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Intelligence and War

The sudden invasion of Georgia by Russia has, once again, brought strong criticism on America's intelligence community. Some of it is justified critique of a bloated bureaucracy, some of it is a kneejerk reaction from people who hate the intelligence services, and some of it comes from people who simply do not understand the structure, functions, and limits of intelligence. For example, more than a few people have blamed the Central Intelligence Agency for missing the warning signs of Russia's invasion, while in fact it is the responsibility of the DNI, or Director of National Intelligence, who has the duty to advise the President of such threats. The head of CIA, the DCI, has since 2005 been a deputy to the DNI, one of several people who report events and analysis for his review. On paper, this arrangement gives the DNI more complete information to consider before he makes a recommendation to the president. In practice, however, the new office adds another layer on a system which is notorious for delay and in-house feuds. It's very difficult from the outside to know whether the change in organization made things better or worse overall.

Looking more closely at the Russian invasion, though, it should be mentioned that effective deterrence would have required a number of things to have gone right. We would need to have understood the early troop movement in context, for example. That's not as easy as it may appear - the Russians engaged in a full-scale military exercise in the area during July, for example, and it would have been all but impossible to determine when the troops stopped their exercises and began real combat operations. Satellite imagery and phone intercepts would not have told us Putin's intentions.

So, we obviously needed HUMINT, human sources to provide insight about intentions and plans. Frankly, we have never had a lot of those, especially at the executive level. If it's any consolation, no nation's intelligence service has more than one or two such sources in a major country's decision-making office, not least because such offices are careful indeed to protect access to national strategic decisions. If you ever want to know what sucks more than an IRS audit, check out sometime what goes into a "Personal Data Statement Questionnaire", one of the key source documents compiled in the clearance process for vetting potential appointees and their staffs. And Russia, even before Putin, was legendary for its paranoia.

A third avenue of information is building a network of informants. Some information can be deduced by building a profile using alternative sources, and either putting together a composite of data removed from the primary source, or by using low-level sources to produce intelligence to support strategic analysis.

There are other means of collection and analysis, of course, which is one reason why there are so many different agencies and offices which handle intelligence. In addition to military concerns, economic, political, social, demographic, topological, and even weather information can be used to suggest a nation's intentions and plans. More, events do not generally happen in the singular, which is to say that for every intelligence failure like the invasion of Georgia, there are unheralded intelligence successes. It is a rare individual, for example, who stops to consider why the recent border flare-up between India and Pakistan suddenly cooled down, without any publicly apparent diplomatic action. Of course, an observant reader would understand that the media is not in the business of accurately reporting events and their context, but rather the business of creating reaction and driving attention and emotion. As a result, wars which happen get press while wars averted are ignored. Also, intelligence services do not generally seek attention for their activities, especially when such scrutiny might reveal sources and methods of collection and analysis, in other words giving the enemy tools to close off access the next time they want to do something without us knowing about it in time to react.

Some folks have observed that the United States may have understood the Russian intentions, yet been unable to stop the invasion. One indicator of that is this week's agreement between the US and Poland to station ten missile defense bases on Polish soil. The agreement's timing suggests that the United States had been working towards the action as a optional response to potential Russian aggression; it was far too specific and finished to have been begun after the Russians invaded Georgia. This agreement and certain indications of additional protocols put into performance (ever wonder what Russia was reacting to, when it suddenly threatened NATO this week?), provide glimpses into how the event analysis helped structure an effective US response without escalating the crisis. Using warships to deliver humanitarian aid to Georgia is another tactic which suggests careful and early planning by the US, making the Russian position more difficult without inviting casualties.

The intelligence community has its share of suck-ups, political assassins, incompetents and outright traitors. But it is important to understand that there are many agents and officers, in analysis as well as in the field, who do a difficult job well, without credit or reward, serving America as well as the troops sent into harm's way.


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Comments (20)

There's actually a lot of f... (Below threshold)

There's actually a lot of foreign policy ineptness that can be blamed on the Bush Administration here. [Off-topic in the very first sentence, way to go - DD] The U.S. completely failed to control some brazen military activity on the part of their Georgian government friends that they only knew could well provoke the Russian peacekeepers in South Ossetia [IOW, 'she was asking for it, yer honor' - DD] to make a request for a wide scale backup of military muscle to restore public order. Russian peacekeepers were legally allowed a peacekeeping mission in South Ossetia, but when at least four Russian peacekeepers were apparently deliberately targeted and killed by some Georgian military members along with other out of control acts of violence in this troubled province, then the Russian military acted to control violence right on their border [by killing several hundred civilians and known innocents? Yeah, that's "peace-keeping" - DD]. Border security incidents always make this Russian government very nervous. Russia has a long history of border security paranoia [The last time they worried about "border security", their solution was called the Warsaw Pact - DD].

