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28 October 2019


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William R. Cumming

A fabulous bit of insight that has the additional benefit that it "rings of the truth."

anna missed

Thanks for this link, as I had not read this before. Your analysis is exactly what I was getting at in the previous post, and is likely applicable to other "institutional" failure we find so pervasive. Further, I think its especially important that in such a climate of institutional failure that we remain suspicious of premature and politically motivated calls for these institutions (specifically the intelligence agencies) to be circumvented by a new organization posing as reform, but are actually neo-con tracking ideas of further consolidation of political oversight.



As always you know what you are talking about.

Colin Powell keeps popping up like a bad penny. I knew that the Iraq Invasion was crazy beforehand. He had to have known the intelligence that was the basis of his UN presentation, with George Tenent nodding in the background, was crap.

The Afghanistan Invasion was necessary. I feared that it would turn into a nationalistic colonial war – Vietnam Redux. Nine Years later it has morphed into an even worse religious cultural quagmire that will never end. But, it will end. America is bankrupt. All the housing and commercial bad debt cannot be papered over. The Fed’s new bubble isn’t inflating. Too many citizens are out of work. Each month more are unemployed. Health care is unaffordable. Not one Wall Street CEO has been indicted for causing the second worst economic collapse in the last two centuries.

The basic problem is that your fix for American Intelligence and all the other dangers facing us is broken. The federal government’s only purpose is helping its corporate buddies not its citizens.


This brings to mind the observation (Robert Baer? - haven't found it) that agents working the streets of Beirut are subject to the decision making of people who don't go to downtown DC restaurants because they are afraid of the crime.

Mathias Alexander

What difference does the use of private sub-contractors make?

Bill H

I once owned my own business installing large machinery in steel plants. I was asked to consider a position in upper management at a large steel company, one with some three dozen facilities. I wasn't sure that I wanted to do that but agreed to consider it, and part of the process was to be tested and interviewed by a psychologist. That part was actually kind of fun.

At the end of the process he said that it would be only fair to let me ask him whatever questions I wanted, and I asked the rather obvious one first. He said that with his recommendations they would certainly not only hire me, but would pretty much pay me whatever I asked for. He then asked to "go off the record," to which I agreed, and he told me I should not take the job.

He said they wanted the proverbial "grey flannel suit" types as management, people who would go with the flow and not irritate the board of directors by creating difficult decision points. He said I was much too much of an innovater and thinker and much too driven in the direction of "making things happen" like growth and such. He said I would annoy them and frustrate myself. I had been leaning against the job anyway.

Description of leadership at the IC kind of took me back to that experience at that company, and reminds me of changes at Boeing which led to the 737MAX. It's not the same thing, they are actually three separate pictures, but they are all painted on the same canvas.


mathias alexander

None. They are Christmas help. The barons of the IS run everything except the actual intelligence work. There, they just get in the way.


Vet, Respectfully:
"The Afghanistan Invasion was necessary."
MIC-Cold War Kool-aid talk, come on, you're better than that.



Boeing is instructive of the problem with many large publicly traded companies. The misalignment of management incentives. If you look at the amount of money Boeing spent on stock buybacks relative to the amount of money spent on product development it gives a sense of how warped the system has become.

Ben Hunt notes the vig.


The problem is across both government and big business leadership is focused on short term personal gain not the long term competitiveness and strength of the enterprise.

English Outsider

Colonel - when I first read the piece what interested me was the scholarship aspect of the work of the Intelligence analyst. He's doing what the good historian does - using context, intuition and such cross-bearings as he can assemble to build an accurate picture.

This time my interest was more immediate. "How the hell did we get into this mess" must be the question anyone who looks at our current political/administrative apparatus asks.

Your piece details the shift from the scholar/artist to the bureaucratic placeman. You, Colonel, have worked in many other areas than Intelligence and will presumably have seen an analogous shift in those other areas. Bill H details above the shift from the problem solver to the CYA type in his field and says - " It's not the same thing (as the shift you describe) but they are all painted on the same canvas."

In a piece written more than a decade ago David Habakkuk paints the same picture on another canvass in the UK -

"About the Hutton Inquiry however I do know something. The best verdict on the whole episode known to me came in an article in the Guardian by the former Cabinet Office Assessments Staff analyst Lieutenant Colonel Crispin Black. It brings out not simply the what was wrong with Scarlett and MI6, but also the scale of the disintegration of standards of public administration in Britain under Tony Blair, which has caused a very distinguished public servant, Sir Christopher Foster, to describe him as the worst Prime Minister since Lord North.

