Commentary Magazine


Topic: Michael Scheuer

Reading The Longest War

Normally, I like a hanging judge, and I am certainly a big fan of Michael Mukasey, the esteemed former federal judge and attorney general. He is one of the most reasonable, learned, and authoritative voices around on most matters relating to the law — and especially on the war on terror with which he has been closely connected ever since he sentenced the “blind sheikh” to life in prison in 1996. Yet I can’t help but conclude that his review of Peter Bergen’s The Longest War in the Wall Street Journal metes out a harsher verdict than the book deserves.

Having read the book myself — and having interviewed Bergen about it for an upcoming episode of C-SPAN’s Afterwords — I agree with many of Mukasey’s specific criticisms. I, too, disagree with Bergen when he makes withering criticisms of Guantanamo and the use of “enhanced” interrogation techniques on the likes of Khalid Sheikh Mohammad. I, too, disagree with Bergen when he criticizes “renditions” of terrorists and when he claims (in words not quoted by Mukasey) that “by any rational standard” Saddam Hussein’s Iraq “did not pose a real threat to the United States.” The last is a particularly puzzling statement considering that Saddam Hussein had invaded his neighbors twice, schemed to acquire weapons of mass destruction, and had already sparked one war with the United States and numerous lesser military actions.

But by focusing on these dubious assertions, Mukasey gives the impression that Bergen’s book is an anti-Bush screed along the lines of Jane Mayer’s The Dark Side. It isn’t. It’s actually a fairly balanced account of the past decade’s fight against al-Qaeda. Read More

Normally, I like a hanging judge, and I am certainly a big fan of Michael Mukasey, the esteemed former federal judge and attorney general. He is one of the most reasonable, learned, and authoritative voices around on most matters relating to the law — and especially on the war on terror with which he has been closely connected ever since he sentenced the “blind sheikh” to life in prison in 1996. Yet I can’t help but conclude that his review of Peter Bergen’s The Longest War in the Wall Street Journal metes out a harsher verdict than the book deserves.

Having read the book myself — and having interviewed Bergen about it for an upcoming episode of C-SPAN’s Afterwords — I agree with many of Mukasey’s specific criticisms. I, too, disagree with Bergen when he makes withering criticisms of Guantanamo and the use of “enhanced” interrogation techniques on the likes of Khalid Sheikh Mohammad. I, too, disagree with Bergen when he criticizes “renditions” of terrorists and when he claims (in words not quoted by Mukasey) that “by any rational standard” Saddam Hussein’s Iraq “did not pose a real threat to the United States.” The last is a particularly puzzling statement considering that Saddam Hussein had invaded his neighbors twice, schemed to acquire weapons of mass destruction, and had already sparked one war with the United States and numerous lesser military actions.

But by focusing on these dubious assertions, Mukasey gives the impression that Bergen’s book is an anti-Bush screed along the lines of Jane Mayer’s The Dark Side. It isn’t. It’s actually a fairly balanced account of the past decade’s fight against al-Qaeda.

In the first place, many of the criticisms Bergen offers are on the money — for instance, about the failure of the Bush administration to send more troops to trap Osama bin Laden at Tora Bora and about the failure to prepare for the post-invasion phase of the Iraq war. Both assertions should, by now, be fairly uncontroversial even in conservative circles. For that matter, I think Bergen is convincing in arguing that no tangible links between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda have been uncovered and that mainstream Islam has rejected al-Qaeda — both assertions that Mukasey questions.

In the second place, Bergen also offers praise for Bush that Mukasey doesn’t quote. He writes, for example, “There is little doubt that some of the measures the Bush administration and Congress took after 9/11 made Americans safer.” Among the positives he cites are the Patriot Act and other enhanced security measures.

Bergen also endorses Bush’s decision to  attack al-Qaeda with the full weight of the U.S. military — not just with law enforcement and intelligence agencies. This led the Economist to criticize Bergen’s book for dismissing “the view of some Europeans that al-Qaeda is essentially a law and order problem—more or less arguing, with odd logic, that since it declared war on America, then America must be at war.”

Unlike Michael Scheuer, the eccentric former CIA analyst whose new book about Osama bin Laden is also reviewed by Mukasey, Bergen does not think that Bush fell into a trap by sending troops into Afghanistan. Although bin Laden has talked about how he was luring America into a guerrilla war, Bergen concludes that this is largely an ex post facto justification and that the invasion of Afghanistan actually did significant damage to al-Qaeda. Moreover, unlike many of those who backed the initial decision to intervene, he strongly supports the current war effort in Afghanistan. Indeed Bergen and I teamed up at an Intelligence Squared US debate not long ago to argue that Afghanistan isn’t a lost cause.

In short, I think Mukasey is being harder on Bergen than the facts of the case warrant. But judge for yourself — read the book and watch my interview with Bergen in which I press him on some of the very points that Mukasey raises.

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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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Are Michiko Kakutani and Michael Scheuer An Item?

In today’s New York Times, Michiko Kakutani gives a mixed review to Fareed Zakaria’s latest book, The Post-American World.  She faults it for, among others things, some “curious gaps and questionable assertions.”

One of those is Zakaria’s “dubious” contention that  “over the last six years, support for bin Laden and his goals has fallen steadily throughout the Muslim world.” Taking issue with this, Kakutani complains that Zakaria ignores the contrary views of “Qaeda expert” Michael Scheuer.

Interestingly, back in April, reviewing Martin Amis’s The Second Plane, Kakutani chastised Amis for “completely ignoring . . . experts like Michael Scheuer.”

Reviewing Norman Podhoretz’s World War IV back in October, she scored him, too, for guess what:  “he ignores experts like Michael Scheuer.”

And reviewing Dinesh D’Souza last February, she complained that “He ignores the host of experts like the former C.I.A. officer Michael Scheuer.”

Listening to this broken record makes me all the more curious about Kakutani’s review of Scheuer’s most recent book, The Road to Hell. She called it “wildly uneven,” “intemperate,” “shrill,” and a “messy agglomeration” “seeded” with “alarming rants.”

These appropriate judgments leave me wondering why, in repeatedly enlisting the crackpot Scheuer to chastise various authors, Michiko Kakutani completely ignores — of all people — Michiko Kakutani.

In today’s New York Times, Michiko Kakutani gives a mixed review to Fareed Zakaria’s latest book, The Post-American World.  She faults it for, among others things, some “curious gaps and questionable assertions.”

One of those is Zakaria’s “dubious” contention that  “over the last six years, support for bin Laden and his goals has fallen steadily throughout the Muslim world.” Taking issue with this, Kakutani complains that Zakaria ignores the contrary views of “Qaeda expert” Michael Scheuer.

Interestingly, back in April, reviewing Martin Amis’s The Second Plane, Kakutani chastised Amis for “completely ignoring . . . experts like Michael Scheuer.”

Reviewing Norman Podhoretz’s World War IV back in October, she scored him, too, for guess what:  “he ignores experts like Michael Scheuer.”

And reviewing Dinesh D’Souza last February, she complained that “He ignores the host of experts like the former C.I.A. officer Michael Scheuer.”

Listening to this broken record makes me all the more curious about Kakutani’s review of Scheuer’s most recent book, The Road to Hell. She called it “wildly uneven,” “intemperate,” “shrill,” and a “messy agglomeration” “seeded” with “alarming rants.”

These appropriate judgments leave me wondering why, in repeatedly enlisting the crackpot Scheuer to chastise various authors, Michiko Kakutani completely ignores — of all people — Michiko Kakutani.

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Trouble In the Cave

The terrorists who carried out the 9/11 attack are a frightening bunch of ruthless murderers. But let’s not forget that they are also human beings, some of them perhaps with very charming qualities. Michael Scheuer, who ran the CIA’s Osama bin Laden unit in the 1990’s, has gone so far as to describe bin Laden himself as a “gentle, generous, talented, and personally courageous” fellow.

But human as al-Qaeda members are, they have human foibles. The weather can become very hot in some of the countries in which they operate. And who doesn’t have a fondness for air-conditioning?

Here is Mohammed Atef chastising one of his underlings:

I obtained 75,000 rupees for you and your family’s trip to Egypt. I learned that you did not submit the voucher to the accountant, and that you made reservations for 40,000 rupees and kept the remainder claiming you have a right to do so. . . . Also with respect to the air-conditioning unit, . . . furniture used by brothers in Al Qaeda is not considered private property. . . . I would like to remind you and myself of the punishment for any violation.

Atef was a military leader in al Qaeda until 2001 when a U.S. smart bomb fell on his head. Was the AC unit in question a Kenmore, a Friedrich, or some other brand? That information, along with the tax ID number of Atef’s accountant, is not available.

The chastising memo appears in a collection of al-Qaeda documents compiled by West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center. They paint a picture of an organization that, along with a millenarian mission, has quite a few quotidian concerns. The Los Angeles Times carries a summary of the collection in today’s paper.

Michael Scheuer may or may not be right that Osama bin Laden is “gentle.” There is no evidence for that bizarre judgment in the documents.

The terrorists who carried out the 9/11 attack are a frightening bunch of ruthless murderers. But let’s not forget that they are also human beings, some of them perhaps with very charming qualities. Michael Scheuer, who ran the CIA’s Osama bin Laden unit in the 1990’s, has gone so far as to describe bin Laden himself as a “gentle, generous, talented, and personally courageous” fellow.

