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Intelligence and the Presidency

There are sixteen official agencies which collect and analyze intelligence data for the federal government of the United States of America. Most Americans are unaware of all but a few of them, and even knowledgeable people often fail to understand what each agency does, and the significance of the Presidency on how they operate. The President who takes office in 2009 will redirect intelligence priorities and allocate resources to suit his preferences, a fact which has significant value to the character and effectiveness of U.S. intelligence.

A complete examination of the intelligence community would take far more time and space than is appropriate for a weblog entry, so for this article we must examine the world of intelligence only as brief overview. Intelligence is used by the government to observe trends, threats, and opportunities. These may be military, political, economic, social, religious, or geographical in type. Intelligence operations are planned for any nation seen as hostile to the United States or a likely opponent in some foreseeable potential conflict, but the majority of operations and the most resources are applied to the nation seen as the greatest threat to American security.

The most obvious point of focus in how a president regards intelligence, may be seen in his preference for either human agents (HUMINT), technological surveillance (SIGINT), or military goals (MILINT). For example, President Carter distrusted human intelligence, and preferred to rely more heavily on satellite surveillance. As a result, he was caught by surprise when Iran's government collapsed. President Reagan supported the development of new satellites for intelligence, but also the renewed development of agents in place. President Clinton followed President Carter's preference for SIGINT, while Presidents G.H.W. and George W. Bush have focused primarily on militarily actionable intelligence, in terms of policy. If Senator McCain is elected president this November, he is likely to maintain the emphasis on MILINT primacy, while an Obama victory would likely result in a sharp decrease in support for field officers.


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Comments (11)

"...while an Obama victory ... (Below threshold)

"...while an Obama victory would likely result in a sharp decrease in support for field officers."

Sez you?

Obama like his fellow Dimoc... (Below threshold)

Obama like his fellow Dimocrats will be fascinated by satellite pics, I think it satisfies their voyeur instinct. SIGINT refers to SIGNALS intelligence, the monitoring and deciphering of anothers communications. Each has a purpose and serves as a counterbalance to the others. Unfortunately, we've come to rely heavily on the technology end; you can't capture and put a satellite on trial for spying. Thank you, Francis Gary Powers. We are woefully short on HUMINT. It's one thing to read a license plate from space, it's quite another to know what your advesary is thinking and planning.

I can't believe this cheap ... (Below threshold)

I can't believe this cheap suit is even in the running. Disagree with McCain or not, at least you know where he stands and what he knows. ww

In his book "Marchin... (Below threshold)
dr lava:

In his book "Marching to Hell" former CIA officer Michael Scheuer details how Bush and Cheney viewed intelligence. They ignored it and made up their own. Fabricating whatever they needed to feed the sheep.

David Rieff examined Scheue... (Below threshold)

David Rieff examined Scheuer's Marching Toward Hell:

Scheuer makes the astonishing leap to the view that America was betrayed by virtually the entire American policy elite -- from the neoconservatives (who, he believes, are more loyal to Israel than to the United States) to George Soros, from the Bush administration and Senator John McCain to the 9/11 Commission, not to mention the Rev. Franklin Graham and Hillary Clinton. And yet that is Scheuer's claim -- one he fails to back up, let alone demonstrate conclusively. At times, he seems apprehensive about the effect his jeremiad may have on his readers. "I am the first to admit," he concedes, "that this book is eclectic, impressionistic and at times idiosyncratic."

If only that were its only problems. But in his anger and scorn, Scheuer takes his readers on a breathless ride across what for him is an apocalyptic landscape peopled by venal bureaucrats, craven politicians (Bill Clinton the one-world pseudo-European; George W. Bush the inept conventional thinker), closet Zionists and liberal internationalists (Clinton again, but also Amnesty International and other humanitarian organizations). Only the courageous if routinely traduced men and women of the intelligence services and the military, and a few courageous, lonely voices like himself, are still carrying on the good fight.

There are a number of probl... (Below threshold)

There are a number of problems with intelligence collection and analysis, some historical, some more recent.

1) The concern that analysts will be wrong. Of course they'll be wrong from time to time. The problem there is that their customers, the policymakers, also control their budget so they have an incentive to keep policymakers happy so as to keep their budgets intact.

2) The concern that human intelligence assets will feed disinformation or become double agents. That could happen - the U.S. continuing lack of HUMINT sources and case officers to work them makes it more likely. If the U.S. had sufficient HUMINT capability rather than the current overemphasis on IMINT and SIGINT, this situation would rectify itself.

3) The CIA in particular has become like the State Department - rather than carrying out the policy decisions of the Chief Executive, its career bureaucrats instead push their own policy ideas. The politization of intelligence occurs in both directions. (For those intending to make a Cheney joke here...)

Consider that the successess in the GWOT have been more luck than anything because we have few human assets able to tell us what terrorist groups are planning. They know we can see things from 1,000 miles up and hear things from 1,000 miles away.

McCain's military experienc... (Below threshold)

McCain's military experience gives him insight we have not seen since Eisenhower. I believe he understands the war in Iraq better than any candidate, and he promises that "he will ensure that the war against terrorists is fought intelligently, with patience and resolve, using all instruments of national power."

Another example of the fall... (Below threshold)

Another example of the fallacy of SIGNINT for the gathering of intel, is the enemy will soon realize that their signals have been compromised and will change the code, bandwidth etc. Thus leaving the person or government in the dark In some cases, the enemy has been known to know when to shut up. Case in point, the planning of the massive German winter offensive in the early part of December 1944.

The Allies had come to rely on the ULTRA information that they were using to move troops around and it cost them dearly in men and material, especially the American troops on the Belgium-German border. The only top Allied commander that had an inkling of what the Germans were up to was George Patton, but Bradley, Eisenhower and Montgomery pooh poohed that.

Had these commanders had listened to the reports of the people on the ground, things might have turned out a lot different. These people were smarter (so they thought) than the soldier in the forward foxholes, so they were ignored.

lavaIn his b... (Below threshold)


In his book "Marching to Hell" former CIA officer Michael Scheuer details how Bush and Cheney viewed intelligence. They ignored it and made up their own. Fabricating whatever they needed to feed the sheep.

You've been recycling this piss poor excuse for an argument repeatedly and you still don't get the message. Why? Because you either don't read the entire comment threads and posts here at Wizbang. Or you have the attention span of a teenager (read: arrested development, cognitive deficiencies and the tendency to seagull comment....fly over, drop, and fly on).

Here is what some of your friends have to say about Scheuer:

The 9/11 Commission,
on which the two of us
served as commissioners,
thoroughly and exhaustively
interviewed Michael
Scheuer, whose book Imperial
Hubris is criticized at
length by Mr. Schoenfeld.
On a number of factual issues,
he was of real value.
But much of what he had to
say was not borne out by
our investigation.

Jamie Gorelick
Washington, D.C.
Slade Gorton
Seattle, Washington

Next time you fly over, get a clue and bring a cogent and reasoned opinion.

The link for my above comme... (Below threshold)
As a retired NSA agent, I s... (Below threshold)

As a retired NSA agent, I saw much raw intelligence before any President did. SIGINT can tell you a lot but nothing beats a person on the ground. History can show you that the Democrat President would always mistrust the HUMINT. Not sure why. WW2 showed just how important it was. As it happened in Iraq, misleading SIGINT led to wrong assumptions. Having no human input from the ground just made things worse. We need the balance that is provided by all the agencies. But without the political games that seem to have infiltrated some of those agencies. Intelligence cannot be political and remain objective and thereby useful.






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