Saturday, July 31, 2004

A deft diplomatic touch?

Rev. Donald Sensing cuts the heart out of Kerry's claim that he will do a better job than GWB on the diplomatic front.
Kerry has long promised to have the best possible relations with European allies. So why does he never acknowledge the contributions all the above-named nations have made? Seems a curious way to start a revolution in diplomatic affairs.

You don't make a coalition bigger by denigrating the contribution of its current members.

Similarly, you don't get better cooperation in intelligence matters by dismissing what our allies have already shared . The British continue to stand behind the African uranium intelligence. To embrace Joe Wilson is to mock both Blair and MI6. (The same holds true for the Czechs and their reporting of a possible Prague connection between Atta and Iraq.)
What is going on in Colorado?

I've been dismayed at the bungling by the court in the Kobe case. It is not reassuring to read the text of the Judge Terry Ruckriegle's apology.

Several years ago when this court began sponsoring classes called parenting with love and logic, a man named Jim Fay taught me, and thousands of other parents, that when children and people make mistakes, they should not be castigated and ridiculed. He called those mistakes SLOs, significant learning opportunities, where the people making the mistakes and those around them learned lessons in life and grew from them as part of their development.

It seems never to have dawned on this new-age weenie that managing employees is not the same thing as raising pre-schoolers.

Friday, July 30, 2004

Putin vs. Khodorkovsky

Instapundit pointed to this thoroughly alarmist article.

Is Russia the Next Zimbabwe?

I've posted on this before here and here. I still have a hard time losing sleep over this. Probably because i'm not sure that Putin is the bad guy. Is it not possible that his actions against Khodorkovsky are designed to keep Russia from becoming an entrenched kleptocracy like Zaire?

Frankly, i think both African analogies are weak. Russia is its own country and i'm not sure that there is an easy analogy to draw from anywhere else in the world.

But this question i posed last year still holds, i think:

Right now in this country former CEOs are appearing in courtrooms. We accept that the excesses of the Clinton Bubble included illegal activities. Why is it hard to believe that some of the men who got rich in Russia's "privatisations" are not honest businessmen? The arrest of Khodorkovsky is a matter of grave concern, but Ken Lay and Bernie Ebbers deserve to rot in jail?
Revealing Quote

From David Ignatius in the Washington Post:

And it's reassuring, too, that the commission united partly because of a vicious partisan attack by Attorney General John Ashcroft on one of its Democratic members, Clinton administration deputy attorney general Jamie Gorelick. You don't have to be a friend of Gorelick's (which I happen to be) to think that Ashcroft's attempt to blame her personally for the FBI's problems on Sept. 11 was a smear. When the Bushies tried to divide the commission in this way, the 10 members instead came together. Bravo.

Apparently, bipartisanship means never being mean to the cool kids. No matter what policies they put in place or how much they compromise the integrity of an important investigation.
New info on Al Qaeda and 9-11

Two recent stories in the Washington Post provide a lot of new information on the planning behind the attack, AQ's capabilities, and raise some troubling questions.

New Details Revealed on 9/11 Plans

They suffer from serious deficiencies in command and control.

If the mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks had known that Zacarias Moussaoui, an al Qaeda operative now charged as a conspirator in the plot, had been arrested in August, he might have canceled the mission.
As it turned out, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the main strategist behind the attacks, did not find out until after Sept. 11 that Moussaoui was jailed in Minnesota on immigration charges.

Of course, this also suggests that they are a hard target for intelligence operations since the lack of C2 leaves a very slim trail to follow.

Their faith does not constrain their actions to any meaningful degree.

Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, who became head of al Qaeda operations on the Arabian peninsula, was "so extreme in his ferocity in waging jihad" that he would commit a terrorist act inside the holiest mosque in Mecca if he thought there were a need, according to interviews with captured terrorists, the report quoted.

This makes it hard to argue that AQ operatives would never cooperate with a secular regime like Iraq's.

This is disturbing after nearly three years.

The commission report said that some aspects of the plot remain a mystery. For instance, two of the hijackers who have received the most attention, Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar, had no English skills or exposure to life in the West, unlike the others. They arrived in San Diego in 2000 and authorities have speculated about who there may have helped them.
The report said Mohammed "denies that al Qaeda had any agents in Southern California. We do not credit this denial."

Who is KSM protecting and how could we have missed them in the post-attack investigation?

9/11 Report Says Plotter Saw Self as Superterrorist

The document also acknowledges doubts about Mohammad's credibility and reveals that he viewed himself as an independent contractor beholden to no one -- including bin Laden.

"No one exemplifies the model of the terrorist entrepreneur more clearly than Khalid Sheikh Mohammed," the commission wrote
Mohammed also claims that he would have worked with any terrorist group, not just al Qaeda, and that he would have gone forward with the Sept. 11 attacks even if bin Laden had canceled them.
"KSM presents himself as an entrepreneur seeking venture capital and people," the commission report says. "He simply wanted al Qaeda to supply the money and operatives needed for the attack while retaining his independence."

John Leo on Sandy Berger

This is dead on target.

Perhaps the "timing" argument will now work to Berger's advantage -- that the 9/11 report will overwhelm the archives story and direct attention away from him. A few news outlets are playing the Berger issue as yet another left-right, Democrat-Republican partisan wrangle. That's a way of discounting a story that has to be pursued
It would be a tragedy if the 911 Commission's Report allowed Berger to skate away. One of the critical open questions is the degree to which Berger manipulated the information the Commission used to reach their conclusions.

