Monday, August 2, 2010

Clap On, Clap Off

OK, so now we have a guy up for confirmation as Director of National Intelligence – which is not to be confused with director of any given intelligence agency, of which there are literally countless examples (“literally countless” because the existence of many of them is unknown – even to those in Congress who approve their budgets). What's interesting is that this office has only existed since 2005, and it was created in order to improve coordination among the various intelligence agencies, enhance accountability, yadda yadda. In other words, it's the typical government layering effect, where each new layer is promoted as being the solution to all previous problems... and then that layer becomes one of the “previous problems” the next time around, when still another layer is added, ad infinitum. In the case of the Director for National Intelligence, there is also a Principal Deputy Director, a Director of the Intelligence Staff, Deputy Directors, Associate Directors, Assistant Deputy Directors... starting to glaze over yet? Yeah, it's just another bureaucracy, which, far from being part of the solution, simply adds to the problem.

Now, the current nominee to oversee all of this is a guy named Clapper (LTG, USAF, ret.), and when it comes to the massive redundancy in missions among the various intelligence agencies, his excuse is that this represents “the conscious pursuit of competitive analysis”. In other words, let a hundred flowers bloom. The problem is, this assumes that Job One of the vast array of intelligence agencies is to actually gather, analyze, and report on information that could be vital to the nation's defense. If you believe that, I've got a job for you with... the Director of National Intelligence. But the truth is, the number one job of any intelligence agency, or cluster, array, or galaxy of agencies, is the same as it is for any other agency in the government – namely survival, self-perpetuation, and, if possible, growth in both power and resources. This, what I call “organic” model of government growth, seems to have escaped the attention of nearly everyone (those in Congress, for example) – the fact that any organization, and particularly any bureaucratic organization, behaves very much like a living organism. It's motivations are quite simple, really – nourishment (budgets), growth (budgets again), and survival – and the latter, in the case of the intelligence agencies, requires a good deal of secrecy. But the secrecy is not so much a matter of “national security” as one of simply concealing the fact that they don't do much of anything but work toward their own self-perpetuation. And the greatest thing about this secrecy is that it serves as a total safeguard against failure – by which I mean... well, let's say there's a truly catastrophic failure in intelligence. Like 9-11, for example. So right away, the cover stories and red herrings start – we're really doing a great job, but this one just got past us. And we really were keeping an eye on these people, honest. And so forth. So the answer – as with any failing government enterprise (the public schools come to mind) – is more resources! “Mend it, don't end it”, as Jesse Jackson would say. And this turns what looked, at first, like gross and abject failure into success; it has been pointed out how much larger the intelligence community has grown since 9-11... and all based on what is probably the most blatant failure in all of their history. (Kinda reminds me of the banks and the auto industry, actually.)

It's also notorious that the intelligence budget is top secret. No, it's beyond top secret; no one in Congress knows how much is spent on “intelligence” work, which is pretty remarkable considering that they're the ones who approve the funding. Also true – no one knows how many people (government employees and contractors, plus informers, stoolies, turncoats, etc. overseas) work for the intelligence agencies. The agencies get to spend as much as they like, hire anyone they like, and do, basically, anything they like – including nothing, if they're so inclined -- and no one in Congress has a leg to stand on when it comes to objecting or attempting to reform things, because, after all, they "approved" the top-secret budget. What this adds up to – and this should be no news to anyone – is that the “intelligence community” is, basically, a parallel government, or a country within the country. It has its own resources, its populace, its real estate, its capital property, its armed forces (mostly, but not all, overseas), and it's... call it what you will... culture, way of life, mystique. Yes, there is an intelligence mind set, that is characterized by obsessive-compulsiveness, paranoia, and protectiveness... qualities which might have had some utility during World War II or during the Cold War. But now we have a bigger-than-ever intelligence community dealing with smaller-than-ever problems and issues... or with none at all, I suppose, depending on which arm of the squid you happen to occupy. And is it dealing with these issues well? We'll never know, since, once again, the intelligence community has a way of burying its mistakes (except for the biggest ones) and bragging, in an extremely generic way, about its successes. It's like those messages I keep getting on my computer screen -- “Foxfire has just blocked a pop-up message”. Well, whoop-de-freakin'-do. Maybe I'm glad it was blocked. But at least it didn't cost me a few billion to block it. In the case of the intelligence agencies, all we ever hear about is all the dreadful things that didn't happen because they were on the job, with their all-seeing, never-sleeping eye. Well OK guys, then where the hell were you on 9-10? And has anything really changed? I suspect not. Just more layers. Again, a good crisis did not go to waste; a greater-than-ever portion of our national wealth was turned over to the intelligence agencies – or thrown into a bottomless pit, pick one – but is it really possible that their performance has markedly improved as a result? This stale old alibi of “there haven't been any more 9-11s” doesn't take into account that, as far as the terrorists, or whoever they were, are concerned, 9-11 was “mission accomplished”. They don't have to do it again; they can move on to other things (like bleeding us dry all over Iraq and Afghanistan).

At this point, the typical plaint of the uninformed citizen is, why can't something be done? I mean, if Congress controls their budget, why can't they simply withhold funds until they get some answers, and so on. But you have to remember that the intelligence agencies deal primarily with information – and as knowledge is power, information is power over those who would rather not have that information made public. And, after all, aren't most of our elected officials, let's say, a bit “flawed”? Many of them are moral imbeciles, so have a lot to hide from the voters; others might have some semblance of conscience but still feel a bit apprehensive about all of their dirty laundry being hung out. So what am I implying? That the intelligence community is just one big blackmail operation? Let's just say that they have certain tools and resources at their disposal, and it would by shocking if they didn't use them once in a while. And there is nothing new about this. J. Edgar Hoover was notorious for having a “black file” on virtually every elected official in the land, and plenty of other people besides... and he used this information whenever it was needed, in order to further his mission (which was not all bad – don't misunderstand me on that point). And I suspect that, really, this has been a “bread and butter” part of intelligence operations throughout history. And there might even be some rationale for it if these people were truly mission-oriented, and doing a commendable job. But what I suspect is that the situation has deteriorated, principally because of the breakup of the Soviet Union. The Cold War was at least an object of intense focus; not only that, but the threat was real. Since then, what have we had to deal with? China is more capitalistic than we are, and their main form of aggression is buying up our debt. What's the intelligence angle there? And the best the Russians can do is send a bunch of dingbats over here disguised as American yuppies. No, it has to be about “terrorism” and nothing more – but even there, the idea that “terrorism” is a profound threat to American security and the American way of life is... well, it's propaganda, basically. And this is not to deny the reality of 9-11 or of other terrorist actions or attempted actions – only that it's not really us they're after. The Soviets really did, in their heart of hearts, want to make the U.S. into a people's republic... and so did their agents here (including those in the government, academics, media, etc.). I don't think the terrorists are the least bit interested in converting us to Islam – all they want is for us to get the hell out of the Islamic world (and our little dog too – i.e. Israel). If we were to leave, I suspect that “terrorism” would stop. (Ron Paul said as much.) And if you're thinking, “but what about Europe?”, the answer is that the European countries that are supporting our efforts in Southwestern Asia are the ones getting hit; the rest are being left alone – except Russia, which has a long-standing Muslim minority. But of course this is not going to happen, so we will continue to be confronted by “terrorists”, and completely baffled as to “why they hate us”... and the intelligence community will continue to half-heartedly poke away at the problem while feathering their bed in perpetuity.

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