Commentary Magazine


Topic: intelligence official

When It Comes to National Intelligence, One Head Is Better than Two

The Wall Street Journal reports that the White House is having a tough time finding anyone willing to take on the thankless job of director of National Intelligence after firing retired Admiral Dennis Blair. If the newspaper’s reporting is to be believed, the post has already been turned down by CIA director Leon Panetta and former senator Chuck Hagel. That leaves Gen. James Clapper, the top intelligence official at the Department of Defense, as the front-runner, but his appointment is unpopular on Capitol Hill.

What to do? Here’s a thought from out of left field: why not appoint Panetta to the job while letting him keep his current appointment as CIA director? In fact, why not make it a tradition to have the same person serve as both DNI and DCI? That would actually be in line with the historic expectation that the head of the CIA would also be the head of the entire intelligence community. That promise was never realized, so in 2005 Congress created a separate DNI post. But each DNI has struggled to exercise any real power over individual intelligence agencies, and in particular over the CIA; Blair lost bruising turf battles to Panetta. By putting the same person in charge of both National Intelligence and CIA, you eliminate at least one turf battle. That may very well be the best solution for the short term, and possibly even the long term, unless Congress invests the DNI with vast new powers over budgeting and personnel, which it so far hasn’t been willing to do.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the White House is having a tough time finding anyone willing to take on the thankless job of director of National Intelligence after firing retired Admiral Dennis Blair. If the newspaper’s reporting is to be believed, the post has already been turned down by CIA director Leon Panetta and former senator Chuck Hagel. That leaves Gen. James Clapper, the top intelligence official at the Department of Defense, as the front-runner, but his appointment is unpopular on Capitol Hill.

What to do? Here’s a thought from out of left field: why not appoint Panetta to the job while letting him keep his current appointment as CIA director? In fact, why not make it a tradition to have the same person serve as both DNI and DCI? That would actually be in line with the historic expectation that the head of the CIA would also be the head of the entire intelligence community. That promise was never realized, so in 2005 Congress created a separate DNI post. But each DNI has struggled to exercise any real power over individual intelligence agencies, and in particular over the CIA; Blair lost bruising turf battles to Panetta. By putting the same person in charge of both National Intelligence and CIA, you eliminate at least one turf battle. That may very well be the best solution for the short term, and possibly even the long term, unless Congress invests the DNI with vast new powers over budgeting and personnel, which it so far hasn’t been willing to do.

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Still Mirandizing

Well, as I suspected would be the case, we did Mirandize the Times Square bomber. We are told he has chosen to talk, but what if he didn’t? Would we have been content to let him clam up as the Christmas Day bomber did for five weeks?  And, of course, we are preparing him to be tried in a federal courtroom. We have learned, however, that he may not be the lone wolf (and certainly not the aggrieved ObamaCare critic Mayor Bloomberg stupidly suggested he might be):

Shahzad, a recently naturalized U.S. citizen living in Connecticut., was taken off an airliner bound for the Persian Gulf sheikhdom of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates about 53 hours after the attempted bombing, authorities said.

Asked if Shahzad had implicated himself under questioning by federal agents, Holder said, “He has done that.” He said Shahzad “has provided useful information to authorities.”

Shahzad was initially questioned under a public safety exception to the Miranda rule and was cooperative, FBI Deputy Director John Pistole said at the news conference. He said Shahzad was later read his Miranda rights and “continued talking.”

Although Shahzad was arrested after the plane he had boarded returned to the departure gate, Holder said there was no risk that he would get away. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said authorities could have ordered the plane to return to the airport if it had taken off.

Concerned that he got on an airplane and wasn’t on the no-fly list? Well, Eric Holder says everything worked fine: “There was never any danger of losing him.”

Although we are treating Shahzad as an ordinary criminal, it appears he’s part of an international plot:

In Pakistan, an intelligence official said authorities arrested at least two people in the southern port city of Karachi in connection with the Times Square bombing attempt. The official, who is not authorized to speak on the record, identified one of those arrested as Tausif Ahmed, who was picked up in a busy commercial neighborhood called Gulshan-e-Iqbal.

