Review: Still Broken–A Recruit’s Inside Account of Intelligence Failures, from Baghdad to the Pentagon

5 Star, Intelligence (Government/Secret)

Amazon PageIf the SecDef and DNI Could Read One Book, This is the One, February 12, 2008

A. J. Rossmiller

DNI Mike McConnell is a good man trapped in a very bad pyramidal system that is inherently duplicitous. He is presiding over what retiring Defense Senior Intelligence Leader Rick MacKenzie calls, in this book, “the underlying insanity of our intelligence agencies.”

As the author of the original strike, On Intelligence: Spies and Secrecy in an Open World, honored with a foreword by Senator David Boren, former chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and several other books moving the ball forward in the public (since our government is broken, not just the intelligence community) I must confess that the author of this book pursues a path that is inherently attractive to me. I have a bias for the truth, and a bias against the $60 billion a year in insane waste that Mike McConnell is presiding over.

Out of the ten books that arrived today, this is the one I could not put down. Below are my summative highlights, and then other books that support this author.

For a first time author and a young man at that, my first flyleaf note reads, underlined with exclamation marks: ABLY WRITTEN! By a MATURE Person!

There is no index nor bibliography in this book. I absorbed it at face value, as a first-person narrative of a patriot who joined the intelligence community for the right reasons, and left the sinking ship after honorably pointing out the flaws to his bosses, who remain typical not invested here lifers (this is generally the case across the IC).

+ Analysts segregated, no inter-regional, issue, or agency integration and interaction.

+ High turnover (for the last decade more analysts quit FBI every month than can be recruited–the best and the brightest do NOT like idiot bosses). This results in an inexperienced middle management as the dead-beats move up.

+ Products rarely reached the intended audience, and products finally reaching Secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff never ever resembled what actually started out as an honest pessimistic assessment.

+ Months of indiscriminate editiing resulted in drastic differences. I can attest from experience and the literature that CIA is just as ineffectual).

+ Many patriotic intelligence analysts as well as career military felt that the Administration and the flag officers took their eye off the ball, invading Iraq and creating infuriated nationalists, instead of focusing on a handful of terrorists.

+ Supervisors lied regularly to everyone.

+ Iraq was dust, mosquitos, heat, and constant organizational chaos and reorganization with virtually no real production that was actionable. The one exception was the “track and whack” group in which the author was fortunate to serve.

+ DIA failed to coordinate with the in-country Combined Intelligence Operations Center (CIOC) before it sent its single most significant contingent to Iraq. For that one right there I would hope Director of DIA figured out who embarrassed his agency and counseled the individual.

* Institutional knowledge (retained knowledge that outlives turnover) is virtually non-existent.

+ The tactical units in the field could not handle Top Secret or Top Secret communications and computing technology. I have this image in my head of an elephant trying to blow his nose down a straw to a gnat.

+ “Disaster continued to be perpetuated by failed leadership and the absence of a coherent intelligence or military strategy.”

+ Inter-agency choas in Iraq.

+ DIA complained about its analysts in Iraq working too hard because their overtime came out of its budget. This reminds of the message from CIA complaining about my asking to be reimbursed for hotel rooms when I had to go underground in El Salvador after an explicit by-name assassination threat from the Colonels running the country (they confused my effort5s to penetrate the extreme left with sympathy for the extreme left–I did not have it then, I certainly do now). The message said that since I was receiving a housing allowance, I could not have the hotel rooms approved. I had a very very good Chief of Station, a real talent, and as I like to recall the story, he sent back a one-liner: “What part of assassination do you not understand?” The DC-based officers tend to be pasty-faced overwight prima donnas with no real commitment to those in the field. This is true across all agencies, and especially FBI and DEA.

+ The author has the grace to include a snapshot of a more typical person in Iraq, a military reservist whose life has been essentially ruined by the cavalier manner in which Cheney and Rumsfeld decided to lie to the public, invade Iraq, let the contractors steal billions without doing the reconstruction, and now he comes back to a recession with no job.

+ The author says that many in Iraq, realizing they could neither complain nor repair their lot, “checked out mentally.” This breaks my heart.

+ A very important part of his book discusses how units sent to capture targets would often come back with 50 people they snapped up in the general area, each of them presumed guilty, each sent to “Abu G” for three months. The author is morally shaken by this, as I have been shaken by Mike Hayden's two impeachable offenses (warrantless wiretapping and rendition plus torture).

