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One of the few things I have agreed with Dick Cheney about is the wisdom of using a scalpel rather than a truncheon:
The stepped-up drone strikes, Panetta’s opposition to the release of information about CIA interrogation practices, and his resistance to greater oversight of the agency by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) have prompted criticism that he is a thrall of the agency’s old guard. In the meantime, the strikes have begun to draw greater scrutiny, with watchdog groups demanding to know more about how they are carried out and the legal reasoning behind the killings.
In an interview Wednesday at CIA headquarters, Panetta refused to directly address the matter of Predator strikes, in keeping with the agency’s long-standing practice of shielding its actions in Pakistan from public view. But he said that U.S. counterterrorism policies in the country are legal and highly effective, and that he is acutely aware of the gravity of some of the decisions thrust upon him.
Panetta may resemble the Company’s old guard, but it’s hard to argue that the organization isn’t stronger under his leadership. Were I to have one wish, it would be that the tension between the DCI and the DNI come to a head and be resolved once and for all.
Image by Diez Photography via Flickr
A New York Times editorial today reviews what happened in the terror incident two weeks ago on Northwest Airlines Flight 253:
The report implicitly acknowledges all of this, saying that the system failed “to identify, correlate, and fuse into a coherent story all of the discrete pieces of intelligence held by the U.S. government” about both the Al Qaeda group and Mr. Abdulmutallab. It also makes clear that this was not a single failure by one agency but was a cascade of failures across agencies and departments and the bureaucracies that are supposed to coordinate them.
It says that once the government learned of a possible plot in Yemen, the intelligence community failed to devote more analytic resources, and it failed to put one agency or official in charge. John Brennan, the senior official responsible for figuring out what went wrong, said on Thursday that only after the failed plot did the intelligence community recognize that the group, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, actually posed a direct threat to the United States. [emphasis added]
This is a fairly straightforward explanation of the problem. The problem is not individual, but rather systemic. There are never enough analytic resources to adequately process the overwhelming volume of data collected by the IC, but that is not the primary problem. The overarching challenge to the IC is that authority, budget, and power are spread across its agencies with no clear leadership or accountability. Every 8-year-old kid knows what happens when one kid is in charge of building the treehouse and another kid has all the lumber and nails. If there is to be reform–and it has yet to happen in the past eight years–consolidating budget and accountability is the most powerful lever.
Posted in bureaucracy, Current Events, foreign policy, leadership, Unintended Consequences
Tagged Add new tag, al Qaeda, Arabian Peninsula, John O. Brennan, New York Times, Northwest Airlines, United States, Yemen
I’m surprised at the lack of blowback from American Apparel’s decision to sack its uglier employees. Would there be more outrage if Wal-Mart did the same?
More al Qaeda orgporn, comprehensive climate and energy policy, improving intel, Wall Street and government, sprucing up around the store, and drugs. These were some of the stories ripped from the headlines in the past week:
New information on al Qaeda org structure
Small green wins should lead to broader policy
CIA program investigation offers learning opportunity
Hanlon’s razor and the PBGC scandal
American Apparel to dismiss ugly employees
Grim views on unintended consequences in drug laws
New information on al Qaeda from the inside:
The interrogations of two accused Westerners who say they trained and fought with al Qaeda in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border region provide an inside view of the terror group’s organizational structures.
Arguably, they shed more light on the state of al Qaeda than any material previously released into the public domain.
The documents reveal training programs and the protective measures the terrorist organization has taken against increasingly effective U.S. missile strikes.
This is something I began exploring on this blog over five years ago, the theory being that insight into the organization would point to more precise ways to neutralize the organization. Looking back at what I wrote then, I think I should have been more careful to emphasize that an org chart is just a construct that hints at some of the workings of the organization. Orgporn is usually more of a clue than a definitive answer. It tells you what questions to ask next. That said, any insight should prove useful.
Without seeing the new intel, it’s hard to say what’s in it, but the source of the information seems better than most. More to come.
Despite some thorny problems, cooperation may be desirable and necessary:
The United States is now relying heavily on foreign intelligence services to capture, interrogate and detain all but the highest-level terrorist suspects seized outside the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, according to current and former American government officials.
The change represents a significant loosening of the reins for the United States, which has worked closely with allies to combat violent extremism since the 9/11 attacks but is now pushing that cooperation to new limits.
In the past 10 months, for example, about a half-dozen midlevel financiers and logistics experts working with Al Qaeda have been captured and are being held by intelligence services in four Middle Eastern countries after the United States provided information that led to their arrests by local security services, a former American counterterrorism official said.
The thorny problems, of course, include the potential for catch-and-release policies to return bad guys to the field and for innocents to have electrodes attached to their genitals. Those considerable concerns aside, building patterns of cooperation with foreign intel services just makes sense. It defuses a lot of the anger about US interventionism and creates interdependence (and influence) among parties closer to the problem.
That said, torture and detention of the wrong people is almost a certainty, and the US cannot dispose of its complicity in these activities by outsourcing them. Effective cooperation requires transparency and accountability.
Posted in bureaucracy, Current Events, foreign policy, international relations
Tagged 9/11, afghanistan, al Qaeda, cooperation, counterterrorism, detention, intelligence, iraq, Pakistan, torture