economics, Empire, Sorrows, Hubris, Blowback, Executive (Partisan Failure, Reform), Force Structure (Military), Impeachment & Treason, Intelligence (Government/Secret), Military & Pentagon Power, Misinformation & Propaganda, Peace, Poverty, & Middle Class, Philosophy, Politics, Power (Pathologies & Utilization), Priorities, Public Administration, Religion & Politics of Religion, Science & Politics of Science, Secrecy & Politics of Secrecy, Security (Including Immigration), Strategy, Terrorism & Jihad, Threats (Emerging & Perennial), True Cost & Toxicity, War & Face of Battle, Water, Energy, Oil, Scarcity
Amazon Page

Gore Vidal

5.0 out of 5 stars You Get the Government You Deserve…., May 28, 2002

This book should be read in conjunction with Greg Palast's The Best Democracy Money Can Buy Vidal's book should be subtitled “you get the government you deserve.”

I cannot think of a book that has depressed me more. There are three underlying issues that make this book vitally important to anyone who cares to claim the title of “citizen:”

1) Citizens need to understand what their government is doing in the name of America, to the rest of the world. “Ignorance is not an excuse.” All of the other books I have reviewed (“see more about me” should really say “see my other reviews”) are designed to help citizens evaluate and then vote wisely in relation to how our elected representatives are handling national security affairs–really, really badly.

Continue reading “Review: Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace – How We Got to Be So Hated”

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

Amazon Page
Amazon Page

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.
Vote on Review
Vote on Review

Review: Killing Pablo–The Hunt for the World’s Greatest Outlaw

5 Star, Empire, Sorrows, Hubris, Blowback, Intelligence (Government/Secret), Military & Pentagon Power, Secrecy & Politics of Secrecy, War & Face of Battle
Amazon Page

Mark Bowden

5.0 out of 5 stars Reveals US Sources & Methods, Weaknesses

July 25, 2001

Robert D. Steele (Oakton, VA United States) – See all my reviews

I remember being shocked when a book published by a former prisoner of war revealed all of the CIA's sources and methods for secret writing–one reason terrorists and others make photo-copies of incoming and outgoing correspondence these days….

This book provides an excellent overview of sensitive sources and methods used by the U.S. military to intercept and locate electronic transmissions. It specifically “blows” a cover company, two specific kinds of aircraft, and several U.S. Special Operations Forces standard operating procedures. I suspect that NSA and the CIA Centers dealing with terrorism and with crime and narcotics are having the same difficulties recovering from this book that NSA had when President Reagan inadvertently revealed in public that he was receiving transcripts of Politburo cell phone conversations made while in transit, from their car phones.

Having said that, I find that the author has performed very responsibly as an investigative journalist, and that his story is superior in every respect. I even find that he has withheld some key information out of respect for his sources,and that there are many lessons to be learned from this book about how we might improve our transnational campaign against non-state forces that have vastly more money, ruthlessness, and sheer people power than we do.

I like and recommend this book–it is a real-world story, well-researched and well-told.

Vote and/or Comment on Review

Review: The Warning Solution–Intelligent Analysis in the Age of Information Overload

5 Star, Best Practices in Management, Complexity & Resilience, Country/Regional, Culture, Research, Empire, Sorrows, Hubris, Blowback, Force Structure (Military), Information Operations, Information Society, Insurgency & Revolution, Intelligence (Government/Secret), Intelligence (Public), Peace, Poverty, & Middle Class, Politics, Power (Pathologies & Utilization), Priorities, Secrecy & Politics of Secrecy
Amazon Page

Kristan Wheaton

5.0 out of 5 stars Solving Major Problems Early for 1/50th of the Cost

July 4, 2001

I first heard Kris Wheaton lecture in Europe, and was just blown away by the deep understanding that he demonstrated of why commanders and CEOs are constantly missing the warnings their subordinates and forward scouts are sending back–the huge cost! Kosovo, for example, could have been a $1 billion a year problem if acted upon wisely and early, instead it became a $5 billion a year problem. I like this book very much because it makes his deep insights available to everybody in a very readable, well-illustrated, and concise book.