+ The author posits that Iraq is not an insurgency, but rather a unique mix of a failed state (remember, Rumsfeld would not allow the troops necessary to keep good order while reconstruction proceeded apace), criminal opportunism, especially kidnapping for ransom, a few fanatics, and a majority of outraged anti-occupation nationalists in three flavors (Sunni, Shi'ite, Kurd).

+ While in Iraq, occasionally commuting by helicopter to the Green Zone, an oasis in the desert, the author comments that US leaders, both in DC and in Iraq itself, were totally oblivious to the “turmoil and dissatisfaction in daily Iraqi life.” I am reminded of the exposes of how Blackwater and others have indiscriminately killed civilians, rammed cars driven by old men off the road, and so on.

+ DIA's Office of Iraq Analysis “had a veneer of control, under which minor anarchy raged.”

+ The DIA Way: Kiss Up, Kick Down (as the author experienced it–those I know in the JMITC, PGIP, and now the NDIC are a breed apart in a most positive way).

+ Idiocy of DoD priorities–too many flat screen TV's, not enough desktop computer terminals and screens.

+ In Iraq, US officers and media both seduced by English-speaking Iraqis, and totally oblivious to the deeper nuances available in indigenous language about domestic views, concerns, and links.

+ In the Pentagon, personally witnessed the politicization of analysis that continues to this day. Senior officers including the Navy J-2 Admiral now heading to CENTCOM J-2 as I understand it, always deleting pessimism and squelching reports on how badly reconstruction was going.

+ The real star in this book–but I totally respect this author and his good judgment in leaving the ship of fools–is DISL Rick MacKenzie. SecDef Gates and DNI McConnell would do well to read pages 176-177 of this book. For the rest of you, here are the highlights from MacKenzie's parting note to all that began with the underlying insanity quote above:

– Unified honest warning works, edited disparate warning is idiocy

– Human behavior is predictable, yet we like to count things and ignore the human factors

– We have no clue how alien we are to other cultures

– The indicators are never wrong. If we are true to the evidence (we are not) we will be right more often than not.

– Analysis is not the same as synthesis, diagnosis, or prognosis (nor would I add, is propaganda, deception, active lies to the public, or fabrication)

– Intelligence analysis is a profession in its own right. I am reminded of Jack Davis (search for <analytic tradecraft>.

The author concludes his book by dismissing most of what the US Intelligence Community accesses, and states that he has found useful truths in non-traditional online media, which he calls a “true meritocracy.”

I put this book down enormously impressed with this author's intelligence, balance, gifted writing, relevant observation, and total honesty. This is precisely the kind of patriotic committed person we are recruiting, and sadly, he is one of the few with the courage to leave. Those he left behind, absent a remarkable turning of the secret world right-side up and right-side in (search for <Forbes Reinventing Intelligence>) will, if they do not leave now, become the very bitter, narrow, inept, egotistical fools they now report to.

WOW. See also (I am limited to ten links, see my own books and the lists of hundreds of intelligence books I have reviewed, most of which support both my original 1988-2000 reclama, and this author's current reclama. NOTHING HAS CHANGED–WE'VE JUST POURED GASOLINE ON THE FIRE.

These books are intelligence books. I have an entire other list on political and falg officer malfeasance, high crimes, and misdemeanors. the first two books on the list below was not widely disseminated, but precisely matche the author's book, only for the CIA.

Lost Promise
Informing Statecraft
None So Blind: A Personal Account of the Intelligence Failure in Vietnam
Who the Hell Are We Fighting?: The Story of Sam Adams and the Vietnam Intelligence Wars
War Without Windows: A True Accout of a a Young Army Officer Trapped in an Intelligence Cover-Up in Vietnam.
Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA
Denial and Deception: An Insider's View of the CIA
Creating the Secret State: The Origins of the Central Intelligence Agency, 1943-1947
Body of Secrets: Anatomy of the Ultra-Secret National Security Agency

The last book, after summarizing all that NSA is trying to do, spending tens of billions of dollars very foolishly, ends by hoping the might one day achieve the ultimate computing device, weighing virtually nothing, powered by a tiny battery, able to make petaflops of calculations per nanosecond: “the human brain.”

Our government, and our secret intelligence community, are so totally screwewd up as to defy belief. I certainly would like to have a chance to restore the honor and intelligence of the secret world, but the chances of either (me or them) happening is right up there with the Second Coming. Our Nation will go down in flames because our government is clinically insane. See Running on Empty for why 2008 needs to break the backs of the two branches of legalized organized crime in this country, namely the Republican and Democratic parties. INDEPENDENCE!

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