Friday, April 30, 2004

Worth noting

Dean Esmay's better half now has her own blog.

Another Lesson from the Army Schools (III)


Part I

Part II

Since World War II, the US military has used its schools to strengthen our alliances and to integrate allies into our military structure. Students from allied countries can be found at all levels-- from the service academies to the war colleges. Similarly, each branch opens the doors of its war college to members of the other branches.

The benefits are obvious. It is much easier to cooperate with Peru on counter-insurgency if the Peruvian generals have been exposed to American doctrine and methods. The cooperation can be even more effective if some of the officers know each other from their time in the classrooms at Leavenworth or Newport.

In many cases, study at the American military schools helps foreign officers in their quest for promotion. Over the long-term this strengthens the ties with allied forces: the top ranks of their services are populated with graduates of our schools.

You see the same dynamic at work in the history of the FBI. After Hoover established the FBI Academy at Quantico, he admitted students from local police departments. Local cops were exposed to modern methods of law enforcement, training, and investigation. Most of them left with a positive image of the FBI and were more willing to cooperate with the Bureau if that became necessary.

It seems to me that these same advantages could be leveraged by private businesses. Two side benefits of a better internal education system are better integration of suppliers into the total value chain and closer relations with key customers.

Corporations are learning what Baron von Steuben discovered with Washington's army-- Americans need to know why they are told to do something. The same holds true with suppliers. You can bludgeon them into compliance, but things will go much better if you explain. Including some suppliers in your training efforts makes communication quicker and smoother.

By including customers a firm does three things: First, those customers recognize that the firm is serious about the intellectual aspects of strategy, technology, etc. This is a powerful form of brand enhancement. Second, it creates champions inside its clients who are favorably disposed toward it. Third, the cross-pollination between clients, suppliers, and the firm itself will generate more and better ideas.

Paradoxically, the benefit may be more important to small firms than to their resource-heavy competitors. A small advertising agency can't match a mega-network like WPP when it comes to global scale, money, or head count. But it can tailor an education initiative to its clients more easily than Y&R or TBWA. It will also see more immediate results; it takes a long time and a lot of money to educate 300 creatives in marketing strategy.

One cardinal advantage of using education in this way is that it is a competitive dimension that overseas competitors will find hard to match. Proximity counts in education: nothing can match having students all together in the same room.

Part IV is here.

Thursday, April 29, 2004


I'm glad Arlen Specter won. I wish Pat Toomey had never entered the primary. I know Specter is more much more liberal than i am but i thought Specter was better than Hoeffel, and that was the key match-up. Toomey had little chance November.

As the race developed, i found myself getting angry at the NRO crowd and the Club for Growth. By what right does a bunch of meddlers from Manhattan and D.C. come into my state and my party's primary? They don't live here nor do they have to live with the consequences of a miscalculation.

A couple of months back i posted about my admiration for Kucinich and his willingness to face ridicule to advance his beliefs. The Club for Growth does the exact opposite. They play in the shadows and hope their money can exploit existing state and local parties. They will go after Specter because it is doable-- they are afraid to find conservatives to take on Schumer or Kennedy or Wyden because it is hard.

Cowards, manipulators, and backroom intriguers-- that's all they are and i'm glad they lost.

(See also here).

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

In praise of a good hat

James Rummel writes about hats. Not in that icky metrosexual way, but in a pragmatic way that Louis l'Amour or even Kim duToit could appreciate.

Update: Julie Neidlinger comments here.
"Looking Through Keyholes"

This column from David Brooks is very, very good. He understands the pundit-mindset completely:

What's going on is obvious. The first duty of proper Washingtonians is to demonstrate that they are smarter than whomever they happen to be talking about. It's quite easy to fulfill this mission when you are talking about the past. It's child's play for a salad-course solon who spent the entire 1990's ignoring foreign affairs to condemn the administration piously for not focusing like a laser beam on Al Qaeda on Aug. 6, 2001.

It's harder to be a smart aleck about the future, especially in regards to Najaf and Falluja, where none of the choices are good ones. Do the Baathists win a victory every day they hold off our siege? Or if we take them out now, do we undermine Sistani? We Klieg Light Kierkegaards will give you the right answer — three years from now, after whatever option the president takes has been judged and found wanting.

Victor Davis Hanson made this point even before the war began here:

Post Modern War

The problem is not partisan or ideological. Rightwing pundits do it too as I noted here and here.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Connecting the Dots

Lawrence Auster does just that in The Jordanian Story:

We thus tentatively have an Al Qaeda-Iraq connection, and a WMD-Iraq connection, constituting the very triangle of Iraq/WMDs/Al Qaeda which was our chief reason for toppling the Hussein regime.
Vietnam and Algeria

Outstanding post over at Belmont Club:

No More Groupement Mobile 100s

And America too, is a deadly enemy. Already militarily invincible and capable of immense adaptation, it has already solved the military problems the French faced in Vietnam. Never again can a regimental force be marshaled against an American unit, like NVA Regiment 803. Now America is facing the challenge of a modern Algeria, the prototypical terrorist war. Waging a covert war across the globe, America is likely to succeed, like the French, in destroying the terrorist leadership cadres. Terrorism remains confident that America will be politically defeated though even here doubt grows, because America is also groping for a model of political warfare to use against its enemies.

Monday, April 26, 2004

Carnival of the Capitalists

The April 26th edition is over at Ventupreneur.

Saturday, April 24, 2004

Doctrine and Fad Surfing

I've lost count of the number of "change efforts" i've been involved with, participated in, and been subject to in the course of my corporate career. Most of them failed to yield the results they promised. Truth be told, some were actually harmful.