Again, we return to the question: is the criminal-justice model really appropriate for such enemies? At some point, the American people and Congress will decide that the administration’s tactics are ludicrously ill-suited to the war we are fighting.

Well, as I suspected would be the case, we did Mirandize the Times Square bomber. We are told he has chosen to talk, but what if he didn’t? Would we have been content to let him clam up as the Christmas Day bomber did for five weeks?  And, of course, we are preparing him to be tried in a federal courtroom. We have learned, however, that he may not be the lone wolf (and certainly not the aggrieved ObamaCare critic Mayor Bloomberg stupidly suggested he might be):

Shahzad, a recently naturalized U.S. citizen living in Connecticut., was taken off an airliner bound for the Persian Gulf sheikhdom of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates about 53 hours after the attempted bombing, authorities said.

Asked if Shahzad had implicated himself under questioning by federal agents, Holder said, “He has done that.” He said Shahzad “has provided useful information to authorities.”

Shahzad was initially questioned under a public safety exception to the Miranda rule and was cooperative, FBI Deputy Director John Pistole said at the news conference. He said Shahzad was later read his Miranda rights and “continued talking.”

Although Shahzad was arrested after the plane he had boarded returned to the departure gate, Holder said there was no risk that he would get away. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said authorities could have ordered the plane to return to the airport if it had taken off.

Concerned that he got on an airplane and wasn’t on the no-fly list? Well, Eric Holder says everything worked fine: “There was never any danger of losing him.”

Although we are treating Shahzad as an ordinary criminal, it appears he’s part of an international plot:

In Pakistan, an intelligence official said authorities arrested at least two people in the southern port city of Karachi in connection with the Times Square bombing attempt. The official, who is not authorized to speak on the record, identified one of those arrested as Tausif Ahmed, who was picked up in a busy commercial neighborhood called Gulshan-e-Iqbal.

Again, we return to the question: is the criminal-justice model really appropriate for such enemies? At some point, the American people and Congress will decide that the administration’s tactics are ludicrously ill-suited to the war we are fighting.

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Sunday Spin on Christmas Day Bombing

Flipping from channel to channel or perusing the transcripts of the Sunday talk shows, it was hard not to cringe. Counterterrorism adviser John Brennan was everywhere. “We get it right most of the time…. We were alert all along… There wasn’t any smoking gun, just lots of clues we missed…. Yemen is really dangerous but we can’t say we’ll stop sending Guantanamo detainees there…. And Dick Cheney is very wrong…. The performance was defensive and otherworldly, alternately. One is tempted to say that, like Janet Napolitano, Brennan is not up to the job. That may well be the case, particularly as we learn about his own role in the missed clues. But we should be clear: this was all vetted in advance. This is the approved Obami version. These lines are the official talking points. So we come back to the fundamental question: why are they so bad at this? One longs for some candor and for some greater sense of urgency, the urgency that comes from realizing that we haven’t been on top of things and that we better get our act together — quickly.

The spin-meisters’ assurances stand in stark contrast to the bits and pieces of information slowly trickling out. We are learning from news accounts, in particular this eye-popping one, that the incompetence was rather breathtaking. A sample:

Collectively, the U.S. government had its head in the sand. The FBI had no representative at the meeting at the U.S. Embassy in Abuja, in the center of the country, the FBI maintains an attache only in Lagos, on the southern coast. The CIA did not tell the FBI about Abdulmutallab. Under the so-called Visa Viper program, the State Department received the report about the meeting with Abdulmutallab’s father, but it did not revoke the son’s visa. Rather, it made a note to closely scrutinize any future application to renew the visa. Likewise, the NCTC determined that there was no “reasonable suspicion” to conclude that Abdulmutallab was a terrorist, so he wasn’t put on the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center watch list of some 400,000 names, or counted as one of 13,000 people who require extra screening before getting on a plane, or one of 4,000 names who are on the “no fly” list banned from getting on a plane at all. . .

