The Central Intelligence Agency has been in the news quite a bit lately. CIA loves good press, in fact it works rather hard at getting it for an ostensibly top secret agency, but little of this news is edifying. Ten days ago we had the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on post-9/11 torture, which led to global gnashing of teeth and serious stains on the Agency’s reputation, as I explained previously.
Now we have Wikileaks, whose international connections merit more attention than the mainstream media allows, dropping a bombshell leak, namely a 2009 classified report with the mouthful title “Best Practices in Counterinsurgency: Making High Value Targeting Operations an Effective Counterinsurgency Tool” — which, critics inform us, is kind-of evil, because it discusses the efficacy of killing versus capturing bad guys, and apparently nice intelligence agencies aren’t supposed to discuss such things internally. Or something. The Usual Suspects are gleefully telling the world that this is more evidence of CIA’s nefarious nature.
The timing of this leak could not be worse for CIA, politically speaking, coming on the heels of the scathing SSCI torture report, and should not be considered accidental. This will only lead to more anti-CIA venom while hardening the political battle lines in the United States about intelligence matters. Thanks to the Snowden Operation, intelligence matters are much more in the media now than is customary, and there are two basic schools of American opinion on intelligence, CIA very much included, since it gets the most attention from reporters and screenwriters.
There is the view, largely but not exclusively on the Left, that CIA is a nefarious, and perhaps wholly malignant agency whose essential mission is at odds with American values. Its officers are morally dubious on a good day. Worse, they are complete bunglers who cannot be trusted. Tim Weiner’s screed pretending to be a book on CIA history is the more erudite version of this cartoonish view.
There is the other view, largely but not exclusively on the Right, that CIA is a hyper-efficient organization, comprised of pure-hearted American patriots, men (and some women) who are willing to kill and be killed in defense of Americans and their values. Mistakes, when they occur, are primarily due to a lack of toughness when soft-hearted fools inhibit CIA in whatever it does. That this too is a cartoonish view should be obvious.
In contrast to those viewpoints, I’m here to offer a reality-based view of CIA, one that may not be edifying to either Left or Right, but which needs an airing in the public discussion about the Agency and the Intelligence Community generally. As I’ve previously explained, in my intelligence career with NSA I spent time in joint assignments with CIA, and I got to see several parts of it at work, close-up. I have good friends at CIA yet I nevertheless think the Agency needs some serious, perhaps even root-and-branch, reform to meet the challenges of the 21st century. I am of course hardly anti-intelligence, secret services exist for valid reasons even in liberal democracies, yet I believe Americans ought to reject self-pleasing myths about CIA and examine what’s really going on out at Langley.
In the first place, CIA is composed of normal Americans — of all races, backgrounds, beliefs, genders, and sexual orientations — who happen to work for a top secret part of the government. The vast majority of them signed on for the Agency, including its excruciating recruitment process, which includes much unpleasantness with security and polygraphs, out of motives that can be fairly assessed as patriotic. Every day, CIA officers work long hours, at salaries that would not impress Silicon Valley, and some put their lives in real danger to protect this country and its interests. That deserves respect from all of us.
Here we need a brief history lesson, since CIA did not fall from the sky, perfectly preformed, when it was birthed by the National Security Act of 1947, which also gave us the U.S. Air Force as well as a unified Department of Defense plus the National Security Council. Upon its establishment, CIA inherited much of what had been the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the wartime intelligence agency led by the charismatic Great War hero William Donovan. “Wild Bill” compensated for his lack of experience with espionage — it was zero — with adventurous zeal and the ear of the president. Unlike Churchill, who took personal interest in real intelligence, dutifully reading every morning’s top ULTRA intercepts, FDR was a dilettante who liked spy stories.
Those Donovan gleefully provided, which was just as well as tales of cloak and dagger derring-do were what the OSS, derided by its many critics as standing for “Oh So Social,” was best at. Serious intelligence work was largely beyond the OSS, since it was created out of whole cloth after Pearl Harbor by people who knew little if anything about espionage. Its operatives, easily stereotyped as Ivy League adventurers long on zeal and short on skills, did little to further the actual war effort — Army intelligence (G-2), which had real work to do, considered the OSS a presidential annoyance to be indulged, at best — but they told great stories.
Then there was the matter of security. OSS was swiss-cheesed top to bottom with foreign agents, mostly Soviet, since Donovan considered counterintelligence to be an unnecessary distraction. Not coincidentally, the only part of OSS that was a clear success was X-2, its small, select, operational counterintelligence shop, which was closely mentored and vetted by the British, who knew how to play the spy game; X-2 was also the only part of OSS cleared for the ULTRA secret (FDR liked Donovan but he was too clever to let his motley band in on many real secrets).
With FDR’s death in April 1945, OSS’s days were numbered, and as soon as World War II ended, Harry Truman, who had a healthy American skepticism regarding secret cowboys like Donovan’s crew, whom the new president derided as a kind of “Gestapo,” killed off OSS. In late 1945. the Army and the State Department absorbed several pieces off the carcass, including the espionage, covert action, and intelligence analysis missions.
These, however, were reassembled in 1947 with the birth of CIA. The nascent Cold War persuaded the skeptical Truman that a genuine peacetime central intelligence function was needed, and CIA was the result. Its express intent was the prevention of another Pearl Harbor. One of the clear lessons learned from that disaster was that some sort of unified intelligence analysis function was needed, since in the months before the Japanese attack on Hawaii, Army and Navy intelligence had various indications of mounting aggression from Tokyo, mainly from signals intelligence, but literally no one was looking at the whole intelligence picture. That CIA would do.
The Agency’s essential structure has changed little over the decades, some alterations to nomenclature notwithstanding, and there are currently four directorates. In reverse order of importance there is the Directorate of Support (DS), which handles logistics and things like finance, human resources, health, and security. While CIA could not function for a minute without the DS, most of its staff are normal government employees who happen to work for a top secret agency.
The Directorate of Science and Technology (DS&T) gets a bit closer to espionage, and its staff includes lots of smart scientists and engineers who build interesting things and support various forms of technical collection. They are not exactly James Bond, but they provide vital support to the Bonds and much of what they do is justifiably highly classified.
The Bonds, such as they are, belong to the National Clandestine Service (NCS), which was previously called the Directorate of Operations (DO, a term still used by many old hands), while until the early 1970’s it was called the even more euphemistic Directorate of Plans (DP). These are the spies that people make movies about. Colloquially known as case officers — those in the business more accurately term them operations officers — the core of the NCS/DO workforce consists of people whose job it is to collect human intelligence, often by getting foreigners to betray their own countries. NCS/DO staff spend much of their careers abroad and their lives under various forms of cover. In recent years, the operators’ paramilitary Special Activities Division (SAD) has been very busy all over the globe, blurring the line between CIA and the military, especially the Pentagon’s secretive Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), but the real James Bonds look upon SAD “cowboys” — most of whom previously served with military special units — with a degree of disdain, viewing them as peripheral to the Agency’s core espionage mission.
Even inside NCS/DO there are culture differences that matter. Most case officers work under official cover, posing as diplomats and whatnot, while a select cadre spend their espionage careers under non-official cover — NOCs as they are termed in the trade. These are an elite who do not enjoy the protection of official cover. However, they are expensive compared to official cover officers, and for most of the Agency’s history NOCs have been peripheral, career-wise. The NCS/DO model has its flaws, not least that it is tied closely to the State Department for much of its operations, due to cover issues, while its NOCs are simply not in the same class of professionalism and expertise as what Russians term Illegals, who are true deep-cover operatives. That said, what CIA case officers do they do decently, on the whole, persistent counterintelligence problems notwithstanding. During the Cold War, the better East Bloc security services had a healthy respect for the DO, viewing it as slightly seedy in its frequently ham-handed efforts to use cash to buy treason, but nevertheless a worthy adversary. That remains true today.
The last remaining component of CIA, the Directorate of Intelligence (DI), is something very different and bears no resemblance to James Bond. These are the analysts, the desk-bound types charged with looking at all-source intelligence to provide what CIA terms “finished analysis” to assist national-level decision-making. Their output is methodical, owing much to cliched social science thinking of the 1950’s, while their assessments are famous for their caveated hedging. The newly leaked CIA 2009 study on counterinsurgency, care of Wikileaks, is a very typical DI product: not highly classified — mostly analyst opinion with a bit of actual espionage reporting to back it up — and intended to inform debates rather than decide them. It is important to note that this DI assessment, like all of them, is not guidance of any sort, much less a manual, rather an extended opinion piece, based on supposedly thorough analysis of the problem.
It bears noting that DI analysis is taken more seriously by the DI than anyone else. NCS/DO types rarely read DI product closely, while it often gets more attention from the media, when leaked, than by anyone in the upper echelons of the U.S. Government. To cite a typical case, when I had the job of briefing all-source intelligence to top D.C. decision-makers, most of them liked to get “hot” SIGINT and HUMINT reports, real espionage stuff, but they seldom had time for wordy DI analysis. Being very busy people, they lacked time to read long analysis pieces by DI types who may not actually know what they are talking about. I once had the terrible experience of bringing two “top DI experts” in to brief a cabinet-level official on a certain problem. The CIA “experts” were in their late twenties and had never spent real time in the country they were briefing about, and could not order a beer in the language, while their customer was a man in late middle age who had lived in the country and spoke the language passably well. Within three minutes, it was obvious that the customer knew considerably more about the country in question than the analysts did, and he politely threw them out of his office, with the warning never to return.
