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Wednesday, March 19, 2003

Footnotes in Iraq

"A screaming comes across the sky. It has happened before, but there is nothing to compare it to now."

- The opening paragraph from Thomas Pynchon's novel Gravity's Rainbow
Posted by Mark on March 19, 2003 at 10:23 PM .: link :.

Imperative of Intelligence Reform
September 11 and the Imperative of Reform in the U.S. Intelligence Community - Additional Views of Senator Richard C. Shelby : When the findings and recommendations of the congressional joint inquiry into September 11 were published last year, Senator Shelby (R-AL) independantly released a lengthy document detailing his "additional views". Its interesting and more readable than most such discussions, and Shelby proposes some fairly radical concepts:
Intelligence collectors - whose status and bureaucratic influence depends to no small extent upon the monopolization of "their" information-stream - often fail to recognize the importance of providing analysts with "deep" access to data. The whole point of intelligence analysis against transnational targets is to draw patterns out of a mass of seemingly unrelated information, and it is crucial that the analysis of such patterns not be restricted only to personnel from a single agency. As Acting DIA Director Lowell Jacoby observed in his written testimony before the Joint Inquiry, "information considered irrelevant noise by one set of analysts may provide critical clues or reveal significant relationships when subjected to analytic scrutiny by another."

This suggests that the fundamental intellectual assumptions that have guided our Intelligence Community's approach to managing national security information for half a century may be in some respects crucially flawed, in that it may not be true that information-holders - the traditional arbiters of who can see "their" data - are the entities best placed to determine whether outsiders have any "need to know" data in their possession. Analysts who seek access to information, it turns out, may well be the participants best equipped to determine what their particular expertise and contextual understanding can bring to the analysis of certain types of data.
Also notable is his assertion that hard wiring our intelligence community to deal with the terrorist threat is "precisely the wrong answer, because such an approach would surely leave us unprepared for the next major threat, whatever it turns out to be." Rather, "we need an Intelligence Community agile enough to evolve as threats evolve, on a continuing basis." [via FAS's excellent Secrecy News]
Posted by Mark on March 19, 2003 at 02:11 PM .: link :.

Sunday, March 16, 2003

Essentially Annihilated
Tactical Nuclear Weapons in Southeast Asia : A recently declassified 1966 study performed for the Defense Department which evaluated, and rejected, the hypothetical use of tactical nuclear weapons in Vietnam. The linked page contains a copy of the actual report, as well as related analyses concerning present day implications (for terrorism, among other things). Some choice quotes:
"The use of TNW [tactical nuclear weapons] in Southeast Asia would be highly damaging to the U.S. whether or not the use remains unilateral." (7)

"The overall result of our study is to confirm the generally held opinion that the use of TNW in Southeast Asia would offer the U.S. no decisive military advantage if the use remained unilateral, and it would have strongly adverse effects if the enemy were able to use TNW in reply." (7)

"Insurgent groups everywhere in the world would take note and would try by all available means to acquire TNWs for themselves." (46)

"In sum, the political effects of U.S. first use of TNW in Vietnam would be uniformly bad and could be catastrophic." (51)
The implications of this report are arguable, but most of the analysis appears to lean towards the idea that the report is just as valid today as it was in 1966. In any case, its certainly not a bad idea to regularly revisit the issue, as the Bush administration has apparently done (against great criticism by those who don't understand or don't want to admit that military planning for unpleasant (to put it lightly) scenarios is necessary and does not constitute actual military action).
Posted by Mark on March 16, 2003 at 02:33 PM .: link :.

Saturday, March 15, 2003

Democracy Vs. Secrecy
Democracies and Their Spies by Bruce Berkowitz : The other day, I was discussing some of the evidence presented by Colin Powell at the UN, and, as is readily apparent, the presentation did not warrant a conclusion that an invasion of Iraq is necessary. By its very nature, intelligence requires secrecy. Public knowledge places everyone on a level playing field, but intelligence, by its scarcity and exclusivity, tilts the field to your advantage. Thus, what can be released at any given time must be limited to that which does not nullify whatever advantage said intelligence provides. At this point, however, you are faced with a difficult question:
Now the challenge of operating an intelligence organization in a democracy becomes clear: Voting is essential for democracy; freedom of information is essential for voting; but free-flowing information defeats the functions of intelligence. Or, to put it another way, information is the engine that makes democracy work, whereas the effectiveness of intelligence depends on restricting the flow of information.
Berkowitz seeks to answer this challenge by examining how much secrecy usually exists in a democracy. As it turns out, secrecy in a democratic government is actually a common, and sometimes even necessary, occurrence:
Democracies are not strangers to secrets. Protecting secrets when appropriate, disclosing secrets when proper, and managing secrecy are all normal parts of the democratic process. The same principles that are used to strike a balance among competing interests in a democracy can be used to oversee intelligence secrets as well.
The article is well written and organized, and it provides at least a partial answer to the burning questions that intelligence faces. I say "partial" because Horowitz's answer is strategic in nature, meaning that it's looking at the long term effects of keeping and releasing intelligence. In the short term, though, it sure would be nice to know what our government knows about Iraq.
Posted by Mark on March 15, 2003 at 04:06 PM .: link :.

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