Even if it turns out that he did not obstruct the most important investigation since Watergate, his actions may have done serious harm. Losing highly classified material jeopardizes on-going intelligence operations. Should these documents fall into the wrong hands, critical sources and methods could be compromised.

Perhaps, the most disturbing thing is how many Democrats are trying to sweep the matter under the rug or dismiss it as a partisan issue.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

Intelligent Intelligence

Good column by Thomas Sowell.

Yet, precisely because it is an election year, elected officials will be under great pressure to "do something." The old saying, "Marry in haste and repent at leisure" may turn out to apply to a hasty marriage of intelligence services in the heat of a political campaign.
Behind all the emphasis on "intelligence failure" is a notion that surprises can be prevented. Some can and some can't. There are too many possible targets and too many ways of attacking them for even the best intelligence agencies to discover all threats in time to keep them from being carried out.

Some Questions are never closed

In one of his books former CIA counterintelligence officer William Hood wrote that "There's no statute of limitations on counterespionage, none at all."

The Fall 2004 issue of the International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence bears him out. The book review sections cover four new books that go over very old ground. One revisits the Nosenko case from the 1960s. A second defends Victor Rothschild against charges that he was part of the Philby/Blunt conspiracy. The last one looks at two books that take opposing views of Sidney Reilly who may have died in 1925.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Radio's Wounded Business Model

Good post on the economic decline of radio.

At an earlier point in their growth cycle, Clear Channel was able to wring out massive cost savings as they consolidated their network. That phase is now over.

This efficiency, cost cutting, and uniformity came at a cost: Clear Channel wracked up big margins with their streamlined McMusic programming, but they ended up driving away listeners, also.

Which ties in directly with this.

On the subject of diseconomies of scale, see this.

Found it via the Carnival of the Capitalists

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Abusing Time

Business Pundit has some thoughts on time management.

As a life-long procrastinator, i don't see it as a problem. I prefer to think of it as a way of maximizing the cognitive component of the end work product. Time spent thinking about the problem is not wasted and time spent "doing" is usually time taken from thinking. (Which was a point Business Pundit made here.)

OTOH, procrastination is often learned behavior in a corporate environment. With many managers employees learn that finishing early means there will be more Mickey Mouse revisions and more make work.

That's where the HBR article loses me.  He treats the problems as though corporate culture and managerial behavior have no role in creating them.  But in truth managers can create problems more easily than they can solve them. Just as there can be self-esteem issues behind perfectionism and procrastination, so,too, can a manager's fragile ego play a role in setting deadlines and offering criticism.  It takes self-discipline to  give clear direction and to distinguish between adding value and creating busy work.  The author (not Business Pundit) never mentions that.

Desirable does not mean feasible

SDB has a great post up on the problem of HUMINT. Especially useful is this:

Infiltration is obviously a good thing. But Conrad is wrong in referring to it as a plan. Infiltration is a goal, not a plan. A goal is what you want to achieve; a plan tells you how to achieve it. A goal is a destination; a plan is driving instructions for reaching that destination.

"Win without war." "Infiltrate al Qaeda's leadership." Yes, but how? Those are wonderful goals, but what is the plan?

Too many bloggers ignore the danger agents and case officers face. They forget (if they ever knew) that some of the most valuable spies in the Cold War died trying to help the U.S.-- Popov, Penkovsky, Shadrin. Not to mention Buckley the CIA officer tortured to death in Beirut.

Nor do they recognize just how small a target Al Qaeda is. Only a handful of decision-makers and operatives were involved in 9-11. Russia had thousands of people working in the areas we needed to know about. Plus, we could combine HUMINT with technical means to produce our estimates and, especially, provide early warning. AQ is a much tougher target all the way around.

Monday, July 26, 2004

Carnival of the Capitalists
The latest edition is up over at Business Opportunities Weblog.  This week there is a wide variety of business and economics posts from all corners of the blogosphere.  Definitely worth checking out.

If his name was Quayle this would be front page news

Cam Edwards quotes this Peter Gammon column from 2000:
a junior senator whose idea of the common man is someone who can only put $10,000 into his campaign funds, thinks low-cost housing is a $680,000 house on Nantucket, changed his middle name to be J.F.K., threw someone else's medals into the ocean in a Vietnam Veterans rally and out-Hillaried that lifelong Yankee fan by appearing on WEEI's Eddie Andelman's show and told listeners he's a lifelong Red Sox fan whose favorite Bosox player was Eddie Yost (too bad Yost never played for the Red Sox).

Bet the 9-11 Commission did not address this

Robert D. Chapman work in CIA for over 30 years. From 1957 to 1991 he worked on counter-terroism operations. In the Summer 1999 issue of the International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence  he raised a problem faced by CIA in fighting terror groups:

Under U.S. law, if an agent commits a felony while being handled by a case officer, the officer himself faces the possibility of prison at Leavenworth or Marion. That was the law when I was operational, and I have heard nothing of its repeal.
Chapman also related this story about the role of congressional oversight in the Spring 2002 issue:
Back in the Cold War, a deep terrorist penetration agent reported that an (unidentified) commercial airliner was going to be hijacked. We knew if we blew the whistle, this valuable one-in-ten thousand agent would be blown sky-high. [and probably killed]
The agency decided that they would only intervene if an American citizen was on board. None were and the plane was hijacked.
Several years later a congressional oversight committee heard about the incident and reamed the agency until it hurt,
Going forward, the agency did not have the option to protect an agent in this way.  Which meant that it could not place or keep a source high up in a terrorist network. 