There are cultural chasms inside CIA. DI analysts are enamored of things like “analytic tradecraft,” a phrase they use frequently, yet seldom do they speak languages other than English or get outside the Beltway. They also have generated a voluminous scholarly literature about, well, themselves. NCS/DO spooks consider such talk pompous and they usually speak a foreign language or two passably, the by-product of a career spent abroad more often than not (the true DO “field rat” is tough to even get back to Langley for a necessary ticket-punching headquarters tour). For DI types cover is a formality — some analysts attend DC think-tank events under the barest of covers — while for case officers it can be a life-or-death concern. When it comes to politics, most DI analysts are conventional liberals, while NCS/DO types are often hard-boiled cynics who find any ideology silly.
Perspectives differ too. DI analysts, sitting in Langley for the most part, often see a wide range of intelligence but rarely have access to really compartmented programs, while case officers know lots of “good stuff” but seldom see beyond their immediate problems: the NCS/DO by need-to-know design sees the world through a soda straw. Case officers are risk-takers not prone to excessive introspection, while intelligence analysts are very much like graduate students: smart and introspective yet deeply prone to group-think. A friend of long tenure in the DI once explained to me that, despite his lack of management experience, he had prospered as a DI manager because being the boss was “just like running a graduate seminar.” CIA analysts, he explained, are eager for approval and are smart but not wise, and need hand-holding.
Mutual bad feelings proliferate at Langley. DI analysts see case officers as cowboys, if not Neanderthals, while NCS/DO officers often resent what they see as faster promotion for analysts who never leave headquarters (in similar fashion, DI officers resent the perks enjoyed by case officers abroad, such as free housing: a GS-13 posted overseas, de facto, makes much more than a GS-13 in Northern Virginia). A perennial sore point is that DI analysts get face time with senior DC functionaries, and thus do careers get made, while a DO “field rat” out saving the world is invisible inside the Beltway. Nevertheless, adventure-seeking DI analysts on occasion transition to being DO case officers, while the opposite seldom happens, unless you’re a hopeless washout in operations.
There is no doubt that CIA history is largely written by the analysts, whose stories may be boring but they know how to get things on paper effectively. (Old spooks who can write well, like DO legend Bob Baer, are the exception that proves the rule.) The frequent NCS/DO denunciation of DI “dorks” is based in resentment, not least because top Agency and IC jobs go more often to analysts than to “real” spooks. The career of John Brennan, the current Agency director, is instructive. A DI analyst by background, he played the Langley, then Beltway, game effectively, securing plum staff jobs along the way up, including Chief of Station Riyadh (a rare job for an analyst), then riding to the very top by ingratiating himself with President Bush, then with President Obama.
Brennan recently proposed the most dramatic CIA reorganization ever, suggesting the melding of the DI and NCS/DO, to overcome the Agency’s persistent internal problems. The model would be CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, which since the 1980’s has brought analysts and case officers together against a particularly knotty problem, overcoming bureaucratic obstacles to improve effectiveness. This sounds nice — insert requisite cliches about “building synergies” and “leveraging skill-sets” — but how this may apply Agency-wide is an open question, not least because the DI-DO divide, which is anything but new, reflects the essential difference in personality between analysts and spooks, as much as it does anything in organizational charts. Simply put, DI analysts and DO case officers are like dogs and cats, breeds apart in their DNA, and forcing them to lie down may cause as much friction as knocking down the wall between canine and feline kennels.
That said, the need for CIA reform is pressing. The well-intentioned but not always very effective performance that the Agency put in during the Cold War may not be adequate to the security challenges America faces in this century. Instead of forever melding the DI and NCS/DO into one perhaps very unhappy family, why not remove the analysts altogether and let the Agency focus on actual espionage, its core mission?
The placement of the finished intelligence mission inside CIA was an accident of history, stemming from the OSS’s tweedy Research and Analysis (R&A) shop during World War II. During that war, R&A was staffed by actual Ivy League professors called to serve the war effort; since then, the DI has attempted the same, with wannabe Ivy League professors, with decidedly mixed results.
Most countries to not try to make rough spooks and bookish analysts live in the same agency. Our closest intelligence partners, in the Anglosphere, do it differently, and this merits attention. In Britain, the DI equivalent is the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC), which produces finished intelligence with analysts on assignment from all the intelligence agencies. In Australia, that mission is undertaken by the free-standing Office of National Assessments (ONA), which is independent of other secret agencies and reports directly to the prime minister. Having a cadre of genuinely elite analysts — quality here being much more important than quantity — made up of bona fide experts, offers a far better model than what CIA, as is, can deliver. Rather than remake CIA, it would be a much better idea to reinvent the DI, elsewhere, with more talented, and smaller, staff.
Of course, nobody in Washington, DC, ever won out with a proposal calling for less people and money for their organization, so I don’t expect this to happen anytime soon. But it should, since our national security is at stake. CIA is made up of neither evil-doers nor supermen, rather Americans just like you, dear reader, who do their best for the country, in a top secret fashion, while worrying about all the normal things like their kids, their aging parents, and their waistlines. We expect a lot from them, and they should give a lot in return. Happily, most of them do.
President Obama’s big news item yesterday, the normalization of relations with Castro’s Cuba, was a headline that, unlike most, really is worthy of attention. As someone who has favored reestablishing U.S.-Cuba ties for years, believing it offers the most direct route to peaceful regime change in Havana, I felt this was not just big news, but also good.
Yet unfreezing ties with Havana was quickly overshadowed by news of Sony’s cancellation of its comedy film The Interview, which was supposed to have been released over Christmas with much fanfare. The movie, alas, centers on the assassination of North Korea’s supreme leader, Kim Jong-un, who apparently lacks a sense of humor about these things, since his secret services have been fingered by U.S. intelligence, including NSA, as the culprit behind the recent absolutely huge cyber-raid on Sony. Threats of terrorism against theaters that dared to show the movie pushed the studio to a point it could not withstand.
That cyber-raid has proved no end of embarrassment for Sony, which has been revealed to be run by a bunch of amoral cretins who are cowards to boot. To whom this was exactly news one has to wonder. Moreover, this author is inclined to think that the fewer stupid, puerile and unfunny “comedies” Hollywood produces the better, though Pyongyang is a terrorist regime with lots of blood on its hands, so thanks are not exactly in order.
Apparently we are supposed to regard the cancellation of a dumb movie as The Worst Thing Ever, since it involves surrender to an ugly regime and its evil ways. The great and the good are now exhorting President Obama to do something about this outrage and teach North Korea to behave. The hideousness of Pyongyang is no more “news” than learning that Hollywood is full of idiots. What exactly the moral outrage contingent wants Washington, DC. to do about Sony’s prostration before the prophets of juche is far from clear.
North Korea is a bizarre hermit kingdom that’s got nuclear weapons. Its ideology, as I’ve previously explained, isn’t some weird form of Marxism, rather a virulent race-based ultra-nationalism that makes it nearly impervious to the sort of “influence operations” the Pentagon likes to employ. The country’s lack of any real ties with the outside world affords the Kim
monarchy family a rare degree of political insulation. Moreover, Pyongyang has been an outlaw regime for so long, in such manifestly crazy ways, that it’s something extraordinary.
Only a few years ago, one of its submarines blew a South Korean frigate right out of the water, well, just because. It’s assassinated enemies in numerous countries, it’s blown up foreign planes and politicians, it’s even kidnapped kids off foreign beaches in broad daylight. Pyongyang gets most of its hard currency from a wide range of illegal activities around the world, while its few embassies in the West are outposts of rough spies who deal drugs and launder money on a grand scale. North Korean intelligence isn’t very sophisticated but it compensates with extreme nastiness.
The geniuses at Sony could have learned all that, since it’s clear their offices have an Internet connection, but apparently they determined rather late that Pyongyang doesn’t get irony, which is the cornerstone of the millennial worldview that produces movies like The Interview. The North Korean regime has killed literally millions of people and would gleefully take out Sony executives and unfunny actors in horrible ways. Unfortunately the studio figured this out after, rather than before, beginning filming.
It’s hard not to notice that Sony was a big fan of exposing secrets before it was theirs that got outed. Only a few months ago, they paid millions for the film rights to Glenn Greenwald’s hagiographic book about the Snowden Operation, the largest leak of classified information in intelligence history. One wonders if Sony execs have reconsidered their position now that they, too, have been hacked.
Will Sony survive this disaster? That’s a good question, albeit hardly one I will be lying awake at night pondering. It’s time to face some facts. North Korea is the most isolated regime on earth. The United States has no missions there to close, no trade to cut off, no diplomatic slights to “message” Pyongyang with. We have no ties with the Kims, so “non-kinetic” options for retaliation are very limited. The regime cares not a whit about its global image — actually they seem to revel in their awfulness — so hashtags and cheap moral outrage will get us precisely nothing except North Korean guffaws.
More importantly, the “kinetic” options before us are terrifying. Pyongyang knows their possession of even a few nuclear weapons is a strategic game changer; it’s precisely why Iran wants The Bomb so badly. I’ve never had much confidence that North Korean nukes would actually work as Pyongyang advertises, but the mere fact that they have some means the U.S. must proceed cautiously.
Even without the nukes — it can never be excluded, this being North Korea, that the whole thing is a giant head-fake — they have enough tubes of conventional artillery dug into the hills north of Seoul, across the fortified DMZ, to lay waste to South Korea’s capital inside a few hours. Any war on the Korean peninsula would mean the end of the ramshackle regime in Pyongyang, but millions of people, many of them civilians, would die in the process.
It’s for this reason that the U.S. military keeps 28,500 personnel in South Korea, to ensure that the 1950-1953 war with the North that never officially ended doesn’t suddenly go hot again. However, there’s only one maneuver brigade, of the 2nd Infantry Division, that’s close to the DMZ, and its role is that of a tripwire, an insurance policy for Seoul to know that it will not be alone if Pyongyang ever goes for broke, since American soldiers will be among the dead in the opening hours of any resumption of real war along that most heavily armed border.
