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Myopia: How Counter-Terrorism Has Blinded Our Intelligence Community

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  • Myopia: How Counter-Terrorism Has Blinded Our Intelligence Community

    In the last 24 months, unpredictable events have caught U.S. policymakers by surprise: the "Arab Spring" movement in 2011 and the September 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. In the wake of both surprises, many in Congress and the public have been wondering: why didn't we see this coming?
    More - http://www.theatlantic.com/internati...d-spot/265130/
    Any metaphor will tear if stretched over too much reality.

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  • #2
    ...What these examples illustrate is rather the very human tendency to pay attention to the signals that support current expectations about enemy behaviour. If no one is listening for signals of an attack against a highly improbable target, then it is very difficult for the signals to be heard. Roberta Wholstetter - 1962 investigation into the Pearl Harbour attack. Whilst speaking of surprise attack, the Wholstetter comment can be applied generally to intelligence community short sightedness; if you're not pondering things outside the immediate, then they can develop over just a few years into something that's all of a sudden a surprise event.

    Remember that stuff about the post-9/11 intelligence investigations/reports and the oft-repeated phrase 'the light was blinking red'? Same deal, a surprise attack but with lessons to the IC on preparedness; The investigations pretty much placed the CIA on trial and iirc the judge coined the term 'warning failure' to describe the problem at hand. Since then the CIA, it seemed, tried to make prevention of warning failure more of a key theme.

    It seems to be a trend, a cycle wherein focus is paid on the last surprise and anything (depending on how good the intelligence service is) close to that within a certain limit. But beyond that limit, in organisation terms the other department/desk which doesn't have the current priority, much less focus is given - which is quite understandable really - until the next surprise. That's probably about as true for this kind of issue, as for surprise attack - both in the wheelhouses of intelligence bureaus and within them a given amount of relative proportion of resources, chief of which being the resource of attention.

    A guy called Richard Betts, an intelligence theorist, placed the policy makers mostly at fault for not acting on processed intelligence; that decisionmakers (politicos) cherrypick intelligence (processed and perhaps also raw intelligence) to suit policy goals and established conceptions, perhaps quite subconciously, but in accordance with how they see things at the moment, whatever the current paradigm on threat is. But with the way I guess most intelligence services and governments to be integrated in this kind of thing, that may be not be so clear cut- in the article it clearly seemed to lay the blame at the foot of General Patreus for concentrating on CIA drone strike operations. On the one hand you cannot blame him for pursuing his job with vigour, but on the other its an intelligence gathering organisation, and it's the job of policy makers to direct it based on intelligence provided, not the job of the intelligence agency. Though even if intelligence were made available to policy makers on other matters - say a sudden wave of regime change in some region of the world - they are probably going to be just as narrowly focused and cherry pick their intelligence.
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    • #3
      Originally posted by Selous View Post
      ...What these examples illustrate is rather the very human tendency to pay attention to the signals that support current expectations about enemy behaviour. If no one is listening for signals of an attack against a highly improbable target, then it is very difficult for the signals to be heard. Roberta Wholstetter - 1962 investigation into the Pearl Harbour attack. Whilst speaking of surprise attack, the Wholstetter comment can be applied generally to intelligence community short sightedness; if you're not pondering things outside the immediate, then they can develop over just a few years into something that's all of a sudden a surprise event.

      Remember that stuff about the post-9/11 intelligence investigations/reports and the oft-repeated phrase 'the light was blinking red'? Same deal, a surprise attack but with lessons to the IC on preparedness; The investigations pretty much placed the CIA on trial and iirc the judge coined the term 'warning failure' to describe the problem at hand. Since then the CIA, it seemed, tried to make prevention of warning failure more of a key theme.

      It seems to be a trend, a cycle wherein focus is paid on the last surprise and anything (depending on how good the intelligence service is) close to that within a certain limit. But beyond that limit, in organisation terms the other department/desk which doesn't have the current priority, much less focus is given - which is quite understandable really - until the next surprise. That's probably about as true for this kind of issue, as for surprise attack - both in the wheelhouses of intelligence bureaus and within them a given amount of relative proportion of resources, chief of which being the resource of attention.

      A guy called Richard Betts, an intelligence theorist, placed the policy makers mostly at fault for not acting on processed intelligence; that decisionmakers (politicos) cherrypick intelligence (processed and perhaps also raw intelligence) to suit policy goals and established conceptions, perhaps quite subconciously, but in accordance with how they see things at the moment, whatever the current paradigm on threat is. But with the way I guess most intelligence services and governments to be integrated in this kind of thing, that may be not be so clear cut- in the article it clearly seemed to lay the blame at the foot of General Patreus for concentrating on CIA drone strike operations. On the one hand you cannot blame him for pursuing his job with vigour, but on the other its an intelligence gathering organisation, and it's the job of policy makers to direct it based on intelligence provided, not the job of the intelligence agency. Though even if intelligence were made available to policy makers on other matters - say a sudden wave of regime change in some region of the world - they are probably going to be just as narrowly focused and cherry pick their intelligence.
      This is very true in terms of the tendency of the mind to become fixed in its ways. This includes interpreting intelligence data according to 'what is the perceived norm at the time' syndrome. The worst example of this was Stalin and his military serices; ignoring the intelligence that Rikard Sorge sent them for almost a year on the fact that the nazis were going to attack the USSR. They did nothing. Stalin had even had Marshall Tukhachevsky tortured and shot, even after Tukhachevsky had been the best commander of the Bolsheviks during the Russian Civil War. Good wiki on him.
      Last edited by Nickuru; 14 Nov 12, 20:23. Reason: error
      When looking for the reason why things go wrong, never rule out stupidity, Murphy's Law N 8
      Those who do not remember history are doomed to repeat it. George Santayana
      "Ach du schwein" a German parrot captured at Bukoba GEA the only prisoner taken