Yet now the preening politicians on the commission wonder why our HUMINT on Al Qaeda was so poor. 

If Good Intelligence is the Key to Stopping Terrorism

Why hasn't the Mossad been able to end it in Israel and why couldn't MI5/MI6 bring an end to the IRA killings in Northern Ireland? Both countries have excellent intelligence agencies.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

Diseconomies of scale

While we often read about economies of scale, we proably should pay more attention to the diseconomies of scale.

When a solid sphere doubles its radius, its surface area increases 300% while its mass goes up 700%. The same ratio seems to affect organizations. As they grow, the center becomes more remote from the surface-the part that actually is in contact with customers, competitors, and new technology. The gravitational pull of the increased mass draws more and more efforts inward where they focus on internal processes, procedures, rules, expenses, and politics.

Internal forces soon overwhelm the organization's ability to respond intelligently to external events. As Jack Welch puts it, the company "has its face toward the CEO and its ass toward the customer." An odd posture to be sure since as Peter Drucker has preached for a half-century "the only profit center is a customer whose check hasn't bounced."

Costs Versus Expenses

It is counterintuitive to include expense control as one of the driver's of diseconomies of scale. How can saving money be bad?

There is a big difference between costs and expenses. Accountants, for example, rarely quantify the costs (in lost revenue) of inertia, strategic indecision, or product delay. They can easily calculate money saved using less expensive materials, but they rarely capture the erosion in brand equity which results from using inferior materials. Accountants are willing to spend time to save money even though we know that is usually better to be first to market.

If effective employment of intellectual capital is the key success factor in the new economy, then should training and education be an expense or investment? And where do most accounting departments put it?

Furthermore, most cost containment exercises are Mickey Mouse. They focus on little items like office supplies, travel, and training budgets. As such they are Band-Aids and placebos. Managers get to feel like they are doing something while big issues are ignored.

Moreover, an expense focus is a continuation of a nineteenth century mindset. It presumes that customers are grateful to have something rather than nothing. But the days are long gone when the typical customer will happily lineup for black Model T's simply because they are cheap. We have, as consumers, come to expect more choices and new products. Squeezing out expenses threatens a company's ability to compete on these other dimensions customers care about.

But what's the first lever executives reach for when trying to improve profits?

For 40 years after the end of Prohibition Schlitz was America's best-selling beer. Then they decided to change the formula so it would brew faster (i.e. cheaper). The new formula changed the beer's taste and customers deserted in droves. By 1984 nobody drank Schlitz anymore.

Notional Benefits, Real Problems

Take this everyday example of the center becoming a drag on performance.

The organization decides "leverage its buying power" to reduce costs. At the outset, everything sounds great. Centralized buying promises increased profits because costs will go down while responsiveness and quality will not change one iota. With great fanfare, a new purchasing process is put in place and new experts appointed to oversee it. But the benefits are only notional.

The purchasing staff quickly makes suppliers aware of the new decision criteria. The latter get with the program and focus on delivering low costs. Quality service and responsiveness usually suffer because they are less quantifiable than price and because the purchasing unit is too removed from the action to gauge the non-quantifiable dimensions of the product. (If they can't graph it, it doesn't exist).

Often, the central buyers become an internal police force- shoving standardization on diverse business units so that order quantities can be increased and inventories managed more efficiently. But standardization can create products that fail in the marketplace because they are neither fish nor fowl.

GM experienced this when they consolidated platforms. In theory this allows multiple divisions to utilize the same basic components with immense savings in research, engineering, and tooling. The result was the Cadillac Cimmeron-a Chevy Cavalier with minor changes and a high price. Not only did it flop in the marketplace; it inflicted grievous harm to Cadillac's image as a premium product. Even today, standardization has created look-alike models which have strong appeal to no particular segment. GM sales are lackluster. Theykeep losing share.

Ford faced similar dilemmas as it pursued the white whale of the "world car"-a single model that can be sold in dozens of countries in great quantities. But the Ford Escort was too bland and under-powered to sell at a profit in the US. At the same time, it was too large and expensive to be successful in Latin America and Eastern Europe.

Centralization also creates political problems. Like courtiers around the throne HQ staffs create suspicion between the center and the market frontier. They usually have influence, sometimes they are responsible for some expense lines. But they do not have responsibility for any whole project. The line managers, who do have that responsibility, have to deal with the marketplace and the central staff. No surprise, often the latter gets the most attention.

Peter Drucker has written of management's "degenerative tendency" to focus on internal and operational data, to the exclusion of the more important and more strategic information about customers, competitors, and technology. Centralization and defused authority feed this tendency and exacerbate the problems it causes.

Saturday, July 24, 2004

Mark your calendars

Due out in October is an interesting new book by James Webb, former Secretary of the Navy and author of Fields of Fire.

Of course, you don't have to wait. Thanks to the miracle of online bookstores, you can pre-order now.

I also highly recommend his spy novel Lost Soldiers

"If all else fails, I will retreat up the valley of Virginia, plant my flag on the Blue Ridge, rally around the Scotch-Irish of that region and make my last stand for liberty amongst a people who will never submit to British tyranny whilst there is a man left to draw a trigger."

George Washington at Valley Forge.

Wilson's curious timing

Kevin Drum discusses a subject i raised a few days ago.