I strongly recommend this book because it offers the only thoughtful explanation I have ever seen on the conflict between the senior decision-maker's attention span (can only think about $50 billion problems) and the early warning that *is* available but cannot break through to the always over-burdened, sometimes arrogant, and rarely strategic top boss. In this regard, his book is a fine complement to the more historical work by Willard Matthias on “America's Strategic Blunders.”

This book also offers solutions. It is a book that should be required reading for all field grade officers in all military services, as well as state and local governors and majors, university and hospital and other non-profit heads, and of course the captains of industry who spend billions, often unwisely, because they have not established a scouting system that can be heard at the highest levels *in time*. America, among many other nations and organizations, has a habit of ignoring its iconoclasts and mavericks–in an increasingly complex world where catastrophic combinations of failure are going to be more common, such ignorance will eventually become unaffordable and threatening to the national security as well as the national prosperity of those who persist in thinking about old problems in old ways.

There is one other aspect of this book that merits strong emphasis: it focuses on human understanding and human engagement with the world, and makes it clear that technology has almost nothing to do with how well we cope with the external environment that defines our future. There aren't five people in the US government, to take one example, that adequately understand the rich intellectual history of Islam nor the core difference between the Islamic emphasis on knowledge integration as the core value and the Christian emphasis on love as the core value. The author of this book is one of America's foremost authorities on the Balkan conflict and the deep importance of historical and cultural understanding as part of current political and operational competency–we need 1000 more intelligence professionals just like him. This book will inspire and provoke and is a great value for anyone who deals with the world at large.

Vote and/or Comment on Review

Review: Secrecy–The American Experience

5 Star, Executive (Partisan Failure, Reform), History, Information Society, Intelligence (Government/Secret), Secrecy & Politics of Secrecy

Amazon Page
Amazon Page

5.0 out of 5 stars Extraordinary Contribution to National Sanity and Security,

May 31, 2001
The Honorable Daniel Patrick Moynihan
Senator Moynihan applies his intellect and his strong academic and historical bent to examine the U.S. experience with secrecy, beginning with its early distrust of ethnic minorities. He applies his social science frames of reference to discuss secrecy as a form of regulation and secrecy as a form of ritual, both ultimately resulting in a deepening of the inherent tendency of bureaucracy to create and keep secrets-secrecy as the cultural norm. His historical overview, current right up to 1998, is replete with documented examples of how secrecy may have facilitated selected national security decisions in the short-run, but in the long run these decisions were not only found to have been wrong for lack of accurate open information that was dismissed for being open, but also harmful to the democratic fabric, in that they tended to lead to conspiracy theories and other forms of public distancing from the federal government. He concludes: “The central fact is that we live today in an Information Age. Open sources give us the vast majority of what we need to know in order to make intelligent decisions. Decisions made by people at ease with disagreement and ambiguity and tentativeness. Decisions made by those who understand how to exploit the wealth and diversity of publicly available information, who no longer simply assume that clandestine collection-that is, ‘stealing secrets'-equals greater intelligence. Analysis, far more than secrecy, is the key to security….Secrecy is for losers.”
Vote on Review
Vote on Review

Reference: 1996 Hill Testimony on Secrecy

Hill Letters & Testimony, Memoranda, Secrecy & Politics of Secrecy
Hill Round-Table on Secrecy
Hill Round-Table on Secrecy

We must “recognize that 80% of what we consider intelligence–decision-support–is now either erroneously classified or not done at all, and this is the fundamental weakness of our national intelligence community.

The three references:

1996 Testimony to Moynihan Commisson

1993 TESTIMONY on National Security Information

1992 E3i: Ethics, Ecology, Evolution, & intelligence (An Alternative Paradigm)

Reference: 1996 Testimony to Moynihan Commisson

Hill Letters & Testimony, Memoranda, Secrecy & Politics of Secrecy

As Presented:

OSS1997-03-03 Secrecy Primer Moynihan Commission

The protection of “sources & methods” is a political gambit, not a legitimate claim for immunity.  This testimony to the Moynihan Commission on Secrecy lays out the hypocricy in detail.

See Also:

OSS1997-03-02 Secrecy Seminar

1992 E3i: Ethics, Ecology, Evolution, & intelligence


Worth a Look: Books on Government Secrecy