This experience is common, maybe even typical. Books have been written about the propensity of corporations to to seize on the idea du jour.

When i read the Marine Corps FMFM-1 "Warfighting" i was struck by the difference between the Marine Corps approach to instilling a common doctrine and the usual methods inside of corporations.

From FMFM-1:

Doctrine is a teaching advanced as the fundamental beliefs of the Marine Corps on the subject of war, from its nature and theory to its preparation and conduct Doctrine establishes a particular way of thinking about war and a way of fighting, a philosophy for leading Marines in combat, a mandate for professionalism, and a common language. In short, it establishes the way we practice our profession. In this manner, doctrine provides the basis for harmonious actions and mutual understanding.

Marine Corps doctrine is made official by the Commandant and is established in this manual. Our doctrine does not consist of procedures to be applied in specific situations so much as it establishes general guidance that requires judgment in application. Therefore, while authoritative, doctrine is not prescriptive

The majority of corporate initiatives are just the opposite: they are prescriptive without being authoritative. They often demand that detailed templates be followed yet they end up being compartmentalized. Processes will be mapped and reengineered but the results don't translate into changes in the expense budget; managers will focus on delighting the customer in Wednesday's workshop then figure out ways to cut quality on Thursday because they are facing an earnings shortfall. Instead of a holistic approach to strategy, the firm ends up schizophrenic.

A broader problem is that the corporate method suggests that business success is simple and that there is a magic bullet-- reengineering, TQM, an ERP system-- that will make success easy and inevitable. In contrast, the Marines say war is complex and ever-changing. Not only are there no simple answers, even the questions keep shifting. The only way to succeed is for officers to study their profession for their whole lives.


New evidence of Communist membership debated by scholars of Berkeley scientist

Recently uncovered documents show that Oppenheimer belonged to a hidden Communist Party cell of professionals in Berkeley, according to UC Merced history Professor Gregg Herken.

Hiss, White, Coplon, Rosenberg, Currie, now Oppenheimer. It is getting harder and harder to find an "innocent victim of anti-communist hysteria."

See also, this discussion over at Volokh.
Broadcast Decency and the New "Censorship"

Terrific post over at Cella's Review

In short, the class of people that still, even at this late date in the progress of egalitarian leveling, retains a considerable bulk of the political power in this country — that is, traditional families with children — got a good look at what awaits their children from the entertainment industry, and reacted as sober citizens of a republic do to brazen depravity. The revelation could not be undone by all the silver-tongued rhetoric about the First Amendment in the world. Clear-headed parents will not be argued into enslaving their children to vice. A predator is not beheld with equanimity by the prey.
Steve Sailor on Kill Bill 2

From the 10 May American Conservative (not online).

Tarantino represents the apotheosis of all the fanboys who devote their youths and young manhoods to watching hundreds of chop-socky movies. Of course, the reason film geeks have all that time on their hands is because girls aren't dying to go out with them. So, their catfight fetishes grow out of their anger at women, combined with their dreams of someday finding girlfriends cool enough to like slasher flicks too.

Friday, April 23, 2004

"Youth Ignore Newspapers"

Bill Hobbs has some grim news about newspaper readership. Young people just don't read the print editions. This is evidence that the problem i blogged about last year is real and is a stubborn trend.

As i wrote then, "Long term this is bad news for newspapers. Their most devoted readers are term-limited by the actuary tables. And it isn't likely that younger groups will fill the gap."

Currently, newspapers can ignore this problem because there is no competing venue that local advertisers can substitute for classified and display ads. But that can change and it is outside the control of newspaper publishers. That is a scary position for any industry.
"Seeing your face in the mirror"

"One of the reasons some people are drawn to foreign religions is the freedom to see whatever you want to see in a doctrine that you take out of its cultural context. So we have American Buddhists and Vedantins who live wild and crazy lifestyles that wouldn't be remotely acceptable in Buddhist or Hindu villages believing they're perfectly aligned with the Dharma. We see a similar disconnect in the technology and society writing, most of which is done by people who understand neither technology nor society."

RTWT here.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

Old News We Have Forgotten

This article is nearly two years old, but it is really on point about the Phoenix Memo and Colleen Rowley's "warning" about Moussaoui.

Rowley doesn't say which of the 19 hijackers might have been apprehended, and for good reason. It appears from public reports that the would-be hijackers had completed their flight training by the time Moussaoui was captured on August 16, 2001. In fact, it appears they had already completed their flight training by the time the Phoenix memorandum was written on July 10, 2001. Moreover, while apparently identifying several suspicious Arab flight-school students, the Phoenix memorandum doesn't name any of the Sept. 11 hijackers.

In addition, Moussaoui's laptop computer, the ostensible subject of Rowley's memorandum, contained information about airliners, crop dusters, and wind currents, but apparently no information about the Sept. 11 hijackers.
Intelligence Analysis for Counter-terrorism

Beyond Sharing Intelligence, We Must Generate Knowledge

Analyzing terrorism is not like analyzing Russian naval strength or Latin American political systems; such analyses rely upon well-defined indicators and data sources. In contrast, counterterrorism analysis must provide structure to information that can be highly fragmentary, lacking in well-defined links, and fraught with deception. It must infer specific strategies and plans from small pieces of information. It must find common threads among seemingly disparate strands. And unlike the terrorist, who needs only a single vulnerability to exploit, the analyst must consider all potential vulnerabilities.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Intelligence "Failure"? (VI)

Previous entries start here.