But human as al-Qaeda members are, they have human foibles. The weather can become very hot in some of the countries in which they operate. And who doesn’t have a fondness for air-conditioning?

Here is Mohammed Atef chastising one of his underlings:

I obtained 75,000 rupees for you and your family’s trip to Egypt. I learned that you did not submit the voucher to the accountant, and that you made reservations for 40,000 rupees and kept the remainder claiming you have a right to do so. . . . Also with respect to the air-conditioning unit, . . . furniture used by brothers in Al Qaeda is not considered private property. . . . I would like to remind you and myself of the punishment for any violation.

Atef was a military leader in al Qaeda until 2001 when a U.S. smart bomb fell on his head. Was the AC unit in question a Kenmore, a Friedrich, or some other brand? That information, along with the tax ID number of Atef’s accountant, is not available.

The chastising memo appears in a collection of al-Qaeda documents compiled by West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center. They paint a picture of an organization that, along with a millenarian mission, has quite a few quotidian concerns. The Los Angeles Times carries a summary of the collection in today’s paper.

Michael Scheuer may or may not be right that Osama bin Laden is “gentle.” There is no evidence for that bizarre judgment in the documents.

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More About the Goofball

Yesterday I wrote about Thomas P. M. Barnett, the author of the Esquire profile of Admiral Willam Fallon, head of Centcom, who resigned following the article’s publication. I have long known that Barnett is a goofball, but it turns out that I didn’t know the half of it.

Back in 1989, when one East European Soviet satrapy after another was collapsing, Barnett, as I noted yesterday, wrote a fawning article about the “shrewd and farsighted” Nicolae Ceausescu who had just been “unanimously reelected at the recent Communist-party congress” and whose “grip on power appears firm.” Two weeks later, Mr. and Mrs. Ceausescu were shot dead, and Barnett had egg — sunnyside up — on his face.

But what I did not know was that a few days after penning “Romanian Domino Stays Upright,” Barnett returned to the scene of the crime with another op-ed in the same newspaper, where he explained “Why Ceausescu Fell.” The beauty of this particular piece was that he failed to say a word about his previous analysis. Just a few weeks after telling readers about Ceausescu’s firm hold on power, here he was going on about the “people’s deep anger over their long history of oppression” and how Romanians became “ready to choose death over Ceausescu.”

This deft intellectual switcheroo evidently helped win Barnett an appointment at the Naval War College, “where he taught and served — in a senior advisory role — with military and civilian leaders in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, Central Command, Special Operations Command, and Joint Forces Command.” The quotation comes from Barnett’s autobiographical statement, available on his website, a remarkable piece of self-inflation for someone whose accomplishments, like his analysis of the Romanian revolution, have arguably subtracted more than they’ve added to the sum total of human knowledge.

Another typical example. On his website, www.thomaspmbarnett.com, Barnett exhibits a consistent fascination with what he calls the “apartheid structure” of Israel. As a self-described “prolific blogger,” he has written numerous posts that are variations on the theme of Israel as “pariah state.”

One of them is an analysis of Israel’s laws of citizenship, which Barnett describes as “defined by blood or faith.” The “historical basis for Israel as a state,” he writes, “is to recollect that tribe that got spread all over the planet in centuries past, and it doesn’t get much more racial than that.”

But in the same post, Barnett then pulls a modified, limited Ceausescu:

Now, if I’m wrongly interpreting what it takes to be an Israeli citizen, somebody please correct me and much of this post’s logic will gladly dissolve, but it’s long been my impression that only Jews (defined by blood or faith) are eligible to become full citizens of the state of Israel.

If this proposition is false, and non-Jews can enjoy “all the same citizenship and political participation rights as any Jew living there,” continues Barnett,

then I withdraw this post entirely and confess my profound ignorance on this particular subject.

Of course, the readily ascertainable fact is that many Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Zoroastrians, and even Wiccans live in Israel and enjoy “all the same citizenship and political participation rights as any Jew living there.”

What can one say, except to ask why, when writing on a politically delicate subject, does this distinguished goofball disdain to do his research first instead of proudly parading his “profound ignorance”?

Michael Scheuer undoubtedly knows the answer to this question, and so, in his own way, does Eliot Spitzer. Obsessions and compulsions can get one into deep trouble, intellectual and otherwise.

Yesterday I wrote about Thomas P. M. Barnett, the author of the Esquire profile of Admiral Willam Fallon, head of Centcom, who resigned following the article’s publication. I have long known that Barnett is a goofball, but it turns out that I didn’t know the half of it.

Back in 1989, when one East European Soviet satrapy after another was collapsing, Barnett, as I noted yesterday, wrote a fawning article about the “shrewd and farsighted” Nicolae Ceausescu who had just been “unanimously reelected at the recent Communist-party congress” and whose “grip on power appears firm.” Two weeks later, Mr. and Mrs. Ceausescu were shot dead, and Barnett had egg — sunnyside up — on his face.

But what I did not know was that a few days after penning “Romanian Domino Stays Upright,” Barnett returned to the scene of the crime with another op-ed in the same newspaper, where he explained “Why Ceausescu Fell.” The beauty of this particular piece was that he failed to say a word about his previous analysis. Just a few weeks after telling readers about Ceausescu’s firm hold on power, here he was going on about the “people’s deep anger over their long history of oppression” and how Romanians became “ready to choose death over Ceausescu.”

This deft intellectual switcheroo evidently helped win Barnett an appointment at the Naval War College, “where he taught and served — in a senior advisory role — with military and civilian leaders in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, Central Command, Special Operations Command, and Joint Forces Command.” The quotation comes from Barnett’s autobiographical statement, available on his website, a remarkable piece of self-inflation for someone whose accomplishments, like his analysis of the Romanian revolution, have arguably subtracted more than they’ve added to the sum total of human knowledge.

Another typical example. On his website, www.thomaspmbarnett.com, Barnett exhibits a consistent fascination with what he calls the “apartheid structure” of Israel. As a self-described “prolific blogger,” he has written numerous posts that are variations on the theme of Israel as “pariah state.”

One of them is an analysis of Israel’s laws of citizenship, which Barnett describes as “defined by blood or faith.” The “historical basis for Israel as a state,” he writes, “is to recollect that tribe that got spread all over the planet in centuries past, and it doesn’t get much more racial than that.”

But in the same post, Barnett then pulls a modified, limited Ceausescu:

Now, if I’m wrongly interpreting what it takes to be an Israeli citizen, somebody please correct me and much of this post’s logic will gladly dissolve, but it’s long been my impression that only Jews (defined by blood or faith) are eligible to become full citizens of the state of Israel.

If this proposition is false, and non-Jews can enjoy “all the same citizenship and political participation rights as any Jew living there,” continues Barnett,

then I withdraw this post entirely and confess my profound ignorance on this particular subject.

Of course, the readily ascertainable fact is that many Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Zoroastrians, and even Wiccans live in Israel and enjoy “all the same citizenship and political participation rights as any Jew living there.”

What can one say, except to ask why, when writing on a politically delicate subject, does this distinguished goofball disdain to do his research first instead of proudly parading his “profound ignorance”?

Michael Scheuer undoubtedly knows the answer to this question, and so, in his own way, does Eliot Spitzer. Obsessions and compulsions can get one into deep trouble, intellectual and otherwise.

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I . . . Agree with Michael Scheuer

Gabriel Schoenfeld has done a masterly job of dissecting the bizarre world view of retired CIA officer Michael Scheuer. But today Scheuer has actually written an article that I for the most part agree with. It’s called “Break Out the Shock and Awe,” and in it he cautions against the notion that “the U.S. military should rely more on covert operations and special forces to fight counterinsurgencies and irregular wars.” Only conventional forces, he argues, can deliver a lasting victory.

The reality is a little more complex. When they have skilled allied forces to fight alongside, American special operators can in fact deliver outsize results. That’s what happened in El Salvador in the 1980’s, when 55 Special Forces trainers helped defeat a communist insurgency. But in the absence of large, competent, conventional forces-and they have been notably lacking in Afghanistan and Iraq during most of the time we have fought there-special operators cannot magically defeat our enemies.

But even when delivering generally sound analysis, Scheuer goes astray. He writes:

Anyone who reads works on the recommended book lists of the Army chief of staff and the Marines Corps commandant — books by such writers as Stephen Ambrose, Ulysses S. Grant, William T. Sherman, and Dwight Eisenhower — will find little indication that wars can won by clandestine and special forces. Only Max Boot and his brethren at the Weekly Standard, Commentary and the National Review preach such nonsense as gospel.

I cannot speak for everyone at The Weekly Standard, COMMENTARY, or National Review, but off the top of my head (and speaking as the author of a book that is on the reading lists of both the Marine commandant and the chief of naval operations) I am hard put to think of any contributors to those publications who in fact “preach such nonsense as gospel.” Quite the reverse. Those publications have been supporting a surge of troops in Iraq precisely on the theory that special operators can’t do it alone.

Along with many of my “brethren” such as Fred Kagan, I have repeatedly warned against the special operations fallacy. For instance, in my Commentary article “How Not to Get Out of Iraq,” I wrote

If Special Operations Forces could not prevent the establishment under their noses of a Taliban-style “Islamic state” in Baquba during the past year, how much luck would they have operating from Kuwait or the Kurdish region, as suggested by proponents of this approach? It would be like trying to police Boston from Washington, D.C.

