Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Why George W. Bush Matters in Intelligence Reform

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One of my readers, Mugwump, asked about my sources and information on President Bush, and on another issue. I want to be clear, that Stolen Thunder is not an encyclopedic site. That is, I don't have the time or inclination in this blog to have to defend every claim. That means that I will present what I consider reasonable truths, from which I will make observations and state opinions. Sometimes, you may agree with me, at other times you may not. When I make a statement which is integral to the claim I am pursuing, then it is reasonable to challenge that claim if you find it flawed or invalid. However, if the statement to which you disagree is only incidental to the premise I am building, then I may or may not pursue that discussion. You will have to decide for yourself whether I make my case or not. I won't convince everyone, even if I had perfect knowledge, and I won't have perfect information, although I will try to make sure I don't waste your time, either.

On the first issue, Mugwump brought up a point I found incidental and a matter of personal opinion. I addressed it on the thread it concerned. But as for President Bush, I do think a deeper answer at length is appropriate.

George W. Bush is weird. That’s either a really bad thing, or a really good thing, depending on your perspective. The strong emotions surrounding this President are unique; while every President has his supporters and critics, no one in memory has suffered the absolute hate that has been spewed at Dubya, nor has a President often enjoyed the sort of loyalty that GW Bush has created. I believe this comes, in large part, from the clear and decisive policies and plans of this Bush Administration. Most Presidents try to set their policies in such a manner as to minimize conflict, which reduces outright anger but also dilutes their effectiveness. Dubya puts 100% into accomplishing his goals, but 0% into sugar-coating them. The fact that he really believes what he’s doing, accentuates the emotions as people react to the programs. This behavior continues with the restructuring of the Intelligence Community.

Some fifteen major groups are tasked with handling intelligence gathering and analysis, and another fifteen deal with intelligence data as part of their operational responsibility. That fact alone illustrates the need for a comprehensive central control for intelligence; the 9/11 attacks happened, in part, because information which could have been combined with related data from other groups to provide a clear picture of the threat, was hindered by bureaucratic procedures and useless turf fights. The long feuds between the FBI, CIA, and NSA are common knowledge, and shameful to these organizations. Also, the very controls created by the Church Committee in 1977-78 to prevent recurrence of the abuses they discovered, instead serve to hide agencies from proper review and oversight. The world changed on September 11, 2001, for no group more than the Intelligence Community.

President George W. Bush was uniquely qualified for the reformation of U.S. Intelligence. In the first place, where most Presidents have been lawyers, Bush is a businessman by experience and education; a Harvard MBA means Bush looks for real-world solutions, not theoretical explanations, and establishes pragmatic expectations, with subsequent consequences for evasion or equivocation. Next, Bush has been on very good terms with his father since at least 1985, and part of that relationship is the education of his father’s experience. As a World War 2 vet and long-time CIA official, to say nothing of his Presidential experience, George H.W. Bush had critically valuable influence in shaping George W. Bush’s understanding of the military and intelligence agencies. It’s no shock to me that Dubya has made respect and appreciation for our men in uniform a top priority, and I have no doubt that his intentions for the Intelligence Community are sure and uncompromising. I also believe that, as he is familiar with the arrogance of the East Coast academics, President Bush has little patience for ivory towers in Langley. Porter Goss is right in line with the President’s thinking. Another example is the immediate arming of Predator UAVs with Hellfire missiles; unlike previous Presidents, who were content to observe terrorists in transit, President Bush immediately issued orders to make it feasible to kill terrorists on sight. In this regard, Bush is even more decisive than Reagan; Dubya does not believe in warning shots where terrorists are concerned, although he has made certain that all the nations likely to be involved are aware of his intentions and determination.

That is why I identified the new post of National Director of Intelligence as the real deal; Bush wouldn’t waste his time on window-dressing. The changes already in progress show that Bush intends to get work done straightaway in his second term, and since there have been two key intelligence failures that Bush has had to deal with, there will be real and effective changes in the way things get done. The first intelligence failure, of course, was the 9/11 attacks. The PATRIOT Act did several things to correct the flaws and holes found in the National Security wall, in fact it began as a reformation of the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Many PATRIOT features accomplished two main missions; removing restrictions to inter-agency cooperation, such as prohibiting the FBI from seeing CIA information, or the National Security Council from being made aware of threats to National Security, if that information was revealed in Grand Jury testimony. The other mission was to grant intelligence agencies access to the same tools as law enforcement already used. For instance, the use of warrants which notice would not be announced prior to the execution of that warrant were already in common use in kidnapping cases and Organized Crime, but prior to PATRIOT, Federal agents on Intelligence cases had to provide advance notice of warrants, permitting enemies to destroy critical information in advance of its discovery. The complaints against PATRIOT essentially showed the ignorance of extant law. PATRIOT allowed Federal agents critical tools in their ability to protect lives by preventing terrorist attacks.

The second intelligence failure, came when the State Department failed to cooperate with the Bush Administration in the ramp-up to the Iraq invasion. The CIA was aware of Iraqi WMD storage and experimentation, but was unable to prove the existence of WMD after the invasion, in part because much of the material was destroyed, hidden, or smuggled across the border. The failure was unavoidable, given the absence of HUMINT, or human agents in Iraq. This failure was no agency’s fault, but came as the direct result of Church Committee restrictions on agency actions in the field, and the Clinton Administration’s fascination with a technical-only surveillance. Clinton didn’t want any human agents killed in the region, or dealing with unsavory types (which invariably are necessary to substantive agent networking – three of the four classic motives for a person to become a spy are unsavory in their nature). This amounted to prohibiting the detectives from ever leaving the police station. This had to change, and it is changing. Bush is the first President in a couple decades willing to meet that challenge.

Also, the creation of the NDI post allows another gap to be filled. Traditionally, Intelligence has been split into three parts; Intelligence, Technical Support, and Operations. The three have differed on how to interact, for as long as each agency has existed. The DNI will have enough information to direct Technical development, to coordinate Analysis, and to provide effective courses of action to the President or whomever he designates, for implementation. It also provides sufficient control, coordinating the data in a controlled-access process, that leaks and theft may be traced quickly to the source; this is important to Internal Security, and helps the agency protect itself by providing proof of guilt when a crime is committed.

Finally, President Bush has shown great foresight, by recognizing the flexibility of agency resources for a variety of tasks. Where in the past, government agencies could only influence other governments through direct actions, the US now possesses the means to use the Internet to release information directly to the people who can use it, simply by clarifying the classification of restricted data, freeing up information that cannot be used to hurt the United States, but can and will disrupt the plans and claims of totalitarian and oppressive regimes. The best recent example, was the surprise access in China’s restricted Ministry of Posts and Telecommunication (MPT) to uncensored versions of SkyNews and CNN during the fall of Baghdad in April 2003; while the PRC moved quickly to close down the news sites, the sudden appearance of these sites allowed tens of millions of Chinese to discover and verify the truth, and the inability of the PRC to prevent their appearance was significant on several levels. The ability to influence nations through simple release of verifiable facts, is a traditional yet powerful tactic, and the use of Internet access to poke open windows to the world, is the most significant tool in that area since Voice of America first powered up.

All in all, while there will doubtless prove to be unexpected challenges and crises, the reform of the Intelligence Community under President Bush is vital to the War on Terror, on National Security, and for the future of America’s influence in future world events. By the next generation, this accomplishment will be understood more clearly, but it is a signal achievement, for the man and for the country.

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