One brigade isn’t a lot of conventional deterrence, however, so to bolster our statement that North Korean aggression, virtual and actual, will not be tolerated, I propose we raise a second brigade without delay. The Pentagon ought to allow people to volunteer expressly for one-year’s service on the south side of the DMZ, to make their feelings clear. There are so many people so deeply morally outraged over The Interview I’m confident that finding a couple thousand eager volunteers will be no problem. I’m sure Sony, or whatever’s left of it, can be persuaded to pay for this special unit, which will be named the Seth Rogen Brigade, to make clear that America means business. Talk is cheap, Hollywood, it’s time to do something.
In the late 1930’s, French who were less than eager to stand up to Nazi Germany over its rising aggression cited a famous question: Pourquoi mourir pour Danzig? (Why die for Danzig?). As it turned out, not many Frenchmen were willing to die for Danzig, a contested city on the Baltic Sea, and such weak wills ultimately got Paris the German invasion that all French feared.
Fortunately North Korea is no Nazi Germany. Shorn of its nukes, it’s just a sad and sick broke little country that is mainly a threat to its own poor people. Yet this sordid Sony episode illustrates how much disruption to the global commons that one trouble-making rogue state can make. If you’re worried about the example this sets for other unpleasant regimes that are trying hard to get just one working nuclear weapon…it’s because you should.
In the meantime, North Korea will keep acting like its crazy self, and there’s not much anybody, not even the world’s greatest power, can do about it. In the meantime, Hollywood should spend less time sending nasty emails and even less time making stupid “ironic” movies that might get people killed. Nobody is willing to die for Sony — not now, not ever — and for that you can hardly blame them.
Some readers have noticed my recent criticism of Democrats and President Barack Obama, particularly relating to national security matters. Some seem quite upset by this, hurling invectives like “RWNJ” (Right-Wing Nut-Job) at me, a common playground term they employ. I have indeed been sharply critical of certain policies pursued by this White House, particularly relating to the almost unimaginably dysfunctional National Security Council, led by the almost unimaginably awful Susan Rice, a presidential favorite. History will not be kind to Obama over his NSC, nor should it be.
Some months ago, the American mainstream media, what might be termed the court press, began stating what was obvious, that Obama’s foreign and defense policies were going off the rails. Sensible liberals were signaling that, with these missteps, some of them notably serious and, worse, eminently avoidable errors, Obama was endangering the Democratic Party and the liberal project — as is surely true. The recent midterm Congressional bloodbath is an indication of where things are headed for the Democrats if they don’t start course-correcting soon. Senator Chuck Schumer’s (D-NY) recent broadside against the White House’s political priorities indicates a civil war may be brewing in Democratic ranks.
This has been met with vociferous denials that Obama and his staff have done anything wrong — not now, possibly never. These are the people who refer to Obama as “PBO,” which gives a creepy, vaguely North Korean feel. Despite the fact that hardcore Obama fans have convinced themselves that no administration has ever been criticized like this one, with racism (of course) being at the root of the alleged atmosphere of hyper-critique, actually the opposite is the truth. Fearful of appearing critical of Obama, the mainstream media for years low-balled or simply didn’t report the concerns about the administration’s competence that they shared privately. Having helped create the Obama myth, and playing a key role in getting him elected twice, the MSM until recently had no interest in having the horse’s teeth checked by a reputable dentist. Now, however, when it’s apparent to all but Obama hacks that the president is doing damage to the Democratic brand that may have lasting impacts, MSM voices are at last willing to state the obvious about the lamentable state of this administration.
Yet the MSM’s role in fomenting enduring dysfunction in this White House is a key part of the story. By covering for Obama and his staff, the media prevented a normal process of critique and adjustment. This was advocacy journalism of a particular sort, and just as pernicious as it always is. Every administration makes mistakes; the first year of any presidency has goofs and worse due to inexperience and hubris (see: Bay of Pigs). Presidents remembered as successes control their staffs, not the other way around, and cashier the ineffectives. They learn to do better. What is astonishing about Obama is how his White House continues to make rookie missteps nearly six years into its tenure on Pennsylvania Avenue.
This is not about ideology, rather competence. Obama is surrounded by sycophants and yes-men (actually mainly yes-women); what this says about his mindset I leave to others to analyze. It is, however, impossible to miss that Democrats who are famous for getting things done, like Chicago knife-fighters Rahm Emmanuel and Bill Daley, tried and failed, unable to penetrate the White House security detail of sycophancy, ultimately abandoning this administration in something like despair.
The story of Obama has been told many times, from many angles, but is clear in its essentials. This is a talented man whose gifts lie in the propagation of Big Ideas rather than the execution of them. Obama’s inexperience at Washington, DC, politics got less MSM attention in 2008 than it merited, while his descent into hubristic ridiculousness at the outset — what else will history make of Obama’s overblown July 2008 campaign speech at Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate, much less his receiving the Nobel Peace Prize for getting elected? — set standards that Obama never stood a chance of meeting. For this, he has nobody to blame but himself and his handlers.
I have objected less to Obama’s policies than to their delivery. His dealings with the collapsing financial sector when he entered office, with all their imperfections, nevertheless will stand up better under historical scrutiny than almost anything else Obama has done, while even the dishonest hash this White House made of the ACA, a.k.a. Obamacare, cannot mar the fact that Obama at least tried to do something about America’s troubled health care system, as no president had seriously attempted in decades. In combat training they tell you that when you’re under fire, “Do something. Even if it’s wrong — But do something!” and this has application in politics too. Like Sen. Schumer, I think ACA got too much attention in Obama’s first term, at the expense of pressing economic issues, but then Monday morning quarterbacking is the nature of life inside the Beltway.
It was in foreign and defense affairs, above all, that I felt Obama offered the country a much-needed course correction. During the two terms of George W. Bush’s presidency, I witnessed, up close, two wars halfway around the world go very wrong; that one of them was a misguided war of choice made the situation all the more tragic. I always believed “Dubya” was a decent, if somewhat superficial, fellow, who had no business being in the White House. His essential humanity was never in doubt — I can personally vouch that Bush took our battle deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan much harder than the public knew — yet some of his closest advisers lacked his decency and humanity. The result was disaster in many areas. History will not be kind to the likes of Cheney or Rumsfeld (or, let it be said, Franks, Tenet, and many others who were lauded at the time), nor should it be. It will take America many years, perhaps many decades, to recover from Bush’s well intentioned yet deeply misguided responses to 9/11. Perhaps, like Britain after its ugly and needless Boer War of 1899-1902, we never really will.
It is in this context that Obama’s interactions with the world must be viewed. Having made decisions under pressure, I have innate sympathy for anybody who must do the same, especially for the Commander-in-Chief, whose burdens are very great. Obama’s 2008 promises — to close Guantanamo Bay, to get out of Iraq, to return the country to a more peaceful footing in its foreign affairs — were all things I supported. Yet, even when Obama has done some of them, their execution has been flawed. Sometimes deeply so. Noble intentions do not by themselves effective policy make. Here the role played by senior White House advisers of dubious ability, and honesty, must be considered cancerous, though the task falls to future historians to untangle the frightful mess that Obama’s foreign policy has become.
I have been sharply critical, in particular, of Obama’s dealings with an increasingly aggressive Vladimir Putin. Here is a case where, first in Syria then in Ukraine, Obama has dodged difficult choices and has thereby enabled progressively worse outcomes. In his commendable zeal to back away from Bush-era aggressiveness in foreign affairs, Obama has gone to the opposite extreme, imagining a world where raw power has no just place. This, to say the least, is an odd position for the world’s leading power to find itself in. It’s therefore not surprising that Putin views Obama with undisguised contempt — Russian put-downs of our president, which microphones have caught coming from the mouths of disturbingly senior Kremlin officials, invariably imply effeminacy — which is a most dangerous thing.
Obama seems to misunderstand how the whole world watches the actions he and his top staff undertake, and makes plans accordingly. When you telescope indecision and weakness, others less fissiparous will expect more of the same. My greatest fear is that Putin will grow increasingly aggressive and Obama will stand by until, finally, Putin goes too far and the White House must respond — and we have a major war on our hands. To be fair to the dangerous men in the Kremlin, why would they assume Obama’s talk of “redlines” has any validity, after they saw the American president brush them aside in Syria? Neither do Obama’s feckless efforts to crush the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria inspire confidence in his statesmanship.
Obama has more than the whiff of the faculty lounge about him, something that any professor, and KGB colonel, can smell across the room. The flashes of professorial petulance the president emitted on occasion in his first term have become commonplace of late. It seems that, having witnessed the damage to the Democratic Party that his own policies have caused, as the recent midterm elections rendered obvious, Obama is doubling-down and seeking to irritate Republicans further. This does not bode well for the last two years of this administration.
I have no sympathy for the GOP. Having surrendered principles during Bush’s two terms, they shattered the Republican coalition that had stood reasonably firm for decades. That said, adults in the GOP have weathered their Tea Party tantrum, which looked to drive the Grand Old Party over the cliff in its hunt for ideological purity, and have reasserted control, at least for now. I expected the GOP’s in-the-wilderness phase to last many years, thanks to Bush’s grave mistakes, and the remarkable rebirth of the Republicans as a national party, looking at the 2014 Congressional results, can be attributed less to the GOP’s ability than to the rising incompetence of their opposition.
Democrats read Obama’s two election victories quite wrong. The president assembled an odd coalition of high-income whites, plus minorities sexual and racial, and single women (the “gays, blacks and college professors” bloc, in the words of Democratic stalwart Paul Begala) that may not have coherency without Obama on the ticket. Certainly they prematurely asserted that demographics rendered the GOP obsolete. While such messaging may yet pay great dividends around 2040, they will not suffice to win big much before then.
