Tuesday, August 31, 2004
I've added a new section on the blogroll--Swift Boat Central. The blogs listed there have been energetic in following the story and in analyzing the news as it unfolds. Plus, they are aggressive linkers and aggregators of others's posts so they are good information hubs.
Things are quiet on that front right now. But when it heats up again they are the blogs to turn to.
Monday, August 30, 2004
Saturday, August 28, 2004
Jack Sparks gives us his list of the 10 best movie westerns. Read it now because his commentary is better than anything you are going to find here this weekend.
His list does have two glaring omissions-- not even an honorable mention for Stagecoach or High Plains Drifter? hmmm might have post my own list when the chores get fininished.....
Wednesday, August 25, 2004
No wonder American students continue to perform poorly when it comes to knowledge of the basic facts of American history. The professors who teach them are unconcerned with such things and themselves are often unclear on such elementary things as who was Secretary of Defense in 1968.
A couple of days ago I noted that celebrity-worshipping Kerry biographer Douglas Brinkley was criticized in the Atlantic for some fairly flagrant lapses in his book "Tour of Duty." Here are several more examples.
1. Michelle Malkin has a letter from a Navy vet who nails him on a couple of mistakes that are laughable. First, a photo in the book identifies a group of Patrol Boats, River as a "Swift Boat Convoy."
2. The same writer notes that Kerry describes a mock battle put on for the benefit of SoD Mel Laird in 1968 that involved five squadrons from the Mobile Riverine Force. In fact, the MRF only had four squadrons in total. (The writer served in the MRF so he should know.) Even worse, Mel Laird did not become SoD until January 1969 and did not visit SVN in office until February. While Brinkley might be forgiven for his ignorance of the MRF OOB, the latter is just so blatant that there is no excuse for passing it on without comment.
3. This article for March discusses Kerry's resignation from the VVAW. In the text of his book, Brinkley wrote:
He modifies that in a footnote and admits that he could not find the letter in the archives or in Kerry's papers and, so, relied on Kerry’s word and "Andrew E. Hunt’s essential ‘The Turning: A History of Vietnam Veterans Against the War (1999).’"
In a November 10 letter housed at the VVAW papers in Madison, Wisconsin, Kerry quit, politely noting he had been proud to serve in the national organization.His reason was straightforward: 'personality conflicts and differences inpolitical philosophy.' In two days, VVAW was meeting in Kansas City and he would be a noshow.
But that historian directly contradicts Brinkley:
But in an interview with the Sun, the "essential" historian Mr. Brinkley relied on as his source, ndrew E. Hunt, said "I never stated that there was a letter of resignation, or even implied in my book that I saw one. I never could find one in the archives in Wisconsin. I don’t know how Brinkley got the idea that I had. I never could figure out when Kerry resigned." When asked about Mr. Brinkley’s statement that Mr. Kerry didn’t have a copy of the resignation letter either, Mr. Hunt said, "I don’t know about that. I never could get an interview with Senator Kerry. But I never saw anyone who saves things the way Kerry does."Moreover, John Fund reports that Kerry was still acting as a representative of the VVAW months after he supposedly resigned from the organization.
The way things are looking, the last casualty of Vietnam will not be John Kerry’s presidential aspirations; it will be Douglas Brinkley’s professional reputation.
Tuesday, August 24, 2004
The Belmont Club plumbs the deeper meaning of the the Kerry/SBVT press coverage.
The undercard in the Kerry vs Swiftvets bout is Mainstream Media vs Kid Internet, two distinctly different fights, but both over information. The first is really the struggle over the way Vietnam will be remembered by posterity; whether its amanuensis will be John Kerry for the antiwar movement or those who felt betrayed by them. The victor in that struggle will get to inscribe the authoritative account of that mythical conflict in Southeast Asia: not in its events, but in its meaning. The fight will be as bitter as men for whom only memory remains can be bitter. But the undercard holds a fascination of its own. The reigning champion, the Mainstream Media, has been forced against all odds to accept the challenge of an upstart over the coverage of the Swiftvets controversy.He also gets to the heart of the problem of conventional journalism:
It is not just raw information or pixels pushed onto a screen, but a system of semantic entities: an series of information objects, containing properties and methods containing embedded logic, set loose on society. The power of the Mainstream Media lay in the fact that they controlled the generation of news objects; how they arose, what they did, how they ran their course. They were the news object foundry; able to make them "type safe"; define what they could do, and what they could not. And that power was enormous.I wrote this a year ago, but i think it has some relevance to the full-throated defense of John Kerry we see from the MSM
What is not often discussed is how professional ambitions make journalists defeatists. When wars go well, the uniformed military receives the praise. It is they who enter into history. We remember Nimitz and Patton, not the correspondents who wrote dispatches about the victories at Midway and Bastogne.