The major proponents of a commando-centric approach to fighting terrorists are not, in fact, to be found on the Right, especially now that Donald Rumsfeld is no longer at the Pentagon. They are primarily Democrats.  Some advocate this approach out of sheer ignorance; others do so out of political expediency.  All want to convince themselves that we can pull most of our troops out of Iraq and still keep Al Qaeda at bay. Scheuer would be well advised to aim his rhetorical fire a bit more carefully.

Gabriel Schoenfeld has done a masterly job of dissecting the bizarre world view of retired CIA officer Michael Scheuer. But today Scheuer has actually written an article that I for the most part agree with. It’s called “Break Out the Shock and Awe,” and in it he cautions against the notion that “the U.S. military should rely more on covert operations and special forces to fight counterinsurgencies and irregular wars.” Only conventional forces, he argues, can deliver a lasting victory.

The reality is a little more complex. When they have skilled allied forces to fight alongside, American special operators can in fact deliver outsize results. That’s what happened in El Salvador in the 1980’s, when 55 Special Forces trainers helped defeat a communist insurgency. But in the absence of large, competent, conventional forces-and they have been notably lacking in Afghanistan and Iraq during most of the time we have fought there-special operators cannot magically defeat our enemies.

But even when delivering generally sound analysis, Scheuer goes astray. He writes:

Anyone who reads works on the recommended book lists of the Army chief of staff and the Marines Corps commandant — books by such writers as Stephen Ambrose, Ulysses S. Grant, William T. Sherman, and Dwight Eisenhower — will find little indication that wars can won by clandestine and special forces. Only Max Boot and his brethren at the Weekly Standard, Commentary and the National Review preach such nonsense as gospel.

I cannot speak for everyone at The Weekly Standard, COMMENTARY, or National Review, but off the top of my head (and speaking as the author of a book that is on the reading lists of both the Marine commandant and the chief of naval operations) I am hard put to think of any contributors to those publications who in fact “preach such nonsense as gospel.” Quite the reverse. Those publications have been supporting a surge of troops in Iraq precisely on the theory that special operators can’t do it alone.

Along with many of my “brethren” such as Fred Kagan, I have repeatedly warned against the special operations fallacy. For instance, in my Commentary article “How Not to Get Out of Iraq,” I wrote

If Special Operations Forces could not prevent the establishment under their noses of a Taliban-style “Islamic state” in Baquba during the past year, how much luck would they have operating from Kuwait or the Kurdish region, as suggested by proponents of this approach? It would be like trying to police Boston from Washington, D.C.

The major proponents of a commando-centric approach to fighting terrorists are not, in fact, to be found on the Right, especially now that Donald Rumsfeld is no longer at the Pentagon. They are primarily Democrats.  Some advocate this approach out of sheer ignorance; others do so out of political expediency.  All want to convince themselves that we can pull most of our troops out of Iraq and still keep Al Qaeda at bay. Scheuer would be well advised to aim his rhetorical fire a bit more carefully.

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Spelling and “Analytic Tradecraft”

The CIA and U.S. intelligence have gotten a lot of things wrong in recent years, at great cost to our national well-being. A significant part of the problem lies in “analysis,” where data is supposed to be interpreted but is all too often misinterpreted.

Gregory F. Treverton and C. Bryan Gabbard have written a new study of “analytic tradecraft,” published by RAND, that takes up the nature of the problem and looks at some of the solutions being put in place.

Some of the approaches to improving analysis they point to are technological. For example, there is a program called GENOA -II, designed to help intelligence analysts work better in groups. Among other things, it attempts to “automate team processes,” develop “cognitive aids that allow humans and machines to ‘think together’ in real-time about complicated problems,” and find ways to “overcome the biases and limitations of the human cognitive system.”

This sounds great. But count me deeply skeptical. Here’s why.

No technological solution can be better than the people running it. Consider a very simple “cognitive aid” like a computer spell-check program. These things have been around for a long time and everyone uses them. Treverton and Gabbard are smart men, who have every interest in producing a highly professional study. Treverton has handled all of Europe for the National Security Council and served as vice chair of the National Intelligence Council, overseeing the writing of America’s National Intelligence Estimates (NIEs). Gabbard is also an accomplished person, with a wealth of experience under his belt. But even so, and even with RAND editors poring over their study before it was released, the spell-check program was not fail-safe.

The Treverton-Gabbard study has:

“intellience” and “intellence” instead of intelligence;

“builiding” instead of building;

“proceess” instead of process;

“solftware” instead of software;

“uniue” instead of unique;

“syehtsis” instead of synthesis;

“coopertive” instead of cooperative;

“poential” instead of potential.

Why should there be nine such mistakes when the technology is in place to produce, almost effortlessly, a zero-error rate? The United States is not going fall victim to a surprise attack because of some typos in a RAND study. But we will fall victim to another surprise attack if don’t focus on the fact that the problem facing our intelligence community is not technology but severe shortcomings in the selection of analysts themselves.

See the case of Michael Scheuer, the kooky head of the CIA’s Osama bin Laden desk in the 1990’s, for one set of illustrations. See the case of Richard Immerman, the radical professor now in charge of analytic “integrity and standards” for the Intelligence Community, for another set of illustrations.

How many more illustrations do we need?

The CIA and U.S. intelligence have gotten a lot of things wrong in recent years, at great cost to our national well-being. A significant part of the problem lies in “analysis,” where data is supposed to be interpreted but is all too often misinterpreted.

Gregory F. Treverton and C. Bryan Gabbard have written a new study of “analytic tradecraft,” published by RAND, that takes up the nature of the problem and looks at some of the solutions being put in place.

Some of the approaches to improving analysis they point to are technological. For example, there is a program called GENOA -II, designed to help intelligence analysts work better in groups. Among other things, it attempts to “automate team processes,” develop “cognitive aids that allow humans and machines to ‘think together’ in real-time about complicated problems,” and find ways to “overcome the biases and limitations of the human cognitive system.”

This sounds great. But count me deeply skeptical. Here’s why.

No technological solution can be better than the people running it. Consider a very simple “cognitive aid” like a computer spell-check program. These things have been around for a long time and everyone uses them. Treverton and Gabbard are smart men, who have every interest in producing a highly professional study. Treverton has handled all of Europe for the National Security Council and served as vice chair of the National Intelligence Council, overseeing the writing of America’s National Intelligence Estimates (NIEs). Gabbard is also an accomplished person, with a wealth of experience under his belt. But even so, and even with RAND editors poring over their study before it was released, the spell-check program was not fail-safe.

The Treverton-Gabbard study has:

“intellience” and “intellence” instead of intelligence;

“builiding” instead of building;

“proceess” instead of process;

“solftware” instead of software;

“uniue” instead of unique;

“syehtsis” instead of synthesis;

“coopertive” instead of cooperative;

“poential” instead of potential.

Why should there be nine such mistakes when the technology is in place to produce, almost effortlessly, a zero-error rate? The United States is not going fall victim to a surprise attack because of some typos in a RAND study. But we will fall victim to another surprise attack if don’t focus on the fact that the problem facing our intelligence community is not technology but severe shortcomings in the selection of analysts themselves.

See the case of Michael Scheuer, the kooky head of the CIA’s Osama bin Laden desk in the 1990’s, for one set of illustrations. See the case of Richard Immerman, the radical professor now in charge of analytic “integrity and standards” for the Intelligence Community, for another set of illustrations.

How many more illustrations do we need?

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Two Important Announcements From the Pentagon

I’m not making this up:

Book Signing – 22 Feb.

Author Michael Scheuer will present his new book “Marching through Hell: America and Islam After Iraq” in the Pentagon Auditorium, Room BH650, this Friday, 22 Feb at 1200.  Following his presentation, he will take questions and sign autographs.  Mr. Scheuer was formerly in charge of the Osama Bin Laden Unit at the CIA. =20

Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus

Pentagon Services has discount tickets to “Bellobration” at Verizon Center and the Patriot Center.  All tickets are $18 each (a $10 savings!).  We have tickets to the Verizon Center on Sat, 29 March at 11:30, 3:30 or 7:30. Buy your tickets now, while our supply lasts!

I have two questions:

Does Michael Scheuer deserve this honor? 

Are these two Pentagon activities related?

 

I’m not making this up:

Book Signing – 22 Feb.

Author Michael Scheuer will present his new book “Marching through Hell: America and Islam After Iraq” in the Pentagon Auditorium, Room BH650, this Friday, 22 Feb at 1200.  Following his presentation, he will take questions and sign autographs.  Mr. Scheuer was formerly in charge of the Osama Bin Laden Unit at the CIA. =20

Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus

Pentagon Services has discount tickets to “Bellobration” at Verizon Center and the Patriot Center.  All tickets are $18 each (a $10 savings!).  We have tickets to the Verizon Center on Sat, 29 March at 11:30, 3:30 or 7:30. Buy your tickets now, while our supply lasts!

I have two questions:

Does Michael Scheuer deserve this honor? 

Are these two Pentagon activities related?

 

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Hellfire Without Brimstone

We’ve been taking down the intelligence community a lot here at Connecting the Dots, and for good reason. The CIA’s failures in the run-up to 9/11, and then in Iraq, and more recently the confusion created by the National Intelligence Council regarding Iran’s nuclear program, are of major national significance. They leave the impression of an intelligence agency that, when it is not completely blind, is unable to make sense of what it seeing.

