Archive for March, 2005
GOVERNMENTAL AND COGNITIVE ELITES
Pundita impressed me today with some observations. Not because I have not heard them before but because the only people with whom I discussed such things were themselves exceedingly bright – as in the uppermost tier of what can be reliably measured on the standard psychometric scales for fluid intelligence. One of them went into government service (for a time), the other is a particle physicist and the third was heavily recruited ( unsuccessfully) to go into the type of research now carried out by DARPA. So, since she managed to raise my eyebrows, I thought I owed it to Pundita to comment on a few of her points.
” I wasn’t involved with the computer field but one day I expressed my concern that the US government would eventually abuse computer technology to create a Big Brother society. The Guru looked at me as if I was a child and replied, “You don’t understand. If they get too far out of line we’ll shut them down.”
About sixty years ago, the USG took a portion of the top intellectual tenth of the top tenth of 1 % of humanity and gave them several years and a few billion dollars. In short order, the group came up with nuclear weapons, control over which the political elite swiftly removed from the hands of the cognitive elite after contributing little other than money. Much of that financial support went into security procedures that amounted to a net loss, hobbling the scientific collaboration but unfortunately not the Soviet espionage. If anything, absent Leslie Groves, the Allies probably could have nuked Berlin instead of Hiroshima.
Interestingly enough, the sub roas lesson that the cognitive elite took from the experience of the Manhattan Project was not to make that kind of a bargain with the political elite ever again. While nuclear weapons have since been refined and their possession has proliferated, they have not been exceeded in order of magnitude by an entirely new class of weaponry. This is not an accident or a result of some limitation of theoretical physics.
” I did not understand the import of his words until a week after 9/11. Then it hit me that for the first time in recorded history the pyramid of society is turned upside down. Except for a very few pockets around the world, the government does not represent the smartest and best-informed people in the society. This situation is crashing the Machiavellian School of government (exemplified by Henry Kissinger in modern times), which has been the linchpin of civilization going back to the ancient times. “
9-11 is not even a good example of the possible. The United States has been very, very, fortunate that our Islamist enemies have been, by and large, merely above-average but conventionally concrete thinkers enmeshed in a rigid, horizon-limiting ideology. Or like the brilliant Ted Kaczynski, handicapped by mental illness and a commitment to sending a peculair ” message” that made sense decoded through the Unabomber’s warped perspective. A committed group of truly bright but ruthlessly nihilistic people could have wrecked ten times the damage of Mohammed Atta’s crew. Or a hundred.
“That solution to the problem of the masses getting above their station came crashing down on 9/11. Nineteen guys with box cutters outfoxed NORAD, bombed the flagship building of the most powerful military in history and destroyed the symbol of world trade. Granted, the 19 had financing and planning behind them that trace back at least in part, and by many twists and turns, to a few governments. Yet that doesn’t invalidate the fact that possession of a standing army no longer guarantees the ruling class a secure berth. “
Human systems can be awesomely strong – but only in the direction from which they were designed to meet resistance. Hit them from an unexpected direction in an even mildly innovative fashion and you can tip the system to move in a new direction or bring it down into an anarchic heap. The danger of course is that the number of people and the parameters of technology able to do this is vastly increasd from even a generation ago, which is what probably is alarming Pundita about the emerging contradiction between the governing elite and the cognitive elite. Now for the brief detour:
“Make no mistake; even the governments in the wealthiest, most powerful nations are very slow. Pundita has received letters asking why she never returned to discussing what she learned from Yossef Bodansky’s* seminar at the National Intelligence Conference. We’re working up to it–trying to find a way to discuss what we learned without plunging the sensitive reader into a steep depression. “
I like Bodansky’s work. Juan Cole, for example, cannot stand him because Yossef Bodansky is accurately representing the probalistic terror threat posed by Islamism and Rogue states as opposed to the confirmed, multisourced, record that a historian would use. The important point is that Bodansky’s decision-tree potentialities methodology based upon a mosaic of intelligence that yields worst-case scenarios is the only basis for national security contingency planning – and on occasion, preemptive action.
And yes, the scenarios can be hair-raising. About four or five years ago I spent some time looking at just a couple of the potentially traumatic shifts society was facing and decided that my optimism could be maintained by considering a couple of countervailing considerations:
1. Of the supremely bright cognitive elite with the greatest potential to initiate destabilizing scenarios, most are pretty nice people or at least operated on the principle of enlightened self-interest. That’s why Ken Alibeck is here and not in Pyongyang or Teheran.