Rev. Donald Sensing writes this about the reality of intelligence analysis:

Think of the process as putting together an enormous jigsaw puzzle with innumerable, small, irregular pieces. Better yet, putting together many different puzzles when all puzzles use some of the pieces of the other puzzles. Sometimes patterns seem clear, often not. You know you do not have all the pieces for any of the puzzles; in fact, you do not know how many pieces of any puzzle you do have, nor how many pieces any puzzle is supposed to have. Not only that, but you don't know how many puzzles there are.

What that means is that very often when you examine a piece, the puzzle it belongs to will not be self-evident. Often it will. But remember, every day a man walks in with a big box full of pieces and dumps them.

It is worth noting some of the terrorist puzzles the FBI and CIA had to piece together between 1993 and 2001.

The OKC bombing

Sheik Raman's plot to bomb New York's tunnels and landmarks.

Terrorist threats against the Atlanta Olympics in 1996

Investigation of the Olympic Park Bombing

Tokyo subway sarin attacks (the cult responsible had adherents in this country)

TWA 800 crash

Egypt Air 990 crash

Khobar Towers Bombing

Embassy Bombings in Kenya and Tanzania

Possible arson conspiracy against black churches

Possible conspiracy behind murder of abortion providers

Terrorist threats against the Millennium celebrations on 12/31/99

Attack on the USS Cole

Each of these investigations required tens of thousands of man hours. Just imagine how many "dots" were thrown up in the 1990s. And in that mass of dots, how many pointed to Atta?
Broadcast versus Cable

Letter to the Editor in Ad Age notes that "of the Top 800 programs on television, 790 were on broadcast."

Speaking of Sontag

From Tom Wolfe

Actually she was just another scribbler who spent her life signing up for protest meetings and lumering to the podium encumbered by her prose style, which had a handicapped parking sticker valid at Partisan Review.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Kill Bill 2

From God of the Machine:

Tarantino is no nihilist in the sense in which Turgenev's Bazarov, for instance, is a nihilist. For Tarantino himself, and for his legions of male adolescent fans, his movies are mere pornographic revenge fantasies, wide-screen versions of the journal of a high-school spree killer. Nihilism presupposes a certain familiarity with the beliefs and ideas you're rejecting. Tarantino's lint-trap mind fastens entirely on movies and TV, and his nihilism is no nihilism at all. In fact KB2 evinces his belief in motherhood, of all things, like the jailbirds with the "MOM" tattoos.

Carnival of the Capitalists

The April 19th edition can be found at Knowledge Problem.
Its very purpose "is to dethrone the serious."

In his book The Long March (highly recommended by the way) Roger Kimball has a good discussion of Susan Sontag. I was struck by by a couple things she wrote about the camp sensibility.

"[it] is the the consistently aesthetic experience of the world. It incarnates a victory of 'style' over 'content' 'aesthetics' over 'morality', of irony over tragedy."

camp "is the solvent of morality."

"the relation between boredom and Camp taste cannot be overestimated."

It's puzzling that this attitude seems to be oozing out of every media channel, just 2 1/2 years after the WTC atrocity. You find it on ESPN, on cable news shows, in infotainment programming, on the op-ed pages of our newspaper of record.

Not even the blogosphere is immune. The hottest site going is Wonkette where wartime politics is just one big joke.

That's the most disappointing thing. All those macho warbloggers who've slapped MoDo around for the last year are now ga-ga over a one trick pony who is just Dowd with a cute graphic. Maybe the medium is more important than the message; having a blog means never getting smacked down by the wargods of the blogosphere. We don't apply the same standards to fellow bloggers that we do to journalists.

Ilyka is on to something when she wrote

"Premise: Nick Denton is to blogging as Dick Clark is to rock-and-roll."

I liked Scott's comment on this thread:

Isn't she a Nick Denton Creation? She gets whatever attention she gets because all the other cool kids want Nick to pick them for his kickball team next. Not that there's anything wrong with that, if you want to cram yourself into Denton's mold.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

Intelligence Failure? (V)

Part I is here.

If only we had connected the dots....

That's been a constant refrain since 9-11. If only our intelligence agencies had seen the pattern in the information, the attack on the WTC would never have happened. It has been repeated so often that it is almost unassailable conventional wisdom. It makes for good headlines and is a good hook for endless op-ed pieces. That doesn't change the fact that it is a cliché that deserves immediate retirement. Not only is it simplistic, the underlying idea is pernicious.

Connect the dots. That's a kid's game on the place-mat at the Ground Round. Can a serious person really think that threat analysis is child's play?

Two post 9-11 books rely heavily on the missed dots motif. Peter Lance, 1000 Years for Revenge and Murray Weiss, The Man Who Warned America. Read either book and you will curse the stupid bureaucrats who were too blind to see. Read both, however, and you find that they themselves only connect some of the dots and when they do, often, they draw two different pictures.

For instance, who captured Ramzi Yousef? For Lance, the heroes are the Diplomatic Security Service. The FBI was late to the party, only showed up when Yousef was in handcuffs, then claimed all the credit. For Weiss, it was an FBI triumph orchestrated by John O'Neill. The DSS barely rates a mention.

Admittedly, any writer is limited by the sources available to them. But that is even more true of secret intelligence. Remember that Lance and Weiss are writing retrospectively about an event that has already happened and their sources are officials in a democratic government. Further, they had all the time they wanted to get their facts together. Now compare that to the FBI investigator trying to discern what might happen in the future, who has to depend on fragments of information gleaned from shadowy criminal conspiracies, and who is under intense time pressure to produce answers for policymakers and prosecutors.

A little understanding is in order and a little less finger-pointing.