Here's the question: the first time that Wilson directly charged that the African uranium story was false — and that George Bush had known it when he delivered his State of the Union address — was in anonymous comments to Nick Kristof published on May 6. Why did he wait until then? And why did he wait until July 6 to talk openly about it (in an op-ed in the New York Times)?

After all, Bush had delivered the speech in January and Wilson had taken his trip to Niger the previous year. Why not go public right after the speech? Or why not in early March, when the forged Niger documents became public? In other words, why not go public with his concerns before the war instead of after?
Drum speculates that Wilson might have drawn courage from information given him by his wife about the results of CIA's analysis of the document and other African intelligence.

HT: Just One Minute

Friday, July 23, 2004

A tidbit from McCarthy's article

This caught my eye in Reading the 9/11 Report: What to look for.

Commissioners Gorelick, Richard BenVeniste and Timothy Roemer did nothing to dispel reports in the Wall Street Journal back in March that they were regularly caucusing together, and regularly consulting with Senate minority leader Tom Daschle, to coordinate a political strategy: to use the commission as a political opportunity to suggest that the Bush administration had been asleep at the switch in the run-up to the 9/11 attacks.

Maybe it was just paritsan politics. On the other hand, Daschle had a more personal interest in the commission's verdict--- His wife served as deputy administrator of the FAA from 1993 to 1997. If the commission came down hard on airline and airport security issues, Linda Daschle would face uncomfortable questions.

The real reason Tom Daschle didn’t run for president

Tom Daschle's Hillary Problem

Astute analysts or stopped clocks

All of the post 9/11 investigations operate in a context that assumes that there were clear signals that were "missed" by the leadership of CIA, the FBI, and the White House. (I discussed this question in a series of posts beginning here.)

Journalists have reduced these signals to short-hand-- the Phoenix memo, Colleen Rowley, The Man who Knew. PDB 6 August 2001. Yet, on close examination, all of these signals are less clear than commonly portrayed.

Rowley is a case in point. She rose to stardom by revealing that FBI headquarters mishandled the investigation of Moussaoui. She became one of those brave, smart, analysts who understood the threat better than her bosses.

Check out this letter she sent to the FBI director in February 2003.

The bottom line is this: We should be deluding neither ourselves nor the American people that there is any way the FBI, despite the various improvements you are implementing, will be able to stem the flood of terrorism that will likely head our way in the wake of an attack on Iraq. What troubles me most is that I have no assurance that you have made that clear to the president.

Here she was just flat wrong. Her threat assessment was completely flawed; the wave of terror she predicted did not occur.

On the two issues she went public with, Colleen Rowley is no more accurate than a flipped coin.

See also here.

And this speech by Rowley is interesting in light of issues she addressed in her second letter to Mueller.

"Reading the 9/11 Report"

I liked this point in Andrew McCarthy's article. It has nothing to do with 9/11 per se, but it does get at a problem for pundits and bloggers:

Once you have publicly planted your feet on an issue, your objectivity ... is a distant memory. It becomes much harder to refine your understanding evenhandedly as new facts emerge.
Now wonder they have a problem at Los Alamos

Newsweek looks at the current problems here.

Obviously the Congress needs to look into security at the lab. OTOH, why are they passing resolutions praising the man who helped compromise security there in the first place.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

How does a slob lose documents?

One thing that doesn't make sense about Berger's story:

After taking classified documents "by accident," he then lost them.

Look, my desk and office are as messy as Berger's are reputed to be. Stacks of paper and boxes notes and files are everywhere. But i don't lose things-- i misplace them and forget about them. But they always stay here.

See, we slobs and packrats are messy because we can't throw stuff out. (Check any book on getting organized: a first step toward recovery is to learn to throw things out.)

It is hard to throw something out by accident. I would think that this is doubly true for classified documents. I hope they are pretty clearly marked and not easy to confuse with an errand list or the latest issue of The American Prospect.

This suggests three possible explanations:

1. Berger knowingly destroyed the documents.

2. Berger gave them to some one.

3. Some one stole them from the pile of stuff on his desk.

#3 is less sinister but still serious. We don't know who had access to Berger's office, what their motives might be, who they work for.

Maybe Berger meant no harm, but he was reckless and his actions were dangerous. Like someone who drives while drunk, his intentions are less important than the potential consequences of his selfish actions.

Check out these two posts where Captain Ed lays out other damning evidence against Berger.
Accidental Destruction

Of course, there could be an entirely innocent explanation of Sandy Berger's destruction of Clinton-era documents. Just as there was an innocent explanation for the 18 1/2 minute gap on the Nixon tapes. Sandy Berger deserves the same respectful hearing that Rosemary Woods received from the press and Congress.

(Based on this post, i don't think we should be so quick to credit Berger's good intentions or consistent honesty.)

From press accounts it is hard to figure out if the missing documents contained any unique information and if exact copies still exist in the archives.  Not just close copies or final versions but exact copies (including handwritten notations) of the specific version that is missing.

Profound Indifference

This Weekly Standard article is disappointing by not surprising.

Joe Wilson is now claiming that he didn't lie, he was misquoted by reporters.

The reporters are completely unconcerned about this affront to their professional ethics and competence.

The whole Wilson saga, IMHO, is a much bigger press scandal than Rick Bragg's use of stringers or Jayson Blair's embellishments. Blair, after all, lied about little things of no importance. Wilson and his media megaphone made charges that had senators talking about impeachment.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Words some live by

"A smart New York lawyer would have made the documents disappear before the subpoenas arrived."

