Commentary Magazine


Topic: U.S. intelligence

Re: Re: Iran Strike, Out

Abe, we seem to be trailing not only France and Canada on the Iran nuclear issue but also that well-known bastion of neocon aggression, the International Atomic Energy Agency. It appears, unlike the Obami, that the IAEA is willing to concede the obvious:

An International Atomic Energy Agency report expresses worry that Iran may be working on a nuclear warhead, despite a 2007 U.S. intelligence assessment that found the Islamic Republic stopped such work in 2003.

The United Nations’ nuclear watchdog also confirmed that Iran had indeed enriched uranium to nearly 20 percent, a claim made by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during revolutionary anniversary festivities last week but rebuffed by the White House.

“We do not believe they have the capability to enrich to the degree they say they are enriching,” White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said at last Thursday’s daily briefing.

But the IAEA report said that Iran had hit 19.8 percent enrichment on two days last week.

So what’s up here? Could it be that the Obami are — I know it’s hard to imagine — foot-dragging and trying to downplay the urgency of the situation? Might it be that the policy of  do-nothingism only works as long as the public doesn’t get the idea that the mullahs are doing something, namely making steady progress toward a nuclear weapons capability. Once that becomes apparent, the Obami may be called upon to do something.

At this point, the Obami look feckless (more so than usual) and can only float the idea that, yes, they might be revising that now entirely discredited 2007 National Intelligence Estimate. But for now, it seems that’s the extent of their concern.

And it’s not simply on the nuclear threat that the Obami have gone mute. As Kim and Fred Kagan point out, they also appear dangerously indifferent to the growing influence of Iran in Iraq’s nascent democracy. They explain that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, and Chairman of the Assembly of Experts Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani “worked doggedly in 2009 to rebuild the coalition of the three major Iraqi Shiite parties that had run in 2005 as a bloc.”  When Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki refused to join, and that effort fell apart, the Iranians orchestrated a ban of some 500 Iraqi candidates, including “some of the most prominent Sunni leaders who had been running on cross-sectarian lists.” The Kagans sum up:

But politics is by no means Tehran’s only sphere of influence in Iraq. The Iranian armed forces violated Iraqi sovereignty on at least two occasions in 2009—U.S. forces shot down an Iranian drone in Iraqi territory in March 2009, and Iranian troops ostentatiously seized an Iraqi oil well in December 2009 as the Iraqis completed a round of international oil bids.

Against this continuous Iranian campaign of engagement, intimidation and political machinations, the Obama administration has offered little more than moral support. In practical terms, this administration has done little to implement the nonmilitary aspects of the Strategic Framework Agreement (SFA) that would signal an American commitment to Iraq.

Thus, the Obami are paralyzed. They show no determination to prevent Iran from moving closer and closer to membership in the nuclear weapons club or to interfere with Iran’s efforts to subvert its neighbor Iraq. Israel and its Arab neighbors have reason to be nervous. The Obama administration seems keen on stopping Israel from striking Iran yet indifferent to any action that would halt the emergence of a nuclear-armed Iran bent on regional hegemony and destruction of the Jewish state. One wonders why U.S. lawmakers and Jewish groups aren’t more concerned as we sleepwalk into a world with a nuclear-armed revolutionary Islamic state.

Abe, we seem to be trailing not only France and Canada on the Iran nuclear issue but also that well-known bastion of neocon aggression, the International Atomic Energy Agency. It appears, unlike the Obami, that the IAEA is willing to concede the obvious:

An International Atomic Energy Agency report expresses worry that Iran may be working on a nuclear warhead, despite a 2007 U.S. intelligence assessment that found the Islamic Republic stopped such work in 2003.

The United Nations’ nuclear watchdog also confirmed that Iran had indeed enriched uranium to nearly 20 percent, a claim made by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during revolutionary anniversary festivities last week but rebuffed by the White House.

“We do not believe they have the capability to enrich to the degree they say they are enriching,” White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said at last Thursday’s daily briefing.

But the IAEA report said that Iran had hit 19.8 percent enrichment on two days last week.

So what’s up here? Could it be that the Obami are — I know it’s hard to imagine — foot-dragging and trying to downplay the urgency of the situation? Might it be that the policy of  do-nothingism only works as long as the public doesn’t get the idea that the mullahs are doing something, namely making steady progress toward a nuclear weapons capability. Once that becomes apparent, the Obami may be called upon to do something.

At this point, the Obami look feckless (more so than usual) and can only float the idea that, yes, they might be revising that now entirely discredited 2007 National Intelligence Estimate. But for now, it seems that’s the extent of their concern.

And it’s not simply on the nuclear threat that the Obami have gone mute. As Kim and Fred Kagan point out, they also appear dangerously indifferent to the growing influence of Iran in Iraq’s nascent democracy. They explain that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, and Chairman of the Assembly of Experts Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani “worked doggedly in 2009 to rebuild the coalition of the three major Iraqi Shiite parties that had run in 2005 as a bloc.”  When Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki refused to join, and that effort fell apart, the Iranians orchestrated a ban of some 500 Iraqi candidates, including “some of the most prominent Sunni leaders who had been running on cross-sectarian lists.” The Kagans sum up:

But politics is by no means Tehran’s only sphere of influence in Iraq. The Iranian armed forces violated Iraqi sovereignty on at least two occasions in 2009—U.S. forces shot down an Iranian drone in Iraqi territory in March 2009, and Iranian troops ostentatiously seized an Iraqi oil well in December 2009 as the Iraqis completed a round of international oil bids.

Against this continuous Iranian campaign of engagement, intimidation and political machinations, the Obama administration has offered little more than moral support. In practical terms, this administration has done little to implement the nonmilitary aspects of the Strategic Framework Agreement (SFA) that would signal an American commitment to Iraq.

Thus, the Obami are paralyzed. They show no determination to prevent Iran from moving closer and closer to membership in the nuclear weapons club or to interfere with Iran’s efforts to subvert its neighbor Iraq. Israel and its Arab neighbors have reason to be nervous. The Obama administration seems keen on stopping Israel from striking Iran yet indifferent to any action that would halt the emergence of a nuclear-armed Iran bent on regional hegemony and destruction of the Jewish state. One wonders why U.S. lawmakers and Jewish groups aren’t more concerned as we sleepwalk into a world with a nuclear-armed revolutionary Islamic state.

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What if They Got Away?

Eli Lake reports:

U.S. and allied counterterrorism authorities have launched a global manhunt for English-speaking terrorists trained in Yemen who are planning attacks on the United States, based on intelligence provided by the suspect in the attempted Christmas Day bombing after he began cooperating. . .

Said one official: “It’s safe to say that Abdulmutallab is not the only bullet in the chamber for al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula,” the Islamist terrorist group based in Yemen.

“Farouk took a month to get operational. Once he left [training in Yemen], it did not take very long,” the official said.

So in the five weeks of silence, did the other English-speaking terrorists go into hiding? Are the leads still good? We don’t know, but it is precisely this concern and the danger of leads gone cold that strike at the core of the Obami’s approach. They are concerned about extending constitutional principles to terrorists (and gaining convictions); they should have been focused like a laser on getting all the actionable data as soon as possible to prevent future attacks. Now it seems as though we are scrambling to catch up — and the Obami are trying to prepare us in the event we can’t catch up:

The data about the additional terrorist plots is thought to be one factor behind alarming congressional testimony two weeks ago from senior U.S. intelligence officials, including Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair.

Mr. Blair said he was “certain” that it was al-Qaeda’s priority to attempt an attack on the United States within three to six months.

The increased threat of terrorism emanating from Yemen was outlined in a majority staff report by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee made public last month. The report warned that U.S. criminals were migrating to Yemen for terrorist training.

A smart national security observer makes an additional point: “Enhanced interrogation is something also envisioned by Obama and it need not be torture. The HIG–high value interrogation group–was chartered for this kind of non torture/enhanced interrogation. It was not set up. So getting to him need not have meant waterboarding.” Conservatives would dispute whether waterboarding is torture, but the point is correct: even under the Obami’s own interrogation rules, it is hard to condone this missed opportunity.

So the question comes down to this: what if in the five weeks of the Christmas Day bomber’s Mirandized silence other terrorists got away? And if the unimaginable happens and one of these should strike, what then? Even the potential for such a calamity should convince all but the most hardened Obama sycophants that we are in danger now, greater danger than we would otherwise be, had the search for mass-murders-in-training begun weeks earlier.

There is no excuse for such malfeasance. Those officials who came up with this cockeyed scheme and have now put Americans in greater danger should be sacked. And the American people, once the full account comes out, may well conclude that this includes Obama. He is commander in chief after all.

Eli Lake reports:

U.S. and allied counterterrorism authorities have launched a global manhunt for English-speaking terrorists trained in Yemen who are planning attacks on the United States, based on intelligence provided by the suspect in the attempted Christmas Day bombing after he began cooperating. . .

Said one official: “It’s safe to say that Abdulmutallab is not the only bullet in the chamber for al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula,” the Islamist terrorist group based in Yemen.

“Farouk took a month to get operational. Once he left [training in Yemen], it did not take very long,” the official said.

So in the five weeks of silence, did the other English-speaking terrorists go into hiding? Are the leads still good? We don’t know, but it is precisely this concern and the danger of leads gone cold that strike at the core of the Obami’s approach. They are concerned about extending constitutional principles to terrorists (and gaining convictions); they should have been focused like a laser on getting all the actionable data as soon as possible to prevent future attacks. Now it seems as though we are scrambling to catch up — and the Obami are trying to prepare us in the event we can’t catch up:

The data about the additional terrorist plots is thought to be one factor behind alarming congressional testimony two weeks ago from senior U.S. intelligence officials, including Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair.

Mr. Blair said he was “certain” that it was al-Qaeda’s priority to attempt an attack on the United States within three to six months.

The increased threat of terrorism emanating from Yemen was outlined in a majority staff report by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee made public last month. The report warned that U.S. criminals were migrating to Yemen for terrorist training.

A smart national security observer makes an additional point: “Enhanced interrogation is something also envisioned by Obama and it need not be torture. The HIG–high value interrogation group–was chartered for this kind of non torture/enhanced interrogation. It was not set up. So getting to him need not have meant waterboarding.” Conservatives would dispute whether waterboarding is torture, but the point is correct: even under the Obami’s own interrogation rules, it is hard to condone this missed opportunity.

So the question comes down to this: what if in the five weeks of the Christmas Day bomber’s Mirandized silence other terrorists got away? And if the unimaginable happens and one of these should strike, what then? Even the potential for such a calamity should convince all but the most hardened Obama sycophants that we are in danger now, greater danger than we would otherwise be, had the search for mass-murders-in-training begun weeks earlier.

There is no excuse for such malfeasance. Those officials who came up with this cockeyed scheme and have now put Americans in greater danger should be sacked. And the American people, once the full account comes out, may well conclude that this includes Obama. He is commander in chief after all.

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A Matter of Priorities

Cliff May notices an outbreak of bipartisanship on Iran sanctions, which passed the Senate unanimously last week and followed passage of a similar measure in the House by a 412-12 margin:

The sanctions bills that have passed Congress would target a chink in Iran’s armor: its dependence on gasoline imports. Yes, ordinary Iranians will suffer as fuel becomes scarce and more expensive. But President Obama is articulate enough to explain where the blame belongs. He could add that Americans look forward not just to lifting the sanctions but to working with Iranians in a spirit of cooperation — as soon as Iran has leaders interested in such relations. It would be useful if the president also provided both moral and material support to those Iranians who have been marching in the streets, chanting: “Obama! Are you with us or against us?”

But, as May notes, it’s far from clear that Obama is part of that bipartisan consensus and would use the sanction authority. He and his dutiful secretary of state have, after all, consistently talked about “leaving the door open.” Hillary Clinton is winnowing down those crippling sanctions in order to minimize their impact — so we can leave the door open, you see. The January deadline came and went with no pronouncement from the White House or Foggy Bottom. It’s as if nothing has changed, and “consequences” are always around the bend for the mullahs should they not change their tune.

It is odd that a president who thinks of himself as so transformative would be so lackadaisical if not hostile toward regime change. You would think this might be his opportunity — finally — to be not Bush (who frankly kicked the can down the road on Iran during his administration) to good effect. It is nothing less than the chance to turn the tide of history. As May notes:

In 1979, Iran’s Islamist revolution was the spark that set off the war against the West that has raged ever since. The atrocities of Sept. 11, 2001, represent the most devastating battle — so far. The advent of a nuclear-armed and jihadist Iran would escalate the conflict. By contrast, an Iranian government more concerned with the welfare of its citizens than with power and conquest would ease tensions in the Middle East and beyond. If President Obama contributes to that result, he will deserve — and receive — support from both sides of the aisle.

Perhaps the president’s advisers have convinced him that the Iranian demonstrators have “little chance for success.” But as Eli Lake points out, these sorts have not had a great track record when it comes to predicting events in Iran. (“The U.S. intelligence community in the past failed to predict political events in Iran. For example, a noted CIA assessment of Iran in the fall of 1978 predicted there was no prospect for an Islamic revolution — a prediction that proved wrong within five months.”) Nevertheless, it might be just the advice Obama is looking for — confirmation that doing not much of anything to aid the democracy advocates is the “smart” diplomatic move.