Each book is full of other examples that undercut their claims that the dots and connections were obvious. O'Neill, dubbed "The Man Who Knew" by PBS, ended his FBI career investigating bin Laden and failing to convince the government that al Qaeda was a serious domestic threat. Yet, O'Neill was also convinced that there was a nationwide, centrally directed conspiracy to kill abortion providers. He fought to keep FBI resources focused on this "threat" even after Janet Reno recognized that no evidence existed of such a conspiracy. So O'Neill was not infallible and his superiors knew that. There was no reason for them to accept his threat assessment and demands for resources without questioning his evidence and logic. There was room for honest disagreement. He had, after all, been wrong before in his grand theories.

Lance lays out the background on the Phoenix Memo in great detail. It is one of the fattest dots that he thinks was ignored. But, as he presents it, the memo is nowhere close to a smoking gun.

First, he argues that it may have been a mere CYA gesture. The FBI agent who wrote it had been given the information from his source over four years before. The source was about to go public with his dissatisfaction at his treatment by the agent which may have triggered the memo to Washington.

Second, the source was romantically involved with a woman suspected of being a Chinese spy. He refused to break-off the relationship when ordered to do so by the FBI and became a vehement public advocate of the woman's innocence. So, his credibility and judgment are at least open to question.

And what was the hot intel this source provided? That radical Islamisists were taking flight training. Did the source point to any of the 9-11 hijackers? Not quite.

Harry Ellen [the source] now believes [i.e. in 2003] that one of the young Islamics he saw outside the mosque back in 1996 was an Algerian pilot named Lofti Raissi. Raissi was arrested by British authorities right after 9/11 and indicted by the US Justice Department on charges of fraud and giving false information on his FAA pilot's application. A British judge set him free months later, declaring there was insufficient evidence to tie him to the 9/11 conspiracy. But the FBI found evidence that Raissi had been in the proximity of one of the key 9/11 hijackers on three occasions.

Hani Hanjour, the Saudi who flew American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon, had enrolled at CRM Airline Training Center in Scottsdale, Arizona as far back as 1996. On five dates in 1998 he trained on a flight simulator at the same facility as Raissi.

According to Lance, this should have been enough for FBI analysts to figure out that an plan to fly jets into the WTC was imminent. Because a suspect source may have seen someone who was at a school in Arizona when another guy was there. The attack was about to happen because the hijack pilot had done nothing during the five years he was in this country. Why it's a big red arrow pointing directly at Atta down in Florida where the heart of the plot was located.

By the time the Phoenix Memo was sent, there was little FBI HQ could do to prevent 9-11. Even if they ignored PC sensibilities and started to investigate all Middle Eastern men taking flight lessons anywhere in the country, they had less than two months to catch the key figures. They would have been chasing needles in dozens of haystacks with very little time to do it.

For the Phoenix Memo to be useful, it needed to be sent earlier and more digging done by the Phoenix office to describe the actual threat. Yet, in their eagerness to attack the FBI, critics lionize the agent who may have sat on the critical information for years.

Note: Jane Galt returns to this subject here and here. Murdoc Online comments here.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Intelligence Failure? (IV)

Part I is here.

The degree to which the FBI/CIA failed prior to 9-11 is inextricably tied to the question of how sophisticated and robust the al Qaeda conspiracy was. If we think they were simpletons, then almost any action by the US would have permanently derailed the plot. However, if they were smart operatives, then law enforcement's ability to prevent some catastrophic attack at some point was limited.

This matter is at the heart of the statement by Fred Fielding (quoted over at The Truth Laid Bear).

FIELDING: I am sure it's no surprise to you or anybody here that there's a lot of interest in today's hearings and there's a lot of interest simply because on September 11th we were totally beaten. We were beaten and all our systems failed.

Our systems to stop hijackings failed. Our intelligence, domestic and foreign apparatus failed. We had 19 people who were able to -- some of whom were known by the CIA to be terrorists -- entered our country, got visas, were living under their own names in this country, took flight lessons. They beat the security screening with knives to get into the aircraft and turn four aircraft into missiles.

And they had to have -- it was interesting -- they had to have 100 percent success in order to do this and they did.

Notice, though, that Fielding is assuming that the plot would have been easy to derail ("they had to have 100 percent success"). That is simply not borne out by the facts.

The original plot to hijack planes and fly them into buildings was disrupted when the police in Manila arrested one of the conspirators and forced the other two to flee. By the end of 1996 all three were in US custody (including Ramzi Yusef).

One of the first pilots for the reconstituted plot (Ramzi Binalshibh) WAS denied entry into the US. Al Qaeda found other volunteers. When Moussaoui was arrested, the plot continued.

Clearly, AQ did not need 100% success from end to end. They simply needed to keep trying, and get a short string of successes at some point. Fielding understates the real problems we faced in 2001 by minimizing the tenacity of the terrorists.

Similarly, do we know for sure that Atta's original plan called for four and only four planes? For all we know, our actions might have forced them to scale back their plan. That's the problem with intelligence, the murkiness is so deep, nearly every statement of fact can be questioned five different ways.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Intelligence Failure? (III)

Part I is here.

In Cloak and Gown his book on the CIA, Robin Winks writes this about Sherman Kent's* view of the realities of of intelligence work.

[There are] no secret documents in the romantic sense of the words. On any important subject, there is no single document or even group of documents that contain "the secret." No spy could know enough to spot such a document if it existed, and no vacuum cleaner approach to espionage, even should it gather up two or three documents of the highest importance, would lead without all the analytical skills of the humanists to any valid conclusions. Documents do not speak: they do not declare that they are "the offbeat thoughts and recommendations of a highly-placed but erratic advisor," not a draft intended only for discussion, not a record of a decision rescinded orally the next day.