Bernard Nussbaum, Clinton's first WH Counsel


Credit Where Due

Many posts and articles on the Berger matter quote Richard Clarke's verdict that the Millennium plot to bomb LAX was foiled by luck. Luck, in the sense of a fluke occurrence, had nothing to do with it. A vigilant U.S. Customs Inspector followed up on her suspicions and searched the trunk of a car trying to enter the US at the Canadian border. She expected to find drugs but, instead, found the makings of one or more big bombs.

Her name is Diana Dean and she deserves to have her name remembered and get credit for her good work.

This just isn't a matter of giving Ms. Dean her rightful credit. It also points to an important lesson going forward in the WoT. No number of principals meetings in Washington or action plans by Homeland Security will protect a single American. The rubber meets the road at the street level where alert LEOs and dedicated investigators do their job.

It is easy to forget that. Journalists, historians, analysts and planners have a tendency to over-emphasize the paper that gets generated, the options selected, and the secrets uncovered. But as John Keegan noted about intelligence in WWII--"ULTRA did not sink a single U-boat."

Or, as Col. Harry Summers pointed out, in the end every (military) strategic plan always comes down to a single soldier walking point.

I quoted Adm. Nimitz before on the question luck but it is relevant here as well.

Luck can be attributed to a well-conceived plan carried out by a well-trained and indoctrinated task group.

Luck isn't just fluke events..... good training and discipline at the front line can make a unit very lucky.

UPDATE:  See Michelle Malkin's post on Dean here.  One of her commenters mentions that Dean was not called to testify before the 9/11 Commission.  That strikes me as a serious oversight.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Joe Wilson's carefully calibrated '"courage"

For a year Amb. Wilson reveled in his persona as a courageous truth-teller who stood up to power and then warned the American people about the lies of the neocons. The factual case he presented in his book and in interviews has been shredded beyond repair. Less discussed is the curious timing of his courageous stand.

The New York Times op-ed that ignited the firestorm over "the 16 words" appeared on 6 July 2003. This was months after the SOTU speech where the words appeared.

Most importantly, it was after the war, after the capture of KSM, and after the Coalition called off the intense search for WMDs. Wilson knew that he was unlikely to be refuted by captured stockpiles or documents.

A courageous, public-spirited man who was certain that he really had debunked the case for war in 2002 would have gone public before the war. That way he might have prevented a grievous mistake by the government.

Evidence of opportunism? Certainly, and no great surprise. But it also suggests that Wilson was less certain of his conclusions in March 2003 than he now pretends he was.

Monday, July 19, 2004

Questions for CIA

A. Is it a common practice to use private citizens who are also "international business consultants" as investigators on delicate missions such as the Niger matter?

B. What steps are taken to ensure that there are no potential conflicts of interest when assigning private citizens to such missions?

C. What steps are taken to ensure that those selected for such missions do not have partisan commitments which could politicize their intelligence gathering mission?

D. Why did CIA not take steps to ensure that the Niger mission would remain confidential?

E. Why was Amb. Wilson not required to submit a written report?

E(1). Didn't the reliance on oral briefings risk losing valuable intelligence? 

F. Did any officials of CIA discuss the Niger-Iraq question with Amb. Wilson after March 2002?

F(1). Did anyone at CIA discuss the forged Niger documents with Amb. Wilson after they were received in October 2002?

G. In the period May-July 2003 Amb. Wilson provided numerous pieces of misinformation to the press (both openly and on background). What steps did CIA take to correct these dangerous and slanderous assertions?

G(1). Did CIA attempt to correct the false assertion that the forged Niger documents came to CIA from the office of the Vice President?

G(2). Did CIA attempt to correct the false impression that the Niger forgeries were received prior to Feb. 2002?

G(3). Did CIA attempt to correct the false assertion that Amb. Wilson's report went to the office of the Vice President?

H. Why did a "senior intelligence official" tell Newsday that Amb. Wilson's report was "widely disseminated" through the administration when this was not so?

I. CIA officials provided false information to the New York Times about intelligence source codenamed CURVEBALL and his relationship with the INC. What steps are being taken to prevent future cases of such disinformation activities against the American press and the American people?

I(1). Is CIA concerned that those officials harmed intelligence-sharing arrangements with Germany-- the country that provided access to CURVEBALL's intelligence?


The Cloak of Anonymity
Joseph Wilson, Liar
Our Man in Niger 

The Rise and Decline of Joe Wilson
A Little Literary Flair
Mark Steyn 
See also
Conned big time which reminds us that the "Bush lied about nukes" thing has taken some odd twists before. Remember Terrance J. Wilkinson?
Two disturbing alternatives

According to this article from The Weekly Standard, some CIA officers involved with Amb. Wilson's mission to Niger told the Senate committee that they can't remember who recommended him for the task. This suggests that either CIA did not take the mission seriously in February 2002 or that those officers stone-walled a congressional oversight committee. Either explanation is less than reassuring.
Carnival of the Capitalists

The latest edition is here.

Friday, July 16, 2004

Pre-911 Threat Assessments

This Slate article is over two years old, but it is very timely in light of all the Monday morning quarterbacking going on about connected dots and missed leads.  

Bum Rap 
The NIC [ National Intelligence Council  ] report advised policymakers, "The world leaders in terrorist suicide attacks are not the Islamic fundamentalists, but the Tamils of Sri Lanka." The report warned that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or LTTE, was "the only terrorist group to have assassinated three heads of government" and that it posed a threat to the United States.