But let’s not get carried away. Let’s begin by remembering that there are some 80 stars on the wall at agency headquarters, commemorating CIA officers who died in the line of duty. One of them was Johnny Micheal Spann, who was killed in November 2001 in a prison uprising in Afghanistan as he was attempting to interrogate captured Taliban prisoners. He was posthumously awarded the Intelligence Star and the Exceptional Service Medallion.

And not only are there courageous men and women in the CIA, sometimes their courage results in action that is highly effective. Our impression of the agency is undoubtedly skewed because many of its successes go unheralded. And it is further skewed by those CIA officials who leave the agency’s employ to become public buffoons. Michael Scheuer, who has lied about his own CIA medal, is hardly alone in that category. There is an organization of ex-CIA officers who join him in his hybrid Chomskyite-Buchananite brand of politics. But still, we need to keep things in perspective; this is a handful of individuals who are no longer with the agency, and perhaps some of them were pushed out for incompetence or madness or both. The CIA is composed of thousands of officials, and it is an open question if these types are representative.

Today’s Washington Post reports on a CIA operation that went very well indeed. 

In the predawn hours of Jan. 29, a CIA Predator aircraft flew in a slow arc above the Pakistani town of Mir Ali. The drone’s operator, relying on information secretly passed to the CIA by local informants, clicked a computer mouse and sent the first of two Hellfire missiles hurtling toward a cluster of mud-brick buildings a few miles from the town center.

To read what happened next, and to whom, click here.

We’ve been taking down the intelligence community a lot here at Connecting the Dots, and for good reason. The CIA’s failures in the run-up to 9/11, and then in Iraq, and more recently the confusion created by the National Intelligence Council regarding Iran’s nuclear program, are of major national significance. They leave the impression of an intelligence agency that, when it is not completely blind, is unable to make sense of what it seeing.

But let’s not get carried away. Let’s begin by remembering that there are some 80 stars on the wall at agency headquarters, commemorating CIA officers who died in the line of duty. One of them was Johnny Micheal Spann, who was killed in November 2001 in a prison uprising in Afghanistan as he was attempting to interrogate captured Taliban prisoners. He was posthumously awarded the Intelligence Star and the Exceptional Service Medallion.

And not only are there courageous men and women in the CIA, sometimes their courage results in action that is highly effective. Our impression of the agency is undoubtedly skewed because many of its successes go unheralded. And it is further skewed by those CIA officials who leave the agency’s employ to become public buffoons. Michael Scheuer, who has lied about his own CIA medal, is hardly alone in that category. There is an organization of ex-CIA officers who join him in his hybrid Chomskyite-Buchananite brand of politics. But still, we need to keep things in perspective; this is a handful of individuals who are no longer with the agency, and perhaps some of them were pushed out for incompetence or madness or both. The CIA is composed of thousands of officials, and it is an open question if these types are representative.

Today’s Washington Post reports on a CIA operation that went very well indeed. 

In the predawn hours of Jan. 29, a CIA Predator aircraft flew in a slow arc above the Pakistani town of Mir Ali. The drone’s operator, relying on information secretly passed to the CIA by local informants, clicked a computer mouse and sent the first of two Hellfire missiles hurtling toward a cluster of mud-brick buildings a few miles from the town center.

To read what happened next, and to whom, click here.

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Out of the Box, or Off the Wall?

Over the past few months, I’ve written a few posts that raised questions about the arrangement of the marbles inside the brain of Michael Scheuer, the former head of the CIA’s Osama bin Laden unit and now a widely cited “expert” on counterterrorism. In his new book, The Road to Hell, Scheuer has turned around and accused me and some of his other critics of being “Israel Firsters,” Americans who put the interests of the state of Israel ahead of those of the United States, and therefore bent on discrediting him because he is exposing our “dual loyalty.”

Never mind that the allegation of treason he levels at me and others, including James Carroll, Max Boot, Steven Simon, Alan Dershowitz, David Gergen, Christopher Hitchens, Marvin Kalb, and Eliot Cohen is offered without a shred of evidence to back it up. And never mind that some of his targets, like Carroll, are themselves harsh critics of Israel.

Here is James Carroll writing about Israeli settlements in a recent column:

Among the factors that derailed the so-called peace process across the years was the ongoing Israeli expansion of settlements, despite agreements to stop. The integrity of Israel’s word was compromised, and its goodwill was questioned. Settlement construction, especially in the environs of Jerusalem, amounted to a radical prejudicing of any conceivable end-game agreement.

I have no idea why Carroll has ended up on Scheuer’s list of “Israel Firsters.” But it is amusing that even some sharp critics of Israel in the mainstream media are now wondering about the arrangement of Scheuer’s marbles, too.

On Bloomberg news, Scheuer’s new book has been reviewed by George Walden, a British member of parliament. When Scheuer argues that the United States is too closely allied to Israel and Saudi Arabia, writes Walden, he is being perfectly “sane.” But “[m]ixed in with his more reasonable opinions,” Walden continues, “we find some thinking that’s not so much out-of-the-box as off-the-wall”:

outrage is his steady state, and he pummels the reader with phrases such as “Hogwash!” and “A pox on them all!” Cool argument isn’t his forte, and he abhors complexity. Nuance is what the elites use to evade decisions, he shrieks.

The title of the Bloomberg news review is Eggheads, Mavericks, Nut Cases: Why the CIA Missed Bin Laden. One of the most marvelous things about the British is their penchant for understatement. Walden’s final assessment, that Scheuer is “mildly touched,” is a classic example of the genre.

Over the past few months, I’ve written a few posts that raised questions about the arrangement of the marbles inside the brain of Michael Scheuer, the former head of the CIA’s Osama bin Laden unit and now a widely cited “expert” on counterterrorism. In his new book, The Road to Hell, Scheuer has turned around and accused me and some of his other critics of being “Israel Firsters,” Americans who put the interests of the state of Israel ahead of those of the United States, and therefore bent on discrediting him because he is exposing our “dual loyalty.”

Never mind that the allegation of treason he levels at me and others, including James Carroll, Max Boot, Steven Simon, Alan Dershowitz, David Gergen, Christopher Hitchens, Marvin Kalb, and Eliot Cohen is offered without a shred of evidence to back it up. And never mind that some of his targets, like Carroll, are themselves harsh critics of Israel.

Here is James Carroll writing about Israeli settlements in a recent column:

Among the factors that derailed the so-called peace process across the years was the ongoing Israeli expansion of settlements, despite agreements to stop. The integrity of Israel’s word was compromised, and its goodwill was questioned. Settlement construction, especially in the environs of Jerusalem, amounted to a radical prejudicing of any conceivable end-game agreement.

I have no idea why Carroll has ended up on Scheuer’s list of “Israel Firsters.” But it is amusing that even some sharp critics of Israel in the mainstream media are now wondering about the arrangement of Scheuer’s marbles, too.

On Bloomberg news, Scheuer’s new book has been reviewed by George Walden, a British member of parliament. When Scheuer argues that the United States is too closely allied to Israel and Saudi Arabia, writes Walden, he is being perfectly “sane.” But “[m]ixed in with his more reasonable opinions,” Walden continues, “we find some thinking that’s not so much out-of-the-box as off-the-wall”:

outrage is his steady state, and he pummels the reader with phrases such as “Hogwash!” and “A pox on them all!” Cool argument isn’t his forte, and he abhors complexity. Nuance is what the elites use to evade decisions, he shrieks.

The title of the Bloomberg news review is Eggheads, Mavericks, Nut Cases: Why the CIA Missed Bin Laden. One of the most marvelous things about the British is their penchant for understatement. Walden’s final assessment, that Scheuer is “mildly touched,” is a classic example of the genre.

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The Scheuer Charade

Michael Scheuer, the former head of the Osama bin Laden desk and now a leading media “expert” on counterterrorism, has two faces.

When he is talking to or writing for the non-mainstream media, he heads for zany territory. One only has to read his diatribes on antiwar.com or listen to him on antiwar radio talking about Israel’s covert-action programs in this country to get a good sense of what kind of crackpot he is.

But when Scheuer talks to the mainstream media, he strives to make sense. Even though he incessantly punctuates his speech with the word “sir,” — giving himself a military patina, although he has no military service in his background — he seldom dives off into cloud-cuckoo land. One exception was when he spoke at the Council on Foreign Relations and accused Israel of mounting a clandestine operation in the United States through the Holocaust museum on the Washington mall. But mostly he sticks to more defensible themes, usually hammering away on his principal point: that al Qaeda hates us because of what we do, not who we are.

Scheuer has a new book out, Marching Toward Hell. In it, he seems to have allowed his two sides to converge, freely mixing up his more reasonable (if arguable) themes with his whacko ones. I haven’t read the whole thing yet, but my favorite point so far is Scheuer’s disquisition on free speech in the United States.

Scheuer begins by ticking off  a long and eclectic list of people whom he deems “reliable Israel-firsters.” In addition to me, he names James Carroll, Max Boot, Steven Simon, Alan Dershowitz, David Gergen, Christopher Hitchens, Marvin Kalb, and Eliot Cohen. “These are all dangerous men,” he writes, “who, in my judgment, are seeking to place de facto limitations on the First Amendment to protect the nation of their primary attachment.”

What Scheuer is referring to is not an attempt by me or any of these individuals to amend the Constitution, or to silence him through the courts, or to repeal his right to spout nonsense. Rather, he is merely talking about our criticism of him. To which one can only answer: Sir, criticism of you for your nuttiness and your anti-Semitism is our right under the First Amendment. To quote your writings to demonstrate that you are a crackpot, sir, is not to deny you your First Amendment right to speak or scribble as you please.