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      • #4
        This thread has been silent for a while, so let us ask, to what extent does the development of the GeoPositionalSatellite sytem (GPS) affect espionage?
        When looking for the reason why things go wrong, never rule out stupidity, Murphy's Law N 8
        Those who do not remember history are doomed to repeat it. George Santayana
        "Ach du schwein" a German parrot captured at Bukoba GEA the only prisoner taken

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        • #5
          It means an asset doesn't have to be skilled in cartography or land navigation. One less thing you have to teach them.
          Any metaphor will tear if stretched over too much reality.

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          • #6
            Originally posted by GCoyote View Post
            It means an asset doesn't have to be skilled in cartography or land navigation. One less thing you have to teach them.
            Here I respectfully disagree, on land you must know the terrain on which advancing in infantry. To get GPS data certainly helps in planning. But what if the GPS data about where you attacking is unavailable? One can look at geography books or even geological maps to determine the terrain. True, one can never be certain if some earthquake has ruined the land you attack on.

            Not trying to be facetious, but a recognition of the land is better than a satellite which could blow its cookies at the very time you need it. It's the idea of constant mapping of the areas to be targeted. What worries me is complancy in the reliance of the GPS.
            When looking for the reason why things go wrong, never rule out stupidity, Murphy's Law N 8
            Those who do not remember history are doomed to repeat it. George Santayana
            "Ach du schwein" a German parrot captured at Bukoba GEA the only prisoner taken

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            • #7
              That's not necessarily the asset's job. If told to "find target X", his job is to find it and collect whatever additional information the leadership needs to make decisions about dealing with it. The value of GPS is that it allows the asset to record precise coordinates for the target in a standard format and, if needed, transmit that data back to his boss in real time.

              When used correctly, GPS can be an invaluable asset. Even experienced navigators get tired, become mis-oriented, and just plain get lost at times. Not an ideal situation when you've just uncovered the location the enemy's most highly classified secret installation.

              There are also countries where just possessing an accurate topographical map is enough to get you hauled in for questioning. The ubiquitous nature of embedded GPS means that it isn't likely to arouse suspicion unless you are in a place you shouldn't be.

              Don't get me wrong. Traditional land navigation skills should always be taught as a back up method. After all, batteries die. . But the level of accuracy and precision offered be even commercial GPS units is normally better than even experienced land navigators can achieve without specialized training and equipment. A spy has enough problems already, why give him more?

              Take a look at the thread, Tools of the Intelligence Trade, by lakechampainer. A nation-state level intelligence operation has many tools at its disposal for developing further information about the target and analyzing it. Those results will go to the leadership who will in turn determine if infantry avenues of approach or any other additional info will be needed before selecting a course of action. If so, the most appropriate asset will be assigned the additional collection task.

              It all starts with locating the target. Until you've done that, you have nothing actionable.
              Last edited by GCoyote; 15 Dec 12, 20:43.
              Any metaphor will tear if stretched over too much reality.

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              • #8
                I hope that that is so for our own good. But there are times when immediate action is needed in intelligence operations. But to put the proposal of an operation before a commitee who are going to hem and haw before they decide something may ruin the operational chance. Yours truely is of the opinion that the enemy also has GPS satellites and may even have fed into ours like the Enigma in WWII.

                The operator needs to be able to act, but to act the operator has to be trained. This includes a geographical knowledge, rather than the ever-increasing reliance on cellphones, iPads and other gadgets. Electronics are becoming increasingly vulnerable to hacking as are computers. It's easy to say from a cold war point of view. But on the ground knowledge, will always be of importance. The enemy has his arts of deception also.
                When looking for the reason why things go wrong, never rule out stupidity, Murphy's Law N 8
                Those who do not remember history are doomed to repeat it. George Santayana
                "Ach du schwein" a German parrot captured at Bukoba GEA the only prisoner taken

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                • #9
                  Mostly true with the additional caveat the most sources are not "operators". They are various local assets with widely varying skill sets recruited by a 'handler'. Their handler is probably the first 'trained' professional in the chain but is also probably an illegal and therefore not able to go into certain areas without raising suspicion. GPS allows the handler to get useful location data from the plumber who goes into the secret facility to fix the commander's leaking toilet.
                  Any metaphor will tear if stretched over too much reality.

                  Questions about our site? See the FAQ.

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                  • #10
                    At some point foreign operations look like they need a foreign relations expert. The whole world has figured out each other thanks to the Internet. This changes strategic thinking. Unike 1982 in the Falklands war, if I was Argentina, I would not be able to conceal my mobilization plans from Britain and the world at large.

                    Foreign relations is not wining and dining with the hoity-toity hoi polloi like some BBC Agatha Christie show. Here we must come to terms that intelliegence work is extremely dangerous.
                    When looking for the reason why things go wrong, never rule out stupidity, Murphy's Law N 8
                    Those who do not remember history are doomed to repeat it. George Santayana
                    "Ach du schwein" a German parrot captured at Bukoba GEA the only prisoner taken

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