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May 12, 2007


Hi Sara,

Thanks for the terrific book review and analysis. You've created a good backdrop for those who have yet to read the book.

Sara, Thank you for your take on Tenet and his tome. David Corn blogged a summary of the things he found interesting in the book too, which you can read here.

Sara, I wondered if you had located Judy Miller's review of Tenet's book posted at the NY Sun two days ago; there.

Yes, I read it sometime yesterday, Saturday. I think Judith opens with a very good question -- but then she stomps on it. Yes, why didn't CIA and the rest of the Intelligence Community properly read al-Qaeda's intents in 2001? and why did they get WMD all wrong? Just as good a question as asking in 1990 why CIA did not predict the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989?

Maybe the answer is that they are not organized to deal with those kinds of questions. That there are too many internal institutional forces at play that mitigate against honest answers. Could it be that a command system, more or less military in structure, is antithetical to sharp analysis?

As an analogy, I think a quick trip through the scholarly/academic world will help. When you look for who produces the breakthrough publications, the new developments in Science -- what you find it is at the level of advanced Grad Students and Post-Doc's. Roughly ages 25 to about 40. After that production and new breakthrough research diminishes by age, and the degree to which one is digested into the system, and the requirements of system maintence.

I think the same thing is true of intelligence work, particularly on the analysis side of the house. At FBI there are nine steps in the hierarchy between investigative agent and Director, and mini steps in between, and anyone who as ever played telephone knows that the reality of the observation gets distorted after only a few steps. CIA has much the same problem, with the added matter that upper level CIA types also have conditional military ranks, and the structure is much more Command down than most understand. It is simply the wrong kind of culture from which one could expect creative original research on pressing questions. According to Tenet, the problem with WMD research on Iraq was that they accepted all the assumptions made since 1998 when the inspectors left, and they tried to build on that. Tenet does not mention that pre-invasion, Zinni told congress and wrote in OP/ED that he believed Iraq was pretty well cleaned out after the inspections, and after Central Command had bombed everything they had been denied access to in December 1998. Why not? Two reasons. First, the 1998 bombing had been characterized by the Republicans in Congress as Wagging the Dog -- it was Clinton trying to change the subject from Lewinsky. Second, Zinni's estimate came from outside the 2003 command system. It was against the grain. If you want a future in a command system, that is not a choice you make. Go with the flow.

Take something like Tenet's description of why the 16 words in the SOTU were not red flags to CIA types who reviewed them. Well, they were not directed to review for meaning or content, only to be certain no sources or methods were improperly referenced. It is only a blind hierarchial system that can put such blinders on supposed experts and scholars. Judith was as much a part of that as any high level appointee -- the voice of the New York Times, afterall, The Paper of Record. She asks the right question, but then she stomps on it because she is profoundly threatened by everything Marx or Weber or Simmel or any of the rest of them had to say about why bureaucracy does not produce real insight, but it does carefully regulate power.

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