Patterico's Pontifications


Dafydd: Counter-Intuitive Argument

Filed under: Political Correctness,Politics,Terrorism,War — Dafydd @ 8:47 pm

Since 9/11, no U.S. agency has taken a worse whuppin’, from both left and right, than the CIA. The Agency has been accused of everything from causing the terrorist attacks by sheer incompetence all the way to being traitors who hate Bush so much they willingly allowed the attacks, just to spite him.

But the more I think about it, the more this seems like complete garbage to me: I think the CIA is doing a great job… at doing what they were compelled to do by We, the People.

Compelling Intelligence Analysis

Over on my blog away from blogs (which means always, since I don’t yet have a blog), Power Line, my cyberbuddy John just got himself into a contretemps over the CIA’s supposed culpability in the “intelligence failures” of the last fifteen or twenty years.

John linked an article by the normally reliable Bill Gertz of the Washington Times which pointed the Flying Fickle Finger of Flake at the CIA for missing a whole slew of major developments in Red China’s massive arms buildup of the past decade.

But an actual CIA analyst, recently retired (Owen Johnson) — or so Johnson describes himself — responded (Power Line is one of the most widely read blogs in the White House, and evidently widely read among spooks as well). Johnson disputed virtually every aspect of the Gertz story, and John at Power Line was mensch enough to post Johnson’s lengthy response in toto. (John also includes a response from another self-described CIA analyst who partially disputes the dispute of Johnson; so it goes).

Gertz had based his article upon a “leaked” report primarily written by Robert Suettinger, whom Gertz describes as “a National Security Council staff member for China during the Clinton administration and the U.S. intelligence community’s top China analyst until 1998.” But Johnson notes that Suettinger was not “the U.S. intelligence community’s top China analyst;” in fact, he was not an analyst at all but a politico, a Clinton apparatchik. And it is hardly surprising that a Clintonista would try to blame the CIA for problems caused by the Big He.

More substantively, Johnson specifically notes that every one of these “missed” stories was, in fact, included in various reports he, himself sent up the chain for years… but which were rejected by the Clinton administration, at the behest of Bill Clinton himself, as well as the Clinton national-security and intel team (such as it was, and it by and large wasn’t). In other words, if we believe Johnson — and by golly, I find that I do — then the problem wasn’t at CIA, which was doing its job; the problem was the head of the fish, which was starting to stink up the place.

Completely Idiotic Allegations

Many other attacks have been lodged against the CIA… for example, that they completely missed the significance of al-Qaeda because they had no agents infiltrated into that incredibly closed agency, or into Iraq or Iran, or indeed anywhere else; and that therefore they had to rely upon less effective signals intelligence — intercepts and such supplied by the NSA. But we all should know why that was the case: the fact of the matter, now almost completely admitted at least by the right and not convincingly disputed by the left, is that twenty-five years of restrictions and prohibitions prevented the CIA from using “humint”… so what else were they to do?

From Frank Church to the odious Otis Pike (whose commission included both Rep. Les Aspin — later Clinton’s first Secretary of Defense — and radical peacenik leftist Rep. Ron Dellums!) to Robert Torricelli to 9/11 commissioner and erstwhile Janet Reno aide Jamie Gorelick, powerful politicians in Congress and the DoJ had hacked and chopped away at the CIA’s ability to gather intelligence by any direct means (see “Proposals for Intelligence Reorganization 1949-2004, by Richard A. Best, jr., at the Congressional Research Service).

The primary recommendations of the Church Commission and the Pike Commission were to require briefings of, and often approval by, every senator or representative who could tie his own shoe laces about every covert operation undertaken, planned, desired, or dreamt by the CIA or any other intelligence agency. The problem, of course, is that Congress is about as close-mouthed as Rabbi Glickman on Seinfeld: anything briefed to a congressional committee will be found on CNN (hence broadcast to the targets of the covert action) within three and a half hours.

The Torricelli Principle — about the only time that senator and that word were spoken in the same sentence — and Jamie Gorelick’s “wall of separation” between intelligence and law enforcement prevented analysts from “connecting the dots” even when they managed to get the dots drawn in the first place.

And the political leadership of Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, and even Gerald Ford before them ensured that when some CIA analyst, against all odds, managed to sneak some actual intelligence recommendations to the White House, it was swiftly and surely ignored.

Collapsing Intel Ability

These restrictions combined to make it virtually impossible to send American agents anywhere; instead of American James Bonds infiltrating THRUSH and SPECTRE, the CIA had to rely upon sigint and upon walk-in blabbermouth-intel from political animals like Ahmed Chalabi… who had, of course, his own agenda and political ambitions. And even this puny bit of understanding was routinely waved away when political considerations loomed, such as the urgent necessity to prevent investigation into money from Red China’s People’s Liberation Army working its way into Clinton’s re-election campaign.