The NCTC was set up to make sure that the various American agencies and intelligence services better shared information in the wake of 9/11, which might have been averted if the CIA and FBI had been in better communication about the al-Qaeda hijackers entering the country. But for reasons still not adequately explained, no one seems to have noticed other red flags in the intelligence system. The intelligence community had already picked up the intercepts indicating that al-Qaeda was planning to use a Nigerian for an attack on America. Other intercepts suggested a terror attack out of Yemen at Christmas, though officials believed the likely target would be somewhere in the Middle East, not in the United States. Finally, there were the intercepts between Abdulmutallab and the phone (and possibly a computer) used by al-Awlaki, the Yemen-based cleric. Such contact would seem to cry out for attention although an intelligence official said the intercepts did not indicate Abdulmutallab’s full name.

And so it goes. But from watching Brennan, one senses that the Obami are banking on the public not fully grasping this. One has the nagging feeling that they are hoping to get by on flimflam and recycled talking points. The dutiful spokespeople — Napolitano and now Brennan — are striving to keep their own jobs and to hold back the torrent of outrage that they fear will sweep them from office. So they are not informing or reassuring us. They are practicing damage control — limit the facts, label the facts, attack the critics, and minimize the enormity of the screw up.

How this incident is being handled suggests that some real Congressional oversight might be needed, or better yet, an independent commission. (Perhaps the 9/11 commission can be brought back since they’ve already figured out what to look for and what bureaucratic bumbling looks like.) At the very least, one wishes that the malefactors who are at least partially responsible would step aside and let those less invested in spinning the story explain what went wrong.

Flipping from channel to channel or perusing the transcripts of the Sunday talk shows, it was hard not to cringe. Counterterrorism adviser John Brennan was everywhere. “We get it right most of the time…. We were alert all along… There wasn’t any smoking gun, just lots of clues we missed…. Yemen is really dangerous but we can’t say we’ll stop sending Guantanamo detainees there…. And Dick Cheney is very wrong…. The performance was defensive and otherworldly, alternately. One is tempted to say that, like Janet Napolitano, Brennan is not up to the job. That may well be the case, particularly as we learn about his own role in the missed clues. But we should be clear: this was all vetted in advance. This is the approved Obami version. These lines are the official talking points. So we come back to the fundamental question: why are they so bad at this? One longs for some candor and for some greater sense of urgency, the urgency that comes from realizing that we haven’t been on top of things and that we better get our act together — quickly.

The spin-meisters’ assurances stand in stark contrast to the bits and pieces of information slowly trickling out. We are learning from news accounts, in particular this eye-popping one, that the incompetence was rather breathtaking. A sample:

Collectively, the U.S. government had its head in the sand. The FBI had no representative at the meeting at the U.S. Embassy in Abuja, in the center of the country, the FBI maintains an attache only in Lagos, on the southern coast. The CIA did not tell the FBI about Abdulmutallab. Under the so-called Visa Viper program, the State Department received the report about the meeting with Abdulmutallab’s father, but it did not revoke the son’s visa. Rather, it made a note to closely scrutinize any future application to renew the visa. Likewise, the NCTC determined that there was no “reasonable suspicion” to conclude that Abdulmutallab was a terrorist, so he wasn’t put on the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center watch list of some 400,000 names, or counted as one of 13,000 people who require extra screening before getting on a plane, or one of 4,000 names who are on the “no fly” list banned from getting on a plane at all. . .

The NCTC was set up to make sure that the various American agencies and intelligence services better shared information in the wake of 9/11, which might have been averted if the CIA and FBI had been in better communication about the al-Qaeda hijackers entering the country. But for reasons still not adequately explained, no one seems to have noticed other red flags in the intelligence system. The intelligence community had already picked up the intercepts indicating that al-Qaeda was planning to use a Nigerian for an attack on America. Other intercepts suggested a terror attack out of Yemen at Christmas, though officials believed the likely target would be somewhere in the Middle East, not in the United States. Finally, there were the intercepts between Abdulmutallab and the phone (and possibly a computer) used by al-Awlaki, the Yemen-based cleric. Such contact would seem to cry out for attention although an intelligence official said the intercepts did not indicate Abdulmutallab’s full name.