Unfortunately, many journalists still write as though there was some document the FBI could have obtained that would have revealed the whole conspiracy on 8-1-01.

I know of no evidence that Atta and his handlers had any sort of detailed written plan that they distributed to the other 18 hijackers in the summer of 2001. In fact, bin Laden indicated that many of the hijackers did not know they were going to crash the planes. So unraveling the whole plot would have required arresting Atta or one of the pilots and getting them to confess. Yet, what laws had Atta broken on 8-15-01 that would have justified that arrest?

Even if conspiracy to hijack could have been proven against most of the 19, would there have been a clear picture that they intended to use planes as giant bombs? Or would the reasonable conclusion have been that they were trying to force the release some prisoners as terrorists had often done before?

If the latter interpretation had prevailed, isn't it likely that al Qaeda would have kept trying for a 9-11 style attack? After all, they kept trying after the break-up of the New York terror cells and the arrest of Ramzi Yusef. The problem-- the planners-- were beyond the reach of the FBI and CIA. Stopping one conspiracy in New York offered no protection from the next. (Atta, for example, had no role in any of Ramzi Yusef's earlier plots; he was, recruited after the New York cells and the Manila plots were rolled-up.)

* Kent was the author of the book Strategic Intelligence for American World Policy and the towering figure in the creation of the CIA's analysis and estimate functions.

UPDATE: Donald Sensing comments here.

Intelligence Failure? (II)

In this piece from NRO Herbert E. Meyer makes a good point about intelligence.

The most vital, most actionable pieces of intelligence aren't "secret" at all. They are visible to anyone with a reasonable grasp of politics and economics — and, above all, anyone with a willingness to see the obvious and then articulate it clearly enough, and forcefully enough, so that policymakers cannot possibly ignore it.

To him it follows that the key failure of the pre-911 CIA and FBI was " a failure of insight, and it was from this failure that all the others flowed. Had our intelligence community made clear back in the 1990s that the country was at war, and under attack, the post-9/11 national focus on terrorism and on radical Islam would have started years before. "

While Meyer may have a point, he overlooks one key thing: In the government there are many people who think they have the insight to see the obvious and they disagree. How, then, is a President to choose among them?

It is obvious now that al Qaeda was the greatest immediate threat to US citizens in 2001. But was the evidence that strong in 1998? After all, before the second attack on the WTC, right-wing extremists had killed more Americans than bin Laden. Moreover, we had captured nearly all of the key figures in the first WTC bombing, good police work had foiled attacks on LAX, Seattle, and the trans-Pacific airliners. How stupid was it to think that the FBI and other agencies had a handle on the threat at home?

Is a president really supposed to believe each person who presents a worst-case scenario? Doesn't that lead almost inevitably to countless adventures abroad and a police state at home.?

Dean Acheson wrote in his memoirs that what presidents "needed was communicable wisdom, not mere conclusions, however soundly based in experience or intuition." That means that the insight must be backed up with facts and logic. Meyer admits this, but he thinks that getting the question formed correctly must come first and that framing the right question is critical to intelligence collection and analysis. Unfortunately, such a course can limit the kind of aggressive action Meyer approves of. As we have seen in Iraq, political support for such actions will erode when the voters suspect that the intelligence books were cooked to justify a pre-conceived course of action.

Easterbrook's "Alternative History" shows the problem with"insight" that is too good and is acted upon too quickly. If we citizens don't recognize the threat, we will punish the "over-reaction."

As a conservative, I am appalled at the way some Democrats have attacked Bush on the Iraq War and the intelligence failures. At the same time, i think that Clinton-Reno overstated the threat from the violent, extreme-right. But, for all i know, Clinton could have prevented 10 more OKC-type atrocities by breaking up neo-nazi and other groups. None of us can know how serious a contained threat really was. To judge any intelligence agency only on the threats it did not contain is worse than unfair; it is childish.

Monday, April 12, 2004

Jane Galt thinks the unthinkable

Maybe 9-11 wasn't a preventable "failure."

Maybe we should call this the Oswald Problem. It's hard to admit that a single twisted self-important punk can change history by killing a popular president. So we manufacture vast conspiracies at work in Dallas. Likewise, we want to believe that some one must have screwed up because 9-11 was such a great tragedy.

Maybe no one screwed up. Maybe 9-11 was just the result of a series of marginally flawed decisions which reinforced each other in a catastrophic fashion.

See also here.
Carnival of the Capitalists

The April 12th edition can be found at the Chicago Report.

Saturday, April 10, 2004

Military Education and Business II

(Part I is here)

One key difference between civilian and military education is the military's recognition of the importance of the collective effects of a common curriculum and philosophy. Those who pass through the military schools end up with a shared mindset that is both conceptual (doctrine) and experiential.

One prime benefit of this is that communications can be both clearer and faster. When speed matters, as it does in modern combat operations, speed of communications is more important than the technical specifications of weapon systems. (See more here.)

While business does not move at the pace of combat operations, speed and clarity of communications still matter for strategic planning and execution. It is surprising, therefore, that so few corporations have taken in-house education seriously.

For one thing, strategic thinking is not something that comes automatically via on the job training in a functional department. Outside "professional" education sometimes deals with strategy, but when it does it tends to do so from the perspective of a particular discipline, function or profession. HR people see strategy as employee empowerment and retention. Quality people see it at TQM or Six Sigma. Finance sees only balance sheets, portfolios and shareholder value. None of these are an enterprise strategy and they don't equal one if added together.