Groaning under the tonnage of these restrictions, prohibitions, boundaries, walls, principles, briefings, approvals, and confirmations, it’s a wonder that the CIA managed to find a way to legally admit that Islamic terrorism even existed.

So I say, three cheers for the CIA analysts who at least tried! And let’s put the blame where it belongs: squarely on the shoulders of those gentlemen and ladies elected by the pee-pull, and by the cabinet and subcabinet officials they appoint.

7 Responses to “Dafydd: Counter-Intuitive Argument”

  1. I think you are kissing up to the CIA.

    Miaka Leiber (364525)

  2. I vote for the hypothesis that the CIA is full of pampered, unaccountable, idiots with no effective leadership.

    Want to bet a bottle of wine on the success of their next big intel estimate?

    Paul Deignan (664c74)

  3. I’m not up on that specific CIA issue well enough to give an opinion, but I agree with your general praise for the CIA. One of the wisest remarks I heard post 9/11 about criticism of Bush, the CIA, the FBI and so on was that if the 9/11 attacks had been prevented the very same entities would have been castigated as paranoid Islamophobics trying to create an enemy out of whole cloth. If you don’t think that is true, just look at the same abuse these people receive even though there was an attack.
    Criticism and examination is part of the American way. But most liberal criticisms of our security systems arise from a deep resentment for the success of capitalism and the individual rights and responsibilities that both blossom from and help fuel that success.
    And for all the teeth clenching that CIA and FBI agents must learn to live with, the basic cop is by far the best example of someone doing a tough, seemingly thankless job. One that is essential to the quality of our daily lives and our safety. I wouldn’t be a cop today for anything. The people and neighborhoods who need you the most are the same people who will attack you if you do your job, because the criminals who prey on them are their neighbors, their cousins, their children. No thanks. Somebody more altruistic than me has to do that job.

    mikem (fd2aad)

  4. The biggest problem is that the CIA is totally reliant upon, and thus captured by, relatively hostile foreign intelligence agencies. Examples: Syria, the Sudan.

    This is partly due to Congressional overkill in reaction to the plots against Castro and the Iran-Contra idiocy (like anyone could trust the Iranians) but there you have it; the CIA bureaucracy is dependent on intel passed on through foreign agencies and has no wish to change, since that would require work and considerable danger.

    It’s as bad as Hug A Thug stuff coming from various Democratic Liberals about how crime rates are “too low” and we need to start releasing rapists, murderers, and other monsters out of our prisons. Perceived reality versus the actual situation. In this case the danger of relying on agencies fundamentally hostile to us.

    Jim Rockford (e09923)

  5. As early as April 2003, my feeling about “intelligence” was this:

    “Intelligence sources” are usually just some guy in another country telling you some stuff.

    I think criticism of intelligence is usually overkill. Government is not God. It’s composed of fallible human beings, relying on other fallible human beings. Get used to the limitations.

    Patterico (756436)

  6. Hard to infiltrate al Quaeda? A white-bread teenager from Marin County didn’t find it that hard.
    They also screwed up totally over Pakistan nukes. Remember that surprise?
    I’m not placing blame for it, but I do think the CIA needs help.

    Veeshir (4223fb)

  7. Hard to know what the CIA and NSA are up to, if they do have any power/abilities at all (which I assume they do). I’m not into conspiracy stuff, but why should the average Joe/Jane American expect to hear from the lips of anyone high in intelligence any specific information about things? Even things 10 years old that might be really helpful to the American public in understanding some things may well have aspects to it that have ramifications for today. As far as I am concerned, that is why I think it is important to elect a President, Senate, and House that we can have confidence in. (THAT can be scary).

    Who knows what is true and what is disinformation? I believe I have read that while we were not really close to any kind of star-wars technology in the 80’s, the fact that we invested such effort to it was intended to help bring the fall of the Soviet Union by forcing the downfall of their economy in trying to keep up. (Please correct me if I have this wrong). So it was true that President Reagan presented an over optimistic picture of what could be accomplished, but that did not necessarily mean he was making a mistake.

    We don’t expect professional football coaches to tell us what they plan to do before and during a game, why should we expect an intelligence official?

    I would love to have some info about things in the past that could be illustrative, with a statement of authenticity by the Pres. at the time, the current Pres., and other officials as well (although again…)

    Maybe if we looked through the trash can of Sandy Berger’s dry cleaners we could get to the bottom of some things.

    MD in Philly (b3202e)

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