In contrast, Vietnam made the careers of David Halberstam, Seymour Hersh, and Neil Sheehan. Exposing military failure and atrocities makes the journalist the hero not the chronicler. It is a powerful temptation, one which could cause a reporter to lose proportion and distort the meaning of events. Yet this is not something that seems to get discussed much.
If this is true, the press faces a serious problem: while defeatism is an occupational hazard, they must maintain credibility with the public in order to have prestige as well as attention. (Nobody wants to be like the Star or Enquirer.) That is why John Kerry-- the anti-war war hero-- was a godsend to Vietnam-era journalists. By confirming all the horror stories he validated the accuracy of the basic MSM account of Vietnam. He was made to order for Halberstam, Hersh, et.al.
Today's journalistic establishment is not so much committed to Kerry as they are to the myth of the heroic Vietnam truth-telling journalists. Vietnam and Watergate are the great myths of the guild. By revisiting Vietnam the SBVT are raising questions the guild views as closed. To wit: the war was unwinnable and unworthy of being won, brave reporters exposed government duplicity, the people saw that they had been lied to and turned back to the path of righteousness.
There are other ways to frame the war, however. That the war was difficult but worthy, that the soldiers and officers were neither pitiful victims nor war criminals, that the key battleground was US public opinion not the Central Highlands, that the press was the unwitting abettor of the enemy in that battle. Not surprising, the press does not like this narrative much at all and prefers to treat it as taboo.
The latest CotC is over at The Mobile Technology Weblog. As per usual, it's a great round-up of the latest econ and business posts from around the blogosphere.
And, hey, since the business of America is business, if you don't check it out, you might as well be French or something.
Friday, August 20, 2004
Over the last two decades business journalists and consultants have produced a good-sized stream of books and articles on competitor intelligence in corporations. This is always seen as a critical function that will grow in importance. In his 1996 book (Competitive Intelligence) Larry Kahaner of Business Week declared that "turning raw information and data into actionable intelligence is fast becoming the most critical management tool of cutting edge business leaders." Peter Drucker in 1998 proclaimed that the phase for the information revolution was to finally deliver useful information about customers and competitors to senior executives.
Despite these pronouncements, CI has a worse than mixed record inside of corporations. In 1999 the president of the Society of Competitor Intelligence Professionals noted that 90% of new corporate CI groups are shutdown or abandoned after three years.
The gap between perceived need/proclaimed value and the frequent demise of CI initiatives is a yawning chasm. No single factor is the cause. Rather a host of forces drag down the performance and perceived value of the CI function. These range from micro-factors involving specific mistakes in implementation to systemic weaknesses in management training to macro-forces that undermine the relevance of CI in many marketplaces. I'll start with the micro-factors here and discuss the other two categories in later posts.
When you look at how many (most?) firms do CI, you find that the activity has only a shoe-string budget, a low spot on the org chart, and is carried out by inexperienced and junior people. I personally have seen multi-billion dollar divisions of very large companies place their CI activities in the hands of an intern or a secretary.
All of this suggests that the commitment to CI does not run very deep. Hence, it is not surprising that the initiatives wither on the vine.
One reason for the lack of commitment is that the impetus to launch these sorts of CI initiatives does not come from senior management. Rather, it comes from the sales force. They have the most interest in competitor actions and they, as a group, are information-poor compared to finance or operations.
An effort started under these conditions has no choice but to go after the low-hanging fruit-- collecting news clippings, brochures, advertisements, etc. The result is a CI initiative that concentrates on tactical information and does little strategic analysis.
This sort of CI work rarely has the chance to impress senior management or to become integral to the strategic planning process. Nor is it likely to hold on to the best analysts. Turnover and stagnant/shrinking budgets combine to choke off the CI effort after two or three years.
Thursday, August 19, 2004
Wow! Now the Press is interested in the Swift Boat Vets
But only to undercut them. (HT: Instapundit).
No surprise. Modern, elite journalism has a view point on Vietnam (see here) and Kerry's story fits that narrative. The SBVT and bloggers are threatening their "holiest of holies."
Hugh Hewitt is hoping that Douglas Brinkley will clear up the matter based on his research in Kerry's papers. This is a frail reed to lean on. As this Slate profile makes clear, Brinkley is a celebrity worshiper desperately in search of a JFK to play Schlesinger to.