And so it goes. But from watching Brennan, one senses that the Obami are banking on the public not fully grasping this. One has the nagging feeling that they are hoping to get by on flimflam and recycled talking points. The dutiful spokespeople — Napolitano and now Brennan — are striving to keep their own jobs and to hold back the torrent of outrage that they fear will sweep them from office. So they are not informing or reassuring us. They are practicing damage control — limit the facts, label the facts, attack the critics, and minimize the enormity of the screw up.

How this incident is being handled suggests that some real Congressional oversight might be needed, or better yet, an independent commission. (Perhaps the 9/11 commission can be brought back since they’ve already figured out what to look for and what bureaucratic bumbling looks like.) At the very least, one wishes that the malefactors who are at least partially responsible would step aside and let those less invested in spinning the story explain what went wrong.

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“Islamic Terrorism” Returns

The Los Angeles Times has a report detailing “a rising threat from homegrown extremism.” It seems that even the Obama administration can’t ignore the obvious:

Anti-terrorism officials and experts see signs of accelerated radicalization among American Muslims, driven by a wave of English-language online propaganda and reflected in aspiring fighters’ trips to hot spots such as Pakistan and Somalia.

The Department of Homeland Security saw fit earlier this year to warn about “right-wing extremism” (all those Second and Tenth Amendment nuts), although strangely it has yet to produce a comprehensive report on the pattern of extreme Islamic terrorist activity. But perhaps Janet Napolitano is waking from her slumber:

Last week, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano issued her strongest public comments yet on the homegrown threat.

“We’ve seen an increased number of arrests here in the U.S. of individuals suspected of plotting terrorist attacks, or supporting terror groups abroad such as Al Qaeda,” Napolitano said in a speech in New York. “Home-based terrorism is here. And, like violent extremism abroad, it will be part of the threat picture that we must now confront.”

Officials acknowledged that her tone had changed, though they said terrorism has been her focus since becoming Homeland Security chief.

For an administration that had excised “Islamic fundamentalism” and “Islamic extremism” from its vocabulary and referred to the war on terror as “overseas contingent operations,” this is a pleasing turn of events if it does, in fact, mark a change. One by one the excuses for averting our eyes about the nature of the threat we face seem to be losing credibility. Turns out poverty doesn’t breed Islamic radicalism. As the report notes:

Some feel radicalization in the United States has been worse than authorities thought for some time.

“People focused on the idea that we’re different, we’re better at integrating Muslims than Europe is,” said Zeyno Baran, a scholar at the Hudson Institute, a think tank in Washington. “But there’s radicalization — especially among converts [and] newcomers, such as the Somali case shows. I think young U.S. Muslims today are as prone to radicalization as Muslims in Europe.” …

“The profile in Europe is in general quite different [from U.S. extremists]: more working-class or even underclass,” said a European intelligence official who requested anonymity for security reasons. “But it’s a bit simplistic to make assumptions. We have seen everything in Europe — educated people, doctors involved in terrorism. The underclass argument is not enough.”

And the notion, embraced most specifically by the president, that we can defang Islamic terrorism by humbling ourselves, hobbling our own legitimate security needs, and reaching out to the “Muslim World” by parroting back their victimology seems increasingly dubious. Yet the Times seems mystified that these gambits haven’t really helped: “The Obama administration began the year with gestures to the Muslim world. President Obama promised to shut down the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and made a historic speech in Cairo. ” Wow, and with all that, still we have an uptick in homegrown terror.

What’s missing here is any indication that the president himself is willing to drop the pretense of political correctness, address the reality of Islamic radicalism, and revise his approach to national security accordingly. In fact, he and his attorney general seem to be going in the opposite direction, returning to a criminal-justice model for terrorism, blissfully unaware of the danger of providing KSM with a civilian trial to preach and convert to the cause of Islamic radicalism even more potential terrorists. When Obama is willing to call Fort Hood an act of Islamic terror and shut down the KSM circus, we’ll know we’re finally making progress.

The Los Angeles Times has a report detailing “a rising threat from homegrown extremism.” It seems that even the Obama administration can’t ignore the obvious:

Anti-terrorism officials and experts see signs of accelerated radicalization among American Muslims, driven by a wave of English-language online propaganda and reflected in aspiring fighters’ trips to hot spots such as Pakistan and Somalia.

