The one book to read if only one, not a substitute for many,
June 27, 2004
I know Jim Bamford personally, and consider him to be one of the most capable of researchers and most objective of writers on intelligence matters. His deep personal relationships across the U.S. Intelligence Community make him the best possible reporter.For those of us steeped in the literature, that routinely read both the daily reporting and the regular books, much of what Jim has put together here will be repetitive. This is, however, the very best book to read if you only have the time for one book on the topic of 9-11, the failure of U.S. intelligence, and the corruption of U.S. policy in using 9-11 as a pretext for invading Iraq and giving Bin Laden the best possible (i.e. most stupid) strategic response to 9-11.
This is the ideal book for any citizen who wants a professional “once over” tour of the various intelligence and policy pieces that broke down and allowed 9-11 to happen, and then allowed the entire “balance of powers” construct from our Founding Fathers to fly out the window. If you want to go deeper, see my thirteen Lists and 479+ other reviews of national security non-fiction.
The book is especially strong on the Rendon Group being used to illegally propagandize American citizens with U.S. taxpayer funds, on the abject failure of George Tenet in revitalizing U.S. clandestine operations, on the failure (treated more kindly) of Mike Hayden to bring the National Security Agency into the 21st Century, and on the very unhealthy merger of the U.S. neoconservatives that captured the White House, and well-funded Zionists in both America and Israel who essentially bought themselves an invasion of Iraq–a remarkable coincidence of interests: Jews paying to invade Iraq, Iranians using Chalabi to feed lies to the neo-cons so they would be deceived into thinking Iraq would be a cake-walk, and Bin Laden never daring to dream the entire U.S. population and all arms of government–including a passive media–would “sleep walk” into what this book suggests is one of the dumbest and most costly strategic errors in the national security history of the USA.
This book is not, despite some of the ideologically-motivated reviews below, an attack of George Bush Junior, as much as it is an appalled and informed review of how a complex government collapsed in the face of 9-11, and a handful of ostensibly patriotic and very myopic individuals were able to abuse their personal power because all of the professional counter-forces: the diplomats, the spies, the military professionals, the Congress, the media–every single one was not sufficiently competent nor sufficiently motivated to mandate a more balanced policy process that could understand the many global threats (terrorism and Iraq are actually two of the lesser ones), devise a comprehensive long-term strategy, and execute that strategy using *all* of the instruments of national power, including strong global alliances that lead all governments to fight all gangs in the most effective fashion possible.
We let kids play with matches, and they burned down the house.
On balance this book is a very fine review of the actual background and motivations of over 150 members of four specific terrorist networks: the Central Staff around Osama bin Laden, the Core Arabs, the Maghred Arabs, and the Southeast Asians.The author, who does have intelligence experience and is not just an ordinary foreign service officer, gets high marks for making excellent use of open sources of information, for emphasizing the role of Egypt as a source of terrorism and Israeli behavior against Palestine as the primary catalyst for terrorism now directed against Americans and other Western nations (and recently, Asian nations), and for documenting the distinction between the near enemy (corrupt Muslim regimes) and the far enemy (the West), a distinction all the more relevant because US actions against Iraq brought the far enemy near, and changed the dynamics of the global war on terrorism in favor of the terrorists.
Pages 65-68 offer a superb overview of the nuances of open sources of information, including a useful caveat on “experts” that are only as good as their discipline in seeking out and validating the sources they claim as their foundation. From my own role as a former spy and now global proponent for improved use of open sources of information to product open source intelligence, I regard the author’s methodical review of sources and their dangers to be among the very best I have ever seen. His details on press misinformation and the laziness of journalists, and his understanding of how many “leads” about terrorists are actually more sinister and selfish efforts to settle personal scores by fabricating the leads to destroy others using American power, are clear signs that this author is a top-notch professional.
In general the book and the original research by the author confirm what earlier scholars of revolution (Chalmers Johnson, Ted Gurr, Eckstein, among others) have documented in the past, to wit that most top-notch terrorists are middle-class, smart, educated beyond the norm, and grow into their motivation. They are *not* crazy and suicide is a rational choice for them, not an aberrant behavior.
I found the author’s observation that recruitment is a bottom-up self-selected process rather than a top-down “seek out and recruit” process, quite fascinating, especially when the author makes the point that these people are NOT brainwashed. This is about a conflict of ideas, of ideals, of perception, and of context, and America is clearly not able to field the “idea army” and is not able to be competitive with Bin Laden in the war for the hearts and minds of these hundreds of thousands of prospective terrorists.
Most importantly, the author documents that Bin Laden is not your typical terrorist, is not seeking a controlled network, and is perhaps most brilliant for letting thousands of cells blossom with a little financial nurturing and a lot of social liberty.
The author documents the return of kinship as a source of power–kinship and social networking as means of organizing, as means of providing security, as means of radicalizing supporters.
