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Dems Proposing Bad Covert Ops Oversight Rules to Make Leaking Easier

Saturday, July 11th, 2009

The left wing of the left wing of the Democratic Party has long been hostile to America’s intelligence community, a position that goes back to the Cold war and is rooted in political opposition to American foreign policy, particularly anticommunist policies. The latest feuding between Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the CIA are the distracting and meaningless atmospherics that cover the substantive manuvering that goes on behind closed doors over the direction of American foreign policy.

Democrats are now moving, through the use of proposed changes to the technical language on the statute governing executive branch notification of covert operations, to tie the hands of the president and move that power to every member of the two intelligence committees ( vastly enlarging the number of people who know the details of highly sensitive, ongoing, covert operations). This proposal was initiated by Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee, Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-TX), a close political ally of Speaker Pelosi: 

Sensitive Covert Action Notifications: Oversight Options for Congress

Legislation enacted in 1980 gave the executive branch authority to limit advance notification of especially sensitive covert actions to eight Members of Congress-the “Gang of Eight”-when the President determines that it is essential to limit prior notice in order to meet extraordinary circumstances affecting U.S. vital interests. In such cases, the executive branch is permitted by statute to limit notification to the chairmen and ranking minority members of the two congressional intelligence committees, the Speaker and minority leader of the House, and Senate majority and minority leaders, rather than to notify the full intelligence committees, as is required in cases involving covert actions determined to be less sensitive.In approving this new procedure in 1980, during the Iran hostage crisis, Congress said it intended to preserve operational secrecy in those “rare” cases involving especially sensitive covert actions while providing the President with advance consultation with the leaders in Congress and the leadership of the intelligence committees who have special expertise and responsibility in intelligence matters. The intent appeared to some to be to provide the President, on a short-term basis, a greater degree of operational security as long as sensitive operations were underway. In 1991, in a further elaboration of its intent following the Iran-Contra Affair, Congressional report language stated that limiting notification to the Gang of Eight should occur only in situations involving covert actions of such extraordinary sensitivity or risk to life that knowledge of such activity should be restricted to as few individuals as possible.In its mark-up of the FY2010 Intelligence Authorization Act, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) eliminated the Gang of Eight statutory provision, adopting instead a statutory requirement that each of the intelligence committees establish written procedures to govern such notifications. According to Committee report language, the adopted provision vests the authority to limit such briefings with the committees, rather than the President. In approving the provision, the Committee rejected an amendment that would have authorized the Committee Chairman and Ranking Member to decide whether to comply with a presidential request to limit access to certain intelligence information, including covert actions. The rejected provision stipulated that if the Chairman and Ranking Member of each of the intelligence committees were unable to agree on whether or how to limit such access, access would be limited if the President so requested. (Emphasis added by AT)

With Congress considering a possible change, this memorandum describes the statutory provision authorizing Gang of Eight notifications, reviews the legislative history of the provision, and examines both the impact of such notifications on congressional oversight as well as options that Congress might consider to possibly improve oversight.

[emphasis mine] 

The point behind this move is to deter the executive branch from using overt ops in the first place, which suits the objectives of members of Congress philosophically opposed to the IC and historic US foreign policy, but it does not actually *improve* Congressional oversight of the IC. The recent and future loud charges by House Democrats against the CIA are designed to justify this quiet power grab.

These proposed changes are designed to create a situation of arbitrary, conflict-ridden, uncertain yet expanded oversight of covert operations as the House and Senate Committees are likely to write different rules for their members and to disagree on breadth of notification. More people would have knowledge of very sensitive operations (we have to add staffers and key aides told by MoC against disclosure rules) with far less of the accountability for leaks by keeping notification to the “gang of eight”.

It will be much easier for any one member to kill any operation they disapprove of by leaking it with little fear of being caught and needing to make a political defense of their position on the covert operation. Even if a member of Congress is identified as having leaked information about a secret intelligence operation, the chances of being disciplined by the House or Senate are minimal unless the member is highly unpopular with their own party leaders or is enmeshed in another scandal and, thus, disposable. Forget being prosecuted, that will never happen.

