Monday, November 19, 2007


They say it's better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all, but this is only a half-truth. It is hard to imagine anyone who has never loved and surely we all lose eventually. The real truth about love is that it never dies. We just pass it on. Pericles said it best: the only thing we can leave behind on this earth is our place in the hearts of men. So sail on Lily Ring Best. Your love is secure in the hearts of all those who knew you.

Love is like faith, a consuming conviction that defies definition. Yet somehow both define our lives. It's hard to know whether we love because we believe or believe because we love. Surely both represent the triumph of hope over experience. At times like these, the agnostic or atheist among us have neither faith nor comfort - nor humility it seems. They are poor in spirit indeed who can not distinguish between the debits of religion and the credits of belief. Who among us with eyes or ears, who has walked through a crowd, believes that we are the top of the food chain?

Old Testament arrogance gave us dominion over all other creatures. The New Testament parsed the error by giving souls to men alone. Apparently the prophets and evangelists never owned cats or dogs. Yet the failings of religion do not justify cynicism. Life and our beliefs are not dogma; they are works in progress - a road to enlightenment as Eastern believers might say. Even an atheist gets buried face up; sure proof that God has a sense of humor.

So look down now, Sir, on your perfect flower, this Lily who knew nothing is necessary while all things are possible. She is bound for port now with a following wind. Never was a girl better named. Nor has any woman plotted a better course. Faithful wife and dutiful mother, she had the pitch perfect heart, dedicating the better part of her life to others: Roland Charles, Arthur, Judy and Rollie. We thank Lily especially for Judy. She has inherited that pitch perfect heart, dedicating her life to the comfort of others. As for Arthur and Rollie please remember them also as, well, how shall we say, works in progress.

Twenty five hundred years ago Pericles tried to comfort the mothers of Athens who had lost sons in war. Closer to our time Lincoln used those same ancient words to comfort mothers at Gettysburg. He called their sacrifice "the last full measure of devotion." Could we say less about the sacrifice of mothers? The capstone for a noble life is death. So it should be. We are all required to become One. Lily waits for us. Amen.

The Small Town in All of Us

In November I was invited to see a revival of Thornton Wilder's Our Town at the Bryn Mawr School in Baltimore. To be honest, I thought going to Baltimore to see Wilder would be a little like going to Bronx Park to see the leaves change. As we drove up I-95, I recalled Shakespeare's caution that all theater required "a willing suspension of disbelief". Yet, I also remembered Robert De Niro's classic urban challenge in Taxi: "ARE YOU LOOKING AT ME?" Eye contact in a small town reflects good manners; eye contact on the wrong street in the big city can be fatal.

I first saw Our Town in high school but I had a couple of aunts who had seen the original on Broadway. When I asked them what they thought, my Aunt Marge said, "too old, too soon; too smart, too late". My Aunt Wheesy added, "enjoy yourself honey, it's later than you think," a line from a song popular at the time. I remember agreeing with both appraisals. When I read the play again in college and realized that small town folks might just find Wilder amusing, while a city cynic like myself might just find him transformational. And so it was again the other night.

Our Town is a subtle piece of soft sell. Act One draws us into Grovers Corners with the stage manager (James Miller) as a guide. He introduces us to ordinary people in an ordinary town. The principal players are the Gibb and Webb families, next door neighbors. By the end of Act One we know that the boy next door, George (Ali Hong) is falling for the girl next door, Emily (Amanda Wyatt). Sure enough by Act Two George and Emily are at the altar accompanied by all the ordinary misgivings of ordinary people.

Yet beneath the folksy chit chat of Grovers Corners there is an undercurrent of Presbyterian fatalism. As in a Cotton Mather sermon, the citizens of Grovers Corners are dangling like spiders above the flames of fate. Act Three opens with a funeral. We are confronted with that small space between wed and dead. It's Emily. She has died in childbirth.

Emily is Chekov's gun. First we learned to like her, then we love her, then the playwright kills her. For Wilder, death is another ordinary part of life, unremarkable in general. But a specific death like Emily's can be quite extraordinary. She dies giving birth to another generation. Wilder kills her but he doesn't kill hope. Wilder's Emily Webb embodies the two most important, and contentious, human emotions; trust and regret. No relationship is possible without trust and no improvement is possible without regret.

All of the principals In Bryn Mawr's Our Town helped us to find that "willing suspension of disbelief". Yet in the interests of full disclosure, I must admit that I have known Mrs. Webb (Renee Best) since before she was born. I have watched her grow from shy girl to sure woman. I should recuse myself on the merits of Ms. Best's performance. The cynic in me says that it isn't much of a stretch for any girl to play an annoying mother, but the optimist in me says her patronymic speaks for itself.

The real genius of great plays often resides in small parts. Wilder and Bryn Mawr have two; the milkman and the town drunk.

At Bryn Mawr, the milkman, Howie Newsome, is played by a girl (Julie Roland). Yes, he is a she. But the androgyny evaporates the first time Ms. Roland hits her mark. Every time she appears we almost know what she will say, yet we want to hear it anyway. Julie Roland has that undefinable quality called presence. If she follows her nose, she is sure to find a bigger stage.

