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26 July 2010


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Even worse, the marketers will reinvest their earnings into assuring the survival of their business. Lobbyists will be hired, Congressman underwritten, etc. All to assure that business as usual is the norm and that it grows beyond the current $100 billion.

It takes only an infinitesimally small percentage of that $100 Billion to assure survival and growth of any parasitic industry that reaches that size...


What a cat's cradle of a mess, with all sides wanting to maintain the status quo.

Do you have any ideas how to solve it, or bust it up, Mr. Sale, other than shining a light on the problem? I'd love to hear more; I've enjoyed your reporting immensely over the years. You are one hell of an intel correspondent.


A crackerjack piece. Didn't quite realize how the craft (or what passes for it these days) had metastasized over the past few years. Dealing with the Bushies, even as the shape of post-invasion Iraq was starting to firm up and influence those in the intel shops, you could smell the sweet scent of corruption. Gangrene works that way, don't it?


May I ask where / what you were reading on Caesar?


And to think the new wave reporters - bloggers like Emptywheel -- will be busy with 90,000 pages of old news while the likes of K street and Blackwater clones simultaneously enrich themselves while weakening the nation.

I should probably dig out that old 45 that was set to a Beach Boys tune "Bomb, bomb Iran"


Penultimate paragraph: obvious now that it is spelled out so clearly. Thanks.

William R. Cumming

General "Stonewall" Jackson also had the best maps of any General in the Civil War.


Thus, the Air Force won the argument until the startling advent of Sputnik showed that the Soviets had concentrated on the correct strategic course of developing missiles, prompting, in a violent swerve, the United Sates to abruptly change course.

Moving into ICBMs was not the correct course for the US, and was mostly the result of Secretary of Defense McNamara. The bombers were superior then, and superior now.

The Surge

When Ret. Gen. Hayden, now with the Chertoff Group, goes on CNN, should we assume that he is saying what his clients want him to say? Who are his clients?


the problem is much bigger than marketing and lobbying - it is very easy to infiltrate a contractor as their own security is cost not profit - remember the oil spill? - and they work for profit only.
the money is from the state the organization however is in principle multinational and stateless, the loyalty is to the multinational organization. presumably these contractors are free from national legislation, too, which probably was the main reason for using them in the first place.


An inspired piece Mr. Sale. Thank you.



What we have ended up with is intel analysis for corporate profit. Since a corporation always seeks more profit we can not trust anything they say to be anything but designed to create more profit.


what about the msm...the american free press?

do they play a role in the apparatus?

and if so, then how ethical?


"As the brilliant Washington Post piece made uncomfortably clear, the dilemmas of intelligence are not only as intractable as they have ever been, they have become contaminated in a very dubious and even sinister way by questions of marketing."

You want a prime example of marketers and contractors running amok?

Look at the BP Oil Spill. The question that needs to be answered is. What have we become as a nation and a society today?

Funny with all the crap that goes on today in government and the military for political self worth. Guy's like Benedict Arnold are turning over in their graves....

John Gagnon

I do not know what book on Caesar Mr. Sale is reading, but I find the following work on Alexander the Great quite splendid: David Engels, Alexander the Great and the Logistics of the Macedonian Army, The University of California Press, 1980 (paperback), 1978 (hardcover).


I firmly agree with all of the essential points made by Richard Sale. I therefore wish to add a few further observations re. the nature of the problem. A few years back, George Shultz and Felix Rohatyn co-hosted a conference at Middlebury College in Vermont on the subject of the "privatization of national security." Ultimately, they came out strongly in favor of this privatization, and ultimately, one of the speakers made the point that we are moving towards the British East India Company model of private sector-dominated empire.

This is the dilemma on a more profound level. A private firm, like the British East India Company, or the modern-day giants like Halliburton, BP, Blackwater, etc. have no sense of national identity or national mission. By their very nature, they are mercenary.

Our greatest achievements in the domain of intelligence were all the result of a group of dedicated public servants operating on a clearly defined sense of national mission and also a much more profound and less clearly defined sense of national identity. This is perhaps a unique American phenomena, because we are, in real historical terms, the only true republic with a durable Constitution.

I think that the phenomenon of privatization of vital national security functions came at a time when we began our experiment in imperialism, first when Cheney was SecDef and devising the post-Cold War doctrine of preventive war and preemptive war, and later when, as VP with Bush, they put it into practice.

At a recent Middle East Policy Council event, two veteran intelligence officers, Frank Anderson and Marc Sageman assailed the outsourcing and privatization of intelligence, including covert operations, and pointed out that intelligence officers today are more akin to corporate case managers, rather than practitioners.

I have long believed that we need to create some kind of national intelligence academy, modeled on West Point and Annapolis--to instill in a new generation of future intelligence officers a true sense of our nation's history and historic mission--which is decidedly anti-imperialist.

If we have lost our sense of our own history, how can we have a clear sense of national mission? Without that kind of historically rooted sense of identity, how can we avoid the perils of mercenary behavior?