These letters to the Atlantic (in response to an excerpt of Brinkley's book) show that:
1. He did not do as much research on Vietnam as he pretends. (He misstated the theme of The Ugly American suggesting that he never read the book he so carefully cites.)
2. He does not know much about combat.
3. Kerry's journals and letters were carefully contrived yet Brinkley's BS meter never went off.
All this helps explain why the Kerry campaign is choosing to tough it out rather than admit that maybe some exaggerations were made:
The press has been running interference for their guy for over thirty years on this issue. Why should they think the game is up now?
Here is what Guenter Lewy wrote about the Winter Soldier hearing that brought Kerry to national attention:
The refusal [of the witnesses] to give substantiating factual information in support of their atrocity allegations created a situation in which the accusers continued to reap generous publicity for their sensational charges while the Army in most cases could neither investigate nor refute them.
America in Vietnam, page 319
It is not surprising that the mainstream press has ignored the Cambodia lies and evolving cover-up. They have been uninterested in this sort of story for over three decades. The deafening silence at the Times, the LAT and the Chicago Tribune is just elite journalists doing what now comes naturally after years of practice.
From a comment over at Captain's Quarters:
One thing that I find particularly offensive about Kerry, and I'm ashamed as an ex-officer to admit I only realized it last night: in the heroic action he arrogated to himself, the one in which Peck and Alston were wounded, the boat was actually saved by the actions of an enlisted man who took the helm and steered the boat out of the ambush. Let's be very clear about this. John Forbes Kerry, a commissioned officer in the United States Navy who wants to be commander-in-chief, stole the credit for the heroism of an enlisted man .
recall his embarrassing attempt to throw out the first pitch in a Yankees-Red Sox game, where he threw like a girl from half-way to the pitchers' mound--I kid you not--bounced the ball in the dirt, and then blamed the National Guardsman who was trying to catch the errant pitch, claiming that he had eased up and lobbed the ball on purpose because the battle-hardened veteran, just back from the war, was so nervous. An eerie echo of Kerry cursing the Secret Service man who supposedly knocked Kerry--who never falls--down while snowboarding.And from Snopes.com, in an entry where they are trying desperately not to see any trend of this sort:
For example, humorist Dave Barry (a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist whose work is carried by more than 500 newspapers in the U.S. and abroad) concluded a 2003 article about potential presidential candidates with the following observation:
In conclusion, I want to extend my sincere best wishes to all of my opponents, Republican and Democrat, and to state that, in the unlikely event I am not elected, I will support whoever is, even if it is Sen. John Kerry, who once came, with his entourage, into a ski-rental shop in Ketchum, Idaho, where I was waiting patiently with my family to rent snowboards, and Sen. Kerry used one of his lackeys to flagrantly barge in line ahead of us and everybody else, as if he had some urgent senatorial need for a snowboard, like there was about to be an emergency meeting, out on the slopes, of the Joint Halfpipe Committee. I say it's time for us, as a nation, to put this unpleasant incident behind us. I know that I, for one, have forgotten all about it. That is how fair and balanced I am.
This paragraph from an August 2004 Weekly Standard article echoes both the previous stories:
Granted staggering wealth on the basis of marriage, Kerry seems to believe he deserves it, and perhaps always has. Such, at least, is the popular perception among the voters who know him best. "One of the surest ways to get the phones ringing on any Massachusetts talk-radio show is to ask people to call in and tell their John Kerry stories," says Howie Carr, the Boston Herald columnist and radio host. "The phone lines are soon filled, and most of the stories have a common theme: The junior senator pulling rank on one of his constituents, breaking in line, demanding to pay less (or nothing), or ducking out before the bill arrives. The tales often have one other common thread. Most end with Sen. Kerry inquiring of the lesser mortal: 'Do you know who I am?'"
Wednesday, August 18, 2004
John Keegan's recent work, Intelligence in War is a remarkably good book-- wise, readable, and timely.
As a military historian he brings a sense of perspective to the realm of intelligence:
There is no such thing as the golden secret, the piece of 'pure intelligence', which will resolve all doubt and guide a general or admiral to an infallible solution of his operational problems. Not only is all intelligence less than completely accurate; its value is altered by the unrolling of events.***
It has become part of the conventional wisdom that intelligence is the necessary key to success in military operations. A wise opinion would be that intelligence, while necessary, is not a sufficient means to victory. Decision in war is always the result of a fight, and in combat willpower always counts for more than foreknowledge.