In fact, a disparate list of internal initiatives, each "owned" and promoted by a department head, is really the negation of strategy.

The problem is compounded by the fact that at many firms some executives received their OJT and previous strategic experience at a different company. The marketing executive might have recently been with a consulting outfit, the head of finance might have come over from a competitor. They don't just bring differing viewpoints, they also bring completely different ways of doing things and approaching strategy. When outsiders are mixed with their homegrown peers, it is easy for strategic discussions to generate more heat than light and leave fuzzy areas when it comes to implementation.

The problem is even worse when a company has to integrate managers from a merger or acquisition. Then there is a sudden wholesale mixing of protocols and procedures that can take years to sort out. (Take a look at AOL-Time Warner or Citibank-Travelers).

In all these cases, there would be real value in something like the Army's Command and Staff College or the Naval War College. It could shape mindsets in a valuable way and improve the quality of strategic thinking. Moreover, when outsiders are brought into a company, it would offer a formal mechanism to uncover the new ways of thinking they bring with them.

Part III is here.

See also Doctrine and Fad Surfing

Friday, April 09, 2004

"The Intelligence Mess: How It Happened, What to Do About It"

Really great article here.


Take Iraq?s missing weapons of mass destruction. It may yet turn out that these will be found in Iraq itself, or that they were moved or hidden outside the country in the many months between when we first told Saddam Hussein we were coming and when at last we arrived to depose him. Still, for the moment the stubborn fact remains that the government said the WMD were there and they have not been located. Whose intelligence failure is that? Did our intelligence agencies "fail" in 2003, when, according to David Kay, even Saddam?s Republican Guard believed Iraq possessed the weapons? Or did they "fail" in the 1990?s when the government of the United States regarded the CIA, and spying, and human intelligence, and Iraq as one big pain that should just go away?
Was September 11 the worst intelligence failure in our country?s history? Or was it, rather, a national failure, the failure of a country that allowed its sense of decency to overwhelm its instinct for survival and that effectively convinced its enemies that they could strike with impunity?

The problem with our intelligence apparatus, to repeat, is that we went on a national nap for over two decades. If an entity is systematically warped and mismanaged for 20 or 30 years?not by a single agency director or American President, but by a philosophy?it cannot be fixed overnight. You cannot wake up on Monday and say, "We need more informants," and expect to have them embedded and reporting by the close of the business day. If those lobbying for quick fixes to the intelligence mess do not appear to understand this, might it be because they do not want anyone to start probing whose mess it actually is?
A political class that appreciated the stakes involved would not indulge in this sort of recklessness. It would not hasten to dub every episodic setback an intelligence failure without asking searchingly whether we have set our agencies up to fail. It would have the necessary perseverance, through the inevitable torrent of catcalling, to retrace a quarter-century of missteps. And it would construct its remedies on the basis of a correct diagnosis of the disease. Right now, when we need it most, this is not the political class we have.

And this follows right along with the previous post:

Intelligence is dynamic. Over time, foreign terrorists and spies inevitably learn our tactics and adapt: consequently, we must refine and change those tactics. When we purposely tell them what we know?for what is blithely assumed to be the greater good of ensuring they get the same kind of fair trials as insider traders and tax cheats?we enable them not only to close the knowledge gap but to gain immense insight into our technological capacities, how our agencies think, and what our future moves are likely to be.

In considering the asserted "intelligence failures" of September 11 and beyond, it is worth bearing in mind this information bounty, which our government consciously decided to provide from 1993 through 2001 even as it was increasingly manifest that the enemy was growing more proficient, its attacks more deadly.

Open Source Training Tips?

In his book 1000 Years for Revenge, Peter Lance details the thwarted hijacking of an Air France flight in 1994 by Algerian terrorists from the Armed Islamic Group. The hijackers intended to crash the fuel-laden plane into the Eifel Tower. The January 5, 1995 issue of Time carried a story, "Anatomy of a Hijack", which "detailed every moment" of the hijacking and the rescue. A copy of that magazine was found in Ramzi Yousef's apartment in the Philippines when police raided it.

It seems likely that al Qaeda learned a few things not to do from the Algerians's experience. Which raises a troubling question: To what degree does an open society provide free "lessons learned" to terrorists and criminals?

Modern media companies can draw upon the expertise of a large number and wide variety of authorities. This professional expertise is completely beyond the reach of the average individual. But when there is a hot story, the information and insights are just there for the asking on TV, in the newspaper, and on the Internet.

It's not just al Qaeda operatives who can profit. Smart criminals can as well. This point was brought home to me while watching Fox News over the last two weeks. A serial killer in Kansas has resurfaced to taunt police. As expected, Fox has brought on an array of detectives, profilers, forensic specialists, etc. They were happy to discuss the methods the police now have to track down the killer who has eluded them since the 1970s.

Law enforcement believes that this man is smart and follows the news. It seems more than possible that he learned how better to avoid capture by listening to TV and reading the papers (Fox has not been alone on this.)

As i said, troubling.


National Review is in favor of defeating Arlen Specter in the GOP primary. Apparently, their desire to slime my troublesome senator has overwhelmed their good sense. Take a look at this article by John Miller. The worst part is the opening.

Long before he became one of the most liberal Republicans in the Senate — and the target of Congressman Pat Toomey's GOP primary challenge — Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania demonstrated a knack for notoriety. In 1964, as a member of the Warren Commission, he invented the "single-bullet theory" to explain how Lee Harvey Oswald assassinated President Kennedy. Conspiracy junkies have obsessed over him ever since. (In Oliver Stone's movie JFK, Kevin Costner's character labels Specter "an ambitious junior counselor" behind "one of the grossest lies ever forced on the American people.")