A particularly amusing aspect of all this is the way certain individuals in the mainstream media continue to take Scheuer seriously. Today’s interview with Scheuer in Newsweek, on the occasion of the publication of his new book, is a case in point. John Barry conducted that interview, and his journalistic laziness should win him a Pulitzer. Either Barry did not crack open Scheuer’s book, or he cracked it and is affecting not to notice what was staring him in the face.

My question of the day is: how long will this charade last?

For previous posts about Michael Scheuer, click here.

Michael Scheuer, the former head of the Osama bin Laden desk and now a leading media “expert” on counterterrorism, has two faces.

When he is talking to or writing for the non-mainstream media, he heads for zany territory. One only has to read his diatribes on antiwar.com or listen to him on antiwar radio talking about Israel’s covert-action programs in this country to get a good sense of what kind of crackpot he is.

But when Scheuer talks to the mainstream media, he strives to make sense. Even though he incessantly punctuates his speech with the word “sir,” — giving himself a military patina, although he has no military service in his background — he seldom dives off into cloud-cuckoo land. One exception was when he spoke at the Council on Foreign Relations and accused Israel of mounting a clandestine operation in the United States through the Holocaust museum on the Washington mall. But mostly he sticks to more defensible themes, usually hammering away on his principal point: that al Qaeda hates us because of what we do, not who we are.

Scheuer has a new book out, Marching Toward Hell. In it, he seems to have allowed his two sides to converge, freely mixing up his more reasonable (if arguable) themes with his whacko ones. I haven’t read the whole thing yet, but my favorite point so far is Scheuer’s disquisition on free speech in the United States.

Scheuer begins by ticking off  a long and eclectic list of people whom he deems “reliable Israel-firsters.” In addition to me, he names James Carroll, Max Boot, Steven Simon, Alan Dershowitz, David Gergen, Christopher Hitchens, Marvin Kalb, and Eliot Cohen. “These are all dangerous men,” he writes, “who, in my judgment, are seeking to place de facto limitations on the First Amendment to protect the nation of their primary attachment.”

What Scheuer is referring to is not an attempt by me or any of these individuals to amend the Constitution, or to silence him through the courts, or to repeal his right to spout nonsense. Rather, he is merely talking about our criticism of him. To which one can only answer: Sir, criticism of you for your nuttiness and your anti-Semitism is our right under the First Amendment. To quote your writings to demonstrate that you are a crackpot, sir, is not to deny you your First Amendment right to speak or scribble as you please.

A particularly amusing aspect of all this is the way certain individuals in the mainstream media continue to take Scheuer seriously. Today’s interview with Scheuer in Newsweek, on the occasion of the publication of his new book, is a case in point. John Barry conducted that interview, and his journalistic laziness should win him a Pulitzer. Either Barry did not crack open Scheuer’s book, or he cracked it and is affecting not to notice what was staring him in the face.

My question of the day is: how long will this charade last?

For previous posts about Michael Scheuer, click here.

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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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The Anti-Americanism of George Weigel

How should we think about the religious fanaticism that fuels al Qaeda’s war against the West? One set of penetrating answers can be found in George Weigel’s Faith, Reason, and the War Against Jihadism: A Call to Action. Weigel, of course, is a frequent contributor to COMMENTARY and one of the most acute religious and political thinkers on the scene today. He sees a United States intellectually ill-equipped to deal with the challenge we are facing, in no small part because of “tone deafness to the fact that for the overwhelming majority of humanity, religious conviction provides the story line through which life’s meaning is read.” 

The existence of this tone deafness is indisputable. One might go further and say that it is not merely tones that go unheard, but sound itself. Some of us are suffering from just plain old deafness. Who has forgotten Silvestre Reyes, the current chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, who after five years of service on that committee could not answer the softball question, pitched to him by Congressional Quarterly, of whether al Qaeda is Sunni or Shiite? “They have both,” was his ignorant guess. Silvestre is the man who now holds the pivotal responsibility of overseeing the U.S. intelligence agencies fighting the war against Jihadism.

Weigel ranges over the issues with deep learning in measured tones. It is interesting therefore, to note some of the fierce passions his book has unleashed. One sample comes from our old friend Michael Scheuer, who regards Weigel as anti-American:

What, one wonders, can possibly inspire the neoconservatives’ hate for Americans, their history, their traditions, and their ideas? In the context of this question, George Weigel’s new book, Faith, Reason, and the War against Jihadism. A Call to Action, is more troubling than Norman Podhoretz’s viciously anti-American World War IV: The Long War Against Islamofacism because of Mr. Weigel’s reputation as a brilliant Catholic scholar, confidant of popes, and commentator on Catholicism’s role in America. In Faith, Reason, and the War Against Jihadism, however, Mr. Weigel reveals himself as just one more America-hating neoconservative; he is a clone of Mr. Podhoretz and his acolytes, and, like them, can barely constrain his contempt for his countrymen, saying, for example, that it is the “sovereign prerogative” of these fools to elect non-neoconservative candidates who are incompetent, naive, and clueless. [p. 142].

I went to page 142 of Weigel’s book, where the contemptuous remarks about Americans were supposedly to be found, and I am afraid I came up blank. 

It seems, once again, that Scheuer, along with a penchant for bizarre outbursts, has trouble checking the checkables. A fair conclusion from reading George Weigel’s book is that Weigel is about as anti-American as Michael Scheuer is calm and rational.  

For previous Connecting the Dots postings about Michael Scheuer, click here.

How should we think about the religious fanaticism that fuels al Qaeda’s war against the West? One set of penetrating answers can be found in George Weigel’s Faith, Reason, and the War Against Jihadism: A Call to Action. Weigel, of course, is a frequent contributor to COMMENTARY and one of the most acute religious and political thinkers on the scene today. He sees a United States intellectually ill-equipped to deal with the challenge we are facing, in no small part because of “tone deafness to the fact that for the overwhelming majority of humanity, religious conviction provides the story line through which life’s meaning is read.” 

The existence of this tone deafness is indisputable. One might go further and say that it is not merely tones that go unheard, but sound itself. Some of us are suffering from just plain old deafness. Who has forgotten Silvestre Reyes, the current chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, who after five years of service on that committee could not answer the softball question, pitched to him by Congressional Quarterly, of whether al Qaeda is Sunni or Shiite? “They have both,” was his ignorant guess. Silvestre is the man who now holds the pivotal responsibility of overseeing the U.S. intelligence agencies fighting the war against Jihadism.

Weigel ranges over the issues with deep learning in measured tones. It is interesting therefore, to note some of the fierce passions his book has unleashed. One sample comes from our old friend Michael Scheuer, who regards Weigel as anti-American:

What, one wonders, can possibly inspire the neoconservatives’ hate for Americans, their history, their traditions, and their ideas? In the context of this question, George Weigel’s new book, Faith, Reason, and the War against Jihadism. A Call to Action, is more troubling than Norman Podhoretz’s viciously anti-American World War IV: The Long War Against Islamofacism because of Mr. Weigel’s reputation as a brilliant Catholic scholar, confidant of popes, and commentator on Catholicism’s role in America. In Faith, Reason, and the War Against Jihadism, however, Mr. Weigel reveals himself as just one more America-hating neoconservative; he is a clone of Mr. Podhoretz and his acolytes, and, like them, can barely constrain his contempt for his countrymen, saying, for example, that it is the “sovereign prerogative” of these fools to elect non-neoconservative candidates who are incompetent, naive, and clueless. [p. 142].

I went to page 142 of Weigel’s book, where the contemptuous remarks about Americans were supposedly to be found, and I am afraid I came up blank. 

It seems, once again, that Scheuer, along with a penchant for bizarre outbursts, has trouble checking the checkables. A fair conclusion from reading George Weigel’s book is that Weigel is about as anti-American as Michael Scheuer is calm and rational.  

For previous Connecting the Dots postings about Michael Scheuer, click here.

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All the News That’s Fit to Bury

Let us connect four dots.

On September 11, 2001, some 3,000 people were killed by Islamic terrorists in New York, Washington, D.C., and in Pennsylvania. It was a big story; indeed, it made the front page of the New York Times for quite a few days running.

On December 9, 2006, a Muslim convert by the name of Derrick Shareef, a U.S. citizen, was indicted on a charge of attempting, as part of a plot to wage “violent jihad,” to use a weapon of mass destruction — grenades — to attack Christmas shoppers in a mall in Rockford, Illinois. It made page sixteen of the New York Times, and was recounted in 129 words.

Today, November 20, 2007, Shareef pleaded guilty to the charges. It made page 28 of the New York Times, and was explained in 90 words.

Today, on the same day, in the same newspaper, is a story about sports entitled Concussions Leave Colleges and Players in Murky World. It received 1,439 words and appeared on the front page.

What do these numbers tell us about how the New York Times reports on the terrorist threat to the United States in the years since September 11?

Readers who respond with the correct answer will receive a free copy, autographed by me, of former CIA officer Michael Scheuer’s forthcoming book, Marching Toward Hell. (A stamped self-addressed envelope with the correct postage sent to the offices of COMMENTARY is required for entry. Offer void where prohibited.)

Let us connect four dots.