Moreover, telling whites, especially working class ones — who, after all, remain the single biggest voting bloc in the country — that they are obsolescent, not to mention saddled with old-think, is no way to win national elections, while the obvious contempt that liberal commentators express for Southern whites ought to render the total Democratic collapse among such voters no mystery at all. Belatedly, even liberal stalwarts have realized that maybe it’s not Kansas that has the problem.
Time will tell; it always does. Since my title promised a look at my own politics, here I deliver. Like most people who have worked in counterintelligence, I take a jaundiced, not to say cynical, view of all democratic politics. I despise the empty theater that passes for debate in our political system, and I assume many, if not most, politicos are on the take in some fashion. Certainly most of them don’t quite mean what they say. Yet the true-believers scare me: corruption is preferable to fanaticism.
I find much to like, and even more to dislike, in both our major parties. I lack the gene that makes partisan politics fun for its own sake, I suppose. I don’t think either party has offered real solutions to the grave socio-economic problems that confront America today. My politics derive more from Central European traditions, particularly post-1945 Christian Democracy, than anything I see on FoxNews or MSNBC. I’ll take Adenauer, Schuman or DeGasperi over Maddow or Hannity any day of the week.
I worry deeply about rising inequality in America, which has been growing my whole life and shows no signs of abating, rather the contrary. It is making the country something very different from what it was for several happy generations. Accepting that mass prosperity, which peaked in the middle of the last century, making us the envy of the world, is gone for good will change American politics in ways that we can only yet see in outline. We cannot stop globalization and technological changes that promise to up-end the economy, nor should we try to, but wise and compassionate politicians will seek to soften their impacts on fellow citizens.
The obvious home for socio-economic reform, the Democrats, once the proud party of working people like many of my forebears, has lost its way. Its emphasis on identity politics at the expense of basic socio-economic fairness has driven away countless average people who are struggling and want justice, yet don’t like being lectured endlessly about how racist, sexist and cisnormative they are.
The Republicans have run perilously close to pushing these people, who are mostly white but by no means exclusively so, away too, with their fetishizing of the free market at the expense of common sense, but if the GOP decides to not be stupid by prioritizing ideology over victory, they can win many of these voters to their side; the recent midterm results will be surveyed closely by Republican pollsters who want to win the presidency in 2016.
I believe in quite a few old-fashioned things that would place me on the right-wing of today’s GOP, such as a tough law and order approach to crime, a need to secure our borders to protect our security and American jobs, plus a belief in religion as a social good. Yet the Republican embrace in recent years of neoconservative adventurism, a utopian desire to transform the world through force, a dangerous Wilsonian fantasy untempered by countless disasters since 2001, means that there is little of this “conservatism” that I can stomach.
At the same time, I’m too left-wing to fit comfortably in the Democratic Party of 2014. I’m probably closer to Bernie Sanders than Elizabeth Warren on many socio-economic issues. I think Hillary is less noxious than most of the options confronting us in our next presidential election — unlike several of the Republican possibles, Ms. Clinton is at least in earth orbit, politically speaking — but her personal embrace of corporate greed exemplifies much that has gone wrong with the party of JFK and RFK that I was taught to adulate in my childhood (my parents had pictures of Jesus Christ plus the martyred Kennedy boys on the living room wall: guess which were bigger). Moreover, the Democrats’ flirtation with Social Justice Warrior fanatics, who seek to purify America in line with their Cultural Marxist fantasies, is driving countless normals away, and I’m in that disaffected brigade too.
This leaves me homeless, politically speaking. I’ll settle for being called a reactionary social democrat, since that appellation fits better than most. Above all, my worldview — rather Weltanschauung, to talk like the Ph.D. that I am — is suffused with a sense of both the promise and the tragedy of the human animal. My faith tradition teaches that people are neither angels nor devils, but both. George Kennan, a figure I can easily relate to, spoke of man as “a cracked vessel” eloquently in his cranky memoir, and that homo sapiens surely is.
Moreover, having spent quite a bit of time in the Balkans, I have an acute sense of how fragile civilization really is. Beneath the pleasant surface there lurk monsters, and those monsters are us. In a few short years, Yugoslavia went from being a success story, a benign socialist regime with a high standard of living and apparent amity among its photogenically diverse peoples, to a charnel house of terror. Economic decline and ethnic resentments, combined in evil fashion, led to war and genocide. It’s nice to pretend this can’t happen, but history shows plainly that it can. After all, American optimists in the 1850’s, the TV talking heads of the day, considered the Civil War that was looming ominously to be impossible — right until cannons roared at Fort Sumter.
America remains a great country with enormous promise. I’m with Obama in being a bit skeptical of “American exceptionalism,” which seems well intentioned until it’s used to justify invading other countries, but there’s no doubt that we are blessed by the huge oceans and smaller neighbors that surround us. Even in the age of ICBMs and transnational terrorism, these give the USA a degree of security that most countries can only envy. Over a century ago, Bismarck famously quipped that God has a special providence for fools, drunks, and the United States of America, and that still may be the case. I feel certain that the only genuine threat to America now is within itself. How we deal with this will determine the course of this still rather new century.
The global commentariat is aflutter in the aftermath of yesterday’s release of what Twitter has termed #TortureReport by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI, pronounced “sissy,” to DC insiders). If you’re living in a cave like a member of Al-Qa’ida and somehow have missed this story, you can find all of the massive original report, plus rebuttals, here.
Up front, allow me to get my own story, and therefore biases, out there. I spent close to a decade in the Intelligence Community (IC), with the National Security Agency as an intelligence analyst and counterintelligence officer. I served in joint assignments with CIA and spent considerable time trying to help Langley, specifically on counterintelligence matters. I count several CIA officers, present and former, some high-ranking, among my close friends. I also think CIA is a mismanaged agency that needs serious reform.
Happily, I had no involvement with CIA’s “torture” program; though I was aware of its existence early on, I had nothing to do with waterboarding and worse. I was involved in certain activities in the months after 9/11 that probably would not pass smell tests in today’s calmer times, but there are quite a few IC people in the same boat.
It is perilously easy, more than thirteen years after the terrible attacks on New York and the Pentagon, to forget the hothouse atmosphere across the IC in late 2001, when fears of more, and worse, terrorism against our homeland were a constant concern. It is this decontextualization by the just-released SSCI report, the prosecutorial judging of people who sought to do good by defending fellow citizens, however misguidedly, that I find most objectionable.
For much of the IC, the months after 9/11 were a blur. I spent more time at the office, or on the road, than at home; my recollections of that era — easily the most exciting time of my life, when all of Uncle Sam’s spooks thought our personal contributions, each day, might make the difference between a “nuclear 9/11″ happening or not — are therefore impressionistic, with occasional vivid recall of specific operations. I never had Dick Cheney call me, or anyone close to me, screaming into the phone to “get tough.” This was unnecessary: we all knew what the stakes were.
I provided counsel to senior leadership at Guantanamo Bay, the dreaded GTMO, on how to deal with interrogations. From what I saw, their operation was a shitshow — a characterization top IC officials agreed with, off-record. They knew it was all going wrong, but they wanted to prevent terrorism. They listened to, and rejected, my counsel, which was to get serious and professionalize their approach, without delay. Specifically, they needed to adopt something like the Israeli model.
How Israeli intelligence, specifically their domestic security service, SHABAK, approaches interrogation, is much misunderstood. While SHABAK can employ what outsiders would term torture on occasion, those conditions are tightly controlled by legal authorities: this prevents abuses and, critically, allows interrogators to know they will not face prosecution or banishment, years later, for doing what they were told was legal.
But what makes SHABAK interrogators effective is not the threat of physical pressure, rather their professional competence. The most junior Israeli interrogators have completed a rigorous three-year program in psychology and Arabic before they meet their first subject. When I told U.S. senior officers this was the way to go, they gasped and explained this was impossible. Meaning, this was not how the IC likes to do business. (They particularly objected to my mantra: “Interrogation through a translator isn’t interrogation.”) Instead, Americans opted for an ad hoc, somewhat fly-by-night interrogation program, lacking in expertise or language skills, and botched the job — to the surprise only of those who have never seen U.S. intelligence in action.
It’s fair to point out that SHABAK has a far simpler problem set, focusing mainly on Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, while U.S. spies have global responsibilities and targets; it’s likewise fair to note that our IC has personnel and resources that Israeli spooks can only dream of. Failure here was a choice, perhaps a preordained one.
Let there be no misunderstanding. While CIA officials are now insisting, contra the SSCI report, that the special interrogation program was a success, having prevented terrorism — and there is no doubt their claims are largely correct, in a technical sense — from any big picture view, it was a disaster, having delivered minimal gains at vast and enduring political cost.
Knowing the CIA and the IC, I’m not sure any other outcome was likely here. The salient fact is that, on 9/11, CIA lacked interrogators. That was a messy line of work the Agency had happily run away from after Vietnam, so in 2001 there were no serving officers who had a clue what to do. Indeed, coercive interrogation went deeply against the culture of CIA case officers, for whom getting friendly, if (hopefully) not too friendly, with sources is a requirement. As a result, CIA fobbed this nasty mission off on Agency security types lacking understanding of operations (in an eerie replay of the botched Nosenko affair of the 1960’s), much less of Arabs, and dumped the rest of the mess on a motley crew of contractors who never had any business falling into this most sensitive line of work. Whether you think CIA use of torture was right or wrong, there can be no debate, based on what the public now knows, that this program was badly mismanaged and doomed to failure from day one. As is so often the case, noble IC intentions collided with the wall of incompetence and wishful thinking, and eventually ample CYA.