What Miller doesn't say is that later forensic analysis has shown that the single bullet theory is almost certainly correct. The same bullet hit Kennedy and Connolly. Gerald Posner put this to bed ten years ago.

And hasn't NR noticed that Oliver Stone is a loon?

Last fall i criticized the History Channel for airing a "documentary" that accused LBJ of killing Kennedy. On Tuesday, they put on an excellent panel discussion by serious historians which shredded the case that "The Men Who Killed Kennedy" presented. They deserve credit for that follow-up.

It is sad that a big media property like THC is more honest than the premier conservative website.

Thursday, April 08, 2004

Rice a "Moron"? Have they no shame?

James at Outside the Beltway reports on the shameful treatment of Condoleezza Rice at the hands of some pundits and nano-pundits. It seems they have unearthed a critical review of her first book which was based on her dissertation. From this they conclude that she is not bright enough to be Bush's National Security Advisor. James addresses that fairly conclusively when he writes:

I would note that this particular book was not only picked up by a major academic press but was a revised version of her doctoral dissertation, which was by definition vetted by a panel of subject matter experts. I'm sure there were flaws in it—there always are—but it was almost certainly well researched.

Reviews in academic journals tend to be rather brutal, as they’re usually aimed at showing how clever the reviewer is. This is likely to be even more true when the reviewer is a Czechoslovakian historian reviewing the work of a political scientist studying the Soviet Union.

See also the posts on ProfessorBainbridge, Heretical Ideas, PoliBlog, and Asymmetrical Information

When Peter Paret and Gordon Craig came out with the second edition of "The Makers of Modern Strategy", they got contributions from a Who's Who of military historians. And who did they choose to write about pre-WWII Soviet doctrine and strategy? Not Kevin Drum or Josef Kalvoda.

Yeah, it was Rice. And this is in 1984-1986 before she served in government and when she was barely into her thirties.

NB: Both Paret and Craig were professors at Stanford and Rice was a young assistant professor there. So if she was a moron, you would think they might have noticed. The fact that they included her contribution shows that they respected her intellect and scholarship.

This is also an interesting article:

Josef Korbel's Enduring Foreign Policy Legacy

Professor Mentored Daughter Albright and Student Rice

By the way, anyone want to compare the scholarly contributions of Rice to Albright? Did we have SoS who was a moron too? Or is that only a question when we are talking about African-American women who work in Republican administrations?

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Information overload?

Kevin Holtsberry writes:

I wonder at what point you have more information coming in than you can possibly handle. I feel like I am at that point right now. I have never been very good at focusing my interests.

I feel his pain. Between the internet, online booksellers, and magazines, information comes at us in torrents. It really is like trying to drink from a firehose.

But i have come up with a few coping mechanism.

1. The most liberating advice on reading i've seen came from William Casey, who actually wrote a pamphlet called "How to Read a Book" while he was CIA director. According to Joe Persico, Casey counseled, "Never feel you have to read a book through. The author isn't there. He won't feel insulted. "

Casey also recommended that you start by checking the bibliography, notes, and index. That way you can jump right in and see if there is anything good or new inside.

That was liberating because i already read that way and was ashamed at my weakness and lack of discipline. Thanks to Casey, i could embrace my nonlinear reading habits.

2. Think of books as red wine purchased while young. No one expects you to drink all your 2002 vintage before you buy any from 2003. Unread books on the shelves are just like a well-stocked wine cellar. Their time will come.

3. I keep a supply of the little Post-It flags at hand. That way I can easily mark passages i think have merit. It's easy to get back up to speed on an unfinished book when you can quickly review the highlights of what you have read before.

Plus, if you leave them in when you're finished, it makes it easier to refer back to the book even years later.

4. I stopped reading pundits. Sullivan or Kurtz on the war are wastes of time. Ditto Frum on anything, Brooks on most things, Krugman on politics, etc. There are now experts out there who write intelligently on almost anything i might be interested in. When reading about Iraq or the War on Terror, I'd rather read what a former military man writes or the thoughts of a military historian. Michael Barone has forgotten more about American politics and demographics than Brooks and Frum will ever know collectively and that doesn't change if you add Rick Lowry and John Podhoretz to the mix.
Ashcroft's War on Porn

Couple of blogs from the blogroll weigh-in against the conventional wisdom.

Clayton Cramer:

Do I think the government should be running around pursuing softcore pornography that people purchase in hotel rooms and on their cable TV service? No. But the Justice Department does have an obligation to enforce existing obscenity laws. Perhaps those laws don't make sense as written, but if there is this vast sea of support for pornography that Instapundit thinks there is, Ashcroft's enforcement of the laws currently on the books should cause a groundswell of public opposition, right?
In some circles, it is very fashionable to be unconcerned about the coarsening effects of pornography on our society, especially on young people, whose concepts of male-female relations are still developing. A steady exposure to any idea will certainly have some influence on the viewer; that's the whole point of political propaganda and commercial advertising.

Justin Katz:

So here's a thought: if the public really is as enamored of smut as Ashcroft's critics believe, why not campaign to change the law? If porn is such an obviously good, or at least neutral, thing, why sidestep the actual issue — involving those six guys and some unknown millions of dollars — by substituting rhetoric about the war? Come out from behind the computer desk and lance the issue head on.

This is so similar to the pro-Jackson/pro-Stern crusade that Jeff Jarvis has been leading since the Super Bowl. So this post from Jessica's Well deserves mention:

Howard Stern hand puppet Jeff Jarvis continues his defense of big media's right to push whatever crap they wish onto the public airwaves.