It is entitled 'Blair's claim is simply incredible', and runs as follows:

'Imagine you are a retired and very proud guards officer watching trooping the colour. How embarrassed and puzzled you would feel if things started to go wrong. Small things, initially, that others not brought up in the system might not notice. The columns of scarlet-clad troops slightly out of sync with the marching music. Some of the orders being given by men in suits rather than by the sergeant majors on parade. I used to work for the defence intelligence staff (DIS) and the Cabinet Office assessments staff - who draft the papers for the joint intelligence committee (JIC) and intelligence reports for No 10 - and that's how I felt during the Hutton inquiry, and how I feel now.

'I left the assessments staff just six months before the dreaded dossier was published. From what came out at the Hutton inquiry I could hardly recognise the organisation I had so recently worked for. Meetings with no minutes, an intelligence analytical group on a highly specialised subject which included unqualified officials in Downing Street but excluded the DIS's lifetime experts (like Dr Brian Jones), vague and unexplained bits of intelligence appearing in the dossier as gospel (notably the 45-minute claim), sloppy use of language ..."

Recently you rejected the assertion that we are evil - "We are not, just inept." but how did we arrive at such depths of almost criminal ineptitude in so many fields?

With the loss of the specialist dedicated to his subject and his replacement by "management man" we have lost so much retained institutional memory. At the local level - I spoke to an engineer recently who bemoaned the fact that when he left there'd be no-one who knew the ins and outs of the somewhat frail section of the electricity supply system he was responsible for. Coast defences is another area - no longer the foreman and his little team pottering around repairing the weak spots they are so familiar with. Instead the weak spots are left untended until the whole goes and there's a great bill for a massive rebuilding of the lot. That's not done intentionally - the council no longer has the expertise and local knowledge to hand to be able to cope any other way.

From the Intelligence analyst getting a feel for what's happening in some remote corner of the Middle East to the mason knowing where to point a section of wall we are no longer equipped as we were. We have substituted a helpless ineptitude for knowledgeable expertise to a dangerous degree. And it is on this ineptitude that the momentously important policies that shape our world are built. "Not evil, merely inept" - but that'll be quite enough to do for us unless we take a different course.


Comments quoted from here -


and here -


I'd just add that the comparison of Mr Blair with Lord North would be regarded as libelous, if one could libel the dead.


Larry Johnson told me much the same thing about pursuing a career in the CIA or State INR out of graduate school in the mid 2000s - "Go for it, but only if you're ok with beating your head against a concrete wall for years on end. You're too analytically independent." Or something very close to that effect. I appreciated his candor, and he probably saved me a 15-year migraine from my late 20s through my 30s.

blue peacock


Tony went straight on to become "influence peddler" for the Arab sheikhs and substantially improved his net worth.

Now you have to hand it to Massa Son-san, who took a $100 billion from MbS and other Arab sheikhs in the UAE and handed a few billion of that to Israeli Adam Neumann to live it up and then walk away with $1.7 billion in the WeWork show.


Larry, Colonel,

Gina has brought one in that was long overdue, Hilary left her out to dry.



Artist vs bureaucrat.Difference between an open hand and a fist.handshake or a strike versus a punch.ambiguity will always win the day.Open hands make you weigh your possibilities and consider all information carefully.An essential creative process in decision making .Imho.


Amazing sucess story, I am envious.

Who is Massa Son-san?


Masayoshi Son, Founder & CEO, Softbank


Softbank’s $100 billion Vision Fund raised $45 billion from MbS and another $20 billion from the UAE. Son took the Arab money to subsidize taxi rides, car leasing and office rentals among other investments with the expectation that these profitless, fast growth companies like Uber and WeWork would be snapped up by Fidelity and Vanguard and 401k plans and pension funds to generate huge returns for his Vision Fund.

English Outsider

Yes, he was quite something, Mr Blair. Chelsea Clinton's experiences in London threw an unexpected light on that.

By what one reads I get the impression that the corruption in Lord North's time was considerably worse but not as hole in corner, which I think might be healthier.

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