Even Pat Buchanan, the conservative writer for Human Events noted that the President of Georgia attempted to use the cover of the Olympics to pursue rampant military activity in South Ossetia. And this military activity only resulted in the excessive Russian use of force to restore civil order [uhhhhh Paul, 'civil order' is far from restored, right about now - DD]. The Russians did have close to 400 soldiers either wounded or killed in the violence taking place in South Ossetia as a sign of just how serious the lack of civil order had become [that happens when you start shooting at people, Paul. Some of them shoot back - DD]. Maybe the U.S. or NATO should have been called in to send peacekeepers in harm's way to control the Georgia military as well.

Georgia decided to use combat rather than peaceful means to resolve political problems in South Ossetia [I'm sorry, just when did Georgia invade Russia? - DD]. Georgia is supposed to be a democracy, but instead relied on military conflict to resolve political problems in South Ossetia [News Flash: Democracies use armies too, Paul. - DD]

The move to place any U.S. missiles in Poland is another nonconstructive move by the Bush Administration in the wake of the Georgia situation [Sure, it gets in the way of invading Poland - DD]. A group of Seven or ten Patriot missiles or future Interceptor anti-missiles would hardly prevent a total Russian force of 5518 nuclear warheads from reducing Poland to mere ash if that was the intent of Russia [Actually, it's ten batteries of between 8 and 12 missiles each, but your example is ludicrous, Paul Kind of like saying if a gang has a dozen members, you'd better not lock your door or call the cops. Not a practical solution, that. - DD]. But it's not. Russia has no warlike intentions towards Poland [excuse me - Bwahahahahahahahahaha!!!! I'm sorry, please continue - DD] and in fact both countries have heavy trade with one another [Do you know who was France's biggest trade partner in 1939, Paul? - DD] , only a Russian embargo on some Polish meat and crop products, which the EU is trying to mediate is the major conflict between these two nations right now. A slight conflict over some trade items is hardly any justification to request missiles aimed at Russia by Poland [those missiles are not even in place yet, Paul, and they are defensive missiles, as in they have no use except in fighting off Russian missiles aimed at Poland. As in you are once again exactly wrong - DD]

While the American news media continues to give heavy and often slanted news coverage to the Georgia story [you missed what I said about the media, hmm? - DD], an important Black Sea Mideast peace conference between the Russian and Syrian presidents was totally ignored by the American press yesterday. This peace conference is intended for both Hamas and Fatah to stop their fighting and both sit down with Israel and make a permanent peace accepting the right of Israel to exist as a permanent nation in the Mideast [Oh yeah, Russia and Syria have always so good about respecting the rights and safety of Israel, right? Besides, you're way off the topic - again. - DD} . It is also important because Russia has apparently brought Syria to the point of a willingness to seek peace with Israel as well. Yet the American media didn't feel that this story was worth covering.

The fact of the matter is that Russia still behaves like a constructive world community member in most situations [Ummmmm, No. Ask BP how well they behave, for example - DD] , but did use excessive force to calm the violence in South Ossetia. There is a lot of blame that can left for the Bush Administration and for NATO, who both failed to use their influence to calm down the government of Georgia's use of military power before Russia's military overreacted [Unadulterated bullpoop, that. - DD] . There is no need for the Bush Administration to make this into a world crisis with Russia, but they certainly seem to be doing that with the move to aim missiles at Russia from Poland. It's certainly amateur night for foreign policy in Washington right now where professionals cannot be found who know what they're doing. It's only the latest foreign policy mess from the same clowns who brought the U.S. into the Iraq mess. Small local problems become a major international crisis with this current crew in charge.

The fact of the matter i... (Below threshold)

The fact of the matter is that Russia still behaves like a constructive world community member in most situations, but did use excessive force to calm the violence in South Ossetia.

What violence? Supposedly there were massacres, 'ethnic cleansing' and the like. Seen any proof of that yet? Or are you simply taking everything reported by Russia at face value - because of COURSE they wouldn't lie - while the US lies all the time?