Understanding this is critical to the war on terror. Since 9/11 we have acted as though good intelligence alone is all we need to defeat al Qaeda. But we define "good intelligence" as that "which resolves all doubt" and will produce "infallible solutions." In short, we are looking for a chimera.
Keegan also has some perceptive things to say about the practical realities of HUMINT in general and the obstacles we face in penetrating al Qaeda in particular.
Human intelligence may suffer from different limitations: including, first, practical difficulty in communicating with base at effective speed; and, second, inability to convince base of the importance of the information sent.It was one thing to get an agent into a cave in Afghanistan or a village in the Philippines. It is even harder to get his messages out in a timely fashion without blowing his cover.
The ability to communicate, quickly and securely, is at the heart of real-time intelligence practice. It is rarely enjoyed by the agent, that man of mystery who figures so centrally in the fictional literature of espionage. Real agents are at their most vulnerable when they attempt.... to reach their spymasters. The biographies of real agents are ultimately almost always a story of betrayal by communications failure. A high proportion of the Special Operations Executive (SOE) agents in France during the Second World War were discovered by German radio counter-intelligence; the same was true of those operating in Belgium.
The British has some success with undercover work against the IRA and other Irish terrorists. But Keegan points out that these were comparatively soft targets (!) compared to al Qaeda and other Islamic terrorists.
Undercover work within the terrorist groups of Northern Ireland... has equipped British security and specialist police bodies to understand how such undercover operations are best conducted, but the practice is always more difficult than theory and will prove particularly so with religious fanatics. Even ideological terrorists, such as the extreme nationalists of the Irish republican tradition, are sometimes susceptible to temptation or threat; republican fund-raising by blackmail and extortion has drawn the movement into crime, with corrupting effect, while its 'military' ethos excludes the taking of risks that threaten the lives of "volunteers." Muslim puritans, by contrast, seem resistant to financial temptations, have demonstrated their readiness to commit suicide in furtherance of their violent aims, are committed to a code of total silence under interrogation and are bound by ties of brotherhood which have religious
Historian Robert Conquest observed that "everyone is conservative about what he knows best." There is a lot of truth in that statement.
From this it must follow that revolutionaries don't know what they are talking about.
In a business context Conquest's Law suggests that those who promote the Next New Thing-- be they consultants, IT salesmen, journalists, or would-be gurus-- fall into one of two categories:
1. Ignorant, naive amateurs whose knowledge of the subject is superficial but whose enthusiasm is genuine.
2. Cynical hucksters who know better but hope their audience does not.
As for the executives who fall prey to the charlatans and enthusiasts, this passage by Andre Maurois often fits:
Like all intelligent men who are not in any way creative, Sir Robert Peel was dangerously sympathetic towards the creations of others. Incapable of formulating a system, he threw himself voraciously on those he came across, and applied them more vigorously than would their inventors.
Tuesday, August 17, 2004
Hundreds of journalists in Washington, and no one has time to follow-up on "a Californian-trained biologist" who "spent several months attempting to cultivate anthrax for al Qaeda in a laboratory he helped set up in Afghanistan" and who "provided housing for at least two of the 9-11 hijackers in his Kuala Lumpur condominium."
But to give them some benefit of the doubt, the 9-11 Commission wasn't all that interested in seeing if the dots connected either. These references are pretty disjointed for so serious a matter.
Monday, August 16, 2004
OTB responds to a silly attempt to make McGreevey the victim. James keeps the focus on the main issue.
McGreevey's crime is not that he is homosexual or even that he is a lying bastard who ruined the lives of his family in order to gratify his sexual desires and advance his political career. Rather, his offense was criminal abuse of his office to appoint his illicit lover, a non-citizen not even remotely qualified for the job, to a high government post. As director of homeland security, no less.
This Slate profile originally appeared in 1999. It takes on new interest now that Brinkley has made it his mission to become Kerry's academic Lanny Davis.
John Kennedy Jr.'s most prolific mourner.
Douglas Brinkley is the William Ginsburg of the Kennedy death circus. Before the crash, the boyish, gap-toothed Brinkley was known primarily as a Michael Beschloss-in-waiting, a elegenic historian fielding calls from the cable news networks. Now the University of New Orleans professor has parlayed a contributing editorship at George and a friendship with Kennedy into a job as a necropublicist. Between Saturday and Tuesday, Brinkley appeared on MSNBC, Late Edition, Meet the Press, Good Morning America, Dateline, Today (twice), and NPR (twice). He also penned columns about his relationship with Kennedy for Newsweek and the New York Times, and was quoted everywhere else ink touches paper.