In retrospect, it seems obvious to many people that the FBI, the CIA, and the White House should have "connected the dots" and anticipated al-Qaida's use of hijacked planes to hit the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. But everything seems more obvious in retrospect, because you know which things are true and which aren't. What makes hindsight so easy is that you know not just what you needed to worry about, but what you didn't need to worry about. Identifying threats and mobilizing to prevent them isn't as easy as finding a single pattern. Intelligence is full of patterns involving numerous groups, targets, and methods. If you're the president of the United States or one of his intelligence advisers, you have to decide which threats are most worth investigating, mobilizing for, or disrupting people's everyday lives for.

It's easy, after the fact, for reporters and political opponents to go back and dig up reports that hinted at what eventually happened. They don't have to sort through the false leads and alternative scenarios. They know how the story ends.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

A Broader Picture on Intelligence and Terrorism

Historian Christopher Andrew has a good article on some of the deeper problems associated with our intelligence agencies and counter-terrorism.

Intelligence analysis needs to look backwards before looking forward

Among the key points:

Those who prophesy the future have tended to fall into one of two categories, both of them mistaken: those who say we have seen it all before, that there is nothing new under the sun; and those who say the world is entirely new, we have to start completely afresh. Today's false prophets fall far more into the second category than the first. Most have been seduced by short-termism, the distinguishing intellectual vice of the late 20th and early 21st century. For the first time in recorded history, there is nowadays a widespread conviction that the experience of all previous generations save our own is irrelevant to present and future policy and intelligence analysis. Our political culture is dominated by an unprecedented malady: Historical Attention Span Deficit Disorder or HASDD (the only medical term and the only acronym I have ever invented).

Disrespect for the long-term past produces two serious intellectual disorders. First, the delusion that what is newest is necessarily most advanced-not a proposition which anyone with even an outline knowledge of the thousand years which followed the fall of the Roman Empire would take seriously. It took about fifteen hundred years before western plumbing and bathrooms, for example, got back to the standards set by the Romans. And second, the belief that interpreting the present and forecasting the future require an understanding only of the recent past. Little of real importance about future trends, however, can be deduced from the study of a mere generation of human experience. This kind of intellectual parochialism has, for example, led to the common belief that globalisation is an off-shoot of late 20th century American capitalism rather than the product of a long and complex interaction between the West and other cultures. For intelligence analysts, the most effective antidote to Historical Attention Span Deficit Disorder is to follow Winston Churchill's celebrated (though nowadays neglected) advice: 'The further backwards you look, the further forward you can see'

He also shows that the academy bears some responsibility for our blindness to the terrorist threat. (After all, CIA analysts receive much of their education before they join the agency).

In the quarter-century before 9/11 much academic research actually lessened our understanding of terrorism by extrapolating from short-term late-20th trends, as embodied for example by the IRA, rather than the long-term threat posed by holy terror and other fanatical, ideologically-based terrorism, which seeks to destroy its enemies rather than bomb them to the negotiating table. During that quarter-century, for example, only three issues of the generally excellent Journal of Strategic Studies, the premier British journal in the field, included articles on terrorism, presumably because it did not regard transnational terrorism as a problem of major strategic significance. Even more remarkably, during the decade before 9/11, International Security contained no article on terrorism at all.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

HUMINT (con't)

This Weekly Standard article makes a couple of key points in light of this earlier post:

It is also absolutely true that George Tenet's CIA failed to penetrate Saddam Hussein's inner circle. And only penetrations at the highest political and scientific levels could have possibly given us evidence that Saddam Hussein had decided to give up his billion-dollar, decades-long quest to develop weapons of mass destruction. (And note the plural "penetrations": Against such a proficient counterespionage regime, there would have to be more than one penetration, assessed for protracted periods of time, before it would be possible to believe that the information from these assets was not disinformation.) But it is also true that the CIA failed to penetrate Moscow's inner circle in the Cold War and that the great agents we did have (the most valuable were probably scientists) were all volunteers. The CIA was not similarly lucky with Saddam Hussein's regime, whose Orwellian grip on Iraqi society was as savage as Joseph Stalin's on the USSR. It's a very good bet that the CIA has not had a single penetration in the inner circle of any of its totalitarian adversaries. The same is probably true for the French, British, and Israeli foreign intelligence services. In other words, one simply cannot judge the caliber of a Western espionage service by its ability to penetrate the power circles of totalitarian regimes. The difficulties are just overwhelming.


The CIA was certainly guilty then of "group think"--a charge now hurled by the Senate committee at the Directorate of Intelligence. But the CIA is always guilty of "group think" since Agency reports, and especially national intelligence estimates, are designed to reflect the collective wisdom of the organization and the intelligence community. That wisdom may be flawed--unconventional, brilliant insights into countries or people almost always come from individuals working alone or in very small groups, marrying their intuition with facts. For better or worse, the American intelligence community is allergic to this kind of analysis, which it usually condemns as "subjective." The Senate select committee, which has been receiving the Agency's "group think" pieces for decades, could have, perhaps, complained about this method and style earlier.
Seymour Hersh

An excellent analysis of his methods and history by Rael Jean Isaac.

The defects with these three stories encapsulate all that has been wrong with Hersh's journalism throughout his lengthy career. Anonymous sources that cannot be checked. Directly reversing what really happened. (One might think Hersh had factual dyslexia if the reversals were not so consistently in the service of his far left ideology.) Dark charges based on a crazy patchwork of suppositions. For anyone familiar with Hersh's earlier work, his article on the Bush administration's being taken in by false documents is especially outlandish because Hersh has repeatedly been taken in by con men peddling sensational phony stories.

