Yesterday, I drove to the development corridor along I-95 south of Springfield, Virgninia. I was in search of the "Northern Virginia Gun Works." My replica WW2 M-1 carbine has been in need of some TLC for a while and that little workshop is owned by one of America's greatest gunsmiths. He and his son run this place all by themselves and are thought to do some of the the best work in the country, all by themselves. It is "bench work," much like the work that dominated human experience before the industrial revolution.
The little street where they are located is surrounded by various parts of Fort Belvoir. This army post extends from the Potomac River just south of Mount Vernon to the west beyond I-95 through what was until recently forest unused by humanity since the army seized the land during World War One. In the 1980s, great buildings began to arise in the forest, buildings largely without windows, surrounded by electrified fences, huge dish antennae and many uniformed civilian guards.
Not having been in the area for a while, I became lost and wandered about Fort Belvoir on the few public roads that are still available running through the federal property. It soon became evident that this has become a techno-spook city. Geospatial intelligence is there. The National Reconnaisance Office is there. NSA is there. Army Intelligence and Security Command is there. Other "units" are there. Some cannot be named. These giant featureless buildings house much of the immense apparatus of the intelligence community. The sums that must have been spent on that were certainly immense.
And yet, US Intelligence has frequently been wrong about the major intelligence issues of our time. The technical collection capability is impressive; SIGINT, IMINT, MASINT. UAV reconnaissance, etc. The information flows like a river and such rigorous tasks as; targeting, data base construction, real time newsroom type daily briefings, these things are well done and yet often they are completely counter-productive. In fact the labor of this elephant of a bureacracy often produces conclusions that have little relationship to reality. Think of the failure to forecast the fall of the Soviet Union. Think of Iraq. In that case, the IC and the government not only misidentified Saddam's government as the villains of 9/11, but then, to compound the error could not grasp the simple fact that if you destroyed their government and occupied their country the Iraqis were going to fight you, and fight you hard. Think of Afghanistan. Yes, just think of it. We still do not understand that wretched place. Today on Fareed Zaakariyah's "newsie" he suggested that the reason Karzai is being such a hard case with the US is that he wants some chance of personal survival in Afghanistan after the US leaves. His predecessor in post Soviet Afghanistan was shot, hanged, castrated and hung up in a public place in Kabul. At last! At last! A breath of reason appears.
The answer in my opinion to the question as to why the US IC frquently fails on important questions lies in the very gigantism and bureaucratic politics of the constellation of organizations called the Intelligence Community.
In the present process, conclusions reached by line analysts, often people of great knowledge and skill, are diluted, massaged and picked over by six, seven, eight, or more levels of supervisory committees of managers. Sadly the higher the level at which the analysis is tortured, the more the torture is influenced by a relentless drive toward group think, toward consensus within an agency or, indeed, within the community and finally by a fervent desire on the part of the bosses to have the analysis agree with the hopes of the government.
Is it really a surprise that the product is so frequently just crap?
As for me, when I want someone to do a trigger job, barrel bedding, checkering or some such thing on one of my treasured firearms, I want to have someone do the work who does not give a damn about what other people think of his methods, but who feels he can take pride in what he does. pl