That said, it is perilously easy to find fault here with people who did their best under most difficult circumstances. I find it noxious that much of the emotional hand-wringing about this comes from people, many of them in Congress, who were happy to sign off on such matters when the danger of terrorism was acute, yet are now happy to throw spooks under the bus when times and administrations have changed.
What Democrats on the SSCI have done this week is highly damaging, not to mention gratuitous, and will have lasting impacts on the IC and our national security. It is at the least highly curious that Democrats on the SSCI, as a parting shot before control of the Senate changes hands shortly, released a report that had existed, in several forms, for years. Much of the “torture” details have been known to the public since 2006, almost a decade ago, while revealing details of how foreign intelligence agencies assisted the IC after 9/11 is nothing short of stupid.
After the 9/11 attacks, many foreign partners assisted us in our covert fight against terrorism, with the understanding that it would be kept tightly secret. “May we read about you in the newspapers” is a MOSSAD joke-cum-curse for good reason. Now that the SSCI majority has betrayed that trust, I can see no reason why any foreign intelligence agency should believe American promises ever again. Coming on the heels of the Snowden debacle, which rightly raised serious questions about the IC’s ability to keep secrets, this is a grave problem. Without close foreign intelligence partnerships, based on mutual trust and discretion, our ability to protect our country and our interests will be seriously and lastingly degraded.
It is never a healthy thing in a democracy when naked partisan politics intrudes on the intelligence business, which is a sacred trust that ought to be above the partisan food-fight. Yet that is precisely what the SSCI Democrats have done here. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that this release was a spiteful reaction to their recent midterm election losses. What else can be said when the Democrats made no effort to include CIA or IC viewpoints in their vast and scathing reports, which run to over seven thousand pages.
Senior IC officials have reacted with vitriol to the Democrats’ action, particularly Mike Hayden, who served as director of both NSA and CIA. The wisest response, however, has been Bob Kerrey’s. A former Democratic Senator and Governor, Kerrey served on the SSCI for eight years and knows the issues intimately. I’ve long admired Kerrey, a centrist who always tried to do what was right for the country, not just his party; his patriot credentials, as a former Navy SEAL who lost a leg in Vietnam, winning the Medal of Honor in the process, are above question. Kerrey makes many wise statements, you should read his whole op-ed, but this is central to his argument:
I do not need to read the report to know that the Democratic staff alone wrote it. The Republicans checked out early when they determined that their counterparts started out with the premise that the CIA was guilty and then worked to prove it.
There’s the rub. The SSCI majority report is in no way an effort to establish truths, much less to reform what clearly needs reform. Rather, it is a prosecutorial brief intended to cause pain to the committee’s incoming majority. This intrusion of overt partisanship into the intelligence business is a terrible precedent in our democracy.
There are few precedents for what has just happened. Some will cite the mid-1970’s efforts by Congress to investigate IC errors and worse, most famously the Church Committee. This, after all, led to the current Congressional oversight system, as well as most of the legal norms under which American intelligence operates down to the present day. But the analogy is flawed, as the Church Committee revealed IC programs, of dubious provenance and legality, which Congress knew nothing about. In contrast, the SSCI majority this week chose to release the details of Top Secret programs which they had known about for many years.
The only area where the analogy with the 1970’s is operative, regrettably, is in the realm of unintended consequences. While the Church hearings led to much-needed reforms of the IC, it also led to a bloodbath at CIA, including the firing of many valuable officers; worse, it caused the establishment of a clear delineation between foreign and domestic intelligence, more than exists in reality — so clear, in fact, that it was termed The Wall. This was The Wall whose prevention of cooperation between the FBI, CIA and NSA was the single greatest cause of the failure to prevent 9/11.
CIA isn’t going anywhere. It will weather these bureaucratic storms, as it always has. The first mission of any bureaucracy, of course, is survival. Sadly, there will be no real reforms, even though these are plainly needed. Just as the Snowden Operation made serious NSA reform impossible, since it brought the taint of treason and Moscow, the introduction of naked partisanship into the discussion of CIA torture means that Agency and IC reform is stillborn. Having branded themselves as the party of calling out CIA misdeeds, the Democrats have marginalized any credentials they have won on national security, and the Republicans, seeking payback for what the SSCI just did, will no doubt block needed reforms as “unpatriotic.”
Thus will CIA remain, largely unreformed. Its foreign partnerships have taken a serious blow, and any operational bias for action, strongly encouraged after 9/11, has evaporated, perhaps for decades. Who, after all, wants to take risks when you might be exposed by an angry Congress a few years down the road? Getting your intelligence services to be risk-averse and ineffective, acting like a very secretive and expensive Department of Motor Vehicles, is an eminently achievable goal, and will be the lasting legacy of the Democrats on the SSCI. Be sure to remember this after the next terrorist “big wedding,” which is sure to come eventually, when Congress seeks scalps to blame for the disaster.
As the world revels in blaming CIA with torture in lurid detail, we can expect outrage and perhaps prosecutions of American intelligence officers and their foreign partners. Lawfare is now a thriving global industry. The damage to our security and our allies will be lasting. To be clear, I am as disgusted as anybody by what the SSCI has disclosed to the world. My position, which I elaborated long ago, is that torture can be quite effective, but nevertheless is something no civilized country ought to employ. Period. Where easy moralizers see a simple tale of Hitlerian evil in CIA activities after 9/11, I see instead a sad, predictable story of incompetence and severe bureaucratic dysfunction that cries out for reform. A reform that Senate Democrats have now made impossible — until after the next 9/11.
P.S. It has been much noted that Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) agreed with the majority on the SSCI. As well he ought to, since as someone who suffered torture for years as a POW in Hanoi, he is understandably touchy on this topic. That said, it’s fair to note that most of the people now praising McCain as the world’s moral avatar on torture generally consider him to be a deranged warmonger, and I suspect less than one percent of his cheerleaders today voted for him in 2008. Partisanship is ruining the Republic.
P.P.S. I’ve never been clear on the morality whereby invading countries, leading to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, many of them civilians, is ok, while using drones to kill thousands more civilians in several countries is quite acceptable, but torturing a few people, mainly terrorists, is officially The Worst Thing Ever…but that’s probably just me.
Over the last week, the American media has begun, belatedly, to examine a story in Rolling Stone magazine last month which asserted that a horrific gang rape occurred at the University of Virginia, at a named fraternity. The story was light on specifics, not naming the victim or the perpetrators except in vague terms, but its depiction of gang rape was vivid and hard to forget.
I have no expertise in such matters, but my old counterintelligence sense told me that a lot of this account didn’t add up and much of it simply didn’t make much sense. Others clearly felt the same way and a small amount of fact-checking — which was never done by Rolling Stone — revealed that the story, as reported, simply could not have happened. While it is certainly possible that “Jackie” was raped at UVA, her nightmarish story, as reported by Sabrina Rubin Erdely, cannot be true.
The UVA rape saga has caused some overdue introspection in certain quarters, since the false accusation of rape, indeed a terrifying gang rape, is a most serious matter. If I were the fraternity in question, whose reputation has been destroyed before the world, I would have platoons of lawyers deploying with haste.
Some are rightly asking questions about what else ideologically-minded journalists like Sabrina Rubin Erdely have faked; that would be good to know. But in truth the problem of journalists dispensing with fact-checking and the barest professional norms to advance a story they want to be true is nothing new. Indeed, this phenomenon, properly termed advocacy journalism, has been cancerous for over two decades and is only now getting the scrutiny it deserves.
I first encountered advocacy journalism back in the 1990’s in the Balkans. The Bosnian War of 1992-95, in particular, was a proving ground of this dangerous nonsense, as I recounted in my book Unholy Terror. While that conflict got a vast amount of Western media coverage — hundreds of times more than, say, Algeria’s civil war, which happened at the same time and killed many more innocent people — the truth is that almost all the Western journalists who signed up for what locals derisively termed the “Sarajevo safari” knew nothing about the country and did not speak the language.
Worse, most of these journalists quickly signed on for a simple, good-versus-evil narrative of Bosnia’s complex and messy war that portrayed Muslims as innocent victims and Serbs (and, later, Croats) as genocidal barbarians with whom there could be no parley. This perspective was so overly simple as to be cartoonish. Accepting it required a suspension of any journalistic norms such as confirming sources and stories, but many Western journalists in Bosnia were perfectly happy to do that.
They became advocates, some unapologetically so. Actually looking at the Bosnian war with a critical eye would have revealed uncomfortable and inconvenient facts that did not fit The Narrative. Such as the fact that the Muslim-led government in Sarajevo committed war crimes too. That it even perpetrated war crimes against fellow Muslims when Western journalists were watching, to gain political points. Most consequentially, the Sarajevo government was in bed with Iranian intelligence and Salafi jihadists like Osama Bin Laden (who, like thousands of his fellow foreign mujahidin who fought in the Balkans, received a Bosnian passport for his service to Sarajevo).
All these were things that Western journalists could have covered, since the facts were available, but they averted eyes from issues that might upset The Narrative they had created and sought to continue.
Some of this was careerism, since the Bosnian war made good copy, but many of the journalists who covered the conflict were true believers, some of them openly so. Ed Vulliamy, who won numerous awards for his coverage of Bosnia, admitted his role in trying to get NATO intervention, even at the expense of accurate reporting, describing journalistic neutrality as “ridiculous,” asserting, “We have to take sides,” memorably adding, “If the professional ethics say I can’t take sides, screw the ethics.” CNN’s ubiquitous Christian Amanpour admitted that she in no way covered Bosnia objectively, serving instead as a mouthpiece of the Sarajevo government, because doing anything else would have made her “an accomplice to genocide.”
