March 13, 2017 4 Comments
From PowerLine and very much worth your time, as are the comments over there, as is Meyer’s speech at Imprimis. Steven gives us the highlights.
The performance of our country’s intelligence service is the latest example of an issue exploding into the headlines and becoming a shouting match, while failing to clarify anything about the issue itself. This explosion was ignited last fall by allegations that the Russians hacked into Hillary Clinton’s campaign to help Donald Trump win the election. The blast radius expanded after the election, when rumors surfaced that the Russians had deployed their nasty tactic of kompromat to undermine President Trump’s credibility by spreading rumors about his private behavior while in Moscow years ago. All this, on top of failures that had already wreaked havoc at the CIA and our other intelligence agencies—the 9/11 attacks themselves, the mess over weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the weird 2007 National Intelligence Estimate whose key judgment was that Iran had abandoned its nuclear bomb program, Edward Snowden’s NSA espionage activities—has kept the issue of our intelligence service in the headlines. . .
Back in January, when U.S. intelligence chiefs released an unclassified version of the briefing they gave to President-Elect Trump about Russian efforts to influence the November election, Americans learned a phrase that’s unique to the world of intelligence: key judgment. It was a key judgment that Russia had hacked into John Podesta’s email server, and a key judgment that Vladimir Putin preferred Donald Trump to Hillary Clinton. Since these key judgments understandably erupted into a nasty political brawl, let’s take a moment to understand what a key judgment really is. Simply put, it’s the conclusion reached by our most senior intelligence officials, based not only on the evidence they were able to collect, but also on the insights it enabled them to reach based on their knowledge and experience.
A key judgment isn’t the same as a jury verdict. A jury verdict is based solely on the evidence presented to it. In a murder trial, unless the prosecutors can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty, you must vote for acquittal. But in a National Intelligence Estimate, you reach a key judgment by starting with the evidence, then combining it with your own knowledge and experience to reach a conclusion. . .
So why has our intelligence service suffered so many failures during the last decade or so, losing the trust of so many? Because it’s been run by career bureaucrats and administrators who rose to the top by managing intelligence rather than actually doing it. That’s like putting an airline executive with an MBA and a law degree into the cockpit of a jumbo jet. And like bureaucrats and administrators everywhere, our recent intelligence chiefs focused on structure rather than on people. Of course all organizations, including intelligence services, need the proper structure. But especially in an intelligence service, good structure is worthless without the right people—in this case world-class analysts who are deeply knowledgeable about the Mideast, China, Russia, terrorism, and all the rest. Make a list of our country’s leading experts on these subjects. How many of them have held top-level jobs in our intelligence service during the last dozen or so years? How often have the leaders of our intelligence service reached out to these people to seek their advice? The correct answers are: none and rarely.
We are still in the early days of the Trump administration, but to borrow an overused Washington cliché, we should be cautiously optimistic about the future of our intelligence service. Neither Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats nor Director of Central Intelligence Mike Pompeo are professional bureaucrats. They’ve built their careers on substance rather than on management. Each of them has proven he can talk about the key issues that confront us with an impressive level of personal knowledge and insight. Each is capable of actually doing intelligence rather than merely overseeing it. . .
Meyer also talks a bit about why the CIA never looked at weaknesses in the Soviet Union. He says they were never asked. I have no problem with believing that, until Reagan, we were playing defense, playing to not lose, not to win. Part of the trouble is, I think, playing not to lose is a sucker bet. It a winner for administrators and bureaucrats. Why? Because it maintains the status quo, over entire careers and lifetimes. But it isn’t a winner for the country. Winning is a winner for the country.
What for example, would the world be like if the Soviet Union had disappeared at the time of the Hungarian uprising in 1956? From all the information I’ve seen, we would have been very lucky indeed to have made that happen. But Eisenhower didn’t try. I like Eisenhower, but even as a general he tended to be too tied to the plan, and the plan for the cold war was not to lose, it was never to win. Makes you wonder what MacArthur or Patton in the White House might have done. Maybe the same thing, neither was foolhardy.
Anyway, something to think about. What? You thought I had all the answers? I don’t even have all the questions. But I’ll say this, Trump needs, above all, to get control of the government, that has to be ‘Job 1’. If he doesn’t he’ll accomplish very little.