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December 20, 2009
Whistling in the Dark
Dennis Blair’s commentary for the opinion pages of the Washington Post on 18 December is a world class contribution to the literature of denial. His assessment of national security since 9/11 is notable only for what it ignores. The Director of National Intelligence uses the fifth anniversary of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Act of 2004 to celebrate a 16 agency US Intelligence Community that is not lean, mean, agile, or candid.
Let’s deal with denial first. Mr. Blair wastes an opportunity by writing about Intelligence reform without once mentioning “Islamic” terrorists or two costly wars in progress in two “Muslim” theaters. Reading his assessment, you could be led to believe he can not or will not identify the threat or the enemy. It is as if the words Islam and Muslim had been stricken from the strategic vocabulary.
In this Blair is not alone. The President, speaking in Cairo and Istanbul, exhibited the same reticence. Reading the Cairo transcript you might conclude that one of the sources of genocidal Islamic rage is a thing like French dress code. In a similar vein, the Secretary of State, more recently, in Berlin described bin Laden and al Qaeda as the “core” of the administration’s national security concerns. Mrs. Clinton’s false narrative seeks to narrow the threat to one man and one terror group. Clinton also repeats a chestnut often offered by her husband, former President W.J Clinton:
And we do bear some of the responsibility, frankly, for helping to create the very terrorists that we’re now all threatened by.
Mr. and Mrs. Clinton are fond of arguing that US behavior (and that of Israel by implication) is at the heart of terrorist angst. Ironically, this same historical irredentism mirrors explanations provided by ayatollahs, mullahs, and Imams worldwide over the last fifty years.
A clear picture of the Obama national security doctrine is emerging as we sift the specifics from the President, from Secretary of State Clinton, and now from the Director of National Intelligence. For the moment, this doctrine appears to have three components; denial, threat minimization, and guilt. We should first believe that Muslims and Islamists do not share what they so obviously have in common; we should also accept bin Laden and al Qaeda as the only “core” issues; and, adding insult to injury, we must recognize that we Americans (and Jews) are two of the sources of Islamic jihad, terrorism, and the quest for kalifa. Corollaries to this doctrine are provided by the policies for Iraq and Afghanistan; both of which could charitably be described as exit strategies with expiration dates.
This policy of denial, if not appeasement, should be a winner in Europe and at the United Nations, but it leaves a lot to be desired if the safety of America (or Israel) is a concern. Indeed, if the Sunni threat can be reduced to a bearded man and forty thieves in a cave somewhere in Pashtunistan, then surely the nuclear menace from Shiites and Iran is a kind of strategic chopped liver.
Mr. Blair’s holiday manifesto, after ignoring the Islamist menace, provides a definition of Intelligence strategy with a bizarre wish list of primary concerns:
The new National Intelligence Strategy provides the blueprint … for effectiveness… and a focus on cyber security, counterintelligence and … problems such as pandemic disease, climate events, failed states … scarce natural resources...(and) such issues as energy, trade, drug interdiction and public health… Continued commitment and investment in this reform are vital.
Does cyber security include those downlinks from our reconnaissance drones in Iraq and Afghanistan which are being hacked? Does counterintelligence effectiveness include that Muslim Army major who shot up Fort Hood? And what do disease, climate, natural resources, and public health have to do with any intelligence agency’s mission? What Mr. Blair’s intelligence “strategy” seems to lack most is focus.
The Director of National Intelligence goes on to tell us:
It has been famously argued that information is power and, therefore, should never be shared. The Sept. 11 attacks showed the fatal flaws in that logic. Our nation is becoming safer every day….
Who is it that says information shouldn’t be shared? And speaking of 9/11, how are we doing with bin Laden and Mullah Omar after a decade of looking? And who among us feels safer every day?
Those “stovepipes” which Mr. Blair celebrates are part of the problem also, not the solution. The 16 separate Intelligence agencies are defended in the name of analytical diversity; yet when the diverse fail to converse, we are led to believe that “sharing” will solve the problem. The key word in Mr. Blair’s argument may be “investment,” an administration euphemism for bigger is better.
In this arena, Blair seems to be oblivious to the “tumescent threat” a bloom that sinks many an enterprise. Institutions may be the product of good ideas, but when size becomes unmanageable, the institution often becomes the enemy of the idea. If Mr. Blair’s ideas provide any clues, the bloated Intelligence Community may have reached a tipping point.
In his analysis, Mr. Blair also fails to mention Israel, our lone democratic ally in theater. This omission is becoming part of a pattern. President Obama has visited two major Muslim capitals since coming to office. He has yet to go to Israel. The fate of Israel has often been characterized in these pages as the “canary in the coal mine.” If we read the signals coming from the Oval Office, we might think about changing the metaphor from canary to sacrificial lamb.
And if Dennis Blair’s analysis of the national security threat and associated Intelligence requirements represents the best thinking of our 16 agency consortium, he and his colleagues, like the White House, are whistling in the dark.
G. Murphy Donovan is a former USAF Intelligence officer and author of “Escaping the Wilderness of Mirrors,” an argument to privatize National Intelligence Estimates, which appears in the December edition of the International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence. The author blogs at Jenkins Hill .