The book is disappointing in two respects–a cursory conclusion as to how to marshal global resources against their severe threat, and no reference to the Pakistani and Hamas variants of terrorism, nor to the overlapping networking of ethnic criminal, corrupt government, and motivated terrorist networks.
For those interested in understanding the terrorist threat at the individual level of detail, I recommend this book together with Yossef Bodansky’s classic on “Bin Laden: the Man Who Declared War on America” and Steve Emerson’s more recent “American Jihad.” However, for a broader strategic understanding of the emerging threats and the reasons why billions are increasingly against America, I suggest the Amazon customer consider the several books in my Emerging Threats List and my Blowback List (“see more about me” should really say “see my other reviews and specific lists”).
I believe this author has more to offer, and would be interested in a second book from him, one that answers the specific question: “How must America behave, what pathologies of American corporate and government action must be corrected, if we are to live in peace with billions of faithful Muslims?” The author has helped us understand the core of the terrorist networks that are capable of bringing down America. Now it might be helpful if he turns his medical eye on our own mind-sets, and tells us how to heal ourselves.
Every Miltary Person, and Ideally Every Citizen, SHould View,
June 21, 2004
This is the only documentary film to make it on to my list of 470+ non-fiction books relevant to national security & global issues. It is superb, and below I summarize the 11 lessons with the intent of documenting how every military person, and ideally every citizen, should view this film.As the U.S. military goes through the motions of “transformation” while beset by the intense demands of being engaged in a 100-year war on six-fronts around the world, all of them against asymmetric threats that we do not understand and are not trained, equipped, nor organized to deal with, this film is startlingly relevant and cautionary.
LESSON 1: EMPHATHIZE WITH YOUR ENEMY. We must see ourselves as they see us, we must see their circumstances as they see them, before we can be effective.
LESSON 2: RATIONALITY WILL NOT SAVE US. Human fallibility combined with weapons of mass destruction will destroy nations. Castro has 162 nuclear warheads already on the island, and was willing to accept annihilation of Cuba as the cost of upholding his independence and honor.
LESSON 4: MAXIMIZE EFFICIENCY. Although this was McNamara’s hallmark, and the fog of war demands redundancy, he has a point: we are not maximizing how we spend $500B a year toward world peace, and are instead spending it toward the enrichment of select corporations, building things that don’t work in the real world.
LESSON 5: PROPORTIONALITY SHOULD BE A GUIDELINE IN WAR. McNamara is clearly still grieving over the fact that we firebombed 67 Japanese cities before we ever considered using the atomic bomb, destroying 50% to 90% of those cities.
LESSON 6: GET THE DATA. It is truly appalling to realize that the U.S. Government is operating on 2% of the relevant information, in part because it relies heavily on foreign allies for what they want to tell us, in part because the U.S. Government has turned its back on open sources of information. Marc Sageman, in “Understanding Networks of Terror”, knows more about terrorism today than do the CIA or FBI, because he went after the open source data and found the patterns. There is a quote from a Senator in the 1960’s that is also compelling, talking about “an instability of ideas” that are not understood, leading to erroneous decisions in Washington. For want of action, we forsook thought.
LESSON 7: BELIEF & SEEING ARE BOTH OFTEN WRONG. With specific reference to the Gulf of Tonkin, as well as the failure of America to understand that the Vietnamese were fighting for independence from China, not just the French or the corrupt Catholic regime of Ngo Dinh Diem, McNamara blows a big whole in the way the neo-cons “believed” themselves into the Iraq war, and took America’s blood, treasure, and spirit with them.
LESSON 8: BE PREPARED TO RE-EXAMINE YOUR REASONING. McNamara is blunt here: if your allies are not willing to go along with you, consider the possibility that your reasoning is flawed.
LESSON 9: IN ORDER TO DO GOOD, YOU MAY HAVE TO ENGAGE IN EVIL. Having said that, he recommends that we try to maximize ethics and minimize evil. He is specifically concerned with what constitutes a war crime under changing circumstances.
LESSON 10: NEVER SAY NEVER. Reality and the future are not predictable. There are no absolutes. We should spend more time thinking back over what might have been, be more flexible about taking alternative courses of action in the future.
LESSON 11: YOU CAN’T CHANGE HUMAN NATURE. There will always be war, and disaster. We can try to understand it, and deal with it, while seeking to calm our own human nature that wants to strike back in ways that are counter-productive.
For those who dismiss this movie because McNamara does not apologize, I say “pay attention.” The entire movie is an apology, both direct from McNamara, and indirect in the manner that the producer and director have peeled away his outer defenses and shown his remorse at key points in the film. I strongly recommend the book by McNamara and James Blight, “WILSON’s GHOST.” In my humble opinion, in the context of the 470+ non-fiction books I have reviewed here, McNamara and Bill Colby are the two Viet-Nam era officials that have grown the most since leaving office. He has acquired wisdom since leaving defense, and we ignore this wisdom at our peril.