One suspects, however, that Obama is simply unwilling to give up his singular focus on the domestic revolution he cares most desperately about — the creation of a “new foundation” — to engage in a historic undertaking overseas. It is a cramped, inward vision that supposes that America doesn’t have much of a role to play beyond its shores. We’ve got health care to reinvent and light-rail programs to fund. And there’s the “real” menace — global warming. (If you ignore all those e-mails.) Yes, and meanwhile Iranians die in the streets and the mullahs move closer to nuclear-weapons capability. It is, I suppose, simply a matter of priorities.

Cliff May notices an outbreak of bipartisanship on Iran sanctions, which passed the Senate unanimously last week and followed passage of a similar measure in the House by a 412-12 margin:

The sanctions bills that have passed Congress would target a chink in Iran’s armor: its dependence on gasoline imports. Yes, ordinary Iranians will suffer as fuel becomes scarce and more expensive. But President Obama is articulate enough to explain where the blame belongs. He could add that Americans look forward not just to lifting the sanctions but to working with Iranians in a spirit of cooperation — as soon as Iran has leaders interested in such relations. It would be useful if the president also provided both moral and material support to those Iranians who have been marching in the streets, chanting: “Obama! Are you with us or against us?”

But, as May notes, it’s far from clear that Obama is part of that bipartisan consensus and would use the sanction authority. He and his dutiful secretary of state have, after all, consistently talked about “leaving the door open.” Hillary Clinton is winnowing down those crippling sanctions in order to minimize their impact — so we can leave the door open, you see. The January deadline came and went with no pronouncement from the White House or Foggy Bottom. It’s as if nothing has changed, and “consequences” are always around the bend for the mullahs should they not change their tune.

It is odd that a president who thinks of himself as so transformative would be so lackadaisical if not hostile toward regime change. You would think this might be his opportunity — finally — to be not Bush (who frankly kicked the can down the road on Iran during his administration) to good effect. It is nothing less than the chance to turn the tide of history. As May notes:

In 1979, Iran’s Islamist revolution was the spark that set off the war against the West that has raged ever since. The atrocities of Sept. 11, 2001, represent the most devastating battle — so far. The advent of a nuclear-armed and jihadist Iran would escalate the conflict. By contrast, an Iranian government more concerned with the welfare of its citizens than with power and conquest would ease tensions in the Middle East and beyond. If President Obama contributes to that result, he will deserve — and receive — support from both sides of the aisle.

Perhaps the president’s advisers have convinced him that the Iranian demonstrators have “little chance for success.” But as Eli Lake points out, these sorts have not had a great track record when it comes to predicting events in Iran. (“The U.S. intelligence community in the past failed to predict political events in Iran. For example, a noted CIA assessment of Iran in the fall of 1978 predicted there was no prospect for an Islamic revolution — a prediction that proved wrong within five months.”) Nevertheless, it might be just the advice Obama is looking for — confirmation that doing not much of anything to aid the democracy advocates is the “smart” diplomatic move.

One suspects, however, that Obama is simply unwilling to give up his singular focus on the domestic revolution he cares most desperately about — the creation of a “new foundation” — to engage in a historic undertaking overseas. It is a cramped, inward vision that supposes that America doesn’t have much of a role to play beyond its shores. We’ve got health care to reinvent and light-rail programs to fund. And there’s the “real” menace — global warming. (If you ignore all those e-mails.) Yes, and meanwhile Iranians die in the streets and the mullahs move closer to nuclear-weapons capability. It is, I suppose, simply a matter of priorities.

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9/11 Commissioners to Obama: What Were You Thinking?!

Eli Lake reports:

Former Gov. Thomas H. Kean, New Jersey Republican, and former Rep. Lee Hamilton, Indiana Democrat, said U.S. intelligence agencies should have been consulted before the bombing suspect, Nigerian national Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, was granted constitutional protections under U.S. law, known as Miranda rights, and initially stopped talking to investigators.

The criticism from two of Washington’s respected former government officials comes as a bipartisan panel on Tuesday gave the Obama administration a failing grade for its efforts to date to prepare for and respond to biological-weapon terrorist attacks.

Echoing  conservative critics and members of Congress, Kean (“I was shocked, and I was upset”) and Hamilton (“There did not seem to be a policy of the government as to how to handle these people”) can’t fathom why the Obami did not properly interrogate the bomber (with the requisite intelligence data in hand) to elicit potentially valuable information. Kean observes that “here is a man who may have trained with other people who are trying to get into this country in one way or another, who may have worked with some of the top leadership in Yemen and al Qaeda generally — and we don’t know the details of that — who may know about other plots that are pending, and we haven’t found out about them.”

The White House is nevertheless wedded to its law enforcement approach and after-the-fact clean-up preparations rather than the ferreting out of information potentially within our grasp. As Lake notes, on the same day the 9/11 commissions raised their complaints, the “Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction, Proliferation and Terrorism said the Obama administration is not addressing urgent threats, including bioterrorism.” The Obami assured us they are coming up with a “new plan for a better and quicker response to bioterrorism threats and attacks.” How about simply questioning a terrorist we’ve apprehended? (That’d be new.) The best “response” is not more emergency vehicles to tend to the sick and dying, but a no-nonsense approach that seeks to gather information to prevent the attacks from occurring. That is precisely the tactic of the Bush team, which was not on some bizarre lark when it determined that it was going to employ enhanced interrogation techniques on those who were seeking to kill Americans (in large numbers). Putting aside the techniques to be employed, the Obami, to the shock of the 9/11 commissioners and most of the country, have essentially thrown in the towel on eliciting information from any terrorist we capture on U.S. soil. We certainly do need a “new plan.”

Obama has insisted that in tossing aside Bush-era anti-terrorism policies, he was defending our “values” or that we somehow “lost our way” in the aftermath of 9/11. It is increasingly clear, as with so much other blather than comes from the White House, that it is this administration that’s lost. There is a bipartisan consensus emerging that the Obami have behaved irresponsibly and that there is no moral or constitutional imperative to Mirandize terrorists and allow them to clam up. It’s become obvious to all but the reality-insulated Left that the moral preening is no more than a smoke screen for an ill-conceived and poorly executed set of policies.

Given the lack of support for the current approach and the urging of figures like Kean and Hamilton to take a second look at the Obami’s assumption, it seems there is plenty for responsible lawmakers to do. Scott Brown seemed to have a handle on this when he said that “our Constitution and laws exist to protect this nation — they do not grant rights and privileges to enemies in wartime. In dealing with terrorists, our tax dollars should pay for weapons to stop them, not lawyers to defend them.” Perhaps he can reach across the aisle and induce some of his new colleagues, just as we are seeing on health care, to set aside the foolishness of Obama’s first year in favor of some responsible governance.

Eli Lake reports:

Former Gov. Thomas H. Kean, New Jersey Republican, and former Rep. Lee Hamilton, Indiana Democrat, said U.S. intelligence agencies should have been consulted before the bombing suspect, Nigerian national Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, was granted constitutional protections under U.S. law, known as Miranda rights, and initially stopped talking to investigators.

The criticism from two of Washington’s respected former government officials comes as a bipartisan panel on Tuesday gave the Obama administration a failing grade for its efforts to date to prepare for and respond to biological-weapon terrorist attacks.

Echoing  conservative critics and members of Congress, Kean (“I was shocked, and I was upset”) and Hamilton (“There did not seem to be a policy of the government as to how to handle these people”) can’t fathom why the Obami did not properly interrogate the bomber (with the requisite intelligence data in hand) to elicit potentially valuable information. Kean observes that “here is a man who may have trained with other people who are trying to get into this country in one way or another, who may have worked with some of the top leadership in Yemen and al Qaeda generally — and we don’t know the details of that — who may know about other plots that are pending, and we haven’t found out about them.”

The White House is nevertheless wedded to its law enforcement approach and after-the-fact clean-up preparations rather than the ferreting out of information potentially within our grasp. As Lake notes, on the same day the 9/11 commissions raised their complaints, the “Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction, Proliferation and Terrorism said the Obama administration is not addressing urgent threats, including bioterrorism.” The Obami assured us they are coming up with a “new plan for a better and quicker response to bioterrorism threats and attacks.” How about simply questioning a terrorist we’ve apprehended? (That’d be new.) The best “response” is not more emergency vehicles to tend to the sick and dying, but a no-nonsense approach that seeks to gather information to prevent the attacks from occurring. That is precisely the tactic of the Bush team, which was not on some bizarre lark when it determined that it was going to employ enhanced interrogation techniques on those who were seeking to kill Americans (in large numbers). Putting aside the techniques to be employed, the Obami, to the shock of the 9/11 commissioners and most of the country, have essentially thrown in the towel on eliciting information from any terrorist we capture on U.S. soil. We certainly do need a “new plan.”

Obama has insisted that in tossing aside Bush-era anti-terrorism policies, he was defending our “values” or that we somehow “lost our way” in the aftermath of 9/11. It is increasingly clear, as with so much other blather than comes from the White House, that it is this administration that’s lost. There is a bipartisan consensus emerging that the Obami have behaved irresponsibly and that there is no moral or constitutional imperative to Mirandize terrorists and allow them to clam up. It’s become obvious to all but the reality-insulated Left that the moral preening is no more than a smoke screen for an ill-conceived and poorly executed set of policies.

Given the lack of support for the current approach and the urging of figures like Kean and Hamilton to take a second look at the Obami’s assumption, it seems there is plenty for responsible lawmakers to do. Scott Brown seemed to have a handle on this when he said that “our Constitution and laws exist to protect this nation — they do not grant rights and privileges to enemies in wartime. In dealing with terrorists, our tax dollars should pay for weapons to stop them, not lawyers to defend them.” Perhaps he can reach across the aisle and induce some of his new colleagues, just as we are seeing on health care, to set aside the foolishness of Obama’s first year in favor of some responsible governance.

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Michael Flynn’s Revelatory Report

One of the reasons I admire Gen. Stanley McChrystal and think he is the right commander to turn around the war effort in Afghanistan is that he is not afraid to be unconventional and effective even if, in so doing, he leaves a few colleagues with noses bent out of joint. And he has surrounded himself with similar hard chargers, including Major General Michael Flynn, his chief intelligence officer. Now Flynn has done something that has caused a minor earthquake in the Pentagon — he has written a scathing overview of the intelligence operations in Afghanistan not for internal distribution to a handful of top-secret addressees but rather to the whole world, via the Center for a New American Security in Washington.

His report, co-written with a DIA officer and a Marine captain (who was formerly a Wall Street Journal reporter), is a must-read for anyone who cares about the war in Afghanistan, the wider war on terror, or the subject of intelligence in general, much in the news these days.  It includes the kind of blunt talk seldom heard from serving military officers. The authors begin this way:

Eight years into the war in Afghanistan, the U.S. intelligence community is only marginally relevant to the overall strategy. Having focused the overwhelming majority of its collec­tion efforts and analytical brainpower on insurgent groups, the vast intel­ligence apparatus is unable to answer fundamental questions about the envi­ronment in which U.S. and allied forces operate and the people they seek to persuade. Ignorant of local economics and landowners, hazy about who the powerbrokers are and how they might be influenced, incurious about the cor­relations between various development projects and the levels of coopera­tion among villagers, and disengaged from people in the best position to find answers – whether aid workers or Afghan soldiers – U.S. intelligence offi­cers and analysts can do little but shrug in response to high level decision-mak­ers seeking the knowledge, analysis, and information they need to wage a successful counterinsurgency.

The rest of the report isn’t so diplomatic. Flynn and his co-authors go on to describe the tendency of intel analysts to “overemphasize detailed informa­tion about the enemy at the expense of the political, economic, and cultural environment that supports it.” They propose a solution—setting up new fusion cells called Stability Operations Information Centers, which would focus on Afghanistan district by district. The analysts who work there will not be allowed to remain in a cushy office far from the battlefield. They call for commanders to:

… authorize a select group of analysts to retrieve information from the ground level and make it available to a broader audience, similar to the way journalists work. These analysts must leave their chairs and visit the people who operate at the grassroots level – civil affairs officers, PRTs, atmospherics teams, Afghan liaison officers, female engagement teams, will­ing NGOs and development organizations, United Nations officials, psychological operations teams, human terrain teams, and staff officers with infan­try battalions – to name a few.

That may sound like common sense, but it is a radical departure from how many within the intel community work today.

Normally, reports of this sort come and go, issuing recommendations that are by and large ignored by policymakers. In this case, Major General Flynn’s rank and position mean that his insightful criticisms and prescriptions will get the attention they deserve — he can order many of these changes to be instituted. But he also knows that issuing memos in Kabul doesn’t affect fundamental change on the ground. To get out his message to current and future operational commanders, he has chosen a most unconventional approach — one that has caused predictable sniping at the Pentagon. Such uproar is instinctively avoided by most officers — indeed by most federal employees — but McChrystal and his aides know it is the only way to bring about the fundamental change needed to reverse the Taliban’s momentum.