I'm not sure that the problem lies entirely with the analysts or the contractors. The consumers of intelligence determine the market and its productivity, and the outlook, character and professionalism of those consumers will ultimately drive the data and analysis they are fed.

That there are now private contractors involved certainly lengthens the supply chain and creates a new industry and power base with its own interests and priorities, which are not fully aligned with those of the intelligence consumer or the nation. However, the same can be said of the intelligence agencies and personnel who are government employees. Every organization and bureaucracy has power struggles and interests in self preservation and advancement.

Caesar, Philip and Alexander were attuned and desirous of good intelligence. They shortened the chain between source, analysis and decision. They had the capability to rate the sources of information and make adjustments to its gathering.

The first rule of retailing is to give the people what they want. Intelligence providers are trying to serve their market. If the bureaucracy and decision makers what is good information, can't digest or understand it, or are not inquisitive enough to determine its accuracy and value, and do not take steps to improve its depth and accuracy, then you can hardly fault the purveyors to increasing profits while lowering quality.

john in the boro

“A Few Musings ...” tackles the two-masters aspect of outsourcing intelligence from government employees to private contractors as an instance of marketing. The problem with this line of reasoning was amply illustrated in the last regime. Cheney leaned on the CIA, Rumsfeld created an Office of Special Plans, and Bush threw together the White House Information Group. The Neocons worked from their propaganda tanks and the Congress rolled over. Who leaned forward? Who went along for the ride?

The contractor mess in the intelligence community took flight in this atmosphere. This is not to say that the military-industrial-congressional complex was not already part and parcel of the governing system. It expanded and diversified or, if you will, metastasized. Crises are opportunities. The revolving door industry found new fields to loot and complicit and corrupt partners in the government. This is a collective endeavor that is, as the WaPo reveals, a “self-licking ice cream cone.”

What is peddled is private capabilities to perform government functions for more money, and the result is the spread of wealth and power to the participants, each takes what is dearest to his heart. The end game seems clear: more executive power both in and out of the DoD, reliable sources of campaign funds and jobs in favored districts, and, of course, stable, generous profits.

Who leaned forward? The executive and legislative branches of the federal government and all the pro-imperial, sole-superpower, apologists. Who went along for the ride? Industry with its revolving-door lobbyists, officers, board members, and consultants. What is marketed? That this corrupt and corrupting system is somehow efficiant, secure, and beneficial to the citizens of the United States.

The bottom line is that the foreign policy elite take in what supports their fantasies and discards that which denies no matter what the source. At the operational and tactical levels, intelligence is arguably far more immediate: lives are on the line, performance is measurable, and failures are or at least should be unacceptable. Personnel shortages are serious matters when looking for actionable intelligence in a sea of information.

I think the country faces two problems in this area that are mutually reinforcing. The perpetual circle jerk that is the military-congressional-industrial complex screams out for intervention, and the imperial ambitions of our foreign policy elite must be curbed. They reach their critical mass in our subverted electoral process.

Mr. Sales, thoughtful as always.



ICBM's pre-ceded McNamara.

Hoepfully the USAF will let us know when all that spy satelite technology can find a submerged SSBN.



Jon, that first rule in retailing is a great idea if one is peddling Tshirts and pornography - it's a disaster when applied to vital national security interiests. What is needed is accurate information and analysis; what the Neocons got - by manipulation and coercion, was what they wanted - 'analysis' that justified a war in Iraq.

To qoute Harper "one of the speakers made the point that we are moving towards the British East India Company model of private sector-dominated empire." And no one in the audience managed to remind the former Secretary of State and Mr. Felix Rohatyn that the first Boston Tea Party was against laws designed to help the monopolistic British East India Company? Not to mention the Hessian mercenaries our forefathers fought to give this country its freedom. Talk about not knowing your own history (especially the college students and faculty).


I have to take issue with Jon's comment characterising intelligence provision as just another market, and that the invisible hand of the market will some how correct matters because "we give people what they want". Nothing could be further from the truth. We are talking monopoly here.

Leaving aside the obvious references to the litany of free market failures in the commercial world. The "product" of intelligence is fact and intentions. You do not get to "market" competing intelligence realities in the way you market Ford and GM cars. Both of those cars, whichever one you pick, will drive on the freeway. One, or both, of those "intelligence realities" is going to be wrong and drive you straight to hell. To pretend otherwise, is a recipe for disaster.

To put it another way, to ignore the commercial realities of the situation is national suicide. The commercial temptations to profit are obvious. The temptations for dual nationals of the likes of Dr. Lani Kass, and the Doug Feiths of this world to "nuance" findings in their preferred directions are obvious.

They are obvious because it is so easy to "nuance" or pervert intelligence by what you do NOT say - through simple omissions rather than outright lies. For example an Australian intelligence analyst resigned in the lead up to the latest Iraq invasion after his conclusion, regarding Iraqi WMD - that if any chemical weapons remained in Iraq, they would be of pre Gulf War One vintage, and a greater danger to Iraqis trying to launch them than to us, was "conveniently" omitted from the final assessment.