No good intentions here, which is why this change was shrouded in committee obscurity by liberal Democratic House leaders rather than shouted by them at a high profile press conference.

Hat tip to AnalyticType.

Hoffman -What is Irregular Warfare?

Sunday, February 1st, 2009

I saw this fantastic “ask the basic question” thread at SWJ this morning due to a comment by SWC member Ken White:

 Frank HoffmanAn IW “Bottle of Scotch” Challenge

I loved the paper by a team of guys trying to tackle a thorny issue – Irregular Warfare: Everything yet Nothing by Lieutenant Colonel (P) William Stevenson, Major Marshall Ecklund, Major Hun Soo Kim and Major Robert Billings.

In over a year of effort, and two separate meetings of OSD’s most senior officers; we failed to come up with a good solid definition for Irregular Warfare (IW). It’s like porn, we know IW when we see it. I do take exception to the unfounded statement made about historical research. The IW JOC (Irregular Warfare Joint Operating Concept) may not show it, but there is a lot of good history referenced by both the IW team and counterinsurgency guys, with lots of cross fertilization and common members. We may not have gotten it right, but it wasn’t due to a lack of intellectualism. I’ll be a bit blunter, people who live in glass houses, need to be careful where they throw their rocks. That said, I agree with the conclusion that we could use a better definition.

….All in all – the beginnings of a good debate. Yes, we need a definition better than what we have. Yes, concur with the point about populations (very COIN centric). But out of a dozen or so definitions that exist in the foreign literature, and the six or so developed by OSD, Army, Booze Allen etc, this is not an improvement. Sorry about that – so it’s back to the white board. I will put up a bottle of scotch to the best definition.

Great comments in this thread – read the whole thing here.

Irregular warfare historically coexists with conventional warfare to varying degrees whether we are discussing the Civil War, Vietnam War or even WWII where, for example, the Ukranian Nationalist partisans of Stepan Bandera could field reasonably large semi-regular units with light artillery or fight in classic guerilla syle. WWI is of course, famous for COIN patron saint Lawrence of Arabia’s campaign against the Ottoman Turks in his advisory capacity to the forces of the Sherif of Mecca and his allied Bedouin tribes of the Nejd.

Metz on Iraq and the Evolution of American Strategy

Tuesday, November 25th, 2008

Nothing like a change in administrations to generate a string of excellent books on strategy and national security.

I’ve just ordered Iraq and the Evolution of American Strategy by  Dr. Steven Metz  of the Strategic Studies Institute ( and also of the Small Wars Council ). As I do not yet have a copy of Iraq and the Evolution of American Strategy, which also contains a foreword by Dr. Colin Gray, I will yield the floor to the comment  of Lt. General Paul K. Van Riper:

“Two institutions failed the American people in the run-up to the ongoing war in Iraq. Neither the Congress nor the media provided oversight of the Executive Branch, which is constitutionally required of the first institution and expected of the latter. As a consequence a fundamentally flawed strategy was implemented by an equally flawed military plan. The results have been tragic and costly. Dr. Steven Metz does our nation a great service by exploring the causes of this U.S. strategic debacle, one that may well exceed that of the Vietnam War. Recognizing a problem and its cause are the first steps in setting things right. In this book Dr. Metz identifies the problem, explains what caused it, and most importantly, shows us a better path for the future.”

One for the top of your bookpile.

A Better von Clausewitz

Wednesday, October 15th, 2008

 Recently, I’ve seen  Dr. Chris Bassford’s site, Clausewitz.com mentioned at the Small Wars Council and then one of my co-authors, A.E. of Rethinking Security, favorably cited a link to Clausewitz.com on a social networking platform. Intrigued, I wandered over and read for a while. I’m glad that I did.

On War was a book I read as an undergraduate for a class that focused on German intellectual history and was included by the prof more or less as an afterthought, along with works by Kant, Marx, Nietzsche and a few others. I recall that I was not terribly impressed at the time by On War; my real interest then was Cold War diplomatic history and I paid far greater attention to Marx. To me, Clausewitz was a turgid writer, another Germanic pedant, though an important one for his contribution to strategy. I never developed any particular dislike for him either, since military affairs wasn’t a priority and I stuck Clausewitz on my shelf and ceased to give him much consideration thereafter. Other philosophers and thinkers seemed to be more relevant.