What made the The Narrative plausible is that, like any good disinformation, it was partially true. Tens of thousands of Muslim civilians died in the Bosnian war, and some were murdered barbarically. Although Western journalists vastly inflated those deaths, some did happen. Yet keeping The Narrative intact meant presenting Bosnia’s Muslims as virtuous “designer victims” in whom there was no guile or fault, and that was something nobody who understood Bosnia the actual country accepted. The result was Western media coverage that was deeply unbalanced and at times simply untrue, and this inspired Western policies towards that tragic country that unsurprisingly led to long-term poverty and failure.
To cite one example among many there, in the late fall of 1992 The New York Times reported a sensational story filled with horror. A twenty-one year old Bosnian Serb soldier, Borislav Herak, recounted to John Burns, a seasoned correspondent, how he had been involved in the rape and murder of Muslim civilians on a grand scale. The story he told was lurid and detailed and makes the Rolling Stone account of “Jackie” seem like a holiday.
Overnight, it became a global sensation, putting flesh and first-hand detail for the first time on horrific, if murky, accounts of “ethnic cleansing” in Bosnia that the Western media had been reporting for months. It won Burns a Pulitzer Prize and the Herak saga became iconic among Western journalists, the kind of scoop that platoons of them sought to get for themselves in the bloody hills of Bosnia.
Unfortunately, there were clear signs from the outset that Herak was not telling the truth. In the first place, the young man told his story from Muslim captivity, and there was evidence he had been tortured. A few years later, once the war was over, Herak finally told the truth, that he had been coerced to tell Burns what Western journalists wanted to hear. “I was forced to speak against myself and my comrades,” he explained in 1996, but by then it was old news; Western minds had been made up long before.
More troubling is the fact that Herak’s initial account included things that it’s hard to believe any Western journalist could have accepted with a straight face. In particular, Herak claimed to have witnessed Canadian General Lewis MacKenzie, the UN peacekeeping commander in Bosnia at the time, participate in rapes of Muslim women on multiple occasions. This assertion, for which there was never any evidence, was muted by the Western media since it made Herak look like the unreliable witness he was, and possibly insane to boot. Why, then, any other of Herak’s lurid claims ought to have been accepted at face value seems not to have occurred to reporters.
Western media misrepresentations in Bosnia — this went well beyond bias and amounted to a sort of nihilism — had a pernicious effect on Western responses to that awful conflict, and they have lasting impacts today, over two decades later. Advocacy journalism infected foreign reporting in the 1990’s, and more recently this cancer has spread to all forms of American journalism, which is a development that ought to concern all of us.
To be fair to Sabrina Rubin Erdely, whose regular reporting on sexual assault must now be fact-checked, belatedly, her exaggerations and possible fabrications are no worse than the feted media frenzy surrounding the Snowden Operation, which I’ve written a great deal about. Pulitzer Prizes likewise fell on those who reported stolen NSA information in a manner so one-sided and devoid of any context as to be lies: or, more properly, disinformation. This, while not new, is worse than it was during the Cold War, and seems to be the new normal in too much American journalism, which ought to be kept in mind as Rolling Stone is, rightly, raked over the coals for its UVA reporting.
The first sign of trouble is when journalists abandon a critical mind and accept The Narrative on any issue. Although the full story has yet to emerge, it’s already apparent that Rolling Stone heard what it wanted to hear, namely that Southern white fratboys are secretly rapist monsters, and dispensed with actually confirming the story before publishing it. How this could have happened after the remarkably similar Duke lacrosse rape debacle only a few years ago, is a germane question that merits investigation.
The likely answer is that feminists of the Social Justice Warrior variety, to use an au courant term, have accepted that white men are rapists in general, ideologically speaking, thus normal standards of evidence need not apply to prove claims of criminal misconduct. As with Bosnia, there is an element of truth here — campus rape is a problem in America, just as Bosnian Muslims were victims of war crimes — but substituting ideology for reality leads to a sort of nihilism.
Unless journalists are held to the accepted norms of their profession, they play a dangerous role in a democracy. Bias is not the issue here, since everybody has bias; rather, the issue is abandonment of long-understood professional practice. Journalists, editors included, who refuse to check facts and confirm accounts, especially salacious claims, are propagandists and should be publicly labeled as such.
When this sort of institutionalized nihilism, which substitutes incendiary assertions for facts, becomes normative, our democracy itself is at stake. We depend on free exchange of ideas and the acceptance of a certain common narrative that believes in at least trying to speak the truth about public events. Abandoning this helped ruin Bosnia, a country far away that few Americans could locate on a map. Institutionalizing the cancerous nihilism of advocacy journalism at home will lead to the ruin of the Republic.
Today, Pope Francis is in Istanbul celebrating a rare moment of Catholic-Orthodox unity with a visit to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the head of the Eastern Orthodox Churches (whose authority over his flock is considerably less than the pope’s over Catholics worldwide), with whom the Vatican has been in schism for almost a thousand years. But the big news from Francis this week was his jaw-dropping speech to the European Parliament in Strasbourg.
The pontiff’s sharp public criticism of Europe’s troubled political culture received much comment in the secular media, which noted how strongly Francis castigated the European Union and its “bureaucratic technicalities,” adding: “In recent years, as the EU has expanded, there has been growing mistrust on the part of citizens towards institutions considered to be aloof, engaged in laying down rules perceived as insensitive to individual peoples, if not downright harmful.”
Were this not coming from the Pope of Rome, it would be close to boilerplate, given the widespread discontent across the EU about its troubled and sclerotic institutions. Yet Francis’s speech included more acid comments, including that Europe is increasingly out of step with the rest of the world, but nothing got more attention than his description of “a Europe which is now a ‘grandmother,’ no longer fertile and vibrant.” It’s not everyday the head of the Catholic Church refers to Europe, which has been the headquarters of the faith since the late Roman Empire, as “elderly and haggard.”
That said, it’s difficult to say that Francis is wrong about any of this. Virtually no European countries are replacing their populations through natural means, achieving a birth rate of 2.1 live children per woman to even maintain their populations, while several EU members are near the 1.2 rate signalling “death spiral,” i.e. the birth rate at which the population cannot recover. The reasons for this are many and varied — birth rates among native-born Americans are hardly better than in the EU, while the lowest rates on earth are found in East Asia, especially Singapore, Japan, and South Korea, indicating that there’s more than a European problem here — but it can be safely said that the Catholic Church’s ban on birth control is being widely ignored in countries like Italy, Spain and Portugal, which have among the fewest babies in Europe, per capita, yet which a generation or two ago were still strongly Catholic and impressively fecund.
While Francis’s analysis of Europe’s population problem, which is really a deep crisis of civilizational pride, identity and meaning, manifesting in a lack of will to even reproduce, is difficult to refute, it was his proposed remedy that received the most comments. The pope has previously spoken of his deep sympathy for migrants headed to Europe, but in Strasbourg he put his cards fully on the table, urging Europe to welcome migrants with open arms, adding, “We cannot allow the Mediterranean to become a vast cemetery.” Getting to Italy via boat is hazardous, and it’s estimated that 3,200 migrants have drowned in the Mediterranean so far in 2014 while trying to make their way to EU territory.
While no one to the left of Attila the Hun is presumably in favor of people drowning on the high seas, the pope’s words caused many comments, not all of them friendly, across a Europe that is increasingly questioning the economic, political, and social wisdom of having something like open borders to their south. Decades ago, Milton Friedman noted that you can have open borders or you can have an advanced welfare state, but you cannot have both (in any fiscally sustainable way, he perhaps ought to have added), a position that many overtaxed Europeans are finding sympathy for these days.
The Catholic Church’s enthusiasm for open borders is not new, including its categorization, like Francis this week, of migration foremost as a human rights issue, and has been in evidence for some time in the United States, where Catholic bishops have loudly campaigned for amnesty, including support for Barack Obama’s recent executive action on immigration enforcement. All the same, it’s not hard to see, beyond humanitarianism, why Catholic bishops might welcome millions of newcomers from the south, many of them co-religionists, to bolster the declining numbers (and enthusiasm) of native-born U.S. Catholics. It is rather more mysterious why the Vatican would press for the arrival of millions of migrants from Africa and the Middle East, most of whom are Muslims, a group whose assimilation into Europe to date charitably can be called incomplete, even troubled.
While there can be no doubt that Europe needs more people to sustain their economies and costly welfare states, one ought to question whether simply having an open door to Africa and the Middle East represents any sort of coherent immigration policy (the same can be said of America’s decision to not have much of a border with Mexico). It certainly does not seem to be a good way to attract the skills needed by advanced, information-age economies. Canada and Australia, for instance, which have more thought-out immigration policies than the United States, may offer a model for Europe on how to attract educated, talented, and economically desirable immigrants, rather than merely those who get in boats and hope for the best.
Nevertheless, Australia too now has a migration crisis, caused by its own kindness to refugees, with migrants drowning in significant numbers while trying to make their way to that affluent country. “Why aren’t hundreds of asylum seekers drowning trying to get to Japan?” asked one analyst, pointedly, a year ago. After all, Japan is a very nice country with a most advanced economy and a desperate shortage of people. But refugees don’t try to reach the coast of Japan. For the simple reason they know they will be turned away. Preferring to preserve its native population, Japan turns away virtually all refugee claimants, while Australia lets many of them in, with generous benefits to boot. South Korea, like Japan, is not open to more than few refugees despite a serious birth dearth, so few come. In 2014, any developed country that pursues a permissive policy towards refugees is going to get more of them, perhaps many more.