One of the reasons I admire Gen. Stanley McChrystal and think he is the right commander to turn around the war effort in Afghanistan is that he is not afraid to be unconventional and effective even if, in so doing, he leaves a few colleagues with noses bent out of joint. And he has surrounded himself with similar hard chargers, including Major General Michael Flynn, his chief intelligence officer. Now Flynn has done something that has caused a minor earthquake in the Pentagon — he has written a scathing overview of the intelligence operations in Afghanistan not for internal distribution to a handful of top-secret addressees but rather to the whole world, via the Center for a New American Security in Washington.

His report, co-written with a DIA officer and a Marine captain (who was formerly a Wall Street Journal reporter), is a must-read for anyone who cares about the war in Afghanistan, the wider war on terror, or the subject of intelligence in general, much in the news these days.  It includes the kind of blunt talk seldom heard from serving military officers. The authors begin this way:

Eight years into the war in Afghanistan, the U.S. intelligence community is only marginally relevant to the overall strategy. Having focused the overwhelming majority of its collec­tion efforts and analytical brainpower on insurgent groups, the vast intel­ligence apparatus is unable to answer fundamental questions about the envi­ronment in which U.S. and allied forces operate and the people they seek to persuade. Ignorant of local economics and landowners, hazy about who the powerbrokers are and how they might be influenced, incurious about the cor­relations between various development projects and the levels of coopera­tion among villagers, and disengaged from people in the best position to find answers – whether aid workers or Afghan soldiers – U.S. intelligence offi­cers and analysts can do little but shrug in response to high level decision-mak­ers seeking the knowledge, analysis, and information they need to wage a successful counterinsurgency.

The rest of the report isn’t so diplomatic. Flynn and his co-authors go on to describe the tendency of intel analysts to “overemphasize detailed informa­tion about the enemy at the expense of the political, economic, and cultural environment that supports it.” They propose a solution—setting up new fusion cells called Stability Operations Information Centers, which would focus on Afghanistan district by district. The analysts who work there will not be allowed to remain in a cushy office far from the battlefield. They call for commanders to:

… authorize a select group of analysts to retrieve information from the ground level and make it available to a broader audience, similar to the way journalists work. These analysts must leave their chairs and visit the people who operate at the grassroots level – civil affairs officers, PRTs, atmospherics teams, Afghan liaison officers, female engagement teams, will­ing NGOs and development organizations, United Nations officials, psychological operations teams, human terrain teams, and staff officers with infan­try battalions – to name a few.

That may sound like common sense, but it is a radical departure from how many within the intel community work today.

Normally, reports of this sort come and go, issuing recommendations that are by and large ignored by policymakers. In this case, Major General Flynn’s rank and position mean that his insightful criticisms and prescriptions will get the attention they deserve — he can order many of these changes to be instituted. But he also knows that issuing memos in Kabul doesn’t affect fundamental change on the ground. To get out his message to current and future operational commanders, he has chosen a most unconventional approach — one that has caused predictable sniping at the Pentagon. Such uproar is instinctively avoided by most officers — indeed by most federal employees — but McChrystal and his aides know it is the only way to bring about the fundamental change needed to reverse the Taliban’s momentum.

Read Less

Got Your Seat Assignment?

In her pull-in-as-many-favors-with-media-elites-to-save-her-skin campaign, Janet Napolitano tells Maureen Dowd that you need to do your job:

“I think we do a disservice if we tell people there are 100 percent guarantees. I think we tell them we’re doing everything we can to reduce risk. I think we tell people that they are also part of the system. I mean, the passengers on this plane were a line of defense, the flight crew were a line of defense. So everybody has a shared responsibility here. You can’t just say, well, this government department or that government department’s got the whole shebang.”

Okay, does no one tell her to just stop talking?  Really, none of this is helping. For starters, I think after last week the majority of Americans don’t believe that the Obami are doing everything they can to keep us safe. John Brennan seems to have moved up to the pole position with Dennis Blair in the race for forced retirement with the revelation that he was briefed on underwear bombing. Somehow that information didn’t get circulated. The new Newsweek observes: “The briefing for Brennan is among a series of pre-Christmas warnings suggesting that the breakdown in the U.S. intelligence system prior to the Northwest attack may have been worse than has been publicly acknowledged.” So it seems they really weren’t doing everything to keep us safe.

And Napolitano gives the game away when she confesses that “one of the things that may come out of this awful day is perhaps a renewed sense of urgency.” But didn’t she just tell us that they were doing everything they.  . . Oh never mind. And she really doesn’t know how all this happened: “I want to know how this individual got on this plane with this material. I want to know so we can figure out what we should be doing to defeat that.” It might have something to do with the fact that the Obami weren’t doing everything to keep us safe.

But you really do have to marvel at Napolitano‘s not very subtle shifting of responsibility for travel security from the government to the public. One supposes that when you check in you’ll be getting a seat assignment and terrorist look-out shift. (No sleeping between noon and 2pm in Row 26!) Now, on one hand, this is at least a candid recognition that the passengers are the only participants of our security system who seem to be on the ball. But how exactly does this jibe with the unending series of petty, annoying, and downright stupid rules that serve to frustrate only innocent passengers doing their best to patrol the skies? Nothing in your lap for the last hour of flights? No one in their right mind can believe this poses some “defense” against terrorists. (Suffice it to say that even the dimmest terrorist can explode his underwear with 62 minutes to go on the flight.) Do they want to empower us, give us responsibility for our own defense, and restore confidence in our air security? Then stop frisking toddlers and help the public keep an eye on those individuals most likely to set their drawers on fire. And most of all, please just tell Napolitano to be quiet.

In her pull-in-as-many-favors-with-media-elites-to-save-her-skin campaign, Janet Napolitano tells Maureen Dowd that you need to do your job:

“I think we do a disservice if we tell people there are 100 percent guarantees. I think we tell them we’re doing everything we can to reduce risk. I think we tell people that they are also part of the system. I mean, the passengers on this plane were a line of defense, the flight crew were a line of defense. So everybody has a shared responsibility here. You can’t just say, well, this government department or that government department’s got the whole shebang.”

Okay, does no one tell her to just stop talking?  Really, none of this is helping. For starters, I think after last week the majority of Americans don’t believe that the Obami are doing everything they can to keep us safe. John Brennan seems to have moved up to the pole position with Dennis Blair in the race for forced retirement with the revelation that he was briefed on underwear bombing. Somehow that information didn’t get circulated. The new Newsweek observes: “The briefing for Brennan is among a series of pre-Christmas warnings suggesting that the breakdown in the U.S. intelligence system prior to the Northwest attack may have been worse than has been publicly acknowledged.” So it seems they really weren’t doing everything to keep us safe.

And Napolitano gives the game away when she confesses that “one of the things that may come out of this awful day is perhaps a renewed sense of urgency.” But didn’t she just tell us that they were doing everything they.  . . Oh never mind. And she really doesn’t know how all this happened: “I want to know how this individual got on this plane with this material. I want to know so we can figure out what we should be doing to defeat that.” It might have something to do with the fact that the Obami weren’t doing everything to keep us safe.

But you really do have to marvel at Napolitano‘s not very subtle shifting of responsibility for travel security from the government to the public. One supposes that when you check in you’ll be getting a seat assignment and terrorist look-out shift. (No sleeping between noon and 2pm in Row 26!) Now, on one hand, this is at least a candid recognition that the passengers are the only participants of our security system who seem to be on the ball. But how exactly does this jibe with the unending series of petty, annoying, and downright stupid rules that serve to frustrate only innocent passengers doing their best to patrol the skies? Nothing in your lap for the last hour of flights? No one in their right mind can believe this poses some “defense” against terrorists. (Suffice it to say that even the dimmest terrorist can explode his underwear with 62 minutes to go on the flight.) Do they want to empower us, give us responsibility for our own defense, and restore confidence in our air security? Then stop frisking toddlers and help the public keep an eye on those individuals most likely to set their drawers on fire. And most of all, please just tell Napolitano to be quiet.

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Connecting Dots

As we learn more about the catastrophic intelligence failure that allowed the Christmas Day bomber to get on a plane and come perilously close to slaughtering hundreds of passengers, the question inevitably centers on one question: who dropped the ball? This report gives as good an answer as any:

During Tuesday’s appearance, the president also said: “It’s been widely reported that the father of the suspect in the Christmas incident warned U.S. officials in Africa about his son’s extremist views. It now appears that weeks ago this information was passed to a component of our intelligence community, but was not effectively distributed so as to get the suspect’s name on a no-fly list.”

That “component” is apparently the NCTC, created on the recommendation of the 9/11 Commission. It’s not clear what analysts there should have done with the information. One possibility would have been to alert FBI agents.

The U.S. intelligence official said: “The United States government set up NCTC — and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence — to connect the dots on terrorism. If somebody thinks it could have been done better in this case, they know where to go for answers.”

And the Director of National Intelligence is Dennis Blair. If his job is to connect the dots and his boss says there was a catastrophic failure to do just that, how can Blair remain? At the very least he needs to explain what went wrong and why he didn’t successfully perform the sole task that was the purpose of his position.

Yesterday Rep. Peter King complained that the Obami have built an “iron curtain” and have a “stonewalling mentality” when it comes to sharing information with Congress on terrorist attacks. Actually, it seems as though they didn’t share information with each-other either — and now their reticence to explain anything to Congress can more clearly be seen as an effort to mask their own gross incompetence. A serious Congressional or independent investigation would be a smart idea. Otherwise, we may never know exactly what happened or what went wrong.

As we learn more about the catastrophic intelligence failure that allowed the Christmas Day bomber to get on a plane and come perilously close to slaughtering hundreds of passengers, the question inevitably centers on one question: who dropped the ball? This report gives as good an answer as any:

During Tuesday’s appearance, the president also said: “It’s been widely reported that the father of the suspect in the Christmas incident warned U.S. officials in Africa about his son’s extremist views. It now appears that weeks ago this information was passed to a component of our intelligence community, but was not effectively distributed so as to get the suspect’s name on a no-fly list.”

That “component” is apparently the NCTC, created on the recommendation of the 9/11 Commission. It’s not clear what analysts there should have done with the information. One possibility would have been to alert FBI agents.

The U.S. intelligence official said: “The United States government set up NCTC — and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence — to connect the dots on terrorism. If somebody thinks it could have been done better in this case, they know where to go for answers.”

And the Director of National Intelligence is Dennis Blair. If his job is to connect the dots and his boss says there was a catastrophic failure to do just that, how can Blair remain? At the very least he needs to explain what went wrong and why he didn’t successfully perform the sole task that was the purpose of his position.

Yesterday Rep. Peter King complained that the Obami have built an “iron curtain” and have a “stonewalling mentality” when it comes to sharing information with Congress on terrorist attacks. Actually, it seems as though they didn’t share information with each-other either — and now their reticence to explain anything to Congress can more clearly be seen as an effort to mask their own gross incompetence. A serious Congressional or independent investigation would be a smart idea. Otherwise, we may never know exactly what happened or what went wrong.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Let’s hope it’s not true: “Sen. John Kerry has filed a formal request to visit Iran, Iranian news agencies reported Tuesday — news made public in the middle of the government’s bloody crackdown on dissidents that has left more than a dozen dead.” It would be frightful if the Obami foreign policy toward Iran were this incoherent.

Meanwhile, outside the Obami cocoon: “Iran is close to clinching a deal to clandestinely import 1,350 tons of purified uranium ore from Kazakhstan, according to an intelligence report obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press. Diplomats said the assessment was heightening international concern about Tehran’s nuclear activities.”

MSNBC going into rehab? It is redoing its daytime lineup. “MSNBC may need to prove its news commitment to viewers. With news of the attempted terrorist attack on a plane bound for Detroit breaking late on Christmas, the network stuck with pre-taped programming. CNN and Fox covered the story much more extensively.” The solution? “MSNBC will pair Chuck Todd and Savannah Guthrie for one hour at 9 a.m. in a newsy, nonpartisan look at the day’s upcoming events.” In MSNBC parlance, “nonpartisan” means no “Bush=Hilter” comments.

Hannah Rosenthal denies that slamming the Israeli Ambassador was out of bounds. Or it was taken out of context. (The “system worked”? No, that’s another gaffe-prone Obama flack.) In any event, she, as Shmuel Rosner points out, is picking up friends with the Israel-bashing crowd and is “on the way to becoming their new martyr.”

Second time is the charm? “Mr. Obama has been seeking to counter criticism that he was out of touch in the aftermath of the foiled plot, which took place Friday. For the first three days, he delegated public statements to subordinates before giving a statement Monday.” It would  be nice if he got it right the first time. (One wonders what the White House’s internal polling must show about the public reaction to its handling of the terror attack.)

And it certainly doesn’t look as though Abdulmutallab was an “isolated extremist”: “The Nigerian accused of trying to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner had his suicide mission personally blessed in Yemen by Anwar al-Awlaki, the same Muslim imam suspected of radicalizing the Fort Hood shooting suspect, a U.S. intelligence source has told the Washington Times.”

