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01 December 2010


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John Waring

To: My Fellow Americans

Subject: the Current Iteration of the Great Game.

Let's take second thought about participating. As our culture is young, rich, and spoiled, we simply do not possess the trans-generational skill in the dark and wily arts of subterfuge necessary to be masters of this particular game. To fall for such a classic ruse is proof positive we have scant business mucking about in that part of the world, In those dense thickets, we are mere babes in the wood. We are so pathetic, grasping at straws, it's damn near hilarious.


Gen. Ali,

I only wish my Father, also among other things an intelligence person at one time, was still alive to read your masterful report on this situation. He would have loved it.

William R. Cumming

Thanks General Ali! A must reading post for any who really care about US!


Gen Petraeus must be livid, won't there be repercussions for the ISI?


I'm reading Operation Mincemeat right now, and the British would seem to have forgotten every deception trick they played on the Germans.


Colonel Lang,

Very much enjoyed the F.B. Ali post.
It reminded me of "...a fool lies here who tried to hustle the East".

USMC 65-72
BI 72-96

Patrick Lang


I used to quote that Kipling to people. Some heard me.

"Four things greater than all things are; women and horses and power and war." pl


F.B. Ali,
A wonderful description. David Cornwell himself might approve.

David Habakkuk


The organisation which has once again demonstrated its abject incompetence, the SIS, was actually quite marginal to the British intelligence effort – there is a devastating dissection of its inadequacies in the 1968 essay The Philby Affair by the historian Hugh Trevor-Roper, himself a pivotal figure in the great deception operations.

As you will know, Operation Mincemeat was essentially the creation of Charles Cholmondeley of MI5, and Ewen Cameron, of the Admiralty – the original idea of planting a corpse with faked documents having come from Ian Fleming, likewise of the Admiralty. There is a comic irony here, in that although the initial 'M' in the James Bond novels echoes the initial 'C' used by the head of MI6, Fleming's character is actually based on the formidable and formidably acerbic wartime Director of Naval Intelligence, Admiral John Godfrey: Fleming referred to him, satirically I think, as 'Uncle'.

Of deception, Godfrey wrote 'it is quite useless, and in fact dangerous, to employ people of medium intelligence'; he also commented that the deception required the kind of 'corkscrew mind' he did not himself possess: so he went and found people, like Fleming and Montagu, who did. Whether seeing through deceptions likewise requires a 'corkscrew mind' is perhaps a moot point, but it is certainly not a task for people of 'medium intelligence'.

Of equal importance is a single-minded interest in establishing the truth. The summary Mcintyre gives of Godfrey's assessment of the vulnerabilities of German intelligence on which the deception operations capitalised seems relevant today:

'Uncle' John Godfrey identified what he called 'wishfulness' and 'yesmanship' as the twin frailties of German intelligence. 'If the authorities were clamouring for reports on a certain subject, the German secret intelligence was not above inventing reports based on what they thought probable.' The Nazi high command, at the same time, when presented with contradictory reports, was 'inclined to believe the one that fits in best with their own previously formed preconceptions.'

Back in 2004, before Lord Butler's report on the failures of British intelligence over Iraqi WMD appeared, a highly intelligent commentator – the former Foreign Office official and Tory MP Matthew Parris – produced an acerbic assessment of the weakness of today's MI6, in an article in the Times entitled 'Our spies are amiable duffers: it's the Establishment way'.

Himself having once been head-hunted – unsuccessfully – by MI6, and had a good deal of contact with its members since, Parris provides what to my mind is a cogent explanation of why that organisation repeatedly gets things wrong: it employs people of 'medium intelligence'. Correctly, he anticipated that Lord Butler would not confront the problem:

Easy as it would be to blame Mr Blair alone for the mess we are in, (Parris wrote) British spooks should not be allowed to get off so lightly. I know some very nice spooks. I have never met a seriously malevolent or totally unhinged British spy. They are a clubbable crowd. It’s just that I harbour serious doubts as to whether they are much good.

(See http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/matthew_parris/article1013658.ece )

A really frustrating aspect of the situation is that neither Lord Butler nor anyone else seems to grasp a fundamental lesson of wartime experience: that intelligence agencies not led and staffed by people of the requisite abilities end up becoming the instruments of agencies which are. As Trevor-Roper put it in the report he wrote on German intelligence in 1945, spies in wartime could prove 'a positive and serious danger to their employers' if used as a channel for disinformation. The same also goes for peacetime. So this is not a field where indulgence for failure is appropriate.

Where I find it difficult to follow Parris is in his reference to 'the Establishment way'. One could hardly be more 'establishment' than Godfrey and Montagu – the latter of whom was the pampered scion of a great Anglo-Jewish banking family, his uncle having been both Minister of Munitions and Secretary of State for India in the war of 1914-18. Perhaps we have all simply got a bit soft in the head.

Saeed Malik.

Thank you Brig Ali for yet another great post--and this one really takes the cake. Despite all the credit laced with notoriety India and the West has been heaping on the ISI, I never believed they could amount to much--indeed I've personally served with so many of the ISI officers, and could not for the life of me believe, how so many perfectly average officers could suddenly be transformed into so many Bonds. But in the "Mullah Mansur" caper they seemed at last to have proved the adage " give a man a reputation and he'll live up to it". I seriously suggest that someone make a comic movie from this one. It would best be entitled," How the General lost the Republican Nomination!"
Saeed Malik


Mr. Habakkuk, see if you can beg borrow or steal the final (?) volume of the official history of British Intelligence in WWII. It is about the deception operations, the Twenty Committee, etc. It is an exquisite and masterly work from memory by Michael (now Sir) Howard - beware, various volumes written by others.