Hersh is an ideological yellow journalist. With his tenacity, lack of scruples, narrow vision, and white hats versus black hats view of the world, he might, in an earlier era, have been a successful police reporter particularly in the earlier journalistic world described by Ben Hecht, where letting the facts interfere with a sensational story was a mark against you (indeed, Hersh started out as a police reporter in Chicago). But Hersh is unable to handle complicated material, unable to understand or analyze policy issues. He never seems to have heard of standards of evidence. Unable to sift out the wildest, most absurd allegations, he tosses them into the pot, as long as they contribute to his being able to say "the target is destroyed."

Sunday, July 11, 2004

"Joseph Wilson, Liar"

A phenomenal analysis over at Powerline. It fully deserves the attention it is getting.

One of the most stunning revelations contained in the Senate Intelligence Committee report on the CIA is that virtually everything Joseph Wilson has said about his trip to Niger, and the report that Iraq tried to buy uranium from Niger, is a lie.

This post over at Asymmetrical Information had me gritting my teeth.

Other related parts of the report indicate that we had no HUMINT sources whatsoever after 1998.

For all the scary language in the Bush and Clinton administrations about Iraq's potential for joining WMDs and terrorism, the CIA doesn't appear to have been doing bugger-all about it other than watch from the sky and repeat what UN inspectors and Iraqi-exiles say.

This is a black mark on both administrations. I guess September 11 did change everything. It is just terrifying how unserious we were.

HUMINT is such a soft term for what Mindles thinks the CIA should have done in Iraq pre-2003. But let's think about what it entails.

First, we have to slip American citizens (CIA officers) into Iraq in a manner that lets them move around Baghdad without arousing suspicion. We have to do that knowing that if they are caught they face torture and death.

These officers then have to ascertain: 1) which high-ranking officials have knowledge of the WMD programs and the contacts with various terrorist groups, and, 2) which of these highly placed Baathists are so disaffected that they are ripe for recruitment as spies.

#1 presents a chicken and egg problem. How do you find out about secret operations (like WMDs) before you know who to talk to? How do you know who to talk to before you know the outline of the secret operation?

Given the risks and Saddam's frequent purges, the population of group #2 is small; it may be equal to zero. No amount of wishing can create a traitor where none exists.

Even if a source is found, the analysts in Langley still have to worry that his revelations are actually disinformation.

The bottom line-- HUMINT is often the best intelligence, but it is not something you can just order up like a decaf latte.

Saturday, July 10, 2004

"The Third Terrorist"

Jayna Davis was an Oklahoma City reporter at the time of the 1995 bombing. She is one of the few journalists who continued to pursue John Doe #2 even after the conviction of McVeigh and Nichols. In The Third Terrorist she lays out the course of her investigation and the results so far.

Davis makes a strong case that others were involved with McVeigh besides Nichols and Michael Fortier, that there is a foreign connection, and that the government was unwilling to pursue leads that pointed to Iraqi, Iranian, or al Qaeda involvement.

It must be admitted that, however, that she does not present a clear picture of the larger conspiracy. What she has compiled is a massive dossier of loose threads, suspicious characters, and questions the government left unanswered.

Still, this is an important book and one well worth reading. OKC was the most deadly terror attack on our soil before 9-11. Nearly a decade later we still know too little about the plot and plotters who pulled it off.

The Third Terrorist
The Third Terrorist

The Magic Words

Three minutes into the phone call the recruiter said the magic words and my interest dropped to zero. Now it was just a matter of finding a nice way to say "no thanks." And there was no way I could tell him the truth.

"They are looking for an outside change agent."

It sounds flattering and exciting. They want to change and I might be the guy to help them transform a moribund organization. But it rarely works out that way.

I speak from personal experience and from the experience of friends and colleagues who have taken the leap.

In all the cases I know first hand, the outsider hired as a change agent was trapped inside an iron triangle that doomed them.

The first leg is the hiring manager. They will be a miserable boss to have because they are, in some combination, clueless, cowardly, demanding, and political.

The demanding and political are straight-forward. The hiring manager want results from the new hire but also wants to be able to dodge responsibility for any thing bad. The outside change agent gets the blame if the key numbers don't turn around. The manager gets credit for thinking outside the box by making the outside hire. If it doesn't work out, well, he tried.

Clueless-because if they knew what direction they wanted to move, they wouldn't use a meaningless term like change agent. They'd say, "I need some one who knows how to brand services" or "we need an experienced operations leader who can get our on-time delivery up to 96%."

Cowardice comes in two flavors. First, he is looking for someone else to formulate solutions, leaving the hiring manager to slide into the comfortable role of judge/critic/evaluator. This means the manager gets only the upside. If his new change agent comes up with a winning idea, the hiring manager gets to take a bow. But in the meantime, he gets to veto ideas that are scary to the organization with the blame falling on the outsider for lack of creativity/perspective/industry expertise.

The other flavor of cowardice is on the personnel front. While recognizing the need for change, the hiring manager doesn't want to get his hands dirty dealing with his recalcitrant subordinates. By hiring an outsider, he no longer has to take responsibility for that. The change agent is supposed to use her magical interpersonal skills to overcome opposition no matter how ill-informed and intransigent.

Those intransigent managers are the second leg of the triangle. They are the change agent's peers. They are part of the problem (if they were eager to change and if they knew what needed to be done, the company wouldn't need a change agent).