Diane Ravitch nails it: “So the crotch-bomber will be tried for a felony in a federal court, with all the rights and privileges of American citizens. So Khalid Sheik-Mohammed and his associates will be able to enlist an army of pro bono lawyers to defend their ‘constitutional rights,’ the same ones they tried to destroy, along with some 3,000 lives. So KSM and pals will get discovery proceedings, will demand a new venue, will insist that the U.S. produce witnesses to their alleged crimes, will inflict millions of dollars of unnecessary security costs on NYC (or any other host city) that might better be spent on schools. In short, the Obama administration has woven a web of confusion, rhetoric, and illogic that will entangle it for years to come, as it attempts to defuse, de-escalate and minimize the terrorist threat. The reason this strategy is politically foolish is that the terrorist threat is real.”

Meanwhile the Washington Post reports: “Former detainees of the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have led and fueled the growing assertiveness of the al-Qaeda branch that claimed responsibility for the attempted Christmas Day bombing of a U.S. airliner, potentially complicating the Obama administration’s efforts to shut down the facility.” It almost as though releasing dangerous terrorists is only enabling a network of fanatical murderers, huh? Must the Obami insist that closing Guantanamo is still a “national security imperative”? I think we have found the “systematic failure.”

This seems right: “By staying in Hawaii, the president has sent the message that the situation really isn’t all that serious, that things can proceed just fine until he’s back. And isn’t it that kind of reasoning that emboldens our never-vacationing enemies into thinking Christmas Day is the perfect time for them to strike?”

Let’s hope it’s not true: “Sen. John Kerry has filed a formal request to visit Iran, Iranian news agencies reported Tuesday — news made public in the middle of the government’s bloody crackdown on dissidents that has left more than a dozen dead.” It would be frightful if the Obami foreign policy toward Iran were this incoherent.

Meanwhile, outside the Obami cocoon: “Iran is close to clinching a deal to clandestinely import 1,350 tons of purified uranium ore from Kazakhstan, according to an intelligence report obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press. Diplomats said the assessment was heightening international concern about Tehran’s nuclear activities.”

MSNBC going into rehab? It is redoing its daytime lineup. “MSNBC may need to prove its news commitment to viewers. With news of the attempted terrorist attack on a plane bound for Detroit breaking late on Christmas, the network stuck with pre-taped programming. CNN and Fox covered the story much more extensively.” The solution? “MSNBC will pair Chuck Todd and Savannah Guthrie for one hour at 9 a.m. in a newsy, nonpartisan look at the day’s upcoming events.” In MSNBC parlance, “nonpartisan” means no “Bush=Hilter” comments.

Hannah Rosenthal denies that slamming the Israeli Ambassador was out of bounds. Or it was taken out of context. (The “system worked”? No, that’s another gaffe-prone Obama flack.) In any event, she, as Shmuel Rosner points out, is picking up friends with the Israel-bashing crowd and is “on the way to becoming their new martyr.”

Second time is the charm? “Mr. Obama has been seeking to counter criticism that he was out of touch in the aftermath of the foiled plot, which took place Friday. For the first three days, he delegated public statements to subordinates before giving a statement Monday.” It would  be nice if he got it right the first time. (One wonders what the White House’s internal polling must show about the public reaction to its handling of the terror attack.)

And it certainly doesn’t look as though Abdulmutallab was an “isolated extremist”: “The Nigerian accused of trying to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner had his suicide mission personally blessed in Yemen by Anwar al-Awlaki, the same Muslim imam suspected of radicalizing the Fort Hood shooting suspect, a U.S. intelligence source has told the Washington Times.”

Diane Ravitch nails it: “So the crotch-bomber will be tried for a felony in a federal court, with all the rights and privileges of American citizens. So Khalid Sheik-Mohammed and his associates will be able to enlist an army of pro bono lawyers to defend their ‘constitutional rights,’ the same ones they tried to destroy, along with some 3,000 lives. So KSM and pals will get discovery proceedings, will demand a new venue, will insist that the U.S. produce witnesses to their alleged crimes, will inflict millions of dollars of unnecessary security costs on NYC (or any other host city) that might better be spent on schools. In short, the Obama administration has woven a web of confusion, rhetoric, and illogic that will entangle it for years to come, as it attempts to defuse, de-escalate and minimize the terrorist threat. The reason this strategy is politically foolish is that the terrorist threat is real.”

Meanwhile the Washington Post reports: “Former detainees of the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have led and fueled the growing assertiveness of the al-Qaeda branch that claimed responsibility for the attempted Christmas Day bombing of a U.S. airliner, potentially complicating the Obama administration’s efforts to shut down the facility.” It almost as though releasing dangerous terrorists is only enabling a network of fanatical murderers, huh? Must the Obami insist that closing Guantanamo is still a “national security imperative”? I think we have found the “systematic failure.”

This seems right: “By staying in Hawaii, the president has sent the message that the situation really isn’t all that serious, that things can proceed just fine until he’s back. And isn’t it that kind of reasoning that emboldens our never-vacationing enemies into thinking Christmas Day is the perfect time for them to strike?”

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Hasan’s Imam

The Washington Post, through an interview conducted by a Yemeni journalist, has gotten an earful from imam Anwar al-Aulaqi, the radical cleric whom Major Nadal Hasan sought out. Seems that Hasan was seeking “spiritual guidance” and that the two had a chummy e-mail relationship. Why yes, we’ll have to find out how it could be that no one “sensed a potential threat” given that “U.S. intelligence agencies intercepted e-mails from Hasan.”

This should be of interest to those who think this has nothing to do with Islam:

Aulaqi said Hasan’s alleged shooting spree was allowed under Islam because it was a form of jihad. “There are some people in the United States who said this shooting has nothing to do with Islam, that it was not permissible under Islam,” he said, according to Shaea. “But I would say it is permissible. … America was the one who first brought the battle to Muslim countries.”

The cleric also denounced what he described as contradictory behavior by Muslims who condemned Hasan’s actions and “let him down.” According to Shaea, he said: “They say American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan should be killed, so how can they say the American soldier should not be killed at the moment they are going to Iraq and Afghanistan?”

Keep in  mind that Aulaqi in now safely lodged in Yemen — where we are now depositing Guantanamo detainees. Maybe it’s time to reintroduce “Islamic fundamentalism” or “Islamic jihadism” into our government’s official lexicon.

The Washington Post, through an interview conducted by a Yemeni journalist, has gotten an earful from imam Anwar al-Aulaqi, the radical cleric whom Major Nadal Hasan sought out. Seems that Hasan was seeking “spiritual guidance” and that the two had a chummy e-mail relationship. Why yes, we’ll have to find out how it could be that no one “sensed a potential threat” given that “U.S. intelligence agencies intercepted e-mails from Hasan.”

This should be of interest to those who think this has nothing to do with Islam:

Aulaqi said Hasan’s alleged shooting spree was allowed under Islam because it was a form of jihad. “There are some people in the United States who said this shooting has nothing to do with Islam, that it was not permissible under Islam,” he said, according to Shaea. “But I would say it is permissible. … America was the one who first brought the battle to Muslim countries.”

The cleric also denounced what he described as contradictory behavior by Muslims who condemned Hasan’s actions and “let him down.” According to Shaea, he said: “They say American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan should be killed, so how can they say the American soldier should not be killed at the moment they are going to Iraq and Afghanistan?”

Keep in  mind that Aulaqi in now safely lodged in Yemen — where we are now depositing Guantanamo detainees. Maybe it’s time to reintroduce “Islamic fundamentalism” or “Islamic jihadism” into our government’s official lexicon.

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Is This Really Worth It?

Former Justice Department lawyer John Yoo writes:

Trying KSM in civilian court will be an intelligence bonanza for al Qaeda and the hostile nations that will view the U.S. intelligence methods and sources that such a trial will reveal. The proceedings will tie up judges for years on issues best left to the president and Congress.

Whether a jury ultimately convicts KSM and his fellows, or sentences them to death, is beside the point. The treatment of the 9/11 attacks as a criminal matter rather than as an act of war will cripple American efforts to fight terrorism. It is in effect a declaration that this nation is no longer at war.

Yoo was the object of much ire from the Obami and their supporters. As one author of the Bush-era interrogation memos, he was accused of promoting “torture” — an assertion that now will be wielded like a sword by KSM’s lawyers as they try to put the U.S. on trial. And what will Eric Holder’s Justice Department say — no, it wasn’t torture after all? No, none of the information derived from the enhanced interrogations was used for the “prosecution”? It will be only one aspect of a multi-ring circus.

And as Yoo explains, the danger to the U.S. is great, as we will be “forced to reveal U.S. intelligence on KSM, the methods and sources for acquiring its information, and his relationships to fellow al Qaeda operatives.” Aside from blowing the “cover” of personnel and plans known to us, we will be taking an unmistakable step toward criminalizing the battlefield:

Even more harmful to our national security will be the effect a civilian trial of KSM will have on the future conduct of intelligence officers and military personnel. Will they have to read al Qaeda terrorists their Miranda rights? Will they have to secure the “crime scene” under battlefield conditions? Will they have to take statements from nearby “witnesses”? Will they have to gather evidence and secure its chain of custody for transport all the way back to New York? All of this while intelligence officers and soldiers operate in a war zone, trying to stay alive, and working to complete their mission and get out without casualties.

The mind reels as one considers the multiple ways in which the decision to extract KSM from the military-tribunal system and plop him down into a Manhattan courtroom will harm our national security. And will it really stay in Manhattan, in such close proximity to Ground Zero, or should I say, “the crime scene”? Certainly a change of venue motion will be forthcoming among the hundreds, if not thousands, of motions that will flow from the defendant — oh yes, that’s defendant KSM, now entitled to the presumption of innocence — and his stable of lawyers.

If you think Yoo or Obama’s critics are exaggerating, Yoo reminds us of Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called 20th hijacker: “His trial never made it to a jury. Moussaoui’s lawyers tied the court up in knots. All they had to do was demand that the government hand over all its intelligence on him. The case became a four-year circus, giving Moussaoui a platform to air his anti-American tirades.”

The president would have us believe that this is all Holder’s doing. Obama wasn’t even in the country when the announcement was made. If true, Obama has abandoned his obligation to make key decisions affecting national security. But who really believes that? No, this is the president’s call. KSM is landing in a civilian courtroom because Obama wants him there. Whatever flows from that, whatever damage is done to our national security, is his responsibility. And frankly, whatever anguish is experienced by the victims’ families, who will now hear KSM proclaim the virtue of his cause, is also Obama’s. He should have had the decency and the courage to tell them and the American people why he thought this was necessary.

Former Justice Department lawyer John Yoo writes:

Trying KSM in civilian court will be an intelligence bonanza for al Qaeda and the hostile nations that will view the U.S. intelligence methods and sources that such a trial will reveal. The proceedings will tie up judges for years on issues best left to the president and Congress.

Whether a jury ultimately convicts KSM and his fellows, or sentences them to death, is beside the point. The treatment of the 9/11 attacks as a criminal matter rather than as an act of war will cripple American efforts to fight terrorism. It is in effect a declaration that this nation is no longer at war.

Yoo was the object of much ire from the Obami and their supporters. As one author of the Bush-era interrogation memos, he was accused of promoting “torture” — an assertion that now will be wielded like a sword by KSM’s lawyers as they try to put the U.S. on trial. And what will Eric Holder’s Justice Department say — no, it wasn’t torture after all? No, none of the information derived from the enhanced interrogations was used for the “prosecution”? It will be only one aspect of a multi-ring circus.

And as Yoo explains, the danger to the U.S. is great, as we will be “forced to reveal U.S. intelligence on KSM, the methods and sources for acquiring its information, and his relationships to fellow al Qaeda operatives.” Aside from blowing the “cover” of personnel and plans known to us, we will be taking an unmistakable step toward criminalizing the battlefield:

Even more harmful to our national security will be the effect a civilian trial of KSM will have on the future conduct of intelligence officers and military personnel. Will they have to read al Qaeda terrorists their Miranda rights? Will they have to secure the “crime scene” under battlefield conditions? Will they have to take statements from nearby “witnesses”? Will they have to gather evidence and secure its chain of custody for transport all the way back to New York? All of this while intelligence officers and soldiers operate in a war zone, trying to stay alive, and working to complete their mission and get out without casualties.

The mind reels as one considers the multiple ways in which the decision to extract KSM from the military-tribunal system and plop him down into a Manhattan courtroom will harm our national security. And will it really stay in Manhattan, in such close proximity to Ground Zero, or should I say, “the crime scene”? Certainly a change of venue motion will be forthcoming among the hundreds, if not thousands, of motions that will flow from the defendant — oh yes, that’s defendant KSM, now entitled to the presumption of innocence — and his stable of lawyers.

If you think Yoo or Obama’s critics are exaggerating, Yoo reminds us of Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called 20th hijacker: “His trial never made it to a jury. Moussaoui’s lawyers tied the court up in knots. All they had to do was demand that the government hand over all its intelligence on him. The case became a four-year circus, giving Moussaoui a platform to air his anti-American tirades.”

The president would have us believe that this is all Holder’s doing. Obama wasn’t even in the country when the announcement was made. If true, Obama has abandoned his obligation to make key decisions affecting national security. But who really believes that? No, this is the president’s call. KSM is landing in a civilian courtroom because Obama wants him there. Whatever flows from that, whatever damage is done to our national security, is his responsibility. And frankly, whatever anguish is experienced by the victims’ families, who will now hear KSM proclaim the virtue of his cause, is also Obama’s. He should have had the decency and the courage to tell them and the American people why he thought this was necessary.