Spencer Tracy once said that the secret to good acting was to remember your lines and don't bump into the furniture. Yet, pantomime plays a rather large minor role in Our Town. Wilder, and Bryn Mawr it seems, are not overly fond of props or furniture. Mrs. Gibbs (Ren Andrews) and Mrs. Webb are forever fussing with imaginary pots, plates and pans - we must even imagine those shucked peas. Pantomime is the echo of the ordinary. We waste too much of our lives going through the motions.

Nowhere is pantomime put to better use than in the role of Simon Stimson (Johnny Snouffer). He is the organist, choirmaster and town drunk - a trifecta of civic virtue. At once comic and tragic, he suffers from demons unspecified, another dead man walking. Simon, like Emily gets to make one of life's early exits; she a victim of fate, he a victim by his own hand. We don't have to know the specifics of Simon's problems to appreciate his laconic world view. We like him anyway. Johnny Snouffer owns this part.

In the last scene of the play, Wilder brings the entire cast on stage; the dead stage right and the survivors stage left. Emily pleads with her mother-in-law, also deceased, to return to Grovers Corners on her 12th birthday. Mother Gibbs and Simon Stimsom know this is a bad idea. The dead do not look at the living, nor do the living see. Undeterred, Emily returns to the kitchen of her youth. After a few banal moments she pleads with the stage manager: "I can't go on. It goes so fast. We don't have time to look at each other". So there we are left by Wilder and his Emily. We now own the regrets.

Yup, I had a good time at Bryn Mawr the other night. As we left Centennial Hall, I heard an obviously proud mother exclaim; "How do they remember all those lines?" Indeed, it shouldn't be a mystery. Theater, like life, requires practice and it helps if you're doing something you love.

As we drove away from Baltimore, I had one special regret - that this edition of Our Town didn't run for three months instead of three days. Finding the extraordinary in the ordinary takes time. Oh well, that's life in the fast lane. As Bogey might have put it; "Here's looking at you, kid".

Friday, August 17, 2007


The recent Don Imus flap has confirmed the power of words - and the power of the politically correct. No matter that Imus and his producer were using language that is common currency among hip and hypocrite alike. As one editorial put it, "Imus was executed for jaywalking." The usual suspects, Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, led the charge against NBC and Imus. It has become futile yet again to argue that Jackson and Sharpton have no credibility to judge hate speech. Both have been anointed, achieved a special status, above criticism. Indeed, unlike Imus, they have been awarded ethnic immunity.

Nonetheless, the Imus case is small potatoes. The ladies of Rutgers will get over the insult, if not Oprah. Don Imus was rich and famous before the fall, he will continue to be both after the fall. For the moment he has lost his soapbox. Another arrogant white guy bites the dust. Who cares?

We should all care because there is a deadly serious side to the ethnic immunities phenomenon. While all the networks obsessed on the Imus circus, a real drama was unfolding at PBS and its Washington, DC affiliate, WETA. PBS was in the process of showcasing a six night series about Islam after 9/11 entitled "Crossroads." At the eleventh hour, the centerpiece documentary, "Islam vs. Islamists", directed by Martyn Burke, was spiked and replaced by a NewsHour confection called "Muslims in America," produced and directed by Robin McNeil, himself a latecomer to a project three years in the making. We can surmise that McNeil was brought to the project to lend a NewsHour halo of credibility. At the outset, he characterized the "Crossroads" series as "groundbreaking." Indeed, groundbreaking for the weight of evidence ignored. The Burke film did not make the cut because representatives from the Nation of Islam objected at a private screening arranged by PBS and WETA.

Killing the Burke documentary thus removed the keystone and any semblance of objectivity from the entire PBS series. Bernard Lewis, arguably America's most prominent Islamic scholar, has come to the following conclusion, "If the fundamentalists are correct in their calculations and succeed in their war, then a dark future awaits the world, especially the part that embraces Islam." Unlike, "Islam vs Islamists," none of this wisdom is reflected in the McNeil film aired on Wednesday, 18 April.

There is no mention of Elijah Mohamed, Louis Farrakhan, the Nation of Islam, decades of racist and anti-Semitic hate speech or Saudi funding of Wahhabi ministries, mosques, madrases and student groups. A Ray Suarez voice-over suggests in no uncertain terms that the Islamist (radical) threat is somehow different in America than it is in Europe. Did the NewsHour crew miss the attack on 9/11? Did they miss that week several years ago when the Hanafi sect attacked city hall in the heart of Washington, DC? Do they not know of Jose Padilla? Louis Farrakhan may not be the face of Islam but surely he is the most infamous Muslim in America. Are we to ignore a bigot who can mobilize a 'million' men? Are we to accept the pandering of Ray Suarez and ignore the scholarly judgments of Bernard Lewis? The big lie is not simple misrepresentation, it is also what you choose to ignore.

PBS and the wider world of politically correct seem to be on a crusade to ignore, at best, or appease, at worst, the ugly side of Islam in America and elsewhere. So let's be clear about what's at stake here. There are four targets on the Islamists' hit list.