Even amid this week's staggering hyperbole, Brinkley's emotional profligacy has istinguished him. He is, as he rarely fails to remind his audience, 38 years old like Kennedy, a vegetarian like Kennedy, and a Sagittarius like Kennedy. That identification with Kennedy accounts in part for Brinkley's tenuous proposition: that Kennedy's death is the signal event of his generation, the moment Gen X lost its innocence. In the opening paragraph of his New York Times op-ed, Brinkley opined: "It's as if suddenly, an entire generation's optimism is deflated, and all that is left is the limp reality of growing old." Kennedy's death may have affected his friend Brinkley this way. I am not sure anyone else outside Kennedy's circle was so
Brinkley worked assiduously to join Beschloss and Doris Kearns Goodwin on the air. "TV is the most important medium for conveying history. For historians not to reach out smacks of elitism," he says. He will happily decorate any TV or radio story with a veneer of American history. Recent months have seen him comment on the Kosovo bombing, ground troops, Rosa Parks, Independence Day, impeachment, and Al Gore's military service, to name a few topics.
Saturday, August 14, 2004
Leave the rest of the facts for Oprah, Springer, or the Lifetime movie. The astounding revelation in the the whole mess is that McGreevey tried to put his (completely unqualified) boy toy in charge of homeland security of the state AFTER 9/11/01. In fact, the rubble was probably still smoking at the WTC site when he had this bright idea.
That, in and of itself, seems to be an immediate disqualification for office. Corruption is one thing; toying with public safety is far, far worse.
It is too bad that politics is going to keep the creep in office three more months.
Presidential politics was one factor in that decision.
A Kerry campaign official said the candidate's advisers told McGreevey aides that they wanted to avoid an unpredictable special election this fall.
Kerry has a comfortable 20-point lead over Bush, according to the most recent Star-Ledger/Eagleton-Rutgers poll, but the official said a special election could create a backlash against McGreevey and hurt the presidential ticket. The official said the Kerry camp feared that Democrats would have to spend money in New Jersey, a state that they believe is now solidly in the Democratic column.
"It creates an unpredictable scenario in New Jersey," said the official, who requested anonymity.
Thursday, August 12, 2004
A handful of facts to bear in mind for this election season.
1. If any state is a microcosm of the U.S. it is Missouri. (See this Atlantic article which may require registration/subscription).
2. The Washington press portrays the political mainstream as running from Denny Hastert to Nancy Pelosi. Thinking in terms of Missouri we can see that the mainstream is more accurately portrayed as ranging from John Ashcroft to Dick Gephardt.
3. Publicola points out that the DEMOCRATIC governor of Missouri just lost a primary because he vetoed a CCW law. Inside the I-95 echo chamber the renewal of the AWB is a mainstream position and CCW is an extreme idea. For the nation as a whole it is just the opposite. Many democrats support CCW and the AWB is a wedge issue that hurts the party.
[Update: I apologize for the acronyms. AWB="Assaust Weapons Ban", i.e. that Clinton gun law that is due to sunset next month. CCW as used here are the state laws that allow civilians to carry concealed weapons. Thanks to the reader who emailed me.]
4. Pennsylvania is a key swing state. We can expect to see dozens, maybe hundreds of stories trying to gauge the mood of the electorate here. My state has been described as Pittsburgh on one end, Philadelphia on the other, and Alabama in the middle.
5. Pennsylvania has 147,000 miles of highways. Most reporters will only travel a few hundred miles of that network. They will shuttle from the airport to an arena and then back to the airport. Or they will be on busses sweeping down the Interstate. They will spend very little time walking around the "Alabama" part of the state. Their "reporting" will reflect that.
UPDATE: I know this really isn't a response to Classical Values's post. In truth, I posted this hours before i saw the link to CV on Instapundit. But I do think that the point about Missouri directly applies to his argument about the "Republican base." You can't extrapolate California to the nation as a whole. While it is true Arnold was the only republican who could have won in the recall election, it is also true that Arnold would have had to run as a Dem in Missouri (i.e. in the mini-US). And McClintock would probably have cleaned his clock in that state.
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There is a bit of a flap between Instapundit and Jeff Jarvis on the importance of the Christmas in Cambodia episode and the relevance of Kerry's Vietnam record. I posted this in June, but i think it is speaks to this question.
Instapundit notes the anti-Kerry sentiments on display among Vietnam veterans and writes:
And this suggests -- as I've mentioned before -- that Kerry has been mistaken to play up the Vietnam angle so much.