The Department of Homeland Security saw fit earlier this year to warn about “right-wing extremism” (all those Second and Tenth Amendment nuts), although strangely it has yet to produce a comprehensive report on the pattern of extreme Islamic terrorist activity. But perhaps Janet Napolitano is waking from her slumber:

Last week, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano issued her strongest public comments yet on the homegrown threat.

“We’ve seen an increased number of arrests here in the U.S. of individuals suspected of plotting terrorist attacks, or supporting terror groups abroad such as Al Qaeda,” Napolitano said in a speech in New York. “Home-based terrorism is here. And, like violent extremism abroad, it will be part of the threat picture that we must now confront.”

Officials acknowledged that her tone had changed, though they said terrorism has been her focus since becoming Homeland Security chief.

For an administration that had excised “Islamic fundamentalism” and “Islamic extremism” from its vocabulary and referred to the war on terror as “overseas contingent operations,” this is a pleasing turn of events if it does, in fact, mark a change. One by one the excuses for averting our eyes about the nature of the threat we face seem to be losing credibility. Turns out poverty doesn’t breed Islamic radicalism. As the report notes:

Some feel radicalization in the United States has been worse than authorities thought for some time.

“People focused on the idea that we’re different, we’re better at integrating Muslims than Europe is,” said Zeyno Baran, a scholar at the Hudson Institute, a think tank in Washington. “But there’s radicalization — especially among converts [and] newcomers, such as the Somali case shows. I think young U.S. Muslims today are as prone to radicalization as Muslims in Europe.” …

“The profile in Europe is in general quite different [from U.S. extremists]: more working-class or even underclass,” said a European intelligence official who requested anonymity for security reasons. “But it’s a bit simplistic to make assumptions. We have seen everything in Europe — educated people, doctors involved in terrorism. The underclass argument is not enough.”

And the notion, embraced most specifically by the president, that we can defang Islamic terrorism by humbling ourselves, hobbling our own legitimate security needs, and reaching out to the “Muslim World” by parroting back their victimology seems increasingly dubious. Yet the Times seems mystified that these gambits haven’t really helped: “The Obama administration began the year with gestures to the Muslim world. President Obama promised to shut down the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and made a historic speech in Cairo. ” Wow, and with all that, still we have an uptick in homegrown terror.

What’s missing here is any indication that the president himself is willing to drop the pretense of political correctness, address the reality of Islamic radicalism, and revise his approach to national security accordingly. In fact, he and his attorney general seem to be going in the opposite direction, returning to a criminal-justice model for terrorism, blissfully unaware of the danger of providing KSM with a civilian trial to preach and convert to the cause of Islamic radicalism even more potential terrorists. When Obama is willing to call Fort Hood an act of Islamic terror and shut down the KSM circus, we’ll know we’re finally making progress.

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The CIA’s Grand Champion

 From 2002-05, Mark M. Lowenthal was an assistant director of the CIA and vice chairman of the National Intelligence Council. He has written one of the more useful books by an intelligence official: Intelligence: From Secrets To Policy. An even more significant accomplishment to my mind — one that offers outside validation of his smarts — is having become a “Grand Champion” on Jeopardy in 1988.

In Sunday’s Washington Post, Lowenthal candidly admitted that the “U.S. intelligence community has failed” both as “a public institution and as a profession.” But the failure, in his eyes, does not reside in either inability to intercept the 9/11 plot or the erroneous assessment of Iraq weapons of mass destruction in 2003.

September 11, Lowenthal argues, was not something that could have been forestalled by intelligence:

No one has yet revealed the one or two or 10 things that, had they been done differently, might have prevented the attacks. In my view, and in the view of many of my colleagues, even the missed “operational opportunities” identified by the 9/11 Commission would have done little more than force al-Qaeda to send different terrorists into the United States, especially considering the legal rules in play at the time. Even if every “dot” had been connected, they would not have led to the tactical intelligence needed to stop those four planes on that Tuesday morning.

