by Joseph D. Douglass, Jr.
July 19, 2004
Summer is definitely turning out to be a time for commentary and debate on what to do about U.S. intelligence. One critical report (Senate Select Intelligence Committee) is already at hand and the 9-11 Commission report, also highly critical, should be out this week or next.
The good news is at least this will provide the news media and their hundreds of hired talking heads something to use to fill time other than the two political conventions.
At the same time, I would not hold my breath waiting for something to happen or expecting to hear some serious talk or debate on how and why to �fix� the U.S. intelligence system, which generally means the CIA and FBI. (No one seems interested in bringing counter-intelligence, a key missing player, into the investigations. Pity.)
Why I am so pessimistic is rather simple.
First, as usual, Washington investigations are mainly held to create the impression that our elected representatives and government officials are hard at work protecting the citizenry. In reality, they invariably seem to spend monstrous amounts of money, work hardest making certain no sacred cows are gored, including themselves, and garnish millions of dollars worth of free publicity and newspaper headlines. Rarely if ever is anyone held accountable. Rather, the �system� is blamed, reorganizations are proposed as a fix as though merely shuffling the deck of cards will change the luck of the draw, and the size of government continues to grow.
Second, how can one really understand the intelligence system and how to fix it by focusing on one event, the 9-11 attack, on which the 9-11 Commission is focused, and its fallout, the attack on Iraq, that the Senate intelligence gurus addressed. Neither investigation is likely to fix anything since in both cases the problem is as much due to consumer negligence or incompetence or lack of interest, as it is due to misleading or otherwise deficient intelligence.
Third, while nearly all the immediate participants, in an effort to portray the wisdom and understanding that justifies their sitting on judgment, seem to recognize that the ever-present �culture� lies at the heart of the problem. This is all well and good, until they try to explain this culture, what it is, citing one problem such as sharing of information, that is really more a product of underlying problems than a primary cause. Unfortunately, there does not appear to be any vocal participants who have spent any significant time in intelligence process itself or who understand the critical aspects of the �culture� or are willing to share this understanding with the public and their colleagues. More likely than not, this is no accident.
The most honest off the cuff statement about culture that I have heard in forty years is what the CIA official who was caught working for the Soviets, Aldrich Ames, said following his capture in February 1994. The essence of what he said was, �What's the big deal. After all, it's only a game. Doesn�t everyone understand that?�
Certainly, I am being somewhat facetious, but not much. Fact of the matter is, in my judgment, one can not begin to understand or talk intelligently about culture without going back to the early days of the OSS (the CIA�s predecessor) when the most critical cultural ingredients were set in place. This, of course, is outside the purview of either of the investigations at issue. But, without at least a passing acquaintance with what was set in place in these formative years, I find it presumptuous that anyone would dare recommend a �fix.� But, then, such �fixes� are the Washington style, which might also be viewed as how to best sweep the whole matter under the rug.
Should either of these investigations want to contribute in a serious manner to the defense and national security problems our country faces, let me suggest that they broaden their investigations and focus on problems where they can take part in untangling the mystery where the issue of avoiding accountability will not dominate the process from the shadows.
For example, examine the anthrax attack of October that followed so close on the heels of 9-11 that it can hardly be viewed as anything other than a part of that attack. Why has nothing emerged from the investigation? Why did the FBI seem to ignore the possibility of foreign participation and look for some disgruntled American scientist to blame, especially when all indicators pointed overseas? Stated in this way, real cultural issues might well emerge.
As an example of the cultural problem, they might start with the NSC discussion chaired by Vice President Cheney as reported by Woodward in Bush at War (page 247-249). The subject of the anthrax letters comes up. Tenet remarks, �I think there's a state sponsor involved.� Libby then cautions, �We�ve got to be careful on what we say,� to which Tenet quickly responds, �I'm not going to talk about a state sponsor.� Cheney then seals the discussion saying, �It's good that we don't because we're not ready to do anything about it.�
This is a beautiful continuation of a forty-year effort of avoiding reality and, consequently, not being ready. The usual alternative has been to solve this problem by denying its existence and burying relevant intelligence.
