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.


1 comment:

Mark R. Iocolano said...

Mr. Donovan - I am commenting here because it's the best way of contacting you that I can think of. I was a very close friend of Kevin Lewis, the "sage of Santa Monica," whom you mention in this post. You may be unaware that Kevin passed away in April of 2008. Several of Kevin's friends and colleagues from RAND (I am not from RAND; Kevin and I met in college) are trying to find a copy of Kevin's satirical work, "The Tumescent Threat." I heard about it for the first time at Kevin's memorial service. Everyone from RAND seems to have lost his copy, despite the fact that hundreds of copies were circulated. Would you happen to have a copy, or know where we could locate one? You can confirm this information by looking at "Kevin N. Lewis" on Wikipedia, googling him, checking with RAND, or by visiting Please feel free to contact me at miocolano AT hot mail DOT com.