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Get to the Bottom of It

Marty Peretz writes:

Well, yes, of course, you’ve read about the lecture Major Nidal Malik Hasan, M.D., delivered at Walter Reed Hospital in 2007. Hasan’s ostensible topic was “The Koranic World View As It Relates to Muslims in the U.S. Military.” It might as well have been titled, as the scholar Barry Rubin suggested, “Why I Intend to Murder 13 American Soldiers at Foot Hood.” But, since nobody in the higher-up military actually noticed that a very shaky psychiatrist, indeed, gave an official medical rounds talk–maybe even grand rounds–on Islam, Hasan did, in fact, go on to kill 13 men and women and wound another 28. Had two police not brought him down he would have gone on to shoot (how?) many others.

The information is piling up, and the public, as they learn of the ample evidence of Hasan’s jihadist predilections, will, I suspect, be demanding some answers. Stephen Hayes and Tom Joscelyn take us through chapter and verse. Part of the problem is eerily reminiscent of the pre-9/11 dilemma:

But the FBI did not know all that the Army knew. And the Army did not know all that the FBI knew. The participants in an FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Force discussed Hasan’s case briefly and concluded that it did not warrant an investigation. If they had performed even a cursory, unobtrusive examination of this man, his contacts, and his radical views, they would have quickly turned up a great deal of troubling information.

And then there is the connection to Anwar al-Awlaki, which as Hayes and Joscelyn note is troublesome in the extreme. (“A Muslim officer in the U.S. Army was seeking guidance –spiritual? academic? — from an openly pro-jihad cleric whose past was so troubling he had been investigated by the U.S. intelligence community on three separate occasions and whose words had inspired a plot to attack a U.S. Army installation.”) If, in fact, “too little information was shared and too little attention paid to a man whose words and actions demanded attention,” we have a serious lapse in national security, one that, unlike 9-11, cannot be excused by a “failure of imagination.” We know what terror looks like, and we know the identity of the enemy.

The question, however, is whether the will to ignore the obvious, the pressure of political correctness, and a lapse into a pre-9-11 mentality have overtaken us. It would seem a complete, independent, and public evaluation of all this is in order. Why, after all, should we trust the malefactors to investigate themselves? We didn’t after 9/11. There is no reason to do so in the case of the first major terror attack since 9/11.

Marty Peretz writes:

Well, yes, of course, you’ve read about the lecture Major Nidal Malik Hasan, M.D., delivered at Walter Reed Hospital in 2007. Hasan’s ostensible topic was “The Koranic World View As It Relates to Muslims in the U.S. Military.” It might as well have been titled, as the scholar Barry Rubin suggested, “Why I Intend to Murder 13 American Soldiers at Foot Hood.” But, since nobody in the higher-up military actually noticed that a very shaky psychiatrist, indeed, gave an official medical rounds talk–maybe even grand rounds–on Islam, Hasan did, in fact, go on to kill 13 men and women and wound another 28. Had two police not brought him down he would have gone on to shoot (how?) many others.

The information is piling up, and the public, as they learn of the ample evidence of Hasan’s jihadist predilections, will, I suspect, be demanding some answers. Stephen Hayes and Tom Joscelyn take us through chapter and verse. Part of the problem is eerily reminiscent of the pre-9/11 dilemma:

But the FBI did not know all that the Army knew. And the Army did not know all that the FBI knew. The participants in an FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Force discussed Hasan’s case briefly and concluded that it did not warrant an investigation. If they had performed even a cursory, unobtrusive examination of this man, his contacts, and his radical views, they would have quickly turned up a great deal of troubling information.

And then there is the connection to Anwar al-Awlaki, which as Hayes and Joscelyn note is troublesome in the extreme. (“A Muslim officer in the U.S. Army was seeking guidance –spiritual? academic? — from an openly pro-jihad cleric whose past was so troubling he had been investigated by the U.S. intelligence community on three separate occasions and whose words had inspired a plot to attack a U.S. Army installation.”) If, in fact, “too little information was shared and too little attention paid to a man whose words and actions demanded attention,” we have a serious lapse in national security, one that, unlike 9-11, cannot be excused by a “failure of imagination.” We know what terror looks like, and we know the identity of the enemy.

The question, however, is whether the will to ignore the obvious, the pressure of political correctness, and a lapse into a pre-9-11 mentality have overtaken us. It would seem a complete, independent, and public evaluation of all this is in order. Why, after all, should we trust the malefactors to investigate themselves? We didn’t after 9/11. There is no reason to do so in the case of the first major terror attack since 9/11.

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Al-Qaeda and The Turning Tide

CIA Director Michael Hayden gave a noteworthy interview to the Washington Post this week. According to the Post:

Less than a year after his agency warned of new threats from a resurgent al-Qaeda, CIA Director Michael V. Hayden now portrays the terrorist movement as essentially defeated in Iraq and Saudi Arabia and on the defensive throughout much of the rest of the world, including in its presumed haven along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. In a strikingly upbeat assessment, the CIA chief cited major gains against al-Qaeda’s allies in the Middle East and an increasingly successful campaign to destabilize the group’s core leadership. While cautioning that al-Qaeda remains a serious threat, Hayden said Osama bin Laden is losing the battle for hearts and minds in the Islamic world and has largely forfeited his ability to exploit the Iraq war to recruit adherents. Two years ago, a CIA study concluded that the U.S.-led war had become a propaganda and marketing bonanza for al-Qaeda, generating cash donations and legions of volunteers. All that has changed, Hayden said in an interview with the Washington Post this week that coincided with the start of his third year at the helm of the CIA. “On balance, we are doing pretty well,” he said, ticking down a list of accomplishments: “Near strategic defeat of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Near strategic defeat for al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia. Significant setbacks for al-Qaeda globally — and here I’m going to use the word ‘ideologically’ — as a lot of the Islamic world pushes back on their form of Islam,” he said.

The sense of shifting tides in the terrorism fight is shared by a number of terrorism experts, though some caution that it is too early to tell whether the gains are permanent. Some credit Hayden and other U.S. intelligence leaders for going on the offensive against al-Qaeda in the area along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, where the tempo of Predator strikes has dramatically increased from previous years. But analysts say the United States has caught some breaks in the past year, benefiting from improved conditions in Iraq, as well as strategic blunders by al-Qaeda that have cut into its support base.[…]

On Iraq, he said he is encouraged not only by U.S. success against al-Qaeda’s affiliates there, but also by what he described as the steadily rising competence of the Iraqi military and a growing popular antipathy toward jihadism. “Despite this ’cause célebrè’ phenomenon, fundamentally no one really liked al-Qaeda’s vision of the future,” Hayden said. As a result, the insurgency is viewed locally as “more and more a war of al-Qaeda against Iraqis,” he said. Hayden specifically cited the recent writings of prominent Sunni clerics — including some who used to support al-Qaeda — criticizing the group for its indiscriminant killing of Muslim civilians. While al-Qaeda misplayed its hand with gruesome attacks on Iraqi civilians, Hayden said, U.S. military commanders and intelligence officials deserve some of the credit for the shift, because they “created the circumstances” for it by building strategic alliances with Sunni and Shiite factions, he said.

Hayden’s assessment comes on the heels of important essays by Lawrence Wright in The New Yorker and Peter Bergen and Paul Cruickshank in The New Republic arguing that the tide within the Islamic world is turning strongly against al Qaeda and jihadism. The causes for this shift include an organic uprising within the Arab and Islamic world against the barbaric tactics of al Qaeda, as well as the success of the Petraeus-led strategy in Iraq, which has been indispensable in aiding the “Anbar Awakening” and which has also dealt devastating military blows to al Qaeda.

We need to be very cautious. Progress, like setbacks, can be reversed. Georgetown University terrorism expert Bruce Hoffman is surely right when he says “Al-Qaeda’s obituary has been written far too often in the past few years for anyone to declare victory. I agree that there has been progress. But we’re indisputably up against a very resilient and implacable enemy.” And Hayden’s right to warn us that progress in Iraq is being undermined by increasing interference by Iran, which he accused of supplying weapons, training, and financial assistance to anti-U.S. insurgents. According to the Post:

While declining to endorse any particular strategy for dealing with Iran, he described the threat in stark terms. “It is the policy of the Iranian government, approved at the highest levels of that government, to facilitate the killing of American and other coalition forces in Iraq. Period,” he said.

It’s worth recalling how widely the pendulum has swung in just the last two years. In 2005 and 2006, Iraq, it was said in many quarters, was lost; we either had to beat a hasty retreat or, as Joe Biden and Les Gelb counseled, we needed to separate Iraq into three largely autonomous regions (Shia, Sunni, and Kurd). For a time the Biden-Gelb plan was the “hot” one among commentators — the “third way” between leaving Iraq precipitously and foolishly attempting to repair a hopelessly broken and divided society. In fact, we are now seeing precisely the reconciliation and progress that many analysts believed was impossible to achieve.

It was also said by many analysts that as a result of the President’s misguided policies, al Qaeda was growing more popular, terrorist recruitment was up, al Qaeda had been handed great gifts by the Bush administration, and that America was less safe than prior to 9/11. The conventional wisdom was that the “Bush legacy” would be that al Qaeda was much stronger and America was much weaker than before the Iraq war.

Today the pendulum is swinging very much the other way. The reality is that things are much better now then they were at the mid-point of this decade. The cautionary tale in all this may be that we need to resist the temptation to take a snapshot in time and assuming that those things will stay as they are. Two years ago there were reasons for deep concern — but there were not reasons, it turns out, for despair or hopelessness. Events are fluid and can be shaped by human action and human will. While commentators were busy writing obituaries on Iraq, Bush, in the face of gale-force political winds, changed strategies –and Petraeus and company took on the hard task of redeeming Iraq.

Recent events are reminders, too, that equanimity and the capacity for some degree of detachment are important qualities to possess–qualities which are often lacking among those of us who inhabit the world of politics and government and comment on events on a daily or weekly basis.

It seems clear that among the worst thing we could do right now, in the wake of the significant, indisputable but reversible progress we’ve made, is to turn away from what works. It’s certainly true that the United States is limited in its capacity to shape the intra-Islamic struggle that is unfolding. But we do have the capacity to influence things in some arenas–and Iraq is, right now, a central battlefield in the war against jihadists. To undo what we have put in place would be unwise, reckless, and–given events of the last year–indefensible as well.

CIA Director Michael Hayden gave a noteworthy interview to the Washington Post this week. According to the Post:

Less than a year after his agency warned of new threats from a resurgent al-Qaeda, CIA Director Michael V. Hayden now portrays the terrorist movement as essentially defeated in Iraq and Saudi Arabia and on the defensive throughout much of the rest of the world, including in its presumed haven along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. In a strikingly upbeat assessment, the CIA chief cited major gains against al-Qaeda’s allies in the Middle East and an increasingly successful campaign to destabilize the group’s core leadership. While cautioning that al-Qaeda remains a serious threat, Hayden said Osama bin Laden is losing the battle for hearts and minds in the Islamic world and has largely forfeited his ability to exploit the Iraq war to recruit adherents. Two years ago, a CIA study concluded that the U.S.-led war had become a propaganda and marketing bonanza for al-Qaeda, generating cash donations and legions of volunteers. All that has changed, Hayden said in an interview with the Washington Post this week that coincided with the start of his third year at the helm of the CIA. “On balance, we are doing pretty well,” he said, ticking down a list of accomplishments: “Near strategic defeat of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Near strategic defeat for al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia. Significant setbacks for al-Qaeda globally — and here I’m going to use the word ‘ideologically’ — as a lot of the Islamic world pushes back on their form of Islam,” he said.

The sense of shifting tides in the terrorism fight is shared by a number of terrorism experts, though some caution that it is too early to tell whether the gains are permanent. Some credit Hayden and other U.S. intelligence leaders for going on the offensive against al-Qaeda in the area along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, where the tempo of Predator strikes has dramatically increased from previous years. But analysts say the United States has caught some breaks in the past year, benefiting from improved conditions in Iraq, as well as strategic blunders by al-Qaeda that have cut into its support base.[…]

On Iraq, he said he is encouraged not only by U.S. success against al-Qaeda’s affiliates there, but also by what he described as the steadily rising competence of the Iraqi military and a growing popular antipathy toward jihadism. “Despite this ’cause célebrè’ phenomenon, fundamentally no one really liked al-Qaeda’s vision of the future,” Hayden said. As a result, the insurgency is viewed locally as “more and more a war of al-Qaeda against Iraqis,” he said. Hayden specifically cited the recent writings of prominent Sunni clerics — including some who used to support al-Qaeda — criticizing the group for its indiscriminant killing of Muslim civilians. While al-Qaeda misplayed its hand with gruesome attacks on Iraqi civilians, Hayden said, U.S. military commanders and intelligence officials deserve some of the credit for the shift, because they “created the circumstances” for it by building strategic alliances with Sunni and Shiite factions, he said.