First, there are the apostates, that is those Muslims who do not subscribe to Sharia, religious law. This would include almost all moderate or secular Muslims including Americans. Second, would be the Jews. In this target set, Zionists will be first among equals. If you need to know what the Islam bomb is all about, think Tel Aviv. The Diaspora would follow in short order. The third target is European democracies, or as Oriana Fallaci calls them, the cicadas. Before she died, Fallaci surmised that Europe might be on the road to surrender, thus avoiding conquest. And finally, last but not least, comes America, the "great Satan," the final bastion of capitalism and democracy.

Apologists often defend hate groups by pointing to their good works in the community. This is a little like rationalizing National Socialism by saying that Hitler was a vegetarian. Today, every extremist group has adopted this strategy; good works and terror. Some of the terror is simple intimidation and some of it is simply fatal.

In all of this, the politically correct, anti-Semitic Left and the Islamist Right seem to have made common cause. The Left works from within like termites while the Islamist Right flies passenger aircraft into skyscrapers. Both have capitalism and democracy, one being impossible without the other, in the cross-hairs.

Almost any objective Islamic scholar will tell you that internal struggle within Islam is key to understanding the threat to the Muslim world, Europe, and America. This threat is trans-national. When PBS uses taxpayer monies for "documentaries" which ignore or distort this reality then their product should be called what it
is - propaganda.

Speaking of propaganda, George Bush and American conservatives also need to stop inventing language to hype the threat. The hyperbole is redundant. The term "Islamofascist" comes to mind. Name calling isn't an argument. Fascism is European in origin and historical practice. The goal of Islamists isn't government by dictators; it's worse, government by clerics. And while we're at it, let's drop the pretense of the so-called "War on Terror." We are not at war with a tactic; we are at war with religious fanatics - Islamists.

Harry Reid, ironic representative from Navada has said that we have already "lost the war." He didn't say which war, the sideshow in Iraq or the larger struggle against Islamists. Maybe he is correct in both cases. With the PBS "Crossroads" series as a barometer, Mr. Reid might revise and amend his remarks and change "we lost" to "we surrender."

Mark Twain once said that the difference between the right word and one that is almost right is like the difference between "lightning and lightning bugs". Words matter, indeed!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Tumescent Threat

Enough already! All of this carping about the misuse of Intelligence is getting tedious. To begin, it's irrelevant. Wars are seldom fought for explicit reasons. There are no honest brokers in this debate. Politicians, the Press and the Intelligence Community all have their axes to grind. The hidden agenda is often the agenda. Here are a few issues that don't make it to the chit chat tables at the DNC, RNC, the Press Club or the Intelligence Agencies.


Oil or more specifically, the painful steps required to end a dangerous dependence. And then there's oil money and the irony of Uncle Sap funding both sides of the war. When we audit terror funding can we see which sheik is using our money to support evildoers? Then there are consultants and lobbyists working for Arab governments. How about Kissinger's client list? If we can't see this, how about the list of retired American generals on Middle East retainers? Expecting a realist discussion of the role of oil in our policy may be a little like expecting Nancy Pelosi to ride a bicycle to her vineyard.


The black helicopter crowd is starting to murmur about gentiles dying to make the world safe for a larger Kosher kibbutz. Indeed, Natan Sharansky tells us he believes in the "historical right of Jews to the land of Israel". Indeed! Israel is only democracy in the Levant and our only friend in a nasty neighborhood. Yet, many Americans and most journalists treat Israel like a pariah state. Given a choice between the shadow of a mosque and the light of synagogues, the choice for any
civilized person should be a no brainer. We support Israel for one reason; it's the right thing to do.


Contrary to what you read in the Press, we have always known where to find the WMDs in the Levant. Unfortunately, Chuck Schummer and Barbara Boxer won't let us invade Israel. For thirty years our policy has been to maintain Israeli nuclear hegemony; call it the Sampson option. As long as European and American attitudes towards Israel remain ambiguous, nuclear weapons are a prudent hedge.

Seymour Hirsch has written more on this subject than the Press Corps and Intelligence Community combined in the past fifty years. Please direct all hate mail in his direction.


History is precedent and habits are hazardous. When Bill Clinton was asked why he put his reputation, office and family at risk for a few knob gobs, he said, "Because I could". And so it goes. We did Iraq because we had done her before. Nothing beats a sure thing or a nostalgia poke. Forget revenge or unfinished business. Cheney was right, on substance and metaphor. Most Shia and all Kurds still have their arms open. Now, if we can just get those Sunni to bend over and take it like men. Still, two of three ain't bad.

And now let's look at the critics, those who presume to preach about candor or manipulation.


Take Congress, our beloved parliament of whores. Are you familiar with 'earmarks'? This is that process where a special interest group pays a handsome fee to some K Street lobbyist to "guarantee" that an designated sum will be shoveled out the back door of Congress to the special interest, neatly circumventing daylight and the usual appropriations process. Congressmen then receive a kickback in the form of campaign contributions, a job for a relative or friend, or a donation to the representative's favorite charity. This circle jerk grabs your taxes in the dark. We can't even find out which bitch in the bordello is picking our pockets. Point of privilege, thank you. Talk about cooking the books, these weasels don't keep books.