As a second issue, they might investigate the status of current intelligence CBW threat assessments and compare them with what is in the open press and with information that should be contained in the assessments but probably is not. Are the CW kits we have seen on television news segments on palates, plastic wrapped and ready for distribution, in tune with the full threat? Are the anti-anthrax inoculants in production relevant to the threat, or just one minor aspect? Where is all the intelligence on Russia�s still continuing massive 60 year research and development effort that has involved tens of thousands of the best minds in Russia and its East European satellites? Here (and in China and elsewhere) is an enormous threat to our nation. It is both terrorist-friendly and, in other respects that are seldom addressed, extremely massive and sophisticated. Yet, the only evident response has been a continuing effort to sweep it under the rug since 1969. Perhaps one of these ongoing U.S. investigation efforts might lift a corner of this rug, if they dare.
A third issue they could examine concerns U.S. intelligence and the combined terrorist, organized crime, drug trafficking, and deception threat, all of which while seemingly separate are really intertwined and integrated. Money laundering, an essential part of the war on terrorism as repeatedly pointed out by President Bush, is run by organized crime and the powers that oversee drug trafficking. There is hardly a terrorist group that does not raise money through drug trafficking and the drug trafficking nets were designed to support the infiltration of terrorists and their supplies. All of these � drug trafficking, terrorism, and organized crime � seem to have become increasingly pertinent to U.S. security, especially over the past fifteen years. Yet, why has U.S. intelligence collection directed toward the major state sponsor of all three, Russia and its intelligence services, which is also dominant in deception designed to mislead us respecting the identity of those who pull the strings, been sharply curtailed, beginning in 1990? An investigation into this issue also will bring out more of the critical �cultural� issues, including several that are not limited to U.S. intelligence.
We all know the war on drugs has been a farce since first inaugurated by President Nixon. How can we fight a real war on terror without being able to fight a war on drug trafficking, especially since the two are so closely interrelated? There is yet another reason for tackling this question in a serious manner. In the case of narcotics trafficking, the United States is every bit as under attack as we were the morning of September 11, 2001. Moreover, the damage done to America each year from narcotics trafficking greatly exceeds the total cost of terrorism over the past two decades! The threat from organized crime is even worse, as explained in the U.S. Government�s own interagency study, International Crime Threat Assessment, prepared in 2000 because of the perceived enormity of the threat to all countries around the world.
A fourth issue concerns what is known about the possible existence of nuclear warheads already in the United States under the control of foreign intelligence service agents or terrorists. This issue was first raised by Col. Stan Lunev, formerly with Soviet military intelligence, who defected from Russia in 1992 shortly after Boris Yeltsin took the helm. Another source, retired FBI agent Paul Williams has reported in his book that bin Laden and company purchased a significant number (20) of suitcase nucs from the Chechen Mafia as the Soviet Union was changing back into Russia and has smuggled several of the warheads into the United States already. Presumably, they are just waiting for an opportune time to set them off. For an overview, see J. R. Nyquist�s �Is al-Qaeda Preparing a Nuclear Hit?� [See] Does not the public have a vested interest in knowing what the U.S. intelligence assessment of this reported threat really is? Is the Senate Committee convinced that U.S. intelligence now is doing all that they could reasonably be expected to do?
These are but four issues, all closely related to the two subject investigations but far more interesting and likely more pertinent to U.S. national security ahead than who knew what on 9-11 and when or why the public should not ask Congress why they went along with the Iraq War. Would not the potential of serving America be better served if the 9-11 Commission and the Senate Select Intelligence Committee could focus more serious intelligence community interest on these issues? Does anyone expect their investigations of 9-11 and the Iraq war decision to really tell us why, who, when or what?
We all know that there is not a chance that any of these issues will be addressed in any depth by the two investigations. For the most part, their mission has been accomplished. The information released thus far suggests that the two committee reports will be enough to put the public back to sleep. What a better result could be achieved than for everyone to be in agreement on the need to place all the blame on the intelligence community and do so without holding anyone accountable.
Business as usual in Washington D.C. proceeds uninterrupted.
© 2004 Joseph D. Douglass, Jr.
Joseph D. Douglass, Jr., Ph.D., is a defense analyst, author of The Soviet Theater Nuclear Offensive and co-author of CBW: The Poor Man�s Atomic Bomb and America the Vulnerable: The Threat of Chemical and Biological Warfare. His most recent books are Red Cocaine: The Drugging of America andBetrayed: The Story of America's Missing POWs.