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There is no talking to some people (Update)

The Weekly Standard posts a well done bit of research (got to get me a think-tank job) on what is really needed in our war efforts from an intelligence perspective. Since I think it deserves a full read I’m not going to post an extract, suffice it to say that when presented with an opportunity to learn from the success and failure of others, it looks like we’re opting to fail on our own.

You can say a lot of things about Admiral Jacoby (late DR of DIA) but his move to push more collectors forward was on-track. That we’ve never really pushed the idea of sending analysts closer to those who feed them is also shown up as being a horrendous mistake. Granted, I am a big believer in a technical solution for most problems (blogs and wikis would go a long way in shorting the intel cycle), but some times you have to get out of the cube and get sand in your cracks in order to fully understand what is needed to win. If you are not living and breathing your mission, you’re slacking.

The American approach to developing intel talent – know a little about a lot, become a manager and move up; or know a lot about a little and stagnate – isn’t going to cut it in the long run. We need more than lip-service to the idea of dual-track success. This will require, among other things, a smaller and sharper cadre and a demolition of the pay structure. It’ll also mean a more functional re-structuring of the community and a culling of non-essential functions (read: a lot of single-discipline analysis).

Some of the material is not necessarily new, but its updating in light of recent events and from people with first-hand knowledge (note the tenure of most of the interviewees) reminds us that this is a long war that will not be won exclusively by the one thing we are dominant in: force.

Update: A timely note from a colleague provides me with a chance to elaborate somewhat . . .

After a decade+ of service this friend is bailing out. She’s amazingly qualified in several academic disciplines, has a penchant for languages (though has never been able to secure language training), and you would be hard pressed to find someone who has more practical experience. Based on qualifications she’s a shoe-in for a senior position (under 40-years-old, which is saying something) where someone with her background and leadership could really make a difference. But little birds have been landing on her shoulders and the word is that someone else in essentially being hand-picked for the job. His primary qualification? He’s an “old boy.”

The thing is this isn’t a racism/sexism thing, it’s a youth/outlook thing. At the upper echelons they like “known quantities” which is code for “people who won’t actually do anything significant.” It is that kind of attitude that Schultz and Godson ran into once they started promoting a new approach. Doing something dramatic, regardless of how successful it has been, isn’t going to happen as long as such “thinking” continues. People in the IC are accused of having no imagination. The fact of the matter is that it is driven out of them if they stay very long. There is a formula for everything, and introducing a new calculus is a sure-fire way to head- and heartache.

I go back and forth on the issue because there is a lot of useful knowledge in the upper echelons, but at the end of the day I still lean in favor of culling the herd of its older animals. These hide-bound nay-sayers view change as betting the farm. To think that we should avoid gambling with one of our most precious national security resources misses the point: We have been dragged into the game and the farm has been bet for us.

Michael Tanji

Michael Tanji

Michael Tanji spent nearly 20 years in the US intelligence community. Trained in both SIGINT and HUMINT disciplines he has worked at the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, and the National Reconnaissance Office. At various points in his career he served as an expert in information warfare, computer network operations, computer forensics, and indications and warning. A veteran of the US Army, Michael has served in both strategic and tactical assignments in the Pacific Theater, the Balkans, and the Middle East.