Here's the problem on the Hill. Most politicians are lawyers. The legal trade is like the psycho babble industry, the strategic ethic is to keep the ball in play. Robert Byrd, dean of dark room deals, tells us that senators "are the heart and soul of the republic". No sir, more like the armpit and asshole. If we can mix a metaphor for a moment - a college of cockroaches with tenure.


Now for the Press, our pious fourth estate. We could start with Scooter Libby, the New York Times and that infamous yellow cake. Too easy. We could look at plagiarism, a standard tool in many press kits. Or ad hominem arguments that blur the line between fact and vitriol. Maureen Dowd and Frank Rich have been feasting on this carcass for 50 years. Too easy. Let's limit this discussion to fraud...outright invention.

Cast a net over CBS (at least twice), the New York Times and the Washington Post. Do the names Mike Wallace, Dan Rather, Jason Blair or Janet Cooke ring a bell? These journalists didn't just cook the books, they torched the cafe.

Their histories have one thing in common, bias and, our old friend, hidden agenda. Wallace (CBS vs. Westmoreland), Rather, Blair and Cooke were telling their editors or producers what they wanted to hear. Ben Bradlee got his bias caught in his zipper during a recent interview with Charlie Rose when he tried to explain the lack of fact checking in the Cooke case. He said editors like him (white residents of Georgetown) didn't spend much time in the areas (black and poor ) fictionalized by Cooke. Her fraud was nominated for journalism's highest prize by the Washington Post. She won! In its current configuration the Pulitzer prize is a kind of special Olympics for political correctness and lame journalism.

More recently, two national correspondents for the New York Times got their tits caught in the political wringer. One was pimping for the Left (on social issues) and the other for the Right (rationale for the Iraq war). Guess who got fired? Pompous editors or producers will tell you with a straight face that reporters suppress their personal beliefs when writing or broadcasting. This fallacy is first cousin to claims that private vice is unrelated to pubic virtue. Sorry Bill and Hillary devotees!

Like many lobbyists on K Street, budding Media stars often make their bones as partisan political slugs. When they graduate to the real world, or should we say the world of real money, they bring their bones with them. If polls on the subject provide any evidence, politics may be the best bullet on an aspiring journalist's resume. Indeed, the best political pimps often get the top network jobs: Tim Russet, Chris Mathews and George Stephanopolus take a bow!

Editors and producers would also have you believe that journalism and Intelligence are worlds apart. Not! Leakers are bread and butter for the Press. The Fourth Estate often carries water for Intelligence, just as they do for politicians - especially where agendas coincide. The recent flurry of NIE leaks speaks to this phenomena eloquently.

We need to be mindful of an important distinction between journalistic dishonesty and intelligence manipulation. On a given day you might be lucky if a dozen people read an NIE. Press and Radio/TV networks have a daily audience in the millions. Hopefully, the Agora, the marketplace of ideas, will save us from Hal Raines and Ben Bradlee. The Intelligence Community, as we shall see, is a tougher nut.


The final category of critics are my personal favorites. Let's call them what they are, shots from the grave. This is that kiss and tell cottage industry of retired generals and former intelligence officers who find their integrity after they get fired or retired. Many of these, say Richard Clarke, have been passed over or coughed up like hairballs. Some like Dwight Eisenhower and Maxwell Taylor were genuine men of accomplishment who suffered from late-blooming conscience. Ike talked about the dangers of the military/industrial complex when he was on the 19Th hole. Taylor railed against nuclear weapons and a priapic Air Force after he vacated the E-ring.

The worst of these are those with personal gripes. The late Deputy Director of the FBI aka "Deep Throat" is an infamous example. How would Watergate have played in the eyes of Congress and the public if they had known that a major source was a passover at the FBI? It's a stretch, but you could argue Woodward and Bradlee didn't have an agenda. Then you would also believe they couldn't figure who was using who. Unfortunately, this is the question not often asked. Nor are leakers asked why they didn't speak up when they could have made a difference. Did I forget to mention Daniel Ellsberg?


Now that we have killed some of the messengers, let's save a few rounds for the Intelligence Community. How come history's largest spook network can't find its ass with a flashlight and a road map? Here's a short list of problems that didn't make the 9/11 Commission's dance card.


Intelligence is a Monopoly. Not just any monopoly but a government monopoly. Have you rode AMTRAK lately, stood in line at the DMV, tried to make eye contact at the Post Office? The best is last. Have you sent your kid to an urban public elementary, middle or high school? If you work in any of those institutions you don't have to be efficient, relevant, productive, creative, successful or polite. Like the Wizard of Oz, you don't have to think outside the box. You are the box.

We have erected a very expensive and impressive edifice. Yet, behind the walls of Intelligence sits a timid, flaccid little man holding a wet finger in the air. He probably looks a lot like George Tennant or Louie Frey.


They say you can't tell the truth and survive in politics. Indeed! The Intelligence Community is political, a part of the Executive Branch. Truth for politicians is not some objective reality, it's what they believe. And better still, like it is for everyone else, what they want to hear. George Tennant was a politician, a staffer from the Hill. We have already covered the ethical standards on that pile. But wait, Tennant served two presidents one from each party, he was bipartisan. Indeed he was.