The penetrating insights abound, starting from the seminal "There is no point in just getting the enemy to THINK something, you must get him to ACT on it." Sadly, the author opines that the cooperation between Masterman, Bevan, etc. was such that quite a lot of the work was not documented in much detail, perhaps wisely, as at least one operation involving a parachute that deliberately failed to open, was rather messy.

Regarding "wishfullness" and "Yesmanship" the history details the forensic British examination of the actors in the German intelligence services after the war and catalogues these all too human frailties. For example, German military intelligence always took the British bait about fictitious units hook, line, and sinker and added them to their notional British and American orders of battle and they never removed them, even when it became obvious that they were fakes.

Haven't we seen similar standards of bad behaviour, unfortunately this time on our side, regarding intelligence in the build up to the Iraq war?

As for SIS, what better reputation for an intelligence service to have then that of bungling ineffectual idiots? I am not a great fan of Trevor Roper.


Great post Sir, but maybe the ISI also has a motto...lol

I've never trusted toadstools, but I suppose some must have their good points. - Cheshire Cat, Alice in Wonderland


This is better than the latest wikileaks. Homer Simpson or the Three Stooges couldn't be this inept. More proof that we are way past due to start dismantling the empire. We no longer fight wars to win,just enrich the military/industrial complex and now we're becoming a laughing stock. I have a hard time imagining Putin falling for something like this.


Never realized there was a connection between my love of the hoax as high art form and my infatuation with Le Carre's work - or, come to think of it, my morbid fascination with the machinations of Karl Rove.

TANGENT QUERY RELATED TO MISLEADERSHIP + THE SEEMY (sic) SIDE OF THINGS - David Habakkuk, was Peter Fleming in the same line of work? In News from Tartary he Pimpernels it up with over-the-top fecklessness, then around chapter 5 (?) writes what hard-assed, no-nonsense summary of conditions as he found them. Don't remember the details, just the dramatic and contradictory shift in tone. I concluded this was not the whimsical madcap adventure it was purported to be.

Medicine Man

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, FB Ali. I can't imagine being able to discern these kinds of things with so little to look at. "Corkscrew mind" indeed.


Walrus said:
"... military intelligence always took the ...bait about fictitious units hook, line, and sinker ... and they never removed them, even when it became obvious that they were fakes." "Haven't we seen similar standards of bad behaviour, unfortunately this time on our side, regarding intelligence..."

But Al Quada is everywhere! Sorry, couldn't resist. Of course we've seen this. Too bad Mr. Hope and Change doesn't have any backbone. Nor anyone at a high enough level of government, either.


Thank you, FB Ali, for another illuminating illustation of how the world works, or doesn't work. Reminds me of a line from a movie "Incompetence is the worst form of corruption."

"Mad" Mike Adams

Mr. Ali,
I think you have great potential as a Standup Comedian/Analyst. Your wit is dryer than a 16 to 1 Martini.
Best Regards,
Mike Adams

FB Ali


I am a little overwhelmed at the reception accorded my piece. Thank you all!

As they say, the quality of the audience draws out the best in the performance.

Taj M Khattak

Brig F B Ali,
Thanks a lot for a very interesting piece. Really enjoyed reading it.

Best Wishes

Taj M Khattak

M. Azam

This masterstroke by ISI should come as no surprise. It was the CIA, MI6 and Saudi intelligence that had previously groomed this organization to oust the Soviets from Afghanistan during the cold war. Chickens have come home to roost?

Patrick Lang


No, once again, the mujahideen that the US supported did not include the Taliban. pl


Let's just have a greater Turkic Empire be re-established and be done with all this nonsense. No? Would not a new Timujin re-arranging the deck chairs help matters?


excellent,pithy and brimming with dry wit. My grandpa was in the thick of The Great Game. A close relative created the isi. It was damn good in the1950 to 1960 time frame.The original Bond was a lieut. in the TOCHI SCOUTS in MIRANSHAH 1940 --45 Even TE SHAW[LAWRENCE]served in Mrn:Why do all the great ones gather in Waziristan??my brethren will entice you to ask him a favour for which you pay him and also thank him profusely, he has a twinkle in his eye, and yet you call him a savage!!! And he KNOWS that you think he is a savage!!An excellent bit of writing. thankyou. The tame tribesmen like me sit by the sidelines ,impotent but a certain amount of prescience can discern the deceptive behaviour of the civilized west. Our wild brethren with wits much sharper look at the western babes in the field as a wolf looks at a flock of sheep eyeing a juicy young lamb. time .initiative.place.and surprise are at the disposal of the tribesman . The tribesmans dictum "you are hasty if you take revenge earlier than a 100 years. More than 200 years have passed and you have as yet not even scratched the head of the pakhtun/afghan,let alone his mind. good luck. the game goes on .

Mohammed Shuaib Sheikh

Whenever a successful raid or operation is completed in Afghanistan we hear from the US and its allies that a senior commender has been killed. If you believe that then by now hundreds of senior commenders must have been killed. FB Ali can you please give us an estimate of "senior commanders" fighting Afghanistan or is it that every Afghan fighter is a senior commander?

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