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The New War On Terrorism

We can read their mail (e-mail or otherwise), we can take their portrait from hundreds of miles up, but all that information can get a little abstract. Information, when not presented in context, has a way of leading in a thousand directions at once. That’s probably how we missed al-Qaeda’s play on 9/11. We had both too little information, and too much.

What if, though, we had recruited a source in al-Qaeda? That could have simplified things greatly. The fact of the matter is, even now, we suffer from a great deficit of human intelligence out there, and when it all comes down to it, we can’t fight a real war on terror without it.

In the Bob Woodward book Plan of Attack one intelligence official told another that before the run-up started, he could count the number of CIA sources in Saddam's upper echelon on one hand, and still be able to pick his nose. This is what got Rockstars going, the vaunted spy operation that preceded the war.

Unfortunately, it was a fairly rushed operation, making up for years of deficient intelligence with months, and with little real understanding of the quality of the information in question. Information from a source can be bad for a number of reasons: at best, the person may simply not know what they're talking about. A source could also be a double feeding you a story, or could just be an greedy son of a bitch who knows you'll pay for the juicy stuff. Or worse, it could be a source like Curveball, who wishes to push an agenda, or an outright liar for whatever reason.

For this reason, good intelligence work takes time, if you want to get it right. Some, in their impatience say we don't have that time, but I direct such individuals to consider how long we will be in Iraq, and then talk about not taking the time to get the human sources right. In that case, we had nobody to double check the speculation that was built up on the undocumented WMDs and the Satellite photos, no one who could tell us something of Saddam's real intent. As much time as it takes to get it right, it will take us longer, perhaps forever, to deal with the consequences of getting things wrong.

The better our intelligence, the better our defense, and the fewer times we will suffer the humiliation of seeing our nation discredited and attacked from abroad. We can't afford to be second in the food chain of information anymore, not now that we're the biggest target our enemies see.

Posted by Stephen Daugherty at November 25, 2005 7:56 PM