Commentary Magazine


Topic: federal government’s intelligence

A Real Intelligence Oversight

There is something incongruous about President Obama denouncing an intelligence failure in the case of the underwear bomber on the very same day that we read this in the New York Times:

The nation’s top scientists and spies are collaborating on an effort to use the federal government’s intelligence assets — including spy satellites and other classified sensors — to assess the hidden complexities of environmental change. They seek insights from natural phenomena like clouds and glaciers, deserts and tropical forests.

The Times goes on to assure us:

The monitoring program has little or no impact on regular intelligence gathering, federal officials said, but instead releases secret information already collected or takes advantage of opportunities to record environmental data when classified sensors are otherwise idle or passing over wilderness.

Count me as skeptical. Efforts to retask the intelligence community to focus on the environment, trade issues, and other concerns beyond the realm of traditional “national security” were all the rage after the end of the Cold War, when it was widely believed that history had “ended.” History restarted on 9/11, however, and since then, the war on terrorism has been the intel community’s all-pervading concern — as it should be. Until now, though, President Obama has shown much less concern about the “war on terror” (words that he, of course, does not use) and has even allowed his attorney general to investigate CIA personnel for alleged abuses committed under the previous administration. Intel community operatives aren’t dummies. Even if they can’t always figure out what’s going on in the Hindu Kush, they are astute readers of the tea leaves in Washington. They know when the top-level politicos are sending signals that they should pull back from aggressively fighting terrorists. Once again getting the intel community involved in “green” concerns will be taken as just another sign of where this president’s priorities are — and aren’t.

There is something incongruous about President Obama denouncing an intelligence failure in the case of the underwear bomber on the very same day that we read this in the New York Times:

The nation’s top scientists and spies are collaborating on an effort to use the federal government’s intelligence assets — including spy satellites and other classified sensors — to assess the hidden complexities of environmental change. They seek insights from natural phenomena like clouds and glaciers, deserts and tropical forests.

The Times goes on to assure us:

The monitoring program has little or no impact on regular intelligence gathering, federal officials said, but instead releases secret information already collected or takes advantage of opportunities to record environmental data when classified sensors are otherwise idle or passing over wilderness.

Count me as skeptical. Efforts to retask the intelligence community to focus on the environment, trade issues, and other concerns beyond the realm of traditional “national security” were all the rage after the end of the Cold War, when it was widely believed that history had “ended.” History restarted on 9/11, however, and since then, the war on terrorism has been the intel community’s all-pervading concern — as it should be. Until now, though, President Obama has shown much less concern about the “war on terror” (words that he, of course, does not use) and has even allowed his attorney general to investigate CIA personnel for alleged abuses committed under the previous administration. Intel community operatives aren’t dummies. Even if they can’t always figure out what’s going on in the Hindu Kush, they are astute readers of the tea leaves in Washington. They know when the top-level politicos are sending signals that they should pull back from aggressively fighting terrorists. Once again getting the intel community involved in “green” concerns will be taken as just another sign of where this president’s priorities are — and aren’t.

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