2. Those trying to initiate destabilizing scenarios were often plagued by far, far, greater degrees of systemic incompetence than are we.
3. To focus disproportionately on worst-case scenarios is inherently distorting to your analysis and to base policy primarily upon them has extremely high opportunity costs for society. The range of unknown scenarios is always greater than the known so you cannot be overly rigid with your disaster or preemption planning. Worst case scenarios are best aborted before they begin to get started with speed, precision and stealth.
Pundita writes on our elected officials:
“But without going into gory detail, you need to stop and think about the people you elect to represent you in Congress. Why do you elect them? For their ability to plow daily through 200 page reports with footnotes on geopolitical situations? For their ability to analyze and synthesize data in a flash? Or so they could sit on congressional foreign relations, defense and intel
Pundita understates her point. The cadre that is our political elite additionally suffer most from what Herman Kahn called ” educated incapacity”, they cherish their illusions more than most because to a large extent their power and position is based upon cultivating these illusions in the rest of the population. Most of them are not smart enough to rise above or smash through such mental ” boxes” absent a traumatic shock. So when a national security expert comes along and describes quite reasonable ( from a statistical standpoint) threat outcomes and the actions required by the USG to prevent them, they must do so with great diplomacy to avoid being painted by unhappy politicos as a Stragelovian maniac. This modulation to preserve the credibility of the national security expert inhibits the impact of such briefs to the point that nothing usually gets done until a 9-11 or Pearl Harbor punctures the self-referential bubble in which the politicians prefer to dwell.
I’m not certain if I was one of the trio of bloggers Pundita considered to be critical of her ” Democracy kit” essay – I think our differences are primarily tempermental ( I’m optimistic on outcomes) rather than analytical ( I agree with large parts of her essay’s description of the mechanics) but I’m definitely loooking forward to her next two pieces.
You should be too.
“One very big component of the SecDef’s review and subsequent revamping of the military is the apparent push for solutions that include the deployment of small ‘culturally savvy’ teams to train indigenous forces (Green Beret Style) as well as the ability to deploy these and other small US military forces to places where conflict is eminent to support the failing governments forces against any guerilla or terrorists groups from turning into a widespread insurgency. Officials behind the review hope to have several of such teams around the world in a proactive attempt to prevent failing and collapsed states from becoming havens for terrorist training and logistical basing. “
UPDATE I. Reagan has added a follow-up post ” Toothless System Administrators “.
“With the defeat of the Axis powers, Kojeve immediately perceived that the defining characteristic of the post-war world was the predominance of two empires – the “Anglo-Saxon” and the “Slavo-Soviet.” He also foresaw that Germany would one day have to “cleave politically” to one or the other of these empires, and that it would choose to orient itself to the Anglo-Saxon side.
Within the context of what would become known as the bipolar world, Kojeve argued that an “isolated” France would lose its autonomy”
UPDATE II. Dan at tdaxp dissects the Latin Empire of Kojeve and finds a Carolingian core.
THE NEW NATIONAL DIRECTOR OF INTELLIGENCE MUST BE A VISIONARY AND A STRATEGIST
Creating a new layer of bureaucracy for the Intelligence Community was probably not the wisest course of action recommend by the 9-11 Commission but having been adopted into law it is critical that the post neither become part of the problem nor another general without an army, like the ” Drug Czar”. If John Negroponte allows himself to get sucked into the day-to-day details of crisis management he will become a ” DCI lite ” and chronic IC problems will not be addressed.
Ambassador Negroponte needs two things to succeed – the real authority that only the President of the United states can place in his hands and the determination to view strategic intelligence as a game of chess with the agencies of the IC as the pieces. The DNI needs to be the conductor of the orchestra, selecting the music, designating the first chairs and setting the tempo. If two years hence, Negroponte is spending his time tuning violins then the chance for real change will have been lost. What to do ?
Establish Authority and Role of the DNI as the Chief IC Strategist of The United States:
Currently, the diffuse nature and weak institutional leadership of the IC provided by the office of the DCI leads the IC to respond to threats more on a tactical instead of a strategic level. Sort of an a la carte menu of trouble spots instead of a set of potential outcomes that would be desirable to the United States. Ambassador Negroponte should begin his DNI tenure by convening the heads or chief deputies of IC agencies as an ” Intelligence Cabinet” to set collection and operational target priorities of the IC so that they mesh harmoniously with National Security, Defense and Foreign policy goals of the United States.