Inside the beltway, telling both parties what they want to hear is the real definition of bipartisan. The image of Tennant watching Bush as he addressed Congress on yellow cake and Powell as he rationalized the Iraq war at the UN only had one possible message; Intelligence endorses this crap. Nothing short of privatization will get the politics out of Intelligence analysis.


Let's agree at the outset that no one ever made admiral by asking for fewer boats. We all think bigger is better. Ask any bimbo or her plastic surgeon. Or try and convince a lawyer that you can't solve a problem by throwing money at it. The Intelligence Community is no exception. Nonetheless, size is a dead hand, especially when the enemy is small, agile, flexible and lethal.

The various sixteen agencies that makeup the Intelligence Community are like a large flock of geese. They eat a lot of green, the occasional bug, and then they shit often and profusely. The bureaucracy acts like a septic tank, holding choice bits in suspension. Then comes a tedious coordination where changing "happy to glad" often constipates the birds. When something floats to the top, it is usually characterized by painful prose and cover your ass content. Rhetorical fellatio anyone?

There are only two things certain about any intelligence product; you know who received it, not who read it. Condi Rice gets to say "amen" here. One of the 9/11 Commission chairmen recently referred to the President's Daily Brief (PDB) as the "gold standard". Bullshit! The PDB like the NIE are simply things upon which the community agrees.

There is an important exception, tactical or military intelligence. Here we are talking about local and global sensors and all their excellent derivatives: maps charts, photos and target materials. The myth among the alphabet soup agencies and a snarky Press is that military intelligence is an oxymoron. Only morons believe this. Military intelligence is the gold standard. This is true because military officers know something about objectives. They understand what is required to find, identify, capture or destroy. Think of military intelligence as the shield and the sword. Indeed, many of these guys, like Spartans, come back from the fight on their shields?


What was Sandy Berger up to at the National Archives before his 9/11 testimony? A charitable take would be that he had an irresistible urge to pad his Johnson with code words. Safe money says he was stuffing his briefs with classified memos embarrassing to the Clintonistas.

Surely classification has a legitimate role in protecting sources and methods. Unfortunately, as Mr. Berger could tell us, it also masks less savory practices, like covering our asses. Classification also shrouds many of those hidden agendas. My favorite was the debate over missile and bomber gaps and all those Air Force footnotes to Cold War NIEs. In those days it didn't hurt your budget pitch to convince the Hill that we were losing the arms race. The belief that Russians (nee Soviets) were ten feet tall may have originated here. Kevin Lewis, the sage of Santa Monica at RAND Corporation, christened all "bigger is better" arguments as the Tumescent Threat.

Classification also protects shabby analysis and incompetence. I recall an iconic photo of Washington, DC, superimposed by the outline of a Soviet era tank factory. I witnessed this sleight of hand so many times, I finally asked the DIA briefer what it was supposed to mean. He said the audience could draw its own conclusions. The audience was Congress and the White House.

Secrecy is also a barrier to connecting those dots. "Eyes Only" caveats prevent analysts from seeing evidence that is often available only to principals. When competence and security arm wrestle, security usually wins.

A final debit of our obsession with inappropriate secrecy is that it is used to hide programs that could not possibly survive the cockroach test, daylight that is. The late CIA/DIA excursions into remote viewing, a euphemism for the use of psychics to see into the Kremlin, is an egregious example. As with Congress, secrecy in the Executive Branch is often a mask for mischief.


The intelligence monopoly, its size and secrecy are all structural problems. These are compounded by process problems, the most obvious of which is politicization. We really don't need any more evidence than that photo of Tennant leering over Colin Powell's shoulder at the UN.

Tennant is to Intelligence what Rather is to Journalism. They're both political, they both cooked the books and they both got caught. Negroponte's most recent NIE on terrorism, leaked to the press, speaks for itself.

Defenders of Rather and Tennant etched their scams in stone by raising the Himmler defense. Prior to WWII Himmler was presented with an annotated copy of the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" by some Jewish notables. He dismissed the forged facts by claiming the conclusions were still valid. More recently, Douglas Feith, late great second guesser at DOD boldly claimed "Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence" (he was talking about those WMD's). More on cliche wisdom later.

Speaking of cliches, those infamous "stovepipes" celebrated by the 9/11 Commission are a myth. The problem inside the Intelligence Community isn't lack of coordination or lack of fusion it's more like outright cultural hostility. Some anecdotal evidence provides some insight.


If a CIA guy comes to an inter-agency meeting he lifts his leg and pisses on the wall. Just to let you know who comes from the alpha agency. If a FBI representative is present, he may do it twice. When an NSA, aka puzzle palace, analyst attends he will be accompanied by a supervisor. It's not just "mother may I", it's a "bring your mother" culture at NSA. An outside observer might mistake such meetings as group for passive aggressives.

DIA is a stepchild fashioned from the detritus of the old military agencies. While at the Pentagon, it was known as the mushroom factory. No doubt due to workspace in the mezzanine basement. Below grade offices at the Pentagon are notorious for rodents, asbestos, fungi and malcontents. Now that DIA has moved to Bolling AFB, it has been rechristened the Death Star. For years DIA had all the symptoms of a shotgun marriage.