What say we get together an organized campaign to mail to Mr. Jarvis' home one Playboy, Penthouse, or Hustler every day? I mean, he doesn't have to open his mailbox, does he? If he does he can always not look at what is there. And if he can't be there 24 hours a day to keep his kids from getting at the stuff, well.....I guess a little more supervision is in order at the Jarvis household.

P.S. I am just kidding. Don't anybody do this.

OK it's a joke but it is also a good thought experiment. Why shouldn't Mr. Jarvis be responsible for policing his own mailbox? How exactly is that more arduous than trying to police kid's TV watching?

It seems to me, that it comes down to Jarvis's personal "ick" response. Stern yes, Hustler no. And he expects (rightly) that we should respect that. But he has no respect for those who say no to both.

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

JYB on Sullivan

The JunkYard Blog is out of patience with Andrew Sullivan:

He plays with religion, mostly to denounce any that doesn't agree with his fairly narrow misinterpretations of scripture, and opines here and there on economics, but he basically doesn't know much of consequence about any of that. He certainly doesn't understand warfare or the military. He's just an opinionated guy who happens to write well and knows how to build a viable argument out of thin air. Which is why he's a journalist. What the heck else would he do?

Sullivan's grasp of military issues has always been suspect as discussed here:

Lessons of this War

He is also the sort of blogger i had in mind when i wrote this post:

When Instapundit Speaks (Successful Blogging and the Dangers of Rapid Response)

Even at his moment of glory-- the war on Howell Raines-- Sullivan was a less than reliable reporter.

Can Someone Please Explain

Andrew Sullivan must be smoking crack
Alanis the Brave

Michael Williams on another celebrity who felt the need to make a statement.

It may be hard to believe, but we're not afraid of you, we just don't like you. We find your nakedness and superfluous cursing to be aesthetically unpleasing. We don't want our kids to grow up to be like you, because absent the publicity machine of the fading music industry you're a pathetic, angst-ridden loser. You've written some music some people like, and that's a nice accomplishment, but it gives you about as much moral authority to pontificate on war, censorship, and politics as Humpty (pronounced with an "umpty").

Monday, April 05, 2004

"Profilers can aid case, but they won't solve it"

This is a pretty good article on criminal profilers.

Profilers were sure the D.C. sniper was white. John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo were black.

Profilers thought the Green River killer couldn't hold a steady job. Gary Ridgway worked for 31 years for the same company.

Profiles can be a useful tool in a criminal investigation--particularly one that has hit a dead-end--but shouldn't be so central that investigators ignore other clues, experts say.

And i really liked this part.

Egger, who has written four books on serial murders, said most profilers are either retired FBI agents or psychiatrists or psychologists who have moved into that area and were trained by the FBI.

"Profiling of course has gotten a lot of play because of television and movies," he said.
"Profiler" was a television show in which the main character was a beautiful blond woman who also was psychic.

"It was ridiculous," Egger said.
Carnival of the Capitalists Is Up

The April 5th edition of CotC is by Jonathan of Crazy Pundit.

Thursday, April 01, 2004

Market as God, Pundit as Priest

Clayton Cramer points to this rather odd post on Hollywood and wholesome movies. Cowen "concludes" that there is no market for more family-oriented fare because if there was, Hollywood would make them.

By that reasoning, all cars should still have tailfins and weigh 5,000 pounds. After all, if there was a market for smaller, more Teutonic cars, Detroit would have offered cars like that in 1958.

Markets are efficient information processors, but they are not omniscient. Buyers can only purchase what is presented to them by producers. Since producers are not gifted with perfect foresight, they often miss opportunities. That is why innovators and new entrants can reap high returns. As Clayton M. Christensen shows in The Innovator's Dilemma, established firms usually are locked into existing customers and are blind to the profits to be found in new or underserved segments.

It is not easy to identify new opportunities. That is as true for Hollywood as it is for Wal-Mart. It helps if you have good metrics about customers, buying patterns, product-line profitability, etc. Wal-mart does and that is one reason for their astounding success. Hollywood accounting is notoriously murky. The studio heads may be greedy, but they can't exploit what they cannot see.

Even six months ago no studio thought there was a market for the Passion. That shows a pretty big collective blind spot given that movie's huge box office.

The movie industry is as much a creative community as it is a business. Tom Wolfe has skillfully dissected the "compound mentality" that can infect such communities. Artists begin to care less about what customers want, and worry a great deal about what their peers think. Again, such groupthink (does Cowen think this only happens in government bureaucracies?) can create blind spots.

Cramer's post has more on Hollywood's cluelessness about the state of religious belief in America.

More Brooks, Red/Blue, etc.

This time in The New Republic.

This, as should by now be apparent, is an exceedingly lame and tedious exercise. It misses the broader point that Brooks does tend to be a little careless, and that he takes frequent liberties with his descriptions. But you see where I'm headed: Issenberg is guilty of the exact same thing--ignoring the broader point that Brooks is basically right.
Not a Good Sign

U.S. Civilians Mutilated in Iraq Attack

Some witnesses said the insurgents had planned Wednesday's ambush in advance. Esam Yassin, 22, who sells biscuits and soft drinks at a small shop on Highway 10, said owners of businesses along the four-lane road were warned Wednesday morning to stay away from the area because of an impending clash with the Americans.

The attack occurred in a commercial district that is normally busy. But on Wednesday, Yassin said, the morning streets were nearly devoid of their normal pedestrian and vehicular traffic.

Yassin said insurgents were circulating this message: "We will be waiting here for them and a big battle will happen. So we don't want civilians to be around."