Monday, July 19, 2010

Intelligence about Intelligence

Today The Washington Post launched its Top Secret America Web site. This is the product of a project of roughly two years' duration involving over a dozen Washington Post journalists under the direction of Dana Priest and William M. Arkin. The report itself is so extensive that it is being published in three installments this week. However, you will not easily find any information about the number of those installments on the Top Secret America home page. The easiest way to learn this useful detail is through the "report on the report" released on the BBC News Web site.

However, the BBC seems to have trumped the Post on more than matters of structural architecture. In contrast with the report "Fixing Intel: A Blueprint for Making Intelligence Relevant in Afghanistan," which received so much attention in January when it was released on a public Web page on the Web site of the Center for a New American Security, the Post web site does not (currently at least) provide an "executive summary" of their project's findings. Those interested in such a summary would to better to visit the BBC Web site and turn to the Post only in pursuit of more in-depth details. Currently, the best the Post seems to be offering is a video trailer for a Frontline documentary that will not be broadcast on PBS until October. Furthermore, in the tradition of covering all sides of the story, the BBC has also provided a reaction to the report from David C. Gompert, acting Director of National Intelligence while Barack Obama's nomination of General James Clapper to replace former Director Dennis Blair is being considered.

The irony is inescapable. In the wake of 9/11, intelligence operations have become so bloated as to be virtually unmanageable. This involves not only an organization chart blown out of all reasonable proportions but also "intelligence content" so abundant as to make all the evangelical proclamations about "knowledge management" seem more ludicrous than ever. In the midst of all this, we seem to have forgotten the axiom that the fundamental objective of terrorism is to cause confusion, if not chaos. As I put it after seeing the documentary Leila Khaled, Hijacker, a terrorist is someone determined to make things worse after having been frustrated in all efforts to make them better. If this does not describe what al-Qaeda has done and how they have done it, I do not know what does; and now we have a report that took two years to prepare, which basically concludes that the impact of al-Qaeda on our intelligence operations is tantamount to the physical destruction they have wrought since the morning of 9/11.

This takes us to Gompert's reaction as reported by the BBC. His bottom line is that the efforts of The Washington Post do not "reflect the intelligence community we know." Whether or not this is the case, one of the points of the report is that it is unclear (and probably unlikely) that anyone knows whether or not Gompert's claim is true. One can neither warrant nor refute the claim because it is virtually impossible to negotiate all the data involved in intelligence operations (which includes being cleared to get much of those data in the first place) in order to formulate a substantive argument in favor of either Gompert or the Post. At the very least this supports the Post's claim that confusion is rife, if not dominant, within intelligence operations; and the worst thing we can do is to ignore this proposition, however sincere Gompert's protestations may be.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

so how many disgruntled intelligence contractors and nokia employees do you think are walking around right now with the knowledge required to activate the microphone on your cellphone by remote?