Wobbly Baby Steps Forward

After a year in office two things are immediately clear about Obama: (a) he is not in full control of the American military; and (b) his White House is incapable of enforcing basic decorum in Community food fights. The greatest threat by the former is a putschist political movement at home in 2012 or after ‘defeat’. That possibility is only incipient. And still down the ladder of probabilities. That one can ponder implications soberly is alarming nonetheless. A secondary but criminally destructive permutation? The ongoing rote Neocon-military/industrial bum rush on a weak White House for more wars of aggression. They know how to build on AgitProp momentum. Meanwhile, Israel brazenly mocks Obama with contemptuous defiance on settlements.

2010 will see Obama unleash more violence. He thereby will advance the Realm’s self-serving goals and the American military’s intoxication with ‘Mission.’ No matter how he spins it. Drain the swamp, indeed.

Guess What I Am Now? . . . A Zit!

Two inside baseball food fights within the Community and the WH are relatively minor but instructive. The first involves ODNI’s ongoing attempt to justify relevance by seeking operational line authority over in this case CIA and its DO. Panetta’s fighting this encroachment on different fronts since inauguration. Originally, recall Blair wanted to appoint station chiefs overseas and the few veterans at Langely left went nuts (as did the vast and very active alum coterie). It’s a reasonable request – more countries than one might guess actually have a primary relationship with another intelligence entity, from NSA to others. These other Community members historically have had to play high school telephone tag to communicate with a not infrequently less than conversant CIA Chief of Station. Why not cut out the middle man and allow the agencies primarily engaged in a particular nation be the liaison? It’s not like the Agency wouldn’t shuffle around the same mediocre official cover people anyway at the embassy below that level. Turf.

Now, Blair is rebuffed in ODNI’s attempt to gain greater control over the Agency’s paramilitary activities in Pakistan and ‘clandestine’ activities. Panetta, the newbies at Langley (and their contractors!) won’t have it. The dead Agency’s golem lurches onward. The Grand Conciliator in the WH ensured that Panetta keeps his perks. But he’s very stern that the rookies must cooperate. Anyone who read Goofus and Gallant in Highlights Magazine knows where that’s headed.

There are larger themes embedded between narrow bureaucratic interests. One is that the dead CIA, emasculated as it is, historically when it was alive and really CIA served as a bulwark against hyper-militarized fantasies parading as ‘estimates’. How ironic for the Red Diaper Baby and New Left crowd that their hated CIA was always the most *liberal* of the Community voices – (a) no missile gap; (b) no dominoes; (c) no successful Vietnam victory (Carver’s negotiations with MACV legendary); no Danny Graham/DIA massive secret Soviet ground based lasers; the whole Neocon Team B thing (blessed by gosh darn it, Bar) GHWB, etc., etc.

Thowing Out The Baby With The Non-Digital TV Set

Did the Agency screw up? Of course. We’ve talked about it non-stop here since 2004/05. But arguably there is only one human in history who hasn’t. He either died on Calvary or she hosts a TV show from Chicago. It’s vogue now to revise the past and write books claiming ‘CIA is responsible for everything bad, including rap music’.

Before the CIA cut its throat, slit its gut open, shot itself in the foot, put its hand in a disposal *and then declared war on the White House*, its primary value was the proposition that the Nation could depend on a *viable* and *competent* civilian intelligence agency independent of the military.

A major cultural catastrophe during the Warlord’s calamitous reign was the tidal wave-like militarization of intelligence. Not just by Hayden driving the final spike through the Agency’s heart, etc. Coup de grace stuff. Long before in terms of whose voice dominated or more importantly circumvented the formal intelligence product cycle (ranging from out of left field absurdist Feith PPT brain farts to the battlefield awareness/strategic option planning). Even before it expired by unforgivable incompetence, CIA was overwhelmed, outmanned and crushed.

DNI Blair as military man will depart his perch in due time. His selection is inspired now. Most of the Nation’s intelligence entities are military-related. He has a unique chance (that the feckless an ineffective dilettante civilian Negroponte never had) to use his personal authority to drill down, break silos into matrices, and gain control of budgets. Blair knows how to work the system. Control the budget, and their balls and hearts and minds will follow. The ultimate D.C. axiom. So far we have heard mixed to guardedly positive comments in this regard. If letting Panetta justify his shaky internal stature at the House of Neophytes (nee CIA) by this playground truce is a necessary *temporary* tactical price to be paid while Blair pursues larger reform it’s worth it.

We prefer the nation return to the principle of civilian control over intelligence. Military control of intelligence promises a harvest of sorrow. That means ODNI needs to succeed (unless it is pulled down and destroyed by the various Community entities fanatical about the earlier status quo). Blair’s consolidation drive is the best chance to make the DNI more than a bureaucratic joke. His successors, should ODNI make it, should be civilians with sufficient gravitas. The Agency [sic] then deservedly becomes an important but secondary entity. Everyone but them knows today it’s already true. The DO its primary institutional focus – subject to DNI tasking, command and control like any other constituent asset. Some rump form of CIA analytical function can exist. But the DI long forfeited the right or institutional capability to claim prima inter pares. The NIC already reports to the DNI anyway. DS&T can whither.

The Boise, Idaho Sheriff’s Department of Plans

As an aside, we should think of a new name for the DO besides the now comical ‘National Clandestine Service’. The ads on cable during wrestling shows are jarringly hilarious. First, the Warlord made everything a ‘National’ this or that. Somewhere we’re sure there’s a ‘National Center for Study of Tomatoes’. And what is the DO national, compared to what? The Boise Idaho Sheriff’s Department Directorate of Plans? Perhaps you, Dear Reader, deserve a ‘National’ title, too?

Leon won most of this throw in a long game. If the WH is backing Blair’s consolidation drive then it’s a small chit. If the WH just played expedient political compromise (Rahm and Leon, etc.) then Agency [sic] pretensions have undermined Community reform. The Agency [sic] is Banquo’s Sherman Kent’s ghost walking. If the WH was smart and kind, they’d put it out of its misery.

After all, they shoot dead myths, don’ they? But then this WH is neither kind nor smart.


On a related front, the fairly complicated Obama effort to confront insane levels of over-classification is out. Intentions seem good – reminiscent of Clinton’s attempt which the bureaucracy strangled in its crib. Obama’s new ‘National Declassification Center’ (did we not say these people are drunk, festooning ‘National on rolls of toilet paper, supra?) we suspect will be slow rolled into irrelevance. We say that as both someone who has used the National Archives for research and from the perspective of resisting bureaucracies.

The presidential order reads like some of the over lawyered closings from Hell back in the day when Michael Douglas’ cell phone the size of an encyclopedia in Wall Street was uber status. One can only imagine how much spirit was hurled into this bureaucratic Passchendaele. Oh, the humanity.

Removing the Community veto over de-classification created by the Warlord Addington et al. is good on paper. A good bureaucracy still knows how to circumvent that. It’s nice to see Obama’s people caught on to the we-declassified-it-but-then-reclassified it game. Obama’s notions of ‘training’ at constituent government agencies to assist de-classification is a joke. We are laughing typing this envisioning how such a session would unfold. There’s black comedic gold here. The directives to agency heads to ‘conform’ with the de-classification guidelines will be of meager value. Most useful is the tightening on standards for classification longer than 25 years.

All in all, we saw the Clinton people try this his first term. The Nation remembers watching various Community and related entities twist around the presidential order like junior high kids shrieking with delight when the junior high dance cover band breaks out a Hannah Montana tune. Still, Obama et al. tried. The language shows someone remembered what happened. Who knows? Fingers crossed that some improvement might happen.