Saturday, February 05, 2005

"Way aheads" are worthless

This is a post of mine that I sent to Powerline a couple of weeks ago. They were making fun of the poorly written and unimaginative products that the intelligence community puts out. Here is what I wrote to them:

You guys are right on. These big unclassified "way aheads" written by the intel community are invariably bureaucratic, unimaginative and pointless. They are a waste of manpower to write and a waste of time to read. Unfortunately, the classified reports we give the policy makers get is pretty much the same. Two reasons: 1) everyone is afraid to make an "assessment" (prediction) that will turn out wrong. This attitude is puzzling because... no one ever gets fired! And 2) Classified raw data is so bad. Human intelligence is laughable. The reports we work from are full of "Could possibly's" and "could tend to indicate's" and my favorite: "This source, if accurate, could be indicating..." We might as well guess, which is what the policy makers have to do when they get the reports we write them. And the Electronic stuff we work with is maddeningly vague. But, if you try to put an imaginative interpretation on it, some supervisor in thrall to condition 1) above will edit that assessment out.

If you want good analysis, ignore leaked docs or pretty much anything written by the intel bureacracies for public consumption and read what the free-lancers, who are fusing the open sourse stuff, are writing.

Mark Steyn made this point as well, much more eloquently that I ever could.

Everything that is wrong with the agency was made plain a few weeks ago with the much-anticipated release of a classified CIA "Presidential Daily Brief" from August 6 2001. This was supposed to be the smoking gun which would reveal that Bush knew 9/11 was coming. It turned out to be far more damaging than that. It revealed somewhat carelessly that the CIA - the most sinister acronym in the world, the all-knowing spooks behind the dirty tricks in a thousand Hollywood thrillers - crib most of their info from television shows and foreign intelligence services.

Steyn skewered so effectively the pretentious nonsense that passes for analysis in the intelligence field. He ended with a call for an organization more robust and targeted to the main threat of our time, much as the OSS was in WWII. I am all in favor of that.

Intelligence has no value unless it is helping policy makers make the right diplomatic decisions to advance America's interest. Military intelligence has no value unless it helps commanders bring fire onto the enemy to break up his units, destroy his gear, and kill his troops. Both of these disciplines require aggressive, smart analysts willing to make hard decisions and close calls.