"It's certainly amateur night for foreign policy in Washington right now where professionals cannot be found who know what they're doing."

Damn shame YOU aren't there to straighten things out, Paul.

Shorter historical Hooson:<... (Below threshold)
John Irving:

Shorter historical Hooson:

"This German guy just wants Poland. Let him have Poland."

Excellent and objective ana... (Below threshold)

Excellent and objective analysis DJ. This may be off-topic, but on what other blog can you find a thoughtful analysis of abortion (JT's earlier post) followed by a very detailed, objective and practical discussion of U.S. intelligence on the other. I am always and especially amused by the predictable troll comments that can be counted on to spew brainless Bush-hating drivel.

I don't think it was very s... (Below threshold)

I don't think it was very sporting to butcher up my comment on the topic at hand with derogatory comments, etc. Anyone should be free to make a comment here without such press censorship when the opinion is presented in both a civil and informed form. I never control any opinions on my Progressive Values website no matter how critical they may be.

Ironically part of the topic at hand here is about Putin acting just like a Communist, where his government controls the press, and suppresses political opposition and opinions, etc. Irony indeed.

Certainly I'm a critic of the Russian invasion of Georgia and all of the associated loss of life, I'm as antiwar as they come, but both the U.S. and NATO failed to control their ally government in Georgia, and now Putin is in position to cut off the oil flow in Georgia, where oil went up nearly $6 a barrel today on world markets as a result, and the West will need billions to prop up the Georgia government with money to keep it in power. Russia is in the driver's seat in this situation now and will use oil to hurt both Georgia as well as the West. Don't forget that Russia's world allies are Venezuela, Iran and other oil rich states that can really put the screws to the Western world's oil supply if they want to in order to get their way. And the American response is putting a few missiles in Poland. Okay.

Don't forget that ... (Below threshold)
Mac Lorry:
Don't forget that Russia's world allies are Venezuela, Iran and other oil rich states that can really put the screws to the Western world's oil supply if they want to in order to get their way.

Well now that it's becoming apparent to even IPCC scientists that the climate is cooling we need some other scare beside global warming to wean us off oil. Likely Putin will be the next recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts in that regard.

Dear Sirs,As someo... (Below threshold)
Roy Lofquist Author Profile Page:

Dear Sirs,

As someone who has been involved with surveillance and intelligence in that part of the world, I would like to point out that our resources or not sufficient to cover everything. The concentration is on strategic threats and current kinetic operations. I have no idea what we detected beforehand, but if we missed it I would not be surprised or dismayed.


Mac, just yesterday a frien... (Below threshold)

Mac, just yesterday a friend of mine from Serbia were talking about all of Putin's personal oil wealth and that he is one of the most wealthy leaders of any nation in the world. We both agreed that any international tensions or oil supplies problems he could create will only make him more wealthy and drive his value up.

Putin certainly would not benefit by blowing up his customers around the world with nuclear warheads, but he is already turning the Georgia situation into a costly problem for the U.S. every American will pay for when they buy gas or heating oil.

Iraq was all about oil. Unfortunately Georgia is as well.

I never control any opin... (Below threshold)

I never control any opinions on my Progressive Values website no matter how critical they may be.

But you've got no problems with it over in the Blue, do ya? Or does simple censorship and 'disappearing' the offending poster ring as an okay thing to you? Does tacitly letting Lee control the banning button sit well with you, or don't you figure you have any right to stifle HIS freedom of expression?

Having said that... DJ? I agree with Paul that putting your comments inside another's comments is a bit much, and not sporting at all. Point-by-point rebuttals? That's fine - Ghu knows that there's enough material worthy of criticism. But putting it inside? That's just not right. It might be tempting, but not right or fair, in my humble opinion.

"I'm as antiwar as they ... (Below threshold)

"I'm as antiwar as they come, but both the U.S. and NATO failed to control their ally government in Georgia, and now Putin is in position to cut off the oil flow in Georgia, where oil went up nearly $6 a barrel today on world markets as a result, and the West will need billions to prop up the Georgia government with money to keep it in power."

Paul - I thought the whole point was to NOT control other governments? But now you WANTED us to control the Georgian government?

Sheesh. One way or the other, please - either we CAN and SHOULD control other governments or we SHOULDN'T - but this "Well, you SHOULD have controlled them before they pissed off Russia!" stuff is getting a bit much.