Hayden’s assessment comes on the heels of important essays by Lawrence Wright in The New Yorker and Peter Bergen and Paul Cruickshank in The New Republic arguing that the tide within the Islamic world is turning strongly against al Qaeda and jihadism. The causes for this shift include an organic uprising within the Arab and Islamic world against the barbaric tactics of al Qaeda, as well as the success of the Petraeus-led strategy in Iraq, which has been indispensable in aiding the “Anbar Awakening” and which has also dealt devastating military blows to al Qaeda.

We need to be very cautious. Progress, like setbacks, can be reversed. Georgetown University terrorism expert Bruce Hoffman is surely right when he says “Al-Qaeda’s obituary has been written far too often in the past few years for anyone to declare victory. I agree that there has been progress. But we’re indisputably up against a very resilient and implacable enemy.” And Hayden’s right to warn us that progress in Iraq is being undermined by increasing interference by Iran, which he accused of supplying weapons, training, and financial assistance to anti-U.S. insurgents. According to the Post:

While declining to endorse any particular strategy for dealing with Iran, he described the threat in stark terms. “It is the policy of the Iranian government, approved at the highest levels of that government, to facilitate the killing of American and other coalition forces in Iraq. Period,” he said.

It’s worth recalling how widely the pendulum has swung in just the last two years. In 2005 and 2006, Iraq, it was said in many quarters, was lost; we either had to beat a hasty retreat or, as Joe Biden and Les Gelb counseled, we needed to separate Iraq into three largely autonomous regions (Shia, Sunni, and Kurd). For a time the Biden-Gelb plan was the “hot” one among commentators — the “third way” between leaving Iraq precipitously and foolishly attempting to repair a hopelessly broken and divided society. In fact, we are now seeing precisely the reconciliation and progress that many analysts believed was impossible to achieve.

It was also said by many analysts that as a result of the President’s misguided policies, al Qaeda was growing more popular, terrorist recruitment was up, al Qaeda had been handed great gifts by the Bush administration, and that America was less safe than prior to 9/11. The conventional wisdom was that the “Bush legacy” would be that al Qaeda was much stronger and America was much weaker than before the Iraq war.

Today the pendulum is swinging very much the other way. The reality is that things are much better now then they were at the mid-point of this decade. The cautionary tale in all this may be that we need to resist the temptation to take a snapshot in time and assuming that those things will stay as they are. Two years ago there were reasons for deep concern — but there were not reasons, it turns out, for despair or hopelessness. Events are fluid and can be shaped by human action and human will. While commentators were busy writing obituaries on Iraq, Bush, in the face of gale-force political winds, changed strategies –and Petraeus and company took on the hard task of redeeming Iraq.

Recent events are reminders, too, that equanimity and the capacity for some degree of detachment are important qualities to possess–qualities which are often lacking among those of us who inhabit the world of politics and government and comment on events on a daily or weekly basis.

It seems clear that among the worst thing we could do right now, in the wake of the significant, indisputable but reversible progress we’ve made, is to turn away from what works. It’s certainly true that the United States is limited in its capacity to shape the intra-Islamic struggle that is unfolding. But we do have the capacity to influence things in some arenas–and Iraq is, right now, a central battlefield in the war against jihadists. To undo what we have put in place would be unwise, reckless, and–given events of the last year–indefensible as well.

Read Less

Crying Sheep

When you cry wolf once too often, you lose credibility. The same thing happens when you cry sheep.

Is the CIA now crying sheep about al Qaeda? In an interview with the Washington Post, CIA Director Michael Hayden sketches a series of triumphs in the global war on terrorism:

Near strategic defeat of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Near strategic defeat for al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia. Significant setbacks for al-Qaeda globally — and here I’m going to use the word “ideologically” — as a lot of the Islamic world pushes back on their form of Islam.

Before we uncork the champagne, let’s recall that it was less than a year ago that U.S. intelligence estimated that al Qaeda

is and will remain the most serious terrorist threat to the Homeland, as its central leadership continues to plan high-impact plots, while pushing others in extremist Sunni communities to mimic its efforts and to supplement its capabilities. We assess the group has protected or regenerated key elements of its Homeland attack capability, including: a safehaven in the Pakistan Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), operational lieutenants, and its top leadership. Although we have discovered only a handful of individuals in the United States with ties to al-Qaeda senior leadership since 9/11, we judge that al-Qaeda will intensify its efforts to put operatives here.

As a result, we judge that the United States currently is in a heightened threat environment.

Let’s also recall that in January 2007, John Negroponte, then Director of National Intelligence, offered a wolf-like assessment of Iran:

Our assessment is that Tehran is determined to develop nuclear weapons. It is continuing to pursue uranium enrichment and has shown more interest in protracting negotiations than reaching an acceptable diplomatic solution.

In December of that year, the same office, now led by Mike McConnell, issued a National Intelligence Estimate was crying sheep:

We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program; we also assess with moderate-to-high confidence that Tehran at a minimum is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons.

And of course, the shadow hanging over all U.S. intelligence assessments is the botched 2003 estimate that Iraq had an active WMD program. But in this instance the wolf turned out to be a sheep.

Restoring the credibility of U.S. intelligence is an urgent task. What is the point of having intelligence agencies if we cannot even place a modicum of trust in their words?

But how should they go about the task? Ultimately, there is only one approach that will work: get rid of the clowns and start getting things right.

When you cry wolf once too often, you lose credibility. The same thing happens when you cry sheep.

Is the CIA now crying sheep about al Qaeda? In an interview with the Washington Post, CIA Director Michael Hayden sketches a series of triumphs in the global war on terrorism:

Near strategic defeat of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Near strategic defeat for al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia. Significant setbacks for al-Qaeda globally — and here I’m going to use the word “ideologically” — as a lot of the Islamic world pushes back on their form of Islam.

Before we uncork the champagne, let’s recall that it was less than a year ago that U.S. intelligence estimated that al Qaeda

is and will remain the most serious terrorist threat to the Homeland, as its central leadership continues to plan high-impact plots, while pushing others in extremist Sunni communities to mimic its efforts and to supplement its capabilities. We assess the group has protected or regenerated key elements of its Homeland attack capability, including: a safehaven in the Pakistan Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), operational lieutenants, and its top leadership. Although we have discovered only a handful of individuals in the United States with ties to al-Qaeda senior leadership since 9/11, we judge that al-Qaeda will intensify its efforts to put operatives here.

As a result, we judge that the United States currently is in a heightened threat environment.

Let’s also recall that in January 2007, John Negroponte, then Director of National Intelligence, offered a wolf-like assessment of Iran:

Our assessment is that Tehran is determined to develop nuclear weapons. It is continuing to pursue uranium enrichment and has shown more interest in protracting negotiations than reaching an acceptable diplomatic solution.

In December of that year, the same office, now led by Mike McConnell, issued a National Intelligence Estimate was crying sheep:

We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program; we also assess with moderate-to-high confidence that Tehran at a minimum is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons.

And of course, the shadow hanging over all U.S. intelligence assessments is the botched 2003 estimate that Iraq had an active WMD program. But in this instance the wolf turned out to be a sheep.

Restoring the credibility of U.S. intelligence is an urgent task. What is the point of having intelligence agencies if we cannot even place a modicum of trust in their words?

But how should they go about the task? Ultimately, there is only one approach that will work: get rid of the clowns and start getting things right.

Read Less

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.

Read Less

Al Qaeda Weakening . . .

In a story from the Associated Press we read this:

The Al Qaeda terror group in Iraq appears to be at its weakest state since it gained an initial foothold in the aftermath of the U.S.-led invasion five years ago, the acting commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East said Wednesday in an Associated Press interview. Army Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey, who assumed interim command of U.S. Central Command on March 28, acknowledged that Al Qaeda remains a relentless foe and has not disappeared as a serious threat to stability. But he said an accelerated U.S. and Iraq campaign to pressure Al Qaeda has paid big dividends. “Our forces and the Iraqi forces have certainly disrupted Al Qaeda, probably to a level that we haven’t seen at any time in my experience,” said Dempsey, who served in Iraq in the initial stages as a division commander and later as head of the military organization in charge of training Iraqi security forces.

And this:

Earlier Wednesday, the Army general who oversees U.S. commando operations in the Middle East said that Al Qaeda in Iraq has yet to be vanquished but is increasingly running out of places where local Iraqis will accommodate the group’s extremist ideology. “Is he still a lethal and dangerous threat to us? Absolutely,” Maj. Gen. John Mulholland said in an interview with reporters at the headquarters of U.S. Special Operations Command, the organization with global responsibility for providing Army Green Berets, Navy SEALs and other commandos to combat terrorism. . . . Mulholland acknowledged that Al Qaeda, which U.S. intelligence says is led by foreign terrorists but is populated mainly by local Iraqis seeking to establish a radical Islamic state, still poses a major challenge in the Mosul area of northern Iraq and has occasionally slipped back into areas like Anbar province in western Iraq. “Do we think he can at least try to regain a foothold in Anbar province? Yes, we do think he’s trying to do that,” Mulholland said. While U.S. officials do not believe Al Qaeda is succeeding in re-establishing a significant presence in Anbar – which the group was forced to abandon a year ago as local Sunni Arabs turned violently against it – it does appear that small Al Qaeda cells can still slip into isolated areas and make trouble, he said. “I don’t want to paint a picture – or to convey to you in any way – that Al Qaeda in Iraq is being completely destroyed or rendered irrelevant, because that’s not the case,” he said. “They are still potentially a threat capable of death and destruction against the Iraqi people and our own forces there. But it is not something he can do easily any more.”

This news should be seen within the context of Max’s post earlier today in which he points out that the number of daily attacks in Mosul has dropped at least 85 percent since U.S.-Iraqi forces began an offensive against Sunni insurgents in the city earlier this month. And that news, in turn, follows on progress we’ve witnessed in the last few days in both Basra and Sadr City. And earlier today at his confirmation hearing to take over the U.S. Central Command, General David Petraeus said this:

I should note here that the number of security incidents in Iraq last week was the lowest in over four years and it appears that the week that ends tomorrow will see an even lower number of incidents. This has been achieved despite having now withdrawn 3 of the 5 Brigade Combat Teams that will have redeployed without replacement by the end of July. Recent operations in Basra, Mosul, and now Sadr City have contributed significantly to the reduction in violence, and Prime Minister Maliki, his government, the Iraqi Security Forces, and the Iraqi people deserve considerable credit for the positive developments since Ambassador Crocker and I testified a month-and-a-half ago. In the months ahead, Coalition Forces will continue to work closely with the Iraqi Security Forces in pursuing Al Qaeda-Iraq, their extremist partners, and militia elements that threaten security in Iraq. And though, as always, tough fights and hard work lie ahead, I believe that the path that we are on will best help achieve the objective of an Iraq that is at peace with itself and its neighbors, that is an ally in the war on terror, that has a government that serves all Iraqis, and that is an increasingly prosperous and important member of the global economy and community of nations. [emphasis added]

What are we to make of all this? For one thing, there is no question that on almost every front–including the political and economic front–we’re seeing heartening progress in Iraq. It’s virtually impossible to argue that after far too many years of pursuing a flawed strategy, which came at an enormous cost to both the Iraqi people and the United States, we now have in place the right strategy being executed by the right people. Progress that was unimaginable in Iraq fifteen months ago has been made–and a nation that was bleeding and dying is now binding up its wounds.

General Petraeus’s warning that tough fights and hard work lie ahead cannot be repeated often enough. Military victories in Iraq, as difficult as they have been, are still easier to attain than rebuilding a traumatized and broken society. But we really have no other choice. Given the hopeful developments we have seen since the surge began, to leave now, before our job is complete, would be reckless and shameful and probably catastrophic.

In the latter half of 2006 it was legitimate for war critics to argue that Iraq was irredeemable lost and therefore we should cut our losses and leave. But that case can no longer be made. The debate has shifted from what the right strategy is to one of national will. Will our nation, weary of this long and costly war, continue along the path which has brought about indisputable, and in some cases breathtaking, progress? If we do, there will be honor in our efforts–and, it’s now reasonable to say, success as well.

In a story from the Associated Press we read this:

The Al Qaeda terror group in Iraq appears to be at its weakest state since it gained an initial foothold in the aftermath of the U.S.-led invasion five years ago, the acting commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East said Wednesday in an Associated Press interview. Army Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey, who assumed interim command of U.S. Central Command on March 28, acknowledged that Al Qaeda remains a relentless foe and has not disappeared as a serious threat to stability. But he said an accelerated U.S. and Iraq campaign to pressure Al Qaeda has paid big dividends. “Our forces and the Iraqi forces have certainly disrupted Al Qaeda, probably to a level that we haven’t seen at any time in my experience,” said Dempsey, who served in Iraq in the initial stages as a division commander and later as head of the military organization in charge of training Iraqi security forces.