These same problems will no doubt plague the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), already known inside the beltway as the Department of Duct Tape. As we rearrange the intelligence deck chairs yet again it's hard not to be cynical. Indeed, trying to explain his Katrina performance, the late director of FEMA complained that Chertoff had siphoned the best people to DHS. This is a little like complaining about the neighbor who dug up your dead cats.

Politics and cultural friction are actually minor problems compared to the chasm that separates Intelligence from policy. The purpose of Intelligence and analysis is to warn, educate or change paradigms. In short, inform policy and make prudent action possible. The task is easy to define. Success is another matter.


Competence is a function of action. Acts are driven by Belief (faith, if you will) Sense or Reason. Beliefs are all those generalizations we have internalized by virtue of heredity or experience. Nature and nurture rule in this sphere.

Sensory knowledge is more immediate. It's what we can see, hear, smell, touch or feel. It is the realm of intuition, emotion and common sense. Although common sense is not as common as you might think. When confronted with danger, we freeze, flee or fight. Acts all driven by our senses.

Reasoning is a kind of thumb sucking and naval gazing. The formal variety is a parvenu, Aristotle forward. This is the realm of fact gathering and analysis and all their tedious cousins; logic, mathematics, sciences and whatever you use to balance your checkbook. The optimistic and naive among us like to believe reasoning proceeds action. Though we like to think that reason is in the driver's seat, in the world of national security and politics, it seldom even makes the bus. Beliefs and senses have been around a lot longer and they have many more adherents.

Belief, sense and reason are all necessary to our cognitive or analytical faculties, but only belief is sufficient. Truth is what you believe. Senses can be deceived, facts can be forged (Dan Rather takes a bow here) and reasoning can be fallacious. Thus our faith or our minds are not easily changed.

Marx once said that ideology is a prison without walls. He should have known, his religion put 70% of the world's population behind bars. Belief almost always trumps feeling or reason. We can dismiss this phenomenon with name calling. The word ideologue comes to mind. However, this allows us to avoid the analytical cipher; how to bridge the gap between analysis and acceptance?


Questions of beliefs and reason have a good pedigrees. Socrates tried to undermine the belief in democracy and paid with his life. "Impiety", lack of faith, was the charge. A capital offense back in the day. Socrates was surely our first thumb sucker, an anti-democratic intellectual without a grain of common sense. He had little faith in the wisdom of crowds. He died trying to score debating points.

His student Plato kicked the can. He suggested mere humans couldn't know the truth, only reflections or shadows. Closer to our time, Alfred North Whitehead picked up the Platonic thread and asserted that there were no truths, only half truths. Moral relativists have been plowing this furrow ever since.

Plato's student, Aristotle, threw his patron over the rail and crafted all those "ics" and "ologies" that allow us to parse what we think we know into a thousand parts. Reason is also that faculty that allows us to think we are smarter than we are. Or as Donald Rumsfeld might put it; "we don't know what we don't know." As many recent events suggest, after 2400 years, reason does not often speak truth to power. The faith of our fathers, and occasionally common sense, still rule the roost.

In the end, the faith/reason conflict is a bit of a straw man. It's not a fair fight; two, faith and sensibility, against one, reason. And reason is still a junior partner. The senior partners have been in business for 100,000 years. Lastly, reason is a bit of a floozie, she often rolls over for every new paradigm carrying a wad of facts.


Our tendency to ignore the power of belief has two roots. Firstly, faith or belief is too often confused with religion and therefor ignored or dismissed. Secondly, the power of reason to overcome beliefs, especially religion, is vastly overrated.

Secular rationalists have long assumed that influence of religion would diminish with the growth of the global village. In fact, religion has exploded to fill the vacuum of failed secular ideologies; communism, national socialism and fascism come to mind. Religion is not just a growth business; it now uses the instruments of democracy to undermine the very freedoms which make science possible. In short, a poison pill. Indeed, the orthodox variants of all major religions have little use for reason or science. Religion thus represents both a domestic and international threat to stability, to say nothing of progress. You will not hear of this at the academy or from the televised Sunday morning gas bags.

Ironically, political correctness and a post-enlightenment hangover are sapping the precious bodily fluids from scientists and academics - or progressives as they like to think of themselves. With the possible exception of Oriana Fallacci, few intellectuals have come forward to condemn the intolerance of Jewish, Islamic or Christian orthodoxies. Indeed we tolerate bigotry, divisiveness, ignorance and even stupidity in the name of diversity and religious "freedom". The very phrase is an oxymoron. No orthodoxies hold elections. Clerics are anointed or appointed. The power of priests, like the power of politicians, professors and pundits, is underwritten by the terror of tenure.

Back in the day, few rationalists were willing to reassess the value systems of a science which gave us nuclear, chemical and biological weapons to say nothing of an industrial revolution predicated on colonial exploitation. Blood diamonds were not invented by Leonardo DiCaprio. And you might also recall, long before John Kerry, Einstein was for nuclear weapons before he was against them.