On September 11, 2001, some 3,000 people were killed by Islamic terrorists in New York, Washington, D.C., and in Pennsylvania. It was a big story; indeed, it made the front page of the New York Times for quite a few days running.

On December 9, 2006, a Muslim convert by the name of Derrick Shareef, a U.S. citizen, was indicted on a charge of attempting, as part of a plot to wage “violent jihad,” to use a weapon of mass destruction — grenades — to attack Christmas shoppers in a mall in Rockford, Illinois. It made page sixteen of the New York Times, and was recounted in 129 words.

Today, November 20, 2007, Shareef pleaded guilty to the charges. It made page 28 of the New York Times, and was explained in 90 words.

Today, on the same day, in the same newspaper, is a story about sports entitled Concussions Leave Colleges and Players in Murky World. It received 1,439 words and appeared on the front page.

What do these numbers tell us about how the New York Times reports on the terrorist threat to the United States in the years since September 11?

Readers who respond with the correct answer will receive a free copy, autographed by me, of former CIA officer Michael Scheuer’s forthcoming book, Marching Toward Hell. (A stamped self-addressed envelope with the correct postage sent to the offices of COMMENTARY is required for entry. Offer void where prohibited.)

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What Is It With Former CIA Officers?

How come so many of them gravitate simultaneously to the extreme Left and the extreme Right?

Michael Scheuer, as we’ve noted here before, is a peculiar hybrid of Noam Chomsky and Patrick J. Buchanan. His writings can be found both at the right-wing American Conservative and at the left-wing crackpot website, anti-war.com.

He is joined in writing for both outlets by Philip Giraldi, another former CIA officer who launched his public career in 2005 by asserting, in the American Conservative, that the U.S. was preparing plans to  attack Iran with nuclear weapons.

Giraldi’s latest “research” also concerns Iran. At anti-war.com, he contends that “despite what the U.S. intelligence community believes,” there is “no evidence to support [the] suspicion” that Iran has a nuclear-weapons program.

Continuing from there, Giraldi writes that “even if Iran is seeking nuclear weapons,” there is “broad consensus that the program is likely not far advanced, is suffering from technical problems, and is susceptible to internationally sanctioned steps to slow it down as long as the United States takes the lead and abandons the role of school bully.”

Do these dots connect?

On the one hand, writes Giraldi, there is “no evidence” that Iran is building nuclear weapons.

On the other hand, there is a “broad consensus” that its nuclear-weapons program is “likely not far advanced.”

On yet another hand, the program can be slowed down only if the U.S. “abandons the role of school bully.”

Am I alone in thinking that these are contradictory propositions? And is this how analysis is conducted inside the CIA these days? Or are these men former CIA officers for good reason?

How come so many of them gravitate simultaneously to the extreme Left and the extreme Right?

Michael Scheuer, as we’ve noted here before, is a peculiar hybrid of Noam Chomsky and Patrick J. Buchanan. His writings can be found both at the right-wing American Conservative and at the left-wing crackpot website, anti-war.com.

He is joined in writing for both outlets by Philip Giraldi, another former CIA officer who launched his public career in 2005 by asserting, in the American Conservative, that the U.S. was preparing plans to  attack Iran with nuclear weapons.

Giraldi’s latest “research” also concerns Iran. At anti-war.com, he contends that “despite what the U.S. intelligence community believes,” there is “no evidence to support [the] suspicion” that Iran has a nuclear-weapons program.

Continuing from there, Giraldi writes that “even if Iran is seeking nuclear weapons,” there is “broad consensus that the program is likely not far advanced, is suffering from technical problems, and is susceptible to internationally sanctioned steps to slow it down as long as the United States takes the lead and abandons the role of school bully.”

Do these dots connect?

On the one hand, writes Giraldi, there is “no evidence” that Iran is building nuclear weapons.

On the other hand, there is a “broad consensus” that its nuclear-weapons program is “likely not far advanced.”

On yet another hand, the program can be slowed down only if the U.S. “abandons the role of school bully.”

Am I alone in thinking that these are contradictory propositions? And is this how analysis is conducted inside the CIA these days? Or are these men former CIA officers for good reason?

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Michael Scheuer Watch #13: Guilt by Association

Why has the National Alliance endorsed the work of former CIA officer Michael Scheuer? NatAllNews.com, the best “single source for worldwide pro-White news,” presents some choice quotations from our hero here.

Why has David Duke endorsed the work of Michael Scheuer? The former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard explains why in “More Americans Becoming Immune to Zionist Propaganda.”

Why has the National Alliance endorsed John Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt’s paper on The Israel Lobby? The Alliance explains why in “Jews Run American Foreign Policy, says University Researchers.” 

Why has David Duke endorsed Mearsheimer and Walt’s work? Duke explains why in “Stop Cowering to the Jewish Supremacists!

There are many dots here.

1. The National Alliance has endorsed Scheuer.

2. Duke has endorsed Scheuer.

3. The National Alliance has endorsed Mearsheimer and Walt.

4. Duke has endorsed Mearsheimer and Walt.

To these four dots, we can connect two more:

1. Scheuer has endorsed the work of Mearsheimer and Walt.

2. Mearsheimer and Walt have endorsed the work of Michael Scheuer.

Connecting the Dots has two questions for readers:

What do these figures all have in common? How many separate lines are required to connect each of these dots with one another?

The author of the first correct answer will win a free copy of Michael Scheuer’s forthcoming book, Marching Toward Hell: America and Islam After Iraq. To enter the contest, simply send the correct answer along with a stamped self-addressed envelope to Connecting the Dots at this address.

A complete guide to other items in this Michael Scheuer Watch series can be found here.

Why has the National Alliance endorsed the work of former CIA officer Michael Scheuer? NatAllNews.com, the best “single source for worldwide pro-White news,” presents some choice quotations from our hero here.

Why has David Duke endorsed the work of Michael Scheuer? The former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard explains why in “More Americans Becoming Immune to Zionist Propaganda.”

Why has the National Alliance endorsed John Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt’s paper on The Israel Lobby? The Alliance explains why in “Jews Run American Foreign Policy, says University Researchers.” 

Why has David Duke endorsed Mearsheimer and Walt’s work? Duke explains why in “Stop Cowering to the Jewish Supremacists!

There are many dots here.

1. The National Alliance has endorsed Scheuer.

2. Duke has endorsed Scheuer.

3. The National Alliance has endorsed Mearsheimer and Walt.

4. Duke has endorsed Mearsheimer and Walt.

To these four dots, we can connect two more:

1. Scheuer has endorsed the work of Mearsheimer and Walt.

2. Mearsheimer and Walt have endorsed the work of Michael Scheuer.

Connecting the Dots has two questions for readers:

What do these figures all have in common? How many separate lines are required to connect each of these dots with one another?

The author of the first correct answer will win a free copy of Michael Scheuer’s forthcoming book, Marching Toward Hell: America and Islam After Iraq. To enter the contest, simply send the correct answer along with a stamped self-addressed envelope to Connecting the Dots at this address.

A complete guide to other items in this Michael Scheuer Watch series can be found here.

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Michael Scheuer Watch #12: Expletive Deleted

I had predicted that as our hero’s ideas and associations became better known, he would be compelled to move from the mainstream media to the far-out margins. Yesterday, as evidence that this shift was under way, I linked to a Scheuer rant on a website called The Jingoist (now only available here), adjacent to all sorts of other rants like “Israel: Perpetual Criminal, Perpetual Liar” and one detailing French president Nicolas Sarkozy’s hidden ties to the Israel’s Mossad.

My imputation of Scheuer’s guilt by association –– and there is such a thing as such guilt, if not in a court of law than in the realm of public opinion –– has evidently struck a nerve. On his website anti-war.com, Justin Raimondo, a self-appointed flack for our hero, has offered a post in which he emphatically argues that Scheuer has not moved to the margins. Scheuer, he says, wrote his rant not for The Jingoist but for his own website, and The Jingoist simply purloined it without permission.

Connecting the Dots is interested in constructing an accurate picture of our hero. But uncertainties abound. I do not know where Scheuer’s work first appeared, and I am not ready to take his or his flack’s word for anything, or take sides in a fight between The Jingoist and anti-war.com. Members of the 9/11 Commission have called into question our hero’s integrity. And our hero has also yet to clear up allegations (leveled by me) that he has prevaricated about when and why he was awarded a medal by the CIA.

But putting aside all such questions, and putting aside the fact that The Jingoist bills itself as a “partner site” of anti-war.com, and assuming for the sake of discussion that Justin Raimondo is right and that anti-war.com was the original home of Scheuer’s ranting, would this daisy chain of assumptions lead us to conclude that Scheuer has not strayed to the fringes and remained in the mainstream?

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I had predicted that as our hero’s ideas and associations became better known, he would be compelled to move from the mainstream media to the far-out margins. Yesterday, as evidence that this shift was under way, I linked to a Scheuer rant on a website called The Jingoist (now only available here), adjacent to all sorts of other rants like “Israel: Perpetual Criminal, Perpetual Liar” and one detailing French president Nicolas Sarkozy’s hidden ties to the Israel’s Mossad.

My imputation of Scheuer’s guilt by association –– and there is such a thing as such guilt, if not in a court of law than in the realm of public opinion –– has evidently struck a nerve. On his website anti-war.com, Justin Raimondo, a self-appointed flack for our hero, has offered a post in which he emphatically argues that Scheuer has not moved to the margins. Scheuer, he says, wrote his rant not for The Jingoist but for his own website, and The Jingoist simply purloined it without permission.

