Book Ends

I have been on an extended hiatus not because there has been a paucity of topics to talk with you about, but mostly because I did not feel that I had anything to say that was worth of your attention.

Recently though I  finished reading Mike Hayden’s book “THE ASSAULT ON INTELLIGENCE: American National Security in the Age of Lies”  (https://www.amazon.com/Assault-Intelligence-American-National-Security/dp/0525558586/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1530751440&sr=1-1&keywords=assault+on+intelligence+by+general+michael+v.+hayden and Jim Clapper’s “FACTS and FEARS:  Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (https://www.amazon.com/Facts-Fears-Hard-Truths-Intelligence/dp/0525558640/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1530751440&sr=1-2&keywords=assault+on+intelligence+by+general+michael+v.+hayden).  Both are well written and informative for the general reader; but neither book makes any “new”  news with the content of each being familiar to all those conversant with current events, especially with regards to the U.S. Intelligence Community (IC) and the various investigations into Russia’s interference with the 2016 presidential elections.

Hayden’s book is a polemic while Clapper’s is an extended memoir, but they share at least four things in common:

  1. Each is a book length editorial where the authors draw conclusions about the Trump campaign and presidency from the facts as they see them

 

  1. Both express a similar sense of dismay and alarm regarding President Trump’s disregard for documented facts and the negative effect this has on the IC and FBI

 

  1. They each infer that the IC and the FBI are entitled to the benefit of the doubt because they are fact based and apolitical.

 

  1. Hayden and Clapper both believe they have a responsibility to warn the American people that their IC and FBI are being misused and abused

While both Hayden and Clapper admit that their “fingerprints” are on the Special National Security Estimate that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMD), neither explains why President Trump (or the American people) should not be cautious when the IC claims it is speaking truth to power on the basis of intelligence determined facts. Regarding Russian interference in the 2016 election Hayden and Clapper both take President Trump to task (rightly so in my view) for not accepting the Intelligence Community Assessment (ICA), which the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) has now found creditable, that Russia’s interference was real and was meant to harm Hillary Clinton.  What they don’t do, however, is critically assess how well the IC performed in detecting this Russian interference, assessing its impact, or effectively warning the candidates, those responsible for insuring election reliability, or the American the people about what Russia was doing.  I know I would have appreciated their views on what effect an earlier U.S. response to Putin’s directed effort “to sow confusion and disorder” amongst American voters could have produced.

I thought both books were miss-titled.

A more descriptive title for Mike Hayden’s book would be “Donald Trump’s Assault on the Intelligence Community” because he focuses on the President’s behavior in the current environment of post factual American Populism. Hayden sees Trump as modeling bad behavior when it comes to putting beliefs before facts rather than seeing Donald Trump as representative of an electorate who want their beliefs acknowledged and acted on.  Jim Clapper’s memoir could easily be titled “Speaking Truth to Power” given how many times he uses this phrase to express what he sees as the core strength of the IC.  What the former DNI doesn’t say much about is the ambiguous and incomplete nature inherent in intelligence assessments and estimates.  Reading “Assault on Intelligence” and “Facts and Fears” I had to remind myself that competing agendas and careerism that can distort intelligence products are not unknown to the IC.

While defending the IC, neither book spends as much time as I would have liked addressing the competition the IC is currently facing as it is rapidly becoming one of many sources used by its consumer base.  There is virtually no discussion in either book on how the IC is disadvantaged by its dated information technology (IT) capabilities and practices, government bureaucracy and classification relative to private sector think tanks, online media, large corporations, and data brokers – – – all of whom can generate and deliver at least multi-sourced creditable reports in a timeframe relevant to consumers at lower costs than the IC.

What I also would like to have heard Mike Hayden and Jim Clapper say more about is how the IC could/should up its game with big data, high performance computing, analytics, and artificial intelligence so that it can be head of other “truth providers” in offering unique value added information that would compel decision and policy makers to seriously consider what the IC is providing.

In their defense of the IC, which I respect and applaud, it should not be forgotten that IC needs to recognize that it is now in a seriously competitive environment where its views of facts and truth are no longer given the credence they once were because they come from the IC.

That’s what I think; what do you think?

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