Such general meetings should be infrequent be steeped with the gravity of political “juice ” with several keyadministration figures like the National Security Adviser, Vice-President or even the President in attendence. Once priorities have been established the DNI should construct smaller working groups with the intent of habituating the IC bureaucracies :
a) to functioning in temporary but tightly knit, goal-oriented, task force teams that emphasize the expertise of team members, not their agency. The Bin Laden Task Force was a prototype of this model, as was the original Counterterrorism Center established by DCI Wiliam Casey ( it soon went astray from the original intent due to Iran-Contra fall-out).
b) reporting to the DNI as the transmission point and coordinator for the President of the United States on all matters of intelligence. He must guard the integrity of the analysis product from political manipulation while enforcing the president’s policy even when agencies of the IC are in disagreement.
Operational management of intelligence collection, clandestine and covert operations needs to be left to the agency heads. The DNI is there to determine the points upon which the IC is to ” surge”, hopefully before circumstances force his hand. The approach here is for the DNI to be the Eisenhower, not the Patton or Bradley, of the American intelligence world.
Create an effective OSINT center out of the National Intelligence Council:
The NIC is the natural place to create a full-fledged OSINT staff and to begin to maximize the value of open source collection and analysis to provide the context in which to assess the value of information provided by HUMINT and SIGINT sources. The OSINT staff can be part of an enlarged NIC with linguistic, cultural and disciplinary depth – sort of a think tank on steroids – or a separate unit that feeds analysis into the NIC for the writing of national intelligence estimates.
The important point is that the NDI upgrades OSINT as an IC priority and the overall quality of analytical prodction improves by its inclusion.
The United States currently has with its vast university system, the array of think tanks, foundations, corporate R&D, public and private policy and research NGOs, supplemented by the resources of the internet, more open source knowledge than any intelligence agency can reasonably use. What we need to do is begin systematically harvesting the existing expertise and managing it as a strategic resource.
Create a staff for the interagency coordination of Strategic Influence Policy:
The United States began its earliest experiments with mass psychological warfare with The Committee on Public Information run by George Creel during WWI. The process was continued in WWII by The Office of War Information, military intelligence, The Psychological Strategy Board and various other institutions.
The United States has been, to put it mildly, quite inept at leveraging its manifold organs of influence to deliver coherent, strategic, messages designed to impact the GWOT. It might be said that up until the Iraqi elections we were most proficient at shooting ourselves in the PR foot with the Arab world and with Europe.
What is needed here is not a new agency but a coordinator who can initially get the official USG agencies and departments to stay on” on message” and eventually begin crafting a strategic influence strategy that encompases a full spectrum of options to win the war of ideas.
Establish a new Foreign Counterintelligence Service:
American counterintelligence is dispersed and demoralized. Aldrich Ames and Robert Hannsen and similar cases over the years going back to the days of James Jesus Angleton have periodically damaged the standing of the IC while CI successes seldom, if ever, get reported or acknowledged properly.
Guarding all of our institutions in terms of security ( including IT security) is SOP but it is a failing CI strategy. Instead, those services and private groups capable of penetrating American intelligence represent far fewer variables. They should be targeted for aggressive network disruption on their home ground and third party locations so their resources can be drained away before they are employed against us. Fortunately, the Bush administration has begun moving in this direction.
Establish a permanent liason staff for Congressional relations:
While this might seem counterintuitive to bring the Congress deeper into IC policy given the past history of acrimonious relations between the CIA and Congress, neither the nation nor the IC can afford a return to the era of the Pike and Church committees any more than we can afford an IC removed from any oversight whatsoever.
Most members of Congress are responsibile and intelligent individuals who, after being made aware of the threats will act to prevent them from coming to pass and accept their share as a co-equal branch of government for national security. The IC will need that support during the tough times ahead when things go wrong as they inevitably will on occasion. Trust and professional consultation goes a long way to building that kind of relationship.
We cannot afford the cyclical ” gut the CIA” mentality any longer. The world is simply too dangerous, fast moving and chaotic. The NID must shield the IC from opportunistic, unfair, criticism by the occasional Congressional lightweight, as well as from its own worst instincts of insularity, bureaucratic territoriality, analytical timidity and operational dysfunction.
Good luck Ambassador Negroponte, you will need it.
THE MOTORCYCLE OF ARMAGEDDON
Not ready for prime time yet but it certainly looks good !