I am not fully persuaded, but, for the sake of argument, let’s grant Lowenthal the point. He makes a similar observation about the botched 2003 WMD National Intelligence Estimate. Even if the tradecraft in producing that NIE had not been so shoddy, the result, he contends, might well have been the same:

it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to envision an NIE based on good intelligence that would have come up with the correct answer. The best my fellow analysts could have done, I think, would have been to offer three analytical options: Saddam Hussein has WMD; he does not have WMD; or we simply do not know. And of course, given his track record of gassing Kurds, attacking neighbors and resisting U.N. weapons inspections, the most likely of the three still would have been that he had WMD. But analytical responses that cover the waterfront of possibilities are not seen as very useful to policymakers, for obvious reasons. Moreover, even if we had concluded that we just didn’t know what Iraq had, Bush would have probably favored going to war anyway, and Congress would have gone along, largely out of political expediency.

This is more persuasive. But if these two alleged failures were not really failures at all, why then is Lowenthal so down on U.S. intelligence? His answer:

We failed because we have not explained ourselves adequately and comprehensibly to the public — describing our role, the limits within which we work and our view of what can be reasonably expected from us. We have failed because we have allowed ourselves to be caricatured, vilified and misrepresented by people who do not know us, do not like us and do not understand us — or simply see us as convenient fall guys.

This is preposterous. Lowenthal is undoubtedly right that the public is ill informed about what can reasonably be expected from intelligence in view of the insuperable challenges it continually faces. I have made a similar observation in The CIA Follies (Cont’d.) in COMMENTARY. But the idea that intelligence officials have allowed themselves “to be caricatured, vilified and misrepresented by people who do not know us, do not like us and do not understand us — or simply see us as convenient fall guys” does not hold up.

I would point Lowenthal to the 2005 declassified summary of the Inspector General’s report on the CIA’s counterterrorism branch,  including its al-Qaeda unit run by Michael Scheuer. Perhaps the CIA could not have stopped the 9/11 plot no matter what it did. But the managerial and analytical ineptitude on display in that critical unit is staggering.  

I would point him to the decision to put Richard Immerman, an anti-war activist professor, in charge of analytical standards and integrity in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

I would point him to the tendentious declassified summary of the December 2007 NIE on Iran.

I would point him to the endless leaks from the intelligence community designed to undercut the policies of the administration it is tasked with serving. The intelligence community has not been vilified; rather, elements in it have been villainous and the entire operation has been paying the price. One doesn’t need to be a Jeopardy grand champion to understand that.

 From 2002-05, Mark M. Lowenthal was an assistant director of the CIA and vice chairman of the National Intelligence Council. He has written one of the more useful books by an intelligence official: Intelligence: From Secrets To Policy. An even more significant accomplishment to my mind — one that offers outside validation of his smarts — is having become a “Grand Champion” on Jeopardy in 1988.

In Sunday’s Washington Post, Lowenthal candidly admitted that the “U.S. intelligence community has failed” both as “a public institution and as a profession.” But the failure, in his eyes, does not reside in either inability to intercept the 9/11 plot or the erroneous assessment of Iraq weapons of mass destruction in 2003.

September 11, Lowenthal argues, was not something that could have been forestalled by intelligence:

No one has yet revealed the one or two or 10 things that, had they been done differently, might have prevented the attacks. In my view, and in the view of many of my colleagues, even the missed “operational opportunities” identified by the 9/11 Commission would have done little more than force al-Qaeda to send different terrorists into the United States, especially considering the legal rules in play at the time. Even if every “dot” had been connected, they would not have led to the tactical intelligence needed to stop those four planes on that Tuesday morning.

I am not fully persuaded, but, for the sake of argument, let’s grant Lowenthal the point. He makes a similar observation about the botched 2003 WMD National Intelligence Estimate. Even if the tradecraft in producing that NIE had not been so shoddy, the result, he contends, might well have been the same:

it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to envision an NIE based on good intelligence that would have come up with the correct answer. The best my fellow analysts could have done, I think, would have been to offer three analytical options: Saddam Hussein has WMD; he does not have WMD; or we simply do not know. And of course, given his track record of gassing Kurds, attacking neighbors and resisting U.N. weapons inspections, the most likely of the three still would have been that he had WMD. But analytical responses that cover the waterfront of possibilities are not seen as very useful to policymakers, for obvious reasons. Moreover, even if we had concluded that we just didn’t know what Iraq had, Bush would have probably favored going to war anyway, and Congress would have gone along, largely out of political expediency.