I disagree. Kerry's use of his war record has been masterful and it continues to help him with critical swing voters and the press. His focus on his biography was never intended to win the veteran vote. Rather, it works to reassure moderate voters about his stance on national defense. He also used it to neutralize questions about his record in Congress and to frame stories for the press.
Did Kerry vote against key weapon programs? How dare you question the patriotism of a man with three Purple Hearts. Is he too willing to defer to France and the United Nations? How dare you doubt the loyalty of a man with a Silver Star. Faced with this, does the press write about the voting record or about the "hard ball tactics" of the GOP?
Kerry didn't just use his Vietnam experience to enhance his stature as a man or leader. His campaign used it to shut down debate on his Senate record. They made the biography the issue.
Wednesday, August 11, 2004
Tuesday, August 10, 2004
This article marks an early step in a necessary evolution: The demystification of the 9/11 Commission. Gerecht judges their report harshly:
the report overall is quintessential blue-ribbon Washington: conventional, conservative, and exuberantly bureaucratic in its analysis and solutions.and also thinks at least some of the commissioners are pious frauds:
THE 9/11 COMMISSION says it wants to have a national debate about its report. Actually, that's not quite true. It would prefer that the Bush administration and Congress, feeling the heat of its bipartisan mandate, submit quickly and completely to its collective and deliberate judgments.As a former CIA case officer he takes dead aim at several of the Commission's recommendations. Gerecht makes the obvious point that consolidating intelligence under a Cabinet czar will increase groupthink.
the commissioners' intention to turn themselves into a continuing, nationwide road show, have made this report, like the commission's televised hearings, into a political drama with possible repercussions on the elections in November.
Differing opinions within America's intelligence community would tend to become fewer, not more, as a new bureaucratic spirit radiated downward from the man who controlled all the purse strings and wrote the performance reports of the most important players in the intelligence community.A related point-- since the czar will be a political appointee and will have budget authority over nominally apolitical bodies (CIA/FBI/NSA, etc.) it seems that the Commission has come out in favor of politicizing intelligence, at least to a degree.
Competitive analysis is likely to be better in organizations that are truly independent of one another. The commission appears to be in love with synergies and economies of scale. But this isn't the way it works in the intelligence business, operationally or analytically. Five hundred analysts do not necessarily do a better job than fifty. Fifty case officers deployed correctly will certainly do a better job than 500 deployed as they are now.
This article from the July/August 2001 Washington Monthly looks somewhat silly in retrospect.
The CIA's Weakest Link: What our intelligence agencies need are more professors
But Loch Johnson was/is one of the leading scholars of CIA and the US intelligence community. He also served on the staff of the Church committee and the Iran-Contra committee. Nonetheless, the article gives no inkling of the looming danger America faced that summer.
He barely mentions the threat posed by terrorists.
When he writes of the "the most egregious intelligence failure since the Cold War" he is talking about CIA's failure to find out that India was about to resume nuclear testing.
Nor did Johnson think that HUMINT was the greatest weakness of our intelligence process.
the agencies need a shift in priorities with less focus on the gathering of information and more focus on the harder job of providing insights into what that information means.Finally, he thought the time was ripe for intelligence reform because the current international environment was relatively benign.
But what better time than now for bringing about change, when the world is relatively tranquil and the record of intelligence performance fairly shouts for reform?
Monday, August 09, 2004
We keep getting conflicting reports on the resources Al Qaeda has at its disposal.
-- After 9/11 it was common to refer to bin Laden as a billionaire.
-- Claudia Rosett claims that he was nearly broke when he was pushed out of Sudan in 1996
-- Ramzi Yousef claimed that his 1993 plan to topple the World Trade Towers failed because he was not given enough money to do the job right. From all appearances that operation went forward on a shoestring budget.
--Yousef and KSM seemed to have plenty of money in 1994 when they were in the Philippines. They frequented bars and KSM could afford to rent a helicopter to impress a potential girlfriend.
-- The 9/11 Commission estimates that al Qaeda spent $30 million annually prior to the attacks on New York and Washington.
-- The current Atlantic publishes copies of emails from Zawahiri (AQ's number two man) complains that an operative spent $470 on a fax machine: "Where are the two old faxes? Did you get permission before buying a new fax under such circumstances?" There are also emails that maintain that salaries have been cut by 50%.
The over-all picture is clear as mud.
