Monday, February 14, 2005

US military intelligence issues pessimistic report

Regardless of the topic of the story, you can almost always report US military intelligence issue pessimistic report. Why?

It has always seemed to me that intel folks are trained to be pessimists. The problems caused by painting a "rosy scenerio" in an intel report are far worse than those caused by "over warning." As a result, intel tends to be overly cautious -er- realistic. It's a factor that I suppose a commander has to add to the equation when assessing a situation based on intel reports.

Also, it occurs to me that a smart intel officer is a little like the person who writes horoscopes. Keep it general enough and some part of it may come true for someone.

What brought all this to mind was the recent release of the Richard Clarke memo to National Security Director Rice that was featured so prominently in the 9/11 hearings which can be downloaded and read in pdf formhere. What does it say? Even Clarke seems confused:
Two days after Rice's March 22 op-ed, Clarke told the 9/11 Commission, "there's a lot of debate about whether it's a plan or a strategy or a series of options -- but all of the things we recommended back in January were those things on the table in September. They were done. They were done after September 11th. They were all done. I didn't really understand why they couldn't have been done in February."

Seems like a great intel job when no matter which way things go you can either claim credit or shift the blame. Reminds me of another intel report in American history - the one issued right before Pearl Harbor
It was clear, of course, that once disaster struck Pearl Harbor, there would be demands for accountability. Washington seemed to artfully take this into account by sending an ambiguous "war warning" to Kimmel, and a similar one to Short, on November 27th. This has been used for years by Washington apologists to allege that the commanders should have been ready for the Japanese.

Indeed, the message began conspicuously: "This dispatch is to be considered a war warning." But it went on to state: "The number and equipment of Japanese troops and the organizations of naval task forces indicates an amphibious expedition against the Philippines, Thai or Kra Peninsula, or possibly Borneo." None of these areas were closer than 5,000 miles to Hawaii! No threat to Pearl Harbor was hinted at. It ended with the words: "Continental districts, Guam, Samoa take measures against sabotage." The message further stated that "measures should be carried out so as not repeat not to alarm civil population." Both commanders reported the actions taken to Washington. Short followed through with sabotage precautions, bunching his planes together (which hinders saboteurs but makes ideal targets for bombers), and Kimmel stepped up air surveillance and sub searches. If their response to the "war warning" was insufficient, Washington said nothing. The next day, a follow-up message from Marshall’s adjutant general to Short warned only: "Initiate forthwith all additional measures necessary to provide for protection of your establishments, property, and equipment against sabotage, protection of your personnel against subversive propaganda and protection of all activities against espionage."

Of course, with the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, we know that Admiral Kimmel could have done many things if he had been able to figure out what the "war warning" actually meant.

I suppose it is too much to ask, in light of the "cry wolf" problem, that a report read: "THESE PEOPLE WANT TO KILL US BY FLYING AIRPLANES INTO THE WORLD TRADE CENTER." But at least I can understand it.

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