In the last year, the talk of a new Cold War has grown. America must face the Chinese threat. It is not just economic and military power, but China offers a different ideology that is an alternative to woke capital. This threat even inspired a new Long Telegram (The Longer Telegram) paying homage to Kennan’s Long Telegram that kicked off the need for the United States to get real about the Anglo-Soviet split. This new Cold War is dead on arrival. We do not have an elite that wants to fight it. We do not have an intelligence community to even begin to understand the enemy.
If one doubts this, just evaluate the American handling of the War on Terror. A book published in the Trump era should remove any hopes you had that America’s spy agencies are capable of understanding our enemies, let alone fight them. The Watchdogs Didn’t Bark is a must read to understand the intelligence community’s mentality both in the run up to 9/11 and the aftermath that created the surveillance state that we still live under today. The book carefully lays out the circumstantial evidence for what happened and uses well placed players within the community to explain how not only American IC units failed that day, but that their reaction to the event was all wrong.
The book constructs an image of an IC that dropped the ball on preventing 9/11 despite having the tools in place to anticipate such an attack. There are details about the “wall” between agencies for sharing information, the silly procedures that prevented NSA, DoD, FBI and CIA from properly notifying one another. The main problem though seems to be institutional behavior. The agencies are territorial. The IC players themselves come in a few flavors with energetic people trying to do what the jobs are meant to do, murky players who look out for themselves and pure bureaucrats who play to protect the agency they are a part of.
A consistent theme is that 9/11 was an opportunity for every agency to increase their bottom line. No agency ever fired anyone for the failure of 9/11, and multiple times interviewees mention how generals were relieved after Pearl Harbor for that intelligence failure. While the NSA usually flies under the radar for hate from critics of the IC, they too had their issues. While desk jockeys were horrified by the knowledge that they had the data to do something about 9/11 and tortured by guilt, the number three in the NSA, Maureen Baginski, said to staff, “You have to understand, 9/11 is a gift to the NSA.” Recognizable name Michael Hayden, huge public critic of President Trump, was described as “pathologically refusing to accept any responsibility or accountability for 9/11.” Hayden pulled a fast one on America as he reverse engineering Bill Binney‘s program that could trace contacts and communications while protecting domestic American privacy, and deployed it to collect data on all Americans for intel. Hayden went on to lead CIA, and has enjoyed a nice retirement as a hero for MSNBC and CNN.
The book is full of malicious moves by agencies, stupidity by agencies and the dirty truth that America has poor human asset placement with outside antagonists. That is the thesis as to why CIA was so sly about the future hijackers that they let live in America in 2000-2001. CIA wanted to turn a couple men to become assets in Al-Qaeda. America has relied on sigint so long and so strongly that we have a problem with developing human assets. Ishmael Jones’ book The Human Factor is a dated but great read for discussing the cultural and institutional issues that cause this. American IC agencies had this problem in the Cold War, too, so nothing is new. Even if America wanted to spy and place assets into China, we would have to overcome the insider traitor issue that destroyed our network in the Obama era.
What America needs is a re-imaging of the entire IC sphere. This might be what was behind the laser like focus on removing Gen. Flynn at the beginning of the Trump administration. Flynn had IC experience, and with release of the Afghanistan Papers, often sounded like the only general with a clue and aware that the dysfunction was institutional and not just people. Whatever reforms or changes Flynn had dreamed up are lost to time. If a future right wing president arrives and goes full Caesar, hopefully, Flynn has some influence on him for what to do.
To step back for a moment, this is not new. The Long Telegram cited above was full of goofy takes on the Soviets just as out of touch as the current takes on China are. Our vaunted institutions were incompetent at their peak, just not as obviously incompetent. McCarthy nearly stumbled onto CIA operations that could have turned public opinion on CIA in a manner to dismantle it then, which a drooling J. Edgar Hoover would have loved. CIA had its fingers all over the world of art and punditry; it just was a bit more covert and subtle compared to today.
Failures and corruption in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan never delivered firings. The Watchdogs Didn’t Bark is very clear in how no one who was part of the CIA torture program ever went to jail, but whistleblowers did. No one who breaks the law ever is punished. Names pop up in the book as incompetent or bad actors, yet you will recognize those names for now occupying more senior positions. Russiagate was just a continuation of a song and dance that is decades old. The lack of arrests of any perpetrator of Russiagate would clue us into the IC being the new praetorian guard and unmovable. In doing so, they reveal exactly what they are, rubbing away the credibility they may have had with more and more Americans.
The question becomes how to dismantle them. This cannot just be plebeian awareness. Some faction(s) within the IC are going to have to see the current system for what it is as are elite players on the private side. Consciousness and awareness of the problem must spread, but with it must come the option to wipe the slate clean and reformulate the methods of protecting our people.