While reading at Clausewitz.com, I came across Bassford’s critique of various translations of On War and he panned one in particular:

7. Penguin Edition (1968). AVOID. The most widely available version of the Graham/Maude translation (see #4 above) is the weirdly edited and seriously misleading Penguin edition (still reprinted and sold today), put together by Anatol Rapoport in 1968. Rapoport was a biologist and musician-indeed, he was something of a renaissance man and later made some interesting contributions to game theory. However, he was extremely hostile to the state system and to the alleged “neo-Clausewitzian,” Henry Kissinger. He severely and misleadingly abridged Clausewitz’s own writings, partly, of course, for reasons of space in a small paperback. Nonetheless-for reasons that surpasseth understanding-he retained Maude’s extraneous introduction, commentary, and notes, then used Maude’s errors to condemn Clausewitzian theory. Between Graham’s awkward and obsolete translation, Maude’s sometimes bizarre intrusions, and Rapoport’s hostility (aimed more at the world in general, and at Kissinger in particular, than at Clausewitz personally), the Penguin edition is badly misleading as to Clausewitz’s own ideas. The influential modern military journalist/historian John Keegan apparently derives much of his otherwise unique misunderstanding of Clausewitz from Rapoport’s long, hostile introduction-necessarily so, since he has obviously never read Clausewitz’s own writings, not even the rest of the text of this strange edition. If you have any version of the Graham or Graham/Maude translation, but especially this twisted Penguin version, we advise you to get the modern Howard/Paret edition (discussed above).

Curious, I went over to a bookcase and pulled my copy of On War. Sure enough, it was the “twisted” Rapoprt version that I had read . I don’t know if the backstory Bassford gives about Rapoport and Henry Kissinger is true or not but it is certainly a plausible one. Kissinger, for all his intellectual abilities and charm was, in his heyday, a highly aggravating and insecure personality who made a legion of enemies with abrasive, dismissive and derogatory remarks and machiavellian conduct. I’ve seen scholars tilt at windmills for stranger reasons than that. My own mentor in diplomatic history had consuming hatreds for Alexander Hamilton and Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. to which I could never  relate.

As a result of reading Bassford’s comments, I picked up a Paret translation of On War yesterday and a cursory flipping through told me that he was correct in his assessment. I had read an edition that was both mediocre and weird in college. So I bought the copy and look forward to getting acquainted with a much more accurate presentation of Carl von Clausewitz’s ideas.


As it happens, SWJ Blog has a related post-  Between Clausewitz and Mao.

Debating John Boyd

Sunday, September 28th, 2008

At the Small Wars Council. A thread of great intellectual vigor sparked by CavGuy reacting to the review by Sam Liles of The John Boyd Roundtable:

Here’s a snippet of my post there:

There’s been a discussion if Boyd merits being called “the greatest” or a “great” strategist or theorist. I think it’s fair to say that Boyd himself would never have put forth such a claim of that kind or wasted time worrying about what people thought of him or whether he made a more significant contribution to the study of war than Colin Gray or Carl boyd31.jpgvon Clausewitz. Boyd was more interested in learning, teaching and discussing conflict (moreso than just “war”) and were he alive, I’m certain Boyd would be delighted with the Small Wars Council and the endless opportunities here for discussion and reflection.

Was he “great”, much less “greatest” ? In his briefs, Boyd was trying to shift the paradigm of American military culture away from linear, analytical-reductionist, mechanistic, deterministic, Newtonian-Taylorist, conceptions that resulted in rote application of attrition-based tactics toward more fluid, alinear, creative -synthesist thinking and holistic consideration of strategy. Give the man his due, in his time these were radical arguments for a Pentagon where the senior brass of the U.S. Army had reacted to the defeat in Vietnam by purging the lessons learned of COIN from the institutional memory of the Defense Department.

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