Thursday, September 13, 2012

Intelligence

The latest right wing attack on President Obama faults him for not regularly attending intelligence briefings in person. Instead, the president evidently often prefers to receive this information in writing. This criticism was reported by Marc Thiessen, based on a conservative research organization's study which reports that President Obama only attends these meetings in person about 40% of the time, while President George W. Bush hardly ever missed an in person intelligence briefing.

Seriously? President Bush? The latest revelations from Kurt Eichenwald show that in the months leading up to 9/11/01 Bush was more extensively briefed on the looming threat of an Al Qaeda attack in the United States than has been previously reported. Yet Bush's team disregarded or discounted this intelligence, failing to take actions that might have uncovered the plot. Which goes to show that it's not the manner in which you receive intelligence that counts; it's what you do with it. Given the Bush administration's faulty handling of intelligence in the run-up to 9/11 and the run-up to the Iraq war, it would make more sense to praise President Obama for reading and thinking about the intelligence reports he receives every day, since personal attendance obviously didn't serve the Bush administration very well.

Thiessen doubled down on his criticism today, attempting to insinuate that preparedness for the anniversary of 9/11 could have suffered as a result of President Obama's practice of reading instead of listening to intelligence reports. But he offers no evidence, just his opinion that hearing the news is somehow qualitatively better than reading the news. Again, because that worked so well for President Bush?

Nobody is faulting President Obama for being unresponsive to intelligence about trouble spots around the world. Instead of any real evidence of a failure to keep apprised of important information, what we get are criticisms of the manner in which the information is transmitted. Talk about elevating form over substance.

3 comments:

  1. I'll lay out my own meager credentials before I comment. I was a cryptologist in the Navy for three years, so I count myself pretty familiar with a lot of the ins-and-outs of the world of intelligence. My experience was mostly with the NSA and communications intelligence, not with the CIA and human intelligence. So I'm by no means an expert, but I think I know more than the average person.

    It's probably the most stressful field someone can be a part of. The best way I can describe it to people is it's like putting together a 2,000 piece jigsaw puzzle face down: you can't even really see the picture, you just have to kind of figure out how the pieces go together. Sometimes you get lucky, and you discover something big that essentially allows you to look at like, 1/10th of the picture. But most of the time, it's a lot of luck and what we always used to call "Wild Ass Guesses" or WAGs.

    So everyone craps allover Bush for being negligent, but the fact is that although they might have known that something was going to happen, they likely had no idea WHAT was going to happen, or when.

    The public always assumes that the government knows way more than they let on, but the truth is that most of the time, they don't. Most of the time, the government knows more than the average citizen, but even then it's just a big gamble.

    So what do you do? Take a guess, screw something up, and look like an idiot? Or do you do nothing, everything gets screwed up, and still look like an idiot?

    Cut them some slack.

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  2. Interesting that Sandra Lindauer says that as of April 2011 they were definitely looking into the terrorist plane-hijacking scenario... she was CIA. And as of 1996 they were aware that the scenario existed- the original plan, as roughed out then, was to hijack 24 planes and crash into the WTC, the Pentagon, the White House, the Capitol, and various other places around the country... and the Pentagon objected because they just knew that nobody would dare crash into the Pentagon.

    I suspect that President Obama can read a lot faster than he can sit and listen to other people talk. It's why I get my news from sources where I read it, rather than listen: listening is too slow. His time is limited. If the information is there, he can get it from reading, and if he has questions, all he has to do is pick up a phone and request an in-person visit.

    OTOH, I'm not sure President Bush reads above a 5th grade level. I'm sure he preferred to have people tell him what they think he should know.

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    Replies
    1. Some people are better auditory learners than visual/reading. Criticizing Bush for listening rather than reading is just as ridiculous as criticizing Obama for reading rather than listening.

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