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October 28, 2006

The state of the Intelligence community...

Yesterday, the NYT ran this article by Mark Mazzetti: In ’97, U.S. Panel Predicted a North Korea Collapse in 5 Years

An excerpt:

WASHINGTON, Oct. 26 — A team of government and outside experts convened by the Central Intelligence Agency concluded in 1997 that North Korea’s economy was deteriorating so rapidly that the government of Kim Jong-il was likely to collapse within five years, according to declassified documents made public on Thursday.

The panel described the isolated and impoverished country as being on the brink of economic ruin and said that “political implosion stemming from irreversible economic degradation seems the most plausible endgame for North Korea.” The majority among the group argued that the North’s government “cannot remain viable for the long term” and could fall within five years.

Nearly a decade later, the assessment has not been borne out, and its disclosure is evidence of past American misjudgments about the internal dynamics of North Korea’s closed society. American intelligence agencies still regard North Korea as among the toughest of intelligence targets and have made little progress inserting human spies into the country to steal secrets about the government.

The assessment was produced by a group that included senior intelligence analysts, Pentagon war gamers and independent academic experts. It was made public on Thursday by the National Security Archive, a research group.

“Conventional wisdom was completely wrong,” said Ambassador Wendy Sherman, who during the late 1990s was the Clinton administration’s coordinator for North Korea policy. “People constantly underestimated the staying power of the North Korean regime.”

The National Security Archive page on the subject is here.

This was the subject of some discussion on a discussion list I belong to, one that concerns itself about intel concerns and the GWOT, among other things.

What follows was a part of that discussion, used here with permission, but anonymously per the posters request.

The first comment was:

The state of being of our intelligence in 1997 did indeed affect national decisions on the DPRK, when in fact the community, bolstered by outside experts was dead wrong. If affected both the Clinton and the early Bush administration. Surely, this document was updated periodically and new information included.

What is it about the community which leads to such misestimation? Was this a case of intelligence telling the policy people what it wanted to hear? Or was the community, apparently headless and heedless unable to focus in parallel on the many areas of interest?

Followed by this response:

I was commissioned as an Intelligence Officer in the US Army in 1978, and still retain my commission therein. In connection with my military service, I have four Intelligence-related Military Occupational Specialties and twice that number of Intelligence-related Special Skill Identifiers. I have worked as an Intelligence Officer, Counter-Intelligence Officer, and Counter-Terrorism Officer from battalion to theater-level, including on Joint Staffs. Based on my experience in the community, I can attest to the fact that Intelligence analysis is always subject to error; but over the past 30 years or so, the United States has done a great deal to needlessly undermine its intelligence capabilities and to thereby ensure greater error and failure. I can think of three things off hand that have most significantly contributed to this.

1. In the mid-1970's, in the wake of Watergate and the Vietnam War, the US Congress, House and Senate, conducted a massive purge and general evisceration of the nation's Intelligence Community from which it has never recovered. This was pursued as a largely partisan political campaign by House and Senate Democrats, who made no secret of their active hatred of the US Intelligence Community, which many of them openly regarded as the principal source of evil in the world. Counter-Intelligence and Counter-Terrorism operations became virtually impossible after this.

2. In the late 1970's, President Jimmy Carter decided that Human Intelligence
was not important and could be replaced by Technical Intelligence. Accordingly, he disestablished the bulk of the US Human Intelligence effort. We have similarly never recovered from this.

3. In the 1990's, President Bill Clinton further degraded what was left of US HUMINT capabilities by mandating that no HUMINT contacts may be involved in bad things. He also crippled the Intelligence Collection and Analysis communities by replacing effective collection and sound analysis with aggressive racial and sexual diversity quotas as the foremost goals of the Intelligence Community.

All of this has led us to where we are today. If you discern a pattern in the above, so do I.

In this context I couldn't help but think of a recent speech by She-Who-Would-Be-Speaker Pelosi:

"I think the fact that I am a woman will raise expectations in terms of more hope in government, and I will not disappoint...The gavel of the speaker of the House is in the hands of special interests, and now it will be in the hands of America's children."