Sunday, August 08, 2004
In a recent issue of World, they had some surprisingly positive things to say about Pardon the Interruption on ESPN and I,Max on FSN. This is what they said about PTI:
Sports talk, at its best, brings the art of argumentation back to life. ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption sets two outstanding sports pundits against each other, with Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon sparring on a list of topics complete with time limits and a buzzer. The two are brash and funny, as well as knowledgeable, and they remind us of what the Greeks and the Romans knew, that argument is a satisfying spectator sport.
This is just bizarre. The sad fact is that Kornheiser rarely makes real arguments anymore and relies on lame one-liners. He has more in common with a third-rate Borscht-belt comedian than he does with Socrates or Aristotle. (I, Max is altogether more compelling and more informative than PTI).
Both PTI and I,Max are interesting for other reasons not mentioned by World. They both show how insular big-time sports journalism has become. The Yankees are featured every day. St. Louis gets far less attention even though they are winning as many games as New York. That the Yankees are in first place is no surprise. But for the Cards to be far ahead of the Cubs and Astros is news.
At least it should be news. To the journalists on the East Coast, news only happens along the I-95 corridor.
Kornheiser was amazed that the Daytona 500 crushed the NBA All-star game in the ratings. He had no idea that NASCAR was that popular. To him it was just a regional sport and an unimportant region at that. Having dismissed it years ago, he failed to notice the new tracks and huge crowds in places like Pocono, Chicago, Kansas City, and Las Vegas.
(Kellerman simply denies that NASCAR and the Tour de France are real sports.)
Friday, August 06, 2004
A lie is more revealing than the truth... if you know it is a lie. --- James J. Angleton
With his credibility shredded on so many counts, why is Amb. Wilson so adamant about denying that his wife played a role in sending him to Niger? And why has Plame resorted to the Chapin defense ("I honestly don't recall....").
Why are they so afraid of this issue?
Here are some possibilities.
1. The Drum Hypothesis is correct. His wife shares sensitive information with him. Wilson has to pretend that they operate with tight compartmentalization at home to cover for her indiscretions.
2. Ego. If he was selected by others with no input from Plame, then that shows his qualifications were sterling and well-known. If, on the other hand, his wife got him the gig, it might look as though he was just a mediocre ex-diplomat whose damaged ego needed a boost.
3. The deck was stacked. He was chosen for the mission because his wife knew he was dismissive of the whole idea of a Niger connection. The choice of Wilson under these circumstances shows that CIA's Counter-proliferation Division did not seek an honest evaluation of the matter but wanted only to confirm their own pre-existing estimates.
4. Greed. Wilson and Plame enjoy an up-scale lifestyle funded mainly by his work as an "international business consultant." By getting Wilson the occaissional CIA assignment, Plame added to his cachet and his ability to woo and wow high-paying clients. This, in turn, pays for the Jaguar and Hermes ties.
"If the European Union were a U.S. state, it would rank forty-seventh in per capita GDP."
The source is Timbro-- a Swedish think tank .
The study also notes that France has a per capita GDP lower than Alabama's and that our houses are twice as large.
1. Buried in this Claudia Rosett article is a little background about bin Laden and Sudan.
By 1996, remember, bin Laden had been run out of Sudan, and seems to have been out of money. He needed a fresh bundle to rent Afghanistan from the Taliban, train recruits, expand al Qaeda's global network, and launch what eventually became the 9/11 attacks.
Now let's talk facts. In 1996, Sudan kicked out bin Laden. He went to Afghanistan, arriving there pretty much bankrupt, according to the 9/11 Commission report. His family inheritance was gone, his allowance had been cut off, and Sudan had confiscated his local assets.
If Rosett is correct, then this bolsters Gerald Posner's case that Sudan wanted better relations with the US and was willing to take steps against bin Laden. The Clinton administration rejected the offer which they believed was not sincere. Sandy Berger and Susan Rice of the NSC were the key players in rebuffing Sudan.
2. The overture from Sudan is one more subject Berger might have been researching in the Archives.
3. Rice is currently a foreign policy advisor to John Kerry.
4. Almost all of the intelligence that critics think "pointed" to the 9/11 attacks was older in 2001 than the intelligence used to raise the threat level this week. Ramzi Yousef and KSM first outlined the suicide hijacking plot in Manila in 1994-- nearly seven years before the WTC atrocity. (Yousef was CAPTURED in 1995). Yet critics who blame the FBI for not connecting those dots are now certain that three year old intelligence has no value.
5. After writing about Diane Dean, i should have at least mentioned Captain Aida Fariscal. She is the policewoman in Manila whose instincts were triggered by the report of a small fire in the apartment rented by a couple of Pakistanis. Her follow-up investigation broke up Yousef's bojinka plot and his plan to kill the Pope. Once against, dedicated cops on the front line are worth more than high-level meetings that discuss the nature of the plan to be submitted for approval to implement the policy currently under discussion.