And this:

Earlier Wednesday, the Army general who oversees U.S. commando operations in the Middle East said that Al Qaeda in Iraq has yet to be vanquished but is increasingly running out of places where local Iraqis will accommodate the group’s extremist ideology. “Is he still a lethal and dangerous threat to us? Absolutely,” Maj. Gen. John Mulholland said in an interview with reporters at the headquarters of U.S. Special Operations Command, the organization with global responsibility for providing Army Green Berets, Navy SEALs and other commandos to combat terrorism. . . . Mulholland acknowledged that Al Qaeda, which U.S. intelligence says is led by foreign terrorists but is populated mainly by local Iraqis seeking to establish a radical Islamic state, still poses a major challenge in the Mosul area of northern Iraq and has occasionally slipped back into areas like Anbar province in western Iraq. “Do we think he can at least try to regain a foothold in Anbar province? Yes, we do think he’s trying to do that,” Mulholland said. While U.S. officials do not believe Al Qaeda is succeeding in re-establishing a significant presence in Anbar – which the group was forced to abandon a year ago as local Sunni Arabs turned violently against it – it does appear that small Al Qaeda cells can still slip into isolated areas and make trouble, he said. “I don’t want to paint a picture – or to convey to you in any way – that Al Qaeda in Iraq is being completely destroyed or rendered irrelevant, because that’s not the case,” he said. “They are still potentially a threat capable of death and destruction against the Iraqi people and our own forces there. But it is not something he can do easily any more.”

This news should be seen within the context of Max’s post earlier today in which he points out that the number of daily attacks in Mosul has dropped at least 85 percent since U.S.-Iraqi forces began an offensive against Sunni insurgents in the city earlier this month. And that news, in turn, follows on progress we’ve witnessed in the last few days in both Basra and Sadr City. And earlier today at his confirmation hearing to take over the U.S. Central Command, General David Petraeus said this:

I should note here that the number of security incidents in Iraq last week was the lowest in over four years and it appears that the week that ends tomorrow will see an even lower number of incidents. This has been achieved despite having now withdrawn 3 of the 5 Brigade Combat Teams that will have redeployed without replacement by the end of July. Recent operations in Basra, Mosul, and now Sadr City have contributed significantly to the reduction in violence, and Prime Minister Maliki, his government, the Iraqi Security Forces, and the Iraqi people deserve considerable credit for the positive developments since Ambassador Crocker and I testified a month-and-a-half ago. In the months ahead, Coalition Forces will continue to work closely with the Iraqi Security Forces in pursuing Al Qaeda-Iraq, their extremist partners, and militia elements that threaten security in Iraq. And though, as always, tough fights and hard work lie ahead, I believe that the path that we are on will best help achieve the objective of an Iraq that is at peace with itself and its neighbors, that is an ally in the war on terror, that has a government that serves all Iraqis, and that is an increasingly prosperous and important member of the global economy and community of nations. [emphasis added]

What are we to make of all this? For one thing, there is no question that on almost every front–including the political and economic front–we’re seeing heartening progress in Iraq. It’s virtually impossible to argue that after far too many years of pursuing a flawed strategy, which came at an enormous cost to both the Iraqi people and the United States, we now have in place the right strategy being executed by the right people. Progress that was unimaginable in Iraq fifteen months ago has been made–and a nation that was bleeding and dying is now binding up its wounds.

General Petraeus’s warning that tough fights and hard work lie ahead cannot be repeated often enough. Military victories in Iraq, as difficult as they have been, are still easier to attain than rebuilding a traumatized and broken society. But we really have no other choice. Given the hopeful developments we have seen since the surge began, to leave now, before our job is complete, would be reckless and shameful and probably catastrophic.

In the latter half of 2006 it was legitimate for war critics to argue that Iraq was irredeemable lost and therefore we should cut our losses and leave. But that case can no longer be made. The debate has shifted from what the right strategy is to one of national will. Will our nation, weary of this long and costly war, continue along the path which has brought about indisputable, and in some cases breathtaking, progress? If we do, there will be honor in our efforts–and, it’s now reasonable to say, success as well.

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Analysis For Dummies

In China’s Great Cultural Revolution, landlords and other capitalist roaders were paraded through the streets wearing dunce caps. The 20,000 analysts in the U.S. intelligence community whose job it is to make sense of the world for the U.S. government are all now compelled to “wear cards around their necks reminding them to remain ‘independent of political considerations.'”

That, at least, is what the Los Angeles Times reports today in a lengthy puff piece about Thomas Fingar, the director of analysis at the ODNI and the fellow who drafted the egregious National Intelligence Estimate of last December that stated, misleadingly, that Iran had halted its nuclear-weapons program in 2003.

The article also describes some of the training new analysts are given in a six-week course called Analysis 101.

During a recent class in northern Virginia, students from a dozen agencies formed teams to work on a war scenario. It was their first day of class, but many seemed to have arrived having absorbed the lessons of Iraq.

Dissent was encouraged. Attempts to goad students into policy debates were rebuffed. As one young analyst went through the mock exercise of briefing a general who was considering an invasion, she offered a pointed warning.

“Once you go into a country and take it over,” she said, “it would be best to have a plan.”

Perhaps a better name for the course is “Analysis for Dummies.”

There are some outstanding people in the U.S. intelligence community, and the fact that we have not been hit a second time after September 11 is testimony to their achievement.

But the stars appear to be those doing operational work, keeping the terrorist watch lists in order, running covert operations, and managing drones armed with Hellfire missiles in places like Waziristan.

Analysis remains a chronic weak spot; the products of this side of the intelligence house are typically either irrelevant or wrong. Indeed, the more one learns about what is going on there, the more convinced one becomes that the CIA and other spy agencies should be concentrating their efforts on purchasing (they are available for a good price in China) 20,000 dunce caps. These would be a good complement to the cards analysts are now required to wear around their necks. Fingar — and his deputy Richard Immerman – should be at the head of the parade.

In China’s Great Cultural Revolution, landlords and other capitalist roaders were paraded through the streets wearing dunce caps. The 20,000 analysts in the U.S. intelligence community whose job it is to make sense of the world for the U.S. government are all now compelled to “wear cards around their necks reminding them to remain ‘independent of political considerations.'”

That, at least, is what the Los Angeles Times reports today in a lengthy puff piece about Thomas Fingar, the director of analysis at the ODNI and the fellow who drafted the egregious National Intelligence Estimate of last December that stated, misleadingly, that Iran had halted its nuclear-weapons program in 2003.

The article also describes some of the training new analysts are given in a six-week course called Analysis 101.

During a recent class in northern Virginia, students from a dozen agencies formed teams to work on a war scenario. It was their first day of class, but many seemed to have arrived having absorbed the lessons of Iraq.

Dissent was encouraged. Attempts to goad students into policy debates were rebuffed. As one young analyst went through the mock exercise of briefing a general who was considering an invasion, she offered a pointed warning.

“Once you go into a country and take it over,” she said, “it would be best to have a plan.”

Perhaps a better name for the course is “Analysis for Dummies.”

There are some outstanding people in the U.S. intelligence community, and the fact that we have not been hit a second time after September 11 is testimony to their achievement.

But the stars appear to be those doing operational work, keeping the terrorist watch lists in order, running covert operations, and managing drones armed with Hellfire missiles in places like Waziristan.

Analysis remains a chronic weak spot; the products of this side of the intelligence house are typically either irrelevant or wrong. Indeed, the more one learns about what is going on there, the more convinced one becomes that the CIA and other spy agencies should be concentrating their efforts on purchasing (they are available for a good price in China) 20,000 dunce caps. These would be a good complement to the cards analysts are now required to wear around their necks. Fingar — and his deputy Richard Immerman – should be at the head of the parade.

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Fool Me Once…

On September 6, 2007, Israel destroyed a Syrian nuclear reactor at al Kibar. Writing about the raid in the New Yorker on February 11, 2008, Seymour Hersh cast doubt on the contention that it was in fact a nuclear facility:

in three months of reporting for this article, I was repeatedly told by current and former intelligence, diplomatic, and congressional officials that they were not aware of any solid evidence of ongoing nuclear-weapons programs in Syria. It is possible that Israel conveyed intelligence directly to senior members of the Bush Administration, without it being vetted by intelligence agencies. (This process, known as “stovepiping,” overwhelmed U.S. intelligence before the war in Iraq.) But Mohamed ElBaradei, the director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations group responsible for monitoring compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, said, “Our experts who have carefully analyzed the satellite imagery say it is unlikely that this building was a nuclear facility.”

One of Hersh’s sources was Barack Obama’s non-proliferation adviser, Joseph Cirincione, who told Hersh flatly that

Syria does not have the technical, industrial, or financial ability to support a nuclear-weapons program. I’ve been following this issue for fifteen years, and every once in a while a suspicion arises and we investigate and there’s nothing.

In the face of unequivocal evidence, Cirincione has acknowledged his error, saying “no one bats 1000.” That of course is true. And the difficulty of assessing what Syria was up to was certainly compounded by Syrian deception. David Albright’s outfit, the Institute for Science and International Security, has put out an important study (complete with photographs) of the “extraordinary camouflage” methods the Syrians employed to disguise the facility.

In assessing the track record of an expert like Cirincione, let’s also keep in mind that tight secrecy, camouflage, and deception in nuclear affairs are nothing new. On the eve of the first Gulf war, thanks to secrecy, the United States was almost completely in the dark about the far-reaching scope of Saddam Hussein’s nuclear program.

In the run-up to the second Gulf war, the problem was reversed. The intelligence community persuaded itself that Saddam had an active nuclear program when in fact he had none.

One would expect experts to draw appropriate lessons from both experiences. First among them is that humility and a measure of self-doubt are important when trying to penetrate other countries’ secrets.

Such qualities were conspicuously absent in Cirincione’s analysis of al Kibar: “There was and is no nuclear-weapons threat from Syria. This is all political,” is what he categorically told Hersh.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

On September 6, 2007, Israel destroyed a Syrian nuclear reactor at al Kibar. Writing about the raid in the New Yorker on February 11, 2008, Seymour Hersh cast doubt on the contention that it was in fact a nuclear facility:

in three months of reporting for this article, I was repeatedly told by current and former intelligence, diplomatic, and congressional officials that they were not aware of any solid evidence of ongoing nuclear-weapons programs in Syria. It is possible that Israel conveyed intelligence directly to senior members of the Bush Administration, without it being vetted by intelligence agencies. (This process, known as “stovepiping,” overwhelmed U.S. intelligence before the war in Iraq.) But Mohamed ElBaradei, the director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations group responsible for monitoring compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, said, “Our experts who have carefully analyzed the satellite imagery say it is unlikely that this building was a nuclear facility.”

One of Hersh’s sources was Barack Obama’s non-proliferation adviser, Joseph Cirincione, who told Hersh flatly that

Syria does not have the technical, industrial, or financial ability to support a nuclear-weapons program. I’ve been following this issue for fifteen years, and every once in a while a suspicion arises and we investigate and there’s nothing.

In the face of unequivocal evidence, Cirincione has acknowledged his error, saying “no one bats 1000.” That of course is true. And the difficulty of assessing what Syria was up to was certainly compounded by Syrian deception. David Albright’s outfit, the Institute for Science and International Security, has put out an important study (complete with photographs) of the “extraordinary camouflage” methods the Syrians employed to disguise the facility.

In assessing the track record of an expert like Cirincione, let’s also keep in mind that tight secrecy, camouflage, and deception in nuclear affairs are nothing new. On the eve of the first Gulf war, thanks to secrecy, the United States was almost completely in the dark about the far-reaching scope of Saddam Hussein’s nuclear program.

In the run-up to the second Gulf war, the problem was reversed. The intelligence community persuaded itself that Saddam had an active nuclear program when in fact he had none.

One would expect experts to draw appropriate lessons from both experiences. First among them is that humility and a measure of self-doubt are important when trying to penetrate other countries’ secrets.

Such qualities were conspicuously absent in Cirincione’s analysis of al Kibar: “There was and is no nuclear-weapons threat from Syria. This is all political,” is what he categorically told Hersh.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

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Get Rid of the Clowns

We’ve returned time and again to the National Intelligence Estimate of last December, which declared flatly, and misleadingly, that Iran’s nuclear-weapons program came to a halt in 2003.

How did this intelligence fiasco happen? Leonard Spector and Avner Cohen, two close students of nuclear-proliferation, recently co-chaired a “roundtable” composed of intelligence officials and outside experts. According to what they learned, the Bush White House itself played a significant role in the botched nature of the declassified summary:

those responsible for the NIE on Iran knew that the heads of the 16 U.S. intelligence agencies had agreed that its key findings would not be declassified. But the White House, fearful that the findings might leak to the media without any official explanation of their significance, overruled the agencies.

By the time the White House decided to release an unclassified summary, the classified version had been produced and was about to be handed over to the congressional intelligence committees. That created a problem. Even though the estimate’s “key findings” were originally intended to be understood in the context of the whole classified report, the intelligence community and the White House felt that they needed to repeat them almost verbatim in the unclassified summary. They worried that any rephrasing of the findings would open them up to accusations of playing politics with the estimate.

That still leaves the question of why the intelligence community spotlighted the finding on Iran’s nuclear weapons program. We know that important new evidence on Iran’s nuclear activities in 2003 had been obtained and that it had required changing a 2005 estimate that the country was pursuing a nuclear weapon. In highlighting the new data, the authors of the 2007 unclassified summary unfortunately left out the context of the previous estimate — that a rogue Iran remained well on course to developing a nuclear capability.