Connecting the Dots is interested in constructing an accurate picture of our hero. But uncertainties abound. I do not know where Scheuer’s work first appeared, and I am not ready to take his or his flack’s word for anything, or take sides in a fight between The Jingoist and anti-war.com. Members of the 9/11 Commission have called into question our hero’s integrity. And our hero has also yet to clear up allegations (leveled by me) that he has prevaricated about when and why he was awarded a medal by the CIA.

But putting aside all such questions, and putting aside the fact that The Jingoist bills itself as a “partner site” of anti-war.com, and assuming for the sake of discussion that Justin Raimondo is right and that anti-war.com was the original home of Scheuer’s ranting, would this daisy chain of assumptions lead us to conclude that Scheuer has not strayed to the fringes and remained in the mainstream?

Readers can judge for themselves. For if The Jingoist is in Holocaust-denial territory, anti-war.com is not far behind. A good place to begin is the long series that anti-war.com has devoted to the many Israeli “art students” who in the run-up to September 11 came to our country ostensibly to sketch, draw, and paint, but were actually working deep under cover, spying on Americans.

Here is one entry by Justin Raimondo himself, entitled 9/11: What Did Israel Know –– And When Did They Tell Us?:

A secret government report (originating with the Drug Enforcement Agency) detailing the highly suspicious activities of these aspiring Israeli “artists” was . . . uncovered, and a series of stories appeared in the international media . . .

Those of us who identified the Israeli “art students” as part of a spy operation in the U.S. were absolutely correct, that the Israelis were not only conducting covert operations against U.S. government facilities but were also watching the hijackers very closely, and that some people will go to any lengths to avoid considering some very unpleasant and politically explosive possibilities . . .

Suffice to say here that the Israeli role in the events leading up to 9/11 is, at best, highly suspicious. Certainly the news that their agents were close neighbors of Mohammed Atta and an accomplice leads to some disturbing juxtapositions. Did the “art students” stand behind the terrorists in line at the local supermarket? Did they bump into each other in the street –– and what, pray tell, did these dedicated Al Qaeda cadre think of a group of Israelis living in such close proximity?

What happened to these art students? And how did they make their escape? Why did all the Jewish employees stay at home on the day that the Twin Towers were destroyed? Is anti-war.com fringe or mainstream? Connecting the Dots is eager to know.

Connecting the Dots also must briefly call attention to the language in which these would-be members of the mainstream media talk.

Yesterday, we saw Michael Scheuer write:

I forthrightly damn, and pray that God damns, any American –– Jew, Catholic, Evangelical, Irish, German, Hindu, hermaphrodite, thespian, or otherwise – who flogs the insane idea that American and Israeli interests are one and the same.

In Raimondo’s post today, he asks:  “How dumb is Gabriel Schoenfeld?” and answers “Pretty damned dumb.” As his argument unfolds, he speaks of my “dumb-ass peroration” and labels me “a vicious nut-bar.” All this appears in a post entitled Gabriel Schoenfeld is an Ass-hat.

A reader of Connecting the Dots, who happens to have a Ph.D. in child psychology, has already sent me a query and a comment: “What is an ‘ass hat’? My son’s favorite insult these days is ‘poop nose,’ which is far more evocative. The rhetorical level here seems to hover somewhere between second and third grade.”

A complete guide to other items in this Michael Scheuer Watch series can be found here

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Michael Scheuer Watch #10: The Cheese Danish Affair and Ron Paul

Our hero has surfaced. As I predicted, he has been compelled to move from the mainstream to the margins. The latest sighting has occurred not in one of the mass-media outlets where until recently he had regularly appeared, but on a website called The Jingoist: When the Righteous Make the Wicked Quake. (The post has evidently been removed but is available here.) 

Recent articles on The Jingoist bear such titles as:

Zionists Using Holocaust to Silence People — about how the “Chief Rabbi of the Orthodox Jewish Community in Austria, Moishe Arye Friedman, believes that the ‘Zionist regime is using the Holocaust concept as a tool and weapon to silence people.’”

French President Accused of Working for Israeli Intelligence — about how  “Sarco the Sayan” (Hebrew for helper) is “one of the thousands of Jewish citizens of countries other than Israel who cooperate with [Mossad case-officers].”

New AG Nominee: Zionist Dream Come True — about how Michael Mukasey, once confirmed as Attorney General, will work “with his buds in the Senate, Schumer, Feinstein and Specter . . . to smother any attempts to seek the truth on the actual perpetrators behind 9/11” and is likely to “take his oath of office with his hand on the Torah and not the KJV Bible.”

Now that we illuminati have illuminated the stage from which our hero wishes to speak, let us turn to the substance of his comments.

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Our hero has surfaced. As I predicted, he has been compelled to move from the mainstream to the margins. The latest sighting has occurred not in one of the mass-media outlets where until recently he had regularly appeared, but on a website called The Jingoist: When the Righteous Make the Wicked Quake. (The post has evidently been removed but is available here.) 

Recent articles on The Jingoist bear such titles as:

Zionists Using Holocaust to Silence People — about how the “Chief Rabbi of the Orthodox Jewish Community in Austria, Moishe Arye Friedman, believes that the ‘Zionist regime is using the Holocaust concept as a tool and weapon to silence people.’”

French President Accused of Working for Israeli Intelligence — about how  “Sarco the Sayan” (Hebrew for helper) is “one of the thousands of Jewish citizens of countries other than Israel who cooperate with [Mossad case-officers].”

New AG Nominee: Zionist Dream Come True — about how Michael Mukasey, once confirmed as Attorney General, will work “with his buds in the Senate, Schumer, Feinstein and Specter . . . to smother any attempts to seek the truth on the actual perpetrators behind 9/11” and is likely to “take his oath of office with his hand on the Torah and not the KJV Bible.”

Now that we illuminati have illuminated the stage from which our hero wishes to speak, let us turn to the substance of his comments.

Based upon a story in the Danish paper Politiken, I had raised questions about Scheuer’s role in igniting a political firestorm recently in Denmark by “disclosing” — my word — information about the CIA’s extraordinary rendition of Talat Fouad Qassem, an Egyptian extremist, who had been granted political asylum in Denmark, but was seized by the CIA while visiting Croatia, shipped to Egypt, and executed.

Among the questions I asked were whether the information involved was classified and, if it was classified, how such disclosures differed from leaks in the past by renegade CIA agent Philip Agee, and more recently, by Larry Franklin, who pleaded guilty to violations of statutes governing the improper disclosure of classified information.

On The Jingoist, our hero points out that the information in question was not classified; indeed, he shows that there had been a number of press reports detailing this episode in the past, one of them appearing in the Associated Press as far back as 1995.

Connecting the Dots, which seeks to construct as accurate as possible a picture of matters pertaining to intelligence (and other issues), will happily acknowledge that it was remiss in having raised a question about our hero to which the answer turned out to be readily available in the public domain.  Let us give Scheuer his due. He is right about this matter and Connecting the Dots was wrong in suggesting that he had done something wrong and/or illegal with regard to the Danish affair. 

But Connecting the Dots was not wrong in one thing: namely, predicting that no matter what the issue under discussion, be it Denmark or cheese Danish, our hero would inevitably bring it around to his true obsession, the state of Israel and American Jews who support the state of Israel.

On The Jingoist, he has done precisely that by arguing that I, along with “Goebbels-wannabes at the National Review, the American Thinker, and other organs of the Israel-first media” are guilty of promulgating a “Big Lie.” He goes on to explain:

Their tarting-up of the [Talat] rendition operation . . . is just part of their ongoing attempt to discredit the case and to try to convince Americans that U.S. and Israeli interests are identical, and so spying on America for Israel – and suborning American citizens to commit treason – is really an okay and even admirable activity.

In response to my suggestion that he has a habit of casting aspersions on American Jews, Scheuer responds:

I do not cast aspersions, I forthrightly damn, and pray that God damns, any American – Jew, Catholic, Evangelical, Irish, German, Hindu, hermaphrodite, thespian, or otherwise – who flogs the insane idea that American and Israeli interests are one and the same.

Let us continue connecting the dots. A man who speaks in this language, and who does so on a flagrantly anti-Semitic crackpot website, was in charge of the CIA’s efforts to counter Osama bin Laden. More recently, Scheuer has been involved with the presidential campaign of maverick Republican Ron Paul. Back in May they appeared together at the podium of the National Press Club in an event billed as an opportunity to “educate former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani on foreign policy.”

Here are several more dots to connect:

1. What does Michael Scheuer’s posting on The Jingoist tell us about him? 

2. What does it tell us about the officials at the CIA who put him in charge of countering Osama bin Laden?

3. What does it tell us about the television networks that continue to employ him as an expert consultant?

4. Is Scheuer currently an official or unofficial adviser to Ron Paul?

5. If elected, would President Paul appoint Scheuer to run the CIA?

A complete guide to other items in this Michael Scheuer Watch series can be found here

 

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Michael Scheuer Watch #8: Please Pass the Truth Serum

As I noted in the previous edition of this series, in a letter that appeared in the June 2005 COMMENTARY, Michael Scheuer claimed that between 1992 and 1999, CIA officers working in the units led by him accomplished a number of important counterterrorism feats, which he then proceeded to enumerate. The final accomplishment on his list was generating “all–repeat, all–of the chances that the United States has ever had to capture or kill bin Laden.” Scheuer continued by saying “that there is no need to take my word for any of this” and “for the last item, read the 9/11 Commission report.”