That raises yet another issue. What career Government intelligence analyst is going to pursue their career diligently in Government when their carefully crafted, hard work is rejected and preference given instead to a buzzword enabled puffery by Booz Allen Hamilton? How will they survive? Don't you understand that the first thing outsourcing companies do is to try and lobotomise their customer, leaving them as addicted and uncritical consumers of what they want to sell you? I've done it myself!

The outsourcers will first try to hire any CIA or DIA assets that have the ability to evaluate their work, then they will try and get those who won't move and oppose contractor domination fired, probably with great success, considering the spinelessness of politicians and political appointees.

I have seen exactly this scenario play out in the I.T. systems world time and again. At some point, after the outsourcers have been in place for Six years or more, the Board of the company wakes up one day and realises that it's strategic business plan is now constrained by the I.T. capabilities its contractors have chosen to give it, and that further change will only be allowed if the contractors are payed a great deal of money. Furthermore, the Board discovers that they no longer employ any staff capable of giving them cogent advice on the matter. What follows is the appointment of more consultants to get them out of the mess. I'm not sure that National intelligence is amenable to such a process without killing the host.

I am in furious agreement with Harper's ideas and think a national intelligence institution is an excellent idea. Maybe you could take some students from Australia.

Sidney O. Smith III

Re: privatization of empire. Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness seems apropos here. “The horror, the horror”.

‘Tis a pity, imo, that most people believe the brilliance of Apocalypse Now is that it is a modern day adaptation of Conrad’s book placed in the setting of the VN war.

Seems to me that the brilliance and value of Apocalypse Now is that it is a portrayal of a acid trip that took place at an acid party at Topanga Canyone with the theme of Conrad and the VN. war Party starts out great. During the shank of the evening some extremely fine looking women from Whiskey a go-go show up and dance a bit. Brando shows up and suddenly the party gets somber and morose. Hapless bull walks into the backyard of acid party and then gets slaughtered. End of acid trip.

When describing the film, it arguably would have been more accurate if Coppola afterwards said, “I am an acid trip in Topanga Canyon with a VN theme”. I think he said something like, “I am the VN war.” A bit arrogant, imo, not to mention self indulgent.

I like Topanga Canyon btw. Just not sure the USA -- civilian and military in equal measure -- learned the lessons from the VN war. Plus, I not sure Coppola did justice to Conrad’s book. But once you see Apoc. Now as an inner trip of a partiuclar 60’s mindset, it’s brilliance unfolds.


Fred, I did not say that I approve of this, or that it has a good result for the country. Just that it is endemic to the operation of bureaucracies.

But it matters not how perfect and important your information is, if it cannot be sold to your client. Richard Clarke has eloquently proven this about pre-9/11 alQaeda intelligence. Somehow, you have to get your client to eat his vegetables, when what he might want is pie. The point here, I think, is that private contractors have less incentive to make sure the vegetables get eaten. In fact, they ultimately don't care what or how much is consumed, so long as they are paid.

Oddly, no one seems to like being the subject of colonization and exploitation. Eventually people will try to change their circumstances however they can. It is ridiculous that the US acts shocked when locals show displeasure with tanks rolling through their towns, and their weddings getting shot up.

Walrus, There is not a monopoly in intelligence when we have dozens of government agencies producing and evaluating it, in addition to private contractors. And we also have efforts undertaken NGOs, think tanks, other governments, journalists, and whatever can be dredged up by someone with a point to make. Logic and credibility help, but too often how well the intelligence fits the client's predispositions will determine what is accepted and acted upon.

As with cars, new and shiny intelligence often sells quite well. And I certainly would base my sales pitch around a transmission that's known to seize up regularly; I'd sell the aspects of the intelligence that my client was most fascinated by.

Outsourcing took hold in part thanks to Cheney and the need to stovepipe what the government agencies couldn't stomach. The profit motive certainly loomed large. But it was also a response to the intelligence agencies not having good data on a variety of urgent subjects.

As you point out, eventually the client needs to wake up and realize what it is he actually needs, and then take action to make sure he gets that information. This requires an educated and involved consumer. It is easier to get responsiveness if the personnel are within your own chain of command, but the danger of ass kissers still remains.

It seems clear that we have not received good value for enormously expanding the intelligence sector, or by pumping in so much money. There is a great deal of data, but precious little wisdom, and the signal to noise ratio seems to have deteriorated.


Contractor dependence isn't only a problem in intelligence.

My employer has started to move away from a contractor who provides a critical software tool, and who, to our dread, controls part of our production in a 'black box'.

He puts out our product, more and, quite often, less satisfactorily, but we know little else. In some ways we are dependent on this company, and have to accept their steep prices - we need them too much to just walk away from them. As a result the company is quietly preparing the migration to a more transparent tool that gives us full or at least far greater control.


Very worthwhile article to read.

Similar problems infest BPs response to the spill, as their motivation is to the shareholders, not to minimize environmental damage.

Which is why surface oil spill cleanup is conducted by a consortium non profit company (Clean Seas), not the guilty party.

I do not see any similar possibility of aligning contractor interests with national interests, even assuming their was a political will.

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