All in all, Spector and Cohen offer an alarming glimpse of serious disarray at the upper levels of the intelligence community. The Iran NIE, they note, is not the only thing it has recently botched.

Last month’s unclassified congressional briefing on Syria’s clandestine nuclear reactor, which was destroyed by Israel on Sept. 6, 2007, was yet another reminder of the challenges confronting the U.S. intelligence community. Still smarting from its gross overestimation of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, the community bent over backward to avoid overstating its case against Syria — and in doing so, it stumbled badly.

In the Syrian case (as with the release last year of part of the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear program) the intelligence community was unnecessarily cautious, and thereby underestimated the threats posed by Syria and Iran. Its efforts to improve precision have only created new confusion and uncertainty.

The key problem has been the intelligence community’s astonishing awkwardness in making clear what’s a fact and what’s an inference. In the case of Iraq, there were few facts on which to build a convincing case that Saddam Hussein was arming himself with weapons of mass destruction. But Hussein’s past pursuit of them, coupled with the anxieties unleashed by 9/11, led U.S. intelligence analysts and many policymakers to infer the worst and leap to conclusions unsupported by the facts.

The intelligence community has now jumped to the opposite extreme with respect to Iran’s and Syria’s nuclear ambitions, where there are more than a few facts. Yet it has virtually refused to draw any conclusions, no matter how obvious, about the two countries’ nuclear programs. The effect has been to seriously understate the dangers Iran and Syria pose and to distort the policy options available to the U.S. to manage them.

The more we learn about the performance of our intelligence agencies, the darker the picture grows. The intelligence community was subject to a radically reform after 9/11. Perhaps some good came of that, including better interagency coordination of counterterrorism operations. Clearly, however, some fundamental problems have not been solved. The analytic side of the house is simply is not up to the job of understanding the outside world, including matters of fundamental importance to our security.

What should be done? Repeatedly discovering that the CIA’s “info is worthless,” Richard Nixon came up with the right idea: His instructions were: “Get rid of the clowns.  — cut personnel 40 percent.”

We’ve returned time and again to the National Intelligence Estimate of last December, which declared flatly, and misleadingly, that Iran’s nuclear-weapons program came to a halt in 2003.

How did this intelligence fiasco happen? Leonard Spector and Avner Cohen, two close students of nuclear-proliferation, recently co-chaired a “roundtable” composed of intelligence officials and outside experts. According to what they learned, the Bush White House itself played a significant role in the botched nature of the declassified summary:

those responsible for the NIE on Iran knew that the heads of the 16 U.S. intelligence agencies had agreed that its key findings would not be declassified. But the White House, fearful that the findings might leak to the media without any official explanation of their significance, overruled the agencies.

By the time the White House decided to release an unclassified summary, the classified version had been produced and was about to be handed over to the congressional intelligence committees. That created a problem. Even though the estimate’s “key findings” were originally intended to be understood in the context of the whole classified report, the intelligence community and the White House felt that they needed to repeat them almost verbatim in the unclassified summary. They worried that any rephrasing of the findings would open them up to accusations of playing politics with the estimate.

That still leaves the question of why the intelligence community spotlighted the finding on Iran’s nuclear weapons program. We know that important new evidence on Iran’s nuclear activities in 2003 had been obtained and that it had required changing a 2005 estimate that the country was pursuing a nuclear weapon. In highlighting the new data, the authors of the 2007 unclassified summary unfortunately left out the context of the previous estimate — that a rogue Iran remained well on course to developing a nuclear capability.

All in all, Spector and Cohen offer an alarming glimpse of serious disarray at the upper levels of the intelligence community. The Iran NIE, they note, is not the only thing it has recently botched.

Last month’s unclassified congressional briefing on Syria’s clandestine nuclear reactor, which was destroyed by Israel on Sept. 6, 2007, was yet another reminder of the challenges confronting the U.S. intelligence community. Still smarting from its gross overestimation of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, the community bent over backward to avoid overstating its case against Syria — and in doing so, it stumbled badly.

In the Syrian case (as with the release last year of part of the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear program) the intelligence community was unnecessarily cautious, and thereby underestimated the threats posed by Syria and Iran. Its efforts to improve precision have only created new confusion and uncertainty.

The key problem has been the intelligence community’s astonishing awkwardness in making clear what’s a fact and what’s an inference. In the case of Iraq, there were few facts on which to build a convincing case that Saddam Hussein was arming himself with weapons of mass destruction. But Hussein’s past pursuit of them, coupled with the anxieties unleashed by 9/11, led U.S. intelligence analysts and many policymakers to infer the worst and leap to conclusions unsupported by the facts.

The intelligence community has now jumped to the opposite extreme with respect to Iran’s and Syria’s nuclear ambitions, where there are more than a few facts. Yet it has virtually refused to draw any conclusions, no matter how obvious, about the two countries’ nuclear programs. The effect has been to seriously understate the dangers Iran and Syria pose and to distort the policy options available to the U.S. to manage them.

The more we learn about the performance of our intelligence agencies, the darker the picture grows. The intelligence community was subject to a radically reform after 9/11. Perhaps some good came of that, including better interagency coordination of counterterrorism operations. Clearly, however, some fundamental problems have not been solved. The analytic side of the house is simply is not up to the job of understanding the outside world, including matters of fundamental importance to our security.

What should be done? Repeatedly discovering that the CIA’s “info is worthless,” Richard Nixon came up with the right idea: His instructions were: “Get rid of the clowns.  — cut personnel 40 percent.”

Read Less

It’s Time to Withdraw the Iran NIE

The November National Intelligence Estimate on Iran declared flatly in its opening sentence that ‘We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear-weapons program.”

This was remarkably deceptive. The statement was accompanied by a disclaimer buried in a footnote saying that “For the purposes of this Estimate, by ‘nuclear weapons program’ we mean Iran’s nuclear weapon design and weaponization work and covert uranium conversion-related and uranium enrichment-related work; we do not mean Iran’s declared civil work related to uranium conversion and enrichment.”

In other words, the NIE reached its conclusion that Iran’s nuclear-weapons program had come to a halt by describing uranium-enrichment efforts as civilian.

Today’s New York Times has a remarkably important story by William Broad containing photographs of Iranian officials touring the uranium-enrichment site at Natanz.

One surprise of the tour was the presence of Iran’s defense minister, Mostafa Mohammad Najjar. His attendance struck some analysts as odd given Iran’s claim that the desert labors are entirely peaceful in nature. In one picture, Mr. Najjar, smiling widely, appears to lead the presidential retinue.

Also participating in the tour was Mossein Mohseni Ejehei, Iran’s minister of intelligence. The caption indicating his presence is mysterious absent from the Times‘s website, but is included in the printed edition of the paper.

The presence of the defense and intelligence ministers on this tour, with the defense minister appearing to lead it, are not definitive indicators of anything. But they do surely cast strong additional doubt on the NIE’s flat contention that the enrichment effort is only “civil work.”

The more we learn about the NIE, the more it appears to be a disgrace. Ranking U.S. officials have already contradicted its findings in their public statements. But it’s clear that it needs to be officially withdrawn, and its authors reprimanded for botching it, undermining U.S. foreign policy, and badly embarrassing U.S. intelligence yet again.  

The November National Intelligence Estimate on Iran declared flatly in its opening sentence that ‘We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear-weapons program.”

This was remarkably deceptive. The statement was accompanied by a disclaimer buried in a footnote saying that “For the purposes of this Estimate, by ‘nuclear weapons program’ we mean Iran’s nuclear weapon design and weaponization work and covert uranium conversion-related and uranium enrichment-related work; we do not mean Iran’s declared civil work related to uranium conversion and enrichment.”

In other words, the NIE reached its conclusion that Iran’s nuclear-weapons program had come to a halt by describing uranium-enrichment efforts as civilian.

Today’s New York Times has a remarkably important story by William Broad containing photographs of Iranian officials touring the uranium-enrichment site at Natanz.

One surprise of the tour was the presence of Iran’s defense minister, Mostafa Mohammad Najjar. His attendance struck some analysts as odd given Iran’s claim that the desert labors are entirely peaceful in nature. In one picture, Mr. Najjar, smiling widely, appears to lead the presidential retinue.

Also participating in the tour was Mossein Mohseni Ejehei, Iran’s minister of intelligence. The caption indicating his presence is mysterious absent from the Times‘s website, but is included in the printed edition of the paper.

The presence of the defense and intelligence ministers on this tour, with the defense minister appearing to lead it, are not definitive indicators of anything. But they do surely cast strong additional doubt on the NIE’s flat contention that the enrichment effort is only “civil work.”

The more we learn about the NIE, the more it appears to be a disgrace. Ranking U.S. officials have already contradicted its findings in their public statements. But it’s clear that it needs to be officially withdrawn, and its authors reprimanded for botching it, undermining U.S. foreign policy, and badly embarrassing U.S. intelligence yet again.  

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The Gap Widens . . .

Today’s Los Angeles Times has an interesting article about the widening gap developing between al Qaeda and its former allies:

Al Qaeda increasingly faces sharp criticism from once-loyal sympathizers who openly question its ideology and tactics, including attacks that kill innocent Muslims, according to U.S. intelligence officials, counter-terrorism experts and the group’s own communications. . . . The criticism apparently has grown serious enough that Al Qaeda’s chief strategist, Ayman Zawahiri, felt compelled to solicit online questions. He responded in an audio message released this month. For more than 90 minutes, Bin Laden’s second-in-command tried to defuse the anger . . . Sayyed Imam Sharif, an Egyptian physician who once was a senior theologian for Al Qaeda, was one of Zawahiri’s oldest associates. The author of violent manifestoes over the last two decades, Sharif did an about-face while incarcerated in Egypt. Several other prominent Muslim clerics and former militants have similarly condemned Al Qaeda.

I have written about this phenomenon elsewhere. Sayyed Imam Sharif–a former Zawahiri mentor who has been called a “living legend within the global jihadist movement”–has done more than an about-face. He has recommended the formation of a special Islamic court to try both Osama bin Laden and Zawahiri and called the 9/11 attacks a “catastrophe for all Muslims.”

This is part of a hugely important, and massively underreported, development: the Muslim world turning again jihadism. We are seeing both a bottom-up and a top-down reaction against al Qaeda, its brutal tactics, and its ideological and religious underpinnings. The situation is still fluid. And there is a huge amount that remains to be done: the struggle over the nature and future of Islam will take (at a minimum) generations. But since the Iraq war began, we have seen much of the Arab and Muslim world turn sharply against bin Ladenism. The “Anbar Awakening” seems to be spreading not only to the rest of Iraq but to the wider Muslim world. This is in part the result of the savagery of jihadists and in part the result of the U.S. military having dealt punishing blows to AQI and other terrorist cells.

It’s fashionable to argue that everything is going poorly in the war against jihadism. In fact, the deeper currents seem to be running in our favor. If, five years ago, you had said that close to the end of this decade a large and growing number of Muslims in the Middle East and elsewhere would be rejecting Islamic extremism, most people would have considered that enormous and heartening progress. And most people would have been right.

Today’s Los Angeles Times has an interesting article about the widening gap developing between al Qaeda and its former allies:

Al Qaeda increasingly faces sharp criticism from once-loyal sympathizers who openly question its ideology and tactics, including attacks that kill innocent Muslims, according to U.S. intelligence officials, counter-terrorism experts and the group’s own communications. . . . The criticism apparently has grown serious enough that Al Qaeda’s chief strategist, Ayman Zawahiri, felt compelled to solicit online questions. He responded in an audio message released this month. For more than 90 minutes, Bin Laden’s second-in-command tried to defuse the anger . . . Sayyed Imam Sharif, an Egyptian physician who once was a senior theologian for Al Qaeda, was one of Zawahiri’s oldest associates. The author of violent manifestoes over the last two decades, Sharif did an about-face while incarcerated in Egypt. Several other prominent Muslim clerics and former militants have similarly condemned Al Qaeda.

I have written about this phenomenon elsewhere. Sayyed Imam Sharif–a former Zawahiri mentor who has been called a “living legend within the global jihadist movement”–has done more than an about-face. He has recommended the formation of a special Islamic court to try both Osama bin Laden and Zawahiri and called the 9/11 attacks a “catastrophe for all Muslims.”

This is part of a hugely important, and massively underreported, development: the Muslim world turning again jihadism. We are seeing both a bottom-up and a top-down reaction against al Qaeda, its brutal tactics, and its ideological and religious underpinnings. The situation is still fluid. And there is a huge amount that remains to be done: the struggle over the nature and future of Islam will take (at a minimum) generations. But since the Iraq war began, we have seen much of the Arab and Muslim world turn sharply against bin Ladenism. The “Anbar Awakening” seems to be spreading not only to the rest of Iraq but to the wider Muslim world. This is in part the result of the savagery of jihadists and in part the result of the U.S. military having dealt punishing blows to AQI and other terrorist cells.

It’s fashionable to argue that everything is going poorly in the war against jihadism. In fact, the deeper currents seem to be running in our favor. If, five years ago, you had said that close to the end of this decade a large and growing number of Muslims in the Middle East and elsewhere would be rejecting Islamic extremism, most people would have considered that enormous and heartening progress. And most people would have been right.

Read Less




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