In this sense, Pope Francis may prove to be out of touch with much of his flock, at least in Europe. While the pontiff did not say anything as flat-out odd as President Obama’s remark this week that “the only people who have the right” to question immigration to the United States are “some native Americans,” which ranks as one of the stranger comments to fall from any president’s lips in public lately, the pope’s sympathy for migrants is clear. His prescription to open Europe to boats — how many, exactly? — of Africans and Asians does not seem to be in synch with where many Europeans are politically of late. At best, it’s a recipe for more troubles with difficult-to-assimilate, and not always very economically productive, immigrants, some of whom will collect generous EU welfare benefits while fighting to destroy Europe; at worst, it sounds like a path to the dystopia predicted by the notorious 1973 French novel The Camp of the Saints.
In France, where immigration and assimilation are very hot-button issues, Marine Le Pen has led her right-wing National Front to unparalleled heights of power and popularity, leading to speculation that she may be the republic’s next president. In Britain, the UK Independence Party has risen fast in the polls on a mixture of Euro-skepticism and anti-immigration sentiment, with its leader Nigel Farage questioning what Americans term “anchor babies”; while the British establishment has pooh-poohed UKIP as racists and yahoos, the fear of mainstream parties is mounting quickly before a possible UKIP avalanche, and its deep appeal to Britain’s white working class is undeniable. Even in Germany, where a phobia about the far-right lingers from 1945, the recently established Alternative for Germany (AfD) is making impressive political hay with a rather UKIP-like mix of Euro-skepticism and anti-immigration sentiments, all without any Nazi taint.
The reasons for this political shift are not difficult to determine. In addition to rising frustrations about the under-performing EU economy, there’s the troubling matter that quite a few European governments have promised reforms to ailing immigration and assimilation policies, without doing much of anything. Four years ago, Chancellor Angela Merkel raised eyebrows by stating that Germany’s multi–decade experiment in multiculturalism had “utterly failed.” While Merkel proclaimed “multi-kulti” to be “dead” in late 2010, it is still there in any real sense. Similarly, Britain’s David Cameron in early 2011 stated that “multiculturalism” had “failed” — and proceeded to do nothing about it, leading to the rise of UKIP. British voters, aware of the “fool me once…” paradigm, are likely to be skeptical of Cameron’s public counterattack on UKIP this week, at last promising real reforms to a broken immigration system.
Yet Cameron’s instincts are the right ones, however flawed a messenger “Dave the Chameleon” may be. If the European center-right does not make haste to address essential issues of immigration and national identity, in a way that is plausible and free of cant and condescension, they will surrender this huge issue to the far-right, which now is increasingly allied with Putin’s Russia on this and many other matters.
While the Kremlin’s outreach to the EU’s right-wing fringe has existed for years, the mainstream media is starting to notice what I was writing about months ago, and no longer are Russian intelligence payoffs getting to just the quasi-Nazi fringe. This week it was revealed that Le Pen’s National Front has secured a 40 million Euro loan from a Kremlin-linked bank, while Heinz-Christian Strache, head of Austria’s right-wing Freedom Party (FPÖ), was in Moscow this week to discuss “overcoming the crisis in Europe,” amid rumors that the FPÖ, too, is taking Kremlin cash. Germany’s AfD likewise has suspicious financial ties to Moscow, while the Russian position was made clear in a recent strategy paper published by a Kremlin-linked think-tank titled: “Putin: The Leader of International Conservatism.”
As I explained months ago, Putin and his worldview are in direct opposition to the post-modern West’s “WEIRD” demographic, which provides our elites. The Kremlin strongman is making no effort to hide his views, rather the contrary. In last year’s Valdai Club speech, Putin employed enough muscular faith-and-family language to warm the heart of any European traditionalist:
Another serious challenge to Russia’s identity is linked to events taking place in the world. Here there are both foreign policy and moral aspects. We can see how many of the Euro-Atlantic countries are actually rejecting their roots, including the Christian values that constitute the basis of Western civilization. They are denying moral principles and all traditional identities: national, cultural, religious and even sexual. They are implementing policies that equate large families with same-sex partnerships, belief in God with the belief in Satan.
The excesses of political correctness have reached the point where people are seriously talking about registering political parties whose aim is to promote pedophilia. People in many European countries are embarrassed or afraid to talk about their religious affiliations. Holidays are abolished or even called something different; their essence is hidden away, as is their moral foundation. And people are aggressively trying to export this model all over the world. I am convinced that this opens a direct path to degradation and primitivism, resulting in a profound demographic and moral crisis.
It cannot be missed that Putin considers the post-modern West to be a civilization in profound crisis, too bored with affluenza and so mired in the loss of faith that it has even lost interest in reproduction, one of the most basic of human desires. It is no exaggeration to observe that Putin sees his mission as saving Russia from that fate.
Although it has long been fashionable to note that Russia, too, has a terrible demographic problem, not helped by rampant alcoholism, there are signs that the corner has been turned. New evidence shows that Russia actually has one of the higher birth rates in Europe, thanks in part to Putin’s pro-natalism policies. As with many old-fashioned Kremlin efforts, Westerners have chuckled at things like “go home and have sex day,” but they seem to be working. (It bears noting that the only country in the former Soviet Union that has really kicked its birth rate up high is Georgia, a devoutly Orthodox as well as anti-Russian country, thanks to the offer by the country’s Patriarch to personally baptize all third-and-more children born to Orthodox families.)
There should be no illusions here. Putin sees the European right, by no means just the far-right, as his friends and allies on a wide range of political and social issues. Many right-leaning Europeans have greeted Putin’s defense of traditionalism warmly, seeing it as far more important than anything involving Ukraine, and have accepted Kremlin funding in an increasingly overt manner. Even UKIP’s Nigel Farage, the most moderate of the Kremlin’s EU friends, at the height of Russia’s Special War on Ukraine in the spring, stated that he considered Putin the world leader he most admired.
While there is little chance of full Putinism, which is a distinctly Russian and post-Soviet phenomenon, taking hold in the EU, there is ample room for politicians to exploit opposition to immigration and multiculturalism, as well as support for traditional family values, in a distinctly Kremlinesque fashion. What that might look like can be gleaned by looking at Hungary, where Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is leading his country towards a sort of Putinism-lite on the Danube, allowing democracy in form if not always in content. His increasingly authoritarian ways are much noted in the Western media, more than might be expected from a small country of ten million people. But Orbán is a gadfly, and he holds a commanding majority in Hungary’s parliament, where under him the once center-right Fidesz party has ditched the center and has headed towards unapologetic traditionalism and nationalism — xenophobia to his detractors.
Yet it should be noted that, excepting occasional bone-headed missteps of the sort Putin made in his early years in Moscow too, Orbán remains popular with most Hungarians, who view the post-Communist period as one of corruption and incompetence, against which Fidesz has defined itself, plus the only plausible alternative is the more or less neo-Nazi Jobbik, which holds one-fifth of the seats in Budapest’s parliament, and compared to whom Orbán looks like a sensitivity trainer.
Orbán, like Putin, does not hide his program, which seems designed to make the WEIRD demographic’s heads explode. He has unabashedly extolled Hungary’s Christian values (he is not a Catholic, like a plurality of Hungarians, rather a member of the country’s politically influential Calvinist minority) while hailing Europe’s Christian Democratic leaders of the 1950’s, comparing them harshly with the post-modern liberal political, economic, and social values that reign in the EU today. Needless to add, such comments have not endeared Orbán to the Brussels smart-set, which is embarrassed to have such a caveman leading an EU country, but as long as Fidesz and its leader remain popular with Hungarians, there’s not much the EU can do about its Orbán problem.
Unsurprisingly, Orbán has spoken warmly of Putin, while pursuing close economic relations with Moscow, which has the oil and natural gas that Budapest needs. Adding fuel to the fire, Orbán has toyed with historical revisionism, noting the injustice of the post-Great War Treaty of Trianon, which took away two-thirds of Hungary, which is a sure-fire way to aggravate fellow EU and NATO neighbors Romania and Slovakia, which have appreciable ethnic Hungarian minorities. Just as bad, from the EU’s viewpoint, were Orbán’s comments this summer on immigration.
He more or less strapped on a flamethrower, stating, “The goal is to cease immigration whatsoever,” he said: “I think the current liberal immigration policy, which is considered obvious and morally based, is hypocritical.” When later asked about how this went down with fellow EU leaders, Orbán added fire: “There were two types of reactions: some envied me because they mustn’t say things like that although they’d very much like to. The others disagreed because they’ve failed to turn around demographic trends with family politics; have kept social tension at bay by subsidizing the jobless; and aren’t fazed if the ethnic basis of a nation state is broken.”
Not content to stop there, Hungary’s prime minister noted that his mission was to keep his country, which is far from wealthy, ethnically Hungarian and Christian. While this was met with horror by postmodern Europeans, there was less outcry in Hungary. To secure the country’s future, Orbán is implementing natalist policies including cash incentives, three years off work with pay for new mothers, and encouragement from Budapest to newlyweds to produce more Hungarians the old fashioned way. “If your love for one another becomes the source of a new life, that’s the greatest gift to your family. A child is a blessing, and the pledge of survival of the family and our nation,” says the congratulations card sent by the government to new brides and grooms.
Will this work in raising Hungary’s birth rate? That remains to be seen, though the cases of Georgia and Russia of late demonstrate that it can be done. What is certain is that the future belongs to those who show up for it and, at current birth rates, in fewer decades than anybody wants to imagine, much of Europe will be aged and infirm, and in severe financial crisis for no reason other than a lack of Europeans.
During the Cold War, clever anti-Communists were careful to deprive the militant Left of much of its program by increasing pay and benefits for workers, and generally treating the working class fairly, thereby nullifying the appeal of Bolshevism. In the United States, Washington, DC’s embrace of civil rights had more than a little to do with a desire to take away from Moscow a powerful propaganda point about how badly America, the supposed land of freedom, treated African Americans. In a similar vein, Europeans who want to blunt the rising appeal, and influence, of Putinism and its fellow travelers would be wise to wage a political counterattack, soon.