The progressive and rational were also the first to embrace Marx and his German philosophical antecedents, a vein of thought which continues to enriched Communists, Fascists and Nazis. None of this bodes well for reason, science or the academy to be the vanguard for truth, justice or the American way. The same might be said for our legal, political and journalistic oligarchies. Indeed, reason is an unlikely ally in any ongoing "clash of civilizations".


Here, two recent examples are instructive: the 9/11 Commission and Douglas Feith group at the Pentagon.

Ad hoc committees, commissions or offices have one thing in common, they are a vote of no confidence in the official structure. Membership is drawn from the usual suspects. Indeed, some cadre are often unindicted co-conspirators. Big shout out to Bob Kerry and Jamie Gorelick! These special commissions resemble legal star chambers; fact gathering, witnesses and summary judgments. They are models of Aristotelian induction. Logical sound and fury signifying nothing.

The outcomes from such groups are predictable; per diem, platitudes, a deck chair shuffle and some variation of bigger is better! If you press such groups and ask why they don't name names, roll heads or deconstruct an agency or two, the response is equally predictable; "We don't want to conduct a witch hunt." Hoping, of course, that the taxpayer might not recall that the witches were actually innocent.

In the end what you have is a failure of operational reasoning compounded by a failure of critical reasoning. The late 9/11 Commission is no exception.

First, there was the failure to indite or execute the guilty. Then came a failure to torch any cognizant but obviously culpable agency. Then the guilty and culpable were rewarded with bigger budgets. Verily, like Janet Cooke, the President even gave a medal to the late Director of Central Intelligence.

The net result of the 9/11 Commission's recommendations is a wider and taller Intelligence Community. They validated a new layer of blubber and three new agencies. More tumescence if you will. Also vastly more expensive. Few will note that mindless spending is also one of the objectives of those evildoers. The terrorism cash cow is now milked by a thousand hands.

Ironically, hidden agendas and misplaced zeal often dovetail. In spite of its name, DOD has never been much interested in defense - the military capability. Surely you noticed during the 9/11 attacks. The Coast Guard our only defensive service, is now sailing under a DHS flag. What's next? Air and coastal artillery arms for Chertoff. Or maybe we could put all of the Marines under Barbara Bodine at State. If you think we are guided by logic, reason or scientific analysis in the national security arena, you would be wrong.

And now for the late Douglas Feith and that special intelligence unit at the Pentagon. It would be easy to dismiss this guy as another moron. However, the message that such groups send to the rest of the Intelligence Community is corrosive: Evidence doesn't matter! If you don't tell us what we want to hear, you're not looking hard enough! Or maybe, if you don't give us the answers we need, we will create a special unit for policy support! When you hear that a special unit has been created so that "fresh eyes" can look at the problem, stand by for a pimp walk. Reason indeed!


At this point we should all be feeling a little like Hemingway, ready to rack a round into the chamber. There are no easy solutions to any of the forgoing.

Hidden agendas are what they are. Expecting candor from politicians is a little like hoping your dog will have kittens. The structural problem, the large secret monopoly is also impervious. The chances of ending the Intelligence monopoly are about as good as ending the public education monopoly. Here you also encounter Clintonian logic, being and not being. Sixteen Intelligence stovepipes, bad! Sixteen Intelligence voices, good! And then there's the process problem. Nothing short of brain surgery here. Reason has been pimped out to our foregone conclusions.

The failing that underlies all of these problems is not just the absence or misuse of reason or logic; rather it is the lack of personal integrity or public morals. Our principal vice is cowardice; the absence of heart among Politicians, the Press, Intelligence officers and the likes of Tennant, Negroponte, Kean, Hamilton and more recently the Baker Iraq Study Group. You could read the 9/11 Commission Report, the Iraq Study Group Report and the latest NIE on terror and come to believe the threat need to be reorganized rather than defeated..


If we could reach back beyond Aristotle's rationality we might touch Pericles - present at the birth of democracy. Athenian Greeks had a social syllogism which began with "arete", personal excellence - physical, mental and moral. Personal excellence enriched the family which in turn enriched the state. This notion of an invisible hand was later incorporated into economic theory by Adam Smith. Pericles and Smith knew that real democracy and real entrepreneurial capitalism, came from the bottom up, not top down. So much for imposing democracy.

As he lamented the war dead of the Peloponnesian campaign, Pericles instructed the citizens of Athens; "the secret of happiness is freedom and the secret of freedom is a brave heart". He was admonishing his constituents to do the right thing - as soldiers, citizens and statesmen. He drew no lines between private vice and public virtue.

Our political, journalistic and government institutions seem to have little or no capability for this kind of introspection. When caught out, we try and smother critics with bullshit. Deception and manipulation are symptoms of ignorance and stupidity. Ignorance may just be what we don't know, but just as surely, stupidity is what we do know and choose to ignore. The former is unfortunate, the latter might be fatal.