This is more persuasive. But if these two alleged failures were not really failures at all, why then is Lowenthal so down on U.S. intelligence? His answer:

We failed because we have not explained ourselves adequately and comprehensibly to the public — describing our role, the limits within which we work and our view of what can be reasonably expected from us. We have failed because we have allowed ourselves to be caricatured, vilified and misrepresented by people who do not know us, do not like us and do not understand us — or simply see us as convenient fall guys.

This is preposterous. Lowenthal is undoubtedly right that the public is ill informed about what can reasonably be expected from intelligence in view of the insuperable challenges it continually faces. I have made a similar observation in The CIA Follies (Cont’d.) in COMMENTARY. But the idea that intelligence officials have allowed themselves “to be caricatured, vilified and misrepresented by people who do not know us, do not like us and do not understand us — or simply see us as convenient fall guys” does not hold up.

I would point Lowenthal to the 2005 declassified summary of the Inspector General’s report on the CIA’s counterterrorism branch,  including its al-Qaeda unit run by Michael Scheuer. Perhaps the CIA could not have stopped the 9/11 plot no matter what it did. But the managerial and analytical ineptitude on display in that critical unit is staggering.  

I would point him to the decision to put Richard Immerman, an anti-war activist professor, in charge of analytical standards and integrity in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

I would point him to the tendentious declassified summary of the December 2007 NIE on Iran.

I would point him to the endless leaks from the intelligence community designed to undercut the policies of the administration it is tasked with serving. The intelligence community has not been vilified; rather, elements in it have been villainous and the entire operation has been paying the price. One doesn’t need to be a Jeopardy grand champion to understand that.

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Second Life

Today’s Washington Post reports on the intelligence challenged posed by virtual worlds like Second Life, in which millions of participants use “avatars,” computer-generated personae, to interact in an global role-playing game. The research arm under the Director of National Intelligence, the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity, has been studying such computer environments and finding potential dangers.

One intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he had no evidence of activity by terrorist cells or widespread organized crime in virtual worlds. There have been numerous instances of fraud, harassment and other virtual crimes. Some computer users have used their avatars to destroy virtual buildings.

In addition to the threat of more virtual buildings getting blown up, there is also the danger of virtual terrorist training grounds, and other possibilities yet to be dreamed of. The immediate problem is that virtual worlds offer a channel for surreptitious terrorist communication. Second Life has some 12 million users with approximately 50,000 people logged on at any given moment, making it very difficult for the CIA to track al Qaeda operatives playing the game from virtual caves.

In a world of multiplying threats, Connecting the Dots wants to know of it would make sense to create a virtual CIA to monitor this world? And if so, who should be in charge? Is this a good moment for the agency to call Michael Scheuer back from retirement?

 

Today’s Washington Post reports on the intelligence challenged posed by virtual worlds like Second Life, in which millions of participants use “avatars,” computer-generated personae, to interact in an global role-playing game. The research arm under the Director of National Intelligence, the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity, has been studying such computer environments and finding potential dangers.

One intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he had no evidence of activity by terrorist cells or widespread organized crime in virtual worlds. There have been numerous instances of fraud, harassment and other virtual crimes. Some computer users have used their avatars to destroy virtual buildings.

In addition to the threat of more virtual buildings getting blown up, there is also the danger of virtual terrorist training grounds, and other possibilities yet to be dreamed of. The immediate problem is that virtual worlds offer a channel for surreptitious terrorist communication. Second Life has some 12 million users with approximately 50,000 people logged on at any given moment, making it very difficult for the CIA to track al Qaeda operatives playing the game from virtual caves.

In a world of multiplying threats, Connecting the Dots wants to know of it would make sense to create a virtual CIA to monitor this world? And if so, who should be in charge? Is this a good moment for the agency to call Michael Scheuer back from retirement?

 

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