Mainstream EU political figures must acknowledge that grass-roots concerns about immigration and assimilation are not simply due to racism and related unfashionable views. Native, working class Europeans have valid reasons, not about hate, to question these policies. Moreover, in no EU country did any government ever ask the population if they wanted these currently controversial policies that have opened the door to Africa and Asia. If mainstream European political parties do not make a sincere effort to address these concerns, they will be exploited by friends of Putin whose commitment to democracy is weak, at best. And it will happen sooner than you think.
Time will tell if Pope Francis’s Strasbourg speech is as out of step with as much of European opinion as it seems to be. It is, however, safe to say that an era has ended, one of huge historical significance. Only ninety years ago, the Anglo-French Catholic layman Hillaire Belloc (in)famously pronounced, “Europe is the faith and the faith is Europe.” And he was right. As of this week, this is no longer the case.
The sensational case of Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency contractor gone rogue, and Russian, with something like 1.5 million highly classified documents, making this the biggest compromise in all intelligence history, has caused embarrassment and worse at NSA and across the U.S. Intelligence Community (IC). Since Snowden held high-level security clearances, the expensive and time-consuming vetting process for which is supposed to weed out obvious troublemakers, many questions have been raised about how this could have happened.
The short, and painful, answer is that Snowden was far from the first bad apple to have “beaten” the IC’s security clearance system, and he surely won’t be the last. Like so many things across the Federal government, and particularly the Department of Defense (DoD), a great deal of once-critical missions have been outsourced since the 1990’s, leading to gross incompetence and corruption by for-profit companies. (Outsourcing is a fully bipartisan boondoggle that nobody inside the Beltway wants to look into very deeply, since so many cash in on it, one way or the other.) In Snowden’s case, the firm that handled the collection of data for his clearances, USIS, stands accused of fraud on a truly massive scale, having simply faked 665,000 background investigations between 2008 and 2012. It’s little wonder that Snowden’s clearances were handled poorly.
Just how flawed the DoD security clearance system is was further highlighted by the September 2013 spree shooting at the Washington, DC, Navy Yard that killed a dozen people. The shooter, Aaron Alexis, was a Navy contractor who held a Secret-level clearance, and despite a serious incident with police indicating grave mental disturbance that should have resulted in the suspension of said clearance, and with that employment termination, the system failed to work and nothing got reported through proper channels. Since Alexis’s background investigation (BI) was handled by — of course — USIS, one wonders how much had actually been investigated about this troubled young man in the first place.
That said, the BI for a Secret-level clearance is pretty perfunctory, amounting to a glorified criminal background check, while that conducted for the Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Intelligence (TS/SCI) level, like Snowden possessed, is far more detailed and comprehensive, at least in theory. Hence the old IC joke that TS/SCI means “you’re not a felon” while Secret means “we don’t know that you’re a felon.”
To obtain TS/SCI clearances, applicants are subjected to an intricate examination of their life called a Single Scope Background Investigation (SSBI) that is intended to weed out the criminal, the untrustworthy, the habitually mendacious, the psychologically unfit, as well as those with connections to hostile foreign countries. To get a job at one of the big IC agencies your SSBI will include psychological tests and a polygraph examination about counterintelligence matters and perhaps your lifestyle (if both it’s termed a “full scope” polygraph examination), the latter being largely an inquiry into criminal matters, especially drug-related, and any truly deviant sexual tendencies. The idea is to weed out those with foreign allegiances and/or who are vulnerable to exploitation by foreign intelligence services.
The polygraph is a controversial topic that I don’t intend to explore in detail here. In the hands of an experienced examiner, it can be a valuable interrogation tool; regrettably, the IC has too few veteran polygraphers, thanks in large part to the fact that it’s a boring and underappreciated job that most people leave as soon as they can transfer into something more satisfying and sexy. In the hands of an inexperienced examiner, the polygraph can be worse than useless, while using it with broad-brush questions leads to many false positives and “inconclusives” (known as INCs in the trade). In my time in counterintelligence, I saw “the box” perform both splendidly and miserably: it all comes down to the examiner and his or her ability and “sixth sense” in interrogation. A security panacea it is not and will never be.
Once you get cleared the process continues, however — they call it a lifetime secrecy oath with good reason — and you will be subjected to periodic reinvestigations every five years if you hold TS/SCI, every decade if you have a Secret-level clearance. Since five (or ten) years can be a long time, serious incidents that may impact one’s clearance status are supposed to be reported through channels — here the Alexis case highlighted the failures in the system — or are otherwise supposed to be self-reported.
Holders of TS/SCI clearances especially — who undeniably surrender a fair amount of privacy and freedom when they take on the responsibility — are supposed to inform security without delay regarding important life incidents or changes, including criminality (“Um, I got a DUI.”), finances (“Yeah…I owe a bookie $43,000 — ponies weren’t going my way.”), foreign travel (“I’m taking my kids on spring break — to Iran!”), and foreign entanglements (“I’m dating a stripper — from China…we’re cool, right?”). Needless to add, some people are quicker to report these things than others, and reinvestigations can reveal interesting facts. In my time in counterintelligence, I heard them all.
Of course, people who are warped enough to betray their oath and the country are not likely to self-report their misdeeds, à la Snowden, so the burden falls on vigilant security and especially co-workers to make note of such things and pass on relevant information. Except they don’t. Rather, they hardly ever do. I was involved in several espionage investigations, and the one constant was that co-workers never reported their concerns, which turned out to be considerable, to the proper authorities. Nobody wants to be “a rat,” moreover there’s a very human tendency at work whereby no one wants to think the worst of a co-worker — perhaps a coffee club buddy or carpool friend. Americans are an optimistic people, you know.
Just how weak this reporting system is across DoD was laid bare by the recent case of Vice Admiral Timothy Giardina, who until a few months ago was the deputy commander of U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM) — in English, his was the second hand on the trigger of America’s vast nuclear arsenal. It would be hard to overstate the responsibility in his hands. Regrettably, VADM Giardina was leading a secret life based on obsessive gambling, at which he was spending something like fifteen hours a week, which would qualify as a part-time job. One wonders how he had time for this when his full-time job was among the busiest anywhere in DoD or the U.S. Government.
VADM Giardina was well known at several casinos around Omaha, Nebraska, where STRATCOM is headquartered, and he seemed to lose more than win. As revealed in a recent investigation by the Associated Press, the admiral was hailed as “Navy Tim” at his homes-away-from-home, who knew more about him than STRATCOM or the Navy did. Indeed, his official employers only learned of VADM Giardina’s habit when he was arrested for passing homemade fake chips; employing skills not taught at the Naval Academy or any Navy school I attended, VADM Giardina had converted $1 poker chips into the $500 kind. Casinos frown on this sort of thing, and the admiral was arrested and subsequently banned for life from certain casinos. Before that ban was in place, VADM Giardina kept gambling there, even after his arrest, so serious was his addiction.
It was this arrest that alerted his employers and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) — before that, they had no inkling about the admiral’s habits. When asked by a casino security officer about the protocols he, as a TS/SCI (plus) holder, was subject to, Giardina replied, “(What) they’re really trying to do is find out if you got, you know, if you’re having sex with animals or something really crazy or you’ve got this wild life that you could be blackmailed into giving military secrets out.” We can only hope that Russian and Chinese intelligence — whose interest in the deputy commander of STRATCOM would be difficult to overstate — were as blissfully unaware as the U.S. Navy was about his private life.
Why Giardina wasn’t caught beforehand isn’t difficult to discern. Nobody likes to tell security, those sneaky and snoopy guys down the hall, about their counterintelligence concerns regarding a co-worker — particularly when that co-worker is your boss and a three-star admiral. Despite the fact that the admiral, on advice of counsel, refused to cooperate with NCIS, Giardina is getting kid-glove treatment. He was found guilty in May 2014 of two counts of conduct unbecoming an officer: lying to an investigator and passing fake gambling chips. Giardina was given a written reprimand and ordered to forfeit $4,000 in pay; he will retire with one less star and still get a very handsome pension. Needless to add, the APA (Admirals’ Protective Association) remains a powerful force, and those lower in rank would never be dealt with so kindly. In identical circumstances, less senior officers would see a pension-less future while enlisted personnel would face prison. Giardina continues to profess a sort of innocence; perhaps he can help O.J. Simpson find the “real killers” someday.
I wish I could tell you this is an anomaly. It is not; it is entirely normal in U.S. military and intelligence circles these days. Rank has its privileges and connections matter — more than rules and regulations. I will share with you just one case, among many, that I was involved in. The individual in question had gotten an job at an IC “three-letter agency” through connections. Although this person’s initial SSBI had revealed anomalies, related to hostile foreign intelligence no less, they were brushed aside due to said connections. Upon reinvestigation, it was learned that this person had some serious personal issues. Specifically, there was domestic violence involving guns plus a suicide attempt. Police were called and there were reports. Worse, the individual had lied to officers of the court about all this. By any standard, this was a seriously disturbed individual. This was all reflected in the paperwork given to DoD investigators.
You know what happened? Absolutely nothing. Last I heard this person still has TS/SCI clearances and is working for the IC. Making big money, no less. I wish I could say I’m shocked, but I no longer am. How many Snowdens are there? Is it a handful? Dozens? Platoons? Battalions?
I don’t know and I no longer venture a guess. Despite recent, ahem, setbacks, the IC has asked for more taxpayer money next year. If this is money well spent I shall defer to you as a taxpayer. I don’t think it’s worth having vastly expensive intelligence agencies if you can’t keep secrets and prevent those secrets from being broadcast to the world…but then I’m kinda old school about that sort of thing.