Not every peer is a major roadblock, but enough of them are as to make peer management a major time drain. Sorting out the lay of the land, finding allies, trying to win over opponents-- these must be done in any organization, but they are triply difficult for the outside change agent. As an outsider, she must sort out friend from foe In addition, she has very little political capital in her account. Finally, the clock is ticking-- she doesn't have years to produce results.

Boldness is required and clear insight, but the lack of political capital means she will be lucky to get a fraction of her ideas implemented. Her initiatives will be dumbed-down, compromised, and delayed. And then, her boss will wonder aloud why she is making such slow progress.

The people who report to her complete the trap. She can't expect to be greeted with open arms; some of those who report to her wanted the job she got. They are primed to find fault. Others are heavily invested in the status quo. She can't expect them to jump on her bandwagon. She will meet resistance. And remember, the clock is ticking for her, not them.

This is a bleak view, but based on multiple examples i've seen personally from various vantage points. Those examples (call them anecdotes if you wish, but I prefer "case studies") convince me that effective change agents must come from inside an organization like Jack Welch at GE. For an outsider, the pain/gain trade-off is just too unbalanced.

This doesn't mean that organizations can't change or that outsiders can't make an impact. I actually have been part of successful change efforts. The thing is, we didn't spend a lot of time talking about it in those terms. We were too busy trying to grow a division that had been a backwater.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Knowability Paradox

In the 6-21-04 Ad Age, Randall Rothenberg identified the Achilles heel of our large media companies:

Our entire media-spindustrial infrastructure is undergirded by what I called the "Knowability Paradox." The less we know about how advertising and the media works, the more advertising and media there are.

The closer we come to being able to measure not only the real size but the exact composition of the audience, the more we subvert mass media owners's ability to persuade marketers that black, if not white, is at least very gray.

The lack of good information, coupled with inertia, ensures that money keeps flowing to CNN, Newsweek, and the New York Times.

The media business model rests on the foundation of customer ignorance. It is dangerously unstable because it frequently places media companies at odds with their customers (the big advertisers). The customers want more and better information; media companies fear that better information will hurt advertising revenue.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Carnival of the Capitalists

The latest edition is here.
Ft. Necessity

The Blog from the Core has some great pictures from the 250th anniversary activities for the battle that started the French and Indian War.

Friday, July 02, 2004

Killing Creativity

Killing Creativity

A while back Business Pundit posed an important question:

Are we uncreative because we simply don't have the time? Seriously, creativity takes work. It takes varying stimuli and inputs.

I think he is right and offer the following in support of that argument:

First, he is exactly correct that we learn little while engaged in intensive day to day operations. Thoughtful practitioners and practical thinkers have highlighted this problem for over a century.

Henry Kissinger-- It is an illusion to believe that leaders gain in profundity while they gain experience. As I have said, the convictions that leaders have formed before reaching high office are the intellectual capital they will consume as long as they are in office. There is little time to reflect. They are locked in an endless battle in which the urgent constantly gains on the important.

British soldier and scholar Basil H. Liddell Hart-- Direct experience is inherently too limited to form an adequate foundation either for theory or for application. At the best it produces an atmosphere that is of value in drying and hardening the structure of thought. The greater value of indirect experience [i.e. reflective study] lies in its greater variety and extent.

Philosopher and psychologist William James-- we learn to swim during the winter, and to skate during the summer.

Historian Jacques Barzun-- the inner integration of experience takes place slowly and during inactivity.

David Gelernter argues in The Muse in the Machine that creativity has three distinctive traits:

1. At base it “is the linking of ideas that are seemingly unrelated.”
2. It is not an incremental process, rather inspiration comes as a bolt from the blue.”
3. It occurs “in a state of unconcentration.” Hence, “hard work does not pay. You can’t achieve inspiration by concentrating hard, by putting your mind to it.”

Gelernter’s framework demonstrates why the nose-to-the-grindstone approach is a drag on creativity:

A. Ideas cannot be linked until the mind acquires them in the first place. Hence, study and reflection are critical.

B. It allows no time for broad study. Yet that is the only way to increase the chances that the right unrelated ideas will be linked. (As Jacques Barzun puts it, “abundant reading develops the original mind.” )

C. Intense focus allows no time for relaxation and reflection. There is not enough time spent in a state of unconcentration-- the state where inspiration occurs.

The mythic stories of scientific discovery support Gelernter's thesis. There are no better examples of the role of relaxed reflection than Archimedes in his bath or Isaac Newton beneath the apple tree.

In a business context, our best researchers on innovation make the same point. Utterbeck, Mastering the Dynamics of Innovation and Christensen, The Innovator's Dilemma, both argue that focusing on operational excellence today often leads to tunnel-vision that blinds executives to the potential of new technologies and methods.


Luck can be attributed to a well-conceived plan carried out by a well-trained and indoctrinated task group.

Adm. Chester Nimitz, 1941
Documents and revelations

Henry Kissinger in The White House Years:

Historians rarely do justice to the psychological stress on a policy maker. What they have available are documents written for a variety of purposes-- under contemporary rules of disclosure, increasingly to dress up the record-- and not always relevant to the moment of decision. What no document can reveal is the accumulated impact of accident, intangibles, fears, and hesitation.

Robin Weeks, Cloak and Gown:

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.

Edward Jay Epstein, Between Fact and Fiction: The Problem of Journalism:

Indeed, given the voluntary nature of the relationship between a reporter and his source, a continued flow of information can only be assured if the journalist's stories promise to serve the interests of the witness.