Best Book Clancy Has Offered Recently, Zinni is Superb!,
June 10, 2004
For the serious, this book absolutely merits a careful reading, together with Dana Priest’s “The Mission: Waging War and Keeping Peace with America’s Military,” and–for a fuller and free overview–my varioius reviews on emerging threats, strategy and force structure, and why our current “military only” approach to foreign policy is ineffective.There are some tremendous gems in this book, some of which I summarize here.
1) Zinni is mpressive in his grasp of grand strategy, of the urgency of understanding the threat, devising a full approach that mixes and matches *all* instruments of national strategy, and that focuses–as Zinni learned to focus in Viet-Nam, on the hearts and minds of the people rather than the force on force battles (a means to an end, not an end in themselves).
2) Zinni’s understanding of war comes across very early in the book when he describes the six completely different wars that took place in South Viet-Nam, each with its own lessons, tactics, and sometimes equipment differences–nuances that conventional military policy, doctine, and acquisition managers back in the US still do not understand: a) Swamp War, b) Paddy War, c) Jungle War, d) Plains War, e) Saigon War, and f) DMZ War.
3) Zinni has read SLA Marshall on “The Soldier’s Load”, and he notes that the equipment that the South Vietnamese carried was lighter and better for their needs–the US military-industrial complex burdens our Armed Forces with overly heavy things, too many of them, that actually impair our ability to fight. Perhaps even more fascinating, Zinni sees that buying equipment for our troops locally cuts the cost by 4/5th. Not what your average US contractor wants to hear, but precisely what I as a taxpayer am looking for–with the added advantage that this puts money into the local economy and helps stabilize it.
4) Within the center of the book, there are rich lessons about war-fighting and peace-making that will stand the test of time. Most impressive is Zinni’s focus on pre-emptive relationship building across the region.
a) Relationships matter, and relationships forged in advance go a very long way in avoiding misunderstanding and defusing crises. If you have to fight, relationships are the single best means of reducing the fog of war and assuring good integration of effort across cultures, nations, and armies.
b) Speed and mixed forces matter. Zinni was the master, in four different timeframes, of using speed and properly mixed forces to achieve effects not possible with larger forces arriving late. In Viet-Nam he worked with “the Pacifiers”, especially reinforced company-size units that had been specially augmented with flamethrowers, extra machine guns and mortars, and their own engineers and scouts, all trained for instant deployment. At Camp Hansen, during the times of race riots, he learned the value of a fast, big guard force *combined with* constant and open dialog with the troops in distress. In humanitarian operations, he learned that rapid delivery of food tended to rapidly reduce the violence–get the food flowing fast, and reap the peace benefits. And finally, in developing the Marine Corps variant of special operations capable forces (not to be confused with the uniquely qualified Special Operations Forces), he developed the original capabilities of doing special things “from the sea.”
c) Non-state entities, both tribal threats and non-governmental organizations, are the heart of the new battle. Repeatedly Zinni comments on how poorly we do in terms of thinking about strategy, operations, and tactics for the sub-state war, and how badly we do at intelligence about tribes, and at coordinating with non-governmental organizations. Zinni finally discovered the true value of Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations as a flag officer, and ended up nurturing the creation of Civil Military Operations Centers, and a new language, such as “Humanitarian Relief Sectors” instead of “kill zone.”
5) Zinni makes some other observations throughout the book that are relevant now.
a) His respects Clinton as a quick study. Without disparagement, he makes it clear that Sandy Berger and Bill Cohen were mediocrities. He admired James Baker, who tried to do Marshall Plan kinds of things and could not get the beltway crowd to see the light. He is cautionary on General Wayne Downing (who went on with the Rendon Group to sponsor Chalabi–Zinni, on page 343, makes it clear he knew Chalabi was a thief and liar as early as 1998). He is admiring of Ambassador Bob Oakley.
b) With respect for foreign capabilities, among the insights are the integrity and capability of Pakistani and Bangladeshi troops, who maintained and then returned US complex equipment in better condition than it was received, with every single tool in every single kit present and accounted for; Italian military field hospitals; African troop tactical fighting discipline and capability.
6) The book wraps up with Zinni’s recommendations for change, all of which are on target: use retired Service and theater chiefs to constitute the Joint Chiefs of Staff, rather than the Service Chiefs with their parochial interests; earmark budgets for the theater commanders–inter-agency budgets; create an inter-agency strategy and operations center to make the government, not just the military, “joint.”
Zinni’s final observations deal with ethics and the obligation to avoid spin and always speak the truth. Zinni is smarter than the current crop of military leaders, who mistake loyalty to specific individuals with loyalty to the Constitution. He also differs from them in understanding that Operations Other than War (OOTW) is where it is at and will be for the foreseeable future.
Missing from the book is any reference to national and military intelligence, other than one small section where he notes it simply was not reliable and not available at the tribal level. Also missing from this book are any references to John Boyd, Mike Wylie, Bill Lind, or G.I. Wilson, all four of whom were, in my opinion, the legs of the intellectual stool that Zinni constructed for himself over time.