I have now re-read the report. Scheuer–he is called “Mike” in the report to conceal his then-still-secret identity–figures prominently in the narrative. How does he come out?

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As I noted in the previous edition of this series, in a letter that appeared in the June 2005 COMMENTARY, Michael Scheuer claimed that between 1992 and 1999, CIA officers working in the units led by him accomplished a number of important counterterrorism feats, which he then proceeded to enumerate. The final accomplishment on his list was generating “all–repeat, all–of the chances that the United States has ever had to capture or kill bin Laden.” Scheuer continued by saying “that there is no need to take my word for any of this” and “for the last item, read the 9/11 Commission report.”

I have now re-read the report. Scheuer–he is called “Mike” in the report to conceal his then-still-secret identity–figures prominently in the narrative. How does he come out?

In early 1998, the CIA developed a dramatic plan to capture Osama bin Laden. The operation was considered up and down the rungs of the relevant national-security bureaucracies of the Clinton administration and ultimately shelved as too risky. Here are some relevant excerpts that tell the story in brief:

“Mike” thought the capture plan was “the perfect operation.” It required minimum infrastructure. The plan had now been modified so that the [U.S.-allied Afghan] tribals would keep bin Laden in a hiding place for up to a month before turning him over to the United States–thereby increasing the chances of keeping the U.S. hand out of sight. “Mike” trusted the information from the Afghan network; it had been corroborated by other means, he told us. . . . Military officers reviewed the capture plan and, according to “Mike,” “found no showstoppers”. . . .

In Washington, [National Security Advisor Sandy] Berger expressed doubt about the dependability of the tribals. In his meeting with  [CIA director George] Tenet, Berger focused most, however, on the question of what was to be done with bin Laden if he were actually captured. He worried that the hard evidence against bin Laden was still skimpy and that there was a danger of snatching him and bringing him to the United States only to see him acquitted.

On May 20, Director Tenet discussed the high risk of the operation with Berger and his deputies, warning that people might be killed, including bin Laden. Success was to be defined as the exfiltration of bin Laden out of Afghanistan. A meeting of principals was scheduled for May 29 to decide whether the operation should go ahead.

The principals did not meet. On May 29, “Jeff” informed “Mike” that he had just met with Tenet, [CIA Deputy Director of Operation James] Pavitt, and the chief of the directorate’s Near-Eastern division. The decision was made not to go ahead with the operation. “Mike” cabled the field that he had been directed to “stand down on the operation for the time being.” He had been told, he wrote, that cabinet-level officials thought the risk of civilian casualties–“collateral damage”–was too high.

This version of events is more or less corroborated by Tenet’s recently published memoirs, At the Center of the Storm:

Mike Scheuer, the head of the Alec Station [the name of the CIA’s bin Laden unit] was strongly in favor of going ahead with the operation. I took his recommendation very seriously, but six senior CIA officers stood in the chain of command between Mike and me. Most of them were seasoned operations officers, while Mike was an analyst not trained in conducting paramilitary operations. Every one of the senior operations officers above Mike recommended against undertaking the operation.

Say what you will about Michael Scheuer–and I’ve already said a lot–he comes out looking pretty good in both the 9/11 Commission report and in Tenet’s memoirs. In this and other equally dramatic episodes recounted in the report, the hero of our Watch was pressing for action against bin Laden, and the bureaucracy above him–for reasons that appear preposterous in hindsight and probably appeared preposterous at the time–was pressing back. Surely, a neutral observer might say, this portion of Scheuer’s record counts for something.

Yes, it certainly does. Nonetheless, I have more dots that I have been unable to connect. Before I explain what they are, I have to bring two new characters into this tale.

Jamie S. Gorelick is an attorney at the firm Pickering, Hale & Dorr. Before that, she served as deputy attorney general of the United States and in a variety of other high-level positions in the Clinton administration.

Slade Gorton is an attorney at the firm of Kirkpatrick & Lockhart Preston Gates Ellis. Before that, he spent 18 years as a U.S. Senator (Republican) representing the state of Washington. And before that, he was attorney general in the state of Washingtonl.

Both Gorelick and Gorton served on the 9/11 Commission. Both, unlike me, are pillars of the establishment, and both have earned respect and built careers by choosing their words with care and circumspection. In 2005, they signed a joint letter to COMMENTARY in which they wrote the following carefully chosen and circumspect words:

The 9/11 Commission, on which the two of us served as commissioners, thoroughly and exhaustively interviewed Michael Scheuer, whose book Imperial Hubris is criticized at length [in the May 2005 May 2005 COMMENTARY] by Mr. Schoenfeld. On a number of factual issues, he was of real value. But much of what he had to say was not borne out by our investigation” (emphasis added).

Several questions arise from this:

1. Is there a transcript of Scheuer’s session with Commission investigators?

2. Is the transcript classified or under seal?

3. If it is classified or under seal, can it be obtained using the Freedom of Information Act?

4. What exactly did Scheuer tell the investigators?

5. If “much of what [Scheuer] had to say was not borne out by [the] investigation,” which parts were of “real value” and which parts were the reverse?

6. What inferences, if any, can we draw from the Gorelick-Gorton statement about Michael Scheuer’s integrity and how do they fit into a larger view of his credibilty?

What we have here is a collection of dots that form only a partial picture. If you can help me connect them, write to letters@commentarymagazine.com and put Michael Scheuer Watch in the subject line.

Confidentiality is guaranteed. (But see my Why Journalists Are Not Above the Law to understand exactly how far I would go in honoring that guarantee.)

A complete guide to other items in this Michael Scheuer Watch series can be found here.

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Michael Scheuer Watch #6: Bad Apples and Basic Questions

Large organizations have difficulty keeping poor performers and misfits out of their ranks. This is often true even in their most mission-critical jobs. There are numerous cases of airline pilots, even on the major airlines, showing up at the cockpit drunk. A NASA astronaut who had won the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, the Navy Commendation Medal, and the Navy Achievement Medal allegedly wore space-flight diapers to drive hundreds of miles non-stop in order to menace or kidnap or murder another astronaut who was a rival in a love triangle.

The CIA has not been exempt from such difficulties. Here is an excerpt from a report by the agency’s Inspector General concerning the case of the Soviet mole Aldrich Ames, who steadily rose through the ranks of the mission-critical Soviet division despite some significant performance issues:

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Large organizations have difficulty keeping poor performers and misfits out of their ranks. This is often true even in their most mission-critical jobs. There are numerous cases of airline pilots, even on the major airlines, showing up at the cockpit drunk. A NASA astronaut who had won the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, the Navy Commendation Medal, and the Navy Achievement Medal allegedly wore space-flight diapers to drive hundreds of miles non-stop in order to menace or kidnap or murder another astronaut who was a rival in a love triangle.

The CIA has not been exempt from such difficulties. Here is an excerpt from a report by the agency’s Inspector General concerning the case of the Soviet mole Aldrich Ames, who steadily rose through the ranks of the mission-critical Soviet division despite some significant performance issues:

[W]e have uncovered a vast quantity of information about Ames’s professional sloppiness, his failure to file accountings, contact reports and requests for foreign travel on time or at all. We have found that Ames was oblivious to issues of personal security both professionally–he left classified files on a subway train–and in his espionage–he carried incriminating documents and large amounts of cash in his airline luggage; he carried classified documents out of CIA facilities in shopping bags; and he openly walked into the Soviet embassy in the United States and a Soviet compound in Rome. We have noted that Ames’s abuse of alcohol, while not constant throughout his career, was chronic and interfered with his judgment and the performance of his duties. . . . By and large his professional weaknesses were observed by Ames’s colleagues and supervisors and were tolerated by many who did not consider them highly unusual for Directorate of Operations officers on the “not going anywhere” promotion track.

Michael Scheuer was also for a time in charge of a mission-critical assignment in the CIA, running the group in charge of countering Osama bin Laden. I have written about his sub-par performance, most recently in The CIA Examines Itself.

How bad apples make their way through organizations large and small is a question that has long fascinated me. And Michael Scheuer is a particularly fascinating case, especially because he responds to my questions, even while seldom if ever answering them.

There are many dots about his life and career that I still intend to connect. And in the interests of piecing together the story, and using the Internet as a form of collaborative journalism, I have been wondering about some basic facts regarding his biography. I hope readers, if they have information, will assist me.

Some questions for today:

1. Wikipedia states that Scheuer resigned from the CIA in 2004 after a 22-year career. Is Wikipedia accurate on this point? If accurate, it would mean that Scheuer began his career in the agency in 1982.

2. But Scheuer earned a Ph.D. degree from the University of Manitoba in May 1986. Did he accomplish this while associated with the CIA? Was he stationed at Langley during this period, or was he based in that hotbed of international intrigue, Winnipeg, Canada?

3. Why did Scheuer choose to attend the University of Manitoba? That, too, seems interesting, and I admit that so far I’m stumped.

I have many more questions, but those are enough unconnected dots for today. If you can help me connect them, write to letters@commentarymagazine.com and put Michael Scheuer Watch in the subject line. Confidentiality is guaranteed. (But see my Why Journalists Are Not Above the Law to understand exactly how far I would go in protecting your identity.)

A complete guide to other items in this Michael Scheuer Watch series can be found here.

 

 

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