The Unthinking of American Intelligence

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Why
is the American civilian and military intelligence community so
pathetic and ineffective? There are myriad reasons ranging from
the natural entropy in large organizational dynamics, lack of vertical
and horizontal integration and plain-vanilla incompetence. I'm indebted
to Jim
Grichar
for his intensive and comprehensive treatment of intelligence
problems on LRC and would urge everyone to read his entire archive
for a terrific treatment of the subject. I'd like to touch on the
one area I feel has been overlooked in the entire debate on intelligence
efficacy — critical thinking skills.

The US intelligence community used to be staffed by Ivy League graduates
and top-drawer intellects during World War III (also known as the
Cold War) whose colleges and even the government institutions for
which they worked had a respect for the employment of logic. Although
the cracks were starting to show in the 1960's when CIA and national
security analysts were using economic performance data published
by the Soviet Union to prove the coming ascendancy of centrally
planned economies overwhelming the West. They must have read too
much Paul
Samuelson
in college. Now the lethal combination of a federally
funded university system and the leviathan state has devalued education
to such a degree that a liberal education is now only available
at a handful of universities in the US and even those pale in comparison
to the rigor of the early twentieth century (much less the classical
tradition in Western academe in the 19th century). Today,
anyone can graduate from college and have no more viable an intellectual
tool chest than they entered with. Logic, like the classics, is
on the endangered species list in the American academy. When Mortimer
Adler and Charles Van Doren published How
to Read a Book
in 1940, many were amused by the irony of
the publication but it does not detract from its value. One could
issue a book to the intelligence community titled "How to Think
Your Way Out of a Paper Sack" and offer a service unprecedented
among the heavy intellectual lifters of America's elite intelligence
community. I would challenge anyone to examine the US intelligence
machine in the last three decades and discern the employment of
rigorous logic and reason. It would be amusing to find any vindicated
predictive analysis that was not an accident.

No one doubts America's technological edge and the ability to vacuum
up unprecedented data in mammoth quantities stored in countless
different media (including
tape reels, decaying microfiche and five and a quarter inch diskettes)

for our skilled archivists to warehouse. Guess what? We don't know
how to digest it. Grab any CIA or NSA analyst by the lapels and
administer a test in formal and symbolic logic and they will fail.
They could not identify fallacies
to escape the confines of the grocery bags they're trapped in. All
the information in the world is at their fingertips and they seem
incapable of asking the right question or framing the right data
for the problem they're approaching. As Richard
Mitchell
has pointed out, reading doesn't begin until you take
your eyes off the page. You can receive all the information you
want, but if you are incapable of processing it and establishing
patterns and relationships from disparate sources, you may as well
be a librarian. Couple this with the Political Correctness that
is strangling intelligent discourse by fencing off forbidden knowledge
and you set the stage for the trillion dollar "defense/intelligence"
apparatus to be caught off-guard on 9/11. (Memo to all FBI field
agents: you will be subject to prosecution if you interfere with
the religious freedom of resident aliens to carry on their mandated
jihad against perceived infidels. Sensitivity training to be scheduled
at a later date. . .)

Bin Laden has remained afield despite the best efforts and countless
tax dollars shoveled into the coffers of our esteemed intelligence
community. This gaping maw of a black hole will gladly continue
to devour national treasure and not deliver a scintilla of protection
because it cannot analyze but it can archive. Are they amassing
this vast store of information hoping that one or two analysts may
come along to make sense of it all? The nature of the bureaucracy
lends itself to perpetuation of a comfortable niche versus solution
as von Mises demonstrated. Legend has it that the Indian nuclear
tests in the late nineties were a surprise because the Clinton worthies
sent a team to Delhi complete with satellite photos demonstrating
we knew they had the capability to conduct both underground and
aerial testing. The US delegation showed the photos to the Indians
who correctly ascertained satellite vector reconnaissance paths
and timed the preparation and detonation of their nuclear tests
when our overhead reconnaissance birds would be out of range. This
is the kind of incompetence that makes you gasp for air.

When I attended the US Army Military Intelligence Officer Advanced
Course training for nearly eight months at Fort Huachuca, Arizona
nary an hour was spent on formal logic or identification of fallacies.
After leaving the school and serving in various capacities in the
US Army around the globe, I have yet to meet anyone from any service
or civilian intelligence arm who was exposed to critical thinking
in a formal fashion.

Is there a difference between information and intelligence? The
latter should be a refined distillate of the former precisely focused
and able to answer critical questions to inform decisions for action.
This seems a mouthful but it captures the importance of being able
to discern the accurate from the fallacious. Simply put, if an analyst
cannot effectively use a methodology that acts as a filter for poor
or false information, he cannot deliver actionable intelligence
outside the rules of chance. The WMD
fiasco in Iraq
illustrates perfectly the gullibility of undiscerning
analysts who substitute the whims of their rulers for clear thinking.
We haven't even touched on the lost intellectual endeavor of examining
possible second and third consequences of actions, but that is fodder
for another article.

October
18, 2003

William
Buppert [send him mail],
a retired Army officer, lives on a ranch in the Inland Northwest
with his wife and their three homeschooled children.


        
        

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