Friday, August 10, 2007


We often assume that achievement is fungible; talent in one subject provides a license to assert conclusions in areas unrelated to education, expertise or experience. Pronouncements from Rosie O'Donnell on the behavior of I-beams under intense heat comes to mind. Apparently the structural engineers on The View don't believe that fire melts steel, thus fueling another post- 9/11 conspiracy theory. Other examples would include a virtual legion of entertainers providing their unsolicited advice on foreign aid, diplomacy, war fighting and national strategy. In this group Bono and Sean Penn stand out. Why two Keith Richards clones think they are qualified to give advice on national security is a national mystery. More recently the speaker of the House of Representatives, heretofore known for her expertise on political pork, flew off to the Middle-East to launch a unilateral peace initiative with a tyrant, bypassing the National Security Council, the Department of State and the White House in the process.

Surely in a democracy everyone is entitled to their opinions no matter how ill informed. The real question here is not the players but the stage. Why do we provide the forums for celebrities to spout nonsense, embarrass themselves and insult public discourse? The short answer is a Media obsessed with arguments not answers. Enlightenment doesn't sell as well as food fights. There isn't much of a market for serious discussion of serious subjects.

And too often even serious people use their celebrity as a kind of omniscience. Socrates parlayed his celebrity as an Agora gadfly into an assisted suicide. Most of what we know of Socrates comes through a fawning Plato who didn't think we could know truth only half-truths. Yet some Socratic nonsense is still with us in whole measures.

First there's that infamous Socratic method; pedagogical interrogation. Learning by questioning the untutored, exposing their false assumptions. The modern version has has been reduced to "there's no such thing as a bad question". Surely there are bad questions large and small. Questioning freedom or democracy was then as it is today, a bad question. As Churchill might have said, considering the alternatives. Some questions are prudent and some are fatal. Socrates was tried for impiety, lack of faith (in democracy). He and his followers were questioning the very freedoms which made their debates possible, a tragic error in logic. On small issues, it is very unlikely that Socrates ever asked his wife if she was gaining weight, needed another pair of shoes or another handbag. Imprudent questions all.

Socrates also famously told us; "there is only one good - knowledge; and only one evil - ignorance". Had he the benefit of Aristotle's logic, Socrates might not have conflated knowing and acting. Good and evil are moral questions which require choice and action. Knowledge is a function of opportunity, access or experience. Ignorance is ethically neutral. We are all ignorant on some subject or other. As that celebrated Pentagon sage once said; "We don't know what we don't know". If there is a moral judgement to be made, it concerns ignorance and stupidity. Ignorance is simply the absence of knowledge; stupidity is the absence of judgement in the presence of knowledge. In another context Pericles nailed the distinction; "There is no shame in poverty. The shame is not trying to overcome poverty".

Socratics were notorious anti-democrats, no believers in the wisdom of crowds. Then as now, intellectuals couldn't see themselves ruled by plumbers or carpenters, people who didn't swim in a sea of abstractions. Plato argued for a state ruled by philosopher kings. Today's democratic oligarchy of lawyers is surely an ironic echo of the Platonic ideal.

Closer to our time, Albert Einstein wandered out of the academic cloister to advise us on strategy and then world government. First he was for nuclear weapons then he was against them. As an abstraction, nuclear explosions seemed to be an interesting project; the reality of bombs proved less savory. From the front lines in Princeton, New Jersey, Einstein also advised that world government would be impossible without American leadership. It is almost impossible to think that he didn't know that "world government" was the objective of Nazis and Communists, not the goal of democracies. The essence of democracy is free will, choice and competition; competing ideas, competing politics and competing industries. World government is the antithesis of freedom and surely would be the death knell of competition. A world of scoreless soccer is no world at all.

When intellectuals stray from experience or expertise, they often morph into idiot savants. Like many German refugees of his day, Einstein could reject Nazis yet admire Marxists - as if they were different creatures. The only significant different between National Socialism and Soviet Communism was that the first was chauvinistic and the latter was ecumenical.

Indeed Karl Marx, like the Socratics, constructed an elaborate circular argument, a snake devouring its own tail. The critique of capitalism would abolish the very marketplace that made the Renaissance, the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution possible. Marx lacked both the expertise or moral credibility to dabble in economics or politics. Like Socrates and Blanche Dubois, he depended on the kindness of strangers for a livelihood. In the middle of the Industrial Revolution, Marx could or would not find employment to feed his family. Indeed, at least one of his children starved to death, sacrificed on an altar of abstractions. Likewise, Socrates sacrificed his own life trying to score debating points.

This is not to say that idiot savants are without influence. Words matter. The written word matters permanently. Beyond words, it's not hard to imagine what Bono, Einstein and Marx have in common. All proceed on a single false assumption; some kind of global village would be an improvement on the messy, fractious world we live in.

Einstein would have America lead the charge to Utopia. Yet he would ignore the centrifugal forces of world politics; the number of separate nation states has doubled since WWII. Today, Bono would redistribute wealth, North to South, from the developed to the undeveloped. All the while ignoring tyranny, corruption and incompetence. Indeed, in his zeal to save Africa, ignoring the euphemistic "troubles" in his own back yard. And finally modern Marxists (Chomsky comes to mind) and now radical Islamists still see democracy and capitalism as the two great evils of the world. It is no coincidence that political and religious extremists live by the same binary code - believe or die.

Bernard Lewis tells us that all extremists believe in democracy - at least once.