Small Wars Journal

Can Intelligence Be Intelligent?

Tue, 01/12/2010 - 5:46am
Can Intelligence Be Intelligent? - Bret Stephens, Wall Street Journal opinion.

'Intelligence," Daniel Patrick Moynihan once observed, "is not to be confused with intelligence." To read two recent analyses of U.S. intelligence failures is to be reminded of the truth of that statement, albeit in very different ways. Exhibit A is last week's unclassified White House memo on the attempted bombing of Flight 253 over the skies of Detroit. Though billed by National Security Adviser Jim Jones as a bombshell in its own right, the memo reads more like the bureaucratic equivalent of the old doctor joke about the operation succeeding and the patient dying. The counterterrorism system, it tells us, works extremely well and the people who staff it are top-notch. No doubt. It just happens that in this one case, this same terrific system failed comprehensively at the most elementary levels.

For contrast - and intellectual relief - turn to an unsparing new report on the U.S. military's intelligence operations in Afghanistan. "Eight years into the war in Afghanistan, the U.S. intelligence community is only marginally relevant to the overall strategy," it begins. "U.S. intelligence officers and analysts can do little but shrug in response to high level decision-makers seeking the knowledge, analysis, and information they need to wage successful counterinsurgency." That's not happy talk, particularly given that it comes from the man who now runs the Army's intelligence efforts in the country, Major General Michael T. Flynn. But Gen. Flynn, along with co-authors Paul Batchelor of the Defense Intelligence Agency and Marine Captain (and former Journal reporter) Matt Pottinger, are just getting warmed up. Current intel products, they write, "tell ground units little they do not already know." The intelligence community is "strangely oblivious of how little its analytical products, as they now exist, actually influence commanders." There is little by way of personal accountability: "Except in rare cases, ineffective intel officers are allowed to stick around...

More at The Wall Street Journal.


JP (not verified)

Tue, 01/12/2010 - 5:00pm

Having read the full report I agree there is much to admire. However, the report is more wishful thinking that an actual road-map. One thing that is evident in the report is that DoD should think of integrating elements of Academia and spend more time outside of bases, living with locals; simply not a possibility in our force protection at all cost era. One of MANY issues with this report is that our current intelligence formation/pipeline is simply not oriented towards localist, integrated intelligence analysis/collection.

Do not get me wrong, the report has a lot of good insight. I agree with many of the arguments. I just think that given DoD's institutional incentive structure these wished for changes are unlikely to materialize any time soon. Nevertheless, any movement, no matter how small, is welcome movement.