6. When KSM escaped from Qatar he went to Prague. Before Atta left Germany for the US, he went to Prague. Maybe the Prague connection doesn't go from Al Qaeda to Iraq, but that city seems to have some attraction to the terrorists. I hope that we are still trying to work with the Czechs and that our brusque dismissal of the Atta/Iraq connection has not hurt intelligence cooperation.
Why America Slept: The Reasons behind Our Failure to Prevent 9/11
Thursday, August 05, 2004
It seems a little odd that Philip Zeilikow would be selected as executive director of the 9/11 Commission given that he co-edited a book with Condoleezza Rice .
Here is an discussion of an earlier work he co-edited.
Errors Still Afflict the Transcripts of the Kennedy Presidential Recordings
Let's hope he was more meticulous this time.
Tuesday, August 03, 2004
The emerging consensus on pre-9/11 "intelligence failures" is that we would have prevented the attacks if only our intelligence and law enforcement agencies had done a better job "sharing information." There has been so much talk about "sharing intelligence" that one wonders if the Care Bears had a hand in writing the after-action assessments.
What is rarely mentioned is that there are good operation reasons for agencies not to share everything they know. Nor do most critics acknowledge the fragile nature of the information they want shared.
What critics see as organizational stovepipes are just the reflection of compartmentalization. The latter is an absolute requirement or security and intelligence. Without it sources dry up, codes get changed, and disinformation gets distributed. The most effective intelligence operations maintain compartmentalization even though it makes their reports less useful. That is an inevitable trade-off but it is justified.
This is clearly the case with World War II's ULTRA/Enigma code-breaking. Some information was provided to Allied ground commanders. But most of them were never told the sources of the information. This, in turn, made them hesitant to exploit the intelligence; they sometimes treated it with skepticism. Had all of them known that the intelligence came from high-level intercepts and not from spies, they would have exploited the intelligence more aggressively. OTOH, if hundreds of officers had known that Bletchley Park was breaking German codes in real time, the Nazis would have found out and changed their codes and methods of communication. ULTRA would have died.
Compartmentalization-- stovepipes-- were an absolute requirement for the successful use of the Enigma code-braking.
This remains true today. In hindsight there will always be pieces of the puzzle that CIA or the FBI or NSA withheld from local police or the FAA or Congress. What we should remember is that often that "noncooperation" is the price of having the information at all.
Monday, August 02, 2004
This article by Reuel Marc Gerecht is especially noteworthy because it was written before 9-11.
The Counterterrorist Myth
Westerners cannot visit the cinder-block, mud-brick side of the Muslim world—whence bin Ladin's foot soldiers mostly come—without announcing who they are. No case officer stationed in Pakistan can penetrate either the Afghan communities in Peshawar or the Northwest Frontier's numerous religious schools, which feed manpower and ideas to bin Ladin and the Taliban, and seriously expect to gather useful information about radical Islamic terrorism—let alone recruit foreign agents.
We trained hard... but everytime we were beginning to form into teams, we would be reorganized. I was learn later in life that we tend to meet new situations by reorganizing... and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency, and demoralization.
Attributed to Petronius Arbiter, Satyricon
I've posted before about Coleen Rowley and her curious need for attention. Here is her 2-26-03 letter to Director Mueller and a reponse by Gary Alrich.
The response from her fellow agents is telling but rarely reported. Here is an exception.
While her action drew widespread praise, some present and former FBI agents criticized her.
Their criticism grew this month after she gave the Star Tribune and the New York Times copies of a letter she had sent to FBI Director Robert Mueller, in which she expressed fear that a war with Iraq would lead to a "flood of terrorism" on a scale the bureau is unprepared to handle.
Nancy Savage, president of the 11,000-member Federal Bureau of Investigation Agents Association, said the public comments "from an admitted non-terrorism expert" were "demoralizing to the many FBI employees who have been achieving significant successes in this area."
Former Minneapolis agent Dennis Sackreiter said that Pierce, the special agent in charge, disclosed that Rowley was being reassigned at a meeting of former FBI agents in Minneapolis last Friday.
Sackreiter said he wasn't surprised. He said Rowley "breached" the confidentiality that goes with her job as legal adviser.
"I don't know how it will be for other agents that have to work with her," Sackreiter said. "I would have problems. I believe the FBI has to speak with one voice, not with 10,000 voices."