Monday, April 2, 2012

Intelligence crippled by ideology

INTEL WARS: The secret history of the fight against terror.
By Matthew M Aid,
Bloomsbury Press, 262pp.  

America spends $75billion per year on intelligence functions. It sounds a lot, but that is only about $250 per citizen.  The question for outsiders, and for questioning Americans, is why such a vast investment in intelligence seems to produce such patchy results.  We hear of the occasional coup such as the discovery of Osama bin Laden's hideout in Pakistan, but then we must ask why did it take ten years, given the resources put to it?

It's not as if the value of intelligence is a new idea. People who fight with sticks and stones rely on knowing where the enemy is and what he (or it) is likely to do next.  Arguably, modern technology gives governments greater capacity than they have ever had to keep tabs on people at home and abroad.

This book describes the disconnect between America’s vast and pervasive intelligence resources and its failure to translate that investment into effective strategic decision-making.

It turns out the problems are, as usual, the human factors.  Agencies compete with and sabotage each other.  The flow of information overwhelms the ability to analyze it.

Matthew Aid is a Washington-based writer and commentator on the US intelligence establishment, with many first-hand sources ready to inform him on the weaknesses of their present or former employers, but especially on the weaknesses of agencies that are rivals to their own. 

He is most critical of the political messes bequeathed by the Bush administration, but is also disappointed that the Obama administration has fallen into similar bad habits of suppressing unwelcome intelligence that does not suit the public management of short-term politics.

This book should interest not only intelligence and strategy buffs, but anyone hoping to understand a bit more about why global affairs do not turn out as we had been led to expect.