Putin decided on the course he took in Georgia. Nobody forced him to invade, nobody held a metaphorical gun to his head - he decided to do it, and waited until the time was right, and there'd be plenty of fools in the West who would give him a pass, or at least excuse his actions given the smallest of fig leaves to cover his actions.

I'm still waiting to see some proof of the 'ethnic cleansing' in Georgia. But so far all I've found is the Russians doing the cleansing on Georgians.

Paul, when your comments ar... (Below threshold)
DJ Drummond:

Paul, when your comments are almost as long as my article and so much is, well, drivel, the only way I can reply in context is to post at point.

Annoying, sure, and I don't do it often. But when I do, I'm making a point besides answering your post, and I'd suggest you consider it.

And no, it's not 'unfair'. I'm allowed to be long-winded in my own article, but if I see something that just demands fisking on the spot in comments to my article, well, God, Kevin and Jay gave me the power and boy howdy I mean to use it when I see the need.

JLawson, I don't control th... (Below threshold)

JLawson, I don't control the editorial content over at Wizbang Blue as I'm only a junior member writer there and not an editor. But I have let it be known that I support full free speech rights before, however I know that a few have posted some awful material as comments that the senior editor objected to and banned only because it was damaging to the blog's quality. The other day for example, I offered up a totally nonpolitical piece about the Italian motorcycle company, Benelli, and right away someone by the name of "Denise" with no interest in these motorcyles made some outrageous personal attacks on me unrelated to the piece. But they were not banned.

DJ, I actually agreed with many of your facts about Russia in your piece, but just not your premise, which is why I wrote a longer comment. But you certainly know that I always respect you as probably the finest writer on the Wizbang network bar none, even if I disagree with your premise sometimes.

Perhaps, Paul, the big prob... (Below threshold)

Perhaps, Paul, the big problem with you going on and on about scooters is that you're trying to share such information in a forum more or less dedicated to political discussions - and your posts and replies tend to be very, very, VERY long-winded.

Most folks hit MEGO relatively quickly when faced with a long, rambling post - and even if it's relevant they're looking for concise, reasonably compact bundles of information.

Compact, you ain't. (I know, I'm the first to tell you that, right?) You got good stuff, but it's hell to wade through the swamp to get to the little bits of dry land.

Re the Editorship over at the Blue - about all I can say about your hanging over there is that you're giving tacit agreement to Lee's deletion policies. 'Awful material' that's deletion bait seems to be stuff that either disagrees with or makes fun of Lee's positions, and since Denise's posts were in neither category, they weren't worthy of the dump button.

(MEGO = My Eyes Glaze Over, if you aren't familiar with the term...)

Since my name has been invo... (Below threshold)

Since my name has been invoked, I figure I might as well chime in.

1) DJ, I don't recall ever giving you the authority to go in and Fisk comments within the comment itself. It's something I wouldn't have thought twice about, though; your article, your comments, pretty much whatever you say goes.

2) Mr. Hooson, it seems to be missing at the moment, but the last time I saw the Blue credits box, you were listed as having the same title as Mr. Ward. Yet you apparently had no objections to him going into your comments on your 10 Real Good Reasons To Elect Barack Obama President" and banning someone for disagreeing with you.

There. I have done my duty as Main Page Editor.



Paul,Puti... (Below threshold)
Mac Lorry:


Putin certainly would not benefit by blowing up his customers around the world with nuclear warheads,

Particularly when he would get blown up himself. I think we can both agree that the U.S. needs to become energy independent as soon as possible, but without crippling our economy. Now all we have to do is figure out how to do it.

I find it a bit too conveni... (Below threshold)

I find it a bit too convenient and contrived when the topic yesterday was abortion Paul Hooson gave another lengthy screed mentioning he knew a woman who had the problem of choice. In his screed today, he just had a conversation with someone from Serbia. Come on. Are you making this stuff up Paul?

Good post DJ. ww

Don't you remember, Jay? I... (Below threshold)
DJ Drummond:

Don't you remember, Jay? It was on that mountaintop, where you did the cool thing with the parting of the sea and the two stone tablets and all ... or was that Kevin?

That wasn't me, DJ. I was i... (Below threshold)

That wasn't me, DJ. I was in the shrubbery with the barbecue...


16:The "people" Pa... (Below threshold)


The "people" Paul "talks to" are as valid as Dan Rather's sources.

Space Unicorns?... (Below threshold)

Space Unicorns?






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